Malory’s a little all over the place today, folks. After the literal cliffhanger of the previous entry, this chapter of the story drifts into out-and-out surrealism.
For starters, you’ve got Gouvernail (Tristram’s French tutor cum manservant) and his two henchmen Sir Lambegus and Sir Sentraille de Lushon (another fine knight name!). As with Sir Lambegus before him, Malory demands we simply accept that Sir Sentraille de Lushon was there all along. Anyway, this trio hears about the lynch mob that Sir Andred led against Tristram, and about how Tristram escaped by leaping into the sea and the jagged rocks below the cliffside. For whatever reason, they just assume he’s fine. They high-five one another and say things like “that’s our Tristram, he can get out of anything” rather than morosely consult the odds of surviving an eighty-foot fall onto rocks. They head over to the bottom of the cliff with towels, where their hopeless optimism is miraculously vindicated! Tristram is alive and mostly unhurt! They pull him out of the water and dry him off.
His first concern is for the lovely Isoud, on the grounds that if Sir Andred led a lynch mob after him, perhaps an ancillary lynch mob attacked his lady. Gouvernail anticipated this concern, however, and has already stashed the lovely Isoud in the last place anyone would look for her: a nearby leper colony.
“Good thinking in terms of no one looking for her there,” says Tristram. “But I think we should go fetch her and take her someplace not full of lepers.”
Fortunately Tristram has a rustic cabin in the woods. He’s able to get the lovely Isoud out of the leper colony and set up house in the cabin, no trouble. And then they live happily ever after!
No, they don’t. Because a week or so later, Tristram’s out in the woods practicing his venery. He gets tired. He lies down and takes a nap next to a picaresque creek. Some dude comes by and shoots him with an arrow. Malory claims that Tristram killed his brother or something, but doesn’t waste time explaining beyond that. You go around killing people as readily as Sir Tristram, you just have to expect that folks are going to shoot you with arrows sometimes, I guess.
Tristram wakes up and kills the dude, but now he’s got an arrow in him. Meanwhile some agent of King Mark’s eventually gets around to checking Tristram’s cabin, finds out the lovely Isoud is shacked up there. He goes back to Mark and fills him in. Mark wants Isoud back and Tristram dead, still, so he wastes no time putting together a fresh lynch mob, but when they get to Tristram’s cabin the lovely Isoud is the only one there. Mark takes her forcibly back to Castle Tintagil, and keeps her under heavy guard.
So Tristram gets home, with an infected arrow wound, and his lady’s gone and his house is ransacked. It’s a bummer of a scene; he sits down and cries.
The next morning he’s still there at the cabin, with his wounded shoulder all red and inflamed, and he hasn’t cleaned up the place at all. Along comes the lovely Isoud’s henchwoman Dame Bragwaine.
“Tristram!” she cries. “My lady Isoud sent me. She’s under guard too heavy for you to free her, given your wound, and she has instructed me to send you to a physician!”
Tristram’s understandably confused. “Bragwaine? What? Where is the lovely Isoud? How does she know about this arrow wound?”
“My lady is the prisoner of her dastardly husband your uncle. How she knows about the arrow wound is a continuity error. But that isn’t important now! What’s important is that you need treatment.”
“The lovely Isoud is a skilled surgeon, as was a plot point back in Chapter IX,” points out Tristram.
“Yes, but again, heavy guard, dastardly husband. She can’t help you.”
“No! There’s another who can help you — Isoud the White!”
“The White Hand?”
Okay, let me try to explain. Apparently there’s some kind of Isoud Council, of which the lovely Isoud is not the most senior member? Isoud the White, known as the White Hand, can help Sir Tristram, from her tower Orthanc, in Isengard. And by “Orthanc, in Isengard,” I mean “her father King Howel of Brittany’s castle.” Isoud the White is the younger sister of Queen Brittany, Tristram’s stepmother. Malory calls her “Isoud la Blanche Mains,” to distinguish her from the lovely Isoud.
(Also, jeez Malory, you could come up with a different name. I know you aren’t crazy about naming women, but still, this is the third Isoud so far.)
Long story short, Tristram goes to Brittany and meets his stepmother’s husband (and King Arthur’s first cousin) Howel, as well as his daughter Isoud the White Hand. Isoud the White heals him.