Sir Dinant wastes no time in scooping up Tauleas’s head and taking it to Tintagil for the reward. He fills Mark in on the combat with the giant, how it went, how brave Dinant was, how a naked hermit helped him at a crucial moment…
“Naked hermit?” asks Mark. “Really?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” says Dinant.
“I’d like to see this naked hermit,” announces Mark. “Tomorrow we’ll go on a naked hermit hunt!”
Mark’s court displays less excitement than he does about hunting for a naked hermit, but they go along with it, since he’s the king. Everyone goes out to where Tristram and the shepherds camp, and sure enough, there he is, still cradling Dinant’s sword and muttering to himself.
“Wow, how naked and thin and weatherbeaten that fellow looks,” marvels Mark. “I daresay he could be a long-lost relation of some kind, and I wouldn’t know him, the shape he’s in. Fellows, be good knights, and take that naked man with fairness and bring him to my castle.”
The knights roll their eyes, but they do it. The dudes surround Tristram, and then throw blankets on him. Then they wave hot food under his nose, and lead him back to Tintagil, where they feed, wash, and shave him. None of them recognize him as Tristram, though, thanks to the trauma of his wilderness year.
Isoud hears about Mark’s new naked man. “The first thing since my beloved’s death to pique my interest!” she says to herself. She calls in her henchwoman Bragwaine, and together they sneak off to Tristram where he lounges semiconscious in the garden.
“He’s had a big day,” explains a guard.
Isoud peers at Tristram. “You know, there’s something familiar about him, but I can’t place it.”
Tristram hears Isoud, and wakes. He turns and sees her. She doesn’t recognize him, but he recognizes her. Tristram feels enormous shame, and turns away from her.
Then — okay, you’ve probably forgotten this, but back early in Book VIII Tristram got a delivery of a puppy bouquet from a French princess. Famous Hebes made the delivery. Malory never got around to mentioning it until now, but Tristram kept one of those puppies and gave it to Isoud when she arrived in Cornwall. That little brachet grew up into the original purse dog; Isoud carries it with her everywhere she goes. But just then, seeing Tristram, the brachet leaps from Isoud’s arms and runs over to Tristram and starts barking and licking him and jumping up.
“Oh!” cries Bragwaine. Then, because Isoud still hasn’t figured it out, she adds “It’s Sir Tristram!”
Isoud faints, as is her duty in this kind of situation. Eventually she comes to, lying on a couch with Tristram and Bragwaine and the little purse-dog all looking down at her.
“Oh, Tristram, darling, you know you can’t stay here,” Isoud says as soon as she regains consciousness. “Mark will exile you or kill you or I don’t know. Go, beloved, go to Camelot where all your friends dwell. When the coast is clear I’ll send for you, whenever that is. Mark can’t reign forever. I may be an old woman by then, of course, but them’s the breaks.”
“Seriously? You want me to leave again? I just got back,” whines Tristram.
Can’t you see how much these two are mad for one another? The affection just drips from the page!