This chapter may have been written while Malory was in the throes of a stroke, or possibly two pages were stuck together and his editor missed it, or something, because not only does it make no sense in the familiar Malory fashion, it’s got some basic continuity and structural problems. I have stitched together a story that makes about as much sense as anything else in Book IX, but I warn you, odds are higher than usual that some kind of funny business is going on.
Tristram and Dinadan arrive in England, and ride towards Camelot. On the road, at a bridge, they meet a couple of Arthur’s knights, Sir Ector-the-Lesser and Sir Bors Junior (King Bors’s son I think). Just for funsies, Ector and Dinadan joust. Afterwards Tristram wants to joust with Bors, but Bors refuses because he racist against Cornishmen.
The two pairs of knights go their separate ways. Ector and Bors bump into another couple of friends of theirs, Sir Bleoberis and Sir Driant, and while they’re swapping high-fives, a damosel comes running up to them. Rashida, let’s say, is her name. Rashida has come from the land of Gore, Morgan le Fay’s country. Morgan, she claims, has decided that it’s high time someone murdered Sir Launcelot. To that end, Morgan arranged an ambush of thirty Gore knights, lying in wait where Launcelot shall pass. The ambush site isn’t far. Rashida learned of this plan and was so ashamed of her queen arranging an ambush that she decided to defect to Arthur’s side and warn Launcelot, and find his friends to save him. Ector, Bors, Beloberis, and Driant take this threat very seriously!
Tristram and Dinadan meet Rashida, too, and she fills them in about the ambush as well. Tristram volunteers to rescue Launcelot, his eyes starry with dreams of heroism! Sir Dinadan thinks this a bad plan. There are thirty of them and two of Hypothetical Team Launcelot+Tristram. 15:1 odds are not good odds. Tristram points out that if Dinadan helps too, it’s just 10:1 odds. Dinadan declines. He asks for Tristram’s shield, which is a Cornish shield, so that when people find Tristram’s body they won’t see the shield and think, ah, now, this is why the guy died, he was Cornish and too stupid to avoid 15:1 odds.
This upsets Tristram, who suggests that Dinadan leave before Tristram slices his head off, or at least agree to bear witness to Tristram’s awesome Launcelot-rescuing bravery. Fine, says Dinadan, it’s your funeral. Also Dinadan regrets taking this trip with Tristram, and Tristram is a jerk. But Dinadan stays with Tristram, intending to watch as he and Launcelot are cut down by an overwhelming opposition.
Meanwhile Launcelot various would-be rescuers, Ector and Bors and the others, they arrive at the ambush site. The thirty knights make to ambush Launcelot, but then they see these guys aren’t Launcelot. They’re unrelated knights! This was not part of their plan! So instead of attacking they just sort of spring out from their hiding places and nonchalantly walk down the road, casually ignoring the knights. Bors et cetera decide to tail them and keep an eye out for Launcelot while they do.
So the thirty knights walk down the road, discretely tailed. They talk among themselves about how unfair it is that Launcelot has buddies, and they weren’t expecting that, and Morgan will be annoyed. Tristram and Dinadan, coming up the other way, see them. Tristram recognizes the thirty knights as Morgan’s ambush force, shouts something about how he’s going to rescue Launcelot, and charges the mass of them! They weren’t expecting it! Launcelot is not around!
Tristram like a dozen of them, but they nearly overwhelm him. Dinadan sighs and regretfully joins the battle. He rescues Tristram and kills a few more of the Gore knights. The surviving ten or so members of the ambush group flee.
Bors Junior and Bleoberis and Driant and Ector-the-Lesser all saw this battle as they came up the road, though they arrived too late to participate. Everyone’s impressed by Tristram’s valor, and afterwards Bleoberis invites Tristram to lunch, or an overnight stay in their cabin, dinner, dinner and breakfast, whatevs. Inexplicably, Tristram declines. Inexplicably, though Bleoberis knows him and he and Dinadan just met Ector and Bors earlier that same day, Arthur’s knights ask Tristram for his name. Inexplicably, Tristram declares he’s traveling incognito.
Sir Tristram: making things harder on himself for no reason.
Sir Dinadan: the first character in a long while willing to call Tristram on his bullroar.