On his way to Hard Rock Castle, Tristram lodges at a manor where Sir Ector-the-Lesser and his lady-friend had stayed the night before, purely out of chance. At dinner, the host remarks that Ector’s girlfriend eagerly talked up her boyfriend’s knightly prowess, declaring him the best knight in the islands.
“I don’t know about that,” says Tristram. “I mean, there are four better knights just that he’s related to. Ector is a fine knight, but he has Sir Launcelot for a distant cousin, you know. Launcelot is the best knight. Then there’s Sir Bors, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Blamore… heck, I’d put Sir Gaheris in above Sir Ector. No offense to Ector.”
“Wait, you say Gaheris, surely you mean his brother Sir Gawaine,” says the host. “I all the time hear about his knightly deeds.”
“Exaggerations,” sniffs Tristram. “I know them both, and Gaheris is the better knight, let me tell you. Also Sir Lamorak is better than either of them.”
“Hmm,” says the host. “Where you put Sir Tristram in your rankings?”
“Never heard of him,” says Tristram, because I guess that’s the knightly thing to do, is lie about your identity constantly.
Long story short, Tristram arrives at the tournament, where he of course performs marvelously. Guenever recognizes his shield as a message to her, but Arthur doesn’t grasp the significance, even when Morgan teleports in disguised as a damosel and tells him point-blank it’s about him and Guenever before teleporting back out again.
The teleportation pisses Arthur off, way more than the accusations of cuckoldry.
Guenever calls in Sir Ector-the-Lesser and tells him privately that she’s sure the knight with the editorial cartoon on his shield was sent by Morgan to embarrass her.
Arthur admires Tristram’s performance and wonders aloud who it could be. He’s going full Launcelot on them! Very few knights can fight at Launcelot’s weight class, and as far as he knows, they’re all tied up in Launcelot’s Tristram Rescue Squad, still wandering the land. Last he heard they were going to Brittany, where rumor had it that Tristram was king and had married a woman named Isoud the White.
“I’m sure I would remember something like that,” mutters Tristram. He identifies himself only as Morgan le Fay’s champion for the tournament.
“I really want to decode that shield,” says Arthur. “There’s something there. That mysterious teleporting maiden was probably correct when she said it concerned me. I’ll figure this one out, I tell you. I just need a little more information.”
“Oy,” says Guenever.
Tristram and Sir Uwaine prepare to joust, and then Book IX ends! Abruptly! But don’t worry, says Malory, Part Two of this story is just one page ahead, at the start of Book X.
We won’t be getting to it for a while, though.
See, guys… Book X is very long (87 chapters, or about 140 pages in my edition; by comparison Book IX was about 60 pages and Books XI through XVI all put together aren’t quite as long as Book X). Book X is also all about Tristram and Mark and to a lesser extent everyone who isn’t Tristram or Mark.
Frankly I’m getting a little burned out on the Random Adventures of Tristram, folks. Also, the end of Book IX marks the approximate halfway point of Le Morte D’Arthur! So I’m going to take a break, with a piece of influential fantasy literature that is a good length for a break, and also as dissimilar to Malory as I can find. My first few ideas for good intermission text turned out to be too long or else too similar to Malory in terms of date and/or subject matter, but then my wife had an excellent suggestion: “the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” by H.P. Lovecraft. It’s everything that Le Morte D’Arthur isn’t!
So the next installment will be my Book IX overview notes, and then it’s Lovecraft Season.