“So Mark,” says Arthur.
They’re chilling one fine day in Camelot. Birds sing. Relative humidity is low. The flowers blossom.
“I’d like a gift from you,” says Arthur. “I’m not telling you what it is until you promise to give it to me, because that is a fun game.”
“Anything you say, sire!” says Mark. Mark knows which side of the bread his butter is on. “You’re the liege, I’m the vassal, after all!”
“That’s right. Anyway. You know your wife’s lover Tristram? I want you and him to go back to Cornwall. And you need to be nicer to him. A good lord unto Sir Tristram, for he is a man of great honour, by which I mean he’s a dick, but really good at jousting. Let him see his friends, you know the one I mean, and cherish him for my sake.”
“Well, okay, sire,” says Mark. “You’re the king. I guess I have to. Because you, the king, are ordering me to.”
“Great, so we’re in agreement. Awesome. Swear on this book that you’ll obey me.” And Arthur produces a book! Is it a bible? Enh, doesn’t matter; it’s a book. Books are rare and precious items in fifth-to-fifteenth-century England.
Mark swears on this book, in front of Arthur and everyone, and he and Tristram shake hands. But there’s a little thought bubble over his head about how he’ll break this oath and imprison Tristram first chance he gets.
Launcelot, Lamorak, and Dinadan take Arthur aside.
“This is a bad plan, sire,” says Launcelot.
“Mark is just going to break his oath and imprison Tristram first chance he gets,” says Dinadan.
“The man is a snake; you can’t trust him,” says Lamorak.
“You’re going to get Tristram killed!” is how Launcelot sums it up.
“Fellas, fellas. This is what Tristram wants. And it’s cool. It’s cool,” Arthur assures them. “I made Mark swear on a book. On a book, you guys!”
Launcelot just shakes his head. He walks over to Mark. “Mark,” he says, taking him aside. “Listen, I know you’re a terrible person, just a horrible human being. You are the worst and I hate you. But know this! If you break your oath and do any kind of mischief to Tristram, I’m going to find out about it. And you know, I’m a pretty good jouster. You’re going to have cause to regret your actions.”
“Yeah, I overheard what you were telling Arthur a second ago,” says Mark. “And hey now, Launcelot, I swore on a book. That is a sacred oath and frankly I’m a little offended you think I might go back on that.”
“So a, you have no honor, and b, you admitted you came to Camelot explicitly to murder Tristram. I don’t think I’m out of line here,” says Launcelot.
But Mark throws up his hands, all scandalized, and marches off, all stiff wounded pride.
“Ready to go?” Tristram asks him. “Let’s go see your wife!”
And off they go!
If I were Malory’s editor, I’d stick a break here. Overall I’d make Book X, which is 88 chapters long, into about four books. But I am not Malory’s editor, I’m just a guy with a blog.