Okay, so, remember back in Chapter 15, how the lovely Isoud sent a pair of maidens to Camelot with letters? Do you? Well, okay, it happened. Malory doesn’t remember it any better than you do, though, because now there’s just one maiden operative in the lovely Isoud’s Camelot spy corps. Let’s call her Gretel.
See, Gretel has been running letters back and forth from Camelot this whole time, along with Knight of the Round Table and occasional Tristram sidekick Sir Fergus. Letters from Tristram to Arthur, Tristram to Launcelot, the lovely Isoud to Arthur, the lovely Isoud to Guenever, the whole schmear. From Malory’s syntax I dunno whether Isoud sends letters to Launcelot, or letters to Guenever about Launcelot. Both seem pretty plausible.
“Dear Tristram,” writes Launcelot. “Blah blah jousting, blah blah knightliness, blah blah secret affairs. Beware King Fox, by whom I mean Mark! Do you like that sick burn I just thought up? Fox. Ha!”
“Dear Launcelot,” writes Tristram back. “Blah blah jousting, blah blah courtly love, blah blah more jousting. Thanks for the tip! That is indeed one sick burn!”
When Gretel arrives in Cornwall with letters for the lovely Isoud, Isoud takes them but apparently doesn’t want to bother with actually reading them. “Bottom-line it for me.”
“They’re well,” supplies Gretel. “And happy for you both, with regards to your adultery.”
“Oh lovely! Our adultery is pretty amazing and joyous!”
Gretel has letters for Mark, too.
“Where’d you get these letters? I didn’t authorize you to fetch letters!” He’s all suspicious, on account of his wife is cheating on him. It’s hard not to feel for him at times, you know?
Gretel shrugs. “Tristram and the lovely Isoud had me do a mail run.”
“Dear Mark,” Mark reads. “Blah blah blah, jeez this goes on for pages, one king to another, blah blah, you better not try anything, blah blah, swore on a book. Love, Arthur.”
“Well, that’s sweet,” says Gretel.
“Dear Mark,” Mark reads. “Blah blah blah, what Arthur said, blah blah jousting, blah blah questing, blah blah strange adventures. Love, Launcelot. PS No fair accusing Tristram of treason.”
“Do you want to send a reply?” asks Gretel.
“No!” Mark shoos Gretel away and summons one of his varlets.
“Varlet, take this letter to Arthur, immediately. Arthurian eyes only!”
And Mark presses a sealed letter into the varlet’s hand.
The varlet rides by secret ways to Wales, and Arthur’s secondary palace at Caerleon, where he finds Arthur and gives him the letter.
Arthur wastes no time ripping it open — he loves to get mail! It’s very short.
“Arthur,” he reads. “Pay attention to your knights and wife. Signed, someone whose wife is cheating on him and knows the signs.”
“Huh,” says Arthur. “Huh very much huh.”