Chapter 1 A young man, Breunor le Noire, comes to Arthur’s court in a gold but oddly fitting overgarment. Sir Kay nicknames him La Cote Male Taile, “the ill-shapen coat.” Breunor says that while his father, a knight, was hunting one day, he lay down to sleep, and an enemy knight had killed him. Breunor’s father was wearing this coat, which Breunor now vows to wear until he is avenged. He asks to be made knight. Lamorak and Gaheris recommend it, recalling that even Launcelot du Lake was unknown when he first arrived.
Kay seems to have a penchant for making fun of newly arrived knights at court, especially those who diverge from the norm of dress and demeanor—and he hasn’t learned from his mistake with Gareth. The other knights treat Breunor with more respect, considering that his story suggests he is noble and worthy: still, we see how difficult it is to judge an unknown person’s identity.
The next day Arthur rides out to slay a hart with some knights, and Breunor is left behind with Guenever. Suddenly a lion kept in a stone tower escapes and hurtles after the queen and her knights. They all flee, but La Cote Male Taile springs after the lion and kills him. The king is pleased and makes him knight, and Breunor asks that he only be referred to by Kay’s scornful name, La Cote Male Taile.
La Cote Male Taile’s story bears many similarities to that of Gareth: both prove themselves through their courageous actions, and both respond to teasing and insults with meekness and calm, even embracing being humbled in such a way.
Chapter 2 That day a damsel arrives to court with a shield painted with a white hand holding a sword. She says that a good knight had owned this shield. He had fought with another knight and ended in a draw, so he decided he must die, and asked this shield to be brought to Arthur’s court for another to fulfill the quest he was on. Sir Kay takes it, but the damsel says it must be a better knight than he. Then La Cote Male Taile offers himself, and the damsel agrees, saying she hopes his skin is as strong as his coat.
As usual, Sir Kay acts quickly and brusquely, but even this unknown damsel understands that he is not as worthy a knight as others. She does not pass judgment on whether La Cote Male Taile will be able to fulfill this quest or not, instead accepting him as worthy enough to at least join the quest and do his best to fulfill it.
Chapter 3 Sir Kay orders Arthur’s fool, Sir Dagonet, to follow after them armed. He does so, and calls out to La Cote Male Taile to joust. La Cote Male Taile strikes Dagonet down, but the damsel mocks La Cote Male Taile, since a fool has been sent to joust with him. After awhile, they come across Sir Bleoberis and the two joust. Bleoberis strikes him down off his horse. La Cote Male Taile rises up and draws his sword, but Bleoberis refuses to fight anymore. The damsel, Maledisant (“Ill-Speaking”), rebukes La Cote Male Taile for the shame of falling off his horse.
The parallels between the story of Gareth and that of La Cote Male Taile begin to pile up: the latter too is saddled with a damsel who subjects him to ridicule and dishonor, refusing to see past his ill-fitting coat and lack of official honors and appreciate him for his actions. It seems that the two tales may just be different incarnations of one original story, but with different characters involved.
They then encounter Sir Palomides, who also knocks La Cote Male Taile off his horse, and who also refuses to fight on foot. Maledisant mocks La Cote Male Taile again, though he insists that he could have fought them well on foot. Sir Mordred comes along and joins the two, and together they come to the Castle Orgulous, where any knight must joust or be taken prisoner. A knight strikes Sir Mordred off his horse, and then fights with La Cote Male Taile. Both knock each other off their horses, and then La Cote Male Taile kills the knight.
Unfortunately for La Cote Male Taile, he is unable to prove himself fully, since these knights all refuse to continue fighting on the second stage of battle, that is, on the ground rather than on horseback. Mordred, though—King Arthur’s illegitimate son, as we are supposed to recall, and the one destined to kill his father—seems to have greater sympathy for La Cote Male Taile, though perhaps he’s simply joined him temporarily on the road.
Chapter 4 A hundred knights come towards La Cote Male Taile, and he thinks he’d rather die fighting there than abide the mocking of Maledisant anymore. One of the castle’s ladies then takes his horse and quietly ties it to a nearby postern (side door). She then sneaks into her chamber and whispers from a window behind La Cote Male Taile that he only needs to reach the postern and he’ll be free. La Cote Male Taile charges through the crowd, killing twelve knights and leaping back onto his horse. He arrives back at Maledisant and Mordred, but she doesn’t believe he killed the knights—she rather thinks that they’ve let him pass as an unworthy fool. Maledisant sends a courier, who learns that La Cote Male Taile was telling the truth, and returns. Maledisant hangs her head, and Mordred rebukes her.
Unlike Gareth, La Cote Male Taile is now letting the rebukes and insults of Maledisant (whose name, like that of many characters in the story, is meant to underline a crucial aspect of her character) affect him—here it has the effect of making him take greater risks than he would normally, in ways that can either be characterized as heroic or as reckless (or both). Maledisant is even more infuriating after this adventure, since she refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that La Cote Male Taile is more noble than she thinks: finally she is justifiably shamed herself.
Chapter 5 Meanwhile, Launcelot comes to Arthur’s court and hears of La Cote Male Taile’s exploits. Launcelot decides that Maledisant must be searching for a proven knight and decides to follow them. When he reaches them, Mordred leaves. Maledisant mocks Launcelot too, not knowing who he is.
Perhaps it is simply in Maledisant’s character to act in such a way—as we’ve seen, women are often assumed to be either angelic and graceful or, conversely, conniving and deceitful.
Meanwhile, Tristram sends a letter to Launcelot claiming that he has never slept with Isoud la Blanche Mains, and asking to renew his friendship, and for Launcelot to send his apologies to La Beale Isoud from him. Launcelot leaves Maledisant and La Cote Male Taile, who then ride on to the castle Pendragon, where La Cote Male Taile fights with and strikes down a knight. Five others quickly ride up and capture him, taking him prisoner. In the morning Launcelot gives letters for Tristram to a damsel, and then follows after La Cote Male Taile. He jousts with and conquers a knight, who says he was made knight by Launcelot. Launcelot reveals who he is, and the knight falls to the ground, repenting. He tells Launcelot not to go to the Castle of Pendragon, since he’s heard there’s a prisoner there.
Tristram is upset that Launcelot has (justifiably) broken off his friendship with Tristram on account of the latter’s disloyalty to Isoud—it is unclear whether the fact that he has remained sexually pure will be enough for Launcelot to consider forgiving him. But for the moment, Tristram is a distraction, as Launcelot seems to want to accompany La Cote Male Taile, who is only a budding knight, to help him in case of danger. Once again, the difficulty of ascertaining a knight’s true identity can have shameful consequences, as Launcelot’s embarrassed knight shows.
Chapter 6 Launcelot says he must go rescue that man. He fights against six knights outside the castle, but conquers them all and races into the castle. The castle’s lord is an enemy of Arthur. He comes to meet Launcelot, and they fight until Launcelot conquers him, at which the lord yields and asks for mercy. Launcelot orders him to free all his prisoners, which include 30 of Arthur’s knights.
Launcelot is not yet able to save La Cote Male Taile since he finds himself occupied with another minor quest, having to save another prisoner. Launcelot is shown to have little trouble battling against anyone in his path, as his accolades continue to pile up.
Chapter 7 Launcelot and La Cote Male Taile ride forward with Maledisant, who asks Launcelot for forgiveness for having mocked him. She says that she had met Tristram at Camelot, and he had rescued her black shield from Breuse Saunce Pité, who had taken it from her. Launcelot tells her to no longer mock La Cote Male Taile, and she says she only did so out of love for him, since she thought him too young for such adventures. Launcelot says he’ll now call her the Damsel Bienpensant (“Well-Thinking”).
Suddenly, Maledisant’s very character seems to shift—it isn’t entirely clear whether this is a result of knowing more about her true feelings, or if she is simply attempting to undo the shame of mocking Launcelot, one of the greatest knights in the land. Launcelot, at least, seems ready to believe her, granting her a new nickname to recognize her newly honorable status.
The three ride to the country of Surluse, to a village with a fortress-like bridge. They are barred from crossing because of the black shield they bear, and the villagers say only one may enter first. La Cote Male Taile asks to go in first, and while Launcelot is reluctant, he eventually yields. La Cote Male Taile meets and jousts with two brothers whom he conquers and makes yield. Then he meets a third brother, Plenorius, with whom he fights for hours.
Launcelot has continued in his self-appointed role as protector of the young La Cote Male Taile, though at this point he agrees to allow the knight to prove himself. La Cote Male Taile fights against what seems like another family dynasty of knights, the kind that we’ve grown used to seeing in Arthur’s court.
Chapter 8 La Cote Male Taile finally falls to the ground, wounded. Plenorius has pity on him since La Cote Male Taile was tired and he was fresh, so Plenorius leads him into the tower. La Cote Male Taile tells Plenorius to meet a better knight than himself back at the bridge. Plenorius meets Launcelot and they joust until Launcelot strikes him down and forces him to yield all his prisoners. Then Launcelot fights with his three other brothers, and strikes them all down. In the castle he finds many knights imprisoned. Launcelot tells Plenorius to go to Arthur’s court next Pentecost. They rest and recover.
Unlike Launcelot (or Gareth), La Cote Male Taile is hardly portrayed as invincible: he is courageous and courts danger and battle, but he loses just as often as he wins. Launcelot is another story, as La Cote Male Taile well knows, and by sending Plenorius back to fight with Launcelot he’s sure that the duo will ultimately win out. Indeed, Plenorius becomes another symbol of Launcelot’s might to be sent ahead of him to Arthur’s court.
Chapter 9 Sir Kay and another knight arrive at the castle too, and they all depart after 10 days. They ride back to Arthur’s court, where La Cote Male Taile and Plenorius are made knights of the Round Table. La Cote Male Taile marries Maledisant, who is called Beauvivante (“Beautifully living”) afterward.
La Cote Male Taile’s story wraps up satisfactorily, as he is shown to be worthy of a knighthood of the Round Table, and as Plenorius’s mercy on La Cote Male Taile is rewarded with his own knighthood. This ending even feels like a modern “romantic comedy,” in which the man and woman fight and seem to dislike each other throughout, but then end up married in the end.
Chapter 10 Meanwhile, La Beale Isoud has been sending pitiful letters to Tristram, and finally asks him via her maid Bragwaine to come to her court with his wife. Tristram, Bragwaine, Kehydius, and Gouvernail secretly leave on a ship, but are blown to the coast of Wales by Castle Perilous. Tristram tells the others to remain there for 10 days, and to leave for Cornwall if he’s not back by them.
Isoud seems to have recognized that Tristram may well forget all about her, and instead of growing angry she decides to risk great danger—the reason she sent Tristram away from court in the first place—to bring him back and regain his love.
Tristram and Kehydius leave and come across a knight sitting by a well, next to a man leading a spear-laden horse. Tristram asks what the man is doing, and he silently makes as if to joust. First Kehydius fights, but is wounded. Then Tristram fights, but loses his horse. They fight on foot for hours. Then they pause and Tristram asks his name.
The unknown knight’s silence makes him more mysterious, especially when he shows himself to be a competent jouster—to Tristram and Kehydius his lack of a clear identity is even more intriguing after fighting against him.
Chapter 11 Tristram shares his name, and the other knight says he is Lamorak de Galis. Tristram reminds him of the enchanted horn, and says they must fight to the death, though Lamorak reminds him how he promised friendship on the Isle of Servage. But they fight to a draw, and then Lamorak says he will yield. Tristram decides to yield himself, but now Lamorak refuses. They swear never to fight again.
Tristram clearly has trouble deciding if Lamorak is an enemy or a friend, an uncertainty that throws into sharp relief the shifting alliances and fellowships among knights of this society. Their fight is portrayed as a clear draw, which perhaps will end their hostilities for good.
Chapter 12 Meanwhile Sir Palomides rides by, following, as his quest, a beast with a head of a serpent, a body of a leopard, the buttocks of a lion, and the feet of a hart: Galtisant, or the Questing Beast. Palomides strikes down Tristram and Lamorak with one spear, but then continues on after the beast, and the two are furious that he won’t fight on foot. Tristram and Lamorak bear Kehydius to a forester’s lodge and then leave. Tristram says that if Lamorak finds Palomides he should tell him to find Tristram at the same well where they met before.
As we’ll see for the rest of the book, Sir Palomides is condemned to follow the Questing Beast (which King Pellinore had first appeared as pursuing) wherever it may go—an adventure whose goal or ultimate purpose we never learn, but which nonetheless helps to define Palomides as a knight. For Tristram, the necessity of this quest seems less important than the other rules of knightly honor, which require that a knight stay to fight.
Lamorak rides to a chapel to rest his horse. Soon Bagdemagus’ son Sir Meliagrance arrives. He isn’t aware of Lamorak’s presence, and spends all night moaning about his love for Queen Guenever. In the morning Lamorak rides into the forest and meets two knights, who say they are awaiting Launcelot, who killed their brother. Lamorak says they’ll never win.
This initial introduction to Meliagrance suggests the one most important element of his character in the story—his love for Queen Guenever, which begins benignly enough but will later turn jealous, spiteful, and even dangerous to the realm.
Chapter 13 Launcelot comes riding towards them, and he and Lamorak salute each other. Lamorak rides off, then finds the two knights, who have hidden from Launcelot in the wood: Lamorak calls them cowards. Lamorak departs and then encounters Meliagrance, and asks him why he loves Guenever so. Meliagrance says she’s the fairest queen of all, but Lamorak says that title belongs to Margawse, Gawaine’s mother. Meliagrance wants to prove he’s right by fighting, so in anger they ride towards each other and wound each other deeply. Then Launcelot and Bleoberis come, and Launcelot asks why they’re fighting—they’re both knights of Arthur.
Lamorak has already shown his skepticism regarding whether the knights can actually triumph over Launcelot, but for him it’s shameful all the same to hide rather than to fight. The battle between Lamorak and Meliagrance is portrayed as petty and silly, but also as another example of women’s peculiar power over men, in that they can even make sworn fellows of the Round Table forget their fellowship and turn against each other.
Chapter 14 Meliagrance explains the quarrel, and Bleoberis says that this is no reason to fight. They all leave each other. Later Arthur comes and jousts with Lamorak, wounding him with a spear before riding away. Lamorak is furious, unaware who it is.
Arthur rarely goes out in search of adventure himself, and when he does he seems to enjoy maintaining the same mysteriousness of identity as other knights (and Merlin).
Chapter 15 Meanwhile Tristram rides with Sir Kay, who reveals his name. Tristram says that Kay is known as a shameful knight who is too quick with his tongue. They then come to a bridge, where Sir Tor refuses the crossing. Tor fights with Kay and forces him off his horse. They all lodge together with Sir Brandiles, and the three of them speak ill of Cornish knights, so Tristram stays silent.
Though Tristram is not a knight of the Round Table himself, he has heard stories of Kay’s shameful behavior with Gareth and with Breunor le Noire (La Cote Male Taile). Still, their differences are not enough to make them fight rather than lodge together. The prejudice against Cornish knights continues to present itself among Arthur’s knights.
In the morning Tristram jousts with and wins over Brandiles and Tor. Brandiles and Kay decide to ride after Tristram and ask his name. They find him drinking at a well, and Tristram reveals he is Tristram from Cornwall. Brandiles says he is the knight whose company the Round Table most desires. Tristram thanks him, but says that he is not yet worthy enough.
The next morning, a friendly joust gives Tristram the chance to make his prowess more well known. It seems that word of his success has reached the Round Table, even if he doesn’t feel himself ready to join this fellowship.
Chapter 16 Arthur, meanwhile, is enchanted into the Forest Perilous by a sorceress, Annowre, who is in love with him. She brings him to his tower and tries to sleep with him, but he refuses to be unfaithful. So she makes him ride into the forest each day with his knights, in the hopes that he’ll be killed. Nimue seeks out Launcelot or Tristram to help Arthur. She finds Tristram first, they ride to a castle, where a knight (Arthur) is fighting two others, who strike him down. One unlaces his helmet to slay him, and then Annowre (who is also present) grabs Arthur’s sword to cut off his head. Tristram races down and strikes both knights down dead. Nimue calls to Arthur not to let the traitoress escape: Arthur overtakes Annowre and cuts off her head.
Annowre is a classic example of a powerful and dangerous woman, whose love seems to have a great deal in common with hatred, given that she’d rather see Arthur killed than have him alive and refusing to sleep with her. Once again, Nimue, whose love for Arthur is portrayed as much more pure, uses her form of feminine sorcery to figure out what’s happened to Arthur and to seek out rescuers for him. Launcelot and Tristram are the obvious choices here, and Tristram proves his prowess once again in aiding Arthur.
Arthur thanks Tristram heartily, but Tristram refuses to share his name. They ride together until they meet Sir Ector de Maris, who recognizes neither and wants to joust. Tristram strikes down Ector. Tristram then points Arthur to his knight, and departs.
Though Tristram has defended the king of the Round Table, he still prefers to keep his identity hidden. As with many of the disguises in the book, this decision seems somewhat inexplicable, but it also allows Tristram to join any fellowship at will.
Chapter 17 Tristram and Lamorak meet at the designated well, fetch Kehydius, and ride to the ship where they’d left Bragwaine and Gouvernail. Then they all sail to Cornwall. They land and ride to Sir Dinas, a friend of Tristram’s, and Bragwaine and Dinas ride to Mark’s court to tell La Beale Isoud that Tristram is close. She asks him to be brought secretly to a chamber in court. Tristram and Isoud meet there, and they are overjoyed and sleep together. Kehydius, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Isoud himself, and writes letters and ballads to her, a few of which she responds to with pity.
After this brief interlude, Tristram and Lamorak leave off their adventures and return to the quest they’d begun with, which is to return to La Beale Isoud despite the danger of Tristram’s being seen at Mark’s court. The fact that many men fall in love with Isoud is meant to show just how admirable of a lady she is, and the fact that she has chosen Tristram signals his greatness as well.
Isoud secretly lodges Tristram in a turret (little tower atop a castle). One day Tristram, Kehydius, and Isoud are all in a chamber above where King Mark is playing chess, when Tristram finds letters between Kehydius and Isoud. Tristram accuses both Isoud and Kehydius of being ungrateful and false. Tristram draws his sword, and Isoud swoons. Kehydius leaps out of a bay window. King Mark sees him and exclaims at what he’s doing. Kehydius says he fell asleep by a window and fell out.
The lovers’ idyll doesn’t last long before the suspicion of treachery and betrayal returns, now on Tristram’s side (ironically, since he is the one betraying King Mark himself). Tristram’s suspicions are also shown to be unfair, since we as readers know more about Isoud’s true loyalties than Tristram does. Kehydius still is eager to protect Tristram.
Chapter 18 Tristram fears his discovery by Mark, so he sends for his horse and spear from Gouvernail, and rides out of the castle at night. He meets Gawaine’s son by the gate and knocks him out with his spear before riding into the forest, where he meets a knight, Sir Fergus. Tristram is in such sorrow that he faints off his horse and is unconscious for three days. Fergus travels back to court to get news for Tristram, and on the way he meets a damsel sent from Palomides to find out how Tristram is doing. Fergus continues on and finds that Isoud is, like Tristram, in an extreme state of grieving. Meanwhile Palomides’ damsel finds Tristram and is upset that she cannot heal him. Several times Tristram escapes from her, once riding by the same castle where he had fought Palomides. There the damsel finds him again, and she and the lady of the castle try to feed him, but he eats little. The lady gives him a harp, which he plays sorrowfully in the forest. This period lasts for several months, and Tristram begins to dress like and spend time with herdsmen and shepherds.
Little by little, Tristram descends into madness, all as a result of his love for Isoud and his feeling that, either because of King Mark or because of further competition from people like Kehydius, their ability to love each other in peace is doomed. A number of people at court seem concerned about Tristram’s well-being: as we’ll remember, the court had always held him in higher esteem than Mark, even refusing to follow Mark’s orders to kill Tristram. In any case, we are meant to view Tristram’s slow disintegration as a tragic result of loving a woman too much, and his despair and insanity are meant to be signs of the depth of his passion and the “greatness” of his soul. He seems to lose his reason and even his identity, a loss underlined by his movement into the forest and time spent with shepherds.
Chapter 19 One day Arthur’s fool Dagonet comes into Cornwall and passes by a well where Tristram is resting. Tristram throws Dagonet and his squires into the well, then lifts them out, making the shepherds laugh. Tristram continues to stay in the forest for six months. Meanwhile, the damsel sent by Sir Palomides returns to him and reports. Palomides meets Kehydius, whom Isoud has sent out of Cornwall, and they share that they both loved Isoud. They decide that they should now seek Tristram, who is similarly forlorn for a woman’s love.
Tristram’s behavior has grown extremely erratic: he no longer is eager to joust with approaching knights, but instead plays tricks on them for no apparent reason. Although in a different circumstance Palomides and Kehydius could be rivals, they now realize that they, along with Tristram, actually have much in common in being hoodwinked by a woman’s power. Palomides continues to be a complex character, one who is sometimes portrayed as a formidable and noble knight, and sometimes as a coward who is murderously jealous of Tristram. Here he seems to be taking the “high road.”
The two come across Sir Mark, whom Palomides calls a destroyer of worshipful knights, including Tristram. Mark refuses to fight, since he did no wrong and is in fact sorry for Tristram’s lovesickness. They agree to be friends and all depart from each other. Meanwhile Dagonet races to King Mark and tells him of a dangerous fool (Tristram) he met in the forest. Mark says that it must be another knight, who has lost his lady and gone mad.
Here King Mark plays the innocent, pretending to love Tristram as much as he once did, though the reader is meant to see through Mark’s deceitfulness, since having once sentenced Tristram to death he can only be glad of Tristram’s sorrow. Still, it’s unclear whether or not Mark knows that the “fool” is actually Tristram.
Chapter 20 Sir Andred, Tristram’s cousin, has his lover spread a rumor that she saw Tristram die, and that Tristram had asked Mark to make Andred king of his own country of Liones. At this news Mark weeps and Isoud goes nearly out of her mind. She prepares to kill herself with a sword, saying Tristram was her first and last love. Mark, who’s seen all of this, races to her and takes her away to keep her in a tower, where she lies sick.
Andred, meanwhile, is taking advantage of Tristram’s madness for his own benefit, at the expense of Isoud as well. Only now does Mark show true feelings for Tristram, who after all was once his favorite protégé. He also is faced with direct proof regarding just how much Isoud preferred Tristram to Mark himself.
Meanwhile Tristram remains wandering naked in the forest. A giant named Tauleas has avoided the forest for years in fear of Tristram, but upon learning of his supposed death he wanders back. One day he comes across a knight, Sir Dinant, and a lady, and he seizes Dinant. As he prepares to strike off his head, the herdsmen watching call to Tristram to help. Tristram takes the knight’s sword and cuts of Tauleas’ head.
Tristram may have gone insane, but part of him seems to still retain the knowledge of the code of honor and knightly conduct that he had once so successfully espoused—here using both his strength and courage to rescue another knight and his lady from harm.
Chapter 21 Dinant takes the giant’s head to King Mark and tells him how a naked man saved him. Mark prepares to go out and find this man with his knights. Mark sees him lying by a well, and orders his men to capture him and take him to the castle. They throw a blanket over him and lead him to Tintagil, all ignorant of who he is. Isoud, hearing of the tale, goes to see him, resting in the garden. He looks familiar to her but she doesn’t recognize him, though Tristram recognizes her, and he turns away and weeps.
In a highly coincidental chain of events, Tristram is brought back to the very castle that he left in sorrow, though this time as a prisoner and a curiosity rather than as either a secret lover or respected knight. Even Isoud is unable to see Tristram for who he really is, suggesting that his changed demeanor has impacted his very identity as a knight.
Isoud always keeps a small brachet with her, a gift from Tristram, which never leaves her side unless it is to go to Tristram himself. Suddenly the brachet springs towards Tristram, and Isoud cries that it’s her love. But she says that if Mark recognizes Tristram he’ll banish or kill him, so she begs him to go to Arthur’s court, where he is loved, and she’ll send for him when she can. Tristram, angry and upset, tells Isoud to leave him.
The brachet retains the ability to see people’s true identities under their various masks, a skill consistently possessed by very few (if any) of the humans in the story. Still, this is hardly a scene of joyful reunion between two lovers. Instead, Tristram still believes Isoud to have been treacherous (a remarkable double standard, considering his various infidelities).
Chapter 22 Because of the brachet’s actions, Andred realizes that the man is Tristram, and he tells Mark. Tristram admits it himself. Mark asks his barons to condemn Tristram to death, but they refuse. Instead they banish him for 10 years. Many barons prepare a ship. Sir Dinadan comes from Arthur’s court to joust with Tristram before welcoming him. Tristram knocks him from his horse, and then Dinadan asks that they be in fellowship, which Tristram agrees to. Tristram sarcastically tells the barons that he is well rewarded for saving the country, fighting Marhaus, and delivering Isoud from Ireland.
Sir Andred’s rumors have gone nowhere, and it is not long before the brachet’s actions set up a revelation of Tristram’s identity to the entire court. Now, of course, Mark’s troubles with Tristram and his treachery begin once again. Banishment is considered a compromise, since the other barons consider Tristram such a noble and successful knight that it would be against their own honor to condemn him to death.
Chapter 23 Tristram lands with Dinadan, Ector de Maris and Sir Bors de Ganis, along with Bleoberis and Driant. They all joust together, and all admire Tristram’s prowess. Tristram and Dinadan enter a forest, where they meet a damsel who is in love with Sir Launcelot, and has come to seek some knights to rescue him from 30 knights whom Morgan le Fay has ordained to lie in wait for him. Bors de Ganis, Bleoberis, Ector de Maris, and Driant have already agreed. Dinadan is afraid of fighting 30 knights, but Tristram says he’ll kill Dinadan if he doesn’t fight, so he yields. Tristram and Dinadan alone encounter the thirty knights, and they kill all but ten, who flee.
This group of more or less loyal knights leaves Cornwall together to begin another series of adventures. First, Tristram reasserts his prowess, which may have been in question after he spent time in the forest as a madman. Then he grows eager to also reassert his loyalty towards Launcelot, who, though he has not yet lost in battle, seems just as vulnerable as any other knight to the wily ways of women, especially the powerful Morgan le Fay.
Chapter 24 Tristram and Dinadan ride towards shepherds to ask if they know of any lodging. They say there is a castle nearby, but they must joust with two knights first. Dinadan says he won’t lodge there, and Tristram chides him for being cowardly, even though he is of the Round Table. Reluctantly, Dinadan follows Tristram. They manage to defeat the two knights, and are lodged well in the castle.
Dinadan’s behavior contrasts, of course, with Tristram’s, as we are meant to see and judge two distinct and opposing ways of taking up one’s responsibilities as knight. For Tristram, Dinadan’s actions are an affront to the reputation of the Round Table, even though Tristram himself isn’t a knight of Arthur.
Sir Palomides and Sir Gaheris then arrive at the castle gate, requiring Tristram and Dinadan to emerge and joust again. They fight on horse and then on foot, but Dinadan is too wounded to succeed. Dinadan says Tristram is a madman, and he curses the day he met him, since he has never had any peace since then. Tristram says he’ll fight both knights on his own then, but Gaheris and Palomides say it’s shameful to fight two against one. Tristram invites them into the castle, but Sir Dinadan doesn’t want to lodge there. Cursing them all, Dinadan departs. That night, Bors de Ganis, Bleoberis, Ector de Maris, and Driant lodge where Tristram had fought the 30 knights, and there they meet Launcelot.
Having left Cornwall, Tristram and his companion are now back in the realm of Camelot, packed with King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table. Dinadan is not the greatest of a sidekick to Tristram—he lacks Tristram’s courage, which seems to him to be overly reckless and even foolish. Finally, Dinadan gives up on accompanying the illustrious knight. Bors de Ganis, Bleoberis, Ector, and Driant are also circling the same territory as Tristram, as their adventures seem to be overlapping.
Chapter 25 Launcelot, hearing of Tristram’s exploits, praises him. Meanwhile, Dinadan is lodged at a priory, where he tells a knight there, Pellinore, of his companion’s deeds, though he refuses to share his name. Pellinore decides to ride out after him, though Dinadan warns him that he might regret it. Pellinore meets Tristram and asks him to joust: Tristram wounds him in the shoulder and continues on.
Launcelot seems to have forgiven Tristram for his lack of loyalty to Isoud, though perhaps he is simply won over by Tristram’s knightly exploits, which make up for this behavior. It’s not entirely clear whether this Pellinore is the same as the king and ally of Arthur.
The news spreads that there will be a tournament between King Carados of Scotland and the King of North Wales. Many knights meet there, including Tristram, who performs splendidly. He rides away and meets a damsel who tells him about a knight he can win glory by fighting against. They ride and encounter Gawaine, who knows the lady is of Morgan le Fay, and is leading Tristram to mischief. Gawaine warns him not to follow her, then pulls out his sword and orders her to tell him why she leads the knight away. Frightened, she says Morgan le Fay has ordered 30 ladies to spy on Launcelot or Tristram and bring them to her castle to be killed by 30 knights who are lying in wait there. Gawaine rebukes her.
Tournaments organized by kings of the various realms are opportunities for knights to prove themselves and to practice jousting in a contained environment. However, even Tristram’s success at the tournament doesn’t seem to make him invincible to other kinds of power, particularly Morgan le Fay’s sorcery. It is not entirely clear why Morgan has turned against Launcelot and Tristram in addition to Arthur, except that they are two other powerful knights allied with her brother.
Chapter 26 Gawaine and Tristram agree to ride to Morgan le Fay’s castle. When they arrive, Gawaine calls out for Morgan to send out her 30 knights, since he knows her treason. The knights inside say they won’t come out, not because of Gawaine but because they are scared of his companion. Gawaine and Tristram then ride off and meet Kay and Sagramore le Desirous. Then they see Breuse Saunce Pité chasing a lady to kill her, as he’s just killed her lover. Gawaine rides between them and tells Breuse to fight him. Breuse throws Gawaine down and tries to ride over him with his horse, so Tristram, seeing the shameful deed, rides out to defend him. Breuse sees the shield of Cornwall, knows who it is, and flees. Tristram follows him for hours until reaching a well, where he rests.
Although Morgan le Fay has prepared knights to fight against Tristram or Launcelot, she doesn’t seem to have chosen particularly courageous ones, since they immediately show themselves to be frightened. Breuse Saunce Pité has appeared several times so far in these stories, but this scene helps us understand his character, which will remain constant through the book—he is always chasing after women with some sinful, dishonorable goal in mind, but he is also cowardly, and will always prefer to run away rather than to stand and fight. Indeed, his name means “without pity.”
Chapter 27 Tristram falls asleep. Dame Bragwaine comes upon him and, when he awakes, gives him letters from La Beale Isoud. Tristram is pleased to see how much she misses him. He tells Bragwaine to accompany him to the Castle of Maidens Tournament before returning with a reply. They lodge with an old knight, Sir Pellounes, whose son, Sir Persides de Bloise, has just returned after two years. Persides and Tristram talk of their exploits. Persides confides that he was once, in Cornwall, overthrown by a knight Tristram: he knows he’s a good and noble knight, but has no goodwill for him. As they’re talking, they see a knight riding on a black horse with a black shield: Persides says it is the heathen Palomides, one of the best knights in the world.
Tristram seems to have given up on pursuing Breuse Saunce Pité, at least for now, especially now that another tournament awaits him—a chance for Tristram to show off in front of Bragwaine, who will surely share the news of Tristram’s exploits with her mistress Isoud. Once again, Tristram takes advantage of his inability to be identified here—he is well known from his exploits, but remains largely unknown by appearance. Persides’ statement about Palomides can only be a provocation for Tristram.
Chapter 28 Persides and Tristram ride to the tournament, where Palomides sends a squire to ask Persides to joust with him. Persides falls first, and then Palomides strikes against Tristram before Tristram is ready to fight, knocking him off his horse. Tristram asks Palomides to fight again, but Palomides says he won’t, since he knows Tristram better than Tristram thinks. Other knights begin to arrive before the official tournament starts, including Launcelot and a Welsh knight. They joust and Launcelot strikes the Welshman down. Others challenge Launcelot, who wears a shield of Cornwall. He beats them all. Tristram, impressed, doesn’t recognize him.
Tristram has forged a temporary but still strong alliance with Persides, at least for the duration of the tournament. Palomides, perhaps given his long history with Tristram, seems to be the only one able to recognize Tristram. Launcelot joins Tristram’s game of unknown identity by putting on a shield of Cornwall, in a move that also has the effect of suggesting his renewed friendship with Tristram.
Chapter 29 Launcelot (still in disguise) jousts with Palomides as Tristram and Dinadan watch, and Tristram predicts Palomides will fall—and he is right. Launcelot rides to a well to rest, and 12 knights follow and spring on him, in order that he might not win the tournament. Launcelot defends himself, killing four knights and wounding the rest. He then escapes to wait until the 2nd day of the tournament.
It’s not yet clear whether or not Tristram is aware of Launcelot’s true identity, but perhaps it’s a combination of national pride and sophisticated judgment that allows Tristram to predict the result. Launcelot is not yet ready to reveal who he is to the crowds.
Chapter 30 Tristram gets Gouvernail to bring him a black shield, and he rides to the tournament with Persides and fights against many knights from all over the kingdom. After the first day, many marvel at Tristram with his black shield, wondering who he is. Arthur gives him the first day’s prize.
Tristram, too, takes on a new persona in this tournament. While Launcelot had performed well, Tristram jousts more times with a greater variety of other knights, so he gets the prize.
Chapter 31 In the morning Palomides rides to Arthur’s side, and he sends a damsel to Tristram to ask his name. Tristram says he won’t tell until they’ve fought, and that they’ll have to be on opposite sides. Since Palomides has moved to Arthur’s side (from the King of Northgalis), Tristram will thus fight against Arthur’s knights. Tristram fights against Bors de Ganis, Ector de Maris, Blamore, and others, wounding many. Launcelot arrives and asks one of the wounded who hurt him: he says a devilish knight with a black shield. Launcelot decides to meet with Tristram, but seeing him wielding his sword and shield in wild prowess, he decides not to.
As we can tell, the sides and alliances at this tournament are constantly being shaken up, as knights try to gauge where they have the best chance of winning, or, conversely, which position would give them the greatest challenge and therefore the most glory if they won. Launcelot would be the perfect candidate to fight against the knight who wounded his comrades, but Launcelot can also be careful not to choose battles recklessly.
Tristram sees the King with the Hundred Knights fight against 20 members of Launcelot’s family, and, ashamed, he tells the King not to fight so unevenly: instead Tristram will go out to meet them alone.
Tristram seems to relish fighting against uneven odds, especially as this offers him the chance to win greater glory.
Chapter 32 The King withdraws his knights, and suddenly Tristram, Dinadan, and Gouvernail ride into the forest. Arthur blows the horn to end the 2nd day, and gives the King of Northgalis the prize since Tristram was on his side. Arthur comforts his men: he says he’ll fight himself the next day in revenge.
For the moment, we leave Tristram and his companions and remain with Arthur, who is a fair judge of the tournament, in that he gives the prize not to his own men but to the person that deserves it.
Dame Bragwaine arrives at the tournament from La Beale Isoud, pretending it’s to ask after Guenever, but actually looking for Tristram. Bragwaine rides through the forest and sends her squire before her. The squire comes to a well and finds Palomides bound to a tree, sobbing. Palomides breaks his bonds, and races after the squire as if to kill him. The squire flees to Bragwaine, who tells Tristram what happened. Tristram rides into the forest to find Palomides wailing and raging: he throws his sword into a fountain and then goes to dive in for it, but Tristram (whom Palomides doesn’t recognize) holds him fast. Palomides cries that he wants to fight Tristram, who has shamed him. Tristram comforts him and leads him to his lodging. In the morning Palomides takes his horse to Gaheris and Sagramore.
The last time we left Palomides, he had just been defeated by Launcelot, who went on to triumph against many other knights at the tournament. While Bragwaine’s squire is apparently in pursuit of Tristram, as often happens in these stories he is first diverted to another adventure, this one involving Palomides—though the sagas of Palomides and Tristram end up being intertwined. It is ironic, of course, that Tristram is the one who ends up comforting Palomides, as Palomides is only distraught because of Tristram himself.
Chapter 33 On the third day Tristram and Palomides fight, and Tristram wins—and he even strikes down Arthur as well. Tristram jousts with Palomides, who almost beats him, but finally Tristram strikes him 3 times, saying each time that it’s for Tristram’s sake. Palomides springs up again and they fight again and again. Tristram also strikes down 11 other knights.
Palomides may not know who Tristram is, but Tristram still proves able to conquer him and make up for the fact that he doesn’t feel like he can bring himself to reveal his identity. But Palomides, to his credit, does not shrink from the challenge of fighting.
Chapter 34 Finally Launcelot prepares to joust. Tristram’s spear breaks as they meet, and Launcelot accidentally wounds Tristram deeply, but before withdrawing Tristram strikes him on the helmet as well. Tristram goes into the forest to wash his wounds, and Dinadan follows. Palomides rides out to joust with Tristram, who doesn’t let Dinadan fight for him. Instead Tristram strikes down Palomides, who loses consciousness. Tristram and Dinadan then ride to an old knight’s palace for lodging.
This is probably the first time that Tristram and Launcelot fight against each other, though neither knows who the other is—that they reach a draw is meant to underline just how well-matched they are in terms of knightly prowess. Between Tristram and Palomides or Tristram and Dinadan, however, the outcome is more certain. Malory seems to enjoy listing his heroes’ many easier victories.
Meanwhile Launcelot becomes the star of the tournament. Arthur is refreshed and joins in. Finally he gives the prize to Launcelot, though others are clamoring for Tristram to receive it.
Launcelot and Tristram are again presented as equal in prowess, and also as far greater than any other knight in the kingdom.
Chapter 35 Launcelot is praised and honored. But he is ashamed and goes to Arthur to suggest they find the Knight of the Black Shield: since he had said that he was fighting for Tristram, they suspect it is Tristram himself, and are sorry that he has escaped. Arthur hears from Gaheris how Tristram had struck down Palomides even while wounded, and Arthur remarks at how noble he is. Launcelot says that Tristram has done much for him, and he vows that Palomides should repent his shameful actions. Meanwhile, Palomides follows Tristram in a rage.
Although Launcelot has been lauded for his exploits, as an honorable knight he is not satisfied because he knows that another knight just as mighty and honorable as he is exists without receiving the praise he deserves. Their suspicions about the knight with the black shield’s true identity suggest that, though knights’ identities are difficult to discern, their actions are one way of matching reputation to person.
Chapter 36 Mordred is lying sick in the same old knight’s home where Tristram is staying, having jousted with Persides. Gawaine sends a damsel who meets Palomides on the way. When she arrives she describes his shield to Tristram, and he realizes that it’s Palomides: a good, strong knight, he says.
Several strands of the story coincide at this point, from Arthur’s son Mordred and Tristram to other knights of King Arthur’s court and also Palomides, who is again presented as a respected, honorable knight.
Meanwhile, Launcelot suggests that he and ten other knights swear never to rest until they find Tristram. They all depart and ride together, before coming to a cross and heading four ways. Launcelot meets Bragwaine, who is fleeing on her horse from Breuse Saunce Pité, who wants to kill her. Launcelot waits for him, cries out that he’s a traitor, and Breuse, recognizing the shield, flees.
We have already encountered Breuse Saunce Pité enough to have an adequate understanding of his character, and again he appears here as an entirely wicked knight, pursuing yet another damsel and again fleeing instead of fighting.
Chapter 37 Sir Lucan, a Round Table knight, rides to where Tristram is staying to ask for lodging himself. The nephew of the castle’s lord Darras refuses and tries to fight Lucan, who strikes him down. Dinadan goes after Lucan, who beats him too. Tristram goes to avenge Dinadan, and wounds Lucan himself. Uwaine comes along and orders Tristram to fight him. Tristram wounds Uwaine in his side, and finally returns to the castle. Uwaine carries Lucan to the Castle of Ganis, which is where Launcelot and the others would swear to their quest for Tristram.
This scene is a somewhat confusing jumble of jousting scenes, in which it is not always easy to tell who exactly is fighting against whom. In general, the knights of the Round Table—Lucan and Uwaine—remain allied to each other, in this case against Tristram, Darras’s nephew, and Dinadan, who lack an official fellowship but seek to defend their honor anyway.
A damsel comes to tell Darras that three of his sons were killed at the tournament by a noble knight with a black shield—she points to Tristram as the one. Darras then imprisons Tristram, Palomides, and Dinadan. Every day Palomides reminds Tristram of the wrongs he has done him. Tristram falls deeply ill.
Tristram and Palomides are once again thrown together as both competitors and allies, especially as they now find themselves in similar straits, both imprisoned because of Darras.
Chapter 38 Meanwhile, some of the questing knights come to Cornwall, and Gaheris tells King Mark of the knight with the black shield. Mark guesses it was Launcelot or Tristram. Mark is afraid when Gaheris tells him it was Tristram, but Isoud is glad of it. Uwaine then comes to court and challenges all the knights. Sir Andred volunteers, but Uwaine strikes him down: Mark orders Sir Dinas to replace him, but he too is struck down. Gaheris volunteers, but Uwaine sees his shield and, since they are both of the Round Table, he refuses to fight.
Mark has believed himself to be free of Tristram’s prowess by banishing him from court, but his renown is great enough that rumors of him spread from abroad, preventing Mark from ever feeling fully safe. Gaheris is not a Cornish knight, but given Mark’s hospitality to him, he feels justified in volunteering to fight against the invading knight—but then his and Uwaine’s shared allegiance to Arthur wins out.
Mark himself then rides to Uwaine, who doesn’t see him. Mark strikes him down and leaves him. After a while Kay comes along and sees Uwaine on the ground. Uwaine says he doesn’t know who hurt him, but that it was shamefully done. Kay accuses Andred of it and carries Uwaine to be healed. Gaheris prepares to leave, and rebukes Mark for banishing Tristram, who would have remained his best knight.
Although no characters learn that it was Mark himself who deceitfully fought Uwaine, we as readers are given this information as yet another example of Mark’s lack of honor. Another example of this dishonor is his insistence on banishing Tristram.
Chapter 39 Kay follows King Mark’s orders to seek adventure in the forest of Morris. He finds Gaheris there, who warns him not to trust Mark. Kay suggests they continue together to the Perilous Lake. Meanwhile Mark calls for Andred to arm him, and the two leave quietly for the lake. Kay sees the two and offers to joust. Mark strikes down Kay’s horse, angering Gaheris, who strikes Mark down and then does the same to Andred. He demands their names, and Andred reveals it is he and King Mark. Gaheris angrily calls out their treason. Mark says that he will make amends if Gaheris saves his life, and asks him to consider that he is a king. Mark yields to Gaheris, kneels down and makes an oath never again to be against knights, and to be friendly to Tristram should he ever return to Cornwall. Kay prepares to slay Andred, but Gaheris tells him not to. They ride out together, and then meet Launcelot.
Even though Gaheris hadn’t seen Mark’s shameful actions against Uwaine, he still feels that Mark was in the wrong in banishing Tristram from court, since Tristram could have gained much greater glory for Mark if he wasn’t sent away simply to assuage Mark’s ego. It turns out that Gaheris was right to warn Kay not to trust Mark, who takes advantage of the possibilities for hidden identity that are afforded by armor and shields in order to try to kill knights who have been staying with him in apparent hospitality. Usually, a knight’s vow proves difficult to break, but we are meant to be skeptical in the case of Mark.
Chapter 40 Meanwhile, Sir Dinas is keeping a lover in his castle, but she loves another knight better, so she escapes when Dinas is out hunting. Furious, he goes out, finds, and strikes down the knight. The lady begs Dinas for mercy, promising to love him. Dinas says he’ll never trust her again and returns to the castle.
Women in the book are portrayed as often inconstant: knights may do all in their power to keep them by force, but women like Dinas’s lover will somehow find a way to fulfill their own will—and here she is shown to be justifiably punished.
Launcelot, Kay, and Gaheris go out to seek Tristram in the country of Surluse. Meanwhile Dinadan, Palomides, and Tristram remain in prison. A damsel comes to visit and sees Tristram ailing, which she tells to Darras. He has Tristram brought before him, and apologizes for his sickness, since he sees Tristram is a noble knight. Though Darras was furious about his sons, he now sees that Tristram had acted according to honor, and he agrees to set Tristram and his friends free. They depart, leaving each other at a crossroads.
We return now to the three imprisoned knights. At least Darras, unlike some of the castle lords we’ve encountered, is shown to be an honorable knight. He follows the code of knightly conduct himself, and is able to overcome his personal feelings, his loyalty to his sons and desire for revenge against their killer, in favor of a more “honorable” understanding of right and wrong.
Chapter 41 Dinadan rides by a well and sees a mournful lady. She says that Breuse Saunce Pité has killed her brother, and has kept her prisoner: she asks him to avenge her. Breuse returns and they fight, but when Dinadan wounds Breuse, he flees. The lady asks Dinadan to bring her to a castle, and he continues on.
Breuse Saunce Pité has cropped up again, continuing to wreak havoc as he marauds through the forest—but he is also dishonorable enough that he never embraces a face-to-face fight.
Tristram meanwhile goes to a castle for lodging, but the castle happens to also be hosting Morgan le Fay. In the morning she won’t let him leave until he tells her who he is. She sets her lover on one side of her and Tristram on the other. Tristram finally tells her who he is, and, having promised she’d let him go, she says he must now promise to take a shield to the castle of the Hard Rock, where Arthur has decreed a tournament, and to perform well for her there. The shield depicts Guenever and Launcelot, and Morgan wants Arthur to guess that Launcelot is having an affair with Guenever. It’s rumored that Morgan loves Launcelot, and is jealous that he only loves Guenever, so she wants to destroy him.
Morgan le Fay, like many others, cannot see beneath Tristram’s armor to determine his identity, but unlike others she will not stop at guessing and instead must have her way—another reminder of how the book portrays certain women as particularly stubborn and powerful. Once Morgan learns Tristram’s identity, she immediately hatches another plan, this time not to hurt her brother but rather to avenge her unrequited love for Launcelot by revealing his affair with Guenever.
Chapter 42 Morgan’s lover Hemison decides to follow Tristram against Morgan’s will and kill him. They fight, and Tristram slays him.
Hemison has his own desires for revenge, but these are easily thwarted.
Chapter 43 In the minutes before he dies, Hemison asks Tristram to have him sent back to Morgan’s castle, where she is greatly sorrowful. Tristram continues and stays with a knight, and they speak of the realm’s greatest knights. In the morning he continues on to the castle of the Hard Rock.
Morgan is in fact shown to be more than an entirely cold, conniving woman, since she is able to grieve over her lover’s death (as she did with Accolon of Gaul). Tristram, for his part, remains committed to pursuing this part of his quest.
Chapter 44 There Tristram does many great exploits with Morgan’s shield. Arthur doesn’t understand what it means, but Guenever does and grows anxious. A damsel of Morgan goes to Arthur and tells him that the shield warns of his shame and dishonor. Arthur is sad and angry. Guenever tells Ector de Maris that the shield was surely made by Morgan against her and Launcelot. Arthur continues to gaze at the knight and his shield and this frightens Guenever. Arthur and Uwaine come to Tristram and ask him where he got his shield: he tells them.
Tristram is not actually aware of what the shield means, but in any case he has promised Morgan to use this shield. Meanwhile, the others at Arthur’s court slowly become aware that this trick of Morgan le Fay’s could easily lead to infighting and the disintegration of the knightly fellowship—even if Arthur continues to keep himself blinded to the truth. As is the case in many places throughout the work, revealing the secret of Launcelot and Guenever’s affair is portrayed as being just as bad as the affair itself.