Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights
IV. HOW SIR TRISTRAM KEPT HIS WORD
In the days when King Arthur had established his kingdom,
he was called Emperor of Britain and its three islands. Nevertheless, there were kings who
were rulers in their own lands, but they held their sovereignty of Arthur and had done
homage to him and sworn fealty. In Wales there were two kings, in the north were eleven
kings, and these he had conquered in a great battle by Sherwood Forest; in Cornwall were
two kings, and in Ireland three kings, but all gave service to the great King Arthur.
That part of Cornwall which was called the lands of Tintagel formed the kingdom of a
prince named Mark, and he owed certain yearly tribute or truage to King Anguish of South
Ireland. It befell one day that King Anguish sent a messenger, who came to King Mark as he
sat in hall, and said:
"Sir king, my master bids me say that the truage which you owe unto him is unpaid for
seven years past, and if it be not paid he will demand of you double the sum."
Now King Mark was a man of a mean and covetous mind, and he loved not to give money.
Therefore, to put off the payment for a little while, he made answer thus:
"Tell your master that we will pay him no truage; and if your lord says he will have
it, let him send a trusty knight of his land that will fight for his right, and we will
find another to do battle with him."
When King Anguish heard the message he was wondrous wroth, and called into him the brother
of his queen, Sir Marhaus, a good knight of prowess nobly proved, and, besides, a knight
of the Round Table. The king craved of him to go and do battle for the truage due from
Mark of Cornwall.
"Sir," said Sir Marhaus, "I will gladly go and do battle for you on this
saucy king or his knight. I ween ye shall have your truage to the last groat, for I fear
not the best knight of the Round Table, unless it be Sir Lancelot, and I doubt not King
Mark hath no knight of such worth and prowess as I."
So in all haste Sir Marhaus set forth in a ship, and in a little while cast anchor fast by
the shore where, on two high cliffs, the castle of Tintagel frowned upon the sea. When
King Mark understood that so noble a knight as Sir Marhaus had come to do battle for the
truage, he was full of sorrow, and wept as he looked upon the bags of gold in his
treasure-chest. He knew of no knight of his court that durst face Sir Marhaus, and he
feared much that he would have to part with his gold.
Daily Sir Marhaus sent a message up to the castle gate, demanding payment of the truage,
or that a knight should come forth to do battle against him.
Then King Mark let make a proclamation through all the lands, that if a knight would fight
to save the truage of Cornwall he should fare the better as long as he liveed. But the
days and weeks went by and no knight came forward. Then Sir Marhaus sent at the last a
message which said, that if within a day and a night a champion for King Mark came not
forward, he should depart.
All that day King Mark was sore and ill of mind and haggard of face and could never stay
still, but was for ever faring with his barons to where he could look down upon the ship
of Sir Marhaus, and see the knight waiting in his armour.
Late in the afternoon, as the king stood thus, gnawing his nails for rage, and so hot and
wrathful that none of his barons dare speak to him, there came two horsemen riding swiftly
into the courtyard of the castle, and at the sound of their horses' feet King Mark turned
A young squire was the foremost rider, and he was a youth full handsome and tall, with
brown curly hair and blue eyes. He was dressed in a surcoat of red satin and a mantle of
crimson, trimmed with gold; and on his head was a cap of rich purple, and his feet and
legs were clad in fine leather, with gold bosses on his shoes. Alighting easily, he doffed
his hat and came towards the king.
"Sir," said he, "if ye will give me the order of knighthood, I shall do
battle to the uttermost with Sir Marhaus of Ireland."
King Mark looked the young man up and down, and saw that though he was young of age, yet
he was passing well made of body, with broad shoulders and of big limbs. The heart of King
Mark became light.
"Fair son," he said, and his barons marvelled at his soft words, "what are
ye and whence come ye?"
"Sir," said the youth, " I come from King Talloch, Prince of Lyones, and I
am a gentleman's son."
"And your name and birthplace - what are they?"
"My name is Tristram, sir, and I was born in Lyones."
"Young sir," said the king, "I like your manner, and I think ye should be a
good man of your hands. Therefore will I make you knight if ye will fight with Sir
"That is why I have come," said Tristram.
Eagerly the king bade a baron give him his sword, and commanded Tristram to kneel, and
then and there he tapped his shoulder with the flat of the sword and bade him rise,
"Sir Tristram of Lyones."
The king commanded his scrivener to come to him, and on the low wall overlooking the sea
the man of inkhorn and goosequill laid his parchment, and wrote a letter to Sir Marhaus at
the king's dictation, saying that a knight would battle with him in the morning. A
messenger was sent therewith without delay, and the king went into supper, snapping his
fingers and joking with his barons in great glee.
But in the midst of supper a parchment was brought to the king and his face fell, and he
commanded the new-made knight to come from his seat and stand before him.
"Hark ye," he said, his face dark, " this prideful Sir Marhaus, waiting so
long, hath made his terms the harder. I fear, good fellow, your knighthood hath been
earned of me too easily, even if ye are not in league with this pesky Irish knight,"
he went on, his narrow eyes gleaming with suspicion. "He sayeth now that he will not
fight with any knight unless he be of blood royal on his mother's side or father's. Say,
are ye some starveling knight's brat, or what are ye?"
Sir Tristram's face went hard and his eyes flashed.
"No starveling's brat am I, king," he said, "unless ye are that
"What mean you? Have a care of your saucy tongue."
"I fear thee not," laughed Sir Tristram, "but this I would have you know. I
am thy nephew, son of thy sister Elizabeth, who died in the forest, and of King Talloch of
At these words the king rose from his seat and embraced Sir Tristram, crying:
"Now, in the name of Heaven, thou art right heartily welcome unto me, dear
That evening he made great cheer of Sir Tristram, and had his bed made next to his own in
his own royal chamber. On the morrow the king had Sir Tristram horsed and armed in the
best manner. Then he sent a trumpeter down to the seashore, and let Sir Marhaus know that
a better born man than he was himself would fight with him, and that his name was Sir
Tristram of Lyones, son of the king of Lyones and his queen Elizabeth, King Mark's sister.
Sir Marhaus was right blithe that he should have to do with such a gentleman.
Then it was ordained that the two knights should battle on a little island near the ship
of Sir Marhaus, and so young Sir Tristram and his squire were rowed thereunto, and when he
departed, King Mark and his barons and all the common people were rejoiced to see the
young knight's noble and high bearing, and wished him God-speed.
When Sir Tristram landed he saw Sir Marhaus waiting armed in the shadow of his ship. Sir
Tristram's squire brought his master's horse to land, and clad his master in his armour as
was right, and then the young knight mounted upon his horse and rode towards Sir Marhaus.
While he was as yet six spear-lengths from him the knight of the Round Table cried unto
"Young knight, Sir Tristram, what doest thou here? I grieve me of thy courage, for ye
are untried, while I have been well essayed in jousts and tournaments with some of the
best men of their hands as are now living. I counsel thee to go back."
"Fair and well-proved knight," said Sir Tristram, "I am for thy sake made
knight, and I have promised to fight thee, and I will do so, as much for mine uncle's sake
as for what worship I may win from doing battle with ye, who are one of the best renowned
knights of the world."
"Then I would have ye know, fair sir," said Sir Marhaus, "that no worship
shalt thou lose if thou canst only stand against three strokes of mine, for, by reason of
my noble deeds, seen and proved, King Arthur made me knight of the Round Table."
Sir Tristram answered him naught, and then they dressed their spears and spurred their
horses, and ran so fiercely each against the other that both were smitten to the ground,
both horses and men. But Sir Marhaus had struck a great wound in the side of Sir Tristram,
yet so eager was the young knight that he knew not of it. They leaped up and avoided their
horses, and drew out their swords, and with shield on arm they lashed at each other like
fierce wild boars. Yet for all Sir Marhaus' strong and bitter strokes he could not beat
down the young knight's guard, and in despite he began to aim at his vizor and his neck.
At this Sir Tristram was wroth, and struck him more furiously. Thus for two hours the
battle waged, and both were sore wounded. But Sir Tristram was the fresher and better
winded and bigger of limb and reach; and suddenly he heaved his sword up high, and closing
upon Sir Marhaus he smote him with so mighty a buffet upon his helm that the blade shore
through the steel even into the brain-pan.
So fierce had been the stroke that the sword stuck fast in the bone and the helmet, and
Sir Tristram pulled thrice at his sword before it would loosen. Sir Marhaus sank to his
knees with a deathly groan; then he threw away his sword and shield, and rising, staggered
away towards his ship. Sir Tristram swooned and fell; and his squire came running to him,
just as the men of Sir Marhaus' ship came and drew their master on board. Then they
swiftly set their sail and flew over the sea.
Great was the mourning of the barons and the people of Cornwall when it was known how deep
and wide was the wound which Tristram had received from the lance of Sir Marhaus. Many
famous leeches came and searched the wound and strove to close it, but none availed. When
two months had passed, came an old, old woman, a witch wise in leechcraft beyond all
others, who was called the Mother of the Mists, and who lived in the Great Shuddering
Moor, where only trolls dwelled, and no man ever dared to go. She also came and searched
his wound at the king's desire.
When she had made her search, with many mumblings and strange words, she turned and looked
keenly at the king. Her eyes gleamed like beads, her skin was wrinkled and dark, and she
laughed a little soft laugh.
"Lord king," she said, "this fine man's
wound is poisoned, and naught can heal it this side the great water. But if he goeth
whither the spear came from which poisoned it, he shall get whole of that wound."
"'Tis well," said the king; "he shall be sent to Ireland."
"Ay, ay, ay," said the old woman, and laughed in Sir Tristram's face. "Thou
shalt be healed, fair chief, but the hand that shall heal thee shall give thee a deeper
wound - a wound that shall never be healed this side o' thy grave."
Forthwith King Mark let a fair ship be purveyed and well stored with necessary victuals,
and Sir Tristram was carried thereto and laid on his couch on the deck, and Governale, his
faithful squire, went with him. In the sunshine and the brisk wind Sir Tristram felt
joyful, and the merry waves slapped the sides of the ship full prettily as it cleaved
through the blue seas towards the west.
In the evening they saw the white cliffs and the brown rocks of Ireland, and Sir Tristram
took his harp and played thereon, for he had learned to harp most featly in France, where
he had lived seven years, to learn all manner of courtly and noble pastimes. Soon the
ship-men cast anchor in a wide sheltered cove beneath a castle which stood on a high rock
beside a fair town.
Sir Tristram asked the master of the ship the name of that town.
"Cro-na-Shee, if it please you, my lord," said the master.
"It pleases me well," said Tristram; "it should mean that there dwell
therein brave and noble knights, and damsels like unto fairies."
Out of the merriness of his heart he thrummed his harp with so blithe and strange a tune
that in a little while the very folk upon the shore came listening, and some began to
dance, while others looked sad. For though the tune was very merry, there was sadness also
peeping from it.
It happened that King Anguish and his court were in that castle by the sea, and a
handmaiden of the queen came to where they sat and told them of the knight that sat in his
ship and harped so strange a lay that it made one glad and sorry at the same time.
Then King Anguish sent a knight and begged the harper to take cheer with him, and Sir
Tristram was brought in a litter, and all the damsels were sad at his sickness, and the
knights sorrowed that a knight so noble-looking should be so wounded. King Anguish asked
him who he was and how he came by his wound. And Sir Tristram, having learned that this
was the King of Ireland, whose champion he had worsted in the battle, and thinking that
his own name would be known, replied:
"I am of the country of Lyones, and my name is Sir Tramor, and my wound was got in
battle, as I fought for a lady's right."
"I pity thee, sir knight," said the king, who was a right noble king and
lovable, "and by Heaven's aid, ye shall have all the help in this country that ye may
The king told him of the battle which Sir Marhaus had had on his behalf with a knight
named Sir Tristram, and how Sir Marhaus had come home wounded unto death, and was dead
this two months. On which Sir Tristram feigned to be sorry, but said not much thereon.
Then did the king order his daughter to come before him. She was called La Belle Isoude,
for that she was the most lovely damsel in all Ireland and the Out-Isles, and withal
gentle and kind; and her father bade her tend and minister to this stranger knight, who
had come to Ireland to heal him of his wound.
In a few weeks, so soft was she of her hands and so learned in leechcraft, she had cleaned
Tristram's wound of all poison and he was hale and strong again. As some reward he taught
her to harp, and gave her many good and costly presents. These she took, but valued them
not so much as his kind words and smiles. More and more she loved to hear his voice, and
when he was gone out hawking or looking at jousts she was sad and thoughtful, sitting with
her fair hands in her lap and her eyes looking far away, and when she heard his step or
his voice in the hall, then would her sad eyes light up, and a merry tune would hum upon
her lips, and she would gaily talk with her handmaidens, who, whispering and glancing and
nodding to each other as they sat about her at their spinning frames, knew of her love for
Sir Tristram before she was aware of it herself.
Sir Tristram cared not overmuch to be with ladies, but was more joyful to be in hall,
talking of hunting, jousting, and hawking. All men regarded him highly for his great
knowledge of these things, but as yet, for fear of hurting his wound which was but freshly
healed, La Belle Isoude forbade him gently to take violent exercise. Sir Tristram was
impatient to be in the saddle again, with lance in rest and his great charger leaping
Now, to the court of King Anguish there had lately come a
knight named Sir Palomides, famed for his knightly deeds, though still a pagan, and he was
well favoured both of King Anguish and his queen. Sir Palomides came and made great court
to La Belle Isoude, and proffered her many gifts, for he loved her passing well. Indeed,
for her sake he declared he would be christened and become a Christian knight; but La
Belle Isoude had no care for him, and avoided him -as well as she might.
On a certain day King Anguish made a great cry that a joust and tournament would be held,
wherein only unmarried knights should join, and the prize would be a fair lady called the
Lady of the Laundes, near cousin to the king. The heralds further said that he who should
win her should marry her three days after, and have all her lands with her. This cry was
made in all Ireland and Wales, and in Logres and Alban, which are now called England and
It befell the same day that La Belle Isoude came to Sir Tristram, and she seemed
distressed of mind and as if she had wept secretly.
"Sir Tramor," she said, "this tournament shall exalt Sir Palomides beyond
all other knights, unless a better do come forward and overcome him."
"Fair lady," said Sir Tristram, "Sir Palomides may well win the prize
against any knight, except it be Sir Lancelot. But if ye think I am fit to joust, I will
e'en essay it. Yet he is a proved knight, and I but a young one and but lately ill; and my
first battle that I fought, it mishapped me to be sore wounded. Yet I will essay it, for I
love not this Sir Palomides."
"Ah, but I know thou wilt do well in the battle, and thou shalt have all my prayers
for thy safety and success," said La Belle Isoude.
On the first day of the jousts Sir Palomides came with a black shield, and he was a knight
big of his body and on a great horse. He overthrew many knights and put them to the worst,
among them being many of the knights of the Round Table, as Sir Gawaine and his brother
Sir Gaheris, Sir Agravaine, Sir Kay, Sir Sagramore le Desirous, Sir Owen, who had been the
little page-boy who had saved King Arthur's life in his hall at Caerleon, and three other
knights. All these he struck down, and the others were adread of him. The people had great
marvel, and acclaimed him with much worship as the victor of the first day.
The next day he came and smote down King Morgant, the pagan King of Scotland, as also the
Duke of Cambenet. Then, as he rode up and down the lists proudly flourishing his lance,
dressing his shield and waiting for the other knights to offer themselves to him, he was
aware of a knight all in white armour, with vizor closed, riding quickly through the gate
as if he came from the seashore.
The stranger knight came with swiftness, lifting his lance in token of challenge. Whereat
Sir Palomides rode to the other end of the lists, dressed his lance, and together they put
their horses in motion. Like two bulls the knights thundered against each other in the
centre of the lists. The white knight's lance hit the shield of Sir Palomides full in the
centre, and with the shock the pagan knight was lifted from his saddle, carried beyond his
horse, and fell with a great thud to the ground, while his horse careered onward
Sir Gawaine and his fellows marvelled who this strange knight might be. Then Sir
Palomides, rising from the ground, caught his horse, and full of shame, would have slunk
from the field. But the white knight rode after him and bade him turn, "for,"
said the stranger, "he would better prove him with the sword."
Then, alighting, they lashed at each other with their swords. Now Sir Palomides was a
powerful man, and his strokes were passing heavy, but Sir Tristram, for the stranger
knight was he, felt so full of strength and joy after his long leisure, that he played
with Sir Palomides, and men wondered at the might of his blows, and his swiftness was a
marvel to see. In a while, with a great buffet on the head of the pagan knight, Sir
Tristram felled him to the earth.
"Now yield thee," said the white knight sternly, " and do my command, or I
will slay thee of a surety."
Sir Palomides was sore adread, and promised.
"Swear me this," said the stranger, "that upon pain of thy life thou leave
my lady La Belle Isoude, and come not unto her ever again, and for a year and a day thou
shalt bear no armour. Promise me this, or here shalt thou die!"
"I swear it," said Sir Palomides, "but I am for ever shamed."
In his rage Sir Palomides cut off his armour and threw it from him and fled away on his
Then the white knight also went away, and none knew who he was. The king sent after him,
to tell him he was the winner of the lady, whom he should wed, but the messengers could
not find him. Men marvelled much at this, that the victor knight should not come to claim
the rich lady for his wife with the wide lands that went with her.
When Sir Tristram returned to the private postern where La Belle Isoude had led him forth
secretly, he found her standing breathless, and she was pale and red by turns, and could
not speak at first.
"Thou - thou hast not failed?" she said, and clasped her hands.
"Nay," said Sir Tristram, laughing. "He will never trouble you again. And,
by Our Lady, I wished there had been six of them, for I never felt more full of fight and
strength than I do this day."
"But - but have ye not claimed the prize?" said La Belle Isoude, and hid her
face that was so deathly white.
"Nay, nor will I," said Sir Tristram, "for I crave not to be married. I
would be free and go forth into strange lands to seek adventures."
He went from her, with the tune of a hunting song upon his lips, and saw not how La Belle
Isoude trembled against the wall and was near to swoon.
For La Belle Isoude herself was the Lady of the Laundes who should be given to the victor,
though this was known to none but herself and the king and queen.
The king and queen and all the court marvelled who should be the stranger knight, and why
he had departed, and some suspected Sir Tristram, but none knew of this except La Belle
Isoude and Governale his squire, and none dared charge him therewith. La Belle Isoude kept
her counsel, and strove to seem light-hearted.
It fell upon a day that Sir Tristram was disporting himself with other knights at a game
of ball upon the green before the castle, and had left his sword hung upon the post beside
his seat in hall. The queen, with La Belle Isoude, passed through the hall to go to see
the men at their sport, and on her way she espied Sir Tristram's sword, and the strange
device of a serpent which was upon the handle. She said it was a marvellous piece of work,
and never had she seen the like of it. Then, by ill hap, she drew the sword from the
scabbard, and they both admired it a long time, looking at its keenness and brightness and
the words of mystery engraved on it.
Suddenly the queen gave a little cry as of terror, and she pointed to where, within a foot
and a half of the point, there was a piece broken out of the edge. Then, very hastily, the
queen ran with the sword into her bower, and from her treasure-chest she drew a casket, and
from the casket she drew a tiny piece of doeskin, and from at she took a fragment of
While her daughter marvelled what it all might mean, the queen took the piece of steel and
placed it in the broken part of Sir Tiistram's sword, and it fitted so that the break
could hardly be seen.
"Alas!" said the queen, "this is the piece of sword that the leech took
from the brain of my brother Sir Marhaus, and this Sir Tramor is the traitorous knight
that slew him!"
The heart of La Belle Isoude stood still for fear of the ill that would befall Sir
Tristram, for she knew her mother's rage.
The queen caught up the sword fiercely in her hand and rushed from the room. Midway
through the hall there met her Sir Tristram himself with his squire Governale, and the
queen sped to him and would have run him through, but for Governale, who snatched the
sword from her, though she wounded him in her wrath.
Finding her rage thus put to naught, she ran to King Anguish, and threw herself on her
knees before him, crying out:
"Oh, my lord and husband, here have ye in your house that traitor knight that slew my
brother and your champion, that noble knight Sir Marhaus. It is Sir Tramor, as he falsely
calleth himself, but the piece of steel that was taken from my brother's brain fits a
notch in his sword."
"Alas," cried King Anguish, " then am I right heavy, for he is as full
noble a knight as ever I knew; and I charge ye, have not to do with him, but let me deal
in this matter."
The king went to Sir Tristram and found him fully armed, as if ready to fight for his
life, for he knew that now the truth had been discovered.
"Nay, Sir Tramor," said the king gravely, "it will not avail thee to fight
me. But this will I do for the love and honour I bear thee. Inasmuch as ye are within my
court it would be no worship for me to have thee taken and slain, and therefore will I let
thee freely depart if thou wilt tell me this: Who is thy father and what is thy name? And
didst thou truly and rightly slay Sir Marhaus?"
"Tristram is my name," replied the young knight and I am son of King Talloch of
Lyones. For the truage of Cornwall I fought for the sake of my uncle King Mark, and the
battle with Sir Marhaus was the first I had, for I was made knight for that alone. Sir
Marhaus went from me alive into his ship, though he left his sword and shield behind
"I may not say that ye have done aught but what a good knight should do,"
replied the king, "but I may not maintain you in this country unless I would
displease my wife and her kin."
"Sir," said Sir Tristram, "I thank you for your goodness and for the kind
cheer which I have had here of yourself and your queen and La Belle Isoude. I will depart
straightway when I have bidden your daughter farewell, for I owe my life to her gentle
hands; and I promise this, that I will be your daughter's servant and knight in right or
wrong, to shield her and fight for her, and do all that a knight may do in her behalf, as
long as I live."
Then took he his leave of La Belle Isoude, and he told her all how he had come to that
land. He thanked her heartily for all her gentleness to him and for her healing of his
wound. At first she stood silent, changing red and white of face, and with downcast eyes,
her fingers straining about each other. When he swore that he would be her knight, to
fight for her whenever she should send for him, and bade her good-bye, she took the hand
which he held forth, but would not look at him.
Tristram wondered why her fair hand was so cold.
"Good-bye and God be with ye always," La Belle Isoude replied in a faint voice,
and then turned and went from him. Tristram thought she was angered with him for the
slaying of her uncle.
So in a little while he rode forth with Governale down to the seashore and looked back not
once. There he entered by a ship, and with good wind he arrived at Tintagel in Cornwall,
and King Mark and all his barons were glad that Tristram was whole again.
Then Sir Tristram went to his father King Talloch, and there was made great cheer for him,
and wide lands were given him. Nevertheless, he could not rest long in one place, but went
into Logres and Alban and Wales, seeking adventures, and his fame for prowess was almost
as great as the fame of Sir Lancelot. Wherever he went he took his harp, and in hall and
bower his favourite songs were those that praised the beauty of La Belle Isoude, her
gentle ways and her soft white hands.
After a year and a day he returned to the court of King Mark and lived there, and all
the knights and ladies admired him, and the praise of his courtesy was in the mouths of
all, noble and simple, high and low. Then King Mark his uncle began to hate him for the
love that all bore him, and since he had never married and had no son to whom his kingdom
should go after his death, he saw that Sir Tristram would have it, for he was his next
kin, and then, with Lyones and Tintagel, the fame and power of Tristram would increase
So the king began to cast about in his mind for a way whereby he might do some hurt to Sir
Tristram, or even destroy him.
He called the young knight to him one day and said:
"Dear nephew, I have been thinking a long while of taking unto myself a wife, and I
hear much of the beauty and goodness of the king's daughter of Ireland, whom men call La
Belle Isoude. Now I would that you go to the king and bear my message to him."
Sir Tristram was troubled in mind at these words. Since he had left La Belle Isoude he had
had no ease of spirit, for now he knew that he loved her. Though she had been angered with
him for his slaying her uncle, and he knew that the queen and other kinsfolk of Sir
Marhaus would surely slay him if they could, yet had he hoped in a while to have gone to
King Anguish and found some way to win Isoude for his wife.
"Ye are feared to go, then?" sneered King Mark, noting the silence of Sir
Tristram. "Then I will e'en send some other knight that is bolder."
At that Sir Tristram flushed hotly and said:
"I fear not to go there or anywhere, and I will bear thy message, sir."
"It is well," said the king. " I will send thee with a fine ship, and a
rich company of knights, and I will get my scrivener to write my message."
Now King Mark said all this by reason of his craft and treachery. He had heard how Sir
Tristram had been full of the praises of La Belle Isoude, while yet, as he had learned,
Sir Tristram had not promised himself in love to her. By his crafty speech King Mark had
hoped to make Sir Tristram promise to go to Ireland to obtain her, not for himself, but
for King Mark. So, therefore, if the king married La Belle Isoude, this would cause some
grief and hurt to Sir Tristram.
But King Mark cared not overmuch whether he wedded La Belle Isoude or not. He believed
that Sir Tristram would of a surety be slain by the kin of Sir Marhaus in Ireland, and, if
so, King Mark's plot would succeed to the full.
Sir Tristram, sad and troubled, went apart, and rode into a forest, for now he knew that
he had done himself an ill turn. The lady he loved and whom he wanted to wife for himself
he had now promised to woo for another.
As he rode moodily through the forest drive, a knight came swiftly riding on a great
horse, its flanks flecked with the foam of its speed.
"Fair knight," said the stranger, "will ye of your courtesy tell me where I
may quickly come at a knight called Sir Tristram of Lyones?"
"I am he." said Tristram. " What would ye?"
"I thank Heaven that hath led me to you sir knight," said the other. "Here
is a message from my master, King Anguish of Ireland, who is in dire peril of honour
and life, and craves aid of you for the love that hath been atween you."
Sir Tristram, much marvelling, took the parchment and read: " These to you, Sir
Tristram of Lyones, most noble knight, from his lover and friend King Anguish of Ireland,
in sore trouble and straits at Camelot. Know ye, Sir Tristram, that I have been summoned
to King Arthur's court on pain of forfeiture of his lordship's royal grace, to answer a
charge whereof I knew naught till I came here. Which is that by treason and felony I
caused to be slain at my court in Ireland a cousin of Sir Bleobaris de Ganis and Sir
Blamor de Ganis, and of this evil deed these knights do most falsely accuse me. And there
is none other remedy than for me to answer them in knightly fashion, my armed body against
theirs. But inasmuch as I am old, and my wasted arm could naught avail me, and in that
they are of such renown and prowess that none of my knights may hope to over-come them, I
pray ye, Sir Tristram, of your ancient love for me, to come to my aid and fight for me as
my champion in this most cruel charge. But if ye will not, and if ye choose to remember
rather that I thrust you from my court, and would not protect you against those that meant
you ill, then forgive my request, and leave me to my fate and my dishonour."
The heart of Sir Tristram lifted within him for love of the good old king, and turning, he
"For what day is the trial by combat which your master speaketh of?"
" For midday on the day before next Sabbath," said the knight.
"Go ye at once to your master," said Sir Tristram, "and say to him that I
will not fail him, but will make all speed."
"Sir, I thank you from my heart," said the knight, and bowed. Then wheeling his
horse he dashed swiftly away.
At Camelot, on the day and hour appointed, the lists were set, and knights and nobles and
the common people waited to see the trial by battle which should prove the innocence or
guilt of King Anguish. King Arthur was not at Camelot, nor was Sir Lancelot, for both were
at Joyous Gard, the castle of Sir Lancelot, which King Arthur had given to him by the sea
in the Northern Marches. In their places, King Kador of Cornwall and King Uriens of Reged
were judges at the trial.
Ere noon was marked by the gnomon of the dial set up before the judges, Sir Tristram and
his squire Governale rode up the lists, and were met by King Anguish and his knights. When
Sir Tristram saw the King of Ireland he got swiftly from his horse and ran towards him,
and would have held his stirrup; but the king leapt lightly from his horse, and with
bright looks each embraced and kissed the other.
"My good lord," cried Tristram, "gramercy of your goodness which ye showed
me in your marches, and of your nobleness in calling me unto your aid, for it is great
honour to me that ye ask this, and I will do all for you to the utmost of my
"Ah, worshipful knight," said the king, "ye are courteous and noble beyond
all others to come to my aid when I am in such dire need."
"Who is he that is appointed to fight with you or your champion?" asked Sir
"He is of Sir Lancelot's blood," replied the king, "and I wot that he will
be hard to overcome, for all those of King Ban's kin are passing good fighters beyond all
others. It is Sir Blamor de Ganis, a great warrior."
Sir," said Sir Tristram, " for the great goodness that ye showed to me in
Ireland and for your daughter's sake, La Belle Isoude, I will take the battle in hand for
you. But ye must first swear that ye never caused or consented to the death of the knight
of which you are charged, and if I avail in your battle I will crave a boon of you which
you shall grant me."
"I swear to Heaven," replied the king, "that I did neither cause nor
consent to the death of the knight; and as to the boon that ye shall ask, I grant it
King Anguish departed to the judges and cried unto them the name of his champion, and all
the knights of the Round Table that were there, and the common people, were all agog to
see Sir Tristram. The fame of his fight with Sir Marhaus, and his renown as a harpist and
a lover of hunting, were well known unto all; but never yet had he come to the court of
Sir Blamor and Sir Tristram went to each end of the lists and dressed their harness and
their shields. Sir Bleobaris, that was brother to Sir Blamor, went to him and said:
"Brother, now remember of what kin ye be, and what manner of man is our lord, Sir
Lancelot, and see that ye suffer not shame. For never would Sir Lancelot bear it, and he
would sooner suffer death."
"Have no doubt of me," said Sir Blamor, " I shall never shame Sir Lancelot
nor any of our high blood; nevertheless, this Sir Tristram is a passing good fighter, and
if by ill hap he strike me down, then he shall slay me and so end my shame."
"God speed you well," said Sir Bleobaris, " but he may not be so great a
warrior as fame saith. For fame grows false as she goes further."
When the knights were ready, the herald of the court of Arthur stood with his trumpet and
recited the cause of the quarrel and the names of the knights about to do battle. Then,
lifting his tabard, he bade both knights make ready; and when his tabard fell to the
ground, the knights lowered their lances in the rests, set spurs to their horses, and
thundered down the lists. With a clang and a crash they met midway, and then men marvelled
as they saw how suddenly Sir Blamor's horse reared in mid-career, turned right round, and
upsetting its rider over its back, fell to the ground. Sir Blamor, however, was unhurt,
and quickly rising to his feet he drew out his sword, crying to Sir Tristram as that
knight turned his horse and came towards him:
"Alight thee, Sir Tristram, for though this mare's son of mine hath failed me, I
trust my good sword shall not fail me."
With that Sir Tristram alighted and dressed him to battle, and there they lashed at each
other with mighty strokes on both sides, cutting and hacking, feinting and guarding, so
that as time went on and still they fought fiercely, the kings and knights marvelled that
they were so great-winded and strong.
Soon men saw that Sir Blamor was headstrong, and mad with rage, while Sir Tristram beat
not so many false blows, but each was sure, though slower. Yet Sir Blamor would not rest,
but like a wild man would ever dash against his enemy. Where they fought the trampled sand
was stained with red from their wounds.
Suddenly men saw Sir Blamor make a heavy stroke which Sir Tristram avoided, and ere the
other could recover, Sir Tristram's sword descended on his helm with so great a stroke
that Sir Blamor fell upon his side. Sir Tristram leaped upon him and placed the point of
his sword between the bars of Sir Blamor's vizor, bidding him yield.
When Sir Blamor got his breath he panted forth:
"Nay, nay, Sir Tristram, I will not say the word, but I require thee, Sir Tristram de
Lyones, as thou art a noble knight and the mightiest that ever I found, that thou wilt
slay me out of hand, for now I would not live to be made lord of these lands of Britain.
Liefer I would die than live a life of shame, and therefore slay me! slay me!"
Sir Tristram started back, remembering of what noble blood was this brave knight. Knowing
that he must either make Sir Blamor say the loth words "I yield," or else slay
him, he went to where the judges sat, and kneeled before them and told them what Sir
Blamor had said.
"Fair lords," Sir Tristram ended, "it were shame and pity that this noble
knight should be slain, for ye well hear that he will not say the words of shame; and if
King Anguish, whose true knight and champion I am, will suffer me, I will neither shame
nor slay so stout-hearted knight."
"By Heaven," said King Anguish, "I will be ruled for your sake, Sir
Tristram, as ye are the most knight of prowess that ever I saw in my long life. Therefore
I pray these kings and judges that they take the matter into their own hands."
The judges called Sir Bleobaris to them and required his counsel.
"My lords," he said, " though that my brother be beaten of body by this
valiant knight, he hath not beaten his heart, and so I thank God he hath not been shamed
in this fight. And rather than he be shamed," said Sir Bleobaris, white and stern,
"I require that you command Sir Tristram to slay him out of hand!"
"That shall not be," said the judges, "for neither King Anguish nor Sir
Tristram desire to shame your valiant brother."
"We do not," said both the king and Sir Tristram.
Therewith, by the advice of the judges, Sir Tristram and Sir Bleobaris took up Sir Blamor;
and the two brothers made peace with King Anguish and kissed each other and swore
friendship with him for ever. Then Sir Blamor and Sir Tristram kissed, and the two
brothers, their hands clasping those of Sir Tristram, swore that there should for ever be
peace and love between them; and this did Sir Tristram swear also.
Inasmuch as, of his nobleness and generosity, Sir Tristram would not take Sir Blamor's
life because he refused to yield him, Sir Lancelot and all his kinsmen loved Sir Tristram,
and were ever his friends and spoke well and knightly of him.
Then King Anguish and Sir Tristram took their leave and sailed into Ireland with great
joy; and when the had arrived there, the king let make a great cry throughout his
dominions, of the manner in which Sir Tristram had fought for him, and how for that deed
he accounted him the noblest knight among his friends, and that all should treat him with
friendship and no deceit.
When, also, the queen and the kin of Sir Marhaus heard how Sir Tristram had borne himself
in the trial by combat, they agreed that now they should not seek to slay him, since his
great help in this matter had wiped out his ill-doing in the slaying of Sir Marhaus.
So the queen and the knights of the court and the common people made much of Sir Tristram
wheresoever he went; but the joy that La Belle Isoude had in her heart no tongue may tell.
When Sir Tristram was led to her and they met after so long an absence from each other,
men saw the lovely face light up with so sweet and high a look that they marvelled at her
beauty. Yet they saw how straitly Sir Tristram held himself, and made not much of his
meeting with her and did not seek her company.
Then on a day King Anguish asked Sir Tristram what was the boon he craved.
"But whatever it be," said the king, "it is yours without fail."
Sir Tristram's face went hard and white, and after a little while he said:
"It is this, my lord. I bear a request from my uncle, King Mark, and it is that you
give him your daughter La Belle Isoude for his wife, and ye let me take her unto him, for
so I have promised him."
"Alas," said the king, and looked full heavily into the eyes of Sir Tristram,
"I had liefer than all the land that I have that ye should wed her yourself."
Sir Tristram turned away, and made this reply:
"I have given my promise, and I were ashamed for ever in the world if I did aught
else. I require you to hold to your promise, and to let your daughter depart with me to be
wedded to my uncle, King Mark."
"As I have promised, so will I do," said the king.
"But I let you know 'tis with a heavy heart."
Nor would the king say more, knowing that he might make bad worse. But the surprise and
grief of La Belle Isoude, when she knew that Sir Tristram was to take her to be wife not
unto himself but to a stranger, what tongue may tell and what words may say? Nightly, on
the days when she was being prepared to depart, she wept full sorely in the arms of her
mother or of Bragwine her faithful gentlewoman; but in hall or abroad she was ever calm
and cold, though pale.
The queen, her mother, feared much of this marriage, and so sent a swift message to a
great witch who dwelled in a dark wet valley in the midst of the Purple Hills, and for
much gold a potent philtre was prepared. Then, on the day when, with farewells, La Belle
Isoulde with her gentlewomen and many noble ladies and knights were to go into the ship,
the queen called Bragwine aside, and giving her a little golden flasket, said to her:
"Take this with thee, Bragwine, for I misdoubt this marriage overmuch, and I charge
thee do this. On the day that King Mark shall wed my daughter, do thou mix this drink in
their wine in equal parts and then I undertake that each shall love the other one all the
days of their lives."
Anon Sir Tristram and La Belle Isoude took ship and got to sea. During the voyage Sir
Tristram kept himself much with the other knights and rarely sat with Isoude; for in his
heart was much grief, and he hated the fair wind that drove the ship more quickly to the
time when he must give up La Belle Isoude to his uncle. He knew now that he loved none
other woman in the world but her, and never would so long as he should live.
Bragwine the maid, seeing the pensive looks of her mistress, and knowing the wretchedness
of her heart, determined to give her mistress what she most desired. By the aid of
Governale, the squire of Sir Tristram, they poured the philtre into the wine of Isoude and
Sir Tristram as they were about to sit at dinner.
They thought that the philtre being so potent, it would
cause Sir Tristram to do as King Anguish wished that he would do, and take La Belle Isoude
into his own home at Lyones and wed her himself.
Sir Tristram and La Belle Isoude sat at dinner and drank the wine. In a little while Sir
Tristram looked at the wine that was in his silver cup and smelled at it.
"Sure this is the best wine that ever I drank," said he, and smiled at her.
"It is truly a most sweet and noble drink," said Isoude, and her heart was glad
to see him smile, who hitherto had kept his face so stern.
Sir Tristram called his squire.
"Governale," said he, "what wine is this thou hast given us this day? Let
us have another flask of the same."
Governale was ever ill at a deception, and began to stammer.
"Mv lord," he said, "I fear me there is none other."
"Ah," said his master, " and where got you that?"
"The gentlewoman of my Lady Isoude, " said he, "brought it and bade me mix
it in your lordship's wine."
" What?" cried Sir Tristram, rising angrily. " What means this? What
trickery is this?"
"Oh, my lord, forgive me," cried Governale. "But we saw the sorrow of both
your hearts, and we gave you the philtre that was meant for my lady and King Mark ,
and-and-my lord, you will break my lady's heart and your own if ye suffer this." But
Sir Tristram would hear no further, and fiercely sent his squire from his presence.
"Ah, my lord," said La Belle Isoude, "have those two poor souls done more
evil than we are doing by hiding our hearts from each other? I would have you know that no
ease shall you have all the days of your life, for I know that you love me; and as to
that, there is no living man in all this world that I love as I love you. If ye think it
unmaidenly in me to say that, then my own wretched heart forgives me."
The gentle sorrow in her voice caused Sir Tristram's heart to swell with rage because he
had promised to take her to wed King Mark.
"Lady," he said, and his face was full pitiful and pale, "Heaven knows that
ye say right, and that never-more shall I have ease after this. But no more should I have
ease, but rather more shame and remorse, if I should do what my heart bids me do. I gave
my promise to mine uncle, madman that I was, and I must perform it, and suffer. But I
could slay myself to think that you will suffer also."
She saw the rage and sorrow in his eyes, and her heart was full of pity.
"Do thyself no harm, 0 noble knight and friend," said Isoude, "for thou art
right, and I wrong. But I would have you promise to be my knight and champion in things
both ill and good, while you shall have life."
"Lady," he replied, " I will be all the days of my life your knight , in
weal and in woe, to come to your aid and battle for your dear name, when you shall send
Sir Tristram gave her a ring, and she gave him another, and quickly they parted, lest they
should repent them of their duty.
That evening they got to shore, and landed at the foot of Tintagel, and Sir Tristram led
up La Belle Isoude and gave her into the hands of King Mark, whose looks, for all that he
tried to appear satisfied, were sour as he dwelt on the noble figure of Sir Tristram. Men
noticed how pale and stem the young knight seemed, and that he said few words.
In a little while, after the wedding of his uncle to La Belle Isoude, Sir Tristram said
farewell to all the court, "for," said he, "he would go fight the pagans
who were ravening in the north," and so departed, with Governale his squire.
Afterwards, seeing the pale queen seated in hall beside King Mark, and remembering the
heaviness of Sir Tristram, some guessed how full of woe was their parting, but for love
and sorrow of Sir Tristram they said naught of what they thought.