Howard Pyle's The
Champions of the Round Table
How the new Queen of Lyonesse sought Tristram's life; how he went to France,
and how he returned again to Lyonesse and was received with love al that
So King Meliadus grieved very bitterly
for the Lady Elizabeth for the space
of seven years, and in that time he took but little pleasure in life, and still
less pleasure in that son who had been born to him in that wise. Then one day a
certain counsellor who was in great favor with the King came to him and said:
"Lord, it is not fitting that you should live in this wise and without a mate;
for you should have a queen, and you should have other children besides Tristram,
else all the fate of this kingdom shall depend upon the life of that one small child."
And King Meliadus took this counsel to heart, and after a while he said:
"What you tell me is true, and
so I shall take another Queen, even though it is not in me to love any other
woman in all of the world but that dear one who is dead and gone." So a while
after that he took to wife the Lady Moeya, who was the daughter of King Howell
Now Queen Moeya had been married to an Earl of Britain, and by him she had a
son who was about the age of Tristram. So she brought this son to Lyonesse with
her, and he and Tristram were very good companions.
But the Lady Moeya took great hatred of
Tristram, for she said in her heart:
"Except for this Tristram, mayhap my son might be King and overlord of this
land." And these thoughts brooded with her, so that after a while she began to
meditate how she might make away with Tristram so that her own son might come
into his inheritance.
Now at that time Tristram was about thirteen years of age and very large and
robust of form and of extraordinary strength of body and beauty of countenance.
But the son of Queen Moeya was not of such a sort, so the more beautiful and
noble Tristram was the more the Queen hated him. So one day she called to her a
very cunning chemist and she said to him: "Give me a drink of such and such a
sort, so that he who drinks thereof shall certainly die, maugre help of any
kind." And the chemist gave her what she desired, and it was in a phial and was
of a golden color.
Now Tristram and the son of the Lady Moeya were wont to play ball in a
certain court of the castle, and when they would play there they would wax all of a heat with their
sport. This the Lady Moeya was well aware of; so one day she took that phial of
poison and she poured a part of it into a chalice and she filled the chalice
with clear water and she set the chalice upon a bench where those two would play
at ball. For she said to herself: "When they grow warm with their play, Tristram
will certainly drink of this water to quench his thirst, and then my son will
maybe enter into his inheritance."
So the two youths played very fiercely at their game, and they waxed
exceedingly hot and presently were both very violently athirst. Then Tristram
said, "I would I had somewhat to drink," and his stepbrother said, "Look, yonder
is a chalice of water; drink! and when thou hast quenched thy thirst, then I
will drink also." But Tristram said: "Nay, brother, drink thou first, for thou
art more athirst than I." Then at first the son of the Lady Moeya would not have
it so, but would have Tristram drink; but afterward he did as Tristram bade him,
and, taking the chalice in both hands, he drank freely of that poison which his
own mother had prepared. Then when he had drunk his
fill, Tristram took the chalice and would have drunk too; but the other said,
"Stay, Tristram, there is great bitterness in that chalice"; and then he said,
"Methinks I feel a very bitter pang within my vitals," and then he cried out,
"Woe is me! I am in great pain!" Therewith he fell down upon the ground and lay
there in a great passion of agony. Then Tristram cried aloud for help in a
piercing voice; but when help came thither it was too late, for the son of the
Lady Moeya was dead.
Then the Lady Moeya was in great torment of soul, and beat her breast
and tore her hair and King Meliadus had much ado for to comfort her. And
after this she hated Tristram worse than ever before, for she would say to
herself: "Except for this Tristram, my own son would yet be alive!"
So she brooded upon these things until she could not rest, whether by day or
night. Then one day she took the rest of the poison that was in the phial and
poured it into a goblet of yellow wine. This goblet she gave to one of her
pages, saying: "Take this to Tristram, and offer it to him when I shall tell you
to do so!"
Therewith she went down to the hall where Tristram was, and she said,
"Tristram, let there be peace betwixt us." And Tristram said: "Lady, that meets
my wishes, for I have never had in my heart aught but loving-kindness toward you,
and so I would have it in your heart toward me." With this the page came in the
hall with that goblet of yellow wine. Then the Lady Moeya took the goblet and
said: "Take this cup, and drink of the wine that is in it, and so there shall be
peace betwixt us forever." And as she said that she looked very strangely upon
Tristram, but Tristram was altogether innocent of any evil against him. So he
reached out his hand to take the cup which the page brought to him.
Now at that moment King Meliadus came into the hall fresh from the chase, and
he was much heated and greatly athirst, wherefore, when he saw that cup of wine
he said: "Stay, Tristram, let me drink, for I am greatly athirst. After I have
quenched my thirst, then thou shalt drink."
Therewith he took the goblet of wine and made to lift it to his lips. But at
that the Lady Moeya cried out, in a very loud and piercing voice, "Do not drink
of that wine!" The King said, "Why should I not drink of it?" "No matter," said
the Lady Moeya, "thou shalt not drink of it, for there is death in it."
Therewith she ran to the King and catched him by the hand, and she plucked
away the goblet so that the wine was spilled out of it upon the ground.
Then King Meliadus gazed at the Lady Moeya, and he thought of many things in
very little time. Thereupon he seized her by the hair and dragged her forward,
so that she fell down upon her hands and knees to the pavement of the hall. And King
Meliadus drew his great sword so that it flashed like lightning, and he cried:
"Tell me what thou hast done, and tell me quickly, or thou shalt not be able to
tell me at all!" Then the Lady Moeya clutched King Meliadus about the thighs,
and she cried out: "Do not slay me with thine own hand, or else my blood will
stain thee with dishonor! I will tell thee all, and then thou mayst deal with me according
to the law, for indeed I am not fit to live." So
therewithal the Lady Moeya confessed everything to the King.
Then King Meliadus shouted aloud and called the attendants and said: "Take
this woman and cast her into prison, and see that no harm befall her there; for
the lords of this country shall adjudge her, and not I." And therewith he turned
away and left her.
And thereafter, in due season, the Lady Moeya was brought to trial and was
condemned to be burned at the stake.
Now when the day came that she was to be burnt, Tristram was very sorry for
her. So when he beheld her tied fast to the stake he came to where King Meliadus was and he
kneeled before him, and he said, "Father, I crave a boon of thee." Thereupon
King Meliadus looked upon Tristram, and he loved him very tenderly and he said:
"My son, ask what thou wilt, and it shall be thine." Then Tristram said:
"Father, I pray thee, spare the life of this lady, for methinks she hath
repented her of her evil, and surely God hath punished her very sorely for the
wickedness she hath tried to do."
Then King Meliadus was very wroth that Tristram should interfere with, the
law; but yet he had granted that boon to his son and could not withdraw. So
after a while of thought he said: "Well, I have promised, and so I will perform
my promise. Her life is thine; go to the stake and take her. But when thou hast
done so I bid thee go forth from this place and show thy face here no more. For
thou hast interfered with the law, and hast done ill that thou, the son of the
King, should save this murderess. So thou shalt leave this place, for I mistrust
that between you two some murder will befall in this country."
So Tristram went weeping to where the Queen was bound to the stake; and he
cut her bonds with his dagger and set her free. And he said: "Lady, thou art
free; now go thy way, and may God forgive thee as I do." Then the Queen wept
also, and said, "Tristram, thou art very good to me." And because she was
barefoot and in her shift, Tristram took his cloak and wrapped it about her.
After that, Tristram straightway left
Lyonesse, and King Meliadus appointed
that a noble and honorable lord of the: court, hight Gouvernail, should go with him. They two went
to France, and there they were made very welcome at the court of the King. So
Tristram dwelt in France till he was eighteen years old, and everyone at the
court of the King of France loved him and honored him so that he dwelt there as
though he were of the blood of France.
During the time that he was in France he became the greatest hunter
in the world, and he wrote many books on venery that were read and studied
long after he had ceased to live. Also he became so skilful with the harp that
no minstrel in the world was his equal. And ever he waxed more sturdy of frame
and more beautiful of countenance, and more well-taught in all the worship of
knighthood. For during that time he became so wonderfully excellent in arms that
there was no one in France who was his equal.
Thus Tristram dwelt at peace in that land for five years, but even he longed
for his own home with all the might and main of his heart. So one day he said to
Gouvernail: "Gouvernail, I cannot deny myself any longer from seeing my father
and my own country, for I feel that I must see them or else my heart will
certainly break because of its great longing." Nor would he listen to anything
that Gouvernail might say contrary to this. So they two took their departure
from France, and Tristram travelled as a harper and Gouvernail as his attendant.
Thus they came to Lyonesse in that wise.
One day whilst King Meliadus sat at meat, they two came into the hall, and
Gouvernail wore a long white beard which altogether disguised him so that no one
knew him. But Tristram shone with such a great radiance of beauty and of
youth that all who looked upon him marvelled at him. And the heart of King
Meliadus went out to Tristram very strongly, and he said before all of his
court, "Who art thou, fair youth? And whence comest thou?" To which Tristram
made reply: "Lord, I am a harper, and this is my man, and we have come from
France." Then King Meliadus said to Tristram: "Sir, have you seen a youth in
France whom men call Tristram?" And Tristram replied, "Yea, I have seen him
several times." King Meliadus said, "Doth he do well?" "Yea," said Tristram, "he
doeth very well, though at times he is sore oppressed with a great desire for
his own country." At this King Meliadus turned away his face, for his heart went
very strongly out at the thought of his son. Then by and by he said to Tristram,
"Wilt thou play upon thy harp?" And Tristram said, "Yea, if it will please thee
to hear me." Therewith he took his harp and he set it before him, and he struck
the strings and played upon it, and he sang in such a wise that no one who was
there had ever heard the like thereof.
Then King Meliadus' heart was melted at Tristram's minstrelsy, and he said:
"That is wonderful harping. Now ask what thou wilt of me, and it shall be thine,
whatever it may be."
To this Tristram said, "Lord, that is a great thing that thou
"Nevertheless," said King Meliadus, "it shall be as I say." Then Tristram
left his harp and he came to where King Meliadus sat, and he kneeled down before him
and he said: "Lord, if so be that is the case, then that which I
ask of thee is this: that thou wilt forgive me and bring me back into thy favor
At that King Meliadus was filled with a great wonder, and he said: "Fair
youth, who art thou, and what have I to forgive thee?" "Lord," said Tristram, "I am thy son, and ask
thee to forgive me that I should have saved the life of that lady who is thy
At this King Meliadus cried out with joy, and he came down from where he sat
and he took Tristram into his arms and kissed him upon the face, and Tristram
wept and kissed his father upon the face.
So they were reconciled.
After that, Tristram abode in peace in Lyonesse for some while, and during
that time he made peace betwixt King Meliadus and Queen Moeya, and the Queen
loved him because he was so good to her.
Now after the return of Tristram as aforesaid, King Meliadus would have made
him a knight, but Tristram would not suffer the honor of knighthood to be bestowed upon
him at that time, but always said: "Lord, think not ill of me if I do not accept
knighthood at this time. For I would fain wait until the chance for some large
adventure cometh; then I would be made a knight for to meet that adventure, so
that I might immediately win renown. For what credit could there be to our house
if I should be made knight, only that I might sit in hall and feast and drink
and make merry?"
So spoke Sir Tristram, and his words sounded well to King
from thenceforth King Meliadus refrained from urging knighthood upon him.
Now the way that Sir Tristram achieved knighthood shall be told in that'
which followeth, and also it shall then be told how he fought his first battle,
which was one of the most famous that ever he fought in all of his life.