Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

The Lady Belle Isoult

Chapter Third

How Sir Tristram went to Ireland to be healed of his wound by the Kin 's daughter of Ireland, and of how he came to love the Lady Belle Isoult. Also concerning Sir Palamydes and the Lady Belle Isoult.

   Now that grievous hurt which Sir Tristram had received at the hands of Sir Marhaus did not heal, but instead grew even more rankled and sore, so that there were many who thought that there had been treachery practised and that the spearhead had been poisoned to cause such a malignant disease as that with which the wounded man suffered. So by and by Sir Tristram grew so grievously sick of his hurt that all those who were near him thought that he must certainly die.
   Then King Mark sent everywhere and into all parts for the most wise and learned leeches and chirurgeons to come to Cornwall and search the wounds of Sir Tristram, but of all these no one could bring him any ease.
   Now one day there came to the court of King Mark a very wise lady, who had travelled much in the world and had great knowledge of wounds of all sorts. At the bidding of the King, she went to where Sir Tristram lay, and searched the wound as so many had already done. And when she had done that she came out of Sir Tristram's chamber and unto King Mark, where he was waiting for her. Then King Mark said to her: "Well, how will it be with yonder knight?" "Lord," quoth she, "it is thus; I can do nothing to save his life, nor do I know of any one who may save it unless it be the King's daughter of Ireland, who is known as the Belle Isoult because of her wonderful beauty. She is the most skilful leech in all of the world, and she alone may hope to bring Sir Tristram back to life and health again, for I believe that if she fail no one else can save him."
   Then after the aforesaid lady had gone, King Mark went to where Sir Tristram lay, and he told him all that she had said concerning his condition; and King Mark said: "Tristram, wilt thou go to the King's daughter of Ireland and let her search thy wound?"
   Then Sir Tristram groaned at the thought of the weariness and pain of moving, and he said: "Lord, this is a great undertaking for one who is so sick. Moreover, it is a great risk for me, for, if I go to Ireland, and if it be found that I am he who slew Sir Marhaus, then it is hardly likely that I shall ever escape from that country again with my life. Ne'theless, I am so sorely sick of this wound that I would rather die than live as I am living; wherefore I will go to Ireland for the sake of being healed, if such a thing is possible."
   Accordingly, a little while after that, King Mark provided a ship to carry Sir Tristram to Ireland. This ship he furnished with sails of silk of divers colors, and he had it hung within with fine embroidered cloth, and fabrics woven with threads of silver and gold, so that in its appearance it was a worthy vessel even for a great king to sail in. Then, when all was ready, King Mark had a number of attendants carry Sir Tristram down to the ship in a litter, and he had them lay Sir Tristram upon a soft couch of crimson satin, which was set upon the deck beneath a canopy of crimson silk, embroidered with threads of silver and garnished with fringe of silver, and Sir Tristram lay there at ease where the breezes of the ocean came pleasantly to him, and breathed upon his face and his temples and his hair and his hands with coolness; and Gouvernail was with Sir Tristram all the while in attendance upon him.
   So they set sail for Ireland, the weather being very fair and pleasant, and on the third day, at about the time of sunset, they came to a part of the coast of Ireland where there was a castle built upon the rocks that rose out of the sea.
   Now there were several fishermen fishing in boats near that castle, and of these the pilot of Sir Tristram's boat made inquiry what castle that was. To him the fisherman replied: "That castle is the castle of King Angus of Ireland." And the fisherman said: "It so happens that the King and Queen and their daughter, hight the Lady Belle Isoult, and all of their court are there at this very while."
   This Sir Tristram heard and said: "This is good news, for indeed I am very sick and am right glad that my voyaging is ended." So he gave orders that the pilot should bring the ship close under the walls of that castle, and that he should there let go anchor; and the pilot did as Sir Tristram had commanded him.
   Now, as aforesaid, that ship was of a very wonderful appearance, like to the ship of a king or a high prince, wherefore many people came down to the walls of the castle and stood there and gazed at the vessel as it sailed into the harbor. And by that time the sun had set and all the air was illuminated with a marvellous golden light; and in this sky of gold the moon hung like a shield of silver, very bright and steady above the roofs and towers of the castle. And there came from the land a pleasing perfume of blossoms; for it was then in the fulness of the spring-time, and all the fruit-bearing trees were luxuriant with bloom so that the soft air of evening was full of fragrance thereby.
   Then there came a great content into the heart of Sir Tristram, wherefore he said to Gouvernail: "Gouvernail, either I shall soon be healed of this wound, or else I shall presently die and enter into Paradise free of pain, for I am become very full of content and of peace toward all men." And then he said: "Bring me hither my harp, that I may play upon it a little, for I have a desire to chant in this pleasant evening-time."
   So Gouvernail brought to Sir Tristram his shining harp, and when Sir Tristram had taken it into his hands he tuned it, and when he had tuned it he struck it and sang; and, because of the stillness of the evening, his voice sounded marvellously clear and sweet across the level water, so that those who stood upon the castle walls and heard it thought that maybe an angel was singing on board of that ship.
   That time the Lady Belle Isoult sat at the window of her bower enjoying the pleasantness of the evening. She also heard Sir Tristram singing, and she said to those damsels who were with her, "Ha, what is that I hear?"
   Therewith she listened for a little while, and then she said: "Meseems that must be the voice of some angel that is singing." They say: "Nay, Lady, it is a wounded knight singing, and he came to this harbor in a wonderful ship some while ago." Then the Lady Belle Isoult said to a page who was in attendance: "Bid the King and Queen come hither, that they may hear this singing also, for never did I think to hear such singing beyond the walls of Paradise."
   So the page ran with all speed, and in a little the King and Queen came to the bower of the Lady Belle Isoult; and she and they leaned upon the window-ledge and listened to Sir Tristram whilst he sang in the soft twilight. Then by and by King Angus said: "Now I will have yonder minstrel brought hither to this castle to do us pleasure, for I believe that he must be the greatest minstrel in all the world to sing in that wise." And the Lady Belle Isoult said: "I pray you, sir, do so, for it would be great joy to everybody to have such singing as that in this place."
   So King Angus sent a barge to that ship, and besought that he who sang should be brought to the castle. At that Sir Tristram was very glad, for he said: "Now I shall be brought to the Lady the Belle Isoult and maybe she will heal me." So he had them bare him to the barge of the King of Ireland, and so they brought him to the castle of King Angus, where they laid him upon a bed in a fair room of the castle.
   Then King Angus came to Sir Tristram where he lay, and he said: "Messire what can I do for you to put you more at your ease than you are?" "Lord," said Sir Tristram, "I pray you to permit the Lady Belle Isoult to search a great wound in my side that I received in battle. For I hear that she is the most skilful leech in all the world, and so I have come hither from a great distance, being in such pain and dole from my grievous hurt that I shall die in a little while unless it be healed."
   "Messire," said King Angus, "I perceive that you are no ordinary knight, but somebody of high nobility and estate, so it shall be as you desire." And then King Angus said: "I pray you, tell me your name and whence you come."
   Upon this, Sir Tristram communed within his own mind, saying: "An I say my name is Tristram, haply there may be someone here will know me and that I was the cause why the brother of the Queen of this place hath died." So he said: "Lord, my name is Sir Tramtris, and I am come from a country called Lyonesse, which is a great distance from this."
   Quoth King Angus, "Well, Sir Tramtris, I am glad that you have come to this place. Now it shall be done to you as you desire, for to-morrow the Lady Belle Isoult shall search your wound to heal it if possible."
   And so it was as King Angus said, for the next day the Lady Belle Isoult came with her attendants to where Sir Tristram lay, and one of the attendants bare a silver basin and another bare a silver ewer, and others bare napkins of fine linen. So the Lady Belle Isoult came close to Sir Tristram and kneeled beside the couch whereon he lay and said, "Let me see the wound." Therewith Sir Tristram laid bare his bosom and his side and she beheld it. Then she felt great pity for Sir Tristram because of that dolorous wound, and she said: "Alas, that so young and so fair and so noble a knight should suffer so sore a wound as this!" Therewith still kneeling beside Sir Tristram she searched the wound with very gentle, tender touch (for her fingers were like to rose leaves for softness) and lo! she found a part of the blade of a spear-head embedded very deep in the wound of Sir Tristram.
   This she drew forth very deftly (albeit Sir Tristram groaned with a great passion of pain) and therewithafter came forth an issue of blood like a crimson fountain, whereupon Sir Tristram swooned away like one who had gone dead. But he did not die, for they quickly staunched the flow, set aromatic spices to his nostrils, so that in a little he revived in spirit to find himself at great ease and peace in his body (albeit it was for a while like to the peace of death).
   Thus it was that the Lady Belle Isoult saved the life of Sir Tristram, for in a little while he was able to be about again, and presently waxed almost entirely hale and strong in limb and body. And now it is to be told how Sir Tristram loved the Lady Belle Isoult and how she loved Sir Tristram. Also how a famous knight, hight Sir Palamydes the Saracen, loved Belle Isoult and of how she loved not him.
   For, as was said, it came about that in a little while Sir Tristram was healed of that grievous wound aforetold of so that he was able to come and go whithersoever he chose. But always he would be with the Lady Belle Isoult, for Sir Tristram loved her with a wonderfully passionate regard. And so likewise the lady loved Sir Tristram. For if he loved her because she had saved his life, then she also loved him for the same reason. For she did not ever forget how she had drawn out the head of that spear from the wound at his side, and of how he had groaned when she brought it forth, and of how the blood had gushed out of that wound. Wherefore she loved him very aboundingly for the agony of pain she had one time caused him to suffer.
   So they two fair and noble creatures were always together in bower or in hall, and no one in all that while wist that Sir Tramtris was Sir Tristram, and that it was his hand that had slain Sir Marhaus of Ireland.
   So Sir Tristram was there in Ireland for a year, and in that time he grew to be altogether well and sturdy again.
   Now it was in those days that there came Sir Palamydes the Saracen knight to that place, who was held to be one of the very foremost knights in the world. So great rejoicing was made over him because he had come thither, and great honor was shown to him by everyone.
   But when Sir Palamydes beheld the Lady Belle Isoult and when he saw how fair she was, he came in a short while to love her with almost as passionate a regard as that with which Sir Tristram loved her, so that he also sought ever to be with her whenever the chance offered.
   But Belle Isoult felt no regard for Sir Palamydes, but only fear of him, for all of her love was given to Sir Tristram. Nevertheless, because Sir Palamydes was so fierce and powerful a knight, she did not dare to offend him; wherefore she smiled upon him and treated him with all courtesy and kindness although she loved him not, dissembling her regard for him.
   All this Sir Tristram beheld from aside and it displeased him a very great deal to see how Sir Palamydes was always beside the lady. But Belle Isoult beheld how Sir Tristram was displeased, wherefore she took occasion to say to him: "Tramtris, be not displeased, for what am I to do? You know very well that I do not love this knight, but I am afraid of him because he is so fierce and so strong."
   To this Sir Tristram said: "Lady, it would be a great shame to me if I, being by, should suffer any knight to come betwixt you and me and win your regard through fear of him."
   She said: "Tramtris, what would you do? Would you give challenge to this knight? Lo, you are not yet entirely healed of your hurt, and Sir Palamydes is in perfect strength of body. For indeed it is for you I am most of all afraid lest you and Sir Palamydes should come to battle and lest he should do you a harm before you are entirely healed."
   "Lady," quoth Sir Tristram, "I thank God that I am not at all afraid of this knight, or of any other knight, and I have to thank you that I am now entirely recovered and am as strong as ever I was. Wherefore I have now a mind to deal with this knight in your behalf. So if you will provide me with armor I will deal with him so that maybe he will not trouble you again. Now I will devise it in this way:--tell your father, King Angus, to proclaim a great jousting. In that jousting I will seek out Sir Palamydes and will encounter him, and I hope with God's aid that I shall overcome him, so that you shall be free from him."
   Belle Isoult said, "Tramtris, are you able for this?" He said, "Yea, I am as ready as ever I shall be in all of my life." Whereat Belle Isoult said, "It shall be as you will have it."
   Then Sir Tristram charged Belle Isoult that she should keep secret all this that had been said betwixt them. And more especially she was to keep it secret that he was to take part in such a tournament as that which they had devised. And he said to her: "Lady, I lie here under a great peril to my life, though I cannot tell you what that peril is. But I may tell you that if my enemies should discover me at this place, it would go hard with me to preserve my life from them. Wherefore, if I take part in any such affair as this, it must be altogether a secret betwixt us."
   So therewith they parted and Lady Belle Isoult went to her father and besought him to proclaim a great day of jousting in honor of Sir Palamydes, and the King said that he would do so. So the King sent forth proclamation to all the courts of that nation that a great tournament was to be held and that great rewards and great honors were to be given to the best knight thereat. And that tournament was talked about in all the courts of chivalry where there were knights who desired to win glory in such affairs at arms.
   And now it shall be told concerning that tournament and how it befell with Sir Tristram thereat, and with Sir Palamydes thereat.

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