Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Sixth

How Sir Tristram had to do in battle with three knights of the Round Table. Also how he had speech with King Arthur.

   So came the next morning, and uprose the sun in all the splendor of his glory, shedding his beams to every quarter with a rare dazzling effulgence. For by night the clouds of storm had passed away and gone, and now all the air was clear and blue, and the level beams of light fell athwart the meadow-lands so that countless drops of water sparkled on leaf and blade of grass, like an incredible multitude of shining jewels scattered all over the earth. Then they who slept were awakened by the multitudinous voicing of the birds; for at that hour the small fowl sang so joyous a roundelay that all the early morning was full of the sweet jargon of their chanting.
   At this time, so early in the day, there came two knights riding by where Sir Tristram and his companions had set up their pavilions. These were two very famous knights of King Arthur's court and of the Round Table; for one was Sir Ector de Maris and the other was Sir Morganor of Lisle.
   When these two knights perceived the pavilions of Sir Tristram and his knights-companion, they made halt, and Sir Ector de Maris said, "What knights are these who have come hither?" Then Sir Morganor looked and presently he said: "Sir, I perceive by their shields that these are Cornish knights, and he who occupies this central pavilion must be the champion of this party. "Well," quoth Sir Ector, "as for that I take no great thought of any Cornish knight, so do thou strike the shield of that knight and call him forth, and let us see of what mettle he is made."
   "I will do so," said Sir Morganor; and therewith he rode forward to where the shield of Sir Tristram hung from the spear, and he smote the shield with the point of his lance, so that it rang with a very loud noise.
   Upon this, Sir Tristram immediately came to the door of his pavilion, and said, "Messires, why did you strike upon my shield?" "Because," said Sir Ector, we are of a mind to try your mettle what sort of a knight you be." Quoth Sir Tristram: "God forbid that you should not be satisfied. So if you will stay till I put on my armor you shall immediately have your will in this matter."
   Thereupon he went back into his tent and armed himself and mounted his horse and took a good stout spear of ash-wood into his hand.
   Then all the knights of Cornwall who were with Sir Tristram came forth to behold what their champion would do, and all their esquires, pages, and attendants came forth for the same purpose, and it was a very pleasant time of day for jousting.
   Then first of all Sir Morganor essayed Sir Tristram, and in that encounter Sir Tristram smote him so dreadful, terrible a blow that he cast him a full spear's length over the crupper of his horse, and that so violently that the blood gushed out of the nose and mouth and ears of Sir Morganor, and he groaned very dolorously and could not arise from where he lay.
   "Hah," quoth Sir Ector, "that was a very wonderful buffet you struck my fellow. But now it is my turn to have ado with you, and I hope God will send me a better fortune."
   So he took stand for battle as did Sir Tristram likewise, and when they were in all wise prepared they rushed very violently to the assault. In that encounter Ector suffered hardly less ill fortune than Sir Morganor had done. For he brake his spear against Sir Tristram into as many as an hundred pieces, whilst Sir Tristram's spear held so that he overthrew both the horse and the knight-rider against whom he drove.
   Then all the knights of Cornwall gave loud acclaim that their knight had borne himself so well in those encounters. But Sir Tristram rode back to where those two knights still lay upon the ground, and he said: "Well, Messires, this is no very good hap that you have had with me."
   Upon that speech Sir Ector de Maris gathered himself up from the dust and said: "Sir Knight, I pray you of your knighthood to tell us who you be and what is your degree, for I declare to you, I believe you are one of the greatest knights-champion of the world."
   "Sir," said Sir Tristram, "I am very willing to tell you my name and my station; I am Sir Tristram, the son of King Meliadus of Lyonesse."
   "Ha," quoth Sir Ector, "I would God I had known that before I had ado with you, for your fame hath already reached to these parts, and there hath been such report of your prowess and several songs have been made about you by minstrels and poets. I who speak to you am Sir Ector, surnamed de Maris, and this, my companion, is Sir Morganor of Lisle."
   "Alas!" cried out Sir Tristram, "I would that I had known who you were ere I did battle with you. For I have greater love for the knights of the Round Table than all others in the world, and most of all, Sir Ector, do I have reverence for your noble brother Sir Launcelot of the Lake. So I take great shame to myself that any mishap should have befallen you this day through me."
   Upon this Sir Ector laughed. "Well," quoth he, "let not that trouble lie with you, for it was we who gave you challenge without inquiry who you were, and you did but defend yourself. We were upon our way to Camelot yonder, when we fell into this mishap, for King Arthur is at this time holding court at that place. So now, if we have your leave to go upon our way, we will betake ourselves to the King and tell him that you are here, for we know that he will be very glad of that news."
   Upon this Sir Tristram gave them leave to depart, and they did so with many friendly words of good cheer. And after they had gone Sir Tristram went back into his pavilion again and partook of refreshment that was brought to him.
   Now, some while after Sir Ector and Sir Morganor had left that place, and whilst Sir Tristram was still resting in his pavilion, there came a single knight riding that way, and this knight was clad altogether in white armor and his shield was covered over with a covering of white leather, so that one could not see what device he bare thereon.
   When this white knight came to the place where Sir Tristram and his companions had pitched their pavilions, he also stopped as Sir Ector and Sir Morganor had done, for he desired to know what knights these were. At that time Gouvernail was standing alone in front of Sir Tristram's pavilion, and unto him the white knight said: "Sir, I pray you, tell me who is the knight to whom this pavilion belongs."
   Now Gouvernail thought to himself: "Here is another knight who would have ado with my master. Perhaps Sir Tristram may have glory by him also." So he answered the white knight: "Sir, I may not tell you the name of this knight, for he is my master, and if he pleases to tell you his name he must tell it himself."
   "Very well," said the white knight, "then I will straightway ask him."
   Therewith he rode to where the shield of Sir Tristram hung, and he struck upon the shield so violent a blow that it rang very loud and clear.
   Then straightway came forth Sir Tristram and several of his knights-companion from out of the pavilion, and Sir Tristram said, "Sir Knight, wherefore did you strike upon my shield?"
   "Messire," quoth the white knight, "I struck upon your shield so that I might summon you hither for to tell me your name, for I have asked it of your esquire and he will not tell me."
   "Fair Knight," quoth Sir Tristram, "neither will I tell you my name until I have wiped out that affront which you have set upon my shield by that stroke you gave it. For no man may touch my shield without my having to do with him because of the affront he gives me thereby."
   "Well," said the white knight, "I am satisfied to have it as you please."
   So therewith Sir Tristram went back into his pavilion and several went with him. These put his helmet upon his head and they armed him for battle in all ways. After that Sir Tristram came forth and battle in all mounted his horse and took his spear in hand and made himself in all ways ready for battle, and all that while the white knight awaited his coming very calmly and steadfastly. Then Sir Tristram took ground for battle, and the white knight did so likewise. So being in all ways prepared, each launched forth against the other with such amazing and terrible violence that those who beheld that encounter stood as though terrified with the thunder of the onset.
   Therewith the two knights met in the midst of the course, and each knight smote the other directly in the centre of the shield. In that encounter the spear of each knight broke all to small pieces, even to the truncheon which he held in his fist. And so terrible was the blow that each struck the other that the horse of each fell back upon his haunches, and it was only because of the great address of the knight-rider that the steed was able to recover his footing. As for Sir Tristram, that was the most terrible buffet he ever had struck him in all his life before that time.
   Then straightway Sir Tristram voided his saddle and drew his sword and dressed his shield. And he cried out: "Ha, Sir Knight! I demand of you that you descend from your horse and do me battle afoot."
   "Very well," said the white knight, "thou shalt have thy will." And thereupon he likewise voided his horse and drew his sword and dressed his shield and made himself in all ways ready for battle as Sir Tristram had done.
   Therewith they two came together and presently fell to fighting with such ardor that sparks of fire flew from every stroke. And if Sir Tristram struck hard and often, the white knight struck as hard and as often as he, so that all the knights of Cornwall who stood about marvelled at the strength and fierceness of the knights-combatant. Each knight gave the other many sore buffets so that the armor was here and there dinted and here and there was broken through by the edge of the sword so that the red blood flowed out therefrom and down over the armor, turning its brightness in places into an ensanguined red. Thus they fought for above an hour and in all that time neither knight gave ground or gained any vantage over the other.
   Then after a while Sir Tristram grew more weary of fighting than ever he had been in all of his life before, and he was aware that this was the greatest knight whom he had ever met. But still he would not give ground, but fought from this side and from that side with great skill and address until of a sudden, he slipped upon some of that blood that he himself had shed, and because of his great weariness, fell down upon his knees, and could not for the instant rise again.
   Then that white knight might easily have struck him down if he had been minded to do so. But, instead, he withheld the blow and gave Sir Tristram his hand and said: "Sir Knight, rise up and stand upon thy feet and let us go at this battle again if it is thy pleasure to do so; for I do not choose to take advantage of thy fall."
   Then Sir Tristram was as greatly astonished at the extraordinary courtesy of his enemy as he had been at his prowess. And because of that courtesy he would not fight again, but stood leaning upon his sword panting. Then he said: "Sir Knight, I pray thee of thy knighthood to tell me what is thy name and who thou art."
   "Messire," said the white knight, "since you ask me that upon my knighthood, I cannot refuse to tell you my name. And so I will do, provided you, upon your part, will do me a like courtesy and will first tell me your name and degree."
   Quoth Sir Tristram: "I will tell you that. My name is Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, and I am the son of King Meliadus of that land whereby I have my surname."
   "Ha, Sir Tristram," said the white knight, "often have I heard of thee and of thy skill at arms, and well have I proved thy fame this day and that all that is said of thee is true. I must tell thee that I have never yet met my match until I met thee this day. For I know not how this battle might have ended hadst thou not slipped and fallen by chance as thou didst. My name is Sir Launcelot, surnamed of the Lake, and I am King Ban's son of Benwick."
   At this Sir Tristram cried out in a loud voice: "Sir Launcelot! Sir Launcelot! Is it thou against whom I have been doing battle! Rather I would that anything should have happened to me than that, for of all men in the world I most desire thy love and friendship."
   Then, having so spoken, Sir Tristram immediately kneeled down upon his knees and said: "Messire, I yield myself unto thee, being overcome not more by thy prowess than by thy courtesy. For I freely confess that thou art the greatest knight in the world, against whom no other knight can hope to stand; for I could fight no more and thou mightest easily have slain me when I fell down a while since."
   "Nay, Sir Tristram," said Sir Launcelot, "arise, and kneel not to me, for I am not willing to accept thy submission, for indeed it is yet to be proved which of us is the better knight, thou or I. Wherefore let neither of us yield to the other, but let us henceforth be as dear as brothers-in-arms the one toward the other."
   Then Sir Tristram rose up to his feet again. "Well, Sir Launcelot," he said, "whatsoever thou shalt ordain shall be as thou wouldst have it. But there is one thing I must do because of this battle."
   Then he looked upon his sword which he held naked and ensanguined in his hand and he said: "Good sword; thou hast stood my friend and hast served me well in several battles, but this day thou hast served me for the last time." Therewith he suddenly took the blade of the sword in both hands--the one at the point and the other nigh the haft--and he brake the blade across his knee and flung the pieces away.
   Upon this Sir Launcelot cried out in a loud voice: "Ha, Messire! why didst thou do such a thing as that? To break thine own fair sword?"
   "Sir," quoth Sir Tristram, "this sword hath this day received the greatest honor that is possible for any blade to receive; for it hath been baptized, in thy blood. So, because aught else that might happen to it would diminish that honor, I have broken it so that its honor might never be made less than it is at this present time."
   Upon this Sir Launcelot ran to Sir Tristram and catched him in his arms, and he cried out: "Tristram, I believe that thou art the noblest knight whom ever I beheld!" And Sir Tristram replied: "And thou, Launcelot, I love better than father or kindred." Therewith each kissed the other upon the face, and all they who stood by were so moved at that sight that several of them wept for pure joy.
   Thereafter they two went into Sir Tristram's pavilion and disarmed themselves. Then there came sundry attendants who were excellent leeches and these searched their hurts and bathed them and dressed them. And several other attendants came and fetched soft robes and clothed the knights therein so that they were very comfortable in their bodies. Then still other attendants brought them good strong wine and manchets of bread and they sat together at table and ate very cheerfully and were greatly refreshed.
   So I have told you of that famous affair-at-arms betwixt Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram, and I pray God that you may have the same pleasure in reading of it that I had in writing of it.

   Now, as Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram sat in the pavilion of Sir Tristram making pleasant converse together, there suddenly entered an esquire to where they were sitting. This esquire proclaimed: "Messires, hither cometh King Arthur, and he is very near at hand." Thereupon, even as that esquire spoke, there came from without the pavilion a great noise of trampling horses and the pleasant sound of ringing armor, and then immediately a loud noise of many voices uplifted in acclamation.
   Therewith Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram arose from where they sat, and as they did so the curtains at the doorway of the pavilion were parted and there entered King Arthur himself enveloped, as it were, with all the glory of his royal estate.
   Unto him Sir Tristram ran, and would have fallen upon his knees, but King Arthur stayed him from so doing. For the great king held him by the hand and lifted him up, and he said, "Sir, are you Sir Tristram of Lyonesse?" "Yea," said Sir Tristram, "I am he." "Ha," said King Arthur, "I am gladder to see you than almost any man I know of in the world," and therewith he kissed Sir Tristram upon the face, and he said: "Welcome, Messire, to these parts! Welcome! And thrice welcome!"
   Then Sir Tristram besought King Arthur that he would refresh himself, and the King said he would do so. So Sir Tristram brought him to the chiefest place, and there King Arthur sat him down. And Sir Tristram would have served him with wine and with manchets of bread with his own hand, but King Arthur would not have it so, but bade Sir Tristram to sit beside him on his right hand, and Sir Tristram did so. After that, King Arthur spake to Sir Tristram about many things, and chiefly about King Meliadus. the father of Sir Tristram, and about the court of Lyonesse.
   Then, after a while King Arthur said: "Messire, I hear tell that you are a wonderful harper." And Sir Tristram said, "Lord, so men say of me." King Arthur said, "I would fain hear your minstrelsy." To which Sir Tristram made: reply: "Lord, I will gladly do anything at all that will give you pleasure."'
   So therewith Sir Tristram gave orders to Gouvernail, and Gouvernail brought him his shining golden harp, and the harp glistered with great splendor in the dim light of the pavilion.
   Sir Tristram took the harp in his hands and tuned it and struck upon it. And he played upon the harp, and he sang to the music thereof so wonderfully that they who sat there listened in silence as though they were without breath. For not one of them had ever heard such singing as that music which Sir Tristram sang; for it was as though some angel were singing to those who sat there harkening to his chanting.
   So after Sir Tristram had ended, all who were there gave loud acclaim and much praise to his singing. "Ha, Messire!" quoth King Arthur, "many times in my life have I heard excellent singing, but never before in my life have I heard such singing as that. Now I wish that we might always have you at this court and that you would never leave us." And Sir Tristram said: "Lord, I too would wish that I might always be with you and with these noble knights of your court, for I have never met any whom I love as I love them."
   So they sat there in great joy and friendliness of spirit, and,. for the while, Sir Tristram forgot the mission he was upon and was happy in heart and glad of that terrible storm that had driven him thitherward.
   And now I shall tell you the conclusion of all these adventures, and of how it fared with Sir Tristram.

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