Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Second

How Sir Tristram started to go to Camelot, and how he stayed by the way to do battle with Sir Nabon le Noir.

   Now after Sir Lamorack had quit the court of King Mark of Cornwall as aforetold, Sir Tristram was very sad at heart for a long while. Nevertheless, he tried to comfort himself by saying:
   Well, it was not by my will that I did battle with my friend and brother-in-arms, for I had no choice as to that which I was compelled to do." So he spake to himself, and took what comfort he was able from such considerations, and that comfort was not very great.
   Then one day there came from Sir Launcelot of the Lake a letter in which Sir Launcelot said that he had heard that Sir Tristram had assailed Sir Lamorack when that knight was weary and spent with battle. And in that letter Sir Launcelot further said: "It is very strange to me, Messire, that such things should be said of you, and that by several mouths. Now, I pray you, set this matter at right, for I do not choose to have such a thing said of you; that you would wait until a knight was weary with fighting before you would do battle with him. Moreover, Sir Lamorack is your sworn brother-at-arms, and a fellow-knight of the Round Table, and is, besides, one of the noblest and gentlest knights in Christendom. Wherefore I beseech you to set this matter right, so that those who accuse you of unknightliness may be brought to confusion."
   So wrote Sir Launcelot, and at those words Sir Tristram was cast into a great deal of pain and trouble of spirit; for he wist not how to answer that letter of Sir Launcelot's so as to make the matter clear to that knight. Wherefore he said: "I will straightway go to Camelot and to Sir Launcelot and will speak to him by word of mouth, and so will make him understand why I did that which I had to do."
   So when the next day had come Sir Tristram arose and took horse and rode away from Tintagel with intent to betake himself to Camelot where King Arthur was then holding court, and where he might hope to find Sir Launcelot abiding. And Sir Tristram took no companion with him, not even Gouvernail.
   And now I shall tell you how Sir Tristram rode: the way that he took led him down by the seashore, and by and by to a deep forest, which was then nearly altogether devoid of leaves, so that the branches above him were in some places like to the meshes of a net spread against the sky. Here that young knight rode upon a deep carpet of leaves, so that the steps of his war-horse were silenced save only for the loud and continued rustling of his footfalls in the dry and yellow foliage. And as Sir Tristram rode he sang several songs in praise of the Lady Belle Isoult, chanting in a voice that was both clear and loud and very sweet, and that sounded to a great distance through the deep, silent aisles of the forest.
   Thus he travelled, anon singing as aforetold of, and anon sank in meditation, so travelling until the day declined and the early gray of the evening began to fall. Then he began to bethink him how he should spend the night, and he thought he would have to sleep abroad in the forest. But just as the gray of the evening was fading away into darkness he came to a certain place of open land, where, before him, he perceived a tall castle, partly of stone and partly of red bricks, built up upon a steep hill of rocks. And upon one side of this castle was the forest, and upon the other side was the wide and open stretch of sea.
   And Sir Tristram perceived that there were lights shining from several windows of that castle, and that all within was aglow with red as of a great fire in the hall of the castle; and at these signs of good cheer, his heart was greatly expanded with joy that he should not after all have to spend that night in the darkness and in the chill of the autumn wilds.
   So Sir Tristram set spurs to his good horse and rode up to the castle and made request for rest and refreshment for the night. Then, after a little parley, the drawbridge was lowered, and the portcullis was raised, and he rode with a great noise into the stone-paved courtyard of the castle.
   Thereupon there came several attendants of the castle, and took his horse and aided him to descend from the saddle; and then other attendants came and led him away into the castle and so to an apartment where there was a warm bath of tepid water, and where were soft towels and napkins of linen for to dry himself upon after he was bathed. And when he had bathed and refreshed himself, there came still other attendants bearing soft warm robes for him in which to clothe himself after his journey; and Sir Tristram clothed himself and felt greatly at his ease, and was glad that he had come to that place.
   For thus it was that worthy knights like Sir Tristram travelled the world in those days so long ago; and so they were received in castle and hall with great pleasure and hospitality. For all folk knew the worth of these noble gentlemen and were glad to make them welcome whithersoever they went. And so I have told to you how Sir Tristram travelled, that you might, perchance, find pleasure in the thought thereof.
   Now after Sir Tristram had refreshed himself and clothed himself as aforesaid, there came the steward of the castle and besought him that he would come to where the lady of the castle was awaiting him for to welcome him. And Sir Tristram went with the steward, and the steward brought him where the lady sat at a table prepared for supper. And Sir Tristram perceived that the lady was very beautiful, but that she was clad in the deep weeds of a widow.
   When the lady perceived Sir Tristram, she arose and went to meet him, and gave him welcome, speaking in a voice both soft and very sweet.
   "Messire," quoth she, "I am grieved that there is no man here to welcome you in such a manner as is fitting. But, alas! as you may see by the weeds in which I am clad, I am alone in the world and without any lord of the castle to do the courtesies thereof as is fitting. Yet such as I am, I give you welcome with my entire heart."
   "Lady," quoth Sir Tristram, "I give you gramercy for your courtesy. And indeed I am grieved to see you in such sorrow as your dress foretells. Now if there is any service I may render to you, I beseech you to call upon me for whatever aid I may give you."
   "Nay," quoth she, "there is nothing you can do to help me." And therewith the lady, who was hight Loise, took Sir Tristram by the hand and led him to the table and sat him down beside her, Then straightway there came sundry attendants, and set a noble feast before them, with good excellent wines, both white and red; and they two ate and drank together with great appetite and enjoyment.
   Now after that feast was over and done, Sir Tristram said: "Lady, will you not of your courtesy tell me why you wear the weeds of sorrow in which you are clad? This I ask, not from idle humor, but because, as I said before, I may haply be able to aid you in whatever trouble it is under which you lie."
   "Alas, Sir Knight!" quoth she, "my trouble lieth beyond your power to aid or to amend. For can you conquer death, or can you bring the dead back to life again? Nevertheless, I will tell you what my sorrow is, and how it came unto me. You must know that some distance away across the sea, which you may behold from yonder window, there lieth an island. The present lord of that island is a very wicked and cruel knight, huge of frame and big of limb, hight Sir Nabon surnamed le Noir. One time the noble and gentle knight who was my husband was the lord of that island and the castle thereon, and of several other castles and manors and estates upon this mainland as well. But one evil day when I and my lord were together upon that island, this Sir Nabon came thither by night, and with certain evil-disposed folk of the island he overcame my lord and slew him very treacherously. Me also he would have slain, or else have taken into shameful captivity, but, hearing the noise of that assault in which my lord was slain, I happily escaped, and so, when night had come, I got away from that island with several attendants who were faithful to me, and thus came to this castle where we are. Since that time Sir Nabon has held that castle as his own, ruling it in a very evil fashion. For you are to know that the castle sits very high upon the crags overlooking the sea, and whenever a vessel passeth by that way, Sir Nabon goeth forth to meet it; and upon some of these crafts he levies toll, and other ships be sinks after slaying the mariners and sailor-folk who may by evil hap be aboard thereof. And if anyone is by chance cast ashore upon that island, that one he either slays or holds for ransom, or makes thereof a slave for to serve him. Because of this, very few ships now go by that way, for all people shun the coasts of so evil a country as that. So Sir Nabon took that land away from me; nor have I any kin who will take up this quarrel for me, and so I must endure my losses as best may."
   "Ha!" quoth Sir Tristram, "and is there then no good knight-champion in this country who will rid the world of such an evil being as that Sir Nabon of whom you speak?"
   "Nay," said the lady, "there is no one who cares to offer challenge to that knight, for he is as strong and as doughty as he is huge of frame, and he is as fierce and cruel as he is strong and masterful, wherefore all men bold him in terror and avoid him."
   "Well," said Sir Tristram, "meseems it is the business of any knight to rid the world of such a monster as that, whatever may be the danger to himself. Now as there is no knight hereabouts who hath heart to undertake such an adventure, I myself shall undertake it so soon as to-morrow shall have come."
   "Sir," said the lady, "I beseech you to think twice before you enter into such an affair as that. Or rather be ruled by me and do not undertake this quest at all; for I misdoubt that anyone could conquer this huge and powerful champion, even if that knight were such as Sir Launcelot of the Lake or Sir Tristram of Lyonesse."
   At this Sir Tristram laughed with great good-will, and he said, "Lady, do you not then know who I am?" "Nay," said she, "I know you not." "Well," said Sir Tristram, "then I may tell you that I am that Sir Tristram of Lyonesse of whom you spoke just now. And I also tell you that I shall undertake this adventure to-morrow morning."
   Now when the lady found that the stranger she had taken in was Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, she made great exclamation of surprise and pleasure at having him at that place, for at that time all the world was talking of Sir Tristram's performances. So she took great pleasure and pride that her castle should have given him shelter. She made many inquiries concerning his adventures, and Sir Tristram told her all she asked of him.
   Then the lady said: "Messire, I hear tell that you sing very sweetly, and that you are a wonderful harper upon the harp. Now will you not chaunt for me a song or two or three?" And Sir Tristram said: "Lady, I win do whatsoever you ask me that may give you pleasure."
   So the lady bade them bring a harp and they did so. And Sir Tristram took the harp and set it before him and tuned it and played upon it, and sang so sweetly that they of the castle said: "Certes, this is no knight-errant who sings, but an angel from Paradise who hath come among us. For surely no one save an angel from Paradise could sing so enchantingly."
   So passed that evening very pleasantly until the hours waxed late. Then Sir Tristram retired to a very noble apartment where a soft couch spread with flame-colored linen had been prepared for him, and where he slept a soft sleep without disturbance of any kind.
   Now when the next morning had come, Sir Tristram armed himself and mounted upon his war-horse, and rode him to a certain place on the shore. There he found some mariners in haven with a large boat, and to these he paid ten pieces of silver money to bear him across the sea to that island where Sir Nabon le Noir abided. At first these mariners said they would not sail to such a coast of danger and death; but afterward they said they would, and they did do so. But still they would not bring Sir Tristram to land nigh to the castle, but only at a place that was a great way off, and where they deemed themselves to be more safe from the cruel lord of that land.
   As for Sir Tristram he made merry with their fear, saying: "It is well that we who are knights-errant have more courage than you who are sailormen, else it would not be possible that monsters such as this Sir Nabon should ever be made an end of."
   Upon this the captain of these sailors replied: "Well, Messire, for the matter of that, it is true that mariners such as we have not much courage, for we are the first of our order who have dared to come hither. But it is also true that you are the first errant-knight who hath ever had courage to come hither. So what say you for the courage of your own order?" And at that Sir Tristram laughed with great good will and rode his way.
   Thereafter he rode forward along the coast of that land for several leagues, with the noise of the sea ever beating in his ears, and the shrill clamor of the sea-fowl ever sounding in the air about him. By and by he came to a place of certain high fells, and therefrom perceived before him in the distance a tall and forbidding castle standing upon a high headland of the coast. And the castle was built of stone, that was like the rocks upon which it stood, so that at first one could not tell whether what one beheld was a part of the cliffs or whether it was the habitation of man. But when Sir Tristram had come somewhat nearer, he perceived the windows of the castle shining against the sky, and he saw the gateway thereof, and the roofs and the chimneys thereof, so that he knew that it was a castle of great size and strength and no wall of rock as he had at first supposed it to be; and he wist that this must be the castle of that wicked and malignant knight, Sir Nabon, whom he sought.
   Now as Sir Tristram wended his way toward that castle by a crooked path meditating how he should come at Sir Nabon for to challenge him to battle, he was by and by aware of a fellow clad in pied black and white, who walked along the way in the direction that he himself was taking. At the first that fellow was not aware of Sir Tristram; then presently he was aware of him and turned him about, and beheld that a strange knight was riding rapidly down toward him upon a horse.
   Then at first that fellow stood like one struck with amazement; but in a moment he cried out aloud as with a great fear, and instantly turned again and ran away, yelling like one who had gone mad.
   But Sir Tristram thundered after him at speed, and, in a little, came up with him, and catched him by the collar of his jerkin and held him fast. And Sir Tristram said: "Fellow, who are you?"
   "Lord," quoth the fellow, "I am an attendant upon the knight of yonder castle, which same is hight Sir Nabon surnamed le Noir."
   Then Sir Tristram said: "Sirrah, why did you run from me when you first beheld me?" And the fellow replied: "Messire, you are the first stranger who hath dared to come hither to this country; wherefore, seeing you, and seeing that you rode upon horseback, and not knowing how you came to this land, I wist not whether you were a man of flesh and blood, or whether you were a spirit come hither for to punish us for our sins; so I ran away from you.
   "Well," said Sir Tristram, "as you see, I am no spirit, but a man of flesh and blood. Yet I have great hope that I have indeed been sent hither for to punish those who have done evil, for I come hither seeking the knight of yonder castle for to do battle with him in behalf of that lady whose lord he slew so treacherously as I have heard tell. And I hope to take away from him this island and return it to the Lady Loise, to whom it belongeth."
   "Alas, Messire," quoth the fellow, "this is for you a very sorry quest upon which you have come. For this Sir Nabon whom you seek is accounted to be the most potent knight in all of the world. Yea; he is held to be a bigger knight than even Sir Launcelot of the Lake or Sir Tristram of Lyonesse or Sir Lamorack of Gales. Wherefore I beseech you to turn about and go away whither you have come whilst there is still the chance for you to escape."
   "Gramercy for your pity, good fellow," quoth Sir Tristram, "and may God grant that it may not be deserved. Nevertheless, in spite of the danger in this quest, I am still of the same mind as I was when I came hither. So do you presently go to your lord and tell him from me that a knight hath come to do battle with him upon the behalf of the lady to whom this island by rights belongeth."
   Therewith Sir Tristram let the fellow go, and he ran off with great speed and so away to the postern of the castle and entered in and shut the door behind him.
   Now at that time Sir Nabon le Noir was walking along the wall of the castle, and his son, who was a lad of seventeen years, was with him. There the messenger from Sir Tristram found him and delivered his message. Thereupon Sir Nabon looked over the battlements and down below and he beheld that there was indeed a tall and noble knight seated upon horseback in a level meadow that reached away, descending inland from the foot of the crags whereon the castle stood.
   But when Sir Nabon perceived that a stranger knight had dared to come thus into his country, he was filled with amazement at the boldness of that knight that he wist not what to think. Then, presently a great rage got hold upon him, and he ground his teeth together, and the cords on his neck stood out like knots on the trunk of a tree. For a while he stood as though bereft of speech; then anon he roared out in a voice like that of a bull, crying to those who were near him: "Go! Haste ye! Fetch me straightway my horse and armor and I will go immediately forth and so deal with yonder champion of ladies that he shall never take trouble upon their account again."
   Then those who were in attendance upon Sir Nabon were terrified at his words and ran with all speed to do his bidding, and presently fetched his armor and clad him in it; and they fetched his horse into the courtyard of the castle and helped him to mount upon it. And lo! the armor of Sir Nabon was as black as ink; and the great horse upon which he sat was black; and all the trappings and furniture of the armor and of the horse were black, so that from top to toe he was altogether as black and as forbidding as Death himself.
   So when Sir Nabon was thus in all wise prepared for battle, the portcullis of the castle was lifted up, and he rode forth to meet Sir Tristram; and his young son rode with him as his esquire. Then all the people of the castle gathered together upon the walls to see that battle that was to be, and not one of those several score of folk thought otherwise than that Sir Tristram would certainly be overcome in that encounter.
   Sir Nabon rode straight up to Sir Tristram and he said very fiercely, "Sirrah, what is it brings you hither to this land?"
   "As to that," said Sir Tristram, "the messenger whom I have sent to you hath, I believe, told you what I come for, and that it is to redeem this island from your possession, and to restore it to the Lady Loise, to whom it belongeth. Likewise that I come to punish you for all the evil you have done."
   "And what business is all this of yours?" quoth Sir Nabon, speaking with great fury of voice.
   "Messire," quoth Sir Tristram, "know ye not that it is the business of every true knight to rid the world of all such evil monsters as you be?"
   "Ha!" quoth Sir Nabon, "that was very well said, for whatever mercy I should have been willing before this to show you hath now been forfeited unto you. For now I shall have no mercy upon you but shall slay you."
   "Well," quoth Sir Tristram, "as for that, meseems it will be time enough to offer me mercy after you have overcome me in battle."
   So thereupon each knight took his place for assault, and when they were in all ways prepared, each set spurs to his horse and dashed the one against the other, with a dreadful, terrible fury of onset. Each smote the other in the very midst of his shield, and at that blow the lance of each was altogether shivered into pieces to the very truncheon thereof. But each knight recovered his horse from the fall and each leaped to earth and drew his sword, and each rushed against the other with such fury that it was as though sparks of pure fire flew out from the oculariums of the helmets. Therewith they met together, and each lashed and smote at the other such fell strokes that the noise thereof might easily have been heard several furlongs away. Now in the beginning of that battle Sir Tristram was at first sore bestead and wist that he had met the biggest knight that ever he had encountered in all of his life, unless it was Sir Launcelot of the Lake, whom he had encountered as aforetold of in this history. So at first he bore back somewhat from the might of the blows of Sir Nabon. For Sir Nabon was so huge of frame and the blows he struck were so heavy that they drove Sir Tristram back as it were in spite of himself.
   Then Sir Tristram began to say to himself: "Tristram, if you indeed lose this battle, then there will be no one to defend your honor before Sir Launcelot who hath impeached it." Therewith it was as though new strength and life came back to him, and of a sudden he rushed that battle, and struck with threefold fury, and gave stroke upon stroke with such fierceness of strength that Sir Nabon was astonished and fell back before his assault. Then Sir Tristram perceived how Sir Nabon held his shield passing low, and therewith he rushed in upon him and smote him again and again and yet again. And so he smote Sir Nabon down upon his knees. Then he rushed in upon him and catched his helmet and plucked it off from his head. And he catched Sir Nabon by the hair of his head and drew his head forward. And Sir Tristram lifted his sword on high and he smote Sir Nabon's head from off his body so that it rolled down into the dust upon the ground.
   Now when the son of Sir Nabon perceived how that his father was slain, he shrieked like a woman. And he fell down upon his knees and crawled upon his knees to Sir Tristram and catched him about the thighs, crying out to him, "Spare me, and slay me not!"
   But Sir Tristram thrust him away and said, "Who art thou?"
   "Messire," said the youth, "I am the son of him whom thou hast just slain."
   Then Sir Tristram looked closely into his face, and he perceived that it was wicked and treacherous and malevolent like to the face of Sir Nabon. Thereupon Sir Tristram said: "If a man shall slay the wolf and spare the whelp of the wolf, what shall the world be the better therefor?" Therewith he catched the son of Sir Nabon by the hair and dragged him down and smote off his head likewise as he had smitten off the head of his father, so that it fell upon the ground beside the head of Sir Nabon.
   And now it shall be told how Sir Tristram discovered Sir Lamorack upon the island and how he made amends to him, so that they became friends and brethren-in-arms once more as they had been before.

back.jpg (1384 bytes)