Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter First

How Sir Tristram was discovered with the Lady Belle Isoult; how he assaulted King Mark, and how he escaped from Tintagel into the forest.

   After Sir Tristram had thus rescued the Lady Belle Isoult from the hand of Sir Palamydes, he dwelt very peacefully at the court of Cornwall for all of that winter and until the spring that followed, and during that time he was given every meed of praise and honor. But although King Mark and his court gave praise to Sir Tristram with the lips, yet he and many of his people hated Sir Tristram at heart, and there were many mischief-makers about the court who were ever ready to blow the embers of the King's wrath into a flame.
   Now the chiefest of all these mischief-makers was Sir Andred, who was nephew unto King Mark, and cousin-germaine unto Sir Tristram. Sir Andred was a fierce strong knight, and one very dextrous at arms; but he was as mean and as treacherous as Sir Tristram was generous and noble, wherefore lie hated Sir Tristram with great bitterness (though he dissembled that hatred) and sought for every opportunity to do Sir Tristram a harm by bringing him and the King into conflict.
   So Sir Andred set spies upon Sir Tristram, and he himself spied upon his cousin, yet neither he nor they were able to find anything with which to accuse Sir Tristram. Then one day Sir Andred came to Sir Tristram and said: "Sir, the Lady Belle Isoult wishes to see you to talk with you." Sir Tristram said, "Where is she?" And Sir Andred said," She is in her bower." Then Sir Tristram said, "Very well, I will go to her."
   So Sir Tristram arose and departed from where he was with intent to find the lady; and therewith Sir Andred hurried to where King Mark was, and said: "Lord, arise, for Sir Tristram and the Lady Isoult are holding converse together."
   King Mark said, "Where are they?" And Sir Andred said, "They are in the bower of the Queen." At that King Mark's rage and jealousy blazed up into a flame, so that he was like one seized with a sudden frensy. So, in that madness of rage, he looked about for some weapon with which to destroy Sir Tristram, and he perceived a great sword where it hung against the wall. Thereupon he ran to the sword and took it down from where it was, and ran with all speed to that place where Sir Tristram and the Lady Isoult were, and Sir Andred guided him thither.
   And when King Mark reached the bower of the Lady Isoult he flung open the door and found Sir Tristram and the Lady Isoult sitting together in the seat of a deep window. And he perceived that the Lady Isoult wept and that Sir Tristram's face was very sorrowful because of her sorrow. Then King Mark twisted him about and bent double as with a great pain, and then he cried out thrice in a voice very hoarse and loud: "Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!" Saying those words three times. Therewith he ran at Sir Tristram and struck furiously at him with that sword he held, with intent to slay him.
   Now Sir Tristram was at that time altogether without armor and was clad in clothes of scarlet silk. Accordingly, he was able to be very quick and alert in his movements. So perceiving King Mark rushing upon him with intent to slay him he leaped aside and so avoided the blow. Then immediately he rushed in upon King Mark and catched him by the wrist and wrenched the sword out of his hand.
   Then Sir Tristram was blinded with his rage and might have slain his uncle, but the Lady Isoult, beholding the fury in his face, shrieked in a very piercing voice, "Forbear! Forbear!" And therewith he remembered him how that King Mark was his mother's brother and that it was his hand that had made him a knight.
   So he turned the sword in his hand and he smote King Mark with the flat thereof again and again, and at those blows King Mark was filled with terror so that he howled like a wild beast. And King Mark fled away from that place, striving to escape, but Sir Tristram ever pursued him, grinding his teeth like a wild boar in rage, and smiting the King as he ran, over and over again, with the flat of the sword so that the whole castle was filled with the tumult and uproar of that assault.
   Then many of the knights of Cornwall came running with intent to defend the King, and with them came Sir Andred. But when Sir Tristram saw them, his rage suddenly left the King and went out toward them; so therewith, naked of armor as he was, he rushed at them, and he struck at them so fiercely that they were filled with the terror of his fury, and fled away from before his face. And Sir Tristram chased them through the courts of the castle, striking right and left until he was weary with striking, and many he struck down with the fierceness of his blows, and amongst them was Sir Andred who was sorely wounded. So after a while Sir Tristram grew weary of that battle, and he cried out, "Certes, these are not knights, but swine!" And therewith he ceased striking, and allowed those who could do so to escape.
   Thereafter he went to his chamber and armed himself without summoning Gouvernail, and after that he took horse and rode away altogether from that place. And not even Gouvernail went with him, but only his favorite hound, hight Houdaine, which same followed him into the forest as he rode thitherward. And in his going Sir Tristram looked neither to the right nor to the left but straight before him very proudly and haughtily, and no one dared to stay him in his going.
   Yet, though he appeared so steadfast, he was like one who was brokenhearted, for he wist that in going away from that place he was leaving behind him all that he held dear in the world, wherefore he was like one who rode forth from a pleasant garden into an empty wilderness of sorrow and repining.
   Then, some little while after Sir Tristram had gone, Gouvernail also took horse and rode into the forest, and he searched for a long while in the forest without finding his master. But after a while he came upon Sir Tristram seated under a tree with his head hanging down upon his breast. And Houdaine lay beside Sir Tristram and licked his hand, but Sir Tristram paid no heed to him, being so deeply sunk in his sorrow that he was unaware that Houdaine licked his hand in that wise.
   Then Gouvernail dismounted from his horse and came to where Sir Tristram was, and Gouvernail wept at beholding the sorrow of Sir Tristram. And Gouvernail said: "Messire, look up and take cheer, for there must yet be joy for thee in the world."
   T hen Sir Tristram raised his eyes very slowly (for they were heavy and dull like lead) and he looked at Gouvernail for some while as though not seeing him. Then by and by he said: "Gouvernail, what evil have I done that I should have so heavy a curse laid upon me?" Gouvernail said, still weeping: "Lord, thou hast done no ill, but art in all wise a very noble, honorable gentleman." "Alas!" quoth Sir Tristram, "I must unwittingly have done some great evil in God's sight, for certes the hand of God lieth grievously heavy upon me." Gouvernail said: "Lord, take heart, and tell me whither shall we go now?" And Sir Tristram said, "I know not."
   Then Gouvernail said: "Lord, let us go hence, I care not where, for I reckon nothing of storm or rain or snow or hail if it so be that I am with you."
   Then Sir Tristram looked upon Gouvernail and smiled, and he said: "Gouvernail, it is great joy to me that you should love me so greatly as you do. But this time you may not go with me whither I go, for the Lady Belle Isoult hath few friends at the court of Cornwall, and many enemies, wherefore I would have you return unto her for my sake, so that you may befriend her and cherish her when that I am no longer by her for to stand her friend in her hour of need. And take this dog Houdaine with you and bid the Lady Belle Isoult for to keep him by her to remind her of my faithfulness unto her. For even as this creature is faithful unto me under all circumstances, so am I faithful unto her whether she be glad or sorry, or in good or evil case. So return to Tintagel as I bid thee, and see that thou pay thy duty unto that lady even as thou payst it unto me. For she is so singularly dear unto me that, even as a man's heart is the life of his body, so is her happiness the life of my life."
   Then Gouvernail wept again in very great measure, and he said, "Lord, I obey." Therewith he mounted his horse, still weeping with a great passion of sorrow, and rode away from that place, and Houdaine followed after him and Sir Tristram was left sitting alone in the deep forest.
   After that Sir Tristram wandered for several days in the forest, he knew not whither for he was bewildered with that which had happened; so that he ate no food and took no rest of any sort for all that time. Wherefore, because of the hardship he then endured, he by and by became distraught in his mind. So, after a while, he forgot who he himself was, and what was his condition, or whence he came or whither he wended. And because his armor weighed heavily upon him, he took it off and cast it away from him, and thereafter roamed half naked through the woodlands.
   Now upon the sixth day of this wandering he came to the outskirts of the forest and nigh to the coast of the sea at a spot that was not very far away was the castle of the Lady Loise, where he had once stayed at the time that he undertook the adventure against Sir Nabon as aforetold. There, being exhausted with hunger and weariness, he laid himself down in the sunlight out beyond the borders of the forest and presently fell into a deep sleep that was like to a swoon.
   Now it chanced at that time that there came that way a certain damsel attendant upon the Lady Loise. She perceiving that a man lay there on the grass at the edge of the forest was at first of a mind to quit that place. Then, seeing that the man lay very strangely still as though he were dead, she went forward very softly and looked into his face.
   Now that damsel had beheld Sir Tristram a great many times when he was at the castle of the Lady Loise; wherefore now, in spite of his being so starved and shrunken, and so unkempt and unshaved, she remembered his face and she knew that this was Sir Tristram.
   Therewith the damsel hurried away to the Lady Loise (and the lady was not a very great distance away) and she said: "Lady, yonder way there lieth a man by the forest side and I believe that it is Sir Tristram of Lyonesse. Yet he is but half-clad and in great distress of body so that I know not of a surety whether it is really Sir Tristram or not. Now I pray you come with me and look upon his face and see if you may know him."
   So the Lady Loise went with the damsel to where Sir Tristram lay and looked into his face, and she knew Sir Tristram in spite of his ill condition.
   Then the Lady Loise touched Sir Tristram upon the shoulder and shook him, and thereupon Sir Tristram awoke and sat up. Then the Lady Loise said, "Sir Tristram, is it thou who liest here?" And Sir Tristram said, "I know not who I am." The Lady Loise said, "Messire, how came you here in this sad case?" And Sir Tristram said: "I know not whence I came, nor how I came hither, nor who I am, nor what it is that ails me, for I cannot hold my mind with enough steadiness to remember those things." Then the lady sighed for sorrow of Sir Tristram, and she said: "Alas, Sir Tristram, that I should find you thus! Now I pray you, lord, for to come with me to my castle which is hard by. There we may care for you and may perhaps bring you back to health again."
   To this Sir Tristram said: "Lady, I may not go with you. For though I cannot remember whence I came, nor who I am, this much I know--I know that I am mad, and that the forest is the only fit place for such as I am come to be."
   The lady said: "Alas, Sir Tristram, thou wilt die if thou art left alone here in the forest." And Sir Tristram said: "Lady, I know not what you mean when you say I am to die. What is it to die?" So at these words the Lady Loise saw how it was with Sir Tristram; that his brains were altogether turned; and she wist that some sore trouble must have befallen to bring him to such a pass. Then she bethought her of how dearly he loved the music of the harp, and she said to herself: "Mayhap by means of music I may bring him back into his senses again." So she said to that damsel who had brought her thither: "Go thou and bring hither my little harp of gold, and let us see if music may charm him to remembrance."
   So the damsel ran to the castle and brought the harp thence, and the Lady Loise took the harp and tuned it and struck it and played upon it. And the lady sang very sweetly a ballad that she knew Sir Tristram loved.
   Then when Sir Tristram heard the sound of the music and singing he aroused himself. For first he listened with great pleasure, and then he said, "Give it to me! Give it to me!" and he reached out his hands and would have taken the harp from the lady.
   But the Lady Loise laughed and shook her head, and she walked away from Sir Tristram and toward the castle, still playing upon the little harp and singing; and Sir Tristram followed close after, saying ever, "Give it to me! Give it to me!" and reaching out his hands for the harp. So the Lady Loise led him away from that place across the meadows; and she led him to the castle and into the castle; and ever Sir Tristram followed after her, beseeching her for to give the harp unto him. And the lady led Sir Tristram that way until she had brought him to a fair room, and there she gave him the harp, and Sir Tristram took it very eagerly into his hands and struck upon it and played and sang most sweetly and with great joy and pleasure.
   Afterward, being so much comforted, he ate and drank with appetite, and then fell into a fair sound sleep.
   Yet, though he so slept, still Sir Tristram's wits in no wise recovered themselves; for when he awoke from that slumber he still could not remember who he was or whence he came, neither could he remember the faces of any of those who were around about him. But, though he was thus mad, he was still gentle and kind in his madness and courteous and civil to all those who came nigh him.
   So Sir Tristram remained a gentle captive in the castle of the Lady Loise for nigh upon a month, and somewhiles she would sing and harp to him, and otherwhiles he himself would harp and sing. But ever and anon, when he found the chance for to do so, he would escape from the captivity of the castle and seek the forest; for he was aware of his madness and he ever sought to hide that madness in the deep and shady woodland where only the wild creatures of the forest might see him.
   Yet always when he so escaped the Lady Loise would take her little golden harp and go forth to the skirts of the forest and play upon it, and when the music thereof would reach Sir Tristram's ears he would return to the castle, being led thither by the music.
   But one day he wandered so far astray that the music of the harp could not reach his ears, and then he wandered on farther and farther until he was altogether lost. At that Lady Loise took much sorrow for she had much love for Sir Tristram. So she sent many of her people to search the forest for him, but none of these were able to find him and thereafter he came no more to the castle.
   Thus Sir Tristram escaped from that castle and after that he wandered in the forest as he had done at the first. And in that time he took no food and but little rest. And the brambles tore his clothes, so that in a short time he was wellnigh altogether naked.
   And somewhiles during this time of wandering he would be seized as with a fury of battle, and in such case he would shout aloud as though in challenge to an enemy. And then he would rend and tear great branches from the trees in the fury of his imaginings. But otherwhiles he would wander through the leafy aisles of the forest in gentler mood, singing so sweetly that had you heard him you would have thought that it was some fairy spirit of the forest chanting in those solitudes.
   So he wandered until he failed with faintness, and sank down into the leaves; and I believe that he would then have died, had it not been that there chanced to come that way certain swineherds of the forest who fed their swine upon acorns that were to be therein found. These found Sir Tristram lying there as though dead, and they gave him to eat and to drink so that he revived once more. After that they took him with them, and he dwelt with them in those woodlands. There these forest folk played with him and made merry with him, and he made them great sport. For he was ever gentle and mild like a little child for innocence so that he did no harm to anyone, but only talked in such a way that the swineherds found great sport in him.

   Now Sir Andred of Cornwall very greatly coveted the possessions of Sir Tristram, so that when several months had passed by and Sir Tristram did not return to Tintagel, he said to himself: "Of a surety, Tristram must now be dead in the forest, and, as there is no one nigher of kin to him than I, it is altogether fitting that I should inherit his possessions."
   But as Sir Andred could not inherit without proof of the death of Sir Tristram, he suborned a certain very beautiful but wicked lady who dwelt in the forest, persuading her that she should give false evidence of Sir Tristram's death. Accordingly, he one day brought that lady before King Mark, and she gave it as her evidence that Sir Tristram had died in the forest and that she had been with him when he died. And she showed them a new-made grave in the forest, and she said: "That is the grave of Sir Tristram, for I saw him die and I saw him buried there with mine own eyes."
   So everybody believed this evidence, and thought that Sir Tristram was really dead, and so Sir Andred seized upon all the possessions of Sir Tristram. And there were many who were very sorry that Sir Tristram was dead and there were others who were glad thereof in the same measure. But when the news was brought to Belle Isoult that Sir Tristram was dead, she shrieked aloud and swooned away. And she lay in that swoon so long that they thought for a while she would n-ever recover from it. But by and by she awoke therefrom, crying, "Would to God that I were dead with Tristram and had never awakened!"
   And thereafter she mourned continually for Sir Tristram and would not be comforted; for she was like to a woman who hath been widowed from a lover of her youth.

   And now it shall be told of how it fared with Sir Tristram in the forest where he dwelt with the swineherds, and of how he achieved a very notable adventure therein.

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