Howard Pyle's The
Champions of the Round Table
How Sir Tristram and the Lady Belle Isoult returned to Cornwall and how they
ended their days together.
And now remaineth to be told the rest of these
adventures of Sir Tristram as briefly as may be.
For indeed I thought not, when I began this history, to tell you as much
concerning him as I have done. But as I have entered into this history I have
come so strongly to perceive how noble and true and loyal was the knighthood of
Sir Tristram, that I could not forbear telling you of many things that I had not
purposed to speak of.
Yet, as I have said before this, there are a great many adventures that I
have not spoken of in this book. For I have told only those things that were
necessary for to make you understand how it fared with him in his life.
So now shall be told those last things that concerned him.
Now two days after those things aforesaid had come to pass, Sir Launcelot
returned unto Tintagel from that quest which he had been upon, and so soon as he
came thither he made inquiry of King Mark concerning the welfare of that madman of the
forest whom he had left in the care of King Mark. But when he heard that that
madman was Sir Tristram, he was astonished beyond all measure; but when he heard
how Sir Tristram had been served by King Mark and by the people of the castle
under the lead of Sir Andred, he was filled with a great and violent
indignation. So he arose and stood before King Mark and said: "Lord King, I have
heard much ill said of thee and shameful things concerning thy unknightliness in
several courts of chivalry where I have been; and now I know that those things
were true; for I have heard from the lips of many people here, how thou didst
betray Sir Tristram into bringing the Lady Belle Isoult unto thee; and I have
heard from many how thou dost ever do ill and wickedly by him, seeking to take
from him both his honor and his life. And yet Sir Tristram hath always been thy
true and faithful knight, and hath served thee in all ways thou hast demanded of
him. I know that thou hast jealousy for Sir Tristram in thy heart and that thou
hast ever imputed wickedness and sin unto him. Yet all the world knoweth that Sir
Tristram is a true knight and altogether innocent of
any evil. For all the evil which thou hast imputed to him hath no existence
saving only in thine own evil heart. Now I give thee and all thy people to know
that had ill befallen Sir Tristram at your hands I should have held you
accountable therefor and should have punished you in such a way that you would
not soon have forgotten it. But of that there is no need, for Sir Tristram
himself hath punished you in full measure without any aid from me. So now I will
go away from this place and will never come hither again; nor will I acknowledge
you should I meet you in court or in field."
So saying, Sir Launcelot turned and went away from that place very proudly
and haughtily, leaving them all abashed at his rebuke.
So that day Sir Launcelot went forward through the forest until he reached that
castle whereunto Sir Tristram had taken the Lady Belle Isoult, and there he was
received by Sir Tristram with all joy and honor. And Sir Launcelot abided at
that place for two days, with great pleasure to himself and to Sir Tristram and
to Belle Isoult.
At the end of that time Sir Launcelot said to Sir Tristram: "Messire, it is
not well that you and this dear lady should abide here so nigh to Tintagel. For,
certes, King Mark will some time work some grievous ill upon you. So I beseech
you to come with me unto my castle of Joyous Gard. There this lady shall reign
queen paramount and we shall be her very faithful servants to do her pleasure in
all ways. That castle is a very beautiful place, and there she may dwell in
peace and safety and tranquillity all the days of her life if she chooses to do so."
Now that saying of Sir Launcelot's seemed good to Sir Tristram and to
Belle Isoult; wherefore in three days
all they and their court made ready to depart. And they did depart from that
castle in the forest unto Joyous Gard, where they were received with great honor
So the Lady Belle Isoult abided for three years at Joyous Gard, dwelling
there as queen paramount in all truth and innocence of life; and Sir Launcelot
and Sir Tristram were her champions and all their courts were her servants. And
during those three years there were many famous joustings held at Joyous Gard,
and several bel-adventures were performed both by Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram
in her honor.
And indeed I believe that this was the happiest time of all the Lady Belle
Isoult's life, for she lived there in peace and love and tranquillity and she
suffered neither grief nor misfortune in all that time.
Then one day there came King Arthur to Joyous
Gard, and he was received with
such joy and celebration as that place had never before beheld. A great feast
was set in his honor, and after the feast King Arthur and Sir Tristram and Belle
Isoult withdrew to one side and sat together in. converse.
Then after a while King Arthur said, "Lady, may I ask you a question?" And at
that Lady Belle Isoult lifted up her eyes and looked very strangely upon the
King, and after a while she said, "Ask thy question, Lord King, and I will
answer it if I can." "Lady," said King Arthur, "answer me this question: is it
better to dwell in honor with sadness or in dishonor with joy?"
Then Belle Isoult began to pant with great agitation, and by and by she said,
"Lord, why ask you me that?" King Arthur said: "Because, lady, I think your
heart hath sometimes asked you the selfsame question." Then the Lady Belle
Isoult clasped her hands together and cried out: "Yea, yea, my heart hath often
asked me that question, but I would not answer it." King Arthur said: "Neither
shalt thou answer me, for I am but a weak and erring man as thou art a woman.
But answer thou that question to God, dear lady, and then thou shalt answer it
Therewith King Arthur fell to talking of other things with Sir Tristram, but
the lady could not join them in talk, but sat thenceforth in silence, finding it
hard to breathe because of the oppression of tears that lay upon her bosom.
And Belle Isoult said no more concerning that question that King Arthur had
asked. But three days after that time she came to Sir Tristram and said: "Dear
lord, I have bethought me much of what King Arthur said, and this hath come of
it, that I must return again unto Cornwall."
Then Sir Tristram turned away his face so that she might not see it, and he
said, "Methought it would come to that." And then in a little he went away from
that place, leaving her standing there.
So it came about that peace was made betwixt Sir Tristram and King Mark, and
Belle Isoult and King Mark, and King Arthur was the peacemaker.
Thereafter Sir Tristram and his court and the Lady Belle Isoult returned unto
Cornwall, and there they dwelt for some time in seeming peace. But in that time
the Lady Belle Isoult would never see King Mark nor exchange a word with him, but
lived entirely apart from him and in her own life in a part of the castle; and
at that King Mark was struck with such bitterness of despair that he was like to
a demon in torment. For he saw, as it were, a treasure very near and yet afar, for
he could not come unto it. And the more he suffered
that torment, the more he hated Sir Tristram, for in his suffering it appeared
to him that Sir Tristram was the cause of that suffering.
So it came about that King Mark set spies to watch Sir Tristram, for in his
evil heart he suspected Sir Tristram of treason, and he hoped that his spies
might discover Sir Tristram in some act for which he might be punished. So those
spies watched Sir Tristram both night and day, but they could find nothing that
he did that was amiss.
Now one day Belle Isoult felt such a longing for Sir Tristram that she could
not refrain from sending a note to him beseeching him for to come to her so that
they might see one another again; and though Sir Tristram misdoubted what he
did, yet he went as she desired, even if it should mean the peril of death to him.
Then came those spies to King Mark and told him that Sir Tristram was gone to
the bower of the Lady Belle Isoult, and that she had bidden him to come thither.
At that the vitals of King Mark were twisted with such an agony of hatred and
despair that he bent him double and cried out, "Woe! Woe! I suffer torments!"
Therewith he arose and went very quickly to that part of the castle where the
Lady Belle Isoult inhabited; and he went very softly up by a back way and through a passage to
where was a door with curtains hanging before it; and when he had come there he
parted the curtains and peeped within. And he beheld that the Lady Belle Isoult
and Sir Tristram sat at a game of chess, and he beheld that they played not at
the game but that they sat talking together very sadly; and he beheld that Dame
Bragwaine sat in a deep window to one side--for Belle Isoult did not wish it to
be said that she and Sir Tristram sat alone.
All this King Mark saw and trembled with a torment of jealousy. So by and by
he left that place and went very quietly back into that passageway whence he had
come. And when he had come there he perceived a great glaive upon a pole two
ells long. This he took into his hand and returned unto that curtained doorway again.
Then being in all ways prepared he parted the curtains silently and stepped
very quickly and without noise into the room. And the back of Sir Tristram was toward him.
Then King Mark lifted the glaive on high and he struck; and Sir Tristram sank
without a sound.
Yea, I believe that that good knight knew naught of what had happened
until he awoke in Paradise to find himself in that realm of happiness and peace.
Then Belle Isoult arose, overturning the table of chessmen as she did so, but
she made no outcry nor sound of any sort. But she stood looking down at Sir
Tristram for a little space, and then she kneeled down beside his body and touched the
face thereof as though to make sure that it was dead. Therewith, as though being
assured, she fell down with her body upon his; and King Mark stood there looking
down upon them.
All this had passed so quickly that Dame Bragwaine hardly knew what had
befallen; but now, upon an instant, she suddenly fell to shrieking so piercingly
that the whole castle rang with the sound thereof.
Now there were in the outer room several of the knights of the court of Sir
Tristram who had come thither with him as witnesses that he performed no treason
to the King. These, when Dame Bragwaine shrieked in that wise, came running into
the room and therewith beheld what had happened. Then all they stood aghast at
But there was in the court of Sir Tristram a very young, gallant knight hight
Sir Alexander. This knight came to where King Mark stood looking down upon his
handiwork as though entranced with what he had done. Then Sir Alexander said to
King Mark, "Is this thy work?" And King Mark raised his eyes very heavily and
looked at Sir Alexander and he answered, "Ay!" Then Sir Alexander cried out,
"Thou hast lived too long!" And therewith drawing his misericordia, he catched
King Mark by the left wrist and lifted his arm. And Sir Alexander drave the
dagger into the side of King Mark, and King Mark groaned and sank down upon the
ground, and in a little while died where he lay.
Then those knights went to where the Lady Belle Isoult lay and lifted her up;
but, lo! the soul had left her, and she was dead. For I believe that it was not
possible for one of those loving souls to leave its body with out the other
quitting its body also, so that they might meet together in Paradise. For there
never were two souls in all the history of chivalry that clave to one another so
tenderly as did the souls of Tristram and Isoult.
So endeth this story of Sir Tristram, with only this to say, that they two
were buried with the graves close together, and that it is said by many who have
written of them that there grew a rose-tree up from Sir Tristram's grave, and
down upon the grave of Belle Isoult; and it is said that this rose-tree was a
miracle, for that upon his grave there grew red roses, and upon her grave there grew
pure white roses. For her soul was white like to thrice-carded wool, and so his soul was
red with all that was of courage or knightly pride.
And I pray that God may rest the souls of those two as I pray He may rest the
souls of all of us who must some time go the way that those two and so many
others have travelled before us. Amen.