Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Four

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 and rejoicing.
   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 in truth."
   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 that sight.
   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.

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