Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 11


AFTER this affair Tristram was banished from the kingdom, and Isoude
shut up in a tower which stood on the bank of a river. Tristram
could not resolve to depart without some further communication with
his beloved; so he concealed himself in the forest, till at last he
contrived to attract her attention by means of twigs which he
curiously peeled and sent down the stream under her window. By this
means many secret interviews were obtained. Tristram dwelt in the
forest, sustaining himself by game, which the dog Houdain ran down for
him; for this faithful animal was unequalled in the chase, and knew so
well his master's wish for concealment that in the pursuit of his game
he never barked. At length Tristram departed, but left Houdain with
Isoude, as a remembrancer of him.
Sir Tristram wandered through various countries, achieving the
most perilous enterprises, and covering himself with glory, yet
unhappy at the separation from his beloved Isoude. At length King
Mark's territory was invaded by a neighboring chieftain, and he was
forced to summon his nephew to his aid. Tristram obeyed the call,
put himself at the head of his uncle's vassals, and drove the enemy
out of the country. Mark was full of gratitude, and Tristram, restored
to favor and to the society of his beloved Isoude, seemed at the
summit of happiness. But a sad reverse was at hand.
Tristram had brought with him a friend named Pheredin, son of the
king of Brittany. This young knight saw Queen Isoude, and could not
resist her charms. Knowing the love of his friend for the queen, and
that that love was returned, Pheredin concealed his own, until his
health failed, and he feared he was drawing near his end. He then
wrote to the beautiful queen that he was dying for love of her.
The gentle Isoude, in a moment of pity for the friend of Tristram,
returned him an answer so kind and compassionate that it restored
him to life. A few days afterward Tristram found this letter. The most
terrible jealousy took possession of his soul; he would have slain
Pheredin, who with difficulty made his escape. Then Tristram mounted
his horse, and rode to the forest, where for ten days he took no
rest nor food. At length he was found by a damsel lying almost dead by
the brink of a fountain. She recognized him, and tried in vain to
rouse his attention. At last, recollecting his love for music, she
went and got her harp, and played thereon. Tristram was roused from
his reverie; tears flowed; he breathed more freely; he took the harp
from the maiden, and sung this lay, with a voice broken with sobs:-

"Sweet I sang in former days,
Kind love perfected my lays:
Now my art alone displays
The woe that on my being preys.

"Charming love, delicious power,
Worshipped from my earliest hour,
Thou who life on all dost shower,
Love! my life thou dost devour.

"In death's hour I beg of thee,
Isoude, dearest enemy,
Thou who erst couldst kinder be,
When I'm gone, forget not me.

"On my gravestone passers by
Oft will read, as low I lie,
'Never wight in love could vie
With Tristram, yet she let him die.'"

Tristram, having finished his lay, wrote it off and gave it to the
damsel, conjuring her to present it to the queen.
Meanwhile Queen Isoude was inconsolable at the absence of
Tristram. She discovered that it was caused by the fatal letter
which she had written to Pheredin. Innocent, but in despair at the sad
effects of her letter, she wrote another to Pheredin, charging him
never to see her again. The unhappy lover obeyed this cruel decree. He
plunged into the forest, and died of grief and love in a hermit's
Isoude passed her days in lamenting the absence and unknown fate
of Tristram. One day her jealous husband, having entered her chamber
unperceived, overheard her, singing the following lay:-

"My voice to piteous wail is bent,
My harp to notes of languishment;
Ah, love! delightsome days be meant
For happier wights, with hearts content.

"Ah, Tristram! far away from me,
Art thou from restless anguish free?
Ah! couldst thou so one moment be,
From her who so much loveth thee?"

The king, hearing these words, burst forth in a rage; but Isoude was
too wretched to fear his violence. "You have heard me," she said; "I
confess it all. I love Tristram, and always shall love him. Without
doubt he is dead, and died for me. I no longer wish to live. The
blow that shall finish my misery will be most welcome."
The king was moved at the distress of the fair Isoude, and perhaps
the idea of Tristram's death tended to allay his wrath. He left the
queen in charge of her women, commanding them to take especial care
lest her despair should lead her to do harm to herself.
Tristram, meanwhile, distracted as he was, rendered a most important
service to the shepherds by slaying a gigantic robber named Taullas,
who was in the habit of plundering their flocks and rifling their
cottages. The shepherds, in their gratitude to Tristram, bore him in
triumph to King Mark to have him bestow on him a suitable reward. No
wonder Mark failed to recognize in the half-clad wild man before him
his nephew Tristram; but grateful for the service the unknown had
rendered, he ordered him to be well taken care of, and gave him in
charge to the queen and her women. Under such care Tristram rapidly
recovered his serenity and his health, so that the romancer tells us
he became handsomer than ever. King Mark's jealousy revived with
Tristram's health and good looks, and, in spite of his debt of
gratitude so lately increased, he again banished him from the court.
Sir Tristram left Cornwall, and proceeded into the land of Loegria
(England) in quest of adventures. One day he entered a wide forest.
The sound of a little bell showed him that some inhabitant was near.
He followed the sound, and found a hermit, who informed him that he
was in the forest of Arnantes, belonging to the fairy Viviane, the
Lady of the Lake, who, smitten with love for King Arthur, had found
means to entice him to this forest, where by enchantments she held him
a prisoner, having deprived him of all memory of who and what he
was. The hermit informed him that all the knights of the Round Table
were out in search of the king, and that he (Tristram) was now in
the scene of the most grand and important adventures.
This was enough to animate Tristram in the search. He had not
wandered far before he encountered a knight of Arthur's court, who
proved to be Sir Kay the seneschal, who demanded of him whence he
came. Tristram answering, "From Cornwall," Sir Kay did not let slip
the opportunity of a joke at the expense of the Cornish knight.
Tristram chose to leave him in his error, and even confirmed him in
it; for meeting some other knights, Tristram declined to joust with
them. They spent the night together at an abbey, where Tristram
submitted patiently to all their jokes. The seneschal gave the word to
his companions that they should set out early next day, and
intercept the Cornish knight on his way, and enjoy the amusement of
seeing his fright when they should insist on running a tilt with
him. Tristram next morning found himself alone; he put on his armor,
and set out to continue his quest. He soon saw before him the
seneschal and the three knights, who barred the way, and insisted on a
joust. Tristram excused himself a long time; at last he reluctantly
took his stand. He encountered them, one after the other, and
overthrew them all four, man and horse, and then rode off, bidding
them not to forget their friend, the knight of Cornwall.
Tristram had not ridden far when he met a damsel, who cried out,
"Ah, my lord! hasten forward, and prevent a horrid treason!"
Tristram flew to her assistance, and soon reached a spot where he
beheld a knight, whom three others had borne to the ground, and were
unlacing his helmet in order to cut off his head.
Tristram flew to the rescue, and slew with one stroke of his lance
one of the assailants. The knight, recovering his feet, sacrificed
another to his vengeance, and the third made his escape. The rescued
knight then raised the visor of his helmet, and a long white beard
fell down upon his breast. The majesty and venerable air of this
knight made Tristram suspect that it was none other than Arthur
himself, and the prince confirmed his conjecture. Tristram would
have knelt before him, but Arthur received him in his arms, and
inquired his name and country; but Tristram declined to disclose them,
on the plea that he was now on a quest requiring secrecy. At this
moment the damsel who had brought Tristram to the rescue darted
forward, and, seizing the king's hand, drew from his finger a ring,
the gift of the fairy, and by that act dissolved the enchantment.
Arthur, having recovered his reason and his memory, offered to
Tristram to attach him to his court, and to confer honors and
dignities upon him; but Tristram declined all, and only consented to
accompany him till he should see him safe in the hands of his knights.
Soon after, Hector de Marys rode up, and saluted the king, who on
his part introduced him to Tristram as one of the bravest of his
knights. Tristram took leave of the king and his faithful follower,
and continued his quest.
We cannot follow Tristram through all the adventures which filled
this epoch of his history. Suffice it to say, he fulfilled on all
occasions the duty of a true knight, rescuing the oppressed,
redressing wrongs, abolishing evil customs, and suppressing injustice,
thus by constant action endeavoring to lighten the pains of absence
from her he loved. In the meantime Isoude, separated from her dear
Tristram, passed her days in languor and regret. At length she could
no longer resist the desire to hear some news of her lover. She
wrote a letter, and sent it by one of her damsels, niece of her
faithful Brengwain. One day Tristram, weary with his exertions, had
dismounted and laid himself down by the side of a fountain and
fallen asleep. The damsel of Queen Isoude arrived at the same
fountain, and recognized Passebreul, the horse of Tristram, and
presently perceived his master, asleep. He was thin and pale,
showing evident marks of the pain he suffered in separation from his
beloved. She awaked him, and gave him the letter which she bore, and
Tristram enjoyed the pleasure, so sweet to a lover, of hearing from
and talking about the object of his affections. He prayed the damsel
postpone her return till after the magnificent tournament which Arthur
had proclaimed should have taken place, and conducted her to the
castle of Persides, a brave and loyal knight, who received her with
great consideration.
Tristram conducted the damsel of Queen Isoude to the tournament
and had her placed in the balcony among the ladies of the queen. He
then joined the tourney. Nothing could exceed his strength and
valor. Launcelot admired him, and by a secret presentiment declined to
dispute the honor of the day with a knight so gallant and so
skilful. Arthur descended from the balcony to greet the conqueror; but
the modest and devoted Tristram, content with having borne off the
prize in the sight of the messenger of Isoude, made his escape with
her, and disappeared.
The next day the tourney recommenced. Tristram assumed different
armor, that he might not be known; but he was soon detected by the
terrible blows that he gave. Arthur and Guenever had no doubt that
it was the same knight who had borne off the prize of the day
before. Arthur's gallant spirit was roused. After Launcelot of the
Lake and Sir Gawain, he was accounted the best knight of the Round
Table. He went privately and armed himself, and came into the
tourney in undistinguished armor. He ran a joust with Tristram, whom
he shook in his seat; but Tristram, who did not know him, threw him
out of the saddle. Arthur recovered himself and, content with having
made proof of the stranger knight, bade Launcelot finish the
adventure, and vindicate the honor of the Round Table. Sir
Launcelot, at the bidding of the monarch, assailed Tristram, whose
lance was already broken in former encounters. But the law of this
sort of combat was, that the knight, after having broken his lance,
must fight with his sword, and must not refuse to meet with his shield
the lance of his antagonist. Tristram met Launcelot's charge upon
his shield, which that terrible lance could not fail to pierce. It
inflicted a wound upon Tristram's side, and breaking, left the iron in
the wound. But Tristram also with his sword smote so vigorously on
Launcelot's casque that he cleft it, and wounded his head. The wound
was not deep, but the blood flowed into his eyes, and blinded him
for a moment, and Tristram, who thought himself mortally wounded,
retired from the field. Launcelot declared to the king that he had
never received such a blow in his life before.
Tristram hastened to Gouvernail, his squire, who drew forth the
iron, bound up the wound, and gave him immediate ease. Tristram, after
the tournament, kept retired in his tent, but Arthur, with the consent
of the knights of the Round Table, decreed him the honors of the
second day. But it was no longer a secret that the victor of the two
days was the same individual, and Gouvernail, being questioned,
confirmed the suspicions of Launcelot and Arthur, that it was no other
than Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, the nephew of the king of Cornwall.
King Arthur, who desired to reward his distinguished valor, and knew
that his uncle Mark had ungratefully banished him, would have
eagerly availed himself of the opportunity to attach Tristram to his
court,- all the knights of the Round Table declaring with
acclamation that it would be impossible to find a more worthy
companion. But Tristram had already departed in search of
adventures, and the damsel of Queen Isoude returned to her mistress.

Thomas Bulfinch