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Chapter 12


SIR TRISTRAM rode through a forest, and saw ten men fighting, and
one man did battle against nine. So he rode to the knights and cried
to them, bidding them cease their battle, for they did themselves
great shame, so many knights to fight against one. Then answered the
master of the knights (his name was Sir Breuse sans Pitie, who was
at that time the most villainous knight living): "Sir knight, what
have ye to do to meddle with us? If ye be wise, depart on your way
as you came, for this knight shall not escape us." "That were pity,"
said Sir Tristram, "that so good a knight should be slain so cowardly;
therefore I warn you I will succor him with all my puissance."
Then Sir Tristram alighted off his horse, because they were on foot,
that they should not slay his horse. And he smote on the right hand
and on the left so vigorously, that well-nigh at every stroke he
struck down a knight. At last they fled, with Breuse sans Pitie,
into the tower, and shut Sir Tristram without the gate. Then Sir
Tristram returned back to the rescued knight, and found him sitting
under a tree, sore wounded. "Fair knight," said he, "how is it with
you?" "Sir knight," said Sir Palamedes, for he it was, "I thank you
for your great goodness, for ye have rescued me from death." "What
is your name?" said Sir Tristram. He said, "My name is Sir Palamedes."
"Say ye so?" said Sir Tristram; "now know that thou art the man in the
world that I most hate; therefore make thee ready, for I will do
battle with thee." "What is your name?" said Sir Palamedes. "My name
is Sir Tristram, your mortal enemy." "It may be so," said Sir
Palamedes; "but you have done overmuch for me this day, that I
should fight with you. Moreover, it will be no honor for you to have
to do with me, for you are fresh and I am wounded. Therefore, if you
will needs have to do with me, assign me a day, and I shall meet you
without fail." "You say well," said Sir Tristram; "now I assign you to
meet me in the meadow by the river of Camelot, where Merlin set the
monument." So they were agreed. Then they departed, and took their
ways diverse. Sir Tristram passed through a great forest into a plain,
till he came to a priory, and there he reposed him with a good man six
Then departed Sir Tristram, and rode straight into Camelot to the
monument of Merlin, and there he looked about him for Sir Palamedes.
And he perceived a seemly knight, who came riding against him all in
white, with a covered shield. When he came nigh, Sir Tristram said
aloud, "Welcome, sir knight, and well and truly have you kept your
promise." Then they made ready their shields and spears, and came
together with all the might of their horses, so fiercely, that both
the horses and the knights fell to the earth. And as soon as they
might, they quitted their horses, and struck together with bright
swords as men of might, and each wounded the other wonderfully sore,
so that the blood ran out upon the grass. Thus they fought for the
space of four hours, and never one would speak to the other one
word. Then at last spake the white knight, and said, "Sir, thou
fightest wonderful well, as ever I saw knight; therefore, if it please
you, tell me your name." "Why dost thou ask my name?" said Sir
Tristram; "art thou not Sir Palamedes?" "No, fair knight," said he, "I
am Sir Launcelot of the Lake." "Alas!" said Sir Tristram, "what have I
done? for you are the man of the world that I love best." "Fair
knight," said Sir Launcelot, "tell me your name." "Truly," said he,
"my name is Sir Tristram de Lyonesse." "Alas! alas!" said Sir
Launcelot, "what adventure has befallen me!" And therewith Sir
Launcelot kneeled down, and yielded him up his sword; and Sir Tristram
kneeled down, and yielded him up his sword; and so either gave other
the degree. And then they both went to the stone, and sat them down
upon it, and took off their helms, and each kissed the other a hundred
times. And then anon they rode toward Camelot, and on the way they met
with Sir Gawain and Sir Gaheris, that had made promise to Arthur never
to come again to the court till they had brought Sir Tristram with
"Return again," said Sir Launcelot, "for your quest is done; for I
have met with Sir Tristram. Lo, here he is in his own person." Then
was Sir Gawain glad, and said to Sir Tristram, "Ye are welcome."
With this came King Arthur, and when he wist there was Sir Tristram,
he ran unto him, and took him by the hand, and said, "Sir Tristram, ye
are as welcome as any knight that ever came to this court." Then Sir
Tristram told the king how he came thither for to have had to do
with Sir Palamedes, and how he had rescued him from Sir Breuse sans
Pitie and the nine knights. Then King Arthur took Sir Tristram by
the hand, and went to the Table Round, and Queen Guenever came, and
many ladies with her, and all the ladies said with one voice,
"Welcome, Sir Tristram." "Welcome," said the knights. "Welcome,"
said Arthur, "for one of the best knights, and the gentlest of the
world, and the man of most worship; for of all manner of hunting
thou bearest the prize, and of all measures of blowing thou art the
beginning, and of all the terms of hunting and hawking ye are the
inventor, and of all instruments of music ye are the best skilled;
therefore, gentle knight," said Arthur, "ye are welcome to this
court." And then King Arthur made Sir Tristram knight of the Table
Round with great nobley and feasting as can be thought.
The Round Table had been made by the famous enchanter Merlin, and on
it he had exerted all his skill and craft. Of the seats which
surrounded it he had constructed thirteen, in memory of the thirteen
Apostles. Twelve of these seats only could be occupied, and they
only by knights of the highest fame; the thirteenth represented the
seat of the traitor Judas. It remained always empty. It was called the
perilous seat ever since a rash and haughty Saracen knight had dared
to place himself in it, when the earth opened and swallowed him up.
A magic power wrote upon each seat the name of the knight who was
entitled to sit in it. No one could succeed to a vacant seat unless he
surpassed in valor and glorious deeds the knight who had occupied it
before him; without this qualification he would be violently
repelled by a hidden force. Thus proof was made of all those who
presented themselves to replace any companions of the order who had
One of the principal seats, that of Moraunt of Ireland, had been
vacant ten years, and his name still remained over it ever since the
time when that distinguished champion fell beneath the sword of Sir
Tristram. Arthur now took Tristram by the hand and led him to that
seat. Immediately the most melodious sounds were heard, and
exquisite perfumes filled the place; the name of Moraunt
disappeared, and that of Tristram blazed forth in light. The rare
modesty of Tristram had now to be subjected to a severe task; for
the clerks charged with the duty of preserving the annals of the Round
Table attended, and he was required by the law of his order to declare
what feats of arms he had accomplished to entitle him to take that
seat. This ceremony being ended, Tristram received the congratulations
of all his companions. Sir Launcelot and Guenever took occasion to
speak to him of the fair Isoude, and to express their wish that some
happy chance might bring her to the kingdom of Loegria.
While Tristram was thus honored and caressed at the court of King
Arthur, the most gloomy and malignant jealousy harassed the soul of
Mark. He could not look upon Isoude without remembering that she loved
Tristram, and the good fortune of his nephew goaded him to thoughts of
vengeance. He at last resolved to go disguised into the kingdom of
Loegria, attack Tristram by stealth, and put him to death. He took
with him two knights, brought up in his court, who he thought were
devoted to him; and, not willing to leave Isoude behind, named two
of her maidens to attend her, together with her faithful Brengwain,
and made them accompany him.
Having arrived in the neighborhood of Camelot, Mark imparted his
plan to his two knights, but they rejected it with horror; nay,
more, they declared that they would no longer remain in his service;
and left him, giving him reason to suppose that they should repair
to the court to accuse him before Arthur. It was necessary for Mark to
meet and rebut their accusation; so, leaving Isoude in an abbey, he
pursued his way alone to Camelot.
Mark had not ridden far when he encountered a party of knights of
Arthur's court, and would have avoided them, for he knew their habit
of challenging to a joust every stranger knight whom they met. But
it was too late. They had seen his armor, and recognized him as a
Cornish knight, and at once resolved to have some sport with him. It
happened they had with them, Daguenet, King Arthur's fool, who, though
deformed and weak of body, was not wanting in courage. The knights
as Mark approached laid their plan that Daguenet should personate
Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and challenge the Cornish knight. They
equipped him in armor belonging to one of their number who was ill,
and sent him forward to the cross-road to defy the strange knight.
Mark, who saw that his antagonist was by no means formidable in
appearance, was not disinclined to the combat; but when the dwarf rode
towards him, calling out that he was Sir Launcelot of the Lake, his
fears prevailed, he put spurs to his horse, and rode away at full
speed, pursued by the shouts and laughter of the party.
Meanwhile, Isoude, remaining at the abbey with her faithful
Brengwain, found her only amusement in walking occasionally in a
forest adjoining the abbey. There, on the brink of a fountain
girdled with trees, she thought of her love, and sometimes joined
her voice and her harp in lays reviving the memory of its pains or
pleasures. One day the caitiff knight, Breuse the Pitiless, heard
her voice, concealed himself, and drew near. She sang:-

"Sweet silence, shadowy bower, and verdant lair,
Ye court my troubled spirit to repose,
Whilst I, such dear remembrance rises there,
Awaken every echo with my woes.

"Within these woods, by Nature's hand arrayed,
A fountain springs, and feeds a thousand flowers;
Ah! how my groans do all its murmurs aid!
How my sad eyes do swell it with their showers!

"What doth my knight the while? to him is given
A double meed; in love and arms' emprise,
Him the Round Table elevates to heaven!
Tristram! ah me! he hears not Isoude's cries."

Breuse the Pitiless, who, like most other caitiffs, had felt the
weight of Tristram's arm, and hated him accordingly, at hearing his
name breathed forth by the beautiful songstress, impelled by a
double impulse, rushed forth from his concealment and laid hands on
his victim. Isoude fainted, and Brengwain filled the air with her
shrieks. Breuse carried Isoude to the place where he had left his
horse; but the animal had got away from his bridle, and was at some
distance. He was obliged to lay down his fair burden, and go in
pursuit of his horse. Just then a knight came up, drawn by the cries
of Brengwain, and demanded the cause of her distress. She could not
speak, but pointed to her mistress lying insensible on the ground.
Breuse had by this time returned, and the cries of Brengwain,
renewed at seeing him, sufficiently showed the stranger the cause of
the distress. Tristram spurred his horse towards Breuse, who, not
unprepared, ran to the encounter. Breuse was unhorsed, and lay
motionless, pretending to be dead; but when the stranger knight left
him to attend to the distressed damsels, he mounted his horse, and
made his escape.
The knight now approached Isoude, gently raised her head, drew aside
the golden hair which covered her countenance, gazed thereon for an
instant, uttered a cry, and fell back insensible. Brengwain came;
her caress soon restored her mistress to life, and they then turned
their attention to the fallen warrior. They raised his visor, and
discovered the countenance of Sir Tristram. Isoude threw herself on
the body of her lover, and bedewed his face with her tears. Their
warmth revived the knight, and Tristram, on awaking, found himself
in the arms of his dear Isoude.
It was the law of the Round Table that each knight after his
admission should pass the next ten days in quest of adventures, during
which time his companions might meet him in disguised armor, and try
their strength with him. Tristram had now been out seven days, and
in that time had encountered many of the best knights of the Round
Table, and acquitted himself with honor. During the remaining three
days Isoude remained at the abbey, under his protection, and then
set out with her maidens, escorted by Sir Tristram, to rejoin King
Mark at the court of Camelot.
This happy journey was one of the brightest epochs in the lives of
Tristram and Isoude. He celebrated it by a lay upon the harp in a
peculiar measure, to which the French give the name of Triolet:-

"With fair Isoude, and with love,
Ah! how sweet the life I lead!
How blest forever thus to rove,
With fair Isoude, and with love!
As she wills, I live and move,
And cloudless days to days succeed:
With fair Isoude, and with love,
Ah! how sweet the life I lead!

"Journeying on from break of day,
Feel you not fatigued, my fair?
Yon green turf invites to play;
Journeying on from day to day,
Ah! let us to that shade away,
Were it but to slumber there!
Journeying on from break of day,
Feel you not fatigued, my fair?"

They arrived at Camelot, where Sir Launcelot received them most
cordially. Isoude was introduced to King Arthur and Queen Guenever,
who welcomed her as a sister. As King Mark was held in arrest under
the accusation of the two Cornish knights, Queen Isoude could not
rejoin her husband, and Sir Launcelot placed his castle of La
Joyeuse Garde at the disposal of his friends, who there took up
their abode.
King Mark, who found himself obliged to confess the truth of the
charge against him, or to clear himself by combat with his accusers,
preferred the former, and King Arthur, as his crime had not been
perpetrated, remitted the penalty, only enjoining upon him, under pain
of his signal displeasure, to lay aside all thoughts of vengeance
against his nephew. In the presence of the king and his court, all
parties were formally reconciled; Mark and his queen departed for
their home, and Tristram remained at Arthur's court.

Thomas Bulfinch