The Story of the Champions of the Round Table
Part 3 out of 6
when thou hast done so I bid thee go forth from this place and show thy
face here no more. For thou hast interfered with the law, and hast done ill
that thou, the son of the King, should save this murderess. So thou shalt
leave this place, for I mistrust that between you two some murder will
befall in this country."
So Tristram went weeping to where the Queen was bound to the stake; and he
cut her bonds with his dagger and set her free. And he said: "Lady, thou
art free; now go thy way, and may God forgive thee as I do." Then the Queen
wept also, and said, "Tristram, thou art very good to me." And because she
was barefoot and in her shift, Tristram took his cloak and wrapped it about
[Sidenote: Tristram departs from Lyonesse] After that, Tristram
straightway left Lyonesse, and King Meliadus appointed that a noble and
honorable lord of the court, hight Gouvernail, should go with him. They two
went to France, and there they were made very welcome at the court of the
King. So Tristram dwelt in France till he was eighteen years old, and
everyone at the court of the King of France loved him and honored him so
that he dwelt there as though he were of the blood of France.
During the time that he was in France he became the greatest hunter in the
world, and he wrote many books on venery that were read and studied long
after he had ceased to live. Also he became so skilful with the harp that
no minstrel in the world was his equal. And ever he waxed more sturdy of
frame and more beautiful of countenance, and more well-taught in all the
worship of knighthood. For during that time he became so wonderfully
excellent in arms that there was no one in France who was his equal.
Thus Tristram dwelt at peace in that land for five years, but even he
longed for his own home with all the might and main of his heart. So one
day he said to Gouvernail: "Gouvernail, I cannot deny myself any longer
from seeing my father and my own country, for I feel that I must see them
or else my heart will certainly break because of its great longing." Nor
would he listen to anything that Gouvernail might say contrary to this. So
they two took their departure from France, and Tristram travelled as a
harper and Gouvernail as his attendant. Thus they came to Lyonesse in that
[Sidenote: How Tristram returns to Lyonesse] One day whilst King Meliadus
sat at meat, they two came into the hall, and Gouvernail wore a long white
beard which altogether disguised him so that no one knew him. But Tristram
shone with such a great radiance of beauty and of youth that all who looked
upon him marvelled at him. And the heart of King Meliadus went out to
Tristram very strongly, and he said before all of his court, "Who art thou,
fair youth? And whence comest thou?" To which Tristram made reply: "Lord, I
am a harper, and this is my man, and we have come from France." Then King
Meliadus said to Tristram: "Sir, have you seen a youth in France whom men
call Tristram?" And Tristram replied, "Yea, I have seen him several times."
King Meliadus said, "Doth he do well?" "Yea," said Tristram, "he doeth very
well, though at times he is sore oppressed with a great desire for his own
country." At this King Meliadus turned away his face, for his heart went
very strongly out at the thought of his son. Then by and by he said to
Tristram, "Wilt thou play upon thy harp?" And Tristram said, "Yea, if it
will please thee to hear me." Therewith he took his harp and he set it
before him, and he struck the strings and played upon it, and he sang in
such a wise that no one who was there had ever heard the like thereof.
Then King Meliadus' heart was melted at Tristram's minstrelsy, and he said:
"That is wonderful harping. Now ask what thou wilt of me, and it shall be
thine, whatever it may be."
To this Tristram said, "Lord, that is a great thing that thou sayest."
"Nevertheless," said King Meliadus, "it shall be as I say." Then Tristram
left his harp and he came to where King Meliadus sat, and he kneeled down
before him and he said: "Lord, if so be that is the case, then that which I
ask of thee is this: that thou wilt forgive me and bring me back into thy
[Sidenote: King Meliadus is reconciled to Tristram] At that King Meliadus
was filled with a great wonder, and he said: "Fair youth, who art thou, and
what have I to forgive thee?" "Lord," said Tristram, "I am thy son, and ask
thee to forgive me that I should have saved the life of that lady who is
At this King Meliadus cried out with joy, and he came down from where he
sat and he took Tristram into his arms and kissed him upon the face, and
Tristram wept and kissed his father upon the face.
So they were reconciled.
After that, Tristram abode in peace in Lyonesse for some while, and during
that time he made peace betwixt King Meliadus and Queen Moeya, and the
Queen loved him because he was so good to her.
[Sidenote: Tristram refuses knighthood] Now after the return of Tristram
as aforesaid, King Meliadus would have made him a knight, but Tristram
would not suffer the honor of knighthood to be bestowed upon him at that
time, but always said: "Lord, think not ill of me if I do not accept
knighthood at this time. For I would fain wait until the chance for some
large adventure cometh; then I would be made a knight for to meet that
adventure, so that I might immediately win renown. For what credit could
there be to our house if I should be made knight, only that I might sit in
hall and feast and drink and make merry?"
So spoke Sir Tristram, and his words sounded well to King Meliadus,
wherefore from thenceforth King Meliadus refrained from urging knighthood
Now the way that Sir Tristram achieved knighthood shall be told in that
which followeth, and also it shall then be told how he fought his first
battle, which was one of the most famous that ever he fought in all of his
[Illustration: King Mark of Cornwall]
_How Sir Tristram was made knight by the King of Cornwall, and
how he fought a battle with a famous champion._
Now first of all it is to be here said that at that time there was great
trouble come to King Mark of Cornwall (who, as aforesaid, was uncle to Sir
Tristram) and the trouble was this:
[Sidenote: The King of Ireland claims truage of Cornwall] The King of
Cornwall and the King of Ireland had great debate concerning an island that
lay in the sea betwixt Cornwall and Ireland. For though that island was
held by Cornwall, yet the King of Ireland laid claim to it and demanded
that the King of Cornwall should pay him truage for the same. This King
Mark refused to do, and there was great contention betwixt Cornwall and
Ireland, so that each country made ready for war.
But the King of Ireland said: "Let there not be war betwixt Ireland and
Cornwall concerning this disagreement, but let us settle this affair in
some other way. Let us each choose a champion and let those two champions
decide the rights of this case by a combat at arms. For so the truth shall
be made manifest."
Now you are to know that at that time the knights of Cornwall were held in
great disregard by all courts of chivalry; for there was not in those days
any knight of repute in all the court of Cornwall. Wherefore King Mark knew
not where he should find him a champion to meet that challenge from the
King of Ireland. Yet he must needs meet it, for he was ashamed to refuse
such a challenge as that, and so to acknowledge that Cornwall had no
knight-champion to defend it. So he said it should be as the King of
Ireland would have it, and that if the King of Ireland would choose a
champion, he also would do the same.
[Sidenote: The King of Ireland chooses Sir Marhaus for his champion]
Thereupon the King of Ireland chose for his champion Sir Marhaus of
Ireland, who was one of the greatest knights in the world. For in the Book
of King Arthur (which I wrote aforetime) you may there read in the story of
Sir Pellias how great and puissant a champion Sir Marhaus was, and how he
overthrew Sir Gawaine and others with the greatest ease. Wherefore at that
time he was believed by many to be the greatest knight in the world (it
being before the days of Sir Launcelot of the Lake), and even in the days
of Sir Launcelot it was doubted whether he or Sir Launcelot were the
So King Mark could not find any knight in Cornwall to stand against Sir
Marhaus. Nor could he easily find any knight outside of Cornwall to do
battle with him. For Sir Marhaus, being a knight of the Round Table, no
other knight of the Round Table would fight against him--and there were no
other knights so great as that famous brotherhood of the Table Round.
Accordingly, King Mark knew not where to turn to find him a champion to do
battle in his behalf.
In this strait, King Mark sent a letter by a messenger to Lyonesse, asking
if there was any knight at Lyonesse who would stand his champion against
Sir Marhaus, and he offered great reward if such a champion would undertake
his cause against Ireland.
[Sidenote: Tristram asks leave to go to Cornwall] Now when young Tristram
heard this letter of his uncle King Mark, he straightway went to his father
and said: "Sire, some whiles ago you desired that I should become a knight.
Now I would that you would let me go to Cornwall upon this occasion. For
when I come there I will beseech my uncle King Mark to make me a knight,
and then I will go out against Sir Marhaus. For I have a great mind to
undertake this adventure in behalf of King Mark, and to stand his champion
against Sir Marhaus. For though Sir Marhaus is so great a knight and so
famous a hero, yet if I should have the good fortune to overcome him in
battle, there would, certes, be great glory to our house through my
Then King Meliadus looked upon Tristram and loved him very dearly, and he
said: "Tristram, thou hast assuredly a very great heart to undertake this
adventure, which no one else will essay. So I bid thee go, in God's name,
if so be thy heart bids thee to go. For maybe God will lend the strength
necessary to carry this adventure through to a successful issue."
So that very day Tristram departed from Lyonesse for Cornwall, taking with
him only Gouvernail as his companion. So, by ship, he reached Cornwall, and
the castle of Tintagel, where King Mark was then holding court.
And it was at the sloping of the afternoon when he so came, and at that
time King Mark was sitting in hall with many of his knights and lords about
him. And the King was brooding in great trouble of spirit. Unto him came an
attendant, saying: "Lord, there are two strangers who stand without, and
crave to be admitted to your presence. One of them hath great dignity and
sobriety of demeanor, and the other, who is a youth, is of so noble and
stately an appearance that I do not believe his like is to be found in the
To this the King said, "Show them in."
[Sidenote: Tristram and Gouvernail come to Cornwall] So those two were
immediately admitted into the hall and came and stood before King Mark; and
the one of them was Gouvernail and the other was young Tristram. So
Tristram stood forth before Gouvernail and Gouvernail bore the harp of
Tristram, and the harp was of gold and shone most brightly and beautifully.
Then King Mark looked upon Tristram, and marvelled at his size and beauty;
for Tristram stood above any man in that place, so that he looked like a
hero amongst them. His brow was as white as milk and his lips were red like
to coral and his hair was as red as gold and as plentiful as the mane of a
young lion, and his neck was thick and sturdy and straight like to a round
pillar of white-stone, and he was clad in garments of blue silk embroidered
very cunningly with threads of gold and set with a countless multitude of
gems of divers colors. So because of all this he glistened with a singular
radiance of richness and beauty.
So King Mark marvelled at the haughtiness of Tristram's appearance, and he
felt his heart drawn toward Tristram with love and admiration. Then, after
a little, he spoke, saying: "Fair youth, who are you, and whence come you,
and what is it you would have of me?"
[Sidenote: Tristram offers himself as champion for Cornwall] "Lord," said
Tristram, "my name is Tristram, and I come from the country of Lyonesse,
where your own sister was one time Queen. Touching the purpose of my coming
hither, it is this: having heard that you are in need of a champion to
contend for your rights against the champion of Ireland, I come hither to
say that if you will make me a knight with your own hand, I will take it
upon me to stand your champion and to meet Sir Marhaus of Ireland upon your
Then King Mark was filled with wonder at the courage of Tristram, and he
said: "Fair youth, are you not aware that Sir Marhaus of Ireland is a
knight well set in years and of such great and accredited deeds of arms
that it is supposed that, excepting Sir Launcelot of the Lake, there is not
his peer in any court of chivalry in all of the world? How then can you,
who are altogether new to the use of arms, hope to stand against so
renowned a champion as he?"
"Lord," quoth Tristram, "I am well aware of what sort of knight Sir Marhaus
is, and I am very well aware of the great danger of this undertaking. Yet
if one who covets knighthood shall fear to face a danger, what virtue would
there then be in the chivalry of knighthood? So, Messire, I put my trust in
God, His mercies, and I have great hope that He will lend me both courage
and strength in my time of need."
Then King Mark began to take great joy, for he said to himself: "Maybe this
youth shall indeed bring me forth in safety out of these dangers that
menace my honor." So he said: "Tristram, I do believe that you will stand a
very excellent chance of success in this undertaking, wherefore it shall be
as you desire; I will make you a knight, and besides that I will fit you
with armor and accoutrements in all ways becoming to the estate of a
knight-royal. Likewise I will provide you a Flemish horse of the best
strain, so that you shall be both furnished and horsed as well as any
knight in the world hath ever been."
[Sidenote: Tristram is made knight-royal] So that night Tristram watched
his armor in the chapel of the castle, and the next day he was made knight
with all the circumstances appertaining to a ceremony of such solemnity as
that. And upon the afternoon of the day upon which he was thus made knight,
King Mark purveyed a ship in all ways befitting the occasion, and in the
ship Tristram and Gouvernail set sail for that island where Sir Marhaus was
known to be abiding at that time.
Now upon the second day of their voyaging and about the middle of the day
they came to a land which they knew must be the place which they were
seeking, and there the sailors made a safe harbor. As soon as they were at
anchor a gangway was set from the ship to the shore and Sir Tristram and
Gouvernail drave their horses across the gangway and so to the dry land.
Thereafter they rode forward for a considerable distance, until about the
first slanting of the afternoon they perceived in the distance three very
fair ships drawn up close to the shore. And then they were aware of a
knight, clad in full armor and seated upon a noble horse under the shadow
of those ships, and they wist that that must be he whom Sir Tristram
Then Gouvernail spake to Sir Tristram, saying: "Sir, that knight resting
yonder beneath the shelter of the ships must be Sir Marhaus."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram goes forth to meet Sir Marhaus] "Yea," said Sir
Tristram, "that is assuredly he." So he gazed very steadily at the knight
for a long while, and by and by he said: "Gouvernail, yonder seems to me to
be a very great and haughty knight for a knight so young as I am to have to
do with in his first battle; yet if God will lend me His strong aid in this
affair, I shall assuredly win me great credit at his hands." Then after
another short while he said: "Now go, Gouvernail, and leave me alone in
this affair, for I do not choose for anyone to be by when I have to do with
yonder knight. For either I shall overcome him in this combat or else I
will lay down my life at this place. For the case is thus, Gouvernail; if
Sir Marhaus should overcome me and if I should yield me to him as
vanquished, then mine uncle must pay truage to the King of Ireland for the
land of Cornwall; but if I died without yielding me to mine enemy, then he
must yet do battle with another champion at another time, if my uncle the
King can find such an one to do battle in his behalf. So I am determined
either to win this battle or to die therein."
Now when Gouvernail heard this, he fell a-weeping in great measure; and he
cried out: "Sir, let not this battle be of that sort!" To him Sir Tristram
said very steadfastly: "Say no more, Gouvernail, but go as I bid thee."
Whereupon Gouvernail turned and went away, as he was bidden to do, weeping
very bitterly as he went.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram proclaims his degree] Now by this Sir Marhaus had
caught sight of Sir Tristram where he stood in that field, and so presently
he came riding thitherward to meet Sir Tristram. When he had come nigh, Sir
Marhaus said: "Who art thou, Sir Knight?" Unto these Sir Tristram made
reply: "Sir, I am Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, son of King Meliadus of that
land, and nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. I am come to do battle upon
behalf of the King of Cornwall, to release him from the demands of truage
made by the King of Ireland." Quoth Sir Marhaus: "Messire, are you a knight
of approval and of battles?" "Nay," said Sir Tristram, "I have only been
created knight these three days."
"Alas!" said Sir Marhaus, "I am very sorry for thee and for thy noble
courage that hath brought thee hither to this place. Thou art not fit to
have to do with me, for I am one who hath fought in more than twice twenty
battles, each one of which was, I believe, greater than this is like to be.
Also I have matched me with the very best knights in the world, and have
never yet been overcome. So I advise thee, because of thy extreme youth, to
return to King Mark and bid him send me another champion in thy stead, who
shall be better seasoned than thou art."
"Sir," said Sir Tristram, "I give thee gramercy for thy advice. But I may
tell thee that I was made knight for no other purpose than to do battle
with thee; so I may not return without having fulfilled mine adventure.
Moreover, because of thy great renown and thy courage and prowess, I feel
all the more desirous to have to do with thee; for if I should die at thy
hand, then there will be no shame to me, but if I should win this battle
from thee, then I shall have very great renown in the courts of chivalry."
"Well," said Sir Marhaus, "it is not likely that thou shalt die at my hand.
For because of thy youth I will not have it that this battle shall be so
desperate as that." "Say not so," said Sir Tristram, "for either I shall
die at thy hand, or else I shall overcome thee in this battle, for I make
my vow to God that I will not yield myself to thee so long as there is life
within my body."
"Alas!" said Sir Marhaus, "that is certes a great pity. But as thou hast
foreordained it, so it must needs be." Therewith he saluted Sir Tristram
and drew rein and rode aside to a little distance where he straightway made
ready for that battle. Nor was Sir Tristram behind him in making
preparation, albeit he was filled with doubts as to the outcome of that
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram is wounded] Then when they were in all ways
prepared, each gave shout and drave spurs into his horse and rushed toward
the other with such fury that it was terrible to behold. And each smote the
other with his spear in the centre of his shield, and in that encounter Sir
Marhaus smote through Sir Tristram's shield and gave Sir Tristram a great
wound in his side. Then Sir Tristram felt the blood gush out of that wound
in such abundance that it filled his iron boots, so that they were sodden
therewith, and he thought he had got his death-wound. But in spite of that
grievous bitter stroke, he held his seat and was not overthrown. Then so
soon as he had recovered himself he voided his horse and drew his sword and
set his shield before him; and when Sir Marhaus saw his preparations, he
likewise voided his horse and made ready for battle upon foot. So
straightway they came together with terrible fury, lashing at each other
with such fearful strength and evil will that it was dreadful to behold.
And each gave the other many grievous strokes, so that whole pieces of
armor were hewn off from their bodies; and each gave the other many deep
wounds, so that that part of the armor that still hung to them became red
as though it were painted with red. Likewise the ground was all besprinkled
red where they stood, yet neither gave any thought to quitting that battle
in which they were engaged.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram gives Sir Marhaus a death-wound] Now for a while
Sir Tristram feared because of the wound which he had at first received
that he would die in that battle, but by and by he perceived that he was
stouter than Sir Marhaus and better winded; wherefore great hope came to
him and uplifted him with redoubled strength. Then presently Sir Marhaus
fell back a little and when Sir Tristram perceived that he ran in upon him
and smote him several times, such direful strokes that Sir Marhaus could
not hold up his shield against that assault. Then Sir Tristram perceived
that Sir Marhaus was no longer able to hold up his shield, and therewith he
smote him a great blow with his sword upon the helmet. So direful was that
blow that the sword of Sir Tristram pierced very deep through the helm of
Sir Marhaus and into the brainpan. And Sir Tristram's sword stuck fast in
the helm and the brain-pan of Sir Marhaus so that Sir Tristram could not
pull it out again. Then Sir Marhaus, half a-swoon, fell down upon his
knees, and therewith a part of the edge of the blade brake off from Sir
Tristram's sword, and remained in the wound that he had given to Sir
[Sidenote: Sir Marhaus leaves the field] Then Sir Marhaus was aware that
he had got his death-wound, wherefore a certain strength came to him so
that he rose to his feet staggering like a drunken man. And at first he
began going about in a circle and crying most dolorously. Then as he wist
all that had happed he threw away his sword and his shield, and made away
from that place, staggering and stumbling like one who had gone blind; for
he was all bewildered with that mortal wound, and wist not very well what
he was doing or whither he was going. Then Sir Tristram would have made
after him to stop him, but he could not do so because he himself was so
sorely wounded and so weak from the loss of blood. Yet he called after Sir
Marhaus: "Stay, stay, Sir Knight! Let us finish this battle now we are
about it!" But to this Sir Marhaus made no answer, but went on down to his
ships, staggering and stumbling like a blind man as aforesaid, for the sore
wound which he had received still lent him a false strength of body so that
he was able to go his way. Then those who were aboard the ships, beholding
him thus coming staggering toward them, came down and met him and lifted
him up and bore him away to his own ship. Thereafter, as soon as might be
they hoisted sail and lifted anchor and took their way from that place.
Then by and by came Gouvernail and several others of Sir Tristram's party
to where Sir Tristram was; and there they found him leaning upon his sword
and groaning very sorely because of the great wound in his side. So
presently they perceived that he could not walk, wherefore they lifted him
up upon his own shield and bore him thence to that ship that had brought
And when they had come to the ship they laid him down upon a couch and
stripped him of his armor to search his wounds. Then they beheld what a
great wound it was that Sir Marhaus had given him in the side, and they
lifted up their voices in sorrow, for they all believed that he would die.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristam returns to Cornwall] So they set sail, and in two
days brought him back to King Mark, where he sat at Tintagel in Cornwall.
And when King Mark saw how pale and wan and weak Sir Tristram was, he wept
and grieved very sorely for sorrow of that sight, for he too thought that
Sir Tristram was certainly about to die.
But Sir Tristram smiled upon King Mark, and he said: "Lord, have I done
well for thy sake?" And King Mark said, "Yea," and fell to weeping again.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram proclaims himself to King Mark] "Then," quoth
Tristram, "it is time for me to tell thee who I am who have saved thy
kingdom from the shame of having to pay truage to Ireland, and that I am
thine own sister's son. For my father is King Meliadus of Lyonesse, and my
mother was the Lady Elizabeth, who was thine own sister till God took her
soul to Paradise to dwell there with His angels."
But when King Mark heard this he went forth from that place and into his
own chamber. And when he had come there he fell down upon his knees and
cried out aloud: "Alas, alas, that this should be! Rather, God, would I
lose my entire kingdom than that my sister's son should come to his death
in this wise!"
Now it remaineth to say of Sir Marhaus that those who were with him brought
him back to Ireland and that there in a little while he died of the wound
that Sir Tristram had given him upon the head. But ere he died, and whilst
they were dressing that hurt, the Queen of Ireland, who was sister to Sir
Marhaus, discovered the broken piece of the blade still in that grim wound.
This she drew forth and set aside, and hid very carefully, saying to
herself: "If ever I meet that knight to whose sword this piece of blade
fitteth, then it will be an evil day for him."
Thus I have told you all the circumstances of that great battle betwixt Sir
Tristram of Lyonesse and Sir Marhaus of Ireland. And now you shall hear how
it befell Sir Tristram thereafter; so harken to what followeth.
[Illustration: The Lady Belle Isoult]
_How Sir Tristram went to Ireland to be healed of his wound by the King's
daughter of Ireland, and of how he came to love the Lady Belle Isoult. Also
concerning Sir Palamydes and the Lady Belle Isoult._
Now that grievous hurt which Sir Tristram had received at the hands of Sir
Marhaus did not heal, but instead grew even more rankled and sore, so that
there were many who thought that there had been treachery practised and
that the spearhead had been poisoned to cause such a malignant disease as
that with which the wounded man suffered. So by and by Sir Tristram grew so
grievously sick of his hurt that all those who were near him thought that
he must certainly die.
Then King Mark sent everywhere and into all parts for the most wise and
learned leeches and chirurgeons to come to Cornwall and search the wounds
of Sir Tristram, but of all these no one could bring him any ease.
[Sidenote: How Sir Tristram lieth sick in Cornwall] Now one day there came
to the court of King Mark a very wise lady, who had travelled much in the
world and had great knowledge of wounds of all sorts. At the bidding of the
King, she went to where Sir Tristram lay, and searched the wound as so many
had already done. And when she had done that she came out of Sir Tristram's
chamber and unto King Mark, where he was waiting for her. Then King Mark
said to her: "Well, how will it be with yonder knight?" "Lord," quoth she,
"it is thus; I can do nothing to save his life, nor do I know of any one
who may save it unless it be the King's daughter of Ireland, who is known
as the Belle Isoult because of her wonderful beauty. She is the most
skilful leech in all of the world, and she alone may hope to bring Sir
Tristram back to life and health again, for I believe that if she fail no
one else can save him."
Then after the aforesaid lady had gone, King Mark went to where Sir
Tristram lay, and he told him all that she had said concerning his
condition; and King Mark said: "Tristram, wilt thou go to the King's
daughter of Ireland and let her search thy wound?"
Then Sir Tristram groaned at the thought of the weariness and pain of
moving, and he said: "Lord, this is a great undertaking for one who is so
sick. Moreover, it is a great risk for me, for, if I go to Ireland, and if
it be found that I am he who slew Sir Marhaus, then it is hardly likely
that I shall ever escape from that country again with my life. Ne'theless,
I am so sorely sick of this wound that I would rather die than live as I am
living; wherefore I will go to Ireland for the sake of being healed, if
such a thing is possible."
Accordingly, a little while after that, King Mark provided a ship to carry
Sir Tristram to Ireland. This ship he furnished with sails of silk of
divers colors, and he had it hung within with fine embroidered cloth, and
fabrics woven with threads of silver and gold, so that in its appearance it
was a worthy vessel even for a great king to sail in. Then, when all was
ready, King Mark had a number of attendants carry Sir Tristram down to the
ship in a litter, and he had them lay Sir Tristram upon a soft couch of
crimson satin, which was set upon the deck beneath a canopy of crimson
silk, embroidered with threads of silver and garnished with fringe of
silver, and Sir Tristram lay there at ease where the breezes of the ocean
came pleasantly to him, and breathed upon his face and his temples and his
hair and his hands with coolness; and Gouvernail was with Sir Tristram all
the while in attendance upon him.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram sails to Ireland to have his wound searched] So
they set sail for Ireland, the weather being very fair and pleasant, and on
the third day, at about the time of sunset, they came to a part of the
coast of Ireland where there was a castle built upon the rocks that rose
out of the sea.
Now there were several fishermen fishing in boats near that castle, and of
these the pilot of Sir Tristram's boat made inquiry what castle that was.
To him the fisherman replied: "That castle is the castle of King Angus of
Ireland." And the fisherman said: "It so happens that the King and Queen
and their daughter, hight the Lady Belle Isoult, and all of their court are
there at this very while."
This Sir Tristram heard and said: "This is good news, for indeed I am very
sick and am right glad that my voyaging is ended." So he gave orders that
the pilot should bring the ship close under the walls of that castle, and
that he should there let go anchor; and the pilot did as Sir Tristram had
[Sidenote: How Sir Tristram came to Ireland] Now, as aforesaid, that ship
was of a very wonderful appearance, like to the ship of a king or a high
prince, wherefore many people came down to the walls of the castle and
stood there and gazed at the vessel as it sailed into the harbor. And by
that time the sun had set and all the air was illuminated with a marvellous
golden light; and in this sky of gold the moon hung like a shield of
silver, very bright and steady above the roofs and towers of the castle.
And there came from the land a pleasing perfume of blossoms; for it was
then in the fulness of the spring-time, and all the fruit-bearing trees
were luxuriant with bloom so that the soft air of evening was full of
Then there came a great content into the heart of Sir Tristram, wherefore
he said to Gouvernail: "Gouvernail, either I shall soon be healed of this
wound, or else I shall presently die and enter into Paradise free of pain,
for I am become very full of content and of peace toward all men." And then
he said: "Bring me hither my harp, that I may play upon it a little, for I
have a desire to chant in this pleasant evening-time."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram sings] So Gouvernail brought to Sir Tristram his
shining harp, and when Sir Tristram had taken it into his hands he tuned
it, and when he had tuned it he struck it and sang; and, because of the
stillness of the evening, his voice sounded marvellously clear and sweet
across the level water, so that those who stood upon the castle walls and
heard it thought that maybe an angel was singing on board of that ship.
That time the Lady Belle Isoult sat at the window of her bower enjoying the
pleasantness of the evening. She also heard Sir Tristram singing, and she
said to those damsels who were with her, "Ha, what is that I hear?"
Therewith she listened for a little while, and then she said: "Meseems that
must be the voice of some angel that is singing." They say: "Nay, Lady, it
is a wounded knight singing, and he came to this harbor in a wonderful ship
some while ago." Then the Lady Belle Isoult said to a page who was in
attendance: "Bid the King and Queen come hither, that they may hear this
singing also, for never did I think to hear such singing beyond the walls
So the page ran with all speed, and in a little the King and Queen came to
the bower of the Lady Belle Isoult; and she and they leaned upon the
window-ledge and listened to Sir Tristram whilst he sang in the soft
twilight. Then by and by King Angus said: "Now I will have yonder minstrel
brought thither to this castle to do us pleasure, for I believe that he
must be the greatest minstrel in all the world to sing in that wise." And
the Lady Belle Isoult said: "I pray you, sir, do so, for it would be great
joy to everybody to have such singing as that in this place."
So King Angus sent a barge to that ship, and besought that he who sang
should be brought to the castle. At that Sir Tristram was very glad, for he
said: "Now I shall be brought to the Lady the Belle Isoult and maybe she
will heal me." So he had them bare him to the barge of the King of Ireland,
and so they brought him to the castle of King Angus, where they laid him
upon a bed in a fair room of the castle.
[Sidenote: King Angus cometh to Tristram] Then King Angus came to Sir
Tristram where he lay, and he said: "Messire what can I do for you to put
you more at your ease than you are?" "Lord," said Sir Tristram, "I pray you
to permit the Lady Belle Isoult to search a great wound in my side that I
received in battle. For I hear that she is the most skilful leech in all
the world, and so I have come hither from a great distance, being in such
pain and dole from my grievous hurt that I shall die in a little while
unless it be healed."
"Messire," said King Angus, "I perceive that you are no ordinary knight,
but somebody of high nobility and estate, so it shall be as you desire."
And then King Angus said: "I pray you, tell me your name and whence you
Upon this, Sir Tristram communed within his own mind, saying: "An I say my
name is Tristram, haply there may be someone here will know me and that I
was the cause why the brother of the Queen of this place hath died." So he
said: "Lord, my name is Sir Tramtris, and I am come from a country called
Lyonesse, which is a great distance from this."
Quoth King Angus, "Well, Sir Tramtris, I am glad that you have come to this
place. Now it shall be done to you as you desire, for to-morrow the Lady
Belle Isoult shall search your wound to heal it if possible."
[Sidenote: My Lady Belle Isoult searches the wound] And so it was as King
Angus said, for the next day the Lady Belle Isoult came with her attendants
to where Sir Tristram lay, and one of the attendants bare a silver basin
and another bare a silver ewer, and others bare napkins of fine linen. So
the Lady Belle Isoult came close to Sir Tristram and kneeled beside the
couch whereon he lay and said, "Let me see the wound." Therewith Sir
Tristram laid bare his bosom and his side and she beheld it. Then she felt
great pity for Sir Tristram because of that dolorous wound, and she said:
"Alas, that so young and so fair and so noble a knight should suffer so
sore a wound as this!" Therewith still kneeling beside Sir Tristram she
searched the wound with very gentle, tender touch (for her fingers were
like to rose leaves for softness) and lo! she found a part of the blade of
a spear-head embedded very deep in the wound of Sir Tristram.
This she drew forth very deftly (albeit Sir Tristram groaned with a great
passion of pain) and therewithafter came forth an issue of blood like a
crimson fountain, whereupon Sir Tristram swooned away like one who had gone
dead. But he did not die, for they quickly staunched the flow, set aromatic
spices to his nostrils, so that in a little he revived in spirit to find
himself at great ease and peace in his body (albeit it was for a while like
to the peace of death).
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram is healed] Thus it was that the Lady Belle Isoult
saved the life of Sir Tristram, for in a little while he was able to be
about again, and presently waxed almost entirely hale and strong in limb
And now it is to be told how Sir Tristram loved the Lady Belle Isoult and
how she loved Sir Tristram. Also how a famous knight, hight Sir Palamydes
the Saracen, loved Belle Isoult and of how she loved not him.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram loves the Lady Belle Isoult] For, as was said, it
came about that in a little while Sir Tristram was healed of that grievous
wound aforetold of so that he was able to come and go whithersoever he
chose. But always he would be with the Lady Belle Isoult, for Sir Tristram
loved her with a wonderfully passionate regard. And so likewise the lady
loved Sir Tristram. For if he loved her because she had saved his life,
then she also loved him for the same reason. For she did not ever forget
how she had drawn out the head of that spear from the wound at his side,
and of how he had groaned when she brought it forth, and of how the blood
had gushed out of that wound. Wherefore she loved him very aboundingly for
the agony of pain she had one time caused him to suffer.
So they two fair and noble creatures were always together in bower or in
hall, and no one in all that while wist that Sir Tramtris was Sir Tristram,
and that it was his hand that had slain Sir Marhaus of Ireland.
So Sir Tristram was there in Ireland for a year, and in that time he grew
to be altogether well and sturdy again.
[Sidenote: Sir Palamydes cometh to Ireland] Now it was in those days that
there came Sir Palamydes the Saracen knight to that place, who was held to
be one of the very foremost knights in the world. So great rejoicing was
made over him because he had come thither, and great honor was shown to him
But when Sir Palamydes beheld the Lady Belle Isoult and when he saw how
fair she was, he came in a short while to love her with almost as
passionate a regard as that with which Sir Tristram loved her, so that he
also sought ever to be with her whenever the chance offered.
But Belle Isoult felt no regard for Sir Palamydes, but only fear of him,
for all of her love was given to Sir Tristram. Nevertheless, because Sir
Palamydes was so fierce and powerful a knight, she did not dare to offend
him; wherefore she smiled upon him and treated him with all courtesy and
kindness although she loved him not, dissembling her regard for him.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram is displeased] All this Sir Tristram beheld from
aside and it displeased him a very great deal to see how Sir Palamydes was
always beside the lady. But Belle Isoult beheld how Sir Tristram was
displeased, wherefore she took occasion to say to him: "Tramtris, be not
displeased, for what am I to do? You know very well that I do not love this
knight, but I am afraid of him because he is so fierce and so strong."
To this Sir Tristram said: "Lady, it would be a great shame to me if I,
being by, should suffer any knight to come betwixt you and me and win your
regard through fear of him."
She said: "Tramtris, what would you do? Would you give challenge to this
knight? Lo, you are not yet entirely healed of your hurt, and Sir Palamydes
is in perfect strength of body. For indeed it is for you I am most of all
afraid lest you and Sir Palamydes should come to battle and lest he should
do you a harm before you are entirely healed."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram desires to do battle] "Lady," quoth Sir Tristram,
"I thank God that I am not at all afraid of this knight, or of any other
knight, and I have to thank you that I am now entirely recovered and am as
strong as ever I was. Wherefore I have now a mind to deal with this knight
in your behalf. So if you will provide me with armor I will deal with him
so that maybe he will not trouble you again. Now I will devise it in this
way:--tell your father, King Angus, to proclaim a great jousting. In that
jousting I will seek out Sir Palamydes and will encounter him, and I hope
with God's aid that I shall overcome him, so that you shall be free from
Belle Isoult said, "Tramtris, are you able for this?" He said, "Yea, I am
as ready as ever I shall be in all of my life." Whereat Belle Isoult said,
"It shall be as you will have it."
Then Sir Tristram charged Belle Isoult that she should keep secret all this
that had been said betwixt them. And more especially she was to keep it
secret that he was to take part in such a tournament as that which they had
devised. And he said to her: "Lady, I lie here under a great peril to my
life, though I cannot tell you what that peril is. But I may tell you that
if my enemies should discover me at this place, it would go hard with me to
preserve my life from them. Wherefore, if I take part in any such affair as
this, it must be altogether a secret betwixt us."
So therewith they parted and Lady Belle Isoult went to her father and
besought him to proclaim a great day of jousting in honor of Sir Palamydes,
and the King said that he would do so. So the King sent forth proclamation
to all the courts of that nation that a great tournament was to be held and
that great rewards and great honors were to be given to the best knight
thereat. And that tournament was talked about in all the courts of chivalry
where there were knights who desired to win glory in such affairs at arms.
And now it shall be told concerning that tournament and how it befell with
Sir Tristram thereat, and with Sir Palamydes thereat.
[Illustration: The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram]
_How Sir Tristram encountered Sir Palamydes at the tournament and of what
befell. Also how Sir Tristram was forced to leave the Kingdom of Ireland._
So came the time for the tournament that King Angus of Ireland had
ordained; and that was a very famous affair at arms indeed. For it hath
very rarely happened that so noble a gathering of knights hath ever come
together as that company which there presented itself for that occasion at
the court of the King of Ireland.
[Sidenote: Of the court of chivalry at Ireland] For you may know how
excellent was the court of chivalry that fore gathered thereat when you
shall hear that there came to that tournament, the King of an Hundred
Knights and the King of the Scots, and that there came several knights of
the Round Table, to wit: Sir Gawaine, Sir Gaheris and Sir Agravaine; and
Sir Bagdemagus and Sir Kay and Sir Dodinas, and Sir Sagramore le Desirous,
and Sir Gumret the Less, and Sir Griflet; and that there came besides these
many other knights of great renown.
These and many others gathered at the court of King Angus of Ireland, so
that all those meadows and fields coadjacent to the place of battle were
gay as beds of flowers with the multitude of tents and pavilions of divers
colors that were there emplanted.
And on the day of the tournament there came great crowds of people into the
lists, so that all that place was alive with movement. For it was as though
a sea of people had arisen to overflow the seats and stalls thereof.
Now that tournament was to last for three days, and upon the third day
there was to be a grand melee in which all these knights contestant were to
take stand upon this side or upon that.
But upon the first two of those three days Sir Tristram sat in the stall of
the King and looked down upon the jousting, for, because of the illness
from which he had recovered, he was minded to save his body until the right
time should come, what time he should be called upon to do his uttermost.
[Sidenote: Sir Palamydes performeth wonders] And in those two days, Sir
Tristram beheld that Sir Palamydes did more wonderfully in battle than he
would have believed it possible for any knight to do. For Sir Palamydes was
aware that the eyes of the Lady Belle Isoult were gazing upon him,
wherefore he felt himself uplifted to battle as with the strength of ten.
Wherefore he raged about that field like a lion of battle, seeking whom he
might overthrow and destroy. And upon the first day he challenged Sir
Gawaine to joust with him, and then he challenged Sir Gaheris, and the King
of an Hundred Knights, and Sir Griflet, and Sir Sagramore le Desirous and
fourteen other knights, and all of these he met and many he overcame, and
that without any mishap to himself. And upon the second day he met with
great success Sir Agravaine and Sir Griflet and Sir Kay and Sir Dodinas and
twelve other knights. Wherefore those who beheld how he did gave great
shouts and outcries of applause and acclaim, saying: "Certes, there was
never knight in all of the world so great as this knight. Yea; even Sir
Launcelot himself could not do more than that knight doeth."
Then Belle Isoult was troubled in her mind, and she said: "Tramtris, yonder
in very truth is a most fierce and terrible knight. Now somewhiles I have
fear that you may not be able to overcome him."
Thereat Sir Tristram smiled very grimly, and said: "Lady, already I have
overcome in battle a bigger knight than ever Sir Palamydes has been or is
like to be." But the Lady Belle Isoult wist not that that knight of whom
Sir Tristram spake was Sir Marhaus of Ireland.
[Sidenote: Sir Palamydes bespeaks the Lady Belle Isoult] Now upon the
evening of the second day of that tournament, Sir Palamydes came to where
the Lady Belle Isoult was, and he said: "Lady, all these things I have done
for your sake. For had it not been for my love for you, I would not have
been able to do a third part of that which I did. Now I think you should
have pity and regard for one who loves you so strongly as that; wherefore I
beseech you to bestow some part of your good-will upon me."
"Sir," said the Lady Belle Isoult, "you are not to forget that there is
still another day of this battle, and in it you may not happen to have the
same fortune that favored you to-day; so I will wait until you have won
that battle also before I answer you."
"Well," said Sir Palamydes, "you shall see that I shall do even more
worthily to-morrow for your sake than I have done to-day."
But the Lady Belle Isoult was not very well pleased with that saying, for
she began again to fear that maybe the will of Sir Palamydes was so strong
that Sir Tristram would not have any success against him.
So came the third day of that very famous contest at arms, and when this
morning was come there began to gather together in the two parties those
who were to contest the one against the other. Of one of these parties, Sir
Palamydes was the chiefest knight, and upon that side was also Sir Gawaine
and several of the knights who were with him. For these said, "There shall
certes be greater credit to be had with Sir Palamydes than against him,"
and so they joined them with his party. Of the other party the chiefest
knights were the King of an Hundred Knights and the King of Scots, and both
of these were very famous and well-approved champions, of high courage and
[Sidenote: Belle Isoult arms Sir Tristram] Now when the time was nigh
ready for that tournament, Sir Tristram went to put on the armor that the
Lady Belle Isoult had provided him, and when he was armed he mounted very
lightly upon the horse which she had given him. And the armor of Sir
Tristram was white, shining like to silver, and the horse was altogether
white, and the furniture and trappings thereof were all white, so that Sir
Tristram glistened with extraordinary splendor.
Now when he was armed and prepared in all ways, the Lady Belle Isoult came
to where he was and she said, "Tramtris, are you ready?" And he answered
"Yea." Therewith she took the horse of Sir Tristram by the bridle and she
led him to the postern gate of the castle, and put him out that way into a
fair field that lay beyond; and Sir Tristram abided in the fields for some
while until the tournament should have begun.
But the Lady Belle Isoult went to the tournament with her father, the King,
and her mother, the Queen, and took her station at that place assigned to
her whence she might overlook the field.
[Sidenote: How Sir Palamydes fought in the tournament] So in a little
while that friendly battle began. And again Sir Palamydes was filled with
the vehement fury of contest, wherefore he raged about the field, spreading
terror whithersoever he came. For first he made at the King of an Hundred
Knights, and he struck that knight so direful a blow that both horse and
man fell to the ground with the force thereof. Then in the same manner he
struck the King of Scots with his sword, and smote him straightway out of
the saddle also. Then he struck down one after another, seven other
knights, all of well-proved strength and prowess, so that all those who
looked thereon cried out, "Is he a man or is he a demon?" So, because of
the terror of Sir Palamydes, all those in that contest bore away from him
as they might do from a lion in anger.
At this time came Sir Tristram, riding at a free pace, shining like to a
figure of silver. Then many saw him and observed him and said to one
another: "Who is this knight, and what party will he join with to do
battle?" These had not long to wait to know what side he would join, for
immediately Sir Tristram took stand with that party which was the party of
the King of an Hundred Knights and the King of Scots, and at that the one
party was very glad, and the other party was sorry; for they deemed that
Sir Tristram was certes some great champion.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram enters the tournament] Then straightway there came
against Sir Tristram four knights of the other party, and one of these was
Sir Gaheris, and another was Sir Griflet and another was Sir Bagdemagus and
another was Sir Kay. But Sir Tristram was possessed with a great joy of
battle, so that in a very short time he had struck down or overthrown all
those knights, beginning with Sir Gaheris, and ending with Sir Kay the
This Sir Gawaine beheld, and said to Sir Sagramore: "Yonder is certes a
knight of terrible strength; now let us go and see of what mettle he be."
Therewith Sir Gawaine pushed against Sir Tristram from the one side, and
Sir Sagramore came against him on the other side, and so they met him both
at once. Then first Sir Gawaine struck Sir Tristram such a buffet that the
horse of Sir Tristram turned twice about with the force of that stroke; and
therewith Sir Sagramore smote him a buffet upon the other side so that Sir
Tristram wist not upon which side to defend himself.
Then, at those blows Sir Tristram waxed so exceedingly fierce that it was
as though a fire of rage flamed up into his brains and set them into a
blaze of rage. So with that he rose up in his stirrups and launched so
dreadful a blow upon Sir Gawaine that I believe nothing could have
withstood the force of that blow. For it clave through the shield of Sir
Gawaine and it descended upon the crown of his helmet and it clave away a
part of his helmet and a part of the epauliere of his shoulder; and with
the force of that dreadful, terrible blow, Sir Gawaine fell down upon the
ground and lay there as though he were dead.
Then Sir Tristram wheeled upon Sir Sagramore (who sat wonder-struck at that
blow he had beheld) and thereafter he smote him too, so that he fell down
and lay upon the ground in a swoon from which he did not recover for more
than two hours.
Now Sir Palamydes also had beheld those two strokes that Sir Tristram had
given, wherefore he said: "Hah! Yonder is a very wonderful knight. Now if I
do not presently meet him, and that to my credit, he will have more honor
in this battle than I."
So therewith Sir Palamydes pushed straight against Sir Tristram, and
[Sidenote: Sir Palamydes rides against Sir Tristram] when Sir Tristram
beheld that he was very glad, for he said: "Now it will either be Sir
Palamydes his day, or else it will be mine." So he upon his part pushed
against Sir Palamydes with good intent to engage him in battle, and then
they two met in the midst of the field.
Then immediately Sir Palamydes smote Sir Tristram such a buffet that Sir
Tristram thought a bolt of lightning had burst upon him, and for a little
while he was altogether bemazed and wist not where he was. But when he came
to himself he was so filled with fury that his heart was like to break
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram smites Sir Palamydes] Thereupon he rushed upon Sir
Palamydes and smote him again and again and again with such fury and
strength that Sir Palamydes was altogether stunned at the blows he received
and bare back before them. Then Sir Tristram perceived how that Sir
Palamydes bare his shield low because of the fierceness of that assault,
and thereupon he rose up in his stirrups and struck Sir Palamydes upon the
crown of the helmet so dreadful a buffet that the brains of Sir Palamydes
swam like water, and he must needs catch the pommel of his saddle to save
himself from falling. Then Sir Tristram smote him another buffet, and
therewith darkness came upon the sight of Sir Palamydes and he rolled off
from his horse into the dust beneath its feet.
Then all who beheld the encounter shouted very loud and with great
vehemence, for it was the very best and most notable assault at arms that
had been performed in all that battle. But most of those who beheld that
assault cried out "The Silver Knight!" For at that time no one but the Lady
Belle Isoult wist who that silver knight was. But she wist very well who he
was, and was so filled with the glory of his prowess that she wept for joy
[Sidenote: Belle Isoult declares Sir Tristram] Then the King of Ireland
said: "Who is yonder knight who hath so wonderfully overthrown Sir
Palamydes? I had not thought there was any knight in the world so great as
he; but this must be some great champion whom none of us know." Upon that
the Lady Belle Isoult, still weeping for joy, could contain herself no
longer, but cried out: "Sir, that is Tramtris, who came to us so nigh to
death and who hath now done us so great honor being of our household! For I
knew very well that he was no common knight but some mighty champion when I
first beheld him."
At that the King of Ireland was very much astonished and overjoyed, and he
said: "If that is indeed so, then it is a very great honor for us all."
Now after that assault Sir Tristram took no more part in that battle but
withdrew to one side. But he perceived where the esquires attendant upon
Sir Palamydes came to him and lifted him up and took him away. Then by and
by he perceived that Sir Palamydes had mounted his horse again with intent
to leave that meadow of battle, and in a little he saw Sir Palamydes ride
away with his head bowed down like to one whose heart was broken.
All this Sir Tristram beheld and did not try to stay Sir Palamydes in his
departure. But some while after Sir Palamydes had quitted that place, Sir
Tristram also took his departure, going in that same direction that Sir
Palamydes had gone. Then after he had come well away from the meadow of
battle, Sir Tristram set spurs to his horse and rode at a hard gallop along
that way that Sir Palamydes had taken.
So he rode at such a gait for a considerable pass until, by and by, he
perceived Sir Palamydes upon the road before him; and Sir Palamydes was at
that time come to the edge of a woods where there were several stone
windmills with great sails swinging very slowly around before a strong wind
that was blowing.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram overthrows Palamydes again] Now this was a lonely
place, and one very fit to do battle in, wherefore Sir Tristram cried out
to Sir Palamydes in a loud voice: "Sir Palamydes! Sir Palamydes! Turn you
about! For here is the chance for you to recover the honor that you have
lost to me." Thereupon Sir Palamydes, hearing that loud voice, turned him
about. But when he beheld that the knight who called was he who had just
now wrought such shame upon him, he ground his teeth together with rage,
and therewith drave his horse at Sir Tristram, drawing his sword so that it
flashed like lightning in the bright sunlight. And when he came nigh to Sir
Tristram, he stood up in his stirrups and lashed a blow at him with all his
might and main; for he said to himself: "Maybe I shall now recover mine
honor with one blow which I lost to this knight a while since." But Sir
Tristram put aside that blow of Sir Palamydes with his shield with very
great skill and dexterity, and thereupon, recovering himself, he lashed at
Sir Palamydes upon his part. And at that first stroke Sir Tristram smote
down the shield of Sir Palamydes, and gave him such a blow upon the head
that Sir Palamydes fell down off his horse upon the earth. Then Sir
Tristram voided his own horse very quickly, and running to Sir Palamydes
where he lay he plucked off his helmet with great violence. Therewith he
cried out very fiercely: "Sir Knight, yield thee to me, or I will slay
thee." And therewithal he lifted up his sword as though to strike off the
head of Sir Palamydes.
Then when Sir Palamydes saw Sir Tristram standing above him in that wise,
he dreaded his buffets so that he said: "Sir Knight, I yield me to thee to
do thy commands, if so be thou wilt spare my life."
Thereupon Sir Tristram said, "Arise," and at that Sir Palamydes got him up
to his knees with some ado, and so remained kneeling before Sir Tristram.
"Well," said Sir Tristram, "I believe you have saved your life by thus
yielding yourself to me. Now this shall be my commandment upon you. First
of all, my commandment is that you forsake the Lady Belle Isoult, and that
you do not come near her for the space of an entire year. And this is my
second commandment; that from this day you do not assume the arms of
knighthood for an entire year and a day."
"Alas!" said Sir Palamydes, "why do you not slay me instead of bringing me
to such shame as this! Would that I had died instead of yielding myself to
you as I did." And therewith he wept for shame and despite.
"Well," said Sir Tristram, "let that pass which was not done. For now you
have yielded yourself to me and these are my commands." So with that Sir
Tristram set his sword back again into its sheath, and he mounted his horse
and rode away, leaving Sir Palamydes where he was.
[Sidenote: Sir Palamydes disarms himself] But after Sir Tristram had gone,
Sir Palamydes arose, weeping aloud. And he said: "This is such shame to me
that I think there can be no greater shame." Thereupon he drew his
misericordia, and he cut the thongs of his harness and he tore the pieces
of armor from off his body and flung them away very furiously, upon the
right hand and upon the left. And when he had thus stripped himself of all
of his armor, he mounted his horse and rode away into the forest, weeping
like one altogether brokenhearted.
So Sir Tristram drave Sir Palamydes away from the Lady Belle Isoult as he
had promised to do.
Now when Tristram came back to the castle of the King of Ireland once more,
he thought to enter privily in by the postern-gate as he had gone out. But
lo! instead of that he found a great party waiting for him before the
castle and these gave him loud acclaim, crying, "Welcome, Sir Tramtris!
Welcome, Sir Tramtris!" And King Angus came forward and took the hand of
Sir Tristram, and he also said: "Welcome, Sir Tramtris, for you have
brought us great honor this day!"
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram chides Belle Isoult] But Sir Tristram looked at
the Lady the Belle Isoult with great reproach and by and by when they were
together he said: "Lady, why did you betray me who I was when you had
promised me not to do so?" "Sir," she said, "I meant not to betray you, but
in the joy of your victory I know not very well what I said." "Well," said
Sir Tristram, "God grant that no harm come of it." She said, "What harm can
come of it, Messire?" Sir Tristram said: "I may not tell you, Lady, but I
fear that harm will come of it."
Anon the Queen of Ireland came and said: "Tramtris, one so nigh to death as
you have been should not so soon have done battle as you have done. Now I
will have a bain prepared and you shall bathe therein, for you are not yet
hale and strong."
"Lady," said Tristram, "I do not need any bain, for I believe I am now
strong and well in all wise."
"Nay," said the Queen, "you must have that bain so that no ill may come to
you hereafter from this battle which you have fought."
So she had that bain prepared of tepid water, and it was very strong and
potent with spices and powerful herbs of divers sorts. And when that bain
was prepared, Sir Tristram undressed and entered the bath, and the Queen
and the Lady Belle Isoult were in the adjoining chamber which was his
[Sidenote: The Queen of Ireland beholds Sir Tristram's sword] Now whilst
Sir Tristram was in that bath, the Queen and Belle Isoult looked all about
his chamber. And they beheld the sword of Sir Tristram where it lay, for he
had laid it upon the bed when he had unlatched the belt to make himself
ready for that bath. Then the Queen said to the Lady Belle Isoult, "See
what a great huge sword this is," and thereupon she lifted it and drew the
blade out of its sheath, and she beheld what a fair, bright, glistering
sword it was. Then in a little she saw where, within about a foot and a
half from the point, there was a great piece in the shape of a half-moon
broken out of the edge of the sword; and she looked at that place for a
long while. Then of a sudden she felt a great terror, for she remembered
how even such a piece of sword as that which had been broken off from that
blade, she had found in the wound of Sir Marhaus of which he had died. So
she stood for a while holding that sword of Sir Tristram in her hand and
looking as she had been turned into stone. At this the Lady Belle Isoult
was filled with a sort of fear, wherefore she said, "Lady, what ails you?"
The Queen said, "Nothing that matters," and therewith she laid aside the
sword of Sir Tristram and went very quickly to her own chamber. There she
opened her cabinet and took thence the piece of sword-blade which she had
drawn from the wound of Sir Marhaus, and which she had kept ever since.
With this she hurried back to the chamber of Sir Tristram, and fitted that
piece of the blade to the blade; and lo! it fitted exactly, and without
[Sidenote: The Queen assails Sir Tristram] Upon that the Queen was seized
as with a sudden madness; for she shrieked out in a very loud voice,
"Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!" saying that word three times. Therewith she
snatched up the sword of Sir Tristram and she ran with great fury into the
room where he lay in his bath. And she beheld him where he was there all
naked in his bath, and therewith she rushed at him and lashed at him with
his sword. But Sir Tristram threw himself to one side and so that blow
failed of its purpose. Then the Queen would have lashed at him again or
have thrust him through with the weapon; but at that Gouvernail and Sir
Helles ran to her and catched her and held her back, struggling and
screaming very violently. So they took the sword away from her out of her
hands, and all the while she shrieked like one gone entirely distracted.
Then as soon as Gouvernail and Sir Helles loosed her, she ran very
violently out of that room with great outcry of screaming, and so to King
Angus and flung herself upon her knees before him, crying out: "Justice!
Justice! I have found that man who slew my brother! I beseech of you that
you will deal justice upon him."
Then King Angus rose from where he sat, and he said: "Where is that man?
Bring me to him." And the Queen said: "It is Tramtris, who hath come hither
unknown unto this place."
King Angus said: "Lady, what is this you tell me? I cannot believe that
what you say is true." Upon this the Queen cried out: "Go yourself, Lord,
and inquire, and find out how true it is."
Then King Angus rose, and went forth from that place, and he went to the
chamber of Sir Tristram. And there he found that Sir Tristram had very
hastily dressed himself and had armed himself in such wise as he was able.
Then King Angus came to Tristram, and he said: "How is this, that I find
thee armed? Art thou an enemy to my house?" And Tristram wept, and said:
"Nay, Lord, I am not your enemy, but your friend, for I have great love for
you and for all that is yours, so that I would be very willing to do battle
for you even unto death if so be I were called upon to do so."
Then King Angus said: "If that is so, how is it that I find thee here armed
as if for battle, with thy sword in thy hand?" "Lord," said Sir Tristram,
"although I be friends with you and yours, yet I know not whether you be
friends or enemies unto me; wherefore I have prepared myself so that I may
see what is your will with me, for I will not have you slay me without
defence upon my part." Then King Angus said: "Thou speakest in a very
foolish way, for how could a single knight hope to defend himself against
my whole household? Now I bid thee tell me who thou art, and what is thy
name, and why thou earnest hither knowing that thou hadst slain my
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram confesses to King Angus] Then Sir Tristram said,
"Lord, I will tell thee all the truth." And therewith he confessed
everything to King Angus, to wit: who was his father and his mother, and
how he was born and reared; how he fought Sir Marhaus, and for what reason;
and of how he came hither to be healed of his wound, from which else he
must die in very grievous pain. And he said: "All this is truth, Lord, and
it is truth that I had no ill-will against Sir Marhaus; for I only stood to
do battle with him for the sake of mine uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, and
to enhance mine own honor; and I took my fortune with him as he took his
with me. Moreover, I fought with Sir Marhaus upon the same day that I was
made knight, and that was the first battle which I fought, and in that
battle I was wounded so sorely that I was like to die as you very well
know. As for him, he was a knight well-tried and seasoned with many
battles, and he suffered by no treachery but only with the fortune of war."
So King Angus listened to all that Sir Tristram said, and when he had
ended, quoth he: "As God sees me, Tristram, I cannot deny that you did with
Sir Marhaus as a true knight should. For it was certes your part to take
the cause of your uncle upon you if you had the heart to do so, and it was
truly a real knightly thing for you who were so young to seek honor at the
hands of so famous a knight as Sir Marhaus. For I do not believe that until
you came his way there was any knight in the world who was greater than he,
unless it were Sir Launcelot of the Lake. Wherefore, from that, and from
what I saw you do at the tournament, some time ago, I believe that you are
one of the strongest knights in the world, and the peer of Sir Launcelot,
or of anybody else.
"But though all this is true, nevertheless it will not be possible for me
to maintain you in this country, for if I keep you here I shall greatly
displease not only the Queen and her kin, but many of those lords and
knights who were kin to Sir Marhaus or who were united to him in pledges of
friendship. So you must even save yourself as you can and leave here
straightway, for I may not help or aid you in any way."
Then Sir Tristram said: "Lord, I thank you for your great kindness unto me,
and I know not how I shall repay the great goodness that my Lady Belle
Isoult hath showed to me. For I swear to you upon the pommel of my sword
which I now hold up before me that I would lay down my life for her sake.
Yea, and my honor too! for she hath the entire love of my heart, so that I
would willingly die for her, or give up for her all that I have in the
world. Now as for my knighthood, I do believe that I shall in time become a
knight of no small worship, for I feel within my heart that this shall be
so. So if my life be spared, it may be that you will gain more having me
for your friend and your true servant than you will by taking my life in
this outland place. For whithersoever I go I give you my knightly word that
I shall be your daughter's servant, and that I shall ever be her true
knight in right or in wrong, and that I shall never fail her if I shall be
called upon to do her service."
Then King Angus meditated upon this for a while, and he said: "Tristram,
what thou sayest is very well said, but how shall I get you away from this
place in safety?"
Sir Tristram said: "Lord, there is but one way to get me away with credit
unto yourself. Now I beseech you of your grace that I may take leave of my
lady your daughter, and that I may then take leave of all your knights and
kinsmen as a right knight should. And if there be any among them who
chooses to stop me or to challenge my going, then I must face that one at
my peril, however great it may be."
"Well," said King Angus, "that is a very knightly way to behave, and so it
shall be as you will have it."
So Sir Tristram went down stairs to a certain chamber where Belle Isoult
was. And he went straight to her and took her by the hand; and he said:
"Lady, I am to go away from this place, if I may do so with credit to my
honor; but before I go I must tell you that I shall ever be your own true
knight in all ways that a knight may serve a lady. For no other lady shall
have my heart but you, so I shall ever be your true knight. Even though I
shall haply never see your face again, yet I shall ever carry your face
with me in my heart, and the thought of you shall always abide with me
withersoever I go."
At this the Lady Belle Isoult fell to weeping in great measure, and thereat
the countenance of Sir Tristram also was all writhed with passion, and he
said, "Lady, do not weep so!" She said, "Alas I cannot help it!" Then he
said: "Lady, you gave me my life when I thought I was to lose it, and you
brought me back from pain unto ease, and from sorrow unto joy. Would God I
were suffering all those pangs as aforetime, so that there might be no more
tears upon your face."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram parts from Belle Isoult] Then, King Angus being
by, he took her face into his hands and kissed her upon the forehead, and
the eyes, and the lips. Therewith he turned and went away, all bedazed with
his sorrow, and feeling for the latch of the door ere he was able to find
it and go out from that place.
After that Sir Tristram went straight unto the hall of the castle, and
there he found a great many of the lords of the castle and knights
attendant upon the King. For the news of these things had flown fast, and
many of them were angry and some were doubtful. But Tristram came in very
boldly, clad all in full armor, and when he stood in the midst of them he
spoke loud and with great courage, saying: "If there be any man here whom I
have offended in any way, let him speak, and I will give him entire
satisfaction whoever he may be. But let such speech be now or never, for
here is my body to make good my knighthood against the body of any man,
whomsoever he may be."
At this all those knights who were there stood still and held their peace,
and no man said anything against Sir Tristram (although there were several
knights and lords who were kin to the Queen), for the boldness of Tristram
overawed them, and no one had the heart to answer him.
So after a little while Sir Tristram left that place, without turning his
head to see if any man followed him.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram departs from Ireland] So he left that castle and
Gouvernail went with him, and no one stopped him in his going. After that,
he and Gouvernail came to the shore and took a boat and they came to the
ship of Sir Tristram, and so they sailed away from Ireland. But the heart
of Sir Tristram was so full of sorrow that he wished a great many times
that he was dead.
So Sir Tristram, though as to his body he was very whole and sound, was, as
to his spirit, very ill at ease; for though he was so well and suffered no
pain, yet it appeared to him that all the joy of his life had been left
behind him, so that he could nevermore have any more pleasure in this world
which lieth outside of the walls of Paradise.
[Illustration: Sir Tristram harpeth before King Mark]
_How Sir Tristram was sent by command of King Mark to go to Ireland to
bring the Lady the Belle Isoult from Ireland to Cornwall and how it fared
So Sir Tristram came back again to Cornwall, and King Mark and all the
knights and lords of the court of the King gave him great welcome and made
much joy over him because he had returned safely.
But Sir Tristram took no joy in their joy because he was filled with such
heavy melancholy that it was as though even the blue sky had turned to
sackcloth to his eyes, so that he beheld nothing bright in all the world.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram tells of the Lady Bell Isoult] But though he had
no great pleasure in life, yet Sir Tristram made many very good songs about
Belle Isoult; about her beauty and her graciousness; about how he was her
sad, loving knight; about how he was pledged unto her to be true to her all
of his life even though he might never hope to see her again.
These like words he would sing to the music of his shining, golden harp,
and King Mark loved to listen to him. And sometimes King Mark would sigh
very deeply and maybe say: "Messire, that lady of thine must in sooth be a
very wonderful, beautiful, gracious lady." And Sir Tristram would say,
"Yea, she is all that."
So it was at that time that King Mark had great love for Sir Tristram; in a
little while all that was very different, and his love was turned to bitter
hate, as you shall presently hear tell.
Now in those days the knights of Cornwall were considered to be the least
worthy of all knights in that part of the world, for they had so little
skill and prowess at arms that they were a jest and a laughing-stock to
many courts of chivalry. It was said of them that a knight-champion of
Cornwall was maybe a knight, but certes was no champion at all; and this
was great shame to all those of Cornwall, more especially as that saying
was in a great measure true.
[Sidenote: Sir Bleoberis comes to Cornwall] One day there came to the
court of Cornwall a very noble, haughty knight, hight Sir Bleoberis de
Ganys, who was brother to Sir Blamor de Ganys and right cousin to Sir
Launcelot of the Lake. This knight was a fellow of King Arthur's Round
Table, and so he was received with great honor at Cornwall, and much joy
was taken of his being there; for it was not often that knights of such
repute as he came to those parts. At that time Sir Tristram was not present
at the court, having gone hunting into the forest, but a messenger was sent
to him with news that Sir Bleoberis was present at the court of the King
and that King Mark wished him to be at court also.
Now whilst Sir Tristram was upon his way to return to the court in
obedience to these commands, there was held a feast at the castle of the
King in honor of Sir Bleoberis. There was much strong wine drunk at that
feast, so that the brains of Sir Bleoberis and of others grew very much
heated therewith. Then, what with the heat of the wine and the noise and
tumult of the feast, Sir Bleoberis waxed very hot-headed, and boastful. So,
being in that condition and not knowing very well how he spake, he made
great boast of the prowess of the knights of King Arthur's court above
those of Cornwall. And in this boastful humor he said: "It is perfectly
true that one single knight of the Round Table is the peer of twenty
knights of Cornwall, for so it is said and so I maintain it to be."
Upon that there fell a silence over all that part of the feast, for all the
knights and lords who were there heard what Sir Bleoberis said, and yet no
one knew how to reply to him. As for King Mark, he looked upon Sir
Bleoberis, smiling very sourly, and as though with great distaste of his
words, and he said: "Messire, inasmuch as thou art our guest, and sitting
here at feast with us, it is not fit that we should take thy words
seriously; else what thou sayst might be very easily disproved."
Upon this the blood rushed with great violence into the face and head of
Sir Bleoberis, and he laughed very loud. Then he said: "Well, Lord, it need
not be that I should be a guest here very long. And as for what I say, you
may easily put the truth thereof to the proof."
[Sidenote: Sir Bleoberis challenges the knights of Cornwall] Therewith Sir
Bleoberis arose and looked about him, and he perceived that there was near
by where he stood a goblet of gold very beautifully chased and cunningly
carved. This Sir Bleoberis took into his hand, and it was half full of red
wine. So he stood up before them all, and he cried in a very loud voice:
"Messires, and all you knights of Cornwall, here I drink to your more
excellent courage and prowess, and wish that you may have better fortune in
arms than you have heretofore proved yourselves to have?" And therewith he
drank all the wine that was in the goblet. Then he said: "Now I go away
from here and take this goblet with me; and if any knight of Cornwall may
take it away from me and bring it back again to the King, then I am very
willing to own that there are better knights in this country than I
supposed there to be." Therewith he turned and went out from that place
very haughtily and scornfully, taking that goblet with him, and not one of
all those knights who were there made any move to stay him, or to reprove
him for his discourteous speech.
Now after he had come out of the hall and into the cool of the air, the
heat of the wine soon left him, and he began to repent him of what he had
done; and he said: "Alas! meseems I was not very courteous to King Mark,
who was mine host." So for a while he was minded to take that goblet back
again and make amends for what he had said; but afterward he could not do
this because of his pride. So he went to the chamber that had been allotted
to him and clad himself in his armor, and after that he rode away from the
court of King Mark carrying the goblet with him.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram is angry] Now some while after he had gone, Sir
Tristram came into the hall where the others were, and there he found them
all sitting with ill countenances, and no man daring, for shame, to look at
his fellow. So Sir Tristram came to King Mark and said: "Where is Sir
Bleoberis?" And King Mark said, "He is gone away." Sir Tristram said, "Why
did he go?" Thereupon King Mark told Sir Tristram of what had befallen, and
how Sir Bleoberis had taken away that goblet to the great shame and scorn
of all those who were there. Upon this the blood flew very violently into
Sir Tristram's face, and he said: "Was there no knight here with spirit
enough to call reproof upon Sir Bleoberis, or to stay him in his going?"
Therewith he looked all about that hall, and he was like a lion standing
among them, and no man dared to look him in the face or to reply to him.
Then he said: "Well, if there is no knight in Cornwall who hath the will to
defend his King, then is there a knight of Lyonesse who will do so because
he received knighthood at the hands of the King of Cornwall." And therewith
he turned and went away, and left them very haughtily, and they were all
still more abashed than they had been before.
Then Sir Tristram went to his chamber and had himself armed in all wise;
and he took his horse and mounted and rode away in the direction that Sir
Bleoberis had gone, and Gouvernail went with him.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram follows Sir Bleoberis] So Sir Tristram and
Gouvernail rode at a good pace for a long time, making inquiry of
whomsoever they met if Sir Bleoberis had passed that way. At last they
entered the forest and rode therein a great way, meeting no one till toward
the latter part of the afternoon. By and by they saw before them two
knights, very large and strong of frame and clad all in bright and shining
armor, and each riding a great war-horse of Flemish strain.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram comes to two knights] "Gouvernail," said Sir
Tristram, "ride forward apace and see for me who are yonder knights." So
Gouvernail rode forward at a gallop, and so, in a little, came near enough
to the two knights to see the devices upon their shields. Upon that he
returned to Sir Tristram, and said: "Messire, those are two very famous
worthy knights of King Arthur's Court, and of the two you are acquainted
with one, but the other is a stranger to you. For the one is Sir Sagramore
le Desirous, who was at that tournament in Ireland, and the other is Sir
Dodinas le Sauvage."
"Well," said Sir Tristram, "those are indeed two very good, worthy knights.
Now if you will sit here for a while, I will go forward and have speech
with them." "Messire," said Gouvernail, "I would counsel you not to have to
do with those knights, for there are hardly any knights more famous at arms
than they, so it is not likely that you can have success of them if you
should assay them."
But to this Sir Tristram said: "Peace, Gouvernail! Hold thy peace, and bide
here while I go forward!"
Now those knights when they became aware that Sir Tristram and Gouvernail
were there, had halted at a clear part of the woodland to await what should
befall. Unto them Sir Tristram came, riding with great dignity and
haughtiness, and when he had come nigh enough he drew rein and spoke with
great pride of bearing, saying: "Messires, I require of you to tell me
whence you come, and whither you go, and what you do in these marches?"
Unto him Sir Sagramore made reply, speaking very scornfully: "Fair knight,
are you a knight of Cornwall?" and Sir Tristram said: "Why do you ask me
that?" "Messire," said Sir Sagramore, "I ask you that because it hath
seldom been heard tell that a Cornish knight hath courage to call upon two
knights to answer such questions as you have asked of us."
"Well," said Sir Tristram, "for the matter of that, I am at this present a
knight of Cornwall, and I hereby let you know that you shall not go away
from here unless you either answer my question or give me satisfaction at
Then Sir Dodinas spoke very fiercely, saying: "Sir Cornish knight, you
shall presently have all the satisfaction at arms that you desire and a
great deal more than you desire." Therewith he took a very stout spear in
his hand and rode to a little distance, and Sir Tristram, beholding his
intent to do battle, also rode to a little distance, and took stand in such
a place as seemed to him to be best. Then, when they were in all wise
prepared, they rushed together with such astonishing vehemence that the
earth shook and trembled beneath them.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram does battle with Sir Dodinas] Therewith they met
in the middle of their course with a great uproar of iron and wood. But in
that onset the spear of Sir Dodinas broke into a great many small pieces,
but the spear of Sir Tristram held, so that in the encounter he lifted Sir
Dodinas entirely out of his saddle, and out behind the crupper of his
horse. And he flung Sir Dodinas down so violently that his neck was nearly
broken, and he lay for a while in a deep swoon like one who has been struck
Then Sir Sagramore said: "Well, Sir Knight, that was certes a very great
buffet that you gave my fellow, but now it is my turn to have ado with
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram does battle with Sir Sagramore] So therewith he
took also his spear in hand and chose his station for an assault as Sir
Dodinas had done, and Sir Tristram also took station as he had done before.
Then immediately they two ran together with the same terrible force that
Sir Tristram and Sir Dodinas had coursed, and in that encounter Sir
Tristram struck Sir Sagramore so direful a buffet with his spear that he
overthrew both horse and man, and the horse, falling upon Sir Sagramore, so
bruised his leg that he could not for a while arise from where he lay.
Therewith Sir Tristram, having run his course, came back to where those two
knights lay upon the ground, and he said, "Fair Knights, will you have any
more fighting?" They said, "No, we have had fighting enough." Then Sir
Tristram said: "I pray you, tell me, are there any bigger knights at the
court of King Arthur than you? If it is not so, then I should think you
would take great shame to yourselves that you have been overthrown the one
after the other by a single knight. For this day a knight of Cornwall hath
assuredly matched you both to your great despite."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram acknowledges his degree] Then Sir Sagramore said:
"Sir, I pray you upon your true knighthood to tell us who you are, for you
are assuredly one of the greatest knights in the world." Upon this Sir
Tristram laughed, "Nay," quoth he, "I am as yet a young knight, who has had
but little proof in battle. As for my name, since you ask it of me, upon my
knighthood I am not ashamed to tell you that I am hight Sir Tristram, and
that I am King Meliadus' son of Lyonesse."
"Ha!" said Sir Sagramore, "if that be so, then there is little shame in
being overthrown by you. For not only do I well remember how at the court
of the King of Ireland you overthrew six knights of the Round Table, and
how easily you overthrew Sir Palamydes the Saracen, but it is also very
well known how you did battle with Sir Marhaus, and of how you overcame
him. Now Sir Marhaus and Sir Palamydes were two of the best knights in the
world, so it is not astonishing that you should have done as you did with
us. But, since you have overthrown us, what is it you would have us do?"
"Messires," said Sir Tristram, "I have only to demand two things of you.
One of them is that you give me your word that you will go to Cornwall and
confess to King Mark that you have been overthrown by a Cornish knight; and
the second thing is that you tell me if you saw Sir Bleoberis de Ganys pass
They say: "Messire, touching that demand you make upon us to go to King
Mark and to confess our fall, that we will do as you desire; and as for Sir
Bleoberis, we met him only a short while ago, and he cannot even now be
very far from this place."
"Well," said Sir Tristram, "I give you good den, and thank you for your
information. I have some words to say to Sir Bleoberis before he leave
So thereafter he called Gouvernail, and they two rode into the forest and
on their way as fast as they were able. As for Sir Dodinas and Sir
Sagramore, they betook their course to the court of King Mark, as they had
promised to do.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram comes to Sir Bleoberis] Now, by and by, after Sir
Tristram and Gouvernail had gone some considerable distance farther upon
that road, they beheld Sir Bleoberis before them in a forest path, riding
very proudly and at an easy pass upon his way. At that time the sun was
setting very low toward the earth, so that all the tops of the forest trees
were aflame with a very ruddy light, though all below in the forest was
both cool and gray. Now when Sir Tristram and Gouvernail with him had come
pretty nigh to Sir Bleoberis, Sir Tristram called to him in a very loud
voice, and bade him turn and stand. Therewith Sir Bleoberis turned about
and waited for Sir Tristram to come up with him. And when Sir Tristram was
come near by, he said to Sir Bleoberis: "Messire, I hear tell that you have
with you a very noble goblet which you have taken in a shameful way from
the table of King Mark of Cornwall. Now I demand of you that you give me
that goblet to take back unto the King again." "Well," said Sir Bleoberis,
"you shall freely have that goblet if you can take it from me, and if you
will look, you will see where it hangs here from my saddle-horn. But I may
tell you that I do not believe that there is any Cornish knight who may
take away that goblet against my will."
"As for that," said Sir Tristram, "we shall see in a little while how it
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram overcometh Sir Bleoberis] Therewith each knight
took his spear in hand and rode a little distance away, and made himself in
all wise ready for the assault. Then when they were in all ways prepared,
each launched himself against the other, coming together with such violence
that sparks of fire flew out from the points of their spears. And in that
assault the horse of each knight was overthrown, but each knight voided his
saddle and leaped very lightly to earth, without either having had a fall.
Then each drew his sword and set his shield before him, and therewith came
together, foining and lashing with all the power of their might. Each gave
the other many sore strokes, so that the armor of each was indented in
several places and in other places was stained with red. Then at last Sir
Tristram waxed very wode with anger and he rushed at Sir Bleoberis, smiting
him so fiercely that Sir Bleoberis bare back and held his shield low before
him. This Sir Tristram perceived, and therewith, rushing in upon Sir
Bleoberis, he smote that knight such a great buffet upon the head that Sir
Bleoberis fell down upon his knees, without having strength to keep his
feet. Then Sir Tristram rushed off the helmet of Sir Bleoberis, and he
said, "Sir Knight, yield to me or I shall slay you."
"Messire," said Sir Bleoberis, "I yield myself to you, and indeed you are
as right a knight as ever I met in all of my life." Then Sir Tristram took
Sir Bleoberis by the hand and he lifted him up upon his feet, and he said:
"Sir, I am very sorry for to have had to do with you in this fashion, for
almost would I rather that you should have overcome me than that I should
have overcome you. For I do not at any time forget that you are cousin unto
Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and I honor Sir Launcelot above all men else in
the world, and would rather have his friendship than that of any man
living. So I have had no despite against you in this battle, but have only
fought with you because it behooved me to do so for the sake of the King of
Cornwall, who is my uncle."
Then Sir Bleoberis said, "Messire, I pray you tell me who you are?" "Lord,"
said Sir Tristram, "I am a very young knight hight Tristram, and I am the
son of King Meliadus of Lyonesse and the Lady Elizabeth, sister unto King
Mark of Cornwall."
[Sidenote: Sir Bleoberis gives the goblet to Sir Tristram] "Ha," said Sir
Bleoberis, "I have heard great report of you, Sir Tristram, and now I know
at mine own cost that you are one of the best knights in the world. Yea; I
have no doubt that at some time you will be the peer of Sir Launcelot of
the Lake himself, or of Sir Lamorak of Gales, and they two are, certes, the
best knights in the world. Now I believe that I would have given you this
goblet, even without your having to fight for it, had I known who you were;
and as it is I herewith give it to you very freely."
So Sir Bleoberis untied the goblet from where it hung at his saddle-bow,
and Sir Tristram took the goblet and gave him gramercy for it; and
therewith having recovered their horses, each knight mounted, and betook
his way whither he was going.
So a little after nightfall Sir Tristram came to the King of Cornwall and
his court, and he said to King Mark: "Here is your goblet which I have
brought back to you; and I would God that some of your knights who are so
much older than I had the courage to do for you what I have had to do." And
therewith he went away and left them all sitting ashamed.
Now it chanced some little while after these things happened as aforesaid,
that King Mark lay down upon his couch after his midday meal for to sleep a
little space during the heat of the day; and it likewise happened that the
window near by where he lay was open so that the air might come into the
room. Now at that time three knights of the court sat in the garden beneath
where the window was. These knights talked to one another concerning Sir
Tristram, and of how he had brought back that goblet from Sir Bleoberis de
Ganys, and of what honor it was to have such a champion in Cornwall for to
stand for the honor of that court. In their talk they said to one another
that if only the King of Cornwall were such a knight as Sir Tristram, then
there would be plenty of knights of good worth who would come to that
court, and Cornwall would no longer have to be ashamed of its chivalry as
it was nowadays. So they said: "Would God our King were such a knight as
[Sidenote: King Mark takes hatred to Sir Tristram] All this King Mark
overheard, and the words that they said were like a very bitter poison in
his heart. For their words entered into his soul and abided there, and
thereupon at that same hour all his love for Tristram was turned into hate.
Thus it befell that, after that day, King Mark ever pondered and pondered
upon that which he had heard, and the longer he pondered it, the more
bitter did his life become to him, and the more he hated Sir Tristram. So
it came to pass that whenever he was with Sir Tristram and looked upon him,
he would say in his heart: "So they say that you are a better knight than
I? Would God you were dead or away from this place, for I believe that some
day you will be my undoing!" Yea; there were times when he would look upon
Sir Tristram in that wise and whisper to himself: "Would God would send a
blight upon thee, so that thou wouldst wither away!"
But always the King dissembled this hatred for Sir Tristram, so that no one
suspected him thereof; least of all did Sir Tristram suspect how changed
was the heart of the King toward him.
Now one day Sir Tristram was playing upon his harp and singing before King
Mark, and the King sat brooding upon these things as he gazed at Tristram.
And Sir Tristram, as he ofttimes did nowadays, sang of the Lady Belle
Isoult, and of how her face was like to a rose for fairness, and of how her
soul was like to a nightingale in that it uplifted the spirit of whosoever
was near her even though the darkness of sorrow as of night might envelop
him. And whilst Sir Tristram sang thus, King Mark listened to him, and as
he listened a thought entered his heart and therewith he smiled. So when
Sir Tristram had ended his song of the Belle Isoult, King Mark said: "Fair
nephew, I would that you would undertake a quest for me." Sir Tristram
said, "What quest is that, Lord?" "Nay," said King Mark, "I will not tell
you what quest it is unless you will promise me upon your knighthood to
undertake it upon my behalf." Then Sir Tristram suspected no evil,
wherefore he smiled and said: "Dear Lord, if the quest is a thing that it
is in my power to undertake, I will undertake it upon your asking, and unto
that I pledge my knighthood." King Mark said, "It is a quest that you may
undertake." Sir Tristram said, "Then I will undertake it, if you will tell
me what it is."
[Sidenote: King Mark betrays Sir Tristram to a promise] King Mark said: "I
have listened to your singing for this long while concerning the Lady Belle
Isoult. So the quest I would have you undertake is this: that you go to
Ireland, and bring thence the Lady Belle Isoult to be my Queen. For because
of your songs and ballads I have come to love her so greatly that I believe
that I shall have no happiness in life until I have her for my Queen. So
now, since you have pledged me your word upon your knighthood to do my
bidding in this case, such is the quest that I would send you upon." And
therewith he smiled upon Sir Tristram very strangely.
[Sidenote: How Sir Tristram fell into despair] Then Sir Tristram perceived
how he had been betrayed and he put aside his harp and rose from where he
sat. And he gazed for a long while at King Mark, and his countenance was
wonderfully white like that of a dead man. Then by and by he said: "Sir, I
know not why you have put this upon me, nor do I know why you have betrayed
me. For I have ever served you truly as a worthy knight and a kinsman
should. Wherefore I know not why you have done this unto me, nor why you
seek to compass my death. For you know very well that if I return to
Ireland I shall very likely be slain either by the Queen or by some of her
kindred, because that for your sake I slew in battle Sir Marhaus, the
Queen's brother of Ireland. Yet, so far as that is concerned, I would
rather lose my life than succeed in this quest, for if so be I do not lose
my life, then I must do that which I would liever die than do. Yea; I
believe that there was never any knight loved a lady as I love the Lady
Belle Isoult. For I love her not only because of her beauty and
graciousness, but because she healed mine infirmities and lent ease unto my
great sufferings and brought me back from death unto life. Wherefore that
which you bid me fulfil is more bitter to me than death."
"Well," said King Mark, "I know nothing of all this--only I know that you
have given me your knightly word to fulfil this quest."
"Very well," said Sir Tristram, "if God will give me His good help in this
matter, then I will do that which I have pledged my knighthood to
undertake." Therewith he turned and went out from that place in such great
despair that it was as though his heart had been turned into ashes. But
King Mark was filled with joy that he should have caused Sir Tristram all
that pain, and he said to his heart: "This is some satisfaction for the
hate which I feel for this knight; by and by I shall maybe have greater
satisfaction than that."
After that Sir Tristram did not come any more where King Mark was, but he
went straight away from the King's court and into a small castle that King
Mark had given him some while since for his own. There he abided for
several days in great despair of soul, for it seemed to him as though God
had deserted him entirely. There for a while Gouvernail alone was with him
and no one else, but after a while several knights came to him and gave him
great condolence and offered to join with him as his knights-companion. And
there were eighteen of these knights, and Sir Tristram was very glad of
These said to him: "Sir, you should not lend yourself to such great travail
of soul, but should bend yourself as a true knight should to assume that
burden that God hath assigned you to bear."
So they spoke, and by and by Sir Tristram aroused himself from his despair
and said to himself: "Well, what these gentlemen say is true, and God hath
assuredly laid this very heavy burden upon me; as that is so, I must needs
assume it for His sake."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram departs from Cornwall] So Sir Tristram and the
knights who were with him abode in that place for a day or two or three,
and then one morning Sir Tristram armed himself and they armed themselves,
and all took their departure from that castle and went down to the sea.
Then they took ship with intent to depart to Ireland upon that quest Sir
Tristram had promised King Mark he would undertake, and in a little they
hoisted sail and departed from Cornwall for Ireland.
But they were not to make their quest upon that pass so speedily as they
thought, for, upon the second day of their voyaging, there arose a great
storm of wind of such a sort that the sailors of that ship had never seen
the like thereof in all of their lives. For the waves rose up like
mountains, and anon the waters sank away into deep valleys with hills of
water upon either side all crested over with foam as white as snow. And
anon that ship would be uplifted as though the huge sea would toss it into
the clouds; and anon it would fall down into a gulf so deep that it
appeared as though the green waters would swallow it up entirely. The air
roared as though it were full of demons and evil spirits out of hell, and
the wind was wet and very bitter with brine. So the ship fled away before
that tempest, and the hearts of all aboard were melted with fear because of
the great storm of wind and the high angry waves.
Then toward evening those who were watching from the lookout beheld a land
and a haven, and they saw upon the land overlooking the haven was a noble
castle and a fair large town, surrounded by high walls of stone. So they
told the others of what they saw, and all gave great rejoicing for that
they were so nigh the land. Therewith they sailed the ship toward the
haven, and having entered therein in safety, they cast anchor under the
walls of the castle and the town, taking great joy that God had brought
them safe and sound through that dreadful peril of the tempest.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram comes to Camelot] Then Sir Tristram said to
Gouvernail: "Knowest thou, Gouvernail, what place is this to which we have
come?" "Messire," said Gouvernail, "I think it is Camelot." And then those
knights of Cornwall who stood by said, "Yea, that is true, and it is
Camelot." And one of them said: "Messire, it is likely that King Arthur is
at that place at this very time, for so it was reported that he was, and so
I believe it to be."
"Ha," quoth Tristram, "that is very good news to me, for I believe that it
would be the greatest joy to me that the world can now give to behold King
Arthur and those noble knights of his court ere I die. More especially do I
desire above all things to behold that great, noble champion, Sir Launcelot
of the Lake. So let us now go ashore, and mayhap it shall come to pass that
I shall see the great King and Sir Launcelot and mayhap shall come to speak
with the one or the other." And that saying of Sir Tristram's seemed good
to those knights who were with him, for they were weary of the sea, and
desired to rest for a while upon the dry land.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram sets up his pavilion] So they presently all went
ashore and bade their attendants set up their pavilions in a fair level
meadow that was somewhat near a league distant away from the castle and the
town. In the midst of the other pavilions upon that plain was set the
pavilion of Sir Tristram. It was of fine crimson cloth striped with silver
and there was the figure of a gryphon carved upon the summit of the centre
pole of the pavilion. The spear of Sir Tristram was emplanted by the point
of the truncheon in the ground outside the pavilion, and thereunto his
shield was hung so that those who passed that way might clearly behold what
was the device thereon.
And now shall be told how Sir Tristram became united in friendship with the
brotherhood of good knights at King Arthur's court.
[Illustration: Sir Tristram sits with Sir Launcelot]
_How Sir Tristram had to do in battle with three knights of the Round
Table. Also how he had speech with King Arthur._
So came the next morning, and uprose the sun in all the splendor of his
glory, shedding his beams to every quarter with a rare dazzling effulgence.
For by night the clouds of storm had passed away and gone, and now all the
air was clear and blue, and the level beams of light fell athwart the
meadow-lands so that countless drops of water sparkled on leaf and blade of
grass, like an incredible multitude of shining jewels scattered all over
the earth. Then they who slept were awakened by the multitudinous voicing
of the birds; for at that hour the small fowl sang so joyous a roundelay
that all the early morning was full of the sweet jargon of their chanting.
At this time, so early in the day, there came two knights riding by where
Sir Tristram and his companions had set up their pavilions. These were two
very famous knights of King Arthur's court and of the Round Table; for one
was Sir Ector de Maris and the other was Sir Morganor of Lisle.
[Sidenote: How two knights came to the pavilion of Sir Tristram] When
these two knights perceived the pavilions of Sir Tristram and his
knights-companion, they made halt, and Sir Ector de Maris said, "What
knights are these who have come hither?" Then Sir Morganor looked and
presently he said: "Sir, I perceive by their shields that these are Cornish
knights, and he who occupies this central pavilion must be the champion of
this party." "Well," quoth Sir Ector, "as for that I take no great thought
of any Cornish knight, so do thou strike the shield of that knight and call
him forth, and let us see of what mettle he is made."
"I will do so," said Sir Morganor; and therewith he rode forward to where
the shield of Sir Tristram hung from the spear, and he smote the shield
with the point of his lance, so that it rang with a very loud noise.
Upon this, Sir Tristram immediately came to the door of his pavilion, and
said, "Messires, why did you strike upon my shield?" "Because," said Sir
Ector, "we are of a mind to try your mettle what sort of a knight you be."
Quoth Sir Tristram: "God forbid that you should not be satisfied. So if you
will stay till I put on my armor you shall immediately have your will in
Thereupon he went back into his tent and armed himself and mounted his
horse and took a good stout spear of ash-wood into his hand.
Then all the knights of Cornwall who were with Sir Tristram came forth to
behold what their champion would do, and all their esquires, pages, and
attendants came forth for the same purpose, and it was a very pleasant time
of day for jousting.
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram overthrows Sir Morganor] Then first of all Sir
Morganor essayed Sir Tristram, and in that encounter Sir Tristram smote him
so dreadful, terrible a blow that he cast him a full spear's length over
the crupper of his horse, and that so violently that the blood gushed out
of the nose and mouth and ears of Sir Morganor, and he groaned very
dolorously and could not arise from where he lay.
"Hah," quoth Sir Ector, "that was a very wonderful buffet you struck my
fellow. But now it is my turn to have ado with you, and I hope God will
send me a better fortune."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram overthrows Sir Ector] So he took stand for battle
as did Sir Tristram likewise, and when they were in all wise prepared they
rushed very violently to the assault. In that encounter Ector suffered
hardly less ill fortune than Sir Morganor had done. For he brake his spear
against Sir Tristram into as many as an hundred pieces, whilst Sir
Tristram's spear held so that he overthrew both the horse and the
knight-rider against whom he drove.
Then all the knights of Cornwall gave loud acclaim that their knight had
borne himself so well in those encounters. But Sir Tristram rode back to
where those two knights still lay upon the ground, and he said: "Well,
Messires, this is no very good hap that you have had with me."
Upon that speech Sir Ector de Maris gathered himself up from the dust and
said: "Sir Knight, I pray you of your knighthood to tell us who you be and
what is your degree, for I declare to you, I believe you are one of the
greatest knights-champion of the world."
"Sir," said Sir Tristram, "I am very willing to tell you my name and my
station; I am Sir Tristram, the son of King Meliadus of Lyonesse."
"Ha," quoth Sir Ector, "I would God I had known that before I had ado with
you, for your fame hath already reached to these parts, and there hath been
such report of your prowess and several songs have been made about you by
minstrels and poets. I who speak to you am Sir Ector, surnamed de Maris,
and this, my companion, is Sir Morganor of Lisle."
"Alas!" cried out Sir Tristram, "I would that I had known who you were ere
I did battle with you. For I have greater love for the knights of the Round
Table than all others in the world, and most of all, Sir Ector, do I have
reverence for your noble brother Sir Launcelot of the Lake. So I take great
shame to myself that any mishap should have befallen you this day through
Upon this Sir Ector laughed. "Well," quoth he, "let not that trouble lie
with you, for it was we who gave you challenge without inquiry who you
were, and you did but defend yourself. We were upon our way to Camelot
yonder, when we fell into this mishap, for King Arthur is at this time
holding court at that place. So now, if we have your leave to go upon our
way, we will betake ourselves to the King and tell him that you are here,
for we know that he will be very glad of that news."
Upon this Sir Tristram gave them leave to depart, and they did so with many
friendly words of good cheer. And after they had gone Sir Tristram went
back into his pavilion again and partook of refreshment that was brought to
[Sidenote: There comes a knight in white armor] Now, some while after Sir
Ector and Sir Morganor had left that place, and whilst Sir Tristram was
still resting in his pavilion, there came a single knight riding that way,
and this knight was clad altogether in white armor and his shield was
covered over with a covering of white leather, so that one could not see
what device he bare thereon.
When this white knight came to the place where Sir Tristram and his
companions had pitched their pavilions, he also stopped as Sir Ector and
Sir Morganor had done, for he desired to know what knights these were. At
that time Gouvernail was standing alone in front of Sir Tristram's
pavilion, and unto him the white knight said: "Sir, I pray you, tell me who
is the knight to whom this pavilion belongs."
Now Gouvernail thought to himself: "Here is another knight who would have
ado with my master. Perhaps Sir Tristram may have glory by him also." So he
answered the white knight: "Sir, I may not tell you the name of this
knight, for he is my master, and if he pleases to tell you his name he must
tell it himself."
"Very well," said the white knight, "then I will straightway ask him."
Therewith he rode to where the shield of Sir Tristram hung, and he struck
upon the shield so violent a blow that it rang very loud and clear.
Then straightway came forth Sir Tristram and several of his
knights-companion from out of the pavilion, and Sir Tristram said, "Sir
Knight, wherefore did you strike upon my shield?"
"Messire," quoth the white knight, "I struck upon your shield so that I
might summon you hither for to tell me your name, for I have asked it of
your esquire and he will not tell me."
"Fair Knight," quoth Sir Tristram, "neither will I tell you my name until I
have wiped out that affront which you have set upon my shield by that
stroke you gave it. For no man may touch my shield without my having to do
with him because of the affront he gives me thereby."
"Well," said the white knight, "I am satisfied to have it as you please."
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram does battle with the white knight] So therewith
Sir Tristram went back into his pavilion and several went with him. These
put his helmet upon his head and they armed him for battle in all ways.
After that Sir Tristram came forth and mounted his horse and took his spear
in hand and made himself in all ways ready for battle, and all that while
the white knight awaited his coming very calmly and steadfastly. Then Sir
Tristram took ground for battle, and the white knight did so likewise. So
being in all ways prepared, each launched forth against the other with such
amazing and terrible violence that those who beheld that encounter stood as
though terrified with the thunder of the onset.
Therewith the two knights met in the midst of the course, and each knight
smote the other directly in the centre of the shield. In that encounter the
spear of each knight broke all to small pieces, even to the truncheon which
he held in his fist. And so terrible was the blow that each struck the
other that the horse of each fell back upon his haunches, and it was only
because of the great address of the knight-rider that the steed was able to
recover his footing. As for Sir Tristram, that was the most terrible buffet
he ever had struck him in all his life before that time.
Then straightway Sir Tristram voided his saddle and drew his sword and
dressed his shield. And he cried out: "Ha, Sir Knight! I demand of you that
you descend from your horse and do me battle afoot."
"Very well," said the white knight, "thou shalt have thy will." And
thereupon he likewise voided his horse and drew his sword and dressed his
shield and made himself in all ways ready for battle as Sir Tristram had
Therewith they two came together and presently fell to fighting with such
ardor that sparks of fire flew from every stroke. And if Sir Tristram
struck hard and often, the white knight struck as hard and as often as he,
so that all the knights of Cornwall who stood about marvelled at the
strength and fierceness of the knights-combatant. Each knight gave the
other many sore buffets so that the armor was here and there dinted and
here and there was broken through by the edge of the sword so that the red
blood flowed out therefrom and down over the armor, turning its brightness
in places into an ensanguined red. Thus they fought for above an hour and
in all that time neither knight gave ground or gained any vantage over the
[Sidenote: Sir Tristram falls in the battle] Then after a while Sir
Tristram grew more weary of fighting than ever he had been in all of his
life before, and he was aware that this was the greatest knight whom he had
ever met. But still he would not give ground, but fought from this side and
from that side with great skill and address until of a sudden, he slipped
upon some of that blood that he himself had shed, and because of his great
weariness, fell down upon his knees, and could not for the instant rise
Then that white knight might easily have struck him down if he had been
minded to do so. But, instead, he withheld the blow and gave Sir Tristram
his hand and said: "Sir Knight, rise up and stand upon thy feet and let us
go at this battle again if it is thy pleasure to do so; for I do not choose
to take advantage of thy fall."
Then Sir Tristram was as greatly astonished at the extraordinary courtesy
of his enemy as he had been at his prowess. And because of that courtesy he
would not fight again, but stood leaning upon his sword panting. Then he
said: "Sir Knight, I pray thee of thy knighthood to tell me what is thy
name and who thou art."
"Messire," said the white knight, "since you ask me that upon my
knighthood, I cannot refuse to tell you my name. And so I will do, provided
you, upon your part, will do me a like courtesy and will first tell me your
name and degree."
Quoth Sir Tristram: "I will tell you that. My name is Sir Tristram of
Lyonesse, and I am the son of King Meliadus of that land whereby I have my
[Sidenote: Sir Launcelot confesses himself] "Ha, Sir Tristram," said the
white knight, "often have I heard of thee and of thy skill at arms, and
well have I proved thy fame this day and that all that is said of thee is
true. I must tell thee that I have never yet met my match until I met thee
this day. For I know not how this battle might have ended hadst thou not
slipped and fallen by chance as thou didst. My name is Sir Launcelot,
surnamed of the Lake, and I am King Ban's son of Benwick."
At this Sir Tristram cried out in a loud voice: "Sir Launcelot! Sir
Launcelot! Is it thou against whom I have been doing battle! Rather I would
that anything should have happened to me than that, for of all men in the
world I most desire thy love and friendship."
Back to Full Books