The Song Of Arthur - Chapter IX
by S. Fowler Wright
Return to Chapter VIII
King Meliodas ruled the land that lay
West beyond Cornwall, which a later day
Saw one wild tide of tempest sweep away,
Saving a cluster of small isles, to be
The signs of where it sank beneath the sea.
Lyonesse men call it, and a land more fair
There was not.
While the doubt of Uther's heir
Confused the realm, and all were kings, and none
Was chief among them, Cornwall's Ida gave
His daughter to the youthful Lyonesse king,
Thinking alliance of their rules to bring,
To make an added strength where naught was sure,
Which likely might beyond his life endure
To buttress Mark, his heir, of whom was said
That little king-like was his furtive mien.
Cunning for wisdom, words for deeds, must be
Shield of the land which Gorlois ruled, if he
Should rein it
But King Ida's daughter bore
A different name. Of better speech was she,
Loyal, fair-natured, more than fair to see;
And with so loving and so fair a bride,
Joyed the young king.
Such was the opening year;
But when the cold of winter nights was near,
And she was great with child, as best should be,
Snared were they by witch Ringwan's sorcery.
In part of lust, which would not long contain,
But more of envy that these twain should share
A joy which all her arts could noway gain,
She witched the king, and in so shrewd a snare
She wiled him that for three long weeks he lay
Mured in a secret hold, her dungeoned prey,
With freedom for a price he would not pay.
This was while Merlin yet his crafts could try.
And by that friendly aid the Lyonesse king
Was freed at last, but little gained thereby,
Or only speedier woe. An hour too late
His freedom came, for chance misfortunate
Had brought sure tidings in the earlier day
Of in what jeopard dire, and where he lay;
At which Elizabeth, his wife, forgot
Even the heavy burden that she bore.
'Here,' thought she, 'surely force shall availeth not,
But only mercy can my lord restore.
I have no arts with Ringwan's arts to vie.
Only my weakness and my need have I.
I will go instant at her feet to plead.'
So taking but one damsel for her need,
Nor apt the hardness of the way to heed,
- A way of forests, and of falling snow -
She rode her palfrey at its urgent speed
Till night was near, when, in a lonely place,
The spreading shelter of great oaks below,
She halted. "More," she said, "I may not go,
For pain is mine that only birth will stay."
In the poor covert of the snow she lay,
Her handmaid helping all as best might be....
Led by the hoofmarks in the fallen snow,
Pursued her lord, a piteous sight to see:
A babe that lived, but she he loved was dead,
Failing good aid or sheltering warmth to know.
"She charged me, ere she died," the handmaid said,
"To tell thee this: 'My greatest grief to die
Is that I leave him who hath loved me well.
For better none was ever loved than I.
Give him this babe for that love's victory,
And say Heaven's gentle Queen hath shielded me
That he shall live; and for short sorrowing
Honour and length of joy his life shall bring,
And splendours of great deeds his hands shall do,
For even at his birth one life he slew.
Yet call him Tristram for that deed of woe.'
So from the hostile winds to God she went,
Sad for thee and thy love, but else content."
Soothly she spake that he had loved her well.
Such was his grief that never words shall tell.
Nor chase nor tourney would that grief abate,
Not others for that loss could consolate.
He sought no freedom, by his grief enchained.
The days went past him, but the wound remained.
Yet came the time when, for his kingdom's gain,
He who so long in no love's arms had lain,
Being urged by all the barons of the land,
King Howel's sister wed, of Brittany.
Cold was she of her blood, and cold was he,
And little comfort of their meeting came.
Yet sons were theirs, and jealous hate she had
That Tristram's life to those she bore forbad
The Lyonesse throne; and stirred her hate no less
That both in courage and in comeliness
Was Tristram more than even love could say
That in their aspects or their deeds were they.
So flowered black hatred to a seed of sin.
A cup of wine she poured, and dropped therein
Such poison that who drank should surely die.
By Tristram's platter was it placed, but by
Some chance (if chance it were) a serving hand
Transposed it, and the evil fate she planned
Glanced sideward, that her eldest drank and died.
That was her grief, but yet could none suspect
Such deed was hers; and soon again she tried
To sail a surer course where once she wrecked.
Another cup she mixed, and placed aside,
Waiting her chance. But here mischance again
Diverted that she willed. The king himself
Disturbed the goblet on its secret shelf.
Ridden had he long beneath a sultry sky.
"Good wine, is welcome when athirst am I."
So said he, wondering at its place.
He raised it, half resolved. The queen stood by.
Would he not drain it at one draught? In haste
His arm she caught. His eyes met hers. A doubt
Disturbed him, while she sought the likely lie
She could not quickly frame. The poisoned child
Came to his mind. His sudden sword was out.
"Traitress, the truth! The utter truth!" He said.
"The instant of one lie will see thee dead."
"Mercy, dear lord," she cried, "the truth I tell."
And bitter truth she told. "My lord too well
I knew thy love was never mine. I knew
Naught could I leave undone, and naught could do
To win that favour thy first consort had.
Not even for our sons thy heart was glad
As for that other, who should take from them
The royal right my king-born son should know.
Thine acts, thy looks, if not thy words, contemn
My sons too often in that hard contrast
For patience to contain an endless woe."
"This was for Tristram?"
"Lord, forgive! Forgive!"
"You practise for his death, and think to live?
That must my barons and good law decide.
I will not shield thee."
So her fault was tried,
Not harshly, but with weight of every plea
Defending law could urge, but yet could be
One only issue, and one penalty.
The crime was treason, and such crimes require
(So ran the Lyonesse law) a death by fire,
Except the largesse of the king should be
Her cloak of pardon, and should loose her free.
But while they dragged her screaming to the flame,
Before his father's throne young Tristram came.
Kneeling he spake: "A boon I ask."
Are few things vainly shouldst thou ask of me."
"I ask her life who is thy queen."
Is void of reason. That thyself shouldst die
She surely practised."
"Therefore only I
May ask this boon of thee. If I forgive
May not thy mercy grant her grace to live?
I pray thee by God's love this boon allow.
For then no life was lost, nor should be now."
"She is thine to bind or loose," the king replied,
And Tristram hastened to the traitress' side.
"Loose her," he said, "the king relents," and she
Stood in the open street, alone and free,
While all men round her to a distance drew.
"She is my wife," King Meliodas said,
"But to my board, and surely to my bed,
She comes no more." The doom was just; but yet
Much will the years forgive, and much forget.
And by the pleading of the generous child
She wholly to his sire was reconciled.
Yet thought the king that well for all it were,
Nor least for Tristram, that he went afar,
While that foul memory died: "Behold," he said,
"Much may be learnt, and much of worth be brought,
From other lands where other customs are,
By one whom arduous fate forecasts to be
His country's lord. And for his company
Choice shall be made of one of good degree,
Taught and accomplished both of sword and pen,
To be his comrade and his guide."
Govenale, one gentle by consent of men,
As also by his birth. Companioned so,
To the wide realms of France did Tristram go,
And learned in those fair lands good nurturing,
And skill in arms, and both to harp and sing,
Till talk of wandering bards enlarged his fame,
Which reached his home before himself he came,
As in six years he did, well-grown and tall,
Welcomed by many and approved by all.
Glad was his father now, and even she
Who once his life had sought, although she knew
In all things goodlier than her sons was he,
Gave him fair greeting, and was glad to see
Who by his boyhood's magnanimity
Had saved her; for the words of Christ are true:
No justice shall prevail as mercy may;
Forgiveness hath the keener sword to slay.
Ere died King Lot, and Arthur broke the pride
Of all his league, the Cornish Ida died
And Mark, his son, by Arthur's loth consent,
Maintained his throne. King Anguish, Ireland's king,
To Arthur's peace, by Merlin's counselling,
Was brought alike. But though these thrones allowed
The right of Arthur as their overlord,
Yet did not Ireland loose an earlier cord
Which Cornwall meanly at her feet had bowed,
Constrained to there a yearly tribute bring.
This tribute Mark by many a wile delayed,
And what at times with grudging hand was paid
Still left it larger, till King Anguish sent
More hard demand. Seven years evasion went
To its high total when the Irish word
Sharpened to threats. Mark with his lords conferred,
And all denied. "The realm is Arthur's now.
No more to Ireland's claims our necks we bow."
"Yea," said the pursuivant, "his lieges we,
Yet each is stablished to his just degree.
Law is it liege to liege may tribute pay.
To Arthur will we turn to hear our cause."
Mark liked not that. He said: "By Arthur's laws
Ordeal of duel is my certain right.
Send whom thou wilt for Ireland's claim to fight,
And we will meet him." Thus his craft replied,
Choosing a doubtful chance were else were none,
And taking comfort in his secret mind
That Ireland's champion might be hard to find.
So to King Anguish this rebellious word
Went backward, which with little peace he heard.
Where should such champion for his need be found?
Few were the knights of worth on Irish ground.
But, by good fortune, as it seemed, there came
That morn Sir Marhaus to the court. To him
Spake the chafed king: "For Ireland's rightful claim
Wilt thou not aid me? Save thyself are few
Of courage and of arms allied thereto,
Equal to bring this strife to victory."
"Yea, surely, for thy queen, my sister's sake,
And for thine own, I would such combat take
Though Arthur's best (and well his best I know)
Were named against me for a likely foe.
But Camelot's jest the knights of Cornwall are."
Glad was King Anguish. In good haste he manned
The stoutest barques he had, and all purveyed
That such a knight should need his strength to aid,
Or that for comfort should his ease demand.
South sailed Sir Marhaus, anchoring fast below
Tintagel's height. Cold fear had Mark to know
So great a champion came. No thought had he
Himself to venture, nor could think to see
That any of his court more hardily
Their lives would jeopard.
Long at anchor lay
The Irish ships. Each morn a pursuivant
Sir Marhaus sent, with curt demand to pay
The tale of tribute, or no more delay
The champion that themselves were pledged to name.
"So shall I," said the King Mark, but day by day
His abject court, beneath its cloud of shame
Emptied, until the silent knights were few
Around his throne. For only those remained
Whom age or wound or weakness evident
Unfitted lance to couch, or sword to sway.
Through the whole land King Mark his trumpet sent
Proclaiming rich reward to whom would rise
To save the honour of the land, but none
Of all who dwelt beneath the Cornish skies
Would meet Sir Marhaus: "What avail," they said,
"Would be to Cornwall? For our deaths were sure.
We should not for an hour his might endure,
Who is of Arthur's strongest knights the peer."
Then some gave counsel: "If no knight be here
Sufficient for this need, we well may send
To Camelot, for the Table's might to lend
Some errant champion to extend its fame."
But others answered: "That were vain to sue.
For Marhaus is himself a Table knight.
They will not ever with their comrades fight,
Excepting in disguise or courtesy."
While yet this craven paused endured, there came
Its jest to Lyonesse court. In wrath thereat
Tristram before his father spake: "Perde,
Shame is it, thus mine uncle's land to see
The Irish mock."
"There is no help from that,"
King Meliodas said, "for wit ye well
Sir Marhaus is a knight, mere sooth to say,
That none in Cornwall would be like to fell."
"Alas that knighthood is not mine today!
For, if it were, he should his vaunt defend,
Or never worship would I seek to win....
Father, approve me that to Mark I go,
And if he knight me, being close of kin,
Mine were it fitly to this grief amend."
"Son, if thy courage call, decide it so.
I will not thwart thee."
In this free consent,
With Govenale constant at his side, he went
To Mark's derided court. But ere he rode,
There came a courier from the court of France
With letters pireous in the love they showed
From the king's daughter there. A careless glance
He gave them, for his eager heart inclined
In hardier lists than love's his fame to find.
So to the wild wind-beaten coast he came
Where rose Tintagel, still a virgin name,
Impregnable upon the high cliff-brow,
Though worthless was the king who ruled it now.
Straight were his words to Mark: "Lord king, I hear
That none is bold in Cornwall's cause to fight;
But wilt thou of thy grace to make me knight,
The Irish prince shall meet a practised spear."
"Thou art full young for such a mastery."
"I learned in Paris and in Burgundy
Both sword and lance to use with knightly skill."
Mark looked and weighed. Young was he. Life is dear
To those who lift a cup they have not drained.
If worsted, would he hold a steadfast will
To yield not recreant while that life remained?
"Who and whence art thou?"
"From Lyonesse land.
Thy nephew, Tristram."
"Wilt thou soothly swear
To take this combat to the doubt of death,
And never, to the last of human breath,
Speak the loth word?"
"That word I would not say
For any life to buy that recreants may."
"Then shalt thy wish be thine."
With speed forthright,
He knighted Tristram. Never baser knight
Gave accolade to one of fame to be
So excellent of song and sword as he;
Nor less for what he did not seek, for yet
Love was not in his thoughts. But here was set
A snare that would not fail his feet to net,
A bond of fate, that, while their lives should last,
Beyond device of wit should hold him fast
To this false-hearted and most craven king;
And all the evils that to love belong
So compass him that, past all sundering,
Honour should dwell with shame, and right with wrong,
And grief with joy. A thousand years should sing
The loveliest and the saddest height of song.
But now to Marhaus was the trumpet cried:
"Our champion waits."
The Irish prince replied:
"Your gutter-search hath found him? Knave or knight?
I came not with a Cornish churl to fight.
You have searched the land endlong and athwart.
How know I whom your mercenary bribes have bought?"
"He is Lyonesse' heir. King Meliodas' son.
The whole wide realm contains no lordlier one."
"I am well content. Some neutral space prepare.
And I tomorrow morn will meet him there."
Out from Tintagel, on that distant day,
Beyond a space of sea an island lay,
Level and bare enough for knightly need,
And where without molest of friend or foe
Such combat might be waged; and here agreed
Was either champion with no train to go,
And not till one should yield, or one should die,
Should any rescue reach, or boat thereby
Hover to take them off.
In this consent,
Sir Tristram, while the dawn was less than light,
Entered the royal barge King Mark had lent,
With horse and arms, and all that needs a knight.
Over the dawn-waters, threshed to white
By rythemic oars, the while the stars withdrew
It moved, and as the sun's rim rose anew,
Gently it grounded on a beach of sand;
And Sir Tristram led his horse aland
He saw Sir Marhaus, on the further side
Already landed, mount, and forward ride.
Then, with his hand upon the charger's rein,
Taking the lance that Govenale brought, he said:
"You may not longer at my side remain,
Nor loiter, lest the act be wrongly read.
Return thou in all haste to Mark, and say
I will not fail him, though my proofless skill
May be no match for Arthur's knight; and will,
However fixed, may find no victoring way.
Yet, be I slain, as very like I may,
There shall be naught to lose, and naught to pay,
For yielden in this strife I will not be.
"So charge him straitly, if I yield or flee,
Never in any Christianed ground to lay
A recreant corse; but if unshamed I die,
Then may I in High God's protection lie,
For naught mine uncle will have lost through me."
Thereat they kissed, and with some tears, as those
Who know not if fair dawn be even-close,
Or if high noon to sudden night shall fall,
Marhaus then to Tristram spake:
"Young knight," he said, "for very knighthood's sake
I would not slay thee. Think. With Arthur's best
I stand approved in many a hard contest.
The best knights of the whole fair world are they."
And Tristram answered: "Less than sooth you say,
I nothing doubt, well-proven knight and fair.
Yet not less surely would I have thee ware
That here resolved I stand to gain or die.
For knighted solely for this cause am I,
And queenly was I born, and king-begot;
And here I entered by mine own request.
And for the name thou hast with Arthur's best,
My heart is lifted. If I fall, Got wot,
My shame is less. And if bechance I win,
My fame is more."
"If three good strokes you bide,
You may long vaunt it as a tale of pride,
Should life remain for any boast to be."
"I count to bide thee many more than three."
From this debate their slanting spears they set,
And with such fury in mid-space they met
That both themselves and both their chargers fell.
To those who watched it seemed that knightly well
Had either ridden and most equally.
The hopes of Cornwall rose. They could not see
How deep the older knight's practised spear
Scored the close mail on Tristram's side, and left
A weakening wound.
From struggling chargers clear
Alike they rose, alike their swords they drew;
And as two boars that for the herd contend,
Thoughtless of life, their shields they forward threw,
And lashed together. Hard their strokes down-hew;
And hardily those strokes alike they fend:
Till with bruised helms and battered shields down-cleft
Their earlier strength abates. More cautious now
They thrust and foin, and backward steps allow,
Not quickly followed.
But from caution vain,
And sleights escaped, with gathered strength again,
Like horn-locked rams they hurtle, each intent
By weight and violence to his foe downbear.
But naught avails it. Equal wounds they share.
Alike their shields are carved, their mails are rent.
To its full height the noon in heaven was spent
When Tristram, ware of his much weariness,
Thought: 'Though I tire, he may not tire the less.
But the full strength for one prevailing blow
Soon should I lack against a failing foe.
Now is it, or naught.'
His sword he upward swang.
Forward as swift as one unarmed he sprang.
Hard into helm and coif the downward blade
Smote, and was held. Two steps Sir Marhaus made,
Stumbling, till forward to his knees he fell,
While Tristram, striving, must his strength excel
To win the sword's release.
From nerveless hands
Fell weapon and shield, as Marhaus blindly rose.
And turned, and ran. Toward the narrow sands
A boat, to make his rescue, quickly drew.
And he who fled, but whom did none pursue,
Fell in it, and lay. For when his ship was gained
They searched his wound, and found that there remained
A fragment of Sir Tristram's sword, that split,
Fixed in the bone, as he had wrenched at it.
They bore Sir Marhaus to his land, and there
His sister nursed him, but nor skill nor care
Could aught avail. From out the bone the steel
They could not loose, and such a hurt to heal
No leechcraft equalled. In few days he died.
His sister laid the broken steel aside,
But Tristram watched him flee,
Marvelling: "If thus the knights of Arthur be,
Much meed of honour may I gain," he cried.
"I thought not that unless the weaker died
The strife had parted."
Then his wounds he knew.
Toward a hillock with slow steps he drew,
And rested as he might, the while at speed
Came Govenale from the land to serve his need,
And rowed him from the isle, and on the shore
King Mark, among his barons, royally met,
And there embraced him, midst the loud acclaim
Of all who crowding to that welcome came.
Then, for his strength was spent, his wounds were sore,
Slow climbing, to Tintagel's gates they led,
And entering there he found as soft a bed
As hard his travail in the hours before.
Searched were his wounds and bound, but so they bled,
And were so many, that the doubt was said
Of if his life would dure, at which the king
Lamented: "Not for any mortal thing
Would I so barter that my nephew die,"
And meant, or thought he meant, his words.
In doubt of life he lay, and surgeons came,
And leeches, brought by various ways, but none,
Women or men, could help him, till that one,
A woman wise in venoms, counselled: "Lo,
Those who the poison find its cure should know.
The wound that festers from an Irish spear
The leeches of that land to healing clear
Alone can bring."
Thereat King Mark purveyed
A vessel small, but fairly dight, wherein
Sir Tristram, with his sword and harp, was laid,
But not his arms, nor aught that showed his kin;
And Govenale with him went, his needs to aid.
There rose a hostile wind when close they drew
To Irish cliffs, and as they northward beat
It gained a fury that they could not meet.
Wherefore they sought a narrow estuary,
And there, well sheltered from the rising sea,
Green woods, that shook to feel the storm, they knew.
Woods that abruptly rose, and shagged a hill
Which at its height with circling walls was crowned.
All sides they swept its levelled crest around,
Lost in low clouds.
"Now here should harbour be
For seamen stressed of storm," Sir Tristram said.
And Govenale went ashore, and aid he pled,
And soon returned, with words well comforted,
But doubtful in his mind.
"King Anguish there,"
He told, "is lodged. With gracious words and fair
He welcome gave. An injured knight, I said,
Who for a lady's right was hurt, besought
Good shelter till the rising storm be spent.
And he replied, his walls were not so strait
But he could harbour, as of right he ought,
A hundred such, if stress of storm had sent
Their sails to seek his shelter. There beside
His queen I saw, and there, more worth to see,
Iseult, his daughter. Dark of hair is she,
With eyes a mountain tarn's reflected blue."
And Tristram answered: "Overbold are we
To seek their healing whom we hurt, but yet
Oft is it safe the likeless thing to do.
How should they come to light of whom I be,
Known in this land to none, and none to me?
And of repute King Anguish is not one
In felon coin to pay, whate'er his debt.
Naught did I surely but was knightly done."
And Govenale gave assent: "We need but show
That lately from the Lyonesse land we came.
Of fancied ventures need we naught to claim.
And simply shall we speak of that we know."
The while to this accord they came, they saw
A litter from the castle path appear,
Sent by the king his wounded guest to bear
Up the rough stones; and fitly welcomed there,
Well was he chambered, to a knight's degree,
Though for that time the king they did not see.
But with next morn, while still the clouds were low,
- Though the sun's shafts, from heaven's shining bow,
The chasing winds allied to make them flee -
Sir Tristram roused himself from where he lay,
So light a song upon his harp to play
That all who heard would pause, the more to hear.
Unheard before of any Irish ear,
Its dancing measure to the king was told,
Who sought thereat to greet this wandering knight,
Whose wound denied not that a song so light
Should those around him in gay bondage hold.
And with the king his queen as curious came,
And asked Sir Tristram's needs, and asked his name.
Tramtrist he called himself, a wandering knight,
But sorely wounded for a lady's right -
A wound that festered, which no leech could cure.
To which King Anguish answered: "Rest ye sure,
You shall not long that draining weakness feel,
If skill be in this land such hurt to heal.
Not such a wound is thine as brought me woe,
Our brother slaying, as belike you know,
Sir Marhaus named. A noble knight was he,
Whom Arthur honoured to his proved degree.
Were few more careless of their foes could ride.
"Heir was he to mine throne since Lanceor died;
And champion to uphold our Cornish right
By worth and place. A young unproven knight
By most mischance so aimed a random blow
That through the coif it tore, and there-below
The sword-blade in the brainpan snapt, and left
A fatal cantal, that no leech could draw.
Whereof he died, and leaves my kingdom reft
Of kindly heir, a bitter dole to me."
"He was a noble knight, and proved in war,"
Sir Tristram answered. "Much I grieve to know
He died unsuccoured from that overthrow;
But none who makes his trade of arms may cast
To be so valiant but he fail at last."
"Fair knight," Iseult, who stood beside the king,
Said softly, "if the end so well you see,
Much in thine own behoof it marvels me
That you, who have the gifts to harp and sing
As few men may, should jeopard all to try
Such boasts to gain - such few short boasts - as lie
Before the sure event of which you die."
"Fairest," he answered, "if the heart be high,
Then will the song to reach an equal sky
Soar on sufficient wings, which else would fall.
Song must foretell of heights, or heights recall.
Scantly they live, who never risk to die."
'High is the price of all things worth,' she thought,
'And foolish was I.' But she answered naught.
Her eyes accepted, but her lips were still.
King Anguish spake again: "My daughter's care
Should fail not, by God's grace, to cure thine ill.
Much is she learnt in lore of poisons rare,
And all belonging to a leech's skill,
As every lady of good birth should be."
"That shall I do," she said, "of right good will."
Whereon the wound she searched, and there she found
The evil that she sought, and salved, and bound,
So that its anger ceased, and easefully
He sank to rest.
It were not hard to guess
That, as regaining strength long hours he lay,
The bondage of her voice and gentleness
More hardly held him every lengthened day:
Days that were long in hours of lonely thought,
Too seldom broken by a sight too short.
Yet would she linger as his strength returned,
And he would harp, her turning steps to hold.
Of little might he speak, but more he learned,
For soon what was but common talk she told.
Half to herself a hope, and half a fear.
"My father, since Sir Marhaus died," said she,
"For surety of the realm, and more for me,
Lest he should leave me in an heirless land,
With no one likely for my right to stand,
(For by our laws I may not reach the crown,
Which only kings may wear) hath now proclaimed
A tournament, where knights of far renown
Already for its hard contest are named.
Wide lands will be its prize, and - if I will -
Myself therewith. For if such knight I wed,
I shall be shielded for good days or ill,
Dowered by the lands the victor knight may claim,
And sheltered surely by a valiant name."
"Joy should be yours in such a choice," he said.
"So might it be. And for my father's care
My thanks are paid. But if a knight be there
Whom for King Arthur's throne I would not wed
And he be mightiest, as belike he may,
What vantage have I then? What ease have I,
Who now with constant irk his suit deny?"
Then told she whom she feared. A knight was he
Sir Palomides called in Western speech,
A Saracen, tall, and swart, and comely. One
Whom Arthur, for good service paid, had raised
To honour, and but that he the Cross denied,
Had joined him to the Table. Widely praised,
Well was that praise deserved; but more his pride
Himself required. Of fabled wealth was he,
And ruled broad lands beyond the tideless sea.
"But he, a Christless knight," Sir Tristram said,
"Even though yourself desired, you could not wed."
"Nay, for my sake he would our faith allow,
If that would gain me."
"Were I equal now
The weight of harness and of lance to bear,
Would you my service in such cause require?"
"Much would I thank it. Much I dread to see
The Paynim vanquish all."
"But as for me,
I am feeble yet to win so high degree,
How should I, for whatever lands, aspire?
But wouldst thou then my better lady be,
And counting that my life is debt to thee,
I would adventure."
"Shall I ask again?"
"Nay, for to ask it twice were shame to me.
Yet two things must I ask, if this shall be,
That none beyond the trusted of thy train
Shall know my purpose; and thyself provide,
In secret, arms to wear and steed to ride."
"More might you ask, and would not ask in vain.
If better arms to bear, or steed to rein,
The tourney knights can find in anywise,
Then were I worth to be the Paynim's prize."
So was it bargained, and we well may wit
It drew them nearer, through the short delay
Of shining hours before the tourney day,
While knights assembling at the call of it
Thronged the high towers, and all the town below.
Yet loth he was with gaining strength to go
Out from his chamber far, for only there
Iseult he met as one of like degree,
And lonely when she came. For who was he
In the great hall? A lowly place he took,
And lowlier than he need, lest envious look
Should question or recall of whom he were.
Hope was there in his heart, but yet despair
At colder moments came. For should he win
The tourney prize, and should Iseult be kind,
Yet lowered the cloud of falsehood dark behind.
He who had baulked her land, and slain her kin,
How could he count to find forgiveness there,
If the bold lie by which he came were bare?
And bared it must be at the last he knew.
Then looked he round the hall, and thought: 'I fret
Fondly on that which is not like to be.
Though once by chance I won, I am not yet
Proved equal to the least of these I see.'
For here were Kay, and Griflet fils de Dieu,
Gunret, and Dodinas and Sagramore,
King Baudemagus, Lucan, Agravain,
Lords of old battles by the arms they bore,
Who for his single vaunt could count a score
Of tourney rivals thrown, or foemen slain.
'Yet,' thought he, 'boldly shall this test be tried,
Although I know not to what end I ride.'
King Anguish saw the bright assembled throng
Of knights so numerous in their splendid pride,
So fit alike to deal or take a wrong
And yet endure a further bout to ride,
So fixed of will that princely prize to gain,
If blows could gain it, that the hope were vain
That one day's trial would their worth decide.
"Two days," he said, "the lists shall open lie,
That all behold full proof of mastery."
Yet seemed it that one day sufficed to show
Who was the mightiest there, for only he,
The Paynim knight, his tale of victory
Unbroken kept. Was many a hard success,
But only he had felt no overthrow.
None could be more than he: and all were less.
Then came the second day. For those whose claim
Most nearly to Sir Palomides' came,
One chance remained. Himself to counter there,
And who had overborne to overbear.
For that the king the Hundred Knights who led
His spear advanced, and Caradoc next, but they,
Though well they rode, alike defeated lay.
So looked it that would close the tourney day
With the black shield the swarthy Paynim bore
Alone aloft and undiscomfited.
But when it seemed his victoring toils were o'er,
Rode down the emptying lists a nameless knight.
White was his spotless charger: silver-white
His glittering arms: and white his plume: and white
His unasserting shield, that no man told
Of whom or whence he was. An angel bright
Men thought him, as the sable shield unscrolled
He faced. As Hell's and Heaven's high champions met,
So might it to the murmuring crowd appear.
Sir Palomides called his mightiest spear,
Retired his length, and charged, and hard and well
He drave it at the shining shield, but fell
More hardly smitten, and degraced the more,
For the high plaudits he received before.
Sore bruised and dazed, though hot with wrath, he rose,
Like to withdraw, but Tristram followed, and cried:
"Hast thou no lust that further strife be tried?"
Whereat he drew, but Tristram's livelier stroke
Impetuous through his guard unweakened broke,
And felled him, that he might not rise: "Now say,
Why should my sword a second stroke delay?"
"Because I yield perforce," the Paynim said.
"All I require you swear?"
With death to dread,
Sir Palomides swore.
"Then this shall be
Thy life's release. A twelve months' time from now
Thou shalt not mount a steed, nor harness wear,
Nor sword, nor any feir of war shalt bear.
Nor shalt thou more molest with suit or vow
One without motion of response to thee,
But leave her wholly."
Such the shame he had.
But doubt not if Iseult were light and glad.
Forthright that strife Sir Tristram left, as though
A shaft of light from Thetis' glorious bow
Assailed the deep gloom of the woods that lay
Beyond the meadow where the lists were set.
He sought to enter by a backward way
To where Iseult would wait; but first he met
A damsel who had wide Sir Lancelot sought
Since his lone sword the Dolorous Garde had won,
To call it Joyous in the future day.
Here was the ending of her quest, she thought,
For surely, save himself, there else was none
Could conquer whom upon the previous day
Had ten strong knights of Arthur's Table sped.
"Fair knight," she said, "a wondrous tale they tell,
That by thy spear Sir Palomides fell,
Who all our Christian knights discomfited.
Art thou not Lancelot in good truth?"
Why dost thou ask?"
"For I would wit."
Sir Lancelot's prowess and his fame than mine.
Yet in the world's width other lights may shine,
And other venturous deeds may well befall.
So shall I seek to prove. With God is all."
"Knight, wilt thou show me of thy courtesy,
In proof beyond debate of whom ye be,
A face unvisored?"
"Surely that will I."
The damsel thought she had not lived to scan
The naked visage of a goodlier man.
Yet all unlike to him she sought, and so
With finish of fair words, she turned to go,
While Tristram to that privy postern went
Which, by a narrow winding stair of stone,
Allowed the freedom of his swift ascent
To that fair chamber where, alert, alone,
Waited Iseult, glad-eyed, her thanks to pay.
"Fair lord," she laughed, "of greater lands than I
Now art thou! Hear them shout thy nameless name!
Now shalt thou show in truth from whence ye came.
I have no wit to think thee less than they
Who all by this fair test art less than thou."
"I am Tramtrist, as I told, of Lyonesse."
"Be whom thou wilt! But all shall know thee now
As one than whom a hundred knights are less."
"I did it only that thy graciousness
I somewhat might, in ruder sort, repay."
"Paid is it - at what price is thine to say."
Clear were the words, however softly said.
Why paused he on the path to which they led?
How should he give his name, her country's foe?
How could he hope for long that none would know?
How could he hope to hold an ampler lie
Than that which scarce sufficed for meaner days?
"Fairest," he said, "to have thy single praise
Is more than lordship or than lands to me."
Courteous, he kissed her hand, and half was she
Pleased, and yet distanced, by that courtesy.
What of Sir Tristram now? Some days was he
Of all that royal court and concourse free.
Wide lands were his to take: high praise to hear.
Iseult's kind glances held a meaning clear.
The king was gracious, and the queen no less.
It pleased them that he was not quick to claim
All that he might: "Perchance a lowly name
He will not yet for very pride confess
While mighty princes at our table throng.
Soon they depart. Will all be known ere long.
He lacks not of good parts, or gentleness,
Though from the meanest Lyonesse tower he came."
So said the king; and said the queen the same.
But came a day when Tristram bathed, and while
He left his chamber void, the Irish queen,
That all things in good wise be overseen,
Disposed it, with Iseult, and marking there
His arms at random laid on couch and chair,
Turned curious eyes, and then, by most mishap,
Drew the great sword, till all its length was bare,
Well-cared, and wondrous edged to smite, but there
Far down, though somewhat from the point, a gap
Indentured deep the blade, itself as though
It broke from that same strength that felled its foe.
So thought the queen. 'A good stroke here,' she said,
'Tells a great bout, and who that faced it dead,
Save some good saint - ' But as she spake, her thought
Such stroke recalled. Still in her casket stored
Lay that steel shard which all the spells she wrought,
And all her arts, and all her prayers, fordid.
From grasp relaxed down clanged the sword. She said:
"Belike is here whom most I hate." She sped
To where a coffer in her chamber stood,
Wrenched round the key, and raised the ponderous lid,
Drew forth the casket, found the shard, and ran
Back to the sword, and found the fragment fit.
Aloft, with hate-born strength, she brandished it,
The great two-handed sword, and smote aside
Iseult's restraining hand: "Thine uncle died
Stricken by this sword, by which alike shall die
His shameless slayer, false and insolent,
Who came disguised a deeper wrong to try,
Seeking thy love to snare."
Forthright she went
Into that chamber where Sir Tristram lay,
And with his own sword would have thrust him through,
But Govenale caught her arm: "You shall not do
An act so foul, a naked man to slay."
"Then shall he perish in a lewder way,"
She answered, frantic with fierce hate, and ran
To find King Anguish.
"Dear my lord," she cried,
"Here falsely in thy house, ourselves beside,
The traitor sits my brother's life who slew.
Justice I ask."
"Then tell me where and who
This covert knight."
"That harping knight is he
Iseult hath healed."
She told the proof.
Answered in quieter words: "The tale you bring
I do not greatly doubt, and would not be
Unmindful of my realm, nor false to thee.
Yet pity is it. For I have not met
A youth more noble, or more meet to set
Even on my throne hereafter."
Vexed of heart,
And anxious at such pass his part to do
As knightly custom urged, the careful king
Sir Tristram's chamber sought, and found him there
Arming in haste, for bitter harbouring
He thought to know, if waked that tower aware
Of whom he was, before he rode away.
Across the bed, his broken sword was bare,
Since Govenale snatched it from the wrathful queen.
Mute witness to King Anguish' eyes it lay,
And as his glance upon its fracture fell,
Sir Tristram spake: "I will not here deny
Deeds no way shameful, nor the name I bear.
Yet of the hates they breed I will not die
At lighter cost than later days may tell
As larger marvel than thy champion's fall."
Answered the king: "Against my power to strive
It were but vain, for at my lightest call
Or clash of weapons, would my guards arrive,
An instant score against thee. More to friend,
Frank truth, and pliance to my grace shall be.
For mine own worship, and my love for thee,
More strongly than thy sword, thy life defend.
Who art thou surely?"
"Lord, I do not lie
By natural use. But in this strait was I:
The wound I took from Marhaus' deadlier spear
Would no way heal, though leeches far and near
Mine uncle sought. But at the last was said
That only one could mend it. Where was bred
The poison of the spear the healing lay.
"So came I here a peril-haunted way,
Nameless and faithless, half my words a lie.
Yet clean of hostile act or perfidy.
Healing alone I sought, and healed am I;
And therefore grateful. Friendships yet might be
Not all and wholly lost, for all I did
Not knighthood's oaths, nor knightly use, forbid
To those who consort at a later day.
For at mine uncle's and my country's need
Fairly I fought a single strife agreed,
Till Marhaus, casting shield and sword away,
Fled from me unpursued."
The king replied:
"Fair are thy words, and that thou dost not hide,
So God me help, whatever grief it bore,
Contracts its shame as swells thy fame the more.
That which thou didst for Cornwall and thy kin
Was no way treasoned, nor is cause therein
For vengeance, or enduring enmity.
Yet, for his sister's sake, if not for me,
Thy swift departure must I urge, for not
With worship might I here thy peace maintain
Against my barons, who would have thee slain,
Belike with treason while their wrath is hot."
"Sire," Tristram answered, "of thy courtesy
I much have gained, and more at last I owe
For thy fair dealing to thy country's foe.
For all of this, and more for kindness shown
By fair Iseult, beyond my worth, will be
My lasting hope that thou shalt largelier gain
In later days, than if thy word had slain
One who so nearly in thy danger lies.
"And for Iseult, whatever alien skies,
Horizoned by the furthest dawns, shall see
My footsteps in the exiled years to be,
Shall hear the high notes of the harp I bear
To every passing wind her praise declare....
Her, and thy barons, of thy grace permit
Once more I meet again before I go,
The feignless friendship of my heart to show
To whom but this last hour my comrades were."
"That will I grant," and in this free consent
Sir Tristram to Iseult's high chamber went,
And found her with sad eyes disconsolate
Down-gazing at the barred and guarded gate,
Listening if outrage from the keep should break,
And doubting how a single knight could make
- Even he - clear path across the court, and tear
The strong-barred gates apart.... And if he fled,
Or if he failed, alike her dream was dead.
"Fairest," he said, "I will not feign to hide
That which my sword betrayed, and least to thee,
Healer, and friend, and more than friend to me.
But years will pass not, nor are lands so wide,
That time or distance shall too far divide
Thy memory from me for my heart to lie
Beneath thy feet till all in darkness die.
That triumph foils me now, but wit ye true,
That for the land I loved, the friends I knew,
The honour I sought, I might in nowise do
Save as I did."
"Oh, gentle knight," she said,
"I know it surely. But my hope is dead,
Whose heart was drawn to thine with more goodwill
Than had I felt before, and toward thee still
Cries vainly. Severed by my kinsman's fall
We may be ever, but my heart will call
Toward thee through the friendless years to be,"
And piteously she wept.
"Iseult," he said
"Though seas may part us, never doubt to hear
When armies meet, or where great tourneys are,
Thy name shall fence my shield and point my spear,
Till shines no loftier and no lovelier star
In all God's Heaven. A thousand years from now
Shall men look back to praise it."
"Nay," she said,
"I am not worthy of a vaunt so high,
Whose hope was rather in thine arms to lie
Than to be lifted in the mouths of men;
But this I swear, though every dream be dead,
Consentless of thyself I will not wed
A seven years to be."
With this lament,
And change of rings, they parted.
Forth he went
To where the Irish lords in open hall
Were gathered, and bold words before them all
He spake, though yet full courteous: "Lords, I go,
Who am not in my heart your country's foe,
Though that I did hath left me rated so.
But if be any here to whom I owe
Amend for grievance wrought, he need but say,
And I will right his charge the best I may;
Or if be any here who think me ill,
Now should they speak aloud, or long be still.
The time is present, and the place is here,
That they may solve their quarrel, spear to spear,
And as God wills it shall the verdict be."
But all stood silent, though some lords were there
Of Marhaus' blood, for none the strife would dare;
And he went forth, and turned a southward prow
To Lyonesse land, and in his father's hold
Some time he rested, and the tale was told
Of his high venture, when no Cornish knight
Was valiant to defend his country's right.
And then from rest he rose, and went anew
To Cornwall, rich with goods his father gave,
And welcomed well by Mark, and all but few
Of that fair land he gaged his life to save,
For those of loyal mood were fain and glad
Of his good fairing, and the fame he had.
King Mark, for aid in war at earlier need,
The Paynim knight, Sir Segwarides sought;
And service rendered with broad lands he fee'd,
To bind him wholly to his cause and court.
Warden of Terribil made, his wife he brought
Thereto, a dame for his delight full fair,
But wanton was she as the changeful air.
Little her body's price, or wholly naught
To one who sued her, or her fancy caught.
And when abroad the Paynim knight had gone
At Mark's require, and left his lady free
To vex her heart with idle days, thereon
Even to Mark her glance she cast, and he
With avid caution bit the fruit she threw.
Little he took, though taking all, for she,
In all things faithless, had no faith to sell.
Naught had been known, and naught had been but well,
Except to Tristram that her lust anew
Veered when she saw him at the court. To him
She was love's miracle at the first, for he
Was wiled by every wanton art she knew.
Who thirsts with lips that touch the goblet's brim?
Fresher and fairer than a flower was she.
And who shall blame the flower, or blame the bee?
One morn, that lady's dwarf to Tristram came.
He brought no missive, for the craftful dame
On proofless words relied: "Fair lord," he said,
"My lady bids thee, if thy love be true,
When in the west tomorrow's eve is red,
To arm, and ere the laggard moon is due,
Through the dark woods to ride, her hold to gain
In private wise, and she shall greet thee there
As one so lonely left is like to do."
A secret path he told: a secret stair.
"Yea, her absent lord is much to fear,
Though surely is she warned he comes not near."
"Return, and greet thy lady well from me,
And say that as she wills shall all things be."
So from lost hope to love's pretence he fell,
As those whose heaven is barred make home of hell.
A wrathful page of Mark came to him, and said:
"I saw the dwarf of that fair dame you know
In the noon heat to Tristram's chamber go,
While thou wast resting. In the court below
He lingers yet."
Mark answered: "Bid the guard
Conduct him here."
A trembling dwarf they brought
And in brief space by fear and greed they wrought
That all was told: "Before the moon is bare
Above the pines: beneath the postern stair
That well thou knowest..... My lady waits him there."
Gold was his gain, and warning: "Shouldst thou dare
Breathe that I know, then dost thou dare to die."
"Nay," said the dwarf, "that surely dare not I."
Then called King Mark Sir Andret. "Bring," he said,
"Two knights of trust in secret wise tonight
To wait me at the western port, and see
Proved arms they wear, and if that men they be,
Sir Tristram's lands, and all he heirs are thine."
Next midnight, having passed the lonely wolds,
As Sir Tristram, by the path the dwarf had told,
Entered the darker shadows of the wood,
King Mark came hurtling on him. Steel withstood
The lance upon his breast that broke. As yet
He knew not that his blood the surcoat wet.
But much in wrath, and deeming, as he might,
He faced not peril from an equal knight,
But plundering knaves were round him, hard he dealt
Such deathful blows that he the first who felt
No second needed for his end to be.
Well happed it to King Mark to senseless lie.
How showed the darkness were he hurt or sped,
Or whom he were? Sir Tristram passed them by.
His thoughts were on the path, and where it led.
Nothing he needed that the deep wound bled:
Nothing he thought but whom he longed to see.
Dark was the tower, but as his horse's feet
Told of one rider from the woods who came,
Flickered a torch, and by its windy flame
He saw the raised face of that fair deceit,
And lightly downward to her side he slid.
She led him inward by the secret stair,
Unloosed his arms, and when the wound was bare
Laughed it to naught, though what she must she did
To staunch and cleanse it, yet reluctfully
Of all that hindered that she sought, and he,
Roused by her wanton eyes, and fain as she,
Contemned it likely.
To her couch she led,
Love's short delight at honour's loss to win.
His was she to his mood to halse and kiss:
Hers was he, entered to so sweet a sin.
Most might forget a deeper wound for this...
Too late he saw the nether sheet was red:
Pillow and bolster both were all bebled.
Then was a voice upon the stair that cried:
"Our lord returns. The castle gate is wide."
Alert she leapt, with frightened eyes: "Do thou
Arm - arm - and fly, or death will find us now."
Sir Tristram rose in haste. His arms he caught,
But not for strife. In honour's sharp defeat,
Flight unregarded was his urgent thought.
To gain the privy stair - the steed below.
Her trembling hands the bracing helped; and so
He from the postern rode; the while her lord
Passed the great hall, and climbed the stair, to greet,
After long absense, that light dame, and know
Such joys as Tristram in his place had gained.
To wake that wanton fair, who slumber feigned,
He bent, and lo! The bolster of the bed
Was tumbled from its place, the sheet bebled.
Wrothly he roused her: "Speak! If life be dear,
The name of him so late who held ye here."
She answered in contend of fear and shame:
"Lord, there was none," at which his sword outcame.
"Traitress, you die except the knight you name."
The point pricked in her. At such extreme the dame
The court of Mark had given her life to save.
"Lord, it was Tristram. Of thy much neglect
His tempting came."
Back rang in sheath the blade.
"At leisure shalt thou with good blows be paid.
Where went he?"
"Lord, but now - the leftward way."
"Wise art thou if - "
"The very truth I say."
His horse he called again, and hastefully
Took the dark road, and Tristram found, and cried:
"False knight, for guarding of thy life abide."
"Fair knight, I have no heart to call thee foe.
My strength is more than thine. Be wise, and go."
"Nay, for thy choice is naught. Is one shall die
Ere one depart."
Said Tristram: "Likelier I
Depart than thou. But at thine own require,
And no way at my door, thy death shall lie."
Then Tristram's sword outswang, his horse he swerved,
One stroke he gave, for all his need it served.
Waist-wounded, from his horse the Paynim fell.
Sir Tristram stayed not. With what haste he might,
Choosing wide ways, and while endured the night,
He gained his lodging. There his wound he dressed,
But yet to none the secret hurt confessed.
Not on cold ground Sir Segwarides lay
A passing hour, for down the moonlit way
His servants following came. Their lord they laid
Upon the round and hollow shield whose aid
For better use had failed him. Days were long
Before he rose again, renewed and strong,
For much he suffered from that single stroke.
Through strong-linked mail to tender flesh that broke.
But when he rose, no word he spake of who
His wound had dealt. For little heart he had
To bicker more with Tristram, nor to do
Aught to make known his wrong. For who were glad
With private hurt a public shame to buy?
Neither would Mark, (who when his wits returned
Regained the court) the different shame he earned
Bare to the laughter or the scorn of men.
And Tristram knew not, nor for life he guessed,
Into whose ambush in the night he fell.
So might it seem that all was ended then
With heal of wounds. The Paynim knight no less
Regarding her whose wanton worthlessness
He knew before; and Tristram, well content
To leave her, whose approach herself had meant
The more than he, for better venturings
Engaged his days; but never Mark again
Had love for Tristram. Fair his words might be,
But in his heart there lurked black enmity
Waiting its time, which would not wait in vain.
The short night-flowering of that sin was o'er,
But years must wait the baleful fruit it bore.
The while sin's price in Heaven's slow scales was weighed,
Tristram, of naught of Earth or Heaven afraid,
Knew not, nor cared he, that fair words should hide
Enduring malice, like a snake await,
Patient and still, its venom's chance to bide.
So passed the easeful hours, till came a day
When summer in the arms of autumn lay,
Too warmly kissed for any fear to see
How cold next moon that parting kiss would be.
To Mark's high seat a knight of Arthur drew,
Hawk-plumed, and on his shield the chevrons blue
Told that of Lancelot's closest kin was he.
Great was he of limbs and girth, and seeming slow
In motion and in thought, but humour lay
In shrewd eyes; and in his hasteless way
He ventured greatly, and his days were good.
At the king's seat the black reined charger stood,
While Bleoberis, with slight reverence made,
Still mounted sate: "Lord king, a boon," he cried,
"A boon I ask."
"Fair knight," the king replied,
"A boon is seldom to thy like denied.
Is gold thy need, or strength of warrior aid?"
"Lord king," he said, "I would such choice to take
Of ladies from thy court as proof will make
Of Camelot's doubt that Cornish dames, perde,
As fair of form as Arthur's best may be."
And Mark smooth-voiced, too cautious-wise to jar
With Arthur's knights, except occasion far
Beyond the range of this jest-sounding plea
Constrained him, answered: "That you ask shall be.
Take who consent that here you fairest find,
And leave one less the dice of strife behind."
Thereat the knight, with glances shrewd and slow,
Swept the bright throng, and from its glittering show
Held the bold eyes that asked and yet defied
Of Segwarides' wife, and thus replied:
"I take that lady there apart who stands,
As seems she lordless, save a good knight's hands,
Or her own word withhold her."
Round he gazed
On those who looked amused, or looked amazed,
Or feigned indifference, but from all the rout
No forward step was made, no sword was out.
Down to the level of the sounding sea
Rode Arthur's knight, with his consenting prey
Behind his mounted squire. What thought had he?
A tale of mirth to end a wintry day?
Lust stirred the whim perchance, but more a jest.
He thought in mocking mood to thus protest
How craven and how weak Mark's minions were.
He left a court where murmuring rose, as when
The hawk flies upward, with a fluttering wren
Taloned to feed his brood, and brake and bough
Chatter with anger as the fear is gone.
Where was her lord? Her lord was entering now.
In the swart Paynim's eyes black anger shone,
But little grief he showed, and naught of fear.
Instant for arms he called, and horse, and spear.
"Freely she went?" She freely went, they said.
Belike she would. Her little worth he knew.
But his she was, and till his life was sped
Who spoiled her from his arms his theft should rue.
Urgent on Bleoberis' tracks he rode,
And let the voices die.
But some there were
Who whispered first, and then, in bolder mode,
Spake Tristram's name aloud. His sword to bare
They had not thought him of such tardy kind!
One damsel was her friend - and such was she
As friend of one so light was like to be.
Quick was her tongue reviling words to find.
Knights are there who will take the most they may
Of kindness shown, but any debt to pay
They think not..... Surely how she looked his way
All eyes had seen!
"Fair one," Sir Tristram said,
"That which she did not do was none to see.
And wisdom in thy words is none to hear.
What should I proffer while her lord was near?
But if it go not as of right should be,
Perchance in Cornwall's cause a word from me
That knight may hear."
While yet the sun was high
Came a sure word that Segwarides lay
Sore wounded, nigh to death. No longer stay
Would Tristram make, but Govenale called, to try
What swift pursuit would win.
A southward way
He rode, that left the hills and left the sea,
Entering deep woods that glowed autumnal red,
Where on unfallen leaves the frost had fed.
Anigh the boundary of the woods they met
A draggled knight and soiled. His arms they knew:
Sir Andret:"Cousin," Tristram said, "reveal
What evil fortune doth thy path pursue?"
"So God me help, was never worse. The king
Bade me two wandering knights of Arthur bring
For welcome to the court. But when the name
Of Mark I spake, full-spurred against me came
The nearer of the two, and then - God wot,
I had not thought the might of Lancelot
So far would cast me. In the thorns I lay,
The while they looked, and laughed, and rode away."
"Who was he?"
"By his shield, Sir Sagramore.
Dodinas le Savage shared his mirth."
Men say, in all they do, and all they dare.
What path will find them?"
Govenale spake: "My lord,
Be wise, for proved of lance, and proved of sword,
Are these two knights of Arthur."
"Proved or no,
How fare I if another road I go?
How fares my worship? Course I have not run
Since lonely from the Irish land we came."
"Well, as thou wilt."
Then those two knights to tame
Sir Tristram turned his path. He rode not far.
He found the twain anear an oaken shaw.
"Tell me what here ye do, and whence ye are,"
His short demand was made. Sir Sagramore
Gave shorter question: "Art a Cornish knight?
The roads for all in Arthur's realm are free.
But here another knight full lately came.
His shield was shaped as thine, his helm the same.
Of Cornwall was his prate, and Cornwall's king.
Great words he spake, but little might he had.
That Cornish earth is hard, and brambles sting,
Lightly he learned, and if I rightly guess,
Thou, who wouldst also in his fault transgress,
Must learn thine error in a kindred way."
Answered Sir Tristram: "Partly sooth ye say,
But all the hour will prove, and wit ye well,
It was my cousin to your spears who fell,
And therefore is it mine your seats to test.
Haply I may a harder bout provide.
Warned are ye."
As he spake his shield he dressed,
And backward reined, the longer course to ride.
Sir Dodinas turned alike. Aloud he cried:
"Keep well thyself." Amazed, Sir Sagramore
Beheld him on the point of Tristram's spear
Clear from the saddle borne, and flung so far
That nigh neck-broken on the ground he lay.
Here was a nameless knight whom most should fear!
The hope of fame he never sought was here!
A need for all his strength:"Who'er you are,"
He cried, "Defend!" A rapid course he ran.
But leapt his splintering spear, and horse and man
Rolled on the ground:"Doth Arthur's court supply
No bigger knights than ye?" Sir Tristram said.
"Is Cornwall still your scorn?"
Sore bruised, and slow to rise, gave fair reply:
"Good night - God's truth, the better knight than I -
I charge thee by the faith alike we owe
To knighthood's courteous vows, thy name to show,
That we may speak thy praise."
"A charge so high,
I may not lightly, if I would, deny.
Sir Tristram, nephew of King Mark am I.
King Meliodas' son."
"Then blithe we meet,
However bruised thereby, and fair entreat
That thou wilt ride beside us."
"That would I,
Except that on another quest I go.
Another knight of Arthur's court I seek,
Sir Bleoberis de Ganis."
"Seek ye so?
He is a perilous knight. God speed ye well."
With such fair words they parted.
More at haste
For brief delay, Sir Tristram spurred, until
When sideward climbed the road a lift of hill,
Down looked he on a wide-extending waste,
Grey-bouldered, greened by many an oaken shaw
The seawinds vexed, and through the shaws a road
Struck straightly, and upon that road he saw
Those whom he sought, no equal haste who showed.
Then hard Sir Tristram spurred that valley wide,
And over-reached them where they rode, and cried:
"Thou knight of Arthur's court, awhile abide.
Return that raptured prey to whence she came,
Or I assert than thine the stronger claim."
Thereat Sir Bleoberis laughed, and said:
"Scarce do I ride in such exceeding dread
Of Cornish clamour in mine ears, that I
My spoil must render to a single cry."
"False falls thy jape. Beneath the pinewood height,
Two knights of thine have found a Cornish knight
Not less then either ere they bade adieu."
"Dread warrior," laughed he, "rede me whence and who,
That I may spread thy lofty fame the more."
"They owned thy Table by the shields they bore.
Sir Dodinas le Savage: Sagramore,
Called the Desirous."
"God defend!" He said,
"Two knights of valiant worth thy spear hath sped.
Yet shall I not the less thy claim decline.
If thou be avid for this prize of mine,
Then must you take it by most hard debate."
"Hold that thou canst," said Tristram.
Height and weight
And strong war-chargers matched they showed, as so
They faced at distance fair, and so they met
That neither dealt the more than matched his debt.
For each was overthrown, and overthrew;
And if a fell he gave, a fall he knew.
Hard-breathed but whole, those strong knights rose and drew,
And matched alike in might and stedfastness,
Great swinging strokes they gave, and such they met.
Now would the one retire, and one would press.
Now foot to foot and shield to shield were set
Too closely for the swords' full force to play.
One would augment his might, and one delay
With skilful tracing, till that strength outwore.
Strife they protracted and maintained the more
From their high valours than the cause they had,
Till Bleoberis backward stepped, and said:
"Oh, gentle knight, thy courage rein awhile,
And let us talk together."
To where a new-felled beech great branches spread,
Its dying leaves yet dyed with autumn's red.
Upon its severed bole as friends they sate.
"Say on, and I will answer."
"Ask I then
Who art thou, who by this shrewd test I rate
As one who might the boasted pride abate
Of many of Arthur's knights?"
"No cause I know
To hide it from thee. Tristram is my name:
King Meliodas' son."
"Then here I came
In no misfortunate hour, nor hence I go
With honour dimmed, who that clipped sword of thine
So long have countered. For thy deeds are told
By all who seek high tales of ventures bold
In Camelot's halls. The larger gain is mine,
Though but an equal bout we share."
For short exploits too loud a praise. But who
Half ware I ask, and half of what praise are you?
None have I met a harder sword could sway."
"That tell I with goodwill. Of Ganis I:
Sir Bleoberis. Sister's sons are we
- Sir Blamor and myself - to Lancelot. He
Whom first we call, whatever knights are met."
"You call him rightly, for the name he bears,
Peerless for knighthood and fair courtesy,
Shall shine when all our meaner stars are set.
And for his sake I would not lightly be
Accordless with thyself."
"As loth am I
Death in this cause to deal, or else to die.
Yet must we face the quest on which you came,
And so resolve it that no recreant name
Shall cling to either when the tale be said.
This wanton that I brought is naught to me,
And little dearer to thyself is she,
To state the hazard of a likely guess.
So will I this propose in gentleness:
To set her freely down between us two;
And we will ask her what she wills to do,
Either with you to stay, or me to go,
And as herself decides, accord it so."
"That will I gladly. For I doubt it naught
She will come with me, as of right she ought."
"Soon is it to prove."
The dame, between them set,
Her freedom heard, and with no long delay,
And eyes, that ever-ready tears had wet,
Fixed on Sir Tristram in no doubtful way,
Her choice with bitter words pronounced: "I thought
You were my lover, once so dearly met.
Held to me surely by so deep a debt,
Though parted by my lord's too-sure surmise
Of what had been between us. Fond was I
To think thee of such might and constancy
As made my rescue sure: and I would pay
- So thought I - meetly on the homeward way.
But didst thou move? It was my lord who came!
Thy laggard rising, urged by Cornwall's shame,
Rather, I well suppose, than care of me,
I thank not. Nor, to match so poor a claim,
Will feed thy praise by coming back with thee.
The fairest of the court were standing by
When this great knight (beyond thine own defeat)
Desired me from them. His I stay content.
Scorned be thy name where ever ladies meet."
So speaking, and with mocking eyes, she went
To Bleoberis' side.
The sharp rebuke,
So largely false, and yet so subtly true,
Astounded Tristram, that no fit retort
Came to his lips. Return to Cornwall's court
How should he with such a tale? His discontent
Sir Bleoberis saw: "Fair knight," he said,
"If all be as her facile tongue avows,
Some blame is here which is not mine to weigh.
But this in friendship and fair truth I say:
The ripe fruit hangs from other laden boughs,
Which I would liever pluck, and leave you this,
Than that its tasting should be held amiss
In recollection through the days to be.
Rather I would that she should ride with thee
-Kind may she be once more, who kind hath been -
And all be called a jest I did not mean."
"Nay," said the dame, "for so to hold with thee
Free choice you gave. I would more blithely go
Back to my lord than he should hold me so;
For now I loathe him whom I loved before."
"Yea? Would ye so?" Sir Bleoberis said.
Her eyes' bold challenge met contemptful eyes,
And fell before them. "Then thy word supplies
That which I sought; and ere yon sunset red
Yield to the conquering stars, thy wish shall be.
For we will seek thy lord, and he shall see,
So God me help, his own, unscathed of me,
Back to his side returned. A witless quest,
Of idlesse born in part, and part of jest,
I will not further to confusion take.
And thou, Sir Tristram, good report shalt make
That all hath fallen as it best should be."
"That will I; and in future days beware
Of whom I trust. For while her lord was there
How could I that which was his part to do?
And when his fall I heard, no pause I knew,
But hereward rode forthright."
"I well believe;
And little is her loss thy heart to grieve."
So from fair words they took the parting way.
Back to Tintagel Tristram rode apace;
The while Sir Bleoberis sought to trace
The abbey where Sir Segwarides lay.
There came he later than the dark of day,
Lessening his boast, and that fair perfidy
Relinquished to her lord. If loth were she
To be so cast about from man to man
She showed not, nor he cared. Content was he
To close high folly in a nobler way
Than likely seemed whattime its course began.
But glad was Segwarides' heart to know
His errant dame returned, and glad was he
Her tale to hear. The venomed words to him
Gave grace to Tristram which she did not see.
Now sate King Mark upon an heirless throne,
And watched Sir Tristram's name and greatness grow.
Andret, or Tristram, at his end he knew
The crown would take, and little doubt was there
That, if his death should leave no certain heir,
Of these two nephews would the choice alight
Upon the comelier and more noble knight.
But while he watched with furtive hateful eyes
Sir Tristram's favour grow, a thought was bred,
By cunning craftful wiles and treasons fed,
Till to such shape it came that seemed it showed
Alternate issues which, by either road,
To his sure gain and Tristram's evil led.
So to such barons as were like to lend
Approving ears he spake: "Too long unwed,
I reign without an heir my throne to take,
Wherein is peril for the days to be.
A fault to see should be a fault to mend,
And I would fainly, for the kingdom's sake,
Choose some young bride this barren doubt to end.
"Whom should I seek? A king must first design
His kingdom's vantage. Ireland's late defeat
Hath left us foes, and though in Arthur's peace
We rest secure, yet should his power decline,
Then should the Irish might in swift release
Invade our coast. This ever threat to meet
I think, and turn it ere its time. And so
Shall Tristram shortly to King Anguish go,
To ask his daughter for me. If he fail,
What loss were ours? Or should his words prevail
- And who so gracious and adroit as he? -
Then have we bought a friend and lost a foe."
This counsel pleased his lords, but went his thought
Beyond his words: "I buy, who barter naught.
For either brings he me a bride to bear,
Against his own advance, a lively heir,
Or else he comes not from that land alive.
He had not erst, except so fast he fled!
If Anguish falter, will his queen contrive
Relentless vengeance for her nearest dead."
To Tristram next he spake: "So well you praise
The princess of the Irish land, that I
Would on thy warrant as my consort raise
Her rank to queenhood of this realm, for why
Should discord longer hold our states apart,
Breeding new wars, as fresh occasions start?"
What thought Sir Tristram as he heard? That he
Should thus return to Irish land, or see
Whom he would once have gladly wed, must be
Of barren comfort. Yet, when hope is dead,
And sorrow dulled by differing days, may seem
Faint pleasure to recall an ended dream,
And once again forbidden scenes to tread.
Would he that any other went than he?
He would not that..... With little self-debate,
And haply drawn by bonds he did not see,
Unware or heedless of his uncle's hate,
Without reserve of thought, he answered: "Yea,
Go will I gladly.... What the king will say,
I may not guess."
"King Anguish," Mark replied,
"Hath ever sought to hold the safer side.
Win thou his lords, himself he will not stay."
So pledged, Sir Tristram turned an eager thought
To deck and furnish in the goodliest wise
The best of Cornwall's fleet, and those who sought
To share the hazard of that enterprise,
Being of good worth, he welcomed.
Soon was seen
A long-beaked warship on the tide astrain,
Waiting the flood with wings aloft, that fain
Had opened wider to the winds they knew.
Bedecked with painted shields, and crimsoned gay,
And prankt with gold and fluttering flags she lay
Yearning release; the while the bright waves shone
And sparkled round her, as the light thereon
Flashed backward to the skies from whence it grew.
Stark were her chosen crew; her hold was stored
With blast and bolt, with pike and axe and sword,
Lest rovers of the lawless seas should board
A prize so proud, and in the well-like waist
Was choice of chargers ranged for Tristram's need,
The goodliest of the land, for well was he
Appointed richly for that embassy,
In all things noble as a king might be.
So sailed they on a sunlit morn of spring
Out from the bay. Not any thought had he
Of danger that the rising winds should bring,
And skies at first were clear, and winds were kind,
But as their course to wider seas inclined
Wild tempest waked. The winds' own path they kept,
The while the whitening waves behind them leapt,
Out to the waters where no land is known,.
Boundless, or bounded by the sun's red pit.
Then from the west the veering tempest swept
Their wild course backward over seas as lone,
But with more hope of friendly shores to find
Than in the landless waters left behind.
So, at the last, across subsiding waves,
A shore of red sea-cliffs, and deep sea-caves,
They viewed and skirted, till an opening bay
Allowed their entrance. There the spent ship lay
While Tristram, landing with his following train,
Felt the glad freedom of firm earth again.
Where were they? Far from where they sought to be.
Driven to the friendly shore of wide Logre:
Not two score miles from Camelot. There to ride
He thought, who cared not in that port to bide
While toiled the crew, and harbour craftsmen there,
Torn cordage to renew, rent sails repair,
Sprung timbers heal. The thirsting chargers, led
To wealth of streamside meadows, drank and fed,
Stretched their stiff limbs, and found their strength renew.
Soon were they fit to rank in order due
The road to take to that far-famous court
Where Tristram journeyed, with fain heart to meet
Those whom he knew not, save by fame's report,
And reap fair vantage from the sea's defeat.
But ere to Camelot's southward towers he came
Was twice occasion to advance his fame.
For first Sir Ector and Sir Morganore
He met, and in fair conflict overbore.
And next a lady crossed his path, who cried
His knightly aid: "For I am shamed," she said,
"Except thy rescue to my hand restore
A child of Lancelot's kin, in Benoic bred,
Whom he had charged me bring, to here provide
His nurture fitly. Being burdened so,
Through the near woods I rode, in peace to go
To Camelot's walls secure, to there await
Sir Lancelot's coming. Should I danger fear
In Arthur's own Logre? But even here
It seems is treason, for a knight I met
Who seized the child, and when his ruth I pled,
My palfrey and myself he overset,
And laughed upon me. 'Much the gold', he said,
'That for its safe release its kin will pay'.
And his great charger turned, and rode away."
Answered Sir Tristram: "In the name you use
I would not lightly at less need refuse
A heavier plea. Content you here, and I
The child will rescue, or attempting die."
Thereat the path of that false knight she showed,
And Tristram followed, and such pace he rode
That soon he reached, and after brief debate
He overcast him: "Bring the child," he said,
And meekly that thrown knight the palfrey led
On which the child, unfeared and curious, sate.
"What is thy name?"
"My name is Breuse. My foes
Call me Sans Pitie. But no labour goes
The slanderous words to speak."
"I scantly know
But it were evil judged to let thee go."
"Fair knight, the child is thine."
"Then go; but heed
Thy later ways, or else a different meed
From some true knight will fall thee."
The felon seized. With flying hooves he went
To seek the shelter of his distant hold.
But long that grace must Tristram's heart repent,
For Breuse was one whose lusts to murders bent,
Plunders and rapes, as noble hearts incline
To share God's bounty. Such a knight to slay
Is guilt of gentleness, and mercy's way.
The King far north to Joyous Garde had gone,
Sir Lancelot's guest. In Camelot, crowded gay
For the near feast; and in the green of may
Bowered, and made fragrant with the flower thereon,
Ruled Caradoc for the King.
From peace secure
And concord of great knights that feastward drew,
Unthought, a lightning flame of discord broke,
Born of reproach that Blamor spake, who knew
By word that reached him, secret, swift and sure,
From friends of trust, that dead by miscreant stroke
In Anguish' court, Gahalt, his kinsman lay;
And with this word the rumoured tale was told
That through safe hands the murderers' dole of gold
King Anguish paid. Who all denied, and said,
He knew not of Gahalt, alive or dead.
Thereon had Blamor flung at Anguish' feet
A gage of death, in mortal strife to meet,
Or champion find, or else allowed to be
Murderer, and outcast of the Table he.
And Anguish lifted that cast gage, and knew
Himself unfit such strife to hold, and thought
There was not in the range of Arthur's Court
A friend to help him at such pass. But few
Of all, in mortal field would dare ado
With Blamor. Few, beside, but first would weigh
The cause, and Blamor's clean repute, that they
Should stake not rashly life where all men know
Who falsehood aids shall meet God's overthrow.
Such fears confounded all his heart, the while
He answered: "If in any craft or guile
I wrought thy kinsman's loss, may God to me
Do likewise. Seven days hence our proof shall be."
And Caradoc granted that claimed grace, and so
Were six days past, and that last morn too near
Of lasting shame, except his weaker spear
Should Blamor cast, his older sword should slay.
But came to Anguish' tent at fall of day
The squire of Tristram, seeking speech; and though
Of that strange embassy he might not know,
That Mark had given; nor how the rumoured word
Of his strait need that morn had Tristram heard
With joy that such fair-offering chance should be;
Not less, as one that kinghood long had taught
Conceal of grief, and in his separate thought
Contending needs to bear, with welcome free
His audience gave, and asked Sir Tristram's will.
Answered the squire: "My lord - and none but he
In lands he left, could larger ends fulfil -
Near-resting now, and moved of old goodwill,
Desires thy grace and tenders service."
Was Anguish at the word, remembering well
That island strife, where Ireland's champion fell;
And Tristram's valour, and the praise he had
In tourney, ere they learnt that later day
Their nation's foe. He would not chance delay,
But rose, called horse, and where Sir Tristram lay
Rode a good pace, and found, and greeted fair,
And asked the cause that from his distant land
He came where Lyonesse knights were welcomed few.
And Tristram: "Wings of adverse tempest blew
My seaward course, and led that here I stand,
Remembering kindness at thy daughter's hand,
And healing, and thine own fair courtesy,
And wouldst that thou resolve if here I may
Do aught to thy content that bond to pay."
"O Tristram," said the king, "fair words let be,
Nor blindly plight thy faith too deep. In me,
One time thy friend, at naked need ye see
A hunted man. Of murderous wrong appealed,
Where proof is none, the gage of mortal field
Lies at my feet, and if such strife I take,
Vain lance against a younger knight I break,
More strong, more skilled, of larger worth than I,
That shamed alike I live, or shamed I die.
No hope in strife, no hope in flight I find:
Dishonour yawns beneath, and bays behind."
"King for a kindness shown when need as sore
Was mine to thee, who had caused thy grief, and more
For her whose mercy healed mine hurt, and pled
My life, allowed her house's foe, if I
Thy champion stand in this strait pass, wilt thou
Swear by God's Cross ye did not work to shed
This dead knight's life, nor with slant glance allow
A hireling's stroke? And if this strife I take
For thine and for Iseult thy daughter's sake,
Wilt swear, that freely as my life I lend
In strife not mine, if fair thy cause I speed,
Ye shall in reason grant the largest meed
King Anguish answered: "Sooth I swear,
All oaths ye will, in God His sight, that ne'er
I practised gainst Gahalt, nor heard his end
Till here I came. For aught of mine ye need
Ask as thine own, and if I less fulfil
It shall be past my power, but not my will,
For fail this hope at utter loss am I.
How else should warrior for my need be found?
No knight who holdeth with the Table Round
Will 'gainst Sir Lancelot's kin his life ally.
Nor might I doubt thee, nor my cause despair,
Though Lancelot self their chosen champion were."
"Nay, but Sir Lancelot is the first," he said,
"Of all knights living. Shame his kindred dread,
And naught beside, and though their weakest take
This combat, yet for their great leader's sake
Well know I that naught but death shall gain, and none
Of that great house but such high deeds has done
As more exalt it. I have joined before
With Blamor's brother in no light strife, that more
Than mutual grace I might not hope, and he
Though less than Bleoberis in girth and height,
Yet is he widely noised the hardier knight."
Answered the careful king: "Good sooth ye tell,
The valour of that great house I know too well
For fear to leave me."
"Doubt ye naught," replied
His champion knight, "has seldom yet been tried
A harder strife than waits his morn to be."
With morn, at Caradoc's word, the lists were set,
And those that there for mortal strife were met
Before his seat he called, their charge to hear,
That in good faith, and holding God in fear,
His judgment there to prove they joined; and they
The rules of conflict aware to both obey
To utterance fought, from guile or treasons free.
Then Bleoberis to Blamor spake apart,
The while with testing care his arms they braced
"O brother, I know thee, and thy dauntless heart
I doubt not; but this Cornish knight, perde,
As ever I saw a stalwart knight is he,
And therewithal great hearted, as men say.
Nor mercy here belongs, except ye may
Speak the loth word."
And Blamor answered: "Nay
Well may I of his noble might be sped,
Yet doubt not death, ere the loth word be said,
Mine end shall be; and, brother, chance what chance,
He in the rightful cause who rests his lance
Hath Heaven to aid."
And forth he passed to where
Sir Tristram from his tent in like prepare
Had mounted at the lists' confines and there
With short await the trumpets called, and they
Shocked in the midst, with here no tourney play,
But deadliest aim of lance to maim or slay,
As most might be.
Sir Blamor's lance to meet
Sir Tristram's shield sufficed, and turned, nor seat
He lost, the while in Camelot's wondering view,
His foeman from a rolling steed he threw,
Three spears' length backward cast in hard defeat.
But Blamor leapt, and laughing, from the dust:
"A mare's son failed me, yet to God I trust,
His earth will never." And ready sword he drew,
And Tristram lighted, and that strife anew
Joined in like guise, and with that cautioned skill
Which oft before his sure defence had been,
Strove with contained resolve; but Blamor smote
With wrath so swift, so fierce, so tireless seen,
That either ground he gained, or beaten back
Returned more furious in resumed attack;
The while that watched that strife the appraising crowd
So rapt they knew not that they cried aloud,
As the blades rang, for good blows given, or swift
Avoidance of the perilling chance, and shift
Continuous of effectual shields.
Came instant. Blamor had foined, and bent aside
But Tristram's blade so hard on helm replied,
Unsensed, oblivious of his fate, he fell.
Looked all to see the last stroke given, with breath
Withheld unware, in that suspense of death;
But Tristram motioned not to strike but stayed
As weary: leaned on his strong sword: and so
Gazed in long silence on his fallen foe.
Slowly the while to Blamor's darkened brain
The pulse of painful life awaked again,
And twice he strove to rise, and failed, and knew
That mortal weakness held him bound, and through
The wavering mist that veiled his sight he saw
The waiting victor of that ended war;
And, raising on his arm, he spake - "Behold,
Why wait ye? Think ye I yield? I tell ye nay,
Ye shall not gain except my life ye slay.
For reached I all the wealth and honour of earth
If the loth word had won it, it were not worth.
That will I never to say, so if ye dare
I charge ye that ye slay me."
Stood some still space, the while he thought: "Alas!
At jeopard of life he lies, but heavier pass
Is mine, for slain or recreant save he be,
My part I fail, and Anguish' trust betray;
And if his life at this sore choice I slay
Is feud with Lancelot to the ending day
Nor heart is mine to do it."
And fixed in mind
Some fairer issue from that pass to find
To Caradoc's seat he turned: "Lord King," he said,
"Thou seest he yields not, though his strength be sped,
But holds his word unchanged, refusing fate,
That here thy judgment waits. To God I pray
That not be mine such knight to shame or slay."
Then Caradoc, who desired his life, but sate
As judge, not pleader, bade his seat attend
Sir Bleoberis, to whom he spake: "This end
Unwont of ordeal of set strife requires
More counsels than mine own. His brother art thou
Whose life lies forfeit. Not that life desires
His victor, noble as any knight here; but how
Can rule I his release, and grant acquit
To Anguish also, as must needs? I sit
A murderous charge to try, and this must be
Proved or retract."
He answered: "Lord, to me
No choice is left; for not I think that though
Sate Lancelot there, our house's chief, would he
Desire or take it at such price; and we,
Our kin so close, and his repute so high,
Unshamed would conquer, or unshamed would die."
But Anguish spake: "Fair lords, the victor's right
Myself may claim. My champion's part is through.
And if content this ended strife I see,
Nor that loth word to shame his heart be said,
Ye well may take it at my hand. For me,
Naught will I more of this to speak or do,
But in good faith, without impute or blame,
Our old accords and comrade trusts renew
And this believe, that not in act or breath
Held I consenting to thy kinsman's death,
Nor knew I of it from any, till here I came."
And answered Bleoberis: "Hadst thou so,
Thou hadst not knightly on thy part, as now,
Such grace allowed, but in his loss he died.
And I, with Blamor in this charge allied,
Not lothly, at the point of loss, but free
And gladly meet thine own in equal vow
Of faith and concord, and acquit thy name
Of slanderous; wrong too soon believed; and he
Whose sword delayed a forfeit life to shed,
There is not one so base of Benoic bred
But were his friend, whatever pass should be,
So Tristram first to Camelot came.
The skies blue heights were clear, the winds were fair,
The white gulls circled in the sunlit air,
When Tristram sailed again in pride redressed,
The stout ship, victor of its tempest-test,
Refurbished all. But now the barques were two,
And from the next the harp of Ireland blew.
For no unlooked-for or unwelcomed guest
Would Tristram, following now his hindered quest,
Return to that green land whence hate before
Had thrust him. Rather from its grateful lord
Would gifts too lavish at his hand be set.
"Were half my realm thine own," King Anguish said,
"It would not quittance of thine aid afford,
Nor lift my burden of enduring debt."
So came he where no hostile voice was heard,
And with more depth of joy Iseult he met
Than memory held, though like a scorpion stirred
The thought of that irrevocable word
He gave King Mark. Before, a foe concealed,
Faint hope was his; but now that hope was less
With memory of his mission unrevealed,
Which from short moments of forgetfulness
Would wake to sting him.
Equal love to yield
To eyes that sought his own he might not dare.
Yet well she counted that such love was there,
Wondered, and waited, and at last was sad.
No less, good converse, and accord they had,
As joyous youth prevailed, and well content
King Anguish watched them, and his thought he bent
To Ireland's future rule: a strong ally
Should Lyonesse prove; and Cornwall's cowardly hate
For that claimed tribute, should such league abate -
And idly thus the summer days went by.
The tower in which Iseult's high chamber stood
Looked westward to the city wall below,
And on to scenes of meadow, tilth and wood,
That fell toward the river's glittering bow.
There on its roof they met where none was nigh.
Naught was above them but the height of sky:
Naught was around them but the depths of air.
As lone and single to themselves they were
As those who first in Eden dwelt; but more
Aware of distance than they felt before
When at the crowded board apart they sate.
As one who bares a wound to probe its pain,
Lightly she spake, with low clear words that long
Her thoughts had held: "The while thy heart is fain
For larger pleasures than our walls contain,
We would not hold thee. Grateful thoughts and dear
Will follow always where you bide; but here,
Prevented from full life of song and deed,
Why should we hold thee on a restless chain?"
He answered: "Nay, you all misdeem, for I
Am where I would, and grudge the hours that fly.
For in thy service my delights have been
Innumerable as the shades of the spring green
In Severn woodlands at the break of May."
"Nay," said she, "what am I to thee? No strength is mine
The lance to lift: no sleight the harp to play.
Nor can I frame, although I love, the lay
The woodwinds teach thee. Song that soars as thine
Our bards knew never before you came. Art fey,
Gnome of the caves, or merman of the deep,
Or soothly wanderer from the changing lands
Where the long wave along the sunset sands
Breaks, and the land goes with it, or so men tell,
That no firm towers or certain coasts you keep,
But each dissolving with the fluctuant spell
Of those fair sunsets underwhere you dwell?"
And Tristram answered: "Lyonesse land is mine,
Of which men speak the visioned things you say.
And part is sooth, for fairer sunsets shine
On no sea-wastes; and once its landings lay
Far west, where heaven and ocean meet alway,
And no stout barque hath striven, except that they
Took with bold hearts an unreturning way.
"A land it lies beleagued from shore to shore
With sieging seas, whose roots in ocean grow,
Fierce-born from out the uncharted vast, that so
Rushing of strong tides, and hurrying winds at war
Reduce it ever. But yet wide leagues remain
Of weird lone woods, and last of naked plain
Where the sea-wind sings ever. The lays I frame,
Not mine of right, from out that sea-wind came,
One time the friend of else the friendless day.
"But deign you learn of one not skilled to show
An art self-born, the dearer songs I know
Are thine for thee, and those the winds I give
Forgetting, immortalled by thy lips shall live."
Sweet were such words from one well-loved, but why
Were other words unsaid, and distance held?
Why not the trouble in her eyes dispelled
By comfort from his own? She knew not why,
But knew she heard divorcing words. She went
To seek her father.
"Dear my lord," she said,
"If more we hold him, will his heart repent
The aid he gave? He doth not seek to wed,
But with fair words would answer all, for he
Loves his far-wandering life, though courtesy
Hinders rejection of a worthless prize.
Therefore I ask thee, where plain words are best,
To speak them for me. Where his purpose lies
Let him go freely, with the thanks we owe."
And the king answered: "Be thy heart at rest.
All shall be as thou wilt. And dealing so
May serve thee better than thy fears protest."
Then went he to Sir Tristram: "Fair my lord,
If aught to thy content my hand can give,
My promise holds me, and thy most reward
Were yet too paltry. By thine aid to me
Was honour rescued for the world to see.
Ask largely, and in better peace I live."
"Yet might I ask beyond thine utmost will."
"I swear, as God me save, to grant it still."
"No welcome oath I hear. I ask Iseult,
To wed mine uncle, and the Cornish throne."
"Why ask a boon you do not seek to gain?"
"Bound am I by an oath to match thine own."
"To take her for thyself thy heart is fain.
So had I thought. Since Jephthah's daughter died,
Hath none been trammelled in so hard a net."
"Yet am I shamed if I mine oath forget,
And take her for myself."
"It well may be.
But I stand only on mine oath to thee,
Which bids me give her to thy hand. Do thou
Whatever faith's and honour's bonds allow.
If to thyself she fall, the more to me
There was no more to say.
Blindly they went from summer day to day
With words evasive, and avoiding eyes,
Restraining hungered lips that did not kiss,
As though, if naught were told, was naught amiss,
While at the quay the barque of Cornwall lay,
And the morn neared them when its sail must rise
For their reluctant voyage.
The queen the while
(Her hate of Tristram cloaked with careful guile)
Counselled her daughter that a throne secure,
Rather than consort with a wandering knight
(Though a king's heir, for what in life is sure?),
Should be her jocund choice, for short the night
And long the pleasure of the regnant day:
"Believe my urgent love, for all I say
Comes from more knowledge than your own. Accept
The golden future which the prospect shows."
She spoke with love's support, and mind adept
Her daughter's thoughts to guide. With no disclose
Of what those thoughts might be, her daughter heard.
Then went the queen to Bragwaine. Maid was she
Since childhood to Iseult. A flask she stirred
Of rich dark wine, and herbs she dropped therein
Gathered by moonlight when the winds were still.
"This," said she, "shall a magic potion be
To stir desire beyond the leash of will,
And bind her to King Mark, and him to win.
You shall contrive they drink it when they wed."
"I would do more to serve her," Bragwaine said,
And took the flask and hid it.
So the day
Came when she took the unreturning way,
Never again her native land to see
Till sorrow's cup was filled, and death should strike
At all she feared and all she loved alike.
The barque of Cornwall cast her hawsers free,
Left the sure refuge of the sheltered quay,
And sank its strong bows in a windy sea.
Out from the land, the fading land alee,
Beat the good barque against a breaking sea,
Close-hauled to meet the threatening wind that blew
From the clear east, and while its tumult grew,
And whelmed more deep the breaching bows which threw
Attempting seas, on that decked poop and high
Long watched Iseult, beneath the windy sky
Her birth-land fade, until at last she knew
Naught but wide leagues of dazzling white and blue,
A world of flying cloud and heaving sea.
Then turned she from the west, where now the sun
Glowed through the clouds, like an archangel's shield
Hung over heaven's red battlements, to the field
Of windlashed waters eastward. Low there lay
The clouds' grey twilight on the fading day.
Forward she looked. A sombre prospect veiled
Was menace of dark fate to which she sailed.
Fearful she looked; for hopeless grief had drained
The gentle courage which her heart contained.
Then Tristram sought her side, and found her there,
Wind on her face, and on her loosened hair;
With eyes that brightened as he came, aware
She had no sorrow which he did not share.
"Cold blows the seawind from the east," he said.
"But we go southward. Much I long to see
Not Cornwall only, or the seacliffs red
That coast the lands of Arthur's wide Logre,
But thine own Lyonesse most."
"It well may be
That such a chance may rise."
But from the word
Long silence held them bound, the while they heard
The wind, and murmurs of the passing sea.
Kind was the morn. The wind, to northward veered,
Was cool and light. The summer sun was high.
Its heat was fervent from a cloudless sky.
"I thirst," said Tristram. "Is no wine anigh?
Or is there none to bring it?"
"That can I,"
Bragwaine made answer. By a short descent
She reached the cabin which they shared by day.
There, in a locked recess, the casket lay
Wherein the queen's drugged wine she kept; and so
Whether from impulse or preformed intent,
She bore it to them.
"Here is vintage rare,
The queen's last gift, her mother-love to show,
But for Sir Tristram's lips it was not meant."
"Wine," said Iseult, "is that which all men share
Their friends among." And poured it, sparkling red.
"Here is good measure for thy thirst," she said.
Deep was his solace from the fateful cup;
As he laid it down she raised it up,
And drained it wholly, and the love that lay
Downheld within him, rose and broke its way,
Bondless, and in no other mood was she.
Fearful of thought, and yet too fain to flee.
And half she turned, and turning half she stayed,
And all her sense her beating heart dismayed,
Hindering her breath, that there her hand she laid,
Where, in the golden girdle-clasp, between
Her breasts, beneath the samite folds half-seen,
White roses of her own dear land she wore,
Now falling. In their failing life she sought
The love-theme of the instant song he wrought.
Bend thou not down to chide me, sweet,
Those brows where night and morning meet,
Though of that Heaven my harp shall tell
Which those may dream who dare not dwell,
In that white cleft where roses lie,
Shamed by the fairer beauty nigh.
Deign to me, sweet, that I may know
How much of Heaven thou canst bestow
From the close folds that half confess
And half conceal the loveliness
Of that dear vale where roses lie
And vainly with its beauties vie.
Deem not that zone no theft shall break.
All Heavens by force the violent take.
All Heavens to those less worth must fall,
Lest in one equalled loss be all,
As those spent flowers which round thee lie,
And hopeless of thy beauty die.
The song was done. The harp aside was laid.
She felt his lips in that white lane of love
Which opened to the faint-flushed throat above,
And downward to such joys as thought may scarce
Invade, or any height of song rehearse.
She trembled as his hand her zone untied,
To bare a loveliness of breast and side
First seen of man. But no repulse she gave;
Nor felt she near regret nor distant dread,
So was she fixed on him her fate who led.
There is not in the tales of Earth contained
A love more constant, or a bond more strong
Than theirs whose lips that hell-brewed draught had drained,
Caught in a snare where very right was wrong,
Without reversal or avoiding way.
Soundless and windless closed the sunset hour.
The light, rose-hearted, like a falling flower,
Died in the quiet horizon-mists away.
Calm on the summer seas delayed their sails,
Whatever tempest in their hearts they knew,
The while they watched the near wild hills of Wales
Slow-moving past, against the drift that drew
The slow keel inward.
Where the sea-crags high
Were opened by a severing vale that lay
Far inland, widening down its effluent bay,
They took the tide, in sheltered space to lie
And anchoring here they landed.
Slept in the summer peace of windless days,
Through long vale-clefts the frequent hills between,
Wherein some time they wandered.
Well might they long from that voyage-end that lay
A voidless evil of near days. But green,
And cool, and quiet, the woodland depths that seemed
As though time were not, where in peace they dreamed
Nor any wrath, nor noise of outer wrong,
Nor change invade to cease their sleep.
And daily, in frequentless vales, more far
From that moored barque they wandered.
Sound of war
Nor violence offering out on alien beach,
Where no man moved, nor fear of ambush set
In voiceless woods was theirs. Such friend they felt
In that strong sword which from his shoulder-belt
Swung as he strode: so blindly each on each
They spent themselves in glamour of thought and speech,
Not curious of its rule, nor knowing its name,
Unheedful, to the Castle of Tears they came.
Such name those towers for one shamed usage bore
From Lyonesse wastes to Orkney's louder shore.
For ever, if knight and lady, driven by stress
Of storm, or wandering in unwariness,
Claimed guest-rights at the gate, the drawbridge fell,
The echoing doors clanged back, and welcomed well,
Full feast they found, soft rest in chambers fair,
And all their needs forethought; but when farewell
At following morn, with thanks, to speak they sought,
To him that ruled that hold, they found prepare
For mortal strife and on this risk was made,
That save himself that mighty, lord outstayed
In bout of sword, his forfeit life was let;
And whom he brought, by that lord's lady set,
For choice of fairer, and the loser slain,
That might that lord with each won conflict gain
A lovelier consort for his rule. And still,
Through the long years, for strong in strife was he,
His place he held, the while his sword would kill
All guests that first he honoured, and loathfully
Their ladies, or his own, in choice had bled.
Here came Iseult and Tristram. Light had fled
The eastward vales. A pale moon showed. Too long
For short return their careless feet had strayed,
By wild hill path and hollow of luring glade,
When here they came, and thought and recked no wrong,
But boldly at the gate their need they pled.
Morn came, and meetly all their needs were met,
But that tower's lord, Sir Brewlor, at the meal
Gazed at Iseult, and in such scant conceal
Of purpose weighed her life to spoil or let,
That she, responsive as the lake that lies
Blue to blue heaven, or grey to cloudier skies,
Stirred inly with disquiet vague and dim;
And Brewlor's dame, as though in feared appeal,
Glanced at Iseult, and then again at him.
Then closed the meal, and Tristram rose, and fair
The thanks he spake for boon of sheltering care
To nameless wanderers shown: and friendship true
To Brewlor pledged, if ere to grant or do
Were his, or aught he owned at need to share.
He answered: "Thanks for rest and meat ye may.
No stint was there, and naught of price ye pay.
But those are through. And ere ye further wend,
Our custom learn. For came ye guest or friend,
Alike must rule it. Mortal strife we try
Where here we stand, and gain thou life or I,
From our two ladies here, to reign or die,
The victor's choice remains. If might be thine
To overbear me, so that here ye slay
The one reject, will all men else obey
Thy lordship as mine own. If this ye fail,
Should naught to save thy forfeit life avail,
For vowed are all the castle's use to stay."
Round looked Sir Tristram, as the boar at bay
Eyes the near pack, and sees no rescuing way
Of more retreat, the desperate odds to shun,
And saw closed ranks down that long hall, and knew
Alone he might, but bear Iseult therethrough
He might not hope, and doubtful sword he drew,
And toward her turned, her surer place to set
Clear of that strife, and spake no word, but met
Her answering glance, where no fear dwelt, but love
Made confident, the while her footsteps trod
The indelible stains of slaughters past, and then
Remorseless in that strait - no thought had he
If failed his sword at last, Iseult to leave
At hazard of such foul choice - he leapt, and smote
At that lord's dame against the unguarded throat,
And with such swift and deadly stroke that she,
Who from like scene had grasped her loathly gain
And in the turn of fate was likely slain,
Sank with no cry.
"Is no choice here," he said,
"Left for thy doom of which be live or dead,
Even though thou gain in this shamed strife, that I
The gladlier take that in thy death may die
The use ye hold."
And Brewlor answered: "Yea,
Is one shall die full soon that craft to pay."
And in both hands his sword he raised full high,
And rushed at Tristram. With swift feint aside
Who passed a stroke he should not lightly bide,
And in full weight returned. Side-smiting so
That near the hilts of Brewlor's blade the blow
Crashed, ere again it reared, and beat it low
To ground, and brake it from the haft. His foe
Paused for one moment's maze, and wrothed the more,
Leapt at him again, and with bare hands he tore
The gorget, for the throat, and Tristram threw
His own sword from him, and closed, and over-bore,
And cast, back-broken, on those stains a fore.
Oft will it chance that those of gentle breed
Have offspring baser than themselves appear;
And oft will sons of lewder sires exceed
Their father's compass both in thought and deed.
So was it with Sir Brewlor. Sire was he
Of that Haut Prince renowned for courtesy,
Wisdom in counsel, valour in the fray,
Galahalt, who from the first with Arthur stood.
Now from the yard a varlet slipped away
To the close thicket, and beyond the wood
Found in the fields a mount, and rode at speed
To Galahalt's tower: "A stranger knight," he cried,
"Sir Brewlor's guest, in common peace agreed,
Assailed thy father at the meal. He died
In his own hall. From that reproachful deed
This felon seeks Sir Brewlor's rights to seize.
The bold usurper strides thy heritage,
Aping its natural lord."
Sir Galahalt sate
At the noon board, and at his side was set
He of the Hundred. Loyal friends were they
Since first on Arthur's part allied they met
In battle pregnant with a kingdom's fate,
Where the leagued kings with Lot and Neros fell.
Galahalt, who saw no cause the tale to doubt,
Rose with few words, but such as waked a cry
From hall to court for saddle steeds, and out,
Flauntless, but grimly armed, and grimly set
Hard death to deal, they rode with spurs blood-wet,
By mountain road, and stream and estuary,
Until the salt breath of the nearing sea
The west wind brought, and where the hills divide
Rose the black barrier of that tower of shame
Which bore its menace in its dolorous name.
Here, at the pleading call of those he freed,
Had Tristram, for their service sworn, agreed
Some space to stay, and better rule provide.
Now from the court he heard a voice that cried:
"Come forth, thou caitiff knight, thy life defend!"
Forth looked he, and a noble knight he saw,
Whose shield he knew not: "Art thou Brewlor's friend?
Foes are we by that word to mortal war.
Nay," - to Iseult - "be blithe of heart, for I
Am rested well this lighter strife to try."
But no light strife he met. The prince's spear
Broke not, but bore him down. 'What knight is here?'
He wondered, as he rose and watched his foe
Rising alike from equal overthrow.
He of the Hundred, who beheld the fray,
Had equal wonder. 'Nearly matched are they.
Who in these hills could Brewlor boldly slay,
And deal with Galahalt thus?' But matched they were,
And those who watched allowed in close compare,
In strength, in valour, in the subtler play
By which the sword-point passed the shield. So strong,
So valiant, and so skilled, it could not be
But strife prolonged, and with no certainty
Of its hard issue those who watched should see.
Yet saw they at the last Sir Tristram's blade
Fell harder, and more swift regain it made.
Tired were they both, but Galahalt tired the more.
Thereat the King the Hundred Knights who led
Came forward to his side: "False knight," he said,
"Think not the slaughter that you wrought before
To here repeat, for others here, as I
Have swords besides." He aimed a stroke that shore
Sir Tristram's plume, though swift he bent. Alike
Sir Galahalt's knights advanced, all sides to strike.
Back drew Sir Tristram: "Gentle knight," he said,
"Is this done knightly?"
"Was it knightly shed -
The blood of Brewlor in his peaceful hall?"
"Yea, in his evil coin he bought his fall.
Either ye know not, or alike are ye.
How should a single sword resist ye all?
I yield perforce, but thine the infamy."
Sir Galahalt answered: "Either yield or die.
No choice is thine."
Sir Tristram cast away
A useless sword. "No better choice have I,
So compassed. Yet thy name I charge thee say.
Thou art Lancelot?"
"Lancelot with more short delay
Had tamed thy valour."
"So it well might be.
Nor call his minions to his aid would he.
Who art thou?"
"Know me for Sir Brewlor's heir.
He was my father. For the end he met,
Fair trial shall be thine, but mercy none."
"I ask no mercy. That his life I let
Should even to his son be short regret,
If he be knightly. It was knightly done.
And his foul custom had a stench so rank
That all the chivalry of Christ should thank
The arm that slew him."
Then the whole he told,
And those around gave witness. Galahalt knew
That all was likely, and that much was true.
His own bright weapon to the ground he threw:
"There is nor yielding here nor conquering,
But fair accord; and that thine own degree
Be worshipped as it should, I charge thee show
By what good right the Lyonesse blazoning
Quarters thy shield?"
"I am Tristram."
Lone in these hills?"
"I come from Ireland."
Too much for Marhaus' death would Tristram pay
If there he went."
"You all misdeem. The king,
For service rendered, is good lord to me.
His daughter for a Cornish bride I bring."
Then all he told, and Galahalt turned to see
Where stood Iseult in watchful dubiety,
Being no less for all her fears aware
That ladies of good birth, when blades are bare,
Distract not valour with a vain lament.
Sir Galahalt's plume, and then his knees he bent,
Her hand to kiss: "To royal rank," said he,
"The formal homage that it claims I give.
Pride stoops to pride, and worth to worth, princess,
But all of valiance kneels to loveliness,
Being the high thought of God, by which they live."
And then to Tristram: "If no more I ask
Such leigance as the yielden wont to pay,
Yet may I charge thee with a grateful task,
Such as shall honour with no stain obey:
To seek Sir Lancelot on the earliest day
That larger claims allow, and him consort
As comrade of thy choice at Arthur's court.
For he hath sought thee since he heard the tale
Of Cornwall's rescue at thy hand."
Sir Tristram answered: "That you charge, I wis,
Is my most hope, for such enfellowship
Hath been my object since my homeward sail
Left the fair land of France."
"And on my side,
Freely I pledge that that foul usage here,
By which fair women and strong knights have died,
Shall cease, the while a better name shall hide
That which was pregnant of its curse of fear."
Once more the strong barque cleft the shining sea,
Wide-winged to bear them where they would not be.
So to Tingagel's castled crags they came,
And he whose deeds the swifter feet of fame
Had borne already, found such welcoming
As might be rendered to a victor king.
Nor less Iseult, his valour's prize, was hailed,
And her sweet beauty and shy grace availed
More than all else to lift his crown of praise.
Even Mark was gracious such a bride to see,
Though Tristram must he hate for all his days
- Being compact of jealous perfidy -
For all his deeds of sword and song, nor less
Because men lauded that high nobleness
More than his own, although their king was he.
Then with much feasting and great mirth were wed
These twain, so diverse, by no fair love led,
But cause of state, and Tristram's snaring vow.
Nor was King Mark of such form or grace
- Furtive of foot, and mean of heart and face -
That with occasion love should enter now.
Hence is it of Iseult have some men said
That never in the arms of Mark she lay,
But Bragwaine took her place at dusk of day
Beside a king whom wine bemused. But why
Believe that only with false words she wed?
Rather than that, she sought her part to do
As best she might, who was by nature true.
Took the hard path that honour's doubtful hand
Pointed, as though, by love and duty led,
Two different roads at once her feet could tread.
More than the maidens that King Mark supplied
To serve the wishes of his Irish bride,
Best loved Iseult Dame Bragwaine, whom she brought
From her dear homeland; and the Cornish court
- That court of craven plots, and mean intrigue -
Hated her therefor, and a secret league
Of those less favoured joined to work her ill.
It was in converse at the common task
That talk arose of her reputed skill
In lore of herbs - that healing juice distil
And one took vantage of the chance to ask
Her aid to search the deeper woods; and she
Undreaming of their malice, gave assent.
Then to a lone wolf-haunted glade they went,
And seized, and left her there, against a tree
Bound for the beasts. But Palomides came
Riding thereby, and loosed, and heard her name,
And left her at a nunnery in the wood,
Where envious hates the lore of Christ withstood.
Then with a wild design Iseult he sought,
And in the castle garth, her own resort,
He found her sad, and asked her why she grieved.
She answered: "Of that dearest friend bereaved,
Who of her choice had never left my side,
What can I?"
And the Saracen knight replied:
"Queen, if I brought her, rescued safe and soon
From deadliest peril, would you grant the boon
I ask in guerdon?"
"Gladly yea," she said.
"Then wait ye here," he cried, and fast he sped
That woodland path to the nunnery led,
And one still fain to serve Iseult he brought,
Though fearful of the hate that now she knew.
Glad greetings given, Sir Palomides sought
His boon to claim, at which Iseult, aware
Of the rash word her heedless grief had said,
Made answer: "Surely, though I know not how,
I would requite thee to thine utmost prayer,
Being so debtored, but good heed have thou
I meant not, and I will naught evil do."
"Hold I thy word," he asked, "for less than true?
The gain desired is thine: the pledged reward
I ask thee in full hall, before thy lord."
With morn rerisen, Sir Palomides drew
Full-armed toward the court of Mark, and through
The wide approaches of the audience-hall,
Even to the king's high throne, contemning all
The assembled knights around, in boldness rode.
A glance that with audacious purpose glowed
Belied word-courteous greeting: "King," he cried,
"Whose fame through all these western isles is wide,
And through the winning of so fair a bride
Most envied! Guest and stranger, here I plead
For justice at thy hand."
"Not thine the need,"
King Mark replied, "to doubt me ere I speak.
Believe it granted that of right ye seek."
"Last morn," the knight replied, "Queen Iseult gave
Hard quest to me, her servant lost to save
From deadly peril, and her faith she bound
To grant what boon I would. The maid returned,
I claim of right the meed my service earned."
Then turned the king where Iseult sate beside:
"How pledge ye unrestrained a boon so wide?"
To which she answered: "Lord, I meant no wrong.
Lightly he asked, and overlightly I
Gave answer in my grief, for overlong
And strangely had I lost her. If I erred,
His knighthood was my surety."
Then the king:
"Now if I judge she hold her plighted word,
What would ye?"
"Even herself to rule and guide,
Rest where I rest, and where I ride to ride,
Till at the close of our fair wandering
A far throne waits her."
Then the wily king
Pondered, and thought of Tristram, smiled, and spake:
"I judge she hold her word. Be bold to take
The adventure that befalleth. Not for long
Thy prize is thine except thy lance be strong."
And Palomides answered: "Surely naught
Beyond such test to prove could reach my thought.
Except his lance be strong, his heart be bold,
A prize so high might no man vaunt to hold."
This heard Iseult as one who meets in dreams
Black horror instant, where nor rescue seems,
Nor any force to strive, nor fence to stay.
Neither she spake nor strove nor guiled delay
When Palomides from the warhorse bent,
And raised her to the selle.
One glance he sent
Round the wide throng that watched with wondering dark.
"Doth none contest," he mocked, "so dear a prize?"
The still ring of the ignoble knights of Mark
Shrank from the Paynim's bold provoking eyes.
Not any gage was flung, nor voice did rise
Defiant of him that jeered them. Only one,
Lambegus, marvelling at their land's disgrace,
But scatheless from that court, and down
The long street, crowded by the gaping town,
As past his lieges rides their natural lord,
Rode Palomides at no hastened pace,
In light derision of that craven horde.
Then rose a cry for Tristram through the court,
And through Tintagel's towers and town they sought,
And while they searched in haste, to Mark in hall
Spake the young knight, Lambegus: "Though I fall
- No match for Palomides - yet," he prayed,
"By strife he may be wounded or delayed
Till Tristram reach." Full gladly gave assent
The careful king, while far and fast he sent,
Seeking for Tristram, who, the daylong while,
Pursued the chase for many a woodland mile.
With fall of night he came. To Govenale
He cried in haste for arms: "And bring from stall
Two strong and lasting steeds, for rest I naught
Until this heathen knight be found and fought.
Lambegus hath nor skill, nor might, nor breath,
To win from Palomides aught but death."
Long watched Iseult in lessening hope to hear
Beat of far hooves, or glint of following spear
To mark afar; till in the grasp of fear
Hope ended, and the hostile night was near.
But yet she searched the darkening path, with clear
Courageous eyes that hid the heart's despair;
And still the road ran backward, white and bare.
Lastly she spake: "If some fantastic vow,
Such as the laws of knightly use allow,
Hath led thee thus, unsoiled of base intent;
Or if the mercy in thy heart relent;
That lonely I return and unconstrained,
Would leave my honour and thy shield unstained."
And Palomides answered: "Oh my queen,
I seek thy love to gain, not forced but free.
For waste are all my days desiring thee.
My deeds of daylight all thy service seem,
And not for all the earth and all the sea
Could yield in tribute would I turn from thee.
"In mine own land who boasts a nobler name?
Who in these western isles, since first I came,
Seeking to learn thy faith, and finding thee,
Hath overborne me? What hath been will be.
Grant but thy love, and all our following days
Shall lift my valour, and extend thy praise."
Answered Iseult: "And is thy land so rude
Thou deemest that a queen may well be wooed
By such base vantage of a word she gave
In courtesy and honour? Oh, most brave
And very gentle knight! To lead me forth
Thy bargained slave."
And he replied in wrath:
"In mine own land would never queen deny
The large reward of such a deed as I
Have compassed for thy love. I hold thee here
Won by the challenge of my single spear
Against a realm grown silent. Was there one
To strike a loyal blow? For honour, none?
Where is thy natural lord? This Tristram where?
Were wisdom thine to give me answer fair."
But Iseult answered boldly: "Well for thee
If, when my knight's opposing shield ye see,
Thy mind be clear of ill, that I may stand
And when thou failest bid him hold his hand,
And leave thee living."
Even with the word,
The thunder of pursuing hooves they heard.
Then Palomides turned. Aside he set
Iseult, and hailed Lambegus, ere they met:
"Nay, I have a lowlier name,
Lost in the shadow of his larger fame."
"I would thou wert."
"I well believe," he cried,
"Thou wouldst, yet something of thy scornful pride
May Tristram tame ere long."
No more he spoke,
But spurred and charged, and when the lances broke,
Against that knight renowned, so knightly well
He dured the shock, nor steed nor rider fell.
Casting the shafts aside, to earth they sprang,
And furious closed. On helm and hawberk rang
Blows that nor blade could meet nor shield could turn.
Back from the beaten path, knee-deep in fern,
Sir Palomides bore the young knight,
Till vainly striving to sustain the fight,
Till to the force of one down-breaking blow,
Alive with death, his weakened fence too low
Shifting an ineffectual shield, he fell.
Iseult had watched the strife. Had seen too well
Its certain issue. While Lambegus, borne
Far backward, yet delayed that final stroke,
A pathway through the further copse she broke,
By boughs delayed, by brambles held and torn,
To gain the shelter of the deepest wood.
Because one fear all lighter fears withstood,
The darkness seemed a safety: beasts that cried
Like-hunted friends, by like alarms allied,
By common shades secured. And when the moon
Ascended heaven toward her silver noon,
The bracken couched her, sunk in slumber light.
But waked she fearful at the fail of night,
To wander till the turning path revealed
- His arms made glorious by the dawn, his shield
A second sunlight in the morning's gold -
An aged knight, Sir Adthrep.
Him she told
Of how the Paynim for her capture wrought;
And how Lambegus, knightly, vainly, fought;
And how she fled the while, and how she lay
All night the consort of the beasts of prey.
The old knight answered: "Queen, my hold is near,
Where you may rest in safety freed of fear.
The path lies yonder. While you take the way,
Here will I hove, and any search delay."
So came she to his gate, and there the guard,
Who knew her surely, dropped their bolts, and barred
All further entrance. While, by that same path,
From sleepless seeking hours, and wood with wrath,
Came Palomides, and Sir Adthrep there
He countered. Short and hard their greetings were.
For Palomides: "Hither passed the Queen?"
"Yea, her who fled thee have I lately seen,
And heard a tale of treason."
"False ye heard.
Mine was she justly by her plighted word.
King Mark allowed it."
"That King Mark allowed,
Showed only that a coward heart was cowed."
"Even so.... With change of words let priests contend.
Show me the path she went, I count thee friend,
Thy words be what thou wilt. - This aid deny,
Is here thy mortal strife, to gain or die."
Sir Adthrep answered naught. His shield he drest.
Backward he reined his steed, and lance in rest
Charged as he might. No equal force was here
To meet the violence of the Paynim spear,
Nor skill, in strength's default, the course to gain.
Far-flung from that devoir, so valiant-vain,
To earth he sank, and rose not.
"Wilt thou now,
If I in meed thy forfeit life allow,
Guide to the queen?" His easy conqueror cried,
"Fair hast thou striven, and well may yield unblamed."
"Nay, if I would," the fallen knight replied,
"I could not, whom thy downward lance hath lamed,
And count I sure that while you railed and fought
The queen her safety in my hold hath sought,
Whence none will yield her."
Even as he heard,
Forgetful of his foe, the Paynim spurred
Hard on the path, and vain that tower he tried.
The cold grey walls his ardent hopes denied,
For neither warder showed, nor voice replied.
Fast through the summer twilight, knee to knee
With Govenale - for comrade more was he
Than squire - rode Tristram to the rising night,
Searching the woods with all a hunter's sight
For signs of those they followed. Fail of light
Delayed them only till the moonrise clear
With shortening shadows stained the roadway white.
So rode they through the night till loud and near
A charger neighed in welcome. At the sound,
Tightening his rein, Sir Tristram leapt to ground,
And by the moon a wounded knight they found
By whom lone guard the patient charger kept.
Needs must they succour, lest alone he die -
Lambegus, seeming dead. But him they bore
To where a woodman's shelter showed nearby,
And left well-tended.
Urged in haste the more
By this retard, and surer now, they ride,
Covering the moonlit land in reaches wide.
Oft they retrace a failing path, or stay
To weigh the doubt of some dividing way,
Or wake the ward of friendly hold to know
What recent parties passed their walls below.
Moonset, and dawning, and advancing day
Yet knew them tireless, till the path they sped
Where Adthrep, wounded, rested by the way.
Briefly he told them how the queen had fled,
And how in chase Sir Palomides came,
Alight with ire.... "His wrath, a raging flame,
Sought fuel, and when he knew mine aid denied,
Instant the vain appeal of arms he tried;
To learn too late that while he railed and fought
The queen the surety of my hold had sought;
And learning, left me in such heat of haste
As might no hindering thought on vengeance waste."
Answered Sir Tristram: "Though thy lance were weak,
Thy selfless valour did her safety seek,
Regardless of thine own, and hence shall shine
All knighthood fairer for this deed of thine.
To me thy dealing leaves a welcome debt
That only life can close, or death forget."
The shame of failure, and the wrath of loss,
- Desire left empty, having held its prey -
Drove cloud on cloud of deepening gloom across
The mind of that foiled knight who held his stay
Before the entrance of the silent hold.
The heat of that desire which made him bold
To hundreds at the court of Mark, and hid
The unknightly baseness of the deed he did
Even from the chamber of his secret thought,
Though hope were low, its stubborn purpose sought
With blind resolve; and while the long day rose,
And held mid-heaven, and turned toward its close,
Close ground he kept, till Tristram's urged approach
Stirred the still noon.
When that prone knight he knew,
Govenale toward his side alighting drew,
And with the spear-butt stirred him, while he cried:
"Bold thief, arise! Lest death's cold night encroach
To end too-amorous dreams. For here doth bide
Sir Tristram, first of all thy mortal foes."
Awhile he sate as one who list not heed,
And then without regard or word arose,
And in tranced silence turned to lance and steed.
Then waked that silent hold to life: its wall
Was lined by those who watched, in hope to see
Such deeds of death or life as needs must be
When famed world-champions meet in arms, while she
For whom they hardly strive beholds.
At height of speed, with shattering shock, perde.
Hard seat Sir Tristram held; unseated fell
The eastern knight, but quickly rose, and set
Shield against shield. No choice of words may tell
The fury of that strife which now befell,
When strength unmatched with strength scare matched before
In stress of deadliest conflict closed. No more
Found Palomides, as his wont, a foe
Whom by sufficient might he backward drove
With tempest of fast-following blows.
The knight who faced him now gave strokes that clove
Deep downward through the covering shield, or shore
The hawberk's tempered steel. The ceaseless clang
Waked echoes from the answering walls that died
In hills afar.
Long hours that strife was tried.
For Palomides, now perforce confest
Not equal, yet maintained the fierce contest
Unyielding, and the long blades leapt and rang
Strong were the stokes he dealt, but stronger yet
From that relentless wrath the strokes he met,
For scantly space would Tristram's haste allow
For fence or foin, but where his chance he viewed,
Careless of counter, there forthright he hewed
With ruthless strength.
The Paynim, beaten now
As erst he beat Lambegus, stooped, but still
With guard adroit, and stubborn furious will,
That knew no wound the while, avoided fate.
Iseult beheld. No doubt her mind possest,
Nor fear for whom she trusted. Proven best
Aforetime. With the leaping steel elate,
Her leaping blood rejoiced with every blow.
Till, seeing the Paynim fail, bethought she then:
'Though one I love the best of earthly men,
One less than naught, yet pity were to see
The death of that good knight whose love to me
Hath brought him near to his last overthrow.
Behold how hardly he his fate withstands!
How weak each difficult stroke! His shield how low!'
Downward, and through the postern gate, she sped.
Between their swords she broke with pleading hands.
Her knight she cried to cease that strife, and he
Sank sword, and answered, wondering: "Would ye so
Prevail to my dishonour, since ye know
I heed to your beseeching?"
"Nay," she said,
"Except I sued ye now, he were but dead.
Thine is the strife already. Worsted he
In sight of all beholders. Canst thou take
Palomides, while she spake,
Gazed with uncertain sight, and weak of knee,
Leaned on his shield. Then Tristram: "If he will
To yield his life to whom he wronged: fulfil
Thy purpose ever, making thy command
His law; or else to seek his native land,
Returning never, I am content."
Answered: "Between that choice, my queen, to thee
I yield me gladly."
Light command is mine,
That thou shalt ride forthright to Arthur's queen,
And tell her all that through thy fault hath been,
And with this greeting close: There be but four
True lovers in this realm whose faith is more
Than wedlock, truer than vows. Who hold their bond
Dear as their honour, dearer than delight;
Nor heed what life may lose, nor Heaven requite."
Latent the hate of Mark for Tristram lay,
But live, as in a sleeping beast of prey
Lives the fierce thirst of blood, the furtive crawl,
The death leap at the last. But peaceful all
Within the wide sweep of the bounding wall
Passed the grey months of winter. Storm without
Beat on Tintagel, or the white snow lay
Sparkling in sunlight on the platform high
Which for wide views of ocean, earth and sky,
Were paced in warmer days. But warm were they
In the great hall, while mirth and jest and play,
The chess-board's cunning strife, and harp and song,
And old long tales that did not seem too long,
Shortened the sheltering days.
No doubtful thought
Of treason in Iseult for Mark had wrought
New cause of quarrel. Had Sir Tristram brought
One whom himself desired? To Mark could be
But one reply. Nor in the snowbound tower,
Great though its girth, to find a lonely hour
Through the long days for aught of secrecy
Might even love contrive, such throng was there.
But when spring dried the ways, and warmer air
Blew from the south, the castle waked anew,
Aware of wider life. An affluent train
Each morning saw, nor all returned again
As darkness neared; and when rejoicing May
Wore its full vesture, oft the noon of day
Showed vacant hall, and its surrounding bowers,
Where lodged the single knights, were empty all.
Then once it was that in those chanceful hours
Iseult and Tristram in a window stood.
Words of sad love they spake, and vain regret,
And first their hands, and then their lips had met
When Andret saw them.
Close to Mark was he,
Even as Tristram was, a sister's child,
But closer in device of perfidy,
Baseness and greed. He knew Mark's enmity;
And if were Tristram slain, or far exiled,
Himself was Cornwall's heir. Now Heaven was kind
To his most hope. He ran the king to find.
Mark at that hour was with his seneschal,
Sir Dinas, counting coin with eager lust.
Sir Dinas was not one to loosen trust,
A man precise, exact and punctual,
And too fair-dealing for the full content
Of Cornwall's king. Now through the tale they went
Of port and market dues, of toll and rent,
Which Mark in grudging words allowed was true.
On them Sir Andret burst: "I saw thy queen
In Tristram's lewd embrace."
"They saw not you?"
"Only each other to themselves was seen,
They were so blindly fixed on that they did."
"His sword he bears?"
"He wears no arms at all.
In the far alcove, by the chantry wall,
Their treason mocks thee."
Mark his sword outslid.
Quickly he ran, but came too late to find
More than Sir Tristram; who with speedy mind
Had Iseult, at footsteps sound, perfect hid.
"False traitor, take thy death."
Sir Tristram turned.
He saw more danger than his fault had earned.
Swiftly he stooped. Beneath the sword he ran.
He seized and wrenched it from a weaker hand.
Mark called for aid. Were many gathering now;
But none made motion at the king's command
To face Sir Tristram. From the naked blade,
Mark shrank and fled; while Tristram, laughing loud,
Pursued him through the hall, by no man stayed,
Though hindered somewhat by a wildered crowd.
Short was the chase. The sword, brought flatly down
On neck and shoulders, forward cast the king;
And with good blows, as one who smites a clown,
Sir Tristram beat him: "Didst thou think to slay
A knight unarmed? Then take a caitiff's pay.
This shall be meat for thy remembering.
Howl louder, mongrel, lest I smite the more."
So left he the ignoble king, who lay
Abject; and called his men, and armed, and bore
His gear unhindered from that hold away.
Mark called a council: "In the woods anear
Sir Tristram lingers, but his force is few.
I think to seize him."
"That you seek to do,"
Sir Dinas answered, "were not lightly done
By Arthur's greatest; and what knight is here
To equal Tristram? Nor thy count is sure
Of thy full numbers, for too many a one
Would stand beside him, were he hard bested.
Bethink ye further: should he make repair
To Camelot, and with grace be welcomed there,
What of our malice were he left to dread?"
Like words, as echoes, from all sides were said.
"He is Cornwall's glory now, and that were lost."
"His were the gain to go, and ours the cost."
"Restore him to thy peace. His fault was less,
Perchance, than Andret told. If treasonless
His life were dangered, was his wrath too great
For later pardon? Is Sir Andret's word
More than the queen's?"
They spoke with reason here,
For Mark had asked her if his charge was true,
And she had answered in short words and clear:
"The tale is false, as God me save. To you
When have I lied? Consider where we met.
It counters reason."
Simple truth she said.
Sir Andret, both by hate and haste misled,
And swift to add surmise to all he saw,
Had so beyond the fact the queen decried,
That she with reason and plain truth denied
That which the deed outran.
The king looked round
On those from whom no sure support he found,
And from his craftful eyes his purpose died.
Smoothly he spake: "Whatever wrong I had,
It shall not to the kingdom's loss prevail.
Let one with letters to Sir Tristram ride
Which soothly for his fair return provide,
Pledging the honour of us all that naught
Be further spoken of the things that were,
If he such silence will alike declare.
Rashly the evil word that Andret brought
My fears believed, and through that evil word,
By blind and sudden wrath too lightly stirred,
His life I menaced, and must needs forgive
His own rude violence, which let me live."
Loosed from reluctant strife by this consent,
Sir Dinas frankly to Sir Tristram went,
With fair entreaty for his peace: "To you
We owe so greatly. For our bold release
From Ireland's yoke; and every deed you do
Shines through the world, to bring its bright increase
To Cornwall's fame. The envious gibe which slurs
Our knighthood, by thy name rebuked, is still;
And even she whose worth this discord stirs,
Won by thy valour and thy courtesy,
Is as thy gift to Cornwall. All goodwill
Awaits thee at Tintagel. Even he
Who felt thy blows entreats thee."
Sir Tristram made: "If nothing more be said,
Naught will I say. The king's unseemly sword,
Perilling my life unarmed, excuse must be
For that I dealt him. In thy warrantry,
Doubtless of evil, will I make return."
So with Sir Dinas rode he boldly back,
Devoid of rancour or of wariness,
And found fair welcome, and no word was said,
Even by Andret, to his peace prevent.
So was it bargained on both sides; and gay
Passed the long days of June in mirth and play,
Until Mark called a meadow tournament,
Where thirty of his knights, the best he had,
Would joust with all who came. Few knights, he thought,
Would likely to the Cornish lands resort,
They might not equal; and if such should be,
Was there not Tristram at his call?
Of argent silk and kingly ornament,
He pitched on level land. The sylvan scene,
Backed by great woods, and with fair space between
A bending river and the groves behind,
As though by nature for such sport designed,
Was soon with many bright pavilions gay.
Barriers were built, and terraced seats were set,
And ladies thronged to watch the martial play.
But few the knights who came that westward way,
So sunk from bold repute was Cornwall's name.
Why should they choose where some surprising shame
Might hap, but meagre hope of glory lay?
So for some days their boasts the thirty held.
If fell the first, another knight repelled
The best who challenged. Till two knights there came:
One with a crestless helm, but all men knew
On Driant's shield the crossing lances blue.
Then on the tourney field high deeds began.
Driant with different knights twelve courses ran.
The tale of those he cast were long to tell.
Yet at the last he tired, and tiring fell.
Then like a bolt from out blue heaven there came
His comrade down the field, and overbore
Him who had spoiled Sir Driant's pride before.
No arms he showed, and none had learnt his name,
But now his strength the thirty learnt, for all
Who dared his challenge found an abject fall.
Soon was he single on the field for none
Would further venture. Worn with strife was he,
And wearied was his steed, but victory
Was doubtless. Roughly taught his lance to shun
The Cornish knights resigned that rivalry.
Wood wrath was Mark thereat: "This shame shall be
The whole world's mock for many years from now.
Wilt thou sit idle, and such jest allow?"
So spake he to Sir Tristram.
"Lord, I ween
I might not change it. Here have all men seen
A deed of arms most noble. If I cast
A knight so wearied to his loss at last,
What would be said? If I should heed thy plea,
Two shames were ours, where only one must be."
But Mark still urged: "If not for Cornwall's claim,
If not for me, then for thy queen's content,
Let not the memory of this tournament
Be ever bitter on a Cornish tongue.
This nameless knight - "
"I do not doubt his name."
"Who is he?"
"Once to France's court he came
When I was there in youth. His mien I know.
Lamorack de Galis is his name. Among
The greatest Table knights he holds degree."
"Then is he worthy of thy mastery."
"Yea, were he fresh of arms and steed as I."
"No more than that he asks our spears supply.
Art thou not Cornwall?"
"Had I first appeared - "
"Is it his order how our ranks are feired?"
"Naught but thy strait command - "
"That word you hear."
Reluctant, Tristram rose. The crowd's acclaim
Loud to Sir Lamorack gave their champion's name.
Thereat a spear of pliant strength he chose.
'Lo,' thought he, 'of a score of various foes,
Last comes their greatest, as it should not be.
Yet, if my steed endure, they may not see
That which they would.'
As rushing clouds contend
When the black skies two meeting tempests rend,
So came, so crashed they. High the lances leapt,
Shivering. His seat unthrown Sir Tristram kept.
But though Sir Lamorack held firm seat in selle,
His weary stumbling steed beneath him fell.
Wroth rose he. "Dost thou turn too soon aside?
Nay, for another bout I charge thee bide."
Now was his shield advanced, his sword was bare.
"Is sword-play more than Cornish knights can dare!
A mare's son failed me, but I count, God wot,
His earth will never, and my sword may not."
"Nay," said Sir Tristram, "that to ground you came
Was my dishonour, and your further fame."
"What use are words? A wearied charger fell.
What boots it to allow thou didst not well?
To such unknightly course could naught compel.
Alight and draw."
"It were my heavier shame."
"You talk of that too late. If Tristram's name
Be thine, defend it."
"That I will not do.
Thou art too wearied."
"Ask I grace of you?
Rather I bid thee that thou dost not dare.
I call thee recreant."
"Call me what thou wilt.
Of mine own honour is my larger care,
Which in such bicker were too plainly spilt,
Even should I conquer, as I might not do."
"You seek to conjure with fair words away
A deed discourteous. More I will not say,
But wait a time which may not long delay."
Sir Lamorack parted from that tournament
With wrath unsated, though his words were few.
Far northward to the Severn vale he went,
Seeking high ventures and great deeds to do
Beyond this tale.
As to the ford he drew
Which those may use, when falls the high sea-tide,
Who shortest road from Gore to Camelot ride,
He met a damsel with a slender train,
But richly dight. No shine of steel was there:
No champion gardant rode beside her rein,
At honour's need to strike. But broidered gay
He saw the gold harp of the queen Le Fey
On the white sendal of the cloak she wore.
So, scatheless through the whole wild land she went,
In impotence of weakness insolent,
Through that feared symbol of the Queen of Gore.
Short halt upon the narrow road was called
To order passage which the close woods walled,
And Driant, who was Lamorack's comrade still,
Said idly: "Fair one, on what embassy
Bear ye that crest, which few in all Logre
Love well, though in its fear thy safety lies?"
And she, with smiling lips, and craftful eyes,
Made answer: "Lo, so rich a boon I bear
That all will hail me." Then a horn of gold
Begemmed, she showed beneath her mantle's fold.
"This horn Queen Morgan to King Arthur sends,
The fault of past unkindness to repair.
For such strange virtue in its depths is hid
That any dame whose secret life offends
Chaste honour, should she drink, the wine will spill,
According to the privy wrongs she did,
Largely or less. But she of single will
To worship whom she wed will drink it clean.
No equal marvel in our time hath been,
Nor one so potent to reveal a wrong."
"Yea," said Sir Driant, "some may thank thee well,
And those who do not may be slow to tell
Their cause of wrath."
But Lamorack reined beside:
"Thinkst thou from Gore to Arthur's court to ride,
Bearing such challenge to the virtue there,
And see again thy brackened hills? Perde!
What did the damsel with the mantle see?
Bold is thy heart King Arthur's mood to dare."
The damsel answered with bent brows: "Fair knight,
I know my jeopard. But what use is fear?
Those who Queen Morgan serve, beyond her sight
Go never. But no deathful lure is here
Against his life. A different gift should bring
A different welcome. This is aimed to snare
Her whose adulterous life insults the king
With open treason to the throne they share."
"Damsel, I would not to thy loss profess
To give fair counsel. In good faith, I show
A path more certain to thine own success,
Though somewhat longer. Morgan might I tell,
And soothly her good wits would thank me well."
"Freedom is mine a wileful use to try."
"Then ride thou to Tintagel first, for there
Will Mark accept thee well, and, if they dare,
The ladies of his court may drain it dry."
"What boot were that?"
"It were thy gain to say
That not from Gore, but by the western way,
You came to Camelot. Why should mention be
Of Morgan, or of Gore? But if the tale
Be known of whence the horn was brought, no less
It would be open for all eyes to see
That aimed thy queen all faithful wives to bless
With warrant of their chaste integrity
Through the wide realm, and in mere casualness
You took the road to Camelot."
"Wise as thou,
Are knights but seldom met."
"Prefer the way
To rightward, when the highway parts... Adieu.
All demons speed thee."
"Greater far than they,
My mistress rules them."
"That I hold for true."
"Why didst thou?" Driant asked, as on they rode.
"The favour to thyself that Morgan showed
I cannot well recall."
"It hath not been.
But largely was my thought for Arthur's queen,
And more the fall that Tristram gave to pay,
As later may I in a knightlier way."
"Well, evil take her!"
"Evil close pursues
Those who with demons deal, their powers to use."
So went that damsel to the Cornish court,
And told the wondrous tale that Morgan taught.
"Hither I came," she said, "at Lamorack's word.
He told that talk in Camelot's halls is heard
Of damsels lewd, and wives proved virtueless,
Here in Tintagel; and this horn, he said,
Would prove to all men's eyes its falsity."
She ended, and the court of Mark was stirred
By many murmurs, but no voice would be
The first or loudest to reject the test;
And Mark said smoothly: "Such report to still,
I nothing doubt that all with equal zest,
Being virtuous all, will drink, and naught will spill.
First shall my queen -" He stretched his hand to fill
That ominous horn, and to Iseult he gave,
With smiling lips, and eyes that mocked.
The horn, and answered: "Yea, as God me save,
I have no falsehood done." But somewhat shook
The hand that raised it; and some drops thereby
Fell ere she drank.
Then through the silent hall
It passed, and drank perforce the ladies all,
Lest by denial were they more convict
Than by the horn's debateful sorcery.
Five score there were the horn who raised. Five score
Spilled as they drank, excepting only four;
And wrothed were many knights who thought before
That, though alone of all, their dames were true.
Mark spake: "Each knight may to his liking do
A traitress to retain, or else to slay.
But we who rule may take no gentler way:
My queen's shown treason well her life shall pay.
And if my counsel in your ears be good,
She will not singly at the stake be stood,
But all who spilled shall share it."
Then there rose
Clamour, and protests, and reproachful cries,
And shrill denials from the lips of those
Who drank not cleanly. With contending lies,
And counter accusations, false or true,
They fought their honour, or their lives to win.
As rain will follow when the west wind blows,
Such were the dreads, the discords, and the din
That ever by its use that horn would bring
To lowliest cot or hall of mightiest king,
Through malice of Queen Morgan's sorcery.
But, at the last, a general voice prevailed,
Refusing that so many dames should die.
For those would perish in that equity
Whom best they loved, though wives they might not be.
And who would lust so many deaths to see?
And would they find more faithful, or more fair?
"Lo, said they, "who shall here the truth declare?
Did Morgan form it with a false intent
True lovers to divide? It was not meant
For any gracious gain is sure to say.
Nor shall the queen be brent, for how condemn
One only, and excuse the most of them
Who are more guilty by the floods that fell.
For how few drops she spilled! It well may be
That consort chaster, or as chaste, as she
In the wide realm there is not."
So was said;
And hearing all, Queen Morgan's damsel fled,
Bearing the horn, before their wrath inclined
To vengeance, as it might. But Tristram thought:
'Sir Lamorack sent her for no random sport,
But to requite my first discourtesy;
More in due season shall of that be said."
End of Chapter IX