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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XIII. Tristram and Isoude (Continued)
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XIII. Tristram and Isoude (Continued) Post by :justsurfin Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :923

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XIII. Tristram and Isoude (Continued)

After this affair Tristram was banished from the kingdom, and
Isoude shut up in a tower, which stood on the bank of a river.
Tristram could not resolve to depart without some further
communication with his beloved; so he concealed himself in the
forest, till at last he contrived to attract her attention, by
means of twigs which he curiously peeled, and sent down the stream
under her window. By this means many secret interviews were
obtained. Tristram dwelt in the forest, sustaining himself by
game, which the dog Houdain ran down for him; for this faithful
animal was unequalled in the chase, and knew so well his master's
wish for concealment, that, in the pursuit of his game, he never
barked. At length Tristram departed, but left Houdain with Isoude,
as a remembrancer of him.

Sir Tristram wandered through various countries, achieving the
most perilous enterprises, and covering himself with glory, yet
unhappy at the separation from his beloved Isoude. At length King
Mark's territory was invaded by a neighboring chieftain, and he
was forced to summon his nephew to his aid. Tristram obeyed the
call, put himself at the head of his uncle's vassals, and drove
the enemy out of the country. Mark was full of gratitude, and
Tristram, restored to favor and to the society of his beloved
Isoude, seemed at the summit of happiness. But a sad reverse was
at hand.

Tristram had brought with him a friend named Pheredin, son of the
king of Brittany. This young knight saw Queen Isoude, and could
not resist her charms. Knowing the love of his friend for the
queen, and that that love was returned, Pheredin concealed his
own, until his health failed, and he feared he was drawing near
his end. He then wrote to the beautiful queen that he was dying
for love of her.

The gentle Isoude, in a moment of pity for the friend of Tristram,
returned him an answer so kind and compassionate that it restored
him to life. A few days afterwards Tristram found this letter. The
most terrible jealousy took possession of his soul; he would have
slain Pheredin, who with difficulty made his escape. Then Tristram
mounted his horse, and rode to the forest, where for ten days he
took no rest nor food. At length he was found by a damsel lying
almost dead by the brink of a fountain. She recognized him, and
tried in vain to rouse his attention. At last recollecting his
love for music she went and got her harp, and played thereon.
Tristram was roused from his reverie; tears flowed; he breathed
more freely; he took the harp from the maiden, and sung this lay,
with a voice broken with sobs:

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

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

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

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

Tristram, having finished his lay, wrote it off and gave it to the
damsel, conjuring her to present it to the queen.

Meanwhile Queen Isoude was inconsolable at the absence of
Tristram. She discovered that it was caused by the fatal letter
which she had written to Pheredin. Innocent, but in despair at the
sad effects of her letter, she wrote another to Pheredin, charging
him never to see her again. The unhappy lover obeyed this cruel
decree. He plunged into the forest, and died of grief and love in
a hermit's cell.

Isoude passed her days in lamenting the absence and unknown fate
of Tristram. One day her jealous husband, having entered her
chamber unperceived, overheard her singing the following lay:

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

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

The king hearing these words burst forth in a rage; but Isoude was
too wretched to fear his violence. "You have heard me," she said;
"I confess it all. I love Tristram, and always shall love him.
Without doubt he is dead, and died for me. I no longer wish to
live. The blow that shall finish my misery will be most welcome."

The king was moved at the distress of the fair Isoude, and perhaps
the idea of Tristram's death tended to allay his wrath. He left
the queen in charge of her women, commanding them to take especial
care lest her despair should lead her to do harm to herself.

Tristram meanwhile, distracted as he was, rendered a most
important service to the shepherds by slaying a gigantic robber
named Taullas, who was in the habit of plundering their flocks and
rifling their cottages. The shepherds, in their gratitude to
Tristram, bore him in triumph to King Mark to have him bestow on
him a suitable reward. No wonder Mark failed to recognize in the
half-clad, wild man, before him his nephew Tristram; but grateful
for the service the unknown had rendered he ordered him to be well
taken care of, and gave him in charge to the queen and her women.
Under such care Tristram rapidly recovered his serenity and his
health, so that the romancer tells us he became handsomer than
ever. King Mark's jealousy revived with Tristram's health and good
looks, and, in spite of his debt of gratitude so lately increased,
he again banished him from the court.

Sir Tristram left Cornwall, and proceeded into the land of Loegria
(England) in quest of adventures. One day he entered a wide
forest. The sound of a little bell showed him that some inhabitant
was near. He followed the sound, and found a hermit, who informed
him that he was in the forest of Arnantes, belonging to the fairy
Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, who, smitten with love for King
Arthur, had found means to entice him to this forest, where by
enchantments she held him a prisoner, having deprived him of all
memory of who and what he was. The hermit informed him that all
the knights of the Round Table were out in search of the king, and
that he (Tristram) was now in the scene of the most grand and
important adventures.

This was enough to animate Tristram in the search. He had not
wandered far before he encountered a knight of Arthur's court, who
proved to be Sir Kay the Seneschal, who demanded of him whence he
came. Tristram answering, "From Cornwall," Sir Kay did not let
slip the opportunity of a joke at the expense of the Cornish
knight. Tristram chose to leave him in his error, and even
confirmed him in it; for meeting some other knights Tristram
declined to just with them. They spent the night together at an
abbey, where Tristram submitted patiently to all their jokes. The
Seneschal gave the word to his companions that they should set out
early next day, and intercept the Cornish knight on his way, and
enjoy the amusement of seeing his fright when they should insist
on running a tilt with him. Tristram next morning found himself
alone; he put on his armor, and set out to continue his quest. He
soon saw before him the Seneschal and the three knights, who
barred the way, and insisted on a just. Tristram excused himself a
long time; at last he reluctantly took his stand. He encountered
them, one after the other, and overthrew them all four, man and
horse, and then rode off, bidding them not to forget their friend
the knight of Cornwall.

Tristram had not ridden far when he met a damsel, who cried out,
"Ah, my lord! hasten forward, and prevent a horrid treason!"
Tristram flew to her assistance, and soon reached a spot where he
beheld a knight, whom three others had borne to the ground, and
were unlacing his helmet in order to cut off his head.

Tristram flew to the rescue, and slew with one stroke of his lance
one of the assailants. The knight, recovering his feet, sacrificed
another to his vengeance, and the third made his escape. The
rescued knight then raised the visor of his helmet, and a long
white beard fell down upon his breast. The majesty and venerable
air of this knight made Tristram suspect that it was none other
than Arthur himself, and the prince confirmed his conjecture.
Tristram would have knelt before him, but Arthur received him in
his arms, and inquired his name and country; but Tristram declined
to disclose them, on the plea that he was now on a quest requiring
secrecy. At this moment the damsel who had brought Tristram to the
rescue darted forward, and, seizing the king's hand, drew from his
finger a ring, the gift of the fairy, and by that act dissolved
the enchantment. Arthur, having recovered his reason and his
memory, offered to Tristram to attach him to his court, and to
confer honors and dignities upon him; but Tristram declined all,
and only consented to accompany him till he should see him safe in
the hands of his knights. Soon after, Hector de Marys rode up, and
saluted the king, who on his part introduced him to Tristram as
one of the bravest of his knights. Tristram took leave of the king
and his faithful follower, and continued his quest.

We cannot follow Tristram through all the adventures which filled
this epoch of his history. Suffice it to say, he fulfilled on all
occasions the duty of a true knight, rescuing the oppressed,
redressing wrongs, abolishing evil customs, and suppressing
injustice, thus by constant action endeavoring to lighten the
pains of absence from her he loved. In the meantime Isoude,
separated from her dear Tristram, passed her days in languor and
regret. At length she could no longer resist the desire to hear
some news of her lover. She wrote a letter, and sent it by one of
her damsels, niece of her faithful Brengwain. One day Tristram,
weary with his exertions, had dismounted and laid himself down by
the side of a fountain and fallen asleep. The damsel of Queen
Isoude arrived at the same fountain, and recognized Passebreul,
the horse of Tristram, and presently perceived his master asleep.
He was thin and pale, showing evident marks of the pain he
suffered in separation from his beloved. She awakened him, and
gave him the letter which she bore, and Tristram enjoyed the
pleasure, so sweet to a lover, of hearing from and talking about
the object of his affections. He prayed the damsel to postpone her
return till after the magnificent tournament which Arthur had
proclaimed should have taken place, and conducted her to the
castle of Persides, a brave and loyal knight, who received her
with great consideration.

Tristram conducted the damsel of Queen Isoude to the tournament,
and had her placed in the balcony among the ladies of the queen.

"He glanced and saw the stately galleries,
Dame, damsel, each through worship of their Queen
White-robed in honor of the stainless child,
And some with scatter'd jewels, like a bank
Of maiden snow mingled with sparks of fire.
He looked but once, and veiled his eyes again."

--The Last Tournament.

He then joined the tourney. Nothing could exceed his strength and
valor. Launcelot admired him, and by a secret presentiment
declined to dispute the honor of the day with a knight so gallant
and so skilful. Arthur descended from the balcony to greet the
conqueror; but the modest and devoted Tristram, content with
having borne off the prize in the sight of the messenger of
Isoude, made his escape with her, and disappeared.

The next day the tourney recommenced. Tristram assumed different
armor, that he might not be known; but he was soon detected by the
terrible blows that he gave, Arthur and Guenever had no doubt that
it was the same knight who had borne off the prize of the day
before. Arthur's gallant spirit was roused. After Launcelot of the
Lake and Sir Gawain he was accounted the best knight of the Round
Table. He went privately and armed himself, and came into the
tourney in undistinguished armor. He ran a just with Tristram,
whom he shook in his seat; but Tristram, who did not know him,
threw him out of the saddle. Arthur recovered himself, and content
with having made proof of the stranger knight bade Launcelot
finish the adventure, and vindicate the honor of the Round Table.
Sir Launcelot, at the bidding of the monarch, assailed Tristram,
whose lance was already broken in former encounters. But the law
of this sort of combat was that the knight after having broken his
lance must fight with his sword, and must not refuse to meet with
his shield the lance of his antagonist. Tristram met Launcelot's
charge upon his shield, which that terrible lance could not fail
to pierce. It inflicted a wound upon Tristram's side, and,
breaking, left the iron in the wound. But Tristram also with his
sword smote so vigorously on Launcelot's casque that he cleft it,
and wounded his head. The wound was not deep, but the blood flowed
into his eyes, and blinded him for a moment, and Tristram, who
thought himself mortally wounded, retired from the field.
Launcelot declared to the king that he had never received such a
blow in his life before.

Tristram hastened to Gouvernail, his squire, who drew forth the
iron, bound up the wound, and gave him immediate ease. Tristram
after the tournament kept retired in his tent, but Arthur, with
the consent of all the knights of the Round Table, decreed him the
honors of the second day. But it was no longer a secret that the
victor of the two days was the same individual, and Gouvernail,
being questioned, confirmed the suspicions of Launcelot and Arthur
that it was no other than Sir Tristram of Leonais, the nephew of
the king of Cornwall.

King Arthur, who desired to reward his distinguished valor, and
knew that his Uncle Mark had ungratefully banished him, would have
eagerly availed himself of the opportunity to attach Tristram to
his court,--all the knights of the Round Table declaring with
acclamation that it would be impossible to find a more worthy
companion. But Tristram had already departed in search of
adventures, and the damsel of Queen Isoude returned to her
mistress.

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