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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XVII. Sir Tristram
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XVII. Sir Tristram Post by :jkane Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :3279

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter XVII. Sir Tristram

On arriving in Brittany Tristram found King Hoel engaged in a war
with a rebellious vassal, and hard pressed by his enemy. His best
knights had fallen in a late battle, and he knew not where to turn
for assistance. Tristram volunteered his aid. It was accepted; and
the army of Hoel, led by Tristram, and inspired by his example,
gained a complete victory. The king, penetrated by the most lively
sentiments of gratitude, and having informed himself of Tristram's
birth, offered him his daughter in marriage. The princess was
beautiful and accomplished, and bore the same name with the Queen
of Cornwall; but this one is designated by the Romancers as Isoude
of the White Hands, to distinguish her from Isoude the Fair.

How can we describe the conflict that agitated the heart of
Tristram? He adored the first Isoude, but his love for her was
hopeless, and not unaccompanied by remorse. Moreover, the sacred
quest on which he had now entered demanded of him perfect purity
of life. It seemed as if a happy destiny had provided for him in
the charming princess Isoude of the White Hands the best security
for all his good resolutions. This last reflection determined him.
They were married, and passed some months in tranquil happiness at
the court of King Hoel. The pleasure which Tristram felt in his
wife's society increased day by day. An inward grace seemed to
stir within him from the moment when he took the oath to go on the
quest of the Holy Greal; it seemed even to triumph over the power
of the magic love-potion.

The war, which had been quelled for a time, now burst out anew.
Tristram as usual was foremost in every danger. The enemy was
worsted in successive conflicts, and at last shut himself up in
his principal city. Tristram led on the attack of the city. As he
mounted a ladder to scale the walls he was struck on the head by a
fragment of rock, which the besieged threw down upon him. It bore
him to the ground, where he lay insensible.

As soon as he recovered consciousness he demanded to be carried to
his wife. The princess, skilled in the art of surgery, would not
suffer any one but herself to touch her beloved husband. Her fair
hands bound up his wounds; Tristram kissed them with gratitude,
which began to grow into love. At first the devoted cares of
Isoude seemed to meet with great success; but after a while these
flattering appearances vanished, and, in spite of all her care,
the malady grew more serious day by day.

In this perplexity, an old squire of Tristram's reminded his
master that the princess of Ireland, afterwards queen of Cornwall,
had once cured him under circumstances quite as discouraging. He
called Isoude of the White Hands to him, told her of his former
cure, added that he believed that the Queen Isoude could heal him,
and that he felt sure that she would come to his relief, if sent
for.

Isoude of the White Hands consented that Gesnes, a trusty man and
skilful navigator, should be sent to Cornwall. Tristram called
him, and, giving him a ring, "Take this," he said, "to the Queen
of Cornwall. Tell her that Tristram, near to death, demands her
aid. If you succeed in bringing her with you, place white sails to
your vessel on your return, that we may know of your success when
the vessel first heaves in sight. But if Queen Isoude refuses, put
on black sails; they will be the presage of my impending death."

Gesnes performed his mission successfully. King Mark happened to
be absent from his capital, and the queen readily consented to
return with the bark to Brittany. Gesnes clothed his vessel in the
whitest of sails, and sped his way back to Brittany.

Meantime the wound of Tristram grew more desperate day by day. His
strength, quite prostrated, no longer permitted him to be carried
to the seaside daily, as had been his custom from the first moment
when it was possible for the bark to be on the way homeward. He
called a young damsel, and gave her in charge to keep watch in the
direction of Cornwall, and to come and tell him the color of the
sails of the first vessel she should see approaching.

When Isoude of the White Hands consented that the queen of
Cornwall should be sent for, she had not known all the reasons
which she had for fearing the influence which renewed intercourse
with that princess might have on her own happiness. She had now
learned more, and felt the danger more keenly. She thought, if she
could only keep the knowledge of the queen's arrival from her
husband, she might employ in his service any resources which her
skill could supply, and still avert the dangers which she
apprehended. When the vessel was seen approaching, with its white
sails sparkling in the sun, the damsel, by command of her
mistress, carried word to Tristram that the sails were black.

Tristram, penetrated with inexpressible grief, breathed a profound
sigh, turned away his face, and said, "Alas, my beloved! we shall
never see one another again!" Then he commended himself to God,
and breathed his last.

The death of Tristram was the first intelligence which the queen
of Cornwall heard on landing. She was conducted almost senseless
into the chamber of Tristram, and expired holding him in her arms.

Tristram, before his death, had requested that his body should be
sent to Cornwall, and that his sword, with a letter he had
written, should be delivered to King Mark. The remains of Tristram
and Isoude were embarked in a vessel, along with the sword, which
was presented to the king of Cornwall. He was melted with
tenderness when he saw the weapon which slew Moraunt of Ireland,--
which had so often saved his life, and redeemed the honor of his
kingdom. In the letter Tristram begged pardon of his uncle, and
related the story of the amorous draught.

Mark ordered the lovers to be buried in his own chapel. From the
tomb of Tristram there sprung a vine, which went along the walls,
and descended into the grave of the queen. It was cut down three
times, but each time sprung up again more vigorous than before,
and this wonderful plant has ever since shaded the tombs of
Tristram and Isoude.

Spenser introduces Sir Tristram in his "Faery Queene." In Book
VI., Canto ii., Sir Calidore encounters in the forest a young
hunter, whom he thus describes:

"Him steadfastly he marked, and saw to be
A goodly youth of amiable grace,
Yet but a slender slip, that scarce did see
Yet seventeen yeares; but tall and faire of face,
That sure he deemed him borne of noble race.
All in a woodman's jacket he was clad
Of Lincoln greene, belayed with silver lace;
And on his head an hood with aglets sprad,
And by his side his hunter's horne he hanging had.

(Footnote: Aglets, points or tags)

"Buskins he wore of costliest cordawayne,
Pinckt upon gold, and paled part per part,
As then the guize was for each gentle swayne.
In his right hand he held a trembling dart,
Whose fellow he before had sent apart;
And in his left he held a sharp bore-speare,
With which he wont to launch the salvage heart
Of many a lyon, and of many a beare,
That first unto his hand in chase did happen neare."

(Footnote: PINCKT UPON GOLD, ETC., adorned with golden points, or
eyelets, and regularly intersected with stripes. PALED (in
heraldry), striped)

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While Sir Tristram and the fair Isoude abode yet at La JoyeuseGarde, Sir Tristram rode forth one day, without armor, having noweapon but his spear and his sword. And as he rode he came to aplace where he saw two knights in battle, and one of them hadgotten the better and the other lay overthrown. The knight who hadthe better was Sir Palamedes. When Sir Palamedes knew SirTristram, he cried out, "Sir Tristram, now we be met, and ere wedepart we will redress our old wrongs." "As for that," said SirTristram, "there never yet was Christian man that might make hisboast
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