Historical Tales Volume Xiii Part 38

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Historical Tales is a Webnovel created by Charles Morris.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

“Remember, dear brother, of what kin we are, being cousins to Lancelot du Lake, and that there has never been a man of our blood but would rather die than be shamed in battle.”

“Have no doubt of me,” answered Blamor. “I know well this knight’s record; but if he should strike me down through his great might, he shall slay me before I will yield as recreant.”

“You will find him the strongest knight you have ever had to do with. I know that well, for I had once a bout with him at King Mark’s court. So G.o.d speed you!”

“In G.o.d and my cause I trust,” answered Blamor.

Then he took his horse and rode to one end of the lists, and Tristram to the other, where, putting their spears in rest, they spurred their gallant steeds and rushed together with the speed of lightning. The result was that Blamor and his horse together were hurled to the earth, while Tristram kept his seat. Then Blamor drew his sword and threw his shield before him, bidding Tristram to alight.

“Though a horse has failed me,” he said, “I trust that the earth will stand me in good stead.”

Without hesitation Tristram consented, springing to the ground, sword in hand, and the combatants broke at once into fierce battle, fighting like madmen, till all who saw them marvelled at their courage and strength.

Never had knights been seen to fight more fiercely, for Blamor was so furious and incessant in his attacks, and Tristram so active in his defence, that it was a wonder they had breath to stand. But at last Tristram smote his antagonist such a blow on the helm that he fell upon his side, while his victor stood looking grimly down upon him.

When Blamor could gain breath to speak, he said,–

“Sir Tristram de Lyonesse, I require thee, as thou art a true knight, to slay me, for I would not live in shame, though I might be lord of the earth. You must slay me, indeed, if you would win the field, for I shall never speak the hateful word of surrender.”

When Tristram heard this knightly defiance he knew not what to do. The thought of slaying one of Lancelot’s blood hurt him sorely, but his duty as a champion required him to force his antagonist to yield, or else to slay him. In deep distress of mind he went to the kingly judges and kneeled before them, beseeching them for the sake of King Arthur and Lancelot, and for their own credit, to take this matter out of his hands.

“It were a pity and shame that the n.o.ble knight who lies yonder should be slain,” he said, “yet he refuses to yield. As for the king I fight for, I shall require him, as I am his true knight and champion, to have mercy on the vanquished.”

“That yield I freely,” said King Anguish. “And I heartily pray the judges to deal with him mercifully.”

Then the judges called Bleoberis to them and asked his advice.

“My lords,” he replied, “my brother is beaten, I acknowledge, yet, though Sir Tristram has vanquished his body, he has not conquered his heart, and I thank G.o.d he is not shamed by his defeat. And rather than he should be shamed I require you to bid Tristram to slay him.”

“That shall not be,” replied the judges. “Both his adversaries, the king and his champion, have pity on him, and you should have no less.”

“I leave his fate to you,” said Bleoberis. “Do what seems to you well.”

Then, after further consultation, the judges gave their verdict that the vanquished knight should live, and by their advice Tristram and Bleoberis took him up and brought him to King Anguish, who forgave and made friends with him. Then Blamor and Tristram kissed each other and the two brothers took oath that neither of them would ever fight with their n.o.ble antagonist, who took the same oath. And from the day of that battle there was peace and love between Tristram and all the kindred of Lancelot forever.

The happy close of this contest made great rejoicing in Arthur’s court, King Anguish and his champion being treated with all the honor that could be laid upon them, and for many days thereafter feasting and merry-making prevailed. In the end the king and his champion sailed for Ireland with great state and ceremony, while many n.o.ble knights attended to bid them farewell.

When they reached Ireland, King Anguish spread far and wide the story of what Tristram had done for him, and he was everywhere greeted with honor and delight. Even the queen forgot her anger, and did all that lay in her power to give her lord’s champion a glad welcome to the court.

As for La Belle Isolde, she met Tristram with the greatest joy and gladness. Absence had dimmed the love in both their hearts, and it no longer burned as of yore, yet only time and opportunity were needed to make it as warm as ever.



At length there came a day, after Tristram had dwelt long at King Anguish’s court, that the king asked him why he had not demanded his boon, since the royal word had been pa.s.sed that whatever he asked should be his without fail.

“I asked you not,” said Tristram, “since it is a boon that will give me no pleasure, but so much pain that with every day that pa.s.ses I grow less inclined to ask it.”

“Then why ask it at all?”

“That I must, for I have pa.s.sed my word of honor, and the word of a knight is his best possession. What I am forced to demand, then, is that you will give me the hand of La Belle Isolde,–not for myself, and that is what makes my heart so sore, but for my uncle, King Mark, who desires to wed her, and for whom I have promised to demand her.”

“Alas!” cried the king, “that you should ask me so despiteful a boon. I had rather than all King Mark’s dominions that you should wed her yourself.”

“I never saw woman whom I would rather wed,” he replied. “But if I should do so I would be the shame of the world forever, as a false knight, recreant to his promise. Therefore, I must stand by my word, and hold you to your boon, that you will give me La Belle Isolde to go with me to Cornwall, there to be wedded to King Mark, my uncle.”

“As for that, I cannot deny you. She shall go with you, but as to what may happen thereafter, I leave that for you to decide. If you choose to wed her yourself, that will give me the greatest joy. But if you determine to give her to King Mark, the right rests with you. I have pa.s.sed my word, though I wish now that I had not.”

Then Isolde was told of what had pa.s.sed, and bade to make ready to go with Tristram, a lady named Bragwaine going with her as chief gentlewoman, while many others were selected as her attendants. When the preparations were fully made, the queen, Isolde’s mother, gave to Dame Bragwaine and Gouvernail a golden flask containing a drink, and charged them that on the day of Isolde’s wedding they should give King Mark that drink, bidding him to quaff it to the health of La Belle Isolde, and her to quaff his health in return.

“It is a love draught,” continued the queen, “and if they shall drink it I undertake to say that each shall love the other for all the days of their life.”

Not many days pa.s.sed before Tristram took to the sea, with the fair maiden who had been committed to his charge, and they sailed away on a mission that had for them both far more of sadness than of joy, for their love grew as the miles pa.s.sed.

One day, as they sat together in the cabin, it happened that they became thirsty, and by chance they saw on a shelf near them a little golden flask, filled with what by the color seemed to be a n.o.ble wine. Tristram took it down and said, with a laugh,–

“Madam Isolde, here is the best drink that ever you drank, a precious draught which Dame Bragwaine, your maiden, and Gouvernail, my servant, are keeping for themselves. Let us drink from their private store.”

Then with laughter and merriment they drank freely from the flask, and both thought that they had never tasted draught so sweet and delicious in their lives before. But when the magic wine got into their blood, they looked upon each other with new eyes, for their hearts were suddenly filled with such pa.s.sionate love as they had not dreamed that heart could feel. Tristram thought that never had mortal eyes gazed upon a maiden of such heavenly charms, and Isolde that there was never man born so grand and graceful as the knight of her love.

Then all at once she fell into bitter weeping as the thought of her destiny came upon her, and Tristram took her in his arms and kissed her sweet lips again and again, speaking words of love that brought some comfort to her love-sick heart. And thus it was between them day by day to the end of their voyage, for a love had grown between them of such fervent depth that it could never leave them while blood flowed in their veins.

Such magic power had the draught which the queen had prepared for King Mark, and which the unthinking lovers drank in fate’s strange error. It was the bitter-sweet of love; for it was destined to bring them the deepest joy and sorrow in the years to come.

Many days pa.s.sed before the lovers reached Cornwall, and strange adventures met them by the way, of which we have but little s.p.a.ce to speak. For chance brought them to land near a castle named Pleure, or the weeping castle. It was the custom of the lord of that castle, when any knight pa.s.sed by with a lady, to take them prisoners. Then, when the knight’s lady was compared with the lady of the castle, whichever was the least lovely of the two was put to death, and the knight was made to fight with the lord of the castle for the other, and was put to death if vanquished. Through this cruel custom many a n.o.ble knight and fair lady had been slain, for the castle lord was of great prowess and his lady of striking beauty.

It chanced that Tristram and Isolde demanded shelter at this castle, and that they were made prisoners under its cruel custom. At this outrage Tristram grew bitterly indignant, and demanded pa.s.sionately what it meant, as honor demanded that those who sought harbor should be received hospitably as guests, and not despitefully as prisoners. In answer he was told the custom of the castle, and that he must fight for his lady and his liberty.

“It is a foul and shameful custom,” he replied. “I do not fear that your lord’s lady will surpa.s.s mine in beauty, nor that I cannot hold my own in the field, but I like to have a voice in my own doings. Tell him, however, if he is so hot for battle, that I shall be ready for the test to-morrow morning, and may heaven be on the side of truth and justice.”

When morning came the test of beauty was made, and the loveliness of Isolde shone so far beyond that of the castle lady that Breunor, the lord, was forced to admit it. And now Tristram grew stern and pitiless, for he said that this lady had consented to the death of many innocent rivals, and richly deserved death as a punishment for the ruthless deeds done in her behalf, and to gratify her cruel vanity. Thereupon her head was struck off without mercy.

Full of anger at this, Breunor attacked Tristram with all his strength and fury, and a long and fiery combat took place, yet in the end he fell dead beneath the sword of the knight of Cornwall.

But, as it happened, the castle lord had a valiant son, named Sir Galahad the high prince, a knight who in after years was to do deeds of great emprise. Word was brought to him of the death of his father and mother, and he rode in all haste to the castle, having with him that renowned warrior known as the king with the hundred knights.

Reaching the castle, Galahad fiercely challenged Tristram to battle, and a mighty combat ensued. But at the last Galahad was forced to give way before the deadly strokes of his antagonist, whose strength seemed to grow with his labor.

When the king with the hundred knights saw this, he rushed upon Tristram with many of his followers, attacking him in such force as no single knight could hope to endure.

“This is no knightly deed,” cried Tristram to Galahad. “I deemed you a n.o.ble knight, but it is a shameful act to let all your men set on me at once.”

“However that be,” said Galahad, “you have done me a great wrong, and must yield or die.”

“Then I must yield, since you treat me so unfairly. I accepted your challenge, not that of all your followers. To yield thus puts me to no dishonor.”


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