The Song Of Arthur - Chapter XII
by S. Fowler Wright
Return to Chapter XI
The telling of the tournament the king
Held at the Castle of Maidens where the pride
Of Scotland's and of Ireland's lords allied
North Gales' fierce king with all his friends defied.
Mainly the Table knights to Caradoc
Of friendship and fair choice their strength supplied.
Yet had North Gales their haughty ranks to shock
A reasoned hope, for to his part preferred
All those who were not ruled by Arthur's word,
Either who served him with reluctant will,
Or from remoter wilds were kingless still.
And those besides were his who thought to add
Some further to the crescent fame they had
By meeting Arthur's mightiest unsubdued.
The calls of private hate or public feud
The baser stirred, but more of nobleness
Sought only on the weaker side to be.
For all had freedom in their choice, to range
On either part; or even sides to change
If either overborne they else should see.
Here came Sir Tristram and Sir Persides:
One with the rampant lion, vert and or,
Like to his dreadless bearer boldly gay;
But Tristram (who the Lyonesse arms he bore
In happier days had wholly cast away)
Now said: "If better arms by choice I lack,
Be mine the habit here of blank and black.
Am only I who may not take the field
Enigma'd by a blank but Cornish shield?"
And Govenale brought him that he wished, and thus
They joined the ranks of Caradoc.
Hurtling and hurling in the crowded press
Of old knights ware, and young knights emulous,
In ranks withheld, or in the hazardous van.
And rearing of great chargers riderless,
And splintering of strong spears, and swinging out
Of trusted swords their failures to redress.
Backward awhile the ranks of Caradoc bore
North Gales, and all his knights. The King, who feared
That in too-soon defeat, ere even neared,
The weaker side might fail its front to dress,
Spake to such knights as still around his seat
Watched the stern play in cloaks of idleness:
"Fair friends, while yet the daylight hours are long,
The tide of Scotland's battle runs too strong.
Were it not well the weaker to recruit
While yet its valour holds reverse away?"
"Lord," said Gawain, "two spears we well might send.
And, that no party there our course offend,
Let one of Orkney, one of Benoic, go."
"It is a prudent counsel. Choose ye so."
Then Bleoberis rose, and soon as he
Gaheris, where he sat beside Lynette.
"Dear lord," she said, "you shall not stint for me
The chance to take. But ware that Cornish knight
Whose shield hath no remembrance."
"Ware I will.
But you shall think us equal to fulfil
The king's require."
"I will not doubt."
They armed and entered. Where the strife was hot,
Through the wide field they ranged and faltered not,
Till came they doubly where Sir Persides,
Excellent alike in fence and overthrow,
His previous self outdid. But here he fell.
For who, opposed against so strong a twain,
By any swordcraft, might to seat and rein
Adhere, and rooted in his place remain?
Forward North Gales, with many blades asway,
Swung like a surgent wave to cast or slay,
And underneath their hooves, and nighly slain,
Lay Persides, his golden lion bemired,
His sword divided from a nerveless hand.
Tristram, who somewhat to the rear had reined,
Watched this recoil, with fall of who might be
No friend to him, but who full comradely
Had joined himself to whom he did not know.
Forward he drave, and as the front he gained
Gaheris he faced, and clashed, and left him low.
Naught had availed Lynette's forecasting dread.
But Bleoberis next did Tristram meet,
Who cast him backward from his surer seat,
As seldom fell the knights of Lancelot's kin.
That landless king the Hundred knights who led,
By neither wealth nor rank whose fame was spread,
But by such deeds as other days will tell
When wealth is spent, and pomp of days is through,
Saw this reverse. With rushing charge anew
The refluent tide he turned. His knights and he
So forward drave, and held their place so well,
That Arthur's knights arose from where they fell,
With space their steeds to gain, their arms to dress.
Such turmoil followed, in so close a press,
That blows were dealt on whom they did not see,
And seldom twice would one opponent be.
But shouldering through, and disregarding all,
Sir Bleoberis, to avenge his fall,
Toward Sir Tristram strove; and there did they
Close in bold bicker to his loss repay.
Then spake the king to Lancelot: "Dost thou see
How fiercely Bleoberis strives to take
His sword's requital for his spear's mistake?"
"Yea. But to him the verdict will not be.
Of all the realm contains, I count but three
That nameless knight to match."
Good sooth he spake.
For even then Sir Tristram's sword they saw
Deal such a buffet to the helm it met
That Bleoberis, dazed and overset,
Was rudely from his saddle earthward cast.
As fell that stroke, at Arthur's word, the blast
Of the dividing trumpets loudly blew.
Breathless and bruise, the striving ranks withdrew
To either exit of the lists, wherethrough
They crowded outward in a jostling throng;
And thereamong Sir Tristram, seen of few,
To seek a hired pavilion moved away.
Then Arthur heard the voices of debate
Of kings and lords that round his judgement sate,
And found them few who did not join to say
That the blank shield all blazoned arms excelled:
"Yet is it only of the opening day.
Most often fails the height at first beheld."
To Tristram's tent by night a damsel came
Whom Palomides sent, the truth to learn
Of whom he was; but at her soon return
He little gained: "The black knight's squire," she said,
"Allowed his nameless master for the same
Who faltered from thy lance but yesterday.
But more for good or ill he would not say,
Save only that he asked which side wouldst thou
Prefer, and I, who knew thy will, replied
That where the noblest rode thy place would be,
With Arthur's knights and Caradoc. Answered he:
"Then with North Gales my master takes his side,
Who else had chosen as he chose today."
Passed the short night, and while the dawn was low
Came churl and groom the vacant field to clear
Of links of mail off-hewn, and splintered spear,
And cantals of stout shields that still might show
Their boastful arms, and plume and harness shed;
And churned and slippery turf they sanded well,
And buttressed barriers where the straining throng
Had done their earlier work a heedless wrong.
So the wide field where knight and steed had bled,
In triumph some, and some discomfited,
Was smoothed and cleared another tale to tell,
Loud as the last, and to endure as long
Alike in warrior's talk and minstrel's song.
Soon the draped scaffolds filled. The glittering throng
Of lords, and ladies who such lords belong,
Came to their places ranged around the king.
The armourers' booths, and rich pavilions, rang
With tramp of gathering steeds and armour's clang,
And babel of confused and urgent cries,
While from disorder came good ordering,
And either party through the lists' confines
Filed its first warriors, and arrayed its lines,
With many plumes afloat, and richly gay
With coloured pensels, and, as bright as they,
The broad shields, painted gules and vert and or,
Azure and sable and blanche, with quartered arms,
Chevroned and bent, and scrolled with many a vaunt
Of high device, a fronting foe to daunt
With boast of kindred or ancestral blood.
"Sound," said the king, and high the trumpets blew
Those notes that well the knights of Arthur knew,
Which loosed them on their foes incontinent.
First, from the ranks North Gales' fierce lord arrayed,
Outstrode that king the Hundred knights who led.
For so had counsel ruled, with shrewd intent
That first success the fainter hearts should aid
Of those who by the common voice were said
To be less mightful than the spears they met.
And well the event that counsel justified,
For Scotland's king himself was overset,
Downcast and rolled in ignominious dust,
Till for his rescue those who held his side,
As with one rein, as with one single thrust,
Charged down the field. Their rescued leader rose.
Their impulse bore them past King Arthur's seat,
All the lists' width, and backward flung their foes
From brief exulting. This assault to meet,
Sustain and turn, was Tristram singly seen.
He did so roughly in that turbulence,
His foes to tumble and his friends to screen,
That on him only were the eyes of men,
And good knights fared as though they had not been
For other deeds of praise they compassed then.
He to the height who wins the blast must meet
Which ever round its crest doth bleakly beat.
He who forgetful names hath cast aside
Must counter those who flaunt a loftier pride.
Now from the ranks that Caradoc ruled converged
Lancelot's strong kin, their common purpose urged
By sight of that black shield's triumphant way.
Sir Bors, Sir Ector, and Sir Blamor now,
As steeds impeding and swung swords allow,
Thrust from three sides against him. Here was play
For firelight talk on many an afterday
Of Tristram's valour; with what might and how
His sword repelled them. Yet that sword alone
Had not availed him long, but overthrown
His fame had left him, save the king who led
The Hundred, seeing him closed and hard bested,
The intervening ranks asunder clave
Till his first rescue rose a mounting wave
Of those of equal heart from flank and rear
Who crowded on the course he rendered clear.
Hard-breathed, Sir Tristram for a time withdrew,
As every bickering knight awhile must do;
And Lancelot, from his place beside the king,
Arose and armed him: "Have I grown so weak
That fame I may not win, or do not seek,
Further than that which younger deeds have brought?"
But as he gained the field he changed his thought,
For Tristram, now returned, had seen Sir Kay,
With forty knights like-minded to delay
Their advent till they might the likelier meet
With knights forwearied, in good line advance
Their cautious lances. But the single lance
He drave among them proved their more mischance
Than had they looked from any score to meet.
Then with his sword, to deal their more defeat,
He raged among them. As the conies fly,
Ere at the greyhound's snapping jaws they die,
So broke they from him. One Sir Lancelot met,
Who helmless fled the lists, his gorget wet
With the bright blood that Tristram's sword had let.
"Good friend," said Lancelot, "who hath served thee so?"
"The knight with the black shield, if knight he be,
But rather devil by his deeds is he."
"Then must I meet him."
With his sword outdrawn,
Sir Lancelot entered the wide lists. A score
Sir Tristram chased. With every stroke was shorn
Gay crest; or hammered helm, by dent and slit,
Showed why its wearer reeled away from it.
And Lancelot, at the sight, was moved the more
The driven side to aid, but checked his rein
As came a thought: 'Against a wearied man,
Or, if not wearied, who the toil began
Earlier than I, what praise were victory?
Fame might I wrest from him, but not the gain,
Nor any heart's content, were changed to me.'
Then turned he, looking to the leftward field,
Where his strong kin, close-ranked, would noway yield,
But made firm front against their thronging foes.
'Strifeworn,' he thought, 'alike are these and those.
I would not at the first. I will not now.'
So rode he from the lists, disarmed, and sought
Once more his peaceful seat at Arthur's side.
"Lo," said the king, "that knight, I marvel how,
Sustains his part as one who lives untaught
Of how weak flesh betrays the fault of pride."
"His deeds," Sir Lancelot to the king replied,
"Are surely wonder, and today shall be
His to a cloudless close, at least for me.
Tomorrow is another tale to tell."
"But heed," said Arthur, "what is happening now."
He spake with cause, for Tristram, sated well
With scattering of the flank he faced, had turned
The wider field to view. The Benoic knights,
Distressed by failure of their comrades round,
Yet in themselves sufficient force had found
To yield no inch of their contested ground.
So close, so firm, their battered line they kept
That only here the tide which forward swept
Broke on a rock it might not move nor drown.
They were but twenty, and around them thronged
Led by North Gales, and he to whom belonged
The Hundred knights, a tenfold strength; but they,
Like to wild swine, whose bristling herds at bay
No openings yield, their rank contained. For none
A separate aim pursued, nor swept his blade
More for his own than for his comrades' aid.
And Tristram, yet some space apart, who viewed
Their strength, their valour, and their fortitude,
Thought: 'Is it wonder that their greatest one
Is first of prowess and of nobleness
By all consents of knights and meaner men?'
Then as he rode toward the hardest press
He seemed the coming of a new support,
But to the king the Hundred knights who brought,
And to North Gales he spake: "Fair lords, to me
No call is here, for such a sight I see
As offers only to our foes renown.
Outnumbered are they, but they will not flee:
Encompassed, but their steady ring sustains.
From such encounter what repute remains?
High praise, if to the last their line endure,
Which to their numerous foes is less than sure,
Even though they drive them. Fixed of heart are they.
And if for given aid a grace I pray,
It is that ye forebear them. Leiver I
Than that such knights were shamed, or shameless die,
Would change my side to friend them."
He who led
The Hundred sheathed his sword: "Fair knight," he said,
"Fair nameless knight, with other eyes we see
Thy constant valour and thy courtesy
Than those which frown refusal. All men know
Like draws to like, and noble hearts forgo
Such vantage as requires their overthrow."
So from the Benoic knights his knights withdrew
As its high note the ceasing trumpet blew.
Then the king's judgement spake: "As truth prevails,
My knights were less than those they clashed. North Gales,
Through the black knight, hath won." At which, men say,
The cries that rose were heard two miles away:
The sable knight, the sable knight, hath won.
"Where is he?" Asked the king. But voice was none
That gave reply, for he with Dinadan
Both from the field and his pavilion rode,
To seek night-harbour in a lone abode
Which Dinadan knew. And as that cry they heard
He asked: "Wilt turn and take thy favour?"
What gain is favour till the final day?
But marvelled am I that I did not see
The shield of Palomides. Where was he
To counter whom the baser side I took?"
Meantime Sir Lancelot sought the knight unknown,
Wroth as a lion who faulted of his fill,
For ever nobleness of heart is shown
By thirst for others of as bold a will;
While Arthur, rising from his tourney throne,
Reproached a slackness which expressed so ill
His court's high courtesy: "Is shame to all
Who let him pass, and failed in gentle thrall
Here to pursuade his steps, that I might see
And welcome that good knight, who'er he be,
Who hath so many endured and overcome."
Then to his knights he spake, of whom were some
Bruised but yet whole, and some whose hurts were sore:
"Though for this day ye lost the field," he said,
"Ye should not therefore be discomfited,
The third day often will such loss restore.
New lances also will recruit your line,
And I will aid it as I may with mine.
Be blithe the hearts that join our feast tonight;
But short that feast, that all may rest aright."
Receding sunset barred the western sky,
And in the east a gibbous moon was high,
When Govenale came to Tristram with the tale
That Palomides, where the downward vale
Met the wide stream, in mood of madness sate,
Lamenting that his deeds defeating fate
Would ever yet their final crown deny.
Much did he more lament of love reject,
And speak of Tristram, whom he needs must hate
For many sore despites, and not the less
For his much valour and his gentleness
Which raised his honour to such high reflect.
"Such," Dinadan said, "his times of madness are
Who knighthood seeks in Christless ways to show,
And hath the guidance of no constant star.
What wilt thou therefor?"
"To his aid to go
Clean knighthood calls our feet," Sir Tristram said.
And so they came to where, as Govenale led,
Sir Palomides, in his most despair,
Contemning his good sword, had cast it bare
Into the weeded margin of the stream.
"Alas!" He cried, "that ever sword I drew
To be the cause of others' fame. To me
Comes but reverse, and though the light I see
I may not reach it." Then the belt he threw,
Following the sword; and then, with changing mood,
Plunged in the flood, and groped to find again
That which he flung before, and groped in vain.
Deeper he waded in the weeds. Thereat
Sir Tristram followed: "Hold," he cried, "the stream
May sink more sharply than perchance ye deem.
The weeds may snare thee if a hole betray."
Yet further still he plunged and groped; and still
Sir Tristram followed, weighted both alike
With greaves and body mail which yet they wore.
Then Tristram seized his arm. Toward the shore
He urged him backward, and the Paynim cried:
"What wouldst..... Who art thou? Loose thine hold!"
Sir Tristram said. "Thou hadst ungloried died
In the cold flood. The nameless knight am I
Who fain would meet thee in a place more fit."
"Ungloried? That my fatal end shall be
By any path I take or mode I die.
That knowledge must I needs lament."
Thou art a knight of valour, strength, and skill;
And wert thou of accept and changeless will
Would few surpass thee."
"All thy praise could say
I might be, yet would one exceed me still.
I mean Sir Tristram, who, in Ireland first,
And then in Cornwall, hath my fame reversed.
Gentle men call him, but athwart to me
He hath been ever."
"Shouldst thou meet him here,
What wouldst thou?"
"Hardly, with a chosen spear,
I would give battle for my just degree."
"Thou wouldst? And surely of like mind were he.
And therefore shouldst thou all thy heart address
To fit thee for the chance, ye know not when,
That will not fail thee. Rest this night with me.
Thy belt is here. The sword can lightly lie.
Good sooth! There are enough of swords to buy
In armourers booths that round the exits lie.
Believe me for thy friend, and come with me."
"Fair nameless knight, I thank thy courtesy.
Rest will I with thee till the dawn is nigh."
Then Tristram to Sir Dinadan sent ahead
A word of counsel, that no japes be said,
Nor aught which would reveal him. All of cheer
That Tristram could was Palomides' then.
Yet while that Tristram slept, when dawn was near,
He who had slept not rose and rode away.
Now for the third high bout the trumpets blew,
And who had gained or failed alike anew,
With arms reburnished and with pensels gay,
With shields repainted, and bright plumes aplay
In the light breezes of the mounting day,
Thronged to the lists a further test to try.
And first it seemed that what had been before
Repeat of challenge would but prove the more.
Again North Gales unhorsed the Irish king.
Again King Caradoc lacked the force to fling
Him of the Hundred. Knights exampled thus
Themselves outdid, till Palomides' spear,
As some strong wind throws back resisting seas,
Against them drave. His chequered shield they knew.
The shout along the roaring barriers grew:
The Paynim lasts. The Paynim knight is through.
Nor was he sole North Gales' bold ranks to tame,
For nearly at his side King Arthur came,
With skill not matchless, but resolve as high.
They led such onfall as could naught defy,
Till Tristram, with one only purpose fired,
Showing his black shield where weaker knights retired,
With Palomides clashed, and flung him far;
While those who watched were still, or changed acclaim.
But soon the Saracen knight, and soon the king,
Were horsed again, and Arthur's eagerness
Drave at Sir Tristram with so shrewd a thrust
That earth he felt, nor in the thronging press
Could rise, while Palomides merciless
Reined round to trample whom he did not fling.
Wood wrothed was Tristram at that lewd despite.
Half risen, the ankle of the Paynim knight
He seized, and dragged him from his steed. Was then
Such bout of swords as seldom wondering men
Have had God's fortune to observe and weigh.
But Tristram's blade, although it did not slay,
Beat down that other at last, and rang such tune
Upon the Paynim helm, that, dazed and blind,
He reached toward a foe he could not find,
Dismissed to darkness in the August noon.
Only the press of comrades saved him then
From heavier dole, while Tristram, horsed again,
Sought other excellence. And sore his might
Gored Caradoc's ranks, till loth his force to bide
So many from his course retired aside
That Arthur, lanceless now, in all men's sight
With single valour held his place, and so
Lone in the path of Tristram waited.
Sank the great lance against him. Lanceless he
Paused till the spear was on him, and swerved, and smote
The passing point, and severed. Such feat to see,
The straining barriers roared acclaim. The king,
Ere Tristram loose his heavy sword could swing,
Nigh clave his helm. Some space he drave him. The throng
Of broken knights behind advanced anew.
Now Tristram backward bore him in turn. But through
That eddying strife pressed Lancelot toward the king,
And seeing him countered in such sort, he cried:
"Defend thee here!" And at Sir Tristram's side
Such thrust he made as on cold ground had cast
All knights but they. But he not wavering,
Broke in his side the entering point.
Long in such strait he might not hope. To throw
His foremost foes disordered from him awhile
Was first his thought; and this he achieved, and then
So felt his wound that from the eyes of men
Only he longed unseen, unsought, to go,
A dying peace in forest ways to find.
Outward he broke, and left the struggling press.
Lone path he found. With eddying sense and blind,
And draining life, slow-paced, a woodland mile
Erect he rode from hard resolve, till less
Than will might rule, the vital course declined,
Whereat he fell, not knowing.
But near behind
Sir Dinadan came. His friending thought could guess
Deep wound alone from that augmenting fray
Had drawn him forth. Was little heed he gave
To honour's loss of knight who turns away,
Still hurtless, from the high tide of strife, but swift
Pursuit he tried, and where the beechen shade
Widened, and golden showed the lighted glade,
Sun-pierced amid the shadows, beheld adrift
His friend's black charger feeding by the way.
Sharp pricked he then, and with short ride arrived
Where in the summer dust Sir Tristram lay.
And as beneath his hands spent life revived,
He mocked the folly of the shield's disguise
That brought that fall. Sir Tristram answered: "Nay,
Why should we blame the high concept we dare,
Though to the sought success we do not rise?"
"The high concept? Both sides you missed your gain!
To slay the king, or else of Lancelot slain
Here, lost, to lie."
The while he spake he sought
With careful haste the draining wound to bare,
To search, to staunch, to bind with easeful hold,
That strength to Tristram's heart returned, while there
They rested, as the failing light foretold
Night's empire of the woods resumed, and cold
The wind that stirred the sighing boughs. To stay
Unsheltered there were evil choice, unfed,
Unwarmed, deep wounded.
"Weight of arms to bear,
Or motion of thy steed," Sir Dinadan said,
"Ye are all unfit. There is no surer way
To bring thee aid than hence awhile I go
Short space, at speed. There is no likely foe
Thy covered rest would find, nor beast of prey
Ye might not scare with clang of arms away."
"Nay," said Sir Tristram, "whole at heart am I,
Although I failed before, and shamed that so
I overdeemed it. Let thine arm supply
Aid as the stirrup I gain, and once in selle,
I shall not falter, but endure it well."
Sir Dinadan stooped thereat, his aid to give,
But rose more sharply than he bent: "Perde!
Behold who cometh."
"A flying knight I see,"
Sir Tristram answered. "Must we for his need
"Nay, not fugitive
He rides so fast; but like a hound is he
Keen on the scent. And on thy life to feed
His heart is hungered, if his lust I guess.
Is he so distant that you do not know
How Palomides rideth, bent and low?
Unstable ever in his moods is he,
And, named or nameless as you chance to be,
Still art thou he who foils his fantasies."
"Well, let him come. The summer woods are free."
"That will he surely; but thy wound denies
The strength to meet him. Heed my counsel now.
It is in flight alone thy safety lies.
Seek some safe tower. Or where the meeting bough
Makes a deep secret of a woodland dell.
Irk not thy wound, but else, the most ye may,
Be speed thy shield. Meantime, his course to stay,
I will encounter, and at least delay,
A stronger knight than I. And if I fall
I trust thee surely for my soul to pray."
"Good friend," Sir Tristram laughed, "my thanks I owe.
But I would have thy selfless knighthood know
That yet good heart and haply strength remain
To meet his fury, and to overthrow
A charger overridden, as his must be.
Aid me to arm and mount. A comrade slain
To gain my safety would such scorn supply
That better were it in reverse to die,
As well thou knowest."
"Never wits had I
To match thy wisdom..... Heed this girth awry."
Then forward rode Sir Tristram soberly,
Aware the less the strength the more the skill
Occasion calls; and his black shield aright
He drest, at which, as at no welcome sight,
Sir Palomides checked his speed. But he,
Fair truth to tell, but reined his steed until
Gaheris, softlier in his rear who rode,
Should join him, that they came as two to two.
"What would ye?" Asked Sir Tristram.
"What would you?"
"I seek but harbour for the night's abode."
"But I requite for much indignity."
"Seek ye to joust again?"
"I seek to show
Not thou, but fortune, wast too hard a foe."
"Joust will I freely in this fair accord,
That shouldst thou fall, no after-bout of sword
Thou wilt require; but should thy lance prevail
I must defend me, or my freedom fail."
So spake he, doubting that his strength should last,
Though yet sufficient to the ground to cast
The Saracen knight. But Palomides thought
The gain was all to him, the loss was naught,
That treaty gave; which yet no difference made,
For he so hardly to the ground was laid
That strength to rise he lacked. But no regard
Sir Tristram gave him. In a bout as hard
He met Gaheris, who had more preferred
Aside to stand. No inch Sir Tristram erred
The lance to guide, for in his heart he knew
His strength was strained its last attempt to do.
Flung as the first the knight of Arthur fell.
Then rode Sir Tristram with Sir Dinadan
To where a tower above the woods was high,
Black on the scarlet of the evening sky.
Harbour they asked and had. An aged knight
Received them well, the while his wandering sight
Searched the bare road, and then, as half in fear
To ask, and hasten that he would not hear:
"Ye come from the great tourney?"
"Sooth to tell,
We had some part therein."
"And surely well
Prevailed your fortunate spears?"
"Beshrew me, nay.
Only I took this wound, and rode away."
"I may not think it. Yet so much ye saw
That the three leopards couchant, vert and or,
Ye did not miss?"
"The battled field was bright
With many painted shields, and much beside
Our minds to hinder and our eyes to draw.
Three golden leopards? All with gold alight
Glowed the ranged fronts, and rank on rank arear
As insolent shone."
"Nay, but my sons were five;
And every one the same high symbol bore."
"They were?" Said Dinadan. "Say they are. For we
Who chance the tourney, year on year may see
The same confronting shields we met before.
Doubt not they shortly in one troup arrive,
Nor vex thy heart to fear the five are four."
Even as he spake it proved. As ere they came
With shields discoloured; beaten, bruised and lame,
But yet sound-limbed for later proofs to see.
For evil comes to all, but comes it first
To who forethinks it, and its most and worst
Fangless to that which urgent fears foresee.
After Sir Tristram from the strife withdrew,
Surpassing were the deeds that Lancelot did,
As one no risk who weighed, no hurt who knew.
In single strife, or bustling groups amid,
First was he ever, while the king returned
To his high seat of judgement. But that sight,
In which Sir Lancelot, as an only knight
Against a legion, bore their boldest back,
So stirred him that he cried: "As God me save,
Is here our shame to see, whose hands are slack
To aid that valour."
Then his place he gave
To Gawain, seated near, and knights around
Who had not striven as yet, or strife had found
Enough before, their purple mantles threw
To pages' hands, and in bright steel anew
Behind him came.
Their entrance made but sure,
Or sooner, that which those who watched foreknew.
No longer might North Gales' bold front endure:
He of the Hundred found that faint and few
Were those who rode around him. Gawain saw.
Above the din the final trumpet blew.
Then to Sir Lancelot was the first award
Judged with good right, for he with lance and sword
Had long and last prevailed, but not would he
That right allow: "It were no grace to me
From Tristram's grasp so late a wreath to snatch.
For three full days he had no mortal match;
And late to rise, for shorter bouts, was I."
Neither could lords nor ladies, low nor high,
Not kings' entreaties, nor the people's cry,
Avail to change him. Yet may all men see
That were he first or last by might's degree,
Surely, by this rejection, first was he.
For tourney victor was he called no less,
And more applauded for his gentleness
Than had five hundred from his single spear
Fallen to flat earth.
Yet little comfort came
From any source to him. The praising word,
The king's persuasion, left his heart unstirred.
Only he thought of that disastrous chance
By which Sir Tristram's side had felt his lance,
And by that chance the former deeds he did
Perversely from their just reward forbid.
So to the king he spake. And Arthur said:
"The prize was thine. But not with less dismay
Than is thine own, Sir Tristram's loss I view.
Of all the knights I know, of all I knew
In earlier days, there is no name to say
Nobler or knightlier, or of courteousness
More constant to sustain the fame he wins
Assertless. Let us, ere the night begins,
Follow and find. And, be he hurt or whole,
Bring him to couch or feast."
In this consent,
And joined by Dodinas (who with them went
Because Sir Sagramore, his constant friend,
Could stir not, with a laming wound to mend,
A score of paces from his leech's tent),
They found Sir Persides, and sure was he
That Tristram in his hired pavilion lay.
But there they found him not, nor where away
His feet had wandered could they learn, and so
In heavy mood for that they feared to be
(For worse is that we doubt than that we know)
They turned toward the castle again, and there
Gaheris met them: "Now, good faith," said he,
"Vainly ye rode a dying knight to seek.
His arm from any wound was not too weak
Sir Palomides to the ground to cast.
I count not of myself. Mere truth to speak,
I had no will to meet him."
"Hurt was he, as we know, too sore to last
The tourney through. And that the Paynim did
Was of the unknightly kind that God forbid
A knight of mine should do."
"He came so fast,
No choice was mine."
"He strove in haste, unsure
That longer might his ebbing strength endure,"
Sir Lancelot guessed aright. And said the king:
"Oft is it that the steadfast heart will hold
The weak reluctant flesh to deeds controlled
Beyond a fainter will's accomplishing.
And though he might not to the last fulfil
His three days' purpose, this remains, that he
Longest of all endured, and all excelled.
"Fair lords and princes all, of sooth I say
I have not surely such devoir beheld
Through all high ventures since the distant day
When from the magic stone the sword I drew.
And though to Lancelot's spear at last he fell,
What of it? When two noble knights contend,
Each of high heart, and each with God to friend,
Needs must be one (and that will God decide)
The worse to meet."
"It is no boast to tell,"
Sir Lancelot answered, "that such strife I tried.
For all my Father's lands I own today,
For all I have done, and for all I may,
I would not Tristram to his hurt have met,
For mine too recent and too great the debt.
Did he not break that thirty who designed
My fatal ambush? Riding straightly through
The crowded lances of that craven crew,
With only Dinadan's weaker spear behind?"
"So was it," said the king, "and yet by you
We lose him now."
"But that you shall not do,
If any search can find him. Hear me swear.
That wrong which in the heat of arms I did
I will at need with twelve months' toil repair,
Seeking him ever, never twice to rest
One roof beneath, until the weary quest
Be ended by success. Are nine beside,
For mine or Tristram's love, this quest to ride?"
"I will," Sir Ector said. "And that will I,"
The words from Bors and Bleoberis came.
Blamor, Ewaine, and Lucan swore the same,
Galahalt and Galihodin. Lionel last
The ten completed. In one company
They rode to reach that cross where diverse ways
Strike through the waste to every wind, and there
They parted, taking all the ways that were.
Meanwhile Sir Tristram, for some space of days,
In Darras' hold was lodged and tended well,
But hurt too sorely from his couch to raise
His fevered limbs; and while he bided so
Came Palomides there, but did not know
He moved so nearly to his mortal foe,
For Dinadan, whom he met, of words was spare,
Except good purpose for their speaking were.
Yet jibed he, as it was his use to do:
"Ye seek Sir Tristram? So do hounds pursue
The fleeing deer, whose fleetness at the last
Will naught avail the scent aside to cast,
Or to outpace implacable toil behind."
"I seek him, as ye guess, and think to find.
Then will be dawning of his evil day."
"Surely no more than modest sooth ye say,
Who hast so often chased and seen him flee."
"Thou dost not mock?"
"Could thought of mockery be
When Palomides' fearsome name is said?"
"Yet wast thou Tristram's friend."
"Thy deeds of dread
I dare not lessen, lest my life should pay."
"That which thy words would hide thy tones betray.
I think thee less than friend."
But more to say
No time was theirs, for Darras entered, wroth
For that which from Sir Lucan's lips had he
But shortly heard. For there had Lucan reined,
Resting short while his steed to ease, and told
How went the tourney: "Of all knights were three
Most boisterous. Others at their feet were rolled.
These three (but Lancelot was a victoring fourth)
All who withstood them without mercy baned.
Who were they? Tristram first, and one beside
Who oft in friendship at his rein doth ride.
And Palomides. Leopards vert and or?
Yea, surely such beneath their feet I saw,
One side or other. But I wot not which."
Careless he spake, nor all was truth, but all
To him who sired those beaten knights was gall.
'And here,' he thought, 'they come, my board to take,
And revel at my humbled hold to make.
Indifferent that their hooves so lately trod
My sons' gay leopards, but, so aid me God,
A lowlier note shall soon be theirs.'
Where Dinadan with Palomides spake,
"Fair knights," he said, "your comrade's hours are spent
Too lonely from your much neglect."
Sir Palomides said, "of such to me
I nothing know."
"Yet, whom," said Dinadan,
"Your tongue hath chased through seven realms is he."
"Then would I see him."
"So in sooth ye may."
Then Darras led to where Sir Tristram lay,
But, as they neared his couch, a backward stride
Regained the door that yawned behind them wide,
Studded with iron, of one great timber stout.
They heard it clang. They heard the bolt without
Grind in the slot. They heard their captor's voice
In mockery call them: "Where ye came of choice,
Here shall ye longer than your choosing bide."
So did they for long weeks. The Paynim knight,
Holding Sir Tristram in his most despite,
Abused him at the first; but answers fair,
Or silence at some times, such bucklers were
To turn the strings of hate, that soon accord
Made quiet haven of that dismal ward.
And Tristram's weakness, which was slow to change,
Brought pity to the Paynim's Christless heart,
Which not its nobler nor its baser part
Would wholly rule; but it would lawless range,
Having no goal to seek, nor guide to trust,
Impulsed by hate or envy, ruth or lust,
Or emulous of the nobler rarer heights
Sought, if not conquered, by the Christian knights.
Gaheris rode to Cornwall. Here the king,
Cold-hearted, of the dull days wearying,
Received him gladly for the tales he brought.
At Mark's high table, with Iseult, he sate.
Little she said, with listening heart await
For news of Tristram. Much of Arthur's court
They heard from lips that no restraint forbid;
Of ventures offering, who would doubt or dare;
Of virtues challenged, who would keep or share;
What said its dames, and what its damsels did.
So told he lastly of the tournament
Held at the Castle of Maidens: "All Logre,
And all North Gales were there; and first to see
Was one black shield that bore no blazonment.
The greatest knights of Arthur, where they lay,
Looked up to see it above them."
King Mark allowed, "was Lancelot of the Lake;
Or Palomides else, the Paynim knight."
"Not so. They were not of his side."
Was likely Tristram?"
"That he was."
He is a perilous knight."
Smooth words he spake,
Hiding his hate, the while Iseult was glad.
For that high honour that Sir Tristram had
Gave her such joy as brought her heart to ease,
Although no longer in his arms she lay.
Then to Tintagel came Ewaine of Gore,
Wandering at will on no forethoughten way.
Whom Mark entreated with fair words to stay
For a near feast; and Ewaine answered: "Yea,
I would thy knights encounter." And the king
Thought craftfully: 'My Cornish knights are more
Than one knight only, be he whom he may,
Alone can counter. Though a score he fling,
There will be one shall cast him, and the fame
Of Cornwall surely be advanced thereby.'
But on the day was none would foremost be
That doubt to prove. Before Sir Ewaine's name
They daunted; till the king Sir Andret moved
To arm; but little gain his venture proved:
So hard he fell that swooned on earth he lay.
Then to Sir Dinas pled the king, and he
Of knightly temper rode, though lothfully,
A course from which as hard a fall he took.
"Is none who will abate the boast of Gore?"
Cried the wrothed king, and at his urgent look
Gaheris answered: "As your board I share,
I will adventure."
Then he armed, and rode
Against Ewaine. Content was Mark, who knew
His fell repute; but Ewaine backward drew.
"Wouldst thou for Cornwall joust? I will not so
Thy fame reduce. For thou art sworn as I
Not with thy comrades in strange lists to vie,
But to uphold our Table's conquering name.
I know thee surely, as my shield you know,
And do not fear thee. But mine oath I keep.
And we be sisters' sons!"
Perforce of shame
Gaheris turned away, and Mark excused,
With liberal words that held no faith, his plea:
"I asked too largely. Hadst thou first refused,
I had not held it as thy fault."
He privily armed, and so, unseen of men,
With one squire only, rode a secret way
That joined the road Ewaine would take, and lay
Between grey rocks beside it. Covertly,
He watched the knight of Arthur unsuspect
Pass where he lurked, and charging on his rear
Cast him to ground sore hurt, the caitiff spear
Goring his side; and then, unrecognised,
Fled back to that high tower his life defamed.
Neighboured to death, with open wound, Ewaine
Lay where he fell, nor more had risen, but there
Sir Kay came riding, and an idle rein
Turned at the sight, perchance its spoil to share.
Ewaine he knew: "Now who thy life hath lamed,
And left thee thus?"
"I saw not whom it were,
And that I would not swear I will not say.
But aid me, or I die."
The while they spake
Came Andret, seeking Mark, to whom Sir Kay
In generous wrath: "Was thine this dastard blow
That backward entered? Could I prove it so
I would not spare thee."
"Nay, but naught I know
More than thyself."
"Yet are ye most alike,
Ye Cornish knights. So foul a blow to strike
What other knights would dream? There is but one
Who lifts your fame, and he is exiled now."
While thus they spake, the wounded knight to aid
They joined, and to an abbey near conveyed,
Where through long weeks in doubt of life he lay,
But healed at last. From which good deed Sir Kay
Came to Tintagel. Fair the welcoming,
If words be welcome, from its perjured king
He smoothly heard; and on the following day
Mark told him of a venture near-away,
Save by a knight of Arthur hard to win,
With gold for its reward strong walls within,
Beside a lake whose sullen depths returned
Black rocks that rose around it. Craftfully
He flattered strength and stirred cupidity,
Until Sir Kay with avid heart agreed
That quest to challenge. But Gaheris said:
Being lonely with him: "Hath thy heart no heed
Of Mark's much treasons? Hast thou eyes to see?
As with Ewaine he dealt, alike with thee
He seeks to deal."
But Kay, though counselled well,
His purpose held, and with no more debate
Gaheris from Tintagel rode away.
Few were the miles he rode before the day
Gained its full heat, and he dismounting lay
In easeful rest, but bade his squire await
Who next should come: "For here I think Sir Kay
Will deathward ride."
And at a later hour
The squire espied him in a distant vale,
Shortening the track toward them. Lightly rose
Gaheris, and rode to meet him.
"Friend," he said,
"Be warned by one the ways of Mark who knows.
No light access to treasure-burdened tower,
But ambush in dark ways from treasoned foes,
Where not will valour nor will strength avail,
His craft intends."
"I will not turn me now.
My word I hold. But if ye well believe
So foul his cunning, wilt thou knightly dare
To ride beside me, and its end to share?"
"That will I, for our Table's oath."
They rode together till the sunset glow
Turned half the Perilous Lake's black gloom to red.
By which they camped, till better light should be
With coming of dawn.
That while King Mark had called
Andret, who turned not from his perfidy,
And varlets of their kind. Most secretly
They armed them in black arms, and chargers black
They ordered, harnessed black, and blackly palled.
Witless of barons or of ladies there,
They left Tintagel by a secret stair,
Mounted, and rode the way that Kay was told
Would bring him to the tower of garnered gold.
So bright the moon that many a winter day
Less light would cast upon the treeless way,
As to the lake's black marge they came, and Kay
Saw their approach. Was here the knight he thought,
The knight of darkness who would there resort
To counter all the golden bait should draw.
Forward he rode to meet him. Mark, who saw
Him only, and despised, to Andret said:
"Wait while I charge, and if I fall do thou
Charge also, ere his steed he rein, for so
The meanest spear should prove his overthrow."
Then clashed they, and the king's more ponderous steed
Bore down Sir Kay's, that cast and bruised he lay.
But fast thereat a better knight than Kay
Out to the moonlight from the rock's black shade
Rode with a cry: "Thou felon knight, take heed."
Gaheris' voice he knew. At craven's speed
He met whom gladlier had he sought to shun.
He fell; and Andret, in no haste to aid,
Spake parleying words to him who, heeding none,
Cast him as abject as his uncle lay.
Then the two Table knights dismounted went
To where the fallen groaned beside the way.
"Here is but carrion for our swords to slay,"
Spake the fierce anger of the fallen Kay.
But Andret: "Here ye, lest ye much repent.
For here is Cornwall's king, and near am I
His cousin in blood."
"Ye are but whom we deemed,"
Gaheris answered, "vermin meet to die,
Contriving treasons while ye falsely seemed
Hosts and good friends to grant us rest and cheer,
With purpose to mislead and end us here."
"We sought not thee."
"Ye sought the weaker prey.
Now the snare fails, and comes the price to pay."
Gaheris smote a risen knight, and Mark
His shield opposed. On that lone roadway, dark
With shadowing rocks, and with the moon alight,
Was deadly flicker of swift swords, for he,
Guileful alike in craft of sword or tongue,
Some moments strove, but when his loss he knew,
Abject his weapon to the ground he threw,
And grovelling in the dust for mercy cried.
Never, he swore, an errant knight should ride
In doubt or danger through the Cornish land
The while he lived, if act of mercy now
Should pardon grant; and he would straitly vow,
Yea, by God's Cross, he would not more withstand
That Tristram should return, nor more contrive
Nearly now Sir Andret lay,
As craven, fallen to the sword of Kay.
"Shall we not make an end?" Sir Kay required.
"For this man is not as varlet hired,
Or feud-incited, or by oath compelled.
He is Tristram's cousin, who yet through perfidy
Hath ever wrought against him."
"Let them be,"
Gaheris answered, "lest that men should say
Manly they perished who are less than man.
They are not fit to save, nor worth to slay."
With this consent, the fallen rose and ran.
And said Gaheris: "Wouldst thou hold with me,
Ye must to Camelot."
"That I would, but I
Am hurt and bruised too sore to reach Logre.
A nearer rest I need."
"Then close from here
Sir Dinas' castle stands, and there will we.
He is not of the sort of Mark, although
He holds thy place in Cornwall."
They rode through darkness till the changing hour
Brought dawn, and half the dawn Sir Dinas' tower,
Black-rising, hindered, though it could not hide.
Here were they well received, as knights of pride
Are welcomed in all lands by those akin
Of noble nature. But their host they found
In wrathful mood for haps which late had been,
As in short words he told.
Was mine, as fair as any seedless flower,
But one that any wind could bend aside.
She was too false to count her falsehood sin,
For ever to herself she was but true.
Constant inconstancy to speak or do
Being her essence as a rose is red.
"It chanced a wandering knight, to whom I gave
Good harbour, drew her by his light regard.
I blamed him naught therefor, but straitly barred
The gate when next I rode, that wrong to save.
But she, outwitting in her wantonness
My careful guard, a rope of sheets did get,
And down herself beyond the walls did let,
And fled to him perchance whose will was less
Than hers to tangle in so dire a net.
"More to my wrath, she took my dearest hound,
Which when I knew, in hard pursuit I went.
The twain within a forest bower I found,
And bade that knight conclude his merriment,
To prove himself her better lord than I.
"When from that bout I cast him hard to ground,
Limb-broken as he lay, and like to die,
She fawned upon me: 'Well thy lance was spent.
Tired of him ere ye came at heart was I.
Forgive my fault, and much thy gain shall be.
More will I love and sport than erst,' said she.
"To which I answered: 'Nay, I sought thee not.
I sought a better than thyself, God wot.
I sought the true: the false are best unfound.'
So lightly rode I back. I brought my hound.
I left her there to nurse, as best she might,
Her weakling choice."
"Ye did them equal right,"
Gaheris answered. "Were we all as thou,
Our dames were chaster than we prove them now."
Lightly he spake, who owed so dear a debt
To one who loved him, as he loved, Lynette.
But this long time in Darras' hold immured
Lay Tristram, sick of body and mind. The day
Dawned with no hope, the night no comfort brought,
But only weary pain and torturing thought.
With health, much evil may be long endured:
With hope, much sickness may in time be cured.
But here was neither health nor hope to see
Not all that evil seems may evil be.
Yet was it so; for when that damsel came
Who gave them earlier, in their jailer's name,
Assurance of their lives, and saw how spent
Sir Tristram lay, with such report she went
To Darras as he must not choose but hear.
"That knight," she said, "that mightful knight, who bore
The sable shield, so sick of heart doth lie,
That if he more be mured he will but die,
To thy dishonour for too long a year."
"Now God defend!" He answered. "Those who came
To seek my succour, though their deeds appear
Despiteous and malign to mine and me,
Must yet not perish, lest a larger shame
Be ours than loss of dearer lives should be.
Fetch them before me."
Then the bondaged three
They brought, unarmed, and Tristram, weak of knee,
On Dinadan leaning.
"Knights," Sir Darras said,
"Whatever woes through thee my house hath felt,
I would not that your lives be evil sped
For my three sons, whose wounds untimely dealt
I needs must mourn. But I will ask of thee
Who raised so high the sable shield, and now
Art brought so low by this captivity,
Two things before I set thee free.
First, that thy name I know; and next that thou
In friendship to me and my house remain
Pledged from this day."
"Lord, though thy sons were slain,
(As haply was not) all was knightly done
In equal strife. By kin or friendship none
Is wholly barred from such extremity.
Had I by treason or by treachery
Contrived against them, then my death should be
Thy natural right. I am Lyonesse born, and bear
The name of Tristram, Meliodas' heir;
And nephew am I to the Cornish king."
"All that," Sir Darras answered, "weighed have I.
It were but to my grief that here should die
A knight so noble, who but knightly did.
That wrath should lead so far may God forbid!"
"Fair lord," Sir Tristram answered, "to forgive,
If wrong there were, and let its authors live,
Shall be thy praise, and never doubt that I
To thy most worthy sons, except I die,
Shall be a friend enduring."
From that day
Sir Tristram strengthened. Soon he dured to sit
His restless charger, stalled too long, and fit
His hands for lance and shield. No more to stay
In that dark-memoried hold, though altered now,
His heart inclined. Forth rode the comrades three,
Till came they where three roads before them lay,
And lonely took they each a different way.
Lone rode Sir Dinadan, with naught to guide,
Deep in the Solitary Land, and there,
Searching the forest glades, his glance espied
A damsel weeping by a lone wellside;
And down the mossy pathway, unaware
He came, and bent above her, and spake her fair:
"Oh, damsel, wherefore, while thy life is young,
Finds grief's occasion with no comrade here,
Dimming those eyes which else in courts were sung,
When love should call thee from the needless tear.
I would to reach the cause for which you grieve,
If idle, errant knight you deign to tell,
That comfort may console, or lance relieve,
Or counsel close the grief in which you dwell."
Light were the words: the tone was light and low.
Scarcely the lifted visor served to show
More than the searching eyes that sought her own;
But whatso'er she judged from glance and tone,
"Lord," she said, "the half my woe
Is death, which no man alters. Hither drew
My knight and I, twelve summer days ago,
To wander in the woods our childhood knew.
Six days of heaven were ours, until there came
A treasonous knight, and my dear lord he slew,
And holds me in the bonds of simple shame,
Who lack the strength to strive, or heart to die."
And Dinadan answered her: "So is it? But I
Lack neither heart to die nor strength to strive.
And likely, should this ruthless knight arrive,
Death may be no way distant. That you know,
Meanwhile, his name, his race, I charge you show."
While yet he asked and learned the hated name
Of Breuse, far-known for many a murderous wrong,
Himself adown the forest aisle he came,
Riding at arrogant ease. A charger strong,
Not often matched in strife or chase, he rode.
A raven, full in flight, his balzon showed.
But when the silver shield engaged his glance,
Instant he spurred and charged, and lance to lance
Countered the knight of Arthur. Never so
Drave he the lance at any tourney show,
With the light mockery of his heart awake,
As then he drave it for that damsel's sake,
So hard, so sure, that the assaulting knight,
Who seldom yet was flung in single flight,
Fell headlong. But the while Sir Dinadan
Lit from his horse, the caitiff rose and ran,
The nearby shelter of his hold to gain,
Through the known woods, that all pursuit were vain.
In safety, as his knighthood's vows required,
And kind as one that wooed a maid desired,
Sir Dinadan the rescued damsel led
To friendly neighbouring towers. Ere eve was red
Following alone his errant quest again.
The long day closed: the summer light was low:
Nameless the towers to Tristram: friend or foe
Might different greetings give; but careless he,
Who held that bolder fortune oft shall see
The clearer path, and tread it, than who relies
On cautious-counselled crafts, before the gate
His calling bugle blew.
Nor long await
Allowed his doubt, nor grudged consent he knew,
Nor found he, when the outward guard was through,
A threatful sign in aught he saw, for steel
Was sheathed. The hedgeway growths that snakes conceal
Are no more peaceful to the wareless eye.
"Whose be these towers?" He asked.
The porter said:
"Queen Morgan here will give thee greeting fair.
What name is thine?"
"An errant knight am I.
Account me nameless when a queen is nigh."
So to high banquet was he brought, and there
King Arthur's sister bade them place him high,
Even beside her. Royal of mien was she,
As one of Gorlois' daughters well should be.
And bright the twisted gold that queened her head
Shone through the flame-shot folds of dusky red,
As, with low voice and gracious hands' extend,
She greeted knight unknown as guest and friend,
And gave him place beside her where she sate,
At her right hand, while at her left was set
Her passing paramour, Sir Hemison.
With wrath he saw her eyes for Tristram were,
And all her words, and had his heart him let,
Except for shame, had there his sword been wet
With Tristram's blood.
But naught did Morgan care.
She to such bondage of her will could bring
The knights she favoured, till she cast them by.
"Fair knight," she said, "a likely mind have I
To hold thee prisoner for my wantoning."
"Now Christ defend that ye should serve me so,
For I was prisoner held but late ago,
And much I wearied of it."
"But nay," she said,
"Those whom I ward have little irk to dread;
And more of pleasure may be theirs, perde,
Than most shall find who ride from sea to sea,
Or in deep woods, or on the heights of snow."
"Yet were it kindlier thought to let me go."
"To ask is vain, except thy name I know."
"My name is Tristram."
"Had I guessed it so,
I had not pledged thy freedom. If I yet
Release thee, wilt thou pay so dear a debt
By bearing to my praise the shield I give,
Even at the Castle of Granite Walls, whereat
The king hath called high tourney? So shall live
My name in legend of that splendid day,
Perchance beyond thy deeming."
If I so
Traffic for freedom, wilt thou please to show
The shield which shall this huckster's deal display?"
"That will I," she said. A gilded shield was brought
Which showed a royal and queenly crown
In consort, and a knight who trod them down
With either heel. The shield was richly wrought,
Of tempered steel, for any champion fit;
But much he questioned the device of it,
And prayed her show. To which she answered: "Nay.
But I will ask that on the tourney day
You bear it, and to all who ask you say:
'Naught of its meaning can I rede. Le Fey
Gave it, and showed its strange device, and said:
Is here the whole land's lord discomfited.'
And thence shall chance, as by mine arts I see,
Doubt and discord, and loss at last shall be,
Ruining; but naught at once, and naught to thee."
"I will not bear a shield I do not know."
"Nay, but thus only shall I let thee go.
And thou canst shameless act and knightly so
For only if the weight of truth it bear,
Then only, Arthur will its meaning tell;
And if it beareth truth, it warneth well."
As by no other means he might be free,
And worse had likelier seemed, assented he
To this fair urging with no more deny.
Something he guessed, but yet he did not see
That straight it touched at Lancelot.
With the morn,
Lothly, but for that shield in part content,
Queen Morgan loosed him. In good heart and high
For his new freedom gained, he rode in scorn
Of whom on open road his course should stay.
But rose Sir Hemison.
"What would ye now?"
Queen Morgan asked.
"I marked the path he went.
I think to follow."
"Nay, fair friend, delay.
I see more surely than my lips can say
There is no worship on that road for thee."
"You think a Cornish knight I should not dare?
You call me smaller than I am, perde.
Except Sir Tristram's self, no knight is there
Who is not cowardly as its craven king."
"What if that very knight disguised he be?"
"Love is a blinding light to even thee.
Boasts he so falsely? Tristram, dallying,
Lies with La Beale Iseult. I needs must show
That for thy sake I can the best defeat.
Death shall be his, or such large overthrow
As those who scorn thee should not fail to meet."
Forth rode he, heedless of her warning word,
Wroth that she favoured Tristram, wroth no less
That he her love contemned. As hard he spurred
As not pursuer, but in sharp distress
Of swift pursuit he fled. Sir Tristram turned:
"Who art thou?"
The meed he earned
He did not miss. His spear its target found
On Tristram's hawberk, which endured the strain,
And tore not, though the strong lance broke thereon.
But not the harness of Sir Hemison
The harder stroke sustained. Upon the ground
Far-cast he lay. His sword Sir Tristram drew
Even as he saw that further strife were vain.
Sprawled lay the fallen, and so fast he bled
He judged him dying if he were not slain,
And left him, when by that pierced shield he knew
That Morgan's paramour his lance had sped.
Faint were the words the varlet heard: "I die.
But yet some hours my life may hold, and I
Have things of moment to the queen to say.
For else I dare not to a priest confess,
And my lost soul shall wander rescueless
In Hell's dread flames that burn but do not slay."
The varlet staunched the wound the most he might,
And brought him living to Queen Morgan's sight;
But speechless there he died, and if he dwell
In Heaven, or in the flame-lit vaults of Hell,
Is none that knoweth. But a tomb she built
In which she laid him, and a scroll she wrote:
"Here lieth Sir Hemison, whose life was spilt
By the great knight, Sir Tristram."
So it came,
His death was not his own, but Tristram's fame,
As it may be she willed it.
Till twilight fell, and found a fair abode,
Where an old knight of past repute was glad
To barter for the ancient tales he had
New gossip of the court or of the way
From those who harbour sought at fail of day.
"Last night," he said, "a knight of Arthur came,
Ector de Maris, of as great a fame
As any who live. A damsel at his side
So told me. Who should better know than she?"
But Tristram, laughing, that high boast denied:
"To Ector's damsel, truth it well may be,
And yet be largely less than truth to me.
Sir Ector is a knight for most to shun,
But of his kin alone are more than one
He might not rival. Lancelot's self I call
Their greatest, and Sir Bors, and next of all
Blamor and Bleoberis. If we turn
To Arthur's native knights, he well might learn
His limit from Gaheris' deadlier spear."
"But Gawain is the better knight than he."
"Not as I think; and I have felt his might.
I judge Gaheris for the hardier knight,
Firm in his seat, and mortal in his aim.
And Lamorack next to him my choice would name,
As mate to all but Lancelot."
"Would ye so?
Why name ye not Sir Tristram?"
"Naught I know
Of any Cornish knight. I will not set
The place of those I have not knightly met."
So talked they till they tired, and rested well;
And with the morn Sir Tristram rode away.
Nor met he venture more until the day
When to the Granite Tower he came, and saw
A hundred tents around it. Here the pride
Of Arthur's Table Scotland's king defied,
With Ireland's aid, whose fortunes opened well,
Until Sir Tristram, on the Table's side,
Came hurtling in, and drave a lane so wide
That Arthur marvelled.
"Is there none can tell
That strong knight's name?" The shield he soon espied,
And questioned more. What might its meaning be?
So asked he of the queen, whose spoken guess
Outpaced his own in its unlikeliness,
Raising his jest. But she, with guiltier wit,
And heavy-hearted, knew the truth of it.
Then, in a chamber, when the tourney paused,
A damsel passed him in the mingled press
Of ladies and of knights: "Sir King," she said,
"Thy queen well knoweth what that shield hath caused.
And save thyself are few who do not see
The knight who treadeth on herself and thee."
Wroth was the king, and sore perplexed, thereby,
And sought that damsel, but in exit sly
She vanished, and to Morgan, whence she came,
By privy ways returned. The king anew
The tourney watched, and that strange shield beheld
Still victor, till the Scottish spears withdrew.
Yielded were some, some slain, and most were quelled,
Whattime Guenever to Sir Ector said:
"That shield is Morgan's work. Full deep I dread
Her wiles will soon our plenteous days betray,
Losing my life, and all this realm. I would
I had Sir Lancelot at my side today.
He would not trifle long that knight to slay,
And prove his falsehood so."
"He is not far."
"He cannot surely be too near for me."
"Peace, for the king regards us."
"I marvel who that victoring knight can be.
I know so surely who my greatest are.
It is not Tristram?"
"Far beyond the sea,
Couched with Iseult of the White Hands is he.
We else had found him," many knights replied.
"I will not stint until his name I know.
Ewaine, come with me, that he doth not go,
Now that the tourney press its heat declines."
So, with Ewaine of Gore, he armed, and fast
As Tristram singly from the tourney passed,
Pursued, and with short words, as justly ired,
The meaning of that pictured shield required.
And Tristram, inly wrath, replied: "The shield
Came of Le Fey, who gave it undesired.
Its meaning, of her mood, she naught revealed,
Nor charged me of it. Nor care I. More I heed
Its honour while I bear it."
"Not to rede
The arms ye bear is little praise. I pray
Thy name, sir knight."
"My name I will not say.
What is it to thee?"
"I ask for I would wit."
"As for this time thou shalt not."
We shall do battle for the shield you show."
"Now wherefor," asked Sir Tristram, "bait me so?
My name to thee were little use to know.
And little worship to thy name shall be
To thus constrain me, knowing what hard travail
I late endured. Yet not for fear of thee
My heart is doubtful, nor my lance may fail."
"Well," said the king, "the ready proof is here."
Forthright he charged, but Tristram's deadlier spear
And younger might prevailed. The impetuous king
Fell with an irksome wound. As Tristram stilled
A rearing steed, Ewaine for rescue cried:
"Knight, guard thee now."
His utmost force he tried.
But from a knight too strong, a spear too skilled,
Fell, as the king had fallen.
"Fair knights, ye asked it. Worn by previous play
I fain had spared ye, but ye would not nay."
Then rose the king, despite his wound, to reach
His fallen friend, and while he raised him spake,
Answering Sir Tristram: "Hard the truths you teach,
O nameless knight, and for such lady's sake
As few of Arthur's court would own, who know
Her treasons past; and if our wrath forgot
Your previous toils, and strove unknightly, lo!
Our prideful haste is meetly paid, God wot."
But Tristram, answering nothing, turned to go.
His heart was in the search for Lancelot.
This byway bicker lightly left his thought.
Far thence abroad he rode, and vainly sought,
Until, as from deep woods he came, he saw
A strong hold, that the marsh on either hand
Moated, but all in front was firmer land.
And on the meadow side of that fair tower
Ten knights contended. As he neared, he knew
There was one only held in hard ado
With nine at once, and he, outnumbered thus,
In strength and speed and valour marvellous,
Now one apart in level course to meet,
Now more to baffle by adroit retreat,
That five to ground in little time he laid.
Loose on the sward their scattered chargers ran.
'Shrewdly he fights, yet if they be not stayed,'
Thought Tristram, 'but one end is here to see.
I know him, if that shield I rightly scan,
And Palomides is no friend to me.
Yet shall I watch his end outnumbered here?'
Forward he rode, and his intruding spear
Divided those who strove: "For shame," he cried,
"Stand back! For though a single course ye ride,
One after one, against your single foe,
Enough of odds his wearied arm should know."
Sir Breuse sans Pitie, who those caitiffs led,
Gave hectoring answer: "Heed thyself," he said,
"Avoiding dangerous ways. Except ye do,
Who sought one captive may return with two.
Who made ye meddler here? Be wise, and go."
No answer Tristram made. To ground he slid,
Lest those dismounted some foul violence did
Against his steed. Were little here to tell.
The wiser fled: the hardier faced and fell.
Sir Breuse sans Pitie, hoving well behind
For some coward's vantage, found an altered mind.
To reach the gate's strong guard the flight he led.
And Tristram, on the heels of those who fled,
Stayed when it clanged against him.
He turned to where the knight he rescued sate
Against an oak's broad side: "Fair knight," he said,
"Well be ye found."
"Gramercy! Well for me.
Death was the price I have not paid through thee."
"I did but follow that thy lance began.
Feebly the caitiffs fought, though well they ran.
Who art thou?"
"God His grace
Had brought me surely to this time and place.
For my most foe thou art. It should not be
That thou shouldst fall at last, except to me.
Arm ye, and guard thy life."
"I first would know
The name of him who is both friend and foe."
"I am Tristram."
"Foe thou art. But this regard.
It were no honour to be slain or slay,
Rescuer or rescued, on the selfsame day
That saw thy succour. I am spent beside,
With scantly strength a single course to ride,
And wounded and bebled. Assign a day,
And name what place thou wilt, and far away
I shall not be."
"I doubt it naught. I name
The tomb by Camelot's stream that Merlin made:
The tomb where Lanceor and Columbe are laid,
And two weeks hence, and at the prime of day."
"I shall not fail thee."
"So I trust, but say
What brought thee lonely to this hard debate?"
"In yonder forest whence you came I rode,
And halted where a lady wept beside
A late-slain knight. 'Why dost thou weep?' I said."
"'I can but weep, who cannot venge the dead,
Most basely by a felon thrust who died.
Sir Breuse sans Pitie, with no cause at all
But caitiff malice, reft his life.' And I:
'Put grief aside, for vengeance yet may fall.
Regain thy palfrey. If he still be nigh,
We both may find him.' So beneath my shield,
And in my surety, did she ride. But here
This Breuse ran at me with a warnless spear,
And cast me from my steed, the damsel's cry
Too late to warn me, or herself thereby
To save; for while upon the ground I lay,
Ruthless he smote, her harmless life to slay.
"And when too late I rose, and sword I drew,
I may have held him in more hard ado
Than well he liked, for loud the note he blew
That brought those nine upon me."
"Good thy cause.
Against such tale the sharpest hate would pause
To test thee now. But on the chosen day
I trust to meet thee."
"So thou shalt."
We leave inferior foes, I will we ride
Together, comrades to this caitiff crew."
"Spent as I am, I can but thank thy will."
So rode they as familiar friends may do
Beneath the forest boughs, and came to where
A clear spring bubbled. At the water fair
Sir Tristram, lusting, gazed.
"Now halt we here,"
He said, "for I would drink."
The spring beside
Alit they, and a warhorse, slackly tied,
Lifted its head from where it grazed, and drew
With eager neighing to the chargers two.
Then in the bracken, at a closer view,
They saw a strong knight resting. Helm alone
Of his full harness had his caution shed,
And used as pillow for a sleeping head.
"Here lies a goodly knight as sight shall see.
What wilt thou that we do?" Sir Tristram said.
"Arouse him, if thou wilt."
The wakened knight
Spake but brief words and wrathful. Hastefully,
His helm replaced, a heavy spear he gat,
Mounted, and first Sir Tristram overset,
And then to Palomides paid his debt,
Giving him a fall as hard; and ere they rose
They saw the low-branched path before them close
Their nameless victor from their angered sight.
"Now," Palomides asked, "what list ye do?"
"For me, I will that proudful haste pursue,
And haply bring him to a lowlier way."
"And I will rest me at a friendlier tower."
"So were it wise to do. But look you well
You do not fail me. Much I doubt to see
Thy shield uplifted at the chosen hour;
For well thou knowest thou art no match for me."
"The larger cause is mine to doubt of thee,
Seeing that on the trail of one you ride
Who lightly flung you from his path aside,
As some strong boar will cast a vexing hound."
With no more words they parted. Tristram rode
Upon that strong knight's track, but naught he found,
Nor word could hear, until a sight he met
Such as too often was the vain regret
Of some quick bicker of contending spears:
A fallen knight, and one who wept beside.
"Fair one, how came it thus?" Sir Tristram said
To one who lying overthwart the dead
Cried vainly to the love that did not hear,
The voice that would not answer.
"Lord," said she,
As here we rested, came a knight who bore
A blank shield only. 'Whence,' he asked, 'are ye?'
And my lord answered: 'From the court are we.'
'I strive with all of Arthur's knights,' said he,
Giving no reason for that enmity,
Nor even his name. And so a course they ran;
And my lord fell before a stronger spear.
At which the strange knight, with no more regard,
His way continued. But a fall too hard
My lord had taken. From a wounded side
The life-blood pulsed; and from that wound he died
In the last hour."
"May God requite thy woe
In better days to be. But tell me now
What fame in life he bore."
Who might, by better fate, have come to be
Not least of Arthur's chosen."
"Not to thee
He should be less by failure. Late or soon,
Some wayside chance the surest life will let;
And what hath been may all but God forget."
Three further days he sought, and when the night
Again was closing, at a forest bound,
A lodge well-furnished for his ease he found,
For wandering knights devised; and here he met
Two comrades bruised and wroth, to whom he said:
"Fair knights, how come ye in such guise to be?
Met ye a knight whose arms ye might not see?
Fell ye to one who left ye where ye lay?"
And Gawain answered: "Very sooth you say.
That knight we met; and with no cause at all
For hard dispute (except he overheard
That Bleoberis spake a prudent word,
Counselling we pass him, which he took for scorn),
Against my comrade rode, and gave a fall
Which surely few to such a knight should give.
Thereat for shame I must his firmness test.
Hard course we ran, which left him still the best.
My lance and charger failed alike, but he
Either of scorn or magnanimity,
Looked on us where we lay, and turned aside.
Evil the hour in which our strength he tried!"
And Tristram answered: "Such an hour before
Myself have known, and Palomides too.
For both with one good spear he overthrew,
And left us in contempt, as left he you."
"Now by my faith," said Gawain, "wise were we
No further wrath to feel, nor more pursue.
For surely when the Table meets anew
At the next feast, we shall not fail to see
That where the greatest are this knight will be."
"Do as thou wilt," said Tristram, "but for me
Is one path only, and one fixed intent:
To find him, and to cause his hard repent
The fall he gave."
"Fair knight," Sir Gawain said,
"Who art thou, of so bold a mind?"
Is Tristram, who but late from Cornwall came."
"Then who were equal that proud knight to tame
But who the Irish champion overthrew?"
"Nay, but with God is all."
With fair adieu
At morn they parted. Tristram, seeking still
His casual foe to find, at noon espied
Two knights who in a meadow turned aside
For grazing, and their charger's thirsts to fill
Where through the starry grass a streamlet ran.
"Good knights, what tidings?"
"Tidings naught but ill,"
Answered Sir Kay.
"Then tell me what they be.
For on the trace of such a knight I ride
As few shall match."
"He bears what cognisance?"
"I know not that. He rides with arms concealed.
A black cloth hides whatever paints his shield."
"Then should ye seek not but avoid his lance,
For he was lately of our company,
And when he learned our names, so lewd was he
To taunt us of the Table's villainy,
And at the king with evil tongue to jeer
- Yea, even of the queen no grace to say -
That I must challenge, and beneath his spear
Next moment, like an offcast cloak, I lay."
"What did thy comrades?"
"At Sir Dinadan
He turned him next, but he, whose fear outran
What else he felt, without one change of blow,
Took the boughs' shelter as a craven man."
And Dinadan laughing answered: "Think ye so?
To reach by wit what others learn by woe?
I knew him for a stronger knight than I.
How would it mend his tongue that I should lie
In dust to please him? Let his humours be.
Unperilled stands the throne; and time may see
That shield uncovered as my best reply."
"God keep ye," said Sir Tristram, "such may be
The wisdom of the Table; but for me
Is little leisure till that knight I know."
Then through the forest rode he hard and long.
Seven days he rode, and came at evensong
Where stood a priory in the golden glow
Of summer twilight when the winds are still.
The prior, a joyful man of friendly will,
Knew all the tales that fluctuant rumours brought.
Much could he tell of wandering knights, but naught
Of him whose devious trace Sir Tristram sought.
And Tristram, of his nearing tryst aware,
Must needs a search of less occasion stay.
Six days of summer heat he rested there,
While to a city three short leagues away,
Some harness to renew and some repair,
Govenale he sent.
The seventh break of day
Its violation of reluctant night
To full conception had not forced, but yet
The bolder stars remained, when Tristram set
His foot to stirrup, and the charger's way
Toward that roadside tomb where Lanceor lay.
But scantly had he left the priory gate
When barred his way two knights importunate,
Requiring him in knighthood's name to play
A jousting bout: the constant comrades they,
Dodinas and Sagramore.
"Fair knights," he said,
"You ask me that I do not oft deny.
But pledged to take a starker strife am I,
Who seek appointment with my mortal foe.
I pray your pardon."
"Be ye loth or no,"
Said Sagramore, "no choice is thine. We joust
With all we meet."
"Then that I must I may
Without degrade of earlier oath. I trust
To clear thy debt for that respectless must."
Thereat with ire he rode on Sagramore,
And cast him earthward. Ere he rose, the score
Of Dodinas alike was paid. Thereat
Sir Tristram, with no halting, onward went.
But they, arising from the dust they bought,
Remounting, followed. With one mind they sought
To cause their victor in like dirt repent
His earlier gain.
Sir Tristram heard the beat
Of those pursuing hooves. He backward came.
"Behold," he said, "you asked your late defeat.
What would you more?"
"We would for those despites
Our just revenge."
"Fair courteous knights, recall.
Ye forced a proof at which I did not aim.
And now, if here to further strife we fall,
It is not reason but such perilous knights,
As by repute ye are, some harm will deal.
Wounds from your hands I should be loth to feel,
Who in three days a mortal strife must take;
And better honour to your names shall be
If ye forbear me now."
"What knight is he,"
They asked, "of whom you hold so large a dread?"
"His name is Palomides."
"By my head,"
Answered Sir Sagramore, "a valiant knight
As any known is he. What name is thine?"
"My name is Tristram."
"For thy worship's sake
At that near strife, we will forbear thee now,
Who else had met thee in no light combine,
For all reports thy noble grace allow,
And grace, by knighthood's rule, should grace requite."
The road where once Columbe and Lanceor died
Sun-drenched between its shadowed woodlands lay,
Clothed in the dust of summer, bare and wide,
As Balyn found it on that fatal day.
The sky was August's blue: the mounting sun
The distant towers of Camelot overrode,
And lit the tomb where those of life fordone
Found their secure and undisturbed abode,
As Tristram, halting on the vacant road,
Waited, and doubted his unchristianed foe.
Yet not for long was doubt, for soon he saw
A knight approach in ready guise of war,
Yet did not arms on shield, or symbol show
Cresting his helm, but all in white was he.
And Tristram asked not who this knight should be,
But lightly seeing whom he thought to see,
Addressed his shield, and sank his spear; and so
Clashed with such might that in one overthrow
Two chargers rolled, two knights unseated fell.
Then as they might they rose, and knightly well
Their sunbright swords in flashing clangour hewed
Marvellously and long; and he that strife who viewed
Four hours which mounted to the heat of noon,
Govenale, to that white knight's attendant said:
"I wonder much that any knight endure
The strokes my master deals. I look that soon
Thy lord shall falter and stoop."
"Now, by my head,
My master's dealing calls an equal praise.
For that he worst endures, he most repays."
"So is it. I thought not Palomides might,
Nor even Lancelot, with no more respite,
Such strife sustains."
"If longer time they bleed,
Their eager valour will their lives mislead;
For all too equal are the wounds they deal,
And that their swords inflict themselves must feel."
As thus they spake, for simple ruth they wept,
But even then the white knight backward stept,
And sank his blood-dimmed blade the while he said:
"Sir knight, before this strife to death we bring,
Fain would I know with whom I strive, for here
Did Merlin say the world's best knights would meet.
I claim not that. But yet such furious heat
As thine too seldom have I seen or met
To call thee lowlier than the best."
My name, unless perforce, thou shalt not know."
"Yet none, meseems, his name should shrink to show."
"Then lightly from thyself thy word I take,
And ask thine own."
"I am Lancelot of the Lake."
"Alas the word! What fault is mine! I strive
With whom the lothliest of all knights alive
My hand would harm."
"I ask thy name once more."
"I am Tristram of the Lyonesse land."
I rather yield than further strife should be."
Thereat he knelt; but Tristram's bended knee
Was no less instant. So alike they bore
Affection of more weight than fame's defeat,
Whereby their fames alike augmented shone.
Then turned they to the tomb by which they fought,
And side by side for common rest thereon
Accorded and conversed, their wounds as naught
Beside the joy by that communion brought;
And, being thus refreshed, arose and took
The road to Camelot.
Sooner than they saw
Its tower-flanked gates, two outward knights they met,
Who barred their passage: "Tell us whom ye be."
And Tristram answered: "Rather, whom are ye,
So bold of challenge?"
He who rode ahead
Gave answer: "One am I whom most will know
Who ride through Camelot's gates."
"It well may be.
Known may ye be to most, but not to me,
Who am stranger here."
"I am Lothian's lord, and he,
My comrade, is Gaheris."
"I need not say
I know the names that surely all men may."
"Nor less," said Lancelot, "should his fame to thee
Be known, and honoured. Lyonesse' greatest name
"Then in good hour we meet, for we
Were charged by Arthur through all lands to ride
Until we found him whose advancing fame
Hath gained so great a height, and spread so wide
That Arthur sues him to our bond.... Fair knight,
Much labour have you saved me. What good chance
Hath brought thee here?"
And Tristram, answering, told
His tryst with Palomides: "Much I doubt
What cause withheld him from the mortal bout
So pledged and sworn."
"It will be known at last,"
Lord Gawain answered. "Till its cause appear
The truth a random thought may overcast."
With that they turned to Camelot's gates, and so
To Arthur came, or rather he to them,
On hearing whom they brought: "Was never one
Of all the wide world's knights more welcome here,"
With hands outstretched he said. "Our court to know
I thank whatever chance your wandering led."
But when of that unhappy strife he heard
Waged at the tomb of Lanceor, words are none
More woeful than were his: "By chance so dire
Near was the risk that your mistaken ire
Had shattered from the crown of Christian knights
One either jewel of its fairest two."
"Nay," said Sir Lancelot, "our contending mights
Too nearly equalled for a short ado
To bring us or to triumph or to tire."
Then Palomides' rescue Tristram told,
And how they vowed upon a later day,
When better matched, to meet. "And sooth to say,
He swore so stoutly that methought he meant
Either for life or loss that tryst to hold.
But after that we parted. Both alike
A nameless knight confounded, whom I sought
By various ways, but did not find, although
The path he rode was strewn with overthrow
That led me forward on a doubtless trail."
"That is but truth," said Gawain. "Him we met,
Myself and Bleoberis; both to fail,
That bruised and left in mere contempt we lay."
"So likewise was I tumbled," said Sir Kay.
"And whom he was ye have no deeming yet?"
Laughed Arthur. "If ye know not, more know I,
Who see him in your comrade standing by."
Then looked they at Sir Lancelot. "Sure," they said,
"That covering of thy shield our wits misled."
"It is an old devising," said the king.
"He did it afore."
"My lord," Sir Lancelot said,
"I sought more freedom in adventuring;
And lest good wits a twice-played game should guess
I spake our Table all reproachfulness."
"That did he in truth," the common voice allowed,
"Even of the queen -" But to their group there drew
Guenever, and round her in an eager crowd
The ladies of the court, intent to view
The Lyonesse knight.
"Oh, gentle prince," they cried,
"Thou art welcome."
"Welcome surely," said the queen.
"Welcome to all," the king confirmed, "for thou
By gentle usage hast thyself allied,
As by thy valorous deeds, to all the pride
That knighthood's practice is exalting now
Through the dark lands where anarch rage hath been.
Therefore I ask a boon."
"A boon to thee,
Lord King, is granted ere its terms be told,
If aught within my power its service be."
"I ask thee that thou here abide."
That were I loth to pledge, surrendering
The wandering freedom which I most desire."
"Yet may I to thy pledge thy freedom hold."
"Lord, that I must I will."
"The seat that late
Sir Marhaus graced is vacant, held await
For one not less than he. Who else but thou,
His victor in set strife, should take it now?"
When to the court of Mark the minstrel came,
Or wandering chapman seaborne goods to sell,
Not coral bead nor smooth Sicilian shell,
Nor jest and song alone, could largesse claim,
But ever, at the hint of Tristram's name,
The king would call aside; the queen would send
A secret damsel further words to buy.
No slander and no hate would Mark offend:
No praise to Iseult's ear would sound too high.
All that she would she heard, and all that he
Most loathed was constant in such tales: "He stands
Alone with Lancelot. Mightiest of their hands;
Venturous and splendid in their deeds, and meek
In all relations and regards, as though
The mean were highest, and the loftiest low."
Then in despite that such repute should be
King Mark resolved Sir Tristram's life to spill.
Riding disguised, and taking for his train
Two knights who knew not that his evil will
To such a purpose led their swords, until,
As near they came to Camelot, craftfully,
He told it; and the younger knight of these
- They were Sir Amant and Sir Bersules -
Gave angered answer: "Not for land in fee,
Nor weight of gold, nor honour's last degree
Within thy power, or Arthur's own, would I
Conspire that thus a noble knight should die,
Or wink at thy contriving. Take ye back
Mine oath of service. Roof or meal to lack
I count no evil in such foul compare."
"False traitor," cried the king, "such words ye dare,
And think to leave me with a prating tongue?"
Unarmed were they beside the board, but there
Were arms at random cast on chest and chair;
And Mark stretched out a hand where, thereamong,
His own sword lay. An upward thrust he made
That caught Bersules' throat beneath the chin.
Even to the brain the deadly point went in.
He sank and died.
"Behold a traitor slain;
And better service yield," the murderer said,
His fierce and furtive eyes upon the dead,
And those who watched the deed. To which Amant
Gave answer: "Never to thy use again
My sword belongs. I will this mischief show
In Arthur's court."
With cunning eyes aslant
Mark weighed the chances of as shrewd a blow
As that Bersules felt. But either side
The squire of him who lived and him who died
Stood stoutly by Amant. Such odds to try
He little willed. He answered: "Wit ye well,
I should not fail the better tale to tell,
If there I met thee. But it will not be.
I go no more to Camelot. Yet for thee,
Who till this hour the Cornish arms hast worn,
Bethink that swearing thou must swear foresworn,
And perjured lips will Arthur lean to hear?
Give but thine oath thou wilt not more reveal
Of what hath been, and I release thee now
From obligation of thine earlier vow."
"Yea," said Amant, "you could fair truth conceal
As few men else, I doubt not. As for me,
I lift no cloak so foul a sight to show.
Thou needst not fear it. Take thy horse, and go.
We bide, Bersules' requiem rites to see."
Now fled King Mark along the narrower way,
That none should meet him, or his path betray.
Random through forest paths he rode. He found
At heat of noon a fountain. Here to ground
He cast his harness, turned his steed to graze,
And pondered, doubtful, what he next should do.
Venom and prudence pointed diverse ways:
One would his purpose leave, and one pursue.
And while he doubted, to the stream there drew
A knight of Arthur. Mark he did not see;
But heedless on the bank he sate, and so
Told the green silence of his secret woe.
"Morgause! Oh, Queen Morgause!" Aloud he said,
"Mother of strong knights thou art, but more to me
Than ever virgin-fashioned youth should be.
Yet must I doubt that either scorn would pay,
Or mockery light, or pity worse than they,
If I the secret of my heart should tell."
Then to the mourner spake King Mark: "Behold,
I could not help but hear, and comfort cold
For such lament another's words must be."
"Yea," said the knight, "mine own complaint is jest
Beside the sorrow of my hopeless quest."
"Who art thou?"
"Cause is naught my name to hide,
Even to knights of Cornwall's mean degree
(For by your speech I count you such to be),
Sir Lamorack de Galis called am I."
"Why to all Cornwall is thy speech awry?"
"Men judge of Cornwall by its chosen king,
Whom none of noble thought, or seemly pride,
Though humblest known by every choice beside,
Would consort. When a nobler knight there came
To champion Cornwall, to his deathless shame,
He chased him from the land. I need not say
I mean Sir Tristram. If the tale be true,
The Queen Iseult herself doth nightly rue
Cold-hearted in such caitiff arms to lie."
To which King Mark gave answer craftfully:
"You speak of things in which no part have I;
Nor would I rashly of such tales debate.
But I, who wandered to this land but late,
Would thank thee to recount its ventures nigh."
And Lamorack answered: "If for tournament
You seek, as errant knights are like to do,
You come by fortunate chance, for round Jagent,
Even now, the barriers rise, the white and blue
Of him the Hundred knights who leads, defies
The Irish king with all his seigniories.
As thus they spake, another knight appeared.
And shortened rein to greet them, Dinadan.
To ground he came, and asked them whence they were,
And when he learned a Cornish knight was there,
His bitter japes a hundred times outran
Sir Lamorack's scorn: "I had not thought," he said,
"That any such had dared these woods to ride,
Being, by most reports, as mean as he,
Their mongrel-hearted king, who drave away
The one good knight they had. If Cornish pride
Be thine to boast what all men else deride,
Wilt thou for Cornwall ride a course with me?"
Hateful at heart, Mark gave smooth answer: "Nay,
Too well thy valour and repute I know.
Nor shouldst thou scorn me that I wilt not so.
Doth not thy prudence in like choice decline
To fall beneath a stronger lance than thine?"
"Well, as thou wilt!" Low-voiced, he spake aside.
"I blame thee naught. But if a simpler chance
Would rouse thy valour, here is that ye may.
For whom ye call Sir Lamorack is but Kay,
Prankt in his arms. He tried this ruse afore,
When Lancelot's arms through many lands he bore,
And all men feared a never-tested lance."
"This knight is larger-limbed. He is not Kay."
"So might you think. For in an earlier day
He was but lean. But that is long-away.
And now that gladly would he strive with none,
Old fame, that days of ease have long fordone,
Becomes a cloak too thin..... For Cornwall now
Well may an easy course our japes rebut."
Craft from his mind by hidden anger shut,
As Dinadan mocked him thus, with words of scorn,
Such as lack-valour hearts will lightly spume,
Against the weaker, whom he thought Sir Kay,
He challenged; and in little time he lay
Cast from his selle, three lances' length away,
As fruit upon the point of Lamorack's spear.
Sore bruised he rose, to watch that knight resume
His path, regardless of the fall he gave.
But Dinadan stayed beside him: "Dost thou see,"
He asked, "how briskly, in his mortal fear,
He rides away? By that unlikely chance
That gave thy fall, he thinks his life to save,
Ere sleight of sword redress thy wavering lance."
Then Mark remounted. Little doubt had he
That bout of sword play should redeem his shame,
For he could use the sword full craftfully,
And even to him was Kay no daunting name.
Sir Lamorack wheeled upon him: "What! Would ye more?"
The king's bare sword he met, and long forbore
A weaker foe, but, being pressed, he smote.
Till Mark, back-reining, sank his head full low.
Thereat Sir Lamorack stayed: "Still would ye more?"
Again he asked. "We are not matched, perde."
"What name is thine?"
"I told thee that before;
I am Lamorack."
"Then with thee I strive no more.
Basely hath this false knight deluded me.
He called thee Kay."
"When more his moods ye know,
Not lightly wilt thou be deluded so."
With little love, but with no more debate,
Onward they rode together, till the way
Fell to a stream a fair bridge spanned, and then,
On the far bank, a tower.... Two knights await
Guarded the bridge.
"Now here," Sir Dinadan said,
"The chance is thine to overget thy shame.
Arms assorted thus are not of lustrous name.
Valiant belike, but skilled they will not be."
At that, King Mark agreed the first to meet,
Rode a short course, and held a shaken seat,
Both lances breaking. Then the knight he met,
Sir Trian, sent a second lance, that he
Who, riding errant, lacked the armoury
The tower supplied, might try that course anew.
But Mark excused him of that courtesy.
And Dinadan's shield the while the warden knew
Who for Sir Tor that passage held, and he,
Berludes, welcomed him full heartily,
And Lamorack, and, by right of company,
The Cornish knight; and thus, accorded well,
They entered to a courtyard ordered so
That all the honour of its rule might know.
Then later to the board they came, and there
The Cornish king, unhelmed, Berludes knew.
Hardened his eyes thereat.
"Sir knight," he said,
"I know ye whom ye are: the king who slew
My father by a dastard's stroke, and I,
A frightened child, with only wit to fly,
Had died alike, except the friending boughs
Had hid me from thee. Now I warn thee well.
His trust in me to whom this tower belongs
Precludes the righting of my private wrongs
While here ye bide; and these with whom ye be
Include ye in the bond of courtesy.
No evil lodging shalt thou find, nor hurt,
Allowed while here ye bide to thine or thee.
But once from out these gates, a mile away,
And I will hurt thee, if by might I may,
Even to thy death. That better knights allow
The miscreant converse of such knaves as thou
Is marvel more than measured words will say."
Naught said Sir Lamorack nor Sir Dinadan.
Wroth were they of that caitiff company
They had not guessed. With morn, Sir Lamorack
Turned sideward, lonely on his chosen track.
But Dinadan, still with Mark, to Camelot
Resumed his way. Three miles they had not gone
When hot pursuit they heard. With comrades two
Berludes came. To Mark he cried on high:
"Defend thee, if thou canst, and falter not,
For flight is vain. I would thy life pursue
Where-ever craft could hide, or fear could fly."
But Dinadan answered: "Courteous knight, forebear.
He goes to Arthur's court. As guard and guide
My word I pledged, not knowing whom he were.
As for this time, we are in sort allied,
However loveless is his kind to me."
"That me repents. But what you must you can.
My chance I will not loose for even thee."
Then at King Mark he hurled, while Dinadan
Against his comrades rode, and overthrew
One after one.
Foul fall had Mark, but he
Rose, as Berludes' comrades rose. They drew,
And clashed at once together, two to three,
In brief confusion, for his comrades two
Gave ground, and left Berludes. Dinadan's sword
He faced, and hard on helm and coif it fell.
Forward he stumbled to earth, and like a snake
The point of Mark's shot sideward. Death had been,
But Dinadan's blade uprising shone between.
"Nay," said he to Mark, "mine aid ye much mistake
If to thy murdering ways ye think it tends."
Then to Berludes: "Rise, sir knight, and go."
To which Berludes answered: "Friend and foe,
Both hast thou been to me. But nobler friends
I wish thee than that king, who Heaven offends,
Even that he live."
"We haply think as one,"
Sir Dinadan answered. "Yet shall harm him none,
While in the surance of my word he rides."
At that they parted. Mark and Dinadan
Rode on to Camelot. Four short miles ahead,
Where, cast to join a stream's precipitous sides,
A narrow bridge to bear the roadway ran,
A knight sat guardant.
"Lo," Sir Dinadan said,
"Meseems a call is here our strength to try."
"That must be as thou wilt. It is not I
To whom this joust belongs."
"Ye count it so?
So be it. If his shield I rede aright,
Is none that men should call a nobler knight."
That course Sir Dinadan rode with all his skill,
But heavier strength, and lancecraft deadlier still,
He countered, that outmatched to ground he fell.
Vext past his wont that Mark such fall should see,
Rising, his sword for further strife he drew,
But naught his victor would accord thereto.
"It is the custom of the bridge," said he,
"One only course to ride, or foul or well."
Sir Dinadan gained his horse, and silently
Rode on in wrath he hardly reined, the while
King Mark beheld him with a slanting smile.
"I deemed," he said, "you Table knights so strong
That none the balance of your seats could wrong."
"The Table's best are better knights than I.
But surely now thyself my strength shall try."
"Nay, by God's fear! My very friend art thou.
But one thing is which I will ask thee now.
I would not, when the court we reach, reveal
The name I bear, for in its close conceal
My safety lies. Too many there to me
Are cold at heart, or hold such enmity
As only blood should sate."
"I well believe
That those are there who would thy name receive
In hateful ways. They shall not learn from me,
Who have no honour from thy company,
Nor will to boast it. But the shame is thine
That here, where valour doth its light combine
With that of courteous use, there is for thee
No honour, no regard, no courtesy.
For thou murderous of thy mood, a shame
Alike to Cornwall's throne and knighthood's name.
Had I not turned thy fatal point aside,
By thy base malice had Berludes died,
Who had not cast him."
"To my open foe
Why should I vantage lose, or mercy show?"
"It were but waste to tell thee."
So they went
With strife of words, or silent, matched so ill.
Mark's need, or Dinadan's purpose to fulfil
The word he gave, could scarce their breech prevent.
At noon, a hospitable knight they met,
A host who gave free shelter and good fare
To all who errant rode, but best preferred
Those knights who known of Arthur's Table were.
Here were their chargers stalled, their board was set
With liberal choice. At ease they rested well;
And Dinadan asked that friendly knight to tell
Who held the bridge by which they came.
"Why dost thou ask?"
"I ask my victor's name.
For there we jousted, and to ground I came."
"Ye need not marvel that, nor much regret.
For one is he of noblest hardihed.
The cowherd's son, Sir Tor."
"The cowherd's son?
Well, as thou wilt! A son of Pellinor
Half, by a doubtful shield, I thought I met.
And surely, as thyself, I called him Tor."
As passed the noon, their forward course they set,
With thanks for bounty given; and as they rode
A wide low plain that, from that knight's abode,
Stretched to a reeded water, clear in view
Six camping knights appeared. Sir Dinadan knew
Their scattered shields. The two Ewaines were there,
Modred, Ozanna of the Hardy Heart,
"Now do thy part,"
Dinadan's light malice urged, "and so will I.
For gain of honour when were choice more fair?"
"Beshrew thee!" Said King Mark, "they are six to two."
"Yet do thou aid me, for I will not spare."
The six were scattered on the turf. They sate
At ease, disarmed, the while they drank and ate,
Their chargers wandering free, as trust allowed,
Or grazing tied. Sir Dinadan sank his spear,
And rode upon them, but he came not near
At such a pace as Mark in flight withdrew.
Then Dinadan raised his lance, and backward threw
His shield's defence, and those good knights, who knew
Its silver symbol, hailed him friend, and so
He came to earth beside them.
"Who was he,"
They asked, "so instant from thy side to flee?"
"He was a Cornish knight too mean to know.
His name is naught."
As Dinadan thus forebore
His name to offer, and they asked no more,
Mark might have ridden unknown, except that night
They sheltered at the same lone tower as he,
And Dinadan, wandering round, its walls to see,
Found him, who furtive from their sight withdrew.
"Why didst thou leave me in so base a flight?"
"For they were many, and we were but two.
I marvel how you fared."
"I dangered naught.
I found them better friends than first I thought."
"Here came they with thee?"
"Here alike we came."
"Then I would ask thee of their leader's name."
"What arms are his?"
"A silver shield
With two black bends thereon." In jest he spake,
Desiring Mark should Modred's arms mistake
For those of Lancelot. "In my fellowship,
I pray thee ride again."
"I will not that.
I like not comrades who my side forsake
At hazardous hours." And with that word he went,
Returning to his friends, with whom he met
Griflet le fils de Dieu, and Dagonet,
Who also rode to Camelot.
These he told,
Naming no name: "The Cornish knight is here.
He trembles at the thought of Lancelot's spear;
For Modred's shield I said did Lancelot bear."
He laughed the jest, but Modred answered cold:
"Were ye so wise? I have an injured side.
A course with even him I could not ride.
My harness, if he will, shall Dagonet wear."
"It were not much a Cornish knight to dare,"
Sir Dagonet answered, counting more the jest
Than any hazard that his seat should test.
For he was great of heart, though mean of limb,
And well he knew that honour's path for him
Was other than the way that Lancelot took.
Then was he closed in Modred's arms, and rode
A high white charger, such as Lancelot would.
"Now, said he boldly, as his spear he shook,
"Show me the knight who will Sir Lancelot dare,
And I will fling him as Sir Lancelot should."
They halted in a sunflecked glade that lay
Side-open to the winding woodland way.
Here came King Mark. He watched with flickering eyes
The shadowy copse, the turning path's surprise,
Not in the bold attempt of knighthood's law,
But less in hope than fear of all he saw.
Strange and new paths were evil paths to him.
Now knew he, suncaught amidst the copsewood dim,
The steel-bright points of lurking spears arise,
And halted with quick words his varlet train.
Already turned, and with spurred heel aswing,
No thought had he to any strife sustain
When Dagonet charged. Gay fool and frightened king
Plunged pathless through the boskage: "Traitor, stay!"
Sir Dagonet madly cried: "Thy life to slay
I will not stint. To Tristram pledged am I
That Cornish knights I meet shall yield or die."
Back looked King Mark. The silver shield he knew,
Black-bended: "It is Lancelot's self," he said.
And through the thicker woods he faster fled.
Behind came Dagonet. And more behind,
With rush of horses urged the woodland through,
And cries, and crack of boughs, the wind was loud,
As eight strong knights their heavy steeds acrowd
Drave as they might through brake and branch to find
Where led the chase, some nearly-following way.
For those there were of sober mind to say
That Dinadan jested ill. Brandiles said,
Riding beside Ewaine: "If ill befall,
The king without restraint his wrath will let.
For sooner than were hurt to Dagonet,
He would a score of Table knights should fall.
Did he not knight him for his nimble wit,
Saying that those who failed to equal it
Should not be titled in a lordlier way?
Recall his anger when the spite of Kay
Loosed him on Brewnor in a like disguise.
If by mischance the Cornish knight should slay
Too bold a fool, the bitter blame would be
Not Dinadan's sole, but thyself and me,
And all who join him in this random wise."
Meantime the flying Mark by fortune came
To where a strong knight watched a ford. He sate
Motionless, armed: "Now hold," he cried, "for shame!
Why from one knight should one unwounded fly?"
"He is," said Mark, "a better knight than I."
"Then turn behind me. None I think is he
To challenge knighthood of the first degree.
But Tristram's self, or whosoe'er he be,
I shall not fail him."
"Hearing this the king
Turned his blown steed, and took his rescuer's side.
Whereat, against the near pursuit that came,
The strong knight charged, and on his bending spear
Sir Dagonet from his charger lifted clear.
Far backward was he cast, and hard he fell.
Wroth was Brandiles: "Keep thyself!" He cried,
"For here are those whom most would fail to fling."
Hard was the course he rode, and knightly well
He ruled the splintering spear, but not for that
His seat he held; and, close behind, Ewaine
Marvelled his fall: 'A doubtful knight is here.'
He charged. But that unknown's unbroken spear
Cast him alike, and so, short tale to tell,
Ozanna charged alike, and likely fell.
"Now, if my counsel please," Sir Griflet said,
"Before our further strength be vainly sped,
We should the name of this strong knight enquire,
Whether to Arthur's part he hold, or ire
Against our Table urge him. Well I guess
It is Sir Lamorack."
So by Griflet's squire,
His name they asked, and gained but scant reply:
"My name I do not give. No knight am I
Of Arthur's court, nor bear it friendliness.
Joust if ye will, or from my path retire."
"Now soothly, by my head," said Agravain,
"Whatever name be his, a knight is he
Whom few should dare; but yet for shame must we
Our comrades venge, or of like loss complain."
Thereat he found an equal fall. And thus
Fell Griflet, and Ewaine the Adventurous,
Beneath the stranger's lance, while in the rear
Sir Dinadan hoved, but did not sink his spear;
And Modred charged not, for no arms he wore.
Then turned that nameless knight, and rode away,
Leaving the Table knights from where they lay
To rise as best they might, and him beside
With thanks and praise did Mark unheeded ride.
For ever, murmuring to himself, he sighed.
And naught to Mark he spake, and naught replied.
But when from out the woods, long miles away,
At length they came, and fair beneath them lay
A meadowed vale, the strange knight turned his eyes
To where a manor on a beechen rise
Shone whitely in the sunlight: "Ride thereto,"
Calling a varlet of King Mark, he said,
"And greet the lady of the house and pray
That she will send good wines, and meats and bread,
For those who errant ride, and if she say:
'For whom are those?' 'The knight who doth pursue
The glatisant beast,' thou shalt her answer give,
Which surely will secure them."
Thus he went,
And thus he said, and with free hand she sent
All that was asked. But in a word aside
The varlet said to Mark: "With whom we ride
I surely learned, for when the word I gave
The dame (a Pagan dark as God me save)
Cried, near to swoon: 'And will he naught abide,
My good son, Palomides?'"
"Good to know
Is this you tell, for he is Tristram's foe
And I may soon contrive a further ill
Against the man we hate. But keep thee still
Until my hour to show him whom I be."
So practised Mark a barren craft, for soon,
Content with meats, and in the heat of noon,
They slept, and Palomides, waking first,
Looked on them with no favour: "Lo," said he,
"Why ride I with this scum of Cornwall cursed?"
And having mounted in a noiseless way,
Pricked a sharp pace, and left them where they lay.
To those strong knights by heavy falls dismayed,
And bruised and bleeding, Dinadan gave the aid
That friendship may: "My lord, Ewaine," said he,
"I doubt not it was Lamorack, but for me
I pledge ye all, the truth of whom it were
I will not fail to find. He did not see
The shield I bear, and of your company
He will not think me..... Dagonet's fall I deem
Dishonour fixed; unless my lance redeem
(Of which my hope is small) a lasting shame."
But Dagonet answered: "Better wit from thee
I thought to hear, for all my safety lies
In that I am not of such proved emprise,
Or dextrous lance-craft, as a knight should be.
Words being my sword, a better end than this
Had neared a peril that I largely miss."
"Words being the only sword a fool may wield,
Then surely silence is the knightly shield,"
Sir Dinadan answered. "I alone must ride
The while you nurse your hurts."
He ranged afar
Through the dark woods, until a knight he met
Who chased the deer: "Fair knight, of courtesy,"
He asked, "I pray thee tell if such there be
As wander errant in these woods. I seek
A knight on whose white-grounded shield are shown
Two lions' heads in gold."
"His hoof-marks yet
Print the wet sward." (A summer shower had been.)
"You should not miss them on the leftward way."
Swiftly the trace he took, and as the eve
Combined the shadows of the woods, he heard
The knight he sought. To some sharp woe relieve
He loud lamented. Dinadan reined unseen
Nearly to where beneath an oak he lay;
And pausing there, behind a hawthorn screen,
He saw King Mark, who lurked in furtive wise
To hear what that lamenting knight should say.
"Alas!" He said, "that I such hopeless woe
Should nurse, who yet its hopeless nature know.
How should I lose who doth not love me? How
Cast out the love which is no weaker now
Than when I met her, and her eyes to me
Were kinder than the later days should see?
"How, being Tristram's, should she turn aside
To arms of any lover less than he?
How, being Mark's, devoid of princely pride,
Mean-souled and caitiff, should she call it shame
Though docile to the lowliest knight she came?
How could I hope, if she were Tristram's bride?
How, being Mark's, can hope be thrown aside?
One aim, one hope, one only hope I know,
That I might rise by Tristram's overthrow.
Unrivalled in her love, my rival slain,
Should she not share me, did but Mark remain?"
Now while Sir Dinadan paused, in knightly doubt
To bare his presence or to turn about
From audience of that long half-heard lament,
King Mark observed him, and in haste he went,
Fearing lest Dinadan his word forgo,
And, for the tool he sought, a hateful foe
Be his to face. Back to his varlet train,
By Palomides neither seen nor guessed,
In abject fear he slunk, and sought again
The road to Camelot.
Next eve he came
To those high gates; and with no rightful name,
And in the meaner streets' obscurity,
Craven he lodged. No better thought had he,
Here where high dreams and noble deeds were said,
Than some close net for Tristram's feet to spread,
Or, with such venom as a viper may,
To strike his heel.
But scarce an hour of day
Had brought him forth the crowded street to view,
Before Amant's short-doubting eyes he knew,
Hard with implacable hate. Regarded so,
He had no space to turn, no time to go,
Before Bersules' friend had barred his way.
"Now for a murderous stroke thy life shall pay."
"I walk unarmed. Ye dare not such to slay
In Camelot's streets."
"I had no thought so base.
But I will meet thee in a rightful place,
And overthrow thee in the knightly way."
"Sworn art thou that my name thou shalt not show."
"I name thee only as my nameless foe."
So trapped, and treason-charged at Arthur's seat,
Amant he could not more avoid to meet
In ordeal of set strife.
In all men's sight
Next morn they met, and he of evil will
(Is here a doubt that only faith can still),
While from his helm the spear-point glanced aside,
So pierced Amant that in short hour he died,
Even where he lay.
There were three damsels there
Sent by Iseult her loving words to bear
To Tristram, and his welfare learn. They knew
Amant's repute, of word and purpose true;
And one, far better than abroad she told,
Had loved him fainly whom she might not hold.
Now rose they with the right that friends may claim
For comfort of the dying knight. They came
To where upon the blood-wet turf he lay
Too hurt to move. The broken spear-point still
Transfixed his side, and while it there remained,
Some words his dying lips contrived to say.
Enough they learned of who his life had baned,
And why he died, to turn to Arthur's seat,
And charge King Mark: "He did Bersules kill,
And doth before thy throne the wrong repeat,
Slaying Amant (by God's bewildering will)
Because they would not Tristram's death conspire."
And Arthur, hearing, burned with generous ire,
While Tristram wept those loyal deaths to know.
"I must more clearly of this cause enquire,"
Said Arthur. "Call King Mark." But Mark had fled.
Then spake Sir Lancelot: "By thy leave," he said,
"I will pursue him wheresoe'er he go."
"That," said the king, "I well would have ye do,
Yet would not that thy wrath the caitiff slew,
Which were not clearly to my worship seen.
But bring him back perforce, and what hath been,
That will I straitly search, and justly pay."
Forth rode Sir Lancelot. Three short miles away,
Upon the western road, the hurrying king
His better charger overreached. He cried:
"Halt, and return! For if thou wilt or no,
As recreant knight thou shalt to Arthur go."
Smooth spake King Mark: "Fair sir, thy name I would."
"I am Lancelot. If thou canst, defend thee."
"I yield. I yield."
"Thou canst not yield as yet.
Thou hast not fought."
"But I will yield, I say.
At thy good bidding will I move or stay."
"Alas!" Said Lancelot, "that I may not get
One buffet at thee, for Sir Tristram's sake,
Or for Iseult's release, or vengeance due
For all thy murders, on thy head to deal.
Go thou before me as such caitiffs do,
And ponder on how soon thy neck may feel
The falling sword of justice."
So he brought
A shaking caitiff back to Arthur's court,
Who fell before the king's high seat, and lay
Grovelling, and put him in his grace, and cried
Abject for mercy.
"Mark," the king replied,
"None is there living I would welcome less;
Yet art thou welcome, for I lightly guess
That not by choice ye came."
"I came perforce.
Sir Lancelot brought me."
"For Bersules' loss,
Why should I pause to slay thee?"
"Lord, of right
Thou canst not. In set lists, in all men's sight,
The ordeal I sustained, and overthrew
My false accuser."
"False I would not say.
Yet hath God judged, and after no man may.
I grant thee that. But of thy service due,
Homage and fealty to my throne, that more
Is thine to render since Sir Tristram shore
The Irish bond? Fief of my fief wast thou.
And holding but the right of Gorlois now,
How hast thou served me? Deeds of evil will,
And deaths of knights that in thy danger lay,
All winds report. Can none of all be true?"
"By Christ His Cross, as though my heart were bare,
Though never ran my thoughts thy knights to kill,
Nor work against thy peace by night or day,
Aught that I did of wrong I will not do,
And that I did not wholly to thy will
I will amend henceforward."
"Wilt thou so?
Not words will serve thee, but thy deeds must show.
Wilt thou be friend to Tristram?"
"I will be
As true a friend to him as he to me."
"If Tristram swear, his oath he will not break."
"I will not swerve from any oath I take."
And so, with half belief, for Tristram's sake,
Did Arthur to his peace accept the king,
And twixt those twain a hollow love-day bring.
Sir Dinadan, when King Mark the brake had left,
Approached Sir Palomides. "Knight," he said,
"Whatever loss be thine uncomforted,
I grieve for that I did not seek to hear."
"Who art thou?"
"I am errant knight as thou,
Who long hath sought thee by thy shield."
Good knights enough have cause this shield to know."
"So be it. But I speak in friendship now.
Wilt thou that on a common path we ride?"
"I ride at random only."
"That would I."
"There is no road but I may turn aside
And leave it, if the questing beast I hear,
Being vowed to follow that I do not see."
"That once was Pellinor's quest, and now to thee
It falleth? Gladly at thy side I go.
Fain am I further of that beast to know."
"I have no more to tell. Its sound I hear
As when a score of coupled hounds give tongue.
Sometimes in daylight far; or near among
The thickets dense I hear it breaking way
When night is darkest. Only once I saw
A shadowy form before me."
Met ye Sir Tristram?"
"Tristram dost thou know?
I met him, whom I love not. Yet, perde,
When I was most beset he rescued me."
"Ruled would he be by knighthood's noblest law."
"I nothing doubt it; though no love there be,
But mortal hate between us."
Then he told
The tryst they made at Lanceor's tomb to meet,
And how he could not: "In a caitiff's hold,
By cunning dungeoned, for long weeks was I.
It was not that I feared him. Vext I were
If so he think and boast it."
He doth not boast, but wonders. Went he there
At the set hour, and by mischance he met
Sir Lancelot. Facing shields that neither knew,
Lancelot a stranger fought, while he for you
Mistook Sir Lancelot."
Lancelot, as well I guess?"
"He did not so.
Nor was he worsted. At the last they learned
Whom both they were, and strife to friendship turned.
Sworn are they now of full accord to be
Till death make ending."
"Then is proof of naught.
Yet know I surely, had they further fought,
Sir Tristram had been proved the hardier knight,
Whose courage all to dare, and skill to do,
Are matched of no man. Well at heart I know
To win him were to fear no earthly foe."
"You speak so surely, you have met the two?"
"I have seen Sir Tristram fight: Sir Lancelot, no."
(He spake unwitting that the knight unknown
By whom were he and Tristram overthrown
Had been Sir Lancelot.)
"We may let them be.
Prove one the worse, and yet, with lance to knee,
I would avoid him with exceeding care."
"Speak you in jest, as half I think you do,
Or in default of all a knight should dare,
I will not ask. But if at pass I were
With either, either with the like goodwill
I would encounter, as I would with you."
"Fair knight, I doubt it naught. In gentleness,
Tell me thy name."
"My name I need not hide.
I am Palomides, to Segwarides
Brother, and to Safere."
"Thy name to guess
I had not erred. I will not call thee less
Than those we name. Yet having hoved beside,
I say for Lancelot, where he choose to ride,
Desiring gentleness, and dealing strife
In the king's name, for later peace to pay,
His jestless, confident, relentless way,
Of those who cross it, few but learn to fear.
Him should ye meet in peace, and welcomed well,
If came ye to the court.... A tale I hear
That Beale Iseult (its truth I may not tell)
Cometh there but soon."
"To Arthur's court to go,
I had not thought. I do not call him foe;
But friend I am not to the Christian way."
"Yet wert thou welcome."
"Beale Iseult to see
I would not miss."
"Then I will guide thee there,
In safety pledged. But why ye seek so far
A queen who will not in thy guidance be
Bewilders all my thought. She may be fair,
(She is so in all men's eyes, nor least to me),
But surely not for thee her favours are.
Why shouldst thou combat where thou wilt not win?
Or turn to chase a beast thou dost not see?"
And answered Palomides: "Fool to thee
I may be, and to Heaven belike the more.
Yet may I nothing other do therein
Than all men must who own a beckoning star.
By thine own Table's code, such deeds ye do
As may be other's gain, but loss to you."
And Dinadan laughed and not the charge denied,
But featly tossed it with light words aside:
"You gibe our custom that a knight should give
His life untimely that a maid may live?
I grant the fault. For better use say I
That the knight live, and let the damsel die."
Now planned Sir Dinadan in secret thought
A test of Palomides' friendly will
To those of Arthur's part, and of the skill
His deeds and larger boasts proclaimed. 'The court
He hath not seen: the road is strange: the way
He will not question though I ride astray.'
Such was his thought, and north and west, and wide
From Camelot's broader road he swerved aside,
Until, as Palomides restless grew,
('The land is wider than before I knew')
They came to where a castle's heavenward height
Closed half the sky. No path to left or right
But close beneath its flanking bastions ran.
Grim was it, massive, of such virgin strength
As few would test, and those its siege began
Left its indifferent walls inviolate.
Awhile Sir Palomides silent sate
On his reined charger; at the mighty walls
Marvelling aloud: "I have seen strong holds," he said,
"In many lands and far, but seldom yet
Such height of towers in such a girdle set
Of tenfold bastioned walls, that none might dread
To hold against the whole world's armament.
Whose are they?"
"Arthur's of good right. He lent
Their use to Urience and his dame, Le Fey.
But often hath he cursed the evil day
That loosed their keys to such a hand, for he,
Urience is loyal, but of feeble will
To rein Queen Morgan, and her purpose still
Is hostile to her brother's life and power.
"Her wizard crafts, within so strong a tower
He may not scourge, and only Nimue
Can foil them; only Nimue lightly meets
The deadly meaning of her worst conceits."
"Is here a hold in which we will not bide
For any feastful ease its halls provide."
"Not of our wills," replied Sir Dinadan,
"But past its gates I may not hope to ride
Except our spears prevail to bear us through.
I know not how would Morgan meet with you,
Who are Saracen born, but we of Arthur's part,
If we be worsted when perforce we joust,
(For with one knight, or haply more, we must)
Are stripped of horse and arms and all beside,
And either naked to the winds released,
Or held in such most shamed captivity
As bids us jocund join in song and feast,
And sportive to Queen Morgan's lusts to be."
Answered Sir Palomides: "Here is shame,
So witness Heaven, as any knight should tame
Who hath strength of arms therefor. King Arthur stands
So famed alike in these and heathen lands
That none should seek that high repute to stain.
And she, his sister, might the last remain
To shun such usage. If they seek to stay
Our forward course, as by your word they may,
Of bicker well their felon hands to fill
I shall not fail them."
As they halted thus,
Came with his squires a knight adventurous
Approaching boldly from the northern road.
Red as let life his gay shield-roses glowed:
Full richly was he armed, and well beseen.
Lamorack de Galis he.
"Fair knights," he said,
"To break the custom of this shameful queen
Here am I come. Of gentle courtesy,
I pray ye stand aside, and let me deal;
And if I fall your further right shall be."
"Now in God's name," Sir Palomides said,
"Do that thou wilt, and how thy lance shall speed
We will but watch, until thy valorous deed
The highway wholly from this blight hath freed,
Or to thy succour shall our own be sped."
Then forward Lamorack rode, and him to meet
A strong knight issued from the gates. They met
In clangour and dust; and hurled in hard defeat
Queen Morgan's champion fell; and overset
Were two that followed. As they tumbled thus
Sir Lamorack's squires disarmed them. "Stand aside
Till the bout end;" and loosed their chargers, wide
To range the woods at will.
Along the walls
Was crowding now of ladies richly clad,
And knights in steel or cloaks of maintenance,
And grooms and servitors who watched the falls
Of those three knights, at first with light applause
Of who prevailed; and then in silence grim.
Now a fourth knight, of ampler girth and limb,
And on a mightier charger than were they
Already fallen, sank a ponderous spear
To meet Sir Lamorack. Palomides said:
"Permit me now, for you have done such play
As most would tire."
Sir Lamorack answered him:
"Seem I so wearied? Pray ye stand aside.
Nor need ye doubt, though twenty came beside,
I might endure them."
Then - the roses red
Dressed to spare all except the bended head -
He charged, and to such use the lance controlled,
With flashing hooves the back-flung charger rolled,
And further cast the huge knight sprawling lay.
He moved not, though the squires dishelmed his head.
Twice broken, neck and back, they left him dead,
Taking the charger as the victor's prey.
"Now," said Sir Palomides, "truth to swear,
He could not more, though Lancelot's self he were."
"He is not Lancelot."
"How the next will fare
Now watch we."
Out another knight there came.
A white skull on a sable shield he bore,
As warning of the fate his foes should share.
But through that skull the lance of Lamorack tore
So rude a way, and though the mail he wore,
That at his back the shining point was bare.
"Fair knight," said Palomides, while the dead
They lifted, and new champions lagged, "meseems
Much harm you do, and worn you well may be.
I pray thee of thy grace and courtesy
To let me joust awhile."
"Why, sir, to you
Seem I so feeble by the deeds I do
I need thy succour? Be thy courtesy
To leave me now. If thirty more there came,
I might endure. But if I fall to shame
You may avenge me. Dost thou urge me still?
Then to discover if I joust so ill
We may encounter while we wait their will."
"Fair knight, with that intent I did not speak."
"Then stand aside. I am not yet so weak
That I should yield to thee the praise I seek."
"Nor do I shun thy challenge."
"As thou wilt."
Knightly they met, and Lamorack's rearing steed
He scarce could rein, but yet to ground he spilt
His strong opponent, who in wrath arose,
The while to Dinadan Lamorack called: "Take heed.
Next art thou."
"Nay," Sir Dinadan said, but saw
Sir Lamorack's swift advance, and sank his spear.
Fairly it broke, but Lamorack cast him clear
Of saddle and steed.
From that sharp interlude
Sir Lamorack turned, a careless word to say:
"Take not their steeds, for errant knights are they,"
And to the castle gateway looked anew.
Then seven strong knights in further strife he threw.
Five times he flung his foe, and twice he slew.
And then from out the castle gates there came
A pursuivant unarmed: "Fair lord," he said,
"We joust no more. Our best thy spear hath sped.
Much we repent thy coming. Honouring one
Who hath the custom of our gates fordone,
Queen Morgan would receive thee."
"Would she so?
Reply that through no castle gates I go
But those which to the Table knights are free."
Then on his hilted sword the eight he swore
That evil custom to maintain no more,
And let them free, and while the crowded wall
Watched with acclaim, or marvel, or dismay,
Called to his squires, and turned, and rode away.
Sir Palomides was not wrothed the less
Because a sharp wound in his side he felt
Where Lamorack's lance had scored it: "Never shame
Was mine as now. I will this wrong redress
By sleight of sword," he said. "He hath not dealt
Only with those a single bout may tame."
"Now if ye heed my counsel," Dinadan said,
"Ye will not so. For if thy sword should fail
Much shame were thine. And though ye fairly sped
What honour were there? Meaner knights prevail
Against the strongest being toiled as he."
"Yet, by the might of God, I may not rest
Until the temper of his sword I test."
"Well, as thou wilt. It shall be mine to see."
Thereat their squires their horses brought, and they
Rode on Sir Lamorack's path a downward way
That to a fountain fell, and him they sought
They saw beside it. There relaxed he lay,
Dishelmed, to take the ease he largely bought.
Fast to his side Sir Palomides came.
"But late," he cried, "you did my knighthood shame.
Arise, and dress thee now, that debt to pay."
"Fair knight," Sir Lamorack answered, "for today
I have done so much that more ye may not claim
With hope of worship."
"Yet thy pride to tame
I will not stint."
"Then if thou wilt not let,
Haply I may endure thee."
With the word
He rose and armed him. As his steed he gained,
Sir Palomides, who the while remained
Dismounted, sharply spake: "I will not set
Lance against lance again. I know too well
There were no harvest there."
"Thou wilt not so?
Yet such the use, as all of knighthood know."
"That have we done. But this remains to do."
As thus he spake, Sir Palomides threw
His shield before him, and his sword he drew.
Then Lamorack knightly from his horse alit,
And sword to sword encountered. Long they fought,
Traced and traversed, and blows descending caught
On lifted shields, until their shields became
Hacked and defaced, and Lamorack's roses gay
Were splashed with darkening gore that once as they
Had crimsoned; and the bright mail hacked and rent
Bare flesh and blackening bruise and streaming gore
Showed fenceless to the blow that next should fail.
Alike their wounds their urgent hearts repent,
But most that hurt which Palomides felt
Where Lamorack's spear had razed his side before,
Constrained him now. Of weakening strength aware,
He backward stept: "Fair knight, a bout too sore
Is ours, who know not whom our foe we call.
I pray thy name."
"That am I loth to tell
To one who would not of his choice forebear
A knight so worn, of whom no wrong he had.
Yet if thy name thou tellest, so will I."
"I am Palomides."
"I am Lamorack, heir
And son to that strong knight, King Pellinor;
And brother mine, by half his blood, Sir Tor."
Then Palomides bent his knees, and said:
"I ask thy mercy for the outrage mine,
That forced this strife without regard to all
Thy deeds of arms preceding."
"That you say
Is more than need be, and the most you may,"
Sir Lamorack answered. "Me repenteth sore
The equal wounds our swords have dealt; and yet
Blithe am I to so famed a knight have met."
"That am I alike, and though my wounds are more,
Soon will they heal; and not for transient pains,
Nor for the fairest hold this land contains,
Would I have missed to meet thee. Courtesy
For my discourteous use so moveth me
That, save my brethren, first my faith to thee
Is turned henceforward."
"Save my brethren, I
Will hold thee in like bond, to gain or die."
And so, by hard blows brought to amity,
And being by their squires well comforted,
And their torn harness patched and linked anew,
They rode with Dinadan, as eve was red,
To where there dwelt a prior of reverend age
Who in his priory gave them harbourage.
"Why didst thou lead me here, so far astray?"
"Because my heart misliked the straighter way."
So Palomides asked, and Dinadan
Gave answering words in which no answer lay.
"Yet must I haste," he said, "at prime of day,
Who cannot more endure the long delay
From Tristram's side."
"From Tristram? Dost thou know
That he thou namest is my mortal foe?"
"So have we heard thee swear. But friend to thee
Doth not include to share thine enmity."
"Canst thou befriend the chase, and those who fly?"
"Why doubt it? Friend of all good knights am I."
"I doubt it naught. But shouldst thou ride today
It is alone from me. My wounds are yet
Too raw for that."
"Then must I leave thee here.
And Lamorack's wounds may choose a like delay.
Yet something for thine ease, while here ye stay
I tell thee, and a jape ye need not fear.
Behold that tower across the vale that lies?
There the Haut Prince Queen Morgan's might defies,
And when the tale of her flung knights you tell,
Sir Lamorack's capon will be larded well."
So went they separate ways, and Dinadan
To Camelot rode, until a knight he met
Who nameless sought a wayside bout to try.
"Wilt thou to joust?"
"I will not, of my will."
"Yet I to knighthood's rule must hold thee still."
"Wouldst thou in love or evil mind debate?"
"I seek to joust in love, and naught in hate."
"Hard is the love that points a sharpened spear.
Joust of my choice I surely will not here.
Ask me at Arthur's court a later day,
And I will meet thee, if thy purpose stay."
"Tell me thy name, and I may let thee so."
"I am Sir Dinadan."
"Now thy name I know,
I will thy will. For of thy gentleness,
And of thy knighthood in set strife no less,
Do all men speak. I love thee heartily."
So with good words they parted. Dinadan rode
Forthright to Camelot, where few than he
Were surer to be hailed with welcoming.
Of counsel wise, and sharp of jest was he,
And courteous to all men of all degree,
And gentle in his ways to churl or king.
And one who would not turn to left or right
From the strait vows that bound a Table knight,
Though emulous bouts his better wits would shun.
"What," asked King Arthur, "have thy ventures been?"
"Little of worth, and deeds for boasting none,"
He answered, "have I wrought, but more have seen.
Some will King Mark perchance have told; and I
Should vainly with his Cornish versions vie.
From then with Lamorack to the more degree
Much have I seen which was a joy to see,
As you may joy to hear it."
Then he told
Of Lamorack's deeds before Queen Morgan's hold;
And how with Palomides, after all,
He proved the stronger.
"That," King Arthur said,
"I cannot well believe, for he you name,
The Saracen knight, since to our land he came,
Hath done such deeds as any strength should dread."
"Yet was it so; and had their strife pursued
Its ominous end, I could not else conclude
But Lamorack must have slain him."
"Say ye thus,
I must believe, and call it marvellous,
As all men will who Palomides know."
"Yet," said Sir Tristram, "not to call it so
I must presume against thee. I have felt
The might of both, and Palomides dealt
The weaker blows than Lamorack. Never yet
Out-wearied have I been, though Lancelot
I will not ask to equal. Save but he,
Against no knight I ever sword have set
To equal Lamorack."
"Be he best or not,"
Answered the king, "he is of such degree
That I am fain that here his place should be."
"Content ye," said Sir Dinadan. "Fain or loth,
Soon, in full vigour, shalt thou greet them both."
King Arthur spake to Lancelot: "Near I call,
At the far priory in the western wood,
An open tourney. At this festival
No range of parties or of lands shall be,
As when the choice of British knights withstood
The might of Benoic; or Northumbria's king
With Ireland joined against the chivalry
Of the Haut Prince, and all North Gales, and he
The Hundred Knights who led. No ordering
Of rank to rank, or tale of jousts shall be
A fore-appointed rite. But each who will
His course against another knight may ride,
Or watchful only in his place abide
Without abate of honour. Ordering so,
It would be largely to my peace to know
That neither Tristram nor thyself wilt show
Armed presence in the lists."
He spake as though
He would not that they clashed for mastery,
But other object in his heart had he,
Who feared the bitter growth of rivalry
Between the British and the Benoic knights.
Let Lancelot stand apart, and Orkney's spears
Might all confound, and yet might Benoic say:
'It was but that our greatest held away.'
Gainers and losers would alike remain
With prides unbroken. So he sought to stay
The sharp dissension's sure-approaching day
Which would his realm divide and then destroy,
With all the splendour of its noble gain.
So planned he to an end he could not know,
And hastened in its course a different woe.
Yet the first hours went all to Arthur's will.
Ector de Maris long endured; but most
Sir Gawain and his brethren bore the boast
That many jousts they ran, with force to spill
All knights they met; till, from the woodland shade,
Out to the sunlight rode a knight arrayed
Royally in all, and with two squires behind.
No shield's device he showed, nor crest he wore,
The while two Table knights he downward bore,
Who found against his foiling sleight of shield
Their ponderous spears were vain: against his skill
Their shields were nothing worth to turn the shock.
Then Modred rode a vicious course, but still
The strange knight held an undefeated field,
No more unknown, for Modred's lance had torn
The covering from his shield. The roses red
Showed to the lauding crowd their blazon bold
As fell Gaheris.
"Now," King Arthur said,
"A knight is here whom not the best could scorn,
Such champions in the dust one lance hath rolled.
Who cometh the next?"
The next was Agravain.
Alike he fell. Loud were the cries: "Beware!
Beware the knight with the red shield." But now
Sir Gawain took the field his fate to dare.
Wroth was he for his brethren's falls, and fain
To venge their failures, not their falls to share.
Yet with an equal loss to ground he fell.
"So God me help," said Arthur, "marvellously
Doth the red knight. Yet was it plain to see
Sir Gawain's saddle slipped. The girth gave way...
I would I knew whom that strange knight may be."
"I know him, but his name I should not tell,"
Sir Dinadan answered.
"That is naught to say;
For here are those who know that shield full well.
It is Sir Lamorack. Now the king shall see
That Palomides cannot joust as he."
So spake Sir Tristram.
"Peace," Sir Lancelot said.
"Lord Gawain rides again."
Again he rode
Full knightly, but the storm-red roses glowed
Once more above the fallen.
All who came
Thenceafter, Lamorack to an equal shame
Downcast, that twenty knights in all he threw.
By Arthur's voice, and by the crowd's acclaim,
His was the prize. Yet, as the trumpets blew
For cease of tourney, to the woods he drew.
Avoiding all. But on his twilight track
Rode Arthur, Lancelot, Tristram, Dinadan,
In honour to the court to bring him back.
And as the moon its slow ascent began
From birth of darkness to its lovelier noon,
They led him to a night of feast and song,
And tales of joyance that in right belong
To life's heroic days that close too soon.
But Gawain with his brethren held debate
Bitter and secret. "Here may all men see
That Arthur loveth whom we needs must hate.
His father slew our father first, and we
His father slew therefor. What peace can be
Between our houses now? And more to weigh
The scales of vengeance, by his lance today
Shamed were we all."
"Fair brethren," Gawain said,
"Bide we our time, until our chance we set.
Say naught, do naught, by wrath see wisdom led."
"I may not longer at thy court abide.
The needs of Cornwall call," King Mark had said.
"So may they of good right," the king replied.
"Go ye in peace, with gifts of worth; but one
I will entreat of thee."
"Thy most require
Were small, within the range of my desire
In all to serve thee."
"That I ask is plain,
And lightly in thy power. To take again
Sir Tristram to thy side, and for my sake,
And for the strength and safety of thy land,
That he to Cornwall and his friends return:
A bond of honour that he will not break
Between yourselves henceforward."
(For so I call it) will I straitly do.
I swear it by my faith to God and you."
"Then is goodwill; and all the past forgot."
So Mark in hall was sworn, but Lancelot,
Who heard with Dinadan, believed him not,
And meeting Mark aside, they hardly said:
"Not for thine oath - for what are oaths to thee? -
But for thy safety, which no breadth of sea,
Nor depth of cavern, of avail would be
To save, if Tristram in thy land were sped,
Regard him as thyself."
"The oath I swore
Should well content ye. Overmuch my shame
If I should break it. All your knighthood heard,
Which needs must bind me."
"Never yet thy word
Withheld thy treasons. Such thy constant name
In all the lands that know thee. Now the more
We doubt thee that we count that here ye came
To seek his life. Did ever deed deny
The fullness of thy treasons and thy guile?
Take warning now from lips that do not lie."
So warned they Tristram with like words, but he
With laughter left them. Would he fear the while
Iseult the merle, Iseult the douth wind sang,
More clear, more loud, with every hastened mile?
End of Chapter XII