The Song Of Arthur - Chapter XV
by S. Fowler Wright
Return to Chapter XIV
The Haut Prince to King Arthur came: "Thy knights
Are idle. Peace through all thy realm is now
A settled summer. Will thy grace allow,
To break the days of chase and sportive nights
Which do not wholly for their good provide,
That thirty chosen from thy Table ride
For tourney at Surluse? And I will blow
Wide boast to challenge all who list, for we
Equal in such combine to all should be."
"That," said the king, "I lightly grant. But know
That shortly northward to Carlisle I go,
My judgement court to hold. I may not see
This fair encounter join, which else would be
My greater pleasure."
"Good my lord," the queen,
Who loved such tourneys, at this answer said,
"I ask thy licence to be there."
Thy freedom for it with a light good will,
If that Sir Galahalt assent thereto."
"That were my pleasure and my gain to do.
For who besides such royal grace could show?
Or be so sure an arbiter? For she
Knows of such strife all points of mastery,
And would not, as some will, the praise bestow
On those not worthy. At my side to rule
The tourney, who an equal choice should be?"
"Be mine," she asked, "to chose the knights I take?"
"To thee I leave it."
In this full consent,
Without conceal the queen to Lancelot went;
"Choose thou to best maintain our Table's pride,
And bid them hasten. In three days we ride.
I would have all things dight and furnished well."
So in the long midsummer days befell
That while King Arthur took the northern road
There moved a greater and as glittering train
Towards Surluse. The best of Benoic rode
Beside bold Orkney's falcon, and the flame
Of Baudemagus; and among them came
Dinadan's white shield, and Lamorack's roses red,
And Driant's lances blue; and overhead
Pendragon's ruddy coils of twisting gold;
And lowlier, vert and or, the reaching hand,
Guenever's blazon, from her father's land
Wide was that tourney called; and Galahalt's name
Was held so noble that to grace it came
The best knights known from distant lands and near.
Some came through passion for a skilful game
Loved for itself, and some reluctant came
Lest a flung charger or a breaking spear
Should bring to poor regard a stablished fame.
Some came cool-purposed further praise to win.
Some came through leigance, or at call of kin.
Some came to do, but others came to see,
As Dinadan came. Content of heart was he
Unnoticed of the shouting crowd to be,
As actors stand aside to watch the show,
He thought some word to hear, some deed to know,
To start a song or theme a jest, or wake
A thought of honour.
For some lady's sake,
Worthful or worthless, others came to gain
Estate or reputation, as her whim
Either of pride or greed required of him,
So fondly were they of such favours fain.
Surluse this large invasion richly met,
With gates flung wide and lavish banqueting
In hall and hostel; and pavilions set
In the wide meadows, fit for prince and king,
And for the byway loves perchance they bring
Chambered, and soft with silken furnishing;
And for the stabling of their steeds; and all
That knights of combat will desire at call
Of stores, and smiths, and harnessers; were raised
In hundreds that the wildered sight amazed.
Now when, before the opening tourney day,
The Haut Prince feasted those to aid who came,
And welcomed those alike of equal name
Who came defiant to contrive his fall.
There came before his seat, at twilight hour,
A damsel of bold speech but meanly clad,
Who made shrill plaint that all that once she had,
Herds, and broad lands, and staked and moated tower
By sleight of law, and weight of lawless power,
Goneris, a knight who faced her there in hall,
Had basely reft, and left her bare of all.
The knight gave answer with assured contempt:
"False is the charge, from lips that falsehood nursed
Since childhood days. No fortune hers reversed,
Save that a wanderer's wayside sleep hath dreamt."
Thereat his gauntlet at her feet he flung:
"Ye get no more from me."
"Yet one may take
That gage for honour or for justice sake,"
She answered, "these most noble knights among,
Sufficient for my need, or must I more
Than right and justice plead? And even here?"
And fiercely, by the Cross of God, she swore
That who should strike in her just cause, and shear
His head from off him, all she gained, and all
She was, were his to take or leave at will:
"Lightly as were I like his lie."
The cast glove lay. The Haut Prince bade to call
Thrice, and in vain. Throughout that silent hall
- Was no man there who knew their right - but she
Raised the black gage, and toward her traitor turned.
"Heavy the glove," she said, "and weak am I.
Yet, were I weaker far, it should not lie
Unlifted longer. Now remains to see
What knighthood in these princely halls may be."
"Damsel," the Haut Prince, with no favour, said,
"First should be proof, before require be made
To arm thy weakness with a stranger's aid,
For else through rashness might much wrong arise."
This heard she with dumb lips, but angered eyes,
Having perchance a right less clear to show
Than might be hers in sooth to think or know.
But that was proofless to the end, for while
Her answer paused for either truth or guile,
A varlet touched her from behind. He said:
Low-voiced, but clear to her: "A knight is near,
In the close woods, who would not fail to hear.
He seeks such ventures."
"Wilt thou lead?"
Such as thyself to meet. His servant I."
"Then take me to him. Is his knightly name
Good warrant for my cause?"
"It standeth high
When men debate of who the noblest be."
"Then is he in fair truth the knight for me.
Good friend, go forward."
Then the varlet led
To where his horse was tied, and she nearby
Her palfrey found, and through the town, and through
The thronged pavilions that around it spread,
They rode together till at dusk they knew,
Deep in the forest's close-boughed secrecy,
A hermitage whose gates for wandering feet
Were open ever. Here a knight she met
Different from any she had thought to meet.
Swart-skinned as never British knight would be,
Huge-limbed, but yet of supple grace, was he:
The Paynim, Palomides.
Was he that tale to hear, nor thought he had
To doubt it, nor to probe its equity.
For fretful of the tarnished past was he,
Which gave at times, but not the best; and fain
By some great deed beyond his loss to gain.
Not seeing, as a Christian knight would see,
That from such impulse born it could not be.
"Damsel," he said, "thine urgent cause I take.
At morn our journey to Surluse we make,
To tame thy traitor to thy gain. But now
For meats and merry ease doth time allow.
Content thee here to bide."
"Were Goneris dead,
I would content thee in good sort," she said.
"Expect his dying."
"Then expect of me....
All things have seasons."
More she would not say,
But no reluctant price she pledged to pay,
Her bold eyes told him, in a wanton's way.
With morn they to Sir Galahalt came. He sate
Beside Guenever in their chairs of state,
High-raised the coming sport to oversee,
For which were knights already marshalling.
"Now," said he, "this our first event must be,
For judgement should not halt for junketing,
Nor mortal clash deferred for jousts should be."
So was it ordered in short time. The two
Broke their great spears, and then in worse ado,
They strove on foot, with heavy blows but few,
For Palomides smote too fast and hard
For that false knight (if false he were) to guard
The life he loved. Clear from his trunk his head
Leapt, as the flashing sword unhindered swept
Its level course. Sir Palomides stept
A blood-drenched ground to Galahalt's feet.
The damsel's right."
"To work her further wrong
It seems it will not to his part belong.
Heaven hath the justice of his claim denied.
Yet for this death, until the morning tide,
Our joyous jousting shall not start."
Brought Palomides praise and paramour.
From pride of strength it came, and hopeful lust;
Yet, if God's verdict stand, the cause was just.
To the Haut Prince Sir Palomides said:
"Lord, have I leave to join these jousts?" And he
Made answer: "All of knightly worth are free
My ranks to challenge."
"None I doubt to meet
Except Sir Lancelot. All beside would I
On horse or foot, with lance or sword, defy,
Offering this damsel that my risk hath won
To whom hath strength to take her."
Thus he planned
Fame of exploit to gain in every land
To which those gathered knights belonged; for fain.
Was he some high fantastic boast to gain
Which rumour to Iseult would bear; and sure,
Where Tristram was not, he should all endure,
Except Sir Lancelot, whom he feared.
Who by fair bargain in his arms had lain
Through the warm night he cared not. Lightly won
Is lightly left. It was her part to pay,
And his to name the price, and point the way,
Which might not to herself unwelcome be.
The Haut Prince answered: "Little ruth is thine,
By clement judgement, when thy heart is set
On some strong lure. The beast thou shalt not get
By long pursuing is no random sign
Of what thou art, and art not. . . Lancelot?
Soothly he will not for a damsel strive.
But when with morn the barriers rise, believe
There shall be one to face thee. Only this
Is further to be said: Methought that when
Thy blows hailed down too hard on Goneris
For his weak shield to turn them. Surely then
A good stroke on the helm had brought him down,
With time to plead thy pardon."
"In such strife,"
Sir Palomides answered, "life for life
Is wagered, each to do the most he may."
"Yet the more mercied is the knightlier way."
The Haut Prince told the assembled knights. He said:
"Here is fair challenge, and a prize as fair
For who may gain her, or to spoil or spare
For light occasion, or for lands to wed;
And I will make myself the first essay."
At which men wondered. But he thought to meet
A knight too ruthless in his foe's defeat,
And foil him, lest a second death should mar
The dawn of that fair tournament. For though
Death's risk must lie in each loud overthrow,
And he to cause it nor to blame nor bar,
It was not to be dealt in ruffian wise
As the high goal of that fair enterprise;
Nor when in mortal strife two champions met
Should they the first of knighthood's rules forget,
That stoops to lift the fallen. Did he count,
That black-eyed Paynim, to all else surmount,
If only Lancelot spare him? 'This should be
My part to conduct to good end,' he thought,
And gave short order that his arms be brought;
And prayed Sir Lancelot, at Guenever's side,
His seat to hold.
Wondered the crowd to see
Their prince descend to take the lists, and ride
The tourney's opening course; but marvelled more
When proclamation came: "These knights will strive
That damsel whom Sir Palomides won
To either hold or gain. Obstruct them none
Either by act or word, by sign or cry,
Nor aid them while the mortal test they try."
What should the Haut Prince of that damsel need?
Lusts the great oak tree for the wayside weed?
Damsels enough at lesser cost to buy,
More fair than she were in that court.... But high
The signal trumpets blew. The steeds released
From reins' restraints, their heavy speeds increased
To take the impact of the violent play,
Which not their riders loved the more than they.
"See," were the cries, "he falls! He falls!... But nay,
He doth not." Sooth they spake. The Paynim's spear
On the Haut Prince's helm so straightly struck
That he bent backwards to the charger's rear,
Yet kept his stirrups, and retrieved to see
That Palomides - for that moments space
Giving no respite as of knightly grace -
His sword out-swang. The Prince a leftward rein
Drew as the straining charger swerved and slid,
Aiming to lose the blow, as half he did,
The while his own sword found the whistling air.
Now came the equal strife when both were bare.
Not like the skilful countering seen when
The swords make contact of unmounted men;
Blows on the air were lost, or merely met
The foil of shield or sword against them set
Full slantly, while the practised steed obeyed
The knee's light pressure for its master's aid.
Then came the instant's chance. The Prince's blade
With full force downward on the Paynim's crest
So smote, a different inch had ended all.
But down the helm's smooth side, without arrest
Of its full violence, it glanced to fall
Upon the charger's neck, its death to deal.
Foul was the stroke as any stroke could be,
However from intent of treason free.
Men saw the neck-gashed charger sideward reel,
And sink in death. Slain horse and rider fell
Down in one heap, and by the fallen's side
Galahalt alit, and reached a hand to raise
A knight wood-wrath.
"I cannot lightly tell
My grief in this." With gentle words he tried
To heal a wrong he had not meant. "Believe
It was not of my will; and here receive
My charger for thine own. I will not more
Contend, but freely to thy use restore
The victor's prize."
So large a courtesy
Waked in the Paynim's heart a like return
(For half he strove the ways of Christ to learn,
And half his heathen modes preferred, that he
Was of no sure resolve or constancy).
"Thy gift is costlier than my loss," he said,
"And more than quittance for a doubtful debt;
And thine the damsel, as would all men say."
Then said the Prince: "If mine of right she be,
Mine only meaning is to loose her free,
No further strife to wake..... But now the sun
Mounts to the prime of day. The knights await
Shall pause no longer from their glad debate,
Join in the side thou wilt, or leave undone
A longer toil."
He to his lofty seat
Returned, and inward thronged from either gate
The bright ranks of Surluse: the ranks as gay
That gathered those of Arthur's pride to meet.
Surluse was now by Bandenagers led,
For his high rank and knightly name preferred,
Or haply lest were dormant envies stirred
Had one of Orkney or Benoic bred
Held the first place. To meet their strong array,
North Gales' fierce king was first, and him beside
He of the Hundred, with his wandering band,
Who owned no leigance, as they held no land,
Save to himself. Duke Chaleins too was there,
And more from distant lands, to test the pride
Of Arthur's Table. Those their shields who saw,
And feats of tourney or of dealier war
Recalled, which raised their fames illustrious,
Whispered that Benoic might be hard bested
To meet so valiant and so numerous
A concourse of great names, though Orkney led
An equal wing, and knights of Galahalt,
Aligned for succour and their van's default,
Were not for light defeat.
But while were said
Such words of caution, to their front there came
The gold-red pennon of the Hindered Flame,
And Baudemagus in its rest had set
A venturous spear. Against North Gales he rode.
Before all others in mid-lists they met.
Leader to leader clashed they: king to king.
Equal in that; but not as knight to knight
Appeared they so in either girth or height.
For slight was Baudemagus, while North Gales,
Huge-limbed, on weight and strength relied. But here
Was seen how strength against skilled coolness fails,
For the straight point of Baudemagus' spear
So surely struck the down-bent helm, that he
From stirrup and from selle was lifted free.
The steed went on, while his resounding fall
Left his great bulk of shining steel asprawl,
Till succour of dismounting knights must break
The order and impetuosity
Of the ranged line that near behind him came.
King Baudemagus heard the crowd's acclaim,
Which was the louder that his deed surpassed
Fair expectation; and such praise to take
Exulting, rightward rode, his lance to try
Against Duke Chaleins, whom alike he cast,
And bore the impact of a breaking spear.
This was his greatest hour. The right alone
Of his long line could gain no ground, for here
Ector, by Palomides overthrown,
Saw Blamor also, by a single spear,
Cast as he rose.
To that reverse redress
King Baudemagus through the refluent press
Held his bold way, but Palomides here
He did not meet. Another knight he met,
Whose one red chevron on a shield of jet
Was no known blazon; yet that gait to guess
Was his - his son, Sir Meliagraunt. But why
Should his too-wayward youth prefer to ride
In the front rank against his father's side?
Swiftly the king his still unbroken spear
Lifted, and turned his horse, and passed him by
As one who saw not. But he saw too well;
Nor failed his insight what it meant to tell.
And to a good knight who beside him drew
He gave strait order: "Nothing else to do
Be thine till that red chevron leave the field,
Baited and worn; unless perforce he yield
To thine unturning and untired pursuit."
So did he, but King Baudemagus held
Thereafter to the leftward side, and so
He met not Palomides, who down-felled
The strongest of the Table knights he met,
Until they heard the ceasing trumpets blow.
But Lancelot entered not the lists. Beside
The queen and Galahalt his place was set
To judge the strife. They gave the place of pride
To Baudemagus, who had first excelled,
And had not faltered; and the Paynim next
They judged, who none had yet discomfited.
So gladly to the joyous feast they led,
Whereat Sir Dinadan with jape and jest
Made merry laughter till the time of song
Came with the clearing of the board.
A varlet entered. Where the Paynim sat
He paused and spake: "A nameless knight to thee
Sends challenge. Standing in the court without
Are four great lances. With thou take the best,
And those thy choice rejects his choice shall be
To give thee in the lists a morning bout?"
"Why should I not?" Sir Palomides said.
"I ride tomorrow as I rode today,
Until the portioned hours of strife be sped,
And counter those who come, as all should do."
"Not all," King Baudemagus answered. "Nay,
I rest tomorrow. Those whose years are few
May tireless ride. But not such boisterous play
Will age-worn limbs repeat unwearied."
"Now fie!" Said Dinadan, "what grief to me
Thy caution brings thou dost not heed. I thought
When thou wast wearied would a time of sport
Be lightly mine. With one untested spear
I hoved today upon the scatheless rear,
Thinking much honour with the morn to reap
From those who wearied."
"Honour more than thine
Were hard to seek," the courteous king replied.
But rose the while he spake as one distraught
By private cares. His son apart he sought,
And lashed with words of scorn: "I know too well
Why falsely with North Gales' wild ranks you ride.
It is to meet Sir Lancelot, if he chose
To join the tourney. Not thy seat to lose
In equal jousting (as thou wouldst), but more
Of craft to do him, where the lances throng,
By thrust of malice, some unknightly wrong.
Less would I, by God's life, thy death deplore
Than that thy treasons should descend so low."
The young knight answered: "If so much you know,
You know my grief that Arthur's queen should be
The servant of his lust, but not for me.
If Lancelot were not, good my hope that she
For my much worship would more favour show."
And Baudemagus answered: "Naught of wrong
Will heed I of them or to think or say.
Surely their honours to themselves belong,
And ours are shown by silence. Yet, we may
Approve the queen that in no wanton's way
Her life is ruled; and never yet to thee
Her favours portioned, that such perfidy
Excepting in thy heart's corruption lay.
"But this I tell thee. If again I see
That chevron in the field, or aught of thee
To haunt their goings, where thou shouldst not be,
By thee forthright I will be slain or slay
Lest worse dishonour at our doors shall lie."
Then shamed was Meliagraunt: "That would not I,
As well thou knowest. But the queen to me
Is more than life. And death would be
A fate to dare, if on that path should lie
A hope as distant as the utmost sky."
It was the third day of the tournament,
A morn of hasting cloud and breaking blue.
Ever a wider place the hot sun rent:
The west wind chased the clouds, and chasing slew.
Now to the field again the warriors drew
And he whose name the heralds only knew
Against Sir Palomides rode. They broke
Their strong ash-spears alike. Again they took
Others as great, and now the stranger shook
The Paynim's seat, and the proud steed he rode,
The prince's princely gift, before that stroke
Nigh floundered. Yet the back-borne knight bestrode
A steed that reeled unfalling. Praise was rained
On him alike who dealt and who sustained
So shrewd a stroke.
But now to earth they came.
It seemed the gentlesse of the tourney game
In their much fury they alike forgot.
For as at mortal feud they strove, and not
As those who would contending skills display.
"Lo," said Sir Lancelot, "here is strife to stay,
Or death may be."
The Haut Prince answered: "Yea,
The Paynim fights not in the Christian way;
But demoned seems he in his moodish ire."
"And this time hath he waked as fierce a fire,"
Guenever judged. "It is but seld we see
Such deadly bout for noble mastery
On the fair field of tourney. Can there naught
Be done to stint it?"
"Bid the trumpets sound
Retreat's shrill summons," said the prince. Whereat
All steeds were reined, and those on foot that fought,
Aware of silence and a vacant ground,
Their lifted swords reduced.
"The noontide heat,"
Said the Haut Prince, "requires our short retreat.
Let for an hour bright arms aside be laid.
Let food be fairly served: let wine be brought.
Then shall new battle in good heart be made,
By those revigoured for the gentle sport."
Now was the stranger knight dishelmed, and hands
Stretched from all sides, as Pellinor's greatest son,
(So was he called as yet), Sir Lamorack,
They greeted. Save Sir Gawain, standing back
With Agravain, in that full hall was none
But loved him, or approved. What distant lands,
They asked, what ventures in their wildness won,
Had held him separate for so long? But he
Gave no clear answer. How would wisdom be
To speak in all men's ears the fear he had?
Glad was he surely of their greetings glad,
Lancelot's warm praise, Guenever's gracious eyes,
And Galahalt's warning word in friendship said:
"Let the swart Paynim be. He doth not strive,
For gentle knightly honour emulous,
As Arthur teacheth that his Table should.
But ruthless will he at his goal arrive,
Not careful of the cost, nor of the dead
Regretful. Watching while thy shield withstood
His battering fury, half I though to see,
That death (though likelier not thy death) should be,
Left I that bout its natural end to find."
Then to the field again they thronged. Again
Were those the front who sought, and those behind
Who hoved their chance to wait. Of dubious mind
Perchance of their own worth, or inly fain
The lance of some particular foe to meet,
Now by the press withheld. Or baser thought
Might lurk unuttered, those before outfought
At little cost to win. But few to such
Were heedful. Eyes and thoughts were turned too much
Upon the bickering front. Sir Lamorack there
He of the Hundred with loud impact met,
And roughly that stark king he overset,
And next North Gales and Marsill.
Among the leaders of their side withheld
Himself and all his household. Chaleins saw
The number and the kind of those he felled,
And how they crowded, so that respite none
Was his, new breath or further strength to gain.
"Stay," said he, "for the hunted beast hath law
And limit in the dogs we loose. Remain
Unmeddling here, and watch, to learn and praise
Such prowess as, in many glorious days,
I have not equalled seen."
On those high seats
Where Galahalt judged, with Lancelot and the queen,
Was talk alike. "Behold that all he meets,"
Sir Lancelot said, "he overcasts, as though
Unpractised spears he taught to undergo
Such falls as in the castle yard are seen
When youthful squires their lessons take. But yet
Too many are they, and too fiercely set
Upon his downfall, for his lasting stand.
I will amend it."
Near at his left hand,
King Baudemagus heard. Alike he rose.
Soon were their arms and chargers brought, and through
The loud confusions of the lists they drew
To where Sir Lamorack, midst converging foes,
Delayed with wearying strength their thronged offence.
As the wheat changes to a veering wind,
So did the field of plumes and lances dense,
And flashing swords, through all its wide extense,
Sway to their coming. Parted ranks allowed
Their earlier passage. Ranged opponents thinned,
Their shields avoiding. Of the hammering crowd
Who made Sir Lamorack anvil of their play,
Sir Mador was the first full price to pay,
For, as he swerved, the point of Lancelot's spear
Beneath his gorget caught, and cast him clear
From steed and saddle to the hooves below.
So wide, so instant, was that overthrow,
When all Surluse's heartened ranks allied
Their hardened valour to abate the pride
That had reversed them from midfield before,
Guenever bid the ceasing trumpet blow,
Deeming enough was done; for likeliest more
Of that hard-pressed reverse there would not be
Without long-lasting fruits of enmity.
"We meet Sir Lamorack in no friendly way,"
Lord Gawain said, "and therefore must we ride
In the same ranks, or else, to break his pride,
North Gales were joined."
King Arthur answered: "Nay,
Neither in friendly nor unfriendly way
Should meet ye with him. To Surluse's side
Your honour holds ye, for which cause ye came."
This was before the fifth fair morn aflame
Was bright with sunlight on good steel, and gay
With blazoned shields. King Arthur from Carlisle,
Finding but little there to cause or cease,
Had hastened backward in that glad release,
Loving the tourney more than shift and guile
Of legal tongues contending. Lamorack well
He welcomed, largely for his father's sake,
And largely for his own. But lest should wake
The Orkney blood-feud that he could not slake,
He gave hard words to Gawain.
That as good comrades to the field they went,
And at Lord Gawain's temperate word: "Believe
We have no purpose here his peace to grieve,
Whatever hatred in our hearts must lie."
He climbed the scaffold, there the seat to take
That Galahalt yielded. From that vantage high
He saw the long opposing lines go by
That ranged themselves at each extreme, for now
Would be no general clash, but proof to make
Of separate prowess. One from either side
Alone in challenge from his rank would ride,
And there encounter in void space.
(Were stronger some, but none of heart more high)
First for Surluse advanced, and him to meet
Came Palomides, of more weight than he,
And flung him to the ground in hard defeat.
Gaheris then, his cousin wrath to see
So foiled, was next to lose a surer seat,
For the bold Paynim held his place as though
He challenged all Surluse to overthrow;
And Agravain thereat, of weight at least
His equal, forward came. Alike he found
The hoof-beat hardness of the tourney ground.
King Arthur watched, with no content to see
His kinsmen tumbled thus: "Is sunk so low
The Table's might," he asked, "a Paynim spear
Can smirch the mightiest names assembled here?"
But now Sir Modred forward rode, for he
Counted that Palomides worn would be
With those three courses. As his wont he crouched
Behind the covering shield, and straight the spear
His vicious purpose drave, but not the less
His emptied saddle must his fall confess.
"Methinks," King Arthur said, "myself to try
This heathen's seat."
Then Lancelot rose, as though
Again he purposed to the field to go
With sure result, as when, the previous day,
Through the thick bicker of the front he swung
His sword among the lances.
King Arthur said, "may prove no loss. For see
Who forward rides," and Lancelot answered: "Yea,
We need not meddle if he speed." For now
To where the Paynim in midfield remained
Lamorack advanced. "Wilt joust again?".... "Perde,
Why should I not?" With turn of reins they gained
Their needed space, and at the trumpet's call
Thunderous they crashed, and though did neither fall,
Sir Palomide's spear in fragments leapt,
While Lamorack's held; and though the Paynim kept
A shaken seat, upon his charger's tail
He backward lay with stirrups lost. Was none
Could doubt the number of his gains was done,
And he sometime unfit for further play.
King Arthur thanked Sir Lamorack: "Shame had been
If all this concourse of great knights had seen
My Table worthless to oppose his spear."
"Lord, it was naught. And other knights are here
Who had not failed thee. Lancelot's mighty kin,
Even had himself withheld, such bout to win
Had been thy surety."
"That I must not say,
Where Orkney failed; and surely wroth were they
At such redemption."
"Yet such aid from me
May be more bitter. In their friendless eyes
Ever the dark resolve of hatred lies."
"I would it were not so. Is none than thee
More gladly honoured at my board would be."
"Were mine the honour; but I doubt too much
That which their plots should breed."
"Such doubt should die,
If I thy safety swear."
"No doubt have I
Of thy sure faith, nor seek thine oath; for such
Were needless for thyself, and vain to guard
One whom that rancour haunts. Bethink that she,
Thy sister, died. - So, large a grief to me
That death, of honour's sort, I would not flee."
And Lancelot spake alike: "They would not dare
To do thee wrong except they certain were
To stand agreed thereafter, and for that
Must Gawain first assent. They love not me,
And discord from that stifled enmity
Had leapt to flame, except his prudent choice
Had damped it often. So I deem; for he
Regards this great realm's safety first, and sees
Its strength were shaken should such feuds as these
To violence boil. His strong restraint is laid
On those who else an open breach had made
Between the British and the Benoic knights."
"Yea," said the queen - King Arthur was not there -
"When Modred in his venomed wont incites
Agravain's harsh mood, or stirs Gaheris' pride,
Gawain their envious wraths will override
With prudent counsel, not of kindness bred,
But more as one who waits a counted day."
To which Sir Lamorack: "That good sooth ye say
In faith and friendship naught I doubt. But I
Fear them no whit, and would their worst defy,
Save that I would not vex the king.... But trust?
That will I never. Gawain least, for he
Is cold and subtle in his perfidy,
And still forgiveless, though a life go by.
"A separate path I chose. But well believe
At Arthur's lightest need, his foes to grieve,
I should not fail him."
With these words he went,
Leaving them grieved at heart, and ill content,
Who could not yet his trustless words deny.
West rode Sir Percival when Arthur lent
His noblest for Surluse's tournament.
Unpractised as he was, unproved, unfamed,
How should he be among the thirty named?
With cause for rancour none, and no regret
He went, whose heart on loftier aims was set
Than plaudits of the barrier-crowd to win.
White was his charger, Arthur's gift; and white
His arms. His shield, with gules and silver bright,
Bore the red roses of his house, but showed
In dexter chief, the Cross of God. He rode
Not to strange ventures of the wilderness,
But through the settled homes of men, to seek
Where his fresh knighthood could support the weak,
Undungeon captives, or avert duress.
He looked to Cornwall and to Lyonesse,
For there was said that new confusions came.
He met with those who spat King Mark to name.
"Had we but Tristram for our prince," they said,
"In peace and honour should we stand secure.
So would it likely be if Mark were dead."
To which he answered: "Death is God's to deal.
But tell me of the present ills ye dure,
And we may seek remede a gentler way
Than your appointed king to chase or slay."
"Simple," they said, "the grief. Lord Tristram stands
The strong protection of our sea-ringed lands,
Which else were dangered by ungentle foes.
But Mark, because his wayward queen prefers
Another to himself, to devious ends
Jeopards the life on which our strength depends.
Regardless of the realm. The choice is hers.
The loss is Cornwall's. Now Sir Tristram lies
Snared in Magouns, the while Sir Dinas flies
To raise relief in Lyonesse land. Men say
That Mark would in short hour his nephew slay,
Save that to Britain's king an oath he swore
He dares not break, lest Arthur break him."
Answered Sir Percival: "What rumours say
We may too lightly to our loss believe.
I would not hates extend, but peace restore,
Where is Magouns?"
"A barren moor and bleak
South of Tintagel lies, and there is built
Of its own stones a strong stark hold, wherein
Dwells a wild crew that owns no Cornish kin,
But levies tribute on the vales around,
With threats of rapine should their tithes delay.
"These caitiffs, whose base lives some kings had spilt,
Hath Mark endured, and if his grace they pay,
It is no more than many voices say,
Finding him heedless when their wrongs they tell.
"A visit lately as in peace he made
To Tristram at Tintagel, pleasing well
All who desired our peace, but there he laid
A cunning ambush. If the truth be said,
An evil potion in Sir Tristram's cup
Caused him to drouse where, in a woodland glade,
He rested from the chase. A fouler bed
Was his at waking, for Magouns came up,
As Mark had planned; and that no random way
They came, but hasting to a purposed prey,
The litter that they brought revealed.
In that close hold he lies. When Dinas heard
- Whose temperate moods have yoked with Mark too long -
And the false king his guiltless past averred
Saying that where Magouns' base raiders hived
Was in its depth of burrowed stone too strong
For inrage of the stoutest knights he had,
He gave him answer short, to work release
For Tristram at that hour, or he should cease
His own allegiance, and a rescue make
Regardless of the king."
"At Mark's reply,
Who still would all lament and all deny,
He called on those who heard the road to take,
Not to his own strong tower, but west to where
Far Lyonesse lay; for he would marshal there
A host for Tristram's rescue, and to change
The ruling of the land."
"Can Mark be found
By those of friendlier will?"
"He will not range
Largely abroad when swords are loose. He bides
Within Tintagel's walls by likeliest guess."
"Then will I there."
It seemed the guess was sound.
Mark's royal banner on its keep afloat
Declared his presence.
From the guarded wall
A word to Mark was brought: "A warrior rides
The steep approach. His painted arms denote
Prince of Le Galis he."
"With open gate
Receive him, who perchance a friend may be.
For friends we need."
Tintagel's ancient hall
Was kingly as its high-built walls were strong.
But noway kingly in his mien was he
Who in its gilded chair of kingship sate.
"From Arthur's court," he said, "I welcome all."
But furtive were his eyes, that vainly sought
The gaze of Percival to read aright:
A gaze which, threatening none and fearing naught,
Would soon the utmost wiles of Hell put by.
"I would thy service do, if aught may lie
Within the compass of so young a knight."
"Much can'st thou aid. It was but yesternight
Sir Sadoc - whom my bounty nursed too long -
With treason in his heart, my life waylaid
In cunning ambush. That I here remain,
Though the three stoutest of my friends were slain,
I thank my charger's speed.... His course he made,
I nothing doubt, to where rebellion breeds.
For he on whom my special trust was laid,
Sir Dinas, in that fault which all exceeds,
Where fealty sworn transforms to faithless deeds,
Lifts up his heels against me."
Gave literal answer from a single mind:
"No greater evil God on earth may find
Among the fallen than when trust transcends
The faith of service done. But where is he
Who equal to all count of foes should be,
"In Magouns' deep hold he lies,
Wiled by their treason there."
"Then why delays
Had I peace my strength to raise
I would assure it. But my private foes - "
"Then may it be that God hath sent me here
To break that bondage."
"Aid me first with those
Whose plots assail me, and - "
"Were Tristram free,
He would more potent for thy rescue be."
"There is no love between us. Sooth I swear.
I mourn his bondage, and to place him there
No part was mine. But were he freely set,
I know not that he would Sir Dinas grieve."
"Then would I serve thee to a larger debt,
Fetters and discord to alike retrieve,
And make good peace between ye."
"Can there be
Concord with one in whose adulterous arms
My queen hath lain?"
"I cannot that believe.
Well may he love her, for all tales agree
Few are there on God's earth more fair than she,
But all in worship, and as virtue would,
And guiltless of the stain of carnal sin."
Mark gave smooth answer: "That were hard to say.
Yet would I serve him to the most I may,
If thy strong rescue should his freedom win."
'Let the poor fool,' he thought, 'his life expend
In that vain venture. Should I call him friend,
He were not long a willing aid to me.'
But Percival, ere he left, at Bragwain's plea,
Met the sad queen within her lonely tower,
And told his purpose.
"God it sure should be,"
She said, "Who sends thee at this fatal hour.
Yet of my lord Sir Tristram, nor of me,
Think not as faultless in God's sight. But he
Who called me wife, by his much perfidy,
All bonds hath broken. Ask ye all men who
Were those he calls his friends whom Sadoc slew.
One from Magouns outrode."
"Where truth may lie,"
The young knight answered, "lack of wits have I,
And lack of need to prove, where all agree
That Tristram from base gyves should rescued be;
And I am vowed to such occasions take."
"God be thy shield - and trust not Mark," she said.
Her eyes alight with grateful hope, as he
Kissed a white hand, and from a bended knee
To his slim height arose.
"I trust but three:
I trust my Saviour, and my sword, and thee.
Beyond are doubts I need not solve."
Aware of watchful eyes, but meeting few
In those wide walls who spake aloud to say:
"God speed thee." What his single sword should do
To pass a strong-barred gate's impediment,
Or all the rabble horde it held subdue,
Disturbed him naught; for having God to aid
Could numbers be so great or walls so high,
It should not be their part to shrink dismayed,
While he would rest serene and confident,
Not in himself, but in his great ally?
Dismayed they were. For Sadoc chanced to slay
Their first and boldest, who himself had sought
Meeting with Mark to make a straight report
That Tristram must be loosed unless could be
Treaty with Dinas made. For else would they
Be dangered past their choice. They saw too well
The weakness of the king, nor thought to meet
All Cornwall gathering for their sure defeat.
So was it proven, as it oft will be,
The waiting terrors that faint hearts foresee
From bold advance recede; or likelier show
A shape so different that none would know
How darkly had they looked before.
Having no forecast of calamity,
Nor being such as to their own defeat
Make giants of the smaller men they meet,
His halt before Magouns' dark portal made,
Neither defiant nor of aught afraid,
And to the porter's curt demand replied:
"I seek Sir Tristram."
"Say what name is thine."
"I am Sir Percival de Galis."
In patience where ye be."
He went to where
His lords debated: "Hoving at the gate
Is one who seeks Sir Tristram."
"Friend is he
To Mark or Dinas?"
"That he did not say.
He is a knight of Arthur."
"Bring him in."
Such facile entrance to that hold to win
Might not to most a certain omen be
That they should issue with no more delay
From the strong walls where Tristram captive lay.
But Percival entered as a casual thing,
His sword unshown, his mien of gentleness
"Good Sir Knight," with soft address
They spake, "what wouldst thou?"
"Tristram's swift release
I ask from bondage of no right."
Our orders gave."
"I come from Mark. He said
He would not hold him."
Shaggy head to head
Was bent. From libellous lips were whispers heard
That brought the concord of a louder word:
"Wilt thou as Arthur's knight our lives immune,
And present rights assure, as boon for boon,
If this we grant thee?"
"Naught I swear at all.
Ask ye Sir Tristram."
To the captive's cell
Of need they went.
"As God me save," he said,
"If my swift freedom from your hands befall,
For aught that through King Mark's design befell
I will not ask account."
Thereat they led
To where his arms were stored: they brought his steed:
Of how Sir Dinas raised revolt they told:
"For which," they said, "may be no longer need,"
(Thinking if Mark were down, they would not hold
Long as they were) "but all in peace agreed."
To which Sir Tristram gave but short reply.
His word was certain that they should not die,
Yet that he scorned them would he naught conceal,
For which they felt but as such vermin feel.
Blithe was his heart of this swift change to know,
Freedom from those constricting walls to go,
To see the bare plain and the heights of sky.
The gorse-dark moor's infrequent gold again
To view, and fameless as the wind goes by
Wander. Yet checked he with a doubtful rein
As prudence fought desire. With Dinas now
Was safety. More, their strengths united gave
More hope that Mark by flight his life would save.
To seek Iseult, and trust his truth again,
Was asking for resume of earlier bane.
Yet, should he safety for himself pursue,
What was it in despair that Mark would do?
How if Iseult he wronged or held? The doubt
He put to Percival, whose quieter mind
Was doubtless in reply: "You can but find
Confusion and rebellion, issuing out
To grief and bloodshed, if you make combine
With Dinas more. The greater need is thine,
Because that what he doth he doth for thee,
The flame of strife to quench, and him to bring
To reconciliation with the king.
Else from past evil should more evil spring,
And the fair shining of thy name would be
Tarnished by contact with unrighteousness."
This counsel sounded to Sir Tristram good,
Urging the way which in his heart he would,
Or likely had he held its wisdom less.
But the last craft of Mark they did not guess.
Mark wrote to Dinas: "Wilt thou God defy?
Letters from London and from Rome have I,
That call us, as our swords to God belong,
To gather ere the summer wanes, that we
May break the rising waves of heathenry,
Which else the Christian pale will overset.
Now may we all our private feuds forego,
Our evil wills repent, our wrongs forget
(And whose so great as mine?), our swords to show
In holier cause than here. With mine assent
Doth Percival for Tristram's rescue make."
Sir Dinas read, and did not doubt. He bent
His thoughts a furnished front of strife to take.
With spears enough, but in no feir of war,
He moved toward Tintagel.
But the while
Had Tristram there returned. Mark's craft foresaw
Much, but not that. His written tale he told;
But Tristram doubted. Of his endless guile
He had full measure known before. "The script,"
He asked, "is mine to read?" With some delay
Mark showed it, crimson-sealed. Sir Tristram read.
Aware of peril, naught of doubt he said.
But as Sir Dinas came his eastward way
A varlet of Iseult's sure trust he met,
Who bore a word from Tristram: "Ware," he read
"A missive false. The script had Andret writ.
The seal was forged. A simple bait was it
To cause thee cease recruiting those who bear
No love for Mark. But can he long declare
Such falsehood? This I ask: Avoid us here,
Unless thy force be strong to seize control.
Iseult and I a secret boat prepare
By which we sail for Usk. Our flight will leave
No cause of strife the peaceful land to grieve.
Greatly we thank thy friendship and thine aid,
To be perchance in different days repaid,
Should fortunes change. But let thy peace be made
With Mark, whose weakness will desire accord."
So was it done upon a moonless night,
Leaving a land they thought no more to see,
They found the welcome of a kinder sea.
A south wind filled their sail, and when the light
Rose from the east, no following sail in sight
Dangered the safety of that secret flight.
Not saying whom they were, in private sort
They joined the concourse of King Arthur's court.
There was a feast day tourney, gladly gay,
For which unblazoned arms Sir Tristram took,
That Lancelot, who had thought not there to ride,
Rose from his place: "This nameless knight is one
With whom a gentle deed may well be done.
Him will I test." But at the moment came
A letter to his hand Iseult had sent.
It gave the unknown knight Sir Tristram's name,
And prayed him to avoid that tournament.
Closed with it was a ring of fair design
She on the finger of betrothal wore:
A signet that the arms of Ireland bore
With Cornwall quartered.
At that certain sign
Sir Lancelot, joying at the news it brought,
Shed wholly from his mind his earlier thought,
And rose to seek Iseult.
With short delay,
Following Sir Tristram's steps at pause of play,
He found their hired pavilions. Seldom yet
From fair reputes to better grace have met
Ladies or knights. And when their tale was said
Of Mark's new falsities, and why they fled,
Sir Lancelot gave reply: "My heart is light,"
He said, "to know you both from Cornwall free.
Now the bright dawn of better years should be;
And that your honoured place may all men see
Shall Joyous Garde be yours. For strength is there
Which might be held in half a world's despite,
And walled extent of glades and gardens fair,
For summer ease and joys of song and sight.
For those wide towers that in set strife I won,
I need not, and except yourselves is none
So landless and of settled worth so high."
"Not only for its strong security,
But that Iseult," Sir Tristram said, "shall be
Queenly established to her own degree,
I take a loan that thy munificence
Too lightly tenders. All my deeds from now
Shall seek to thank thee."
Joyous Garde's extent
Within its mile-wide walls its builder meant
To make secure against a sieging foe,
Though years twice altered and he should not go.
Orchards it held, and tilth for husbandry.
And one great wall looked down on rescuing sea.
Well might he flourish from an army mured.
So was it for its lord's long surety planned.
But who should siege it now? Northumberland
Was Arthur's wholly, and his peace endured.
To this great hold they came. Than fair Logre
Colder and bleaker; but the sun was kind.
Beneath wide skies, and bare to wind and sea,
Joyance and health might all but weakness find.
And sumptuous, as for royal state designed,
Were furnished its wide halls and chambers high,
Not of Sir Lancelot's rule, for small his care
Soft ease to breed, but as before they were,
When good blows gained them.
Here too fast went by
Days that were yet full-lived each conscious hour.
For Tristram asked no more of life than lay
In chase to fill, and song to end the day,
And the glad nights between.
And Iseult's thought
Was of the loss to Tristram's fame she brought;
And how was here a debt for love to pay
Which else for ever must uncancelled be.
'Life snared us, but its darkest dole to me,'
Was her glad thought, 'the fear of death to see
And know myself its cause, is lifted now.
So mercied past my worth, to God I vow,
That to rejoice his love by night and day
I shall be constant to the most I may.'
In this dear service was her peace. In this
Her damaged honour, from its deeds amiss,
Was remnant. Holding this the least she ought,
To serve him ever in new ways she sought.
And thus one day, as from the woods he came,
She charged him: "Tristram, here is simple blame,
To ride unarmed, without a single spear.
How know you in these woods what foes are near?
How that Mark's malice will not reach so far?"
To which he answered: "Kindless fault were mine
To leave thee even with too fond a fear.
Nor can I say thy cautions causeless are.
Storms may be near when leaves in sunlight shine.
Henceforth with varlet and with squire I ride,
My harness' weight to bear, and spears provide."
So in love's courtesy, and love's delight,
Passed the reluctant days from night to night,
The while that Arthur, whom Sir Lancelot told
Their flight from Mark, and how his northern hold
Was made their home, rejoicing this to know,
To give fit welcome, planned a tourney-show
Far north, at Lonazep, which inland lay
From Joyous Garde, some few rough miles away,
Across the bare Bernician moors.
"We waste in sloth of peaceful days too long;
Nor know we surely if our hearts be strong
As once they were; nor can we surely say
Of those around us, we are strong as they.
Now will I to all lands our vaunt proclaim
That we alone who bear the Table's name
Will meet, when spring renews, six months from now,
All who have freedom from our straiter vow
In all surrounding lands, and lists to try
The issue of their gathered rivalry."
"Lord," said Sir Lancelot, "hast thou thought how far
Spreads emulation of our proved degree?
How many in the half-tamed lands there are,
Beyond our numbers, who compare not ill
In valour and resource, in strength and skill,
With those our greatest at our greatest day?
And now, though each might do the most he may,
To no light purpose, yet is this to see -
Our younger knights a softer morning share:
Our greatest are less young than once they were;
And jeopard is there that so hard a test
Would prove that those of alien lands are best."
"There is the cause. I would our hearts restore."
"What of Surluse, and Listonaise, and Gore?"
"They shall be all against us, if they will,
With Ireland, Scotland and Northumberland,
For I would prove how strong our Table stand.
When skies are clear of cloud, and winds are still,
Those of good counsel will for storm prepare.
Whatever in past time our glories were
Will aid us naught for present mastery.
Now shall we wake from dreams the truth to see,
And alter in good time, if reason be."
"Where do we hold it?"
"With the dawn of May
I think to call it at the tower which stands
On the Tweed side, amidst the fertile lands
North of the bare Bernician moors; to be
In Tristram's honour there. For there is he."
"It is well chosen, for its trysting field
Is large and level, and the pastures yield
Food for a thousand steeds, if those were there."
So was the proclamation made; and some
Of Arthur's knights rejoiced; and some were sad,
Seeing that honour and repute forbad
That they the verdict of the field should shun;
And that such numbers could against them come
As might their best and boldest leave undone.
But Arthur with clear eyes his purpose saw,
To rouse and test his knights grown indolent.
Nor, should they fail, would he that test repent.
Honour to him outleapt expediency;
As when beneath the sword of Pellinor
He had the liever to have died than be
Unjustly saved by Merlin's sorcery.
Rain chased the light, the sunlight chased the rain.
From April woods the cuckoo called again.
And those who warm in massive walls had lain
While loud winds beat them, and the silent snow
Denied the freedom of the roads below,
Threw wide their gates, and issued out to meet
Mild airs that followed on the frost's retreat.
As birds in spring the southern winds obey,
Now northward came, by every devious way,
Knights of Logre and Listonaise and Gore,
With those who travelled from the further shore
Of Benoic, and of Gaul, and Brittany.
Poor knights came singly, with their shields as yet
Scarce blazoned, but the most as champions came,
Knights who were noble in estate and name,
Who at each dusk had wide pavilions set,
If no bold tower or sheltered priory
Loosed gates of welcome.
By the western way
Knights of North Gales; and Reged, through Carlisle,
With Ireland's knights, less numerous came, but they
Crowded the one straight road the Romans made,
Continual. Scotland's best, from the main and isle,
Came also, fording where the Tweed allowed.
Never had Lonazep so great a crowd
Of world-known warriors, and maid and dame
Queenly attired, and queenly names who bare,
Before the roads were dry
Sir Lancelot rode to Joyous Garde; for there
His rule to order and his guests to greet
He purposed first, and then the king to meet
At Lonazep before the tourney cry.
Brief time but blithe was his before he rode
The wind-dried moors. With wandering eyes he sought,
For ease of heart, by any wayfare chance,
To test the vigour of a rested lance,
And when a knight the bare horizon showed
Who came his way by a converging road,
'Here,' thought he, 'is a joyous bout to try.'
And he who came, in no reluctant mood,
Before Sir Lancelot's lioned arms he viewed,
Fewtred his spear, but then his course he stayed
As one too late by fear or friendship swayed,
And Lancelot, as the silver shield he knew,
Back-slung his own, and dropped his lance, and cried:
"O, Dinadan, not so blind the paths we ride
That need is ours of hurt to take or do
In any wilds we meet. An idle spear
Well may I leave thy latest song to hear.
For knight nor minstrel lives of mortal breath
More skilled than thou."
But Dinadan answered: "Nay,
No song is mine, nor any heart to say,
Who bring the heavy news of Lamorack's death."
And answer made Sir Lancelot: "Death is naught.
All fail at last. Not all alike have fought:
Alike have failed. How died he?"
By Orkney's sons, who half the night had lain
Alurk in moonlit covert, murder-bent."
And Lancelot answered: "Grievous wrong ye tell,
Born of a feud not ours, with which may well
The king deal only. Naught should else prevail
Gainst Orkney's league. What strength have Aglovale?
Ourselves to move in factioned strife would rend
The realm apart. For all knights else, but we
Of Benoic born, or of the Southland sea,
Would hold with Gawain: Yet to such foul end
Well know I, not Gareth his voice or sword would lend;
Nor in their counsels join, a knight to slay
Who thereward in the king's safe conduct came,
Even in fair strife. The craftier ruse ye say
I needs believe, if clear of hurt were they
Who slew him; for know we all who knew the man,
That would he do which strength and courage can,
At sudden, desperate odds. And in the shame
(And most the king, who first their hate forbad),
Must share we all, except that strength to tame
Their might, beyond his later wont, he show.
What saith he thereto?"
"The King is wroth and sad,
And bitter words in open hall spake he:
'Now, by God's Cross, ye be too hard for me,
Ye sons of Zeruiah! Make ye then
My word despiteful in the mouths of men?
Mine honour in all men's sight a broken thing?
The surety of my pledge contemned? Your guile
The standard of my Table shown? Your wrongs
To override me?'
"Gawain's temperate speech,
But cold as steel, replied him: 'Lord, our king,
We serve thee ever in all realm-needs. The while,
Our house's honour to our hands belongs,
And naught may bind us here, and none may teach.'
Then through the silence of the hall was heard
The scorn of Modred. 'Sons of whom?' Said he,
'Are few men given to know whose sons they be;
And we may thank who tells it.'
Was longer silence, while the king remained
As one who heard not, and the still court sat
Awaiting thunder. Were it once unchained
What would continue? But it came not then."
Sir Tristram rode, as to Iseult he swore,
With squires behind who lance and armour bore,
And when Sir Dinadan's approach he knew,
(Who came to seek himself, and so renew
Their friendship proved in previous days) he thought
To jape with him awhile in idle sport,
Concealing whom he was. For blank his shield:
His helm uncrested.
Dinadan's distant sight
(His own shield's silver in the noon light
Clearly to Tristram whom he was revealed)
Saw one who hunting rode, yet made prepare
For strife he yet might dread. A native knight
To those Northumbrian moors belike was he,
Not journeying to the tryst of tournament,
But foeman rather to the timorous hare,
Or startled deer, with only feet to flee.
'Here,' thought he, 'cometh one for practice fit,
Who may nor straightly aim nor firmly sit,
But will good fodder for my need supply.'
"Fair knight," he said, "I would thy name."
"It is a simple thing to say.
I am Sir Dinadan."
"I doubt it naught.
Wide-famed is every knight of Arthur's court.
But I am nameless in these wilds."
Some name thou yet couldst give in courtesy."
"Why should I that? I boast it naught. I care
Neither to shame it, nor its pride declare."
"Then must I at the lance's point compel
The fair return of that I gave to thee."
"Thou wilt not that; for thy repute too well
Myself have heard. I will not arm. And thou
Art therefore impotent."
"What hear I now?
Is this the knighthood of Northumberland?
Art thou of those who made our order jest?
Who shun the scuffle of the lists, to stand
In waiting on a damsel's word? You look
Fit for all hazards. Knightly spurs you wear.
Yet caitiffs armed but with a herdsman's hook
Would show more valour."
"By the name you bear,"
Sir Tristram answered, "is thine own allowed.
Else had I doubted. For good knights agree
That love and valour of one party be,
And those who most are to love's service vowed
Are first in courage and in excellence
Upon the dangerous front of strife.... Art thou
"Heaven avert! I saw but now
A knight beside a fountain cast as though
He lay beneath a mountain's weight of woe,
Lamenting that I heard not, but I guess
That one whose honour and whose deeds were less
And will be ever than his own, supplied
His griefs full cargo."
Here a knight they saw
Who rode not in regard of whom he met,
For only on the ground his eyes were set,
And had they willed it he had passed them by.
Full richly rode he on a steed of jet.
His shield was azure bright, and bent with or.
His tabard had Northumbria's bold device
Embroidered on a ground of cramasie.
"Methinks," said Tristram, "that you meet him twice.
Lover indeed by loud repute is he.
He is Northumbria's heir, Epinogris.
North Gales' wild daughter is his choice. For me
She were too savage, and her sorcery
Too dreadful, and her lustful ways too vile:
But love will reason from the head beguile."
"See," answered Dinadan, "how truth defied
Returns its empire! That thyself denied
Is now thy witness, with more force than I
Had first asserted. Thus infatuate,
Doth reason rule him? Doth desire abate
For foulness that unfevered eyes must see?"
"I said not all were wise. I only said
That those who love are not the less to dread
When swords are sheathless. Here is chance to try.
He will not at thy call a bout deny,
If thou be loud in challenge."
"That will I."
Then in the path of him who now was near
He rode with forward shield and fewtred spear.
"Halt!" Cried he, as to one too deaf to hear,
"Halt, and defend thee, if thou canst."
As one who had not seen, and now to sight
Gave trivial value, answered: "If I rede
An honoured shield, and hear a voice aright,
Thou art Sir Dinadan. In Arthur's halls
Teach ye young knights by course of wayside brawls
To lift the Table's fame?.... What cause can be
That thou shouldst clamour to contend with me?"
"So would I ease mine heart."
"And so would I."
The tired voice altered as he spake. The steed
Felt the rein tighten, and its noble breed
Roused it alike alert. Of strength and speed
It showed its measure as it backward swung
Its length of charge to gain. No striplings they,
But either to excel, good knights among,
Were customed. Now the steady spears so well
Were guided that were little fault to say
Of either or remark that either fell.
Yet one knight fell not, for Epinogris
A rearing steed controlled, or likelier he
The jet-black charger saved. Sir Dinadan
Sore bruised arose with laughing eyes, the while
Northumbria's heir, without an answering smile,
Or further parley, held his joyless way.
"Now," said Sir Tristram, "shouldst thou cease to say
That lovers are not equal man for man,
To those who scorn them."
"Dost thou hold it so?
It is not distant that a knight I know
Who, be he lover of good parts or not,
Saw me dismounted with a heart too slow
To charge for my acquittance."
"Tell me why
Waste a good life for thy release should I,
Being such lover as your words malign?"
"Thou shouldst not, surely, for thy strength is spent
In base lascivious ease, or vain repine
Because a jade hath thrown thee. More lament
Were mine could such vain quests my peace destroy,
Long sorrow following so short a joy.....
Ride where thou wilt. I ride a different way."
Tristram, returning through the boughs which lay
Secure beneath the walls of Joyous Garde,
Found as he passed its gates a waiting crowd
Whose cries of anger and lament were loud.
To him they hurried as their natural shield,
Not hoping that the wound of death be healed,
But seeking vengeance. For a knight, they said,
Born of themselves, a knight well-loved and bold,
Two stranger knights a glittering train who led
Met in mid-street. They asked: "Is this the hold
Sir Lancelot owns?" And when the fact he told,
Traduced his lord. Intemperate insults led
To hard reply, bare swords, and furious blows
That mortal purpose urged. They left him dead,
And took the Lonazep road.
"And so will I,"
Sir Tristram answered. Now he armed as though
He faced the issue of a mortal foe,
Glad that his helm was near to call. He rode
At such good pace that soon the moorland showed
A train of sumpter mules and menials spread
Wide, but well-marshalled; and in line ahead
Armed knights, and those their cumbrous needs who bore.
Through the wide train he rode, and those before
Turned to behold who came. "Fair knights," said he,
"There is an evil to amended be."
"What seeks ye for amends?" Alike said they.
"The debt of life, which only life can pay."
"Then guard thyself, for not such knights are here
As will be scrupled to enlarge the debt."
While thus they spake, was one had gained his spear,
And Tristram in no mayday mood he met,
But like a blast of winter. Seldom yet
Was harder seat to hold. Yet seat he held,
And with fine force his strong opponent felled.
As hard to cast, and harder to resist,
Came in like mood his next antagonist,
Yet still his seat he kept, the while with pain
Must those who felt hard earth their feet regain.
Rising, with eager hands their swords they drew.
Foiled were they, but of heart to strive anew.
But Tristram viewed their shields, and saw that both
Bore the same blazon, and he paused as loth
To leave his steed to meet them.
On those green shields the golden falcon-flights
Are Orkney's symbol, which alike ye bear.
I charge ye in good faith your names declare."
To which the first knight answered: "Wit ye well,
We have no cause to fear our names to tell,
Nor this mischance confounds us. Agravain
Am I: and he Gaheris."
"That ye did,
That act of mine condone may God forbid:
Yet, lest more evils from your deaths should grow,
And for my lord King Arthur's sake also,
Being so near his blood, I bid ye go.
But shame and ruth through all the realm is said
That ye, so highly placed, so kingly bred,
Are murderous of good knights, as when ye slew
Sir Lamorack lately."
"That we did we do,"
Gaheris answered. "Hadst thyself been there,
Thou hadst been one the more his fate to share."
"I would to God I had. And wit ye well
Need had there been for more than rumours tell
Such fate to deal."
In bitter wrath withheld
He turned and left them. They their steeds regained
In wrath no less. Their prideful hearts rebelled
At their downcasting, and the more complained
At words of scorn to which no just reply
Was theirs to give. "Who was he?"... "Shrewd I guess
It was Sir Tristram.".... "Then our shame the less
Those falls to take."
"Another bout to try
Might to a fairer count that shame redress."
Agreed on this, they backward rode to seek
That which they had not likely found, but soon
The rein of prudence drew. "We come too near
The towers of Joyous Garde. The falcon's beak
Would break against them; or such force appear
As would our capture make, and then the boon
Of freedom would be hard to gain."
They thus resolved. Sir Tristram spurred, and soon
He joined Iseult, his ever aim, and told,
With gusts of mirth which waked her answering smile,
How he had practised with Sir Dinadan,
To fool him by the rustic arms he wore.
"It is not he," she asked, "who made the song
Which Elliot sang in hall, King Mark before?
The song which shamed me, though it was not meant,
Nor can we say it did me causeless wrong,
Though partly false of fact."
"That knight is he,
Who surely made it with no false intent,
At Mark to jape, but aiming naught at thee.
Never another of his kind I met.
A good knight of his hands, as few may be,
And knightly is he in all usages
To which the standards of our rule are set,
But mostly is he loved for jest and wit,
For song, and satire of swift words that fit
The sharp occasion ere it change or show
Folly we might not else from wisdom know."
"I would be blithe to meet him."
"So you may.
For he will seek me here."
As thus they spake,
There came a varlet from the guard to say
That at the gate a knight of Arthur stood,
Enquiring for Sir Tristram: "On his shield,
In dexter chief upon an argent field,
Three stars are golden."
"So I judged he would.
And now may you the ready moment take
That which I did to do.... Let naught be said,
But be he to a furnished chamber led,
Where thou shalt go as one who tells delay
Both of her lord and mistress."
So they bade
That all be ordered. When an hour had sped
She went to Dinadan, as one would go
The courteous welcome of those towers to show,
Wearing the wimple of a waiting-maid.
Sir Dinadan aside his arms had laid.
He drank good wine: he ate good food: he wrought
A song the springtime of the moors had brought
To one who loved the bare wide skies to see,
The bare wide uplands where the winds were free,
The bare wide levels of the shining sea.
As for the final phrase he sought with care,
Worthy to mate with those that careless were,
"Gentle knight," - her voice alone
Had caused a statue beat its heart of stone -
"I come to plead thy pardon that my lord
Is somewhat hindered from the evening board,
As is the Queen Iseult.... Art thou not he,
Sir Dinadan, a name from sea to sea
Famed for high valour, and for harp and song?"
"So am I named."
"What happy chance hath brought
Your wandering here?"
"I seek Sir Tristram. He
Through many wandering days was friend to me,
As I to him. I count his wildwood lays
More worth than any songs of mine would be.
No knight of all would find a greater praise
Were he not snared by love's incontinence.
I marvel how good knights should God assot
So that Sir Tristram and Sir Lancelot
Are more reputed for this dear offence
Than for the marvels of the deeds they do."
"Yet of the boldest knights if this be true,
May not the love they feel, and that they win,
Held against all in faith and constancy,
Beyond thy scorn, of God's good purpose be?
"Hadst thou been with us at a recent day,
Thyself hadst faltered from so cold a vow.
For here a damsel came, it was but now,
Fair as the dawn, by three strong knights oppressed,
Who would not loose her from their lustful play,
Except her champion, in too hard a test,
Faced their three swords at once. This desperate stake
Was not too dreadful for a knight to take,
Nor harder than his single sword could gain.
A knight of Arthur he."
"A knight I know?"
"So shouldst thou, surely. On his shield he bore
De Ganis chevrons, with the hawk below -
Sir Bleoberis. When those knights were slain,
The rescued damsel was his prize, and she
Went with him gladly."
"That I need not doubt.
For he, as all of Lancelot's noble kin,
Wild deeds will do; and damsels thus to win,
Is no way other than his fame's report.
But if in lustful mood or jestful sport
- For he will loose them at a moment's whim,
And lightlier if they be not fain for him -
I know not."
"So it was, as God is true,
And that he did yourself could surely do;
And therefore have I told it... Oh, my knight,
Wilt thou not also for my equal right
Take the same chance? My foes are also three.
They give no freedom and no peace to me.
I charge thee by the Table's vows. I plead
Thy knightly succour at a damsel's need."
"Fair one," he said, "- and any face more fair
Than thine I know not. That assert I dare,
And would not change though Queen Iseult were here.
Fairer than Arthur's queen or Gore's Le Fey,
Far fairer than Linette (and who but they
Are loveliest in the land, save Nimue?)
Not Tristram's own Iseult can lovelier be,
Though that were treason in these halls. But I
For those large eyes have little thought to die.
Fight with three knights at once? Beshrew thee, no!"
"Then laughed Iseult: "'Twas thus Sir Tristram said."
"What said he truly?"
"That I must not say."
"Who art thou?"
"Fair as Iseult am I."
"Thou didst but mock me in thy gentle way
With looks too simple and too sweet to lie."
"Can Dinadan jape at will, and may not we?"
"Thou art the Queen Iseult."
"It well may be."
"That which I swore I swear. As fair as she
Is none that liveth."
"Yet thine aid to me
"Ever at such odds say I
Let the knight live although the damsel die."
"Thou art not soothly as thy words imply."
"May I Sir Tristram see?"
"If here tonight
Thy rest be made, and with the morn thy way
To Lonazep is taken, then I would not say
But thou shouldst meet him there."
"And that will I."
With morn Sir Dinadan rode out, but not
Before Sir Tristram on that path had got,
Clad in the rustic arms that erst he wore.
First rode he at good pace, and then more slow,
And overtaken spake: "It seems that we
Are fated comrades on this road to be.
Go you to Lonazep?"
"Perchance I do.
But is it therefore that I go with you?
I seek a knight my rested strength to try
Before the tourney."
"Of new mood am I
To ease thy lust therefor."
A course they tried.
From Dinadan's hand upleapt a splintered spear;
And naught he dured, for Tristram's wavered wide,
And passed him aimless. Then his sword he drew,
But Tristram's kept its sheath. "I will not so.
Thou art too dreadful and too bold a foe
For common knights to meet. I know not why
Thou art so restless to molest me."
Coward that thou art, as never knight I knew,
And yet so goodly and so great of thew,
There might be little that thou couldst not do
If better heart were thine. I will not ride
One who our order thus degrades beside."
"But I will ride behind; for thus secure
Mine ease is promised, and my safety sure.
In thy protection all my former fears
"May some demon seize thy rein
To turn it hence! What mean those mighty spears
Thy menials bear?"
"They are perchance for thee,
If this great tourney should thy pride sustain,
As is most likely."
"Better use would be
To break them on the shield of him we see
A goodly knight they knew
Converging on them.
"Nay, he looks a shrew,
Why should I venture that I could not do?
I will but watch thee."
Now the stranger knight
The long lance levelled that he bore upright,
Seeing Sir Dinadan's prepare. And so
With spur to flank they let their chargers go.
A fall had Dinadan.
"To test his might
Was thine the prudence?"
"Where a steed may fail,
The sword may better for my need prevail."
"Fair knight," the stranger said, "dost this propose
In wrath or love?"
"In love I ask it."
In common friendship to our names disclose
"Thine the painted shield betrays.
Thou art Sir Gareth."
"Thine a larger praise
Makes known in all the haunts of meeting men
Thou art Sir Dinadan. I see not why
We need our valour or our strength to try."
"Thou shalt be as thou wilt. But here is one
Who will not leave my side, and will not do
One deed to prove we are not less than two.
He doth the point of Arthur's jest confirm
In knighting Dagonet. I needs must show
Some knighthood for the guise in which we go."
"Good knight," Sir Gareth said, "thy looks belie
That thou art craven. What the use to take
The road to Lonazep thus resolved? Wilt try
Sword-play with me thy better heart to wake?"
"Nay," said Sir Tristram, "when such names I hear
As now were changed, a wiser thought have I
To learn by waiting, and by standing by,
While crafts of shifting shield and tracing blade
To each swift challenge give the right reply.
But if your lusts for combat naught can sate,
Look backward, for another knight is nigh
Who may the boldness of your thrusts abate."
Thereat they turned their eyes to where there came
A knight well-made, well armed and mounted well.
Sir Tristram knew, but did not speak, his name;
The Paynim, Palomides. Fain was he
To prove his might on those he thought to be
Of gathering hundreds but a further three,
The while he deemed (nor was he largely wrong)
Lancelot and Tristram were alone too strong
For his sure flinging.
Now with spear in rest
He came incontinent. And quickly drest
Gareth to meet him in midpath. He found
Hard was the Paynim's thrust, and hard the ground.
"Thy chance," Sir Dinadan said, "is plainly here.
Thou hast the goodlier steed, the mightier spear."
"I have," Sir Tristram answered, "sense to see
Who flung Sir Gareth would the more to me.
Why shouldst thou talk of that thou dost not do?"
"I have thy prudence to a less degree,
And do not cast for that which will not be."
"Then must I -" said Sir Tristram. With the word
A proven lance he chose. His steed he spurred.
His sudden movement was the lightning's flame.
The crash of meeting was the oaktree's fall
That the red flame had rent.
With limbs asprawl
Lay the proud Paynim. Slow to rise was he,
Sore shamed and wrathed at that indignity.
Stubborn of heart, though dazed, his sword he drew.
"Friend," said Sir Tristram, "ere we strive anew
To doubtful issue, let thy name be told."
"I am Sir Palomides."
"Is there none
That thou wouldst rather meet than me?"
But him most surely. He hath been my bane
Since first in Ireland at ill hour we met.
Tristram it is. And if alike to thee
His name be loathed, I will this fall forget;
And we will ride to meet him rein to rein."
"Why should I ride to find myself? Behold
Him whom thou wouldst so hotly seek."
A pause of silence brought to those who heard.
Sir Dinadan inly laughed, nor laughed the less
That he was thus convict of foolishness.
Gareth, who watched a scene he did not share,
Only to meet a noble name was glad.
The Paynim, shaken by the fall he had,
And shortened in his boast, his heart aware
Not then, if ever, should his sword prevail,
Felt, as at times it would, his hatred fail
To drive him to that hard extremity
Where death lay waiting in its patient way.
So moved, he answered in that mood which warred
Ever against his baser side, but knew
No steady empire where no faith was lord,
Where no clear purpose to completion grew:
"Fair lord, I know not why my words preverse
Such evil utter. In my heart I know
That only by such hate myself I curse,
And thy great fame unshaken stands. I know
Thou hast been gracious in thy ways to me.
The bitterness of that which may not be
Should have no power to wake such enmity;
For no way hast thou wronged me. Hence I plead,
Rejecting evil word and evil deed,
That thou forgive me, and we both forget."
"Paynim," Sir Tristram answered, "well I wit
Thou art a noble knight, whose deeds are set
Beyond my praise to reach them. Wot ye well
That here I stand, as once where Lanceor fell,
I waited vainly. If you love me not,
Now is the time when swords may speak the tongue
That best they know. But if in constant mood
You seek my friendship, then be all forgot,
And you shall ride our friendly ranks among;
Abandoned from our minds a causeless feud."
So rode they on to Lonazep, the way
Made short by converse. Till beneath them lay
Its four square towers; and all the field around,
Whether of moorland or of fertile ground,
Was hidden by pavilions richly dight.
"Now," said Sir Gareth, "if I count aright,
By flaunting pennons, and the wide extent
Pavilioned, of good knights, their trains apart,
There are no fewer than four hundred here."
So was it, by the throngs that came and went,
A likely wager. "That were more than came,
To Galahalt's tourney at Surluse."
Sir Tristram said, "I there had been. But ill
My fortune then. I heard the conqueror's name
As Lancelot or as Lamorack."
On different days, "Sir Dinadan answered. "None
Can match with Lancelot when he wills to win.
But Lamorack was of all the likeliest one
To shake him."
"So I well believe. For those
Who wrought his death, or had their part therein,
I could no mercy find. Though Arthur's kin
They be, I marvel that he doth not show
His disposition for their overthrow.....
I say this word, Sir Gareth, not to thee,
Who wast not of them, though ye brethren be,
But will not cloak it. Take it as thou wilt."
"I take it as a word which all agree
Who hold the vows of knighthood. Theirs a guilt
I would not lighten with excusing plea,
And therefor do we ride apart. Believe,
Their malice and his loss alike I grieve."
"So had I thought thou wouldst. But yet for me
The court of Arthur is a place to shun,
Where murderers triumph may more murders be,
And who condones not be alike fordone.
Greatly, as Arthur's friend, it marvels me
That he should take it in a patient way."
And Dinadan answered: "Arthur all men know.
He breaks not faith with either friend or foe.
Greedless and fearless in his deeds is he,
And just of rule as ever king shall be.
Shame of himself hath no man heart to say.
"Hence must be reason that we do not see...
When Lamorack on all sides their swords assailed,
Awhile his valour and his strength prevailed,
Till Modred stabbed him in the back."
Have lightly bartered all the gold that lies
For lust of men beneath our earthly skies
To there have been," Sir Tristram said.
The Paynim echoed, "would alike. Although
Less was he than my friend."
"And less than foe
To all good knights was he," Sir Dinadan said...
"He had not kept alive their father's feud.
But Gawain hath the cold long-waiting mood
That is most ruthless when its time it sights.
So may we fear at last the enmity
Between the British and the Benoic knights.
He may some cause and some occasion see
To loose, which now his temperate counsel stays."
"Which," asked Sir Gareth, "when the field arrays,
Thy side shall be?"
But Tristram answered: "Nay,
I know not. Honour is my quest; and how
Can that be tested? For I know not now
On which bold point the better strength will be."
"So art thou wise to wait, but as for me
No choice is left. The Table side is mine.
And Dinadan stands alike. Unless the king
Relax his order at the marshalling,
The proclamation holds us bound."
He may, for ever will his thoughts incline
For larger hazards to exalt the day."
Then spake the Paynim: "For such freedom hear
A bolder theme. There are not, spear for spear,
In all their hosts than ours a deadlier four,
To overcast our linked accord, if we
Hold the one part."
But Tristram answered: "Nay,
See'st the ranged pavilions? Mean not they
Four hundred by a count that yet may miss?
Four to four hundred? Choose ye what ye may,
But if cool wisdom have some part in this,
We shall not take a course we should not stay."
So prudence answered, and the Paynim's mind
From that rejection turned; but Tristram's thought
Still played around it, till a seed it brought
Of purpose near to that his words declined.
Why should they not, they four, as one combined,
Alike of shield, alike of surcoat clad,
One side support with all the strength they had,
Conspicuous thus, that not the deeds they did,
Amidst the melee's wild companions hid,
Or in so long a count of single strifes
Not greatly heeded, should avoid the tale
That surely would the minstrels make. To fail
In honour, thus exposed, he did not fear,
Or for himself or them. But first must be
His part the tourney rules to learn, and how
The Table knights would ride.
But wide away
These thoughts were thrust, when reined a pursuivant
Across his path, in tabbard brightly gay,
Broidered with those bold arms of gules and grey
That Galahalt and Galihodin bore,
But swordless in the strong immunity
His office gave.
"Fair courteous knight," he said,
"Sir Galihodin greets thee. Plain to see
A lady's litter to thy train belongs.
Either shouldst thou for her defence prepare,
Or lightlier yield her to his surer care,
Who lacks the comfort of thy luxury."
Sir Tristram looked upon the windy plain.
Far stretched Sir Galihodin's princely train,
With many knights among it. "Tell thy lord
We are but four, but though against us came
A boisterous hundred would our swords defend
That lady's freedom.... Yet he will not send
Oppressive numbers, for his knightly name
Is placed too highly. Four to four will meet:
And they that lose her will deserve defeat."
Back with this word he went. The Paynim said:
"My lord Sir Tristram, of thy courtesy
Allow that this defence may rest with me.
One were sufficient for their overthrow."
And Tristram answered: "Well thy heart I know.
And why thou wouldst that by thy lance be sped
Those who would take my queen. But as thou wilt.
For, while her eyes are on thee, well I know
Few knights should face thy spear unspilt."
So was it soon resolved, and quickly done.
Four knights of Galihodin, one by one,
Rode forward: four to ground were cast. They went
Back to their prince ashamed: "Let strength be sent
To tame these nameless knights impertinent,"
They prayed. But Galihodin answered: "Nay,
They paid their ransom. Let them go their way."
By the smooth river, where the bank was green,
Sir Tristram's broad pavilions, sent ahead,
Were pitched. But naught the ordered serfs had said
Of whose they were, and now toward them drew,
With all her ladies and their retinue,
Iseult's closed litter, and the various train
That to the knights belonged. Were few to heed,
Where throng of pennoned tent and grazing steed
Possessed the land, and kings and princes came
So many, that their regal rights to name
Herald and Minstrel found too hard a play.
Leaving Sir Gareth and the Paynim knight
To guard Iseult, Sir Tristram rode his way
With Dinadan, to where the various lords,
Gathered to meet the Table's shining might,
Held council. Here Surluse and Listonaise,
North Gales, and Reged, and Northumberland,
With knights from Ireland drawn, and Scotland's king,
And King Berrault, the Hundred knights who led,
Were gathered, and Sir Tristram entering
Heard King Berrault: "Fair noble lords," he said,
"I have no land. My strength is those five score
Who own my rule, and in that bond are more
Than separate each a hundredth part would be.
And hence I counsel this: "Let every king,
And prince of separate right, his following
Lead as one rank, that emulation raise
Their valours to increase their country's praise,
And to compare themselves with those they know."
Sir Tristram pondered this, and next he sought
For Arthur's counsel. Clothed in simple green,
On which no emblem and no arms were seen,
Were he and Dinadan alike, that naught
Should witness who they were. They heard the king
The long tale of the Table knights review,
From which few names were absent. "Let the few,"
He answered, being asked, "their liking do.
For such the valour and the strength we bring
That none should foil us now."
Sir Tristram learned
That which he sought, and with his comrade turned
To leave the room of audience; but the king,
Alert to all things in his kingly way,
Called to Le Fils de Dieu: "Sir Griflet, bring
Those knights in green to me, and soothly say
I ask it of goodwill."
Sir Griflet went.
Following their colour in the crowd, he soon
Beside them walked. "Fair sirs, the king requires
A private parley in good faith."
Sir Tristram answered, "that the king desires
As loyal service do. But this reserve
I ask, that not our names be sought."
That to thy pleasure will the king accord
I may not pledge, but little doubt. For so
All we who live by his example know
His custom is that never power shall be
Traitor to justice or to courtesy."
"I well believe it."
In their green disguise,
Amidst such press as with incurious eyes
Went past them, to a chamber's far recess
He led, the where Sir Tristram met the king,
Sir Dinadan somewhat backward lingering,
As should a great lord's knight in lowliness.
"Lord," said the king, "when all the world is met,
The noblest may we pass, the best forget.
I would that all who come may welcome greet,
With recognition of their dignity."
"My lord and king, if gracious words I meet
Responseless, wilt thou for my peace believe
I would not for no cause my name withhold?"
"Then shall it in thine own good time be told.
But say which side thy valiant strength shall grace?"
"That shalt thou surely with the morn behold,
Which not myself as yet I surely know."
"I ask no further. Wert thou friend or foe
Guest-rights were thine."
"Believe me friend."
Morn upon the open plain,
Where the wide skies had spilt a night of rain,
Rose with red splendour of prevailing light,
Where with the sun would seaborn winds unite
The shining pools to dry. And now were seen,
With outblown pencels, and with sunbright sheen
Of lance and mail, the rival forces draw
Toward the scene of tourney.
All in green,
Trappings and shields and covered arms alike,
Came the four comrades, and King Arthur saw
From his high seat how, after short delay,
Behind King Caradoc's Scottish knights they reined.
"Lancelot," he said, "those two green knights are four.
Now wit ye whom they be?"
"I wit no more
Than thou. But by my guess hath Scotland gained
A valiant succour that our best may dread.
Where else is Tristram? Would he keep his tower
While this great tourney, which thy grace designed
To do him honour, in such joyful hour
Aligns its might? But if himself it be
One test will prove. He would not leave behind
Whom most he loves, nor would she fail to see
His raging in the lists."
Sir Griflet said:
"A lady brought they. From that window high,
Though veiled, she leans to watch them."
Loss or change
May be too gradual for their eyes to see
Who fixedly watch, but if abroad they range,
Or look not save with measured pauses, then
The cloud has changed: the steps of ageing men
Are clearly feebler than the year before.
So were the fruits that Arthur's autumn bore
Not different to his eyes from day to day,
But judged by the measure of short years away
More specked of skin they were, more brown of core.
The last great tournament, three years behind,
Sharp emulations and fierce hates had shown,
Yet not so great but Orkney's knights combined
With those of Benoic for their Table's fame,
When Scotland or North Gales against them came.
But now must Orkney claim its place alone.
For the first bout their separate strength must be
Apart from Benoic, that might all men see
Not Lancelot's certain spear, nor Lancelot's kin,
Were needed, but themselves the field would win.
So was it ordered. First should Orkney's knights
Meet all who came, and on their full defeat,
Then only, should the spears of Benoic meet
But, before these champions, came
Young knights unproved of aim, unsure of seat,
Who were not with the mightiest matched, until
Valour and strength were joined to practised skill.
Not till the general ranks advanced should they
Against the noblest there themselves essay,
As some to fame and some to death would do.
Advancing, as the younger knights withdrew,
Cousin of Gawain, lord of Orkney, came
Sir Edward. Midst the watchful crowd's acclaim
He faced the ranks of Scotland. Scotland's king
Rode forth to meet him, but the northern knight
Prevailed the monarch from his seat to fling.
Omen it seemed to those of Arthur's court
That still the Table triumphed.
Known to none
Except the heralds and King Caradoc,
Out rode Sir Palomides. Lancelot thought:
'Here comes Sir Tristram.' At the closing shock,
Sir Edward, from his saddle lifted clear,
Borne on the straight point of the Paynim's spear,
Hardly to ground was thrown.
A wrathful cry
From Orkney's ranks arose that fall to see,
And, when he stirred not, an impetuous three
To make his rescue charged as one. Thereat
Their forward spears a like advance begat
In Scotland's ranks, until their rivalry,
No longer knight to knight, but sea to sea
Contended. But, of all, the foremost knight
To be the Paynim's aid was green as he.
Only, one steed was black and one was white,
Their single contrast.
This Sir Lancelot saw,
And said to Arthur: "By my sure surmise
That knight who overcame our Orkney knight
Was Tristram. He who rides the charger black,
And baffles query in the same disguise,
"So it well may be.
But of those others following, knee to knee,
Who are the third and forth?"
"I would not say.
But if our missing names we count, belike
We should not miss to name them."
While they spake,
The conflict thickened. All of Orkney's part,
Lengthening their front from their outriding rear,
Faced the long rank of Scotland, spear to spear,
While Benoic waited; nor their ranks to break
Advanced Northumbria or North Gales.
Was now wild havoc, loud with clang and cry,
With clouding dust, and spear-shafts leaping high,
Dismounted knights, and plunging steeds, and stress
Of those who would a comrade's loss redress,
And those who strove to make his forfeit sure.
But most the four in their conspicuous green
Raged and relaxed not. Not alone were they.
Others would hard blows deal and hard endure
To right hand and to left. But sooth to say
They bore the burden of the strenuous day,
Till Orkney broke at last.
For when they found
That those along their front who came to ground
Were left unrescued and unhorsed, and so
Must yield to Scotland, and their arms forgo,
As was the tourney rule, the most no more
Would spears advance, but rather backward bore,
Till rose the cry: "The ranks of Orkney yield!...
The foremost break: the rearmost leave the field."
Then Arthur spake to Lancelot. (Wroth was he
That hard repulse of Orkney's strength to see.)
"What should we now? If other ranks engage,
Shall naught thereby the Table's shame assuage.
And though thy kin should all North Gales confound,
From that no joy, but jealous hate should grow."
"Lord, those four knights in green - "
"Those knights, I know,
Who with no respite keep their forward ground,
Have this confusion wrought. The larger two,
On the black horse and white, such wonders do
I call them lions which no beast can meet;
And he who rides with yellow hair adrift,
And he beside him, leopard-lithe and swift,
Their swords are sickles for the waiting wheat...
Could we not make a four that four to stay?
Are we less skilful or less bold than they?"
"Think, they are weary."
"Think our Table's shame."
"Will Orkney thank us?"
"If myself I go,
Not Scotland, but those green-clad knights to tame?"
"Lord, if thy heart be fixed, it must be so."
Little Sir Lancelot loved the king's design,
Yet thought: 'If changeless in this course is he,
How should he fortune with no aid of mine?
What evil more than his reverse should be?
That were to make a day's discomfiture
A ten-year's tale that half a world should tell.'
"Take we," he said, "two others proved and sure,
And, four to four, we should the most repel
That those strife-weary knights could deal."
Should be thy choice?"
"Lord, whom thou wilt."
Ector and Bleoberis."
This to do
He hastened, and the four, with short prepare,
Entered, the lists, where Orkney's boldest few
Strove that they could not change to more delay.
"Which wilt thou take?"
"I take the charger black,"
Sir Lancelot answered. "With the charger white
Let Bleoberis deal; and with the bay
"Then for me the charger grey,"
(Which was Sir Dinadan's), "remains."
Each at his object rode. Could mortal knight,
Through the long hours, with foe succeeding foe,
Maintain the standard of his earliest might?
To Bleoberis' spear the Paynim fell.
But not he only. Like the tale to tell
Of Tristram, whom Sir Lancelot cast; and well
Sir Ector, guiding an unbreaking spear,
Unhorsed Sir Gareth; while King Arthur ran
With equal fortune on Sir Dinadan.
That which was green before was winter now,
North Gales, so distanced that he saw not how
The change was wrought, yet knew the swift eclipse,
Swore a great oath: "Those knights in may-day green
I know not. But too great their deeds have been
To leave them, as the leaves that autumn strips,
On the unfriendly ground.
He forward rode,
On rescue bent, and close around him came
His hillbred knights whom Arthur scarce could tame,
And scarce obeyed his nearer rule. They showed
Such front as deep its goring impact made
On Orkney's weary ranks. At Tristram's side
North Gales alit. "My steed is thine," he said.
"For while thou standest there is none should ride,
So great thy travail and thy deeds have been."
"Gramercy," Tristram answered, "wait thou here.
I will requite thee." At the knights anew
He gazed, but rather at their steeds than them,
Good choice to make, and then at Arthur rode.
Wroth at his fall, and with the need for goad
A steed to win, such swinging blows he dealt
As Arthur's fence was weak to turn or meet.
Bold to endure and thoughtless to retreat,
Awhile the king returned, for those he felt,
Good blows enough, while through the tumult wide
Ravaged Sir Lancelot's sword to reach his side.
But hard was the progress through the jostling press,
Where foes were crowding now, and friends no less
Impeded, for the green knights' falls had brought
All Orkney forward with new heart, and now
North Gales' advance had caused the Benoic knights
To put their lances in their rests, and fling
Themselves on flank and narrowing front.
Took on his helm so straight and hard a blow
That from his horse he sank, or stunned or slain,
And Tristram left him lie, and snatched the rein
Of the unridered steed, and where North Gales
Yet waited brought it, while more strife converged
Around the fallen king. To rescue urged
Were some, and some to capture, though the name
Of the felled knight was none but Lancelot knew.
Like to a whirlwind on a copse he came.
Soon was cleared space the fallen knight to raise,
And as Sir Lancelot with the king withdrew,
Again the green-clad warriors, horsed anew,
Ranged the wide turmoil of a strife which now
Was of the whole field's width.
The Paynim's praise
Was loudest still. For in his heart the thought
Exalted that the splendid deeds he wrought
Iseult must see, and each was like a spur
To drive him to the next, that thus to her
He might the mightier than Sir Tristram be.
The King in safety, to the field again
Returned Sir Lancelot. Still the barriered plain
Was loud with cries and blows where mastery
Yet wavered. Now the Paynim knight he knew
Whom when Sir Tristram first he overthrew
He thought was he, and through the fluctuant press
He broke a way which few were bold to bar,
Where the white charger showed.
The threatening spear
Sir Palomides saw. His sword he swang,
Severing its point. Within his heart a fear
Was sharply born. Should here a last regress
Cancel the record of the high success
The long noon hours had brought him? Mightier far
He deemed Sir Lancelot than himself, and now
Unwearied. With the thought the Paynim blade
Thrust at the charger's neck, and wounded sore
It stumbled earthward. Loud the shaming cry
Arose from those who saw that infamy.
For never tourney rules the deaths allow,
Save by mischance, of warrior steeds. Nearby,
Sir Ector saw, and instant rescue made.
Sir Palomides from his seat he bore,
And had not Tristram been the Paynim's aid
More had he done.
Around that vortex swayed
Contending tides, as crowded, wave on wave,
Both parties, some to siege, and some to save.
.. "Lancelot is down.. .A green-clad knight is down..."
They strove to friends assist or foes retard
Around the fallen. Lancelot rose to see
The Paynim struggling yet his feet to free,
And had his own sword out the first. He said:
"Now shall this strife be tried till one be dead,
Or wholly yielded. For such foul despite
I have not known."
The Paynim answered: "Nay,
But hear me. Never have I done till now
Such deeds in such assembly. Feared I sore
That thou wouldst all reverse. For surely thou
Art fresher far than I; and always more
In strength, and practised skill superlative.
Wouldst thou bring shadow to my greatest day?"
To which Sir Lancelot answered: "Wit thou well
At sight of that slain steed, to let thee live
I had not meant, and if thou now forbear
It is most lothly. Yet I will not say
But thou hast travailed hard, and done this day
So much that little praise were mine to tear
Thy honour from thee at the last. And well
I know the impulse of the shining deeds
In who beholds them. More excuse it breeds
That thou art Paynim, and our Christian ways
Are others of thy kind more slow to learn....
If thou to right, I will to leftward turn
Till the press part us."
So the Paynim's praise
He left unshadowed, for the trumpet blew
As thus they spake, and swords were sunk, and all
The tumult sank as quiet as even-fall.
Wareness of bruise and wound and weariness
Came then to many who last instant felt
No more the blows they dured than those they dealt,
And contrast must their frustrate hearts confess
Of what was done with what was hoped to do.
But scattering outward to their tents they drew,
Or waited for a while the name to heed
Of who was prized the most. With trumpets high,
Was proclamation, as the king decreed,
That first was Palomides. All the day,
From the first bout, till gathering twilight lay
Across the field, toiled had he, and sustained
Unvanquished. Praise he earned, and praise he won.
But not to the great feast that Arthur made
The four green knights returned, for space was spare
For more than those who of his party were,
And even they who greatest deeds had done
Must for that night to tent or inn retire
Where blood and dust were cleansed, and ladies bright
The victor lauded, or the worsted knight
Soothed with accession to their own desire.
With his three comrades and Iseult, returned
Sir Tristram to those fair pavilions spread
On the Tweed bank. The praise the Paynim earned
He did not miss, but gracious words were said
Even by Iseult in gentle courtesy
To one she liked not, and his heart thereby
Was lifted. But apart Sir Dinadan
Railed at Sir Tristram till his words outran
The patience of his friend: "Now wit thou well,"
Sir Tristram answered, "never mortal man
Hath called me coward till now. But that I fell
To Lancelot's spear I am not wroth, for he
I will from all except. And doubt ye not,
If he be roused enough, that Lancelot
Could chasten all who live, and yet no less
Pass them in bounty and in gentleness."
But Dinadan inly laughed. He thought it ill
That Palomides should obtain his will
Before Iseult to shine more excellent
Than Tristram, and his careless tolerance sought
Sharply to goad, for, were he roused, he thought
In vain the Paynim's utmost strength were spent
To equal all he might. But Tristram cared
No whit how Palomides' strength compared,
Or that Iseult should see. His heart too sure
Was rested on her loyal faith secure.
The king had ordered for that tournament
That one day should in joyous strife be spent
And one in Mayday mood of sport and play,
Hence, before the dawn was day,
Sir Lancelot rose, and took a woodland way,
Seeking a tower apart, in that retreat
The king, at friendships call, alone to meet.
Iseult and Tristram, at a later hour,
And yet before the sun in heaven had power,
With Gareth and the Paynim joined. The four,
Blithe-hearted as the woodland green they wore,
Leaving Sir Dinadan yet in sleep, outrode
In the new life the morning's sunlight showed
To revel. At high noon they passed unware
The tower in which the king and Lancelot were,
Who from a casement watched the changing show
Of this gay traffic on the road below.
"There," said the king, "goes Gareth. It wroths Gawain
That he will ride no more with Agravain,
Nor with Gaheris, and to himself is cold.
For Gawain in his heart approves him best
Of all his brothers."
"That his deeds attest,"
Sir Lancelot answered, "but he may not hold
With one who spilt their mother's blood, nor they
Who joined Sir Lamorack at false odds to slay.
But mark you Palomides' banded shield?
He may not win pursuit he will not quit
Of Cornwall's queen who rideth close behind,
Too gentle to rebuke or welcome it,
With Tristram ever at her bridle-hand.
There is no fairer in the whole wide land
(Saving thine own) than she."
"Now get thy steed,
And arm thee in plain arms, and so will I,
And we together to such end shall go
That this fair queen I shall more closely know."
"Nay, but with my consent we shall not so,"
Sir Lancelot answered.
Little mood to heed
A prudent counsel had the ardent king
When impulse stirred him some new chance to try,
But Lancelot, as unguised they rode, again
Spake with the sober words of cautioning:
"What would ye? Strangers who no blazons show
May find intrusion meets a sharp reply,
With violence in retort. Bethink ye, these
Are perilous knights, and if unknown we go,
An hour's mischance may work a kingdom's woe."
"I take no force of whom I grieve or please.
Knight am I. Less than knight, meseems, to thee!
But less, to make me more, I will not be."
"Yet should thy knighthood on thy kingship wait."
"Nay, this fair queen I will not fail to see
For any word of thine."
In this debate
They came to where those strong knights rode around
The Cornish queen. Against her side the king
Reined closely: "Fair one, God you save," he said,
"For, by God's truth, there were no fairer found
Through Arthur's realm, or further wandering."
She answered to a voice close-helmeted:
"Sir, you are welcome." But the Paynim drove
His steed between them: "Hold awhile," he said,
"Uncouth thou art and scant of courtesy
To thus intrude on one who may not please
To have thee near her. Knight, I charge thee ride
At further distance."
Answering naught thereto
As Palomides passed and moved ahead,
The king again against her bridle drew.
Whereat Sir Palomides, seizing spear,
Hurled backward hard, and overcast the king.
Sir Lancelot thought: 'An evil chance is here.
For I must venge my lord, and that to do
Not Palomides only to subdue
My strength will need, but Tristram waits too near
To leave his quarrel if he fall. May I
These two strong knights in one full bout defy?
It were presumptuous thought; and of my will
Sir Tristram's fame I would nor lift nor spill;
Yet must I others or myself offend,
To fail in honour or to lose a friend.'
Then to Sir Palomides loud he cried:
"Knight, keep thou from me if thou canst," and hard
He rode upon him. Not a whit more slow
Sir Palomides clashed, that all regard
Approved them equal, till his rearing steed
Backflung him, prostrate on the wayside mead.
Then said Sir Tristram: "Knight, that fall to pay,
I needs must test thee."
But with more delay
Sir Lancelot answered: "Not thy lance I dread
Beyond endurance of its chance, but yet
I will not meet it if accord I may
Uncaught of shame. And this may first be said:
I had no choice except that bout to ride
For he my special lord had overset
Unknightly, with no word of warning cried.
Not my lord only, but such friend is he
That idly of his shame I will not see;
But fall for fall is paid; and now let be."
Silent Sir Tristram heard, and raised the spear
He sank before. He thought: 'The words I hear
Are Lancelot's. Though his shield be blazonless
Both deed and speech expose his nobleness,
And Arthur's self his special lord must be.'
He turned away to aid his comrade's fall;
And Lancelot horsed the king, and silent all
They rode apart, until Sir Tristram said:
"It was no worship to yourself to see
That knight by your sharp charge discomfited.
In gentleness they came and courtesy
Their gracious homage to Iseult to pay.
It was no more than all of knighthood may;
And thou, this hurtless freedom to redress,
Didst cast the king himself, as best I guess,
And then from Lancelot take thine overthrow."
"Sir Lancelot, was it? That may well be so.
But I," said Palomides, "ne'er believe
Would Arthur loose the splendour and the pride
Thus as a nameless errant knight to ride."
"Yet," said Sir Tristram, "likely that ye spurn,
Not knowing, to the king may costliest be.
No knight but here may more of knighthood learn.
In all device of valour peerless he.
Well mayst thou grieve for that ungentle blow."
But answered Palomides: "King or no,
Yet vain I count remorse and vain regret.
And that we may not mend we best forget."
Again the tourney field was live and gay
With the low sunlight of the early May
Dazzling the eyes as its straight splendour shone
From burnished shields and painted vaunts thereon,
And plumed and crested helms, and hawberks bright
With blinding radiance of rejected light.
Again King Caradoc bold Scotland led
Beneath the rampant leopards, gold and red,
And at his bridle, as before had been,
Rode the four knights alike in woodland green,
But different in their steeds: "I look to see,"
Said Tristram to the Paynim, "more from thee
Even than brought thy previous praise."
He answered, "that shall prove a witless guess.
For bruised am I, and though my heart no less
May seek high honour, that I count to win
Is lowlier far."
But this he falsely spake,
Aiming apart from Tristram's band to break,
And thus a second separate praise to win.
In this endeavour, when the press began,
The Scottish ranks he left, and round the rear
Of where North Gales advanced he rode. This day
Was Orkney facing those, and Benoic lay
The Scottish front before. The Paynim's spear
Found previous victims. Once again the cry
Was loud for Palomides. This to see
Sir Tristram marvelled: "Of my company
He surely wearied. But such might hath he
As makes refuse of other weariness."
And Gareth answered: "Yea. That bold aggress
He surely purposed when apart he rode.
Bethink thee of the words of Dinadan
Who loves thee most of any earthly man,
And only spake to rouse thee."
"Yea. I see,
Who have been blind too long. It well may be
That, moved of envy and of evil will,
Less moved his praise to lift than mine to still
He toileth thus. Yet is it seld we find
That he who starteth first will end behind?...
Wilt thou be near me if my need be great?"
"I will the most I may."
In thus concert
They hurled toward the loud contending press
Where swords were out, and blows the fastest fell.
Well might the Paynim-hailing cries abate
While on the Benoic helms Sir Tristram's sword
Rang its harsh music. As a searing flame
That scorches all, or as a scythe he came
Levelling the wheat, till each surrounding selle
Gareth at his side no less
Raised to new heights his earlier fame. So hot
They raged in Benoic's ranks that Lancelot
Rose from his place as on the previous day,
As Arthur likewise rose that loss to stay;
And Bleoberis, Bors and Ector drew,
Soon as their entering of the field they knew,
To be their succour. So, the burly through,
They charged together, and their strong support
Turned those who fled, and strengthened those who fought.
Yet neither Lancelot nor his kinsmen three
Would counter Tristram, lest they spoil or dim
His rising honour; excepting him,
And Gareth at his side, and Dinadan,
So hard they hewed on Scotland's thwarted van
That to midfield, to where the fight began,
They bore it backward.
"Look," Sir Lancelot said,
Where Palomides from the field withdraws,
Now that the praise is Tristram's." For at pause
The Paynim reined, as one discomfited,
Not by his foes, but of a doubtful mind.
"Then is he fool," said Arthur, "who should see
That such as Tristram is he may not be
Till the skin slough. For of our Christian kind,
Of knighthood at its best, except for thee,
Is Tristram peerless. And if envy stir
His heart to anger at the deeds of one
Who to his party and support belongs,
Then the fair grace of knightly rule he wrongs.
False to his order and his vows is he."
The while they spake, as tourney laws allow,
Tristram and Dinadan alike withdrew,
Their strength with food and respite to renew,
Which Palomides watched. Alone he knew
(Saving Iseult, Gareth and Dinadan) that now
Tristram returned black-armed, the green no more
Making him one with that his comrades wore;
And in his heart an evil purpose grew,
Whereat he also from the field withdrew,
And nameless arms of no repute he hired,
Which one who nursed a wound no more required.
He then re-entered on the Benoic side,
As being to the Table knights allied.
An argent shield he bore that, crystal-bright,
Returned the radiance of the noonday light;
And when the black armed knight was hardest pressed
Men saw him sink a heavy spear to rest,
And charge incontinent.
Sir Tristram met
The hardest shock his shield had countered yet,
And dured it. Neither knight was overset,
And both with swords a bitter strife began.
None knew the crystal shield, and Dinadan
Held back with Gareth, thinking need was naught
For Tristram's succour. So they fiercely fought,
While Tristram wondered who the knight should be
So long who foiled him. 'Though I gain, perde,
I shall so largely of my strength expend
I shall not after hold high place,' he thought,
And doubled swinging blows the strife to end.
Sir Lancelot watched. He thought: 'Our side endures.
Only the black-armed knight is lustier now.
And him the argent-shielded stranger meets
Most knightly.... Yet his swerving steed retreats:
His shield to droop begins: his plume to bow.
Fail will he at the last, which should not be.'
He rode between them: "Gentle knight," he said,
"Well hast thou done, but leave it now to me."
The Paynim heard him, and his heart was glad.
Well knew he that the toil Sir Tristram had
Would now be doubled; and his own escape
Was narrow. 'Here,' he thought, 'shall Lancelot's sword
To shame reduce him, and mine own award
Of the first day he shall not rise to match.'
Backward he drew, and Tristram's helm must bear
Such strokes as only Lancelot's hand could deal,
Swifter and harder than the Paynim's were;
And he, to fury roused such blows to feel,
No more to strength conserve had carefulness,
But in such sort returned that all the field,
Wondering what knight the sable arms concealed,
Paused to behold.
The great blades leapt as light
And swift as is the swallow's circling flight,
And met such counter to their own duress,
Either by twist of blade or shift of shield,
That their full message was awhile delayed.
The wide field wondered, but, besides the two
Who were Sir Tristram's friends, was one that knew,
And watched with mingled fear and wrath dismayed.
Iseult had seen the Paynim change: had seen
His treason at Sir Tristram aimed: had guessed
That Lancelot knew not whom his sword distressed.
Wellnigh she swooned such bitter strife to see.
But now relief she saw, for left and right
Sir Tristram's comrades to his rescue came.
Now Gareth's sword turned Lancelot's helm to flame.
Now from the thrusting lance of Dinadan
Such buffet came that Lancelot, horse and man,
Felt the hard ground.
Sir Tristram cried: "For shame
Forbear ye now! Disworship wrought to him
No honour brings to me. And wit ye well
I held him in good play before he fell."
But short was time for words, for, like a hound
That waits his chance a nobler beast to tear,
The crystal-shielded knight was hoving there,
And now such entry for his lance he found
As brought Sir Dinadan alike to ground
At Lancelot's side. Alike they rose; and so
Was his the weight of Lancelot's sword to know,
Which, as he would, in knightly wise he met.
But Tristram saw, and knew, with quick regret,
That knightly valour could not long sustain
The fierce swift blows Sir Lancelot dealt. He strove
To come between them. But the Paynim drove
His charger forward. Tristram knew not who
Bore the bright shield, but in his haste to gain
His comrade's side, a grappling arm he threw
Around the Paynim, and, their steeds between,
Wrestling they fell; but Tristram lightlier rose,
And forward thrust, to Lancelot's sword oppose
For Dinadan's relief; and featly he
Gave ground, and using his best sword, his wit,
Caught Tristram's horse, and as he mastered it
And brought it closely to his comrade's side,
Louder than all the roaring strife, he cried:
"Sir Tristram, mount thee!" And Sir Lancelot heard,
And as one might from a rebuking word,
Backward he stept: "My lord, Sir Tristram, why
In those black arms thy noble self deny?
Had I but known thee as thou wert - "
Answered Sir Tristram, "is thy courtesy
Ever beyond my worth."
But while they spake,
The trumpets blared the swaying strife to break,
Which, disentangling at the sound, withdrew
Its ragged fronts apart, that left astrew
On sand made naked by receding waves,
Torn mail, and cantals of hewn shields, and staves
Of lances splintered, and bright harness shed.
So now must tongues contend of those who said
That Tristram's was the prize, and those whose voice
Proclaimed that Lancelot was the worthier choice.
But Lancelot answered: "Friends, of right I say,
And not of favour, Tristram's place today
Than mine is loftier, for he dured more long,
And I, who entered late, should vainly wrong
His valour's record by a foundless claim.
Wherefore, as well I ought, my voice I give,
With no knight second or alternative,
To him who most hath fought, and most hath won."
This on his friends he urged, in friendship's name,
Which was but generous truth: and this was done.
With his two comrades and Iseult, returned
Tristram to his pavilion. To his side
The crystal-shielded knight approached to ride.
To whom he spake: "Fair knight, it was but now
You brought me to such pass I know not how
I all escaped. It is strange courtesy
Thus, with no entry asked, to ride with me.
There is none here who needs thee. Whom thou art
I know not. But the grace to ride apart
I well may ask thee."
"Knight," the Paynim said,
"I neither know thee nor what right is thine
To choose who rideth in this company;
But with consent among my friends am I."
So spake he feignly, and Sir Tristram knew
Whom was he by that word, and half believed
He had not known him when his fame he grieved.
Yet had he left his side, offence to do
To those with whom before he held. He said:
"I am Sir Tristram, and yourself I know,
Who for goodwill hath shown ungentleness.
Yet, as I think, thou hadst not greatly gained,
For I had well thy bitter blows sustained.
But Lancelot came, and every knight is less
Than he, if to his utter most he do."
"Alas! Art thou Sir Tristram?"
"Well ye know."
"My lord, believe me. When no more I saw
Thy former guise in Scotland's ranks, I thought
That thou hadst changed to Lancelot's side, and so
I did the like. For had I cause to know
Those sable arms for thine?"
"If that ye wrought
Was not of malice but mistake, I grant
Forgiveness freely. Let no more be said."
So came they to the river side they sought,
And to the fair pavilion. Here was spread
A waiting banquet, where they soon were set
Content to arms and toil and dirt forget,
Freed and relieved therefrom; and mirth had been
Had not Iseult with angered eyes averse
Answered too shortly when the Paynim spake,
Vexing Sir Tristram past his wont: "My queen,"
He charged her, "hardly, for thy glory's sake,
And not ungainly have I toiled. And now,
Not with unfriendly words or frowns perverse
Should the short hours that we from rest allow
Before another day our strength rehearse
"Dear my lord," his queen replied,
"I pray thee for God's sake thou shalt not be
Blind to thy jeopard thus, and wroth with me.
I saw this traitor when he rode aside.
I watched him seek thee through dense ranks. I saw
His foiled assail, and then his sword withdraw
That one far deadlier might thy life assault,
Thou being weary. Can I smile to see
That one with heart as false as his must be
Pretends his friendship here?"
To this replied
The Paynim: "Madam, of so large a fault
You charge me that is woe to hear, and I
Am knightly hindered from the right reply.
Yet by my knighthood must I swear anew
That not Sir Tristram in those arms I knew."
Boldly he spake, whatever shame was hid
With bitter knowledge in his heart that he,
Who thought to lure her by the deeds he did,
Had gained her anger and her enmity.
But while she heard with unbelieving eyes,
Sir Tristram answered: "All before was said;
Nor more is needed. That his oath denies
I will not question more. Though, truth to tell,
He spared me little."
Iseult's glance had met
That of Sir Dinadan, which mocked the lie.
At which, to veil her thoughts, her eyelids fell,
Lest she should fail in love's integrity.
That love which stirred her to revealing hate
Bade her the witness of her moods abate.
As when the thunder that dense clouds contain
Delays in silence while the gentler rain
Relieves their weight, though never storm shall cease
Without the signal of its loud release,
So now was talk and jest that steered away
From the dark caverns where the thunders lay.
Naught of disguise or change of sides was said,
But all of how indifferend knights had sped
In various bickers of the long array.
Yet might the following feud be well foreknown,
As harvest ripens where the seed was sown.
But now, to break a burst of mirth, they heard
Contention, and a page's urgent word
Protesting, and a clang of arms without.
And while they listened in a waiting doubt,
Two armed knights entered with closed helms, as though
They knew not where they came, or roused a foe.
First spake Sir Tristram: "Rude the use ye show
To enter armed on those ye nowise know,
They being at meat."
The taller of the twain
Replied: "In peace, and trusting to remain
Of thy goodwill we entered. I to gain
Thy more regard. This noble knight to prove
Thy lady's grace."
Then Tristram: "First remove
The helms ye wear."
At this they stood confessed:
The King and Lancelot. Gareth's whispered word
Was instant, which Iseult and Tristram heard.
Whereon was rising, and good greetings said,
And Arthur kissed Iseult, as kings may do,
And all embraced, and when their arms were shed
Was merry talk and kind.
"My long desire,"
King Arthur said, "is gained. To meet a queen
Whom all who by God's leave her face have seen
Call fairest of all ladies of all lands.
Now, having kissed her lips, and held her hands,
I see that all report has left too low
Her favour and her grace; and more I know,
Seeing who holdeth to her side, that she
Is joined to one of worth, as few could be,
For such high consort, by his comeliness,
As by the valour which he showed today."
"Praise," said Sir Tristram, "is of value more
As are the lips that speak it. Praise from thee
Were priceless though a lowlier freight it bore,
As thou art peerless in thy sole degree."
"Whatever place I hold," the king replied,
"Which some man must, it is but sooth to say,
Mine is the weaker boast, the humbler pride,
Than thine, who in the open tourney-play
Couldst cast me from thy path, nor glance aside...
But I would ask thee: when the ranks opposed,
Why wast thou, when thy green disguise disclosed,
Seen to be hostile to my side and me?"
"My lord, Sir Gareth is thy kinsman. He
Was with me, and Sir Dinadan."
Said Sir Gareth, "if be any blame to bear,
Mine shall it be. But yet, if truth be said,
Thyself proposed it."
"So," said Dinadan,
"Thou didst, and evil is the wage we share,
By our own comrades at our choice bebled.
Unhappy is the knight who sides with thee."
At which they laughed.
"But who," the king enquired,
"Was that bold knight the crystal shield who bore?
Marvel it was his fierce assault to see.
Almost it seemed thy firm defence he tired,
Till Lancelot to such fury roused thy blade
As showed thou hadst not thy full might before,
Whether from prudence or from ruth, displayed."
"Lord, he is here among us."
"Canst thou mean
That Palomides -?"
"Yea," Iseult replied.
"I must believe, however strange to hear
Of one who lately in men's mouths hath been
Esteemed a courteous knight."
"My gracious lord,
I did not know Sir Tristram."
"That may be,"
Sir Lancelot said, "for so disguised was he
I did not know him."
'Nay, but well he knew,'
Iseult made answer in her heart, but naught
She showed or uttered that revealed her thought,
Hearing Sir Tristram: "That I count for true.
And what God knows the very sooth may be
Is wholly pardoned. For my friend is he,
And I am jocund in his company."
Dawn loitered when the short May night was past,
Obscured by clouds and rain that would not last,
And while the river yet with mist was dim,
Blithe from the short rest which sufficed for him,
Sir Tristram rose, and stretched stiff limbs, and joined
Gareth and Dinadan.
The morning meal
Came, and the Paynim came not. Soon they went
To seek him. Sleeping in his separate tent
As one regardless of the hour was he.
For wakeful had he writhed the wound to feel
That Iseult's anger and her tone's contempt
Had dealt him. All he dured and all he dared
Had been to compass that his deeds compared
With Tristram's. Wildly had his fancy dreamt
To win her by such lure, his wit betrayed
By fierce longing that no reason stayed,
Nor could long years of hard starvation slay.
Now on a pillow stained with tears he lay,
Having confronted in the friendless night
That which he was to her contempting sight:
The hard-reached honour of the previous day
Forgotten from her mind, or scorned away,
Seeing the treason which she judged aright.
Should he be never as a Christian knight?
Were they so faultless? Was their aim so high?
No to the first; but could he thus put by
The second question? In their hearts he saw,
They owned, although they broke the loftier law.
Nor did all break it at all times; but still
Faltered and followed with repeating will.
While he? He aimed not at God's feet to kneel,
But sought her hands to hold, her lips to feel.
Iseult he sought: Iseult, and only she;
Dreaming a ceaseless dream which could not be.
"Regard not of his state," Sir Tristram said.
"Iseult too hardly spake. I felt it then.
Words sound less harshly from the lips of men
Than when they come from those of gentler kind.
It is not often that she thus will err;
But I, by God's strange grace, am all to her,
And wrongly therefore was her heart inclined.
Rouse him, as heeding naught." And this they did.
Soon, prankt in scarlet all, which scantly hid
The tale of whom they were, and separate known
By the same chargers that they rode, the four
Entered the lists again, where now was shown
Again fair front on either side, for more
Were those reserved who fresh to conflict came
Than those who now withheld them, bruised or lame.
New-painted shields and helms reburnished shone,
And all new-feathered were the crests thereon,
And with fresh pensels were the lances gay.
And marshalled now as on the former day
Faced the same fronts. And as before had been,
Was Palomides first conspicuous seen.
"Again he plays his pageant," Arthur said.
"Beneath that lance would stumble all but few."
But then Sir Tristram showed his hardihed.
Four knights with one good spear he overthrew,
And like a hungered lion his sword he drew,
And raged among the Table knights.
Sir Lancelot said. "He plays his pageant too."
"Both are they excellent," the king replied.
"Yea, if thou wilt. But one doth envious pride,
And one clean knighthood serves."
"It well may be.
Yet their deep inroads are too much to see,
And here remain."
For Gareth's careless mood,
Which little for himself had sought to do
In the last days, while Tristram's deeds he viewed
And succoured, changed. And when he waked were few,
Of all that field of famous knights, would be
As bold, as buoyant, or as skilled as he.
King Baudemagus to hard earth to fling
Seemed naught to marvel; and a casual thing
To cast Sir Blamor; and, as though the sight
Aroused Sir Dinadan, he charged alike.
Ever adroit to swerve, and swift to strike,
With wit recruiting strength his foes to choose,
Much was he sure to do, and more he might.
Long were the tale of Table knights to tell
Before the scarlet four who blenched and fell,
While Arthur armed. For should his Table lose
And he sit backward? Was it hard to know
That where he went would Lancelot also go?
Again they sought the lists; again they drove
Where with high heart the worsted Table strove
Its ground to hold. Again King Arthur prest
To where his mightiest failed that scarlet test.
Yet ever, wavelike in defeat, they threw
Forward their damaged strength to form anew
A front defiant. Louder strife they made,
And tenfold fiercer. Back and forth it swayed.
Here was bold bicker: here was clanging blade.
Foremost the king his eager practice plied,
While somewhat Lancelot left him, ranging wide
To find North Gales, his rather choice to meet
Than Tristram. Thinking by his sure defeat
To turn the conflict to the course he would.
But Tristram, rearward who renewed his lance,
Saw Arthur's knights their ragged line advance,
And to rebuff them, as alone he could
Came hurtling in. He did not know the king,
But cast him earthward. Lancelot heard the cry:
"The king is down." He turned his horse to bring
Swift rescue. But North Gales, who now was near,
Behind him rode, and his unhindered spear
Threw Lancelot sideward from his horse. So fast
They crowded that who now to ground was cast
Might have poor hope to any steed regain.
"It is the king! A prize! A prize!" They cried.
Relief it seemed their closing ranks denied.
But not were these the sort who yield unslain,
Even in tourney. Lancelot's sword was bare,
And so he swung it through the whistling air
That narrow space it cleared. For who would dare
To be the first to meet it? Arthur too
Fought as good knights of valiant purpose do,
So that to seize them was no easy thing.
Then came Sir Ector. Hard his spear he broke
On Palomides. When the Paynim knight
Sustained it, with such fury, stroke on stroke,
Sir Ector flailed him that to ground he fell.
Yet eager to that shameful fall requite
He rose so lightly that, as Ector caught
His steed's loose bridle, and to Lancelot brought,
He from the further side regained the selle.
Yet in the end was Lancelot horsed again,
And Arthur also, for Sir Tristram held
His comrades back. "Fair friends, I like it not
That we should on the Scottish side remain
Against our own, so valiant and so few.
They win more honour for the deeds they do
Than we should ever. Yea, though Lancelot
At last were captived by our thickening press.
Now may we well retire in gentleness,
Or change our party as the rules allow."
To which the Paynim answered: "Nay, not now.
Why should we leave a side so near to win,
And thus another harder toil begin,
With doubt too much of what its end would be?
Go ever, if thou wilt, but not with me."
"Changed hast thou once before with less pretence.
But now the rancour of thy heart I see.
Ride with us shalt thou now; or get thee hence
As one not welcomed of our company."
Then with his Table comrades Tristram turned
To Lancelot and the king, and courses ran
Against North Gales and such good knights as dared
To have their riding with his own compared;
And some Sir Gareth or Sir Dinadan
Preferred to face, but little gained thereby.
Then Arthur to his seat returned. He bade
The trumpet sound for cease of strife. He said:
"Sir Lancelot's is the third day's prize, I wot,
For all my warrior days have witnessed not
Such tune as on the battered helms he played
Of those who swarmed to snare us when we fell."
"Nay, by the Cross of God," said Lancelot,
"The praise is as the praise of yesterday.
Sir Tristram's first and only."
"I take not that; for very sooth to say
Sir Lancelot's is the sword that most I dread
Of all knight's living. I am less than he.
And with false honour crowned I would not be."
So at the last to share it equally
Was urged, and they accorded.
With Bleoberis to Sir Tristram's tent
To meet Iseult that night, as all would do.
But he, to knighthood's vows and faith untrue,
Who won the first days prize, and might have won
Superior honour, by himself undone,
Rode wailing through the woods a separate way.
What had he won by all he dured? By all
Devised and dared in his infatuate mind?
Iseult's contemptuous eyes, that once were kind:
Sir Tristram's anger: and his final fall
Beneath Sir Ector's sword.
He made his stay
Beside a well from which he drank full deep,
And thereby came North Gales. The loud lament
He heard, and marvelled that a knight should weep
As might a beaten child. Aside he went
To view him and perchance upbraid or jeer.
But when he saw his party's champion knight
Sunk and unshamed in that dejected plight
He questioned and rebuked.
"Beshrew ye, see
How many women in the world there be!
Why howl for one who is not meat for thee?
How should she change unless she wanton were?
Should all be spent to stroke a wanton's hair?
Arm ye, and mount, and her repulse forget.
Damsels enough may be thy portion yet."
Slowly, as one not ware of all he did,
The Paynim rose, and, while the rough king chid,
Resumed his arms, but when the way they chose,
He would not take their natural road, which rose
Clear of the woods, to cross the moor, but that
Which straight toward the gay pavilions led
That Tristram on the river bank had spread,
As one who vexes his own wound, to feel
The pain he dreads, by which it doth not heal.
There when he reached he paused, and loud he cried:
"Sir Tristram, art thou there?" Sir Tristram heard,
His recent anger passed, and fair replied:
"I hear; but better is the warmth inside
Than hoving there. Let varlets take thy steed."
"I come not in. For thy perfidious deed
I hold thee traitor. Yea, to God I vow
That were there daylight for this darkness now
I would not spare thee. Nay, thou wert but dead."
As one too patient with a fractious child,
Sir Tristram laughed, and gave him answer mild:
"You take it surely as it was not meant.
Hadst thou done likewise, worship hadst thou won.
Yet that thou hadst should leave thee well content.
For greater than thyself there was but one -
Sir Lancelot, who is peerless."
"Dost thou think
Soft words will win me to thy pardon? Fie!
Good daylight now would see a traitor die."
"Then must I thank thee for a warning fair.
Of our next meeting shouldst thyself beware,
Even perchance with greater need than I."
Sir Tristram laughed again, and turned away,
Letting the tent-flap fall. Nor longer stay
Sir Palomides made, but wild with woe
Rode through the long night where his horse would go.
Sir Palomides found a wounded knight.
Beside his tethered steed he weeping lay.
"Fair sir," he questioned, "what disastered plight
Is thine to wail? Were likely truth to say
That I have sorrow's burden more than thine,
Yea, by a hundred-fold."
The knight replied:
"There is no weight of sorrow more than mine
That mortal man may bear. Reveal thine own,
And I will tell thee that I else would hide,
That we shall make compare."
The Paynim said:
"All grief is greatest till the next be shown.
The loveliest born of middle earth I love.
And as her values stand all else above,
So is my grief the greatest."
"Is she known,
Being so peerless?"
"All the world will tell
That past all ladies and all queens excel
Her worth, her beauty, and her graciousness:
Iseult of Cornwall."
"That to make thy grief
Were but a foolishness to break belief.
For Tristram's leman in good faith is she,
And he can hold his own."
"I know too well
That bond of love, and hence the grief I tell.
Have I not this last month been blest to dwell
In their pavilions both by night and day?
But I, unhappy, by my fault am thrust
Entirely from them, never more to see
That face which is God's light in heaven to me;
But to recall, as evermore I must,
The scorn I earned. Sir Tristram's friendship too
Is changed to hate. And that alone were rue,
For well I loved him in a changeful way."
"I see thy grief. But tell me. Though so well,
So long, you loved her as is woe to tell,
Hath she rejoiced thee ever? Hath thy wit
Pierced her cold armour? Hath she loosened it
That ever close embrace, by night or day,
Though for a moment only, made ye one?"
"Nay, by my knighthood. Never once I lay
By her I worshipped these long years. Nor she
Hath favour shown or any grace to me
Beyond her use. And by this last misfall
Rebuke most foul she gave, not good reply
Was mine, for I had served discourteously
Him whom she loved, and by whose leave was I
Allowed her presence. This must grief recall
While life continues - life I do not need.
For I was stirred to every glorious deed
By her observance. Now my loss is all:
Worship and honour with my hope put by."
"I hear thee, and thy heavy dole confess.
Yet is thy loss than mine so much the less
It seems but japes beside it.... Think ye, I
Felt her soft body in my compass lie:
Knew that her love was mine till death should be,
For such short hours! For came a knight, and he
Desired her also. Long we fought, until
He weakened, and I thought the joy to kill
Would soon be mine. But as I closed to slay
This laming wound he gave, and rode away
With jeering laughter. Still her parting cry
(Held by the hair across his steed she lay)
Is with me while I weep, and will not die."
"I own thy loss, though not thy grief, is more.
But dost thou know the name thy traitor bore?
Or what the painting of his shield? For I,
If I should meet him, would not pass him by,
But slay him rather, and thy loss restore."
"His name is Helior. On his shield he bears
A lion that a lamb in fury tears,
Argent on vert."
There was no more to say.
The Paynim helped him to his steed. He led
To where great oaks their ancient branches spread
Round a low hermitage. He left him there,
Weeping and healing in the hermit's care,
And rode again his solitary way.
Sir Palomides, at the noon of day,
Which held more warmth than is the mean of May,
Rested awhile beneath a shading tree.
Idly he watched a sward where conies ran,
And bracken fronds their upward thrusts began,
Marking the border of the bridle way.
But hoof-thuds sounded, and all life was still.
'It is a troop that comes,' he thought, and lay
More closely, waiting what the boughs would show.
First came a knight whose shining shield was gay
With yellow leopards. 'Such doth Ector bear.
But those are couchant. These a rampant pair,'
He thought, 'and these bold arms I do not know.'
Yet was he plainly of a good degree,
Having so large a train, and thereamong
Knights of good semblance. Now a sign gave he
At which the long line paused. To earth they flung;
And near to where Sir Palomides lay
They rested from the heat, but scarce could cast
Their harness from them ere a knight there came
Who to his hand a palfrey's rein had wound,
Whereon a lady sate whose hands were bound,
Though loosely, to that rein he held; for she
Had surely left him had he left her free.
Lightly Sir Palomides guessed his name,
For on his shield a raging lion he bore,
Upon a field of green.
The leopard knight
Mounted and followed: "Halt!" He cried. "The shame
Of those bound wrists thou shalt release, unless
She doth excuse thee of ungentleness."
Sir Helior answered: "That my sword hath won
I will defend against thee." Loose he cast
The palfrey's rein, and dressed his shield, and fast
Upon the leopard knight he rode; and he
Stirred the same pace. Was royal sight to see
The clash: the rearing chargers backward fall.
They rose: they drew: they fought as those will fight
Whose lives are forfeit of their loss, or who
Are hungered for the prize that pays success.
And while they fought arose the Paynim knight,
And asked that lady: "Say, as God is true,
Art thou of choice, or of his hard duress,
Linked to that knight?"
She answered: "Dost thou see
The rope that holds me?"
"If thy hands were free,
Wouldst thou stay with him, or ride with me?"
"I would not either."
"If the knight were here
From whom he raped thee?"
"If so much ye know,
Then canst thou tell me if he thrive or no."
"Then blithe with him my heart would be."
"Then of my rescue rest assured. And see -
Helior is down."
It was but sooth to say.
Smitten to earth, and in such guise he lay
The leopard knight unloosed his helm to slay.
Whereat he stirred him, and for his life he pled.
"Only," his conqueror said, "thy life is thine
If thou thy damsel to my use resign."
"Yea, that will I, for life is all."
He bade him rise, and saw the damsel gone
From where she was before, and turned to find
Sir Palomides there, aside who led
The palfrey that she rode.
"Fair stranger knight,
I pray thee leave her. She is naught to thee."
"Nay, but I lead her where she wills."
Thy right to lead her where she wills deny.
Have I not won her in thy watchful sight?"
"Nay, but no right was staked, to lose or gain.
She was but lackey to her captured rein."
"Thy bold defiance for escape relies
Upon presumption of my weariness,
Having beheld my toil; but were I less
Of vigour than I am, it were not wise
To scorn me thus, for those most confident
May have short leisure to their deaths repent.
And wert thou Palomides (whose repute
May none surpass), Tristram, or Lancelot,
Thou shouldst not take her hence, and bandy not
Good blows to gain her. Those who boast too high
Most abject later in the dust may lie."
"Here is enough of words. I hold thee foe,
Except together, and in peace, we go."
The leopard knight with lifted sword replied.
Seldom had Palomides' strength been tried
By lustier challenge. Till at last he cried:
"Wilt tell thy name? To death we should not go,
Strangers ourselves, for one whom scarce we know."
"It were no shame to speak; but if I do
Wilt thou reveal thine own?.... Then know that I
Am son to Astlabor, the Eastern king.
Safere my name, and brother born am I
To Palomides, whose high deeds outvie
Most of this realm; and Sagwarides too
Is brother... Dost thou yield, thy sword to fling
Thus to the ground?"
"I more than yield. I weep.
I weep the error once that Balyn made.
The yellow leopards on thy shield displayed
"Shouldst thou weep? Was mine no less
The hateful error? And thou couldst not guess
That in this land I ride."
"Nay, that I heard
From Sagwarides. Through thy shield I erred.
I knew thy coming, and the Christianing
Which made thee of the Table knights. But I
Am heathen still, though half my heart would try
The height they seek, but do not reach."
That which is loftiest aimed the best must be."
"So may I own it at the last. But still
Come clouds of hate and pride to thwart my will,
And I go sideward like a swerving steed,
Shunning the steep hard path by God decreed."
"Whose is the damsel now?"
"I would not claim
Thy sword's prize from thee for myself, but I
Am pledged to take her where a knight doth lie
For her sake wounded, whom she loves, and so
Can grant him more than we should gain. For lo!
This have I learnt through many years of woe:
There is no force can take what love will give."
"It may be. But I have not loved as thou;
Neither I should. For larger gains I live.
If passing fair her ready grace bestow,
I take her pleasure, and the rest may go."
As thus they bartered words, good pace they made
In journey to that lonely hermitage
Where in poor heart the damsel's leman lay.
Heart-wounded though the flesh might heal: afraid
To hope for more than vengeance. Here they brought
Such joy as might a larger loss repay
Than had been theirs to take reluctant prey.
"Now," said Sir Palomides, "may ye see
How well he thrives, and how he thrives for thee.
Joy have I to restore ye thus."
With lips that laughed, and tear-wet eyes replied:
"There are no words such thanks as ours to pay.
But were there need, or on some future day
Should such occasion come, you will not find
With sword in sheath, or feet that lag behind,
He will regard it; nor my voice retard
For danger's most extreme, or toils most hard."
From this good deed Sir Palomides went
Sir Safere's careless way with more content
Than for long days had blessed him. But the seeds,
The evil seeds of act incontinent,
Though men forget them, or perchance repent,
Their vigour do not lose; but evil deeds
Of their own kind they gender. Goneris
On past occasion at Surluse he slew,
Being unmercied in his mood, and now,
As with Safere he rode, arose anew
That which for closer cares aside he threw
From memory or regret.
A knight they passed
Regardless. Naught they cared, and naught they knew
Of the three wolves with which his shield was grey.
As deer unconscious of the snare were they
The while he rode at speed a hold to wake
Where steeds were saddled fast, and arms were snatched.
Can two the taming of a hundred take?
Ringed on all sides, and by those odds outmatched,
When blows and deaths had been, the baited two
Yielded, as was their choiceless need to do,
Unless immediate death were theirs to be;
Yielding, they thought, to such discourtesy
As knights outnumbered in the wilder lands,
And fallen to the spoil of lawless bands,
Held for high ransom, might be cast to meet.
They looked for captive hours and meagre fare
Till forfeit should be paid, or rescue were.
For purchase of their lives they owned defeat,
And did not doubt that greatest boon to win.
But when their names they owned, their hands were bound:
With grim regard their arms were stripped away.
"What ransom should be asked by Goneris' kin?"
Asked the wolf-shielded knight, and looked around
At those who gloated on a bonded prey.
Remorseless in revenge, but just were they.
They loosed Sir Safere, and his horse they gave,
But not his arms. His brother's life to save
What could he do, a single swordless man?
Vainly lamenting, through strange woods he ran,
Seeking for aid where likely aid was none.
He thought his brother's life at once undone,
For that his captors' actions plainly said.
Remained it only to avenge the dead
When arms and friends he found such strife to try.
But there Sir Palomides did not die,
Not by relent, but by design, which thought
To hang him at the gate of whom he slew.
So by the lonelier paths they northward brought
Their captive, moving fast, and meeting few.
But one they met who rode such chance to find
As fair tale furnished, or to song inclined.
His silver shield Sir Palomides knew,
And from his bonds he cried: "Sir Dinadan,
To death they take me," but no heed thereto
The knight of Arthur gave, nor turned to scan
His captors' numerous rank, but pacing slow,
As with no wish to stay nor cause to go,
And having naught to seek and naught to hide,
Reined for one moment at their leader's side,
Judged with cool wit their numbers and their kind,
Gave them a jesting word, and left behind
One whose last hope had failed. 'Behold,' he thought,
'My shame is jest to him, my end is naught,
Who was my friend and comrade. Yet was I
Comrade and friend in truth? Was all a lie,
Devised that whom I sought I thus might see?
False as was I to them is he to me;
And in my coinage am I paid.'
The boughs concealed him, and the bending way,
Sir Dinadan reined his steed, and paused. He thought:
'It should suffice me, though the time is short.'
Backward he rode some while at speed, and then
Turned where a curving bypath leftward lay
That pierced the deepest woods, and long ahead
Came to a better road which northward led
To the wide towers of Joyous Garde. He rode
Reckless of mire, or pit, or stone, or bough
That dragged his plume, or on his shield was shed,
Till firmer road would better pace allow.
He slacked not till the walls of Joyous Garde
Were near to view, and in the guise of May
Outriding from its portal blithely gay,
Iseult and Tristram came. Amazed were they
To see who seldom would admit the need
His pace to change, urged on a stumbling steed,
Hard breathing, streaked with foam, and splashed with mire,
His surcoat torn by thorny boughs aswing,
His plume side-drooping like a broken wing.
"Here cometh one," Sir Tristram laughed, "who jests
At all high efforts, and rejects the tests
Of random challenge. Has his rashness now
To such disaster led, I see not how,
That he so fast a naked road must flee?"
"Nay," said Iseult, "he japes at all. But who
Can speak him slow to stand, or slack to do,
At mortal need?"
"I know it well. Let be.
Yet as one demoned by pursuit is he.
What saucy devils at his heels persist?....
Good friend, doth Garlon's ghost thy rout pursue?"
"Ask not, but arm thee. Palomides' life
Is thine to save or loose. The moments fly."
"What, is he snared?"
"He failed in desperate strife
With Goneris' kin. A shameful death to die
They lead him now."
"I had not thought to hear
Such failure his. Not any single spear
Would bear him down. So foul a death to meet?
I would not that. Must present arms suffice.
Thy summons lacks the need to speak it twice.
Let others follow with good spears, and all
That should sustain our swords.... You do not chide
That thus uncovered to good blows I ride,
For one who held no knightly faith to me?"
"Go, and God with thee," said Iseult.
Stayed not for further words, but only told
One who rode with them to release his steed
For that which could no more his rider's need
Serve as he would; and then for Goneris' hold
At the full pace their fresher mounts could make,
Rode, and were there before the hasteless train
Who to his death the Paynim led. To take
The path to meet them was Sir Tristram fain,
Thinking till then the shortest hour too long.
They met where leftward stretched a reeded lake,
Neighbouring the path; and rightward, straight and nigh,
A bank too steep for steelshod hooves to try,
So that with narrow front the captors came,
And needs must halt when two opposing steeds
Sir Tristram said: "A knight of name
Ignobled by unseemly bonds I see.
I pray that in fair peace and courtesy
Ye loose him."
"That," they said, "we will not do.
When Goneris in his ruthless mood he slew,
He doomed himself."
"He is not doomed to die
By vengeful hands, except alike am I."
"Our quarrel is with him, and not with thee."
"None can be foe to him and friend to me."
"Lord, thou art lonely here. Regard thou well
How much our numbers and our spears excel
Thy single comrade, and thine armour light."
"I ask in friendship. Yet in Hell's despite
I would sustain him."
"If the cause you know,
The justice of our deed it well must show."
"I know it surely, yet I think not so.
His deed was fenceless to our knightly use,
Yet was not lawless, and its large excuse
Lies in himself, who is not blest as we
Clear-eyed the reachless heights of God to see."
"By which Sir Goneris died: and so shall he.
Give space to pass. We will not parley more."
"Then swords must rule it."
"Would ye fight a score?
And in such arms as thine?"
"I should not need.
Ye judge the Paynim for a shameful deed.
Would ye the code of knightly use defend
By ways unknightly?"
"If one knight assail
A hundred others, shall fair words avail,
Strong through his weakness, to such strength extend
To make them minions to his mood?"
Far less than that. But if true knights are they,
One against one they will their cause debate....
And see what cometh." (For, the while they spake,
Had squires and varlets, with great spears await;
Behind him crowded the strait path.) "I make
Fair proffer. One by one, in restless tale
I will encounter till ye tire, or one
Shall overcast me."
"Were thy might fordone
I would adventure," said Sir Dinadan,
"To test my weaker but unwearied spear."
They spake as those to whom so sharp a fray
Were casual hazard of the passing day,
And those who heard them with reluctant ear
Took sullen counsel: "Such known knights to slay,
Ten score to two, would make our names reviled
Through the wide realm, and might against us bring
The vengeful agents of an angry king.
To take them one by one could none condemn.
But who should be the first to joust with them?
His life were cheaper than a felon-clipped groat."
So with a grudged accord they gave reply:
"If sooth he swear a better use," said they,
"We will release him for the names ye bear,
In trust of friendship, if a darker day
Should need it."
"That, by God's high truth, ye may,"
Sir Tristram answered, and with brief delay
Sir Palomides' bonds to earth were cast.
The shadow of such death was overpassed
As would have led him through the doors of shame,
And left such shadow to eclipse his fame
As had not lightened while his name should live.
Around he gazed, as one from sleep aware
Of sunlight, and of things before not seen:
The blue of heaven, the earth's familiar green,
And the sweet savour of the maytime air;
And then to Tristram turned: "Thine aid to me,
At thy life's peril, as was plain to see,
No merit had deserved, no service won;
For I have paid past grace and courtesy
In such base coin as lust and envy bred.
What recompense in barren thanks can be?
What tribute paid to him whose needs are none?
This will I do, who see that God His Son
Is potent in thee. At His feet I kneel.
Such acts as thine the shining truth reveal
Of the sure guidance of a constant flame."
So to the fold the Paynim came.
End of Chapter XV