The Song Of Arthur - part 3
by S. Fowler Wright
Gareth And Lionore.
Gareth And Lionore.
It was the feast of Pentecost. That year
Held at Kin-Kenadon, a crest of towers
That ruled the wide sand-wastes, and held the powers,
Still restless, of the inward hills in fear.
The board was laid: the hour of noon was near:
The serving of the feast delayed, to meet
The custom of the king. He would not eat
Till tale of marvellous chance or warrior feat
The morn had brought, or plaint of need to call
Some chosen champion forth.
Adown the street,
From the high casements of the galleried hall,
Sir Gawain gazed: "Behold, Lord King," he cried,
"Three outland knaves on shaggy mounts that ride;
And mark I, while they halt, behind the three
A mighty destrier led. Against his knee
A wizened dwarf his shortened steps doth guide.
Toward the main gate they turn; the midmost nigh
As Lancelot tall: a falling mane of hair,
Yellow as the August corn, his shoulders bear,
And surely different from the twain is he,
But leaning, that his face I may not see."
"Here be strange haps; their end may well reveal
Adventurous chance," said Arthur, "let the meal
The open hall, to those who would
Unhindered entrance gave. No gate withstood
Their access to the king; he whose throne was free
To all that came.
Up the long hall the three
As doubting strangers drew. The midmost leant
As weary, on his comrades' arms, and bent
His height, as one whom some long sickness drained
Of half his strength; but as the length they gained
Of that great hall, it seemed the part he feigned
His heart forgot. Erect he gazed. Not least,
Midst those who at the king's high feast,
The unmatched of seven wide realms, the Table Knights,
His bearing showed: for all
Then Arthur, first who spake:
"Good youth, for honour, or lands, or lady's sake,
What would ye at my hand?"
"I ask," said he,
"Three gifts that in thy hand shall lightly lie.
One will I ask today, and twain would I
Entreat when next this Feast is held."
Answered the king, "thy gift shall granted be.
For if be ever good blood by bearing known,
Thou art worthy to be next a high king's throne.
Choose with bold heart."
"A simple boon I crave,
A year to serving in thy halls remain,
Thy meats to share."
"Ye be no serving-knave, nor know the life.
Bethink thee; ask again."
"I will no other."
"Then rede the name ye bear."
"My name I would not at this time declare."
"Ye be full bold," said Arthur, "yet, men know,
Such prayer I would not from my direst foe
Refuse. God thank, there is meat for all." He signed
To Kay who hard his burdened knaves behind,
Marshalled the meats the loaded board along.
"Sir seneschal, take thee for thy need," he said,
"A knave the more."
Now the high feast was spread
Before the assembled knights. The servitors,
Grouped at the lowlier boards and round the doors,
Of lordlier sorts the food rejected ate.
Lowliest with these the nameless stranger sate.
The boon he asked he took. He served: he fed
On broken meats: he made at eve his bed
On the cast rushes of the earlier day.
Ere dawn from rest his wearied limbs were chid.
Strong toil he gave, and proved in all he did
Fine-handed, cleanly, that the meanest act
Could naught degrade him.
Marked and mocked Sir Kay:
And called him Beaumains for the name he lacked.
But when to Camelot came the Court, and there
Were revel and feast and joyance and jousting fair,
He watched and learned; or when the long duress
Of thankless toil was paused, he joined the press
That thronged the issuing gate, to watch the tale
Of knights forth faring, guised in glittering mail,
With barded chargers and fair-painted shields,
To seek the events unproved of alien fields,
Or rescue of known comrade hard bested
Or search the fate of dungeoned knight or dead.
Or like returning, soiled and worn and sad
From vain essay; or haply toiled, but glad.
Of rescue achieved or high devoir; and thought
That nearer still the changing seasons brought
The feast when further gifts were his to claim.
And one day while he watched, behind him came
Sir Lancelot; lightly on his arm, unware,
A kindly hand he laid: "Good youth, if e'er
For separate rest ye seek, or quiet resort
My lodging is thine," he said. "My menials there
Will serve thee as myself. Though plain I fare,
And little softness harbours where I dwell,
Yet there be relics and spoils should please thee well
Awhile to view; and writings of the lore
Sir Dinadin loves, if such ye seek, and store
Of works in curious craft is there." The youth
Thanked him, but came not.
Gawain spake to Kay:
"Why drive ye thus your hardiest knave? Good sooth,
Ye may repent it, when a later day
Shall shame thee. While ye railed his glance I caught.
His eyes were fearless, though he answered naught.
Is Brewnor, and thy fall, so soon forgot?"
"Beshrew ye," said Sir Kay, "this youth is not
As Brewnor; judge ye by the gift he chose.
The churl in choosing must his heart disclose;
And as the seeking of his heart is he."
"Nay, but two gifts remain that no man knows.
Less wise were wiser: wait the year and see."
A windy tower in rain-beat Orkney knew
From whence he came. There, lone the long year through
The Queen Morgause the charge of Arthur kept,
That still the dragoned banner, gules and blue,
Above Lord Gawain's white gyr-falcon flew.
And oft, the while the winds of winter swept
Round the lone tower, in wakeful nights she wept
Her youngest Gareth, and dearest, last begot
Ere south, with short leave-taking, sailed king Lot
To vengeance vowed for that late child she bore
Which was not his, and on the Cornish shore
Battled and died.
The long months passed: the year
Burgeoned anew: the Whitsun Feast was near.
Again the Feast of Pentecost. This year
Held in Caerleon, at the king's command,
Whose wont it was at that high feast to hear
And judge the doubtful causes of the land.
No hall of space those ancient towers belonged
The assembled court to hold, when inward thronged,
Their place to take before the king's high seat,
As marshalled for the feast in order meet
Damsel and knight - the Table names alone
An hundred knights and forty - hence his throne
As summer skies allowed, in that wide space
Erst rounded for the Roman games was set.
Now midst the crowd around his seat that met,
To yield him homage, or to claim his grace,
There came a high-born damsel, golden-zoned,
In crimsoned samite, on a palfrey black.
Before the king she reined. Not Arthur throned
Showed royaller mien or haughtier grace; nor lack
Of tending train her noble right could hide,
Nor monarch's audience serve to veil her pride.
"Liege lord," she said, with slight obeisance made,
"Methinks too long in idle state ye bide,
And damsels' arms. Your lieges' land is laid
A waste the while. My sister sieged - her foe
As thine she deemed, and long hath looked to know
Thy vengeance on him."
"Damsel," the king replied,
"Old tale is thine. The ordered land is wide
And still, but marsh and forest and border side
Yet feel my foes. To each, themselves beset,
The kingdom shakes; and all of need forget
That larger cares are mine. False tales beside
Are brought, and knights an empty quest may ride
Who heed them. But cease to chide, and rede me where
This dame, of force that may not serve to bear
Her private wars?"
"Lord king, wide known is she,
A lady of great worship and great lands,
Now seized of many in scorn of her and thee,
Who stoutly yet a tyrannous knight withstands,
But only in her compassed hold, and she,
Seeing her lands wasted and her people slain
Within thy peace, hath looked, and looked in vain
For rescue from thee as was meet; and now,
To any great knight who will her service vow,
And force the leaguers of the land, that far
Strong-held at ford and pass her rescue bar,
And meet this knight in mortal strife, and dare
The shameful doom that those he conquers share
Large wealth she gifts, and liberal dower of land,
And likely with the largesse of her hand
To well-born knight unwed."
The while she spake
One knight her glances searched from all that band,
Who for a nearer than her sister's sake
Well knew she, if he knew, that quest would take,
And haply win - Gaheris - but he that day
Till later came not from a lengthened way,
And the chance passed him.
Then the king again
Made answer: "Proffers of land and wealth are vain
To knights of mine, except fair cause ye show."
"Small honour is thine," she said, "that naught ye know
Told of her wrongs already. Though scorned of thee,
And left, whom once she helped, yet known was she
In wars afore to knights here. Her foe,
The Red-Knight of the Reed-lands hight is he."
"I knew him," Sir Gawain to Sir Lancelot said,
"In the great wars, and never was nearer sped:
Bare life I won. Whoever this quest may take
For wealth's attract, or honour, or lady's sake,
May find a damsel's lure to death beguile.
Mark how her haughty bearing chafes the king."
"Nay, for he speaks," said Lancelot, "peace awhile."
"Damsel," the king adjudged, "no knight shall rise
At call of mine to search this blind emprise,
Except that better words and proofs ye bring."
"Then must I -," said the damsel.
"O Sir King,"
Cried Beaumains where amidst that crowd he stood,
"Twelve months thy meats I have eaten, and found them good,
And in their strength thy further gifts I pray."
"Ask, on my peril," the king replied. And he,
"This damsel's quest I claim."
"I grant it thee. The third boon would ye?"
Beaumains answered: "Yea,
The greatest gift is last, that I be made
Knight of Sir Lancelot. For I would not be
By choice made knight of any less than he."
"A noble boon ye seek," the king replied,
"And on the path ye take shall Lancelot ride,
And knight thee as thy deeds deserve."
Beyond all speech, that wrathful damsel gazed
On Beaumains and the king. Such scorn to meet
She had not dreamed. 'Is Uther's throne,' she thought,
'A jester's seat? Pendragon's glory brought
To dust so low?' Her sharp-pricked palfrey's feet
Rang on the stones along the gateward street.
Laughed in good mirth the king, and watched her go.
Then curious eyes to Beaumains turned, and lo!
That dwarf Sir Gawain marked the year ago
The same great destrier led, and on the selle
Was knightly armour borne. From Beaumains fell
The servile garb he wore. The doubting gaze
Of knights the points of knightly worth who knew
Appraised and owned him. Goodlier none but few
They deemed; who heeding naught of scorn or praise
Amidst their watchful silence armed; bestrode
His steed; and on the path the damsel rode
Forth fared apace.
Now came the bustling Kay,
With ordering cares of that great feasting pressed.
The tale was told: "How, would ye loose away
My best knave from me, on the busiest day
The whole year brings? Lord Arthur, rare ye jest
Mirth moved the king: "Good friend," said he,
"He goes not distant if it lies in thee
To bring him backward in his own defeat."
"That will I unloth," said Kay. In instant haste
His arms he called: a saddled charger, meet
His weight to bear. "Soon shall the rogue be chased
But Gawain counselled: "Nay, bethink,
Ye fling a scullion, shall thy praise be more?
A scullion wins thee, shall the jest be o'er
A ten years hence?"
And Lancelot: "Noble Kay,
There be such perils on his chosen way
As needs must prove him. If the youth endure -
I think he may - then shall ye rest ye sure
Ye choose the worthier part to wait, and he
Be seen, belike, the better knight than we,
Ere all things end."
"Nay, Lancelot, still ye deem
Of all men nobler than themselves they seem.
They are seldom thus."
He seized the spear they brought,
Stirred the strong steed, and left the laughing court.
Now Beaumains, on that angered damsel's track
Rode a shrewd pace, and gained her side, and she
Spake with free scorn: "Good knave, thy comrades lack
Thy service at the hearth. Return thee back
Before thy beaten bones the jest shall pay."
"Damsel," he laughed upon her, "perchance I may,
Be failure mine."
In hard pursuit Sir Kay
Showed as they spake, and in the distant rear
Came Lancelot: "Yea, perchance the proof is near
If this knight's purpose rede I right."
Prompt to his master's word, down-leapt from off
The croup. The youthful arms that Beaumains brought,
When nameless first he came to Arthur's Court,
Nor lance nor shield belonged. Unknighted yet
What shield were his, except his foe's he get?
A strong and trenchant sword from sheath he drew,
And backward turned, and when in nearer view
The seneschal showed, cried to him: "The year is o'er.
Friend if thou wilt, or foe, but lord no more,
What would ye?"
"Defend, thou saucy knave." The spear
Sank with the cry. A perilous chance was here,
Which any might shrink, though proved in equal joust.
With gathering speed the impetuous charge down-bore
On Beaumains, paused await, as needs he must,
Till instant to the call of rein and knee
The good steed swerved: the spear point passed: and he
Leaned outward from the saddle, and hard he thrust,
The shield beneath. Loud clanging in the dust
The seneschal fell.
This bout of arms beheld
Sir Lancelot and the damsel.
While Sir Kay
Stirred not, Beaumains, alighting where he lay,
Took lance and shield, the victor's right.
That damsel thought, unseemlier sight were seen
Than here. 'But that strong knight behind, I ween,
Will deal this knave his due, and haply take
My quest thereafter.' So she thought; but spake
The twain fair words the while, as Beaumains prayed
Sir Lancelot of his courteous grace that he
Might learn his might in friendly joust. Full free
Was Lancelot ever to grant that courtesy
To those that would, and what they gained full few
Forgat. Yet these in equal jousting joined:
In equal fate they fell. Arisen, they drew;
And Beaumains' might, amazed, Sir Lancelot knew.
So hard on helm he smote, so swift he foined,
So skilled the shifting shield to change was he,
That Lancelot cried at last: "Beaumains, let be,
Fight not so sore. Thy quarrel and mine, perde,
Is not so great that mortal hurt should chance."
Then Beaumains backward stepped: "With sword and lance
Think ye," he asked, "I might awhile endure
Strife of strong knights?"
"That will I warrant," said he,
For sore of hurt to take or deal I dred,
So fierce ye pressed, on helm the blows ye strook
Would bide but few."
And Beaumains answered: "Sure
I erred, and pardon sue I. But your great might
I joyed to feel. The fresh delight I took
Constrained me to it. Now wilt thou make me knight,
As spake the king?"
"With all accord, but so
That first your kindred and your name ye show,
As is but meet."
"Lord Lancelot, if ye know,
Wilt thou to any reveal it?"
"Without thy will
It shall not be discovered to any, until
Of all men known."
"Of Orkney's line am I.
A child of Lot, and Gawain's brother, and son
To Queen Morgause."
And Lancelot answered: "None
Of nobler race can tell. Of heart so high,
Of strength so great, a kingdom's gain should be
Thy generous youth. Sir Gareth, rejoiced am I
To know thee higher than all I thought. But see
How far thy damsel down the path hath fled,
The while we spake."
Then Gareth the damsel's track
Pursued. But Lancelot turned where, seeming dead,
The seneschal lay. Him to the charger's back
He raised with pain, and slowly homeward led.
But she, that damsel who, her sister's need
To aid, had ridden at Arthur's throne to plead,
Now in no May-day mood returning rode.
Scorn at her heart too fierce, and anger glowed
Too hot, the failure of her suit to heed.
Yet no light need she knew: contemptuous pride
Of his great might, that Arthur's best defied,
Had led their foe to yield her conduct free,
By ford and tower, to bring what knight she would,
The champion of her sister's cause to be;
And treaty made the while, that till she came,
Against those walls so long his siege that stood
No further storm should rise. Some knight of fame,
Perchance the highest, so hard a quest to gain,
Would Arthur grant, she had doubted naught. For fain
Of honour the Table knights were known: the king
Not least. Her haughty spirit against the shame
Chafed with vain ire, and shrank the tale to bring
That fixed the fate of those sieged towers.
Hooves sounded. Where the backward path inclined
She gazed, and shining down a shadowy way
Disguised in knightly arms, her scullion came;
And riding on the captured steed of Kay,
His dwarf behind him. All too glad was he
Of knighthood, and good steed, and ventures free,
Kay's fall, and Lancelot's grace, her scorn to care;
But on him unreined her wrathful heart she loosed.
"Why comest thou here?" she cried, "and dost thou dare
Unordered in my train to ride? Unused
For aught but blows to teach? Or dost thou ween
I more regard thee that in foul ado
Thy master by some knavish sleight ye slew?
To turn the broach, to serve the board, to clean
The leavings of the feast, no knave I lack;
And on the path I take shalt wish ye back
Full soon, in safety couched thy hearth beside.
Perchance ye thought an idle quest to ride,
Lured by the pride, the glamour and the gold
That knights belong? Thy path shall soon behold
A bated boast. Such trial awaits thy spear
As Gawain's self might lose, or Lancelot fear.
Thinkst thou such strife at last with life to bide?
And ere ye reach are perilous passes four
By strong knights held, and every knight the more
Than last ye win. Full forty knights before
Have spent their lives to try it. And earlier yet
Than these, two knights across our path are set,
Where spreads the stream, our only ford to let;
And not for all the broth thy brawn hath fed
Then wilt thou stand."
"The time will show it," he said.
Now while they spake, the path the damsel led
The denser woods constrained, and overhead
Dark branches closed, and on their riding fell
The shadows of night, ere yet the night was nigh.
In that close gloom the boldest heart might well
With heedful caution move. So thickly grew
The towering pine, the dark low-branching yew,
So strait the way, they needs must single ride;
And here Linette, who led the path, espied
Where from the branches burst a serving man,
That flying in haste or fear toward them ran.
Breathless awhile, Sir Gareth's rein he grasped,
And on the charger leaned. For aid he gasped.
"My master - in the slade - eight thieves," he said,
"There be but six - twain by his hand are dead -
They bound him then."
"Go first," said Gareth; and through
That dusking world of shadows and darker yew
Leaving the path, they forced a hindered way,
And reached a place that plain the treason showed
That there had been. For in the twilight glowed
A tabard, soiled and torn, that yet was gay
With scarlet and with bordering gold. It lay
With scattered arms which from that knight bereft,
For greater ease his captors' haste had left
Strewn as they fell. The trampled trail they took,
Down a steep slade, aside a hurrying brook.
Beyond the slade, a wider space was spread
Of marshy ground, from whence, more deep and dread,
Remoter woods, and wastes unpeopled lay.
Clear-seen in this wide space the chase appeared.
As hasting wolves that herd a lordly prey,
They drove full loth the luckless knight they felled,
To linger in some thieves' hold at ransom held,
Or slain if ransom failed or rescue neared.
Sudden on their rear the ring of arms they heard.
No hope was theirs in open ground they knew
Steeled knight to meet; and winged with fear they flew,
While Gareth, a thundering death behind them spurred,
And gained, and swept upon them, and rode them through.
Three with the thrusting lance forthright he slew.
But warier, from the impending shock withdrew
A hardier three, and vantage of the wood
Gained, and Sir Gareth on foot they stout with-stood.
Till at the last he laid them; and returned,
And loosed that knight, who prayed them of their grace
To make his halls that night their biding place,
Where he that rescue would with wealth repay,
For more he might not than such aid had earned.
Naught spake Linette; but Gareth gave answer: "Nay,
Reward I will not for the help I gave,
For I was made of Lancelot knight today.
Vowed am I the thief to slay, the bond to serve.
To God I did it. But in thy halls tonight
We well may rest."
Then laughed Linette: "Sir knight,
This youth, who fortuned well thy life to save,
No knight-in-arms is he: a serving knave
Who rides from Arthur's court in knight's array;
And lordly hath he learnt of word and way,
Behind the board on many a banquet night."
"Lady, whate'er thy jest, whoe'er ye be,
And this bold knight, alike it lies with me
To thank him and content to all my power."
Soon ceased the path, down-issuing from the brake,
On the slant beach that edged a winding lake;
And midst the lake an isle, and there a tower
Sheer from the flood that knight had built, to sleep
In safety, circled by the waters deep.
Lord of few spears and wide waste lands was he.
Now stirred the tower, and short the space they wait,
Ere from the dark arch of the water gate,
That lifted for it, shot forth across the lake
A barge of ample space their steeds to take,
And beaked with gold, and with his pensel gay,
And scarlet-garbed the rowers, but seeming black,
As fast they pulled athwart the shining track
Of sunset light along the lake that lay.
Slowlier the loaded barge returned its way:
The shadowed arch they passed: the torches' glare
The landing showed: and up the winding stair
They climbed; and Gareth to arrased chamber fair,
That knight himself, his full regard to show,
Conveyed, and courteous sought his needs to know,
And on him a festal robe of price bestowed,
For naught of worth beside his arms had he.
So robed, Sir Gareth, as knight of most degree,
With reverence to the banquet hall he showed.
But when toward the evening board they drew,
And Beaumains seated at her side she knew,
That damsel's cheek with sudden anger glowed.
"Mine host, when highborn ladies grace thy meat,
Do always menials at thy table eat?"
Amazed and shamed, the knight replied: "Not so,
There sits no menial here, but whom I know
My friend indeed."
"Yea, surely. Slaughter of swine
So nursed his strength to slay those knaves of thine,
Ye needs must thank him. Need ye therefore thus
Unseemly place him here, to eat with us
His wont to serve?"
"Damsel, thy scoffs before
As jest I judged. But if thy jest be true,
And place apart to nobler blood be due,
The dais-board is thine. Yet deem I well,
If churl's base blood from churlish use rebel,
If churl shall knight in knightly use excel,
Knight is he in truth, and late this knight I proved,
And thanks I owe."
So saying, himself he moved
With Gareth, to where a board aside was laid,
And here each point of courteous usage paid,
As given to guest of known and reverenced worth.
Festive awhile, with harp and song's delights
The hall was loud. But soon the sounds of mirth
Stilled: on the shining lake the casement lights
Died: the short hours of summer darkness sped,
Awakening only to the warder's tread.
Dawn rosed the east in cloudless heaven, and glad
Waked Gareth. Too fresh the keen delight he had
In knighthood won, and that fair-opening quest,
The daylight hours to lose in lengthened rest.
He rose, and from the chamber passing found
A narrow stair and steep that upward wound
The eastern tower, and issuing thence he came
Where the wide dawn held heaven and lake aflame.
Not yet was any sound or sight of man,
Save the lone warder on the bartizan
Beneath him paced. Out from the landward marge,
Still in his passing bridal greens arrayed,
The careless mallard sailed his brood at large,
Of naught but of the soaring erne afraid.
Faint o'er the encrimsoned lake the waking bird
Called from the brake, and crooned the moaning dove
From loftier boughs: lost in the light above
A wood lark sang. Here, mazed in dreams, he leaned.
A rescued bride his light-winged fancy weened
Already he held. Till loud beneath him stirred
The inward court, where stamping steeds were groomed,
And hurrying scullions crossed, and life resumed
Its customed way. Then downward to the hall
He passed; and meetly there the mass they heard,
And brake their fast, the while that good knight's care
(Wide were they of the path the damsel knew),
Bid for their guard a stalwart band prepare,
And guidance, purposed in his own escort,
With seven stout spears the dangerous marsh-lands through
Their course to lead.
This did he, and soon them brought
To surer ways, and leaving, fain betaught
Their quest to God.
More days they rode, and late
They came to where this damsel's quest began.
A river around her sister's land that ran
Here thinned its depth, and here, in stern await,
On the far bank a knight his charger sate
From noon to night; his comrade held his ward
From night to noon. Awakening at the sight
Of these that came, with forward spear, the knight
Rode the slope bank, and halted in the ford,
The shallowing water round the charger's knees.
Intent, Linette her knave's first combat sees.
Through the splashed ford she marks their chargers plunge.
No speed is here. With fewtred spears they lunge
As best they may, and soon to swords resort;
Till Gareth's strong foe, borne backward and out-fought,
Toward the rear bank to turn his charger sought,
In hope of flight. The meed of cowards he earned,
And won. The swerving charger slipped and slid.
The fatal chance the current, eddying, caught.
Once in the foam were flashing hooves upturned;
Then the good steed the assailant waters spurned,
And gained the bank unridered.
The struggling steed, his further foe to find,
Pressed Gareth, until the branches, closing blind,
Concealed the event from those that waited. Steel
Sounded, and ceased. There came a mortal cry.
Linette's black palfrey felt her sharpened heel.
She passed the ford: she climbed the bank: and near
Stood Gareth, and on the ground a fallen foe.
"Damsel," he said, "the holden path is free."
"Yea, for it to thee," she said, "scant thanks I owe,
That thy churl's lance hath cost their princelier blood.
The charger failed of foothold in the flood;
Yea, on the stream's ribbed rocks it slipped, and he
Ye might not win, by that mischancing died.
The next - how know I what wrong the woods might hide?
I ween ye killed him by some treacherous guile.
Belike ye thrust him from behind, the while
He turned for vantage, all content to know
The branches hid the deed. Howe'er it be,
Far other than these ye meet, except ye flee.
Bethink ye yet. Thy life is whole. The tale
Of how two days ye wore the knightly mail -
Thy master flung, and with thy master's spear
Two good knights slain - shall hold the wondering ear,
And welcomes mean, and horns of warming ale,
At winter fires of many an after year.
Afront the dark and perilous passes lie,
Where sure death waits: behind is space to fly,
And life to win."
"Ye vex your heart in vain
To fear mine own," he said. "With life unslain
I will not turn me from this quest, until
I win it, and ask and gain your sister's will."
Now o'er the woods their earlier twilight fell
And through deep slade and hollow and dark-some dell,
A denser and an ever gloomier way,
Each following each, by narrower paths they ride;
Nor seemed that even that dreadless damsel tried
For wider space between; but yet no stay
Her gibing humour knew: "Deem not thy lance
Accepted mine," she said, "that wildering chance
The ford hath won; nor lose I faith on thee,
That plundering churls thy knightly semblance flee.
I scent the foul straw and the lousy rags
Where native in thy kennelled filth ye lay,
But two days since. Far different knights are nigh,
Than those slain fools that by the waters lie;
And when too soon their boding shields ye see,
As flies the timorous hind when antlered stags
For forest rights contend, then wilt thou flee."
And smiling, in content, her knight replied:
"Behold me flee, and then with reason chide."
Now came they where the sombre woods forbade
The further way, so close their ranks arrayed,
Save where, dark arched, the meeting boughs amid,
In shadow the guarded path its dangers hid;
And from that night-like shade of thorn and yew
Dark as the menace of death a pensel flew,
Black, from a black lance trailing, and there beside,
Draped with black silks, a huge black charger tied;
And from the thorn a black shield hung on high;
And in black arms and plumes a knight thereby
Regarded them, and spake no word. Linette
First saw him, and cried aloud to Beaumains: "Fly!
For speed may save thee. See his charger, yet
Unsaddled that stands."
And Beaumains smiled, and said:
"Ye still will have me coward."
The while they spake,
That knight came forward to her palfrey's head,
With courteous greetings fair: "I see ye bring
A champion knight your sister's cause to take,
And doubtless worthy."
"Nay," she said, "the king
Denied me any, and gave this knave instead,
Who from his kennels on broken meats was fed."
"I marvel," the black knight answered, "thus ye say,
And how he cometh so guised in knight's array.
'Tis shame that such should bear you company."
"I may not be delivered," she said, "that he
By strange mischance for other how might it be? -
Casts strong knights down before him."
"It marvels me,"
The black knight answered, "that such things may be.
How cometh that well-born knights will hold ado
With one so base?"
"It may be, if they knew
They would not; but in knight's guise he consorts me;
And so they strive, not knowing how much they deign,
And on the path he leaves them, shent or slain.
Methinks the days of well born knights are past,
And churls shall mate their ladies at the last."
"O damsel, strange thy tale, and whom ye bring
The Reed-Knight's wrath would quicken. But doth the king
So much contemn us? In the wars that were
He might recall it that we wrought our share,
As vacant seats at his great Table tell.
Yet, in his jest, the king hath chosen well.
He seems, me thinks, a likely knave and strong,
And it were shame to do him heavier wrong
Than take his armour from him and leave him free,
Or find him service in my halls. Maybe,
The king constrained him to it, though loth."
Of whom they spake, gave answer: "Ere ye deal
With arms not thine, proud knight, remains to feel
The might ye scorn."
And that knight orgulous
Answered: "O'erweening scullion, wouldst thou thus,
In pride of knighthood's husk, thy vaunt advance,
Against thy lords the deadly fall to try?
A perilous jest! And vanquished, thinkst thou then,
- Thou, whose base grasp dishonours the knightly lance -
Knight-rights to claim? Nor rather unmercied die,
Thy crow-picked bones the enduring jest of men?"
And answered Gareth again: "Whoe'er I be,
In Arthur's name I take this quest. To me
The great king gave it. Here the path I ride.
Defend it as thou wilt, or stand aside.
What recks my knighthood or mine arms to thee?
They cost thee naught."
The black knight answered: "Knave,
One chance is thine thy base born life to save.
Yield me thy lady from thee. Stand aside.
How dar'st along a noble damsel ride?"
"Thou liest," said Gareth, "better born than thou,
That will I prove upon thee."
Then great in wrath
The black knight turned him toward his steed and forth
From those dense yews his squire appeared, and brought
His helm, and barded that strong steed; and naught
They further spake, but space of vantage sought,
And hand to lance, and heel to flank they set,
And deathly on the darkening path they met
In one crashed bout, a fatal strife and short.
The black lance shivered: but Gareth his own hard drave
Unbroken, through the countering shield, and gave
A mortal wound; and that black knight, not ware
Of all his hurt, or furious of despair
And pain, arose, swang out his sword, and bare
Sir Gareth backward some brief space, until
Too fast the red stream of his life did spill
For wrath to dure, and stumbling in his stride,
Length forward, as he smote, he sank and died.
"Lord," said the dwarf, "this dead knight's arms excel
Thine own by far, and it were soothly well
That where ye ride the stouter arms ye bear."
And so, leave given, he stript the dead knight there,
And armed Sir Gareth, who left beside the way
His lighter harness, and the shield of Kay.
"Damsel," he said, "the further path is free."
"Yea, so I see it," she said, "scant thanks to thee.
I asked thee never nor own a boon unsought.
Churl's fortune thine, a nobler life to waste.
Because thy spear-head found a joint unbraced
The strife was won. Yea, even in death me-thought
He over-matched thee."
Gareth gave answer naught.
That night beneath the shadowy boughs they lay
As best might be, for darkness closed them round
In the wild land, ere sheltering roof they found,
Nor moonlight entered those dense glooms.
Showed clearer spaces soon, and easeful way,
And where a hawthorn grove gave opening wide
There passed them, mounted on a courser light,
A knight by-driving all in green. At sight
Of those black arms he halted: "Brother," he cried
"Why fail ye at your rightful place to bide?"
"Nay, nay," she said, "a kitchen knave is he,
But raised unknightly to a knight's degree
At Arthur's jest, and now thy brother hath slain,
By most mishap."
And the green knight again
Made answer: "Ill thy word, and woe the while,
When one so noble by the murderous guile
Of knave misnamed should die. I trust my blade
Shall sheathe not till this dolorous debt be paid."
"I let thee wit," said Gareth, "that knightly I
Thy brother have slain, and do thy worst defy.
Nor shame nor guile was mine."
The path nearby,
A green pavilion rose. Beside it swung
A green horn, on a blossomed hawthorn hung.
He blew it; and forth two damsels, well beseen
Fair as the flowering thorn in white and green,
Approached, and armed him at his need, and brought
A green-plumed helm, a lance, a shield inwrought
With gold and green. A mighty charger, palled
In green alike, he soon bestrode.
The while, of that vexed damsel, Gareth alike
For strife prepared. With eager haste they met.
Their lances brake: dishorsed, with swords they strike
Flame from the steel. Full soon the blades, bloodwet,
The fury of their strife proclaimed. Linette,
Seeing how they strove, but neither aught prevailed,
Soon the green knight with mocking words assailed.
"Behold," she said, "the knave the knight well-born
Endureth, and the weed exceeds the corn.
Shame is it to see."
This heard the green-clad knight,
And leapt at Gareth, and with a stroke of might
Clave the shield from him. But ere again his blade
Aloft he swung, such stroke on helm repaid
Its loss, that beaten backward to the knee,
"I yield me to thy greater might," said he.
But Gareth: "In sooth, I will thy life fordo,
Except my damsel for thy safety sue."
"God's life!" She answered with full scorn, "not I.
I would not so much in thy danger lie."
"Damsel," the green knight pleaded, "need I die,
When one fair word would save me? Knight, I own
Of thirty more the fealty. Thine alone
As mine becomes their service while I live.
Further, I will my brother's loss forgive,
And serve thee truly."
"Words ye waste in vain,
Except my damsel plead thy life to gain."
And with the word he raised his sword, and made
A semblant of the stroke, and she, dismayed,
Cried sharply to him: "Let be, thou filthy knave,
Or long repent it."
Knight, thy life to save
Is pleasure, and more to hear her plead: arise."
Then the green knight did homage, and rose; but she
Not once would lift to Gareth her angered eyes,
But turned to Pertelope: "My heart is woe,
Thy domage and thy brother's death to know.
On whom I leaned, when late these woods I rode,
For converse and escort."
"Good sooth," he said,
"Methinks thy guard leaves little need of dread;
And lodge ye in my manor halls tonight,
Myself will guide ye with the following light
My marches through."
They passed, as daylight failed,
The barriered gate of that fair hold, that thus
Was fallen to nameless knight adventurous,
With all it held, and found full welcome there.
But wroth and scornful still the damsel railed,
Nor joined the board the evening meal to share,
But spake to Pertelope, and churls enmailed,
With all who would such knaves accept, decried
Alike, till he with reasoned speech replied:
"I may not scorn the knight your jibes decry,
So late he proved the hardier knight than I;
And whether his honour of birth be shown or no,
I warn thee, damsel, that a knight I know
And nobler never I met than whom ye scorn.
So shall ye prove him at last; and likeliest born
Of loftier kings than we; and for the need
At which thy sister sent thee, the knight indeed."
"O ay," she said, "for thy new lord ye plead;
The lowlier he, God wot, the worse thy fall.
For who but fools their victors' names miscall?
For me, these strong knave-deeds I count misdone,
For me - behold, dear heaven! - He hath not won.
"Damsel," the knight replied, "yourself will say
Knight am I of some good name, and in my day
I have not been matched till now, and truth ye tell
That folly would be my speech and false as well
That spoke him scorn that won me. Well may be
Some vow shall solve it: wait thy time and see."
"Ah well!" She said, "he vaunts to keep his course;
Yet many such boasts who blare are turned perforce."
The way was through the beech woods. Overhead,
Through the white clouds, the herding wind would bare
Widths of blue heaven, and breaths of rain-sweet air
Were round them from the flowering hawthorn shed.
The pathway showed alternate light and shade:
The beechen boughs the morning breeze obeyed:
Beneath her palfrey's feet the shadow swayed:
The long green glades alight before them lay.
Nearer than yestermorn her pace she reined,
And softer-toned, as though perchance she gained
A mood more gracious from the gracious day:
"Good knave," she said, "whose mocking star so long
Hath made thee overcast proved knights and strong,
Wilt thou not turn thee yet, while life is whole,
Nor waste it striving toward a hopeless goal,
Witless to fear the fate, except ye see?
Art Lancelot? Gawain? Lamorack? Knights as they
Should likely fail to force this perilous way."
"Damsel," he smiled upon her, "who fears may flee:
The sights ye still foretell, we nowise see."
"Yet soon," she said, "full soon, such sight may be."
Then came they where, those forest depths among,
A white tower rose, wide-flanked, with ample bound
Of battlemented walls, and there around
Twice dyked, and o'er its guarded gate were hung
The fifty shields of those good knights who knew
Its lord for theirs, an argent blaze and blue,
Gold, gules, and green. Their kindred pensels flew
From pitched pavilions round a barriered field;
And there opposed them many a blazoned shield
Of challenging knights. For there, the dawn to be,
Should joyous toil of feast day jousting see.
Forth looked the lord of those white towers, and saw,
O'er that broad meadow cleared for tourney war,
A knight, a dwarf, a damsel, clear in view
Approaching rode, but not the knight he knew,
Nor read the shield to which the fronting sun
Gave alien glory: "Here," he cried, "is one
Rides errant, and while I arm me, him let none
Molest nor hinder."
From the gate he came.
His sable shield was live with leaping flame.
Red glowed his arms: red showed the embroidered vest:
A fire of feathers tossed his lofty crest:
Red sorrel was the charger, swift and strong:
Red the huge lance, steel-strengthened, keen, and long.
But when he marked the black knight's arms more near,
"How, brother, what seek ye in my marches here?"
He cried, and answer gave the maid Linette.
"No brother of thine is here: a knave misborn,
A scullion youth king Arthur sends in scorn
To force the fourfold leaguer of the way,
With whom I strive, and win me voidance none:
For false he fortuned that good knight to slay,
Sir Percard, and Sir Pertelope hath won."
Then those strong knights at once in thunder met;
And either fell, and either rose, and set
Sword against sword. Two hours they either foined,
Traced and traversed with warier wrath, or joined
As hurtling boars that blind in fury fight.
Till mocked that damsel: "Oh, thou good red knight!
Recall thy worship known, nor let this knave
So long endure thee." Hearing, hard he drave
Sir Gareth backward, who could scant oppose
Shield-shelter to those furious following blows,
Yet watched with rage controlled and deadlier will,
To wait and use the avoiding chance, until
One stroke at once that hammering hail repaid,
And his strong foe down-felled beneath him laid.
At mercy held, the fallen cried: "O knight,
Approved most noble by thy conquering might,
Be noble alike in mercy! Sink thy hand;
And all my days I render to thy command,
With all the fifty knights I lead." But he,
"No proffer of homage, nor prayer, availeth thee,
Except my damsel sue it." And; she thereon
Recalled her anger of the night foregone,
"Be not so bold, thou knave, such worth to slay."
Thereat, as one that grants a courteous plea,
"Red knight, thy life is thine. Arise I pray.
This noble damsel thank. Thy fealty,
With all thy knights, in price of life I take.
More would I soothly for this damsel's sake,
To hear her plead, and that she weeneth well."
Then entering those won towers, short tale to tell,
Sir Gareth, as meed of that stern strife achieved,
Homage of mesne lords and subject knights received,
And service meet; and when the daylight fell,
In the great hall, beneath the cressets high,
Still poured the cup, and rang the minstrelsy.
But when full light returning gave again
The freedom of the woods, he rose full fain
The further ventures of his path to try:
In spring of youth, and of the flowering year,
All paths are strange, and all strange paths are dear.
Again with morn they rode. A various way
Clear of the sheltered woods they climbed, and found
Fair and wide views that stretched from loftier ground,
And breathed sea-air, borne o'er the scented hay
Of meadows on the long down-slopes that lay.
Swept by the south sea-wind, and bending sheen,
Wide oatlands on the downs were silvery green;
And palest gold, as tresses of moonland fey,
In the deep vale the rippling wheatlands lay,
That each day darkened to the reaping day.
Through this fair land a highway, dyked and wide,
Straight course toward their further goal supplied;
But little joyed their burdened steeds that now
For mossy path and soft, and shadowy bough,
Their hooves along the white road rang: the glare
Of noonlight smote from out blue heavens and bare,
Too seldom shielded by the passing cloud.
A shorter pace their riders' care allowed,
For converse meet, to cheer a lengthened road;
But seemed. Linette's chafed mood no changing showed,
That with fresh scorn she mocked the deeds he did,
And him with wearying words unceasing chid.
"Damsel," he, said, "discourteous words ye pay
For service done, nor ever your bodings tire
At every venture met, and where are they,
These over-boasted foes ye most admire?
Their puissance and their pride of dust and mire
Are comrades now. Wilt ever my deeds mis-call?"
"Ay, vaunt awhile!" She said, "strange hapsmay fall,
When base-born knaves with noble knights engage,
But nearly cometh a knight shall pay thy wage.
For save king Arthur alone, with couchen spear,
No knight of earth might match him. And art thou peer,
Base scullion, of the great king?"
"Nay surely," he said,
"And yet thy telling of fear uplifts my head;
For hath he indeed so noble and feared a name,
He will not with his hundreds at once assail
One knight, in whom he hath no cause for dread;
Nor here may failure threat too great a shame.
And should my all unproven strength prevail
The greater meed is mine. But I should stand
A naked fool to all men, now to leave
A quest where still my foughten foes I grieve."
While thus they spake, his glance arrested scanned
A city towered, in that strong light that lay,
With gleaming walls and white, short miles away.
Mown meadows, wide and fair before it lay,
With moving throngs and azure flutterings gay.
For here the lord of that fair land was fain,
When heavens were blue, and sunlight warmed the plain,
Resort with all his knights for joust and play.
With summer heaven the shine of tourney vies:
Pavilions mocked the hues of Indian skies:
The forest of lances rose a haze of blue:
The trappings of chargers showed a kindred hue:
Blue glinted hauberk and helmet: gold and blue
The blazoned shields that lined their ranks: new-mown,
The fair list-meads they rode were green alone.
"Now," spake Linette, "the noble towers ye see
Of one not least among our foes, for he
Persaunt of Ind, of those leagued knights is known,
Who by strong hand have wrought my sister's wrong;
And by sword-right to him these lands belong
Since morn we rode. The far Byzantian shore
He left, a comrade sworn, when Sagramore,
The long-eluding goal of hope to find,
A kingdom's ease to wandering life resigned.
Rarely of late their several ways have met.
On separate rule Sir Persaunt's heart he set.
Scantly he weighed the toil, and light the sin,
In lawless lands a conquered realm to win.
Though nameless ten years hence he came, today
A hundred valorous knights his word obey.
This city walled, this wide domain ye see,
By naught but by the sword-hand holdeth he.
And deemst thou in thy pride to cast him low?
Mazed am I that one so mean such boast should blow."
"Damsel," he said, "ye rule your speech too ill,
So false to chide me while I work your will."
"O, sir," she said, "I marvel whence thou art.
Bold in thy manner of speech, and bold of heart,
That have I heard and seen; and hence I pray
That you this knight avoid while well you may,
For strife and toil have worn the hardihed
Of that strong steed and thee. Full sore I dred
Mischance of bruise or weakening wound may fall
From needless contest now. This last of all
The perilous passes open lies, and why
The vain result of causeless conflict try?
Nor is he truly, whatever awhile I said,
Of half the wide fame, or the hardihed,
Of that Red Knight of the Reed-lands, who waits
To prove thy valour at my sister's gates.
But seven short miles beyond the siege is laid,
From which, by various chance too long delayed,
Let naught retard us more. The champion there
Is more than ever Sir Persaunt, past compare,
Thy worthier foe."
"Damsel, whate'er betide,
Already too near toward this knight we ride
To turn unshamed, except, his choice decide."
Their hoving while they spake, Sir Persaunt saw,
And sent fair challenge the whether in peace or war
They sought his paths? And Gareth replied thereto:
"I take no force, who ride my purposed way,
Which knight may let me, or which knight may stay.
"But Persaunt armed him when that word he knew,
Deemed all too, haughty from any nameless knight,
Who bare of tendance rode through alien lands.
"Needs must he be a strong knight of his hands
To hold such boast, we prove in strife forthright."
Hue'd as blue heaven he came. They spurred: they met.
No man that joust that viewed might soon forget
The shock when those great chargers reared and fell.
They rose: they drew. Hard smote Sir Gareth, and well
Sir Persaunt countered, and in kind repaid.
Blade rang on mail, or clashed with meeting blade;
And where the blade rang, and the linked mail broke,
The red blood spurted and spread to prove the stroke.
Thus for long hours with equal toil they strove,
Till Gareth an under-thrust unthwarted drove
Beneath his shield, that deep in Persaunt's side
Its meaning told, and left a wound too wide
For striving knight to dure, and while he swayed,
On the blue helm again the assailing blade
Smote, and he fell.
Then cried Linette: "Good knave
I charge thee of thy grace his life to save."
And spake the fallen: "All will I for life resign.
My wealth, my household, and my halls are thine;
The lands that with a hundred knights were mine,
Thy words await."
This ransom sworn, in view
Of all men there, that all men soothly knew
Their overlord from that day forth, with care
The wounded Persaunt, on his forfeit shield,
Full nigh to death, from off the bitter field
Of irretrievable loss, his liege men bare.
Sir Gareth the while, as their new lord, they led
Through shining ways, to ample halls and fair,
Within the white-walled city.
Around him spread,
Entering, a patterned pavement, all the hues
Found fairest in the gazer's eyes: he stept
Past walls of palest gold, where dazzling blues
Of halcyons crossed. The sudden fountains leapt
From dim-green pools, the pillared courts amid,
That half in dark blue-flowering foliage hid.
Strange was it all to Gareth, and strange had been
To many a wandering knight who had but seen
Of western ways, but naught he marked, for he,
Of good blood drained, and wounded oft and sore,
Not scathless that strong strife sustained, but bore
Marks of it the life to last. Most wearily
He entered that rich chamber where they led,
Hung with the tale of Phryne's fate, and spread
With silks that once the marts of Smyrna knew,
Of crocus saffron, and of Tyrian blue.
Up borne on slender shafts of marble veined,
The painted ceil, with loveliest dreaming stained,
Showed heavenward peaks, and clouds toward them deigned,
Where loose-robed oreads stooped, await to woo.
Fair couch was here, his stiffening wounds to rest,
Till with all manners of meat that liked him best
The evening meal was laid, and well refreshed
He sought his couch anew.
Sir Persaunt lay,
As closed the night of that disastrous day,
By pains of mind from pains of flesh made free.
One daughter only of his house had he,
Who now, as he, to this knave-knight belonged.
For her, even as himself, his failure wronged,
According to the custom of the land
From whence he wandered, and whose laws he knew.
Therefore to her he spake, with strait command
To heed his word, and as he willed her do.
"Daughter, the gains of all my years ye know
Defoiled and cast by this great overthrow.
My life I bought by loss of all beside:
His my spear's strength, and his thy virgin pride.
As in our wealth we lightly gave away,
So, in our loss ungrudging, needs we pay.
For though this fate hath fame and fortune reft,
So much of honour to our use is left.
And hence I charge thee that ye seek his side;
Nor be ye difficult, nor strange of cheer,
As one that yields her with reluctant fear,
But meet him with kind eyes, and smiling face,
As though ye sought indeed the churl's embrace."
So charged, his couch she sought, and silently
Despoiled her, and laid her by his side - perde,
In that dawnlight the lovelier dawn was she,
As by that knight in conquered shame she lay.
And Sir Gareth waked, turned and looked her way,
With wondering eyes, as one from dreams not free,
And charged her: "Speak, if mortal maid ye be."
"Fair lord," she said, "Sir Persaunt's daughter I."
Here of his will."
And on her eyes afraid
He gazed: "Art maid or wife?"
"Clean maid am I."
"Then come ye in your own desire, or why?"
"Nay, lord," she said, "unwillingly I came.
My father's strait command was on me laid;
Between the lesser and the greater shame,
What could I?"
"God save it," he said, "that I should do
Your noble father wrong. But get thee gone,
Lest the sweet use of beauty draw me on
To all dishonour."
"Lord," she spake, "I go
At thy command, who came not of my will."
And passed to where Sir Persaunt, sleepless still,
And tortured lay and told him: "Thus I said,
And thus again he answered, 'was I wed?
And came I freely in my own desire?'
And learning all, refused me."
And her sire
Marvelled: "Now by the splendour of God, said he
"He cometh of noble blood, who e'er he be."
More late than wont, of straitening wounds aware,
But blithe of heart to breathe the morning air,
Sun-warmed, that through the opened casement blew,
The last adventure of his trust to try,
Rose Gareth again. But first, a courteous due,
Would to the wounded Persaunt's couch repair.
Sooner Linette, who earlier rose, a nigh
That wounded knight had drawn, fair leave to take,
And counsel change; to whom the first he spake:
"Art thou not she, that fearless damsel known,
The sister of the Lady Lionore,
Who lone hast ridden to ask at Arthur's throne
Some champion to maintain her hopeless war?
Reveal, I pray thee, the name of whom ye bring,
And gotten of what famed prince or mighty king.
Last night a rumour to my couch was brought
That sprang from thee. It spoke his birth as naught,
Or some way base or shamed. A cheerless thought,
Through the long night, for one that knows the morn
Begins new life to such churl's service sworn."
"Persaunt, I know not. To the king I went,
At the High Feast of Pentecost. Methought,
Some knight, the first of many, his care had sent
Such need to meet, but lo! My tale half told,
Forward there stepped a scullion of the Court,
And claimed some boon the king, a twelve-month old,
Had rashly sworn. The boon allowed, he sought
My knight to be. The king with laughter gave
In vain I fled. Behind my path the knave,
Now armed and mounted rode. The rest ye see.
Courteous and bold in deed and speech is he;
And conquereth all. The truth I may not rede.
Nor think that knave to such high deeds should rise,
Nor knight demean him in such loathly guise."
"Ye speak a marvel. Serf and knight too wide
Doth habit and rule and honour of life divide,
For any to lightly cross from mean degree
To worship and estate, except that he
Have knight's blood in him unknowing. Recall the fame
Of Ector, not the least of Lancelot's kin,
Whose life of honour hath overlived the shame
Whereby his sire possessed in secret sin
The daughter of Agradavain unwed."
"Yea, but he did it of Merlin's craft," she said,
"'Twas sorcery all; and howsoe'er it be,
Lord's daughter born, his all but peer was she."
"Bethink ye then the byre-maid birth of Tor.
Though nothing of his high descent he knew,
The strong blood of the dark king Pellinor
Beat in him, and broke the bonds of servage through.
This scullion thine thy cause hath aided more
Already than rescuing knight hath wrought before.
Sure is it, desire alone to overget
Ignoble life, disastrous shame had met
On this stern quest he chose, except that heart
And arm were natured to his chosen part;
And well from thee may courteous words be spent
On him that doth so fully thy need content."
So spake he, faithful to a fealty sworn;
His inward heart of wrath and anguish torn.
To these came Gareth: "A laggard knight," he said,
Smiling, "ye likely while he loiters blame;
Yet trust I ere the long June-light is sped
This toil to cease."
"Beaumains." She said. "Thy name
We treat thee tell."
"Damsel, to grant thy will,
I were not loth, if both ye swear that till
The time I choose, ye will not, save I will,
And grant ye leave, reveal it ever; to still
Importunate pleas, or seeming weightier cause."
They answered: "By the faith to God we owe,
We will not show it to any."
"Then may ye know
King Lot of Orkney and the Queen Morgause
My parents were, and youngest brother am I
To Gawain and Gaheris and Agravain."
"Yea," said Linette, "we well believe. But why
The high birth hide in menial garb, that fain
Were most to tell?"
"A wayward thought was mine,
Not in the glory of my house to shine,
But of myself to stand or fall; and more,
Learnt of the gulls on Orkney's lonely shore
Was little of courtly guise or knightly lore.
Uncouthly to the royallest court I came
The world has known. I would not lightly shame
My brethren, whose high places round the king
Their deeds have won. I chose awhile to gaze
Unnoticed, and to walk acquainted ways."
"Persaunt," she said, "I plead a simple thing.
That ye shall knight my champion ere we part."
"That would I," he said, "and with no lothful heart,
If such the conqueror from the conquered take,
Nor think it shame."
And Gareth replied: "From none
More fitly were that, grace desired, than one
Whose might so late I felt, and whom I know
In all ways worthy. That I may not so
Is that already I hold that fair degree,
Of Lancelot given the time this damsel fled."
"The larger honour thence shall spring," he said,
"Than well were hoped from knighthood given of me.
Of those good knights the strength of Arthur's throne
Ye chose the noblest. Lamorack's fame is great;
And Gawain worthy of his proud estate
The king beside, and Tristram's deeds are spread,
By lovers of tales of wondrous hardihed,
To strain belief; but Lancelot stands alone,
The peerless perfect knight; and next to these
I name, in honour I count the knight that frees
This damsel's sister from her threatening dread."
"Fain were I ever with good knights named," he said.
"It well may be," the conquered knight replied.
"High mayest thou reach if this last strife ye bide;
And hence I urge that here ye wait awhile,
Nor let strong hope thy weening heart beguile
From owning that thine utmost strength is spent.
"Toward no mean foe thine arduous course is bent,
Who forty else in listed strife hath shent
Before ye came; and since his arms subdued
This lady's realm (and in no private feud,
For none was hers), two years his siege hath lain
Round her last towers, and we that watched have deemed
He might have stormed them in the most despite
Of any defenders hers, but more it seemed
He sought to hereward draw some perilous knight,
Lamorack or Lancelot, Tristram or Gawain,
So confident in his great might is he."
Then likely spake, and with more urgent plea,
Linette: "At least, within these halls remain,
Till warning word be given and brought again
From friend and foe," she pled.
Besought of both,
He yielded, haply in his heart unloth.
Then sent Linette's device the dwarf ahead,
Their coming first to show. Sir Persaunt's blue
In sign of peace he wore. The truce-days gave
An open way. Unhailed, and seen of few,
He took the sidelong path she told. It led
Through vale and down to where the loud sea-wave
Beat ever, so sheer to any tide declined
The high cliff-wall, and bending thence pursued
The sandier margin of a curving bay,
The where the Reed-Knight's hosts beneath him lay,
Tented; and pausing on the path he viewed
Their ranged extent. In vain he gazed to find
Toward the sieged towers some quiet avoiding way;
For on the far horn of that bending bay,
Reared from a lift of craggy land they rose,
And all the wide dunes of the landward side,
Save where sheer cliffs had all alike denied,
Were white with tents. The bolder part he chose;
And toward the main pavilions of their foes
Made straight his way.
A pacing sentinel
On the dune path his nearer entry barred,
Required his errand and his name to tell,
And passed his challenge on from guard to guard,
"From Persaunt, and from Persaunt's lord am I,
With words of weight." There came a pursuivant
To guide him to their lord, for he would grant
The bearer of such strange word, with no man by,
An audience sole.
The long dunes dipped and bent
And ridged, but all between the stretched extent
Of hollow and slope was white with ordered tent.
And midst them all a pile of dusky red,
A many-spaced pavilion rose. Here led
The pursuivant, and here the dwarf he bade
To enter while without himself he stayed.
So inward from the summer noon he passed.
The heavy crimson folds behind him fell.
In that deep gloom awhile he might not well
His steps discern, and paused. A voice at last,
Harsh-toned, required him of the meaning tell
Of that strange word he sent.
A knight he saw
Of stark regard, scarred in the wont of war,
Of visage dark and stern, hard-browed, and seret
By days of broken hopes, and nights that brought
Siege of unwelcome and disordering thought,
To one too noble for the end he sought,
And might not win. So, thought the dwarf, afore
Had Uther gloomed, and all men round him feared.
Withal, of stature great and strong was he,
A leader of men. A belted cloak he wore
Of dusky crimson: through the falling fold
The glint of mail.
The dwarf of heart was bold;
'Twas he that served Sir Lanceor, long of old,
And Balyn for his death defied: "To thee,"
He answered. "Is the word I bring, that thou
Shouldst leave this siege, and yield to whom is now
Thy lord as mine, though late the lowliest he
In Arthur's halls. For when that damsel came,
A champion for her sister's cause to claim,
The king among his meanest chose, and sent
A knight enough to all her need content,
Though late his days in menial toils were spent."
He answered: "She may count her labour as naught
Such nameless knight to bring; for had she brought
Lancelot or Tristram, Lamorack or Gawain,
I might have matched him."
"He is not any of these,"
The dwarf replied, "yet the black knight he hath slain,
And two beside, and in plain battle hath won
The green knight, and the red knight, and the blue."
"I care not whom he be. That Persaunt's knees
Bent to him is naught. Myself, I reck me none
But those I named."
Boldly the dwarf: "But few
Thine heart accounts, and yet with heaven is all,
And loftiest vaunt may meet the lowliest fall."
From that rich gloom again the blinding day,
Issuing he knew. The waiting pursuivant
Led forward to the castle gate his way.
With parley here the lighter drawbridge fell;
A wicket in the looped embrasure swung,
And clanged behind him, barred and stanchioned well.
There was a rounded turret chamber, hung
With arras wrought of Merlin's fantasy,
That Lionore loved in summer heats, for high
To those great winds that roam the changeful sky
Its fourfold casements stirred, and outward gave
Sight of wide leagues of never-resting wave,
And lengthening lines of coast and inlands fair.
And in her lonelier mood, and oft, and ere
Lord of blue heaven the sun had left the sea,
Hither would she climb the dawn to meet; and here
She bade the dwarf be brought.
With bended knee
He reverenced whom his master served, though she
Small state required in her last towers beset,
Nor distance from her following held; nor yet
Linette's lithe grace and lively glance and bold
Her bearing showed. The sorrow of year on year
Of strife unsought, from loss to loss that led:
The nearer grief of straitened days: the fear
Through the still sage night the sudden noise to hear
The storming of those leaguered walls that told,
Wherefrom, but by the stormful seas she fled,
No rest remained, her earlier force had spent,
And thinned her youth and paled. Yet while he bent
In reverence at her feet his word to say,
No knight he thought could long a lovelier may,
If once the kindness in her eyes were glad.
"Lady," he said, "thy sister greeteth thee,
Her near return to tell."
"Good dwarf," said she,
"Reveal me how she fares - what grace she had
At Arthur's court - and if she brings and who
Sufficient this strife to take, which else shall be
The grief of death to him, and more to me,
The beacon of wreck to all that once I knew."
"Lady, he is a likely knight and fair,"
The dwarf replied, "and noble and young; his hair
A cloak of gold around him. Tall is he;
For damsel's longing meet, and nurtured well;
Of Orkney born, but more I may not tell."
"But all the holden ways how wonned he through?"
"He passed them as a noble knight should do.
For first the brothers he slew who held their ward
Beside the passage of the perilous ford."
("Good knights were both," she said, "but trained to use
The customs of the murderous line of Breuse.")
"Then the black knight, in strife dismounted, slew;
And next he did the green-clad knight subdue;
And the red-knight alike, and overthrew
Last that strong bearer of the blazons blue."
"Then," said she, "hath he fought and over-thrown
Persaunt of Ind, whose knightly name is known
Among the noblest?"
"Yea," the dwarf replied,
"These hath he overturned, and more beside.
For first he countered Kay, and left as dead;
And 'gainst Sir Lancelot next with hardihed
Long space his powers he proved in equal fight,
Till Lancelot learned his name, and made him knight."
"Dwarf," she replied, "glad words to me ye bring,
As when long winter wakes to laughing spring;
Already that in my lifted heart I see
Peace to these lands restored, and they to me;
And freedom from these irking walls to ride;
And power to gift again those friends allied
Who by my loss have fallen. Be thine to take
Greeting to this good knight, and charge him make
A nearer night's abode, that first my care
Shall fitly ordered for his ease prepare.
Thyself until the coming night be sped
Shalt here remain, and with the morning tread
A different path from that ye came, whereby
There dwells a hermit in the woods, and he
Though spent in prayer he lives, glad host shall be
To him that cometh this needful strife to try."
All as she willed was done. The dwarf remained
Till morn, and of the Reed-Knight's leave returned
A guided way. The woodland path he leamed
That ended at that lonely hermitage;
And soon the halcyon-bannered towers regained,
And told his faring, and the word he brought,
That in set lists await, at prime of day,
For mortal strife prepared, to lose or slay,
Either for wound or prayer according naught,
The Red-Knight of the Reed-Lands, known of men,
The victor hailed of forty strifes afore,
Would Arthur's champion meet.
Delay no more
Would Gareth. There rose for arms and steeds the call.
Forth from the porch of that white-gleaming hall,
Out from the white-walled city of Persaunt, then
To end this quest they rode. At even fall
They reached that hermitage. Within was spread
A fair repast. Choice meats and wheaten bread,
And sun-touched fruits were there, on service all
Chased gold; and wine rich-flagoned, with high device
Of bannered hosts wrought round it: Lionore's; gift.
Therewith a missive that her hand had penned,
'At mortal pass,' she wrote, 'few words suffice.
Accept this offering at my hand, and own
A fitter than a fairer gift I send,
To one so soon the dreadful lance to lift
In strife that death determines. O my knight,
Unknown, be fearless in that strife and strong,
Flowers later to the Victor's crest belong.'
The summer night was past. The day newborn
Arose beneath the lifted wings of morn;
As early they. Before.the wayside shrine
Took from the hermit's hands the Mystic Wine:
The Body of God they shared; then brake their fast;
And ere the time of matin-bells was past
Had reached and halted on a rising brow
Of seaward cliffs. Beneath their sight at last
There lay, begirt with warlike walls and wide,
And deeply dyked upon the landward side,
The straitened towers they sought: "Behold ye now,"
She said, "where last my sister's power denies
This urgent foe, that save her rescue lies
In thee, shall fall."
Below the cliffs was spread
A space of dunes around the in curving bay.
Here with scant guard, as truce allowed, there lay
Her tented foes. Where to a bolder head
The tongued land rose, beneath the seaward side
Of those wide towers, there stretched a sheltered quay,
Whereby the offerings of the partial sea
Were landed, and the castle's need supplied.
Barques of far lands, that thither had laboured long,
Storm-strained, but havened now, were warped along
The quay: blithe through the shrouds the sea-wind sang:
Strange tongues were heard, and mariners' voices rang
With Hail and Ho. The wind-borne cries they heard;
And constant through the changing sounds recurred
The long slow lift, the heavy resonant fall
Of breakers, striving with the strong sea-wall.
But inward bent their path again, and down
Through screening pines, to tangled brushwood brown
And sinking still to where nearhand they rode
A black morass. A sluggish water flowed,
Drained from it, and looped upon the marshy plain
A grove of oaks; and there, the leaves among,
Two score good knights in shameful ending hung,
Their arms beside. The bones of some long slain
Sunlight and rain and wind had bleached and stained;
Some ghastlier yet the mouldering flesh retained.
Abashed was Gareth: "What mean these arms," he said,
"That hang unseemly by the caitiff dead?"
"These be no felons, but knights reputed fair
Who in thy danger died. Ye can but share
Their shame, but if bold heart shall overbear
A ruthless foe."
Her words no answer found
From him that heard. The marshy path they wound
In glooming silence now, and overhead
The death-chains creaked, the croaking raven fed.
But now where that dark water found its way
To seaward through the breeching cliffs, and met
The salt tide-levels, they came. Before them lay
The hostile camp. A wizened thorn, and wet
With sea sprays blown along the windy shore,
Was here, and from a branch projecting swung
An ivory horn of one great tusk wrought,
Which he that list might blow, as those before
Had blown, good knights, though now their deaths were curst
With shame, he thought, and paused not for the thought,
But blew it full loud.
Already the lists were set,
In space prepared beneath the walls, where erst
The tyrant of that siege had overset
So many afore, and when that sound was heard
Wide through the waiting crowd the murmur stirred,
And all the walls and forticed towers were lined
With watchers; and in the clear list-space await,
The strong Reed-Knight his restless charger sate.
"Now," said she, "behold, and let thy heart be light
And glad, for yonder is thy deadly foe;
And here the field of honour or loss, and lo!
Where from her lattice my sister leans to know
The looked-for coming of the high king's knight,
Her hope relies."
And Gareth replied: "This strife
I asked and have, and but with parting life
I part not from it. Though mazed of mind am I
That any there be of knighthood strong and bold,
Such shameful custom in his heart to hold."
"Nay, but bethink ye yet. O, Gareth!" She said,
"Of this last chance my doubtful heart is dred.
Thou art matched of none - thou art proven first - but here
Might any bold knight of all abate his cheer,
Such shameful doom awaits his overthrow.
A nameless knight ye came hath barred ye none -
Leigance and lands and honour thy lance hath won;
And through thy valour, and thy warlike deeds,
The compassed paths are free - my sister's needs
Are shown - together we will re-seek the king -
A thousand eager spears shall Arthur bring
To slay him."
"Nay," said he, "as Christ me save at last,
I will adventure."
With the word he cast
The lance-thong loose, and drest his shield, and drew
The reins together in his left hand. Well knew
The noble steed the meaning of it, and high
Tossed his steeled head, the coming field to view,
That other strifes recalled. For well knew he
The thronging crowd - the barriered space and bare -
The pause till loud the calling clarion blew -
The word - the spur - the shining point before -
The flying dust behind - the shock that bore
Or those or they.
Now toward the lists they drew,
Close under those dark towers where Lionore
Leaned forth, the bearing of her knight to know,
As oft - how oft, she sighed - she leaned afore.
She marked the mighty steed, the arms he wore
In victor's right, the careless ease and skill
His riding showed, the greatness and the grace
His aspect bore, as halting, ware and still,
At the list-end he reined, his foe to face.
But now the signal clarion sounded shrill,
Waked to swift life, a thunderous bolt he gleamed.
The tawny mane of hair behind him streamed,
No casque could cover. As down the lists he charged,
Her Perseus some descended Sun-god seemed.
Love waked unware, and hope her heart enlarged.
They crashed: the rearing steeds, the spears up-flung,
Oft had she seen, but not beheld as now
The like event. Clearcast from either selle
In full career, these strong knights backward fell,
Rolled in the reddening dust, and neither stirred;
But through the expectant hundreds passed a word
Of wonder and doubt.
Sore hurt, and bruised, and wroth
Such fall that so should any fate allow,
Heavily the Reed-Knight rose at last, and forth
Swung the great sword that most his might relied
To end his foe; and nigh too late aware
Of that near death rose Gareth. A moment wide,
Ere yet they closed, his glance he cast to where
She watched whose fate to his this strife allied;
And, as men will, the thing he sought he saw,
So that to him the Lady Lionore,
Was loveliest of all ladies of all lands.
'And to be won with hewing of mortal hands,'
The thought leapt in him, and with the thought his blade
Swept circling down. A dreadful path it made,
By fending shield and turning sword unstayed:
Red wound it gave. But unsubdued his foe
Gave stroke on perilous stroke that wound to pay.
Not Persaunt fought as he fought; keen and ware,
Stronger and wilier he, and old in war,
Adept in cautious use and swift to dare,
With feint at helm and sudden foining low.
So fought they all the fervid noon of day,
Ceaseless. Large cantals of their arms were gone,
Strewn round them. Shoulder and side hewn naked shone
Or dulled with blackening bruise, or streaked with gore.
And still their weary wildered eyes before
The leaping light of those great swords, and still
With weakening strength belike, but tameless will,
Their shifting shields opposed the death to be.
Nor mortal hurt was theirs, nor might they yield,
Though faint to death, with life and fame in fee.
So fought they, till blurred sight and failing knee
His waning strength the Reed-Knight told, and all
The shame and ruin that must belong his fall
Suddenly his boding heart betrayed, and he
One last and desperate stroke achieved: the shield
Turned it: and Gareth countering swift and well
Thrust at the helm: his out-wearied foeman fell.
"I yield." From out the hollow helm the word
That ended that toiled quest the victor heard,
But paused not with his fatal point the more,
The helm to loose the fallen knight to slay.
"Bethink," he said, "of those ye slew before,
Pitiless, and hung in felon shame, when they
Fallen at the point of thy sword's mercy lay."
"Yet hold thine hand awhile, and learn," he cried,
"The vows that held me bound, by which they died."
"Years past," he said, "a damsel I
Loved well, who would not grant, nor yet deny
The goal of love, but ever with doubting eyes
Looked and delayed. A brother of known emprise
Was hers, and he from Arthur's earliest war
Held with the Kings, and on their part he saw
Loss following loss, the while himself he made
A name that grew. He joined a venturous raid
That saw the walls of Camelot ere it turned.
A trail of wasted steads and strongholds burned
They left; but parted in a hard retreat,
Oppressed on every side by thronging foes,
At last, outnumbered, overborne, this knight
Was captured, and thereon, with scant respite,
- These said by Gawain's rule, by Lancelot's those -
Being falsely judged to bear a traitor's name,
Was doomed, and hanged therefor, in utterest shame.
This news I heard, and deemed, her guardian dead,
Herself left lone, the maid would lightlier wed;
But when I asked her: 'Damsel, wherefore bide
Unmated longer, while the unturning tide
Of life flows past us?' 'Thinkst thou then,' she said,
'So soon, so lightly, I forget the dead,
Unvenged, dishonoured? Surely nay, but now,
If love be thine, I'll grant thee vow for vow,
That shame for shame shall be, and wrong for wrong.
Venge thou my loss. To plead my mercy bring
The knight held dearest of the hated king,
Gawain or Lancelot, that themselves may know
The cruel doom that will no mercy show,
And feel it as he felt it erst; and then,
And ever, and to all ends desired of men
Thine am I.' This charge she laid: this hope she gave.
Against the legions that thy part belong,
The power of Arthur, could my force contend
In forward war? Could any single glaive
Pierce through to where those honoured knights and strong
Tread the king's halls? As holden captives rend
Their bodies while the Table gazed? Return
Through all Logre with such a prey? The thought
Were folly. In deaths of lesser knights I sought
To cast a lure, to these wild lands to bring
Such chosen champion of the injured king
As first he deemed; nor doubted aught to earn
My pledged reward who long had all excelled,
Or joined in mortal strife or jousting play.
And so, vow-bound, long time this use I held,
Kneeling, to the victor's feet,
And all unarmed, in proof of peace, as thus
The fallen spake, his lords in fair intreat
Approached: "O nameless knight adventurous,
Until ye first the gains of mercy weigh,
Lift not thy sword this noble prince to slay.
His life, though justly thine, were spilt at cost
Of lawless days to be. But if he yield,
Many are the towers and wide the including field
His fealty brings, and ours, which else were lost
To Arthur's peace, and thee."
"Fair lords," he said
"Fain would I grant it. Yet how evil sped
The unguilty knights his sword subdued before.
And guilt is guilt, though mercy plead the more,
In that he wrought it of that lady's hest,
And therefore, mercy and justice to fulfil,
The one he wronged shall judge it, and if she will
Forgiveness grant, or penance, as like her best.
So that her land he render, and all requites
The trespass of this siege, and then those knights,
Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain, at the Court
Of Arthur seek, and in full hall confess
The fault he purposed, and the wrongs he wrought;
That pardon may be to him who pardoned naught,
And mercy to a knight known merciless."
A fair pavilion on the high cliff brow
For Gareth's use was reared. His ruling now
Must all men round him wait. But naught would he
Of service, saving of the dwarf he brought.
For not that damsel famed of Brittany
More wise of wounds he deemed, and not for naught
The Reed-Knight's sword had smitten on helm and side,
While the long hours of mortal toil were tried.
Twelve days from that great strife had Gareth lain
His wounds to close, with eager heart full fain
On whom he long had served to wait; for though
Each day she sought her grateful care to show
With meats of choice, with fruits delectable,
With ever seeking of his ease to know,
Herself she came not. Hours, he thought, too full
Her new-felt freedom found, and toils of weight,
Perchance, and suitors at her opened gate
With various pleas her time constrained, but he
The lone hours lived, with but the thought to see
On whom he spent his longing, fainly blind.
With strength returned at last, this hope to find,
Forth armed he came: the waiting charger clomb:
Toward those dark towers of strife, her freed abode,
Beneath the blue sea-heaven's unbroken dome,
Slow-pacing, down the long cliff-path he rode.
The seagulls screamed beneath him, wheeling free,
In joyance of their wide realms of wind and sea,
But naught of these he knew, nor nearer heard
Murmur of leaves, nor voice of calling bird.
Before him, while he rode, his sight was set
On those sea-circled walls, his heart the debt
Their lady owed to claim; but while he gazed,
The ponderous gratings fell, the bridge was raised.
He reined before a hostile moat and wide,
And from a casement in the tower's high side,
The Lady Lionore, veiled, but surely she,
Leaned forth and spake.
"My knight, if mine ye be,
Wilt thou my will?"
"In all thou wilt," said he,
"I live to serve."
"Then light the charge I lay,
That twelve short months ye ride as list ye may,
And twelve months hence be here our trysting day."
"O lady," he said, "the boon ye now deny,
That with the best blood of my body have I
Bought from thee."
"And ye shall find my word is true,
And all ye seek of mine be yours to do
Your all desire. Assure ye it shall not fail.
And more shall work it to thine own avail,
Than here to meet thee now. The fleeting space
Of months shall soon return our meeting place."
He turned his charger then: she watched him trace
The path he came: his dwarf he called: and so
Rode forth, again an errant course to know.
Not long had Gareth, from that cold thanking turned,
The toil of those who take love's leading learned,
Required by her a friendless road to ride
Whose grace his offered life had earned, before
She heard, in joyless mood the while she sighed,
The trumpet at her gates of Gringamor,
Her brother. He held a lonely tower, amid
Entangling brakes and baffling marshes hid;
Forth raiding oft her straggling foes to slay.
Hard ridden by many a league of woodland way,
And by the high coast road, since first he heard
Told of the Reed-Knight's fall the rumoured word,
With twenty spears he came. Fit greeting said:
"O sister," he cried, "and is thy threatening dread,
For life and land thy waiting suitor now?
Relate his fall desired, of whom and how
His pride was laid. Ye scarce could grant him more
Than thanks require who won him."
A nameless knight is he to whom we owe
The thanks ye tell. A few short hours ago
I turned him from my gates denied, and yet
Remains the weight of this enduring debt,
To whom we know not, or if knows Linette,
She will not say. Ye know the price I set,
At point of need, on this deliverance won.
That boon to claim, when twelve short months: are done.
Or else refuse for other meed, as best
His choice prefer, shall here this knight return;
And wouldst an easy toil my thanks to earn,
Now hearken. Longer here I may not rest.
With morn I purpose to thy hold to ride,
Till summer heats are done. While there I bide,
Shalt thou the traces of this knight pursue
In secret wise, the which ye well may do,
Who knowest the land he rides, as else but few;
And when the fierce heat at the height of day
Beats on him, who rides such path as nowhere leads,
Rest will he surely on the wearying way,
And likeliest sleep, and thou by craft or speed
Shall seize his dwarf, and seek thine hold, and we
Shall learn of what great name his strength maybe,
And in what land his real abiding is.
I pray thee this thing of thy love, for this
I may not rest not knowing."
"O sister," he said,
"I have seen thee when the stricken field we fled
I have seen thee take the swollen ford, the while
The shafts around thee fell, and seen thee smile
To take it, though the hastened coursers swerved;
But never have seen as now thine heart unnerved
At naught ye know. Ere yon pale moon be spent
The dwarf I bring ye: rest thine heart content."
Careless of those fair lands that round him lay,
His dangered life had freed, regardless all
Of those wide fiefs he won, with tower and hall
That owned his will, whose forfeit wealth might call
A hundred damsels to his most desire,
Turned Gareth from those denying walls. No ire
Possessed his heart, nor any gall of wrong,
That one well served should seem of heart ingrate,
But sorrow of love delayed; for fancy strong,
In love most blind, on whom he knew not, spent
His longing youth, and left his sole intent
Only from those delivered lands to ride;
As though perchance the moving days would glide
More swiftly from him. To hold no course he tried,
But where fair prospects showed, or paths were good
He turned, or where the pasturing charger would.
So wandering, when the ruthless noon was high,
For loss of heat, a willowed stream he found,
And in the cool shade stretched and slept. Around
Were late-mown meads, and frequent vales. Anigh
A white flock strayed, but naught the drowsing herd
Regarded where he dreamed, nor heeded he
When pacing o'er the soft grass silently,
As the ware archer stalks the feeding game,
From oak to oak a blue-roan courser came,
A guiding knight beside her. Scarcely stirred
The timid sheep aside, so quiet they passed,
And gained the willow-shadowed stream at last.
A wary knight was Gringamor; though blithe
In hazard at the call of need was he,
And oft had cheered his heartened ranks to see
His gay regard, by desperate odds beset.
When forth he fared that dwarf by sleight to get
Scarce armed he rode, a courser light and lithe
He chose, for flight than shocks of strife more fit;
Took cautious trail, and rode some days un-guessed
In the close rear of those he traced, content
That toward his walls their wandering course was bent.
And when beside that willowed stream they lit,
Lured by cool shade that called to easeful rest,
He deemed the end of that long chase to test.
Slept Gareth in the noonday heat; a nigh
The dwarf, on whom a watchful charge was laid,
Drowsed into dreams. A rude awaking made
The grasp of Gringamor. A startled cry
Of warning for his lord, and then for aid
At urgent need, Sir Gareth aroused; around
A wildered glance he threw; the flying sound
Of hoof-beats dulled on summer turf he heard;
And all at once he saw that while he slept
Had been. Wide-wakened now, in wrathful haste
His steed he caught, his loosened arms he braced,
Swung to the selle, and hard pursuit he spurred.
But light and swift as wings the homing bird,
Her flying pace that blue-roan courser kept,
And fled by such known paths, the chase to foil,
As mired the following steed, whose burdened toil,
Neither stout heart, nor hurrying spur that sank
With sharp impatience in the labouring flank,
To equal speed could bring. The later day
Beheld him wandering in a pathless way,
His steed outworn; his fleeter quarry fled
He knew not where; and wide around him spread
Uncoultered wastes of brake and marsh and slough,
Where of black swine a scattered herd were fed.
Here paused Sir Gareth, well pleased of heart to see,
Near-resting on a great oak's fallen bough,
The swine-herd. Bent in wizened age was he,
And gnarled and twisted as an orchard tree
With humours of the marsh. Some tidings now
Of whom he sought to gain: "Old churl," he said,
"While watched ye by the herd, hast seen a knight
Fast fleeing, and mounted on a courser light? -
A blue-roan courser, swallow-swift, and trained
With gathered feet the shaking bog to leap,
And through the trackless marsh sure paths to keep;
A darkclad knight and tall; a dwarf constrained
Before him borne?"
The churl, the while he spake,
(He was a house-born serf to Gringamor),
Uprose, and leaning on the staff he bore,
While the splashed knight and hard-breathed steed he eyed,
Laughed out, and still with wrinkled mirth, replied:
"Yea, lord in sooth, that knight but late I saw,
Past riding our gay lord Sir Gringamor,
With such a mourning dwarf; and save ye ride
So fast in friendship on his trace, to bide
Were wiser while ye may. For jacent stands,
A lake's width from the bordering brake, his tower.
Compassed ye ride by those who own his power;
And he beside so perilous of his hands,
That even the knight renowned of the Reed Lands,
Though vexed by rescue, and swift-striking raid,
Where late he sieged, to deal his wrath delayed.
Where lies his hold? In pathless marsh it lies."
"Yet were I lightly there, with thee to guide."
"Yet ere I lead thee, lord, thou long shalt bide.
Nor mayest thou find a path, where no man may,
But fearful in the treacherous swamp he dies;
For strange and secret winds the only way."
"Now shalt thou lead me thither, lest my sword
Thy life should reach."
"Nay, lord, thy wrath may slay;
Yet would I not their private path betray."
"Now peace be thine," said Gareth, "a wrongful word
Ye well rebuke." A coin of gold he gave.
"Yet will I find him at last." Again he spurred,
Till the close brake he cleared. From where he gazed
High to his sight those towers, nor distant, seemed;
But laked in marshes where the wildfowl screamed
In countless clouds, his nearer riding raised.
Such was the hold of Gringamor. A keep
Square-built upon a knoll of land; and deep
Three sides the lake, and one the moat, below,
The whole engirt, and out beyond the lake
Stretched the great marsh toward the bordering brake;
Nor causeway crossed, nor path appeared around
The outmost limits of the fortressed mound.
Was reared a spiked stockade and strong, that so
Might no firm ground be left a camping foe,
Though the broad marsh were won. This outward wall
Closed a wide space of garth and orchard, all
To ordered bearing tamed, through peaceful years,
While the loud discords of the land were fears
That came not nigh.
The wars of Vortigern,
The lawless days from Uther's end that came:
The raidings from the heathen north: the strife
Of king and king, with ruin of land and life,
A hundred years had lit the nights with flame,
And strewn the fields with slaughter. Storm and sack
Walled cities knew. In ruins scorched and black
Many a proud tower lay. But showed that garden close
Still the sweet blooming of the guelder-rose,
And changeful only to the changeful day
The quiet green lawns and dreaming orchards lay,
And its fair lilies, virgin-white, and meet
To lay with hands of prayer at Mary's feet,
Untrampled grew. Such boon the marshes gave
To that lone hold and strait demesne, and those
Who more than venturous ways its safety chose.
Short space paused Gareth, that warning waste to heed.
Too wroth of heart for care of peril, he drave
Forthright for those sought towers his warier steed.
Perchance some deal the long June lights had dried
The deeper ways, perchance were signs, unseen
Of Gareth, of where the lighter chase had been,
That guidance to the charger's path supplied.
For oft he stayed in snorting fear, and oft
Tossed with fresh pride his haughty crest aloft,
As backward from the sucking marsh he drew
His mighty limbs, and with good heart anew
Shouldering he broke the treacherous boskage through;
Or in the reeded waters plunged, and gained
A safer way than that which fairer feigned.
Sure it is at last, though nigh with strength foredone,
Fouled to the plume, the castle gates they won.
With that light-captured dwarf had Gringamor,
More soon than Gareth, from lighter toil returned,
Where waited in her chamber Lionore.
And there, that there might all she willed be learned,
The dwarf he led.
"Sister, a simple theft
Has brought thy will. His angered lord I left
Long miles away; for in such wrath he rode
As plunged him blindly, where no pathway showed,
In marsh and mire. A sorry sight, I vow,
And lightly shent, thy victor-champion now."
Now when the dwarf that damsel marked, he deemed
Some gentler purpose than their violence seemed
Was hers; but with their meaning shown, to hold
Him there constrained, until the name he told
Of whom he served, he answered, brief and bold:
"Lady, thy will be thine, and thine the shame,
Who seek in such foul wise to gain the name
Himself withheld, who broke thy bondage free.
Last-born of Orkney's royal line is he:
A child of Lot: Sir Gareth his name. For ye,
Well were it for thy peace to let me back,
Or he that surely cometh shall work ye wrack,
That ye shall much repent, if more delay
Or further wrong be mine, that blood shall pay."
"Then must we meet his wrath as best we may.
Not lightly here he cometh." Laughed Gringamor,
"But let the meal be called; that long I more
Than feared I ever for mortal knight."
Who from the dwarf's rebuke her glance had turned,
Lionore, who through the casement gazed, replied,
With quieter speech: "Good brother, the thanks ye earned
I gladly pay; and if again I ask,
Than this thy kindness shown, a harder task,
(For marked she winding through the marshes wide
Whom well she knew) - it were not vain" - nor more
Her secret thought she told, for sharply spake,
With hand on steel, the good knight Gringamor:
"Methinks himself he cometh. The fiend him take!
I thought not any unled, by mire and brake,
Through such foul ways could win. Ho, varlets there!
Let the bridge lie, and leave the courtyard bare,
For wrath may blindly take a plainer snare,
And stoutly close the inward gates; mayhap,
The hunter here shall feel the girding trap;
And bid them at the winches stand prepared
To fall the gratings when the hunt is snared.
And there may wait this headlong knight, until
We tame him, sister, to what end we will."
But answer gave him Lionore: "Surely no:
We may not him to whom such debt we owe
With craft repay. Recall, he doth not know
Whom here we be, in this strange tower, unless
Linette were seen, and here, in no duress,
But welcomed guest such wanderer well may stay.
Yea, ye shall work it in my purposed way.
Restore the dwarf unwronged, his peace entreat,
That we may here as chancing strangers meet;
For in such guise to know him my heart is fain."
"Sister," he answered, "now I know thy will,
I may but work it till it change again."
By this, loud raging in the court below,
Sir Gareth they heard: "O, thieving coward," he cried,
"Must I forth drag thee, hound, from where ye bide,
And beat thy craven bones, too mean to slay?"
Gay laughed Sir Gringamor: "Now, sooth to say,
Thy favoured champion hath a gentle way."
And laid his sword aside, and down the stair,
And to the courtyard came, and Gareth he there
Met with fair words: "Whatever I wrought of ill,
God's life! I will amend it to thy will;
And therefore mayst thou 'light, and of thy grace,
Make for thine ease my halls thy biding place."
But Gareth: "My dwarf! My dwarf!"
"Is safe and here,
And waits thy will, for when constrained he told
Thy lineage, and thy noble deeds and bold,
These lands so late have seen, my heart fore-thought
The wrong I compassed first in careless sport."
Then forward came the dwarf his horse to take:
"O, fellow," Sir Gareth him answered, "for thy sake
More toil was mine than ever I wrought to free
The Perilled Hold." For mired and drenched was he
From plume to spur, and that great charger showed
The like foul tokens of the labouring road.
Then, while the dwarf the neighing charger led
To those long stalls the inner court that lined,
Ease after toil from willing hands to find
Was tendance called, and damsels' gentle hands
Unlaced the helm, and loosed the buckler's bands;
His wearied limbs the cumbering harness shed;
And water in fair-shining bowls they brought,
Of silver all, some Roman craftsman wrought
In days agone; and robes for banquet fit
When lords of worth with well born ladies sit,
In the high places of the marshalled hall.
To Gareth now, in seemlier guise arrayed,
Fair spake that knight, and fainly sought to show
His altered will, and in smooth phrase he prayed
His grace, as guest desired, unthinking all
That late had been, and o'er the waiting board
To deign the ladies of his halls to know.
Not long of ire was Gareth. In light accord
He answered: "Yea, the grace of meat ye owe,
And well may pay." So to the feast they came,
In the high-built banquet hall. A graceful dame
And young, his wife, was there, her princely guest
To greet; and like the dusking violet drest
In those dark twilight greens that liked her best,
And girded in great pearls, a prince's dower,
Was Lionore. None from her quiet mien had guessed
How in her heart the rose of hope aflower
Strove with cold fears to face that meeting-hour.
In gracious phrase, but coldly courteous, she
Her greeting spake to stranger knight, and he
Not knew her at all, but thought, 'Christ's mercy be!
I would my lady were as fair as she,
Or she were mine the rather,' and gazed as though
Some weird-wrought charm his fettered eyes beguiled,
That all men round, the while he knew not, smiled.
So closed, in mirth and feast and beaker's flow,
The striving day. At whiles, a minstrel sang
Some chaunt of love, or war's wild-sounding lay,
Or death's lament. At whiles, with jest and play
The hall was loud, the spoil-hung rafters rang;
And still in all to Gareth, his rank confest,
Was honour paid alike as prince and guest.
Much of his late-done deeds they asked and praised,
But most that wild marsh ride their marvel raised,
That weight of steed and armoured knight unled,
In safety might the watery spaces thread
Round that lone hold, where, in the trackless marsh,
The gliding snake, the bittern booming harsh,
Were lords before. But Gareth unthought replies
To words half-heard returned, the while his eyes
Not left her, whom he knew not, yet that he
Loved instant. Well her glad heart knew it, while naught
Her glance allowed, but in her secret thought
Rejoiced she now her chosen knight to see
At her near hand, and bound in love's swift spell,
A nameless damsel's thrall. 'Did I not well?'
So sang her thought, 'Did I not more than well?
Shall I not win him, and of myself alone,
Ere the great wealth and ere the debt be shown?
Yea, he shall take me at last, or no man will,
Till death's embrace. O beating heart be still!
What lover as mine hath been, or now doth be?
Not Merlin, for all his wisdom. Nay, perde,
Fiend-born. The mirthless Lancelot? Nay, not he.
Not Arthur's self. Fate to his high degree
By God's weird called him; but my knight unknown
Cast his birth from him, and by his worth alone
His honoured place is won.'
Her heart awake
Exultant sang. Love in their meeting eyes
His answered signals knew, who stoops to take
His tribute where he will, but most above.
All callings waken to the call of love.
For else how came that Pelleas, fallen first
In that that false lure Ettard's vain beauty spread,
When Nimue loved, of her more love was led
All baser bondage through? Or Merlin erst
Had given all heaven to earn that damsel's kiss,
And yet, for all his wisdom, woo'd amiss?
While yet with revel and dance the hall was gay,
Though night without from morn's first lances fled,
To her own chamber, tired of feast and play,
Did Lionore pass. Disordered all it lay,
With arrasene and broidering silks bespread,
The task unthought, since, half a life away,
There Gringamor the captive dwarf had led,
So few short hours of flying time before.
Here came Linette, who from the feast had stayed,
And later, from the hall, Sir Gringamor.
"O sister," he said, "this prince in all men's gaze,
His heart and longing at thy feet he lays;
And need we more in careful words conceal
The truth that should with swift troth-plighting seal
A bond that well for all thy friends were made?"
"Nay," said she, "ye shall but plead his longer stay,
As wished of all, nor more thyself reveal."
Back to the hall went Gringamor. The day
Faint-entering now the orient windows through,
The cresset lights had paled. A harp yet rang,
The dying mirth to cheer.
"Lord prince," said he,
"Ye may not greatly care that all men see
The looks that on my sister's face ye cast;
And seek ye love's desire (such loves as last),
Perchance herself she would not greatly chide,
If her true thought were shown. While here ye bide,
I would ye know ye will not lightly tire
The welcome first we gave, nor find untried
Such revels to thy delight as here we may,
Contained in these poor towers and lone; and she,
Her worship saved, in all thou wilt shall be
Thy comrade of the hour."
"If sooth ye say,"
Gave answer Gareth, "a knight more glad than I
The world not holds; and wandering no sure way,
And pledged a twelve months in these wilds to stay,
Fain would I bide to prove thy sister's will,
And thank thy friendship shown."
"If equal skill,"
Laughed Gringamor, "and conquering might thine
With damsel's heart as in the doubtful fray,
The test is here. Mark from the oriel where
The long garth lies below. A postern stair
Leads to it; and seek ye in this far retreat
Where the flowered lawns with bowering orchard meet,
Oft there she walks, when dawn among the leaves
To Lionore then returned he spake:
"Lo, sister, if the orchard path ye take,
There may ye meet a knight who yet believes
Chance strangers we, for some short hours, ere yet
The dwarf must tell it."
In faintest dawn they met.
The grass beneath their feet was green and deep,
And in the white mist of the morn asleep
The ghostly orchard lay.
The word she led
To those late strifes he won: "Men tell," she said,
"That more than lordship and great lands are thine
By these devoirs: that whom ye freed to wed
Ye purpose, and her heart accords."
He answered. "Naught they know. No bond is mine.
Believe, that whom I freed I scarce have seen;
My entering at her gates herself denied.
If more in mine intent or hope hath been,
I dreamed, and with the dawn the dream is fled."
"All spake her at the last the plighted bride
Of him that should that rescue reach." she said.
"They spake her honour and all knighthood wrong,
Whose swords for right are drawn; the joyous breath
Of battle only in the gage of death,
Nor larger issues, may to strife belong.
Whate'er I dreamed, to claim beyond her will,
I thought not ever, and in full freedom still,
And in no dream, but in the waking day,
My sword and service at the feet to lay
Of one more near, with single purpose now,
My heart, beyond all words, desires."
If whom ye served, and whom to serve ye seek
Be one? And whom ye left that now ye speak?
Who from the thrall of that long siege hath sought
Her childhood's home awhile? If more the thought
Of orchards where fed birds in winter sing,
And lawns that bear the chalice-flowers of spring,
And guelder-bowers the sweet mid-season bends
Bloom-laden: where the heaven-wide dawn ascends
Unbroken, and the light of sunset eves
O'er the long marsh its changing splendour weaves,
Was hers, than in the place of power regained
To rule; and here, and by this strangeness feigned,
Hath lightly from thy lips her freedom won,
That most she longed?"
She ceased, but answer none
Found Gareth awhile, amazed, till came Linette,
In proof of all: "I would not if I might" -
At last he spake - "in any count of debt
Require thee of thy love, nor such requite
Could honour ask or grant. But all forget
That hath been; search thou in thy heart, and see
If no love lies therein, nor love may be
To whom ye feared, not knowing."
Her lifted eyes,
Answered: "Dear lord, my troth is thine," she said,
"While the life last, and longer; for wert thou dead
No man should have me. Lured in love's devise,
I did but seek to win thy heart, unled
By aught but love. I would not gladly wed,
Though to content mine own desire, who came
As meed of valorous deeds a hand to claim
That in repute of wealth alone he knew."
And answered Gareth again: "As God is true,
I seek thee for thyself alone, as erst
I sought a dream of errant fancy nurst.
I dreamed, and waked to find the dream is true."
So, in this heaven new-found, brief days and few,
The freedoms of the bond of love they knew,
While summer slept around that secret hold.
Short seemed the day, and long the loveless night,
And every parted hour a lost delight,
Till came a trumpet at their gates that told
A herald, guided o'er the marsh, to bring
An urgent word to Lionore from the king.
The while high deeds and love's elusive lure
Drew Gareth, content in perilled paths and dure,
For test of knightly worth, awhile to tread,
Till found he that dire road at last that led,
When least he hoped, to haven sought and sure,
South-bound, beyond the furthest Hebrides,
And beating west to meet the clearer seas,
A strong-oared galliot came. Well worth the while,
That outward far they beat from strait and isle,
Though winds were light, and oft reluctant oar
They laboured, lest the strong tides backward bore
Their gradual way. For when no more they saw
White reef or loom of land, at evenfall,
The east wind vanquished heaven and smote the sea,
Battling against her moon-led tides, and she
Rose rebel, and roared in flying strife, with all
Her tossed white plumes and glittering points war.
Loose to the wind the trembling barque they gave:
Ever behind it piled the whelming wave:
And like a wounded bird that struggling flees,
With one drooped wing it fled the following seas.
Two days the storm the shielded bulwarks beat.
The barque far driven of waves too fierce to meet
Left the known world for chartless wastes. At last,
When somewhat of the storm's first wrath was past,
With daring helm against the wind they wore,
Dropped the long yard down from the bended mast,
And out again they cast the toiling oar,
And backward fought the flying course they drave.
Strained of the gale, and of the beating wave,
Though manned of coast-born kerns and builded well,
Hardly the barque the heaving waters clave;
Down the dark slopes as toward its grave it slid,
Laboured the long sea-hollows, and met the swell
With sullen lift, the high-beaked prow that hid
In sweeping seas. At length the land they hailed;
Hauled the great sheet aloft, and southward sailed
With wind abeam: the oars aboard they drew:
With larger force the washing hold they baled;
Hope of fair haven in their hearts anew,
They sailed the varying coasts of wild Strathclyde;
With fear they watched lone Mona's mystic shore;
Beat round Surluse, and passed the cliffs of Gore,
And came at length to where the rising tide
Entered Usk-mouth. They saw the long-ships ride
At anchor, gardant. Terraced gardens gay,
And wooded slopes arose on either side,
As slow they oared that crowded waterway,
Where shallops slim, and painted barges plied,
Till under grey Caerleon's time-eaten walls
They came, and turning on the tidal flow,
Shipped the long-wearied oars at last, and so,
With noise of hawsers flung, and seamen's calls,
Swung to the quay.
The warden of the shore
Marked the high standard that the halliards bore,
And meetly there with all observance met
The landing of the Queen Morgause. She came
From where King Lot, the lawless north to tame,
His towers on Orkney's steeper shore had set.
Some high boon from her brother's hand to claim,
Or urgent tale and dire of wasting war,
Such perilled voyage must show. One told the king
She came. Well knew he that no light cause would bring
That Queen to meet him in those towers that saw
Their earlier love.
In the great hall they met,
As when she came on that first embassage,
Guile-born, and burdened with a kingdom's woe.
But colder greetings now, and words more slow.
Were theirs, who no wise dared recall, nor yet
Might in fair speech their conscious hearts forget
The earlier day.
As the long hall she paced
In converse with the king, while all displaced
Before them where they trode, of envious age,
Showed that fair queen no proof, though mother was she
Of mighty sons, in childhood erst, and those
Sweet-seeming eyes no years of grief could dim,
Glanced Arthur's halls again, as when to him
Before, a lure contrived of treasoned foes,
They beaconed that strange wreck that neither knew.
As over that gay scene her glance she threw,
Down the clear space there passed, for riding mailed,
But helmless yet, a goodly knight to see,
Though, as his sire, of seldom mirth was he,
As though his nearing doom his heart foreknew,
Dark king's heir. She marked his bearing high,
And looked on Lamorack, and the weird prevailed
That Merlin told in his dark redes; for she,
Sad queen of sorrows, doomed the bane to be
Of all she loved, and doomed at last to die
At violent hands of those whose life she gave,
Destined she came a flower-soft way to tread,
As fate willed fair, one deathward joy to know,
Ere the near darkness fell.
"By perilous wave,"
So spake the king when greetings meet were said,
"And lawless chance of many a pirate isle,
And lairs of havened foes await, whose wile
Or force had gladly siezed a hostage dear,
In one poor galliot's guard why sailed ye here,
With no foreword to caIl my navies forth
To line thy purposed way? Or wiselier planned,
A path had Caradoc cleared through Lothian land,
Thine old domain. Some fear in that wild north,
Where lonely in thine eyrie heights ye dwell,
Beyond the wont of days, thy steps foretell,
Though but last moon the messaged word was well
That southward came."
"Of all this naught," she said.
"My captains' wards are sure, my towers are strong,
Thy name my most assured defence. No wrong
Of victoring foes I tell. Thy sister keeps
Her charge; though oft from night's dark anvil leaps
A spark of war, and oft the long-ships ride
Anchored beneath us, till the turning tide
Release them southward. Mine a nearer dread.
- O brother, what do ye with my sons?"
And he: -
"I hold them in honour, as their deeds require,
None closer to my throne. What tidings dire,
And haply false, have brought thee?"
"Nay," she said,
"Sure tidings mine. Where rests my youngest? He
The last I sent. His deeds that worship thee,
Ignobly, midst thy meanest serfs are done."
"Sister," the king gave answer, "sweet Morgause,
What wrong is here that lacks all likely cause?
Content thy heart, I knew him not thy son.
Nameless he came, if whom I think he be,
And as his chosen boon thrall-tasks he took,
And in the time he chose he cast them by,
When to his charge I gave adventure high,
His most desire. His fair return we look
There came to Arthur, while they spake,
The Keeper of the Gates.
"Lord king," said he,
"A scout inriding tells that hereward be
A force of spears. Unseen, he watched them make
The osier ford. Their ordered points he told:
Five score and three. The backward pensels blew
Wide in the wind, but naught of these he knew,
A halcyon azure, on a ground of gold,
They showed, and armed were all and trapped in blue.
"When later through the screening trees he gazed
From loftier ground, a cloud of dust upraised
On the far skyline spake of spears behind
In heavier rank. He paused no more to bring
His tale. The outer gates forthright I barred,
And bade thy trumpets call the larger guard,
Ere here I came in haste to further find
"Good friend," with laughing eyes the king
And kindly grasp on Brastias' arm, replied,
"Recall thy guards, and let the gates be wide.
I would not friend or distant stranger show
In this device a face of fear, as though
Caerleon itself might doubt a raiding foe.
But marshal in good rank thy spears await,
In the walled yard, their bridled steeds beside,
And warn the archers at the water-gate,
That all be ware; and forth Geraint shall ride
With front of peace, and parleying trump, and pride
Of pursuivant, those nearing bands to meet,
And fitly foes defy, or friendship greet."
So charged Geraint the king, and forth he rode,
In shine of steel and sheen of cramasie,
No girl in that great court more blithe, to feel
O'er his huge limbs, and o'er the woven steel
The crimson silks a flow. With flutter and stir,
Tossed manes, and tramping hooves, and trumpeter
Sounding, along the narrow street he sped.
Geraint was he of whom the tale was told,
So woodly on the damsel whom he wed
His heart was set, that her sure love to hold,
In those gay silks himself desired he clad
Beyond her will her quieter grace, and then,
To hide her fairness from desire of men,
His restless longing urged his heart, that he,
A mighty man of voice and sword, retired
To secret towers between the wild and sea,
Forgetting for her the fierce delight he had
In splendour of arms, and shocks of tournament,
And mortal risks of war. His thoughts he spent
Her passing days to please, till falsely ired
By sleep's half hearing of a word half meant,
Would naught of speech, but bade her ride attired
In meanest garb before him, while that he
Taking such paths as chance unreasoned led,
In wrathful silence rode. Strange haps were theirs
In lonely ways, and warning oft she gave
Unthanked, who first the threatening fear could see,
At perilous pass his life to guard.
Too greatly, asks his fall. A sword point drave,
In one great bout, beneath his failing shield,
The draining wound some while his pride concealed
Till witless from his steed he rolled, and there,
The while she strove his hurt to staunch, there came,
(Not yet had Arthur cleansed the western land),
A bandit riding with a lawless band.
A damsel, and a warrior seeming-slain,
And richly armed, his glance espied, and twain
He called, and charged them that dead man to bear
Back to his hall, and he the damsel there
Himself conveyed, and with fain words desired
Her favour. Fair as seldom seen was she,
Though garbed in no rich guise, and stained and mired
With riding in rough ways. Not used was he
To take repulse from those of mean degree
His fancy sought. But when she wept, and prayed
Only his grace her wounded lord to aid,
Thereat in ire to cease her wearying plaint,
He led to where his followers bore Geraint
And left him. Seeming there a dead man lay
Cast on his shield; he had not moved since morn.
And she, regarding with a glance forlorn,
Shrank with fresh dread, for then Geraint he knew,
And now beheld her with regard amazed.
A cruel smile and slow, the while he gazed,
Of his dark thought was born. "God's doom!" he said
(Hard on a shrinking arm his grasp he laid),
"Is this slain knight the mighty prince ye wed,
That with a hundred spears was wont to ride?
This draggled gown the gay brocades his bride
Would boast? The priceless silks his wont to give?
Well, let the dead man lie! For we that live
The larger joy. A living dog - ye know
The word. Who may not when her meed she may,
Belike shall prove at last the lighter prey.
The joy ye feel ye need not shrink to show,
For this fair meeting-time. Wilt answer naught?
Nay, ye shall tell me how his death ye wrought,
And we will drink his end. The feast is spread.
We wait thee at the board."
At this she said,
Low-voiced, and speaking from the cold despair
That darkened with the thought: 'He would not dare,
Except that my dear lord were surely dead.' -
"I will not look at wine nor taste of bread
Till death, except my lord shall rise and share."
"O fool!" he said, "dost think the dead man there
Regards thee or thy vow? But thou shalt learn
In pleasing those who live thy more concern.
I will not wailing in my halls from those
My favours know. Thy heart may well rejoice;
For I will set thee first. Hast yet no voice
For thanking that my fancy deigns? Shall blows
More potent prove to wake thee to my will?"
And smote her on the cheek.
More ware than hate or fear, his warning gave.
Out from the shield the dead man leapt, and clave
Limours, even to the mocking mouth. He fell,
Not knowing his end; and wild his followers fled
In panic from the dead man risen, until
The banquet hall was bare.
Whate'er was said,
As forth they passed, his wrong he owned, or she
Of her more love, without reproach, forgave
Her foolish lord. A finer trust, maybe,
A closer bond was born. Whate'er he learned,
Wound-healed, to Camelot soon his steps he turned,
And serving there, or in his own domain,
Approved his worth in all men's eyes, and earned
A place at Arthur's Table late left bare,
When came the dolorous news of Ireland's heir,
By Tristram, in that Cornish island slain.
Now outward rode Geraint, till came to view
Sir Persaunt, with a hundred spears in train.
The long rank from the narrow path's constrain
Debouched, a lengthening blaze of gold and blue,
And burnished steel that back the sunlight glanced:
His household knights.
Sir Persaunt, ere they met,
Geraint surveyed, some space alone advanced
In proof of peace. A noble knight, though yet
Wound-weakened, worthy of honour, his glance appraised;
And greeting with frank words and vizor raised
He gave, and what fair chance the path had set
Of guests of worth to Arthur's gates desired.
Then Persaunt spake: "Fair lord, no guests we,
But conquered men. Our victor's word required
That here to Arthur's peace we yield. Ye see
The strength I rendered when my life I won,
Forfeit beneath the stronger sword of one
Called Beaumains, hence but late of Arthur sent."
"I speak not for the king," Geraint replied,
"Yet to his cause so fair a band ye bring
Of yielden men, that well methinks the king
May welcome, nor the chance too greatly chide
That late to aid his foes thy force was spent.
- But whence are these?"
For while they spake there drew
A darker rank behind the gleaming blue,
Dull green, late summer's dulled larch-green, in hue,
The spears of Pertelope.
A further line
Defiled, and longer in their rear, the force
Led of that white tower's lord, Perimones.
Of various shields, but plumes and lances red
They showed in sign of whom they served. Blood-red
The leaping flames along their pencels spread.
Amazed, Geraint their gathering number sees.
"These spears" - Sir Persaunt spake - "are naught of mine.
Sir Beaumains won them in like tourney-course
To that self-sought in which myself I fell.
But these are few. Not yet the generous source
This stream hath spent."
For in the rear were seen
Seeming an endless line of lances sheen,
In marshalled order fair, and stern of mien,
That forth the Red-Knight of the Reed-Lands led.
Shielded and helmed and trapped in dusky red,
As winter bracken where the frost hath been,
Dark glowed their line against the woodland green,
When rightward of Sir Persaunt's rank they drew.
Then forward to Geraint the leaders came,
And instance of their fall and rank and name
Gave each, and while their followers paused await,
He led them through grey wall and brazened gate,
Along the thronged and curious street, and so
To Arthur's hall, where many a good knight knew,
And welcomed to his mood an earlier foe.
And thus before the waiting king they came,
Where all was told, and they, but Persaunt, learned
Their victor's name.
"I marvel," said the king,
"That he who from my throne such thank hath earned
Himself delays; and wherefore hear I naught
Of that stout knight Sir Percard? Since he fought
Against us, gathering back their broken wing
So hardly, when king Ban at Duglas clave
The twelve kings' centre (Benoic, vert and or,
Charging behind him), and the failing war
Ceased; and the heathen horde to coast and cave
Fled from us - with that lost strife his faring died
From speech of men. But deemed I ever with these
He held;" and spake he to Perimones,
"Are ye not brothers?" and he the king replied,
"Yea; the Black Knight was he, in bond allied
Against thee. Beaumains slew him. Not he thy friend
Was ever; nor here had bent, his life to gain."
Answered the king: "Whatever part he chose
His choosing graced, his aid advanced, and fain
Am I that noble as he were all my foes.
But hear me for yourselves; the while ye live
In fealty to Sir Gareth, to each I give
The freedom of the Court; and so ye learn
The laws of mercied rule, and justice stern,
That guide our ways, and so the realm ye serve,
Regardless of the ended days, deserve
Well may ye at our great Table seats at last,
Where all in honour are one. Reed-Knight, to thee
A new name give I, Sir Ironside, that the past
May die, forgotten. To whom ye wronged, I will
That ye shall pray their grace to overget
Ceased evil, frustrate. Noble knights are they,
Who know forgiveness takes, not grants a debt;
And losers most are those the least who pay.
- But speak ye naught of Gareth, the where he wends?"
And answered Ironside: "Lord, the strife we had
Not bloodless ceased. Awhile, as one that mends
Sore wounds, his tent he kept. His dwarf forbad
All audience, save to those with gifts that came
From whom he freed. Myself, who owned the shame
Of that defeat, by youthful strength excelled,
Less wounded rose from where his might had felled
An older and a warier-fighting foe.
My days I gave to work his hests, and so
Rendering my power to her I sieged, I took
In few days' space the hereward path. Delayed
At Persaunt's towers, whose wound might nowise brook
An earlier road, some time perforce I stayed,
Where tidings came that Beaumains, risen, had sought
The Lady Lionore's gates, who granting naught
Of favour for his larger gift bestowed,
Denied him entrance. More I might not know.
Men tell that to the inland wild he rode."
Then rose Gaheris, and called his arms, and fain
Rose Gawain in like mood, and Agravain
Thereafter, each his brother to seek, but spake
Sir Baudwin's wisdom hoar: "Ere yet ye take
Blind path, recall thy woodcraft; would ye go
On the cold trail, or watch the waiting doe,
The stag to snare? While easeful here ye bide,
If send the king a summoning trump, to ride
To those sea towers of warring damsels held,
Ye well may learn the thing ye seek, for seld
Delivering knight from his won damsel's call
This counsel given, applauded all
Who heard: the king approved: the charge was said.
Forth with the hour a fitting troop were sped.
The golden light of evening on the lawns
Was levelling through the linden boles, and made
Of light-moved aspen boughs a quivering shade;
And that fair star that summer dusks and dawns
Makes lovelier than themselves, still watched un-seen
The sunset hours.
Within the linden screen,
With words contenting on themselves to dwell,
And ways of their late separate lives to tell,
Regardless of the passing hours were they,
Lionore and Gareth. To her mood he told
Of wars and wonders learnt from sages old,
Of that wild land in northern mists that lay.
Dim tales of Gods on earth in Odin's war:
The wiles of Loke: the thunder throne of Thor:
The Great White Worm that twisteth evermore
Round the doomed world: the mystic northern lore
That strove with Christ along the Baltic shore.
And when she asked him: "In thine Orkney, say,
Are none that yet to Asgard heroes pray,
Nor yet their ravening warships vex ye more?"
"Nay," said he, "my fathers held, great Gods are they;
But Christ is mightier, as the later day
At Badon showed; and heathen raid and wrong
Not oft hath siezed our shores, nor held them long,
Since owned the isles the fear of Arthur's sway.
Though sometimes, like a seeking bird of prey,
On the dawn-line a long-beaked galliot lay,
But seldom vext us: further south they found
In wealthier lands than ours, such hunting ground
As more they loved, the price of strife to pay."
While thus they spake, the shrilling trumpet brought,
The word that called her thence to Arthur's court,
And instinct counsel of her love she sought.
"Dear lord," she said, "what shall I? For rede I well,
The king and thy queen-mother would have me tell
The where ye be. Or wilt thou that we ride
Together, and meet them there, and side by side
Inform them of thy will?"
He answered: "Nay,
For I would win thee in the princelier way,
From all men's hands, in all men's sight; and so
I rede that separate to the Court ye go,
And if they ask of where the while I be,
Reveal it naught. But ye shall here proclaim,
Or under thine own towers, a tourney high,
That those that will may strive thy hand to claim,
From dawn to darkening hours. Nor doubt that I
Will hold thee single from the world's desire;
And win thee, lifted in the world's acclaim,
Wide as man's speech is known; and leave thy name
A star, not Nimue's nor Iseult's more high.
Yea, though death barred, God granting, this would I."
"Faint heart," she said, "then must I lonely ride?
And wilt thou thus my granted love deny?
Dost fear thy queen a foolish choice may chide?
Shall all be lost a further chance to try?
Well, as thou wilt! Who knowest that slave am I
To all thy thought. I will doubt nothing. But this
Grant me, who only in thy favour live,
Lest sorrow long for our short mirth we pay,
The tourney prize be mine to choose and give;
Not as thou sayest. But I will there purvey
A princely guerdon for the victor named:
A crown of curious art: a tercel tamed
And gentled to the hand, and lightly worth
A king's release. No pride of wealth or birth
Were uncontent to win it."
This boon to grant
Accorded Gareth, who longed of aught on earth
To please her most, and with that pursuivant,
She rode, and royal spears, and there beside
Her own gay pennons, in recruited pride.
Thus to Caerleon she came; and questioned there
By Morgause and the king, to all declare
Of Gareth, and where he wended: "Yea," said she,
"He came, and of thy foes the land is free.
But errant knights ye may not trace nor bar,
For wide as migrant birds their wanderings are,
Not to be known of any. But this will I,
At the near feast. My heralds, wide and far,
A tourney at my seaward towers shall blow,
Where those who take my part shall all defy
Thy Table's strength. Nor need ye doubt that so
Shall this young knight be drawn, to overthrow
What knights he may; and in my hand shall rest
Fit prize to find for him that striveth best."
"Lady," the king replied, "short time is thine,
To range thy side to meet such knights as mine;
Yet for its purposed end it likes me well,
For here in sloth we tire; and sooth to tell,
Are more than few that when this chance they know
Will join thy league with joyful hearts, to show
They are no way less than these; and in my name
Shall herald at thy herald's side proclaim
A seven days' truce to every outland foe,
That he may gain thy land who wills, and go
In safety when this gentle joust is through."
Short space had Lionore left, her needs to do
Ere that near Feast; but when in swift return
The homeward path she took, around her drew
The conquered knights of Gareth, her will to learn,
With tender of strong spears. His wound un-healed,
Sir Persaunt knightly claimed the unequal field.
"O friends," she said, "I thank your eager pains;
For knights the noblest that the world contains
On Arthur's part will come, and these to meet
With spears too few, were but to make defeat
Sure, ere the tourney trumpets sound. Remains
Yet space of hastening days to wide proclaim
Occasion offering for such knights as dare
Against the Table's pride their pride compare,
And join belike such force as may not shame
The vaunt of challenge."
This so well did they,
That ere the Feast-dawn rose, short weeks away,
At Lionore's call to meet that tourney-day,
Bold Palomides and his brethren came;
Grumor, and that wild knight, Northumbria's heir;
And Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower; with him
Dark Turquin: brethren huge of girth and limb
Were these, of lawless life and evil will
To Arthur's rule. To work his Table ill
Their first desire. And many of cleaner name,
Though none more feared, to join that tourney came,
From ford and fell, from wastes and marshes wide,
From crag-built tower, from forest, and border-side,
From Reged, and Listonaise, and wild Strathclyde,
And Lyonesse and the isles. Proved knights of these,
First-held of Lyonesse and of Cornwall, came
Sir Tristram, bent to prove a wider fame
In more contest. His friends of less degrees,
But good knights all, a tourney place to claim,
Red Sadoc, Dinas, Arnold, Gautier, came.
But while that wide the announcing trumpets blew,
And knights and kings towards the assembly drew,
Lionore to those marsh towers returned again,
Where waited Gareth in fretted patience fain
For this great tourney-test his heart had planned.
The path she chose that left the wilder land
Untraversed; north from her sea towers it lay,
Through Persaunt's rule, the longer, surer way.
A scene of dazzling lights, and breaking rain,
And following blue was hers. Such skies as when,
By that same path, a knight unheard of men,
Her champion there her sister brought, but soon
Had changed it from the flowering lure of June.
The elder thickets closed a denser screen;
The sunlit oaklands glowed a duskier green;
Nor in the wide fields of the open way,
As when they rode beneath the falling may,
Purple and silver sheen, and green and grey,
The seeding grasses blew.
A byeway here
Her riders knew, that brought, when eve was near,
Dark-risen against the wide marsh-sunset clear,
Her brother's towers to view.
Some space of restful days they stayed, till near
The Feast Day drew. Then Gareth rose, and spake
His purpose wide a separate path to take,
To join as some mean knight unnamed of men
The ranks that 'gainst the Table ranged, "and when
My helm ye see, (if some strange helm ye know
For mine), drive forward through the strife, believe
There is no strength of steel but love should cleave
Clear through it; no bond but mightier love should break."
She answered: "Nay, I was wont never to fear
When the glad tourney met, but joyed to hear
The rush of chargers and the fewtred spear,
With clangour and shock and splendid deeds fulfil
The expected day, and strength is thine, and skill
And valour beyond the accustomed use, to meet
The hurtling chance of war; and I was born
Of such strong race as ever hath called it scorn
From danger's lure to turn reluctant feet.
No fearful maid hath won thy heart to shame
A nobler will. But sooth of old was said,
The closer to the founts of joy we tread,
The nearer to the fruited boughs we reach,
The more such stroke of adverse fate we dred
As loses all at last; and since ye came
Where my poor towers above the straitened beach
Of all my lands remained, and hardly they,
And the long night of fear at once was day,
A shadow, by the shining of thy spear
Unsubstanced: since in memoried days more dear,
In these green bowers we met, and meeting here,
Love gave our lives a worth not dreamed before,
My heart enrapt in this reverse of woe,
Behold, a fear is mine not felt of yore
In most extreme."
"Content thee, sweet," he said
"Thy woes are all behind: thy joys ahead.
God grant it ever."
But when his foot was set
To stirrup, again with lingering words they met.
"O Gareth," she said, "and would ye giftless go?
Dost ask no scarf or fluttering sleeve to show
Thy leigance here?"
He answered: "Nay, forgive,
That men should learn too soon thy pledged intent,
Ere the thronged tourney join."
"But I would give
Such gift," she said, "as shall thy doubt prevent.
This ring of old from faery venture came,
And faery light moves in it, a changing flame;
And as the flames leap, and the lights transpose,
With gleam of like-lit hues the wearer glows.
And in the ring this larger virtue lies,
That whoso wears, within him the quick blood dries,
And flows not from his wounds, though deep they be."
Sir Gringamor a strong bay courser gave
For change of steed, lest of long path foredone
His charger fail when mortal need had he;
And sure proved arms, and therewithal a glaive
His father from a heathen tyrant won.
Down the straight blade a twisted rune was bent
That Merlin's lore had faltered. Few but none
Were princelier furnished for that tournament.
It was the Feast of the Assumption, when
The Mother of God laid down her mortal state,
And at the left hand of the Father sate,
To plead before His throne the doles of men.
Mid-summer heats, with threats of thunder, lay
On the wide dunes, and o'er the shining bay.
Along the out-curving coast the dunes were bare,
But near the late-sieged walls of Lionore, there
A hundred decked pavilions rose in view.
For where of late the Reed-Knight's tents prevailed,
The Table camped. As that fair morn ensued,
A hundred knights forth issuing, helmed and mailed,
Their waiting chargers gained, and iris-hued
Their painted symbols shone, their pensels blew,
Sure of strong steed, and sure of tested steel,
Elate of heart the proof of strength to feel.
In shattering impact on a friendly foe,
Toward the appointed lists were thronging in
The mightiest names of Arthur.
High nobles of the lines of Bors and Ban
Lords of far Gaul, and spears Armorican
First rode, their various arms engrouped below
His own blue lions; and Orkney's regal line
Were next; and many a lord of Trent and Tyne;
Home spears of Camelot, and of fair Logre,
Of Servage, and the Coast, and Winchelsea;
Caradoc of Scotland Urience, lord of Gore;
Dodinas, and that fain prince Sir Sagramore;
Brandiles; Brewnor; Dinadan's silver shield;
The Haut Prince with his subject knights in field;
Ewaine fey-born, and Griflet fils de Dieu;
The sons of Pellinor, Mador de la Port;
And Baudemagus there behind them drew,
Who to the Court came never, so strait his vow,
Since Tor was in his place preferred; but now
Occasion offering, as his wont, he sought
His worth to show. Of good knights loved was he,
And greeted fitly to his high degree.
Beneath the castle walls the lists were set.
The castle knights in shadowing gates as yet
Their numbers hid, the while the Table's might
Rejoiced the king to view. A goodly sight
They filed their ranks before his lifted seat.
Then in the silence of the marshalled pause,
The heralds loud proclaimed the tourney laws
That ruled the day.
Then first Northumbria's heir,
Encountering Sagramore Desirous there
Reeling alike from equal joust and fair
With splintered spears recoiled. Were next to meet
Gawain and Palomides; neither seat
These knights against their common shock sustained:
In kindred fate they fell. Then vantage gained
The Christianed brethren of the Pagan knight
Against Gaheris and proud Agravain;
And glorying in the castle's gain came forth
Brian of the Isles, and Grumor of the North,
But backward soon a limping loss they bore,
Cast from the spears of Aglovale and Tor.
So strove awhile, till summer noonday's height
Declined in heaven, with varying change of gain,
Against the Table's strength, as valorous men,
The castle knights, till numbers fewed, and then
Turquin and Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower
Came forth, two brethren of repute so dread,
Awhile it seemed that none would meet their power,
Which many a noble name had captived led.
Their hearts no tourney test, but mortal war
Preferred. This shameful pause of tourney saw
Pellinor's strong sons, and entering side by side,
Lamorack and Percival, the joust they tried;
Nor vainly for the Table's fame they toiled,
Though from the sundering shock their steeds recoiled,
Their seats they held, and their good lances drave
So well, that all they felt they largelier gave.
Then came Sir Arnold and Sir Gautier; they
Encountering with Brandiles and with Kay,
Either for Cornwall brake an equal spear.
Then Tristram entered with those knights his friends,
Sir Sadoc and Sir Dinas. Tristram first,
Against the war-proved might of Bedivere
Riding victorious course his fame extends.
But next Sir Sadoc and Sir Dinas fell,
Chargers and struggling knights at once, so well
Ewaine, and that good knight of Winchelsea,
Sir Tristram's and the castle's gain reverst;
And Persaunt too before Sir Lancelot fell;
Yet the Green Knight bore down Sir Lionel,
And 'gainst Sir Ector rode Perimones
An equal joust.
But spite such toils as these,
Still the strong spears of Arthur congregate
Unwearied; still the heralds' call they wait,
Alert and sure; while for the castle there stands
Sir Gareth, who with the Knight of the Reed Lands
Their last reserves remain.
Their foes, the knights of Arthur, emulous,
For earliest course contend, as judged their pride
Short tourney could the castle's knights provide.
Awhile it seemed that thus the event should show,
For Bors against the Reed-Knight rode, and though
Backward they reeled in one like overthrow,
And the Reed-Knight to claim the joust was fain,
Too bruised he rose some space to joust again.
But Gareth raged those famous names among,
For Bleoberis first outmatched he flung,
And the fine force of Galihodin quelled,
And might for might Sir Galihud hard he felled,
And Dinadan next and Brewnor both excelled,
And 'gainst Sir Sagramore sure seat he held,
And Dodinas in clear field he overthrew.
These with one spear he flung, and no man knew
His sure device, who changed in green and blue,
And argent guise and gules. He overthrew
King Anguish next: saddle and knight he bore
To earth at once; and Caradoc's pride he won,
Even he, and Urience of the land of Gore,
And Baudemagus, and his deadlier son.
Then that Haut Prince who only sought the best,
Seeing these great deeds he did, put lance to rest,
Spurred toward him through the lists, and cried on high:
"O knight of varying hues, who doest defy
So many of all our strongest, bruised and shent,
I pray thee joust with me." Sir Gareth heard.
Thence for his weightiest proven spear he sent.
His noble war horse, reined but seldom spurred,
Felt the sharp pricks, and roused his wearying pride.
Down the clear lists their thunderous course they ride:
Like thunderous storm in covering dust they meet:
The expectant crowd in waiting wonder bide:
The uprearing chargers both regain their feet.
An equal course it seemed, until was seen
How the Haut Prince in seat uncertain swayed,
And how his casque, where Gareth's lance had been,
Was riven aside. Forth rushed, their lord to aid
A score of subject knights. A sure retreat
Their generous numbers gave, but Gareth none
Withstood: content to hold the lists he won.
Then spake king Arthur to Sir Lancelot:
"These changing hues conceal a knight, God wot,
That few might match. Hast marked how many of those,
Thy famous house, he fells, and wilt thou not
Take lance anew, and for our part oppose
A knight from whom may honour well be won
By even thee?"
But Lancelot answered: "None
May call me slow to seek where honour dwells,
But doubts my thought of honour offering now.
Such tale of foundered steeds and vacant selles
Surpassing labour shows. It well may be
This knight doth pass his previous strength that he
Loves and is loved, and in that need excels
His natural might: and naught of honour I see
For any, of such great deeds grown emulous,
To enter freshly these strewn lists, and thus
With force conserved to fling the wearier knight,
His victor courses all to overthrow
By loss at last; and therefore, if I might, -
The which God knoweth. not I - I would not so."
Then swords were drawn, and general tourney blew,
And many a vanquished knight refreshed, anew
Sought honour so late denied, and through the press
The shields of earlier victors, to redress
His loss before. From out the eager van,
First Palomides rode, and strife began
With Bleoberis, who, with careful skill,
Against the furious onfall fenced, until
Behind he heard the thundering ranks, and then
Spurred chargers and the meeting tides of men
Closed, clashed and swayed, and each from either hid,
And bore them far the eddying whirl amid.
Confusion wide the deafening lists contained.
Sank knights unseen, or strife unheeded, gained.
There the Reed Knight with Lamorack clashed, and there
Sir Tristram in strong onset overbare
Lord Gawain's sevenfold might - dismounted long,
And soiled, he stumbled in that fluctuant throng.
Lancelot at Turquin smote, and he repaid
In equal kind, and Caradoc pressed in aid,
And hard Sir Lancelot on both sides assailed.
Yet nothing thereat his high repute he failed,
Nor gained they ground upon him. This combat drew
The gaze of all beholders: all men knew
The fell repute of fear those brethren bore.
But he, however in truth his strength he strained,
Sometime with semblant ease their strife sustained,
And wounding strokes returned with strokes as sore.
May no man speak which knight had longest dured,
For Gareth rode between. In might assured,
He broke their strife apart; but never a blow
He smote at Lancelot. Guised in varying show,
An azure knight he hurled his horse between,
And swerved aside a glint of glimmering green,
And forward thence in russet gold he rode.
This courteous aid that gave a seeming foe,
And parted in the press, and strook no blow,
Sir Lancelot marked, and in his heart he deemed,
Beaumains he knew, whate'er his changing seemed.
But Gareth far hewed that crowded strife amid,
And tireless deeds of such devoir he did,
That Tristram, wondering as he watched him ride,
Persaunt and Ironside called and spake aside:
"Know ye this knight, that through the lists doth ride
In restless might, of colours that shine and change,
All hues of heaven's strong bow? Such arduous pains
He needless dures: he ceaseth never as we,
Twixt bouts of strife, to vigour and breath re-gain,
But where another would rest from reaped success,
Instant he offers anew his proved noblesse,
And from fresh venture wrests more mastery.
So here doth never another save Lancelot."
"Now, verily," spake Sir Ironside, "know ye not?"
"Nay, in good faith," he said.
"The knight is he
The lady of the castle that loves, and she
In the like mood desires. Myself, perde,
And Persaunt earlier, and his brethren three,
To reach her need, in mortal strife he won.
Nameless he rose by spirit adventurous:
Called at the Court Sir Beaumains: proved a son
Of old King Lot, and brother to Gawain thus.
A child in years he seems: a giant in might:
Sir Lancelot knew him the first, and made him knight."
Then counselled Tristram that they rode as one,
To guard his course against mischance, that none
Might wrest his honour by some late emprise.
But Gareth, who moved in changing light concealed,
The while they spake, had left the encumbered field,
Urged by strong thirst, and riding past the rise,
Of those long dunes, his furnished dwarf espies,
Who waited where he told, and while he laved
In the salt tide, and drank the water fair
Which brought the dwarf, he gave for greater care
The priceless ring, and he, who lightly braved
A later wrath to gain his earlier way,
Returned it not when Gareth in eager haste
Re-entered, in the conquered arms he won,
The striving lists. Were shining splendours none
To hide him now. But riding and mien - the sway
Of body and blade - the swinging mane of hair -
Proclaimed him that good knight so well that graced
The earlier jousts. And in the concourse there
Were those of old the Black Knight's arms that knew,
And passed a word from whence a murmur grew
Of: "Beaumains," gathering to a thunderous cry
Of: "Gareth! Gareth!" That rose and swelled on high
From barriers thronged and crowded walls. The lord
Of that strong joust alike with lance and sword
They hailed him. Signed at this the king to cease
The failing strife. Down sank the instant blade;
For succour of wound or fallen steed to aid
The striving knights contend in equal peace.
But Gareth, enchafed his secret name was known
Before his time, to ride some space alone
Resolved, and through the out-thronging lists, and through
The jostling of the straight and warded way
That backward to the knights' pavilions led,
He passed, in that confusion marked of few,
Where wounded knights, and knights discomfited,
Their own retreating sought; nor heeded they
The cries they left, the where the king's award
With call of trumpet the heralds long proclaimed,
And chosen victor of the strife they named:
"Gareth of Orkney, knight of Lancelot made,
Deliverer of the passes and the ford,
Breaker of that long sieging, overlord
Of Ironside, Persaunt, and Perimones,
And Pertelope, with all their lands," they cried,
"Approach thy prize to hear."
But none replied,
Nor Lionore told, although she longed, the way
Her watchful glance had followed.
With short delay
His wrath upon the waiting dwarf to spend,
For that shrewd wile that showed him; then to send
A backward word to Lionore, brief that told
His soon return, the long cliff path he clomb,
Paused on the height a space at ease to view
The gay-thronged beach, the line of whitening foam
That led the advancing tide's reflected blue,
And turned his steed toward the lonlier wold.
No nobler ever the watered vales have bred
Than that good steed, in pride and hardihed,
That Gareth rode that day, but many a course
Ridden at strained speed, that jarred with severing force,
And later, in the throng of tourney press,
Sharp pause, sudden turn, swift swerve in wariness,
Obedient instant to the rider's will.
Had wearied sinew and nerve; and when the rein
He felt, that turned him to the naked plain,
From hopes of kindly stall and roofs of men,
In paths unsearched a proofless chance to try,
Is marvel naught that lagging pace he showed,
As Gareth still toward the wilder road
Controlled his steps, where rose no harbouring nigh,
Till daylight failed to guide their ways, and then,
As to black night with deeper shades inform,
Ceased the faint light of stars. Low-gathering storm
Above the branches closed, and hid the sky.
Then the dense dark the wildering lightnings tore,
And echoing thunders spake, and still the more
Behind the light the blinding darkness fell.
Soon from the rider's hand the loosened rein
Bade the good steed his choosing take, for vain
Were guidance more, who served his trust so well
That soon the sound of lapping waters fell
On Gareth's watchful sense, a moat that told,
And voices in the night were overhead
Of warders changing on a wall unseen.
To these he hailed: "If dwells in this lone hold
A Christian host," he cried, "of board and bed
A knight of Orkney craves his grace."
The warder from the wall in godless wise
Replied: "Thou knight of Orkney, get thee gone,
We hold no hostel here."
"False knave," he said,
"Not so far hence the use of daylight lies
But I can bide, and in due season slay
Who in such ribald mood would turn away
A wanderer from the outer dark who cries;
His lord's appeal unsought."
Then torches shone,
And inward voices called, and soon was seen
A lady in the flickering light that stood,
Above the wall's black height.
"Unknown," she said,
"Ye will not lightly find a dearer bed
Than here ye seek, if Arthur's knight ye be.
Against ye all my absent lord is wood,
And entering here unyielden, sooth I ween,
His like return thy speedy death should see."
"O lady," he said, "no fear of mortal knight
Shall hold me from this one hope of rest tonight;
And if I yield me to him, the when we meet
It may but lead him to his more defeat,
For I myself will rescue the first I may."
With caution lest more foes the darkness bred,
On this compact was entrance shown: they led
Where Gareth might now from wearied limbs discard
The chafe and bond of harness, stained and scarred
In the much conflict of the toiling day.
Nor long the while ere sunk in dreamless rest
Safe-guarded that strange tower its nameless guest.
Returning morn, with Gareth's absence shown,
Forth riding from the tented beach beheld
Lord Gawain, mailed. Sir Gareth's path had known
From where he watched unseen, a woodman eld,
While seated on a mighty oak he felled,
Earned meed of ease with nearing eve to take.
This marking told, had Gawain deemed that so
Short toil should serve his brother's goal to know,
And soon return persuade, and so to make
In surer peace his search, aside he laid
His white ger-falcon, and the different shield
Of less-known comrade bore, that thus concealed
No sign except he willed his name should show,
For wared he in that land an earlier foe,
That lightly, knowing, had his life betrayed.
But long ere Gawain reached that harbouring tower
Had Gareth risen, and held a pathless way,
Climbed for wide view, and when the noonday hour
From loftiest heaven declined, around him lay
High moors and wide and vacant, wild and clean,
Wind-swept, sun-beaten; and far to westward seen,
Beyond the reaches of the rising fell,
Mist-blurred in heaven, a craggy height of hill.
And upward he to that scarred height and bare,
Its airiest point to gain, attempted still,
Toiling his burdened steed. For thought he there
To search the path he came in wide survey,
That storm before and wildering night misled;
And thence return to take his speediest way,
Where love, from his swift-passing ire drawn free,
Constrained him in desire, that all his will
Bent to the bond. From that steep vantage won
His end he gained, and heartened now to see
Where lay those towers beside the distant sea,
The long descent at dangered speed he made;
Left the bare fells, and rode by stream and glade
A hastened way, till by foul chance he met
That lord to whom he owed ungrateful debt
For harbour of the night, with following train
Who homeward rode; and when strange knight he knew
Ride lonely in those wilds, where came but few,
Save in strong band, he turned to cross his way,
And hailed: "Thou wandering knight, I charge ye stay,
And render here thy name, and that ye do
In land not thine."
And Gareth: "If lord ye be
Of this wild land, my plighted word I gave
That I would yield me where we met, for so
Gained I thy shelter in much need, but know
That Arthur's knight am I, and deem ye now
To servage claim, or my free path to stay,
I will my rescue seek the first I may."
Answered Le Rowse: "I know not whom ye be;
But Arthur's name ye take, and that to me
Requires no more, for on thy part is none
But I would hold in vantage, thus foredone.
Yield shalt thou in sooth, or here thy life I slay,
Though in such pride ye speak as though, God wot,
Ye bore the conquered shield of Lancelot,
Or his so late the Perilled Hold that won."
"I conquered neither, nay, nor likely may,"
Laughed Gareth, "yet fear thee naught, nor more than they
Would pass thee, to our cause so loud a foe.
But while with meats of thine my strength is fed,
I would that on our separate ways we go
In peace allowed."
"Except ye yield," he said,
"Thy use of meat is through. Who eat my bread,
Ate once, eat ever."
Said Gareth: "Now witness all,
That last this strife who last, or fall who fall,
I sought it never."
With that, in swift prepare
He turned, and charged, and shocked, and overbare
That knight before his followers roused; and they
Seeing their lord fall, and in no emulous mind
Themselves the brunt of that shown force to find,
Some paces forward by their bolder rear
Impelled, and by their own impeding press
Baulked of sure aim, such lance they drave as snapt
On meeting steel, and learnt their cause to fear
The deadly point of that uncumbered spear
That picked its death. From which they broke, and drew
Some space apart, and counsel made that two
From either side should charge, and aiming low
Slay the strong steed, that o'er a fallen foe
Their following hooves should beat, and all fordo.
This felon wile they tried, for there was none
Among them knightly, wide in arc they spread
To half surround, and turning inward sped,
Converging on him. He avoided three, but one
Low lance-head glanced on cuish and girth, and through
The charger's side it thrust full deep, that he
Sank with one cry. But Gareth offleapt, and swang
Out sword, in gust of bitter wrath to see
That gallant steed so fallen, and forward sprang
Upon them instant, in such haste to slay,
That not they rode him down, but either way
Swerved from the shock, not yet so swift but who
The coward thrust gave, and two beside were cast
As carrion down beside that nobler dead.
Following those craven ranks, that scattering fled,
Till more pursuit were vain as grief, at last,
His urgent end recalled, the best from those
Unridered steeds, a warhorse of might, he chose,
And sought again his hindered path, and ere
Day dusked, had whence he left returned, but where
Stretched that slain steed, Lord Gawain seeking drew,
And owned it Gareth's, and when its wound he knew,
The foul side-thrust that slew it, and saw not there
Aught else of whom he sought, but dead men lie
That strong blows ended, doubt of what might be
So roused his thought to haste and wrath, that he
Pressed at such speed, and took the trace so nigh
That Gareth rode, that soon himself in view
Beheld; and well the sable shield he knew,
And judged, in ire for calm resolve too blind,
That there the victor of that strife behind,
Bore the won arms of Gareth, and loud he cried
While yet some space apart: "False knight, abide,
Defend ye for that shield not thine, or die."
And Gareth heard and turned. The speed he saw,
And thought no friend from out that wilderness,
Nor thus that friendship on his path should press,
Nor that strange shield Lord Gawain bore might tell.
But swift and hard he charged, and fierce as he
Came Gawain on him, and those strong spears too well
Aimed when they shocked, unbreaking, cast them wide.
Not Gareth such fall from Persaunt's spear had felt.
Nor light the fall, nor light the wound he dealt.
Nor light the wound he knew. Along his side
Reddened the rent mail. From ground he rose, and drew,
In haste reverse unthought to overget
By sleight of sword, but sleight of sword he met
That hardly with swift shield he turned, and knew
No easy knight were here for light ado,
But peril most dire to fame and life alike,
Save that for all he hoped his strength should strike,
Beyond his need in any bout before.
And Gawain from that fall confirmed the more,
His brother's victor in such might to know,
In deadliest purpose pressed that strife, that so
In mutual blood, belike, their suns had set,
But there, well chanced, near-riding passed Linette,
And loud she cried while yet some space away:
"O Lord Sir Gawain, whom ye seek ye slay."
And backward at the word he stept, and threw
The sword far from him, and knelt, in haste to stay
The blinded wrong he did. And Gareth, amazed
That one to-fore so fierce such grace should do,
Sank sword alike, and in short space he knew
How near avoid by reckless haste had they
From evil past retrieve; and Gawain raised
With eager hands, and greeted fair, and spake
His own impute of that mischance, and so
Spake Gawain in more keen reproach, that he
False strife from such unheedful wrath should make
To whom he sought.
But came a murmuring low
And distant of some moving host - and then
Loud from the woods the noise of marching men
Disturbed them from themselves, and spake Linette:
"I ride not lone, as like ye thought, but near
Is Arthur's force, to Camelot bourn, that here
Ye need but wait to see." And as she said
Came that great train, by marshalled lances led,
And midmost, kings and knights and ladies set
In ordered state and gay.
And Arthur heard.
And halted all: "Here let my Court be stayed,
And here in haste the needful banquet laid
For these wound-weary knights."
At the king's will, that wide ere even-close
Filled the green glades, and stilled the singing shaws,
As under those low boughs in crowding came
Damsel and knight and minstrel, lord and dame,
With clamour of squires and thralls and servitors,
And neighing of steeds to clearer pastures led.
Till soon was seen, the shadowing boughs below,
And dim blue heaven, the sylvan banquet spread.
But when two days had been of rest and cheer,
Spake Arthur to Linette: "While here we be,
I marvel that thy sister comes not near
To greet me, or the knight that holds her dear,
And hath so greatly toiled her love to gain."
And answer gave Linette: "She were full fain
And swiftly here, if here her knight she knew,
And ere he sued her love his love to sue,
If time allowed, with both alike intent."
Thereat the king: "Let ready word be sent
To bring her, that my nephew's will be known."
And ere full-orbed the crescent moon had grown,
She came, with no lost hour, but strong escort
Of lances round her, in resume of state;
And found fair welcome in that woodland court,
In honour of place allowed to greet her set.
In that bright throng of queens and ladies there
Not Gareth alone had sought her. Peerless fair
She showed of any; so love, that thralled her, through
Shades of past griefs had flowered her body's grace,
And earlier youth renewed in form and face,
As Gareth there in all men's sight she met.
To whom the king: "Would seem, not all ingrate
The damsel of thy rescue comes, her debt
To likely grant; and wouldst her converse dear
For short delight of summer days to take,
Or sworn in bonds that only death should break
"My lord," Sir Gareth replied, "above
All gifts of earth or heaven I long her love."
"Lady," he said, "thy travailled knight's desire
May well like answer from thy heart require."
"Most noble lord, my king," the damsel said,
"My lord Sir Gareth I would the liever wed
Than any king christened or prince, and if not he
No man of any that liveth my lord shall be."
"God's truth," Sir Gareth replied, "excepting thee
No damsel ever shall my heart rejoice."
And Arthur laughing: "Blows the wind that way?
Now for my crown I would not change nor stay
The strong accords ye tell."
And likewise spake
The Queen Morgause, with gracious words and glad
Including to her own whose doubtful star
Sir Gareth had led, through dangers dark and far,
To honour so high.
But while they spake Linette
And he, Gaheris, that first at Arthur's court
Her glance to take her sister's cause had sought,
Again, in that bright throng of courtiers, met
From severing ways. A goodly knight to see;
Not large as Gareth, but most assured of mien,
In all his motions light, and swift, and sheen,
Agaze at life with ruthless glance and keen,
The very falcon of his house was he.
Now lit that glance a softer gleam to see
The damsel most his life desired; and she
Smiled on him, and said: "O failing knight and slow,
I ever meet thee when no needs I know."
"Nay, leave thy japes and hear me. For thy sake
There were no danger that I might not take.
I say not, For a single crimson thread
That veins the deep gold of thy girdle shed
My life were thine. I say not, O, my sweet,
For leave to kiss the dust between thy feet
My thanks were due. Nor think such loves endure
As by such luring gain their goal. For me,
My sword strikes straight: my spoken word is sure;
And all my hope and all my heart to thee
Turn ever. Believe my plainer word - above
All damsels living I desire thy love.
I say not thou art fairest, but before
All damsels fairest found I long thee more
Than any or dreamed or known. We are not weak,
Turned of faint airs, and more than both were we
Mated. Consent thou to it, and we will seek
Together what life can give. Accord thy mind,
Were hard than mine a surer faith to find."
"Yea, I will wed thee," she said, "so ill ye woo,
It were the lighter toil to hold thee true."
And laughed, and left him.
Spake the king the while
That camp to break. For many a woodland mile
Was yet to pass ere Camelot's walls should see
Their looked return; and gave command to bear
Word to Kin-Kenadon's wide sea-towers, that there
The following moon should feast of bridal be
With royal state arrayed, for there would he
In three weeks' space arrive, with all his Court
That feast to grace, and there should all resort
Who fealty owed, or leigance sworn, and they,
Not least, whom late Sir Gareth's lance had won,
And lives allowed, their loyal debt to pay.
But wherefore more an ended theme prolong?
The deadly quest achieved, and Lionore's wrong
Reversed, and more than all he purposed done,
Were well some space the toils of life were stayed,
For some short moons its wonted cares delayed,
While to her heart the ended days became,
With all their weight of grief and loss and shame,
Vague as a dream from rising dawn that flies,
As vapour from the shining steel that dries,
Dimmed and dissolved; and ease of life despised
For larger ends, and loftier deeds emprised
So brought him where had weakness failed, to where
Love but itself allowed, while dusk and light
Alternate changed toward their near delight,
Till the last darkness died, and dawn regained
Deserted heaven, and that fair bridal day
Rose, and the daystar died in light away,
As in the paradise of God contained,
And stirred upon the windier moors, and on
The bare sand-wastes around Kin-Kenadon,
The wide-camped concourse which that festal drew.
So reached they haven clear from shoal and tide,
And tempests of deep ways, and night allied
Against them, over past; nor recked they here
Ceased ills; nor shadowing thought of later fear
Their joys dis-eased; for all that life may give
Most worth was theirs. Nor she her earlier grave
Forethought, nor he the wound that Lancelot gave
At Carlisle, at the last. Such lives to live
Shall learn who reach, that all things else were vain
In that compare, nor power to thwart their gain
In death's lost empire lies. Love emulate
Of his own triumphs in dead days foregone,
In blood recurrent on the scroll of fate
Illumes it ever. Again the dream is true.
Again, to each, the well worn path is new.
After his son by Aries' wife, Sir Tor,
Four sons in wedlock born had Pellinor.
First, and of name unstained, Sir Aglovale;
Lamorack; and Dormer of the lonely Vale,
Who not to Camelot came; and last of all,
And first at last, the late-born Percival.
Came one who came but seldom to the court,
Beside his rein a younger squire who brought;
And first a lodgement in the town he sought,
Long time for one, and shorter days for two;
And then to Arthur in full hall they drew.
And there, in loyal words, but firm and few,
He asked for knighthood for that squire. The king,
Who favoured all in bold approach that came
To ask for noble gifts in knighthood's name,
Looked on a slender youth he might have thought
More fit for cloisters than a warrior court,
And answered: "Of what name and birth is he
Who asks a boon which well might baleful be
To one unformed the boisterous lists to ride?"
"He is the last son of King Pellinor,
Who held thy part, and in thy service died.
His name is Percival."
"What name is thine?"
"I am his brother, Aglovale."
Came down with outstretched hands of welcoming.
"Now for the sake of good King Pellinor,
Nor least for Lamorack, nor least for Tor,
The boon I grant thee, and the gain is mine.
If of good heart and seemly grace he be.
Tomorrow's matins shall the knighting see
Of one I else had doubted."
With the morn
He knighted Percival, but when were met,
The joyous converse of the meal to share,
Noble and knight and dame, and each was set
In order of desert (except that they,
The Table knights, in equal circle were),
He ordered that the meaner knights among
Should Percival be placed. Unproved and young
And slight, with quiet regardful eyes he sate,
Resentless that the king had judged him so;
For whom the lowliest place was not too low.
There was a damsel of the queen who came
Of blood most noble. Fair of face was she,
And fair of form. There was no maid could be
More worth, except, her natural vaunt to shame,
Was speech denied her lips, as all men knew.
Now from her place arose that damsel dumb,
And passed in silence down the hall, and took
The young knight by the hand; and sweet and clear
Her words along the board could all men hear,
As though from Heaven they fell: "I pray thee come,
God's knight and mine, to take thy right." She led
Up the long hall, none staying, until she stood
By those feared sieges Merlin cursed with dread.
"Take thou the place so long reserved," she said,
"For none but thee," and having placed him thus,
At the right hand of the siege perilous,
That still stood vacant, left the hall and sent
To find a priest for her last sacrament.
"Now may I die in good content," said she,
"For I have seen him whom I lived to see."
Then made the court great joy of Percival,
Although they wist not what should yet befall,
Or what his honour or his place should be.
When hate in ruthless hearts prevails, and they
In whispered counsels join that hate to pay,
It may be soothly not themselves could say
How much they mean, or what its end should be.
Not Modred cared; for Lamorack's father slew
One whom he not for friend or father knew;
And Gareth held apart; but yet were three,
Gawain, Gaheris, Agravain, who saw
As monstrous wrong that filial hands must mend,
The rising fame of Lamorack, and his place
That nearer grew to Arthur. More offend,
Even than that, in Lamorack's boast they found
That he their mother loved, and doubt that she
Would well receive him if occasion lay
Lightly across her path. This doubt to test
Was Gawain's counsel: "Let her bate the trap,
And he may ride to find, by likely hap,
A greeting couched beneath the summer trees
More warm and willing than his heart foresees."
So spake he, ambush in his mind, and so
They wrought that Queen Morgause to Fourstone Tower,
Which deep within the hiding woodlands lay,
From Camelot's walls a short ten miles away,
Came from her northern home; and brief the hour
Ere Lamorack knew, and in a secret wise
He sent a missive for her only eyes,
To plead her favour: 'Short the time we met,'
He wrote, 'but never can my heart forget
Thy voice, thine eyes, the tender words were said,
Ere came the step that turned thy steps away.
I own no feuds that elder hates have bred,
For I must love thee, though thy scorn repay.'
So read she with a heart that beat reply
Ere thought had formed. To such a plaint deny
It had no strength, nor she the care to try.
Love was her nature, and her life with Lot,
Who valued as his own, but loved her not
In Love's more potent and diviner way,
Had left the hunger of her heart unfed.
Hence had she gone with Arthur once astray,
And the long years between that deed that lay
And sweet langour of her autumn day
Had changed her naught at heart, although their tread
Dimmed the love-asking eyes, and dulled the head
That yet was gold.
That Lamorack loved her now,
Whom for that feud of blood she might not wed,
Stirred pulses of desire which would not still,
Nor would she strive to rule, for all her will
Was with them. 'Come,' she wrote, 'nor deem that thou
Alone canst love, nor only thou forget
Our houses' sundering hates. But heed ye yet
That all be secret, lest more wrong it bear.'
Then told she of a hidden woodland way,
By lovers used long dead, unguessed today,
Which gained a low door and a secret stair.
Ere the moon rose, but when the light had died,
The damsel that her missive brought would guide,
That none their tryst should guess, and none betray.
This caution gained that where the ambush lay
Sir Lamorack came not. Where the damsel led
Was none to heed his charger's noiseless tread
On the strewn leaves of summer's first defeat.
So in still night at Fourstone Tower they met,
In fearless mood, with joys that those who meet,
Love-drawn, rejecting fate, alone may know,
Deeming that none, but where their trust was set
In certain faith, the useless path could show;
And no threat seemed, and passed the midnight hour,
And wide night-silence held the lonely tower,
While over all a cupped moon sailed, and far
Lit the blue void, and paled a following star,
And the great woods around that hold that lay,
Wind-stirred, breathed softly, as in sleep; and they
Slept also at the last.
But on the heath
Were shadows from the deep wood's shades that crossed
Its clearer space, and in the wall were lost,
And ceased; and then, their turret height beneath,
Bust turmoil, and the shouts of angered men.
Steel clashed: a death-cry sounded: noise of feet
Rushed upwards, clanging on the stones; and then
On the barred door were sudden blows that beat,
And broke it through, and entered there the twain
Of her fierce sons, Gaheris and Agravain,
Whom least she loved or loved her.
"If from your hearts all filial fear be dead,
And reverence for her right, and knightly shame
Be lost in hatred for my father's name,
That thine of old in equal field he slew,
Then turned ye to my life the swords ye show
Gaheris answered: "Nay,
No sword is mine a fenceless knight to slay;
And that she willed ye scarce might choose but do.
Is one remede." And instant with the word
Leapt the swift steel, and smote. The sword-blade bare
Steamed with his mother's blood: his mother's hair
Clung to it: and her head between them rolled,
Half-hidden in its own abundant gold.
But Agravain turned, and stumbled on the stair.
Wood wrath was Gawain when he heard. He said:
"I would that she were live, and he were dead;
Nor rest I till his death shall compassed be."
Wroth also was the king, and Lancelot more.
"Sire," said he, "now from Christian shore to shore
This tale shall pass. Alas, that on thy name
Shall fall the shadow of so great a shame!
For not in sudden heat this deed was done.
Treason fore thought it shows, and hence is none
Shall trust thy peace hereafter. Think ye how
Lamorack's praised seat must vacant stand from now.
For will he trust restraint of Orkney's hate?
Or indignation for the deed abate
Beside Gaheris at our feast to sit
As in one fellowship of noble vows?
And how shall Tristram, when he hear, regard
So foul an evil? Will he make of it
Occasion to avoid thy court and thee?
Most likely is it; and our grief shall be
Both for his absence and its shaming cause."
Answered the king: "Now God defend that I
Should lose them thus! There are no stars that shine
More brightly from this gleaming ring of mine,
Which I have wrought for better ends."
Lamorack, at least, thy ring shall lose, for they
- Not Gawain least - are sworn his life to slay,
Waiting their time unawed of Heaven or thee."
"Yea," said the king, "I know their moods; but yet
Some counsel may be ours this doom to let."
But Agravain, who not that stroke forgave
Which left alive the one he would not save,
And dealt such death to one he would not slay,
Gaheris left in wrath, and rode away
With Modred, who his sullen mood would use
To nurture discord, for his mind forwent,
Thinking some far chance-favoured time to choose,
When Lancelot would be short of aid, and he
Would prove Guenever's infidelity
So barely in the nation's sight, the king,
However loth, would find no hindering
Of sudden feud awake; and Arthur, thus
Compelled to take a strife he should not lose,
Would break the Benoic knights, and after that,
Weakened himself thereby, would quickly fall
To Modred's treason, who at need would call
The heathen to his aid the crown to win.
So dreamed that misbred spawn of carnal sin
(So short the joy thereof, so long the woe),
But not to any at this time he bared
His secret mind, but with slow craft prepared
To bring Pendragon's rule and splendour low.
As rose the woodland to the open wold
There came a flying knight their path adown,
Who reined behind them. In that safety found
He showed a wound: a hard pursuit he told:
"One cometh who no knightly ruth will stay;
With greed to plunder, and with lust to slay,
He ravens all the land. But coward is he.
From your bright shields he would not pause to flee.
Swift be your steeds his felon course to stay."
Sir Dinadan joined them as they spake: "Perde,
Too much thou askest on a proofless plea."
"No time is left for proof, for here is he."
Then came Sir Breuse sans Pitie, riding hard;
And with no warning for debate or guard,
He on the knights of Orkney charged, that both
Were overcast, Modred and Agravain.
And Breuse returned his horse, and rode again
Across the fallen. Dinadan, though loth
His life to chance for knights he naught esteemed,
Because the name of Arthur's court he deemed
Thereby degraded, charged, and overbore
Sir Breuse, who rose and fled, as once before,
Vanquished by that same lance. The rescued knights
Spake, courteous: "Ill thine aid our praise requites,
Not knowing whom we praise, or how to pay
Thy rescue from the shame in which we lay."
But Dinadan lifted vizor, and replied:
"Praise from your lips were never yet my pride.
Nor any covert hate, or open blame
I found unwelcome, or accounted shame."
Then the hurt knight, Sir Dalan, spake: "For me,
I thank no rescue from such hands as thine.
Sworn am I to slay thee, as I count to do,
Who once in wayside strife my father slew."
"So," said Sir Dinadan, "it well may be.
Misventures chance us. Yet thy mind may rest.
I did it knightly at his own request.
Remedeless grief can further hurts amend?"
"Yet must thou for his death thy life defend."
"Bethink thy wound. I would not maim thee more."
"I think the rather of the oath I swore."
"Well, as thou wilt." The needful course he ran,
And with but half his strength Sir Dinadan
Down cast Sir Dalan. Nigh neckbroke he lay;
Too nearly slain for further lust to slay.
How fared Sir Tristram? To his forced accord
Would Mark be loyal? Little word there came
From Cornwall. Few were there of lofty name
Who loved the life of Camelot, or could sit
With Arthur's knights at meal, nor feel unfit
Through fault of prowess, or the larger shame
Upon Tintagel's court and land that lay.
Except Sir Dinas, who, to all men's sight,
With care of honour kept his prudent way,
Only Sir Fergus was a Table knight
Who bore a shield of Cornwall. Came he now
As in routine of service, but he brought
Letters, and gifts, and words of sundry sort,
From Tristram, and from those who made his train,
And also from Iseult. The Cornish queen
Wrote to Guenever most, her grace to gain;
And Tristram wrote to Lancelot. 'Here,' he said,
'Here at Tintagel, while the year is green,
Good joys are ours whose hearts and lips are wed.
For Mark, who of Iseult no more requires,
Holds court at Terribil, coming only here
When at the harvest of the waning year
His tithing dues he takes.' Good hope he gave
That peace was made between them.
From different temper, and the sense he had,
Dimly, of future days, and woes remote,
Which Nimue's nurture gave: 'Our hearts are glad
Your joys to hear. But trust not Mark. The more
His speech be smooth, I would the more be ware.
That foxes change for any oaths they swear
I have not known. Believe, the claws are there,
Waiting their time.'
Guenever wrote alike,
Warning Iseult: 'For all your ills before
Your joys are greater now. But vipers strike
Without the warning that a hound would bay.'
With these good missives, and with those the king
To Mark and Tristram sent, a damsel rode
With escort well-beseen and furnishing
While Mark was at Tintagel. No conceal
Was made, and Arthur, in his kingly way,
Gave generous words to Mark, and naught of ill
He wrote to Tristram. Yet King Mark, who read
A menace in the words which was not said
('He doubts me surely, or he had not writ'),
Guessed with more right what sharp and friendless wit
Those other letters held he did not see.
"Damsel," he asked, "of thy good courtesy,
Wilt bear my missive to King Arthur back,
For such fair guerdon as thou shalt not lack?"
"That will I freely, with no boon at all,
For I return to Camelot."
Soon she told
Her pledge to Tristram and Iseult: "His gold
I would not take, but needs must grant;" and they
Took counsel, with the warnings lately writ
Vexing their minds: "What doth he plot to say?
Wilt bring it to us ere you ride away?"
The damsel answered: "If my faith I hold
To bear it at the last to Arthur, yea."
"That shalt thou doubtless do."
To Mark she went:
"I wait thy letter." But his own mistrust
Had stirred: "To write I have no more intent.
My mind is altered."
But his mind remained
Fixed on the thought that, if endure he must
From nephew and from wife reject and scorn,
With rancour imaged past its truth, no less
Should Arthur feel them in a like distress,
Learning Guenever false, with less to plead
Than had Iseult for that adulterous deed.
With this design he penned in secret wise
Letters to Arthur and to Lancelot,
And to Guenever, which one burden bore.
He wrote to Arthur: "That in faith I swore
Content thee that I have not failed to do.
I let my queen be false. If thine be true,
Are lies abroad. The better fame have I
That nightly by my side she doth not lie."
Then to the queen he wrote: "Iseult to praise
Should one be slack who keeps her lustful ways,
Yet in more cheating wise of secret sin?"
And last to Lancelot: "Light thy threats I weigh.
As safe as traitors bide, so safe are they.
For thine own judgement dost thou watch thy friend,
Deeming alike the wrong, alike the end?"
These letters in a varlet's hands he laid,
Saying: "Be secret. Let to none be known
That such thou hast, nor their subscriptions shown,
Until deliverance be assuredly made."
The varlet was a faithful knave. He rode
To Camelot first, and found his journey vain.
The king was at Caerleon. To horse again
He climbed for that long ride by ford and hill,
Not speaking aught to any. He found the king
At mass, the queen beside him. Lingering
In the main porch, among the waiting train
He bribed a servitor, who thought no ill,
To give the letters sole and secretly
To king and queen, as many a poor man's plea
Might be so passed. He watched awhile, and learned
His errand surely done: the guerdon earned.
Alone was Arthur when the scroll he read,
First in high wrath, and then discomfited
With doubts most hateful, and most hard to slay.
'To such foul depths,' he thought, 'should Mark betray
My trust in Lancelot, and my faith in her?....
Yet who should prove that only friendship lies
In the much freedom of their meeting eyes?....
It is not only Mark. My sister sent
That shield's rude blazon with the same intent....
Do all men think it? Is it only I
Who would the libel of that shield deny,
Blindly resolving that I will not see?....
Yet Mark is Mark; and for that shield - it came
From one who sought to snare my life with guile,
And now would bring my honour's height to shame,
And break my peace with discord. Let it be.
Surely I am not Mark, nor Tristram he.'
Sir Lancelot, seeing him walk apart, approached:
"Lord, art thou vext?" And Arthur: "I am shamed.
A base thought stirred me. Ask me naught. For named
Such thoughts are tenfold evil. Never encroached
Fears and false doubts upon thee, oh, my friend,
When all things paused at peace, and windless days
Prevailed as though thy former strength had reft
The heart of life, till naught of worth were left
To choose or do? In such a vacancy
Cold doubts have stirred and evil fears in me,
Which to the height of speech I would not raise.
For thoughts may cease still-born, that spoken grow
Beyond revert of silence."
"Yea, I know."
No more he said, and might have thought no more
Of what had vexed the king, except that came
Guenever to him with fierce wrath aflame:
"Read what King Mark hath writ! The varlet bore
A like one to the king. We well may guess
What venomed words it held. Will Arthur heed?"
"Content ye there. By that he said to me
In the last hour, he heeds its warning less
Than blames himself for heeding."
"Such is he
That I may well believe it. Mark is one
He would not take to guide him."
"That would none
Who loves high honour. But our shame is more
That one so mean can shame us."
"Think not so.
There is no shame in that which none may know.
Nor shouldst thou pass it vengeless."
"What could I?"
"Need it be said by me that Mark should die?"
"So will he likely in some caitiff way,
Who is too base for knightly sword to slay.
He hath not harmed us, and his bolt is sped."
Then Arthur entered, and no more was said.
But Lancelot to his chamber passed, and there
Found the third missive in his varlet's care,
And read, and pondered: 'If her hest I do,
I waken that which might in silence die.
And would Mark meet me in a knightly style?
No hope is there. Of treason, twist and guile,
He knoweth more than most; and more than I
Have the right wits to foil. But knightly test?
Nay, though I haul him by his craven crest
Round his own halls, with all his minions by.'
Thus musing, on a window couch he lay,
In the low sunlight of the waning day,
And from vexation of tormenting thought
Passed to the joyless dreams that slumber brought,
While the cast scroll upon a chest nearby
Lay open, and Sir Dinadan came, as one
By friendship favoured, and beheld it lie,
And idly, knowing Sir Lancelot, as he might,
Read the base script, and felt his heart alight
With wrath thereat; and when Sir Lancelot woke
His cooler counsel with contempt he spoke:
"Vex not thine heart for this. A libel's weight
Not on its facts depends, but whence and why
Its utterance comes. For such as Mark to lie
Is nature, nor would other's praise abate....
Know ye the rumoured tale? Or false or true,
While the fair Queen Iseult in all men's sight
Was wed, Dame Bragwain for the bridal night
(Though naught the drunken king the treason knew)
Her place supplied till near of dawn, while she
With Tristram sported. Lies they well may be.
But not such lies as Mark will lust to hear,
Should at his court some strolling bard appear,
And wake to ribald song a licensed lyre,
Immune by custom from its victim's ire.
Word should be met by word, as deed by deed.
And this with song I answer. Hear and heed."
And Dinadan touched a careless harp, and sang:
"A king sat high at his bridal feast,
And fair was the maiden his throne beside,
And the wine was poured, and the mirth increased,
As they drank to his health, and his Irish bride,
And the Cornish knight, and the Cornish barque
That brought such bride to their lord, King Mark.
"For the wings of the western wind did bring
An Irish bride to a Cornish king,
And he saw that her face and her form were fair
As a dream of love in a night of hair,
And her voice was that of the rising lark:
But her thoughts were her own when she met King Mark.
"A knight sat nigh where the throne was set,
And her cheek grew pale when his name was named,
And her heart stood still when their glances met,
And leapt when the minstrels his deeds acclaimed,
And her thoughts flew back to the Cornish barque
As she sailed from the west to her lord, King Mark.
"For the wings of the western wind had brought
An Irish bride to a Cornish court.
For a kingdom's peace she had shared a throne,
But the thoughts of her heart to herself were known.
In the light of day she had wed King Mark.
But whose were the lips that she kissed in the dark?"
This was the lay the harper, Elliot, bore
With laughter through the land of Gales and Gore,
But first at Terribil, with King Mark at meat,
Full boldly did he rouse its strain (although,
Having been summoned to the minstrel's seat,
And largessed in the old accustomed way,
Which licensed what he would sing or say,
Without rebuke from lordly place or low,
No lawful peril snared him, yet for sure
Such song did seldom any king endure
Sung in his presence with his minions by).
"Minstrel," he said, as died its strains away,
"Why hast thou hastened to thy hanging day?
Dost hear the crows their carrion hunger cry,
As round the gallows-pole aloft they fly?
That bough's projection soon with fruit will bend:
Soon shall that hunger by thy flesh be fed."
"I have no thought to die," the harper said,
"Who know my brethren and myself too strong
For outrage of thy wrath. But naught of wrong
Is thine. If japing of my harp offend,
Are other minstrels who their aid will lend
To publish where thou wilt a song as gay.
The harper singeth as the knights will pay,
And that I sang a knight himself hath made,
Who had been forward in our minstrels trade,
Had he not chosen in the nobler way
The trammels of the heat and dust of war."
"You mean Sir Tristram?"
"Nay, Sir Dinadan."
"Why doth he thus - "
"Because a scroll he saw
Writ to Sir Lancelot."
"Get ye, while ye may,
Clear of my sight and court, and leave my land,
Lest change my mood of mercy."
"Good my lord,
I go, but hasteless. Till the land I leave
I warn thee plainly, for thine own reprieve
To guard my life as though thy dearest friend
Were periled. If mischance should meet me now,
There were but little count of where or how,
But all would place it at thy door. And then
You would be fameless in the words of men,
In tales of hall or winter hearth, as long
As should thy memory last in tale or song."
On the south coast of Ireland, where it faced
The wooded Lyonesse land, whose rock-torn tides
Beat on those shores which now deep ocean hides,
But then were dateless of their doom, there dwelt
A tribe not native to the land, who dealt
Rapine both inward and by swift sea-raid,
That grasped its plunder, and its sails would spread
Before resistance raised a hostile head.
Sessoines men called them and a word of dread
It sounded in the ears of those who sought
The peace that reaps and builds, that binds and stores;
For they would make swift raids on alien shores,
Ravaging, burning, tossing babes for sport
Upon the points of their long spears, and when
The slower gathering of more peaceful men
Made front against them, with their spoils would they
Climb their ships' sides again, and sail away.
Lyonesse they raided not when Tristram's sire
Ordered his land aright; for beacon's fire
And movement of light-armed, well-mounted, men
Would foil them, or the cost would pile too high.
Who lives by raiding doth not count to die
Once in three times or four, as like would be.
Rather they sailed some further leagues of sea
To where the less of fear and caution led
To more regardless ways.
There came a day
When talk of Cornwall rose. Tintagel's tower
Was rumoured to be weakly held. King Mark
At Terribil called his court and kept his power.
Lamed by a hunting wound Sir Tristram lay
In Dinas' castle twenty miles away.
A raid that would its sudden spoil embark
Before full battle could its front array
Was first proposed. But then a happier dream
Gained hearing. Since Tintagel first was built
On its precipitous height, no storming foe
Had forced its gates. But those who rest secure
In old repute may keep their watch less sure,
Their guard less numerous, than would those who know
A former breach hath been. And Mark's esteem,
Or for himself or for the knights he led,
Was not enough to make such venture seem
Fantastic, nor to make too wild a dream
The hope to hold it. Arthur? All men knew
He loved not Mark. His special grace to sue
Should not be hopeless, nor its terms too hard.
But if large menace from his wrath should grow,
Their ships would wait them in the bays below.
So was it planned. A casual raid became
A strong invasion, in close secret schemed,
Long to prepare, and swift to move. It sailed
By moonless night, when western winds prevailed,
And on the Cornish coast, a blackening flame,
It landed, inward swept and landward lay
Around Tintagel. Frighted men were they,
Frighted and few, who closed its gates, and gazed
On ranks half hidden by the dust they raised
Swarming toward it.
Mark at Terribil
Heard, and his council called: "Our utmost power,"
He said, "may fail to break their leaguer through;
And though the high walls of that virgin tower
We boast inviolate, what no sword may do
May hunger shortly, for its vats to fill
Too little care hath been; too much delay,
Since the last crops were reaped, its pits to store."
"Then must we hazard forth our best array,"
Some voices called, but some protested: "Nay
Best were it first for Arthur's aid to pray."
"That were to wait too long."
"If they be more
In numbers, yet is ours the mightiest one.
We have Sir Tristram."
"Let Sir Tristram be,"
Said Mark. "How think you would he deal for me?"
"He would for Cornwall."
Dinas answered: "Nay,
A boar hath lamed him. With what force we may,
We must quick rescue make, and wait for more."
So rowelled by a need too sharp to shun,
They dressed their strength, and made short march to where
Those whose sole trade was war in strong prepare
Turned front to meet them.
Though Logre might jibe
At Cornish knighthood and the shields it bore,
Yet hardly fought the ranks by Dinas led,
Breaking the phalanx of the Irish tribe;
And those of Andret, who less fainly sped,
Swung round behind them, with more weight to probe
The puncture made. A gust of laughter shook
The giant chieftain of the raiding horde,
Judging the issue of the strife they took:
"Drive they so hard? We mend our lines anew?
Nay; but their thrust avoid, and let them through."
So it was done. The ranks of Cornwall gored
The sieging host until it backward drew
To right and left. With change of blows enough,
But yet with less than such a breach should need,
Beneath Tintagel's rocky cliffs they came,
Mark in their midst triumphant. Moatless gates
That closed the steep approach were open now,
And hands outstretched to greet them. Who should heed
The rush that broke their rear till surging in
The foe was nigh those castle gates to win?
Then was the fiercest strife that man beheld.
Of Cornwall's knights the heathen axes felled
The bravest and the best, who did not fly
The sheltering walls to gain.
While those who died
Prolonged defence, the general host relied
On the near safety of the gates. Distressed
And harried, jostling through the straitened way,
No victoring aspect of relief had they,
While on their rear pursuit so closely pressed
That, when the loud portcullis fell, they slew
A score of foes so caught, and heard the cries
Of friends without who their desertion knew,
And died unrescued.
High its towers might rise,
And strong might be Tintagel's gates, but how
Should that give comfort? Scant of food before,
By Mark's own act the need was sharper now,
Tenfold; nor likely could their swords restore
Even that which had been ere relief was tried.
Now that the number of their foes they knew,
And the wild valour of that heathen crew,
Hope to disperse them with the force he had
Died, or to break again their leaguer through.
What was there left for Mark's sharp guiles to do?
With Ireland's wilier chief the laughter lay.
Yet each must count the hurrying hours alike.
Haste in their thoughts who yet were feared to strike...
The food would fail.... Would Arthur move ere long....
The walls too high to storm... The host too strong
To break that sieged it. Mark's the sharper fear.
Starvation and strong foes alike so near.
To Tristram turned his thoughts again. By night
A messenger he sent who brought reply
When night returned: "My wound is with me still,
A laming hurt. But in few days I will
What knighthood may."
A neutral place was set
Where Mark the Irish chief, Elesha, met.
Shaggy and huge, a brawny bulk was he,
In crimson leather dressed from neck to knee,
That bore barbaric gems, and clasps of gold,
And scrolls the boasts of his fell deeds that told.
With bold decisive words his speech began:
"In swift surrender will thy safety be.
Else for each hour delayed I hang a man;
Thyself the first."
"We have no cause to yield,
Whose towers are strong. But in the open field,
Resortless of such walls, your risk is more,
If from Logre by land, or shipped from Gore,
The Table knights upon thee fall."
It will not be. Dost think I do not know
How Arthur loves thee? Make a likelier guess.
He would be blithe to hear thy more distress,
And in thy place confirm me."
"Thinkst thou that?
Thou hast the more to learn. A rightful king
He will sustain against all piracy."
"What, if thy throat were choked, were that to thee?
Wilt yield and live? Or else the rope prefer
Short weeks ahead?"
"I put thy bluster by,
And proffer in its place fair bargaining.
I will withdraw in peace agreed, and leave
No more defence thy strong assaults to grieve
Than ere I came, and in four weeks from now,
If all thy storms be vain, nor rescue rise,
It shall be yielded to thee."
Were that to thee. For while you here remain
The month you ask a starving week will be."
"Dost thou believe so fond a tale? We stand
Amidst the tribute of a fertile land,
Garnished for all the winter months are we."
"So shouldst thou say, but better proof is mine.
Be wise, and yield ye."
"If our oaths combine
Consent that nine days hence will either side
A champion to assert its right provide,
Not Arthur, though he came, would that deny,
Nor God's high verdict would he dare put by."
"You offer that? Your need is sharp indeed."
Lightly Elesha to such choice agreed.
For here were gain unhoped, secure to stand
Lord of Tintagel and the Cornish land
By Heaven's deciding rule. His heathen heart
Dreadless that God to His appointed part
Might equal prove, elated leapt. "I take
Thy proffer. Let the strife on foot be tried.
I am too largely made a course to ride
On any steed I know."
The choice was his,
So challenged, as was his the right to choose
Who should his champion be. But naught to lose
Or hazard, but to make clear certainty
He thought. For who in mortal combat yet
The wide sweep of his ponderous axe had met,
Nor fallen as a branch the woodmen shear?
Thus was their treaty made, and trustless peace
Through the slow days prevailed, without release
Of hostile caution and closed gates. The fear
That Tristram might not in good time appear
Moved in the mind of Mark, with lewd contrive
Of treason to his oath: "An outbreak yet
Of swift surprise might tear the circling net,
If Tristram should not by that morn arrive
The desperate strife to take. For who beside
Should dare that axe's sweep - or, daring, bide?"
But Tristram came before the chosen day,
With ten good Table knights his call had brought,
Intending to divide contemptuous way
Through the wild ranks whose felon leaguer lay
Around the towers he loved.
But need was naught
For shield to dress or naked sword to show.
Mark's message warned him of a dormant foe
While yet six miles away. The pursuivant
Who gave it told him of the treaty made,
By which all jeopard on himself was laid,
And Cornwall's freedom and his life were one.
He heard a bargain which he did not praise.
"To fight on foot? For one so lately lame
Poor is the choice," he said; "and failure lays
A yoke of stablished right, where right was none,
Upon the bent neck of the land."
Should look for Mark the bolder thing to do?
His own life's safety would he first regard.
Nor would his cunning hold that strife too hard
For Tristram's gaining; nor, should Tristram fall,
Find in his death the greatest loss of all.
Through curious ranks they rode of those whose trade
Was rapine, but who marvelling now surveyed
The great groomed chargers, and the shields whereon
The Benoic lions, or Orkney's falcon shone,
Or the red dragon's ancient symbol high,
Midst arms less feared, that those who bore them sought
To bring to honour by the deeds they wrought.
Scowling, that rabble watched the knights go by.
An order other than their own they saw,
Born not of violence but restraint of law
Self-chosen. Hardened, trained, and skilled in war,
Their weakest through those ill-ruled ranks had torn
As the wild bison through the trampled corn.
Yet little daunted were Sessoine's wild crew
The dreaded Table knights' approach to view,
For in their numbers was their strength; and they
Were fierce and hardy, and equipped not ill
For barbarous battle; and their strength of will
To range bold ranks, or hold a dangerous prey,
Not in themselves, but in their leader lay.
So Tristram to Tintagel came. The day
Too soon he thought for mortal strife, but stay
Were vain to plead, nor did he think to fall
To that barbarian axe: "I take," he said,
"The same good weapon? Nay; his practised art
Is axe to axe belike, and more than I
He knows the crafts by which discomfited
A foe may stumble deathward. Prudent part
Is mine to rather on the sword rely.
So will I meet him."
So at morn they met
Within a barriered space by bargain set
Wide of Tintagel walls, yet not more far
Than ranged Sessoines behind their fencing bar.
But ere swung axe on shield, and hawberk bit,
"Wilt yield," Elesha asked, "and life acquit?
A woman's bodkin could this axe oppose,
If any sword shall save thee."
"He who knows
The ways of knighthood doth not waste his breath."
"Then short shall be thy chosen road to death."
Swift with the word the ponderous axe was swept
From left to right a downward-slanting blow.
But Tristram, from long bouts of swords adept,
With short retire, and broad shield leaning low,
Turned it to earth. Tintagel cheered to see.
But Tristram thought: "Of such brute strength is he,
I have not oft withheld a harder foe."
Yet instant as the thought his blade had thrust
To take swift vantage of the axe's fall.
Linked steel it met, and did no scathe at all,
But warned Elesha that more heed he must,
Or death's full price he might be called to pay.
So with like caution now their blows they change,
Ware to advance but to avoid more ware,
Knowing the sword's thrust or the axe's range
Might find them for such fatal moment bare
As would the strife decide. But blows enough
They gave and took, and bitter blows they were.
Now by retreat, and now by stooping low,
And now by sleight of shield, the threatening blow
Of the two-handed axe Sir Tristram's skill
Foiled of its deadliest aim, but felt he still
Too much its impact for good mail to last,
And when two hours of heavy strife were past,
His shield was cleft, his shredded mail was red:
Blood to his feet outdropped from every shred.
Though hot blood also from the wounds he gave
Reached the cold earth, thereby his life to save
Was less his hope with every stroke he met,
For the huge-thewed barbarian hewed as though
Some oak he felled by blow succeeding blow,
And cared not greatly were they more or less,
Doing his day's work with no weariness,
And of the tree's sure fall content to know.
'Well doth he cover, but the end is sure,'
Sir Dinas thought. 'Can mortal strength endure
That hail of blows? He may their force sustain
Awhile by valour; but to hope were vain
That he should overbear at last, and slay
Their evil dealer.' Then to Mark: "Wilt say
That now we yield? It were his life to spare,
Nor added loss thereby."
But Mark: "To care
More for his jeopard than for Cornwall's right,
Were no way kingly."
In his secret thought
He set Sir Tristram's death as fairly bought
By loss of Cornish land which Arthur's power
Might haply rescue at no distant hour.
Sir Tristram looked at death near-eyed. Awhile
His own sword's menace and traversing guile
Might the last stroke that bore his death delay.
But was there hope in that? His strength was through;
And his were feeble to the strokes he knew.
But as to dying sight a cross may rise,
A vision rode of Iseult's waiting eyes,
In faith and gentle courage confident,
Whereat, as dying hearts may sin repent,
His weakness shamed him. 'If,' he thought, 'I die,
Never again in mortal life shall I,
In the dear height of love's most ecstasy,
Her naked beauty of surrender see:
Never again through that high moment live
That feels her lips their passioned answer give.'
Should all be lost to him, and all to her,
And this gross heathen triumph? Like a spur
In the hot side of an exhausted steed,
That stirs it with the call of utmost need,
So that to do the more, except it die,
Its heart impels it, so to him there came
Strength with resolve. By one unlooked-for stride
He crossed the space that did their blows divide.
Battered and bloodied, feeble-kneed and lame,
Stumbling to death a moment's space before,
Now with one splendid sweep of sword he shore
Through the steel coif and shaggy throat as though
He slaughtered some great beast, too dense to know
His meaning, or avoid it. Spouting gore,
Not his, now drenched him as his steps withdrew,
From one who blundered forward ere he knew
Hard earth must take his dying bulk asprawl.
The great head struck the ground, and sideward bent,
Widening the red gap where its throat was rent.
Faster the stream of life outpulsed. Was none
Could doubt the life of that huge beast was done,
And Tristram victor, though alike to fall
He seemed, as with uncertain steps and slow
He reached the dropped axe of his slaughtered foe,
And raised it for assert of victory.
Sir Dinas gained his side the first: "I praise
High God, who did thy sudden purpose raise
So bold a stroke beneath his guard to give."
"Nay, by God's life Itself, it was not He.
Give ye nor thanks to Him, nor thanks to me.
Iseult hath Cornwall saved. She bade me live
When my heart faltered, and my shield was low."
"To her," Sir Dinas answered, "swift shall go
The courier that we held await to bear
A word she will not doubt; for none could show
More bravely when thou dost for strife prepare."
"Honour to her is more than life. Above
Days of soft ease, or dearer rites of love,
Though on all sides contending deaths were near,
The fear to fail me were her greatest fear.
She dreads not for herself, nor much for me,
But only lest she might my weakness be,
Who is my strength and rescue. Call her here.
I am too wounded to regain her side."
So spoke Sir Tristram, and the loud delight
That shook Tintagel heard not; nor the tide
Of the wild flight of men now leaderless
He saw. For blurred was all of sound and sight;
And scarce he gained the couch with gait upright
Which should be his through long weeks' weariness,
While at his side Iseult's soft hands supplied
The gentle succour that close death denied.
Mark at Tintagel stayed his foe to bleed.
Many he slew, for which was cause, for they
Were of the nature of a beast of prey,
And who should loose them, further rape to breed,
Might well be partnered in their guilt before
The eternal Throne of God. For sought he more
For ransom than restraint, and those he slew
Were landless, wealthless men; except a few,
Worthless to keep, but good to use, he sent
To chaffer ransom for their comrades held,
Whose backs he bent the while in servile toil.
The dykes they strengthened, and the woods they felled
Not simply to enrich the Cornish soil,
But rather that their friends should more repent
Their evil usage, and their price be paid
To the full tale required.
There came a day
When the high chamber where Sir Tristram lay
Was roused by turmoil in the hall below
Of rushing feet, and clanging blows, and cries
Such as in hour of storming foes may rise
Rather than when wide peace prevails.
He asked, "should men be bold to chase and slay
In the main hall? That cry was mortal."
Answered Iseult, "it is not thine to stay
Such bickers. Mark is here."
Sir Tristram rose,
Haggard and weak, but of no mind to bide
While murder worked beneath. It seemed that those
Were several, by the lasting din, who died
As he went downward.
In the hall he found
All had grown silent, save a whimpering hound
That crouching, half in greed, and half in fear,
Lapped a hot bloodstream, where a sundered limb
Lay somewhat separate from the corse of him
Who once had owned it; and the hindered breath
Was loud from one who lost the fight with death.
Two others on the rushstrewn stones were cast
Whose days of evil or of grace were past.
One who a belly-thrust had felt, and then,
The while he grovelled, had his skull been cleft.
The other was through neck and shoulder slit.
He grasped a bare sword, but the blade of it
Was bloodless. Known were all as worthless men,
Mark's minions, for his meanest dealings fit.
But who had havoc'd and this carnage left?
Sir Tristram stirred to speech the breathing man.
"Sadoc," he gasped, and said no more. "Then died
Who should," Tristram, with little ruth, replied.
But wherefore was it? Sadoc was a knight
Of good report, though blemished. All men said
His ways were honest. If his word were plight
It would be honoured. That was known. But yet
Against this long repute old tale was set,
Of which men whispered only.
Tristram first landed on the Cornish shore,
Before he came to strength and man's degree,
A force of Paynims far from oversea,
Raiding on Cornwall's southern coast, had burned
And rapined for short time, till Boudwin learned
(A younger brother of King Mark was he),
And dealt to end them.
Ships of fire he sent
Among their anchored fleet, and this destroyed,
They sought in vain the ravaged land to void,
As was their wont when gathered fury rose.
And thus, outnumbered by remorseless foes,
They perished wholly.
Mark, who came too late,
Heard the full anthem raised of Boudwin's praise,
And charged him fiercely when alone they met:
"Why didst thou? Was a day too long to wait?
Dost think to take my throne?"
"Such waiting days
Good lives had wasted, and good steads had burned.
Thy throne? I lust not for thy tarnished state.
I sought no honour; and the gain is thine."
"Thy word is faithless that the gain is mine,
Who know thy treason; and the price it earned
I pay thee now."
His dagger's point he drave
Deep to the heart of one so all unware
He had not heeded that its point was bare
Before he felt it. Mark a priceless slave
Hanged for the deed. His brother's infant child
He would alike destroy. Fair words beguiled
Its mother to his board; but there she heard
The warning of a brief low-whispered word;
Called whom in haste she could, and horsed, and fled.
Mark sought Sir Sadoc: "Ride her down," he said.
"She shall be thine to trade: the babe to slay.
A babe is slain with ease. The price I pay
Will be thy fortune."
Sadoc rode her down
On the wild moors that east of Cornwall lie.
"Good knight, what wouldst thou?"
"From King Mark I ride.
More could I tell thee if we spake aside.
Bring the child with thee. Let the train go on."
She did not falter to the word, but took
A sleeping child, and with no backward look
Her steaming horse she turned. The train went on.
Down a deep gulch they rode. He spake as though
He were far other than her deadly foe...
Next day to Mark he came. "Such deed to do
I ruled reluctant heart. The dame I slew.
Her crow-plucked bones from any searching eye
Hid by the heather of great moorlands lie,
Where no man for a hundred years shall tread.
The babe I drowned. Its tender bones will be
The nameless burden of the wandering sea
Till the last trumpet rouse its myriad dead.
So have I made thy throne secure, and brought
Long peace to Cornwall, as of right I ought."
Mark's mean eyes met him: "Much the thanks I pay;
And if some while my better gifts delay,
You will regard that such reward too soon,
Too freely, given were a doubtful boon,
Making suspect its cause, as should not be."
"That," answered Sadoc, "is content to me."
Mark smiled, and left him. Could he claim reward
Without assertion of his knighthood's shame?
And what had Mark to give, or he to claim,
Which could fair balance of that loss afford
To one not lacking in estate or name?
So had it been. There came no rumoured word
Of Boudwin's wife, and though foul whispers stirred
Of where Sir Sadoc for two days had been,
And to what end he went, no proof was seen.
Years of fair life may slander's chase delay,
But slowly would a shadow lift that lay
Darkly as that, and creeping onward still
At call of such deed or evil will.
Many the summers went, the winters came,
Yet faintly Sadoc's was a tainted name.
Now Tristram raised his eyes, and Sadoc stood
With Fergus at the door, hard breathing still,
His bare sword bloodied: "Though I smote to kill,
As rats are slain," he said, "my cause was good."
"Nay," said Fergus, "well the cause I know.
A knight of Arundel, two hours ago,
To Mark, with talk that roused his anger, came.
He told that live were Boudwin's child and dame.
The child now grown and knighted. In full hall
His mother showed a prince's festive pall
Dark stained and slit. 'Behold how Boudwin died,
Stabbed basely by his brother's hand,' she cried.
'Now on his son a mother's charge I lay,
The slayer through all realms to seek and slay.'
"Thereafter was a tourney held, whereat
The new young knight, Sir Alisander, gat
Full honour, flinging all. From how he spake
- This busy prater - if I aught mistake,
Himself some loss of former pride had known
From Alisander's proofless spear. At that,
Mark signed, and to his call his minion came.
A knight not distant heard him speak thy name
As one on whom his vengeance first would fall...
But much I marvel, being four to one,
Slain were they wholly, and thy hurt was none."
"And marvel were it, had there been but one
- One of the four - not craven. But to do
Such deed, they being what they were, it seemed
There were too many there, or else too few.
They might have slain me ere a doubt I knew.
But each perchance in his base scheming deemed
Three were enough a single knight to slay,
And he would backward shrink, and share the pay
Without the peril of a forward push.
And when I smote an arm aside, and bare
Came my own sword, there was not one would care
A central place to take. Such rats to slay
(Swine rather, rats are bolder-souled than they)
Tires the arm only."
"Do you well believe,"
Sir Tristram asked, "this tale of Boudwin's heir?"
"It were no wonder if plain truth it were,
For truth it is, which now to hide were vain,
Mark thought my sword that guiltless dame had slain,
Which was their safety, for their lives to grieve
He had not slackened else. And then to name
The towers from which the babe of Boudwin came
Makes likelier truth. For there at need to fly
Was natural. Hers it was. Entrusted long
To her near cousin, and the knight she wed.
"At Mark's entreaty, when she wisely fled,
I overrode her. Only thought had I
To guard and warn her, that she should not die.
She told me then that distant walls and strong
Should be her surety till the child should be
Of age and valour grown to right her wrong."
Sir Dinas entered while they spake, and heard
A tale he all believed and partly knew.
"Surely," he said, "a knightly deed to do
Was thine, and knightly was thy silence too;
Nor for this refuse will good knights condemn
The hand that slew them. Mark himself for them
Will feel less rancour than relief that they
Are silent who before too much could say."
"Yet," said Sir Tristram, "for thy peace it were
To leave this land, and for some time repair
To Arthur's court. Myself will write the word
Which will be warrant for thy welcome there."
So was it done. In scorn of Mark, and those
Who dare not in day's light such lords oppose,
Whatever spite of privy thoughts they had,
They sent Sir Sadoc forth. King Mark the while
To that false knight who brought the envious tale
The lands of Sadoc gave. Of dear avail
They proved, for Sadoc turned a sideward mile,
Ere from his home he rode his hasteless way,
Some gold to gather, and some debts to pay.
And so they met. Brief words and fierce awoke,
And swords were bared. With one unhindered stroke
Sir Sadoc clove him to his chattering tongue.
But where was Alisander? That young knight,
Aware of morning and of morn's delight,
Let not his oath of vengeance cloud his sight
From other prospects. How should knighthood bring
That crime to justice? Beard a seated king?
He did not plainly put the purpose by.
Oaths are to keep. But yet, remote and high,
Vague and far-forward in his thoughts it lay.
So, of the day and all things confident,
Feeling sufficient for his vow's content
That he rode outward by the westward way
Toward the Cornish land, he left behind
The towers that were his home, his fate to find.
And Mark meantime, who did not wait to see
What first might chance, but worked by perfidy,
Tortuous in all, had letters sent to those
Who to all noble knights and deeds were foes,
Northgale's false wanton, Breuse, Malgrin, Le Fey,
Saying that if they would the life betray
Of that young knight, his service theirs would be
At any kindred need.
The Queen Le Fey
Was in the woods that west of Camelot lay
(For at Carlisle was Arthur, and she knew
That Caradoc would not aught against her do
While she did naught of treason) when she read
Mark's missive: "Here should be the road," she said,
"Which one from Arundel should take who rides
To venture where the king of Cornwall bides.
Here will I wait and watch. Young knights are sped
By other wiles than Mark would use, and more
The gain to her who doth their lives betray."
To her pavilion, where at ease she lay,
A word was brought: "At Camelot's tourney-play
(Which Caradoc orders, as his wont will be
When there he rules as Arthur's deputy)
A young knight, Alisander, came unknown,
Raw and unpractised by his guise was he,
But all who faced his spear were overthrown,
And each, in youthful pride, he forced to vow
That for a twelve month and a day from now
They will no armour wear. So great a shame
There hath not happened since the Table came,
And its first knights were chosen."
"Him to meet
Shall be my short contrive," the queen replied.
"But, nay," was answered, "that you may not do,
For Malgrin lured him with a tale untrue,
Meaning to slay him in the hard defeat
Which surely shall abase the boastful pride
That mocked the Table knights his spear had flung."
"That is most certain. Malgrin's sport will be
The tiring of the sword of one so young.
For sword-craft is not learned the easy way,
But only through long bouts of deadly play
By those who practice their full peers among.
How did he lure him?"
"By his frequent trick."
"Did no man warn him?"
"Friends are few to guide
One who is orgulous their pride to prick."
"Let all be ready that at dawn we ride.
Such clash of swords I would not lose to see."
So was it done. From southern woods to where
The heathered downlands to the skies are bare,
And through deep other woods whose hills divide
The Thames high source from Severn's broader side,
To Malgrin's tower she came.
Was bustling there
Barriers to build and level ground prepare
For mortal duel. Malgrin met the queen
In jovial mood: "A mortal bout? Perde!
That may it be for him, but not for me....
I do not seek them. Here they crowd. And I
Must meet their proud offence, and one must die.
But peril mine? So far, it hath not been."
Bare truth he spake. A damsel near-away,
Whose lands he cropped and would not loose, unless
She should by love's surrender yield them too,
Would missives send to plead her hard duress
To youthful knights of crescent fame; and they
Believed that Malgrin did such outrage do
As only in her hapless rape could end,
Unless their valours should her loss amend.
Hence to the rescue of her compassed hold
Knightly they came; and yet a doubt might be
That in good faith she wrote. For this was sure.
The squire who bore their missives freely went
Through Malgrin's leaguer with his full consent.
And sure it was that Malgrin's grim delight
Was in their coming. In their deaths were cold
Seven who had felt the older sword down-smite
Beyond endurance of their shields; and now,
In bold assertion of his knighthood's vow,
And youthful arrogance that wrong to cure,
And no way of himself or cause unsure,
Came Alisander. Morgan watched him ride
To take his station at the barrier-side,
And licked anticipating lips, as one
Who thinks to sate her ere this feast be done:
"Little hath Mark to fear. Should Malgrin fail,
Mine may be pitfalls of more sure avail."
Nothing she cared that Mark should escape or die,
But her sleek loins were stirred with lechery
Seeing him fashioned to her lust's content.
Now the high trumpets, not for tournament
Of knightly semblance, but for mortal war
Their clamant calling shrilled. The restless crowd
Stilled as that summons rose to heaven aloud,
In pause of expectation, till they saw
The long spears sink, the rushing chargers meet.
The lances splintered both, but while his seat
Sir Alisander held, Sir Malgrin fell.
Agile despite his bulk, he voided well
The saddle of a steed that sank and struck
Wide hooves in rising. Men were vocal now,
But not for peril of their lord. They knew
That marvels with the lance he could not do,
Being outridden oft, and cast by those
Whom would he later slay.
Unhurt he rose,
And neck-slung was his shield, his sword was bare,
As Alisander from his horse alit.
Scant was his time to make the like prepare
Before they joined. On helm and hawberk bit
The wide-swung blades. Shields shorn and laces slit
Soon owned the fury of that strife. But not
Gave Alisander half for all he got,
Though higher rose his blade, and faster fell.
For Malgrin would that pelting hail repel
With less of fury, but with more of wit.
Wary with shift of shield to conquer it,
And swift to thrust where opening showed, that so
Sir Alisander had a wound to know
Each time they closed, and soon the ground was wet
Beneath his feet, so fast his life he shed
From hurts agape. That such an end should be
No wonder waked. It was that sight to see
For which the crowd had joined. It was for that
Malgrin had lured him there. As some men slay
The flying deer, or seek the beast of prey
To prove in that bold strife their mastery,
Alike Sir Malgrin's evil boast would be
To count the tale of those his sword had sped.
Nor was there mercy in his heart to spare
Those whom he worsted. In the last despair
Of those who with blurred sight and shaking knee
Delayed their deaths, his savage joys would be.
Now Alisander, of his plight aware,
But yet of death incredulous, as though
A dream were round him that with dawn would go,
Used all his strength with sweeping blows to tame
The older, warier knight. Much strength he had,
And desperate courage for some time put by
The weakness born of wounds. But naught forbad
The wildness of his wasted strokes. A score
Sir Malgrin turned, or with swift sleights forbore
To take their fury. Now to all men seemed
That Alisander, whatsoe'er he dreamed,
Had seen the last of any waking day,
When one, the wildest stroke of all, made way
Unhindered. Leapt Sir Malgrin's head, clean-shorn
From the blood-spouting trunk. As prone it fell,
Sir Alisander, stooping forward, sank
Across it in such sort were hard to tell
If of the draught of death alike he drank.
Then wild confusion rose, as all men knew
That rule perverse of murder-lust was through.
Who cared if one were live, or both were dead?
Queen Morgan to the fallen came. She said:
"He was too certain in his own conceit
But though that severed head be sure defeat,
Is any victor?"
Near the maiden drew
Who lured its victims to that hard ado.
"Much have I longed to see this hour." She said.
"..... I wrote not of duress? He thought I did.
But other thoughts had I."
"Yet not for you
If any life survive, this knight will be."
"Truely you say this knight is not for me.
There is another whom I cast to wed.
Gervise le Gros, a neighbour-knight, is he.
And now these lands are mine, he blithe will be
To take me with them."
While they spake, was brought
A litter where the wounded knight was laid
Unconscious: "See his wounds, how deep they are,"
The damsel said. "Me thinks his feet too far
Have ventured on death's road for mortal aid
To bring him backward."
"Nay, but here is naught
Beyond remede to me," the sorceress said.
Soon was he stretched upon an easeful bed
While Morgan searched and salved his wounds, and stayed
Their pitious bleeding. More than twelve were they,
And one so deep it were bold hope to say
That life would conquer. As she wrought, she said,
Seeing his eyes were on her: "Dost thou seek
Again, and in thy recent strength, to live?"
He answered in low words with pauses weak:
"What is there but a man will lightly give
For life's high boon?"
"Then swear an oath to bind,
If I shall save thee by the arts I know,
A twelve months and a day in peace to go
Wearing no arms, but in such ease reclined
As they may gain whose rest is round them spread
By triumph in past days."
"What need," he said,
"So hard an oath requires?"
"It is no more
Than thou hast dealt to noble knights afore
With little cause to find."
Perforce he swore.
For three long days Sir Alisander slept,
By Morgan's potions held, the while he lay
In such good litter that a wildwood way
Which rose to where the pulling horses stept
With caution o'er rough stones and pitfalls wide,
That scarred the steep path on the mountain side,
Waked not his wounds anew.
When eve was barred
With the rich blazons of the sunset sky,
They came to Morgan's secret lone retreat,
The tower, of few men known, of Beau Regard,
Built on a crest of hill which rose to meet
Bare heaven, that only when the clouds went by
Was distance veiled. But though so wide a view,
Few were the men who saw, and scant who knew
Its lonely strength, so dense the woods that grew
Around it, and such width they stretched away.
Here in long pain Sir Alisander lay,
Chambered aloft, the while that Morgan's skill
(For much of herbs she knew, to save or kill)
Healed his deep wounds, and gave him ease anew.
But when the danger to his life was through
She left that castle for the land of Gore.
Return she purposed when should time restore
His fuller vigour, for her lust inclined
In climax of the best its joys to find.
Moment and mate and place must perfect be,
To wage long waiting with more ecstasy.
Would she return? Caprice alone could tell.
But when she left, a gentler damsel came
To tend his couch, and oft she stayed to share
The slow warm hours of summer light. Her name,
Elise, she gave him; but her words were slow
More of herself or of her place to show.
Only he judged, by that she did not say,
Nothing she loved, but much she feared, Le Fey.
Slow were her words to come, but even so
They came, for all the summer hours were slow.
Yet summer left the land, and autumn came,
Before he learned she bore a nobler name
Than even he, of Cornwall's blood could claim.
Cousin she was to Mark, and born as near
To Arthur's self: "I do her service here
Not of good will nor of good right, but more
To save my father from her spells, for he
In earlier years incurred her enmity.
He is the duke of those fair lands that lie
Between the Deeside and the mountains high
Of wild North Gales. This tower is mine of right.
But while I lend it for her sorceries,
And privy ventures, such as brought thee here,
She will not practice ill, as else she might,
Against his life. Yet when my father sees
The uses that degrade it, year by year,
He swears to end it by that element
Which for the cleansing of such haunts is meant."
"He would destroy your own ancestral tower?"
"He would release me from the sorceress' power
By that one charm that daunts all fiends; and she
Is artless to prevent, nor can foresee.
Much hath she conquered in her evil school
Of earth and air. But fire she doth not rule."
These things were said as in his arms she lay,
For summer idless worked as oft it will
To snare them in the bonds of wanton play;
And then she trusted who had long been still.
"Such as you count," he said, "she well may be.
I doubt it naught. And yet good friend to me
She proved, who healed me, having brought me here."
"So dost thou think? And to this idle year
Why did she vow thee?"
"That I do not know.
But haply that she thought my pride too high,
Who had to others at their overthrow
Dealt the same dish."
"For that she would not care.
She brought thee, frustrate as a stingless bee,
And bound thee by that oath to here remain
Whilst thou shouldst all thy former strength regain,
At her own time thy life to take or spare,
As thou shouldst pliant to her purpose be.
"That which so dearly hast thou done to me
She will require thee at her time to do,
Or cold rejection shalt thou dearly rue.
So dungeoned, death shalt all thine exit be."
Wrath stirred Sir Alisander: wrath and pride:
"She thought to hold me as a beast is tied,
Waiting its use? To serve or else to slay?
Rather than thus her carnal lust obey
I would myself contrive mine impotence."
"Why, being fitted for such sweet offence,
Such wrathed refusal? Hast thou done to me,"
She laughed, "so loth a deed thy mind rejects
Another bout as hard? More lewd is she
Than comes by nature, through her sorcery.
Thou shouldst be glad to take so fair a field."
"Nay, but because to thy sweet lure I yield,
I am not one shall any force compel.
Thou hast a stronger and a fairer spell
- And Morgan doth not come, from day to day."
"Nay," said Elise, "but any morn she may."
But Morgan came not, and at last she said,
As autumn to full winter's darkness led:
"Perchance she will not. None her mind can tell.
As changeful as a moving cloud is she,
Torn by the wind, or by the sun's caress
Altered in shape and changed from less to less.
Another, fiercer lust by now may be,
And her new purpose have no part in thee.
So this I counsel: Here awhile to dwell
Were prudence, for the snail that lacks its shell
Crawls not abroad. But when thy year is through,
If Morgan come not, as she may not do,
Ride forth in all thy previous strength, and I
My father's urging will no more deny.
But those high towers which I have loved so long
With Morgan's further sleights I will not wrong.
Bright fire shall cleanse them, as it only can.
"Here will we watch while this strong hold divides
The storm-blown clouds of winter, and its sides
Rebuff the cold embracings of the snow.
For in such season Morgan will not try
The frozen roads. It is her wont to go
To where the South Gales sands are warmer far
Than these deep woods and bleaker uplands are.
But when the swallows to our eaves return,
Before the build of nests I would not burn,
Wild fire shall be to all our bastions set,
While we ride forth; and all the past forget
In the green heart of northern woods will we,
Where Morgan will not seek, and would not see."
To this resolve she held. When jocund May
Approached its June, and every wildwood way
Was hawthorn-scented, troops of mounted men
Filed through the woods, and ringed that hold, and then
Fired it on every side. Too numerous they
For those aghast behind its walls who lay
To outrage on them. When their work was done,
They climbed their steeds again, and rode away.
Out from a postern gate, the smoke and heat
Of the wide-circling climbing fire to meet,
Rode Alisander and Elise. Behind,
The cries of those in doomed halls confined,
Fearful of foes without and fire within,
Rose with the smoke's black pyramid, that high,
In the still air, toward a cloudless sky,
Told of the havoc wrought beneath. The din
Grew fainter as they rode the northward way.
Far southward from Carlisle and Joyous Garde,
Yet from the fertile fields of fair Logre
Far north enough to hold security
From Morgan's searching hate, awhile they dwelt,
Finding life's best, although the oath he swore
He left aside, with large excuse, for how
Should dare he face the spell that Morgan dealt,
Either to leave Elise, or take her now
To sharper danger than had seemed before?
Yet at the last he left them, wife and son,
(For Elisander then, his heir, was born)
To scathe not Mark, but be by Mark undone.
The knife of murder found his heart, as it
Found Tristram's also on a later day
From Mark's own hand. But that was long-away.
And how life endeth is no dole to say,
Or if its hours have lasted long or less.
But be they of high heart and graciousness,
Weakness to shield and violence to repel,
For those whose lives no shame of baseness knew,
Whose deeds were loyal, and whose plights were true,
All paths to God must lead: all ends are well.
Yet justice for those noble deaths was done
When grew to strength Sir Alisander's son.
By him Mark's meagre ratlike form was cast
Over Tintagel's battlements at last.
Flung by the heels, that on the rocks below
It squirmed and died. But this was long away.
Fair now was summer and the sunlit day.
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 part 3.