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Sir Tristram harpeth before King Mark
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Sir Tristram harpeth before King Mark

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Chapter Fifth

How Sir Tristram was sent by command of King Mark to go to Ireland to bring the Lady the Belle Isoult from Ireland to Cornwall and how it fared with him.

SO Sir Tristram came back again to Cornwall, and King Mark and all the knights and lords of the court of the King gave him great welcome and made much joy over him because he had returned safely.

But Sir Tristram took no joy in their joy because he was filled with such heavy melancholy that it was as though even the blue sky had turned to sackcloth to his eyes, so that he beheld nothing bright in all the world.

But though he had no great pleasure in life, yet Sir Tristram made many very good songs about Belle Isoult; about her beauty and her
Sir Tristram tells of the Lady Belle Isoult.
graciousness; about how he was her sad, loving knight; about how he was pledged unto her to be true to her all of his life even though he might never hope to see her again.

These like words he would sing to the music of his shining, golden harp, and King Mark loved to listen to him. And sometimes King Mark would sigh very deeply and maybe say: "Messire, that lady of thine must in sooth be a very wonderful, beautiful, gracious lady." And Sir Tristram would say, "Yea, she is all that."

So it was at that time that King Mark had great love for Sir Tristram; in a little while all that was very different, and his love was turned to bitter hate, as you shall presently hear tell.

Now in those days the knights of Cornwall were considered to be the least worthy of all knights in that part of the world, for they had so little skill and prowess at arms that they were a jest and a laughing-stock to many courts of chivalry. It was said of them that a knight-champion of Cornwall was maybe a knight, but certes was no champion at all; and this was great shame to all those of Cornwall, more especially as that saying was in a great measure true.

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One day there came to the court of Cornwall a very noble, haughty knight, hight Sir Bleoberis de
Sir Bleoberis comes to Cornwall.
Ganys, who was brother to Sir Blamor de Ganys and right cousin to Sir Launcelot of the Lake. This knight was a fellow of King Arthur's Round Table, and so he was received with great honor at Cornwall, and much joy was taken of his being there; for it was not often that knights of such repute as he came to those parts. At that time Sir Tristram was not present at the court, having gone hunting into the forest, but a messenger was sent to him with news that Sir Bleoberis was present at the court of the King and that King Mark wished him to be at court also.

Now whilst Sir Tristram was upon his way to return to the court in obedience to these commands, there was held a feast at the castle of the King in honor of Sir Bleoberis. There was much strong wine drunk at that feast, so that the brains of Sir Bleoberis and of others grew very much heated therewith. Then, what with the heat of the wine and the noise and tumult of the feast, Sir Bleoberis waxed very hot-headed, and boastful. So, being in that condition and not knowing very well how he spake, he made great boast of the prowess of the knights of King Arthur's court above those of Cornwall. And in this boastful humor he said: "It is perfectly true that one single knight of the Round Table is the peer of twenty knights of Cornwall, for so it is said and so I maintain it to be."

Upon that there fell a silence over all that part of the feast, for all the knights and lords who were there heard what Sir Bleoberis said, and yet no one knew how to reply to him. As for King Mark, he looked upon Sir Bleoberis, smiling very sourly, and as though with great distaste of his words, and he said: "Messire, inasmuch as thou art our guest, and sitting here at feast with us, it is not fit that we should take thy words seriously; else what thou sayst might be very easily disproved."

Upon this the blood rushed with great violence into the face and head of Sir Bleoberis, and he laughed very loud. Then he said: "Well, Lord, it need not be that I should be a guest here very long. And as for what I say, you may easily put the truth thereof to the proof."

Therewith Sir Bleoberis arose and looked about him, and he perceived that there was near by where he stood a goblet of gold very beautifully
Sir Bleoberis challenges the knights of Cornwall.
chased and cunningly carved. This Sir Bleoberis took into his hand, and it was half full of red wine. So he stood up--before them all, and he cried in a very loud voice: "Messires and all you knights of Cornwall, here I drink to your more excellent courage and prowess, and wish that you may have better fortune in arms than you have heretofore proved yourselves to have?" And

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therewith he drank all the wine that was in the goblet. Then he said: "Now I go away from here and take this goblet with me; and if any knight of Cornwall may take it away from me and bring it back again to the King, then I am very willing to own that there are better knights in this country than I supposed there to be." Therewith he turned and went out from that place very haughtily and scornfully, taking that goblet with him, and not one of all those knights who were there made any move to stay him, or to reprove him for his discourteous speech.

Now after he had come out of the hall and into the cool of the air, the heat of the wine soon left him, and he began to repent him of what he had done; and he said: "Alas! meseems I was not very courteous to King Mark, who was mine host." So for a while he was minded to take that goblet back again and make amends for what he had said; but afterward he could not do this because of his pride. So he went to the chamber that had been allotted to him and clad himself in his armor, and after that he rode away from the court of King Mark carrying the goblet with him.

Now some while after he had gone, Sir Tristram came into the hall where the others were, and there he found them all sitting with ill countenances, and no man daring, for shame, to look at his fellow. So Sir
Sir Tristram is angry.
Tristram came to King Mark and said: "Where is Sir Bleoberis?" And King Mark said, "He is gone away." Sir Tristram said, "Why did he go?" Thereupon King Mark told Sir Tristram of what had befallen, and how Sir Bleoberis had taken away that goblet to the great shame and scorn of all those who were there. Upon this the blood flew very violently into Sir Tristram's face, and he said: "Was there no knight here with spirit enough to call reproof upon Sir Bleoberis, or to stay him in his going?" Therewith he looked all about that hall, and he was like a lion standing among them, and no man dared to look him in the face or to reply to him. Then he said: "Well, if there is no knight in Cornwall who hath the will to defend his King, then is there a knight of Lyonesse who will do so because he received knighthood at the hands of the King of Cornwall." And therewith he turned and went away, and left them very haughtily, and they were all still more abashed than they had been before.

Then Sir Tristram went to his chamber and had himself armed in all wise; and he took his horse and mounted and rode away in the direction that Sir Bleoberis had gone, and Gouvernail went with him.

So Sir Tristram and Gouvernail rode at a good pace for a long
Sir Tristram follows Sir Bleoberis.
time, making inquiry of whomsoever they met if Sir Bleoberis had passed that way. At last they entered the forest and rode therein a great way, meeting no one till toward the latter part of the

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afternoon. By and by they saw before them two knights, very large and strong of frame and clad all in bright and shining armor, and each riding a great war-horse of Flemish strain.

"Gouvernail," said Sir Tristram, "ride forward apace and see for me who are yonder knights." So Gouvernail rode forward at a gallop, and
Sir Tristram comes to two knights.
so, in a little, came near enough to the two knights to see the devices upon their shields. Upon that he returned to Sir Tristram, and said: "Messire, those are two very famous worthy knights of King Arthur's Court, and of the two you are acquainted with one, but the other is a stranger to you. For the one is Sir Sagramore le Desirous, who was at that tournament in Ireland, and the other is Sir Dodinas le Sauvage."

"Well," said Sir Tristram, "those are indeed two very good, worthy knights. Now if you will sit here for a while, I will go forward and have speech with them." "Messire," said Gouvernail, "I would counsel you not to have to do with those knights, for there are hardly any knights more famous at arms than they, so it is not likely that you can have success of them if you should assay them."

But to this Sir Tristram said: "Peace, Gouvernail! Hold thy peace, and bide here while I go forward!"

Now those knights when they became aware that Sir Tristram and Gouvernail were there, had halted at a clear part of the woodland to await what should befall. Unto them Sir Tristram came, riding with great dignity and haughtiness, and when he had come nigh enough he drew rein and spoke with great pride of bearing, saying: "Messires, I require of you to tell me whence you come, and whither you go, and what you do in these marches?

Unto him Sir Sagramore made reply, speaking very scornfully: "Fair knight, are you a knight of Cornwall?" and Sir Tristram said: "Why do you ask me that?" "Messire," said Sir Sagramore, "I ask you that because it hath seldom been heard tell that a Cornish knight hath courage to call upon two knights to answer such questions as you have asked of us."

"Well," said Sir Tristram, "for the matter of that, I am at this present a knight of Cornwall, and I hereby let you know that you shall not go away from here unless you either answer my question or give me satisfaction at arms."

Then Sir Dodinas spoke very fiercely, saying: "Sir Cornish knight, you shall presently have all the satisfaction at arms that you desire and a great deal more than you desire." Therewith he took a very stout spear in his hand and rode to a little distance, and Sir Tristram, beholding his intent

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to do battle, also rode to a little distance, and took stand in such a place as seemed to him to be best. Then, when they were in all wise prepared, they rushed together with such astonishing vehemence that the earth shook and trembled beneath them.

Therewith they met in the middle of their course with a great uproar of iron and wood. But in that onset the spear of Sir Dodinas broke into a great many small pieces, but the spear of Sir Tristram held,
Sir Tristram does battle with Sir Dodinas.
so that in the encounter he lifted Sir Dodinas entirely out of his saddle, and out behind the crupper of his horse. And he flung Sir Dodinas down so violently that his neck was nearly broken, and he lay for a while in a deep swoon like one who has been struck dead.

Then Sir Sagramore said: "Well, Sir Knight, that was certes a very great buffet that you gave my fellow, but now it is my turn to have ado with you."

So therewith he took also his spear in hand and chose his station for an assault as Sir Dodinas had done, and Sir Tristram also took station as he had done before. Then immediately they two ran together
Sir Tristram does battle with Sir Sagramore.
with the same terrible force that Sir Tristram and Sir Dodinas had coursed, and in that encounter Sir Tristram struck Sir Sagramore so direful a buffet with his spear that he overthrew both horse and man, and the horse, falling upon Sir Sagramore, so bruised his leg that he could not for a while arise from where he lay.

Therewith Sir Tristram, having run his course, came back to where those two knights lay upon the ground, and he said, "Fair Knights, will you have any more fighting?" They said, "No, we have had fighting enough." Then Sir Tristram said: "I pray you, tell me, are there any bigger knights at the court of King Arthur than you? If it is not so, then I should think you would take great shame to yourselves that you have been overthrown the one after the other by a single knight. For this day a knight of Cornwall hath assuredly matched you both to your great despite."

Then Sir Sagramore said: "Sir, I pray you upon your true knighthood to tell us who you are, for you are assuredly one of the greatest knights in the world." Upon this Sir Tristram laughed, "Nay," quoth
Sir Tristram acknowledges his degree.
he, "I am as yet a young knight, who has had but little proof in battle. As for my name, since you ask it of me, upon my knighthood I am not ashamed to tell you that I am hight Sir Tristram, and that I am King Meliadus' son of Lyonesse."

"Ha!" said Sir Sagramore, "if that be so, then there is little shame in being overthrown by you. For not only do I well remember how at the court of the King of Ireland you overthrew six knights of the Round Table,

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and how easily you overthrew Sir Palamydes the Saracen, but it is also very well known how you did battle with Sir Marhaus, and of how you overcame him, Now Sir Marhaus and Sir Palamydes were two of the best knights in the world, so it is not astonishing that you should have done as you did with us. But, since you have overthrown us, what is it you would have us do?"

"Messires," said Sir Tristram, "I have only to demand two things of you. One of them is that you give me your word that you will go to Cornwall and confess to King Mark that you have been overthrown by a Cornish knight; and the second thing is that you tell me if you saw Sir Bleoberis de Ganys pass this way?"

They say: "Messire, touching that demand you make upon us to go to King Mark and to confess our fall, that we will do as you desire; and as for Sir Bleoberis, we met him only a short while ago, and he cannot even now be very far from this place."

"Well," said Sir Tristram, "I give you good den, and thank you for your information. I have some words to say to Sir Bleoberis before he leave these marches."

So thereafter he called Gouvernail, and they two rode into the forest and on their way as fast as they were able. As for Sir Dodinas and Sir Sagramore, they betook their course to the court of King Mark, as they had promised to do.

Now, by and by, after Sir Tristram and Gouvernail had gone some considerable distance farther upon that road, they beheld Sir Bleoberis before
Sir Tristram comes to Sir Bleoberis.
them in a forest path, riding very proudly and at an easy pass upon his way. At that time the sun was setting very low toward the earth, so that all the tops of the forest trees were aflame with a very ruddy light, though all below in the forest was both cool and gray. Now when Sir Tristram and Gouvernail with him had come pretty nigh to Sir Bleoberis, Sir Tristram called to him in a very loud voice, and bade him turn and stand. Therewith Sir Bleoberis turned about and waited for Sir Tristram to come up with him. And when Sir Tristram was come near by, he said to Sir Bleoberis: "Messire, I hear tell that you have with you a very noble goblet which you have taken in a shameful way from the table of King Mark of Cornwall. Now I demand of you that you give me that goblet to take back unto the King again." "Well," said Sir Bleoberis, "you shall freely have that goblet if you can take it from me, and if you will look, you will see where it hangs here from my saddle-horn. But I may tell you that I do not believe that there is any Cornish knight who may take away that goblet against my will."

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"As for that," said Sir Tristram, "we shall see in a little while how it may be."

Therewith each knight took his spear in hand and rode a little distance away, and made himself in all wise ready for the assault. Then when they were in all ways prepared, each launched himself against
Sir Tristram overcometh Sir Bleoberis.
the other, coming together with such violence that sparks of fire flew out from the points of their spears. And in that assault the horse of each knight was overthrown, but each knight voided his saddle and leaped very lightly to earth, without either having had a fall. Then each drew his sword and set his shield before him, and therewith came together, foining and lashing with all the power of their might. Each gave the other many sore strokes, so that the armor of each was indented in several places and in other places was stained with red. Then at last Sir Tristram waxed very wode with anger and he rushed at Sir Bleoberis, smiting him so fiercely that Sir Bleoberis bare back and held his shield low before him. This Sir Tristram perceived, and therewith, rushing in upon Sir Bleoberis, he smote that knight such a great buffet upon the head that Sir Bleoberis fell down upon his knees, without having strength to keep his feet. Then Sir Tristram rushed off the helmet of Sir Bleoberis, and he said, "Sir Knight, yield to me or I shall slay you." "Messire," said Sir Bleoberis, "I yield myself to you, and indeed you are as right a knight as ever I met in all of my life. Then Sir Tristram took Sir Bleoberis by the hand and he lifted him up upon his feet, and he said: "Sir, I am very sorry for to have had to do with you in this fashion, for almost would I rather that you should have overcome me than that I should have overcome you. For I do not at any time forget that you are cousin unto Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and I honor Sir Launcelot above all men else in the world, and would rather have his friendship than that of any man living. So I have had no despite against you in this battle, but have only fought with you because it behooved me to do so for the sake of the King of Cornwall, who is my uncle."

Then Sir Bleoberis said, Messire, I pray you tell me who you are?"

"Lord," said Sir Tristram, I am a very young knight hight Tristram, and I am the son of King Meliadus of Lyonesse and the Lady Elizabeth, sister unto King Mark of Cornwall."

"Ha," said Sir Bleoberis, "I have heard great report of you, Sir Tristram, and now I know at mine own cost that you are one of the best
Sir Bleoberis gives the goblet to Sir Tristram.
knights in the world. Yea; I have no doubt that at some time you will be the peer of Sir Launcelot of the Lake himself, or of Sir Lamorak of Gales, and they two are, certes, the best knights

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in the world. Now I believe that I would have given you this goblet, even without your having to fight for it, had I known who you were; and as it is I herewith give it to you very freely."

So Sir Bleoberis untied the goblet from where it hung at his saddle-bow, and Sir Tristram took the goblet and gave him gramercy for it; and therewith having recovered their horses, each knight mounted, and betook his way whither he was going.

So a little after nightfall Sir Tristram came to the King of Cornwall and his court, and he said to King Mark: "Here is your goblet which I have brought back to you; and I would God that some of your knights who are so much older than I had the courage to do for you what I have had to do." And therewith he went away and left them all sitting ashamed.


Now it chanced some little while after these things happened as aforesaid, that King Mark lay down upon his couch after his midday meal for to sleep a little space during the heat of the day; and it likewise happened that the window near by where he lay was open so that the air might come into the room. Now at that time three knights of the court sat in the garden beneath where the window was. These knights talked to one another concerning Sir Tristram, and of how he had brought back that goblet from Sir Bleoberis de Ganys, and of what honor it was to have such a champion in Cornwall for to stand for the honor of that court. In their talk they said to one another that if only the King of Cornwall were such a knight as Sir Tristram, then there would be plenty of knights of good worth who would come to that court, and Cornwall would no longer have to be ashamed of its chivalry as it was nowadays. So they said: "Would God our King were such a knight as Sir Tristram!"

All this King Mark overheard, and the words that they said were like a very bitter poison in his heart. For their words entered into his soul
King Mark takes hatred to Sir Tristram.
and abided there, and thereupon at that same hour all his love for Tristram was turned into hate. Thus it befell that, after that day, King Mark ever pondered and pondered upon that which he had heard, and the longer he pondered it, the more bitter did his life become to him, and the more he hated Sir Tristram. So it came to pass that whenever he was with Sir Tristram and looked upon him, he would say in his heart: "So they say that you are a better knight than I? Would God you were dead or away from this place, for I believe that some day you will be my undoing!" Yea; there were times when he would look upon Sir Tristram in that wise and whisper to himself: "Would God would send a blight upon thee, so that thou wouldst wither away!"

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But always the King dissembled this hatred for Sir Tristram, so that no one suspected him thereof; least of all did Sir Tristram suspect how changed was the heart of the King toward him.

Now one day Sir Tristram was playing upon his harp and singing before King Mark, and the King sat brooding upon these things as he gazed at Tristram. And Sir Tristram, as he ofttimes did nowadays, sang of the Lady Belle Isoult, and of how her face was like to a rose for fairness, and of how her soul was like to a nightingale in that it uplifted the spirit of whosoever was near her even though the darkness of sorrow as of night might envelop him. And whilst Sir Tristram sang thus, King Mark listened to him, and as he listened a thought entered his heart and therewith he smiled. So when Sir Tristram had ended his song of the Belle Isoult, King Mark said: "Fair nephew, I would that you would undertake a quest for me." Sir Tristram said, "What quest is that, Lord?" "Nay," said King Mark, "I will not tell you what quest it is unless you will promise me upon your knighthood to undertake it upon my behalf." Then Sir Tristram suspected no evil, wherefore he smiled and said: "Dear Lord, if the quest is a thing that it is in my power to undertake, I will undertake it upon your asking, and unto that I pledge my knighthood." King Mark said, "It is a quest that you may undertake." Sir Tristram said, "Then I will undertake it, if you will tell me what it is."

King Mark said: "I have listened to your singing for this long while concerning the Lady Belle Isoult. So the quest I would have you undertake is this: that you go to Ireland, and bring thence the Lady
King Mark betrays Sir Tristram to a promise.
Belle Isoult to be my Queen. For because of your songs and ballads I have come to love her so greatly that I believe that I shall have no happiness in life until I have her for my Queen. So now, since you have pledged me your word upon your knighthood to do my bidding in this case, such is the quest that I would send you upon." And therewith he smiled upon Sir Tristram very strangely.

Then Sir Tristram perceived how he had been betrayed and he put aside his harp and rose from where he sat. And he gazed for a long while at King Mark, and his countenance was wonderfully white like
How Sir Tristram fell into despair.
that of a dead man. Then by and by he said: "Sir, I know not why you have put this upon me, nor do I know why you have betrayed me. For I have ever served you truly as a worthy knight and a kinsman should. Wherefore I know not why you have done this unto me, nor why you seek to compass my death. For you know very well that if I return to Ireland I shall very likely be slain either by the Queen or by some of her kindred, because that for your sake I slew in battle Sir Marhaus,

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the Queen's brother of Ireland. Yet, so far as that is concerned, I would rather lose my life than succeed in this quest, for if so be I do not lose my life, then I must do that which I would liever die than do. Yea; I believe that there was never any knight loved a lady as I love the Lady Belle Isoult. For I love her not only because of her beauty and graciousness, but because she healed mine infirmities and lent ease unto my great sufferings and brought me back from death unto life. Wherefore that which you bid me fulfil is more bitter to me than death."

"Well," said King Mark, "I know nothing of all this--only I know that you have given me your knightly word to fulfil this quest."

"Very well," said Sir Tristram, "if God will give me His good help in this matter, then I will do that which I have pledged my knighthood to undertake." Therewith he turned and went out from that place in such great despair that it was as though his heart had been turned into ashes. But King Mark was filled with joy that he should have caused Sir Tristram all that pain, and he said to his heart: "This is some satisfaction for the hate which I feel for this knight; by and by I shall maybe have greater satisfaction than that."

After that Sir Tristram did not come any more where King Mark was, but he went straight away from the King's court and into a small castle that King Mark had given him some while since for his own. There he abided for several days in great despair of soul, for it seemed to him as though God had deserted him entirely. There for a while Gouvernail alone was with him and no one else, but after a while several knights came to him and gave him great condolence and offered to join with him as his knights-companion. And there were eighteen of these knights, and Sir Tristram was very glad of their comradeship.

These said to him: "Sir, you should not lend yourself to such great travail of soul, but should bend yourself as a true knight should to assume that burden that God hath assigned you to bear."

So they spoke, and by and by Sir Tristram aroused himself from his despair and said to himself: "Well, what these gentlemen say is true, and God hath assuredly laid this very heavy burden upon me; as that is so, I must needs assume it for His sake."


So Sir Tristram and the knights who were with him abode in that place
Sir Tristram departs from Cornwall.
for a day or two or three, and then one morning Sir Tristram armed himself and they armed themselves, and all took their departure from that castle and went down to the sea. Then they took ship with intent to depart to Ireland upon that quest Sir Tristram

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had promised King Mark he would undertake, and in a little they hoisted sail and departed from Cornwall for Ireland.

But they were not to make their quest upon that pass so speedily as they thought, for, upon the second day of their voyaging, there arose a great storm of wind of such a sort that the sailors of that ship had never seen the like thereof in all of their lives. For the waves rose up like mountains, and anon the waters sank away into deep valleys with hills of water upon either side all crested over with foam as white as snow. And anon that ship would be uplifted as though the huge sea would toss it into the clouds; and anon it would fall down into a gulf so deep that it appeared as though the green waters would swallow it up entirely. The air roared as though it were full of demons and evil spirits out of hell, and the wind was wet and very bitter with brine. So the ship fled away before that tempest, and the hearts of all aboard were melted with fear because of the great storm of wind and the high angry waves.

Then toward evening those who were watching from the lookout beheld a land and a haven, and they saw upon the land overlooking the haven was a noble castle and a fair large town, surrounded by high walls of stone. So they told the others of what they saw, and all gave great rejoicing for that they were so nigh the land. Therewith they sailed the ship toward the haven, and having entered therein in safety, they cast anchor under the walls of the castle and the town, taking great Joy that God had brought them safe and sound through that dreadful peril of the tempest.

Then Sir Tristram said to Gouvernail: "Knowest thou, Gouvernail, what place is this to which we have come?" "Messire," said Gouvernail, "I think it is Camelot." And then those knights of Cornwall
Sir Tristram comes to Camelot.
who stood by said, "Yea, that is true, and it. is Camelot." And one of them said: "Messire, it is likely that King Arthur is at that place at this very time, for so it was reported that he was, and so I believe it to be."

"Ha," quoth Tristram, "that is very good news to me, for I believe that it would be the greatest joy to me that the world can now give to behold King Arthur and those noble knights of his court ere I die. More especially do I desire above all things to behold that great, noble champion. Sir Launcelot of the Lake. So let us now go ashore, and mayhap it shall come to pass that I shall see the great King and Sir Launcelot and mayhap shall come to speak with the one or the other."' And that saying of Sir Tristram's seemed good to those knights who were with him, for they were weary of the sea, and desired to rest for a while upon the dry land.

So they presently all went ashore and bade their attendants set up their

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pavilions in a fair level meadow that was somewhat near a league distant away from the castle and the town. In the midst of the other pavilions upon
Sir Tristram sets up his pavilion.
that plain was set the pavilion of Sir Tristram. It was of fine crimson cloth striped with silver and there was the figure of a gryphon carved upon the summit of the centre pole of the pavilion. The spear of Sir Tristram was emplanted by the point of the truncheon in the ground outside the pavilion, and thereunto his shield was hung so that those who passed that way might clearly behold what was the device thereon.

And now shall be told how Sir Tristram became united in friendship with the brotherhood of good knights at King Arthur's court.


Next: Chapter Sixth