Sacred Texts  Sagas & Legends  England  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 170

Belle Isoult and Sir Tristram drink the love draught
Click to enlarge

Belle Isoult and Sir Tristram drink the love draught

p. 171

Chapter Seventh

How Sir Tristram had speech with King Angus of Ireland; how he undertook to champion the cause of King Angus and of what happened thereafter.

NOW, as Sir Tristram and King Arthur and Sir Launcelot sat together in the pavilion of Sir Tristram in pleasant, friendly discourse, as aforetold, there came Gouvernail of a sudden into that place. He, coming to Sir Tristram, leaned over his shoulder and he whispered into his ear: "Sir, I have just been told that King Angus of Ireland is at this very time at Camelot at the court of the King."

Upon this Sir Tristram turned to King Arthur and said: "Lord, my esquire telleth me that King Angus of Ireland is here at Camelot; now I pray you tell me, is that saying true?" "Yea," said King Arthur,
Sir Tristram hears news of King Angus.
"that is true; but what of it?" "Well," said Sir Tristram, "I had set forth to seek King Angus in Ireland, when I and my companions were driven hither by a great storm of wind. Yet when I find him, I know not whether King Angus may look upon me as a friend or as an unfriend."

"Ha," said King Arthur, "you need not take trouble concerning the regard in which King Angus shall hold you. For he is at this time in such anxiety of spirit that he needs to have every man his friend
How Sir Bertrand was killed in Ireland.
who will be his friend, and no man his enemy whom he can reconcile to him. He is not just now in very good grace, either with me or with my court, for the case with him is thus: Some while ago, after you left the court of Ireland, there came to that place Sir Blamor de Ganys (who is right cousin to Sir Launcelot of the Lake) and with Sir Blamor a knight-companion hight Sir Bertrand de la Riviere Rouge. These two knights went to Ireland with intent to win themselves honor at the court of Ireland. Whilst they were in that kingdom there were held many jousts and tourneys, and in all of them Sir Blamor and Sir Bertrand were victorious, and all the knights of Ireland who came against them were put to shame at their hands. Many of the Irish knights were exceedingly angry at this, and so likewise was the King of Ireland. Now it happened one day that Sir

p. 172

[paragraph continues] Bertrand was found dead and murdered at a certain pass in the King's forest, and when the news thereof was brought to Sir Blamor, he was very wroth that his knight-companion should have been thus treacherously slain. So he immediately quitted Ireland and returned hither straightway, and when he had come before me he accused King Angus of treason because of that murder. Now at this time King Angus is here upon my summons for to answer that charge and to defend himself therefrom; for Sir Blamor offers his body to defend the truth of his accusation, and as for the King of Ireland, he can find no knight to take his part in that contention. For not only is Sir Blamor, as you very well know, one of the best knights in the world, but also nearly everybody here hath doubt of the innocence of King Angus in this affair. Now from this you may see that King Angus is very much more in need of a friend at this time than he is of an enemy."

"Lord," said Sir Tristram, "what you tell me is very excellent good news, for now I know that I may have talk with King Angus with safety to myself, and that he will no doubt receive me as a friend."

So after King Arthur and his court had taken their departure--it being then in the early sloping of the afternoon--Sir Tristram called Gouvernail to him and bade him make ready their horses, and when Gouvernail had done so, they two mounted and rode away by themselves toward that place where King Angus had taken up his lodging. When they had come there, Sir Tristram made demand to have speech with the King, and therewith they in attendance ushered him in to where the King Angus was.

But when King Angus saw Sir Tristram who he was, and when he beheld a face that was both familiar and kind, he gave a great cry of joy, and
King Angus welcomes Sir Tristram.
ran to Sir Tristram and flung his arms about him, and kissed him upon the cheek; for he was rejoiced beyond measure to find a friend in that unfriendly place.

Then Sir Tristram said, "Lord, what cheer have you?" Unto that King Angus replied: "Tristram, I have very poor cheer; for I am alone amongst enemies with no one to befriend me, and unless I find some knight who will stand my champion to-morrow or the next day I am like to lose my life for the murder of Sir Bertrand de la Riviere Rouge. And where am I to find any one to act as my champion in defence of my innocence in this place, where I behold an enemy in every man whom I meet? Alas, Tristram! There is no one in all the world who will aid me unless it be you, for you alone of all the knights in the world beyond the circle of the knights of the Round Table may hope to stand against so excellent and so strong a hero!"

"Lord," quoth Sir Tristram, "I know very well what great trouble overclouds you at this time, and it is because of that that I am come hither

p. 173

for to visit you. For I have not at any time forgotten how that I told you when you spared my life in Ireland that mayhap the time might come when I might serve as your friend in your day of need. So if you will satisfy me upon two points, then I myself will stand for your champion upon this occasion."

"Ah, Tristram," quoth King Angus, "what you say is very good news to me indeed. For I believe there is no other knight in all the world (unless it be Sir Launcelot of the Lake) who is so strong and worthy a knight as you. So tell me what are those two matters concerning which you would seek satisfaction, and, if it is possible for me to do so, I will give you such an answer as may please you."

"Lord," said Sir Tristram, "the first matter is this: that you shall satisfy me that you are altogether innocent of the death of Sir Bertrand. And the second matter is this: that you shall grant me whatsoever favor it is that I shall have to ask of you."

Then King Angus arose and drew his sword and he said: "Tristram, behold; here is my sword-and the guard thereof and the blade thereof and the handle thereof make that holy sign of the cross unto
King Angus swears innocence to Sir Tristram.
which all Christian men bow down to worship. Look! See! Here I kiss that holy sign and herewith I swear an oath upon that sacred symbol, and I furthermore swear upon the honor of my knighthood, that I am altogether guiltless of the death of that noble, honorable knight aforesaid. Nor do I at all know how it was he met his death, for I am innocent of all evil knowledge thereof. Now, Messire, art thou satisfied upon that point?" And Sir Tristram said, "I am satisfied."

Then King Angus said: "As to the matter of granting you a favor, that I would do in any case for the love I bear you. So let me hear what it is that you have to ask of me."

"Lord," cried out Sir Tristram, "the favor is one I had liever die than ask. It is this: that you give me your daughter, the Lady
Sir Tristram asks his boon.
Belle Isoult, for wife unto mine uncle, King Mark of Cornwall."

Upon these words, King Angus sat in silence for a long while, gazing very strangely upon Sir Tristram. Then by and by he said: "Messire, this is a very singular thing you ask of me; for from what you said to me aforetime and from what you said to my daughter I had thought that you desired the Lady Belle Isoult for yourself. Now I can in no wise understand why you do not ask for her in your name instead of asking for her in the name of King Mark."

Then Sir Tristram cried out as in great despair: "Messire, I love that dear lady a great deal more than I love my life; but in this affair I am fulfilling

p. 174

a pledge made upon the honor of my knighthood and unto the King of Cornwall, who himself made me knight. For I pledged him unaware, and now I am paying for my hastiness. Yet I would God that you might take the sword which you hold in your hand and thrust it through my heart; for I had liefer die than fulfil this obligation to which I am pledged."

"Well," said King Angus, "you know very well that I will not slay you, but that I will fulfil your boon as I have promised. As for what you do in this affair, you must answer for it to God and to the honor of your own knighthood whether it is better to keep that promise which you made to the King of Cornwall or to break it."

Then Sir Tristram cried out again in great travail of soul: "Lord, you know not what you say, nor what torments I am at this present moment enduring." And therewith he arose and went forth from that place, for he was ashamed that anyone should behold the passion that moved him.


And now is to be told of that famous battle betwixt Sir Tristram and Sir Blamor de Ganys of which so much hath been written in all the several histories of chivalry that deal with these matters.


Now when the next morning had come--clear and fair and with the sun shining wonderfully bright--a great concourse of people began to betake themselves to that place where the lists had been set up in preparation for that ordeal of battle. That place was on a level meadow of grass very fair bedight with flowers and not far from the walls of the town nor from the high road that led to the gate of the same.

And, indeed, that was a very beautiful place for battle, for upon the one hand was the open countryside, all gay with spring blossoms and flowers; and
Of the meadow of battle.
upon the other hand were the walls of the town. Over above the top of those walls was to be seen a great many tall towers--some built of stone and some of brick--that rose high up into the clear, shining sky all full of slow-drifting clouds, that floated, as it were, like full-breasted swans in a sea of blue. And beyond the walls of the town you might behold a great many fair houses with bright windows of glass all shining against the sky. So you may see how fair was all that place, where that fierce battle was presently to be fought.

Meanwhile, great multitudes of people had gathered all about the meadow of battle, and others stood like flies upon the walls of the town and looked down into that fair, pleasant meadow-land, spread with its carpet of flowers. All along one side of the ground of battle was a scaffolding of seats fair bedraped with fabrics of various colors and textures. In the midst of all

p. 175

the other seats were two seats hung with cloth of scarlet, and these seats were the one for King Arthur and the other for King Angus of Ireland.

In the centre of the meadow-land Sir Blamor rode up and down very proudly. He was clad in red armor, and the trappings and the furniture of his horse were all of red, so that he paraded the field like a crimson flame of fire.

"Sir," quoth King Arthur to King Angus, "yon is a very strong, powerful, noble knight; now where mayst thou find one who can hope to stand against him in this coming battle?"

"Lord," said King Angus, "I do believe that God hath raised up a defender for me in this extremity. For Sir Tristram of
King Angus Presents Sir Tristram for his champion.
Lyonesse came to me yesterday, and offered for to take this quarrel of mine upon him. Now I do not believe that there is any better knight in all of Christendom than he, wherefore I am to-day uplifted with great hopes that mine innocence shall be proved against mine accuser."

"Ha!" quoth King Arthur, "if Sir Tristram is to stand thy champion in this affair, then I do believe that thou hast indeed found for thyself a very excellent, worthy defender."

So anon there came Sir Tristram riding to that place, attended only by Gouvernail. And he was clad all in bright, polished armor so that he shone like a star of great splendor as he entered the field of battle. He came straight to where King Arthur sat and saluted before him. King Arthur said, "Sir, what knight art thou?" "Lord," answered he, "I am Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, and I am come to champion King Angus who sits beside you. For I believe him to be innocent of that matter of which he is accused, and I will emperil my body in that belief for to prove the truth of the same."

"Well," quoth King Arthur, "this King accused hath, certes, a very noble champion in thee. So go and do thy devoirs, and may God defend the right."

Thereupon each knight took a good stout spear into his hand and chose his place for the encounter, and each set his shield before him and feutered his lance in rest. Then, when each was ready, the marshal
Sir Tristram does battle with Sir Blamor.
blew a great blast upon his trumpet, and thereupon, in an instant, each knight launched against the other like a bolt of thunder. So they met in the very middle of the course with such violence that the spear of each knight was shattered all into pieces unto the very truncheon thereof. Each horse fell back upon his haunches, and each would no doubt, have fallen entirely, had not the knight-rider recovered his steed with the greatest skill and address.

p. 176

Then each knight voided his saddle and each drew his sword and set his shield before him. Therewith they came to battle on foot like two wild boars--so fiercely and felly that it was terrible to behold. For they traced this way and that and foined and struck at one another so that whole pieces of armor were hewn from the bodies of each.

But in all this battle Sir Tristram had so much the better that, by and by after they had fought for above an hour, Sir Blamor de Ganys began
Sir Tristram overcomes Sir Blamor.
to bare back before him, and to give ground, holding his shield low for weariness. This Sir Tristram perceived, and, running in suddenly upon Sir Blamor, he struck him so terrible a blow upon the right shoulder that Sir Blamor's arm was altogether benumbed thereby, and he could no longer hold his sword in his hand.

So the sword of Sir Blamor fell down into the grass, and Sir Tristram, perceiving this, ran and set his foot upon it. Then Sir Blamor could not stand any longer, but fell down upon his knees because of a great weariness and faintness that lay upon him like the weariness and faintness of approaching death.

Then Sir Tristram said: "Sir Knight, thou canst fight no longer. Now I bid thee for to yield thyself to me as overcome in this battle."

Thereunto Sir Blamor made reply, speaking very deep and hollow from out of his helmet: "Sir Knight, thou hast overcome me by thy strength and prowess, but I will not yield myself to thee now nor at any time. For that would be so great shame that I would rather die than endure it. I am a knight of the Round Table, and have never yet been overcome in this wise by any man. So thou mayst slay me, but I will not yield myself to thee."

Then Sir Tristram cried out: "Sir Knight, I beseech thee to yield thyself, for thou art not fit to fight any more this day."

Sir Blamor said, "I will not yield, so strike and have done with it."

So Sir Tristram wist not what to do, but stood there in doubt looking down upon Sir Blamor. Then Sir Blamor said, again: "Strike, Sir Knight, and have done with it."

Upon this Sir Tristram said: "I may not strike thee, Sir Blamor de Ganys, to slay thee, for thou art very nigh of blood to Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and unto him I have sworn brotherhood in arms; wherefore I pray thee now to yield thyself to me."

Sir Blamor said, "Nay, I will not yield me to thee."

"Well," said Sir Tristram, "then I must fain act this day in a manner like as I acted yesterday."

Therewith speaking, he took his sword into both his hands and he swung

p. 177

it several times around his head and when he had done that he flung it to a great distance away, so that he was now entirely unarmed saving only for his misericordia. After that he gave Sir Blamor his hand and lifted him up upon his feet. And he stooped and picked up Sir Blamor's sword out of the grass and gave it back to Sir Blamor into his hands, and he said: "Sir Knight, now thou art armed and I am entirely unarmed, and so thou hast me at thy mercy. Now thou shalt either yield thyself to me or slay me as I stand here without any weapon; for I cannot now strike thee, and though I have overcome thee fairly yet thou hast it now in thy power to slay me. So now do thy will with me in this matter."

Then Sir Blamor was greatly astonished at the magnanimity of Sir Tristram, and he said, "Sir Knight, what is thy name?" Sir Tristram said, "It is Tristram, surnamed of Lyonesse."

Upon this Sir Blamor came to Sir Tristram and put his arms about his shoulders, and he said: "Tristram, I yield myself to thee, but in love and not in hate. For I yield myself not because of thy strength of arms (and yet I believe there is no knight in the world, unless it be my cousin Sir Launcelot of the Lake, who is thy peer), but I yield me because of thy exceeding nobility. Yet I would that I might only be satisfied that this King of Ireland is no traitor."

"Messire," said Sir Tristram, "of that I have assured myself very strongly ere I entered into this contest, wherefore I may now freely avouch upon mine own knightly word that he is innocent."

"Then," said Sir Blamor, "I also am satisfied, and I herewith withdraw all my impeachment against him."

Then those two noble, excellent knights took one another by the hand and went forward together to where King Arthur sat in high estate, and all those who looked on and beheld that reconciliation gave loud
Sir Tristram and Sir Blamor are reconciled.
acclaim. And when King Arthur beheld them coming thus, he arose from where he sat and met them and embraced them both, and he said: "I do not believe that any king can have greater glory in his life than this, to have such knights about him as ye be."

So ended this famous battle with great glory to Sir Tristram and yet with no disregard, to that famous knight against whom he did battle.

After that, they and King Arthur and King Angus of Ireland and all the court went up unto the castle of Camelot, and there the two knights-combatant were bathed in tepid water and their wounds were searched and dressed and they were put at their ease in all ways that it was possible.

p. 178

Now that very day, as they all sat at feast in the castle of Camelot, there came one with news that the name of Sir Tristram had suddenly appeared upon one of the seats of the Round Table. So after they had ended their feast they all immediately went to see how that might be. When they came to the pavilion of the Round Table, there, behold! was his name indeed upon that seat that had once been the seat of King Pellinore. For this was the name that now was upon that seat:


So the next day Sir Tristram was duly installed as a knight-companion
Sir Tristram becomes knight of the Round Table.
of the Round Table with a great pomp and estate of circumstance, and a day or two after that he set sail for Ireland with King Angus, taking with him Gouvernail and those Cornish knights who were his companions.

So they all reached Ireland in safety, and, because Sir Tristram had aided the King of Ireland in the day of his extremity, the Queen forgave him all the despite she held against him, so that he was received at the court of the King and Queen with great friendship and high honor.


For a while Sir Tristram dwelt in Ireland and said nothing concerning
How Sir Tristram dwelt in Ireland.
that purpose for which he had come. Then one day he said to King Angus: "Lord, thou art not to forget to fulfil that promise which thou madst to me concerning the Lady Belle Isoult."

To this King Angus made reply: "I had hoped that now we were come to Ireland you had changed your purpose in that matter. Are you yet of the same mind as when you first spake to me?"

"Yea," said Sir Tristram, "for it cannot be otherwise."

"Well, then," said King Angus, "I shall go to prepare my daughter for this ill-hap that is to befall her, though indeed it doth go against my heart to do such a thing. After I have first spoken to her, you are to take the matter into your own hands, for, to tell you the truth, I have not the heart to contrive it further."

So King Angus went away from where Sir Tristram was, and he was gone a long while. When he returned he said: "Sir, go you that way and the Lady Belle Isoult will see you."

So Sir Tristram went in the direction King Angus had said, and a page showed him the way. So by and by he came to where the Lady Belle

p. 179

[paragraph continues] Isoult was, and it was a great chamber in a certain tower of the castle and high up under the eaves of the roof.

The Lady Belle Isoult stood upon the farther side of this chamber so that the light from the windows shone full upon her face, and Sir Tristram perceived that she was extraordinarily beautiful, and rather
How Lady Belle Isoult appeared to Sir Tristram.
like to a shining spirit than to a lady of flesh and blood. For she was clad altogether in white and her face was like to wax for whiteness and clearness, and she wore ornaments of gold set with shining stones of divers colors about her neck and about her arms so that they glistered with a wonderful lustre. Her eyes shone very bright and clear like one with a fever, and Sir Tristram beheld that there were channels of tears upon her face and several tears stood upon her white checks like to shining jewels hanging suspended there.

So, for a while, Sir Tristram stood still without speaking and regarded her from afar. Then after a while she spake and said, "Sir, what is this you have done?" "Lady," he said, "I have done what God set me to do, though I would rather die than do it."

She said, "Tristram, you have betrayed me." Upon the which he cried out in a very loud and piercing voice, "Lady, say not so!"

She said: "Tristram, tell me, is it better to fulfil this pledge you have made, knowing that in so doing you sacrifice both my happiness and your happiness to satisfy your pride of honor; or is it better that you sacrifice your pride and break this promise so that we may both be happy? Tristram, I beseech you to break this promise you have made and let us be happy together."

At this Sir Tristram cried out in a very loud voice: "Lady, did you put your hand into my bosom and tear my naked heart, you could not cause me so much pain as that which I this moment endure. It cannot be as you would have it, for it is thus with me: were it but myself whom I might consider, I would freely sacrifice both my life and my honor for your sake. But it may not be so, lady; for I am held to be one of the chiefest of that order of knighthood to which I belong, wherefore I may not consider myself, but must ever consider that order. For if I should violate a pledge given upon my knighthood, then would I dishonor not myself, but that entire order to which I belong. For, did I so, all the world would say, what virtue is there in the order of knighthood when one of the chiefest of that order may violate his pledge when it pleases him to do so? So, lady, having assumed that great honor of knighthood I must perform its obligations even to the uttermost; yea, though in fulfilling my pledge I sacrifice both thee and myself."

p. 180

Then Belle Isoult looked upon Sir Tristram for some little while, and by and by she smiled very pitifully and said: "Ah, Tristram, I believe I am more sorry for thee than I am for myself."

"Lady," said Tristram, "I would God that I lay here dead before you. But I am not able to die, but am altogether strong and hale--only very sorrowful at heart." And therewith he turned and left that place. Only when he had come to a place where he was entirely by himself with no one but God to see him, he hid his face in his hands and wept as though his heart were altogether broken. So it was that Sir Tristram fulfilled his pledge.

After that, King Angus furnished a very noble and beautiful ship with
Belle Isoult and Sir Tristram depart for Cornwall.
sails of satin embroidered with figures of divers sorts, and he fitted the ship in all ways such as became the daughter of a king and the wife of a king to embark upon. And that ship was intended for the Lady Belle Isoult and Sir Tristram in which to sail to the court of Cornwall.

And it was ordained that a certain very excellent lady of the court of the Queen, who had been attendant upon the Lady Belle Isoult when she was a little child and who had been with her in attendance ever since that time, should accompany her to the Court of Cornwall. And the name of this lady was the Lady Bragwaine.

Now the day before the Lady Belle Isoult was to take her departure from Ireland, the Queen of Ireland came to the Lady Bragwaine and she bare
The Queen of Ireland provides a love potion for King Mark and Belle Isoult.
with her a flagon of gold very curiously wrought. And the Queen said: "Bragwaine, here is a flask of a very singular and precious sort of an elixir; for that liquor it is of such a sort that when a man and a woman drink of it together, they two shall thereafter never cease to love one another as long as they shall have life. Take this flask, and when you have come to Cornwall, and when the Lady Belle Isoult and King Mark have been wedded, then give them both to drink of this elixir; for after they have drunk they shall forget all else in the world and cleave only to one another. This I give you to the intent that the Lady Isoult may forget Sir Tristram, and may become happy in the love of King Mark whom she shall marry."

Soon thereafter the Lady Belle Isoult took leave of the King and the Queen and entered into that ship that had been prepared for her. Thus, with Sir Tristram and with Dame Bragwaine and with their attendants, she set sail for Cornwall.

Now it happened that, whilst they were upon that voyage, the Lady Bragwaine came of a sudden into the cabin of that ship and there she beheld

p. 181

the Lady Belle Isoult lying upon a couch weeping. Dame Bragwaine said, "Lady, why do you weep?" Whereunto the Lady Belle Isoult made reply: "Alas, Bragwaine, how can I help but weep seeing that I am to be parted from the man I love and am to be married unto another whom I do not love?"

Dame Bragwaine laughed and said: "Do you then weep for that? See! Here is a wonderful flask as it were of precious wine. When you are married to the King of Cornwall, then you are to quaff of it and he is to quaff of it and after that you will forget all others in the world and cleave only to one another. For it is a wonderful love potion and it hath been given to me to use in that very way. Wherefore dry your eyes, for happiness may still lay before you."

When the Lady Belle Isoult heard these words she wept no more but smiled very strangely. Then by and by she arose and went away to where Sir Tristram was.

When she came to him she said, "Tristram, will you drink of a draught with me?" He said, "Yea, lady, though it were death in the draught." She said, "There is not death in it, but something very different," and thereupon she went away into the cabin where that chalice aforesaid was hidden. And at that time Dame Bragwaine was not there.

Then the Lady Belle Isoult took the flagon from where it was hidden, and poured the elixir out into a chalice of gold and crystal and she brought it to where Sir Tristram was. When she had come there, she said, "Tristram, I drink to thee," and therewith she drank the half of the elixir there was in the chalice. Then she said, "Now drink thou the rest to me."

Upon that Sir Tristram took the chalice and lifted it to his lips, and drank all the rest of that liquor that was therein.

Now immediately Sir Tristram had drunk that elixir he felt it run like fire through every vein in his body. Thereupon he cried out, "Lady, what is this you have given me to drink?" She said: "Tristram, that was a powerful love potion intended for King Mark and me. But now thou and I have drunk of it and never henceforth can either of us love anybody in all of the world but the other."

Then Sir Tristram catched her into his arms and he cried
Sir Tristram and Belle Isoult drink the love potion.
out: "Isoult! Isoult! what hast thou done to us both? Was it not enough that I should have been unhappy but that thou shouldst have chosen to be unhappy also?"

Thereat the Lady Belle Isoult both wept and smiled, looking up into Sir Tristram's face, and she said: "Nay, Tristram; I would rather be sorry with

p. 182

thee than happy with another." He said, "Isoult, there is much woe in this for us both." She said, "I care not, so I may share it with thee."

Thereupon Sir Tristram kissed her thrice upon the face, and then immediately put her away from him and he left her and went away by himself in much agony of spirit.

Thereafter they reached the kingdom of Cornwall in safety, and the Lady Belle Isoult and King Mark were wedded with much pomp and ceremony and after that there was much feasting and every appearance of rejoicing.


p. 183

Next: Introduction