Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris

Book VII
How Tristram Came to Camelot

Tristram and Dinadan

And now it behooves us to follow the banished knight in his adventures, for they were many and various, and arduous were the labors with which he won his right to a seat at the Round Table. We have told the tale of his love and madness, and now must relate the marvellous exploits of his banishment.

Hardly, indeed, had Tristram and Dinadan landed in Arthur's realms when they met two knights of his court, Hector de Maris and Bors de Ganis. This encounter took place upon a bridge, where Hector and Dinadan jousted, and Dinadan and his horse were overthrown. But Bors refused to fight with Tristram, through the contempt he felt for Cornish knights. Yet the honor of Cornwall was soon retrieved, for Sir Bleoberis and Sir Driant now came up, and Bleoberis proffered to joust with Tristram, who quickly smote him to the earth.

This done, Tristram and Dinadan departed, leaving their opponents in surprise that such valor and might could come out of Cornwall. But not far had the two knights-errant gone when they entered a forest, where they met a damsel, who was in search of some noble knights to rescue Sir Lancelot. Morgan le Fay, who hated him bitterly since his escape from her castle, had laid an ambush of thirty knights at a point which Lancelot was approaching, thinking to attack him unawares and so slay him.

The damsel, who had learned of this plot, had already met the four knights whom Tristram and Dinadan had encountered, and obtained their promise to come to the rescue.

She now told her story of crime and treachery to the two wanderers, with the same request.

"Fair damsel," said Tristram, "you could set me no more welcome task. Guide me to the place where those dastards lie in ambush for Lancelot."

"What would you do?" cried Dinadan. "We cannot match thirty knights. Two or three are enough for any one knight, if they be men. I hope you don't fancy that I will take fifteen to my share!"

"Come, come, good comrade," said Tristram. "Do not show the white feather."

"I would rather wear the white feather than the fool's cap," said Dinadan. "Lend me your shield if you will; for I had sooner carry a Cornish shield, which all men say only cowards bear, than try any such foolhardy adventure."

"Nay; I will keep my shield for the sake of her who gave it to me," answered Tristram. "But this I warn you, if you will not abide with me I shall slay you before we part, for a coward has no right to cumber the earth. I ask no more of you than to fight one knight. If your heart is too faint for that, then stand by and see me meet the whole crew."

"Very well," said Dinadan, "you can trust me to look on bravely, and mayhap to do something to save my head from hard knocks; but I would give my helmet if I had not met you. Folks say you are cured of your mad fit, but I vow if I have much faith in your sound sense."

Tristram smiled grimly at Dinadan's scolding, and kept on after the damsel. Not far had they gone before they met the thirty knights. These had already passed the four knights of Arthur's court, without a combat, and they now rode in the same way past Tristram and Dinadan, with no show of hostility.

But Tristram was of different mettle. Turning towards them he cried with a voice of thunder,—"Lo! sir villains. I have heard of your plot to murder Lancelot. Turn and defend yourselves. Here is a knight ready to fight you all for the love of Lancelot du Lake!"

Then, spurring his good war-steed, he rode upon them with the fury of a lion, slaying two with his spear. He then drew his mighty blade, and attacked them with such fierce spirit and giant strength that ten more soon fell dead beneath his furious blows. Nor did Dinadan stand and look on, as he had grumblingly threatened, but rode in and aided Tristram nobly, more than one of the villains falling before his blows. When, at length, the murderous crew took to flight, there were but ten of them alive.

Sir Bors and his companions had seen this battle at a distance, but it was all over before they could reach the scene of fray. High was their praise of the valor and prowess of the victor, who, they said, had done such a deed as they had deemed only Lancelot could perform.

They invited him with knightly warmth and courtesy to go with them to their lodging.

"Many thanks, fair sirs," said Tristram, "but I cannot go with you."

"Then tell us your name, that we may remember it as that of one of the best of knights, and give you the honor which is your due."

"Nor that either," answered Tristram. "In good time you shall know my name, but not now."

Leaving them with the dead knights, Tristram and Dinadan rode forward, and in time found themselves near a party of shepherds and herdsmen, whom they asked if any lodging was to be had near by.

"That there is," said the herdsmen, "and good lodging, in a castle close at hand. But it is not to be had for the asking. The custom of that castle is that no knight shall lodge there except he fight with two knights of the castle. But as you are two, you can fight your battle man for man, if you seek lodging there."

"That is rough pay for a night's rest," said Dinadan. "Lodge where you will, I will not rest in that castle. I have done enough to-day to spoil my appetite for fighting."

"Come, come," said Tristram, "and you a Knight of the Round Table! You cannot refuse to win your lodging in knightly fashion."

"Win it you must if you want it," said the herdsmen; "for if you have the worse of the battle no lodging will you gain in these quarters, except it be in the wild wood."

"Be it so, if it must," said Dinadan. "In flat English, I will not go to the castle."

"Are you a man?" demanded Tristram, scornfully. "Come, Dinadan, I know you are no coward. On your knighthood, come."

Growling in his throat, Dinadan followed his comrade, sorely against his will, and together they rode into the castle court. Here they found, as they had been told, two armed knights ready to meet them.

To make a long story short, Tristram and Dinadan smote them both down, and afterwards entered the castle, where the best of good cheer was served them. But when they had disarmed, and were having a merry time at the well-filled table, word was brought them that two other knights, Palamides and Gaheris, had entered the gates, and demanded a joust according to the castle custom.

"The foul fiend take them!" cried Dinadan. "Fight I will not; I am here for rest."

"We are now the lords of the castle, and must defend its custom," said Tristram. "Make ready, therefore, for fight you must."

"Why, in the devil's name, came I here in your company?" cried Dinadan. "You will wear all the flesh off my bones."

But there was nothing to do but arm themselves and meet the two knights in the court-yard. Of these Gaheris encountered Tristram, and got a fall for his pains; but Palamides hurled Dinadan from his horse. So far, then, it was fall for fall, and the contest could be decided only by a fight on foot. But Dinadan was bruised from his fall and refused to fight. Tristram unlaced his helmet to give him air, and prayed him for his aid.

"Fight them yourself, if you will; two such knights are but a morsel to you," said Dinadan. "As for me, I am sore wounded from our little skirmish with the thirty knights, and have no valor left in me. Sir Tristram, you are a madman yet, and I curse the time that ever I saw you. In all the world there are no two such mad freaks as Lancelot and you. Once I fell into fellowship with Lancelot as I have now with you, and what followed? Why, he set me a task that kept me a quarter of a year in bed. Defend me from such head-splitters, and save me from your fellowship."

"Then if you will not fight I must face them both," said Tristram. "Come forth, both of you, I am ready for you."

At this challenge Palamides and Gaheris advanced and struck at the two knights. But after a stroke or two at Gaheris, Dinadan withdrew from the fray.

"This is not fair, two to one," said Palamides. "Stand aside, Gaheris, with that knight who declines to fight, and let us two finish the combat."

Then he and Tristram fought long and fiercely, Tristram in the end driving him back three paces. At this Gaheris and Dinadan pushed between them and bade them cease fighting, as both had done enough for honor.

"So be it," said Tristram, "and these brave knights are welcome to lodge with us in the castle if they will."

"With you, not with us," said Dinadan, dryly. "When I lodge in that devil's den may I sell my sword for a herring. We will be called up every hour of the night to fight for our bedding. And as for you, good friend, when I ride with you again, it will be when you have grown older and wiser, or I younger and more foolish."

With these words he mounted his horse and rode in an ill-humor out of the castle gates.

"Come, good sirs, we must after him," said Tristram, with a laugh. "He is a prime good fellow, if he has taken himself off in a pet; it is likely I gave him an overdose of fighting."

So, asking a man of the castle to guide them to a lodging, they rode after Dinadan, whom they soon overtook, though he gave them no hearty welcome. Two miles farther brought them to a priory, where they spent the night in comfort.

Early the next day Tristram mounted and rode away, leaving Dinadan at the priory, for he was too much bruised to mount his horse. There remained at the priory with him a knight named Pellinore, who sought earnestly to learn Tristram's name, and at last said angrily to Dinadan,—

"Since you will not tell me his name, I will ride after him and make him tell it himself, or leave him on the ground to repent."

"Beware, my good sir," said Dinadan, "or the repentance will be yours instead of his. No wise man is he who thrusts his own hand in the fire."

"Good faith, I fear him not," said Pellinore, haughtily, and rode on his way.

But he paid dearly for his hardiness, for a half-hour afterwards he lay on the earth with a spear wound in his shoulder, while Tristram rode unscathed on his way.

On the day following Tristram met with pursuivants, who were spreading far and wide the news of a great tournament that was to be held between King Carados and the king of North Wales, at the Castle of Maidens. They were seeking for good knights to take part in that tournament, and in particular King Carados had bidden them to seek Lancelot, and the king of Northgalis to seek Tristram de Lyonesse.

"Lancelot is not far away," said Tristram. "As for me, I will be there, and do my best to win honor in the fray."

And so he rode away, and soon after met with Sir Kay and Sir Sagramore, with whom he refused to joust, as he wished to keep himself fresh for the tournament.

But as Kay twitted him with being a cowardly knight of Cornwall, he turned on him and smote him from his horse. Then, to complete the tale, he served Sagramore with the same sauce, and serenely rode on his way, leaving them to heal their bruises with repentance.