Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris

The Quest of the Ten Knights

When Tristram was well within the forest shades, he alighted and unlaced his armor and sought to stanch his wound. But so pale did he become that Dinadan thought he was like to die.

"Never dread thee, Dinadan," said Tristram, cheerily, "for I am heart whole, and of this wound I shall soon be healed, by God's mercy."

As they sat conversing Dinadan saw at a distance Sir Palamides, who was riding straight upon them, with seeming evil intent. Dinadan hastily bid Tristram to withdraw, and offered himself to meet the Saracen and take the chance of life and death with him.

"I thank you, Sir Dinadan, for your good will," said Tristram, "but you shall see that I am able to handle him."

He thereupon hastily armed himself, and, mounting his horse, rode to meet Palamides. Then a challenge to joust passed between them, and they rode together. But Tristram kept his seat and Palamides got a grievous fall, and lay on the earth like one dead.

Leaving him there with a comrade, Tristram and Dinadan rode on, and obtained lodging for that night at the castle of an old knight, who had five sons at the tournament.

As for Palamides, when he recovered from his swoon, he well-nigh lost his wits through sheer vexation. He rode headlong forward, wild with rage, and meeting a deep stream sought to make his horse leap it. But the horse fell in and was drowned, and the knight himself reached shore only by the barest chance.

Now, mad with chagrin, he flung off his armor, and sat roaring and crying like a man distracted. As he sat there, a damsel passed by, who on seeing his distressful state sought to comfort him, but in vain. Then she rode on till she came to the old knight's castle, where Tristram was, and told how she had met a mad knight in the forest.

"What shield did he bear?" asked Tristram.

"It was indented with black and white," answered the damsel.

"That was Palamides. The poor fellow has lost his wits through his bad luck. I beg that you bring him to your castle, Sir Darras."

This the old knight did, for the frenzy of the Saracen had now passed, and he readily accompanied him. On reaching the castle he looked curiously at Tristram, whom he felt sure he had seen before, but could not place him in his mind. But his anger against his fortunate rival continued, and he boasted proudly to Dinadan of what he would do when he met that fellow Tristram.

"It seems to me," answered Dinadan, "that you met him not long since, and got little good of him. Why did you not hold him when you had him in your hands? You were too easy with the fellow not to pummel him when you had so fine an opportunity."

This scornful reply silenced the boastful Saracen, who fell into an angry moodiness.

Meanwhile King Arthur was sore at heart at the disappearance of Tristram, and spoke in reproach to Lancelot as being the cause of his loss.

"My liege Arthur," answered Lancelot, "you do me ill justice in this. When men are hot in battle they may well hurt their friends as well as their foes. As for Tristram, there is no man living whom I would rather help. If you desire, I will make one of ten knights who will go in search of him, and not rest two nights in the same place for a year until we find him."

This offer pleased the king, who quickly chose nine other knights for the quest, and made them all swear upon the Scriptures to do as Lancelot had proposed.

With dawn of the next day these ten knights armed themselves, and rode from the Castle of Maidens, continuing in company until they came to a roadside cross, from which ran out four highways. Here they separated into four parties, each of which followed one of the highways. And far and wide they rode through field and forest for many days in quest of the brave knight of Cornwall.

Of them all, Sir Lucan, the butler, came nearest to good fortune, for chance brought him to the castle of the old knight, Sir Darras. Here he asked harbor, sending in his name by the porter.

"He shall not rest here unless he first joust with me," cried Sir Daname, the old knight's nephew. "Bid him make ready, for he must earn his lodging."

But better had Daname held his peace, for Lucan smote him over his horse's croup, and followed him hotly when he fled into the castle.

"This is a shame to our host," said Dinadan. "Let me try conclusions with our doughty butler. It will not do to let him take our castle by storm."

He thereupon rode against Lucan, and fared still worse, for he got for his pains a spear thrust through the thigh. Then Tristram, in anger, armed and followed Lucan, who had ridden on, in search of a more peaceful place of shelter. Within a mile he overtook him and bade him turn and joust. Nothing loth, Lucan did so, and in his turn got a sore fall, though he little dreamed that he had been overthrown by the knight of his quest. At this juncture another of the ten knights, Sir Uwaine, came up, and seeing Sir Lucan's misfortune, rode furiously against the victor. His luck was no better, for he was hurled to the ground with a sorely wounded side. Having thus revenged his comrades, Tristram returned to the castle.

Meanwhile a damsel from the Castle of Maidens had come thither, and told Sir Darras a woeful story. Of his five sons, three had been slain at the tournament, and the other two were dangerously wounded, all this having been done by the knight of the black shield. Deep grief filled the old knight's heart at this sad tale. But his sorrow turned to rage when the damsel was shown Tristram's shield and recognized it as that of the champion of the tournament.

"So," cried the old knight in a hot passion. "I am harboring here my sons' murderer, and troubling myself to give him noble cheer. By my father's grave, I will revenge my boys' death on him and his companions."

Then in grief and rage he ordered his knights and servants to seize Tristram, Dinadan, and Palamides, and put them in a strong dungeon he had in the keep of his castle.

This was done before the three knights could defend themselves, and for many days they lay in this dismal cell, until Tristram grew so sick from his wound and confinement that he came near to dying. While they lay thus in durance vile some knights of Darras's kindred came to the castle, and on hearing the story wished to kill the captives, but this the old knight would not permit, though he determined to hold them close prisoners. So deep in time grew Tristram's sickness that his mind nearly failed him, and he was ready to slay himself for pain and grief. Palamides gave him what aid he could, though all the time he spoke of his hatred to Tristram, the Cornishman, and of the revenge he yet hoped to have. To this Tristram made no reply, but smiled quietly.

Meanwhile the ten knights continued their fruitless search, some here, some there, while one of them, Gaheris, nephew to King Arthur, made his way to King Mark's court, where he was well received.

As they sat at table together the king asked his guest what tidings he brought from Arthur's realm of Logris.

"Sir," he answered, "King Arthur still reigns nobly, and he lately presided at a grand tournament where fought many of the noblest knights of the kingdom. But best of them all was a valiant knight who bore a black shield, and who kept the lordship of the lists for three days."

"Then by my crown it must have been Lancelot, or Palamides the Pagan."

"Not so. These knights were against him of the black shield."

"Was it Sir Tristram?" asked the king.

"In sooth you have it now."

The king held down his head at this, but La Belle Isolde, who was at the feast, heard it with great secret joy, and her love for Tristram grew warmer in her soul.

But King Mark nourished treason in his heart, and sought within his brain some device to do dishonor to Tristram and to Arthur's knights. Soon afterward Uwaine came to his court and challenged any knight of Cornwall to meet him in the lists. Two of these, Andred, and Dinas the seneschal, accepted the challenge, but both were overthrown. Then King Mark in a fury cried out against his knights, and Gaheris, as his guest, proffered to meet the champion. But when Uwaine saw his shield, he knew him for his own cousin, and refused to joust with him, reproving him for breaking his oath of fellowship as a Knight of the Round Table.

This reproof cut Gaheris deeply, and returning to King Mark he took his leave of him and his court, saying,—

"Sir king, this I must say, that you did a foul shame to yourself and your kingdom when you banished Sir Tristram. Had he stayed here you would not have wanted a champion."

All this added to the king's rage, and arming himself he waylaid Uwaine at a secret place as he was passing unawares, and ran him through the body. But before he could kill him as he designed, Kay the seneschal came that way and flew to the aid of the wounded knight, while King Mark rode in dastardly haste away. Kay sought to learn from Uwaine who had hurt him, but this he was not able to tell.

He then bore him to a neighboring abbey of the black cross, where he left him in the care of the monks. Not far had he ridden from there when he met King Mark, who accosted him courteously, and bade him, if he sought an adventure, to ride into the forest of Morris, where he would find one to try his prowess.

"I will prove what it is worth," said Kay, and bade adieu to the king.

A mile or two further on he met Gaheris, who, learning his errand, warned him against doing anything at the suggestion of King Mark, who meant but treachery and harm.

"Come with me, then," said Kay. "Adventures are not so abundant, and we two should be able to match the wiles of this dastard king."

"I shall not fail you," said Gaheris.

Into the forest they then rode till they came to the edge of a little lake, known as the Perilous Lake, and here they waited under the woodland shadows.

It was now night, but the moon rode high in the skies, and flung its silvery rays wide over the forest glade. As they stood thus, there rode into the moonlit opening a knight all in black armor and on a great black horse, who tilted against Sir Kay. The seneschal's horse was smaller than that of the stranger, and was overthrown by the shock, falling upon its rider, whom it bruised severely.

During this encounter Gaheris had remained hidden under the woodland shadows. He now cried sternly,—

"Knight, sit thou fast in thy saddle, for I will revenge my fellow;" and rode against the black knight with such fury that he was flung from his horse. Then he turned to a companion of the black knight, who now appeared, and hurled him to the earth so violently that he came near to breaking his neck in the fall.

Leaping from his horse and helping Kay to his feet, Gaheris sternly bade his antagonists to tell their names or they should die.

"Beware what you do," said the second knight. "This is King Mark of Cornwall, and I am his cousin Andred."

"You are traitors both," cried Gaheris, in a fury, "and have laid this ambush for us. It were a pity to let such craven rascals live."

"Spare my life," prayed the king, "and I will make full amends."

"You a king; and dealing in treachery!" cried Gaheris. "You have lived long enough."

With this he struck fiercely at King Mark with his sword, while the dastard king cowered under his shield. Kay attacked Andred at the same time.

King Mark now flung himself on his knees before Gaheris and swore on the cross of his sword never while he lived to do aught against errant knights. And he also swore to be a friend unto Sir Tristram if he should come into Cornwall.

With this they let them go, though Kay was eager to slay Andred, for his deeds of treachery against his cousin Tristram. The two knights now rode out of the kingdom of Cornwall, and soon after met Lancelot, who asked them what tidings they brought from King Mark's country, and if they had learned aught of Tristram. They answered that they had not, and told him of their adventure, at which Lancelot smiled.

"You will find it hard to take out of the flesh that which is bred in the bone," he said.

Then Lancelot, Kay, and Gaheris rode together to seek Tristram in the country of Surluse, not dreaming that he lay in prison not many miles from the Castle of Maidens.

Leaving them to pursue their useless journey, we must return to the three prisoners. Tristram still continued sick almost unto death, while Palamides, while giving him daily care, continued to rail loudly against him and to boast of how he would yet deal with him. Of this idle boasting Dinadan in time had more than he could bear, and broke out angrily on the Saracen.

"I doubt if you would do him harm if he were here before you," he said; "for if a wolf and a sheep were together in prison the wolf would leave the sheep in peace. As for Sir Tristram, against whom you rail like a scold, here he lies before you. Now do your worst upon him, Sir Saracen, while he is too sick to defend himself."

Surprise and shame overcame Palamides at this announcement, and he dropped his head in confusion.

"I have heard somewhat too much of your ill will against me;" said Tristram, "but shall let it pass at present, for we are in more danger here from the lord of this place than from each other."

As they spoke, a damsel brought them their noontide meal, and said as she gave it them,—

"Be of good cheer, sir knights, for you are in no peril of your lives. So much I heard my lord, Sir Darras, say this morning."

"So far your news is good," cried Dinadan. "Good for two of us at least, for this good knight promises to die without waiting for the executioner."

The damsel looked upon Tristram, and observing the thinness of his face and hands, went and told Sir Darras of what she had heard and seen.

"That must not be," cried the knight. "God defend that I should suffer those who came to me for succor to die in my prison. Bring them hither."

Then Tristram was brought to the castle hall on his couch, with the other two knights beside him.

"Sir knight," said the castle lord, "I am sorry for your sickness, and would not have so noble a knight as you die in prison, though I owe to you the death of three of my sons."

"As for that," said Tristram, "it was in fair fight, and if they were my next of kin I could not have done otherwise. If I had slain them by treachery, I would have deserved death at your hands."

"You acted knightly, and for that reason I could not put you to death," said Sir Darras. "You and your fellows shall go at full liberty, with your horses and armor, on this covenant, that you will be a good friend to my two sons who are still living, and that you tell me your name."

"My name is Tristram de Lyonesse. I was born in Cornwall, and am nephew to King Mark. And I promise you by the faith of my body that while I live I shall be a friend to you and your sons, for what you have done to us was but by force of nature."

"If you be the good knight Sir Tristram, I am sorry to have held you in durance, and thank you for your proffer of service. But you must stay with me still till you are well and strong."

To this Tristram agreed, and staid many more days with the old knight, growing well rapidly under the healing influence of hope and liberty.