Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris




On the Road to the Tournament

Tristram now rode far alone through a country strange to him, and void of knightly adventures. At length, however, chance brought to him a damsel, who told him disconsolately that she sought a champion to cope with a villanous knight, who was playing the tyrant over a wide district, and who defied all errant knights.

"If you would win great honor come with me," she said.

"To win honor is the breath of my life," said Tristram. "Lead on, fair maiden."

Then he rode with her a matter of six miles, when good fortune brought them in contact with Sir Gawaine, who recognized the damsel as one of Morgan le Fay's. On seeing her with an unknown knight he at once surmised that there was some mischief afoot.

"Fair sir," said Gawaine, "whither ride you with that damsel?"

"Whither she may lead me," said Tristram. "That is all I know of the matter."

"Then, by my good blade, you shall ride no farther with her, for she has a breeder of ill for mistress, and means you a mischief."

He drew his sword as he spoke, and said in stern accents to the damsel,—

"Tell me wherefore and whither you lead this knight, or you shall die on the spot. I know you, minx, and the false-hearted witch who sends you."

"Mercy, Sir Gawaine!" she cried, trembling in mortal fear. "Harm me not, and I will tell you all I know."

"Say on, then. I crave not your worthless life, but will have it if you tell me not the truth."

"Good and valiant sir," she answered, "Queen Morgan le Fay, my lady, has sent me and thirty ladies more, in search of Sir Lancelot or Sir Tristram. Whoever of us shall first meet either of these knights is to lead him to her castle, with a tale of worshipful deeds to be done and wrongs to be righted. But thirty knights lie in wait in a tower ready to sally forth and destroy them."

"Foul shame is this," cried Gawaine, "that such treachery should ever be devised by a queen's daughter and the sister of the worshipful King Arthur. Sir knight, will you stand with me, and unmask the malice of these thirty ambushed rogues?"

"That shall I willingly," said Tristram. "Trust me to do my share to punish these dogs. Not long since I and a fellow met with thirty of that lady's knights, who were in ambush for Lancelot, and we gave them something else to think of. If there be another thirty on the same vile quest, I am for them."

Then they rode together towards the queen's castle, Gawaine with a shrewd fancy that he knew his Cornish companion, for he had heard the story of how two knights had beaten thirty. When they reached the castle, Gawaine called in a loud voice,—

"Queen Morgan le Fay, send out the knights whom you hold in ambush against Lancelot and Tristram. I know your treason, and will tell of it wherever I ride. I, Sir Gawaine, and my fellow here, dare your thirty knights to come out and meet us like men."

"You bluster bravely, friend Gawaine," answered the knights. "But we well know that your pride and valor come from the knight who is there with you. Some of us have tried conclusions with that head-splitter who wears the arms of Cornwall, and have had enough of him. You alone would not keep us long in the castle, but we have no fancy to measure swords with him. So ride your way; you will get no glory here."

In vain did Gawaine berate them as dastards and villains; say what he would, not a soul of them would set foot beyond the walls, and in time the two knights rode away in a rage, cursing all cowards in their beards.

For several days they rode together without adventure. Then they beheld a shameful sight, that roused their souls to anger. For they saw a villanous knight, known in those parts as Breuse Sans Pité, who chased a lady with intent to kill her, having slain her lover before. Many dastardly deeds of this kind had he done, yet so far had escaped all retribution for his crimes.

"Let me ride alone against him," said Gawaine. "I know his tricks. He will stand to face one man, but if he sees us both, he will fly, and he always rides so swift a horse that none can overtake him."

Then he rode at full speed between the lady and her pursuer, and cried loudly,—

"False knight and murderer, leave that lady and try your tricks on me."

Sir Breuse, seeing but one, put his spear in rest and rode furiously against Gawaine, whom he struck so strong a blow that he flung him prostrate to the ground. Then, with deadly intent, he forced his horse to trample over him twenty times backward and forward, thinking to destroy him. But when Tristram saw this villany he broke from his covert and rushed in fury upon the murderous wretch.

But Breuse Sans Pité had met with Tristram before, and knew him by his arms. Therefore he turned his horse and fled at full speed, hotly pursued by the furious knight. Long he chased him, full of thirst for revenge, but the well-horsed villain rode at such a pace that he left him in the distance. At length Tristram, despairing of overtaking him, and seeing an inviting forest spring, drew up his horse and rode thither for rest and refreshment.

Dismounting and tying his horse to a tree, he washed his face and hands and took a deep and grateful draught of the cool water. Then laying himself to rest by the spring side, he fell sound asleep.

While he lay there good fortune brought to that forest spring a lady who had sought him far and wide. This was Dame Bragwaine, the lady companion of La Belle Isolde, who bore him letters from the queen. She failed to recognize the sleeping knight, but at first sight knew his noble charger, Passe Brewel, which Tristram had ridden for years. So she seated herself gladly by the knight, and waited patiently till he awoke. Then she saluted him, and he her, for he failed not to recognize his old acquaintance.

"What of my dear lady, La Belle Isolde?" he asked, eagerly.

"She is well, and has sent me to seek you. Far and wide have I sought for you through the land, and glad enough am I to hand you the letters I bear."

"Not so glad as I am to receive them," said Tristram, joyfully, taking them from her hand and opening them with eager haste, while his soul overflowed with joy as he read Isolde's words of love and constancy, though with them was mingled many a piteous complaint.

"Come with me, Dame Bragwaine," he said. "I am riding to the tournament to be held at the Castle of Maidens. There will I answer these letters, and to have you there, to tell the tale of my doings to my Lady Isolde, will give me double strength and valor."

To this Dame Bragwaine willingly agreed, and mounting they rode till they came to the castle of a hospitable old knight, near where the tournament was to be held. Here they were given shelter and entertainment.

As they sat at supper with Sir Pellounes, their ancient host, he told them much of the great tournament that was at hand, among other things that Lancelot would be there, with thirty-two knights of his kindred, each of whom would bear a shield with the arms of Cornwall.

In the midst of their conversation a messenger entered, who told Pellounes that his son, Persides de Bloise, had come home, whereupon the old knight held up his hands and thanked God, telling Tristram that he had not seen his son for two years.

"I know him," said Tristram, "and a good and worthy knight he is."

On the next morning, when Tristram came into the castle hall clad in his house attire, he met with Persides, similarly unarmed, and they saluted each other courteously.

"My father tells me that you are of Cornwall," said Persides. "I jousted there once before King Mark, and fortune helped me to overthrow ten knights. But Tristram de Lyonesse overthrew me and took my lady from me. This I have not forgotten, and I will repay him for it yet."

"You hate Sir Tristram, then? Do you think that will trouble him much, and that he is not able to withstand your malice?"

"He is a better knight than I, that I admit. But for all that I owe him no good will."

As thus they stood talking at a bay window of the castle, they saw many knights ride by on their way to the tournament. Among these Tristram marked a strongly-built warrior mounted on a great black horse, and bearing a black shield.

"What knight is that?" he asked. "He looks like a strong and able one."

"He is one of the best in the world," said Persides. "I know him well."

"Is it Sir Lancelot?"

"No, no. It is Palamides, an unchristened Saracen, but a noble man."

"Palamides! I should know him too, but his arms deceived me."

As they continued to look they saw many of the country people salute the black knight. Some time afterwards a squire came to Pellounes, the lord of the castle, and told him that a fierce combat had taken place in the road some distance in advance, and that a knight with a black shield had smitten down thirteen others. He was still there, ready for any who might wish to meet him, and holding a tournament of his own in the highway.

"On my faith, that is Palamides!" said Tristram. "The worthy fellow must be brimful of fight. Fair brother, let us cast on our cloaks and see the play."

"Not I," said Persides. "Let us not go like courtiers there, but like men ready to withstand their enemies."

"As you will. To fight or to look on is all one to me."

Then they armed and rode to the spot where so many knights had tried their fortune before the tournament. When Palamides saw them approach, he said to his squire,—

"Go to yonder knight with a green shield and in it a lion of gold. Tell him that I request a passage-at-arms with him, and that my name is Palamides."

Persides, who wore the shield thus described, did not hesitate to accept the challenge, and rode against Palamides, but quickly found himself felled to the earth by his powerful antagonist. Then Tristram made ready to avenge his comrade, but before he could put his spear in rest Palamides rode upon him like a thunderbolt, taking him at advantage, and hurling him over his horse's tail.

At this Tristram sprang up in furious anger and sore shame, and leaped into his saddle.

Then he sent Gouvernail to Palamides, accusing him of treachery, and demanding a joust on equal terms.

"Not so," answered Palamides. "I know that knight better than he fancies, and will not meet him now. But if he wants satisfaction he may have it to-morrow at the Castle of Maidens, where I will be ready to meet him in the lists."

As Tristram stood fretting and fuming in wrathful spite, Dinadan, who had seen the affair, came up, and seeing the anger of the Cornish knight, restrained his inclination to jest.

"Here it is proved," he said, "that a man can never be so strong but he may meet his equal. Never was man so wise but that his brain might fail him, and a passing good rider is he that never had a fall."

"Let be," cried Tristram, angrily. "You are readier with your tongue than with your sword, friend Dinadan. I will revenge myself, and you shall see it."

As they stood thus talking there came by them a likely knight, who rode soberly and heavily, bearing a black shield.

"What knight is that?" asked Tristram.

"It is Sir Briant of North Wales," answered Persides. "I know him well."

Just behind him came a knight who bore a shield with the arms of Cornwall, and as he rode up he sent a squire to Sir Briant, whom he required to joust with him.

"Let it be so, if he will have it so," said Briant. "Bid him make ready."

Then they rode together, and the Welsh knight got a severe fall.

"What Cornish knight is this?" asked Tristram.

"None, as I fancy," said Dinadan. "I warrant he is of King Ban's blood, which counts the noblest knights of the world."

Then two other knights came up and challenged him with the Cornish shield, and in a trice he smote them both down with one spear.

"By my faith," said Tristram, "he is a good knight, whoever he be, and I never saw one yet that rode so well."

Then the king of Northgalis rode to Palamides, and prayed him for his sake to joust with that knight who had just overturned two Welsh knights.

"I beg you ask me not," said Palamides. "I have had my full share of jousting already, and wish to keep fresh for the tournament to-morrow."

"One ride only, for the honor of North Wales," beseeched the king.

"Well, if you will have it so; but I have seen many a man have a fall at his own request."

Then he sent a squire to the victor knight, and challenged him to a joust.

"Fair fellow," said the knight, "tell me your lord's name."

"It is Sir Palamides."

"He is well met, then. I have seen no knight in seven years with whom I would rather tilt."

Then the two knights took spears from their squires, and rode apart.

"Now," said Dinadan, "you will see Palamides come off the victor."

"I doubt it," answered Tristram. "I wager the knight with the Cornish shield will give him a fall."

"That I do not believe," said Dinadan.

As they spoke, the two knights put spears in rest, and spurred their horses, riding hotly together. Palamides broke a spear on his antagonist, without moving him in his saddle; but on his side he received such a blow that it broke through his shield and hauberk, and would have slain him outright had he not fallen.

"How now?" cried Tristram. "Am I not right? I knew by the way those knights ride which would fall."

The unknown knight now rode away and sought a well in the forest edge, for he was hot and thirsty with the fray. This was seen by the king of Northgalis, who sent twelve knights after him to do him a mischief, so that he would not be able to appear at the tournament and win the victory.

They came upon him so suddenly that he had scarcely time to put on his helm and spring to his horse's back before they assailed him in mass.

"Ye villains!" he cried, "twelve to one! And taking a man unawares! You want a lesson, and by my faith you shall have it."

Then spurring his horse he rode on them so fiercely that he smote one knight through the body, breaking his spear in doing so. Now he drew his sword and smote stoutly to right and left, killing three others and wounding more.

"Dogs and dastards! know you me not?" he cried in a voice of thunder. "My name is Lancelot du Lake. Here's for you, cowards and traitors!"

But the name he had shouted was enough. Those who were still able, fled, followed by the angry knight. By hard riding they escaped his wrath, and he, hot and furious, turned aside to a lodging where he designed to spend the night. In consequence of his hard labor in this encounter Lancelot fought not on the first day of the tournament, but sat beside King Arthur, who had come hither from Camelot to witness the passage-at-arms.