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The Romance of Tristan and Iseut (Hackett Classics)

It is only when Rohalt reveals their blood relationship to Mark that the king understands his inexplicable affection for the youth. In response to Irish demands for a tribute long refused them by Mark, Tristan, in single combat with the giant Morholt, slays the Irish champion. The hero later returns to Ireland, where he kills a dragon to win Iseult for his uncle, King Mark. Aboard ship, unable to resist the effects of the philter, Tristan and Iseult consummate their love.

They convince Mark to spy on the two during a clandestine rendezvous under a giant pine tree. Mark condemns them to death. But the lovers manage to escape into the forest, where the privations of a life in the wild, beyond civilizations, are obviated by their all-consuming passion. The king takes this as a sign of their chaste innocence.

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The lovers then decide each for the sake of the other to seek a reconciliation with Mark, for they have both since abandoned their elevated societal roles — queen and knight. To prove her innocence, Iseult swears an expiatory oath and undergoes a judgment by red-hot iron in the presence of King Mark, King Arthur, and their knights. A definitive separation proves difficult for the lovers, but the danger of staying in Cornwall is great, and Tristan eventually leaves. Following years of wandering and without any word from the queen, Tristan agrees to marry Iseult of the White Hands.

Love pressed them hard, as thirst presses the dying stag to the stream; love dropped upon them from high heaven, as a hawk slipped after long hunger falls right upon the bird.


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And love will not be hidden. Brangien indeed by her prudence saved them well, nor ever were the Queen and her lover unguarded. But in every hour and place every man could see Love terrible, that rode them, and could see in these lovers their every sense overflowing like new wine working in the vat. The four felons at court who had hated Tristan of old for his prowess, watched the Queen; they had guessed that great love, and they burnt with envy and hatred and now a kind of evil joy.

They planned to give news of their watching to the King, to see his tenderness turned to fury, Tristan thrust out or slain, and the Queen in torment; for though they feared Tristan their hatred mastered their fear; and, on a day, the four barons called King Mark to parley, and Andret said:. You have placed your trust in Tristan and Tristan would shame you. In vain we warned you. For the love of one man you have mocked ties of blood and all your Barony.

Learn then that Tristan loves the Queen; it is truth proved and many a word is passing on it now. What thought was that? Indeed I have placed my trust in Tristan.

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The Romance of Tristan and Iseult

And rightly, for on the day when the Morholt offered combat to you all, you hung your heads and were dumb, and you trembled before him; but Tristan dared him for the honour of this land, and took mortal wounds. Therefore do you hate him, and therefore do I cherish him beyond thee, Andret, and beyond any other; but what then have you seen or heard or known? Look you and listen, Sire, if there is yet time. Then King Mark watched the Queen and Tristan; but Brangien noting it warned them both and the King watched in vain, so that, soon wearying of an ignoble task, but knowing alas!

Felons have charged you with an awful treason, but ask me nothing; I could not speak their words without shame to us both, and for your part seek you no word to appease. I have not believed them … had I done so … But their evil words have troubled all my soul and only by your absence can my disquiet be soothed. Go, doubtless I will soon recall you.

Go, my son, you are still dear to me. Surely he will cross the sea on far adventures to carry his traitor service to some distant King. But Tristan had not strength to depart altogether; and when he had crossed the moats and boundaries of the Castle he knew he could go no further. In the close towers Iseult the Fair drooped also, but more wretched still. For it was hers all day long to feign laughter and all night long to conquer fever and despair. She longed to fly to Tristan and she dreamt dreams of running to the gates and of finding there sharp scythes, traps of the felons, that cut her tender knees; and she dreamt of weakness and falling, and that her wounds had left her blood upon the ground.

Now these lovers would have died, but Brangien succoured them.

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At peril of her life she found the house where Tristan lay. There Gorvenal opened to her very gladly, knowing what salvation she could bring. So she found Tristan, and to save the lovers she taught him a device, nor was ever known a more subtle ruse of love. Behind the castle of Tintagel was an orchard fenced around and wide and all closed in with stout and pointed stakes and numberless trees were there and fruit on them, birds and clusters of sweet grapes.

And furthest from the castle, by the stakes of the pallisade, was a tall pine-tree, straight and with heavy branches spreading from its trunk. Lithe and in fear would she come, watching at every step for what might lurk in the trees observing, foes or the felons whom she knew, till she spied Tristan; and the night and the branches of the pine protected them.

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So is it vanished now and this is that enchanted orchard of which the harpers sing. Iseult had refound her joy.

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Till at last Duke Andret whom God shame said to his peers:. He will teach us if he will the wiles of Iseult the Fair. The little evil man drew signs for them and characters of sorcery; he cast the fortunes of the hour and then at last he said:. So did the King unwillingly; and at fall of night he left the hunt taking the dwarf in pillion, and entered the orchard, and the dwarf took him to the tall pine-tree, saying:. That night the moon shone clear.

Hid in the branches the King saw his nephew leap the pallisades and throw his bark and twigs into the stream. But Tristan had bent over the round well to throw them and so doing had seen the image of the King.

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She came, and Tristan watched her motionless. Above him in the tree he heard the click of the arrow when it fits the string. He has seen some foe. She showed the wit of women well, she did not lift her eyes. Often have you called me —to beseech, you said. And Queen though I am, I know you won me that title—and I have come. What would you? She was in tears and trembling, but Tristan praised God the Lord who had shown his friend her peril.

Take pity; the King hates me and I know not why. Perhaps you know the cause and can charm his anger. For whom can he trust if not you, chaste Queen and courteous, Iseult? And I, to add to my shame, must acquaint you of it. And would you have me, at such a time, implore your pardon of the King?


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Why, did he know of my passage here to-night he would cast my ashes to the wind. My body trembles and I am afraid. I go, for I have waited too long. The King wrongs you but the Lord God will be by you in whatever land you go. But in an open glade apart, Frocin, the Dwarf, read in the clear stars that the King now meant his death; he blackened with shame and fear and fled into Wales.

King Mark made peace with Tristan. Tristan returned to the castle as of old. He could come or go, the King thought no more of it.