THE LITTLE FAIRY BELL
When Tristan had come back to Orri’s hut, and had loosened his heavy pilgrim’s cape, he saw clearly in his heart that it was time to keep his oath to King Mark and to fly the land.
Three days yet he tarried, because he could not drag himself away from that earth, but on the fourth day he thanked the woodman, and said to Gorvenal:
“Master, the hour is come.”
And he went into Wales, into the land of the great Duke Gilain, who was young, powerful, and frank in spirit, and welcomed him nobly as a God-sent guest.
And he did everything to give him honour and joy; but he found that neither adventure, nor feast could soothe what Tristan suffered.
One day, as he sat by the young Duke’s side, his spirit weighed upon him, so that not knowing it he groaned, and the Duke, to soothe him, ordered into his private room a fairy thing, which pleased his eyes when he was sad and relieved his own heart; it was a dog, and the varlets brought it in to him, and they put it upon a table there. Now this dog was a fairy dog, and came from the Duke of Avalon; for a fairy had given it him as a love-gift, and no one can well describe its kind or beauty. And it bore at its neck, hung to a little chain of gold, a little bell; and that tinkled so gaily, and so clear and so soft, that as Tristan heard it, he was soothed, and his anguish melted away, and he forgot all that he had suffered for the Queen; for such was the virtue of the bell and such its property: that whosoever heard it, he lost all pain. And as Tristan stroked the little fairy thing, the dog that took away his sorrow, he saw how delicate it was and fine, and how it had soft hair like samite, and he thought how good a gift it would make for the Queen. But he dared not ask for it right out since he knew that the Duke loved this dog beyond everything in the world, and would yield it to no prayers, nor to wealth, nor to wile; so one day Tristan having made a plan in his mind said this:
“Lord, what would you give to the man who could rid your land of the hairy giant Urgan, that levies such a toll?”
“Truly, the victor might choose what he would, but none will dare.”
Then said Tristan:
“Those are strange words, for good comes to no land save by risk and daring, and not for all the gold of Milan would I renounce my desire to find him in his wood and bring him down.”
Then Tristan went out to find Urgan in his lair, and they fought hard and long, till courage conquered strength, and Tristan, having cut off the giant’s hand, bore it back to the Duke.
And “Sire,” said he, “since I may choose a reward according to your word, give me the little fairy dog. It was for that I conquered Urgan, and your promise stands.”
“Friend,” said the Duke, “take it, then, but in taking it you take away also all my joy.”
Then Tristan took the little fairy dog and gave it in ward to a Welsh harper, who was cunning and who bore it to Cornwall till he came to Tintagel, and having come there put it secretly into Brangien’s hands, and the Queen was so pleased that she gave ten marks of gold to the harper, but she put it about that the Queen of Ireland, her mother, had sent the beast. And she had a goldsmith work a little kennel for him, all jewelled, and incrusted with gold and enamel inlaid; and wherever she went she carried the dog with her in memory of her friend, and as she watched it sadness and anguish and regrets melted out of her heart.
At first she did not guess the marvel, but thought her consolation was because the gift was Tristan’s, till one day she found that it was fairy, and that it was the little bell that charmed her soul; then she thought: “What have I to do with comfort since he is sorrowing? He could have kept it too and have forgotten his sorrow; but with high courtesy he sent it to me to give me his joy and to take up his pain again. Friend, while you suffer, so long will I suffer also.”
And she took the magic bell and shook it just a little, and then by the open window she threw it into the sea.
ISEULT OF THE WHITE HANDS
Apart the lovers could neither live nor die, for it was life and death together; and Tristan fled his sorrow through seas and islands and many lands.
He fled his sorrow still by seas and islands, till at last he came back to his land of Lyonesse, and there Rohalt, the keeper of faith, welcomed him with happy tears and called him son. But he could not live in the peace of his own land, and he turned again and rode through kingdoms and through baronies, seeking adventure. From the Lyonesse to the Lowlands, from the Lowlands on to the Germanies; through the Germanies and into Spain. And many lords he served, and many deeds did, but for two years no news came to him out of Cornwall, nor friend, nor messenger. Then he thought that Iseult had forgotten.
Now it happened one day that, riding with Gorvenal alone, he came into the land of Brittany. They rode through a wasted plain of ruined walls and empty hamlets and burnt fields everywhere, and the earth deserted of men; and Tristan thought:
“I am weary, and my deeds profit me nothing; my lady is far off and I shall never see her again. Or why for two years has she made no sign, or why has she sent no messenger to find me as I wandered? But in Tintagel Mark honours her and she gives him joy, and that little fairy bell has done a thorough work; for little she remembers or cares for the joys and the mourning of old, little for me, as I wander in this desert place. I, too, will forget.”
On the third day, at the hour of noon, Tristan and Gorvenal came near a hill where an old chantry stood and close by a hermitage also; and Tristan asked what wasted land that was, and the hermit answered:
“Lord, it is Breton land which Duke Hod holds, and once it was rich in pasture and ploughland, but Count Riol of Nantes has wasted it. For you must know that this Count Riol was the Duke’s vassal. And the Duke has a daughter, fair among all King’s daughters, and Count Riol would have taken her to wife; but her father refused her to a vassal, and Count Riol would have carried her away by force. Many men have died in that quarrel.”
And Tristan asked:
“Can the Duke wage his war?”
And the hermit answered:
“Hardly, my lord; yet his last keep of Carhaix holds out still, for the walls are strong, and strong is the heart of the Duke’s son Kaherdin, a very good knight and bold; but the enemy surrounds them on every side and starves them. Very hardly do they hold their castle.”
Then Tristan asked:
“How far is this keep of Carhaix?”
“Sir,” said the hermit, “it is but two miles further on this way.”
Then Tristan and Gorvenal lay down, for it was evening.
In the morning, when they had slept, and when the hermit had chanted, and had shared his black bread with them, Tristan thanked him and rode hard to Carhaix. And as he halted beneath the fast high walls, he saw a little company of men behind the battlements, and he asked if the Duke were there with his son Kaherdin. Now Hod was among them; and when he cried “yes,” Tristan called up to him and said:
“I am that Tristan, King of Lyonesse, and Mark of Cornwall is my uncle. I have heard that your vassals do you a wrong, and I have come to offer you my arms.
“Alas, lord Tristan, go you your way alone and God reward you, for here within we have no more food; no wheat, or meat, or any stores but only lentils and a little oats remaining.”
But Tristan said
“For two years I dwelt in a forest, eating nothing save roots and herbs; yet I found it a good life, so open you the door.”
They welcomed him with honour, and Kaherdin showed him the wall and the dungeon keep with all their devices, and from the battlements he showed the plain where far away gleamed the tents of Duke Riol. And when they were down in the castle again he said to Tristan:
“Friend, let us go to the hall where my mother and sister sit.”
So, holding each other’s hands, they came into the women’s room, where the mother and the daughter sat together weaving gold upon English cloth and singing a weaving song. They sang of Doette the fair who sits alone beneath the white-thorn, and round about her blows the wind. She waits for Doon, her friend, but he tarries long and does not come. This was the song they sang. And Tristan bowed to them, and they to him. Then Kaherdin, showing the work his mother did, said:
“See, friend Tristan, what a work-woman is here, and how marvellously she adorns stoles and chasubles for the poor minsters, and how my sister’s hands run thread of gold upon this cloth. Of right, good sister, are you called, ‘Iseult of the White Hands.’”
But Tristan, hearing her name, smiled and looked at her more gently.
And on the morrow, Tristan, Kaherdin, and twelve young knights left the castle and rode to a pinewood near the enemy’s tents. And sprang from ambush and captured a waggon of Count Riol’s food; and from that day, by escapade and ruse they would carry tents and convoys and kill off men, nor ever come back without some booty; so that Tristan and Kaherdin began to be brothers in arms, and kept faith and tenderness, as history tells. And as they came back from these rides, talking chivalry together, often did Kaherdin praise to his comrade his sister, Iseult of the White Hands, for her simplicity and beauty.
One day, as the dawn broke, a sentinel ran from the tower through the halls crying:
“Lords, you have slept too long; rise, for an assault is on.”
And knights and burgesses armed, and ran to the walls, and saw helmets shining on the plain, and pennons streaming crimson, like flames, and all the host of Riol in its array. Then the Duke and Kaherdin deployed their horsemen before the gates, and from a bow-length off they stooped, and spurred and charged, and they put their lances down together and the arrows fell on them like April rain.
Now Tristan had armed himself among the last of those the sentinel had roused, and he laced his shoes of steel, and put on his mail, and his spurs of gold, his hauberk, and his helm over the gorget, and he mounted and spurred, with shield on breast, crying:
And as he came, he saw Duke Riol charging, rein free, at Kaherdin, but Tristan came in between. So they met, Tristan and Duke Riol. And at the shock, Tristan’s lance shivered, but Riol’s lance struck Tristan’s horse just where the breast-piece runs, and laid it on the field.
But Tristan, standing, drew his sword, his burnished sword, and said:
“Coward! Here is death ready for the man that strikes the horse before the rider.”
But Riol answered:
“I think you have lied, my lord!”
And he charged him.
And as he passed, Tristan let fall his sword so heavily upon his helm that he carried away the crest and the nasal, but the sword slipped on the mailed shoulder, and glanced on the horse, and killed it, so that of force Duke Riol must slip the stirrup and leap and feel the ground. Then Riol too was on his feet, and they both fought hard in their broken mail, their ‘scutcheons torn and their helmets loosened and lashing with their dented swords, till Tristan struck Riol just where the helmet buckles, and it yielded and the blow was struck so hard that the baron fell on hands and knees; but when he had risen again, Tristan struck him down once more with a blow that split the helm, and it split the headpiece too, and touched the skull; then Riol cried mercy and begged his life, and Tristan took his sword.
So he promised to enter Duke Hoël’s keep and to swear homage again, and to restore what he had wasted; and by his order the battle ceased, and his host went off discomfited.
Now when the victors were returned Kaherdin said to his father:
“Sire, keep you Tristan. There is no better knight, and your land has need of such courage.”
So when the Duke had taken counsel with his barons, he said to Tristan
“Friend, I owe you my land, but I shall be quit with you if you will take my daughter, Iseult of the White Hands, who comes of kings and of queens, and of dukes before them in blood.”
And Tristan answered:
“I will take her, Sire.”
So the day was fixed, and the Duke came with his friends and Tristan with his, and before all, at the gate of the minster, Tristan wed Iseult of the White Hands, according to the Church’s law.
But that same night, as Tristan’s valets undressed him, it happened that in drawing his arm from the sleeve they drew off and let fall from his finger the ring of green jasper, the ring of Iseult the Fair. It sounded on the stones, and Tristan looked and saw it. Then his heart awoke and he knew that he had done wrong. For he remembered the day when Iseult the Fair had given him the ring. It was in that forest where, for his sake, she had led the hard life with him, and that night he saw again the hut in the wood of Morois, and he was bitter with himself that ever he had accused her of treason; for now it was he that had betrayed, and he was bitter with himself also in pity for this new wife and her simplicity and beauty. See how these two Iseults had met him in an evil hour, and to both had he broken faith!
Now Iseult of the White Hands said to him, hearing him sigh:
“Dear lord, have I hurt you in anything? Will you not speak me a single word?”
But Tristan answered: “Friend, do not be angry with me; for once in another land I fought a foul dragon and was near to death, and I thought of the Mother of God, and I made a vow to Her that, should I ever wed, I would spend the first holy nights of my wedding in prayer and in silence.”
“Why,” said Iseult, “that was a good vow.”
And Tristan watched through the night.
THE MADNESS OF TRISTAN
Within her room at Tintagel, Iseult the Fair sighed for the sake of Tristan, and named him, her desire, of whom for two years she had had no word, whether he lived or no.
Within her room at Tintagel Iseult the Fair sat singing a song she had made. She sang of Guron taken and killed for his love, and how by guile the Count gave Guron’s heart to her to eat, and of her woe. The Queen sang softly, catching the harp’s tone; her hands were cunning and her song good; she sang low down and softly.
Then came in Kariado, a rich count from a far-off island, that had fared to Tintagel to offer the Queen his service, and had spoken of love to her, though she disdained his folly. He found Iseult as she sang, and laughed to her:
“Lady, how sad a song! as sad as the Osprey’s; do they not say he sings for death? and your song means that to me; I die for you.”
And Iseult said: “So let it be and may it mean so; for never come you here but to stir in me anger or mourning. Ever were you the screech owl or the Osprey that boded ill when you spoke of Tristan; what news bear you now?”
And Kariado answered:
“You are angered, I know not why, but who heeds your words? Let the Osprey bode me death; here is the evil news the screech owl brings. Lady Iseult, Tristan, your friend is lost to you. He has wed in a far land. So seek you other where, for he mocks your love. He has wed in great pomp Iseult of the White Hands, the King of Brittany’s daughter.’’
And Kariado went off in anger, but Iseult bowed her head and broke into tears.
Now far from Iseult, Tristan languished, till on a day he must needs see her again. Far from her, death came surely; and he had rather die at once than day by day. And he desired some death, but that the Queen might know it was in finding her; then would death come easily.
So he left Carhaix secretly, telling no man, neither his kindred nor even Kaherdin, his brother in arms. He went in rags afoot (for no one marks the beggar on the high road) till he came to the shore of the sea.
He found in a haven a great ship ready, the sail was up and the anchor-chain short at the bow.
“God save you, my lords,” he said, “and send you a good journey. To what land sail you now?”
“To Tintagel,” they said.
Then he cried out:
“Oh, my lords! take me with you thither!”
And he went aboard, and a fair wind filled the sail, and she ran five days and nights for Cornwall, till, on the sixth day, they dropped anchor in Tintagel Haven. The castle stood above, fenced all around. There was but the one armed gate, and two knights watched it night and day. So Tristan went ashore and sat upon the beach, and a man told him that Mark was there and had just held his court.
“But where,” said he, “is Iseult, the Queen, and her fair maid, Brangien?”
“In Tintagel too,” said the other, “and I saw them lately; the Queen sad, as she always is.”
At the hearing of the name, Tristan suffered, and he thought that neither by guile nor courage could he see that friend, for Mark would kill him.
And he thought, “Let him kill me and let me die for her, since every day I die. But you, Iseult, even if you knew me here, would you not drive me out?” And he thought, “I will try guile. I will seem mad, but with a madness that shall be great wisdom. And many shall think me a fool that have less wit than I.”
Just then a fisherman passed in a rough cloak and cape, and Tristan seeing him, took him aside, and said:
“Friend, will you not change clothes?”
And as the fisherman found it a very good bargain, he said in answer:
“Yes, friend, gladly.”
And he changed and ran off at once for fear of losing his gain. Then Tristan shaved his wonderful hair; he shaved it close to his head and left a cross all bald, and he rubbed his face with magic herbs distilled in his own country, and it changed in colour and skin so that none could know him, and he made him a club from a young tree torn from a hedge-row and hung it to his neck, and went bare-foot towards the castle.
The porter made sure that he had to do with a fool and said:
“Good morrow, fool, where have you been this long while?”
And he answered:
“At the Abbot of St. Michael’s wedding, and he wed an abbess, large and veiled. And from the Alps to Mount St. Michael how they came, the priests and abbots, monks and regulars, all dancing on the green with croziers and with staves under the high trees’ shade. But I left them all to come hither, for I serve at the King’s board to-day.”
Then the porter said:
“Come in, lord fool; the Hairy Urgan’s son, I know, and like your father.”
And when he was within the courts the serving men ran after him and cried:
“The fool! the fool!”
But he made play with them though they cast stones and struck him as they laughed, and in the midst of laughter and their cries, as the rout followed him, he came to that hall where, at the Queen’s side, King Mark sat under his canopy.
And as he neared the door with his club at his neck, the King said:
“Here is a merry fellow, let him in.”
And they brought him in, his club at his neck. And the King said:
“Friend, well come; what seek you here?”
“Iseult,” said he, “whom I love so well; I bring my sister with me, Brunehild, the beautiful. Come, take her, you are weary of the Queen. Take you my sister and give me here Iseult, and I will hold her and serve you for her love.”
The King said laughing:
“Fool, if I gave you the Queen, where would you take her, pray?”
“Oh! very high,” he said, “between the clouds and heaven, into a fair chamber glazed. The beams of the sun shine through it, yet the winds do not trouble it at all. There would I bear the Queen into that crystal chamber of mine all compact of roses and the morning.”
The King and his barons laughed and said:
“Here is a good fool at no loss for words.”
But the fool as he sat at their feet gazed at Iseult most fixedly.
“Friend,” said King Mark, “what warrant have you that the Queen would heed so foul a fool as you?”
“O! Sire,” he answered gravely, “many deeds have I done for her, and my madness is from her alone.”
“What is your name?” they said, and laughed.
“Tristan,” said he, “that loved the Queen so well, and still till death will love her.”
But at the name the Queen angered and weakened together, and said: “Get hence for an evil fool!”
But the fool, marking her anger, went on:
“Queen Iseult, do you mind the day, when, poisoned by the Morholt’s spear, I took my harp to sea and fell upon your shore? Your mother healed me with strange drugs. Have you no memory, Queen?”
But Iseult answered:
“Out, fool, out! Your folly and you have passed the bounds!”
But the fool, still playing, pushed the barons out, crying:
“Out! madmen, out! Leave me to counsel with Iseult, since I come here for the love of her!”
And as the King laughed, Iseult blushed and said:
“King, drive me forth this fool!”
But the fool still laughed and cried:
“Queen, do you mind you of the dragon I slew in your land? I hid its tongue in my hose, and, burnt of its venom, I fell by the roadside. Ah! what a knight was I then, and it was you that succoured me.”
“Silence! You wrong all knighthood by your words, for you are a fool from birth. Cursed be the seamen that brought you hither; rather should they have cast you into the sea!”
“Queen Iseult,” he still said on, “do you mind you of your haste when you would have slain me with my own sword? And of the Hair of Gold? And of how I stood up to the seneschal?”
“Silence!” she said, “you drunkard. You were drunk last night, and so you dreamt these dreams.”
“Drunk, and still so am I,” said he, “but of such a draught that never can the influence fade. Queen Iseult, do you mind you of that hot and open day on the high seas? We thirsted and we drank together from the same cup, and since that day have I been drunk with an awful wine.”
When the Queen heard these words which she alone could understand, she rose and would have gone.
But the King held her by her ermine cloak, and she sat down again.
And as the King had his fill of the fool he called for his falcons and went to hunt; and Iseult said to him:
“Sire, I am weak and sad; let me be go rest in my room; I am tired of these follies.”
And she went to her room in thought and sat upon her bed and mourned, calling herself a slave and saying:
“Why was I born? Brangien, dear sister, life is so hard to me that death were better! There is a fool without, shaven criss-cross, and come in an evil hour, and he is warlock, for he knows in every part myself and my whole life; he knows what you and I and Tristan only know.”
Then Brangien said: “It may be Tristan.”
But—”No,” said the Queen, “for he was the first of knights, but this fool is foul and made awry. Curse me his hour and the ship that brought him hither.”
“My lady!” said Brangien, “soothe you. You curse over much these days. May be he comes from Tristan?”
“I cannot tell. I know him not. But go find him, friend, and see if you know him.”
So Brangien went to the hall where the fool still sat alone. Tristan knew her and let fall his club and said:
“Brangien, dear Brangien, before God! have pity on me!”
“Foul fool,” she answered, “what devil taught you my name?”
“Lady,” he said, “I have known it long. By my head, that once was fair, if I am mad the blame is yours, for it was yours to watch over the wine we drank on the high seas. The cup was of silver and I held it to Iseult and she drank. Do you remember, lady?”
“No,” she said, and as she trembled and left he called out: “Pity me!”
He followed and saw Iseult. He stretched out his arms, but in her shame, sweating agony she drew back, and Tristan angered and said:
“I have lived too long, for I have seen the day that Iseult will nothing of me. Iseult, how hard love dies! Iseult, a welling water that floods and runs large is a mighty thing; on the day that it fails it is nothing; so love that turns.”
But she said
“Brother, I look at you and doubt and tremble, and I know you not for Tristan.”
“Queen Iseult, I am Tristan indeed that do love you; mind you for the last time of the dwarf, and of the flower, and of the blood I shed in my leap. Oh! and of that ring I took in kisses and in tears on the day we parted. I have kept that jasper ring and asked it counsel.”
Then Iseult knew Tristan for what he was, and she said:
“Heart, you should have broken of sorrow not to have known the man who has suffered so much for you. Pardon, my master and my friend.”
And her eyes darkened and she fell; but when the light returned she was held by him who kissed her eyes and her face.
So passed they three full days. But, on the third, two maids that watched them told the traitor Andret, and he put spies well-armed before the women’s rooms. And when Tristan would enter they cried:
But he brandished his club laughing, and said:
“What! May I not kiss the Queen who loves me and awaits me now?”
And they feared him for a mad fool, and he passed in through the door.
Then, being with the Queen for the last time, he held her in his arms and said:
“Friend, I must fly, for they are wondering. I must fly, and perhaps shall never see you more. My death is near, and far from you my death will come of desire.”
“Oh friend,” she said, “fold your arms round me close and strain me so that our hearts may break and our souls go free at last. Take me to that happy place of which you told me long ago. The fields whence none return, but where great singers sing their songs for ever. Take me now.”
“I will take you to the Happy Palace of the living, Queen! The time is near. We have drunk all joy and sorrow. The time is near. When it is finished, if I call you, will you come, my friend?”
“Friend,” said she, “call me and you know that I shall come.”
“Friend,” said he, “God send you His reward.”
As he went out the spies would have held him; but he laughed aloud, and flourished his club, and cried:
“Peace, gentlemen, I go and will not stay. My lady sends me to prepare that shining house I vowed her, of crystal, and of rose shot through with morning.”
And as they cursed and drave him, the fool went leaping on his way.
THE DEATH OF TRISTAN
When he was come back to Brittany, to Carhaix, it happened that Tristan, riding to the aid of Kaherdin his brother in arms, fell into ambush and was wounded by a poisoned spear; and many doctors came, but none could cure him of the ill. And Tristan weakened and paled, and his bones showed.
Then he knew that his life was going, and that he must die, and he had a desire to see once more Iseult the Fair, but he could not seek her, for the sea would have killed him in his weakness, and how could Iseult come to him? And sad, and suffering the poison, he awaited death.
He called Kaherdin secretly to tell him his pain, for they loved each other with a loyal love; and as he would have no one in the room save Kaherdin, nor even in the neighbouring rooms, Iseult of the White Hands began to wonder. She was afraid and wished to hear, and she came back and listened at the wall by Tristan’s bed; and as she listened one of her maids kept watch for her.
Now, within, Tristan had gathered up his strength, and had half risen, leaning against the wall, and Kaherdin wept beside him. They wept their good comradeship, broken so soon, and their friendship: then Tristan told Kaherdin of his love for that other Iseult, and of the sorrow of his life.
“Fair friend and gentle,” said Tristan, “I am in a foreign land where I have neither friend nor cousin, save you; and you alone in this place have given me comfort. My life is going, and I wish to see once more Iseult the Fair. Ah, did I but know of a messenger who would go to her! For now I know that she will come to me. Kaherdin, my brother in arms, I beg it of your friendship; try this thing for me, and if you carry my word, I will become your liege, and I will cherish you beyond all other men.”
And as Kaherdin saw Tristan broken down, his heart reproached him and he said:
“Fair comrade, do not weep; I will do what you desire, even if it were risk of death I would do it for you. Nor no distress nor anguish will let me from doing it according to my power. Give me the word you send, and I will make ready.”
And Tristan answered:
“Thank you, friend; this is my prayer: take this ring, it is a sign between her and me; and when you come to her land pass yourself at court for a merchant, and show her silk and stuffs, but make so that she sees the ring, for then she will find some ruse by which to speak to you in secret. Then tell her that my heart salutes her; tell her that she alone can bring me comfort; tell her that if she does not come I shall die. Tell her to remember our past time, and our great sorrows, and all the joy there was in our loyal and tender love. And tell her to remember that draught we drank together on the high seas. For we drank our death together. Tell her to remember the oath I swore to serve a single love, for I have kept that oath.”
But behind the wall, Iseult of the White Hands heard all these things; and Tristan continued:
“Hasten, my friend, and come back quickly, or you will not see me again. Take forty days for your term, but come back with Iseult the Fair. And tell your sister nothing, or tell her that you seek some doctor. Take my fine ship, and two sails with you, one white, one black. And as you return, if you bring Iseult, hoist the white sail; but if you bring her not, the black. Now I have nothing more to say, but God guide you and bring you back safe.”
With the first fair wind Kaherdin took the open, weighed anchor and hoisted sail, and ran with a light air and broke the seas. They bore rich merchandise with them, dyed silks of rare colours, enamel of Touraine and wines of Poitou, for by this ruse Kaherdin thought to reach Iseult. Eight days and nights they ran full sail to Cornwall.
Now a woman’s wrath is a fearful thing, and all men fear it, for according to her love, so will her vengeance be; and their love and their hate come quickly, but their hate lives longer than their love; and they will make play with love, but not with hate. So Iseult of the White Hands, who had heard every word, and who had so loved Tristan, waited her vengeance upon what she loved most in the world. But she hid it all; and when the doors were open again she came to Tristan’s bed and served him with food as a lover should, and spoke him gently and kissed him on the lips, and asked him if Kaherdin would soon return with one to cure him … but all day long she thought upon her vengeance.
And Kaherdin sailed and sailed till he dropped anchor in the haven of Tintagel. He landed and took with him a cloth of rare dye and a cup well chiselled and worked, and made a present of them to King Mark, and courteously begged of him his peace and safeguard that he might traffick in his land; and the King gave him his peace before all the men of his palace.
Then Kaherdin offered the Queen a buckle of fine gold; and “Queen,” said he, “the gold is good.”
Then taking from his finger Tristan’s ring, he put it side by side with the jewel and said:
“See, O Queen, the gold of the buckle is the finer gold; yet that ring also has its worth.”
When Iseult saw what ring that was, her heart trembled and her colour changed, and fearing what might next be said she drew Kaherdin apart near a window, as if to see and bargain the better; and Kaherdin said to her, low down:
“Lady, Tristan is wounded of a poisoned spear and is about to die. He sends you word that you alone can bring him comfort, and recalls to you the great sorrows that you bore together. Keep you the ring—it is yours.”
But Iseult answered, weakening:
“Friend, I will follow you; get ready your ship to-morrow at dawn.”
And on the morrow at dawn they raised anchor, stepped mast, and hoisted sail, and happily the barque left land.
But at Carhaix Tristan lay and longed for Iseult’s coming. Nothing now filled him any more, and if he lived it was only as awaiting her; and day by day he sent watchers to the shore to see if some ship came, and to learn the colour of her sail. There was no other thing left in his heart.
He had himself carried to the cliff of the Penmarks, where it overlooks the sea, and all the daylight long he gazed far off over the water.
Hear now a tale most sad and pitiful to all who love. Already was Iseult near; already the cliff of the Penmarks showed far away, and the ship ran heartily, when a storm wind rose on a sudden and grew, and struck the sail, and turned the ship all round about, and the sailors bore away and sore against their will they ran before the wind. The wind raged and big seas ran, and the air grew thick with darkness, and the ocean itself turned dark, and the rain drove in gusts. The yard snapped, and the sheet; they struck their sail, and ran with wind and water. In an evil hour they had forgotten to haul their pinnace aboard; it leapt in their wake, and a great sea broke it away.
Then Iseult cried out: “God does not will that I should live to see him, my love, once—even one time more. God wills my drowning in this sea. O, Tristan, had I spoken to you but once again, it is little I should have cared for a death come afterwards. But now, my love, I cannot come to you; for God so wills it, and that is the core of my grief.”
And thus the Queen complained so long as the storm endured; but after five days it died down. Kaherdin hoisted the sail, the white sail, right up to the very masthead with great joy; the white sail, that Tristan might know its colour from afar: and already Kaherdin saw Britanny far off like a cloud. Hardly were these things seen and done when a calm came, and the sea lay even and untroubled. The sail bellied no longer, and the sailors held the ship now up, now down, the tide, beating backwards and forwards in vain. They saw the shore afar off, but the storm had carried their boat away and they could not land. On the third night Iseult dreamt this dream: that she held in her lap a boar’s head which befouled her skirts with blood; then she knew that she would never see her lover again alive.
Tristan was now too weak to keep his watch from the cliff of the Penmarks, and for many long days, within walls, far from the shore, he had mourned for Iseult because she did not come. Dolorous and alone, he mourned and sighed in restlessness: he was near death from desire.
At last the wind freshened and the white sail showed. Then it was that Iseult of the White Hands took her vengeance.
She came to where Tristan lay, and she said:
“Friend, Kaherdin is here. I have seen his ship upon the sea. She comes up hardly—yet I know her; may he bring that which shall heal thee, friend.”
And Tristan trembled and said:
“Beautiful friend, you are sure that the ship is his indeed? Then tell me what is the manner of the sail?”
“I saw it plain and well. They have shaken it out and hoisted it very high, for they have little wind. For its colour, why, it is black.”
And Tristan turned him to the wall, and said:
“I cannot keep this life of mine any longer.” He said three times: “Iseult, my friend.” And in saying it the fourth time, he died.
Then throughout the house, the knights and the comrades of Tristan wept out loud, and they took him from his bed and laid him on a rich cloth, and they covered his body with a shroud. But at sea the wind had risen; it struck the sail fair and full and drove the ship to shore, and Iseult the Fair set foot upon the land. She heard loud mourning in the streets, and the tolling of bells in the minsters and the chapel towers; she asked the people the meaning of the knell and of their tears. An old man said to her:
“Lady, we suffer a great grief. Tristan, that was so loyal and so right, is dead. He was open to the poor; he ministered to the suffering. It is the chief evil that has ever fallen on this land.”
But Iseult, hearing them, could not answer them a word. She went up to the palace, following the way, and her cloak was random and wild. The Bretons marvelled as she went; nor had they ever seen woman of such a beauty, and they said:
“Who is she, or whence does she come?”
Near Tristan, Iseult of the White Hands crouched, maddened at the evil she had done, and calling and lamenting over the dead man. The other Iseult came in and said to her:
“Lady, rise and let me come by him; I have more right to mourn him than have you—believe me. I loved him more.”
And when she had turned to the east and prayed God, she moved the body a little and lay down by the dead man, beside her friend. She kissed his mouth and his face, and clasped him closely; and so gave up her soul, and died beside him of grief for her lover.
When King Mark heard of the death of these lovers, he crossed the sea and came into Brittany; and he had two coffins hewn, for Tristan and Iseult, one of chalcedony for Iseult, and one of beryl for Tristan. And he took their beloved bodies away with him upon his ship to Tintagel, and by a chantry to the left and right of the apse he had their tombs built round. But in one night there sprang from the tomb of Tristan a green and leafy briar, strong in its branches and in the scent of its flowers. It climbed the chantry and fell to root again by Iseult’s tomb. Thrice did the peasants cut it down, but thrice it grew again as flowered and as strong. They told the marvel to King Mark, and he forbade them to cut the briar any more.
The good singers of old time, Beroul and Thomas of Built, Gilbert and Gottfried told this tale for lovers and none other, and, by my pen, they beg you for your prayers. They greet those who are cast down, and those in heart, those troubled and those filled with desire. May all herein find strength against inconstancy and despite and loss and pain and all the bitterness of loving.