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The Book of Sir Tristram

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Sir Tristram of Lyonesse.
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Sir Tristram of Lyonesse.

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THERE was a certain kingdom called Lyonesse, and the King of that country was hight Meliadus, and the Queen thereof who was hight the Lady Elizabeth, was sister to King Mark of Cornwall.

In the country of Lyonesse, there was a very beautiful lady, who was a cunning and wicked sorceress. This lady took great love for King Meliadus, who was of an exceedingly noble appearance, and she meditated continually how she might bring him to her castle so as to have him near her.

Now King Meliadus was a very famous huntsman, and he loved the chase above all things in the world, excepting the joy he took in the love of his Queen, the Lady Elizabeth. So, upon a certain day, in
King Meliadus rides a-hunting.
the late autumn season he was minded to go forth a-hunting, although the day was very cold and bleak.

About the prime of the day the hounds started, of a sudden, a very wonderful stag. For it was white and its horns were gilded very bright, shining like pure gold, so that the creature itself appeared like a living miracle in the forest. When this stag broke cover, the hounds immediately set chase to it with a great outcry of yelling, as though they were suddenly gone frantic, and when the King beheld the creature, he also was immediately seized as with a great fury for chasing it. For, beholding it, he shouted aloud and drove spurs into his horse, and rushed away at such a pass that

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his court was, in a little while, left altogether behind him, and he and the chase were entirely alone in the forest.

The stag, with the hounds close behind it, ran at a great rate through the passes of the woodlands, and King Meliadus pursued it with might and main until the chase burst out of the forest into an open plain beyond the
King Meliadus chases the stag.
woodland. Then King Meliadus beheld that in the midst of the plain was a considerable lake of water; and that in the midst of the water was an island; and that upon the island was a very tall and stately castle. Toward this castle the stag ran with great speed, and so, coming to the lake, it leaped into the water and swam across to the island--and there was a thin sheet of clear ice upon the water close to either bank.

But when the hounds that pursued the stag came to that frozen water, they stinted their pursuit and stood whimpering upon the brink, for the ice and the water repelled them. But King Meliadus made no such pause, but immediately leaped off from his horse, and plunged into the water and swam across in pursuit of the stag. And when he reached the other side, he chased the stag afoot with great speed, and therewith the stag ran to the castle and into the court-yard thereof, and King Meliadus ran after it. Then, immediately he had entered in, the gates of the castle were shut and King Meliadus was a prisoner.

(Now you are to know that that castle was the abode of the beautiful enchantress afore spoken of, and you are to know that she had sent that
King Meliadus is made prisoner at an enchanted castle.
enchanted stag to beguile King Meliadus to her court, and so she made King Meliadus her captive. Further, it is to be told that when she had him there within her castle, she wove a web of enchantment all about him so that he forgot the Lady Elizabeth and his court and his kingdom and thought of nothing but that beautiful sorceress who had thus beguiled him into her power.)

Now, when those who were with the King returned to the castle of Lyonesse without him, and when the King did not return that day nor the
The Lady Elizabeth grieves to distraction.
next day nor at any time, the Lady Elizabeth grew more and more distracted in her anxiety because of him. And when a fortnight had gone by and still there was no news of the King, her grief and apprehension became so great that she turned distracted and they had to set watch and ward upon her lest she do herself a harm in her madness.

So for a long time they kept her within the castle; but upon a certain day she broke away from her keepers and ran out from the castle and into the forest ere those in attendance upon her knew she had gone. Only

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one gentlewoman saw her, and she called upon a young page to follow her, and thereupon ran after the Queen whither she went, with intent to bring her back again.

But the Lady Elizabeth ran very deep into the forest, and the gentlewoman and the page ran after her; and the Queen thought that she was going to find her lord in the forest. So she ran very rapidly
The Lady Elizabeth escapes into the forest.
for a great distance, until by and by she waxed faint with weariness from running and sank down upon the ground; and there they that followed her found her lying. And they found that the Queen was in a great passion of pain and sick to death. For the day was very wintry, with a fine powder of snow all over the ground, so that the cold of the weather pierced through the garments of the Lady Elizabeth and entered into her body and chilled her to the heart.

Now the gentlewoman, seeing how it was with the Queen, called the page to her and said: "Make haste! Go back to the castle of Lyonesse, and bring some of the knights of the castle with all speed, else the Queen will die at this place." And upon that the page ran off with great speed to do her bidding and the Queen was left alone with her gentlewoman.

Then the gentlewoman said, "Lady, what cheer?" And the Queen said, "Alas, I am sick to death." The gentlewoman said, "Lady, cannot you bear up a little until help cometh?" Thereupon the Lady Elizabeth fell to weeping very piteously, and said, "Nay, I cannot bear up any longer, for the cold hath entered into my heart." (Yea, even at that time death was upon her because of the cold at her heart.)

Then by and by in the midst of her tears and in very sore travail a man-child was born to the Queen, and when that came to pass a great peace fell suddenly upon her.

Then she said, speaking to the nurse like one in great weariness, "What child is it that I have given unto the world?" The nurse said, "It is a man-child." The Queen said to her, "Hold him up until I see him."
How Tristram is born in the forest.
Thereupon the nurse held the child up and the Queen looked at him, though she could hardly see him because it was as though a mist lay upon her eyes which she could not clear away from her sight; for at that time she was drawing deep draughts of death. Then, when she had seen the child and had beheld that he was very strong and lusty and exceedingly comely, she said: "Behold, this is my child, born in the midst of sore travail and great sorrow; wherefore his name shall be called Tristram because he hath caused so many tears to be shed."

Then in a little while the Lady died, and the gentlewoman stood weeping beside her, making great outcry in that cold and lonely forest.

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Anon there came those knights who were sent from the castle to find the Queen; and when they came to that place, they beheld that she lay upon the ground all cold and white like to a statue of marble stone. So they lifted her up and bare her away upon a litter, and the gentlewoman followed weeping and wailing in great measure, and bearing the child wrapped in a mantle.

So Tristram was born in that wise, and so his name was given to him because of the tears that were shed at his birth.


And now it is to be told how King Meliadus returned from that castle of enchantment where he was held prisoner.

At this time Merlin was still living in the world, for Vivien had not yet bewitched him, as hath been told in the Book of King Arthur. So by and
King Meliadus is released from durance.
by it came to pass that he discovered where King Meliadus was imprisoned and how it fared with him in the castle of that enchantress. So he made greater spells than those that enmeshed King Meliadus, and he brought King Meliadus back into his memory of the Queen and his kingdom. Then straightway the King broke out from the castle of the enchantress and returned to his kingdom. But when he came there it was to find everything in great sorrow and dole; for the Lady Elizabeth was no longer upon this earth to bring joy to the heart of the King. So for a long while after his return King Meliadus lay altogether stricken down with the grief of that bereavement.

Here followeth the story of Tristram, how he passed his youth, and how he became a knight of Cornwall of King Mark's making.


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The Story of Sir Tristram and the Lady Belle Isoult

HERE followeth the story of Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, who, with Sir Launcelot of the Lake, was deemed to be one of the two most worthy and perfect knights champion of his day.

Likewise herein shall be told the story Of the Lady Belle Isoult, who next to Queen Guinevere, was reckoned to be the most fair, gentle lady in all of the world.

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