Thomas Bulfinch > The Age of Fable > Vol. III: The Age of Chivalry > XIV. Sir Tristram’s Battle with Sir Launcelot
Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867).  Age of Fable: Vol. III: The Age of Chivalry.  1913.

King Arthur and His Knights
XIV.  Sir Tristram’s Battle with Sir Launcelot
SIR TRISTRAM rode through a forest and saw ten men fighting, and one man did battle against nine. So he rode to the knights and cried to them, bidding them cease their battle, for they did themselves great shame, so many knights to fight against one. Then answered the master of the knights (his name was Sir Breuse sans Pitie, who was at that time the most villanous knight living): “Sir knight, what have ye to do to meddle with us? If ye be wise depart on your way as you came, for this knight shall not escape us.” “That were pity,” said Sir Tristram, “that so good a knight should be slain so cowardly; therefore I warn you I will succor him with all my puissance.”   1
  Then Sir Tristram alighted off his horse, because they were on foot, that they should not slay his horse. And he smote on the right hand and on the left so vigorously that well-nigh at every stroke he struck down a knight. At last they fled, with Breuse sans Pitie, into the tower, and shut Sir Tristram without the gate. Then Sir Tristram returned back to the rescued knight, and found him sitting under a tree, sore wounded. “Fair knight,” said he, “how is it with you?” “Sir knight,” said Sir Palamedes, for he it was, “I thank you of your great goodness, for ye have rescued me from death.” “What is your name?” said Sir Tristram. He said, “My name is Sir Palamedes.” “Say ye so?” said Sir Tristram; “now know that thou art the man in the world that I most hate; therefore make thee ready, for I will do battle with thee.” “What is your name?” said Sir Palamedes. “My name is Sir Tristram, your mortal enemy.” “It may be so,” said Sir Palamedes; “but you have done overmuch for me this day, that I should fight with you. Moreover, it will be no honor for you to have to do with me, for you are fresh and I am wounded. Therefore, if you will needs have to do with me, assign me a day, and I shall meet you without fail.” “You say well,” said Sir Tristram; “now I assign you to meet me in the meadow by the river of Camelot, where Merlin set the monument.” So they were agreed. Then they departed and took their ways diverse. Sir Tristram passed through a great forest into a plain, till he came to a priory, and there he reposed him with a good man six days.   2
  Then departed Sir Tristram, and rode straight into Camelot to the monument of Merlin, and there he looked about him for Sir Palamedes. And he perceived a seemly knight, who came riding against him all in white, with a covered shield. When he came nigh Sir Tristram said aloud, “Welcome, sir knight, and well and truly have you kept your promise.” Then they made ready their shields and spears, and came together with all the might of their horses, so fiercely, that both the horses and the knights fell to the earth. And as soon as they might they quitted their horses, and struck together with bright swords as men of might, and each wounded the other wonderfully sore, so that the blood ran out upon the grass. Thus they fought for the space of four hours and never one would speak to the other one word. Then at last spake the white knight, and said, “Sir, thou fightest wonderful well, as ever I saw knight; therefore, if it please you, tell me your name.” “Why dost thou ask my name?” said Sir Tristram; “art thou not Sir Palamedes?” “No, fair knight,” said he, “I am Sir Launcelot of the Lake.” “Alas!” said Sir Tristram, “what have I done? for you are the man of the world that I love best.” “Fair knight,” said Sir Launcelot, “tell me your name.” “Truly,” said he, “my name is Sir Tristram de Lionesse.” “Alas! alas!” said Sir Launcelot, “what adventure has befallen me!” And therewith Sir Launcelot kneeled down and yielded him up his sword; and Sir Tristram kneeled down and yielded him up his sword; and so either gave other the degree. And then they both went to the stone, and sat them down upon it and took off their helms and each kissed the other a hundred times. And then anon they rode toward Camelot, and on the way they met with Sir Gawain and Sir Gaheris, that had made promise to Arthur never to come again to the court till they had brought Sir Tristram with them.   3
  “Return again,” said Sir Launcelot, “for your quest is done; for I have met with Sir Tristram. Lo, here he is in his own person.” Then was Sir Gawain glad, and said to Sir Tristram, “Ye are welcome.” With this came King Arthur, and when he wist there was Sir Tristram, he ran unto him, and took him by the hand, and said, “Sir Tristram, ye are as welcome as any knight that ever came to this court.” Then Sir Tristram told the king how he came thither for to have had to do with Sir Palamedes, and how he had rescued him from Sir Breuse sans Pitie and the nine knights. Then King Arthur took Sir Tristram by the hand, and went to the Table Round, and Queen Guenever came, and many ladies with her, and all the ladies said with one voice, “Welcome, Sir Tristram.” “Welcome,” said the knights. “Welcome,” said Arthur, “for one of the best of knights, and the gentlest of the world, and the man of most worship; for of all manner of hunting thou bearest the prize, and of all measures of blowing thou art the beginning, and of all the terms of hunting and hawking ye are the inventor, and of all instruments of music ye are the best skilled; therefore, gentle knight,” said Arthur, “ye are welcome to this court.” And then King Arthur made Sir Tristram knight of the Table Round with great nobley and feasting as can be thought.   4

TRISTRAM is often alluded to by the Romancers as the great authority and model in all matters relating to the chase. In the “Faery Queene,” Tristram, in answer to the inquiries of Sir Calidore, informs him of his name and parentage, and concludes:
          “All which my days I have not lewdly spent,
  Nor spilt the blossom of my tender years
  In idlesse; but, as was convenient,
  Have trained been with many noble feres
  In gentle thewes, and such like seemly leers; 1 
  ’Mongst which my most delight hath always been
  To hunt the salvage chace, amongst my peers,
  Of all that rangeth in the forest green,
Of which none is to me unknown that yet was seen.
  “Ne is there hawk which mantleth on her perch,
  Whether high towering or accosting low,
  But I the measure of her flight do search,
  And all her prey, and all her diet know.
  Such be our joys, which in these forests grow.”

Note 1.  Feres, companions; thewes, labors; leers, learning. [back]


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