"My queen, now tell me," Marke said, "how have you passed the time, while I have been away?" —"Sire, I was much occupied with a quite unnecessary nuisance. 14950 But I did take some diversion with the harp and the lyre." "A needless nuisance?" Marke said, "What am I to make of that?" With a smile, Isolt replied, "However it came about, it happened, and happens today and every day. Sorrowing and excessive lament are common to me and to all women. That is how we cleanse our hearts and also rinse out our eyes. We often secretly concoct some great tragedy from a trifle, and then forget all about it." She meant it lightheartedly, but Marke listened with interest, carefully weighing her words and the way she was saying them. "My Lady," he mused, "tell me this— do you, or does someone here know how Tristan's getting along? I was told he was disturbed when recently I rode away." "Sire, that was the truth you heard," the queen assured him in reply. She was referring to his passion, for well she knew how he suffered, and that passion was the cause of it. The king kept up his inquiry. "What do you know? Who told you that?" —"I only know what I suppose and what Brangaene told me about his being indisposed just a short while ago— she had seen him yesterday and urged me to pass on to you the request he had explained to her, and bid you, before God, that you not judge so severely his honor and reputation, and be pleased to modify your enmity and opposition at least for the remaining week while he prepares to take his leave, and then dismiss him honorably to depart from your court, leaving this land for abroad. He appeals to both of us." She repeated the rest of his plea as she had heard it by the fountain, 15000 which he of course also heard along with her reply to him. "My queen," the king then declared, "a curse be upon the one who ever so misled me! I regret most sincerely that I should have suspected him, for recently I have found proof of his entire innocence. Now I have the whole story. It is time, most blessed queen, as indeed you hold me dear, for you to bring us back together. What you decide shall be done. Call us both to account and straighten things out between us." "Sire, no," the queen refused. "I do not want to waste my efforts. I might mediate today, and tomorrow you would return to all your old suspicions." —"No, My Lady, never again! I have no more thought whatever of questioning his honor, or of ever suspecting you, my own lady and queen, of any alien affections." He sealed these words with a vow. Tristan was summoned forthwith, the old enmity between them was renounced and laid aside, all with the best of intentions.
Once again Queen Isolt was ceremoniously entrusted into Tristan's hands and care. He fostered her in every way, with supervision and advice. She and her personal household were his responsibility. Tristan and his lady Isolt once again enjoyed life, with all the fullness of its delights. After their period of distress they had an ideal situation, however briefly it might last without renewed disruptions. Well may I say it, loud and clear, that no kind of noxious nettle can ever be so bitterly sour as is a treacherous neighbor, 15050 nor any cause of vexation as bad as a false housemate. This is what I call falseness— one who makes a show of friendship while secret enmity fills his heart is indeed a wicked companion. He may always seem to have nothing but honey on his tongue, but with venom in his sting. The vicious toxin of envy makes his friend's misfortunes swell in all of his undertakings, in whatever he hears and sees, and no one is safe from it. But if someone openly lays snares for his foe intending to entangle him, this I do not count as false. If he's an honest enemy the harm he does is not so great. But when he does it all by stealth, you must look out for yourself. Consider Melot and Marjodoc— They were there at Tristan's side every time he turned around, but intended only treachery. They offered him their services and gave him their confidence with devious intentions. But Tristan was on his guard, having seen through their pretensions, and warned Isolt against them. "Watch out, queen of my heart, we must take care, you and I, what we say and what we do. We are beset on all sides by treachery and danger. Two vipers, disguised as doves, are cajoling us with blandishments at every hour of the day. Do not let them fool you, my most blessed queen! For when these neighbors put on faces to simulate the race of doves, the serpent's sting is in their tails— then cross yourself to ward them off and escape from sudden death. Blessed lady, lovely Isolt, be always on your guard against that snake Melot 15100 and the dog Marjodoc!"
Indeed just so were those two, one a snake, one a hound, ever laying traps and snares to entangle the two lovers, serpent-like and dog-like in everything they did, in all they sought to do. They intrigued constantly with warnings and insinuations to arouse Marke's doubts and fears, to the point that once again he slipped into uncertainty, suspecting some love affair, and with new tests and trials sought to penetrate their secrets. One day he had himself bled as some false counsel had advised him, and with him Tristan and Isolt. They didn't see in this act any treacherous intention or any reason to suppose that they could thus be endangered. The three of them in company spent the afternoon relaxing and taking pleasure in their ease, avoiding needless exertions. The evening of the next day, the courtiers having dispersed, Marke was preparing for bed. In the bedchamber with him, according to plan, were present only Marke and Isolt, also Tristan and Melot, Brangaene and a serving girl. The glare coming from the lamps had been reduced and softened with tapestries and curtains. Then when the hour came for Matins and the bells rang for morning prayer, Marke, still plagued with suspicions, rose and dressed quietly, then called Melot to get up and go with him to attend mass.
When Marke had left his bed, Melot took a measure of flour and strewed it over the floor, so that if someone set foot anywhere near the bed his tracks would be plain to see. 15150 The two of them then left together, though hardly were their devotions given to prayers or piety. Brangaene, however, quickly saw the flour and its intended purpose. She went to Tristan quietly, warned him of the baited trap, and retired again to her own bed. Tristan now was confronted with an unpleasant difficulty. The heart pounding in his breast yearned and strove toward the woman with an irresistible longing. But how could he reach her? He well proved the old saying that passion always is blind and love knows no fear whenever both are genuine. "Alas," he muttered to himself, "good Lord, what shall I do? This is a tricky situation— Well, at such a great wager the stakes are sure to be high." He stood up in his bed and tried to take exact measure of how he might get across. There was now enough light that he could plainly see the flour. The interval, unfortunately, looked too wide for a leap, and yet he dared not walk across. He had no choice but to take the better of the two chances. Planting his feet firmly together, he launched himself with a mighty kick.
But in this joust the charge was a little too strenuous for Tristan, love-blind to risk. His leap carried him to her bed, but still he had lost the bet because the vein broke open where his blood had been let, which brought him no end of trouble. The bed and all the bedclothes were befouled with his blood. As blood has a way of doing, it left its mark everywhere. He lay there but a short time, but already the royal silks and linens, the bed and all its coverlet 15200 were stained and bloodied thoroughly. Now he made another leap back to his own bed and lay quietly there until dawn. Marke returned when the mass ended and examined the floor carefully. In the trap he had laid he found no evidence at all, but when he crossed over and inspected Isolt's bed, there he found blood and blood. This weighed heavily on his mind. "How now, my queen," he said, "what is this all about? Where did all this blood come from?" —"My vein broke open, that's where. It hasn't healed over yet." Then Marke went to Tristan and pretending to inspect him as though jesting roughly, he called, "let's go, Sir Tristan!," throwing back the coverlet. And there too he found blood. He said not another word, but left him there, and retreated.
All his mind and his senses were much encumbered by this puzzle. He thought and pondered like a man who faces an unwelcome day. He had been in hot pursuit of his own heart's devastation, and still the lovers kept their secrets. Even yet he knew no more of the truth they concealed than what he saw by the blood, which still offered no sure proof. All the doubts and suspicions he had so fervently renounced seized him again in their shackles. Having found no mark or trace on the floor between the beds, he believed his nephew innocent of wrong. But the sight of blood on the linens where both Tristan and the queen lay beset him again at once with the grim uncertainty that always plagues the doubter. Tossed about by these conflicts, first this way, then the other, 15250 he hardly knew what he wanted or even what he should believe. Here and now he had seen before him in his own bed the damning stain left by passion, yet no trace of it on the floor. In this disparity the truth was both proclaimed and denied, two factors that confounded him. Truth and falsehood together contested in his imagination and still he possessed neither. He would not declare them guilty, nor would he dismiss the charge. He suffered the distress of indecisiveness.
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