Now it was unavoidable. Tristan directed the royal steward to select from the court's forces twenty trustworthy knights, well proven in battle. From the land and from abroad he hired another troop of sixty. Out of the royal council of barons he levied twenty, without pay, and thus he had a company of just a hundred men, no more. Tristan took them across the sea. They were his followers and crew, and brought with them such supplies of necessary food and clothing and other nautical provisions that for such a number of voyagers no ship could be more fully found. 8600
In the Tristan stories you will read that a swallow flew from Curnewal all the way to Irlant, and finding a lady's curl of hair carried it back across the sea to use in weaving her nest together, but where they get this, I don't know. Has ever any a nesting swallow considering all the materials she could readily find at home, gone to so much trouble as to cross the sea to a foreign land to gather more to work with? God knows, these stories go astray when the storyteller stammers. Nor do we need to believe whoever says that Tristan and crew sailed at random out to sea taking no account whatever of where they were going, or how far, or of whom or what they went to find. Whoever put this fable together— where did he collect such nonsense? If that were so, then all of them, the king who sent them forth, his council of advisors, the poor, duped ambassadors— they all were on a fool's errand.
But Tristan now was under way, sailing resolutely toward his port, he and all his entourage, part of whom were most uneasy. I mean, of course, the barons, those selected twenty of Curnewal's royal council. Considering their situation, they were thoroughly afraid, convinced they were as good as dead. They cursed the hour, all of them, with the most heartfelt execrations, when this foolish expedition to Irlant first had been suggested. Now with their own lives at stake, they knew not how to counsel themselves. They thought of this, they thought of that, but never reached any consensus that made any sense at all or that could lead to a solution. Nor was that improbable, since about their present situation 8650 there was little to decide. There were only two ways they might get out of it alive: by either subterfuge or luck. But their list of tricks was hardly long, and the way their luck was running offered little encouragement. Neither way looked promising.
Yet many of them agreed on this: "when it comes to making do, this man has a special knack. If God will grant us a bit of fortune, we might come through along with him, if he would only try to control his utter recklessness. He has all too much of that— he's so eager and arrogant that he doesn't know what he's doing. He plainly cares not a crumb for us or for his own neck. But still the best chance we have is that he can pull it off. We'll have to learn some of his tricks if we're going to come through this alive." Now when the ship reached Irlant and made its landfall there, where, according to local news, the king was in residence near the city of Weisefort, Tristan had them cast anchor far enough out from the harbor that from there to their anchorage was rather more than a bowshot. Now his crew of barons implored him to tell them how in God's name or with what sort of devices he intended to woo this woman. With their own lives on the line, they thought it reasonable and good that he should tell them his intentions. "Keep out of this," Tristan ordered. "See to it that none of you shows himself to these people. Stay here, out of sight, and leave it to our crew and sailors to find out whatever they can on the gangway and landing. You must stay away from there— keep perfectly quiet, stay below. I'll be the one to do the talking, 8700 since I'm the one who knows the language. Soon enough they'll be on us, these inquisitive townsfolk, with all kinds of hostile questions. I'll have to do some lying today with the best lies I've ever told. And you stay entirely out of it— if they should find out you are here, we'll be fighting for our lives. The whole country will attack us. And while I'm not here tomorrow— I'm riding out very early to see what our chances are, win or lose, go or no go— Curvenal will take the watch along with others at the gangway who can also speak the language. Now here is one more command: in case I have not returned within three or four days, do not wait any longer, but make your escape back to sea and save your own lives and skins. Then I alone have bought this woman at the cost of my own life. You can commend to your lord whatever wife you think proper. This is the way I would have it."
Now the royal marshal of all Irlant, who had power and control of the whole state and its harbors, came riding down at the gallop in full armor and battle gear at the head of a great company of citizens and emissaries with orders straight from the court (as the story has already told and you will have read before), to arrest and hold anyone who came into port there until it was firmly established whether he came from Marke's country or belonged among his retinue. This band of tormenters, heartless killers all, had committed many a murder entirely without cause, just to please their masters. Now they marched into the harbor with arrows and crossbows at the ready 8750 and other arms slung about them like a company of pirates. Tristan, as the ship's master, drew a pilgrim's cloak about him for no other aim or purpose than to have some disguise. He had the steward bring a cup beaten out of richest gold, a fine piece of workmanship in the highest English style. With this he boarded the ship's boat, taking with him Curvenal, and casting off, made for the landing. He waved a greeting toward the shore, with courteous words and gestures, in as friendly a manner as possible.
But paying no attention to this, a large number of townspeople ran down to meet the boat, while others shouted from the dock, "put in to shore! Put in here!" Tristan pulled up to the landing. "Gentlemen," he said, "now tell me, why do you carry all those weapons? What do you mean by this? You hardly seem very friendly. I'm not sure what to expect. In God's name, be so kind— is someone here at the harbor who has authority in this land? Let him hear what I have to say." "Yes," said their leader, "I'm marshal here. This reception by my forces means we'll stand for no nonsense. Right now I want to know exactly what you're doing here." "Of course, sir," Tristan answered. "That would indeed be my pleasure. If someone will kindly quiet this crowd and permit my words to be heard, then I only would request that you give me courteous audience, to hear what I have to say according to your country's honor."
At this the general noise receded. "Sir," Tristan began, "now know the circumstances of our lives, our origin, and our country, as I will here reveal to you. We are a race of tradesmen, 8800 and see no cause for shame in that. Yes, we are what you call merchants, I and these my associates, and we come from Normandie. Our home and families are there. We ourselves roam far and wide, from one country to another in all sorts of commerce and manage thus to earn our keep. It has now been some thirty days since we set out from our land, I and two other traders with me. The three of us had gone together in a venture to Iberne. But over a period of a week, starting early one morning, a violent wind scattered us, as adverse winds often do. It separated the three of us, leaving me quite alone. I know not how my convoy fares— may God preserve and keep them, whether they be alive or not. Always in the greatest distress, I was driven many rough miles over this last terrible week. But yesterday about at noon when the winds and storm had receded, I sighted land, a familiar peak. At that position I hove to, and rested until today. Then very early this morning, as soon as there was light enough, I came about and sailed in here to the harbor of Weisefort. And here the going is even rougher— my life still seems to be in peril. I thought I would at least find safety, knowing the city as I do, since already on several occasions I have traveled here with merchants, and therefore at least expected safety and a friendly reception. But no—I find myself sailing into stormier winds than ever. And still I think God may preserve me. For if in this company I find neither welcome nor repose, I'll sail right back out to sea, where I have the world's best defense 8850 and prowess aplenty by taking flight. But perhaps you'll have the courtesy to treat me according to your honor. In that case, of the goods I have, I'll gladly share a portion with you in return for one small favor. Grant me and my merchandise protection here in the harbor until I have a chance to see if fortune should be so kind as to lead me to my countrymen when I go in search of them. If you will give me this concession, please grant me safe passage also— here I see fast approaching I know not who or what in yonder fleet of small craft— or off I go, back to my crew, not bothering with being frightened."
The marshal signaled those approaching to put back to shore at once. And then to the newcomer he said, "How much will you give the king if I grant your goods protection and you safe passage in this kingdom?" To this the adventurer replied, "Sir, daily I shall pay him from whatever I gain or profit one mark of fine gold. And you shall have this goblet as a consideration if I can then rely on you." "You can!" shouted the bystanders. "This fellow here is our marshal!" The marshal accepted what was offered, which seemed to him rich and worthy, and bade his guest come ashore. In return he guaranteed him safety of person and property. It was a deal of fine and rich— I mean between tax and toll. Rich and fine the king's gold, fine and rich the payer's toll. And so the payment balanced richly, the means by which he managed to gain both acceptance and protection.
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