Tristan's high reputation kept rising even further at court and among his countrymen. Everyone sang his praises for his skill and cleverness. Again, he and the queen were enjoying the best of times, raising each other's spirits at every opportunity. It was also at this time that Tristan had a companion, one of the court's noble barons, a high vassal of the king and also his chief steward, whose name was Marjodoc. His friendship and his fondness for Tristan had more to do with the attractive, young queen, for whom he had secret longings, as do many men for ladies who pay no attention to them. Tristan and the steward shared living quarters between them, and in addition to this contact enjoyed each other's fellowship. For the many stories Tristan told, the steward had made it a habit to join him in the evening and share good conversation.
One night it came to pass, after he and Tristan had traded long tales with one another and other interesting talk, that the steward fell asleep. Tristan the lover then stole quietly away on a prowl that cost him and also the queen many a deep heartache. While he though himself undetected and secure in his venture, Disaster had spread her snare, her spies, her machinations, all along the familiar path he used at every occasion for his visits of joy to Isolt. Snow had dusted the way that night, and now the full moon shone with all its brilliant clarity. Tristan had no thought of trouble, 13500 or any fear of being observed. He proceeded swiftly to his goal, where a secret assignation had already been arranged.
As he came into the chamber, Brangaene leaned a chessboard against the lamp to make a shadow. I know not how she could forget, but she did leave the gate open, and went back to her own bed. While Tristan was keeping his appointment, Marjodoc the seneschal, still deep in sleep, dreamed that a wild boar from the forest, a frightful and dangerous beast, charged into the king's court slashing with its foaming tusks at anything in its way with savage intent only to attack. At once there came on the run a strong company from the court. Armed knights thrust and feinted all around the raging brute, but there was none so fearless as dared to confront it. It quickly broke away from them to rampage snarling through the palace. When it came to Marke's quarters, it burst in through the door. Finding the bed where Marke would sleep, it tossed and rent it viciously. With its slime it befouled the bed and all the bedclothes covering the royal couch, while all of Marke's men looked on, not one of whom tried to stop it.
At this point Marjodoc awoke. As he remembered his dream, reviewing it all in his heart, it troubled him very much. He called to Tristan, to tell him about this strange visitation, but there was no answer. He called once more, and again, then ran his hand across the bed. When he felt nothing there and knew that Tristan was gone, he suspected his friend at once of surreptitious doings, although he knew nothing at all 13550 of his covert relationship with the queen, for the notion simply had never occurred to him. Still, this gave him reason to feel some slight annoyance that Tristan had not shared with him, close friends as they were, anything of his secrets. Marjodoc rose at once, found his clothes and got dressed, went very quietly to the door, and looking about outside found Tristan's trail in the snow. He followed the track, which led him at first through a small orchard. By the moon's light he continued across the grass and the snow as far as the chamber door to which the trail plainly led. There, unsure, he hesitated. It disturbed him to find that the door stood open.
For quite some time he considered Tristan's errand, and explanations innocent and otherwise. First, the idea came to him that Tristan had gone to meet some young maid or serving girl. That idea, very quickly, gave way to another one, that in coming here he sought none other than the queen. Suspended in indecision, he at last determined to enter, very softly. No moonlight or lamp shone within, and the one candle burning there, hidden behind the chessboard, gave no light to see by. He continued up the corridor feeling his way with his hands along walls and partitions until he came to a bed where he heard the two of them and what they said and did there. This discovery caused him sore distress at heart, secretly enamored of Isolt as he himself long had been. Now his tender feelings 13600 were mixed with pain and anger. Toward them both at once he felt anger and pain, pain and anger. His mind was in turmoil— Faced with this discovery he could come to no decision as to what he should do that would be effective and proper. Hate and pain assailed him at the thought of what a breach it would cause if he revealed and made public what he knew. He was also deterred from this when he thought of Tristan, a man to be feared, who might take some vengeance. So he withdrew and went back, lay down in his own bed, deeply hurt and offended.
Tristan also soon returned and retired very quietly. Both of them remained silent— it was a rare occurrence that neither of them spoke a word, something quite unaccustomed. From this sudden estrangement it seemed likely to Tristan that his friend had suspicions about his liaison, and took care from then on to guard what he said and did with much greater caution that he had used before. But alas, it was too late. His secret had gone public, his hidden doings were unveiled.
The envious Marjodoc went and took the king aside, telling him in confidence that a rumor was circulating about Isolt and Tristan, much to the general displeasure of the whole land and people. He urged the king to investigate and take counsel in this matter as to what should be done— This was something threatening his marriage and his honor. But he stopped short of telling him that he knew the true story 13650 behind this rumor with certainty. Marke in his simplicity, always so credulous, was taken greatly by surprise. He much preferred not to believe that there could be any reason to suspect Isolt, whom he followed as the leading star of his joy, of any unfaithfulness. And yet it stuck in his thoughts like a painful burden, setting him on the lookout at all times, every hour, for any sort of evidence that might substantiate this rumor. What she said and what she did he examined meticulously, although without discovering anything of the truth from her, for Tristan had put her on her guard by revealing to her what he knew of the seneschal's suspicions. But Marke now remained watchful, noting every nuance and detail, keeping it up night and day.
One night as he lay with her making pleasant conversation back and forth between them, he slyly devised a snare which he laid for the queen and did catch her in it, as he cunningly intended. "My Lady," he said, "now tell me, how do you advise in this matter? I think to ride soon on a pilgrimage that may well keep me some time— under whose care and protection would you be all the while?" "God's blessing," the queen exclaimed, "what makes you ask such a thing? Into whose hand could I be given along with your land and people better than your nephew's, so capable of protecting us? Your sister's son, Sir Tristan, as manly as he is wise, will do this conscientiously."
When Marke examined this reply in his alerted state of mind, 13700 it disturbed him greatly. Now his vigilance increased and he kept her under closer watch and surveillance than ever. He confided to his seneschal the evidence he had acquired. The steward confirmed his mistrust— "truly, Sire, it is so. Now you can see for yourself that she can scarcely restrain the great attraction she has for him, and it is most foolish of you if you tolerate any of this. As you love your wife and honor, suffer it no longer." All this troubled Marke deeply— the doubt and the suspicion he should feel toward his nephew plagued him at every hour as long as he had no proof or had never caught him in any sort of misdeed.
Isolt, unsuspecting, rejoiced. She ran to tell Brangaene with a happy laugh and expression of delight about her lord's pilgrimage and how he had asked her in whose care she wished to be. "My Lady," Brangaene said, "tell me, and don't lie to me, so help you God, whom did you name?" Isolt told her truthfully, just as she had been led to do. "Oh, how foolish," Brangaene cried. "Why did you say such a thing? From the way the question went I hear plainly, it's a trap, and well I know who laid it— it was that envious seneschal. They mean to trip you up with this. You need to be on your guard— if he brings it up again, you must do as I tell you— reply only thus and so . . . " then she instructed her mistress how to handle leading questions devised to entrap her.
Marke continued, as before, to be much afflicted 13750 by two painful concerns, assailed by one and then the other, the uncertainty and the suspicions he had and could not deny. About Isolt, his beloved, he felt deep misgivings. Of Tristan, he was uncertain, never having recognized any of his actions as tending to disloyalty. His friend Tristan, his delight Isolt, these two disturbed him most, constricting his heart and senses. He suspected her and him and was uncertain of both. Faced with these anxieties, he endured them as best he could, as one must who has no choice. Whenever he wished to enjoy the delights of love with Isolt, suspicion prevented pleasure. But when he tried to investigate and lay bare the truth, this was denied to him and doubt returned once more, his plight as complex as before. What can interfere with love faster than doubt and suspicion? What narrows the mind seeking love so uncomfortably as doubt? The lover knows not, where he's going, for having plainly seen or heard some misdeed or treachery, no sooner would he swear that he has the truth at last than in the twinkling of an eye everything is reversed, and now he sees something else that suspends him in uncertainty, more confused than ever. All the world indeed may do it, but still it is most unwise and an even greater foolishness to contaminate love with doubt, for no one can enjoy a love he is constrained to distrust. And he does just as great an evil who tries to turn suspicion and confusion into certainty, for if he should succeed 13800 in confirming every doubt, then that which he before aspired to see and know clearly has become a painful thing for him, worse than any heartbreak. The obsessions he had started with that at the time distracted him now seem the better evils-- might he have them restored, doubt and illusion at least could make it unnecessary to find and face the truth. Thus does evil foster evil until something worse occurs. At that point, by comparison, evil seems much the better. Unpleasant doubted love may be, yet by no means so unwelcome as not to be much preferred to the hard truth of its opposite. Nor can anything prevent that love must always breed doubt. Doubt and love belong together, and love must learn to live with it. As long as some doubt remains, there is still room for improvement. Once the full truth is known, that's all there is to that. And the strange thing about love that has always brought about disarray and confusion— whenever things are going well, it's never quite satisfied and wants to run off the track. But as soon as doubt comes in sight, it renews its determination. Off it goes in hot pursuit, striving now with great persistence, more intent on discovering its own bitter disappointment than on enjoying the pleasure that it might have indulged in. Just this perverse folly now was consuming Marke. Every hour of the day he applied all his efforts to the end of clarifying his doubts and suspicions, the result being, with the truth, that what he so wished to find 13850 was to his own dismay. He got just what he wanted.
Again, one night, it came about that he and Marjodoc had been inventing another plan, another clever subterfuge that would entrap Isolt by a clever deception into giving herself away. But this time, it went astray. The snare that he had laid for her, intended for her downfall, the queen herself used instead to catch the king, her lord, with Brangaene's advice. Brangaene made the difference. By tilting wit against wit, they shared their victory.
The king, clasping his queen Isolt very closely to his heart and kissing her repeatedly upon her eyes and her mouth, murmured "my beauty, to me nothing else is so beloved— that I must now part from you, God in heaven well knows it robs me of my senses." The queen, prepared for this, matched guile against guile. With a sigh, she replied, "alas, what a bitter blow— before, ah, I had supposed that this misbegotten story was nothing but a jest. Yet now I hear, and believe, that you do mean it in earnest." With another sigh she commenced to evince with tears and groans a pitiful series of laments and to weep so miserably that the king, a simple man, banished all his suspicions and would readily have sworn that she meant every word of it. For women, of course, all of them, only dissimulate so far as when we take them at their word, and never practice any deception nor any other kind of falsehood except that they know how to weep 13900 entirely unassumingly whenever they think appropriate. And Isolt wept unrestrainedly.
Marke, quite taken in, said, "my beauty, tell me, what's wrong, why are you crying?" "Well may I cry," wailed Isolt. —"I weep because I cannot help it. A poor woman, far from home, I have but one life to live and what little sense I may possess— both of these I have devoted to you because you love me, and this so fills my mind that I can think of nothing else or care for anything but you. You are all that I hold dear, and still I know, oh, too well that you are not so fond of me as you say and pretend to be. Now you take it into your head to go away and abandon me here in this foreign land— I can see, plainly enough, I don't mean anything to you. Never shall my heart and mind know any happiness again." "How so, my beauty?" he countered, "here you have at your command both this land and its people— they are yours as much as mine. Now take charge of all that is rightly yours to rule— what you decree shall be done. As long as I remain away, there are those well qualified, obliged to serve and care for you— my courtly nephew, Tristan, is circumspect and wise. He will make every effort to comfort you and increase both your honor and your pleasure. He has my trust and confidence, and well he has deserved it. He esteems you as he does me— he will do it for both of us." "Sir Tristan?" snapped Isolt. "Sooner would I be dead and buried in my grave than consent to put myself 13950 under his supervision. That sneaking eavesdropper— every time I turn around there he's sidling up to me, always flattering and declaring how much I mean to him. But God knows, and so do I, how seriously he means it. And I know something else— he's the one who killed my uncle, and therefore he's afraid of me. That is the real reason he's always being nice to me, prowling around and flattering, making an empty show of it, all the while thinking and hoping to curry my favor with this act. It isn't getting him anywhere— all his blandishments don't help. And God knows, except for you— for your sake, and yours alone, certainly not because I want to, I try to be kind to him, but otherwise, so help me, I'd rather not set eyes on him. But since I can't properly avoid seeing him and speaking, when I do so, I take care not to put my heart in it or take any of it seriously. I don't deny that many times and on various occasions I have given him my attention, but always with empty looks and not meaning what I said, just to avoid any reproach. People always say about women that we don't like our husband's friends. That was reason enough for me sometimes to make eyes at him, to fritter the afternoon away with a lot of silly banter until he would have sworn that I meant it all seriously. Sire, think nothing of all that. Your nephew, this Sir Tristan, will not do as my guardian. If you permit me a request— you yourself, on your journey shall oversee me, if you command. 14000 For what you will, I will also, if you alone do not forbid it, unless death should take me first." Thus fabeled the fabulous Isolt to her sovereign and husband until she had made his doubts and ire seem no more than a fable, and he would readily have sworn that she spoke fully in earnest. Marke the king of doubt had found the path again. His consort knew how to dispell his doubts and imaginings— whatever she had said or done was all, he saw, quite in order. The king at once repeated to the seneschal in detail, as best he could remember, her answers and explanation, declaring that he had found no evidence of deceit.
At this the seneschal was sorely disappointed, but he kept devising plans and taught the king another trick with which to test Isolt. That night Marke lay again making pillow talk with Isolt. Again he used a question to set a clever trap for her, and managed to catch her once more. "My Lady and Queen," he began, "there is serious business at hand. Now let me see and judge how a woman can run a country. My Lady, I must go abroad and leave you in charge here among the many friends I have. Be it beholden, be it kin, whoever owes me anything, is equally obliged to you, to whatever extent you may wish. If any are not congenial or earn displeasure in your sight, an attendant, a lady, or man, you can send them all packing. You shall neither see nor hear anything disagreeable as to persons or possessions that might disturb your composure. 14050 Nor will I show any favor either from my heart or mind toward anyone you dislike, and this I tell you in all truth. Be always carefree and happy, live, as you desire to live, and you will have my full support. My nephew Tristan, I well know, does not enjoy your good graces— very soon I will depart from this court and company, as soon as I find occasion. Then he is off to Parmenie to take his own affairs in hand. He must. His country needs him."
"Mercy, Sire," Isolt replied, "well you speak, and truly. You give me now to understand that you regard with displeasure anything that might trouble me. To me it therefore seems proper that I should also consent and yield as far as possible to whatever is good in your eyes and accords with your pleasure, and that I help to advance whatever prefers your honor late, early, and always. But watch, My Lord, what you do— I neither advise nor desire that at any time, now or ever, you should expel your nephew from your court or your presence, because then I would be dishonored. There would be talk at once abroad in this court and country that I had put you up to this just to settle the old score of his having killed my uncle. There would be all sorts of talk, none of it to my credit, nor to your honor either. Never will I agree that just because of me you should abandon an ally or otherwise be opposed to anyone in your favor only because I might wish it. And you should also think of this— if you are gone for some time, 14100 who will govern in your stead? Your holdings will not lie securely in a woman's hand. Whoever has to rule two kingdoms with full justice and honor must be strong in heart and mind. Where is there, in your lands, other than my Sir Tristan any lord, if you empower him, who could so manage your estate? There is no one else whose orders would be obeyed. And what if we are attacked? You know that is a constant concern against which vigilance is needed. It could very well occur that we might get the worst of it— then I would hear about Tristan nothing but malicious reproach, and not be allowed to forget it. All we'd hear, from every quarter— 'if only Tristan had been with us, things would never have gone so wrong as now, you see, they have.' And then our whole people would blame it all on me unanimously that I cost him your trust to your and their regret. Sire, better let the matter rest. Reconsider what's at stake, taking in all the details. Either let me go with you or put your realm in his command. Although my heart may be against him, I would rather leave him in charge than some unreliable vassal who might fail to do the job."
From this the king concluded that she had set all her heart on promoting Tristan's honor, and soon fell victim once again to his old doubts and suspicions. These so upset and disturbed him that he sank deeper than before into the bitterness of rage. Once more, Isolt told Brangaene all that had passed between them, filling in every detail without omitting a single word. 14150 Again Brangaene was distressed at what her mistress had said and how the interchange had gone. Once more she briefed her thoroughly on what to say to the king. That night, when the queen again came to sleep with her lord, she took him into her embrace. She fondled him, she kissed him, she clasped him tightly to her body, against her soft, tender breasts, taking up, as she did so, once more their subtle duel of words with probing questionings and answers. "Sire," she murmured, "now tell me, for my sake—have you yet finally determined your plans and what you intend to do about Sir Tristan, as you said, that you would send him away, to his own country for my sake? If I could be sure of this, I would be so grateful to you today and all the rest of my days. Sire, I believe what you say as well I may and ought to, but in this case I'm afraid you only meant to tempt me. If I could know certainly, as you have promised before, that you mean to remove everything which might cause me displeasure, then I would at last be sure that you do indeed love me. I would have appealed to you in this matter long before, but I didn't really want to, because I know very well what I can expect from Tristan if subjected to his mercies. Consider, Sire, all of this not just because of my aversion— if he is left in charge here for the whole time you are away and something should befall you as does happen on long journeys, he'll snatch away my land and honor. Surely now you understand what a danger he is to me. Look kindly on my situation 14200 as one should who wishes me well and rid me of this Sir Tristan— in that you will be acting wisely. Send him back to his country or arrange for him to go with you and let your steward Marjodoc care for me in your absence. But if you should set your mind on taking me when you leave, then I care not who governs here— anyone who wants the job, as long as I may go with you. But you must do as you see fit in this affair and all others, with me and with your subject lands. This is my wish and my desire. My one concern in all of this is that I conform to your will— I leave it all in your hands, both your country and your people." She kept up her blandishments until at last she convinced her lord to renounce all his nagging doubts and turn his back on his suspicions of her intentions and her love, once again finding her altogether innocent of any impropriety. As to his steward Marjodoc, the king now considered him no better than a liar, although it was he alone among them all who had told him the truth.
|Next Episode||Index of Episodes|