When the seneschal realized he wasn't getting anywhere, he adopted yet another approach. At the court there was a dwarf, who was called, it is said, Melot petit of Aquitan. It is also said he had some gift in secret arts of divination by observing the stars at night. I make no such claims myself, beyond what I read in my source. In that accurate report I find nothing about all this except that he was learned, clever and quick of speech, a familiar of the king 14250 and admitted to the private chambers.
Marjodoc persuaded him to observe Tristan and the queen whenever he had occasion to attend the royal ladies. If he should thus succeed in obtaining good evidence of a love affair between them, he would earn for all time rewards and honors from King Marke. Melot spent many hours at this treachery of spying. He constantly laid pitfalls for unguarded talk and behavior at all hours of the day and night and soon had discovered the love of these two lovers. There passed such sweet endearments back and forth between them that Melot had, almost at once, convincing proof of love, and immediately informed Marke that there certainly was a love affair. The three of them discussed this find, Melot, Marke, and Marjodoc, soon arriving at a plan agreeable to all of them— if Sir Tristan should be barred from further attendance at court, everyone would quickly see the truth about the two of them.
This was done right away, just as the plan had called for. For the sake of his own repute, the king barred his nephew from making any further visits to the royal chambers, or from appearing or being present where any of the ladies were, since there was common talk at court which had to be counteracted, lest serious disgrace and harm befall himself and the queen. And this was quickly put in force, as decreed and requested. Tristan avoided any private contact or presence with the ladies. No longer did he set foot in the palace or the chambers. The courtiers immediately noticed 14300 his absence from their company, and began to trade vicious talk much to his detriment. Quickly he had an earful of things more painful than ever. He and Isolt, the two of them, passed the time impatiently. They shared sorrow and regret deep in this new affliction. They had pain on top of pain— pain at Marke's suspicions, and pain that they were now deprived of any chance to be together to talk and share their feelings. From one hour to the next each of them soon began to lose heart and vigor. Their natural health and color began to weaken and pale. The man faded for the woman, the woman paled for the man, Isolt for want of Tristan, Tristan for want of Isolt. Their affliction and need was sore.
It's no surprise to me at all that their need was in common and their pain unrelieved— the two of them now shared one single heart, one single mind. Both their ill, both their weal, both their death, both their life was but one single texture. Whatever afflicted one of them equally hurt the other. When one obtained some soothing, the other at once enjoyed relief. The two of them, sharing all, for ill and weal were united. The common heart's burden they bore appeared so obvious to everyone in their looks and their faces that no denial of their love could be found in their complexions.
Marke understood at once, seeing plainly the effects of their parting and separation, so deeply were their hearts affected. They yearned to see one another, did they but know how or where. He found a suitable pretext, 14350 commanding his hunting party to make ready with their hounds to ride at once into the forest, giving them instructions and letting it be known in court that the hunt would last twenty days. Whoever was skilled at this sport or wished to use this occasion to pass the time so engaged was invited to ride out with them. He took his leave from the queen, commending to her during his absence whatever pleasures she might choose. Then in confidence he enlisted Melot the dwarf for his purpose. He was to lay snares again for Tristan and Isolt to entrap them in their secrets, for which he would be rewarded. The king himself rode to the hunt with fanfares and flourishes. His usual hunting companion, Tristan, remained behind, having informed his uncle that he was not feeling well.
In truth the unwell hunter meant to stalk his own game. He and Isolt, the two of them remained sunken in their sorrow, anxiously anticipating some chance or opportunity that might perhaps make it possible by some means or other to see and be with one another. Still they could think of no way. Things having reached this state, Brangaene came to see Tristan, since she knew very well how severe the heaviness of his heart afflicted him. They shared expressions of regret. "Ah, my pure one," Tristan sighed, "what remedy may cure this ill? How shall I and poor Isolt now avoid our own destruction? I know not what we could do that might preserve our lives." "What advice can I give you?" said their ever-loyal companion. "May God have compassion on us 14400 that we ever saw the light of day. We have lost, all three of us, every joy and all our honor. Never shall we have again the freedom that once was ours. Isolt, alas! Tristan, alas! that ever I laid eyes on you— since the whole of your misfortune has come about because of me. And now I see no means at all by which I possibly could help you— I can think of nothing that would work. Well I know, as sure as death, what anguish you must endure the longer you are forced to suffer this surveillance and restraint. Since I can think of nothing better, here is something you can do as long as you are under orders to absent yourself from our presence. Whenever the chance presents itself and you see that this may be possible, cut a branch from an olive tree and split it lengthwise into two. Then mark one splinter simply, carving into it a "T," and on the other side an "I," so that only the first letters of your names appear. Nothing more than this is needed. Take it with you to the orchard— You know where the brook is that flows from the fountain there down past the ladies' quarters. Drop the branch into the water. Let it drift with the stream right past the door of our chamber. By that gate we spend our days, I and disconsolate Isolt, weeping with our hearts' distress. When we see the twig float by, we will know by this sign that you are waiting by the fountain. Hide there in the shadow of the olive and keep watch. She who longs for you will come, my lady, your beloved, and I with her, if possible, if you will allow me to. Sir, whatever little time 14450 remains to me in this life I mean to spend with you two, devoting myself to you always, assisting you in every way. If I could give a thousand hours of my life for one hour only in which I might assure your joy, I would gladly spend them and also the rest of my days if I could make your lives more pleasant."
"Bless you, beauty," Tristan cried, "never had I any doubt of your faithfulness and honor. Those two virtues could not be planted more deeply in any other heart. If fortune happens to favor me, I will use it to advance you to honors and satisfaction. As badly as my wheel of fortune seems to turn at the moment, if I knew how I could give my days and my hours to your profit and advantage, gladly would I end my life so much the sooner, believe me." Moved to tears, he continued: "faithful, most blessed woman—" then took her into his embrace very closely and tightly, kissing her eyes and cheeks in the grip of deep emotion over and over, many times. "My beauty," he managed to say at last, "now do as loyalty requires— let me and that yearning sorrower, the blessed Isolt, be always commended into your care. May your thoughts ever be both with her and with me." —"Gladly will I do so, sir. Now give me leave, I must go. Act as I have advised, and do not take too much concern." —"May it be God, who preserves your honor and your lovely person!" In tears Brangaene inclined her head and then departed sorrowfully. Tristan the sorrower went to cut and set the branch adrift as Brangaene, his counsellor, 14500 had advised him to do. Thus he and his lady Isolt met by the fountain in the shadow secretly at every occasion, some eight times in eight days, without anyone discovering nor any eye observing them. But one night it came about, when Tristan stole into the garden, that Melot, the detestable dwarf, that instrument of the Devil, by some chance, I know not how, began to have his suspicions. Stealthily following Tristan, he watched as he approach the tree, and stood a short while there. Very soon a lady came whom he took into his arms. But who the woman might have been, that he could not be sure of. On the next day after this, Melot followed up his find. A little before the noon hour with every devious intention he came to visit Tristan, his breast suffused with guile and pretended solicitation. "Indeed, Sir," he began, "a deep concern has brought me here. I know that you are much beset by prying eyes and watchfulness. At no small personal risk I have dared to come to you, not least because Queen Isolt, as faithful as she is virtuous, strikes pity into my heart. At this time, unfortunately, she is most concerned for you. She asked me to come to you, since she had no one else who would undertake this mission or could be trusted with her message. She commissioned and implored me to pass to you her greetings with the utmost sincerity, and urgently requested that you come, I know not where, but you would know, to meet her again, where you had met before at nightfall, using exactly the same path 14550 at the same time and hour as you have been accustomed. Of what she means to warn you, I do not know, but believe me, I am more greatly saddened by her pain and your distress than at anything else I know. Now, sir, My Lord Tristan, give me leave, for I must go. I will tell her whatever you wish. I can't stay here any longer— if those at court should find out that I have come here to you, it could go badly for me. They're already saying, and believe that what has gone on between you is something entirely of my doing. I declare before God and before both of you that I never had any part in it." "Friend, are you dreaming?" said Tristan. "What's this tale you're telling me? What do they believe at the court? What have we done, I and my lady? Begone! And God's curse go with you! I tell you this, and I mean it— whatever anyone thinks or says, if my own sense of honor didn't keep me from it, you'd never again be tattling, at court or anywhere else, of the things you dreamed up here." Melot retreated, and rode at once to find Marke in the forest. He now had, he reported, the plain truth of the matter beyond any further doubt. He explained the how and where of what went on at the fountain. "You may see it for yourself," said Melot. "Sire, if you wish, ride there with me tonight. I am certain of one thing— however they may arrange it, they will both be there tonight. Then you can see with your own eyes what goes on between those two." The king rode with Melot to witness his own misery. When they arrived at the orchard 14600 as darkness was already falling to make their planned observations, neither the king nor the dwarf could find a suitable hiding place that would give them a good view and still afford concealment. Now, right next to the fountain stood a mighty olive tree, not tall, but very wide-spreading. To this they turned their efforts, managing to climb up into it, then sat silently among its branches. Tristan, as it grew darker, again stole upon his path. When he arrived in the garden, he made his marks on a twig and laid it in the stream to drift down on its way. This was the earnest message to the yearning Isolt that her companion awaited her. Tristan paced over the grass by the spring, where the shadow of the olive tree fell. Stopping there, to reflect and think over in his heart the unease that afflicted it, he chanced to notice the shadow that Marke and Melot cast by the bright moonlight shining through the branches of the tree. He gave no sign that he had seen these two shapes on the grass, but was struck with great fear, recognizing immediately the danger and the trap. "Lord God," the prayer flashed through his mind, "now preserve Isolt and me! For if she fails to notice the shadows and this trap in time, she'll run right straight into my arms. If that happens, then we'll have nothing but trouble and misery. Good Lord, receive us both by thy mercy into thy care! Watch over Isolt on this path, be always with her, step by step— warn my pure one somehow of this trap and treachery that has been laid for both of us 14650 before she says or does something that someone would think improper! Yes, dear God, have mercy upon her and upon me! Our honor and our lives be this night in thy hand." Now his lady the queen and Brangaene the pure, true friend to both of them, went to sit by the stream to await Tristan's message. They sought their garden of sorrow at every hour possible, when they could avoid the danger, to grieve over their misfortune. There they paced up and down, sorrowing and lamenting, repeating their tale of yearning. Very quickly Brangaene spied the twig with its message drifting by in the stream, and beckoned to her mistress. Isolt snatched it from the water and read "Isolt", read "Tristan." Quickly taking up her cloak she wound it closely over her head and stole away through the flowers toward the tree and the fountain. When she had reached the point were the two caught sight of each other, Tristan stayed where he was. He had not done that before— Never, when she came to him, had he not run to meet her. Now Isolt pondered deeply and earnestly what he might mean by this, and it troubled her heart deeply. She let her head sink forward and hesitantly approached him, much afraid at every step. As she came with measured tread a little nearer to the tree, she saw shadows of three men, although there was but one there. Then at once she understood the danger and the ambush and also had the explanation of Tristan's attitude toward her. "Ah," she thought, "these assassins, 14700 now what's to become of us? How did they lay their snares here? My lord is surely there somewhere, well hidden, wherever he is. I much fear we are betrayed. Protect us now, merciful Lord, help us to get out of this and escape honorably— save him, dear Lord, and save me!" Then the thought occurred to her— did Tristan know about this trap, or had he perhaps not detected it? It seemed to her that he knew something of what was going on, because of his strange behavior. So keeping her distance, she played her part. "Sir Tristan, I am much displeased that you are so certain of my foolish compliance as to expect me to appear and speak to you at such an hour. To preserve and guard your honor toward your uncle and toward me there are much more suitable ways, according better with your loyalty and also with my reputation, than insisting on so late a meeting with such a show of secrecy, presuming on my patience. So speak up—what do you want? I stand here in agitation solely because Brangaene bid me with great insistence, after she had left you today, that I must at least appear and listen to your complaint. In having yielded to her I fear I was much mistaken. She awaits me here, close by, and however safe I may be, considering people's wickedness I would sooner sacrifice a finger from this my hand rather that it should be known that I was present with you here. So many tales have been invented and spread about you and me— There are many who would swear you and I were involved in some illicit relationship. 14750 The whole court echoes with this fable. God himself knows well how I am disposed toward you, to which I might add a word: let God be my witness, and may my sins not be atoned by anything more nor less that by my high regard for you, to that degree, in my heart— I declare, before God, that never did I love a man— all men, today and always remain excluded from my heart— except that one man alone to whom I surrendered the blossom of my maidenhood. Now that my lord, King Marke, entertains such suspicions concerning you, Sir Tristan, God knows, in this he is misguided, the more so, since he has learned what my feelings are for you. All those who spread such tales about me are much deceived, before God. They cannot see into my heart. In a hundred thousand ways I have proved my esteem for you because of the favor in which I hold those I am obliged to favor. I am not false to anyone, be it knight or commoner— it's only right, on the contrary, and also does me proper honor— that I should treat with respect anyone my lord Marke favors or accepts as kin. No matter how this is perverted, I will not turn away from you because of all these vicious lies. Sir, now tell me, what you wanted, because I soon must depart. I cannot stand here forever." "Exalted Lady," Tristan said, I have not the slightest doubt that insofar as you are able, you would never say or do anything opposed to virtue. And yet a host of slanderers by entangling you and me with lies have robbed us, without grounds, 14800 of my sovereign's favor, through no fault of our own, as God himself will be our witness. Your Highness, now consider this, most virtuous of queens, and be pleased to recognize my innocence in this matter respecting both you and him— intercede with my lord that he may show me royal forbearance, by his noble courtliness suspending the enmity he feels for me, without reason, at least for another week. Until then, may he and you conduct yourselves toward me as though I were in your favor. I am making preparations to take my departure. All of us may be dishonored, my lord the king, you, and I, if your attitude is hostile while I make ready to depart. Then our enemies will gloat— 'you see, there was something to it— look at that, there goes Tristan, slinking away, who knows where, fleeing the king's royal displeasure.' " "Sir Tristan," Isolt replied, "sooner would I suffer death than make some special case for my lord to indulge you any privilege on my behalf. Surely, you know very well that I have fallen, long since, into disrespect because of you. If he should know, or find out that I had come to meet you thus alone, late at night, I would deserve such disrepute that never again would he hold me in any regard or affection. But if it should come to this, that, of course, I cannot foresee. And still it confounds me how my lord, King Marke, ever conceived these suspicions, or who put the idea in his head. Never have I known you, sir— and we women are not easily fooled— 14850 to practice any seduction in your behavior toward me, nor have I ever used on you any deceptive enticements. I know not what has brought upon us such undeserved ill repute, lamentable and vicious as it is— may God in his righteousness take notice of this evil and be quick to remedy it. Now, sir, dismiss me— I will depart, and do you also. Your burden and affliction, before God, pain me deeply. Indeed I had many reasons to hold you in great disfavor, which, however, I now renounce, moved as I am to see that at this time, because of me, you must endure such unjust blame. For this I feel I should forbear, and when the day and time arrive that you must take your departure, sir, may God preserve and keep you, and may the Queen of Heaven take you into her care. As to the request you have made— if I knew that my influence would attain anything, I would act and advise in such a way as might promise some benefit or help for you. I greatly fear, however, my lord would turn it against me. But no matter what the event or what hazard I may run, I will defend you from the charge of having acted disloyally toward my lord or toward me. Whether I succeed or not, I will endorse your request."
"I thank you, My Lady," said Tristan, "and inform me of what response you receive in this matter. The reply might well indicate I would be wise to take flight— I may never see you again. If so, whatever then befalls me, oh, most virtuous of queens, be upon you the benedictions 14900 of the entire heavenly host! For God well knows, earth or ocean never bore so pure a woman. My Lady, your person and your soul, your reputation and your life be ever commended unto God!"
Thus they bid each other farewell. The queen retraced her steps, sighing and sorrowing, murmuring and amour-ing, mumbling covert miseries of body and of heart. Tristan the sorrower departed also sorrowing and weeping inconsolably. Marke, much saddened, sat there in his tree, regretting with great sadness in every fiber of his being that ever he had suspected his nephew and his wife, and cursed with a thousand curses the curs who put him up to it with all the force of heart and tongue. He roughly castigated the wretched dwarf Melot for having so deceived him and desecrated his pure wife. They clambered back down the tree and rode off to the hunting camp sunk in deepest displeasure. Marke and Melot each bore a regret of his own: Melot the deception he was falsely accused of, Marke the blame of distrust he had laid on wife and nephew and worse yet on himself so degrading to all of them, which he had then proclaimed throughout the court and country. As morning broke, he called together all the members of his hunt and requested them to carry on, while he returned to the palace.
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