Isolt was much cherished by her lord, King Marke, beloved and looked up to, honored and celebrated by all the land's people. Since she was seen to have so many gifts and virtues, whatever had tongue to speak loudly spoke her praises. Meanwhile, from time to time she and her special amis had many chances for diversion, to take their pleasure early or late, for no one thought this unusual. There was not a man or woman who saw anything improper in it. She remained, after all, everywhere under his protection, and so could do as she pleased.
Soon she began to consider and review her whole situation. No one knew of her deceit and the trick she had used with the exception of Brangaene. Were it not for her alone, she might have no fear at all 12700 about her good reputation. This concern grew on her as she began to worry that Brangaene might possibly have some feeling for Marke that would lead her to betray the whole story of her disgrace and how it all came about. The queen in her imagination is an example, in this affair, of how people often fear scorn more than God. She summoned two servants, unfamiliars from Engelant, and required the two of them to swear oath upon oath, and give surety upon surety, then commanded them by their lives that whatever task she gave them, it should be accomplished and kept strictly secret. Then she told them her design, revealing murderous intentions: "This is what I require. I'm sending a girl with you, for the three of you to ride right away, and secretly, somewhere into the forest, far or near, I care not, wherever it may suit you, as long as no one knows about it. When you're there, cut off her head, but pay attention to what she says, and report every word to me. Bring me back her tongue as proof. And you may be assured of this: however I may arrange it, on the very next day I will create both of you full members of the knighthood, grant you fiefs and rewards, so long as then I shall live." They confirmed her instructions. Isolt sent for Brangaene. "Brangaene," she said, "look at me— do I seem pale to you? I don't know what's wrong with me— my head hurts, very badly. You must gather us some herbs. Unless we do something 12750 about this situation I think it will be the end of me." Faithful Brangaene replied, "My Lady, your discomfort greatly distresses me. There's no sense in waiting. Send me wherever you will, that I can obtain something that will help you in your pain." "Yes, I have two servants here. Ride with them. They'll show you where." "Of course, My Lady. That I will." She mounted and rode away with them. Soon they came to the forest where grew herbs, sprouts, and grasses in such plenty as she needed. Brangaene wished to dismount there, but the riders led her further on into the wilds and desolation. When they reached the thickest part, far from any field or clearing, they seized the courtly girl, always loyal and worthy, seating her there on the ground with sorrow and misgivings, and both drew their swords. Brangaene, out of sheer fright, fell flat on the earth and lay there a long time. Her heart pounded, her limbs trembled. At last, in shock, she looked up. "Mercy, sirs," she implored, "before God, what are you doing?" —"You must now leave this life." —"Ah! But why? You must tell me!" "What have you done," one asked, "against the queen? She has commanded that you be slain. Now that must be. Your death has been decreed by your and our Lady Isolt." Brangaene, folding her hands before them, cried in tears, "Sirs, no, by your kindness and by God, at least suspend this command— let me live long enough that I may give you an answer. Then kill me, and do it quickly. You must say to my lady and know this, yourselves as well, that never have I offended her 12800 in any matter that I supposed might cause her any trouble, unless it be one thing, and that I can hardly credit. When we two sailed from Irlant, each had a certain dress. We had chosen these two and carefully selected them from all other garments to bring with us on the voyage— two smocks, as white as snow. While we were still at sea but approaching our landfall here, the sun began to shine so warmly that during the day she could seldom bear to have anything on other than just her smock, still so white and so clean— thus she grew very fond of it. Soon she was wearing it so much that she rather overdid it and badly soiled its pure whiteness. But I had put mine away carefully in my wardrobe, concealed there and preserved in all its pure, white folds. Then when my lady landed here and took the king as her lord, the time came to sleep with him, but her smock was not unused, so clean as it rightly should have been and as she would have wished it. So I did lend her mine, although I forgot myself so far as to do it unwillingly— unless this is what troubles her, God well knows, that otherwise never did I at any time go against her wish or will. For God's sake, I ask you, give her my best greetings, as serving girl to her mistress. And may God in his mercy preserve her and guard her honor, watch over her life and well-being. May my death be forgiven her. Now I yield my soul to God, and my body to your requirements." The two squires exchanged looks filled with consternation 12850 and took pity on the girl so pure in her tearful fervor. They both felt the greatest regret and a deep sorrow seized them at ever having undertaken to commit such a murder. Having found no reason at all, nor being able to invent one, that she deserved to die and therefore could be killed, they withdrew to talk it over, and came to an agreement. Whatever might befall them, they would let her live. The faithful two then bound her high up in a tree, lest the wolves come and take her before they were able to return. Then they caught one of their hounds, and having cut its tongue out, they took that and rode away. These two servants then told the murderous Isolt that they had killed her as ordered, with much grief and lamentation. Both of them declared the tongue that they had brought to be hers. "Now tell me," Isolt demanded, "what information did she give?" They told her what they had heard, from the beginning to the end, concealing nothing of it from her. "Yes, but was that all?" she asked. —"Yes, My Lady." "Ah, alas," cried Isolt, "what a dreadful story! You miserable murderers, what do you think you have done? You're going to hang, both of you!" "But, Mistress," they stammered, "what do you mean by this talk? Most marvelous Lady Isolt, you yourself strictly charged us and requested earnestly that we should take and kill her." —"Request? What's this about request? I trusted my handmaiden to you, into your protection and care for her safety on the way to fetch certain things for me that would be for my benefit. 12900 You will restore her to me, or it will cost you both your necks— you wicked, murderous vipers, both of you are going to hang or be burned at the stake!" "Surely," they tried to protest, "Lady, in your heart and your mind you're being neither pure nor fair— your tongue can't be trusted. Lady, suspend your vengeance. Rather than throw away our lives, we'll give her back to you unharmed, safe and sound." "Stop your lying," Isolt shrieked through a shower of tears, "that's enough. Is Brangaene still alive or is she dead?" —"Wondrous Isolt, she's alive." —"Ah, bring her here to me, by all I promised you before— that indeed you shall have." —"As good as done, Lady Isolt!" Isolt held one of them there, while the other rode at speed back to where they left Brangaene and returned her to her mistress. When she had been thus delivered, Isolt took her into her arms, kissed her cheeks, kissed her mouth, once and a thousand times. The two servants she rewarded with twenty marks of gold upon their word of honor never to tell what had happened.
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