Marke in his confusion was now seriously weighed down from brooding incessantly over how he should go about resolving this dilemma and dispelling these delusions— to throw aside the load of doubt from his own mind and cleanse the court itself from the insinuations that he himself harbored concerning his wife Isolt and his nephew Tristan. He summoned all the princes on whose counsel he relied. Making his displeasure known, he told them how these rumors that had sprung up in the court had reached the point of threatening his own marriage and honor. He declared, that while he doubted the allegations against them that had become generally known and widely disseminated, he would now grant his queen no more personal intimacies until she confirmed publicly her innocence and faithfulness. He besought their advice as to how he should dispel all doubts as to her failings with a final judgment, yes or no, in consonance with his honor. His confidants and retainers 15300 unanimously advised him to convene a grand council at Lunders in Engelant, and there present his case before the gathered clergy, those learned church scholars who so well know divine law.
The council was duly proclaimed with venue at Lunders following Whitsuntide in the latter part of May. The priesthood and the laity gathered there in great numbers in response to the royal summons, as the king had ordained, also Marke and Isolt, both much discomfited with anxieties and fears. Isolt feared greatly for her life and honor, and Marke was concerned that his pleasure and dignity would be much impaired because of his consort Isolt. Now Marke, presiding at the council laid his plaint before the barons. He was aggrieved, he said, because of this vicious tale, and charged them stringently before God and by their honor to devise and promulgate, if it lay within their power, some stratagem or remedy enabling him to do justice or avenge this ill, if need be, thus laying it finally to rest, however the verdict might fall. This gave rise to much discussion and opinions freely expressed, some favorable, some not, some well-meant, some otherwise.
One of the princes then arose of those in attendance at the council, by both years and learning well-qualified to advise, commanding of stature and mature, as gray as he was wise, the Bishop of Thamise. Leaning on his staff, he said, "My Lord and King, now hear me. 15350 Ye have brought us here before you, princes all, we of Engelant, by loyalty and right of counsel of which you now stand in need. I, too, am of princely rank— Sire, I hold my place among them. I am so far advanced in days that I may well do as I please on no authority but my own and speak my mind without reserve. Let each of them speak for himself— for my part, Sire, I will declare my own thoughts and opinion. If my idea seem good to you and earns your favor, then hearken to my counsel and to me. My Lady and our Sir Tristan are suspected of impropriety, yet neither has been convicted by any sure proof or evidence, if what I hear is correct. How shall you counter hostile talk with hostile countermeasures? How are you to pass judgment upon your nephew and your queen, upon their honor and their lives, since they have not been detected in any kind or sort of misdeed, nor can such crimes be plainly proved? Comes now someone accusing Tristan of this or that indecency, without bothering to prove the charge, as by law he should. Someone, say, brings disrepute and slander upon Isolt, although without evidence. But in consideration of the court's deep suspicions, it would devolve upon you to avoid the queen's company either in bed or at table, until she prove her innocence both toward you and toward her country, in which this slander is widespread and repeated freely every day. Unfortunately, tales like this find ready ears everywhere, whether for truth or falsehood. Be it truth or fabrication that this slander circulates, 15400 those who see evil in it easily instigate more dangerous assumptions. Whatever may be behind it all, whether it is true or false, the slander and imputation have spread so far through idle talk as to cause you personal injury and earn the court's condemnation. Now this, My Lord, is my advice— considering that My Lady, the queen, stands accused in this fashion of such and such delictions, let her be summoned to appear before us all, here in council, to reply to your questioning, that we may hear both sides of it, as this court has every right to." "Sir, I concur," the king replied. "Your address and advice please me and seem proper."
Isolt was sent for, and she came before the council in the palace. When she had been properly seated, the bishop of Thamise, advanced in wisdom and years, conformed to his king's commands. He arose and addressed her, "Lady Isolt, most virtuous queen, let what I say not offend you. My Lord the king commissions me to speak here in his name, and I but do his royal will. Now be God himself my witness, that whatever, and unwillingly, I may here bring to light inpinging on your dignity, that I do with great reluctance. Ah, that this might have been spared you! Most blessed and excellent queen, he who is your lord and sovereign delegates me to question you about a general public offense. I do not know, nor does he, whence this imputation arose, except that there is much talk in the court and the whole country involving you and Sir Tristan. If God wills, My Queen, My Lady, you shall be held innocent 15450 of any such indiscretions. He is nonetheless aware of much gossip pervading the court. My Lord himself has found nothing that might incriminate you at all. But from stories pervading the court his doubts have been aroused, not from any kind of evidence. On these grounds he addresses you, so that his friends and his retainers shall hear for themselves whether he can put an end to this circulating lie and slander with the support of this council. It seems to me well-conceived that you should defend yourself by answering to every question put to you in our presence."
Isolt, always aware, the undeceived queen, when it came her turn to speak, rose from her place and addressed them. "Your Majesty, My Lord Bishop, Barons of this land and court, now hear this and know it well. If My Lord's reputation or my own is in question, I am more than ready to speak, now and at any other time. My Lords all, well I know that for a year now, at least, how stories of my depravity have spread throughout land and court. You also know, one and all, that none can live so purely before the world and at all times as might be perfectly desired, above every taint or censure. It thus is no surprise to me that I should be called to answer. I expect no immunity from charges or imputations of misconduct or impropriety, the more so as an alien with no one to rely upon, neither allies nor relations. No one here stands by me, no one sorrows for my sorrow. All of you, every one, be he poor or powerful, 15500 is ready to believe how unclean I am. If I but knew some way, what remedy to seek here, how to make my innocence credible in your eyes and thus restore in full My Lord's tainted honor, my first wish would be to do so. How, then, do you advise? Whatever test may be required I am prepared to undergo, that every possible suspicion be at last done away with, but in addition, above all, that My Lord's and my reputation be established beyond reproach."
"My queen and lady," said the king, with this I will be satisfied. That I may have final justice, as you yourself have proposed, you shall give us certainty. Appear before the general court, submit yourself to the test of laying hold of the blazing iron— this is our royal decision." The queen accepted the verdict, pledging to appear for trial as the council had decreed, after six weeks had elapsed in the city of Carliun. The council then was dismissed, the king and royal barons departed.
Isolt was left there alone, much troubled with apprehension. Trouble and worry together oppressed her more than ever. She worried for her reputation, and now the secret fear pursued her that the truth of her untruthfulness was going to be put to the test. Between these two anxieties she hardly knew what to do. She began to lay this dilemma upon the mercy of Christ who is ever ready to help in need. To him she commended fervently amid much prayer and fasting all her anguish and distress. Trapped as she was by circumstance, 15550 she invented a ruse in her heart, relying on God's courtliness. She wrote down and sent a letter to Tristan, bidding him come to her if he could possibly manage it in Carliun on the morning of the day she would arrive there, and watch for her on the landing.
This was accomplished. Tristan came, in disguise as a pilgrim, having much disfigured himself with stained, swollen face, and much changed in body and dress. When Marke and Isolt arrived and were approaching the dock, the queen spotted him at once, easily recognizing him. Just as the ship touched land, Isolt commanded her retinue that not they, but yon pilgrim if indeed he had the strength should perform the office she required, to be enlisted, in God's name, to take her up and carry her across the gangway to the landing, since at a time such as this she would permit no knight to do so. A chorus of voices quickly called, "hither with you, holy man, bear my lady to the landing!" He complied, as commanded. Taking up the lady, his queen, he enfolded her in his arms and started to bring her to land. Isolt at once whispered to him that as he came to the dock he must pretend to stumble and fall down together with her, whatever be the consequences. He did as she had directed. As he first set foot on land, the supposed pilgrim sank down and fell as though by accident, but judging his fall carefully so that he landed next to her, in her arms, at her side.
They did not rest there long— a swarm of royal attendants armed with staves and clubs 15600 went at the fallen pilgrim to work him over thoroughly. "No, no, stand back!" Isolt exclaimed. "This pilgrim could not help himself. He is frail and much weakened— he fell by no fault of his own." Instead of violence, they began to praise her for her grace and estimate her to themselves for charitably refraining from punishing the poor man. Isolt said, with a smile, "would it not be very strange if this man, on pilgrimage, wanted to have fun with me?" This only brought her further praise for her virtue and courtliness. Her honor was on every tongue and every man respected her. Marke watched, as all this happened, hearing everything they said. Isolt then went on to say, "I don't know what will happen next. Surely all of you must see that now I cannot take an oath never to have held a man except for Marke, in my arms, nor that no other ever lay with me at my side."
So, with much good-humored joking about the prostrated pilgrim, they mounted and began the ride for the gates of Carliun. Gathered there were many a baron, high prelates and armed knighthood, and common folk in great numbers— the bishops and the clergy who were there to read the mass and sanctify the proceedings were also in full readiness to perform their appointed office. The iron had been put in the fire. Isolt, the good and pious queen, had distributed her finery, all her silver and jewelry, her gold and other possessions such as horses and fine garments, that God should grant her leniency for her actual transgressions and restore her to full honor. 15650 She had then entered the church where she listened to the mass with sincere devotion. The queen in her wisdom and goodness performed her reverence piously. Next to her body she wore a penitential hair shirt and over this a woollen cloak that reached down to no more that a hand's breadth above her ankles. Its rough sleeves she had rolled nearly up to her elbows, exposing arms and feet bare. Many a heart and many an eye looked with compassion on the sight, her rude clothing and appearance attracting the notice of everyone. And now the relic was presented upon which she was to vow. Thus Isolt was adjured to confess her transgressions before God and the world. Isolt had already rendered her life and honor to God entirely. She stretched forth her hand and heart anxiously, with good reason, to touch the relic and make her oath. With both hand and heart she gave herself into God's grace for preservation and protection.
There were many there of unfriendly disposition who would gladly formulate the oath the queen would be required to take in such a way as to entrap her. That bitter gallnut of envy, the seneschal Marjodoc, was always working here or there in every way to bring her down. Many others were inclined to grant her full respect and give her every advantage. The argument raged back and forth as to what the oath should say— this one against her, another for, as people do in such matters. "My Lord and King," observed Isolt, "whatever anyone may say, my oath must be formulated to your own satisfaction. 15700 Therefore consider this yourself, as to what I say or do, if this will be acceptable as my solemn vow before you— there's far too much advice here. Now hear, what I will swear to you: that never has any man had knowledge of my body nor at any time has another now living lain in my arms or beside me, excepting you and him, whom I cannot deny nor abjure with any vow whom you with your own eyes saw lying in my arms, that impoverished pilgrim, so help me My Savior and all the saints there are to attain righteousness through this ordeal. If that is not sufficient, Sire, I will amend what I swear however you may require." "My Lady," the king replied, "that seems to me enough, as far as I can judge. Now take the iron in your hand, and as to what you specified, God be your aid in this trial!" "Amen," returned the lovely Isolt. In God's name she grasped the ingot, carried it, and was not burned.
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