Here is the translation of the Roman de Tristan et Iseult of 1900 by Joseph Bedier. Here is the fifteenth part: Iseult aux Blanches Mains.
Lovers could not live or die without each other. Separated, it was not life, nor death, but life and death at the same time.
By seas, islands and countries, Tristan wanted to flee his misery. He saw his land of Loonnois again, where Rohalt le Foi-Tenant received his son with tears of tenderness; but unable to bear to live in the peace of his land, Tristan went through the duchies and kingdoms, seeking adventures. From Loonnois to Friesland, from Friesland to Gavoie, from Germany to Spain, he served many lords, completed many rights of way. But, for two years, no news came to him from the Cornwall, no friend, no message.
Then he believed that Iseut had despised him and that she was forgetting him.
Now it happened that one day, riding with the only Gorvenal, he entered the land of Brittany. They crossed a devastated plain: everywhere ruined walls, villages without inhabitants, fields cleared by fire, and their horses trampled ashes and coals. On the deserted moor, Tristan thought:
“I am weary and recruited. What do I use these adventures for? My lady is far away, I will never see her again. For two years, what has she not made me seek by the countries? Not a message from her. In Tintagel, the king honors and serves her; she lives in joy. Certainly the bell of the enchanted dog accomplishes its work well! She forgets me, and she doesn't care mourning and the joys of yesteryear, he cares little about the puny who wanders through this desolate country. In turn, will I never forget the one who forgets me? will I never find someone to heal my misery? "
For two days, Tristan and Gorvenal passed the fields and villages without seeing a man, a rooster, a dog. On the third day, at the hour of none, they approached a hill on which stood an old chapel, and, very near, the cabin of a hermit. The hermit did not wear woven clothes, but a goatskin, with rags of wool on the spine. Prostrated on the ground, his knees and elbows bare, he begged Mary Magdalene to inspire him with salutary prayers. He welcomed the newcomers, and while Gorvenal established the horses, he disarmed Tristan, then arranged to eat him. He gave them no delicacies; but barley bread kneaded with ash and spring water. After the meal, as night had fallen, and they were sitting around the fire, Tristan asked what was this ruined land:
"Handsome lord," said the hermit, "it is the land of Brittany, held by Duke Hoël." It used to be a beautiful country, rich in meadows and plowed land: here mills, there apple trees, there farms. But Count Riol de Nantes made a mess there; its foragers everywhere started the fire, and everywhere carried off the prey. Its men are rich for a long time: so goes the war.
- Brother, said Tristan, why did Count Riol so despise your lord Hoël?
- So I will tell you, lord, the occasion of war. Know that Riol was the vassal of Duke Hoël. Now, the Duke has a daughter, beautiful among all the daughters of kings, and Count Riol wanted to take her as his wife. But her father refused to give her to a vassal, and Count Riol tried to kidnap her by force. Many men have died for this quarrel. "
"Can Duke Hoël still support his war?"
- With great difficulty, my lord. However, his last castle, Carhaix, still resists, because the walls are strong, and strong is the heart of the son of Duke Hoël, Kaherdin, the good knight. But the enemy urges them on and starves them: will they be able to hold out for long? "
Tristan asked how far away was Carhaix castle.
“Sire, only two miles away. "
They parted ways and slept. In the morning, after the hermit had sung and they had shared the barley and ash bread, Tristan took leave of the prud'homme, and rode towards Carhaix.
When he stopped at the foot of the closed walls, he saw a troop of men standing on the rampart walk, and asked for the duke. Hoël was among these men with his son Kaherdin. He made himself known, and Tristan said to him:
"I am Tristan, king of Loonnois, and Marc, the King of Cornwall, is my uncle. I knew, Lord, that your vassals were wronging you and I came to offer you my service.
- Alas! Sire Tristan, go your way and may God reward you! How to welcome you here? We have no more food; no wheat, nothing but beans and barley to subsist.
- What does it matter? said Tristan. I lived in a forest, for two years, of herbs, roots and venison, and know that I found this life good. Order this door to be opened for me. "
Kaherdin then said:
"Receive him, my father, since he is of such courage, that he may take his share of our goods and our ills. "
They greeted him with honor. Kaherdin showed his host the strong walls and the main tower, well flanked by palisaded breteches where the crossbowmen lurked in ambush. Of the slots, he made her see in the plain, in the distance, the tents and pavilions planted by Duke Riol. When they had returned to the threshold of the castle, Kaherdin said to Tristan:
"Now, my dear friend, we will go up to the room where my mother and my sister are. "
The two, holding hands, entered the women's room. The mother and the daughter, seated on a quilt, adorned an English straw with pride and sang a song of canvas: they said how Belle Doette, seated in the wind under the white thorn, waits and regrets Doon her friend, if slow to come. Tristan greeted them and they greeted him, then the two knights sat down beside them. Kaherdin, showing the stole his mother was embroidering:
"See," he said, "beautiful friend Tristan," what a worker my lady is: how marvelously she knows how to adorn stoles and chasubles, to give alms to poor sheep! and how my sister's hands make the golden threads run over this white samit! By faith, sister-in-law, your name is Iseut aux Blanches Mains! "
Then Tristan, knowing that her name was Iseut, smiled and looked at her more gently.
Now, Count Riol had set up his camp three miles from Carhaix, and for many days the men of Duke Hoël had no longer dared to cross the bars to assail him. But, the next day, Tristan, Kaherdin and twelve young knights left Carhaix, their shrouds on, their helmets laced, and rode under pine trees as far as the approaches to the enemy tents; then, rushing forward, they carried off by force a cart from Count Riol. From that day on, varying cunning and prowess many times, they toppled his badly guarded tents, attacked his convoys, grieved and killed his men, and never returned to Carhaix without bringing back some prey. Through this, Tristan and Kaherdin began to show each other faith and tenderness, so much that they swore friendship and companionship. They never distorted this saying, as history will teach you.
However, while they returned from these rides, speaking of chivalry and courtesy, Kaherdin often rented to his dear companion his sister Iseut aux Blanches Mains, the simple, the beautiful.
One morning, as dawn had just dawned, a lookout hurried down from his tower and ran through the halls, shouting:
“Lords, you have slept too much! Get up, Riol is coming to assault! "
Knights and bourgeois armed themselves and ran to the walls: they saw the helms shining in the plain, the cendal pennons floating, and all of Riol's host advancing in fine arrows. Duke Hoël and Kaherdin immediately deployed the first knights' battles in front of the gates. When they came within reach of a bow, they broached the horses, spears lowered, and the arrows fell on them like April rain.
But Tristan was arming himself in his turn, with those whom the lookout had woken up last. He ties up his breeches, passes the bliaut, the narrow covers and the golden spurs; he puts on the hauberk, fixes the helmet on the face; he mounts, spurs his horse as far as the plain and appears, the shield drawn up against his chest, crying: "Carhaix!" It was about time: Hoel's men were already retreating towards the bailes. Then it was beautiful to see the melee of downed horses and heartbroken vassals, the blows struck by the young knights, and the grass which, under their feet, became bloody. Ahead of everyone, Kaherdin had proudly stopped when he saw a daring baron, the brother of Count Riol, dawning against him. The two collided with lowered spears. The Nantais broke his without disturbing Kaherdin, who with a safer stroke tore the opponent's shield apart and planted his burnished iron in his side to the gonfanon. Lifted from the saddle, the knight empties the pommels and falls.
At the cry of his brother, Duke Riol rushed against Kaherdin, the brake abandoned. But Tristan blocked his way. When they collided, Tristan's spear broke in his hands, and Riol's, meeting the chest of the enemy horse, penetrated the flesh and laid it dead on the meadow. Tristan, as soon as he gets up, with a trimmed sword in his hand:
"Coward," he said, "the dead male who leaves the master to upset the horse!" You won't get out of this place alive!
- I think you're lying! Riol replied, pushing his steed on him.
But Tristan dodged the attack, and, raising his arm, dropped his blade heavily on Riol's helm, he embarked the circle and carried off the nose. The blade slipped from the knight's shoulder to the horse's side, which staggered and fell in turn. Riol managed to get rid of it and straightened up; on foot, the shields pierced, split, hauberk unraveled, they demand and assail each other; finally tristan knocks Riol on the carbuncle of his helm. The circle gave way, and the blow was struck so strongly that the baron fell on his knees and on his hands.
"Get up, if you can, vassal," cried Tristan to him; at the wrong hour have you come to this meadow; you must die! "
Riol gets on his feet, but Tristan shoots him down again with a blow which rips open the helmet, sliced off the headdress and uncovered the skull. Riol implored thank you, asked to be saved, and Tristan received his sword. He took it in time, for the Nantes inhabitants from all sides had come to the rescue of their lord. But already their lord was recreating.
Riol promised to go to Duke Hoël's prison, to swear once again homage and faith, to restore the towns and villages that had been burnt down. By his order, the battle died down, and his host moved away.
When the victors had returned to Carhaix, Kaherdin said to his father:
“Sire, summon Tristan, and detain him; he is no better knight and your country needs a baron of such prowess. "
Having taken the advice of his men, Duke Hoël called Tristan:
“Friend, I cannot love you too much, for you have kept this land for me. So I want to pay you back. My daughter, Iseut aux Blanches Mains, was born to dukes, kings and queens. Take it, I'll give it to you.
"Sire, I'll take it," said Tristan.
Ah! lords, why does he say this word? But for this word he died.
Day is taken, term fixed. The Duke is coming with his friends, Tristan with his. The chaplain sings mass. In front of everyone, at the door of the moutier according to the law of the Holy Church, Tristan marries Iseut aux Blanches Mains. The nuptials were large and rich.
But when night came, while Tristan's men stripped him of his clothes, it happened that, removing the too narrow sleeve of his bliau, they took off and dropped from her finger her ring of green jasper, the ring of Iseut the Blonde. It sounds clear on the tiles. Tristan looks and sees him. Then his old love wakes up, and Tristan knows his crime.
He remembered the day when Iseut the Blonde had given him this ring: it was in the forest where, for him, she had led the harsh life. And, lying next to the other Iseut, he saw the Morois hut again. By what forsennery had he in his heart accused his friend of treason? No, she suffered for him all misery, and he alone had betrayed her. But he also took in compassion Iseut his wife, the simple, the beautiful. The two Iseut had loved him at the wrong time. To both of them he had lied about his faith.
However, Iseut aux Blanches Mains was astonished to hear him sigh, stretched out at his side. She finally said to him, a little ashamed:
“Dear lord, have I offended you in anything? Why don't you give me a single kiss? Tell me, that I know my fault, and I will make you a fine amendment, if I may.
- Friend, said Tristan, do not be angry, but I made a wish. Not long ago, in another country, I fought a dragon, and I was about to perish, when I remembered the Mother of God: I promised her that, delivered from the monster by her courtesy, if I ever took a wife, for a whole year I would refrain from hugging and kissing her ...
"So then," said Iseut to the White Hands, "I will suffer it simply. "
But when the maids, in the morning, adjusted the gimps of married women to her, she smiled sadly, and thought that she had little right to this adornment.