Tristan and Iseult: The Morholt of Ireland

Here is the translation of the Roman de Tristan et Iseult of 1900 by Joseph Bedier. Here is the second part: The Morholt of Ireland.

The Morholt of Ireland

The Morholt of Ireland

When Tristan returned there, Marc and his entire barony were in deep mourning. For the King of Ireland had equipped a fleet to ravage the Cornwall, if Marc still refused, as he had been doing for fifteen years, to pay a tribute formerly paid by his ancestors. However, know that, according to old treaties of agreement, the Irish could raise on Cornwall in the first year three hundred books of copper, the second year three hundred pounds of fine silver, and the third year three hundred pounds of gold. But when the fourth year came, they took away three hundred young boys and three hundred young girls, of the age of fifteen, drawn by lot between the families of Cornwall. Now, this year, the king had sent to Tintagel, to carry his message, a giant knight, the Morholt, whose sister he had married, and whom no one had ever been able to defeat in battle. But King Mark, by sealed letters, had summoned all the barons of his land to his court, to take their advice.

At the end of the day, when the barons were assembled in the vaulted hall of the palace and Mark was seated under the canopy, Morholt spoke thus:

"King Mark, hear for the last time the summons from the King of Ireland, my lord. It sows you to finally pay the tribute you owe it. Because you have refused him for too long, he asks you to hand over to me on this day three hundred young boys and three hundred young girls, of the age of fifteen, drawn by lot among the families of Cornwall. My nave, anchored at the port of Tintagel, will carry them so that they become our serfs. Yet - and I do not except you alone, King Mark, as it should be - if any of your barons wants to prove by battle that the King of Ireland levies this tribute against the law, I will accept his pledge. Which of you Cornish lords wants to fight for the franchise of this country? "

The barons glanced at each other on the sly, then bowed their heads. The latter said to himself: "See, unhappy man, the stature of the Morholt of Ireland: he is stronger than four robust men." Look at her sword: don't you know that by spell she has made the heads of the boldest champions fly, for so many years that the King of Ireland has sent this giant to carry his challenges through vassal lands? Petty, do you want to seek death? What is the use of tempting God? This other was thinking: "Have I brought you up, dear sons, for the work of the serfs, and you, dear daughters, for those of the daughters of joy? But my death would not save you. And all were silent.

Morholt says again:

"Which of you Cornish lords wants to take my pledge?" I offer him a good battle: because, three days from here, we will reach Saint-Samson Island on boats, off Tintagel. There, your knight and I, we will fight one on one, and the praise of having attempted battle will be reflected on all his relatives. "

They were still silent, and the Morholt looked like the gyrfalcon that one locks up in a cage with small birds: when he enters, all become dumb.

The Morholt spoke for the third time:

"Well, handsome Cornish lords, since this party seems the noblest to you, draw lots for your children and I will take them away! But I did not believe that this country was inhabited only by serfs. "

Then Tristan knelt at the feet of King Mark, and said:

“Lord King, please grant me this gift, I will do battle. "

In vain did King Mark want him to hijack. He was such a young knight: what use would his boldness do him? But Tristan gave his pledge to Morholt, and Morholt received him.

On the appointed day, Tristan placed himself on a vermeil ash quilt, and had himself armed for the high adventure. He put on the hauberk and the helm of burnished steel. The barons wept with pity on the valiant and with shame on themselves. “Ah! Tristan, they said to each other, bold baron, beautiful youth, why did I not, rather than you, undertake this battle! My death would bring less mourning on this earth!… ”The bells ring, and all, those of the barony and those of the small class, old men, children and women, weeping and praying, escort Tristan to the shore. They still hoped, for hope in the hearts of men lives on scanty pasture.

Tristan got into a boat alone and leaned towards Saint-Samson Island. But the Morholt had stretched a rich purple sail to his mast, and he was the first to land on the island. He was tying his boat to the shore, when Tristan, touching land in his turn, pushed his foot back towards the sea.

"Vassal, what are you doing? "said the Morholt," and why did you not hold back your boat like me by a mooring line?

- Vassal, what's the point? answered Tristan. One of us will come back alone alive from here: isn't one boat enough for him? "

And both, excited in the fight by outrageous words, plunged into the island.

No one saw the bitter battle, but three times it seemed that the sea breeze carried a furious cry to the shore. Then, as a sign of mourning, the women clapped their palms in chorus, and the Morholt's companions, massed apart in front of their tents, laughed. Finally, around the hour of none, we saw in the distance stretching the sail of purple; the Irishman's boat pulled away from the island, and a cry of distress resounded: "The Morholt!" the Morholt! But, as the boat grew, suddenly, on top of a wave, it pointed to a knight standing in the prow; each of his fists held out a brandished sword: it was Tristan. Twenty boats immediately flew to meet him, and the young men were swimming. The valiant rushed out onto the shore, and, while the kneeling mothers kissed his iron hose, he cried out to the Morholt's companions:

“Lords of Ireland, the Morholt fought well. See: my sword is chipped, a fragment of the blade is stuck in his skull. Take this piece of steel, lords: it is the tribute of Cornwall! "

So he went up to Tintagel. As it passed, the freed children shouted green branches and rich curtains hung over the windows. But, when among the songs of joy, noises of bells, horns and whelks, so resounding that one might not have heard God thunder, Tristan reached the castle, he sank into the arms of King Mark: and blood flowed from his wounds.

To great discomfiture, Morholt's companions approached Ireland. Formerly, when he returned to the port of Weisefort, the Morholt rejoiced to see his men assembled who acclaimed him in crowds, and the queen his sister, and his niece, Iseult the Blonde, with golden hair, whose beauty shone already like the rising dawn. Tenderly, they welcomed him, and if he had received any wound, they healed him; for they knew the balms and beverages which revive the wounded already like the dead. But of what use would the magic recipes, the herbs picked at the propitious hour, the potions be to them now? He lay dead, sewn up in deerskin, and the fragment of the enemy's sword was still buried in his skull. Iseut la Blonde took it out to lock it in an ivory box, precious as a reliquary. And bent over the great corpse, the mother and the daughter, endlessly repeating the praises of the dead and relentlessly hurling the same imprecation against the murderer, in turn led the women in funeral regret. From that day Iseut the Blonde learned to hate the name of Tristan de Loonnois.

But, in Tintagel, Tristan languished: poisonous blood flowed from his wounds. The doctors knew that the Morholt had driven a poisoned spear into his flesh, and, as their drinks and their theriac could not save him, they returned him to the care of God. Such an odious stench exhaled from his wounds that all his dearest friends shunned him, all except King Mark, Gorvenal and Dinas de Lidan. Alone they could stay at his bedside, and their love overcame their horror. Finally, Tristan had himself carried to a cabin built away on the shore; and, lying in front of the waves, he awaited death. He thought: "So you have abandoned me, King Mark, I who saved the honor of your land?" No, I know, beautiful uncle, that you would give your life for mine; but what could your tenderness do? I must die. It is sweet, however, to see the sun, and my heart is still bold. I want to tempt the adventurous sea ... I want it to take me far away, alone. Towards what land? I do not know, but there maybe where I will find a cure for me. And perhaps one day I will serve you again, beautiful uncle, as your harper, and your huntsman, and your good vassal. "

He begged so much that King Mark consented to his desire. He carried him on a boat without oars or sail, and Tristan wanted only his harp to be placed near him. What good are the veils that his arms could not have raised? What good are the oars? What good is the sword? Like a sailor, during a long voyage, throws overboard the corpse of a former companion, thus, his arms trembling, Gorvenal pushed the boat in which his dear son was lying out to sea, and the sea carried him away.

Seven days and seven nights, she gently dragged him away. Sometimes Tristan harped to charm his distress. Finally, the sea, unwittingly, approached a shore. However, that night, fishermen had left the port to cast their nets out to sea, and were rowing, when they heard a soft, bold and lively melody, which ran flush with the waves. Motionless, their oars hanging over the waves, they listened; in the first whiteness of dawn, they saw the wandering boat. So, they said to each other, a supernatural music enveloped the nave of Saint Brendan, as it sailed towards the Fortunate Isles on the sea as white as milk. They rowed to reach the boat: it was going adrift, and nothing seemed to live there, but the voice of the harp; but, as they approached, the melody weakened, it fell silent, and, when they docked, Tristan's hands were inert fallouts on the still quivering strings. They picked him up and returned to the harbor to hand the injured over to their compassionate lady, who might be able to heal him.

Alas! this port was Weisefort, where the Morholt lay, and their lady was Iseut la Blonde. She alone, skilled in potions, could save Tristan; but, alone among the women, she wanted him dead. When Tristan, revived by his art, recognized himself, he understood that the waves had thrown him into a land of peril. But, still daring to defend his life, he quickly found fine cunning words. He said he was a juggler, who had taken passage over a merchant nave; he sailed to Spain to learn the art of reading in the stars; pirates had attacked the nave: wounded, he had fled in this boat. We believed it: none of the Morholt's companions recognized the handsome knight of the Ile Saint-Samson, so ugly the venom had distorted his features. But when, after forty days, Iseut in golden hair would have almost cured him, as already, in his softened limbs, the grace of youth was beginning to be reborn, he understood that he had to flee; he escaped, and, after many dangers incurred, one day he reappeared before King Mark.