Tristan and Iseult: The Beauty with the Golden Hair

Here is the translation of the Roman de Tristan et Iseult of 1900 by Joseph Bedier. Here is the third part: The Beauty with the Golden Hair.

Beauty with Golden Hair

The Quest for the Beauty with the Golden Hair

Seigneurs, il y avait à la cour du roi Marc quatre barons, les plus félons des hommes, qui haïssaient Tristan de male haine pour sa prouesse et pour le tendre amour que le roi lui portait. Et je sais bien vous redire leurs noms : Andret, Guenelon, Gondoïne et Denoalen ; or, le duc Andret était, comme Tristan, un neveu du roi Marc. Connaissant que le roi méditait de vieillir sans enfants pour laisser sa terre à Tristan, leur envie s’irrita, et, par des mensonges, ils animaient contre Tristan les hauts hommes de Cornwall :

“What wonders in his life! said the felons; but you are men of great sense, lords, and who doubtless know how to explain it. That he had triumphed over Morholt is already a fine wonder; but by what enchantments could he, almost dead, sail alone on the sea? Which of us lords would run a nave without oars or veils? Magicians can, they say. Then, in what land of magic could he find a cure for his wounds? Certainly he is an enchanter. Yes ! her boat was a fairy and likewise her sword, and her harp is enchanted, which every day pours poisons into the heart of King Mark! How he knew how to tame this heart by power and charm of witchcraft! He will be king, lords, and you will hold your lands from a magician! "

They persuaded most of the barons: for many men do not know that what is the power of magicians, the heart can also accomplish by the force of love and boldness. That is why the barons urged King Mark to take a king's daughter from his wife, who would give him heirs: if he refused, they would retire to their strongholds to fight him. The king resisted and swore in his heart that as long as his dear nephew lived, no king's daughter would enter her bed. But, in his turn, Tristan, who bore with great shame the suspicion of loving his uncle for good profit, threatened him: that the king should surrender to the will of his barony; otherwise, he would abandon the court, he would go and serve the rich king of Gavoie. Then Mark fixed an end to his barons: forty days later, he would speak his mind.

On the appointed day, alone in his room, he awaited their arrival and thought sadly: "Where then can I find a king's daughter so distant and inaccessible that I can pretend, but only pretend, to want her for a wife?" "

At that moment, through the window open to the sea, two swallows building their nid entered quarreling, then, suddenly frightened, disappeared. But from their beaks had escaped a long woman's hair, finer than silk thread, which shone like a ray of sunshine.

Mark, having taken it, brought in the barons and Tristan, and said to them:

“To please you, lords, I will take a wife, if you want to seek the one I have chosen.

- Certainly, we want it, handsome lord; who is the one you have chosen?

- I chose the one to whom this golden hair was, and know that I do not want another.

"And from what part, handsome lord, does this golden hair come to you?" who carried it to you? and from which country?

- It comes to me, lords, the Beauty with the golden hair; two swallows carried it to me; they know from which country. "

The barons understood that they were mocked and disappointed. They looked at Tristan with spite; for they suspected him of having advised this trick. But Tristan, having considered the golden hair, remembered Iseut the Blonde. He smiled and spoke thus:

“King Mark, you are acting very wrong; and do you not see that the suspicions of these lords hate me? But in vain you have prepared this derision: I will go and fetch the Beauty with the golden hair. Know that the quest is perilous and that it will be more difficult for me to return from his country than from the island where I killed the Morholt; but again I want to put my body and my life to adventure for you, beautiful uncle. So that your barons will know if I love you with loyal love, I pledge my faith with this oath: either I will die in the company, or I will bring the blond-haired Queen back to this castle of Tintagel. "

He fitted out a beautiful nave, which he garnished with wheat, wine, honey and all good food. He sent up there, besides Gorvenal, a hundred young knights of high country, chosen among the most daring, and decked them out in coats of bure and coats of coarse camel, so that they resembled merchants; but under the bridge of the nave they hid the rich garments of cloth of gold, cendal, and scarlet, which befitting the messengers of a powerful king.

When the nave had taken off, the pilot asked:

"Handsome lord, towards which land to sail?

- Friend, sail towards Ireland, straight to the port of Weisefort. "

The pilot shuddered. Didn't Tristan know that, since Morholt's murder, the King of Ireland had been chasing the Cornish naves? The sailors seized, he hung them on forks. The pilot, however, obeyed and reached the perilous land.

First, Tristan was able to persuade Weisefort's men that his companions were merchants from England who had come to trade in peace. But, like these merchants of strange sort consumed the day at the noble games of tables and chess and seemed to understand better how to handle the dice than to measure the wheat. Tristan dreaded being discovered, and did not know how to undertake his quest.

Now, one morning, at daybreak, he heard a voice so dreadful that it sounded like the cry of a demon. Never had he heard a beast yelp in such a manner, so horrible and so wonderful. He called a woman passing by the port:

"Tell me," he says, "beautiful lady," where does that voice come from that I have heard? do not hide it from me.

'Certainly, sire, I will tell you without a lie. It comes from a proud and most hideous beast in the world. Every day she comes down from her cave and stops at one of the city gates. No one can leave it, no one can enter it, unless a young girl has been delivered to the dragon; and, as soon as he holds her in his claws, he devours her in less time than it takes to say a patenôtre.

'Lady,' said Tristan, 'don't laugh at me, but tell me if it would be possible for a man born to a mother to slay it in battle.

- Certainly, beautiful gentle sire, I do not know; what is certain is that twenty tried knights have already attempted the adventure; for the King of Ireland proclaimed by the voice of a herald that he would give his daughter Iseut the Blonde to whomever would kill the monster; but the monster devoured them all. "

Tristan leaves the woman and returns to her nave. He arms himself in secret, and it would have been nice to see these merchants emerge from the nave, so rich in war-steed and so proud knight. But the harbor was deserted, for dawn had barely dawned, and no one saw the valiant ride as far as the door which the woman had shown him. Suddenly, on the road, five men ran down, spurring their horses, brakes abandoned, and fleeing towards the city. Tristan grabs one of them in passing by his red braided hair, so strongly that he threw him back on the rump of his horse and kept him stopped:

"God save you, handsome sire! said Tristan; which route does the dragon take? "

And, when the fugitive showed him the way, Tristan released him.

The monster was approaching. He had the head of a bear, eyes red and like burning coals, two horns on his forehead, ears long and hairy, lion's claws, a serpent's tail, the scaly body of a griffin.

Tristan threw his steed against him with such force that, all bristling with fear, he nevertheless leapt against the monster. Tristan's spear hit the scales and shattered. Immediately the valiant draws his sword, raises it and hits it on the dragon's head, but without even cutting into the leather. The monster felt the reach though; he throws his claws against the shield, thrusts them there, and makes the fasteners fly. With his chest uncovered, Tristan demands it again with the sword, and strikes him in the flanks with such a violent blow. let the air ring out. Vainly: he cannot hurt him. Then, the dragon vomits through the nostrils a double jet of poisonous flames: Tristan's hauberk blackens like an extinguished coal, his horse falls down and dies. But, as soon as he gets up, Tristan thrusts his good sword into the monster's mouth: it penetrates all of it and splits its heart into two parts. The dragon utters its horrible cry one last time and dies.

Tristan cut off his tongue and put it in his shoe. Then, stunned by the acrid smoke, he walked, to drink there, towards a stagnant water which he saw glittering at some distance. But the venom distilled by the dragon's tongue heated up against his body, and in the tall grass that bordered the swamp, the hero fell unconscious.

Now, know that the fugitive with red braided hair was Aguynguerran le Roux, the seneschal of the King of Ireland, and that he coveted Iseut la Blonde. He was cowardly, but such is the power of love that every morning he ambushed himself, armed, to assail the monster; however, as far as he heard her cry, the valiant fled. That day, followed by his four companions, he dared to turn back. He found the dragon slain, the horse dead, the shield broken, and thought that the victor had finished dying somewhere. So he cut off the head of the monster, carried it to the king, and demanded the promised fine salary.

The king hardly believed in his prowess; but, wishing to do him justice, he sent for his vassals to come to his court, three days later: before the assembled barnage, Seneschal Aguynguerran would provide proof of his victory.

When Iseut the Blonde learned that she would be handed over to this coward, she first made a long laugh, then lamented. But, the next day, suspecting the imposture, she took with her her servant, the blond, the faithful Perinis, and Brangien, her young servant and his companion, and all three rode in secret towards the monster's lair, so much that Iseut noticed on the road imprints of a singular form: undoubtedly, the horse which had passed there had not been shod in this country. Then she found the headless monster and the dead horse; he was not harnessed according to Irish custom. Certainly, a stranger had killed the dragon; but was he still alive?

Iseut, Perinis and Brangien looked for him for a long time; finally, among the grasses of the swamp, Brangien saw shining the helmet of the valiant. He was still breathing. Perinis took him on his horse and carried him secretly to the women's rooms. There Iseut related the adventure to his mother, and entrusted the stranger to her. As the queen stripped off his armor, the dragon's poisonous tongue fell from his shoe. Then the Queen of Ireland woke the wounded man with the virtue of a herb, and said to him:

“Stranger, I know you really are the monster killer. But our seneschal, a felon, a coward, cut off his head and claims my daughter Iseut la Blonde for her reward. Two days from here, will you be able to prove him wrong by battle?

- Queen, said Tristan, the end is near. But no doubt you can cure me in two days. I conquered Iseut on the dragon; perhaps I will conquer it from the seneschal. "

Then the queen lodged him richly, and brewed effective remedies for him. The next day, Iseut the Blonde prepared a bath for him and gently anointed his body with a balm that his mother had composed. She stopped her gaze on the wounded man's face, saw that he was handsome, and began to think: "Certainly, if his prowess is worth his beauty, my champion will fight hard!" But Tristan, revived by the heat of the water and the strength of the aromatics, looked at her, and, thinking that he had conquered the Queen with the golden hair, began to smile. Iseut noticed this and said to himself: "Why did this stranger smile? Did I do anything wrong? Have I neglected any service that a young girl should render to his host ? Yes, maybe he laughed because I forgot to parry his venom-tarnished weapons. "

So she came to where Tristan's armor was laid. "This helm is good steel," she thought, "and will not fail him if necessary. And this hauberk is strong, light, well worthy of being worn by a knight. She took the sword by the hilt. She pulls the bloody blade from the rich scabbard to wipe it off. But she sees that it is largely chipped. She notices the shape of the notch: is it not the blade that shattered in Morholt's head? She hesitates, looks again, wants to be sure of her doubt. She runs to the room where she kept the shard of steel once removed from Morholt's skull. She joins the fragment to the breach; You could hardly see the trace of the breakage.

Then she rushed towards Tristan, and, spinning the great sword on the wounded man's head, she cried:

"You are Tristan de Loonnois, the murderer of Morholt, my dear uncle. So die your turn! "

Tristan made an effort to stop his arm; in vain; his body was crippled, but his mind remained nimble. So he spoke with skill:

“Either, I will die; but to spare you long repentance, listen. King's daughter, know that you have not only the power, but the right to kill me. Yes, you have a right to my life, since twice you have kept it and returned it to me. A first time, not long ago: I was the wounded juggler whom you saved when you drove from his body the venom with which the Morholt's spear had poisoned him. Do not blush, young girl, for having healed these wounds; had I not received them in fair combat? did I kill the Morholt in treason? hadn't he challenged me? shouldn't I defend my body? For the second time, by going to look for me in the swamp, you saved me. Ah! it is for you, young girl, that I fought the dragon… But let's leave these things aside: I only wanted to prove to you that, having twice delivered me from the peril of death, you have a right over my life. Kill me then, if you think you will gain praise and glory therein. No doubt, when you will be lying in the arms of the valiant Seneschal, it will be sweet for you to think of your wounded host, who had risked his life to conquer you and had conquered you, and whom you killed without defense in this bath. "

Iseut exclaimed:

“I hear wonderful words. Why did the Morholt's murderer want to conquer me? Ah! undoubtedly, as Morholt had formerly tried to ravish the young girls of Cornwall from his nave, in your turn, by fine reprisals, you made this boast of taking as your servant the one that the Morholt cherished among the young girls ...

"No, king's daughter," said Tristan. But one day two swallows flew to Tintagel to wear one of your golden hair. I thought they were coming to tell me peace and love. That’s why I came to seek you across the sea. That’s why I faced the monster and its poison. See this hair sewn among the gold threads of my bliaut; the color of the golden threads has faded: but the gold of the hair is not tarnished. "

Iseut threw back the great sword and took in his hand the bliaut of Tristan. She saw the golden hair there and was silent for a long time; then she kissed her host on the lips as a sign of peace and dressed him in rich clothes.

On the day of the assembly of the barons, Tristan secretly sent Perinis, the servant of Iseut, to his companions to go to court, adorned as befitted for the messengers of a rich king: for he hoped reach this very day at the end of the adventure. Gorvenal and the hundred knights had been sorry for four days at having lost Tristan; they rejoiced at the news.

One by one, in the room where the barons of Ireland were already gathering without number, they entered, sat down in a row on a même rang, et les pierreries ruisselaient au long de leurs riches vêtements d’écarlate, de cendal et de pourpre. Les Irish disaient entre eux : « Quels sont ces seigneurs magnifiques ? Qui les connaît ? Voyez ces manteaux somptueux, parés de zibeline et d’orfroi ! Voyez au pommeau des épées, au fermail des pelisses, chatoyer les rubis, les béryls, les émeraudes et tant de pierres que nous ne savons nommer ! Qui donc vit jamais splendeur pareille ? D’où viennent ces seigneurs ? À qui sont-ils ? » Mais les cent chevaliers se taisaient et ne se mouvaient de leurs sièges pour nul qui entrât.

When the King of Ireland was seated under the canopy, Seneschal Aguynguerran le Roux offered to prove by witnesses and to support by battle that he had killed the monster and that Iseut was to be delivered to him. So Iseut bowed to his father and said:

"King, there is a man who claims to convince your Seneschal of lies and felony. To this man ready to prove that he delivered your land from the scourge and that your daughter must not be abandoned to a coward, do you promise to forgive his old wrongs, however great they are, and to grant him your mercy and your peace? "

The king thought of it and made no haste to reply. But his barons shouted in crowds:

“Grant it, sire, grant it! "

The king said:

"And I grant it!" "

But Iseut knelt at his feet:

"Father, first give me the kiss of thank you and of peace, as a sign that you will give it to this man in the same way!" "

When she had received the kiss, she went to find Tristan and led him by the hand into the assembly. At the sight of him the hundred knights rose at once, saluted him with their arms crossed on their breasts, took their sides and the Irish saw that he was their lord. But several recognized him then, and a loud cry rang out: "It's Tristan de Loonnois, he's the murderer of Morholt!" »The naked swords shone and furious voices repeated: "Let him die!" "

But Iseut exclaimed:

"King, kiss this man on the mouth, as you promised!" "

The king kissed him on the mouth, and the clamor died down.

Then Tristan showed the tongue of the dragon, and offered the battle to the seneschal, who dared not accept it and recognized his crime. Then Tristan spoke thus:

“Lords, I killed the Morholt, but I crossed the sea to offer you a fine amendment. In order to redeem the misdeed, I put my body in peril of death and I delivered you from the monster, and here I have conquered Iseut the Blonde, the beautiful. Having conquered it, I will therefore prevail over my nave. But, so that through the lands of Ireland and Cornwall may no longer spread hatred, but love, know that King Mark, my dear lord, will marry her. See here a hundred knights from above ready to swear on the relics of the saints that the king Mark sends you peace and love, that his desire is to honor Iseut as his dear married wife, and that all the men of Cornwall will serve her as their lady and their queen. "

The holy bodies were brought with great joy, and the hundred knights swore that he had spoken the truth.

The king took Iseut by the hand and asked Tristan if he would lead her loyally to his lord. Before his hundred knights and before the barons of Ireland, Tristan swore it. Iseut the Blonde shuddered with shame and anguish. So Tristan, having conquered her, disdained her; the beautiful tale of the Golden Hair was only a lie, and it was to another that he delivered it ... But the king placed Iseut's right hand in Tristan's right hand, and Tristan held it back as a sign that he seized her, in the name of the King of Cornwall.

So, for the love of King Mark, by cunning and by force, Tristan accomplishes the quest for the Queen with the Golden Hair.