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The Tale of Tristain and Isolde


Long ago, when Arthur ruled the Island of the Mighty, there
lived a fair maiden named Isolde. When she was a young girl,
she had been kidnapped by an evil ogre known as Patroclus,
who held her captive in a tall, dark tower in Cornwall.

The ogre abused Isolde terribly, beating her and telling
her that she was worthless and deserved to be treated worse
than an animal. And Isolde, who was young and impressionable,
believed everything that the ogre told her.

Years of misery passed. Isolde was never allowed out of
the tower, though the ogre often left to wreak havoc on the
countryside. He would terrorize whole villages, killing the
people and stealing their wealth.

News of the ogre's atrocities reached the court of Duke
mark, who ruled Cornwall in the name of King Arthur. When
Mark learned of the ogre, he went at once in search of him.
The Duke found Patroclus near his tower, torturing a group of
prisoners.

Mark and the ogre fell at once into combat. From high
in the tower, Isolde watched them fighting. She marvelled
greatly at Duke Mark, for never had she seen a knight before,
and she was greatly impressed by his gleaming armor and his
flashing sword.

The Duke fought valiantly, and soon he defeated
Patroclus. The ogre yielded and begged for mercy, and Mark,
who was an honorable knight, granted the ogre his life, in
return for his promise that he would leave Cornwall and never
again perform such evil acts. This Patroclus promised, and
he left at once.

Then Mark went into the ogre's tower, and there he found
fair Isolde and freed her. She was filled with such joy that
she fell into his arms in a swoon. So he took her with him
to his castle and announced his intention to marry him. And
she was so grateful to him for rescuing her that she agreed.

Months passed, until at last the day of the wedding
arrived. And just as the Duke and Isolde were about to
exchange their vows, the evil ogre Patroclus appeared and
laid a curse upon Mark: "Beware, Duke of Cornwall, for this
woman does not love you. And if you vow to take her as your
wife, she shall betray and abandon you, and then you shall
surely die. This is the curse I lay upon you, Mark Duke of
Cornwall."

And before the Duke or anyone else could do anything,
the ogre vanished from the castle, and no one knew where he
had gone. Then everyone stared about in wonder and knew not
what to do. But Mark turned to his bride and asked if what
the giant had said was true. And Isolde, who knew nothing of
love, mistook her feelings of gratitude for feelings of love.
She said to Mark, "No, my lord, the ogre has lied, for I do
love you." So she believed, and so she said.

And so they were wed, and for a time they were happy.
But the demands on the Duke's time were great, and Isolde was
often alone with nothing to do. One afternoon as she sat in
her chamber, staring out the window at the fighters' practice
field, she was reminded of her life in the ogre's tower, and
how Mark had freed her through the use of arms. She watched
with intent as the older knights taught the younger men and
women how to hack and slash with their swords, how to block
with their shields, how to their lances for defense, and how
to throw their spears for attack.

She resolved that day never again to be a prisoner,
helpless at the hands of a villain. So she told Duke Mark
that she intended to become a knight. "But why, my sweet?"
asked her husband. "I shall always protect you."

"That may be, my lord," replied Isolde, "but I wish to
be able to protect myself as well."

And since he saw that she had her mind set upon it, he
gave his consent and arranged for her training. Though Mark
wasn't happy, she insisted on dwelling in the long, narrow
fighters' house with the other young warriors. And though
she was older than most of the trainees, she learned quickly
and soon surpassed everyone else.

Late that summer, an envoy arrived from Camelot to
collect the annual tribute for Arthur. They were led by the
King's nephew, Sir Gawain, who brought with him his best
squire, young Tristan. And when Gawain saw Isolde upon the
training field, practicing her swordplay, he knew that one
day she would make a fine warrior -- perhaps the finest in
all Cornwall. So he inquired of her to Duke Mark.

"She is my own wife," said the Duke. "And though I've
told her it isn't necessary, she insists upon training to be
a knight."

"Her passion for fighting is great," said Sir Gawain.
"And her spirit is obviously that of a warrior. She will
make a excellent knight some day. Therefore I beseech you,
my lord Duke, to allow me to take her to Camelot, where I may
personally oversee the completion of her training, and where
the Pendragon himself may make her a knight."

The Duke was reluctant to be separated from his wife,
but Gawain insisted that when she returned, she would be the
best champion in all of Cornwall. And since Cornwall's
shores were constantly threatened by pirate raids from the
island of Erin, Mark agreed, for he was in need of strong and
true knights.

And so Sir Gawain asked Isolde if she would like to be
his squire. She was so excited that a knight as great as
Gawain would wish to train her, that she agreed at once and
took the vows of a squire. Then Sir Gawain, Squire Tristan,
and Squire Isolde left for Camelot.

For the next several months, Sir Gawain trained Tristan
and Isolde side by side, and son it was difficult for the
knight to tell which of his squires was the better. Tristan
and Isolde grew quickly to be the best of friends, which
pleased Gawain, for he loved them both as his own siblings.

As time passed and they grew closer, Tristan and Isolde
came to discover that their feelings for one another were
very strong. But since neither had ever experienced such
deep emotions, their feelings confused them. But Sir Gawain,
who was more familiar with such things, saw the truth and
told them they were in love with one another.

It was then that Isolde realized that the ogre had been
right: though she cared deeply for Mark, she did not love
him as she loved Tristan. But she also remembered the curse
the ogre had laid upon them -- if Isolde were to leave Mark,
he would surely die.

Sir Gawain saw the conflict within her heart, and he
knew there was only one way to resolve it. So he took both
his squires to the Island of Avalon, where lived the
Sisterhood of the Lady of the Lake. When they arrived, the
Goddess herself hailed Tristan and Isolde as though they were
lovers.

Sir Gawain began to explain the situation, but the Lady
of the Lake said it was not necessary, for she had been
following the threads of their lives for some time. Then she
turned to the couple and said, "Tristan and Isolde, it is
your destiny to be joined in Sacred Union -- but not now. If
you were to exchange vows at this time, you would negate the
vows Isolde swore to Mark, and the Duke would surely die.
This cannot be, for if the Duke dies in this fashion, your
lives will be forever held captive under the shadow of death.

"Therefore," she continued, "you must wait until the
curse has been lifted before you can begin to build your life
together."

Then Isolde, who had no desire to see Mark dead on her
account, inquired how to lift the curse, and the Lady of the
Lake told them that the ogre Patroclus must be found, "For
even as the Duke fought to free you, so you must fight
Patroclus to free Mark."

Isolde and Tristan accepted these words, for they knew
them to be true. So they returned to Camelot and completed
their training. And on Twelfthnight, Arthur himself bestowed
upon them the accolades of knighthood, amid much celebration.

Sir Tristan and Madame Isolde remained at Camelot for
another month, spending much time together talking and
embracing. But Candlemas arrived, and it was time for Isolde
to return to Cornwall. It was with heavy hearts that Tristan
and Isolde parted.

Once Isolde was gone from Camelot, Tristan fell into
sorrow. Sir Gawain saw his friend's despair, and he knew the
reason for it. "It is not seemly for you to sulk this way,"
said Gawain. "Rise and ask the King to allow you to leave
the Court and become a Knight-Errant. Then you may ride the
length and breadth of the Island, performing deeds of valor
and winning honor. And perhaps you may find some word of
where the ogre Patroclus may be found."

Sir Tristan saw the wisdom of these words, so he begged
Arthur's leave, which the King gladly gave. So Tristan went
forth, fighting villains and freeing people from evil
customs. Often he found young men and women he thought would
make good knights, and these he sent to Camelot for Sir
Gawain to train.

Two winters passed, and still Tristan had found no word
of the ogre Patroclus, though he had looked everywhere in the
Island of the Mighty. Twice he passed through Cornwall, but
he would not stop at the castle of Duke Mark for fear of his
love for Isolde being discovered. He heard, however, of how
valiantly Isolde fought when leading the Duke's warband
against the pirates from Erin, and these words filled him
with joy, as did any word he heard about his beloved Isolde.

At last, Sir Tristan sailed across the Channel to
Armorica. There he heard tales of an evil ogre who was
terrorizing the countryside. Sir Tristan went at once in
pursuit of this villain, and he found the ogre near the tower
he'd built in Armorica after fleeing from Cornwall - for
indeed it was the same ogre Patroclus who had enslaved Isolde
and cursed Duke Mark.

Tristan challenged the ogre, and the fell at once into
combat. For hours they battled, until at last Tristan was
the victor. Patroclus yielded and begged for mercy. Tristan
hesitated, for he hated the ogre for the evil deeds he had
done to Isolde, but the knight knew that it would be a great
dishonor to slay anyone who begged for mercy. He knew also
that the ogre must be alive to lift the curse upon Duke Mark.
So Tristan granted the ogre his life, on the condition that
he go at once to Cornwall to lift the curse and place himself
in the custody of Isolde, to do with him as she willed. This
Patroclus promised, and he left at once for Cornwall.

Tristan then entered the ogre's tower, and there he
found a maiden who had been held captive by Patroclus. Her
name was Isolt, and she was the cousin of Tristan's beloved
Isolde. He marvelled at how her beauty was so like that of
her cousin, and looking at her made his heart cry loudly for
Isolde. And since Isolt had no friends or family in
Armorica, Tristan decided to take her with him to Cornwall,
to be reunited with her kin.

Meanwhile, Patroclus arrived in the court of Duke Mark,
but instead of lifting the curse and yielding to Isolde's
judgement, he threatened to return to his evil custom of
plundering the countryside. Mark was infuriated, but before
he could do or say anything, Isolde challenged the ogre to
personal combat.

Patroclus set the following terms for the duel: if
Isolde won, he would lift the curse on Mark, but if the ogre
won, she must return with him to his tower and dwell there a
prisoner the rest of her life. Seeing that there was no
other way to get the ogre to lift his curse, Isolde agreed to
the terms.

So they went to the list field and battled a good long
while, but at last Isolde grievously wounded the ogre, so
that he yielded. Isolde pressed him to lift the curse, which
he did at last. Then, before the surgeons could attend to
his wounds, Patroclus yielded up his ghost.

There was great celebration that night, as the Duke had
finally be freed of his curse. But through it all, Isolde
was somber, and Mark saw that something weighed heavily upon
her heart. So he took her aside to speak with her privately.

"I know what troubles you, dear wife," he said. "For
some time I have known of your love for Sir Tristan. No, do
not try to deny it, for it is the truth. I do not lay any
blame upon you, for I should never have married you in the
first place. You were young and naive, but I loved you so
much that I thought you would grow to love me as well.

"I know now that I was foolish, for I am not your
destined mate, just as you are not mine. Still, you have
stayed with me these years, helping me protect Cornwall from
our enemies and ensuring the ogre's curse did not cause my
death. You have acted with honor and compassion, and for
that I love you greatly.

"But since I love you, I cannot keep you here in misery,
for then I would be no better than Patroclus. Therefore,
since the curse has been lifted, I will release you from your
wedding vows. You may be joined with Sir Tristan with my
blessings."

When Isolde saw that Mark was sincere, she rejoiced,
though a part of her also grieved that she should have to
break Mark's heart in order to be united with Tristan. She
was unsure what to do next, so she returned with Mark to the
feast hall.

There she found that Sir Tristan had arrived with her
cousin, fair Isolt. Tristan was well pleased to hear that
Isolde had vanquished the ogre and lifted the curse, but he
did not know how to help her to be free of her vows to Mark.

Mark, however, fell in love with Isolt at once, and it
was clear that she felt the same way. Isolde saw from his
expression what was on Mark's mind, and suddenly she thought
of a plan, which she whispered to her husband. Mark saw at
once the cleverness of the plan and that it would allow
everyone to have what they desired and still retain honor.

During the feast, Duke Mark suddenly rose and in anger
accused Tristan of loving too well Isolde. Sir Tristan was
bout to deny this, but Isolde gave him a secret sign. So he
confessed that he indeed loved Isolde and desired nothing so
much as to be married to her.

Then the Duke turned to his wife and accused her of
loving Tristan. Isolde took the cue, falling into feigned
tears and confessing that she loved them both and could not
choose between them.

Tristan understood the ruse at last, and he said, "My
lord Duke, I would sooner die than cause dishonor to either
you or myself, for none may ever call me villain. But since
Isolde cannot choose between us, let us put the matter into
the hands of the gods. We shall engage in personal combat,
and the gods will grant victory to the man they believe
Isolde should be united with."

The Duke agreed to this plan, and he asked Isolde if she
would abide by the decision of the gods. She said that she
would, for she truly saw no other way to resolve the
situation. So it was agreed by all three, and everyone in
the court nodded, saying this was the best way to do it.

Early the next morning, Duke mark and Sir Tristan met on
the field, and both swore solemn oaths to abide by the
outcome of the battle. Then, in front of the entire court,
the combat began. Though they both fought well, Mark knew
that he must allow Tristan to win, for only then would Isolde
be truly happy. He was about to feign an injury and yield,
when Tristan suddenly struck such a blow that the Duke fell
to the ground. Then indeed Mark knew it was the will of the
gods that Tristan should win, and he yielded.

The people of the court all agreed that the matter had
been honorably settled, and none protested when Mark and
Isolde released one another from their wedding vows. So it
was that Tristan and Isolde were able to be together without
being accused of villainy, and Duke Mark retained his honor,
for no one dared question the will of the gods. And
everyone, including Tristan and Isolde, were pleased when the
Duke announced his desire to wed Isolt - when they had come
to know one another better.

And so amid much joy, Tristan and Isolde returned to
Camelot, and there, in the presence of the Pendragon and his
Court, Sir Gawain joined Sir Tristan and Madame Isolde in
Sacred Union. And ever after the couple were never
separated, but went everywhere together, to court and to
combat. They lived happily together for the rest of their
lives.

Here ends the Tale of Sir Tristan and Madame Isolde.
May their Blessed Spirits be pleased with my telling of it,
and may my ancestors smile upon me, now and ever.

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