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The Awakening of Iseult

ISEULT, seated on a low stool at her mother's knee, looked down listlessly upon the crowded castle hall. Her somber eyes, darkly blue in their innermost depths, roved idly from one eager upturned face to another, encountering here and there the worshipful gaze of some young knight.
     After each such encounter her straight black brows drew closer together frowningly, and the soft color of her cheeks—­cheeks that looked so like the pink tints in the sea-shells washed up on the Irish Coast,—flushed a deeper, ominous rose. She gave not glance for glance, neither did her heart beat one throb quicker for any of the youths or barons in her father's court.
     She turned from every suitor disdainfully, unresponsive, and it angered her that it was so; for the Princess Iseult longed to love and be loved in return. With the unreasoning pettishness of a child, she became angry with the knights themselves because none of them could win her obstinate heart, and she dreamed girl dreams of a wonderful prince, or king, so knightly that none might withstand him, who would some day come and storm the citadel and carry away captive her love and perchance herself.
     From the outside world of war and noble deeds there often drifted to her ears strange tales of the marvelous prowess of some new hero, and she would ask herself tremblingly, "I wonder if 'tis he, and will he come?"
     Here in the midst of the eager, restless throng that formed her father's court she had fallen to dreaming again. It was the mating time of the year, and high over her head two sparrows were flitting busily back and forth building a nest in a sheltered niche.
     With uplifted chin, Iseult watched them, unconscious of the picture she made, with her perfect profile silhouetted against the dusky background. Her slender, girlish form was robed in a gown of clinging blue, shot with silver and silver bordered; her long heavy hair, black as the nights when storms roll up from the sea and there are no stars to comfort the earth, was braided with pearls and silver bands. And in all the lands of Christendom there was no maiden so fair or so beautiful as this young Irish princess,—La Belle Iseult.
     While the sparrows flew hither and thither undisturbed and Iseult watched them dreamily, down in the hall below there had arisen a low murmuring like the night wind in a forest of pines, and presently it resolved itself into two words repeated over and over: "The messengers! The messengers!"
     It pierced Iseult's dream, and with awakening curiosity she looked beyond the swaying throng to the great doors that had slowly opened to admit a small party of men. They had the ap­pearance of having just returned from some long journey, with scant opportunity for betterment of dress and less time to devote to a matter so trivial. Their faces were grim and earnest and they made their way through the crowded hall with only the briefest and curtest response to the salutations and welcomings of friends.
     As they neared the foot of the dais, Anguish, King of Ireland, leaned forward in his carved chair, his eyes gleaming underneath his shaggy brows.
     "Ha! the messengers!" he cried. "And what saith King Mark of Cornwall? Hath sent the truage due now these seven years!"
     The men made deep obeisance and the leader, a knight near middle age, gave answer for his companions.
     "Long life to your Majesty, and greeting!" he said. "We thy servants have obeyed thy will and have returned. Thus saith the Cornish King: 'Tell your lord, King Anguish of Ireland, that we will pay him no truage; but if he desire truage of us of Cornwall, bid him send a trusty knight of his land that will fight for his right and we will find another to defend our right.’”
     When the messenger ceased speaking the murmuring in the hall swelled louder and louder until it might have been the sound of the surf beating on rocks beneath the castle wall, and the face of King Anguish was black with anger. As the clamor grew fiercer and higher, from midway down the hall strode forth a tall man in sable armor. His skin was browned as if by tropic suns, and his black eyes gleamed keen and bright. He wore a silken scarf of blue and silver tied loosely over his shoulder across his breast; and at sight of him the Princess Iseult's brows drew together sharply into a stormy frown and her small hands clenched angrily.
     The tumult sank apace as the tall figure neared the King, until one listening might have heard the sparrows twittering overhead.
     "My lord of Ireland," he said in a voice that differed strangely from those of the men about him, "I, Palamides the Saracen, victor in many battles; I, who have never been o'erthrown,—I offer myself to be thy champion against Cornwall."
     Ere King Anguish could make answer there sprang forward from a circle of knights standing nearest the dais one, a young man of noble mien and goodly form, whose eyes glowed and sparkled with the fire of enthusiasm.
     "Lord King," he cried, "send me! I claim it as my right to be thy champion and to do battle against this Cornish caitiff!"
     For an instant there was silence in the hall; then a mighty shout burst forth:
     "Sir Marhaus! Sir Marhaus! We will have Sir Marhaus for our champion!"
     The shout echoed and re-echoed through the castle hall; the sparrows, frightened, left off their nest building and perched huddled together close against the roof.
     A brilliant smile lighted up Iseult's clouding eyes and she clapped her hands together softly.
     The Queen's gaze was fixed in anxious fear upon the King; she leaned forward in her chair, with parted lips and face as pale as the sea mists that enshroud the castle at dawn.
     When King Anguish, after a moment's hesitation, gave his gracious consent that Sir Marhaus should be the champion, she pressed her hands convulsively against her breast; for Sir Marhaus was her only brother and as dear to her as an own son. Brave though he was, valiant beyond any knight of Ireland, and a member of the Round Table of Arthur, King of Britain, she could never steel her soul to see him go forth to battle without the keenest pain and dread.
     Sir Marhaus, as eager for an opportunity to prove anew his knightly skill and valor as any lover for his lady's smile, bowed his acknowledgment to the King and the barons and swore upon his sword's hilt to acquit himself full nobly of his devoir.
     Later in her bower Iseult stood by the casement and watched the moon rise over the sea. With the setting of the sun the night wind had sprung up, and now carried silver clouds scudding before it, sometimes shadowing for an instant the calm brightness of the moon. There were wild sweet odors in that wandering wind, and the waves that washed ceaselessly with such sad monotone against the rocks below seemed to murmer of other lands and cas­tles far away. The weird beauty and mystery of the night and the murmuring of the sea stirred vague longings and an aching unrest in the girl's heart, and her eyes filled with unbidden tears.
     Behind her, Bragwaine, her maid, entered silently, and softly addressed her:
     "My lady Iseult, is there aught that I can do for thee?"
     Quickly Iseult turned toward her with a little quivering sigh of relief.
     "Ah, Bragwaine, my heart is heavy and sad to-night. Talk to me!—tell me tales of the world beyond that lonely stretch of moonlit sea, and I will sit so thou canst braid my hair."
     Bragwaine gently removed the pearls and silver bands and let the girl's hair down around her shoulders to the floor in silky waves of night the whilst she talked to her of Guinevere and the King, of Launcelot and knights and ladies fair.
     "The Saracen still wears thy colors, my princess," she went on presently. "He cares not who knows of his love for thee. 'Tis a fine chance thou hast of making a Christian. They say—"
     Iseult stamped her foot in a little gust of temper.
     "Have done, Bragwaine," she cried pettishly. "I'll hear no more of this heathen pest; I would there were some knight valiant enow to rid me of him!"
     The maid braided silently for a few seconds, then continued calmly:
     "As I was about to relate, they say in Lyonesse that the young prince hath returned from France overseas, and his beauty is a marvel."
     "The young prince," Iseult repeated, with a touch of impa­tience still lingering in her voice. "Whom do you mean, Bragwaine?"
     "The prince of Lyonesse, the son of King Meliodas. I 'member me when he was sent into France some years aback. It was after his stepmother had tried to poison him that her own sons might inherit the land. It is a strange tale and one that showeth well the nobleness of the youth. King Meliodas discovered the evilness of the wicked queen and condemned her to be burned. She was tied to the stake and the fagots heaped around her when the princely boy threw himself upon his knee before his father and pleaded with him to spare his stepmother's life."
     "And what more, Bragwaine?" questioned the princess as the maid ceased speaking.
     "He made peace between them, my princess, and the Queen of Lyonesse was never more a wicked woman. It is said of him that every one loves him wherever he goes. And with all his winsomeness he is full knightly, and possesses most marvelous skill at arms and in the chase."
     "Thou makest me wonderly desirous to see this paragon of a prince, Bragwaine. Dost know how old he is?"
     "Now let me think,—why, he must be some eighteen or nineteen years old, my princess.  His age will be two years in the least in excess of thine own.”
     “And his name? Ah, Bragwaine, I would hear his name!”
     The maid let the braid slip from her fingers and stood a moment lost in thought.
     “Indeed for a space the name had slipped from me,” she exclaimed, “but now it comes to me again. It is Tristram,—Tristram of Lyonesse."
     The following morning with the rising of the sun amidst the shouting of the people Sir Marhaus sailed away to Cornwall.
     King Anguish, the Queen, and La Belle Iseult stood with the ladies and the barons of the court upon the rocky shore to bid him adieu, but the Queen could not speak for weeping.
     Just one week later Sir Marhaus returned, and there was great dole in the castle of King Anguish and throughout all Ireland, for he had returned to die. Valiant Knight of the Round Table though he was, he had met his master and had fallen before him, and a piece of the conqueror's sword still remained in his skull. After his death the Queen had it removed and held it in her keeping while in her sorrowful heart she swore bitter vengeance against her brother's slayer.
     Whom he might be none knew, save only that he was of noble birth and but lately knighted. The battle had been fought upon a small island off the Cornish coast, with no one there to see. The strife was long and fierce, but at last Sir Marhaus received his death-stroke and Cornwall was relieved of all manner of truage to Ireland forever.
     As day after day went by the Irish Queen still brooded over her brother's death and yearned for vengeance until one gray, glooming morning Iseult came upon her in her bower where she sat in bitter mourning with the piece of swordblade clasped in her hands.
     "Come," she called to the girl, "come mourn with me thy kinsman's murderous death and join with me in this my oath of vengeance!" She held out her hands wherein lay the piece of steel toward Iseult.
     "Lay here thy hand upon mine," she commanded, "and swear with me dire retribution against the murderer."
     Iseult stood shrinkingly, her hand against her breast, her blue robes trailing softly around her, her eyes full of unshed tears.
     "Ah, surely not a murderer!" she faltered. "Was it not fair fight waged in fair field?" The Queen's face grew gray and stony and her outstretched hands trembled.
     "And thou lovest me, swear!" she cried. Her eyes compelled and slowly, step by step, Iseult drew near and laid her small cold hand upon the bloodstained piece of steel and repeated brokenly after the Queen the oath of vengeance.
     With the utterance of the last word her strength forsook her, and overcome with horror she sank into a little heap upon the floor like a wilted blue flower, while in her heart all unbidden a name suddenly stood out clear in letters of living light.
     It was Tristram of Lyonesse.
     One morning ere the sun had risen, when the sea mists still hung about the castle towers like the veiling of a bride, the Princess Iseult was awakened by strains of music so exquisitely sweet that it might have been an angel leaning over the battlements of heaven to comfort mortals with divine melody.
     Half-frightened she sat up in her couch and listened. It floated in through the narrow window with the wind and the mist, as much a thing of mystery as they. She pushed the heavy masses of her hair away from her face, and drawing her white robe closer around her, hastened to the window and looked out.
     There below her, partly obscured by the light fog, a small vessel lay rocking on the waves. The music rose from it weirdly sweet in the morning air and Iseult listened and gazed in wonderment as if it were some wizard's spell. Even as she looked, all eager with curiosity, a breeze sprang up from the sea and carried the fog drifting on. The sun had just risen, and its pale slanting rays of gold fell athwart the waves and revealed clearly to the princess the strange vessel and the maker of the unearthly music.
     His yellow hair clustered over his head in bright curls, and his eyes were the color of gentians that grow dew-wet on some mountainside. He was beautiful with the beauty of youth and perfect moulding, and to Iseult he seemed the day-god come to claim his own. As she looked down upon him his glance lifted and he saw her. The music broke off abruptly with a jangling of strings and for a space they regarded each other silently; then slowly Iseult moved back out of sight and sank down upon the couch. She covered her eyes with her slim fingers and the rose flush, so like the sky at dawn, deepened in her cheeks.
     "He has come!" she whispered to herself tremblingly. "He has come at last!"
     As in a dream she heard the music begin again,—grow fainter,—then suddenly cease; and presently Bragwaine burst into the room, her eyes alight and her face glowing.
     "Ah, my princess, I have for thee most wonderful tidings," she cried excitedly. "There has appeared at the castle gates a wandering knight, a prince from over-seas. The King, thy father, heard the music of his harp and saith never was such heard before in Ireland. He was brought before the King and Queen, and the Queen's heart hath been mightily touched by his beauty and youth—he seemeth scarce more than a boy—and he is to be the guest of the castle."
     Bragwaine paused for want of breath, and Iseult frowned impatiently at the delay.
     “Well,” she cried, “and what name hath the stranger? Any why wandereth he?”
     “His name is Tramtrist,—Sir Tramtrist. He is from over-seas where he was sore wounded in a battle fought for a lady's right. His wound hath not yet recovered and he is seeking a cure. The King, thy father,—"
     The maid's voice trailed off into silence without completing the sentence and she looked at Iseult with a deprecating, sidelong glance.
"Speak, Bragwaine," the princess implored eagerly. "Thou knowest what dearth of adventures have we here, yet withholdest thou aught of these strange tidings."
     Bragwaine laughed merrily as she watched Iseult's face where varying expressions chased one another like clouds and silver light across the face of the moon on a stormy night.
     "The cream of the tale have I saved for the last." she said. "Now listen well to these wonderful tidings." She stepped nearer to Iseult and spoke in an impressive whisper. "Because of thy wondrous skill in surgery thou, my princess, art to have the healing of this stranger youth. Such is the command of my lord, the King."
     For a space Iseult sat quite still, without speaking; then the color swept over her face in a warm rosy flood and she sprang up hastily.
     "Come, Bragwaine, come," she exclaimed excitedly. "Haste to robe me,—and all in white, dost understand? No spot of color,—all white with pearls."
     And thus arrayed,—in soft filmy robes of white that clung around her girlish form like the mist from the sea, her wondrous blue-black hair braided with pearls, and her dark eyes, blue deep down, full of a strange light,—she appeared in the great hall of the castle.
     On his couch of purple velvet lay the young knight, his harp silent beside him, while gathered near were the King and the Queen and the knights and the barons of the court.
     Again the young knight's eyes met Iseult's in a long glance, and her heart said, "'Tis he!"
     Through the weeks that followed, Iseult, with the assistance of Bragwaine and Gouvernail, Sir Tramtrist's squire, cared daily for the young knight's wound, which was in his side and grievous, for it had been made with an envenomed spear; but ere long he re­covered enough to leave his couch and sit by the window where he could look upon the sea.
     Those were wondrous days to the young Irish princess. Sir Tramtrist related to her tales of devoir and adventure such as she had never before heard; he played to her and sang, and his voice was to her ears as the voice of an arch-angel. When he grew stronger he taught her to play upon the harp and all her days passed in music.
     King Anguish, the Queen, and all the court began to love the boy knight and to dread full lothly for the coming of the day of his departure.
     For a full fortnight Iseult was happy, happier than she had ever been in her life; then stealthily, persistently, clouds came drifting up to dim the brightness of her days. The harp-strings jangled out of tune and her throat ached so with unshed tears that she could not sing. Ofttimes she sat at night by her open casement looking out across the sea, wondering sadly why at last her wayward heart should have been given to one who did not want it. For neither by word nor look had the stranger knight betrayed aught of love for her, though he was ever courteous and fair-spoken, with a seeming deep appreciation of her ministrations.
     So passed the weeks until the day came for the great tourney that King Anguish let cry in honor of his cousin, the Lady of Lawns.
     Now there still abode at the Irish court Sir Palamides, the Saracen. He was a famous champion of tournaments and a full noble and a knightly man. From the first time that his gaze had fallen upon La Belle Iseult his heart and his love had been hers, and all his devoirs were henceforth in her name and to her honor. He sued right humbly that she might be his bride, even promising to become a Christian for her sake; but Iseult would have none of his devotion, and deep down in her soul longed that some one would release her from the annoyance of his service.
     The first day of the tourney came and passed, and it left Iseult sad, for Sir Palamides was the victor and openly proclaimed her his lady. Clad in black armor, with a shield of black, he had overthrown nine of as brave knights as had ever fought for ladies' smiles, and none could stand against him.
     The morning of the second day Iseult stood by Sir Tramtrist's couch looking down upon him moodily, her blue eyes black with discontent.
     "Well, go must I to see this Saracen boaster overcome more Christian weaklings," she said stormily. "I would there were some knight goodly enough to defeat him."
     The young knight from over-seas laughed boyishly at sight of her pouting face.
     "And what would you?" he inquired. "What punishment would you pronounce upon him?"
     "That he should cease from following after me!" cried Iseult, her face aflame and her small hands clenched. "And wear armor no more for a year. It wearies me to hear naught but the doings of this same Sir Palamides!"
     In an instant the boy's face changed. Impulsively he caught her little fist in his and opened the fingers gently.
     "What guerdon would this hand bestow upon the victor?" he asked gravely.
     For an instant she hesitated, then recklessly she cried: "The hand itself!"
     In silence he regarded her rose-tinted fingers, then slowly put the hand from him, and turning on his side shielded his face from the light with his upthrown arm.
     "Go!" he muttered brusquely; "go see thy lover uphold his lady's fame!"
     At the words she stamped her foot in passionate anger.
     "Youyou!" she gasped between choking sobs. "You,—to cast in my teeth!"
     Bragwaine threw her arms around her soothingly and drew her from the room.
     "Come, my princess," she implored, "let not the peevish fretting of a sick boy disturb thee. The King, thy father, and the Queen await thee. Come! let us witness the sport of men!"
     Clad in silken robes of blue and silver the Princess Iseult sat in state with the King and the Queen, the Lady of the Lawns and the women of the court, and watched Sir Palamides again dis­comfort three knights, and her heart grew hot and rebellious within her breast, for all around her every one murmured: “The Saracen will win again to-day!” and knowing glances were cast upon her.
     Hopeless, she turned away her eyes from the hated dominant figure; then, suddenly into the confusion of conflict, amid the blare of trumpets and the crying of heralds, a new competitor rode into the lists. He was mounted upon a cream-white charger, and his harness and his shield and everything he wore were white, and he came into the field as if he had been a bright angel.
     There was much wonderment as to whom this new knight might be, but none knew his name or whence he came. But all watched full eagerly to see him ride toward Sir Palamides, and through the fierce fight that followed excitement and curiosity waxed high among the throng.
     Iseult scarcely dared breathe as she saw stroke upon stroke exchanged. She became pale as the sky is at the first gray dawning of the day and grasped Bragwaine for support.
     "Bragwaine," she whispered, "who—who is this strange knight?"
     "None know, my lady," the maid answered, "though some say it is Sir Launcelot or perchance King Arthur himself. Such wondrous skill and valor hath ne'er been witnessed before in Ireland."
     At length by one crushing blow Sir Palamides, the Saracen, was struck from his horse to the ground, where he lay wounded and helpless.
     In the confusion and the excitement that followed, the victor disappeared as if by magic. The King and the Queen, all eager to shower him with honors, had the lists searched for him in vain.
     Iseult tarried only a few minutes to watch the fruitless efforts to find him, then gathering up her trailing skirts she sped with flying feet toward the tower room to be the first to tell to Sir Tramtrist the wonderful tidings. Her eyes shone brilliantly blue in their mysterious depths, and with small head held high she moved like a strain of music, so full of youth was she, and grace, and beauty.
     "Ah, Sir Invalid,” she cried exultantly as she pushed aside the curtain and danced into the room, “thou shouldst have seen it! The boaster will boast no more—he hath met his master! He—“
     She broke off abruptly, her glowing cheeks losing somewhat of their color, for her patient lay seemingly lifeless upon his velvet couch, his eyes closed, his bright curls damp and matted on his forehead, and the blood trickling slowly from a slight wound in his arm.
     Iseult leaned over him in wild alarm, touching his hot hand lightly with her finger tips. Then her glance fell upon a heap of armor flung carelessly into a corner with a battered white shield lying a-top, and in a flash she understood.
     "Thou!" she thrilled. "Ah, thou indeed hast done this thing!" Impulsively she leaned over him and laid her lips an instant against his hand.
     His eyes opened slowly into hers with a long deep look that there was no mistaking. "For thee; for the love of thee, Iseult, La Belle," he whispered.
     She laughed happily. a laugh like trilling birds or chimes of silver bells. "My father and the court," she cried, "they searched everywhere for the victor, and here he lay, the stranger-knight, Sir Tramtrist!"
     Suddenly as he looked at her her expression changed and became softly questioning.
     "Tramtrist?" she repeated. "Is it?—Ah, Sir Knight, who art thou?"
     He drew her face down to his and kissed her sweet red lips.
     "Tristram of Lyonesse," he answered—"thy Tristram."

     Iseult drew her mantle of white samite closer around her, for it was growing late and the air was chill. She and Tristram had been walking together,—as they ofttimes did of late,—and growing weary had seated themselves upon the rocks to rest.
     A silence,—one of those soft silences so full of many things,—had stolen up from the sea and enveloped them in its dream cloak.
     Tristram held Iseult's hand in his and now and again he raised it to his lips to press upon it a tender kiss while continually his eyes sought hers with a deep, loving glance that quickened the beating of her heart and flustered her cheeks with rose. But in spite of all these demonstrations of Tristram's love for her, Iseult's heart-strings were tuned to a minor chord. The sea was gray, the sky was gray; and out across the lonely waste of waters the winds were gathering gray mists with which to shroud the dying day. Overhead the sea-birds, flying to their nests among the rocks, gave harsh cries that echoed mournfully through the evening air.
     The summer that brought to Iseult the fulfilment of her dream had gone. She felt as if she were watching it depart across that sad stretch of water into the gray distance never to return.
     Her slender fingers, cold and white as sea foam, closed convulsively over Tristram's and her eyes filled suddenly with tears.
     "Dost thou remember thy battle with the Saracen?" she asked presently, breaking the silence that had held them. Her voice was low and trembling slightly, and she turned away her face that he might not see the tears that clung to her lashes.
     Sir Tristram laughed boyishly. "Ah, that I do, Sweet," he answered. "And thy surprise when thou didst find me out!"
     "Well didst thou fulfil my desire that I told to thee, all undreaming that thou could bear arms in thy weak state. Dost thou remember the guerdon I promised to bestow upon the victor?"
     "I remember," he replied in a voice of deep emotion; "this dear hand was to be the reward of valor."
     Iseult's face grew pale and her voice sank lower still.
     "And when wilt thou claim thy reward?" she whispered.
     Tristram's warm clasp of her hand relaxed suddenly and his face reflected the pallor of her own. Twice he essayed to speak but checked himself, and at last he sprang to his feet and stood rigid, his arms folded strainingly across his breast and his eyes dark with pain.
     "Tristram," she pleaded softly, "tell me,—what troubles thee? Fear not to speak."
     "I cannot tell thee," he answered miserably. Then fiercely he turned and flung himself at her feet, gathering into his hands the folds of her samite robe.
     "Promise me," he cried, "promise me that thou wilt not doubt me. Promise to believe that I love thee more than life—promise me to trust me and to love me!"
     Iseult looked down into his quivering face, looked deep into his steadfast, pleading blue eyes; gently she brushed a stray curl back from his forehead, then she smiled at him, a smile that flooded the gray, glooming twilight with a rosy glow.
     "I promise," she whispered, as his arms closed round her and shut out the world.
     Through the gloaming they returned to the castle, and Tristram's arm was around Iseult's slender waist. Neither spoke, and Tristram's eyes were sad unto death while in the heart of      Iseult dwelt a great wonderment.
     The next morning by the time the first sunbeams had dispelled the autumn fog there was a most unwonted stir in the cas­tle of King Anguish. One of the lordly Irish barons had let cry a great tournament, and all the court was bidden to attend. Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, the boy knight, was to be champion of King Anguish and leader of his knights, and there was not a doubt in any heart but that they would win.
     Up in her bower Iseult had Bragwaine array her in a robe of spotless white; her wondrous hair was bound with a fillet of silver, and never had she looked more fair.
     Bragwaine regarded her with loving anxiety, for there was in her eyes a look of brooding sadness that went straight to the heart.
     "Why art thou so pensive, my princess?" she questioned with a little playful laugh, "Art fearful for the prowess of thy knight? He hath never yet failed."
     Iseult shook her head. "Nay, Bragwaine, I fear not. It is nothing,—but I would the day were gone. There clings about me persistently a foreboding of evil."
     The maid caught up a tress of Iseult's silky hair and kissed it lovingly.
     "The Blessed Mother forbid that evil ever shadow thee!" she cried fervently. "But come," she added with assumed gaiety, "come, thou must arm thy knight for the fray. He will doubtless wonder at thy tardiness."
     But when they entered Sir Tristram's room he was not there, and Iseult busied herself with his white shield and armor that waited but the putting on. His sheathed sword lay across his couch, and with a light laugh she grasped it in her hands.
     "Now see, Bragwaine," she cried, "how passing strong am I!" With difficulty she drew it from the scabbard and held it up for inspection.
     "But look," she exclaimed in surprise, "here near the point it is broken—a great jagged piece is gone!"
     The Queen passing outside the door paused at the sound of Iseult's exclamation and looked in.
     "Wherefore makest thou this outcry, my daughter?" she in­quired. Then her glance fell upon the marred sword and, with ghostly face and startling eyes, she ran into the room and snatched it from Iseult's clasp. Holding it fiercely clutched in one hand, she thrust the other into the bosom of her silken gown and drew forth a piece of blood-stained steel. With trembling fingers she fitted it into the jagged rent. It was a part of the sword, for every line and broken edge fit perfectly. The Queen stared at the weapon in her hands with a burning glare and her breath came quick and sharp as if she were in pain. Slowly her gaze sought the shrinking form of Iseult and seemed to pierce her through and through.
     "Whose—whose sword is this?" she demanded in a tense whisper. "Where didst thou get it!"
     Iseult drew back tremblingly, step by step, her hands pressed against her breast, but her lips uttered no sound.
     "Whose sword is this?" repeated the cruel voice.
     Iseult's face had grown white as a sea bird's wing and her blue anguished eyes looked into her mother's imploringly.
     "The sword is mine," replied a deep voice behind the Queen. "It is a good weapon, and I, Tristram of Lyonesse, will never be false to it."
     The Queen whirled round upon him like a tigress.
     "Thou!" she shrieked; "thoumurderer!" She sprang at him and would have done him harm, but he leaped aside and before she could recover seized her arm and took the sword away. She laughed a wild little laugh of hysteria and darted toward the door as if she feared he might detain her.
     "I will arouse the castle," she cried, "the King, the barons,—all shall know that thou art the murderer of my brother. Naught but thy blood shall avenge his death!"
     Left alone, Tristram and Iseult stood the width of the room apart and looked into each other's eyes,—hers questioning, his filled with deep despair.
     Iseult was the first to break the silence that enthralled them with its pain. She took one step nearer to him as she spoke.
     “Tristram,” she faltered, “is this thing true?”
     His head sank upon his breast and he flung out his hands toward her with a tragic gesture.
     "These hands," he groaned, "these hands are stained with the blood of thy kinsman,—Now canst thou understand why I have not claimed thee for my wife? It had been best that I do penance and gain absolution first."
     But the next instant he threw up his head with a proud, spirited gesture and squared his massive shoulder. "It was fair fight in fair field; there is no cause for shame,—and I did not know thee then."
     Iseult stood drooping like a wilting lily on its stem and she could not speak for pain.
     "Iseult,—ma Belle, dost thou love me still?" Tristram's voice was keyed in tones of most passionate entreaty, and as she heard it the color ebbed swiftly back into her face. For answer she ran to him with a little inarticulate cry and flung her arms around his neck.
     "Mine!" she breathed, her face pressed against his breast. "Ah, do I not love thee!"
     "How long wilt thou love me?” he whispered into her ear.
     "Forever!" And she smiled up at him; but the smile faded instantly at the deep sound of angry voices that swelled up to them from the great hall below. It was like the surf in a storm beating upon the rocks. With a sharp cry she clasped him closer.
     "They come to slay thee," she panted. "Haste,—let me hide thee!"
     Tristram stood still and listened. Above the angry tumult of sound rose many voices repeating something over and over. At first he could not understand it, but as it gained in strength it dominated the tumult and he and Iseult both heard it.
     ”No! Let him go!—Let him go!”
     But Iseult still clung to him sobbing wildly. "Take me with thee, Tristram. Ah, take me!" she pleaded, all forgetful of her vow.
     "It cannot be,—not now," he answered sadly. "Some day, if the good God wills, I come again. When I come wilt thou be waiting?"
     "I will be waiting," she repeated brokenly.
     An instant longer he held her close against his breast, then gently put her from him and left the room.