Today is the last day you can enter for a chance to win giveaways in the Heartbreaker Blog Hop. To enter, follow this link and comment on THAT post. But wait!
Before you scamper off to do more blog hopping, I invite you to check out my Mythical Monday post. It’s something I do each Monday. This week, keeping with the heartbreaker theme, I’m looking at legends of valor.
Let’s face it. There was a lot of heartbreak taking place in heroic ballads of yore. The romantic in me has always been attracted to long ago heroes like Robin Hood, King Arthur, Tristan and Taliesin to name a few. I think I’ve always felt saddest for Arthur, probably why I’ve never been a huge Lancelot fan. I wanted Arthur and Guinevere to be together, the kingdom of Camelot to shine brightly, and for Arthur’s dream of ‘might does not make right’ to live on through the chivalrous deeds of the Knights of the Roundtable. Today, I want to focus on a lesser known legend. One that’s rife with heartbreak and valor—Tristan and Iseult.
You can find several different renditions of this tale, but the core element is the same—the doomed romance between Marc of Cornwall’s heir and Iseult of Ireland. Here is the version I am most familiar with:
Tristan is King Marc’s nephew during a time when Cornwall and Ireland are at war. Every ten years, Ireland demands Cornish tribute, or a combatant of princely blood must face their champion, Morholt, who has never been defeated.
Marc sends Tristan, his greatest knight and heir to the throne. Tristan defeats Morholt, a giant of a man, but is grievously wounded during the battle. As Morholt lies dying he tells Tristan he used a poisoned sword to inflict the wound, and only the Queen of Ireland, a skilled healer can save him from death. Tristan disguises himself as a musician and seeks out the Irish queen. While in her care, he glimpses her daughter, Iseult the Fair, and is overcome by her beauty. When he returns to Cornwall he tells his uncle about her.
Marc has been under increasing pressure to marry from the nobles of his court. Knowing a marriage to Iseult will bring peace between Cornwall and Ireland, he sends Tristan back to win her hand for him.
Iseult has no love for him or Marc but, like the Cornish king, sees how marriage would benefit their realms. Knowing it will not be easy for her daughter to lie with an enemy, the Queen of Ireland prepares a love potion for Iseult and Marc to drink on their wedding night. Unfortunately, Tristan and Iseult mistakenly drink it during the voyage and fall instantly, madly in love.
Iseult marries King Marc when they reach Cornwall but her heart has already been claimed by Tristan. The young lovers try to keep their passion a secret, meeting when they can.
Eventually, they flee together and live in the woods, hunted by Marc’s men. After three years on the run, Iseult returns to Marc and Tristan is banished from the kingdom.
Tristan begins to serve many kings and kingdoms, eventually marrying a woman known as Iseult of the White Hands (I’m going to refer to her as Isolde to keep things less confusing). Despite the marriage, Tristan’s heart still belongs to Iseult. Isolde realizes she is a pale substitute for the woman he truly loves, and her heart grows hard with bitterness and jealousy.
One day while battling to save a friend, Tristan is struck with a poisoned lance. Nothing is able to save him, but he knows Iseult has inherited her mother’s healing magic. He sends a ring to her with a message asking her to come to him. He will be on the beach, waiting to see her ship. If she still loves him and wishes to be with him, she should fly a white sail. If she wants nothing to do with him ever again, she should hoist a black sail and continue past.
Iseult rushes to help him, setting sail immediately, but Tristan’s health continues to deteriorate. He drags himself to the shore on the day he expects her ship to arrive, propping himself to rest against a rock. It’s there Isolde finds him. Close to death, Tristan sinks to the sand, too weak to keep himself upright. He can’t see the ocean, and thus asks Isolde to look for the ship.
His wife has learned of his message to Iseult. She spies the ship approaching, flying a blinding white sail but, when Tristan asks, she tells him it is black. Heartbroken, he surrenders to grief and dies.
When Iseult arrives and finds her dead lover on shore, she lies down beside him, kisses him and dies in his arms.
I originally read this story in high school and still have my battered paperback copy. The romantic in me has always been saddened by stories that don’t have HEA’s like those of Tristan and Iseult, Arthur and Guinevere. At least Robin Hood and Maid Marian had a happily-ever-after.
Do you have a favorite legend of valor or heroic tale? If you could rewrite the ending would you give the principal players a different ending to bring happiness?