Trials of a Charmed Passion

When King Arthur held his court at Caerleon, his restless Queen was apt to cast a wanton eye on the young knights of his company. But a knight named Launfal was proof against the pretty lady's blandishments, although he risked his life in spurning her. His heart was given to a fairy woman, whom he had met in a woodland, at a time when he was out of favor with the court because of his poverty.

The encounter happened this way. Alone and melancholy, Launfal had ridden deep into the forest one midsummer's day. At length he dismounted, flung himself down on a grassy bank and closed his eyes to the sunshine. After a while, the murmur of sweet voices roused him. Nearby were two golden-haired maidens, who signaled to him. He arose and followed the maids through the trees to a clearing ablaze with wild flowers, where he saw a pavilion of embroidered silk, adorned with gilded roses and crowned with an eagle of burnished gold. It sheltered a maiden who was so radiant that every memory of mortal beauty faded from Launfal's mind.

She welcomed him sweetly and gave him her hand. At her touch, love kindled between the two. Launfal asked that she stay with him always, but this was not possible, the lady said: He was a mortal and she a fairy. She could appear whenever he wished for her, she said, but only on certain conditions. He must never speak of her (no small sacrifice, in a day when knights dedicated every deed to a lady), and he must not summon her at a time when other mortals were present. If her existence was revealed, she would disappear forever to her own distant lands. Fittingly, her name was Tryamour, which meant 'test of love.'

Launfal agreed to her terms, and all that long afternoon they remained together in the sunny clearing. When next he appeared at Caerleon, he seemed a different man. He was richly dressed and bravely armed, and he rode a magnificent charger. He kept alone in his chambers at night, when Tryamour came to him; but by day he shone with happiness. The Queen did not fail to notice this, and from time to time her gray eyes rested on him reflectively. She said little, but at length she summoned Launfal.

He found the Queen in a dark and high-walled palace garden. She quickly came to the point: He had become her heart's desire; she wished to make him her paramour. Unmoved, Launfal courteously refused. The Queen cried;

"You are no man fit for a woman's love."
"Queen," said Launfal, "I am beloved of a lady whose lowliest handmaiden puts your beauty to shame."

It was an insult, of course, but it was worse than that. Launfal had revealed the existence of his lover and thereby closed the gate that had opened between the mortal realm and that of Faerie. Tossing her jeweled braids and trailing threats, Guinevere strode from the garden. Launfal secluded himself in his chamber and mourned. He had betrayed Tryamour. When he called, there was no answer.

Presently, mailed fists drummed at his door. Launfal was bound and taken before King Arthur, for reasons that soon became clear. Guinevere had told the King that his knight had trid to force her love, that she had refused and that he had insulted her with the beauty of his mistress.

The penalty for the double infaction was death. But Arthur's knights looked doubtful when they heard the Queen's tale, for her amorous habits were well known to them. They supported Launfal, and in the end he was asked only to produce his mistress within the year, that all might judge her beauty against that of the Queen. This, of course, Launfal could not do. Thus the day came when he stood in the palace courtyard, head bowed, arms bound, awaiting death by fire.

But before the pyre was set alight, a cool breeze stirred the stifling stillness. It carried the scent of wild flowers. Through the gate on a white palfrey rode Tryamour. Her hair was a halo of gold, her cheeks were softly flushed and her body was as quick and bright as a sunbeam. She smiled upon Launfal and, without speaking a word, turned to the King and court. All were silent.

King Arthur spoke at last:

"If you are Launfal's lady, there is no one who can deny that he spoke truth. He may go free."

So his fellow knights released their brother from his bonds. Without a backward glance, Sir Launfal strode across the courtyard to the lady from the realm of Faerie and leaped up behind her on the white horse. Launfal and Tryamour rode together out of the castle gates and into the meadow beyond, dwindling in the distance and finally vanishing.

Tryamour was never seen again. It was said that she had taken her lover far across the seas to live on the fairy island of Avalon, from which she never could return. But Launfal reappeared in the forests near Caerleon once each year on the eve of the day he had left. A shadowy figure in the fading light of dusk, he was mounted on a splendid charger, and he rode alone, a hint of longing on his face for the mortal world that he had forsaken.

See also
Fairies - Content | Myths and Legends