“My Lord Tristram,” Ethelrida had said to her cousin, “I beg of you to conduct to my festal board your own most beautiful Lady Isolt. Remember, on Monday you leave us for the realm of King Mark, so make the most of your time!” And she turned and led forward Zara, and placed her hand in his; she, and they all, were too preoccupied with excitement and joy to see the look of deep pain in his eyes.
He held his wife’s hand, until the procession started, and neither of them spoke a word. Zara, still exalted with the spirit of the night, felt only a wild excitement. She was glad he could see her beauty and her hair, and she raised her head and shook it back, as they started, with a provoking air.
But Tristram never spoke; and by the time they had reached the banqueting-hall, some of her exaltation died down, and she felt a chill.
Her hair was so very long and thick that she had to push it aside, to sit down, and in doing so a mesh flew out and touched his face; and the Crow, who was watching the whole drama intently, noticed that he shivered and, if possible, grew more pale. So he turned to his own servant, behind his chair, who with some of the other valets, was helping to wait, and whispered to him, “Go and see that Lord Tancred is handed brandy, at once, before the soup.”
And so the feast began.
On Zara’s other hand sat the Duke, and on Tristram’s, Brangaine—for so she and Ethelrida had arranged for their later plan; and after the brandy, which Tristram dimly wondered why he should have been handed, he pulled himself together, and tried to talk; and Zara busied herself with the Duke. She quite came out of her usual silence, and laughed, and looked so divinely attractive that the splendid old gentleman felt it all going to his head; and his thoughts wondered bluntly, how soon, if he were his nephew, he would take her away after dinner and make love to her all to himself! But these modern young fellows had not half the mettle that he had had!
So at last dessert-time came, with its toasts for the Queen Guinevere. And the bridal pair had spoken together never a word; and Lady Anningford, who was watching them, began to fear for the success of her plan. However, there was no use turning back now. So, amidst jests of all sorts in keeping with the spirit of Camelot and the Table Round, at last Brangaine rose and, taking the gold cup in front of her, said,
“I, Brangaine, commissioned by her Lady Mother, to conduct the Lady Isolt safely to King Mark, under the knightly protection of the Lord Tristram, do now propose to drink their health, and ye must all do likewise, Lords and Ladies of Arthur’s court.” And she sipped her own glass, while she handed the gold cup to the Duke, who passed it on to the pair; and Tristram, because all eyes were upon him, forced himself to continue the jest. So he rose and, taking Zara’s hand, while he bowed to the company, gave her the cup to drink, and then took it himself, while he drained the measure. And every one cried, amidst great excitement, “The health and happiness of Tristram and Isolt!”