His parents were wed in a castle standing above the sea called Tintagel "well fenced against all assault or engines of war, (with) its keep, which the giants had built long ago, (a) compact of great stones, like a chess board of vert and azure." He was lost for a long time, his royal origin hidden and unknown, but fate was kind and he was brought back to King Mark, ruler of Cornwall, brother of his deceased mother Blanchefleur (the husband of his late father, Rivalen King of Lyonesse). He served King Mark loyally, loving him as his lord and like a father. But there were battles fought, a dragon slain, a bird which came to King Mark with a girl's fine strand of hair and a love potion drank by the wrong couple until it all came to this: he, Tristan and Iseult the Fair love each other but Iseult the Fair is to marry King Mark. A touching scene between the two before the wedding:
"Two days she (Iseult's lady-in-waiting) watched them, seeing them refuse all food or comfort and seeking each other as blind men seek, wretched apart and together more wretched still, for then they trembled each for the first avowal.
"On the third day, as Tristan neared the tent on deck where Iseult sat, she saw him coming and she said to him, very humbly, 'Come in, my lord.'
"'Queen,' said Tristan, 'why do you call me lord? Am I not your liege and vassal, to revere and serve and cherish you as my lady and Queen?'
"But Iseult answered, 'No, you know that you are my lord and my master, and I your slave. Ah, why did I not sharpen those wounds of the wounded singer, or let die that dragon-slayer in the grasses of the marsh? Why did I not, while he lay helpless in the bath, plant on him the blow of the sword I brandished? But then I did not know what now I know!'
"'And what is it that you know, Iseult? What is it that torments you?'
"'Ah, all that I know torments me, and all that I see. This sky and this sea torment me, and my body and my life.'
"She laid her arm upon Tristan's shoulder, the light of her eyes was drowned and her lips trembled.
"He repeated: 'Friend, what is it that torments you?'
"'THE LOVE OF YOU,' she said. Whereat he put his lips to hers."
Aaaaaw, the collective sigh of teenage girls in an imaginary moviehouse as Tristan and Iseult exchange bodily fluids for the first time. On the other hand I, jaded by love I no longer need to suffer vicariously, just continue munching my popcorn (barbecue flavor keeps me awake) and just wait for this scene where chess is used as a signal for Iseult to cheat on her husband-king:
"Dinas accordingly returned to Tintagel, climbed the stair and entered the hall. Under the canopy King Mark and Iseult the Fair sat over a game of chess. Dinas seated himself on a stool beside the Queen, as though to observe her play, and twice, pretending to point out moves to her, he posed his hand on the chess board: the second time, Iseult perceived on one of his fingers the jasper ring. Great joy immediately overwhelmed her. Lightly she jarred Dinas' arm, so that several pawns fell in a heap.
"'Look, seneschal,' said she, 'you have disturbed my game, and in a way that prevents my resuming it.'
"Mark left the hall, Iseult repaired to her chamber and had the seneschal called to her:
"'Friend, you bear a message from Tristan?"
Wonderful, very old(circa 1300's) love story. And who was the author? There were several:
"The good singers of old time, Beroul and Thomas of Built, Gilbert and Gottfried told this tale for lovers and none other, and, by my pen, they beg you for your prayers. They greet those who are cast down, and those in heart, those troubled and those filled with desire, those who are overjoyed and those disconsolate, all lovers. May all herein find strength against inconstancy, against unfairness and despite and loss and pain and all the bitterness of loving."