The Man of Law's Tale

Introduction to the Man of Law's Tale:
The words of the Host to the company.

Our Host saw well that the bright sun
The ark of his artificial day had run
The fourth part, and half an hour and more,
And though he was not deep started in lore,
He knew it was the eighteenth day (5)
Of April, that is messenger of May;
And saw well that the shadow of every tree
Was as in length the same quantity
That was the body erect that caused it.
And therefore by the shadow he took his wit (10)
That Phoebus, which shone so clear and bright,
Degrees was forty five climbed on high,
And for that day, in that latitude,
It was ten of the clock, he did conclude,
And suddenly he pulled his horse around. (15)

"Good folk," quoth he, "I warn you, all this group,
The fourth part of this day is gone.
Now for the love of God and of Saint John,
Lose no time, as far as you may.
Gentle people, time wastes night and day, (20)
And steals from us, what with privately sleeping,
And what through negligence in our waking,
As does the stream that turns never again,
Descending from the mountain into plain.
Well knows Seneca and many a philosopher (25)
to bewail time more than gold in coffer;
For "Loss of chattel may recovered be,
But loss of time ruins us,' quoth he.
It will not come again, without doubt,
No more than will Malkin's maidenhood, (30)
When she had lost it in her wantonness.
Let us not grow mold thus in idleness.

"Sir Man of Law," quoth he, "so have you bliss,
Tell us a tale at once, as the agreement is.
You are submitted, through your free assent, (35)
To stand in this case at my judgment.
Acquit you now of your behest;
Than have you done your duty at least."

"Host," quoth he, "in God's name, I assent;
To break an agreement is not my intent. (40)
Behest is debt, and I will hold gladly
All my behests, I can no better say.
For such a law as a man gives another man,
He should use it himself, by right;
Thus says our text. But nonetheless, certainly, (45)
I can right now no thrifty tale say
That Chaucer, though he knows but lewdly
Of meter and of rhyming craftily,
Has said them in such English as he knows
Long ago, as knows many a man; (50)
And if he has not said them, dear brother,
In one book, he has said them in another.
For he has told of lovers up and down
More than Ovid made mention of
In his Heroides, which are full old. (55)
What should I tell them, since they are all told?

"In youth he wrote of Ceyx and Alcion,
And since has spoken of every one,
These noble wives and these lovers also.
Whoever will his large volume seek, (60)
Called the Legend of Good Women,
There may he see the large wounds wide
Of Lucretia, and Babylon's Thisbe;
The sword of Dido for the false Enee;
The tree of Phyllis for her Demophon; (65)
The complaint of Deinira and of Hermione,
Of Adrianne, and of Isiphile -
The barren isle standing in the sea -
The drowned Leander for his Hero;
The tears of Helen, and also the woe (70)
Of Briseyde, and of you, Laodomia;
The cruelty of you, queen Medea,
your little children hanging by the neck,
For your Jason, that was of love so false!
Of Hepermistra, Penelope, Alceste, (75)
Your wifehood he commends with the best!

"But certainly no word wrote he
Of the same wicked example of Canacee,
Who loved her own brother sinfully -
Of such cursed stories I say fie! - (80)
Or else of Apollonius of Tyre,
How that the cursed king Antioch
Bereft his daughter of her maidenhood,
That is so horrible a tale to read,
When he threw her upon the pavement. (85)
And therefore he, of full advisement,
Would never write in none of his sermons
Of such unkind abominations,
Nor will I any rehearse, it that I may.

"But of my tale how shall I do this day? (90)
I am loathe to be likened, doubtless,
To Muses that men call Pierides -
'Metamorphoses' knows what I mean'
But nonetheless, I reckon not a bean
Though I should come after him with a hawthorn bake. (95)
I speak in prose, and let him the rhymes make."
And with that word he, with a sober face,
Began his tale, as you shall after hear.

The prologue of the Man's Tale of Law.

O hateful harm, condition of poverty!
With thirst, with cold, with hunger so confounded! (100)
To ask help you shame your own heart;
If you do not ask, with need are you so wounded
That truly need unwraps all your wounds hidden!
In spite of your care, you must for indigence
Either steal, or beg, or borrow your expense! (105)

You blame Christ and say full bitterly
He miss-departs riches temporal;
Your neighbor you accuse sinfully,
And say you have too little and he has all.
"For faith," you say, "sometime he reckon shall, (110)
When his tail shall burn in the coals,
For he does not help the needful in their need."

Hearken what is the sentence of the wise:
"Better it is to die than have indigence";
"Your same neighbor will you despise." (115)
If you are poor, farewell your reverence!
Yet of the wise man take this sentence:
"All the days of poor men are miserable."
Beware, therefore, before you come to that place!

If you are poor, your brother hates you, (120)
And all your friends flee from you, alas!
Oh rich merchants, full of wealth are you,
Oh noble, oh prudent folk, as in this case!
Your bags are not filled with a losing throw,
But with the winning hand, that runs in your chance; (125)
At Christmas merry may you dance!

You seek land and sea for your winnings;
As wise folk you know all the estate
Of reigns; you are fathers of tidings
And tales, both of peace and of debate. (130)
I would be right now of tales desolate,
Were not that a merchant, gone many a year,
Taught me a tale, which you shall hear.

Here begins the Man of Law his tale.

In Syria there once dwelt a company
Of rich merchants, who were trustworthy and true, (135)
Who wide and far sent their spicery,
Cloth of gold, and satins rich of hue.
Their business was so thrifty and so new
That every man was eager to exchange
With them, and also to sell them their wares. (140)

Now fell it that the masters of that sort
Had shaped themselves to go to Rome;
Were if for business or sport,
No other message would they thither send,
But went themselves to Rome; this is the end. (145)
And in such place as thought to gain advantage
For their intent, they took their lodging.

These merchants had sojourned in that town
A certain time, as fell to their pleasance.
And so befell that the excellent renown (150)
Of the Emperor's daughter, dame Custance,
Reported was, with every circumstance,
To these Syrian merchants in such ways,
From day to day, as I shall to you devise.

This was the communal voice of every man: (155)
"Our Emperor of Rome - God watch over him! -
A daughter has that, since the world began,
To reckon as well her goodness as beauty,
Was never such another as is she.
I pray to God in honor her sustain, (160)
And would she were of all Europe the queen.

"In her is high beauty, without pride,
Youth, without greenhood or folly;
To all her works virtue is her guide;
Humbleness has slain in her all tyranny. (165)
She is the mirror of all courtesy;
Her heart is truly a chamber of holiness,
Her hand, minister of freedom for alms."

And all this speech was honest, as God is true.
But now to purpose let us turn again. (170)
These merchants had loaded their ships anew,
And when they had this blissful maiden seen,
Home to Syria they went full fain,
And did their needs as they had done before,
And lived in wealth; I can tell you no more. (175)

Now it fell that these merchants stood in grace
Of him that was the Sultan of Syria;
For when they came from any strange place,
He would, of his benign courtesy,
Make them good cheer, and busily espy (180)
Tidings of sundry kingdoms, to learn
The wonders that they might see or hear.

Among other things, specially,
These merchants had told him of dame Custance
So great noble in earnest, in full detail, (185)
That this Sultan had caught so great pleasance
To have her figure in his remembrance,
That all his lust and all his busy concern
Was to love her while his life may endure.

Perhaps in the same large book (190)
Which men call the heaven written
With stars, when he his birth took,
That he for love should have his death, alas!
For in the stars, clearer than is glass,
Is written, God knows, whoever can it read, (195)
The death of every man, without doubt.

In stars, many a winter there before,
Was written the death of Hector, Achilles,
Of Pompey, Julius, before they were born;
The strife of Thebes; and of Hercules, (200)
Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The death; but men's wits are so dull
That no man can well read it at full.

This Sultan for his private counsel sent,
And, shortly of this matter to pass, (205)
He had to them declared his intent,
And said to them, certainly, but he might have grace
To have Custance within a little time,
He would be dead; and charged them in haste
To shape for his life some remedy. (210)

Diverse men diverse things said;
They argued, cast up and down;
Many a subtle reason forth was laid;
They spoke of magic and deception.
But finally, as in conclusion, (215)
They could see in that no advantage,
Nor in any other way, save marriage.

Then saw they therein such difficulty
By way of reason, to speak all plain,
Because there was such diversity (220)
Between both their laws, that they said
They believed that no "Christian prince would fain
Wed his child under our law sweet
That we were taught by Mohammed, our prophet."

And he answered, "Rather than I lose (225)
Custance, I will be christened, doubtless.
I must be hers; I may nothing other choose.
I pray you hold your arguments in peace;
Save my life, and be not reckless
To get her that has my life in cure, (230)
For in this woe I may not long endure."

What needs greater discussion?
I say, by treaties and embassy,
And by the pope's meditation,
And all the church, and all the chivalry, (235)
That in destruction of idolatry,
And the increase of Christ's law dear,
They were accorded, so as you shall hear:

How that the Sultan and his baronage
And all his lieges should christened be, (240)
And he shall have Custance in marriage,
And certain gold, I know not what quantity;
And this all found sufficient confidence.
This same accord was sworn on either side;
Now, fair Custance, almighty God you guide! (245)

Now would some men wait, as I guess,
That I should tell all the purveyance
That the Emperor, of his great nobility,
Had shaped for his daughter, dame Custance.
Well may men know that such great ordinance (250)
May no man tell in a little clause
As was arrayed for so high a cause.

Bishops were shaped with her to wend,
Lords, ladies, knights of renown,
And other folk enough; this is the end; (255)
And notified was throughout the town
That every man, with great devotion,
Should pray to Christ that he this marriage
Receive well and speed this voyage.

The day was come of her departing; (260)
I say, the woeful day fatal was come,
That there could be no longer tarrying,
But forthward they them dressed, all and some.
Custance, that was with sorrow all overcome,
Full pale arose, and dressed her to wend; (265)
For well she was that there was no other end.

Alas, what wonder is it that she wept.
That shall be sent to a strange nation
From friends that so tenderly her kept,
And to be bound under subjection (270)
Of one, she knew not his condition?
Husbands were all good, and had been long since;
That know wives; I dare say to you no more.

"Father," she said, "your wretched child Custance,
Your young daughter fostered up so soft, (275)
And you, my mother, my sovereign pleasance
Over all things, except Christ on loft,
Custance your child recommends herself oft
Unto your grace, for I shall to Syria,
Never shall I see you more with my eyes. (280)

"Alas, unto the heathen nation
I must at once, since it is your will;
But Christ, who died for our redemption
So give me grace to his behests fulfill!
I, wretched woman, no matter though I die! (285)
Women are born to thralldom and penance,
And to be under man's governance."

I believe at Troy, when Pyrrhus broke the wall
Before Ilion burned, at Thebes the city,
Nor at Rome, for the harm done through Hannibal (290)
That Romans had vanquished times three,
Was not heard such tender weeping for pity
As in the chamber was for her departing;
But forth she must, whether she weeps or sings.

Oh first moving! Cruel firmament, (295)
With your daily sway that crowds always
And hurls all from east to Occident
That naturally would hold another way,
Your crowding set the heavens in such array
At the beginning of this fierce voyage, (300)
That cruel Mars has slain this marriage.

Infortunate ascendant torturous,
Of which the lord is helpless fallen, alas,
Out of his angle into the darkest house!
Oh Mars, oh influence, as in this case! (305)
Oh feeble moon unhappy is your pace!
You knit yourself where you are not received;
Where you were well, from thence are you banished.

Imprudent Emperor of Rome, alas!
Was there no astrologer in all your town? (310)
Is no time better than another in such case?
Of voyage is there no selection,
Namely to folk of high condition?
Not when a root is from birth known?
Alas, we were too lewd or too slow! (315)

To ship was brought this woeful fair maid
Solemnly, with every circumstance.
"Now Jesus Christ be with you all!" she said;
There was no more, but "Farewell, fair Custance!"
She pained herself to make good countenance; (320)
And forth I let her sail in this manner,
And turn I will again to my matter.

The mother of the Sultan, well of vices,
Had spied her son's plain intent,
How he would leave his old sacrifices; (325)
And right at once she for her counsel sent,
And they were come to know what she meant.
And when assembled was this folk together,
She sat herself down, and said as you shall hear.

"Lords," quoth she, "you know every one, (330)
How that my son is pointed to leave
The holy laws of our Koran,
Given by God's messenger Mohammed.
But one vow to great God I swear,
The life shall rather out of my body start (335)
Before Mohammed's law is out of my heart!

"What should tide us of this new law
But thraldom to our bodies and penance,
And afterward in hell to be drawn,
For we renounced Mohammed our belief? (340)
But, lords, will you make assurance,
As I shall say, assenting to my lore.
And I shall make us safe forever more?"

They swore and assented, every man,
To live with her and die, and by her stand, (345)
And each, in the best way he can,
To strengthen her shall all his friends try;
And she had this enterprise taken on hand,
Which you shall hear that I shall devise,
And to them all she spoke right in this way: (350)

"We shall first feign us Christianity to take -
Cold water shall not grieve us but a little! -
And I shall such a feast and a revel make
That, as I believe, I shall the Sultan requite.
For though his wife be christened never so white, (355)
She shall have need to wash away the read,
Though she a font full of water she with her brings."

Oh Sultaness, root of inequity!
Virago, you Semiramis the second!
Oh serpent under femininity, (360)
Like to the serpent deep in hell bound!
Oh feigned woman, all that may confound
Virtue and innocence, through your malice,
Is bred in you, as nest of every vice!

Oh Satan, envious since the same day (365)
That you were chased from our heritage,
Well you know to women the old way!
You made Eve bring us in service;
You will destroy this Christian marriage.
Your instrument - so wail-away the while! - (370)
You make of women, when you will beguile.

This Sultaness, whom I blame thus and curse,
Let privately her counsel go their way.
Why should I in this tale longer tarry?
She rode to the Sultan on a day, (375)
And told him that she would renounce her faith,
And Christianity of priest's hands take,
Repenting herself that she was a heathen so long,

Beseeching him to do her that honor,
That she must have the Christian folk to feast - (380)
"To please them I will do my labor."
The Sultan said, "I will do at your behest,"
And kneeling thanked her of that request.
So glad he was, he knew not what to say.
She kissed her son, and home she went her way. (385)

Explicit prima pars.*
*(End the first part)
Sequitur pars secunda.*
*(Follow part the second)

Arrived were these Christian folk to land
In Syria, with a great solemn group,
And hastily this Sultan sent his message
First to his mother, and all the reign about,
And said his wife was come, our of doubt, (390)
And prayed her to ride to the queen,
The honor of his reign to sustain.

Great was the press, and rich was the array
Of Syrians and Romans met together;
The mother of the Sultan, rich and gay, (395)
Received her also with happy cheer
As any mother might her daughter dear,
And to the next city there beside
A soft pace solemnly did they ride.

I don't believe the triumph of Julius, (400)
Of which Lucan made such a boast,
Was more royal or more elaborate
Than was the assembly of this blissful host.
But this scorpion, this wicked spirit,
The Sultaness, for all her flattering, (405)
Cast under this full mortally to sting.

The Sultan came himself soon after this
So royally that it is wondrous to tell,
And welcomed her with all joy and bliss.
And thus in mirth and joy I let them dwell; (410)
The fruit of this matter is that I tell.
When time came, men though it for the best
That revels stint, and men went to their rest.

The time came, this old Sultaness
Had ordained this feast of which I told, (415)
And to the feast Christian folk themselves dressed
In general, yea, both young and old.
Here might men feast and royalty behold,
And dainties more that I can to you devise;
But all too dear the bought it before they rose. (420)

O sudden woe, that ever is successor
To worldly bliss, sprayed with bitterness,
The end of the joy of our worldly labor!
Woe occupies the end of our gladness.
Hear this counsel for your truth: (425)
Upon your glad day have in your mind
The unanticipated woe or harm that comes behind.

For shortly to tell, at one word,
The Sultan and the Christians every one
Were all hewn and stabbed at the board, (430)
Except for only dame Custance alone.
This old Sultaness, cursed crone,
Had with her friends done this cursed deed,
For she herself would all the country lead.

There was no Syrian that was converted, (435)
That of the counsel of the Sultan knew,
That he was not all hewn before he escaped.
And Custance did they take at once, foot hot,
And in a ship all rudderless, God knows,
They had set her, and bid her learn to sail (440)
Out of Syria again toward Italy.

A certain treasure that she thither had,
And, true to say, food of great plenty
They had given to her, and clothes also she had,
And forth she sailed in the salt sea. (445)
Oh my Custance, full of benignity,
Oh Emperor's young daughter dear,
May he that is lord of Fortune you steer!

She blessed herself, and with full piteous voice
Unto the cross of Christ thus said she: (450)
"Oh clear, oh blessed altar, holy cross,
Red with the Lamb's blood full of pity,
That washes the world from the old inequity,
Me from the fiend and from his claws keep,
That day that I shall drench in the deep. (455)

"Victorious tree, protection of true,
That only worthy was to bear
The King of Heaven with his wound new,
The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spear,
Banisher of fiends out of him and her (460)
On which your limbs faithfully extend,
Me keep, and give me might my life to amend."

Years and days floated this creature
Throughout the Sea of Greece unto the Strait
Of Gibraltar, as it was her fate. (465)
On many a sorry meal now may she feed;
After her death full often may she wait,
Before the wild waves will her drive
Unto the place where she shall arrive.

God liked to show his wonderful miracle
In her, for we should see his mighty works;
Christ, which is to every harm medicine,
And certain means oft, as know clerks, (480)
Does a thing for certain end that full dark is
To man's wit, that for our ignorance
We can not know his prudent purveyance.

Now since she was not at the feast slain,
Who kept her from the drenching in the sea? (485)
Who kept Jonah in the fish's maw
Until he was spouted up at Nineveh?
Well may men know it was no man but he
That kept Hebrews from their drenching,
With dry feet throughout the sea passing. (490)

Who bade the four spirits of tempest
That power had to annoy land and sea,
Both north and south, and also west and east,
"Annoy neither sea, nor land, nor tree"?
Truly, the commander of that was he (495)
That from the tempest always this woman kept
As well when she woke as when she slept.

Where might this woman meat and drink have
Three years and more? How lasted her food?
Who fed the Egyptian Mary in the cave, (500)
Or in the desert? No man but Christ, without fail.
Five thousand folk it was as great marvel
With loaves five and fishes two to feed.
God sent his plenty at her great need.

She drove forth into our ocean (505)
Throughout our wild sea, until at last
Under a castle that I cannot name,
Far in Northumberland the wave her cast,
And in the sand his ship stuck so fast
That thence would it stay of all a tide; (510)
The will of Christ was that she should abide.

The constable of the castle fared down
To see this wreck, and all the ship he sought,
And found this weary woman full of care;
He found also the treasure that she brought. (515)
In her language mercy she besought,
The life out of her body to twain,
Her to deliver of the woe that she was in.

A manner Latin corrupt was her speech,
But nevertheless thereby she was understood. (520)
The constable, when he liked no longer to seek,
This woeful woman he brought to the land.
She knelt down and thanked God's delivery;
But what she was she would to no man say,
For foul or fair, though she should die. (525)

She said she was so dazed in the sea
That she forgot her mind, by her oath.
The constable had of her such great pity,
And also his wife, that they wept for rue.
She was so diligent, without sloth, (530)
To serve and please all in that place
That all loved her who looked on her face.

The constable and dame Hermengild, his wife,
Were pagans, and that country everywhere;
But Hermengild loved her right as her life, (535)
And Custance had so long sojourned there,
In prayers, with many a bitter tear,
Until Jesus had converted through his grace
Dame Hermengild, constabless of that place.

In all that land no Christians dared gather; (540)
All Christian folk had been chased from that country
Though pagans, that conquered all about
The coasts of the north, by land and sea.
To Wales fled the Christianity
Of old Britons dwelling in this isle; (545)
There was her refuge for the meanwhile.

But still not were Christian Britons so exiled
That there were not some that in their privacy
Honored Christ and heathen folk beguiled,
And near the castle such there dwelt three. (550)
One of them was blind and might not see,
Unless it was with the same eye of his mind
With which men see, after they are blind.

Bright was the sun as in a summer's day,
for which the constable and his wife also (555)
And Custance had taken the right way
Toward the sea a furlong away or two,
To play and to roam to and fro,
And in their walk this blind man they met,
Crooked and old, with eyes fast shut. (560)

"In name of Christ," cried this blind Briton,
"Dame Hermengild, give me my sight again!"
This lady waxed afraid of the sound,
Lest her husband, shortly to say,
Would for Jesus Christ's love have her slain, (565)
Until Custance made her bold, and bade her work
The will of Christ, as daughter of his church.

The constable waxed troubled of that sight,
And said, "What amounts all this fare?"
Custance answered, "Sir, it is Christ's might, (570)
That helps folk out of the fiend's snare."
And so to an extent she did our law declare
That she the constable, before it was evening
Converted, and in Christ made him believe.

This constable was not lord of this place (575)
Of which I speak, where he Custance found,
But kept it strongly many a winter's space
Under Alla, king of all Northumberland,
That was full wise, and worthy of his hand
Against the Scots, as men may well hear; (580)
But turn I will again to my matter.

Satan, who ever waits us to beguile,
Saw of Custance all her perfection,
And cast at once how he might requite her while,
And made a young knight that dwelt in that town (585)
Love her so hot, of foul affection,
That truly he thought he should die,
But he of her might once have his will.

He wooed her, but to no avail;
She would do no sin, by any way. (590)
And for spite he compassed in his thought
To make her a shameful death to die.
He waited until the constable was away,
And secretly upon a night he crept
In Hermengild's chamber, while she slept. (595)

Weary, awake so long for her prayers,
Slept Custance, and Hermengild also.
This knight, through Satan's temptations,
Went softly to the bed,
And cut the throat of Heremengild in two, (600)
And laid the bloody knife by dame Custance,
And went his way, there God give him mischance!

Soon after came the constable home again,
And also Alla, that was king of that land,
And saw his wife dispiteously slain, (605)
For which he full oft wept and wrung his hands,
And in the bed the bloody knife he found
By Dame Custance. Alas, what might she say?
For truly woe was with her always.

To king Alla was told all this mischance, (610)
And also the time, and where, and in what way
That in a ship was found this Custance,
As here-before you have heard described.
The king's heart of pity began to tremble,
When he saw so benign a creature (615)
Fallen in distress and dark fate.

For as the lamb toward his death is brought,
So stood this innocent before the king.
This false knight, that had this treason wrought,
Did accuse that she had done this thing. (620)
But nonetheless, there was a great mourning
Among the people, and they said they can not guess
That she had done so great a wickedness.

For they had seen her ever so virtuous,
And loving Hermengild right as her life. (625)
Of this bore witness each in that house,
Save he that Hermengild slew with his knife.
This gentle king had been greatly moved
Of these witnesses, and thought he would inquire
Deeper in this case, a truth to learn. (630)

Alas! Custance, you have no champion,
And you cannot fight, so wail-away!
But he that died for our redemption,
And bound Satan (and still lies where he laid),
So be your strong champion this day! (635)
For, unless Christ an open miracle reveals,
Without guilt you shall be slain as swift.

She set herself down on knees, and thus she said:
"Immortal God, who saved Susannah
From false blame, and you, merciful maid, (640)
Mary I mean, daughter to Saint Anne,
Before whose child angels sing Hosanna,
If I am guiltless of this felony,
My succor be, or else shall I die!"

Have you not sometime seen a pale face, (645)
Among a press, of he that is being led
Toward his death, where he gets no grace,
And such a color in his face has had
Men might know his face that was in trouble
Amongst all the faces in the crowd? (650)
So stood Custance, and looked her about.

Oh queens, living in prosperity,
Duchesses, and you ladies everyone,
Have some pity on her adversity!
An Emperor's daughter stood alone; (655)
She had no man to whom she might make her moan.
O blood royal, that stands in this dread,
Far are you friends at your great need!

This king Alla had such compassion,
As gentle heart is filled of pity, (660)
That from his eyes ran water down.
"Now hastily have fetched a book," quoth he,
"And if this knight will swear how that she
This woman slew, yet will we us advise
Whom that we will shall have as our justice." (665)

A Briton book, written with Evangiles,
Was fetched, and this book he swore at once
She guilty was, and in the mean while
A hand smote him upon the neck bone,
That down he fell at once as a stone, (670)
And both his eyes burst out of his face
In sight of everybody in that place.

A voice was heard in general audience,
And said, "You have slandered, guiltless,
The daughter of holy church in high presence; (675)
Thus have you done, and yet hold I my peace!"
Of this marvel aghast was all the press;
As bewildered folk they stood each one,
For dread of vengeance, save Custance alone.

Great was the dread and also the repentance (680)
Of them that had wrong suspicion
Upon this hapless innocent, Custance;
And for this miracle, in conculsion,
And by Custance's meditation,
The king - and many another in that place - (685)
Was converted, thanked be Christ's grace!

This false knight was slain for his untruth
By judgment of Alla hastily;
And yet Custance had of his death great pity.
After this Jesus, of his mercy, (690)
Made Alla wed full solemnly
This holy maiden, that is so bright and shines;
And thus has Christ made Custance a queen.

But who was woeful, if I shall not lie,
Of this wedding but Donegild, and no more, (695)
The king's mother, full of tyranny?
She thought her cursed heart burst in two.
She would not her son had done so;
She thought it a spite that he should take
So strange a creature to be his mate. (700)

I like not of the chaff, or of the straw,
To make so long a tale as the corn.
What should I tell of the royalty
At marriage, or which course went before;
Who blew in a trumpet or a horn? (705)
The fruit of every tale is to say:
They ate, and drank, and danced, and sang and played.

They went to bed, as it was good and right;
For though that wives be full holy things
They must take in patience at night (710)
Such manner of necessities as are pleasing
To folk that have wedded them with rings,
And lay a little their holiness aside,
As for the time, it may no better betide.

On her he begat a boy child at once (715)
And to a bishop, and his constable also,
He took his wife to keep, when he was gone
Toward Scotland, his foe-men to seek.
Now fair Custance, who is so humble and meek,
So long was gone with child, until that still (720)
She held to her chamber, abiding Christ's will.

The time was come that a boy child she bore;
Maricius at the font they him called.
This constable did forth send a messenger,
And wrote unto his king, who was called Alla, (725)
How that this blissful tiding was fallen,
And other tidings useful to say.
He took the letter, and forth he went his way.

This messenger, to do his advantage,
Unto the king's mother rode swift, (730)
And saluted her full fair in his language:
"Madame," quoth he, "you may be glad and blithe,
And thank God a hundred thousand times!
My lady queen has a child, without doubt,
To joy and bliss to all this reign about. (735)

"Lo, here are the letters sealed of this thing,
That I must bear with all the haste I may.
If you will send aught unto you son the King,
I am your servant, both night and day."
Donegild answered, "As now at this time, nay; (740)
But here all night I will that you take your rest.
Tomorrow will I say you what I like."

This messenger drank steadily ale and wine,
And stolen were his letters secretly
Out of his box, while he slept like swine; (745)
And counterfeited was full subtly
Another letter, wrought full sinfully,
Unto the king direct of this mater
From his constable, as you shall after hear.

The letter said the queen delivered was (750)
Of so horrible a fiendish creature
That in the castle none so hardy was
That any while dared there endure.
The mother was an elf, by fate
Come, by charms or by sorcery, (755)
And every man hated her company.

Woe was this king when he this letter had seen,
But to no man he told his sorrows sore,
But of his own hand he wrote again,
"Welcome the order of Christ forevermore (760)
To I who am now learned in his lore!
Lord, welcome is your lust and your pleasance;
My lust I put in all your ordinance.

"Keep this child, albeit foul or fair,
And also my wife, unto my homecoming. (765)
Christ, when he likes, may send me an heir
More agreeable than this to my liking."
This letter he sealed, privately weeping,
Which to the messenger was taken soon,
And forth he went; there is no more to do. (770)

Oh messenger, full of drunkenness,
Strong is your breath, and your limbs falter always,
And you betray all secrets.
Your mind is lost, you jangle as a jay,
Your face is turned in a new array. (775)
Where drunkenness rules any group,
There is no counsel had, without doubt.

O Donegild, I have no English proper
To your malice and your tyranny!
And therefore to the fiend I you resign; (780)
Let him write of your treachery!
Fie, mannish, fie! - oh nay, by God, I lie -
Fie, fiend-like spirit, for I dare well tell,
Though you here walk, your spirit is in hell!

This messenger came from the king again, (785)
And at the king's mother's court he alighted,
And she was of this messenger full fain,
And pleased him in all that ever she might.;
He drank, and well his girdle stuffed;
He slept, and he snorted in his guise (790)
All night, until the sun began to rise.

Again were his letters stolen every one,
And counterfeited letters in this way:
"The king commands his constable at once,
Upon pain of hanging, and on high sentence, (795)
That he should not suffer in any way
Custance within his realm to abide
Three days and one quarter of a tide;

"But in the same ship as he her found,
Her, and her young son, and all her gear, (800)
He should put, and push her from the land,
And charge her that she never again come there."
Oh my Custance, well may your soul have fear,
And, sleeping, in your dream were in penance,
When Donegild cast all this ordinance. (805)

This messenger on morn, when he woke,
Unto the castle went the closest way,
And to the constable he the letter took;
And when that he this piteous letter saw,
Full of the said, "Alas and wail-away!" (810)
"Lord Christ," quoth he, "how may this world endure,
So full of sin is many a creature?

"Oh mighty God, if that it is your will,
Since you are rightful judge, how may it be
That you will suffer innocents to kill, (815)
And wicked folk reign in prosperity?
Oh good Custance, alas, so woe is me
That I must be your tormentor, or die
A shameful death; there is no other way."

Weeping both young and old in all that place (820)
When the king this cursed letter sent,
And Custance, with a deadly pale face,
The fourth day toward her ship she went.
But nonetheless she took in good intent
The will of Christ, and kneeling on the beach, (825)
She said, "Lord, always welcome is your order!

"He that kept me from the false blame
While I was on the land amongst you,
He can keep from harm and also from shame
In salt sea, although I see not how. (830)
As strong as ever he was, he is yet now.
In him I trust, and in his mother dear,
That is to me my sail and also my rudder."

Her little child lay weeping in her arm,
And kneeling, piteously to him she said, (835)
"Peace, little son, I will do you no harm."
With that her kerchief of her head she removed,
And over his little eyes she it laid,
And in her arm she lulled him full fast,
And into heaven her eyes up she cast. (840)

"Mother," quoth she, "and maid bright, Mary,
True is that through woman's provocation
Mankind was lost, and damned always to die,
For which your child was on a cross rent.
Your blissful eyes saw all his torment; (845)
Then is there no comparison between
Your woe and any woe man may sustain.

"You saw your child slain before your eyes,
And yet now lives my little child, for faith!
Now, bright lady, to whom all the woeful cry, (850)
You glory of womanhood, you fair maid,
You haven of refuge, bright star of day,
Rue on my child, that of your gentleness
Pities on every pitiful in distress.

"Oh little child, alas! What is your guilt, (855)
That never wrought sin as yet, indeed?
Why will your hard father have you killed?
Oh mercy, dear constable," quoth she,
"As let my little child dwell here with you;
And if you dare not save him, for blame, (860)
So kiss him once in his father's name!"

Therewith she looked backward to the land,
And said, "Farewell, husband ruthless!"
And up she rose, and walked down the beach
Toward the ship - followed by all the crowd - (865)
And ever she prayed her child to hold his peace;
And took her leave, and with a holy intent
She blessed herself, and into the ship she went.

Stocked was the ship, it is no doubt,
Completely for her full long space, (870)
And other necessaries that should need
She had enough - hailed be God's grace!
For wind and weather almighty god purchase,
And bring her home! I can no better say,
But in the sea she drove forth her way. (875)

Explicit secunda pars.*
*(End part the second.)

Sequitur pars tercia.*
*(Follows part the third.)

Alla the king came home soon after this
Unto his castle, of which I told,
And asked where his wife and his child were.
The constable did his heart cold,
And plainly all the manner he him told (880)
As you have heard - I can tell it no better -
And showed the king his seal and also his letter,

And said, "Lord, as you commanded me
Upon pain of death, so I have done, certain."
This messenger tortured was until he (885)
Must reveal and tell, flat and plain,
From night to night, in what place he had lain;
And thus by with and subtle inquiring,
Discovered was from whom this harm did spring.

The hand was known that the letter wrote, (890)
And all the venom of this cursed deed,
But in what way, certainly, I know not.
The effect was this: that Alla, out of doubt,
His mother slew - that may men plainly read -
For she was a traitor to her allegiance. (895)
Thus ended old Donegild, with mischance!

The sorrow that this Alla night and day
Made for his wife, and for his child also,
There is no tongue that tell it may.
But now will I unto Custance go, (900)
That floated in the sea, in pain and woe,
Five years and more, as liked Christ's order,
Before her ship approached land.

Under a heathen castle, at last,
Of which the name in my text I do not find, (905)
Custance, and also her child, the sea up cast.
Almighty God, that saved all mankind,
Have on Custance and on her child some mind,
That fallen was in heathen land once again,
In point to die, as I shall tell you soon. (910)

Down from the castle came there many a man
To look on this ship and on Custance.
But shortly, from the castle, on a night,
The lord's steward - God give him mischance -
A thief, that had renounced our creed, (915)
Came into the ship alone, and said he should
Her lover be, whether she would or would not.

Woe was this wretched woman begone;
Her child cried, and she cried piteously.
But blissful Mary helped her right at once; (920)
For with her struggling well and mightily
The thief fell overboard suddenly,
And in the sea he drowned for vengeance;
And thus had Christ kept undefiled Custance.

O foul lust of lechery, lo, your end! (925)
Not only that you weaken man's mind,
But truly you will his body break.
The end of your work, or of your lusts blind,
Is lamenting. How many may men find
That is not for work sometime, but for the intent (930)
To do this sin, be either slain or broken!

How may this weak woman have this strength
Her to defend against this renegade?
Oh Goliath, unmeasurable of length,
How might David make you so defeated, (935)
So young and of armor so desolate?
How dare he look upon your dreadful face?
Well may men se, it is not but by God's grace.

Who gave Judith courage or hardiness
To slay Holofernes in his tent, (940)
And to deliver out of wretchedness
The people of God? I say, for this intent,
That right as God spirit of vigor sent
To them and saved them out of mischance,
So sent he might and vigor to Custance. (945)

Forth went her ship through the narrow mouth
Of Gibraltar and Morocco, driving always
Sometimes west, and sometimes north and south,
And sometimes east, full many a weary day,
Until Christ's mother - blessed be she always! - (950)
Had shaped, through her endless goodness,
To make an end of all her heaviness.

Now let us stint of Custance but a while,
And speak of the Roman Emperor,
That out of Syria did by letters know (955)
The slaughter of Christian folk, and dishonor
Done to his daughter by a false traitor,
I mean the cursed wicked Sultaness
That at the feast let slay both more and less.

For which this Emperor had sent at once (960)
His senator, with royal ordinance,
And other lords, God knows, many of,
On Syrians to take high vengeance.
The burned, slew, and brought them to mischance
Full many a day; but shortly - this is the end - (965)
Homeward to Rome they shaped themselves to wend.

This senator returned with victory
Toward Rome, sailing full royally,
And met the ship driving, as says the story,
In which Custance sat full piteously. (970)
Nothing he knew what she was, nor why
She was in such array, and she would not say
Of her estate, although she should die.

He brought her to Rome, and to his wife
He gave her, and her young son also; (975)
And with the senator she led her life.
Thus can Our Lady bring out of woe
Woeful Custance, and many another more.
And a long time dwelt she in that place,
In holy works ever, as was her grace. (980)

The senator's wife her aunt was,
But for all that she knew her never the more.
I will no longer tarry in this case,
But to king Alla, who I spoke of before,
That for his wife wept and sighed sore, (985)
I will return, and I will leave Custance
Under the senator's governance.

King Alla, who had his mother slain,
Upon a day fell in such repentance
That, if I shall tell shortly and plain, (990)
To Rome he came to receive his penance;
And put himself in the Pope's ordinance
In high and low, and Jesus Christ besought
Forgive his wicked works that he wrought.

The fame at once through Rome town was borne, (995)
How Alla king shall come in pilgrimage,
By servants that went him before;
For which the senator, as was his way,
Rode towards him, and many of his lineage,
As well to show his high magnificence (1000)
As to do any king a reverence.

Great cheer did this noble senator
To king Alla, and he to him also;
Each of them did the other great honor.
And so it fell that in a day or two (1005)
This senator was to king Alla gone
To feast, and shortly, if I shall not lie,
Custance's son went in his company.

Some men would say at request of Custance
This senator had led this child to feast; (1010)
I may not tell every circumstance -
But as be may, he was there at the least.
But true is this, that at his mother's behest
Before Alla, during the meat's space,
This child stood, looking in the king's face. (1015)

This Alla king had of this child great wonder,
And to the senator he said at once,
"Whose is that fair child that stands yonder?"
"I know not," quoth he, "by God and by Saint John!
A mother he has, but a father has he none (1020)
That I know" - and shortly, in a moment,
He told Alla how that this child was found.

"But God knows," quoth this senator also,
"So virtuous a person in my life
I never saw as she, nor heard of more, (1025)
Of worldly women, maid, or of wife.
I dare well say she had rather a knife
Through her breast, than be a women wicked;
There is no man could bring her to that point."

Now was this child like unto Custance (1030)
As possible is a creature to be.
This Alla had the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and thereon mused he
If that the child's mother were any part she
That is his wife, and privately he sighed, (1035)
And sped himself from the tale that he might.

"By my faith," thought he, "phantom is in my head!
I ought deem, of skillful judgment ,
That in the salt sea my wife is dead."
And afterward he made his argument: (1040)
"What know I if that Christ has hither sent
My wife by sea, as well as he her sent
To my country from thence that she went?"

And after noon, home with the senator
Went Alla, for to see this wondrous chance. (1045)
This senator did Alla great honor,
And hastily he sent after Custance.
But trust well, she liked not to dance
When that she knew wherefore was that command;
Hardly upon her feet might she stand. (1050)

When Alla saw his wife, fair he her greeted,
And wept such that it was piteous to see;
For at the first look he on her set
He knew well truly that it was she.
And she, for sorrow, as dumb stood as a tree, (1055)
So was her heart torn in her distress,
When she remembered his unkindness.

Twice she swooned in his own sight;
He wept, and he excused piteously.
"Now God," quoth he, "and his saints bright (1060)
Surely on my soul as have mercy,
That of your harm as guiltless am I
As is Maurice my son, so like your face;
Else the fiend fetch me out of this place!"

Long was the sobbing and the bitter pain, (1065)
Before that her woeful hurts might cease;
Great was the pity for to hear him lament,
Through which complaints did her woe increase.
I pray you all my labor to release;
I may not tell her woe until tomorrow, (1070)
I am so weary to speak of sorrow.

But finally, when that the truth was known
That Alla was guiltless of her woe,
I swear a hundred times did they kiss,
And such a bliss was there between them two (1075)
That, save the joy that lasts evermore,
There is nothing like that any creature
Has seen or shall, while that the world endures.

Then she prayed her husband meekly,
In relief of her long, piteous pain, (1080)
That he would pray her father specially
That of his majesty he would incline
To vouchsafe some day with him to dine.
She prayed him also that he should by no way
Unto her father no word of her say. (1085)

Some men would say how that the child Maurice
Did this message unto this Emperor;
But, as I guess, Alla was not so foolish
To him that was of so sovereign honor
As the that is of Christian folk the flour, (1090)
Sent any child, but is better to deem
He went himself, and so it may well seem.

This Emperor had granted gently
To come to dinner, as he besought;
And well read I he looked busily (1095)
Upon this child, and on his daughter thought.
Alla went to his inn, and as he ought,
Arrayed for this feast in every way
As far as his knowing might suffice.

The morning came, and Alla began himself to dress, (1100)
And also his wife, this Emperor to meet;
And forth they rode in joy and in gladness.
And when she saw her father in the street,
She alighted down, and fell to his feet.
"Father," quoth she, "your young child Custance (1105)
Is now full clean out of your remembrance.

"I am your daughter Custance," quoth she,
"That once you had sent unto Syria.
It is I, father, that in the salt sea
Was put alone and damned to die. (1110)
Now, good father, mercy I you cry!
Send me no more into any heathen place,
But thank my lord here of his kindness."

"Who can the piteous joy tell all
Between them three, since the were thus met? (1115)
But of my tale make an end I shall;
The day went fast, I will no longer delay.
This glad folk to dinner they themselves set;
In joy and bliss at meat I leave them dwell
A thousandfold well better than I can tell. (1120)

This child Maurice was since Emperor
Made by the Pope, and lived in Christianity;
To Christ's church he did great honor,
But I let all his story pass by;
Of Custance my tale is specially. (1125)
In the old Roman histories may men find
Maurice's life; I bear it not in mind.

This king Alla, when he his time saw,
With his Custance, his holy wife so sweet,
To England did they go the right way, (1130)
Where as they lived in joy and in quiet.
But little while it lasted, I you heed,
Joy of this world, for time will not abide;
From day to night it changes as the tide.

Who lived ever in such delight one day (1135)
That he did not move either conscience,
Or ire, or talent, or some kind of fear,
Envy, or pride, pro passion, or offense?
I do not say but for this end this sentence,
That little while in joy or in pleasance (1140)
Lasted the bliss of Alla with Custance.

For Death, that takes of high and low his rent,
When passed was a year, even as I guess,
Out of this world king Alla he took,
For whom Custance had full great heaviness. (1145)
Now let us pray God his soul bless!
And dame Custance, finally to say,
Toward the town of Rome went her way.

To Rome was come this holy creature,
And found her friends whole and sound; (1150)
Now has she escaped all her fate.
And when that she her father had found,
Down on her knees she fell to the ground;
Weeping for tenderness in heart blithe,
She praised God a hundred thousand times. (1155)

In virtue and in holy charitable deeds
They lived all, and never asunder went;
Until death departed them, from this life they lead.
And fare now well! my tale is at an end.
Now Jesus Christ, that of his might may send (1160)
Joy after woe, govern us in his grace,
And keep us all that are in this place! Amen.

Here ends the tale of the Man of Law

Our Host upon his stirrups stood at once,
And said, "Good men, hearken every one!
This was a thrifty tale for the occasion! (1165)
Sir Parish Priest," quoth he, "for God's bones,
Tell us a tale, as was this forward before.
I see well that you learned men in lore
Know much good, by God's dignity!"

The Parson him answered, "Benediction! (1170)
What ails the man, so sinfully to swear?"
Our Host answered, "Oh Jankin*, be you there?
I smell a Lollard in the wind," quoth he.
"Now! good men," quoth our Host, "hear me;
Abide, for God's dignified passion, (1175)
For we shall have a sermon;
This Lollard here will preach us something."
*(Jankin is a mocking name for a priest, a Lollard is a heretic)

"Nay, by my father's soul, that shall he not!"
Said the Shipman, "Here shall he not preach;
He shall no gospel gloss here nor teach. (1180)
We believe all in the great God," quoth he,
"He would sow some difficulty,
Or sprinkle weeds in our clean corn.
And therefore, Host, I warned you before,
My jolly body shall tell a tale, (1185)
And I shall clink you so merry a bell,
That I shall wake all this company.
But it shall not be of philosophy,
Nor files, nor terms quaint of law.
There is but little Latin in my maw!" (1190)

No comments:

Post a Comment