The Canterbury Tales: The Man of Law's Tale (Part Two)
Sequitur pars secunda
Arryved been this Cristen folk to londe,
In Surrye, with a greet solempne route,
And hastifliche this Sowdan sente his sonde
First to his mooder and all the regne aboute,
390 And seyde his wyf was comen, oute of doute,
And preyde hir for to ryde agayn the queene,
The honour of his regne to susteene.
Greet was the prees, and riche was th'array
Of Surryens and Romayns met yfeere;
395 The mooder of the Sowdan, riche and gay,
Receyveth hir with also glad a cheere
As any mooder myghte hir doghter deere,
And to the nexte citee ther bisyde
A softe pass solempnely they ryde.
400 Noght trowe I the triumphe of Julius,
Of which that Lucan maketh swich a boost,
Was roialler, ne moore curius
Than was th'assemblee of this blisful hoost.
But this scorpioun, this wikked goost,
405 The Sowdanesse, for all hir falterynge
Caste under this ful mortally to stynge.
The Sowdan comth hymself soone after this
So roially, that wonder is to telle,
And welcometh hir with alle joye and blis,
410 And thus in murthe and joye I lete hem dwelle-
The fruyt of this matiere is that I telle.-
Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste,
The revel stynte, and men goon to hir reste.
The tyme cam, this olde Sowdanesse
415 Ordeyned hath this feeste of which I tolde,
And to the feeste Cristen folk hem dresse
In general, ye, bothe yonge and olde.
Heere may men feeste and roialtee biholde,
And deyntees mo than I kan yow devyse;
420 But al to deere they boghte it er they ryse!
O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour
To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse!
The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse!
425 Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse,
Upon thy galde day have in thy minde
The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.
For shortly for to tellen at o word,
The Sowdan and the Cristen everichone
430 Been al tohewe and stiked at the bord,
But it were oonly dame Custance allone.
This olde Sowdanesse, cursed krone,
Hath with hir freendes doon this cursed dede,
For she hirself wolde all the contree lede.
435 Ne was ther Surryen noon, that was converted,
That of the conseil of the Sowdan woot,
That he nas al tohewe er he asterted.
And Custance han they take anon foot-hoot
And in a ship all steerelees, God woot,
440 They han hir set, and biddeth hir lerne saille
Out of Surrye agaynward to Ytaille.
A certein tresor that she thider ladde,
And, sooth to seyn, vitaille greet plentee
They han hir yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,
445 And forth she sailleth in the salte see.
O my Custance, ful of benignytee,
O Emperoures yonge doghter deere,
He that is lord of Fortune be thy steere!
She blesseth hir, and with ful pitous voys
450 Unto the croys of Crist thus seyde she,
"O cleere, o welful auter, hooly croys,
Reed of the lambes blood, ful of pitee,
That wesshe the world fro the olde iniquitee,
Me fro the feend and fro his clawes kepe,
455 That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.
Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
That oonly worthy were for to bere
The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe,
The white lamb that hurt was with the spere,
460 Flemere of feendes out of hym and here
On which thy lymes feithfully extenden,
Me keep, and yif me myght my lyf tamenden."
Yeres and dayes fleteth this creature
Thurghout the See of Grece unto the Strayte
465 Of Marrok, as it was hir aventure.
On many a sory meel now may she bayte;
After hir deeth ful often may she wayte,
Er that the wilde wawes wol hire dryve
Unto the place ther she shal arryve.
470 Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn?
Eek at the feeste who myghte hir body save?
And I answere to that demande agayn,
Who saved Danyel in the horrible cave,
Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,
475 Was with the leoun frete, er he asterte?
No wight but God, that he bar in his herte.
God liste to shewe his wonderful myracle
In hir, for we sholde seen his myghty werkis.
Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,
480 By certeine meenes ofte, as knowen clerkis,
Dooth thyng for certein ende, that ful derk is
To mannes wit, that for oure ignorance
Ne konne noght knowe his prudent purveiance.
Now, sith she was nat at the feeste yslawe,
485 Who kepte hir fro the drenchyng in the see?
Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe
Til he was spouted up at Nynyvee?
Wel may men knowe it was no wight but he
That kepte peple Ebrayk from hir drenchynge,
490 With drye feet thurghout the see passynge.
Who bad the foure spirites of tempest,
That power han t'anoyen lond and see,
"Bothe north and south, and also west and est,
Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree?"
495 Soothly, the comandour of that was he,
That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte,
As wel eek when she wook as whan she slepte.
Where myghte this womman mete and drynke have?
Thre yeer and moore how lasteth hir vitaille?
500 Who fedde the Egypcien Marie in the cave,
Or in desert? No wight but Crist, sanz faille.
Fyve thousand folk it was as greet mervaille
With loves fyve and fisshes two to feede;
God sente his foyson at hir grete neede.
505 She dryveth forth into oure occian
Thurghout oure wilde see, til atte laste
Under an hoold that nempnen I ne kan,
Fer in Northhumberlond, the wawe hir caste,
And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste
510 That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde,
The wyl of Crist was that she sholde abyde.
The constable of the castel doun is fare
To seen his wrak, and al the ship he soghte,
And foond this wery womman ful of care,
515 He foond also the tresor that she broghte,
In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,
The lyf out of hire body for to twynne,
Hir to delivere of wo that she was inne.
A maner Latyn corrupt was hir speche,
520 But algates therby was she understonde.
The constable, whan hym lyst no lenger seche,
This woful womman broghte he to the londe.
She kneleth doun and thanketh Goddes sonde;
But what she was, she wolde no man seye,
525 For foul ne fair, thogh that she sholde deye.
She seyde, she was so mazed in the see
That she forgat hir mynde, by hir trouthe.
The constable hath of hir so greet pitee,
And eke his wyf, that they wepen for routhe.
530 She was so diligent, withouten slouthe
To serve and plesen everich in that place,
That alle hir loven that looken on hir face.
This constable and dame Hermengyld his wyf
Were payens, and that contree everywhere;
535 But Hermengyld loved hir right as hir lyf,
And Custance hath so longe sojourned there
In orisons, with many a bitter teere,
Til Jesu hath converted thurgh his grace
Dame Hermengyld, constablesse of that place.
540 In al that lond no Cristen dorste route,
Alle Cristen folk been fled fro that contree
Thurgh payens that conquereden al aboute
The plages of the North by land and see.
To Walys fledde the Cristyanytee
545 Of olde Britons, dwellynge in this ile;
Ther was hir refut for the meene-while.
But yet nere cristene Britons so exiled
That ther nere somme that in hir privetee
Honoured Crist, and hethen folk bigiled,
550 And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three;
That oon of hem was blynd, and myghte nat see,
But it were with thilke eyen of his mynde,
With whiche men seen, after that they ben blynde.
Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,
555 For which the constable and his wyf also
And Custance han ytake the righte way
Toward the see, a furlong wey or two,
To pleyen, and to romen, to and fro,
And in hir walk this blynde man they mette,
560 Croked and oold, with eyen faste yshette.
"In name of Crist," cride this olde Britoun,
"Dame Hermengyld, yif me my sighte agayn."
This lady weex affrayed of the soun,
Lest that hir housbonde, shortly for to sayn,
565 Wolde hir for Jesu Cristes love han slayn,
Til Custance made hir boold, and bad hir wirche
The wyl of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.
The constable weex abasshed of that sight,
And seyde, "What amounteth all this fare!"
570 Custance answerde, "Sire, it is Cristes myght,
That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare."
And so ferforth she gan oure lay declare,
That she the constable, er that it were eve
Converteth, and on Crist maketh hym bileve.
575 This constable was no-thyng lord of this place
Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond;
But kepte it strongly many wyntres space
Under Alla, kyng of al Northhumbrelond,
That was ful wys and worthy of his hond
580 Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel heere;-
But turne I wole agayn to my mateere.
Sathan, that ever us waiteth to bigile,
Saugh of Custance al hir perfeccioun
And caste anon how he myghte quite hir while;
585 And made a yong knyght, that dwelte in that toun,
Love hir so hoote of foul affeccioun
That verraily hym thoughte he sholde spille,
But he of hir myghte ones have his wille.
He woweth hir, but it availleth noght,
590 She wolde do no synne, by no were;
And for despit he compassed in his thoght
To maken hir on shameful deeth to deye.
He wayteth whan the constable was aweye
And pryvely upon a nyght he crepte
595 In Hermengyldes chambre whil she slepte.
Wery, for-waked in hir orisouns,
Slepeth Custance, and Hermengyld also.
This knyght, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,
All softely is to the bed ygo,
600 And kitte the throte of Hermengyld atwo,
And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,
And wente his wey, ther God yeve hym meschance!
Soone after cometh this constable hoom agayn,
And eek Alla, that kyng was of that lond,
605 And saugh his wyf despitously yslayn,
For which ful ofte he weep and wroong his hond,
And in the bed the blody knyf he fond
By Dame Custance; allas, what myghte she seye?
For verray wo hir wit was al aweye!
610 To kyng Alla was toold al this meschance,
And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wise
That in a ship was founden dame Custance,
As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.
The kynges herte of pitee gan agryse,
615 Whan he saugh so benigne a creature
Falle in disese and in mysaventure.
For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,
So stant this innocent bifore the kyng.
This false knyght, that hath this tresoun wroght,
620 Berth hir on hond that she hath doon thys thyng,
But nathelees, ther was greet moornyng
Among the peple, and seyn, they kan nat gesse
That she had doon so greet a wikkednesse;
For they han seyn hir evere so vertuous,
625 And lovyng Hermengyld right as hir lyf:
Of this baar witnesse everich in that hous
Save he that Hermengyld slow with his knyf.
This gentil kyng hath caught a greet motyf
Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere
630 Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.
Allas, Custance, thou hast no champioun!
Ne fighte kanstow noght, so weylaway!
But he, that starf for our redempcioun,
And boond Sathan-and yet lith ther he lay-
635 So be thy stronge champion this day!
For but if Crist open myracle kithe,
Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swithe.
She sette hir doun on knees, and thus she sayde,
"Immortal God, that savedest Susanne
640 Fro false blame, and thou, merciful Mayde,
Marie I meene, doghter to Seynte Anne,
Bifore whos child angeles synge Osanne,
If I be giltlees of this felonye,
My socour be, for ellis shal I dye."
645 Have ye nat seyn som tyme a pale face
Among a prees, of hym that hath be lad
Toward his deeth, wher as hym gat no grace,
And swich a colour in his face hath had,
Men myghte knowe his face, that was bistad,
650 Amonges alle the faces in that route?
So stant Custance, and looketh hir aboute.
O queenes, lyvynge in prosperitee,
Duchesses, and ladyes everichone,
Haveth som routhe on hir adversitee;
655 An Emperoures doghter stant allone,
She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.
O blood roial, that stondest in this drede,
Fer been thy freendes at thy grete nede!
This Alla kyng hath swich compassioun,
660 As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,
That from hise eyen ran the water doun.
"Now hastily do fecche a book," quod he,
"And if this knyght wol sweren how that she
This womman slow, yet wol we us avyse,
665 Whom that we wole, that shal been oure justise."
A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles,
Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon
She gilty was, and in the meene-whiles
An hand hym smoot upon the nekke-boon,
670 That doun he fil atones, as a stoon;
And bothe hise eyen broste out of his face,
In sighte of every body in that place.
A voys was herd in general audience,
And seyde, "Thou hast desclaundred, giltelees
675 The doghter of hooly chirche in heigh presence,
Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees."
Of this mervaille agast was al the prees,
As mazed folk they stoden everichone
For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.
680 Greet was the drede and eek the repentance
Of hem that hadden wronge suspecioun
Upon this sely innocent, Custance;
And for this miracle, in conclusioun,
And by Custances mediacioun,
685 The kyng, and many another in that place,
Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace.
This false knyght was slayn for his untrouthe,
By juggement of Alla hastifly-
And yet Custance hadde of his deeth greet routhe-
690 And after this Jesus, of His mercy,
Made Alla wedden ful solempnely
This hooly mayden, that is so bright and sheene,
And thus hath Crist ymaad Custance a queene.
But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,
695 Of this weddyng but Donegild, and namo,
The kynges mooder, ful of tirannye?
Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast atwo,
She wolde noght hir sone had do so,
Hir thoughte a despit, that he sholde take
700 So strange a creature unto his make.
Me list nat of the chaf nor of the stree
Maken so long a tale, as of the corn;
What sholde I tellen of the roialtee
At mariages, or which cours goth biforn,
705 Who bloweth in the trumpe, or in an horn?
The fruyt of every tale is for to seye;
They ete, and drynke, and daunce, and synge, and pleye.
They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right,
For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges,
710 They moste take in pacience at nyght
Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges
To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges,
And leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside
As for the tyme, it may no bet bitide.
715 On hire he gat a knave childe anon,
And to a bisshop and his constable eke
He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is gon
To Scotlond-ward, his foomen for to seke.
Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,
720 So longe is goon with childe, til that stille
She halt hire chambre, abidyng Cristes wille.
The tyme is come; a knave child she beer,
Mauricius at the fontstoon they hym calle.
This constable dooth forth come a messageer,
725 And wroot unto his kyng, that cleped was Alle,
How that this blisful tidyng is bifalle,
And othere tidynges spedeful for to seye;
He taketh the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.
This messager, to doon his avantage,
730 Unto the kynges mooder rideth swithe,
And salueth hir ful faire in his langage,
"Madame," quod he, "ye may be glad and blithe,
And thanketh God an hundred thousand sithe.
My lady queene hath child, withouten doute,
735 To joye and blisse to al this regne aboute.
Lo, heere the lettres seled of this thyng,
That I moot bere with al the haste I may.
If ye wol aught unto youre sone, the kyng,
I am youre servant both nyght and day."
740 Donegild answerde, "as now at this tyme, nay,
But heere al nyght I wol thou take thy reste,
Tomorwe wol I seye thee what me leste."
This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,
And stolen wer hise lettres pryvely
745 Out of his box, whil he sleep as a swyn;
And countrefeted was ful subtilly
Another lettre wroght ful synfully,
Unto the kyng direct of this mateere
Fro his constable, as ye shal after heere.
750 The lettre spak, the queene delivered was
Of so horrible a feendly creature
That in the castel noon so hardy was
That any while dorste ther endure;
The mooder was an elf, by aventure,
755 Ycomen by charmes or by sorcerie,
And every wight hateth hir compaignye.
Wo was this kyng whan he this lettre had sayn,
But to no wight he tolde his sorwes soore,
But of his owene hand he wroot agayn:
760 "Welcome the sonde of Crist for everemoore
To me, that am now lerned in his loore!
Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce,
My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce.
Kepeth this child, al be it foul or feire,
765 And eek my wyf, unto myn hoom-comynge;
Crist, whan hym list, may sende me an heir
Moore agreable than this to my likynge."
This lettre he seleth, pryvely wepynge,
Which to the messager was take soone
770 And forth he gooth, ther is namoore to doone.
O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,
Strong is thy breeth, thy lymes faltren ay,
And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.
Thy mynde is lorn, thou janglest as a jay,
775 Thy face is turned in a newe array;
Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
Ther is no conseil hyd, withouten doute.
O Donegild, I ne have noon Englissh digne
Unto thy malice and thy tirannye;
780 And therfore to the feend I thee resigne,
Lat hym enditen of thy traitorie!
Fy, mannysh, fy? - O nay, by God, I lye -
Fy, feendlych spirit! for I dar wel telle,
Thogh thou heere walke, thy spirit is in helle.
785 This messager comth fro the kyng agayn,
And at the kynges moodres court he lighte
And she was of this messager ful fayn,
And plesed hym in al that ever she myghte.
He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte.
790 He slepeth, and he fnorteth in his gyse
Al nyght until the sonne gan aryse.
Eft were hise lettres stolen everychon
And countrefeted lettres in this wyse,
"The king comandeth his constable anon
795 Up peyne of hangyng and on heigh juyse
That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse
Custance inwith his reawme for t'abyde,
Thre dayes and o quarter of a tyde.
But in the same ship as he hir fond,
800 Hire, and hir yonge sone, and al hir geere,
He sholde putte, and croude hir fro the lond,
And chargen hir she never eft coome theere."
O my Custance, wel may thy goost have fere,
And slepynge in thy dreem been in penance,
805 Whan Donegild cast al this ordinance.
This messager, on morwe whan he wook,
Unto the Castel halt the nexte way,
And to the constable he the lettre took.
And whan that he this pitous lettre say,
810 Ful ofte he seyde, "Allas and weylaway!"
"Lord Crist," quod he, "how may this world endure,
So ful of synne is many a creature?
O myghty God, if that it be thy wille,
Sith thou art rightful juge, how may it be
815 That thou wolt suffren innocentz to spille,
And wikked folk regnen in prosperitee?
O goode Custance, allas, so wo is me,
That I moot be thy tormentour, or deye
On shames deeth! Ther is noon oother weye!"
820 Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place,
Whan that the kyng this cursed lettre sente,
And Custance, with a deedly pale face,
The ferthe day toward the ship she wente;
But nathelees she taketh in good entente
825 The wyl of Crist, and knelynge on the stronde,
She seyde, "Lord, ay welcome be thy sonde!
He that me kepte fro the false blame,
While I was on the lond amonges yow,
He kan me kepe from harm and eek fro shame
830 In salte see, al thogh I se noght how.
As strong as evere he was, he is yet now;
In hym triste I, and in his mooder deere,
That is to me my seyl and eek my steere."
Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,
835 And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,
"Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm."
With that hir coverchief on hir heed she breyde,
And over hise litel eyen she it leyde,
And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
840 And into hevene hir eyen up she caste.
"Mooder," quod she, "and mayde bright, Marie,
Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement
Mankynde was lorn and damned ay to dye,
For which thy child was on a croys yrent;
845 Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;
Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene
Thy wo, and any wo man may sustene.
Thow sawe thy child yslayn bifore thyne eyen,
And yet now lyveth my litel child, parfay.
850 Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,
Thow glorie of wommanhede, thow faire may,
Thow haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,
Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse
Ruest on every reweful in distresse.
855 O litel child, allas, what is thy gilt,
That nevere wroghtest synne as yet, pardee!
Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt?
O mercy, deere Constable," quod she,
"As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee;
860 And if thou darst nat saven hym for blame,
Yet kys hym ones in his fadres name."
Therwith she looketh bakward to the londe,
And seyde, "Farwel, housbonde routheless!"
And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde,
865 Toward the ship. - hir folweth al the prees -
And evere she preyeth hir child to holde his pees,
And taketh hir leve, and with an hooly entente
She blisseth hir, and into ship she wente.
Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,
870 Habundantly for hir ful longe space;
And othere necessaries that sholde nede
She hadde ynogh, heried be Goddes grace;
For wynd and weder almyghty God purchace,
And brynge hir hoom, I kan no bettre seye!
875 But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.
Explicit secunda pars
The Man of Law's Tale: Part One | The Man of Law's Tale: Part Three