From a story by Boccaccio
O fortune – how she is a fickle child;
our trusty chronicles show all too well
how she would bless the souls on whom she smiled –
then throw them to the wild with wolves to dwell.
Yet sometimes all ends well, and I can tell
if you’ve an ear – a tale – set in our land –
of fortune springing from misfortune’s hand.
It was the age of knights and ladies, passion
and fealty – honourable death and shame –
monastic reveries and courtly fashion.
One knight there was – throughout the land his fame
was greatly spoke of – Reynold was his name.
One evening he homewards rode – past inns –
past countryside – and here our tale begins.
Now cold it was, all day it had been snowing;
the sky was crisp, the stars were sharp, the moon
hung low and clear. Steadily he was going
as gallant Reynold rode all afternoon.
One serving-man accompanied him – but soon
he fell in with a passing company,
conversing with the folk unwarily.
He thought them merchants – well attired and coined,
and warmly ordering themselves to him,
but these in truth were robbers he had joined.
They spoke like humble men of toil and hymn,
and sought to gain his trust as it grew dim;
they, judging him a moneyed fellow, waited –
until they spied a woodlands isolated.
They fell to talk of orisons they make –
one of the highwaymen then asked our friend:
‘Which say you on your journeys, when you wake?’
‘I am a simple man’, said he, ‘and tend
to live old-fashioned; nevertheless, I’ll send
St Julian a Pater and an Ave –
to grant in perils somewhere safe to stay’.
‘I hope it stands you in good stead’, then thought
the highwayman that asked. ‘This orison’,
said he, ‘I’ve heard of but was never taught –
and always found I lodgings after Sun.
No, De Profundiis is for me the one,
the prayer that my grandmother deemed the best –
and later we shall see who’ll find good rest.’
Discoursing of these matters on their way,
while waiting for a quiet place and time,
they came across a river – late that day,
beyond which distant spires stood sublime,
and here the robbers carried out their crime.
Stealing his money, clothes and horse, they departed,
saying – while turning back with laughs wholehearted –
‘We hope St Julian for you will find
good lodgings for tonight, even as ours.’.
Passing the river, they left him behind,
stood only in his shirt at those late hours,
far from the church’s gleaming gothic towers –
while Reynold’s knavish servant, turning his horse –
abandoned him – and townwards steered his course.
Poor Reynold – trembling with his teeth – he turned
and looked about for shelter from the frost;
but war had been there in those parts, and burned
was everything. Instead, the stream he crossed,
and sought the town, while fearing getting lost.
But curfew fell and he arrived so late,
he found they’d raised the bridge and shut the gate.
There, shivering and disconsolate he stood –
as it began once more that day to snow;
he spied an outhouse building made of wood
projecting from the wall. The warming glow
of fires within he saw from down below.
Once there, the door was locked – although he found
a bed of straw, and lay there on the ground.
He sighed – and to St Julian made plaint –
saying that this was not what he was fain
to know of faith; however, soon the saint
provided him with lodgings once again.
Within a widow lived, upon whose chain
was kept the keys to every gate and door;
her husband perished lately in the war.
She’d had her maid prepare a bath and meal –
most sumptuous – for her expected lover;
but fortune had been turning back her wheel,
and through a serving-man she did discover
that he’d been called away to some place other –
on urgent business. She resolved instead
to take the bath herself, then go to bed.
The bath she entered in was near the door,
behind which Reynold lay beside the wall –
and soon she heard his weeping full and sore.
Concerned, her maid she summoned from the hall,
and said, when she had answered to her call:
‘Kindly see who is at the postern-foot,
while I prepare the supper that was put.’.
The maid went – finding Reynold in his shirt –
and barefoot – in the clear air trembling much,
lying there wretched in the straw and dirt.
She asked him who he was – he told her such –
and of his troubles – which her heart did touch.
Her lady, once informed, was likewise piteous,
and of this handsome stranger curious.
The maid – commending her for her compassion –
let Reynold in; ‘Quick – take the bath that’s there’,
she said, seeing his face from coldness ashen;
while he obeyed, they found him clothes to wear.
Reviving in the warmth, he said a prayer –
thanking St Julian and God for this,
as all around him seemed a scene of bliss.
Within the dining hall was lit a fire,
where sat the lady; soon her maid there came –
and of this stranger’s state she did enquire.
‘Madam – he’s clad himself; he’s of good name,
and handsome, with a well-proportioned frame.’.
The lady, hearing this, wished him to meet,
and said: ‘Go dear – invite him here to eat.’.
Accordingly, Reynold entered the hall, and saw
the lady, thanking her for kindness done;
she asked how he had come beside the door –
a spirited narration he begun –
how he was robbed beneath the setting sun.
She’d seen his serving-man that day – so true
she thought it, telling Reynold what she knew.
Afterwards, Reynold sat with her to sup.
Her lover gone that night, many a time
she glanced at him while drinking from her cup –
as he was comely, pleasant – in his prime;
her passions roused, she thought them not a crime.
She found her maid in order to confer
if she should use what fortune sent to her.
The maid, who clearly saw her lady’s drift,
encouraged her to go, as she could best,
and take advantage of this earthly gift.
Returning to the fireside, where sat her guest,
she gazed on him, filled with romantic zest,
and said: ‘Why look you lost and melancholy?
Your stolen things can be requited wholly.
Come now – be comfortable and of good cheer;
take ease, and treat this house as your own place.
I’ll tell your something more – to see you here –
a hundred times I’ve wished you to embrace,
but feared that you would find this a disgrace.
Had I not thought that you might be displeased,
the opportunity I would have seized.’
Reynold advanced on her with open arms,
saying: ‘Madam, considering I owe
so much to you, not to enjoy your charms
a great unmanliness in me would show.
Your persuasion is not needed though;
to look upon your face I am content –
there I can see the winning argument.’
No more was said. The lady, full of longing,
straight threw herself at him; many a caress
and kiss each gave – with inner passions thronging –
while now his troubles he could only bless
that brought such moments of expansiveness.
When daylight trickled round the room he rose,
and went to find his servant with his clothes.
The sun was bright, the city gates unlocked,
and searching round his serving-man he found;
he praised St Julian, whom they had mocked,
when next a miracle would him astound.
Those highwaymen appeared, in shackles bound,
arrested by the watchmen for some deed
that same night done – all ended well indeed.
The men confessed – returned his items too;
climbing his horse, he soon forgot his plight,
and homewards rode. To her he bid adieu;
the memories would fill him with delight.
And now so ends my tale of this good knight,
my homely tale of unexpected things –
of how misfortune sometimes fortune brings.