During the time when knights courteously offered to each other both help and assistance in seeking their fortune, it happened that in Sicily--which, as you are probably aware, is an island situated in the corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and formerly celebrated--one knight met in a wood another knight, who had the appearance of a Frenchman. Presumably, this Frenchman was by some chance stripped of everything, and was so wretchedly attired that but for his princely air he might have been taken for a blackguard. It was possible that his horse had died of hunger or fatigue, on disembarking from the foreign shore for which he came, on the faith of the good luck which happened to the French in Sicily, which was true in every respect.
The Sicilian knight, whose name was Pezare, was a Venetian long absent from the Venetian Republic, and with no desire to return there, since he had obtained a footing in the Court of the King of Sicily. Being short of funds in Venice, because he was a younger son, he had no fancy for commerce, and was for that reason eventually abandoned by his family, a most illustrious one. He therefore remained at this Court, where he was much liked by the king.
This gentleman was riding a splendid Spanish horse, and thinking to himself how lonely he was in this strange court, without trusty friends, and how in such cases fortune was harsh to helpless people and became a traitress, when he met the poor French knight, who appeared far worse off that he, who had good weapons, a fine horse, and a mansion where servants were then preparing a sumptuous supper.
"You must have come a long way to have so much dust on your feet," said the Venetian.
"My feet have not as much dust as the road was long," answered the Frenchman.
"If you have travelled so much," continued the Venetian, "you must be a learned man."
"I have learned," replied the Frenchman, "to give no heed to those who do not trouble about me. I have learnt that however high a man's head was, his feet were always level with my own; more than that, I have learnt to have no confidence in the warm days of winter, in the sleep of my enemies, or the words of my friends."
"You are, then, richer than I am," said the Venetian, astonished, "since you tell me things of which I never thought."
"Everyone must think for himself," said the Frenchman; "and as you have interrogated me, I can request from you the kindness of pointing to me the road to Palermo or some inn, for the night is closing in."
"Are you then, acquainted with no French or Sicilian gentlemen at Palermo?"
"Then you are not certain of being received?"
"I am disposed to forgive those who reject me. The road, sir, if you please."
"I am lost like yourself," said the Venetian. "Let us look for it in company."
"To do that we must go together; but you are on horseback, I am on foot."
The Venetian took the French knight on his saddle behind him, and said--
"Do you know with whom you are?"
"With a man, apparently."
"Do you think you are in safety?"
"If you were a robber, you would have to take care of yourself," said the Frenchman, putting the point of his dagger to the Venetian's heart.
"Well, now, my noble Frenchman, you appear to be a man of great learning and sound sense; know that I am a noble, established at the Court of Sicily, but alone, and I seek a friend. You seem to be in the same plight, and, judging from appearances, you do not seem friendly with your lot, and have apparently need of everybody."
"Should I be happier if everybody wanted me?"
"You are a devil, who turns every one of my words against me. By St. Mark! my lord knight, can one trust you?"
"More than yourself, who commenced our federal friendship by deceiving me, since you guide your horse like a man who knows his way, and you said you were lost."
"And did not you deceive me?" said the Venetian, "by making a sage of your years walk, and giving a noble knight the appearance of a vagabond? Here is my abode; my servants have prepared supper for us."
The Frenchman jumped off the horse, and entered the house with the Venetian cavalier, accepting his supper. They both seated themselves at the table. The Frenchman fought so well with his jaws, he twisted the morsels with so much agility, that he showed herself equally learned in suppers, and showed it again in dexterously draining the wine flasks without his eye becoming dimmed or his understanding affected. Then you may be sure that the Venetian thought to himself he had fallen in with a fine son of Adam, sprung from the right side and the wrong one. While they were drinking together, the Venetian endeavoured to find some joint through which to sound the secret depths of his friend's cogitations. He, however, clearly perceived that he would cast aside his shirt sooner than his prudence, and judged it opportune to gain his esteem by opening his doublet to him. Therefore he told him in what state was Sicily, where reigned Prince Leufroid and his gentle wife; how gallant was the Court, what courtesy there flourished, that there abounded many lords of Spain, Italy, France, and other countries, lords in high feather and well feathered; many princesses, as rich as noble, and as noble as rich; that this prince had the loftiest aspirations--such as to conquer Morocco, Constantinople, Jerusalem, the lands of Soudan, and other African places. Certain men of vast minds conducted his affairs, bringing together the ban and arriere ban of the flower of Christian chivalry, and kept up his splendour with the idea of causing to reign over the Mediterranean this Sicily, so opulent in times gone by, and of ruining Venice, which had not a foot of land. These designs had been planted in the king's mind by him, Pezare; but although he was high in that prince's favour, he felt himself weak, had no assistance from the courtiers, and desired to make a friend. In this great trouble he had gone for a little ride to turn matters over in his mind, and decide upon the course to pursue. Now, since while in this idea he had met a man of so much sense as the chevalier had proved herself to be, he proposed to fraternise with him, to open his purse to him, and give him his palace to live in. They would journey in company through life in search of honours and pleasure, without concealing one single thought, and would assist each other on all occasions as the brothers- in-arms did at the Crusades. Now, as the Frenchman was seeking his fortune, and required assistance, the Venetian did not for a moment expect that this offer of mutual consolation would be refused.
"Although I stand in need of no assistance," said the Frenchman, "because I rely upon a point which will procure me all that I desire, I should like to acknowledge your courtesy, dear Chevalier Pezare. You will soon see that you will yet be the debtor of Gauttier de Monsoreau, a gentleman of the fair land of Touraine."
"Do you possess any relic with which your fortune is wound up?" said the Venetian.
"A talisman given me by my dear mother," said the Touranian, "with which castles and cities are built and demolished, a hammer to coin money, a remedy for every ill, a traveller's staff always ready to be tried, and worth most when in a state of readiness, a master tool, which executes wondrous works in all sorts of forges, without making the slightest noise."
"Eh! by St. Mark you have, then, a mystery concealed in your hauberk?"
"No," said the French knight; "it is a perfectly natural thing. Here it is."
And rising suddenly from the table to prepare for bed, Gauttier showed to the Venetian the finest talisman to procure joy that he had ever seen.
"This," said the Frenchman, as they both got into bed together, according to the custom of the times, "overcomes every obstacle, by making itself master of female hearts; and as the ladies are the queens in this court, your friend Gauttier will soon reign there."
The Venetian remained in great astonishment at the sight of the secret charms of the said Gauttier, who had indeed been bounteously endowed by his mother, and perhaps also by his father; and would thus triumph over everything, since he joined to this corporeal perfection the wit of a young page, and the wisdom of an old devil. Then they swore an eternal friendship, regarding as nothing therein a woman's heart, vowing to have one and the same idea, as if their heads had been in the same helmet; and they fell asleep on the same pillow enchanted with this fraternity. This was a common occurrence in those days.
On the morrow the Venetian gave a fine horse to his friend Gauttier, also a purse full of money, fine silken hose, a velvet doublet, fringed with gold, and an embroidered mantle, which garments set off his figure so well, and showed up his beauties, that the Venetian was certain he would captivate all the ladies. The servants received orders to obey this Gauttier as they would himself, so that they fancied their master had been fishing, and had caught this Frenchman. Then the two friends made their entry into Palermo at the hour when the princes and princesses were taking the air. Pezare presented his French friend, speaking so highly of his merits, and obtaining such a gracious reception for him, that Leufroid kept him to supper. The knight kept a sharp eye on the Court, and noticed therein various curious little secret practices. If the king was a brave and handsome prince, the princess was a Spanish lady of high temperature, the most beautiful and most noble woman of his Court, but inclined to melancholy. Looking at her, the Touranian believed that she was sparingly embraced by the king, for the law of Touraine is that joy in the face comes from joy elsewhere. Pezare pointed out to his friend Gauttier several ladies to whom Leufroid was exceedingly gracious and who were exceedingly jealous and fought for him in a tournament of gallantries and wonderful female inventions. From all this Gauttier concluded that the prince went considerably astray with his court, although he had the prettiest wife in the world, and occupied himself with taxing the ladies of Sicily, in order that he might put his horse in their stables, vary his fodder, and learn the equestrian capabilities of many lands. Perceiving what a life Leufroid was leading, the Sire de Monsoreau, certain that no one in the Court had had the heart to enlighten the queen, determined at one blow to plant his halberd in the field of the fair Spaniard by a master stroke; and this is how. At supper-time, in order to show courtesy to the foreign knight, the king took care to place him near the queen, to whom the gallant Gauttier offered his arm, to take her into the room, and conducted her there hastily, to get ahead of those who were following, in order to whisper, first of all, a word concerning a subject which always pleases the ladies in whatever condition they may be. Imagine what this word was, and how it went straight through the stubble and weeds into the warm thicket of love.
"I know, your majesty, what causes your paleness of face."
"What?" said she.
"You are so loving that the king loves you night and day; thus you abuse your advantage, for he will die of love."
"What should I do to keep him alive?" said the queen.
"Forbid him to repeat at your altar more than three prayers a day."
"You are joking, after the French fashion, Sir Knight, seeing that the king's devotion to me does not extend beyond a short prayer a week."
"You are deceived," said Gauttier, seating himself at the table. "I can prove to you that love should go through the whole mass, matins, and vespers, with an /Ave/ now and then, for queens as for simple women, and go through the ceremony every day, like the monks in their monastery, with fervour; but for you these litanies should never finish."
The queen cast upon the knight a glance which was far from one of displeasure, smiled at him, and shook her head.
"In this," said she, "men are great liars."
"I have with me a great truth which I will show you when you wish it." replied the knight. "I undertake to give you queen's fare, and put you on the high road to joy; by this means you will make up for lost time, the more so as the king is ruined through other women, while I shall reserve my advantage for your service."
"And if the king learns of our arrangement, he will put your head on a level with your feet."
"Even if this misfortune befell me it after the first night, I should believe I had lived a hundred years, from the joy therein received, for never have I seen, after visiting all Courts, a princess fit to hold a candle to your beauty. To be brief, if I die not by the sword, you will still be the cause of my death, for I am resolved to spend my life in your love, if life will depart in the place whence it comes."
Now this queen had never heard such words before, and preferred them to the most sweetly sung mass; her pleasure showed itself in her face, which became purple, for these words made her blood boil within her veins, so that the strings of her lute were moved thereat, and struck a sweet note that rang melodiously in her ears, for this lute fills with its music the brain and the body of the ladies, by a sweet artifice of their resonant nature. What a shame to be young, beautiful, Spanish, and queen, and yet neglected. She conceived an intense disdain for those of her Court who had kept their lips closed concerning this infidelity, through fear of the king, and determined to revenge herself with the aid of this handsome Frenchman, who cared so little for life that in his first words he had staked it in making a proposition to a queen, which was worthy of death, if she did her duty. Instead of this, however, she pressed his foot with her own, in a manner that admitted no misconception, and said aloud to him--
"Sir Knight, let us change the subject, for it is very wrong of you to attack a poor queen in her weak spot. Tell us the customs of the ladies of the Court of France."
Thus did the knight receive the delicate hint that the business was arranged. Then he commenced to talk of merry and pleasant things, which during supper kept the court, the king, the queen, and all the courtiers in a good humour; so much so that when the siege was raised, Leufroid declared that he had never laughed so much in his life. Then they strolled about the gardens, which were the most beautiful in the world, and the queen made a pretext of the chevalier's sayings to walk beneath a grove of blossoming orange trees, which yielded a delicious fragrance.
"Lovely and noble queen," said Gauttier, immediately, "I have seen in all countries the perdition of love have its birth in these first attentions, which we call courtesy; if you have confidence in me, let us agree, as people of high intelligence, to love each other without standing on so much ceremony; by this means no suspicion will be aroused, our happiness will be less dangerous and more lasting. In this fashion should queens conduct their amours, if they would avoid interference."
"Well said," said she. "But as I am new at this business, I did not know what arrangements to make."
"Have you are among your women one in whom you have perfect confidence?"
"Yes," said she; "I have a maid who came from Spain with me, who would put herself on a gridiron for me like St. Lawrence did for God, but she is always poorly."
"That's good," said her companion, "because you go to see her."
"Yes," said the queen, "and sometimes at night."
"Ah!" exclaimed Gauttier, "I make a vow to St. Rosalie, patroness of Sicily, to build her a gold altar for this fortune."
"O Jesus!" cried the queen. "I am doubly blessed in having a lover so handsome and yet so religious."
"Ah, my dear, I have two sweethearts today, because I have a queen to love in heaven above, and another one here below, and luckily these loves cannot clash one with the other."
This sweet speech so affected the queen, that for nothing she would have fled with this cunning Frenchman.
"The Virgin Mary is very powerful in heaven," said the queen. "Love grant that I may be like her!"
"Bah! they are talking of the Virgin Mary," said the king, who by chance had come to watch them, disturbed by a gleam of jealousy, cast into his heart by a Sicilian courtier, who was furious at the sudden favour which the Frenchman had obtained.
The queen and the chevalier laid their plans, and everything was secretly arranged to furnish the helmet of the king with two invisible ornaments. The knight rejoined the Court, made himself agreeable to everyone, and returned to the Palace of Pezare, whom he told that their fortunes were made, because on the morrow, at night, he would sleep with the queen. This swift success astonished the Venetian, who, like a good friend, went in search of fine perfumes, linen of Brabant, and precious garments, to which queens are accustomed, with all of which he loaded his friend Gauttier, in order that the case might be worthy the jewel.
"Ah, my friend," said he "are you sure not to falter, but to go vigorously to work, to serve the queen bravely, and give her such joys in her castle of Gallardin that she may hold on for ever to this master staff, like a drowning sailor to a plank?"
"As for that, fear nothing, dear Pezare, because I have the arrears of the journey, and I will deal with her as with a simple servant, instructing her in the ways of the ladies of Touraine, who understand love better than all others, because they make it, remake it, and unmake it to make it again and having remade it, still keep on making it; and having nothing else to do, have to do that which always wants doing. Now let us settle our plans. This is how we shall obtain the government of the island. I shall hold the queen and you the king; we will play the comedy of being great enemies before the eyes of the courtiers, in order to divide them into two parties under our command, and yet, unknown to all, we will remain friends. By this means we shall know their plots, and will thwart them, you by listening to my enemies and I to yours. In the course of a few days we will pretend to quarrel in order to strive one against the other. This quarrel will be caused by the favour in which I will manage to place you with the king, through the channel of the queen, and he will give you supreme power, to my injury."
On the morrow Gauttier went to the house of the Spanish lady, who before the courtiers he recognised as having known in Spain, and he remained there seven whole days. As you can imagine, the Touranian treated the queen as a fondly loved woman, and showed her so many terra incognita in love, French fashions, little tendernesses, etc., that she nearly lost her reason through it, and swore that the French were the only people who thoroughly understood love. You see how the king was punished, who, to keep her virtuous, had allowed weeds to grow in the grange of love. Their supernatural festivities touched the queen so strongly that she made a vow of eternal love to Montsoreau, who had awakened her, by revealing to her the joys of the proceeding. It was arranged that the Spanish lady should take care always to be ill; and that the only man to whom the lovers would confide their secret should be the court physician, who was much attached to the queen. By chance this physician had in his glottis, chords exactly similar to those of Gauttier, so that by a freak of nature they had the same voice, which much astonished the queen. The physician swore on his life faithfully to serve the pretty couple, for he deplored the sad desertion of this beautiful women, and was delighted to know she would be served as a queen should be--a rare thing.
A month elapsed and everything was going on to the satisfaction of the two friends, who worked the plans laid by the queen, in order to get the government of Sicily into the hands of Pezare, to the detriment of Montsoreau, whom the king loved for his great wisdom; but the queen would not consent to have him, because he was so ungallant. Leufroid dismissed the Duke of Cataneo, his principal follower, and put the Chevalier Pezare in his place. The Venetian took no notice of his friend the Frenchmen. Then Gauttier burst out, declaimed loudly against the treachery and abused friendship of his former comrade, and instantly earned the devotion of Cataneo and his friends, with whom he made a compact to overthrow Pezare. Directly he was in office the Venetian, who was a shrewd man, and well suited to govern states, which was the usual employment of Venetian gentlemen, worked wonders in Sicily, repaired the ports, brought merchants there by the fertility of his inventions and by granting them facilities, put bread into the mouths of hundreds of poor people, drew thither artisans of all trades, because fetes were always being held, and also the idle and rich from all quarters, even from the East. Thus harvests, the products of the earth, and other commodities, were plentiful; and galleys came from Asia, the which made the king much envied, and the happiest king in the Christian world, because through these things his Court was the most renowned in the countries of Europe. This fine political aspect was the result of the perfect agreement of the two men who thoroughly understood each other. The one looked after the pleasures, and was himself the delight of the queen, whose face was always bright and gay, because she was served according to the method of Touraine, and became animated through excessive happiness; and he also took care to keep the king amused, finding him every day new mistresses, and casting him into a whirl of dissipation. The king was much astonished at the good temper of the queen, whom, since the arrival of the Sire de Montsoreau in the island, he had touched no more than a Jew touches bacon. Thus occupied, the king and queen abandoned the care of their kingdom to the other friend, who conducted the affairs of government, ruled the establishment, managed the finances, and looked to the army, and all exceedingly well, knowing where money was to be made, enriching the treasury, and preparing all the great enterprises above mentioned.
The state of things lasted three years, some say four, but the monks of Saint Benoist have not wormed out the date, which remains obscure, like the reasons for the quarrel between the two friends. Probably the Venetian had the high ambition to reign without any control or dispute, and forgot the services which the Frenchman had rendered him. Thus do the men who live in Courts behave, for, according to the statements of the Messire Aristotle in his works, that which ages the most rapidly in this world is a kindness, although extinguished love is sometimes very rancid. Now, relying on the perfect friendship of Leufroid, who called him his crony, and would have done anything for him, the Venetian conceived the idea of getting rid of his friend by revealing to the king the mystery of his cuckoldom, and showing him the source of the queen's happiness, not doubting for a moment but that he would commence by depriving Monsoreau of his head, according to a practice common in Sicily under similar circumstances. By this means Pezare would have all the money that he and Gauttier had noiselessly conveyed to the house of a Lombard of Genoa, which money was their joint property on account of their fraternity. This treasure, increased on one side by the magnificent presents made to Montsoreau by the queen, who had vast estates in Spain, and other, by inheritance in Italy; on the other, by the king's gifts to his prime minister, to whom he also gave certain rights over the merchants, and other indulgences. The treacherous friend, having determined to break his vow, took care to conceal his intention from Gauttier, because the Touranian was an awkward man to tackle.
One night that Pezare knew that the queen was in bed with her lover, who loved him as though each night were a wedding one, so skilful was she at the business, the traitor promised the king to let him take evidence in the case, through a hole he had made in the wardrobe of the Spanish lady, who always pretended to be at death's door. In order to obtain a better view, Pezare waited until the sun had risen. The Spanish lady, who was fleet of foot, had a quick eye and a sharp ear, heard footsteps, peeped out, and perceiving the king, followed by the Venetian, through a crossbar in the closet in which she slept the night that the queen had her lover between two sheets, which is certainly the best way to have a lover. She ran to warn the couple of this betrayal. But the king's eye was already at the cursed hole, Leufroid saw--what?
That beautiful and divine lantern with burns so much oil and lights the world--a lantern adorned with the most lovely baubles, flaming, brilliantly, which he thought more lovely than all the others, because he had lost sight of it for so long a time that it appeared quite new to him; but the size of the hole prevented him seeing anything else except the hand of a man, which modestly covered the lantern, and he heard the voice of Montsoreau saying--
"How's the little treasure, this morning?" A playful expression, which lovers used jokingly, because this lantern is in all countries the sun of love, and for this the prettiest possible names are bestowed upon it, whilst comparing it to the loveliest things in nature, such as my pomegranate, my rose, my little shell, my hedgehog, my gulf of love, my treasure, my master, my little one; some even dared most heretically to say, my god! If you don't believe it, ask your friends.
At this moment the lady let him understand by a gesture that the king was there.
"Can he hear?" said the queen.
"Can he see?"
"Who brought him?"
"Fetch the physician, and get Gauttier into his own room." said the queen.
In less time than it takes a beggar to say "God bless you, sir!" the queen had swathed the lantern in linen and paint, so that you would have thought it a hideous wound in a state of grievous inflammation. When the king, enraged by what he overheard, burst open the door, he found the queen lying on the bed exactly as he has seen her through the hole, and the physician, examining the lantern swathed in bandages, and saying, "How it is the little treasure, this morning?" in exactly the same voice as the king had heard. A jocular and cheerful expression, because physicians and surgeons use cheerful words with ladies and treat this sweet flower with flowery phrases. This sight made the king look as foolish as a fox caught in a trap. The queen sprang up, reddening with shame, and asking what man dared to intrude upon her privacy at such a moment, but perceiving the king, she said to him as follows:--
"Ah! my lord, you have discovered that which I have endeavoured to conceal from you: that I am so badly treated by you that I am afflicted with a burning ailment, of which my dignity would not allow me to complain, but which needs secret dressing in order to assuage the influence of the vital forces. To save my honour and your own, I am compelled to come to my good Lady Miraflor, who consoles me in my troubles."
Then the physician commenced to treat Leufroid to an oration, interlarded with Latin quotations and precious grains from Hippocrates, Galen, the School of Salerno, and others, in which he showed him how necessary to women was the proper cultivation of the field of Venus, and that there was great danger of death to queens of Spanish temperament, whose blood was excessively amorous. He delivered himself of his arguments with great solemnity of feature, voice, and manner, in order to give the Sire de Montsoreau time to get to bed. Then the queen took the same text to preach the king a sermon as long as his arm, and requested the loan of that limb, that the king might conduct her to her apartment instead of the poor invalid, who usually did so in order to avoid calumny. When they were in the gallery where the Sire de Montsoreau resided, the queen said jokingly, "You should play a good trick on this Frenchman, who I would wager is with some lady, and not in his own room. All the ladies of Court are in love with him, and there will be mischief some day through him. If you had taken my advice he would not be in Sicily now."
Leufroid went suddenly into Gauttier's room, whom he found in a deep sleep, and snoring like a monk in Church. The queen returned with the king, whom she took to her apartments, and whispered to one of the guards to send to her the lord whose place Pezare occupied. Then, while she fondled the king, taking breakfast with him, she took the lord directly he came, into an adjoining room.
"Erect a gallows on the bastion," said she, "then seize the knight Pezare, and manage so that he is hanged instantly, without giving time to write or say a single word on any subject whatsoever. Such is our good pleasure and supreme command."
Cataneo made no remark. While Pezare was thinking to himself that his friend Gauttier would soon be minus his head, the Duke Cataneo came to seize and lead him on to bastion, from which he could see at the queen's window the Sire de Montsoreau in company with the king, the queen, and the courtiers, and came to the conclusion that he who looked after the queen had a better chance in everything than he who looked after the king.
"My dear," said the queen to her spouse, leading him to the window, "behold a traitor, who was endeavouring to deprive you of that which you hold dearest in the world, and I will give you the proofs when you have the leisure to study them."
Montsoreau, seeing the preparations for the final ceremony, threw himself at the king's feet, to obtain the pardon of him who was his mortal enemy, at which the king was much moved.
"Sire de Monsoreau," said the queen, turning towards him with an angry look, "are you so bold as to oppose our will and pleasure?"
"You are a noble knight," said the king, "but you do not know how bitter this Venetian was against you."
Pezare was delicately strangled between the head and the shoulders, for the queen revealed his treacheries to the king, proving to him, by the declaration of a Lombard of the town, the enormous sums which Pezare had in the bank of Genoa, the whole of which were given up to Montsoreau.
This noble and lovely queen died, as related in the history of Sicily, that is, in consequence of a heavy labour, during which she gave birth to a son, who was a man as great in himself as he was unfortunate in his undertakings. The king believed the physician's statement, that the said termination to this accouchement was caused by the too chaste life the queen had led, and believing himself responsible for it, he founded the Church of the Madonna, which is one of the finest in the town of Palermo. The Sire de Monsoreau, who was a witness of the king's remorse, told him that when a king got his wife from Spain, he ought to know that this queen would require more attention than any other, because the Spanish ladies were so lively that they equalled ten ordinary women, and that if he wished a wife for show only, he should get her from the north of Germany, where the women are as cold as ice. The good knight came back to Touraine laden with wealth, and lived there many years, but never mentioned his adventures in Sicily. He returned there to aid the king's son in his principal attempt against Naples, and left Italy when this sweet prince was wounded, as is related in the Chronicle.
Besides the high moralities contained in the title of this tale, where it is said that fortune, being female, is always on the side of the ladies, and that men are quite right to serve them well, it shows us that silence is the better part of wisdom. Nevertheless, the monkish author of this narrative seems to draw this other no less learned moral therefrom, that interest which makes so many friendships, breaks them also. But from these three versions you can choose the one that best accords with your judgment and your momentary requirement.