Being near the end of the party, I heard no more of the Cook’s story, nor of the tales that followed it that day.
When we at last reached the inn at Dartford, where we were to spend the night, I heard that the craftsmen from the town had told their tales that afternoon.
The next day, the 18th of April, the Host suddenly turned his horse about and faced the company. “Lordlings,” said he, “what with oversleeping and late starting we waste our precious time. It’s ten o’clock, by my faith, and no tale told yet this day. Come, you learned Man of Law, begin and let’s have no more dallying!” “Host,” said the Lawyer, “I never break my agreements; a man must obey that law which he himself has made. But it is difficult for me to find a tale. Geoffrey Chaucer, our poet, has told them all in his rhymes. There is not a love story left to tell, and I have no taste for rude jests. You will make fun of my plain unpoetical speech, I have no doubt, for a lawyer’s language is none of the prettiest. Yet I will do my best. This is my story.” So, with his silver girdle jingling as he rode, he began:
There was in Syria a great sultan. His’ merchants travelled far overseas and brought him back news and great riches. One company reported to him the events in Rome. They had noticed especially the wonderful beauty of the Emperor of Rome’s daughter, Constance. They never wearied of telling of her loveliness, her goodness and her courtesy, until the sultan’s heart burned for love of her, and he knew that unless she became his bride he would die.
Now Constance was a Christian, and the sultan a Mohammedan; yet to win the lady of his love the sultan was converted, and he and many of his followers were baptised. At last the emperor consented that his. daughter should marry the sultan. She set sail for Syria very woefully. “Father,” she said, “must I, thy darling daughter, set forth on this perilous journey, and live in a far land, a Christian among unbelievers? Must I never see my dear parents again? Alas, woman has no power of her own! In youth her father rules her; when she is old her husband is her lord. But Christ and Christ’s Mother will preserve me. In them is my trust.” So with tears she started, and her maidens wept with her. None the less, when the ship came to land she put away her grief and bore herself as became a bride.
The sultan in splendid array, with all his court in attendance, came and met her at the water-side, and received her with all solemnity. Amid revelling and noble pageantry he led her to the palace.
But under the flowers there lurked a scorpion, the queen-mother. Ah! root of wickedness, filled full of guile, fierce worshipper of false gods! She had plotted death to all Christians, and at the feast slew every Roman except Constance herself. Not even the sultan, her own son, escaped, but, because he had changed his faith, she slew him among the others.