now wol I telle forth my tale.
Thise riotoures thre of whiche
Longe erst er prime rong of any
Were set hem in a tauerne to drynke,
And as they sat, they herde a belle clynke
Biforn a cors, was caried to his
That oon of hem gan callen to
“Go bet,” quod he, “and axe
What cors is this that passeth heer forby;
And looke that thou reporte his name weel.”
“Sire”, quod this boy, “it
It was me toold er ye cam heer two houres.
He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres,
And sodaynly he was yslayn tonyght,
Fordronke, as he sat on his bench
Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth
That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo,
And wente his wey withouten wordes mo.
He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence.
And, maister, er ye come in his presence,
Me thynketh that it were necessarie
For to be war of swich an aduersarie.
Beth redy for to meete hym eueremoore;
Thus taughte me my dame; I sey namoore.”
“By Seinte Marie!” seyde this taverner,
“The child seith sooth, for he
hath slayn this yeer,
Henne ouer a mile, withinne a
Bothe man and womman, child, and hyne,
I trowe his habitaciouns be there.
To been auysed greet wysdom it
Er that he dide a man a dishonour.”
“Ye, Goddes armes!” quod this riotour,
“Is it swich peril with hym for to meete?
I shal hym seke by wey and eek
by strete, 35
I make auow to Goddes digne
Herkneth, felawes, we thre been al ones;
Lat ech of vs holde vp his hand til oother,
And ech of vs bicomen otheres brother,
And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth. 40
He shal be slayn, he that so manye sleeth,
By Goddes dignitee, er it be nyght!”
Togidres han thise thre hir trouthes plight
To lyue and dyen ech of hem for oother,
As though he were his owene ybore
And vp they stirte, al dronken
in this rage,
And forth they goon towardes that village
Of which the taverner hadde spoke biforn.
And many a grisly ooth thanne han they sworn,
And Cristes blessed body they torente
Deeth shal be deed, if that they may hym hente!
Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile,
Right as they wolde han troden ouer a stile,
An oold man and a poure with hem
This olde man ful mekely hem grette, 55
And seyde thus, “Now, lordes, God yow see!”
The proudeste of thise riotoures three
Answerde agayn, “What, carl, with
Why artow al forwrapped
saue thy face?
Why lyuestow so longe in so greet
This olde man gan looke in his visage,
And seyde thus: “For I ne kan nat fynde
A man, though that I walked into Ynde,
Neither in citee ne in no village,
That wolde chaunge his youthe for myn age; 65
And therfore moot I han myn age stille,
As longe tyme as it is Goddes wille.
Ne Deeth, allas, ne wol nat han my lyf.
Thus walke I, lyk a restelees kaityf,
And on the ground, which is my moodres gate, 70
I knokke with my staf, bothe erly and late,
And seye ‘Leeue mooder, leet me in!
Lo how I vanysshe, flessh, and
blood, and skyn!
Allas, whan shul my bones been at reste?
Mooder, with yow wolde I chaunge my cheste
That in my chambre longe tyme hath be,
Ye, for an heyre clowt to wrappe
But yet to me she wol nat do that grace,
For which ful pale and welked
is my face.
“But, sires, to yow it is no curteisye 80
To speken to an old man vileynye,
But he trespasse in word or elles in dede.
In Hooly Writ ye may yourself wel rede:
‘Agayns an oold man, hoor vpon
Ye sholde arise’; wherfore I yeue
yow reed, 85
Ne dooth vnto an oold man noon harm now,
Namoore than that ye wolde men did to yow
In age, if that ye so longe abyde.
And God be with yow, where ye go or ryde!
I moot go thider as I haue to go.” 90
“Nay, olde cherl, by God, thou shalt nat so,”
Seyde this oother hasardour anon;
“Thou partest nat so lightly, by Seint John!
Thou spak right now of thilke
That in this contree alle oure freendes sleeth. 95
Haue heer my trouthe, as thou art his espye,
Telle where he is or thou shalt it abye,
By God and by the hooly sacrement!
For soothly thou art oon of his assent
To sleen vs yonge folk, thou false theef!” 100
“Now, sires,” quod he, “if that yow be so leef
To fynde Deeth, turne vp this croked wey,
For in that groue I lafte hym, by my fey,
Vnder a tree, and there he wole abyde;
Noght for youre boost he wole him no thyng hyde.
Se ye that ook? Right there
ye shal hym fynde. 106
God saue yow, that boghte agayn mankynde,
And yow amende!”
Thus seyde this olde man;
And euerich of thise riotoures ran
Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde 120
Of floryns fyne of gold ycoyned
Wel ny an eighte busshels, as hem thoughte.
No lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte,
But ech of hem so glad was of that sighte,
For that the floryns been so faire and brighte, 125
That doun they sette hem by this precious hoord.