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Doun fro the castel cometh ther many a wight
To gauren on this ship, and on Custance:
But shortly fro the castel on a night,
The lordes steward (God yeve him meschance)
A theef, that had reneyed our creance,
Came into the ship alone, and said, he wolde
Hire lemman be, whether she wolde or n’olde.
Wo was this wretched woman tho begon,
Hire childe cried, and she cried pitously:
But blisful Mary halpe hire right anon,
For with hire strogling wel and mightily
The theef fell over bord al sodenly,
And in the see he drenched for vengeance,
And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.
O foule lust of luxurie, lo thin ende,
Nat only that thou faintest mannes mind,
But veraily thou wolt his body shende.
Th' ende of thy werk, or of thy lustes blind,
Is complaining: how many may men find,
That not for werk somtime, but for th' entent
To don this sinne, ben other slain or shent.
How may this weke woman han the strength Hire to defend again this renegate?
O Golias, unmesurable of length,
How mighte David maken thee so mate?
So yonge, and of armure so desolate,
How dorst he loke upon thy dredful face?
Wel may men seen it was but Goddes grace.
Who yaf Judith corage or hardinesse
To sleen him Holofernes in his tent,
And to deliver out of wretchednesse
The peple of God? I say for this entent,
That right as God spirit of vigour sent
To hem, and saved hem out of meschance,
So sent he might and vigour to Custance.
Forth goth hire ship thurghout the narwe mouth
Of Jubaltare and Septe, driving alway,
Somtime West, and somtime North and South,
And somtime Est, ful many a wery day:
Til Cristes moder (blessed be she ay)
Hath shapen thurgh hire endeles goodnesse
To make an end of all hire hevinesse.
Now let us stint of Custance but a throw,
And speke we of the Romane emperour,
That out of Surrie hath by lettres knowe
The slaughter of cristen folk, and dishonour
Don to his doughter by a false traitour,
I mene the cursed wicked Soudannesse,
That at the fest let sleen both more and lesse.
For which this emperour hath sent anon
His senatour, with real ordinance,
And other lordes, God wote, many on,
On Surriens to taken high vengeance:
They brennen, sleen, and bring hem to meschance
Ful many a day: but shortly this is th❜ende,
Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.
This senatour repaireth with victorie
To Rome ward, sayling ful really,
And met the ship driving, as saith the storie,
In which Custance sitteth ful pitously:
Nothing ne knew he what she was, ne why
She was in swiche array, ne she wil sey
Of hire estat, though that she shulde dey.
He bringeth hire to Rome, and to his wif
He yaf hire, and hire yonge sone also:
And with the senatour she lad hire lif.
Thus can our lady bringen out of wo
Woful Custance, and many another mo:
And longe time dwelled she in that place,
In holy werkes ever, as was hire grace.
The senatoures wif hire aunte was,
But for all that she knew hire never the more:
I wol no longer tarien in this cas,
But to king Alla, which I spake of yore,
That for his wif wepeth and siketh sore,
I wol returne, and let I wol Custance
Under the senatoures governance.
King Alla, which that had his moder slain,
Upon a day fell in swiche repentance,
That if I shortly tellen shal and plain,
To Rome he cometh to receive his
And putte him in the popes ordinance
In high and low, and Jesu Crist besought,
Foryeve his wicked werkes that he had wrought.
The fame anon thurghout the toun is born,
How Alla king shal come on pilgrimage,
By herbergeours that wenten him beforn,
For which the senatour, as was usage,
Rode him againe, and many of his linage,
As wel to shewen his high magnificence,
As to don any king a reverence.
Gret chere doth this noble senatour
To king Alla, and he to him also;
Everich of hem doth other gret honour;
And so befell, that in a day or two
This senatour is to king Alla go
To fest, and shortly, if I shal not lie,
Custances sone went in his compagnie.
Som men wold sain at requeste of Custance This senatour hath lad this child to feste: I may not tellen every circumstance, Be as be may, ther was he at the leste: But soth is this, that at his mothers heste Beforn Alla, during the metes space,
The child stood, loking in the kinges face.
This Alla king hath of this child gret wonder, And to the senatour he said anon,
Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?
I n'ot, quod he, by God and by Seint John;
A moder he hath, but fader hath he non,
That I of wote: but shortly in a stound
He told Alla how that this child was found.
But God wot, quod this senatour also,
So vertuous a liver in all my lif
Ne saw I never, as she, ne herd of mo
Of worldly woman, maiden, widewe or wif:
I dare wel sayn hire hadde lever a knif
Thurghout hire brest, than ben a woman wikke,
Ther is no man coude bring hire to that prikke.
Now was this child as like unto Custance
As possible is a creature to be:
This Alla hath the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and theron mused he,
If that the childes moder were aught she
That is his wif, and prively he sighte,
And sped him fro the table that he mighte.
Parfay, thought he, fantome is in min hed.
I ought to deme of skilful jugement,
That in the salte see my wif is ded.
And afterward he made his argument;
What wot I, if that Crist have hider sent
On hire he gat a knave childe anon, And to a bishop, and his constable eke He toke his wif to kepe, whan he is gon To Scotland ward, his fomen for to seke. Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke, So long is gon with childe til that still She halt hire chambre, abiding Cristes will.
The time is come, a knave child she bere; Mauricius at the fontstone they him calle. This constable doth forth come a messager, And wrote unto his king that cleped was Alle, How that this blisful tiding is befalle, And other tidings spedeful for to say. He hath the lettre, and forth he goth his way. This messager, to don his avantage, Unto the kinges mother rideth swithe, And salueth hire ful faire in his langage. Madame, quod he, ye may be glad and blithe, And thanken God an hundred thousand sithe; My lady quene hath child, withouten doute, To joye and blisse of all this regne aboute.
Lo here the lettre seled of this thing,
That I most bere in all the hast I may:
If ye wol ought unto your sone the king,
I am your servant bothe night and day.
Donegilde answerd, As now at this time nay;
But here I wol all night thou take thy rest,
To-morwe wol I say thee what me lest.
This messager drank sadly ale and wine,
And stolen were his lettres prively
Out of his box, while he slept as a swine;
And contrefeted was ful subtilly
Another lettre, wrought ful sinfully,