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Unto the king directe of this matere
Fro his constable, as ye shal after here.
This lettre spake, the quene delivered was Of so horrible a fendliche creature, That in the castle non so hardy was That any while dorste therein endure: The mother was an elfe by aventure Ycome, by charmes or by sorcerie, And everich man hateth hire compagnie.
Wo was this king whan he this lettre had sein,
But to no wight he told his sorwes sore,
But of his owen hand he wrote again;
Welcome the sonde of Crist for evermore
To me, that am now lerned in this lore:
Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesance,
My lust I put all in thyn ordinance.
Kepeth this child, al be it foule or faire,
And eke my wif, unto min home coming:
Crist whan him list may senden me an heire,
More agreable than this to my liking.
This lettre he seled, prively weping,
Which to the messager was taken sone,
And forth he goth, ther is no more to done.
O messager, fulfilled of dronkenesse,
Strong is thy breth, thy limmes faltren ay,
And thou bewreiest alle secrenesse;
Thy mind is lorne, thou janglest as a jay;
Thy face is tourned in a new array;
Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
Ther is no conseil hid withouten doute.
O Donegild, I ne have non English digne
Unto thy malice, and thy tirannie:
And therfore to the fende I thee resigne,
Let him enditen of thy traitorie.
Fy mannish, fy; o nay by God I lie;
Fy fendliche spirit, for I dare wel telle,
Though thou here walke, thy spirit is in helle.
This messager cometh fro the king again,
And at the kinges modres court he light,
And she was of this messager ful fayn,
And plesed him in all that ever she might.
He dranke, and wel his girdel underpight;
He slepeth, and he snoreth in his gise
All night, until the sonne gan arise.
Eft were his lettres stolen everich on,
And contrefeted lettres in this wise.
The king commanded his constable anon
Up peine of hanging and of high jewise,
That he ne shulde soffren in no wise
Custance within his regne for to abide
Three daies, and a quarter of a tide;
But in the same ship as he hire fond,
Hire and hire yonge sone, and all hire gere
He shulde put, and croude hire fro the lond,
And charge hire, that she never eft come there.
O my Custance, wel may thy ghost have fere,
And sleping in thy dreme ben in penance,
Whan Donegild cast all this ordinance.
This messager on morwe whan he awoke,
Unto the castel halt the nexte way;
And to the constable he the lettre toke;
And whan that he this pitous lettre sey,
Ful oft he sayd alas, and wala wa;
Lord Crist, quod he, how may this world endure?
So ful of sinne is many a creature.
O mighty God, if that it be thy will,
Sin thou art rightful juge, how may it be
That thou wolt soffren innocence to spill,
And wicked folk regne in prosperitee?
A good Custance, alas! so wo is me,
That I mote be thy turmentour, or dey
On shames deth, ther is non other wey.
Wepen both yong and old in al that place, Whan that the king this cursed lettre sent: And Custance with a dedly pale face
The fourthe day toward the ship she went:
But natheles she taketh in good entent
The will of Crist, and kneling on the strond
She sayde, Lord, ay welcome be thy sond.
He that me kepte fro the false blame,
While I was in the lond amonges you,
He can me kepe fro harme and eke fro shame
In the salt see, although I se not how:
As strong as ever he was, he is yet now,
In him trust I, and in his mother dere,
That is to me my sail and eke my stere.
Hire litel child lay weping in hire arm,
And kneling pitously to him she said,
Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee no harm:
With that hire couverchief of hire hed she braid,
And over his litel eyen she it laid,
And in hire arme she lulleth it ful fast,
And into the heven hire eyen up she cast.
Mother, quod she, and mayden bright Marie,
Soth is, that thurgh womannes eggement
Mankind was lorne, and damned ay to die,
For which thy child was on a crois yrent:
Thy blisful eyen saw all his turment,
Than is ther no comparison betwene
Thy wo, and any wo man may sustene.
Thou saw thy child yslain before thin eyen, And yet now liveth my litel child parfay: Now, lady bright, to whom all woful crien, Thou glory of womanhed, thou faire may, Thou haven of refute, bright sterre of day, Rew on my child, that of thy gentillesse Rewest on every rewful in distresse.
O litel child, alas! what is thy gilt,
That never wroughtest sinne as yet parde?
Why wol thin harde father have thee spilt?
O mercy, dere constable, (quod she)
As let my litel child dwell here with thee:
And if thou darst not saven him fro blame,
So kisse him ones in his fadres name.
Therwith she loketh backward to the lond,
And saide; Farewel, housbond routheles!
And up she rist, and walketh doun the strond
Toward the ship, hire foloweth all the prees:
And ever she praieth hire child to hold his pees,
And taketh hire leve, and with an holy entent
She blesseth hire, and into the ship she went.
Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede, Habundantly for hire a ful long space: And other necessaries that shuld nede She had ynow, heried be Goddes grace: For wind and wether, almighty God purchace, And bring hire home, I can no better say, But in the see she driveth forth hire way.
Alla the king cometh home sone after th s Unto his castel, of the which I told,
And asketh wher his wif and his child is;
The constable gan about his herte cold,
And plainly all the matere he him told
As ye han herd, I can tell it no better,
And shewed the king his sele and his letter;
And sayde; Lord, as ye commanded me
Up peine of deth, so have I don certain.
This messager turmented was, til he
Moste beknowe, and tellen plat and plain,
Fro night to night in what place he had lain:
And thus by wit and subtil enquering
Imagined was by whom this harm gan spring.
The hand was knowen that the lettre wrote,
And all the venime of this cursed dede;
But in what wise, certainly I n'ot.
The effect is this, that Alla out of drede
His moder slew, that moun men plainly rede,
For that she traitour was to hire ligeance:
Thus endeth this old Donegild with meschance.
The sorwe that this Alla night and day
Maketh for his wif and for his child also,
Ther is no tonge that it tellen may.
But now wol I agen to Custance go,
That fleteth in the see in peine and wo
Five yere and more, as liked Cristes sonde,
Or that hire ship approched to the londe.
Under an hethen castel at the last,
(Of which the name in my text I not find)
Custance and eke hire child the see up cast.
Almighty God, that saved all mankind,
Have on Custance and on hire child som mind,
That fallen is in hethen hond eftsone
In point to spill, as I shal tell you sone.