III. The Choice in the Wood
You have heard how Fortunatus left London and what fearful straits he was in. Now listen to what befell him thereafter. Having no money left, he hurried to get away from the English, and he soon arrived in Picardy, where he was only too ready to serve, but he could not find a master. Pressing further on, he arrived in Brittany; it is a strong land, with many towering mountains and deep forests. And as he was travelling through, he found himself in a large, wild wood, like the Bohemian or Thuringian forests. When Fortunatus was some distance inside, he lost his way, and walked all day without being able to get out. With the falling of night he came upon an old hut in which glass had been made many years before. He was greatly relieved, for he thought he would find people inside, but there was no one. Nonetheless, he spent the night in the miserable hut, all hungry as he was, and in fear of the wild beasts that have their home in the forest; and he lay in hard longing for the day, hoping that God would help him out of the wood before he died of hunger. And when dawn began to break, Fortunatus raised himself up and set off at a rapid pace; but instead of following a diagonal course, as he should have done, he headed straight on along the length of the forest, and for all his walking, he could find no way out. So he passed another day with a heavy heart; and when night began to fall, he felt thoroughly weak and exhausted, for he had not had a bite to eat in two days. Then he chanced upon a fountain and lapped the water up, and this helped him to regain some strength.
And as Fortunatus was kneeling by the fountain, the moon began to shine strongly; and then he heard a loud crackling in the forest, and the growling of bears. He knew he could not stay where he was, and also that there was no point in running away, for the wild animals would soon catch him up. So he thought it best to climb a tree; next to the fountain there was a tall one with many branches, and he clambered up this. Looking down, he could see all species of wild beasts coming to drink, and beat and bite one another, and indulge in all kind of fierce frolics; but among them was a half-grown bear, who winded Fortunatus, and began to climb the tree. Fortunatus was deeply alarmed, and he scrambled further and further up, with the bear following close on his heels. But when Fortunatus could climb no higher, he lay down on a branch, drew his sword, and stabbed the bear in the head, giving him numerous wounds. The bear was roused to fury, and it lifted its front paws off the tree to pummel its attacker; but having lost its hold, it fell backwards through the branches with many loud snaps, and landed so hard on the ground that the crash resounded through the wood. When the other wild animals heard the heavy fall, they fled as fast as they could. Now they had all gone, except for the fallen bear; it lay beneath the tree, too badly hurt to move from the spot, but not quite dead.
Fortunatus sat in the tree and did not dare come down; but his eyes began to grow so heavy that he was afraid of dropping off to sleep and falling out of the tree, thereby laming or killing himself. So, with a pounding heart, he worked his way down, gripped his sword, and plunged it into the bear. Placing his mouth to its wounds, he sucked the warm blood, which restored some of his strength, and he thought: “If I had a fire now, I’d soon fend off my hunger.” But the need to sleep was so pressing that he lay down beside the dead bear and was out like a light; and he slept soundly. When he awoke, he opened his eyes to see that dawn had broken, and a beautiful woman was standing before him.
He began to glorify God, saying: “Oh almighty God, I speak my thanks and Your praise, for that I have seen a human being before I died.” Then he said: “Dear Lady, dear Maiden – I do not know how to address you – I beseech you, for the love of our Lord, that you help me by advising the way out of this wood; for today is the third day of my wandering around this forest without tasting food.” And he told her about his encounter with the bear.
She asked: “Where are you from?”
“I am from Cyprus,” he replied.
“What are you doing in these parts?”
“I have been driven by poverty to wander here and seek provision from God, hoping He will grant me sufficient fortune to make a living.”
And she said: “Fortunatus, fear not. I am Lady Fortune; and through the influence of the heavens, the stars and the planets, I have been granted six virtues which I can in turn bestow on others – one, or two, or more – according to the hours and government of the planets. They are: Wisdom; Riches; Strength; Health; Beauty; and Long Life. So choose one from the six, and do not be long choosing; the hour for conferring Fortune is nigh at an end.”
And he did not deliberate long, but said: “Then I desire Riches, that I shall always have sufficiency of money.”
At once she drew forth a purse, gave it to Fortunatus, and said: “Take this purse; and whenever you reach inside, you will find ten gold pieces current in the land you are in, wherever you may be. And the purse will hold this virtue for your life and the lives of your next, legitimate heirs; no longer. If it comes into other hands during this time, it will still have this virtue and power. So let it be dear to you, and take close care.”
As hungry as he was, Fortunatus felt full of strength from the purse and the hope it gave him. “Most virtuous of ladies,” he began, “now that you have endowed me so laudably, it is but fitting that I be obliged to do something for you, so as not to forget the benefit you have conferred on me.”
The maiden spoke very graciously to Fortunatus: “Since you are so willing to requite the kindness that has come your way through me, I shall commend three tasks to you, which you must perform for my sake on this day every year for the rest of your life. You should celebrate this day, abstain from sexual relations, and, in whatever land you may find yourself, seek out a poor man with a daughter of marriageable age, who would like to provide her with a husband but is prevented by poverty. You should clothe her honourably and delight daughter and parents with the endowment of 400 gold pieces in the coin of their land. In memory of the pleasure I have given you today, give pleasure to a poor maiden every year.”
“Most virtuous of maidens,” replied Fortunatus, “have no doubt that I shall never forget to carry out these tasks with due honour every year, for I have taken them to heart and imprinted them into unforgettable remembrance.” But above all else, Fortunatus’s thoughts were occupied with finding the way out of the wood, so he said: “Beautiful lady, advise me now, help me out of this forest.”
Lady Fortune said, “Your losing your way in this wood, which you construed as a stroke of ill fortune, has turned to your advantage.” And she told him, “Follow me.”
Then she led him crosswise through the forest to a beaten path and said: “Walk straight ahead down this path, do not turn around, do not look to see what becomes of me; and if you do this, you will soon come out of the wood.”
did as the Lady advised, hurrying down the path as fast as he could,
and so came out of the wood. And before him he saw a large house;
this was an inn where those who were about to walk or ride through the
forest would stop to eat. As Fortunatus drew nearer, he sat down
and pulled the gift-purse from his bosom, intending to test the truth
of the maiden’ words, and to see if he would have anything to pay
his charges; for other money had he none. So he reached into the
moneybag, and drew out 10 crowns; and when he saw them, you may take
my word that he was thoroughly thrilled. Entering the inn with
delight in his heart, he told the host to lay down some food, for he
was ravenously hungry; and if he served him well, he would be well paid
for his trouble. The innkeeper was well pleased with these words
and respectfully brought his guest his best fare. After satisfying
his hunger, Fortunatus stayed in the inn overnight, and the next morning,
sating and refreshing himself. Then he settled his reckoning to
his host’s liking, and set out on his travels once more.