IV. The Count of the Wood
Now there was a small town and a castle two miles from the wood, where lived a Count who was known as The Count of the Wood. He had jurisdiction over the region of the wood, at the Duke of Brittany’s behest. Fortunatus walked into the best inn, bade the keeper serve up his choicest fare, and asked him if he knew of any fine horses for sale. “Why yes,” he said, “there’s a foreign merchant arrived here only yesterday with 15 handsome horses, and he’s on his way to the wedding the Duke of Brittany will be celebrating with the King of Aragon’s daughter. Our Count wants to give him 300 crowns for three of the horses, but he won’t accept less than 320; and these 20 crowns are the bone of contention.” Fortunatus slinked into an empty room and counted 600 crowns out of his purse; after putting them back in, he returned to the innkeeper and asked: “Where is the horse-dealer? If they’re really so fine, I would like to have a look at them.”
“I’m afraid he won’t let you see them,” said the innkeeper. “Our Lord the Count was barely able to prevail on him to let him see them.”
“If I like the horses, I may well dare to buy them before the Count does.”
The innkeeper thought that Fortunatus was speaking in jest, for there was great wealth in his talk, but his clothes were shabby, and he had arrived on foot. But he took him to the horse-dealer nonetheless, and spoke so far with the man, that he let Fortunatus see the horses, and rode them before him. Although Fortunatus was highly pleased with all fifteen, he wanted only those three that the Count wished to have. Knowing that the dispute was over 20 crowns, he at once took out 320 crowns, handed them over, and ordered the horses to be brought to his inn. Then he sent for the saddler and instructed him to spare no expense on saddles and riding equipment. After this, he ordered the innkeeper to help him find two servants who could ride; he would pay them well.
While Fortunatus was handling matters in this fashion, the news of his purchase of the horses reached the Count. He was deeply displeased, and he roundly cursed himself, for he liked the horses greatly, and should not have lost them for the sake of 20 crowns; moreover, he wanted to ride to the wedding festivities, and to be seen there. In his anger he sent one of his servants to the innkeeper to inquire what kind of man this was who had bought the horses out of his hands. The innkeeper replied that he did not know this man; he had come to his inn on foot and poorly-clad, and had said: ‘Serve me well, and I’ll pay you well.’ He continued: “I took such a shine to his appearance, that when he had eaten his first meal, I didn’t set a second down before him until that one was paid for.” The servant was angry with the innkeeper for accompanying the stranger to buy the horses. He replied, “I acted as a good innkeeper should – doing anything for his guest that may be done with honour. He asked me to go with him; I didn’t think he could afford a donkey.”
The servant came to the Count with this tale. When the Count heard that the stranger was not of noble blood, he furiously cried to his men: “Go and seize this man. He has stolen the money, or robbed or murdered someone!” So they laid hands on Fortunatus, conveyed him to a bad prison, and asked him where he was from.
“From Cyprus, a town called Famagusta.”
The Count was pleased to hear that he came from such a faraway land.
They asked who his father was.
“A poor nobleman.”
They asked where all his coins came from, to make him so rich.
“The money is mine; I trust I’m not obliged to say where it comes from. And if there is anyone who accuses me of having done him violence or an injustice, I’ll justify myself to him before a Court of Law.”
“Your yapping won’t help you,” said the Count. “You will tell me where you got that money.”
And he had him dragged to the place where dangerous types were tortured and had him winched up into the air. When Fortunatus saw the turn events had taken, he was shocked to the marrow; nevertheless, he resolved to die sooner than reveal the secret of the purse. And as he hung there, loaded with heavy weights, he said that he would answer their questions if they set him down. When his feet touched the ground again, the Count said: “Now be quick, and tell me where you got all those lovely crowns.”
Fortunatus recounted how he had lost his way in the forest, and wandered for more than two days without a morsel of food passing his lips; “and when, through God’s mercy, I came to the end of the wood, I found a purse containing 610 crowns.”
“Where is the purse that held these crowns?” asked the Count.
“When I had counted the money, I poured it into my moneybag and threw the empty bag into the river that flows before the wood.”
“Oh you rogue,” said the Count, “so you wanted to estrange me from my possessions, did you? Well, lend an ear to this: you have forfeited your life and your goods to me, because everything in the wood belongs to me – it is my personal property!”
“Merciful lord,” said Fortunatus, “I knew nothing about your jurisdiction. I just took it for a gift from God and blessed Him.”
“I don’t give a damn that you didn’t know,” retorted the Count. “Didn’t you hear? He who does not know must ask. In short, prepare yourself: today I’ll take your goods, and tomorrow your life.”
Fortunatus thought: ‘Poor me! When I had the choice of one of the six gifts, why did I not choose wisdom instead of wealth? I wouldn’t now be in so terrifying and desperate a predicament.’ And he began to make all sorts of promises: “Dear lord, share mercy with me! How would my death profit you? Take your property that I found, and leave me my life, and I’ll faithfully remember you in my prayers for the rest of my days.”
Count was reluctant to spare his life, for he feared that Fortunatus
would spread the tale of the treatment he had received at his hands
wherever he came, which would ruin his reputation among the princes
and lords. Yet he was moved to mercy, and so before dawn the next
morning he had Fortunatus shown the town-gates and made to swear that
never again, as long as he lived, would he set foot on the Count’s
land. Fortunatus did this, secretly pleased at his escape; for
if the Count had learnt the truth, he would not have been released.
The servants suggested to the Count that he give the man a crown for
food, but he refused point-blank: “He learnt how to beg before he
found that purse; he may now resume that career.” Then, scorning
the law, he confiscated the three horses and the money from Fortunatus;
and there are many others who unlawfully rob people of what is rightfully
theirs. His name was Artelin, Count of the Nundragon Wood.