IX. Two Sons, and a Hat, for Fortunatus
Fortunatus and his wife Cassandra, living together in bliss and enjoying life’s plenty, prayed devoutly to God to grant them progeny. For he was only too aware that the purse would lose its power if he did not produce legitimate issue; but he said nothing of this to Cassandra, only telling her how dearly he would like to have heirs by her. And as God hearkens to all sincere prayers, so he heard this: Cassandra became pregnant and gave birth to a son, to the delight of his father and many others, who was baptised Ampedo. Soon afterwards Cassandra became pregnant again and brought forth another son, who was joyfully baptised Andolosia. They were two handsome, well-formed boys, and Fortunatus and his beloved wife raised them with constant diligence and love; yet Andolosia was always somewhat more forward than his brother Ampedo, as we shall see later. Although Fortunatus would have liked more heirs by Cassandra, she had given birth for the final time – to her great sorrow, for she would dearly have welcomed a daughter or two.
Now when Fortunatus had been with Cassandra for twelve years, and he saw that there was no hope of increasing his issue, he became restless in Famagusta, despite having every form of entertainment at his fingertips – going for walks, riding on handsome steeds, luring, hunting with hounds, and hawking. Recollecting that he had traversed all the Kingdoms of Christianity, he was seized with the longing to pass through all the heathen lands before his death, especially Prester John’s Land of Upper, Middle, and Lower India. So he said to his wife Cassandra:
“I have a request to make you. I am of a mind to go on a journey for some time, and I would like you to grant your consent.”
She asked where he was thinking of going; he replied that his intended journey could not be completed in less than three years. Cassandra blanched, but thought that his words were not spoken in earnest.
“And where could you go where you would find more pleasure and delight, and a more comfortable home, than here with your wife and children? You may well come into a place where you are not so fortunate.”
“I am not going away for the sake of pleasure, or luxury, or material profit,” said Fortunatus. “I have seen half the world, and now I want to see the other half, even if it costs me my life. I cannot clear my head of this wish. So give me your consent, for no one can prevent this but God and Death.”
When Cassandra realised that he was in deadly earnest, the colour flew from her face, and she began to beg him to leave his resolve, which he would come to regret. When he went on his previous journey, it was through Christian lands, and he was young and strong with great powers of endurance. These had now gone; age cannot do what comes easily to youth. “And you have grown accustomed to a restful life – why do you wish to expose yourself to the false heathens? Every day you hear about them showing Christians neither faith nor favour, for it is in their blood to take a Christian’s life and possessions whenever they can.”
Then she flung her arms very tenderly around his neck and said, “Oh my darling Fortunatus! Oh my loving and loyal husband, joy of my heart, trust of my body and soul – I beg you, for the honour of God and the sake of the Virgin Mary, to respect me, your poor wife, and your dear children, and to throw this intended journey out of your heart and mind and stay here with us! And if I have annoyed you in any way, or done anything to displease you, please give me to understand what; I shall henceforth be more prudent, and it will never happen again.” And she shook with the depth of her tears.
“My darling wife,” said Fortunatus, “do not take it so badly. It is only for a short while, then I shall safely return. And I promise you now that never again shall I part from you as long as God lends us life.”
“If I were certain you would make it back, I would quite happily await your return; if you were going anywhere other than those dangerous regions where infidels are constantly thirsting for Christian blood, it would not be so hard to bear.”
“None can prevent this journey but God and Death,” Fortunatus declared. “When I depart, I shall give you enough money for you and the children to enjoy comfort and ease for the rest of your lives, in case I did not return.”
When Cassandra saw that no amount of pleading could help, she said: “My dearest husband, if there is no other way, if you want to be so far away from us, then so be it; but come back to us all the sooner, and do not let the faithful love you have shown us up to now fade from your heart. We shall pray for you day and night, imploring God to grant you health, peace and fair weather, and to ensure you the goodwill of all those through whose hands and power you pass.”
“Now God grant that this prayer take effect,” said Fortunatus. “I trust God that I shall return earlier than I had planned, and I hope, with His help, to make a quick and happy end to my journey.”
Fortunatus wasted no time in having a sturdy galley constructed, and while it was on the stocks, he summoned merchants and sent them out to buy all kinds of merchandise that would serve him well in heathen lands. He then considered what present he could bring to the Sultan, for he knew that all the nationalities who visited Alexandria took extravagant gifts along, especially the Venetians and Florentines, who brought gold-embroidered lengths of velvet and a fabulous array of silken garments in satisfying abundance. So he quickly sent for some master goldsmiths and commissioned a sumptuous travel-cabinet of silver and gold, together with everything one could or would wish to use: goblets, cups, bottles, bowls, plates, dishes, spits, gridirons and pothooks – all gilded, inside or outside, as occasion demanded. And when the galley was ready, he had it loaded; then he completed his preparations, took his leave of his wife and sons, sat down and headed in God’s name for Alexandria.
Now the Alexandrians have an ancient custom which dictates that whenever a ship can be seen approaching in the distance, they send a boat out towards her to inquire where she is from and what is her business, and the answers are relayed to the Sultan. When a ship enters the port, no one may disembark until he has received a written safe-conduct; after Fortunatus was handed this, he and his merchants stepped onto dry land. The heathens wanted to know who the master of the galley was, so he told them that his name was Fortunatus, from Famagusta in Cyprus, and he was the sole master. Then Fortunatus requested to be brought before the Sultan, for he had brought him a gift. The Sultan’s servants were busy to help him to bring, for it happens at every Court that the man who comes to give is quickly admitted, whereas he who wants to take must stand long before the door. After entering the Palace, Fortunatus had a large and handsome side-board set up, and on it he laid the precious articles, which were costly and fair to behold; then he waited for the Sultan. When the Sultan arrived, he was amazed at the number and the beauty of the valuables; and believing that they had been brought for sale, he inquired of Fortunatus what price he placed on the cabinet. Fortunatus wished to know if the Sultan liked the precious items: “Greatly,” he said. Content with this reply, Fortunatus asked the Sultan not to refuse him the honour of accepting them as a present. The Sultan marvelled that a single merchant should make so munificent a benefaction, which he valued at some five thousand ducats, and he thought to be far beyond the bounty of a major commune, such as Venice, Florence or Genoa. But he accepted the gift, with the reservation that it was too much not to requite, and so he ordered that Fortunatus be given one hundred ladings of pepper, equal in total value to the cabinet.
Now when the Venetian, Florentine and Genoan factors, then resident in Alexandria, heard that the Sultan had given so costly a present to Fortunatus, who had just arrived there for the first time, when they had presented him with valuable gifts once, and sometimes twice, a year, and abiding in his realm, brought much advantage to him and the whole land; yet he had never once given anything, great or small, to their states or their people: then their resentment was aroused. Moreover, Fortunatus was too free with his money in his dealings: his merchants sold all their wares for a cheaper price than they, and bought for a higher. This did hard damage to their trade, and they feared that greater injury would arise from the wares and spices he was loading at Alexandria to bear into Christian lands. So they held counsel, day and night, to devise a cause of his disgrace before the Sultan and his viziers, so that he be no longer held in principal favour. And they sent great gifts to the Admiral, the Sultan’s second-in-command, with a request that he not look so kindly on Fortunatus and his men, but have them beaten and robbed, and shown every dishonour; which they themselves would have done, this behaviour being in their nature, had they not feared punishment from the Admiral. But Fortunatus became aware that they hated him, and intended to make the land so unbearable for him that he should never feel the wish to return. So what he did was this: when the four conspiring nations – the Venetians, Genoese, Florentines and Catalonians – sent the Admiral ten ducats, Fortunatus would send him thirty. This was an even game for the Admiral, who took the money from both parties and kept them both content; but he did more to serve and please Fortunatus, for he wished that more of his kind would frequent Alexandria.
Now when Fortunatus had been there several days, maintaining himself in honourable state, the Sultan invited him and several merchants from the galleys to a splendid feast, it being his custom to invite to table the owner of every galley about to depart. He was also invited to be the Admiral’s guest, and more often than was customary; and he was shown greater honour than had ever been shown to a galley-owner. Then the four nations really began to scowl and grumble, for they saw that their presents had been given in vain. The time came for the galleys to leave Alexandria; no ship arriving there with merchandise dares tarry longer than six weeks, regardless of the success of its trading. Fortunatus was well aware of this – he had, indeed, based his venture around this schedule – and he now made another merchant patron in his place, and ordered him to sail the galley with its load of merchants and wares, in the name of God, to Catalonia, Portugal, Spain, England and Flanders, where they were to buy and sell to increase their profit; which he expected them to do, for they carried a valuable cargo. Then he urged the new patron to remember to return with the galley to Alexandria after two years; on no account must they neglect to do this, for he intended to wander in foreign lands for that length of time before returning to Alexandria. If they did not find him there as arranged, they were no longer to count him among the living, and they should deliver the galley with its cargo to his wife Cassandra and his sons, in Famagusta. The patron promised this, and then the ship set sail; and their adventures would be long in the telling.
Fortunatus, alone now, went to the Admiral and requested that he acquire for him from the Sultan an escort around his land, a trucheman, and a passport to the princes and lords of the lands he wished to visit, such as the Persian Empire, Cathay and Prester John’s Land, and all those domains bordering these realms. The Admiral procured splendid letters of commendation for him, and he supplied him with guides who knew the paths and roads, and were well-versed in the local tongues; but all at Fortunatus’s expense. Yet Fortunatus was delighted with this, and more than happy to defray his own costs, for no sum could ever sadden him. Then he prepared himself and his escort lavishly; whenever he was told that such-and-such was necessary, or would be of service on the journey, he would command its purchase and pay in ready money. And he soon earned the affection of all those with whom he had dealings, for he treated them with deference; where one guilder would have sufficed, Fortunatus gave two.
So he set out. At first, he came to the Persian Empire; passing through this, he arrived in Cathay, land of the Great Khans. Then he travelled through the desert to Prester John’s Kingdom, which comprises three lands, each one of which is called India: Upper India, which is excessively hot; Middle India, which is somewhat cooler; and Lower India, where it is so cold that the rivers freeze at night, in winter and in summer. These three Indias, including islands and dry land, are so huge that Prester John has seventy-two kings under him, each one the ruler of a great land and multitude, and of mighty castles and cities. The sheer enormity of the Indias beggars belief, for as the written records tell us, they cover a greater expanse than the Persian Emperor’s land, the Great Khan’s Cathay, the Sultan’s and the Grand Turk’s Empires combined; yet these are four mighty potentates, each holding greater wealth than all the Christian Princes – the Pope and the prelates – and all Kings and temporal Princes put together. A unique and lengthy book could be written on the wonders, traditions and tales of these lands; and anyone with an enquiring mind should read John Mandeville’s book, as well as the writings of others who have traversed that part of the world and noted down the customs, beliefs and social conditions prevalent in each land.
You may be wondering, when Earth holds these enormous lands, which are home to magnificent lords, exotic fruits, and great riches, why more Germans do not go there? Well, the lands are so far away from us, and the roads are so treacherous, running through mountains and wildernesses filled with murderers and thieves; no one wants to risk his skin. Moreover, not everyone has enough money, unlike Fortunatus; I have little doubt that there is many a proud man to be found who, if he possessed Fortune’s purse, would not stay at home, but would journey from one land to another, until he had covered the whole of the Earth. You may also be wondering why the people in India and other lands do not visit us. The reason for this is the rumours they have heard of how different our lands are, how our country is full of cold weather and poor fruits. Some fear that they would die on the spot, while others have come to the conclusion that they would be held as fools for leaving a land of plenty to find a wasteland. They are also aware of the perils of the journey.
Now when Fortunatus had passed through these lands, he still was not satisfied; he wished to reach the land where pepper grows. So he sent Prester John beautiful gifts which were strange to his lands, and sent presents to his chamberlains as well; and he asked for guides and a written pass to Lombok. His request was granted, and he was escorted to the sea, and then taken by ship to the wild bushland called Tobar, the only place in the world where pepper grows. Having seen all this, and being unable to go any further, Fortunatus thought of his beloved wife Cassandra and his two sons; and his heart began to beat for home. So he turned around and headed homewards, riding back through those foreign lands he had not encountered on the outward leg of his journey. He passed through deserts to the tomb of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, and then through more sandy wastes to the Holy City, Jerusalem. Still having two months to spend before his galley arrived in Alexandria, he thought of riding back to Cairo to thank the Sultan for his guides and letters, which had proved extremely useful. But the Sultan had moved on by another route to Alexandria, so Fortunatus followed at speed. There he visited his good friend the Admiral, who was pleased to see him and showed him great honour for having displayed such knightly daring and traversed such distant lands.
He had been in Alexandria for eight days with an exotic menagerie, his eyes on the sea, when his galley arrived and was escorted into the harbour. Although Fortunatus had not been with them, they had tripled the value of his wares. He was delighted at this, and he was especially pleased to see his men safe and sound; moreover, they brought him letters from his beloved Cassandra informing him that she found herself in good health and their sons were flourishing. Then Fortunatus told his merchants to make a quick end of their trading, for he was sorely wanting home; which they did, cutting the cost of their merchandise. St. Nicholas helps the trader who sells at low prices, and he who buys at the asking price will not grow old concluding the transaction: so, whereas others’ ships lie in Alexandria for six weeks before they can finish trading, Fortunatus’s merchants had settled their affairs in half the time, after hearing their master’s will.
The Sultan, hearing of Fortunatus’s impending departure, did not want him to leave without having shared his table, and so he invited him for the evening before he was set to sail for Famagusta. Fortunatus could not refuse, so he told his men to board the ship and to sail it into the open sea; as soon as the meal was over, he would join them. “So let everything be made ready; and see that you have your hands on the halyard”. The men did as they were instructed.
Then the Admiral came to collect Fortunatus, and they repaired to the Sultan’s Palace, which was situated on a hill and afforded a prospect over the entire city towards the wide and endless sea. Fortunatus was received with honour, for he was no stranger to the Sultan; when asked how he had fared in foreign climes, he told his host everything and thanked him profusely for the letters he had granted him, by power of which he had been received with deference and given much assistance by all the lords. Without them, he would never have managed to complete his journey. The Sultan was pleased to hear this, but if I may just add my voice for a brief second here: Fortunatus’s purse bought as much favour as the letters brought. So they conversed, and the meal passed in great splendour, for you may expect such mighty rulers to live in perpetual magnificence – especially the Sultan, who had one thousand five hundred mamelukes to serve him at table.
When the meal had been consumed, and the mamelukes were standing to attention in the hall, together with renegade Christians to the number of twelve hundred, Fortunatus remarked to the Sultan that, if it would not incur his displeasure, he would like to disburse ten dules (a pilgrim’s coin, worth three-quarters of a Rhenish guilder) to each mameluke. The Sultan replied that he would let it pass. Then Fortunatus called them up, one after the other, and the cook and the cellarer came too; and his hands bobbed in and out of his Purse, which he held below the table to hide from view. If seen, it would have been instantly recognised as a Purse of Fortune, for a hundred purses could not have contained half the money that Fortunatus disbursed in so short a time. And when he had given to everyone, the Sultan was astounded at his carrying such a weight of gold; and he took Fortunatus’s open-handedness towards his mamelukes for a mark of great respect.
“You are a man of honour,” he said, “and it is fitting that you be shown honour. Come with me; I shall show you something of mine.”
And the Sultan led him to a stone tower with many vaults. In the first vault there were heaps of silver treasures and silver coins, lying like corn or oats poured out on the floor. The next vault housed golden gems and many large chests overflowing with golden coins; in the following one, there stood large chests that were packed with all kinds of decorative and exquisite jewellery, such as the Sultan would wear when he wished to appear in all his pomp and glory: countless rubies, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and shining pearls. In particular there were two golden candlesticks crowned with two huge carbuncles, so beautiful and bright that they shone like burning candles in the dark. Fortunatus was amazed at this, for he had never imagined that a King could possess so many priceless articles; and he gave warm voice to his admiration. When the Sultan heard his delight, he said: “I have one more treasure, in my bedroom, which is dearer to me than everything you have seen.”
“What could possibly be so magnificent?” asked Fortunatus.
“You shall see.” And the Sultan led Fortunatus to his large and well-appointed bedroom, with all of its windows overlooking the sea. Bending over a chest, he brought out a thoroughly run-of-the-mill, bare felt hat, such as wandering monks tend to wear. Then he said: “This hat is dearer to me than all the treasures you have seen, for they can be replaced; but I do not know how to find another such hat.”
“Your most revered Highness,” said Fortunatus, “if it did not displease you, I would dearly like to know what virtue the hat possesses to make you esteem it so highly.”
“I shall tell you,” the Sultan declared. “It cost me a fortune – more than your loaded galley is now worth. It has the virtue of transporting whoever puts it on to the place he wishes to be. This is a greater pastime than all my gold and gems! When I send my servants out on the hunt and the whim takes me to be with them, I put my hat on, wish myself there, and – there I am! Wherever a wild beast may be in the wood, I can wish myself beside it, then drive it into the hunters’ hands. When I am facing hostilities and my soldiers are in the field, I can wish myself by their side; and whenever I want, I can return to my Palace, where all my riches could not bring me.”
“Is the master still living who made it?” asked Fortunatus.
“I do not know. In the town of Salamanca in Spain, where necromancy is taught at the University, there was an erudite Doctor in the Black Arts. I showered him with gifts and sent him home with every mark of honour. Whether he yet lives – I do not know.”
Fortunatus was thinking: ‘If the Hat could only be mine! It would be the ideal companion for my Purse.’ So he said: “It strikes me that if the Hat has so much power, it must weigh a great deal, and press down hard on the wearer’s head.”
“It is no heavier than the next hat,” said the Sultan. After telling Fortunatus to take off his cap, he himself placed the hat on his head, and asked: “Is it not true that it weighs no more than any other hat?”
“Indeed, I would never have thought it would be so light – or you so foolish as to put it on my head.” And Fortunatus wished himself in his galley with his men, where he instantly appeared. At once he ordered the sails to be hoisted, for they had a strong following wind to speed them away.