X. The Death of Fortunatus

When the Sultan realised that Fortunatus had stolen his dearest treasure, he stood at the window, watched the galley sailing away, and did not know what to do. Then he ordered all his men to hasten after Fortunatus and bring him back in chains; he must lose his life for having robbed and deceived him. They set off in pursuit, but by the time their ships were ready the galley was out of sight. Now it is easier to find someone in the wildest wood on Earth than on the wide sea; and when they had sailed after the galley for several fruitless days, they began to fear attack from Catalonian pirates. As they were not armed for a fight, they did not wish to bite the fox; so they turned around for home, where they told the Sultan that they had not been able to overtake the galley. And he was sorely saddened. But the Venetians, Florentines and Genoese were delighted to hear that Fortunatus had made off with the Sultan’s most-prized treasure: “How must the Sultan and the Admiral be feeling,” they said amongst themselves, “they couldn’t pay him enough honour, and now he’s repaid them with interest! We’re safe from him now – he won’t come back and hit our trade so hard with undercutting and overpaying again.”

The Sultan dearly wanted his treasure back, but did not know how this could be effected. He thought: “If I send the Admiral or one of my princes to Cyprus, the Christians would not welcome them, and they could be taken prisoner on the way.” Then he decided to send an Embassy to Fortunatus, and turned to the leader of the Christians in Alexandria – for every Christian nationality there has a consul, and these representatives elect a consul general. The Sultan sent for this man, a Venetian named Marcholando, asked him if he would perform his will by accomplishing a journey, and acquainted him with the details; Marcholando replied that he was willing to travel anywhere in his service. Then the Sultan had a ship prepared and crewed with Christian sailors; and he ordered the consul general to sail to Famagusta and persuade Fortunatus to send his hat back, for he had shown him it in good faith, and he would receive it back with gratitude. In addition, he commanded Marcholando to promise a handsome reward, and to stand security for his master, who would send an argosy full of exotic spices in return for the hat. But if this availed nothing, then he was to lodge a complaint with the King of Cyprus, Fortunatus’s superior, and petition him to induce his vassal to send back the treasure with which he had so dishonestly abducted. Marcholando promised to be diligent and true in his charge; and the Sultan supplied him with luxuriant attire and a profusion of all he would need for the journey, pledging him a harvest of wealth if his mission was successful.

The Sultan was so distraught at the loss of his hat that sleep forsook him, to the grief of his mamelukes. They had praised Fortunatus to the skies when he had pressed gold into their palms, but now that he had upset their lord they said he was the biggest villain alive on Earth and, to a man, they swore that if they could get their hands on him they would eat his heart raw. So Marcholando set sail and arrived in Famagusta ten days after Fortunatus.

You can visualise, no doubt, the reception Fortunatus was given by his beloved wife Cassandra, and the joy he experienced at his coming safely home. The whole town rejoiced with him, for many of the people had friends in Fortunatus’s company, who had made substantial profits. The man who has plenty, and can bask in luxury, finds happiness much more easily – and the townspeople were certainly no exception to this rule.

When Marcholando disembarked, he was amazed at the joy that reigned in the town. Fortunatus, hearing that an Ambassador from the Sultan of Alexandria had arrived in Famagusta, guessed at once the reason for his visit, and he rented luxurious apartments for the Ambassador, which he had equipped with all that was necessary, at his own expense. And when Marcholando had been in Famagusta three days, he sent to Fortunatus, saying that he had a message to deliver to him; and he was immediately granted an audience. So he arrived in the beautiful palace, where he began thus: “The Sultan of Babylon, Lord of Cairo and Alexandria, sends you, Fortunatus, his greetings through me, Marcholando, and entreats you to oblige him, and to make a good messenger of me, by sending his treasure back with me.”

The Sultan's Envoy

Fortunatus replied, “I am amazed that the Sultan was so naïve, when he told me the hat’s virtue and placed it on my head with his own hands. Moreover, such a sweat broke out on my brow that I shall remember my fear until my dying day – for my galley stood in the open sea, and if I had missed it when I wished myself on board, I would have lost my life, which I value more highly than the Sultan’s Kingdom. For this reason, I am of a mind not to relinquish the hat as long as I live.”

Hearing Fortunatus speak in this vein, Marcholando thought that he would weaken his resolve and change his mind with the promise of lucre.

“Fortunatus, take my advice. What use is the hat to you? I will bring it about that you and your children receive something far superior to, far more useful than, that shabby little headwarmer. If I had a sackful of hats, and every one possessed the same virtue as yours, I would give them all away for a third of what I can procure you. If you crown my mission with success, I promise you – I give you my solemn word – that the Sultan will load your galley with exquisite spices such as pepper, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, to name but a few. A hundred thousand ducats’ worth all told. Moreover, you are under no obligation to part with the hat until you have been paid and you have the galley, with its cargo, safely in your hands. If you give your approval, I myself will sail to Alexandria on your galley and bring it back to you loaded, placing my trust in you to return my gracious lord the Sultan’s treasure to me when I have delivered to you that which I have promised. I know for a fact that no one else in the whole wide world would pay a third of what the Sultan is offering for this hat; he wants it so badly because it belonged to him.”

When Marcholando had finished speaking, Fortunatus replied: “So that we do not bandy many words in vain: your friendship, and the Sultan’s, would mean a great deal to me, but let no one think of removing the hat from my keeping. I have another treasure which is close to my heart, and the two must remain by me as long as I live.”

Marcholando asked if there was nothing more to be said? Nothing at all to be said or thought, answered Fortunatus, and if he had any other business he was free to pursue it. Marcholando did not want to leave without having accomplished the task with which the Sultan had entrusted him, so he rode to Fortunatus’s superior, the King of Cyprus, and laid a complaint against him. Then he solicited the King to make Fortunatus return what he had dishonourably taken without leave, for if this restitution did not take place, he was afraid that a mighty war would ensue. They had long enjoyed the fruits of peace as good neighbours, and the cordial relationship benefited both; war entailed a heavy outlay and untold damage, and he should do everything in his power to prevent this, for it was the duty of a King to maintain his Kingdom and his subjects in peace, as far as this lay in his power. The King replied: “I have princes and lords below me, and as I command them, so do they have their own will. But if the Sultan wishes to lodge a complaint against Fortunatus, he may deal as he wishes; I would that justice be done.”

When Marcholando heard his King being denied recourse to law, it became only too apparent to him that a heathen will win little from a Christian in a Christian land; and he saw no point in prolonging his stay. So he rode back to Famagusta, had his galley made ready, and was wanting away; when Fortunatus was so generous as to invite him to be his guest. He lavished every care and attention on the Ambassador, showered him with the finest gifts, and filled his galley with quality foods and wines. Then he said: “I bear no enmity towards you for your having delivered the Sultan’s message; and I hope you will not think unkindly of me for not returning him the hat. No heathen can hold a Christian dear, or grant him any favours; and if the hat were mine but in the Sultan’s possession, then there is no way that he would send it back, and his councillors would advise him not to, just as I am advised.” Marcholando thanked Fortunatus for the honour shown and the presents conferred, and said that it was obvious that he could not achieve his end for love nor money; he would suggest to the Sultan that he pursue the matter as he thought fit. Then he sailed away without that for which he had been sent; and Fortunatus let him leave, far from inquiring whether he had angered the Sultan, for he would not be setting foot in his land again.

Now Fortunatus, having travelled to satisfaction through the whole world, more or less, lived in a manner befitting his station. He concerned himself with the upbringing of his sons, engaging servants to teach them knight’s play – namely, jousting and tourneying – and to practise with them all the arts of the profession. The younger son showed a strong inclination for this, and bore himself like a man; so that Fortunatus arranged many tournaments in Famagusta, and his younger son always won the prize. “Andolosia is an honour to our land!” was the universal cry, and this occasioned much joy to his father.

So they lived, as happy as the day is long, and Fortunatus spent many a merry day with his hat, his hawk, and his beloved wife Cassandra. But then, after many years of blissful content, with no cloud to darken their days, Cassandra fell into a heavy and fatal illness, and no doctor could save her. No money was spared, but it was all to no avail, for there was no way with her but death; and so, with little delay, she yielded her soul. Fortunatus had her laid to rest like a Queen; he had loved her dearly in life, and he showed his love after her death. Happiness passed from his mind, and he found pleasure in nothing; although his good friends and companions tried to cheer his mood, calling on him and urging him to ride, hunt or hawk with them, as he had formerly done, their supplications had no effect. He sat alone and sorrowed for his beloved wife. And as he sat, on his own, he addressed himself in this wise:

“Oh Fortunatus, how can all your money serve you now? What help is the Sultan’s greatest treasure, the heart-dear possession you withheld from him? You have crossed through all Earth’s Kingdoms, and now you wait for death to come and take you any hour, as he carried off my darling wife, who was not ready for his coming! Oh stern, grim Death, how can you be so hard and so severe as to know no mercy? Neither gifts nor courage help against you. Nor young nor old, nor rich nor poor, nor healthy nor infirm, is safe from your embrace, neither in castles on the topmost peaks, nor in the deepest valleys.”

And so he reflected on the certainty of death and the uncertainty of its timing. As he buried himself in grief, no one could free his mind from fancies of fatality, and he fell into a hard illness – consumption – which lessened his body every day. When he felt the sickness spreading through his body he sent far and near for the best doctors to be had, whom he gave and promised a great store of money for their help. They were not able to give him any comforting assurances of restoring his health, but stated that they would do their best to prolong his life for as long as possible; they spent a great deal of time and effort, and their patient spent a great deal of money. But Fortunatus felt no improvement, and he realised that he lay in the grip of Death, from which there was no escape.

And as he lay on his bed, approaching to death, he sent for his two sons, Ampedo and Andolosia, and said to them: “You see, my dear sons, that as your mother, who brought you up with so much care, has departed with death, so now the time has come for me, too, to part from this world, and that with little delay. And so I shall instruct you on how you should conduct yourselves after my death, so that you will continue in honour and wealth, as I have until the end of my days.”

Fortunatus on his Deathbed

Then he told them about the two magical items he possessed: the purse, and the virtue it held only for as long as they lived; and the hat, its power, and the shipload of wealth the Sultan would have exchanged for it. Then he commanded them not to separate the two; furthermore, they must tell no one about the purse, and let no one become so dear to them as to invite their confidence. Even if they found wives whom they loved with all their hearts, they were to hold their tongues. For if one person were to learn of its existence, others would soon get to know. “And if the news leaked out, you would be pursued morning, noon and night until they could dispossess you of the purse. You must know that I have had it for sixty years, and in all that time I have never mentioned it to a soul; you are the first to hear of it from my mouth. Be cautious, for if you lose the purse, it will never find its way back to you. And to fall from great wealth into poverty would be a heart-rending affliction.

“I have one more instruction for you, my dear sons: to honour the Lady who gifted me this luck-bringing purse, you shall henceforth observe the first day in June every year. On this day, you shall abstain from conjugal rights – and from extra-marital affairs – and find a poor daughter whose parents do not have the means to bring her to matrimony. Then you will endow her with four hundred gold pieces in the currency of her land. I swore to do this on receiving the purse, and I have constantly honoured my vow.”

Fortunatus had few words in him after this; and after receiving the final sacraments, he yielded his soul. Then his sons had him interred with great ceremony in the glorious minster he himself had founded: there was a long service, many masses were sung, and many alms were given; and if the King himself had left this life, the obsequies could not have been more splendid.

To Andolosia

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