VII. Death in Constantinople

Setting Sail

Now that the travellers were in Venice, they were on course to journey through every Kingdom; but while they were resting there, the news reached their ears that the Emperor in Constantinople, who was approaching his dotage, wished to have his son crowned Emperor and handed the reins of government before he died. The Venetians, being reliably informed of this, had prepared a galley and an Embassy with many exquisite jewels to present to the new Emperor; so Fortunatus went and bought a passage for himself and his retinue, and sailed with the Venetians to Constantinople. So many strangers had come pouring in to the city that there were no lodgings to be had; the Venetians were allotted a house to themselves, but they would admit no foreigners, so Fortunatus and his men had to search far and wide for an inn. He finally found an innkeeper (who was a thief) and booked a room. Every day they went to watch the festivities, and to enjoy the great splendour on show, about which much could be written.

But I shall concentrate on what happened to Fortunatus. When he left for the festivities every day with his men, they locked the door to their chamber, and thought that their belongings were perfectly safe. The innkeeper, however, had a secret entrance to Fortunatus’s room: where the large bedstead skirted a wooden wall, he could remove a plank and replace it afterwards, with no one being any the wiser. He entered and left by this means while Fortunatus and company were attending the spectacles, and rummaged through their travelling-bags, but without finding any money. Surprised at this, he thought: “They must carry their money around sewn inside their jerkins.”

After several days had passed, they paid the innkeeper what was outstanding. He kept a close eye on who was giving the money out, and saw Fortunatus bringing it out from under the table and then giving it to Lupoldus to settle the dues. Fortunatus had ordered his old servant not to be frugal when paying a host, but to give him what he demanded; and Lupoldus obeyed, to the innkeeper’s delight. But he still was not satisfied, for he wanted everything – the money and the purse.

Now that day was approaching on which Fortunatus had promised to find a husband for a pauper’s daughter and endow her with 400 gold pieces in the local currency. So he asked the innkeeper if he perhaps knew of an impoverished, God-fearing man with a marriageable daughter for whom he was too poor to find a husband. “If you do, then bring that man to me, and I shall provide his daughter with an honourable dowry.”

“Yes, I know more than one,” replied his host, “and tomorrow I’ll bring you a pious man, who’ll come to you with his daughter.” And Fortunatus was content.

But his host was thinking: ‘I’ll steal their money tonight, while they still have it. If I wait any longer, they’ll soon have spent the lot.”

That night he crept through the hole, and while they were all sleeping soundly, he searched all of their clothes, thinking to find patches full of money in their jerkins. But when his hopes were dashed, he cut Lupoldus’s purse free and found a good 50 ducats inside. Then he cut Fortunatus’s purse loose; but when he squeezed it, the purse seemed to be empty, so he flung it away, under the bed. Then he snipped off the three servants’ purses, found a little money inside, and opened the door and windows to make it look as if thieves had clambered in from the alley.

When Lupoldus woke up and saw the open door and windows, he scolded the servants for leaving the room so negligently and causing their masters such anxiety. They started from their sleep, and each one denied having done this. Lupoldus was alarmed; and looking immediately down at his purse, he saw the severed stumps hanging from his belt. He called to Fortunatus, saying: “Sir, our room is open to the city, and your money has been stolen from me.” Then the servants cried that they had been treated in the same way. Fortunatus made a grab for his jerkin, and finding that the Purse of Fortune had been cut off, he was deeply shocked – indeed, so heavy was the shock that he fell down in a swoon and lay as one dead. Lupoldus and the servants were panic-stricken, and in sorrow for their master; they did not know the magnitude of the loss he had sustained. They poured water over him, and rubbed him, until he returned to his senses. And while they were given to fear and trembling, the innkeeper walked in, with amazement written all over his face, and he asked them what they were doing. They replied that all their money had been stolen from them.

The innkeeper said, “What kind of people are you? Aren’t you in a securely-locked chamber? Why weren’t you more careful?”

“We locked the door and the windows,” they replied, “and here they are open.”

“You should check to see that you haven’t robbed one another,” admonished the innkeeper. “There are many strangers here. I don’t know what they’re capable of.”

But seeing how wretched a state they were in, he walked over to Fortunatus and observed the total alteration in his appearance. “Have you lost a lot of money?” he asked.

They replied that the amount was not great.

“Then how can you be so distraught over the loss of a handful of cash? You were about to give a poor daughter a husband; save this money and spend it on yourself.”

“I care more for the purse, than for the money I have lost,” replied Fortunatus in a tiny voice. “There’s a small bill of exchange inside which wouldn’t be worth a penny to anyone.” When the innkeeper saw Fortunatus so despondent, he was moved to pity, scoundrel though he was; so he said, “Let’s see if we can’t find the purse. No one would draw any pleasure from an empty moneybag.” Then he told the servants to start searching; and one of them, crawling under the bed, cried out: “There’s an empty purse here.” And he brought it out, handed it to his master, and asked if it were the right one.

“Let me inspect it, to see if it is the one that was cut from me,” said Fortunatus. He found that it was his purse, but he was afraid that the abscission might have deprived it of its virtue. Yet he did not dare to reach inside in front of others; he would have been sorry if anyone else had come to learn the secret, and he feared losing the purse along with his life. So he slid into bed – everyone could see what a feeble-minded state he was in – and opened the purse beneath the covers. Reaching inside, he found, to his deep delight, that it still possessed its full power. But the shock he had received had been so severe that he could not regain his colour or strength so soon; and he remained bed-bound the next day.

Thinking to comfort him, Lupoldus said: “Oh sir, don’t take it so to heart! We still have handsome steeds, silver chains, gold rings and other jewels; and although we have no money, we shall help you home with God’s assistance. I have passed through many kingdoms with an empty purse.” He thought that Fortunatus was a man of great wealth in his homeland, so that if he could return there safely, no loss was irreplaceable. But Fortunatus said in a faint voice: “He who loses his possessions loses his reason. Wisdom is to be chosen before wealth, strength, health, beauty and long life, for no one can steal it from you.” Then he fell silent. Lupoldus could make nothing of these words, for he did not know about the choice in the wood; but he refrained from asking any more questions, believing that Fortunatus was raving. By dint of their attentions, and by bringing him to eat, his servants helped him to come to himself and regain his colour; and his spirits began to rise.

But when night fell, he ordered his servants to buy lights and to leave them burning all night long; and they were all to lie down beside their naked swords as protection against another robbery. This was done. Fortunatus had new, much stronger straps fitted to the Purse, and for the rest of his days he never again let it hang from his jerkin, but kept it so close to his chest that no one could purloin it.

The next morning he and his men rose early and went to the Church of Saint Sophia, where there is a beautiful chapel consecrated to the honour of Our Dear Lady. He gave the priests two guilders to sing a service in adoration and veneration of Our Dear Lady, concluding with the song of praise ‘Te deum laudamus.’ When the service and hymn were over, Fortunatus went with his servants to the square where the merchants and moneychangers plied their trade; and once he was there, he ordered the servants home to prepare the meal and attend to the horses. Then he gave Lupoldus money, saying: “Go and buy five good new purses, and I shall go to my moneychanger to obtain some currency. I can have no pleasure, if we do not all have money at hand.” Lupoldus did as he was ordered, and brought back five empty purses. Fortunatus placed 100 ducats in one and gave it to Lupoldus to spend on provisions, instructing him to spare no expense; when this store ran out, he would replenish it. Arriving back in the inn, he gave each of the servants a new purse, with 10 ducats inside, and told them to be merry, but also to be solicitous that the injury of the other day should never befall him again. They thanked him profusely and said that they would take close care.

After pouring 400 guilders into the fifth purse, Fortunatus sent for the innkeeper and said to him: “As I told you before, I would like to confer a dowry on a pious man’s daughter of marriageable age.”

“I know more than one, and I’ll bring one such man here presently, together with his daughter, for your inspection.” Then the innkeeper called on this good man and told him how he had a rich guest at his inn; and if the man called his daughter and came with him, it would be to his advantage.

The daughter’s father was a cabinet-maker, a pious, rough soul. He replied: “I’m not taking my daughter anywhere. He may want to use her to her dishonour, and then buy her a dress. That would help neither her nor me. Tell him if he wants to do her a good turn, he should come to us.”

The innkeeper fumed at this reply and thought that Fortunatus would be displeased too; but on hearing this, he gave a broad smile and said: “Take me to this man.”

A poor virgin endowered

So Fortunatus went with his host and Lupoldus to the cabinet-maker’s house, where he began: “I have heard that you have a daughter of marriageable age. Tell her to come here, together with her mother.”

“What do you want with them?”

“Call them hither. It will make their fortune.”

The cabinet-maker called for the mother and the daughter, and they soon appeared, deeply embarrassed at their ragged clothes. The daughter stood behind the mother to hide her homely attire.

“Young lady, step forward,” said Fortunatus.

She was a beautiful, well-formed woman. He asked the father how old his daughter was.

“Twenty,” the parents replied.

“How could you let her reach this age without having found her a husband?”

The mother could not wait for the father to open his mouth, but said: “She was old enough six years ago, but we had nothing to give her as a dowry.”

“If I were to give her a good dowry, do you know a suitable man?” asked Fortunatus.

“I know enough of them,” said the mother. “Our neighbour has a son who is sweet on her, and if she had any money he’d take her willingly.”

“How do you like your neighbour’s son?” Fortunatus asked the girl.

“I do not choose to like. I will marry whomever my mother and father give me. I will not choose for myself, though I should die a spinster.”

The mother could keep silence no longer: “Sir, she’s lying! I know that he dotes on her, and she loves him with all her heart.”

Fortunatus sent the innkeeper to fetch the youth, who proved on arrival to have a pleasing appearance. Then he took the purse with 400 ducats, poured them out onto the table, and said to the youth, who was also twenty years old: “If you wish to marry this lady, and lady, if you wish to marry this man, then I shall provide the money for the dowry.”

“If you are in earnest,” commented the youth, “then, for my part, all is in order.”

“And my daughter’s agreeable too,” the mother blurted.

Then Fortunatus sent for a priest to wed the couple, before their mothers and fathers, so that he knew it was a real wedding; and he gave them their dowry, and 10 ducats to the bride’s father for clothes for himself and his wife, and a further 10 ducats for the nuptials. They were all happy to the heart, and they thanked Fortunatus, and praised God, with warm sincerity. “God has sent this man from Heaven!” they exclaimed.

The wedding over, they returned to the inn. Lupoldus was amazed at his master’s generosity and the ease with which he had spent so much money, when he had been thrown into distraction at the theft of a mere handful. The innkeeper was deeply nettled at not having found the purse with 400 ducats, even though he had rifled all their baggage, and he grumbled to himself: “If he’s got so much to throw around, I’ll have to try harder to help him empty his pockets.” Now he knew that they left a large candle, which they had had specially made, burning all night. So when they had gone out to the Emperor’s festivities, he crept into their room, bored holes into the candle, poured water inside, and covered the holes up; thus arranging matters so that the candle would extinguish itself after burning for two hours.

The end of the festivities was fast approaching. The innkeeper thought that Fortunatus would not be staying beyond this, and he had no time to lose; so he resolved on doing his guests an injury that very night when their light had gone out. That evening he gave them the best wine in his cellar and joined in their merry-making, thinking that they would soon fall into a strong sleep, as often happens after heavy drinking. Eventually they went up to their room, put their night-light in order, laid their naked swords by their side, and thought to sleep secure from care; which they did.

The innkeeper, however, was not asleep, but was contemplating the execution of his resolve. When he saw that the candle had gone out, he crept through the hole; coming upon Lupoldus first, he began to rummage around beneath his head. But Lupoldus was not sleeping; and he kept a sharp sword lying, unsheathed, on the sheets beside him. He hurriedly grabbed this sword and hewed at the thief. The innkeeper ducked, but not enough; and the blade tore such a deep gash in his throat that he said neither “Oh” nor “Ow”, but just fell down dead.

The Slain Thief

Lupoldus angrily called the servants and asked, “Why did you put the light out?”

They answered, one and all, that they had done no such thing.

“Now one of you go and fix a light, while the rest of you stand at the door with your naked swords and let no one out. There is a thief in the room.” The first servant ran out and soon returned with a light. Lupoldus commanded: “Lock the door fast, so the thief will not escape us.” Then they began to search, and coming to Lupoldus’s bed, they found the innkeeper lying dead with an opened throat. When Fortunatus heard this, as you can well imagine, he suffered the shock of his life.

“Oh God, why did I ever come to Constantinople?” he cried. “If we lost all our possessions, that would be a trifling matter – for now every one of us can wave goodbye to his goods and his life as well! Oh, Almighty God, come to the aid of these pour souls, for no one else is able or willing to help us; we are strangers here, and we may well state our good name, rank and pedigree, but we shall not be believed. If we offer them a bribe, they will think: ‘They have forfeited their lives. Once we take those, their money is ours – so we shall get our hands on it anyway.”

Master and servants stood looking at the corpse, trembling with terror and unable to utter a word. Fortunatus was the most terrified, for he remembered how he had fared in London, when the nobleman was murdered in the house in his absence, and he was innocent and ignorant of the deed. He turned to Lupoldus: “Alas, what an evil turn you have done us by killing the host! If you had just given him a serious wound, and not struck him down dead, then with the help of God and gold, we would have gained respite for our lives.”

Lupoldus replied, “It was night; I did not know what I was striking. I lunged at the thief whose hands were scuttling under my head, and who had robbed us once before. That is the man I felled, and if it be God’s will that the guise in which he met his death should become known, then we need not fear for our goods or our lives.”

“Oh, we shall not be able to make a thief of the innkeeper!” cried Fortunatus. “His friends will not allow it. Neither words nor money can help us now.”

In his distraught frame of mind, Fortunatus was thinking: ‘If only I had a loyal friend to whom I could entrust my purse and divulge its secret. Then when we were imprisoned and we told the truth of the matter, and they found so little money on us, the loyal friend would appear and offer the judge a generous sum. I have no doubt that the judge would take four or five thousand ducats and let us away with our lives.’

But then he thought: ‘Whomever I entrust with the purse will grow so fond of it that he will not return it to me; he will rather make generous presents to the judge, so that he make haste and plait our limbs on the wheel, for heinous murder must not remain unrevenged. And he will say that it would be disgraceful and iniquitous for anyone to claim that guests who murder their host should not be broken on the wheel.’ In this way, Fortunatus discovered in himself that it was impossible to give the purse to anyone else, and he began to raise fervent cries to Heaven from the bitter bottom of his heart.

When Lupoldus had surveyed the terror and anxiety on the faces of his master and the servants, he said: “How faint-hearted you are! Grief will get us nowhere. The deed is done; we cannot return life to the thief; so let us use our reason to see us through this predicament.” Fortunatus admitted that he knew no counsel to give; and he wondered why he had not chosen wisdom instead of wealth, for then he would have known what to advise. So he told Lupoldus to impart any wise counsel he might have, for their need was pressing.

“Then follow me and do as I tell you,” said Lupoldus, “and with God’s help I shall bring us from here with our bodies unscathed and our effects untouched, and without meeting any obstacles.” They were pleased with these comforting words. Lupoldus commanded: “Now be quiet – let no one make a sound – and quench the light.” And he took the dead innkeeper on his back and carried him into the backyard, where there was a deep well by the stables. He threw him head-first into this well, and its water was deep enough to cover the corpse from sight. No one heard or saw this, for the time was midnight.

Midnight at the Well

Returning to Fortunatus, Lupoldus said: “I have disencumbered us of the thief, in such a wise that it will be a good while before anyone finds him. As I do not doubt that he did not inform anyone of his intention to rob us, no one will know that we have done him an injury. So be happy.” Turning to the servants, he said: “Go and prepare the horses, and see that you sing, and talk about pretty girls, and let none of you sport a long face; we shall act likewise. As soon as day breaks, we shall ride away and put six hours between us and the city; and if we had killed the old and young Emperors of Constantinople, we would still make our escape.”

Fortunatus heard these words with pleasure, and he began to show more gaiety than he felt. Once the cheerful servants had groomed the horses, they called the inn’s serving-lads and maids and sent for malmsey, which is good there. When everyone had drunk their fill, the lads and the maids were given a ducat each, and the whole company was in high spirits. “We hope to return in a month’s time,” said Lupoldus, “and then we shall really make merry together.” Fortunatus spoke to the inn-servants: “Relay our thanks to our host and hostess. Tell them I would have had some malmsey brought up to their bed, but I thought them rather in need of rest.”

With such jocular words did they mount their steeds, and they rode full gallop towards Turkey, afraid all the while of pursuit. But no-one rode after them; and they did not ask any questions about the innkeeper. And so they arrived in the Turkish Emperor’s land, in a town called Craiova. In this town the Emperor has a dignitary whose duty it is to supply Christian merchants or pilgrims with an escort, whether they were travelling towards the Court or elsewhere over his lands. Lupoldus was aware of this, so on arrival he went to visit this dignitary and said that they were five pilgrims who desired safe-conduct and the accompaniment of a trucheman. “I’ll give you all the safe-conducts you want, as long as you hand me four ducats; and I’ll have one ducat, and provisions, from every servant.” Lupoldus was slightly reluctant, but he bit his lip and handed over the money. Then the dignitary gave him a signed safe-conduct and sent them to a knowledgeable man; and he considered them to be well provided-for.

So they rode through Turkey. When Fortunatus saw that his cause for care was over, and the shock he had suffered in Constantinople had worn away, his spirits rose and he began to bandy jokes with his companions. Arriving at the Emperor’s Court, they witnessed his enormous wealth and innumerable army; and he was amazed that one man could call so many people to his service. Among them, to his great displeasure, were many renegade Christians. So they did not tarry at the Court, but travelled through Wallachia, both Lesser and Greater, where Vlad Dracul rules, then Bosnia, Croatia and Dalmatia. Then they passed through Budapest, Cracow (the seat of the King of Poland1), Copenhagen, Stockholm and Bergen before returning through Sweden and Denmark to Prague.

While travelling through all the lands and kingdoms, Fortunatus had observed and marked their customs, traditions and beliefs, and he had written a short book, in which he registered the names and dominions of all the Kings, Dukes, Counts and Barons, with details of the holdings, of lands and liegemen, of the princes of the cloth – the bishops, abbots and prelates – whom he had seen. He completed this book with assiduous industry and with the help and advice of Lupoldus, who had previously journeyed through all of these lands. Fortunatus had also managed to obtain an official reception from each King, at which he was presented with a memento; and he held these gifts dear, not for their material value, but because he had earned them himself, and acquired them in person. So he brought them home and gave them pride of place.

Riding out of Prague, he headed for the Duchy of Saxony, then for Franconia. Anyone with experience of travel may well be thinking that Fortunatus would have required a good escort, had it become known that he was carrying so rich a purse – especially in the lands where groups of impoverished knights and footpads roam. But God gave him the good fortune to pass through unscathed, and he arrived in Augsburg. In that city he displayed great friendship to certain merchants, whom he accompanied to Venice, paying their charges; and in a few days, they arrived. As he rode into Venice, he was glad at heart, and he thought: ‘Here, there are many rich people; here, you may open your money to view.’ So he enquired after jewels of the purest water, and a great number were brought before him, many of which caught his fancy; and the merchants who offered these did not walk away unrewarded. Through these transactions the Venetians gained a great amount of ready money, and Fortunatus was held in high esteem. Now he was well aware that he had owned hardly any household goods or clothes when he had sailed from Famagusta, leaving his father Theodore and his mother Graciana behind in bitter poverty. So he had himself tailored with splendid and fashionable garments, and he purchased all household necessities twice over. Then he hired a galley and returned, with his effects, to Famagusta, fifteen years after his departure. On his arrival, he learnt at once that his father and mother had died, and he was plunged into grief.

CHAPTER 8, A Wife for Fortunatus

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