Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of excuses which are not to be admitted in extreme cases
OF EXCUSES WHICH ARE NOT TO BE ADMITTED IN EXTREME CASES.
The emperor Maximilian was renowned for the wisdom of his government. In his reign, there lived two knights, the one wise and the other foolish, but who had a mutual regard for each other. "Let us make an agreement," said the wise knight, "which will be advantageous to both. The other assented, and by the direction of his friend, proceeded to draw blood from his right arm. "I," said the latter, "will drink of thy blood, and thou of mine; so that neither in prosperity or in adversity, shall our covenant be broken, and whatsoever the one gains, shall be divided with the other." The foolish knight agreed; and they ratified the treaty by a draught of each other's blood. After this, they both dwelt in the same mansion. Now the lord of that country had two cities, one of which was built on the summit of a lofty mountain. It was so ordered, that no man could dwell there, unless he possessed great wealth; and having once entered, he must remain for life. The path to this city was narrow and stony, and about mid-way, three knights with a large army were stationed. The custom was, that whosoever passed should do battle, or lose his life, with every thing that he possessed. In that city, the emperor appointed a seneschal, who received without exception all who entered, and ministered to them according to their condition. But the other city was built in a valley under the mountain, the way to which was perfectly level and pleasant. Three soldiers dwelt there, who cheerfully received whomsoever came, and served them according to their pleasure. In this city also a seneschal was placed, but he ordered all who approached to be thrown into prison, and on the coming of the judge to be condemned.
The wise knight said to his companion, "My friend, let us go through the world as other knights are wont to do (63) and seek our fortune." His friend acquiesced; they set out upon their travels, and presently came to a place where two roads met. "See," said the wise knight, "here are two roads. The one leads to the noblest city in the world, and if we go thither, we shall obtain whatsoever our hearts desire. But the other path conducts to a city which is built in a valley; if we venture there, we shall be thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified. I advise, therefore, that we avoid this road, and pursue the other." "My friend," replied the foolish knight, "I heard long ago of these two cities; but the way to that upon the mountain is very narrow and dangerous, because of the soldiers who attack those that enter; nay, they frequently rob and murder them. But the other way is open and broad; and the soldiers who are stationed there receive passengers with hospitality, and supply them with all things necessary. This is sufficiently manifest; I see it, and had rather believe my own eyes than you." "It is true," returned his companion, "one way is difficult to walk along, but the other is infinitely worse at the end: ignominy and crucifixion will certainly be our doom. But fear you to walk the strait road, on account of a battle, or because of robbers? You, who are a soldier, and therefore in duty bound to fight valiantly! However, if you will go with me the way I desire, I promise to precede you in the attack; and be assured with your aid we shall overcome every obstacle." "I protest to you," said the other, "I will not go your way, but will take mine own." "Well," replied the wise knight, "since I have pledged you my word, and drank your blood in token of fidelity, I will proceed with you, though against my better judgment." So they both went the same path.
Their progress was extremely pleasant, till they reached the station of the three soldiers, who honourably and magnificently entertained them. And here the foolish knight said to the wise one, "Friend, did I not tell thee how comfortable this way would be found; in all which the other is deficient?" "If the end be well," replied he, "all is well; (64) but I do not hope it." With the three soldiers they tarried some time; insomuch that the seneschal of the city, hearing that two knights, contrary to royal prohibition, were approaching, sent out troops to apprehend them. The foolish knight he commanded to be bound hand and foot, and thrown into a well, but the other he imprisoned. Now, when the judge arrived, the malefactors were all brought before him, and amongst the rest, our two knights—the wiser of whom thus spoke: "My lord, I complain of my comrade, who is the occasion of my death. I declared to him the law of this city, and the danger to which we were exposed, but he would not listen to my words, nor abide by my counsels. 'I will trust my eyes,' said he, 'rather than you.' Now, because I had taken an oath never to forsake him in prosperity or in adversity, I accompanied him hither. But ought I therefore to die? Pronounce a just judgment." Then the foolish knight addressed the judge: "He is himself the cause of my death. For every one knows that he is reckoned wise, and I am naturally a fool. Ought he then so lightly to have surrendered his wisdom to my folly? And had he not done so, I should have returned to go the way which he went, even for the solemn oath which I had sworn. And therefore, since he is wise, and I am foolish, he is the occasion of my death." The judge, hearing this, spoke to both, but to the wise knight first. "Dost thou deserve to be called wise, who listened so heedlessly to his folly and followed him? and, fool that thou art! why didst thou not credit his word? By your own egregious folly ye are both justly doomed. And both shall be suspended on the cross." Thus it was done.
My beloved, the emperor is Christ; the two knights body and soul; of which the last is the wise one. In baptism they were united. They drank blood; that is, the blood in the veins prevents their separation, and preserves life. The two ways are penitence and the world's glory. The way of penitence is narrow, but the other is broad and alluring. The city on the mountain is heaven; that in the valley is hell. The three soldiers, are the world, the flesh, and the devil, &c. &c.
Note 63.Page 234.
"My friend, let us go through the world as other knights are wont to do."
"Sicut cæteri milites." Here we discover those features of chivalry, so admirably ridiculed by Cervantes. But, in times of oppression, when every one followed
"the simple plan,
That he may take who has the power,
And he may keep who can,"
the wandering hero ever ready to risk his life in defence of the injured, was governed by a noble and useful institution.
Note 64.Page 236.
"If the end be well, all is well."
"Si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit." This gives us the origin, probably, of the proverb, "All's well that ends well." "Finis coronat opus," is of a similar character.