This is the first part of the Saint Tom's Town Tales. I could not keep it in verse -- it's just too hard. To do verse, I'd have to take the words from Jeff's tongue to ours, and then from ours to words of one beat, all at once, and make it rhyme as well. So I did it in prose.

                      Saint Tom's Town Tales
                        The Start of It All

    When the fourth month with his sweet rain has pierced to the root
the drought of March, and bathed each vine with sweet life, by which
strength the bloom is born; when the west wind with his sweet breath
has brought forth in each holt and heath the new crops, and the young
sun has run half his course in the Ram, and the small birds make song
and yet don't close their eyes all night while they sleep -- for Life
pricks them in their hearts -- then, folks long to see the saints and
wear the palm while they seek strange shores with far off shrines,
known in all the lands; and most of all, from the end of each shire of
this land they wend to Saint Tom's Town, to seek the late great saint
who has helped the sick when they have sought him.
    It came to pass that on a day at that time, while I was at an inn
south of the king's town, all set to seek the saint with quite strong
heart, there came that night to that inn full score and nine of mixed
folk, all in a group that had just formed, all of them to ride to
Saint Tom's Town.  The rooms and stalls were wide, and we were well
lodged in the best.  By the time the sun had set to rest, I spoke with
each of them, so that I too joined their group, and we made a pact to
rise at dawn to take our way, as I will tell you.
    But first, while I have time and space, I'll not go on in my tale,
for I think it'd be a good thing to tell you of the state of each of
them, at least as it seemed to me, and who they were and of what rank,
and too what they wore in that inn:  And with the knight I'd do well
to start.
    A Knight there was, and at that a good man, who from the first
time he rode out had loved the code of knights: good word and good
name, good will and good face.  He fought full well in his lord's war,
in which no man in all the lands, of Christ or no, rode as far, and
all spoke well of him for his strength.
    He was at the Nile's mouth when it was won; oft he had sat in
state at the high board in Pruss, and he warred with the Slavs, and
fought in Russ more times than all of Christ's men with his rank; he
was oft in Spain at the well-known siege, and rode down Moors; he was
at those two great towns when of late they were won from the Moors;
and was in quite a few fights in the Great Sea.  He'd been at five and
ten jousts to the death, and three times fought for our faith in the
lists in the East, and there slayed his foe.
    This same good knight had been at one time with the lord of the
Pale when they fought the Turks; and since then he had been praised
like a king.  And though he was a strong knight, he was wise, and in
his acts he seemed as meek as a maid.  At no time in his life has he
said a rude word to a man; he was a true, good, mild knight.  But to
tell you of his clothes, while his horse worse good stuff, he was not
gay: his shirt of thick cloth was stained with rust from his mail, for
he had just come back from the wars and had come straight off to see
the saint.
    With him there was his son, a young Squire at Arms, a dame's man
with no wife and who lived up life, with locks curled as if they were
pressed.  He was a score of years old, I guess.  In height, he was not
too tall, and he moved neat and quick, and had great strnegth.  He had
been in the French wars, where he rode with the horse, and came off
well for all that he was there so short a time, in the hopes that he
would stand well in his dame's grace.  His clothes were worked through
with thread, so that be looked like a mead full of fresh white and red
blooms.  He did sing or flirt all the day; he was as fresh as the
month of May.  His gown was short, with long and wide sleeves; he
could sit on his horse well and ride fair; he could make songs and
verse well, both joust and dance, and sketch and write well.  So hot
did he love that at night he slept no more than does a night bird.  He
did act well and low, and served sans airs, and carved the meat for
his dad when they supped.
    The Knight had a Groom with him, but no more to serve him at that
time, for he liked to ride so; this man was clad in a green coat and
hood.  He bore on his belt a sheaf of keen darts for the bow, all
fletched bright green -- he could tend to his gear as a free man can,
and he used no low bird to fletch his darts -- and in his hand he bore
a great bow.  His hair was cropped close, and his face brown.  He knew
well all the ways of wood craft.  On his arm was a gay brace, and by
his side a sword and shield, and on his belt a gay knife, with a good
mount and as sharp as a spear point; a coin of Saint Chris shined
bright on his breast.  He bore a horn on a green strap.  I guessed in
truth that he was a man of the woods.
    There was too a nun, a Head Nun, whose smiles were sweet and coy;
when she swore, it was by Saint Loy, and she was named Dame Sweet
Rose.  She sung God's mass well, which she would chant in her nose
like a dame; she spoke French with grace in the fair way of the school
at the Thames' Bend, for she did not know the French of French king's
town.  At meals, she was well taught: she let no bit of food fall from
her lips, nor dipped her hand in the deep sauce.  She could pick up a
bite and take care that no drops should fall on her breast.  She got
much joy from fine acts.  She wiped her top lip so clean that not a
bit of grease would float in her cup from when she had drunk her
draught.  She reached with grace for her meat.  And too she was of
great good cheer, and quite nice and a friend to all, and took pains
to act in the ways of court, and to move with great state, and to be
thought of good worth.  But to speak of her will to act well, she was
so full of good deeds and apt to woe she would weep if she saw a mouse
caught in a trap, if it were dead or did bleed.  She had some small
hounds that she fed with roast flesh, or with milk and fine white
bread; but sore she wept if one died, or if a man smote one hard with
a rod; to her, good acts and soft heart were all.
    Her nun's hood was pinched to look nice; her nose was well formed,
her eyes as grey as a glass, her mouth full small, and soft and red as
well; but in sooth she had a fair brow, which was, I swear, close to a
span broad, for in truth she was not too small.  I saw that her cloak
was neat; she had on her arm a string of beads a hand wide made of
pink sea stone, set off with green, on which hung a bright gold broach
with first a crowned A, and then, "Love wins all."
    She had with her one more Nun, who was her help, and three
    A Monk there was, most fine of all monks, in charge of lands far
from the cells, who liked to hunt -- a man of men, who could have been
a head monk.  He had quite a few mounts in his stalls, and when he
rode, men could hear his tack chime in the wind as clear and as loud
as the church bell there, since he was the lord of his branch of
cells.  The rules of Saint Maur or Saint Ben, since they were old and
a bit strict -- this Monk let old things pass on, and held out for the
new to come in his life.  He did not give a plucked hen for the text
that says that he who hunts can't be a priest, not that a monk, when
he does not take care, is like a fish out of the pond -- that is to
say, a monk out of his cell; but that same text he held not worth a
clam.  And I say his thought was good: why should he read and make his
head reel, and all the time pore on a book in his cell, or work with
his hands as the Great Saint bid?  How should the world be served?
Let that saint have his work kept for him!  Thus, he rode hard all
right: he had hounds as swift as fowl in flight; to track and hunt for
the hare was all his joy, and he spared no cost to do so.  His sleeves
I saw were lined at the hand with grey fur, and that the most fine in
all the land; and his hood was tied at his chin with a pin wrought
with care of gold, with a love knot at the large end.  His head was
bald, and shone like a glass, and too his face, as if rubbed with oil:
he was a lord full fat and in good plump shape; his eyes bulged and
rolled in his head, which glowed like a pot in a forge, his boots were
soft, his horse in good shape.  He was in truth a great man of the
Church.  He was not pale, like a ghost that fades: a fat swan he loved
best of all roasts.  His horse was brown as a nut.
    A Poor Priest there was, a man who lived with joy and lust, who had
the right to beg a space all on his own, a man for a feast.  In the
four kinds of poor priests, there is none that knows as much of how to
flirt and talk fair.  He had made at his own cost brides of quite a
few maids.  He was high in his rule.  He was well loved and knew all
the squires in his range, and all the good dames of the town; he did
more good when he heard sins, as he put it, than a town priest, for
he had the right of his kind.  He was sweet when he heard sins, and
the price you paid for them was not hard to pay.  He gave a low price
where he knew he'd get good alms -- for it is a sign that a man shrove
well when he gives to a poor priest since, if he has, he dares to
boast that he thought he was bad to sin; for quite a few men are so
hard of heart they may not weep though he's sore grieved, so in place
of tears and prayers men may give coins to the poor priests.
    His scarf was packed full of knives and pins, to give to fair
wives.  And in sooth he had a glad note: he could sing well and play
the string with a bow; he took the prize when it came to songs.  His
neck was as white as a fleur; there he was as strong as the best.  He
knew all the inns in each town, and each host and bar maid more than
he knew the crips and girls who beg; for it was not fit, by his worth,
for such a good man as he to know sick crips; it's not worth his
while, nor worth much coin, to deal with such poor folks -- just with
the rich and those who sell food.  And on the whole, should there be a
chance for coin, he was nice and served them well.  There was no man
in the land so good: he begged the best in his house; and he paid his
rent for this right, that none of his kind came to beg in his haunts;
for though a wife whose man had died had no shoes, so nice did he
greet her, that he yet would have a groat when he went; his funds by
this was much more than his rent.  He could flirt like a pup; and he
could help much in the love-days, for he was not like a monk from a
cell with a cope of thin cloth, or like a poor clerk, but like a don,
or a pope.  Of twice thick wool was his short robe, which was round as
a bell from the mould.  He lisped a bit, for it was in style, to make
his speech sweet on his tongue; and when he played the harp as he
sang, his eyes shone bright in his head as the stars do in the cold
night.  This good man was named Hugh.
    There was a Man of Trade with a forked beard, in clothes of hues,
who sat high on his horse; on his head was a Dutch fur hat, his boots
tied fair and with grace.  He spoke his thoughts in full state, full
of the sound of the growth of his wealth.  He would that the sea route
from the Dutch port to his own was kept clear at all cost.  He could
sell French coins well on the 'Change.  This good man used his wit
well: there was no man to whom he was in debt, such care he took with
his trade, the deals he made and the bills he owed.  In sooth he was a
good man, all in all, but, sooth to say, I don't know his name.
    A Clerk there was from the school of the ox, who had learned the
rules of thought long since.  His horse was as lean as a rake, and his
own self was, I dare say, not fat, but looked gaunt, and thus calm.
His cloak was worn thin, for he did not yet have a job as a priest,
nor was he a man of the world to get a state job; he'd just as soon
have by his bed a score of books, clad in black or red, of the Greek
and his thoughts, than rich robes, or a bright tune, or a gay harp.
But though he was a man of worth[1], he had not much gold in his
strong box; all that he might cadge from his friends he spent on books
and for a class, and prayed much to the souls that he have the funds
to stay in school.  He took the most care with and the most heed of
what he learned.  He spoke not one word more than there's need to, and
that was said in good form and true to what's due, and short and quick
and full of high thoughts.  His speech strived for a life free from
sin, and he would learn with joy, and with joy teach.
    There was a Man of Law, ware and wise, who had oft been at his
trade in St. Paul's, full rich with what's good.  He could keep mum,
and was by all folks thought well -- he seemed such, for his words
were so wise.  He oft was the judge at the shire court, by writ and by
full grant.  For what he knew and for being well known, he had quite a
few fees and robes.  There were none who bought as much land as he;
all deals were bought straight out -- and his deals were not queered
by a bad clause.  There were no men with as much work to do as him,
yet he looked like he had more work than he did.  He knew by heart
each case and rule from King Will's time.  He could write a deed in
such a way that no man could squawk at the terms, and he knew all of
each law by rote.  He rode sans state in a coat of hues, girt with a
belt of silk with small bars; but I'll not tell a long tale of his
    He rode with a Squire of the Land.  His beard was as white as the
day's bloom, and his face was red.  He loved to break his fast with a
sop soaked in wine; to live well was all his wont, for he was that
Greek's own son, who held that full joy was in truth the best thing in
life.  He owned a house, and that a great one; he was a Saint Jules in
his own land.  His bread, his ale, were at all times good, and there's
no man with as large a wine stock.  At no time did his house lack
baked meat; his house was so full of fish and flesh, and so much of
it, it snowed meat and drink, and all the sweets a man can dream of.
He changed his meat and his meal with the times of the year.  He had
quite a few fat wild fowls in his cage, and quite a few carp and pike
in his pond.  Woe to his cook if his sauce was not spiced and sharp,
nor changed oft.  The board in his hall was set up all the time.  At
the shire meet, he was lord and sire; he was oft the knight of the
shire.  A knife and a silk purse hung at his belt, white as fresh
milk.  He'd been a king's man of the shire, and he'd kept the shire
funds; there was no place such a good gent.
    A Hat Man, a Wood Man, a Cloth Man, a Dye Man, and a Wall Cloth
Man -- and they were all clothed in the togs of a high and great
lodge.  Their gear was full fresh and shined like new; their knives
were not chased with brass, but all in white; all in all, each belt
and pouch was wrought clean and well.  Each one seemed to be a fair
man of the town, fit to sit high in the guild's hall.  Each one, for
how wise he seemed, was like to join the town board, for they had the
goods and rents for it; and their wives too would like it too, and
would blame them if they did not: it's a fair thing to be called Dame,
and to walk at the head of the guild's saint's mass, and have your
cloak borne as though a lord.
    A Cook they had with them for to boil the fowl with the bones, and
sweet tart and sharp paste.  Well could he tell a draught of King's
Town ale.  He knew how to roast, and seethe, and broil, and fry, make
stews, and bake a good pie.  But it seemed to me a great harm that he
had a sore on his shin; he made the best white stew.
    A Man of the Sea was there, who dwelt in the west; for all I know,
he was from the Port of the Dart.  He rode on a nag, as best he could,
in a gown of thick wool that fell to the knee.  A knife hung on a
strap he had round his neck, 'twixt arm and rib.  The hot sun had made
his skin all brown; and for sure he was a good chap.  He had drawn
quite a few draughts of wine as they sailed from France, while the man
who owned it slept.  He took no heed of fine qualms.  When he fought
and had the high hand, the ones of all lands he caught he sent home in
the sea.  Of his craft, he could tell his tides, and as well all
streams and that which might harm that were near him, his ports and
his moon, how to steer, that there was none as good from Hull to
Spain.  He was bold, and wise in what he did; quite a few storms had
shook his beard.  He knew all the coves from the Isles of the Swedes
to the Cape of Spain, and each creek in France and in Spain.  His
barge was named Our Lord's Friend Maud.
    There was a man called Doc with us; in all the world there was
none like him, at least for what kept health and healed wounds, for he
based his work on the stars.  He watched with care the one in his care
in the hours his wit of the world's charms said to.  He could find
when the star house of his charms for the one in his care rose.  He
knew the cause of each ill, be it heat, or cold, or moist, or dry, and
from whence they came and of what flow[2].  He was a true fine man of
his trade; the cause known, and too what was at its root, he soon gave
the sick man the cure.  He had his drug man all set to send his drugs
and his meds; for both of them won on the deal, and they'd been
friends for a while.  He knew all the old docs, those six Greeks, two
Medes, two Moors, those two of Rome, a Scot, and two men of our time
and land.  He ate slow, and none too much, but all full of what keeps
us in health and we can use.  He did not read the Good Book much.  He
was clad all in red and in blue, lined with silk both stiff and light.
And yet he did not spend much; he saved what he had earned in the
plague time.  Since gold in a drink is a good med, he loved gold the
    There was a good Wife from near Bath, but she was a bit deaf,
which was a shame.  She had such skill at the cloth loom that she
passed the Dutch.  There was no wife in all the church who gave at
mass ere she had; and if they did, this put her in such a rage that
she would not give.  Her head cloths were full fine to feel; I dare
swear that what she wore on her head on God's Day weighed ten pounds.
Her hose were fine bright red, laced tight, and new shoes, not worn
ere now.  Her face was bold, and fair, and red in hue.  She was a good
dame all her life; she'd been wife at the church door with five men,
and then there's the friends of her youth -- but we don't need to talk
of that just now.  She'd been three times to our Lord's Own Town;
she'd crossed quite a few strange streams; she'd been to Rome, and to
the shrine in France, in Spain at Saint James, and the shrine at Köln.
She knew much of how to stop by the way.  She had a gap in her teeth,
to tell the truth.  She sat on a soft mount, veiled well, and on her
head a hat as broad as a shield or targe; a skirt for the ride on her
large hips, and a sharp pair of spurs on her feet.  She knew how to
laugh and flirt in chat; she knew per chaunce how be healed of love,
for she knew of that art the old dance.
    There was a good man of the cloth, who was a poor Town Priest;
but he was rich in thoughts of God and in God's work.  He had gone to
school, a clerk, who in truth would preach Christ's Good Word; he
would teach those of his church the ways of God.  Mild was he, and
most good at his work, and calm when things went wrong, as he oft
times had cause to show.  He was loath to curse for his tithes, but
would give, out of doubt, to his poor church folk, what he got and too
his own funds; he could live on small things.  His church land was
wild, with homes far flung, but he was not stopped by rain nor storm,
by ill health nor bad men, to see the most far off of his folks, both
great and low, on his feet, with his staff in hand.  This good type of
life to his sheep he gave, that first he wrought, and then he taught.
He caught those words from the Good Book; and to them, he would add the
thought that if gold rust, what shall steel do?  For if a priest on
whom we trust be foul, but of course a lewd man would rust; and shame
it is, if a priest take heed, a stained man who herds and a clean sheep.
A priest ought to give by a clean life a show of how his sheep should
live.  He did not sell his place and so leave his sheep caught in the
mire, and run to the king's town and Saint Paul's, to seek him a job
where he sang for a soul, or be the priest for a guild; but dwelt at
home and kept well his fold, so that the wolf did not make it send it
wrong; he was one to tend sheep, and not one who fights for pay.  And
though he was God's man and full of good, he had no spite for men who
sinned, nor was his speech high and on his high horse, but soft and
mild in what he taught.  To draw folk to God's realm by fair acts, to
show them, this was his work.  But if there was one who dug in his
heels, what so he were, of high or low birth, him would he scold well
at all times.  I think there is no priest more good.  He did not seek
pomp nor bowed heads, nor keep too nice qualms, but he taught the lore
of Christ and his friends, and first he walked his own talk.
    With him was a Plow Man, his bro, who had borne quite a few loads
of dung in his time; a true and good man of work was he, who lived in
peace and true grace.  He loved God best, with all his whole heart, at
all times, though he be pleased or pained, and then those near him as
his own self.  He would thresh, and too dig the ditch and delve, for
the sake of Christ, and for each poor man, not for hire, if he could
do so.  He paid his fair tithes well, both of his share of work and
his goods.  He rode in a short coat on a mare.
    There was too a Reeve and a Man o' th' Mill, as well as one who
served writs for the Church court and a man who sold grace, a House
Boss, and me -- there were no more.
    The Man o' th' Mill was quite a stout chap; he was big in both
brawn and bones, as shown by the fact that at the fair, he would throw
out of the ring all who came, and so win the ram.  He was not wide at
top, broad, a thick guy; there was no door he could not heave off its
hinge, or break it with his head at a run.  His beard was red as a sow
or fox, and broad, as though it were a spade.  He had a wart on the
tip of his nose, on which stood a tuft of hairs as red as those in a
sow's ear; the holes of his nose were black and wide.  He bore a sword
and shield by his side.  His mouth was as large as a forge; he told
jokes and course tales that were full of sin and quite blue.  Well
could he steal corn and take thrice his toll; and yet he had a thumb
of gold, by God.  He wore a white coat and a blue hood.  He could blow
and sound the pipes, and that's how he brought us out of town.
    There was a mild House Boss of a place of men of law, to whom
those who buy might look to learn wit in how to buy food; for, both
when he paid or put it on his bill, he watched what he bought, so that
each time he was ahead of the game and in good state.
    Now is it not God's fair grace that the wit of a man who'd not
been to school should pass that of a heap of school men?  He dealt
with more than thrice ten men of law, all of them who knew law and
quite sly, of which there were in that house twelve who could have
kept track of the rents and lands of a lord of our land, and make him
live in his means, with no debts (but that he were mad), or live as
scarce as he'd want; and could too help a shire with such a case as
might come to pass; and yet this House Boss got the best of them!
    The Reeve was a thin man with a hot head.  His beard was shaved as
close as he could; his hair was shorn by his ears, the top docked in
front like a priest.  His legs were long and full lean, like a staff,
with no calf to be seen.  He could keep the grain and its bins well;
no one who checked his books could beat him.  He knew, by the drought
and the rain, what yield his seed and grain would get.  His lord's
sheep, his cows, his milk, his swine, his horse, his stock, and his
fowls were all in this Reeve's care; and this had been so since his
lord was a score of years old.  No one could prove his guilt in court.
There was no boss, no man who kept herds, nor hand, that he did not
know their tricks and slight of hand; they feared him like the plague.
    His house was right on the heath, in the shade of green trees.  He
could, on his own, buy more than his lord; he had a rich store of
goods hid well.  He could please his lord in sly ways, with gifts and
loans out of his own goods, and be thanked for it, with a coat and
hood.  In his youth he'd learned a good trade: he was a good wood
wright.  This Reeve sat on a large male horse, grey with spots, named
Scot.  He had on a long top coat of blue, and by his side bore a blade
with rust on it.  He was from the east fens, near a town men called
Bald's Well.  His coat was tucked up like a poor priest, and he rode
last in our group.
    There was a man who served writs for the Church courts, who had a
flame-red face like one of God's winged guards, for it was marred with
spots, and eyes set close.  He was as hot with lust as a small song
bird, with scabbed black brows and a sparse beard,-- his face scared
kids.  There was no salve, of those that cleanse and bite, that could
help with his white welts and the knobs that sat on his cheeks.  He
loved sharp roots, such as leeks, and to drink strong wine as red as
blood.  Then he would speak, and cry as though mad.  And when he was
drunk from the wine, then he would speak no word but in the Church
tongue.  He had a few terms, two or three, that he'd learned from some
writ, -- but of course, he heard it all the day; and you know how a
jay can call out "Watt" as well as the pope.  But if you tried him
with more, he had spent all he learned; aye, "Quest quid jur!"[3] would
he cry.
    He was a mild, lewd man, and kind; men should not find a more good
chap.  He would, for a quart of wine, let a guy take his girl for a
year, and say it was naught; and he could pull a finch[4] on the sly.
And if he found a good chap, in such case, he would teach him to have
no awe of the priest's curse, but if a man's soul were in his purse,
then his purse should take the blame: "Purse is the priest's hell,"
said he.
    But I think that, in fact, he lied.  Of the curse, a man who's
sinned should dread, for the curse will slay him, as earned grace
saves; and too watch out for the words of a Church court's writ.
    He had 'neath his thumb all the girls in his court's reach, and
knew all their cares, and gave them good words.  He had a wreath set
on his head, as large one used for an ale stake[5]; he had a shield
made of a loaf of bread.
    With him rode his friend and peer, a mild man who sold God's grace
for funds for a sick house, who had come straight from the court of
Rome.  Full loud he sang, "Come here, my love, to me!" and his friend
sang loud with him; there's no horn with half so great a sound.
    This man who sold grace had hair as pale as wax, but it hung
smooth as a hank of flax; his locks hung in thin strands, so that they
spread out on high on his back, but thin it lay, in hairs, one by one;
for the style of it, he wore no hood, for he kept it in his pack.  He
thought he rode all in the new mode: with his hair down all bare, save
his cap.  A cloth with our Lord's face was sown on his cap.  His pack
lay on his lap, full to the brim of writs of grace, hot from Rome.  He
had a voice as small as a goat's.  He had no beard, no should he; I
think he was fixed or a mare.
    But of his craft, in all the land, there was none such who could
sell God's grace; for in his bag he had a slip case for a head rest
which, he said, was Our Dame's veil; he said he had a piece of he sail
that Saint Pete used when he went to sea, till Christ called him.  He
had a cross of brass, full of stones, and in a glass he had pig's
bones.  But with these parts of saints, when he found a poor priest
who dwelt in the back woods, in one day he got more swag than that
priest got in a score of months; and thus with false praise and
tricks, he made fools of the priest and his flock.  But to tell the
truth, in church he preached grand; he could read well the text or a
church tale, but he was best of all when he sang at mass, just when
the plate went round; for he knew well that when that song was sung,
he must preach, and make his tongue sharp to win coins, as he well
could -- and so he sung with more joy, and loud.
    Now I've told you in brief the state, the dress, the name, and the
cause why this group had come to the South Bank of the Thames, at this
fine inn called the Short Coat, near the Bell.  It is time to tell you
how we bore our own selves that night, when we were snug in that inn;
when that is done, I'll tell of our trek and all the rest of our trip
to the shrine.
    But first, I pray you, by your leave, that you not blame it on my
lack of grace that I speak plain in this, to tell you their words and
their deeds, for I tell their true words; for you know this as well as
I, that he who tells a man's tale must say all the words, as close as
he can, and then once more, if it be his charge to do so, though he
does not his own self speak so rude or broad, or else he would tell
his tale false, or lie, or find new words.  He may not spare a one,
though he were his bro: he might as well say this word as that.
Christ spoke broad words in the Good Book, and you see it's not wrong;
and too the Greek said, to those who read him, "The word must be kin
to the deed."
    So I pray you don't chide me, that here I have not set folks in
the rank of their class in this tale, as they should be; my wit is
short, you see.
    Our Host gave each of us great cheer, and he set us to the night
meal at once, and served us with the best food: strong was the wine
and we liked to drink well.
    Our Host seemed he could well be the man in charge of feasts in a
lord's hall.  He was a large man with bug eyes; there was no town man
of Chepe Street was more fair; bold of his speech, and wise, and well
taught, and he lacked nought of what makes a man.  And for that, he
was a fun man, and when the meal was done he 'gan to play, and -- when
we had paid our bills -- spoke of mirth and such things, and said
this: "Now, my lords, in truth, with good heart, it has to me been
good you're here; but by my troth, if I'm not to lie, I've not seen
this year a group as fun as here in this inn.  I would like to give
you mirth, if I knew how; -- and of a mirth I've just thought, to do
you ease, and it shall cost you nought.
    "You go to Saint Tom's Town -- God speed you, the saint give you
your meed!  And I know well, as you go by the way, you'll want to talk
and play; for in truth it's no fun to ride all the way as dumb as a
stone; and so I'll give you a sport, as I just said, and do you some
fun.  And if you all say that you'll do what I judge, as I tell you,
this next day when you ride on the way, now, by my dead dad's soul, if
you don't have fun, I will give you my head!  Hold up your hand, and
don't speak."
    It did not take us not long; we thought it was not worth speech,
and did grant him it with no more talk, and bade him say what to do,
as he wished.
    "My lords," said he, "now hear me well; but do not, I pray you,
say no; this is the point, to speak short and plain, that each of you,
to make our way on this trek seem short, shall tell two tales on the
way to Saint Tom's Town, I mean it so, and as we come home each tell
two more, of things that once came to pass.  And which of you that
tells the best of all, which is to say, in our case tells tales with
the best thought and most fun, shall have a meal at the cost of us all
here in this place, in this seat by the post, when we get back.  And,
to make it the more fun for you, I will with joy my own self ride with
you, and be your guide; and who does not like how I judge, shall pay
all we spend on the way.  If you think that this should be so, say
now, with no words more, and I will go pack now."
    We said aye to this, and swore our oaths with glad hearts, and
prayed too that he would say that he would rule us, and be judge to
our tales and keep the score, and set a meal at a fixed price; and we
would be ruled by him in all things; and to this, as one, we said yes.
And then the wine was fetched; we drank, and each one went to bed, and
did not stay up.
    The next morn, when the day first sprung, our Host rose up and was
cock to us all, and brought us all in a flock; and we rode forth, a
bit more than a step, to the creek of Saint Tom[6]; and there our Host
drew his horse up, and said, "My lords, hark, if you will:
    "You know what word you gave and can bring it to mind.  If last
night's song and the dawn's are the same, let's see now who will tell
the first tale.  As I like to drink wine or ale, who does not what I
say shall pay for all that is spent by the way.  Now draw straws, ere
we go on; he who gets the short one shall start.  Sir Knight," said
he, "my sire and my lord, now draw a straw, for it's my will.  Come
near," said he, "my dame Head Nun.  And you, sir Clerk, don't be shy.
Don't you all stare -- lay a hand to, each of you!"
    At once each of us did, and, to make the tale short, be it luck,
or fate, or chance, the truth was, the short straw fell to Knight, for
which we all were glad; and he had to tell his tale, as we all said,
as you've heard; what need I say more?  And when this good man saw it
was so, as he was wise and bowed to keep the word he'd gave, he said,
"Since I shall start the game, what, glad be this straw, in God's
name!  Now let us ride, and hear what I say."  And with that word, we
rode forth on our way; and he, with a face full of cheer, did start
his tale at once, and said in this way:

                                                            -- Jeff C.

1. There's a pun here I can't bring out: the word means both "man of thought," and "man who works stuff" with the sense of "who turns stuff to gold."
2. This, like so much of this part, is a term from Doc's trade. The four flows are blood, phlegm, black bile, and pale bile, and it was thought that all ills came from when one of the four was out of sorts.
3. In the Church tongue this means, "On what point of law does this case hinge?"
4. To have sex with a dame. This was too good not to leave in.
5. In Jeff's time, an ale house did not have a sign, but a stake in front like a flag pole, with a wreath on it.
6. A mile or so from the inn on the road, where the mounts could drink.