The Tale of Melibeus

General Prologue

Lastly, there was a calm man whom most would overlook. Appearing to be a bit over thirty years of age, he spoke very little. Now that I put more thought into it, I am uncertain that I ever heard him speak. Though quiet, this man walked with great dignity. You did not see him sulk, even as everyone else threw quite a fit over the food that was eaten this past day. He stayed silent and just studied everyone. He was known to be from a rich family. Having a prosperous father who was a merchant allowed him to grow up comfortably. As a young chap, he attended St Paul’s Cathedral School; most children did not have the good fortune to do so. He was very noble and kind to all that were kind to him. Living among the wealthy, he never really understood the outside world, and didn’t know much about insatiability.
This man had a brawny build; yet still looked like he was getting older. The muscles on his forearm could easily be seen from his knee-length tunic, while the white color contrasted against his tan skin. Though he was rich, he still worked as if poor, giving his muscles definition. Every day, this man woke at daybreak, got dressed in the quiet, and went into town. In his hand he carried a leather-bound notebook, a quill, and ink. He walked to the town square where any type of selling goods could be found. He would find himself a place to sit making sure to be out of everyone’s way. Either across from the fruit cart that smelled of rotten fruit, or at the foot of the steps leading to the church. He would flip to a new page and start writing.
He wrote regarding anyone he laid eyes on, from the priest at the church, to the man selling apples. No one would notice this man, unless their eyes fell upon him furiously scribbling away, after which they would give him an odd look and turn the other cheek. What he would notice while sitting there were things most often overlooked by all of society. He would see greed in the fruit seller’s eyes when he raised the prices on fruit that was more rotten than filth on the street. He saw a selfish priest, who would commit sins right near god’s holy shrine. But this was not all he saw! He also noticed the lust that the bakery man had for women. Every day he would send his wife to go out and get flour from a town four miles away. His wife would ask for the reason why, and at this he would erupt and say, “You do what you are told, otherwise I will do away with you!” As a good wife, she would travel every day, on foot, to this town and carry back a great sack of flour. In her absence, he would sleep with any woman he could find, and though the whole town knew of his acts, no one could bear to tell his wife. For she would be heartbroken and not know what to do with her seven children!
This inquisitive man I speak of never showed avarice. In fact he showed just the opposite by sharing his wealth with needy schools and children. But enough about this man, who if I have not mentioned before was named Chaucer. The host has become much too impatient with Chaucer’s first tale, and says he can tell a different tale. Upon this, Chaucer begins to tell the Tale of Melibeus.

The Tale of Melibeus


There was once a king of England, known as King Edward III, who also went by the name of the Black Prince. He was a young king and only about twenty years of age. His name was spoken throughout the hills and valleys of every city in England, by the mothers, fathers, the sick, the old, and even the young children. They all thought he was a suitable king and adored his sense of humor. He had a straight, serious face when addressing important matters, but acted as foolishly as a child when surrounded by the young. He never wore anything made of silk or velvet for he thought it to be uncomfortable. King Edward’s wardrobe only consisted of cotton robes and tunics of all colors which he wore with great pride. The only symbol of his royalty was the crown always upon his head. This was a gold crown with the coat of arms crested in the middle. I will not go into great detail, for that would take up all your precious time.
As was known by the public, England was at war with France. The Black Prince had recently led an invasion to the city of Rheims. He valiantly fought alongside his knights from daybreak until sunset of every day. This was all fine until the day the king and his knights were in need of new swords. The king called upon his messenger and told him to send word to the best blacksmith within in a nearby city. The messenger replied, “I know of one blacksmith in the nearby city of Clarence, shall your swords be from him?” The king trusted his messenger and took his word for it. He said, “Yes, tell this blacksmith to have a hundred swords delivered at dawn four days from now.”
Now on to this reputable blacksmith, whose name was known in all nearby cities. He had worked as an apprentice for his father since the age of ten. He never attended school, although his mother taught him to read and write at home. His name was Melibeus. He lived as any middle-class man in town. He had a good sized house, decent clothes, and most importantly, was able to put food on the table. He loved to work as a blacksmith, and made swords of all designs and patterns. The coal he used for firing had given him a raspy sounding cough, causing much alarm to his young wife. This blacksmith wore a full sleeve black tunic, protecting his arms from the hot fire, and the coal not being able to stain black clothing.
As soon as Melibeus received word from the messenger, he began work right away. One hundred swords in only four days was no easy task. He was a determined man and finished all the swords by the end of the third day. The morning of the fourth day he set out for the city of Rheims. He safely made it to Rheims, however when he got there, an intense battle was taking place. An English knight took all the swords from him and told him to run. Before he had time to think, two French knights seized him by his arms and dragged him away.
These French knights took him back to the Duke of Rheims and said, “Sire, this man is an accomplice of the king, what shall we do with him?” Scrutinizing, the Duke said, “Put him in the prison cell at the palace.”
Melibeus aghast, still didn’t understand how all this had happened. All he knew was that he was being taken to a prison cell in the palace of the Duke of Rheims. Upon arriving at the cell, all he saw was a small store closet named as a cell in which the guards forced him in, and shut the door behind him. Melibeus turned around and noticed the many cobwebs that hung from the walls, and the few items that were in the room. There was an old bed, a table which contained a tattered old journal, a quill, and ink; alongside the table was a wooden chair. With nothing making sense, Melibeus decided to sleep for the night.
The next morning, when Melibeus awoke, something immediately caught his eye. It was a medium-sized window that had been blocked by steel railings. He was able to see out to the main lobby of the palace, where the day’s events are unraveled. With nothing else to do, he decided to pull the chair next to the window, take the journal and write what he saw.
His journal began when the Duke’s Yeoman walked into the lobby. Just moments ago, the Duke had dropped his lucky gold coin which the Yeoman had seen. Melibeus decided against saying something, and stayed silent. The Yeoman quietly pocketed the gold coin and went about his days events. This shocked Melibeus! How could someone just take someone else’s belongings and not have a guilty conscious!
Midday, the Duke sent out his breathtaking wife to the tailor’s so she could get new robes stitched. As soon as she left, out crept a young maiden, whom the Duke took to his chambers. Melibeus was, yet again, astounded. The duke had such a lovely, young wife, yet he deceives her? Why had Melibeus never noticed such occurrences before?
Day after day, Melibeus witnessed the incidents that society never had a chance to see. Melibeus never said anything, but just wrote in his journal. He waited for the day that he would be released, if ever. That day came with the bolt being removed on his door with a loud bang. He bolted upright, not knowing what was happening. “You are free,” said the guard, and left without saying another word. Melibeus collected the one belonging he had: the journal. In the main lobby he was greeted by King Edward III. King Edward had ransomed him for 16 pounds, making him a free man.
Two months being in a prison cell had changed this blacksmith. Upon arriving back in Clarence he went straight home to his wife. She had been given word of his release and had prepared a feast. All of Melibeus’ favorites were there, even the expensive wine that he could barely buy. Above all his beloved wife wanted to know of what had taken place during those past two months. At this, he started his tale. He told her everything, but the most important part, his journal. He shared with her the journal that told the secrets of his society, secrets that most everyone fail to see. For the time being, he decided to stow away the journal, awaiting a moment in which he could reveal its secrets to all. Until that time came, he would bask in his freedom.

Adapted as a school project from Geoffrey Chaucer.





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