These rioteres three of whiche I telle

These riotoures three, of which I telle,
Longe erst er prime rong of any belle,
Were set hem in a taverne to drinke,
And as they sat they herde a belle clinke
Beforn a cors, was caried to his grave.
That one of hem gan callen to his knave:
" Go bet", quod he, " and axe redily
What cors is this that passeth heer forby,
And looke that thou reporte his name weel."
" Sire", quod this boy, " it nedeth never-a-deel:
It was me told er ye cam heer two houres.
He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres;
And sodeinly he was y-slain to-night,
Fordronke, as he sat on his bench upright.
Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth,
That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smote his herte a-two,
And wente his way withouten wordes mo.
He hath a thousand slain this pestilence;
And, maister, er ye come in his presence,
Me thinketh that it were necessarie
For to be ware of swich an adversarie.
Beeth redy for to meete him everemore;
Thus taughte me my dame — I say namore."
" By Sainte Marie!" saide this tavernere,
" The child saith sooth, for he hath slain this yere,
Henne over a mile, withinne a greet village,
Both man and womman, child, and hine, and page;
I trow his habitacioun be there.
To been avised greet wisdom it were,
Er that he dide a man a dishonour."
" Ye, Goddes armes!" quod this riotour,
" Is it swich peril with him for to meete?
I shal him seeke by way and eek by streete,
I make avow to Goddes digne bones!
Herkneth, felawes, we three been al ones;
Let ech of us holde up his hand til other,
And ech of us bicomen otheres brother,
And we wil sleen this false traitour Deeth.
He shal be slain, he that so many sleeth,
By Goddes dignitee, er it be night!"
Togidres han these three her trouthes plight
To live and dyen ech of hem for other,
As though he were his owene y-boren brother.
And up they stirte, al dronken, in this rage,
And forth they gon towardes that village
Of which the taverner hadde spoke beforn;
And many a grisly oth thenne han they sworn,
And Cristes blessed body they to-rente:
Deeth shal be deed, if that they may him hente!
When they han gon not fully half a mile,
Right as they wolde han troden over a stile,
An old man and a povre with hem mette.
This olde man ful mekely hem grette,
And saide thus: " Now, lordes, God you see!"
The proudeste of these riotoures three
Answerde again: " What, carl, with sory grace!
Why art thou al forwrapped save thy face?
Why livest thou so longe in so greet age?"
This olde man gan looke in his visage,
And saide thus: " For I ne can not finde
A man, though that I walked into Inde,
Neither in citee nor in no village,
That wolde chaunge his youthe for myn age;
And therfore mot I han myn age stille,
As longe time as it is Goddes wille.
Ne Deeth, allas, ne wil not han my lyf!
Thus walke I lyk a resteless caitif,
And on the ground, which is my modres gate,
I knokke with my staf, bothe erly and late,
And saye " Leeve moder, let me in!
Lo how I vanishe, flesh, and blood, and skin!
Allas! when shul my bones been at reste?
Moder, with you wolde I chaunge my cheste
That in my chambre longe time hath be,
Ye, for an haire-clout to wrappe me! "
But yet to me she wil not do that grace,
For which ful pale and welked is my face.
But, sires, to you it is no curteisye
To speken to an old man vileinye,
But he trespasse in word or elles in dede.
In Holy Writ ye may yourself wel rede:
" Agains an old man, hor upon his heed,
Ye sholde arise " ; wherfore I yeve you reed,
Ne doth unto an old man non harm now,
Namore than that ye wolde men did to yow
In age, if that ye so longe abide.
And God be with you, where ye go or ride!
I mot go thider as I have to go."
" Nay, olde cherl, by God, thou shalt not so!"
Saide this other hasardour anon;
" Thou partest not so lightly, by Saint John!
Thou spak right now of th'ilke traitour Deeth
That in this contree alle oure frendes sleeth.
Have heer my trouthe, as thou art his espye,
Telle where he is, or thou shalt it abye,
By God and by the holy sacrement!
For soothly thou art one of his assent
To sleen us yonge folk, thou false theef!"
" Now, sires", quod he, " if that you be so leef
To finde Deeth, turne up this croked way;
For in that grove I lefte him, by my fay,
Under a tree, and there he wil abide;
Nought for youre bost he wil him nothing hide.
See ye that ok? Right there ye shal him finde.
God save you, that boughte again mankinde,
And you amende!" Thus saide this olde man.
And everich of these riotoures ran
Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde
Of florins fine of gold y-coined rounde
Wel ny an eighte bushels, as hem thoughte.
No lenger thenne after Deeth they soughte,
But ech of hem so glad was of that sighte,
For that the florins been so faire and brighte,
That down they sette hem by this precious hord.
The worste of hem, he spak the firste word:
" Bretheren", quod he, " take kepe what that I saye;
My wit is greet, though that I bourde and playe.
This tresor hath Fort u ne unto us yiven,
In mirthe and joliftee oure lyf to liven,
And lightly as it comth, so wil we spende.
Ey! Goddes precious dignitee! who wende
To-day that we sholde han so fair a grace?
But mighte this gold be caried fro this place
Home to myn hous, or elles unto youres —
For wel ye wot that al this gold is oures —
Thenne were we in heigh felicitee.
But trewely, by daye it may not bee:
Men wolde sayn that we were theves stronge,
And for oure owene tresor don us honge.
This tresor moste y-caried be by nighte
As wisely and as slyly as it mighte.
Wherfore I rede that cut among us alle
Be drawe, and let see wher the cut wil falle;
And he that hath the cut, with herte blithe,
Shal renne to the town, and that ful swithe,
And bringe us breed and wyn ful prively.
And two of us shul kepen subtilly
This tresor wel; and if he wil not tarie,
When it is night, we wil this tresor carie,
By one assent, where as us thinketh best."
That one of hem the cut broughte in his fest,
And bad hem drawe, and looke where it wil falle;
And it fil on the yongeste of hem alle,
And forth toward the town he wente anon.
And also soone as that he was a-gon,
That one of hem spak thus unto that other:
" Thou knowest wel thou art my sworen brother;
Thy profit wil I telle thee anon.
Thou wost wel that oure felawe is a-gon;
And heere is gold, and that ful greet plentee,
That shal departed been among us three.
But natheles, if I can shape it so
That it departed were among us two,
Hadde I not don a frendes turn to thee?"
That other answerde: " I n' ot how that may be.
He wot wel that the gold is with us twaye.
What shal we don? What shal we to him saye?"
" Shal it be conseil?", saide the firste shrewe,
" And I shal tellen in a wordes fewe
What we shal don, and bringe it wel aboute."
" I graunte", quod that other, " out of doute,
That, by my trouthe, I wil thee not biwraye."
" Now", quod the firste, " thou wost wel we be twaye,
And two of us shul strenger be than on.
Looke, when that he is set, that right anon
Aris as though thou woldest with him playe,
And I shal rive him thurgh the sides twaye
Whil that thou strogelest with him as in game;
And with thy daggere looke thou do the same.
And thenne shal al this gold departed be,
My deere frend, bitwixen me and thee.
Thenne may we bothe oure lustes all fulfille,
And playe at dees right at oure owene wille."
And thus acorded been these shrewes twaye
To sleen the thridde, as ye han herd me saye.
This yongeste, which that wente to the town,
Ful ofte in herte he rolleth up and down
The beautee of these florins newe and brighte.
" O Lord", quod he, " if so were that I mighte
Have al this tresor to myself allone,
Ther is no man that liveth under the trone
Of God that sholde live so merye as I!"
And atte last the feend, oure enemy,
Putte in his thought that he sholde poison beye,
With which he mighte sleen his felawes tweye;
For-why the feend fond him in swich livinge
That he hadde leve him to sorwe bringe:
For this was outrely his fulle entente,
To sleen hem bothe, and nevere to repente.
And forth he goth — no lenger wolde he tarie —
Into the town, unto a pothecarie,
And prayed him that he him wolde selle
Som poison, that he mighte his rattes quelle;
And eek ther was a polcat in his hawe,
That, as he saide, his capouns hadde y-slawe,
And fain he wolde wreke him, if he mighte,
On vermin that destroyed him by nighte.
The pothecarie answerde: " And thou shalt have
A thing that, also God my soule save,
In al this world ther is no creät u re
That ete or dronke hath of this confiture
Nought but the montance of a corn of whete,
That he ne shal his lyf anon forlete;
Ye, sterve he shal, and that in lesse while
Than thou wilt gon a-paas not but a mile,
The poisoun is so strong and violent."
This cursed man hath in his hand y-hent
This poisoun in a box, and sith he ran
Into the nexte strete unto a man,
And borwed of him large botels three;
And in the two his poison poured he.
The thridde he kepte clene for his drinke;
For al the night he shoop him for to swinke
In caryinge of the gold out of that place.
And when this riotour, with sory grace,
Hadde filled with wyn his grete botels three,
To his felawes again repaireth he.
What nedeth it to sermone of it more?
For right as they hadde cast his deeth bifore,
Right so they han him slain, and that anon.
And when that this was don, thus spak that on:
" Now let us sitte and drinke and make us merye,
And afterward we wil his body berye."
And with that word it happed him, per cas,
To take the botel ther the poison was,
And drank, and yaf his felawe drinke also,
For which anon they storven bothe two.
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