Posts Tagged ‘Canterbury Tales’

la mortessa

Posted: August 31, 2015 in stories
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Illustration from brightbaekart.tumblr.com, drawn by the talented and powerful Bright Baek.

There was once a woman named Fia who loved reading. She loved reading so much that she read every approved book, even though in the thirteenth century, no book was approved for a woman to read. It didn’t matter to her. The rules were not strictly enforced in the South. In the North they would have burned her as a witch. In the South, folks just told her, “In the North you’d be burned as a witch.” Her response was to shrug her shoulders.

After finishing reading every approved book three times over, she was bored. So she read an unapproved book. She wouldn’t have, but reading was already prohibited to her, so the prohibition didn’t strike her as being very important.

The book she read had three parts. The first part was about a king who learned to turn things into gold, but ended up turning everything into gold and died alone and miserable. The next was about a woman who enslaved herself to a king after learning how to turn hay into gold and died miserably slaving away at the king’s behest. The third part was a instructional manual on how to turn things into gold.

She finished reading the book, and she was bored again. So she tried turning some things into gold. She did it until she had a great, giant pot of gold, so heavy that her mule could barely carry it. While she thought it was interesting that she was able to make gold, she recalled the stories about kings who really liked gold. It seemed that kings were irretrievably drawn to the substance, although it inevitably lead to misery and death. So she halted her travail and set out to bury the treasure below a tree, high up on the hill of Buscliagini, a land now forgotten by the chronicles of history.

She had kept, however, a small portion of the gold and descended into the vale with it. She walked into the osteria to buy a meal. You can well imagine that the innkeep eyed the unaccompanied woman askance. He said nothing, but delivered her meal in hopes that she would eat quickly and leave.

The vale was not lively, owing to the fact that so many were lost to la pestilenza. A group of three burly, well-known heroes entered the osteria and released their hilts, dressing a square table in the centre of the room. They called for three fiascoes and let their weight drop into their wooden chairs ruefully.

The burliest cried out to no one in particular, asking who had brought la pestilenza to the vale. Fia replied, “la mortessa.”

The men, noticing Fia for the first time, approached her and asked where they could find this mortessa, for clearly they could not understand her dialect. Remembering the stories of how gold led to misery and death, she told them the location of her treasure. The heroes vowed to kill this mortessa and return with his head on a lance, thus saving the town from la pestilenza.

The heroes started in to ravage Fia, as was the customary treatment for unaccompanied women at the time. Before they could lift her skirt, the innkeep mentioned that if the men should want to catch la mortessa, they would need to make haste. The heroes agreed and asked the woman to kindly wait for them to return so that they might ravage her after they saved the vale. She gave them her word.

She waited all night, but the men did not return. She waited a few days after that, though the innkeep insisted that she leave. She did not listen to him because she was accustomed to doing prohibited acts, and also because she vowed to always be true to her word. She was fed well, for her small bag of gold was valuable enough to buy many meals.

After one week, she announced to the innkeep that she would be marrying him in order to await the heroes who were scheduled to ravish her. At first, the innkeep refused, but when it became apparent that Fia didn’t intend to budge, he called the vicar in to perform the ceremony.

It is written elsewhere what happened to the heroes. Should you want to find a moral in this story, I am afraid to say I am rather lost on it myself. As soon as I discover it, I will loudly proclaim the answer to this mystery in the local osteria should you be there to hear it.