OF THE GOVERNANCE OF THE GREAT CHAN'S COURT, AND WHEN HE MAKETH SOLEMN FEASTS. OF HIS PHILOSOPHERS. AND OF HIS ARRAY, WHEN HE RIDETH BY THE COUNTRY
NOW shall I tell you the governance of the court of the great Chan, when he maketh solemn feasts; and that is principally four times in the year.
The first feast is of his birth, that other is of his presentation in their temple that they clepe their Moseache, where they make a manner of circumcision, and the tother two feasts be of his idols. The first feast of the idol is when he is first put into their temple and throned; the tother feast is when the idol beginneth first to speak, or to work miracles. More be there not of solemn feasts, but if he marry any of his children.
Now understand, that at every of these feasts he hath great multitude of people, well ordained and well arrayed, by thousands, by hundreds, and by tens. And every man knoweth well what service he shall do, and every man giveth so good heed and so good attendance to his service that no man findeth no default. And there be first ordained 4000 barons, mighty and rich, for to govern and to make ordinance for the feast, and for to serve the emperor. And these solemn feasts be made without in halls and tents made of cloths of gold and of tartaries, full nobly. And all those barons have crowns of gold upon their heads, full noble and rich, full of precious stones and great pearls orient. And they be all clothed in cloths of gold or of tartaries or of camakas, so richly and so perfectly, that no man in the world can amend it, ne better devise it. And all those robes be orfrayed all about, and dubbed full of precious stones and of great orient pearls, full richly. And they may well do so, for cloths of gold and of silk be greater cheap there a great deal than be cloths of wool. And these 4000 barons be devised in four companies, and every thousand is clothed in cloths all of one colour, and that so well arrayed and so richly, that it is marvel to behold.
The first thousand, that is of dukes, of earls, of marquises and of admirals, all clothed in cloths of gold, with tissues of green silk, and bordered with gold full of precious stones in manner as I have said before. The second thousand is all clothed in cloths diapered of red silk, all wrought with gold, and the orfrays set full of great pearl and precious stones, full nobly wrought. The third thousand is clothed in cloths of silk, of purple or of Ind. And the fourth thousand is in cloths of yellow. And all their clothes be so nobly and so richly wrought with gold and precious stones and rich pearls, that if a man of this country had but only one of their robes, he might well say that he should never be poor; for the gold and the precious stones and the great orient pearls be of greater value on this half the sea than they be beyond the sea in those countries.
And when they be thus apparelled, they go two and two together, full ordinately, before the emperor, without speech of any word, save only inclining to him. And every one of them beareth a tablet of jasper or of ivory or of crystal, and the minstrels going before them, sounding their instruments of diverse melody. And when the first thousand is thus passed and hath made his muster, he withdraweth him on that one side; and then entereth that other second thousand, and doth right so, in the same manner of array and countenance, is did the first; and after, the third; and then, the fourth; and none of them saith not one word.
And at one side of the emperor's table sit many philosophers that be proved for wise men in many diverse sciences, as of astronomy, necromancy, geomancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, of augury and of many other sciences. And everych of them have before them astrolabes of gold, some spheres, some the brain pan of a dead man, some vessels of gold full of gravel or sand, some vessels of gold full of coals burning, some vessels of gold full of water and of wine and of oil, and some horologes of gold, made full nobly and richly wrought, and many other manner of instruments after their sciences.
And at certain hours, when them thinketh time, they say to certain officers that stand before them, ordained for the time to fulfil their commandments; Make peace!
And then say the officers; Now peace! listen!
And after that, saith another of the philosophers; Every man do reverence and incline to the emperor, that is God's Son and sovereign lord of all the world! For now is time! And then every man boweth his head toward the earth.
And then commandeth the same philosopher again; Stand up! And they do so.
And at another hour, saith another philosopher; Put your little finger in your ears! And anon they do so.
And at another hour, saith another philosopher; Put your hand before your mouth! And anon they do so.
And at another hour, saith another philosopher; Put your hand upon your head! And after that he biddeth them to do their hand away. And they do so.
And so, from hour to hour, they command certain things; and they say, that those things have diverse significations. And I asked them privily what those things betokened. And one of the masters told me, that the bowing of the head at that hour betokened this; that all those that bowed their heads should evermore after be obeissant and true to the emperor, and never, for gifts ne for promise in no kind, to be false ne traitor unto him for good nor evil. And the putting of the little finger in the ear betokeneth, as they say, that none of them ne shall not hear speak no contrarious thing to the emperor but that he shall tell it anon to his council or discover it to some men that will make relation to the emperor, though he were his father or brother or son. And so forth, of all other things that is done by the philosophers, they told me the causes of many diverse things. And trust right well in certain, that no man doth nothing to the emperor that belongeth unto him, neither clothing ne bread ne wine ne bath ne none other thing that longeth to him, but at certain hours that his philosophers will devise. And if there fall war in any side to the emperor, anon the philosophers come and say their advice after their calculations, and counsel the emperor of their advice by their sciences; so that the emperor doth nothing without their counsel.
And when the philosophers have done and performed their commandments, then the minstrels begin to do their minstrelsy, everych in their instruments, each after other, with all the melody that they can devise. And when they have done a good while, one of the officers of the emperor goeth up on a high stage wrought full curiously, and crieth and saith with loud voice; Make Peace! And then every man is still.
And then, anon after, all the lords that be of the emperor's lineage, nobly arrayed in rich cloths of gold and royally apparelled on white steeds, as many as may well sue him at that time, be ready to make their presents to the emperor. And then saith the steward of the court to the lords, by name; N. of N.! and nameth first the most noble and the worthiest by name, and saith; Be ye ready with such a number of white horses, for to serve the emperor, your sovereign lord! And to another lord he saith; N. of N., be ye ready with such a number, to serve your sovereign lord! And to another, right so, and to all the lords of the emperor's lineage, each after other, as they be of estate. And when they be all cleped, they enter each after other, and present the white horses to the emperor, and then go their way. And then after, all the other barons every of them, give him presents or jewels or some other thing, after that they be of estate. And then after them, all the prelates of their law, and religious men and others; and every man giveth him something. And when that all men have thus presented the emperor, the greatest of dignity of the prelates giveth him a blessing, saying an orison of their law.
And then begin the minstrels to make their minstrelsy in divers instruments with all the melody that they can devise. And when they have done their craft, then they bring before the emperor, lions, leopards and other diverse beasts, and eagles and vultures and other divers fowls, and fishes and serpents, for to do him reverence. And then come jugglers and enchanters, that do many marvels; for they make to come in the air, by seeming, the sun and the moon to every man's sight. And after they make the night so dark that no man may see nothing. And after they make the day to come again, fair and pleasant with bright sun, to every man's sight. And then they bring in dances of the fairest damsels of the world, and richest arrayed. And after they make to come in other damsels bringing cups of gold full of milk of diverse beasts, and give drink to lords and to ladies. And then they make knights to joust in arms full lustily; and they run together a great random, and they frussch together full fiercely, and they break their spears so rudely that the truncheons fly in sprouts and pieces all about the hall. And then they make to come in hunting for the hart and for the boar, with hounds running with open mouth. And many other things they do by craft of their enchantments, that it is marvel for to see. And such plays of disport they make till the taking up of the boards. This great Chan hath full great people for to serve him, as I have told you before. For he hath of minstrels the number of thirteen cumants, but they abide not always with him. For all the minstrels that come before him, of what nation that they be of, they be withholden with him as of his household, and entered in his books as for his own men. And after that, where that ever they go, ever more they claim for minstrels of the great Chan; and under that title, all kings and lords cherish them the more with gifts and all things. And therefore he hath so great multitude of them.
And he hath of certain men as though they were yeomen, that keep birds, as ostriches, gerfalcons, sparrow-hawks, falcons gentle, lanyers, sakers, sakrets, popinjays well speaking, and birds singing, and also of wild beasts, as of elephants tame and other, baboons, apes, marmosets, and other diverse beasts; the mountance of fifteen cumants of yeomen.
And of physicians Christian he hath 200, and of leeches that be Christian he hath 210, and of leeches and physicians that be Saracens twenty, but he trusteth more in the Christian leeches than in the Saracen. And his other common household is without number, and they all have all necessaries and all that them needeth of the emperor's court. And he hath in his court many barons as servitors, that be Christian and converted to good faith by the preaching of religious Christian men that dwell with him; but there be many more, that will not that men know that they be Christian.
This emperor may dispend as much as he will without estimation; for he not dispendeth ne maketh no money but of leather imprinted or of paper. And of that money is some of greater price and some of less price, after the diversity of his statutes. And when that money hath run long that it beginneth to waste, then men bear it to the emperor's treasury and then they take new money for the old. And that money goeth throughout all the country and throughout all his provinces, for there and beyond them they make no money neither of gold nor of silver; and therefore he may dispend enough, and outrageously. And of gold and silver that men bear in his country he maketh cylours, pillars and pavements in his palace, and other diverse things what him liketh.
This emperor hath in his chamber, in one of the pillars of gold, a ruby and a carbuncle of half a foot long, that in the night giveth so great clearness and shining, that it is as light as day. And he hath many other precious stones and many other rubies and carbuncles; but those be the greatest and the most precious.
This emperor dwelleth in summer in a city that is toward the north that is clept Saduz; and there is cold enough. And in winter he dwelleth in a city that is clept Camaaleche, and that is an hot country. But the country, where he dwelleth in most commonly, is in Gaydo or in Jong, that is a good country and a temperate, after that the country is there; but to men of this country it were too passing hot.
And when this emperor will ride from one country to another he ordaineth four hosts of his folk, of the which the first host goeth before him a day's journey. For that host shall be lodged the night where the emperor shall lie upon the morrow. And there shall every man have all manner of victual and necessaries that be needful, of the emperor's costage. And in this first host is the number of people fifty cumants, what of horse what of foot, of the which every cumant amounteth 10,000 as I have told you before. And another host goeth in the right side of the emperor, nigh half a journey from him. And another goeth on the left side of him, in the same wise. And in every host is as much multitude of people as in the first host. And then after cometh the fourth host, that is much more than any of the others, and that goeth behind him, the mountance of a bow draught. And every host hath his journeys ordained in certain places, where they shall be lodged at night, and there they shall have all that them needeth. And if it befall that any of the host die, anon they put another in his place, so that the number shall evermore be whole.
And ye shall understand, that the emperor, in his proper person, rideth not as other great lords do beyond, but if he list to go privily with few men, for to be unknown. And else, he rides in a chariot with four wheels, upon the which is made a fair chamber, and it is made of a certain wood, that cometh out of Paradise terrestrial, that men clepe lignum aloes, that the floods of Paradise bring out at divers seasons, as I have told you here before. And this chamber is full well smelling because of the wood that it is made of. And all this chamber is covered within of plate of fine gold dubbed with precious stones and great pearls. And four elephants and four great destriers, all white and covered with rich covertures, leading the chariot. And four, or five, or six, of the greatest lords ride about this chariot, full richly arrayed and full nobly, so that no man shall neigh the chariot, but only those lords, but if that the emperor call any man to him that him list to speak withal. And above the chamber of this chariot that the emperor sitteth in be set upon a perch four or five or six gerfalcons, to that intent, that when the emperor seeth any wild fowl, that he may take it at his own list, and have the disport and the play of the flight, first with one, and after with another; and so he taketh his disport passing by the country. And no man rideth before him of his company, but all after him. And no man dare not come nigh the chariot, by a bow draught, but those lords only that be about him. And all the host cometh fairly after him in great multitude.
And also such another chariot with such hosts ordained and arrayed go with the empress upon another side, everych by himself, with four hosts, right as the emperor did; but not with so great multitude of people. And his eldest son goeth by another way in another chariot, in the same manner. So that there is between them so great multitude of folk that it is marvel to tell it. And no man should trow the number, but he had seen it. And some-time it happeth that when he will not go far, and that it like him to have the empress and his children with him, then they go altogether, and their folk be all mingled in fere, and divided in four parties only.
And ye shall understand, that the empire of this great Chan is divided in twelve provinces; and every province hath more than two thousand cities, and of towns without number. This country is full great, for it hath twelve principal kings in twelve provinces, and every of those Kings have many kings under them, and all they be obeissant to the great Chan. And his land and his lordship dureth so far, that a man may not go from one head to another, neither by sea ne land, the space of seven year. And through the deserts of his lordship, there as men may find no towns, there be inns ordained by every journey, to receive both man and horse, in the which they shall find plenty of victual, and of all things that they need for to go by the country.
And there is a marvellous custom in that country (but it is profitable), that if any contrarious thing that should be prejudice or grievance to the emperor in any kind, anon the emperor hath tidings thereof and full knowledge in a day, though it be three or four journeys from him or more. For his ambassadors take their dromedaries or their horses, and they prick in all that ever they may toward one of the inns. And when they come there, anon they blow an horn. And anon they of the inn know well enough that there be tidings to warn the emperor of some rebellion against him. And then anon they make other men ready, in all haste that they may, to bear letters, and prick in all that ever they may, till they come to the other inns with their letters. And then they make fresh men ready, to prick forth with the letters toward the emperor, while that the last bringer rest him, and bait his dromedary or his horse. And so, from inn to inn, till it come to the emperor. And thus anon hath he hasty tidings of anything that beareth charge, by his couriers, that run so hastily throughout all the country. And also when the Emperor sendeth his couriers hastily throughout his land, every one of them hath a large throng full of small bells, and when they neigh near to the inns of other couriers that be also ordained by the journeys, they ring their bells, and anon the other couriers make them ready, and run their way unto another inn. And thus runneth one to other, full speedily and swiftly, till the emperor's intent be served, in all haste. And these couriers be clept CHYDYDO, after their language, that is to say, a messenger,
Also when the emperor goeth from one country to another, as I have told you here before, and he pass through cities and towns, every man maketh a fire before his door, and putteth therein powder of good gums that be sweet smelling, for to make good savour to the emperor. And all the people kneel down against him, and do him great reverence. And there, where religious Christian men dwell, as they do in many cities in the land, they go before him with procession with cross and holy water, and they sing, VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS! with an high voice, and go towards him. And when he heareth them, he commandeth to his lords to ride beside him, that the religious men may come to him. And when they be nigh him with the cross, then he doth adown his galiot that sits on his head in manner of a chaplet, that is made of gold and precious stones and great pearls, and it is so rich, that men prize it to the value of a realm in that country. And then he kneeleth to the cross. And then the prelate of the religious men saith before him certain orisons, and giveth him a blessing with the cross; and he inclineth to the blessing full devoutly. And then the prelate giveth him some manner fruit, to the number of nine, in a platter of silver, with pears or apples, or other manner fruit. And he taketh one. And then men give to the other lords that be about him. For the custom is such, that no stranger shall come before him, but if he give him some manner thing, after the old law that saith, NEMO ACCEDAT IN CONSPECTU MEO VACUUS. And then the emperor saith to the religious men, that they withdraw them again, that they be neither hurt nor harmed of the great multitude of horses that come behind him. And also, in the same manner, do the religious men that dwell there, to the empresses that pass by them, and to his eldest son. And to every of them they present fruit.
And ye shall understand, that the people that he hath so many hosts of, about him and about his wives and his soil, they dwell not continually with him. But always, when him liketh, they be sent for. And after, when they have done, they return to their own households, save only they that be dwelling with him in household for to serve him and his wives and his sons for to govern his household. And albeit, that the others be departed from him after that they have performed their service, yet there abideth continually with him in court 50,000 men at horse and 200,000 men a foot, without minstrels and those that keep wild beasts and divers birds, of the which I have told you the number before.
Under the firmament is not so great a lord, ne so mighty, ne so rich as is the great Chan; not Prester John, that is emperor of the high Ind, ne the Soldan of Babylon, ne the Emperor of Persia. All these ne be not in comparison to the great Chan, neither of might, ne of noblesse, ne of royalty, ne of riches; for in all these he passeth all earthly princes. Wherefore it is great harm that he believeth not faithfully in God. And natheles he will gladly hear speak of God. And he suffereth well that Christian men dwell in his lordship, and that men of his faith be made Christian men if they will, throughout all his country; for he defendeth no man to hold no law other than him liketh.
In that country some men hath an hundred wives, some sixty, some more, some less. And they take the next of their kin to their wives, save only that they out-take their mothers, their daughters, and their sisters of the mother's side; but their sisters on the father's side of another woman they may well take, and their brothers' wives also after their death, and their step-mothers also in the same wise.