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The Canterbury Tales
Geoffery Chaucer

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"Gentle people," said he, "please listen now, but take it not, I pray you, disdainfully. To speak briefly and plainly, this is the point, that each of you for pastime shall tell two tales in this journey to Canterbury, and two others on the way home, of things that have happened in the past. And whichever of you bears himself best, that is to say, that tells now tales most instructive and delighting1, shall have a supper at the expense of us all, sitting here in this place, beside this post, when we come back from Canterbury. And to add to your sport I will gladly go with you at my own cost, and be your guide. And whoever opposes my judgment shall pay all that we spend on the way. If you agree that this will be so, tell me now, without more words, and without delay I will plan for that." [809]

We agreed to this thing and pledged our word with glad hearts, and prayed him to do so, and to be our ruler and to remember and judge our tales, and to appoint a supper at a certain price2. We would be ruled at his will in great and small, and thus with one voice we agreed to his judgment. At this the wine was fetched, and we drank and then each went to rest without a longer stay. [821]

In the morning, when the day began to spring, our host arose and played rooster3 to us all, and gathered us in a flock. Forth we rode, a little faster than a walk, to St. Thomas-a-Watering4. There our Host drew up his horse and said, "Listen, gentle people, if you will. You know your agreement; I remind you of it. If what you said at the hour of evensong5 last night is still what you agree to this morning at the time of matins6, let us see who shall tell the first tale. So may I ever drink beer or wine, whoever rebels against my judgment shall pay all that is spent on the journey. Now draw cuts, before we depart further; he who has the shortest shall begin the tales. Sir Knight, my master and my lord," said he, "now draw your lot, for this is my will, Come nearer, my lady Prioress, and you, sir Clerk, be not shy, study not; set your hands to them, every one of you." [841]

1 instructive and delighting The Roman poet Horace said that poetry should aim to both instruct and delight.
2 supper at a certain price He would arrange for our meals and tell us the cost.
3 rooster The rooster who crows at dawn and wakes the travelers.
4 St. Thomas-a-Watering A stream about two miles outside London.
5 and 6 evensong and matins In general, evensong was the last prayer service of the day; matins, the first in the morning.
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