The Prioress's Second Prologue
Soon after our departure from Canterbury, the Host began trying to revive our friendly contest. "Well then, what an experience! Quite a church, would you not agree? Now then, shall we resume with our little wager? Who shall be first to tell their second tale? Sir Knight, so righteous and bold, would you tell the first tale as you did before? It certainly made our game begin on a high. Do excuse me, but I doubt that you could dream of a tale that would prove better than befo-."
Here the Prioress interrupted our dear Host. "Pardon me, kindly Host, but is this game in truth your foremost thought?"
Our Host looked puzzled. "My dear Prioress," he spoke softly. "You gave your word that this game we would play. Did you not enjoy yourself on our previous journey? Surely that was not the case."
"My dear lord," the Prioress said. "I gave my word that I would partake in our contest and that I will do. I only mean to suggest that some in our company may be still overcome with prayer and a pious enlightenment, as we did just participate in one of Christianity's finest pilgrimages. But if the company agrees that it is a time for storytelling and not for pious reflection, so be it. If that be the case, may I offer a slight change to our bargain? For I feel that my fellow clergy member the Parson told a proper tale. We are a band of pilgrims, so our tales should use the lessons that the Bible has taught us. Here is a new challenge—take whichever of the lessons in the New Testament and in your tales, retell them. Then the contest will search for he who best communicates Christ's lesson in a modern tale. This we, we can combine divine wisdom with this earthly game, and it will give praise to God as well as entertain our lowly minds."
She lightly ran her delicate fingers upon her arm as she spoke, drawing my eye towards her slender limb. It was this that made notice what was different about the lady. She was missing her green beaded rosary with her golden broach! My mind drifted back to the shrine and suddenly I realized where I had seen such an ornate rosary prior. It was the Prioress's rosary and the Prioress's broach left upon the Pilgrim's Steps among all the money and oil. As she looked around the company for support, her gaze caught mine. My question was then answered. No; I thought as I looked around at the approving nods from the Monk, the Reeve, and the Franklin; I was not the only one who found Canterbury to be more remarkable than ever described to me, and no, I was not the only one who came away thoroughly enlightened by the ordeal.
The Miller, however, tired from the journey, or, as it more righteously seemed to me, put off by his hours few without any ale, did not share in the holy epiphany that consumed my thoughts. He loudly proclaimed, "I will not accept that challenge! It was never a part of our bargain, and I will not allow a preacher woman to change my tale."
The Pardoner coughed softly and then began to speak. "My dear Prioress," he began. "We have all had a grand experience. However, is it necessary for that experience to bleed into and pollute our game? Can our faith not stay separate from our little contest? We have come all this way for Christ—does that not make our game a tribute enough to our Lord?"
The Prioress stopped where she was, looking entirely horrified at this statement. "Sir, as a man of the Lord, how can you deny that He is a part of everything? He is the force that brought us into being and gave us the voices that we tell our tales with. Should we not use our voices in order to praise him with every chance that we get? It is only fitting that we take this opportunity to thank Christ for all he has done, for bringing us together, and for giving us the chance to see Canterbury and have a holy epiphany. Was that not the experience you found at the Saint's shrine? For that was my experience at Canterbury, and I would like to honor my God for blessing me with such a holy opportunity."
The Prioress looked into the faces of the Miller and the Pardoner. It was evident that they would not concede to her suggestion. Resigned, she began again. "I can see that my labor will not bear fruit. We shall leave our game as it was before. However, if the Knight agrees, I would like to tell my tale first on our returning trip. Although the Miller and the Pardoner do not wish to honor the Lord in their tales, that cannot stop me from doing so. I would like to revive our contest with a more sacred tale, one that takes the Lord's teachings and honors He who taught them."
The Knight agreed to let the Prioress tell her tale, and with a soft breath, she began to speak.
The Prioress's Second Tale
Here begins the Prioress's Second Tale.
There was once a poor farmer named John living in the countryside. The man suffered, for there was a great drought in the land that stopped his crops from growing. John hadn't the money to put enough food into his belly, let alone pay his taxes. Graciously, his old neighbor would lend him enough money to pay his bills every time the tax collector came to visit. Soon, John found himself greatly indebted to the old man. This made him very nervous, for he did not know when the drought would end, or when he would be able to make money again. He feared that he would not have enough money to fully repay what he owed, let alone feed his family. The farmer went to his neighbor to implore him for a little more time to repay his debt. The old man smiled, for he was very kind.
"Do not fret," said the old man. "I have been blessed with more money than I need to live. You go pray for the dry period to come to an end, and once it does and you earn enough wealth to live comfortably, then you pay back the money you owe me." John was very grateful for the man's kindness. He kissed his neighbor's feet and showered him with thanks. He then returned to his home and prayed for the rain to come, all the while knowing that his prospects were fair.
Many years passed by. The debtor was blessed with much good fortune. By the grace of God the drought was rid from the land, and the farmer's crops thrived. Because of the old man's patience, John was able to pay off his debt when it suited him. When he finally repaid what he owed, he had much money to spare and the means to gain even more. The once poor farmer became wealthy. However, as the years went by, he forgot his livelihood was a gift from a kindly neighbor. John was not as willing to be kind to those who were indebted to him as the old man was to him.
This changed one night after he met with a man who was indebted to him. This man was a plowman who could not find work. John had lent the plowman money, with the instruction to pay it back by mid-spring. When the time came, the plowman did not have enough money. The plowman went to John in earnest, begging him for patience with the payment. John was unhappy with this delay and threatened to have the plowman arrested the following morning. The plowman pleaded for mercy, but John would not hear of it. The plowman left in despair, and the farmer went to bed that night with the intention of having the plowman arrested the following morning.
That night John had a dream. He dreamt that he died a rich old man, and was flying up to heaven. However, just as he was about to pass through the golden gates into the Eternal Paradise, Saint Peter stopped him. John did not understand. "I've lived a holy life," the man said. "I made my fortune by honest work and frequented church services. Why will you not let me pass through the golden gates?"
Saint Peter shook his head. "That may be true," he replied. "But you did not forgive an honest man's debt. Have you forgotten your kind neighbor who was patient with you when you needed it? You did not give the kindness that you received in your life. You did not forgive your brother, and now you will not be forgiven." As Peter spoke, John felt himself falling from the heavenly sky, plunging deep into a fiery Hell under the earth.
John awoke with a start. He knew that this was no ordinary dream. It was a sign from Heaven itself. He now knew that he was about to commit a terrible sin. Quickly, he sprang from his bed, dressed himself, and set out to find the poor plowman. He went to his knees before the plowman and apologized for his cruelty. He told the plowman to wait as long as he needed to repay the debt, and the plowman rejoiced and thanked John for his kindness.
John knew with certainty that he had done the right thing. He knew in his heart that God himself sent him a message, for God was a just and mighty Lord, and only He could show the farmer the righteous path. John was very thankful towards God for saving him from committing sin, and went to church that day to give his thanks. However, he wanted to do something to thank his Lord more fully. These were the thoughts that consumed the man as he walked home from church that day. It was then that the answer came to him. He passed a Jewry outside of town and suddenly the man knew how to thank the Lord. He would spread the word of God to the Jews and to other foolish souls who had not yet been introduced to the ways of Jesus the Savior. John rushed into the Jewry and hollered for all to gather. There he recited the words of Jesus Christ and proclaimed that God was good. He tried to save those who were ignorant of what was holy by preaching the grandeur of God, and dedicated much time to spreading the wisdom he had obtained to those around him, so more persons on earth could know and praise the Lord in the multitudes that He deserved. Praise to the Lord of Heaven.
Here is ended the Prioress' Second Tale.
Gingerly, I set the papers down on my desk. I flipped back to the front letter from Chaucer, skimming it over once more. I could not believe what I was touching—an authentic account from Chaucer on his real motives for writing The Canterbury Tales, and a continuation of the known story! After Chaucer's death, the Archbishop probably thought that these writings would not be well received because of the political tension the first half had caused. He must have hidden them away and died before the anger that people harbored towards Chaucer died down, never getting the chance to release this into the world. This would change so much about the history behind Chaucer and his works. Critical writings on Chaucer would be rewritten, the attraction would change its course, and classes would be completely restructured to figure in this new information. My head was spinning with excitement. Now the world would finally know what Chaucer's motive was all along!
After a while, I looked up and met the Archbishop's wondering eye. "Well?" he asked eagerly. "It is anything to do with Chaucer? Is it anything important?"
I didn't know quite how to answer him at first. I looked back at the papers, gently tracing the edges with my fingers. I looked back up at the Archbishop, smiled slightly and began to speak. "And here I thought that this would just be another average day."