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  • Il Novellino

    How three necromancers came to the court of the Emperor Frederick

    The Emperor Frederick was a most noble sovereign, and men who had talent flocked to him from all sides because he was liberal in his gifts, and looked with pleasure on those who had any special talent.

    To him came musicians, troubadours, and pleasant story-tellers, men of art1, jousters, fencers and folk of every kind.

    One day the table was set and the Emperor was washing his hands,2 when there came to him three necromancers garbed in long pilgrims' robes.3 They greeted him forthwith, and he asked : which of you is the master? One of them came forward and said : Sire, I am he. And the Emperor besought him that he would have the courtesy to show his art. So they cast their spells and practised their arts.

    The weather began to grow stormy, and a sudden shower of rain with thunder and lightning and thunder-bolts, and it seemed that a hail fell like balls of steel. The knights fled through the halls, one going in one direction, one in another.

    The weather cleared up again. The necromancers4 took their leave and asked for a recompense.

    The Emperor said : ask me then. And they made their request. The Count of San Bonifazio was then near the Emperor. So they said : Sire, bid this lord come and succour us against our enemies.

    The Emperor laid this command upon him with affectionate insistence. The Count set out on his way with the masters.

    They took him to a noble city, showed him knights of high lineage, and prepared for him a handsome horse and fine arms, and said: these are at your command.

    The enemy came up for battle. The Count defeated them, and delivered the city. He won back the country. They gave him a wife. He had children.

    After some time, he ruled the land.

    The necromancers left him alone for a very long period.

    Then they returned. The Count's son was already full forty years old. The Count was old. The necromancers came back and said that they wished to go and see the Emperor and the court. The Count answered: the Empire will by this time more than once have changed hands ; the people will all be new: where should I return? The necromancers answered : no matter we will take you with us all the same.

    They set forth; they walked for a long time; they reached the court.

    They found the Emperor among his barons, still pouring water over his hands as he had been doing when the Count went away with the necromancers.

    The Emperor made him tell his tale, and he told it. I have taken a wife. My children are forty years old. Three pitched battles have I fought. The world is all topsy-turvy. How comes this?

    The Emperor made him relate all this with great mirth far the barons and knights.5

    1 uomini dárti: men of arts literally, artificers, necromancers or magicians.
    2 Seated at table in accordance with the mediæval custom.
    3 schiavine. Sacchetti says : "the first thing a pilgrim does when he sets out is to put on his long cloak.
    4 lit.: the two masters.
    5 A similar enchantment is told of in a Turkish tale translated by Petit de la Croix : The Story of Sheik Schehabbedin.

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    Il Novellino : The Hundred Old Tales
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    Storer, Edward, trans. Il Novellino: The Hundred Old Tales. London: G. Routledge & Sons Ltd.; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., [1925]. 77-80


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