Read The Journeyer Online

Authors: Gary Jennings

The Journeyer

BOOK: The Journeyer
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices. This e-book is for your personal use only. You may not print or post this e-book, or make this e-book publicly available in any way. You may not copy, reproduce or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices.

Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:
When Marco Polo lay on his deathbed,
his priest, his friends and relations
clustered around him to plead that he
at last renounce the countless lies he
had related as his true adventures, so his
soul would go cleansed to Heaven. The
old man raised up, roundly damned them
all and declared, “I have not told
the half of what I saw and did!”
Come hither, great princes! Come hither, emperors and kings, dukes and marquises, knights and burgesses! Come hither, you people of all degrees, who wish to see the many faces of mankind and to know the diversities of the whole world! Take up this book and read it, or have it read to you. For herein you will find all the greatest wonders and most marvelous curiosities … .
AH, LUIGI, LUIGI! In the worn and wrinkled fustian of those old pages I hear your very voice again.
It had been many years since I last looked into our book, but when your letter came I fetched it out once more. I can still smile at it and admire it simultaneously. The admiration is for its having made me famous, however little I may deserve that fame, and the smile is for its having made me notorious. Now you say that you wish to write another work, an epic poem this time, again incorporating the adventures of Marco Polo—if I will grant that liberty—but attributing them to an invented protagonist.
I cast back in my memory to our first meeting, in the cellars of that Genoa palazzo where we prisoners of war were lodged. I remember how diffidently you approached me, and with what reticence you spoke:
“Messer Marco, I am Luigi Rustichello, late of Pisa, and I have been a captive here since long before you arrived. I have listened to you telling that hilariously ribald story of the Hindu with his
caught in the holy rock hole. I have heard you tell it three times now. Once to your fellow prisoners, again to the warder, and yet again to the visiting almoner of the Brotherhood of Justice.”
I inquired, “Are you weary of hearing it, Messere?”
And you said, “Not at all, Messere, but you will soon be weary of the telling. Many more persons will want to hear that tale, and all the other tales you have told, and any others which perhaps you have not told yet. Before you tire of the telling, or of the stories themselves, why do you not simply tell to
all your recollections of your travels and adventures? Tell them only the once and let me set them down on paper. I am a writer of some facility and much experience. Your tales could make a considerable book, Messer Marco, and multitudes of people then can read it for themselves.”
And so I did, and so you did, and so the multitudes have done. Though many other journeyers before me had written of their travels, none of those works ever enjoyed the immediate and continuing popularity of our
Description of the World.
Perhaps, Luigi, it was because you chose to transcribe my words in French, the most widely known Western language. Or perhaps you made my stories better in the writing than I could do in the telling. At any rate, somewhat to my surprise, our book became much read and talked of and sought after. It was copied and recopied, and by now has been translated into every other language of Christendom, and of those versions, too, countless copies have been taken and circulated.
But none of them tells the singular story of the anguished Hindu and his rape of a rock.
When I sat in that clammy Genoa prison, recounting my reminiscences, and you sat putting them into proper words, we decided that they would be told in
the most proper words. You had your reputation to consider, and I had my family name. You were the Rustichello of Pisa, and I was a Polo of Venice. You were the romancier courtois, already known for your retellings of the classic tales of chivalry—of Tristan and Isolde, of Lancelot and Ginevra, of Amys and Amyllion. I was, as you described me in the book, representative of the “sajes et nobles citaiens de Venece.” So we agreed that our pages would contain only those of my adventures and observations which we could publish without a blush or a qualm, and which could be read without offending the Christian sensibilities even of maiden ladies or nuns.
Further, we determined to leave out of the book anything which might strain the credence of any stay-at-home reader. I recall that we even debated before we included my encounters with the stone that burns and the fabric that will not. Thus many of the most marvelous incidents of my travels were, so to speak, abandoned by the wayside of my wanderings. We left out the unbelievable and the bawdy and the scandalous. But now, you tell me, you want to mend those gaps—though still without hazarding my good name.
So your new protagonist will be called Monsieur Bauduin, not Messer Marco, and he will hail from Cherbourg, not Venice. But in all else he will be me. He will experience, enjoy, endure all that I did—
all that I left untold heretofore—if I will refresh your memory by telling those many stories to you again.
It is a great temptation, certainly. It would be like living those days anew—and those nights—and that is a thing I have long yearned to do. I always intended, you know, to journey again to the far eastward. But no, you could not have known. I have not spoken of that even in my family circle. It has been a dream I treasured too much to share … .
Yes, I meant to go again sometime. But when I was freed from Genoa and returned to Venice, the family business demanded my attention, and so I hesitated to depart. And then I met Donata, and she became my wife. So I hesitated again a while, and then there was a daughter. Naturally that gave me cause to hesitate, and there came a second daughter, and then there were three. So, for one reason and another, I kept on hesitating, and suddenly one day I was old.
Old! It is inconceivable! When I look into our book, Luigi, I see myself there a boy, and then a youth, and then in my manhood, and even at the book’s very end I am still a stalwart. But when I look into a glass, I see there an aged stranger, sapped and sagged and blemished and enfeebled by the corroding rusts of five and sixty years. I murmur,
old man cannot go again a-journeying,” and then I realize: that old man is Marco Polo.
So your letter came to me at a vulnerable moment. And your suggestion that I contribute to a new book is an opportunity I will not let pass. If I cannot do again the things I once did, at the least I can remember them and take relish in them while I relate them, since I can now do that with the impunity of your Bauduin disguise. You may wonder at my so welcoming that disguise, as you may also have wondered at my remark that the earlier book earned me both undeserved renown and undeserved notoriety. I shall explain.
I never claimed to have been the first man to travel from the West into the far East, and you did not put any such boast into our book. Nevertheless, that seems to have been the impression produced upon most of its readers—or those readers living elsewhere than Venice, where no such illusion obtains. After all, my own Venetian father and uncle had gone to and returned from the East before they retraced their journey and that time took me with them. Also, in the East itself I met many other Westerners, of all nations from England to Hungary, who had arrived there before me, and some of whom stayed there longer than I did.
But long previous to them, many other Europeans had traversed the same Silk Road I trod. There was the Spanish rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, and the Franciscan friar Zuàne of Carpini, and the Flemish friar Guillaume of Rubrouck—and, like me, all those men published accounts of their travels. As far back as seven or eight hundred years ago, there were missionaries of the Nestorian Christian Church penetrating into Kithai, and there are many laboring there today. Even before Christian times, there must have been Western traders wandering to and from the East. It is known that the Pharaones of ancient Egypt wore the silk of the Orient, and silk is thrice mentioned in the Old Testament.
Numerous other things and the words describing them were, long before my time, made part of our Venetian language. Several of our city’s buildings are decorated, inside or out, with that sort of filigree fancywork we adopted from the Arabs and have long called arabesco. The murderous sassìn gets his name from the hashishiyin of Persia, men who kill at the instigation of a religious fervor induced by the drug hashish. The making of that cheap glazed fabric called indiana was learned in India, where that cloth is called chint, and where the inhabitants also inspired our Venetian expression “far l’Indiàn,” meaning to behave utterly stupidly.
No, I was not the first to go East or to return from there. Insofar as my fame rests on the misapprehension that I was, it is indeed unmerited. But my notoriety is even less deserved, for it depends on the widespread assumption of my dishonesty and untruthfulness. You and I, Luigi, put into our book only those observations and experiences we judged believable, but even so I am disbelieved. Here in Venice I am jeeringly called Marco Millions—an epithet implying not any wealth of ducats, but my supposed store of lies and exaggerations. That amuses me more than it annoys me, but my wife and daughters are exceedingly vexed at being known as the Dona and Damìne Milioni.
Hence my willingness to put on the mask of your fictional Bauduin as I commence to tell everything that has not until now been told. Let the world, if the world chooses, think it
a fiction. It is better to be disbelieved in such matters than to remain forever mute about them.
But first, Luigi:
From the sample of manuscript you sent with your letter, to show me how you propose to open Bauduin’s story, I gather that your command of French has considerably improved since you set down our
Description of the World.
I am emboldened to make another small comment on that earlier book. A reader of those pages might think that Marco Polo had been a man of sober age and judgment through all his traveling days—and that he had somehow done that traveling through the sky, so high aloft that he could see all at once the entire breadth of our earth, and point to one and then another land and say with certainty, “Herein this one differs from that.” True, I was forty when I came home from my journeying. I hope I came back a little more wise and discerning than when I went, for I was then only a wide-eyed adolescent—ignorant, inexperienced, foolish. Also, like any journeyer, I had to see all lands and the contents of them, not from the hindsight vantage of some twenty-five years later, but in the order in which I came upon them in my travels. It was kind and flattering of you, Luigi, to portray me in that earlier book as having been always a man all-seeing and all-knowing, but your new work might benefit if you made its narrator somewhat more true to life.
I would further suggest, Luigi, if you truly intend to cut your Monsieur Bauduin to the pattern of Marco Polo, that you commence his career by giving him a misspent youth of reckless abandon and misbehavior. That is one thing which I am here telling for the first time. I did not depart from Venice merely because I was eager for new horizons. I left Venice because I had to—or, at any rate, because Venice decreed that I had to.
Of course I cannot know, Luigi,
closely you wish to make your Bauduin’s history parallel my own. But you did say “tell all,” so I will begin even before the beginning.
BOOK: The Journeyer
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Witness by Josh McDowell
To Tame A Texan by Georgina Gentry
Secrets Dispelled by Raven McAllan
Michael Connelly by The Harry Bosch Novels: The Black Echo, the Black Ice, the Concrete Blonde
Curves and the Rancher by Jenn Roseton