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Sir John Mandeville. Marvellous Adventures. 1895.

Chapter XXIII

Of the Law and the Customs of the Tartars dwelling in Cathay. And how that Men do when the Emperor shall die, and how he shall be chosen

THE FOLK of that Country all use long Clothes without Furs. And they be clothed with precious Cloths of Tartary, and of Cloths of Gold. And their Clothes be slit at the Side, and they be festooned with Laces of Silk. And they clothe them also with Pilches, the Hide without; and they use neither Cape nor Hood. And in the same Manner as the Men go, the Women go, so that no Man may scarcely know the Men from the Women, save only those Women that be married, that bear the Token upon their Heads of a Man’s Foot, in Sign that they be under Man’s Foot and under Subjection of Man.

And their Wives dwell not together, but every one of them by herself; and the Husband may lie with whom of them that it liketh him. Every one hath his House, both Man and Woman. And their Houses be made round with Staves, and they have a round Window above that giveth them Light, and also serveth for Deliverance of Smoke. And the Coverings of their Houses and the Walls and the Doors be all of Wood. And when they go to War, they take their Houses with them upon Chariots, as Men do Tents or Pavilions. And they make their Fire in the Midst of their Houses.

And they have great Multitude of all manner of Beasts, save only of Swine, for these they do not breed. And they believe well in one God that made and formed all Things. And yet nevertheless have they Idols of Gold and Silver, and of Wood and of Cloth. And to their Idols they offer always their first Milk of their Beasts, and also of their Meats and of their Drinks before they eat. And they offer often-times Horses and Beasts. And they call the God of Nature, “Yroga.”

And their Emperor also, whatever Name that ever he have, they put evermore thereto, Chan. And when I was there, their Emperor had to Name Thiaut, so that he was clept Thiaut-Chan. And his eldest Son was clept Tossue; and when he shall be Emperor, he shall be clept Tossue-Chan. And at that Time the Emperor had 12 other Sons also, that were named Cuncy, Ordii, Chadahay, Buryn, Negu, Nocab, Cadu, Siban, Cuten, Balacy, Babylan, and Garegan. And of his 3 Wives, the first and principal, that was Prester John’s Daughter, had to Name Serioche-Chan, and the tother Borak-Chan, and the tother Karanke-Chan.

The Folk of that Country begin all their Things in the new Moon, and they worship much the Moon and the Sun and often-time kneel to them. And all the Folk of the Country ride commonly without Spurs, but they bear always a little Whip in their Hands to urge their Horses with.

And they have great Conscience and hold it for a great Sin to cast a Knife in the Fire, and to draw Flesh out of a Pot with a Knife, and to smite an Horse with the Handle of a Whip, or to smite an Horse with a Bridle, or to break one Bone with another, or to cast Milk or any Liquor that Men may drink upon the Earth, or to take and slay little Children. And the most great Sin that any Man may do is to defile their own Houses that they dwell in, and whoso that may be found with that Sin surely they slay him. And of every one of those Sins it behoveth them to be shriven of their Priests, and to pay a great Sum of Silver for their Penance. And it behoveth also, that the Place that Men have defiled be hallowed again, and else dare no Man enter therein. And when they have paid their Penance, Men make them pass through a Fire or through 2, to cleanse them of their Sins. And also when any Messenger cometh and bringeth Letters or any Present to the Emperor, it behoveth him that he, with the Thing he bringeth, pass through 2 burning Fires to purge them, that he bring no Poison nor Venom, nor no wicked Thing that might be a Grievance to their Lord. And also if any Man or Woman be taken in Adultery or Fornication, anon they slay him.

Men of that Country be all good Archers and shoot right well, both Men and Women, as well on Horse-back, spurring, as on Foot, running. And the Women make all Things and all manner of Trades and Crafts, as of Clothes, Boots and other Things; and they drive Carts, Ploughs and Wains and Chariots; and they make Houses and all manner of Trades, except Bows and Arrows and Armours that Men make. And all the Women wear Breeches, as well as Men.

All the Folk of that Country be full obeissant to their Sovereign; neither fight they nor chide one with another. And there be neither Thieves nor Robbers in that Country. And every Man is worshipful to the other; but no Man doth any Reverence to any Strangers, but if they be great Princes.

And they eat Hounds, Lions, Leopards, Mares and Foals, Asses, Rats and Mice and all manner of Beasts, great and small, save only Swine and Beasts that were forbidden by the old Law. And they eat all the Beasts without and within, without casting away of anything, save only the Filth. And they eat but little Bread, but if it be in Courts of great Lords. And they have not in many Places, either Pease or Beans or any other Pottages but the Broth of the Flesh. For little eat they of anything but Flesh and the Broth. And when they have eaten, they wipe then their Hands upon their Skirts; for they use no Napery or Towels, but if it be before great Lords; but the common People have none. And when they have eaten, they put their Dishes unwashen into the Pot or Cauldron with the Remnant of the Flesh and of the Broth till they will eat again. And the rich Men drink Milk of Mares or of Camels or of Asses or of other Beasts. And they will be lightly made drunk with Milk or with another Drink that is made of Honey and Water boiled together; for in that Country is neither Wine nor Ale. They live full wretchedly, and they eat but once in the Day, and that but little, either in Courts or in other Places. And in Sooth, one Man alone in this Country will eat more in a Day than one of them will eat in 3 Days. And if any strange Messenger come there to a Lord, Men make him to eat but once a Day, and that full little.

And when they war, they war full wisely and always do their Business, so as to destroy their Enemies. Every man there beareth 2 Bows or 3, and of Arrows a great Plenty, and a great Axe. And the Gentlefolk have short Spears and large and full sharp on the one Side. And they have Plates and Helmets made of Cuir-bouilli, and their Horses Coverlets of the same. And whoso fleeth from the Battle they slay him. And when they hold any Siege about Castle or Town that is walled or defensible, they promise to them that be within to do all the Profit and Good, that it is marvellous to hear; and they grant also to them that be within all that they will ask them. And after that they be yielden, anon they slay them all; and they cut off their Ears and souse them in Vinegar, and thereof they make great Service for Lords. All their Lust and all their Imagination is to put all Lands under their Subjection. And they say that they know well by their Prophecies, that they shall be overcome by Archers and by Strength of them; but they know not of what Nation nor of what Law they shall be of, that shall overcome them. And therefore they suffer that Folk of all Laws may peaceably dwell amongst them.

Also when they will make their Idols or an Image of any of their Friends to have Remembrance of him, they make always the Image all naked without any manner of Clothing. For they say that in good Love should be no Covering, that Man should not love for the fair Clothing nor for the rich Array, but only for the Body, such as God hath made it, and for the good Virtues that the Body is endowed with of Nature, and not only for fair Clothing that is not natural to Nature.

And ye shall understand that it is great Dread to pursue the Tartars if they flee in Battle. For in fleeing they shoot behind them and slay both Men and Horses. And when they will fight they will rush together in a Clump; so that if there be 20,000 Men, Men shall not think that there be a scant 10,000. And they can well, win Land of Strangers, but they cannot keep it; for they have greater Lust to lie in Tents without than to lie in Castles or in Towns. And they prize as nothing the Wit of other Nations.

And amongst them Oil of Olive is full dear, for they hold it for full noble Medicine. And all the Tartars have small Eyes and little of Beard, and be not thick haired but shaved. And they be false and Traitors; and they keep nought that they promise. They be full hardy Folk, and much Pain and Woe and Disease may suffer, more than any other Folk, for they be taught thereto in their own Country from Youth. And therefore they are spent or enfeebled as one may say, but little.

And when any Man shall die, Men set a Spear beside him. And when he draweth towards Death, every Man fleeth out of the House till he be dead. And after that they bury him in the Fields.

And when the Emperor dieth, Men set him in a Chair in the mid Place of his Tent. And Men set a Table before him cleanly covered with a Cloth, and thereupon Flesh and divers Viands and a Cup full of Mare’s Milk. And Men put a Mare beside him with her Foal, and an Horse saddled and bridled. And they lay upon the Horse Gold and Silver, great Quantity. And they put about him great Plenty of Straw. And then Men make a great Pit and a large, and with the Tent and all these other Things they put him in the Earth. And they say that when he shall come into another World, he shall not be without an House, nor without Horse, nor without Gold and Silver; and the Mare shall give him Milk, and bring him forth more Horses till he be well stored in the other World. For they believe that after their Death they shall be eating and drinking in that other World, and solacing then with their Wives, as they did here.

And after the Time that the Emperor is thus interred no Man shall be so hardy to speak of him before his Friends. And yet nevertheless, it befalleth many times that they make him to be interred privily by Night in wild Places, and put again the Grass over the Pit to grow; or else Men cover the Pit with Gravel and Sand, that no Man shall perceive where nor know where the Pit is, to that Intent that ever after none of his Friends shall have Mind or Remembrance of him. And then they say that he is ravished to another World, where he is a greater Lord than he was here.

And then, after the Death of the Emperor, the 7 Lineages assemble them together, and choose his eldest Son, or the next after him of his Blood. And thus they say to him; “We will and we pray and ordain that ye be our Lord and our Emperor!”

And then he answereth, “If ye will that I reign over you as Lord, do every one of you that I shall command him, either to abide or to go; and whomsoever that I command to be slain, anon be he slain!”

And they answer all with one Voice, “Whatsoever ye command, it shall be done!”

Then saith the Emperor, “Now understand well, that my Word from henceforth is sharp and biting as a Sword!” After, Men set him upon a black Steed and so Men bring him to a Chair full richly arrayed, and there they crown him. And then all the Cities and good Towns send him rich Presents. So that, on that Day, he shall have more than 60 Chariots charged with Gold and Silver, besides Jewels of Gold and precious Stones, that Lords give him, that be without Estimation, and besides Horses, and Cloths of Gold, and of Camakas (Silks) and Tartarins (Silks) that be without Number.