Of the Devils Head in the Valley Perilous. And of the Customs of Folk in diverse Isles that be about in the Lordship of Prester John
BESIDE that Isle of Mistorak upon the left Side nigh to the River of Pison is a marvellous Thing. There is a Vale between the Mountains, that endureth nigh a 4 Mile. And some call it the Vale Enchanted, some call it the Vale of Devils, and some call it the Vale Perilous. In that Vale hear Men often-time great Tempests and Thunders, and great Murmurs and Noises, all Days and Nights, and great Noise, as it were Sound of Tabors and of Nakers (Drums) and Trumps, as though it were of a great Feast. This Vale is all full of Devils, and hath been always. And Men say there, that it is one of the Entries of Hell. In that Vale is great Plenty of Gold and Silver. Wherefore many misbelieving Men, and many Christian Men also, go in oftentime to have of the Treasure that there is; but few come back again, and especially of the misbelieving Men, nor of the Christian Men either, for they be anon strangled of Devils.
And in mid Place of that Vale, under a Rock, is an Head and the Visage of a Devil bodily, full horrible and dreadful to see, and it sheweth not but the Head, to the Shoulders. But there is no Man in the World so hardy, Christian Man nor other, but that he would be a-dread to behold it, and that it would seem to him to die for Dread, so hideous is it to behold. For he beholdeth every Man so sharply with dreadful Eyes, that be evermore moving and sparkling like Fire, and changeth and stareth so often in diverse Manner, with so horrible Countenance, that no Man dare draw nigh towards him. And from him cometh out Smoke and Stink and Fire and so much Abomination, that scarcely any Man may there endure.
But the good Christian Men, that be stable in the Faith, enter well without Peril. For they will first shrive them, and mark them with the Token of the Holy Cross, so that the Fiends have no Power over them. But albeit that they be without Peril, yet, nevertheless, they be not without Dread, when that they see the Devils visibly and bodily all about them, that make full many diverse Assaults and Menaces, in Air and in Earth, and aghast them with Strokes of Thunder-blasts and of Tempests. And the most Dread is, that God will take Vengeance then of what Men have misdone against His Will.
And ye shall understand, that when my Fellows and I were in that Vale, we were in great Thought, whether that we durst put our Bodies in Adventure, to go in or not, in the Protection of God. And some of our Fellows accorded to enter, and some not. So there were with us 2 worthy Men, Friars Minors, that were of Lombardy, that said, that if any Man would enter they would go in with us. And when they had said so, upon the gracious Trust of God and of them, we made sing Mass, and made every Man to be shriven and houseled. And then we entered 14 Persons; but at our going out we were but 9. And so we wist never, whether that our Fellows were lost, or else turned again for Dread. But we saw them never after; and those were 2 Men of Greece, and 3 of Spain. And our other Fellows that would not go in with us, they went by another Side to be before us; and so they were.
And thus we passed that Perilous Vale, and found therein Gold and Silver, and precious Stones and rich Jewels, great Plenty, both here and there, as it seemed to us. But whether that it was, as it seemed to us, I wot never. For I touched none, because that the Devils be so subtle to make a Thing to seem otherwise than it is, to deceive Mankind. And therefore I touched none, and also because that I would not be put out of my Devotion; for I was more devout then, than ever I was before or after, and all for the Dread of Fiends that I saw in diverse Figures, and also for the great Multitude of dead Bodies, that I saw there lying by the Way, by all the Vale, as though there had been a Battle between 2 Kings the mightiest of the Country, and that the greater Part had been discomfited and slain. And I trow, that scarcely should any Country have so much People within him, as lay slain in that Vale as we thought, the which was an hideous Sight to see. And I marvelled much, that there were so many, and the Bodies all whole without rotting. But I trow, that Fiends made them so seem to be whole without rotting. But it might not be to mine Advice that so many should have entered so newly, neither so many newly slain, without stinking and rotting. And many of them were in Habit of Christian Men, but I trow well, that they were of such that went in for Covetousness of the Treasure that was there, and had overmuch Feebleness in Faith; so that their Hearts might not endure in the Belief for Dread. And therefore were we the more devout a great Deal. And yet we were cast down, and beaten down many times to the hard Earth by Winds and Thunders and Tempests. But evermore God of His Grace help us. And so we passed that Perilous Vale without Peril and without Encumbrance. Thanked be Almighty God!
After this, beyond the Vale, is a great Isle, where the Folk be great Giants of 28 Foot long, or of 30 Foot long. And they have no Clothing but of Skins of Beasts that they hang upon them. And they eat no Bread, but all raw Flesh; and they drink Milk of Beasts, for they have Plenty of all Cattle. And they have no Houses to lie in. And they eat more gladly Mans Flesh than any other Flesh. Into that Isle dare no Man gladly enter. And if they see a Ship and Men therein, anon they enter into the Sea to take them.
And Men said to us, that in an Isle beyond that were Giants of greater Stature, some of 45 Foot, or 50 Foot long, and, as some Men say, of 50 Cubits long. But I saw none of those, for I had no Lust to go to those Parts, because that no Man cometh neither into that Isle nor into the other, but he be devoured anon. And among those Giants be Sheep as great as Oxen here, and they bear great Wool and rough. Of the Sheep I have seen many times. And Men have seen, many times, those Giants take Men in the Sea out of their Ships, and bring them to Land, 2 in one Hand and 2 in another, eating them going, all raw and all alive.
Another Isle is there toward the North, in the Sea Ocean, where that be full cruel and evil Women of Nature. And they have precious Stones in their Eyes. And they be of that Nature, that if they behold any Man with Wrath, they slay him anon with the Beholding, as doth the Basilisk.
After that is another Isle, where that Women make great Sorrow when their Children be born. And when they die, they make great Feast and great Joy and Revel, and then they cast them into a great burning Fire. And those that love well their Husbands, if their Husbands be dead, they cast themselves also in the Fire with their Children, and burn themselves. And they say that the Fire shall cleanse them of all Filths and of all Vices, and they shall go purified and clean into another World to their Husbands, and they shall lead their Children with them. And the Cause why that they weep, when their Children be born is this; that when they come into this World, they come to Labour, Sorrow and Heaviness. And why they make Joy and Gladness at their Dying is because that, as they say, then they go to Paradise where the Rivers run Milk and Honey, where Men see them in Joy and in Abundance of Goods, without Sorrow and Labour.
In that Isle Men make their King evermore by Election, and they choose him not for any Nobleness or for any Riches, but such an one as is of good Manners and of good Conditions, and therewithal righteous, and also see that he be of great Age, and that he have no Children. In that Isle Men be full righteous and they do righteous Judgments in every Cause both of rich and poor, small and great, after the Quantity of the Trespass that is mis-done. And the King may no doom any Man to Death without Assent of his Barons and other Men wise of Counsel, and if that all the Court accord thereto. And if the King himself do any Homicide or any Crime, as to slay a Man, or any such Hazard, he shall die there for. But he shall not be slain as another Man; but Men shall forbid, on Pain of Death, that any Man be so hardy as to make him Company or to speak with him, or that any Man give him or sell him or serve him, either with Meat or Drink; and so shall he die in Misfortune. They spare no Man that hath trespassed, neither for Love nor for Favour nor for Riches nor for Nobleness; but that shall he have, according to that he hath done.
Beyond that Isle is another Isle, where is great Multitude of Folk. And they will not, for any thing, eat Flesh of Hares, or of Hens, or of Geese, and yet they breed enough, to see them and to behold them only; but they eat Flesh of all other Beasts, and drink Milk. In that Country they take their Daughters and their Sisters to Wife, and their other Kins-women. And if there be 10 or 12 Men or more dwelling in an House, the Wife of every one of them shall be common to all them that dwell in that House; so that every Man may lie with whom he will of them on one Night, and with another, another Night. And if she have any Child, she may give it to what Man she list, that hath companied with her, so that no Man knoweth there whether the Child be his or anothers. And if any Man say to them, that they nourish other Mens Children, they answer that so do other Men theirs.
In that Country and by all Ind be great Plenty of Cockodrills, that is a manner of a long Serpent, as I have said before. And in the Night they dwell in the Water, and in the Day upon the Land, in Rocks and Caves. And they eat no Meat in all the Winter, but they lie as in a Dream, as do Serpents. These Serpents slay Men, and they eat them weeping; and when they eat they move the over Jaw, and not the nether Jaw, and they have no Tongue.
In that Country and in many others beyond that, and also in many on this Side, Men put the Seed of Cotton to work, and they sow it every Year. And then groweth it in small Trees, that bear Cotton. And so do Men every Year, so that there is Plenty of Cotton at all times. Item; in this Isle and in many other, there is a manner of Wood, hard and Strong. Whoso covereth the Coals of that Wood under the Ashes thereof, the Coals will dwell and abide all alive, a Year or more. And that Tree hath many Leaves, as the Juniper hath. And there be also many Trees, of that Nature that they will never burn nor rot in any manner. And there be Nut Trees, that bear Nuts as great as a Mans Head.
There also be many Beasts, that be clept Orafles (Giraffes). In Arabia, they be clept Gerfaunts. That is a dappled or spotted Beast, that is but a little more high than is a Steed, but he hath the Neck a 20 Cubits long; and his Croup and his Tail be as of an Hart; and he may look over a great high House. And there be also in that Country many Chameleons; that is a little Beast as a Goat, that is wild, and he liveth on the Air and eateth nought and drinketh nought at any time. And he changeth his Colour often-time, for Men see him often-times, now in one Colour and now in another Colour; and he may change him into all manner of Colours that he list, save only into red and white. There be also in that Country passing great Serpents, some of 120 Foot long, and they be of divers Colours, and rayed, as red, green, yellow, blue and black, and all speckled. And there be others that have Crests upon their Heads, and they go upon their Feet, upright, and they be well a 4 Fathom great, or more, and they dwell always in Rocks or in Mountains, and they have always the Throat open, from whence they drop Venom always. And there be also Wild Swine of many Colours, as great as be Oxen in our Country, and they be all spotted, as be young Fawns. And there be also Hedgehogs, as great as Wild Swine here; we call them Porcupines. And there be Lions all white, great and mighty. And there be also of other Beasts, as great and more greater than is a War-horse, and Men call them Loerancs; and some Men call them Odenthos; and they have a black Head and 3 long Horns, trenchant, on the Forehead, sharp as a Sword, and the Body is slender; and he is a full felonious Beast, and he chaseth and slayeth the Elephant. There be also many other Beasts, full wicked and cruel, that be not much greater than a Bear, and they have the Head like a Boar, and they have 6 Feet, and on every Foot 2 large Claws, trenchant; and the Body is like a Bear, and the Tail as a Lion. And there be also Mice as great as Hounds, and yellow Mice as great as Ravens. And there be Geese, all red, 3 Times more great than ours here, and they have the Head, the Neck and the Breast all black.