Messer Marco Polo
I shall now tell you how it came about that Marco Polo went to China with his
uncle and father, though he had no eye for a bargain, or interest in courting
foreign women, or sense of horses.
Now, as you may know, this was a great religious time. The Crusaders, feeling
shame that the Sepulchre of the Lord Jesus should be in Saracen hands, had
come with horse, foot and artillery to Palestine to give tribute of arms to Him who
had died for them on the Bitter Tree. And great feats were performed and grand
battles won. And kings became saints, like Louis of France, and saints became
kings, like Baldwin of Constantinople. Mighty wonders were seen and miracles
performed, so that people said, "Now will be the second coming of Christ and the
end of the world."
And a great desire came on the Christian people to tell the truth of Christ to the
strange and foreign peoples of the world. So that every day out of Jerusalem you
would see friars hitting the road, some of them to confront the wizards of the
Land of Darkness, and some to argue theology with the old lamas of Tibet, and
some to convert the sunny Southern islands, where the young women do be
letting down their hair and the men do be forgetting God for them. And all over
the world there was spreading a great rumor that the truth of all things was at last
Even Kubla Khan had heard of it far off in China, and he had charged the uncle
and father of Marco with a message to the Pope of Rome. Let the pope be
sending some theologians to his court, and they'd argue the matter out; and if he
was satisfied that this new religion was the True Religion, then he'd turn Christian
and tell his people to turn Christian, too. And let them be bringing back some of
the Oil of the Lamp which burns in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and is a cure
for all the ills in the world.
And when they came to the City of Acre, sure the pope was dead. And they
waited a long time, but no new pope was chosen, so they decided to go back,
because they had a good business there, and they didn't want to lose it. And yet
they knew there'd be trouble with the Grand Khan, if they didn't bring back the
news of the True Religion and people to argue it.
"I've been a long time trading," says Nicolo, and it's a queer thing, but the more
trading you do, the less religion you have. The arguing of religion would not come
easy to me. And I'd be up against experts. I'm not the man for it," says he. "How
about you, Matthew?"