Chapter 1:

How the devil sought a way to trick the three damsels

The devil, who was zealous and persevering about the work which he had begun, considered how he could trick the daughters of the rich man, and he remembered a gentleman who lived near there who was very comely and handsome and did the devil's work whenever he wished. And the devil dressed like a learned man so that more credit would be given to what he said, and summoned the man, who came to his call; and he seated him on a rich chair most sumptuously, and talked with him and told him the story of the daughters of the rich man who had become lone orphans, and urged him to take one of them with all speed, and the man favored this idea with such eagerness that the devil knew his work had not been in vain. The gentleman set to work to follow the one of the three damsels who most contented him with all solicitude, so that in a few days he got what he wanted from her. The devil followed this plan of action because he did not know in which of these three damsels Merlin ought to be conceived, so he wished to determine which of them might be most sinless and in that one engender Merlin, because in the council that he and his consorts had held it was thus agreed, that she should be a very Catholic woman, so that the birth of Merlin would correspond to that of Christ our Saviour.

Returning to the point, the gentleman possessed the damsel with all pleasure. In the passing of a few days this became known to many. In that city at that time it was the custom that any woman who had commerce with any man not her husband would be taken as an adulteress and die for it, unless she was a woman of the streets. The devil, who is the capital enemy of the race of man, takes pleasure in bringing about the damnation of those who take part in his works, and so it was that after he had tricked this damsel, he worked to give her away and publish her sin all the ways he could, so that she was taken prisoner by the judges, and, prisoner, was condemned to death, since they found no other recourse. And as her father was well-loved in the city and counted for much, they pleaded for her with much efficacy, and what they were able to do was have her punished by night, and all the people in the city were greatly saddened that such ill-fortune had come to that house in such a brief time. And so all said in those days, and the fame of these events flew about the land, so that they came to the ears of a man whose name was Blaise who lived a good and holy life, and had lived in the wasteland,[1] and he left his house and came to speak with the two damsels. And when he was in the home of the elder and the younger sister, he demanded of them how such ill-luck had come to them. They recounted what had befallen them point by point, and now to finish off their ills, "our most beloved sister died such a dishonorable death, and went from this life in such peril of her soul, that may God in his clemency decide to help her." This and many other things the two sisters discussed with the good man. And once he heard the loss of their father and mother and of their affairs, he was greatly pained, especially for their father, because he had met him a long time ago.

The good man Blaise began with animated words to console them, and said to them, "My beloved daughters, I certainly feel great pain over what has passed, and, certes, you must believe that misfortunes come to sinners because of their sins which merit punishment, and if it befalls at some time that ills and misfortune come to someone who seems just and good to the world, before God he is other than men judge him. And should he be the same before God and man, ill-fortunes come to him for his greater benefit. And since in all things God is supreme good and righteous justice, what must be believed is that your father is placed in heaven, since, it is certain, he has as high a seat in heaven as his reputation was lowered on earth. And, beloved daughters, comfort yourselves in our Lord, since it certainly displeases him greatly when a sinner moves away from Him, and keep yourselves from evil actions and do not even think of them, and He will be on your side. Know, my daughters, that evil actions bring things to evil ends, and it is not unfitting that he who cannot abstain from evil actions has his affairs come to a bad end. Therefore, beloved daughters, if you decide to follow my advice and admonitions, your deeds will have a good end, and no care will come to you about which I will not pray to almighty God, who because of His clemency and piety will order and rule your deeds and livelihood; and do not hesitate to speak with me often, since I live here close to the city."

These and many other things the holy man said to the two sisters, and the elder was well pleased with his penances and admonitions, but the younger, who was bad at heart, did not change her ways in the least, nor pay the least attention to him, as if she had not heard him. And when the devil found this out, he was very disturbed by the discussions they had had with Blaise, and he believed he would lose them, and considered how to turn them aside from what Blaise had said to them, and among many schemes he pondered, it seemed to him he could find no better way to bring his deed to a close than through the embassy of a woman; and he went to an old woman, to whom he was very partial because of old friendships, and he told her all the things which had passed, and said that if she would do anything for love of him, it would be to go to the two damsels under the guise of visiting and consoling them, "and you will try in all the ways you can to attract them to love someone. You can do this so well that I do not think I need to teach you, and if you manage it, you will be well-rewarded at my hands, better than anyone ever was." The old woman promised him to work and strive with all diligence, and thus they parted.

And then the evil old woman went to the damsels' house, and in a neighborly fashion she began to console them and condole with them for what had befallen them, and the younger listened to what she said with all attention, but the elder did not turn her head no matter what she said. And as the old woman saw this, she was on the one hand very sad and on the other happy, because she did not find both sisters of one mind, and since she saw that there was no opening there save in the younger, she took her aside and said to her, "My beloved daughter, how are you getting along with your sister? She seems to me a woman in despair with life, and your character is unlike hers, because your own inclinations do not conform to hers, and I do not know why you choose to waste yourself here and lose the chance to use and enjoy your pretty airs and appearance, and if you do not enjoy them now in your youth, you will not be able to enjoy that which you waste now after you are as old as I am."

These and many other things the old woman said to her. The damsel responded, "Ah, my mother, you should not marvel at what you say about my sister being a sad and despairing woman, if you compare us as you see us now and as we used to be; would it be right for you to find us in any other situation than you see, even if we are women without sense? This you know without my saying it. This my lord father's house, does it look as it used to? You say of me that you marvel that I do not enjoy nor even know how to enjoy my person and my beauty. Certes, I see this well. But fortune has favored me so little that no one has fared worse, nor will anyone, and there will be neither time nor place for me to enjoy my age and appearance until the fury of misfortune moves away, since a few days ago, as you have seen, it firmly fixed on us."

The evil old woman, since she saw the damsel reply with such sagacity, and since the damsel regretted her ills, answered, "Ah, my daughter, no one should regret those things which fortune and death do, since the effort of thinking of them and afflicting oneself because of them is in vain, and it is better and greater effort and wisdom to be able to enjoy what one can, and since it is in your power to strive andto enjoy thus, why do you choose to waste time? And you, my daughter, if you had the experience of the enjoyment which possessing men brings, you would marvel, especially possessing the ones in love; you would not hold before your eyes any of the evils or losses you have had. And because you believe me and have given my arguments thought, I want you to see them in action and not in my words, and I tell you truthfully and without doubt that you should believe that when you are in love according to your gentility, even if you were given only a loaf of bread for sustenance, you would hold it in greater estimation than all the wealth of the universe and living as richly as you live now, as long as you possessed the one you loved well."

The damsel answered, "Ah, my friend! I would be quite glad to enjoy and possess all you have told me of, if I saw a way to do it without hazard of my person."

"Do not doubt," said the old woman, "that for this there are a thousand remedies, which are so easy for me to provide that you need not fear or pay it any mind at all."

In this instant her elder sister called angrily, saying, "Sister, is now the time to have long discussions with old women?"

The younger sister answered very harshly, saying, "What do you want? Should I cry all the time, like you?"

So the old woman left, and they agreed she should come another day so they could speak more of this, and they agreed that they would disguise themselves so that no one who saw them would suspect anything, and the old woman would come in the form of an old man, and the damsel would dress in the manner of a student with a book in her hands, and that they would go to a nearby house where the old woman was friendly with the inhabitants. The damsel agreed to this, and when the devil heard it, he was very pleased, since he saw that he was on his way to concluding his business.

[1] The Spanish word used here is "desierto," which can be accurately translated "desert" but seems to be used here in a more general sense. This appears to pattern Blaise after early Christian ascetics known to have abandoned civilization and lived in deserts or abandoned places.