While the company is still laughing over Neifile’s story, Filomena commands Filostrato to tell the next tale. Rinaldo d’Asti is a traveling merchant who unfortunately falls into the company of three disguised highway robbers. As the robbers make small talk with him, they compare the prayers they say for protection on the road. Rinaldo is partial to St. Julian’s paternoster, while the robbers claim to use the Dirupisti, Intemerata, or De Profundis. One of the robbers suggests that they compare whose prayers are rewarded with the best sleeping arrangements at the end of the day.
Florence was at the heart of important medieval trade networks, and Rinaldo d’Asti is one of many merchants in The Decameron who fall into sticky situations. St. Julian is considered the patron saint of travelers in the Roman Catholic Church; the prayers listed by the robbers are much more general purpose and include two Psalms and a prayer to Mary. While their lack of devotion to the traveler’s saint should perhaps raise Rinaldo’s suspicions, the theft of his goods also demonstrates the difference between what one deserves and one’s fortune: even though he’s doing everything right—not travelling alone, praying to the right saints—he still falls prey to misfortune.
At nightfall, the thieves attack Rinaldo, whose servant abandons him and runs to the nearby fortress town, Castel Guiglielmo. Rinaldo is nearly naked in the gathering gloom of night and a raging snowstorm. With no other options (since a war has recently destroyed the countryside), Rinaldo walks towards the fortress, but it’s locked up tight for the night by the time he arrives. Fortunately, he finds an alcove near a door, with a pile of hay that offers him a little protection from the weather.
The escalating disasters faced by Rinaldo emphasis his unluckiness in this moment: not only was he robbed, but it’s winter, it’s storming, and a recent war cleared the countryside of shelter and food. The desertion of the servant points to class stereotypes: the servant is an afterthought (only appearing in the story to run away and make Rinaldo’s situation that much worse) rather than being important in his own right. And his cowardly behavior betrays a suspicion that the lower one is on the social ladder, the worse one’s character is.
The door leads to the home of a widowed Lady of Guiglielmo Fortress who has become a local aristocrat’s mistress. Expecting a visit from the aristocrat, she has prepared a meal and a bath, but when he is called away at the last minute, she decides to enjoy the bath herself. Through the wall, she overhears Rinaldo’s loud prayers of complaint to God and St. Julian, and she sends her maid to investigate. Pitying him, the two women usher him in, warm him in the bath, clothe him, and feed him supper. All the while, he thanks St. Julian for blessing him.
While Rinaldo is wealthy, he’s still just a merchant, and the aristocratic pleasures of the Lady are even greater than the accommodations he would have been able to afford in the town. Sometimes, this story suggests, divine intervention and good fortune can be helped along by human ears and human hands: the Lady overhears Rinaldo and her maid opens the door to him. Gaining access to the fortress town represents a turn in Rinaldo’s fortunes, but it’s also a confirmation of his faith in St. Julian, who will indeed make sure he has a safe (and pleasant!) place to spend the night. And, in taking pity on Rinaldo and offering him generous hospitality, the Lady is conforming to expectations of her gender (women were expected to be kind and compassionate) and class (generosity is a mark of nobility in medieval literature and thought).
Rinaldo is handsome, and the Lady is already in a romantic mood. To her eyes, Rinaldo is a gift from fortune. She flirts with Rinaldo, who not only willingly accepts but reciprocates her advances. Before long, they are in bed together, thoroughly enjoying themselves.
It turns out that Rinaldo and the Lady are both beneficiaries of fortune: she’s gotten a replacement lover for the evening, and he’s gotten a good meal, a soft bed, and a lovely bed companion. Her willingness to trade one lover for another highlights misogynistic medieval concerns about excessive female sexual desire, but in this tale of good fortune and a fleeting encounter, no harm comes to either the woman or her bedmate. But the flip side of excessive lust is the understanding that medieval women were active agents in control of their own sexuality, which the Lady demonstrates when she instigates the sexual encounter with Rinaldo. It’s also worth noting that many of Filostrato’s tales feature sexual escapades and also strong female characters.
First thing in the morning, the Lady gives Rinaldo some old clothes and money, secretly letting him out through the door. He enters the front gates as if at the end of a long journey, and while he’s looking for his ignoble servant, the thieves—arrested after a second robbery attempt—are brought in. They confess their crimes against Rinaldo and return his belongings—except for a pair of garters. Thanking God and St. Julian, Rinaldo rides home.
The ending of Filostrato’s tale illustrates fortune’s wheel at work: as Rinaldo’s fortunes rise again, the fortunes of the robbers sink. The fact that they return everything except for a pair of garters—the bands tied around the top of socks to keep them up in the days before elastic—adds a humorous touch to the tale.