The road from Paris wound through the countryside of north-eastern France. Well, it was more of a muddy track, but we shall humor it and call it a road. Passing out of the forest of St. Gobain, it rounded a bend and narrowed a bit as it passed by several farm houses. Widening back out, it passed through pastures and fields on its way to points mundane and exotic, leaving behind the village of Fargniers.
Back at the village a man worked atop a roof repairing damages from the winters storms. Pepin, called the one on the roof, could you hand me that bale of thatch?
The other grabbed a bale, then stopped. François, he said, I was thinking...
Yes, just hand me the thatch for now, François grunted as he struggled with his work.
Pepin continued. Remember my good friend Jean?
You know, Jean Froissart of Valenciennes.
François paused a moment at his work. Isnt he your poet friend? he asked.
Yes, thats the one. Well, hes going to be famous someday, and...
Hes going to be famous, and I...
Trust me on this, François lectured, turning from his work to look down on Pepin. Hes going to end up like all your other troubadour friends: dying of the clap in a brothel and leaving only a legacy of unpaid bills. And would you please hand me that thatch?
But Jeans different!
François just snorted and pointed at Pepins hands. The thatch, please.
Pepin started towards the ladder leading to the roof, but then his progress was derailed by his train of thought. But hes not going to become famous because of his poetry. Hes going to be famous because of his history.
His history, François. Hes going to write a history about France. Hes going to find a wealthy patron that appreciates his talents, and write about French history and our times. So I was thinking...
François smiled knowingly down from the roof. My dear Pepin, dont you know how artistic patronage works?
Umm, your patron is impressed by your talents and pays you to make great contributions to the art? Pepin hazarded.
Pepin, the artist will invariably attach himself to a female patron. The talents demonstrated will be of a decidedly non-literary nature. Any work produced will be sycophantic drivel that history will graciously ignore. At least the lady will pay the bills. And with luck he may leave a legacy.
He will? Pepin was confused. But I thought you said...
François grinned. That is, hell have a good chance of leaving a legacy if he looks anything at all like the ladys husband.
François! Pepin protested. I think M. Froissart is much more professional than you make him out to be!
Hes a poet. What can you say about a profession that considers every cat house to be a temple to the muses?
Oh, François! This is really too much!
Pepin was terribly flustered, a fact which François now attempted to take advantage of. Adopting a stern voice he commanded: Pepin, give me the thatch!
The command propelled Pepin another step towards the ladder, but the step and the sight of the thatch in his hands reminded Pepin of his earlier conversation. He stopped and looked up at François. Well, I must say that you have Jean all wrong. But his history sounds like just the sort of thing that would interest me, so I was thinking...
I was thinking youd hand me the thatch.
Pepin paused, took a deep breath, then continued, ...that I should leave off helping you here on your farm and return to the University of Paris. There. Well, now... what do you say?
François started to fume. The sun was going down. It was getting cold on this cloudy February day. The roof which should have been finished hours ago was still not done. He growled, I say: the thatch, Pepin, the thatch!
Pepin looked about for a moment, then at the bundle in his hands, then up at the roof. Comprehension sprang to his eyes. Oh, the thatch! Yes, youve been doing a marvelous job re-thatching the roof, François. So, do you think its all right that I leave you?
François lumbered down the ladder, snatched the thatch from Pepins hands and barked, Why, I dont possibly see how I could let you go! After all, youre a veritable working maniac around here. Its a wonder that theres anything left to do with Pepin toiling day and night, night and day. I suppose that in the interests of higher civilization Ill just have to let you go. But if you can write as quickly as you can work, Ill be surprised if anyone can read fast enough to keep up with the prodigious volumes of scholarship that Im sure youll amaze the world with!
François immediately felt ashamed at his outburst. Pepin had stumbled into the village several months ago after having been robbed by outlaws on the road. He had been cold, hungry and tired. And indefatigably cheerful. François was still somewhat dumbfounded over Pepins description of the thieves. You should have seen them, François! Poor, miserable creatures! I was happy to give them my money and clothes, for I can always earn them back with my songs or tales at the inn, or by teaching some lessons at a lords manor. And they were so thin! Alas, I am only able to fill mens minds, François, not their bellies. Im sure that in previous times, they were all respected members of their communes, but since King Jean was captured by those filthy English at Poitiers these two years hence, the country has fallen on hard times!
They had become fast friends and Pepin had stayed on, ostensibly to help with the work on François fief. If François had been a peasant, he could never have afforded to have Pepin stay. When asked to prune fruit trees, Pepin went into a deep philosophical discourse on the nature of honey bees. The actual pruning Pepin had done led François to a deep philosophical contemplation of his own on the subject of what it was that Pepin could do that wouldnt lead to more harm than good. In the end, François had simply satisfied himself with Pepins company, although he had thought that having him carry materials up to the roof was a safe enough task. Fortunately for Pepin, François was at 40 a chevalier in semi-retirement who held the small fief of Fargniers in vassalage to lord Enguerrand de Coucy. François preferred the calm of working his estate to court life, which he found to be vacuous, or to wandering the country in search of adventure, which he thought to be merely one step removed from larceny. And after the rise of brigandage following in the wake of the disaster at Poitiers, François felt a responsibility towards his tenants to give them the extra measure of protection that a resident knight provided. Although he found Pepin to be a fairly odd fellow, he brought an intellectualism with him that François now discovered that he desperately longed for. The truth was, François did not want Pepin to leave. But he knew that he could no more keep Pepin here against his will than one could chain a hummingbird. And now he had probably hurt him deeply. François opened his mouth to apologize, but Pepin was already talking.
Do you mean that François? Oh, thats wonderful! Ill go pack my things right away! Pepin rushed into the house, as excited as any child anticipating what Pere Noel may have brought them. François picked up the thatch that Pepin had left behind. Looking at the bale, he addressed it with great seriousness: Je pense quil est fou. [I think hes crazy.] The sound of bangs and clangings came from inside the house. François called out, I didnt know you went to the University. What did you study there?
Oh, I taught there for awhile. Im on sabbatical right now, came Pepins voice from somewhere inside.
François was curious. Pepin had never mentioned this before. How long did you teach there?
Oh, about three months.
François grew suspicious. And how long have you been on sabbatical?
Hmmm, four years now.
François chuckled. What happened? He could imagine the scene of Pepin delivering a lecture to a host of bewildered students.
Pepin emerged from the house. Oh, François, you just couldnt believe the politics that go on there! The other lecturers were so envious of my abilities! I can still remember what they said. Pepin, your powers of expository endurance are unequaled in the annals of this institution. Why, your introductory comments alone run the course of a normal lecture.
A sudden thought came to François. Is that where you got your nickname, le Bref? (the Short)
Yes, how did you know?
François smiled and shrugged. A lucky guess, thats all.
Well, I dont see why the called me the Short. Im taller than most people. Theyre a strange bunch at the University.
François just chuckled, then took a closer look at Pepin. A spare shirt was stuffed into one pocket. A string of sausages trailed out another. Several books threatened to fall from their precarious hold underneath an arm. Shall I come in and help you Pepin? I have a pack you could borrow.
A pack? What a splendid idea! You always were the practical one, François! beamed Pepin.
François smiled, put the thatch down with a hurried prayer to Our Blessed Lady that there be no rain that night, took the books out from under Pepins arms, and led him into the house. But how will you get them to admit you back into the University?
Why, with a suitable patron. And not the kind of patron youre thinking of, either!
François spread wide his hands in defense. I know better now, Pepin. So, do you have someone in mind?
Yes, one of my old students that I tutored. You probably know him. Charles.
François chuckled. I doubt that I know any of your students.
Im surprised. Id have thought youd know Duke Charles of Normandy.
Duke Char... the dauphin?
See, you do know him. He was a wonderful student. A pleasure to tutor, really, I can still remember how famously we got along. Pepin basked for a moment in his memories.
You tutored the dauphin? François eyes narrowed. How long?
Oh, he was but a child. Lets see, um, ten year ago, or was it...
No. How long were you his tutor?
Oh, how long? Well, let me see now... lundi, mardi... Four days. Yes, those were marvelous times, really. I still remember when he asked...
Four days!? You tutored him for four days when he was a child and you think that the dauphin will still remember who you are after all this time?
Pepin looked back at François as if he could not possibly understand why he was being asked the question. Of course hell remember me.
François pondered this for a moment. Youre probably right, he sighed.
François saw him off the next morning. The men embraced, then François helped Pepin up onto his horse and watched him go down the road towards Paris until he passed out of sight. Two weeks later, François received the summons by fast courier. It read:
Charles, by the Grace of God Duke of Normandy, Dauphin of Viennois, Regent for the Most Christian King Jean II of France, does hereby request the presence of François de Fargniers for conversation in our apartments at the Louvre at his earliest convenience.
Mon dieu, muttered François, what has Pepin gone and done now?