Blurtseau Lundif – Corsaire Extraordinaire
Hmmm, thought Blurtso, what shall I write? Maybe a story? Maybe a tale? Maybe an epic tale, one of adventure and intrigue? Yes, an epic tale with a tragic hero… a brave and chivalrous donkey, a Renaissance donkey who sails the seas in search of fortune and fame. I’d better find a good opening line… yes… an opening line that makes it impossible not to read on… an irresistible line… yes, an irresistible line thought Blurtso thinking long and hard what to write… I’ve got it!... “Blurtseau, the Renaissance donkey, thought long and hard what to write… but what words to address the King? What words indeed, from the pen of a renegade donkey exiled from happiness and home. Exiled, from the sight and embrace of the one who holds his heart, the purest of pure, the sweetest of sweet, the tender and ravishing Blurtsoiselle.
Qu’est-ce qu’on doit faire?! shouted the cook, breaking into the galley, Voilá qu’y viene le tempest!! What shall we do? snapped Blurtseau rising from the écrivan. We shall do as always! We shall turn and face the storm! No sooner had Blurtseau capped the inkwell and stored his pen than he heard the first wave crash on the foredeck. Mon Capitain! cried the First Mate, Nous avons besoin de vous! The chaos and confusion ceased the moment the crew spied the tip of Blurtseau’s nose, and by the time his ears and eyes came on deck the sailors were in line and standing at attention. Blurtseau paused for a moment in the hurricane gale, staring into the eyes of his terrified crew, then he walked slowly and steadily to the prow where he turned and cried with a voice louder than the storm… To your posts and ride out the wind!!...
“Ma chère Soiselle,” wrote Blurtseau, “The storm has passed and again I am spared death and condemned to this living grave. I trust you are well. I trust the geraniums are in bloom and winter is not upon you. At sea we are bound to a seasonless season. The waves rise and fall, and the stars set our sails to a horizonless horizon. How distant this dismal barge from our afternoons at Roquebrune, eating pumpkin pie on the terrace, gazing down at the blue of the Côte d’Azur! I remember you said to me, Blurtseau, Je t’aime viene ce qu’y viene… and I too said I could not stop loving you. Ma belle Soiselle! There are no pies this year in last year’s cupboard! I remain captive in the expanse of the sea, while you wander freely in the prison of your palace….”
Mon Capitain, said the First Mate, do not fall prey to melancholie. Exiled as we are, we may still sail in the service of our King. We may still fly the flag of France in our coeur though its colors do not dance at our mast. Courage et âme! mon Capitain. Courage et âme! And please, Mon Capitain, do not drink so much!... Mon cher Pableau, faithful First Mate of this vagrant voyage, I entreat thee, do not let the crew know of my sad and sorry state, but bar the door and say I have slipped into a deep and dreamless sleep…
“My dear Soiselle,” wrote Blurtseau, “The sea is surly and the day has expired, unremarked and replaced forever. The crew grow restless in their rocking cradle, and I retreat, hoping to find you in the ink on this page. Ma chère Soiselle, I am a root entangled, a dark stone in the flickering light. Not a month, two months pass before I am reborn in your arms, but a sleepless lifetime, a slow marching of shadows. And after the words, light, wind, fire, there are only lines, paper and ink, and the repetition of repetition. I can fill the page, synchronize the sounds, and between margins try to live, but it is impossible to paint your smile, or raise a rose, with emptiness. Ma chère Soiselle! The spark grows wild in the wind! The eyes flash from the fire! Then the flower returns to the root”
“My dear Blurtseau,” wrote Blurtsoiselle, “Captain of captains, slave to the sea, accept this plaintive plea from the heart that holds your heart more dear than her own. Three moons, swollen and swallowed, have marked the sky since last these eyes were warmed with words from thee. Terse and unbending in the ruffian wind, prow, mast, and rudder to his unsteady crew, only I, of all donkeys, know the willows that weep in your heart. My days unfold uncounted in the courtyard that has become my cloister. Arising at dawn, and following the sun’s course like a somnambulistic sprout, I wander from corner to corner until my shrunken world slouches to shadow, and I mourn ‘til morn tugs at my tether anew. Sleepless, when the moon is full, I sit at my window, comforted that on the arms of the sea my sovereign espies the same orb in the same sky, and borrows, as the moon borrows light from the sun, strength from the star in his life that is me. My dearest of dear, mon cher Blurtseau, the prince importunes daily, promising my release from this courtly captivity if only I will admit his advances. But fear not, mon cher, that the sad Soiselle who scribbles this assurance is any other than the one who showered you with kisses the day you departed, that dismal day, when the sun fled the sky to take refuge in my heart, granting me the courage and strength to stave off the dark tolling of these dungeon days…”
Blurtseau Lundif, Renaissance donkey and corsaire extraordinaire, unable to bear his separation from the lovely Blurtsoiselle, decides to leave his ship to the trustworthy hoofs of his faithful First Mate, Pableau Chanson, and attempt to enter
Sleeping by day and traveling by night, BlurtZo makes his way north through Castilla
My Lord, you look weary. Perhaps a pie to restore your strength?
Oh what a hunger! Only one more pie to go!
My Lord, you look unwell. Perhaps a nap to restore your health?
And while he slept, he was swept into the night.
Destined to awake in the dungeon at
Granted one last request, Blurtseau cleverly demands a pumpkin pie from the most famous bakery in France, “La Boulangerie Pableau.” Knowing the pie has been drugged, BlurtZo insists the guard take a piece for himself…
Seeing the guard drugged on the floor, BlurtZo siezes his opportunity and…
… finishes the half-eaten pie.
Now on the edge of hopelessness in the palace dungeon, BlurtZo eats his mask and cape and paints himself with soot from the floor… Zut alors! cried the guard. Someone has freed BlurtZo and put a zebra in his place! Left alone when the guard rushes off, BlurtZo wanders out of his cell and into the endless gardens of
Mon Dieu! said the guard. What’s that donkey doing here?!
He must have wandered away from the Queen’s hamlet. I’d better take him back…
At the hamlet of the queen, Blurtseau quickly becomes a favorite… Bonjour mon âne, said the queen, avez-vous faim? My queen! cried the king’s page. The peasants are angry because they have no bread! Don’t bother me! snapped the queen. If they have no bread, let them eat pumpkin pie! And so it was that Blurtseau Lundif remained at the queen’s hamlet, stuffing himself daily, until one day… My queen! called the king’s page. The prince is returning to town and asks if you would join him?
Moving with an agility uncommon to any creature who had just consumed a dozen pumpkin pies, Blurtseau leapt from a shrubbery, scaled the rear of the carriage, and locked onto the luggage rack as the coach sped off to
...moment’s before reaching the prince’s logement , he was thrown from the carriage. When he awoke, he continued on hoof into the city until suddenly…
There she was! The purest of pure, the sweetest of sweet, the tender and ravishing Blurtsoiselle! For a moment their eyes met… it was the moment he had dreamed of, the light that had sustained him, the breath that had filled his hours of exile, travel, and torment, it was…
…too much for his heart to bear, and the beam that streamed from her glance pierced him like an arrow, knocking him hoofs up and senseless in the gutter. Had he not been paralyzed and unconscious, he might have mistaken her glance for the most tender gaze that ever donkey gazed in the history of donkeys as Blurtsoiselle gazed down on the fallen hero whose mouth was filling with the water that ran in the street. But the fearless corsaire saw not this gaze, nor did he see Blurtsoiselle when he awoke hours later, half-drowned and still shivering in the Boulangerie of his faithful First Mate, Pableau.
Je suis désolé, said Blurtseau. I’ve been in
Write a note on this wrapper and I will deliver your words and with a pastry to the logement of the prince. I will say the order was placed by a messenger sent by Blurtsoiselle. The prince will have to accept the envoi! Génial! said Blurtseau. We’ll send her Petits Choux Chantilly! Petits Choux pour mon petit chou! said Blurtseau. Mon Dieu! said Pableau. Que vous êtes poète! And so, Blurtseau began to write daily to his dear Blurtsoiselle… and he continued to write even when he received no reply…
Mon cher petit chou,
The restless orb rises, carving the city in shadows and spreading its aurum on the Seine. We are apart. The many-colored sparks scatter and reveal the scarred face of the stream, and the weaving water clock marks what is lost… a memory walking along the quai, your shadow and mine, stretching to the beginning behind us, our gaze set on the future ahead… a memory we will never have. Alone, I turn and walk back, a single shadow searching for a time and place, when we were together…
Ma chère Soiselle,
Once again I pen your daily note. And once again I receive no reply. The days have become weeks and the weeks months, and each minute an eternity. You do not write. You appear not at your window. The faithful messenger who delivers my notes sees only your chambermaid at the door. I am adrift on a sea of doubt, and I see no shore in sight. And then the reply arrived…
My dear Blurtseau,
With heavy hoof I inscribe the sounds you have long feared to hear. I am gone. I have fled with the prince. I am his, and he is mine. Proximity has conquered distance. I know this will cause you pain, but I hope we can remain friends.
Blurtseau Lundif could not believe what his eyes had read. It was as if he were deciphering a language he did not understand and his guess at its meaning was surely mistaken. He read the words again. And again. Finally, he realized the letter was not written in a foreign tongue, and he did comprehend its meaning, and Blurtsoiselle was indeed saying what her words were saying, and she had given her heart to the prince, and her affections, and her soul which had been the North Star guiding Blurtseau through his endless nights. And he was annihilated. “I must find Pableau!” he said out loud. “For if I do not find a pair of loving eyes to assure me I am alive, I will simply cease to exist.” And in his greatest moment of misfortune, fortune was near, and when he cried out, “I must find Pableau!” Pableau—who had just returned from his morning errands—heard his friend’s cry and rushed to his side, saying, “Here I am my friend, here is your dear and trusted friend Pableau.” And those thirteen words were, for an annihilated soul on the edge of extinction, a silver thread which Blurtseau grasped with every fiber of his being, knowing that if he held on, and never let go, that the thread would slowly restore him to the world of the living. “My friend,” said Blurtseau, “I who have been reduced to ashes and rubble, and scarcely have a breath to offer, owe you the world.” And the two donkeys embraced, as if clutching to life itself, amid the boulangerie smells of flour, yeast, and baking bread.
I have received your letter and overcome its contents. Logically, I can concede the ravages of distance and time, and the dispassionate mind can imagine how you have arrived at your state and place. But sadly, what the mind might imagine, the heart struggles to comprehend. Perhaps the image I forged of you was not a being meant for the reality perceived by you or by me. We have reached the fork, and we have parted. You shall remain in your world, and I shall remain in mine. You ask that we might remain friends. Am I to pretend I do not feel what I feel? I’m sorry, but an honest heart knows only its honest ways.
Blurtseau L’un d’If
And Blurtseau considered the past. Must it now be erased? Must he sponge out the vanquished hopes and dreams, and memories of moments in the eye of the storm, when he and Blurtsoiselle had sat together, saying little, doing less, gazing out on a common tomorrow? Must the canvas be painted over in dusky black and grey? And to go on? To live? What reason to wake at dawn, and attempt to sleep at night? A single thought buoyed him; his love for Pableau. Blurtseau knew that his friend was concerned for his welfare, and that Blurtseau’s pain had become his pain as well. He knew if he truly loved his friend, he would have to do better. And with that one thought, Blurtseau recognized his obligation on the other end of the thread, the thread with which Pableau had saved him. And that was to console his friend by consoling himself. And so it was that our corsaire extraordinaire, Blurtseau Lundif and BlurtZo de la brava espada, reached into his own sad heart and pulled himself up, firmly, from the depth of despair. Then, with teeth clenched and steady on his hoofs, he rose from his chair, embraced his friend, and walked into the day.
Hurry my Lord! shouted Pableau. The gendarmes are coming! We must flee! Ahhh, said Blurtseau, slowly rising from the écrivan, the prince’s henchmen have found me. Flee? No, mon cher, not before my sword is drunk with traitors’ blood. And so saying, Blurtseau seized his mask and cape and rushed to meet his fate. What happened next is recorded reluctantly in the annals of history, for it can scarcely be believed. Moving with the speed of a wildcat, Blurtseau burst into the salon and sprang upon his enemies. He was here, he was there, he was here, there, here, there, there, here, here, there, fighting with the fury of ten Blurtseaus, plus two…
... and in less than fourteen minutes the soldiers were routed. Blurtseau searched the chamber for a sign of the prince but, finding none, abandoned the salon, darted into the street, and boarded the carriage pulled by his ever-faithful friend. Blurtseau and Pableau sped from Paris to Hendaye, Hendaye to Lisbon, and Lisbon to Sagres, where they took refuge in the fortress of Blurtseau’s seafaring idol, Henry the Navigator. Here, at the end of the earth, Blurtseau could begin to console his convalescing heart…
Yes, thought Blurtseau, a soul could yearn here.
Fearing the prince was still in pursuit, our heroes decide to purchase a fishing vessel and take up the local trade. In no time, they are indistinguishable from the natives…
Hey! said Blurtseau. Is that a pumpkin patch?!
Day by day, they learned the tricks of their trade…
I’m finished untangling this net, said Blurtseau.
How about you? Pableau? Tu es prêt?
You’ll never catch anything with that pole, said Blurtseau.
Zounds! said Pableau. I’ve got a bite…
Blurtseau was generally content to fill the hours with fishing, surfing, and drinking, but one day he found himself staring at the sea… He remembered his first job as an apprentice sailor in Marseilles, ferrying goods to the Château d’If. Once a week for seven years he journeyed there, loaded with fruit, bread, and meat. He knew that the prisoners tasted only the leftovers discarded by the guards—rotten fruit, moldy bread, meat too rancid to be swallowed—but Blurtseau was young, and he thought only of his fortune at having secured the job. He readily accepted his nickname “L’un d’If,” given him by the longshoreman when they greeted him upon returning from the Château, as a badge of honor, and promised to wear it the length of his days. His happiest times were after he had unloaded his cargo, and his unburdened skiff could ride the winds back to Marseilles. The afternoon light made the city shine, like a crown atop the harbor, and he was struck with the irony that only the guards, and prisoners with windowed cells, could see the beautiful scene. He also remembered his first bonafide tour, on board the Éspérance, learning the ropes and getting his sea hoofs beneath him. He thought of all who had helped him along the way, lending an ear, or shoulder, or laugh, and of those who had not. By the time he made First Mate he was sailing regularly to Tunis and Algiers, and it was then he met Pableau, the starry-eyed ensign whose heart spoke to him. A year later, when Blurtseau received his first command, he knew that the only sailor he could trust with his life was Pableau, and he hired him on as First Mate for six years in the Navy of the King, before Blurtseau fell in love. There was a ball thrown by the King for the captains and admirals of his fleet, and all the world changed when Blurtseau’s eyes met the eyes of Blurtsoiselle. Unfortunately the prince set his eyes on the same prize, and from that moment forward the King received damning reports of Blurtseau’s conduct aboard his caravel. There were accusations of volunteerism, embezzlement and misuse of goods, and, most damning of all, faithlessness and fraternizing with the enemies of France. Soon after, Blurtseau lost his commission, and would have lost his ship if he had not got wind of the news and sequestered the vessel. Branded as renegade and outlaw, he continued to sail, flagless, with his faithful crew and trusty First Mate, in the service of his lord.
Blurtseau thought of all these things as he watched the dying light flicker on the sea. He knew the book of youth was closed, and its pages would be consulted no more. It was time to write a new tale, sail a new sea, and find a new beacon to illuminate his possibility-filled pages…
Do you believe we will return to France? asked Pableau. La France? said Blurtseau. Ahhh… la France, ma mère que me manque comme la jambe que je me serais perdue… ahhh, la France. A time of change is in the offing… the King, whose favor I’ve lost, sits an uneasy throne. Revolution is ahoof. The people starve and the Queen fattens pets with her pies. I know, for I am as guilty as she. I have used infatuation as an excuse to ignore. But we live in an age of Reason, and the people will be heard. But who will govern, asked Pableau, when the King is gone? Who? said Blurtseau. A warrior, a poet, a prophet, a seer with a pirate’s principles, and a maiden’s heart. A pirate’s principles? said Pableau. Yes, said Blurtseau. For of all seamen, only the pirate practices democracy. Only there, aboard his ship, is each one alike, and all booty is divided evenly. The captain rules, as he must, with an iron hoof, but his authority rests on the vote of his mates, and his tenure may not outlast the gale. And a maiden’s heart? said Pableau. Yes, said Blurtseau. A heart made of constancy, compassion, and the hope that springs from innocence. Will you be the one? asked Pableau. Will you be the savior of France? No, said Blurtseau. I am but a child of the mother that bore me. And though I may lord over the ship I sail, the helm of France is reserved for a hoof more willful, and more determined, than my own…
You never told me why you decided to become a sailor, said Blurtseau. There’s not much to tell, said Pableau. Bof! said Blurtseau. Everyone has a tale. Well, said Pableau, my story begins in northern France… actually… I wrote a song about it. A song? said Blurtseau. Let’s hear it. As you wish, said Pableau. It goes like this…
The fog is low on the morning fields, the village bells are ringing,
the voices of the birds I know so well will soon be singing.
I stand in the door on the floor that’s worn out my hooves,
and dream of a place I can live the life I choose.
I’ve heard tales of lands and people across the sea,
and I know that beyond these hills is a kingdom meant for me.
I’ve been living the life of a child seeking approval and reward,
leaving others to make my decisions and my future unexplored,
but this aching inside is a voice I can’t dismiss,
if I don’t want to spend my life wondering what I’ve missed.
The time has come for self-responsibility,
time to take my chances to the kingdom meant for me.
I know these fields and houses, every alley and every lane,
they’ve told me who I am and tied me to my name,
but I know that there’ll be more than this to me,
if I shake off these reins and follow my curiosity.
It’s hard to believe in what I cannot see,
but I must believe if I’m going to find the kingdom meant for me.
Will I manage the changing seasons, will I wither or be reborn?
Will my offerings be outcast, my resolve be outworn?
Will I have the strength to answer when my demons call?
Will solitude devour me, will someone help me if I fall?
When the night is black will I be able to see
if I’m on the road to disaster or to the kingdom meant for me?
The bells have all stopped ringing, the workers are in the fields,
the fog has finally lifted and the horizon has been revealed.
I don’t know if I’ll be back this way again,
but there’s a part of me here that will always remain.
The sun is warm and shining above the trees,
and it’s high time I departed to the kingdom meant for me.
That’s lovely, said Blurtseau. And have you found what you were seeking? Yes, said Pableau. This is what I was seeking, this is the kingdom for me.
As thoughts of France faded in the wind, discussions of honor, justice, and national obligation were replaced by less-weighty concerns…
Do you think I’m fat? said Pableau.
Coming as he did from a long line of chefs, Pableau did the cooking. And he was assiduous. Every morning he would go to market to select the ingredients for the day’s repast, taking care to pick only the healthiest lettuce, the juiciest tomatoes, and the freshest bread for his bag. One day, as he was reaching for his favorite pastry, a petit chou chantilly, his eyes spied the most beautiful hoof he had ever seen…
Goodness me! he thought. How extraordinary! Then he let his glance continue to an even lovelier limb, and shoulder, and neck, and ear, and… then the vendor announced a sale on tomatoes and everything disappeared in a crowd of limbs and ears…
I saw a hoof yesterday, said Pableau, at market… A hoof? said Blurtseau. Yes, said Pableau. We were both reaching for the same petit chou chantilly. Oh, said Blurtseau, a petit chou chantilly! It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, said Pableau. The chantilly? said Blurtseau. No, said Pableau, the hoof. Did you manage to seize it? said Blurtseau. The chantilly? said Pableau. No, said Blurtseau, the hoof. No, said Pableau. That’s too bad, said Blurtseau. I may never see another like it, said Pableau. The chantilly? said Blurtseau. No, said Pableau, the hoof.
There it goes! cried Pableau. There goes what? said Blurtseau.
The hoof! said Pableau. The hoof! It’s on the road to Évora!
And so, while Blurtseau stayed behind, Pableau, with only his heart to guide him, started down the road to Évora, in search of a hoof.
Down the road he went, through the olive and cork forests, and past the ruins of lovers who had passed that way before…
until he reached Évora…
Certain that everyone in town must be familiar with the most beautiful hoof in the world, Pableau went in search of his Cinderella...
Hmmm, they must be building her a temple...
Whew! For a minute I thought those were donkey bones!
But when it became apparent that Pableau was not going to find the enchanted hoof in a day, or a week, or perhaps even in a month, he decided to seek employment at one of the local bakeries. In this, fortune was with him, for the first bakery he approached needed someone to work the early morning shift, opening the shop and firing the ovens. As the days passed, Pableau noticed that a certain villa, or “quinta” as he learned to call it, had a standing order for a dozen petit chou chantillies to be delivered daily. Hoping against hope that the consumer of those dozen chantillies might be the self-same shopper whose hoof he had spied reaching for a chantilly in Sagres, he ventured out to the quinta. When he arrived, he was met at the gate by the gatekeeper, who informed him he could not let him pass… Fortunately, Pableau had brought a special chantilly into which he had managed to insert a triple helping of whipped cream, and when the guard saw the magnificent treat, he quickly accepted it in exchange for Pableau’s entry to the grounds. The love-sick baker spent the entire day watching the door of the house, which opened on several occasions, taking his breath away each time, but not once did he see the magical hoof he sought. Finally, tired and discouraged, he returned to the bakery and the room he was let at the back of the shop.
The next day dawned damp and chilly, long after Pableau had risen from his water-logged straw to fire the bakery ovens. He had been toiling for hours when the first customers arrived, and by then the air in the shop was warm and dry, and even the cracks in the walls were thick with the scent of bread. Although it had been more than three months since his arrival, and though his excursion to the villa had been in vain, Pableau’s resolve remained firm, for despite his repeated failures he knew that the story of the boulanger in search of the hoof was making its way around town, and that notice of his existence would one day fall upon the ears of the being he sought. He was consoling himself with this hopeful, patient logic as he placed a fresh tray of chantillies in the pastry window, when a carriage suddenly appeared on the street, and before he could comprehend what was happening, he saw the most beautiful donkey in the world descend from the coach…
Are you Pableau the baker? she asked, when she had stepped inside. Yes, said Pableau, I am. And you have been seeking me for over three months? Yes, said Pableau, I have. Having seen only my hoof? And having seen that on only three occasions? Yes, said Pableau. And you have been discovered in the garden of my villa, she said, by my eyes and others’, skulking about the shrubberies? That, said Pableau, I cannot say, for your eyes may well have seen me, but mine, sadly, have not seen you. But yes, he continued, I was indeed on the grounds, for I bribed the gatekeeper to let me pass. I see, said Zurrabela, and now, may I know what you expect of me? I expect nothing, said Pableau, I only hope. Hope? said Zurrabela. And what do you hope? I hope, said Pableau, that yours is the heart I am seeking, and that mine is the heart you seek. But, said Zurrabela, that hope is without reason, for you have sought only a hoof. Yes, said Pableau, that is true, but I know my heart, and my heart knows reasons that reason knows not. But how can you know, said Zurrabela, that I seek any heart at all? I cannot know, said Pableau, I can only hope. Yes, said Zurrabela, as you have said… May I know how long you will lodge in Évora? Until my dreams are answered, said Pableau, or until they expire. To this last statement Zurrabela did not respond, but only gazed at the flour-covered donkey who had searched for her, tirelessly, having seen only a hoof. Pableau, too, remained silent, meeting her glance with one of his own, a glance that was open, unguarded, and fortified with conviction. Then Zurrabela made a motion to speak, then stopped, collected herself, and left the shop. Pableau remained inside, watching to see if she would make herself seen at the window of her coach, but she did not; instead he saw only what he already knew, an incomparable hoof, waving to the driver, in a gesture to depart…
It took Pableau seven days to recover from the impact of Zurrabela’s visit, and when he began to work again, his concentration was in short supply…
Over and over, he relived the encounter. And her words rang true. He did not know her. He had been chasing a hoof. Reluctantly, he had to consider whether his infatuation was more about him than it was about her. Yes, she had struck a note within him, but it was a note that had been waiting to be struck, and though it reverberated in every fiber of his being, she might feel nothing at all. But still… and despite all that… it was Zurrabela who had struck that note… Zurrabela and only Zurrabela… The next morning when Pableau opened the bakery, there was a note on the door…
“Meet me at midnight at the University.”
The University of Evora, a beacon of learning run by Jesuit priests for over two hundred years, was closed in 1759 when the ideas of the Enlightenment were deemed to be too dangerous for the town’s faithful. As a result, the building to which Pableau had been invited, and in which Zurrabela was anxiously waiting, had been closed for almost thirty years. When Pableau arrived, Zurrabela revealed her location with the softest and sweetest bray that Pableau had ever heard. Walking blindly, he followed the thread of sound until he came upon its Ariadne, and the two entered the building and made their way down a long corridor to the University library…
Once they were alone with the books, Zurrabela closed and bolted the door. Then she lit a candle that bathed the intruders in a circle of light…
So that you know the risk you run, said Zurrabela, I must tell you who I am. I am María Diana Sofía, third cousin to the Queen of Portugal, who, in case of my unlikely ascension to the throne, is being tutored by a Jesuit priest posing as a servant. My true identity has been kept secret to protect me from being sequestered for the ransom I would bring, and for that reason you must always call me Zurrabela, the nickname given me shortly after I was born. Before this University was closed, the crestfallen priest that is now my servant managed to slip away with a master key that opens every door of the building. I removed that key from his chain so that we could meet here tonight. If all goes well, and if you so desire, we may meet again tomorrow, and the night after that, from midnight until three strokes of the bell, at which time I must return to my quinta, replace the key on the chain, and sleep until I am awakened. Our meetings must become known to no one, for I am born to bear the mantel of royalty, and can not be seen in the presence of a bloodline beneath my own. For the duration of our encounters, we will have the company of one another, as well as the company of an estimable collection of literature from the countries bordering the Mediterranean. While I do not expect you to be conversant in all the tongues in which these works are written, I myself am versed in Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, and of course Portuguese, and will gladly and patiently illuminate the magic of these pages so that, together, we might forge a bond made of wisdom and beauty. In return, I ask only to hear from you of the world beyond my quinta, of the travels you have undertaken and the adventures you have had, for I have lived a cloistered life, and my heart and mind are yearning for a draught of free and open air.
Pableau listened to all that Zurrabela had to say without interrupting, and when she was finished he said, My esteemed Zurrabela—and I use only the name you request—you will find in me a grateful student of all that you have to teach, and an enthusiastic reporter of the life I have lived. Although the better part of glory in the adventures I have known belongs to my best friend—captain of the vessels upon which I have served—nevertheless, the tales I have to tell are replete with generous quantities of joy, excitement, and despair, and will transport you far from the captivity you have borne. I promise, he concluded, that you will find me here, faithfully, each night at the stroke of twelve, and that I shall remain at your side until the third bell rings, at which time, as you have said, you must return to the cloister that awaits you. With this, Pableau offered Zurrabela his hoof, which she accepted by offering her own, and when that lovely extremity—object of his dreams—was placed thus before him, he took it gently, looked her in the eyes and said, “Contrato feito,” to which Zurrabela replied, “Contrato feito.”
And so it was that the two donkeys met in the abandoned library, night after night, making their way through the pages of the past…
“Pableau learns Greek”
“Come Odysseus, said Calypso, enter my cave…
you will not be disappointed by the delights within.”
“Pableau learns Spanish”
“As our heroes were thus engaged, Rocinante wandered off to amuse himself with the queen’s mare, while Sancho’s grey befriended the servant’s mule…”
“Pableau learns Italian”
“Paolo opened the book and began to read. He began in a slow, steady voice, pronouncing each word precisely and without haste. Then he began to alter the rhythm, raising and lowering his voice as he did, and adding emotion when the passage required. Finally, as he approached the end of the poem, he paused, imperceptibly, then delivered the final phrase. When he finished, Francesca took the book from his hands, and that night they read no further…”
“Pableau improves his Portuguese”
“It was unheard of, the heiress to the throne eloping with a common laborer, but that’s exactly what María Diana Sofía proposed to do..."