My memoirs, and a lecture... about me?
I took refuge then, removing myself from public knowledge and view as I put together my memoirs; determined to capture my history for posterity to judge me by, and before it was lost or corrupted in the mists of time, and faulty recollection.
I continued to draw, throughout this time. I found it relaxing.
For my own pleasure, I captured image after image of my Rossignol, needing to keep her in the forefront of everything I did. Those drawings covered my walls of where I slept... a place known to very few, if any. The last image I saw each day, and the first I saw of the new day, was of her. My sun rose and set upon my Rossignol.
I needed to record what I knew of my family history, what had happened to me and to my family in every detail, and even to record what I knew and could piece together of Rossignol’s line, and how I had responded to all that had been thrown at me on that fateful day, when I was but twenty.
The Church did not escape my scrutiny. In damning them as I did in great detail, I damned myself too. I no longer cared. This work would seem to be the scribblings of a dead man. I described the plot to kill me. How it had been set in motion by greed and ambition on the part of that Bishop, whom I named.
I gave exhaustive details of how I had dealt with all of that, including how I had killed him; the pleasure I had felt in doing that, and how I had been revenged upon those puppets of the devilish Inquisition, seeing them burned upon the road before they could harm any more innocent men and women with their empty accusations.
The greater part of my memoir concerned my Rossignol--the most important part of my life. I put her image everywhere in the version of my book that I constantly carried with me. I would never forget anything of her, and I needed to capture ever memory. One day our descendants might read it and would see how great was the love we had shared over those seven years we’d had together.
It was a labor of love, but also of great anguish. I was careful to leave out any information that would lead others to Deux Eglises, where my descendants had first lived and thrived. I bound each copy I made, in Leather, embossed front and back with an exact image of the crucifix I wore, and I signed it within, and with a thumbprint in ink. It was written in the French of my youth, of course.
An Account of the Life and Times of Guillaume Justin de Vaillancourt of .......
I dated it, signed it and I even placed a copy of my family seal upon it. and within it.
It would be my opus magnus.
That seal of my family was also, by happy coincidence, the same shape, size, and had much better-defined markings, than the birth mark that I often had examined so closely on my Rossignol’s upper thigh both before, and after we'd made love.
Each year I added to that memoir as I recollected other things I needed to add, and I brought it up to date, until I felt that it was as complete as I could make it, and that it should rest.
I drew a map of what I remembered of the valley where I had lived, with the villages that I knew (no longer on any map), the river, the cave where Rossignol and I had made love so often; the warm pond on the plateau, and everything that I recalled. I placed those additional thoughts and drawings in the back of the original of that book.
I signed it with my full name, an earlier date, and I even drew my family crest in the front of it, determined that, though the Church had expunged me, I would not be entirely expunged from broader society.
With my scholarship much in demand in those intemperate times, I sometimes worked in the church, as I could by then, moving from Monastery to Monastery. I was Brother Herbert this time. I joined a monastery... the Franciscans, to see what questionable peace they might bring me, but there was none to be found. God was still ignoring me.
I could not ‘exist’, until I repented and atoned for my sins, and I could do nothing about it, being kept away from where I most needed to be.
I often left a copy of my rewritten memoirs in their archives as I moved around the country. I did it as an act of mischief to haunt them, if they ever found it and read it, and to inform future generations. The Church had long since forgotten their edicts against me, and it might one day wake up to the great evil that it had done in the name of god, and could begin to correct itself, but I held out little hope. Look how long it took them to acknowledge that Galileo had been right about the movements of the planets around the sun. His recanting what he’d said, did not change any of the facts, but it probably saved his life.
And then there was ‘The Index’. Of prohibited books. It took centuries to change that.
The years passed. Years? Centuries!
By then I’d learned to keep myself out of sight as much as I could.
I followed history and I learned from it. I learned how it was that those who gained great wealth learned to recognize opportunity and how to take advantage of it.
I made, and I lost, fortunes.
I did, however learn from my mistakes and I became very wealthy, as did my descendants, but I made sure nothing was easy for them, and that they valued what they had.
Of course they had their spendthrifts, adventurers, fools and... others I could be truly proud of, in that polyglot array.
I lived history, seeing changes taking place around me that I could scarce believe.
It was no longer as small a world as I had grown up in. I never stopped learning.
I even went to university every few decades.... several of them, to make sure that as science changed, I stayed up with it.
The biggest change, though it took me many years to appreciate it, was the printing press. That, with the abandonment of Latin as the language of knowledgeable discourse took a while, but it began to permeate lives, more and more powerfully. The church no longer had a monopoly on what people could believe... were allowed to believe. They'd lost their place.
Others had bigger armies, and even more power.
The church remained forever glacial in its progress, and that was what held it back. It always stayed several hundred years off the pace and behind what it needed to do.
Denial, denial, denial, and then capitulation, when it could no longer deny anything, and as the world opened up.
Progress could not be stopped. Steam. Electricity, Airplanes.
As boundaries were pushed back, I had more places I could hide, and I did.
I could never stay in one place for long, rarely more than twenty years and I learned to change my appearance, dress, character, style, each time I moved to where I had not previously been known.
I soon learned that the harder I tried to pull the mantle of anonymity around me, the harder others tried to move it aside and shine a bright light into my life.
I could not tolerate that, of course.
The one constant in all of this was that I became wealthy. I had estates everywhere. I needed them, as well as armies of employees; most of whom never saw me from the moment they started, to the time they retired.
It became especially difficult, after photography was invented, by the Daguerre, fellow.
The years passed, but not in the same way for me. I still did not age. I too, was being held in limbo... but for what purpose?
I watched history come at me, pass, and then get rewritten and buried out of sight. I kept myself busy. There were times when I dropped out of sight of society and of my managers, as I attended University, that I might stay up, with the changes and the knowledge of the day. I communicated my business wishes by written directive.
The Gutenberg press was invented, but too late to help me. I would leave my memoir as it was, just as it had left my hand.
I saw of the birth of Shakespeare and followed the reign of The Tudors (a highly dysfunctional family if ever there was one) in England, and of the travails of Catholicism in Henry the seventh’s life, and in that of his daughters; Mary (Mary, Mary quite contrary... another cruel tyrant in her own way) and then of Elizabeth, her younger half-sister, when she reigned for as long as many of those born in that time did not even have the luck to live. The plague, still ravaged, as did Smallpox--until Jenner came along.
The cartoonists of the day lampooned the aristocracy and the times, so well, especially in later years. Cruikshank, especially.
One of my greatest pleasures was in Music. I lived in London for many years and followed the life of Handel as much as I could. I confess that I even took lessons on the organ. I found music to be relaxing then, and in later years, but I knew I would never become proficient. I found his, ‘Messiah’, to be one of the most relaxing pieces of oratorical music I had ever heard. It brought me peace.
I moved around the world as I could, to evade political upheavals, and especially that of the French Revolution which hit too close to home for a while in Paris, and of that power-mad Corsican butcher, Napolean Bonaparte who dragged France from one bloody escapade to another... until 1812 anyway, when his Russia venture, nipped him, when winter cut his army down on his retreat from Moscow (there is a wonderful painting of that), and then at Waterloo, when the French ran into Wellesley. Nelson had already done his part to cripple the French navy in the Battles of the Nile, and at Trafalgar in 1805.
All of this I’d watched with interest... from afar.
After the uncertainty in France, and for some decades abroad, I managed to resume my pilgrimage to Deux Eglise, and the tombs there, which were kept as pristine and fresh as the day they had been built.
I had the only key to one of those... the one where Rossignol still lay, and I resumed my conversations with her, confiding everything in her: my occasional madness; those voices that kept me from our former homes; bringing her up to date on our mixed bag of descendants, hoping that I might one day be forgiven. After all of these years I held out little hope.
War, seemed to be the favorite pastime of the powerful and the mad.
I did not waste my time during such times of upheaval. I grew ever more-wealthy, and even more-protective of my anonymity.
I saw the advent of steam, the steam ship, the railway and the telegraph, as well as war, after war, after war.
The world ran on natural resources and I invested heavily in them. Of all of the changes I was witness to, there was none more disturbing to me than the development of photography. The human memory was short; the written word also had its limitations, but a damned photograph, lived forever.
I shunned all appearances in public, unless I was heavily disguised, and I did all of my philanthropic work through my company and selected proxies.
Then, one day, out of the blue in Paris, almost a full thousand years to the day, of that fateful day in 1222, I saw a poster with my name emblazoned upon it.
Lecture at the Sorbonne.
The account of Guillaume Justin de Vaillancourt (b. 1202 --- d. ?)
Open to the Public. Free.
Concerning the Ancient French language and some history of that time.
Prof. Burgess will give a preview of a document she recently uncovered in the archives of a monastery in southern France, dating from early in the thirteenth century.
I knew that name; Burgess.
She was giving a lecture on what she was calling The Ancient French language... from an account of the Vaillancourt Family of the 1200s
I had not gone by that name for a very long time. I was interested, of course.
She’d found a copy of my manuscript, left there from that time I had been in St. Denis., and some years after that contretemps with the Bishop.
I hadn’t been back there.
I shunned monasteries now, and that one was almost out of bounds to me anyway because of the internal pain I felt whenever I tried to approach it. I always felt so much discomfort when I passed near that place, even in a plane.
The lecture was to be held in the auditorium of the Voltaire building. Voltaire.... a man after my own heart. ‘Oh god (if there is one) save my soul (if I have one.)’. I knew it well. I had commissioned it and had even laid the corner stone more than a century earlier.
It had been raining like hell, so photographers were few, I am glad to say, but one had caught me a little better than I liked and had published it. That was what had driven me underground.
I would attend this talk, but I did not want the fanfare of being recognized. I had my beard trimmed, donned a slightly shabby suit, and left my hotel... and I do mean, ‘my’ hotel, and I walked to the Sorbonne.
I felt that old, and well-recognized discomfort creeping over me as I approached that campus and it grew stronger as I got to that building where the lecture was to be held.
Why did I feel that old sensation here, of all places? I was far enough from my former home that they had left me alone for what seemed like forever. I had almost forgotten of their war against me.
Something was amiss. I did not usually get these feelings of angst and discomfort in this part of the world, but more in that area to the west and north of St Denis, and never, this far away.
I did not understand it, unless it had something to do with that document of mine she was to lecture upon... it had been in St. Denis. It also, must be cursed. It made sense.
I shrugged it off, but that feeling would not go away.
It was time I attended university again. I even began to feel excited.
I left instructions with those I trusted to manage my affairs, and I dropped out of sight once more, as they were used to me doing. We would communicate by telephone and by mail, or even by this newfangled e-mail, but never by those voice-video conferences. I preferred not to be seen by any man.
I could barely keep up with the pace of change, but it kept me on my toes.
She, this professor Burgess, and her father, fell somewhere on some branch of my family tree, there were thousands of them, and I was not interested enough to want to trace any of them out, though her father was of brief interest to me. I may have to revive that interest.
The Burgesses, were descendants of mine, but I doubt they knew that the lecture she was about to give, concerned one of her ancestors who was still alive, and from about thirty or forty generations earlier. Me.
I had never published or publicized that family tree with its many branches, that I had painstakingly seen constructed, from those early years in Deux Eglise, so she may not know that she would be speaking of a very distant relative of her own, who would be in her audience, and with my many descendants, and her distant relatives, now spread out around the world, including her. There were too many of them, and too far off now in time, for me to take an interest in any of them.
I was curious to hear what she had to say.
Despite the discomfort creeping over me that seemed to insist I re-think my attendance, I resolved to attend that lecture anyway, and see what she knew, and had to say about me. How much did she know? But if she’d read it, she must know almost everything about my early life, my love, and of my war upon the church.
How fortunate that I had been dead for almost a thousand years!
I could not possibly have seen where attending that lecture would lead me, and her, but it set my feet on a new path altogether.