Archive for the ‘How to Stop a Bully’ Category

How to Stop a Bully (VI)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 1079

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.

G.B.

XVJ

The next day, Clementia invited us to partake of some pottage to thank us for supporting her son. Henry and I joined Josseran and we all enjoyed an early evening talk.

Revisiting the last few weeks’ events, we agreed that Henry’s plan hadn’t worked, but it did put Otto in the uncomfortable position of knowing that soon the truth would be known.

“What do you think will happen?” I asked Henry.

“Otto is lying,” he said. “It is common for kings and other leaders not to be able to read and write. That’s what scribes are for. Otto is pretending to do so, and has been signing charters unaware of their contents.”

Josseran, who was finishing his bowl of pottage, chimed in. “People think he can do so since he studied at the schola.”

“Well, we should say attended rather than studied!” joked Henry.

The three of us laughed while drinking our juice.

A rap at the door stopped us.

Clementia went to open it. When she did, the shape of a tall monk appeared in the dusk. His hood hid his face. He entered and signaled Clementia to close the door. Impressed, she complied.

Then he slowly pushed back his hood. Our faces reflected our surprise as we recognized Otto.

Otto the Red. The new and all-too-powerful Duke of Burgundy. Our now former classmate.

Nobody moved. He didn’t have his sword, but he slowly produced a dagger from one of his large sleeves. He carefully moved toward the three of us. We were trapped behind the table and too stunned by his sudden presence to be able to react.

When he reached the table, he put down the dagger and opened his arms. “I came peacefully,” he said. “To talk.”

We looked at each other, still unsure about his intentions. He looked at Henry.

“Can we sit and talk?”

“That’s what you came for?” asked Henry.

“Yes.” the Duke answered.

Clementia, who had been awestruck, regained her wits. “My Lord, it is an honor to have one of your rank visit such an unworthy place.”

She helped him be seated on a stool. Henry, Josseran, and I sat on the other side of the table, on the bed. Clementia shooed away a couple of hens that had become too curious about the new visitor. She brought back some grape juice for the Duke.

Otto thanked her. He was making a  great effort to restrain himself, something he was not used to. Finally he looked at Josseran, who quickly cringed. Then he spoke.

“I accept your help.”

XVIJ

We looked at each other, incredulous. Henry asked his brother: “You want Josseran to help you read and write?”

“Yes, but this has to be a secret. Nobody must know or…” he said, regaining his usual threatening tone. He caught himself, paused and started again with a softer voice.

“I would like to keep this matter between us. I am sure I can trust all of my subjects in this room. It is for the greater good of the Duchy.”

Josseran spoke for the first time.

“How…how do you want to do it? How do we keep this a secret?”

“At night the scriptorium will be the perfect place,” said Otto. “You are used to spending many hours there, right? So nobody will suspect you. An incognitus monk will join you, as I just did, and a few of my milites will be hiding around the place.”

“How can we trust you?” I asked.

“I came here tonight, alone.”

Josseran nodded. “I am willing to help you. But before we start,” he said, “I want to hear an apology for the beating. My face still hurts. I also want Ranulf and Toly to apologize.”

Furious, Otto stood up, unable to restrain himself. “Do you know who you are talking to? I made enough effort just by coming here. You will not get an apology from me or my friends!”

“No apology, no help,” the little Lord of Bagé answered.

Henry and I looked at him, surprised. Otto was getting angry. And the dagger was still at the center of the table.

“This apology doesn’t have to be made now,” I offered. “You can discuss it together in the scriptorium.”

“I am sure asking forgiveness through a penance can be considered as an apology too,” said Henry as he nudged Josseran. The latter slowly nodded. Otto sat back, still upset.

No one spoke for a while. Otto, trying to regain a ducal composure, drank every last drop of his juice, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Josseran was not done yet.

“What is your real level of reading and writing?”

Otto grew uncomfortable.

“Ahem. I can read but I am too slow for the mountain of documents that awaits me every day. As for writing, I got pretty good at signing. For the rest…” He extended his opened hand.

“So we will have to start with the basics,” said Josseran. “I expect you to do your homework.”

The Duke of Burgundy, growing impatient again, gave a quick nod.

“Finally,” said Josseran, “I want my family and my friends here never, ever to be bullied by you! Do I have your word?”

“I swear to God,” was Otto’s answer. We knew how faithful he was.

“Tomorrow evening at the scriptorium, then.”

Otto almost said “Thank you,” but caught himself and nodded slightly as a Duke should.

XVIIJ

As soon as Otto left, a wave of relief swept over us.

Josseran let himself fall back on the bed, breathing hard. We were still stunned by Otto’s visit.

Clementia was the first one to react. “Iesu! That was scary. I worry that my Josseran will spend his nights alone with this brute, but you all handled the Duke well. Here is an apple tart I made yesterday. Please have some.”

The sweet smell of the apples energized us up and we started wolfing down the tart. Between mouthfuls, I managed to talk. “Henry, in the end, your plan was perfect! Otto will no longer be a nuisance.”

Henry, gulping down his share of tart, added: “We can thank Father Eusebius for his help. He pushed us beyond our fear of Otto. He helped us see that even in a bleak situation there is hope!”

Josseran, who was eating like I had never seen him eat before, stopped a moment. “Looking at the situation from a different point of view helped us shift our thinking.”

“Tomorrow I will go to Berzé. I will bring word about the final events to Father Eusebius. I am sure he will be pleased. That was quite a challenge!”

“Nolle videre in somnis, fi,” chimed in Josseran.

We kept chatting for a while, enjoying the sweetness of victory, of having succeeded in our goal to get rid of Otto’s bullying.

“We have to share this. Other children need help around Burgundy,” said Henry. “Renbaudus, are you still writing your diarium?”

“Yes, I am.”

“We should make copies of this story from your diarium and send them to the scholas of other cluniac abbeys.”

And so we did.

The following weeks and months would prove very interesting, especially regarding the relationship between Josseran and Otto, the new Duke of Burgundy. But that is another story.

I here close the Diarum Renbaude for today.

How to Stop a Bully (V)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 1079

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.

G.B.

XIIJ

“A butterfly? Father Eusebius said that?” Josseran asked.

It had been several days since the news had spread and he hadn’t come back to the schola. Henry, who was feeling better, and I had decided to pay another visit to Josseran.

While his mother Clementia served us some bread and honey, I gave a quick summary of the good Father’s conversation.

“That’s what he said. We could turn him into a butterfly.”

“This, I cannot believe. Soon he will be Duke of Burgundy and nobody will have control over him, except the pope.”

Henry disagreed. “My brother will not listen to the pope. The only person I see having some sort of control over him is the great abbot.”

“True,” I said. “I remember how he talked to Otto in the church. He was not impressed by his new title.”

Josseran was doubtful. “He said that Otto the Red lacks self-confidence? I find that difficult to believe.”

“I think it is possible,” said Henry. “After the death of our father, Hugh and Otto were directly taken care by our grandfather Robert. You know his reputation. He was violent and couldn’t bear any opposition to his will. Otto had a hard time with him because of his strong personality. My grandfather hit him many times because he was not obeying. That doesn’t help feeling good about oneself and maybe deep down Otto has a lot of doubts.”

“But this doesn’t excuse his behavior!” countered Josseran. He remembered too well how much he had suffered from his last beating.

“No, Otto is not excused for what he did. We are trying to understand why he is a bully. Father Eusebius might be right. The new duke has no confidence. That’s something we should use.”

“How does someone get confident?” asked Henry, suddenly more alert.

“Father Eusebius has told me many times that self-confidence is the best gift to give to a child. Amazingly not a good sword or a promising horse. He is adamant about that. But I trust him. The way to get more confident is to do things that make us feel good.”

“Like eating?”

“No, Henry. It has to be related to someone else or for the greater good of Christendom.”

Henry stood up banging one hand into the other one. “I think I know how to turn my brother into a butterfly and at the same time solve all of our problems!”

We were scrutinizing him, waiting. Henry looked squarely at Josseran. “You are the solution my friend. You will become Otto’ best friend!”

XIIIJ

We had not seen Otto since the church incident. He was now about to be the new duke and there were lots of preparations for the festivities. Cluny was busy helping drawing new charters, sending messages all over Christendom in order to notify and invite crowned heads to participate in the ceremonies. The scriptorium itself was like a ruche. Monks relaying themselves with the writing and the copying.

Finally, we heard that the new Duke of Burgundy had arrived from Dole the previous night and would spend his morning signing all the documents that needed to be sent.

When we arrived in the scriptorium, Otto was busy signing a charter handed to him by Brother Servius. The new Duke was not enjoying this. Nearby, Bernhardus, the chamberlain, was waiting nervously with a few men-at arms. We pushed Josseran towards Otto and stayed behind, half hidden in the shadows.

Josseran, pale as snow, walked slowly towards the desk where Otto was, with great difficulty, signing  his name. When he saw the little Lord of Bâgé in the middle of the candlelight, he first was surprised and then barked, “You, get out of here!”

Josseran, even though he wanted to, didn’t move.

Otto lowered his voice into a growl. “I said, get out of here right now. I am busy but I am not forgetting about you. Wait until all of this is over,” he said, gesturing at the mountain of parchments on his pulpit.

“I can help,” whispered Josseran.

“What?”

“I can help you manage this work, said Josseran, his voice growing stronger.” I can read and write. You…you cannot.”

Protests emerged from the others. One of the man-at-arms was already unsheathing his sword. Brother Servius intervened.

“Josseran! You are insulting the Duke. Apologize right now!”

The little Lord of Bâgé was about to open his mouth again when Otto stood up. “Everyone, get out of the scriptorium!” he commanded. “I am going to personally take care of this little vermin!”

“You cannot read!”

The high pitch tone of Josseran’s voice startled everyone in the room. I was not expecting him to answer back like this. He seemed on a roll now. “Read the charter you just signed,” he said pointing to the parchment still in Otto’ hand.

The new Duke threw it on the pulpit as if it were burning his hand.

“How dare you give me an order?” he said.

“It is not an order my Lord. I am just a fervent vassal of yours who is worried about the future of Burgundy.”

Otto broke into a smile.

“I love when my subjects care about the dukedom.” He opened his arms inviting everyone to leave. “I want…I would like to have a word in private with my vassal, the Lord of Bâgé.”

There was no way to oppose the Duke’s orders. Henry and I reluctantly left the room with everyone else, leaving Josseran alone with Otto. We both were panicked. It was like having a mouse trapped with a cat…in a cage.

XV

Outside, in the cloister, the sun was bright, contrasting with the darkness of the scriptorium. We all waited, nobody talking, but all of us worrying. At least we didn’t hear screams from Josseran.

The great abbot Hugh who happened to walk nearby, surprised to see such a group of people outside the scriptorium, came to us and asked what was happening. The chamberlain, Bernhardus, told him. Frowning, the great abbot walked towards the door of the scriptorium.

“Father, I apologize but you can’t enter. The Duke gave an order,” said the chamberlain.

“Inside the walls of Cluny, I take orders only from God and the pope,” was the abbot’s answer. As he opened the door, he noticed my presence and gestured for me to follow him, which I did.

Our eyes had to get used to the darkness of the room. We noticed Josseran and Otto in one corner, the little Lord of Bâgé against the wall and the new Duke of Burgundy sword in hand, as if ready to strike.

“Stop this!” warned the abbot.

Surprised, Otto lowered his sword while Josseran ran towards us.

“In the name of God, Otto, can you start behaving as a Duke?”

“I was dealing with one of my lower vassals, as per my right.”

“No. You can’t do that. This is sacred ground and I am fully in charge here.”

Otto sheathed his sword, upset. Abbot Hugh was not done yet. “And what is this rumor about your reading and writing?”

Turning to Josseran he said: “You cannot tell a lie just to hurt people, my son. Every word of every sentence has a value. Why did you say that?”

Josseran didn’t hesitate: “Because it is true.”

“Nonsense!” shouted Otto.

The abbot was not about to get carried into a fight.

“There is no need to scream and accuse each other.” He looked around, picked up a small book of prayers and handed it to Otto, who started to step back. “Will my Lord, the Duke of Burgundy, be gracious enough to read for us a few lines?”

Otto was still retreating, starting to panic.

“I don’t…I don’t have to obey to you.”

“Of course you don’t have to, my Lord. It was just a polite invitation.” He looked at me and I slowly nodded.

“Perfect! We should all leave this room. Terce has already rung and it’s time for prayer.”

The Duke of Burgundy was more than happy to comply as were Josseran and I. As we were leaving, the great abbot said: “My Lord, I apologize for asking you to read. We will be more than happy to listen to you reading the breviary on the first Sunday of Lent as it is our tradition with the House of Burgundy.”

He then threw open the doors and the sun bathed us as we joined the rest of the group, still waiting outside.

Otto didn’t move. He stood frozen inside the scriptorium.

How to Stop a Bully (IV)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 1079

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.

G.B.

X

Still astounded, Henry and I entered by a side door of the church near the scriptorium. In the front, towards the autel, a few candles had been placed to provide more light. A man, alone, was kneeling. Praying. Nearby, close to the right pillars of the church, a small group of men stood waiting.

I silently pointed out our abbot, Hugh the Great, conversing in hushed tones with our prior, Father Odo. The highest ranking clerics of our abbey were there too. It was rare to see all of them gathered, waiting patiently for the Duke to finish his prayers.

Hugh Ist was barely 22, and had recently inherited the Duchy from his violent grandfather Robert. That had happened three years ago and he’d had to elbow out some of his uncles who believed they were the right heirs. But now, with the young duke married to the powerful Sybilla of Nevers, everyone was hoping for a long and peaceful reign.

Henry, gesturing, indicated that he wanted to get closer. So, we moved slowly, using the pillars’ shadows as protection. The Duke of Burgundy crossed himself, stood up, looked for a moment at the beautiful frescoes behind the autel, and walked toward the group.

I had already spent some time, invited by Henry, at the family castle in Dole, North of Cluny. I remember the young Duke had this boyish face that made him look younger, but with a sharp look that showed his determination. Tonight though, the sharpness was gone, replaced by utter sadness.

The Great Abbot came to him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“We feel for you, my son. No words can ease your pain. Only God knows the truth.”

Hugh Ist barely nodded and moved toward the group. He looked at them, his face pale.

“I have made up my mind.” His voice was heavy with sorrow. “The death of my beloved wife is a sign that I had been going down the wrong path. I was looking for power and riches. I have paid the price. I wish now to relinquish all my powers and retire here as a simple monk, atoning for my sins.”

A surprised murmur ran through the group. The chamberlain, Bernhardus, the closest assistant to the Duke, stepped forward.

“My Lord,” he said, “this is so sudden. Maybe you shouldn’t make such a decision under these extremes circumstances. I implore you to wait a few days.”

“This is irrevocable,” answered the young duke, the sharpness coming back into his eyes for an instant. “By the end of this year, I will have made a donation to Cluny, released all my possessions, and will own but a simple robe.”

“My Lord, the security of the Duchy is at stake. You brought peace to your subjects. You are the most apt ruler for Burgundy. If you retire, who will succeed you?”

Hugh Ist let out a sigh. “The next of kin. My brother Otto.”

XJ

Strong protests arose from the group. The Great Abbot had a hard time silencing them. Reminding them to respect the House of God was not enough.

In the midst of the noise, I looked at Henry. His eyes, shocked, were still on his brother, the Duke. He moved forward, as if he wanted to walk there, but I grabbed his arm and stopped him.

“Henry, you can’t go now,” I whispered. “We are not supposed to be here.”

The group had now surrounded the Duke, and the men from his retinue were obviously trying to convince him not to act. Hugh Ist seemed oblivious of them. The abbey officials, the Great Abbot and Father Odo among them, were patiently waiting.

Finally, the Duke raised his hand to silence his entourage. Detached, he looked at them. “Upon God, Iesu and the Spiritus Sanctus, I say it again: my decision is made.” He turned again towards the autel, signed himself, and left the church, his retinue following.

Bernhardus stayed behind and looked at the Great Abbot.

“You are the most powerful man in Christendom. You can influence kings. The Pope follows your advice. You must stop the Duke, or Burgundy will fall again into anarchy!”

The Great Abbot answered slowly. “Sometimes a man’s will is stronger than anything else. The Duke will not bow to any pressure,” he said. “We will have to deal with whatever happens.”

The chamberlain lowered his head. “This is so sad. Burgundy could have become the most powerful state of all Christendom. He could have become one of the most revered rulers ever. But now…”

“Now what?…” said a sharp voice from behind them.

Otto the Red had slowly moved forward, obviously relishing the turn of events. He was still surrounded by the two men who had been sent to fetch him.

“Now my brother retires,” he said, “I become Duke, and I rule Burgundy!”

“Not so fast,” interjected the Great Abbot. “You may be the new head of Burgundy, but I encourage you to think about what is going to happen. Do you think your uncles will accept your rule without lifting a finger?”

“I will fight and rout them out!”

“With whom?” asked the Great Abbot.

“With the mighty milites of Burgundy!”

“My son,” said the Great Abbot, “the moment you step out from this abbey, I would primo, watch my back and secundo, look for help and alliances. You will no more be a spoiled child at the schola where you can do whatever you wish with your friends. In the real world, you need to think.”

Otto wanted to retort but the Great Abbot didn’t let him. “Yes,” he emphasized, “you need to think or you will not stay alive for long.”

“I will kill all who don’t submit to my power,” said Otto. “I am the Duke.” He raised his voice, which echoed in the church. “I am the powerful Duke of Burgundy!”

He looked over the Great Abbot’s shoulder, a sneer on his face. He was looking straight at us. I didn’t like the look in his eyes.

XIJ

The next day, Otto didn’t come to the schola. I guess he was too busy securing his new-found power.

The mood in class was somber. Even Eginhard noticed it. Our plan, carefully crafted, had fallen apart upon the death of the Duchess. Josseran, when he learned about the latest events, had been particularly affected.

He went back home and didn’t attend any other classes that day. Henry also was deeply troubled. After all, this was a family matter. The loss of his aunt, the sorrow of his brother, the fight looming for the Dukedom. I, too, would have been too unable to cope.

Henry tried to put on a brave face for his classmates all morning, but he was not really there. In the afternoon, he practiced swordmanship harder than ever.

I didn’t. I went, as soon as I could escape, to Berzé. Sitting on his bench, Father Eusebius seemed to be waiting for me.

“Sit, my son. I heard the news.”

“This is a catastrophe, Father. Armageddon in Burgundy! We are doomed. With Otto the Red as the new Duke, we will all suffer!”

“Do I sense the ‘Great Shadow of Death’?”

I shut up. The good Father was inflexible about the “Great Shadow of Death” rule. Even after last night’s events.

“What happened since we met last time?” inquired Father Eusebius, as if nothing had changed in Burgundy.

A little bit shocked at his lack of compassion, I told him about our progress in reining in Otto’s bullying.

“That was luminous!” he exclaimed. “Henry, Josseran, all your classmates and you did a great job. How smart you littles ones are!” He chuckled. “I would have never thought about that.”

His reaction gave me some solace. He was right. The last few days had been peaceful for us. We had managed to find a way.

“What was Henry’s next idea?”

“We were supposed to follow Otto and learn as much as we could. Henry thought we might find out something we could use against him. To control him. Forever.”

“That was a good idea too,” confirmed Father Eusebius. “But not the best one. Now you know why. Controlling a bully is risky because people or circumstances change. Coercion is never a good idea. A willing person is much better.”

“It is imposs…” I cut myself short.

“Thank you, Renbaudus,” he said. “The ‘Great Shadow of Death’ is never helpful. You have a new situation whether you and your friends like it or not. You all worked hard and were able to neutralize Otto until today. The new situation might give you some new opportunities.”

I tried to share Father Eusebius’s optimism. “At least Otto will be far from Cluny.”

Father Eusebius’s reaction was instantaneous.

“Renbaudus! Don’t be selfish,” he said. “You think that as a Duke, Otto will be so busy hurting other people that he won’t care for Cluny. If you let him get out of hand, all Burgundy and beyond will pay the price. Even Cluny. You know him. You all are responsible for reining him in. You did it once. Think Renbaudus! With your friends, there must be something you haven’t thought of.”

He calmed down a little.”Remember that Otto the Red is a bully. The main characteristic of bullys is that they suffer from lack of confidence.”

“Are you serious Father? Otto is not confident? You should have seen him last night.”

“A bully lacks confidence,” he insisted. “He is seeking power. Did you notice that Otto only harasses weaker students? He never deals with adults or people as strong as himself. If he was confident, then this shouldn’t be a problem.”

I nodded, starting to understand Father Eusebius’s point.

“A bully is generally someone who was not respected at home. Someone who wasn’t cherished. If you can find something to do where he feels valued,” he said. “His life will turn around and he will be as gentle as a butterfly.”

His last words really surprised me.

“Otto, a gentle butterfly? How can it be?”

“Think Renbaudus, think!” answered Father Eusebius, enjoying this new challenge. “What could be done, so he turns around and becomes a gentle butterfly?”

He stopped talking, and appeared to be deeply thinking. After a while though, I noticed his body was slowly moving towards me. Father Eusebius was napping.

What could turn Otto around? I had to talk to Henry and Josseran. Maybe they would have some ideas. Nonetheless, I remained less than convinced. The “Great Shadow of Death” was still hovering above me.

How to Stop a Bully (III)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 1079

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.

G.B.

VIJ

The very next day, Henry and I again went to Josseran’s house. This time, we had decided, there was no way his mother would stop us from seeing him.

Clementia didn’t argue, and let us in. The room was dark. Josseran was resting on the bed, his small frame propped against a pillow. As we came closer, we noticed that parts of his face were bruised and swollen. One of his eyes was barely open. He made a small welcoming gesture with his hand as we sat on the edge of his bed.

Seeing him like this made me even more eager to move things around. Otto had to be stopped! His mother left us, and I started telling them about my meeting with Father Eusebius.

When I came to the part about thinking of Otto as naked, Henry laughed, but Josseran didn’t. Even though the image was funny for him too, his fear was stronger.

I kept going, trying to muster all the nakedness of Otto I could imagine. On a horse, at the schola, in the church. Josseran was still tight-lipped, not letting himself laugh. Finally Henry, who was enjoying multiple images of his brother naked, said, “How about, in the latrina?”

Josseran and I looked at each other and we burst into laughter. Now, we were all three rolling on the bed and clapping our hands as we pictured Otto, sword at his side, doing his thing. Naked.

Josseran was now crying with joy.

“Stop please!” he said, “My eyes hurt!”

“My stomach, too,” Henry managed to say between hiccups.

After a while, the laughter subsided. While we all were drying our eyes, Henry began talking: “My brother naked. That is such a good joke!”

“And it makes him not that scary anymore,” I said.

“True,” echoed Josseran. “Thank you for bringing me some joy. But out there, Otto is still roaming, fully clothed.”

I jumped in. “Josseran, if you can laugh at Otto here, it means that he is not that scary anymore. Next time you see him, keep this image in mind. Don’t let him overpower your thinking! Father Eusebius told me that we are what we think. Your mind is powerful, Josseran,” I said. “You can read and write better than any of us. You can also use that power against Otto!”

“I can picture him naked, but when he is going to hit me, that’s not going to help,” answered the little Lord of Bagé.

Henry was thinking.

“You are right, Josseran,” he said. “We have to reverse the trend. Now that we know we can laugh at him, we have to find a way to make him aware that we are not afraid of him.”

Josseran lowered his head. “I am still scared of him. I don’t want to be in a situation where I find myself alone with all three of them beating me.”

VIIJ

“Otto is not always with his cunning friends,” I said.

Henry slapped my back.

“That’s true, Renbaudus! And Josseran doesn’t have to be alone. We can organize ourselves to have at least two friends with him when he is outside the buildings. Otherwise, in the schola or in the scriptorium, he is safe.”

He looked at Josseran. “What do you think?”

“I will feel better, but we will have to organize ourselves very carefully.”

Henry nodded.”Yes, and the same for us. We cannot afford to be alone outside after dark.”

I stood up, troubled.”That can only be a temporary solution, because by protecting Josseran all the time or walking in groups, we will show Otto that we are still fearful of him. We have to beat him.”

“Beat him?” said Josseran, “What’s the point? He will get his revenge.”

We kept silent for a while. I looked at Henry. He was slowly blowing air into his fist, which was tucked against his mouth, a gesture showing he was thinking deeply. He suddenly stopped and looked at us.

“Father Eusebius is right. We are what we think. We can beat Otto. Not one time, as you said, Josseran. That would be playing his game and, as we painfully know, my brother is much stronger than us.

“Why don’t we change the playing field?” he said, eyes glittering. “How about we play by our rules?”

Josseran and I looked at each other, not quite understanding him.

“It is like when we train our physical skills,” said Henry. “I am good at swordmanship. Renbaudus, I can beat you more often than you wish. But when we are horseriding and dueling, spears in hand, there, my friend, you beat me more than I wish for.”

I slowly nodded, appreciating the compliment. Josseran was still skeptical.

“That’s a great idea, Henry. We bring him to play by our rules. But he doesn’t have to play at all.”

Henry stood up and started pacing the room, ignoring the few hens who were looking for scraps of food on the dirt floor.

“This is when we use our brains! Thank you God! I love Father Eusebius’ concept.”

He stopped, turned around and looked at us, opening his arms, smiling as if God’s grace had touched him.

“What could stop Otto the Red bullying forever?”

Josseran and I didn’t answer, not sure what Henry wanted to say. The look in his eyes was almost like he was getting divine guidance. He was truly inspired!

“Our best weapon will not be a sword, a spear, or acting as a group.”

He paused and pointed one finger up.

“No, if we want to have my brother leave us alone,” he said, “we need more than that. We need only one piece of information.”

VIIIJ

The next few days, Cluny Abbey became our battleground. First, we had to organize our own protection.

Classmates from the schola who had been shoved or beaten over and over were more than eager to help. We created schedules so that not one of us would find himself alone outside in the daytime. Josseran received special protection, and always had three or four classmates with him as he was going from home, to the schola, or to the scriptorium.

Our dormitorium, in the nutriti’s building, became our headquarters. Brother Eginhard was surprised to see almost everyone up even before he called us for Prime. Our whispers and sudden silences, when he entered our large room lined up with beds, frustrated him.

“God is all powerful!” he exclaimed one day. “He can see through you. You’d better not scheme, but instead study hard or you will go to hell!”

Otto too, at first, was upset. He couldn’t let his instincts dictate his behavior anymore. Several times, alone or with his friends, he tried to scare us. But as a group, we found new strength, hardening our faces to impress him.

Anyway, in the daytime it was difficult for Otto to act on a whim among monks or visitors to the abbey. Frustrated too, he kicked a few poor dogs, and even began slapping his friends. That gave us further confidence.

But Otto the Red was not stupid. He decided to wait, too. Arms crossed, with Ranulf and Toly sneering, they were letting us walk around freely, betting we would make a mistake and one of us would end up in their claws.

The status quo went on for days. Eginhard was baffled to have lost his grip on his far-too-obedient nutriti, and we were sticking to our plan. Otto continued to yawn during the lectiones, but then he had never bothered to listen or to write anything, even when the great prior, Father Odo, was lecturing.

Our newfound strength allowed us to implement the next step of Henry’s plan. That involved spying on Otto. It was difficult because we had to follow him within the limits of the abbey or listen to his conversations. Spying was a lonely endeavor so we were risking a lot if one of us were to be caught.

One evening, Guy, who was about the same age as Josseran, stormed back in the dormitorium. He ran up to Henry, visibly excited but trying to keep a low voice.

“Henry, I saw your brother the Duke! He just arrived with a small retinue!”

“What? Hugh is here?”

“Yes. He went straight to the church where he joined the great abbot.”

“Thank you, Guy. You did great.”

Guy blushed with pride.

I jumped in. “I will go to the church to discover more.”

Henry stopped me.

“No. If you get caught what are you going to say?” he said. “I am the one going, because, if needed, I can say that I wanted to welcome my elder brother, the powerful Hugh Ist, Duke of Burgundy.”

He was right.

“We go together,” I concluded, not willing to let him go alone.

The others blessed us while we surreptitiously left the dormitorium.

We quickly made our way among the buildings lit on the inside by flickering candlelight. As we were about to cross the main cloister leading to the church, we heard footsteps on the right and retreated into the safety of the darkness. Three shadowy figures passed us. They were walking briskly towards the church.

When we saw the face of the man in the middle, we almost let out a shout of surprise.

How to Stop a Bully (II)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 1079

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.

G.B.

IIIJ

Pain.

Pain in my back!

The devil.

The devil is grabbing my throat!

Horrified, I think about all those sculptures I have seen in church where poor sinners, surrounded by grinning monsters, are swallowed by flames.

“No!” I scream, “I don’t want to die like this!”

Die? Am I not dead yet? I hear a voice, “Renbaudus, Renbaudus!” Henry’s voice. He went to hell too? He couldn’t stay in purgatory?

“Renbaudus! Wake up!” said Henry.

I could feel the cold ground on my face. I was alive! And Henry too.

Slowly regaining my wits, I sat up. My back was on fire.

“What did he do to us?” I asked Henry.

“He hit us with the flat of his sword.”

“Your brother is a madman! This has to stop.”

“I know, but what can we do? We are not strong enough to stop him. At least not yet,” said Henry.

“We cannot wait. We have to do something now or one of us will really go to hell. I will talk to Father Eusebius. Maybe he can help.”

As soon as possible, I made the quick trip to Berzé where, as usual, Father Eusebius sat daydreaming on a bench near the presbytery.

His eyes lighted up when he recognized me.

“Here you are, Renbaudus. The smartest boy ever coming from the Duchy of Normandy!”

“It doesn’t do me any good in Burgundy” I answered somberly.

“What happened?”

“It’s Otto, again. He is treating us like animals. Because we are small, he is taking advantage of us.”

I quickly told him about the latest events from the abbey. Father Eusebius, carefully listening to me, nodded several times. “I see,” he said. “Another case of misdirected energy. Otto could be much more useful if he was not wasting his strength on petty conflicts.”

“You know that he is supposed to become a cleric, Father.”

Father Eusebius raised his white bushy eyebrows. “So it will get worse, unless something happens.”

He paused for a moment and went on. “If I correctly understood your story, Renbaudus, it seems to me that there are two problems.”

“Two? No Father, Otto is the only problem!”

“My son, he is the second one. The first one is you.”

“Me?” I echoed in disbelief. “But he is the one bullying us!”

“Yes. The bully is one part of the equation. But the first part starts with you, Josseran, and Henry.”

“We didn’t do anything wrong. How can it be?” I asked, unconvinced.

“I can tell you. But before I begin, would you mind going to the coquina and bringing me back some bread and cheese? Your case is interesting, and it’s getting me hungry!”

And alive too, I thought, while running to grab the food. Father Eusebius, with all respect, seemed to be only interested in problems to resolve. In conflicts to settle. In mysteries to solve.

Whenever I asked him a question related to my problems in Cluny, he always seemed to become more alive than usual.

V

Munching on the bread, Father Eusebius sat lost in his thoughts. Beside him I was patiently waiting, knowing that he would start talking when he felt like it.

“Are you a weak boy, Renbaudus?” he suddenly asked.

“No, I don’t think so. Only Henry can beat me when we play Knights & Heathens.”

“How about Josseran?”

“He is the weakest.”

“Is he good at something?”

“Yes. He is smart and very skilled at writing and reading. And he loves to write.”

Father Eusebius was back to munching. It lasted a long time. Unable to wait more, I let out my frustration. “Why are you asking me those questions?”

You tell me. Renbaudus.”

“This is not related to Otto and his bullying.”

“Do you think so?”

“Not really. I am sorry. So if I follow your idea, I am strong. Henry is stronger than me, and Josseran is smart and talented in writing.”

The good Father nodded. I went on.

“We can do things. If we combine our talents, we are doing pretty good.”

I thought for a while. “Maybe we see ourselves as weaker than we really are.”

“I couldn’t have said it better.” Father Eusebius chuckled.

“This is the first problem?” I asked to make sure I understood well.

“Yes. Each time you talk to me about Otto, you label yourself as smaller or weaker or younger. You have already lost the battle against Otto and there is no possibility for you to win. Your mind is already defeated.”

“But Father, he looks so strong and tall…”

“Here you go again!” laughed Father Eusebius. “Stop saying that or you will never be able to face enemies who look stronger.”

I was not convinced by his words. He had never faced Otto the Red for real. Henry’s brother was scary.

“I can see that you are still thinking about Otto from a losing point of view,” said Father Eusebius, still laughing.

I blushed. The good Father was a master at reading someone else’s thoughts. My face must have betrayed my feelings.

“Father, I want to think that Otto is not stronger than me but after yesterday’s events, it is difficult.”

“This pattern is already deeply rooted in your brain, Renbaudus. It has been a long time since the younger children of Cluny began seeing Otto as a danger.”

“Can you help us change that?”

“I can share a few thoughts that might be useful. After that, it is up to you and your friends.”

I knew that Father Eusebius was a man of modesty. I knew that what he would share, once again, would prove invaluable in my life. I nodded, waiting as patiently as I could.

Finished with his bread, he turned and looked deeply into my eyes. “Can you picture Otto the Red naked?”

VJ

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Otto naked? That was so funny that it took me some time to settle back on the bench. I had to wipe the tears from my eyes.

Father Eusebius could be hilarious sometimes. What a good joke! I had to tell that to Henry and Josseran.

The good Father was gazing at the hills. “That was not the reaction of a scared little boy thinking about Otto. Am I right?”

“Yes Father, I was not scared at all. Otto naked! That is so funny!”

“Now, can you still picture Otto naked but with a sword in hand?”

I laughed out loud at Father Eusebius’s new joke.

“Yes I can.” I could barely talk. This was so humorous.

“Now focus on him, looking at you, angry…and naked.”

“Yes, I see him!” I was almost choking.

“Now he runs to you, angry, his sword high…and he’s naked.”

“Yes, he is running! I am laughing at him and I dodge his blow. Carried away by his momentum he lands face down on the ground, showing his big butt to everyone!”

Father Eusebius laughed with me. “That’s a great conclusion. Well done, Renbaudus!”

It took me some time to gather my wits after such an entertaining exercise. Father Eusebius sat waiting, picking off crumbs of bread from his robe. A cow mooed in the distance.

“Father, what amazes me is that the same person, depending on how you picture him, can look completely different. Otto doesn’t look scary now.”

I scratched my chin. “I guess I have to carefully choose my thoughts. Do you think I can do that? I have always understood that thoughts just come up to your brain. You cannot stop them.”

“It is quite the opposite, Renbaudus. You can decide what your next thought will be. Fear or focus: it is your choice. Naturally, when something that looks dangerous suddenly appears, we react with fear and flee. But not all situations require this strong reaction.”

I reflected on Father Eusebius’ words. It is true that there was no need to be that fearful with Otto. He was not going to kill us. Beat us yes, but not kill us. I turned to Father Eusebius.

“Otto trained us to react fearfully. By threatening us and shoving us ever since I can remember, he drove us to be in constant fear of him. It is like when we give a bone to a dog everyday,” I said. “After a while he always expect us to throw him one. We are like pets.”

Father Eusebius’s white-haired head slowly nodded. “That’s how the world runs, my son. By training. Good or bad.”

We kept silent for a while. He sighed in appreciation. “Renbaudus, I have to thank you for being open to new things today. You could think differently because you tried hard. Well done!”

“Father, you are one of God’s most precious creations and I am so blessed to know you.”

“Leave God out of this, will you?” laughed the good Father. “He is too busy with other things.”

He turned to me and raised a white bushy eyebrow. “What will you do now?”

“I have to share this with Henry and Josseran. I will let you know their reaction. But I am sure they will have a good time too. If they do, maybe we can find a way to handle Otto…naked or not.”

We both burst into laughter. Again.

How to Stop a Bully (I)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 1079

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.

G.B.

I

“Give it to me.”

The command was clear. Otto was much stronger than we were. We couldn’t argue. Josseran slowly held out the little bird nestled in his cupped hands.

We had found it at the base of a tree, a small brownish sparrow with a broken wing. We were bringing it to the infirmary when we ran into Otto the Red.

As we looked on, powerless, Otto grabbed it by the head. The bird frantically flapped its lone working wing. Otto used his other hand to block it, squeezing the tiny body. Extending both arms so we could see the little creature struggling in his grip, he twisted both hands in opposite directions, breaking its neck.

Then, satisfied by his performance, Otto tossed the lifeless body back to Josseran, who was silently weeping.

“Next time, when I say help me with my homework, you help me. Understood?”

Josseran, tears streaming down his face, nodded. Holding back my tears, I looked up at Otto. “You are so mean!”

Instantaneously, he slapped me.

“You, Norman pig, you shut up or I will remove you from Burgundy, as I did with the bird. Go back to your filthy land!”

Living in Cluny Abbey and attending the schola was fine with me. Except for Otto. At 19, he looked big and strong to us. Obviously bored, forced by his powerful family to attend the schola, he only enjoyed fighting exercises. And picking on us.

Otto was descended from the prestigious and feared family of the dukes of Burgundy. Besides me, almost everyone around here was a vassal to them. Otto’s father had died five years ago, before his grandfather Robert died. The latter, a violent man, passed away two years later, entrusting the title to Otto’s elder brother, Hugh Ist.

Otto the Red was looking for power. Being a younger son, he had no chance to inherit the dukedom, which would pass to Hugh Ist’s children. That’s why he was still studying. Preparing himself for a career in the religious world. Even though I couldn’t picture him as a bishop, that’s what was likely to happen in his future. I didn’t like this idea and neither did Otto. As time passed, he became more and more violent, like his grandfather. Unfortunately, we had to be his classmates.

We often felt like helpless animals in his hands, even Henry, his  younger brother. Whenever Otto felt like it, he would hit us, kick us, or pull our hair, just to hear us scream. Of course all of this was done out of view of the magistri. What could they say, anyway? His family name was too powerful for most of the monks to do anything about it.

When Otto was absent, we felt happy. When he joined the lectiones, we felt anxious. Especially Josseran, who was only safe in the scriptorium. He would run there as soon as he could, away from Otto’s claws.

At 11, Josseran was one of the youngest at the schola. He was the son of Rainaud, Lord of Bagé, who had died when Josseran was only three. His mother, Clementia, a small rotund woman drowned in sorrow, had refused to retire at the nunnery of Marcigny, east of Cluny. She had moved from Bagé to Cluny where she rented a small house, always worrying about her son and his future. Even though she was obviously overfeeding him, Josseran was as thin as a knife’s blade, the complete opposite of his mother.

He was quick to understand things, although the big blue eyes on his thin white face always seemed somewhere else. I liked Josseran because, I guess, I felt close to him, neither of us having a father. Clementia had also a mother-like feeling towards me but it was too much for my liking.

Josseran’s grandfather, Rodolphe, was still managing the family lands. He was old and was looking forward to his grandson taking over the lordship.

I couldn’t picture Josseran as a fiery lord, though. He was much more comfortable among the books in the scriptorium. That was the only place where he would really open up, happy to be immersed in parchments and charters. Josseran had a much better understanding of books than Henry and I.

His writing style was already outstanding and the shapes of his caroline minuscule letters were amazing. He could even read very old charters.

Outside of the scriptorium, Josseran was miserable. Physical exercises were not for him, and he could barely lift his sword. In the schola, despite his intellectual abilities, he was no match for his much older classmates.

One day, the little Lord of Bagé didn’t attend class. Nor did he attend the following day. Worried, on the third day of his absence, Henry and I went around the village looking for him. We knocked at the door of his house and when his mother opened it, we knew something was wrong.

IJ

“What happened to Josseran?” I asked.

“He is not feeling well. A little bit sick,” she mumbled. “He has to rest.”

“Can we see him? We brought some homework,” I said while Henry showed her the bag he was carrying.

Clementia seemed uneasy. “I will give it to him, thank you,” she answered, snatching the bag from Henry’s hand.

We remained silent. She forced a smile. “Josseran will be back soon. He will be happy to know that you care so much for him. God bless you.” She slammed the door in our faces. We looked at each other and went back to the abbey.

“She didn’t even offer you some honey on bread,” Henry said, breaking the silence as we were walking. “You know how much she cares for you.”

“What can we do?” I asked.

“I  guess we should find Otto and talk.”

“Are you serious? Your brother is going to beat us just for asking him a question.”

Henry sighed. “Do you have a better idea? Do you care for Josseran? Obviously, his mother is scared. She is not going to help us. Remember, even sick as hell, he would go to the scriptorium. He loves it, and he was not there yesterday.”

With fear gripping our bellies, we began looking for Otto. When we asked brother Eginhard, he looked surprised.

“You are looking for trouble?”

“Not at all,” answered Henry. “I have to talk to my brother about something he asked me.”

“Since when does he asks you things?” laughed Eginhard. “I haven’t seen him around since breakfast.”

As an older student, Otto was able to have his own cell. We entered the room and called out for him. Nobody answered.

Vespers will ring soon” I said. “We must go to the church for prayers.”

“Anyway, it is getting dark. Maybe he will be there.”

“Well he should. How could he miss Vespers?”

“You know my brother,” said Henry. “I don’t think saving his soul is something he thinks a lot about.”

After Vespers, we went to the coquina. As we were walking past the bakery around the domus, I shared my thoughts with Henry. I was relieved not to have found Otto because I still felt scared just to talk to him. “We will have plenty of time tomorrow to find your brother. Cluny is a huge place. He might even find us before we do…”

“You couldn’t say it better!” a sharp high-pitched voice hissed behind us. We recognized Otto’s voice at once. Shocked, we turned around.

Henry’s brother slowly headed towards us, as if strolling, a smile on his lips. We started walking backwards. Horrified, I noticed a sword resting in his hilt. It looked huge.

Behind us we heard steps. We almost bumped into Ranulf and Toly, his two conniving friends. They shoved us against the wall of the domus.

We were trapped. And scared.

IIJ

Otto the Red walked towards Henry, getting very close.

“Here is my nosy brother who should study instead of asking the wrong questions.” Suddenly, he slapped him. Henry didn’t say anything, biting his lip.

Otto came towards me. Too close.

“And here we have the Norman scum again. No father, no mother, no name. Like William the bastard pig! No family, no bloodline. Just plundering and stealing lands. Like rats. Normans are rats!”

I lifted my head, angry at him for insulting King William the Conqueror, but he pushed me against the wall and grabbed my neck with his hand, slowly tightening his fingers.

“This is what we do here in Burgundy to Norman rats!”

Ranulf and Toly were sneering, encouraging Otto to get rid of the Norman maggot. Suddenly, he let go, stepped back and while I was massaging my throat, coughing and trying to recover my breath, he spoke to Henry.

“You think my soul will not be saved? You don’t trust me enough to get a good deal with God at the right time?” He laughed.

“You heard us?” asked Henry.

“I was there, in my cell. Who do you think you are? I am too important to answer to little boys’ calls. Especially from a foreigner who had better get out of Burgundy!” I lowered my head, my throat still hurting.

“What did you do to Josseran?” said Henry.

“I thought so. You were wondering about that gnome. He got his lesson,” he sneered, looking back at his friends. They laughed.

“He will be back soon.” said Ranulf

“If you can recognize him,” added Toly.

At this point, things went fast. Otto ordered us to kneel down and his friends shoved our faces to the ground. Then we heard the cold rasp of the sword being unsheathed.

I panicked, silently starting to cry. Henry, his mouth full of soil, screamed at us. “Are you mad? You cannot kill us! This is sacred ground. God will punish you. You will rot in hell!”

A kick from Ranulf in the ribs choked him. The swoosh sound of the blade and Henry’s scream terrified me.

He…he killed Henry!

A second swoosh. Shouting, I asked God for forgiveness. The impact of the blade on my back was unbelievable, and then everything went black.