Prue Batten Interviews Tobias
It is my pleasure to welcome a gentleman whom we shall call Tobias. He claims to be the archetype of the twelfth century Everyman, but in meeting him I began to think otherwise. He’s an intriguing man.
PB: Tobias, welcome…
(He looks at me from eyes that are windows deep into his very soul. An aesthete, he’s dressed in a black silk tunic heavily embroidered in the eastern style in silver. His muscular legs are clad in black hose, he wears black leather boots and his chemise is the colour of mountain snow. He exudes excellent taste and grins at me engagingly.
T: I thank you for the invitation. I think I may enjoy this. Do you think so?
PB: Shall we see? Let’s start at the beginning, where and when were you born?
T: Hmm. (He frowns) Perhaps this is not a good start. It is not my modus operandi to reveal a great deal about myself. To all intents and purposes, my twin brother and I were killed in an avalanche in the mountains, near Pigna in Liguria. But … if you insist, I was born in Pigna in the twelfth century, close to the borders of Provence. I was born a few moments ahead of my brother and we are what many call misfits, Devil spawn … we are what you might call dwarves or little people. I prefer to think of us as small troubadours. But be that as it may, my brother and I … ah, it is of little matter…
PB: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life?
T: Our parents ran a small inn, called ‘Et Lyra et Laus Mea’. You know what it means? It is Latin of course and essentially means ‘Lyra and Song’ and will give those who care a clue to my background. My parents’ inn was renowned for the quality of its wine (for what Ligurian wine isn’t excellent?) and for the fact that they could provide flealess cots for travellers for a modest price.
If that traveller was a minstrel or troubadour all the better, because for a night of entertainment they could have their cot for half-price! So our lives were surrounded by melody and lyrics and it helped that my brother and I were born with God’s gift of good voices. Indeed whilst the village priest would have liked to see us drowned for the misshapen abominations that he thought we were, the rest of the village rather liked our harmonies. It saved our lives as infants and set us on a path from which there would be no return…
PB: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life?
T: Christ’s toenails! I am a troubadour! We fall in love with every woman in every court of every patron. I have ‘falling in love’ down to a fine melodic and lyrical art. You should see the faces of those women when I sing! They do not see a little man with bowed legs. They see a handsome knight who can tantalise them to ridiculous heights of ecstasy…
PB: Why do you think we fall in love? Is it an eternal emotion or simply a trick of nature designed to sustain the species?
T: Oh it is an emotion, have no doubt. Anything filled with joy and grief in equal measure is an emotion that tears at the very foundations of our being. That is why I sing the way I do. If lovers sustain the species in the process then well and good – although the Church may not see it that way.
PB: Tell us why you believe that falling in love might be a gift or a curse?
T: Did I say it was either? Mary Mother, let me see… I think it’s because of the joy and grief I mentioned. And is there not a saying ‘One cannot feel the joy of love without suffering the pain of loss’? Someone far more experienced than I said that. I believe it may have been a Mother who lost her Child.
PB: Tell us why you believe women really are or are not the weaker sex?
T: My employer’s wife, Lady Ysabel of Gisborne, has wielded swords, bows and arrows and suffered imprisonment and rape. And she survives with a heart that is whole and a love wider than the Middle Sea for all who surround her. Tell me THAT is the weaker sex and I will sing a chanson designed to ridicule your belief!
PB: (I love this man and his forthright manner. He is no dissembler!)
PB: Describe the type of man/woman you prefer?
T: People with heart and soul. I despise falsity and arrogance. Enough said…
PB: What do you want from life?
T: To live… by the Saints to live when so many that I love have not…
PB: (He gazes into the distance and one can see his heart breaks a little with that revelation. I feel I cannot pry.)
PB: In your relationship with others, how are you different with family than you are with friends? Why?
T: My friends ARE my family and I love them with all my heart. But if you talk about my tortuous relationship with my brother, there are issues. He nearly drowned in a ship off Aquileia with Richard I of England. Near-death colours one’s psyche to almost black, if not grey as grief. He was not the same after that…
PB: How do you decide if you can trust someone? Experience? First impressions? Intuition? Do you test the person? Or are you just generally disposed to trust or not to trust?
T: Ah, such a question.
In the beginning, I was naïve and trusted everyone, but life teaches one lessons. Life also teaches one to listen to the Voice of Caution, the Voice of Reason and ultimately, the Voice they call Intuition. Tests are pointless. A good actor can always be convincing. No, for myself I have this worm in my belly. He has a way of writhing if I am doubtful. He sends tingles through my body and if my hair stands up on my neck, I know I must proceed with caution. Mind you, such realization has been long in the coming.
PB: When you walk into a room, what do you notice first? Second?
T: Women, if they are present, then children, and finally men. The process allows me time to gauge how I might present myself, for I am also an actor, you see.
PB: Then when you walk into a room, what do you expect people to notice about you? Do you act?
T: Maybe, maybe not. Oh…
I have no told you, have I?
Not only am I a troubadour but I am also a spy for a network run by Sir Guy of Gisborne. We collect secrets and he sells them across Europe. I rely on your discretion to let this go no further…
But in respect of me, when I walk into a room, I think people will notice my clothes. I love good tailoring in fine cloth and it would be a sin not to have them remarked upon.
PB: (You see, I was right. An aesthete.)
PB: Is one sense more highly developed than another?
PB: (He waggles small, squat fingers in the air and then taps the side of his head as he speaks.)
T: I’m a musician. It’s a finely tuned thing made of fingers, the mind and one’s ears.
PB: What really moves you, or touches you to the soul?
T: Lyrics and melodies more often than not. I am not afraid to weep, you see. I almost wept at Sancta Sophia in Constantinople. Such harmonies! Even now I feel the prickle of a tear and my eyes sparkle. So much happened in that Byzantine city that I find myself almost shrinking from the memory… May we move on?
PB: Of course. Then tell me, what’s the one thing you have always wanted to do but didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t? What would happen if you did do it?
T: Ride a horse with élan. It’s to do with my size… Horses are invariably far too big for me, the spread of my legs you understand, and such a thing causes great physical pain to my thighs, my knees and indeed my lower back. It is a penalty I must pay. I suspect God gave me a voice of quality but balanced the richness of the gift with something that would always remind me of humility and being less than ordinary.
PB: I would be surprised if God would be so cruel.
T: You think? Observe.
PB: (He stands and I am aware of his height. He comes to the level of my chest. But his face? It’s so strong, so remarkable…)
PB: (I change the subject) What do you consider your special talent?
T: Singing and creating music and then a touch of acting.
PB: What are you most proud of about your life?
T: Avenging my brother.
PB: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
T: Killing in cold blood and with satisfaction.
PB: What are you most afraid of?
T: Ah… That question. It would be the one that Saint Peter asks of me when he judges me for murder. I am not afraid of being sent to Hell and worse of course. It will be as it must be. But I’m most afraid of losing the love and respect of Lady Ysabel and her young son, William. We are family, you see…
PB: What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
T: My place in the Gisborne house.
PB: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
T: I would have my brother beside me…
PB: (He moves in the chair, uncomfortable and again, I see a haunted man. It’s there only a moment…)
T: I am afraid I may have revealed too much of myself and I ask you not to judge me on what I have said. Instead I would ask that you read my story and judge me then.
Ask yourself how you would have reacted in the same circumstances. Only then can you tell me honestly if you think I am a self-opinionated and vainglorious man.
Until then, dear lady, Valete.
PB: (He stands, reaches for my hand, kisses it and looks at me in a way that could almost be seductive. He laughs softly and almost sadly and walks away.)