"That is a bad choice, for the pen is to give you liberty, and the story will not do that. However, there is a lesson in the story, and you shall have it. It was just before one of the battles between Queen Blanche and the Duke of Burgundy. I was a soldier then, in the service of a good knight; and although I was not his squire, but a simple man-at-arms, ready to fight on horse or on foot, or not to fight at all, just as the case might be, still I was a better man than the squire—for he could not write, any more than his master could. So, just before the battle, the knight sent for me, and, said he, 'Jasto, I have heard that you are a wise fellow and can write, and I want you to write me a letter.'

He knew I could write, because I had told him so, and had told all my companions so, for this I found I must do, otherwise they would never be aware of it; for, not knowing how to write themselves, how could they comprehend that I knew? 'I want to send a messenger back to my castle,' said my good knight, 'and I want him to carry a straight and fair message, which he can not do if I send it by word of mouth. So you must write what I wish to say in a letter to my seneschal, and the messenger shall carry it.' With that, he showed me a little piece of parchment that he had with him, and a phial of ink and a pen, and he bade me sit down and write what he told me to say. I liked not this haste, which gave me no time for study and preparation, and I told him, with due respect, that I could not write unless I had a table on which to lay my parchment. Whereupon he made a man with a cuirass get down on all-fours before me, so that on this man's steel back I could write as on a table.

My master then told me to write how that, knowing the enemy would soon reach the spot where we then lay, and feeling the want of a stronger force, he desired his seneschal to send him five more men, and five horses, with arms and all things needful, and also to send therewith a new casque which he expected from the armorer, and a long sword which hung up in the great hall, and divers other things, of which I wot not now. When I came to write down all this, I found myself sorely troubled, for you must know that to write a letter requires a knowledge of many things. One must know what letters are needed for a word, what order to put them in, and how to make them.

"Some words need a good many letters, and if the letters in a word are not the right letters, and are not set in a befitting order, it will be of no use for any man, even the most learned scholar, to try to tell what that word is. So I soon found that for many of the words, and of those letters I did remember there were some that I could not make, for I had forgotten their shape. But I would not tell my master that, for it would have been a sorrowful thing to have fallen from my high place as the most learned person in our company, not to speak of the punishment I might have expected.

So I wrote on, making the best words I could devise with the letters at my command, and urging my master to repeat every sentence, so that I should be sure to get it straight and fair; and in that way I learned the whole letter by heart, and read it to him, when I had finished it, so that he was greatly gratified. 'Let me see the letter, my good Jasto,' said he; and when he looked at it, he said, 'The words seem very much like each other'—which was the truth, indeed, for most of them had the same letters in them, measured out in very much the same measurement. 'But it all looks simple enough,' he went on to say, 'and I greatly desire that I could read it, but that is beyond my powers.' And then he made his mark, which his seneschal well knew, and the letter was done.