Young Audience / Tales
Do you know the story of the Pope’s mule? It’s an amazing story that is sure to enchant literally every child. A mule as a main character is a…. a charming little person with a few prickly flaws.
She was not just any mule, she was not a street animal. Of course not. It was THE Pope’s mule.
The story takes place at the time when the Popes lived in the beautiful city of Avignon.
Avignon is very famous for different notable aspects: you will find a bridge that has been collapsed for so many centuries that no one has the memory of having seen it whole. The custom is to dance on it, since you can’t cross it anymore, and you dance, you dance, the whole city dances, all in a circle.
The countryside produces an excellent wine, Chateau Neuf du Pape, which remains a legendary value in our wines.
All this to arrive at the Palais des Papes, a splendid medieval and gothic building, in which the biggest French festival of live shows takes place every year – you MUST go to Avignon at the beginning of the summer to be noticed.
The Popes lived there during the 14th century – so my story is not contemporary.
At that time, the pope was a debonair man, who liked to walk around the city on the back of his favorite mule.
Every time he went out, all the grooms took better care of him than of a princess. She was washed, brushed, combed and perfumed. She had all her little decorations, red tassels on her neck, a charming little saddle, ribbons, bells sometimes, to give a little festive air to the ride.
The Pope was crazy about his mule – he loved her as if she were his family.
And the two of them would go for a walk, meet the locals, chat, share a glass of wine, and the Pope would do everything he could to make life sweet for everyone.
His mule was well aware that he was the beloved animal of this good man whom everyone loved.
She had developed her own habits and found it quite normal that people offered her oats, presented her with fresh water bowls, took the trouble to chase away the flies that pretended to annoy her, and even, during the summer – it is hot here in the summer – provided her with shade so that she could walk without suffering too much from the heat.
So they lived a nice and perfect life.
One day, a mother threw herself in tears at the feet of the good pope and his mule. She was just widowed and had a little boy to take care of and… she was crying, this lady.
The Pope was moved and promised to take care of the boy and his mother.
An appointment was made for the next day, in the courtyard of the palace, as they were leaving for their walk.
The next day, the mother and her son showed up. The son’s name was Tistet Védène – he was one of those young asparagus that went to seed, a real string this boy, with the acne that was raging on his face.
When he saw the Pope’s mule brought in, all beautiful in her walking clothes, he rushed to her. He stroked her, he flattered her, he kissed her, and he marveled at such a beautiful beast, and at the air of intelligence that one saw in her eyes, and at the so charming way in which she lowered her neck, as if she was embarrassed by so many compliments.
He had tears in his eyes, the boy, so much he admired the miracle that was this mule.
For the Pope, it was an illumination. Tistet Vedene loved his mule? Then Tistet Vedene would be in charge of taking care of her, while he, the good Pope, had to spend his time to take care of the affairs of the Christianity.
Everyone around them was amazed – no one had ever had this honor before.
The one who replaced the Pope was almost the Pope. Tistet Vedene was covered with honors. The dark days were over.
Every day he took care of the mule.
In the stable, he was so adorable – he insisted on walking her, she was bored the poor dear, locked up almost all day. The Pope, delighted, watched them go, holding his bridle and her dashing along the roads.
Once away from the city… ah, sir, if only you knew what a depraved being this child was. He was torturing the poor thing. He forced her to go over paths where she was close to breaking her neck. He tied it to dead trees and left it in the sun while he slept in the shade. He slipped thorns under her saddle, rubbed her with thistles.
He made her climb, by force, to the top of the bell tower – can you imagine a mule? How does it go down a spiral staircase?
She will have gone mad,” said the Pope.
And here were the carpenters at work, to bring her down with a winch, while Vedene laughed so hard her stomach would explode.
Do you think the Pope would have noticed? Not for a second.
He let himself be bamboozled by the beautiful words of the Vedene monster. He had so many tears of emotion in his eyes that he couldn’t see what she was into.
He invited Tistet Védène to his table almost every day, he promised him a great future.
In the stable, when there were the other grooms, Tistet was a model of hypocrisy. Little darling by here, pretty sweet by there, he had no words tender enough for her.
But the mule was smart – it wouldn’t happen like that. Oh yes, he enjoyed torturing her? Oh yes, he made sure that the abuse was not visible?
She was going to have a good laugh.
She waited for the right opportunity – and one day when Tistet was rubbing her sides with his thistles on a very rocky path, she swerved and hurt herself badly. She was bleeding too much for it to go unnoticed.
Tistet hit her and insulted her – but she was quite happy, how was he going to explain that?
This is what he did.
They returned to the Palace and Tistet ran to throw himself at the feet of the Pope, he was in tears.
“Father, Father, your mule! She saved my life! She risked her life for mine, oh Father I am so unworthy…”
The mule was disgusted. This creep lied more than he breathed, not a proper word came from his lips. Ah, it was necessary to hear the fable he had imagined. It was epic. The mule played the biggest role – she returned to the Palace, wounded but heroic and victorious.
It was the Pope who finished her off – the poor man who did not know how to see malice and wickedness.
“If she saved you, Tistet, it is because she loves you. From now on, you will be alone in caring for her.”
Then hell had no bounds – and he mocked her and he mocked – he took jealous care to give her stale water, rotten oats.
She lost weight? yes, that’s the wound, poor thing wasn’t that strong.
She lost her taste for life – what is the point of living to live this?
Fortunately for her, the Pope had a mission of trust to give to Vedene. He sent him to Paris as his official emissary.
The pope told his mule about it, during their walk – he was very sad and promised her that it wouldn’t happen too often, he knew that she would be heartbroken by this departure…
She began to believe in life again that day.
In the late afternoon, when Vedene should have already come to torment her, she hoped with all her heart that he had already left.
Then, when he arrived, in his splendid clothes of emissary of the Pope, to taunt her one last time before leaving, it was too much.
She agreed to follow him out of the stable – he was showing off and strutting in front of the young pages – he forgot to look at her.
So she stood behind him – right behind.
She thought of all the abuse, all the humiliation, all the falsehood of this bad guy, she let herself be carried away by his anger.
And when her anger was at its peak….
She took her momentum and bam… she rushed with all her heart – so hard, so hard, that she propelled Vedene in the air and was found dislocated down the walls – or not. Finally he disappeared.
It was the most monumental kick in the history of kicks.
As for the Pope… he was stunned at first. But he loved his mule so much. He thought that she was too angry that Vedene had left, she had a jealousy attack.
Now imagine for a second that you are placed on the mule – it is no longer she who is being harassed, humiliated, tortured – it is you – it is you who will find yourself dangling from a rope that is not very strong either… you who will see what it is like to give the most masterful hoof beating – it can be quite amusing – and a little terrifying but not too much so – for the children’s audience.