I'm blessed with two jobs. Actually four. But since writing doesn't seem like work to me, and I don't think being a student technically counts, I'll stick with two.
My first job is at a nursery. I work every Tuesday morning from nine to noon, and I absolutely love it. The kids are great, my co-workers are great, and even the pay is pretty good. But my second job is that of a lowly dog-walker. Having walked dogs for two years before I moved, I'd say I have a little experience. And so I present to you, dear readers, nine things your dog walker doesn't tell you.
1: Don't waste your money on a fancy dog-walking service unless it's your only option. Kids between the ages of 10 and 13 will charge the least and do every bit as good of a job. Most of them don't understand the concept of money (or how expensive everything is nowadays) very well. But if you don't have any kids in your neighborhood (or if none of them are homeschooled and you need your dogs walked before 4:00), try a college student. They'll charge more, but will probably settle for less than the going rate for professional services.
2: If you end up hiring a kid, expect some sort of parental involvement. This might range from getting Mom's phone number to Dad negotiating wages to someone actually going with the child on the walks. On a rare occasion, a parent might come inside your house, especially if you hire someone younger than 12 or who has never walked dogs before. You might want to discuss all of this beforehand.
3: Every once in a while, I'll bring a friend on a walk with me. Sometimes they'll even hold a leash. But I don't let them into your house.
4: Speaking of coming into your house, you can give me your garage code or some keys to the front door. I'm impartial, and I'll do my best to keep everything safe and confidential. I'm also pretty careful about locking up again afterwards. However, when I stop walking dogs for you, I'll need to meet with you to return your keys. If not, I'll just keep them as a memento.
5: I'm a lot more dedicated than you think. Wind chill is -5 degrees? I've walked dogs in that. Thirty-two degrees, rainy, windy? I've walked dogs in that, too. Unless I'm running a fever, I won't let sickness get in the way of my business. Heck, I walk your dogs more faithfully than I walk my own dog.
6: Speaking of my own dog, yes, I've called your dog by my own dog's name. Probably more than once. But I do remember your dogs' names. I've been known to get attached to my charges. Sometimes, I'll spend a little extra time at your house, just bonding. When one of my clients moved, taking my beloved Annie with them, I cried. (P.S.: I'd also love to know your cat's name, if you'd be so inclined to tell me.)
7: Sometimes, your dogs get so excited to see me that they wet the floor. I wipe it up when I get back, and if there's an all-purpose cleaner in sight, I'll use it. I don't want you to think that you've hired me for nothing. But don't expect me to wipe up wet pawprints after it rains.
8: If you could pay me on a regular basis, that would be great. I hate reminding my employers...wait a second....
Whatever I'm supposed to call you, I hate asking you for money. But I'm not giving my time and services away, either. You can pay me once a week or once a month, or every time I show up if you're so inclined. (Just a hint: younger dog walkers need to be paid more often. Cash on a weekly basis keep them motivated.) If your dog walker is high-school age, it's safe to assume they have a savings account and you can start giving them checks if you need to. But cash is better for tax evasion. Just kidding--we don't make enough to report.
9: Please communicate. If you're home sick from work, please text me so I don't trudge five houses down the street just to risk getting the flu. I had one client/employer/owner leave me daily notes. I'd spend quite a bit of time writing notes back. Of course, kids would be more interested in notes than older teens and college-age dog-walkers. But still, keep me updated when you don't need my services.
And there you have it! Nine facts about your friendly neighborhood dog walker...or at least the honest ones. Not all dog walkers have high moral standards, and I don't recommend you hire just anyone. Take your time to pick the right dog walker, just like you took your time picking your dog, and it'll be a match made on the other side of the rainbow bridge.
Do you have a dog? What's its name? Have you had any interesting experiences with dog walkers, or are you a dog walker yourself? Tell me about it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers--and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
Ah, yes...I am excited.
If you've been following our short stories every Monday, you might have realized that "A Prayer for Purpose" has come to a satisfying conclusion. At least for some readers. Personally, I think I could have done better. But as a random Viking from the first How to Train Your Dragon movie says, "Out with the old, and in with the new!"
This is why I'm excited.
I'm going to try something new. Something different. Something I've never tried before. Is it science fiction? High fantasy? Or simply a different style of writing?
Ah, wait. I'm a nerd. Nerds are never understood, except for by fellow nerds. So I can tell you blatantly that I'm going to try writing a stream-of-consciousness short story, and you're going to have absolutely no idea what that means.
Unless, of course, you Google it. I love Google.
So maybe I shouldn't have told you. Or maybe it doesn't matter. I'm not quite sure why I feel evil, unless it's the fact that I'm going to be using a style of writing that has allowed famous authors stretch a few hours of a character's life into a full-length novel. God willing, I'll be able to take a boat ride and make it interesting. Or standing in line for a theater. Or being a homeschool student and sneaking downstairs for some fruit snacks to eat during physics.
But something big is cooking, and I'm sure you're going to love it.
Happy belated Valentine's Day to all of my wonderful readers!
I hope that you were able to celebrate the feast day of a randomly-chosen third-century saint with as much chocolate, hugs, and stuffed animals as your hearts desired. I got plenty of chocolate, and I don't need any $1 plush bears from Dollar General, but I could use a hug from my sister. Typically, I only get hugs from her under three circumstances: if she wants something from me, if she misses me (for example, when I come home from summer camp), and if I chase her around the house long enough to catch up to her and forcibly obtain one.
Other than that, I spent most of my day at church trying to learn a fancy part on the piano that I ended up performing with more mistakes than a seven-year-old's rendition of Beethoven's "Fur Elise." But I'm guessing that no one in the audience noticed. Hopefully.
At any rate, somewhere between the eating of chocolate and practicing of piano parts and my wondering if I should get my sister a box of chocolates or one big caramel-filled chocolate heart, I started thinking about this strange holiday.
Back in the day, people were more apt to celebrate the feast days of Catholic saints than they are today. And there are quite a few saints. To date, there are over ten thousand canonized saints. Things were more simplified in the Middle Ages. There was no such thing as canonization until the turn of the millennium. Local saints were celebrated at a particular place, such as Saint Winnifred's following at her hometown of Gwytherin, Wales. Basically, the only qualification for being a 'saint' was living a particularly holy life, performing extraordinary miracles, and/or being martyred. Most female saints died as virgins, although a few of them were noted for raising their children in the fear of the Lord.
Saint Valentine lived in the 200s AD in Italy. He wasn't a very popular saint, although churches worldwide claim to house his relics. Everyone was too busy preparing for the season of Lent to pay much attention to him. One of the only reasons we might celebrate St. Valentine's Day is a pagan Roman celebration celebrated in mid-February that was aimed to make women fertile. This festival was Christianized because...well, why not?
Valentine's Day picked up speed as time went on. By the Victorian Era, people made and bought elaborate valentines like the one above--not at all like the ones we buy in $2 packs of two dozen. Today, people spend billions of dollars on things to show their significant others how much they love them. I don't have anything against any of that, especially the sugar. This is the one time of year I get Little Debbie cakes. I just think we should try to show people how much we love them every day, instead of just on the day that celebrates the life and death of an obscure saint.
What did you do for Valentine's Day? What did you get? And do you have a hard time getting hugs from your siblings? I'd love to know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
“Well, son?” Mattathias asked Lukas as they walked in the barley fields together. “Have ye decided?”
“Nay, I haven’t,” Lukas admitted. “I’m too hapless to copy manuscripts, I can’t switch between languages fast enough to be a translator, and I can’t be an herbalist fer fear I’d give someone the wrong medicine.”
“Ye oughtn’t avoid a task simply because ye’ve failed at it,” Mattathias said. “No one expects ye to be perfect the first time ye try something.”
“I know—but—the jobs in the scriptorium just felt...stuffy,” Lukas said. “I can’t sit still long enough fer those. Ye know that.”
“I do.” Mattathias chuckled to himself. “Even as a toddler, Lukas, ye squirmed….”
“Don’t all toddlers squirm?”
“Not as much as ye did.”
Mattathias’s eyes shone, and he ruffled Lukas’s brown curls. “God has big plans fer ye. If He didn’t, ye wouldn’t be here right now. I’m not about to know what they are, but ye will. Give it time, give it faith.”
“But how will I know?” Lukas asked.
“What is it that ye love doing, more than anything else?”
Lukas thought. He enjoyed reading. Praying wasn’t that bad either, although he knew he didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as some of the other monks did. The one thing he loved, foolish as it sounded, was getting his hands dirty in the fields. He always loved the smell of soil, its cool feel between his fingers. He laughed inside when he scattered seed, and pride mixed with the sweat and soreness of harvest.
“More than anything else, Father,” Lukas said, “I like being out in the fields with ye.”
Mattathias smiled and knelt to examine the base of a barley stem. “A lad who speaks three and a half languages oughtn’t waste his time doing what an illiterate man could.”
“I can spend all winter in the scriptorium.”
Lukas held his breath. He would ask Father Sean’s approval, of course, but he wanted his own father’s first. Finally, Mattathias stood with a smile in his eyes.
“Do what ye will, lad,” Mattathias said. “I’d be glad of yer help.”
Lukas beamed. “I’ll go ask Father Abbot!” he shouted as he ran inside.
After some searching, Lukas located Abbot Sean in his cell. The door was open, and voices came from the inside. Lukas stopped and listened.
“...They’re coming too close, too often,” a voice was saying. “The monastery is hidden from the coast, but if they were to settle here….”
“I am aware,” Father Sean sighed. Lukas peeked into the room. The abbot was sitting at his desk, his head in his hands, while Lukas’s cellmate Eoghan was trying to keep his fear off his face and his hands, which doubtlessly reeked of the fishnets he worked with, behind his back.
“They didn’t come too near the coast this time,” Eoghan said. “We watched until they were out of sight.”
“Ye did well not to startle the others,” Father Sean said. He looked up and saw Lukas. “Let me think and pray, Eoghan. Thank ye for yer information.”
Eoghan smiled at Lukas as he left, and Father Sean bid him come in the cell. “Father Abbot, what are we to do about the Norsemen?” Lukas asked. “Why do they come so near St. Anne’s Cleft?”
“There are many things that have no answers,” Father Sean said. “Do not be afraid, my son. I’ve faith yet that the Lord will protect us.”
“Will we fight them if it comes to it?”
Lukas opened his mouth to protest, but he quickly shut it again. What wrong was there in self-defense? Did not even Peter have a sword? Yes—and the Lord rebuked him for using it.
“Father Abbot,” Lukas said, “the reason I came was—I wish to apprentice myself to my fa—I mean, Brother Mattathias—and learn farming.”
“Farming, my son?”
“Aye, Father Abbot. I have Brother Mattathias’s blessing.”
Father Sean managed half of a smile. “Ye’ve mine as well.”
Lukas smiled and thanked Father Sean as he left. His failures in the scriptorium, his excitement at the eminent Easter feast, and even his fear of a Norse invasion seeped out of his mind. He had a task on earth, one he loved, one he’d do for his whole life. And he was excited.
If you're a writer--whether you mess around with fanfiction on Wattpad or are an award-winning published author--you'll know that writers need to know useless facts.
See, for us, they're not useless. We need to know what kind of make-up was in common use in the Byzantine empire and under what circumstances sheep were used to mow the lawns at the White House. And I'm here to give you a few useless facts about Texas that you'll need to know, whether you're writing a Wild West novel or a short story set in modern Dallas.
That being said, I can only tell you about north Texas--think Dallas, Fort Worth, and north of that. Down south by San Antonio is the hill country, which is pretty much a hotter version of the Ozarks, and further south in Houston and Galveston is extremely humid and practically Mexico. But north Texas is a pretty neat place, and having lived here for almost five years, I can tell you that it's a very interesting place as well.
First off, there are seasons. But kind of. They usually alternate days within the same week. For example, this past Tuesday was a high of about 35 degrees with freezing rain in the afternoon and evening. Tomorrow, Friday, is supposed to be a high in the 60s. But for the most part, summers are hot and dry. Grass dies without sprinklers, and even native plants start to turn yellow after a while.
Speaking of native, we've got quite the assortment of plants and animals. Just in my neighborhood--I live near the woods off a rural highway--I've seen squirrels, snakes, turtles, rabbits, armadillos, coyote tracks, raccoon tracks, and possum tracks. And there's a lot of birds. We've got everything from crows to sparrows to hawks to owls to my personal favorite, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, which is also the state bird of Oklahoma.
And the crows absolutely love to congregate in Walmart parking lots, but that's a story for another day.
Oh, yes, can't forget about the bugs. There are tons of bugs in Texas, and they're all huge. The grasshoppers are about three inches long. Out of the 3,800 species of spiders that live in North America, about 3,850 of them are found in Texas. We also have tarantulas, scorpions, black wasps, red wasps, and fire ants. (But they'll usually leave humans alone so long as we don't bother them.)
Another thing about Texas is the sun. It's hot. It's super hot. It's furious and raging and has declared war against every living thing. Think Adolf Hitler with a flamethrower. Cars are deadly hot in the summer unless you have air conditioning, and don't try walking on pavement without shoes.
The people who inhabit Texas are awesome. There's really no other word to describe them. They love Chick-fil-A, sweet tea, and Jesus, and they sell purses made out of red, white, and blue leather with special pockets built in for concealing a gun. Some of them wear shorts in December; others refuse to leave the house when the temperature dips below 45. A quarter inch of snow shuts entire cities down for a week.
Oh, speaking of snow--we hardly ever get snow. We get ice.
What did I forget to mention about Texas? What's a cool fact about the state you live in? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
“You’ve the makings of a fine herbalist, lad,” said the Irish Brother Nolan as he introduced Lukas to his herb garden. “It’s practice and book learnin’ that’s all you need, and you’re plenty apt for all of that. Try not to step on the garlic, it keeps the bugs away.”
Lukas nodded. He recognized parsley from his time in the kitchen, then quickly realized Brother Nolan was continuing on his tour without his student. “We’ve milfoil, mullein, comfery, St. John’s Wort—don’t touch that, that’s nettle—and try to keep them all straight.”
“Why do we grow nettle?” Lukas asked.
“The sting’s worth the relief it gives from arthritis,” Nolan said. “It also cures coughs, runnin’ noses, and kidney stones. And then here’s burdock, calendula….”
Brother Nolan breezed through the rest of the garden so quickly that Lukas’s head spun by the time he was finished. He was no more acquainted with the herbs than before his tour. He was beginning to think an apprenticeship under Nolan was a bad idea.
“Now, do you know what parsley’s good for?” Brother Nolan asked.
“Seasoning chicken, sir.”
“I know, but besides that. Parsley makes things come out of yer nose and chest,” Nolan explained. “A tea from the leaves will cure any blocked nose.”
“Could you teach me to make that?” Lukas asked. “Brother Cormacus—one of the men I share my cell with—has a terrible cold. None of us can sleep at night fer his snoring, and he won’t stop complaining besides.”
“I’ll certainly teach you, lad,” Brother Nolan said. “Parsley is simple. It’s the leaves you use, just as if you’re cookin’ with them. They’re stronger dried.”
Lukas learned how to pick the parsley leaves, then wash them and bundle and dry them. Then, they picked some milfoil and calendula flowers and dried them in the herbalist’s shed. On his way back from the mid-morning prayer service of Nones, Lukas finally received permission to make some parsley tea for Brother Cormacus.
“Some tea was made for medicine, not pleasure,” Brother Nolan said. “Steep it a good ten minutes, and be sure you strain the pieces out well. Cormacus isn’t easily pleased.”
Just as ten minutes had passed, and Nolan had watched Lukas strain the tea to his satisfaction, Brother Gerard limped inside, having been kicked by one of the yearling donkeys he was trying to train. Brother Nolan lost no time in gathering herbs and poultices and bandages. Lukas felt out-of-place and underfoot. Quietly, he took his tea and left.
Brother Cormacus was an artist, and a skillful one at that. Lukas found him in the scriptorium, decorating the beginning of a chapter in the Gospel of Mark. Lukas knocked quietly at the door.
“I’ve brought ye tea, Brother Cormacus,” he announced, knowing that Cormacus would never bother to look up from his work. He was honestly glad of it. He set the tea on the desk, conscious of a mild scowl in his direction. “It’s fer yer cold.”
“Oughtn’t ye be working, foundling-boy?” Cormacus snapped.
“I am working.”
“Any fool can make tea. Go do something useful.”
Lukas had learned long ago not to listen to anything that Cormacus said, but ignoring his sharp words was easier said than done. He left for the herbalist’s shed and got there before Nolan had even noticed he was gone.
Nolan put Lukas to harvesting St. John’s Wort, and he worked diligently. He loved the soil. He might enjoy being an herbalist, after all. Suddenly, he saw Brother Cormacus’s hunchbacked frame walking towards him, as determined as a man so stoop-shouldered could be.
“Worthless swine!” he shouted. “Learn yer craft, or go back to the ocean ye came from!”
Nolan looked up sharply from where he was harvesting a few comfrey blooms. “What happened?” he asked.
“I gave him tea!” Lukas said. “He needn’t be sour about it.”
“Hot parsley tea?”
“Is there any other way to drink tea?”
“There is,” Brother Nolan said, sighing. “Parsley tea taken cold is good for a cold. Parsley tea taken hot stimulates urination. I’m sure Brother Cormacus needs no help with that.”
Lukas stifled a laugh, but then he paled. “Suppose I had given him the wrong medicine,” he said. “What then?”
“Then you admit yer wrongdoing and take responsibility for yer actions. You’re only human, lad. You’re not expected to be perfect.”
Lukas looked down at his soil-stained hands. If he couldn’t make a tea the right temperature, he had no business taking lives into his hands by making medicines that could destroy them.
Ah...flu season. Typically, as a homeschooler who doesn't get out much, it's something I'm privileged to avoid. Even when my sister comes home from school with a cold or a cough or a stomachache, I'll put my faith in God and probiotics and stay healthy.
Not this year.
What started off as a cough and a low-grade fever turned into a nasty combination of sneezing, hacking, shivering, and brain fog. The brain fog was probably the best part. Everything was funny to me. Especially the Vine compilations I watched on YouTube until my phone battery reached 2%. And the "50+ People Who Are Having a Worse Day than You" was also great. Watching people holding the handle to their car door after it fell off, or having the lid to their pressure cooker stuck in the ceiling after the whole thing exploded, was both hilarious and perspective-changing.
You know what else is perspective-changing? Realizing that if I lived in a different time or place, I wouldn't have the luxury of being able to stay in bed watching YouTube all day. Heck, if I lived back in the middle ages, I'd probably be married with a kid or two of my own by now. Life wouldn't stop for me because I was sick. I'd still have to cook, spin, sew, garden, and take care of the kids, and all without the help of modern medicine.
And for the most part, the medicine back then was crap. But some of it still works today.
See those beautiful flowers? That's yarrow, also known as milfoil and soldier's woundwort and a whole bunch of other names, including cure-all, because that's pretty much what it does. It's my favorite herb. Why, you ask? First off--look at those beautiful flowers again. Imagine that they smell like honey. Imagine that the leaves are like little green feathers. It's beautiful. It smells good.
Second, the leaves stop bleeding. A few years ago, I cut my toe with some glass. I put pressure on it, elevated it, and nothing happened. Then I put yarrow on it, and the bleeding stopped almost immediately. Same thing when I gave myself a six-inch gash shaving my legs. Do you know how much razor cuts bleed? The shower was starting to look like the murder scene from Psycho. And yarrow fixed everything up.
Third, yarrow can be taken internally to fix pretty much any physical problem. Cold? Check. Flu? Check. Fever? Check. The day I contracted the flu, I woke up with a low-grade fever. I took some yarrow, and half an hour later, my fever was gone. Temporarily, of course. And I still ached and everything, but that's the thing about yarrow. Instead of just masking your symptoms like all today's over-the-counter medicines do, yarrow helps fix the actual problem.
Where can you find yarrow? I'm gad you asked. It's found naturally all over the world, from China to Britain to North America. In fact, it grows wild close to my house. But you're better off buying it from a reputable dealer online, or at your local health food store.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to binge-watch some more YouTube....
“If there’s one comfort to be had,” Lukas murmured to himself as he entered the scriptorium once again, “it’s that I won’t have to worry about Brother Titus anymore.”
After the red ink fiasco, Titus had politely yet forcefully declined to work with Lukas any further. Instead, he was being turned over to Brother Gregory, the more congenial scribe who was also a skilled translator.
However kind a man Brother Gregory was, he was perpetually late for everything. Lukas waited fifteen minutes in the scriptorium before he arrived. Both the rotundity of his stomach and his chronic shortness of breath made it apparent that Brother Gregory cared too much for his intellectual pursuits to be bothered with physical exercise.
“Good morning!” Gregory greeted, with as much of a smile as was allowed by the Law of St. Benedict. “And how does this new day find ye, lad?”
“I’m well, Brother Gregory,” Lukas said, fidgeting impatiently. “What do you want for me to translate?”
Gregory held out a large, ancient book to Lukas—a Latin version of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. “Read this to me in Gaelic.”
Lukas held the book carefully, opening it to its first page. “All of Gaul is divided into three parts,” he began. “One part inhabits...rather, Belgians inhabit one part….”
“The Belgians,” Gregory corrected. “Latin doesn’t have words for a, an, or the. You’ll have to remember to throw them in.”
“How will I know where to put them?” Lukas asked.
“Nay, Brother Gregory, I won’t. That’s what ye’re supposed to teach me.”
Brother Gregory leaned back in his chair. “There are certain words,” he said, “that simply sound like they need an article adjective.”
That, sir, Lukas barely kept himself from saying aloud, was about as helpful as snowshoes on a horse.
Lukas studied his textbook again. “Would you give me an example?”
“Certainly. Gloria in excelsis Deo. It isn’t translated as ‘Glory to God in highest,’ it’s ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ Certain words. If it doesn’t sound right, add a, an, or the.”
“Suppose I don’t know if I should use a or the,” Lukas said. “What then?”
Brother Gregory smiled and raised his fat hands towards heaven. “Use yer judgment.”
Lukas tried his best not to sigh and turned again resolutely to his book. “The Belgians inhabit one part, the Aquitanians another, and Gauls...the Gauls...themselves the third.”
“Very good, lad,” Gregory said. He handed Lukas another book—this one a Greek medical textbook. “Read this in Latin.”
Lukas fumbled with the heavy volume and tried to read the faded Greek letters. “There’s a word here I don’t know,” he said. “What do I do?”
“Assume it’s a name,” Gregory said. “Ye won’t be faulted, not with a medical textbook.”
The next few hours were tedious, both because of the rapid switching between three different languages and Brother Gregory’s inability to offer sound advice. He mentioned twice that translating was better learned than taught, that only practice would rid Lukas of his novice errors, but his student began to think otherwise.
Finally, the bell rang for the midday prayer service, and Lukas was glad to leave the stuffy scriptorium behind him.
“How went the lessons?” Mattathias whispered as he stood in the pew next to Lukas.
“Not well,” Lukas said quietly. “If I end up doing anything with books, it will probably be making the vellum to write them on.”
Lukas held his breath as his hand trailed over the notebook. So much work put into making it—the scraping of the cowhide for the vellum, the tanning of the leather for its cover, the painstaking cutting and binding of pages. And now his own hand was going to add a page to the copy of the Gospel of Mark that the scriptorium had been working on for two months.
Lukas jumped at the sharp voice and looked up at the senior scribe, Brother Titus. “I’m here fer the copywork,” Lukas said. The fewer words spoken to Titus, and the fewer words he was forced to say in return, the better.
“You will be writing in Latin,” Titus said. He set a finished copy of Mark’s Gospel on its stand for Lukas to use as a reference. The unfinished copy he lay on the slanted desk. “Write nothing in the margins, and draw no pictures. Leave the art to the illuminators.”
“Aye, Brother Titus,” Lukas nodded. He checked his quill pen for the fifth time that morning to ensure its sharpness, then sat at the backless stool to write. Mark’s Gospel was nearly complete—the last scribe to work on it had left a space for a decorated capital letter at the beginning of the twelfth chapter.
Lukas dipped his pen in the pot of ink, let it drip, and carefully began writing. His pen was slanted, his lines straight, his posture perfect. His heart hammered with the immensity of the task he’d been assigned.
Suddenly, Lukas realized that he was writing the words of Christ in black. He quickly wiped his pen on his scapular and looked for the red ink. It was nowhere to be found. “Brother Titus?” he asked.
There was no answer, and Lukas wasn’t about to seek him out, so he stood and looked around. There was a spare penknife, and a few quills, but no sight of red ink.
Looking up, Lukas finally saw a jar on a shelf that had a promising red splotch on its side. He dragged his stool to the shelf and stood on it to reach the ink. His balance faltered, and he caught himself on the edge of the shelf, but not before splashing red ink onto his hand and the floor below him.
Lukas winced. Brother Titus would not be pleased.
There’s got to be a better place to keep ink, he thought as he returned his stool to the desk. The red ink might stain the stone floor if he left it there long enough. He wiped it with the hem of his scapular.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway, and Lukas jumped up. He brushed a rogue curl away from his face and hurriedly sat at the desk again, writing red ink over the black letters and hoping that no one would notice.
The boy recognized his father’s voice but refused to look up. No one ever looked up when they were copying the Bible. Lukas wouldn’t have looked up even if he ought to have, because he knew his face was contorted with guilt.
Mattathias’s quiet footsteps sounded again as he crept up behind Lukas, who froze like a rabbit in the gaze of a hawk. He prayed as if he had a chance of not being spotted. A drop like blood formed at the tip of his pen.
“Good glory, my son, what happened?”
Lukas pressed his eyes shut. With red ink on his face and his hand, and probably smeared on the edge of the desk, he looked like he’d been in a fight.
“Did yer penknife slip?”
Mattathias’s brows furrowed. “Is that ink?”
“I’ve raised swine cleaner than ye,” Mattathias muttered as he grabbed Lukas’s wrist and led him out of the scriptorium. “Pray this washes off in time fer the next prayer service.”
Lukas scrubbed at the ink on his skin, and Mattathias stole some soap from the laundry, but their combined efforts only managed to turn the red ink into a brown stain. Mattathias’s fingers were tinted red, as if he’d washed his hands in water too hot. Finally, Lukas gave up and returned to the scriptorium to find Brother Titus waiting for him, a scowl on his face.
Titus said nothing, and the two stood staring at each other until the bell tolled for the prayer service of Terce. Lukas was glad to leave the scriptorium and the burning, shaming glare of Brother Titus.
At least, he decided, glancing at his father’s hands, he wasn’t the only one stained with red ink.
Winter in Texas is unpredictable. Today, it’s sunny and in the 40’s. This past Tuesday, it was 12 degrees at noon with a wind chill that never left the single digits. Today is a good day for taking a walk. But there are days when even Chicago transplants such as myself want nothing more than to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a cozy mystery novel.
And the next time I find myself facing a stretch of bad weather, I know which shelf in my bookshelf to look to.
While looking for novels to which I can compare Where the Clouds Catch Fire in my query letters to literary agents, I stumbled upon a historical mystery series by Ellis Peters called the Cadfael Chronicles. It was the perfect comparison. Medieval setting? Check. Main characters live in a monastery? Check. Depiction of raids on monasteries? In the case of Dead Man’s Ransom, yes.
The series centers around Brother Cadfael, a crusader turned herbalist monk who uses his medical skills to help solve mysteries. He’s not alone. He frequently teams up with the clergy, commoners, and courting couples of twelfth-century England and Wales to help solve murders. And let’s not forget the memorable inhabitants of his own home, the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul at Shrewsbury. The monastery houses everyone from snarky introvert Brother Mark to the elderly Welsh Brother Rhys to Brother Jerome, the clerk who tries so hard to be holy he shudders at the mere mention of a woman’s undergarment.
The historical accuracy of the series amazes me. The Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul is a real abbey. Father Heribert was really the abbot, Prior Robert was really a prior (who took over as abbot in 1148), and the plot of the entire first book was based on historical events. Even the towns mentioned as Cadfael and his companions travel to Gwytherin, Wales, to retrieve the relics of a saint, were actual towns.
All that is well and good. Information can be gathered from anywhere today. But what amazes me most about this series is that the first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones, was first published in 1977. Computers were mostly restricted to business use until the 1990’s. This means that most, if not all, of the information Ellis Peters used in this series was found unaided by the internet.
To me, the Cadfael Chronicles lack nothing. The mystery elements are wonderful, the prose is beautiful, and there’s just enough humor and romance to keep things from being overly suspenseful. Even the titles are perfect. They range from the suspenseful (A Morbid Taste for Bones; One Corpse Too Many) to the religious (The Leper of St. Guiles; The Confession of Brother Haluin) to the beautifully poetic (The Rose Rent; The Sanctuary Sparrow).
I hope to learn many things from Ellis Peters. I love the command of vocabulary, the thorough knowledge of subject matter, the perfect plotting, and the deftness of choosing pen names. Her real name was Edith Mary Pargeter.
What’s your favorite mystery series? Have you ever read a book published before 1980? If so, what was it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.