“What do ye think I should do, Father?” Lukas asked. He pitched manure into a cart, wrinkling his nose at the stench. “I’ve nothing against helping in the kitchen. But I like books better.”
“Ye might try yer hand at copying manuscripts,” Mattathias suggested. “Yer eyes are young enough. Ye might even speak to Brother Angus about translating documents.”
“I’d rather copy than translate.” Lukas dug his shovel into the manure pile and felt something move. Lukas jumped back as an adder darted from its shelter behind the pile and hissed at them.
Mattathias’s hand grabbed the hood of Lukas’s habit and pulled him backwards. He took his knife.
“I had an uncle,” he said, “who could kill snakes by throwing knives at them….”
He threw his knife and missed the snake. It lunged for them. Lukas ran. By the time he reached the nearby forest and had climbed the nearest tree, Mattathias had chopped the snake in half with his shovel.
“All’s well!” Mattathias called. “Come here for a science lesson!”
Lukas approached the snake cautiously, trying not to show his fear. The snake had aimed its bite for Mattathias, but its fangs tangled harmlessly in his frock-like scapular. Lukas’s stomach churned when he saw the two halves of the snake writhing as if it was still alive.
“Why does it move?” he asked.
“I’d tell ye if I knew,” Mattathias said. He carefully untangled the snake from his scapular and laid it on the ground. “Give it space. It’ll bite still.”
Lukas took his knife and, grasping the adder’s head carefully, observed its fangs and its nostrils and its strange, slit eyes. “Is it venomous?” he asked.
“Aye. What do ye put on it, if ye’re bitten?”
Lukas tried to remember all of the medical texts he’d read to practice his Greek. “Snakeroot and comfery.”
“Good lad.” Mattathias grabbed one handle of the manure cart, and Lukas grabbed the other, and they set off towards the barley fields. Before they could get halfway across the yard, Lukas stopped.
“Someone’s shouting,” he said.
Mattathias looked at the belfry. A black-clad figure was visible, but the bell wasn’t ringing. “There may be trouble,” he said. “Come quickly.”
The monastery’s entire population seemed to be coming inside, except for one young man—the fleet-footed Brother Nolan—who was running to bring the shepherds in from their fields. Already the cows were being herded into the stable. Lukas walked faster. Everyone acted as if a blizzard were coming.
“Everyone into the chapel,” Father Sean was ordering. “Pray for our safety.”
“From who?” Lukas asked.
“A Norse ship was spotted off the coast,” Father Sean said. “Pray that they are peaceful traders, and not Vikings.”
Lukas felt Mattathias’s firm grasp on his arm as they left for the chapel. His heart palpitated. In a world of religious monotony, anything out of the ordinary was strange. And anything that had to do with Norsemen, possibly Viking raiders, was a frightening kind of strange.
“Are we going to die?” Lukas whispered.
“Trust God, my son,” Mattathias said. He squeezed Lukas’s shoulder as they knelt together at a bench. “No army can fight against that of God.”
Seventy-seven men—for two of them were lookouts at the coast—knelt in prayer for protection. Noon came, and with it the midday prayer service of Sext, and even while Lukas chanted the Psalms, he prayed. Finally, halfway through Sext, the two lookouts burst through the chapel doors.
“We are safe and unseen!” declared the elder of the lookouts.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and praised God, either silently or in Pharisaical prayers of gratitude. Lukas, in the midst of his own thanksgiving, wondered if Father Sean would let him become a soldier instead of a copier of manuscripts.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.