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.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.