“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.”
After three years of writing, studying Norse culture, copying accents, and accidentally stabbing myself with wool combs in the name of research, its is a privilege to announce the completion of my novel, Where the Clouds Catch Fire.
See that book? You can buy it. You can read it for yourself. Finally, after years of waiting, YOU, my dear reader, can finally read the entirety of the book for yourself.
Do you like sword fights and action? Or historical novels? How about family dynamics? Do you like reading books set in the Scottish highlands, with its wonderful landscape and even more wonderful people? Or maybe clean books with a lesson woven throughout?
You'll get all of that in Where the Clouds Catch Fire.
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!
“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.
If you use any form of social media, you might have seen pictures of people with red X’s on their hands. I was one of those people. Why, might you ask, do people go around decorating their skin with potentially toxic substances? Because January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and today in particular is dedicated to the End It Movement.
Today, slavery is something most people hear about in history class, or maybe in a novel with a historical setting. But what most people don’t realize—or don’t want to think about—is that slavery still exists. The most rampant form is prostitution, but organ harvesting is a thing, too.
As a human being, especially one with access to social media, we all have certain platforms. We have voices that can be used for good or evil. However, our voices can only be heard by a small amount of people. What, then, can we do to raise awareness about things like human trafficking?
That’s where my job comes in. People love entertainment. Books, movies, music—you name it, people love it. The thing about entertainment is that it changes people’s mindsets. Older TV shows such as The Dick van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show depicted families getting along, helping each other, and learning life lessons. Today? The media is full of drugs, alcohol, violence, promiscuity, and profanity. It’s hard for me to find a YA book at the library that’s free from curse words or relationships that go a little too far.
But to the same extent that media can bring down today’s culture, it can lift it back up.
Growing up, I loved the Geronimo Stilton books. There were 65 books in the original series, and an additional 12 in spin-off series like the time travel graphic novels, and I read every one I could get my hands on from our local library. Recently, Geronimo has starred in a cartoon Netflix series. I’ll admit to watching an episode or three with my sister, and I’ve noticed that most episodes end with the villain going to jail. This teaches children that crime is bad, and that those who commit crimes deserve punishment.
Entertainment can also be used to raise awareness of things. Take For King & Country, one of my favorite bands, and their movie Priceless. It raises awareness for human trafficking in a heart-wrenching way that will affect people more than a slogan, poster, or internet campaign will.
I, personally, can only do so much to raise awareness for things like this—especially since most of my books have a historical setting. But I can still do a little bit. Have you read the first chapter of Where the Clouds Catch Fire (which you can access by clicking HERE)? Have you wondered what happened to Alynn’s mother? She was kidnapped. She was sold just like the girls in Priceless, and just like so many people are today.
It’s for people like Alynn’s mother that we unite today. It’s for the people—mostly women, mostly children—who are forced into some form of slavery. And it’s for those people that I take my stand, that I take the platform my job and my God have given me, and I use it for good instead of evil. And you can do the same thing.
What can you do to raise awareness about something like human trafficking? Have you joined the End It Movement? Is there another step you can take, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or spending time with at-risk kids, to make the world a better place? Tell me about it in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader—and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook.
Lukas preferred words to numbers, but the fact that eight times 364 meant that the average monk spent 2,912 hours a year in the chapel couldn’t be discovered by mere reading. Of all the Divine Offices, Prime was his least favorite. He could go back to sleep after Matins at midnight, and after Lauds at the first light of day, but after Prime came martyrology and breakfast and a long day of work. In fact, the promise of breakfast was the only good thing about the 6:00 office.
“Hurry up, boy,” grumbled Brother Cormacus. He was the stoop-shouldered, sharp-eyed elderly man with a scythe for a tongue who shared Lukas’s cell. “The bell just stopped ringing.”
Lukas sat up in bed and eyed a third empty cot. “Where’s Eoghan?”
“Use yer brain!” Cormacus snapped. “He’s already left!”
Lukas ran his fingers through his brown curls, or whatever of them had been spared from his tonsure. He straightened his quilt, put on his boots, and fixed his leather belt around his waist. He was out the door before Cormacus.
Other monks were blinking in the April daylight, already bright at the day’s first hour. The grass was vivid green, and the air was sweet with the scent of flowers. But the wind blew unaware of the springtime with wintry cold, like a singer who kept singing the same note while the rest of the choir went on without him. Lukas shivered, and wished St. Anne’s Monastery had been built large enough to house all seventy-nine monks who lived there. He, with a few other men, slept in small huts.
When Lukas finally made his way inside, he met a man coming down from the upstairs—no doubt from the belfry. “Brother Harald should be tasked with ringing the bell,” the man whispered, rubbing his ears. “He’s already deaf.”
Lukas grinned but did not laugh. “Perhaps we should have Brother James ring the bell. It might be the only thing he’s good at.”
The man smiled and clapped Lukas’s shoulder. The two looked similar enough to be blood relatives—both with brown curls around their tonsures, with similar ways of standing and walking and even smiling. And although Lukas had reached the age where he ought to call the man Brother Mattathias, for he was neither a relative nor a priest, he still looked at him with a smile and called him “Father.”
Brother Cormacus walked by in his hunchbacked way, taking the Lord’s name in vain as he passed Mattathias and Lukas. “Ye’ll be punished fer this, daft fools,” he muttered.
“As ye’ll be fer swearing, Brother,” Mattathias said. He held the door to the chapel open for the others—one scowling, and one with concealed laughter coming out as color in his cheeks.
For once, the office of Prime was wonderful, because Lukas spent the service trying not to smile. Laughter bubbled inside him, and filled his voice when he prayed, but it dissipated in plenty of time for that day’s martyrology readings, and was replaced with hunger far before breakfast. Lukas hurried to the kitchen as soon as martyrology was over. It was his job to draw water for the cooks, and if he was lucky, he could steal a few bites before breakfast. But on his way to the kitchen, someone called his name.
Lukas looked up to see Abbot Sean McCoy, the giant who had presided over the monastery since its founding. He was thickset, a head taller than anyone else, but he had such a smile and a gentle way about him that no one who knew him was ever afraid. “Aye, Father Abbot?” Lukas said.
Sean smiled. “Are ye content with yer tasks of drawing water and fetching wood?” he asked.
Lukas nodded. “However I serve the Lord best, Father Abbot.”
“But I understand, son, that ye’re celebrating Lent as a grown man, rather than as a child,” Sean continued. “Ye’re auld enough now to learn a trade. Anyone can draw water and fetch wood, but ye—ye might be a translator, or an infirmarer. Ye’ve a bright mind and a quick wit. God’s gifted ye, Lukas. Ye can do whatever He’s called Ye to.”
Lukas studied the ground. “I understand, Father Abbot. But I don’t know what else I’d like to do.”
“Ye’ve my blessing to test as many tasks as need be,” Abbot Sean said comfortingly. “Ye needn’t settle fer the first that comes to mind. Continue with prayer, my son, and the Lord will lead ye in the right direction.”
Lukas was silent as he finally made his way to the kitchen. He placed breakfast on the table amid the cook’s protests at his tardiness, too deep in thought to answer them.
If he was about to choose the job he would continue for the rest of his life, he’d better choose wisely.
Happy 2018, dear readers! I truly hope that you all have had a wonderful holiday season, especially a merry Christmas. I, however, have spent a good portion of my Christmas break doing something rather unusual: hands-on extreme research.
I believe I've mentioned in a previous post that I had recently received some wool from a local farm, and that I intended to make yarn out of it. Well, I've made maybe 25 feet of yarn so far, and I've learned quite a few things about the yarn-making process. Mainly, I've come to respect anyone who lived before the Industrial Revolution.
Before I did anything with the wool, I had to pick the vegetable matter out of it. This wool was dirty. It was a strange yellowish-brown color, smelly, oily, and full of leaves and sticks and hay. I haven't picked out any bugs (yet), but some of the stranger things I've seen include food pellets and the seed pods of grasses. There were also dark bits that were probably dung, but I tried not to think about that.
I wasn't able to get all of the vegetable matter out, so I washed my wool after picking out the larger pieces. By the time I'd finished washing it (very gently, so it wouldn't turn into felt), the wool was white and fluffy and ready to be brushed out, or carded. Carding was fun. I had to wait until Christmas to get my wool combs, which are more like Wolverine claws than anything else. I brushed the unruly wool into wonderful, weightless balls of fluff called rolags. and was delighted to learn that most of the vegetable matter fell out of the wool while I carded.
And then came spinning. One rolag only serves for 5-10 minutes' spinning, depending on its size of the rolag and the thickness of the yarn. And even after it was spun it wasn't thick enough to use, so I had to fold it in half and make it two-ply. Then, I set the twist by soaking it in water, beating it against the wall, and hanging it to dry with a weight on the end.
The main thing I learned was that wool processing, although not incredibly difficult, is time-consuming. After two to three hours of cleaning, washing, carding, and spinning, I have enough yarn for maybe the cuff of a mitten. The hardest part is tearing the rolag off the wool comb, and keeping the yarn the same thickness as you spin.
The thing about hands-on research is that you learn things most books won't tell you. I now know first-hand how oily, dirty, and smelly wool is before it's washed. I know that brushing through wool isn't as easy as it looks. I know that you hold the wool combs at an awkward angle, so extensive carding might result in an aching right forearm. (Either that, or I'm holding the combs wrong). And yes, there will be bits of hay and grass in your yarn.
But I also know that holding a rolag that's been folded up in a nice, neat ball is like holding a cloud. It's weightless--you can hardly feel it resting in your palm--but it's warm. It's almost like supporting a baby's head with your hand. I love that feeling.
Do you have any questions about wool processing? What's the coolest thing you've made with yarn--or any material, for that matter? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
As you might now, we recently finished a short story. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure where to go next. So, I've put together a super-short survey to see what you, dear reader, would like to see next! Please take ten seconds and answer the following questions:
Thank you so much for taking that survey! If you have an idea for a short story that you'd like to read, please tell me in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers. Have a wonderful 2018--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.