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