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