Theo shifted the herb basket restlessly from hand to hand. Scents of sage and summer savory teased his nostrils, and a sneeze tightened behind his eyes.
”Theo, you’ll upend the basket if you don’t stop your fidgeting,” Brother Phelan reprimanded softly as he plucked a few sprigs of vervain.
“I’m sorry, Brother Phelan.” Theo watched in fascination as a caterpillar crawled along the friar’s cowl and disappeared into a woolen fold.
“Come, Theo.” Theo followed the portly monk through the monastery garden, resisting the temptation to swing the basket against the greenery along the path. Phelan pushed against an oaken door, and they entered the aromatic room where Phelan concocted healing tinctures and ointments.
“Leave the herbs and find Father Libran.”
Theo did as bidden, but not before stopping to watch a lark spiralling in its heavenward flight, its song pure and clear. Theo flung out his arms in imitation of the lark’s soaring ascension, and he broke into a joyous run, not pausing until he reached Father Libran’s quarters.
“Theo.” Father Libran peered at Theo’s sweaty face and disheveled tunic. “You must be still. Quiet yourself before God. Remember the writing brothers are working, and we must not disturb them.”
Theo cast down his eyes. “Yes, Father.”
“Now remove the ashes and bring firewood.”
At midday, Theo stood at the back of the chapel while the monks recited prayers. The resonating echoes in the stone hall uplifted him, but he was soon distracted by the flickering shadows dancing among the stone pillars.
After prayers, Brother Beathan approached Theo.
One of the writing brothers!
“Come, Theo.” The monk led the way to the scriptorium where the gospels were being penned in Latin. Theo had been to the scriptorium once before, and had caught a tiny glimpse of the brilliantly coloured pages as he’d picked up feather parings from the floor.
Brother Crimthann and Brother Aindrias were already bent over their vellum pages, their quills quivering, the holy words coming alive in the illuminated drawings that were adorning the scriptures. Theo approached the work bench and gazed in awe.
How amazing! To be able to write, to read, to paint the glowing pictures that decorated the pages. Theo was lightheaded with the thought, and he feared the friars could hear his heart pulsating within his chest. He watched, enthralled, as the brothers stroked, dipped, stroked.
“Theo,” Brother Beathan whispered. “Please bury this old gall-ink. It’s useless and must be returned to the earth. Theo?” He laid a stained hand on Theo’s shoulder, a hint of a smile playing about his lips.
“Yes, Brother Beathan.”
Reluctantly, Theo left the scriptorium.
But Theo could not stop thinking of the writing, the words, each smooth folio. It was mysterious, unfathomable, as holy and sacred as God Himself. Theo gave the sky a glance, as if God might be offended to be compared to soot marks on calfskin. But it was His hallowed Word after all, was it not?
After that, Theo was called to perform tasks in the scriptorium often, sweeping up spilled soot, scraping hardened egg yolk from the stone floor, fetching items, all under Brother Beathan’s knowing eye. Theo’s heart became more eager.
One night, Theo tossed on his pallet as images from the radiant pages beckoned to him, peacocks and lions, oxen and quail. Unable to withstand, he arose and tiptoed to the scriptorium, where pages from the day’s work were drying, gleaming in the bright moonlight.
How glorious and splendid! Surely an angel had swept a wing across the calfskin and left a celestial signature. No mortal was capable of such artistry, such genius. Theo followed the intricate knotwork until he was dizzy.
And the script! The Word of God penned through the hand of man.
What possessed Theo to touch the quill? To dip it in the horn of gall-ink?
Theo found where one of the brothers had left off in the middle of a word. Dare he?
Holding the quill as he’d seen the brothers do, he chose a simple letter from a line of text. He held his breath and carefully formed an “a.” Theo’s heart thudded in triumph and trepidation, but choosing another letter, he laboriously stroked a “u.”
Theo collapsed in the moonlight, his soul enraptured.
In the morning, Brother Crimthann finished the word, and the verse read, “I came not only to send peace, but joy.”
An error, yet a truth, nevertheless.
Author’s note: This is a fictitious accounting for an error written in Matthew 10: 34b in the Book of Kells. The Latin word for sword is “gladium” but “gaudium,” the word for joy, was written instead.
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