Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a historian. A pair of trousers plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a crossroads in the medieval age. The story is about movement.
It happened every time! Just as he jumped down from the wagon, someone went by and splashed filth that soaked his trousers and shoes. The smell was particularly odious today or maybe it was just the fact that fresh horse dung now covered him from his toes to mid-thighs. It would have been less of an issue at the end of the day, but his day was just beginning and he was supposed to meet the Abbott this morning. He could hardly go calling at the monastery in his current state. Although Heaven knows the Abbott must have encountered worse things in his work it was hardly the impression Karl wanted to give.
So he stood there with the fecal matter slowly sliding down his legs debating how to handle the situation. And was nearly run over by the next wagon going through the crossroads. He was splashed with more filth, this time reaching his tunic, shoulder bag and even a small dab on his cheek. Startled, he finally had the sense to step back from the intersection. Seeing a tree on one corner, he headed there to consider his predicament.
He pulled his satchel open and dug to see if he had anything with which to wipe himself. Finding nothing useful, he sat down under the tree disheartened. How could he face the Abbott? If he didn’t appear as promised, the Abbott might not grant him an audience. If he didn’t get an audience with the Abbott, Karl would not get access to the monastery library, which held manuscripts going back to the founding of the monastery and older. Karl had looked forward to this day since he was a young lad. He had learned from the priest in his local village that the monastery library held documents older than the priest, older than the oldest person in the village and he had been filled with wonder. What would such documents look like? What languages were they written in? The priest had taught him Greek and Latin, so he hoped that he would be able to read at least some of them. What secrets would they reveal? He had prayed fervently for the day he would be old enough and learned enough that the priest would give him a letter of recommendation. That day had finally arrived and he was covered in horse manure. He was cursed!
As he sat there “bemoaning his outcast state” he failed to notice the appearance of a young woman at his side until she spoke.
“You appear to be in dire need of a new set of trousers,” she remarked.
“You are correct and unless you happen to have one, I would appreciate being left to my misery,” he replied.
“Well, then today Providence appears to have smiled on you.”
At that comment, Karl raised his head to appraise his companion.
A beautiful young woman smiled and held a pair of clean trousers toward him. Astonished he rose to his feet and tentatively reached toward her offering. She did not flinch and relinquished the cloth when he had grasped it firmly. She nodded toward a wagon parked behind the tree. “You can change back there. Then we will see what we can do to clean the rest of your person.”
Still taken aback by her offer, he paused walking toward the wagon, “What can I offer in exchange? I do not have much money, although you are welcome to what I have.”
She smiled again. “I am not asking for your money, although coins are always useful.”
“Then what can I give you?”
“You are going to the monastery, are you not?”
“That is correct… how did you…”
“You will visit the library, will you not?”
“That is my fervent hope, although I haven’t met…”
She interrupted him again, “Then you will bring me knowledge.”
“The library holds many documents. Some are very old. You will ask to view these documents. One of them is the Scroll of Diana. You will not be able to read it. So you will copy the symbols you find. On each visit, you will copy another set of symbols and bring them to me. Be certain to copy them exactly as they appear and in the same order.”
“It is not necessary for you to understand everything. As a woman, you know I am not allowed in the monastery. Yet, that document was written by a woman and intended for women. The information the scroll contains is of no value to you nor to the monks who added it to their collection, except as a trophy of ancient writing.”
“Goddess knows I would give much more than this pair of trousers to see the scroll with my own eyes. Since that is unlikely in the present circumstance, your eyes will have to serve mine.”
“Now move quickly, or you will not catch the Abbott when he is in his best temper.”
She pushed him toward the wagon with the trousers. He obeyed and exchanged his filthy pair for the clean ones she had given him. He tied his belt and headed back toward her. She had a damp rag in her hand with which she wiped his face, his tunic, his bag and finally his shoes.
“There! You are once again presentable. Now hurry! You must catch him while he is holding audience.”
Karl headed down the road toward the monastery and then looked back. “How will I find you?”
“In the same manner which we met today.”
“Will you at least tell me your name?”
“Sylvine,” she smiled. “Now go!”
Karl reached the monastery within the hour and was pleased to find the Abbott still receiving petitions. He presented the letter and voiced his request to be allowed access to the library. The Abbott was in a pleasant mood and seeing a potential candidate, granted Karl’s request. Then, putting his arm out in a gesture of welcome, he announced, “I will escort you there myself.”
Surprised by his offer, Karl almost refused, and then thinking better, accepted the Abbott’s invitation. Karl followed him down a long hallway to a large armored wooden door with heavy locks. In front of the door, the Abbott whispered to a friar perched at a small desk. The friar looked at Karl and nodded to the Abbott, then gestured for Karl to approach.
“Brother Hermann has taken a vow of silence as part of his penance,” the Abbott noted for Karl’s benefit.
The monk slid off his stool and pulled a large keyring from his robes. Starting at the top of the door, he systematically began unlocking all of the locks. When he had finished he stepped aside and pulled the door open. The Abbott bowed slightly and ushered Karl into the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The air was dry and smelled of leather and must. The light was subtle and Karl noted that none of the shelves were in direct sunlight. It reflected into the room from the clerestory windows.
“So, my child, what were you hoping to see here?”
“Father Abbott, if I might beg your indulgence. I would like to see some of the oldest manuscripts.”
“Ah! My child, you know that they are written in ancient languages. Something recent would be more accessible… “
Karl stopped him with a gesture, “Father Abbott, I have been studying Latin and Greek. And I had hoped that even if I didn’t understand everything, that perhaps I might glean something of value by seeing the old things.”
The Abbott was in a good mood, and assented. “Very well my son. We will go to the section with the oldest scrolls. You must be careful with them for they are quite delicate and will tear easily.”
“Yes, Father Abbott. I understand.”
When they reached the bins holding the scrolls, Karl could not hide his amazement. “They are indeed old, Father Abbott. Thank you kindly for your generosity. But I should not keep you from your duties.”
“It is my pleasure, my child. I can remain to assist you.”
“Certainly, you must be very busy and Brother Hermann can assist me.”
“It gives an old man comfort to see one such as yourself expressing an interest in our library. Very well. I am working on a translation and will be just over there,” as he pointed to an alcove with a high desk and stool. “When you want to look at a scroll, carry it carefully to a table before attempting to unroll it.”
“Yes, Father Abbott. Thank you, Father Abbott.”
There were so many scrolls, and Karl was excited to touch them all. Then he remembered the young woman’s request and began to search among the scrolls. He carried one after another to the table, unrolled them slightly and then carefully rerolled them and returned them when he realized they were not what he was seeking.
The Abbott noted his diligence and frequent trips back and forth, so paused in his task. “My child, what is it you seek? You do not seem to be satisfied with any of them.”
Startled, Karl hesitated. Should he ask the Abbott for the Scroll of Diana?
“I was looking for some ancient Roman text to see how well my Latin might fare.”
“Then the Marcellinus you pulled and put back should have been an adequate test.”
“Of course, Father Abbott. My apologies for disturbing you.”
The Abbott returned to his work. Karl continued his search more quietly, spending slightly longer with each scroll so that he did not attract the Abbott’s attention. He had reviewed two dozen when he saw it. Smaller than the others it had fallen to the bottom of the bin. It appeared to be more ornate with gilt handles and neatly trimmed edges. He reached for it gently and cradled it to the table. As he began to unroll it he noted it was more beautiful than anything he had seen. There were delicate engravings in the margins. This must be the scroll Sylvine was describing. He searched through his satchel for his copybook and a quill. As she had requested, he started to copy the symbols he found, and then realized he did not know whether one would read them across or down, left to right or right to left? So he decided he would copy the symbols as if they were in a table. That way, Sylvine would be able to rearrange them or read them in whichever order was necessary.
Karl became absorbed in his efforts and did not hear the Abbott’s stool scrape on the stone floor. He started when the Abbott’s hand landed on his shoulder.
“I beg your pardon, Father Abbott.”
“My child, you are quite good as an amanuensis. Brother Hermann will be jealous. You have really captured the text well.”
“Thank you, Father Abbott.”
“Would you like to return another day to continue? Perhaps you can copy some things for me.”
Karl did not disguise his pleasure at the invitation. “Oh yes, Father Abbott! I would gladly return and even more gladly provide my services to you.”
“Very well! Please return tomorrow morning and report to Brother Hermann directly.”
“Thank you very kindly for your generosity, Father Abbott.”
Karl left the monastery walking on air and made his way back to the crossroads to share the good news with Sylvine.
With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php
And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.
What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.