Scriptorium Trials

The scriptorium* was white with the noise of monk-powered quills scratching over yellow-white sheets of vellum.

“Put those books – gently – on that table there” whispered Bertram. “And don’t – I SAID DON’T – I mean I said don’t you dare bang them down, those are works of ART I mean art, you witless clods.”

The novices scurried away, leaving Bertram smiling apologetically at the frowning copyists. He turned to the stacks of books facing him and pulled up one of the nearby stools. He began to read, determining both the quality and content of the books. Muttering under his breath, he slowly worked his way through the stacks, sorting them into two piles. One of the piles he would take with him as Alnwick’s contribution to the book-circulation enterprise, and the others would be filed away again. Into the books in the first pile he placed small scraps of cloth, all of various colors. Each color represented a particular abbey, who had specifically requested certain books for copying. He checked these books against a sheet of paper that he kept carefully folded up in water-proof leather pouch, that detailed the requests from various abbeys. Once he gave them their books, he would take what he could from their libraries and bring them to the next abbey, and so on throughout England.

He felt a light, hesitant tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw a small, aging monk standing behind him, nervously stepping from foot to foot.

“I beg your pardon,” he breathed pianissimo, “but you’ve got my stool.”

Bertram quickly stood up, pushed the stool towards the monk, and took another from a nearby desk. He hated interruptions.

The tap revisited his shoulder, even lighter than before. He turned irritably.

“I’m so sorry,” exhaled the old brother, “but you’ve got my pen.”

Muttering, he handed over the pen, and sharpened up another from a pot on the next desk.

The monk’s finger tapped his shoulder again, so softly that it was barely discernible through his tunic. He spun around, eyes blazing, grimly silent. This had better be good.

“I do apologize,” the relic whispered as quiet as a moth, “but you’ve got my desk.”

It was a credit to Bertram’s self-control that he did not explode, but the quiet of the scriptorium was too sacred to disturb. He forced a smile and began carrying his stacks of books over to the nearest desk. It took a while. Finally, he went to sit down. There wasn’t any stool or pen.

Several birds perched on the roof flew off in terror as a long-suppressed yell worked its way out. A few seconds later, Bertram came stalking out of the scriptorium. Let the monks rebuild their shattered quietude with more book-copying: he, on the other hand, was going for a walk.

 

*A Scriptorium was a place in an abbey where monks copied and illuminated manuscripts.

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