Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Long Absence

Greetings, my friend!

I greatly apologize for my long absence since your last letter! You probably feared I was struck down by that illness that had swept through the court I had mentioned previously! Clearly, that is not the case. The reasons for my delay are much happier. If you recall, my friend Miri, is expecting her first child near the spring equinox. She is in good health and cheer, and the midwife thinks that the signs point to a boy, but that always remains to be seen. She and her man both are delighted, and have asked me if I would consent to being the child’s foster mother when it comes of age. Of course I said yes, and have been spending much of my free time with them, learning what they would want for their child in terms of learning, spirituality (I am relieved that Miri and her man are of the same mind as I regarding that!), and so forth. I am feeling the pressure of the responsibility, and the child isn’t even born yet. I cannot fathom the way Miri must be feeling!

The sickness that I mentioned in my last letter burnt itself out as swiftly as it came. It took a handful more elders who were ailing and not expected to see out the month, and then it was done. It is such a relief! Even Keith, the old stable master who fell, is still on the slow road to recovery. He may never walk on his own again, for he is terribly old. But at least it seems he is not in mortal danger at this point.

It seems that the plague traveled to you, though! I’m so sorry you were ill. Thank goodness for your wonderful lioness! What a clever girl! It sounds like she did do a bit of thieving for you, but it was for a good cause. Hopefully the villagers will understand, if they ever find out. I hope you don’t mind, but I was able to send some dried beans and corn along with this letter. Hopefully the chest made it to you and didn’t get stolen along the way. They will last forever and are quite filling. They also travel well, which may come in handy if you do take off after your captain. They would make a delicious soup with your sausage and greens. I hope they will help! Even the lioness – what a lovely, onomatopoetic name Murra is! – can eat them, though I’m sure she prefers meat if possible. When stewed with meat broth, the court hounds have made do in leaner months on beans and corn and bones. So have the people, come to think on it!

It sounds like you have some good opportunities opening up to move into the village. I know you love the lighthouse, but being nearer to people would also mean you are nearer to information as well. It could be a tolerable trade-off, at least temporarily. I know you have a wide range of things you could teach to the kitchen girls and maids for new dishes and stitches. You are so creative and skilled in so many things! If nothing else, it might be worth looking into. If you hate it, you can always return to the lighthouse and figure what to do from there! It needn’t be a permanent relocation.

It is interesting that you ask if I plan to travel further afield. While I adore the scriptorium and truly hadn’t thought to leave anytime soon, I did recently have the opportunity to travel to another scriptorium further south. Since the head scribe died, the scriptorium here has lost a bit of its shine for me. Not the work, for that is still a joy, but there is a pall lingering here. Indeed, I think if it wasn’t for my friendship with Miri, I might have moved on already. I might even have turned up at your lighthouse steps!

Anyhow, one of the Duke’s friends, Lord Fen, had need of a scribe for a brief trip south to visit one of his lesser holdings and I volunteered.  It was glorious to get out, get some fresh air, and see some of the land. I hadn’t ridden a horse since my arrival at Court; I’d forgotten exactly how sore riding makes me! But what beautiful land is just a few days’ ride away! It is like a whole new world. Court is in the high desert, but a few days away has us surrounded in lush, almost tropical forests. The people there have a very interesting culture as well with many fascinating myths. In a strange coincidence, my name is very similar to their native word for flower. No matter how I tried to tell them I had no connection to their culture in my family history, they insisted that I must be a long-distant relative and so treated me as a sister.

They have a delightful old man there. I don’t know what his function was or his name. Everyone calls him Grandfather, which is apropos because he appears to be as old as God and just about as revered. He is the repository of most of the myths and stories I learned while visiting Lord Fen’s holdings. I wrote down a few of them (included copies at the back for your amusement) and would dearly love to write them all down. It would take more lives than are allotted to me, though, and I still wouldn’t get to all the stories I suspect are hidden away in his memory.

I may get the chance to try, though. As it happens, Lord Fen’s steward needs a scribe and so I may be able to gain the patronage of a high-ranking nobleman. This surely will be to both our benefit, my friend! I have been in discussion both with the steward, a highly competent man named Bryan, and Lord Fen himself, to learn more details of what they expect from the position. There are a few details left to work out, but so far, it seems a suitable arrangement. I hope to have more news to share with you on this matter in my next letter.

If I take this new role, I will gain access to many scriptoriums and libraries in the course of my duties. There will be extensive travel involved, as the lord has numerous holdings across the land. His family, as I’m sure you know, is old and powerful, though fallen recently on hard times and as such, hasn’t had a position for a scribe while they were rebuilding their fortunes lost in the wars. I am fortunate to have come to his lordship’s notice, because just think of the network I could create in his employ! I do feel I would be truly beyond hope to pass up the opportunity. Perhaps I should conclude this letter and go seek out Bryan to give him my agreement!

I do have a very good feeling about this! Keep your fingers crossed! More news, hopefully, will follow soon. Until then, take good care and stay safe and may that captain of yours make his appearance at last! Pesky man…



Saturday, January 30, 2016

From the lighthouse, January

My dear!

I have been lying in wait for the mail carrier in hopes he would come this far out into the snowy wastes. Finally he brought me your letter, sent so long ago! Brave man. I made him come inside and thaw out and drink a mug of tea for his heroic efforts, but I do not think he enjoyed it, given the lioness's dislike of strangers. She lay by the fire eyeing him mistrustfully the entire time, while he dripped melting snow from every fold of his clothing.

Do not worry, as I am better now, but I fell ill in a terrible storm just past the turn of the year and spent weeks in a fever. Indeed, only the lioness saved me. She went out into the storm and dragged back driftwood. I had blocked the door open when I felt the fever coming upon me, and tacked a heavy canvas over the doorway, so that she could come and go and should not be trapped inside with me. Nor indeed did I like the idea that she might eat my remains, to be honest, as surely any animal would if trapped. I confess my mind was not quite right as the fever mounted, so I was sure I was dreaming the lioness bringing me driftwood, but I put it onto the fire anyway and it kept us both warm. But I'm afraid I became terribly weak and thin during this time. My health has only just begun to return. The lioness also brought me chickens and strings of fish, which I fear she must have stolen from some neighbors. You can see why I was afraid I was going mad, but the feathers and bones remain to tell the tale.

The scriptorium has been hard hit with illness and injury this winter! I hope that no more have come to harm in this harsh time of year. But here in the snows I like to imagine you all surrounded by warm sands under a comforting sun. I am so sorry for your losses and hope the rest of you are well.

Beans, corn, and squash sound glorious! The lioness and I--I call her Murra, for that is the contented sound she makes when she is cozy and comfortable and taking up far more than half the bed--will be forced to decamp as soon as the weather permits, I'm sorry to say, for I have come to like this lighthouse very much, especially the fine views over the ocean, when the wind relents enough to permit me to open the shutters. The blue and white glittering shores will be imprinted on my memory forever.

The captain we spoke of previously has not yet made his way to port, the postman tells me. So I have hope that I might catch him yet! I regret to say I traded my box of paints to a farm wife with five small children in exchange for the most tremendous quantity of sausages and dried greens. At least, it seems tremendous to me. The greens are especially welcome. I am going up and down those stairs again, very slowly at first, I admit, to try to gain back the strength I lost. We must travel into town soon to try to catch the captain when he docks. The postman says the captain always stays in town for a few days, but then again weather must always be a factor. I would hate to miss him.

The farm wife says that Queen Ellie down at the Anchor will always let a young lady stay over in the winter months for free in exchange for cooking and teaching the kitchen girls new dishes, so I can certainly try that, so I will be close enough when the captain arrives. If I feed her enough, Murra will be happy to sleep in any warm corner for as long as you like. Come to think of it, I would be happy to sleep in any warm corner, if fed enough. I feel I shall never be full and I am so starved, I am always cold. I'm wearing every stitch of clothing I own! Maybe Queen Ellie will trade me some old woolen dresses for teaching the maids new embroidery stitches. A girl can dream!

I have sent a note off to the Anchor with the postman and will send this as soon as he returns. I hope you are doing well with your researches and finding the answers to your queries! Do you plan to search farther afield, or will you stay at the scriptorium? I will write to you there, so I hope the other scribes will forward mail on for you if you strike out for richer resources.

This winter has been hard on you, my friend! Sending you all good wishes and hopes,


Monday, January 4, 2016

From the Scriptorium, just past the New Year

From the Scriptorium, just past the New Year

Hello, my friend!

Your letter made me laugh to image the mail carrier’s expression! If the lighthouse was even half as run down as you’d described it when you first took up residency, I can only imagine the townsfolk must have thought it abandoned long ago. Perhaps he thought he was going to come face to face with a ghost!

Your lioness sounds like a wise creature not to go out in weather like that! It’s cold even here. It must be bitter and bone-chilling by the sea. Does the lioness have a name? Well, certainly she must have a name she calls herself; if only we could understand more of what they say! I wonder what our animal friends name us?

Ha! Your sister is adept at getting to information that doesn’t want to be discovered. She should work as a spy. I am glad she’s doing well. Maybe you should give her the most boring version of the truth possible. Perhaps that will stop rumors and allow actual fact to surface which could be of some use to you. Of course, I don’t know her or the villagers nearly as well as you do, so I could be way off, but that tactic has worked for me in the past quite admirably!

Some odd things have happened here of late. First, Keith, the elderly and much beloved former stable master, took a bad fall down some steps and broke his hip. The physician did all he could and the old man is resting in reasonable comfort. In a younger person, it would be a bad but recoverable injury, but in such an old one, well…we are waiting.

As if his accident wasn’t enough, the whole court has been laid low with a bad illness. I hesitate to call it a plague, for it is not that same dreaded pestilence from history, nor does it seem as deadly. It has hit the old ones hard, though, and those who were already sickly or recovering from an illness or injury. Hence why we are doubly concerned for Keith. We lost a handful of elders suffering from a lung disease, an injured sentry whose wound had begun to fester, and a woman recently brought to childbed with a difficult delivery. As hard as these deaths are to bear, there are three that I find terribly disturbing: the head cook, her assistant, and the head scribe who had given me my job in the scriptorium. Aside from my personal sadness, for she had taken me under her wing since my arrival and was excellent in her duties, these three were in excellent health. I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel something is wrong here. Maybe I’m just unsettled from all the other things that have been happening. We have all been taking extra work in the scriptorium and in the kitchens to help cover the work that needs doing in the absence of these women.

At least we have had a bountiful harvest of squash this season. The Three Sisters – beans, corn, and squash – are the staple foods in the desert. We should have plenty of stores to get us through the drought of summer, but we’ll have to be careful. How odd to consider summer the season of short supply! But it’s so hot and dry here that nothing can grow, so they store up food in preparation for summer… I imagine I shall be as tired of the Sisters as you are of fish before long!

I hope you are happy in your research, despite the weather, and that my letter hasn’t unsettled you as well. I shall be glad when spring arrives. One of the other scribes, Miri, has become a friend. She has her first baby due near the spring equinox. I am looking forward to playing the doting “auntie.”

Off to the kitchens with me, which is strange…


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

From a lighthouse, near the end of the year

From a lighthouse
Near the end of the year

My dear,

Thank you so much for your letter! I wish you could have seen the look of surprise on the mail carrier's face as I opened the lighthouse door to his knock. He seemed like a man bent on doing his duty no matter how absurd, just to make a point. He clearly did not expect anyone to be here and was already looking around for somewhere to stash the letter so that he could say his job was done. I had bolted the door and stuffed a rag rug under it to keep out the howling drafts, or I imagine he would have poked the letter under the door and been long gone by the time I descended all those stairs.

Our everlasting rain has turned into everlasting sleet and snow, hard pellets rattling on the walls and windows at all hours. The lioness refuses to go outside to hunt, merely making short, necessary visits to the snow fields as required and then returning to sleep on the bed by the fire. That's our bed, shared, because nowhere else is warm enough for us to survive the night. How did a family live here? Maybe they didn't stay the winter.

I appreciate your warning about the ship's captain! I'm gathering fragments of information as I buy fish each day from the fishermen who are brave or foolish enough to take their boats out into the bay in this weather. I admit I often look up from my books to watch them anxiously, in case one goes overboard, though what could I do in that case? One supposes that any fisherman who has lived this long will survive longer, but I suspect there is a logical fallacy in that statement somewhere. Any day could be our last, yet we have a one hundred percent survival rate up until that point.

The constant rattling of the snow and sleet has rattled my brains! I am rambling. I meant to say: thank you for the map, which has proved invaluable and has livened up the dull white plaster walls of this room no end. As you might imagine, my daily walks have been curtailed. I have boots, but after a walk I have wet boots. Until they dry, I have no boots!

The map and the fishermen's news together have helped me put together a picture of where he might have gone. That insufferable man! The town is still talking about him, my sister says. I got a letter from her last week saying that the rumors about us are flying fast and furious. She managed to fit quite a few veiled questions into her village gossip, but I am skilled at responding without giving her any new material. The town will just have to wonder. I'm sure anything they come up with will be more interesting than the truth, right?

The captain you mentioned should be arriving in port within the next few weeks, and I have secured a promise from Miles to notify me the moment it shows a sail. Whenever I get too cold, I go up and down the hundred steps of this lighthouse to warm myself up and strengthen my weak leg, sometimes as many as ten times, until I nearly fall over with exhaustion. Then the next day I can do a little more, and a little more. The lioness raises her head each time I reach our room at the top of the lighthouse, then drops it again when she sees I don't have a fish.

Fish, fish, fish. I'm getting as bad as the locals! I hope your lovely dry winter provides better than fish and your research goes exceptionally well for you! The dry, musty scriptorium sounds like heaven right now. I miss company and friends even more than I miss having dry boots! I will try to focus better on the research, so I have more to send you next time. I traded the ship's chandler in the port a painting I made of the lioness for a box of candles, so I will have many more hours of light per day to work now. Notice how much more I can write when I can see!

Waiting and watching and hoping,


From the High Desert, just past the Winter Solstice

From the High Desert
Just past Winter Solstice

My Dear Friend,

You cannot imagine how your letter has lightened my spirits. Indeed, I had been feeling rather low, missing both true winter weather and any kind of useful information for my search. I was beginning to feel as though the quest was hopeless until your letter arrived and reminded me that we both still have work to complete. A task to complete keeps the mind sharp. Truly, the heat here must addle my wits! Your description of everlasting rain, I confess, made me wilt with envy. We’ve had not a drop these many months past. I almost forget the sound of rain, though when it does fall across the desert, there is a sweet, clean petrichor to the air afterward unlike anywhere else I’ve traveled.

The library here is a wonder! I’m not entirely sure if I mean that in a positive way or not. The books are in no order at all, half are crumbling to dust – the horror! – and dust and mold reign supreme in every corner of the place. I wouldn’t have thought mold would grow in the desert, but it has managed to do so in this library. But just the small number of manuscripts I’ve had a look at are promising. There is a wealth of knowledge here. I have to hold onto the hope that the answers we seek will be found here – at least in part!

I’ve found work, as you expected, in the scriptorium. At first, they were hesitant to employ me – they did not think one such as myself would be literate, let alone have skill in writing – but the head scribe, a formidable woman, indeed, tested me and found me worthy. I now have duties transcribing musty old manuscripts and have free access to the rest of the texts when my daily duties are complete. It is an ideal arrangement, although it pays next to nothing. I am fortunate that the lodgings and one meal a day are included, so I am able to save some funds. I sense that our quest will require them eventually!

About the ship – I heard an unsettling rumor about the very ship you seek, or about her captain, that is. It seems he is something of a picaroon, and he dealt very ill with one of the Duke’s favorite courtiers. I was not able to get more details, but I will send more information as I gather it. I know he is of vital importance, but I implore you to use the utmost caution in dealing with him. It seems he may be rather untrustworthy.

My candle is guttering and I must retire before I draw too much attention to myself. The lodgings may be paid for, but I am one of four scribes sharing a dormitorium. I am expected to maintain a curfew.

I’ve enclosed a copy of a map for the lighthouse. It is ancient and I thought it was beautiful, though I doubt it will help in any way. But I hope it will remind you of home, and of happy times.

                                                                                Your friend and comrade,

P.S.: I nearly forgot. I found a text, nearly translucent with age, that I thought rather strange. The book itself was on agriculture and farming techniques, but it fell into my hands from atop the bookcase and opened to a particularly ancient page. The text of the page discussed a serpent-like creature, which I found intriguing, and in the margins was commentary about, I believe, the most astonishing sea creatures. My report is incomplete because most of the writing was illegible and faded with age and I couldn’t make it out, but the illuminations were as bright and brilliant as if they were newly painted, and did seem to depict some kind of marvelous creatures. I thought it odd to include serpents and sea creatures in a book devoted to agriculture. I don’t know if it is important at all, but I felt it warranted a mention. I have the text secreted away and will return to study it further as soon as I can.                               ~X

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


My dear!

I will not bore you with the details behind this delay. Just please accept my apologies for the lateness of this packet of ancillary material. The lighthouse feels bleak enough these days that I am glad of a trip into town to the post office, but the complications! Well, I did say I wouldn't bore you with that.

No sign of the ship yet. I can't imagine where I'll go next to wait for it. Maybe my strategy is completely wrong and I should be constantly on the move, instead of perching in one or another inhospitable point and watching and waiting until my eyes and ears ache from the silence.

Not that it's silent here! I just mean the lack of sounds I want to hear. There is plenty of noise, between the seagulls, the fishing boats, the men cracking jokes outside my window that I think I'm supposed to hear, but am also supposed to pretend that I don't hear. And the everlasting lashing rain rattling on the panes.

My lioness surely keeps me safe, but she has to hunt unless I buy fish for her from the men. Money is very tight, but I worry constantly while she's out hunting at night. Not so much about her as about me.

I don't want you to worry, though! Really we are very snug. I never imagined a lighthouse would be this warm and comfortable and well grouted against the wind. During the day the lioness and I sit together by the fire and study ancient maps and journals in the old lighthouse keeper's den, where the light is good enough to read. There will be much more ancillary material to come for your search. I hope that you have heard or found or divined any kind of information at all for mine.

My search seems impossible most nights, like finding a particular grain of sand lost in all the beaches of the world, but then dawn comes and the lioness returns home and I feel that ridiculous hope rising again. I can only wish that you too are feeling the resurgence of hope!