Today my final version of The Brothers Path went off to the publisher. I’m sure there will be edits, but WAAAAAA-HOOO! Here goes the Schneebelungenlied.
After my epiphany some years back (5?) with Martin of Gfenn and Truman Capote, I began to write in a more minimalist way. I try to let a story carry itself and I try to let the characters live their own lives without a lot of step-by-step commentary from me. However…
Wanting to sell a novel, I decided to find out what publishers expect a historical novel to be in the most mechanical terms. One of those very mechanical terms is length. It seems strange, it seems arbitrary, but a historical novel is “supposed” to be at least 80,000 words. The irony is that for most writers this is a target to which they need to edit down their work. I’m having a hell of a time reaching it. I’m a writer who believes in letting characters speak and reveal themselves; I’m a writer who likes the in medias res approach to action.
Where does the number come from? It comes from several places, I think, but one is what buyers expect when they plunk down their $20 for a paperback book. Savior is just about 70,000 words, and I’m sure that’s one reason it was ultimately rejected by a publisher who expressed very strong interest in it after my query.
One thing I learned in my short-lived participation in the writer’s workshop is that what I think is good writing is obscure and difficult to others. I also learned that there is a certain reciprocity to that which isn’t the result of bias since my classmates had no features (no photos) and I was not able to keep them separate in my mind. But, the work I read by classmates that I did like was seldom the work written by the classmates who didn’t like my writing style. It appears that readers are two-way mirrors. We look for ourselves and look at ourselves.
So I’m struggling with the Schneebelis, now just at 60k words, to get their story to the 80k mark. There are places to which I’d always planned to return, elements I’d always planned to include but did not have the historical background when I blocked in the episodes. I’m hoping that as I wander through the manuscript, making these changes and adding some development, that I’ll reach the mark.
Daily Prompt Tight Corner Have you ever managed to paint yourself into the proverbial corner because of your words? What did you do while waiting for them “to dry”? <== Because this is an abysmal prompt, I give you a random chapter of the draft novel, working title, The Schneebeli Brothers Go to Church.
Throughout the Canton of Zürich there was an exodus of Roman Catholic priests and clerics away from their long-seated monastery and cloisters, looking for new homes in Catholic cantons. While many monks from the Angel Mountain Abbey left for Zug and Luzern, the Prior planned to stay. He even put aside his white woolen robe for a black one.
The Abbey’s empty dormitory beds were given to the elderly poor where they could be watched over. Zwingli’s Bible replaced the beautiful handwritten Latin/German Bible in the sanctuary. A day came when orders arrived to destroy all the trappings of the Roman church lingering in the Abbey. Zwingli would send men from Zürich to help with the process.
“Nothing makes the point more clear than destroying the images,” Leo Jud had once said to his assembled students, pastors in the new faith.
“That’s true, Brother Leo, but I was shocked when I first walked into St. Peter’s. It creates quite a sober scene, the empty church,” spoke out Hannes who still had misgivings about the destruction of the story depicted on all church walls in the Christian world.
“It is not empty of God! God, not images, should fill the church.”
Deep in his heart, almost a secret from himself, but certainly not from God, the Prior hoped the change would not come. He could imagine working side-by-side with Hannes as he had for the last several years. He could even exchange roles, accepting Hannes’ leadership. He believed he could adapt to the new idea of “Communion” rather than Mass. With pleasure he taught in the new school and, though no on had asked, he offered his opulently decorated room to be used as an infirmary. These changes, many of them, corresponded to his own ideas for reforming the faith he loved. He was an old man and would soon step aside, anyway. He respected Hannes when, after weeks with no word, he had suddenly shown up in the black robes of the Protestant pastor. This was Hannes’ way, the Prior was sure, of marrying Vreni without abandoning his calling.
When Hannes returned, he had said, “I will continue working beside you, Father. We have our work as always, right?” Was this a wrong reason, evil in the eye of God? The Prior did not think so. Hannes had refused to lie, and the road he’d chosen might be the right one. The Prior could see the way the future was going. Other European states had suffered bloodshed during the recent Peasants’ uprising, but, so far, Zürich Canton had been spared. It was the Prior’s fervent prayer it would remain that way. His prayers were prayers of gratitude and for strength to continue working for peace. Even if it meant he sacrificed the old dogmas, his love of God would never change.
“Brother Hannes, what is it?”
“I’ve heard from Brother Leo in Zürich. I asked, you know, if for the sake of the elderly people here for whom our chapel has long been a place of inspiration and understanding, if for those old people, the paintings and hangings and statues could remain.”
“He has said no.”
Hannes nodded. “Here. You can read it. You’ll see I’ve been sternly lectured by Brother Jud — who is certainly right — that allowing our parishioners to continue in the way of superstition instead of teaching them the real words from the gospel condemns them not to know the truth. It will keep them in darkness.”
“Tell me, Brother Hannes, do you really believe that?” the Prior asked after reading the letter. “Do you really believe the paintings and statues lead the people to worship idols? Tell me your personal feeling, between us.”
“I understand the reasoning. If the Bible is printed and everyone can read it, what need have we of all this? And it’s true. There is nothing in scripture that says we should pray to a saint asking him to talk to God for us. God doesn’t need a lawyer to plead our case. He knows us already. It is WE who need to know our own sins and to go to God directly.But Brother Leo and Brother Huldrych say it is the invisible spirit of God that works in man. Of course, they’re right, but when I see the saints all along the wall, I don’t see idols. I see people just like me who did something right. If I pray to them, I am asking God to strengthen that part of them I wish to see in me,” Hannes sighed.
The prior nodded. “I believe Brother Leo and Brother Huldrych are right. Look at the women who go to that battered little Virgin,” the Prior crossed himself, “They believe she will help them conceive a child. Some leave her money which we collect and use for the poor, but these women believe they can ‘buy’ that kind of help from that statue. Still, when they return home, their heart is lightened. They have told her their troubles and they feel less alone. There is a fine line. Are these women worshipping the little broken bit of stone? Some are. Some do only as children speak to their toys. Do we take dolls from our daughters or the carved horses from our boys?”
Hannes could not answer. He simply hoped no one would think of or mention the small band of broken statues who had been his friends on many hard journeys.
It would happen on a Monday. Sunday, the parishioners would have service. The people were told that if they had given statues or relics to the Order, they should take them home. Then before the next sabbath, the chapel sanctuary would be emptied and whitewashed. Anything of value not belonging to others would be melted and sold and the money would be used to feed, clothe and house the poor.
Hannes found the Prior at prayer that Sunday evening at the time that would have been evensong, all the candles lit, every remaining bit of silver, gold and brass shining. Every statue seemed alive in the flickering light, and the small shrines along the walls offered themselves to world-weary sinners. Wearing sumptuous vestments, the Prior knelt in front of the small altar to the Virgin, on which, between silver candlesticks, stood a very old painted, linden wood statue of the Holy Mother. She leaned a little forward, holding her infant son in one arm. She had kept vigil in the chapel for centuries, perhaps as long as the abbey had existed. Her right hand was raised in blessing, and her left arm held the baby whose teachings would change the world.
“Our Order was dedicated to the Mother of Christ,” said the Prior, noticing Hannes. “Long ago. Some Benedictines wanted to purify themselves from the corruptions that had entered the faith. They split away to start again and dedicated themselves to charity and a holy life of poverty. Perhaps we have gone wrong, too, now.”
Hannes was not sure. The answer was not so black or white. All his life spent at this Abbey had been one of prayer and service to the people around. That the Abbey itself was wealthy the result of local lords who sought a way to escape their sins. In this the Roman Church had sinned. The Prior himself thought so, but the customs and endowments began long before his time. That the church taught men and women to buy their way out of hell was nothing but a kind of usury, paying gold to release their soul from debt. The Abbey had given such indulgences as had every other church.
“Yes. the commission is here already. They are sleeping in the dormitory.”
“Oh Brother Hannes. Such times. Forgive me. You know, I was asking our little Virgin to help me endure all this.” Tears ran down the old man’s cheeks. The Prior was trying very hard to hold firm that he could remain serving God and the people in this valley, but his heart was broken. In his mind all of this — the statues, the paintings, the shining objects of worship, his beautiful vestments — represented mankind putting on its very best for God. These beautiful things could be found in God’s house, the only place the poor, even just the ordinary, people could find them.
“I’m very sorry, Father. I fear I brought them here myself, through my love for Vreni.”
“No, no son. They would have come anyway. You have made it easier for me, for the abbey. I am sad, but in my heart I think that they may be right. With this printing invention, books are cheap, easy to make. These schools? People will soon no longer need me or you to tell them what Christ has said. They will read it themselves. It makes no sense to keep the Holy Word locked up. It was not meant that way. Our Lord wandered the countryside telling everyone. Still, I do not quite see why it must be this OR that. I would like that new Bible here, in this little chapel with our big one, one for everyone, and our chapel left untouched, but…”
“It is the new wine, Father. As scripture says, new wine is not to be put in old wineskins.”
The prior shook his head. “It is the power of scriptures that anyone can use the words to support their argument. Even the infallible doctrines of the Holy Church were disputed constantly, constantly, no matter who set them. Blessed St. Augustine, St. Paul, Pope Gregory, even the apostles who knew our Lord, disputed. It didn’t matter, really. People like to be right. They’ll fight just for that. It is not so complicated to follow Christ’s rule. As humans, we are fallen. We struggle against a thirst for power just as Eve defied God’s order.” The Prior sighed. “I very much fear that when he’s finished fighting the French, the Holy Father in Rome will do what he can to squash all of this. No one gives away power. No one. More’s the pity; more’s the pity. Those in Rome should heed the warnings of Erasmus of Rotterdam — a wise man, Brother Hannes, one who knows men’s hearts and the dark ways of the Church today. Mark me. We will have bloodshed here before it’s over, damage much worse than statues thrown on a bonfire. The Prince of Peace could never have meant to be the reason for war, but He has been all these long centuries. All the families in this valley have gone to war, year after year after year. Our land? Our land is based on war, mercenaries like your brother Peter. Buying and selling poor farm boys. Halberd, axe, hoe whatever tool they hold in their hand at the moment he comes riding through, all gorgeous in red and gold and blue and white. No one wins. One day this side, the next day that side and now? The Turks are at nearly at our door! That should tell us all that God does not favor one side of a fight over another. I do not think we should raise arms at all in defense of religion since it goes against Christ’s teachings, but it will come. You will see it, Brother Hannes, I’m sure you will, but… I ramble, Brother, I ramble.”
Hannes heard echoes of his brother Andreas in the Prior’s words. How strange, he thought, that the two would touch in any place, in any degree.
Looking around the chapel, Hannes’ heart was full. He, too, had always loved these things, loved them for their own sakes, loved them as beautiful paintings. “Yes,” he thought, “I am guilty of worshiping images.”
As if reading his mind, the Prior gave expression to Hannes’ thoughts. “I wonder that the new church does not see the power of these paintings and statues, in themselves? Art endures, a bridge through the lifetimes of us all, linking us one to the other. In this way, it seems to me, we should learn from the mistakes of the past, but each generation invents the world anew. The unchanging paintings are good reminders that it is we who are new; the world is old, old.”
“Do you want me to stay here with you, Father? It will be for me, also, the last night to see these things in this place.”
“My son, with all my heart I should like that, but you have a great deal of work to do tomorrow. Thank you for listening to me so patiently. Go to bed. God keep you, my son,” The Prior made the sign of the cross over Hannes’ head. It was not since Hannes had been a child that the Prior had spoken to him in this way. Suddenly filled with sorrow over the irrevocability of change, Hanne’s kissed the old man’s creased and spotted hand. It was wrapped around a white onyx rosary with an obsidian cross on which a small, silver Christ writhed in extremis.
The candles burned down; the chapel became dark. Hannes slept deeply in his little cell. At daybreak, he breakfasted with the men who would clear the chapel of its images. When be returned to the chapel, Hannes saw the linden-wood Virgin was gone. He was certain the Prior had .taken her to safety at Einsiedeln or Luzern, and Hannes was glad.
Sunday morning following, the chapel sanctuary was bare of paintings and statues, and the light coming through the stained glass windows was the only decoration on the white walls. Of the Seven Sacraments, only two remained; baptism and Holy Communion. The bread and wine were now only bread and wine and when people ate and drank, they were sharing symbolically with Christ and the apostles in the Last Supper.
Daily Prompt Sweet Little Lies As kids, we’re told, time and again, that lying is wrong. Do you believe that’s always true? In your book, are there any exceptions?
Lying, in general, is unwise and often disrespectful of self and others. A segment from the novel in progress. A lie is involved.
Standing over his father’s grave Peter thought, “That miserable old man. Grasping at pennies all his life. Still, no casket, nothing. No words spoken over him, no prayers for his soul. That the world should have come to this?” Peter did not know the new law that forbade caskets except for pregnant women, women who died in childbirth or those who died of plague. Elaborate funerals and words spoken for the salvation of the soul of the dead were not necessary any more, either, according to the Zürich reformers. Death was the gateway to eternal life with the Heavenly Father. There was no Purgatory or Limbo, nor was there Hell for the saved soul. The corpse was the useless carapace of the soul’s sad journey on earth.
“Not so miserable,” said Peter’s inner voice. “He loved your mother, he raised you and your brothers. He ran two mills and served his city. What more is there for a man than this? Your father fed the hungry. Fully one tenth and MORE of the mill’s flour went to those who had little or nothing, the local families from which you filled your army, the bodies on the hillside, blood flowing down to the streams? You think leading those boys to death meant glory? What did they die FOR? The ‘Holy Church’? What matters it that there is no coffin? Does he know now, or care?” Even with such thoughts, Peter stood composed in the bright brief light of that February morning.
He looked at his brothers. There was Hannes, presiding as pastor. He had given up his beliefs because he loved Vreni, a servant girl. Standing there beside Heinrich’s wife, Vreni was sweet, pretty, simply dressed, as always Hannes’ gentle shadow. “She is a true help-mate,” thought Peter, thinking with a pang of the wife he seldom saw and the secret he kept from those who called him Father.
Heinrich was the image of the old man though not as hard, not as tough — but not as old, either. Was that it? No. Heinrich stood with one hand on the head of his oldest boy throughout the service as his two little ones clung to his coat,sucking their thumbs. Johann was never such a father.
Conrad’s face betrayed no feeling, but Peter knew how much his brother had disliked their father. “Who knows?” thought Peter, wondering. “Whatever he feels, he did his duty by the old man. Have I?”
The night before the funeral, sleeping again in his childhood home, Peter’s mind wandered in the dark alleys and damp channels he avoided in his life of action. He knew that Andreas and Katarina had a daughter and that when the baby was born, and its care secure, Katarina had left the baby behind and returned to her father’s house.
Peter was sure the little girl was his child. Had Andreas learned of that afternoon? Had Katarina told him? Had Andreas sent Katarina away? But she had been a virgin. Months into their marriage, and Andreas had not consummated their relationship. Why? The questions spun round Peter’s mind, returning always to the same place, how could he have done that to his brother?
After the funeral, Peter sat down at the table with Heinrich, determined to learn what he could about his younger brother, his life and family. Peter had been shocked by Andreas’ death. The events surrounding it had made no sense to him until he found himself no longer fighting on some Lombard battle field, but entrenched in the religious disputes in the canton of Glarus where the Pope had sent him.
“So Andreas remained a follower of the true faith?” Peter had asked Heinrich.
“No, no, Peter. He was a re-baptizer.”
“Where is his daughter?”
“With Thoman in Strasbourg. It is safer there.” Heinrich spoke calmly of the intricate catastrophe all around him.
“Do you hear from him? Of the little girl?”
Heinrich shook his head. “It would not be safe.”
“What of Andreas’ wife?” Peter already knew, but still he asked.
“Kat-a-ri-na,” said Heinrich, drawing out the word. “She went back to her father as soon as she knew Kitty — the baby — would be cared for,” Heinrich shook his head. “Married now. Again.”
Peter nodded. “Do you hear from her?”
“No. She doesn’t even visit Christina and Conrad any more.” Heinrich changed the subject. “How is Glarus, Peter?”
“It is a change. My wife misses her family.”
“Why Glarus, then?”
“The Holy Father is making a stand in Glarus against Zwingli’s supporters.”
“You mean the Italian prince who pays you, him and his Austrian allies. You are a solder, though dressed as a priest,” said Hannes, quietly.
“Not unlike your Zwingli. When Zwingli was head priest in Glarus, our Holy Father in Rome took care of him well enough and Zwingli kept his bargain, though now he sings a different song.” Peter sighed. “I believe Zwingli will be building his own army soon enough.”
“I do not want my own boys sold off in such a way,” said Heinrich.
“You are a rich man, Heinrich. You have no problems to support your family. What of the tenants on your land or the land of the abbey? Are they as likely to share your feelings? More mouths than they can feed, a bad crop year, and where are they? They have one salable commodity; their sons. I recruit the son. He’s eager to join me! He, is fed, trained, clothed, housed, paid and yes, he may be killed, but he is a hero and he knows it. The family has benefited in the mean time, perhaps enough to get back on their feet.”
“How? When there is no one left at home to till the land? It’s not the poor families who benefit, Peter. It’s the nobles,” Hannes interjected, having just come in and sat down with them. Elsa and Vreni served a small supper, large parties after funerals having been forbidden by Zürich.
Peter nodded. “I don’t deny that, but it’s one more reason they have resisted this change, especially our Habsburg cousins. They need fighting men to stand against the Turks.”
“Well, Zwingli would have an end to it,” said Hannes.
“It creates allies for Zwingli, is all,” said Peter. “They will come out and fight, mark my words. They will fight as they do in Glarus, destroying holy objects, committing sacrilege.”
“I don’t think you care about sacrilege,” said Hannes softly. Vreni reached for Hannes’ hand, reminding him gently of the family rule; no argument about religion would come through the gateway, let alone in the house. They were family and would treat each other with respect and generosity. “If we have no other thing,” Old Johann had said soon after Andrea’s death, “we will hold to each other. Do not bring your arguments into this house, nay, not even into this courtyard.”
“I have taken a vow to defend the true faith, Hannes, as, did you, if you remember.”
“So I did, Peter. You are right. The question is now, just what is that?”
“Was your concern faith, Hannes, or love?” Peter looked at Vreni, who blushed.
“Go somewhere else with this, you two. Talk about this all night if you wish, you two, but not here,” interrupted Conrad. “On this day of father’s burial we ought at least to respect his rule. One brother is dead. I don’t doubt more of us will die in this stupid struggle for power covered up with the name of God. Christina calls it a plague and she’s right. What family has escaped? Well, never mind. Do as you like. It’s Heinrich’s house now. I’m going home. Will you come, my love?” Christina nodded and stood.
Ice crystals glimmered in the moonlight as Christina and Conrad walked home arm in arm. In the madness surrounding them, the silence of the forest and the stones of their castle home remained a haven. The battered saints, concealed in the overgrowth, still guarded the pathway, sweet sentries from the past.
Daily Prompt Ready, Set, Done! As it’s been a while since our last free-wAnrite… set a timer for ten minutes. Write without pause (and no edits!) until you’re out of time. Then, publish what you have (it’s your call whether or not to give the post a once-over).
An earlier chapter, concerning one of Thoman’s older brothers, Hannes. You will meet another brother, Conrad, also older than Thoman. The brothers are Heinrich, Hannes, Conrad, Peter, Thoman and Andreas. The brothers who died in childhood are Andreas 1, Rudolf and Oswald.
Through all the changes in the world around, Vreni served Conrad and Christina. She sometimes wondered what her future would be now her grandfather was gone. She was sure Christina would find a husband for her, and she hoped it would be someone nearby. There were young men of marriageable age on Conrad’s property, and Vreni expected any day for a roughshod boy in wooden soled shoes, a boy she’d known all her life, to arrive hat in hand to propose marriage, a beaming Conrad standing behind him. She would accept. There was nothing else to do and no better road that she could see. But a year went by and they were all well into another and still no embarrassed boy came to pay suit, and Conrad never said, “Matthias here is a good lad. Christina and I will do the best by you two, Vreni. You can be sure.”
Conrad was waiting to see how Hannes would manage. Vreni certainly saw him as “Brother Hannes,” a function not a man. She saw him often, and heard of him more, but since his return from Zürich, they had not exchanged ten words.
“The priests — pastors — of the reformed church are allowed to marry, Vreni. Did you know that?” asked Conrad one afternoon when Vreni sat stringing beans outside the kitchen door. He was finally prepared to keep his word to his brother. He had waited until the change was done and Hannes truly free of his old vows and living in the rule of new ones. ‘What do you think of that?”
“I suppose it was strange for them not to have families like other folk. I thought it was all right for them because they serve God and should not worry about the things the rest of us must.”
Conrad was struck by the girl’s naiveté, her sweet honesty. Hannes had chosen the right woman. He was every bit as naive and sweet as Vreni. “Hannes, Hannes, you know Hannes?” Conrad was suddenly nervous.
“You’re joking with me, Sir. Of course I know Brother Hannes — Pastor Hannes.”
“Yes. Well. Do you like him?”
“Who could not like him? He’s always kind. He was good to my grandfather and to me. He sometimes talks to me when he comes up to the castle. No matter what work I’m doing, he helps, as he helped bring in the plums for jam. Everyone around likes him.” She looked at Conrad, who had blushed red. “Sir, are you well?”
“Oh Vreni, when I said I’d talk to you, I thought it would be easy. It isn’t easy.”
“If you have something to tell me, Sir, just say it. It’s the easiest and best way. Grandfather always said so and he was right.”
“All right then, Vreni. Hannes loves you and wants you to be his wife. He wanted me to ask if you could love him, too.”
“Yes, Vreni. You. Could you be a priest’s — pastor’s — wife? Could you love my brother? Could you work beside him and have a family with him?” Suddenly Hannes was very precious, and Conrad did not want anyone to hurt him.
Now it was Vreni’s turn to blush. “Sir, I’m a common girl, a servant. You know! How could I marry the son of a noble family?”
“How noble are we? We may have once been knights to build a castle such as this, but now? My father runs a mill. My other brother helps him. Noble? No, only these days we are better off than most. We have a name in this valley and in the Canton and in the city, I know, but my father built that, Vreni. We are not rich and we are not noble.”
“He could marry any girl, a rich girl, one from his own class.”
“What is his class, Vreni? This is a new world and Hannes is in the middle of it. He loves you. He has loved you for a long time.”
Vreni wondered if this is why Hannes had not spoken to her as often as he used to. “I’ll marry anyone you say,” she said. “I am your servant.”
“Ah, Vreni, I cannot arrange a marriage for you, not even with my brother. Think about it. I will not mention it to you again, but if you find you can love my brother, I’m sure you can find some quiet way to tell him that he will understand.”
Vreni stood at the doorway, quiet in her surprise, and Conrad went down the hill to the stables. If Old Johann could do anything other than explode in anger or shed sentimental tears, his sons would turn to him. As it was, the younger ones turned to Conrad who was, anyway, level headed with a sense of humor. “Maybe it’s because my brothers need a father that God saw to it that Christina and I have had no children. What do you think?” he asked the chestnut mare as he led her out to pasture.
Once the changes were accomplished at the monastery, Hannes felt he could not delay his future any longer. He had to grab the moment or the moment would pass and Vreni would be lost. He set off one mid-morning, silently acknowledging the presence of the statues along the way. “I know you are there,” he said. “I will keep our secret.”
“Hannes! God be with you! Would you like some cider and cake?” said Christina finding Hannes at her door.
“No, nothing now, Christina. I’ve come to see Vreni.” Hannes’ face flushed.
“It took you long enough, Hannes,” Christina said, trying not to smile.
“Too long? Has Vreni…”
“No, Hannes, no. It’s just Conrad told me nearly two years ago…”
“He was not supposed to say… Never mind. It’s best you know.” Hannes sighed. The day he marched off to Zürich to abandon his religion was easy compared to this.
“Go outside, Hannes, by the apple tree near the wall. I’ll send Vreni.”
When Christina told Vreni that Hannes was waiting outside to talk to her, Vreni knew everything. She wiped her hands on her apron. “Change into this one, Vreni. It’s clean,” said Christina. Vreni tied the clean apron around her waist and smoothed her hair. “Vreni, wait. Will you? We don’t want Hannes to…”
“It’s all-right, Mistress,” Vreni said, blushing, and going out the back door.
Daily Prompt All or Nothing? “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” — Sylvia Plath. Which do you find more dangerous: wanting nothing, or wanting everything?
Wanting everything is often greed. Wanting nothing is often contentment. It depends what you mean. To “want” does not just mean to desire things; it also means to lack things. In Dickens’ novels people are always living in “want.” In Louisa May Alcott’s works, too. If “want” means extreme need, then “wanting” everything is acute deprivation.
And you, WordPress, you put up a product and attract customers. Retaining these customers depends on providing good service — consistently. Good prompts (this one isn’t) and dependable features — like your grid thing which is less dependable than the old-school “ping-back” thing was. I have only 12 more days in the year I gave myself as a trial before buying a site (or two!) for my novels. As things have not gotten BETTER but WORSE over these 12 months, I’m seriously looking around for something else — and, if there really is nothing else, than well, I’ll probably settle for NOTHING.
“Have the spots come?” asked the doctor, taking the steps two at a time. “If the spots have come, then she is likely to recover.” Reaching the small room in which Kitty now lay alone, Jacob’s children having been sent away to avoid the illness, the doctor set down his bag and went to the little girl. He first looked at her neck and chest, hoping to see the red rash that would reveal the progress of the illness. “Good,” he said. “As I hoped. It will be a few days more. You must see she drinks soup, broth, cider, whatever you can get down her. If she does not drink, her brain will inflame and she could die.”
Thoman shook his head. “She doesn’t know me, doctor. I cannot get her to take anything. She’s…”
“The spots have come. She may come back to herself any time now, Thoman. God is holding her in the palm of his hand, keeping her from suffering. Keep her comfortable, pray, wait. There is nothing else.”
“Will she die?” Thoman’s voice shook.
“She may die. I will not lie to you. If she dies, take heart in two things. She will be with our Heavenly Father, and she will slip into death with no pain or suffering.”
“Do you think… Tell me the truth, doctor, so I can prepare my heart, with God’s help.”
“The spots are a good sign. That she is not conscious, a bad sign. She is poised between this world and the next. God will choose for her. We can only wait and see. Send for me if there is a change. I must go. There are many such children in Strasbourg today.”
“Thank you, Brother.”
“Pray, Thoman — and eat something.”
“I have told him,” sighed Jacob.
“Listen to your friend,” The doctor laid his hand on Thoman’s shoulder. “I’ll call tomorrow.”
“Some of the women from the community are coming to sit with Kitty so you can rest. Let them, or when Kitty recovers, you will be ill.”
Thoman, strangely comforted by the doctor kind honesty, got up from the stool on which he’d spent most of the last day and night. “All right, Jacob. It is in God’s hands.”
“Better hands than ours, Thoman. Go wash your face. Frau Winkle has something for you to eat downstairs.”
Thoman went into the hallway where a basin and towel waited. He scrubbed his face with soap made from tallow and ashes, careful not to use too much. It was expensive. The bar must last a while. Candles were more necessary than soap, and so soap was taxed to preserve the tallow for candle making. That was life in the city. The smallest things made Thoman yearn for Apple Tree Village.
<a href="https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/all-or-nothing/">All or Nothing?</a>
Daily Prompt Feeling Fancy You’re given unlimited funds to plan one day full of any and all luxuries you normally can’t afford. Tell us about your extravagant day with as much detail as possible.
“It’s this city,” Jacob said, quietly. “It’s dark, dirty, crowded. You and Kitty are used to the countryside.”
Thoman also thought it was the city. Jacob was right. Strasbourg — city of hope — was crowded. The lanes were dark, there was filth everywhere, no way to breathe. He knew Kitty was homesick. She missed her little bed, her cousins and her aunts. Thoman missed them, too, and wondered at what price he’d bought their safety. Even here, in the City of Hope, it was not always easy.
The community of rebaptizers was so large that it controlled the city, but it was not in agreement with itself. It was fractured into diverse schisms, divided over everything from tolerance for those who could not easily give up the Old Church to the meaning of inner and outward faith to the imminence of the Last Days. Only a man called Pilgram Marpeck held to anything Thoman recognized as that to which he and Andreas had committed their lives five years earlier.
Marpeck had begun his own spiritual search in his hometown of Rattenberg, near Innsbruck. Because of his contact with a convicted rebaptizer missionary, he was branded a heretic by the Holy Roman Emperor and listed as a heretic. The penalty? In a decree, the Holy Roman Emperor pronounced death “…the appropriate punishment for rebaptism under ecclesiastical and secular law,” and because the rebaptizers were plotting the overthrow and abolition of all government.
Marpeck then fled his home for Moravia where he was baptized and fully joined the community of rebaptizers. After a few months, Marpeck went to Strasbourg where he soon became not only a leader in the religious community, but an engineer for the city.
The tenets Marpeck preached and supported, reliance on the gospel, especially on Matthew 5-7, believer’s baptism, the refusal to take oaths or bear arms, and the community of believers — balm on Thoman’s spirit. The first weeks in Strasbourg had been exhilarating. His heart had swelled and opened with all he heard, with the freedom to come and go, to worship without hiding. With Jacob he attended discussions about the believed that men and women of Christ had the duty to protect each other’s souls. Marpeck worked for the government of Strasbourg and did not object to the idea of a Brother serving the state in a peaceful role. Through discussion, prayer and thought, Marpeck had found a way to live in the world without losing the thread of faith in the salvation offered by God’s grace.
For himself, Thoman had never felt the need to break away from the community of his family or of the mill or of his village in order to retain his faith in God. In his heart he believed that the separation of the saved man from the world appeared naturally in daily life. A man who had known God’s Grace would behave differently toward his fellow men. Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, his life would become an imitation of the life of Jesus. As Felix Manz had said to them so long ago, “Set the word of God free. Let the Truth be Truth.”
P.S. If you think this has nothing to do with the daily prompt, you are right. I can’t imagine any luxury that I don’t already have. I think one of the keys to happiness in life is to be happy with what you have. I really do believe that and live by it. I think the prompt is a narcissistic variation on “if you had a million dollars what would you do with it?” without the challenge of possibly using it to help others. I suppose one luxury would be to buy a WordPress site rather than relying on the free ones. Another might be a storm door with a pet door in it. But I’m not all that interested in either of those “luxuries.” Super-interesting for you to learn that, right?
“What’s wrong, L?”
“I have 13 more days of this.”
“You can quit.”
“I know. The prompts get worse and worse.”
“Hmm. Could be you. This prompt could be fun.”
“I guess. Not for me, though. I may be done, as you say, Dude. No good tales in a while.”
“English is a one-syllable-word language. It’s no big deal to write with them. Stay away from Latin or Greek or French and you’re set.”
“I know. I’m done with this, for now. I feel like I’m in school. I don’t like the teacher. I think he’s dumber than I am. Not a good thing, Dude. Not good at all.”
“Well, maybe write when you want?”
“Yeah. This is just disappointing, every day a bad prompt. It seems more often than not, my post is just bitching about the prompt. I don’t want to do that. This is an elective activity. I just wanted to do it for a year!!!”
“Go work on your book, L. Just give it up for now.”
Kitty’s fever raged. Never in his life had Thoman felt so terrified. What if she died? What if this little girl, the light of his life, he knew that fully that he lived for Kitty not for God, were taken from him? Jacob found in and found Thoman on the edge of Kitty’s small bed, holding her small, hot hand between his own.
“Is she better, brother?”
“I cannot tell. She doesn’t know me. She burns with fever. The doctor says that half the children in Strasbourg. Oh God, all the poor families.” He was poor, without work, living on the charity of the community as were far too many others. If he were in the countryside, then? He could work. He could farm or work for another man in a mill, keeping his books, but this way? The streets of Strasbourg were filled with Brethren who had no where to live. “Hope,”Thoman thought, “is a complicated gift. It is much, but it is not all.”
“Brother, let me sit with her a while. You are exhausted. You need to eat. How long has it been?”
“I don’t know. Frau Winkle brought me some but? This morning?” He gestured at a plate sitting on a table behind him, filled with his uneaten breakfast of ham, cheese, bread, cold cider.
“You will become ill, Thoman. And then where will Kitty be?”
“I know, I know, but, Jacob, God forgive me, she is my world. She is Heaven and Earth.”
“We all feel so about our children as our Heavenly Father cares for us. Is she very like your wife?”
Thoman looked up in surprise, thinking to correct Jacob then decided, no. What was a daughter, anyway, but a girl child to raise, cherish, teach and let on her way? He was the only father Kitty knew. “No,” he said and retreated into silence. It seemed an age ago that his father had offered him up to Katarina’s father as a husband for his daughter. “I would have been her father,” thought Thoman. “It could have been like that.” Tears filled Thoman’s eyes.
Daily Prompt: Groupthink February 2, 2014: Write a post that includes dialogue between two people — other than you. (For more of a challenge, try three or more people.)
It was nearly full summer when Conrad’s servant appeared at the abbey, red-faced from running, demanding Brother Hannes.
“Old Stefan has taken a fall and is not in his right mind. He cannot talk; his eyes look off in two directions.”
“Yes, wait here. I’ll go back with you. I must tell the Prior where I’ve gone.” Hannes vanished for a few minutes and came back, wrapped in a warm cloak and carrying the instruments he would need to offer last Rites to the old man.
“Do you think…” the servant cross himself.
“Only God knows, but it’s best to be prepared so that Old Stefan spend eternity in Purgatory for lack of my being ready.”
“No, Brother. That is right.”
They walked quickly up the trail without speaking. Conrad met them at the bottom of the road that led up the hill to the castle, shaded by blooming linden trees. Some of these trees had been standing since the castle was built three hundred years before.
“He forgot he is an old man and climbed a ladder to reach the upper branches of an apple tree beside the courtyard wall.”
Old Stefan’s room was in the bottom of the old castle tower, facing the grassy pasture and hillside. He lay on his cot, a linen bandage wrapped round his head. A crimson stain betrayed the spot where the old man’s head had hit the wall. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, and he did not seem to know anyone.
“Come and gone.” Conrad feared to speak in front of the girl who sat beside her grandfather, holding his hand. “Vreni, leave us for a moment?”
“I want to know,” she answered calmly. “He is my grandfather. I should know.”
“Very well.” He, as had Vreni, had known Old Stefan all his life. Much of what Conrad knew about horses had been taught him by Old Stefan. “The doctor says that there is an injury to the brain. Old Stefan may live some time yet, but never in his mind again, and he may die of bleeding inside his head.”
“Do you want me to give him the sacrament, Conrad?”
“Ask Vreni. She is his only family.”
The girl looked up at Hannes, her blue eyes filled with tears. Hannes felt as if he were falling into them. Her soft brown hair in loose strands around her face. Her nose and cheeks were red from crying. Her hand was red from washing pans; her apron was stained with strawberries; they had made jam. Hannes’ face flushed, remembering the wine on this same girl’s lip. His heart was suddenly in his throat.
“Vreni,” he said softly, “even if your grandfather stays with us longer, he may never recover his reason. Do you want me to…?”
“You should leave the room in case the Holy Spirit assists your grandfather and leads him to confess himself before he dies.”
“Please, Brother Hannes. I do not want to leave him. If my grandfather does awaken, I want him to see me here beside him.”
“It is not done, Vreni. The Rite is very clear that the Priest and the dying should be alone together.”
“Let her stay, Hannes. Would you not have Vreni here if her grandfather recovers his mind?”
“It may prevent him from unburdening his heart to the Lord, Conrad. It may put his soul in danger.”
“You mean if I am here my grandfather could go to Hell?”
“If he cannot speak freely to God and ask for forgiveness.”
“All right,” the girl stood and attempted to release herself from her grandfather’s hand, but the old man held fast.
Vreni looked at Hannes in panic and hopelessness. She did not want to leave her grandfather, but she wanted him to be with the Saints in Heaven, not, because of her, condemned to Hell’s eternal fire.
“Let her stay, Hannes. Old Stefan raised her. He’s been both parents to her,” said Conrad. “Do you really think he will suddenly become conscious? I do not. He’s been in this state for hours now.”
“Sit down, Vreni. There is nothing for it,” Hannes said. “God forgive us. Have pity on your poor servant, Old Stefan. Have pity on this girl who this day may lose her grandfather, and with him all her family.”
Hannes gave the old man the last rite, and, before he was finished, the old man’s soul went to join the souls of his daughter and his wife.
“Is my grandfather in Heaven, Father Hannes?”
“Yes, Vreni. He is safe now and out of hurt.”
As Hannes prayed for the old man’s soul, he wondered what angels in Heaven could equal this one beside Old Stefan’s corpse. When morning came, Old Stefan’s body was carried to the old family cemetery beyond the old castle walls.
An extended group of thinkers:
- Snowy Owls on Ocracoke | Exploratorius
- The last stance | MC’s Whispers
- A Nice Environment (short fiction) | The Jittery Goat
- S. Thomas Summers: Writing with Some Ink and a Hammer | This Poet has Something to Sell
- some motions are | y
- The Secret Food Blog | Daily Prompt: Groupthink | likereadingontrains
- Mighty AD vs Amazing Big Red. AD 1 Big Red 0 | thoughtsofrkh
- Once a coffee morning… | A mom’s blog
- we inch our | y
- Confessions of an Inveterate Eavesdropper | Be Less Amazing
- DP Daily Prompt: Groupthink | Sabethville
- Daily Prompt: Group Think | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
- Paradox | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
- Daily Prompt: Group | That Montreal Girl
- Daily Prompt: Groupthink | Of Glass & Paper
- My Men Are Brave | Flowers and Breezes
- Who Am I? | My Floating Musings
- 260. Choices | Barely Right of Center
- Bate-bola | madeira de deriva.
- “Groupthink” | Relax
- New Name I Pray: The Rescue Bowl | The Abuse Expose’ with Secret Angel
I’m working on a novel and thought I’d post the first chapter (it’s a draft but not a first draft) and see what you think! I’m very grateful for comments, suggestions, etc. Thank you!
Chapter One, Rudolf
Late April, 1524
Old Johann paced back and forth just outside the front gate. “Where is Hannes?”
“He’ll be here, Father. I told Thomas to hurry.”
“Why didn’t Thomas take a horse?”
“I don’t know. He should have.”
“Pray God he gets here before it’s too late.” The old man crossed himself.
Thomas and Hannes appeared at the bottom of the hill.
Inside, Verena lay exhausted on the bed where hours earlier she had given birth to a tiny boy, two months before term. She wept weakly and named him Rudolf. Verena had already several grandchildren, but somehow God had designed her this way.
“Go to her,” said Old Johann to Hannes. “There’s no time to waste.”
Hannes hurried into his mother’s room and found her wavering between worlds. He looked over at his tiny brother in the carefully padded apple box. The nurse who tended Verena sat with slumped shoulders, her face red with crying, knowing why Hannes was there and what lay ahead.
“Sister Verena,” he began. Hannes’ voice caught in his throat. ”Mother.” He swallowed and began again, placing her rosary in her hands. “Mother, do you sincerely beg our Lord for forgiveness of your sins?”
He opened the cross-shaped, silver box he wore on his belt for the services of Last Rites and took out a small vial of Holy Oil and a wafer that had been blessed by the Holy Father in Rome. With the oil, he traced the shape of a cross on his mother’s forehead and placed the wafer between her lips. He knew she could not eat it, but it would protect her from Satan who could be lurking anywhere to jump into one of the body’s openings and steal Verena’s soul at the last minute.
“May our Heavenly Father pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, his holy mother, Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph and St. Verena, name saint of our sister, my mother, Verena.” He made the sign of the cross over her body. Verena soon followed the infant Rudolf in death.
“Father, Thomas, Heinrich, Andreas, you can come in.”
“What of the baby?” asked Heinrich.
“Did you or father baptize him?” asked Hannes.
“How long did he live after he came into the world?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t here. I was at the mill.”
“Father, how long was the baby alive?”
“I was also at the mill, Hannes. You know that. I came home, as did Heinrich, the moment Andreas sent word.”
“Andreas, you were here? Did you baptize him?”
“Such a little thing as he died in the same state of grace and innocence as all small children who are not yet old enough to know good from evil. He went immediately to Heaven and waited there for our mother. To baptize him would be a sin.”
“Then he cannot be buried with Mother. In the few moments of his life, the Evil One could have captured him. He will go to live in Limbo with other unbaptized infants. He will remain there until our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. We can have prayers said for his soul so that on that day, he will join Mother in Heaven.”
“Hannes,” said Andreas, who was the youngest. “If you spent any time outside the monastery and this valley, you would have heard the disputations in Zürich. There is nothing in the Bible about infant baptism. There is no ‘limbo’ or ‘purgatory’ or any of those other things made up by the Roman Church to steal money from poor people or sad people or broken-hearted people or even guilty people such as our Father.” Andreas was disgusted by his brother the priest.
“Still, Andreas, you could have done it for our father,” said Thomas.
“Are you serious, Thomas? How would that be ‘for’ our father?”
“His son — our brother — could have been buried with our mother. That would mean much to him.”
“Your beliefs make you selfish, Andreas,” said Hannes.
“Mine? It’s your beliefs that prevent our brother from being buried with his mother.”
“As do yours, Andreas,” said Thomas.
“Where were you if it is so important to you? You knew her time was coming.”
“Not for two months, Andreas. You know that full well. Why were you not at the mill?”
“I spent the night in Zürich listening to Brother Huldrych. When I got home this morning, Mother was in labor. The baby soon came. Mother was in a bad way, so I sent to the mill. By the time Father, Heinrich and Thomas got here, the baby was dead. I folded his little blankets, put them in that apple box and laid him in it.
Other than his beliefs, Andreas was angry and disgusted at Old Johann for getting Verena pregnant. He was not alone.
Verena was buried in the Snow/Longfield section of the abbey cemetery beside the graves of the first Andreas who had died of measles when he was two and little Oswald who, alone in the family, had succumbed to the plague five years before. He was ten years old. Verena’s husband and three of her six living sons – Heinrich, Thomas, and Hannes – stood around the grave, each in turn throwing clods onto her casket. Conrad, who of Old Johann’s sons was closest to Verena, refused to attend the funeral of anger at old Johann for his lack of self-control.
“Why?” he’d demanded of the old man, banging his fist on the table. “Do you not remember the last time? The doctor said to you that if Mother again became pregnant, she would very likely die. You were lucky — he said — that the baby she carried then died in the womb, was miscarried, but Mother nearly died as well! And now?” Conrad had stomped out of the house, vowing to return only when he knew his father was not there.
Peter, the second son, was a military man. His troops, currently in pay of the Pope, were fighting the French in Lombardy.
As words were spoken over Verena’s grave, Andreas dug a hole in the orchard for his little brother. When he finished, he sat on the pile of dirt beside the hole and waited for Thomas. Finally, he saw his red-haired brother come up the hill.
“You should have come, Andreas.”
“Very likely,” Andreas admitted. “I just don’t know why the old man couldn’t leave our mother alone.”
Thomas nodded. “She should have been past her time.”
“But she wasn’t. Father should have known that and considered the dangers.”
“Perhaps he didn’t know.”
“My God, Thomas! They lived together for nearly forty years! He must have known. Last time when she miscarried — what, last year? The doctor told him. You were in the room yourself.”
“Yes. But, the old man has his way. You know that and I know that. We get no where like this, Andreas. Anger can never be God’s will.”
“No.” Andreas sighed.
Thomas lifted the apple box.”Poor little one,” he said. “Never to see this beautiful world.” The petals on the apple trees had shaken free in the wind, covering the spring grass in white and pink. “This is a lovely spot for our brother, Andreas.”
They gently placed the box in the hole. Andreas having had the work of digging, Thomas took the job of covering Rudolf.
“There,” he said, tamping down the dirt with the back of his shovel. “Say a prayer, Andreas. You’re better at it than I.”
“Heavenly Father, who knows better than we the reasons for things, please care for our little brother, Rudolf, who spent only a few minutes in this world, not long enough to harm anyone or anything. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” He began to cross himself, a reflex, and stopped. The brothers stood in silence for a few minutes.
They brushed the dirt off their leggings and kicked their boots against a tree to clean the mud from them and went to join the neighborly meal that traditionally followed a funeral. When they got to the courtyard, people were seating themselves at long tables set up in the courtyard.
Andreas and Thomas sat down at the family table, expecting an angry look from the old man, but Old Johann was relieved see them. Verena’s death, and his part in it, had taken something from him in just a day, and he was suddenly an old man. He stood up slowly to speak to his guests, most of whom he’d known all his life.
“Family and friends — and most friends in this village are family to us, too. Thank you for being here. Thank you for standing with me at the funeral of my wife, Verena.” A lump rose in Old Johann’s throat. His marriage had been arranged, yes, but it was also a marriage of love. She had been barely 15 when he first saw her and just 17 when they married. Within the year, their first son was born, then poor Andreas the first who died at age two, and then one boy after another over the years, eight in all, counting little Rudolf. He knew his sons could not understand why he, an old man and she, an old woman, well. Never mind. He hoped that their lives would give them a similar love. He took a deep breath and shook his head to make the memories disappear. “Our family has, for generations, recited a psalm every morning before doing any other thing. This morning, I’m afraid, we did not. I cannot remember a morning in all my life that did not start with these words and before we break our fast. I would like to share them with you and with my boys who are here and perhaps, too, with Verena and my poor dead sons and the small Rudolf whom the church says could not be buried with his mother. Perhaps they will all hear us and know of our feelings for them, that we love them.”
None of Old Johann’s sons could believe what they were hearing. This hard old man who focused on duty, custom and rules, who made money, followed the customs of the village and did everything “recht,” who had served on the Zürich council, when he was younger; this man who met backtalk from his sons with hard slap across their mouth, who believed in fierce discipline to prepare his boys for the world saying, “The world is hard. Be ready,” before lifting the switch to chastise an erring son, this man admitting to loving them, this was their father?
“My sons,” Old Johann motioned for them to stand up, “Everyone.” Heinrich, Hannes, Thomas and Andreas stood. Old Johann began, and they recited together, “Bless The Lord, O my soul, O Lord my God, Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain, who layeth the beams of his chambers in the water; who maketh the clouds his chariot, who walketh upon the wings of the wind.”
The old man sat slumped in his chair. His mind filled with questions. Andreas said that Rudolf was in Heaven; Hannes said he could not be. Who was right? Old Johann had chosen to ignore the changes filling his world, but now change had been lain on his door step.
“Father come,” said Thomas, offering his arm to Old Johann after all the guests had gone, “I’ll show you where we buried Rudolf.” The two walked slowly up the hill behind their house and its walls to the apple orchard which had helped support their family for many generations.
”Would that you had cared for his soul,” he said, his red eyes rimmed with tears.
“Father, Rudolf is with our mother in Heaven, even if he is not beside her in the grave yard. You do not need to worry about his soul.”
“How do you know that, Thomas? Hannes says the baby is in Limbo.”
“There is nothing in the Bible about Limbo. There is nothing to say that a baby who has not been baptized will not have eternal life with our Lord.”
“The Bible? And you have read the Bible?”
“Brother Huldrych speaks on the Bible every Sunday and reads to us from it, in our language.” Thomas replied. “Others, too, speak on different questions, and some are very interested in this question of baptizing infants. They say it’s wrong, sinful. There are constant debates on this question in Zürich. Though they do not all agree with each other on every point, they do agree that the old church is corrupt and greedy, and far from the Scripture. They say that demanding money for prayers is theft. They tell us how the church in Rome is very rich from preying on the superstition and fear of well-meaning people.”
“The Church has been with us since time began. How could it be so wrong? And tell me, why is your Brother Huldrych just finding out now?”
“The Roman church has been in trouble with itself for a long time. Even Conrad’s old songs tell of the Pope taking our money and leaving us poor. Here it is, Father.” Old Johann looked at the small mound of earth, already covered with the falling apple blossoms.
“Did you at least say a prayer for him, Thomas, you and Andreas? Or does Brother Huldrych say prayer is no longer needed?”
“Father, God hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s where He has always been, closer to us now we don’t have the Roman Anti-Christ standing in between.”