Benediction had ended, the monastery slowly rising from the wooden benches, leaving behind the first of many praises to The Most High.
Friar Charles stayed behind, mind still focused on the words and the good deeds that had been given to all of his fellow friars just outside of Augustine. Their work--their efforts to create new Bibles for Pope Titan III--was progressing well. His Eminence was pleased with the reports slowly working their way from the small enclave into the city.
By the time he rose, his added words to The Most High finished, one of the boys arrived with a note, folded into a precise square and adorned with the Emperor’s seal.
Charles nodded to the boy for delivering the note, bidding him goodbye once the course parchment sat in his hands.
It wasn’t often that the Emperor had reason to write to anyone here, let alone him. He was just a lowly monk who had a keen interest in the written word of The Most High.
Opening the letter quickly, Charles read it, trying to make sense of the note.
”24 August 808
“I have heard word from Pope Titan III of your great work on the latest copy of the Bible for his work in the Far West. One has yet to reach us this far north in Genosha proper, but I have no doubt of your skills.
“In the end of the battle with the Salazar, I was able to find a copy of The Word of the Most High that has was left in the original Aramaic of the time. His Eminence has said that you are the most knowledgeable scholar of the ancient language. Would you be willing to travel from your home to Genosha and begin work on translating and then illuminating a new copy of The Word of the Most High for me? I do not trust anyone else in the Pope’s circle of friars, save yourself.
Emperor Magnus of Genosha”
Charles looked at it one more time. There, in Genosha, was a copy of the original word of The Most High, untainted by translations into Greek before Latin. It was the most sacred and most precious of documents to see--the original word. To be singled out by both His Eminence and the Emperor, Charles knew was no small feat. It was only through his long hours of work, slaving over each letter as he created a new Bible that his name was known. It should not have been so, he knew. The life of a monk was meant to be secluded, part of a larger unit with no one to be singled out.
But the letter from the Emperor suggested otherwise. He folded the small note, tucked it into his robe and went towards the workroom.
Lunch came and went before Charles had a chance to find the Monsignor to ask about leaving. If he was to leave for Genosha and work for the Emperor, Charles would need to let Pope Titan III know of leaving the monastery, especially without completing the last Bible.
Permission granted, Charles slowly walked from just three miles outside of Augustine into the Holy City, with an audience planned with His Eminence for the following day.
Cardinals all throughout the great church greeted Charles, offered him kind words on all of the work he had done before leaving him to his peace and a small and quiet room for the evening.
The friar pulled out the letter again, reading over it, still slightly puzzled. He had long known of how much Pope Titan III had admired his work, but to tell the Emperor was almost too much. He was a humble servant of the Word of the Lord. Praise and being singled out were not what being a monk had been for him. He simply loved the Lord and wished to show him honor.
Drifting off to the thoughts of how his work had been seen by others led to a restless night for Charles. His mind still lost in thoughts of what the original words must have been, before he also thought of how best to illustrate the story of Creation, Moses, The Last Supper.
Slowly light crept into the small room as Charles’ mind still raced through myriad possibilities and conversations that he would need to have with His Eminence. Try as he did to shake the thoughts, they lingered and clouded his mind all morning.
Breakfast passed quickly without much thought before one of the officers escorted him to Pope Titan’s private study.
“This way,” the man said as the door was pushed open into a lavish room, decorated in red velvets and gold.
“Thank you,” Charles said, head down to show his respect for the Pope.
“Friar, it’s so good to see you again,” the Pope said, voice raised through the room. “We hope your journey was not too difficult.”
“No, it wasn’t, Your Eminence. Everything was as I expected.”
“Good. Now what is the reason for your visit? We did not expect you to have finished with that Bible already.”
“It is slightly related to that, Your Holiness. I have here a letter from Emperor Magnus, who wishes me to translate and created a new Gospel for him. His letter said that you recommended me.”
Charles looked up just as the Pope nodded his agreement. “We did tell the Emperor about your skills, Charles. You are the best. Only We did not expect his request so soon.”
“It seems as though he would like me to start work immediately. I only wish to tell you that I will not be able to finish your commission. There are plenty of others at the monastery who will be able to finish it, however. I would not deprive Your Eminence of a new Bible to spread The Most Holy Word.”
“It would be better if you were able to finish, but We do know how particular the Emperor can be.”
“I apologize for not being able to finish it, Your Eminence,” Charles said.
“Think nothing of it, Friar. We should have expected the Emperor to be swift with this new translation. He has not even let Us see the original text. You might be the first.”
Charles blushed at the implication of being thought of before the Pope, before the leader of the Church.
“None of that, friar. We are not put out by not seeing it. We are not able to read the ancient texts as you are. We shall miss your work, but know you will be of great use to the Church in Genosha with the Emperor.”
The Pope gave a dismissive wave of his hand before Xavier took his leave of the room.
He packed his small sack before leaving the Church, heading to the monastery for the last time before departing for Genosha.
As Charles arrived into his small room that afternoon, exhausted from the journey back from Augustine, there were three small missives on his palette from some of the younger monks.
Alexander, Henry and Sean had all written quickly, worried that Charles’ leaving would be disastrous for them.
He smiled, knowing why the men were nervous, and set out to allay their fears before dinner.
Walking towards the cosy dining area, Charles saw the three of them staring intently at him.
“Good evening, friars,” Charles said when he was closer to them.
“‘Evening,” Henry said. “Did you have a good trip?”
“I did. I’ll be leaving soon to go to Genosha on a project for The Emperor.”
“Will you leave us?” Alexander asked.
“Of course not! I could not complete such a large task as to translate and illuminate such a book. I am certain that you will all be most welcome with me in Genosha.”
The three of them sighed in relief before Charles continued. “I made a promise to you all when you arrived here. I will not let you down.”
“Thank you, friar,” Sean said. “We should get into the dining hall before anyone else worries.”
“We should. If you’re all free after dinner, meet me in my room. We’ll discuss the journey then,” Charles said before moving his hand, trying to get the three younger men to walk.
The group walked into dinner, three with relief waving off of them as Charles’ words settled their unease.
Secrets were not something that monks should have, but Charles knew these were different. He’d always protect these men as long as he could.
Their skills in aiding his new goal secondary to their survival.
The Monsignor looked forlorn as the four men left the monastery, his eyes downcast and his wave small.
With his former monks, he had sent along a few days worth of food, enough for their slow pace from outside Augustine all the way to Genosha. Charles was grateful for the food, and care that the older monk was providing for these men, leaving him as they were.
The rest of the monastery stood behind the Monsignor, all given a reprieve from morning work. They waved just as quickly as the Monsignor had, though they all watched as Charles started to walk away before Alexander, Henry and Sean all followed behind with a small cart.
He set a slow pace, knowing that they had at least ten miles of walking to do today before they could rest. The monastery was no longer in sight, and Charles looked back to see the three others talking quietly.
“What are you talking about?” Charles asked as he slowed down a bit to walk side by side with the cart.
“Nothing,” Alexander said. “We’re just not used to talking during the day.”
“You’ve only been here for two years, right?” Charles asked.
Henry nodded his agreement. “You’ve been in less than I, but I suppose that means I’m used to the solitude.” Charles smiled after finishing, looking at them as they chatted.
It would be a different life for them in Genosha. There were no longer Benedictions to attend, meals to cook. Charles laughed at that alone before Sean said something.
“You’re okay, Charles?”
“Yes, Sean. I just realized how different this will all be. We should make the most of the time on the road today and keep walking. Tell me about how you were interested in the monastery?”
Sean started to explain his family, being the second oldest boy who survived past the age of ten. He had stories of sisters and other brothers, enough to while away the hours it would take them to walk ten miles.
Charles heard Alexander and Henry add in comments here and there, but he was lost in the conversation, losing track of the words, but holding onto the sounds.
Sean’s voice grew melodic as he told more stories. More and more, Sean was not the same boy who had arrived, scared of his voice, scared of his way with the small glass windows in the parish church he had left in the northwest.
Four days later, they arrived at the gates of Genosha, the city hidden behind a high wall. Conversations had been enough to pass the time, but Charles was grateful to arrive there, the repetition of his companions’ stories having worn on his nerves, though he knew more than to let them all know that.
Charles knocked loudly against the wooden door, wondering why the city was so closed off after the victory of Emperor Magnus in Salazar months before. The door moved slightly, a small woman in blue peering her head out.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Friar Charles from outside of Augustine. The Emperor has requested I come to help him.”
“Who are they?” she asked again, her head nodding towards Alexander, Henry and Sean.
“My assistants. I am to help translate and illuminate a new Word of the Most High.”
She looked them over, eyes moving up and down at their appearance, robes dirty and torn at the ends from travel, before she opened the door more to let them in.
“Hurry in. I’ll be sure Mi’lady sees you soon. I hope you’ve brought some change of clothes.”
Charles laughed slightly. “We have none but the clothes on our back.”
She huffed in exasperation. “Come along then. Leave the cart here, you won’t need it, but grab what you’ll need and I’ll show you to your rooms. Someone will be by soon to give you new clothes.”
“That is too much kindness. We’re fine to wear these,” Charles said, knowing that his life as a monk was one of wanting for nothing.
“I am sure that Lady Emma would not allow it,” was all that the woman said. “You’ll be meeting Azazel and Janos as well; they will not take kindly to your dirty.”
“We shall be fine as we are, thank you.”
They walked into the castle and into one large room with books spread out on the long table.
“Mi’lady will be here shortly. Please do not touch the books until she arrives.”
The woman spun around quickly, leaving the four men alone in the room, looking confused at the number of books on the table and how much time it would have taken to craft them all.
“I hope we’re aren’t expected to make more than one book for Emperor Magnus,” Alex said.
“His letter only said one, Alex. I think him a man of his word,” Charles said, still admiring the books.
“He is that,” another female voice said as the door pushed open loudly. “Hello, friars, I am Lady Emma, Emperor Magnus’ advisor. You are most welcome to Genosha. I hope you find the city to your liking as you explore it later.”
“I thought we’d be working too often for that mi’lady,” Charles said, walking towards her to greet her.
“The Emperor would not hear of it, I can assure you. You’ll be working in the mornings only, according to his notes to me. The afternoons will be yours at your leisure.”
Charles heard Sean mumble to Alex, but nothing to attract the woman’s attention.
“We’re not accustomed to leisure,” Charles added.
“I am sure, but His Highness will not hear of you taxing yourselves for him and his work. It will be completed when it needs to be.”
“I suppose that means we’ll be here for a few months,” Charles said towards his younger colleagues.
They all nodded in understanding.
“Now, I know you’ll want to start on the book as soon as possible, but I need to introduce you to some of Salazar’s men. If you have questions about the original text, they will be able to help you.”
Emma clapped her hands before the door opened again and two men, one tall and other about Charles’ height entered the room, dressed in robes of deep red and cream.
“This is Azazel,” she said, pointing to the taller man, “and his colleague, Janos. Emperor Magnus made their acquaintance on his journey back from Salazar, and they were willing to come with him to make sure the scrolls were not damaged.”
“How thoughtful, sirs,” Charles said, hoping that they were able to understand him.
“Yah,” Azazel replied.
“I’m sure that you all need some time to rest after your journey,” Emma said as the room had grown quiet. “Emperor Magnus has requested that you join him for dinner. Raven will take you to your rooms and you’ll have time before dinner at sunset.”
Emma clapped her hands yet again, and woman who had led them into the room appeared, ready to take them away.
Raven led them all back into the castles corridors, before continuing through more narrow hallways, an ornate door in the middle of one in front of them, opening it to reveal a large and sparsely decorated room. It looked as those all the tapestries had been removed specifically for them.
She gestured for them all to enter before she joined them.
“Mi’lady Emma has said I should come back before dinner to escort you, but this room will be your home for however long you’re working for the Emperor. There are four doors behind the tapestries, with smaller bedrooms for each of you. I suggest you all dust yourselves off before dinner.”
“Thank you,” Charles said.
“I’ll be around to help as you need it. But right now,I must attend to Mi’Lady.”
“Of course. How will we get your attention if we need it?” Henry asked.
“There’s a rope here,” she pointed next to the door, “that will ring into my room. I will arrive as soon as I can after that.”
“How marvelous,” Charles said, eyes alight at the technology in the castle.
“You have a few hours until dinner. Rest your feet and your eyes before then,” Raven said before closing the door behind her, leaving them to themselves.
Charles settled on hitting his robe with a wooden stick to remove some of the dirt from their journey before Raven arrived to talk them to dinner. The boys had followed his lead, each hitting their burlap robes with one to let loose some of the dirt and grime. Piles of dirty sat in corners of each of their rooms, though Charles knew that it would be cleaned up later should anyone notice it.
As the sun started to hid behind the wall outside the castle, there was a knock on the door. Raven pushed through a minute later, her eyes downcast as if she was unsure of what to find when she entered.
“Ready, friars?” she asked when she saw a pair of sandals in her line of sight.
“I think we are,” Charles said, stepping closer to Raven and the door outside.
The walk to the dinning room was quiet, no one especially sure of what to say before the meal, especially since Charles was sure that his fellow monks had never had to greet anyone other than Monsignor at the monastery.
“Emperor Magnus will be in a few minutes. When he arrives, stand until he sits,” Raven said once they were all inside the room.
“Of course,” Charles said, unsure of what to do with the large table set for a feast.
“This is a small dinner,” Raven added. “It’s only you four, Azazel, Emma and Janos.”
“That’s more conversation than we’re used to,” Charles replied before he noticed that Alex, Henry and Sean were all marveling at the fine cloth atop the table and the golden goblets set at each setting.
“You’ll be fine. Emma will guide the conversation. Emperor Magnus isn’t usually much for talking.”
Charles was about to reply when the door pushed open, revealing Emma, Azazel and Janos. They were all dressed in slightly finer clothes than from their earlier meeting.
“I feel underdressed now,” Charles mumbled to Henry as they started to walk towards the high back chairs.
“That seems to be the point,” Henry said in a low voice before Emma was at her seat.
“Thank you for joining us, Friars,” she said before her arms were raised as if she were greeting a large of leaders from another country, not monks.
“It’s our pleasure, Mi’lady,” Charles said. “We thank you for the invitation, though we’ll be happy to eat in our quarters.”
“Emperor Magnus won’t hear of that. You’re to be treated as if you’re dignitaries.”
Sean laughed, though he tried to cover it in a cough.
“We’re unaccustomed to such treatment. This is all too much.”
“The Emperor would have it no other way. He’ll be here shortly.”
“As you say,” Charles said.
“Do we sit now?” Azazel asked after the room fell into silence.
“Yes, please do, everyone. The Emperor doesn’t rest on ceremony for such a small dinner. Raven, will you start to pour the wine for everyone?” Emma said.
Charles hadn’t seen her leave the room, but he was sure that she had left before her frame was to his right, holding a large pitcher.
“Only a little,” Charles said before he watched her pour. She finished his goblet before moving around the rest of the table, happily filling all them all before the doors opened again.
Emperor Magnus strode into the room, wearing a large fur across his shoulders to offset the deep green tunic.
“Good evening everyone,” he said as he walked over, his voice carrying over the noise of the chairs pushing back for the room to stand.
“Good evening Your Highness,” Emma said once the Emperor sat down. “Your guests from the monastery arrived earlier today.”
“I can see them, mi’lady. Can they not speak for themselves?”
“Pardon, Your Highness. I am Friar Charles, and these are three other monks who will be helping me with the work you have asked. The tall one is Henry, the blond Alexander and the redhead is Sean.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you all. I hope that your rooms are to your satisfaction,” The Emperor said.
“Far too fine, actually,” Charles said, knowing that none of his colleagues would speak here without being directly asked. Charles’ trips to see His Eminence were of use to him now.
“Think nothing of it. You all do me a great service by working on this for me. I would not see you living in squalor here.”
“We don’t live in squalor at the monastery, Your Highness, but thank you for the consideration.”
The Emperor nodded, quietly ending that conversation. Just as the room settled into an awkward quiet, Raven reappeared through the doors leading three other young men with plates full of boar, fowl and potatoes.
“Eat up everyone,” Emma said as the plates settled onto the table, before the group started to grab for the meat.
They ate in silence, Charles realized as he watched Alex and Sean devour half of some bird, while Sean had a large shank in his hand.
Emperor Magnus sat, impassive, as he ate, not looking at all put out by the rude behavior of the friars.
Charles wished to strike up a conversation to save himself from having to focus on the eating habits of his colleagues, but it seemed as those Emma had started to entertain the Emperor with some news and he didn’t wish to interrupt.
By the time that the meats had been cleared and some plate of sweets had been brought out, Charles decided to discuss what it was that they were to be doing. “Your Highness, if you don’t mind, can you tell me more about the scrolls that Azazel and Janos helped you bring back?”
“Later, Charles. Enjoy the food and the company; we can discuss the details tomorrow. Azazel and Janos, why don’t you tell us something about the battle you had against the Raj?”
The two men looked at each other before Azazel started a story of a great battle in a large desert between the Salazar and the Raj.
Charles let the story lull him into a quiet reverie after the first great meal he had ever eaten. If the Emperor wanted to discuss the details tomorrow, he was not going to argue.
Janos hollered and started to wildly swing an imaginary sword before Charles drew his attention back to the tale and the company.
Hours later, the friars were escorted back to their rooms, each of them awkward on their feet after the pitchers of wine and too much food.
“You have to know something about him,” Alex said through a slur after the door was closed.
“I don’t know much. Only what everyone in the land knows. He was Emperor with his sister before she died, and then he went off to fight the Salazar for glory and gold.” Charles tried to steady his body against a chair as he finished, hoping that if he returned to a seat, the room might stop spinning.
“Wasn’t there anything in his letter?” Henry asked.
“No, only that the Pope had spoken highly of my work and he wanted me to translate these scrolls.”
“Too mysterious if you ask me. It goes against the Word of the Most High to be like that,” Sean added before he fell against the floor.
“Take that back, Sean. There is no way that we will know anything until tomorrow. We should all sleep before we work tomorrow. The Emperor said he would explain then.” Charles stood up and started to walk towards his door. “Now, sleep, and stop worrying.”
His walk was slow, but by the time he pushed the wooden door open, he heard the others shifting around and slow scraps of sandals against the stone floor.
The small pillow that lay on the bed looked far too comfortable, but the heavy feeling of the food and wine in his stomach forced Charles onto the bed, his eyes shutting almost immediately.
Sunlight broke through the heavy drapes at the window, awakening Charles far too quickly for his liking. His head throbbed from the wine, and his limbs felt stuck to the bed.
Groaning, he slowly left the bed, eager to find his way to the water basin, intent on clearing away last night’s memories and settle himself for his first day working with the scrolls.
He was sure that the other three monks were worse off than he, the excesses in front of them too much for them to resist. It was only his dedication to maintaining most of his orders that kept him from joining them, but his will was not strong enough if those meals were to become the norm here.
Water splashing against his face shook the thought from his mind, the cold liquid reminding him of the task that they were here for: translating and then creating a new Book of the Most High.
There was work to be done, and he would not let excess delay their work. Exiting his small room, he looked into their common area and the mess that they had all left before.
“Alex, Henry, Sean, it’s time to go. I need to start on the translation and I need you each to start as you would. Alex, you have the cover--be sure to see what metals are available. Sean, you’re to choose what you think needs the most attention in illuminations. Henry, you’ll be working with Sean on how to connect each book into the larger whole.”
Behind each of the three doors, Charles heard nothing. “Did you all hear me?” he asked before opening the three other doors in quick succession. He added another yell into each room, seeing that each of them were passed out on their beds.
“You don’t want to disappoint the Emperor?” he added.
Shuffles were heard from each of the rooms while he sat in the main room, looking out the large window onto the courtyard below. Raven stood below, looking around the small fountain before she saw Charles, waving.
“I’ll be up soon. Do you need breakfast?”
“Oh yes, we do. I don’t think we’ll need quite as much wine in the future.”
“Good luck managing that. His Highness likes it.”
Charles shook his head. “Then please know we’ll need plenty of breakfast each day.”
She nodded, leaving his sight line as she worked her way towards the kitchen.
“You don’t have much time to lie around. Raven is on her way up with breakfast,” Charles said into the room.
Noise from each room were enough to tell Charles they were all waking up more now.
By the time that Raven arrived, each of them was dressed in the same robe as the night before, looking at the plate of bread and fruit with interest.
“Good morning,” Raven said, dropping the plate down.
“This is so much better than the monastery,” Alex said.
“Moderation in all things,” Charles said, trying not to sound like the Monsignor, but failing.
“Just eat, Charles,” Henry said between bites of bread.
Charles laughed before he carefully picked up a slice of bread and grapes.
“If you’ll all hurry up, I’ll walk you to the work room. Emperor Magnus had it set up as the room you had in the monastery. He’ll be meeting you there to discuss the specifics,” Raven said, the plate’s contents mostly gone.
Alex wiped his mouth against the edge of his robe, standing when he was finished. The room followed his lead. Raven walked them through more hallways before they were in front of a large door at the end of one. “You’ll be here with no one to bother you,” she said, hands outstretched to push the door open.
Inside, there were four small tables, each with a stool. Candelabras filled the room, washing it in a soft orange glow, even in the early hour. It looked much more put together than anything at the monastery, and much more comfortable for the work, light filling the space even now.
“This is perfect,” Charles said, awed at the room and the effort that had gone into making it conducive to work.
“I’m pleased to hear that,” said a voice from behind them. Charles turned around to see the Emperor walk into the room, inspecting the work of his servants. “This is what you’ll need?” he asked.
“More than we need. We’re not used to this much light,” Charles answered.
“I don’t want to leave, Charles,” Sean said, eyes wide at the room.
“I hope you’ll not take that long to finish the Book,” Magnus said. “Before you start working, I did want to explain personally what I wanted. The scrolls that I brought back from Salazar are Aramaic, and I would like them translated into Latin.”
Charles’s eyes went wide at the thought. “ Friar Charles, I know that you are familiar with Aramaic, but I also know that Azazel and Janos know it in passing. If you need help with anything, ask them. They will be in the room just down the hall for the mornings.”
“That would be wonderful. I have not had the chance to discuss the Book in detail before.”
“I hope that those conversations help in the translation,” Magnus said. “However you need to work after that, I will trust to your efforts.”
“Thank you, Emperor Magnus, for the time to do this,” Charles said.
“It is no trouble, and while you are working here, please call me Erik. Magnus is too formal for the time I expect you to be here. This will be done slowly, and as accurately as possible.”
“Of course, Erik,” Charles replied, watching as the other friars all nodded their agreement.
“I will leave you to your work now, but if you need anything else, find Emma and she will make sure that you have an audience with me.
With that Erik left the room, Raven following after him.
The room was quiet. Charles moved towards one table, scrolls next to it on a smaller table. “Time to get to work,” he said.
The other friars moved towards the other tables, looking for tools to begin their work.
Work was slow going, Charles’ eyes not used to the small Aramaic text. He had only managed to work through one chapter of Genesis before Raven knocked on the door, telling them that lunch was being prepared in the grand hall.
Azazel and Janos were both in their seats from last night, picking at a bird between the two of them. Emma had yet to arrive, though a small plate of fruit was in front of her seat. By Charles’ seat was a plate of bread, next to it a plate with two fowl.
Raven waited as the four of them settled into their chairs before starting to leave.
“Raven, could you ask Emma to get me some more time with the Emperor. I still have questions after this morning.”
“Of course. I’ll let you know as soon as I have a time from her. Where will you be this afternoon?”
“I had planned on talking to Azazel and Janos about the text. I didn’t have much difficulty with the first chapter, but I don’t imagine others will be as easy.”
She nodded. “I’ll find you in their room then.”
“Thank you,” Charles said. He drew his attention away from her and towards the food on the table, aware that the three others had already eaten nearly all the food.
“I see you have left me with little.”
“It suits you,” Sean said, food falling from his mouth.
Charles let out a small laugh before he looked at the remaining meat on the bird and the ends of the bread.
Raven walked into the Salazars’ room later that afternoon, telling Charles that the Emperor was available to see him right now.
He hurried with her towards the private wing of the castle, into a small room with a fire burning and a fine rug on the floor.
“Friar Charles, you wanted to see me,” Erik said when Raven left the room.
“I still have some questions, especially now that we’ve finished one day’s work.”
“Of course, have a seat will you?” Erik asked, pointing towards another chair in the room.
“Well, I was able to translate one chapter of the first book today, but I know that it is short. It will take us at least eighteen months to complete this, at the fastest.”
“Then you’ll have as much time as you need.”
“It didn’t seem to please His Eminence that I was being sent here, though.”
“He’ll have to live. This work is more important.”
“I don’t think he’ll see it that way.”
“Then I’ll have to convince him of that,” Erik said, rising to his feet. “I’ll write another letter to him with the details. He sent another letter after you left him in Augustine, though I haven’t had much time to read it yet.”
The Emperor walked from behind his desk towards Charles, stopping at Charles’ side.
“I’ll let you in on a secret, Friar. I can’t actually read or write. Will you scribe the letter if I dictate? That is after I know what tresspasses I have committed against His Eminence. Here, read that aloud first.”
Erik pushed a folded letter toward Charles. “Go on. I don’t mind.”
Charles cleared his throat, before reading the letter.
By the time he had finished, Erik had paced across the room, anger boiling. “How dare I take away his best scribe? He recommended you to me!”
“Erik, His Eminence has always been a jealous man. It will not help to goad him.”
“He should be grateful I didn’t try to persuade the cardinals to elect another.”
Erik continued to roam the room, energy dissipating as he walked. Charles read over the letter again, trying to make some sense of a proper reply.
“You’ll need to tell him of this news. He’s already unhappy.”
“Have you paper?” Erik asked.
Charles looked around the desk, seeing a leaf of paper sitting there. “Where is your quill, Erik?”
“I don’t actually know. Emma’s usually writing for me. She must have put it somewhere in here.”
Charles watched as the Emperor started to shuffle books to and fro in an attempt to look for a quill and well.
Moment later, Erik cheered as he drew a quill into the air.
“We still need the ink, Erik.”
“That will be easier. But we’ll save the quill for later. Why don’t you just use a piece of graphite for now?”
“If I must.”
“Then, let me begin,” Erik said before telling Charles of the letter to Pope Titan. Charles scribbled quickly as the words flowed from the Emperor’s lips, anger still coursing through him.
Morning rituals had always been something that Charles took comfort in. It was easy to rise as a bell chimed, to give a benediction, to eat a modest meal and to begin work on any number of myriad tasks in the monastery. It was as it was meant to be. As his life had been organized.
In the Emperor’s castle, however, the rituals were different. It was different. No longer were there benedictions to give, or long hours of working on a manuscript. It was a morning’s work. Four hours dedicated to the translation and scribing of the Book of the Most High, working alongside his other friars as they crafted a book that the Emperor would be proud to own.
Days went by and the work grew more arduous. Words in Aramaic had always been more nuanced than Latin, but it was more apparent the deeper into the text Charles went. Most days he was lucky to now complete half a chapter--most of his time spent talking to Azazel and Janos about the true meaning of a word. It was not just the definition that Charles sought, but the context and specificity that were not equaled in Latin.
Alexander, Henry and Sean were all busy with what had been done already, but Charles hated leaving them with so little to work on in the limited amount of time they had to work. He had not yet asked Erik to give them more time to work; the Emperor insistent that they have time to explore the castle or pass time at their leisure. Charles was unsure how to tell Erik of how much more work they could do if they worked longer hours, especially since they were all unaccustomed to such idle time.
Instead, Charles simply worked through the scrolls as best he could, time and time again spending his entire morning with the Salazars. As the lunch bell rang, Charles looked at his single line of text, disheartened by the progress.
“Worry not, Friar. Emperor Magnus cares not for time. He wants the word to be accurate,” Azazel would tell Charles day after day.
By the fourth month, Charles almost started to believe it.
Frustrated at his progress, Charles groaned after finishing a small plate of fowl and bread. He was sure that the rope around his waist was being drawn a larger circumference, but he didn’t quite want to look at the remaining string at the end to be certain.
“Something wrong?” Erik asked, bringing his eyes up from his plate at Charles’ groan.
“Nothing to bother you, Emperor.”
“What did I say when you first arrive, Friar?”
“I should call you, Erik.”
“Yes, please do.”
“Then will you do me the same and call me Charles. I feel very much like I have forgotten my vows in these last seven months.”
“I will. Emma has brought another letter to me from His Eminence,” Erik said before abruptly stopping. Charles looked around to see that Sean still had half a plate full of food on his plate, not to mention the scraps against his face and robe. “We should continue this in my study, Charles,” Erik finished.
“Of course.” Charles stood from his seat, waiting for Erik to rise before following the Emperor out into the corridor.
After they arrived into the study, Erik sat at his desk, the letter still sealed with the Papal crest.
“You haven’t opened it?”
“I tell Lady Emma to leave them for me.”
Charles looked down at his hands, clasped tightly to each other. “Why does she not write your responses any longer, Erik?”
Erik looked up at Charles, confusion set onto his features. “She was not meant to do that work when she arrived. Her father imagined her a good bride for me, but she has proved more useful than that.”
“Is this the sort of thing she’d be better suited for? She seems shrewd at dinners.”
“She is, but her patience for His Eminence is lower than mine. She tires of his complaints about everything. Especially how much she has heard of his complains about your presence here.”
Charles looked down again, not wanting to give the idea any credence. “You summarize the letters when you talk with her?”
“I need to. She helps to keep me focused on the larger picture.”
“She can’t do that by responding his letters?”
“Too much of her opinions bleed through when we discuss. It’s better for us both if you’d continue.” Erik stopped and cast his eyes down. “That is, if you’re still willing.”
“Anything for you, Erik. Anything.”
Erik’s conversation still played in Charles’ mind as he walked into their room before dinner. He was shocked to see the other friars all seated at the table in the common area.
“Charles, we need to talk,” Henry said, eyes focused on the older monk.
“What is it about? I’m working as hard as I can on the translation. This book is just difficult.”
“It’s not about that,” Alex added. “We’re worried about you and the Emperor.”
Charles let out a small laugh. “You have nothing to worry about. We do nothing but discuss the progress of our work, I promise.”
“That should not require you to be in his study every day,” Sean replied.
“No, it doesn’t. But he is also asking my advice on other matters. I will not say no him.”
“What if you bring up something else?”Alex asked.
Alex shifted in his chair, rings of red circling from his torso.
“That. I can tell you all, I will not let your secrets be anything other than that. Erik and I do not have time for such topics as it is.”
“But can you promise that it won’t happen?” Henry asked.
“It will be my solemn vow, as holy as my orders, to keep your secrets safe.”
The three men nodded, ending the conversation.
Charles stayed in the room to discuss his plans for the next day’s work, though he was only half paying attention to the conversation. His mind wandering back towards Erik’s study and the man seated behind the desk, deep in thought.
“It has been too long since Friar Charles and his associates have been with you. Their presence is needed in Augustine. There are important Books still to work on in their monastery.
“Their absence has been most distracting to Us as We continue to want to work towards bringing the Word of the Most High to as many people.
“Your humble servant,
“Pope Titan III”
Charles finished the letter, trying to dispel the anger from his body.
“You’re displeased?” Erik asked.
“I am not displeased so much as disappointed. His Eminence seemed uneasy to let me leave a year ago, but he has never seemed to be a man to be so disappointed at where my talents are being used.”
“You’re unaware of many things about His Eminence then,” Erik said before chuckling. “He is a selfish man, Charles. Like many Popes before him.”
“He has never seemed anything like that to me,” Charles said in protest.
“He is also a master at placating those whom he needs. He would never show you his displeasure, fearing that you should leave him.”
“I would not leave him,” Charles said, voice cracking at the idea of leaving such a patron as the Pope.
“Not even to work with me?” Erik asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Before my beloved sister was taken from us, we had plans to revive the arts, focusing on the beauty for people to see in the world.”
“More than the work from His Eminence?”
“Much more than that. It is not simply enough to create this new Book of the Most High, Charles. We can bring the Word to people with art--illustrations and carvings that show the stories you’re translating. It can bring the Word to them, even if they are illiterate like myself.”
Charles sat still, thinking through the information. It was impressive to hear Erik be so impassioned about the work that could be done. How different it was from the work that the Pope had been explaining before. “If you truly mean it, it would be glorious.”
“I mean it. I would like your help, however. Not just the translation, but the work that Alexander has done with the cover--it’s masterful. Sean’s art as well.”
“I will not speak for them, but I will ask them later today.”
Erik nodded, before he looked back at letter in Charles’ hand.
“Before that, will you write back to His Eminence for me?”
Charles looked for a leaflet of paper, drawing the quill from his side. He eyed the inkwell, waiting for Erik’s voice to start his reply.
It was another eight months before Charles had finished the last of the scrolls, ending the difficult task set to him by the Emperor.
As soon as word spread through the castle, a small ceremony was planned to highlight the work. All of the castle was invited to look upon the first new Book of the Most High, to see the gold, jewels and illuminations for themselves.
The Great Hall had been decorated as if the Salazar himself would be arriving to see such a treasure. Pope Titan had been invited, though with it being close to the Resurrection, his presence was needed back in Augustine. In his place, one of the Pope’s trusted Cardinals, William of Genoa, arrived to see the work that the Friars from Augustine had created.
The ceremony began, the Emperor’s voice booming through the room. Charles watched as Emma stood, impassive, at Erik’s side. Her eyes silently assessing all the leaders who had travelled to see the magnificent work. She stopped at Cardinal William more often than she should, Charles noticed, but his eyes were also lingering on her figure.
“I would like to welcome you all to Genosha for this historic occasion. This new Book of the Most High has been the work of four monks from outside of Augustine for the last twenty months. Their time will not go unnoticed as this book will be used by the Cardinal of Genosha for services, before it is taken on a pilgrimage across the world: bringing the Word of the Most High to those who do not already know it.
“It is not without the work of those monks, or Pope Titan III for lending their services, that this book would exist. Please, let us all thank them for their work, and their dedication of the Most High’s message.”
The room applauded for the monks, Charles blushing at the attention even now. Emma gave the four monks a brief smile before returning her attention back to the Emperor and the book at his hands.
“It is now with pleasure that I present their work,” Erik said, pointing towards Raven in the corner where velvet covered the book on a stand. The cover was removed, the crowd’s attention drawn to the gold and rubies on the front of the book.
The room clapped again at the work, a slow roll of hands moving from the front towards the back.
Charles smiled, admiring the work they had finished, and gave a nod towards the Emperor. In reply, the Emperor clapped louder. As he did, however, Charles watched as the book began to shake, the jewels rattling in their fastenings and the gold melting ever so slightly.
The book shook more, the jewels moving towards the edge of the stand before anyone noticed. Emma’s eyes went wide. She looked at the Emperor and his emotions, his face set in a wide smile. Carefully, she inched herself closer to him, whispering in his ear.
Charles watched as Erik’s eyes went to study the book, at the state of the cover. He looked horrified then. Quickly, he stood away from his chair, leaving the Great Hall from the back. The claps continued despite the Emperor’s departure, but Charles did notice that the book had returned to its original design as soon as the Emperor left.
Charles only smiled as his colleagues looked shocked at the Emperor's departure. He’d have to tell them the truth that night.
The guests had all left the Great Hall after the Emperor’s departure, though some grew nervous about the hasty exit, the Cardinal of Genoa especially. Charles did his best to send a blanket thought to all that nothing had been wrong with the book, only that the Emperor had grown ill at the end and left.
It would have to be enough, Charles knew. Secrets like that needed to be guarded and protected above all else. As he had told the other monks, their secret, and his, would be safe amongst them.
Charles would have to do the same for Erik.
As the castle returned to order, Charles walked towards the study, knowing that Erik would go there after his display. From outside the door he heard muffled voices, and cast himself just inside the room to know the extent of the issue.
“How could you let that happen?” Emma asked.
“It was just too much too quickly.”
“You say that, but I don’t think it’s true. You’d been fine with the book before this.”
“The crowd didn’t help. Or knowing how delighted Charles looked at the work.”
“What do you mean, still?”
“You’ve not been subtle. Raven’s been sharing comments here and there she’ll gain from Charles as she drops off their breakfast. If he weren’t so chaste, I don’t know what he’d think.”
“I don’t know what to do with that.” There was a long pause. “I will not act on it.”
“Of course not. He’s only been here for the last twenty months for the Book of the Most High.”
“That is all he has been here for.”
“You better hope that it’s true. Who knows what His Eminence would do if he know of your gift.”
Charles withdrew from the room, knowing that the conversation’s tone would not change.
Awestruck at the idea of Erik having powers, Charles was also too curious about Emma’s suggestion that Erik had feelings for Charles. But, he was true to his vows; he would never leave the Church.
He would not share what he had learned with anyone outside of the castle, no matter who asked.
Lost in his throughs from Emma and Erik’s conversation, Charles slowly walked back towards his room, feeling more tired than he had in his entire stay in Genosha.
The other monks were all standing awkwardly when Charles entered, deep in a conversation in one corner.
“Charles, what was that?” Alex asked.
“What else would it have been?” was all Charles said in reply.
“He can’t be like us,” Sean added.
“I think you know that’s not true, however.”
“Did you do anything after that?” Henry asked.
“Just enough to keep Erik safe. No one will remember that the book was distorted. Only that Erik felt ill and left.”
The monks nodded, though Charles could sense their unease, his shields and attention down after working to keep everything under control.
“We’ll stay here, I’ll make sure of it,” Charles said, trying to ease their nerves. “We will be safe here, I am sure.”
With the work done, Charles and the monks had more idle time than before. No longer were they needed to work on the new Book of Magnus. It had not been announced at the ceremony, Erik’s exit at fault, but the new book sat finished.
It left them all with time to explore the gardens in the morning, though Charles found himself bored by the shrubbery and roses. Instead, he stayed in the castle, looking to find the Library and the books Erik had collected.
Sitting in the large room, Charles’ mind lost in the words of Plato, he did not notice the strong footfalls that entered the room.
“Charles?” Erik asked, approaching the friar with unease.
“Pardon. You caught me enjoying the fine books here. You have a remarkable collection.”
“I like to know that they are being used by someone,” he said, not quite answering the unsaid question at Charles’ statement.
“But you seem uneasy today. What is on your mind?”
Erik’s eyes started to dart around, focusing on a corner of the room for a few seconds before going towards the floor. “It’s about the ceremony.”
“Are you recovered?”
“No, but I was hoping to discuss that with you, in confidence.”
“Anything for you, you know that.” Charles looked around, hoping to find another chair to offer to Erik. He had found himself a corner to be lost in, thinking that no one would bother him, but now with Erik there, it felt too close, too personal.
“Why don’t we discuss it in my study?”
Charles nodded, before standing, putting the book on the small table next to his chair.
The walked in silence towards Erik’s study, and only once the door was shut tightly did Erik start to speak. “What happened yesterday, well, it has happened before,” he started. “Around when my father died, I discovered I could move metal.”
Charles looked at Erik with wide eyes, wanting to show his interest and let Erik set the pace for the conversation.
“It started with small things: coins, a spoon. But as I grew older, it developed more. I had been able to control it until the other day, though.”
Charles nodded again. “It is nothing to fear. You are not the only one who has a gift. I think nothing of it, just as I do not mind what Alexander, Henry and Sean can do.”
Erik shook his head, eyes disbelieving at what Charles had said.
“All of them?” Erik asked.
“Yes. It is part of why I brought them all with me, though they are each skilled at the work you had requested.”
“If I may, what can they each do?”
“Alexander has the ability to change the shape of metals with energy from his hands.”
Erik sat there, nodding, and thinking about the detailed work that Alexander must have put into the cover of the book. “Send my apologies for the book.”
“It was righted as soon as you left, but I will let him know. Henry, I think you’ll have noticed, has never worn sandals. His feet are very large, hidden inside his shoes. Sean has the ability to break glass.”
“He has such control to not have broken any thus far?”
“Only through constant reminds not to raise his voice and time spent trying to control the muscles in his throat.”
“What of your power?”
Charles tried to turn his head away, before setting it back towards Erik. “I can read minds.”
Erik gasped at the suggestion. “I have found as a monk I can concentrate to not read them deliberately, though there are days when it is more difficult. I suggested to everyone at the ceremony that you were ill, by the way. Emma should know for any letters she writes.”
“Emma already knew I was not ill. She came here after everyone left to tell me what a fool I was.”
“Not a fool. Not at all. Slips are bound to happen,” Charles said, looking down at his hands. “I might have slipped after I put that suggestion into all of their minds as I walked past here.”
“You overheard Emma and I?” Erik asked.
“I did, though I only wanted to confirm what I believed from the ceremony. Your gift--it is amazing.”
Erik laughed at the words from Charles’ mouth. “I do not call being able to melt the plate amazing.”
“Context, though, is the key. You could reshape your armor in battle, or sharpen your sword. It is no wonder you were able to bring back the scrolls from Salazar.”
“I suppose in those contexts, yes, it is useful. But I am rarely in battle now. I see no use for bending candle holders into trinkets.”
“Then will you allow me the time to help you find other uses for your power?”
Erik remained silent for a moment after Charles’ question, the friar growing nervous he had overstepped his boundaries. “I would like to see you try.”
Instead of his morning spent in the library, Charles soon found those hours devoted to helping Erik gain control of his power.
Emma walked in on one session before quickly leaving again. “She’ll be around later to scold us both,” Erik said.
“If she can.”
“She will try. Her will is often hard to break,” Erik said with a small tight smile.
“As you say,” Charles said. “Now, how much metal can you feel in the room now?”
Erik’s eyes unfocused, a sign Charles had learned meant the Emperor was extending his feeling for metal. “There is a plate under you on the chair, a key by the door and three coins hidden under the rug.”
Charles stood to search, before clapping. “Excellent work. You can sense it, which means that what happened the other month was something of overexertion. Too much metal in the space.”
“If you say so.” As Erik finished, there was a loud knock on the door. “Come in,” Erik called.
Raven walked in quickly, holding a small plate with a letter atop it. “From His Eminence,” he said, turning around quickly.
“Thank you, Raven,” Erik said. He waited for her to leave before handing the letter to Charles to open.
Charles read the letter silently before reading it for Erik to hear.
“12 May 809
“It has been two months since the Book of Magnus was finished by Friar Charles and his team, and We have yet to receive a letter from him announcing his return to the monastery outside of Augustine.
“His work is needed back here, We have long said how valuable he is to Us.
“Please allow him the time to write to Us and confirm his return within two months.
“Your most humble servant,
“Pope Titan III”
Erik stood from his chair, anger flowing from him at the missive from the Pope.
“Calm yourself. Remember what we just worked on,” Charles said, voice rough with worry.
“I will not stand for his letters anymore,” Erik said, voice rising with frustration.
“There is not much you can do,” Charles said, trying to be calm in an attempt to lower Erik’s nerves.
“I can tell him you’ll all be staying with me. I still have plans for that would benefit from your talents. All of you.”
“You meant that?”
“Of course I meant it.”
“It wasn’t just an attempt to spend more time with me,” Charles said.
“Emma has gotten to you, I see. No, I meant it as a leader who knows those who can do good work. The Book of Magnus is a sight to see, and I know you will all be able to create more art and work for the people who need it most. Not men like His Eminence who seek to work to their advantage.”
“If you mean it, then I think you need to write to him before I do.”
“Find a sheet of paper and we’ll get started.”
Charles, a few days after Erik sent his last letter to Pope Titan III wrote his own small note saying that he had been offered a position in Genosha, with the other monks, to help the Emperor on a new series of project. It has been a letter void of all feelings on his newfound closeness with the Emperor or how they had shared a secret so profound it would never be spoken of.
It was better to remain neutral, Charles knew.
Two weeks had past since he had written his letter before a short note arrived for him from the Pope.
Charles knocked on the study door, wanting to read the letter to Erik before sending any reply.
Charles walked in, sitting at his usual seat before he started to speak. “I’ve had a letter back from His Eminence.”
“I see he wrote to you instead of me. He’s more shrewd than I give him credit for.”
“Do you want me to read it?”
“That’s why you came in, isn’t it?”
Charles nodded, taking his finger to slide under the wax seal. The paper unfolded quickly before he started to read the script.
“28 June 809
“Thank you for the letter back. It saddens Us greatly that you and Emperor Magnus have decided to work together, as your work was so much better than any other monk in your monastery.
“We wish you the best with your new patron. Know that should things not work out, you will be welcomed back here without question.
“In the Name of the Most High,
“Pope Titan III”
Charles folded the paper back into its neat order, waiting for Erik to say anything. His hands rubbed against the rough edges of the robe, nerves getting the best of him.
“That’s it!” Erik said, voice carrying through the room. “I’ve had it with him.”
Charles looked confused at the tenor or Erik’s voice and the reaction from the leader. “What’s wrong, Erik?”
“It’s how placating he is. How he’s trying to make himself the good one in all of this. Well, he’s not. He’s forgotten that I had a say in which way Cardinal Logan voted in the election.”
“I didn’t know the vote was close.”
“It wasn’t that close, but all of the Cardinals still seek the advice of their leaders from time to time. Even with separate spheres, it is important for all of the royals to know who we are working alongside.”
Charles nodded. “I need to tell him that I’m certain, Erik. But what can you do?”
“He won’t forget that I have as much power as he does. Write your letter back and we’ll work on another one from me.”
“Won’t he know that I talked to you?”
“Not this time, because we’ll just have Emma act as the intermediate. You told her of the letter and she told me for all he’ll know.”
“That’s not true,” Charles said.
“Yes, but only you and I will know that. If you don’t mind, write the letter so we can start on mine. We won’t mail it for a few days, though.”
Charles nodded, carefully looking for a sheet that would not look like another from Erik’s desk. Scribbling a reply, Charles signed as he told the Pope of his thanks for the years of work, but that the work with Emperor Magnus seemed more challenging and served a greater number of people. “It’s done,” Charles added as the quill fell from his fingers onto the desk.
“Thank you.” Erik’s eyes were staring at Charles, as if the Emperor was trying to memorize Charles’ figure.
“It is no problem, Your Highness. I would much prefer to work towards your goal than His Eminence’s.”
“Give your hand a rest and we’ll remind His Eminence that I know more than a few people who would like to see him out of the Papal throne.”
Charles stood in the Great Hall again, waiting for another grand ceremony to begin. No longer standing at the side of the Emperor, he and the other monks were standing in the front row of the crowd gathering.
Erik entered the room through the back entrance, allowing only a small number of those assembled to see the bright purple velvet of his cape and the ermine lined collar.
“People of Genosha, it is with great pride today that I announce a new project for all of you, not just myself. With the help of the Monks from Augustine, the country will be filled with new designs, and new works to bring the Word of the Most High to you.
“Friars Alexander, Charles, Henry and Sean have all agreed to work for us, the citizens of Genosha, to bring the Word to you through art. New paintings are to be commissioned that will be on display in the Church.
“More projects will follow these new paintings as soon as the first are finished. These are for you, all of you, to see and know the Word of the Most High, but also for my beloved sister, Princess Ruth, who had when we first rose to the throne, wanted to expand the arts for most than just those who could afford them.
“These projects are for you, I say again. They will always be for you.”
Charles clapped as the Emperor stopped speaking, hands moving back and forth quickly to express how much he approved of the project. Looking at his other friends, they were clapping just as much, smiles firmly in place.
They would all make a difference here. They would bring the Word of the Most High to those who did not know Latin, before they also brought new ways of looking at the world to them as well.
Emperor Magnus’ ideas were numerous, but the end result was art and culture for everyone. It was not just a status symbol for their ruler to have as a sign of his wealth, but as a sign of his commitment to the people.
Charles continued to clap, knowing that his choice to stay had been the best one.