Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson, © 2014

Lone Star Brides series, Book One

Cover Art
"In the first of the LONE STAR BRIDES series, featuring 1890s Denver, Colorado, and Texas, Marty and Jake agree to a marriage of convenience only. But when love starts to soften their hearts, will they come to a different arrangement?" --Provided by publisher.
Martha Dandridge Olson ~ Texas, the day before Christmas, 1892
Unbeknownst to her family, Marty Olson has made plans to go to Colorado ... to wed. She has answered an advertisement in the newspaper for a Lone Star bride. Writing back and forth, the time has come for her to leave her Texas ranch.
        
Jacob Wythe is a Denver banker with his heart in Texas. He is working and striving to put enough by to fulfill his dream of having his own ranch in Texas. His employer is wanting Jake to advance within his bank holdings.

Will their dreams collide ~ Marty's desire to leave Texas far behind, and Jake wanting to return? A marriage of convenience is what they offer each other. He has been lied to twice before and is skittish; she has lost all she ever wanted in the Texas soil. Death to dreams.

Jake's employer said he needed a wife as a successful banker, someone to complement him in society circles to draw other families to the bank. In choosing a personal maid, as Marty was told she would be changing her clothes several times a day for her different activities, a young woman comes for an interview who turns out to be the daughter of Jake's predecessor at the bank. She is indeed an asset to have. Alice and Marty become friends, unheard of in mixing staff and employer. Marty thanks Alice for her honesty in sharing, but... she, herself, has reluctantly not shared her true reason in Colorado with her sister back home, nor told her husband about her land. With the silver value diminishing to half, Jake is uncertain of his position and the shifting bank ledgers that fluctuate.

I read this book in o-n-e sitting ~ well, I moved from the kitchen table to a comfy attic room to block the TV sound. Completely read through ~ could not stop reading before THE END. I wanted to find out what would happen to their sensible arrangement. Because they were comfortable without expectations, they were drawn to each other over daily meals to share their day.

Tracie PetersonTracie Peterson is the award-winning author of over ninety novels, both historical and contemporary. Her avid research resonates in her stories, as seen in her bestselling Heirs of Montana and Alaskan Quest series. Tracie and her family make their home in Montana. Visit Tracie's website at traciepeterson.com.

Dear Reader,
   Please join me in celebrating this, my one hundredth book. Over the course of twenty some years, I have enjoyed being published in Christian fiction. My writing has always been a ministry for me, and my heart has been blessed by the letters I've received from you that have shown how God has used the books to change lives. I'm very blessed to do what I love and to see God use it for His glory.
   God bless all of you
   in His love,
   Tracie Peterson

***Thank you to author Tracie Peterson and Bethany House Publishers for this copy of A Sensible Arrangement and to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt of Chapter 1 of Tracie Peterson's A Sensible Arrangement 
 
~* Chapter 1 *~

TEXAS
DECEMBER 24, 1892

Marty Dandridge Olson looked over the letters once again. There were three, and each contained a variety of information meant to assist her in making a decision. A life-changing decision.
   “Hannah would call me mad,” Marty mused aloud. She picked up one of the letters—the latest—and noted the first line: I have enclosed funds enough to cover your travels to Denver.
   Marty shook her head. Am I mad? Crazy to seriously consider this matter?
   Putting the letter down, Marty got to her feet and paced the small kitchen. She put a few pieces of wood into the cookstove and stoked the fire. The chill of the day wasn’t that great, but she was restless and it gave her something to do—something other than contemplate those letters . . . and what had happened four years earlier.
   Now nearly thirty-five, Marty was a childless widow who was known for her spunk and ingenuity. She was the kind of woman who seemed destined to a life in Texas. Surrounded by family and friends, Marty had known a life of love and relatively little want. Why, then, was she so desperate to leave it all behind?
   She had lived her entire life in Texas, or very nearly. Her birth in Mississippi had taken the life of her mother, leaving her to be raised by a deeply saddened father and loving older sister. Hannah had been more mother than sister to Marty, and at nearly twenty years Marty’s senior, Hannah’s guidance and wisdom had seen Marty through many difficulties.
   If only her wisdom could have saved the life of Marty’s husband.
   “Thomas.” She whispered the name and smiled. “You were always so very stubborn. I doubt anything could have saved your life once you determined to die.”
   Her beloved husband had died four years ago to the day. Gored by a longhorn bull, Thomas had suffered massive internal injuries but had remained conscious until the very end. Even now, Marty could recall his final words to her.
   “I reckon I’ve made a mess of Christmas, Marty, but never you mind. It ain’t worth troublin’ yourself over, so don’t you go mournin’ me for long.” The pain had been clearly written on his face, but he’d held fast to her hand, although his voice had grown weaker. “I’ve loved you . . . a long time . . . Martha Dandridge . . . Olson. Don’t reckon . . . there’s a . . . better wife to any man.”
   “So don’t leave me,” she had begged, kissing his fingers. He had given her a weak smile and then closed his eyes one last time. “I gotta go, gal.” And with that, his hand went limp in hers and he exhaled his last breath.
   Marty remembered it as if it had been yesterday. How she had mourned him—the loss unlike anything she’d ever known. Folks told her time would ease the pain, and in truth it had . . . a little. But time had done nothing to fill the emptiness. There were days when she feared the loneliness would swallow her whole.
   She looked back to the table where the letters lay. Could this be the answer she sought? Could her decision fill the emptiness once and for all? The clock chimed the hour, and Marty knew it wouldn’t be long before the Barnett carriage showed up to take her to her sister’s for the Christmas celebration.
   Marty took up the letters and tucked them in the pocket of her apron. There had been a time when she might have prayed about her decision, but not now. After God had refused her prayers to save Thomas’s life, Marty had hardened her heart. God was now only a bitter reminder of a trust that had been broken.
   “I’m going to do it,” Marty announced to the empty room. “I’m going to marry a man I’ve never met and do not love. I’m going to marry him and leave this place forever.”
~*~
   That evening as she settled in to exchange gifts with her sister’s family, Marty looked for the right moment to break the news. She had already determined she wouldn’t tell them about the classified advertisement that had started her plans. The Dallas Daily Times-Herald had run the request for a full week.
Texas-born man now living in Colorado, working as a banker, wishes to correspond with a Lone Star lady. Seeking potential wife who would display the virtues, sensibilities, and wisdom of a strong Texas woman. Must be willing to leave Texas for Colorado.
   Marty was more than willing. She didn’t desire to remarry and still wasn’t sure why she’d responded to that ad, but after the man’s first reply, she had known it was fate that had brought them together. Jacob Wythe wasn’t looking for romance or love—just a woman who would bear his name and act as his companion.
   “You aren’t payin’ attention, Aunt Marty.”
   She looked up to find the entire family staring at her, her nephew Robert standing to her left with a gift extended. Marty flushed. “I am sorry. I was just thinking on . . . well . . .” She smiled and let the words trail oz. “Let’s see what we have here.” She took the gift box.
   Hannah seated herself beside her husband, William. “I hope you like it.”
   Marty pulled a bright red ribbon from the box. “I’m sure I will. You always have a way of figuring out just what I need most.”
   She opened the box to reveal a set of four small leather-bound books. Lifting one, she spied the author. “Jane Austen. Thank you.”
   “We knew you’d taken to reading more,” William Barnett offered. “Hannah said these were some of your favorites years ago.”
   Marty nodded as she perused the titles. “Hannah used to read them to me. Andy thought himself above it all, but he always managed to sit close enough to listen in.”
   Hannah laughed. “Our brother was not half so sly as he thought himself.”
   “Speaking of Andy,” Marty said, looking up from the box, “have you had word?”
   William nodded. Marty had to admit she held her brother-in-law in great affection; his marriage to Hannah had been the best thing that had ever happened to the Dandridge family. After the death of their father, William had stepped in as protector and provider.
   “We had a letter just a day ago. Hannah wanted me to save it for tonight—kind of like havin’ Andy and his bunch with us.”
   “Now’s just as good a time as any,” Hannah declared. She pushed back a graying blond curl. At fifty-three and despite years of hard work, she was still a beautiful woman.
   I envy her. I envy her peace of mind and happiness. Marty shook her head and looked away. Envy was a sin . . . but so too was lying.
   William pulled the letter from his pocket and opened it while Robert took a seat. “Andy and the family send Christmas greetings from snowy Wyoming.”
   Marty shook her head. “I think he was ten kinds of fool to move his family up there. He never liked the colder weather.”
   “Yes, but since Ellen’s family is from that part of the country, it seems only right,” Hannah reminded. “And they did live here for the first five years of their marriage. Long enough that we got to know little John. I’d love to visit them and get to know Benny, as well. He must be six years old by now.”
   “Do you want me to read the letter, or would you rather talk about the family?” William asked with a grin.
   Hannah elbowed him. “Read the letter.”
   William nodded.
      “We are doing well. The longhorn seem to take the weather in stride. The herd increased again this year, and Ellen’s pa is pleased with the way things are going. John and Benjamin send their love. They both ride like they were born to a saddle. John can rope and help with branding as well as any of the hands. Benjamin isn’t far behind in abilities, as he is in constant competition with John.”
   Marty chuckled. “Imagine that.”
   Hannah laughed, as well. “Given the way you two always tried to outdo the other, it’s no surprise.”
   “Yes, but I was a girl, and it shamed him if I could do something better than he could,” Marty said. “I wonder if he’ll teach them steer-sliding.”
   “I still remember when they taught me,” Robert said, joining in. “Seems like a mighty dirty trick to play on a fella.”
   Marty smiled fondly at the memory of her brother teaching his nephew to steer-slide. It was a joke they played on all the new greenhorns, telling them that they had to learn to slide under a steer just in case they found themselves in a perilous situation. To everyone’s amazement, it had actually saved the life of one young fellow long ago, but Marty couldn’t remember his name.
   “It was just a matter of initiating you to ranch work,” Hannah said, excusing the matter. “I’ve noticed it’s not a prank you’ve given up. Weren’t you showing young Micky how to slide under the fence just the other day?”
   “I didn’t attempt it myself,” Robert replied. “I just told him it was something he needed to learn if he was gonna be one of our ranch hands.” He gave them a mischievous grin. “I figure if it was good enough for me . . .”
   “Do you want me to continue reading?” William asked. “Sure, Pa. Go ahead.” Robert settled back in his chair and folded his arms with a sly smile. “Didn’t mean to stop you.”
   William looked down to the letter.
   “Ellen sends her love, as well as good news. You’ll remember our sadness three years ago when we lost our little girl just after birth. Then last year Ellen miscarried, and we feared we might not have another child. Well, the doctor just confirmed that she’s expecting and due to deliver sometime in the spring. We are of course quite hopeful that all will go well.”
   “That is good news,” Hannah said. “I know Andy wanted a big family, and Ellen was so sick after that miscarriage. It’s an answer to prayer.”
   Marty bristled at the mention of prayer, but said nothing. William finished the letter with Andy sharing plans they had for celebrating Christmas, as well as his intentions for the ranch. Marty tried to appear interested.
   “I’d say Uncle Andy has a good life in Wyoming,” Robert declared. “He sounds happy with his little family.”
   “You should be thinking of getting a wife and family of your own,” Hannah told him. “You are twenty-six after all, and you have proven able to take on a great deal of responsibility. Your father and I are quite pleased with your work here.” She paused and gave him a knowing smile. “I believe Jessica Atherton would be even more pleased if you gave her a formal proposal.”
   “Jessica’s still a child. Although I will say folks have been trying to pair us oz since we were young’uns.”
   “That’s hardly true, Robert. I have never wanted any of my children to feel that we were choosing their spouses. I never did abide arranged, loveless marriages. And I know Carrisa and Tyler don’t feel that way.”
   “Then why are you trying to marry me oz?” Robert asked with a smile. “I figured with my sisters gone from home, you would want to keep me around.”
   Hannah shrugged and scooted in closer to William. “It’s not your company I mind, but I would like to see you happily settled.”
   “She wants more grandbabies,” William declared.
   “Well, we do only have the one. Of course, I was like a grandmother to Andy’s boys, but now they’re in Wyoming and so far away. Not to mention they have her parents there to spoil them.”
   Marty felt an aching in her heart at the banter between them. The thought of having children always made her sad. She and Thomas had been married for ten years but she had been unable to carry a child to delivery. Marty blamed herself, even though Thomas never did. The sorrow was one she had hoped to bury with her husband, but that hadn’t been the case. Her niece Sarah, Hannah and Will’s oldest girl, had just given birth in September to her first son. Hannah and Will had returned from Sarah’s home in Georgia some three weeks earlier, and the baby was all that Hannah could talk about.
   I would have made a good mother, but God apparently thought otherwise. I was a good wife, too. Thomas always said I was the best woman he’d ever known. I never gave him cause to doubt my love or my faithfulness.
   “You seem so distant this evening.” Hannah’s comment brought Marty back to the present.
   “I’m just tired.” Marty motioned to the gifts she’d brought. “Why don’t you open my presents now?”
   Hannah nodded, and Robert jumped up to hand out the gifts. Marty had spent a fair amount of time on each of them. For William and Robert she had crafted warm robes, which quickly met with their approval.
   “I’ve needed a new one for ages,” William admitted.
   “I know. I asked Hannah what I could make for you.” Marty smiled.
   Robert leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. “Thanks, Aunt Marty.”
   William nodded. “Yes, thank you very much.”
   Hannah opened Marty’s gift and gasped. The bundle revealed a lacy cream-colored shirtwaist. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Oh, Marty, your work is so delicate.” She ran her hands over the intricately embroidered neckline. “This must have taken hours.”
   “I remembered you admiring something similar when we were shopping in Dallas last summer. I’ve been working on it, as time permitted, ever since.”
   “Well, this is by far and away grander. I shall cherish it always. Thank you.”
   The room grew silent, and Marty figured it was as good a time as any to share her news. She’d mulled it over at length and had concluded that the best thing she could do for herself, as well as her sister . . . was lie. Something she had always been quite good at.
   “I have a bit of my own news to share,” Marty began. All gazes were fixed upon her. “I’m going to be traveling soon.”
   “Truly?” Hannah looked stunned. “Where are you going?”
   Marty drew a deep breath. “Colorado. Perhaps Wyoming to see Andy after that.”
   “Why Colorado?” William asked.
   “I have friends there,” Marty said. She had already planned for this part of the lie. “Remember the Stellington sisters? We were in finishing school together, and they were my best friends.”
   “I remember,” Hannah said.
   “Well, they’ve invited me to stay with them for a time in Colorado Springs. I thought it would be nice to get away from the ranch and . . . all the memories.” She added the latter to appeal to Hannah’s sensitive nature.
   For several minutes no one said anything. Marty hoped it might remain that way. Though she didn’t want to lie to Hannah, she knew her sister would never approve of Marty running oz and marrying a man she hardly knew. In time, Marty would have to let her know the truth, but for now, this was much easier.
   “I must say,” Hannah finally said, “this is something of a surprise.”
   “Well, I’d been considering it while you were away, but I didn’t want to leave before you’d returned. Now you’re back, so it seems a good time.”
   “But winter will be a difficult time to travel,” William said thoughtfully.
   “I’ll take the train, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
   Hannah frowned. “How long do you plan to be away?”
   “Well, that depends.” Marty shrugged. “I hoped that maybe you could run my few head with yours and keep an eye on the place.” She didn’t want to tell Hannah that she had every intention of selling the ranch. Hannah would know something was up if she made that kind of announcement.
   “What’s Bert got to say about it?” William asked.
   “Well, he’s all for returning to work for you.” Bert Harris had come to help Marty with the ranch after Thomas’s death. He’d worked a great many years prior to that on the Barnett Ranch, and Hannah had insisted Marty allow him to assist. “Bert said with expenses on the increase, it’s probably for the best.”
   William nodded and rubbed his chin. “He’s been worried about the low water levels. It isn’t near as bad as the drought was in the ’80s, but we’re still suffering for water. I don’t have a problem with this plan, Marty. You tell Bert he’s welcome to bunk here again.”
   “And you’ll put him on your payroll?” Marty dared to ask. She hoped the question wouldn’t arouse suspicions. “I mean, since I won’t be around to oversee him and you can use him to work for you, I just wondered . . .”
   “Of course we’ll pay his wages,” William replied. “He’ll do far more for me than he will for you anyhow. You haven’t but about fifty head. We’ll just run them with ours, and if you aren’t back by spring, we’ll separate them out and brand the new calves with your mark.”
   “Or you could just take them in pay,” Marty said. “I don’t mean for you to be out money on account of my . . . desire to travel.”
   “Surely you aren’t planning to be gone so long as that,” Hannah said, leaning forward. She gave Marty an intense look. “Are you?”
   Marty shrugged and tried to appear unconcerned. “I might. Especially if I travel to see Andy, as well. I want to make provisions for every possibility. I figure I can close up the house and send the livestock to you. You can keep the animals as pay for checking in on the place from time to time.”
   “Nonsense. That’s what family’s for, Aunt Marty.” Robert set aside the robe he’d been admiring. “I don’t mind going over there to check things out. I’ll see to it.”
   “Thank you, Robert. Thanks to all of you. I know it might seem sudden, but as I said, I’ve been considering this for some time now.”
   “I suppose if your mind is made up . . .” Hannah didn’t finish her thought, and again the room fell silent.
   Finally, William reached out and took up the Bible. “Why don’t I read the Christmas story?”
   “I’d like that very much,” Hannah said.
   Marty thought she looked worried. I hope she won’t try to change my mind on this. She always thinks she knows best, and this time . . . well . . . this time she doesn’t. Marty bit her lip and lowered her gaze to avoid giving Hannah any opportunity to question her further. She gave a silent sigh. Just don’t challenge me on this, Hannah.
   Just let me go without a fuss, and we’ll all be a whole lot happier.

Tracie Peterson celebrates 100 books with an iPad Mini Giveaway & A SENSIBLE ARRANGEMENT Live Webcast Event!

Welcome to the campaign launch for Tracie Peterson's 100th book! A Sensible Arrangement launches Tracie's new Texas-based series, Lone Star Brides, that’s sure to please. As a special treat, devoted fans will be able to catch a glimpse of several popular characters from previous series.

Tracie is celebrating by giving away an iPad Mini and hosting a LIVE webcast event on 4/29.
sensible-400-click 
  One winner will receive:
  • An iPad Mini
  • A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 29th. Winner will be announced at the A Sensible Arrangement Live Webcast Event on April 29th. Connect with Tracie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Tracie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, fun prizes, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of A Sensible Arrangement and join Tracie and friends on the evening of April 29th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 29th!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony, © 2014



The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance.
   --John 10:10 The Voice Bible, Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc.

911 The Darkest Hour of the Dark Ages
What would you give up for a kingdom? Princess Gisele gives up true love ... as her mother before her. Destined to sacrifice, but for what expense? History portrays much of the striving of today ~ nothing new under the sun. Greed, deference, power, conquering; believing they are following the right cause and leadership.

Dark Ages ArmorMy favorite characters in The Miracle Thief are Anna and Godric. Anna is on a pilgrimage to the abbey for healing. Godric is a knight assigned to Princess Gisele for her safety. Both are completely surrounded by treachery and surrendered to their mission. Anna's deformity expels others from her. Being left behind, she must determine for herself which direction to go. Both are thwarted by wild animals in the woods, diverting their course. Godric is so valiant and a true hero as he guards Gisele, even as she feels he is hindering her disciplines. To arrive at their destinations, both must conquer fear and have their goals supremely in the forefront to accomplish them. Bravery precedes them; faith propels them.

All of those compelled out of necessity, believe in what they are striving for ~ accurate or not, they go forward toward their demise or their triumph. Iris Anthony has portrayed this time in history, with men striving for leadership and conquering kingdoms. Valid or not, they believed in their purposes. Was that enough to bring them out successfully on the other side of want? Or, were they determined by the direction they took? Set into motion, our Conquering King still reigned over all. The powerless became powerful. The quest of the mighty became an unraveled journey in the end. A divide between those in power and those in peril; their roles became reversed. I found it interesting that caves were shelters that aided more than once in the story. A resting place for recovery and safety.

The story is told by the view of each protagonist, interweaving unknowingly into each other. It fills in the quandary of where each one fits, for they do interlope, intruding into the region of the other. I liked how the author gave the back-story as each expressed their past in the history being relayed and carried forward.

Do you believe in miracles?
Sister Juliana does. She’s seen miracles happen as she tends Saint Catherine’s altar and guards her relic. Yet she doesn’t quite dare to believe that even Saint Catherine could help her atone for her wicked past.
Anna does. And she so desperately needs one. In a time when a deformity is interpreted as evidence of a grievous sin, in a place where community is vital to existence, Anna has no family, no home, and no master.
Princess Gisele wants to. A miracle is the only thing that can save her from being given to a brutal, pagan chieftain in marriage.
For those who come in faith, saints offer the answer to almost any prayer. But other forces are plotting to steal Saint Catherine’s relic, to bend the saint’s power to their own use. Penitent, pilgrim, princess—all will be drawn into an epic struggle where only faith can survive. But in a quest for divine blessing, only the most ruthless of souls may win the prize.

Here is an excerpt of The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony ~ Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

Juliana
ROCHEMONT ABBEY

SUCH A WRETCHED WAY TO DIE.
   I watched from my knees beside the abbess’s bed, hands clasped before me, as she took a shuddering breath. Squeezing my eyes shut, I raised my hands to my brow, pretending to pray. But I could not do it; I had forgotten the words.
   She could not die. I would not let her.
   The abbess had been more of a mother than the woman who had raised me. Her heart had been more constant than the man who had once loved me. Was there nothing I could do to ease her pain?
   Adjusting her counterpane, I shivered as an especially vicious draft stole in through the chamber’s high windows and swirled its icy tendrils about my knees.
   I felt the heavy weight of a hand upon my veiled head. “Daughter.”
   Looking up, I saw the abbess watching me. Grasping her hand, I kissed it. “Do not leave us.”
   A ghost of a smile curled her thin, cracked lips. “I do not think I have any say in the matter.”
   “What shall we do without you?” How would we go on? Who would lead us?
   “Do not fear. God will provide.”
   “How?” The word escaped my lips before I could catch it. I had not meant to give voice to my unbelief. Surely now she would regret asking me to attend her. “Without you, I do not know how we will…”
   “Take heart.” She clasped my hand. “Without me, there will still be you.”
   “Who am I but the least of all the others?” I had come to this mountain-ringed abbey seeking sanctuary, and even after all the years I had spent here, I felt myself a stranger still.
   “Trust God. Seize the chance to serve.”
   The chance to serve? Was I not already doing that very thing? She released me from her grip, but left her fever-withered hand resting in mine. “Remember—” Her words left off as a spasm gripped her body.
   I leaned closer.
   After the seizure had passed, she lay back on her cushions, panting. “Speak truth. Stand for what is right.” Her hand twisted in mine as her face contorted with pain.
   Looking straight into my eyes, she spoke again. “Lead them.”
   “What?”
   “Lead them. There is no one else.” She clutched my hand with a strength that stole my breath. “You must do it.”
   If she did not relinquish my hand, I feared she might wrench it from my wrist. “I will.”
   “Promise.”
   “I promise.” If only she would lie down and spare her strength.
   “You promised.”
   “I did.”
   She searched my face for a moment, and then she smiled. After I had smoothed the counterpane around her shoulders, she closed her eyes, and she did not open them again. As she lay there, her breaths becoming more shallow and labored, I let her expire without doing the very thing she had made me promise. I did not tell her the truth: I did not intend to do as she had asked.
   The abbess died along with the sun as the bell was tolling vespers. She went quietly, exhaling her last breath with a lingering sigh.
   We mourned her for the required number of days. And then, secretly, I mourned her still. A message was sent to the bishop, informing him of her death. Though we would elect the new abbess, it was he who would induct her. And so we gathered in the chapterhouse one forenoon, after the day’s meal, to do that very thing.
   As I looked up and down the benches that lined the walls, I did so with a growing unease. I could not see a clear candidate to lead us.
   Of the several dozen sisters in the abbey, Sister Rotrude was the oldest and had been at the abbey the longest, but she seemed troubled in her spirit of late. I used to think her full of the joy of the Lord, since she had always been prone to laughter, but she had taken up the habit of laughing during meals at nothing any of us could see or hear. Her warbling, tuneless voice could often be heard singing during prayers, and increasingly, she asked after sisters who had already departed to receive their eternal reward.
   Sister Berta should, perhaps, have been the obvious choice. She was sound of mind and body, and none could doubt neither her capacity nor her willingness for hard work. But she lacked a measure of joy. The tips of her mouth pointed toward her chin, and one could not be long in her proximity before being informed of everything that had been done wrong in the past and all that would most certainly be found wanting in the future. Even a dove of peace would soon find himself shooed away for want of a proper place to perch. Were Sister Berta appointed abbess, I feared the abbey would soon become a dull and dreary place.
   Sister Amicia? Perhaps not. If Sister Berta dwelt too often on what was wrong, Sister Amicia trusted overmuch in Providence. To hear her speak, God would provide whether the workers tilled our fields or not. If she were to be believed, Providence might be depended upon to cook our food and feed us our meal as well. Although she never lacked a cheerful word, and a smile was constant upon her face, I could not see the abbey long surviving under her leadership, knowing from regrettable experience that great hopes came to nothing if they were not first founded upon practicalities.
   Though in generations past, the nuns of Rochemont had been well and truly cloistered, hidden away from the world, we could afford the luxury of quiet contemplation no longer. Even at these perilous heights where we clung to our meager existence, pestilence and famine, cruel winters and wars, had long since thinned the ranks of our tenants. If there was work to be done, we too had to take part in the doing of it. The tasks, which in the abbey’s earliest years might have fallen to lay workers, we had taken upon ourselves. And so, I nearly overlooked Sister Sybilla entirely. It was not difficult to do, since she spent her waking hours at the hospice. Rarely speaking, rarely even moving among us, she had never done anything wrong that I had noticed, but I did not know that she could be counted on to encourage any of us toward righteousness either.
   Sister Clothild, the abbess’s prioress, was kind of heart and beloved by all. A gentler soul I had never met, but for all her generosity of spirit, and despite the winsome way she had with the chaplain, the bailiff, and the household staff, she had never learned to read or write.
   Sister Isolda was our librarian. Within her realm and with her long face and sharp features, she had always been quite fearsome. But books did not an abbey make. I had never seen her out among the pilgrims who made their way to Saint Catherine’s chapel. I did not think she had ever labored in the hospice or in the kitchens. She knew Latin, both written and spoken, but I could not say she knew anything else.
   The other nuns being too young for the position, that left me.
   I considered myself as the others might have. There was not very much to note. I had made such a habit of attaching myself to Saint Catherine’s relic, to spending my time interceding for the iniquities of my past, that any of the sisters might have taken me for a misanthropist. That I tended to my duties with great care was undeniable. That I greeted each pilgrim with God’s peace was, perhaps, commendable. For eighteen years I had been resident at the abbey, and in all that time, to my great shame, I had served no one’s interests but my own. Even the tending of the chapel was a selfish pursuit, so I did not think any of the sisters would hold me in greater esteem than Sister Clothild or Sister Isolda. Although I could write and I could read, none sitting here knew that, and it was too late to make it known now.
   It was true I had made a promise to the abbess, but had she meant her words?
   And if she had, would I not be remiss if I did not let the others know? Should I propose myself as a candidate?
   My gaze swept our number again.
   Though my sisters’ failings be great, was not God greater still? And why could His strength not be evidenced through their weaknesses?
   As I had told the abbess, I was least among them. I knew some of my sisters were not virgins, but at least they had the sanction of wedding vows. When they had joined their flesh to another’s, they had been given the blessing of the Church. Widowed now, some still had the comfort of their children’s love.
   Not I.
   Not I, who had abandoned a daughter. Not I, who had indulged in the sins of the flesh.
   Lead them.
   No. How could I do it when my heart still yearned for another, different, more temporal groom? I had pledged myself to Christ, but I had done so as a last resort, with a faithless heart and suspect intentions.
   Surely if I were to be the new abbess, then the sisters would come to that decision on their own, prompted by the spirit of God, without my interference. Was that not the way it should be?
   If we were to pray to discern the will of God, then I was content to let His will be discerned.
   Sister Clothild stood. “Are there any who would recommend a sister to be abbess?”
   There was no sound save the cheerless laughter of Sister Rotrude.
   Sister Clothild’s smile faltered as she looked at each of us in turn. “No one?” As she waited for some response, even Sister Rotrude fell silent.
   “Surely someone would like to propose a sister. We must not look to the bishop to do it on our behalf…”
   Sister Isolda stirred. “I would propose myself then.”
   “And I would propose myself.” Sister Berta did not look pleased at the prospect, and in truth, neither did anyone else.
   “Sister Berta and Sister Isolda. Is there no one else?” Did I detect a plea in her voice?
   I put a hand to my mouth, feigning a cough to keep myself from speaking.
   “Is there no one?” Her eyes seemed fixed upon me. “We ought all of us, then, to meditate upon these candidates and pray that God would make His will be known.” Was it disappointment that had drawn those lines at the sides of her mouth? “We will choose the abbess here, after our meal, on the morrow.”

~*~

I tried not to think about the selection of the new abbess as I greeted pilgrims that forenoon and assisted them at the chapel, but the more I tried to concentrate, the more my vow weighed upon my soul. Surely there is a place in hell reserved for those who made promises they did not intend to keep.
   In the ancient cavern that was Saint Catherine’s chapel, all was light around me. A radiant, flickering, golden light. The glow reflected off the rocks and from the rise of my cheeks, warming the air about me and causing a halo to encircle everything I saw. After our chaplain took pilgrims’ confessions and gave them Holy Communion, they stepped forward, one by one, from the newly built wooden church. As their steps left the smooth, earthen floor for the timeworn stone that sloped toward Saint Catherine’s chapel, the light embraced them.
   Rich and poor; the young and the aged; both the whole and the sick.
   Saint Catherine welcomed them all.
   “After receiving the mysteries of eternal salvation, we humbly pray thee, that as the liquor that continually flowed from the limbs of Saint Catherine, virgin and martyr, did heal languishing bodies, so her prayer may expel out of us all iniquities.” I murmured the prayer in welcome as a weeping woman dropped an enameled cross that had been edged with gilt-work into a chest piled with pilgrims’ gifts. She turned with a wail to cast herself before the altar. As she lifted her face toward the rock-hewn roof, the candles’ light shone in starry points from her tears. Extending her hands, she whispered a prayer, and then she placed her hands on the golden casket containing Saint Catherine’s relic and leaned forward to kiss it.
   After caressing the carnelian cabochons that had been polished by the touch of a thousand hands, she rose and stumbled back toward the church as the next pilgrim came to take her place.
   “After receiving the mysteries of eternal salvation, we humbly pray thee, that as the liquor that continually flowed from the limbs of Saint Catherine, virgin and martyr, did heal languishing bodies, so her prayer may expel out of us all iniquities.” I spoke those words over and over again. A hundred times a day I might say them in the warmer months. Now, as winter threatened to blow its hoary breath down our backs, only a score of pilgrims still braved the mountains to access the valley in which the abbey had been secreted. The time of silence would soon descend. Once the snow began, we could expect no visitors until the melt came in spring.
   I helped an aged man to his knees and waited for his toneless prayers to cease.
   The sword that from her neck the head did chop, Milk from the wound, instead of blood, did bring; By angels buried on Mt. Sinai’s top; From Virgin Limbs a Sovereign oil did spring.
   The rustle of pilgrims’ tunics, the chaplain’s murmurs in the church, the clap of shoes against the stone floor had almost ceased. The candles’ glow had gone hazy from the censers’ incense, and the air was heavy with expectation and hopes near extinguished. The hour of vespers was near, and the sun would soon be lost to us. Any pilgrim who had meant to reach our walls this day had already come.
   The last of them, a round-eyed matron, approached with trepidation as she clutched a gilded leather girdle to her chest.
   I gestured toward the pile of gifts.
   She started, and then a flush lit her face as she placed it atop all the others. She watched me, waiting I suppose for some sign. But it was not me to whom she needed to make her appeal. I was not the one who could grant her soul’s request.
   I nodded toward the altar, while keeping my gaze fixed to the floor.
   The pilgrim bowed and then, casting a worried glance at me, she knelt. When she did not pray, I said the prayer for her, and when it was over, I touched her hand and then pointed toward the relic.
   It surprised me no longer how many pilgrims, after having journeyed all this way, feared to do what it was they had come for. In hope of persuading Saint Catherine to take up their cause, to heal them, to intercede on their behalf, some of the pilgrims came into the church and kept here a night-long vigil. Others prostrated themselves on the floor as they prayed one prayer for every year of their sin-filled lives.
   In all of my thirty-three years, there were only two that I cared to remember. The first was stolen, its pleasure tainted by the fact that I had tasted, devoured, and then savored forbidden fruit. The second was bought and paid for with all of the years, all of the days, all of the hours that had followed after it. I was paying for it yet.
   Two years, two people.
   The first, beloved and complicit in my great sin. The second, wholly innocent and precious beyond measure. The loss of both, I constantly mourned.
   But if Providence decreed I must live my life again from the start, I would make those same choices and love those two people in the very same way without once pausing for regret. I would do everything just as I had done it at first. No matter how many times I examined my actions, no matter the perspective from which I viewed my sins, I could discover no other path than that which I had taken. If I had been wicked, if I had taken pleasure in my iniquity, at least I had done so honestly.
   Virtuous in my vice; noble in my depravity.
   What further evidence did I need of my wickedness? What more proof did I need to doubt the salvation of my eternal soul? Perhaps this is the mercy in God’s great plan: that we have life but once for the living.
   After the woman left, a clerk stepped forward to make a record of the pilgrims’ gifts. The pile had been built earlier in the day upon a foundation of linens with a length of shining silk wound through the folds. It was buttressed by a few pouches filled with coin and a small jeweled coffer, and it was weighted by a gold chain or two. The clerk clucked with satisfaction as he pushed aside the textiles and pulled several candles from the fabric.
   Turning my back on such luxuries, I wrapped a fold of my sleeve about my hand and then went around to each censer, lifting the perforated lid and adding incense to fortify them against the coming night. Then I went to each of the lamps and used a pair of snips to trim the wicks. Next came the candles. There were a hundred of them. And just when I despaired one would melt into oblivion, a pilgrim always seemed to present a new one. The wax, which puddled on the prickets and cressets, I peeled up and kept for the abbey. They would be remelted and reformed and put to use once more. The smallest of the splatters and drips I collected in a leaf of my Book of Hours, and then emptied into a handkerchief when I retired to my cell after compline.
   Over the course of a year, I could collect enough to make one small candle. I heated the drippings in a small bowl over the top of one of the censers, and once they had melted, I added one precious drop of perfume.
   It was a scent come from the Orient, my lover’s gift. The one thing I had managed to keep when I came into the abbey. I might have felt it deceitful, except that I did not use it for misbegotten purpose. Each night before I left the chapel, I lit the candle and burned it for an instant as I prayed one last prayer to Saint Catherine. If I closed my eyes at that moment and concentrated, I could discern its smell before the thin trail of smoke commingled with the incense and disappeared into the hazy, golden light.
   There were too many memories. Too many things I wished to forget.
   But beyond those, there were an eternity of things I wished to remember.
   The clerk closed his book with a satisfied grunt and placed all of the pilgrims’ gifts into a basket. A second clerk grasped it at the handles and hoisted it to his hip. It would be taken to the treasury to be stored with all of the others. All those lengths of fabric, all the collected jewels, all of the crosses and chains and coins that had been brought to invoke Saint Catherine’s favor.
   The clerk paused in his leaving, and then he too knelt before the altar.
   I tried to find a shadow in which to hide myself. One place where that golden light would not reach me, but I could not. The glow of grace was everywhere and illuminated everything. I feigned indifference and did not move until he left my sacred stone-walled fortress and walked out through the church.
   The chill night air snuck in before he closed the door. It raced down the nave and into the chapel, poking at the candles’ flickering flames. The light faltered for a moment, plunging the altar into relative darkness, but then the flames rallied with a triumphant flare.
   With the wind came a memory, and the sound of a dying breath.
   You promised.
   I did.
   I had.
   The abbess’s words haunted me. Would that I had promised to gouge my own eyes out or stab myself with a hot poker. The abbess could not have known that on my journey to the abbey, I had promised I would never raise myself beyond what God had intended. That I had sworn not to take for myself any position that belonged to another.
   A girl like you has nothing to offer at all. A girl like you can never come to anything. It’s simply not ordained.
   I gnashed my teeth at the memory of the woman who had spoken those words. But had she not been right about me? I pulled my candle from my sleeve and lit it. With my eyes closed, I saw the abbess’s face; I felt the grip of her hand on mine. What if—what if I did propose myself? Surely the others would not elect me. And if I did it, if I put my name forward and the nuns did not choose me, then perhaps I would be released of this great burden.
   “Please, Saint Catherine, show me what to do.”

~*~

As I crossed the courtyard toward the church the next morning, the door of the hospice opened, spilling the sounds of its children. So many of them there were. The healthy and the ill. Both the sound of mind and the dull of wits. Those no parent wanted, or those they could ill afford to keep. Eventually all of those who were scorned by the world passed through our gates.
   It was the greatest of mercies the abbess had never directed me to care for them. I could not have done it. Not when I still mourned the loss of my own precious child. As it was, I had not asked to tend Saint Catherine’s chapel either. When I had come to the abbey, once I had taken my vows, I had been the youngest of the nuns. Although tending the chapel was a more public task than the other nuns had been given, it was not at all important in this place where the sacred was far more valued than the secular. The other women sought positions that kept them within the walls of the cloister—librarian, scribe, lecturer, teacher, prioress, or sacrist. Although pilgrims may have been the lifeblood of our community, they were a poorly tolerated distraction from prayer, fasting, and contemplation. But it did not matter to me. I reveled in the hours I spent in the chapel-cavern.
   How easily we lie to ourselves. How quick we are to believe our own falsehoods. Those first few years in the abbey, after having spent my grief in a frenzy of novenas, I told myself my wounds were salved. I declared myself beset by grace. I renounced the world and everything in it, and I made myself into the image of the perfect nun. One who never complained, never questioned, never doubted the goodness of God’s great love. What were wars, what were famines, what was pestilence compared to the Almighty’s infinite wisdom and power?
   I think I had managed to convince even the abbess of my great faith when a message arrived that scuttled it all. The king was coming to the abbey that summer. And he was bringing his daughter, our daughter, the princess, with him.
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***I received a copy of The Miracle Thief from the author for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony, © 2012

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony historical fiction ~ 1636
During the reign of Louis XIII, called The Just
978-1-4022-6303-8
978-1-4022-6303-8
978-1-4022-6303-8

I will never quite look at Queen Anne's Lace the same after reading The Ruins of Lace.
Queen Anne's Lace
"Mechlin lace... is one of the best known Flemish laces. It is fine, transparent, and looks best when worn over another color... It was used for coiffures de nuit, garnitures de corset, ruffles and cravats."    # A study in nostalgia.
Flemish Bobbin Lace

Katharina, lace maker. Working in a dark, unheated workshop day after day, is losing her sight and her back is curved from bending over her pillow for hours at a time making lace, with the rhythm of her bobbins. In silence, without spoken words.
                         ~*~
Needle pin, needle pin
Stitch upon stitch,
Work the old lady out of the ditch
If she is not out as soon as I
A rap on the knuckles will come by and by
A horse to carry my lady about
Must not look off till twenty are out.
                         ~*~ 
Louis XIII in 1636 forbid the wearing of lace, preferring to keep the monies from going across the border to enrich his domain. This, of course, brought a desire for it no matter the means ~ or the cost.

Lisette found the lace to be costly ~ to her family. In retribution, will they ever be finished repaying what she has damaged?

Each character tells their own part of the story in the narrative of events. There is vernacular vulgarity of speech in their struggles. With cruelty to man and to animals in lace smuggling, there is no lasting satisfaction in the pursuit of a luxury not filling the deep longing of the heart. Despair and uncertainty detain each one as they hope for freedom, to be loved, not recognizing there is a Deliverer.
Never forget you are of immeasurable worth!
   --author Iris Anthony
The Lacemaker by Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The Metropolitan Museum

The Lacemaker by Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The Metropolitan Museum

Here is an excerpt of The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony ~ Chapters One-Three.

CHAPTER 1

Katharina Martens
LENDELMOLEN, FLANDERS

IT HAD BEEN TWO MONTHS NOW. TWO MONTHS since my eyes had betrayed me. The darkness had come upon me so gradually that there had been no fear, no panic. Even now I could still discern shapes and colors. Though the details and textures of my lace were lost to me, my fingers told me what my eyes refused to convey.
   I had spun an endless pattern of roses and leaves intertwined, bordered by a path of scrollwork. Every day I had lingered between those blossoms and lost myself in the maze of those scrolls. Every day for over three years. It took time to fashion a lace as long and as fine as this one.
   I wriggled my toes within my clogs. At least I thought I did. I could no longer feel them. They had gone numb from autumn’s chill. I shifted on the bench, hoping it would bring some life back into them. If not, they would waken with a tingling in the time it took to walk from the workshop to the chapel. By the time I finished with prayers, they would be well again. In winter it was worse. They woke from their sleep with a hot, dull ache.
   Autumn.
   Winter.
   Spring.
   Summer.

   I had cycled through the years in much the same way I cycled through my bobbins and my pattern. One season, one set of bobbins, one rose after the other, and in the end, I found myself back at the beginning. As a child, cast upon the good graces of the abbey, I had been a fumbling novice at my craft. But now I was a skilled lace maker.

   Lace is created from thread. Threads. Many of them. Twisted and crossed, looped and whorled, knotted and woven. But lace is formed from the absence of substance; it is imagined in the spaces between the threads. Lace is a thing like hope. It lived, it survived, and it was desired for what it was not. If faith, as the nuns said, was the substance of things hoped for, then lace was the outline—the suggestion—of things not seen.

   Lace was my life. My solace. It was lace that gave my life meaning. And in the working out of my intricate patterns, I had also worked out my salvation. Twenty-five years I had been making lace. Twenty-five blessed years.
~*~
   As I sat there with my pillow in my lap, the threads performed their intricate dance, leaping and jumping in a counterpoint about their pins. Each group of bobbins clattered to their own rhythm before I dropped them to the pillow to pick up the next. With a twist or a cross, more than two hundred threads danced around the circle before I dropped the last group and started once more with the first.
   It amazed me, as it always had, that I should sit with my bobbins, day after day. And that they should perform their dance with so little help from me. Like the fairies my sister used to speak of, they completed their magic seemingly undirected and undeterred by human hands. Except, I did direct them. I did move them. In fact, they moved only at my command. But once I set them into motion, they seemed to dance alone. I used to watch, breathless, every day, waiting to see what they would create.
   I knew, of course.
   They would create the kind of lace they created every day, the lace that was named for the abbey: Lendelmolen. That was the only kind of lace we had been taught to make. We’d seen the other kinds. Sister had showed them to us so we could understand how superior our patterns were. But this lace, this length, was different. It was to be fabulously long. Six yards. The exquisite scrolls and roses and leaves had been inscribed by a pattern maker upon a parchment. Pins now marked that design, securing the pattern to my pillow.
   But there was a difference between knowing what the bobbins would create and watching them go about their work. It was in the watching that the magic happened.
   Of course, I never spoke of the magic. Not to the nuns.
   Not to anyone.
   Nowhere, at any time within the walls of the abbey, could I speak. Unless it was to God. And even then, we were to speak in whispers. God was a jealous god. He needed our hands. He needed our thoughts…and our voices. They were reserved, all of them, every part of us, for him.
   And why should it have been any other way?
   Except…I had never heard the voice of Mathild. And I had sat beside her as we worked, for twenty-five years.
   Those first years, the years of learning, had been the most difficult. Learning what was expected of us and learning what was not. Learning how to please the Sister in charge of the workshop. Learning how to avoid a beating or a whipping.
   And those first whippings…they came so unexpectedly, so brutally, for a sin no greater than a dropped pillow or a missed stitch. So viciously and so cruelly, a girl would be stripped to her waist and punished right in front of us. In front of all of us.
   It served its purpose, I suppose.
   It goaded us into concentration. But unavoidably, I too dropped my pillow. I too missed a stitch. And strayed from the pattern. I did not think often of those times. So much sadness, so much misery. I had sought the skirts of the Holy Mother herself on one occasion, hiding behind her statue in the chapel. Once I had been coaxed away from her, I was lucky to have survived the beating I was given. But it was then, in the midst of those dim-lit days and lonely nights, that I was taught how to make myself useful. It was then I learned the secrets of lace. And how could I truly despair when I knew, every day upon waking, that in the workshop my lace awaited?
   I could survive a scolding, could suffer through a beating, always knowing I had my lace. I couldn’t mind stinging buttocks or a bloodied back when my fingers were left untouched for work and my eyes could still see. It was the times when they rapped our knuckles that were the worst. For then we were left bleeding and bruised, forbidden to leave the workshop, but forbidden also to work. If punishment was doled out for failure—failure to concentrate, to keep the lace clean, to master the skills—the lace itself offered its own sort of reward.
   To see it created.
   To watch it unfurl.
   To glimpse a pattern perfectly followed, perfectly accomplished.
   I would rather have been whipped to the grave than been kept from my work.
   But that had been back when I could see. Now that solitary pleasure had been denied me.
   Perhaps in those early days, now that I think on it, I had heard Mathild speak once or twice. But I did not remember her words. To speak brought certain punishment. And so, we had avoided each other’s gaze to avoid the temptation to talk. And soon we began, all of us, to sleep with an arm across the face…to ensure that, even in sleep, we would remain guiltless.
   But I had seen Mathild smile.
   And once, I had even seen her wink.
   But speak? I could hardly remember those few words.
   When would I have heard them? At prayers, we whispered our petitions to the Most Holy God. At meals, we ate. During washing, we washed. And when making lace? Making lace required everything we had. And by the time we collapsed onto our beds, there was nothing left within us. We were quickly consumed by sleep.
   Of course, I had heard others talk.
   The nuns spoke all the time.
   I knew the voice of my teacher: Sister Maria-Clementia. She spoke very little, but when she bent over my pillow to inspect my lace, her “Well done” was like a song of a thousand words. And her “Rework this” could echo through my mind for days. There was no great need for words here. Not when so very few would do. And even when I talked to God, there was little to say. I said, “Thank you,” for it was he who had placed me here. I said, “Help me, please,” for who did not need help with such difficult work? But mostly, I said…nothing. For what could a poor girl say to such a great and holy God that did not begin and end with gratitude?
   But…I had a secret.
   I stored up words. I hoarded them, treasured them.
   Words were my vice, my greatest weakness. Since I had discovered their great rarity, I remembered every one I heard.
   They formed a pattern in my head, and in the spaces between them, I imagined the lives of their speakers. My one regret is how few of my mother’s I remembered. But I could not have known, not while she was living, how precious few she would be able to give me.
   She had talked often…so many lovely words. They came back to me sometimes in my sleep, like a length of punto in aria lace. Vast spaces of nothing, and then, suddenly, the outline of an intricate pattern. It was all the more beautiful for its spare design. Her words had the lightness of a butterfly. They were always dancing. Always followed by laughter. At least…that is how it seems to me now.
   But perhaps I have distorted the pattern in transferring it to my memories. For what followed after her death was so… bleak. When she had been alive, there were words, nothing but words, in our house, and then after…silence reigned over all.
   I remember only two words from my father. Perhaps he gave me more than those two…certainly he probably did while my mother was living…. but the only two I remember are the last ones he spoke to me.
   Fare well.
   Only those two words remain, and they are underscored by sorrow. They hang heavily in my heart. He died five years after I was committed to the abbey. Those two words are all I have left of him, but two words are not enough to make a pattern.
   Fare well.
   Was it a blessing? A wish? A hope?
   Perhaps it was a sort of benediction. I do not know.
   My sister, Heilwich…well, she has words enough for the both of us. And the words she gives me are more than enough to last the week between her visits. She speaks of her life, of the priest whose home she keeps, of her good works. Her pattern is torchon. Regular, repeating. Competent. Respectable. Dependable.
   And I imagine her life to be just that way.
   But I have more than just family from whom to collect words.
   I have the people walking by the workshop, past the abbey wall, on the street outside.
   There is one man who walks the streets, shouting every day. He sells fish. And he does it especially loudly on Fridays. He shouts everything about them. How large they are, how fresh they are. He sells sole and plaice. Eels and herrings. Sometimes they cost more, and sometimes they cost less. And sometimes he sells something called a mussel. But only in the winter. I’ve always wondered what it looked like, a mussel.
   But then, I had always wondered what he looked like as well.
   His words were not fancy; they created an ordinary malines design. His pattern was the same, day after day, fish after fish. There were few holes, few gaps, from which to pattern a life apart from the street beyond the wall. I imagined he woke with fish and he worked with fish, and when he slept, he dreamt of fish.
   It was what I did too…only with lace, of course. I understood a life like his. Except…How did he come by them? That great variety of fish? And how did he carry them? For certain by cart, for I could hear the wheels tumble across the cobbles. But…how? Tossed together in a great pile? Separated into baskets?
   And where did he live?
   What did he wear?
   The holes in his pattern were tiny, but they were there, nonetheless. His was a life set upon a platform of a fine network of threads.
   There was also a woman who shouted in the streets beyond the wall. But she didn’t shout about something. She shouted at something. Was it a child? She shouted at someone called Pieter, who always seemed to be making a mess of things.
   But what kind of mess was it?
   Was he a child who rubbed his hands in the ashes of a fire…and then spread the soot about the house? That would make a mess. The worst kind of mess I could imagine.
   She also shouted at someone else called Mies. And Mies always made her late.
   But late to what? Where was she going, this woman who seemed to have nothing to do but walk the length of the streets, shouting all day? What was Mies doing to make her late, and how could Mies do whatever it was all day long, every day? And if it was always the same thing Mies did, then why did the woman not stop it from being done?    
   There was a pattern to this woman that made no sense, huge holes in the design of her life. Hers was a lace made of cutwork. Not dainty, not fragile. Without subtlety, it was bold in the extreme. A pattern without any elegance at all, and one which kept repeating. That lace was one of my least favorite kinds.
   There were others out there on the street besides. I could hear them walking and running. And hear the sounds of their voices talking. But those people did not shout, and so I knew nothing of the actual words they said.
   There were babies who cried.
   And once, there had been a shriek. A howl.
   The wordless sound of grief: black lace. The worst kind to make. The kind I made as a child, new to the abbey. After being dyed its dark color, it would not show soiling. We could make it imperfectly, for the color hid our sins. We made it fast, though never for commission. It was for immediate consumption. For who could know when a soul might die?
   No one thought of black lace—no one wanted to think of it—but somehow, we never seemed to be able to make enough of it. But to make a lace no one ever wanted? Those days, those laces…they were sad. And so was that howl.
   So at times, I suppose, one word…one wordless sound… could create a pattern. It could tell a story…but some laces are not worth imagining.
   Far better, far better, to keep my thoughts to what I knew. And what I knew best, the only thing I knew at all, was lace. The abbey had been kind enough to take me as a child from my motherless family, even though I knew how to do nothing at all. They had fed me; they had taught me. They had allowed me a chance to redeem myself. To prove myself worthy of the life I had been given. And so I worked, I labored, as one who would not be ashamed. Nee: one who could not be ashamed. When God looked down on what it was I had done, I knew the only thing he could say was this: well done.
   My eyes strained through the darkness, trying—and failing—to discern one thread from another. In a short time we would be allowed a candle, but for now, my fairy dance continued, unaided, unfettered, by my lack of sight. As we worked, we waited. Waited in anticipation, just as we waited in the chapel to receive the Host.
   Soon, Sister placed a single candle on a table before us. And then she began positioning the condensers. Clear glass balls filled with water, they focused the candle’s light and then sent it forth. Around the table she went, adjusting each one so it cast a narrow beam of light upon each pillow.
   With much gratitude, we repositioned our work into that light.
   When I could still see well, it had been more difficult to pattern. But still, I had to concentrate. and its grace. word: Done. My supper, tasteless. My sleep, dreamless. work after the shadows of night fell. The pillow had to be constantly adjusted to follow the flickering of the candle’s light. Now, it didn’t matter. I could work in darkness as if it were the brightest of noondays. I had memorized my pattern. But still, I had to concentrate.
   Think too much, and I would muddle up the bobbins. Think too little, and I would lose my place in the pattern. In my head, I sung a little tune the sisters had chanted when I was a child. And quick as that, the dance regained its rhythm and its grace.
   I sung it to myself over and over, again and again. Who knows how many times I sung it, until at last, Sister said the word: Done.
   My prayers that night were wordless.
   My supper, tasteless.
   My sleep, dreamless.
   
CHAPTER 2

Heilwich Martens
KORTRIJK, FLANDERS

I HAD BEEN SO CLOSE LAST MONTH! I'D HAD EVERY Spanish real the Reverend Mother had demanded. She had glanced up from her table as I entered the room, her coronet making her head look as if it were about to take flight.
   I touched a knee to the floor. “Reverend Mother.”
   “And you are…?”
   “I am Heilwich Martens. Of Kortrijk.”
   “Heilwich Martens…”
   “I work for Father Jacqmotte. At Sint-Maartenskerk.”
   “Ah. A priest’s woman.” The Reverend Mother nodded, sending a shiver through her veil.
   “I came to speak to you about my sister. I wish to take her home with me.”
   “Sister—? Which one?”
   “My sister. My own sister. Katharina. She makes lace.” I with drew the pouch from my sleeve and set it on the table before her. The coins inside it betrayed their presence with a clink.
   The Reverend Mother’s hand snaked out and clasped the pouch, loosened the thong that bound it, and poured the contents out upon the table. “Katharina, you say? I am told she is our best lace maker.”
   I was surprised the Reverend Mother knew her, but isn’t that what Katharina had told me herself? That she was the abbey’s best lace maker? An undue sense of pride kindled within my veins. I felt my chin lift.
   “We have come to rely upon her skills.”
   Katharina had told me that as well.
   “The skills we have spent many months, many years, in fact, perfecting.”
   Ja. I knew quite well how many years there had been between Katharina’s leaving our father’s house and my own visit to the abbey this day. Twenty-five of them.
   “This is not enough to compensate us for our expense in training her.” She gathered the coins and dropped them back into the pouch.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   She secured the thong and pushed it back across the table toward me.
   “But…but…last time we spoke, this is the price you named!” And I had worked and saved for five years to gather all of it.
   “That was several years ago, was it not?”
   “Ja, but— ”
   “Did you think we would stop teaching her in the intervening time? Stop feeding her? Clothing her? Providing a place for her to sleep? A chapel in which to worship?”
   “Nee, but— ”
   “Surely you can understand we must be compensated for all we have invested in her.”
   “But she is not a…a…piece of property or a…a…cow! She’s a girl! And she’s nearly gone blind from all of the lace you’ve made her make!”
   “Blind? Truly? I shall have to investigate.”
   I shut my mouth up tight as a cooper’s barrel. I had said too much. Or perhaps…perhaps I had not said enough. “Ja! She’s hunched as an old woman. And very soon you’ll throw her out of your abbey, just as you always do to those too blind to be of use.” If the abbey could not see her worth, the men who lurked at the abbey’s gates would. A girl did not have to see to be persuaded to open her legs to paying customers.
   “And what would you have us do? Keep girls who can provide no assistance in exchange for our very great generosity? We would soon have to shut our doors.”
   “If you won’t take my money, could you send for me before you turn her out?”
   “For what purpose?”
    “So I can take her home.”
    “You mean keep her here until you are able to come fetch her?”
    “Ja.”
   “As if we were some kind of lodging house?” The crook of her brow above her eyes told me her answer before she even spoke it. “Kortrijk is quite a walk, even if the father would let you come. I cannot do this. If I did it for you, then every family would expect the same.”
   “How much more do you need?”
   She named her price.
   It was much more than I could ever hope to earn, even if I had five more years in which to do it. Katharina was as lost to me as our father and mother. I had told her I would rescue her, but I couldn’t do it.

~*~
I did what I could. I shamed the men who lingered by the gate into leaving, though I had no hope my words would drive them far. I shuddered to think of Katharina having to throw herself upon their mercy. I gave a silver coin to an urchin, as well. “If you see a girl come from the abbey, one of the lace makers, come tell me in Kortrijk. I work for Father Jacqmotte at Sint-Maartenskerk. The church with the great tower. Her name would be Katharina.”
    “Katharina.”
    “Ja.”
    “And if I do? If I come tell you…?”
   “Then I will give you another one of these.” I took a second silver coin from my purse and held it out so he could see it.
   His good eye gleamed as he reached for it.
   I enclosed it within my fist. “And what is your name? Remember, I work for a priest. I’ll tell him if you lie to me or if you cheat me.”
   The hand withdrew as he eyed me for a moment. Then his frown relaxed and, finally, he spoke. “Pieter. My name is Pieter.”
~*~
I had done what I could, but it had not made my heart feel better. It still didn’t, even three days later. Katharina should have been me. I should have been the one the abbey had taken. I was the older sister, after all. Katharina could easily have been placed out for work somewhere. She was a child of the sun, all golden hair and gleaming smiles. But I was not the one the abbey chose. They had taken one look at my short, stubby fingers and had not even let me enter their gates. It wasn’t what we had planned. Not at all. It was me who was oldest. Me who ate the most. But in the end, it was Katharina they had taken and me they had left behind.
   Several years after Katharina had gone, Father died, and the parish priest had taken me in. The elderly housekeeper showed me how to sweep a wood floor and how to manage work—I did everything—but it still did nothing to beat back the knowledge that it was all my fault.
   It was my fault Father had died: he had placed into my bowl the food intended for his own mouth. And it was my fault Katharina had become what she was: a girl who had found her age too early. Back bent, fingers gnarled from her work.
   But in the priest’s house, I had served the penance for my sins. I had worked my short, stubby fingers to the bone these twenty- five years to regain that which had been lost…only to discover my work had been in vain. It had not been enough.
   I had not saved enough.
   I might have paused by the River Leie, sat down upon the bank, and wept into my apron for sorrow at what life might have been, but there was too much to be done in the life that was. There were wicks to be trimmed and accounts to be looked over, supper to be prepared and vestments to be mended. There was old Herry Stuer to be visited. His pallet to be changed and water dripped into his mouth.
   And for certain, the girl who looked after him would stick me with his care for the rest of the forenoon.
   But I was the priest’s woman. Such things, such generosity of time and of spirit, were expected of me. A gentle hand, a cool head, a ready smile…when all I wanted to do most times was shriek at them all and dash them over the head with my broom.
   I turned from the river, jabbed at my tears with the edge of my apron, and sniffed the rest of them back down. It was too late for sorrow, and tears helped nothing.

CHAPTER 3

Denis Boulanger
THE BORDERS OF FRANCE AND FLANDERS

I DON'T KNOW WHY I BOTHER.”
    Was the lieutenant asking me a question? Did he expect an answer? With him, sometimes it was hard to know. And the sun had barely just peered into the sole window of the shack. It was a tough job pleasing the lieutenant before he’d eaten the day’s first meal.
    “You understand what your job is.”
    Another statement that seemed as if it might be a question. “Oui, Lieutenant.” It was to assist the douaniers with their work. To help them by guarding the border with the Spanish Netherlands and to assist in the collection of import taxes.
   He looked down his long, crooked nose at me. “Then why aren’t you doing it?”
   Ah. Now there was a question. A true question. But it was a question I did not understand. “I am…I mean, I thought—?”
   “Do you know what passes across the border? Every single day?”
   “Oui, chef.” I did. People. Sometimes animals. And carts.
   “Hundreds of people cross the border every single day.” He’d raised his hands, slicing at the air in front of me, setting in motion the lace that hung like cobwebs from his wrists. “And do you know what they carry with them?”
   That was a question that really didn’t sound like one. It didn’t seem as if he truly wanted an answer. So I kept my mouth shut. That was easiest. How I wished he would stop talking, so I could stop standing at attention.
   “The people who cross the border here are liars, cheats, and thieves. Every single one of them.”
   Every single one? I found that difficult to believe. The old granny I had given my arm to just the other day? Surely she wasn’t a liar or a cheat or a thief. And that young mother with the three children, one of them just a babe in her arms? She had looked as if she might dissolve into tears at any moment. That’s why I had helped to hurry her through the line. For that was my job, after all: to aid the douaniers.
   “Do you know whom they’re trying to cheat?”
   Well. That was an easy question to answer. My mother had always said cheaters cheated only themselves. Although… hadn’t they first to cheat someone else? Before they cheated themselves? Isn’t that what cheating was?
   “Denis!”
   “Oui, chef!” I pulled my chin in even closer to my chest, making it touch the top button on my coat.
   “Every blessed day, thousands of livres of merchandise cross this border. And do you know what’s wrong with most of it?”
   I guessed—I supposed—an answer was expected. “That it comes from the Spanish Netherlands? From those Flemish?”
   “Those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish. Oui. And those dirty, rotten, stinking Spaniards.”
   “The dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy Spaniards.”
   “You’ve a way with words, Denis Boulanger.”
   “Merci, mon chef.”
   I’d always liked words. They were so particular as to their meaning. No one word could ever quite substitute for another. It wasn’t like the army, where it didn’t really matter what you looked like or where you were from. Where the next man could do the job just as well as you.
   “But the fact that all of those goods come from Flanders and those d├ębectable Spaniards doesn’t really concern me at all. Do you know what concerns me?”
   I could guess, but I wasn't sure I would be right. It was safest not to answer.
  “What concerns me is those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish are smuggling contraband across our border every single day.”
   I’d heard that. The lieutenant had said that. He’d said it nearly every day for these six months I’d been posted here.
   “And do you know who helps them?”
   Well—non. Non, I didn’t.
   “We do. We French do. We French conspire with those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish to cheat our own King out of the tariffs he deserves.”
   Not we French. I mean, I didn’t. And the lieutenant didn’t. Some French. That was the better way to say it. Some French do.
   “But do you know what’s worse, Denis Boulanger?”
   There were many things that were worse. So many things that were worse. It was difficult to choose just one.
   “What’s worse is some people even try to smuggle in things that are forbidden. Did you know that?”
   “Oui, chef.” I knew that.
   “Every single day, people try to bring things into France that don’t belong here. Things the King, our King, doesn’t want here.”
   He had come to stand quite near me. His tips of his boots touched the tips of my own.
   “Oui, chef!
   He scowled. “Oui, chef? Oui, chef! You know this?”
   “Oui, chef.”
   “Then why don’t you do something about it!” He yelled the words so loudly they hurt my ears. So forcefully his spittle landed on my face.
   I couldn’t keep from blinking. And falling back from his assault. “I do, chef. I mean, I try.”
   “You haven't tried hard enough. Do you know how many times you've intercepted contraband these past six months?”
   I nodded. I did. I knew exactly how many times.
   “None! Thousands of livres in goods are smuggled across this border daily, and you’ve intercepted none of it!” He shook his wrist in front of my face. “Do you know how old this lace is?”
   “Non, chef.”
   “Six months old. And do you know why?”
   “Non, chef.
   “It’s because you haven’t brought me any that’s newer!”
   “I haven’t…I’ve never seen any.”
   “Never seen any. Bon.” He turned on a heel and strode to his desk.
   I wished I could do that. Turn on my heel and do it so quickly it looked like my foot was nailed to the floor. I’d tried. Many times. But I’d only ever made myself stumble.
   “Never seen any. Never going to. I’m going to send you somewhere else. Lots of places to choose from. We’re a country at war with these dirty, rotten, stinking Spaniards. So… do you think you could kill someone?”
   “Kill someone?”
   “With that musket.”
   “Why?”
   “Why what?”
   “Why would I want to kill someone?”
   He sighed. Took up a piece of paper and began writing. “I have here, in my hand, your new orders.” He signed them with a flourish as he spoke.
   “Chef ?”
   “You’re leaving. I’m done with you. You’re a disgrace to your King.”
   “But…I…I would catch them. I would arrest those smugglers if I could only tell which ones they were.”
   “The trouble with you, Denis Boulanger, is you’ve no imagination. Do you know how contraband crosses the border? How lace crosses the border? Because that’s what we’re looking for—lace. Do you know how lace crosses the border?”
   I nodded. He’d explained it many times.
   “Lace crosses the border in hollow loaves of bread. It crosses the border pinned to a woman’s underskirts or the inside of a man’s breeches. It crosses the border in boots and books. It even crosses the border in coffins.”
   Coffins? I didn’t think I believed him. I was quite sure, in fact, that I didn’t.
   “It crosses the border with men and women. With children and dogs. With the young and with the very old. It crosses the border with people.”
   Oui. I knew all of that. Every day I looked for lace. That was what I was supposed to do. But how could I know who was smuggling it? “Just—give me more time! I’ll find some lace. I promise.”
   He folded his arms in front of him, leaned on the table’s top. Frowned. “I’ve been giving you more time for six months now.”
   “Please.”
   He scowled. “Fine. One more month. It’s hard enough as it is with the war going on. Be warned, if you don’t find any”—he waved the orders above his head as he dismissed me with his other hand—“then you’re done.”
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***I received a copy of The Ruins of Lace from the author for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Friday, April 11, 2014

Unquenchable: Grow a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything by Carol Kent, © 2014

Firestorms in nature have unexpected benefits because nutrients are returned to the soil and disease-ridden plants are destroyed. In your life, what unexpected benefits or new beginnings has God brought about after a difficult experience?
   --Unquenchable: Grow a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything, 60
Carol Kent is transparent as she takes us through the faith-building she has received in the trial of her family, and of others who have shared their hearts, as well. God carries us during our struggles here on earth. We need not be alone. So many times we may question, but will find that we are strengthened in weakness by the One who loves us best. Inadequacies we can never overcome, insurmountable happenings, without His help and guidance. Faith built in the midst of suffering.
Embers keep the power of the fire safe, awaiting one of three things - time to finally flicker out, new fuel to ignite the fire afresh, or a wind to lift the embers and carry them to fresh fuel, even great distances away, where our faith springs to life anew.
   --Ibid., 71
How comfortable are you before God? How honest are you with Him? Journal. Write down your thoughts and needs ~ for understanding, filling of His grace, com/passion ~ come alongside. Share your heart; cry out to Him. He is near. Listen with a heart to hear. Follow His teaching and love. Leave the results with Him.
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes ...
I remember it all ...
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God ...
    He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
   --Lamentations 3:19-26 (The Message)
9780310330998

Carol Kent talks about a burning bush experience; a marker moment of knowing. Times when God revealed himself to her in specific ways or through unique opportunities.
We all have moments when we run dry and must lean on memories of God's faithfulness rather than on our current circumstances, when we must rely on our knowledge of God's Spirit at work in the past to keep our fire going in the present.
   --Ibid., 98
A cleansing that comes from knowing God alone has us covered. Document what God has done in your life. He provides nourishment and rest. In following Him, Jesus sees beyond the moment to the potential in us. Tending the fire of our faith requires spending time with God.

Carol shares the renewal in her family through God's grace. He meets us where we are. Blessings beyond measure, waiting for us.
   The important thing, no matter your state of life, is to make a plan for spending time with God. Tending your relationship with God is a top priority for keeping your wildfire faith alive and growing.
   --Ibid., 125
Our unexpected journeys are seen by God. Carol shares His hands extended through the acts of friends who join in our journey with encouragement. Love expended beyond what we could ever think or imagine. Our God reigns. In the midst of this world, heaven collides with earth!





***Thank you to Zondervan Linked to Lit for sending me a copy of Unquenchable to read and review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***