Last year I posted Chapters One and Two (you can read them here) of my novelette – The King, the Page and the Hermit – about the great Czech king and martyr Weneceslaus (or St. Vaclav as he is also called in the Orthodox Church). Below I’ve posted Chapters Three and Four; eventually the whole novelette (consisting of sixteen chapters) will be published by Lumination Press (possibly for Christmas 2015), but in the meantime enjoy this little taste!
Entering the hut the page noticed how cozy it seemed. What seemed small on the outside seems much greater in size on the inside, Podevin thought to himself.
There was a bright fire blazing, and hot wine steaming from a pot hung on a stick placed above the fire. With the exception of a small wooden table and chair to one side of the room with books and papers scattered across the top, two small wooden stools near the hearth, and one rather long, weaved mat in the corner, furniture was scarce in the hut.
The mat was woven out of long grass that grows on the Bohemian hillsides in summer. It appeared to be the hermit’s bed. It would appear that he made it himself since there seemed to be much of that long grass stored in a large basket with tools next to it. On the wall was a shelf with a few belongings – some plates, cups, and a few utensils. Although the belongings were clearly that of a poor man, the atmosphere felt much nobler than the things which occupied the space.
Such a poor dwelling, and yet it omits such a rich, indescribable fragrance, the page reflected. While Podevin took in the atmosphere of the hut, he knew by his master’s fixed gaze he was captivated by the ambience of the hermit.
“We’ve brought you some bread and wine, dear Father, and also some wood for your fire,” the Duke told the old hermit, handing him the basket of gifts. “We saw you gathering some kindling near the castle and we thought you might like a visit.”
“And how nice it is to have company on such a fine feast! Please take a seat, Sire,” the hermit said, pulling out the chair from the table and placing it in front of the fire. “Perhaps you would like to remove your cloak so we can place it before the fire to dry.”
“Oh, is it wet? Why yes, I suppose it is,” the Duke said, looking at himself.
The Duke handed the hermit his large, fur-lined, gold and red woven cloak.
“And you, what is your name, young man?” the hermit asked the page.
“Podevin,” the page answered, bowing slightly.
“You ought to give me your cloak as well my boy, and take a seat too,” the hermit said, gesturing to a stool. “I’ve prepared some mulled wine for us. I thought it would warm us up on this fine evening. That is, if we needed more warmth in our already warm hearts,” the hermit said, his smile barely visible through his thick, long, grey moustache.
The page found it odd that the hermit said he had prepared mulled wine for them, since he couldn’t possibly have known beforehand that they would be visiting him. But being only the page it was not his place to go on pointing out such peculiar statements.
“I can pour the wine, dear Father,” Podevin volunteered, rising from his seat.
“Can you now? And who do you suppose is greater, the one who sits or the one who serves?” the hermit asked him.
“The one who sits, Father,” the page quickly responded.
“Yet Christ came to serve, not to be served,” the hermit stated emphatically.
“Yes, I suppose He did, Father,” Podevin answered, looking bashful for having answered too hastily, and as it turned out, incorrectly.
“That’s okay, my son,” the hermit said, laughing and gently ruffling the page’s sandy hair.
“Tonight I’ll serve, next time you will.”
Podevin sat down again, wondering if there really would be a next time. He also wondered why the hermit did not seem at all surprised to have the Duke of Bohemia visit him in his own hut, and on Christmas, for no other reason but that he saw him from outside his window.
“Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name” (Psalm 63:4)
The old hermit took the steaming pot over to the table and placed the three mugs he owned down beside it. He served the Duke first and then Podevin. He brought over his own and said:
“Let us drink to the Virgin birth of Our Lord and Saviour, who for us men and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and was made Man, and was born in a cave of dumb beats that we might attain the gift of His indwelling in us also, sinful though we may be!”
“Amen!” Vácslav and Podevin responded in unison, tipping the bottom of their mugs up together, they took in the warm, spicy wine.
Sitting down again the three looked quite cozy in front of the fire.
“So, tell me my good fellow, how do you pass your days, and from where do you collect enough money to feed yourself?” Duke Vácslav asked.
“My days are spent working and praying. Although I’m an old man I keep my hands busy so my mind can be free. I wake in the morning before the sun rises and I lift up my voice in prayer to the Lord. Afterward I begin weaving baskets out of the long grass I save and dry from the hills. My mind prays while my hands weave: as my fingers pull the blades of grass, my prayer pulls my attention. I struggle to recite the Psalter, which I have committed to memory, in order to cultivate constant remembrance of God.
“Around the ninth hour I lay aside my work to cook and eat a little. I rest for an hour or so and then continue my work until the twelfth hour, at which point I begin the evening service which consists of Vespers, the Greetings to the Mother of God, and Compline. After these prayers again I have a small portion of food and drink. And after this I complete my own personal rule of prayer which includes prostrations and the Prayer of Jesus,” the hermit finished, lowering his head and looking at the bottom of his mug, no longer housing any wine.
“Your days are spent in blessedness, my dear friend,” the Duke responded.
Podevin’s hands involuntarily fidgeted with the ties on his tunic as he visibly struggled to keep himself from interrupting the conversation.
“Podevin, what is it? Share your thoughts with us,” the Duke kindly invited him into the conversation.
“It’s just, I can’t help but wonder how it is that you support yourself. I mean, if you spend all day praying and working do you ever sell any of the baskets you make?” Podevin said, allowing the words to spill out of his mouth. He waited in silence looking sheepish, for although some of his actions reflected his childish nature, as he approached manhood he was slowly becoming aware of himself and those around him. And so, he occupied that awkward stage of “knowing better” but not being able to restrain the natural curiosity that comes to those who are young.
“He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven,” the hermit answered him, smiling and looking up to meet the page’s eyes.
“He shall say unto the Lord: Thou art my helper and my refuge,” Vácslav interjected, staring at the hermit.
“He is my God,” the old hermit continued, “and I will hope in Him,” the two finished in unison.
“But to answer your question in a more precise manner my good boy, a woman who lives not far from here comes and collects my baskets and sells them for me in the marketplace. This way I do not have to venture into the world except when it’s necessary to exchange a profitable word with our fellow countrymen,” the hermit answered, laying a hand on the young page’s shoulder.