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UPDATE: Ileana (who entered via email) is the winner of the draw! Congrats, Ileana!

Thank you all for entering and spreading the word about St. Perpetua’s story, Out of the African Lands!

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On the feast of St. Perpetua and her companions I want to host a giveaway of the novellette I wrote, Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and her Companions published by Lumination Press.

In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. But this does not stop Perpetua and her companions from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven–even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

 Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment, and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus, and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian but dies as one.

To enter simply leave a comment. To double your chances share this post on one of the many social media platforms people use. If, like me, you aren’t active on social media there’s an alternative: For a chance to enter three times read this excerpt from Fr. Matthew Penney’s The Light Guardian. Comment (or email me) to let me know you did either of the above options. (We’ll use the honour system.)

Contest closes next Wednesday, Febryary 8. A random name will be drawn on that day. An onion dome cross-stitch bookmark will be included with the book.

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(The photos included in this post are some of things I get to see while traveling for work in Newfoundland.)

Each time Christmas vacation came around during my (first) Bachelor degree I had the habit of taking a break from the “great books” I read endlessly for school and delving into a novel or two (or three). See, I was enrolled in a Great Books program modeled after St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in which we read volumes upon volumes of primary sources: Plato, Dante, Bacon, Spencer, Shelley, and so much more. Letting my mind read just “for fun” instead of with a critical eye to themes and philosophies, once essays and exams were finished, was a real treat.

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Summertime in Newfoundland

The last few years – thanks to my brother’s intriguing Christmas presents – I have revived this habit of reading a novel during Christmas vacation. Thus, I found myself driving back to my office from one of the many coves on the Avalon Peninsula (my work takes me to some interesting places) reflecting on the novel I had been reading. I was at a place in the book where the band of thieves – a band of friends, each member contributing to the strength of the whole by their individual talents and personalities – were beginning to put their plans into action. The goal? To overthrow the evil ruler of their land.

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As I drove past trees and lakes, mountains and ocean views, two things stood out to me: First, just how exciting the story was, how I wanted to pull my car over to finish it, how real the friendships were. And second, as I watched cars drive past me – cars full of regular people likely coming from shopping or heading to work – I thought about the monotony of modern life: seemingly no battles to be fought, no need to forge strong bonds of friendship in order to fight to the death for something you believe in, no weapons to train with or evil rulers to overthrow. That’s why, I said to myself, so many read books like these, watch movies, tv shows, play video games. Because in those contexts we get to live vicariously through characters whose lives are far more intriguing than our own. It satisfies, to a limited extent, something each person has within them: the desire to have something to fight for, to have meaningful friendships in which, together, we seek higher ideals, better versions of ourselves, for the good of the many and for the benefit of our own selves.

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But, I thought with a sigh, as I looked at the small icon of Christ hanging from my rear view mirror, there is a battle to be fought, an evil ruler to overthrow, and a kingdom to be conquered.  It’s just most people don’t know about it, or refuse to join the fight. The battle is for salvation; the evil ruler is our ‘old man’ (Col 3:9); the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom we fight to conquer and capture. Christ teaches, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Why from the days of John the Baptist? Because he was a warrior, a spiritual warrior. And we all have the choice to join his army, to fight with violence to take the Kingdom by force, through asceticism (fasting, prayer, good works, church attendance, etc.).

I have friends, worthy friends, who have invited me to join the fight with them. With whom I attempt to lead a spiritual life, to pray, to fast, to fight for God’s grace, to overthrow sinful inclinations and habitual passions, destructive forces (both outside of myself and within myself) in order to engage the enemy in a fight. I do this, through God’s grace and the prayers and fellowship of my friends, in the hope I will conquer and be saved.

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Since I’m already attempting to take a modern medium (the novel) and extrapolate some lessons about the hidden spiritual reality in our own world, I will take it one step further and ask the question posed to each listener in Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here: “Did you (Will you) exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in cage?”

The time to fight is now. The time to put on the armour of Christ – the prayer rope, our sword – is now (Eph 6:10-18). The time to forge meaningful bonds of friendship, to fight alongside fellow spiritual warriors, is now. Alternatively, we can exchange our part in the war for a lead role in cage. The decision is ours, but the war wages despite our indifference. We choose a side whether we do something or nothing.

My friends, will you join me in the fight?

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For those interested, a fantastic portrayal of spiritual warfare is flawlessly depicted in Fr. Matthew Penney’s short story, The Light Guardian (click on the title to read an excerpt), published by Lumination Press: fusing light into the fiction genre.

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This little book, a novelette to be precise, is my newest publication. I am happy to present it to you, now available for purchase!

Out of the African Lands: The Story of St. Perpetua and Her Companions

by Constantina R. Palmer

 

Description:

      In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. This does not stop Perpetua and her companions, however, from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

      Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian by dies as one.
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Print$6.95 + sh&h (USD) / $7.95 + sh&h (CAD)
E-book$2.99 (USD)
For Canadians wishing to order copies shipped within Canada please contact me directly at wiserthantheworld (at) gmail (dot) com
Order your copy here today!
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Do you struggle to find suitable books for your teens and pre-teens?  Perhaps even for yourself?  Lumination Press titles are well-crafted works of fiction deeply rooted in the Orthodox Christian mindset of  life in Christ, presented to today’s world.

Lumination Press publishes works of fiction which reflect the mystery and miracle of a world filled with the light of Orthodoxy: a world in which passions rage, miracles abound, blood is shed and kingdoms are won. Such a world comes alive in Lumination Press stories not to distract us from the cruel reality of this world but rather to reveal the spiritual reality that is all around us, if only we have the eyes to see it.

Acknowledging the notable scarcity of Orthodox fiction, Lumination Press hopes to fill that need with quality works. With a focus on youth and the youthful at heart, Lumination Press offers a variety of stories of spiritual struggle and victory for the whole family.

More from Lumination Press:

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The Light Guardian: Beginnings  

by Fr Matthew Penney

Description:

     Moisi, a troubled man with a troubled past, seeks desolate places for self-imposed punishment … and revenge. What he discovers in his rocky exile is not only the enemy he is pursuing , but a deeper darkness that seeks to consume him. The only question is … will he choose to fight? In this mature Young Adult fantasy novelette, the world of the spiritual warfare–normally invisible to us–is brought vividly to life. In Moisi’s world the struggle against the passions and the presence of the dark forces of evil can be all too real. But there is the opportunity to discover, along with Moisi, where the path to victory truly lies.
Print: $5.95 + sh&h (USD) / $6.95 + sh&h (CAD)
E-book: $2.49 (USD)
Target Audience: Ages 15+
Order your copy here today!

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cover

Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and Her Companions

by Constantina R. Palmer

Description:

In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. This does not stop Perpetua and her companions, however, from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian by dies as one.

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About the  Cover:

The cover features a portion of a painting by artist Xenia Kathryn and beautifully captures the grace and bravery of St. Perpetua, author of one of the earliest and most notable Christian texts known today by the title The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas.

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The Light Guardian - Beginnings coverThe Light Guardian: Beginnings

By Fr. Matthew Penney

Description:

Moisi, a troubled man with a troubled past, seeks desolate places for self-imposed punishment … and revenge. What he discovers in his rocky exile is not only the enemy he is pursuing , but a deeper darkness that seeks to consume him. The only question is … will he choose to fight?

In this mature Young Adult fantasy novelette, the world of the spiritual warfare–normally invisible to us–is brought vividly to life. In Moisi’s world the struggle against the passions and the presence of the dark forces of evil can be all too real. But there is the opportunity to discover, along with Moisi, where the path to victory truly lies.

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Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and Her Companions & The Light Guardian: Beginnings are published by Lumination Press and set to be released on Pascha, 2016!

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Lumination Press: Infusing light into the fiction genre

Lumination Press publishes works of fiction which reflect the mystery and miracle of a world filled with the light of Orthodoxy: a world in which passions rage, miracles abound, blood is shed and kingdoms are won. Such a world comes alive in Lumination Press stories not to distract us from the cruel reality of this world but rather to reveal the spiritual reality that is all around us, if only we have the eyes to see it.

Acknowledging the notable scarcity of Orthodox fiction, Lumination Press hopes to fill that need with quality works. With a focus on youth and the youthful at heart, Lumination Press will offer a variety of stories of spiritual struggle and victory for the whole family.

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On the Feast of Stephen

Below are two chapters of a sixteen-chapter novelette I wrote about the great Czech king and martyr Weneceslaus (St. Vaclav as he is also called in the Orthodox Church). His title was actually Duke of Bohemia but he was named “King” posthumously as an honour. The novelette (which, God willing, will be published with Lumination Press someday) is based on true events and real people in his life. (Podevin, for example, was believed to be the name of the saint’s faithful page). The famous Christmas carol Good King Weneceslaus tells of a miracle the saint worked on the “feast of Stephen” which we in the Orthodox Church celebrate on December 27. St. Vaclav’s feast day is September 28, and his holy grandmother St. Ludmilla’s feast day is September 16. Enjoy!

Chapter One:

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27)

The night was dark, the sky rich with the light of many stars. The white snow lay sparkling as it reflected the glow of the half moon. Every now and again a gusty wind swept the snow up into a spiral, dancing.

“Even the earth rejoices in Your birth, O Lord!” the Duke of Bohemia whispered as he gazed out from a large window of Prague castle. 

“Sire, could I offer you a cup of hot wine?” the page asked, interrupting Duke Václav’s thoughts, having entered the room without notice.

“No, thank you, my good page,” the Duke responded, leaning forward and straining to see a moving figure, hindered by the high snow.

“Podevin, that old man there, gathering wood, do you know him?”

            “Why yes, Sire. That’s Old Hermit Jiří. He lives not far from here,” the young page responded, now standing by his master’s side at the window.

“Where exactly does he live?”

“Oh I would say a mile or so hence, just at the foot of Blaník mountain, quite close to St. Agnes’s spring, in fact.”

“Well then, why don’t we go pay him a visit, and wish him a happy Christmas?”

“But Sire, it’s awfully cold out tonight. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have one of your men in arms go in your stead?”

“No, no, my boy, after all, the Lord King our God became incarnate Himself, He didn’t send someone else in His stead, so neither shall I,” the Duke said, patting the page’s back.

“Say, go fetch some wine and bread. It’s best if we bear some gifts with us for the old hermit,” the Duke told the page.

“Oh, and grab a bundle of kindling as well, would you?” he added.

“May it be blessed, Sire,” Podevin said, bowing to his master and exiting the room.

Václav, finding himself alone, walked over to the illumined corner of his bedchamber and stood before a wooden board in front of which burned a small, red glass oil lamp. On the board was painted an image of the Incarnate Lord, gently held in the arms of His mother.

He who holds all creation in His hand, today is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch, today is bound in swaddling clothes as a child. He who in the beginning established the heavens, today is laid in a manger.

“I worship Your birth, O Christ, my King!” the Duke finally said aloud. Crossing himself, he bent low, resting his knees on the ground as he lowered his head.

Hearing footsteps echoing through the corridor he quickly stood up, not wanting anyone to see his moment of reverence.

“Here we are Sire, ready for our visit,” the page said, gesturing toward the basket he held, clearly weighed down by generosity.

“Well done, my boy. Let us be off then.”

They walked down the long passageway together, stopping before exiting the large castle in order to dress appropriately for the cold night.

“We should be plenty warm, don’t you think Podevin?” Duke Václav asked cheerfully.

“I should hope so, Sire,” Podevin responded, betraying a look of doubt.

“Well then, may an angel of peace accompany us, directing our way before the Lord,” the Duke proclaimed, and taking the glass lantern from off the wall he set out.

“Amen, so be it,” the young page contributed, a response he had grown accustomed to sharing.

Chapter Two:

“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12)

 Bundled up, bearing light and gifts, the two set off into the night. Vácslav walking confidently ahead while the page, about ten years the Duke’s junior, trudged along behind him as quickly as he could.

The walk to St. Agnes’s spring was nothing short of a stroll in fine weather. Why, the page had often gone there with his father as a child. But the snow made the walk much longer, and the cold much less pleasant.

As time passed the page, only a teenager, fell further and further behind. For each step he took in the snow, it seemed he slipped two feet back.

“Come now, Podevin, give over the basket. You shouldn’t have been carrying it to begin with!”

“No, Sire, please, it’s disgraceful and inappropriate for you to carry it,” the page protested.

“Now, now, don’t think that way. Why, how is it that you expect me, a ruler, to treat the ruled as less important than myself? And especially on this the very day we celebrate the divine condescension of the King of all!

“He who is worshiped by angels, saw fit to be born in a cave alongside dumb beasts. No, I don’t think myself worthier than any other. I’m just His lowly servant, ruling on earth, but desiring only to be ruled by Him,” the Duke finished, taking the basket from his page.

“I’m sorry, Sire, it’s only that the wind blows hard against us and I find the snow too high to walk through at such a brisk pace.”

“Of course, I understand. Why don’t you step in my imprints instead, I think you’ll find it easier to continue that way,” Václav suggested.

To Podevin’s surprise, not only was walking made easier by stepping in the Duke’s footprints, but indescribable warmth emitted from each one.

How can this be? the page thought. How can the snow, imprinted by the Duke’s stride, give off warmth?

But knowing his master well he abstained from asking such burning questions. He knew from experience it always made the Duke uncomfortable when someone pointed out the benefits and comforts that came of his words, his ways, his very gaze.

“Where to?” Václav asked, gesturing toward the wall of forest they had come upon. “Can you remember where the old father’s hut is from here?”

“Yes, Master, it’s there, through the trees and to our right. We’re not at all far now.”

They continued trekking along through the snow, now significantly more high – though noticeably contributing to the Duke’s joy.

“How I love this blessed white!” he exclaimed.

“There, Sire, draw your light over here. I believe that is Old Hermit Jiří’s hut.”

“So it must be,” the Duke said.

And drawing closer the two were both surprised to see the door to the hut open before they were even a stone’s throw away from it.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” the old man called out, opening wide the door of his small hut. His thick grey beard and scruffy hair were illuminated by the light coming from behind him.

“Greetings, my good man,” the Duke said in his deep and cheerful voice. “Christ is born!” he called out, still in the thick of the forest.

“Glorify Him!” the old man responded, smiling and bowing low to greet the ruler of his homeland.

“You were expecting us?” the page asked, surprised by the way the hermit conducted himself, as if he had invited them and was anticipating their arrival for some time now.

            “All who arrive are invited, and not even one passes by who is not,”  the old hermit answered, his eyes sparkling the reflection of light from Václav’s lantern.

“Come in, come in! May my humble abode be as comforting to you as your majestic castle,” the hermit said, guiding them further into the one room that appeared to make up the entire hut.

***You can read Chapters 3 and 4 here.***

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This beautiful Christmas carol was the inspiration for my novelette about the great king and martyr Wenceslas (Vacslav). You can read a sample of this novelette – Chapters 1 & 2 here and Chapters 3 & 4 here.

The above video is great because after the hymn (sung by the great Canadian band Crash Test Dummies) it gives some of the history around the saint’s martyrdom.

Merry Christmas!

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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!

St-Wenceslas-2Chapter 3
“He that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12)

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.

Chapter 4

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.

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