09 August 2012

Excerpt Thursday: TROUBLE AT THE SCRIPTORIUM by Anne E. Johnson

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming YA historical fiction author, Anne E. Johnson. Her latest title, TROUBLE AT THE SCRIPTORIUM, is a medieval mystery set in 12th century England. Join us Sunday, when Anne will be here to talk about the novel and offer a copy to a lucky winner. Here's the blurb:

Anne E. Johnson's medieval mystery novel for ages 9-12, Trouble at the Scriptorium, features a twelve-year-old boy named Harley. It takes place in the early twelfth century, in Berkhamsted, a fiefdom north of London.

This fast-paced adventure features missing jewels, a missing monk, and a secret message hidden in a book of Gregorian chant! Good thing twelve-year-old Lady Margaret reads Latin, but Harley sure finds it hard to know how to behave around a noble girl he wants to be friends with.

Harley’s father is a traveling jester, his mother a lady’s maid, his uncle the monks’ choirmaster. Through Harley’s eyes, the reader experiences life in a medieval English castle, village, and monastery. 


In this passage, Harley is at the Monastery of St. Aidan’s, where his uncle is the choir director. Harley waits in the monastery library and pages through the new chant book that a nearby scriptorium recently made for his lady’s name-day gift. The book has errors in it, though, including at least one missing illumination.

The library always made Harley feel cozy, even when he was alone in it. There was a comforting musty smell from the books and the wooden furniture. Stretching half the length of the room was an oak table that would have seated twelve men with manuscripts laid out in front of them. The edges of its thick timbers were rounded by time, its red-brown finish worn and scratched. The ornate wooden chairs were so heavy that Harley could barely slide one across the flagstones. He climbed onto one, leaving it at an angle to the table. Once he’d mounted the seat, the chair wouldn’t budge. 
Benedict’s satchel had been left on the center of the table, with the chant book still in it. Harley untied the bag and struggled to grasp the big leather volume. When he opened the cover, his nose took in an acrid puff of tanned animal hide. Not just the cover, but the parchment pages themselves were made from skins. He smelled another new scent, rich and heavy, from all those vibrant paints. Brother Benedict had explained that the paints were made from plant leaves, bark, seeds, roots, blossoms---anything in nature with color to offer. Egg yolks and boiled animal bones were used to make the paint thick and keep its hue. No wonder it stank! Harley coughed to clear his lungs.
  Finding that his feet wouldn’t touch the floor, he sat cross-legged to wander through the book’s glittering pages. Soon he got used to the smell. He was awed by such beauty, and the faith it stood for. 
Suddenly, the window rattled. Harley gasped and dropped the page he was handling. There was some scraping from the back of the library.
“Hello?” Harley said weakly.
No answer. There was silence now. Turning so that he was on his knees and grasping the chair’s back, Harley took a quick glance around the room. He couldn’t see anything wrong.
“Hello? Anyone there?” The wind must have picked up, he assured himself. 
He returned to the book, but now with an irrational feeling that he was being watched. Perhaps it was the ghosts of old monastery scholars, guarding their collection. Silently, Harley promised them that he would be very careful with the treasure that lay in front of him. 
To turn each page, he took the sheet of vellum between his finger and thumb, and flipped it gingerly to the left, as if it were a butterfly wing. He admired how smooth and polished the right-hand pages were, and how the back of each leaf often had a bit of fur left from the goat it was made from. 
The glorious illustrations swam across his vision. Deepest blues, greens, yellows, reds, and pure shimmering gold. Saints and martyrs and plants and animals, swirls and curly-cues, Crosses, planets, even goblins. It was like a wondrous city, and turning each page was like turning a corner, with fantastic new things to see. Harley wanted to go on forever, walking through this fantasyland. But he stopped short when he reached the unfinished page.
*   *   *
You can purchase Trouble at the Scriptorium directly from Royal Fireworks Press: http://www.rfwp.com/browse/novels
For updates on Anne’s publications and appearances, Like her Facebook author page