Many years ago, as a young monk living at an abbey in France, Brother Simon Peter learnt how to prepare the pigments to make coloured inks. His skill in mixing the precious ingredients is matchless, as is his skill as a scribe. He taught me to mix the dark ink for writing. I collect walnuts and oak galls and soak them in rainwater. Later I mix them with copperas and sometime wine, and stir in powdered gum arabic. The ink is carefully stored in small jars, ready for him to fill one of the inkhorns which sit in iron hoops fitted to the side of his desk.
And there he sits, straight backed on his stool, his small knife in his left hand, his pen in his right hand, a frown of deep concentration on his brow. An iron weight keeps the parchment sheet from curling in on itself as he works by the light coming through the cloister arch beside him.
If he is aware of the hob's keen eyes watching him sometimes, then he never gives any hint of it, though he was puzzled to find a scrap of waste parchment lying on the floor near his desk this morning. On it was a scratchy little charcoal drawing of a strange creature with tufted ears and a tail, and a few carefully copied letters that did not spell any word that the monk had ever come across before.