Read Anna of Byzantium Online

Authors: Tracy Barrett

Anna of Byzantium

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Random House Children’s Books
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New York, New York 10036

Copyright © 1999 by Tracy Barrett

All quotations of Kassia’s poetry are taken from Antonía Tripolitis, editor and translator,
Kassia: The Legend, the Woman and Her Work,
Garland Library of Medieval Literature, Vol. 84 Series A. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Delacorte Press, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

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eISBN: 978-0-307-78900-6
RL: 5.0
Reprinted by arrangement with Delacorte Press

v3.1

would never have written this book without the help and encouragement of the members of the Green Hills Critique Group. My deepest thanks are due to them to Meghan Ducey for her careful reading of the manuscript, and to my editor, Francoise Bui, for her expert guidance.

Contents

CHAPTER ONE

hen I woke up this morning, I could see through my window-slit that the winter sky was dark. I dressed in my rough robe and pushed open the door to the long, dim hallway. The stone floor was cold under my bare feet as I walked to the refectory door, where the sisters were lined up in their gray habits. We filed in, in silence, as usual, and sat down to a meal of porridge and milk.

I stared at the dreary food and listened to today’s chosen sister droning a passage from the Bible. Suddenly my mind was flooded with the picture of the banquet my father had given on the occasion of my betrothal.

Once more, I sat on a high purple cushion in the great dining-hall of the
palace. The bronze dishes gleamed in the bright torchlight; servers in multicolored uniforms poured great spouts of red wine into tall goblets; the rich smells of spices and roasted meats filled the room; the guests talked and laughed, teasing me and my betrothed, as was the custom; the dogs barked and fought over bones; my mother led the company in singing bridal songs that made me blush, child that I was.

The image was so strong that I forgot where I really was and did not realize how hard I gripped my wooden spoon until it broke in my clenched fist. I was confused for a moment to find myself sitting on the hard stone bench in the convent’s refectory, with the reading sister hushed into silence, the others looking at me out of the corners of their eyes. The only face turned squarely in my direction was that of the mother superior.

“Are you troubled, my daughter?” she asked. “Is there something you lack?”

“Nothing, Mother,” I murmured, and leaned forward to try to eat some of the porridge with what was left of my spoon. She said no more, but after the meal, she held me back.

“You have seemed dissatisfied of late. Can I do anything to make you more comfortable here?”

What could I say? That I was sick to death of the quiet, the dull grayness, the monotony of the days? There was nothing she, or I, could do to change that. I mentally searched the convent, looking for a glint of color, a place of warmth, and suddenly I remem
bered the scriptorium, the copying-room where the little nuns sat hunched over parchment, copying manuscripts in their careful handwriting. They were allowed a little more heat than the rest of the sisters, since frozen hands do not make graceful letters, and more light, so that they could see their work clearly. The talented were occasionally allowed a little pigment to adorn a capital letter, and occasionally even some gold leaf to decorate the first page of a manuscript.

“I would ask a favor,” I replied finally. “My days are long and I do not have the duties that keep your women occupied. I am skilled at writing, and it would please me to spend a few hours every day assisting your sisters in the copying-room.”

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