Critique Tuesday: Caomhin’s book

In today’s excerpt from Sons of Alba, Book 3: Son of Courage, Uilleam is about to embark on a mission across the sea, leaving his mother for the first time.  She has a precious gift to send with him.


She was at the altar, just as he’d thought – as he’d somehow known she’d be.  But her eyes were open.  Her lips didn’t move in prayer.  Instead, she pored over a book that lay open on a linen cloth on the broad, flat stone, her hand hovering reverently over the pages.  Tears stood in her pale eyes as she gazed at it.
Uilleam didn’t need a closer look to know this was the book from his vision, the jeweled book that lay open, its pages riffled in the sea wind.  But he neared the altar all the same.
Mamaidh didn’t look up as he drew closer, though she surely knew he was there.  She merely shifted to the side to give him a better view as he knelt beside her.  He lowered to his knees slowly, in awe, absorbing the artistry of the book.
It was clearly meant to depict the baptism of the Criosd.  Uilleam would have known even without the Latin narrative inscribed in perfect script.  The illustrated man stood in the midst of a river, its currents of cerulean blue mingling with his white robe.  His head was crowned with an intricately detailed halo, and a dove spread its wings over his head.  Every inch of the vellum was embellished in luminous, vibrant hues the like of which Uilleam had never seen.
He glanced at his mother for permission, and with her smiling nod he leafed through the rest of the book, each page as beautiful as the last, and closed the cover with the wink of candlelight on jewels and gold.
“This came from your monastery,” he whispered.
Mamaidh nodded, her lips smiling, but the corners of her mouth quivering.  “Caomhin made this.  I used to watch him when I tended the braziers in the scriptorium.  I had thought it lost, until after … after he died, Alfarinn … your father … he had taken it for its beauty and then he thought I would like to have it.”
“You left it here?  When you took me back home, you left it here?”
“I thought the people of Thorsbjorg had far more need of it than I.  After all, I have the gospels all but memorized.  But these people alone, with no guidance …”
“It was good of you.  It was good to leave it for Niall to teach from.”
She smiled.  “You know, leaving it here was like losing Caomhin all over again.”
“But now you have it back.”
“Yes.”  Her eyes drifted back to the jeweled cover.  She opened it and smoothed her hand lightly over the vellum, over the lines her loved one had drawn.  “And yet, I think it must go again.”  Her eyes rose to his.  
At once he understood.  “You mean for me to take it?  To take it to share with the people I meet?”
She nodded.  “Caomhin’s work was never meant to be hidden away.  He called it illumination.  It is meant to shine, like the good news it carries.”  She closed the cover with a sense of finality and laid its linen wrappings back in place, tying the ribbon tightly.  Then she placed it in his waiting hands, her own hands cool over his, beneath and upon the book.  “Let it shine forth into the darkness, a mhac.”
“I will,” he said, overwhelmed by the solemnity of her charge.  “I promise.”


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