Today's Reading

PART I

Benedictine Monastery, Brehna
1505—1509


CHAPTER 1

My father always told me if I never took a sip of wine, I'd never shed a single tear. One begat the other, and only the common cup in the hands of a priest, the blessed wine of the sacrament, could offer peace. Only the blood of Christ could offer life. Any other was nothing more than ruin, a sinner's way of washing sin.

And yet he drank. Every night, the flames of our small fire danced in the cut glass of his goblet.

It seemed a silly warning, but for all of my brief childhood at home, I had only two sips of wine. The first over a year ago when, at the age of five, I begged for a taste at the grand table. The other just months ago, in the feast following Mother's funeral. Then, true to my father's prophecy, tears streamed down my face.

So, too, as I stood in his embrace, the cold wind of November whipping all around us. Ice like pinpricks upon my cheeks. Perhaps I'd taken in a sufficient amount from the constant scent of wine on his breath, and from the traces left on his lips when he kissed me.

"My Katharina." He stretched my name, and I imagined it pouring out in a stream mixed with tears and wine. He knelt before me, the patched fabric of his breeches touching the last bit of unsanctified ground.

"Papa? Where are we?"

To answer, he took me by my shoulders and turned me to look at the foreboding stone structure on the other side of the iron gate. "A church, kitten. A house of God."

That much I assumed from the tall, arched windows and the lingering echo of the bell that had been tolling upon our approach. Six rings, and the sun nearly set. A new sound emerged in the wake of the bells. Footsteps, strident and rhythmic, displacing the tiny stones on the path beyond the gate. They carried what looked like a shadow—tall and black and fluttering.

Frightened, I twisted back in my father's embrace. "Papa?"

"Be strong, my girl."

Before I could say another word, I heard the screech of metal and a voice that matched its tone in every way. "Katharina von Bora?"

"Papa?" I clung to him, even as he stood tall and away.

"Ja. This is my daughter."

A heavy hand fell on my shoulder. "Say good-bye to your papa, little one."

Good-bye?

Two days before, when Papa told me to pack a few things—extra stockings and my sleeping cap—into a small drawstring bag, he'd said nothing about leaving me at a church to say good-bye. In all our travel, the miles riding in the back of farm carts, the night spent among strangers at the small, damp inn, he answered my questions with platitudes about what a fine, strong girl I was, and how it was good to get away, just the two of us.

"Is it because of the new mama?" The woman loomed large, even with two days' distance between us. Her stern commands, her wooden spoon ever at the ready to correct a sullen temper, her furrowed brow as
she counted the meager coins in the little wooden box above the stove. "I can be good, Papa. I will work harder and speak to her more sweetly. I'll be a good girl. I promise. Papa—please!"

I grasped his hand, repeating my promises, feeling victorious when he scooped me up off the ground. I tried to bury my face in his neck, but he jostled me and gripped my chin in his fingers.

"Ruhig sein." His voice and eyes were stern. "Hush, I say. You are Katharina von Bora. Do you know what that means?"

"Ja, Papa." I touched my hand against his grizzled whiskers. "Bearer of a great and proper name."

"Very old, and very great." He was whispering now, his back turned to the shadowy figure. From this height, looking down over Papa's shoulder, I could clearly see that it was only a nun. A soft, pale face peered from behind a veil, while long black sleeves fluttered around clasped hands. A tunic over a plain black dress bore an embroidered cross, and in many ways she was not unlike the nuns I knew from our church back home. So why had Papa brought me here, so far away?
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