The nights are beginning to gradually draw in and here we are again, darkening your mailboxes. It's been a busy couple of months and now that Two For Joy has sailed away to the printing press, if not out into the world quite yet, we're turning our thoughts towards Three For A Letter. However, those musings have (obviously) not stopped us scrivening away at our fourth newsletter. And here it is.


A reader recently observed that the John the Eunuch of the five short stories that preceded One For Sorrow seemed older to him than the character in the novel and wondered why. Thinking about it, it occurred that this might be because we weren't giving as much thought to John as a rounded character. His role was more to work out the mystery puzzle, although we began to give him a personality as the stories progressed. That he appeared in a position of power and authority -- Lord Chamberlain -- would suggest an older man, as might the fact that he was largely confined to intellectual, as opposed to physical, confrontations. Then too, his personal relationships in the stories didn't give any particular clues to his age, save that his friend Anatolius. Justinian's secretary, was younger.

To clarify then. We envision John in One For Sorrow as being about 40 and thus around 37 at the time of the first story, "A Byzantine Mystery". We have a rough timeline of his life strictly for our own use, here revealed, with the caveat that any and all dates are subject to change, at least until alluded to in a story or novel - and maybe even then!

495 John is born in Greece
5ll Attends Plato's Academy
5l2 Leaves the Academy and becomes a mercenary
5l8 Meets Cornelia
520 Purchased for the palace as a slave some time after capture by Persians
532 "A Byzantine Mystery". By the time of the Nika Riots John has been freed and has become Lord Chamberlain
535 One For Sorrow
537 Two For Joy

Eventually we hope to relate stories about John's earlier life, particularly the period between 5l8 and 532, a span that encompassed what were probably both the happiest and unhappiest periods of his life.


A few weeks ago I was walking at dusk listening to the sounds of the countryside, the hum of the mile-distant highway, the chirp of crickets, the mournful groaning of cows in an unseen pasture and perhaps the most typical background music of warm evenings in the eastern part of the United States, the trilling of peepers.

It's a sound I've heard since I was a child, coming sometimes from an obvious direction such as a marsh, at other times seemingly from everywhere as if the chorus were emanating from the surrounding air. The tree frogs that produce this magical and mysterious sound are, however, things I've always taken on faith, like Tibet. On a few occasions during the day, I've glimpsed tiny amphibians making their way silently across the forest floor and wondered if these could be those unglimpsed peepers. But at night, whenever I've sought to approach the source of their singing, whatever is making the sound has fallen silent, leaving me to search dark branches in vain.

On this evening the sun had already vanished behind the low rounded mountains. Houses on the hillside opposite my path glowed dimly. The dirt road I was walking still held some light from the sky but deep darkness had puddled along the edges of the fields and under the trees beside the road. As I passed a tree that was little more than a silhouette against the sky I thought I could make out that distinctive trilling, distinguishable from the night blended sounds coming from all around.

I left the road and went a few steps into the knee-high grass in front of the tree. Predictably, the frog ceased abruptly. I took a few more steps toward the tree anyway and stopped to scan the inky confusion of branches, barely discernible against the sky. Maybe I've become more patient than I used to be, because rather than resuming my walk I decided to wait for awhile. To my surprise, after a few minutes the frog resumed its serenade.

Where, I wondered, might a frog perch? I ran my gaze down the tree trunk, checking where each shadowy branch joined it, and finally, not much more than a yard from my face, I saw a movement -- a tiny frog's white neck pulsing in time with its singing. The peeper was no larger than the end of my thumb and I could make out little more than the pale neck but the sight amazed me more than anything I'd seen in a zoo, let alone on any television nature show. For years I had listened to this sound and now, finally and unexpectedly, I was looking at its source.

A lot of things had gone on in the world that day. I'd checked the news on the Internet. Politicians had emitted a lot of words that might have been important if any of them could have been believed. There had been heinous crimes, tragic disasters and horrific accidents that had been of paramount importance to those involved but which, sadly, had not taught me anything I did not already know about human nature and the fragility of life. Glimpsing the tree frog had, for me, been that day's most important event. Usually, it is the non-newsworthy events that are most important to us.

This is why I will always defend fiction against those who claim that it is inferior to nonfiction, because it does not deal with "reality." Fiction, I think, is best when it illuminates those things that are important to us personally in a way that nonfiction, or fact-based fiction, cannot. We don't live in the news headlines or in the lives of people in the news. The fiction writer, in describing the small things that he or she finds important, can shed more light on what readers find similarly important than any network news reader could.

Which is maybe just my excuse for writing about seeing a tree frog.

But maybe not.


We'll be chatting with the Mystery Mavens (and hopefully a few others!) next week, commencing at 9 pm EST on August 23rd. If you'd like to visit, point your clicker at
Deadly Ink .

Weather folklore has it that a wet October foretells a windy December, whereas if the month is warm you can expect February to be cold. However, our prognostication is that whatever its weather, the arrival of October heralds not only the publication of Two For Joy but also the paperback edition of One For Sorrow, both of which will hopefully happily while away an hour or two on a rainy day.


As Web surfers know, unsuspected gems sometimes show up in searches for completely different topics. Recently, an URL of that ilk appeared, leading to a
virtual mithraeum . It's part of the University of Newcastle's Museum of Antiquities website and shows their recreation of a third century mithraeum excavated at Carrawburgh on the Roman Wall (aka Hadrian's Wall). Alas that we did not know of this site as we wrote Onefer!

But what particularly caught my eye in the Carrawburgh mithraeum were the statues of the torchbearing duo, Cautes and Cautopates. At first glance they look like garden gnomes and this similarity set me to debating whether those short and immensely popular landscaping ornaments might not point to an (appropriately enough) underground survival of Mithraic iconography.

A wild surmise, you may well say, or at best a topic for a doctoral thesis. Perhaps so. But consider their headgear, for a start. Your ordinary or common garden gnome wears a floppy hat that strongly resembles a collapsed or squashed Phrygian hat, the very style worn by Mithra. And what about Snow White's seven gnomic dwarfs? According to the traditional story, they worked underground (a mithraeum is nearly always underground or if not, in a cave or a room made to resemble one). Then the enquiring mind might wonder why not ten or five dwarfs, for seven be the number of Mithraic ranks -- not to mention the seven runged ladder of religious significance to adepts.

Obviously this is a theory that needs much work, but in any event if you're interested in the Roman occupation of north eastern England (with lots of photos) the Museum's main site is also well worth a visit; there's a link to it from the mithraeum page.

On a completely different although equally murkier topic, the excavation was recently announced of what may well have been one of the first British compounds for housing prisoners of war. Built inside the Wall's Vindolanda fort, the rows of beehive shaped huts are thought to have sheltered a total of up to two thousand prisoners -- an interesting speculation, given that the garrison was only around a thousand strong. Another theory, that the six feet diameter circular dwellings housed locals in need of temporary quarters during times of strife, has also been suggested. See the Electronic Telegraph (with a drawing of the huts plus links to articles of similar interest) for a report. Apparently the suggestion that the garrison may have lived in these small huts has been dismissed on the ground that they were far too cramped and therefore would not have been tolerated by the soldiers stationed there, who in fact lived in more spacious oblong barracks equipped with cooking facilities.

Speaking of which, I find myself pondering a strange thought: whence came the provisions to feed all these prisoners?


Speaking of strange thoughts, the next Orphan Scrivener will arrive on October l5th, a day or so after Fontinalia (October l3th). Fontinalia's nothing to do with printing, but rather honoured Fontus, the god of wells and springs. Part of the celebration involved decorating water sources such as these with garlands of flowers, a custom still carried on today in the form of well-dressing.

So we'll see you again in two month, and meantime best wishes to all from the not always well dressed

Mary and Eric


Check out our homepage.. Therein you'll find the usual suspects plus an interactive game as well as an online jigsaw puzzle (at least for those who have java enabled browsers) featuring One For Sorrow's boldly scarlet cover. For those new to the subscription list there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive.

| Home | Eric's Stuff | Mary's Page | Our Fiction | BSP Page (News) | Links |