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The Vellum Scribe cover, The Vellum Scribe, an Argolicus Mystery, Zara Altair

The Vellum Scribe: An Argolicus Mystery

A monkish scribe. A gored noble. A tantalizing daughter.
Argolicus unravels the threads.

When Argolicus’ pious uncle arrives to complete his illustrations of Dioscorides for a wealthy patroness, he wanders the fields of southern Italy looking for perfect plant specimens. He and the tutor Nikolaos discover a gored body left to rot in the fields.

Argolicus immediately recognizes the body of his wealthy neighbor. When he arrives at the family estate, not one person is grieving except for the daughter.

The Beginning



Argolicus pulled back from the hit. How his older, smaller tutor Nikolaos was able to best him at swordsmanship mystified him. He grabbed his left side under the ribcage.

“Ah, Master, you must keep your defenses both up and down,” Nikolaos said. “However much you cannot carry a weapon in public, knowing how to fight, and fight well, is mandatory.”

Argolicus nodded. He’d been hearing this since he was a boy. And practicing since he was a boy, he was never as skilled as Nikolaos no matter how well they trained.

“You are right, Nikolaos,” he put down his sword and walked toward the water barrel lifting out the ladle and sipping greedily. The exercise yard was between the main villa and the outbuildings of the estate where animals and slaves lived. To the south, Argolicus could see the sea sparkling in the early morning light. Below the estate, a road ran up from the port and town to the residences, like his, situated in the hills.

“Enough,” he said, rescuing his pride. “Let’s eat.”

He heard a squeal and then laughter from his mother on the other side of the villa. He dropped his sword and ran. Nikolaos ran behind him still carrying his practice sword.

In the entry, his mother was lost in the hug of a huge man draped in brown robes. Behind him, a carter was unloading several wooden boxes, placing each one carefully on the ground.  

“Uncle,” Argolicus cried in Their Language. His face broke out in a spontaneous smile.

The big man turned. “Argolicus. The Father and the Son together!”

“Worship and glorify,” Argolicus responded. “Uncle Wiliarit, where have you been this time?” He embraced his uncle who reciprocated in a hearty hug, squeezing him into the large chest.

Wiliarit continued in the language of The People, “I’ve been in Constantinople working on a commission. But now I’m here to finish and I’m hoping Nikolaos will help.”

Nikolaos heard his name and came closer, still clutching the practice sword. Beside keeping Argolicus in practice with arms, he was an excellent grammarian and had taught Argolicus Greek since childhood. But, his language skills stopped at the tongue of King Theoderic and his people.

“Nikolaos?” Argolicus replied.