"A commission?” Aster says, bewildered. She squints up at Jocef in the glare of the afternoon sun.

Jocef bounces on his heels, face alight with excitement. “You’re very first commission.” Jocef holds up the letter, red seal broken, neat black script flowing across the page. “And what a commission it is: the Holy Land. Some friar from France, Pere is his name, has requested a map of the Holy Land.”

“But…” she looks around. The harbor. The sky. The outline of the bay. She spreads her arms. “But this is all I know. Mallorca. How can I draw a map of the Holy Land?”

“Ah, the Holy Land is the easiest thing to draw. And what a portentous beginning to your mapmaking —to begin with the Holy Land. It is every cartographer’s wish to draw that footstall of the Heavens.”

She takes a deep breath and looks up at him. He has no reservations, she sees. No worries or misgivings. When she… she does not even know where or how to start. Who will guide her? “But… you are no longer even teaching me.”

“Ah, but you have a better teacher than I,” Jocef says, tucking the letter away into a leather satchel. “And do not fear, Aster. I will point you the way.”

He has not time, now. His father expects him home to write his letters and continue his own commission: a map of Europe, commissioned by one prince for another. He is at present making his way through the Carpathian mountains. A traveler told his father that they are populated by lynx, bear, and wolf, and so he is drawing these creatures, roaming between the peaks.

A commission. Of her own.

She watches him go, then clutches her arms around herself, and turns to face the sea. Her heart is a pounding drum and the heat on her cheeks is not only from the sun. A commission.

So this, all this, is real. Sitting in Papa’s study and observing him; lifting the astrolabe, feeling the heft of the brass and learning how to read the position of the sun, the constellations; sketching borders on mud, paper, parchment… it is all in earnest.

Well, Aster, what did you think it was? A game of painted cards, like Sara’s husband idles away his time with?

No. No.

But still.

She gathers a handful of tunic and lifts it, then runs down the hill towards the harbor. She continues, past the boats and ships, galleys and small balingers, passing masts and sails and oars, to where a rough piece of land leads down to the white sand. On the sand, she strides to the sea edge and takes a deep breath, then kneels down so the water laps onto her robe. She cups her hands together and scoops up the salty ocean water.

“You waters of the Mediterranean,” she murmurs, elation and dread mingling in a white foam that echoes that of the waves. “You have touched the Holy Land. You have lapped the shores there, washed the sand. So tell me, tell me about the land that you know.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 565)