I just finished a chapter in Miners and Empire where the protagonist, Aedelbert, takes work in one of the mines during winter. He and his partner can’t do the work they contracted to do because of the weather, but they still need to eat, so Caedda hired on with the masons rebuilding the city wall. Aedelbert has reasons not to be seen working stone, and so goes into the mine. Not to mine, however, but to open a dedicated gallery (I’m [mis]using the term adit in the book) linking two shafts for better air flow. This he has no difficulty with.
Those who have read “The Scavenger’s Gift,” about a merchant named Osbert and his visit to the mine called Scavenger’s Gift are probably shivering a little and contemplating moving to a larger, airyer room, or even outdoors.
For the record, I agree with Osbert. When a person as small as I am is bumping her head on the tunnel ceilings and thinks the passageway is narrow, and this with electric lights visible for most of the trip, the idea of what the mine looked like in the 1100s-1200s is pretty spooky. And it was considered a very safe mine, in that people died from falls rather than cave-ins and floods and gas. Interestingly, I didn’t have my “confined space start to claw for the exit” reaction, probably because there were few of us and we were spaced pretty far apart.
However, Aedelbert is quite comfortable working inside living rock, except for one small difficulty. He knows about that, and does what’s needed to prevent the difficulty from becoming a liability. The rock, the darkness, the isolation and stillness do not bother him. Granted, he’s wary of the dangers. That’s just good sense, and he is a very sensible man. Perhaps too sensible in some ways, but he’s not going to panic just because his torch goes out while he’s working and he has to light another one.
What’s the difference? Aedelbert is Scavenger born. He’s from north of Platport on the far western coast, born in a town that owed allegiance to Platport. Being Scavenger born there was not a good thing, at least not until he grew old enough to discover his affinity for stone work. But in Garmouth and among the miners, being Scavenger born is good. Aedelbert and Caedda are respected, especially once they prove their skills.
In the world of the stories, who your patron deity is has major effects on your life. Those effects can vary depending on where you were born or what your family’s traditional vocation is. Tycho Rhonarida, for example, was born to Donwah even though he was born for (his family patron is) Maarsdam of Rhonari. This his disability, which he must conceal and which makes his life a bit more challenging than he would prefer. Aedelbert was born to the Scavenger and born for Korvaal. In his family’s view, the born to erased the born for, and Aedelbert was fortunate to find a traveling stone mason who would apprentice him. Caedda, however, was born to and for the Scavenger in a family of stone workers and will give the rough edge of his tongue to anyone who condemns all Scavenger born.
But Caedda will not set foot in the mine unless his other choice is starvation. Happily for both men, there is winter work that suits them and they are able to keep a roof over themselves and food on the table until the weather improves and they can resume building the smelter.
Just to mix things up further, Jens Saxklar was born to the Scavenger… but born for Valdher of the Wilds, the goddess of the waste places and wild. She can make Donwah look kind and charitable.