Tuesday Tidbit: A Witnessed Betrothal

In which a trip to market is followed by . . . in-laws-to-be.

“Father?” Donton sounded worried. Tarno picked him up and held him on his lap where he sat by the fire early the next morning.


“Will we still be your sons if Mistress Urla has boys?”

Tarno held him closer. “Yes, you will. You and Kyle are my first children, and you will be first in my heart. I will talk to Mistress Urla about that, and will make certain that it is in our marriage contract.” All children, if they were blessed with more, would get a share of his movable estate, but Kyle and Donton would get a larger portion, as his oldest sons. If they lived longer than he did.

Kyle leaned against him. “Tad says that the children of a second wife get more of their father’s care, and estate.”

“Tad speaks true, if the marriage contract says so, or the father acts unjustly. Raadmar turns the wheel, and Donwah washes away the wealth of a man who favors his new children in that way.” Unless there was good reason, like Rand Graber’s father disinheriting and then disowning his oldest son and bodily throwing him outside of the city walls entirely. The young man had not survived long after being declared outside of the law. None of the salters would speak of what had caused so drastic an act. Tarno had a few ideas, starting with abusing blood kin and getting worse from there.

“Now. I need to visit the market, and you need to do your chores.” Kyle straightened up, and Donton slid off Tarno’s lap, landing with a firm thud. “Donton, please don’t be outgrowin’ your clothes before I come home.”

Donton smiled, showing all his teeth. He trotted after his older brother, both aiming for the back garden. Tarno smiled. He half-recalled having as much energy as the boys, perhaps. He put on his shoes and left the house, walking quickly up the street. Women swept their door-steps and the bit of street before their houses, or hurried out with baskets and bags in arms. The women of the salters district tended to be up with their men and worked just as hard. But then did most all women. Tarno dodged an overladen apprentice and did not lift a loaf off of the nearly overflowing mound. He considered it, but doing so before asking a young woman born for Gember to confirm her desire to wed? He was many things, but not that foolish!

Tarno purchased sweet buns and two large loaves of fine bread, then returned to the house. The boys had finished most of their work. “No, not yet,” he warned Kyle when the boy started easing toward the bread basket. “When Goodman Erbstman and his family arrive, then you may have a bun. Now you need to go help Aunt Cila bring the other things from her house to ours.” He’d bought the food and she had cooked it, since he lacked the skills for festival fare, and the boys . . . They tried, Gember and Yoorst knew, tried very hard. Effort did not always balance a lack of experience and age, however.

As he had hoped, Tarno met Goodman Erbstman, his lady wife, Urla, and Hepsha as they entered the great market square. “We have business,” Erbstman said. “Urla, go with Master Tarno on yer business, and meet us in the market hall, clothworkers’ end.”

“Market hall, yes, sir,” Urla said. She wore the same skirt and blouse as before, with a heavy, green and brown plaid shawl on her shoulders. Her braid hung down her back, loose but out of the way as befitted a young unmarried woman. Tarno gestured, and allowed her to lead the way to Donwah’s temple in the salters district. When they reached the small temple, he opened the door for her. She hesitated, giving him a puzzled look, then entered ahead of him. Was she used to following her father and mother? She curtsied low to the Goddess as he bowed.

A rustling sound came from the half-hidden doorway leading to the priests’ chambers. A veiled form moved, cleaning along the far wall of the temple, watching them without obviously watching them, and easing closer. Tarno nodded to himself, and turned to Urla.

His heart beat sped, as if he cut wood or stirred too-thick brine. “Mistress Urla, Donwah as witness, do you of your own free will agree to marry me?” If she said no . . .

She tipped her head a little to the right, as if considering him and his words. “Yes, Master Tarno. Donwah as my witness, I agree to marry you of my own free will. I have heard naught against you or your sons, and my father and mother have not pushed me toward marriage.” Her lips curved up into a small smile. “If anything, they have urged caution, and said that should I feel compelled to break the betrothal, they will not hold it against me.”

He did not sag with relief. Nor did he act surprised or excited. Instead he smiled in turn and nodded. “Thank you, Mistress Urla. I would not and will not marry a woman against her will.” Some couples did wed against the will, and some of those eventually grew to love each other, but most shared grudging respect and a marriage bed, nothing more.

A woman spoke from behind him, her voice low and flowing. “So sworn and witnessed, and it shall be made known, Mistress Urla Erbstman and Master Tarno Halson.” He turned, moved to stand beside Urla, and bowed. The priestess raised her broom-free hand in blessing. “Go with the blessing of the Lady of the Waters, and return after the Scavenger’s feast to be handfast.” As she spoke, Tarno swallowed hard. Fine blue, white, and silver embroidery and needlework decorated her robe and the edges of her veil. No ordinary priestess but Donwah’s Daughter herself had witnessed their words. He bowed again. When he looked up from the smooth stone floor, the Daughter had disappeared into the shadows. The loud gulp at his left suggested that Urla shared his surprise. Neither one spoke until they had honored the goddess once more and departed, each leaving a small gift.

Tarno cleared his throat. “The Market Hall, Mistress Urla?”

She nodded. “Yes, sir. The clothworkers’ end.” That would be the end to the south, away from the salters’ stall. She followed behind him at his left hand. When they married she’d shift to the right as befitted the honor of a matron. A few carts and wagons trundled up the street, despite the earliness of the day, but not as many as in mid-summer or at the quarter-year market. The later sunrise and gate-opening, plus harvest, made this one of the quieter market dates. A chill breeze brushed the back of his neck, easing under his bound-back hair to find the gap between hair and collar.

Trrwiss! Clatterclatterclatter! Tarno lunged back, grabbed Urla’s shoulder, and pulled her toward the right side of the road. She caught her skirts in both hands and walked very fast, as did everyone else. “Loose cart! Clear the way!” A two-bird cart clattered toward them, great haulers hissing and calling as they jogged.

The birds’ crests remained up a finger or two. They had not panicked—yet. Three men ran after the cart. A loose guide rope flapped in the wind of the birds’ passing, the likely cause of the run. Men and women snatched up children and goods and made themselves thin against the walls and in doorways. No one ran or yelled, lest the birds panic and turn a run-away into a disaster. The light weight, ocher-red cart seemed to dance behind the grey-brown birds as it hit worn or proud places on the road.

Two baskets and a bundle of something bounced out of the cart, landing hard on the stones of the road. A chorus of groans rose from onlookers as the contents of great hauler eggs whitened both basket and ground. The day-worker beside Tarno spat, then murmured, “Ah, Yoorst and Korvaal heard but did nae understan’. Tis’ th’ wrong yolk for m’ needs.” The big man slapped his worn and oft-mended shoulder yoke. Tarno bit his tongue to keep from chuckling, and Urla covered her mouth with one hand. He could see laughter in her eyes even so. Only after birds and owners had passed well down the way did people begin moving away from shelter.

A woman in much-patched skirt and blouse stopped in the road and crouched, resting one hand on the bundle. “I speak for Goodman Algam and watch until he returns.” Tarno and at least three others called back—quietly—and vouched for her claim. No one would bother the goods until their owner returned. Not that anyone with sense wanted to deal with the mess of broken great hauler eggs.

“I hope they stop before they reach the river,” Urla ventured as the road widened into the market square.

“Yoorst willing, they should. There’s a hard bend in the way where the old wall once stood, and most birds slow there.” They couldn’t see that the road turned. Perhaps that was why the houses had built there, as a precaution against runaways? Tarno had never considered the idea. The road just bent and that was all.

He and Urla stayed close to the eastern side of the market, where the shops and inns stood, along with a very small chapel for the Scavenger. Priests only stood duty there on market days, to confirm or deny claims of Scavenger’s Toll. Indeed, a black shadow moved in the morning shadow, and a staff-butt clicked against the threshold stone just after Tarno and Urla passed. Tarno looked as far to the south as he could see, then to the north, searching for more great haulers. The way seemed safe, and he stepped into the open.

Voices rose from the short row of booths marking the pottery and metal workers section of the market. Then a loud voice indeed bellowed, “And I say quiet!” Tarno ducked despite being nowhere near the market master. The men and women closest to him flinched as well, and two women made the Horns in the direction of the trouble. “I care not who began th’ strife, it ends now or ye’ll both feel my staff on yer backs.” The very stones seemed to shiver at the roar, and those not doing business made haste to depart, lest they attract Master Richten’s attention. Tarno glanced to Urla. She didn’t quite tip-toe, but moved with great care indeed. They crept into the protection of the shadows at the end of the market hall.

“. . . And that’s why nae man of good sense does trade with him, lessen they have nae choice,” one of the cloth-sellers informed a stranger. “He’s a gifted potter, but will nae let go of a slight lessen th’ Scavenger an’ Waldher themselves give t’ command.”

That explained the problem, and Master Richten’s wrath. He’d cautioned that craftsman before, and the potters’ confraternity had warned the man as well. The stubborn fool might have his table overturned and his sales space closed this day. Tarno heard tongue clucking and saw several people making the Horns. Did they fear Radmar or the market master more? Not a good question to ask. Radmar likely turned His wheel faster than the market master forgot stupidity or bad dealings.

Goodman Erbstman stood back as his wife finished her bargain. “I call fair dealin’,” the yarn-buyer called. Three people repeated his words, and he and Goodwife Erbstman touched palms on the agreement. The yarn-buyer handed the matron four market tokens. That made good sense, and gave her more value for her yarn than pure coin would. Silver for trade, gold for ornament, and market tokens for food, or so the proverb went. But not for taxes, which had occasioned much grumbling in the confraternity’s last business council.

“If you have finished your trade, I offer you hospitality,” Tarno told Dor Erbstman.

“Thank you, Master Tarno. We are finished, and a bite to break our fast would be welcome indeed.” The farmer smiled a little as several people slowed their steps, looking more closely at the family and their host. For a single man to offer hospitality to those outside his family or confraternity meant only one thing, and word of the betrothal would spread as fast as if sprinting great haulers carried it.

“Please, this way.” Tarno gestured to the south, and the family followed. They collected their sturdy, two-bird wagon and the group made their way to the salters’ quarter. Hepsha handled the lead rope, talking to the birds in a soft voice. The female nodded and stepped quietly, as if she understood the young woman’s request. “She truly is blessed,” Tarno observed.

Her father made Yoorst’s sign. “Aye, Master Tarno. The gods take and give, and perhaps gave more than they took.” A simple second daughter without dowry would never find a good man, like as not. A simple woman with a beast-handler’s touch and gentle way, on the other hand, brought more than a dowry with her.

Once they reached the salters’ district, Tarno showed Hepsha where to leave the wagon. “The way is too small, and the birds might feel confined,” he said, speaking clearly. She turned and murmured to the lead female, then guided the pair and wagon to the proper place. Tarno pumped water for the birds himself. Yoorst favored those who favored His creatures, after all. And Hepsha seemed to be a mistress of her craft in her own right. The birds had not startled or called as they passed the remains of basket and eggs in the road, unlike another passing team.

“This way, please,” Tarno said, guiding them to his house. The men and women out in the street watched without watching, and he imagined that he could feel the rush of air from wagging tongues. Well, who didn’t know that he sought a wife for his household?

The door to his house opened, and Kyle appeared. The boy held out a plate of bread. “Be you welcome, Goodman, goodwife, young mistresses,” he said. Cila must have reminded him of the proper words. The smell of good food flowed out around Kyle.

“Thank you for the welcome, and for the bread. Truly, Gember blesses those who feed the traveler.” Goodman Erbstman took a piece of bread and passed it to his wife, who in turn passed it to Urla. When all four had pieces, they ate, then entered the house. Tarno came last and closed the door.

Indeed, Cila stood beside the hearth. Tarno gestured to her. “My sister, Cila, married to Kalman. Cila Halsdatter, Dor Erbstman, his lady, Mistress Urla, and Mistress Hepsha.”

Cila dipped in a small curtsey. “Be welcome to this house and household, Goodman Erbstman.” She gestured to the food arrayed on the table. “Please, take and eat.”

“Thank you for the food and the welcome,” Erbstman said. He found a plate and began serving himself, followed by his wife. Tarno recognized Cila’s dishes and spoons in with his own. All could eat. Tarno let the boys get food before he did. They had worked hard the past few days.

Cila departed. She had her children to see to, and her husband. Donwah willing, Tarno would not need her help after today. Urla sat quietly, taking in the house and the furnishings as she ate. Kyle and Donton had set out the cooking gear and best linens for the visitors to see and use, along with the spice boxes and salt-barrel. The salt-box sat on the table, its polished dark red wood gleaming. Two lamps also shone, and Tarno sensed Cila’s hand in that. Not only would it reveal more of the inside of the house for his potential in-laws’ inspection, but it showed his prosperity. As cheap as great hauler oil was this season, it did not mean as much as wax candles would have, but those would be prideful. And expensive, and he did not care to spend funds he would need come spring.

Indeed, after he finished eating, Dor stood and studied Tarno’s table and benches, chair, bed, and other goods. He looked at the boys’ loft but did not venture up the ladder. His wife did, then returned and gave a satisfied nod. It passed her scrutiny. Donton showed the Erbstmans the back garden, including the night-soil bucket. Well, town people dealt with night-soil differently than did those living outside the walls.

Dor came back into the house. He too appeared satisfied with everything. “So, Tarno, what date are you considering for the handfasting?”

“The Eighth-Day eve after the Scavenger’s feast, Dor. The priest of Donwah said it was an auspicious day, and that no other couple had spoken for the date yet.” That it allowed time for any serious protests to be verified passed without mention.

“Good. We will have brought the out-flocks back to the home farm and have separated the weaned lambs from their dams. Grain harvest will be over as well.” He extended his right hand and they shook.

By the time the family departed, all had been agreed to. Tarno felt as if he had set down an over-loaded shoulder yoke as the weight left his shoulders. He and the boys would need to strew the floor with rushes for the winter, but nothing more until after Scavenger’s feast.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Blogging, Current Events, and So On

You have probably notices that I have not commented on many of the recent events, aside from weather, fires, and the like. There are a few reasons for that.

One, so much is tied in with US politics, and this isn’t a dedicated political commentary blog. There are other people who have a lot more background and interest in the political system and what it does.

Two, I’m a historian by training. We generally try to follow the thirty-year rule. This “rule” comes from two sources: classification time-limits in the US used to be thirty years, and the idea of a generation. What you live through is current events. What your parents lived through is history. Distance is supposed to allow 1) greater access to sources from a wider span of view points, and 2) dispassion. I have no personal dog in the fight over whether Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was a well-meaning, decent ruler or a tool of the AntiChrist and incompetent to boot, so I can opine away and show sources and documents. The legacy of the Presidents Bush? No, staying out of that.

Three is the language limit on this blog. Right now, I’m inclined to voice uncharitable thoughts using Anglo-Saxon and related verbiage.

Four, this blog is, when it comes down to cases, about selling books and stories, and entertaining my readers. People read fiction to get away, to escape into the lives of people different from they are, to get a happy ending where the forces of evil are defeated, the guy and the girl get hitched, and everyone can pay their bills in full and on time. Even if Arthur is losing to the computer 2:3, again. Sometimes I will wander into personal musings and views, but I’m trying to keep things lighter, or at least more diverting. My job is to divert my readers from current events, after all.

You might be a choir nerd if:

you have strong preferences about editions of certain compositions.

you once threatened someone with bodily dismemberment if they dared touch your full-score Schirmer edition of The Messiah.

someone on the second row asks, “Maestro; ecclesiastical, American, or German?” and it makes perfect sense.*

you have muttered under your breath, “That’s now how we sang this the last time.” The last time was, um, 2005, and 1985, at least with this particular choir.

you have a favorite requiem mass. And you are not Catholic.

you know the Pater Noster, two Credos, the Sanctus, Kyrie, and several other liturgical prayers . . . and you are not Catholic. Or Christian.

certain keys inspire uncharitable thoughts from your choir. (I sang in a choir that could not sing in tune acapella in E natural. We loved A flat and never lost or gained pitch. Drove the conductor crazy.)

you hear a chord from the accompaniment one half beat before your entrance and can do the entire rest of the composition from memory. (“The Majesty and Glory” by Fettke, and “Sanctus” and “In Paradisum” from the Faure Requiem, among others.)

you chant along with the “Dies Irae” . . . when it is used in movie music or rock compositions.

you have preferred settings of the “Dies Irae,” and “Ubi Caritas et Amor,” among other chants.

you have strong opinions about performance black dress options, or which tuxedo is best for singing in.

*Latin pronunciation. I have done all three, and there are differences. Not as stark as between Latin and modern Italian, but you can hear the differences if you listen carefully.

Saturday Snippet: Like Grandfather, Like Grandson

Thomas Arthur “Art” Chan-Lestrang learned more from his father and grandfather than makes someone comfortable . . . A conversation about herbs and transformations had been going on as Art starts breakfast.

Arthur bit into the heavy bread. The sourness balanced the fat in the wonderful, fresh butter. Yeah, he’d miss some European breakfast foods. Not the German jelly-filled giant doughnut holes, though. Krapfen just did not play well with his insides. As he chewed, he considered intoxicating plants and working magic. How could you concentrate while under alkyloid influence? Poorly, probably, although some of the synthetic marijuana compounds did unlock whatever in the human nervous system corresponded with sensitivity to magical energies. But not working magic, at least not thus far that he’d ever heard of. Street drugs could enhance magic already present, or unlock a sensitivity, but not confer the ability to work magic. That he’d heard of, Art made himself add. Belladonna, the nightshades, aconite, henbane, fungi, Jimson weed, datura, they all messed with your perceptions. Or killed you. He snorted a little to himself.

Mistress Chlotilda must have heard him. She looked his direction and asked, “Something amusing, Mister Lestrang?”

“There’s a joke about certain mushrooms being so filling that one will feed a man for the rest of his life. Fly agaric and death’s head amanita being two of those, ma’am.”

The Austrian herbalist frowned deeply. “I do not find that amusing. Too many people die from misidentifying mushrooms.”

Karina shrugged and helped herself to the soft cheese. “I’ve told the joke as a caution, Mistress Chlotilda. Some students remember the lesson better with dark humor, when appropriate.” She took two buns to go with the cheese. “Claudia’s questions . . . They puzzle me. All that she seeks is either common information or legendary. There is no quick, easy way to work transformation spells and hold them for extended periods.”

The little hairs on Art’s neck started to rise. Meister Gruenewald had entered the room and paused by the door. He glanced around, and sat, facing Art. Mistress Chlotilda stopped her own meal and fixed a plate for M.G., then brought him both coffee and tea. M.G. too looked concerned, brilliant green eyes narrowing, thin lips turning down in a distinct frown. Art asked, “Ah, sir, did Henk mention our encounter with Claudia, if she is the same woman Mistress Chlotilda refers to?”

Meister Gruenewald’s left hand curved into the Clan’s negation gesture. He followed it with “later.” Art nodded and returned to his repast. He’d added a little cream to the tea, just to keep it from sending his pulse into the stratosphere. Master Pytor had made the tea to his liking, as black as Art’s dad’s wardrobe. The brew would probably float the battleship Potemkin. Art sipped, waited for a count of ten, and then drank. Between the cream and having already eaten most of his breakfast, he should be safe. Master Pytor’s tea seemed to be stronger than Cuban coffee, according to the responses of the people who drank it without paying attention. Meister Gruenewald had warned Art. Henk hadn’t been so fortunate.

That afternoon, Art pled research needs and retreated to the library with notepad, pens, and pencils. He found two books about “lost Slavic magical traditions” from the early 1900s and settled in to work. Compared to some of the post-SEE materials he’d read, they weren’t too exciting, but the authors’ inclination to pan-Slavism made him wince a little. At least Master Pytor didn’t incline that way. Being a sorcerer probably played a large role, since pan-Slavism had tied to closely to the Russian Orthodox Church. Pytor favored the Greek Rite Catholic for good reason. “At least the author’s not trying to rehabilitate Chernobog,” Art muttered under his breath as he took more notes. He knew just enough about the creatures that some neo-Pagans treated as Chernobog to run the other direction and call for back-up.

By the time for supper, Art had sufficient foundation material that he could sketch out the journal article. He leaned back in the chair and considered his outline. “Yes,” he whispered. Start with a reminder about focusing on Romantic perceptions of Slavic magic instead of actual practice at the time, then work forward to the SEE, then jump to current Christian and neo-Pagan practices. He drummed his fingertips on the top of the heavy mahogany desk and stared at the sliver of daylight leaking through the heavy curtains. Should he include a sub-section on regional variations, or save that for a separate article? The latter might work better, since he would likely have more than sufficient textual and observational material for two articles. He scribbled a margin note and got ready to stand.

A faint change in the air warned him. Art slid forward, out of the chair and under the solid desk, drawing his dagger as he moved. Thunk-thud. The projectile hit the wall and landed on the parquet floor without rolling. Art slithered as best he could out from under the desk, blade in hand and ready to stab or slash. “Gee, Art, someone would think you were paranoid.”

Art didn’t bother replying. He rose from his crouch, scowling as Joey smirked at him. The other American sorcerer spread empty-seeming hands. Art kept silent, watching, waiting for the next attack. The smirk spread into an arrogant grin. Joey tossed a ball of shifting light up and down in his right hand. Art shifted his weight to the side oh-so-slightly as a lean shadow glided up behind the sorcerer. The misty form eased closer. As it extended one arm, Art lunged to the side. Joey hurled magic, then choked as Draku yanked him backwards, hard, his walking stick across the young man’s throat. Art pulled power from his medallion and neutralized the spell before the library’s defenses reacted.

“Do not use magic in the library, Iosef Matiavich,” Draku hissed. “You violate neutral ground.”

Art slid the dagger into the sheath hidden in the small of his back, under his jacket. He collected his research materials and returned the books to their proper places. He had used cardstock markers to show the correct slots among the ranks of titles and tomes. He ignored a quiet choking sound, followed by the soft thump of someone sitting firmly on the floor.

Gaaaasp. Wheeeeeeze. Gaaaaaasp.

Art turned and bowed to Meister Gruenewald.

His teacher beckoned with one talon-like digit. Art tucked his papers and tools into his satchel. He stepped around the lump of now-panting sorcerer and followed M. G. into the corridor. The older sorcerer said, “After supper, we discuss your observation of the morning.”

“Yes, sir.” Art followed M.G. to supper. Sausages, the local version of sauerkraut, potato dumplings, and German celery salad awaited them.


The next morning, before breakfast, Art concentrated on holding a stand-away shield around himself while working with the side-sword and his dagger. It took no more power than his standard shields, but additional concentration. As he parried his invisible attacker, something made his brain itch, sort of. He drew more power from his medallion and whipped around to take a low guard stance.

Bamp. Hard-cored power hit his shield. Art grounded it, then snarled, “Murus speculus,” and flipped his defenses into a focused mirror-shield as a second pop of magic hit him. The spell bounced and smote its caster.

“Hey! What was that for? I was just kidding,” Joey protested. “Chill, Art.”

Art drew himself up and imagined what his grandfather would look like if he were so disturbed. Apparently it worked, because Joey gulped and backed away. “Just kidding, I said.” He licked his lips and glanced to the shadows of the practice courtyard. Someone moved in Art’s peripheral vision, eased into a doorway and out of sight.

“You know the rules, sir,” Art growled. “No challenges, no attacks. This is a place for learning, not for trouble.” Joey should know after two weeks here.

“Mister Lestrang is correct,” a Russian-accented voice grated from the opposite side of the practice courtyard. Master Pytor loomed out of the long morning shadows. Art dropped his defenses and saluted with the sword. Pytor acknowledge the salute. “Mister Lestrang, you are dismissed.”

“Yes, sir.” Art inclined in a slight bow and made himself scarce. Joey had messed in the wrong mess-kit, as Uncle Rodney would say. Art cleaned the sword and put it back in the rack, checked his dagger as well, and went to get ready for breakfast.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Choice or Privilege or Something Else?

A new ad-campaign for a federal nutrition program caught my eye. It shows a family sitting down to supper, and says, “Because a well-balanced meal should not be a privilege.” My first reaction was, “It’s a choice, especially this time of year.” I can choose to eat junk food, or choose to eat veggies and a good protein and fat source, or toss it all out the window and go ice cream all the way. So can most people. Granted, some face much tighter constraints, as I did when I was flying charter in Flatter-Than-You’d-Think state. One month I made all of, oh, four hundred dollars. Rent was $370 a month. Plus utilities. I had some savings to scrape by on, but I ate a lot of “discount protein and dented can stew.”

But yes, there are some people for whom this federal program is a very, very good stop-gap until things improve and other resources become available. And there are some people who never learned how to cook, and others who live in true utility apartments or hot-bunk and don’t have a place to store perishables or time to cook them.

Still, the description of a balanced meal as “privilege” implies that it is actually a right. That’s where I hit a mental wall. It’s the same wall that rises up before me when I hear non-emergency medical care called a “right” or fast internet access as “a right.” Who is taking whom to give to whom? Because, with a few exceptions, routine medical care costs someone. Even if the doctor is donating his labor and knowledge, or is a nurse in a religious order that provides health care to the truly desperate, someone has to pay for the lights, and the supplies, and so on. Someone has to pay for the wire or cable, and the router, and computer equipment, and other things to make the internet flow.

“Privilege.” From privas lex, later privilegium, private law. These were rules, or exemptions from rules, that only applied to one individual or one small group. Later it came to mean special rights belonging to a group or an individual, then the idea of a special advantage. In early English legal writings, privilege had a negative connotation. It was unfair, and the law should apply to all equally.

“Right” Recht, in German, a straight line, a legal entitlement that follows a straight and proper path. That goes back to the Proto-Indo-European sense of a good, straight path or road (or piece of wood.) The older sense was a piece of property, later more intangible things – fishing rights, justice no matter one’s weregeld or social position so long as he was free-born.

Interestingly, the Latin still has a whiff, strong whiff, of negative connotation. Food of some kind should not be only for the favored few. It is correct and straight dealings for people to have [noun].

More and more, I hear things described as “a human right.” Clean water, clean air, internet, free medical care, private housing with air-conditioning and comfortable furnishings and all the amenities. A smart-phone. Internet access, presumably whenever the person wants it, so she doesn’t have to go to the library and use a public-access terminal. In other words, a late 20th Century, middle class or upper lower-class standard of living, with the diet to match. The person declaring this often also declares that materialism is evil and we should all live simply, with fewer possessions and amenities (air conditioning) and spend more time in public spaces because that’s where true inner peace and satisfaction come from.

My brief taste of a greatly simplified, much harder laboring, lifestyle cured me of any desire to live that way, or to impose it on others. There was no bucolic, rural Arcadia outside of Romantic paintings and Rousseau’s fevered imagination.

Life, liberty, and property. Those are rights. The right to defend yourself and your family. The right to clear title for what you purchased. The right to relocate when I choose, to where I choose, so long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s rights. The right to determine, as far as possible for your time, place, and talents, how you will earn your living and what hobbies you pursue. The right to believe or not believe as your conscience commands. And even with employment choices, one might be limited by the rest of the people around you. I have a right not to have my goods stolen, so you don’t have a right to make a living as a thief. Most people also oppose human sacrifice, so no Aztec revivalist religion, either. Your rights stop where mine start. Where exactly is that line? Well, we humans are still sorting out a workable, consistent answer. If there is one.

None of those depend on other people giving you anything, or paying you simply for existing. Or for the government providing things. Actually, what our activist above called rights – internet, housing – are actually privileges in the legal sense. A private law and grant is made, consisting of a service or a good.

I have no problem with encouraging people to eat balanced meals. I will happily donate produce, or help sponsor cooking and nutrition classes for people who want and need them. But if someone chooses to make decisions about how and where to spend their funds that lead them to living on pizza, burgers, fried chicken, or mac-n-cheese, or tacos and burritos . . . That’s their choice. Especially if someone has tried to help the person make better choices.

It’s not fair that I can afford canned tomatoes and corn more easily than some, and have the time to find discount meat at the grocery, and can cook. Or that I have time to cook big batches so I don’t have to cook later, and the cost is lower per serving. But those are my choices. Not a privilege. My privilege is living here, now, when all these things are so amazingly cheap and plentiful compared to 100 years ago.

Owl, or Vampiress?

The painting is “The Owl” by Valentine Cameron Prinsep.

Pure pre-Raphaelite, of course, but that’s not what caught my eye when I saw this on the cover of a catalogue. You see, in the Balkans and a few other places, owls are associated with vampires. Not bats, although bats abide in the same places as (fiction) vampires and everyone knows that Dracula can turn into a bat or multiple bats. At least, movie producers do, based on what I’ve seen. The Latin “strix” (screech owl) became the Romanian strigoi, meaning a vampyric ghost. The term is also a nod to the Greek fear of owls as a form of the bird of ill omen that accompanies witches and other evil-doers.

When you start digging into the actual folklore of Transylvanian vampires, and Balkan vampires in general, the more often you notice that owls are connected with the undead. Also, a person with red hair is automatically suspect. He or she may well be predestined to become a vampire, the same as if he or she had been born on an inauspicious day. It doesn’t matter if the man becomes a priest and lives a saintly life – the odds are strong that his body will leave the grave and steal the lives of his relatives. Better to sneak back to the cemetery, stake the corpse and behead it, or cut out the heart and behead the body, then destroy the heart. (This still happens in some places, even though it is illegal. What’s a few months in prison compared to saving the life of a family member?)

So when I saw the painting, my first thought was “Is she a witch, or a vampire, or was the artist just playing with Greek mythology?” Probably the latter, since Prinsep was a member of the pre-Raphaelite school of painters.

If Arthur and the other Hunters saw the painting? They’d suspect vampire. Had the giant raven that bothered Riverton been an over large owl, the Hunters would have dealt with it post haste.

The Hunters use strigoi, morioi, and nosfiertu to differentiate between different types of vampyric entity. At least, they do in the Old Land. The Hunter clan near Riverton doesn’t worry so much about the nice distinctions, because among other things, they don’t encounter the succubus-like form of cursed undead.

In fact, when an owl lingers in the wrong place, Arthur gets . . . concerned. When Arthur grows concerned, Lelia and Tay start reaching for silver, holy water, strong coffee, and headache powders. Not necessarily in that order. Because it’s going to be a looooong night.

Auris Vermis

So, there I was, sorting images to use for a lesson about the Roman Empire. And Kipling attacked.

Marching Song of a Roman Legion of the Later Empire

Enlarged From "Puck of Pook's Hill"

When I left Rome for Lalage's sake, By the Legions' Road to Rimini, She vowed her heart was mine to take With me and my shield to Rimini-- (Till the Eagles flew from Rimini--) And I've tramped Britain, and I've tramped Gaul And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall As white as the neck of Lalage-- (As cold as the heart of Lalage!) And I've lost Britain, and I've lost Gaul, And I've lost Rome and, worst of all, I've lost Lalage! - When you go by the Via Aurelia As thousands have traveled before Remember the Luck of the Soldier Who never saw Rome any more! Oh, dear was the sweetheart that kissed him, And dear was the mother that bore; But his shield was picked up in the heather, And he never saw Rome any more! And he left Rome, etc. When you go by the Via Aurelia That runs from the City to Gaul, Remember the Luck of the Soldier Who rose to be master of all! He carried the sword and the buckler, He mounted his guard on the Wall, Till the Legions elected him Caesar, And he rose to be master of all! And he left Rome, etc. It's twenty-five marches to Narbo, It's forty-five more up the Rhone, And the end may be death in the heather Or life on an Emperor's throne. But whether the Eagles obey us, Or we go to the Ravens--alone, I'd sooner be Lalage's lover Than sit on an Emperor's throne! We've all left Rome for Lalage's sake, etc.

You see, I’ve hiked a lot of the Limes, the Roman frontier line in Germany, Austria, and a chunk of Hungary. I almost managed a detour to catch the bit in Slovakia, but the others balked at the distance off our intended path. And I’ve hummed a certain tune to Kipling’s words over a lot of those stadia et miles.

Auris vermis can translate either “worm of the ear” or “ear of the worm.” Ah, the joys of Third Declension, where context truly is everything.

Latin: a language that always is declining.

Tuesday Tidbit: Life Continues

A betrothal does not end the daily round of work and paperwork.

The next two days found Tarno cutting the last of the old wood for the salt works. The new logs had at least a month to go before they could cut the driest, and then it would dry for the rest of winter and part of spring. The boys helped, Donton carrying water and food to those splitting the logs, and Kyle carrying the split wood into the wood house. On the third day, Tarno visited the small temple of Donwah closest to the salters’ confraternity building.

The priest-in-training met him when he entered the sanctuary and bowed to the goddess. “Greetings and welcome,” the young woman said.

“My thanks for the welcome. I am Tarno Halson, and I ask to speak with a priest concerning a handfasting date.”

“One moment, of your courtesy,” she murmured, then disappeared into the deep shadows of the cool, damp-smelling temple. A scent like running water, not moist soil or a flooded building, filled the air. Before Tarno could follow that line of thought too far, a tall, slender figure in a flowing blue cloak over shirt and trousers appeared. The veiled priest carried a book. Tarno bowed to him.

“You seek a handfast date, Tarno Halson?”

“Yes, sir, if the Lady of Waters wills. The Eighth Day eve following the Scavenger’s feast. My betrothed is born for Gember, born to Donwah. She has accepted my offer, as have her parents.”

Tarno felt the priest studying him, even though the half-veil hid his eyes. “And have you asked her of her own will, without family?”

“No, sir. I planned to do so here,” he nodded down, “at the next market day. Should she agree again, her family will visit my home.”

“What say the other salters?”

Tarno spread his hands. “Master Schaefer has heard no objections. No one has an unpledged daughter of proper age, and none of the widows whom I could marry wish to marry. The others are too close kin.”

The priest nodded. “Good. I relieves me that you have done the needed diligence. I’m sure someone will object. However, unless a surprise kinship appears, the temple should have no objections.” He set the book down on a small table and opened it, skimming to the women’s register. “Her name?”

“Urla Erbstman, daughter of Dor.”

The crooked finger ran down the page until it stopped beside the family name. The priest studied the entry. “You share no kindred. They came to the valley three generations ago and have not married within the walls.” He straightened up. “The Eighth Day eve following the Scavenger’s feast is auspicious, and we have no additional rituals scheduled for that day. Provided she agrees, of her own will and desire, then we will put you on the marriage list.”

“Thank you, sir.” He hadn’t recalled any kin connections to the Erbstmans, but surprises had arisen in the past. Thus the need to check with the temple records. No man could marry closer than three degrees, and for good reasons.

The priest closed the book and raised his hand, making the sign for the waves of the goddess. “Go with Donwah’s blessing, and I will inform my brothers and sisters that you will need a neutral observer come the next market day.”

Tarno bowed to the priest. “All praise to Donwah, Lady of the Waters.” When he straightened up, priest and book had both vanished. Tarno left a small offering in the box and retreated to the warmth of the sunbaked square.

He waited until color returned to the world, then strode to the wooden post where the Council and Market Master Richten posted important notices. One of the white-smiths read off the latest announcement to those gathered around. “Goodman Karlo is fined a quarter silver for not abiding by fire-cover hours. Goodwife Fuchsban is fined a silver ring for breach-of-the-peace and is under ban and supervision until the day after the next market day.” The smith stopped and shook his head as the listeners murmured and grumbled. At least two coins or market tokens changed hands. “I thought it would be until the Scavenger’s feast,” the grey-capped smith complained. “I owe Lukus a half ring.”

“May be that the council thought to go light, since she’s under renewed temple ban until Gember’s harvest feast,” one of the listeners false-whispered. The scrawny man raised one twisted, withered arm. “I wager Raadmar will restore me arm to youth and strength afore Goodwife Fuchsban abides in quiet peace with a tranquil heart.” Tarno was not the only man to make god-sign or the Horns to ward off ill fortune. Raadmar turned the wheel at His will, and no man knew if he would rise or fall.

“To wager on a sure thing is no wager,” a passing day-worker called from under his bundle of sticks and roofing reeds. The others chuckled or grumbled.

The white-smith returned to his reading. “Last notice – the Temple of Gember will tolerate no samplin’ from the ovens or coolin’ racks inside the courtyard walls.” He turned and looked at the men and women, a sly smile on his face. “Now what grown man would be doin’ that, I ask ye?”

Knowing laughter filled the chilly air, and not a few winks and nudges passed among the men. Mistress Wilburga, who led the washer women, planted one strong fist on her very large hip and frowned mightily from under her spotless white head-cover. “Halfeld Flus don’ have na’ grown man fast enow t’ lift the goddess’ loaves. Iffin’ th’ boss cooper don’ wan’ his brat t’ feel the dough-paddle again, he’d best watch him during fire-cover hours.” She stomped off, her clogs clattering out a warning to anyone who thought to get in her way. Several porters glanced toward the sound and dodged behind great hauler carts and passing wagons. No man crossed the washer women twice. Tarno had seen them lift a full wash-trough and dump it, water, clothes, and all, on two strangers who thought to get fresh with one of the women and steal some of the clothes. He’d heard stories about a man beat to death with laundry bats for tryin’ to have his way with Wilburga many years ago.

Once the clump of listeners dispersed to go about their business, Tarno read the rest of the notices. Indeed, Mistress Fuchsban had to remain within the walls of her home for two more eight-days. Would she learn to keep a civil tongue, or would she emerge with renewed fire and spite? Her husband should have done a better job of restraining her, and her parents too. “Bend the twig and the tree will curve,” he muttered under his breath. He’d be wise to avoid that street, and the woodworkers neighborhood in general, until he wed.


The day before the next market day turned clear and cold after almost an eight-day of mist and teasing flakes of snow that sifted down from the low clouds. Tarno’s sister, Cila, and one of her sisters-in-law helped Tarno, Kyle, and Donton clean the house from roof-beam to threshold. The boys hung all the bedding and household linens out to air, those that had not been washed the day before and hung on separate drying lines. “Has the confraternity said aught yet?” Cila asked as she scrubbed the floor. Tarno and Kyle had carried most of the movable furnishings out into the street, where Donton kept watch.

“No, although two people pressed Rand about Widow Inver.” Tarno had heard about that in two-beers-worth of detail. “She refuses to wed unless there is god-sign. Thus far no one has seen any that Raadmar’s priests will accept.” He thought she was foolish to refuse every suit and offer, but he preferred not to tempt Raadmar with impiety, either.

Cila sat up on her heels and shook the wood and husk floor-brush at him. “Were I her, I would do the like. Were I her, Inver would have died years before he did, or I would have fled to the temple and demanded separation with penalty. That man—” The heat in her voice could have cooked every dish at the Confraternity’s annual banquet on Donwah’s winter feast. Tarno stared at his sister, eyes as wide as he could open them. He’d never heard her speak so!

She returned to scrubbing. “You ne’er saw the bruises, the burns he gave her when he drank too much. And when he thought she served him poorly. Why do ye think she bore no childer? His fist and foot saw to that.”

“Why’d she nae speak?”

“Would ye have taken her word on her word alone?” If Cila scrubbed any harder, she’d wear a hole in the wooden floor. “When did he allow her to speak with others alone?”

Tarno opened his mouth, then closed it again. “I do nae recall.”

“Because he ne’er did. He and his brother both. She feared them too much to flee to a temple.” Cila sat back on her heels, then stood. “Tis one thing to raise hand and voice. Another to scar and render a man or woman barren.”

He swallowed against his gorge. He’d never raised a hand against Annaka, although he’d raised his voice a time or two.

“I was called to witness as a married woman of good repute when she claimed the full estate instead of just the widow’s share. A priestess of Gember, one of the Scavenger, and three matrons saw the marks — scars, bruises, a burn not yet healed, and that nearly an eight-day after Inver’s death! She got full estate, and a ban against her in-laws. My man and two of the watch warned the in-laws not to approach her.” Cila reached for the pail of rinse water. Tarno jumped clear as she dashed it against the floor, then chased it out the back door with an old twig broom. “Were I her, I’d nae wed again.”

Neither would he. All the more reason to be patient with Urla, should the marriage go as hoped. He fetched more water before she asked. When he came back, she smiled and rested one damp hand on his bare arm. “Tarno, I know ye ne’er laid a hand on Annaka, may the gods give her rest. But you are not as many men. Inver was not as most, either. Goodman Erbstman’s been asking, on the quiet, about ye and t’ boys. He’s been told true. I hope Urla agrees, for her sake and for yours.”

“Father, where’s the ash bucket?” Kyle called from the back door. “Goodman Seife’s askin’.”

“Here.” Tarno hurried out with the covered leather buckets full of wood ash for the soap-maker. By the time the watchmen called for the hour of covering fires, the house looked far better. Tarno decided not to place rushes down, not yet, not until Erbstman could see for himself the state of the house.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

I Don’t Think She Noticed

A hummingbird was checking out a female Mississippi kite after the rain last Monday evening. Well, pestering and trying to intimidate looked more like it. I chuckled. The hummingbird finally settled on a not-to-near bare branch tip and kept an eye on the kite as the kite preened and dried out a little bit while waiting for the cicadas to emerge from hiding.

It was remarkably quiet out, actually. Quite nice. We’ve been getting about one good to decent rain a week, more or less, for a few weeks now. It’s not the average pattern for August, but rain is rain, and this part of the world almost always wants more. This rain came with a very strong cold front that dropped the temps into the low 60s as well as bucketing down rain. Low clouds hugged the tops of the trees. In other words, good weather for a natural redhead who wanted to take a walk before sunset.

As I returned from my stroll, I saw the hawk first. She was hard to miss, perched on the tip of a bare branch on the top of one of the tallest trees on the block, black against the slivery-grey sky like a bird-book illustration. The kites like this branch, so she wasn’t a surprise. I stopped, waiting for a car to creep through the intersection, and saw a dot of motion. The dot stopped and hung in mid-air, then backed away at the same elevation, advanced again, and darted around to the other side of the kite. She started working on one wing. The dot returned to its earlier spot in the middle of the air, then settled onto a lower branch tip.

The dot, a hummingbird, lifted off two or three more times as I watched, then settled in to stare at the kite, or do whatever he was doing. I smiled, laughed a little at the show, and finished my walk.

Leo Lionni’s Frederick

A repeat from 2017.

There are a few illustrated children’s books I grew up with that left a very deep mark on me. Tomi di Paola’s books, Ashanti to Zulu about the peoples of Africa, dinosaur and paleontology books, Three Trees of the Samurai, Holling C. Holling’s books, and one called Catundra about an overweight cat and how she slims down.

Leo Lionni’s story Frederick was one of these. The book is fifty years old this year, and is a wonderful story about the importance of Odds in societies. The author was Dutch, and did many children’s books, a lot of them about mice, including Frederick. I discovered it as a audio-tape and read-along book Mom and Dad got at the library. Continue reading