Saturday Snippet: To Market

Tarno, having been paid for the season, goes to the market.

Tarno sniffed the air flowing down the long street from the market square to the salt gate.  The wind had shifted with the storm, driving away the clouds and fog. The rich, hot scent from the bakers’ ovens fought with the sourness of earth-coal from the smiths’ quarter behind Rella’s temple. The usual ordure of the beast market had departed with the storm. Rain sweetened as well as drenched, unless it was the slow, warm summer drizzle that brought miasmas out of sour soil and warned of illness among the young and weak. The usual smells would return, but today the air felt empty. Tarno shrugged.  The lead great-hauler on the wagon parked by the tanners’ gate hissed, her crest and neck feathers ruffled. Tarno edged closer to the wall of the tanners’ confraternity building and Master Keiffer’s house. Another man could test the strength of her claws and her kick, thank you!

“Rella’s torch” poured light and heat down on the street.  The warm cobbles under his boot soles made Tarno frown to himself. The boots needed repair, preferably soon. And breeches for Kyle, perhaps for Donton as well. Once Cila patched Kyle’s old breeches, Donton could wear those, if she could patch them, but Kyle would not fit into his father’s old trousers yet. Soon, probably, but not this winter. Tarno considered his needs as he approached the south end of the great market square. Take the old socks to the knitters’ stall so they could decide on credit for him, then the old-clothes stalls, and then he would visit the preserved-meat and spice merchants. He turned to the left and strode along the edge of the market, out of the flow of traffic.

Crash! Wares hit flagstones and cobbles. Tssssss! A great-hauler snapped at a wiry, oddly-clad stranger who ducked, twisted, and ran, arms full of something.

“Thief! Stop thief!” The hue and cry sounded from a dozen voices. Tarno turned and raced after the stranger. The man swore and sped his steps, running faster than the river in spring. Tarno lengthened his stride and reached for the stranger. The man ducked, dodged left and collided with the wagon at the tanners’ gate. Crunch. He staggered, dropped his burden, and collapsed. Blood on his head and on the weathered-grey wood of the wagon’s tail-board told the tale. Panting a little, Tarno stopped and waved his arms, then pointed as two market wardens raced up, boot-nails clattering on the cobbles.

“Uuuungh,” rose from the man on the ground. He wore much-patched and faded blue breeches, brown socks and patched tan shoes, and a faded red shirt. His loose, almost knee-length sleeveless jerkin of blue and brown had been pieced together from tatters of something else, or so Tarno judged. The younger of the two watchmen heaved the thief to his feet. “Claim Scavenger’s toll,” the man slurred. Blood gushed from his nose and chin. Tarno glanced down but didn’t see any teeth on the ground.

“Not here,” Tarno and the older guard said together. The guard continued, “Scavenger’s toll fails. You caught the wagon without being touched.”

“Seen and witnessed,” a man and young woman called from beside the wagon. “Me dahter and me heard ‘t hue-n-cry. Yon master didn’ touch t’ thief. He ran hisself into m’ wagon.”

Trrrwheeee the off-hind great-hauler caroled, as if in agreement. The young woman and a passing goodwife made Yoorst’s sign.

“Donwah and Scavenger witness, I did not touch him.” Tarno averred as he made Donwah’s sign.

“Good ’nuff,” The market watch dragged the flattened stranger back toward the market. One of the market-master’s apprentices had trotted up in the meanwhile. He collected the goods off the ground and hurried back to the sellers. They would inspect the goods in front of witnesses in the Market-master’s hall. If damage claims came forth, well, the motley-clad stranger would be working himself hard.

“Yon fool marked m’ wagon,” the owner grumbled. “T’ priest ‘ll best be called.”

The young woman nodded. “Aye, sir. But a blessing n’er does ill, and we owe t’ Lady of Waters for Her kindness.”

A heavy sigh. “Aye.” Tarno took in the man’s sturdy boots, heavy breeches, the wear patches on his jerkin, and the stained and battered but good felt hat. The man wore cream and nut-hull brown, home-dyed by the look. A farmer, then, likely with schaef or great-hauler flocks if had doings with the tanners. The daughter sounded sensible, and if a touch too square-jawed for beauty, carried herself well. She too wore cream and brown, sturdy and well-made.

“To ‘t temple, then, then trade,” the farmer declared. All three great-haulers dipped their heads. Tarno inclined in a slight bow to the man and betook himself back to the market square to find boy breeches and speak with a heavy-goods cobbler.

The goodwife at the knitters stall considered the socks, such as they were. “A little credit, Master Tarno, but not no more than a quarter silver, if that. The yarn’s worn uneven.”

As much as the socks had been mended and re-worked, a quarter was better than he’d hoped for. “Agreed,” he said. “I’ll be back later for finished goods, socks for two boys and myself.”

“Aye.” She extended her hand and they touched palms on the bargain.

He turned and threaded his way between buyers and wares-laden apprentices, one hand on his purse. No point in tempting one of the Scavenger-born to foolishness, not that he’d been bothered in a year and more. Thieves tended to go wary around him after he’d broken the skull of the last one to cut his purse strings. The hot sun brought the scents out of leather and other things, confusing the nose. Sour wine lees cut through the muddle, rising from a red-purple puddle off to the side of the main way, and he wrinkled his nose. An apprentice would be working right hard to make up for that.

Tarno stopped at the rag buyer’s stall beside the used clothes seller. Goodman Karl shook out the breeches and jerkin. “Aye, boys be hard on breeches,” he sighed. He held them up to the sun, dark green eyes blinking hard. “Can’t quite read a contract through them, but near.” He leaned over and marked Tarno’s name and four scores on the tally-board between his stall and Goodwife Hasla’s stall. “So much I’ll give for both pair and the jerkin. Carpenters want old leather for summat or ‘tother.”

“Agreed.” They touched palms, and Tarno went to the next stall. He stopped, peering at the fancy skirt hanging from one of the pegs. He’d never seen the like. Dark red and blue embroidery decorated the upper skirt and waist-band, but from two hand-lengths down, someone had cut the material and sewn patterns into it, leaving little holes with color around them. Fancy cream-colored thread work decorated the bottom for a hand-width.

The young farm daughter he’d seen earlier stopped as well, basket on one arm, and shook her head. “There’s more trim than skirt,” she declared.

“Aye. Came from a death sale, an’ no takers. Women here don’ wear such, not even as a festival dress with an under-skirt.” The goodwife shook her head. She wore practical, dark colors, a bit worn but clean and well-made. Her flat-edged headdress sported dark brown embroidery, and Tarno saw a pattern of sheaves.

Who had come from where to wear such a skirt? Tarno shrugged to himself.  Probably one of the merchants or confraternity members who traveled on trade. Marrying out brought fresh blood and trade opportunities, if that had been the woman’s dower. Sometimes the blood did more good than the trade, based on the stories from down south. Beast nor man prospered for long if too much stayed in the family, as they said. None of which had to do with breeches for growing boys!

The farm-daughter continued on her way, and Goodwife Hasla nodded to him. “I need breeches for boys, one so tall,” he held his hand a little above waist high, “the other so.” The hand moved to chest high. “Still growin’ the both of them, not too long-legged.”

Goodwife Hasla smiled a little and nodded to a passing journeyman with legs tall enough to rival a great-hauler. “Less than yon, then, aye.” She glanced through her stock. “Heavy fabric I’ve got, leather not so many. Tanners’ not caught up with need yet.” She laid out three pair of breeches, one pair baggy enough at the waist to fit both boys in at the same time. Tarno considered the other two pair, rubbing the material for roughness and turning them to check for wear. Some on the knees, of course, not so much on the seat as he’d feared. They’d do for Kyle, and might last to do for Donton in turn.

“Here’s two in leather, and one your size, Master Tarno.” Goodwife Hasla leaned forward and studied his lower half. “Hmm.” As he considered the leather breeches for Kyle, she flipped through her bundle. “Ah.” A second pair of men’s breeches flopped onto the counter at the front of her stall, and four shirts. “These with t’ breeches. Material’s heavier than most, and not many want light colors for boys.” She winked.

“Aye that. White and boys makes as much sense as makin’ pan salt in th’ rain.” Neither one lasted long! The pale tan shirts would work for both boys. He’d not planned on those, but better now when he could find them than not find when he needed them. Oh, it had been easier when Annaka could just trim or patch to fit. Truly, he needed to find a wife. “So, how much of my year’s wages are ye wantin?” He winked back.

She leaned away, as if offended. “Now, good master, I don’t want all yer wages, just half.” She pulled a tally board out and made marks for the cloth breeches, the leather, and the shirts. “Less the credit with m’ man,” she erased four of the marks. “Three-quarter silver.”

“Three-quarter! Now, Goodwife, I’m not against a fair trade, but three-quarters for used? Nah, one third silver.” He folded his arms and waited.

“One-third? I’m old, not foolish, Master Tarno. Yer not buyin’ shoddy, not from me. You want one-third for this,” she waved a knob-jointed hand over the clothes, “go talk to my goodman. Two-third silver or no.”

After another round, they settled on half a silver and a pooz-weight. Tarno handed her coin and bits of broken silver ring. She weighed them. “Fair dealin’,” she called to all passers-by.

“Heard and witnesses,” one of the assistant market masters said, nodding to them as he passed. Goodwife Hasla bundled the clothes and tied them with a bit of old net-string.

Tarno accepted them. “Maarsdam smile on you.”

“Donwah bless.”

Tarno considered matters. Walking through the market with the bundle might tempt someone. He turned and strode down the row, between the fabric-goods sellers and the dealers in wool, thread, and sewing and spinning things. People filled the rows, haggling, measuring out goods, and exchanging news. Who hadn’t heard the Master Richten, the market master, say that if he could collect a booth-fee for news and gossip, the city would have enough money to bridge the river, expand the walls, and build a roof over the salt works? Tarno half listened as he walked. Nothing caught his ear, at least not yet. Weather talk, crop talk, gossip, the usual things. A few people declared “Fair dealing,” and touched palms over their agreements.

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

Cat Post

Because I haven’t done my part to keep teh Intertubez full of cats.

The shift supervisor in the live-plant department at Wildseed Farm, Fredericksburg, TX.

I think my neck would break if I tried sleeping like that. I know my hamstrings would go on strike!
Same cat, different metering.

Aliens. Natural skincare. Ooooooohhh kay. Also Fredericksburg, TX.

Climate Change, Government Policy, or a Bad Combination of Weather and Topography?

Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands suffered very bad floods last week due to a series of intense storms that dumped a lot of water in a small area. The region had been damp to begin with, so the water-logged soils couldn’t hold any more. Two dams broke, a third overflowed but did not fail, and people died. Homes collapsed, roads and railroads disappeared into twisted masses of paving and tracks. Now people are trying to asses the damage and find the missing. It’s a horrible situation for the people of the Eifel region, Cologne, and areas downstream. The people flooded in North America can sympathize. Lots of water, very fast, on ground that can’t absorb more water . . . Flash flooding follows. It’s terrible for the people and animals caught in the water and mud.

The German and EU governments, and others, are blaming climate change for the intense storms that led to the flooding and deaths. If only we used non-CO2 producing sources of energy, this would never have happened, say the politicians and activists. Except . . .

The article is “Don’t blame climate change for Germany’s Flooding.”

I remember driving along the Rhine in 2012 and being flabbergasted by the height of the river. High rainfall had filled it to brim full. The Rhone and other tributaries also ran high. In 2002, the Elbe River in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic flooded, inundating Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, and other cities. In 1965, Hamburg went under water, and it still does. The parking garage near the maritime museum in the old part of the city has big signs on the doors saying not to open them if the water is X deep. The ground floors of buildings in that area are semi-sacrificial. In that case, it was a North Sea storm that backed water up the river and into the city. You know, like the horrible floods that killed tens of thousands of people at a go in the 1300s, 1500s, and 1700s, and probably earlier? Back before the internal combustion engine, during the Little Ice Age and before? Those floods. Inland also flooded as well in the past.

The above link goes to a paper looking at floods on the Lech and Isar Rivers, tributaries of the Danube that flow through Augsburg and Munich respectively. Floods happen. Lots of floods. When conditions are right, the rivers rise. Between 1300-1900, each river flooded over 85 times. The high waters ranged from “it flooded, that’s what it does” to huge inundations that wiped out large swaths of crop land and homes. (The part you want starts on page 790, or page 8 of the PDF).

Jo Nova has a post as well, about flood histories in the lower Rhineland, and elsewhere in the German-speaking world.

If you dig carefully enough, there are reports of floods during the warm period of the High Middle Ages (800s-1200s), and probably archaeological evidence of flooding during the Roman Warm Period. My point being that “rivers flood. That’s what they do,” as a farmer in Flat State observed as we discussed the local stream’s recent overflow. This does not make it any easier on people who find themselves caught in the waters. A poor lady on the news last night said that the municipality sent out a flood warning on Facebook™, but if people had no computers or were not on FB at the time, they didn’t know about the waters about to engulf the village. The national government did what it could, but local authorities dropped the ball. Or power had already gone out, and that wiped out cell service and other things. That’s not climate change, that’s a failure to have back-up plans.

It’s terrible that people were hurt or killed, and that more people lost homes, businesses, crops, and animals. Floods leave stinky, filth-ridden, disease-promoting muck and mire behind. The sun emerges, the mud steams, and miasmas fill the air as people start cleaning up. As has always happened since humans moved into floodplains and coastal plains.

If I could get a point across to politicians and activists around the world, it would be this: don’t blame anthropogenic climate change. Blame physics, hydrology, and gravity. Read about the Little Ice Age and the Great Drownings of the North Sea. Read Dagomar DeGroot’s Frigid Golden Age about the Dutch and the Little Ice Age. Solar panels and wind turbines can’t stop flooding, or intense storms. Coal and natural-gas powered generators don’t cause storms, neither do internal combustion engines.

Weather happens, no matter how badly people wish it didn’t. Pester your local politicians about bad land-use policies, donate to your local volunteer fire-and-rescue, and to groups that help with clean-up and rebuilding. Think about what you can do to help mitigate runoff and reduce hardscapes that contribute to urban flash-flooding. Those are things that can affect flood damage and loss of life. Sometimes. And sometimes, hell and high-water come together because of forces far beyond human control.

A Dragon by Any Other Name?

Ah, Meister Gruenewald, that amazing, infuriating, arrogant, brilliant . . . [No, Rodney, I can’t use that adjective on this blog. Or that other thing, either.] Sorcerer of shadow. Scholar of magic and other things. Master teacher. Whose most amazing power might be that of official non-existence. As André tells Art, Meister Gruenewald has no first name and no official existence. As far as the German and other governments know, he’s a pink unicorn. The military knows, but not the official bureaucracy. How he manages that is probably the greatest mystery of all.

M.G. is a sorcerer of shadow. Like André and Lelia (and Dr. Melanchton, and Miranda Reddish, and Kit Wilmington) he specializes in dealing with truly nasty, evil abuses of magic, including blood magic. He is stronger at night, although he likely doesn’t notice the boost anymore. He was a strong sorcerer before the Spell Eruption Event, and banking power is so ingrained that even he probably doesn’t know what his limits are. He’s not going to test them. Why should he? It the problem is that bad, he’ll call in other magic workers to assist, saving his reserves for the truly dire end-of-the-world-if-he-doesn’t-act emergency.

M.G. noticed André when André was first stationed in Germany. The raw power André threw around was, ahem, a bit noticeable, something M.G. fixed on their first lesson. The fix left André with a three-pill headache, but he never did that again. Rodney considered it a win, once his mage quit moaning. M.G. also realized that André was a sponge, and far smarter than he came across. Perhaps this was the student M.G. had been waiting for. So M.G. being M.G., he kept pounding information and magic into his student to see if André could take it. He did. By the time of Learnedly Familiar, M.G. considered André as his only real success as a teacher. He had other students who did well, but only André has come close to his innate potential as a magic user, by M.G.’s standards.

Which was why M.G. persuaded André to accept the duties of being the sorcerer’s heir. André is not Draku’s suflit ficu. The spiritual connection isn’t there. Instead Shadow’s role is closer to that of Arthur and the senior Hunter. Shadow is supposed to take over Draku’s work, lead Draku’s students, dispose of or distribute the books in Draku’s collection, and deal with some other pieces of magically dangerous property. Shadow agreed, in part because he assumed he’d be dead in less than a decade, and so it wouldn’t matter. It kept Draku happy, Ears thought it was a good plan, and Shadow wouldn’t be around to worry about it. Except Shadow didn’t die. He found someone to love, who loved him and accepted him as he was, demons and all*. Alas, poor Shadow, now he does have to worry a little about “what if I outlive the old lizard? I’ve got to deal with his [stuff]. Oh [exquisitely pungent invective]!”

M.G. is a puzzle. His personality is so strong that it overwhelms anyone around unless they are ready for him. He’s the most powerful magic worker the clans have ever produced, and even they don’t know exactly which family he belongs to. He keeps his pedigree to himself. Unless he blurs his features and hands, which M.G. does most of the time out of habit, it’s obvious that he’s physically different from the rest of the population. He stands out, even among the clans. The fixed talons, the oddly scaly skin, his physical strength, and his sheer longevity make him very unusual, to put it mildly. Toss in those too-bright green eyes and it’s easy to see why he ended up with the working name of Draku. And why, from the safety of the other side of the Great Sea, under his breath, André calls him “that old lizard.” Not that Draku gives a flip about what anyone thinks of him.

You see, Draku’s father was a zmaj. Draku’s mother was of the Hunter clans, a beautiful young woman who was the object of much interest and desire among the young men of her generation. She and her parents let their guard down once, and Draku’s father, who happened to be the guardian zmaj of that watershed, carried her off as his bride. When she returned to the family, with a son, everyone knew what had happened. They raised Draku as one of their own, and when he came into the power that all sons of zmaji possess, no one blinked too hard.

By now, that is long lost history. Draku owes a lot of his longevity to his maternal heritage and having been a Hunter when he was younger. However, he is mortal, and he is not getting younger. Thus his increasingly insistent efforts to get Shadow to relocate to the Old Land and take over things. Yet, at the same time, Draku is starting to realize that Europe might not be the best place in the future. Too much governmental control, too many watchful eyes, especially in western Europe. Russia is, of course, out of the question, and in fact Draku has been known to use his private resources to help new magic workers escape Russia before the government catches them. Europe needs workers of shadow, but perhaps not a school such as formed around Draku.

If Draku had seen Shadow after the Terrible Hunt, he would have smiled with glee. The eyes. Draku’s eyes do indeed glow a little. That’s power, raw magic made visible. Draku doesn’t use a medallion or his cane or a knife or ring to store magic like the other sorcerers do. He is his focus. He stores magic inside himself. He discovered the twist a century and more ago, and storing power that way is truly second nature. He doesn’t think about it, or even really remember how he does it. It’s like breathing. It’s scary, actually, because of what it’s done to his body even beyond the legacy of his paternity. After the Terrible Hunt, when Silver observes Shadow’s eyes glowing, it’s for a similar reason. Shadow handled so much power, even with Ears to help buffer it, that it’s changed him.** Remember, Shadow still has some of the basic the wiring of a sorcerer, even though he’s primarily a mage. That makes a difference.

So now Draku wants to train Shadow’s son. Draku has high hopes for Letters, and assumes that of course Shadow will send the boy over, and of course Letters will take up his father’s mantle. Because why wouldn’t he? Draku really is that arrogant and entitled. If he were any less powerful or respected, it would have bitten in the rear by now. Or Chlotilda or one of his other students would have taken a leaf from Silver’s book and have whapped him with a frying pan, rolling pin, or something similar. He probably needs it.

*Lelia is why André returned from that near disaster that happened just before Intensely Familiar. He really should have died at least twice during that [mess].

**That magic is helping André, even though no one realizes it. He ought to have a lot more medical problems than he does. Lelia, not having the wiring or the training, doesn’t get that bonus. Knowing her, she’d run screaming from the possibility if offered. Or just shoot whoever made the offer, and ask her suflit talshu for recommendations on where to dispose of the deceased. He has a list.

Choosing Options

In which the salt workers consider the future . . . (Tarno is a widower.)

Tarno joined the line of salt-workers waiting to be allowed into Korvaal’s temple. No other place in Hallfeld Flus had enough room for all of them and their wives. For a few hours, the widows and women salters ran the salting house, earning twice wages for their efforts. He found space on a bench along the side of the temple’s great hall.

A statue of the god, twice man height, loomed at the far end of the chamber. He stood beside a plow, one hand resting on a sheaf of wheat, a pruning hook in his other hand. The god smiled at his followers, or did he? Tarno studied the face and wondered. The eyes alone did not smile, the mouth alone did not, but still, he sensed that Korvaal looked with pleasure at his followers. Fruit and grain decorated the god’s robe, and more fruit and vegetables sat heaped at his feet. A castana tree and an apple tree grew behind him, a reminder that Korvaal controlled the woods as well as the farmed fields. Niches along the wall beside the statue held early grain and some hay, the first-fruits of the looming harvest.

A priest walked out of a door at the god’s left hand, bowed to the god, then turned to the gathered salters. They stood with a rustle and some groans and creaks. The brown clad priest raised both hands. “In the name of Korvaal, lord of the fields, be welcome.”

“Our thanks for the welcome, and our thanks for the bounty of the lord of the fields,” Master Schaefer replied from the front row. He bowed, and the others copied him. “Our thanks for the use of Korvaal’s temple. May it prosper and may His servants be blessed.”

The priest kept one hand aloft, two fingers curved like the tip of a wheat sheaf. “Korvaal’s blessings on you in turn. May your work prosper, and peace grace your business.”

Schaefer bowed once more. “Praise to the Lord of the Land.”

The priest departed through the same door. Master Schaefer, Rand Graber, and a third man stood in front of the statue’s base. Schaefer gestured for everyone to sit, or at least relax. “First, to answer the question before it is asked, two eight-days more, then the season ends. Donwah’s Son and the Scavenger’s Son confirm that.” Murmurs and rustles rose and fell, like the wind through a summer orchard. Tarno frowned, as did the man beside him, but no one argued. “Rella, Donwah, and Korvaal permitting, we should have a spell of hot, dry weather, although extra prayers for such would not be amiss.”

“I don’t like the short season,” the woman standing at Tarno’s left hand whispered to her husband.

“No, and I don’t think anyone does, besides Karluh,” he whispered back, nodding toward a shaggy-haired figure on the second row, near the side aisle. Several people around nodded or chuckled. Tarno made Donwah’s sign, warding off the seniors hearing them. To accuse a fellow worker of light-laboring without proof was not wise, especially in the house of a god.

Schaefer waited for the murmurs and whispers to fade away. “Second, barring guidance or word otherwise, the prices for salt will not change. Donwah and Scavenger willing, we will not lose any more work-days to weather or distress. We will work through the market-eighth.” He glared at someone who grumbled. “Without salt, man and beast both suffer. We must work as long as we can before the season ends.”

A sigh of agreement drifted over the salters. Tarno agree with the sigh. No one wanted to work all year long -— that would kill a man, had killed men, back when salters had been property of the lords. But a short season made for tight belts and unhappy customers. What would be the best length of the salting season? That men had been arguing over since the first salt-makers sat down over ale to discuss it!

Rand Grabar and his guest stepped forward. The stranger dragged his right foot. Had he suffered injury?  Rand cleared his throat, distracting Tarno from his wanderings. “Some of you have heard rumors, mostly from outside the walls of Halfeld Flus, that the salt spring fails. By the records we have, and the word of the Daughter of Donah and the Scavenger’s Daughter, the spring remains as strong as when first opened. However,” Rand raise one hand. “However, it appears that we will lack preservation mages for some time to come.”

“No one’s found a mage-tree, yet?” Someone called from the back of the temple hall. Laughter flowed through the room.

“Nae, Waduz, they grow at the same rate as salters.” Rand let the chuckling fade. “People need salt, will need salt and more of it, especially now that the south lands cannot provide either. The elders have been looking for another spring, one not inside a place with city-right, or on noble lands. We might have found one.”

The stranger nodded. “I am Thorkal Ottmarson. I am a mine-finder. Normally we work with rock miners and the Scavenger-born to locate seams or quarries in new places. Master Schaefer and Master Graber hired me to look for salt, since salt comes from the Scavenger as well as from Donwah’s waters.” He smiled a little, but only the left side of his face moved fully.  “It appears, and the priests confirm, that a ghost-spring exists upstream twa milen, on the half-slope south of the river.”

Tarnow half-closed his eyes as he tried to place the ghost-spring. One milen would be just over a Halfeld league, so call it one and a half leagues or so, so near the schaef rocks and the first bend. The river made a slough there, marshy and full of rotten air, before the land rose again.

“Does he mean the grey bald at the schaef rocks?” The woman on Tarno’s left asked.

“He must,” Tarno said. “That would explain the bald, if the land is salt-laden.”

Rand gestured for quiet. “The guild is looking at the field. The good news is that the current owner is the temple of Korvaal, because it came to the temple as blood tithe after a kin-slaying over the pasture.” Several people groaned. Everyone made warding signs, Donwah’s waters or the horns. “The bad news is that we, the salt workers, would have to buy it outright in order to put a salt-shaft into the land. Because that requires wood. Lots of wood.” Even more groans rose. Tarno winced, imagining the cost.

Master Schaefer stepped forward once more. “Explain the ghost-spring please, Brother Ottmarson.”

Ottmarson nodded. “A spring once flowed from the ground, as the brine spring here once did. It carried salt, and fed into the marsh and river. Perhaps because it carried soil with it, perhaps because of drought, or because of an earth-shake, the spring returned to the Scavenger. It left salt in the soil. That means that if a man were to dig there, he would find salt. How pure I do not know, although I suspect not as bitter as coast-made salt.”

Tarno made a face as the man beside him mimicked choking. They had tried coast-made salt once. No wonder only tanners and glass-makers wanted it if earth-salt could be bought or made.

“Even if it is not as pure as spring-salt, tanners and farmers and others will want it,” Rand said. “That will ease the calls for lower leb-prices on food salt.”

There was that. And lower prices for animal salt and tanning salt would make the farmers — not happier because no farmer Tarno ever met had appeared happy — but less likely to snarl at the salt-workers. As angry as some remained about the wood-fight, keeping the peace might be worth the cash cost. If the Scavenger granted that the ghost-spring would provide.

“So, two questions for you to consider,” Master Schaefer declared. “First, do we expand into salt mining, should the ghost-spring mark a place of earth-salt? To do so would require permission of the Scavenger, and some of us to create a branch of the miners’ confraternity. Second, if so, do we buy the field and begin work there, Scavenger and Korvaal permitting?”

Because Korvaal would have to release the field, thus buying it outright. Especially since it had been given to Korvaal to end a blood-feud ending in a kin-slaying. Tarno frowned, as did several of the people around him. Blood-washed land often carried bad fortune with it. Was that part of why the family had given it to the temple?

“Will the cost of mining be more than we earn?” One of the men asked his neighbors. “That’s most of our mercy-fund spent on a field, and should magic return soon, we will make no profit from a salt mine.”

“The wood worries me,” a woman stated. She folded her arms, frowning under her black widow’s cap. “The farmers and charcoal-burners , coopers and house-carpenters and others grumble about our using so much of the wood. To buy a cursed field from Korvaal’s temple, then dig there and use even more timber and fuel wood, all outside walls?” She shook her head. “I do not like the idea.”

Tarno and several of the men nodded. She spoke sense, good sense. Here they stored wood inside walls. The Halfeld Flus watchmen could alert others to mischief and worse. Not so that far outside the walls. They’d have to guard the works. That cost silver as well, and time, and the neighbors might cause problems on the road. Talk rose and fell.

“How long to train a preservation mage? Ten years and more from birth? And the tanners and others still need salt, as do cooks. That’s time enough for a salt digging to pay for itself.”

A tight, almost squeaky man’s voice. “Nae, ill omened, and arrogant. We need wood and good will. A salt digging will lose us both those and more.”

“Will Donwah take offense at a mine and close off Her waters because we favor the Scavenger?” The woman’s whisper carried well.

Wood thumped wood. Tarno looked up and saw Korvaal’s Son standing with the salt-masters. Those still seated stood, and all bowed to the priest. “Sit, please.” The man’s deep voice reached every corner of the temple. Leather creaked and fabric rustled as the men and women sat. “There is no need to decide this day. Indeed, it is better for you to decide after an eight-day, so that all may think and consider and pray.”

Several people ducked their heads, unhappy. Tarno hid his flinch, because he too had failed to consider that.

“Do not speak of this outside the salt family,” Master Schaefer ordered. “Should any ask, tell them of the end of work, and of the stable price.” He looked to the priest, then back at the salt-workers. “In fact, spread the news of unchanged prices far and wide. Good will at the end of the season is always welcome.”

Korvaal’s Son raised his hand. Tarno went to one knee, as did the others who stood, while the seated salt-workers bowed their heads. “Go in the god’s peace, and may his bounty and discernment touch you in equal measure. Blessed be the lord of the fields and forests.”

“Blessed be Korvaal, lord of the fields,” came in unison reply. The priest departed, and sunlight washed into the room as the doors opened behind them. A beam of light touched the tree carved into the gods platform. Tarno noticed several other people making god-signs at the reminder.

Three days later, Tarno watched his sons rinsing themselves in the back garden. The step-stones did not steam, although they should have. Rella of the Lights blessed the day with enough heat to bake bread on the stones of the market square. Tarno had taken the boys with him on his shift, and they had joined other children carrying drinking water to the workers. Even so, two men had collapsed with work-fever and been carried out of the salt-house. Rand had refused to allow them to return once they woke. Yes, the rest of the shift had to work harder. But if a man fell into the pan, or collapsed as the boiling brine poured? Disaster and ill omen, and all work would stop until a priest could come and bless the works to lift the ill. Better to go shorthanded.

Donton looked ready to fall over himself. He’d worked hard, as hard as his older brother. Tarno took the bucket from him and handed him a piece of toweling to dry himself with. Kyle shook like a dog, then put his own bucket in the proper place. “Inside to food, both of you,” Tarno ordered. They dragged themselves into the house. Tarno had bought potted meat, cheese, and bread, trading fresh greens and red-root from the garden for pickled white-stem. The boys devoured the food, then fell asleep on the floor under the table, too tired to go to bed. Well, it was cooler, too. Their father cleaned up, banked the fire, and barred the doors.


The salters returned, but by ones and twos, to Korvaal’s temple on the next Eighth-Day. Those who worked visited early, before their shift began. Priests and priestesses of Korvaal, Donwah, and the Scavenger guarded a dark wooden box, one with the lid both locked and sealed by the temples. A small hole in the lid allowed man or woman to drop in a small stone or bean, black for refuse, white for buy-the-field. Each salter kept a decent space between his fellows, not watching as the men and women added their beans or rocks to the count. The confraternity’s seniors had been firm — no grey, no speckled. Tarno had not been the only salt worker to spend several time marks in Donwah’s temple, considering matters and praying for Her guidance. He’d also added a bit to his gifts to both Donwah and the Scavenger, just in case.

“Rella has blessed us,” Waduz said, voice quiet. He glanced back to Tarno and the others. Tarno nodded his agreement. The hotter and drier the weather, the less wood they needed and the faster the brine thickened.

“Blessed us indeed,” Jasko said from behind Tarno, voice also quiet. The tip of his crutch scraped a little on the stone floor. “She dries wood as well as salt. We’ve used only two-thirds the usual wood these past days, thanks be to Rella and Korvaal.”

“Thanks be,” everyone murmured. The line moved steadily as the workers reached the box, dropped in their bean or stone, bowed to the gods, and departed. Several of those in line appeared deep in thought or prayer, and one of the widows fingered memory beads as she walked.

The temple smelled of wood and sweet incense, like apples. Or did the wood itself release the benediction in the heat? Tarno wondered, then turned his thoughts to the field, the mine, and the future. He had heard of brine-springs fading and dying, sometimes when men tried to deepen them by digging the spring and instead breaking it, or offending both Donwah and the Scavenger. Would that happen in Halfeld Flus? It might, Donwah have mercy. Or an earthshake might shift the waters or bury them, as happened near the southern mountains.

Waduz made his choice, bowed deeply to the gods, and stepped to the right, out of the way. Tarno took a deep, settling breath, reached into the pouch on his belt, and removed his white bean. He dropped it into the box, bowed, and eased out of the way before turning and departing the temple. The bright sun outside bleached everything and he hesitated just outside the doorway, blinking until his vision returned. A weight eased from his body and heart. He’d chosen, as best he could discern, what was right. Now all depended on his fellow workers and confraternity members. He raised the hood on his sleeveless jerkin and pulled it over his head, a weak defense against the brightness shining from the stones of the way and the whitewashed walls around him.

When Tarno approached the salt works the next day, groups of men and women clustered in tight clumps, some waving arms, others murmuring quietly before separating and going their ways. A piece of pale cloth hung on the wall beside the door to the changing and preparation area. The salters would buy the field and start work.

“Hai, Tarno, what say ye?”

Tarno considered his words. Sullen expressions alternated with satisfied among the workers and assistants. “I say that first we have to buy the field, then confirm salt. After that?” He shrugged. “The way the past four years have gone, like as not we’ll find gold or something else equally useless.”

Laughter met his words. Even Anders and Waduz smiled a little, or frowned less angrily. Hildi pointed to the doors with her mangled arm. “An’ like yon banner or no, work waits or we all starve.”

“Aye that.”

Four days later, Master Schaefer and Donwah’s Daughter walked with slow dignity into the boiling house. They carried an ancient leather bucket on a pole between them. The salters stopped their work and bowed as the two set the bucket onto the ground. Rand Graber steadied the pole as the veiled priestess slid the bucket off the end, then lifted it. “Behold the blessing of the Lady of Waters,” she sang.

“Thanks be to the Lady of Waters,” the salt-workers chanted.

The priestess lifted the bucket as high as she could, turned in a circle, then poured the water into the pan. “The Lady closes the spring. Bank the fires and take rest, that you may do Her work with all your strength of shoulder and heart in the future.”

“Thanks be to the Lady of Waters.”

The priestess departed, for now. The salt-workers returned to stirring, pouring out brine, and watching the fires. Except when a pan emptied, the tenders scraped the coals out of the fire-boxes. One by one, the great pans yielded up their contents and went cold. Tarno watched as the last drops of water dripped into the jars. The apprentice watching the fire scraped the last embers out to the mouth of the pan rest. Tarno and Anders waited, resting a little. The smoke above them thinned and faded away, allowing them to see the black bars of the rafters high above, and the women gathering around the wall of the building.

As the last jar of boiling brine filled, first one woman, then another called, “Salt of your mercy, salt for the humble!” By ancient tradition and right, the poorest widows and daughters of the city claimed gleaning rights.

“As the gods show mercy and provide for us, so we do for you,” Master Schaefer called. At his words, then women hurried to the pan-rests. They carried small containers and wooden spoons. They scraped the pans with care, freeing any crystals left on the metal. Tarno and some of the other older salt-workers steadied the pans, and held out their stirring paddles so that the women could scrape those as well. A priestess of the Scavenger had checked so that no one smuggled a metal-tipped tool in with the wooden, lest damage follow. The women cleaned the pans better than the apprentices did, but then, this was leb-salt, mercy-salt. The last two jars made would go to the Scavenger’s temple as a mercy offering.

“Let the fires be cold, the pans empty, and the doors closed until the turning of the seasons,” Master Schaefer called.

A cold voice called back, “So commands the Lord of what is hidden, all under the earth.”

“So commands the Scavenger, Lord of what is hidden. Blessed be the Scavenger,” everyone replied, bowing to the hooded figure standing beside the great doors.

The Scavenger’s priest led all the workers and gleaners out of the salt house. Master Schaefer and two other men close the doors, and Schaefer lowered a small wooden bar over the pegs on the doors, a token lock. He turned, bowed to the Scavenger’s voice, and handed the man a metal key, the symbol of work. Until the priest returned the key, no brine could be boiled.

The women of the confraternity waited inside the city gates. They gave the men bread and meat made without salt, a reminder of why they had labored so long and hard. No one gave any to Tarno. He no longer had a woman. He eased past Anders and trudged to the house, bone weary.

He rested the next day, watching the boys work on lessons and going through the household supplies and stocks. The weather turned wet and chill, a fitting end to the salting season, and good cause to stay indoors if possible. Kyle needed winter trousers, and both boys needed smallclothes and socks. Tarno collected the old, worn-past-repair items to sell for rags or for yarn credit toward new socks and sweaters. He also went through the food and fuel stocks and account list. Preserved meat was dear, far more than in the past, but fresh would be available in greater quantity soon, at least for a short while. He needed to arrange the kitchen hearth for smoking meat. So much to be done before winter, including inspecting the roof and walls for leaks and to see that the draft-blocks remained in good repair. The Scavenger’s rats always took a small toll, but too much and men could take their own toll in return.

All this was a woman’s work, Tarno grumbled to himself. Oh, how he missed Annaka and her thrifty ways as well as her smile and spirit. The storm that grumbled in with the night matched his own spirits, chill and dour in the darkness.

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

Stability, Stasis, and Comfort Levels

A comment on another blog got me thinking about stability and comfort in society. The discussion had drifted to “why do to people, and some governments, want to lock things into a certain level of economics/cultural norms/seasonal patterns forever and ever?” Part of it is the comfort of familiarity – we want the sun to rise in the east, the seasons to change when they are supposed to, cinnamon to taste like cinnamon, and our pay-check to arrive on time. Among other things. For most of human history, major changes to the routine generally meant Not Good Things – natural disasters, wars, plagues both human and livestock . . . Stability was safe. Predictable change was good. Children were supposed to grow up and marry and either move out or start working in the family business or farm. The old overlord died and his son or widow took over and did things just like he had. The occasional trader or traveler from a few villages over, or from a different part of the region, added a little variety but not too much.

Then you also have the “things were better back then.” It could be “when the old lord ran things, taxes stayed reasonable.” Or “in the golden age, when Numa Pompilius was king of Rome,” or “before Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil . . .” or what have you. For peasants it was the ideal time before overlords started taking over the “traditional rights” of free commoners. For the nobles it might have been when [kingdom name] was the greatest power in the region. Or back when peasants knew their place, and everyone stayed contentedly in their station of birth and no one challenged those who were born to rule. Or the wonderful era when wise women and subordinate men lived in harmony with Nature and farmed and all was at peace. Or when you were twelve, and old enough to ride your bike unsupervised and go to the candy store and stay out until the fireflies swarmed on long summer evenings, but didn’t have to pay bills.

Three of those scenarios are about control. ‘When we were in control, things were better. So if we stay in control/go back to those days, things will be better and we can lock things into place and Paradise.” If you look at some the Great Reset ideas, or some of the ideals of groups like Extinction Rebellion, you see a lot of both control and “going back to when everyone was poor (but dignified) peasants farming the land and doing folk-crafts with native materials.” Not that they phrase it like that, but “a less consumptive lifestyle that makes fewer demands on the environment” translates to poorer, when you measure standards of living. Experts and the self-appointed elite should be in control, because they are the experts and elites. Switch “nobles” for “experts and elites” and we’re back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages. Use “Confucian scholars” and you have the mandarins of imperial China. Again, control.

Chaos is the default state of the universe, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Most people don’t do well in chaos. I don’t. I like a theme with variations, variations of my choosing for the most part. That’s not how the world works. Chaos created on a temporary basis, for a reason, can be a little scary even for the creators, because chaos doesn’t always behave. Fire behavior is predictable on a macro scale, for certain terrains, fuel loads, and weather patterns. On the micro scale? You can’t predict which embers will be picked up and tossed over the fire-line to land in just the right materials and start an explosive blaze. You can’t predict which person will cut the wrong wire and take out a municipal water system.

Totalitarian systems are about control. Certain pyschologic conditions are also about control, often control over how others see the individual or react to the individual. When those combine with a Cause, trouble for society really ensues. “I’m doing this for your own good,” ranks down there with “True [philosophy] has never been tried. We’ll get it right this time!” as far as words that should strike terror in the hearts of the sane.

I want to be in control of my particular slice of reality, such as it is. I game out situations in my head so that if X happens, I can control my response and (ideally) limit the damage and chaos. But I know darn well I can’t control other people. I can’t even control the characters I put onto the page! [Yes, Joschka von Hohen Drachenburg, I am looking right at you as example #1.] The idea of me trying to micromanage a world full of other people should scare the socks off of everyone, especially me.

The technocrats and fans of a neo-feudal order don’t see that. The totalitarians have always believed that they really can have total control over what is in people’s heads, as well as what the environment does and how society should respond to that. It doesn’t matter what flavor of totalitarian – theocracy, Communist, NSDAP, Fascist, Eco – control, order, and stasis are their end goals.

They missed the lesson of Greek tragedy and the tower of Babel. Hubris begets nemesis. Control begets collapse and chaos.

Call for Beta Readers

I need a few beta readers for Nominally Familiar. Please contact me at the e-mail on the about page if you have not contacted me before.

Thank you!

UPDATE: Thank you to those who responded, I now have a full slate of readers! ‘Tis much appreciated.

I Need a Score Card

The last time I dug into the early history of the Holy Roman Empire 2.0 (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which starts with Henry the Fowler and Emperor Otto I), I skipped most of the politics. I was far more interested in the cultural and spiritual aspects of the period (roughly 875-1100 or so) than the politics. Oh, I knew that there was a lot of fighting, both for the title of King of the Germans/Holy Roman Emperor and with outsiders (Magyars, Magyars, Wendish/Sorbish Slavs, the First Crusade). But I ignored the internal strife for the most part.

Alas, because of a number of factors I’m having to wade into the politics of the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia, and Hungary. Oof. Part of the difficulty is the repetition of names. Not just Otto I, II, and III, but multiple Henries, Boloslavs of both Poland and Bohemia (some of whom fought each other), Stephans, and lots of Matildas. For a while, Matilda was as common as Mary, Barbara, Ann, and Catherine. Henry the Fowler’s second wife was a Matilda, as was Henry II’s wife. Oh and Henry II’s father was Henry, but not Henry the Fowler. Confused yet?

One thing I have to force myself to remember is that, unlike later periods in England and elsewhere, the Holy Roman Emperor was in some ways first among equals when north of the Alps. And an often unwanted outside interloper south of the Alps, at least unwanted by those who felt that their candidate for the papal throne was the real pope. So someone like Duke Henry the Lion could be a real political threat to Frederick Barbarossa, but was also a critical supporter and ally of Frederick — when Henry stuck with his feudal vows. Within their own territories, the various dukes of Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, and so on had total control, as much as a Germanic warlord had control of his knights and clerics. The Imperial Diet was a real necessity as far as mediation and problem solving between the various nobles, high church leaders, and the Emperor. It didn’t always work, but it probably kept things from being more violent than they were. Add in the Church trying to channel all that aggression into more socially useful directions, and the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia were probably about as calm as was possible for the time.

I have to know this stuff inside and out, in order to clarify it and distill it for other people. This is also taking me into some new research directions, like the roles of women. I knew about the women of the Hanse cities and how some of the merchant patricians widows and daughters earned full citizenship, acting as men in all legal ways. The women of the Ottonian and Salian periods of the Holy Roman Empire could be as independent and powerful, especially some of the abbesses of places like Quedlinburg. Others, also within the church, scolded their male “superiors” about immorality, lack of attention to duty, and the need to clean up some problems in the Church. There was a reason why St. Francis was needed, and the preaching orders in general. Women like Matilda of Canossa could have strong political influence on even the papacy. She also could nurse a grudge well enough to get a Red Cross life-saving award, but that seemed to be true of a lot of the nobility of the early and high Middle Ages. Legally, women had rather limited rights. In reality? It depended on the individual, her situation, and her location. Germanic and western Slavic women seem to have had more traditional as well as legal independence than those south of the Alps. At least during this time.

There’s only one “textbook” for this region, the one written by Lonnie R. Johnson. It wasn’t exactly meant to be a textbook, but it can be and is used as one for college classes. It’s good, but it skims some of the earlier material that I need. Trying to pull all this sort of stuff together and to keep it from bogging down is an art, and one I suspect very, very few people have. I don’t. So I’m borrowing a little from here, and a lot from there, and my vacation slides and notes from over here, and trying to make sense of all of it, in chronological order. It must be good for me, because it makes my brain ache. It’s one thing just to read German and get the material. It’s another to translate it accurately for other people.

And I just know that some of this will leak into my fiction. Especially Henry the Lion of Bavaria and Saxony. I first met him as “Oh, yeah, the guy who was a PitA for Barbarossa.” Except Henry was a lot more than that, and he connects England (Henry II Plantagenet) to Saxony and places like Lübeck and Brunswick/Braunschweig. No, I have no idea what Henry’s going to do, or how, but I have this sinking suspicion . . .

Product Review: New Mexico Tea Company

Cream Early Grey, Persian (Earl Grey with cardamom), New Mexico Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast, Ginger Black, Sandia Spice, Monks Grenadine, Bengal Spice, Kama Sutra Chai.

It was time to re-stock the tea cabinet. I get a lot of teas locally, but there are some “treat” teas that I buy from New Mexico. I first encountered New Mexico Tea Company in a small shop in an office-park area in Albuquerque, and was taken by their melon black tea (Monk’s Grenadine). They have expanded their offerings since then, and it’s always interesting to see what new things they offer. They have a wide range of straight black, green, and white teas from China and India. I prefer to get those locally, and buy the flavored teas and tisanes from New Mexico.

Cream Earl Grey is one of my go-to flavors. It is strong, black, and really has to be drunk with a little milk or cream to soften the heavy tannins. The tea itself has a creamy under-flavor to it even black. It’s pretty high-caffeine, although not as stout as Scottish Breakfast. Scottish Breakfast is a solid, mellow black tea that fights back. It’s not for your “just before bedtime” cup, unless you have a lot higher caffeine tolerance than I do. The nice ladies at the shop warned me about Scottish Breakfast on my first visit. They were right.

New Mexico Breakfast is a milder, slightly spicy Earl Grey variant that was blended to stand up to very hard water and to multiple steepings*. This is your “keep adding water to the pot for an hour or so because it’s that kind of morning.” It reminds me of Lady Grey tea, but with a stronger flavor and less citrus. I will probably end up getting this in the bigger bag, like Cream Earl Grey. Persian is another Earl Grey variant that has cardamom in it, not enough to turn it into chai, but enough to produce a slightly sweet, mild cup either with or without milk. I wasn’t sure about this one, but it is a very smooth tea that’s good in the morning or evening.

Ginger black is strong. The ginger almost overwhelms the tea flavor, and it stands up to multiple steepings. I like it, but it’s probably not for the purists. Or don’t steep it as long, and use fewer leaves.

Sandia Spice, Monk’s Grenadine, and Bengal Spice are all black teas with pretty heavy secondary fruit or spice flavors. Monk’s Grenadine has a clear melon (cantaloupe) flavor and tends to be tannic if it steeps too long. Sandia and Bengal spice teas are both dessert teas, or good on cold, wet nights when you want something spicy that isn’t a chai. Sandia Spice on occasion causes me a slightly sour stomach, especially on an empty stomach, even with milk in it. I’m not sure which component causes the problem, and it’s intermittent, so I don’t worry about it.

Kama Sutra chai is a bright, mild chai. It has to be drunk with milk and a little sweetener to get the full blend of flavors. It is lighter than Sandia and Bengal, but has a slight peppery bite like most chais. I like it despite the name – it is not an aphrodisiac.

Please note: I get loose tea and brew it in a teapot with boiling water. New Mexico Tea Company does offer bagged teas if you prefer that. (They are also a little left of center and heavy on the organic and Fair Trade, but they don’t rub your nose in it like certain spice purveyors.)

*Two heaping teaspoons in the pot, add water. Pour a cup, add more water. This can go on for an hour or so. I’m not a gourmet who makes “proper” tea. This is the method I grew up with and I like the results. You may prefer a different preparation style.

FTC Notice: I purchased these teas for my own use and received no product or other remuneration from New Mexico Tea Company for this review.

Enchanted Rock

Huff, puff, it’s warm out!

Enchanted Rock is one of those things that you don’t want to climb at mid-day in summer. Ask me how I know . . . It also requires reservations, one of a few state parks that are so popular that overcrowding and overuse is a serious concern.

Waaaaaaaaaay back before the dinosaurs, a batholith, an enormous buried intrusion of granite formed. The visible parts of the rock are a tiny fraction of the actual mass. Over time, erosion removed the overburden on the rock, revealing parts of it. The reduced pressure and exposure to the elements also caused spalling and cracking. Technically, the visible part of the rock is an “exfoliation dome,” meaning a lump with pieces cracking off due to freeze-thaw and to pressure release. The large boulders in the photo above are some of the pieces that have flaked off the visible rock.

As you can see, once you get above a certain point, the rock gets steep and very bare. It tends to have a breeze that increases as the air heats up, but the rock is warm, the sun is warm, and the day was humid. Mom and Dad Red, and Sib, took a slow, thoughtful approach to the rock. This is only in part because of concerns about knees, hips, and balance. Sib-in-law, yours truly, and Red 2.0 scrambled ahead. The younger ones went straight up. I made switchbacks, because I didn’t have a walking stick for once, and falling was not on my to-do list for the day.

As you climb, the views are quite impressive. So is looking up-slope and realizing that that’s a thunderhead lurking in the distance. Perhaps loitering on the summit isn’t such a good plan.

The name Enchanted Rock comes from stories about the location being a place of medicine power for various Indian peoples, and because it makes sounds at night. Some people have reported odd lights and glows from the mass. The sounds are plausible, especially when the rock is sum-warmed on a cold, clear night. I didn’t sense anything odd, but I was only there by daylight.

There are a number of hiking and nature trails of differing lengths and difficulties. Going up and down the dome is not technically challenging in terms of finding a route or dealing with obstructions and scree. However, it is steep, bare granite, hot as the blazes in summer, and you need a lot more water than you think you do. If there’s a storm in the area I would not go up past the camel shown in the pictures above. I made it 2/3 of the way, and decided that since I was already feeling a little strain, I’d better stop. Down is always harder for me than up is, and required much more care in terms of footing and balance. The heat also wore me out. I’m not built for sticky heat, and certainly had not adapted to it (we’d been down there for less than a week.) Red 2.0 got a little farther before parental intervention.

A different little stream had a cute water snake in it. He was faster than I was, and disappeared into the grass.

Enchanted Rock, when we visited, had no running water aside from a bottle-filling station drawing filtered well-water. The storms of Snowvid 21 had taken out their water and sewer along with the power, and they hoped to have everything back by July 1. The port-a-lets got changed every other day, and weren’t bad, but it was dry camping, and they strongly encouraged you to bring your own water. Because so many people from Austin and San Antonio flood the region for hiking and the like, reservations are required. The on-line system is . . . not intuitive, but it works. I’d like to go back in fall or winter, or in spring before the heat really cranks up. Mornings are better because of both heat and storms. I suspect some personal speed records have been set getting off the top of the dome as a storm approached.