Excellent Herbs Had our Fathers of Old

Excellent herbs had our fathers of old–
Excellent herbs to ease their pain–
Alexanders and Marigold,
Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane–
Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue,
( Almost singing themselves they run)
Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you–
Cowslip, Melilot, Rose of the Sun.
Anything green that grew out of the mould
Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.

I’ve been thinking about the opening of Kipling’s poem “Our Fathers of Old” as I write the current Merchant book. The protagonist is an herbalist-healer, or will be. Perhaps. Back in the day, before modern medicine, and sometimes because of what today we’d call academic medicine, people relied on plants and animals for medical treatment. Which for the author means learning a lot more about medieval and Dark Ages plants.

Readers of the series know that the four humors, more or less, are used in the Merchant world. However, once you move past “it it should be wet, dry it; if it should be warm, cool it,” things become a touch more complicated (Tycho Rhonarida’s fondness for spicy fried things notwithstanding.) What about infections, blisters, burns, fevers, coughs? Some of that comes out in White Gold of Empire, when a respiratory disease hits the city. And there have been mentions of “the summer complaint,” which carried off babies and small children well into the 20th century. What about worms and other intestinal problems? OK, the less said about intestinal parasites, the better, more or less. There are some things I don’t care to be fully realistic about.

Everyone knew some basics, if only so they didn’t poison themselves or their livestock. Nightshade, henbane, wormwood, rhubarb leaves, foxglove, and a few other things were to be avoided because they’d kill you. Watercress had a nasty look-alike in a hemlock that slowly paralyses the respiratory and circulatory centers. Mushrooms . . . best left to experts, or at least don’t eat the ones that everyone knows are bad. People also associated darnel (tars) or false-wheat with hallucinations and death because it hosts a fungus very much like ergot, and can host ergot proper. Other plants are caustic and had medical use but needed to be kept out of pastures and hay meadows.

Medical plants came under some broad categories. Fever tonics, anti-inflammatories, internal medicines, wound-care, pain reduction and sleep aids, and “women’s matters.” Even after Christianity became the official religion, some cures required magic, or were intended to chase off supernatural ills such as being hag-ridden or elf-haunted. Some prescriptions called for the herbs involved to be placed in front of an altar for twelve or so masses, then they were compounded and given to the patient. Psychology mattered as much as pharmacopia. Within the main groups you had sub-groups, some of which were pretty specific. Fevers that recurred every three days needed something different than those that returned after four days, or that came without vomiting. Did the patient have problems urinating because of muscle spasms or because of an enlarged prostate? Each of those had a different plant associated with the remedy.

Often, complicated preparations reveal that some of the herbs balance the others, mitigating some of the effects. For example, one for “wendenhearte” or general malaise and weakness includes: lupine, bishopwort, elfthorn, elcampane, cropleek, hindhealth, radish, and burdock. If you sort the plants, aelfthorn and burdock are sedatives of varying strength, and burdock is also an antispazmotic. Radish and elecampane serve as general tonics and attenuate the effects of aelfthorn, as does hindhealth. Cropleek and bishopwort are antiseptics and “draw out” illness, while elecampane also soothes the stomach and serves as an expectorant. Oh, if you are wondering, aelfthorn is a nightshade, one of the milder ones. [Sinead Spearing Mandrake, Wormwood, and Raven’s Eye: Old English Medical Remedies. loc. 630-31 Kindle]

Battlefield medicine made some use of herbs, although surgery, post-surgical care, and reconstruction were common. The basics such as using poppy and other sedatives, burn treatments, and so on circulated among everyone. Herbwives used what they had and didn’t worry too much about Greek and Roman humors and so on. Physicians used Latin, went to schools, studied for years, and treated the great, powerful, and wealthy. Sometimes, herb wives supplied physicians and apothecaries with things that the men wouldn’t or couldn’t get for themselves.

An herbalist has to know what works for what ailment, how to compound tinctures and infusions, poultices and ointments, common dosages and conversions, and what plants are forbidden under most circumstances. He also needs to be able to identify plants in their natural habitat as well as in a garden, and to know that some things need to be gathered without using iron, or compounded without iron. In other words, it is a very skilled trade, and one that needs a lot of training and education. There’s far more to medieval (and Merchant) medicine than there seems on the surface.

I will also add that while there are some real herbs and compounds used in the book, DO NOT try them at home. Consult a modern herbalist and current books for your region if you are inclined to try herbal medicine for yourself. Some things should only be used for external use, and some really are not that great for you.

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Trying a Little Too Hard to Rehabilitate Baba Yaga

So, I’ve been reading a compendium of various tales and discussions about Baba Yaga and figures like her in Slavic mythology and folklore. Some of it is very interesting, and cautious about reading too much into things. Other parts . . . When the quote begins with a paean to Marija Gimbutas, you know where it’s going to go. Baba Yaga is the misunderstood mother goddess, the Matriarch, the creatrix, the mother-of-creatures, and so on. She was vilified by the mean, nasty, unwashed* Christian priests and turned into an evil monster, but the real Baba Yaga is the Great Goddess who terrified the would-be patriarchs and so—

Sigh. It gets boring and predictable after a while. “If it was before Christianity, it must have been good! Otherwise the churchians wouldn’t say that it’s bad and try to chase people away from it, and women ran the place and everyone lived in harmony with nature and was kind and vegan and loved trees and—” Everything was better either before Christianity, or before the Proto-Indo-European speakers arrived with horses and patriarchy. Which one you choose depends on your starting point and which sort of paganism you assume predominated in the place and time under discussion. I’m still waiting to hear someone talk about how China was so wonderful before the terrible Confucians arrived. (No one seems to beat up on the Xia and Shang Dynasties, even though they were patriarchies that encouraged large scale human sacrifice. And horse sacrifice, once they had horses.) The “prehistory was better” wail has a long history with a lot of predictable variations. Like the Slavic neo-pagan who wants to rehabilitate Chernobog. I stopped reading at that point, because I did not care to know how he thought modern neo-pagans should venerate that particular deity in their family religious observances.

Anyone who has read more than one Baba Yaga story knows that she’s both good and bad. She punishes the arrogant, rewards the faithful (Vasilia the Wise), tests the noble, and can be a force of evil. It depends on the story. That means that she’s old, very old, very complicated, and there are probably a number of other stories and traditions that get lumped in under the name of Baba Yaga. The little house on chicken feet might have one foot, or four feet. It may whirl around constantly, it might peck and scratch around the yard like a “normal” chicken, or it might even be up in a tree (only a few stories). The fence may be a standard fence, it might be made of bones topped by human skulls that glow at night. Baba Yaga might travel in a wooden or iron mortar, driven with the pestle, while sweeping away her tracks with a broom. Or she might ride on the mortar (think something more like an American-style upright churn than the short, squat mortar and pestle mostly used today) like riding a horse.

Oh, and her cat is really a folk-memory of the lions who accompany the Great Goddess. Really.

Sure, she might be a “demoted”deity. Or she might be one of the many characters in human archetypes who shifts her nature depending on the person seeking her power or her possessions. Coyote, Anansi, Frau Pechta, some of the unofficial saint stories, the good ruler in some folk-tales, they can all be good or evil, or be seen as good or evil.

Although I think the “Baba Yaga is a folk memory of aliens” and “Baba Yaga and a male partner were Vedic yogis who brought wisdom to the pre-Slavic peoples of Russia” may be my favorites.

*OK, in some cases the unwashed part wasn’t wrong. Some Russian Orthodox clergy gave up bathing, or stopped bathing in winter and then took a rinse before Easter.

Apprenticeship, Journeymen, and Guilds in the Merchant World

How do you learn a skilled trade that’s not farming, basic spinning and weaving, or other everyday things that all people learn? If it is a non-guild family tradition, you learn from parents and older relatives. If you show magical gifts, you are apprenticed to the appropriate mage guild. Otherwise, you apprentice to a trade of some kind, provided your parents have the funds to pay the fees. (If you are an orphan, things are a little different, in some places, depending on the situation.)

The role of the confraternities and guilds is to ensure quality of products, train (and tame) young men in the crafts, and to protect the interests of the trade. Certain things are guild secrets and are not discussed outside of closed meetings, even with spouses or senior journeymen. Part of passing on the trade and training men is the apprenticeship system. Apprentices usually start at age seven or so, perhaps older in the case of a trade that requires physical strength or is especially dangerous (stone cutting, salt making). Apprentices are chosen for basic moral character, intelligence, good health, and a willingness to take orders. A master can refuse to take an apprentice, and he can release an apprentice if the young man behaves too badly or refuses to learn. The parents or appropriate temple (if an orphan) sign a contract binding the apprentice to serve for X number of years or until he is passed to journeyman. The apprentice agrees to certain duties. The master also agrees to certain duties, including feeding, housing, training, providing medical care if needed, and moral instruction. The master and his lady are, in effect, the parents of the boy from the point the contract is signed until he sets out on his journey year, or he is kicked out for bad behavior.

Apprentices do the basic work of cleaning, sorting (once they know enough), washing, fetching and carrying, and working the bellows or winches. They also study reading and writing, basic math, business and trade law and custom. This is when the boys start to see how to sort wood for quality, how to sharpen tools and why each tool is used for a certain purpose, why some metals are quenched in oil and others in water, the best caulk for a ship, and so on. As they mature and show signs of learning, they shift over to more delicate, or demanding, or precise skills. An herbalist’s apprentice might compound basic tinctures and washes. If he messes up, no one will die, and he gains the needed skills. A cloth trader’s apprentice will sort fabrics into general types, confirm tax tags (but NOT remove them!), and assign goods to different types of storage.

Journeymen go a step farther. Some run shops during quiet times. Others make basic barrels, or pots and dishes, or coarse breads and leb-breads. At some point, all the masters in the city or region will meet and agree that an apprentice has shown enough skill and responsibility to be worthy of promotion. The young man undergoes testing and a ceremony, and becomes a journeyman. He has more responsibility as well as privileges. If he fails badly enough, or behaves badly enough, the masters may break him back to apprentice, as has happened twice in the Merchant series. Commit a serious offense and he will lost all privileges and rights and be expelled from the city or town permanently. He may not practice his skills, either.

Ideally, most journeymen continue on, do well, and eventually qualify for a journey year. The young man goes to a different master to learn more about the trade, or to study a different aspect of it. It also allows other masters to confirm that indeed, the candidate is worthy of elevation and should, in due time, be admitted to their ranks if he proves himself.

Apprenticeship is usually age seven or so to age fourteen, then journeyman to age twenty one or until the young man passes the mastery tests. There are a LOT of young master mages at the time of the book in progress, because so many died from the southerners’ poison. Mages are still scarce. This worries a lot of the surviving mages, because they don’t want untrained but well-meaning people getting into trouble and causing a bad reputation for all magic workers. Also, a lot of guild knowledge was lost.

Some towns and villages don’t have enough craft masters for a confraternity. In those cases, or if all the healers happen to be priests for example, the clergy will take on the role of guild masters and will train apprentices, then send them elsewhere for their journeyman training. That’s not ideal, but everyone agrees that it is better to have a talented child identified and trained in the basics by a priest of Korval than to lose that potential master carpenter. Other guild masters will still have to confirm his skills and readiness to advance to master, or to confirm his journeyman rank.

A Little Too Clear a Comparison

For reasons unknown to any but my hind-brain, I started thinking about metaphors and similes that rural people used to use, and that urban folks might not understand. And a few that need no translation like “We call him Blister because he only shows up after the work’s done.” You might not do manual labor, but you’ve probably crossed paths with that person.

One that stuck in my memory was the phrase, “as cute as a cancer-eyed cow.” Right away you know the speaker is not paying the subject a compliment. Hereford and Hereford-cross cattle are more prone to skin cancer of the face than are darker-colored breeds, so the phrase is used more often when you have a goodly number of white faced cattle. I’d never seen an afflicted cow when I first heard the term. A few years later, I was on the I-40 East frontage road in Amarillo, at a stoplight. A pickup with a livestock trailer pulled up beside me. I glanced over and beheld a Hereford (red and white cow) with a very large and ugly tumor around the left eye. No, not cute at all. There was a large-animal vet nearby, so I presume that’s where the rancher was going.

Another that is very regional is “He lives at 8th and Plum.” Meaning he’s at least eight miles from pave and plumb in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure anyone now days in the cities says, “I work from can’t see to can’t see,” given how well lit many urban areas are. “Rainin’ like a cow peeing on a flat rock” is another that needs a leeeeetle familiarity with livestock and their habits to make sense of, if you’ve never seen that kind of rain or that kind of, ah, output.

Tracks and Time: Trade Routes in Eurasia

I can’t recall where the image was from, in the sense of which website or private photo collection that the search engine scraped. It showed a Safavid Era caravansarai in Iran (then Persia). Beside the caravansarai ran a modern gravel road, probably a full two lanes wide. A major regional route through the otherwise empty region, in other words. As I looked at the image projected on the screen, I realized that faintly, to the left of the modern road, a long depression as wide as the modern path ran into the distance. It wasn’t quite a “hair on the neck stands up” moment, but it showed just how old that particular way was, and how long it had been used by people.

A comment from DadRed reminded me of the image. He just finished a double biography of Philip and Alexander of Macedon, and is reading Marco Polo’s journals. Polo followed Alexander’s route for much of the first part of his journey, as had traders for thousands of years. Alexander probably followed older ways and tracks, because trade and travel from the Levant to Persia and South Asia go as far as the Neolithic. Routes that worked stay in use, or return to use, century after century. They are there for a reason, in this case, water and ease of movement in a harsh and mountainous land. It’s like the places in Europe and Asia that have layers of habitation that go down to the paleolithic. They provided water, food, shelter, access to other resources, and thousands of generations found them good. They might be abandoned temporarily, but people eventually returned. Vienna is one of those places, Buda Hill in Budapest is another, some of the hills of Rome, places in Spain and Portugal . . .

Barry Cuneliffe, in his wonderful history of the plains of Eurasia, pointed out that once people started getting stuff, be it lapis lazuli, or fancy weavings, or metal, or foods and spices, or jewelry from other places, they always wanted more of it. Even if a route was abandoned for a while and trade interrupted for hundreds of years because of unrest, or plague, or for other reasons, the collective memory of “neat stuff from over there” remained. Eventually someone would to looking, or traders from “over there” would return, and a new form of the neat stuff would be passed hand to hand and ruler to ruler.

Source: https://reconasia.csis.org/historical-atlas/

Note some similarities between the two maps.

Princeton has a nice on-line series of maps in the “Globalization” sub-category. The above link takes you to the Princeton site.

So too the physical routes that the “neat stuff” moved along. There are relatively few ways to get from the Indus and Oxus river watersheds to the Yellow River watershed, or to the places in between that have metal ores, furs, weavings, amazing gold jewelry, and the like. Deserts, steppe, mountain ranges, bad water, cold winters, they all forced goods and the people carrying them to follow certain paths that lasted for thousands of years. Long before Alexander the Great, the proto-Indo-European speaking horsemen rode along certain routes, and the men and women who carried metalworking tools and techniques went the opposite direction, from the Balkans across the Iranian Plateau, then south into the Sarasvati and Indus basins, or east on the edges of the Urals and Himalaya to China.

The old ways never really vanish. They get paved, or become long-distance hiking trails, or remain dirt tracks linking water holes that are used by the locals. National borders are a new interruption in some places, but I suspect in the long, long span of human history? The trails will stay alive.

Finding a Hunting Partner

Finding a spouse and choosing a Hunting partner are two of the most important life decisions most of the young men in the Hunter clans make. In some ways, the Hunting partner is a bit more fraught, because most people don’t have to trust their lives to their spouse’s skills and judgment on a regular basis. Most. There are elements of skill, judgment, trust, and personality matches that all have to click. Which explains why Lelia will Hunt with Arthur and/or André alone, but not the senior Hunter, and vice versa.

All the younger Hunters train together, and get to know each other’s styles. Some are more about brute force (Skender, Master Itzak in his more active days) others lean on finesse and sneakiness (Karol, Arthur, Nikolai), or a blend (Florian, Ladislu, Ianku). Some Hunters can adapt, others need a partner who is a better fit or balance for his style. The older Hunters won’t assign partners, but they will subtly encourage the youngsters one way or another. There’s nothing formal about picking a Hunting partner, no ceremony or formal announcement, but the men sort themselves out, and train to fight as pairs or trios.

Brothers are not encouraged to be Hunting partners unless there are other males in the family. Why should be obvious. Florian and Marius, Skender and Boianti, both sets had older male siblings, so in a worst-case scenario, the family would still have a male to inherit and run the farm and sire the next generation. The age difference can also affect if the brothers pair up, although in the case of Arthur and his brother, their shared traumas and personalities counterbalanced the age gap. Since Marius and Florian are twins, well, despite what Florian says, the ten minutes between their arrivals doesn’t matter too much.

In some ways, Hunting partners are closer than brothers. Florian has a key to Nikolai’s house, just as Niko has access to Florian’s parents residence, and they share pot right. Niko’s wife treats Florian as a brother. Marius would have the same privilege, if he were not married. Sharrie has no problem if Niko has to stay with them for any reason, but it’s not the same. Technically, Florian and Nikolai are formal partners, and Marius is semi-retired from Hunting because of running the farm. In reality? Until Marius and Sharrie have children, Marius will Hunt with Niko and Florian. The three know how each other will react, and how they fight, and can sort matters out without needing more than a few words. Florian and Niko being strong Sensitives helps smooth things. It took a lot of training and practice for the trio to reach this level of skill and trust.

So, what about the magic workers who Hunt with the Hunters? Of the women, only Lelia is counted as a true Hunter. Mistress Talyssa, Corava, the others assist the Hunters as magic workers, and can defend themselves if they have to, but they do not Hunt the same way as the men do. They’re not trained, and they have their own duties and responsibilities. If Mistress Talyssa is closing a gate, she’s not going to be trying to deal with the beasts that came through it. That’s not her job. Keep in mind, too, that the magic users of the Clan are not as strong as André, Lelia, and Art. Jude’s not, Corava’s not. André is accepted as a Hunter, although his primary duty is to do magic. A few of the “puppies” challenged Arthur’s declaration of Lelia as a Hunter, until they had to deal with her personally. When she nailed the young fool with her weighted fist and knife hilt, that pretty much put a stop to the stupidity. Especially when Arthur and the senior Hunter only fussed because she’d not gutted the guy, only left him sick at his stomach and hurting for week and a half. Her putting bullets into abyssal beasts also played a role.

Arthur Hunts with Skender. So will Ladislu, in part because he watched Arthur and has learned when to steer clear of the senior Hunter and how to defuse Skender’s temper (somewhat.) No, the relationship between Arthur and his big brother isn’t normal. It was, once, but time, stress, and differences in personality have caused what the others observe today.

In the Saddle or On the Saddle

It’s a phrase I’ve never, ever really thought about. Why do we say, “back in the saddle” or “swung up into the saddle?” We mount a horse, or get onto a horse, rarely fork a horse (old term, very rarely used today in most places). But saddles are always “into.”

You have to go back to the Middle Ages, and then to the Spanish saddles brought to the New World. Don’t think about a modern English style saddle, which is designed to be light and to allow the rider and horse the greatest sense of contact between them.* Think back to who owned horses and rode them and what most saddles were used for: either stabilizing cargo, or war.

The goal was to keep the rider seated no matter what, especially when you rode with straight, extended legs. The saddles had high pommels and cantles that secured the rider when he was hit from the front or behind. It also helps keep an injured or exhausted rider from sagging and falling backwards or forwards. Sideways is also a bit of a challenge, but you can fall off in any direction if you try. Or the horse helps you.

This is a replica jousting saddle. You get into it, not onto it. Creative Commons fair use. Original source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/406520303850887415/

Here you see a version of the saddle in action, modified for the rider’s armor. http://www.thejoustinglife.com/2014/03/re-creating-medieval-and-renaissance_20.html It’s a great article about the how and why of re-creating a medieval saddle, and the results for horse and rider.

A 15th century saddle for show or parade. However, you can see the height of the pommel and cantle. This one is in the Met Museum. https://dariocaballeros.blogspot.com/2010/08/xv-century-medieval-saddles-from-met.html

These are the type of saddles most writers talked about, unless they described a specific sort of other saddle – pillion pad, or pack saddle, or box saddle, or side-saddle, or . . . These were the sort brought to the Americas by the Spanish, and used on war horses and mountain horses. Below is a Spanish colonial saddle from the late 1700s-early 1800s. It should look familiar.

Source: https://www.santafeartauction.com/auction-lot/spanish-colonial-tooled-leather-and-wood-saddle_F724B3FAAB

To this day, charro saddles and others have higher, more snug pommels (or swell) and cantles than do some other western saddles. Because of this Spanish tradition, it is common in American English to say that you get into the saddle, even if you are riding English style.

Some modern dressage saddles retain the older medieval features if you are doing the Airs Above the Ground (Austria and Portugal, France are about the last places to learn this tradition.) I have a barrel-racing saddle that I love. It has a relatively snug seat, as well as suede on the outside, so the rider fits more snugly for making tight turns and rapid accelerations/decelerations. I got to sit in a replica medieval saddle once, and it really helps lock in your posture and where you put your weight.

And so, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry sang about “Back in the saddle again,” because that’s what vaqueros did, and what modern cowboys do. And reenactors, and advanced dressage, and . . .

*Bareback’s no fun for extended periods, and not stable. For either horse or rider, especially once you shift into the trot or canter.

Do What with the Porpoise Hide?!?: Medicine in Anglo-Saxon England

Treating moon sickness was relatively easy. You get the hide of a porpoise, cut it into strips, and beat the sufferer with the strips of hide. Cure follows soon after.

Now, I suspect that most modern medical schools would take a dim view of belaboring a patient with strips of sea-creature hide in order to cure anything. (Not that the faculty have not been tempted to do that to students, or ER physicians to members of that select group known with a distinct lack of fondness as “frequent flyers*.” Nooooooo.) However, it wasn’t all that long ago that slapping someone to break them out of a hysterical trance, or in the case of a small child, dousing him with a large bowl of cool water, was quite acceptable. It worked in most cases. Today? Both would be assault and battery in many jurisdictions, even if the cure worked.

However, the mind and culture were rather different back, oh, 1500 years or so ago, and in the Anglo-Saxon world, some ailments responded best to physical stress, in this case, flogging with a porpoise hide, among other things. The use of flagellation was not rare in Medieval medicine, and seems to have had truly beneficial results in some cases. Porpoise had several magical properties, so and were hunted for food, so the hide would have been available and known by patient and family alike. I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with reasons why the cure worked. I’m not going to speculate. It worked, and was considered a standard treatment, and that’s that.

Once we get into the period after AD 900 CE or so, herbs and prayers replace magical formulae. Mostly. The edges of the world, like the Celtic Fringe (Ireland, western Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia, Brittany) held onto things for much longer. Certain other rites and traditions were retained because they worked, despite what the Church might have said officially. One suspects that a lot of parish priests turned blind eyes when they found small bundles of medicinal herbs tucked close to the front of the altar, and ignored rumors of someone gathering healing plants from the churchyard. The Lord worked in mysterious ways, after all, and the bishop was far away. And better to bless the plants, which the Lord had put on earth to help people, than to encourage a relapse into paganism out of desperation.

So leechbooks** included lots of strange-to-us remedies. As it turns out, several of them work, and in one case work so well that it is used to treat MRSA infections. Others used a combination of natural antibiotics, natural anticoagulants, soporifics (often with a little something to keep the patient from getting too sleepy), fats to prevent drying, and the like to start the body healing. Anti-fever and anti-cough preparations were common. Some of the plants are used today in well-known and respected drugs (digitalis, anyone? Belladonna to dilate your eye before getting an eye exam?) Others, as it turns out, deserve more study. And a few seem to have had magical or placebo effects that we no longer experience because we don’t worry about suffering from elf-shot, or being afflicted by dwarves, or bothered by the evil-eye. Back in the 500s-800s, those were real problems in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Britain, and needed to be taken seriously by any good practitioner.

I’m not going to leap over into the “natural medicine” side of the argument any time soon, but it’s intriguing to try and imagine the mental world where the leechbooks and other writings came from. I will be incorporating parts of what I’m learning into two books, at least, in two different series. The complicated nature of many remedies implies a full-time herbalist and medical specialist, a leech in the old sense, who did nothing but prepare common remedies and treat the ill and injured. I need to add that to one story in particular, because it fits with the protagonist’s task, and gives him something that he can also do to earn trust when among strangers.

*These are individuals who do not have serious medical problems that truly do need immediate care, but often include people who are seeking pharmaceuticals. Some people who make multiple ER trips have 100% legitimate reasons, and they are NOT “frequent flyers.” When an incoming individual is offered something strong, and demands something “even better” that is a sign.

**”Leech” meaning physician goes way back to the Proto Indo-European root meaning a magic worker or one who gathered words. In Old Gothic and Old English, it carried the sense of enchanter of words as well as healer. The Irish Gaelic term has similar meanings. Words had power.

Free Cities, Imperial and Otherwise

The free cities of Europe seem to have been one of those odd historical quirks that didn’t arise elsewhere. The first ones go back to the Classical Era of Greece and Rome, and were cities that were founded by a king or prince, and administered by a representative of the monarch, but otherwise governed themselves. A few could coin money. All could defend themselves from interlopers from behind good walls. The pattern continued in the Middle Ages.

Some of the oldest free cities (slightly different from later Imperial Free Cities) were Roman settlements (Cologne, Kempten, Augsburg, Basel). They would later buy or fight their way to free city status, although Cologne never quite made it, leading to ongoing spats between the city and the Prince-Bishops over jurisdiction and taxes. Others developed as foundations made by nobles or abbeys in the 900s-1200s, or were chartered by the Holy Roman Emperors and administered by Vögte (Voigts). The vögte represented the interests of the Emperor and had final say in city management, unless an appeal was made to the emperor himself. These cities took care of their own daily affairs and administration, and had walls. Unless a place had walls and could keep people out for at least two days, it was not a city, most certainly not a free city.

A large number of free cities and Imperial Free Cities date from the 1000s – 1100s. Hamburg, Magdeburg, Lübeck, Rostok, the Hansa cities, were founded or re-founded at this time. Warmer weather with better sea conditions played a role, as did the expansion of Imperial power into formerly Viking-plagued areas. Increasing wealth allowed the cities to buy their freedom. In some cases, if the founder’s family died out, as in the case of Schwäbish Hall, the town became a free city. (Barbarossa wanted the salt revenue, the city wanted freedom, and a bargain was made.) The Imperial Free Cities had seats in the Imperial Diets along with the princes, but their votes counted for less, and so many didn’t actively participate in that part of the Holy Roman Empire’s administration.

When you look at free cities, you will often find that they are based on trade and commerce. All were self governing to a greater extent, all had walls, all had conflicts with magnates (lay or ecclesiastic) who wanted to control and tax them, and all had pretty rigid social stratification based on employment. The Hansa cities* were and are the best known, and Lübeck was the first among equals. Nuremberg too was ruled by the wealthy merchants, the patricians, who made money from metalwork, then weapons, map making, armor making, and engraving (both printed and on objects). Some became city states, but most did not. The numbers waxed and waned as did their collective political power. No major noble liked having a free city in or near his jurisdiction because he could not tax or control them. They provided an option, and some were in some cases amazingly wealthy.

By the 1800s, most cities had lost their independence. The hard times of the 1300s-1400s cost a few their freedom as they sank into debt, or lost population due to plague and war. The wars of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War also took a toll. Napoleon finished off several free cities that did not regain their freedom in the re-mapping of 1815. Without the Holy Roman Empire, being an Imperial Free City meant . . . nothing in legal or economic terms.

*Not all Hansa cities were free cities. London was not. Bruges varied, and even Bruges got cross-wise with Emperor Maximilian, who opted to move the main port to Antwerp. That was the end of Bruges as a financial power.

Knights Without Ladies?

This is going to be one of my muddled mental musings, in part because of sorting out timelines for characters and motivations, historic and modern. If the ideal of the medieval knight and of the best of chivalry was/is something for men to aspire to, what does it mean when there are very few if any visible ladies for the man to respect and honor and even love?

As I drove back from a meeting of the North Texas Troublemakers (pilots, writers, retired military, writers, skilled craftsmen and women, writers, and generally creative, competent people), I thought about some of the stories, and what didn’t need to be said. The general approbation that met an account of some blue-collar guys who took it upon themselves to remonstrate with the abusive boyfriend of a coworker was part of the catalyst. The way other men went “on point” when a lady commented that she’d been propositioned and hadn’t caught on at first, and had witnessed a would-be purse-thief was another element in my thoughts. The gentlemen would brook no harassing or abuse of “their” ladies. Now, in the second case, the lady in question is able and willing to fend off unwanted attentions, so that wasn’t part of the equation. The men want to protect her. That’s their job, and woe betide the predator who thinks the men’s friend would make easy prey.

So, if the rising generations of females balk at being ladies in the traditional sense—polite, honorable, skilled in a trade or craft, able to assist men and to make a home or just be a good companion and friend, what is the reason for being a knight or gentleman? Back in the day, some men dedicated themselves to the ultimate Lady, the Virgin Mary, serving Her as clergy or knights (Templars, Hospitallers, Teutonic Order, and others). That’s not really an option for most today, and it was not a common calling even back then.

Why not be a slob who indulges in whatever impulses push him? If there’s no lady to reflect the knight and mirror his ideals in a womanly way, why bother? Some young men are raised with personal ideals and standards, but it helps to have help and encouragement – been there. It’s not easy to hold true to beliefs and ideals when no one else does. The military used to provide encouragement, as did organizations like the Boy Scouts. If those are weakened, what remains? Gangs, but their philosophy is more anti-society than pro. And the less said about the role of women in urban gang culture the better.

I’ve said before that I try to be the sort of woman – and general person – that is worth befriending and helping if it comes to that. I try also to be a person who befriends and helps when I can. I’m not as ladylike as my great aunt or mother, but I try. That means encouraging boys and men to be the best they can be, somehow.

So what moves a man to be a gentleman when no one is watching? What inspires him when society doesn’t provide a lady and warps the very idea into something negative? In Jude’s case, his faith, and finding a lady (or perhaps ladies) to help and protect. And his Lady. In a way he’s a bit of a knight, and it would not surprise me at all if Fr. Antonio Manfredi isn’t watching him as a potential deacon and perhaps eventually seminary material if Jude shows any signs of a religious vocation. Or perhaps not, since the good father has experience with other shadow mages. But that’s fiction. In our world? I don’t have a good answer.