Not Quite what Luther had in Mind… Maybe

In the Familiars short story I’m working on, Magnolia the Possum makes reference to a painting someone gave the parish, along with a large cash donation. It is a reproduction of the Last Judgment from the Cathedral of Albi in France. Fr. Patel keeps trying to find a place to put it that will satisfy the intent of the donor without terrifying the children of the parish. The Knights of Columbus flat refused to permit him to keep it in their annex, even though they agreed with his idea that it would reduce cheating on bingo night.


The painting is below the fold, as is the exterior of the church. Continue reading


Goslar and Pfalzes

The question arose yesterday: what exactly is a pfalz? Dictionary definitions suggest that it is another term for SchloƟ, a palace. A pfalzgraf was a count in charge of a pfalz, or who had one on his territory, but that doesn’t answer the question.

Short version: a depot and temporary residence for the early Holy Roman Emperors. Continue reading

Taxes and Tithes in Tycho’s World

Ah, death and taxes. Or in this case, the Scavenger’s Due and taxes. They play a role in the Merchant books, but not as much as in the actual medieval world. Why? Laziness on my part, and an unwillingness to drown readers in more detail than I already do.

We moderns think that we have a large number of odd taxes and fees placed on our business. The Medieval and Early Modern world, at least in Europe, easily rivaled ours. Imagine the trucks going to a grocery store in Wichita Falls, TX having to stop in Ft. Sill, OK, and allow the people there first buying rights of anything they carried. That was called “staple right” and was a coveted privilege. Some cities even extended their walls and city land claims to make it impossible for merchants to go around the city. Continue reading

Bad Character, Stop That!

I finally realized why the WIP feels like I’m pulling my own teeth, besides the recurrence of a medical thing that is annoying me. Ewoud is not a teenager. But he’s not an adult yet, at least not in his own mind. And a lot of me is saying “write him as an 18-year-old guy,” meaning modern. That would be relatively easy, given Day Job.

But that’s not Ewoud. He’s an 18-year-old medieval man with both parents still living. Very different world, and a very different character. Continue reading

A Shoe-In

One of the things a few alpha (and later) readers inquired about with Merchant and Magic and Peaks of Grace were references to pattens. These were obviously some kind of footwear, but what, exactly?

Above is a detail from a painting of a saint (Dominic, if I recall correctly) in the main art museum in Colmar, France. Notice that the person’s foot is resting on a wooden platform. That is a patten, and the artist did not include the straps or other fasteners, since you are supposed to be watching and meditating on a different part of the work. The setting is inside a church, and even the saint has protective footwear on. Continue reading

Walls and Freedom

“Don’t fence me in.”

Freedom today means freedom of movement, at least for a lot of people. Walls are a rejection of that. They constrain people, keeping some out who want (or should be?) in, and lock in those who really want to be out and about. The Berlin Wall was an outward and visible sign of the failings of the East German Communist system. Activists decry talk of a border wall between the US and Mexico, and hurl epithets at the new walls and fences between Hungary and other places.

Five hundred years ago, without a wall, you were not free. You had no independence. Walls meant freedom. Continue reading


Ever wonder where the word comes from? In English it generally refers to harsh language and behavior, occasionally to the “sal vitriol” once used in chemistry and medicine. I got to see where the original vitriol came from, and inadvertently learned more about medieval hazmat than I’d planned. You see, vitriol is a substance that was used for dyes. It is iron, zinc, or copper sulfate hydrate. And it looks really cool when it is behind glass, or turning mine galleries and shafts different colors. Just don’t touch it. It can be poisonous, and makes sulfuric acid before you precipitate it. Continue reading