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

Travel and Stories

Several times, observations and things from the road have generated stories, books, and in one case, a book series. I’m not certain I’ve ever sat down with malice aforethought and said, “I’m going to write a set of novels based on _______.” They just sort of happen, for good and ill. On the gripping hand, more than once I’ve thumped my head gently against a wall when I realized that the written descriptions of a place do not match the reality at all, and I had to gut and re-write large scenes. Continue reading

Mages, Sorcerers, and Witches

Magic workers in the Familiar stories come in several flavors. Those with Familiars are all lumped as mages, even if what they do is closer to witchcraft or sorcery. But when it comes to cases, although most magic workers are aware of the basics of other traditions and working styles, they tend to fall into three groups, of which mages are the least common. Continue reading