Dictators be dictatin’

Gustave knew he’d be back.  Napoleon wasn’t a guy to just take exile lightly and it was just a matter of time before his triumphant return.  Gustave was more than ready to sign up to fight alongside Napoleon again as the former Emperor became Emperor once again.

“Je m’appelle Gustave,” he said as he reported for duty.

“Gustave?” the clerk asked.

“Gustave.” He repeated.

Napoleon needed men to fight for him as he made his way back to the continent from Elba and Gustave was ready to go.  He and several of his veteran friends met to talk about it the previous night and many of them were wishy-washy but he had no doubt.  Napoleon was going to be able to reassert his former glory in no time.

Gustave had served with Napoleon even before he became Emperor.  Napoleon was quite the role model and Gustave learned a ton from him.  The first Corsican to graduate from the prestigious military academy in Paris, brilliant strategist, brigadier general at the age of twenty-four…impressive.  He’d been on the right side of the royalist revolt and benefitted greatly.  The Directory – the third or fourth government to take shape in the late eighteenth century – heaped fame, reward, and patronage all over him.  Suckers didn’t even see the takeover coming but Napoleon was their hero.  And they needed him.   With the ups and downs of French politics – the Convention, Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, and then the Directory – they needed the best and the brightest to lead them.

Gustave had come up in the ranks under Napoleon in Italy during the Revolution.  He’d been with Napoleon when he marched into Venice and ended their century of independence.  He looted alongside the rest of the troops like the glorious victors they were.  The amount of loot Napoleon got from Italy was amazing.  Millions and millions worth of financial reserves, jewels, gems, gold, precious works of art – the man was a goddamn hero.

Next up, Napoleon planned to set France up with some choice Indian connections – in the hopes of besting the British, of course.  Always gotta go after the British.  Gustave was with Napoleon in Egypt when the army discovered the Rosetta Stone.  If that was some sort of sign that Napoleon was already a legend, nothing was.

Militarily, not much came out of the campaign in the eastern Mediterranean but Napoleon still managed to come back to France as a hero.  He had some major political skills.  Within a month of returning to Paris, he’d set himself up as head of the Directory.  Then he overthrew the Directory and had a constitution passed that confirmed he’d be France’s Consul.  Pretty much code for ‘dictator’.

Gustave watched it all unfold and loved every minute.  Napoleon played the people, played the government, played the game so well.  As Consul, the ended conflicts with Austria and Italy with treaties that greatly benefitted France, and even managed to negotiate peace with Britain.  Peace domestically and abroad led to his declaration as “consul for life” – not even veiled code for ‘dictator’.

From there, it was Emperor.  That ceremony had been impressive as hell – he used Charlemagne’s crown and laurel wreaths to evoke Roman and Carolingian glory.  Military genius, political acumen, propagandist staging…there was nothing he couldn’t do.

Except go too far.  Napoleon could do that.  And soon did.  Gustave never wavered in his support for Napoleon, but he knew that there were coalitions around the world that were upset with the amount of power he’d acquired.  Napoleon handled it all brilliantly – until he tried to invade Russia.  Late in the year.  That had been one rough winter.  Granted, the army had gotten to Moscow but instead of surrendering to Napoleon, the Russians burned the city.  That’s hardcore resistance.

It was all downhill from there.  Napoleon’s enemies – pretty much every other European country – ganged up on him.  They tried to negotiate with the Emperor but they wanted to make France, well, France again.  Take away all of the other lands that Napoleon controlled.  Unacceptable!  More than anything, he didn’t want to give up his title.  Unacceptable!  Technically, even when he did abdicate and give in he got to keep the title – on Elba.  It just didn’t have the same ring to it after he’d been stripped over everything BUT the island of Elba.

During the months Napoleon was on Elba, Gustave waited.  And waited.  Napoleon was not the kind of man to give in.  Well, not after his suicide attempts failed.  Maybe that was a sign to him that his work wasn’t done.  Then his enemies gathered at Vienna to divide up his lands, to reestablish order on the continent.  And Napoleon seized his opportunity.  Served them right for being distracted.

Elba, just off the coast of Italy, couldn’t contain Napoleon.  The guard ships took their eyes off of the ball and Napoleon landed on the southern coast of France to throngs of supporters.  And veterans.  Like Gustave.

After Gustave gave his name to the clerk, he prepared to join the troops that were to march to Paris the next day.

“This is happening!” Gustave said when Napoleon’s ever-growing army arrived in France and Napoleon re-took power.

Paris was glorious.  Gustave was thrilled to be back.  Once Napoleon issued a pardon for all of the royalists that had been against him, it was easy for more and more people to join the Imperial revival.  Napoleon put a new constitution into action and mobilized for war.  He knew there was no way Europe would let him come back unopposed.

So he decided to strike first.

“Gustave,” the general called out, lining up the French troops for their next move.

“Yes, sir.” He replied.

“We’re going into Belgium,” he ordered after everyone was accounted for and ready to go.

Gustave was on the frontlines during the Waterloo campaign against the Prussian and British troops.  Napoleon was there too, somewhere.  Gustave and Napoleon celebrated the defeat of the Prussians one day and waited with near Waterloo ready to route the British the next.

“We’re waiting until the ground dries,” the general said.

“Could be worse,” Gustave thought, “at least we’re not in Russia.”

While the French troops waited, the Prussians arrived to reinforce the British.  “How did Napoleon not see that coming?” Gustave said to himself as he launched into battle with his French comrades.  “What had happened to the great military leader?  The strategist-extraordinaire?”

Waterloo was a disaster for Napoleon.  And for Gustave.  Both men lived, but Gustave was so disappointed.  He’d fought so long and so hard for Napoleon, only to be defeated in humiliating fashion.  He had nothing to show for his efforts.  Napoleon was gone, again.  Forced to abdicate, again.  Sent into exile…again.  This time he was sent to an island way out in the Pacific Ocean, Saint Helena.  Gustave decided to wait, again.  He wondered how long it would take for Napoleon to escape this time….


Dare To Dream Edition

Glacia is seven years old and knows what she wants to do with her life—she wants to be a Vestal Virgin.  She’s growing up in Republican Rome and hopes like hell that the Pontifex Maximus chooses her to join Team V.V.  She tells us what it takes to be a Vestal Virgin and how important they are to Rome and Roman society.

“I want to be a virgin when I grow up!”

The humorous end to the tale her mother loved to tell.  Those had been Glacia’s first words, according to Mom.

“So what if they were?” Glacia thought each time her mother told the story.  It was true. She’d wanted to be a Vestal Virgin for as long as she could remember, and she was a whole seven years old—that was a long time.

There was an opening at the house of the Vestals—Vestal Headquarters, as Glacia like to call it—and soon the Pontifex Maximus would be calling twenty girls from which to choose the next flame-watcher.  

A new Vestal was needed because one of the previous six had retired.  If one had died, they could put almost anyone in. She didn’t even have to be a virgin.  She could be a divorcee or a widow. And someone like that would be old anyway.

Glacia was lucky.  She met the qualifications to be a Vestal and had parents who supported the choice.  She wasn’t deformed like her friend Sinista—her left arm was all kinds of twisted, and a deformity was a reason for not being accepted.  She wasn’t the daughter of former slaves like Serva down the road, and there wasn’t a scandal surrounding her mother’s profession like Forna had to deal with—the rumors about the oldest profession in the book swirled constantly around that family.  

So, she was free, perfect in physical form, and from a good family. Check, check, check.

Plus, her father was supportive of the choice.  A lot of fathers weren’t okay with their daughter taking up a thirty-year job that removed them from the marriage and child-bearing game.  If she gave it too much thought, Glacia would wonder why her father wasn’t more upset about it, but she didn’t dwell on that. She wanted to be a Vestal Virgin.  She hoped her father would be the first one to offer his daughter at the ceremony so she could get the VVV [Vestal Virgin Vacancy]. Nip the competition in the bud.

Glacia had a playdate with Forna and Serva that afternoon.  She took her white robe and purple scarf so she could dress like a Vestal Virgin.  Forna and Serva always wanted to dress the part, but Glacia reminded them they weren’t able to dress up like a Vestal since they couldn’t even be one.  

Glacia couldn’t help but get excited at the prospect of finally achieving her dream.  Once she was a Vestal, she’d be out from under the protection of her father and in the goddess’s service.  Along with the five other VVs, she’d be a daughter of Rome. They conducted all the observances and duties the men couldn’t.  Yep, men couldn’t do everything.

Vestal Virgins got all of the perks in society.  Yes, they had to make sure the flame on the altar of Vesta never went out, but that was only part of what the role included.  They made offerings to Vesta, goddess of hearth and home, by sprinkling water and purifying the shrine. They helped with tons of holy rites and ceremonies, were invited to all kinds of banquets, and got the best seats at public games and celebrations too.  

The Vestal Virgins were literally untouchable, which Glacia liked as well.  The Vestals were protected by guards, got carried around in a cart, and always had the right of way.  Anyone who hurt them was put to death. She was going to be a deadly force! How cool was that?

She could own property and make a will.  And she had the authority to pardon criminals, give evidence without an oath, keep both public and private documents safe because she’d be so trustworthy, pure, and esteemed…the perks just kept on coming….

But the rules were strict.  There had been a Vestal not long ago that violated her vow of chastity and had been buried alive – sorta.  

Romans couldn’t spill a Vestal’s blood or kill someone within the city so they put her in an underground room with some food and provisions to get around those technicalities.  “She went willingly but a real Vestal Virgin would just kill herself if she committed such a horrible violation,” Glacia thought.

Glacia knew that if she was chosen to be a Vestal, it would be ten years of training, ten years of doing, and ten years of teaching the next generation.  “Did it really take ten years to teach someone how to watch a flame?” she wondered.

It was THE flame, yes, but ten years?  She wasn’t even ten years old yet!

Of course it would take that long.  It was essential. Vesta needed the Vestals to keep the flame alive.  

And Rome blamed the Vestals for everything that went wrong if and when a flame went out.  Famine, weather, political strife – you name it, they bore the brunt. Even when the flame didn’t go out, the Vestals were blamed for not protecting the City.  It was such an important job.

Thirty years was totally doable.  She’d make her way through the novitiate, maybe even get to be the chief Vestal during her middle decade, and then teach the next group of girls.  And she’d see her family again. Out and about in Rome. Each year during the festivals of Vesta, her mother could visit Vestal Headquarters too – like all of the other mothers in Rome.  As long as she brought an offering.

Glacia knew that some Vestals even got married after they left the College of Vestal Virgins.  I mean, they were in their thirties but the Pontifex Maximus had arranged the marriage before they took leave so it wasn’t like they had to get husbands of their own.  Some of the retired Vestals didn’t marry and chose to be alone, living off their pensions. Glacia felt kind of sorry for them but it was forever until she’d have to worry about any of that.  

Besides, who wouldn’t want to marry a former Vestal?  Even if she was an old virgin?

Gone Huntin’! P.S. Watch your back…and your front….

Baldwyn, an Anglo-Norman nobleman and hunting companion to the king, offers his insights into late eleventh century England.  He pays witness to specific matters of law and land during the reign of William Rufus – both of which caught up with him and set the tone for centuries to come.

“Oops, missed again,” Baldwyn said as he shrugged.

fir forest horizontaly seamless pattern by OlKu

Baldwyn had nothing against hunting but these trips to New Forest with William Rufus were hardly enjoyable.  The king’s lands, the king’s stags, the king has to be the best – so pointless.  And what they killed didn’t even go to good use.  There were people that really needed to hunt to survive.  The King was doing it as a show of power.   Royal egos were the worst.

He pulled another arrow out of his quiver and loaded his bow.  He’d only have to do this for another few hours, the King had to get back to kinging soon.

William Rufus hadn’t made too many people mad as King.  Except a large numbers of his subjects.  And his brothers.  And his uncle.  And the Church.  Okay, he was kind of an ass.

P113-Statue of William Rufus in the Choir of York Cathedral.jpg

Baldwyn liked William Rufus, even if he was prone to fits of anger.  His face got hysterically red when he was all worked up.  It could be pretty entertaining.  William Rufus had really pitched a fit after his father died.  He wanted his father’s primary inheritance, Normandy, but that went to his elder brother Robert Curthose.  King as second place, the first loser.  At least he wasn’t as bad off as his younger brother Henry.  He was pretty much left out entirely aside from that money he’d inherited.

Old style arrow by boobaloo

Not that William Rufus was poor.  William Rufus was a wealthy ass.  He’d manipulated his position well.  Pay for play when it came to church office, or just leaving the offices open so he could get the money.  Lucrative.

He imposed huge taxes on the kingdom and confiscated the land left and right.  The King’s lands increased exponentially, as did the punishments for hunting in them.  Fines, imprisonment, even mutilation.  Harsh.

Sending out justices to hear forest cases and get all of that revenue.  Genius.

Selling the whole thing as a way of protecting the animals of the forest and the land itself.   Unbelievable.

deer by papapishu

As in the people weren’t convinced. Commoners and nobles alike weren’t particularly fond of William Rufus’s behavior.  He’d managed to stave off a rebellion a few years back.  Robert and Odo, his uncle, had ganged up on him nicely but it didn’t go too far.  Odo had ended up in prison after being a thorn in Bill the Bastard’s side, it wasn’t surprising that he would go after William Rufus too.  Delusions of grandeur.  Once Odo left to go live in Normandy and then on Crusade, Baldwyn thought the whole matter was closed.  Odo even died off in Sicily along the way so that was an added bonus.  No more problems from him.

Old style arrow by boobaloo

But William Rufus just had to go after Normandy.  Had to go after his brother Robert.  Good thing Robert basically pawned off the duchy to William when he went on Crusade.

Baldwyn looked up as Colum sent out his hawk.  At least trips like this let the falconers and their birds stretch their wings.   Baldwyn saw stag in the distance and took aim.  He hoped that if he could miss it, it would get spooked and run off.  “It’s mine,” he whispered to his hunting companions as he lined up his bow.  He fired and missed, just a bit to the left, and the deer ran off into the thick brush.  “Phew,” Baldwyn thought, “he’ll live to see another day.”

Falcon by nefigcas

Baldwyn figured that they’d see some boar out here somewhere.  Hunting boar was a, well, bore, but the King seemed to really enjoy it.  He’d let the King take aim if they saw one of those.  Baldwyn hoped they didn’t see any wolves – he couldn’t help but admire their sleek beauty, even if they were murderous fighters.  So were they, if they wanted to be honest.  He felt a sense of camaraderie with them.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” came from the trees behind Baldwyn.  He looked to see what was going on.  He heard crying, a man crying, and picked up his pace – this couldn’t be good.  When he got to the sobbing man he found the King.  With an arrow in his chest.  “Oh no” was an understatement.

Old style arrow by boobaloo

“What the hell happened here?” Baldwyn cried out.  By that time, the rest of the hunting party, including the King’s brother Henry, had gathered and were standing around the King in silent awe.  Baldwyn asked the group “Was it an accident? Who fired the arrow? Did anyone see what happened?”  No one was talking.

File:Death of William Rufus.jpg

Henry wasted no time.  He got on his horse and started riding to Winchester.  Baldwyn knew he’d go to London after that.  He was front-runner to be the new King and in a huge damn hurry to make it happen.

Old style arrow by boobaloo

Baldwyn didn’t know what to do.  Baldwyn thought “Um, hey, guys – there’s a body here.  We can’t just leave.”  But everyone did.  One by one the party left.  All of Henry’s friends, even William Rufus’s closest men, made haste to get as far from the scene as possible, each one mumbling something alone the lines of “I didn’t do it” as they left.

That struck Baldwyn as odd – maybe they had something to do with it.  Had he been surrounded by conspirators all afternoon?  Was he in the midst of king killers?  Everyone there had been very skilled with a bow.  Baldwyn had a hard time believing that anyone would have “accidently” shot one of their fellow hunters.  But accidents did happen so he couldn’t count it out.

They may have wanted to return to their homes and secure their lands and possessions.  Things were about to get chaotic, Baldwyn understood that.

But if the King was killed intentionally, why hadn’t he been brought in on the plan?  He liked William Rufus enough but he was just as willing to play the political game as much as the next guy.  Did Henry really think that little of him?  He couldn’t help but be a bit offended.

Old style arrow by boobaloo

Baldwyn decided to go back to London.  He’d swing by Winchester along the way and try to get someone to go collect the body.

As he rode, the irony of the situation struck him.  William Rufus had really pushed it when it came to his forests and people in them.  For him to die in one of them, like a hunted beast, would probably get a few “praise God” exclamations from the people.

“Had people prayed for this?” Baldwyn wondered.  “If one prayed for the death of another person, did it negate the prayer?” on account of absurdity?   William Rufus hadn’t made any friends in the Church during his tenure as King either.  William Rufus may have, very literally, shot himself in the chest with all of his bad behavior.

“Nah,” Baldwyn thought, “the forest killed him.”

fir forest horizontaly seamless pattern by OlKu

Let’s Dance! But It’s Not The Plague….

Next up, Couper, a doctor in fourteenth century Paris, is surrounded by the immediate aftermath of the Black Death.  Couper tries to offer aid to as many people as he can but with his allergies, people are skeptical.  Who wants to see a sick doctor, right?  *ah-choo*  He tells us about the death, struggle, and hardship caused by the ‘pestilence’ as well as about his medical training and constant nose-blowing *ah-choo*.

“It’s not the pestilence” he said in between sneezes.

Being a doctor in this day and age was challenging enough without allergies.  Everyone thought he had the pestilence.  Luckily he’d been able to avoid it so far and just offer help to others.  The people that would see him.

“I didn’t spend all of that time in Montpelier studying medicine to be shunned for the sniffles!” he called out as the patient hurriedly scurried away.  Didn’t these people want help?  He’d seen the worst of what the pestilence had to offer and lived to tell about it.  He could lance a boil, balance humours, and inspect urine with the best of them.

“I must persist,” he told himself.  The pestilence was bad.  Really bad.  He’d seen some gross stuff and had managed to survive it all– somehow.

It’s in the groin! – Quick, pierce that buboes!  [you may survive]

It’s in the lungs! – Gotta hack that stuff up!  [sorry, dude, not gonna make it]

He prayed like everyone else he knew but he figured that helped.  Luck?  Perhaps.  He’d dabbled in some of the treatments on himself.  He didn’t eat smelly foods, he bathed in vinegar and water, he even drank that horrible eggshell and ale concoction – something had worked.  Maybe it was just that he knew more than most people and that had to count for something.  He certainly deserved more respect than he was getting – he’d earned it.

He knew people were still scared.  The death and decay had eased up but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t come back around.  God’s wrath, the Reaper’s constant presence, the impending Day of Judgement – none of those had vanished from peoples’ collective consciousness.  No one was safe, the Danse Macabre made that very clear.  Wealth couldn’t protect anyone, heck, even Popes hid from the pestilence.  Couper found himself hoping that any remaining flagellants gave themselves a whack or two for him – just in case.

Couper sighed.  Other than a bruised knee earlier that morning, it had been a slow day.  One quick goat-dung plaster had taken care of that and now he was simply waiting for more patients to show up.

Two men approached Couper, only to walk right by him after he sneezed in their faces.  “It’s not the pestilence!” he cried out as they walked away.

Couper was tempted to change jobs.  With so many deaths, the market was wide open and the pay was good.  A labor shortage on account of a massive wave of death shouldn’t be looked upon as an opportunity but….  He could get paid quite well to be a basket-weaver or a bread-maker.  He’d hate every minute of either but he could manage.  He’d give it more thought and then decide what to do.  He still had some patients coming to see him so doctoring wasn’t totally out of the question.

“Come on in!” he called out to the approaching woman.

The young mother brought her flushed child up to Couper.  Couper sneezed.  The mother looked like she was going to run away but the feverish child kept her in the presence of the doctor.  Couper saw that the child was struggling to breath and placed mustard seed and onion in his nose in an effort to help.  He told the mother that a bleeding was required.  Couper cut the boy’s arm and placed the warm cup over the cut to extract blood.  Then the mother fainted.  “Fantastic,” Couper said.  He got the feathers, set them on fire, and waved the smoke near the woman to try to wake her up.  She roused after a few minutes, about the time her son’s bleeding was complete.  Couper was happy to send them on their way.  He didn’t need to unconscious people keeping him from seeing more patients.

“Next!” Couper yelled.

He watched as a young man approached, full of apprehension and clearly in pain.  He sneezed a few times and the man recoiled.  “It’s not the pestilence,” he assured him.   Couper asked what the man’s trouble was, to no avail.  This guy wasn’t offering up any information, so he took a urine sample and examined it.  Dark yellow – there was clearly an imbalance of humours that needed to be addressed.  He told the man that he would need to be bled each day for the next week in order to be cured.

“Fine,” the man said, hesitantly.

“Yes?” Couper asked.  The man had more to say, Couper could tell.

Then the man revealed the real problem – a sore on his genitals.  Couper had seen it before, but it wasn’t the pestilence.  This guy needed mercury and herbs at once to combat his ailment.  “And to keep his little guy to himself for a while,” Couper thought to himself.

“I can still get the desperate ones,” Couper said as the patient left.  As he looked and saw the woman approaching him, he saw how right he really was in that assessment.  He spotted her spots and disfigurement from a large distance and knew that she had a major black bile imbalance – and leprosy.  “Great,” he thought, “if any pieces of her fall off, I’m quitting this job, I really am.”

He saw the leper nonetheless and offered her a gold-based drink to purify her body and cure her.  He knew that she wouldn’t be back for future treatments though, she was too far deteriorated for it to do any good.  Venturing into town was not going to be an option much longer.  She would need to go find a place to live out her days alone.  If she showed that face, the mobs would make sure of that.

After he had finished up with the leper, Couper decided he would go check on Fletcher, a regular arthritis.  Poor old guy, his hands would get so bad that he couldn’t even make arrows anymore.  Couper went to see if he needed some herbs to help with the pain – or if he or if he just had some time to chat.  Couper was bored and knew that Fletcher wouldn’t take off running if he heard him sneeze.  He was old, he didn’t run.

It was late afternoon when Couper returned to work.  He hadn’t sneezed in quite some time – he was pleased.  Maybe these allergies were letting up.  That could bode well for his evening.  If he could see a few more patients, he’d be in good shape to pay his rent.

As he was about to close up shop, Couper had one last patient.  A man with horrible kidney stones.  “Great,” Couper thought, “where am I going to get goat dung to make a plaster at this time of night?”

He excused himself briefly to sneak out to the meadow nearby to see if he could find anything that would work.  He found something of the dung variety and decided it would work, took it back to add in some honey, and make the remedy for his patient.

At the moment he was elbow deep in dung and honey, Couper felt a sneeze coming on.  His reflexes brought his hands to his face….



Are we there yet?

Next stop, Oregon!  Kind of.  Jessamine, her family, and hundreds of other settlers have been preparing for weeks to set out on the Trail…it was time to start a new life out west.  Wagon packed, horses watered, maps in hand – Jessamine was dreading every step. 

on the Oregon trail

“I don’t want to go,” Jessamine whined.

“You’re going. That’s final,” her mother said.

Jessamine walked off in a huff, wanting to plead with her mother more but she knew it was a losing battle.  Jessamine didn’t understand why the family had to go west.  What was wrong with Missouri?  Why couldn’t they stay there?

But her parents were determined to make it to Oregon.  And now she was going to be stuck in a wagon with them and her five brothers and sisters for months on end.  She knew that the only way she was going to be able to get through it all was with her dog.  Thank goodness her parents were letting her bring her dog.

dog toon terrier

Jessamine walked over to the wagon where her father was checking the ropes, making sure the bedding was tied down.  She looked at him and he just shook his head, indicating that she was out of luck.  Darn, not even a daddy’s-girl pout was going to get her out of this one.

“But none of my friends are going!” she cried out to him as she ran off.  She wasn’t going to let him see her cry.  No girl about to go on the Oregon Trail was allowed to cry, she told herself.

sad face

About an hour later, the wagon train left Independence, Missouri for a short day of trekking west.  They only got a few miles in before dusk but Jessamine’s feet already hurt.  She’d try to get a seat up on the wagon with her dad for at least part of the day tomorrow.  Let the younger kids walk, they had all of that energy anyway.

Yet clipart #1

As the wagons circled and got ready for the night, her mother went to make dinner while Jessamine gathered as many children as she could find for some games to keep them distracted until the meal.  She didn’t want to be there but she had to at least go through some of the motions.  Keeping track of the children, all of the children, was her job on this journey.  If a kid disappeared, someone would notice.  If she was at fault, her father would whip her something fierce.

Her older brother, the eldest of the family, was tending to the cattle while her younger brother unloaded the bedding from the wagon.  It was cooling down nicely and it would be a pleasant night under the stars.  Not that Jessamine was pleased, she already missed having a roof.  And a proper outhouse.  How was she expected to live like this?

Yet clipart #1

“Are we there yet?” she whispered to herself as she drifted off to sleep that first night.

The next morning, before dawn, Jessamine choked down dry bread and coffee with everyone else as they prepared for a full day on the trail.  Her younger sister had already called the seat next to her father so Jessamine was going to have to walk for at least most of the morning.  “I have little legs,” she’d said.  Jessamine just rolled her eyes and walked away.  She wasn’t going to be able to dethrone her sister with an argument like that.

As Jessamine walked, she thought about the friends and family they had left behind.  Everyone had promised to write and to meet up in the future, everyone would eventually go west, after all.  She hoped that was true.  Her grandmother had been particularly difficult to leave.  Jessamine knew that she would probably never really see her again.  She wouldn’t be able to make the trip, if she wanted to, and she didn’t even want to.  If only her parents had let her stay behind with Grams.  It just wasn’t fair.

Yet clipart #1

Around noon, as the sun beat down on the wagon train, she saw that they were pulling up for lunch.  “Coffee and cold beans,” she thought.  “Delicious,” she said to her mother with a sarcastic tone and a look of disgust as she took her plate and cup.

The trip went on like that for weeks and Jessamine grew more and more miserable every day.

The food – so boring, so redundant.

The conditions – so dirty, so exposed.

The company – so annoying, so not her scene.

“Are we there yet?” Jessamine asked her mother at every turn.

Yet clipart #1

Jessamine continued to do her job though and watched the children each night.  She did lessons with them too, some basic reading and arithmetic to pass the time.  Unfortunately, several of the children didn’t make it past Fort Laramie after they came down with cholera.

The disease had swept through the whole wagon train, actually, and while she had been lucky enough to escape the stomach ailment, at least a quarter of the travelers had not.  Including her younger brother.  Now she was stuck getting the bedding down each night too.  This trip was rough.

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When the wagon train spotted the Rocky Mountains, Jessamine marveled at their height and their beauty.  It was a welcome site after the miles and miles of barren, flat land that they’d been traversing since Missouri.  When the wagon train made camp near South Pass, she heard talk of the weather conditions in the mountain pass.  After weeks of hot days and thunderous nights, it was about to get a hell of a lot colder.


The men also talked about how earlier travelers used to abandon their wagons and walk the rest of the Trail with their animals from this point.  She was not about to let that go without complaint but luckily there were now passes that allowed for wagons and possessions to make the trip.“Thank goodness!” she thought.  She didn’t want to leave what few items her parents had let her bring behind.  She’d barely been able to convince her mother that the music box she brought was a “necessity.”  She hadn’t fought that battle for nothing.

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Jessamine lost her dog at Fort Hall and never cried so hard.  The trip had been so difficult but having the dog, her best friend, with her was one of the comforts she took solace in.  The dog hadn’t been able to make it through the harsh weather in the mountains and by the time they arrived at Fort Hall, it was time to say goodbye.  Jessamine was heartbroken and hated her parents more than ever for forcing her to make the trip.

What good was a new life in Oregon going to be without her dog?  She didn’t even want to think about it.

“Are we there yet?”

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It wasn’t too much longer before the wagon train arrived at The Dalles.  “We have to do what?  Put our wagons on rafts to cross the river?” Jessamine said in disbelief.  “What about that road over there?” several of the travelers said to each other as they looked around for an alternative.  To no avail though, the road wasn’t finished and wasn’t going to be done any time soon.

Jessamine’s family decided that their trip on the Trail was coming to an end at The Dalles.  Miles of dirt, rock, and death had taken their toll.  “This place is as good as any, I supposed,” her father had said.  And with that, they were done with wagon train life – let the settler phase of the journey begin.  They were, as it turns out, there…yet.

And Jessamine was sure she’d hate it.





Snark loses its head! Treason, schrmeason….

Agnes was too old…okay, afraid…to go to the actual trail of the English King Charles I.  She didn’t want to battle the crowds anyway.  She was lucky that her son, George, was one of the guards on duty as the whole affair took place.  He gives her the latest updates…how will it end?

“Wow.” Agnes said after George told her how the first day of the trial had gone.  That was all she could say at first.

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Charles I was defiant, no doubt about that.  Then again, this was a man that had gone to war with his own Parliament twice, so it wasn’t surprising that he was going to just disappear quietly.  He hadn’t even entered a plea, didn’t directly respond once to the charges against him. That’s one way to handle it, I guess – by just not acknowledging the court at all.

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The recently formed High Court of Justice was convened just for the trial by The House of Commons.  The House of Commons was pretty high on itself these days, claiming it had ultimate authority over the King and the House of Lords.  They’d more or less told the House of Lords to piss off when they wouldn’t accuse the king of treason for making war against his own people.

“There were thousands of people there,” George had said, “a lot of guys from the Army.” That made sense, especially since the Army, led by Oliver Cromwell, was more or less in charge of the government. They probably wanted to make sure no one came and tried to rescue the King too.

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“What were the charges?” Agnes asked.

“First let me tell you about the pomp of the entrance.  It was great.  The Serjeant in Arms had six trumpeters.  The one of the High Court judges actually wore a steel-lined bullet proof hat to protect himself.”

“Stylish,” Agnes muttered.

“And when they read the charges to the King, he kept interrupting them,” George recounted.

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“Again, what were the charges, specifically?” Agnes probed.

“High treason against the realm of England,” George replied in an official tone.  “He did start a couple of wars with his own government, after all.”

The civil wars had gone on for the better part of a decade.  Charles never got along with Parliament, they never liked him much either.  The King needed them for money though, so he was stuck.  Until he decided that, as King, he could just dissolve them.  It’s good to be king but it’s not THAT good….

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The back and forth between the King and Parliament was a bit difficult to keep up with, Agnes had to admit.  She knew the basics though – the King got rid of Parliament, Parliament met anyway.  The King tried to arrest Parliament, Parliament responded by saying only they could appoint military commanders.  The King tried to gather an army, Parliament called one together too.

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When George visited his mother a few days later, he told her about the numerous members of commissioners that continued to refuse to sit for the trial.  They didn’t think it was a legitimate proceeding either, apparently, which to George and Agnes both, kind of supported Charles’s claim.  Not that it was for them to say.

When the Court met for the second and third times, they’d given Charles another chance to plead to the charge against him.  He again refused.  Again, this was not going to do well for the Court’s, or Cromwell’s, credibility.  This was a sitting monarch they were trying and he most definitely wasn’t making it easy.

“So, they told Charles that he can’t come back,” George said.  If he wasn’t going to do what the Court wanted, they were just going to exclude him from having the chance to speak or even hear evidence against him.  He started it.

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Boy, did he ever, Agnes thought.  It wasn’t bad enough that the King rallied his supporters against Parliament, but then he went and got the Scottish involved.  When the King more or less gave himself over to the Scottish Army as long as they backed him – that had been an act of war, right?  The Scots turned the King over to England nine months later in exchange for cancelled debts – excellent move on their part – but even in captivity, Charles continued to poke at Parliament.  The Parliamentarians threw Charles into a castle on the Isle of Wight but he refused to compromise, refuse to cooperate.  And he still managed to negotiate with some more Scots to come fight for him.  Defiant and persistent!

“Tomorrow witnesses will present evidence to a sub-committee.  The King doesn’t even get to be there for it but he’ll hear it when it’s read in public the day after,” George explained.

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The Scottish forces invaded the North of England on Charles’s behalf but were quickly routed by Cromwell and his men.  But that was the end of the line for Cromwell.  He used his army, the New Model Army, to march on Parliament, let his supporters stay while Royalists were pushed out, and set up the Rump.  The Rump Parliament.  The Rump wouldn’t even speak to the King.  Charles’ chance to negotiate had passed.

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“Thirty-three witnesses gave evidence against the King,” George said on his next visit.  “It’s not looking good for the King but, was it ever really?”

“Are they going to give the King another chance to talk?” Agnes asked.

Agnes knew where the trial was going – everyone did.  Cromwell and his Rump had made it clear all along what they wanted to happen.  They wanted a headless king, a kingless England.

“Not sure,” George answered,” but there’s not much time left.

There really wasn’t.  When George next returned to his mother’s house, he told her that the decision had been made.  He kept her in suspense, telling her how Charles had tried to speak up in his own defense, how he offered to be held on trial by a different court, just not the one sitting in front of him.  Too little, too late.

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He wasn’t really given a chance to defend himself – not with any witnesses or anything.  The Court declared him guilty – a ‘tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of the nation’ as George recalled.   The President of the Court gave the longest speech about it, took him close to an hour.

“And now they’re going to execute him,” George said.  “Beheading.  Signed the death warrant today. Not everyone but enough of Parliament to make it happen.”

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Agnes shook her head in disbelief.  They were going to do it, the government of England was going to kill the King of England.  She had to see this.  Crowds or not, this wasn’t something she was going to miss.  George didn’t think it was a good idea, but Agnes insisted.

The day of Charles’ execution was somber, especially for the King.  He was allowed to walk his dogs in the morning, a last amble in the park.  His last meal was wine and bread – not too shabby, really.  She was in the crowd for hours, waiting for the King to arrive.  It was a cold day too!  She heard later that one of the executioners refused to take part in the event and they had to find someone else.  And promise them they could hide their faces.  Executioners don’t want to be accountable, apparently.

As the King took his final walk to the scaffold, he wasn’t actually visible to Agnes.  They’d put up drapery – anticlimactic, if you asked her.  She wanted to see the man, the King that would be the last.  That had been part of the hold up too – making sure there would be no successor.

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She heard from George later that the King gave quite a performance up on the scaffold – made a speech asserting his innocence, his Christianity, his victimization.  Then he removed his cloak, asked the executioner if his hair was a problem – tucked it in his hat, just to make sure his neck was exposed – and asked the executioner to be quick and accurate.  Not a bad final request, right?

Agnes did see what happened after the execution, however.  The head-chopper held up the head to a less-than-impressed crowd.  No cheers, just groans.

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That didn’t stop people from paying to go up on the scaffold and soak up some of the blood – King’s blood was supposed to have healing properties.  “Um, didn’t the government just kill him because he was a bad King?  Why would people want that blood?” Agnes asked George later.

“Bad king, good king, no king…who knows.” George replied with a shrug.  “It’s all too bloody confusing for me.”

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