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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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“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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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.

Dance macabre 10 by amilo

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?”

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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….

*ah-choo*

Dance of Death by j4p4n

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Yo – Here to kick off summer with some baseball knowledge!

Yo is doing his best to explain the game but baseball isn’t something most Japanese people understand.  Team sports – not the norm.  Meiji Japan had welcomed in a lot of Western culture and ideas but baseball was one of the most challenging to explain.  Yo gives play-by-play to Japanese spectators anyway, hoping they catch baseball fever…and maybe a foul ball.

 

“It’s been a longtime in the making,” Yo said, “but here we’re entering the last two innings of this most recent matchup between Waseda and Keio Universities.”

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(Photos from http://fromdeeprightfield.com/history-of-baseball-japans-first-pro-ballplayer-in-america/ and https://www.keio.ac.jp/en/about/history/)

Yo looked around at the crowd, evenly split between enthusiastic spectators and confused observers. Baseball hadn’t been around in Japan that long but it was developing a following.

“Let’s hear it for the Waseda University team as they take the field!  Keio’s first batter is making his way to the plate.  Oh look, he’s a lefty.  That may be tricky for the Waseda pitcher….”

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Baseball wasn’t something Yo took a liking to right away.  In fairness, none of the Western influences that entered Japan in the last part of the nineteenth century really interested him.  The Meiji government sent officials and advisors around the world to study banking, political systems, policy structures, and educational institutions.  He wasn’t comfortable with that much outside influence and neither were a lot of other Japanese.  There had even been Americans that were brought over to teach in Japan.  They taught everything from English to engineering – and, yes, baseball.

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“The developing rivalry between Waseda and Keio is one that continues to heat up,” Yo announced during a lull in the action.  “Each team has one game in this best of three series, put a lot on today’s game.”

The way he’d heard it, baseball was introduced by a Christian missionary named Horace Wilson teaching in Tokyo.  It worked, kind of.  If nothing else, baseball caught on more than Christianity.  Missionaries introduced a lot of sports during the last decades of the nineteenth century.  Track and field, swimming, rugby, soccer…and cricket.  Yo still scratched his head when he watched that last one.

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Wilson taught his students the basics of baseball but it wasn’t until Hiroshi Hiraoka brought back a Japanese translation of the rules from America that teams appeared in Japan.  The guy had gone to the US and fell in love with the sport.  Specifically the Boston Red Sox, for whatever reason.

Yo announced, “And that’s it, folks, Keio’s three batters strike out and it’s time for Waseda to hit.”

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Just like the Japanese government felt like internationalization was the way to go, so too did sports enthusiasts.  Japan adopted a new form of government based on a constitution just like it took on the rules of baseball as a new team sport.  The first team, the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics, were organized by Hiraoka and were the only real team for about a decade.  Other teams tried but they lacked the skill.  And facilities.  Hiraoka was coached at other schools and clubs though, getting the word out and sparking interest.  Once schools started adding teams, that really brought out the potential players.

“Wow, the Waseda player really got ahold of that one!” Yo cried as the ball headed toward the right field wall.  The outfielder caught it but most of the crowd had come to life with the hit.

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Baseball had bored Yo at first and he didn’t see the point of it.  “You try to hit a ball with a stick.  And then what?” he’d asked himself.  But after he took some time to study the rules started to see its merits.  The bats soon made him think of kendo swords.  They weren’t made of bamboo, of course, but the sound of the ball hitting a bat reminded him of kendo bats hitting one another.   When he watched players get ready to bat, he thought of sumo rituals too.  Very deliberate, almost superstitious in their actions. He chuckled at the thought of seeing sumo wrestlers on an actual baseball field.   Running the bases…that would be something to behold.

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“With a score of 1-0 in favor of Waseda, it’s the start of the final inning,” Yo said as Keio came back into for their next at-bat.

Yo had gotten himself a job as water boy for the preparatory school Team Ichikou when he was a student there.  Working for Team Ichikou had paid off.  He learn that baseball players were the new samurai.  Or at least, the players thought so.  They used the game to evoke and even revisit long-held bushido values.  Team Ichikou thought they were good until they lost to the Meiji Gakuin Christian Missionary School.  Instead of giving up, they trained like maniacs – just like a samurai would.  They had integrity and duty in their goal of getting better and absolute loyalty to one another.  Those guys knew no fear. They practiced every day – in the snow, in the rain, in the heat – they went all in.

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“Keio’s got a runner on first and a runner on second, as their clean-up hitter approaches home plate.  This could get interesting, folks, if he can drive home run and tie the game up.

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Yo been able to tag along when they finally got the Americans from the Yokohama Athletic Club to play them.  The most prestigious whites-only club in Japan.  They’d had a team all along and didn’t want to play with the Japanese.  The American had avoided Team Ichikou for years, thinking the Japanese weren’t worth their time. Were they ever wrong!  The Americans were defeated 28-4.  Talk about embarrassing!  The Japanese players heckled the hell out of the Americans when they left that day.  Maybe the Japanese missed the mark on bushido compassion and self-control on that whole affair but they did have their honor to maintain.

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“The Keio team has tied up the game!  The score is 1-1 as Waseda comes in for their final at-bat.  Will they be able to pull out a win?  The excitement is palpable!” Yo said to the increasingly interested crowd.

Team Ichikou got a lot of attention and soon the interaction between Japan and American baseball interests increased.  Yokohama asked for a rematch, which they lost.  Then the United States Navy sent a team and they lost.  Twice!  They kept asking for rematches and eventually won, but only after they’d stacked the deck with all of the best players they could find.  All-stars, they called them.  More like fall-stars, Yo joked to himself.

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The back and forth of United States and Japanese ball play did wonders for Japanese morale.  Baseball players were champion warriors and Japan ate it up.  The country was realizing their newest samurai had the same balls as those other guys.

More and more Japanese universities added teams – there were several in Tokyo alone.  Japanese boys were going over to the United States to learn how to play and American universities were sending teams over to play their Japanese counterparts. There was talk of Waseda going over to the United States to play some games too. It was becoming quite the international affair.

As the Waseda batter took his stance at the plate, Yo could actually see people on the edges of their seats.

“This whole baseball thing may just catch on,” he thought.

 

Psifos – memes and images included!

Psifos is so excited – he’s about to vote in his first ostracism.  Athenian law in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE has been building up to this, as far as Psifos is concerned.  The changes in institutions, loyalties, and practices from Draco through Pericles created Psifos’ Athens and he can’t wait to tell us all about it.  He’s made a hobby of studying and observing as much of the legal process of Athens as possible – one man’s hobby is another’s obsession, right? 

“Eyes on your own shell,” Psifos said to his neighbor.

No one was supposed to know who he voted for and he was going to keep it that way.  This ostracism was the highlight of his year – hell, of his life – and he wanted it to be perfect.  He wrote the name of the tyrant he wanted to ostracize on his shell and waited to deposit the ostrakon on his way out of the Pnyx.

“Tyranny, what a bitch,” Psifos thought to himself.  Psifos considered carving that on his potsherd as he waited, actually.  He was rocking in his seat with excitement and needed something to do to burn some energy.  “Calm down,” he told himself.  “You don’t want to get kicked out before you find out what happens.”

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They announced that it was time to hand in the shells.  Excellent.  Now the real waiting game began.

He began to do what he always did when he had some free time – recite the legal history of Athens to himself.  He was a nerd, he knew it.  And he’d learned long ago to do this in his head – no one ever wanted to hear it – eyes rolled, stares went blank, people walked away.  To him, knowledge was power but he was surrounded by sheep.  Sheep that just wanted the law, they didn’t what to know the history behind it.  Psifos felt sorry for them, honestly.

He’d actually come up with a song that he sang to himself at times like these….

“Tyrants in Athens were never a good thing,
tyrants in Athens were reason for no king…”

Good thing Athenian law had made accommodations for preventing tyranny. Democracy wasn’t going to work if a tyrant came in and mucked things up.  Not that tyranny was the only threat to democracy.  The experiment that was rule by the demos – or the people – missed the mark several times.

“Draco and others were mean and misguided.
Aristocrats ruled completely one-sided…”

During the seventh century, Draco and his cronies had really displayed some of Athens’ worst qualities.  The chief magistrates were all made up of the aristocracy and the courts were staffed with former chief magistrates, so where were the people represented?  They weren’t.  Then the laws they passed – so harsh.  And favored the aristocracy clearly.  Stealing a vegetable – death.  Owing money to a noble – slavery.  None of that was ever going to punish an aristocrat, right?

“Thank Zeus for Solon! He saved the republic!
Organized tribes and gave them direct pick…”

He ended the bickering among the aristocracy – those whiny, spoiled brats – and made it clear that all free men were citizens.  Then he set up a place for all citizens to be heard, the Assembly.  It wasn’t a perfect institution and was still controlled by a few men but it was a step in the democratic direction.

“Then P and his sons threatened it all
But three tyrant leaders didn’t bring Athens to fall…”

Enter the tyrants.  Peisistratos.  Really, he hadn’t been that bad.  He’d been popular – he’d just come to power outside of traditional methods and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.  He’d tried to rule three separate times and got sent into exile twice.  That first time he came back, he had a woman that he tried to pass off as Athena with him.  It had done the trick and the people fell for it.  For a while.  Out and back again a few years later.  Peisistratos, nothing if not persistent.

Enter two more tyrants.  His two sons, Hipparchus and Hippias.  The whole family was a trilogy of tyrrany.  Luckily, they didn’t undo much of what Solon had done for the people.  It was relatively easy for Cleisthenes to keep the reforms coming – including Psifos favorite part, ostracism.

“C came to power, divided four tribes into ten
brought matters law into the hands of Athenian men.”

Under Cleisthenes reforms, the Assembly had more power over taxation, war, peace and – yes, driving out tyrants.  The practice of ostracism was intended to vote one man out of Athens who had too much power or wielded too much influence.  Each year, if it was necessary, the Assembly would hear arguments for and against a potential tyrant or two and then vote.  If one of the candidates got more than 6,000 votes, the man was exiled.

Winner, winner, potsherd dinner!

It was not supposed to be an oppressive punishment and wasn’t even really a disgrace.  Hell, it was a compliment.  The guy had so much power that the state had to protect itself from him.

“Athens developed a way to stop bullies
Send them packing before they could take over fully.”

The man had ten days to get ready to leave the city for ten years.  He was still a citizen and he got to keep all of his income though, so it wasn’t like he was left destitute.  He just couldn’t come back to Athens.   Unless he was recalled.

Was this a political career killer?  Yes.  Was that the point?  Yes.

And now Psifos was smack in the middle of it.  There had only been a few ostracisms and now he was lucky enough to vote in one that had all kinds of factions going back and forth. He’d heard arguments for and against the ostracism of three men – yes three!  Alcibiades and Nicias were fighting with each other for power in Athens and differed on whether or not Athens should go back to war with Sparta.  Alcibiades wanted war, Nicias not so much.

“Athens was fighting with Sparta again
Pericles had done well but it kind of needed to end.”

But there was a catch – the two sides had campaigned for a third candidate to get the heave-ho, Hyperbolus.  He was a lesser political figure but they’d come together to get support for him so that they could stay in Athens.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend…or some variation on that.

“No way that worked,” Psifos thought.  That’s part of why Psifos was so excited, the system had been turned upside down.  A new wrinkle.  This had to make ostracism even more important, right?  The people would definitely see through the manipulation and make sure they voted in a way that best served Athens.

“And the winner is,” announced the magistrate, “Hyperbolus.”

Psifos was shocked.  He couldn’t even believe what he had just heard.  What a bunch of crap.  How had Athens fallen for such a ploy, for such a manipulation.  Didn’t they understand what was supposed to happen with an ostracism?  They were supposed to protect themselves and do what was in the interest of their fellow Athenians.  Now they’d been fooled by those charismatic politicians once again!

He asked himself as he sat taking in the results, “how is Athens ever going to be a democracy if politicians keep getting in the way?”

 

 

 

Aoibhneas, the Candlemaker on a Mission [emoji edition]

Something different this week…another Snarky story, punctuated with emojis – enjoy!

Let’s hear from Aoibhneas [Irish for ‘delight’ and pronounced Evenass], a fiery Irish lass that, appropriately, is a chandler to all of the best monasteries in seventh century Ireland and Scotland.  Having learned the craft from her father, Aoibhneas was able to emerge as the local candle tycoon, which brought her into contact with the best and the brightest at monasteries like Iona and Lindisfarne, among others…Dark Ages, not if she could help it!

 

“Don’t throw up, don’t throw up.” 🤮

Aoibhneas’ mantra when making tallow candles. 🕯️🕯️🕯️ She may have been making candles for decades but the smell of animal fat was something she’d never get used to.  And now that she smelled like sheep fat, no one would come near her for days. 🤢👃🤢

Not that she minded, people were over-rated.  She’d much rather be in the company of animals. 🐶🐱🐹🦊 Another reason that these tallow candles were so unpleasant – she’d make her candles after eating her weight in mutton without a problem, she just didn’t want to kill the animals to do it. 🐑🐖🐄  Leave that to the others, she’d collect the fat from their kitchens later.

She couldn’t wait until the tallow batch was done so she could work on the beeswax candles instead. 🐝🐝🐝 Those were much more pleasant to the nose, even if the bees were just mean.  “Take the good with the bad,” Aoibhneas reasoned, as she looked at the healing bee stings on her arms.🤕

Once she was done with both batches, she could head out to her along her monastic circuit and sell her wares.  First Iona, then Lindisfarne – who knew what she would find along the way. ⛪😇⛪ She’d missed being on the road.  Ireland was home but there was something invigorating about being able to venture out and be her own person. 🍀🍀🍀 She was grateful her father had taught her how to make such good candles and that they allowed her to be a strong, independent late-seventh century woman.  Well, relatively speaking but better than nothing.  She still had to deal with her brother wanting to tag along for “protection” – whatever that meant.  She ended up saving his ass more than he ever protected hers.  Men. 🤨

Iona always brought a great sense of calm over her. 😌 Maybe it was the connections to her homeland – it was pretty Irish and all.  Founded by that Irish monk, shoot, what was his name?  “Columbo?” She said to herself.  “No, that wasn’t it.  Columba!”  She should be more up on her history if she wanted to stay in good with the place.  Then again, they were monks, they loved everyone. It was their job. 💞💗💞 And she loved them.  Especially when they showed her their beautiful manuscripts. ✍️🎨✍️ It didn’t even matter that she couldn’t read the words, the images were magnificent.  The shapes, the colors – she considered herself an artist, of sorts, but she had nothing on those guys.  Aoibhneas wished they’d talk to her, tell her about their craft, but, that was part of the monastery vibe. 🤭🤐🤫 She got it.  And they could probably make their own candles so she shouldn’t really try to get them to break one of their own rules on her account.

Iona had done a lot in terms of sending out missionaries, she knew, and that had been good for business.  Nothing like networking.  On top of that, Iona had a big influx of pilgrims each year. 🏝️ And not just any pilgrims, but high-status older guys looking to live out their days at a monastery.  Hey, she was happy to help them go toward the light…as long as it was her candle that led the way.🕯️🕯️🕯️

Getting to Lindisfarne would be trickier but she hoped she could seize on the spread of Irishness, so to speak, to get her through any political or social squabbles.  That Holy Island was a holy pain to unless you got to the causeway at just the right time too. 😇🏝️  Aidan had done a good job of picking a hard to get to location for his monastery, if that’s what he’d been going for. 👼 Given the number of Iona groupies that had followed him there, it hadn’t really mattered.

But things were different at Lindisfarne since that church meeting at Whitby.  Synod, whatever the heck that meant. 🤔 Who knew there was more than one kind of Christianity? 🤷‍♀️ Okay, apparently a lot of people knew and it was a problem.  She didn’t know any of the details but afterwards, Lindisfarne hadn’t been the same.  The prior there, Cuthbert, had moved Lindisfarne to the Roman brand of Christianity while Irish stalwarts fled back to Iona to keep doing their own thing.  They celebrated Easter on a different days 🐥🐤🐰🐤🐥and – she couldn’t believe this mattered – cut their hair differently.  💈 The way she saw it, they were all holy.  And needed candles.  Sure, guys, do what you gotta do.

“Done.” Aoibhneas said as she finished the last candle. 🕯️🕯️🕯️

She looked around her shop, mentally tallying up how many candles she had to take with her when she set out in the morning. ☀️☀️☀️ Time to gather some other supplies for the trip.  Aoibhneas knew that if she left early enough, she may be able to sneak out and catch a ship to Dalraida from the coast of Ulster without her brother tagging along. 🙈🙉🙊 That was the goal anyway.  She didn’t need the dead weight of that dolt slowing her down.

The next morning – dark and early, as it were – Aoibhneas breathed in the cold, sea air as she sailed to Iona. ⛵ Alone.  “Maybe the time on the boat and in the fresh air would get some of that tallow stank off me,” she thought.  “Not that the monks cared or smelled any better.”🤢👃🤢

She got a chill down her spine as she saw Iona in the distance. 😃 She couldn’t help it, the place just radiated holiness and beauty.  Once the boat was ashore, she gathered her belongings and headed to the abbey.  She hoped that she’d be able to get a glimpse of the work going on in the scriptorium today. 🕵️‍♀️ She didn’t want to be a nuisance, of course, but she knew someone had to be in there.  That was their thing. She wondered if they had a collection of their manuscripts somewhere.  She’d never seen a room full of them or anything but they had to be somewhere.⛪

A few hours later, Aoibhneas got back on the boat and headed toward the west coast of the mainland. ⛵ She was disappointed, she couldn’t help it – the monks hadn’t really been open to letting her see anything.  “Gee, guys, you’re welcome,” she thought. 🙄 She’d have better luck at Lindisfarne, maybe.  Aoibhneas had been trying to see some of the manuscripts there for a while and this could be her lucky trip.

Aoibhneas got to the east coast of Scotland a few days later and stood waiting at the causeway, like an idiot, for hours before she could cross over to Holy Island. 😇🏝️ She finally made it across and to the monastery, ready to unload what she had left of her candles.  🕯️🕯️🕯️

She wished scribes used candles. 🔥🔥🔥 Fire hazard and all. 🔥🔥🔥 That was a serious roadblock if she was going to get into the writing room.  The more she thought about her latest trip to Iona, the more she wanted to see what Lindisfarne was producing so she could rub it in their faces when she returned. 😛 Not explicitly, of course, but her internal jibes would be fierce.

So she waited.  And waited.  And waited some more. ⏳⏳⏳

It wasn’t until she had completely given up and decided to go home that she got her chance.  On a fluke, the door to the scriptorium was open as Aoibhneas walked toward the exit of the monastery for the last time.  “How’s that for timing?!” she mumbled. 👍 She went into the room – it was empty but surely the monks would be getting there soon – and quickly went to take a look.  She was in awe of what she saw. 😱😵😱 Sheets of vellum that were so completely covered with art that they looked like fabric or carpet – so elaborately decorated that she couldn’t believe someone had actually created it by hand. 🌠 She saw letters – large and small, simple and ornate – along side animal patterns, all in glorious reds, greens, and yellows.🚦

She went to light her last candle to get a closer look but stopped herself.  The last thing she needed was to set fire to this magnificent work.  She could not be that guy. 🤦‍♀️

After a few minutes of admiring the pages, Aoibhneas suddenly felt someone watching her. She looked up and saw a lone monk staring at her.  Aoibhneas froze.  “Crap. Crap. Crap.” 💩💩💩 But the monk simply smiled, nodded at the pages in her hand, and glanced at the door. 😉 Aoibhneas knew it was time to leave and as she departed the monastery, she had never been more sure that she had seen the light, that she’d practically been blinded by it.💥💥💥😎💥💥💥