Fantasy Art Friday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Friday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


This small tower blends into the landscape as though it has always belonged here. But who lives inside? Someone who likes their privacy, that much is for certain. Maybe a hermit, who just wants to be left alone, or a monk who has vowed to to live a solitary life of study and prayer. It could be a wizard, who needs peace and quiet for his craft. Impoverished knight? Rogue outlaw? It’s possible that no one lives here at all, and the place is abandoned. It’s pretty overgrown, after all.

Are you bold enough to sneak up and look through the windows, or even go right up and knock on the door? Just remember there’s no help anywhere close by, so I’d be wary of going inside if I were you. 

(Title and Artist Unknown)

Tackle your TBR pile in September – Sign up now!

A little something for both readers and writers, shared from Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog. Join the Read-a-thon, or if you’re also an author, host your own giveaway or challenge.


September 11th to 24th sees the fifth TackleTBR Readathon, thanks to Tressa at Wishful Endings.

The goal you set is entirely up to you – maybe you don’t even want to set a goal.  

Apart from reading books to shorten your list, though, the read-a-thon includes challenges from participants (with prizes to enter for), activities to join in, and general fun and mayhem.

Read all about it at Wishful Endings and sign up at any time through to 20th September.

I’ll be doing a Goals post on the first day of the Readathon, so you’ll see what I’m planning to read then.

I’ll also be setting you a challenge on 19th September, for which I’ll be giving a prize.

Sign up now to reduce the length/size of your reading pile.  

Source: Tackle your TBR pile in September – Sign up now! ~ Jemima Pett

Medieval Monday: Fire! Fire!

Fire was crucial to survival in the Middle Ages. With electricity and gas-powered devices still far into the future, open flame was the most common source of heat for cooking, industry, and protection against the cold. Fires were a bit more difficult to set in an era before matches, particularly if everything was wet. Fire-steels, flint, or pyrite (struck against iron to produce a spark) might be carried in a leather pouch along with tinder. Tinder could be dried brush, straw, birch bark, rotten wood, pine needles, wood shavings, small twigs, or char-cloth. Char-cloth was made by briefly catching a bit of clean linen on fire, then putting the fire out. The resulting bit of blackened fiber could be saved for later and easily caught fire. Once a fire had been successfully lit, the resulting coals were protected with fire covers or other means. It was more convenient to revive a fire from still-hot coals than to start one from scratch.

As much as fire was a necessity to life, it was also a significant hazard in the medieval world. Stone and brick were prohibitively expensive building materials for the average person. Most buildings were made of wattle and daub with thatch roofs, and straw beds were often pulled close to hearth fires—all of these materials burned quickly once lit. In cities, the buildings were also built very close together, so if one building went up in flames, those near it would likely burn down as well. Many towns throughout Europe were at one point or other devastated by fire, whether by lit by accident, invaders, or even lightning. After 1213, London forbade thatch roofing in favor of shingles and tile, though other towns were slow to do the same.

Cook houses and kitchens were sometimes built separate from other structures because they were such a common fire hazard. Brewers and barbers were tightly regulated for the same reason. They were all required to have their buildings whitewashed and plastered, both inside and out. Fires posed not only a threat to people and livestock, but to the longevity of the community if large food stores and other structures or supplies vital to survival were destroyed.

Imagine trying to fight a large fire with no hydrants, hoses, firetrucks, extinguishers, or any other modern equipment. In some cities access to water was already at a premium, and even with a large water source close by, there was no fast delivery system. Firefighting equipment of the day was buckets of water, firehooks to pull down thatch and compromised buildings, and lots of manpower. Each home was required to have a full container of water ready and waiting outside the front door, and every citizen was obligated to assist when a fire broke out.

While stone buildings were safer, they were not impervious to fire, and even castles could be destroyed by it. Starting fires was often a tactic used by those laying siege to a castle or keep. Catapults could fling flaming objects over the stone walls in the hopes of catching something flammable on the other side. Once started, such fires were very difficult if not impossible to extinguish.

On a personal note, I once visited a still-habited castle in Germany (sadly, I cannot remember its name) which burned in modern times much as structures would have burned in the medieval era. A fire was started on a cold winter night when embers from an untended fireplace lit a rug on fire. There were no hydrants or sprinkler systems—the firemen had to draw water from the river below the castle. But it was so uncharacteristically cold that the water was freezing in the hoses on the way up. Like ancient times, citizens were called upon to try to save the castle by bucket-brigade.

I remember seeing aerial photographs immortalized on informational plaques at the site, showing the sections that had burned. The original walls remained standing upright, but everything inside of them was gone, right down to the bare earth below. The owners had spent many years after (along with a small fortune) restoring the castle, though countless irreplaceable pieces of history had been lost forever.

It has been close to 30 years since I visited that place on a leisurely afternoon, and enjoyed piece of Black Forest cake in the café just below it. But it obviously made a strong impression on me, as sights and tales of fires would have made an even stronger impression on those so vulnerable to them in the medieval era. Such events were in fact one of the ways medieval people marked the passage of time before watches and calendars were commonplace items. Everyone would remember the year the river flooded, or lightning hit the church steeple…or the local castle burned to the ground on a frigid, winter night.


Want to know more about the Middle Ages? Check out the Medieval Monday Index for additional topics.

Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


Beautiful, yet forlorn, this place is slowly succumbing to the ravages of time. The lonely figure walking this crumbling corridor is determined to remain its companion to the very end. It was a glorious place once, built by a wealth and power that has long ebbed away. But while this structure was new, and whole, it gave the lives of those within it meaning and purpose. This robed figure has not forgotten, even though its noble arches are now draped in vine, and the crows brazenly come and go as they please. There is writing etched deep into the stones beneath the pillars. Each word is a plea from the past; a silent but unyielding voice that demands a place in the present. The robed figure knows what they say. Do you?

Crows’ Abbey

Want to Win an Autographed Book?

I’m doing another Rafflecopter giveaway for my newsletter subscribers. This time I’m giving away an autographed copy of Into the Shadow Wood, a companion book to Journey to Aviad.

Not subscribed yet? Feel free to take a look at my last newsletter.  In this edition there is a character spotlight on Alaric from Into the Shadow Wood, along with some author updates and links to a couple of giveaways for LOTS of free books. When you  sign up for my newsletter, you’ll also get a free e-copy of Book 2 in my series, Ancient Voices: Into the Depths. You can unsubscribe at any time, so really you’ve got nothing to lose!

So, back to my original question:
Want the chance to win an autographed book?

Step 1: Subscribe to my newsletter and download your free ebook
Step 2: Enter the giveaway

That’s it! The winner will be announced in my September newsletter. Good luck!


Into the Shadow Wood

Once a proud member of the Sovereign’s prestigious personal guard, Einar has lost everything: his home, his Sovereign, and his purpose. Most of his closest friends have either been killed in battle or executed. His friend Nevon died trying to fulfill a dangerous oath…one that Einar disagreed with, but now feels honor-bound to take up in his stead. The quest plunges Einar into the depths of the dark and twisted Shadow Wood, testing the limits of his strength, his beliefs, and his sanity. What he finds in the Wood is far more ominous than anything he’d expected. If he’s not careful, Nevon’s fate might end up being his own.

 

Medieval Monday: The Labors of August

The most crucial labor in August was harvesting and threshing the rye and winter wheat, which would have to sustain the community through many months to come. August 1st began the feast of Lammas, when the first grain of the new harvest was consecrated and made into bread for the Eucharist. There would be more harvest celebrations yet to come in September and October, but Lammas celebrated its beginning, and was as much a symbol of the spiritual harvest as it was the physical.

SickleWheat was cut down with a sickle; a short handled tool with a curved blade. Those reaping the wheat would grasp a handful of it, well below the heads of grain, and cut the stems. They would be bundled into small sheaves at first, then into larger ones called shocks that could be left standing in the sun to dry out.  Once all of the grain had been harvested from the field, first the poor could come through and glean any fallen grain, then the livestock would be allowed to eat down the stalks and forage.

Long stretches of dry weather were extremely important for a good harvest. Too much damp weather could ruin the grain, or leave it tainted with ergot, a dangerous, toxic fungus that could do severe physical and neurological damage, causing hallucinations and paranoia. There has even been some speculation by historians correlating the most intense periods of witch hunting and inquisitions, with the worst outbreaks of ergot tainted food.

If grain could not be dried out in the sun, due to unseasonable weather or climates with damp or short growing seasons, grain dying kilns might be used. These were shaped much like regular medieval ovens, but larger, with well-constructed flues.

threshingOnce the grain stalks were dried out, the next task would be threshing and winnowing. This process separated the useful heads of grain, which could be made into flour, from the useless stalks and chaff that could not be eaten.

A flail was used to beat the wheat bundles, which shook loose the grain. If done outdoors, the chaff would naturally blow away on the wind—but it might also take some of the grain with it. Therefore, threshing was often done inside barns. This made it an activity that could continue through the fall, and even winter months if necessary.

I found this very short video that shows someone using a flail to separate grain from wheat stalks. There is even a portion of it where you can actually see the wind lifting away the chaff. The hand-crank machine he uses at the end is obviously not period, but everything before that is informative for those who want to see how this was done. Can you imagine doing this kind of labor for hours at a time, days on end? I would imagine it was a sweaty, back-breaking task in the August heat—with no possibility of a soothing shower at the end of the day!

Below that is the August video for Tales from the Green Valley. Sadly it’s their last month in the valley, but since I didn’t start with episode 1, I will keep posting them each month until I’ve gone through the entire year. They will stay in my Medieval Monday Index indefinitely, so those of you doing research can go back and find them at any time. In this episode they discuss cutting, drying, and bringing in the grain harvest, taking out the geese, making writing quills, duster brushes, and collecting goose down, making lights from rushes and animal tallow, and making a period goose meat pie.

 

Fantasy Art Friday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Friday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


A battle hardened warrior escorts a girl on horseback. She is well dressed and rides with confidence–most likely from a noble family. Is she merely taking a leisurely afternoon ride through the woodlands near home, or is she traveling a long distance, with this man sworn to protect her along the journey? Was he hired for the job, or are the two blood relatives? Either way, they seem to be at ease with each other. I wonder what they are talking about. Perhaps you could fill in the conversation…

Trio, Horses, Escort and River by Sean Silvestre