Day 2- Edinburgh...ghosts, mists and trying not to die on the wrong side of the road

The next time I feel shamed for being untidy, I'm going to blame it on my Scottish heritiage.  Edinburgh is amazing.  All old and mossy with the deep bones of realness that Disneyland and Vegas do well too...with painted foam.   But it's very much like Ollivander's wand shop...on a city scale.  And Claire wasn't kidding when she said it was a dirty city, the trash seems fond of staying in the streets.  In some ways it feels like nothing has changed here since Claire was making her way up Holyrood rd with comfrey grease for Jamie's and Fergus's cold, and in some ways it feels like Scotland has squeezed in so much modern stuff between old stones it's like walmart sandwiched into Diagon Alley (no's Diagon Alley)     


Iceland felt much more modernly aesthetic and minimalistic.  Like the entire country had KonMari'd itself.  They even KonMari'd their water.  It was so sweet and crystal clear, Andria and I could feel the exhaustion and weariness washing away just from the drinking fountain water.  Their bathrooms felt like space stations.   

I had planned to try and sleep the flight from Iceland to Scotland, but everytime I started to nod off I jerked awake with all kinds of burning scenarios of traffic circles and remembering to look right instead of left...or left instead of right.  Thankfully Andria did get a short nap because she wasn't worrying at all about looking right instead of left (until she pulled out of the rental car parking lot and nearly got hit).  It was good though, because the scare activated her Lizard brain and some super survival instinct took over and she drove like a champ.  My turn is next.  I'm trying not to think about it.  

All I could think about was a shower, and our hotel mercifully let us check in early (after squeezing into a narrow alley and even narrower parking spot on our second attempt at going around John Brown's barn...trying to figure out how to get to the hotel we could only SEE as we drove past).   It was so tempting to just sit in our hotel room and sleep all day, that we threw on some fresh clothes and took off before we could succumb. 

Speaking of clothes.  I'm wearing some sort of magical skin leggings. I don't even know what it is, but it was definitely created in Harry Potter world.  They are simultaneously cool and warm at the same time.  We hiked up some craigy hills and my ears and nose about froze off in the wind, but my legs were wonderful.  Such an odd sensation.  

I shouldn't be surprised though because everything about this place is magical.  Oh, and I found the perfect breakfast food.  Haggis.  It's like paleo oatmeal.  We ate our super crossfit friendly breakfast/lunch at "The Last Drop" right in front of the town square where they did all of their public executions.  "The Last Drop" may refer to the last drop of drink you knock back before the pearly gates, or the place you go before you get hanged...your last drop.  Literally.  There's also a little girl who died in the original house that was there, so her ghost was wandering about as well.  It's so weird trying to prop your eyeballs open while you stare at the actual same bricks that have been there and seen everything from breeks to punk blue hair.  Bottoms up.    

We checked out the National Scottish museum which was ten times better than anything at Balboa park. Oh, and free too.  I'm not sure how anyone knows where anythign is...every hallway led to a different hallway, which led to a different wing.  Jamie and Trinity would have loved it. I'm not sure how so many aritifacts can be found in one country.  Robert the Bruce's sword was enormous! His real sword!  I couldn't believe it.  

We had to leave though before we got to Bonnie Prince Charlie, because it was so dark and quiet and peaceful.  We were dangerously close to cuddling up to a Pictish gravestone and falling asleep.  Everyone told us not to go up to Arthur's Seat because it's miles of steep hiking.  But clearly they had never met two optimistic San Diego moms who are used to climbing iron/cowles mountain and chasing four kids.  The hike was wonderful, half bouldering, half Lord Of The Rings-esque stone stairs.  It seriously felt though, like I'd entered a time machine and popped out in The Hobbit.  It was all moss, soggy ground and hills... none of the powdery, stark CA scrublands I'm used to experiencing.   

Between that, spooky graveyards and a random, wonderful Scottish woman trying to explain "Vennels" to us, it was a full day.  

Time to pass out to the addicting sound of the news done in a Scottish brogue.MMmmmm hmmm. 


Day 1 - The uninteresting but essential business of getting there

I am not sure if moms are allowed to go on vacation, but Jim is a saint for making me go.  My biological system is refusing to shut down though, because every time I hear a baby cry in this airport, I immediately think it’s mine only to experience the wonderful sensation of realizing it’s some other parent's problem. Large grin. 

I have so many goals and aspirations for this vacation though, I think I may need more than a long week to accomplish all of the book writing, eating and castle seeing we have planned.  It’s always better to have too much to do, than too little though, right?

The TSA agent at the front of the security line has already made this trip worth it.  He was like a anecdote vending machine.  Plug in a word like “ipad”and hear five minutes oh hilarious diatribe about C-pap machines and his wife who doesn’t listen to him.  We were loathe to leave him behind to play the Russian Roulette that is getting through security.  We’re flying one of those new airlines where they charge you for everything from sneezing to using the restroom.  Like a kantankerous toddler it becomes a game to see how much you can get way with.  I refuse to pay 80 dollars for a carry on (Carry on!) so pack for a whole week in just your “under the seat” personal item? Challenge accepted. 

Of course, I would have failed miserably without bringing in the experts (in this case Julie), who loaned me everything from super compact warm clothing to a shoe hanger for the outside of my bag.  I felt like i had a giant stamp on my head in security that said “CHEATING!”, but they let me through without fussing about anything.  Now just to successfully shove this thing under the seat after we board.  If worse comes to worse, I will just wear and hang everything on my person. I figure I’m small enough, that I could attach all of my belongings to my person and I’d still take up less space than some of the passengers.  Crossing fingers.

I rolled everything up and suctioned it down in ziplocs.  My other belongings are organized by category and all of my Ipsy bags are all filed like a colorful records room. Since my usual packing motto vacillates between “though the bear minimum in a bag and figure it out later” and “pack everything but the kitchen sink”, I’m quite proud of myself. 

Of course what organized people fail to tell you is  you have to actually remember where you packed everything.  I have entirely emptied my bag three times now trying to find something, despite it having a well ordered system.  I think I’m a hopeless case.  I told Andria she should take all of my money.  Jim’s hoping I can keep track of at least my passport. 

Four hours in though, and so far so good.  Only another two hundred and sixteen hours to go.  :P 


That time you almost screw everything up...

14 years and a few weeks ago I was desperately trying to buy a plane ticket.  It was one of those Gift Of A Magi moments with the hair combs and watch chain where Jim was trying to fly to CA to surprise me, and I was trying to fly to Ohio to surprise Jim.  Our engagement story might have been a lot different if I'd been successful. 

Nineteen year old me was fantasizing about a Lord Of The Rings wedding where everyone dressed up as Elves and Hobbits and we passed out copies of the Silmarillion as favors. ... or a Gone With The Wind theme... or a  Monty Python Theme.  It's a miracle we didn't consider a Star Wars theme.   

Indubitably we have made it happily thus far due to our awesome tastes and the twin influences and patterns of both sets of our parents.  Not only did our parents' stay married, I think they actually legit were/are still super into each other.  I always took it for granted, but I don't now. May we see another 14x3 years of saying "Yes".   *clinks glass*


The kids were looking through our engagement photos (digital photos were so high quality back then) and they asked "who's the boy with mom?".  Of course Jim and I both took that as a compliment. lol 


Celebrity Death Match- What To Read After Harry Potter

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Make hay while the sun shines. 

And when fate gives you a class of 4th/5th grade Potterheads, it is your bounden duty to have a Harry Potter themed class day because the odds of those percentages happening again is probably very low. 

Everyone dressed up, I assigned houses and house cups and awarded points in my best McGonagall voice. I made wands (who chose the wizard!).  We turned math into Potions and presentations into wand duels.  Latin was Spells and the types of clouds were sung to the theme song. etc etc  It was the highlight of my teaching career.  I can brag about it now, because it was last year and all of those Harry Potter fans (including my own) have moved on and now need new books to get sucked into.  

So in honor of my old students, I went through my book shelves color by color, block by block and these are the ones that jumped up and down, reminding me of their awesome addictiveness and possible similarities to Harry Potter. Some of these books are far better, older and wiser than anything JK Rowling will ever write, but Harry Potter remains firmly entrenched as a gateway drug into a lifelong love of reading, so you won't find me bashing Harry (rarely...cough cough). 

The winners are: 

1. Howl's Moving Castle
This one comes in first place because it's whimsical, funny, full of magic, has a crazy wizard who's always dyeing his hair different colors, and the plot and ending is pure perfection. It's not a series, but a nice fast paced easy read.  If you've seen the movie, it's also wonderful but totally totally different they bear almost no resemblance but the name.  

Howl's Moving Castle
By Diana Wynne Jones

2. Crown Duel/Court Duel
All of Sherwood Smith's books will eventually be consumed by Potter's just a matter of which ones come first.  I chose Crown Duel/Court Duel because it's the easiest one to find at the library, has an accessible story and characters, and works well to familiarize you with the world of Sartorias-deles.  There are lots of books and series within this world and really you can't get enough of them. I wish she'd written a dozen more.  The magic is more Lord of the Rings or Narnia (more high fantasy), but her writing style is a little more like JK. 

3. Prydain Chronicles
Prydain should really be in first place. The series deserves to sit right under Narnia, but the writing is a little older and my anecdotal observation has been it's harder for some kids to get sucked into this series.  It's another high fantasy story though about a boy named Taran who dreams of being a grand hero even though he's slugging away in the trenches as a pig-keeper.  Most are probably familiar with at least the title of the 2nd book which boasts of its own Disney movie. The Black Cauldron. Every kid needs to read these books at least once in their childhood.  

4. Tiffany Aching (Wee Free Men/Hat Full Of Sky etc) 
This is one of those series every girl should read (and boy too probably, but I can only speak for girls). It follows the adventures of a young witch who is the most practical and non drama minded girl to walk the Discworld in this case. She learns to do hard things and be unselfish (but in the most humorous and nail biting way ever).  Full Disclosure: Some object to the tiny leprechaun creatures who act like drunk highlanders on steroids...what can I say, it's Terry Pratchett. sob sob

5. Gregor The Overlander
Gregor doesn't have a lot of magic, witches and wizards, but it is the most similar to Harry Potter in theme and style.  It follows the story of a boy who is watching his baby sister, and they both fall through a hole (Alice style) and end up in a world with giant intelligent bats and lovable cockroaches.  You probably will recognize the author Suzanne Collins as the person who gave us Hunger Games.  But Gregor came first, is way more child appropriate, and is arguably better in my opinion.  There are five books in this series, so it should keep your kids busy for awhile. 

Honorable Mentions: 

Percy Jackson (or anything else written by Rick Riordon).  If Harry Potter is Greys Anatomy, then Percy Jackson is Scrubs.  Fun, fast paced, but a lot more fluff.  

Eragon. Written by a homeschooler who basically smooshed every single fantasy/scifi plot device into one book/series.  It will drive you crazy if you're an adult, but will keep you busy and entertained for a long while if you're a kid.  

The Mysterious Benedict Society. These have a very tight, small plot which I think bums out Harry Potter fans who are looking for that big magical world building feel. But they are entertaining and intelligent in their own right and I think they appeal especially to kids who like puzzles or mysteries as well as fantasy/magic.  


(P.S. These are Amazon Affiliate links, so if you were going to buy books anyway, clicking through from here helps me.) 

Nanowrimo Story- Chapter 10

No poll for this chapter...I haven't quite caught up to the last poll, but thought I'd put this chapter out anyway so it doesn't get too long. 


Chapter Ten

I don’t believe in accidents. There either was a God who was completely in charge, or there was no God at all.  At least that’s what I decided when I was eight.  I’d been standing on a wrinkle of imitation grass wondering how close I could get to the edge without falling into the hole in the middle. I wasn’t entirely sure I didn’t want to fall into the hole even though I decided it was deep enough I would probably break at least one leg.  People were throwing roses into the hole and I couldn’t understand why. Didn’t they know my mother couldn’t see or smell them anymore?  Didn’t they see the yellow bulldozer behind the tree waiting to pour dirt over all their roses? Why would you waste roses like that?  My Aunt Lynn had told me they cost $14.99 a dozen and that it was highway robbery.  

People kept patting me on the head and giving me hugs. It was like being attacked by an army of octopuses, but I didn’t ask them to stop. Another set of arms went around me in a quick squeeze. “Everything happens for a reason...” I looked up to see it was another person who had forgotten to use their waterproof mascara. Aunt Lynn said you always had to remember waterproof mascara for weddings and funerals and I worried my mom was up in heaven feeling gypped I wasn’t wearing any.

“You know they say not to tell people that anymore!” My aunt Lynn stepped in indignantly shielding me. The woman froze and then scurried off...which was the usual reaction to my Aunt Lynn.  

“Don’t pay any attention to them, they’re idiots.” she said patting me on the head.  I wondered if that was also in the book she’d read on “Ten ways to talk to kids about grief”.  I had wanted to ask her why there were only ten ways, and why there weren’t any pictures in the book, but Aunt Lynn had already walked away to yell at the harpist.

I inched my toes a little closer to the hole and whispered defiantly “There’d better be reason.”  

And that’s when I pretty much figured out that my brain was broken and didn’t work like everyone else’s.  

There’d better be a reason, I thought both twelve years later and nine hundred and sixty seven years earlier as my brain registered Graventseen’s heir had his calloused hand over my mouth.

I yelled at him as loud as I could with my eyeballs since that was all I had available.  

“I’m not going to touch you.” he growled, dropping his hand as if he realized a bit late he was contradicting himself.  “Don’t think I came up here to ride the crupper with ye.”

Well all right then.  He looked so fierce and determined, I almost felt slighted. I scooted as far away from him as possible, sitting up as straight and as dignified as one could in a thin linen shift. I’d definitely been in the eleventh century too long. I felt more naked covered head to toe than I did waltzing around in a bikini all day at the beach. “Why did you come up here then?” I asked.  

“I came through the window...there’s stuff that needs to be said, and there doesn’t need to be anyone else who hears it.”  

I swallowed.  He didn’t seem to feel nearly as uncomfortable as I was...but then again, he was standing on his stones in his castle, and he wasn’t the one being accosted in his bedroom. He was only wearing leggings and shirt that billowed around him like the cover of a bad romance novel. The chest was undone and the sleeves were rolled up, I could see the thick sinew and muscles on his forearms. He should have looked absolutely gay, but somehow managed to look more like a tired CEO with his sleeves rolled up and tie askew.  

“First of all, I’m having honey and wine sent up for you and I expect you to drink it so your chances are better…”

So that’s what the sludgy black stuff had been? Apparently he’d also noticed I’d sent it back down with Hairy Henry.

“...second, let me know what you need stocked up in the way of healer sewry for yourself and I’ll see to its end. Third, I’ve sent mad Frank away on the water circuit so at least you’ll be spared him…”

“Wait, what?...” I tried to find my voice because my brain couldn’t keep up. I felt like I must have missed part of the conversation...maybe he’d climbed through the wrong window.  

“I jest need to know what ye think ye can handle.” He said, and for the first time I could see a little bit of desperation creeping in around the edges of his eyes.  Eyes that looked way older than the rest of him.

Handle?” I repeated, “Handle what?”

“Your ordeal.”  

“My ordeal?” Evidently I had turned into a parrot in my disorientation. I gave a sort of hysterical laugh that tried to turn into a sob on its way out.

He didn’t seem amused.  

“They are building the wooden court-leet down there right now.” He ran his hand through his hair, “in two mornings hence you’ll be standing on it in your wee feet and I’ll be sitting in my Grandfather’s chair while God and everyone else watches to see what I’ll do with you!”  

Oh right, my date with death. See, that was the problem. I’d already given up. Moved on.

It was a failing of mine. Once I’d decided there’s was nothing to be done, my brain moved on to other problems. Dr. Attiva would have poured some Dr. Pepper down my throat and made me go think of three new labs to draw or something else to snap me out of it… but she wasn’t here and it was much easier for me to persevere for a patient  than for myself.  

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” I said.

He stood by the bed, arms crossed. The tiny bit of moonlight hitting his face made me suddenly think of the scandinavian cheekbones of my Finnish surgery resident friend. I wondered how much Norse blood went into the making of the budding Lord in front of me.

"Well cherié, I’m afraid it’s not as easy as that, and I’m not leaving until we’ve settled it.”  A scampering chill of foreboding went down my spine. I really didn’t want to talk about this.


He studied my face, not answering right away. He stood facing me and I could see I wasn’t the only one fighting with myself.

"Do ye realize" he said softly, "that you put everyone’s livelihood in jeopardy with your pretendin’ antics?”

I looked down at my tapestried bedding that featured lots of deer being shot by crude bows. I traced one with my finger “I didn’t mean to" I said shamefaced.  I really hadn’t, but of course that was exceptionally difficult to explain..especially in your nightgown in the middle of the night with a man who you didn’t know very well.

“Do ye not realize that before my grandfather drained the swamp lands, more babies died than lived? More chillen starved to death than had food? This land is a harsh ye want to go back to that?”

I shook my head.   

“Well since you’re clearly a foreigner of some kind…” He trailed off and raised an eyebrow as if inviting me to finish the sentence.  I almost sarcastically replied “San Luis Obispo” just to see what he’d say, but the mood was too serious. “…I don’t want to punish you too harshly. I think most would be willing to let ye get off with a whipping or dunking unless you want a manorial trial by ordeal?"

“What kind of ordeal?” my voice sounded faint and strangled even to my own ears.

“…of course ol’ Pierre doesn’t like you and he’s likely to rile up the rest of thee falconers and huntsmen. So if we have to live off bread and carrots, the rest of the folk will blame me for you.  He says you put a hex on his best bird, gamekeepers are leetle vindictive like…”

“I did not!” I said, finally finding something I could unequivocally say as true.

“He says ye’ve been stealing lots of lamb gut… for spell catchers to wile people with?”

Oh gosh.  “Yes, it’s in your chest right now, lot of good that’s doing me.”

He paused, looking down at his billowy shirt a look of surprise on his face.  

“It is my help me God.”  He crossed himself. “If a man had done what ye did, your bones would already be hanging on the old church spire as a warning.”

I swallowed hard at this.  

“I didn't know. I'm sorry.”

Nicolas dismissed this with a snort.  “Aye I can see you are, and I’ve been trying to think of how I can smooth it all out, but ye’ve shamed the law and will have to deal with the consequences.”

I wish I could put the dress on for him and let him see for himself, but Madame Gilfre had folded it back up and tied it in the pocket around her dress.  I desperately wanted him to understand.

After a long moment of silence, he sighed and took out his knife.

I scrambled backwards towards the furthest corner of the bed.  “I will scream.” I said in what I hoped was a calm voice. I knew for a fact Hairy Henry and Jakob would pluck out their pubic hairs to make a rope with which to hang themselves if that’s what Nicolas asked them to do, but I was hoping he still didn’t want them involved.

"I told ye I’m not going to hurt you cherié.”  He said, “I mean only to show you something.”  He walked over to the one square of moonlight in the room.

"Now, our options are trial by boiling rock, trial by dunking—" he began, making marks on the stone floor. “Trial by hanging in a cage, trial by a notch out of yer ear.”

"I've said I'm sorry!" I burst out. "And I am. I'll never do such a thing again!" I was gripping the bed now, so hard I was surprised it didn’t splinter into a hundred pieces.

"Well, that's the problem," he said slowly. "It doesn’t matter. I think you don’t quite understand how things work here. I’ve decided maybe life is a lot easier wherever you’re from--it must be. Tis perhaps not so big of a deal to play something you’re not. But here, the safety of the castle and these lands only work if everyone dez their piece. A Lord can’t do what he wants without inadvertently getting people killed in the long run, do you see?” He looked so imploring and yet so wicked with that knife in his hands I felt lightheaded.

"It's the hard truth that something like this can have serious consequence—especially a man in my position."  Seeing I was close to panicking, he put the knife down and held his palms out like someone trying to calm down a hysterical mare.

"All right," I said, forcing my heart to act like a sane part of my body and slow down.” I understand.”

"Good." He picked the knife back up "Now then, get off the bed, and choose what punishment ye want?."

My mouth dropped open in horror. But I shut it again.  He thought he was being nice! He was treating me as if we were equals-- as if I were every bit as high ranking as him.  Granted, he couldn’t do that in public, but whatever everyone else thought, the Count’s firstborn son had evidently decided I really was highborn. But how was I supposed to pick a barbaric punishment? I don’t think I could conjure that level of masochism. It was insane! Deranged!

He sighed, exasperated.”Look, I know this tisn’t exactly pleasant conversation, and believe me when I say I’d rather be fondling yer white breasts in private rather than flaying them open with a whip with ye naked it front of everyone ye know...which is why I’m here.”  

I nodded. Welted flesh would need arnica and spruce sap boiled into a gel if I could get it.   A notch in my ear or nose probably couldn’t be repaired, but I could keep it from getting infected. These people viewed infection as a sign of guilt, and I intended to keep the possibility as far away as possible.  

“Ok,” I breathed “Any compound fractures or third degree burns are out.” The medical part of my brain was taking over, even though I felt like I was planning a crime scene. “I would prefer anything that is psychologically traumatizing vs physical, but if it has to be physical…” I paused shuddering “Then I suppose a whipping is probably my best bet.”  

I was more talking to myself, I’m sure the modern vocabulary was lost on him, but he looked at me not unsympathetically as he watched me struggle and try to rally.  “Unfortunately, I worry they’ll think whipping too common, that’s more for petty crime, not an unusual one like this.  And even if you’re not a lady, you look like one and your punishment has to fit the crime. There’s such a thing as justice.”

I had strong objections to this conversation on so many levels, but I wasn’t too illogical I couldn’t see the reason in it.

“You tell me then what you think.” I said.

He raised his eyebrows. "Well, I think I could manage hanging ye in the wimmers basket over the moat for a few days but I’d worry you’ll die from the elements….some do.”  He eyed me critically as if to judge my hardiness.  I wasn’t sure what my odds were with dehydration, but I really didn’t want to find out.

“How bout the dunking?” I said “What does that mean?”

“Never. No one ever survives that.” He said vehemently. “Ye’ll drown. They drop you in the moat with a stone tied to your ankle.”  

“Well I can swim, and if you gave me a knife... “ I said pointedly

“Ye can swim?” He looked like I’d just told him I could fly or walk on water.  “I’ll tell you what….I think the hot stones would be the best, I can make sure the water is more tepid than boiling.”

“Hot stones?” It was my turn to query.

“Yeah, do you not have that? You pluck stones from a boiling pot, and your hands are bandaged...if after a week you’re hands are healing then God has had mercy, but if they’re festering then he’s found ye guilty.”  

“You’re kidding.” I was trying to calculate the odds of infection setting into the burns was probably directly related to how dirty the bandages were. This whole thing was too barbaric for me to grasp. “I can’t...I can't do this.”

He grabbed me roughly by both arms. “Ye can and ye will.” He said giving me a small shake. My eyes welled up with tears, having reached their max capacity of insanity. In one swift motion he pulled me to his chest and held me tightly like I was a wounded bird. "You can, you have to." He whispered. 

Chapter 11



Nanowrimo Story- Chapter 7

 I had to slow down and let research and brainstorming catch up with the story, so the delay for this chapter was vexatious but necessary.  Diana Gabaldon has my utmost awe... I don't know how she does it.  

Chapter 7

I finally figured out what year it was.  It had been the friday before Nones and we were all in the chapel hall.  I had known the church held massive influence in the middle ages, but I hadn’t realized how little they realized the church had massive influence.  It would be like telling somebody from the 21st century there would eventually be written histories about how we worshipped our iphones.  In our minds we didn’t worship them at all, we barely even noticed our lives revolved around them.  It was the same way here.  The church wasn’t important, the church was merely life.

If I’d thought medieval women were as chaste, proper and modest as women were in the Victorian age, I was sadly mistaken. Women worked fields, ran guilds and got into such fights about theology, I wished I could record it and play for my gender studies Professor from my freshman year...

And that’s how I found myself jerking my head up in astonishment in chapel when the Priest put out his hand as a blessing for the feast of Nomes and said “In the year of our lord 1049, Eternal Father, we humbly offer Thee our poor presence, and that of the whole of humanity, from the…”

1049.  Did I know anything about that century? No, not really. Well that was anticlimactic. But I did think vaguely it was definitely before the bubonic plague (that was a relief) and it was certainly before the all of the fancy Renaissance Faire type stuff that first came to mind when I thought of castles and stuff.  No wonder it still felt like a biblical practically was still the biblical age.  

I was sitting in the valetudinaria trying to make sense of what I was supposed to do with a square dark corridor with pallets all lined up.  What did the previous physicker know that I didn’t? A small boy Johanne called “Mon petit chou” but who everyone else called Guarin, came racing in, his eyes wide in excitement or fear, I wasn’t sure.  

“Come quick!”

“What happened?” I asked, grabbing the puny basket of medical supplies I’d managed to gather under the tutelage of Madame Gilfre.  

“...we were playing la poule” He dragged me along with him, going down a staircase I hadn’t known existed.  I would have added it to my map except it was now long gone and washed (if it had survived a washing), and I couldn’t bring myself to desecrate this new kirtle with wine doodles.  Oh what I wouldn’t give for paper… or even better, a computer.  

As soon as I saw the prostrate figure in the middle of a group of boys, my heart sank.  Forget the paper or computer...i would give my right eye for an ambulance. He held a balloon in his hand, or rather a sheep’s stomach that had been appropriated for balloon-like purposes.  A patch of blood soaked his thigh. At first i thought he was unconscious, but his eyes turned their glassy stare my way and I realized he was in shock.  

This was where it got tricky. Normally I would stabilize his spine, recheck his breathing and pulse, and then start cutting clothing looking for major injury.  But scissors were a luxury unheard of, I didn’t have a knife, and wool was a very difficult fabric to rip.  I thought all of this in the fraction of a second, before I realized my hands were already working.  I applied pressure with one hand and ripped off the linen shirt since that at least was simple enough and would give me more of an idea.

“Knife...surely one of you has one.” I kept my tone congenial and calm, no reason to freak the rest of the boys out more than they already were.  One of them handed me his knife as if he was solemnly making a most worthy sacrifice.  

With a quick twist I got the knotted cord around the waist cut, and I yanked the pants off. I was totally in that “in-the-moment” zone where every cell in my body was focused on the patient in front of me.  I was trying to talk myself into this being a minor injury, and it really wasn’t that bad now that I could see it.  A wooden stave had sliced open a pretty deep gash in the boy's leg and had finished it’s violent journey by being stuck firmly in the vastus lateralis  A good cleaning, stitches, tetanus shot and possible round of antibiotics and he wouldn’t even miss a day of school.  

...except there were no antibiotics or tetanus shot. Germ theory had yet to be discovered, and it was astonishingly difficult to thread a needle with sheep gut because the gut was all variable thicknesses. Plus, I’d need to get my patient to the valetudinaria somehow, procure a needle from Aimee’s sewing basket in the women’s drawing room, and send someone to beg precious sheep gut from Martén in falconry.   ...and of course hope it would all work.  

What should have been fifteen minutes of straightforward work, was more like running a a dress.  Oh well, I was just grateful it wasn’t worse. I’d been having nightmares of holding people’s intestines in while screaming for tranexamic acid.

I saw the soldier...Nicolas out of the corner of my eye. I was busy navigating twenty small boys who were all trying very valiantly to help me carry their injured friend one hundred feet, up two flights of stairs through three rooms and down a passageway. Nicolas pushed his way through and mercifully did not ask any stupid questions. I gave him an A plus for his quick observation skills, because he swooped the correct child up in his arms and the rest fell in line behind him like ducklings.  I leaned up against the column on a landing and took sucked in some air.  I wasn’t as in shape as everyone else...having come from a place with these things called elevators. .

I found him in the valetudinaria with the boy on the mat, as he fumbled with the piece of shirt tied around the wound.  .

"Don’t touch that" I said, moving him out of the way before he could mess up my wound care.  

It was then I realized he was injured too.  Either that or my smaller patient had lost more blood than he possessed. .

“Have you been stabbed too?” I asked, pure astonishment overcoming any awkwardness or politeness.  

“Don’t worry mon chérie, it’s nothing.”  

I doubted very seriously this was the case, and so I ripped his shirt to reveal a long thin line of blood...awesome, I was going to need a lot more sheep’s gut.  

I turned to my audience of boys.  “Who can run the fastest?” asked, hoping this would result in an immediate competition.  

“I am!!” Came a chorus of voices.  

“Perfect” I made a mental list, “You and you, go to Madame Johanne and get me a bottle of cognac” The two boys scampered off and I pointed my finger at the next two.”You go to Martén and tell him Lady Matilda has need of two spools of his finest sheep’s gut. “  I turned to the last boy who I knew was the son of Matilda’s favorite maid.  “You…” I crouched down in front of him “Do you know how to sneak like a cat?”  He nodded, his eyes perking up thinking maybe he hadn’t been left out after all. “I need you to slip into the lady’s salon and get me a needle out of Mademoiselle Aimee’s sewing...oui?”   

He hesitated, weighing the odds if it was worth the whipping if he got caught, but pride and peer pressure won in my favor.  He nodded and disappeared.  

“I hope you had been already on your way up here?” I said in what I hoped was my best physician’s voice.  It was much easier to talk to male patients when they were wearing hospital gowns and you had the full weight of all that entailed.  It was a lot different when you were alone in a castle with one who smelled like sweat, leather and wood smoke (and wore a rather sinister sword).  

“Who gave you the keys?” He seemed unable to get over the fact I was here at all.  “I was coming up for some lavender salve Madame Gilfre keeps in the stone crocks.”  

“The Lady Matilda, if you want to take it up with her you’re more than welcome.”  I felt seriously underprepared for the position myself.  

“I will.” He said with such a note of authority, I thought he must not have run into Matilda very often if he thought he could talk her out of anything.

“Thoracic trauma...5mm deep, no arterial or organ involvement...fortyfive stitches I’d guess” I murmured as my fingers worked over him quickly, trying to ignore the quick intake of breath and goose bumps that formed under my touch. I looked up, he was looking at me with such a strange expression, I turned back to my other patient who appeared to be a much safer option.  Poor wee lad had fainted somewhere on the last staircase...not from blood loss I thought, but from the sight of his own blood. Apparently haemophobia wasn’t just relegated to more modern folk.

“Do you know the boy’s name?” I straightened the small skinny legs out and then sat on them, getting a good grip on the wooden stave, my other hand ready with a fistful of wool for bleeding.

“Josef’s boy.” He knelt down and held the boy’s shoulder’s down for me, which he shouldn’t have done.  A new stream of blood dripped down his chest and onto ‘Josef’s boy’.  My first year clinical instructor would have died.  

“Oh please stop, you’re hurt.” I said, knowing full well he wouldn’t.  

He laughed. “This is nay the worst scratch I’ve had..None of it’s killed me yet.”

I had dubious opinions about that, but ignored him and focused on the task at hand.  I yanked the wooden stave out quickly, and applied the wool dressing and pressure.  He let go of the boy and brushed the blood off with his hand, smearing it around his chest, making it look worse.  

Seriously, what I wouldn’t give for antiseptic swabs right now. I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy which was ridiculous considering I’d gotten over the sight of blood a long time ago.  

“You go on now.’  He nodded towards the door. “I’ll dress the boy’s leg and take him back to his parents.”  

“You can stitch?” I asked astonished.  I didn’t know when sewing people up became a thing, but I doubted very seriously they did it in this century.  

He looked more surprised I wasn’t instantly obeying him. “ Well It’s nay maiden embroidery or anything, but my skills usually stand up pretty well to abuse. Go on, I’m sure the lady needs attending or you have other things to do.”  

That he was so sure I would be of little use, made my blood boil.  

"Thank you, but I’m staying.”

He looked down at me and for once (at least around this place) I felt very small. He seemed astonished... not in an angry way, but as if he was slightly amused anyone dared disagree with him.  He was disconcertingly self assured for a soldier.  Wasn’t he used to being ordered about?

“You really have such a love for gore?” He asked. “Aren’t potions and spicy mixtures more your and Madame Gilfre’s forte?”

I had no idea where exactly Madame Gilfre’s skills began and ended, but I for one had spent an entire quarter in the ER stitching up everything my resident hadn’t wanted to do. ...I would stitch up this boy and I would stitch up his chest too, if it was the last thing I did.  

At that moment, my troop of helpers arrived back on the scene. There were a few moments of pure chaos as they immediately started pouring cognac down young Josef’s throat (which wasn’t my intended usage at all).  The poor kid came to, sputtering and coughing, limbs flailing about as I tried to grab his leg and calm him down before he injured himself further.  

‘Hush...shh...there, hold still” I said. I lined up my needle, gut and alcohol and thanked everyone profusely before ordering them out into the passageway.  

“Are you going to order me to leave too?” He asked, standing in front of me shirtless, bloody, arms crossed and a bemused expression on his face.  

“No, of course not.” I said crossly, “I still have to stitch you up too.”  

He threw back his head and let out a deep laugh at that. “And what if I won’t let you?”

“Oh you hush too.”  I needed to concentrate. The gut string was uneven and threading the needle in this light was going to take a fair bit of luck.  It wasn’t going to feel fun, but I had to pour a fair bit of cognac on the wound to hopefully kill any hint of incoming infection. Young Josef to his credit, whimpered but didn’t flail or thrash around.  Maybe the ingested cognac forced upon him by his young friends had helped.  

I finished and bandaged him up, cringing at the unsanitary linen strips I’d found in the supplies.  Hopefully the cognac was enough.  Maybe I could have a fire made up in here somehow, then I could boil things.  The castle was so smokey already, surely a little more wouldn’t kill us of carbon monoxide poisoning.  

Ok, deep breaths. Now for the hard part, stitching up this drat soldier’s chest. At least he seemed to have decided to let me do it. Young Josef was watching me with tearful wide eyes. Hopefully sir soldier man wouldn’t do anything too bad with a child watching?  I swallowed hard.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I know.” Although I really didn’t know...he sat down on a stool, looking all the world like a bloody barbarian. As I started to pull the needle in and out of his skin though, he gave a sharp hiss.

“How in the world did this happen?” I asked, hoping to distract him from my work.  

“Just a small tussle with a...neighbor.”  

I hurrumphed at him, but he didn’t elaborate with any further details. Thirty nine stitches. I had been close.  He took out his knife helpfully at the end and cut the gut string.  I poured cognac over it my handiwork.


I wasn’t sure if this meant “why are you wasting decent liquor!” or “Damn that hurts” ...or maybe both.   

“Are you finished now woman?” Not waiting for an answer.  He stood up and pulled his bloody linen shirt over his head and strapped on his leather breastplate.  I cringed when it banged against his stitches, he didn’t.  

“I’ll take the boy back to his parents.”  

“No! You’ll rip open your stitches.”  I felt like I’d barely survived doing them once!

Castle rooms were so dimly lit, it was hard to read expressions but I do believe he rolled his eyes at me.

“Oh are you going to carry him down then?”  He asked.  

“Yes.” I said stubbornly. Or I’d figure out something. He didn’t stop me, but watched as I attempted to help young Josef limp towards the door. I was triumphant with how well we were managing when the poor kid stumbled over a higher stone sticking out in the passageway.  We would have pitched head first down the first set of stairs if the drat man hadn’t caught us.  

“I think you’ve proved your point.” He said as he pulled me towards him by my elbow.  

If Matilda could see me now, I’m sure she’d take the key back and throw up her hands in dismay. It was mortifying how difficult everything was for me to do.  I’m sure it was like watching a child attempt to act like an adult.  I felt so out of my element.  How would Madame Gilfre have gotten the child home?  

As if he read my mind, he said “I’ll send Stefan up tomorrow...he helps Madame Gilfre.”

He grinned. "If you don’t let me take yon Josef, I’ll have no choice but to take the both of thee over me shoulder.”  

I snorted.

“I suppose that means you’re agreeable?" I wanted to protest and remind the damn man he had thirty nine stitches in his chest, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He picked up Josef like he was a sack of potatoes and steered me in front of him.  His hand was still firmly grasped on my elbow.

We popped out into the sunshine and ran smack into the herald I knew only as “Hairypants Henry”.

“There you are mi’lord” He looked surprised to see me there. “You’re with the demens girl?”  

“Ach, she’s not demens… just shy.” He threw a wry grin my direction… the woman who’d just nearly sat on him while sewing him up like a stuffed fowl. Shy indeed.  Who said they weren’t fond of sarcasm in the Middle Ages?

“Yer needed sir, Old Galen’s about to behead Turts and Goffrey over what happened this afternoon.’  

I raised my eyebrows, a minor skirmish with a neighbor hmm?

“Saddle Rouge, I’ll ride over and try to beat some reason into the whole idiot lot.”  

“You can’t go anywhere!”  Not caring that I wasn’t part of the conversation. “You literally split your chest wide open. You need to be in a hospital… or at least in bed… “

But neither of them paid the least bit attention to me.

“Are you too hurt to ride?”  

“Oh aye,” He thrust young Josef unceremoniously into Hairypants arms “Take the lad to his mam and I’ll meet you at the stables.”  

It wasn’t until I was standing all alone in the waning autumn sunshine, a bee buzzing on a clump of dandelion by the stone archway that I’d realized Hairypants Henry had called the soldier Nicolas “My Lord”? 

                                                              Chapter 8

To find our what happens next, vote in the poll! (and pray the fates let me write it)  

Nanowrimo Story- Chapter 6

Thirteen thousand, eight hundred and twenty seven words down...thirty six thousand one hundred and seventy three left to go (to win Nanowrimo)!  Progress was made today.  Nicolas is thusly named Nicolas. And I dropped some more crumbs about the red dress.  Read on and vote so we can all find out what happens next! 


Chapter Five


Foreign dignitaries were flooding into Graventsteen from all over the place.  France in my mind meant Paris... the Eiffel Tower, decadent food and cutting edge fashion, but apparently in the eleventh century it meant world super power.  I did have to admit, my vision of the Middle Ages was much more famine filled and I don’t know...cold and dark?  But France was the optimistic golden child that lived in the sun with wine and food...and apparently enough energy left over for all manner of manner of music and poetry.  

Every night the hall was filled with some new bard who had tales to spin and melodies to weave.  The native castle crowd seemed used to such events, but the visiting nobility couldn’t get enough of it. One night a Spanish princess laughed and laughed until she started crying and had to be carried to her bedroom.  Four servants, one for each limb.  Her blacked striped stockings and red kirtle plain for everyone to see.  

Also?  I had this idea half formed idea that the poor people worked hard, while the rich people sat around and ate bon bons or something.  Maybe that was true somewhere, but it wasn’t true at Graventsteen.  Matilda would put any CEO to shame.  I mean, I was used to running thirty six hour shifts at well organized 21st century hospitals and even I was impressed at the level of organization.  We all pitched in to ready rooms...and even build new rooms.  A whole new wing was being added in lieu of the upcoming wedding.  What was the saying “many hands make work light.”?

One day Matilda and I found ourselves hanging tapestries in one of the newly finished rooms.  I wasn’t much alone with her.  The nature of my suspicious heritage and rank (everyone was as confused as I was, as to where I came from and who exactly I was) meant that I wasn’t exactly at the bottom or the totem pole, but I wasn’t bosom buddies with the top either.  I decided to take the opportunity to thank her for the invaluable fabric she invested in covering my skin.  If I ever made it back to the twenty first century, I would never take my closet for granted again.  I guess I hadn’t realized when you saw paintings of long flowing robes in a museum it represented a year’s crop of flax or that a simple cloak meant someone had to chase sheep around and babysit them (and then sharpen a knife, pin them down and wrestle wool off them).  I mean I knew that, but I didn’t know that.

Well now I did, so as I stood on my tiptoes while Matilda leaned over my head and pounded a mallet into the wall, I decided to take advantage of our rare solitude.  

“I’m most grateful for the clothing mi’lady.” I said around the wooden wedges I was holding in my mouth for her.  

“Clothing?” She sounded bored and somewhat surprised. “What did I do?”

“You sent some clothing down with that young soldier….not that I was ungrateful for the donation from the abbey.”  

“I didn’t send you any sech thing, although I should have I suppose.  Wait… were you wearing a red mantle before?” Her sudden sharpness pierced my rambling thoughts.  

“Well yes, that day on the road, when we first met...”

She stepped off the stool she was on and clapped her hand to her forehead. “Where is that red mantle, do you know?”  It seemed to be a matter of great importance to her although I couldn’t imagine why.  It was far rattier and older than anything she would be interested in, but I did have it.  The patched hosiery and kirtle had gone to wherever Madame Gilfre had seen fit (the old woman and I had been like two peas in a pod since met the other evening) but I’d kept the dress.  Even though it was old, it felt like the only thing still connecting me to my own time.  Full confession, I had all kinds of fantasies about putting it on and somehow reappearing back in my house in San Luis Obispo.  Unfortunately, so far, every time I put it on though, it had been exactly that: fantasy.

“I still have it… I wouldn’t throw it away.” I assured her, thinking that ‘waste not, want not’ was where this conversation was going.  

“Maybe I should lock it up in one of the portmanteus.” I got the impression she was trying to keep her voice intentionally nonchalant and calm. She gave the tapestry we had just hung a whack, and a cloud of dust came out making us both cough.  

"Come by my boudoir tonight," Matilda said conversationally, “and bring the old red thing.” she picked up the next tapestry with strong, calloused hands.  I had noticed she didn’t shrink in the slightest from work or trouble… a trait that would probably serve her well when married to William of Normandy I thought dryly.  

“ mi’lady” I said.  

I had promised Aimee and another girl Melisande I would help them comb the batch of wool we’d just died with the red gill’s I’d brought.  It was one of the many hundreds of little steps that went into Matilda’s wedding attire and I didn’t feel like I could skip out on it.  Everyone was so stressed about getting it down in time.

So I arrived a bit out of breath and without the red dress.  I’d been thinking about it and had decided I really would rather keep it near me.  

“Madame Johanne says that you’re keeping company with Mistress Gilfre these days, you mended the stable boy’s hand?”

“It just needed some binding and a bandage.” I said, trying not to make a big deal of it.  I’d had enough strange looks in the stables when I’d asked for sheep gut and a needle.  

She smiled. “Maybe not, but it does take a fair bit of skill to do embroidery on human skin I’d think.”  

Drat.  She’d already heard about the particulars then.  

“And I heard you also delivered Mrs. Berger of a most unfortunate tumor.”

“She had gallstones.” I said “....nothing very difficult.” I amended when I saw Matilda’s confused expression.

“Are you a physicker then?” She asked. I remembered Nicolas’s soldier had asked me the same thing and I didn’t know how to answer.  I hadn’t quite figured out the line yet between science and superstition and I really wanted to steer clear of any superstitious wonderings that might get me into trouble.  I figured I had enough mystery surrounding me as it was, being a disenfranchised woman from a small manor.  I still hadn’t figured out why people assumed they knew my father or where I was from.  Especially since the Count himself didn’t seem all to sure who I was.

“No, what does a physicker do?” I asked, risking the shame of not knowing something obvious.

Matilda gave a surprised start. “Why you’ve been spending nearly every day with one. Madame Gilfre is the best in Gravensteen...and probably all of Flandres too.”  

"She’s your healer?” I asked, somewhat surprised. For some reason I couldn’t imagine Matilda and Madame Gilfre in the same room together.  “She seems very competent”.  Which was putting it mildly.  She’d put most internal medicine specialists to shame. Yesterday I’d seen her pull a croupy child back from a spasm that would have surely led to intubation at my hospital.  I still wasn’t sure how she’d done it.

“Yes she is, but I see you’ve forgotten the red mantle!”  She finally realized my arms were empty.  

A straightened up and shook my head. “It’s so dirty mi’lady, I didn’t think you really wanted it with your things.”  

She eyed me as I said this as if sizing me up.  

“What if I ordered you to go get it right now.”  If she was testing me, she’d probably win, but I’d already decided I wasn’t going to let it go without a fight.

“I would tell you to let me clean it first.”  

“And after it was cleaned?”

“Then you might want it mended as well.”  

She stared at me, then dropped her gaze pretending to be super entranced the next tapestry we needed to hang.  She was repairing a picture of a boy in green breeches with a sickle in one hand and a bolt of lightening in the other. It looked very Norse mythology to me, and I reminded myself these swamps combined with centuries of ever pillaging Vikings had created a race of exceptionally stubborn people.   

"Oh, I see.” And I had no doubt she did see, though what, I wasn’t sure. “May I ask where you got the mantle?” She asked.  

“It was given to me by an old woman.” Which was true in a manner of speaking.  

“She didn’t perchance have the name Madame Gilfre?”  

I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.  “No?” I said, answering honestly which was what I usually did when I was caught off guard.  It was a bad habit.

I’d been over that day at the fair so many times in my head I wasn’t sure now what was fact and what was fiction.  I was pretty sure though, Madame Gilfre and her arthritic foot had not been featured anywhere in my twenty first century world.  That I was even contemplating the question was beyond madness.  I wanted to hold out hope that I would somehow someway get back, but considering I didn’t know how I got here, did nothing to give me hopeful odds.  

All I remembered was that I’d put on the dress, there had been a loud crash, and I’d gone outside to find myself in medieval France with a raging concussion.  It was possible, I supposed that the dress’d had something to do with it.  I didn’t know if it had anything to do with the old proprietor or not, maybe it didn’t even have anything to do with the dress, but it was the only unusual thing that happened in my schedule.  I was a creature of habit. I’d get up, eat cheese and olives for breakfast, go to hospital, and study.  There didn’t seem any room in there for explaining my reality right now.  

It had been so wholly cataclysmal, I was actually considering maybe there was some force at work I didn’t understand.  I wouldn’t go so far to call it magic.  I’d spent too many years studying medicine and cold hard science to believe in magic like Harry Potter or something.  But a niggling thought in the back of my head reminded me that at one point everyone thought Galileo was bonkers for thinking the world was round and revolved around the sun.  Maybe what had happened to me would make sense to some future generation.  Not that it mattered what I believed or didn’t believe.  As much as I wanted to be back home, the truth of the matter was I was sitting in the boudoir of a little person who was likely the most powerful eighteen year old female alive in the western world.  ...and she was waiting for an answer.  

“Do you not like Madame Gilfre?” I asked. It seemed that Matilda was definitely driving at something, but what I couldn’t tell.  

“No, of course I like her…” She started to say something then stopped.  “...I am not sure what to make of you Emilie of Durand who knows not French and wouldn’t know a zegedine if she stepped on one.”

Well yes, all that was definitely true.  I held my breath, was I discovered?

“I might as well tell you...I don’t know why it’s so discomfiting.”  She handed me the corner of the next tapestry because of course there was no such thing as just sitting around idly.  That would have been as preposterous as using toilet paper.  

“...I’ve seen that red mantle of yours before.”  

That made me pay closer attention.  I felt like something creepy had just put a hand on my shoulder and handed me a missing puzzle piece.  My astonished look must have convinced her of something.

“You weren’t at the Chateau de Domfront for the feast of fools?” She asked sharply.  

“No, of course know I wasn’t!” I didn’t know where that last part came. Matilda looked surprised at my audacity too.

“I don’t trust you.”  She said.

Apparently now we were being honest with each other.  

“The feeling is mutually, I assure you.” I didn’t add that I couldn’t trust anybody, whereas she had such an intense network of handmaidens and servants she was like a long armed octopus controlling every piece of gossip and industry in Gravensteen.  

She laughed, “Fair enough.” She shook the dust out of her dress.  There was a smudge of soot on her nose leftover from whatever work she’d been doing, and it contrasted so much with the richness of the gold and blue birds woven into her gown I couldn’t quite come to terms this barely grown half fairy, half executive she-beast. She also wasn’t done with her surprises either.  

“Madame Gilfre is leaving.”  

“What?” This was astonishing as I’d just been cataloging stomach roots with her this morning. “Why?”

“I thought we agreed not to trust each other.” She said coolly.

Fine. I nodded my head in acknowledgement.  I didn’t want to be at odds with Matilda, but I also wasn’t going to give up the red dress… at least not until I knew what she wasn’t telling me.  

“Madame Gilfre is quite effervescent in her praises of your skills.”  She took her enormous ring of keys out of some deep pocket I hadn’t realized existed. Seriously, people around here carried so much stuff all the time, they were like pack mules.  She took off a small bronze key and handed it to me.  “That is the key to the valetudinaria.  Madame Gilfre was hoping you’d look after things while she was gone.”

I didn’t know what to say, it wasn’t posed as a question, and no wasn’t an allowable answer.  This much I knew.  But how much danger was I putting myself into by saying yes? Despite all of my map drawing, list making and studying, I could still barely eat a meal without committing some major faux pas.  “Yes mi’lady.”

Oh, and there were all the foreign dignitaries and noblemen coming in from Rome and Gaul bringing in all kinds of new viruses and microorganisms to an already ingrown microbiome.  It was a recipe for disaster.  

But like it or not, it looked like Gravensteen had a new physicker.

Chapter Seven

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