joi, 12 septembrie 2013

Life's surprises

“I'm just not built for fairytale surprises.” 

"I know it doesn't taste very good ... I'm sorry for that. One of our neighbours offered to help me next time ..."
"To Hell, Alleken! It tastes even worse than the last time!"
"I know ... I already said I'm sorry! It's just that I'm not good at it ... "
"You're not good at cooking, you burned my underclothes the second time this month and because you can't make one decent seam we have to call the dressmaker every week! The only thing you know how to do doesn't help me at all, because you spend your damn whole day seeing paupers and strumpets!"
"Husband, please calm down."
"Don't 'husband' me! I'm starting to doubt you can even carry out your duty as my wife and produce an heir!" 

Two years into our marriage and everything was already on the rocks. To everybody else though, we were still the perfect married couple.
Gregory was busy administering his family's farm, so he spent at least three days every week out of the town, while I finally managed to open the consulting room, so we didn't see much of each other. Even so, our relatives started to ask questions, wondering if there wasn't something wrong with one of us for not yet having children.
What children, if even when my husband finally got to spent five days together with me, we were both so busy with our own concerns? Of course, the fact that I still lacked most of the standard housewife skills didn't help at all with our problems.

As for our first problem, I can't say that we didn't try. At least during out first year of marriage. Seeing that I was still not with child, I was beginning to worry, because I knew that there shouldn't be anything wrong with me. Even Teacher saw me and assured me of that. And there was nothing wrong with Gregory either, not that he would ever allow me or Teacher to make sure of that.

My work with the patients kept me busy, so I didn't really have much time to give it a second thought that summer, but at the beginning of fall I started to notice some signs and in less than a month I was already certain I was with child. I told Gregory that very night and he couldn't be more excited. He finally started spending more time at home and I have to admit, I couldn't be happier. I thought all our problems would end with the birth of this child.

Of course, things didn't turn out as I expected.
As every new mother-to-be and despite all my knowledge, I was scared and starteled even by the slightest new detail that didn't go 'by the book' and although I had a fairly easy time during my first trimester - I only suffered of occasional headaches and my weight remained almost unchanged - during my 22nd week I knew there was something uncanny about this baby. I discussed it with Teacher and we both had our share of suspicions, but we decided to wait a couple more weeks. Of course, by my third trimester, both of us were certain about the fact that there were at least two babies, most probably three. And that's when I became really worried.

Even if twins were a common event among humans, multiple births occured almost stricly among elves or other species, mostly naiads or selkies and with me beeing a first time mother, things wouldn't be as easy as I would have liked them to be. Gregory became concerned too and insisted that I should stop seeing other patients. Teacher agreed with him and I had to comply.

The labour lasted for almost 20 hours and I have to admit that it was the most bloodcurdling experience in my life, not only because of the pain, but mostly because I was so nervous and anxious about the babies beeing born too early and their chances of survival. By the time everything ended, even Gregory was exhausted. I gave birth at 32 weeks of gestation, not that would have been a surprising thing, taking into account the fact that I carried three daughters and a son. The boy and one of the girls were slightly underdeveloped and I was really worried for them, but they survived. We named them Francis, Matilda, Rosaline and Lyonnete and had all four of them christened by the third day.

I knew that Gregory would never be able to accuse me of not fulfilling my obligations.
And that's how our sleepless nights began.

We both agreed that it would have been nearly impossible for me to care for four newborns by myself, regardless of how much experience I already had with young children - I didn't really have any experience with such young children ; I knew how to deliver them and I was good at instructing the new mothers what they were supposed to do, but everything is so different when it concerns your own children - so we brought another girl in the house to help me. Even so, I didn't get more than two or three hours of sleep every night and by the time the babies turned one, I was nearly exhausted. Gregory tried to help me at the beginning, but he gave up after almost a week and even my mother couldn't resist more than a few months.
Still, in spite of all those things like sleepless nights, infantile colics and the occasional colds, I can't say that I wasn't happy to be a mother and I enjoyed every moment of it. Now that we already had four children to concern ourselves about, Gregory didn't really care too much about our old arguments.

luni, 9 septembrie 2013

The definition of marriage

Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.

Now, I don't want to make it seem like he wasn't a pleasant person and I certainly don't want to make myself look like an ill-mannered young girl, because I'm well aware that my parents took pains in raising me well and educating me. 

At the first inspection, Gregory was everything a girl ever wanted. And more, because his family, even if not among the noble ones, was very wealthy and well known as an industrious one.
Bright, blue eyes, tan skin and a boysh grin that would melt any girl's heart. Not to mention the fine manners. It wasn't exactly love at first sight - I was so young back then that I doubt I was even capable of something like that - but I think both of us felt attracted to each other. I was only 15 and he was 25 when we first met, but to everybody else, it was the perfect match.
As I stated above, it wasn't the first time we were seeing each other. Or, at least, you could say it wasn't the first time I was meeting him. If I remember correctly, I had the first glimpse of him many years ago, when I accompanied my father and brother on a journey to the lowlands to send Albrecht to a school at the Cathedral, in the township. Gregory was the one in charge of the newcomers, but I was barely 6 at that time and it was very cold in the monumental hall at the Cathedral, so I was hiding behind layers of warm frabric that my mother carefully wrapped me in. I too didn't pay much attention to him back then.
The second time I saw him was during my apprenticeship. It happened in a breezy spring morning. It wasn't even 5 o'clock when someone knocked on our front door and woke everybody up from their beds. Because I was sleeping in the kitchen, I was the fastest one and I got to open the door. That's when he stormed inside asking for Teacher and practicly begging her to come with him at their farm and help his father's wife deliver. I was 13 years old when this happened, so Teacher took me with her. 
His father was an old and morose farmer, otherwise very respected in the comunity. For many years, he used to be a widower, his first wife having died while giving birth to Gregory. So, of course everybody was taken aback when he married overnight. His new wife was a naiad that barely understood human language, but she soon gave him two sons and a daughter. The night when me and Teacher assisted her, she gave birth to three more boys. Gregory's father never really thanked Teacher for her assistence, but he offered to pay her money. He knew Teacher and her family never accepted payment for what they did.
All those things happened years before me and Gregory were first formally introduced to each other and we never discussed this subject.
So, a month after my return, I left my family again, only this time for a different reason. Because Gregory had so many younger siblings (one sister and five brothers) at the time the two of us got married, both our families decided that it would probably be better for us not to live at his father's farm. So his family purchased a stylish property in a nearby town, while my parents offered to furnish it.
It was a new construction, still smelling of newly applied polish and fresh cut wood. A large kitchen, a chique hall for receiving guests, my own consulting room where I could privately see each patient and all of these only on the first floor. On the second floor there were two apartments, one for my husband and one for me, each of those two apartment with it's own bedroom, cloakroom and parlour, another apartment for children that had yet to come and a nursery. It wasn't easy on the first days of our marriage, with our house still full of labourers, but now, when I look at this little piece of art that I call my apartment I have to admit that it was worth it.

Because we had already spent so much arranging everything, we had to accept the fact that for the first few months, we couldn't afford to bring a kitchen maid, a valet for my husband or a housemaid for me. And that only raised more questions and lead to our first marital quarrel. I was already 15 years old when I got married and I was an aknowledged healer and midwife ready to start practicing on my own, but I literally had no knowledge on the domestic field. I couldn't boil an egg. I couldn't even do a decent work preparing my husband's tea, so cooking turned out to be a real ordeal for both of us. Ironing his clothes and sewing were also another mistery to me.

duminică, 8 septembrie 2013


"Life is a ticket to the greatest show on Earth."

I was born in faraway lands, under a much warmer sun, at 10th of august 1617, but I don't have memories of that place, a place that I haven't seen in years.
My name is Alleken Marie Varnhagen, and the very thing itself was a game between my parents months before I was born. I was their first child, so, when my mother learned she was with child - a thing that didn't happen until the fourth year in their marriage - she and my father somehow established a rule. Like in any traditional family, everyone around them expected my parents to pray for a boy, but that wasn't what my they had in mind. They simply wanted a healthy baby, boy or girl I think it didn't matter for the two of them. And because they both had the same opinion on this, they decided to make some kind of a deal: my mother got to choose the name in case of the baby being a boy and, if the baby turned up to be a daughter, it was my father's call. Because it was everybody's opinion that the baby had to be a boy, I turned out to be somewhat of a surprise to everyone and my father suddenly found himself faced with a great decision. He came with my name and that's how far my parents' game went. My second name was my mother's choice, because back where I was born, there was this customary law for every child to have a biblical name along with a more formal one.
A year and a half later came my younger brother, Albrecht Rudolf, named after our paternal grandfather, and that's how this game between my parents came to an end.
A few months after my brother's birth, my family was forced to move, so they purchased a farm somewhere into the mountains. That farm became the only home that I knew for the next 8 years.
I can't seem to recall any major event in my childhood, or any other thing that could majorly influence my development back in those days, so I think I should consider myself fortunate. I know that there used to be a war, but that was too far away from us and there was nothing in my parents' behaviour to indicate that our life had anything to suffer from it. I remember the snow, which was practically an immutable thing for those 8 years and I can also remember that both me and Albrecht were loved and appreciated by our parents. Other than those two aspects, there seems to be something like a could leisurely settling on my memories. Life was easy back in those days, or so my parents knew how to make it seem like to us. Short days spent playing in the snow or simply enjoying the rare rays of the winter sun, cosy evenings in front of the fire and long nights under the warm sheets, when our parents used to tuck me and my brother up.
That's the life I lived up until I turned 9.

I think you could say that I got to make my own decision regarding the path I followed in life, because my parents never asked for an injunction. Even so, I can't trace any important events that could have influenced me in making this life changing decision at such a tender age.
All that I recall was that the day after I turned 9 years old, my mother helped me pack some of my clothes and other paraphernalia, kissed me good bye and sent me along with my father on our way to the lowlands. I think now it's the time to ask whosoever's reading these lines not to judge my parents for such a brief and seemingly unemotional parting. As I stated above, it was my own decision and my parents accepted it. There were, of course, different times back then and for a child to leave his parents at such a young age and start his apprenticeship far from his parents' home wasn't such an uncommon event. I know how hard it must have been for my mother and father and what sacrifices they had to make.
After two days of travelling, my father and I arrived in a sleepy village, where he left me with an elven family. Now, even if it wasn't unheard for girls to choose the path of apprenticeship, please let me say that beeing accepted in an elven household as a healer prentice wasn't exactly an ordinary event. I was welcomed there and immediately accepted in their family. I met my Teacher, a forest elf named Lyzara, who worked as a midwife along with her husband and brother, Lyzair, a famous healer of our lands. There were also two of their children working with them and a grandson.

Now, the fact that I was accepted there didn't mean that I was to become a healer in the twinkling of an eye. I was only a child that didn't know a thing about healing or life itself. I barely knew how to read and write and I had a very vague idea about mathematics and science. I could count up to a hundred or so and I knew how to add or substract, but that pretty much summed up all the things I understood back then. So Teacher had to be very patient with me. And even after I learned things like comparing numbers, reading clocks, units of measure and adding decimals, I still had a long way to go. For the first year that I spent there I wasn't even allowed to attend Teacher while she saw patients. My duty was to study by myself for as long as she was busy with other patients and help around the house. You could say I had my fair share or laundering, and cleaning, but that's how life used to be in their house, with everyone working together and doing their part of work. I also got to see my parents every couple of months and they visited me every time my father had work in a village nearby. I was also allowed to spend a month at the end of the summer with my family, helping them at the farm. Those visits became less frequent as I grew older and as my studying intensified. I was gradually allowed to watch Teacher when she visited other women in childbed or even when she assisted at a childbirth. Of course, beeing only 10 years old, I knew that I had to get out of the room and quietly wait outside every time things became complicated. I learned to read it on Teacher's face. Her usually impassive demeanor would become more demure and she would almost indistinguishably knit her brows. In theory, I already knew what in meant and what could occur, but I also knew that there would be at least a year or two until I got to see what really happened.
By the time I turned 14, I already saw two women dying in childbirth and assisted Teacher at delivering at least two stillborns. I knew that Humans, Elves, Selkies or even Demons were still mortal creatures and when delivering, all women were the same. Scared for themselves and for their unborn children. Back then I thought I knew everything about life and death, but, of course, I realized there were still so many things to learn when Teacher's husband, Lyzair, decided it was the time to start taking me with him when he visited the poor persons that lived in each and every village from this land. That's when I learned that there is misery in this world, true, tangible misery and suffering.
Being raised by a disbelieving father and a very indulgent mother, I have never been a religious person and I refused to concern myself with problems such as the existence of a divinity or my own soul's immortality, but the things that I got to see while travelling with my Teacher's husband convinced me that, even if God may or may not actually exist, there surely is evil in this world.
About the things that I saw until I turned 15 I will talk another time, as this is supposed to be only the foreword of my tales and not the entire story itself.
So, by the time I was 15 years old, I knew that I still had so much more to learn about life and suffering, but that's where this story begins and if things were to have happened as I hoped them to happen, maybe I wouldn't be writing those lines. That fall, my family decided for me to take up my indentures and called me back home, because it was time for me to get married. And this beeing such an important aspect of my existence, they already had everything arranged.
His name was Gregory Cooper, son of a wealthy farmer and trader, and it wasn't the first time that the two of us came to meet each other. Even if I doubt he remembered me as that insignificant girl from many years ago.

Warwickshire: A Renaissance Challenge

The year is 1600. You are a Serf, seeking out a hard existence from the soil. Though your life is hard, you love your country and your King, and believe that your place in the Natural Order of things is ordained by God. If He wills it, a Serf who is hard working may be smiled upon by Divine Providence and given a higher place in the Natural Order of life, though it has never occurred to you, until now, to question your place in the system. However, the world is changing.
Everywhere, the foundations of feudalism are crumbling. New possibilities are arising for those who are enterprising enough to seize them, but these people, many believe, threaten the Natural Order and create chaos. Still, others maintain that man’s destiny is not written in the stars, that one must seek opportunity and advancement where it presents itself—that a New World is emerging, one which favors free thought and trade and which rewards those who seek to better themselves. These self-made men rationalize that the ends justify the means, and that Nature’s laws reveal that there is a Divine plan for all of creation, but one which rewards those who study her mysteries and who exploit her resources for personal gain. For these new thinkers, Knowledge is Power, and the keys to power are through Intrigue and Cunning. Nature, according to them, is a vast repository of resources, ripe for the taking, and they are not willing to sit contentedly by in their “rightful” place and accept their place in the “Natural Order.” Such antiquated thinking is for them a nuisance, a foolish belief of their elders. For you, you’re not sure about all of this. There have been wild moments, when working the soil or fishing in the Lord’s ponds, that you’ve fancied yourself a Duke, but such nonsense didn’t amount to much of a real concern. Now, as you see the world changing about you, you consider whether you’d like to change your position in society.
This is where the challenge begins. To successfully complete the challenge, you must see a family rise from the level of Serf to Duke within ten generations. To answer the question whether it is possible to succeed without cheating, you will find multiple ways to play the system in order to get ahead more quickly. Death, disease, and general difficulty will be your constant companions, regardless of how virtuous or evil you plan to play the game.
Warwickshire Challenge 2.0