Today, I’m sharing a previous post that I’ve updated with more information on the setting of the story. I’ve marked the parts I’ve added with asterisks.
I don’t think I made a conscious decision as to what kind of world to use in the ‘Moon Goddess’ story. When I started writing, it felt right to set it in a medieval-type world, similar to early medieval England.
Using that as my base made it easy in that I didn’t have to think about the laws of nature and physics; they would be the same as in our world. As for the inhabitants, there wouldn’t be any other races, other than humans. Most of the other factors that are taken into account when it comes to world-building are basically the same as that of medieval England, including the physical features of the land, social organisation and daily life.
A lot of my research was to do with what life was like then. I dipped into a few books and online articles but the one book I found invaluable was ‘The Year 1000: What life was like at the turn of the first millennium’ by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. They used the Julius Work Calendar as their base to discuss how ordinary people lived through the year with the chapters divided into the months of the year.
This Calendar is thought to have been written around the year 1020. Its layout is 12 months written on 12 pages; each sheet headed with the name of the month and the sign of the zodiac, which I, personally, found interesting. The days of the month are listed down the page and, right at the bottom, are endearing little illustrations showing the task of the month – for example, January depicts ploughing; May shows shepherds with their flock; and August, harvesting.
I learned so many interesting things from this book, which went a long way in helping me present a believable world. And they weren’t necessarily ‘big’ things; I’m talking relatively small things, like clothes, which were more colourful than I imagined. Natural vegetable colourings were used to produce strong hues:
dark brown was obtained from bracken
yellow from chamomile flowers, apple, ash or birch
green from young heather shoots or boiled nettle leaves
carmine from the inner bark of the birch tree
purple from dandelion or elderberries
grey from silver birch bark
navy blue from blackberry juice
black from oak or blackberry juice boiled with ivy leaves.
Other interesting details:
Underwear was made of coarse hand-woven wool which made it scratchy; only the wealthy could afford linen garments.
Buttons had not been invented so clothes were fastened with clasps and thongs.
Cutlery hadn’t been invented; the eating fork was only invented in the 17th century. When you went to a feast, you had to take your own knife.
There was no sugar so honey was used to add sweetness. The absence of sugar meant there was no dental or jaw decay.
Bread back then was more important than meat, milk or vegetables; it was round, coarse and flat, with the texture of pitta bread.
There were copious varieties of fruit including apple, pear, plum, fig, quince, peach, and mulberry; also, chestnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Vegetables included onions, leeks, celery, radish, carrots, garlic, shallots, parsnip, cabbage, lettuce, parsley, dill and coriander. But there was no spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, runner beans, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, and tomatoes. Neither was there tea, coffee or chocolate.
Village society usually consisted of the lord of the manor/castle; his officers (reeves and bailiffs); the priests; and a peasant population of sokemen (or freemen who paid cash or goods for the land they rented), villeins (bound to the land and could not leave to farm elsewhere) and slaves.
* I modelled the villagers after ‘villeins’, people who were serfs with respect to their lord but who had the rights of free men with respect to others. The villagers’ houses were made of a material called wattle, which was basically thick branches of wood woven together and covered with daub; daub was a mixture of clay, oxhair and dung. Even though the villeins had their crops to harvest, they were expected to harvest their lord’s crop first. This meant they had to work from dawn to dusk; roughly, about 6am to 10pm.*
Depending on factors such as local weather conditions and drinking habits, about half the land would be sown in barley, which was needed for making ale. A third would be planted in wheat; the remainder in peas and oats. Farmers also kept:
one or more horses and oxen for pulling the plough and other heavy work
a couple of milk cows for milk which was turned into cheese
a few pigs, which were fattened for major feasts
several dozen sheep, which supplied wool
chickens and geese, which supplied meat and eggs to enhance a diet of peas and porridge
* One of the ways people predicted the weather was by observing their animals. Horses tend to get restless and shake their heads just before rain. If sheep are lying quietly, that means the weather should be fine, but if they’re up and grazing early, or huddling together by bushes, then rain should be expected. And restless cattle running around the pasture means there’s a thunderstorm brewing.*
The houses of the peasants were very basic with, possibly, only one small window to minimise drafts; only the rich could afford glass in their windows. This meant the inside was usually dark. The floor was flattened earth, and there was usually either 1 or 2 rooms. The furniture was minimal, consisting of a table and stools, maybe a chair. With the cooking fire constantly lit, the accumulated smoke must have been unbearable.
* For many ordinary people, life was a constant struggle. In times of famine or when they could not provide for their families anymore, starving men would surrender themselves into bondage, exchanging their freedom for the chance to live. It wasn’t unheard of, in truly desperate situations, for a father to sell his son under the age of seven as a slave. Tragically, even infanticide was not seen as a crime.*
One of the things that surprised me was discovering that people in those times were tall, similar to people of today; they were strong and healthy. Many lived in the countryside on “a simple, wholesome diet that grew sturdy limbs, and very healthy teeth.” They were practical, skilful with their hands. I guess if I’d stopped to think about it, I’d have realised just how mentally adept they must have been; their knowledge didn’t come from books as very few could read. Everything they learned they did by observing and imitating, “usually by standing alongside an adult who was almost certainly their mother or father, and by memorising everything they needed to survive and enrich their lives.” And they remembered it all!
Life for the average medieval person was very routine, with most of the time spent working the land. It’s no surprise that social activities were very important, as was music. Weddings were traditional folk ceremonies, a ritual of toasts, vows and speeches enjoyed with the rest of the village.
Interestingly, divorce was allowed. There were no ethical hang-ups about it, so long as the practicalities were taken care of, basically the apportioning of property and the care of the children. One Anglo-Saxon law code makes clear that “a woman could walk out of her marriage on her own initiative if she cared to, and that if she took the children and cared for them, then she was also entitled to half the property.”
The laws of the time were tough and very matter-of-fact. With gallows positioned outside every town and at crossroads, hanging was the most effective deterrent in an age with no law-keeping force or prisons.
* Apart from execution, the other penalties for breaking the law was either paying of fines or slavery. Not surprisingly, the poor suffered the most as they had no money to pay fines; the only thing they could forfeit was their labour. Under the ‘wergild’ system, every man and woman had their price – the cost of a human life was 125lbs of silver. Because there was a price attached, it was possible for a rich nobleman with a murderous streak to avoid the death penalty by paying for the life he had taken; no such luck for the poor.*
Although the story doesn’t feature anyone writing, this snippet of information is too fascinating not to be shared; it describes how ink was made:
“It was an oak tree that provided the ink, from a boil-like pimple growing out of its bark. A wasp had gnawed into the wood to lay its eggs there, and, in self-defence, the tree had formed a gall around the intrusion, circular and hard-skinned like a crab apple, full of clear acid. ‘Encaustrum’ was what they called ink in the year 1000, from the Latin caustere, ‘to bite’, because the fluid from the galls on an oak tree literally bit into the parchment, which was flayed from the skin of lamb or calf or kid. Ink was treacly liquid in those days. You crushed the oak galls in rainwater or vinegar, thickened it with gum arabic, then added iron salts to colour the acid.”