Willow in the Twilight Zone

While over at mariathermann.wordpress.com I’ve been discussing how important location is to me as a writer, here at Willow the Vampire’s own blog I have so far been looking mainly at nocturnal characters and their traits.

Willow and her family are creatures of the night themselves and naturally, this influences the way they view the world.

Not so long ago the excellent writer and teacher William Stadler talked about incorporating all the senses in one’s writing on his own WP blog Stadler Style, such as using sound and temperature for example.

Doing so will not only help with characterization but also with setting a scene far more vividly. One draws the reader in more, when there are points of reference familiar to the reader, such as the sound of a school dinner bell or heavy rainfall or thunder and lightning or a car back firing.

At the time I commented how I like to use animals to set the scene and to give a “time” reference such as allowing a bumble bee to enter a room as a reference/metaphor for daylight, spring and new beginnings or, in contrast, use the flight of migratory birds to symbolise autumn, endings and melancholy.

After having shown you a whole host of creatures of the night Willow the Vampire might come across on her nocturnal rambles through the Stinkforthshire countryside, I felt it was about time to introduce the Twilight animals to you.

Vampires can come out to play after the sun has set and can remain outdoors until the sun rises again. Although this does not apply to Willow herself, it is nevertheless what she grew up with and what is most familiar to her – her vampire parents are forced to live that way.

At dawn and dusk a large variety of animals emerge that we don’t always notice during the daytime hours. Take a stroll to a local river, pond or lake and you’ll see what I mean. There are herons and egrets, dancing cranes and grebes, Common loon and cormorants, squirrels coming for a drink of fresh water and geese gathering to take off in formation.

In your garden or in the hedgerows there are hedgehogs and adders, snails and slugs, moths and mice, which suddenly awake to forage, to mate, and to communicate with the world.

In some ways Willow the Vampire has been stuck in her own twilight world – she is still exploring who she is and what she is…are all vampires evil…or are humans bad? A recent reviewer of Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove picked up on the underlying discussion of good versus evil and all the twilight shades in between. This theme will be explored further in Willow’s second novel, when she sets out to deal with the problem of the Würzburg Ghosts.

Waterfowl are an interesting bunch and come in a great variety. There are divers, stalkers, hunters and shy creatures which, when startled, will break out in an ear-splitting call. As a child I often stayed in my grandparent’s hut on their allotment by a riverbank and memories of this special time have remained with me life-long.

At dawn the world around me awoke with tweets and coughs, clucking and chattering, hooting and flapping of wings on water. These sounds symbolise for me a very special time of day as well as an important part of my upbringing. At dawn and dusk the world seems more vulnerable, being reborn and dying at the same time. During the day and at night, when we are alone, we may feel abandoned, forgotten, lonely and scared, but at dawn and dusk, when the world either wakes up with a yawn or rubs its sleepy eyes to got to bed, we feel differently.

The animals gathering by the water’s edge may even be enemies at night or when the sun is high in the clouds, but at this special t’wixt and b’tween time a temporary cease-fire reigns and everyone gets on…

Don’t be a Boar!

Having finally re-discovered my wild boar research in one of my client’s files, I’ve decided to make this a two part blog. The first part deals with the real animal, while part two will explore the mythological beasty.

Growing up in rural Germany, I often came across wild boar, when walking in the woods or when visiting nature reserves. It was always thrilling to meet this shy, but potentially lethal creature. Most of them take to their heels and run off, but some stand their ground and challenge the astonished hiker, particularly when their chocolate and cream striped and utterly adorable piglets are accompanying them on their foraging trips.

Snowi, a young wild boar (Sus scrofa) in the W...

The wild boar (Sus scrofa), or wild pig, is a species belonging to the pig genus Sus, which forms part of the family Suidae. Wild boars are the ancestors of our domestic pigs and typically live in groups of 20 to 50 animals. Northern and Central Europe was once their main stomping ground, but their geographical spread also includes the North African Atlas Mountains, large parts of Asia and the Mediterranean, too. Their average weight is around 44 to 50 kilos, but some male boars can reach enormous sizes: 320 kg boars were allegedly strutting around in Russia, but 100 kilo specimen are not uncommon in Italy either. Fancy coming across that on a walk!

While in Germany the wild boar is still common and indeed, is now invading cities to forage for food (e.g. March 2012, Hamburg, where a wild boar fell into a river, when a group of wild pigs where chased from people’s gardens), the relentless hunting caused the wild boar to disappear completely from British forests and fields during the Middle Ages. Today, wild boar – its own worst enemy, thanks to its delicious meat – is being commercially farmed in the UK, but a few small colonies exist in the wild, mainly where wild boar managed to escape from farms and wildlife parks. One small herd established itself in Dorset; the other exists in East Sussex/Kent.

English: A baby Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) in a wi...

Throughout the centuries wild boar was prized not just for its wonderful meat but also for its bristles, which were used for brushes and for its ivory tusks, which can be cut into all manner of things and be decorated with carvings. Famous for its bravery, the wild boar is a formidable opponent. Hunting for boar and stag became particularly popular among the European aristocracy in the 14th century, when knights and their kings owned vast estates. They established their own game parks to allow them total control over their hunting grounds and prey. The aristocracy put very strict laws into place to protect their animals throughout the seasons, ensuring there’d always be enough meat on their princely banqueting tables. Hunting was a pastime for the elite, leaving foxhunting to peasants.

English: Gaston III of Foix-Béarn (Gaston Phoe...

English: Gaston III of Foix-Béarn (Gaston Phoebus) as depicted in Livre de chasse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nobleman Gaston Phoebus published a whole series of hunting scenes in Burgundy, which show how the rich elite hunted with lots of underlings doing the chasing and flushing out of prey as well as packs of hounds, nets and snares to kill wild animals.

To give Gaston his proper titles, he was Gaston III/X of Foix-Béarn, also known as Gaston Fébus or Gaston Phoebus (April 30, 1331–1391). For his sins he was the 11th count of Foix as well as viscount of Béarn (1343–1391). Officially, he was known as Gaston III of Foix and Gaston X of Béarn.

His book Livre de chasse (Book of the Hunt) was written between 1387 and 1388 and dedicated to Philip the Bold, who was the Duke of Burgundy at the time. As one of the greatest huntsmen of his day, Gaston III/X knew what he was talking about. He describes the various stages of hunting and how to hunt for different animals. As a self-appointed expert on animal behaviour Gaston also offers advice to the less well-off aristocracy, who often bankrupted themselves by keeping game parks and inviting vast numbers of their mates to hunt with them – they all had to be accommodated, fed and watered!

Gaston’s hunting scenes were also reflected in the rich tapestries of the time, which served as wall hangings in castles to keep out the draft and to boast to visitors of the riches the castle owner had at his disposal, not to mention his prowess as a hunter. One of Master Phoebus’ paintings shows a boar hunt, where the rich overlord is sitting safely on a horse, piercing the wild boar with his broad sword, while his underlings are armed with lances and spears, risking their own lives by confronting the boar on foot. Together the collection of paintings appeared in what was to become one of the most famous hunting books of the time.

If this blog was about cooking for humans, I’d now present you with a yummy wild boar recipe, but just like Willow the Vampire’s attitude in these matters, my own allegiance is with the boar, I’m afraid! I do confess to having eaten wild boar stew on a number of occasions when I was young and out for a meal with my parents and well…it was very delicious indeed.

Wild Boar

The next blog will deal with the boar as a mythical creature, both hunted and revered for millennia by Phoenicians, ancient Romans and 6th century Celts, or should I say Brits, like King Arthur and Merlin.

To Hell with Blood Suckers!

I’ve finally managed to translate my one and only German language Willow the Vampire story, which is slightly more grown up than the usual Willow adventures. The German language version appears on my-shortstory.de and was really an experiment to see if I might like to translate my Willow books in the future …erm, no is the honest answer. It’s too much hard work and I actually prefer writing in English!

The story is dedicated to everyone who suffered as a consequence of mis-sold mortgages and lost their home thanks to evil bankers. Hand the mean-spirited, rotten finance toads to Willow and her mum, they’ll teach them a thing or two about true customer service!

Since there’s apparently no chance of my wild boar research turning up any time soon, here’s my favourite creature of the night, namely Willow the Vampire herself, in action:

 

To Hell with Blood Suckers!

“He’s locked himself into the back room and refuses to come out.” Ebenezer Hardcastle banged his fists against the front door of the rundown manor house.

“Leave it! We’ll get him another way. Look, what I’ve just found!” George Greedy held up an orange and white striped cat and grinned from ear to ear.

Both representatives of Avarice & Slimeball, a local branch of a Stinkforthshire-based private bank, tiptoed around the house until they reached the rear garden and spotted the homeowner peering out of a window. Mr Greedy jumped right in front of the window and lifted up the loudly protesting cat by its neck.

“Open up at once or I’ll wring the moggie’s neck, do you hear, Bakewell? You haven’t paid your mortgage for months now – get your sorry backside out of this house at once! Our business terms and conditions state clearly when to pay your instalments and what happens, when you default on payments.” Greedy shook the cat violently and raised the protesting animal high above his head, where the hapless creature dangled from his arm in dangerous proximity to his trilby hat. The cat mewed and stretched out her paws into the cold winter air as if to ask for clemency and the return to her patch by the fire.

Through the window pane appeared the pale faces of a man and a small boy. When Greedy took another step towards the house, both inmates were so horrified they jumped back several paces. Shortly afterwards the creak of the front door announced the house was now open for an assault. Greedy and Hardcastle ran around the house once more and came breathlessly to a halt in front of Mr Bakewell.

Former headmaster Bakewell stood with his chin up and head held high in the door frame and reached for his pet. “Give me back my cat, you wretched blood sucker!”

Instead of following this polite invitation, Greedy turned to his colleague Hardcastle and handed him the cat. Hardcastle took the cat and stuffed it under his coat to prevent it from scratching him as an act of vengence. Delighted about the outcome, George Greedy bobbed up and down on the tip of his toes, swaying back and forth, until he nearly collided with Mr Bakewell’s nose.

“Bakewell, we’ll give you five minutes to get your measly belongings together. This is no longer your house, do you understand? You’ve lost your job at the school and you owe us a lot of money. The estate belongs to us now…erm…I mean it belongs to the Bank. Tomorrow morning the bulldozers will arrive and tear this ruin down, do you hear? Right, get on with it. My time costs money…money you haven’t got, Bakewell!”

Bakewell made a fist and prepared to hit Greedy, but seven-year-old Kevin forced his way past his father and ran out of the house. Kevin pushed the astonished Greedy out of this path and jumped Hardcastle, who at that very moment was trying to control the furious cat under his coat. Kevin raised his foot, aimed and kicked Ebenezer Hardcastle’s shin so hard the shock caused the banker to let go off the cat. The animal fled into the arms of his seven-year-old master and Kevin hugged his beloved pet reassuringly.

Greedy’s mouth stood open and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “I don’t believe it! How dare you set that blasted brat on my colleague?”

Bakewell was a man of few words; he picked up his suitcase, pulled the door behind him shut and put his arm around his son’s shoulders. Father, child and cat walked down the garden path without wasting another thought on the two bankers. When the Bakewell family had reached the garden gate, Mr Bakewell turned around, glanced long and hard at his former home and then raised his fist in response to Greedy and Hardcastle.

“You’ll pay for this! I only owe you one instalment, not three, as you mangy dogs stated in your letter. Just one more week and I’d have had enough money to pay my debt! To hell with you damn blood-suckers!”

Greedy pulled a face clearly showing he didn’t believe Bakewell’s assertions. It had begun to snow again and for a brief moment everyone stood still and watched white clouds coming from mouths and noses. Ebenezer cleared his throat to end the silence, but Greedy stirred and headed towards the front door. Bakewell spat across the garden fence towards the two bankers and walked stiffly off with Kevin at his side. Father, son and cat vanished into the trees and squelched down the snowy path into the forest, until Ebenezer, who was still rubbing his shin, could neither see nor hear them anymore.

He turned towards his business partner. “That went much better than expected; although I still think we should have brought some muscle along.”

“Nonsense, we don’t need witnesses, who need silencing later, do we?” Greedy rattled the door handle. “Damn, the key won’t turn! You said the duplicate would fit.”

While Greedy busied himself with the door, Ebenezer walked around the house and tried the back door. He was in luck, it wasn’t locked. Ebenezer called his colleague over. Both men loosened the snow from their shoes and entered the manor house, which sat dark and snoozing in the cold winter afternoon.

“It’s got to be here somewhere. Here…here, I found the door to the basement. Damn, aren’t there any lights?” George Greedy flicked the light switch in the hallway up and down, but nothing happened. “I bet he didn’t pay the electricity bill either!” Greedy grumbled and made his way cautiously down the staircase into the basement.

It reeked of moth balls, old apples and mouse droppings, but as far as Ebenezer and Greedy were concerned, it was not nearly as bad as the other, rather peculiar smell that assaulted their nostrils with every step they took further down into the darkness.

“Eurgh, what’s that stink? “ Ebenezer started sneezing incessantly, so much so he nearly tumbled down the stairs.

“Mind your step, Ebenezer!” Greedy pushed him out of the way and Ebenezer plunged into a pile of wooden boxes full of rotting pears. “It must be here somewhere. Wait, I think I’ve found a lantern.”

Ebenezer heard a match being struck and instantly a tiny flame lit up his colleague’s face. By the red light of the lantern George looked rather comical, like a scarecrow, which had sprung to life reluctantly. He squeezed his meagre arm behind a shelf and fingered the wall behind it gingerly. George grunted with the effort. Someone had fixed the heavy shelf to the wall with metal bolts, making it impossible to shift it aside.

“It’s hard to imagine, but this treasure’s been sitting here for generations and not a living soul knew about it!” Ebenezer drew a huge silk handkerchief from his trouser pocket and blew his nose. A clucking escaped his throat, then another and finally he began to giggle like a schoolboy, who‘d put an exploding rocket under his least favourite teacher’s chair.

George cast a grim glance at Ebenezer. “What’s so funny? For generations your idiotic ancestors had the documents relating to this treasure in their safe and none of them ever bothered looking at them. Until I came along!” George stretched his arm so far it nearly jumped out of its socket. His long, always slightly damp fingers tested the outline of a loose panel. They heard a faint clicking sound and the panel jumped out of the wall.

„Here, help me empty this shelf! “ George brushed the cardboard boxes, bottles and rolled up netting off the shelves and stuck his head between the uppermost shelf and the one below. Ebenezer could hear him grunt with the sheer effort of removing the panel.

Finally the shelves were empty and now Ebenezer could see the hollow in the wall, which the panel had turned into a small safe. By the light of the lantern the two men discovered a curled up mummified cat had found a miserable end in the man-made cave. Ebenezer fell silent at the sight. Underneath the cadaver they found a wooden chest, decorated with exquisite carvings.

„R-r-r-rumour h-h-has it, the accused gave their belongings to the B-b-bakewell’s to look after…just b-b-before the w-w-witch trials started…and after the t-t-trials there wasn’t anyone alive to reclaim their p-p-property,” Ebenezer stuttered, staring at the mummified black cat as if he’d been hypnotized. “Do you think they burned r-r-real w-w-witches at the stake?”

George carefully pushed the cat aside and pulled the wooden box out of the hollow onto the lower shelf. “Don’t be ridiculous! Most of them were miserable old women nobody wanted anymore and the rest were citizens the fine Church fathers wanted dead in order to confiscate their property. Here, hold the lantern steady, I can’t see a thing!”

Both men held their breath, when George drew a knife from his pocket to break the lock of the wooden box. Ebenezer watched George’s efforts with the rusty lock, a play performed by shadows on the opposite wall. A loud crack caused George to swear and turn around abruptly.

He held up his broken pocket knife. “So much for Swiss quality and precision engineering!” George hurled the remainder of the blade into a corner of the basement, where the blade hit a bottle; it exploded with an enormous BANG.

George dragged the heavy box off the shelf and only just managed to save his toes, when the chest hit the ground. By the flickering light of the lantern Ebenezer discovered the carvings on the lid were actually symbols, perhaps even words. He trembled with cold and anxiety.

„H-h-hadn’t we b-b-better…I mean…there’d be far more light in our office…and by now our employees will have g-g-gone home. It must be d-d-dark by now. D-d-did you know, according to the old documents the Bakewell family had always been the legal representatives of w-w-witches. Local gossip says the Bakewells were r-r-richly rewarded for their help…and the Bishop of Stinkforthshire had allegedly ordered the Bakewells to be next in line at the stake…but before they could light the fires, the bishop was discovered dead as a rat in his chambers! L-l-let’s go George.”

George stretched his tired limbs and brushed the dust off his coat. His thinning hair was glued together by a cobweb and a bug ran down his collar. “Oh very well, let’s go. Surely the caretaker’s toolbox will have a screwdriver that’ll open this infernal box.”

He didn’t wait for an answer, but hastened up the stairs. Ebenezer hurriedly followed his business partner, but before climbing the steps, Ebenezer risked a glance at the mummified cat in the wall opening and shuddered. Had the animal just moved?

When they reached the outside, the two bankers were forced to tramp through the deep snow covering the forest path. Ebenezer was freezing; his coat was really more suited for autumn. The banking business had not gone smoothly of late and when George told him, he had emptied client accounts for some time hence Ebenezer had been so shocked he’d forgotten about the weather, his ingrowing toe nails and even his housekeeper’s chamomile tea. What could they possibly do to save their bank?

It had been George’s idea to open their clients‘ safety deposit boxes. You never knew what interesting things might be stored there, George had said. Perhaps they’d find something suitable for a little blackmail or a thing of value they could borrow without their clients’ consent. That’s when he’d found it – in Bakewell’s box of all people!

Ebenezer trailed grumpily at George’s side, the treasure chest like a wall between them, forcing both men to silence. The snow fell in large flakes now and settled on pine branches, which ever so often discharged their burden, more than once flattening the two men hurrying along the path. Ebenezer squinted through the flakes and coughed rather affectedly, but George didn’t reply and so he concentrated instead on the sparkling path ahead illuminated by nothing more than the yellow light of their lantern.

In order to calm himself, Ebenezer began counting every squelching step he took through the snow. After some five minutes, he felt much better; counting things had always produced a hypnotic effect on him and he started to recount the facts of their predicament.

The amount George had stolen and lost in speculations at the stock exchange wasn’t really that large…with the money they’d get from the land sale, once the Bakewell house had been demolished…Bakewell…the family had been in possession of the estate since 1560. The old ruin had seen quite some turbulent times through the centuries…Ebenezer froze. Hadn’t he read somewhere witches protected their treasures with powerful curses? He eyed the wooden box suspiciously, as it swung back and forth between the two men, its colour sinister against the glittering snow.

Ebenezer hurried to keep up with his colleague, since George had already gained on him by a couple of steps. The sleeping forest returned every sound with double intensity and Ebenezer believed he could hear the beating of his own heart thanks to the silence all around them. Hadn’t he just heard a twig break?

“Shush…we’re being followed.” Ebenezer stopped abruptly in the middle of the path.

“Don’t be silly! Who’d be running through the woods in the middle of a blizzard? Joggers? Hurry up; my feet are turning to lumps of ice!”

George dragged his handle of the box over to his side and this forced Ebenezer to follow George more quickly. From time to time he turned around, but was unable to see anything over his shoulder, because it was dark and the snow swallowed everything around them, covering their surroundings in limitless white, making man, animal and tree invisible.

The wind began to freshen and it became more and more difficult to find the path in the heavy snow without running the risk of falling into a ditch. Meanwhile they had reached the edge of the forest and were finally able to see the outline of a barn. Ebenezer’s hand gesticulated wildly, pointing towards the outbuilding, but George kept dragging him along the path, until Ebenezer’s patience was at an end and he let the handle slide from his frozen fingers. George hadn’t expected this and the heavy box crashed to the ground. George swore and aimed a kick Ebenezer, but his colleague managed, despite his aged appearance, to jump out of the way swiftly.

“I’m not taking another step! We must seek shelter in that barn, until the snow storm’s over. Be sensible, George!”

“Nothing but bleating and bellyaching from you! You’re just as much in debt as I am, my dear friend! Losing the bank our forefathers founded doesn’t concern you in the slightest, it seems.”

Despite his harsh words George followed his business partner, who’d slung his scarf through the handle of the box and could therefore hurry along the path with far greater speed than before, dragging the treasure chest behind him, its bottom sliding across the trodden path with a hoarse squelching sound as Ebenezer slid and stumbled through the snow drifts ahead.

They pushed open the barn door with their last effort and practically fell into the shelter. Ebenezer abandoned the treasure chest by the entrance and sank exhausted onto a bale of straw, which lay in the middle of the barn.

“Are we in Farmer Edward’s barn? I can’t walk another yard,” Ebenezer groaned, when his body made contact with the straw. George placed the lantern carefully next to a sack full of animal fodder and wiped the snow from his face and neck. Finally, he also sank onto a bale of straw and stretched out his long legs. His shoes were completely soaked. He pulled them off, hurling them across the barn with what seemed to Ebenezer an almost super-human effort.

Both men sat in silence for several minutes, simply staring at the treasure chest. Finally Ebenezer pulled himself together and slid to the ground, crawling on all fours through the straw and dirt, until he’d reached the box. His hands gingerly touched every carved symbol on the lid.

“Do you think it’s true, George…that all witches curse those who steal their treasure?”

“Nonsense! The preacher men robbed thousands of people they’d condemned for bogus crimes – what about Rome, where do you think the Church got her wealth? Witches’ curse my foot! Nothing but bed time stories to frighten kids, Ebenezer!”

Behind them something rustled. Scared, both men turned around, but couldn’t see any intruder in the darkness of the barn. Shadows hurried across the uneven walls; the wind howled and cajoled around the old wooden structure, as if a whole pack of wolves were outside just waiting to rush through the door. George straightened his back and stared with a bloodthirsty expression into the direction where the rustling had now ceased. A tiny nose trembled underneath a dried up leaf of clover. Two black button eyes watched the men.

“A silly rat, that’s all! Have a look, if Farmer Edwards keeps any useful tools on that table over there. I’d give anything to see what’s inside the box!”

Ebenezer rose with some effort and did as he’d been asked. He ransacked the long trestle table next to the barn door and raised one by one several items against the faint light of the lantern to determine, if they’d be suited to break the lock of their treasure chest. Finally, he selected a crowbar and a hammer. Ebenezer hobbled triumphantly back to the chest and dropped to the ground. Before he’d had time to use the crowbar though, George had pushed him aside and reached for the hammer. Ebenezer relinquished the crowbar without protest, fearing George might use force, if he didn’t.

George placed the business end of the crowbar against the lock and raised his arm to bring down the hammer forcefully.

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” a voice came out of nowhere.

Both men got such a fright that George dropped the crowbar and it landed on Ebenezer’s foot. The old man howled with pain and curled up into a ball on the floor. George recovered his wits quickly. He grabbed the hammer even more tightly and turned towards the voice. Slowly someone emerged from the shadows. Ebenezer squinted, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the intruder…a high-pitched voice…almost like a child’s…

“Who are you? What‘s your business here? “George replied to the darkness. So far they could see nothing, just an outline of a person. George let the hammer go and reached for the lantern. He raised it high above his head, hoping the stranger would finally show.

Ebenezer had been right! A little girl, about eleven-years-old, stood in front of them. She wore a long red coat, knee-length black boots and had two brown, braided pigtails. She seemed to regard the two men with a rather amused expression.

“What’s my business? Nothing…my business is almost concluded. “The little girl came slowly closer. Her eyes sparkled in the flickering light of the lantern. “It’s you I’ve come for, gentlemen. “

“What are you talking about? Go to hell, you snotty-nosed brat! We’re busy.” George turned abruptly and picked up his hammer and crowbar.

Ebenezer stopped his whining and disentangled his limbs like a hedgehog surprised to find spring has arrived. He squatted on his haunches and began staring at the treasure chest as if in a trance. George raised his arm, the hammer came down with a bang on the crowbar and a sound not unlike an old-fashioned gong filled the barn. Hard on its heels followed an ear-splitting screeching. George dropped the tools and both bankers clapped their hands over their ears in horror. The sound didn’t seem to bother the girl in the slightest.

“I told you to leave the chest alone. Witches have no sense of humour, where their treasures are concerned.” The child sat down on a bale of hay, which was some distance from them and grinned. “By the way, my name’s Willow. Just to be sure, you’re the men from Avarice & Slimeball, aren’t you?”

Ebenezer’s cautiously uncorked his ears. “What did you mean by that…you came for us? What business could a child like you possibly have with us? Are your parents customers of our bank?”

“Nah.” The child’s grin got even wider. “My parents aren’t that stupid! They’d never allow anyone to pinch their money. Let’s just say, your company features rather highly on our list.”

“How dare you, you miserable urchin! We don’t steal from our clients. For generations the people of Stinkforthshire have put their faith in us and our bank has always seen to it that people –“

“Lost an arm and a leg, yes George, you’re certainly right about that! “ Willow interrupted him. “Which one of you is first?” She got up and stretched luxuriously. “Hurry up, I’ve got homework to do; I haven’t got time to waste…and your time’s almost up.”

Surprised, the two men looked at each other, before turning back to Willow, who had picked up a pitchfork and was now coming towards them with alarming speed. George jumped up and met the challenge with his weapon drawn or rather he raised the hammer in his hand and blocked the way to the treasure chest. A terrified Ebenezer crawled back to the trestle table and picked the first thing that came to hand in the dark. He hastened back to George’s side.

“By Jove, you should be ashamed! What’s the world coming to when children are attacking decent folk trying to find shelter in a storm?” Ebenezer gesticulated wildly with the tool in his hand, nearly hitting George’s head in the process.

“You’d better put that razor down before you break it…Farmer Edward’s doesn’t like it at all, when his sheep appear in the field looking all stubbly and unkempt.” Willow giggled, when Ebenezer realised, the thing he’d grabbed in the dark was just sheep shearing equipment. He hurled the razor across the room and faced the child.

“I’m Ebenezer, a director at Avarice & Slimeball. What did you mean by that…we’re high up on your list?”

Willow came forward another step, her pitchfork aimed at the speaker. “Well, it’s really a sort of shopping list…or perhaps more of a menu…you see, my mother likes to know in advance, what’ll grace our dinner table.”

George edged closer to the chest, one eye on the pitchfork. “What are you raving about? Avarice & Slimeball is a respectable private bank. You’re mistaking us for the corner shop in the High Street, silly girl.”

„No mistake, gentlemen! Since you were so kind as to rob my former headmaster blind, forcing him and his son to camp out in our schoolyard on an icy night like today, I’d like to show my appreciation. Today you’re going to find out what real blood suckers do to their victims…don’t worry, there’s no charge for the tuition and it’ll only take a few hours, before I’m done with you.”

“W-w-what’s the meaning of this? Do we look like we need lessons from a spotty changeling like you? If the sight of your old headmaster in his present predicament is so delightful, why not go back to the schoolyard to enjoy it and be grateful?” Ebenezer sank down on the wooden box and stuck out a mutinous, stubbly grey chin.

„Grateful? Hm…Bakewell and his son are actually friends of mine…even if they’re not usually fond of inviting blood suckers into their home.”

Without warning the little girl sailed towards George, sticking the pitchfork into his thigh with such force that his spider legs gave way and he fell to the ground. Ebenezer shrank back fearfully, but it was too late for an escape. Willow’s foot collided with his face and he fell off the treasure chest.

Behind Willow a woman emerged. She had a pale face, framed by long, black hair. She was slender and tall, with red lips and blazing eyes. Smiling, the woman approached George, whom Willow had effectively pinned to the ground with her pitchfork. He tried with both hands to pull the fork out of his aching leg, but he only succeeded in causing more pain. He cried out, blood running through his fingers and next to him Ebenezer fainted in sheer terror.

When Ebenezer awoke, he found himself trussed up like a turkey at Christmas in some sort of family tomb. In the semi-darkness he heard the water run down the ceiling and the walls, where it formed small brooks on the flagstones, turning the uneven ground into small ponds in places. On their glittering surface Ebenezer identified bathing bugs and newts. It was incredibly cold in the burial chamber and Ebenezer’s breath seemed to freeze the air on impact. The tomb was filled with a disgusting odour, sweet like rotting flesh and sour like vomit.

Somewhere behind him he could hear a familiar rustling sound and shortly afterwards he was hit by a wave of much warmer air. Somebody had lit a fire and the burial chamber now appeared in a rosy light.

A peculiar moaning and groaning, just like ancient buildings sometimes emit, reached his subconscious. At first Ebenezer thought the pitiful sounds had escaped his own mouth, but gradually he realised the groaning came from a place somewhere opposite him.

He got up as far as he was able to and looked for his companion. The chains binding his wrists cut into his skin. He stretched as far as possible to catch a glimpse of what lay behind the coffin standing between him and the fire.

Ebenezer’s eyes finally adjusted to the flickering light and his stomach nearly turned when he realised what was hanging over the flames.

George had been bound with ropes from head to toe and was now suspended on a spit, which was supported by two giant roasting forks; he was hanging over a large cauldron and slowly being turned over a lusty fire. Someone had shoved an apple into George’s mouth and had used one of his socks to secure the fruity gag. Writhing in pain, George had been the source of the moaning and groaning. Beads of sweat covered his ruby face and his tailor-made suit was beginning to let off steam.

Ebenezer examined the shackles on his ankles, which someone had fastened with a long chain to a ring on the wall opposite him. He tried to call out for help, but was so terrified, not a sound escaped his throat. He had no choice but to rattle his chains in despair.

„Don’t be so impatient, Ebenezer! It’ll be your turn soon enough, “said the young woman, when she heard the chains. Behind her on a coffin sat the little girl and picked leaves off a stem. She threw the leaves into a bowl by her side and cast an amused glance at Ebenezer.

“Hm…black pudding tastes even better, when you add a few herbs and spices, don’t you think, Mum? “

“I agree; sadly, we won’t get much blood out of these dried up fossils! You’ll have to do without the black pudding this time, my Darling.” The woman drew a dagger and drove it into George’s cheek. His blood spurted everywhere and hit the woman’s pale hand.

She laughed and licked the blood from the back of her hand. “You’d have thought two bloodsuckers from Avarice & Slimeball would be gorged on blood like leeches! From your wrinkly friend over there we’ll probably only get a quarter pint of juice and from you…well…we won’t be squeezing much out of you either, by the looks of it.” She cut off George’s silk tie and threw it carelessly over her shoulder. Willow caught it and sniggered.

“Mr Bakewell would never be able to afford such a fine silk tie…by the way, what did you want with the witches’ treasure? “

Ebenezer turned on his companion in his despair. “It’s George’s fault, all of it! He stole our clients’ money! Gambled with it at the stock exchange!”

“Oh, I understand. You wanted to repay your clients with the sale of Bakewell’s estate and the witches‘ treasure? “

Ebenezer nodded and crumpled like a piece of paper on a damp day. George had started to gobble like a turkey and drool dribbled from his mouth; it evaporated in the flames below with a hiss, rising up again a smoke that made George’s eyes water and caused him to sweat even more. The woman turned the two roasting forks with the help of a lever and now George’s backside got a roasting instead. The woman’s face expressed merely her eager anticipation of a good meal, but no pity. Ebenezer began to cry.

“What’s this? Are you crying out of pity for your colleague or because you’re anxious for your own neck? “Willow hopped off the coffin opposite and strolled over to Ebenezer, who shrank further into his damp corner. She squatted down in front of him, close enough to grab him by the throat with her outstretched hand.

Half dead with fear, Ebenezer stared into the girl’s face. Between her full, red lips two long, brilliant white fangs emerged. Her eyes glittered yellow like a cat’s. The contrast between a beast’s face and the pigtails of a schoolgirl was so terrifying for the old banker he turned his head and was sick. Willow shook with suppressed laughter.

„What’s this? You’re lost for words? You weren’t shy when you threatened Bakewell and his little son earlier this afternoon! What was the wording again you used in the letter sent last week? Ah yes, the house will now be repossessed and must be vacated without delay. We are merely following our terms of business. There are no exceptions to the rule.” Willow got up and looked scornfully at the banker. “You evicted Bakewell and Kevin from their home in the middle of a snow storm! And they call us monsters. I can promise you this: vampires don’t make exceptions either!”

Willow picked up a bucket from the floor; it contained a ladle with a long handle. She went over to the cauldron, where George steamed and writhed, and gradually poured the bucket’s contents over the roasting banker. The marinade ran down into the fire below him and evaporated with much hissing and spitting in the flames; the fire greedily soaked up the oil and herbs, filling the burial chamber with a far more pleasant aroma. George tried to scream, but the apple in his mouth prevented him from expressing his thoughts on the dinner arrangement. He could only grunt like a  pig. Disgusted, Ebenezer turned away and wept.

“Never spared a thought for the poor witches and warlocks who died at the stake, did you? The Bakewell family has been looking after this treasure for four hundred years now and never ever would a single Bakewell family member have abused their trust. But not you…oh no…YOU ARE BANKERS…stealing’s incorporated in your business terms. Eurgh!” Willow turned away and spat in the fire. “Well, you said you’d give anything to see inside that chest. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true!”

The vampire child went up to the treasure chest and laid her hand on the lid. She mumbled a few words, which Ebenezer couldn’t catch. As if the erstwhile owners of the treasure had heard her words, the chest’s lock began to glow red. With a loud CRACK the lock fell off and the lid sprang open. Ebenezer cried out and withdrew even deeper into his corner, but George, whom the vampire woman had clearly turned around on the spit roast to ensure he could see the treasure chest, opened his eyes wide and risked a glance despite his pain.

Ebenezer, who had at first shut his eyes out of terror, now cautiously opened one lid and peered under his eyelashes. Nothing rose out of the treasure chest, neither ghost nor mummified witch. Relieved, hthe old man rose a little and stretched to see the contents of the chest.

It sparkled and glittered; there were gold coins and precious stones in all shapes and sizes: pearls, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Right on top of the treasure he saw a rolled up document. Willow picked it up carefully. She broke the red seal, undid the scroll and read the contents. Her lips moved as she did so and, when she appeared to have reached a particularly interesting line, her tongue flicked across her fangs and she giggled. Eventually she handed the scroll to her mother and turned to give George another basting.

The vampire woman read the document at leisure, rolled it up again afterwards and handed it back to her daughter. Willow took a burning candle from the coffin behind her and resealed the document with a little molten wax. She pressed an embossed ring into the hot wax and waited until the seal had hardened. Finally, she returned the scroll to the treasure chest.

For another five minutes Willow stared down into the chest until she finally dived with her hand into the treasure and rummaged around with her eyes firmly shut. She slowly withdrew her hand and introduced a long chain of exquisite pearls to the dancing light. All the colours of the rainbow were being mirrored in the oysters’ tears. Willow placed the pearls lovingly on the coffin lid behind her, before turning back to the chest and saying “THANK YOU” in a loud voice.

Instantly the lid snapped shut and the lock sprang back into its former place. Ebenezer groaned. Never, not even in his wildest dreams during particularly boaring board meetings had he dreamed such riches existed! The pearls were as large as pigeon eggs. The diamonds, the rubies and the emeralds were priceless…and the gold…those sparkling coins. He rattled his chains and cursed.

Willow took the pearls and sat down in front of Ebenezer. She held the jewels under his nose. “The members of the Bakewell family have never bothered taking any interest payments to which they were entitled under the scroll’s terms. Four hundred long years of interest…these pearls once belonged to Myrtle Bakewell, the magistrate’s wife, born in April 1570 and passed away in December 1620. I can tell by the greed in your rat-face that the value of these pearls outweighs Bakewell’s debt by far. Now be a good boy and sign this document here.”

Willow pulled a quill and scroll from her coat pocket and scratched the sharpened goose feather forcefully across Ebenezer’s wrist. He winced and shrank back in fear. She handed him the bloodied quill and a parchment covered in red, wavy symbols. Willow pointed her finger at the last part, where a horrified Ebenezer discovered the symbols spelled out his own name.

Against his better judgment he accepted the quill and scratched his signature under the symbols. The symbols disappeared instantly together with his bloodied signature and the parchment rolled up by itself. At that very moment his shackles and chains fell off.

Willow got up and held the old banker in a long and thoughtful gaze. “You are permitted to leave…but George must stay behind…he’s compensation…those are OUR terms of business!

Bakewell and his son will be allowed to return to their home today, you understand? You may never set foot on the estate again and the pearls are to be payment for all debts Bakewell has with your bank now and any he might incur in the future. If you value your life, you’d better not ask for interest!”

Ebenezer got up but shook so much that Willow feared his head would fall off. She withdrew to let the old man pass unhindered. He snatched at the pearls, which Willow let glide slowly through her fingers before releasing them into his. He stuffed he pearls into his coat pocket and hobbled as fast as his old legs would carry him out of the burial chamber without daring another glance at Willow or her mother…

When he’d reached the cast iron gate at the entrance of the tomb, Ebenezer finally risked looking back over his shoulder. Alice the vampire woman stood with a dagger in her hand over George, who seemed to hover in the air, glowing and steaming. His muffled cries and the scent of roasted flesh were too much for Ebenezer, who tore open the gate with cold, cramped fingers and hurried down the icy path as fast as his feet would carry him across the ancient cemetery, back into the safety of the forest.

Willow laughed and laid an arm around her mother’s waist. “To hell with those blood suckers! For months Kevin and his dad have had to suffer thanks to greedy George. His colleague seemed rather glad to part with George The Leech, don’t you think, Mum?”

By way of a reply Alice cut George’s roasted throat.  She laughed. “Look, virtually bloodless! Must be just share prices coursing through his veins!”

Two hours later Mr Bakewell and his son sat in front of a cheerful fire in their living room and handed Willow a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Kevin rubbed his tired eyes – he had already been asleep on the sofa at Willow’s house, when she arrived to tell father and son the good news. In front of them stood the treasure chest; its symbols began to glow happily, when Bakewell’s hand caressed the lid.

“Thank you, “he whispered so Kevin wouldn’t hear. “It was very kind of your mother to give us shelter. I really didn’t know where to turn, when we received the bank’s letter last week.”

Willow returned the embossed ring. “That’s what friends are for! You helped us, remember, when we first moved here and didn’t know anyone in Stinkforthshire.”

Bakewell pocketed the ring and cleared his throat. “No member of my family has ever betrayed the magic incantation that opens the treasure chest. My ancestor Myrtle tried so hard to rescue as many people as possible from the tyranny of the Church, but unfortunately she wasn’t always successful. The real witches and sorcerers understood this and gave her this treasure to look after…for the day when warlocks and sorcerers, witches and completely non-magical folk could live in harmony and peace again. What a stroke of luck your mother’s a witch and could open the box. The bank’s blood suckers can go to hell now!”

Willow busied herself with her cup of tea to hide a grin spreading across her face. He might be looking forward to a world full of witches and sorcerers, but a future, where vampires and humans lived happily side by side THAT, Willow felt sure, would be too much of a good thing, even for tolerant Mr Bakewell.

THE END

(copyright for story and artwork: Maria Thermann)

Dear Bloodsuckers, please don’t kill the logic!

Whenever I read a piece of fiction, no matter what genre, I get very irritated with writers who don’t apply logic or don’t bother to do even a minimum of research into the professions, locations and circumstances of their characters and plot.  Even in fantasy fiction, logic still applies or a plot loses credibility within the setting of its own world.

Since much of Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts revolves around events of the past, I want to look at creatures of the night living a normal life through the ages. What were their circumstances, how did they survive, what disguise might they have used to get by?

It’s all very well to create romantic Twilight vampire fiction that tells us vampires are immortal and are now living as teenage heart throbs in some American dream town, but how did their ancestors survive the difficult centuries before? How did the bloodsucking inhabitants of True Blood arrive in the American South and why were vampire slayers like Sunnydale’s Buffy the vampire slayer and her helpmate Faith or Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing created at all?

Continuing with my research into vampire life in early Britain I discovered that before the tenth century nearly all people lived in small hamlets or in single dwellings scattered around the rural landscape. A small hamlet consisted of no more than 5 farmsteads with barns and outhouses for animals, while a full scale village would have had just twelve to sixty families living in an enclosure surrounded by a ditch and fence.

People made their living mainly from the land. Professions like shepherd or keeper of swineherds, farmer, blacksmith, dairymaids, ploughmen, woodsman and fishermen were common, but millers less so, as the erection of vertical wheel mills didn’t start until just before 900 AD. Until then, most families would engage women and children to mill by hand. This means the majority of professions would have been carried out during daytime hours, when vampires were fast asleep.

Kings and the nobles lived in larger dwellings, castles that were really city states. They were mainly concerned with hunting, their favourite pastime, and keeping their tenants and slaves hard at work. Landowners had to manage the meagre woods left by the Romans, who’d robbed Britain of most of its primeval forests and woodland, where people’s natural food resources had lived. After the year 850 more laws were introduced to protect deer and boar as well as existing woodland and forests, making hunting and foraging for wood illegal, except for the king and the aristocracy. This means running around in woods looking for human prey would be a waste of time as far as werewolves and vampires are concerned.

Writers of vampire fiction often neglect to explain how vampires had to survive through the ages. Vampires, without enemies like slayers or vampire hunters, have no natural enemies, so they are eternal as long as they can feed on blood. It therefore would have been essential for vampires to move in the circles of nobility, as lords lived with their servants, slaves and members of the church in far larger settlements than any other mortals – otherwise vampires would have had to live as hermits in the woods and fields, foraging for rodents. Hardly romantic or cool for the modern vampire so keen on presenting a marketable image.

And what about traditional friends and animal allies of vampires and witches? Were they plentiful or scarce and where did they live?

By the 11th century bears had already been hunted to extinction in Britain, while in the 12th century beaver numbers had been reduced to a few small family groups living in Wales and Scotland. Vampires would have still had some wolves as their allies, but these wonderful animals had also been hunted to such an extent, they only survived in remote parts of English forests and a few other deserted places in Britain.

Why then are genre writers telling us vampires and werewolves or bloodsuckers and regular wolves are meeting en mass to either fight or conspire? A meeting between werewolves, regular wolves and vampires would have to take place in some remote location in Scotland’s Highlands or some Rocky Mountain reserve…hardly the typical hangout for blood-hungry teenage vampires with a desire to have fabulous hair. I may be a geek and a nerd, but I value logic even in  supernatural writing!

English: Cover of the book Interview With the ...

The afterlife must have been tough during the Middle Ages, making the prospect of joining the crusades in the guise of a noble knight quite a lucrative undertaking. Warfare and local squabbles among lords and kings must have been the main food source for vampires prior to the emergence of cities and towns. Incidentally, I love Anne Rice’s vampire stories because she likes to show us how her protagonists might live their afterlife throughout the centuries.

Another interesting fact I came across was that before slavery virtually died out in 1100 AD, the price of a male slave was £1, eight times the price of an ox. No doubt wealthy vampires would have been able to keep slaves and therefore have their own food source at hand. In Willow the Vampire’s second adventure the accumulation of wealth among vampires is crucial, hence my interest in vampire history and how they might have reached their present day role in society.

Cover of "Medieval Children"

With most of the population being in bed by 9.00 pm there would have been little point for creatures of the night to go out hunting for human blood. Medieval children would often be told by their no doubt exasperated parents trying to persuade them to go to bed that “the bloodless and boneless (were) behind the door”, that witches, elves, hags, furies, satyrs, urchins, spirits, pans, fauns, silens (wood gods) and bull beggers (bogies)* were lurking in the shadows at night. Unlikely then that small people would have ventured outdoors as prey for hungry bloodsuckers.

Naturally, vampires could have broken into homes, but this leads us back to small hamlets and villages, where all families knew each other. A stranger stood out like a sore thumb and more likely than not would have been either driven out before nightfall or confined somewhere in a barn. The main killer of medieval children was hunger and want, not a bite to the neck. All accidental or unusual deaths were examined – children’s and adults’ corpses would be seen by a coroner and a report into their deaths would be compiled, before being presented to a jury. Vampires leaving an obvious trail of corpses wouldn’t have gotten very far – a fact that is often overlooked in vampire fiction. From the poorest peasant to noblemen and lords, every “accidental” death would be examined and reported, starting with the tiniest babies.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the bites from vampires that posed a threat to medieval children, it was pigs wandering through open front doors into people’s houses and taking a chunk out of a baby or upturning their cradles, thus killing its tiny occupant. Some pigs were reported as having eaten a whole baby, so I guess vampires occasionally put the blame on some unfortunate sow (see Chaucer), when their own foul deed had been discovered by an outraged parent.

My next blog post will therefore be about one of my favourite shy creatures of the night (and twilight), the wild boar.

Cover of "Making a Living in the Middle A...

(historical sources: Christopher Dyer, “Making a Living in the Middle Ages” and

*”Medieval Children”, Nicholas Orme, Yale University Press)

animation sourced from heathersanimations.com

Cooking with Vampires and Witches (Beginners Part 4)

The perversity of the Welsh weather clearly knows no bounds. Typically, I woke up to blue and sunny skies this morning.

Last night, when my Italian flatmate and I went to see William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a Cardiff Castle open air theatre performance by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the rain held off for the first half of the play, but then came pelting down for the remainder. After two days of nearly constant downpour, the ground was rain-soaked and the audience was already damp and cold. How I wished I knew a spell to stop the deluge or be able to brew an elixir that made me impervious to the watery bombardment from above and would keep the rain drops out of my glass of wine.

The three weird sisters, brilliantly portrayed in all black body suits that also covered the faces of the actors, did their best to bewitch Macbeth and the rest of the audience, but nothing seemed to work.

Witches’ brews or elixirs like the one used in Macbeth or Asterix and Obelix’ village to make the Gauls stronger were made from a variety of herbal remedies, which were mixed with wine or alcohol. During the Middle Ages, alchemists liked to experiment with elixirs, hoping to turn ordinary metal into gold and silver, presumably without much success or history would have taken a very different turn and Witches R Us would now be ruling the corporate world.

Monks like the wonderful Ellis Peter’s Cadfael character would use healing elixirs with a certain amount of opium to put their patients into a restful sleep, while the monks in charge of the infirmary inmates would perform early operations or set broken limbs straight.

For those who believed in magic, certain elixirs would promise eternal youth and protection against all disease. Fairy tales often make use of elixirs for the purpose of quests. A prince or pauper (usually the youngest son of three) goes out to find a magical potion which will heal a fatal illness or wake someone from the dead or restore the victim of a spell. Witches, sorcerers, wizards and warlocks as well as druids would be in charge of the preparation of such a brew.

Opium Poppy Flower in Tokyo Metropolitan Medic...

While during their lifetime ancient druids were said to practice magic with their potions, today many scientists believe that druids used alcohol infused with honey and certain herbs or tree bark, which disinfected wounds and prevented infection among wounded warriors and villagers alike. We are only beginning to explore ancient remedies that were used in the medieval period, so we are probably in store for some surprises. Various herbs have already been identified as having exactly the properties monks, friendly witches and druids of the time claimed they had. Vampires would naturally not wish to heal their victims or restore eternal youth.

They are more likely to give their intended victim a tankard full of Absinth (Artemisia absinthium, a member of the thujone group of herbs). Although essentially used as a herbal concoction with healing powers in ancient times to cure liver problems and help with things like menstrual pains for example, the Absinth recipe invented by Mr Pernod in 1791 was quite a different thing. He did away with the bitter taste produced by the thujone herbs, adding fennel and aniseed to the mix, thus creating a not unpleasant drink. The drink became all the rage among the bohemian community of the day. The highly addictive psychoactive properties of Absinth inspired and wrecked many a famous artist’s life (Van Gogh for example).

Willow transitions into Dark Willow in "V...

Willow transitions into Dark Willow in “Villains”, with Tara’s blood splattered on her neck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has the power to seriously mess with people’s heads and for this reason Absinth was declared illegal during the years of 1916 and 1922. Herbs from the thujone group are biologically very similar to hemp, a low tetrahydrocannabinol strain or variant of Cannabis sativa. A less potent cousin of marijuana, hemp seems an ideal cooking ingredient for vampires to use for the purpose of subduing their victims. It takes up less energy to wrestle victims to the ground and also does away with the irritating screaming which might alert passing slayers like Buffy or vampire hunters of the Van Helsing ilk.

Hemp can therefore be found in every vampire’s larder. Opium won from poppy seeds was another way for monks in their cloisters’ infirmary to deal with very sick patients. As the source for many narcotics, poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum) did their Latin name proud, as they were sleep inducing, helping monks, druids and friendly witches to deal with particularly nasty wounds without the patient having to suffer any pain.

Such sedatives have been known to humans for millennia. Depictions of poppy seeds have been found in artefacts created by ancient Sumerians some 4000 years before Christ. The old Minoans and ancient Greeks knew the sedative properties of the stuff and even today this little “weed” graces the coat of arms of the Royal College of Anaesthetists by showing the flower and fruit of the opium poppy. Vampires love to keep up-to-date with latest developments in science and must therefor also have used poppy seeds in their cooking for several millennia.

Naturally, vampires cannot be harmed in the same way as humans can be by drugs. It always made me laugh when I saw Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer smoking a cigarette or drinking excessively. He knew that neither tobacco nor alcohol could do him any harm and used this fact to demonstrate his “superiority” over Buffy’s little Scooby gang. When Joss Whedon’s Willow Rosenberg goes “bad”, the writers used her addiction to magic as a metaphor for drug taking very effectively over a number of episodes.

Naturally, there’s nothing “superior” about drinking alcohol to excess, taking drugs or smoking, but for writers of vampire fiction these props have become valuable tools to describe vampire traits of character, showing them as being morally corrupt in comparison to the human protagonist. In my fictional Stinkforthshire there’s only been blood wine drinking so far, but with Willow and her school friends reaching the age of 12, perhaps it’s time in my next book to deal with the thorny issue of vampire sedatives in a responsible way.

Medieval Cooking for Vampires (Beginners Part 3)

While I’m not in favour of advocating fast food for humans, this culinary concept is not always a negative one.

Reading up upon medieval spells and remedies I was surprised to learn a medieval person’s diet was actually quite different from what I thought it would be. Far from all the yummy ham, capons, chickens and roasted piglets we see King Arthur, his knights and Queen Guinevere consume in the BBC’s Merlin series, most medieval people didn’t eat meat very often and getting a protein rich diet would have been quite rare for an average girl like Willow the Vampire.

Cooking lessons for humans would have been very different from today. For a start, carrots were either white or purple but not orange (not introduced until 17th century), no doubt pretty confusing for colour-blind witches and warlocks at the time. How do you tell such ingredients apart from radishes or mandrake?

Parsnips, onions, turnips (of Blackadder’s Baldric fame), apples, wild garlic, watercress, cabbage, beetroot, leeks, beans, eel and various cheap dried meats would augment a meagre diet that consisted mostly of “gruel” type broth made from barley, acorns, rye or buck wheat.

Even in the 10th century, a full four centuries after Arthur had first complained to Merlin about the outrageous practice of serving salad to his meat-loving king, bread as a daily household ingredient was relatively rare – grinding wheat was time-consuming labour for women and in any event, most households were grindingly poor.

Health issues in general were addressed with a haphazard approach. If it didn’t kill you and you survived the cure, the “healer” would be set up for life and make a good living. If you died, the healer was probably going to die too – at the stake, accused of sorcery! The remedy might not actually do you any good, but survival often depended on faith rather than the physician’s skill. With regard to food production, a medieval Vampire Council was particularly concerned about the high death rate among human infants and their mothers.

Caesarean births were surprisingly common – although the mother rarely survived. The method was mainly applied to save the child so it could receive baptism before death occurred. The understanding of conception was still a rather muddled affair and some bewildering, often occult remedies existed to help childless couples. Childbirth in general was a risky and confusing issue in medieval times:

Charm One: “To make a woman pregnant give to drink in wine a hares rumnet (NB: they probably meant rennet) by weight of four pennies to the woman from a female hare, the man from a male hare and then let them do their concubitus and after that let them forbear; then quickly she will be pregnant and for meat she shall for some time use mushrooms and, instead of a bath, smearing (NB: anointing with oils), wonderfully she will be pregnant.”

It seems hares were generally associated with fertility – personally, I suspect the consumption of wine might have done the trick…although the stink resulting from not washing might be rather counterproductive (pardon the pun). Hare’s tonic aiming to produce a male child consisted of a dried hare’s belly being shredded and then eaten by both partners, washed down with a drink.

Charm Two (for women whose foetus is found to be dead): “The woman who may have a dead bairn (child) in her inwards, if she drinketh wolf’s milk mingled with wine and honey in like quantities, soon it healeth.” An alternative method was to use the heart of a hare which, dried and pounded to a pulp, was mixed with frankincense dust and presumably also washed down with wine. In either case, the woman was more likely to die than be cured.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charm Three (for women who lost children early in infancy): “Let the woman who cannot bring her child to maturity go to the barrow of a deceased man, and step thrice over the barrow, and then thrice say these words:

May this be my boot

Of the loathsome late birth

May this be my boot

Of the heavy swart birth

May this be my boot

Of the loathsome lame birth.”

All manner of bizarre remedies existed for ear problems, bladder troubles, chapped lips in winter or year round baldness among men. I particularly like the recipe for getting rid off dandruff by mixing watercress with goose fat and smearing it on one’s head…I also like the advice, how to get rid of insects in one’s ears:

Collect the juice of green earth gall, or juice of horehound, or juice of wormwood, whatsoever of these you choose. Pour the juice into the ear, this will draw the worm out. If there’s dinning (NB: buzzing) in the ears, take oil, apply on to ewes wool, and when going to bed close up the ear with the wool. Remove it on waking.

Don’t you just love the last instruction? You can just imagine dozens of medieval peasants shouting at each other, because they’d stuffed their ears with ewe’s wool and forgot to remove their worm remedy).

Bladder troubles and kidney stones were cured by Dwarf dwosle or Pennyroula, which was pounded and mixed with two draughts of wine. The sufferer would drink this stuff and any stones the sufferer might have would be “forced out” and the healing process would begin in a matter of days.

Male baldness, an affliction the medieval Brit seems to have been particularly cursed with (no change to today’s specimen), was apparently treated with the juice of nasturtium and watercress. Bizarrely, this concoction was not smeared on the balding head, but on the man’s nose…which finally explains why men over forty have such an abundance of nasal hair.

These latter three remedies were excerpts from  Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, collected and edited by Revd Oswald Cockayne in London 1864 (fragments republished in Harriet O’Brien’s book “Queen Emma and the Vikings”, Bloomsbury 2005, where above charms also appear. NB: Revd “Cockayne” was cearly an early advocate of drugs, who had a sense of humour).

Reading about the diet and remedies prevailing in medieval households, I began to wonder, how vampires substituted their meagre pickings. Blood would not have been as nourishing as in later centuries, when vampires like Buffy’s Angel, Drusilla or Spike thrived in Sunnydale.

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight V...

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight Volume One, written by Joss Whedon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fifteen years on from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer bloodsuckers have reason to complain about their diet once more, given the high fat, sugar, salt and protein content in human blood. Human fast food outlets and lonely microwave meals in front of the TV are to blame, but humans themselves are not responsible for the introduction of a fast food concept. Vampires might loathe to admit this, but obesity among the fanged community today goes back to a time, when an early medieval Vampire Council introduced a new concept to change their fellow fanged ones’ culinary experience.

Early medieval bloodsuckers were endlessly complaining about the scarcity of decent food. Firstly, because there weren’t enough humans around in a largely rural landscape, which meant the gap between meals could be rather long and secondly, because medieval human blood wasn’t very nutritious and it took several kills to get a satisfactory meal.

Later in the 10th century, when England had been fully Christianized, a network of nunneries and cloisters was erected across the country, a development greatly supported by the Vampire Council. Feasting became much easier and, as far as vampires were concerned, the concept of fast food chains was born.

Just knock at a cloister door, pretend you’re a pilgrim and hey presto, you get an instant meal in the shape of some delicious young novice or a Mother Superior showing off the whiteness of her wimple and the crispness of her neck.

International fast fang outlets such as “Murder King”, “MacDrainers” and “Starsucks” were created to cater for the travelling vampire in a hurry. This revolutionary concept made it possible for fanged communities to cover vast distances without worrying where to get their next meal (“Mine’s a double nun with French friar to go. Hold the garlic and relic bones. Extra mustard, if you please”).

The introduction of fast fang outlets helped to preserve vampires to this day. It explains, how 19th century vampires reached Sunnydale in California and later established a colony in Los Angeles, close to Angel’s old hotel.

(animation source: heathersanimations.com, photographs of Llandaff cemetry & Cathedral by Maria Thermann, Buffy book cover photo credit Wikipedia)

Who’s the real Villain of the Animal World?

With “Jaws” making a comeback at my local cinema and all manner of critters doing their utmost to make life unpleasant for the “Men in Black 3”, it is not surprising my mind’s been focussing on the villains of the animal kingdom.

Willow the Vampire lives in rural Stinkforthshire in England, where she does her best to protect her friends, family and local wildlife from those who’d like to harm them. When she’s not too busy, she likes to save the world.

Willow loves animals, be they daytime or nocturnal creatures, but even a vampire might draw the line at choosing a cane toad for a friend. The villain of this blog post is not at all like the pet toad owned by Neville Longbottom in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but is more like Ron Weasley’s rat in nature.

English: A young Bufo marinus (Cane Toad). Dar...

Bufo marinos, as the cane toad is officially called, was once introduced into the sugarcane fields of Puerto Rico to exercise a little insect pest control.

Sugarcane growers in Queensland, Australia heard about this and promptly wanted their own cane toad population to deal with their local insects. They imported 100 adult cane toads with the view to breed their own pest control army.

Eventually, when they had bred 62,000 teenage cane toads, they released them to give hell to the grayback cane beetle that infested the sugarcane plantations (1935). Unfortunately, the pesky cane toad has no natural enemies other than humans in Queensland, so toad populations exploded and instead of dealing with grayback cane beetle infestations, the local human population was battling it out with very nasty toads which had plague-like proportions in their numbers.

Cane toads being rather adaptable, they soon found that they could munch their way through anything that was smaller than themselves, even going into competition with the local dog population, pinching the dog food out of their bowls at night. So far nobody knows how to effectively deal with the cane toad invasion.

Can toads have excellent defences. When they feel threatened, they inflate their plump bodies and start to sweat a latex-like, milky white fluid from their paratoid glands. They are able to project this secretion up to 3 feet into the air, hurling their poison at the perceived aggressor. The poison is only fatal when ingested and is so strong, it has been used as a hallucinogenic drug.

Cane toad

The poison has already had a devastating effect on the snake population in Australia. While some people think this is a good thing (yes you, visitingmissoury, I know your thoughts on all things snaky!), a dying snake population means all sorts of other pests will multiply more quickly, in turn provide even more food for the cane toad and PUFF, there you have it, Australia is now being ruled by cane toads instead of plain politicians (although the difference is not always apparent at first glance).

Animals who might look upon the cane toad as a tasty snack soon regret their decision. At 2 pounds in weight the cane toad packs a poisonous punch when swallowed and birds, dingos, monitor lizards and similar predators have been known to die from the toxic liquid. Equally, fish die from eating cane toad tadpoles, which are already able to secrete this toxic stuff upon their person. In South America, several Peruvian Indians are said to have died after eating a cane toad egg soup.

Female cane toads lay about 13,000 eggs at a time. Tadpoles transform quickly and don’t need much to survive, really just water and algae will do nicely, thanks very much. They might need a number of years to mature into adulthood, but cane toads can live up to 20 years – that’s an awful lot of tadpoles…

Their mating calls are so loud that they interfere with the vocal love life of the indigenous frog population. As they grow up to 9 inches (23 cm) in size, cane toads can weigh up to 2 pounds and have even been known to swallow a pygmy possum or two for their supper.

The cane toad is perhaps a villain in its own right for wiping out such a large number of animals, but to be fair , I cannot wholly blame this particular creature of the night for what is mostly a human error. Cane toads didn’t ask to be transported to South America and Australia, but probably found upon getting there, that life was sweet among the sugarcane fields and gardens without predators to worry about and hapless humans shrieking “What have we done, Sheila, there’s toads everywhere…even the outback’s overrun!”

What’s your favourite villain of the animal world?

(photographs by Wikipedia, source of animation: heathersanimation.com)