5 Deadly and Disgusting Victorian Beauty Trends

profile picAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The sequel–The Countess’s Captive—was published earlier this year.  She is currently working on the third book in her series.

Though beauty standards have changed over the course of human history, the aspirations and efforts of women to meet these ideals remains largely unchanged. Today, the beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that helps women pucker, pinch, pluck, and paint. At least modern women can count on agencies like the FDA to help keep harmful cosmetics off the market. Women living only a century ago weren’t nearly as fortunate and even though natural beauty was the standard and Queen Victoria declared makeup indecent, advertisements from the era prove beauty was a booming business. While some cosmetics and tricks from the Victorian Era were harmless, the lack of regulation led women to venture down some risky avenues—all for the sake of beauty. Ranging from disgusting to downright deadly, below are five of the strangest beauty trends and techniques from the Victorian Era.

1. Catching Tuberculosis

According to researcher Alexis Karl, the symptomatic pale skin of consumptives was associated with innocence, beauty, and above all else wealth. For those ladies who had to work outdoors a surefire way to keep pale was to catch TB. Contracting the Red Death had other beauty benefits, as well. The watery eyes, narrow waist, and translucent complexion of Tuberculosis victims was highly prized and women with the disease were considered extraordinarily beautiful. That being said, death by tuberculosis was pretty horrific, and it seems unlikely that any level-headed person would try to catch it on purpose.

Sleep and his half-brother death

Sleep and his Half-brother Death (1874) by John William Waterhouse.

2. Eating Arsenic Wafers

Women believed eating these deadly supplements not only cleared their complexions, but also changed the shape of their faces by softening sharp features and disfigurements. In 1902, the Sears Roebuck catalog touted Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers as a cure-all, saying it possessed “the ‘Wizard’s Touch’ in producing, preserving and enhancing beauty of form… surely developing a transparency and pellucid clearness of complexion, shapely contour of form, brilliant eyes, soft and smooth skin…” The advertisement adamantly claimed that the amount of arsenic in these wafer “crafted by expert chemists” was completely safe. That’s likely untrue.

According to Andrew Meharg, an arsenic expert and professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, regular exposure to minute amounts of inorganic arsenic (10 parts per billion) increases a person’s risk for heart disease and cancer. On top of a long list of horrific side-effects—renal failure, epilepsy, and numbness to name a few—higher doses of arsenic caused the skin deformities that these wafers claimed to remedy.

Dr. Rose Arsenic Wafers

Companies like Sears Roebuck claimed arsenic was safe for consumption.

3. Applying Mercury Eye Shadow

For the most part, Victorian women strived for natural beauty and ladies of high social standing rarely admitted to using make-up—though they most certainly did. The more brazen women wore thick eyeshadow—called eye paint—in shades of red and black. Respectable ladies lined their eyes subtly in similar shades. What was in this so-called eye paint? For starters, a substance called cinnabar was used to create vermillion red. It sounds innocent enough, but contains mercuric sulphide, which can cause kidney damage. Eye paints also contained lead tetroxide and antimony oxide, both of which are considered harmful to humans.


Napoleon toilet service

Toilet services like this, a gift from Napoleon to Josephine in 1810, sometimes hid cosmetics in secret compartments.

4. Dabbing Carmine on the Lips


Victorian women looking to add a little color to their lips often turned to a scarlet pigment called carmine. The pigment itself comes from the cochineal, a parasitic insect native to South America and Mexico. Most commonly, the pigment is extracted by grinding the insect bodies into a fine powder and then boiling them in ammonia. While carmine is rather disgusting, the dye only poses a threat to those who are allergic to it.

From strawberry toaster pastries to red velvet cake mixes, carmine dyes can be found in a variety of foods today. It is also commonly used in cosmetics and supplements. Consumer’s with an aversion to exoskeletons, can avoid it by checking the ingredient list on products before buying them. Carmine is also called Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, Cochineal, and E120.


Cochineal were used to create red pigments in Victorian cosmetics.

5. Whitening Skin with Lead Lotions

In order to rid themselves of freckles and blemishes, many Victorian women turned to corrosive face lotions. Though companies advertised that their “toilet preparations” were harmless, the American Medical Association begged to differ. In 1869, the AMA published a paper entitled “Three Cases of Lead Palsy from the Use of a Cosmetic Called ‘Laird’s Bloom of Youth’” which warned women of potential health risks from these so-called safe beauty treatments. Considering the face lotion contained lead acetate, it’s no surprise Laird’s Blood of Youth caused side effects such as paralysis, muscle atrophy, headaches, and nausea.

Lairds Bloom of Youth

This ad falsely claims the safety of Laird’s Bloom of Youth.

Did you enjoy this article? An article entitled 5 More Deadly and Disgusting Beauty Trends is coming early next week. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss out.

Works Cited
Fleming, R.S. “Early Victorian Era Makeup, Cosmetics, and Embelishments.” Kate Tattersall Adventures. R.S Fleming, 30 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Hibbert, Christopher. “The Middle Class.” Life in Victorian England. New York: Horizon, 2016. N. pag. Print.
Liu, Jie, Jing-Zheng Shi, Li-Mei Yu, Robert A. Goyer, and Michael P. Waalkes. “Mercury in Traditional Medicines: Is Cinnabar Toxicologically Similar to Common Mercurials?” Experimental Biology and Medicine (Maywood, N.J.). U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2008. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Mapes, Diane. “Suffering for Beauty Has Ancient Roots.” Msnbc.com. N.p., 11 Jan. 2008. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Rob, Alice. “The Deadly Risks of a Victorian Beauty Regime.” Women in the World in Association with The New York Times WITW. The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Sears Roebuck. Spring Catalog 1902 1902: n. pag. Print.
Shute, Nancy. “In Rice, How Much Arsenic Is Too Much?” NPR. NPR, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Yoquinto, Luke. “The Truth About Red Food Dye Made from Bugs.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.


The Best of Disney Princesses Reimagined

Despite their respective ages,  Disney’s princesses still manage to penetrate American pop-culture. From mash-ups to realistic portraits,  artists from all over the world started puting their own unique stamp on Disney’s damsels.  Each year a few of these reimaginings go viral, but which ones are the very best? To answer that question, I scoured the internet and came up with this post of my six favorite.

6. If Disney Princesses Had Instagram

This one is almost as good as a time capsule. Does anything say 2015 quite like Disney characters with Instagram accounts? In her series, Italian artist Simona Bonafini turns Disney’s classic characters into present-day teens and twenty-somethings. I especially love the Hercules gym selfie.

5. Disney Princesses as Hipsters

So remember how I asked if anything was as 2015 as Disney characters with Instagram accounts? It might be Disney Princesses as Hipsters. From a goth Belle to a tatted-up Aurora, artist and professional illustrator Emmanuel Viola liberates Disney’s damsels from their too-perfect personas in this series to prove “there’s always a dark side in all of us.”

4. The Wonderful World of Westeros

Yup. Game of Thrones meets Disney World in this series by DeviantART user DjeDjehuti.  It’s as genius as it is absurd.

Some of the castings are perfect: Elsa as Daenerys and Mulan as Brienne. Others, like Aurora as Cersei and Ariel as Melisandre, merely look the part. Still, this is one of my absolute favorite reimaginings and I’m crossing my fingers that the artist will do a series with Disney’s princes, too.

3. Disney Princesses As Pin-Ups

If you thought Viola was crossing a line with his hipster princesses, get ready to leap over it with Andrew Tarusov. In his pin-up series, Disney princesses get down-right sexy. This one requires a sense of humor (a Frozen threesome??) Tarusov’s series was so popular that he created a second, reimagining the villainesses as sexy vixens, too.

2. Real-Life Disney Princesses

Probably the most stunning of the reimaginings are Helsinki artist Jirka Vaatainen’s  portraits. The elegant series was so hugely popular that Vaatainen did a follow-up, transforming Disney’s princes into realistic hunks. Seriously. You’ll dump your book boyfriends for these guys.

1. Historically-Accurate Disney Princesses

The people at Buzzfeed did a phenomenal job with this video. Since I’m  a history blogger and historical fiction novelist, it should come to no surprise to any of you that this is my absolute favorite.

Celebrating 92 Years of Disney Animation in 92 Seconds

It’s hard to believe that Disney’s been animating for nearly a century. This week, 92 years ago, Walt Disney made the trip to California with his brother Roy to start what would later be called Walt Disney Pictures. It’s hard to imagine America today without it. Yesterday, Disney created and tweeted a 92-second video featuring 92 years-worth of Disney films to mark the occasion. (See the video below.)

Disney and his creations managed to penetrate nearly every aspect of American pop-culture from fashion to entertainment to travel. I think every writer and artist dreams of “making it big,” but thinking your musings will have an everlasting stamp on pop-culture, that borders on delusional.

But Disney did it.

It’s hard to imagine a world without him. No trick-or-treaters dressed as Disney Princesses. No Disney World. No Mickey Mouse. It makes me depressed just thinking about it.

So what was Disney’s greatest gift to modern America? Was it licensed merchandising, theme parks, or the feature-length animated film? I think it is something bigger than all three of these things.

tumblr_mefdmet0oy1qzbm6ao1_1280Without Walt Disney, I wouldn’t be a writer today. Not only has he inspired me to dream big, he is the reason I—and many others—love fairytales. Without him, I might never have learned to love the stories of Snow White and Cinderella. Without him, I might never have opened the pages to Grimm’s Fairytales and discovered The Three Army Surgeons and The Girl With No Hands. Without him, I would have never wondered where these stories came from and I would have never written The Fairytale Keeper series. I don’t know that most people can say Walt Disney changed the course of their lives like I can, but surely he brought some sense of whimsy and joy to all our lives. In my opinion, that is his biggest contribution—making millions of people happy and proving they too could follow their dreams.

So for this, I say we raise our venti macchiatos to an American legend. Thank you, Walt Disney, for bringing magic to our lives and daring us to dream.

Below is the 92-second animation tweeted by Disney earlier this week. Beneath that, is a six-minute documentary  on the evolution of Mickey Mouse and Disney animation. Enjoy and share!

Medieval Cologne and Its Famous Haymarket Through The Eyes of a Main Character

Where in Cologne is Ivo Bauer?

It is the 28th day of March in the year of our Lord 1248 and Ivo Bauer stands shrouded in smoke, having a short conversation with two dead men. By this time each morning, Haymarket usually swells with craftsman and merchants as they set up their stands and prepare to sell their goods. But as Ivo set off to visit his enemies, he found Haymarket eerily empty. 

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. If you couldn’t tell already, today we are in 13th-century Cologne within its trading epicenter, Haymarket. If you keep up with my blog, you’ll know that Cologne has a rich and fascinating history. Haymarket is no exception.

The History of Haymarket


An artist reconstruction of Cologne during Roman times. (Source: Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne.) I believe the large island is the first location of Haymarket.

Dating back to the Roman era, Cologne’s famous Haymarket may be one of Central Europe’s oldest markets. Prior to the 10th century, Haymarket was located on an island just outside the city walls on the Rhine river. As its name suggests, farmers went there to sell hay and other goods to people living within the city walls.



The map above comes from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum published by Braun and Hogenberg in 1572 and shows Haymarket sitting within the city walls.

Around the year 957, the market was moved from the island to inside the city. With its location still near the harbor, Haymarket was an ideal place for trade. Craftsmen and merchants took advantage of the prime location. Nearly a kilometer in length—or approximately two-thirds of a mile—Cologne’s Haymarket is larger than most might assume, but it wasn’t large enough. It seems the 10th and 11th centuries were a time of rapid growth and at least three other markets emerged by the end of the 12th.

By the 13th century, Cologne’s population and commercial trade rivaled cities like Paris and London. On top of its forty-thousand residents and the daily influx of market-goers, pilgrims came from all over Europe to see the city’s many churches and relics. Perhaps most famous is The Shrine of the Three Kings located in the city’s cathedral.


This close-up  comes from a map published by Arnold Merkator during the late 16th century. It’s been suggested that the gallows and pillories are pictured sitting in the middle.

During the 1200s, the city council had gallows built in Haymarket where the medieval market-goer might witness the flogging of a fraudulent merchant or the beheading of an aristocratic criminal. In the 14th century, the city’s former mayor, Heinrich von Stave, was found guilty of treason and beheaded on that very spot. Afterward, his remains were quartered and sent to different sections of the city for display.

Dupuis, Charles (1752), Heumarkt mit Börse, Kupferstich, um 1790 (Köln, Kölnisches Stadtmuseum.  (Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln, rba_mf166753)

Through the years,  Haymarket managed to meld the old with the new,  holding fast to its old-world charm. This etching of Haymarket by Charles Dupuis dates to the late 18th century.

Despite its rapid growth, Haymarket still managed to keep its aesthetic appeal. Renaissance Europe considered it to be one of the most beautiful city squares in Central Europe, comparing it to St. Marks in Venice. Today Haymarket’s brick-paved square lined with trees and restaurant is a popular pedestrian destination for tourists and locals.


Tourists and locals experience the magic of the holdiays each year during Cologne’s Christmas markets. Looming above the tents, stands the city’s Christmas tree, and more impressively, its massive Gothic cathedral.

Since the Victorian era, it’s boasted a beautiful old-world Christmas market. In total, there are seven different Christmas markets throughout the city during the holiday season, though the most popular sit beneath Cologne’s famous Gothic cathedral. Festively decorated pavilions and wooden stands offer visitors everything from the city’s famous mulled wine to sweets, toys, and local delicacies. It also houses the nation’s largest Christmas tree.

As some of you know, The Fairytale Keeper series began with a question: What if one girl was the origin of Grimm’s fairytales? That question spawned a series of others. First and foremost: When and where would this girl have lived? Months of research led me to 13th-century Cologne. It’s fascinating history has so far lent itself beautifully to my imaginary world.

Thanks for reading. Want to explore the fascinating world of Medieval Cologne with my characters? Get a FREE sample of The Fairytale Keeper sent to your Kindle from Amazon.com. To see more posts like this one, click the follow button in the sidebar or sign up for my monthly newsletter.


Maciejowski Bible

The Wardrobe of a 13th-Century Warhorse

What is Ivo Bauer up to today?

It is the 22nd of April in the year of our Lord 1248. Ivo Bauer’s heart thumps heavy in his chest as the archbishop’s men-at-arms saunter into the armory. The myriad mail rings shiver at the clapping of their boots on the hard dirt floors. At the metallic chime, the two men stop. Silence hangs as they feast their eyes on a sea of steel. 

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. Today Ivo takes us to his apprenticeship in an armorer’s shop where a wealthy noble has commissioned some armor for his horse. Needless to say, this patron can afford to trample his enemies in style.  As a historical fiction novelist, it’s my job to figure out what that would look like—so I scoured primary sources and essays to discover the facts. For you, I’ve summed up hours of research into this bite-sized blog post. Enjoy!

The Wardrobe of a 13th-Century War Horse

Geoffrey Luttrell

This image from the Luttrell Psalter (1325) shows the caparison, trappers, and shaffron donned by medieval knights.

“Excuse me, Sir. Your horse is showing.”

I can imagine a mounted earl teasing his less-wealthy counterpart—let’s say a mercenary knight—with these very words.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, dressing a horse from head to hoof was not only fashionable, it protected the knight by protecting the horse.  Sadly, not every knight could afford to armor his noble steed. It was expensive just to armor himself.

Let’s say the petulant knight mentioned above was the Duke of Gloucester. In Hodge’s List of Prices, this wealthy English noble had an inventory of armor valued at over 103 pounds in 1397. Look behind him and you’ll find the basic knight’s armor—valued at 16 pounds—far less impressive. I think it’s safe to assume the duke had horse armor while the average knight did not. Primary sources from the time show horses both with and without armor. So in my work in progress—The Armorer’s Apprentice—the noble patron has a budget similar to the duke’s. Let’s see what Ivo and Michael might have created for his warhorse.

Medieval Horse Armor

This image from The Manuscript of the Apocalypse (1330) shows what mail trappers or bards looked like during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Layer 1: The Quilted Trapper

Comprised of one or more garments, the first layer of defense for the armored horse was a  quilted trapper.  These layers of fabric kept the mail rings from irritating the horse’s skin and protected it from hard impacts. Quilted trappers likely appeared in Western Europe during the twelfth century near the same time as mail trappers. Though we don’t see quilted trappers represented in illustrated manuscripts of the time—probably because they weren’t visible beneath the mail trapper and caparison—they are listed in inventories, such as the will of Raoul de Nesle  who died in 1302. He owned three of them.

Layer 2: The Mail Trapper

Made of chain mail, this was worn over the quilted trapper and protected the horse from slashing and piercing wounds. In his essay on the subject, Dirk H. Breiding informs us that a  “carved capital…dating to the late twelfth or very early thirteenth century, shows two warriors mounted on horses in mail trappers that protect their bodies, necks, and presumably their head, while a tympanum relief of 1203…depicts a trapper that appears to extend further, enclosing each leg individually down to the knees and hocks, respectively.”  Just like the Maciejowski Bible shows us the numerous combinations in thirteenth-century knights’ armor, Breiding’s statement, along with primary sources, help us imagine the variety worn by horses, as well.

Maciejowski Bible

Images from the Maciejowski Bible (1240s) show brightly colored caparisons on medieval warhorses.

Layer 3: The Caparison

Early on, the caparison was a thickly padded defense. But by the thirteenth century, the horse’s caparison was more like a knight’s surcote.  Since it was decorated in his colors or heraldry, a knight draped the colorful fabric over the mail trapper.  In illuminations from the Maciejowski  Bible and Luttrell Psalter, caparisons cover most of the horse and obscure the view of what lies beneath.

Layer 4: The Shaffron

Worn either above or beneath the caparison, the shaffron protected the horses face. It’s hard to discern whether it was made of hardened leather or metal at first.  A document from 1278 states that Edward I of England ordered 38 hardened leather shaffrons  reinforced with strips of metal. Knights often had the shaffrons decorated to match the crest on their own helmets.

So when we imagine my fictitious noble patron’s horse, we should think of quilted trappers, mail trappers, caparisons, and shaffrons. It’s worth noting that horse armor progressed magnificently over the next hundred years as armorers perfected the art of forming steel plate. To read more about that I strongly recommend giving the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s site a visit.

Thanks again for reading. Want to explore the fascinating world of Medieval Cologne with my characters? Get a FREE sample of The Fairytale Keeper sent to your Kindle from Amazon.com. To see more posts like this one, click the follow button in the sidebar or sign up for my monthly newsletter.


  • Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Knights. Birmingham, Alabama: Sweet Water, 2009. Print.
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “The Armored Horse in Europe: 1480-1620.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2015. <file:///C:/Users/Ken/Downloads/The_Armored_Horse_in_Europe_1480_1620%20(1).pdf>
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Horse Armor in Europe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “Horse Armor in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: An Overview – Medievalists.net.” Medievalists.net. Medievalists.net, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
St. Kunibert

Medieval Cologne and St. Kunibert Through The Eyes of a Main Character

St. Kunibert

Built in the mid-thirteenth century, St. Kunibert is Cologne’s youngest Gothic Cathedral. (Photo Credit: The Great Jesus Experiment)

Where in the world is Ivo Bauer?

It is the 24th of April in the year of our Lord 1248 and Ivo Bauer sits perched in an oak that’s just beginning to leaf outside St. Kunibert’s Gate in Cologne. If he cranes his neck, he can see beyond the Gothic towers of Cologne’s newest cathedral to the dozens of trading vessel flocking to Rheine Gate.

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. If you couldn’t tell already, today we are in thirteenth-century Cologne just outside one of its many famous gates. If you keep up with my blog, you’ll know that Cologne has a rich and fascinating history. The parish of St. Kunibert is no exception.

St. Kunibert

The historical map (bottom left) shows the city of Cologne. The map (at right) shows the city’s divided into parishes. St. Kunibert is located in the lower left. The map on the upper right is a close-up of this section of the city.

A Brief History of St. Kunibert

St. Kunibert’s Cathedral still stands today in the southeast of Cologne. The youngest Gothic cathedral in the city, it was consecrated in 1247, despite not being finished. To celebrate, Cologne’s infamous archbishop—Konrad von Hochstaden—threw a feast for Cologne’s elite. A year later this same archbishop laid the cornerstone of the city’s famous cathedral after the previous cathedral burned to the ground.
The area of Kunibert has a long history. Prior to the cathedral, a seventh-century basilica dedicated to St. Clement sat on the grounds, but when Cologne’s beloved bishop Kunibert died and his remains were interned at the church in 663, the basilica soon became synonymous with him.
Two fairly famous legends surround the area. In May of 1030, when a fire in St. Mary of the Steps threatened to burn the city cathedral, canons from St. Kunibert lugged the sainted bishop’s shrine to the cathedral steps and it’s said that the fire extinguished instantly. Perhaps even stranger, the cathedral houses a room beneath the altar with an ancient well. Women once believed drinking its waters increased their chances of fertility. I’m not quite sure why they have blocked it off. It makes me wonder if people, believing the legend, still attempt to drink from it.

Thanks for reading. Want to explore the fascinating world of Medieval Cologne with my characters? Get a FREE sample of The Fairytale Keeper sent to your Kindle from Amazon.com. To see more posts like this one, click the follow button in the sidebar or sign up for my monthly newsletter.



The Fairytale Keeper Cover

An Excerpt from Chapter Three of The Fairytale Keeper

This excerpt comes from the first novel in The Fairytale Keeper series. The night before, Adelaide’s father Ansel was forced to bury his wife after her funeral had gone terribly wrong. He hasn’t returned. Though Adelaide’s determined to find him, she’ll need a little help. If you’d like to read more, The Fairytale Keeper, and its sequel, The Countess’ Captive are available on Amazon.

12 March 1247

With Galadriel gone, and no other significant distractions available, my mind wanders back to worry.

I wonder how long Father has been gone. The bells had struck Compline as our carriage stopped at the house last night. For the funeral, we had left after midday—sometime between None and Vespers. The Vesper bells chimed as we made our way back to the city, and the sun set just as we reached the safety of its walls.

I have never dug a grave before and haven’t the slightest idea how long it takes. The ground is still hard from winter, so it was certainly no light task. The funeral itself took half the daylight hours, so a burial should not have taken all night. Should it?

The sun is up, so it is far past Prime. I don’t know when Father should have come home exactly—sometime between Nocturn and Matins perhaps. Either way, he should have returned by now. Fear quickens my heart.

He could be at the market, I try to convince myself, though I envision packs of wolves and bands of thieves again, stalking Father through the mist. I see him shivering with blue lips in his drenched clothing, freezing and alone in the cold of night. I curse myself for letting him go. I should have followed him. Why didn’t I follow him?

Surely time enough has passed since we returned to our beds, and Galadriel is either asleep or close to it.

I dip the ends of a rag into the water basin and quickly scrub my face. I sloppily braid my tangled hair, toss my surcote on over my chainse, grab my cloak and… DONG! I jump. The bells toll. I hang my head out of the window and count each ring. They are the Sext bells. My heart sinks. Father has been gone for three-quarters of a day.

On tip toe, I skirt into the solar and over to the ladder that leads to my bedchamber. Surely Galadriel sleeps, for not a sound comes from above. I sneak down to Father’s shop. I should at least leave a note, so in case she does wake, she doesn’t come looking for me. I whirl about, looking for the wax tablet Mama used to track orders. I find it, shake my head at the long list of orders we’ve yet to complete, and scrawl a quick note to Galadriel in the wax below the list of orders. I hope she can read.

Perhaps, Erik, Ivo’s Father, knows where my father is. If not, two sets of eyes are better than one, so I decide to ask Ivo and perhaps his younger brother Levi to aid me in my search. But would they be home or outside the gates in the fields?

I whip my cloak over my shoulders, draw up the hood, and slip out the door. I hasten down Filzengraben, hoping to go unrecognized. It is less crowded than I expect. I suppose most of the city’s people are laboring in the fields, selling their wares at the market, or making purchases there.

Foller Strasse leads me past a number of row houses. It’s empty as usual for this time of day, and I fear Ivo’s house will be empty, too. Biting my lip, I knock on his door. No one answers.

I hasten past the houses to the stone wall surrounding the DeBelle Manor and climb its thick vines. With the exception of a few villeins, the DeBelle Manor field is vacant. I drop from the wall and utter a curse. Erik is less likely to let me borrow Ivo if heavy work must be done.

The villeins spread manure and plough the fields this time each year, so it is most likely they’re far outside the city wall. I take a small alley toward Severin’s Strasse. Its narrowness makes the row house seem so much taller than they are. Being so closed in makes me uneasy, but the road is short, and I am onto the wide road of Severin’s Strasse soon enough.

I pass St. Catherine’s church and then St. Severin’s. The gate splays open, and the daytime guard—who flirts with a pretty young maid who looks quite bored with him—doesn’t give me  a second look. Once beyond the gate, I lift my cloak and skirts and run between the fields in search of Ivo or anyone who might know where he is.

Not a half-furlong into my journey, my toe catches, and I surge forward, falling. The ground comes up to meet me. My left arm breaks the fall, catching on a sharp rock. The pain is searing as it tears through linen and into flesh.

A child’s laughter echoes from nearby. His mother slaps the back of his head, and the boy is back to work, but not before a dozen serfs and villeins turn their attention to me. My cheeks flush hotly in embarrassment, but their pause gives me time to ask of Ivo’s whereabouts. They point south.

I watch the blood drip down my hand, surprised that the wound neither throbs nor stings. Can I thank worry or the numbness of grief for this reprieve? I wonder. Then I shake the useless thought from my head and keep running.

I’ve passed another furlong when I catch sight of Erik’s red hair, blazing like a coppery beacon in the sun. Panting, I jog the next half to reach them.

Greta steers a plough as Levi whips the oxen. Erik steers a second plow and Ivo whips. I catch myself chewing my lip, afraid to request Ivo for the afternoon. Plowing is grueling, and his absence shall make the day even more difficult.

I fold my cloak over my dripping wound, and hike through the lumps of dirt. My legs tremble as they adjust to the slower pace. Levi turns. He drops the whip and runs for me, crashing into me so hard I nearly topple into the mire. He squeezes me around the waist and squints up into my face. I wrap my uninjured hand around him and force a smile.

“I’m sorry about your Mama, Addie,” he says.

I brush the flaxen hair from his dark brown eyes. “Thank you,” I say, and he hugs me tighter. “You’ll squeeze the life out of me, Levi. How did you get so strong?”

“From my Papa…and from working the fields. Papa says it puts hair on a man’s chest.” His brow furrows for a moment. “Papa must work harder than most men, for he has hair on his arms and back, too. Mama says she could shear him and make mantles.” I give a sniff of laughter at that. He smiles brightly and gestures to the whip he left in the mud. “Look, Father is letting me whip the oxen this year!”

“Really? I can hardly believe how grown you are,” I say, and he grins again before racing back to his whip.

Erik drops his plow and heads toward me. Sweat beads across his pink forehead, and the large muscles in his arms bulge under his sodden ivory tunic. Empathy has softened the normal severity of his face.

Greta follows, her face also sweaty and softened. Dark blonde hairs stick to her forehead. The muck comes halfway up to her knees. Some might pity her for being so short or mistakenly judge her sweet by the looks of her, but they’d be wrong. Greta is every bit as tough as Erik.

Ivo strides between his parents. His lips twist and blue eyes brim with pity. At the sight of him my numbness flees, tears form, and my arm throbs.  I swallow the desire to race into his arms, to be vulnerable, to cry. With everyone else I try to be strong. With Ivo, I don’t have to be anything.

Levi hastens between them all, whip in hand. Their eyes are downcast, with the exception of Levi, and no one speaks. The silence makes me uncomfortable, and I wonder if I should say something.

“Your mother was a good woman,” Greta says. They nod collectively. “I shall pray for her soul, but I do not doubt the Lord has called her home.”

“Thank you,” I reply.

“How fares your Father?” asks Erik.

“I don’t know,” I choke. “I haven’t seen him since the funeral. I thought, perhaps…that perhaps… Have you seen him?”

Erik looks at me, his eyebrows raise. He shoots Greta a stern look. With a gruff jut of his chin, she and Levi return to her plough without another word. Erik pulls Ivo aside, and they share heated whispers. Ivo steps back angrily as his father speaks. He shakes his head, and his hands ball into fists. His father grabs him by the shoulders, and Ivo softens, casting his eyes downward again and nodding his head. They turn to look at me, neither of them smiling.

Erik returns to his plough, and Levi stands between his parents, whipping his father’s ox and then his mother’s. Ivo takes a step toward me, and I surge into him. He sweeps the hair from my face as I cry into his shoulder. He rubs my back as it rolls with sobs, but he does not tell me all will be well or that my mother was such an angel that it was just for God to take her. He says nothing at all.

“Something horrible… has happened,” I utter between sobs.

Ivo tenses. “Soren’s a half-pig, son of hog-shivving bastard.”

I break his grip on me, taken aback. His vulgarity is so…fluent. It shocks me despite my own loathing for the priest.

“He defiled your mother,” Ivo defends, “and left you outside the gates at night! A girl was slit from ear-to-ear outside of the Weier Gate only weeks ago.”

Behind a blink, I see Father face up in the brook, his throat slashed. It wrings my stomach. But something else Ivo said jars me from worry. How does he know what happened at the funeral?

“How do you know all this?” I ask.

“One of the dyers. She found the girl floating in the stream.”

“No. Not that.” I shake my head. “How do you know what happened at the funeral?”

“Father just told me.”

“How does he know?” I grip Ivo’s arms.

He knits his blond eyebrows, confused. “Your father told him last night.”

“When? Do you know where he is?”

“I don’t know where he is now, but I know he was at the Gilded Gopher last night.”

“When? What time? Was the hour nearer Compline or Nocturn or Matins?”

“I don’t know.”

I tremble with anger. Father let me worry all night and day for him while he was drinking himself into a stupor at the Gilded Gopher.

The Gilded Gopher, I think angrily. Its very name is a jape. From what I overheard Mama say of it, it is far from being gilded. It is a filthy pit that serves cheap ale and the company of fallen women. And, though it is a vile place, its members are all carefully selected. All members must agree before inviting a new man in, and only the most trustworthy are allowed. Membership is seen as a privilege.

“We have to ask your father where the Gilded Gopher is,” I say. “Father might still be there, or perhaps someone there knows where he is now.”

Ivo stares at the ground and scrunches his lips to the side.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I know where the Gilded Gopher is—”

“You do? Let’s go.” I yank him by the arm, but he pulls back.

“I can’t take you there.”

“Ivo, I know the rules, but this is different. I am not an angry wife going to drag her drunkard husband out by his ear. My father is missing! I have to find him.”

Ivo huffs. “My Father’ll have my hide for this.”

“Then take me as far as you can, and you can fetch him or find out where he is,” I say. He nods, and we step out of the mired fields and onto the road that leads back to the city. “Since when do you know where the Gilded Gopher is?”

“They voted me in a month ago,” he says.

It angers me to think of my Ivo inside the walls of the Gilded Gopher, his eyes lax from drink, harlots wrapping their arms about his shoulders, urging him to abandon his coin and morals for a few moments pleasure. I shake the thought from my head.

As Severin’s Gate approaches, I lift my hood, an effort to hide my face, for I do not want anyone to recognize me and offer their pity. The cloth from my cloak has stuck to the gash, and as I lift my arms it pulls at the wound. I wince, and Ivo’s eye catch on my blood-stained fingers.

He grabs my hand and shoves the sleeve of my cloak up to my shoulder, revealing the gash.

“What is this? What happened to your arm?”

I rip my hand from his and push the sleeve back down.

“It looks worse than it is. I fell on my way through the fields.”

“It needs to be bandaged.”

“After we go to the Gilded Gopher. We can stop at my house, and I shall bandage it there.”

He reaches for my arm again, and I pull away. He huffs and shakes his head at my stubbornness.

He doesn’t understand. If he’d lost his mother and his father was missing, he’d see that mending a cut is the least of my concerns. Still, we walk the rest of the way in strained silence.

The road is quiet. I had assumed the Gilded Gopher would be closer to Hay Market or on Harlot’s Alley, but we venture to the outskirts of the city near Pantaleon’s Parish. The walk gives me pause to think of what I shall say to Father when I finally find him.

I should like to scream at him for letting me worry. Then, I think, what if Father is not there? The guilt and worry converge at my throat. If I am not grateful for the parent I have left, God may take him from me. I say a quick prayer of contrition and tell the Lord I shall be forever grateful if He returns Father to me.

My legs start to quiver beneath me, and I grab Ivo’s shoulder to keep from falling. I should have eaten more than a few bites of bread.

“I stumbled,” I lie. I am weary from hunger, I convince myself, and we keep walking.

My head swims, and I stagger toward the city wall in case I need to grasp it for support. A small red stream winds its way down my middle finger, trickling slowly to the ground. My wound has reopened. Heat drains from my face as everything spirals. My legs shake violently, and I reach for the wall, sliding down it to the ground.

I hear my name, and I see a face. Ivo. My cheek stings as he slaps me.

“Addie! Wake up, Addie!” he shouts and then huffs. “You are worse than the oxen. You know that?”

“Stop hitting me,” I mumble. My eyelids bounce heavily, and I fight the urge to close them. Ivo rips the strings that tie my cloak and throws it aside. He tears off his mantle and lifts his tunic. “What are you doing?” I groan.

He pulls a knife from his belt and slices a strip from the linen undershirt beneath. It is slightly translucent with the sun behind him and riddled with holes. I notice a large golden bruise through a tear at the waist.

“I’m binding the wound.” He shoves my blood-soaked sleeve past my shoulder and ties the fabric painfully tight around my gash. I cry out as the knot pinches my skin. “It will stop the bleeding, but it has to be tight.”

He sighs and checks the wound. The blood, thick and warm, seeps through. “Not tight enough,” he says, rebinding the linen. He yanks it with all his strength, and the world goes black.


People are yelling, one belligerently.

“What is wrong with you boy?” gripes an unfamiliar voice. Erik’ll hear of this! His no-good son bringing a respectable girl here…”

“Ay! I’ma respectable woman, you stupid ’oreson!” a rough-voiced woman roars as she slaps the complainant with a loud thwap.

“What are you doing? Oh, no. Get her off the bar!”

“She’s Ansel’s daughter,” Ivo protests. “Would you have me leave her in the street?”

“Let ’er stay, Paul,” the woman orders, gruffly.

“Egh!” the man huffs, forfeiting the argument.

“God’s teeth, Ivo? What happened?” I recognize Father’s voice immediately. The relief of knowing he is here and safe makes it easy to breathe again.

“She fell, looking for you,” Ivo barks.

“Mind your tone, boy,” Father warns.

“He will,” Sal says, “or he can get the ‘ell outta my tavern.”

A sigh sounds. “Ansel had a rough night, Ivo.”

“I can tell by the smell of him,” Ivo snaps.

SWOOSH! A cold rush hits my face. I gasp and awake, soaked from head to toe with icy water. I look around, dazed, and nearly fall off the bar.

“See, she’s all right. Now ya can stop yer fightin’ and get the out. If ya don’, I got plenty a’ more cold water fer ya’s. Ansel, ya look like ya could use some.” I look to my left, and Paul’s wife, Sal, limps back to the kitchen with the empty bucket in hand.

Father holds his hands up in surrender, stumbling backward. “Alright, alright, Sal.”

Paul stands between Father and Ivo as though the two are going to fight. Though I doubt my Father can stand, much less land a punch.

“It’s just a cut,” Sal says. The wound is suddenly ice cold and then it sears. Sal dribbles a red liquid over the bandage. I grit my teeth and the sting quickly fades, but the stench burns in my eyes and nose. “A bit ‘a vinegar will keep it clean,” Sal says as she marches back to the kitchen. “She’s probly jus’ ’ungry. ’Ere, eat some meat on yer way ’ome.” She returns with a chicken leg, slamming it onto the bar in front of me. She grins, her crooked teeth hanging out of her face like thatch from a rooftop. I thank her and eat, feeling my strength return. Ivo reaches for my good arm, but I pass him and jump into Father’s arms, gripping him tightly.

“‘Ay, Ansel! Can yer girl keep a secret or do I need t’ knock ‘er out? I don’ wan’ the ’ole city knowin’ ’bout this place.” Sal peaks around the corner of the kitchen. Father looks down, wraps his arm around me, and I nod my head. “Good,” Sal says.

“You scared me,” I say.

Father gives an off-handed shrug. “It is late, I suppose.”

“Late?! It’s well past Sext!” I cry, but Father says nothing. He’s not the type of man to give apologies. He changes the topic instead.

“I think the pup wants a piece of the wolf!” Father laughs, wrapping an arm around Ivo and slapping his chest. Ivo grimaces. “See, she’s all right, boy. She worries too much, like her…” Mother is what he doesn’t say.

“You could have told her where you’d be,” Ivo says.

He kisses the top of my head. Father is always his most affectionate and jovial self after a few drinks. “Is it a surprise to either of you that you found me here?”

Before we leave, I look around and realize I am probably the only virtuous woman besides Sal to see the inside of the Gilded Gopher. There truly is nothing gilded about it. The stench of sweaty men and stale ale fills the windowless pub. Stained wooden tables and benches are packed into tight rows. Candles provide the only light.

We climb the stairs, and a woman passes us holding her tattered dress to her bosom. Dark circles encompass her unseeing eyes. My eyes avert to the wood of the stairs.

I knew such business took place here. She has sold herself, and I wonder what happened to make her so desperate. Daylight blinds me for a moment at the top of the stairs. A child lies on a pile of straw by the fire in the corner of the room. Perhaps this woman’s husband died of fever, and she has a child to feed. Perhaps she was the concubine of a burgher who promised he’d marry her, but never intended to do so. I promise myself I shall never turn to such an abase business, but surely this woman had promised herself the same at some point in her life.

I bet this girl’s parents had hopes for her once, however meager. I wonder if her parents deny her now, shamed by her trade. Better that they died before she made the bed she now lies in. I shall never put myself in such a position. I shall never give myself to a man before wedlock.

We walk silently. Ivo’s narrowed eyes stare forward. He has become hard to read. He used to be so much like little Levi, so jovial and always wearing his heart like it was a coat of arms. Some count a man by his years or trade, but it’s not age that makes us grown, it’s surviving the tragedies. The fever has worn on those of us old enough to understand it and especially those of us who have lost a family member or friend.

Perhaps he is angry with me for being stubborn or with Father for letting me worry so. We make it to my house, and Father lumbers into his workshop.

Ivo turns to head back to the fields. I reach for his arm.

“Wait,” I plead.

“I need to get back to the fields.” His reply is curt.

“I hate it when you’re angry.” I reach clumsily for his hand.

“He should have come back to tell you where he was.” He reaches out for my other hand. I wrap my fingers around it and smile.

His lips curve into a half-smile. “Did you get the fireflies?”

“I did, and the bread. Thank you, Ivo.”

He nods. “I saw it outside my window, and in the middle of March, no less.”

I shake my head and smile.

His grip on my fingers tightens. “Do you think we’ll catch more of them this summer?”

“Are you sure you’d not rather spend your nights at the Gilded Gopher?”

He laughs. “Of that…I am sure.”

“Then we can catch fireflies all night long. I owe Father a good scare.”

I’m glad to know that he’s not fond of the Gilded Gopher and the base entertainment it holds. He turns and heads back to the fields. I want to inquire about his bruises, but there seems no good way to ask. I return home to an angry Galadriel and a Father who is passed out at his workbench.

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