1. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    A lone man in the woods

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Skaruts, Nov 17, 2016.

    I need some hints about the setting where this character lives and a few other things. In short, he is a wealthy writer who lives alone in the woods, in a dark british-ish middle-agey sort of world (horror fantasy). His house is just a humble medium sized cottage. Much of what he writes, currently, is for the king, by request. (EDIT: I make this more clear in my next post)

    I have a few problems I can think of, though:

    He doesn't own any means of wine production. Would he still be able to have any big barrels of wine in the cellar, or would he simply have bottles in racks? I don't know if those barrels would be associated with any sort of production or not...

    What else should such a person own besides the house? A barn? A small stable for one or two horses? I can't think of anything else...
    (It's worth noting he has some supernatural capabilities - sort of necromancy - so technically he isn't exactly limited to what would be humanly possible for a lonely man to deal with, although he is still limited to what wouldn't seem suspicious to an observant visitor.)

    What noble title might such a person have? If any.

    Thanks in advance.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
  2. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    First of all you're going to have to establish why someone of his profession and economic status lives out in the back of beyond. That will influence what he has around him.

    Traditionally, a scribe to write letters and documents, or a creative writer to pen odes and epics would have lived right in the court of the king, to be there when needed. This would apply even more if he'd been ennobled due to his talent and faithful service (e.g., "Lord High Scrivener" or "Lord Chief Bard" or something like that). If he were a nobleman in his own right, he'd have a castle somewhere, not a humble cottage in the wild forest. But such a man would still spend most of his time in the king's household.

    But you've envisioned him living out in the woods. So there must be a good reason for it. Has he taken a vow of some sort? Has he been banished for a time or is he doing penance? Or, is his writing for the king a kind of magic in itself, which maybe depends on him being close to nature and the spirits of the land and the trees? That would explain the inconvenient living situation. It would also be more reasonable than necromancy, which is nasty dark magic involving the dead--- because if he's out there alone in the woods, where's he going to get the dead bodies? Is he waylaying travellers and murdering them? If so, he has to be fairly close to a road (supply line). And would have to be in a special relationship with the king, to get away with it.

    If you want to keep to the woodland cottage idea, the setup you're looking at would be called a forest assart. The wooden (or wattle and daub) buildings would be in a clearing painstakingly wrested year after year from the encroaching trees. Yes, he'd need a shelter for some animals. Chickens, likely. A pig or several, which he could let loose in the woods to eat mast (the nuts from the forest trees, such as acorns, beechnuts, etc.). A cow if there's a meadow nearby where she can graze; they didn't use cattle feed in those days. Ditto a horse or a mule so he can ride to the palace when called.

    He'd have to have some land cleared for a kitchen garden. Being wealthy he could afford to have his flour and other staples carted in in barrels when the road is dry. Bad, unpaved roads would probably keep wine from being shipped in regularly. But there's no reason he couldn't make it himself, if there's a sunny slope somewhere nearby to grow grapes. But in the situation you have in mind, his alcoholic tipple would more likely be mead. Making it oneself at home is no big deal. I've done it; your writer/magician would find it easy.

    Being a man of wealth and status, he'd definitely have at least one servant, and if he doesn't, you'll have to make it clear why. Men like that didn't do their own dirty work like mucking out the stable and emptying the chamber pot. The exception in the real Middle Ages would have been your hermit saints, and I don't think this guy is going for sainthood.

    Ellis Peters, who wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries, was really good at writing this kind of woodland assart. I believe you can find something of the sort in The Leper of St. Giles.
     
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  3. JackyJack

    JackyJack Member

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    If you want barrels for an exposition purposes, but consider them too large and clunky - try kegs. They are smaller, easier to transport and can give the same vibe as barrels. Again, we don't know the exact time period for your story. Maybe a rack of bottles will serve your goals better.
     
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  4. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    Great points, @Catrin Lewis.

    To clarify:

    I call his house a cottage because I was thinking of something relatively small, something with two or three rooms, and a bedroom or a study in the attic. It does have the cellar, and a secret oubliette below with several rooms.

    I'm not entirely sure about his background yet, but from the perspective of the king or the people who know about him, he is supposed to have been unknown for a long time, and became known when his stories were becoming noticed among the nobility. For all they know, he lived there his whole life. From his own perspective, he might be much older than he looks, probably eternal, and he might even be the actual character of some popular legend that people tell each other at night. After his goals are achieved, he disappears (off to another land), and only then people realize who he might have been and the danger they had been in all along. The story is told from his perspective, though.

    The reason why he lives in seclusion is that he has a dark secret life, having to do with the paranormal. His stories are not entirely fictional: he does murder and torture people that he (somehow) snatches from nearby villages, and creates stories based on that. He intends to keep that a secret. Essentially, he is a powerful and evil man, posing as a humble and old nice person.

    Necromancy is indeed a bad way to put it. Although I don't yet know exactly what he's capable of, he essentially has some authority over the world/dimension of the dead. So basically he is able to will ghosts and demons to do what he wants. I'm not too concerned with defining those details, since the character is supposed to remain mysterious. Much of that will be open to the imagination.

    It's possible that the king might at some point have suggested/appointed him to live there, but he would have politely declined (supposedly it would have been an offer and not an order) under the pretext of preserving his own private life-style to inspire him (which wouldn't be a lie, not entirely). The character is, by the way, a very persuasive one.

    His wealth (as known to the people) has grown since his writings were becoming more popular, and especially since the king started personally requesting him to write more stories. The king supposedly pays him a sort of prize-money, more in a way to motivate him and show gratitude, not as a strict service payment. At least it's supposed to never have went that way, so far.

    How did I forget pigs? My goodness where is my mind. Thanks! :)
    I think the mule would be more of his style. I suppose mules would be cheaper?

    Thanks for the reading suggestion too.

    @JackyJack, the time period is unknown to me too. I'm not sticking to the real world, so I have some flexibility. I'm trying to keep it coherent, though. I would say it would be about the equivalent to Kevin Costner's Robin Hood movie.
     
  5. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Has the printing press been invented in your story's time period? Otherwise, the only way his stories will be made known is if he's physically there among the royalty and nobility reciting them.

    The idea of a writer penning popular tales of horror while all the time they're based on his own nefarious deeds is a good one.

    But I wonder, does the setting really need to be Medieval-ish? You could get the same effect if it were set in a period more like the 1700s (pre-Industrial Revolution), with fewer of the hassles. If you're interested, I can give you some details on why it'd be ideal.
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2016
  6. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    I hadn't thought of that. Well, I do have the flexibility since it's essentially a fantasy world. So, yes, it has. Although that does brings me to the question of where exactly he would go to print his books and how would the process of selling and distributing work. It's probably irrelevant to the story, but I would love to know.

    Thanks. And yes, it has to be. Partially because it's actually my preference, though admittedly I should read more on it... But the main goal of the character wouldn't be easily achievable in any more modern setting with a more complex political system that aims to prevent civil wars and that sort of thing. In this setting, you essentially just have to kill the entire royal family. And maybe the steward or something? I'm actually interested in knowing if I'm not missing something regarding that.
     
  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    If the goal is to seize power just killing the king and family won't do it, because the king will be on the throne with the support of the barons or whatever nobles exist - if someone kills him without their support they would just imprison or kill the assassin and put a man of their choice on the throne.

    likewise if the aim is to spread discord and cause civil war this won't be easy unless there are several strong contenders who would vie for the throne if the king were killed
     
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  8. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    That was what I was aiming for: there being several strong contenders to the throne. The character's goal is to create a hole in power that is not immediately fixable, and that they would want to fight for.
     
  9. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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  10. Trevor Richardson

    Trevor Richardson Member

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  11. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    He doesn't write exclusively for the king. He also writes his own stories for his own gratification.

    But what he writes for the king is also not a service. It's still his own thing, it just gets read by the king first (and compensated for that with money).

    I hope that makes sense...
     
  12. Trevor Richardson

    Trevor Richardson Member

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  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    My main concern would be food. A truly independent existence would likely require most of the elements of a small farm, and that would likely involve several employees/servants.

    Perhaps that farm would be elsewhere, with the food brought in, with only the freshest items being grown nearby. So, as a random example, a meal could include wine, vinegar, honey, potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, cheese, oil, cornmeal or flour, butter, etc. that were all brought in from the farm several weeks or even a couple of months ago, and fresh greens and berries grown near the cottage.

    In either case, he'd probably have a root cellar, and somewhere to store sausage, cheese, butter, and so on.
     
  14. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My initial problem with this idea is the one @Catrin Lewis highlighted. He's making his living as a writer? Not too many people did that in the Middle Ages because producing books without a printing press was pretty much hand-writing them via monks. And they were nearly all Christian in context. And prohibitively expensive. And very few people could read at all.

    Pagans (at least in Europe) didn't really do writing. They had a fantastic repertoire of verbally-told stories, but not written ones.

    If it were me doing this story I would forget the idea of a 'writer,' and maybe try 'storyteller.' Either that, or solve the distribution/reading issue in your fantasy world.

    Also, unless he had a few servants to look after him on a daily basis, if he was living the kind of semi-primitive life you suggest, he'd be spending most of his day just keeping body and soul together. Gathering or growing (and processing) food for himself, keeping his dwelling in liveable condition, etc. (Does he have a refrigerator/freezer? If not, he'll need to either gather and process food every day, or come up with some way to harvest it when it's ready and preserve it for later use. This takes a LOT of time and effort.) He can grow wine grapes on the side of a hill, but they require a hell of a lot of work to maintain. The idea of things he needs being delivered to his door is also a tad unbelievable. Roads were crap, transportation was slow, food spoilage would have been a huge issue—despite the best will and favour of the King.

    I think your story has many basic flaws that will make it difficult for your reader to suspend disbelief. Make sure you know how to overcome these handwaving problems, and THEN move forward with your character, plot, etc.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
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  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In the middle ages not very many people were literate, so 'writers' generally made their living as bards (aka jongeleurs) that is they'd write stories or songs and then sing/perform them at the court, or for various nobles. They often traveled around but if they stayed in one place it was generally by the patronage of a noble or knight (that is they didn't have to fend for themselves, they were fed, housed, etc in return for regular performance and odes about the great deeds performed by their patron)

    in this case his patron is the king , but I wouldn't expect him to be sending manuscripts to court for someone else to read (or for the king to read himself) , he would instead travel to court to tell/sing/perform them.

    the other sort of writing that went on was by monks - generally attached to an abbey, but sometimes in solitude , who would translate biblical stories etc either into latin or from it into the common tongue.
     
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  16. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Winston departed Pine View Cottage and rode his stallion the one hundred miles toward Buckingham Palace. A flintlock thumped against his thigh, his satchel contained the manuscript, strained at his thin shoulders, and walloped his buttocks with every canter of his steed, yes.

    'Open ye gates,' he cried to the guards wearing their bearskin hats, 'make way for the king's bedtime story.'

    Winston salivated, how his majesty would surely enjoy the tale: bears, one, two and three, the porridge, a wonderful plot device. Then, he smacked his forehead in a great horror:

    'Oh no, I have left the pork joint in the freezer, requires transfer to fridge as ye @jannert certainly advised.'

    He turned, away from royalty, galloped back home toward hovel and domestic duties...
     
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  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Winston would have been out of luck - the royal household wasn't at Buckingham palace until much later in history
     
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  18. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    1820, you loser. I win.
     
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    cough... middle ages... cough
     
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  20. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Okay, I'm working on it. It doesn't have to be strictly literal in every sense, look at the guy's post, with love.

     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Was it your son who gave you that one?
     
  22. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    No, he likes proper weirdy stuff:

     
  23. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    Good points...

    I have no problems with moving the time period a century or two upward. Again, I'm essentially writing fantasy, anyway, so I suppose I have flexibility. If we think in terms of that, mages often live in a lone tower or something, though often with a servant or so. My character is, essentially, a mage of sorts, but he poses as a normal person, so... maybe I should give him servants...

    As for his craft, how are books explained in medieval fantasy where books exist? I have no problem inventing the printing press, although monks handwriting stuff sounds quite appealing to me.

    Maybe my character is a monk (or poses as one)... Would a monk ever leave the monastery to go live in seclusion?
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Not many books did exist in the middle ages - where they did (as with say the doomsday book in 1086) they were written by hand , by scribes working for a powerful court. Bear in mind that book binding didn't really exist so most so called 'books' are actually written on scrolls (sometimes of parchement, sometimes of sheepskin - its also worth noting the scrolls were really expensive so even nobles frequently had them scraped clean for reuse

    shorter messages might be written on a wax tablet or a piece of slate
     
  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Can you explain which factors are mandatory? Is it impossible for him to simply be the owner of a farm, with employees who do most of the work?
     

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