Calendar

(Note: I’m still tweaking this from another article, so please forgive the references to real-life Christian holy days.)

The Works of Spring

Renewal

In Tellene the year begins with the 1st day of Renewal, at the spring solstice, for it marks the time when work begins in earnest after the winter lull. At this time, the Halls of the Valiant, the Church of Life’s Fire, the Church of Everlasting Hope, the Temple of Stars, hold celebrations commemorating the new year. The Order of Thought carries out its twice-yearly riddling contest on the equinoxes. The Parish of Love’s celebration typically lasts a whole week.

Plough teams begin the first ploughing of the fallow field when the soil is soft enough to turn easily. Each team consists of a heavy plough pulled by eight oxen, guided by a ploughman and an ox-goader. The team is expected to plough an acre a day. In some regions pairs of horses are combined with the oxen on lighter soils, or even used exclusively.

The innovation which marks the heavy plough from the earlier ard-plough (also known as a scratch- or hook-plough) is a mouldboard mounted on the right hand side, behind the ploughshare, which turns the sod. Because of the difficulty in turning the plough, the team works in long strips, turning clockwise several times before starting on a new strip. This method results in the sod constantly being thrown in towards the middle of the strip, creating a pattern of ridge and furrow.

While the plough teams are busy on the fallow field, preparations begin for the sowing of spring crops (barley, oats, peas, beans and vetches). In a two-field system the spring crops are sown on half the active field (winter crops, sown the previous autumn, are already be growing on the other half); in a three-field system the spring crops have a field to themselves. Grains – barley and oats – are sown by the broadcast method, and are sometimes sown together in a mixture known as dredge. Peas and beans are painstakingly dibbled, the seeds being placed in a series of small holes made by poking a stick (known as a dibbler or dibbling-stick) into the ground. Choosing the right amount of seed to sow is a delicate matter which depends on soil quality and, to some extent, local custom. Too little seed and the weeds are choke the growing crops; too much and the crops are choke themselves. A working guide is that barley are sown at four bushels to the acre and oats, peas and beans at three bushels to the acre.

Sowing

Ploughing the fallow and sowing spring crops continue into the month of Sowing. Children defend the newly-sown seed from crows and other marauding birds with slings: only the lord’s doves are sacrosanct and killing one brought a heavy penalty. The doves can cause considerable damage to crops and they are a hated symbol of the lord’s power.

The seed is quickly protected by harrowing to cover it with soil. The simplest, cheapest and most ineffective harrows are bundles of brushwood dragged behind a horse – sometimes even tied to its tail. More sturdy harrows consist of wooden pegs fixed into a wooden frame; iron-toothed harrows are virtually unknown, and certainly well beyond the means of peasants. Sometimes the harrow is unable to break up heavy clods, and these are broken up with mallets.

Gardens also required attention. They are use not only to grow such staples of the peasant diet as cabbages and members of the onion family (onions, leeks and garlic) but also cash crops such as flax and hemp. Dyeplants like madder (red), woad (blue), dyer’s greenweed (green) and weld (yellow) are also grown in gardens, probably for home use as well as for sale, but may be a cash crop in some areas. Culinary and medicinal herbs include parsley, fennel, celery, camomile, mint, summer savoury, catmint, mustard, opium poppy and coriander. The Merciful Fates of the Church of Everlasting Hope are particularly busy at this time.

Cows come back into full milk as pastures took over from sparse winter fodder. Between Sowing and Michaelmas (September 29) each cow is expected to produce seven stones (98lb) of cheese and a stone (14lb) of butter.

Any time left over is spent on maintenance work – hedging, ditching, repairing fences and buildings.

Mustering

Haymaking is the main event of the month of Mustering, and it is a communal activity. Meadows are relatively rare, and those outside the lord’s demesne are often held by the villagers in common. Haymakers use long-handled scythes to cut the grass close to the ground. Teams of men move down the meadow in lines, each expected to mow about an acre a day. Women and children followed to turn the hay behind them to ensure it dries evenly. Finally the hay is gathered into large stacks. In some areas custom dictates that haymakers can carry away as much of the lord’s hay as they can lift on their scythes without letting it fell – letting any part of the scythe or bundle touch the ground resulted in forfeiture.

The hay crop is vitally important to the village economy, for it provides the main winter fodder for animals. If the crop is bad fewer animals can be kept over winter; a good crop can mean a relatively steady supply of fresh meat over winter, a good supply of breeding stock or a surplus for sale.

While the peasants work at harvesting hay, kings and lords typically gather their troops to march on their enemies at this time. The Peacemakers are typically very busy attempting to find diplomatic solutions to stave off war at this time. Those who succeed usually gather to celebrate in Declarations.

In late Mustering to early Declarations, the Theater of the Arts holds its Festival of the Arts, in which its followers gather in theaters in the cities of the world to show their art, sing songs, recite poetry and jokes, and perform plays. At about the same time, the Dream Weavers gather for their Festival of the Cat; copious amounts of food and wine are consumed and then, after a good night’s rest, the parishoners gather to discuss their plans for the year.

The Works of Summer

Declarations (Summer Solstice on 7th)

This is a month fraught with danger, being named for the declarations of both peace and war which typically take place during it. Where war is declared, armies march forth to do battle through the summer and fall months.

Lambs are weaned as early as possible, for sheep’s milk is rich and highly prized. Shearing begs early in the month of Declarations. The best fleeces come from wethers (castrated males), and fleeces taken earlier are often finer and more valuable than those taken later in the year. Lambswool is extremely fine, but medieval sheep did not start to produce decently-sized fleeces until their third or fourth year.

In areas where three ploughings of the fallow field are the norm the second is generally begun in early Declarations. This ploughing is a little deeper than the first to expose the roots of weeds, and as much manure as is available are spread on the field before the teams begin their work. The easiest way of getting the dung onto the field is to pasture beasts there. Each acre can support two sheep; cattle required about two acres each. Manorial lords often insisted that beasts are folded on demesne lands overnight to ensure they got most of the valuable manure. The beasts are not permitted to graze the meadows until at least a month after the haymaking to give the grass a chance to recover.

Between the hectic days of haymaking and the summer harvest the loathsome task of weeding the crop-bearing fields is the most important task. Thistles are among the most common weeds, and tradition held that thistles cut down before the solstice are multipliied threefold before the main harvest. Other weeds common in medieval grain fields are dock, dead-nettle, charlock and corn cockle. Corn marigolds grew among spring-sown barley, and cornflower is associated with rye.

Weeding calls for special tools. The most common are a pair of long-handled sticks, one with a Y-fork at the end and the other with a small sickle blade: they are used together to cut the stem of the weed at ground level. With manure in short supply, careful and dedicated weeding is probably the most effective way of increasing the harvest yield, but the techniques available to the peasants are far from perfect.

Flax and hemp mature in the gardens, and require careful preparation to extract the fibres. Both plants are pulled up, roots and all, rather than cut. They are laid in the sun to dry before being retted: placed in a stream to rot away the fleshy parts of the plant. Once the fibres are clean they are beaten to separated them and hung up in strikes to dry thoroughly. Hemp is then ready to be wound into rope or cord, and flax to be placed on a distaff and spun into yarn.

The summer solstice takes place on Declarations the 7th. The Truthseekers of the Courts of Justice gather in the nations where they hold sway to debate laws and make rulings. The Assembly of Light, usually already gathered for their monthly offering of small white, yellow, and gold gems, holds their Festival of Lights during the ten days between, culminating in enormous bonfires being set ablaze in the village squares on the 10th. The Conventicle of the Great Tree also sees this as a holy time, which is typically spent by planting a new tree. It is also an unholy day for the Bringers of the New Order of the Overlord.

Declarations is the hungry month. Grain stores are at their lowest ebb, awaiting replenishment from the forthcoming harvest, and peasants in need eked out their diet by foraging and many no doubt by poaching. In some desperate regions, rye infected with the hallucinogenic mold ergot is deliberately baked into bread to ease the gnawing hunger with a drug-induced daze.

Mid-Season Harvest

The main grain harvest begins early in this month if the weather allows and is usually completed by the end of the month. The winter crops (wheat and rye) ripen and are harvested first, followed by the spring grains (barley and oats). The timing depends very much upon the weather – not only are weeks of warm sun and gentle rain needed for a good crop to grow, but several dry, sunny days are required to bring the harvest in. In a pinch unripe or rain-dampened grain can be harvested and placed in special corn-drying ovens, though these are more common in upland areas where the growing season is short.

It is very common for the priests of the Home Foundation and the Church of Life’s Fire to aid in the harvests of worthy communities at this time.

Wheat is harvested with a sickle, used to cut a couple of hands-breadths below the ear of corn, leaving the long stubble standing in the field. The other grains are cut closer to the ground with a long-handled scythe. A team of five people – four reapers and a binder – can harvest two acres of crops a day. The process is not terribly efficient, and some of the grain falls to the ground; the poorest peasants often have the rights to glean the fallen grain from the fields after the harvest is brought in and before livestock is released to graze the stubble. Gleaning rights are hotly contested and are of considerable benefit to the recipients. Religious tithes – one sheaf in every ten – are collected from the field before peasants cart their crop to their barns and houses. The Church of Life’s Fire is favored by many peasants in giving their tithe, as they are known for distributing what they gather to those in need. Sadly, not all lands favor the Friends of the Field.

Bad harvests (where the yield is 15 per cent or more below the average) occur about one year in eight and good harvests (where the yields are 15 per cent or more above the average) about one year in 20.

If poor weather delayed the start of the grain harvest, it are finished in early September before the peas, beans and vetches are harvested.

Work is not finished when the harvest is complete, although the pressure eased a little once the sheaves are safely brought indoors. But the grain still required processing. First it is threshed with a flail to separate the individual grains from the ear. The grainflail consisted of two lengths of wood, the handstaff and beater, joined by a leather thong. A worker can thresh about seven bushels of wheat in a day, or eight bushels of rye, 15 of barley or 18 bushels of oats. After threshing the grain is winnowed to remove the chaff and straw. This can be done by throwing the grains on a winnowing sheet and letting the wind blow the lighter chaff and straw away, or by using a special winnowing fan. The chaff and straw is not isted but carefully collected to use as animal fodder. Finally the grain is sieved to remove the smaller weed seeds. It is then ready to be stored. It are last several years if kept dry and free from vermin, but this is not always easy. Flour had a much shorter shelf-life, and milling the grain is done as and when necessary.

Beans and peasecods are carefully dried as a source of both food and animal fodder over winter. Pottage is a staple of the peasant diet, and a pot of it is generally kept cooking at all times, topped up with new ingredients as required. An old English nursery rhyme is not far off the mark:Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold – pease pudding in the pot, nine days old.

A substantial portion of the grain processing had to be completed by Michaelmas (September 29), which marks the start of the new financial year and is the day for settling debts, rents and dues.

The Works of Autumn

Replanting (Autumn Equinox on Replanting 14th)

The third and final ploughing of the fallow field is carried out prior to the sowing of winter crops of wheat and rye. Wheat and rye are sown at about two bushels per acre. Harrowing is performed after sowing.

The Autumn Equinox, which occurs on the 14th of Replanting, is a holy day for the Halls of the Valiant and the Order of the Pike, in which both sacrifice the captured weapons of their enemies in either celebration of victory or the hope for victory in the coming month. The Order of Thought carries out its twice-yearly riddling contest on the equinoxes, while the House of Vice carries out its yearly Orgy.

Siege-hold – Arid

By late Siege-hold beechnuts and acorns are ripening and falling, and swineherds drove their charges into the woods to forage for them, a process known as pannaging. Pannage rights are generally paid for by a small cash fee on top of a peasant’s normal dues, and provided a valuable means of fattening swine up for slaughter. Pannaging generally lasted for six weeks, ending in mid-November. Whatever wild fruits and nuts are available are also collected for human consumption. Wheat stubble, which had been left standing in the fields, is gathered in to mix with hay as winter fodder.

The last week of Siege-hold is a holy time for the Fire Corner of the Assembly of the Four Corners, when a great fire was said to have swept the world.

Martinmas (November 11) is the traditional day for slaughtering and salting old stock and swine to provide a supply of meat, however meagre, for the coming winter. Little of the pigs are wasted – flesh provided meat which preserved well by salting or smoking, skin can be cured into fine leather and even the blood is carefully saved to make black puddings. Ox-hide is also cured into leather. The idea of a wide-ranging Martinmas slaughter of livestock is largely myth; animals not wanted as breeding or working stock are generally sold at market earlier in the year; the meat of young beasts fetched a higher price. In general only pigs, which lived largely on scraps and by scavenging, and beasts at the end of their working lives are candidates for slaughter on the manor. In general, the peasants eat the old stock, selling the young stock to butchers in towns, where their tender meat fetched a higher price.

Reaping

By the Reaping month preparations for the hardships of winter are well underway. Firewood is collected from the woods; peasants are generally forbidden from taking anything but dead wood for their own personal use, and the amount they are allowed to take is often limited by local custom. Taking wood for sale generally resulted in a fine, but it did not stop people trying. In some areas turves and peat are cut and stacked to dry for the winter fire.

Reeds and sedges are cut to be dried for thatching, and bracken is gathered to use as winter bedding for cattle. Threshing and winnowing continue whenever the weather is too wet to do outside work.

As in the Mid-Season Harvest, the Home Foundation’s priests can often be found aiding in the harvests of worthy communities at this time. Conversely, the Harvesters consider the Harvest Moon of this time of year to be their (un)holiest day, and sacrifice as many as they can take to the Harvester of Souls.

Harvest (Winter Solstice on Harvest 21st)

By now almost all the outdoor work is complete, and little grain processing remained unfinished. Cold and rain largely confined peasants indoors, where they performed whatever tasks they can to while away the hours and perhaps earn a little cash: women spun, men performed handicrafts.

The Winter Solstice takes place on the 21st day of Harvest and is a holy day to the Conventicle of the Great Tree. The Truthseekers of the Courts of Justice gather in the nations where they hold sway to debate laws and make rulings. The Keepers of the Four Corners believe that on this day, the Mother of the Elements split the Quintessence into the Four Elements, and thus laid the foundation of the world. On the darker side, the Order of Agony considers the Winter Solstice to be their highest unholy day, and will kidnap victims to torture throughout the month of Frosting, finishing by staking them out in the cold.

The Works of Winter

There seems little point in breaking the works of winter down into monthly tasks. Whatever maintenance can be done is carried out, and animals cared for. Dung from the barns is carefully stockpiled to be mixed with marl and spread upon the fields, though the peasants never had enough to fertilize more than the closest strips.

Lambing begins in late Snowfall and in Famine the plough teams went out to prepare the fields for the spring sowing (see Renewal, above). Mid-Snowfall also marks the Trade-Feast of the Parish of the Prolific Coin, when they celebrate a successful trading season.

The entire month of Famine is held as holy by the Gaunt, and kidnap victims ahead of time to starve to death during this month. The 28th Day of Famine is a fast for the Church of Everlasting Hope in which sins are confessed and repented of.

Calendar

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