To what lengths would I go to research my medieval mystery series? Well, as it turns out, I’d go pretty far.
1. Sword-Fighting Lessons
What is a pudgy middle-aged woman doing swinging a sword around? Well, I write a medieval mystery series with an ex-knight turned detective on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. And besides hanging out in libraries and creeping around dusty archives, I like to get my hands dirty getting the feel of the time period. And since I write about a disgraced knight, it seemed inevitable that I would have to learn firsthand about the weapons of war.
Crispin Guest is my disgraced knight. He doesn’t own a sword anymore but that doesn’t prevent him from using them from time to time when he encounters a bad guy. And so I wanted to learn how to truly fight with a blade. And though research through books and videos are all good things, there’s nothing like a little hands-on approach. With the help of historian and sword master Scott Farrell, I got my first real lesson. Am I ready to defeat the bad guys now? Well, I think I’ll just leave the derring-do to Crispin Guest.
2. Putting on Armor
Along with the swordcraft lesson, I wanted to get the feel of armor. My latest book involves murder, the search for a holy relic, and a dishonored knight jousting for his life on London Bridge. So I naturally wanted a chance to get the feel for armor; what is it like to move in it; how heavy is it; what does it smell like. I had two opportunities for that with the generous help of chivalrous knights from one end of California to the other. I got to try on plate armor and mount a war horse, a 2,000 pound Percheron, to be exact. It’s like mounting a piano. He was one big dude. It was a long way up, and once mounted, a looong way down. Having my face completely covered by a helm was daunting. The view from the eyeslits was panoramic but useless in any other direction. And it’s hot. Not bad if you’re in jolly old England. Not so much if you are on crusades in the scorching Middle East.
3. Beekeeping to Make Mead
Mead is that sweetly alcoholic honey wine that has been made since at least ancient Egyptian days and was still popular in Viking halls and on the medieval table. Actually, it’s not wine, it’s brewed like beer. Honey, water, and yeast are cooked and fermented to make a delicious and deceptively easy-drinking libation. My husband had been making award-winning mead for years, but when bees just showed up one day in an old birdhouse I made and decided to stay, we became the proud owners of 40,000 more pets.
We made them lovely new hives to live in, risking sun stroke and bee stings. This year will be our first honey harvest. We just have to bolster the courage to go out there and do it.
4. Stabbing Meat in My Backyard
No, it’s not something I do as a hobby or anything. It was just another instance of doing a little hands-on research. Since I write about medieval times, I wanted to know what it was like to stab someone. No volunteers stepped forward so I decided if I were to acquire a body to stab, I’d have to head over to Costco.
Their meat department supplied my perfect victim. And while I had him on my cutting board all ready for mayhem, it seemed a simple thing to just start stabbing with my collection of medieval daggers. But it somehow didn’t seem quite cricket to do the deed while it was just lying there. After all, aren’t murder victims usually upright? I began to consider, when my eye scanned out the window and spotted my son’s wooden swing set in the backyard. Yup, that’s the ticket. So I took my meat victim outside and nailed it to one of the posts. And then I had at it, with daggers and my sword. It was then in the middle of a particularly good hack that I began to wonder if the neighbors were peeking out their windows at the mayhem. Well, too late to worry over it now.
Once I was finished with my stabbing and hacking--feeling how the blade slid into the muscle and skidded off the bone—I decided it had been a good day for murder. Of course, then I had to find a way to get rid of the body.
So we ate him.
See more about Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mysteries on her website www.JeriWesterson.com.