After diving headfirst into Renaissance Italy from condottieri to ciarlatani for a couple of weeks, I started feeling an intense need to balance all the reading and note-taking with something that did not involve looking at printed pages or computer screens. So I found a tutorial by Prudence Mapstone on freeform knitting, filled a very large basket with purple and pink and red yarns from my stash, and started making what she calls “scumbles” – knitted fragments that combine little swatches in harmonious colors and textures and a more or less random composition. The idea is that you make a whole lot of these fragments and then you assemble them by sewing or crocheting; I’m planning to join them with a kind of freeform Irish lace, if I get that far, and create a big floppy shawl that I could really have used during the Big Freeze And Power Outage. With any luck we’ll get more cold weather next winter so I can use the shawl if it’s done by then, though I’d just as soon pass on the electrical grid failure.
And while I knit, I think over the interesting bits I’ve culled from research and they start forming themselves into little fragments of story.
Hmm, so the totally over-the-top displays of wealth at the weddings of the nobility weren’t quite all they seemed; friends and families lent out their finery to help each other out. There must have been times when untold packages of silks and jewels were criss-crossing the country. And a small band of condottieri who were temporarily down on their luck might not have been above snapping up somebody’s mule train with the emeralds and the good brocade; kind of a fifteenth-century version of robbing the payroll train. Wouldn’t it be interesting if my hero, who doesn’t exactly know that he’s magically talented, keeps trying to convince his boss this is a bad idea but cannot articulate why? And wouldn’t it be even more interesting if this particular shipment of finery belonged to a wizard who didn’t hire a lot of guards because she put her own magical protections on the items, so that stealing them could lead to really bad luck?
Then I’ve got instructions on how to summon a magical horse that will take you wherever you need to go… except that the complicated procedure has to begin on a Thursday afternoon and there’s a six-day wait time built in. So what if the wizard believes implicitly in this procedure because as far as she knows, it always works… but, unbeknownst to her, her servant always just goes out and steals a horse during the waiting time?
I’ve also got a fairly detailed recipe for that famous medieval set-piece, the roasted peacock reassembled with all of its feathers. That one doesn’t feel so interesting, but I’m not throwing it away.
What if our hero gets sent to spy on a city, disguised as a wandering barber-surgeon, because his boss has noticed that he’s really good at treating wounded men after the battles? And what if this particular city happens to be the one he was exiled from – well, his entire family was exiled, actually, he was merely an unimportant younger son – anyway, it’s been ten years, he’s no longer using that name, and he’s changed a lot. He hopes.
Scumbles. It remains to be seen if I can knit them together into a story.