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Julich1610

The Nachtkalb of Kolmar

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It is my idea here to start a story for others to join in, as though we sat around the fireplace of a weinstube in Kolmar spinning yarns.  Jump in when you feel like it, introduce a character, add to the description, whatever.  Perhaps we can collectively create a bit of trope for The Heydelberg Horror.

Martin sat heavily at Schwendi Fountain, not far from the Koifhaus, the Custom House of Kolmar, where he had been feted as one of the ten representatives of the Decapole, the League of Ten Imperial Free Cities in the Alsace formed on 28 August 1354 to mutually defend the rights of the citizens from domination by powerful barons in the region.  It was Martin's honor to represent the city of Mülhausen at the banquet held to remember the foundation of the Decapole 250 years ago.

Ach! but Martin had enjoyed a bit more of the fine Rechenwyr wine than was his usual wont.  And he had sung along with the boys from the Meistersingerschule founded by Georges Wickram in 1548, who were brought to the banquet as entertainment, toasted the Kaiser's health with more enthusiasm than he actually felt toward the Habsburg ruler.  He was out of breath.  A man of his years, prone to sanguine humors, was ill-advised to indulge quite so heavily in the pursuit of Bacchus, according to the solemn warning of his learned physician, announcing the later hours of his life like the forlorn tolling of the bells of the local collegiate church, echoing the words carved in the red and yellow sandstone of that ecclesiastical edifice - "memento mori" (remember you must die) - to presage the doom awaiting all folk, great or small.  It was nothing really new, after all; one more sermon from the good Doktor.  So many physicians felt themselves to be spiritual authorities in the wake of Paracelsus.  But Martin was sure that his head would be pounding in the morning as though battered by Hercules' club, the design of which the thrifty founders added to the arms of Kolmar when the wine-addled hero of old had wandered off without it, according to local legend.

It was a new moon and Martin resisted the tradition of bowing to it - superstition!  It was dark, but with the thought of an impending hangover, Martin of Mülhausen staggered in search of an open weinstube down the cobblestone street loomed over by the hunched half-timbered walls above it that tended to be wider from the second story to the roof, since the imperial tax was levied according to the area taken by the first floor only.  His thirst was unslaked and he belched to no one in particular Mitgefangen, mitgehangen! ("in for a penny, in for a pound!") .  The streets were empty.  The weinstubes would close soon with the tolling of the ten o'clock bell and afterward, anyone found wandering the labyrinthine streets would be questioned at length by the vigilant watch patrol.  Eager to avoid such an extensive explanation of his sodden behavior, Martin quickened his pace.

They found Martin of  
Mülhausen next morning, face upward in Schlüssel street, a look of abject terror on his round face.  Not a mark on him.  The rapier at his side, which he was privileged enough to wear, had never been drawn. That night, at Der Schlacthof, a weinstube in the narrow and rather odoriferous street of the tanners, many theories were proposed as the fire crackled on the hearth, stinging the eyes with smoke.  

"It must have been the Nachtkalb," a be-wizened grandfather sagely observed, "no one sees that awful beast and lives to tell the tale.  They say if there is a death on the night of the new moon, it will be followed by three more deaths before the next new moon.  Anyone who falls ill the day after the new moon is likely to die."

The out-of-towners, playing cards together, didn't quite know what to make of that, so they ordered another round. Strangers they were, so introductions were doubtless in order...

 

 

1200px-Tavern_Scene-1658-David_Teniers_II.jpg

Edited by Julich1610
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True to the words carved in the stone frieze above the entrance to the Ploughman's Guild in Kolmar, EH VERACHT ALS GEMACHT ("FASTER UNDONE THAN DONE"), much was undone in the world since the founding of the Decapole 250 years before.  In the wake of the Black Death and the time of three popes, each condemning the followers of the others so that it was impossible for anyone to hope for paradise, a poet like Eustache Deschamps summarized the feelings of despondence and despair that had come over mankind at the end of the middle ages:  if all the sky was made of gold leaf, and the air was starred with fine silver, and treasure borne on all the winds, and every drop of sea-water was a florin, and it rained down, morning and evening, riches, goods, honours, jewels, money, till all the people were filled with it, and I stood there naked in such rain and wind, never a drop of it would fall on me.  The panoply of costumes for every rank and station in society, each one having their assigned part on the stage, rituals for every occasion, the lively spectacles of religious procession, the grisly executions of prisoners for the edification of the crowd, passion plays that left all spectators weeping, had given way instead to the dark night of the soul, a dull malaise and impoverishment of life, in which nothing but death seemed to promise improvement.  The spirit of the middle ages thus entered into a time of renunciation like an old man (age 50) or an old woman (age 30) looking back on a wasted life that once seemed so full of promise and now knowing both men and women, for all their striving, praying, birthing, burying, devotion, love, sacramental compliance, would most likely be dead by their 60th year.  

There were only three escape routes the medieval mind might follow to overcome this impasse: renunciation, reform, or relapse into the comforting illusion of an ideal past that might yet be relived, paradise regained.  Of all of these, reform was the most heretical for it implied that the existing institutions were something less than perfected and hadn't God ordained them? 

Edited by Julich1610
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The Decapole itself was sign of its times.  The First Estate, the clergy, both sacerdotal and monastic orders, were charged with carrying on the work of the good Lord in redeeming the souls of the scalawags who peopled the earth.  Yet, as Chaucer warned, For if a preest be foule, on whom we truste, / No wonder  is a lewed man to ruste; / And shame it is, if a prest take keep, / A shiten shepherd and a clene sheep...

The Second Estate, that of the Nobles, paid lip service to the ideals of Chivalry, saw themselves variously as King Arthur, Launcelot, or one of a thousand other heroic figures from the chansons de geste, protecting the Church, defending the faith, succoring the defenseless from the oppressor, combating tyrants, resting in the lap of courtly love.  But in the wake of The Hundred Years' War, in which the defenseless peasants were robbed by their betters (sometimes even their laundry was raided to provide patches for the shirt of a knight in the field) so the poor man had naught to eat but a handful of rye or barley, his wife surrounded by four or six little ones, huddling next to an oven which might perchance warm them, asking their mother for bread and receiving none, screaming from hunger.  As if this misery were not enough, the plunderers of many nations gathered at the door of the poor man's homestead, despoiling him of all else he might claim as his own in this world, leaving only hunger and hopelessness in the pits of the survivors' stomachs.

The Third Estate, villeins with no distinction between rich burghers and mud-bespattered peasants in the eyes of the higher classes, also disappointed.  Their betters expected of them the servile virtues; humility and hard labor, unquestioning obedience to the King and his ministers, and docile bowing and scraping at the feet of the Lords who loved them less than the dogs accompanying them on the hunt.  Nothing good was expected of these dirty, brutish creatures.  It was only from the nobility that any virtue could possibly find expression and yet, watching them rob and plunder and murder continuously for a hundred years, is it any wonder a pessimism took hold of the souls of the late middle ages?  The villeins had to band together in organizations like the Decapole just to protect themselves from the chivalrous fiends murdering them from horseback until cut down themselves by Edward III's 10,000 peasant longbow men at the Battle of Crecy.  The knights had become common soldiers; it was only they who believed otherwise of themselves.   Far from being the model of princely virtue, a deserter might at least provide a meal to the peasants he starved, if caught out.  Not the heroic quest on which he might have embarked as a squire.  

And so the people might have descended still further into bleak reverie over the failure of man to live up to his own ideals, had not Petrarch discovered the Romans wrote a far more eloquent Latin than the Church indited in tedious volumes of doctrine and moreover the Romans possessed a stoicism, an educated optimism, the current times sorely lacked.  It was a cunning linguist who gave birth to the humanist vision of the Renaissance, in which the human himself was considered worthy, quite apart from how well he conformed himself to the religious, chivalric or societal ideals propagated from one generation to the next.  The liberal arts became the humanities.  What a piece of work is man! the Bard wrote.  And so he became, crafted himself like the Vitruvian Man of Da Vinci. 

Edited by Julich1610
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It was looking like a long year for Elias Wetzel, Obristmeister of Kolmar.  As chief magistrate elected by tradition following the feast of St. Lawrence on August 10th, serving a one year term, Elias had chaired the meeting of the council at the Rathaus (town hall) earlier that evening to discuss the political situation created by the sudden demise of the emissary from Mülhausen.  The small folk might well believe the Nachtkalb was responsible, but the uncanny death of this Martin from the Decapole would likely require a more human scapegoat to satisfy the inquisitive concerns of the powerful Duke Friedrich of Württemberg.  The absence of visible wounds would suggest poison at the banquet to His Ducal Grace, no fool despite the open mockery he suffered in The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare, playing upon the snub offered the Duke by the late Queen Elizabeth who only sent an invitation when too late to attend his investiture as Knight of the Garter , an honor the Duke had long pestered the queen to offer him; an oversight on Her Majesty's part, no doubt.  It was probable that imperial officials from nearby Ensisheim would soon arrive within the walls of Kolmar to make an inquest on the Duke's behalf.  The Duke had pressured Kolmar to sign the Lutheran Formula of Concord, but Kolmar aligned confessionally with Rhenish Calvinism instead, which continued to stick in His Serene Highness' craw.   

The newly elected Elias had political problems closer to home as well.   While he felt confident of the support of the Meisterschaft (Magistrate) who served under him, the Schultheiss or chief justice Lorentz Obrecht, the three Stettmeisters who served variously as city treasurers and advocates for cases before the council in its capacity as Superior Court, along with the city clerk  Klaus Hurst, who was responsible for keeping all city records and directed the city's chancery and the court clerk, Hans Goll, who performed a similar function for the courts.

No, it was the council itself that troubled him, the 30 representatives of the guilds that provided the administrative offices of the Magistrate with the political support needed in an advisory capacity.  They could be troublesome.

Most important of these were the XIIIers (Dreizehner), ten guild representatives and the three Stettmeisters from the Magistrate who made policy for the town.  Then there was a senate of ten guild representatives and finally the guild masters themselves.  Elias mentally recited the guilds to whom most of the 1,200 households on the tax rolls, perhaps 7,000 citizens in all, belonged:

Zur Treue - merchants, tailors, pursers, ropemakers, drapers, glaziers, apothecaries, retailers, spice merchants

Zum Riesen - innkeepers, coopers, barbers, surgeons, writers, beer brewers, vat makers, musicians

Ackerlute - peasants, carters

Zum Haspel - gardeners, foresters

Rebleute - vineyard workers

Zum Lowen - butchers, fishermen, boatmen, bathhouse keepers

Zum Kranzchen - bakers, millers, second hand retailers

Zum Adler - weavers, furriers, hat makers

Zum Holderbaum - wheelwrights, carpenters, armorers, locksmiths, brick makers, moneyers, goldsmiths, clock makers, joiners, masons, potters

Zum Wohlleben - tanners, shoemakers, saddlers

Müßiggang ist aller Laster Anfang - Idleness is the Devil's workshop, the proverb says, Elias remembered.  What better place to look for such Devil's work as poisoning, a form of witchcraft really, than in the shop of a Zunftmeister (Guildmaster) elevated among his peers, hands idle, but mind a bit too keen for its own good?

Someone would have to burn for this.. 

Note: An excellent source for this history is Communities and Conflict in Early Modern Colmar: 1575 - 1730 by Peter G. Wallace.  Lots of details, great for gaming!

Duke Friedrich of Württemberg

Duke Friedrich I of Wurttemburg.jpg

Edited by Julich1610

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