If you have a Net Galley account, you can now read an ARC of The Wrath of Horus.
I just sent out a free copy of my new Carlo Borgia novella The Lady’s Step to my newsletter subscribers. If you’d like one, all you have to do is click here and you can sign up. The novella is available for pre-order at Amazon, but you can have it now for free.
What is it about? Glad you asked!
The timing could not be worse. It is the eve of Gregorius Klaereon’s Trial. Carlo Borgia sees all the seeds of disaster in Greg’s fight with Horus, but the message he’s been waiting on for 14 years has finally come. A bookseller has found a spell for Carlo to make his way back to Duat, to see if his beloved Lucy and his good friends Drusus and Octavia have survived.
Carlo has every confidence he can return in time for Greg’s Trial. When he arrives in London, however, Carlo finds the bookseller dead and the book missing. Worse, Detective August Sorrell of Scotland Yard is certain Carlo is the murderer.
The clock is ticking as Carlo evades the police, searches for the book, and investigates the murder himself, only to find players from his own past are acting in the shadows.
Don’t forget you can pre-order the ebook of The Wrath of Horus as well. The Lady’s Step will be in the paperback version as well. Everything will be available on October 31st, the Klaereon birthday for those of you in the know.
This is the third and final excerpt from The Wrath of Horus before Saturday’s big cover reveal. In this scene, Marc and Diana are reunited in the Maelstrom of Dantes’ Inferno.
Marc was buffeted by the howling winds. He slammed into the rock walls of the chamber, passing through other floating souls, and despaired in the absolute darkness and the continual roaring of rushing air. Alexander had sacrificed himself so Marc could live, and Diana had burned before his eyes. Flavia and Galt had been cast into the pit. He had no idea where Greg even was.
After his parents were gone, Marc had tried so hard to make sure there was no risk, to make everyone safe, but everything had slipped through his grasp, no matter how tightly he clenched his fists. He couldn’t save anyone. He was dead and this was how he would spend eternity, in failure and despair.
You are still alive.
Thoth’s thoughts pierced his mind. “Am I?” Marcellus’ voice flew back to him, the wind so loud he could barely hear it. “I fell. I saw Alexander and Diana die.” Alexander had asked for Marc to be sent where Diana had been sent. Was she alive, or was only her soul here? “Thoth? Are they alive? Can you tell me?”
You remember, you cannot remain dead here. None of you can.
Marc had endangered them because his powers had failed. “My magic is not working. What good am I?”
I do not waste my time or my gifts. That is your answer. If Alexander and Diana gave you the gift of their sacrifice, you must give them back your courage. Nothing has ever been in your control, Marcellus. You must stop pretending it ever has been.
Thoth saw more than Marc could see in the darkness. “Is this one of your visions?”
No. You are in the Maelstrom.
The Maelstrom. The level of lust. There was nothing to see or touch. Marc could barely hear himself think.
You must use the gifts you have.
The gifts he had? Shadows were closed to him. What gifts was Thoth talking about?
“Diana!” he shouted into the noise. He knew others were screaming, lovers blown apart by the Maelstrom, unable to touch. “Diana!” He couldn’t hear her. She couldn’t hear him. She wouldn’t know he was here.
He loved her, had loved her ever since they were children. He had forsworn other women based only the memory of her, real and imagined. All he wanted when she had come back to him was to shower that love on her, but he was afraid of his vision, that she would die by his side. Better, though, by his side, than alone in the dark, because he thought maybe she loved him too. They were both here, which was telling.
It was the pinprick of light in the absolute darkness which made him aware of her. The lights of her rosary were white stars in the winter sky over the heath. The wind blew her toward him. He tried to grab her, knowing how unlikely it would be to touch her, how extraordinarily lucky he would be if he could. She sped by and he grasped at air. The distance between the two of them grew. Tears were blown dry on his face as soon as he cried them.
Then he was jerked backwards as a thin string of beads looped around him. He laughed uncontrollably. Their situation was dire, but this was one tiny spark of hope. A pop beside his head as a bead exploded, its magic forcing him closer to the light. Again, another pop, another few feet, and he could see her. Then one more burst and they were face to face as she entwined the rosary around the two of them, wrapping their bodies closely. He could see her face glowing in soft pink light, could feel the closeness of her, could smell her above the cold wind and stone. All the things he wanted to say to her and couldn’t. He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her as the wind tossed them like autumn leaves.
Marc cried for Alexander and Diana kissed his tears and cried with him.
Here’s another excerpt from The Wrath of Horus, shortly after the characters end up in Dantes’ Inferno:
Flavia’s anger crested as the stream of spirits marched forward to the being larger than life on the throne of skulls, a horned demon with a tail. The tail darted forward into the mass of souls and pulled one out, plucking it like heather from the ground, pronouncing a one-word sentence, and casting the soul into a pit. The tail groped near them and encircled around another unfortunate. “Gluttony,” the creature said, and then threw the soul away.
Before Flavia could register the motion, the tail darted in, wrapped around Pavan, and pulled him up into the air. She paused. Again, the voice in her head. Leave him. Come to me.
Flavia shouldn’t care—Pavan was a distraction from her purpose—but she did care. Even if she decided to stay in Hell, she promised him she’d get him out. Flavia was not her father. She made good on her promises.
Before the demon could pronounce Pavan’s sentence, Flavia ran forward. She heard her name in the distance and glanced toward the sound, seeing Marc off to the side. Marc was here. Her temper burned bright inside of her. She’d rather Greg see her new powers, but Marc would do. She hoped he would be impressed. “Demon!” she shouted. “Drop him!”
The demon’s tail flung Pavan to the ground and hovered above Flavia like a hungry snake. “You come to be judged,” it said.
“No,” Flavia announced. “I am here to judge you.”
The giant tail wrapped around Flavia’s ankles. The gem in her neck flashed like lightning. The demon’s hands shielded its eyes and Flavia grabbed a length of its tail. She could see the seams where she could tear and she followed the lines, pulling the tail apart with a satisfying, wet rip. Blood oozed over her hands, feeling warm and comforting.
The demon’s scream dissolved souls into smoke and mist. Flavia tossed the torn flesh and scales aside, grabbed another part of the tail, and exerted her new strength. The demon lurched forward and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her to his chest. She plunged her hands into his midsection.
“Anger,” the demon announced. He would not let her go, so Flavia pulled her hands out, dropping gobs of gore on the ground underneath them. She laughed. Flavia placed her palms on either side of the demon’s head. With thumb and forefinger, she plucked one of his eyeballs from its socket, but still Minos relentlessly moved her to the end of the pit. She didn’t care. She drove two fingers under the remaining eye. Minos pushed her away and tossed her into the air. She hung for a second, gazing down into the darkness. Air rushed past her and she plummeted into the pit.
Terror penetrated Flavia’s anger as she tumbled. She could find no purchase, nothing to grab to stop her fall. Spirits howled and screamed around her, and she screamed with them. For a moment, her sanity locked into place. What was she doing, challenging Minos? Rescuing Pavan was the right instinct, but this desire to attack, Flavia knew, was coming from Hell itself. She had fought Minos and she would have won, if she’d had a little more time. Sanity slipped away like mercury.
Since she had arrived here, Flavia felt alive in ways she had never felt before. Having powerful magic of her own to use made her want to use it. And why shouldn’t she? She could crush anyone with her magic, take them all on, remake the underworld in her image.
First, she had to survive. Her hair flew about her like a banshee’s. Souls darted in and snagged her, cutting her. She grew her claws and sliced back. She was like the creature in the forest, angry, sharp, with the power to take blood. She cackled and trilled. She would make her way in this bold new world destroying everything in her path. She was so much more powerful than a mere Binder. Oh, she would set everyone straight. She would fight and claw and kick and scream and everything would submit to her. The small voice in the back of her mind that told her this was madness, like her mother’s, she squashed ruthlessly like a cockroach. She was so hungry for this, having been told she was unworthy for so long.
She came to the end of her fall and smashed into the ground. Her legs snapped and an arm shattered, and she died for the first time. Then, she stood and began to fight.
Enjoy this excerpt from The Wrath of Horus, coming October 31st, 2021.
The Golden City of the Egyptian gods in exile, Thoth knew, was a masterful subterfuge. One could believe one was in Egypt, with the smells of Nile water, green palms, and cold stone overriding the ash and rot of the Abyss around them. Every day perfumed incense was burned to welcome a fake sun’s rising. Every day Egyptian gods walked through the market, inhabited and celebrated rituals in their temples, and sailed on the waters, which spread infinitely into an illusionary distance. Every day beer was brewed, dates were plucked from trees, and everyone pretended all was well in the smallest of spaces. There were no mortals to serve them, but wasn’t the absence of mortals always the goal of Ra? To leave the mortals behind and build a paradise for only gods?
All would have been well, were it not that every single god knew they were not in Ra’s paradise of Duat. Once all the Egyptian gods journeyed to Duat, the Egyptian underworld would be transformed into the kingdom they pretended the Golden City to be, no longer solely the courts for the judgment of the dead. This counterfeit Golden City was a way to hold onto their sanity in exile, but Thoth knew the truth of it: gods were by their nature arrogant, always believing themselves better than humanity, and now they were paying for their arrogance, punished by the sorcerer and wizard Solomon. Thoth himself had sacrificed his own chance to absent himself from the Golden City by giving Marcellus prophecy. There was still some work to be done here if ultimately, the future would free the Klaereons and the Egyptians from a magically induced pact, and Thoth would see it through. He and Marcellus together were tools to shape the future.
Thoth waved a paw in front of his nose. The smoke from the fire in the sacrificial bowl was overpowering with lavender and pampas grass. Thoth knew disaster had come for Marcellus Klaereon on this day, but it was necessary in order for things to proceed as they must. Knowing the entire future was challenging, and sometimes painful, given you had to watch many things which were unpleasant in the moment.
Which reminded him. He had things to do.
He climbed down from his stool and loped outside his temple. It wasn’t difficult to find Horus, in his true form, the body of a man, the head of a falcon, muscled like a deity who was constantly in motion. When a god about to have a Trial, first separated from their Binder, they were on edge, deprived of a narcotic, missing the child they had come to love inasmuch as gods could love.
Horus paced and fidgeted. “Something is wrong. Gregorius is not where he is meant to be. I can feel him here.”
“Marcellus and Gregorius are in the Abyss.” Thoth had not foreseen all those who had come with them. To help or to hinder? There were too many different versions of the future at the moment.
“What perversity is this?” Horus’s shiny eyes were unreadable, but his voice trembled. “How can he fight me here? I will certainly win here.”
“Don’t you want to win?” asked Thoth. The closer a god was to their Binder, the less likely they were to want to win. It wasn’t Horus’s nature to make exceptions regarding combat.
“I want to win only if it is fair,” said Horus carefully. “I want Gregorius to use everything I have taught him in a fair fight. I want him to earn his victory.”
So. Horus did want Gregorius to win. “You must seek him out,” said Thoth. “If you can help him return to the land of mortals before his Trial, maybe it will be so.” Thoth shrugged. “Or maybe not. Maybe you must fight him here. We cannot control what we cannot control.”
“No doubt this suits some purpose of yours,” said Horus.
Thoth bared his teeth. “I cannot say.”
“I will find Gregorius,” said Horus. “I will find him, take him home, and then fight him.”
“Of course you will,” said Thoth confirming. “Unless Set takes him.”
“What nonsense are you speaking?” said Horus. Horus rushed toward Thoth and stopped short of striking him. “What would Set have to do with this?”
“Set has always felt he was cheated when you claimed Gregorius, and then by not claiming the girl Flavia by virtue of her birth. You must be careful.” Thoth knew cautioning Horus was unrealistic, but being one of the older gods, Thoth had a paternalistic streak.
“I always defeat Set,” said Horus.
Thoth felt no need to respond. Horus always defeated Set, except when he did not. The history between them often repeated itself. Jealousy and passion, greed and possession. It was the relationship of gods who had loved each other but discovered the paper-thin layer between passion and hate was easily torn. Cruel Set could easily hurt Horus’s boy if he felt it would cause Horus pain.
Thoth did not like looking at the torturous version of that future, but honestly, Thoth had no idea how the future would flow, or which future would flow. “You will be breaking the formal rules by finding your Binder now,” he said to Horus, “but I think you must. It is what I would do in your place. Go, and may your road be easy.”
Both of them knew nothing about this turn of events would be easy.
It took no time after Horus left before Set made his way to the temple of Thoth. Thoth had resumed his seat inside and fed the fire with myrrh and thyme.
“God of prophecy,” said Set, “I beseech you help me right my future.”
Set was the destroyer of the Egyptians. Most Egyptians disliked Set, but Thoth knew there were duties for the darker gods which could not be sacrificed. Set was an indescribable creature. Most mortals depicted him as a mule, but he wasn’t quite that.
“Why are you not in Duat, riding the boat of the sun?” Thoth kept his tone casual. Set’s redemption would come as guardian of the sunboat, another prophecy of a possible future.
“My time has come,” said Set. “I am here to claim what is mine.”
“Your Binder?” said Thoth. “You would forego your place in the nightly battle of existence for a mere child?”
“You toy with me,” said Set. “You know as well as I do what the outcome of these days will bring.”
Thoth knew better than Set, but he saw no point in saying so. “What is your plan, then? Is it to steal the boy from Horus, or to take the unclaimed girl you have been courting?”
Set crossed his arms across his massive bare chest. “I would enjoy defeating Horus again and shattering what he considers his. I would elevate this boy above all Binders by making him mine in body and soul. But the girl has potential and was meant for me. She has my appetites and could be a mighty fighter, a Princess of Hell.” Set stepped closer. “Can you see what my best course of action is?”
“I only see possibility. I see you devoured by Ammut should you not proceed carefully.”
“Was Horus ever careful? He has always stolen what is mine.”
“Yes,” said Thoth. “And his father before him. I know your grievances well, every version of them.” Thoth inhaled smoke. “You think you are prepared for the worst of the Abyss, because you have been in Duat. Do you remember what it was like before we arrived, before we built the city?”
“I am a match for all the demons in the Abyss.”
There were some of the gods who perhaps merited the banishment Solomon had visited upon the Egyptians, Set was reminding Thoth. “I cannot see your best course of action.”
“Do you foresee a way I can have victory?”
There it was. The gods always wanted guarantees. Always. “Nothing is ever certain,” said Thoth. “Even when it is likely, it is not firm. You must trust your instincts, follow your path. If you didn’t like my advice, you wouldn’t follow it, even if it guaranteed you victory. That is usually how destiny is created.”
Set’s answering scoff was disdainful. “If you will not help me choose, I will take them both.”
Ah. Two-thirds of the possible futures evaporated into nothing, and the worst one moved to the front of Thoth’s mind. “You must do what you must do,” said Thoth.
Set left, as Thoth let his consciousness reach out to Marcellus. Perhaps his connection to his Binder would save Gregorius and Flavia. Perhaps not. Only one of them was necessary, and either of them would work for the purposes of the future. The most unfair thing of all was that Marcellus, the best of the three, was someday destined to be lost.
It is coming!
For Gregorius Klaereon, his Trial with the god Horus isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about the fight. His temperament aggressive, his anger on display for all to see, Greg is a direct contrast to his brother Marcellus, the perfect Lord Klaereon, the prophet who can do no wrong. How Marc tolerates Greg is a mystery to Greg himself, especially as Greg knows deep down that Greg is responsible for the deaths of his parents.
On the eve of the Klaereon birthday celebration, two days before Greg’s Trial, Greg fights with his cousin Flavia Borgia, and the two of them activate a reality shard which sends them, Marc, and others to the Abyss. There, they are judged and scattered throughout the nine circles. Greg, alone, discovers his Trial was the least of his worries as he is confronted by Set, the god of destruction, in a desolate landscape where his shadow powers no longer work.
While Greg endures, certain his rightful punishment has found him, Marc and the others scramble to reunite, rescue Greg, and make their way to the Golden City of the banished Egyptian pantheon, desperate to find a way home.
Let’s talk a little bit about alternative reality.
Right now, depending on who you’re talking to, you might find that this person doesn’t have the same view of the reality as you do. This is exceptionally frustrating, because you know you’re right, as in not that you believe you’re right, but that you are Snopes Fact Check right. You know you should stay home because of the Coronavirus. You know there was not wide spread election fraud. You know vaccines do not have microchips in them. You know Joe Biden is not a pedophile Satanist. And on and on. And yet, there are people in our country who believe these things and other things like them, who ardently believe these things.
Growing up, I had to constantly negotiate two realities. There was the reality most of the factual world had, and then there was my family’s reality, particularly my mother’s and my older brother’s. My family, dysfunctionals all of us, had problems with understanding how the world worked socially and ethically, because we had our own version of this, and it interfaced with varying levels of success with the cultural values of other classes, usually poorly and disastrously.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about what appears to be, as I would find out years later, an unreality that crept down through my mother’s side of the family, where actual reality would be adjusted to reflect some strange belief or lie to validate the worth of the family, or to manipulate family members into doing what was wanted. I understand my maternal grandmother would make up experiences all the time, and her sisters would correct her, saying these things did not happen. My mother and older brother certainly reinvented reality. Part of my mother’s history was that she was related to the queen of England through the Stewarts. Part of my older brother’s history was that he was a Navy SEAL. My mother told people I personally knew J.K. Rowling when I started out as a writer, and I’d have to explain to many people in my small town that no, I didn’t.
We call these things my mother and my brother said lies, because that’s what they are. BUT, and this is critical, there was a strange belief in unreality on their part, an insistence that it was real. As a young girl who still believed she could repair her family with TRUTH, I used to argue about their lies. My husband found the best way to disarm the conversation was to go with the lies until they ran out, until they couldn’t be spun anymore. Then we moved on, the lies ceasing to have power.
What I learned from living with people who were looking at life through a very different telescope than me, is that they actually believed some of these lies some of the time. I expect not all the time, but the need to delude oneself, given one’s real circumstances, was mighty indeed. To a much lesser extent, we all practice this a little bit, making up stories and narratives to smooth our way in the universe.
I have never found the magical key to helping someone who is committed to believing a lie to give up the lie. The need to hold onto that lie is SO STRONG you might incite a whole bunch of people to attack the people who tell you you’re lying. If you are in a position of power you might even have enablers who help you do this so they can hold onto power. This is how my family worked. This is how all dysfunction works. The United States is working like this right now.
Those of us who can see fact need to hold onto it. Those of us who have told others the truth is relative are mingling opinion with fact. Thank you, politicians, journalists, and propagandists. You’ve done your work well in brainwashing parts of the populace desperate to believe the reality you serve them.
There are ways to untangle and tell what conspiracies are, what is real and what is fake. Conspiracies can’t exist without long shot linkages. Facts can. These lies run out. The problem, of course, is when the lies are fed, and the lies are validated. We gotta stop doing that.
Ultimately, holding onto lies is about holding onto beliefs and insecurities about yourself or your culture or who is responsible for the position you’re in. It is our life’s work to make our country better for all our citizens, which we have never done. We’re great at exploiting the needs of the many for the needs of the few. And yes, I’m talking to my white friends, but I’m also talking to my straight friends, and my citizen friends, and even my friends with computers. The assumptions about what is “fair” or “normal” or what “rights” we should have is about perpetuating lies, not meeting people where they are.
People have been saying America is better than what we’ve seen the last few days. Nah. This is where we’ve been since I’ve been alive, with the exception of the idealized and integrated world I can remember watching as a child on a few episodes of Sesame Street.
So, what we should be saying is America CAN be better. And we gotta stop fomenting lies, both about microchips and vaccines, and how we treat BLM versus how we treat white terrorists. We gotta get our shit together, especially those of us who are in a position to call out the crazy. Don’t enable. Call out the crazy, and work as hard as you can to work with those who will let you make the world a better place.
And if people want to stay crazy? We crowd out the crazy people with crazy stuff like education, living wages, responsible citizenship, ethics, health care, the basic tenants of what we should provide for all, rather than living our life as temporarily disenfranchised millionaires who want what’s coming to us. We invest in rights for the disenfranchised. We treat each other with respect. We give dacism the middle finger.
And yes, I know, gross oversimplification followed up by a healthy dose of idealism. It’s what I do. I choose to do better than I have done in the past, and I hope you do as well. Let’s get to work.
Humans have always been fascinated by what came before them, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the study of archaeology. As early as the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance, historians and other antiquarians examined the cultural remains of previous civilizations, particularly those of the Greeks and Romans, and attempted to understand what they saw. By the seventeenth or eighteenth century, tentative steps had been taken in the direction of making the study of the past based on the artifactual record more scientific.
By the nineteenth century, the field of archaeology was dominated by male scholars from upper class backgrounds. Many of these men were looking for artifacts of great monetary value: “The history of excavation began with a crude search for treasure and for artifacts which fell into the category of ‘curio’. These curios were the subject of interest of antiquarians.” Others, on the other hand, wanted to be the first to explore an abandoned place. While their scholarship provided them with the knowledge on where to dig to find their desired ends, most of the work was done by local, working class laborers.
As time progressed, the science of archaeology became more defined, and “excavation techniques … developed over the years from a treasure hunting process to one which seeks to fully understand the sequence of human activity on a given site and that site’s relationship with other sites and with the landscape in which it is set…. It was later appreciated that digging on a site destroyed the evidence of earlier people’s lives which it had contained. Once the curio had been removed from its context, most of the information it held was lost.” Archaeologists began to focus on that very context in the later parts of the nineteenth century.
One of the most prominent archaeologists who focused on stratigraphic excavations was Heinrich Schlieman, who believed that the written works of the ancient Greeks, such as Homer, could be used as maps to locate archaeological sites of great importance. He used Homer’s account of the Trojan War to locate the area where he believed Troy could be found, in what was by then a part of Turkey. The location he found was a type of hill known as a “tell,” named from the Arabic word for a hill or mound. A tell is “a man-made hill made up of the ruins of ancient dwellings, built one upon the another [sic], for millennia upon millennia.”
In excavating this tell, Schlieman focused on artifacts he found—broken pottery and metal objects—but also the layers of walls that he was certain had belonged to Troy. “In Schliemann’s day though, no one had ever done such a thing before: no one knew anything of dirt archaeology in the Middle East; no one could read the sides of the deep trenches he was cutting and recognise tell-tale changes in the earth’s colours and textures, changes you might only see in different angles of light. Such small changes, if excavated carefully and followed out across the excavation site, allow modern archaeologists to map real ancient living spaces once again, to walk carefully on the most fragile ancient floors, and to re-create, through analysis of animal bones, pollens and other spare remains, how the ancient people who once inhabited them had lived.” Though he may not have found Troy during his dig in the early 1870s, Schlieman revolutionized the way in which archaeology was conducted.
My apologies to you all for this being so late this year. In the age of Covid, teaching is melting my brain. However, Bryon did a beautiful job on his socially distanced Halloween this year, which was themed on Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The problem with the display, as you see it here, is that a lot of it used Atmos special effects, so you can only get a vague idea of how the Pepper’s Ghost like effects work, but other parts of it you can see quite well.
Without further ado, many pictures follow.
The emeralds adorning the Mughal rulers of India came from the mountains of Colombia.
The deep blue pigments of Renaissance paintings came from Afghanistan.
A bright red dye, highly sought after for carpets, uniforms, and ceremonial robes, came from insects living on Mexican cacti.
These are only some of the valued rarities that made their way around the world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Imagine the journey of many of these items: from miners or growers or makers, often in rural areas, over land to larger markets and ports; from there over seas to trading hubs like Havana, Antwerp, and Manila; and from there spreading outward to buyers in middling-size communities. Along the way, goods might be taxed, counted, sold and resold, stamped by government authorities, or hidden away to conceal them from such officials. This period, often called by historians the early modern age, was one of ever-increasing connections across long distances, a growing web in which people making goods and people buying goods became ever more entangled with other people halfway around the globe.
Not only rare and luxurious goods moved across long distances in the pre-industrial age. Cotton textiles woven and dyed by Indian artisans – by hand – were in demand throughout the world for centuries. Indian cloth-makers intentionally made their goods to appeal to the tastes of diverse markets (European, African, Chinese), and merchants bought richly colored cottons in quantity, often to trade for other highly valued materials. Cotton and other products such as porcelain became more affordable and available, and spawned imitations which could be even cheaper.
In many cases, goods became detached from their original cultural context and adopted into new ones. Tobacco, for example, was grown and smoked by indigenous Americans for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Europeans who encountered tobacco valued its medicinal uses as well, believing tobacco to be beneficial for health, but tobacco rapidly became known from Europe to the Ottoman Empire to China. Tobacco’s stimulant properties made it especially popular among soldiers and others who needed to stay alert for long hours. Tobacco smoking made its way around the world so swiftly that seventeenth-century Chinese writers had no idea where it had originally come from, associating the product only with the European traders from whom they obtained it. Chocolate, similarly, had been a lavish and high-status drink among Mesoamericans, as well as a form of currency. Spanish people who encountered it often found the foamy drink off-putting, but it nevertheless gained popularity in Europe, especially when mixed with additional sugar. Other stimulant beverages, coffee and tea, would eventually supplant chocolate as a drink, but chocolate and sugar would become staples of European confectionery.
In some ways, there’s nothing new about this kind of trade and adaptation of goods. Human beings have always traded objects across long distances. Jewelry, coins, and other items from early burial sites attest to that. But from 1500 on, the world became interconnected as never before. People moved across oceans and continents in unprecedented numbers, transporting enormous quantities of goods as they went. People around the world developed tastes for new kinds of products – cotton cloth, porcelain, sugar, tobacco, chocolate, tea – and cultivators, merchants, and artisans sought to fill the demands of those new markets.
The results, of course, were calamitous for huge numbers of people: for the indigenous peoples of the Americas who died, suffered, and became forced labor for European conquerors, for the Africans forced into slavery and transported across oceans to work in brutal conditions for the profit of others. That is the bitter foundation underlying the mass production of cotton, sugar, silver, and many other objects. These products required intense labor to mine, grow, and process, and the vast majority of that labor was coerced and unpaid. When we think about the early modern age, we need to keep that reality in mind.
That reality, however, existed as part of a tangled and complex web of connections that linked people around the globe. The early modern world was full of extraordinary journeys and possibilities. It was an era in which it could be easy to pick up stakes and run away (as the well-documented Martin Guerre did) – to sea, to the army, to anonymity somewhere well away from one’s origins. Extraordinary individual stories surface from the period, including the tale of Catalina de Erauso, who fled from a Spanish nunnery, adopted masculine clothing and worked as a soldier in Spain’s American colonies, and subsequently wrote a dramatic memoir. Lives like these were fantastic enough; how many more people crossed boundaries and transgressed norms, without leaving as much of a mark in the historical record? There’s enormous potential for fantasy in studying, imagining, and re-imagining the history of this era.
Professor Michelle Herder teaches courses covering the range of European history from the early Middle Ages through the end of the 17th century. Course themes include religion, violence, and the relationship between powerful groups and less powerful groups in medieval European society. She is exploring the use of simulations to study history in several of her courses. Her research interests revolve around women and religion in late medieval Spain.