That’s what I’ve got here.
Nitwits, sharps, and slimeball-scoundrels.
Dark Deeds and Dismal Doings.
√ Convoluted nonsense augmented with sham history.
√ Ludicrous assertions bolstered with semi-plausible detail.
√ My CYA strategy: inane disclaimers.
The feudal culture was crumbling. An unprecedented upheaval gave rise to heroes fighting for wider opportunity for all, and to snakes of many stripes, out for themselves.
The Age of Discovery had plenty of both.
In the chaos, bright discontents, up-yours snots unwilling to accept their low–born lot in life, sought to advance themselves (an outrageous concept) on their own merits.
Meet the snot of the age,
Sly as a tyke.
He was a nervy booger, practically from the day he was born.
* Sylvester Boots was not his given name.
His mama called him (the cat equivalent of) Sly, because he was a scamp of scamps. When he bolted his Cumbrian farm, ventured out into the world (eventually discovering a talent for diplomacy), he invented himself a more dignified handle.
Boots, where did that come from? He was the runt of his litter. His mama forced him to wear yarn wound round his weak ankles1 to shore them up. He hated it until she had the genius idea to style the support as pirate boots. Playing pirate was his favorite game. He looted Spanish treasure ships on a vessel he built in the barn, with his best friend Ferd (a frog) as his first mate.
So! Who Are These People?
Left: John Dee in the Pharaoh garb he wears for his seances, and Sly, in his Pharoah get-up. The Friefrau Annette von Drost-Deckenbrock, up in years (for those times) but, as you can see, still a strudel, and Heinz-Helmut Wackenroder, Drusilla’s live-in tutor. Great legs, and he plays the flute. The images are all placeholders. My art to come.
Life was harsh, for most.
You had all-powerful despots, the world at their feet; entitled toffs, well insulated from want; cunning climbers, eager to exploit the new liquidity; a small, vulnerable middle class, and the overwhelming majority, beat-down semi-serfs, low-lifes from cream-of-the-crop slicks to street-specialists, pick-pockets and etc., and, of course, the run-of-the-mill drunk and disorderly, these last a legion, for on the bottom rung of the ladder, an endless struggle to survive, strong drink was an affordable indulgence providing an all-too-brief escape.
This is silly fantasy,
goosed with what appears to be a wealth of scholarly detail.
Take the history with a grain of salt. I’ve fudged facts. I’ve embellished. I’ve migrated comments from one speaker to another. (Mostly unimportant but colorful observations in centuries-old letters.)
May as well spit this out here and now.
I’ve confiscated phrases from the greats – Henry James, for one – and from countless near obscurities – Charles Reade is a special favorite of mine.2 And I have mined nautical adventures dating to the early nineteenth century for salt-soaked snippets. I’m admitting it up front, so don’t nobody jump on me over it. I don’t know a damn thing about ships, and I’ve sure never put to sea on a square-rigger.3
Ya, I’m a light-fingered opportunist, like Sly.
Where do you think he gets it from, eh?
I have created an intricately plotted chronicle of misery and mayhem, every bit as ridiculous as I could figure to make it, but built on a foundation of fact. You’ll pick up a deal of history. Some of it will be true.
The Valois of France were corrupt, to the bone marrow. Phillip of Spain did try to marry a deranged brother to Elizabeth. No one found it necessary to inform her of his mental state. She dodged that bullet with her legendary foot-dragging. The Huguenot enclave of La Rochelle did offer to swear allegiance to England in return for protection from Catholic butchery. On the other hand, a cat, a pig, a cow, and an urchin did not team up to foil an assassination plot.4
Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1623-1673
Called the first female scientist, she liked to put her scientific arguments into verse. She may have gotten the idea from Sly. He’d done the same eighty years earlier.
Cavendish was an aberration for the time, a female philosopher. I’ve swiped some of her sallies for Sly’s use. The remark that ‘Aristotle himself would wish he had never been the master of all schools, now to be lectured to, and by a cat’ is word for word, except that the original fretted: ‘and by a woman’. This material, while a bit lengthy, was too good to resist.
My story does not rush, it meanders. Characters are revealed through abundant reminiscence and my insertion of curious collateral material. I’ve combed histories and biographies for odd situations and have shoe-horned the tastiest of what I’ve found into my account of bewildered critters (all of us, right?) trying to make sense of a brutal era.5 My slate of sad-sacks, driven by their comical demons, confront injustice, personal failures, and heartbreak. They’re both resilient and ingenious in their responses to a range of disasters.
My cat operates discretely, communicating with children, inebriates, with those whose sanity is not what it might be, sometimes in disguise (the shortest monk, face hidden by an overhanging cowl, that anyone had ever met). People were far shorter in those days, and he’d boosted his stature with thick-soled pattens. Once, unseen, he advised a prisoner from an adjoining cell.
A concerned individual in spite of a reputation for aloofness, he volunteers to assist many a hapless soul, and manages to achieve results that bear some resemblance to the proverbial happy ending. Sly has promoted well-being wherever he has taken himself, but his overriding goal has always been to live courageously and to develop his gifts to their full potential. Not a bad plan for any of us.
I insert you into the story well along. Why? Paying The Piper is the only episode that is completely done. Much of the rest is quite close to a finish, but much of it is nowhere near. Sign up to get a notice of when a new installment is up.
- Do cats have ankles? Hey, that was his mum’s diagnosis, not mine. I wasn’t there.
- Many nineteenth-century all-but-forgottens wrote God-awful melodrama, but the prose styles were often phenomenal.
- I’ve cobbled attributions as best I could. Honestly, I never thought it would be published. (Then came ebooks.) Until six or seven years ago I culled lines but didn’t jot sources. Most of it has been rewritten a hundred times. I’d be hard put to identify more than a handful of snatches myself.
- None of this is in the current offering. Read about it in The Rogue Decamps and The Rogue Cavorts, both to come.
- They had their extreme inequality and despicable rulers, we have our New Gilded Age and Trump the Terrible.
Meet My Goofballs:
The Rogue Decamps
The Rogue At Sea / Deliverance
A Dainty Dish / A Fool In Love
Paying The Piper / The Frog Who Would Be King
The Rogue Goes Home
The Early Years: A Cumbrian Lad
On an iPod? You see only this central column containing the story itself.
View additional material left and right on a full-size screen.