Editor's nook...

Siege Life

  Hey, I took to the books this week and found there’s cool stuff to be learned about life in a castle, particularly during a siege.

  The word siege comes from the Latin verb, sedere, meaning, to sit. That’s because a siege was this strategic waiting game. The defenders were holed up in the castle while the attackers tried to starve them out with a blockade. Sure, both forces could fight, but a lot of times, they were evenly matched, which is why there was a siege in the first place. There was no easy defeat or victory, only a stalemate.

  In medieval times, you could see an advancing army. Sometimes, you heard rumors of an attack and could prepare by hiring more knights and soldiers. Otherwise, the townspeople fled to the castle with all the belongings they could carry. Anything else, like excess barley or livestock, was destroyed so that the enemy couldn’t benefit from it.

  So, the castle had a limited supply of food, fuel, and arrows. Plus, attacks were still happening. There probably had been an initial assault and then the siege. There may have been injured people or perhaps the enemy had catapulted rotting corpses into the castle to engender disease. After a while, the conditions of the stored food and water caused dysentery, a really yucky disease characterized by bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. At this point, disease was killing off more people than the enemy.

  Morale was fading. These were desperate times. The doctor had herbal remedies to treat the dysentery, but even if you survived, there just wasn’t any food left. The situation would get really dire if the water well dried up. By this time, the people in the castle were eating rats or even their dogs. They’d cut the leather from the saddles and boil it until it was soft enough to chew. With no idea of when the siege might end, the people were reluctant to kill off the livestock, especially the horses. Instead, they gulped down small dollops of the animal’s blood.

  Historically, sieges have usually ended in the attackers’ favor through treachery, trickery, or persistence. If the defenders of the castle were lucky, the arrival of another army would take care of the enemy. If not, the castle defenders could opt to open the gates and fight it out or burn everything and run away.

  Lucky for you, Siege of Avalon is a game and the game designers decided that it just wouldn’t be fun to worry about starvation. There’s rats, but you don’t need to chase after them for nutritional sustenance. Just think of the rats as local color.

  As always, if you want to see something covered in the zine, just send me an e-mail.

Til next time,

listening to Ministry

From Jim:

  As I recall it was a famous siege in history that is the source of the phrase "the handwriting is on the wall." The ancient city of Babylon had a body of water running through it, and a massive "hanging garden." The residents of the city were convinced that they could outlast any army that would try to lay siege against them because of the fresh water and food resources.

  One day a massive army surrounded Babylon. The King was so amused that he called for a great feast to prove his total lack of concern over the event. However, during the extravagant dinner a "disembodied hand" was seen writing words on the wall of the dining room in an unknown language. After the shock of the vision had passed, and no one in the hall could read what had been written, a scholar/prophet was called in from his study to look at the strange evidence of a paranormal event.

  The prophet read and translated the words, saying "Your kingdom has been weighed in the balance, and found wanting. This very night your reign will end." The King was unconvinced, and not at all pleased with the report either.

  However, the invading army had previously dispatched a group upstream to divert the water flowing through the city. That night the level of the water passing under the city walls suddenly began to drop. At some point it became possible for the invading soldiers to simply march under the bars that extended down into the water from the city walls, because those bars did not reach all the way to the river bottom. As the drunken city dwellers spotted the invaders moving directly towards the King's hall they were unprepared to effectively resist. That night one major kingdom fell and another moved into prominence.

  To this day the phrase "The handwriting on the wall" evokes the specter of pending disaster.

  Sorry that my recollection of this story is so faded, but it has been a while since I've studied the writings of the ancient prophets in the Judeo-Christian scriptures (a.k.a. The Bible or Tanak).

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