To read the complete narrative, please read in order :
"Ring around a Rosies" by Paige
"A Pocket full of Posies" by myself
"Ashes, Ashes" by Nicole
"We all Fall Down" by Cassidy
A Pocket Full of Posies
Kent June 1528
My morning had started as usual when my wife served me my egg and bread breakfast as I listened to her complaints about our ill-tempered chicken which had yet again escaped that morning. In midst of her complaining, I painstakingly reminded that ignorant woman that not only did the chicken provide our current breakfast, but it was also one of the few remaining components of her rather unappealing dowry and she should, therefore, relish the opportunity to exercise her body by chasing the chicken every other day to remain at least physically appealing in my favor. Had our fathers not been friends, I would have remained a happy bachelor unhindered by nagging, but the stars failed to align in my favor as that metal shackle bound our fates together. Despite my best efforts to calm her poor unwieldy nerves, she continued to whine about the chicken and I therefore, much like the loathsome chicken, also escaped my wife without finishing breakfast or grabbing my coat. During my peaceful and rather quiet walk through town, I saw the most unusual thing-a decorative carriage charging into town pulled by two beautiful pale horses surrounded by what appeared to be a handful of soldiers as only soldiers carried that pompous puffed chest and silver swords strapped to their hips. I hastily moved to the side of the road and the carriage darted passed me, the shine of the golden trim briefly blinding me. All sets of eyes in the street, not just my own curious gaze, proceeded to track the carriage as it continued to make haste and vanish into the distance. We all exchanged questioning looks with each other and then proceeded to our daily tasks preceding the carriage which interrupted our routine. By the time I made my way back to my house and ungrateful wife, a messenger was awaiting my arrival in the study. He promptly handed me a red wax-sealed letter marked with the insignia of the much-esteemed, and rather gossiped about, household of Sir Thomas Boleyn at Hever. The letter read as follows:
To Physician Thomas Vicary,
My sir, I highly insist you come at once to Hever so that I may employ your service in healing my gravely-ill daughter the Lady Anne which would not only please her brother and myself, but I also believe it would please our great king and savior, King Henry VIII, as she has become quite an influential figure in his court at present time. As I am sure rumours and reports have made it to Kent of how a sweating sickness has captured the kingdom, I fear for my daughter’s life and fate if she should also have contracted such an ailment. Her colour has gone and her strength leaves her stranded in bed. At this rate, I fear she shall live even by nightfall. Follow my messenger with haste as he leads you to Hever so that you may save our beloved Lady Anne.
Sir Thomas Boleyn
As demanded by the letter, I quickly grabbed my leather case already prepped for such emergencies. When I made it to the chambers of the Lady Anne, I saw first-hand how her father had much right to be worried if his daughter would last until nightfall. Between myself, her father, and her brother, we all encompassed the Lady’s bed as if creating a trustworthy ring around her. On sight, her colour in her cheeks had indeed faded and her brow was thick with sweat as her chest struggled to fill with air due to constricted and haggard breaths. I gently took her wrist and felt only the faint irregular pulse struggling to beat. Following standard and common practices set by the Greeks, I carefully yet swiftly grabbed a small white porcelain deep plate and placed it under the Lady’s thin wrist. I then secured the razor from my case and penetrated the flesh of Lady’s pale left wrist in order to successfully perform blood-letting to get her humours back into proper balance. I watched as the blood trickled down her wrist and onto the plate and failed to detect a difference in her raspy breathing as the darkened fluid drained from her frail body. I proceeded to place another plate under her right wrist and made another swift incision with the thought process that two cuts would double the efficiency of draining the unbalanced blood. After a few minutes of letting her blood collect on the dish, I topped her fresh cuts with an ointment made of clay and violets in hopes to purify and protect the incisions. Much pleased that the Lady’s eyes were closed and her breathing calmed down, I took my leave and informed Sir Boleyn to fetch me again once the Lady awoke.
Later that day
Before the sun had set, I was once again summoned to Hever under the condition that the patient’s constitution was in decline. I followed the messenger once more and when I arrived in the bed chambers, the Lady’s condition was indeed in decline compared to the peaceful slumber I left her in. Not only had her perspiration increased to where her gown was drenched with sweat, but it appeared her ill-humours had reached her mind as she was in a state of constant muttering and sporadic body twitches. I ordered her brother and father out of the chamber and began to more thoroughly examine the poor girl’s body with gloved hands. I first checked the incisions on her wrist to make sure that the clay ointment remained intact as a protective barrier to stop the poison from re-invading her body. After checking the ointment and confident that it was efficiently performing its task, I proceeded to wipe the sweat off her brow with a cold rag. This must have startled the patient since as soon as the cold rag touched her skin, her eyes flickered open and her head tilt towards my direction. It was in that moment when her head slightly turned towards me that I noticed a new symptom. On the side of her delicate pale neck was the indications of acute swelling puffing the skin up in a near-perfect sphere. Gently I pressed on the swelling resulting in a piercing wail from the Lady. For a moment I simply stood there staring at her swollen neck trying to recall why these symptoms reminded me of something I had seemed to have forgotten. A fevered sweat. Weakened pulse. Lack of colour to the skin. Painful swelling of the neck region. Then I remembered. I withdrew from the bed chamber in haste, demanded only a servant may enter her room, and swiftly left the premise in order to go back to my study. Ignoring my wife’s incessant questions of how the Lady Anne is, I threw the door open to my study, cleared the oil lamp from an old chest waiting under the window, and I then commenced the tedious task of removing one file after another until I found my desired object-the medical journal belonging to my great-great-great grandfather, the original Thomas Vicary. I thanked my lucky starts I found this collection and flipped the journal open.
It is that ill-fortuned time of year where physicians, both educated and even the charlatans, anticipate and dread due to its busy nature. The sun’s warmth melting the ice to make roads accessible once again and thawing the sea permits ships’ passage to town marks the season of travel and prosperous trade. While, like most people, I do enjoy the hustle and bustle of a busy town, the new merchandise brought by the traders, the walkways are always so crowded with people and vermin and even worse, the waste produced by those people and vermin. But these well-anticipated sailors always arrive with more than just merchandise and a new face; they arrive with poppycock illnesses and even more vermin to add to the nonhuman population of town. Every year during this fateful time I get summoned multiple times a day to the ports in order to examine these poor sailors who have either spent far too long on a ship to know what a proper balanced meal is, or sailors who have spent insufficient time on a ship and have succumbed to an upset stomach brought by the harsh waves of the unforgiving sea. Just earlier today I examined a young sea lad of no more than sixteen in years and his complexion held as much color as the sails of the ship which brought him to shore. Poor lad had a thick line of sweat across his brow and barely had the strength to walk off the ship without assistance. However, I believe that a good, warm hardy meal and solid footing will help the lad recover and be well enough to return home in no time. I except I will see many more cases of unexperienced lads with stomach pains and pale faces as the trading season continues.
Late Spring 1347
Something unusual, something unexplainable, has gripped the town in its deadly clutches. While I expected numerous sailors to be patients when they first came to shore, the sheer amount of sick people surpasses the normal expected amount set by previous years. Sailors of both young and old ages show the same symptoms of fevered sweating, sore movements, and now even swelling on both the neck and upper leg regions. What is more alarming is how this ailment is not limited to just the sailors. Within a week of establishing the trade season, the townsfolk also became weakened and fevered, and before long people started to succumb to death despite numerous attempts at blood-letting. But despite the amount of poisoned blood I drain from the patients, they never show any signs of improvement. All of the neighboring physicians, myself included, have determined that we as healers must protect ourselves even more than the people for if we died, who then would attempt to cure this evil? Because this plague spreads so quickly, it is logical to assume it lives in the very air we breathe and even permeates through our skin and into the blood. Therefore, we, the physicians now known as plague doctors, wear thick leather coats, top hats, and even stiff gloves to provide a barrier for our pores against this poisonous miasma. In addition to these garments, we also wear masks which reflect the shape of a bird with a large beak protruding in the center to provide a convenient space to stuff strong-smelling herbs in to filter out the miasma. Our presence in public causes for alarm with the small children since now we appear as frightening as this disease truly is, but with the knowledge we have gathered so far, this collection of protective coverings should keep us healthy enough to find a cure for this plague.
When I first pursued the path as a physician, I admit I was one of the ignorant ones holding onto the false assumption that I could learn how to cure any illness and find a way to prevent any disease. I believed that one day I could even extinguish the notion of Death. But my desires have now been proven to be false, to be impossible. Within the past couple months, there has been so much death. I watch as men fill carts full of dead bodies to burn them outside of town and yet just as quickly as they cart away the bodies, more bodies replace the ones now removed. I daresay there are now more dead bodies loitering in the streets than there are rats and other vermin. As a man of science, I know there must be a logical reason for this outbreak. What are we doing wrong? Why can’t we heal the diseased? I have tried so many different treatments on so many different patients ranging from drinking mercury to eating crusted emeralds (assuming the patient could afford such treatment). As this poisonous miasma continues to spread faster than I could even imagine, my faith in empirical science begins to waver. I say again that I am a man of science. There is logic for this disease. But as I constantly inhale to smell of burning flesh and witness the suffering of the victims, see children collapsing in the dirty streets, I am often reminded that God has tried to rid the Earth of his human creation more than once. Yet instead of water, God now wants to drown us in ashes. Ah! These, ashes, ashes! The constant body burning makes the sky shower the village in disintegrated bodies creating a dusty film over roof tops and matted in the hair of those too weak to move off the streets. Each speck of gray ash representing a life I failed to save.
It was just this morning after I finished breakfast with my wife that I then listened to her laminate the loss of her dearest friend who died under my care what seems like years ago. When my wife first brought her friend Mrs. Wayman to me, the fever had already taken hold of her mind. In her delirium I started a course of action of blood-letting as well as a diet full of mint sauces and horseradish. It wasn’t until I saw the neck swelling that I knew that Mrs. Wayman had little chances to live. Yet even if she did survive, as there were some who did, her poor body would be scarred. I proceeded to treat her as any other patient and grabbed my slender knife from the bag. There have been recent studies how lancing these swollen sores will not only alleviate some of the discomfort but also could help drain the miasma from the blood in a similar fashion to blood-letting. I carefully pierced her sores and watched as a darkened puss drained. I then applied a mixture of white lily rood and human excrement on the cuts as a barrier from the poisoned air. Even though I told my wife to stay away from her friend, she ignored my advice and prayed over the weakened body for several days and nights. Yet despite my best efforts, Mrs. Wayman perished within the week. Apparently neither a man of science nor God could save this plague’s victim-if God even tried to save her.
Late Fall to Winter Kent 1347
During the time my wife mourned over the loss of her friend, she frequently referred to me as inhuman or a monster since I could not share her grief. After all, what is another death when all day I spend my time examining dead bodies before they are burned and simply trying to offer victims some relief as they battle this plague. But today I proved my wife incorrect. I am human. The fever presented itself to me late last night as I was putting together more posies for my pockets and mask. I have spent this morning listening to my wife crying at the door as I sit near the fireplace to break the fever. I sent word to my good friend Physician Walters and he now is here to check the progress of the disease. In the name of science, I drink this vulgar concoction known as the Four Thieves Vinegar, a potion which smells worse than the burning bodies. But I consume this potion twice daily and pray that something other than Death will take away the lingering taste of vinegar and spices in my throat. I suspect it isn’t long until I get those painful swelling sores on my neck. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Physician Walters has a new theory on how to treat those sores. His new technique is to lance the sores and apply freshly chopped snake bits into the wound. His theory is that the snake, a well-known creature of Satan, will help attract the poison from the body since the snake embodies evil itself. While I am not particularly convinced this treatment will lead to my salvation, I also know I do not have the strength to argue about the course of action. Whether Physician Walters saves me through an act of science, or whether God saves me because he is good, or whether Satan’s snake draws the poison from my failing body, I’m starting to question if I should want to be saved, if I want to survive this plague. What is the point of living through this harsh and insufferable time? We all fall down in the end.
Kent June 1528
I closed the journal. Through family stories I knew that the original Thomas Vicary survived the plague, and apparently that snake ointment was the cure for him. If the snake had cured him, then a snake could save the Lady Anne. I rapidly commanded my wife to go in search of a snake as I prepped several linens in lavender oils as nose coverings. I waited and waited for the return of my wife and it wasn’t until nearly the next day until she came back with a snake wriggling in a cloth sack. Once she sat the sack on the table, I quickly grabbed one of the largest books on the table and bashed the novel against the sack until the movement stopped much to the horror of my wife. With snake in hand and linen protecting my nose, I headed back to Lady Anne’s chambers. Once there, I followed Physician Walter’s practice and proceeded to dice the snake. Much to the horror of her father, I quickly applied the snake bits to Lady Anne’s cuts and meticulously monitored her condition. After days of no signs of improvement but rather more boils swelling, I began to think that perhaps the power of Satan could not remove the poison in this young woman’s body. If the rumours concerning court were true, Lady Anne’s body flowed with too much evil that perhaps one snake was not enough to draw out the poisonous miasma from her veins. I went back home in attempts to find another sacrificial snake yet found my yard lacking. I insisted that my wife should help me find another snake since she found the first one and upon saying how tired her legs were after chasing the chicken from this morning, she refused to help my search. That’s when the idea came to me; I got up from my hands and knees and proceeded to the hen house. I grabbed the chicken with my bare hands and stuffed it into a sack while my wife watched me from the doorway. My wife asked me what I intended to do with the beast, and I ignored her as I continued back to Hever.
Once there, I plucked the rear end of the chicken clean as well as its back. I gently carried the beast cradled in my arms and went back into the Lady’s chambers. Once inside, I uncovered her legs and found another sore. I placed the naked part of the chicken on her leg and strapped it there with the leather belt holding up my pants. After a couple hours, the chicken began to stop its clucking. I removed the chicken, cleaned its naked parts, and replaced it back onto the Lady’s leg. For days I continued to strap the hen, clean it, and reapply the animal until one day the hen died. By that point, the swelling sores on the Lady had already began to leave and her fever nearly completely gone as if by magic. Ecstatic that his darling daughter would live, Sir Boleyn paid me a hefty some and I went back home. The next morning after successfully completely the “Vicary Method” of curing the Lady Anne, I woke the same as usual. The rooster cawed early in the morning, I got dressed and proceeded into the dining room where my usual morning beverage was waiting for me. I sat down knowing today was going to be a good day. I had cured the Lady Anne and I did not have to hear my wife complain how she had to chase the chicken this morning. My wife silently walked into the room with a plate in her hand and laid the plate down with no food on top of it. I asked the incompetent woman where my breakfast was, and she replied, “We have no eggs.”
Mark, Joshua J. “Medieval Cures for the Black Death.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 15 April 2020, https://www.ancient.eu/article/1540/medieval-cures-for-the-black-death/
“The Black Death.” BBC, 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z7r7hyc/revision/1.
Trueman, CN, “Cures for the Black Death.” History Learning Site, 5 March 2015, https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval-england/cures-for-the-black-death