1000 Years In A Nutshell

Let us assume it is late spring. Morning comes before the sun is above the horizon. Usually the adults rise first; however, in short order the children are up as well. Breakfast is simple and seldom hot- bread, fruit or nuts, dried meat (jerky, if you prefer) if there is any about and perhaps the milk of goats or cows, depending on the time and location. It is a quick meal for there is work to do. Always.

The men head out to their chores, be it in the fields with a plow or other tools, or in to the wilds to hunt, or to the river or the shore to fish. It hardly matters for the type of work is merely a particular iteration of the uniform struggle to wrest the essentials of life from the world around them.

Back at home, the women and children are just as busy. Carefree childhood is a modern construct, in these times any child who can walk and carry is put in to service, perhaps to gather fuel such as fallen branches or animal dung, or to tend to livestock or to whatever garden plot may exist. There is wood to be moved, water to be hauled, feed to be poured, bread to be baked. There are always things requiring mending: clothes, tools, dwellings, and even weapons. Often the older men remain behind to handle the heavier work while the women do finer tasks, but all are hard at work long before most modern peoples would have stirred from their beds.

Food storage is primitive. Human beings are ingenious and bend all sorts of knowledge to the task of taking what is in hand today and storing against need for tomorrow, but it is all labor intensive. Drying, smoking, salting (assuming you happen to have salt), mashing, cooking, preserving… as the technology grew more sophisticated the options grew broader and more effective, but not particularly easier.

Midday often produces brief respite. In warmer climes it is best to stay out of the sun if possible. The concern is not skin cancer; rather it is simply the heat. Chores that can be attended to indoors might be left to that part of the day. Perhaps a midday meal, usually more substantial than the morning meal, is prepared. It depends on the nature of the village or clan, whether the men will return to eat or will take whatever food they might need with them so as to remain at their own tasks.

Afternoon progresses and it is time to finish what tasks must be completed before nightfall. There is a constant bustle to get things organized for the evening meal, see to it that the animals are secured, sort through whatever has been gathered and see that it is properly stored. If the men are hunting or fishing there will be the day’s catch to be properly dealt with, and whatever was gathered fresh for the day must be prepared.

Evening is the only regular moment of respite, and it is brief by comparison to the day. A meal is taken- perhaps large if times are good, but more likely simply adequate. Sometimes, in bad times, it will be desperately sparse. As darkness closes in perhaps there will be rituals to whatever spirits your people pay homage. The hope is always essentially the same though: “Dear Lord, please keep the monsters at bay.” When it is time for sleep it settles quickly, the reward for a hard day’s work.

The routine varies with the seasons. Harvest time means twice the food, but four times the work. Winter in the cooler climes means cold and darkness and often worse. A bad harvest means deprivation no matter where you may be- not losing the farm, but perhaps losing your life, or the lives of your children. In my case a poor harvest almost always meant I was on my way out, either driven away or sold for whatever value I might bring. Summer in a farming community means pleading with fickle deities for rain. Everywhere summer means fear of disease. Spring means you have survived long enough to start this all over again.

One constant companion is death. Throughout the years babies are born, and babies are buried in the ruthless calculus of reproduction and mortality. Adults fare only slightly better. Once past puberty life is often just a span of thirty years or so. Hard living breaks bodies so that a man of thirty would seem far older to modern eyes, and in a relative sense that judgment would be accurate for at 45 years most are facing the end of their days. Some live far longer, but most do not. Burying the dead is a regular part of life and death is not so much a spectre as an accepted fate, surcease to the struggle of carrying on from day to day. There were times when I saw death as immensely desirable.

Of course, random events can break up the routines of life, forcing people out of their accustomed rut (random events being war, plague, disaster, and the occasional celebration). It was not all toil and drudgery, but the vast balance was and that made the bright spots that much the better, while placing the darkness in some kind of proper perspective. Still, all in all the routine remains constant, day in and day out, with minor variations as the seasons progress.

The paragraphs above are a fairly complete description of the first ten centuries of my life.

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