Gévaudan was exactly the type of place where you’d expect the supernatural to occur. Nestled in the south of France, it had a reputation for being isolated and remote. It was a region where people mainly kept to themselves, shrouded in a self-contained bubble and surrounded by forests and hillsides that may still have been enchanted.
In ancient Greece, some mystics used mirrors as a form of fortune telling and divination, a practice called catoptromancy. These “mirror seers” would dip a looking glass into water before having a sickly person look into it. If the image was distorted, they were done for. If clear, all would be well.
At one point, she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes, which Alexander the Great had destroyed in 336 B.C.E. She had only one stipulation — that the walls bear the inscription “Destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan.”
This, one would think, would be enough revenge for one queen. But not Olga of Kiev. Now, with her position made clear, the real destruction could begin. A war between the two nations broke out, with Olga’s side too formidable to defeat in battle. After the initial conflict, her army drove the survivors back into their cities and marched on Iskorosten to lay siege to the city. After a year passed with no success, Olga hatched a plan that was as creative as it was devious.
Pigs get a bad rap. Americans often equate them with being grubby, gluttonous, and greedy, despite their highly intelligent and social nature. Calling someone a pig is an insult, and people seem to be more fond of bacon than the creatures themselves. Of all the negative qualities we’ve given pigs, being thrifty is not one of them. So why do we teach children to save money by telling them to stash coins in a hollow receptacle called a piggy bank? To understand this seemingly odd connection, you have to take it back a few hundred years.
Records state that she would dress the wounds of both animals and people with the help of potions concocted from dried herbs gathered by moonlight. She cured servant girls with stone-worn knees, forestry men who suffered from the elements, and farmers with wounded livestock. Residents throughout the Forest held her in high esteem.
Pancakes stuck around, spreading through cultures across the world. People in the burgeoning United States ate thin, European-style pancakes at any time of day, but that changed around the 1780s. Cooks began to thicken them up with pearl ash, resulting in hearty rounds. Unlike bread, they were quick and easy to make first thing in the morning before a hard day of manual labor.
Before the advent of modern medicine, smallpox was a devastating disease. It killed about three out of every ten people who contracted it. It also left survivors gruesomely scarred. Variolation had been practiced for quite some time in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, but 18th-century Europe was resistant to jump on the bandwagon. This was despite huge outbreaks that killed hundreds of thousands of people, including a few reigning monarchs.
She had an inventory of quite a few possessions, including cutlery, bedding, cooking utensils, a pewter candlestick, and clothing. The lack of any furniture listed suggests she may have shared her home with someone else, possibly Helen Ford, a widow. Her autonomy is a breath of fresh air in a sea of stories about people being owned, rather than owning things themselves.
When author Bernard Cornwell discovered that among his distant ancestors was an ealdorman named Uhtred who held Bebbanburg, he decided he wanted to weave that into his story. The Uhtred who lived held court in the early 10th century, over 100 years after The Last Kingdom’s events, and nothing much is known about him. Our fictional hero’s remarkable upbringing and adventures are just that — fiction. But we like to think the real Uhtred had his fair share of escapades, too.