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Balladeer (The Balance #5)

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Truth and Lies

I can safely say that this story was more difficult for me to research than any other I have written. Not only for emotional reasons but because, at the time I researched the novella (from 2003 to 2004), fewer historical texts existed online, so it wasn't easy for me to locate information about the exact details of what took place when prisoners were racked.

I was therefore working from only a handful of primary sources: William Lithgow's account of his racking in 1620 (reprinted in J. Bronowski's The Ascent of Man), John Gerard's account of being hung from manacles around his wrists in 1597 (reprinted in Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey), and one or two other accounts I no longer recall.

The most striking aspect of Father Gerard's account is his repeated assertion that his torturers felt pity for him. The account is filled with passages like this:

My [warder] brought me back to my room. His eyes seemed swollen with tears. . . . Personally, I believe [the Governor of the Tower of London ordered my release because] he was moved by compassion, for some time after my escape a gentleman of position told me that he had heard Sir Richard Berkeley, this same Lieutenant, say that he had freely resigned his office because he no longer wished to be an instrument in such torture of innocent men.

Similar tales are told of other torturers during that time. Even allowing for dramatic exaggeration, it does appear that the literary trope of the Kind-hearted Torturer has some basis in fact. I think it's unlikely, though, that any torturers went as far as Layle Smith did in an attempt to assist his prisoner.

Barbarians & Hidden

"Barbarians" and "Hidden" owe their existence to Anne Blue, who asked that I write an Eternal Dungeon story for her CD-zine, MAS-Zine. I gave her two. Their publication was accompanied by the following author's note:

 The editor of MAS-Zine has asked me to mention how I got the idea for "Hidden." As a teenager I saw a zoo exhibit that told how a specialist had been bitten by a snake that he thought to be nonvenomous but turned out not to be. Under such circumstances, I would have been screaming and sobbing. However, the exhibit stated that the snake specialist spent his dying moments recording his symptoms.

 Alas, while checking on this story to write this note, I've discovered that the actual story is not quite so colorful as I recalled it: the herpetologist in question (Karl P. Schmidt, who died in Chicago in 1957) did not realize he was dying. However, there are many other cases in history of people carefully recording the circumstances of their death for the sake of posterity - for example, the diary of Robert Falcon Scott on his failed expedition to Antarctica ( It was while I was thinking about what sort of person it would take to be able to keep his mind on his duties while dying that the idea for "Hidden" popped into my head.

Death Watch

To any scholar wishing to spend a few years researching the primary sources of an obscure topic, I suggest that they tackle the history of fisting (placing a hand or arm inside an anus or vagina). From the scant sources I've been able to track down, it appears to me that fisting was a rare sexual activity before the twentieth century, but not entirely unknown.

The 1880s (when this story is set) is the decade when some physicians began to wash their hands before surgery, a practice that remained controversial for a number of years.


There is a passing reference in this story to a strike at Miller's Rubber Stamp Manufactory. This story is set in the alternate-universe equivalent of 1881, in the alternate-universe equivalent of Luray, Virginia (site of a certain famous set of limestone caves). According to Chataigne's Virginia Gazetteer and Classified Business Directory, 1884-1885, J. F. Miller & Co. ran a rubber stamp manufactory in Luray at that time. I know nothing about the business beyond that fact.

With much publicity, electric lights were introduced to Luray Caverns in 1881. This is sheer, happy coincidence; the date of the Eternal Dungeon's electrification was determined by events in prior stories.

In Britain, the 1880s was the decade when unions of unskilled laborers began to be popular. (In the United States, these unions started slightly earlier.) Before then, the uniting of workers had occurred mainly in guilds and craft unions, whose membership was confined to a select number of skilled workers.