1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 12

Ulrich brought up a mental image of his schedule. “Wednesday,” he said.

“That’ll hardly give the apprentices time to arrange the party,” Wilhelm said.

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Ulrich said. “We will be providing the alcohol for this party.”

Late April 1613, Neuburg

It had taken two days to walk from Augsburg to Neuburg, and Phillip was feeling the strain of the long walk with a heavy pack on his back. He had made the trip to Neuburg to visit his mother, whom he hadn’t seen for over six years, and he was in the middle of the main street trying to decide where to start looking for her when he spotted a woman who painted her face with white lead just like his mother did. He watched her for a while, until it dawned on him that the woman was his mother. He walked towards her.

“Mother, is that you?”

His mother stared at him with dawning horror. “Who are you? I don’t know you.”

“It’s me, Phillip, your son.”

Maria Elisabeth Bombast von Neuburg looked nervously to her left and to her right. “You shouldn’t be here, Theophrastus. You’ll ruin everything.”

“Ruin what?” Phillip demanded even as he ignored her use of his hated middle name.

“My life, just like you ruined it when you were born.” Maria Elisabeth was growing more agitated the longer the meeting with Phillip went on. “You have to leave.” She dipped into her bag and pulled out a drawstring purse. She shook out a handful of coins into her hand and thrust them at Phillip. “Here, this is what you want. Take it and go. Go away.”

Phillip caught the coins in his hands without thinking. He was so dumbfounded at what had happened that he just stood there while his mother hurried away. What had brought on that reaction? All he’d wanted to do was say hello and ask how she was doing. He watched his mother until she disappeared around a street corner. Only then did he think to look at the coins she’d trust into his hands. It was a mixture of copper and silver which, as he discovered when he quickly added it up, came to just over three gulden. That was the better part of a week’s wages, which seemed a lot to pay just to get rid of him.

Phillip felt very disillusioned with his mother. For some reason she didn’t want him in Neuburg. He wondered about that. What possible reason could she have for not wanting to acknowledge him? He thought about chasing after her, but she was already long gone. He decided to find a tavern and have something to eat and drink while he took the weight off his feet and considered his options.

He decided over a meal of sausage, cheese, bread, and raw onion that his options were limited. His mother had made it abundantly clear that she wanted nothing to do with him. He could force the issue, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk alienating the only real family he had. It was probably better left alone, he decided. Besides, he had more important things to worry about. Like how to get to Padua where, like his great grandfather before him, he hoped to study medicine. The great university was in the Republic of Venice, which was on the other side of the Alps. He was going to have to cross them, but April was not a good time to attempt the journey. It was time to find employment until the season was more favorable.


It took Phillip eight days to get to Innsbruck, but less than an hour to secure employment as an assayer with the local branch of Fugger’s bank once he got there. The job was ideal. Innsbruck was the last major town before the Brenner Pass, and he was doing what he’d been trained to do. Over the next three weeks he not only earned more than enough money to cover his expenses for the nearly two hundred and thirty mile trip to Padua, he also added over forty flecks to his collection of nobilis auri. Phillip was feeling good when on a bright May morning he set off south.

May, 1613, the Brenner Pass

Phillip was cold, wet, and miserable. His brain had shut down all but the most essential operations, like dreaming of the hot food and warm bed waiting for him at the travelers’ inn on the other side of the Brenner Pass. He was operating on auto-pilot as he continued to put one foot in front of the other on the muddy road.

He was brought back to the real world only when he crested the saddle and felt the full force of the southerly blowing up the valley for the first time. It had been cold before, but as long as he’d kept moving he’d felt quite warm in his heavy woolen coat and oilskin outer layer. The strong southerly changed that immediately. It was as if it was going straight through him, chilling him almost instantly. He stared into the distance. Somewhere further down the road was the next traveler’s inn. He set off again, one foot in front of the other.

He didn’t see the accident. In fact he was so blind to anything other than where he was placing his feet that he all but bumped into the group of men gathered around something on the ground. That was when he became aware of men trying to prevent an ox drawn wagon slipping off the road. Any student of human behavior would immediately recognize the tight grouping of men as the sign that something interesting or gruesome was lying at the center of the group. Phillip, quite naturally, stopped to have a look.

One man was trying to comfort a youth who was writhing on the ground with a pretty selection of injuries. Starting at the top, there were multiple lacerations to the head and face. Naturally, these were bleeding spectacularly, but Phillip didn’t think they were too bad — probably nothing worse than a few minor cuts. Then there was the right arm. The youth’s oilskin was torn, so there were probably lacerations to the arm. Phillip couldn’t be sure about the hand, because it was covered in mud and blood, just like the youth’s right thigh. Judging by the way he was grimacing and holding the thigh with both hands, that injury was probably quite serious. What disturbed Phillip was the fact no one was attending to the youth’s injuries. “Isn’t someone going to do something about his injuries?” he demanded. He got a ring of blank stares in response.

It looked like no one was going to do anything, which meant Phillip had to act. “Let me through,” he demanded as he used his hiking stave to force a way inside the circle. There were a few protests about his pushing, but soon he was beside the youth. He dropped his back-pack to the ground and knelt down to examine him. He quickly determined that in spite of all the blood, the head wounds were as superficial as he’d suspected, and while the scratches in his arm were deep, none of them needed immediate attention. That left the thigh.

Phillip had to force the youth’s hands away from the injury they were trying to protect, and he could see why. It looked nasty. This was no nice and simple clean cut from a knife or sheet of copper such as Paulus Rauner had suffered. It was a messy tear caused by who knew what. Phillip just knew this was going to go bad no matter what he did. Still, it wasn’t going to get better if he didn’t do anything. He searched the surrounding faces for someone who might be able to enforce authority, finally coming to rest on the man supporting the injured youth. “I need a bucket of water.”

Alberto Rovarini stared blankly at Phillip. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“Never mind who I am. If I’m to be any help here I need to wash this man’s injury before I can treat it.”

Alberto thrust his face close to Phillip’s. “Are you a barber-surgeon?” he demanded.

“No, but I know what to do,” Phillip said. It wasn’t really a lie. He knew he’d been very lucky with Paulus Rauner’s injury, so while he was in Innsbruck he’d found someone willing to show him how it was supposed to be done. He hadn’t worked on a human since Paulus, but he had practiced on numerous pork bellies.

Phillip’s apparent confidence seemed to satisfy Alberto, who started screaming out instructions in a language that seemed similar to Latin, but which Phillip couldn’t follow. “Make sure it’s clean water,” Phillip called out.