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The Plague Doctor

A Forced, Unnecessary Lesbian Time-Travel Romance

The Plague Doctor
Photo by Dzmitry Dudov (Dead__Angel_) on Unsplash

September 12th, 1348

Alnwick, Northumberland

They say the Pestilence spreads through bad air, but if that were the case, everyone would be dead. Not that we are far off. Death is in the room with all of us, and no amount of fresh roses will dissuade him.

My mother died from it a few months ago, and now I am alone with her herbs and poultices and notes. All the doctors are dead in Alnwick now, and God forgive me, it is for the better. Bleeding the sick was killing even faster. No one stops to admit a solution is not effective. Blood, I think, is critical to the ill, and removal will not only rid the body of illness but of protection. I have noted that when God allows one person to survive, they were rarely bled.

That, I suppose, is why I dug this empty journal from my mother's things. To record my observations as a plague doctor. My mother was accused of witchcraft before she herself became sick in prison. With the rise of plague doctors came the downfall of herbalists. Many of us were burned as witches. I am fortunate Alnwick thought better of it and decided to try a different approach by making an herbalist and doctor one and the same. Besides some strange writing (code of some sort) in the back, this journal is untouched.

Another observation I have had is how my mother's best herbs became rare in the years before I was born. She told me the winters are now too cold for the roots to stay warm. And it is not just herbs, but grain. Grain is vanishing year after year. The ground does not warm early enough to offer favorable growing conditions.

Could this have some connection? It is easy, I think, for men to blame people. Admitting the cause is within the environment would require them to think harder for solutions, and that simply will not do.

It will be a lonely life as a doctor, and I will be kept separate from the population unless I am seeing to the sick. I do not mind, though. I think better this way.

Yours,

Lettice

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May 7th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

Bookmarked. 5/7

Primary source. Evidence of female plague doctor. Seems to be a faded one-sided conversation between Lettice and another doctor. How are they responding without writing here? Is there another record? What is the code in the back?

The code seems to be the only clear writing, so I've recorded it and gave it to my student, Satoshi Nakamoto, for analysis.

Do not remove.

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September 13th, 1348

Alnwick, Northumberland

I found an odd note on yesterday's entry and I don't know what to make of it. I do not know if it is wise to continue writing in this journal, but my curiosity insists I write a few words and see what transpires.

I have never seen paper this white or such smooth writing. It is as if it was stamped on the page. What is a Dr. Annika Pierce? It resembles a person's name, but I've never seen the word "Dr."

The year is eight-hundred years from now. I would imagine life is far different for someone living so far from today. And someone living so far from today means the Pestilence will fail.

Anyone else might believe the existence of this note is evidence of witchcraft, and I cannot say I disagree. But there is hope in such a faraway date. I can only hope the writer responds.

Lettuce

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June 17th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

This is a reminder that damaging property of the university is prohibited and subject to fines and/or further disciplinary action. This book is delicate and it isn't funny to damage it as a prank.

Dr. Pierce

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September 20th, 1348

Dr. Pierce. I have confirmation that is a name.

Dr. Pierce, I have been staring at this book for several days now, frightened to respond. This record is mine and mine alone, and I have a right to record in it. Although, I am not sure what the consequences of writing again will be. After seeing death all these days, I do not have fear anymore.

Lettuce

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June 18th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

Okay, okay, "Lettice."

If you are really from 1348, how the hell did you know the "Pestilence" is spread by rats? That discovery is centuries in the future.

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September 21st, 1348

I did not until you wrote to me. Rats? Of course, it is spread by rats. I will make note of it on another page.

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June 30th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

You are really writing from 1348.

I took this journal home with me and you still responded.

One of the only legible entries in this diary was your note on rats. Every other entry was too faded to understand. Or it was. The entries grow clearer every time you respond. Like they were written yesterday. I thought someone went to the archives and traced over your writing. But you're really her.

This is not possible. Or shouldn't be. We only knew Lettuce was responding to someone.

You're responding to me. How is this possible?

Also, I should note that it can also spread person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. It was only first transmitted by fleas on rats.

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Yes! Yes! I am writing, Dr.!

This correspondence is incredible. How it is possible is something I am trying to understand as well.

I have looked through my mother's other notebooks to see if I can determine where this journal was bought. With no luck, unfortunately. I am beginning to wonder if my mother was a witch. If this journal was enchanted. I should put this journal down and surrender it to the guard.

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July 1st, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

If you don't mind, can you add dates to the top of your entries? You can also call me Annika.

And will you surrender it?

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September 23rd, 1348

Annika. I was hoping your name wasn't Dr. I wasn't sure how to pronounce it.

And no, no, I will not. I made that decision from the first. After all, I have probably incriminated myself enough already. I am not sure if my status will protect me from the stake. They wouldn't realize there is no one to record the dead until after I have joined them.

Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any good I can do for the sick. I might be able to alleviate pain and ensure their last wishes are recorded. I can research, but I have not been able to save anyone. It gives me profound sadness.

Tell me, in the future, do they know how to treat the sick? Can you help me? Even if I only save one person and die by fire as a consequence, it will give me peace.

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July 2nd, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

It is an abbreviation. Doctor. I believe the word is still in its development stages in your time, but I am not a linguist.

Lettice, I wish I could offer better news. The Plague will only alleviate after a medicine is developed that prevents sickness to begin with. We call it a vaccine. I don't believe the technology is available to you yet. And the cure comes later than that. I am sorry, but relief is centuries from your time.

And I can relate. It would be impossible to return this journal to the archives. No one would believe this story. I would possibly lose my position as a researcher.

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September 24th, 1348

You forget an important detail. We are from two different times. There may be a way for you to give me directions. Is there anything wrong with developing the medicine early? You are a doctor.

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July 3rd, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

Lettuce, the truth is I don't know. I'm also not a medical doctor. I research historical texts. A different type of doctor. I'm sorry. The best I can do is make sure we learn from your time. That's why I started studying your text. To learn from you.

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September 25th, 1348

I see.

We have already wasted so many days talking about ourselves and how incredible this channel is between us. I had a mind to put the book away and never open it again. You cannot help me, but I remembered that time is continuous and we are not so separate or far apart. If any life can be saved, then is this so pointless?

It is interesting that I believed I could learn from you because in your time, you are so much more advanced in medical understanding. I never thought you would be able to learn from me. I can't imagine such a plague being possible in your time. If cures are within your reach, why look back at us?

A doctor of words and knowledge. Maybe such a person is as important as a doctor of the body.

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July 4th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

Haha (this denotes laughter).

I never thought about my profession that way. You understand quickly, and even I believed everyone was stuck in their ways in your time. If I have learned anything, it is that you are much smarter than anyone has given you credit for.

There hasn't been a plague or pandemic, as we call it, quite like yours for just under one hundred years. Nothing that completely uproots our society like The Black Death (what we call your pandemic) has happened recently.

My job isn't to record medical knowledge, but to record how your world reacted to the Plague. What worked and what didn't. I hope to educate someone in the future if something like the Plague ever happens again. To look at how different people were treated in your time to make sure we learn.

If I can't find funding for my research, I won't be able to help anyone as you help me.

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September 26th, 1348

Well, I have nothing but idle time on my hands! I might as well use it to understand. (Haha)

You would think that my life would be busier, but it is not. I find I use my writing more than healing. To record the dead's wishes and to document their case. Was all of this lost to time? I write so much that I shudder to think about what happened to it all.

Maybe I am more a doctor like you than a medical doctor after all. I can help more than I think. You mentioned that this journal is compromised where evidence is concerned. What if I put the records of the dead somewhere they cannot be destroyed? Somewhere only you can find it. I can make sure they are as detailed as possible. I am certain that if you were to find a text of importance, your work would be funded.

I said I was beginning to wonder if my mother was a witch, and now I question if that is such a terrible thing. Her craft led me to you. Through words if not in body.

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July 5th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

You are absolutely brilliant, Lettice! Indeed, that may work. The trick will be finding a place the document will for certain remain undisturbed for several centuries. There is a castle nearby that hasn't been excavated much. In fact, we've just started to dig there.

I've been thinking the same, as far as your mother is concerned. I wonder if the code in the back has anything to do with it? It seems to be a code that allows an object to exist in two planes. Or, at least, that is my guess. I gave it to my student for transcription, but he is doing a summer internship right now. I won't see him again until the semester begins. I didn't make such a big deal about the code, so I don't think he will share it with anyone else.

Whatever the explanation, you have made me look at the past differently. You live in a time called the Dark Ages, but they don't look so dark to me now that I'm talking with you. I wish I could hear what your voice sounds like. Writing to each other from across the centuries leaves so much to be desired.

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September 27th, 1348

I took all the records I had and found my excuses to go to the nearby castle's basement (there is only one castle nearby). I put them under a hole in the wall and covered them with decaying wood. The castle may disintegrate over the basement, giving you time to excavate if you know what you are looking for.

I didn't think this through. The basement is crawling with rats, and I wasn't properly covered. I'm concerned I was left exposed to the pestilence. I don't have symptoms, but I am concerned I may develop them.

If I do, I want to let you know while I still have the energy that I have developed a deep affection for you and if this is how I die, I do not regret it. It is one more way I'm connected to you. I too wish I could hear your voice and feel the texture of your hair. Your life is without too much physical toil, and I can imagine your skin is soft like the Queen's.

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July 6th, 2008

From the notepad of Dr. Annika Pierce

Please take care of yourself. You didn't need to do that for me.

My heart is yours, and I regret that I can't bring you here and make sure you're safe. I feel the same way, and while we can't have any sort of life together.

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My Love,

I'm afraid my time is running out. I developed a chill this morning and needed to

Make a better life for yourself, love. Fund your research. Our correspondence may not be usable, but you are brilliant and will be able to find some way of furthering your world's understanding of what happened here. I also buried the remainder of my mother's gold coin in the corner of the castle. I'm sure you will find some worth in it if no one else funds you.

This will likely be my last entry. Wait, I hear a noise outside...

Lettice

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October 1st, 2008

You were right. I came into enough funds and then some.

I know you won't respond. You've been dead for hundreds of years now, but only months for me.

I am starting work on building a time machine. When you wrote your last entry, you mentioned just getting sick. It may take years, but I will go to the moment you wrote your last entry and bring antibiotics.

You also mentioned a noise outside. That noise might be me.

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Six Months Later

BBC Profile: The "Plague Doctor," Annika Pierce

Dr. Annika Pierce, scholar at Oxford University, had a rapid rise to fame (and fortune) in the archaeological community. Her findings in Alnwick, Northumberland's castle ruins completely rewrote how we thought about the era of the Black Plague, and revealed that women, or at least one, were Plague Doctors too.

Lettice was a common name in the 1300s, and that was the name of the Alnwick "plague doctor" for a short time in 1548. At some point, she left a bundle of the deads' records in the castle basement, sparking conversation amongst experts about why she deliberately hid them. No other records of Lettuce or her life remain.

Plague doctors in the 1330s were not as much healers as they were scientists and record-keepers. They did not have the beaked masks commonly associated with plague doctors and were less protected than their successors.

When asked what Lettice's life might have been like, Dr. Piece said, "She must have been a great thinker we lost to time. Optimistic. Brave. And well aware of the situation she was in."

Also known for her ongoing effort to create a time machine, Pierce never fails, in any interview, to remind us that behind the records, there was a person not so different from us and subjected to the same elements we are.

"What I think we can learn from her is that time is continuous and we are not so separate or far apart. If any life can be saved, then is this so pointless? She likely saw no hope in saving anyone in her time and had optimism that her words could save someone if preserved. My only regret is that there were no more of them."

Next: Bitcoin. Where Did it Come From?

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Historical Notes

While significant liberties were taken with this story, I also write history articles, so I wanted to add a few reliable sources.

When Lettuce mentions "[W]inters are now too cold for the roots to stay warm," she was referring to what we now know as "The Little Ice Age." When the medieval climate started cooling is up for debate, but in this story, I decided to go with the theory that it started in the 1300s and led to the surge of plague-infected rats looking for warmth in buildings.

A plague doctor's job was mainly administrative and unique in that they served everyone regardless of class.

As far as I can tell, there's no evidence that suggests a woman was ever a plague doctor. However, women were healers, midwives, and herbalists. They actively participated in medicine. It doesn't take too much imagination to imagine a woman being both in desperate times. Especially considering that the medical profession wouldn't really take off until the 1500s. But yes, they were also burned as witches.

The beaked masks were not a thing until the 1700s.

Lettice IS a medieval woman's name.

It is easy to say, "Most medieval women weren't literate," because it is true. But if you dig deeper, you'll find it was more complicated than that. Women in the Middle Ages wrote, and there's evidence a woman wrote down Beowulf. Writing doesn't only mean literature. It also means recipes, notes, etc. And while most of those have been lost, women were much more educated than most people think.

And might I also mention that queer people have always existed but have fallen victim to erasure as well? So much about women and queer people in the Medieval era has been lost, so for all we know, there may have been a lesbian plague doctor named Lettice.

literature
Alexa Baczak
Alexa Baczak
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