Early July, 2015, me and my future husband went to Tallinn, Estonia. I’ve been there before, but always in winter and always on business. First time in my life I figured that if you go to a new place on business, it doesn’t count as visited. I should scratch out Oslo (been there 2 times) and Dusseldorf (been to 1 time). However, it’s a good scouting expedition, you learn some good eateries, a few shortcuts.
Anyhow, back to Tallinn being a perfect medieval merchant city. We visited a quite few museums and all of them tell the same story: Tallinn (or Reval as it used to be called) was ruled by merchants. The main pillar of power were, of course, the guilds, since around 14th century. While guild encompassed most trades (bricklayers, tailors, smiths, etc.), when merchants established their own guild in 14th century and grew immensely in power. Almost simultaneously, in mid-14th century, the Brotherhood of Blackheads emerged as another pillar of power, moreso based around military strength than the Great Guild. Both survived until 1920-1940. In Tallinn City Museum and Niguliste Museum (which is absolutely awe-inspiring, since it’s a medieval church, converted into medieval religious art museum), a lot of precious artifacts and paintings were specifically from the Blackheads collection. These artifacts include various prize cups, paintings of Swedish and Russian aristocracy, treasuries and more. It shows how powerful both organizations were, since they also built almost every noteworthy church in Tallinn, including Niguliste (which is St. Nicholas).
So, if this sounds to you like a perfect setting for cloak and dagger, medieval, Game of Thrones meets Da Vinci’s Demons kind of setting, you’d be absolutely right, because it feels exactly that.
My imagination ran wild, with two powerful organizations, headquartering just a street away from each other, steering the city within Hanseatic league’s trade waters, getting richer by wit and carefully placed dagger every now and then. Ah, but wait, the Church! Reval was under the Teutonic order by that point, a strong presence of Catholic Church. And what the better way to seize that power than to build homes for this presence in the form of churches? But then there were the Orthodox presence, pressing in from the east, together with the Empire’s dreams of conquest and access to that precious resource of Reval’s port – access to Baltic sea. Next layer, the Livonian order, the growing Dutchy of Lithuania in the south, the strenth of Poland in even deeper south.
This setting is perfect. Layers of politics, trade relations, leagues and orders, brotherhoods, guilds, religions. Now we just need a good character. Someone…smart, with affinity for trade and negotiation…sensitive to political matters, a shrewd fellow. Rich enough, but aspiring for more. Well-trained conscience: sits quiet when instructed so. Watching this fellow navigating the treacherous waters of church-state powerplay should be fun. After all, he’s a witty person, seen some action in his earlier days, when the Blackheads just accepted him into his ranks. He remained unmarried, as most Blackheads were, devoted to his work as a merchant.
I’ll name him Oliver von Rayner.