Worldbuilding Basics #3 – Distance

“You want to go how far? In how long?

Friend, if you think this ‘ere horse is going to get you all that way by tomorrow, the price of buying him is going to be the least of your worries. Tell you what, grab that stool over there, share that wineskin, and I’ll tell you a bit about distances. We’ll start at the smallest and work our way up”

Digit, or Finger. This is an easy one. Ever asked for a finger of whiskey? Well, look at the thickness of your finger; that’s what you’ve ordered.

Inch. Slightly larger than a finger. In fact, many people suggest that an inch is around the same as two fingers. Although I would refrain from trying to order an inch of anything at a bar, it may be better than waving two fingers at the barman.

Foot. This can be a hard one. Find your nearest king, take off his slipper and measure his foot. That’s right – it should be exactly one foot in length. Now then, don’t be too surprised if His Majesty doesn’t take too kindly to this. So, to save such an inconvenience, and you losing your head, many kings now set a foot to be a standard length. Many stonemasons will use this as it saves problems when you’re half-way through putting up a building and the tall king is replaced by a much smaller one. For the rest of us, an easier way is to count twelve inches.

Cubit. Another one based on the body. This one is the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. I ain’t ever had a use for this one, although I have heard some gardeners use it when putting up their fences. Maybe the monks would know.

Yard. Often used as a measurement of short distance, it’s about the length of three feet. This is also a favourite measurement of tailors and cloth-makers. The reason I tell you this is that in most cities, the tailor’s guild will have their own physical representation of a yard, called a yardstick. Try to cut your cloth at any length different to this and the guild will ‘ave your hands.

Mile. Ok, now we’re getting to the good stuff. Originally a measurement of how far a well-fed army could march over a thousand paces, not many people know that a mile is considered over five thousand feet, and over seventeen hundred yards. The reason most people don’t know that is because many of the tracks now have signs that simply point in a direction and say ‘miles’.

Nautical Mile. Now I’ve got nothing against sailors and the like, after all they’re doing the same travelling we are except they ain’t got anything solid under their feet. I’ve been informed by a glass-eyed pirate that a nautical mile is longer than a normal mile, around six thousand feet, although how they measure that on something like the ocean is a mystery to me.

League. Another one based around walking on dry land. This is how far you can walk in an hour, usually about three miles. Although there are types of people who walk far enough to talk in leagues; bards, rangers and the like, many stick to miles as it’s easier and doesn’t involve walking, songs, or stories.


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