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I'm trying to come up with characters whose backgrounds allow them to have homes, histories, and skills, but will still enable or encourage them to travel in a typical medieval setting. I've never really liked "Adventurer" as a job, and would like my story to have a kind of unlikely-hero vibe.

besides the common "Traveling merchant", what kinds of artisans or professionals in fantasy would have a reason to move around the world (or at least visit other settlements)?

First time posting, so let me know what to improve. Thanks!

EDIT: When I say traveling, I was thinking someone who spends multiple days/weeks/months away from their place of origin as they go elsewhere for their business, or to gather materials for it.

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    $\begingroup$ Please note that we advise to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer. Solved questions attract less attention, thus lowering your chances of getting better answers. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Aug 1 '18 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ This would be better asked on the History site $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 1 '18 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth - I was thinking the same thing ... and I'm a mod on the History site. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Aug 2 '18 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Reminder to all. We do not migrate because it could fit better elsewhere. Suggesting to the user the option is fine but please be clear that it is an option. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 3 '18 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ The military "travel" when there's a war on. $\endgroup$ – Bohemian Aug 7 '18 at 14:30

20 Answers 20

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Engineers, stone cutters, and masons were some of the widest travelers of the era, moving between castle and cathedral construction sites regularly, often staying for only a single season of work at a given site before moving to another when the local weather stopped work.

Boatmen also traveled long distances up and down rivers and canals moving cargoes of coal or grain or any number of other goods, they weren't merchants though they often worked for merchant houses they were just a transporter.

Knights often traveled the tourney circuit during peace time, while a knight might be too likely a hero for your purposes his 14 year old squire or the even younger 10-12 year old page travelling with him learning chivalry may work for your purposes, his groom, an older man of low birth charged entirely with the care of his horses, even more so.

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    $\begingroup$ good answer, for more supporting evidence there is a modern day reconstruction project in France called Guédelon that covers medieval construction methods and daily medieval life and work $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Aug 1 '18 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering if blacksmiths traveled with the tourney circuit as well, or if I've just been watching too much Knights Tale. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Aug 2 '18 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. Unlikely given they tended to need guild approval to operate. That said I assume some sort of repair shop traveled with armies on campaign though that would have been part of some lord's retinue. I would think tourneys organised blacksmiths similar to how racing events use sponsors. Each tourney site has its own smithies, it would be an absolute luxury to have your own blacksmith, nevermind a travelling forge. The closest are tinkers who work small scale stuff like fixing pots and pans. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Aug 3 '18 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JPChapleau It was my understanding that the higher nobility actually traveled surprisingly little, they had land, vassals, and business interests that needed regular attention, they couldn't afford extended absences, that's why they often resented calls to attend court even when they weren't in disfavour. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 6 '18 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @ash that was my impression as well, but looking at the lives of many of the nobility, showed that many traveled more than I thought. With ties between France and Scotland, France and Poland, Spain and the Netherlands and the HREmpire... I would need to find the references but it really surprised me $\endgroup$ – JP Chapleau Aug 6 '18 at 19:53
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Any craftsman during their journeyman years.

A journeyman is a craftsman who just completed their apprenticeship. There was a custom during the middle ages (especially in the German-speaking area) called the "Walz". Young craftspeople spent three years and one day with traveling to other cities, seeking contact to the locals of the same profession and exchange knowledge and experience in the craft. The purpose was to spread crafting know-how geographically.

Some professions practice this tradition to this day.

Using a journeyman as your main character has several great storytelling opportunities:

  • They go to unfamiliar locations with the goal to learn about the local customs. That gives you plenty of opportunities to weave infodumps into conversations and observations without breaking immersion.
  • They have a reason to interact with many different people. Seeking contact to their peers is literally their motivation. But they also have opportunities to interact with lower-class people (if just to ask for directions) as well as higher-class people (to ask for work). As inexperienced outsiders they might also be of interest to more shady characters, both as victims and as pawns.
  • They are young adults, so they have plenty of room for character development.
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    $\begingroup$ And now the term journeyman makes more sense... Cool $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Aug 1 '18 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Wow I never knew this was the origin of the term! This is a great resource, thanks so much. $\endgroup$ – Julia Witham Aug 1 '18 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ And I think Walz is the orign of the Australian Waltzing Mathilda. $\endgroup$ – Walter Mitty Aug 1 '18 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 A journeyman is not a man who travels, but a man who is paid by the day (French "journée"). $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner Aug 2 '18 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 - be aware there is no connection whatsoever between "journeyman" and "journey" as in travel. It's a sheer coincidence. It's simply the French word for "day laborer". $\endgroup$ – Fattie Aug 5 '18 at 16:26
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  • Artist and technical people: musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, engineers, craftsman. They had to go where somebody willing to pay for their work was present (see Leonardo da Vinci)
  • Soldier: if you are smart you don't fight wars in your backyard, therefore you travel and hope to come back
  • Pilgrim: not strictly a profession, but still taking long time
  • Cleric: again, one had to go where the Order sent him
  • Tax man or bureaucrat: go where the government send you
  • Sex worker: chase the customers and escape the moralists
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    $\begingroup$ This reads like speculation. Do you have actual research to back this up? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 1 '18 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth, Leonardo da Vinci and all the italian artists starting from Giotto had to go either to Rome or some other big city to work, soldiers where recruited in poor lands and send to fight somewhere else (ever heard about mercenaries?), El camino de Santiago dates back to the middle Age too, clerics where trained in a place and often sent somewhere else, same for bureaucrats. Finally, sex workers had to be on the move, either following an army to entertain the soldiers, or to search for new markets. Where exactly do you see the speculation? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Aug 1 '18 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ Sex workers mostly didn't move around. $\endgroup$ – Mark Aug 1 '18 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @mathreadler That's how science works and stackexchange just uses the same methods. It's the same as Wikipedia's "citation needed". The idea is that you can put any text here and click "post answer" and nothing is stopping you. A website or book have context which allows the reader to determine how trustworthy the information is. $\endgroup$ – R. Schmitz Aug 2 '18 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch moving is not the same as travelling. I didn't read that link, but the way you say it makes it seem like the sex workers MOVE to the city, then stay there. $\endgroup$ – Aethenosity Aug 3 '18 at 6:07
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Here are a few more professions which might travel during the middle ages...

  • Clergy
  • Messengers
  • Royal Inspectors
  • Spies posing as any of the above
  • Criminals posing as any of the above
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  • $\begingroup$ Any evidence to back these up? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 1 '18 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ No, but also no tags on the original question suggesting that backing evidence was needed. My apologies for posting unfounded possibilities, but I was very young in the middle ages and didn't check the identities or guild affiliations of my fellow travellers. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 1 '18 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor: My great-uncle was a day laborer around WWII, and I can assure it did not involve traveling. He would at most go to the next village for the day, on foot or bike, and that was the extent of it. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Aug 5 '18 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM, With all due respect to your great-uncle, even in this present day, laborers follow the harvest from farming town to farming town. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 6 '18 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor That would have been unheard of in the days of serfdom, where the laborers were legally bound to the land where they lived and worked. $\endgroup$ – Alex H. Aug 6 '18 at 20:51
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Coachmen. Because most people described in other answers will need a ride.

From the Assassin's Creed II Animus database:

Travel in the Renaissance was not the disgusting ordeal it is today. Instead, it was merely terrifying. The countryside was filled with bandits, causing most travellers to move in armed groups called caravans. Anxious voyagers usually sewed valuables and gold into the soles of their shoes or the lining of their jackets.

Guides called Vetturini were sometimes hired to help plot the route of the caravans and book rooms at local inns, but those carriers were often working with the bandits, just like travel agents today.

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    $\begingroup$ How accurate is that database? The idea that roads were teeming with bandits has always sounded rather strange to me. If every traveling group moves in armed caravans, being a bandit is a very risky occupation, and if the roads are teeming with bandits, only fools would travel in pairs or unarmed. I've always had a hard time reconciling the two facts. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Aug 5 '18 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ (+1) For the most creative source I've ever seen on SE. $\endgroup$ – Zenon Aug 8 '18 at 4:58
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People associated with the judiciary. Most prominently judges, but of course also their retinue (judges were important people, so they would have servants, grooms etc.) and lawyers.

In the Middle Ages, lawsuits, whether civil or criminal would be handled by different tribunals. Lesser affairs would be handled by local magistrates, but more important cases would wait for the court to come around. This is where the term "circuit court" originated, which is still in use in common law systems like the US:

King Henry II instituted the custom of having judges ride the circuit each year to hear cases, rather than requiring every citizen to bring their cases to London (see Assize of Clarendon).[2] Thus, the term "circuit court" is derived from the practice of having judges ride around the countryside each year on pre-set paths − circuits − to hear cases.

I am almost certain that the same practice prevailed in France and Germany, but can't find a source right now. Especially in the more centralized (and centralizing) kingdoms, this practice played an important role in standardizing the application of law beyond the immediate environs of the lawgiver.

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One missing profession is academic. There were universities in the medieval period- several teaching philosophy, latin and theology and the professors and students would transfer around.

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    $\begingroup$ The text on diplomas "the rights and privileges..." refers to being exempt from tolls on roads among other things - so scholars commonly traveled. $\endgroup$ – Tangurena Aug 2 '18 at 16:16
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How about ambassador? In medieval times there weren't full time ambassadors but rulers did have to select people to send on embassies to other rulers. Thus someone whose normal life style might have been stay at home or wanderer would be sent with a small group on a journey of sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles.

And there was missionary. A person would go or be sent as a missionary to some foreign land and become revered as someone who revealed the truth to the people, or instantly martyred for trying to replace the old religion, or be treated somewhere in between, and he might settle down in one spot in the land he was sent to, or else travel hundreds or thousands of miles a year on missionary business.

And there was slave. A slave might be enslaved by some method in one country and be transported hundreds or thousands of miles to another country to be sold. Many Muslim countries used foreign slaves as soldiers, so a slave could find himself invading a third country in the service of the ruler who owned him. Slave soldiers often became free and sometimes became lords and even sometimes rulers of a whole country.

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Previous answers have been quite exhaustive, so I'm going to add an esoteric example into the fray!

How about a 'Coney-Catcher?

Sourced from Wikipedia:

Coney-catching is Elizabethan slang for theft through trickery. It comes from the word "coney" (sometimes spelled conny), meaning a rabbit raised for the table and thus tame.

A coney-catcher was a thief or con man.

[...]

The term was first used in print by Robert Greene in a series of 1592 pamphlets, the titles of which included "The Defence of Conny-catching," in which he argued there were worse crimes to be found among "reputable" people, and "A Disputation betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-catcher."

Since the term originates in medieval England, your 'rogue' character can equivocate or reject the term 'Coney-Catcher' if you wish as it is a new term at that time.

Alternatively, you might embrace that word and its meaning entirely. It is around this time the idiom of buying 'a pig in a poke' materialises; selling a dead cat in a sack and claiming it is a pig is a classic 'Coney-Catcher' con.

Greene gives other examples in his pamphlets, providing you with plenty of historically accurate (albeit sensationalised) material to develop.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! Interesting take on the question. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Aug 3 '18 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, the term itself originates from a later period - OP is after inspiration, not entomology - the profession of a cheat/ con mate clearly is timeless. I am suggesting the Elizabethan material as further research because it is more accessible and less obvious than just rehashing characters from Chaucer or the Gawain poet ad neuseum. $\endgroup$ – Inoutguttiwutts Aug 5 '18 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ *etymology - typing on a phone in a hurry! $\endgroup$ – Inoutguttiwutts Aug 5 '18 at 14:31
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One more: minstrel, entertainer. Sorry if I missed someone else saying it. And a maybe: I wouldn’t call myself an adventurer, but I retired, sold my house, and have been roaming since.

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Monks had a number of reasons that they might travel regularly and potentially for extended periods.

From The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer:

...If monks have withdrawn from the world to live lives of contemplation and prayer, how come you meet so many of them outside their cloisters, journeying around the country? The answer is monastic business. Abbots and priors need to attend meetings of their Order, and many abbots and a couple of priors are summoned to attend Parliament. Some traveling is undertaken by other monks to acquire things-including manuscripts to copy for the monastic-library-or to exchange news. But the vast bulk of monastic business is to oversee the abbey's estates. The monk in Chaucer's "Sea Captain's Tale" is allowed by his abbot to roam where he wants on the pretext of inspecting the monastic granges. Some monasteries have a great number of these, with vast estates all over the south of England.

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Ronin.

lone wolf and cub

https://www.deviantart.com/maxromanchak/art/Lone-Wolf-And-Cub-284013200

Medieval Europe is pretty well covered in previous answers. For a few more ideas consult Canterbury Tales which features characters from less well known medieval professions like Summoner and Pardoner.

Ronin is from medieval Japan.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C5%8Dnin A rōnin (浪人, "drifter" or "wanderer") was a samurai without a lord or master during the feudal period (1185–1868) of Japan. A samurai became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege.

Ronin are well suited for protagonists - formidable, desperate, adrift and honorless.

Depicted: Lone Wolf and Cub, from a sweet series featuring a ronin samurai and his son.

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    $\begingroup$ To cite the question: "I've never really liked "Adventurer" as a job, and would like my story to have a kind of unlikely-hero vibe." Now Ronin does not literally translate to "Adventurer", but it has exactly the extremely-likely-hero vibe that OP was trying to avoid. $\endgroup$ – Hans Janssen Aug 2 '18 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Geliormth - I figured Adventurer goes on adventures out of choice, whereas a ronin samurai would really much rather not be a ronin samurai but instead have his job, master and honor back. More of a misadventurer. $\endgroup$ – Willk Aug 3 '18 at 20:24
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Some additional professions, that came to my mind:

  • Mercenary
  • Assassin or hitman
  • nomadic cultural entertainer (Showmen maybe like the Edema Ruh in the Kingkiller Chronicles)
  • Tinker
  • Taxman (if you want your character to be unpopular)
  • a bit unusual at that time but maybe interesting: historian, archaeologist like Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli or cartographer

Remember, that you can combine several professions.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Assassin/hitman" pretty much wasn't a profession in medieval times, and certainly wasn't one that involved travel. If you wanted someone killed, you either told a member of your retinue to do it (if you were well-off), or got a disreputable member of society to do it (if you weren't), or did it yourself. $\endgroup$ – Mark Aug 7 '18 at 20:06
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Everyone else has listed most of the major ideas so far, assuming you didn't want to get into chicanery like alchemists or ethnic answers like the Jews, Armenians, Romany, or Hakka, but something important no one seems to have touched on yet: If you're actually keeping this historically plausible?

Everyone hated vagabonds.

If your travelers aren't part of a knight or noble's entourage, it doesn't matter what your excuse for them is. The default setting for everyone around the migrant poor is going to be to assume they're actually shiftless vagabonds and troublemakers. Maybe they're actually pilgrims but, if they're not sleeping in the church, the local boys are going to go beat the hell out of them to get them on to the next town. Outside of China, there's not much on serial killers before the High Middle Ages but people certainly understood thievery, seduction and abandonment, rape, and idleness. Freeholders should be farming and anyone below the freeholders should really be farming and are possibly up for grabs for enslavement in backwards areas like England and Russia. The police system of the era was group responsibility within a clan or village (one version of which was the frankenpledge) and someone wandering off from theirs couldn't be held accountable... or trusted.

Now, having said that,

there weren't any laws on the books

in Europe until after the Black Death, when the gutted workforce meant idlers were branded and/or whipped when found. High Fantasy tends to stick with the High Middle Ages in the era just before this. That still doesn't mean you should let your characters have it easy, though. There will be the innocent, the kindhearted, and the clergy but the default will be for most to see them the way Eastern Europeans see the “gypsies” and for local nobles to see them as free labor.

If that's not something you're interested in going into, they should look rich or like they're part of some rich guy's entourage. People were more forgiving of the religious—and some would dearly love mendicant friars who hew closer to the model of Jesus than the noble clergy—but they saw plenty of hostility too, when they weren't simply being robbed.

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Couriers travelled between ruling municipalities to carry messages to both rulers and common-folk. Signed, Sealed, Delivered: How Messages were sent in the Middle Ages

A courier could be anyone from a serf to clergy to soldier to nobility. This gives a wide range of options for character assignment.

These couriers would also be good candidates for intelligence gathering.

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There were the pot mender, scissor and knife sharpeners and pot tinner who would make rounds. These were often called Tinkers they would also have all sorts of arcane skills and tools that an unlikely hero could make use of.

Another class who moved were the servants of all of the others who had due cause the move.

Seasonal workers would follow the crops and pick, harvest or thresh the produce as it became ripe. In sheep country you would have travelling sheep shearers.

Obviously the witch burners and other institutionalised religious people would try to get all over.

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Entertainers, missionaries, other clergy, taxmen, soldiers - even blacksmiths, shoemakers, clothes makers, midwifes..

Some of these apply to more rural areas where the people would not have had access to someone to make them shoes for example. Some of these professions were basically beggar status at times though.

And some of these professions lasted as journeying professions for well into the late 19th century and beyond in more rural settings.

Those with such a profession that was valued(like blacksmiths) could barter for shelter and raw materials just by their skills but clients who were wealthy enough to pay for such might live a months journey away from the nearest settlement.

This is, in the more rural parts of the medieval world.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Farmer Boy", by Laura Ingalls Wilder, included an episode with a traveling shoemaker who came to the farm, made shoes for the whole family, and moved on. So the practice persisted up to at least the 1870s. $\endgroup$ – arp Dec 28 '18 at 15:48
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These answers are great. I'll expand a little--

Surveyor/Tax Assessor

From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

Then, at the midwinter [1085], was the king in Gloucester with his council ... . After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out "How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire."

Basically, something like the Domesday book, which is an accounting of English lands, was made up by men the king sent. It was informational (like a census of sorts) but it also served the purpose of giving the King a basis upon which to tax their Lords. Because Lords didn't always self-report so well, it was important to have independent assessors look into the value of the lands, what they could produce, the population, general income and all that jazz.

The guys assigned to this ran circuits throughout the Kingdom.

Sometimes a lord wanted an assessment/survey of their own land from someone impartial, and they would tap a specialist who wasn't always local but who was recommended by another lord. So it wasn't always a king who was asking. Surveyors were also sometimes called in by circuit judges as experts to solve land disputes.

Church Overseers

What Kings did, so did the church. The Inquisition is an outgrowth of that function, but it wasn't always so hardcore. Rome wanted reports (not necessarily self-reports) on the state of churches and the dogma taught at various parishes. So there were Bishops whose sole purpose was to travel and send word back to Rome.

Builders/Specialist Craftsmen

If you had a specialist craft of any type, be you a stone carver or a maker of armor, or arms, you might not ever get enough business to stay in one place.

Once you've made armor for the local lord, who is likely the only one who can afford it, there's no reason for you to stay.

It was common for a stone mason or glass worker to move from site to site.

Security and Judges for the Medieval Fairs

I've written about Medieval Fairs in past answers. Basically, there were huge fairs, lasting for weeks at a time where merchants came together to sell their wares. The Champagne Fairs in Medieval France are a great example.

At these fairs, they set standards--measurements of length, weight, standards for each industry participating (from cloth to backed goods).

Merchants there dealt with the public, but they also made deals with each other. During the course of the fair, any merchant there was subject to the laws specific to THAT FAIR. They set everything from fines for cheating other merchants to a ban for certain practices.

It's a really odd thing, because any merchant-type dispute during the fair went to the fair court and the comptroller for that fair--NOT to the regular legal system.

What this meant is that there were often a group of people who travelled to help solve disputes and sit in judgement. The Comptrollers were often local and voted for or they could be someone trusted who travels from place to place. Sometimes they were merchants themselves, sometimes they were retired. Often they needed an entourage of people to help them because they couldn't be in two places at once, sort of junior members to sort out the small stuff, or help settle things so it never has to get as high on the ladder as the Comptroller.

Security for the fairs was important as well--they would roam about with lanterns protecting the goods and generally being muscle when a dispute got out of hand. They did supplement with local help, but they would often have a trusted group that travelled from place to place.

Literally Anyone in an Entourage for Nobility

Nobility, from knights on up, liked to travel--for sport, for politics, and they brought a TON of people with them. The higher up you were the more likely you were to bring a whole dang staff with you. Almost every profession you can think of that a noble might want. A horseman, a houndskeeper, a specialist tracker, falconers, squires, messengers that you sent ahead to let another noble household (or your country house) you were a few days away, people to maintain carts, a cook for the road...if you can think of a purpose, there was a job in it.

Transporters of Goods and People + Guides

Hired out by merchants and nobility, there were people who simply traveled to get stuff or people from point a to point b. Many times by water, but not always.

There were also road guides for tourism, especially pilgrimages. These were not generally religious figures. They knew where to stop for lodging, which wasn't always apparent, because in early Medieval times, this wasn't always an inn. See my answer here about what inns were like and how far apart they were.

A road guide knows who should be bribed and who should be ignored, they know how to avoid highwaymen, where to stay on a route and so on. They also, like tour guides of today, might get a small kickback from lodgings and services for bringing their group by.

Seasonal Workers

Since the fall happens everywhere at the same time, harvests tended to use mostly local labor. This changed with the labor shortages of the Black Plague. If a lord needed extra labor they generally asked nearby lords for people, so prior to the plague, there wasn't as much mobility for this--that is to say people didn't travel everywhere to do this (there generally wasn't enough time in a season to do so) but might go to one particular place in a group of harvesters from one lord to another. Again, this changed late in the period.

Homing Bird Keeper/Transporter

This is a bit obscure, but as early as 1150 in Bagdad, homing pigeons were used to send messages. This wasn't widespread practice in Medieval times, but in fantasy, you can go all George RR Martin with it.

In order to send messages to a place, you have to take the birds AWAY from their home, which means that they have to be cared for on the road, and transported to far away places in a kingdom. So a King or lord that wants other lords to be able to communicate with them, sends a bird transporter all over the country with birds in cages who know their home as the King's castle keep, and they can send a short urgent message to their regent or vassal. And, while you are at their keep, you can take a bird from the king's vassal and bring that back to the king so that the king can send a message to the vassal and so on. Could lead to EXTENSIVE travel...Could be for any lord who just wants a communication network...

Doesn't have to be birds as this is fantasy, can be any homing messenger creature.

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Plague Doctors

In times of epidemics, such physicians were specifically hired by towns where the plague had taken hold.

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A quick scan of answers so far misses the traders:

  • England sold wool by the boatload to Europe. Towns had annual fairs for trading. In fiction this is used to good effect in Ellis Peter's tales of Brother Cadfael, a Welsh soldier/crusader turned monk. It's also used in Ken Folletts "Pillars of the Earth" series.

  • Google "Hanseatic League"

  • Pepper was extremely valuable in the middle ages. Pepper and cloves. It came overland in several stages.

  • Google Silk Road -- trading from Asia Minor to China.

Your character can be either a trader, or in a trader's employ. (Being a general trouble shooter as in Poul Anderson's tales of the Solar Spice and Liquor Company.)

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