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View Full Version : The Last Prussian (short)



CyberWar
June 22nd, 2016, 02:38 AM
The cold Northern wind blew across the beach, driving sand and salty droplets of seawater from the roaring pitch-black sea under the dark sky.

Skalowit sat on a log of driftwood in grim silence, the storm raging around him. The pained roars of the hurricane screamed out only ancient pain and despair that ravaged his old heart.

The black horror had come from the south, marching invisible amongst the ranks of the armies that went back and forth across the land during the recent years. Armies that took what they wanted by force, sparing not a child in the mother's womb amongst those who dared to be in their way - or more often just happened to live in their path. The pestilence rode invisible amongst them on an undead steed too horrible for mortals to behold, swinging it's scythe wide, and wherever it raised it's hand, men, women and children fell like spring grass under it's merciless blade. Man, wife or child, young or old, lord or peasant - none were exempt from the Reaper's cold, black scythe. All would come down with a terrible fever, their groins and underarms swelling to the size of ripe apples, and the ends of their limbs were blackened and beset by vile rot, putting them into unimaginable pain before the pestilence consumed them, usually in three days from the first signs of illness. Entire villages, even cities, were wiped out to a man, only the howling of dogs and creaking of crows that circled in the sky above betraying the fate of their occupants who would all lie where they fell, the morning dew being the only tears shed for them, none being left to mourn and bury them. Young men who hoped to take brides would find themselves in bed with corpses on their wedding nights, and would have joined their new wives in the netherworld by the sunset. Young mothers whose babies seemed to have caught a mild fever by evening were found cold and lifeless with their dead children at their breast by morning. Ploughmen, who went out to till their fields in the morning, appearing as healthy as studs, would be found asleep for eternity in the fields of their fathers by noon, their faces marred by the vile blackness of the plague.

Such was the plague, the black horror that had finally come to claim the last of Skalowit's tribe.

---

An ancient and noble line did Skalowit hail from. For Skalowit was a kriv, as had been his father, the father of his father, and untold generations of men before. The knower of customs and laws, the keeper of songs and lore, the councilor and sooth-sayer in times of hardship and pain.

Few honoured the old ways these days. Many lifetimes had passed since the Cross was brought with fire and sword to Skalowit's ancestors. The lot of young folk these days even loathed to acknowledge their Prussian ancestry, preferring to style themselves as Germans even if there was not a single German in their bloodlines as far as memory went. Many had forsaken their ancestral tongue, and spoke the language of the conquerors instead. Few cared to remember the old tales, the old songs.

Skalowit's only son had been among them. But now, it no longer mattered, for he, along with his mother and two sisters all rested in an early grave, devoured by the insatiable pestilence that ravaged the land. A Christian cemetery, where the sign of the Cross forever parted them from their proud heathen ancestors who feasted with the old gods.

---

Mighty and proud people had the Prussians been many lifetimes ago. A land of rich soil, forests plentiful in game, and rivers abundant in fish, sea-coasts laden with amber sought by foreign merchants from far-away lands. And people, noble and wise, to care for these prosperous lands.

But that was many lifetimes ago, before the times of the Cross. Clad in white cloaks with a black cross, the cross-bearers had arrived, preaching love and tolerance, and demonstrating both with fire and sword.

In the years and centuries that followed, the people of this prosperous land learned the true meaning of hardship and horror. Entire tribes were wiped from the face of the earth, slaughtered to the last unborn child in the name of the foul corpse-god on the Cross. Shields had thundered against shields, the air had been alight with the sparks shed by clashing swords and axes, and rivers had run red with the blood of the slain, wolves and ravens eagerly awaiting the feasts to come. Those who remained would fight on, generations upon generations growing up with one eye fixed to the safety of the forest, and one arm fixed to the hilt of the sword or axe. Parents had stopped naming their children, certain of their untimely death under the sword, and many would know no other name than incidental nicknames that stuck, certain that sooner or later they would join their ancestors from the battlefield. And yet, they would fight on, against all odds, against the ever-rising tide of the invaders from the West.

A terrible price did the sons of the corpse-god pay for their conquest, for every inch of land they took from the proud tribes of Prussia was slaked in blood, their own as well as that of it's former masters. But for all the courage and perseverance of the Prussians, it came to naught. For every fallen warrior, five from the Christian lands would come to take his place in search of land, wealth and glory. Some of the native lords were seduced by promises of that wealth and glory under the banner of the Cross, and would forsake the old gods for personal gain, turning upon their brethren. As the remaining Prussians were brought to the fold, they would attempt to rise on multiple occasions, and each time their rebellion was drowned in blood - after being torn apart by discord cleverly sown by their new masters.

Two centuries of incessant warfare and violence had reduced the once-verdant country to a wasteland. Fields were taken back by the forest, nobody remaining to till them, and foreign settlers took residence in place of those put to the sword.

The Prussians that remained eventually accepted their new masters and lived on, conquered but not defeated, quietly but stubbornly keeping their old ways, singing their old songs, praying to their old gods.

Until now.

Until now when a foul pestilence had come to claim the last few remaining keepers of laws and songs.

---

Skalowit looked out to the stormy sea, and his soul was numbed by an equally black, all-consuming despair. All was gone. All was lost. Only oblivion awaited now.

Then, much to his surprise, he saw a ship amidst the waves, headed straight for the coast. For a moment, the old man thought the sailors fools to approach the coast in such a storm, but to his surprise, the gale had no effect upon the daring ship that flew pitch-black sails almost invisible in the darkness.

A boat was lowered from the vessel as it cast anchor, and soon sailors clad in black oilskins began to row towards the coast, their oars lifting in perfect unison, and the storm itself seeming to calm in their way. Finally, as the boat reached the shore, a lone man would step out of the boat, and Skalowit noticed to his surprise that his feet did not seem to touch the water, much like the Christ-god had walked the water in times of the Bible.

The lone man, clad in a black oilskin with it's hood deep on his face, walked straight towards the old Prussian.

"Who are you?" Skalowit asked in German, since the ship-goers in these parts were for most part Germans.

"Are you Skalowit, son of Radwil, of Tribe Skalowia?" the sailor asked in his native tongue, much to Skalowit's surprise.

"That I am. Who is asking for me?" the old seer demanded.

"It is time," the man spoke, and the white grin under the shade of his hood appeared to be far too wide for a human being.

At that moment, the bell of the nearby chapel began to toll. Slowly, somberly, as it had tolled for Skalowit's wife, son and two daughters as they were taken to the graveyard. They were the lucky ones - the pestilence had struck them down when there were still enough people to bury them, the later dead having to contend with a common grave, or indeed be lucky to be buried at all. Skalowit knew all too well no ordinary mortal would toll a bell this late at night, as he recognized the bleached-white grin of the speaker.

"I see," he nodded and smirked bitterly, "There is nothing left for me on this earth anyway."

As the dark figure of a man seized the old seer's hand and guided him through the surf towards the black boat, the old man looked towards the ship that awaited them. From the infernal blackness of it's gunwales radiated only oblivion and despair.

"Do they wait for me?" he asked his companion.

"They do," it briefly answered.

All the tales and legends that would remain untold for all eternity, Skalowit thought. All the songs that would remain unsung, no man remaining to know the tongue they were sung in. All the heroes whose names would be forgotten until the day of judgement itself. Nevermind... it mattered no longer.

As he walked through the cold, pitch-black surf towards the boat, Skalowit saw the spectral rowers inside, but he feared no more. His ancestors awaited wherever this boat was to take him, to again sing the songs, to again recite the tales forever lost to the mortal world.

"I am coming," were the last words he uttered before the black wings of oblivion finally embraced him in their soft nothingness.

bdcharles
June 22nd, 2016, 02:58 AM
I think this is great. Epic, powerful, and heavy, heavy, heavy, it tells of a dismal contagion driving all before it like a thousand black horses.

It's not, however, perfect. There is a good bit of repetition - of words, images, events - and it could benefit from the less-is-more approach. Example:

The black horror had come from the south, marching invisible amongst the ranks of the armies that went back and forth across the land during the recent years. Armies that took what they wanted by force, sparing not a child in the mother's womb amongst those who dared to be in their way - or more often just happened to live in their path. The pestilence rode invisible amongst them on an undead steed too horrible for mortals to behold, swinging it's scythe wide, and wherever it raised it's hand, men, women and children fell like spring grass under it's merciless blade. Man, wife or child, young or old, lord or peasant - none were exempt from the Reaper's cold, black scythe. All would come down with a terrible fever, their groins and underarms swelling to the size of ripe apples, and the ends of their limbs were blackened and beset by vile rot, putting them into unimaginable pain before the pestilence consumed them, usually in three days from the first signs of illness. Entire villages, even cities, were wiped out to a man, only the howling of dogs and creaking of crows that circled in the sky above betraying the fate of their occupants who would all lie where they fell, the morning dew being the only tears shed for them, none being left to mourn and bury them. Young men who hoped to take brides would find themselves in bed with corpses on their wedding nights, and would have join ed their new wives in the netherworld by the sunset. Young mothers whose babies seemed to have caught a mild fever by evening were found cold and lifeless with their dead children at their breast by daybreak morning. Ploughmen, who went out to tilling their fields in the morning, appearing as healthy as studs, would be found asleep for eternity in the fields of their fathers by noon, their faces marred by the vile blackness of the plague.

This is just to give you some food for thought. I've colour coded bits that seem repeated, and struck out bits that seem like overwriting. Italics I have added. The underlined bits are the parts I really liked. You have a great turn of phrase. Just make sure you don't play it all up front. Save some for later, to deploy subtly at your leisure.

Bard_Daniel
June 22nd, 2016, 11:10 PM
I really like this too. I think bdcharles has tackled the nuances that can be fixed up quite nicely in his example paragraph. You have some very good words and sentences in there, but it may work to your advantage to refine them just a little bit to make the overall product stronger.

Overall though, good stuff!