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The Man Outside  A folk tale of Reikland

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The Man Outside

A folk tale of Reikland


Although Reikland is often thought of as one of the most civilised places in this Empire of ours, it nevertheless has its cobwebbed corners and hidden secrets. Reikland may have glittering cities with fine universities and temples, but it also has the bandit-haunted Reikwald, and the monster-infested foothills of the Grey Mountains.

This particular tale deals with a classical theme in Reikland legend: the terrible effects of a phantasmic curse upon a house and its residents. The fatalistic resolution is typical. - JWG



There was once a house, in the rich lands south of the mighty River Reik, that no one dared approach. No peddler knocked upon its heavy doors. No priest crossed the cracked stone pathways to seek donation from the occupants. No lost traveller asked to spend the night beneath its needling spires. No robber came to the darkened windows with thievery in his heart. This is because it was obvious to all who came near that the house lay beneath a terrible curse[1].

Now, the house was very old, and had been the seat of the Wolgemut family since its foundation in the days of the Ratcatcher-Emperor[2]. It was a large building, and had once been very fine indeed: covered with rich carvings and surrounded by beautiful and orderly gardens. Yet the Baron Wolgemut saw no beauty around him, only horror and desolation. The faces of his ancestors leered from their portraits with blood on their lips. Spiders hung in the corners and whispered his name, dead things scratched at the ceilings above his head. Everywhere there was dust, everywhere mould, everywhere death.

Only in his study, where by constant effort he held back the curse with clean fabrics and sparking glassware, did he feel at peace. There he studied the many books he had collected in his youthful, happy years at the university. There he drank fine brandy, speaking the words aloud as he read them, huddled and warm beneath an embroidered blanket. And for a time, he was indeed safe.

But there is nothing in this world so certain as the fleeting nature of safety. Often, the food the Baron's servants brought to him was rotted through and through. What seemed fine cuts of meat were filled with harsh spores; blue mushroom rooted in the bread, vinegar sloshed within the wine glasses. Often he swore and cursed at them, and always they claimed that the food had been wholesome when it left the kitchens. The fear in their faces was as painful to the Baron as any injury, and he did not dare meet their gazes. And at night, as he huddled in his fine armchair by the dying embers of the fire, the darkness beyond the heavy-shuttered window clamoured for an invitation in.

It is sometimes said that creatures of evil may not enter a house without the permission of the occupant. There is some truth in this, for the very worst of evils are those we take into our hearts willingly. So it was that the Baron heard at first the faintest of scratchings at the window, as if a tree branch rattled there. Yet gradually the scratching changed its character, becoming slower and more deliberate. To the Baron's fevered mind, long tormented, it began to sound like knocking.

So it proceeded throughout the night. On the next evening, it began anew. This time, the Baron could not contain himself. "Who is there?" he asked, his voice struggling with the words. At once, the answer came back, in the sweet voice of a young woman.

"Pardon me, sir, for your window was the only light I could see in this blackness. My horse has lamed itself, and I am quite lost. Please, would you grant me shelter for the night?"

At first, the voice seemed so innocent that the Baron laughed at his own foolishness. But as he set his hand upon the window and made ready to cast it open, he heard a faint but certain hiss from the other side, as from a chaldocet[3] ready to pounce. Crying out, he fled the window and crouched in helpless terror behind his chair for the remainder of the night, while the voice beyond the window by turns pleaded and mocked at him.

On the next night he was visited again, this time by the voice of a child. "Please sir," it said, "won't you help me? My brother is badly hurt and I have nowhere else to go. Won't you let me in?"

The Baron sat solidly in his padded chair, determinedly reading as though he heard nothing at all. Yet the words spidered and warped upon the pages, and each syllable that came through the window danced icy waltzes down his back.

Thus it continued, and for many days. Then at last, as the Baron had come to believe he could withstand any new torture, there came a voice quite unlike the others. It was a voice he had not heard in a decade, that he nevertheless knew better than his own.

"My dear son," it said, "I am so proud of you. You have withstood the assault of these unearthly horrors far better than I could. Open the window, and let me look upon you once more."

The Baron gave up a scream from the very deepest chasms of his heart, and, seizing a silver[4] candlestick, tore open the window. The face that greeted him - a face of nightmare angles, lit by corpse-flame eyes - did not dismay him. He cast himself out into the night, with his father's name like a battlecry on his lips.

His body was found, cold and still, amongst the rose bushes the following morning.




[1] I feel I must acknowledge that a more lurid version of this tale has recently been published by Ruprecht's of Averheim, as part of a collection of so called 'Unberogenic Romance.' Not only is this form of writing a frivolous and unscholarly one, but it seems also quite shameless in its pillaging of our great Imperial heritage. I also wish to make it clear that I recorded my version of the story first, long before that robber Efirkarsp vomited forth his own ghastly assemblage of words.

[2] Pejorative term for Emperor Mandred of Middenhiem, reigned 1124-1152.

[3] I have been unable to identify this creature, though the context indicates a predator of some kind.

[4] Superstition affords certain materials power over the unliving. Silver is one of the most popular examples, though some claim meteoric iron more potent still for its association with Holy Sigmar.



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