A Plague of Laughter  A folk tale of Ostland

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A Plague of Laughter

A folk tale of Ostland

Ostland is often thought a backwards place by the self-proclaimed sophisticates of Altdorf and Nuln: a place where the people drink rough liquor, and love gaudy jewellery. Yet Ostland has always been on the front line in the endless wars that plague the north of our most glorious Empire, and those who live in Altdorf and Nuln owe much to the brave people of that land.

If Ostlanders have one quality in abundance, it is the ability to laugh at adversity and despair. This story, I think, is a fine example of this valuable characteristic. -JWG

All this was long ago, yet not to be forgotten[1]. The Winter Queen[2] had her chilly heart fixed on Father Ostland, and she sent her wolves to subdue him. Now, Father Ostland set his bulls against the wolves[3], and indeed a single bull may withstand even a full pack of wolves. But the wolves were many, and cunning. They did not attack the bulls directly, but wore them down through ambush and raid, until at last they could vanquish them: for a sick and weary bull may be brought low by but a handful of lesser creatures.

As soon as Father Ostland was without defenders, the Queen dispatched her own son, the Winter Prince, to rule over him. In came the Prince with great ceremony, riding on his chariot[4], and he took up the throne at Wolfenburg, and put the silver crown on his head. "Now," he declared, "Ostland will surely submit to my will!"

"Sire," said his courtiers, "the children of Father Ostland are a rebellious lot, for they are no true sons of Ulric. You must win them over, so that they will follow you with all their hearts."

And so the Winter Prince called together the learned men of Wolfenburg, some of whom had been languishing in the dungeons since the Prince had taken up his throne, and asked them how the people may be won over.

"Great Prince," said the learned men, "the people must be brought to love you before they will follow you. We will compose for you a title in the old tongue[5] and cause it to be written below likenesses of your mighty face, all across the city. And you yourself should parade through the streets in your chariot, with your name and title emblazoned on banners, and shouted by heralds. In this way, you will endear yourself to the people."

The Prince was greatly pleased by this suggestion, and asked only what the special title was to be.

"In the common language, Majesty, it will run thus: Behold the Winter Prince, ruler of Ostland, whose heart is as mighty as the roaring wind!"

So it was. Images of the Prince were put up around the town, and on the appointed day he rode here and there upon his chariot, an army of heralds surrounding him. Everywhere and by everyone the new phrase was heard, declaring the might of the Winter Prince to the people.

But a strange sickness came upon the people quite suddenly, for everywhere the Prince passed the people began to snort and struggle for breath. Some would turn red in the face, and hold their own noses. Others lost control entirely, collapsing to the floor and convulsing as though in hopeless mirth. The Prince grew very angry, and summoned the learned men to his presence as soon as he had returned to the palace.

"What have you done?" he said to them, "You have made me a figure of ridicule! I shall have you all executed at once!"

"Your Majesty, please listen," entreated the learned men, "for this is none of our doing. This ridicule, as you call it, is not the result of mirth. By no means. No, this laughter is a sort of sickness, a plague that sweeps the city. We will begin at once to look for a cure."

Now the Prince was not so great a fool as to believe what the learned men said, but his vanity was great indeed, and he could not quite believe that he was being laughed at. So he allowed the learned men to go free, and that night enacted a plan of his own to learn the truth.

He disguised himself in the clothing of a common man, and stole away from the palace. Moving about town, he saw everywhere the effects of the so-called plague. For anywhere there was even the smallest group of people, there was helpless, uncontrolled laughter.

The Prince came at last to a tavern, where the sound of laughter was deafening even from the street. Inside was a great host of people, all of them making merry in the most vigorous ways. The Prince listened for a long time, before at last asking that the joke be explained to him.

"You must be a foreigner," said one man, "not to know why we laugh!"

"Indeed, I am a foreigner," said the Prince. "Will you not explain the joke?"

"It’s that little phrase they use to describe the Prince," said another man, "I don’t know what he thinks it says, but the meaning is clear enough to any who know the old tongue."

"What does it mean?" the Prince asked, anxiously.

"Why," said a woman, "it means just this: Look at the Winter Prince, ruler of Ostland, whose cock is as small as a baby carrot!"

Well, the Prince was furious to hear how he had been mocked, and foolish enough to reveal his true identity, though he was without guards. The people in the tavern bundled him up and forced him into a cask of ale, and hammered shut the lid. So the Winter Prince drowned in fine Ostland ale, and soon enough the people became bulls once more, and drove the wolves from their Father's land. And that is why, to this day, you can buy an ale in Wolfenburg that is named Winter's Little Cock.

[1] In many places, there is a traditional formula that is used to begin all folk stories. This line is the one used most often in Ostland, and can be traced back a very great distance in time.

[2] The Otillian Empress of Talabecland, often referred to as the Consort of Ulric and thus the 'Winter Queen.'

[3] I think the symbolism is clear enough to make explanation unnecessary.

[4] Purely a symbolic conveyance, since the chariot has not been a practical weapon of war for twice a thousand years.

[5] The language of the Udoses tribe, to whom Ostland belonged in the time of Holy Sigmar.


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