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Author Topic: Die Schlammländer - the missing bits  (Read 1431 times)

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer - the missing bits
« on: August 25, 2005, 12:06:44 AM »
Erm, this may not be exactly what you’re expecting…

When I was writing the first seven parts of Die Schlammländer I had a whole bunch of ideas that I never fully pursued. I’ve regretted it ever since because the story, to me, has not felt complete without them. My intention was to include these missing bits before anything made it to the hallowed halls of Library-dom, but in that regard I’ve been somewhat pre-empted.

So what’s presented here are those missing sections, which I’ve finished off and polished up a bit. A few are already committed to being in some Part or another and are noted as such, but the others aren’t, at least not yet. However, they are ordered so that the plot follows a reasonable sequence.

If the Mods will let me *Big Cheesy Grin* I’d like to present the expanded parts I to VI - that is, parts I to VI with the following sections put into them - to replace those already in the library. I’m sure we can work out the logistics of this.

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer - the missing bits
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2005, 12:08:15 AM »
—oOo—


{INTO PART I - Townsfolk - Trouble with rats}

The cat struggled down the low stone step into the little kitchen with a huge rat clamped between its jaws. It’s prize, still very much alive, wriggled and squirmed and managed to get loose. The cat watched it for a second and sprung, pinning it with its mouth. It rearranged its grip and straddled its catch, and then stumbled across the polished flags as bow-legged as a saddle-sore pistolier.

Once it had reached the hearth the moggy released its prey and sat down, folding its tail neatly around its legs and casually washing a paw. The terrified rodent, panting in tiny gasps, lay in front of it.

Meow!

“What’s the matter with you?” said Granny Schmidt. She struggled up out of her rocking chair and took hold of her walking stick. She hobbled around the scrubbed table, blinking short-sightedly, and peered down.

“What’s that you’ve got there?”

Meow! The cat had a smug look on its face.

The old woman poked at the rat with her stick. It squeaked loudly and dashed away. She shrieked and jerked backwards, only just keeping her balance.

The cat, all claws and teeth and malign intent, pounced after the creature, snatching it up in its jaws. Horrified, the old lady wobbled after it, waving her stick. The cat, none too keen on receiving a good prodding, disappeared under the table.

Something caught her attention on the narrow windowsill. The rat!

“How did you get up there?”

She looked reproachfully towards the cat’s hiding place and smacked her gums. “Some mouser you are, if you let it go again.”

She propped her walking stick against the table, shuffled over to the corner by the hearth, and took a hold of her broom. She turned carefully and squinted at the little brown beast, which was sitting on its hind legs and preening its whiskers.

“Shoo!”

Granny Schmidt swung the brush at the creature and it leaped away, landing with a plop on the floor. She shrieked again as it darted towards her and scurried over her shoe. She flailed wildly with the broom, stumbled, and fell heavily against the dresser. Crockery tumbled and smashed on the stony ground.

The cat dispatched its catch with a flick of its head, breaking the little creature’s neck, then raced off in pursuit of the new target.

Another of the little monstrosities appeared, scrabbling towards the open door into the main room. Granny Schmidt cried out again and hopped about frantically as it scampered past her, treading heavily on one of the broken plates. Her foot skidded away and she fell to the ground, dropping her stick.

More and more of the rats were appearing, boiling out of the cracks in the walls.

The cat, seriously outnumbered, leaped onto the table, bounded across it and jumped onto the dresser’s counter. It came face to face with another of the huge rodents, thought better about a confrontation, and sprang up onto the top of the heavy sideboard. And there it sat, licking its lips nervously, its tail puffed and flicking.

She tried to get up but her legs refused to work. She moaned weakly, flailing her arms in front of her face as the verminous swarm engulfed her. Suddenly she tensed. Her eyes bulged and her tongue lolled, and a series of convulsions racked her spindly frame.

Mrs Lieber, Granny Schmidt’s next-door-neighbour, rushed from her house out onto the mist-shrouded track that led off of the Feldweg. She peered to the left and right but there was no one else in sight. Even the old woman’s cottage was an indistinct grey shadow in the murk.

Another crash rang out.

Heide, her little daughter, trotted to the door behind her. “Mama, what’s happening?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. Come along now.”

She took hold of the girl’s hand and walked carefully along to the house. She tried the latch, but the door was bolted from the inside.

“Hello, Agi?” She hammered on the wood with her fist. There was no reply.

She knelt beside the little girl. “Heide, I need you to run to the square and find some men. Bring them back here as fast as you can, you understand?” The child nodded and dashed off as fast as her little legs could carry her.

“Hurry now”, called her mother after her, then turned back to the house, beating on the door again. “Agi!”

Very shortly afterwards the girl returned with three watchmen, who she had chanced across a little way down the road. Mrs Lieber, keen to be of assistance, quickly related all that she had heard. The watchmen nodded and their senior man drew his pistol.

“Right-ho,” he said, “stand back please.” He cocked the weapon, then squared himself up and charged the door. It burst inward and he stumbled through, only remaining on his feet because he collided with the heavy kitchen table.

“Oh, Gods…”

The place was alive with rats. The verminous creatures streamed through the ruined doorframe, spilling out onto the lane in a wave of brown fur. Everyone hopped and shouted as they surged past, Mrs Lieber snatching up her shrieking child before it could come to any harm. Within moments the mass had disappeared, with only one or two stragglers visible. Soon even these had vanished.

The other two watchmen cautiously entered and joined their companion, who was leaning over the body of the old lady. She was covered in bites and scratches, quite dead.

Meow!

The watchmen near jumped out of their skin. It was the cat, still sat atop the dresser and watching them nervously.


—oOo—


{INTO PART I - Townsfolk - Nefarious activities}

KER-RASH! The door splintered under the weight of the militiaman’s shoulder and the noise echoed through the mist.

The squad charged into Willi Schwarz’s shutter-darkened cottage, closely followed by Brother Hans. Willi was sprawled face down on his squalid bed, still fully clothed except for one shoe, and smelled as though he had soiled himself. A half-empty bottle made of dark glass lay beside him.

The noise of the trooper’s entry had just filtered through to Willi’s addled brain, but he was finding it impossible to react.

One of the militia took a firm hold of the scruff of his neck and hauled him to his feet. He sagged and retched slightly, disorientated by the sudden movement, but he found his feet. He looked distinctly green and the early morning light filtering through the broken doorway made him squint.

“Don’t mind if we take a look around, do you?” asked Brother Hans.

“Ugh…” was the most comprehensive answer he could manage. He wobbled and steadied himself against a wall, fighting a wave of nausea.

The militiamen started opening the cupboards and rummaging around in the linen chest. One of them turned over the bed, revealing a sack that proved to contain no less than nine bottles, all filled with liquid.

“What have we got here then?” said Brother Hans, in a mock-surprised tone of voice. “You’ll coming with us.”

One of the troopers picked up the sack and he and his burly companions escorted Willi into the street. Brother Hans had one final check around, pulled the remains of the door closed, and joined them. A number of Willi’s neighbours had appeared at their windows, watching the early morning spectacle.

Willi suddenly doubled over and vomited, issuing a gush of filthy liquid. He coughed and spat, retched again, and wiped his face on his sleeve. “You done?” asked the trooper with the sack. Willi nodded and wobbled unsteadily to his feet.

They marched him to the square, to the horse trough outside the stables at the back of Die Silbermünze. When they reached it two of the militiamen picked Willi up and dunked him into the water.

He gasped and thrashed and came up for air but Brother Hans submerged him again. He surfaced once more and the soldiers lifted him out. He coughed and spluttered, streaming water and shivering violently from the cold.

Brother Hans sniffed him. “That’s better.”

They continued on to the chapel, entering through the side door that led into the vestry. Brother Franz was busy with his ablutions, stripped to the waist and shaving his head. His muscular frame was dark with hair and the skin on his back was laced with old scars. Brother Otto stood nearby, a towel draped over his arm and holding a mirror.

The Priest turned and stared darkly at the cowed and bedraggled figure in front of him. Brother Hans took the sack and nodded to the militiamen, who saluted him and left. He closed the door behind them.

“He had ten bottles,” said Brother Hans, “though he had drunk almost half of one of them. We found them under his bed. Looks like Marienberg geniver.”

The Priest shook his head. “Ten bottles of geniver. That’s a lot for someone of your position!” He waved his razor dangerously. “And where did you decide to hide them? Under your bed! The first place anyone would look!”

“I’m sorry…”

“Tell me,” Interrupted Brother Franz, “where did you get them?” Brother Otto handed the Priest the towel and he dabbed at his scalp and temples.

“Er, off of one of the sailors on that boat about two weeks back,” answered Willi, “when we was bringing in that load of cloth. Real bargain. Traded ‘em for my old pistol and a couple of blades.”

“You got them when you were in my employ?”

Willi nodded miserably.

“I will not have it,” growled the Priest. “Nothing comes through without me knowing about it. Would you like to know why?

Willi nodded again.

“Its because you aren’t smart enough to keep your mouth shut or cover your tracks, that’s why. How do you think we discovered what you were doing? Then, before you know it, there’s revenue officers all over, they ask you lots of difficult questions, it leads back to me, and then life gets harder for everyone.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Sorry, Mr Schwarz, is not going to be enough.”

Brother Hans picked up one of the bottles and eased the cork out with the dip of his dagger. He smelt the neck and recoiled. “Is this what you’ve been drinking?”

Willi nodded.

Brother Hans replaced the cork. “It’s a miracle you haven’t gone blind. This isn’t geniver, it’s rot-gut of the worst kind.”

The Priest looked across to Brother Hans. “Take him outside and teach him a lesson.”


—oOo—


{INTO PART II - Townsfolk - Trouble with rats}

Despite the isolated nature of communities along the northern coast news travelled with surprising speed, oft carried by the hunters and watermen who worked the marshes and fens. Word of Granny Schmidt’s unusual death had reached her granddaughter, Berdina Breitermann, who resided in Trockener, the same day as it had occurred. By that evening she and her husband had made the trip to Schlammigerdorf to see to the arrangements.

They were taken in at once by Mrs Starkleiter. She sat them down in her wood-panelled drawing room and once they were replete with warm cordials and cold meat she told them the circumstances of the old woman’s passing. Berdina blanched.

Mrs Starkleiter was able to tell them that preparations were already underway. Before his own untimely death Granny Schmidt’s husband had seen to it that certain monies had been deposited to pay for the expenses of funerals for both himself and his wife, the cash being left in trust with the Church. And morbid though it was the chapel kept a supply of coffins, storing them in the attic of one of the barns they owned. An appropriate casket had already been chosen.

The next morning the chapel bell tolled, it’s slow peal echoing across the mist-shrouded fields and meadows.

Brother Franz and Brother Otto, dressed in all their ceremonial finery, met and greeted people at the door. Presently the entire congregation was gathered.

The signal was given and the pallbearers made their appearance. Brother Franz walked at their head, bearing before him the ceremonial hammer, and following him was Brother Otto, carrying a single lit candle. Behind them were the pallbearers, four stout militiamen who bore on their shoulders the linen-covered coffin. Finally came Berdina and her husband.

As the cortege passed through the doors and moved towards the altar the assembled congregation sang a solemn hymn. The coffin was laid on the ground, feet facing towards the altar, and the candle was placed at the head.

Brother Franz spent a few moments in contemplation, his eyes closed and his head bowed, and then he began. “Sigmar makes us a promise,” he said. “‘Because I live, so shall you live too’…”

And so began the liturgy of the Burial of the Dead.

The Priest, an eloquent orator, spoke with clarity and power, telling of the balance between life and death, and urging the bereaved to accept their loss and from it to take hope in the promise of the life still to come. Another hymn was sung, and prayers and blessings were offered.

Next he summed up the life of Agathe, telling of her good deeds, remembering her husband, a fine soldier, and her three children, all of whom she had outlived. Finally he turned to Berdina, her granddaughter, and encouraged the community to support and aid her as she returned to the duties of her life.

A further blessing was said, and Brother Franz concluded with a prayer, raising his arms and looking towards the heavens.

“And now our dear sister dwells at the great hall of Sigmar Heldenhammer. Within, death is destroyed, disgrace is removed, and joy is unending. There will be prepared a rich banquet for all peoples, of aged wine and the best of meats and the whitest of bread. There will be soft fleeces on which to lie, the company of all of those who are dear to us, and nought to pursue but that which is our heart’s true desire. This our Lord hath spoken and told us, and in Him we trust. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation. Amen.”

The congregation filed slowly out of the church, leaving behind only the priests and the pallbearers. Overhead the bell tolled mournfully.

The plot where her husband and two sons were buried lay close to the wall in the little square of consecrated ground behind the chapel. The sexton had opened the grave, the grass and brambles had been trimmed back, and the aged board that marked its position had been replaced with a new marker that now included Granny’s name.

The mourners had gathered by the graveside, among them Mrs Starkleiter and Mother Kessel. All were dressed in their best church clothes.

The cortege, led by Brother Franz, made its way out of the chapel and into the graveyard. The bearers lowered the coffin to the ground, resting it across a long pair of leather straps, then lowered their heads respectfully. The congregation, as is the custom, stood for a few moments in silent contemplation.

Everyone gradually became aware of noises – little scratches and scrapes that were difficult to pinpoint.

“Down there!” One of the militiamen was pointing into the grave.

A large clod of damp clay fell from about halfway up the wall of the excavation, and a whiskered nose protruded from the hole. A huge rat, apparently quite unaware of its audience, squeezed through the gap and dropped down onto the floor of the grave.

It suddenly caught a scent of the people around it and scuttled about, trying to find an escape. Berdina shrieked in horror.

“They killed her, the filthy little beasts,” she sobbed. “Will they not now let her rest in peace?”

Hobard Schaufell, the sexton, who had been standing a respectful distance away, dashed forward. He leaped into the hole and brought down his shovel with a solid thud, cutting short a squeak as the wretched creature darted hither and thither to escape. He picked the little corpse up by the tail and clambered out again, dangling his prize before him, and hurried away to dispose of it.

Berdina’s husband, a strapping fisherman with a full beard, put his arm around her and pulled her to his chest while she wept. A slow, steady rain had started.

Brother Franz cleared his throat and indicated to the militiamen. They each took a hold of one end of a strap, and together they gently raised the casket and lowered it down into the hole. When they were done the straps were pulled out and they stepped back.

“In the sure and certain hope of our eternal place amongst the honoured dead who sit in the great hall of Sigmar Heldenhammer, I commend to the protection of Our Lord our sister Agathe Berit Schmidt, nee Fische. And so we commit her empty body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust;…”

Each of the mourners threw a handful of damp soil down onto the coffin.

“… Sigmar watch her and keep her and grant her rest and peace. Amen.”

“Amen” echoed the congregation.


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - Townsfolk - Local colour}

Otylia Tischler shook her husband’s shoulder until he woke up.

“What is it?” he grumbled groggily, peering around the dark room.

She drew breath sharply and cradled her swollen belly. “I think the baby’s coming.”

Rald was out of bed in an instant, grabbing his breeches and trying to pull them on. He tripped over the chamber pot and stubbed his toe on the leg of the bed. “Dammit” he mumbled.

Otylia found a strikelight and used it to light a candle.

Rald had managed to dress himself and was struggling with his shoes. “I’m going to fetch Mrs Heuscher from next door,” he gasped. “Will you be alright without me?”

His wife smiled and nodded, then winced as a contraction took her.

Rald made for the door, turned, and hurried back to the bed. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly, then made his way into the little kitchen. There was a crash and a muttered curse as he collided with another unseen obstacle.

Within a few minutes he had come back. Mrs Heuscher followed him into the bedroom.

“There, there, dear,” she said comfortingly. “I’ve sent my daughter to fetch Mrs Libehilfe. She’ll be here shortly.”

Otylia nodded, then screwed up her face and grunted as another contraction racked her body. She had Rald’s hand in her own and near crushed it.

There was a brisk rap on the front door. Rald extracted his aching paw and headed to greet the guests, leaving his wife in his neighbour’s care.

It was Mrs Heuscher’s daughter, newly returned with Mrs Libehilfe, the midwife. She was a grave and modest woman, dressed in a plain brown dress, a clean white apron, and a prim bonnet. In her left hand she carried a basket with a cloth cover, and in her right was a small hatchet.

Rald invited her in. “What’s that for?” he asked, pointing to the cleaver.

“It is to be placed under her bed, to cut the pain and length of the labour,” replied Mrs Libehilfe. Superstition, she new, but it made the women that she helped feel better, and that was a good thing. She set her basket on the table and began to remove the contents. It held the various implements that might be needed, and bottled tinctures and jars of unctions of her own devising.

Ralf turned to head back into the bedroom but Mrs Libehilfe shooed him away. “The birthing bed is no place for a man,” she said curtly. “You can light the fire and set the kettle and the pots to boil. And when you’ve done that go and fetch all of the clean linen that you have. And make sure there is enough cut wood to keep the fire going.”

And that was what he did. Once the fire was blazing and the water was hot there was little to occupy him except pacing up and down. Occasionally his wife cried out, and when she did it was all he could do to stop himself entering the bedroom. Common sense won through, though; she was in the best care, and besides, what could he do anyway? Eventually Mrs Heuscher emerged with her sleeves rolled up and collected one of the pots of hot water.

“How is she?” Rald asked anxiously.

“Her confinement is almost done”

“When may I see her?”

The midwife appeared at the door. “Go and attend to your duties with the militia, or something like that,” she ordered. “You will be sent for when you are needed.”

Rald had no choice but to wait. Better in company, he thought to himself. He donned his heavy cape and with a last long glance at the bedroom door he headed off.

He found himself at the watchtower on the Nordküstestraße, where a few militiamen were standing sentry-go, warming themselves at a metal brazier. He told them what was happening and they were immediately forthcoming with that unique blend of crudity and sympathy at which soldiers excel. A big jug of spirit was produced and passed round “to wet the baby’s head”. Rald gratefully accepted.

And so the hours passed. Just before first light Brother Hans made his appearance and the corporal of the watch gave his report.

“And what are you doing here, Mr Tischler?” enquired the Priest.

Rald, tired and worried and just a little drunk, told of his imminent fatherhood. Brother Hans at once performed a blessing, but when he was asked to undertake the same service for the mother and child he declined.

“It is not proper for me to do so until the child is safely delivered and has lived for one full day,” he said gravely. “Besides, Mrs Libehilfe will carry out all of those ceremonies and rituals proper for Shallya, which are required during childbirth. And she’ll be with you for a few days yet.”

“How so?” asked Rald.

“Do you think poor Otylia will be recovered enough to do all of her chores? It is normal for the midwife to remain in the household for a few days to allow the mother to gain back her strength, you know.”

A few of the older militiamen grinned. They had children of their own and knew what Rald could expect.

“She’s a stern one is old Hedwig,” ventured one of the troopers. “You’re going to have to make sure your boots are clean and your neck is washed, that’s for sure!”

“And for the sake of Sigmar don’t call her Hedwig,” chimed in another, “or your first child will most definitely be your last!”

And just at that moment Mrs Heuscher’s daughter appeared. “Please Mr Tischler, Sir,” she panted, “but Mrs Libehilfe says that you are to return now.”

Brother Hans slapped Rald on the back and shook him firmly by the hand. “It is time to find out what your good wife has produced,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. The young man cast him a panicked stare and rushed off down the road.

He came to a halt outside of his house. From within came a choked squawking, the unmistakable wailing of an infant who has just found what its lungs are for. With his heart pounding he pushed open the door and peered anxiously into the kitchen. Mrs Libehilfe was there, preparing to do some washing.

She glanced up at him and smiled. “Congratulations,” she said, “you have a beautiful baby son. Both mother and child are doing well. You can go and see them now.”


—oOo—


{START - INSERT INTO TOWN MEETING}

“But what about old Granny Schmidt? Did these rat-men kill her?” called out someone from the crowd. There was a burst of chatter as opinions were exchanged.

Hedwig Libehilfe stood up and looked around her. Gradually the room quieted.

“I have examined the body,” announced the midwife. “What killed Mrs Schmidt, may the Gods grant her rest, was a seizure of the brain. It was not the rats themselves, at least not directly.”

“You’re sure of this?” asked Mr Starkleiter.

“It is beyond a doubt. As I said, I examined the body myself; all of the signs were there.” She paused for a moment, considering her words carefully. “But she might very well have been alive today had those creatures not terrorised her so.”

She sat down.

Brother Franz took the floor again. “It is clear,” he said in his deep voice, “that Mrs Schmidt was plagued by an unnatural number of vermin. The militia who broke down her door also reported seeing someone lurking nearby. We don’t yet know who it was…”

The room exploded into a cacophony of argument and accusation and suspicion. Mr Starkleiter beat his gavel on the table but to no avail.

“PEOPLE, PLEASE!” Brother Franz’s shout was loud even above the din, and order quickly returned. “Thankyou.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mr Starkleiter, clearing his throat. “Terrible and tragic though all of this is, we really should move on to other business.”

{END - INSERT INTO TOWN MEETING}


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - Sailors - Mysterious Stranger - Before the State soldiers arrive}

A dense, soaking mist had settled, shrouding the Bösewicht in an ethereal blanket of white.

Ernst paced back and forth across the quarterdeck. Old Sepp was on the waist, close to the door into the forecastle cabin, playing with his knife. Captain Fuchs and the rest of the crew were off surveying along the river.

“I reckon they’ll be back soon. The Captain won’t get much done when it’s like this.”

Sepp shrugged by way of a reply, sniffed, and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his doublet.

“I mean, how much can they see? Tens of yards?”

He strolled over to the larboard rail and leaned on it, looking out across the still water. From somewhere overhead a gull cried and a breath of damp wind played across him. He shivered, huddling deeper into his thick cloak.

The mists thinned a little, and for a moment he was able to see all the way across to the reed-studded mudflats. Something on the foreshore caught his eye. He leaned forward a little and squinted at it, but couldn’t make it out.

“Oy, Sepp,” he called, “come take a look at this.”

Sepp wearily pulled himself to his feet and went over to the rail at the waist. “What?”

“Over there,” said the cook, pointing towards the distant, indistinct shapes at the margin of the water. “I reckon it’s a person.”

“I can’t see nothing.”

Ernst clambered down the companion ladder and trotted through the wardroom to the Captain’s cabin. He retrieved the spare perspective glass from its rack on the bulkhead wall and rejoined Sepp out on the deck. He extended the glass, then scanned the shore until he could make out the shapes.

It was a figure, swathed from head to toe in grubby brown rags, sitting hunched close to a little outcrop of hardy grass.

“My turn now.”

The two sailors squabbled for the glass. Sepp grabbed it out of the cook’s hands and trained it on the shore.

“Oh yeah!” He watched for a few moments longer. “I wonder what he’s doing?”

He caught a flicker of movement. The shabby individual had been joined by two skinny figures. They were hard to make out, even with the instrument. Suddenly Sepp lowered the glass. He looked at Ernst with an astonished stare, then raised it again.

“Gods, but they’re nasty-looking,” he mumbled.

“Let me see!”

Ernst wrestled the glass from his companion and adjusted the length so that he could see.  The two new arrivals were rat-men, very like the pair that had come aboard the ship. And as he watched, the ragged figure handed something to one of the creatures.

A bank of mist rolled in, carried on a rain-laden zephyr. It obscured everything.

Ernst lowered the glass. “I can’t see a thing now. What should we do?”

Sepp rubbed his chin in thought. “Nothing, keep watching I suppose. What else can we do?”

“We could give the alert. Do you think we should?”

“No, we’re not under attack.” Sepp settled himself back into his spot by the forecastle cabin door and rearranged his cloak. “We’ll make a report when the Captain returns.”

Ernst grunted and raised the telescope to his eye again, scanning the pallid brume. There was nothing to see.


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - Sailors - Mysterious Stranger - Before the State Soldiers arrive}

Despite the ungodly hour and the bone-chilling damp the square was filled with stands and stalls, and people from all walks of life were there buying the victuals and supplies they needed to see them through the next couple of days. The air rang with the calls of the retailers and the raucous squawking of gulls.

“Mackerel, get ‘em while they’re fresh!”

“Winkles by the pint!”

Buyers lingered over trestles laden with provisions, they queued for steaming bowls of soup vended by greasy-faced sutlers, and they perused a fine range of cloths and fabrics housed in a gaudy pavilion watched by a skeletally thin trader. The fishwives offered fresh hake and cod and herring, other more mysterious denizens of the deep, shellfish both big and small, and smoked fish, dark and aromatic.

“Lovely carrots, only a pfennig a pound!”

Suppliers of leather goods hung fine examples of boots and belts and pouches to attract custom, and cobblers, lips gripping spiked hobnails, repaired shoes. Goats bleated and geese honked from within hurdle pens. Tinkers and peddlers of trinkets vied to out-shout one another, and children stared in fascination as bright sparks flew from the knife-grinder’s wheel.

“Honey! Fresh from the hives! Only a few pots left!”

The party from the Bösewicht stood on the quayside.

“They’ve been there since first light,” said Captain Fuchs, peering at the market-goers and huddling into his coat. “If we don’t hurry there won’t be anything left that’s worth having.” He reached into his pocket, produced a purse full of coins, and handed it to Lukas.

“Ernst knows what we need,” he said to the young man. “You and Max go with him. Use the money to pay for the purchases, and when you have all that is needed load them into the boat and ferry them back to the Bösewicht. When that is done return to the shore and wait for me. I have duties that I must be about this morning.”

The Captain strode off, heading for Die Silbermünze, and the cook made a beeline for the line of stalls where the Farmer’s wives were selling their produce.

Some vended ripe wheels of goats-milk cheese and eggs of varying sizes and colours, others sides of bacon, cured hams, and long strings of sausages. Still others sold sacks of cereal, fruit preserves and pickles, root vegetables and leafy greens, and all manner of other foodstuffs. Soon Max’s arms were considerably fuller and Fuchs’ purse somewhat lighter.

“What next?” asked Lukas.

“Well, I was considering getting some new rush matting in for the Captain’s cabin,” said Ernst, rubbing his chin. “The stuff that he’s got down in there is getting pretty ropy.”

The little group headed off, Lukas pacing ahead and Max, laden like a packhorse, trailing behind. The boy had spotted an elderly woman selling baskets woven from dried reeds.

“Look!” The cook had stopped and was pointing to a figure on the other side of the square. “It’s the person what me and Sepp saw talking to the rat-creature!”

Lukas squinted towards where Ernst was indicating. “Who?”

“There! The one in brown rags!”

The figure Ernst had pointed out was squatting down on his haunches, his back against the wall of one of the warehouses on the far side of the square. He wore a heavy cloak with a hood that completely covered his head.

Lukas sucked his teeth. “That’s just some beggar.”

“Since I’ve been in this place I ain’t seen a single vagrant of any kind. I’m telling you, that’s the person who was talking to the rat-thing.”

“Well then, lets go and find out,” said Lukas. “Max, you take all that stuff to the boat and wait for us there. We won’t be more than a few minutes.”

The big sailor nodded and stomped off towards the quayside. Ernst and Lukas continued among the stalls, pausing every now and again to inspect the wares that were being offered. Soon they had worked their way near to their quarry.

The beggar, or whatever he was, seemed to have noticed their approach. He got to his feet, though he stayed against the wall. Lukas, in an effort to remain unseen, busied himself at a table laden with sacks of goose down, but Ernst stared right at the stranger. The cabin boy fussed the ruddy-cheeked cook’s attention onto the feathers in an effort not to give away their advance.

But it was too late. The beggar turned and shuffled off towards the Nordküstestraße. Lukas broke into a run and sprinted across the square, dodging in and out of the people about their business in the market. Ernst set off after him.

Wallop! Lukas ran headlong into a watchman, sending him flying onto his backside. The boy bounced off of the fellow, skidded on the slick cobbles and almost fell, but somehow he found his balance and dashed off again.

“Oy, you rascal, come back ‘ere!” yelled the soldier, shaking his fist indignantly. Ernst, wheezing heavily, came to a halt beside the sprawling man. He offered his hand and dragged the fellow to his feet, and then the pair of them trotted off after the lad.

The beggar dived into an alley between two of the warehouse buildings and Lukas, in hot pursuit, followed. He slithered to a halt and gasped in astonishment; it was a dead end, and it was empty. He looked around to try and see where the man had gone.

A few moments later the watchman shambled into the passageway and clapped his hand onto Lukas’s shoulder. Ernst was right behind and puffing fit to collapse.

“Got you, you young scallywag! You’re coming with me!”

Lukas was staring upwards and pointing and the soldier’s gaze followed his finger. He looked up just in time to see a figure in filthy brown rags disappearing over a wall, some three yards above their heads. Behind it thrashed a sinuous and hairless tail.

“Well, I’ll be…” he mumbled, and released his grip on the boy.


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - Townsfolk - Trouble with rats - Following the State soldier’s arrival}

Now that Granny’s cottage was vacant the tenancy reverted back to the Church. Soon after the burial her granddaughter had hired a cart, and the militia had helped load the old lady’s meagre possessions onto it. After thanking her hosts for their kindness she and her husband departed back to Trockener.

Johann Jaeger and his wife had expressed an interest in taking the place on, the young couple putting on brave faces with regard to the previous tenant’s demise - there was no saying when they’d have the chance of their own house again. “We’ve imposed on my parents for long enough,” he declared, “and we have to make our own way in the world, no matter what the dangers.”

Brother Otto, who administered such things, announced that the property would be theirs, upon receipt of a deposit in addition to the first quarter’s rent. Johann had been working hard and saving his earnings; his income was not great, however, and he was only just able to make the payment.

When he enquired about the possibility of having the problem of the rats looked into, he was told that such a service would him cost extra. He had no money left to cover such an expense.

When Mrs Starkleiter found out about the arrangement she wasn’t at all happy. She stormed off to the chapel and entered like a thundercloud, sending the gruff militiamen who were assembled there scurrying away like frightened children. Once she was alone with Brother Franz she told him exactly what she thought of the church’s attitude towards those who were supposedly under its care.

Once he had established the cause of her fury Brother Franz retreated to the defence of church doctrine, but Mrs Starkleiter tore a very large strip off of those who would carry out such faceless bureaucracy. She insisted that the cottage should go to the new tenants in a habitable condition, and as the building was part of the church’s property, it fell to the church to ensure that the place was in a decent state of repair.

And so it was that Hobard Schaufell, the sexton, came to be preparing to lift the stones below the kitchen floor, and all at the church’s expense. With him he had young Sigfrid Ausmann, his assistant, along with Trude, a little terrier with a reputation as a ratter.

“Right then, Sigfrid, when I get this bar under that slab I’ll lift it, and you push in that bit of wood to hold it up. Understand?”

The lad nodded and took hold of the indicated timber.

Hobard slid the flattened end of the bar between two of the stones and got the feel of the balance. He braced himself and put his weight behind it, and the edge of the polished slab lifted. The gap he had created was just enough for Sigfrid to wedge in the beam.

Good lad!” said Hobard, red faced from his exertions. “Now, ready…”

The pair of them got their fingers under the edge of the flagstone and together they pulled it upright. Below it was a tunnel, roughly the diameter of a man’s leg. It appeared to run from the front door towards the back wall. Trude got her nose in and began whining, then set off sniffing all around the kitchen.

They followed the run, raising another stone, and then another, until they had uncovered a complex network of passages. A few led into cracks in the walls, evidently the routes that the little horrors had used to enter the kitchen, while others led into the garden.

The pair made their way out to the little vegetable plot, their breath misting in the dank  air. Trude followed them, sniffing around the door and along the bottom of the wall. She continued along the fence, heading for a huge compost heap at end of the garden. It was steaming slightly in the chill.

“You found a scent, girl? Sigfrid, be a good lad and go and fetch some shovels.”

The little dog set to digging, excavating a spray of rotting vegetation that filled the air with the pungent, earthy smell of humus. Almost at once she came down onto a tunnel and began sniffing and growling. She began digging again with almost frantic haste.

A rat suddenly broke from cover and galloped along beside the rickety fence that marked the end of the garden. Trude bounded after it and snatched it up in her jaws, biting and shaking the little beast to death. She dropped the carcass and trotted proudly back to the compost heap.

“Good lass,” mumbled Hobard.

Sigfrid returned with the shovels and handed one of them to the older man. They began to excavate down through the decaying layers while Trude stood with her tongue out, watching intensely. Soon they hit a tunnel and another rat, a huge brown monster of a creature, dashed out and away. Trude was after it in an instant.

The men watched her for a moment then returned to their work. Soon they came down onto a hollow, lined with fur and feathers and full of fragments of dirt and debris. A whole swarm of rats issued forth, and for a few frantic moments Hobard and Sigfrid laid about them with their shovels while Trude dashed joyfully around, thrashing her kills from side to side.

Panting, the two men looked about them then exchanged glances. Something was still moving inside of the hollow.

“What is that?”

It was a bizarre thing, no less than eight albino rats whose tails had somehow become knotted together. Each of the rats was roughly the same size, and all hissed and gaped evilly at their discoverers.

“I dunno,” said Hobard. “See if you can lay your hands on a bucket, would you?”

Sigfrid found one and put it on the ground. The pair took hold of their shovels, Hobard lying his flat next to the monstrosity while Sigfrid used his to slide the thing onto it. When it was aboard Hobard picked it up and gently slid it into the pail. It squirmed and wriggled appallingly. He covered the bucket over with a bit of sacking.

“Right, we’re getting this off to the Priest. Lock this place up and then join me at the chapel.” He departed, the bucket in one hand and his shovel in the other, just in case the monster tried anything.

He trotted through the square, glancing at the drilling militiamen and soldiers, then made his way along the Südlichestraße towards the chapel. Brother Franz was standing in the doorway talking with Captain Langer, and, unusually, Doctor Ungerade was there too. The sexton made his way towards the group, waiting respectfully a little way off.

Soon enough the soldier departed, and when he did so Hobard coughed to get the Priest’s attention. “Excuse me, Sir, but I think you ought to take a look at this.”

“Inside, if you please,” said Brother Franz brusquely, glancing at the bucket. “We don’t need everyone knowing the church’s business.”

The sexton followed him into the narthex, gently put the pail on the ground, and lifted back the sacking. The Priest frowned darkly at what he saw. “Doctor, maybe you should see too.”

“Now, what have we got in here?” The Doctor peered into the bucket and his eyes lit up. “A rat-king! Oh, to see such a thing! I have only ever read of them, and even then only in the worst kind of broadsheet!”

“How did you come by it?” asked the Priest of Hobart. The sexton quickly related the details of its discovery in Granny Schmidt’s garden.

“It is clearly a thing of Chaos,” growled Brother Franz. “It has been warped and corrupted by those dark forces. Why, its very shape mimics the eight-pointed symbol of Chaos.”

“That is not necessarily so, my dear fellow,” chimed in the Doctor. “Remember, that symbol is most closely associated with magic, be it good or evil.”

“So it is, Doctor,” rumbled the Priest. “So it is.” He looked across to Hobard. “Thankyou, Mr Schaufell. You may be about your duties.”

The sexton touched his cap deferentially and stepped through the doors. He very near collided with Sigfrid, who was just entering. The older man fussed his associate away.

Doctor Ungerade had squatted down and was peering at the creature. “I would very much like to add such a curiosity to my collection,” he said, “if you were agreeable to such a thing. I wish to study it to determine how these creatures came to be joined.”

Brother Franz pondered for a few moments.

“I will pay the church for the expense,” ventured the Doctor.

“How much?”

“Ten silver schillings?”

“Done!” said Brother Franz. “Take it away at once.”


—oOo—

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer - the missing bits
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2005, 12:21:28 AM »
—oOo—


{INTO PART III - Sailors - Local colour}

The grey and dreary afternoon had slipped into a dark and dismal evening, the algid fogs rising and bearing within them a fine, saturating drizzle. The damp seemed to seep through every layer of clothing, numbing fingers and toes and noses and chilling right through to the marrow.

The forecastle cabin was warm and cosy, though, heavy with a comforting smell of food that quite effectively masked the underlying odours of sweat, mildew, and bilge water. A single lantern, hung near the waist hatchway, cast a soft yellow light that filled the little chamber with dancing shadows. Other than the clatter of pans and the occasional burst of flatulence the only sounds to be heard were the slapping of wavelets against the hull and the gentle creaking of timbers.

Josef and Hermann had gone out on watch, set to their duties by the mate. Ernst was busy clearing away after dinner and Max was assisting him, sopping the last of the gravy from one of the pots with chunks of bread and stuffing them into his mouth. Sepp and Anton and Lukas lounged on their bedding, sipping from their cups and contemplating nothing in particular.

Jürgen stomped in and closed the door behind him, pulling off his cloak and hanging it from a nail protruding from a timber. He accepted a cup of ale and produced a flask of spirits from within the folds of his jerkin, pouring a little of the liquor into his drink. He took a sip, sighed, and eased himself down onto a low stool, settling his back against the bulkhead wall and stretching his legs in front of him.

He eyed the men around him. “Quiet tonight, aren’t we?” he said.

Sepp grunted in a non-committal way. It was the only reply he got.

He pressed on regardless. “Did I ever tell the about when I was on my last ship, under old Captain Weissmann?”

“We’ve heard the odd story or two,” mumbled Anton.

“The Kleiner Spatz, she was called,” said Jürgen. “Well, the Captain and me were up on the quarterdeck when this shout comes from the masthead. ‘Sail ho, fine on the starboard quarter!’ So we rushed over to take a look, and what we saw made our blood run cold, I can tell you!”

“What was it?” said Lukas, all attention.

“A black sail, shaped like a claw, on a dark hull, sleek and long and with spiky bits sticking out, that cut through the water like a knife. Crewed by tall and slender figures with long white hair and skins as black as the night. A Druchii corsair! And she was closing fast! The old Spatz, she didn’t have the Bösewicht’s legs, y’see.”

“Quick as a flash the Captain had the ship cleared for action and the cannons loaded. While the commotion was going on he took me to one side and said ‘Jürgen, go to my cabin and fetch my red shirt.’ So I did, and when I got back he put it on.”

“Anyway”, he said, staring at his drink, “pretty soon she had shortened range, and in truth we let her. As she was passing along our starboard side we opened the gunports, ran out the guns, gave her a broadside, and then for good measure we peppered her decks with shot. They grappled us and swung across, but with the Captain at our head we drove them off and left their vessel a burning wreck.”

He paused to pick something from his teeth. Everyone was gripped by the tale.

“We sailed away and later that night, when we were passing out the tots of rum, one of the men asked ‘Captain, Sir, why did you wear your red shirt?’ He answered ‘Should I have been hurt in the fight you would not have seen my blood, and you would not have lost heart.’ And the men cheered him and drank a toast to his good thinking.”

“So, the next day, there we was, cruising along at a fair clip when again a shout comes from the masthead. ‘Sail ho, broad on the larboard quarter!’ When we looked this time, there were two more of the black corsairs, bigger and faster than the previous one, and bearing down on us with terrible speed.”

Lukas’s eyes were wide and his mouth hung open.

“Again the Captain had the ship cleared for action and ordered that the cannons be double shotted. And again he took me to one side and said ‘Jürgen, would you be so good as to fetch me my red shirt from my cabin.’ So that’s what I did, and again he put it on.”

Jürgen refilled his cup from the pitcher of beer and swilled the liquid around. He found his flask again and added another shot of liquor.

“Soon the black ships were coming alongside of us, one to larboard and one to starboard, and so close that we could see the whites of the crew’s eyes. We opened the gunports on both sides, ran out the guns, gave each of them a broadside, and scoured their decks with shot and grape just for good measure. They grappled us and boarded in droves, but with the brave Captain fighting at our front we won the day and left their vessels no more than sinking hulks.”

“That night, when we were passing out the tots of rum one of the men again asked ‘Captain, Sir, why did you wear your red shirt?’ He replied ‘Had I been injured you would not have noticed my bleeding, and your courage would not have wavered.’ The men all saluted him and raised their cups to his sharp mind.”

“So, the next day, there we was, sailing the main with a breeze at our back when once more a shout comes from the masthead. ‘Sail ho, fine on the starboard quarter!’ And when we looked what did we see? A whole squadron of corsairs! The horizon was near filled with their dark and menacing sails!”

“Once more the Captain had the ship cleared for action, and he ordered that the cannons be double shotted. And again he took me to one side, and he said ‘Jürgen, would you be so good as to go to my cabin and fetch me my brown breeches…”

There was a brief pause.

Anton smiled broadly. “Oh, very good,” he mumbled. Ernst forced his face into a frown and shook his head, disguising his chuckle as exasperation. Sepp nodded and grinned toothlessly.

Lukas sat staring for a few moments longer and suddenly burst into convulsions of hysterical laughter and slopping his drink – the proverbial pfennig had just dropped. “Brown breeches…”

“What?” said Max blankly. He looked at the laughing men and then back at Jürgen. “How did you get away from all them corsairs?”

“There weren’t any, I don’t think,” wheezed Lukas, dabbing a tear from the corner of his eye. “It was a joke.”

Max glared at him sourly. “I don’t get it.”


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - All about Skaven}

“If you would care to follow me…”

Doctor Ungerade opened the heavy wooden door and raised the lantern to illuminate the broad brick steps leading down into the cellars. They led into a spacious chamber with a vaulted brick ceiling. Much of the space was given over to storage of barrels and boxes, and one entire wall was lined with bottles, rack after rack of them, the dark glass covered in dust and cobwebs.

“I like to maintain a good stock of wine, to go with meals.”

Fuchs wondered how the place was kept so dry, for anything this far below ground was very liable to be flooded by seeping water. He grunted. “I too maintain a supply aboard the Bösewicht. I’m lucky enough to possess some fine Estalian vintages.”

Doctor Ungerade led them to another door, this one solid and age-darkened. He unlocked it with a large iron key that he produced from his pocket.

It creaked open to reveal another chamber, smaller than the first, and lined with shelves and benches and chests of drawers. Upon them was a clutter of jars containing samples pickled in alcohol, beakers and bottles full of mysterious alchemical compounds, leather-bound tomes, grinning skulls, ingenious tools and implements, and other esoteric and arcane items. The air was heavy with the cloying stink of rancid meat, accompanied by other less identifiable but equally unpleasant odours.

“This is my laboratory,” he said.

Dominating the centre of the room was a solid wooden table, easily six feet long. On it lay the body of the creature that Fuchs had killed.

The torso had been sliced from the groin to the throat, the ribs had been cut through, and the carcass had been laid open, revealing the pinky-brown organs within. Darker areas among the tissue showed where the blood had pooled and congealed. The top of the head had been sheared off, too, and the interior of the skull was empty.

“I have extracted the brain,” said the Doctor conversationally, picking up a pair of soft leather gauntlets from a bench and putting them on. “I am pleased to report that your bullet didn’t damage it. I must say, the structure is quite fascinating. It weighs much the same as that of a man, which may point toward a similar level of intelligence, but it is of a rather different shape, indicating perhaps that it functions in a different manner.”

He moved to one side of the table and lifted the creature’s paw, turned it so that the palm was upward, then examined it closely. Fuchs hung back, as though he expected the thing to rise up and extract retribution for the indignity that, ultimately, he was responsible for putting it through.

The Doctor noticed his discomfort. “I assure you that it is quite dead,” he said.

“So you say,” growled Fuchs in reply, “but I’ve seen the ‘dead’ raised and walking more than once. Mark my words, cremation is the only way to be sure. The Priest was right in that much at least.”

“Hmmm…” The doctor was thoroughly absorbed, paying no attention to the Captain’s remarks.

“Broadly speaking,” he continued, “their hands are the same as ours. The fingers are longer and thinner than those of men, and like us their thumbs are opposable, which imparts a similar ability to grip and manipulate.”

He straightened up, glanced around and spied a long brass probe on a bench. He picked it up and used it to point to the upper part of the body, which was empty of tissue.

“This space just here, the thoratic cavity, contained the heart and the lungs. I removed them to weigh them, you understand. Their capacity can tell you much about the creature. Here is the diaphragm, a muscular layer which works both to ventilate the lungs and keep the digestive tract separate.”

He pointed out the pale and shiny structure, then indicated to a purple-crimson organ tucked below it.

“That, Sir, is the liver, and like that of the common rat it is five-lobed, overlapping the stomach, here, and the right kidney, here. Note the omenta, the bluish-white membranes that you may observe there” – he indicated with the probe – “and more clearly there. They serve to hold the organs in place and prevent them from sloshing around, as it were.”

“From the stomach you may follow the small intestine, here is the spleen, there the caecum, and there the large intestine. This just here is the bladder, the right kidney, which I have already indicated, and the left, there. It is interesting to note that this fellow here has no gall bladder, just like his relative the common rat.”

“I was not aware that you had such a knowledge of anatomy” said Fuchs.

“Ah, well, I have no medical training as such. Much of my learning comes from the writings of Galen, a Tilean physician and philosopher of antiquity. His works form the foundation of much of the medicine of the Old World, and that is why so many of the organs and structures of the body have names that are of his tongue.”

He put down the probe and removed the gauntlets. “And also, I owe no small debt to my assistant, Mr Schlechtmann. He has acted as a barber-surgeon around these parts for years, you know. His experience has given me many insights into the workings of the body.”

The Doctor made his way to a desk that was littered with sheets of paper weighed down with a heavy inkstand. He pulled out a sheaf and leafed through them. They were covered in sketches of the internal parts of the dissected creature, along with notations in a cramped and spidery hand.

“As you can see, I have made extensive notes. In time I hope to publish my findings.”

They left the morbid chamber and returned to the conservatory, where they settled into comfortable chairs among the abundant flora. Mrs Schüssel brought them refreshments on a silver tray, then disappeared off about her duties.

Doctor Ungerade produced a long curved pipe, a tiny pocketknife, and a small leather tobacco pouch. He scraped around inside the bowl, tapped out the debris, and then proceeded to fill it with the shredded leaves.

“That really is a nasty habit,” said Fuchs.

“I quite agree,” replied the Doctor, producing a box of strikelights and striking one against the edge of the table. It flared into life and he held it over the bowl, puffing away until the leaves were glowing crimson-white. A cloud of fragrant smoke surrounded him.

“The map is finished, yes?”

“It is,” replied Fuchs, wrinkling his nose. “As agreed, there are two separate copies - my own, which I will add to my chart locker, and yours. Both are identical. Also, as agreed, you are to take possession of the notebooks.”

The chart and the journals were passed across and the Doctor spent a few minutes poring over them. “Excellent, thankyou,” he said. “And now to the business of payment.”


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - After Captain Fuchs delivers the map}

The house was as silent as the grave. Mr Schlechtmann had retired to bed hours ago, as had Mrs Schüssel, the housekeeper. Captain Fuchs and Doctor Ungerade, however, were both in the laboratory. The sailor had picked out a decent Brionne wine on the way and had cracked it open, drinking mouthfuls straight from the neck of the bottle.

The Doctor, who had planned a quiet evening compiling his papers, quickly decided to introduce his guest to the wonders of a tubo di vedere, having recently acquired one from a manufacturer in Tilea. The principal was similar to that of a perspective glass, with which Fuchs was familiar, but it allowed tiny objects, rather than distant ones, to be observed.

The device itself consisted of a brass tube with a crystal lens at either end. The tube was attached to a solid base by means of a cogged mechanism that enabled it to be raised or lowered in very fine increments. The base also included, below the lower end of the tube, a stand on which small glass plates could be placed, and an adjustable mirror that allowed light to be played on the specimen being examined.

And having had a couple of drinks the good Captain was finding all kinds of things to examine. “Gods, he’s an ugly one!” he announced. “Have you seen this?”

The Doctor grunted non-committally. He was busy going through the anatomical notes he had made during his dissection of the Skaven.

“Who would have thought it? Would you look at that mouth? I always thought they were nasty little buggers.”

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”

“Fleas!” exclaimed Fuchs. “Ghastly wee beasties!”

“Hmmm. Quite. Funnily enough, the instrument is sometimes called a flea-glass.”

Fuchs stretched and blinked, then rubbed his eyes. “Is there any chance that I could have a bigger candle? It’s hard to see clearly.”

The Doctor gestured broadly around the chamber. “Please, help yourself.”

Fuchs looked around the room. “How curious!” he said.

Doctor Ungerade looked up. “What is?”

The Captain pointed to a candle that stood in a sconce made in the shape of an eight-pointed star. It guttered as though a draught had caught it, even though the flames on the other candles nearby remained upright.

The Doctor leaped to his feet, his eyebrows arched in surprise. “Oh my word! How very careless of me!”

“What?”

“I’ve become such a creature of habit of late. Every night I perform the ritual and light the candle, and then I completely ignore it. Amazing how quickly we take things for granted, eh?” He peered at the candle again. “A little north of west.”

What?”

“It is part of a warding that is cast around the house and grounds,” explained Doctor Ungerade as he started towards the laboratory door. “The flame blows towards the direction of any trespasser that crosses the threshold of the enchantment.”

He pulled it open and crossed the wine cellar and raced up the stairs into the darkened hall. He tripped on the leg of a small table, cursed under his breath, and tugged violently on the pulley that connected to the bells in the servant’s quarters.

Captain Fuchs was right behind him. He had his pistol in his left hand and was struggling to draw his sword with his right as he ran. “Could an animal have set it off?” he asked.

The Doctor had moved to the front door. “No,” he answered. “It is triggered by the workings of the brain, you know. The intruder has to have some degree of intelligence for it to work.” As quietly as he could he pulled back the heavy iron bolt.

Captain Fuchs finally managed to clear the blade from the scabbard. “This is much more my area of expertise,” he whispered. His host nodded in agreement and backed away a little, letting the sailor lift the latch and ease the door open a crack.

He peered into the gloomy garden. The air was clear, as it always seemed to be around Doctor Ungerade’s home, but the shadows were deep and menacing.

“I can’t see anybody,” he hissed.

Mr Schlechtmann, clad in his nightshirt and carrying an oil lamp and an ancient blunderbuss, hurried along the hall, having come down from his room by way of the servants’ stairs. The housekeeper was right behind him, brandishing a hefty rolling pin.

“There’s someone in the garden,” whispered the Doctor to the new arrivals, “as best as I can tell a little to the left of the gates.”

Mr Schlechtmann handed the lamp to the housekeeper and took a firm grip on his gun. He joined Captain Fuchs at the door and the pair of them exchanged glances.

“I’m going out,” mouthed Fuchs. “Follow me.”

He gave the door a mighty kick - it shot outwards with a crash and bounced half closed again - and leaped onto the gravelled path. He levelled his pistol at a particularly dark patch of shadows and fired.

Boom! A shower of sparks fell from the pan and a tongue of flame lanced from the barrel. There was a stony thud as the ball impacted with the wall.

For the briefest instant Fuchs caught a glimpse of movement from across the garden, and then Mr Schlechtmann was at his side. “There, man!” he shouted, pointing towards the spot. “Shoot, for the God’s sake!”

Mr Schlechtmann squeezed the trigger bar and the gun discharged with a sharp crack, issuing forth a spectacular shower of sparks and a pall of white smoke. There came the sounds of shredding foliage and a whole series of little thumps as the birdshot hit brick.

There were other noises too, coming from the left of where the old man had shot, but they were difficult to identify.

Brandishing his sword Captain Fuchs advanced cautiously over. He reached the shrubs and undergrowth that bordered the lawn and poked around with his blade.

“There’s no-one here,” he called. “I reckon they’ve gone over the wall.”

Mr Schlechtmann set off around the house to make sure everything was sound. Doctor Ungerade retrieved the lamp from Mrs Schüssel and made his way over to the sailor. He held up the light, illuminating the trampled brambles and torn ivy that proved the Captain right.

“I say, would you mind?” he asked, handing over the lamp, and then knelt down. Fuchs fumbled his pistol back into his belt and illuminated the Doctor as he began searching around among the undergrowth.

“A-ha! What have we here?”

He pulled something from among the thorns. It was a wisp of woollen yarn, stiff with mud and grime. He held it up to the light; it was brown, but it told him no more.

Mr Schlechtmann paced over, his blunderbuss still at the ready. “Don’t look like there’s anyone else about, Sir. I reckon we scared ‘em away.”

The Doctor stood up and looked around. “I have been thinking that perhaps it would be wise to take on some additional staff,” he announced. “An assistant gardener or two, maybe, and a maid. I’m sure you and Mrs Schüssel can find them duties around the place.”

The old man nodded. “Mightn’t be a bad idea at that. Neither me nor Idna are getting any younger.”

“Maybe I should get a dog or two as well. Loyal and obedient friend and all that.”

Mr Schlechtmann sniffed. “I ain’t too keen on dogs, begging your pardon Sir. The last one that came to stay dug out all of the rose bushes and did unspeakable things in the vegetable garden.”


—oOo—


{INTO PART ?? - Townsfolk - Mysterious Stranger - After Lukas’s fight in the pub}

“Botolf, I want to go home!” moaned Farica. The hem of her skirt was damp and muddy and her shoes were wet through. “Momma will be angry with us! She says there are rat monsters waiting to kill us.”

“Don’t be silly!” scolded her brother. “I just want to go as far as the Clover Field. Otto Munter said that there was a dead cow there.” He paused for a long moment, then looked slyly at his sister. “You’re not scared, are you?”

The little girl crossed her arms and pouted angrily. “I’m not scared of anything!” And with that she marched purposefully past the boy, who grinned and set off after her.

Something caught his eye. “Farica, wait just a minute. Who’s that?”

“If you’re trying to frighten me it won’t work.”

“No, look, over there!” He pointed out across the misty meadows, towards the edge of a stand of wind-stunted willow.

“I can see it!” exclaimed the little girl. “Papa said about a stranger, do you remember?”

Her brother nodded.

“Botolf, I think we ought to go and tell the soldiers.”

Her brother nodded again, still staring at the distant figure.

Farica turned and ran, heading as quickly as she was able along the rutted and muddy Nordküstestraße. Botolf suddenly became aware that his sister had gone and started after her. “Wait for me!” he called. The pair of them raced back towards the town as fast as their legs could carry them.

There were six soldiers gathered at the watchtower. Two were on guard, leaning on their spears and looking bored. Four more were gathered around the brazier, gossiping and warming their hands. Two hounds, narrow-headed and long legged, sat panting on a fleece at their side.

The chatter stopped and all eyes turned to the two breathless children as they came to a halt. “There’s a stranger … there’s a man in the marshes … I don’t know who he is…” they babbled, one over the other. “He’s near the willows … I think he was hiding … I don’t think he’s a hunter…”

Corporal Gruber held up his palms. “Slow down a minute! What’s this all about?”

Botolf and Farica excitedly retold the story, each filling in the bits that the other forgot.

“You were right to come to us,” said the Corporal seriously. He turned to the sitting militiamen. “Mr Drecke, you heard everything? Good. Get into town and tell Brother Franz or whosoever else you can find all about it. Mr Tölpell, Mr Haller, get the dogs and come with me.”

He looked down at the children. “I’m going to have to ask you to do one more thing for us. Will you lead us to where you saw this figure?”

They nodded in unison.

The little group set out, dodging puddles and scanning the hazy horizon. After a couple of minutes walking they reached the spot. Both children pointed out the willow trees, though there was no sign of anybody.

“You run along home now,” said Corporal Gruber to Botolf and Farica. Mr Tölpell here will see you safely back to town.” He looked at the soldier. “You wait at the tower. If any officers turn up bring them here.”

The red-haired militiaman touched his cap. “Yes, Sir.”

The two soldiers, each holding a leashed dog, worked their way slowly along the edge of the sodden field. The dogs quickly picked up a scent, sniffing and snuffling at the ground and the air.

Soon the men found curious tracks. They appeared to be the imprint of a staff, and footprints that looked as though the person who made them was walking on his tiptoes. Occasionally there were long narrow marks, parallel to and between the footprints. It looked as though something long and thin had occasionally brushed along the ground.

The dogs were straining at their leashes, whining and growling.

“I don’t like this,” muttered Corporal Gruber, and drew his sword. His companion did the same.

The Corporal crouched down and released the clip on the lead, holding the excited animal by the collar. He indicated to Mr Haller to do the same, and at the same instant they loosed the dogs. The creatures bounded off into gloom and the men followed with all haste.

They ran past the willows and came to a broad expanse of mud and brackish pools. They pushed on regardless, struggling from tussock to tussock and slipping in the ooze. The sound of mist-muffled barking echoed through the air, and then a yelp.

“Quick!” gasped the Corporal. “They can’t be far ahead now.”

The pair of them struggled up a slight slope onto a drier ridge. On the far side, where the ground dropped away again, one of the dogs was lying motionless. Its pale coat was spattered with blood and a jagged-bladed knife jutted from between its ribs. The other hound, equally bloodied, sat nearby, whining and shaking and fussing at a paw. Nearby was a long strip of rough brown cloth.

“Poor girl,” panted Mr Haller. He knelt beside the dead animal and gently eased the weapon out of the wound, then rubbed its head affectionately. “I’m going to miss you.”

Corporal Gruber was checking the other. “I think her leg’s broken,” he announced. “Nothing that can’t be mended, given time. She ain’t got no other wounds though.” He patted her and looked her in the eyes. “You stay here girl,” he said. “We’ll be back to tend to you in a bit.”

It was easy to pick up the trail in the soft ground; they followed cautiously. The marks and prints in the mud told of erratic, unsteady movement, and every few feet or so there were spots and spatters of blood. A short distance further on they found a wooden staff.

“Over there!” whispered Mr Haller, pointing out a dark shape. It looked like a mound of tattered and stained brown rags.

The two soldiers readied their weapons and edged towards it. Corporal Gruber poked at it experimentally. It was a body, slumped over a tussock of coarse grass. Its left side was a sodden mass of crimson.

The Corporal leaned over the slumped shape and lifted a fold of cloth with the point of his sword. It was a rat-man, quite dead, though the body was still warm enough to steam. From the looks of things it had suffered a deep wound in its thigh and had bled to death.

He straightened up. “One of the dogs did for it, I’d say.”


—oOo—

Offline rufus sparkfire

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Die Schlammländer - the missing bits
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2005, 08:19:17 PM »
Hi,

I don't understand where these extra sections are supposed to go. I suggest you edit your original chapter posts to include the new material, which can then be added to the library.
Hey, I could still beat up a woman!
If I wanted to.

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer - the missing bits
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2005, 09:30:26 PM »
OK, the contents of the Prologue and Parts I to VI have been updated and edited, and I've finished Parts VII and VIII too.

It does seem to have taken forever, but life does have a habit of eating all of my time occasionally. My apologies.