Griegsday, 17th Tulosich, 1130GY
I write this, from a cell a dark, dank cell in the Hergar’s Warf guardhouse. The guards here have made me as comfortable as they can, in respect for the years of service I have given in the same role, but there is only so far comfort can go in a place such as this. I trained a few of the guard here, yet it’s only now, in the days before I am put to death, that they have allowed me to put to parchment the tale I have tried to tell them for so many long and painful days. I sit here, uncomfortably, at a gnarled wooden table, with a pile of parchment, a quill, and a small ink pot. Alone in the cell save for the constant dripping of condensation which keeps me company, and drips into a worn groove on the stone floor. My bed in the cell, sits only a few feet from this groove, so that I can hear the drip, drip, drip throughout the night, keeping me from my nightmare dreams of bramble and thorn. Instead of torrid dreams, I lie awake, my memory taking me through the horrors that came in the last days of Jonulsburg. It is these horrors, which I am going to try to give light to, in the hope that knowledge of the fate of my village, may help to save another.
Although the guard here have done their best for me, they try not to come into contact with my now cursed skin. They fear that the knots, nodes and contusions which now cover my body may affect them. Anything they have to force me to do is done at the point of a sword. I have no doubt, that the blade of the sword is bathed in fire to prevent contamination if it ever touches me. It is disappointing, knowing that I may never feel the touch of a woman again, and even more so, that for every period I spend, touching the desk and the old, worn wooden chair, my skin tries to adhere to it. Joining with it on some level I can’t fathom, with neither glue nor nails.
My tale begins, as they always do, with an ordinary event.
I was sat alone in the guardhouse. The village of Jonulsburg was small, around three hundred inhabitants at any one time, and with five guards to watch over them, it was often the case that, as guard sergeant, I would find myself alone there, idling the time away while I waited for the others to return from whichever mundane task they had been sent on.
In villages such as this, it was rare for many guards to be needed. The odd dispute between villagers, or some drunken trouble in the inn gave us our usual work, as bandits and attacks by roving orks or beasts of the forest were unheard of. We had taken this as a blessing, being so close to the Dark Forest it appeared that the ominous, unseen presences, so often reported by the lumbermen, kept any trouble at bay. The local druids, based a few miles north, would often bless the forest, and the village, and had done for centuries, praying for Madelina, to watch over us, and the itself. The goddess of nature was kind to us, and our harvests were always plentiful, the lands were rich in goodness.
After all the time living in harmony with the forest, the druids moved on, apparently heading east towards Fort Loudhail, sending word to us through a letter, rather than in person, where they would continue with their good work. We were thankful for all their efforts, and in hindsight, it may well have been their departure, and the lack of future blessings which led to the disaster that befell us.
It was only three weeks ago, when the first report was made to us, about strange occurrences where the lumbermen toiled. In the long summer days, they worked tirelessly, cutting down trees and preparing the wood for the long winters we suffered with in this part of Torbea. The reports stated, that they had become increasingly aware of movement in the periphery of their vision, and they were convinced, that paths cleared one day would be overgrown the next.
We put this down to too much time spent in the forest, after all, one section of forest generally looked like another, and with them working in different sections for different types of wood, it was only natural that they should become confused. If I’m honest, I was surprised they hadn’t reported it years before.
Naturally, the lumbermen started spending more time in the small Grykean temple, praying that whatever was afflicting the forest would leave them be. They requested that Lord Jonulsburg send an envoy to the druids who had left, requesting their blessing. The lord scoffed when asked, as we all did, and refused. The common man was remarkably superstitious, and the concerns of the lumbermen were put down to long days spent in their isolated group with nothing but the forest for company.
A few days went by, with the lumbermen becoming increasingly agitated. On the third night after the reports began, a commotion in the Truncated Oak tavern saw us called for. The tavern’s name itself, came from the legend that the greatest tree in the Dark Forest, a mighty oak, had been so strong, that many a lumberman wanted to cut it down for timber. Each was stopped just as he raised his axe or saw, claiming afterwards that they had just thought it a shame if the tree was cut. The legend goes on to tell of whispering voices, the voices of the forest itself, telling lumbermen to stop at the last minute, as to do so would incur the forests wrath.
Eventually, one such lumberman had gone in with all the gusto of his colleagues, and struck the top of the tree down with blow after blow from his woodsman’s axe. The giant truncated oak had been decapitated, and the rest of the lumbermen had felt a great sense of foreboding.
Retiring for the day, they had left the mighty oak alone, returning the next day to find the successful lumberman bound to the tree by thick brambles, which had pierced his skin and tangled his very bones, holding him tight to the bark of that once great tree. When the lumbermen had tried to free their colleague, they too had been attacked by the forest, and were struck down, bound to trees and rocks by thick brambles. Of course, there are similar legends everywhere, in the desert lands they tell tales of men pressed between the thorny tubular plants, in the dense, humid forest lands to the west, people strung up by vines.
It appeared that legends and myths such as these were playing heavy on the minds of the lumbermen. Looking at the small brown protrusion which leaves the back of my hand through a red-brown welt, I can now understand why. Anyway, I digress.
We arrived at the inn to find Hans Klein, one of the lumbermen, being restrained by several of the larger farmhands and labourers. Despite the size of the men restraining him, they seemed to struggle as Hans thrashed and contorted. With the effort of myself and guards Schult and Krebs, we shackled Hans, and with the assistance of the labourers led him to the cells in the Jonulsburg. The labourers described how Hans had sat near the fire, muttering to himself before becoming angry, and finally attacking one of the Tavern’s other patrons, the local Crier, Huepler.
As they explained, I watched Hans through the bared hatch of the thick cell door, as he fidgeted and muttered incessantly to himself. No calls or questions from myself or any other were answered. He remained hunched on the cell floor, sitting on his hands while his eyes darted this way and that. Always staring at unknown things and flinching as if avoiding something.
The next morning we discovered him naked, and dead in his cell, having beaten his own head against the stone brickwork. It was only in the morning light that we noticed his peculiar pallor. His usual weathered and tanned skin had become a sickly, olive green, with lumps and contusions covering his body. One leg was covered with a blood-stained bandage covering his thigh. Further investigation revealed a knot, much like you would find in a tree, on the inside of his thigh, and a small shoot growing vertically up the outside. The skin around them was brown and rough, and we couldn’t help but recoil, in much the same way as my current captors do from me. We left his body in the cell, and sought the priest and the physician, inviting them to bless the body, and try to explain the cause.
They were at a loss for a rational explanation, and the body was bound in thick cloth, taken away from the village, and burned. I sent my men out to round up the rest of the lumbermen, only for them to return empty-handed. Three had run, babbling, from their family homes in the dead of night, and from their descriptions, they were all suffering similar afflictions to Hans. The remaining two had not returned from the forest where they had been working the day before.
I ordered my men into their armour, chain-mail all over save for breastplates, greaves and gauntlets. Our open-face helms trailed chain-mail to cover our necks, and the usual humour and curses abounded from the cold metal touching our skin. In parts, rust spots had developed on the chain-mail, and on one breastplate, and I made a mental note to have work done on them on our return.
I will write more when I am able, clutching a quill for so long aches the joints in my hands, and my head grows weary. I only hope that I am given leave from my execution long enough to finish this tale.