Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Do you the Devil's work"

Ulric von Bek by Rufus-Jr

Back in high school, when I first encountered Michael Moorcock, Graf Ulric von Bek was my favorite incarnation of The Eternal Champion... even more than Elric.

I keep making passes at getting into his Jerry Cornelius; this time I'm warming up to Moorcock's style by rereading The War Hound and the World's Pain.  It's also not an accident that War Hound begins in the aftermath of Magdeburg... as does my upcoming WFRP game. 

Putting aside the whole "Prince of Darkness business," the opening section really sets the stage for the game. And, since I transcribed it, I might as well share it here.
It was in that year when the fashion in cruelty demanded not only the crucifixion of peasant children, but a similar fate for their household animals, that I first met Lucifer and was transported into Hell: for the Prince of Darkness wished to strike a bargain with me.

Until May of 1631 I had commanded a troop of irregular infantry, mainly Poles Swedes and Scots. We had taken part in the destruction and looting of the city of Megdeburg, having somehow found ourselves in the army of the Catholic forces under Count Johann Tzerclaes Tilly. Wind-borne gunpowder had turned the city into one huge keg and she had gone up all of a piece, driving us out with little booty to show for our hard work.

Disappointed and belligerent, wearied by the business of rapine and slaughter, quarreling over what pathetic bits of goods they had managed to pull from the blazing houses, my men elected to split away from Tilly's forces. His had been a singularly ill-fed and badly equipped army, victim to the pride of bickering allies. It was a relief to leave it behind us.

We struck south into the foothills of the Hartz Mountains, intending to rest. However, it soon became evident to me that some of my men had contracted the Plague and I deemed it wise, therefore, to saddle my horse quietly one night and, taking what food there was, continue my journey alone.

Having deserted my men, I was not free from the presences of death or desolation. The world was in agony and shrieked its pain.

By noon I had passed seven gallows on which men and women had been hanged and four wheels on which three men and one boy had been broken. I passed the remains of a stake which some poor wretch (witch or heretic) had been burned: whitened bone peering through charred wood and flesh.

No field was untouched by fire; the very forests stank of decay. Soot lay deep upon the road, borne by the black smoke which spread from innumerable burning bodies, from sacked villages, from castles ruined by cannonade and siege; and at night my passage was often lit by fires from burning monasteries and abbeys. Day was black and grey, whether the sun shone or no; night was red as blood and white from a moon pale as a cadaver. All was dead or dying all was despair.

Life was leaving Germany and perhaps the whole world; I saw nothing by corpses. Once I observed a ragged creature stirring on the road ahead of me, fluttering and flooping like a wounded crow, but the old woman had expired before I reached her.

Even the ravens of the battlegrounds had fallen dead upon the remains of their carrion, bits of rotting flesh still in their beaks, their bodies stiff, their eyes dull as they stared into the meaningless void, neither Heaven, Hell nor yet Limbo (which there is, after all, still a little hope).

I began to believe that my horse and myself were the only creatures allowed, by some whim of Our Lord, to remain as witnesses to the doom of His Creation.
- The War Hound and the World's Pain, Michael Moorcock

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