The Coming of the Wurm
One key component to the Wurzelessern, in my understanding, is their anti-democractic stance. Reading through Derek’s descriptions, however, it has become quite clear to me that the Wurm’s beliefs are a little more complex than I initially thought. For the most part, much of the democratic structure and institutes have been left intact throughout the provinces. Even unsympathetic free members are able to maintain their freedom and property so long as they don’t interfere with the army’s goals and activities. What they focused on was simply the highest levels of the democracy. The same levels that are, perhaps not coincidentally, the ones that are the least democratic with their lifelong birthright appointments.
My inference from these notes is that the Wurzelessern aren’t so much a conquering force as they are a revolutionary one. It seems like they are at least presenting a war of ideals over material gain. While I have no insight into what the highest members of the order are planning, their actions give some hint into how the last few years beneath the Wurm’s rule may look.
This is important for my character since he is an avid supporter of the Wurzelessern. I have to reconcile an individual willing to fight and die for an organization that, on the surface, would appear to be promoting ideals that are against his own self-interests. No one would ever willingly give up freedoms previously granted unless there was some worthy trade.
Unless the Wurzelessern actions weren’t portrayed as against the interests of the common man. They still have their voice. They still have their representation. For all intents and purposes nothing has changed. Except they’re at war. Which technically means the Kaiser is all powerful so long as the war continues but surely no one expects that to last forever. Surely.
The Coming of the Wurm
The hall echoed with the garbled squawk of a dozen voices each shouting to be heard. Torches were light, bringing light to the room which appeared little more than a simple barn and hardly the grand meeting forum that it was. However, careful inspection of the rafters and supports would reveal age old jointing long fallen out of style to the experienced eyes of the natives. This was no simple home for cattle. There was a stoic pride in its construction though it might lack the fancy adornments and ornamentation of the Steinherz capital. But the men and women in that tight space were no artists. They were farmers, ranchers and survivors. Their pride wasn’t on such useless things like intricate woodwork and lavish painting. They looked upon the strength of a building and found beauty in a solid foundation, good walls and proper jointing.
Looking upon the hall, one would never think it the oldest building in the village. They would never imagine that for countless generations it had held so many families, gathering in times of change and need. It had seen untold troubles before and weathered them all. From the great plague of the walking dead that had shambled from the lost lands in the deep south, to skittering hordes of despicable roshome gathered beneath the snaking tongue of an ancient warlord as they poured from the roots of the Green Mountain. In a way, tonight’s meeting was just one in a long series of crises this hall had weathered. Nor glory decorated its walls and no celebrations were held within to sing its praises.
But it stood through it all. And through this it would stand as well.
The great staffed pounded against the front arch, beating the buzz of conversation to heel. Standing upon the raised front so all could see was an older woman. Her hair was thin and wispy, charcoal grey and dirty from a hard day’s toiling in the fields. Though age had worn against her skin, she still stood tall and erect. Growing old and feeble was a luxury for the cities and the folk of the misty hills had no time for it.
“Order!” she called, her staff thumping the last of the stubborn voices to silence. “Order, I say! The Wurzelessern army is reported in the Dusk Veld. Their intentions are unknown and the rumours in the fog are about as clear as the Stranger’s breath. We must decide if we will negotiate with this organization or defend against them.”
“This isn’t even up for debate!”
Elder Dykstra had barely finished speaking when the older man rose to his feet. Ewoud Rooiakkers commanded the attention of all gathered. While the small hamlet was hardly much more than a collection of farmers and a few small guild chapters, Ewoud Rooiakkers was the closest the village had to a mayor. More than once he had been sent to the Steinherz capital to represent the community’s interests on the Senate. A shrewd business sense and aggressive trading had made him quite wealthy by their standards. And many viewed him as the closest the hills had to an aristocrat.
He wore lavish furs over his woollen clothes. A short coat of fine linen dyed a deep crimson was carefully arranged over the finest shirt most of the farmers had ever seen. Fur boots practically shone in the torchlight and on his fingers were a pair of bright gold rings that complimented the silver necklace he wore around his neck. While most of those gathered looked like they had hurried immediately to the hall from either bed or field, Ewoud Rooiakkers looked just as prepared for a debate in the Forum of Law as he did for the simple community’s gathering.
He regarded Elder Dykstra coldly, directing his fury and disdain towards her even though she had yet to presented for either side. It was a trick to rally the people behind a threat even if that threat hadn’t been raised.
“These Wurms are nothing more than their name suggests. They are pests here to eat away at our lives and livelihood. Already the capital burns beneath their treachery. Our representatives and brothers burned when they set light to the Forum of Law and murdered in cold blood the heads of our glorious Republic!”
“That can’t be!” some voices cried out.
But Rooiakker held his naysayers beneath a harsh glare.
“The news came to me this morning, born on the wings of messengers far faster than the armies of these rebels. They are nothing but conquerors and villains. Mark my words, they shall take our fields and take our mines. They will press our boys into their ranks and they will see much blood is fed to our lands. But it will be the blood of our kin that is spilled. And it will be nothing but doom to us all. There is not but folly in their future and I will die before I see this glorious town side with these devourers!”
A few cheers erupted from sycophants and supporters. Much rumbling and whispering followed as his words were debated amongst the present members. Elder Dykstra clattered her staff for calm but before it could be re-established, accusations were already flung her way.
“Is this true?”
“Did you know of this?”
“We must gather our things and get away while we can!”
“I hear the Elfhorz are accepting refugees!”
“No!” Rooiakkers voice cut through. “We must defend these lands as we always have. We shall not abdicate our responsibilities. Dalmistig is a proud land. We are all brothers of these hills and mist. We shall not leave our kin behind to an uncertain fate. Only one course is clear for the land of the Maier. We shall defend our farmsteads and our homes. Let each shanty, each hole and each pit cost the Wurms dearly. They shall pay for their sins in the oldest currency of all: their blood!”
More joined in applause this time, even as others looked worriedly amongst themselves. But Elder Dykstra knew that the forum was quickly swaying to Ewoud’s words. She had seen it countless times before. And she worried the price the old man’s pride would cost the community itself.
But before she could speak, there was a disturbance at the door.
At first, she seemed to be the only one to notice the distraction. But slowly a few eyes turned to follow hers, the heads of the furthest turning at the noise. As more and more noticed their fellows grow silent, they sensed the change in the air and an awkward hush rolled through like an ominous fog.
For there, standing in the doorway, was a young man holding an older woman in his arms. He was a big lad, muscles honed from long hours pounding at the metal of Master Smit’s in the forge or carrying the heavy coal and iron the old man used in his work. And though there was a dullness in his eyes, a sort of slow, ponderous look as his mind tried to comprehend that which was so often seemingly beyond his grasp, most overlooked it because of the youth’s stunning features. He was quite a sight for the village. And it was clear where he had inherited his looks.
Leaning against his large frame was a slender woman. There was no denying her beauty. Many questioned if Femke was truly from Dalmistig. Many whispered that she carried not human blood in her veins. They heard the tales of the distant elves and of the Forhemia beauties said to enchant their victims with unearthly grace far too potent for any mortal man. But Dykstra had known her line. She had seen Femke’s family and the gift that Ika passed down to each in turn.
And even as the youth set her down on a chair, there was still a shred of that grace still present. She was clothed in a simple night gown. The white linen lay stained down the front where food and drink and spilled. Even in the dim light, there was a visible bulge about her waist where the family had to fashion some swaddling strips in a makeshift pouch. Her vacant eyes lingered on the flickering of a nearby torch, her mouth hanging slightly open as a drip of spittle fell from ruby lips.
But every now and then when she turned her head, there would be that soft glimmer of the woman that had once been. Though now all that tumbled from those lips was incomprehensible gibberish, there would be the old lilt to it that reminded Dykstra of the songs she used to sing. Her fingers picked aimlessly at odd holes in her gown when once they had carefully woven elegant garments of their own.
Her son left her near a post so she could lean against it, even the process of staying upright seemingly a concept too easily abandoned by her mind.
The young man walked forward, an awkward silence greeting his arrival. He seemed unaware of it, but it always struck Dykstra any time the elder Van der Nevel was seen. Where once she lit the room with pleasant laughter and talk, she now heralded only silence and shamed looks. Few would dare linger in her direction. And all made a wide berth for her as if she carried some terrible disease.
But that silence was a powerful thing and it immediately slayed what exuberance Ewoud Rooiakker had stirred.
“You speak of price and sin, Lord Rooiakker, but do you know that price?”
A few gaped at the youth’s boldness. Here was young Kaas Van der Nevel, Master Smit’s quiet apprentice standing in the middle of a forum directly across for the most intimidating speaker Dykstra had ever seen. But perhaps it was the youth’s dimness that made him ignorant of his position and actions.
Ewoud Rooiakker cleared his throat.
“I dare say I understand more than you, boy. I have sat at the seat of the greatest gathering in this land. I have greeted dignitaries from the united monarchies. I have weighed decisions that would determine the outcome of many lives and held the balance of a cities in discourse. What would you know of conflict and war? You who has barely seen the tops of the hills yet never left the safety of the mist?! You can scarcely recall the price of your master’s own sword!”
There were a few chuckles, but less Ewoud would hope. Dykstra wanted to move to the youth’s side and to gently lead him away. This was not the place nor the time for whatever he had in his mind. But there was a certain look in his eyes she had rarely seen. There was a light that had once belonged to his mother that flared dangerously. She could see the youth’s hands clench.
“I know not the world as you do, my lord,” the youth said slowly with his misplaced title. “But I am all too familiar with sin. I need not make my own to see the harm it causes.”
“I don’t like your tone or insinuations, child! Be careful, least you forget who helped your precious master pay to get his forge started.”
“I have not forgotten,” Kaas said, his tone steelier than anything that had come from the fires. “Nor have I forgotten your choice to stand with the adjudicators. Or how you stood watch as they took what they wanted from my mother.”
And a deathly hush fell over the crowd. Rooiakker’s mouth gaped like a caught fish as he searched for the words to say. He knew the dangers of the ground he tread and was too aware of the eyes looking over at the drooling Femke. She had seemingly grown tired of her gown and had attempted to extract it ungainly from her body, managing somehow to remove her left arm but catching her head in the sleeve until the garment hung half over her as she struggled furtively.
The boy seemed to take Ewoud’s silence as a sign of defeat. He stepped forward, suddenly his bulk making the great representative seem much smaller. But it wasn’t Rooiakker who the junior Van der Nevel sought to address.
Turning to the crowd he gauged them all in his turn.
“Who was it that raised their voices in defence of us when the reclaimers came to hold their trial? Not the clergy, who turned mute against the charges. She was called a heretic and a witch. They claimed her a necromancer and not a word claimed otherwise. She was dragged before the representatives of Ika. They held up her pendant as definitive proof of her sins. A pendant which you, yourself Elder Dykstra, had said was not but a simple heirloom!”
And he raised an accusing finger at her which she could not defend. She simply held Rooiakker’s silence, feeling the shame and guilt burn her face.
“We live beneath a tyranny. One that Lord Rooiakker would say is freedom. But what freedom had we when they cursed my mother all in the name of Ika’s will? But that curse did not pass to me, Lord Rooiakker. I know it was not this community which voted to let them carry out their punishment against their own. Behind closed doors you elders convened and decided a fate we had no say in. Condemning a friend and a mother to a life of suffering and humiliation!
“And the Senate has done the same for as long as we have belonged to the Republic. Where is our voice in the forum? The Union and the Council must grovel before those rich lords who gain their seat by birthright alone. They must pay tithes and deeds to see their own decisions democratically passed come to form. This freedom is as elusive as the tribal Anspeals but costs all of us daily in sweat and blood. We toil in the dirt and mud so you Senators can live in your manors and fine furs. You speak of a price for sin, so what does your cost?”
It was too eloquent and too convincing. While Elder Dykstra’s heart was swaying her mind could feel something off about the boy. These couldn’t be his words. Not for someone who struggled to remember his simple arithmetic any time he carried out a purchase for his master. But while what he spoke she had heard all to similarly from Wurzelessern mouths, the passion was his alone.
“We live under strange laws and strangers’ demands. The Senators born into their roles far outnumber those we send from our farmsteads. Our own Elders hold their decisions amongst themselves, committing not those of good intention but those who can fill the most pockets. All the while some foreign Goddess dictates to us damning laws without a care for the living. Her sole concern is the dead and the rest be damned. She taxes us even more blatantly than the Senators, demanding our souls in exchange for protection from an enemy we had long defeated.
“You say the Wurms are here to destroy and that they are. They’re here to burn not just the weeds choking our crops but the thieves that would steal them in the night. Our governance is corrupted and there is only one way to eliminate impurities from good iron and that is through brute application of heat and fire. The pure have nothing to fear from the Wurms. It is those whose hearts are heavy with sin that would try and condemn others upon a true noble sword. And I see only one heart here calling for us to die in the name of men who have done nothing but abuse us. I say we see what the Wurms judgement is free from the greed of the Senate and the hunger of Ika.”
Silence followed his proclamation and only then did he seem to remember his mother. He turned, discovering her lying upon the ground in a tangle of her own clothes. He hurried to her side, helping her erect and fighting her resisting fingers to get her clothes back on. When last he had finished, he looked up, seeming to remind himself that he was in the middle of a debate.
But for once Rooiakker had nothing to say. He seemed to turn to Dykstra, the soft pleading look of a desperate man turning to a co-conspirator. But it was clear a change was on the horizon. A change that Dykstra had often quietly prayed for every year. It finally seemed time for Dykstra to say her piece.
“The words of young Van der Nevel are true. We had decided to bow before the Ikan’s wishes and it was their desire to make a demonstration to our community that disobedience of their laws would not be tolerated. Justice was forgotten beneath the priests’ offer. Co-operation would see their influence lightened upon our village but, more importantly, Rooiakker would be granted prime trade of our region with the cathedral in Nebeland. For our part, we would all be eased of our guilt through the success of the land, as Ewoud called it.”
“What are you saying?!” Ewoud cried.
“I have not slept easy since condemning a friend for your greed, Ewoud. And I shall not forgive myself for waiting for young Van der Nevel’s words to stir me from my silence. I shall submit myself to the judgement of these Wurms for my part in this travesty. I can only hope that my soul finds forgiveness from Femke when at last she joins me in Ika’s arms.”
“This… this is madness!” Ewoud cried. “Do you not see, you invite danger and death into your homes!”
“We have laid beside treachery for too long,” Dykstra said. “My seeds are planted, Ewoud and I shall reap my harvest. My only prayer is that the younger of us can learn from our mistakes. I suggest you make your peace or prepare your waggon.”
The elder Rooiakker looked about the assembly. But he did not see the support he had once drummed. Many looked confused upon the discourse, clearly not understanding exactly what had transpired. But there were others who looked upon Ewoud Rooiakker not with admiration but suspicion. They were the dangerous ones. And they were the majority. Enough time in the Senate had taught Ewoud the dangers of such a force. And perhaps it was the gentle hand of Ika which had him last set eyes upon poor Femke Van der Nevel, held coddled in her son’s arms. An unnatural role reversal played long before proper time right in front of his eyes. The Ikans believed in elimination of threats through magics of debilitating efficiency. But the Wurms believed only in death.
In that moment, it was clear Ewoud Rooiakker wasn’t sure which he feared most.
He stumbled from the hall, running into the night as the roar of the crowd began to find its voice once more. The community hadn’t reached consensus yet, but with the flight of the merchant it would finally reach it of its own accord.
And Elder Dykstra knew she would not see the man in the morning. She took a seat, letting the butcher stand to present his thoughts. She finally felt her age, her bones releasing a tension she barely knew she carried. Her work wasn’t finished tonight and she knew she would have to spend the rest of it getting her things in order. It was uncertain when the Wurms would arrive but their coming seemed inevitable now. And she suspected that she wouldn’t live to see the outcome of this council’s decision. Her only hope was that it would be the right one.