The ruddy mire impressed itself upon the mind of the man as a great and reeking carcass. He stood over the bracken and the quitch, smoking languidly, the fetid smell of the swamp ranging over his senses like a titanic and pestilential wave. The sun was robed in thick and swirling clouds above which girded the infernal moor from whence it’s dazzling light was shrouded and all about below the buzzing of insects, their wings whipping through the air like needles on the brain. The man walked aways up what little land was afforded to him, the rest of the reach lost to sunken and muddy clay, covered over with pools of roiling sludge wherein the larvae of mosquitoes squirmed in hideous pirouettes. Massive snakes coiled about the reedy marsh here and there, moving with a soundless slithering and the wind was scarce and whence it came the stench of carrion followed with it. The man took a long drag of the cigarette and turned his keen green eyes to the south of the fen where the mountains obscured the passage to the hillocks of the outerlands and then east, to the misty forests, ranging up over the mire like the bristles of some great and feral boar, and then to the west, to the high-champaign, dotted over with rune-stones and mist and a curious scattering of skulls, man and animal alike, and then at the last to the north, to the long and winding and narrow pass which let out some miles up unto an elevated thoroughfare, scare-worn by the soles of those brave or mad enough to make passage to the town what lay beyond.
Somewhere off in the distance a howl broke the chthonic din, cascading off the sloping moorish hills and raising up the hairs of the traveler’s spine. His fear of the place was matched only by his loathing. It was all so very ugly. It were as it some humongous being beyond all reckoning had fallen victim to calamity arcane and the multitudinous swarms of all the earth had there found succor in the intestines and the blood of it’s gutted and expiring frame. Peering through the fern arrayed about his tattered chassis the traveler spied a dim light not far off; curiosity primed, he trammeled across the bog towards it, taking care in the placement of his mud-stained boots. The wind swept up with great agitation, throwing his cloak all to spasm. Half a mile he struggled against the peat and the savage increase of the gale and found a hollowed cairn in the middle of the mire in which lay a crackling fire and beside it, a strange and shriveled man, all wreathed in cloth; his visage, where not obscured by dressing, was riddled with pock-marks of the ague. The cachexic man waxed rale in address.
“What apparition is this that deigns to greet me upon this blessed demense?”
“No apparition, sir. I swan, but a traveler. By Miras am I known. A mechanist of Tor to the barton of Morrow come; but err’d in jaunt some ways aback and here find right castigation by this sloughy heath. Thy face, withered and wrapped withal, is most heartening, for I’ve crossbeamed this accursed fen for nearly a fortnight and passed neither man nor beast, save for insect, snake and the occasional, hapless ram.”
The traveler gestured behind him at the marshen expanse with great agitation as the cachexic man took in his measure with eyes that danced with the reflection of the open flame.
“Thy fortunes are most unhappy; Marta frowns upon you surely! To recompense, I greet thee warmly, Miras the Wayward. I am Glaedwine of Kwizling. But enough – seat thyself and rub thy weary joints about the fire. I’ve little to spare but some rain-catch, if it should please thee.”
Miras looked to a small, overturned tortoise shell which sat beside the sickly man and held up his hand in dismissal and then did as he was bade, seating himself upon a squarish stone adjacent the firekeeper who sat upon a similarly irregular rock, hands upon his knees and a smile upon his wild-bearded face. After a pace, Miras looked over the man keenly, then inquiring, “Wherefore the bandages?”
The bandaged man paused and fell into a fit. He coughed and covered his mouth with a sleeve and coughed and blood trickled red unto the fabric and coughed and spit blood and bile into the fire.
“Egad man, what malady chafes thee?”
“No illness,” the man replied upon recovering from his spasm, “but a gift. A gift from Our Dear Lady.”
“What sir? You speak in riddles.”
“Our Lady Marta. Bright-Mother. The Reaper of Woe. The Balancer of the Scales. Keep ye not the faith, wayfarer?”
Miras regarded the strange and tatterdemalion man with a visage deeply affected by both puzzlement and grave concern.
“You’re not well. To my ears there is water about the lungs. Pneumonia, perchance. It were best thee enjoin this place and make passage with me to Morrow. Before our leave-taking I could gift thee with a vial that should put the humors aright.”
“Eck! I’ll none of that sorcery. It were Marta’s will that I am as I am and so I shall be. All else is blasphemy.”
“How is it you have come to knowledge of the ineffable?”
The cachexic man turned a page in his little book and spoke with reverence.
“’Thee shall know ME by prayer in the wastes beyond the machinations of MAN. Get ye hence to solitude and study, to silence and mindfulness in the realms beyond the horse and hammer, in the demesne beyond the quill and hall, in the warrens and the lion dens, in the marsh and the mire, in the desert and the sightless wood; there shall you find ME.’ Corpus Callosum, Book I, Verse V. Her words are scrawled by mortal hands, by Callosum the Wise and Athelwyn the Stoic; so great was her love that she deigned to reveal herself to miserable creatures such as us. Her voice a soothing balm upon our listless suffering. Even her disease is a blessing, for the suffering of the flesh is nothing to the bliss of her eternal embrace; I meditated long upon the end, knowing soon that erelong I should die of this affliction, seeking to rectify my pitiful state with the love of Our Dearest Lady. But then it dawned upon my foggy brain, that all is a part of her plan; she seeks the peaceful emancipation of all, yet, long as one lives, long as one is bound to the mortal coil there can be no peace, there can be no true reprieve from suffering; not of just the flesh, but of the soul; this, in her infinite wisdom, Our Lady well knows. To correct the error of our lives she must first end them, only then can we be truly free.”
The wayfarer stroked his smooth and stubbly chin and spoke with his eyes fixed upon the wretched specimen before him.
“I mean no offense but that strikes me a philosophy most cowardly. To flee the buffets of the world into some other, why what upright man should hold himself to such lowly standards of valor? Thy philosophy is one of incontinence! A valorious man should stand proudly, proclaiming his defiance to the yawning chasm that seeks his end from the very beginning. He should defy the limitations of all the world surrounding, the better to bend it to his will. Such a desire would be, for the valorious man, born, not out of selfishness alone, but out of his grave concern for his people, his clan, his lover, the fruit of their loins and all their line stretching out and beyond the horizon of conception.”
The ralic man’s eyes widened and he rose quick as his affliction would allow, the whole of his form tense with agitation.
“You profane this sacred cairn. Get thee gone.”
Shortly after he had finished speaking the sickly man began coughing once more and doubled over, falling to a knee and bracing himself upon the squarish stone upon which he had previously sat. Miras started, his face filled with grim concern.
“Calm yourself, stress will do nothing but further exacerbate the illness.”
“Silence thy wretched tongue, heretic! Begone! Begone!”
“Thy fever worsens; erelong to fall. Thy disease is familiar to me and easy would it be to concoct a potion to cure it, if thee would but see it done.”
“I’ll none of thy magicks, sorcerer!”
With great abruptness the man, snarling, lunged fiercely at Miras who sidestepped the crazed hermit and backed out of the cairn, prescient of the infection’s contamination. Miras, after having escaped into the mire, turned full about, furrowing his brow, and issued forth a dire condemnation, his voice cold as the chill air surrounding.
“Fool. May thy accursed cairn collapse upon thee!”
Without another word the wayfarer spun upon his heel and left the mad zealot and the noisome sludge of the mire.
He paused upon a low hillock that let out to the grasslands and then looked back and down upon the cursed place from which he had left and vowed that one day he would return and drain the damnable bog, raze the forests and shutter the stars from the very sky with the smoke-stacks of a dozen factories or more.
“This place, so malformed that it distorts and poisons the body as much as the mind! Think you to take my mind like as to the abstemious, o’ heinous mire? Tis not yours for the taking! Only mine for the giving-away! But your tangled branches, your reeds and sludge, your insect-laden wastes and bone filigreed bracken; I shall snatch all away! No further minds shall you terrorize whence you’re trammeled over by a hundred-thousand cobblestones! Hear me, you rotted skein? I, Miras Vlotho, shall unmake you in my image!”