The messenger paced around the tavern’s dining hall with the nervous energy of quickleaf. He ignored the steaming bowls of partridge stew and fresh bread even though he’d been on the march for seven days and hadn’t eaten in three. He had been too long on the circular path, and now only hungered for more leaf.

No doubt he had been one of the regiment’s finer officers to have been entrusted with the scroll that he’d carried. Now, though, he would need to be tied to a bedframe and doused with soured wine until the leaf-fever left him. After that he would sleep for days, and on waking would be dulled in body and mind. Some never walked again, and some were left drooling imbeciles. A man – an officer – such as this would have known that this fate could lay in store for him. And still he had measured out and brewed himself the dose, knowing the value of his sacrifice.

The prince fed the scroll into the brazier that stood on the table. He gestured at the messenger and said to his captain, “Have him hanged.”

The finely inked letters faded into the blackening parchment before turning to ash.
–Steve Kilian

Listening to Sunn O)))



One Response to “Quickleaf”

  1. […] Epideme The Abbot sealed the doors during the third week of the plague. The monks of the Infirmary tried to tend to the sick, to cool their fevers and lance the horrid buboes that grew on their jowls and spines, but still they died. Knowing they would soon fall ill, the Abbot sent the monks out to conduct a census of the dead, above their protestations: “There are sick here who need attention.” “We must prepare an elixir to fight the disease.” Still they were sent out. The infirmary windows were bricked shut and the oaken doors locked in place, closing the remaining patients in darkness. The monks returned to gates that were barred and guards who did not listen to their pleas. Some tried to scale the walls of the monastery fortress, and were pierced through the collarbone and lung or the eye by archers who had prayed beside them at last Matins. Some clawed at the portcullis, mouths frothing blood with the Bile Fever. They shrieked great profanities and writhed as they were run through by spears cast down from the battlements above. Pyotr, a young acolyte, pounded on the iron-girt gate. “I am not infected. Admit me into the sanctuary.” For three days he waited, fever climbing. The guards above watched him carefully, worrying that his sickness was a ruse. When he went into spasm they made sport of spilling sour ale upon him, or arcing their streams of urine into his insensate gaping mouth. It may have kept him alive for twelve or sixteen hours longer than he might have otherwise lasted. Instead he lay scratching at the doors to his beloved tabernacle when the plague-zombies found him and tore him asunder. His last thought was to give thanks that he had not become a cannibal, even as he reached out to tear gobbets of flesh from his assailants, gorging himself as his legs and intestines were carried away. Shortly thereafter the brothers poured molten lead into the clockwork of the gates. Four of the remaining eighty-nine were cast out on suspicion of carrying the Bile Plague. The Abbot gathered the remaining monks into the audience hall. “Today we forsook the people outside these walls. Tens of thousands will die, with no clean water and no understanding of how to heal themselves. By all that we hold as sacred we should be the ones who die.” A skull popped in the massive pyre that the townsfolk had built in the square before the temple, diseased brain spraying across the plaza. “But the Word is more important than any monk, than any villager, than any peasant. This world may be spared the plague and still be doomed if the Word is not spread. As also everyone may die and they will live if the Word is preserved. We close these gates this day that we may open them a decade hence, to bring the Word back to a forgetting world. So it is inscribed.” Later the moat was drained, revealing a gawping mass of fevered bodies, already drowned but still reaching for each other’s eyes, for comfort, for humanity, for meat. One thousand years passed. –Steve Kilian More Ancient Betrayals […]

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