1643 beginning 1645
behind the scenes
In the spring, having had certain facts laid before him Axel Grossenmist, the lawyer, donned armour such as he rarely wears save for occasional turns about the fields with the Volunteer Patrol, at the behest of a scion of the landholder family von Berlichingen for whom Grossenmist has acted in more conventional manner on occasion. Young Gotz von Berlichingen has spent some years abroad fighting God's war in the west, and since his return to the bosom of his family has taken opportunity to fight the good fight nearer home, in the company of other soldiers such as he. One of these was Markus Holtzberg who has built a reputation as a map maker and surveyor in the past year and has done some work in the matter of field boundaries which has brought him into contact with Grossenmist in his own right.
The gist of the tale is that at the tail of the old year, whilst returning from a foray into the private and secret places of those the Pit has set in worthless dominion over the wild, they were guided by the Lord's subtle hand to make discovery of further evil lurking on the hillsides over-looking the road and Oxen Run. Asking the advice of a responsible person seemed to them the best course, for the lair was outwith the reach of the Town Guard proper, and yet such activity in that place, close on the field of Oxen-Run, boded ill. The family lawyer, a founder member of the Volunteer Patrol, listened and agreed to help investigate, for von Berlichingen and his accomplices felt their faith and experience in the west would stand them in good stead, while Grossenmist's more practical experience of the wiles of Satan in these lands would aid the investigation the more, and that full report should be made to the Guard. Upon Monday the first day of March they left, with hirelings and experienced soldiers of von Berlichingen's group eight in number including mule handlers, but not the mule, to probe Satan's schemes. But upon Sunday the mule handlers alone save for the blackened form of Axel Grossenmist, the mule's burden, returned.
Those who guided the mule told of reaching the ridge, at the foot of which was fought Oxen-Run, and the seeking out of a secret place by which access could be gained to the caves within, where it was supposed ogres laired, and how Grossenmist and five companions had entered ready to do battle, to burn out the cancer at the hills' heart. And that some time later the whole land had shuddered, putting them in such a state of fear and alarm, that they commended their souls to the Lord thinking that the End was at hand, the very pit itself having opened up, while smoke emerged from places about them. But fortified by prayer they stood their ground until finally from the reeking tunnels staggered the form they with difficulty recognised as he who had led within, Grossenmist, but no other.
Though sorely wounded and near deaf the lawyer found urgent words to shout to the sergeant, and again to Captain Gerhardt as he was hurriedly called, before allowing himself to be carried to his sickbed. What he said had upon Monday the 7th the Blitzpatrol, Volunteer Patrol and volunteers hastily convened from the merchant forces ride forth from New Jerusalem to investigate the region of the Oxen Run, the first time in memory such a force has swept forth from the town. Little enough did they have to show for it though upon the return of the Blitzpatrol alone five days later. These reduced numbers inspired much alarm amongst those who do not set sufficient store in the providence of the Lord's protecting arm for his soldiers. For while the Blitzpatrol had only authority to investigate the Spire and surrounding desolation the gentlemen of the Volunteer Patrol and the irregular forces of the Merchant's had decided to use their time profitably, in that they were enabled to travel far and fast, and harass the distant centres of the dark where the enemy might expect his servants to be safe by their separation from the virtue of good Christian men.
The report of the Blitzpatrol did not make good listening. The information they laid before the Captain told: of discovering that the ridge holds within it a mouth of Hell itself whence emerges Hell's servants to do their mischief upon the face of the earth; upon this fact the will of the Lord was openly defied by Abominations that challenged and mocked His servants, seeking to lure them into rash deeds when two of the kind named Hobgoblin presented themselves upon the open plain before the dozen and a half mounted men; and though the brave men of the Volunteer Patrol had penetrated the outer portals of the crack in the earth they had found it safe guarded against them and they might not try it further.
Having found that there was not anything that they might usefully do the Volunteers determined on bringing the Lord's Wrath to bear in other places while the Blitzpatrol returned to New Jerusalem in accordance to their orders. In this they reaped some small measure of success, south of the broken lands known to those who take an interest in such things to hold many a refuge for the filth of the pit, when a number of vermin were ridden down and destroyed.
After the work of March several of the merchants' escorts took to the wild lands on their own account, with Councillor Volger's factor Wolff, and his man Stark. But the servant would do well not to ape the manner of his master when he is not so capable. Wolff returned sorely wounded having learned that the spirit must be pure and righteous for a soldier of the Lord to overcome singlehanded the more gigantic of Satan's partisans. For those who brought home his groaning form could be persuaded to tell over several jars of beer in the Southfort of his words of mockery to a giant, rather than speaking words of the scriptures to smite it. And it then sought him out from amongst them, that Wolff was constrained to flee until he could find suitable ground upon which he and Stark, who being the only other mounted person had loyally kept station with his master, could face it. It was fortunate that Stark did so for he was able to drive off the creature before it could finish Wolff, whom it had felled with its club when his lance went amiss.
On Friday the 13th a small party of Southfort auslanders, lured by tales of gold, crossed the Jordan despite the entreaties of the guardsmen manning the bridge fort guns. When later drumming was heard in the depths of the forest, and it was widely reckoned that more auslanders had been taken as Satan's own. But in fact some returned at great haste next morning, having swum the river to escape those bearing the gold, and others who had been presumed lost by their accomplices eventually reappeared after another night hiding from the demon drum mers. Bearing in mind the close proximity of a temple of darkness and gold in these northern woods the Town Guard, in the shape of Sergeant Grimmelshausen closely examined those who had `escaped', but found them to be as blameless as any auslander might be expected to be. Late in the month those who war with Evil for the greater glory of God rather than to fill their own pockets demonstrated how the battle should be fought. Councillor Gustav Volger led Sergeant Praise-the-Lord Grimmelshausen, Doctor Franz von Meinhoff, Merchant Sebastian Kurtz, Lotte Luuk the Huntress, a light field piece and various dogs, mules and servants south giving out as destination the southern hills (a known fortress of abomination as mentioned heretofore) that the councillor has visited with fire and the sword on other occasions. The return of the party in June brought unlookedfor news of a providence that occasioned stern and sober rejoicing; news of a sinner brought to justice; news of Satan's works overturned; and news of a long drawn out threat expunged.
For deep in the south, beyond the hillside haunts of hob and goblin and abominations without name, a road was found where there should be none. Intrigued to know who else should be travelling the wastes the instrument's of God's Wrath set themselves by the roadside in ambush. For many days they waited patiently, sure in the knowledge that they would be rewarded, and passing the hours in prayer, until, as the food had run low, and the beasts of burden were being appraised for their tenderness, the sound of approaching waggons was heard. Even though it was obvious that only the lowest dregs of humanity would do business with whatever lurked within the swamp to which the trail led, the Councillor was still amazed to see over his caliver barrel the turncoat traitor to mankind, Captain von Dreiden, responsible for the death of Captain Pfifer, Gerhardt's predecessor, Councillor Schroeder, a score of guardsmen and townspeople killed or maimed, the burning of much property in the Westgate, not to mention his undoubted part in the battle of Oxen Run.
Despite that the Servants of the Lord were outnumbered by some five or six to one by von Dreiden's mercenaries their duty was plain. They commended their souls to God's undoubted mercy, the councillor shot the Captain of Hell's guard, Gunner Sergeant Grimmelshausen set fire to the touchhole of his piece, again at the waggon ridden by the demon captain. And the thunder of the Lord's judgement rolled across the land as von Dreiden departed this world in Hellfire; for that waggon he had ridden had carried his force's powder, and much of it for few of his men nor the other two waggons survived the explosion.
Pausing only to secure a prisoner they then rapidly departed for the mercenaries' passing would soon bring Satan's wrath upon them when he received his servants early in his pit. This belief proved to be well founded when a few days later the cannon that had struck the blow was itself struck to ruin by the hellfire of a ghostly rider which came upon the party in the night as they essayed a pass through the southern hills to the plains about New Jerusalem.
But the Lord held out his protective hand over his followers, and their prayers drove off the fiend without further damage to themselves, and returned with the good tidings upon the tenth day of the month. Triumphant though the cause of righteousness was at this point, the cunning of the enemy was such that no useful information could be gained of the councillor's prisoner for he was found no only to be deafened by the proximity of the explosion that had ended his days as a servant of the enemy, but also possessed by madness. As he was therefore unable even to hear the words of scripture that might drive out his madness, let alone hear questions that he might answer them he was without further ado hanged, and his body left suspended on the road by Southfort with a board inscribed: 'I trafficked with Satan ' that he might serve some purpose to the cause of righteousness, as a warning to others of his ilk that the Lord's vengeance will reach evildoers wherever they may do their wicked work.
Patrols both official and unofficial probed both to north and south. Doctor von Meinhoff remembering perhaps the joys of a free and single life recruited a small force of that class of soldier to which he once himself belonged and undertook further trips south to the dismay of his patients though presumably not his wife. And Blitz Patrol Captain van Rijn lead his newly enlarged force on a patrol of several days to north and west, about the bounds of the forest seeking both information on the extent of the golden drummers' empire in those lands, and also to prepare his force for longer patrols along the southern road which bears all New Jerusalem's trade with the markets of the west. As well as his riders he also had with him as savage a pack of dogs as ever pursued a fleeing sinner, both bloodhounds and mastiffs, the Captain holding that any one such dog with a patrol is worth two sinners or three abominations. The whole patrol is gone five days, but finds nothing to challenge them in the northlands, though noting some signs of the menace in the forest even at their furthestmost penetration.
Few others went abroad in this period, for the weather was excessively warm and humid, which raises fears of plague in some quarters, and inclines even relatively godly men to sloth at mid-afternoons when the heat was at its worst. Even work on the new Southfort Chapel fell behind. This worthy enterprise has been paid for by subscription from those with lands in that area, for the benefit of their workers, the Town Guards at the fort itself, and in the hope that the auslanders who lodge there between caravans might be lead to a more godly life. Within it will be a plaque testifying to those godly persons who contributed large sums to the funds, and foremost of those names will be be Merchants Hoffmann and Councillor Volger, fine and upstanding examples to all.
When the heavy weather lifted just before the harvest Doctor von Meinhoff, mindful that Satan works on even when Christian men must rest lead a patrol from the Southfort, taking with him Councillor Volger's factor and fellow Volunteer Patrol member, Wolff (now recovered fully from his mishap earlier in the year with the giant, and perhaps a wiser man for that trial) and his guard Stark, amongst others. Announcing as they depart an intention to take a look at places not recently under scrutiny they indicated no intention to be gone any long period of time, several of them having responsibilities for the collection of the Lord's bounty of the harvest.
But harvest or no, there was no sign of their return as it commenced, nor even once disaster befell it not more than the day after the first sheaves were cut a week of storms flattened the crops then pounded them deep into the liquid earth, an evil stroke that results in the worst harvest in twenty years.
The foul weather that doomed the harvest in the latter part of September, previously remarked, continued well into October. No only has the grain upon which the prosperity of the of the town so depends mostly been lost, but much too of the fruit of the orchards has come roughly to the earth before its normally appointed hour. It is to be expected therefore that cider will be cheaper than ever this year, and other such thrifty uses of spoilt produce even if all other foodstuffs increase in value in accordance with their shortage.
Return of von Meinhoff and supporters brings explanation of their long and inopportune absence, for as the Switzer doctor had remarked to friends before departure much can be happening out of sight of the normal paths of godly men. This led him to take himself and company from these paths, though maintaining the path of righteousness withall, and wander in the wilderness as the Lord's guiding hand took him. Thus it was that he was able to make reconnaissance of a company of desperate fellows such as those once numbered amongst the followers of the infernal captain, von Dreiden, now burning in his master's home. Having discovered a new threat of mercenary invaders, though they were confused and turned aside from New Jerusalem by God's grace, the Doctor felt obliged to follow their path lest they turn once more, and indeed followed them into the west, to return aboard a merchant train late in the month.
Some of von Meinhoff's companions can hardly be said to return at all, not accompanying the Doctor back into New Jerusalem proper, but stopping short with Councillor Volger's factor, Wolff, at the council lor's barn close by the Southfort. Pausing only a few days to gather in supplies Wolff, Stark, Retick and Zwitter - the core of Volger's Irregulars - depart with supply-laden mules to bring to completion affairs left unfinished by their diversion in watch upon the enemies of the town. That whatever they attended to was of the utmost urgency is signalled by their willingness to venture out as autumn closed into winter, such excursion as is so far as possible eschewed for the foul weather often encountered at this season. The coverings of the mules' loads fail to conceal the outlines of barrels said by others who had arrived on the waggons to be of an explosive or flammable substances only available in quantity in the west, and might not safely be brought into town - hence the use of the barn for the few days necessary storage before its departure once more.
The Blitzpatrol too spends its time in harrassing the legions of the pit along the length of the merchant road in patrols from the Southfort on a weekly basis a day's ride south to the edge of the broken hills that shelter deep in their caves much that fears the light of the Lord's day. On occasion they continue another day to survey the site of the Oxen-Run, and ensure that naught unclean dare stir there for fear that the Lord's Will be done on them again.
As the end of the year draws nigh, pigs fattened on the windfalls of the autumn are driven squealing to the slaughter, emerging as bacon, ham and sausages to sustain those that can afford them over the following months. Not only do the owners of livestock expect to profit this winter, but also the blacksmiths for many wisely take the precaution of fitting new locks and bars to their food stores this winter.
A new thing in the town this winter is Emmanuel Retick's venture into trade. For taking advantage of his unexpected trip to the west with Doctor von Meinhoff he has invested his savings in texts and treatises upon the brewer and stiller's arts, and now seeks to put these into practice. This presents something of a thorny question for the Council when the request for a licence to conduct such trade is laid before them, as the Town Guard has for many years made a point of destroying the stills occasionally discovered in the depths of the Wallside producing unlicenced spirit. However the argument made by Retick and supporters is that a licenced source of distilled spirit at a lesser cost than that imported from the west, should reduce the market for the firewater of the Wallside, while being the more easily controllable for being open to the control of the legitimate authorities of the town. The obvious sincerity of Retick in his wish to drive out undesirable spirits in the town, as evidenced by his offer to post a several hundred mark bond with the Council, persuades them to allow him a trial period as the sole licenced stiller in New Jerusalem.