Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Commander Ludwig Nicstaed’s ‘The Creatures and Monsters of Esdaria: A Bestiary Written in Blood’, Part Five of Six

In the penultimate section of his work, Commander Ludwig Nicstaed takes the reader on a short - but nonetheless important - journey through the classification of beast that he calls 'hybrids'. These are creatures that appear to be Man-like in some ways, yet beast-like in others. They are not like cyclopses, which are described to be like large, one-eyes humans with tough skin, or golbins, which are wizened, Gnome-like beings with pallid fesh. No, the 'hybrids' exhibit clearly animal traits and characteristics, alongside those which can be likened to a Man.

Hybrids – Creatures that are like Men and Beasts

Harpies, like the avian creatures, prefer either heavily-wooded areas or the sheer faces of the highest hills. They have a woman’s face and body, but a hooked beak where their mouth and nose should be. Woman-like thighs are attached to horrible bird legs, which are free of feathers and sport bloody, sharp talons. From their arms stretch large wings, and their fingers are covered in horrible, deadly claws. They are dark and dusky in colour, often either grey of brown, and have large tail feathers that are as wide as they are tall.

They are surprisingly skittish, and lose all vigour once faced in a straight-up battle. Often, they attack in packs of between four and twelve, but as soon as they are faced with cold steel, they beat their wings and flap away as fast as they can. They have soft flesh and their wings are highly prized for their downy texture, but offer little defence against a well-aimed stab or an arrow.

Ludwig certainly faced harpies in his day, and it is surprisingly well-documented in a series of letters sent by a thankful imperial nobleman, whose life was saved by one of Ludwig’s men. Baron Fathyde’s original letters are kept in the Imperial Archive, along with his astronomical accounts of sun and star movements. It has been speculated that a sudden influx of harpies around Stonesport was caused by reverberations from Dwarf-mines in the Syladras Mountains. Disturbed from their roosts, it makes sense that the harpies that had previously inhabited parts of the Syladras Mountains would flock southwards, where the climate is warmer, in the hope of finding new roosts.

At nine feet tall, the minotaur is a fearsome beast. It has great horns which arc about its head in a circular fashion, and its body is huge and strong. Thick all over with fur, the minotaur’s arms, chest and stomach are like those of an exceedingly tall and broad man, whilst his legs are like those of a great cow. His feet, too, are cloven like that of cattle. However, they are much larger. He has a tail too that hangs down between his thighs, but his most defining feature is his head and face, which are those of a great, furious bull.

‘The Bull-Man of Westernaea’ is a popular folk-tale that has survived both orally and in song. Here, again, the reader sees Ludwig’s good knowledge of folk-custom and culture slipping into his account. Ludwig’s account is a near clear-cut copy of a particular song, one of the verses of which states:

Nine-times the size of a large man’s foot,
And with great horns an arc about its head,
The Bull-Man of Westernaea’s body was huge,
And surrounded was he by the dead.
His arms were large and thick with fur,
His hooves were black as night,
His tail did swish t’ween his iron-like thighs,
A fiercer beast none did ever fight.

His chest and stomach were like that of Man,
But his legs were those of beast,
His arms were huge and his hands were strong,
And upon Man’s flesh he did feast.
But his face and head were a thing of terror,
All fur and yellowed eyes,
His head was that of a raging bull,
And, my friends, I cannot lie.

There has, however, never been a recorded sighting of a minotaur or 'bull-man'. Given the closeness of Luwig’s account of the creature to the description in the folk-song, this entry can probably be dismissed as completely made up. Furthermore, the entry is somewhat brief, suggesting that Ludwig never encountered a minotaur. Taken in conjunction with the account of a troll, this stands in great contrast.

When the evil Heathen Arts of monsters and heretics is woven about innocent lives, and for a moment a dark shadow passes across the light of Vidoria which burns within and guides each of us, terrible things can happen. For when we are removed from her grace, even for a second, we are weak and susceptible to the attack of foul Heathen Artwork and curses. It is rare for a curse to have such ill-effect on a man as transformation, but such is possible. The werewolf is a terrible thing: a Man afflicted with cruel Heathen Arts and forced to transform with the rising of the moon into a great, dog-like beast. Their whole bodies are cloaked in dense, grey fur and they have terrible, glowing red, forward-facing eyes. Hands which were once soft and hairless become great dark claws, matted with thick, bloody fur; a bushy tail grows from the base of the spine. There is nothing as frightening nor as savage as the fury of a werewolf – and fury is all they know. It comes in a great rain of howls and snarls, edged with terrible teeth and savage slashes.

There is a somewhat disturbing personal note to this entry. The final warning that Ludwig gives feels much more personal that those given in the rest of his work. Was this caused by the death of a loved one? Did someone he know end up afflicted with lycanthropy? This is a question that shall probably never be answered.

It is unclear what causes lycanthropy – if there even is a cause to look for, as Ludwig claims there is. He asserts that those Men afflicted with it are cursed. Scholarly and scientific explanation have been inconclusive, as werewolves are a rare site. Certain Vidorian hunters and scouts have claimed to have seen werewolves commanding packs of wild dogs and wolves alongside alpha-male gulons, leading some to claim that werewolves are in fact matriarchal gulons, whilst the four-pawed, shaggy, dog-like gulons are themselves only male.

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