Plague sickens the fallen Roman empire in 500 AD. The Dark Ages begin. Forfeit compensation and even food, mercenaries from Germanic tribes venture into the Swiss Alps and hunt for food. Desperate as this age is, the quest demands better men than mere hunters. Legend tells Wild Men live there in pine forests. So warriors follow trails toward the northern face of the mountain range.
The Alliance With Wild Men 500 AD
“Kaboom,” and the foothills shake late at night.
Howls follow the thunder, savage and frightened human howls. Between flashes and booms, people hiding everywhere inside the surrounding pine forest make helpless yaps. Their voices are muffled by cold and humid darkness.
“Wild men,” Ansel tells his hunting party. The middle-aged man is one of five warriors who cross the Swiss Alps.
The youngest man worries and he repeats the statement. “Wild men.”
A second blond boy – and these four warriors beside Ansel are only boys – this one wonders “Wolf men?”
Ansel says “Yes.”
He warns his young warriors. “Stay near the camp fire. Unsheathe your swords.”
“But it’s raining,” complains Ollin.
Next to him, the big Berg teases the fussy lad. “You’ll have to let go your boar sausage and polish your steel later.”
Among all of these hunters, Ollin is the only boy with black hair. Ansel is blond, too, but the old man’s hair grows in patches and his is streaked with gray. The creatures in the woods can only guess these details because all these warriors wear fur caps. They keep their heads covered against freezing drizzle. The hide cloak each wears sheds water easily enough yet the boys shiver.
Ansel remains steadfast. He’s traveled on foot with this expedition for weeks and he is acclimated to starving these frigid evenings. The moon is full tonight but an absolute cloud cover conceals the event. Every flame in the sky is smothered.
If there was no thunderstorm and lycanthropes did not now wail from hiding places, Ansel and his novice warriors would not know they were stalked by wild men until they’d been torn inside-out. The old man believes fire keeps these wolves at bay. They are simple animals and thunderclaps make them afraid. The wild men hide, cry and complain.
“Why can’t they be good bandits?” Ricki wonders. The hilt of his weapon slips in his wet grip. He is the youngest blond boy and he conjures a childish hope. “I wish they were Puck, the kin of Puck, Puck-kins.”
Towering over everyone, even Ansel, the standing Berg asks the younger boy “Good Bandits?”
The fourth kid, Frank, tells his friend “He’s thinking about a legend the Angli tell about their forests.”
Berg answers. “That’s far away and in their own safe land. This place is different. There is a sea between here and there. And there are those white cliffs. Monsters live in our forests. These are the woodlands of the Motherland.”
Ollin groans. “Everyone knows. The tales have been told since before the creation of days.”
Ricki tells everybody “Christians came and claimed they were fathered by Cain, a man who murdered his brother.”
“Christians?” Berg grumbles.
Ricki says “Cain took a demon for a wife. Her name was Lilith.”
Talk of a single god, His son and every martyr for their purported monotheism does not interest the older Ansel. The man has an impression he’s heard the same stories before and with different names and places. And so much is irrelevant. He instead occupies himself with a disciplined life. Ansel expects when he dies, he will find more of the same hard work.
He stops the juvenile banter with an orated piece of genuine history. “The Angli came from around here, well, the Saxon half of them did. We are actually brothers. If there is a curse in our blood and we become these things, it goes with them as well.”
Ricki repeats himself. “It was Cain and his wife.”
Frank speaks. “Blame it on Eve.”
Lightning ends the argument. Fractured, multiplied and divided by pine needles, green reflections thrown from eyes that glint between tree branches and trunks reveal the camp is circled. That instant before darkness and a punishing snap, there appeared no exit from this forest clearing. Especially now in the dark, there is no escape without meeting wild men.
Granted visions of the confrontation, Ollin mumbles the sentiment everyone shares. “I’d rather die frozen to the ground.”
“Stay by the fire,”Ansel advises.
“Help us,” a human voice calls from the hidden horde of wild men. A man begs “Save us.”
No one sees who speaks. Ricki eventually whispers “Who, me?”
“Save us. We are Alamanni, just like you.”
Berg asks himself aloud “Kin? Men?”
Another bolt makes the clearing shine. Naked bodies come out the tree line. The eyes of these hairy people beam green light. The reflection persists a moment before thunder and darkness close the scene. Screams then cramp the broken sounds of trampled grass and snapped tree limbs. The echo of wild men backing away relieves the boys.
Berg joins the convulsion. “You’re not human.”
Ansel calms him. “Someone said he was our brother, a brother in distress.”
“Cursed,” Frank mutters.
The oldest warrior tells his men “Stand guard. We will hear what the someone has to say.”
Ansel yells into the night “Who speaks? Do you speak for all of you, you wild men?”
“Yes,” answers a desperate voice.
Ansel tells him “Show yourself. Come nearer our fire.”
“Fire,” whines the voice.
Ansel promises “You’re safe. We will protect you.”
“That is all we ask.”
A nude man moves into the radiance of the warriors hearth. The man is naked but he is not exposed – thick, red hair grows all over his body. The hue is more alive than the red on the tunics of the more human warriors. Everywhere but the wild man’s lips and the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands is slick with wet, chromatic fur.
Swaths of his hair shine back firelight as intense the emerald tint of his glowing eyes. He smiles with pointed fangs and stares at the warriors. Lightning flashes then thunder booms and the naked red creature cowers. It whines and speaks words that sound as barks.
“You’re safe,” Ansel promises the wild man.
When the creature stands upright, thunder frightens him again and the wild man jumps at Ansel. The four young warriors ready their swords but not a single boy moves forward. Ansel guards himself and he holds his stance. Before the old warrior raises his weapon, the wild man falls to the frosted ground. He grovels before Ansel’s boots.
“The thunder,” says the wild man. “The thunder.”
Ansel ignores superstitious tripe and he asks the enemy “What do you want, food? We have none. We’re going to the northern face to hunt goats.”
“There is none there,” the wild man replies and looks up at the edge of a long sword. He tells the tame man “That’s why we’re on the southern slope.”
“We won’t surrender so you can eat us,” Berg declares.
Ansel tells Berg “Quiet, I am your elder.”
Simultaneous, the wild man implores the human in charge. “Save us from the thunder and lightning. We know you don’t fear fire and now we see you face the storm. Man stands under the open sky without fear. Save us from these elements, mankind is indeed brave. We respect men, we give them our honor.”
Speaking to Berg’s point, Ansel asks the wild man “And not eat us?”
“Not anymore, no more. Please save us.”
“Alright,” Ansel tells him and he sheathes his sword. “Go back into the woods and leave us alone. No one will be struck down this evening.”
The wild man is hesitant. “The storm.”
Ansel says “It will end when it ends, when it is done. Go back to the woods. Stay there and nobody will die, not tonight.”
“Thank you,” the wild man tells him. “Bless you.”
“Who are you?” Ansel asks the simpering creature.
The wild man replies “Arunacus.”
A lightening flash shows scores of naked wolf men have come into the clearing. The hairy creatures press themselves together and toward the camp from all around. The human warriors can’t see because the dark but when thunder comes the wild men flatten themselves on the frozen ground.
Ansel yells at the encroaching strangers. “I said go back into the woods.”
Arunacus glances up and tells the old warrior. “They are afraid. It’s the storm.”
“Go back,” Ansel says with threat.
Howling wild men deafen the human warriors. Only Arunacus is heard over the lament. “Please, end the storm now. We will make you Lord. You will be king.”
Ansel straightens his back and the man drips and looks fierce above the bottom glow of fire. He says with his whole heart “One man cannot be king. There is not one Lord and we are free men. We govern ourselves.”
The old warrior is certain of his words. The four young men with him nod their heads. Berg jokes when he says “Well, if you are offered a kingdom…”
“No,” Ansel replies. “Not to be a slave is enough.”
Arunacus tells the old warrior “You sound like a wild man.”
The old man stares at the oversized boy until Berg feels ashamed he said anything. And like Ansel, the kid can’t trust himself to never mention something equivalent again. More confident and trustworthy, Ollin gives their mentor better support.
The oldest of the young warriors asks the wild men “What are we supposed to do?”
Frank tells everyone “I’m not holding anybody’s hand.”
“Send them to bed without supper,” Berg suggests now that his friends help him feel brave again. “That will happen no matter what else.”
“Go back to the woods,” Ansel commands the wild men. “The storm will be spent before morning.”
“Keep your heads down,” Ricki advises.
Once the lycanthropes leave the firelight, no man can see but the warriors suspect their suspicious allies withdraw. The crackle of cold grass and heavier echos from past the whereabouts of the forest-line help assure the men. Arunacus is also gone and he is probably secure among his kind.
The campfire grows thin and Ricki states “Cold.”
At ease, Ansel makes a complaint to himself. “I haven’t dealt with enemies like this… not since children, not since this lot of mercenaries.”
The youngest warrior pitches a damp log into the fire. Ash and steam rise skyward, propelled even higher because a loud hiss. The rain stops the same time and a tunnel straight up through the clouds opens above the sputtering fire. The storm ends.
“Who are you?” Arunacus shouts from faraway in the darkness. The night persists even while the storm lifts. Even otherwise, the wild man wants to know the name of his savior. “What is your name?”
Berg tells them. “His name is Lord Ansel.”
The old warrior says nothing to big Berg then the man says no more. Somewhere in the night, Arunacus yet speaks. The wild man makes a promise to all mankind. “Men are not our prey. Wild men will respect their kind forever more. And mere men will protect us from their wrathful storm god. We did not know we sin against Him because what we are.”
A defiant soul, Ansel thinks “Be who you are. That is the first command of a just lord. It is the only command upon people who create themselves.”
Almost as if the upright beasts share his thoughts, the wild men howl with laughter and snarl when they feel delight.
- Matthew Sawyer