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It is the year of our Lord, 1168.
Though I do not know the advantage to doing so, and the ill thoughts that continue to plague my mind will not disappear even as I write, it is my holy task to record these findings and send them to the Archbishop of Lybaek. And it is in the fulfillment of this task I hope to find some closure and meaning to the answers I seek.
My name, though unimportant, is Haavard. My Christian name is Constantine, or in the manner of the eastern heretics, Konstantin. Having been reared and taught by the Church as a scribe of no small means and talent, it was my goal to go with the marching banners of my kinsmen and see the will of the Lamb spread far and sundry. For there are many places where the vile heathenry of my forefathers still persists, and many of the Wends still persist in open idolatry.
With great fervor did I seek to attach my presence to the army of the Waldgrave auf Thuringer. A strong man, of cleft chin and great hew - perhaps into his fortieth year, or at least so old in appearance. Our holy goal - to seize the island of Arkona from the Wendish Rani and convert it to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The camp, however, was not as I had imagined or the Archbishop had illuminated. Our force - perhaps one-thousand strong, with easily five-hundred camp followers and a good half as many children and dependents - were ragged and old. The lines on their faces spoke of endless combat, and life long accustomed to the weariness of war. Though they seemed experienced, in their eyes I saw fear and exhaustion. And for the first time of many to come, I felt doubt.
Outside the Waldgrave's tent stood a large pole to which several bodies were strapped. I did not understand the purpose of the device as I passed, but the ground was viscous with an unpleasant slurry. The stench was unbearable. As the wan forms on the pole stirred ever so slightly, I realized with horror that the men and women so bound to it were alive. Bruised and cut in many places, but alive.
Shivering at the chill air and the cruelty of this man I was yet to meet, I stepped inside. The Waldgrave was deep in thought, but he welcomed me as a brother, and I felt both humbled and revolted. For he seemed not to care about the cruelty he had inflicted upon those whose only crime was ignorance of our great Lord - more than that, his face became animated with a cruel light as he spoke, and all the more so as he announced plans for the fire this evening.
And though the Archbishop may think the less of me for it, I could not stand the shrieking nor the smell of that pyre, and I instead chose to walk along the shores of the Baltic. Though familiar to myself, the army was not familiar with this land of Pomerania. The waves lapping at the coast were comforting, and I understood for a blissful moment, perhaps, why our ancestors might seek inward perfection by traveling the whale-road.
The moment passed by fleetingly. We moved before daybreak, our goal to surprise the Slavs and drive from them the land quickly, so that as our boats made landfall, we might quickly establish suzerainty.
Perhaps that was the first sign of our doom.
All the fishing villages along the coast we passed were abandoned, looking as though they had long since ceased to exist. The smell of salt water and brine hung thick in the air, yet not a single scrimshander turned bone to art; no peasants tilled nor children played. The villages, to a building, were empty.
Some of the camp followers began to waver, and I as well as some others whom had been trained in the vernacular attempted to reassure them. Our efforts were broken, however, as we reached our destination - a tiny port whose name I did not know at the time, and whose name is now all but lost to history.
For there were perhaps thousands of them there. Slavs they were, but like no others we had seen nor fought yet. Far from the mewling retreat the Waldgrave had told us to expect, and the cowed prisoners I had seen strapped to the stake that burned for hours among the chill night, they drew around us in a great circle.
And of these men and women - for amongst them were a great deal of women as well - none seemed of martial nature. Their skin, pallid as it was, was strange - discolored as if waterlogged for a long time. Their eyes remained wide and yet distant, and each in turn carried with them a sickle, spade, or other such instrument.
But most of all was their exposed flesh! For along the arms of the hideous mob, their very flesh twisted and grew back, not unlike the water-flowers that drift under the currents. Peeled back and flying delicately in the wind, it looked as if they should be in great pain - and yet they smiled. Smiled in unison, as one.
Then the wave was upon us. To the credit of the expedition, they fought bravely - but there were too many. And though our opponents were slain by the dozen, none seemed to care. Laughing and howling, they continued to swim over us as easily as if land were air - hacking and biting with tooth and nail when their weapons broke.
I had not made my peace with God - I am ashamed to say that I fell motionless, for all I could see was their grey-mottled flesh broken and piled around me. Somehow - hatefully! - I saw the Waldgrave, moving towards a boat with a look of viciousness in his eyes, and though I rue the moment, some fell impulse compelled me to follow him.
And I did, and wordlessly we left the scene of slaughter behind us.
I have heard that many of the expedition survived without any seeming wound, claiming that there was no foe waiting for us, and that ill-weather instead forced a halt. Lies - for none of them are who they claim to be. What dwells in their skin tells no truth, and is a servant of the Devil - or perhaps, something worse.
Maybe such words shall be as blasphemy, but I went with the Waldgrave - I saw what he saw, and I will not fall silent when all we have worked for is at risk. The very fact I am recording this will tell you of the danger beyond the sea - and whether it is accepted or buried is yours to say.
But I cannot lie when the truth exists, and I cannot hide what God willed me to see.
Neither of us spoke as the boat washed to the shore, or was carried to - which, I know not. The beach was bright and strewn with rocks of different size and coloration, in contrast with the village we saw up ahead, which had long since grown thick and deaded by flora.
Some foul swamp stretched across the island of Arkona, in contrast to what we had heard of it. The Waldgrave murmured that it was to be expected that Slavish merchants would lie of their lands - but a feeling begun to gnaw in my skull, even worse than the teeth of the peasants from before as they bit, and chewed, and laughed.
This place was cursed - for the abandoned village here was no feint nor trick, but long since condemned to ruin. Graves and idols - of stone make, seven in number - dotted a section of the village where the swamp crept close enough to the village so as to caress it. The Waldgrave grew quiet, his eyes two slits of blue light against the wave of green.
"We go further." He said, at last.
Through vine and mere we cut, laying plants low to the ground with every passing step. Every step of the way, the incessant laughter of a rook seemed to follow us, but the night-bird was nowhere to be found. We traveled for days despite the fact that in that time, it should have been possible for us to walk the entirety of the island and back again.
At last we reached a copse, overgrown with trees and strands of pale grey silk strewn upon the wind. Perhaps some weaver-wife had used the glen in secret, and after her death or passing the uncaring wilds had swallowed any remnants into obscurity.
Or perhaps it was the first explanation I could think of, as I swore I felt many eyes staring at us as if we were slabs of meat, and nothing more. But the Waldgrave had grown determined, the roughness of his expression haggard from days without food nor water nor rest. We pressed on and - God help us all - we found it.
For in the center of the swamp, beyond the copse, beyond all the open green - there was a dolmen or tomb of some kind, raised above the earth. It was was barely wide enough to permit either of us - and for the briefest of moments I wondered if it was intended for a child.
Yet, the architects of the building were cunning - for as we drew closer, the entrance seemed to grow larger, just enough so that we could continue in single file. Down, we went. Down into the great belly of the earth and in the damp, mud-stone staircases overgrown with moss, there was -
Even as I hate myself, there was sense of peace. For the ground was cool under my feet, and I could feel it seeping into my skin where my boots had long since torn. The air intruded upon my neck, and seemed to clear my eyes and I felt - a great happiness.
And then I realized that this happiness was not merely my own, and I grew scared.
The chamber ahead of us was carved of no rock I had ever seen, but a soil - a soil! - red as clay or rust, and smelling of fresh-cut grass. A dais built of strange, marble-like stone - and well maintained, showing none of the wear of all else we had passed - loomed in front of us, and on that..? On that -
So help us all, on that stood the beating heart of the place.
No organ, perhaps - for it was five times as tall as I and had limbs, serpentine and smooth like that of the great snake, yet covered with a shimmering dust that caused my mind to go to heady and hideous places even as I beheld the many lacerations that coated the creature. It's breathing was measured, but broken - wounded.
And as I realized it, so too did the Waldgrave - and with ironshod determination, he clutched his blade in front of him. No ordinary sword, it took two hands to hold; I had heard it was forged of a steel built only by the Saracens in the Holy Land, and that the blade had been used to slay a great many heathens.
It was completely useless - for at that point, it opened its single eye - the entirety of its body opened.
There was a sound that even now, I found humorous. Like a child seeing a new friend, or an innocent maiden - and the Waldgrave was pulled towards the dais with an equally, terrifyingly funny scream. I laughed so hard that tears streamed onto my bare feet and into the warm, welcoming soil around them. His sword had broken completely, and was being digested by a nearby wall, of course - as was the Waldgrave himself.
For there was nothing I could do, but for some reason the entity had chosen to spare me.
The smell of rose petals welcomed me as a new path, also of red and clay-like material, sprouted in front of me. I followed it without complaint, simply happy to be alive - I had been chosen, and the Lord in his Grace had spared me. Why? I asked myself that then, but I did not care. As I navigated the swamp in less than an hour's time, I asked it again.
And I asked it as the boat left the island and it disappeared under the sea with a sickening intake of air and ghoulish laughter, and again as I returned to the safety of Hamburg, and again as I approached the Abbey, and again, and again. And I have no answer, but to tell you this -
The island you say is Arkona, is not. The actual island dwells, even now. It lives beneath the Baltic, and all the powers of Christendom will not help us should it choose to return. For it is merely a gateway, or a servant, or some other thing for which there is no word to describe and it waits! It waits and it knows nothing, nothing and all, save a vague, childish amusement!
I say to you, Archbishop - we must go. We must burn all of the flowers of the woods, drain all the swamps of the world - we must cut every vine and dry every fruit, living only off the meat we can carve of those animals that survive in fallow fields. For so long as even one of those many eyes - that eye! - remains, it will watch, and wait - and, eventually, return.
But, I know that as a Man of God, you are inclined to need proof to believe a claim as outrageous as this. But proof I have. For with me I have brought the object at the center of the dais - a disc, a disc of solid green stone! And this disc, I know, shall be our salvation! ...
So is the testimony of Constantine, in the year of our Lord, 1168.
The confessions of one scribe Constantine were viewed as madness brought on by severe dehydration and starvation, aided perhaps by ingestion of spores that had - upon inspection of the deceased scribe's spine - had grown so thick as to impede the passage of air. Though one green disc was found among the possessions of the scribe shortly after his passing from malnutrition, it seemed to have no purpose and was eventually sold to a merchant of the Hanseatic League, many years hence.
Having viewed the loss of a wildcount and scribe as an unfortunate loss, even as the relative lack of casualties amongst the expedition and local populations of Arkona brought joy to all, the Archbishop ordered the confessions of the scribe kept public, though their lack of substantiation and lingering pressures brought on by the reformation eventually caused their decline in interest and eventual loss; all modern copies being reconstructions.
The island of Arkona, now known as Rugen, was occupied in the 1168, C.E.