Lord Blackwood Presents: A True Account of the Events of 1666
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In the Year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and sixty-five, a great plague struck the city of London and its environs, as has been well-documented by historians and by those who lived in and endured those times. By the time the great conflagration of the following summer burned most of the city to cinders, over half the population of London had died, both of the disease itself, and of the many curious and queer phantasmagoria that followed in its wake. Of the former, much has been written; but of the latter little has been documented for posterity, as those first-hand accounts which remain often disagree on the fundamental nature of those events, and authorities of the Church of England and of Her Majesty's government have sought at several points in the intervening decades to suppress the truth. It is with no small amount of trepidation that I have written this account, for there are many within the government who would prefer that the true history of that year remain a secret. Those who have read my diaries serialised in the London papers, however, will know that I have never shied away from telling the full and complete truth of my own experiences with the preternatural, and I consider it an obligation, both to my readers and to my forebears, that I relate what I have learned in regards to this matter. There are two prefaces to this account which I must give in order to explain the truth of these matters; the first, the biography of my grandfather, Lord David Blackwood, 6th Viscount of Westminster, and the second, the true nature of a certain race once well-known, but now little-remembered.

Grandfather was the third son of his father, Phillip Blackwood. He was never expected to inherit the family estate, and received little of the formal education and upbringing afforded to his brothers Stephen and Clifford; were it not for their untimely deaths (the details of which I dare not go into here, for the sake of their reputations) the obligation would never have befallen him. At the age of twelve, his father purchased for him a naval commission, but he fared poorly as a midshipman, lacking the necessary discipline for so formal a setting, and at the age of fifteen enlisted aboard a privateering vessel that took up arms against the Spanish off the coast of the Americas for well over a decade prior to his accession. I was not yet a boy of ten when he passed into the hands of his Maker, and he was at the time of very advanced age even by the standards of my family's well-known longevity, but even as a centenarian he still possessed most of the traits of his privateering youth; he stood easily over seven feet tall, with a gray beard (which I am told, unlike my own brown moustache, was red as blood in his early years) which stretched the length of his chest, and a long head of hair to match, with steely blue eyes that seemed to pierce one's soul, and a booming voice that cut to the bone.

He was known throughout his life for his extreme devotion to the Christian faith, though he subscribed to no particular confession, Catholic or Protestant, as he found them all lacking. He wore about his neck a crucifix of the finest silver on a chain, which he would frequently brandish as a ward against evil forces, and was wont to carry no fewer than seven Bibles, of various translations, on his person at all times, including a hand-illuminated copy in Enochian said to have been penned by John Dee himself. He was rarely seen without a brace of pistols worn over each shoulder, a sword on one hip, and several phials of holy water in a satchel worn upon the other. He would eagerly thrash any man who profaned the Holy Name in his presence, but he was no teetotaling Puritan either; he could easily best any man in a drinking contest, was a notorious womaniser, and in matters of the flesh he could utter oaths that would make the most libidinous of seamen blush. Even after ascending to the peerage, it seemed impossible to tame him; he was possessed with a perpetual wanderlust that drove him to constant adventuring (a trait I would seem to have inherited from him, though I have fortunately been spared of many of his other persuasions). He was, at various points in his life, a cavalier, a witch-finder, a free-lance exorcist, a plague doctor, a pirate, a condottiere, an ambassador, and for a period of six months the Doge of Venice, but during the years in question, he was occupied in the profession that earned him the greatest amount of notoriety; that of an elf-hunter.

Elves are real, my friends! The beings, also known among our people as faeries, are thought of in this day and age as lithe, miniature, whimsical figures, such as the winged creatures seen in the artificed photographs that have beguiled Conan Doyle, or the creatures of folk tales that mend shoes or bake bread while a hapless working-man is fast asleep, or the labourers who assist Father Christmas (who I may assure you plays a fine game of cribbage and can imbibe whiskey in quantities that would kill most men) with his annual deliveries. In previous centuries, however, they were no such laughing matters. The word "faerie", as any academic can tell you, is derived from "the Fair Folk", a euphemism spoken so as to avoid speaking their true name (which I will not publish here), because to merely speak that name aloud was to risk acquiring their attention, and to be noticed by the Fair Folk, depending on their temperament, may be worse than a capital sentence. It was thus prudent, if one must speak of them at all, to do so flatteringly, so that if you caught their attention, they would at least take little offence.

It is now believed that the elves are wholly extinct as a race; no reliable account of a living specimen has been given since the beginning of the previous century, and even by that time they were rare, having mostly been hunted down during the late Middle Ages. If Darwin's theories on the origin of species are to be accepted as fact (which I do, to the eternal consternation of my brother the archbishop) they comprised Homo alvis, a close cousin of our own race, divorced from mankind some hundreds of thousands of years ago. Physically, they resembled ourselves, but what differentiated them from us was a power of the mind; they could, with a thought, alter the world around them to their liking. They could change their own appearance, or that of others; cause crops to grow instantly or to improbable sizes; manipulate the minds of men and beasts into doing their bidding; invade the dreams of sleepers and cause them malady or ecstasy; and in many sundry other ways bend the fabric of nature to their bidding. Because of this ability, they never built settlements or laboured as our ancestors did, nor did they ever become great in number; they often lived alone or in small groups, in areas unpopulated by man, abandoned by them, or on their outskirts, and lived mercurial lives, wishing their desires into existence as they needed, toying with men as they desired, and coupling only when they chose to, as they rarely died of age or accident due to their abilities and had no need of children to labour for them or inherit what they left behind.

But I digress.

When the plague first struck London, in the summer of 1665, it was believed to be that same common malady, the Black Death, that has beleaguered Europe for centuries and had recently affected other towns in the southeast of England. Indeed, the symptoms of the disease in the early weeks and months were identical to that infamous ague; fever and the formation of pustulent sacs in the groin and extremities, followed by seizures, gangrene, suffocation, and death. Quarantines were enacted in and around the city, and a great many doctors and searchers were employed by the city to find the sick, document their passing, and collect the bodies for burial in mass graves. It was quickly noted, however, that the illness seemed to disobey many of the laws of nature that were at the time understood in regards to disease; many of those who fell ill had had no contact with other afflicted persons, nor been exposed to miasmas or filth, and indeed a good many people so stricken had been perfectly healthy one day before dying abruptly the next. As summer gave way to winter, a new condition was noted among the sick; many began to suffer from abrupt consumption, before or during the onset of the other signs of the plague, turning pale and anemic seemingly overnight.

On the 5th day of January, the sun set at ten minutes after two o'clock; a peculiarly early hour even for London, inexplicable by astronomers even today, and seemingly unobserved elsewhere in the country. It was a long, chilly, and dark night; though there was no sign of cloud, Pepys wrote in his diary that neither the Moon nor the stars could be seen in the sky, and while the temperature was said to be well below freezing, the dew refused to form frost, instead clinging to every surface, impossibly cold and penetrating to the bone. The following morning, the sun did not break the horizon until fifteen minutes after nine, and when the pale winter morning was finally illuminated, the people beheld an unfathomable horror in the Thames; about five score of men and women floating dead in the river, face-down, stripped to the buff, all of them pale as ivory, their trunks cut open and stitched together again as if by a skilled dissector. In the days that followed, the families and neighbours of those poor souls would be identified and all told a similar tale; the individual had spontaneously fallen ill during the long night, grown pale, and become absolutely mad, and in their madness attempted to attack and kill them. In a handful of cases, they were successful, strangling the life out of their loved ones, seemingly with no recognition of what they were doing, or biting and tearing at their flesh until they expired from loss of blood, though in the majority of instances their relations were successful in restraining them, or were forced to kill them outright, in self-defence. In all situations, the afflicted person eventually expired on their own terms, and each family told the same story of what occurred afterward; a man in the costume of a plague doctor came knocking at their door, entreating them to bring out their dead, upon which they delivered them into a wheel-barrow he hauled behind him, stacked with other bodies in a similar state.

This alone was cause of alarm, both to the Lord Mayor and to the Privy Council, as such savagery had never been encountered before in England, but stranger still was the events of the following days, when many of those dead spontaneously arose, most of them in a partial or extreme state of decomposition, lacking both breath and heartbeat and yet somehow ambulatory, and again attacked anyone who happened to be in their presence. No such resurrection of the dead had been recounted since the time of Christ, and the circumstances of that miracle were quite unlike the horror that had been unleashed upon London. The Church was hesitant to address the nature of the event, but the Fifth Monarchists proclaimed it a sure sign that the Millennium was imminent, and a good many of their membership began to withdraw from civilisation, isolating themselves in the country to prepare for the divine scourging they expected to occur; and though the Fifth Monarchists have passed into the annals of history, the "Fifth Church" those doomsayers cleaved to is believed to persevere in the shadows of polite society to this day. It was the unanimous agreement of the City Fathers that an expert in matters preternatural was needed - and it was thus that the Lord Mayor sent notice to the Basque Country, where Grandfather had of late been at work exterminating a coven of Druids who threatened to unleash a terrible doom upon the Spanish Crown, that his services were required with the utmost urgency.

Upon his arrival in the city several weeks later, Grandfather recounts in his papers that the situation in London had become unimaginably dire. Day and night no longer seemed to follow any consistent pattern; the sun would set at a moment's notice and rise again at midnight, or not rise again for several days; likewise, there were times when the sun failed to set and the city baked under its unceasing warmth. When night fell, the risen dead roamed the streets with seeming impunity, attacking any they encountered, and the recently deceased were seen to dig themselves out of the mass graves dug for the victims of the pestilence. It was rumoured that they even teemed through the empty halls of the Tower of London and of St. James'. Few ships ventured to the city, for the malady that befell it had become well-known, but ships departed constantly, their captains knowing full well they might arrive at some foreign shore only to be ordered to return, lest they spread the same doom into those lands. The strange plague doctor reported on the night of the 5th had not appeared again, but other strange occurrences were observed nonetheless. On his second day in the city, Grandfather recounts that he saw two dozen deer marching down Marylebone in a tight formation, as if pulling a coach, but they had no riders or harnesses, save for one at the rear of the troop that carried a dead fox upon its back. As he observed silently, the formation approached one of the mass graves and the fox was shunted off of the hart and into the pit, and the venison retired to the woods as formally as they had arrived.

In his notes from the first few days, and his discussions with the doctors of the city, he discovered that although the quarantine had proven ineffective and disease and death were rampant within the walls and without, that few of the sick and dead bore the distinctive buboes that marked the beginning of the plague. Grandfather surmised that although the Black Death had indeed been the origin of the city's misfortune, it had already passed its course; what affected it now was not of nature's doing. The dead who walked the streets had shewn themselves, under his examinations, to be utterly feral; no spark of the soul that had once slept within that flesh yet remained, only the desire to kill and to eat. They seemed to suffer no pain, and feared not the crucifix he wore around his neck, but recoiled from its touch which left a mark as though it were a branding iron. Fire was effective at returning them to their rest, as was dismemberment and, to his uneasy discovery, a silver bullet to the head or heart. This was all the proof Lord David Blackwood needed to ascertain the cause of London's ongoing terror; a faerie, or faeries, were surely afoot. The revenants themselves were not fey, nor were they the strigoi that haunt the Balkans, but there could be no other explanation for their animation than the mad desires of one of those terrific sylvan elders.

To protect the citizenry from the dead, Grandfather recruited as many of the militia as were still healthy into his service, and every able-bodied silversmith in London was commissioned to supply them. He armed them with silver bullets for their guns and silver-tipped swords, and silver crucifixes such as the one he wore, for it is well known that a crucifix of silver, blessed in the name of God, will warn against the presence of faeries by glowing brilliant blue. When night fell, they patrolled the streets to despatch any of the wandering dead they encountered, and to watch for any sign that their creator was near. The mass graves he ordered burned, and when it was observed that the sky was beginning to dim, the churches of the metropolis rang their bells in the greatest cacophony London has ever heard in peace-time, warning the townsfolk to return to their homes, shut themselves inside, and emerge not until dawn broke. The searchers of the dead were ceaselessly at their work; for even a single undiscovered body, left to rise, could cause untold devastation.

Pamphlets were circulated broadly and ministers preached from street corners, warning of the danger of the night and calling on one and all to watch for any of the signs that might indicate their neighbour was a faerie in disguise; their tendency to shift subtly in appearance when glimpsed only in the corner of one's eye, a smell of fresh flowers when none are present, their fear of the Cross and silver and the sound of church bells, a whispered laugh when one thinks oneself alone. As the months passed and winter bled into a summer as inconsistent and grim as the winter had been, dozens if not hundreds of Londoners had been arrested on suspicion of being fey, but none had shewn themselves to be the genuine article until a certain evening late in August, as Grandfather was purging a ward in Southwark well past midnight, when a messenger found him, reporting a strange discovery in Pudding Lane. A deputy had been patrolling the area, presently free of the dead, when he observed a glimmer of light emerging from the boarded-over window of a shuttered bakery. Bidding his fellows to remain silent and ready their weapons, he approached the bakery and, peeping through the crack, beheld a sight that gave him reason to think he had become mad; the oven was alight, dough was being mixed and kneaded, pies were being stuffed, bread was baking, and meat was roasting on a spit above a flame, yet no man's hand tended any of it, save for a young man who could scarcely be older than twenty, who stood leaning against a wall, motionless, watching. The deputies broke down the door of the bakery and quickly apprehended the man, who gave no struggle, but no sooner did they lay his hands on him than the wizardry around them ceased; the dough fell idle, the spit ceased to turn, the oven extinguished itself. He spoke only Dutch, and proved unable to answer their enquiries, so they delivered him to the Old Bailey, where Grandfather met him after dawn had broken. No sooner did he enter the chamber where the youth had been clapped in irons than did he notice the aura emanating from his crucifix. Grandfather had encountered faeries before, and it had shone almost brighter than the sun in their presence; this was no such emanation, but a dull glow, as if a distant memory of the setting sun.

Grandfather spoke little Dutch himself, but he found himself able to converse with the youth enough to discern that his name was Wouter Vanderhorn and he had recently arrived from the Spanish Netherlands. He refused to say much more until Grandfather threatened to remand him to the Church, to discern what truths they could persuade him to part with, at which point he gave an explanation of his behaviour at the bakery that shook Grandfather to his core. He insisted that he was not a faerie - but that his own grandfather was, and he had come to London to help him, for he was gravely ill. After certain negotiations were made and warnings issued, Wouter agreed to take Grandfather and his deputies to meet the elder Vanderhorn; and as another premature night fell, the pair made their way through the streets of London with an escort of deputies, as well as the Bishop of London and several of his deacons, who had asserted a pressing theological interest in resolving these calamities.

Wouter guided them to a crypt in a forgotten cemetery outside the walls where he said the old man had taken refuge, and escorted them down a staircase into a chamber where there lay, on a threadbare bed, a man both impossibly old and impossibly disfigured; he was shriveled and wrinkled to what must have been half his size in his youth, bereft of any hair, his eyes clouded and obviously blind or near-blind. He breathed each breath with great difficulty and issued forth a great and raspy wheeze as he did so. Moreover, he was covered head to toe almost completely in buboes, and when his plague-addled frame met the light of the party's torches, many of the men recoiled in horror lest they be infected. Grandfather's crucifix glowed brighter than before, but still not as much as he had seen in the past. Before Grandfather could speak, the Bishop demanded of the old man that he explain himself, and like his grandson he spoke only Dutch, obligating Grandfather to translate.

The elder, who called himself Johann, said he was some five hundred and seventeen years of age and had lived for most of his life in the Low Countries. His mother was a faerie who lived alone in the woods and, unlike many of her kind, desired to bear and raise children more than anything her psychical abilities could provide her. Finding no suitable mates among her own kind (as, according to the papers I have alluded to, they were almost entirely extinct in Europe by that point), she beguiled a woodsman into marrying her, and in the fullness of time he became their only issue. As a child, he lived in the woods with his mother, but he never learned to master the manipulation of the world in the way of her kind, and his abilities seemingly manifested only in his dreams. He was twelve when a hunter sent by the Church slew his parents and he found himself alone, eventually making his way into the city as an orphan, learning a trade, and raising a family who he would in time outlive. As decades and centuries passed and he grew increasingly aged, he sought others of his mother's race in the hopes that he might learn to rejuvenate himself as they did, but in nearly a hundred years of searching he found not one faerie left anywhere in Europe, nor even a half-breed like himself. It was at that point, in the height of his despair, that he chanced to learn of a certain play then being performed in London, a revival of one written half a century prior by an Englishman named Shakespeare, which spoke of the matters of faeries. (Grandfather did not document the name of this play in his memoirs, but I am certain he refers to A Midsummer Night's Dream.) Johann recalled being told stories of Oberon and Titania by his mother as a boy - perhaps this bard's recounting of their affairs, Johann surmised, meant there were still faeries living in England? He embarked on a ship to London to begin his search, hiding well out of sight of the city folk, but as fate would have it, his arrival in May of the previous year coincided with the arrival of the plague, and he had fallen ill with it, retiring into the crypt to wait for death.

Wouter explained, as the elder man drifted into sleep from exhaustion, that he had heard his grandfather calling to him in his head for several months, begging him to come to London and aid him somehow. He had some difficulty finding a vessel willing to make the passage, but had arrived earlier in the month, following instructions he heard his grandfather's voice speak to him silently, that lead him to the crypt. He surmised that while his grandfather's elvish ancestry was strong enough to prevent him dying of the plague, it did not prevent him being sick with it, nor was it strong enough to purge the ailment from his ancient form; instead, he lay helpless in the darkened tomb, in a perpetual state of fever, falling in and out of consciousness, and during those periods of slumber suffered intense nightmares, which in turn caused the abrupt disappearances of the sun and the rising of the dead. Wouter feared to seek help from the authorities, knowing full well that the Church considers the Fair Folk to be Satanic mockeries of God's creation and inherently anathema to the perseverance of a Godly people, and that they were both apt to wind up on the stake if discovered. Though the elvish blood was even more dilute in his veins than it was in his grandfather's, he said that with practice he had found the strength to work the apparatus of the bakery and deliver the products thereof to the crypt in the hopes that he could nurse him back to health and give him the strength to overcome the plague. (Indeed, there were a great many half-eaten cakes and pungent bones of beef strewn about the chamber.)

At these revelations, the Bishop and his deacons found themselves in deep discussion as to what to do next. Faeries lack a divine soul, and it is right and just to kill them upon discovery; but though these two were of elvish blood, they also had the blood of man, and thus the spark of the divine, within them. Johann was clearly ill and insane, and would be better suited for Bedlam than for the gallows; but the nature of his condition meant that imprisoning him there would do no good. What of the younger one, then? His intent was pure, if his deeds were unseemly. Perhaps it was best to confine them both in some isolated environ for a time, while the Archbishop could be considered?

It was at that point in the conversation that Grandfather crossed himself, muttered a brief prayer for the old man's soul, drew a pistol from the brace over his shoulder, and discharged a silver bullet into the poor half-breed's heart. The sound of the report in the crypt was deafening, and the flash of light almost blinding, and Wouter issued an unholy scream as in an instant the life faded from Johann's eyes. Grandfather tossed the spent pistol aside and made ready to draw a second and end the life of the younger man, but before he could do so the Bishop placed himself between the two and demanded that he stand down, for from the top of the stairs there shone a light that before was absent - the light of the noontime sun, which had vanished when the elder fell asleep moments before. The horror, it seemed, had ended.

In the following days, the sun began to rise and set as it ought to during the waning days of summer, and the dead rose no more. A handful of Londoners continued to pass from their symptoms, but by the first of September there were no new illnesses to document. There was some brief discussion among the City Fathers as to what should be done with the Earthly remains of poor Johann. Several doctors of the city expressed a great desire to dissect the corpse, as it was possible that examination of the brain might elucidate some of the differences between our races that enabled the faeries to perform such amazing feats, and that a body in such a heretofore-unseen advanced state of plague might provide clues as to how to better treat the malady in the future. Ultimately, the Bishopric decided against such desecration, and ordered the body burned among the common victims of the plague. When Wouter had his day in court, it was the opinion of the Chief Justice that he could be found guilty of any number of offences warranting death, hard labour, or transportation; but in consideration of the circumstances deigned to grant mercy to the youth, instead ordering him to pay five shillings to the baker for the misuse of and damage to his property. Wouter had scarcely a penny to his name, but Grandfather grudgingly paid the fee on his behalf, on the condition that he depart England by week's end and not return.

It was in the wee hours of the following Sunday, of course, that that infamous great fire arose in the west of London. Four days it burned, and most of the city was reduced to ruin by the time it had passed. Had the fire struck the city a year or two prior, tens of thousands would have been caught up in the holocaust; but after the deprivations of the plague year, many of the homes incinerated were no longer inhabited, and it is believed that only a handful of Londoners died in the blaze itself. In the weeks that followed, as the rubble was cleared and the prospect of rebuilding the city began to arise, the coroners of the city determined that the fire had begun on Pudding Lane, in the area of the same bakery where Wouter had been found working his magic to supply food for his grandfather. Of the bakery itself nothing remained, but the great stone oven stood still, and within it, there was found the skeletal remains of a man, scorched by temperatures unimaginable, yet not reduced to ash. In his papers, Grandfather suspected the remains were those of Wouter, and that, despite the seeming honesty of his testimony, he was not what he seemed, for in Johann's own testimony he mentioned a family, but never mentioned a grandson, let alone one as youthful as Wouter had appeared to be. Given his grandfather's ability to conjure life from non-life, it was possible, and indeed likely in his supposition, that Wouter had never existed until Johann conceived of him in a fever-dream, a grandson he never had who could aid him in his hour of need, who possessed the ancestral talents he himself lacked. With his creator dead, Wouter no longer had a purpose and chose to take his own life by lighting the fire in the oven and laying himself within it - and as he felt his body burning, he unwittingly tapped into those same powers and ignited the city around him, turning all of London into a grand funeral pyre.

London was, in time, rebuilt, from the foetid medieval shanty-town it had been, into the gleaming metropolis we behold today, and since the fire, the plague has not returned to our city, nor has evidence of the continued existence of the Fair Folk reached the banks of the Thames. You may be inclined, dear readers, to think this account a bit of humbug. It will, after all, be nearly Christmas by the time this tale makes its way to the news-agents, and Christmas is the time of year for the telling of ghost stories. If you are so inclined to believe these words to be naught but fiction, then I shall not dissuade you, and I shall say Happy Christmas to you, and a Happy New Year as well. But if you are so inclined as to believe this account of the evidence I have unearthed, then I present for you a post-script.

In his final years, Grandfather would often invite me to his study and tell me great tales of the Blackwoods who had come before me; primarily of Richard Blackwood, his son and my father, but also of his own father and grandfather and their brothers and sisters. He showed me once a family tree he had composed after countless hours of research, that cited baptismal records and tax records and censuses dating back to the Domesday Book. As I was compiling this account, I thought I espied a detail that I vaguely remembered from that family tree, and after some careful searching through the library in our family estate where his collection is housed, I found the document. Five generations before my grandfather, there is listed Henri du Blackwood, 1st Viscount of Westminster, and the first of my lineage to be awarded the title "Lord Blackwood". He is listed as the child of Etienne du Blackwood and Genever van der Horne, whose father, who according to baptismal records was born in the year 1149, was named Johann.

Happy Christmas! Happy New Year! Sleep well - and if you must speak of the Fair Folk, do so flatteringly.

-T.T.B.

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