This morning, I was struck by an experience of silence after the Great Plague, and perhaps the inner feelings of a survivor. There’s some echoes of our world in Covid, but a few nods to how a medieval mind might have thought. Could be an interesting character study.
The first thing you wake up to is the silence. In a small village, its empty. The few who survive fear going outside, fear everything, fear other folk.
The smithy stands silent. No ringing clang of metal. The ducks and dogs chase each other like usual, and collapse on the river banks. The trees swish and rustle in the wind, and fall silent.
The marketplace stands still most days, the banners and pennants flapping and waving at memories of busy merchants and mawking children. The well refills cold and clear faster now.
Sunlight and darkness become enemies, after the plague. The fear of the chill in the armpit, the blackening patck of skin, the fevers and sweats… and then you pass on in five days.
That means the gods selected you. Or the fairies touched you. Some say its a sickness we inhale from invisible passing demons, their exhaust shivers and rots us. And there’s nothing we can do.
The survivors stand blinking in each new day, wondering when its their turn. Wondering why their loved ones, and not them. Quietly burying children, wives, or friends, sobbing over mounds of earth or secretly grateful for the warmth pouring off pyres of dead loved ones.
Friends from across the street. The local police. Knights. A wandering musician found passed out at a crossroads. Truly these are the last days, and the world is threading apart at the seams.
We all wonder what happens next. If there is a next. Will we see another year? Will we see another day?
New friends made today could bloom into aching holes in hearts tomorrow, as we drag them into damp, earth beds.
But, there’s something about being human. When the storms rush through, and the air breaks in sweet and clear in the morning, hope flares. The remnants pick through the homes, open their larders, and gather to share what we have.
Villages and homesteads in the hills stream down to make friends, and share what they have. We need each other. We need comfort.
Our fires pile high in the night, usually around the village center, or edging the green. We all sit, or lie, and watch the sparks fly against the bright stars.
Our old ones mutter about the vengeance of God and the gods against weak generations. But our wise women, our nuns and monks, shake their heads and laugh, pour more warm beer, and pass round the bread.
The monks who fear the sickness barricade themselves in their cloisters. Like the merchants and the nobles. They yell back that they are instrumental for the future. They must survive.
For a moment, we wonder if that fear is prudent. If perhaps we should barricade our village into a bastion, and throw stones and stool at hungry newcomers.
But… we can’t bring ourselves to. Each face opens in the morning to the sad silence of loss. And a chorus of weak hunger. We have held each others hands and shared too much to ignore another soul.
Perhaps the priests and nobles are right. Perhaps they will stay free of the sickness, and enter Heaven without too much worry.
It can’t last though. There’s an anger rising among the youth. Among the desperate fathers. To think of the hoards of food and money bricked out of reach. We’ve heard of bands of youth grabbing farm tools and raiding their local bastions. Hanging the nobles and soldiers from the walls.
I can understand. We all can. But we also know that will bring a new evil. Rising against the order of things invites fresh demons. We look around, in the firelight, and the husky, tear-dry songs, and hug each other.
We hope to survive. We don’t have the answers. Or know the future. Perhaps Christ is bringing all things to a new world. Perhaps the nuns are right that a little patience is good, and this world has its way with things, and anger isn’t always right.
I don’t know. I’m on the brink. I’d rather take up a weapon, like my Vikingr forefathers, and break into a hoard of food and coin and feed my friends.
But I fear the dragons I might unleash in my own life. I fear the reprisals from other bastions. The anger of the new friends I have. The disappointment of my dead parents and grandparents, who look at me from the smoke and the running water and the stars and the flames.
We don’t have much. But we have each other. And in the sharing of bread, the sips of wine, and the friendship to seal and promise a new day of hard, bone breaking work, there is a peace.
Perhaps that sad, silent peace we wake to is a second chance. A chance to mourn, and a chance to morning the new day.
Perhaps we are nothing but dust on the chessboard of the gods. Swept and trodden into mud and blood by the wind of their passing.
The only freedom we have is with our laughter. They can’t take that.
And out of the silent, dreaming streets and byways of our villages, the hay bundled roofs sprouting seeds and flowers and hiding eggs from rebel chickens, we pick up the threads and weave life back together again.