The Fall of Rosewood, for all of its tragedy, also spawned some tales worth telling. The following are personal accounts made by survivors of the Fall in 1168. They were sought out by scholars interested in the topic and urged to retell their tales, what they were doing before, during, or after the Fall.
Young Hearts, Old Wisdom
I remember we were running, playing along the streets somewhere in the City. You see, Gunther and I were born in the Slums, but we were among the lucky few that managed to find shelter behind the walls. It was the day immediately before the Fall. I remember him asking me who we were chasing, as we had been pretending to be knights. Naturally, I said we were chasing down the Germans. I had completely missed the fact that Gunther’s family was German, a clan of refugees fleeing the borderlands for the safety of Rosewood. He of course didn’t agree and he said we should chase down the French. I took offense to that. Suddenly, the two of us were at an impasse. To fix things, we decided we would end the war. He would represent the Kaiser and I would represent the Emperor. We were their pages. First, we needed to figure out what each side wanted from the other since we concluded you can’t have a war if there’s no disagreement. According to our parents and our neighbors, the French were bullies, hungry for land, and in a murderous rage. The Germans, and you won’t believe this, were described in much the same manner. So it was an issue of who can be called what and who owns what. Gunther and I met to draw up some sort of peace. I was very firm in my belief that Charles I should be Emperor. Gunther agreed. He then proposed we split the land into east and west. Charles gets Rosewood and everything west of it, while Wilhelm gets everything to the east. We made it a point to make some rules for future wars. We decided to ban hurting women since we loved our mothers a lot. Dogs and cats were not to be harmed either. Rats you could kill though. You couldn’t kill prisoners. There was no fighting on Sundays and Christmas. Most importantly, everyone who didn’t want to be in the war could leave. Finally, we also made a deal that after this war, there would be a truce of 100 years, which to us was basically forever. I remember we didn’t have anything to write any of this on, we couldn’t steal any material, and our parents were short too. So we went to a Watchman and tried to explain everything we conjured up. I recall him being annoyed at first, then perplexed, and finally sad. We asked him if he could take this message to the Germans and tell them that Gunther agreed. For some reason, I thought that all Germans knew each other and Gunther didn’t challenge this at the time. The guard promised he’d take it to the Kaiser and his host. However, come the next day all of Hell was upon us. I didn’t see Gunther or his family after the Fall. My parents told me they ran away with the Germans, but I never believed them. Only now can I surmise that they were likely killed in the attack. What stuck with me was that we were so foolish in our childish attempts to end a war that was older than us by four decades. However, it was the perspective of a child, one that melts all complexity and turns it into simplicity, that made me realize how inane the whole ordeal was. Entire generations were snuffed out because a handful of men couldn’t agree on something when two kids could. Wisemen could benefit from a child’s heart from time to time.
When the walls broke down and the enemy poured in through the gaps, we fled to the Cathedral for sanctuary. At first, people were civil. They let the women and the children through calmly, but as the sounds of war grew louder and the stench of blood became more pervasive, all semblance of humanity seemed to disappear. Now it was a struggle to see who would enter God’s home and who would meet the sword. I managed to get in near the beginning and I climbed up on the gallery and looked at the people filling the nave below. They poured in like sand, and I remember thinking about how many more would not be able to enter. A younger priest was the only one there to keep order. He instructed the people on where to go, how to make more room, and who to pray to. My knuckles were as white as snow. I had laced my fingers and clasped my hands so tight that I feared ever letting go. I saw men trample a woman to get in and no one could stop them. There were Imperials trying to enter with their weapons as well. The priest made them turn around by threatening them with the fates of those who spill blood in holy places. The people pushed them out. I saw a mother get separated from her son by the unruly mob. He was old enough to fight for them. If you’ll recall, they don’t call it the Battle of Rosewood, they called it the Fall for a reason. There was no fray to be joined, no battle to be met. It was a slaughter. Once their hands had been torn from each other, I knew that poor woman would never see her son again. I knew an entire family was lost to the jaws of war, to be chewed, crushed, and devoured whole. When the doors closed and locked, we must have had ten thousand people inside. There was no air inside, just breath. Some of the people threw stones at the beautiful glass panes to shatter them and bring air into the cathedral. There was always a constant low murmur among us. But when we heard someone speaking German outside, we all froze and stayed silent. We had Allemen inside who translated for their respective group. I was fortunate enough to have an older man next to me who whispered their words. At first, they wanted to tear the door down and take what gold they could carry. Then, they thought there were some Imperials inside and they wanted to burn the temple to the ground. Thankfully, their Kaiser came and ordered the deaths of any man to take a stone from the Cathedral, let alone any gold or relic. We sighed and began to smile again before the Kaiser’s voice boomed and demanded the Cathedral be opened to a fellow Christian. The priest had it opened and a wave of people spew out, running for their lives. The Germans let them pass and the Kaiser came in with a large escort of guards to accompany him. The leaving throng left just enough room for them to come in and approach the altar. He asked the priest something in Latin and the man obeyed. The Kaiser knelt before the altar and we all followed for some reason. The priest held a service in Latin and seemed to bless the Kaiser, to which he stood up, crossed himself, and wished us luck in the coming days. The strangest thing about it was that the most powerful man in the world was mere moments away from us and no one even thought to throw a stone at him. He looked like any other man. He was godfearing and he spared all of us. Under all that gold and armor, stood a man made of flesh made in the image of our Lord. Horror followed his departure, but at that moment, I knew we had found true sanctuary.
The Last Stand
I was stationed by the gates of Headow Keep when it fell. The night before, I couldn’t sleep at all. A nagging feeling was keeping me awake no matter how much I tried to foster some peace in and around me. My prayers seem to have been too silent to reach anyone above. I stood by a number of boys. The guard had been increased to account for an assault. We knew, however, that if the walls were to fall, there would be no hope of defending the Keep. We stood by it regardless. When the day came, we heard and saw the walls were breached. Half of us wanted to stay and do our duty. Sod that bloody duty. These nobles wouldn’t lift a damned hand to help me up had I tripped over my feet. Why should I lay down my life for them? As we were arguing, the stones began crashing against the walls next to us. The enemy trebuchets went to work, hammering all of our defenses, even the castles. Fernyard stood against the slings of stone and fire, but Headow could not withstand such an assault. As we were running for cover, a stone struck the wall next to us and forced the entire section to collapse. Some of my fellow guards were buried underneath the rubble, some were even calling out for help. Lord forgive me, but I ran. I did not even think of helping them. Stones falling from the sky have a way of convincing you of the importance of your own life. Running, I was still there when the entire thing collapsed. The Germans had hit it well enough to make the entire castle fall over on its side. I knew that my patrons were dead inside. There was no way anyone would have survived that. In a sense, I was glad for them. There were a lot of women and children inside. No one fares worse in war than they do. There are only so many ways a man can be killed. I was glad, at least, that their deaths were relatively quick, but they got to die by God’s hand, not man’s. Some of my men and I went into one of the buildings in the bailey and hid inside a secret compartment. There was no chance of us being discovered unless a servant squealed, but they were all dead anyway. We only feared a stray stone crushing us inside. That never happened though. Thus, we spent our last stand at Headow cooped up inside a pantry of sorts, praying and pissing in fear of the enemy’s surprise.
They Were Good Men, O Lord
We stood and listened to the Emperor’s words. We were the Good Men of France, it seemed. We were bound for glory and honor and victory and reward. In the end, we meant truly nothing. While I was growing up, my father taught me that we were the greatest country in the world. He told me that Christ Himself had ordained the Siriuses to rule these lands and that the earth was blessed to carry such noble blood. I also fell for the lie that Rosewood was impregnable. It was something people believed up until the last moment of its impregnability. I fail to see how, but we were so engrossed in our delusions, we couldn’t differentiate between real and fake. In that last charge into the breach, I don’t know if Charles believed himself immortal or us victory-bound, but I knew that the men around me exuded absolute conviction for the Sirius cause; there was no defeat, no death, just utter and complete victory over the enemy. We were starved, thirsty, and exhausted from the siege, but we picked ourselves up like we were going to war for Christ, and in a way, we did believe that to be true. At the end of the speech, the army let out a deafening roar, with every man trying to outscream the other. Being in the center of it, well, let’s just say that at one point the yells of men melt into a static sound, like a fiddle’s strings being played, one constant note. All that love for country and belief in the Imperial way faded once we slammed against the body of the enemy’s force. At first, it was manageable. However, there is a moment in the battle that tests the mettle of the bravest. At one specific point, you realize that your numbers are beginning to dwindle, while the enemy’s either remain unchanged or continue to rise. At that point, you make a choice; you either fight and die or flee and survive. Obviously, I chose the latter. We believe in so many things, God, king, country, love, revenge, and so on, but there is, in actuality, only one thing that is real — death. When faced with the eventuality of the cold blade, few men can resolve to keep charging it. Most turn and run away. I do still think about all those men that died. They were Charles’ “Good Men” and they died. What good did it bring them and their families?
The Seyne Runs Cold
Felicity and I were in the East Bank when the walls went down. The bells of St. Leena’s rang and they never stopped ringing. We knew to flee as soon as we heard those ominous bells and the vicious throng of people rushing to get over the bridges and travel to the western part of the City. They funneled themselves onto the bridges, often trampling people along the way. We were among the first to arrive following the initial crowd and I decided to take Eff by the hand and led her down to the riverbank, by the docks. We stole a boat and boarded it. I pushed the boat away from the shore and we drifted down the stream to the north. We were far enough away that no infantry could pursue us, and the Germans didn’t seem to have any boats on the river. The sounds of screams and buildings breaking filled the space around us. The two armies met near the bridge for a final stand and the clanking of steel and iron slowly faded as we drifted further. We weren’t alone. By this point, a few other boats with people on them drifted alongside us. We were given unto the Nile by the Lord, like Moses to be delivered from the hands of Pharaoh. Eff and I clutched each other as we started to notice the eastern bank was lined with men flying foreign colors. They looked at us from afar and waved their weapons and hands around, laughing, swearing, and saying things we couldn’t understand. The laughing is what got to me. How can someone smile or laugh at a time like this? We thought the world was ending. We held on to each other and prayed to God that we make it out alive. I remember hearing my wife’s heartbeat and how it beat like a drum of war. I told her the Lord would deliver us. At that moment, a few German boats came upstream and headed right toward us. One boat in front of us was rammed by the Germans and the people were left to drown. I think it was because one of them had armor on and a sword by his side. Another boat was sunk, seemingly out of fun. The people thrashed and waved around in the cold Seyne, the current was too strong for any man or woman to swim down or across. Before long, they would all drown. Eff wanted to save them, but I told her not to think about it. If we had lent a hand, we would have met the same fate. When they came upon us, I buried Eff’s face into my chest and I stared down one of the Germans helming the boat opposite us. I stared into his deep blue eyes and he into mine. All time surrendered to us and we looked into each other fully and totally. I felt judged, but I was found innocent. They gave us a wide berth and we drifted along. When we looked back, they smiled and showed us their hand sign, a W made up of three extended fingers — ring, middle, and index, to form a W. I would later learn that it was their sign for Wilhelm II, their Kaiser. To me, it just meant War. The Seyne carried us out that day, but it also ran cold with the blood of the innocent. So many lives lost.
By the time the army left, barely anything was left besides grief. My sister and I hid out in the woods with a group of others, some fifty-strong. We waited and lived among the trees like animals for two or three days. At least it was summertime so we weren’t freezing. We had to find small streams to drink out of for the Seyne was too close to the enemy upstream and too littered with the bodies of our neighbors downstream. We drank what water we could find, but we survived. Food was less of an issue since we could go a few days without a meal. By the last day, the men caught some game. We joked about how we would be hanged for poaching upon our return. However, both the Mayor and the Emperor were dead. We could live in these woods as if we owned them. It was oddly enjoyable to spend a few days outside the realms of men. I remember thinking about my husband who stayed in Rosewood to defend our home from looters. I begged him to leave with us. A home can be rebuilt, but a family can’t. I married him for his confidence and will so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he refused and ushered me out of Rosewood once the killings began. At some point, a young lad climbed one of the taller trees and spotted the enemy army retreating. We looked on as the hoard vacated the walls and slowly shrank beyond what our vision could reach. Then we began our march back to the City. When we approached the walls from one of the gates, my sister threw herself into my arms, averting her gaze. The walls were charred and cracked, the gates were torn off completely, and there were columns of returning citizens all wailing, ranting, or stewing in their disquiet. There were so many bodies along the road — men, women, children, young, old, rich, poor, everyone. Sometimes it was just a pile per family, other times it was a lone person riddled with arrows. The worst were the heaps, ten, maybe twenty bodies stacked, looted, and mutilated. I didn’t let my sister look and even I had to throw up at the side of the road. The stench was hellish; the air was thick with the scent of iron. I felt like I would never be able to eat again lest I bring on some sickness. The streets in the City were no better. I was barefoot, having given my shoes to my sister. The ground was muddy. It hadn’t rained in a while though. The earth had mixed with blood and had formed a viscous dark reddish-brown mud that felt like the hands of the dead were pulling you down. We made our way down to our burh and I immediately fell to my knees. I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. My sister did the same and hugged me, begging me to tell her it was just a nightmare. It wasn’t. It was all real. Our entire burh was burned down. The bodies outside were bad enough, but the ones here I could recognize and name. Our home was one of the few that were completely razed to the ground, left totally unrecognizable. I found my husband’s ashes among the ashes of our home, the same home where I wanted to raise our sons and daughters. That damned war took everything from me. I never remarried. The vows I took, till death do us part, no. Not even death could part us. I know there is a home there now. I see it while walking down the same street. A small family lives there. They are young and haven’t seen the war as we others have. I’m glad they have a home at least. I know I will never have mine ever again.
This happened years and years after the Fall, and I’m not sorry for it. I know that it will do more good in the long run. I survived the Fall while I was still a young man. I lost everyone and everything. I lived because I hid under a pile of bodies they had bunched up on the side of a street. The men who found me later thought I was Lazarus reborn. They told me I looked bloody and grimy, as anyone covered in blood and gore would, I suppose. I digress. It was during Philip’s Restoration. I had just finished a long day’s work, so I went home to my loyal Leo, who was my dog at the time. I had saved him, and he saved me in return. I don’t know if I could have coped with everything without him. That day, I decided to go and play fetch with him to the north, right outside the walls. We played and played and eventually found ourselves in the Fishers’ forest. I called Leo back, but he wouldn’t come, which he had never done before and never since. He wanted me to follow, so I did. Perhaps he had found a rabbit or rodent somewhere and wanted to show me his hunting skills. I happily obliged, thinking it would be funny at least. We came up to a slight incline and he sniffed the ground, circled around it a few times, and started to dig. I smiled and took a seat under another tree, excited to see what Leo would bring. After a good while, he pulled on something and eventually loosened a bone. It was relatively large and I had him give it to me, which he did, and then immediately went back to digging. I examined the bone, but I was no hunter or butcher. It just looked like a bone to me, but it was old. While I was looking at this one, Leo brought me another and went back to digging. This one was smaller and curved. I pressed it against my chest and noticed it could fit as one of my ribs. That’s when my heart sank, and Leo pulled another bone which confirmed my fears. It was the lower jaw of another person, most teeth still intact. It was the size of my jaw. I jolted and went over to the mound and started digging beside Leo. I won’t say where it is, or how many people I found in that hole, but I remember picking up a small skull and looking into its sockets. A child’s eyes were there once, and a child’s mind. At what point do we stop being a person and just become a pile of restless bones? They seemed to ache for the sunlight, to be revealed to everyone, lest their suffering be in vain. I never dug all of them out. I put the bones back and covered the ground as well as I could. It rained not long after and the mud settled. I tried hard to make it look as natural as possible. I made sure there was more dirt on it so that no other hound could pick up the scent. To this day, I still haven’t shown people where it is and no one would believe me anyway. What good would those bones do? No one can claim them, there were no clothes on them. The people who knew them are probably dead anyway. They would have been a symbol of the hurt and devastation of the war during the most crucial part of our recovery. They will find peace under the shade of the trees in those woods as we have found peace in Rosewood once more. I will not be responsible for the massacre of more innocents in the name of revenge. God will judge me for what I have done.