On February 5, 1783, a 7.5 to 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck southern Italy, leveling over 100 villages and creating a 100 foot wide mile-long ravine. A second tremor hit at midnight, prompting a tsunami which killed thousands of people who lived along the Italian coast. All told about 80,000 people died.
Although my novel (which at last has a title!) City of Ages, does not include any earthquakes, it starts with a disaster of even greater magnitude.
In September, during a harvest moon, the plague came. It struck first in the home of a cloth merchant, and spread with deadly efficiency, jumping from child to adult in what seemed like hours. A headache and general feeling of weakness came first, followed by the sweats and tormenting body aches, and then, in the latter stages, fits of trembling, difficulty breathing, and the final stillness of death. One by one the villagers of Justus’s family’s estate died in agony, and the white-swathed corpses lined the pathways in increasing numbers until at last he directed them to cease digging individual graves and dig communal graves instead. All day and into the night the church bells tolled and weeping could be heard from the white-washed chapel.
When his family fell ill – his mother, father, and three brothers – he nursed them as best as he could. By then the doctors with their potions and poultices and the wise-women with their herbs and infusions had all died off, the first of many. He watched in increasing horror as his dear ones writhed in pain, pleading for him to quench their thirst and cool their fevered brows, weeping and trembling even as he wept and trembled alongside them in grief. He waited for the symptoms to show up on his own body, the lethargy and the sweating, and the violent death. He waited, hollow with loss, moving slowly but surely as he tended the goats and cattle, ground the grain for bread, and made soup to quench the thirst that afflicted him. With some relief, he fell ill a week after his youngest brother died. But then, to his astonishment, he recovered quickly and with no lingering aftereffects.
Death had passed him by.
This snippet of my work in progress (thus, WIPpet) is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself: