Barovian Date: 3rd of the 11th Moon
Our day began as early as the faint rays of the feeble sun would permit, as all those left alive in the village set to work combing through the rubble and detritus of the past week, seeking the fast-decaying remains of their former friends and family members. The great pyre we were preparing in front of the chapel grew ever larger as more bodies joined the pile. Wood from homes and furnishings too broken to be repaired was also added, some soaked with oil as kindling for the sodden, rotting mass. For hours I circled and prayed, consecrating the ground against the foul spirits that had recently held sway here. By the time the pyre was complete shortly after noon, it had grown to such a size that I feared it would smolder for days or more. Perhaps half or more of the villages’ former occupants now lay still amongst the budding flames.
To the side, destined for a more private grave, lay the remains of Ismark’s father, the former burgomeister of the area. As he was to be interred and not burned, however, I witnessed the extremes that the people of this land go to in an attempt to prevent their dead from rising anew.
To begin, the first-born son or closest kin of the deceased had to cut the head from the corpse, which would thereafter be held in place only the pillows of the coffin and the high starched collar of the grave robes. (This, I was told, was to prevent the animation of the corpse into the more intelligent types of undead such as the vampyr.)
Next, spikes of cold iron akin to the nails used by a ferrier to shoe destriers were driven through each joint of the body - done so that the corpse would be unable to move freely should it try to.
Finally, a small symbol of St. Cuthbert was then placed into the bottom of the coffin, a position that seemed odd until I then saw the body placed atop it, facing to the earth instead of the sky – the symbol, then, was pressed by the corpse’s own weight against its chest.
Curious as to why the dead should be made to face down instead of up, I was informed that this was to ensure that the mindless undead would only be able to dig themselves deeper into the earth, rather than up into open air.
As sensible and straightforward the reasons for such preparations were, they still somehow struck me as oddly sacrilegious. Perhaps it was just the seeming callousness that such preparations required from those closest to the deceased, but I think the greatest source of my unease stemmed from the state in which the body was interred: headless, with spikes for joints and faced not to the heavenly hosts but to the grim elements of the deeper planes. Regardless of my qualms, however, I performed the service as best I could, and in so doing gave closure to those in need of it.