In the Year of Our Lord 1099, Jerusalem
THE TALE OF HJALMAR
I, Hjalmar Siegfried, write this letter, in the name of Our Lord, to my fated brother Alfhild von Amerongen, prince of Svaland, conqueror of Finn woods, with love and admiration…
I still remember sitting in front of the anvil, in a sheep wool gown, legs agape, wearing felt trousers and linen shirt adorned with ceramic pearls, and pounding the red hot iron with a hammer while sweat dripped down my sleeves.
It was a sword forged in dishonorable vengeance, meat of the observable world, forged flaming gust of wind. I snatched it with both hands, swung it around, all until the very last thoughts of my origins that haunt me disappeared in the fog of forged hate.
My fated brother Aflhild.
I go through the flashes of fire, listen to the revving of worn-out horses as I squeeze tiredly the heavy, red-hot helmet bathed in my blood.
I hide behind the shield and load my crossbow. The marksman has a yew long bow. Leather quivers are on his belt where he carefully selects goose-feathered arrows. He tightens the hemp string, holds it that way, but does not fire. Birch arrow bottoms stick out of his quivers.
I hold the string tightened. The gear rotates. I tighten the crossbow with the winder and fire the bolt by pulling the trigger upwards. The steel tip of the bolt tears through the air and I can all but hear the squeal of the pierced wind in the hissing and the clash of light and shadow.
– Utterly unnecessary – the marksman shakes his head and puts his arrow back in the quiver. I sharpen the tip of the short spear and light it up. Tears go down my cheek. I look at the summit of Zion, which lords over the heavens as if it turns and rotates, like a beamer placed diagonally.
The marksman and the shield-bearer, pale and tense, were staring at my forehead, tightening their crossbows. I dug my face into my hands and pulled my forehead harder still in the shadow of the sweat overtaking me. I wanted to keep sinking into the darkness, to hide the ghosts of my fancy which did not appear before the marksman and the shield-bearer.
– I came to liberate you.
– You’re raving again, Hjalmar, – the marksman shot him a smile, drumming his fingers on the chainmail. – Let’s go! – He went ahead of me, calm and ready like a ballista rope, stomping the ground as if he wanted to root himself up right then and there. The soil was plowed by heavy armor boots, it was as dark as the vacant, bony face of the Saracen nearby. Oh, those dreaded faces, as if they were coming up from the grave, they swing like flames in the wind, like a deathly fire that singes the bones!
I once felt such a pain, when a Saracen arrow dug into my shoulder. Steel in burning flesh, smoke coming from the wound, and I was all black and hot, like a huge chimney.
I was staring at the marksman’s back while he was walking upright, a bit tense, as his legs, heavily armored with asymmetrically cut sheet metal, shone specked with mud, and his cut shirt quivered beneath his armor. He wore chainmail, with sleeves up to his elbows and a skirt reaching half of his toned thighs . His mail was cut so that it does not hinder his movement. A huge helmet with stripped cross-like reinforcements and eye slits partially hid his face. Shield was adorning his back, the so-called heater shield, with a flat top. A crossbow was in his right hand. A sleeveless surkot was over his mail, belt tightening it around his waist, with lions on it, the ancient symbol of the house of Agnus, Olof’s father. Olofs were Vikings by blood.
– Take some – he pulled out a sheep hide wineskin. The marksman is a friend, I thought looking at him through the eye slits while I voraciously gulped mouthfuls of sweet molasses. A true friend. I was staring at the liquid quivering somewhere in the grotto of the small wineskin. A tiny stream of water, honey and yeast, mead, spiced with lavender whose smell intoxicated me and very slowly closed the crack which, during the days devoid of spiced wine, split open on my crooked back under the weight of memory, piercing through it with a lead spike that tears through skin with ease. Heavy memories pierce like a sharp Saracen spear, they beat like a holy mace forged in hatred.
Intoxicated thusly, Olof and I were looking at the pile of shiny metal, in the faces colored the same as the charcoal earth beneath them. We could see the approaching of some strange shades through the sad hue of darkness, like a black Saracen army which, under this heat exuding from within their armors like heavy fire, appeared as if it were expanding and increasing, ominously emerging from their capes which circled around them like vultures.
The sun cast its last rays onto the city walls in the distance engulfed in smoke. This idyllic picture was to be crushed, its treasures taken, its holy relics soiled in hatred, polluted by the black Seljuk noses. The smell of the Fatimid was the smell of rottenness.
Thusly enchanted, I was staring at the pile of shining metal, into the charcoal faces. I felt nothing but smoke, iron, burning and blue lips chapped from marching for miles and miles.
– Raymond is here – Olof the marksman said.
The shades retreated into the spellbound silence.
Count Raymond was a lank man. His hands were as white as Västmanland snow, calm, clutching the reins. I could see blue eyes under the huge helmet, and the cowl absorbed all of the sweat, so his face was all but dry. He was hot, and he gave this away with certain head twitches and shooing of invisible flies.
– Fiends, you sure did give us a hard time in this hour of proving the love of a Son to a Father. I anm the son of Christ, cast down into the fog of this desert wonder, amid flowers that bloom under the scorching sun. Blessed be Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
His chainmail bent under his white pelerine as if the Holy Spirit got under his gown of the holy profiteer. There was a sweet taste in the air, and the count sunk ever deeper in liquid bronze, his metal gaze flying over the desert yearning for water over which towered stone ramparts. They appeared to be swaying. The sun was scorching with deadly force engulfing the ramparts in its merciless rays as if they were the hands of a poltergeist, melting them while the air flickered above the towers. Near and around the seven hills, over which the city was opening up on the gigantic palm of Hephaestus, stubborn shrubbery swallowed the dry, barren rocks and yielded under the dust which aided with the scorching wind buried them deeper into the many layers of sand.