With this chapter, titled “The Shaitan Horse”, I will temporarily pause sharing the material from the book of Mathilde which is currently being translated. I hope that the introductory passages piqued your interest. Mathilde will soon be available on Amazon. You will be notified in due time. Thank you for reading.
Sleeping Mathilde, Chapter One, A TALE OF ORIAN VON AMERONGEN
Sleeping Mathilde, Chapter Two, THE HÄSSE CASTLE
The Shaitan Horse
“It’s hard to maintain friendships under the steep mountains whose sklents they spread like Icarus spreads his wings towards the icy sun in an attempt to touch the gods. Sun-scorched tops delve deep into the soul of the locals of Norrbotten. It’s hard to maintain friendships, because the abyss is indestructible here. Sven Olof, on the other side of Norrbotten, did not fear the trip. His name was described with a wondrous strength of myth.
“As he was riding on his horse across the slope with no discernible fear of any kind, hoarfrost covered the sven’s eyelashes. Cold shades danced on his cheeks long ago burned by the Norrbotten sun. He got off his horse and observed with his beady eyes the eternal chill of Hornavan.
“When I saw him, I left the solar running, crossed bridges that connected the towers, all the way up to the watchtower where I could see him swing under the swipes of the winds. It appeared as if he were supported by the light piercing through his massive body. He turned his face towards me and gave a wide grin, exuding all of his beauty, to me unbearably all too familiar, a mixture of fear and impending doom. We were looking at each other like two misbehaving boys after a dangerous game which they weren’t caught for, sensing Lindworm’s tongue standing between us like a beast, and the Fjalar hill behind it as well as the abyss whose bottom was paved with the crystals of winter. I was looking at the cracked eternal darkness of ice and felt like Olof was included in my thoughts as well. He removed his gloves and looked at me, mouth agape like with a skinned fox.
“He wore a black silk shirt with a laced collar and sleeves covered in multicolor tapes, a velvet robe and a huge cloak which cast even darker shadows on his already darkened face.
“I had rough wool trousers on. Boots, with rolled up top edge, reached up to my knees. Beneath a fine leather tunic, with corduroy edges and embroidered crosses of silk, peeped a collarless linen shirt. I wore an earring made of darkened silver, and a signet ring with a lion paw engraved on it on my hand.”
Orian lifted his hand and had a good long look into the distance. He memorized every detail. He dipped the quill in the inkwell and continued:
“In the inner yard of the castle we were smitten by a gaze of a female eye. It was my beloved wife Mathilde. Beneath the fine smooth plush dress one could make out the cotton and silk edges embroidered with a silver wire. She had a leather hat adorned with pearls on her head. The see-through organdy scarf floated above her head like a halo, and fell back all the way down to her slim waist. A silver filigree earrings with dark river pearls shaped like tears gave her face a particular beauty.
“Mathilde and Olof’s eyes crossed paths. It was then that I felt all the weight of an unclear feeling smoldering within me like an unspoken suspicion and a secret unrest during every single visit of Olaf to the castle. That force of feelings can only be triggered by an injured self-love. Rage grew within me. A cold, suppressed rage. Why was I being silent? Did Olof rule over me with the shackles of friendship?
“I pushed the servant away and took Olof’s horse to the stables. Sunlight was following me and casting hot flames onto the unlucky face of the one who neither loved nor was loved. I pulled the horse with one hand. The wind was an enemy to me, a fierce companion who scooped up lumps of earth and with its icy breath threw it in my face.
“I pulled on the reins. The horse revved and tried to pull away. I opened the stable door and drove him into the box stall.
“What exactlt did I see?
“A muffled, female laughter in the background. It was Mathilde thinking Olaf’s remark to be humorous.
“No, no doubt that he wants her! I am aware of the fact that this is the last time I’m talking about this, about the misunderstanding, about the kisses that didn’t happen. My gut feels wrinkled up… I heard a murmur and steps of serfs who started genuflecting to Olof. He, as if in his own castle, started walking up the paved trail bounded by oak trees with light steps towards the mistress of the castle, towards Mathilde.
“I made my way to the castle entrance. The vile suspicion burned in my heart threatening to crush me.
“A vast room of magical beauty stretched well into the castle. It had been an enormous chamber magically lighted by thickly arranged torches. Above the entrance there was a richly done façade with a big window shaped like a horseshoe (a gift from an Indian architect whom I had killed for a bad joke at the dinner table, or for the remark that we serve tasteless meals in Hässe, I’m not sure). Down the hall stretched a row of chambers which flowed one into another. The solar could be reached via stairs from each of them or via the porches and terraces built in the Oriental style, right into the lavish garden of Hässe.
“From a gelded, richly adorned throne, set at the bottom end of the hall, I would stare at the pane, resting my nude feet on the stone statue of a prostrate lion with a human head. Befitting my dark being’s tastes, the imposing ceiling, supported by a forest of columns, was adorned with complex, dark frescoes. Gigantic tapestries warmed the cruel stone walls. The castle floor, Greek style, was adorned with black and white pebblestone mosaics, and if the observer would take a good detailed look at the painting, he would notice the many-eyed Argus, the All-seeing, surrounded by wolves with their maws agape. My eye did not miss a single solitary detail. It was the temple of my curse, carved in the living flesh of Hässe. My inner being, my soul, whichever you prefer.
“I chiseled the sweet venom of battle into the walls. I invested a lot into paintings. The fresco above the very entrance of the Hall (this was my pet name for the enormous hall of Hässe, a rare architectural jewel in an eerie wasteland of the surrounding nature) was presenting a head of, one would say, a beautiful woman. Eyes full of fright and tears were chiseled into her visage. Opposite to her, at the very end of the Grand hall, the fresco above the throne was presenting the merciful eyes of a man, who bore a scepter in his hand. The fresco was hiding a secret passageway, and the passage hid – mortuary statues. I would often open the secret door as the nobles were engulfed in merriment during feasts, followed by the merry music of the manor minstrel.
“’Master Olof’– I nervously paced the Hall – ‘I do not recall ever taking you to see the castle. My servants have covered the floors with a new material’ – I grinned like a wolf, nonchalantly toying with the silver earring in my ear. I was tapping on the floor with my boot, giving the terror a beat. – ‘Approach the throne, master Olof’ – the boot tapping increased. Olof’s gaze paused with admiration on the walls which were adorned here and there with gelded carvings and unavoidable arabesques.
“’Come with me and see the castle, my friend. Delve into my soul, and then we feast’ – I approached him and put my arm around his shoulder. I caught Olof’s gaze directed at Mathilde’s cross which hung from the stained glass. – ‘You are impressed by the cameos of the pious Mathilde of Essen? I brought it from Cologne as a gift to my god-fearing lady.’
“’Fascinating…’ – Olof mumbled. – ‘Really… you built a shrine in the castle, master Orian. Your care for the proper upbringing of lady Mathilde is touching almost as the care for her soul. I thought you would corrupt her with your gods.’
“I looked at him with bloodlust in my eyes, but I did not erase the wolfish smile off my face, quite the contrary, I grinned all the harder.
“’You see, Olof… The architecture I am inclined to lately is a strict and monumental one. Vast wall structures are without a single opening. Soon I will wall off all those tiny light windows through which you’re looking.’
“He gave me a funny look. ‘By the by, where is thy lady? She was here a moment ago’ – he took a good long look around him. She was here all along, right next to the two of us, silent like a shadow, peaceful like a sword resting in the sheathe. She seemed as if she were suppressing laughter.
“A frightening silence suddenly fell upon the castle.
“’Approach, Olaf!’, I yelled for a serf. His shoulders shivered.
“’Here I come to my master to obey his command!’, he dared not look at me.
“’You see, Olof, how faithful my serf Olaf is to me? If the king would weep, he would weep along with him. If the king died, there Olaf would be howling for him, such is the love of serflings of Hässe to its ruler. Is this not so?’, I embraced my serf. His lips were quivering, and teeth aclatter. ‘I re-reckon it’s cuh-cold, Guard, let me get the fire going.’
“’I want you to take us through the secret door’, I gave off a bloodlust-laden grin and took a good long look at the hump under his tunic. ‘Look at him, Olof. Is he not like a statue which speaks? Good old Roman Pasquino , a damaged sculpture, of course, but well spoken, because when it hears the vile tongues say ‘Even Amerongen can’t reign forever’ – a prideful look on his face – Olaf would cuss and say ‘Let me find the coward in the shadows! And if I don’t find him, you, master, will blow into him the icy breath of death and the bastard will fall only because he wanted my master to die.’’
“Olof raised his eyebrows and said ‘Incredible.’
“’Brave lad’ – I patted the serf on the hump under the tunic which stuck out a bit crookedly. ‘You do not fear the secret door?’
“Olaf rose the steel chin to me, grinned and revealed a severe lack of dentures: ‘I am loyal, milord. My name is Olaf and all live long day I eat and drink profusely and in the name of my prince I would…’ He was deep in thought for a while. I waited patiently enjoying the whole thing. Something almost like a thought sparked in his pupil. ‘I can do this. I can go through the secret door. I will be the guide. I have heard that master Olof is going sightseeing.’
“’And if the doors are sealed?’, I laughed.
“’I will knock them down with my head.’
“’Is he an idiot?’ Olof giggled pointing to the wee hunchback. Olaf laughed with him, and his whole face went dark. He clenched his fists. ‘I will crush the door, here…with these hands!’
“’I actually believe you…’ – I paid no heed to Olof’s jab – ‘Peace be upon the kingdom, Olaf.’
”’Long live my prince’, Olaf lowered his gaze and knelt before me.
“Olof coughed uninterestedly, while strength raged within me.
“’Come with me…’, I took a few large steps and stood in front of the secret door
“’I don’t see how we can pass.’ – Olof wondered. – ‘Perhaps…’
“’Quiet,’ I frowned. ‘I wanted to show you this.’
“I stood on a precisely marked spot, which was the Eye of Argus on the mosaic, and used my weight to start up the secret mechanism. The door squeaked creepily, rising upward, while Olof stood in tense expectation – what is on the other side?
“His astounded facial expression amused me. He hesitated for a moment or two, and then carefully came after me along the tight pass. He was in the state of complete horror, while we crawled by grotesque gravestones. Soon we arrived at a big room whose stone walls were adorned with a low, narrative relief, similar to Assyrian ones.
“There was little to no furniture in the room. Two chairs and an oaken table colored red took up the middle of the room. The table was covered in a pile of parchments and unusual object, one of which was my fancy – shaped by the hands of Mathilde – a miniature replica of the Kraken. The rest of the furniture was colored green, with a figure of a three-headed dragon Buné engraved onto it, as were many other pagan symbols. A fresco was on the wall above the fireplace, a fresco which, according to my instructions, was made by Mathilde. It was an all-black monstrosity, a smirk on her face gnawed to the bone, my protector Yambe-Akka, the angel of death.
“Not paying attention to an astonished and terrified Olof, in a knightly stance I knelt before her horrific visage.
Heed my prayer, Yambe-Akka
Habituate my eyes to the blade of vengeance
Let me hold it in my hand
Let my hand not quiver when vengeance recognizes the cause!
Let the bowels howl in fear, bowels of all those
Who wanted you unmade from your way!
“I got up unladen, breaking the silence reinforced by Olof being quiet.
“’Impressive, no?’, I said self-lovingly.
Olof shook from unease, and his face wrinkled.
“’I come here to enjoy myself… The room is full of objects which bring me peace’ – I paused – ‘There are all sorts of things here, from Iram, Ubar…’- as I was saying this, I picked up a crooked J-shaped sword from the table, “a cursed Arabian knife”, a gift from Ubar. ‘Whomsoever has it in his hand, he must…’, I looked at Olof, and his eyes were aflame bloody-red.
“’My friend, I see that my dark humor upsets your soul. I’m afraid that I must stop doing that. You’ll lose your appetite,’ I mercifully added and pointed to the direction of the spiral staircase.
“’They lead all the way to the balcony, and from there on…you’ll see…’
“’You surprise me in a horrific way, Orian…Let’s go…’, Olof added nervously. And so, over the balcony, we found ourselves in a hallway, adorned with numerous columns. The end of the hallway was crowned by an arch, made in an Arabic style.
“’Down the hallway, keep going straight, you will reach Mathilde’s solar’, I said wickedly.
“’Let’s go back’, Olof felt uncomfortable.
“’My solar is on the opposite side. We can visit it as well?’
“Our conversation was suddenly cut off by a female voice. ‘Hässe, including the secret passageways, has at least fifty-two rooms. It is a monumental complex, master Olof…’
“When he looked at her, light jolted in his eyes. I was looking at him grimly.
“‘Come along, with the second staircase, Master Olof. Orian has shown you his favorite spot in the wall. And now we dine.’ Olof obediently followed Mathilde.
“We were back in the Main hall. Mathilde moved away from us, decisively walking towards my throne, and sat on it!”
“Orian set aside his quill, stood from his table and walked along the solar, trying to gather his thoughts. – No, that’s not how it happened, it really wasn’t! Mathilde’s throne was right next to mine. The Evesham craftsmen made a throne for the queen… – He roamed around the room like a ghoul, distraught – I must say it all the way it was. I will glue the truth to this parchment like sweat…But – he looked over his shoulder – if I pour my soul into a horrific description, I swear… – Orian returned to the table and wrote this sentence, saying it out loud.
“…I swear that I will pull the rust out of its roots. Mathilde did not sit on my throne, but her own. And I did not managed to show the damned man the corpses behind the secret wall. Actually, those were no longer even corpses, but bones that are swarming in worms in the honor of the gods for a long time…too long. And maybe this is all just make-believe, maybe I killed no man. And if this is too tight of a space to pour my pathetic spirit onto it, may the readers of upcoming centuries forgive me, I am not well versed in the quill, eh, what can you do…“
The story became too hard for Orian for a moment so he took one more stroll around the solar. – I am a walker along the dungeon, tomb, megaron of the pitiful…
And he wrote:
“I feel like describing Mathilde’s solar. I knew how it looked down to the last detail, thanks to the network of spies which I crafted in secrecy. It was her membrane, her hiding place from the rot which she would shut herself in for months in order to avoid my demonic advances. This pathetic fool Olof could not understand such a concession to a woman.
“The solar ceiling was reinforced with wooden beams, while the floor was made of red polished marble. Stone walls were covered with lavish tapestries adorned with horizontal geometric and herbal ornaments, encircled with a green Viking braid and the warrior woman Atalanta as its central composition. Silk pillows were carelessly tossed all over the floor.
“A fine carved wooden writing table with legs made of minted iron, next to which was the statue of Bastet, was placed under the painting with a gelded wooden frame. Next to the inkwell, on the table, were also a short sword, a pile of parchments and a silver candelabra. A simple chair with a green and white back reminded one of the chair in the chapel of chaplain Larsen. In the corner of the solar in a chest reinforced by minted iron wedges she kept her private-most things. Above the chest was a tilted whole length mirror, where she could look at herself from every angle.
“On the wall across the canopy bed Mathilde brought her frescos over from her solar in Regenstein – it was a sea of body, of female flesh where her gaze would most often lose itself. The solar also contained a dining room (with wooden cupboards containing cups, pots and teapots), a wooden chair with a kitchen scale, a turquoise salt shaker and silverware, a fireplace, before which there stood a wooden chair with a skin-sheeted back where she performed her morning dress-up.
“Once while resting from my presence, she would go back to her solar more wonderful and adorable than ever, saying ‘Oh, how good the solitude feels.’ This is how I courted her heart, because my absence made her happy. As a return favor, she would grant me two nights with her as compensation. Those nights would drain her like a serious disease. Still, she would remain with me in the castle, in my solar, until the latest escape.”
– I am not pleased with this. I’m tired, like a dry log, weak. But the fog is slowly sliding away from my mind and the veil parts from my all too tired eyes. I remember every detail, in spite of insanity and oblivion – Orian Amerongen said out loud and continued his tale with in tune, confident swings of the quill.
“We spent the afternoon in light conversation. The hall was bathed in sunrays. A tall table, akin to a stand with legs, covered in linen cloth was packed with food served in dishes of silver. I sat next to Olof, on a wooden bench, while Mathilde cozied herself into the chair sheeted in deer hide, adorned with lion heads on its arms. She was of cold bearing and an icy smile. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself during the dull prattle of Olof which lasted for several hours of his namesake grandfather’s heroics. He spun the dislocated version of the legend of Jerusalem, of my ancestor Hjalmar the Bloody, which was, simply put due to Hjalmar’s illiteracy, written down by the chaplain Larsen.
“’Chaplain’s fancies’, I waved it off, using the opportunity and said: ‘Impressive, master Olof, but I would rather dash towards the throne in order to have some fun.’
“‘Fun? Are you bored in the company of your lovely lady, my friend? Does the tale of our ancestor’s wars and their unending friendship not make you happy?’, he looked me dully and asked how will I entertain myself to which I mercifully replied: ‘I will stare into the pane.’
“I got up from the table, sat at my throne and…fell asleep on the spot. I have no idea how long I was napping on it, but when I awoke, I jumped from it horrified, staring at the darkness filled with candlelight. They were burning with strength, passion. I slept of the next few hours.
“I lifted the chainmail collar, wanting to cover the redness of my cheeks which pointed to tumultuous feelings, because I had found my wife and my friend in an intimate conversation.
“Icy suffering covered my face.
“’Enjoying yourself, Olof?’, I sat back at the table. Olaf the serf brought the candles, approached the fireplace and reignited the fire. I observed the hump under his tunic.
“’Indeed! Do divulge the secret of this mead’, Olof said, turning to Mathilde, ‘We do not have wine like this on the south!’
“’If I am not mistaken, during your last visit you said that you have land in Toulouse as well, right?’, Mathilde spoke coquettishly.
“’You can come to the south as well…the south of Norland, I mean…’ his words were ringing in my ears. It was a confusing scene. During the conversation he cursorly followed my game. His eyes glistened. He barely took his eyes away from the sword which, had I unsheathed it, would have cast a bright light all around.
“’What do you do when boredom assails you, my lord?’, she continued. I reproachfully looked at her. She did not look back.
“A horse revved in the distance. A howl of wind broke out. I waved my hand off wishing to drive off the howl. Both looked at me in surprise.
“’What is this foolishness you exhibit?’, it was her turn to be reproachful, signaling this with her eyes.”
 Historical lost cities
 Hallways in Greek temples
 A Greek heroine
 Bastet, a cat-goddess of Ancient Egypt, solar deity and goddess of war