From the quill of Mathilde von Regenstein
I, Mathilde von Regenstein, learned how to paint the cloud beyond the wild, distant mountain when I was fairly young, which brought upon me the wrath of my mother Johanna in my early years.
When I was seven, the Regenstein castle was the diamond of Denmark, much like an ornament on my mother’s dress. The ceilings were opulently adorned with paintings and stone arches. Walls were gilded with golden animal hides.
Johanna’s chamber was on the first floor of the northern wing. There was a blossoming fireplace in the corner of the solar, where an untamed fire shone bright white day and night.
My solar had a narrow window, located above the castle gates, where I kept my eye on the guests who would come to the castle balls in Regenstein in processions… At night they would dance on the floor of the proud hall, feet barely touching the Grand hall’s floor adorned with Swedish marble. The Grand doors were leading to Johanna’s private quarters.
I would secretly observe in admiration the airborne dance of the guests. Men and women would dance, holding hands, forming a ring. As more people joined the ring, it would start to bend forming a circle within a circle, and so forth, until the ring would evolve into a chain. Men would then do the Pauper’s game, and the ladies would do the Happy dance. ”My ladies, hold hands”, my queen-mother would say. The nereids would dance, and the men, gods of evening stars would look at them amazed.
“Apollo, Apollo and Daphne!” I would let out a childish squeal. Undone blonde locks would slice through the air as I would, cumbersomely, in my nightgown, run to my mother with my arms outstretched. Those glamorous evenings, the royal evening stars would give themselves up to the music and the joy, but looking at me, the musicians would stop playing. The hall would overflowed with silence with cries of admiration sprinkled here and there.
“She’s so beautiful…” someone would say.
“Spitting image of you…twenty years younger, of course”, mother’s red-haired, blue-haired or black-haired god would laugh. When she looked at me, a shadow would hover over my mother’s face. She would go stiff on the spot. Her eyes would be brimming with rage. The gaze of limber dancers, stopped in their tracks, would rest upon her.
I would look at her face made ugly with hate. The nymphs would surround me, touch my curls, bathed in warmness, gentleness. Their arms would caress me, as my mother looked at me with clenched teeth and eyes wide agape.
She would then grab my hair, to which I would howl in pain, followed by a murmur of disapproval coming from the spectators, and she would drag me back in the solar. In its furthermost corner was the chair I despised most in the whole castle: the torture chair. Square-like, looking a bit like a throne, it had arms adorned with spheres and gothic arches, similar to those towering over the cathedral columns, above the armrest.
Straddling me, she would shove my head under the seat and slowly started choking me. With filthy, vile words, directed at the male sex, she would whip me senseless, and when she was especially in the mood, she would beat me with a fire poker decorated with a snake tail, over and over until I would lose consciousness.
The dance would then proceed, but the Apollos would never have returned after that. This is why, one day, mother had forever closed the gates of the home of Regenstein, avoiding guests, using as an excuse either a storm, icy roads or whatever unknown disease would assail her at that moment. Time went by slowly and painfully after that. Some said that Johanna Regenstein had gone insane, after which her lovers left her. I cannot be sure of this, but I did know that I was – in some fashion – the cause of my queen-mother’s suffering.
Since then, her beauty was bathed in naught but darkness. She was metamorphosing. Rotting from within. And I welcomed my father, Otto, every night in painful expectancy. After a flurry of angry voices and par for the course arguing in the chilling home, after the insults like “Whore!” or mother’s “Cur!” the spine-chilling Satyr-like silhouette of my father would hover over my bed.
“Do you love daddy, Mathilde?”, his gaze would move with lust along my body. He would put his hands on my breasts and mumble incoherently. He would reek of mead.
“Which one?”, I asked only once and got slapped.
“Calm down, damn it, I’ll get you some wine!”, he would disrobe and, sliding into my bed, pinned me down with his body, ramming his claws into my upper lip. His other hand would clench my throat. Then he would say in a touchingly pitiful manner:
“You are so beautiful…, beautiful, beautiful Mathilde…beautiful…”, he would repeat this, dully, confusedly. His body would bulge out, his eyesight cloud… I would feel savage pain and pass out.
He would not leave my chamber until morning. Upon dawn, he would pull the curtains down, poured more wine from the goblet and calmly observe me. Then my face would twist to show careless, fatherless desire.
“Now lie on your belly”, he would say.
I would lie a few days in my room after that, beaten and hungry, in a pool of blood, as a vulture flew over my body. But it wasn’t alone in this. Mother would be with him, like a surreal nightmare from which, I thought then, I would never awaken.
Between a creepy dream and a far more terrifying reality, the doors would open and shut with a loud bang. Thick snowflakes would shiver behind the stained glass window.
“Did she learn her lesson? Did you beat her?”
“It’s going slowly…She’s a wildling. But she’ll learn…”
“All she needs is the firm hand of the father”, in the dreaded silence I could make out my mother saying.
He would have me on both days and nights after that, hypocritically, silently. The furies were being born within me during that period, coming to life parallel to my famished, child body which could not defend itself. The father would intrude into me, he would be the intruder inside of my body.
After he were done with me, I would open my eyes in the darkness. At dawn, I would carefully unhinge my swollen eyelids towards the light. I would then fall back to sleep anew…
After a few weeks, the advances would stop. Still, I would feel someone’s presence in the room. Like a hum… I would try to get up, but was held down by someone’s gentle hands. They were small, thin… The terror of putting up with it would pervade me with ice-cold sweat and I would start shivering under feminine fingers. I would lean against my wounded elbows. Otto Regenstein had been savagely beating and raping me… for how long? How long? Too long… And the mother? – I would feverishly ponder – was she pimping me out?
“Easy, mistress Mathilde”, a voice akin to mine would utter… “”Who is this?”, I would ask every time.
“I will be near”, she would say. “Now eat!” The girl’s presence was strong. The speck of her mercy would bring me back among the living. She would tend to my wounds, but not only that. She would heal my sense of loss. Reality of her presence and friendship was mesmerizing, like a dream. She would gently assist me with going through the first, worst day of the Metamorphosis…
She was not a day older than ten.
And as soon as I would think of Johanna, suppressing the memory of the glow of my home for the sake of remembering the terror I went through, I would smile at the little girl, forever fusing with the mask – consciously yearning that she never left me.
“What is your name?”
“Agnes”, her gaze remained lowered. Her movements were soft, but focused.
Wicked shadows would hover over the door, conjoined in one – a grotesque one – Otto and Johanna. It was a dreadful sight, a grayness outside of a realm found anew…
Johanna, because I could no longer have brought myself to call her mother, would enter my room, sit on a chair, poured herself some mead and growled:
“I heard your shrieks and squeals. You’ve learned your lesson. All will be well now. I’ve even bought you a personal serf, missy ” – she would pause – “for real cheap.”
But I could think of nothing else, other than Agnes.
As I grew, my desires were parted by contradictions, making any attempt of deeper deliberation pointless. They’d stand for a talkative audience for a premature intellectual maturity, they would pound into me and disappear in my spirit.
The prohibitions and permissions I despised with a passion. I’d grown into a young woman of exceptional beauty, the Danish Daughters of magic would say, and the news would spread far away across and over the distant mountains. My thoughts were always…scattered. I possessed the virtues of a true, yet inexperienced noblewoman, who can keep her secret for the sake of cuteness. My wit was fiery, demanding, one of those wits aflame which people tend to abuse.
The everyday rut was akin the polished glass I would use to look at myself, being bored and daydreaming of the blinding sun, of the announcements of future delights ,of the wonderful night which would shine over me under the stars. I would daydream, nude, for hours with my elbows leaned on the windowsill of the solar window, as my golden hair lay on my back, covering my milky white sides.
In the filth of boredom and mother’s hatred, I would sketch complex objects, with an inkpot and a gelded enameled quill. There were also the canvas, the parchment, the brush and some linen oil in a dish. The lonely days seemed like a vortex sucking up the excitement… Unless Agnes was around.
In one of those days one would call fateful, I noticed that Otto was again looking lustfully at me and that his face was changing. I had turned fourteen.
Having caught his stare and sensing horrid intent, I would closed myself up in the solar for days, where I put scrolls together, surrounding myself in books I loved: among others there were Terrence’s Eunuchus, Sappho’s Hymn to Aphrodite, an Egyptian artefact, the Tyrin Erotic Papyrus dubbed “a magazine for men” of its time, painted in the period of pharaoh Rameses, Euripides’ Medea, De Nuptiis or De Septem Disciplinis of Martianus Capella, the Pythagorean scrolls of knighthood…
I have during the years covered the walls with murals of goddesses Nephthys and Isis in alluring poses, as well as murals of scenes of celebrated antic warrior women such as Boadicea, the queen of the Iceni tribe in battle armor, the lethal heroine Atalanta who denied suitors and the unavoidable twin-sister of Apollo, Artemis.
That dark morning, Otto broke into my room, paying no attention to the nude nymphs, for I was more than a suitable substitute for them. I stood before him, in the nude. Waiting for that moment… Too long.
He enjoyed the view so much. He was breathing heavily as he was licking his lips. Greed clouded his eyes.
“The guards are right to look upon your naked body with lust from their watchtowers. You tempt them. You are known for your nudity.”
Johanna chased the guards away ten years ago. Regenstein was deteriorating with her. The castle was her spitting image.
As he was approaching me, undoing the waistband of the pitched tent that were his trousers, he kept saying how pleased he was that I would be back in his embrace:
“Now you’ll be more ready than ever before. At this point you might even like it…” he yammered on. Drool slid down his face.
At that moment, the solar door boomed open and Johanna, akin to an Erinys – puff-faced and decrepit, but powerful and clad in black, speared towards Otto, holding a sizable, silver pot. She thwacked him on the head with all her might. She was drunk: “You are no Surtr! She is mine! I am Surtr!” she screamed, she pulled his hair and trod on him, as Otto tried helplessly to defend himself. “You raped her! I told you to only beat her! I cut my own brother’s mouth! Two I’ve killed after they’d merely touched me!”
Her hatred towards me was no less passionate.
“Whore! I know you enjoyed it!”, she stopped for a moment and took a good look at my body. “The fire poker! Where is my poker?!”
She ran out of the room with gigantic steps. The floorboards shook under these massive steps of hers.
Agnes ran into the room with lightning speed. I stood before her completely nude. She paid no heed.
“Mathilde…Johanna will kill you!”
I smiled and casually sat in my recliner, looking at the low light of the fire in the fireplace.
“Do you like my body?”, I calmly asked her.
She shook her head in disbelief:
“Do you want to lock the door?”, her gaze circled the room.
“Is it possible that a lamb is looking for a hefty object so as to defend the lioness?”, I smiled.
Johanna ran into the room with a terrifying shriek and the moment before she lunged herself at me with all of her tubby body’s weight, my gaze pierced her puffy eyes.
“Apollo, my real father wrote to me, dear mum”, I caressed the scroll lying on my desk next to the fireplace, trying to inject as much venom as I could into that “mum” I’ve uttered.
She paused, mouth agape, arms flying upward.
“Apollo? My Apollo?”
“Here – Apollo writes…”, I tried to overcome the deep feeling of contempt.
Dumbfounded, her countenance suddenly blissful, Johanna stroked her hair and said to Agnes:
“Take the poker away!”, she sat across to where I was, in a different recliner, lovingly looking at the letter…
“I knew he did not forget me!”
“He says: Johanna, you are my Leucothea!”, I became more grave, while tears sparkled in Johanna’s eyes.
“What Lack-a-thea? Who is she?”
“The wife of the Boeotian king!”
“Well of course I am!”
“Leucothea, before you the Great mother can bow her head and shiver in shame”, I’d read, no bitterness in my voice…
“And the ball? What did he say of the ball? And the starry night?!”, Johanna went for the flagon of mead, poured herself a cup-full and said: “I have to move on to tea. Your father loved Tibetan tea. He told me we could go there together and…read!”, she mumbled.
“Oh, he mentioned this as well”, I felt my words feed and calm her animalistic force. “He then says…Leucothea, forgive me for writing only after ten years, I had been held up with unusual circumstances, waggeries of the soul and a sickly indecisiveness.”
“Waggeries of the soul?”, Johanna giggled as mead trickled down her chin. “The imp! He has not changed one bit!”
“When I saw Mathilde …”, this is where I paused, holding up a smile of sweet vengeance inside, “it was as if I had seen her once before or was it perhaps the sun in your eyes. She was the mirror image of you. I then recognized her as my daughter!”, and I added, reading off of the scroll which I had been drawing up the entire afternoon. “I know I’ve failed your heard when I rode off into the starry night, with the caravans via the Tea road, all the way to the Sichuan and Yunnan mountains in the southwest of China”, I glanced upward. “That is the southern Silk road.”
“Forget the silk…What does he say…did he fail his heart?”
“He says…I have done a dreadful thing which I regret. Is that not the only thing that’s certain at the end of the road? Regret?”
“Okay…okay…Now I feel better”, Johanna drunk another chalice-full, and then gave me a suspicious look. “Are you not making up fancies, child? Give me the parchment…” I decisively extended my hand, but she moved hers away. “Okay…okay…I can’t read the handwriting anyway. What else does he say?”
The story went on deep into the night.