Sleeping Mathilde, Chapter Three, THE SHAITAN HORSE


PREVIOUS CHAPTERS:

Sleeping Mathilde, Chapter One, A TALE OF ORIAN VON AMERONGEN

Sleeping Mathilde, Chapter Two, THE HÄSSE CASTLE

 

Part One

“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 exactly 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.

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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.

to be continued…

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