Mathilde confided in me often (which I hid from Amerongen like a Jew hides his gold) while alone or while we walked together along the garden tile path
‘Why are you so unhappy, mistress Mathilde? The master is trying…’, I coughed, ‘He seems to indulge you in everything, and yet…’
‘Confide in me, oh Mistress.’
‘There is no need for formalities, Larsen.’
‘Okay’, I nodded. ‘Do you suffer too much?’
‘It upsets me, it gets on my nerves.’
‘Break the silence and open your heart to me’, I said, fatherly.
‘This morning I recollected the life in Denmark… And my mother. Make a note, Larsen, and let the world see it! If the prison door ever open up for me and Hässe burns to the ground, I swear that…for something like that, I will rise from my grave!’
‘I will make a note, but I do not know what happened… Tell me the tale> is it the truth that Johana the Monster, as the locals called your mother…’
‘And the noblemen,’ the Mathilde declared fiercely.
‘…Yes…patience for the old man, young lady.’
Mathilde shot a smile back to him.
‘…she lived, as they say, in utter poverty?’
‘No,’ she stated simply.
‘Amerongen…’, I turned around and saw him fumbling around the stables – he was etching something into the ground with his knife and chanted… The guards were lazing around in front of the castle. A portion of the army, being bored on the roof of the castle and leaning onto the towers, under the Hässe sun, was taking a nap.
‘You could run away right now. I am reading your mind.’
‘And where would I go?’ I felt rage engulf her, a cold, suppressed rage, thus I fell silent in discomfort and decided to return to the topic at hand.
‘You know I always treated you like you were my own daughter.’
‘You are my solace in this home of the mad’, she responded gently, moving to caress me on the cheek but stopping midway through.
We entered the great Hall and sat on a bench one next to the other, tracked by the vile gaze of Orian von Amerongen.
‘Dearest Mathilde, the introduction is the most problematic to me. I can never seem to pin it down…Your words are sung with a lion’s strength, but I cannot discern whether you’ve written a novel of your mother and your real father,’ I started while looking at the scroll, ‘a made up story, or are these facts?’
She smiled somewhat tensely.
‘Tell me how you married Amerongen’, I prepped my quill and a parchment under my cassock.
Mathilde tensed up her body. Her countenance became brutally firm.
‘It was in Denmark. On that day, and what a dim day it was, Father, the Regenstein door opened with a bang. Seeing Amerongen, I thought the entire castle shivered and squealed, as if dying from a horrible disease.
‘The castle was founded in the second half of the ninth century on a steep cliff, from which I felt like ending my life in the endless abyss numerous times. It was a dark, aristocratic dwelling. Since I was a tyke I likened it to a monster. Toothy towers reminiscent of fangs, and dark windowpanes reminding of the eyes of Erebus. Regenstein had spread venom around itself since those days.
‘Amerongen got his eye on me, tall and threatening. I stood in the middle of the hallway frozen by his gaze. I pressed the parchments I was carrying to the library against my chest. He looked at me like a bloodthirsty animal. He looked like a rustler.
‘ ‘Is this ever a beauty!’, he shouted and touched Johanna’s heart to tears, while joy glistened in Otto’s wrinkly eyes.
He suddenly averted his eyes, and his face calmed, as if the monstrous strength waned in him.
‘ ‘In the name of Yambe-Akka’, he yelled. ‘Did someone die in here? Give ale to horses first, then the serfs!’
‘ ‘Mathilde, you should be honored that this charming nobleman chose you for his bride’, the moment she said this the parchments dropped from my hands, and Amerongen looked at me curiously. I replied with a smile which surprised him and he told me: ‘Do you perchance like me? Truly it cannot be so!’, he pouted like a child and winked at me, which made me feel sick to my stomach. I assume he just wanted to make me feel better.’
 Greek god of eternal darkness.
He came very close to me and all but glued himself to my body.
‘The cold armor of Denmark had burned your body and mind with frost. In my home you will be warm.’
Fire was blazing in his eyes. He turned to the vase laden with red flowers drowned in the crystal clear water. He pulled a dagger from his belt.
‘Careful, sven! Mathilde is expensive!’, I’ve heard an apathetic voice of Otto Regenstein. Johana was licking her lips. Her hand lay on her hanging breasts.
Amerongen turned to them, smiled and carved my initials into the palm of his hand. Blood sprayed his gold-woven clothing. He put his hand in water.
‘Now the color is like that of flowers’, he said brightly.
His boot drummed on the straw-covered floor for a while, he was looking at me from all sides and was thinking.
‘Will you take our daughter?’, Johana asked with hope in her voice.
‘Her being silent is agreeable to me. As far as I’m concerned, with a body like this, she can be deaf-mute for all I care. I have decided, I will spend the night here’, he approached me again. His breath was heavy. He stank of blood. ‘I might come visit you tonight.’
‘The goods must always be tested, do you not agree, husband dear?, the cheerful voice of Johana uttered.
‘Are these goods spoiled?’, Amerongen shot her a shrewd look.
She looked at the crackling fire in the hearth.
‘A fresh, unpicked flower. A good deal’, Johana said.
Mathilde stopped talking. I lifted my head away from the parchment. My expression must have given away dumbfoundedness and unease.
‘Did you find out who your real father was?’
‘I’ve learned of this too – my real father was a French count of Bouyon, from an old house of de Melot. He was Otto’s best friend as a young man. Johana was incurably in love with him. Insatiable desire assailed her, and the decisions were never something she left up to God. She gave herself to him with love and joy. When he left her, she cut her veins, but Otto saved her.’
‘What was his name?’
‘Alberik, but Johana called him Surtr. That’s the name of my real father, but of Amerongen as well. The two, I believe, had for her at the very least certain similarities. I also believe that the two spent an intriguing night together, but I have…’, Mathilde stopped. ‘I don’t want to go on, Larsen.’
I thought that her confession would end there. Upset, she looked at his eyes.
‘There is a shortage of words for some reminiscences. Nature makes it so that the deepest feelings are wrapped in a cloak of secrecy, with a dagger interwoven to torture us. That’s the gist of it… All of my memories are dyed in blood… Why all of this, Larsen, when it happened so long ago? Time devours all!’
‘My curiosity is a cruel one, Mathilde.’, I outstretched my arms and begged her to continue. ‘Your tale nested deep into my bones. I want to chisel it into eternity, as masons do.’
‘Rock is ruinous, and statues fall apart’, her eyes widened as her shoulders shivered unbeknownst to her. ‘If I confess all of it, I will still say nothing for it is a copy…a badly reproduced painting. A farce of the lived. A heavy rock pressing on the mind.’
Her story became too hard for her. She had not even reached the important bit, and already she cracked. Oh how she shivered, like wheat in a breeze. I sighed and decided to let it go.
But, at that moment, Mathilde’s cheeks went crimson, her eyes glistened, and her face was overtaken by an expression of pride. Amerongen stood at the Hall’s entrance and observed her mockingly. She whipped him with a look of anger. Her hands clenched into fists and Mathilde continued with such fire, as if a spirit had possessed her all of a sudden. With the corner of my eye I spotted Amerongen, in the moment Mathilde continued her tale, leaving the room.
‘I was so bored in Regenstein. It seemed to me that I had spent more time painting and writing than I did breathing or thinking. Still, I managed to end the boredom with fancy.’
At times Johana’s screeching voice would pulled me from my darling daydreams where my spirit lazed on. ‘Mathilde, dear daughter! Keep an eye on Agnes, for she will sneak out with the doubloons and leave! Who will cook for me then?!’ The servant girl would then cry her eyes out, and I would console her. In secret, we’ve endlessly made love with our eyes.
‘Go scrub the floor!’, she would often scold her when she was bored of torturing me. ‘And I will return to Mathilde’s novel.’ She would place the scroll on the cold stone of the table and start spelling out with enjoyment: ‘She felt frail, for she knew she would never see him again. She remembered their nights together under the starry sky, his warm kisses…”Oh, darling, why did you leave me, I cannot live without you,” she sighed and cut her own veins.’Johana would tut pleased reading these lines. ‘Mathilde my daughter, if I didn’t have your novels, I don’t know what I’d do in life.’
Other times she would, pondering for a while over a dramatically important sentence, comment excitedly ‘Oh how exciting…let\s see what happens next…’ Writing these sweetish lines, I not only saved my skin, but also the serf girl’s.
Crazy? – Painting, 40×30 cm ©2018 by Dominique Dève – Figurative Art,
La Folle (1822-1828). Peinture à l’huile de Théodore Géricault. (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon.)
 A flame giant in Norse mythology.
‘That day, when Amerongen first set foot in Regenstein, after the sven retreated to quarters assigned to him, I called Agnes over and ordered her to bathe me.
‘They always spoke of my beauty, but I guarantee that Agnes was fairer.’Mathilde said simplemindedly. ‘She had eyes colored in the hue of a stormy sky. As I saw her at my solar door, my cheeks went red in an instant. Her face had a rhythm, a meaning and a hue. She herself was a poem of harmony. I had been wounded by her perfection.’
‘I think we should finally do it.’
‘It?’ Agnes said with a quiver in her voice.
‘Or…the other thing, if you prefer.’
‘This or that?’
‘The thing we were daydreaming of all these years. What’s with you?’ I was smiling.
‘I do not understand, mistress Mathilde,’ the serf girl lowered her gaze. My lips crafted a wide bitter smile.
‘Do you realize…’, I said slowly, ‘that they can kill us…both of us…and that nobody would notice? There is no difference between us, we are both the prey of satyrs. But, if we could escape…’, my tone was resolute. ‘We will sneak out like thieves!’ She stared at me mutely. Her body quivered. ‘We will take off! Today! Only if you wish to! Say yes,’ I grabbed her hand.
‘Yes, mistress Mathilde.’
‘That’s it…’ I said, studying her with satisfaction. ‘We will ring a few necessary things, some money too and head for the South, wearing chainmail and riding horses. The Almogavar Will be happy to see us’, I mumbled excitedly.
‘How can we travel to Almo…’she paused, ‘should I leave my duties in the castle?’
‘In the castle, shielded by dreadful thick walls inside of which you walk around like a ghost? Only my wit saves you from the Regenstein advances or the beasts of Amerongen. This is a wolves’ den, rich within a wasteland. We will both die here. They are marrying me off to a monster. And what will be of you then?’
‘I do not know, mistress Mathilde.’ I took notice of the serf girl’s heavy breathing. ‘Save me, only you can!’ Agnes, riddled with pain and fear, fell to her knees in front of me.
‘Alright’, I replied quickly. ‘You know what I want. I want to conquer you. Do you like that?’ I smiled to her with a smile of a harlot. The serf girl bowed her head and started disrobing. Her face went crimson.
Physical perfection emerged from the peasant tunic, perfection Agnes hid effortlessly, because beauty constantly hides itself, as does ugliness. I saw her harmonious body, no longer as part of fantasy or disturbing dreams, no longer as if looking through water, glass or fog. We danced a passionate game of love. The sound of flute was heard in the distance followed by the song of birds from the nearby forest.
‘I love music’, we lay there, legs intertwined, like Nephthys and Isis. I admired our bodies. We were so alike one to another, in body and looks. ‘I love the tug of wires on a harp…tugs like this one…’ I put my hand between Agnes’ thighs, moving towards the flower pulsing under my fingers. ‘I played the lute at the same time. It can keep up with the pain of a minstrel. My lute teacher was a minstrel. He would always cry over tones that offered pure beauty. And I am in love with beauty.’ I kissed her breasts. This way, like embracing nymphs, we remained until dawn.
I opened my dreamy eyes, noticing that Agnes was no longer in bed with me. I stretched like a cat, dressed myself and sneaked out of the castle towards Russvatnet lake, my favorite, most romantic place in the castle. I thought Agnes might be there. The cold burned my body, but I paid no heed to this. I dreamed on the lake coast, while my linen hair waved in the wind.
I observed the frozen lake, akin to an ice-scorched earth, thinking of the sweet wonder which happened last night. My awakened passion was visible on the icy surface. I took in my expression, where a trace of experienced gentleness was also admiring itself.
I stood there like that for a few moments, next to the lake shore, gazing in the distance. Then I jerked back and returned to the castle.
Windows of the great Hall were wide open. Over them were flippantly placed animal hides. Johana and Otto were like two statues upon which a bloodless window light shone. The moment they spotted me silence filled the room. Amerongen’s heavy hands, like claws, were benevolently placed on Johana’s shoulders. He looked at me with piercing green eyes of a hungry wolf.
He had a pale, monstrous beautiful face, like a Satyr, which gave off tiredness after a sleepless night, perhaps even boredom. He had coal-black hair, atypical of the people from the North. I wanted to paint it.
He approached me slowly and grabbed my hand.
 The Almogavar were mercenaries in the Aragon-Catalonian kings’ service who fought in the borderline areas against the Muslims in the XIII century. Thievery was their livelihood.
‘Do you know how long I’ve waited?’, he smiled mysteriously and the blood froze in my veins. I gave a bitter smile and tore my hand out of his. He turned nonchalantly, poured some mead in the pitcher and drank it up.
‘You might be wondering where Agnes is?’ the tone of his voice was cold. I sensed dread.
‘Sven, if you like our daughter, she’s yours,’ Johanna interrupted.
‘Out!’Amerongen growled. Johana and Otto obediently moved away, exchanging glances of unease.
Amerongen continued, catching his breath:
‘Life consists of an unending battle not to let ourselves go to frailty, of holding back, my dear Mathilde. You are not weak, but, from what I realized after last night, you do not hold back…’
‘I would like to go out for some fresh air, sven.’
‘Of course,’ he said graciously. ‘This is what I wanted to suggest, for I have something important to show you at the bottom of the lake.’ He still grinned vilely.
We were on our way to the lake.
‘I love your passion, your defiance, your noble yearning which you have in ample abundance, your unrest, your bravery, all of this awakens the hawk in me, I want to eat your soul, I wager it tastes well… I love that you resist… I love you. And you? Could you love me?’ He was talking non-stop while we descended down the steep path towards the lake. I was listening to him, not hearing him.
‘Do you understand my question or should I talk slower?’ he growled at her.
‘My curse is precisely the fact that I understand all.’
‘Blessed be we who gave up regular yearnings,’ he sighed turning his gaze towards the distant, ruthless vistas. ‘And I… I embraced the curse with passion. I was knee-deep into it… Flesh, blood, bones and all…’
I looked at him disgusted, but said nothing.
‘You’ve enjoyed the embrace of that idiot Agnes, while I stalked you from the dark. You kissed her fingers, slid along her body, like it was all a pilgrimage of sorts. But I guarantee you, this is not a pilgrimage, it is a road leading to the abyss. Road of death. Pure Eros,’ he growled and tried to touch me. I quickly pulled away.
‘What more do you want? Take me away, it’s already been decided after all,’ I shivered under my pelerine, but not out of fear, but out of cold and I held myself with both arms.
He snatched me. I resisted, but he overpowered me and took me to the frozen lake. He placed me right next to the shore.
‘Move!’ He howled and took my hand. I did not resist. He pulled me along the uneven surface of Russvatnet. It was colder than usual. ‘Walk!’ He howled. ‘I will now show you a Danish spring.’
‘Russvatnet has its secrets as well,’ he said. ‘But a few surprises too…’ I could barely hear him, for his voice was suddenly overpowered by the howl of the wind. ‘Now observe what gifts the Russvatnet whirlpools have given you! Beautiful, is it not? It must be, for I have created it.’ With a sudden hand motion he tossed me to the icy surface of the lake. ‘Look! Look into your mirror!’ He yelled and stabbed his sword into the Russvatnet’s icy depths. Disturbed, fully awakened from its slumber, the calm lake water guggled in front of my face. Something emerged from the ice. Someone’s bruised face, misshapen by powerful punches, was what the restless Russvatnet waters cast out. It must have floated on the water for hours. ‘Look at her, Mathilde. Look how beautiful!’ He growled, pushing my head to the opening. My beautiful Agnes’ face, her eyes plucked out, was staring at me from the Russvatnet deeps.
‘I slaughtered your lamb! Now kiss it!’, he laughed demonically.
I screamed, which had been lying within me for years and I overpowered the wind. I wanted to join Agnes, to die next to her, so I tried to pull myself away from Amerongen’s squeeze and delve into the cold waters of Russvatnet.
Amerongen, overtaken by disbelief, realized that I pulled out from his claws. ‘Stop!’ He threw himself at me and managed to cover me with his body. I was struggling. ‘Let go of me!’ I screamed. ‘Let me die!’ He tore my clothes off with the feistiness of a madman. He took me with an animalistic urge. The silence befallen on the lake shore was torn asunder by my shrieks. The horror came down on me. I twisted my body, in a futile attempt to shake the beast away. He delved harder into me, and his caution waned for a brief moment. I managed to drive my nails into the scar plastered across his cheek, to which he screamed. He grabbed my face with one hand, still pinning me to the icy surface of the lake with another. ‘You damned whore!’ Agnes’ eyeless gaze was observing this whole scene.
All the foul language known to me came out from beneath my tongue, jerks of rage made my face crooked, while I was scratching at him, pulling away, screaming and hitting, but he kept beating me. My fight kept kindling his rage, so, to my fortune, he finished faster than he wanted to.
When he did, he sat before me, wiped my face and genitals with the torn-off dress and tossed it into my face. I held my belly, but did not weep. For a moment my future life flew in front of my eyes and made me feel sick. From the mere cognition I felt nauseous and I vomited all over the ice, to which Amerongen smiled. I could not have cared less about what was to follow.
‘Oh how you’ll love me, you can’t even fathom it,’ he told me gently…
‘There, Larsen. This is how I got married’, Mathilde finished her tale flatly. She offered me mead from the table, taking note of the offended look of my face. I could not look at her eyes, flabbergasted with all that was said.