torsdag 2 december 2010

The Northlandic Strain


Sweden is divided into three parts: Götaland in the south, Svealand in the middle and Norrland in the north.

As for myself I live in Norrland. I live in the county of Angermanland by the Bothnian Sea. And some 40 years ago I was born in the county of Lapland, situated inland and to the north-west of Angermanland.

Both Lapland and Angermanland are northern provinces. They are both part of NORRLAND. Now this Norrland is a mythical part of Sweden just like Scotland of the Bristish Isles or, say, Texas or some other rough-hewn part of the U. S.

I'm a Northlander. "En norrlänning" as we say. And many Swedes from Göta- and Svealand wish they were Northlanders. They envy us our Biblical erudition, a classic trait here: archaic tales of Northland farmers citing the Bible ever and anon, that's a fine heritage of ours.

Example of Svealand people wishing they were Northlanders are the poet Gunnar Ekelöf and the sculptor Anders Åberg. The former wrote some poems about the log cabins, the rosy hue of the winter evenings and the waves beating the shores of the Laplandic lakes. The latter, Anders Åberg, was born in Stockholm but moved to Angermanland some years ago, starting a cultural theme park called MANNAMINNE. It's got old buildings, a tramway, a museum etc. It's a life-size piece of art, mirroring the wooden objets d'art of a more manageable size that made him famous in the first place. One of these are to be seen at Arlanda Domestic Airport ("Inrikes"), showcasing the nearby town of Sigtuna in a pillar of wooden houses.

Anyhoo: Mr. Åberg fell in love with Norrland and then moved here, and now he's a local hero. Mannaminne is a focal point for culture and goodtime, for "believing in your heritage" and all that, a fine mix of traditionalism and modernism, built log by log by Mr. Åberg himself. I must go and visit that Mannaminne some time. Website here.

So how shall I conclude this? Well, as an illustration of my Northlandic strain I might give you a poem about my Laplandic creed, called "My voyage". It's got some references to Carlos Castaneda, a great traditionalist in his own right.

My voyage began in the heart of Lapland
among drumming noids and yoiking saamis.

I danced to the rythm, sang to the northern light,
praised my creator and began my journey.

I lived among the flowers and the trees,
I read about gurus past and present,
and skimming the shelves of fantastic libraries
I found the Book of Books.

It was about a man in the moon
who flew with crows, talked
with lizards and danced with Zacateca.

He jumped into an abyss, listened
to the flowers and talked with
a coyote. He was human.

The voyage continues. In the misty Andees
there is a beverage called "the black gold";
I have drunken it - and I have seen the promised land...

I'm just a human - I'm just a human -
I'm just a human - I'm just a human being...

Every day I brew some of that fluent gold
on my Brewmatic, and dream of condors
and eagles, silver crows, and giant butterflies
with golden dust on their wings.

My collection of Castaneda books dwells safely
on my shelf. The Laplandic sceneries of my youth
is always with me. The black gold is still worth seeking.

The voyage continues...


(Picture from Mannaminne with a trolley car in front of a Angermanlandic threshing house)

fredag 26 november 2010

A Flashy Story By Lennart Svensson About American Servicemen On Guadalcanal, 1942, Being Hijacked Into The Future


Once upon a time some soldiers were returning home after a sally. And a strange thing indeed befell them before they reached their own lines. Here's the story.

1.

We were trotting along in single file through the bushes, the sky dark above our heads, with only the moon to light out way. Spirits were riding high but I hushed my men saying, ”It ain’t over ’til it’s over...”

We weren’t home yet, there could be enemy patrols lying in ambush. We were however taking a different route home so hopefully our path was safe. I knew my way through this particular jungle; we had been out playing hide-and-seek here for the last two weeks in order to pass the time in the general stalemate. After some initial success the campaign in question had bogged down in small-unit warfare, such as our squad-size sally this night.

It was October, 1942, on Guadalcanal, where we had landed in August the same year. And now we were returning to our own lines after a successful patrol: we had demolished a bunker and snatched a prisoner.

We approached a clearing. I made the halt sign and watched the glade; moon-lit and grown with elephant grass it seemed OK. I noted some stray noises from the jungle, squeaks and croaks from birds and bats and what have you. Strange as they were they belonged there; it was only when you listened to them a bit too long that you got the creeps.

Then the noises seemed to die down. And as I stood there, watching the glade, I had the strangest visions – visions not of joining the Marines, training at Pendleton, stationing at Hawaii, getting promoted to Sergeant, one day seeing Japanese planes in the sky and being hurled into a war, a war that firstly took us to this island, Guadalcanal, where we made a forced landing and had begun to battle it out with Hirohito’s Hordes. I didn’t think about that at all, oh no, I got wholly different visions in my mind there and then: visions of starships and burning suns, energy beams and soldiers clad in weird suits, and enemies in the form of scorpions and humanoid crocodiles and whatnot...

What was it all? Post-stress hallucinations, with the addition of too much reading of Astounding and Amazing?

I shook my head and cleared my mind. It was time to go, to return to our own lines, our own defensive positions here on the island. I looked back at my eight men, nine with the prisoner. I was thinking about splitting the force in two, having my deputy take one team to the right of the glade and I the other to the left, when a light in the sky caught my eye. It approached, shifted from green to red and then to blue, and then it got so near that I could make out a silhouette, a contour of a ship – or whatever! It looked like a musical instrument, a trumpet or a French horn with the muzzle pointing downwards. I was dumbstruck. Then I heard a sound, a fine chord i D Major, and by that we were all lifted up to the ship.

Yes I know it sounds weird, but it gets weirder...

Soaring up in the sky like that first made me mad – and then I got afraid – and then I calmed down – and by the time we soared in through the muzzle of the horn I was rather collected. I still had the responsibility over my men.

The next thing I knew we were all lying on a smooth steel floor, surrounded by equally smooth walls.

”Guys,” I said to my men, ”I don’t know what the heck this is, but stay calm. Breathe.”

I could hear them collectively draw their breath, even our Japanese prisoner. How about that for understanding over the language barrier.

Stay calm I repeated to myself, and then what? We had been taken aboard a strange ship, a spaceship maybe; oh my I thought, no one would believe me if I got back to tell this... That’s what crossed my mind. And if I didn’t get back I would be charged for desertion from the colours, or just marked up as Missing In Action.

Practical, soldiery thoughts you might think. But I was a soldier, a down-to-earth type of guy, however also an ardent science fiction reader; that’s no contradiction. Or maybe it is. Shame on me.

”But what is this all?” my deputy squad leader, Chavez, said.

”I don’t know,” I said. Just cool it down and take a rest. We seem to be trapped, that’s all I can say.”

Indeed we were trapped: I had the men explore the room in search of a way to escape, but the walls were as smooth as jo-blocks. No joints or apertures or crevices were to be seen. So we had to stick to Plan A: stay calm. And I stayed calm, but underneath I was mad as hell. Who in the name of Bejeesus would want to kidnap some Marines on patrol in the midst of a war?

The ship jolted and I had the sensation of motion. ”Goodbye Earth” I thought, and then I reminded myself of the visions I had had at the glade, of burning suns and strange soldiers and enemies ten feet tall and –

Some more of the odd music was heard and this time it all soothed us to sleep. It was impossible to withstand so I gave in to the drowsiness and fell asleep.



2.

To make a long story short: we were taken away to a distant land, distant in time that is, for the guys with the trumpet-ship came from the future. Yes indeedy: they were men from the future, men like us – but as mankind in the future had gotten into a war with strange creatures, alien species such as humanoid crocodiles (my vision had been prescient) and their allies, they needed our help. Why? Because man in the future didn’t know how to make war, how to do battle...

That’s where we came in, we Marines from the 20th century. We had been taken to the 25th century to teach them how to fight.

Sounds weird? It gets weirder...

However. We were taken to the planet of Migalotha, the central planet of man’s empire in the year of 2457. Two suns, purple hills at the horizon, cylindrical palaces and tortuous high rises; I was glad I had read some of those science fiction-magz, they cured me of the future shock. One of my men actually got mad, Lejeune was his name. Another had been shot when he, against my orders, had tried to assail one of the crew on the trumpet ship. Dunbar was his name.

So we were seven Americans and one Japanese, and he, Hashima by name, soon became our equal. In fact he became a good teacher of bushido, the old Japanese warrior code, which was just what the humans of the 25th century needed. We had all learned their language by then and we all got to work to train these future men; they called their state The Trakian Empire, so they were called Trakians. Recalling everything we could about weapon construction and such things (a man called Winter was our technical wizard, only a smith’s assistant back on earth but he knew a lot I can assure you) we helped the Trakians to arm themselves, after having taught them the simple concept of guns, of killing another being, which in itself was alien to them. But they got over it... They learned quickly.

You could say: they learned quickly because they had to.

Then came the hardest part: to set up functional army units, units of foot soldiers, and that’s where I made my major contribution. After having made myself Colonel I sketched a complete army system for them and then, with the aid of my ablest men as instructors - Chavez, Martell, Jones - we slowly saw the ranks grow. You might wonder how Corporals and Privates such as these could be instructors of companies and battalions, but I can only say: if your life depends on it and you can lead a squad or a team, then you can lead a company. And our enemy, the humanoid crocodile Riliacs, did make war on us, they wanted us all dead, I can assure you that...

Moving on. A somewhat odd fellow in my squad, Anderson, a bespectacled guy with wider reading habits than I, proved to be a good staff officer. By way of the Trakian library of old military handbooks, he educated himself into a tactical and operational genius. And the logistical part, the supply and maintenance question, was masterminded by Olsen, a hands-on practical man who always happened to have spare chocolate bars in his pockets. On Earth as well as here on Migalotha...!

Now then, if I haven’t stated it clear yet: the humans of the 25th century hadn’t seen war, never since they had made their Exodus into space from Earth by the early 21st century. That’s where we came in. And with our war-mindedness and ideas on organization and weapon construction, aided by the high-tech of the 25th century (resulting e. g. in energy weapons), we succeeded in setting up a battle group of sorts. We even had them build a class of warships, sleek vessels with none of that musical instrument-look about them...

So we made a raid on the enemy and it was a dismal failure. Part of it was my fault (the unit was too small, only three companies), part of it was due to the inexperience of the non-coms and officers we had trained. But the next mission went better: we attacked the Riliacs home planet in force, with four battalion-sized combat groups; again it was only a raid but we stood our ground as long as we remained planetside. We directed orbital bombs to crush a city into smoking rubble, with some laser rocket ships to finish it off, and we defended our landing zone against onslaughts of infantry.



3.

We were earthly soldiers, taken to the future to fight a war for mankind. We were all in time made Generals and some of us leaders of divisions, with which we harrassed the enemy here and there. But it was no picnic; for example Hashima, the Japanese, got surrounded with his staff on Taloola and drained in a hailstorm of electron beams from assaulting Riliacs. The force-fields of our suits weren’t enough to protect us if they were saturated with energy beams from every direction.

Martell, for his part, was out on a commando mission to Arcturus IV when his patrol ship got intercepted by a Rilian task force. Missing In Action.

And then there was Chavez, who planted the Trakian banner on top of the ruins of the fortress Xamaforia. Having done that he sat down, shut off his force-field – and was killed by a stray beam from a hidden Riliac soldier.

That left me (Shipparelli by name), Jones, Olsen, Anderson and Winter. As intimated the last three weren’t front-line generals, they were logistical, technical and operational experts respectively. However we all became rather close, became a veteran foreign legion of five among mankind of the 25th century.

It was a day in the year of grace 2468. We had been in this future war for over ten years; the battles still raged, but for the moment we had taken some time off to meet at my summer house in the Migalothian countryside. There were palm trees a hundred meters tall, a lake of turquoise-blue water and purple-and-red flowers with maddening smell.

”So what do you think happened in the old war?” Jones said and drank from his goblet of sapphire wine.

”The – what was it called now – American war we were in?” Winter said, absentmindedly eyeing a giant butterfly landing on a flower-cup nearby.

”Yes,” I said, ”We were Americans, fighting against the Japanese... how strange these words sound nowadays.”

Olsen for his part said nothing, tucking into a plate of fried squid.

”We were soldiers,” Anderson said, ”soldiers then, soldiers now. What’s the difference? You’ve gotta live for the moment.”

”True, true,” Jones said and finished his wine, looking out over the lake. ”We have to end this war, the one we’re in. What do you make of it?”

Well, what did we make of it? It was a bit complicated. The Riliacs had allies, giant scorpions (another of my visions there at ’Canal being true), but those were mostly annoying, un-intellegent species as they were. They served the Riliacs as a sort of shock-weapon, but when the first shock had worn off they were easy to kill. Other than that it was a war of attrition, a test to see which side would give in. There were more call-ups, more units launched, more assaults being made, more warships being constructed... More of everything.

Then Jones died in a space-raid on his new home-planet, Klomara III. Space-bombing, rocks thrown from orbit; pretty damaging if the force-field protecting the city in question is knocked out. And then Anderson died from food-poisoning, strange as it may seem. And Winter commited suicide, being homesick for his American homeland, for his 20th century Earth – even though he could barely remember words like ”America”, ”American”, or ”Earth”.

Olsen, the logistican, had to retire due to obesity. He died peacefully soon after.

And that left me, Shipparelli, the sole survivor of the original ten. But I didn’t have any choice but to go on fighting and making the Trakian empire of the 25th century my home.

So what can I add? I mainly sat behind a desk the rest of the war, organizing the victory. Oh yes, we did win the war eventually. I also had to make peace with the Riliacs; that was mainly a victory to win over yourself, to begin to see your former enemy as an ally I mean. But it had to be done – because in the meantime, simultaneous to our winning the Riliac war, a new enemy loomed up over the event horizon: the Energetics we called them, beings of pure energy, jumping out of white holes in the sky. But we beat them by applying the second law of thermodynamics to them: energy can’t be destroyed, only transformed – so with the help of the Riliacs we sent them screaming back through the giant black hole in the midst of the galaxy.

As I’m writing this I am 195 years old, the ageing process having been slowed by the Trakian medical science. And I am married to a Trakian woman, only 103 years of age. Ours is a great match, no doubt, but to tell you the truth I am fed up with living, I’ve had my share of the material life so now I only look forward to The Greater Life, The Big Hereafter. Oh yes, I’m a Believer: ”There are no atheists in the trenches”, that’s true for both old and future wars...

Related
Boots on the Ground
General Yonathan

torsdag 11 november 2010

November


It's November and here in Sweden the snow has arrived. I must say, I like it. It's kind of cosy, never mind the cold and the wind.

Winter's here but in my heart it's spring. Funny feeling but it's true.

So, what's more on my mind today? Maybe I should publish some deathless fiction, some enchanting story by my hand? I have forsooth a lot of juicy stuff on the harddrive. But, then again, I've already published some great work already. Like earlier this year, I had a piece in Morpheus Tales. So why don't I link to that one instad? Yeah, that I'll do. So here it is, a post on my Swedish blog, however with the exact same text that was printed in Morpheus Tales' paper edition. Enjoy.

Other than that, I've added a gadget for "most read entries" on this blog. See the right margin. And it gladdens me that my short story "A 14th Century Tale" is in the lead. I think it has got something to do with linking it to a comment of mine at Alternative Right, but hey, you never know. Maybe people google the net for "14th century tales" and voilà, there's my story and they rush to read it. Who knows. This blog has some readers though, that's for sure, without my really trying to push it, advertise and proclaim its uniqueness all over the net.

(The paiting is by a Frenchman, some Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson. I like the both eerie and heavenly feel of it.)

tisdag 26 oktober 2010

Lennart Svensson: The Dragon's Lair (short story)


Hereby a nifty story, a roaring tale from the times when men were men and dragons roamed the skies. It's about a hero serving a king and - well, you have it all here below, be my guest. But beware: it's been rejected by a lot of magazines, like Arkham Tales, Clarkesworld and Morpheus Tales. So if you listen to them, don't read it.

1.

There must have been innumerable times that a young adventurer has stood before a king, offering him his services. It’s an archetypal scene, classic, what you will. And now I’m going to paint just that kind of scene to you: an adventurer standing before a certain king, offering his services. And so, what happened? Well, to begin with the king stroke his beard, saying:

”Indeed? Well, why not.”

That he said, this Bigelon, king of Danemonia as he happened to be. The adventurer for his part, a certain Tancred, was a bit put off by the man’s indifference. Where was the enthusiasm?

There you go, the story’s afoot. So now what? Some atmosphere maybe, some heartwarming details about this and that? For example, if you want an impression of the adventurer I could say that he had long, blond hair and brown eyes and wore a green tunic, a blue cape, yellow breeches and shoes with puttees. In a black scabbard, tied with leather stripes and worn in a broad sash, he wore his well-wrought sword, tried in many a battle. The king, for his part, sitting on his throne in the great hall of his castle, had intensely blue eyes, short silvery hair and a well-trimmed, black beard. On his wrist he wore a silver ring, set with pieces of red carbuncle and adorned with a large diamond.

”You can be my vassal,” the king presently said, ”if you go to the Black Plains, seek out the dragon Rhadamantys and snatch The Glass Key from him.”

Everyone in the room, bystanders, well-wishers and lackeys alike, drew their breath: Rhadamantys! This was an enigmatic dragon dwelling in a wasteland north of the kingdom. How could anyone expect to steal a treasure from him?

Tancred however, being an itinerant adventurer and a knight errant, didn’t know about the dragon. Then again, he wasn’t naive. He said:

”That sounds well. And the payment...?”

Bigelon hesitated. Could this man really pull it off? The king had set the stakes high already, so he had to raise the ante:

”Let’s put it this way: you are going to perform twelve, yea, verily, twelve labours, where the dragon’s key will be the first. If you succeed you will win half the kingdom of Danemonia plus your own palace here in Maldorion, our fair city. But if you fail – well, then I guess death by my hand, or by my executioner, will come as a liberation. I mean, can any adventurer live with the shame of having failed in twelve labours...?”

Twelve labours, death before dishonour – or victory and half the kingdom as well. Tancred didn’t hesitate, oh no, he agreed. Why? Because he was an adventurer.


2.

Having received a map over the northern outback of the kingdom Tancred mounted his grey stallion and rode away through green woodlands. By and by the trees got less dense, and before he knew it he rode through a sterile, stony wasteland. Having reached a certain plateau he consulted his map, and decided that this was the place: The Black Plains, the location of the dragon’s lair, the home of Rhadamantys!

Tancred left the horse in a gorge and off he went over the cold, windsvept landscape, sparsely grown with dry, yellowish grass, thorny bushes and hoary trees, the setting sun in his back. If I hurry and seal the deal right away, he thought, I can ride back tonight. Then again, why hurry? Now I’m here – and there is only here and now as the wise men say...

Finally he came to a lake where a winged monster lay, watching its mirror-image in the water. The beast was greyish-green with violet patterns; its back was sharp, it had armoured scales and an oblong head with a pair of large nostrils. It also had giant, leathery wings, neatly folded against the flanks as the creature lay there meditating.

Without hesitating Tancred picked up a stone and threw it in the lake. As the mirror-image on the water was destroyed Rhadamantys lifted his head, got sight of Tancred and asked:

”Now what on earth –”

”I command you to surrender!” Tancred said.

”And why’s that?” the monster said. ”Here I lie, peacefully regarding my mirror-image, and then you come along and spoil it...!”

A talking dragon, Tancred thought, that’s interesting for sure. But what shall I do now, to regain the initiative? I must gain the upper hand! So he valiantly drew his sword and rushed against the dragon, who answered by breathing fire on him. The flames barely reached him – but he had to retreat, had to seek shelter in the only possible place, the lake itself. So he jumped in the water, swimmed under the surface and resurfaced at the other end of the pool. Looking around, he saw the dragon still lying at his piece of shore, now drinking water, apparently indifferent to what had just happened.

Unseen Tancred sneaked up from the lake, gathered some wood, went down to his horse, took some flintstone, a fire-handle and some tinder out of a saddle-bag, sought out a cleft, and started a fire. Drying his clothes and drinking some water out of a flask, he asked himself how to slay the dragon.

When the clothes had dried he took them on and returned to the lake. The sun had set and Rhadamantys was gone. But from the lake a road led, the way the dragon took when leaving its cave to go down to the lake for a drink. A few bowshots away, the shimmer from the lair itself could be seen, a mountainous cave. Tancred rounded the lake and started to inspect the road, finding a hole in it. ”A good hideout” he thought, and so he lay down in the cavity, drew the cape over himself, and spent the night there.


3.

Dawn broke, grey and miserable. Tancred felt shakes in the ground and drew his sword. It was Rhadamantys approaching; the dragon looked straight ahead and didn’t see what was hiding in a hole in the road.

The dragon got closer. Tancred gripped the handle of the sword. When the beast was right above, Tancred stabbed the blade upwards, into its abdomen, as hard as he could.

It was a good plan if only the abdomen hadn’t been as hard as the scaly flanks of the beast. The dragon didn’t feel the jab, only a slight tickle as if it had dragged itself over a sharp stone. Indifferently it proceeded along the way and went down to the lake.

Tancred got up and out of the hole. Now what shall I do..., he thought. Then he had an idea, an inspiration on the principle of ”Why not the other way around?” Why not try something completely different? So he sat himself down on a rock by the road, fully visible, waiting for the dragon to come back. It was an idot’s approach to a heroic mission but he was tired of heroic stances; this seemed like the only way left to go.

The drinking done the dragon approached, discovering Tancred and asking:

”Now what...?”

”I am Tancred”, our hero said. ”I suggest a truce.”

”Fair with me,” the dragon said. ”I am Rhadamantys.”

Tancred apologized for his behaviour the preceeding day, having attacked the dragon without parley. The dragon welcomed this change in tactics, being glad that Tancred now bothered to speak with him. On the question what sort of dragon he was, Rhadamantys answered:

”I am a lucky dragon, a talisman for this region. Hence my violet colour on the back, because violet is a spiritual colour as you might know.”

Tancred didn’t actually know this but he didn’t want to seem stupid, so he nodded affirmatively.

”I’m a lucky dragon,” the creature went on, ”a divine creation, a blissful elemental. I watch the clouds go by in the sky, I feed on dreams and I generate dreams. And my name is no secret; it’s the essence of the magical presence in this land, the rhadamantic resultant of the mind, the will of tree and leaf, bird and boar, bairn and blossom.”

Tancred was almost about to forget his mission, fetching The Glass Key. But now he recalled his errand – and having heard this contraption mentioned the dragon smiled and said that he could give it to Tancred for free. So they went up to the cave, the dragon’s lair itself. Finally there, at the innermost sanctum with all its treasures and riches, Tancred spotted and picked up the object in question, a shimmering, foot-long key, made out of crystal glass. As an excuse for having breathed fire on him the night before the dragon let him take as many gold coins as he wished; they lay in heaps on the cave floor.

It was time for good-byes. Tancred bowed for the dragon, lying there outside the cave’s mouth, basking in the sunshine.

”Farewell, dragon. And thank you.”

”You’re welcome”, the lizard said. ”Maybe we’ll meet again.”

The hero waved good-bye, turned his heel, went down to his horse, put the key in the saddle-bag, mounted and rode away. Finally, back in the throne-room, in Bigelon’s castle in Maldorion, the capital of Danemonia, he handed his gift over to the king. He, for his part, nodded without showing his surprise, had a lackey receive the treasure and said:

”Well then, only eleven missions left to do. Your next thing to fetch will be The Ruby Apple of the Elves...”

Tancred nodded and went off to perform this and other labours, twelve in all – and this he did! And having completed the last one, fetching a certain golden horn (which is unimportant in itself), he rode as usual to the palace and handed it over.


4.

Tancred rode to Danemonia, entered Maldorion, arrived at the palace, went up to Bigelon and handed over the horn. The king received it with his usual indifference, held it with his bony fingers and regarded disdainfully its geometrical patterns.

Bigelon sat on his throne, Tancred stood on the floor beneath. The court stood all around, such as it had always been when a treasure or a token of a completed labour had been delivered in this set-up. But now the twelfth labour had been completed so Tancred cleared his throat and said:

”Then there’s only the question of the payment. Half the kingdom, if I am not mistaken...?”

The king tried to look detached, drumming with his fingers on the arm of the throne. Then he got up, pointed at Tancred and screamed:

”Guards! Arrest the man!”

The royal footmen snapped to and obeyed. The adventurer for his part saw guardsmen with levelled spears approaching, so he began to retreat towards the entrance. But this was barred by other guards, so what to do?

He looked desperately around, caught eye of a lancet window, ran off to it and jumped right out in the air, sailing freely and landing on an awning. He who dares wins. Well down on the ground he sped away thorugh an orchard and slipped out through a gateway, constantly hearing shouts of ”Arrest the man” and ”Stop him” behind him. However, he didn’t let himself be arrested but stole a horse downtown, rode hell for leather through the city, escaping through the main gate before the guardsman had gotten the orders to close it.

He rode away from Maldorion. He was saved – but at the same time he was swindled on the payment he should have received for his labours: half the kingdom!


5.

Three days later. Bigelon sat on his throne, glad to have fooled the adventurer, cheating him on the payment. And he himself, the king, had in return gotten hold of quite a few treasures and talismans, and had gotten some or other political mission fulfilled, without having to move as much as a finger...!

He threw a glance out the hall’s window, and saw a land quitely lying there in the misty sunlight. Birds flew, and clouds sailed placidly by. Then he got sight of a different breed of bird, slightly larger and less gracile. It approached and got larger and larger, and still larger. Then he saw that it was none other than Rhadamantys, the dragon, with a fair-haired rider on its back.

The equipage made a turn over the city, circled in in front of the castle, stopping in mid-air and hovering in front of a window through which Bigelon could be seen. Sitting on the dragon, Tancred – for it was him – shouted:

”King Bigelon! We have some unfinished business, you and I!”

Inside the throne-room there was upheaval. They all had seen the dragon fly up to the window; laides-in-waiting screamed, dignitaries paled and footmen advanced, but no one could do anything. In cold sweat Bigelon rose from his seat, approached the window and looked at Tancred.

”Are you going to give me the payment now?” the hero asked.

Bigelon wiped his forehead and stuttered:

”What... no...”

”Wrong answer!” Tancred shouted, and commanded the dragon fire!

The dragon was, as you remember, able to breathe fire – and now, out of the mouth of the beast, a concentrated flame shot, reaching the castle, entering the window and hitting Bigelon. The king caught fire and started to burn as a torch, screaming wildly. The screams, however, faded quickly and the remains of the king fell to the floor. He was charred on the spot.

”Thus to all promise-breakers”, Tancred said. ”You can’t take an oath and then secretly try to break it. The gods are witnesses to all oaths. I’m no god, but in acting out this revenge I was only the tool of the gods.”

He made the dragon land in the caste gardens, got off, and went inside the building.

As you all can guess, Tancred had, since he had gotten away from Maldorion, ridden to the Black Plains where he had visited his old comerade, Rhadamantys. They met again, as the dragon had anticipated. And he for one wasn’t hard to persuade to fly to Maldorion with the adventurer on his back, executing the revenge.

The hero entered the castle. No one stopped him as he went along, his eyes bearing a fearful expression as if he could kill with his mere gaze. Then he came to the throne-room where everything was confusion, no one seemed to know what to do.

Tancred made for the remains of Bigelon, bent down, and picked up a certain ring from the charred hand, the silver armring adorned with a large diamond, the old symbol for the ruler of Danemonia. He said:

”This is about paying off old scores. Half the kingdom should be mine after all these adventures, after my epic twelve labours. Well, now I’m here to get my share. The king didn’t want to give it to me, and then he had to pay for it – with his life. And inheritors there are none...?

This he had heard during his adventures, that the king had no descendants. This was now confirmed with a telling silence.

”Fine”, Tancred went on. ”Therefore I claim this throne. I demand the whole of Danemonia and its underlying fifedoms and dependencies. Anyone who disagrees...?

No one said a word so Tancred put on the diamond ring and raised his arm for all to see. Then a dignitary cheered, soon to be echoed by the whole room:

”Long live king Tancred!”

And there you have it: Tancred became king and set his mind to govern wisely over Danemonia and its dependencies. His days as an adventurer was over and his days as a crowned head had just begun – but that, as Kipling would say, is another story.

Home Sweet Hell (poem)


Living in this town is what I do: I live and breathe, I sing my song, eat my food and say my prayers.

Then sometimes...

It's like, you know...

How shall I put it? Maybe like this:

Home sweet hell: it’s time to wake,
another day has just begun.
It’s time to fight, fight the demons in my room:
ghouls and crows, monsters, orcs and more.

That’s how it is, yea verily:
I fight the demons in my mind.
So I fight, I slay, I kill ’em all
but more and more come rolling on
like neverending Hordes of Hell.

Then I think: get rythm, man!
My rythm is the way to win.
I’m still, I breathe, I dance along,
I dance along the blade’s edge.
I cut down demons, cut down orcs,
impaling monsters on my sword.

I clear the air from flying hellspawn;
breathing calmly, victory’s mine!
I took control, I’ve killed the demons,
have forced them all to move like me,
move it to the Svensson-rythm.
I’ve carried the day, won the battle –
but it all begins anew tomorrow...

torsdag 26 augusti 2010

Lennart Svensson: A 14th Century Tale (short story)


What do I really want? I want to tell you a story - and here it is, a traditional tale, a 14th century story of deviltry and chivalry.

In The Year Of Our Lord 1378 I went to the Dominican Friary in Heidelberg to look up some scrolls, being a friar myself occupied with some evangelical musings. Those scriptures were interesting enough, but this story concerns a certain knight I met in a tavern after I had read the scrolls. And this knigth errant, this vagrant man-of-arms, this black-clad mercenary, he told me the most improbable story I’ve ever heard.

Over a jug of beer in a smoky, noisy tavern in a cellar by the city’s square, he told me that once he had met The Prince Of Darkness (accursed be his name!), who had asked him to fetch The Holy Grail for him. The Prince would then use it as a token of his good faith in order to get back to Heaven, to meet his Father and patch things up. Go home, to put it simple: to come home after aeons in Hell.

Of course I didn’t believe a word of this, but the knight’s story was fascinating, that I admit. He told me where it all took place: in a castle ruin out on a moor where he happened to have his quarters by the time, one overcast day. It was spring and rather warm weather; the fields were green and birds sang, oh yes they did; they do sing even under grey skies, whatever common knowledge says about them only singing when the sun shines.

But I digress. The knight had been lying there in his ruin, in a sort of tent made of burlap cloth. It was rather comfy he said; he had food and wine and some gold after an engagement against the Latvians. Then that prince had come around, an elegant man wearing a cloak and a beret, accompanied by a tubby sidekick with The Key To Hell in a chain around the neck.

After introductions Lucifer presented his case; to patch things up with The Lord and go home.

”Go home,” the knight had said to this prince. ”So you mean –”

”Yes,” the being said. ”I’m tired of all this evil stuff. It’s a waste of energy I would say, mental energy. I want to rest, I want peace of mind...”

The knight had accepted this for an explanation; that the man was Lucifer was by the way evident in itself, without him having a cloven foot or such. The knight just felt that the being spoke the truth, by looking into his once evil eyes. So he agreed to do the job, fetch the treasure – but for this he didn’t make a formal deal, oh no, he just told the prince that he would try his best to find the Grail. He was tempted by the adventure of it all, he didn’t need any reward; a simple ”thank you” after the delivery would be enough. And so he got off on his quest, not rushing it; he had time to do some soldiering in between, to fight in this and that battle and even to talk to Death, a frequent visitor to all battlefields. They were brothers he said, no strangers, having met several times in the past. According to the knight Death by the way doesn’t carry a scythe, he’s just a being with short, silvery-white hair and sad features. So that’s something to look out for when you’re about to leave this world: a man in short silvery hair...

The knight made war, and in between he made enqueries about the Grail – and eventually one night he found Montsalvat and the Grail Castle. It lay there on a hill grown with elms and maples, the structure itself silhouetted against the moon-lit sky. The knight rode up the hill, over the drawbridge and into the courtyard where he left his horse.

How practical that the drawbridge was down, wasn’t it? The door to the castle’s main building was open too, as it happened. Finally inside the knight went through vaults and deserted cabinets and along forlorn galleries, past ante-rooms and along corridors. Eventually he entered a chamber lit by candles and with lancet windows through which the moonlight fell, chasming the room in eery patterns.

In the chamber the knight saw a sick king lying in a bed, watched by a young man and a young woman. On a sideboard there stood an emerald with its interior glowing red: The Holy Grail, the blood of Christ transformed into a precious stone.

”Who might you be?” the young man asked.

”I am The Black Knight,” the knight said. ”I’m here to fetch The Holy Grail.”

”Indeed?” the young man said.

”Indeed I am,” the knight said. ”I’m gonna to give it to Lucifer so he can be redeemed. And then maybe all the world will be redeemed in the process, wouldn’t that be something?”

The man and the woman got up and opposed him loudly, but he just shoved them aside, approched the bed, drew his sword and ”crossed” it with the king’s (after some tribulations, he was forsooth very weak that king). Then he killed him. That was a good solution the knight had thought; thus the king died in combat and not from sickness, that despicable death for all warriors...

And then the knight took the Grail and went off, and simply got back to the place where he had first met Lucifer: the ruin on the moor. Now the sun shone in between ethereal clouds, in the distancce a lake rippled with the lustre of a thousand precious stones, and everything was green and the birds sang. Again.

Lucifer and his helper was waiting in the ruins. The knight for his part got off his horse and produced the treasure, and his employer accepted the gift on the spot:

”Thank you, Black Knight,” Lucifer had said.

”You’re welcome,” the knight said.

Was that it then? Did they just go separate ways, the job done with no reward but a simple ”thank you”, as agreed?

No, because there was a Grand Finale to this story, something truly amazing which then came to pass. The Dark Prince you see got a peaceful look in his eyes, yea, his whole countenance became as peaceful as that of a Heaven’s Angel. And from above astral music was heard, and a light beam protruded from a crack in the clouds – and on that beam Prince Lucifer was transported to Heaven...

And that was The Black Knight’s story.

So what to say about all it then? I’ve already told you it’s far-fetched, a cock-and-bull-story, a tall-tale. The knight however told it with deadpan sincerity. And of course it had some ring of truth to it, some intrinsical authencity. But there were some odd parts in it too, so there at the tavern I had to ask the knight some questions:

”Now if Lucifer went to Heaven, why don’t we notice any change in our lives down here? Why is it the same troubles and tribulations, day in day out? Didn’t we get redeemed as you hinted to the man at the Grail Castle?”

”I hinted that,” the knight said, ”true. But it didn’t come to pass, and that is because we have our free will. We simply stick to this earthly existence as human beings. We could make a heaven on earth if we only wanted it, wanted it with all our hearts.”

”Oh,” I said. ”But how can you know all this? Are you a Knight Templar or some other christian warrior?”

”No,” the knight said, ”I’m The Black Knight.” And forsooth he was dressed in black, as I have already intimated; I could clearly see him wearing a black tunic as we sat there on the tavern. But then again I was in black myself, as a Dominican Brother: all dressed up in a black cowl...

”I heard it from a wise man after the event,” the knight went on, explaining how he could know about that aforementioned esoteric fact, how the earth wasn’t liberated and redeemed along with that prince. ”He was a hermit, a goodly learned man, and he gave me this interpretation,” the knight added.

I nodded and said:

”True, you are The Black Knight. But why did the Devil then give a black knight the mission to find the Grail? It seems a bit odd, with all due respect. Shouldn’t there be some white-clad crusader or somesuch?”

”I asked the Devil the same thing,” the knight said. ”But he for one underlined the need for a no-nonsense, go-for-it-type of knight. A man that got the job done. And that I did...”

And that was it. An improblable story. I still didn’t believe it, or only half believed it. I asked the man:

”And you, what was in it for you? You didn’t work for a fee, didn’t want a reward...?”

”Oh no,” he said. ”I only got another adventure up my sleeve, to deal out in good company...”

I drank my beer and nodded. Then a thought struck me:

”But the Devil went to Heaven you say – so then there’s no Devil anymore?”

”Wrong,” the knight said. ”He had an adjutant, a little helper, a sidekick as I said – and with the job vacant he took it; The Key To Hell he already had. He took the job, he did; he could smell there were some evil thoughts of Lucifer’s still around, so he just picked these up and got on with the job... He even asked me if I wanted to be the new devilish sidekick, but I declined. I was and still am a warrior, a man-at-arms.”

”I see. And that suits you fine?”

”In a way. But what I truly want is to die in combat, and that I haven’t succeded in yet...”

”So you still do battle?”

”Aye. And I meet Death from time to time...”

”Old pals.”

”Indeed we are. I know him like a brother. I’ve seen him walking on the fields harvesting souls for the astral journey, and I always say to him: ’Take me with you! I want to go too!’ But all he ever says to me is: ’It isn’t time for you yet.’”

”Poor you,” I said. ”But isn’t it pertinent for and old knight to settle down? I mean, to gather some riches and buy a house or whatever, get a wife...”

”The thought has crossed my mind,” the knight said. ”Maybe it is time to settle down. However this combative life is habit-forming, it gets to you like a drug... But maybe I have to learn to live with the fact that I’ll never die in combat.”

”That is the hardest lesson,” I said. ”To fight is easy, to live is hard.”

”Indeed? Well maybe it is.”

”Why don’t you use that free will the hermit told you about – use your own free will. Try to be happy without having to kill someone first. Choose life before death. As my French brethren say: Il faut essayer de vivre. You will have to try to live. That’s all. It’s simple.”

The knight for his part nodded, seemed lost in thought. Yea, verily: a thought was planted in his mind, the thought about using his free will, and that was better than nothing.

And on this note our session ended; we had been sitting there for over an hour. There wasn’t time for any more preaching on my part, urging the knight to confess his sins and take the vows and become a crusader and all that, as is my duty when I meet men-of-arms. We simply left the tavern and went out in the city square, surrounded by its houses with stepped gables. Standing under the grey sky we bid each other farewell, went separate ways and never saw each other again; the knight went off to some brothelhouse or battlefield or to some better ways, what would I know, and as for myself I returned to Münich and my cell at the Dominican Friary there.

I have already aired my doubts about the Black Knight’s story. But it is also, as I have hinted, a good story, so now I write it down on pergament, tie a silken ribbon around it, seal it with lac and store it in the Cloister Library.

Münich, in The Year Of Our Lord 1402, (signed) Friar Constantius.