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The Margraviate of Brandenburg, Berlin, 1248 A.D.
They are building a wall in the swamp.
“Ever since Albert the Bear this backwater has smelled bad,” said Thomas.
“Albert the Bear? Since Pribislav too. It stinks. It has always been stinking,” said Hermann.
“What is there to wall off? Nothing.”
“You, you were made to dig a ditch. Your ancestors were ditch-diggers, too, not like mine, mine were chiefs.”
“And what happened?”
“Therein lies a tale,” said Hermann.
[private]“I’d rather not hear it,” said Thomas.
They are building the wall in the swamp, digging the trench, maintaining the sluices to keep the area dry. Still, water seeps in. The wall will never stand for more than a week, but this is where the Rat wants it.
“The Rat can kiss my ass,” said Hermann.
“And it will, when you’re in the stocks. You think I’ll guard you then?”
“Fraulein, bring us some water!”
The Fraulein lingered near the workers, watching the younger men.
“Get it yourself, lecher!”
The men laughed and Hermann’s face grew dark. “So I’ll get it myself,” he muttered.
The sky was clear; autumn lingered richly. Hermann eyed the Fraulein as he brought the water dipper to his lips. His wife had left him for a merchant nearly seven years gone now; he felt like a widow.
The Fraulein was a Sorb, or anyway her grandfathers had been. The Margraves had brought civilization and the love of Christ to this backwater generations before; some heathens persisted in their worship.
Hermann walked up behind the woman and whispered in her ear: “Do you wish it were one of your ringed ditches, the one we dig, little pagan?”
She turned and caught his hand as he reached for her ass.
“You will never come to my bratchina, old man,” she whispered back.
“Then you will not have my lute.”
“You play it badly anyway.” She frowned but her eyes were fiery; she was a lonely woman.
“A bad song and a happy hearth,” Hermann replied, and nodded to her, returning to his ditch.
He dug, and he dug. This ditch was partially ringed too, though not like the sacred groves of the Sorbish people. Hermann assumed he had some Sorbish blood too; the Margraves were not particular about peasant marriages, as long as their taxes were paid.
Some said the Fraulein was a whore; Hermann was old enough to know that a whore waited inside every woman, but for this one it still had not quite yet shown its face.
The priest said this life was part illusion, only a journey towards the greater truth of heaven. Hermann certainly wanted to meet Jesus ― great men had always fascinated him ― but part of him understood better the obeisances of the Sorbs, the reverence for this green, brown world.
Hermann did not see her for three days. He spent most of Sunday drunk on mead; he considered hanging himself. It was not the first Sunday he had spent this way.
The Margrave grew nervous and demanded stronger walls; forever uneasy lies the crown, but Hermann’s head rested no easier crownless. He only seemed to grow more unhappy as the years passed.
He fucked her against the wall the next night, holding her mouth and shoving himself into her, listening with his whole body to every stifled cry the madchen made, feeling great pain even in that act of pleasure, unable to forget that it would not last. He could not have her forever, and he wanted to. He wanted to win and own her, to subdue her and tame her, to transform her slavic bitterness into saxon schadenfreude.
He came in her and shouted into the night.
What were the faerie circles, and where did they go, and why? What spirits still remain? It was not a joyful traipsing trip through the wood, the older man and madchen, but a wary spell, his steps heavy and hers light, the air and sky alive with the music of the sun.
“Where are you going, woman? I’m getting tired.”
“Stop complaining!” she shouted as she ran ahead.
As on earth, so it is heaven. Allegiance to the Pope, to the Holy Roman Emperor, allegiance to the margrave, allegiance to god. But the women keep the dirk, not in their skirts, but in their minds, slipping under monotheistic hierarchies to swing the cycle out again, to fire their dreams like they fire their cunts, damning any effort to agree on the permanence of kings.
Pan or Innocent IV? Tiu or Jarilo?
She stripped off her dress and stepped within the grove, the yellow light matching her hair. Somewhere near, the spirits rustled, moving through her flesh to stir the world.
And what can man know of god, when he has woman?
They never married, though she bore his child. He named his son Zarek, because he had a strange dream.
I hold you like my own skin, strung out and dangling in my hand, I wish I were dead, he had cried in the dream, holding his son, bleeding, by the wall he had built.
Berlin, the marsh city, felt tired to him. In his son’s eyes, he saw the fire he had never had.
“Zarek, bring me the beer,” he said, watching his son’s face. His son did as he was told. The boy’s mother was out in the woods, doing whatever it was she did when alone and walking and singing to the trees.
“Your mother is a thief, you know. She stole my heart,” he told his son. The boy watched him, solemnly.
“Will you worship a German god, or her Slavic ones, boy?”
“Let me have some beer, Da,” the boy said, and the father gave it to him.
The wall did not stop the next margrave who took an interest in Berlin. Years later, Zarek’s mother left Berlin, without a word, when her son was seventeen.
Zarek took his father’s tools and went east in search of her.
So too did Ing go, long ago, in the age of runes. A man who went east and drove a knife into a million tongues. What is a wall to history?
From Ing, England, and one bold man, inside the curl of tongue and logic of language, can inspire friends into worshippers. What is Man, that we always want avatars in place of hominids?
Zarek never returned to Berlin, not even for his father’s funeral.[/private]
About Robin Wyatt Dunn
Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in Los Angeles, but is trying to escape. In 2017 he was a finalist for poet laureate of his city.
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