Nachruf Q.R. Code

Nach langem, nervigen Siechtum starb an den Iden des Mai endlich wohlverdient Quentin Roxanne Code, der Erfinder des gleichnamigen Wimmelbildes. QR Code, wie ihn Freunde und Saunabekanntschaften nannten, wurde als Schwippschwager von Heinrich Lübke und Enkel des Arktischen Forschungsschiffes Codebrecher hinter den Sieben Zwergen geboren. Seine Ausbildung erfuhr QR Code in der Remittenden Abteilung der Konfusianer Abtei in Garmisch. Hier stattfanden auch seine ersten Gehversuche als Dackel. Da diese jedoch erfolglos blieben, schulte QR Code zum Deckel um, und fand schon bald seinen ersten Topf, nämentlich Helgaz Opf-Kuchen, die seine Muße und Matratze wurde. Mit ihr bekam er dreizehn Enkel. Beim Ausbruch der Igelgrippe auf dem Gelände der ehemaligen QVC, suchte die Bundesregierung verzweifelt nach einer Möglichkeit, den Dings zum Bums zu unterbinden. Schon war QR Code zur Stelle und entwickelte gemeinsam mit T.A. Gesmenue und Dr. K.O. Tzbrocken eine verdammte Gängelei. Im folgenden Jahr dann mit Hans A. Ap wurde es noch schlimmer. Quentin Roxanne Code hinterlässt. Die Bestattung findet im ärgsten Familienkreis statt. Von Schnappschüssen ist abzusehen.

Character driven

„It has been said that if the protagonists of Hamlet and Othello were reversed, there would have been no tragedy: Hamlet would have seen through Iago in no time and Othello would not have hesitated to kill King Claudius.“

– Barbara W. Tuchman (The March of Folly – From Troy to Vietnam)

Ein gutes Beispiel für character driven vs. plot driven.

Quote of the Day

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‚Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?‘

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, ‚Can you read?‘ – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.

– C.P. Snow (Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution)

The Lieutenant and the Virgin – Part Two

THE LIEUTENANT AND THE VIRGIN

a story of the Acropolis, Part Two (Part One can be found here)

What’s all this thumping and screaming?‘

The Leutinger raised his head and saw the landlord standing in the doorway, dressed in a nightshirt, a night cap on his head, carrying a light in his hand, anger and fatigue on his face, two or three heads and pigtails lurking behind him, the landlady and her children.

‚Who let the owl into the room?‘ The landlord strode inside, placed the candle on the chest and rolled up the sleeves of his nightshirt. The Leutinger groaned. He had just resigned himself to death, now he was the fool in a comedy. For in front of the window he saw an owl by the light of the candle, a small owl desperately trying to get back out into the open, to the mice in the moonlight. That had been the rattling and clacking at the window, the hand in his face, the claws in his back. An owl. Which should never be brought to Athens. Or away from there?

The landlord took the nightcap from his skull and with it caught the fluttering beast, which soon calmed down and almost turned its head with those huge eyes round on itself. Schuhu, olulu, olulu.

‚You probably wanted to mortar the owl from down there, Leutinger,‘ mocked the landlord, ‚the murderous owl,‘ he looked down gleefully. So they’re not that big either, those brave soldiers of the Holy League. The Leutinger finally freed himself from the duvet and jumped up like a knife opening, in order to preserve a grain of dignity.

‚I’m not used to beer anymore. Nor soft beds. But how did the owl get into the room? Or do you like to play tricks on your guests?‘

‚I guess the owl got in through the chimney. You let the fire go out. The wind was blowing outside. Happens sometimes. That’s where they seek shelter or build nests.‘

‚Owls and nests? I’ve never heard of that before.‘

The landlord shrugged his shoulders. ‚What shall I do with this murderer? Put him in the cage and make short work of him? Or show him mercy before justice? You decide, Leutinger. I wonder what roast owl tastes like?‘

‚Release it outside.‘

‚Are you sure? Not that it’ll come after you again.‘

‚Lick my arse. My head is about to burst. Get out.‘ His face contorted with rage.

Wide eyes and open mouths among the audience at the door. The landlord shook his head, took candle, cap and owl, went out and closed the door. The Leutinger, however, threw himself onto the bed, dead tired. But what he couldn’t do was sleep.

He left before dawn. Didn’t want to see anyone. But the maid Agnes was already in the tap room, stoking the fire, looking at him shyly, half anxiously, half curiously. Gossip flies as fast as owls, only not as silently. The Leutinger merely nodded to her and slapped a ducat onto the table.

‚Tell the landlord, that will probably be enough.‘

‚Yes, sir.‘

Outside, the fresh air did him good. The wind and rain had subsided, as had his raging headache. It was still pitch dark, there was no longer a hint of moon in the sky, but the Leutinger knew the way very well, the way to Sophie’s farm. He adjusted the satchel on his back, pushed the tricorn hat into his curls and took a long swing with his stick. Today was to be the day. Söffken. They had promised marriage to each other. But the Leutinger had no money back then. His parents were not the poorest, but the Leutinger was not the eldest, his brother would get everything. Söffken was the eldest and the only one, which is why her father didn’t want to hand her and her inheritance, a handsome farm, over to a poor wretch. We will wait three years. Because Söffken’s heart already belonged to Leutinger, and her father couldn’t completely ignore that. Three years, then you’ll have the money, or you won’t, then we’ll see. Good, said the Leutinger, the Duke of Hanover is looking for soldiers; I’ve always wanted to fight with Muslims. God help you, said the father, who didn’t care who, how, with blood or without. The main thing was money. Yes, otherwise you don’t own such a big estate. But Söffken had to cry.

Today with joy, the Leutinger surmised and continued on his way. In his satchel he had ducats and gold and silver, skilfully fashioned into a necklace of shells, plus an amulet. Enough for three farms. The sun had risen, but pale and weak, a pale cousin of Greek Helios. And the sky here was never as blue and high and pure. No wonder our thoughts are always bumping into the roof beams, thought the Leutinger. Always? Yesterday they had run away with him like snorting horses, like the horses with their wide open nostrils wide at the western gable of the… Behind him there was no snorting, but someone was bleating. The Leutinger’s nerves were truly on edge, otherwise his heart wouldn’t be pounding in his throat as he turned round in a single leap and saw a black goat behind him. How had it got into the land of sheep? Where had it run from? Because the beast was wearing a leather collar with a little bell around its neck. Why hadn’t he heard that bell? Now she shook her head and the bell tinkled, just like when they came down from the hills of Lykabett, Philopappu etc. in the evening. Oh God. The goat was scrawny, a sorry sight, sticks and crumbs in its coat, leaves, and it smelled of thyme, marjoram and…. basil? The goat stared at him. Her eyes dead like the devil’s, golden, with rectangular pupils. The Leutinger tried several times to shoo the horned goat away. It always trotted off for a few yards, but when he marched on, it soon came after him. Tingeling tingeling. The throbbing once more in his head. An iron band around his temples. I’ll pull out my knife and stab the beast, thought the Leutinger, that will give me relief. But no sooner had he taken the knife than a horse and a simple cart came towards him. Joachim Zähe, Sophia’s father, was driving it. Both men were astonished to see on another and at first said nothing, but scrutinised the other all the more. Joachim was dressed in his Sunday best, hat, clean coat, plain boots. He was probably wondering how the Leutinger had fared in the war, considering his shabby clothes. Much enemy, much honour, much plunder?

‚You are going to see Söffken?‘

‚Yes.‘

‚I have to go to the registry in Lüneburg. Because of the Prüm field.‘

‚Then have a good journey.‘

‚Thank you. I’ll see you later. And we’ll talk then.‘

‚Yes.‘

The Leutinger was almost past the carriage when the old man stopped him.

‚Tell me, Leutinger.‘

‚Yes.‘

‚Is that your goat?‘ The tough old man didn’t laugh often, now he almost grinned. The goat had indeed followed Leutinger and made a noise as if to say yes.

‚No.‘

‚She’s got something oriental about her. The way she bleats.‘

‚I don’t know whom that bastard belongs to.‘

‚ Poor man’s horse. The goat.‘ Zähe clicked his tongue, threw the reins and rolled off. ‚As long as it’s not your dower,‘ he shouted.

The Leutinger now hurried on his way. He seemed to forget the goat, although it followed him eagerly at a distance. His head was pounding, throbbing with every heartbeat and against the tricorn.

The fact that the beast did not follow him into Sophia’s courtyard was, of course, strange, but all the better. The headache also subsided. Perhaps the curse that the Leutinger had slowly come to believe in was now over, even though he was a rational man and an artilleryman. That’s what happens when you take such things to heart and imagine them. Then it all turns into an avalanche because the one pebble was kicked.

‚Farewell, goat,‘ he said to the black goat, turned and walked straight towards the door of the main house, a massive red brick building with sandstone corners, door and window frames. He knocked. Should he have sent someone else first so that Sophien wouldn’t faint if she opened the door? Too late, because now she was standing in front of him. Beautiful as ever, her blonde hair tightly plaited into a braid, as he had always liked it, her skin like blood and milk, perhaps a little thinner than he remembered. In any case, the three years had passed her by more gently than they had him. Well then. They would grow on each other.

‚Heinrich!‘

They looked at each other for a long time. Strangers being introduced to each other at church. Not sure what to expect, what to say.

‚God bless you, Sophie. Here I am again.‘

‚Come in, then.‘

So they sat in the maiden’s chamber, in Sophie’s parlour, in her fine living room, the world that had become foreign to the Leutinger in a foreign country, with fabric wallpaper on the wall, lathed furniture, embroidered doilies, porcelain and knick-knacks, even a harpsichord in one corner. They sat next to each other, but demurely, on the green canapé. The Leutinger had his satchel by his feet. A maid placed coffee, cakes and cups on the table under the high windows, raised her eyes briefly and left. For a flash, a moment, Leutinger wished himself far away, into the dust in the shade under a broad plane tree with his mates, where the blue sky of the Morea shimmered through the leaves in a warm wind, a pipe in one hand, a mug of resin wine in the other. Then he was back on the canapé.

‚Now tell me, Heinrich, how have you been?‘ She briefly and gently placed the flat of her fingertips on his rough, stubbly cheek.

The Leutinger didn’t know what to say and remained silent. And still silent. And remained silent for far too long. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Damn, the throbbing. He couldn’t say what he said yesterday to the innkeeper and Schröder… if it broke out of him again!

‚I’ll tell you by and by. When we’re married.‘

Söffken had to smile. Smiled. Became serious.

‚Can we get married then?‘

‚Your father won’t deny us that. Look!‘ The Leutinger rummaged in his satchel. At the bottom, in a small box. Oh dear, the stuff was still oily. What’s the difference? You can wipe it off. He fished out the box.

‚There are three farms in this!‘ He held the wooden box out to Sophie in both hands and opened it himself. Inside was the silver chain, the links made of skilfully shaped shells, with a gold amulet attached, the face of a queen or goddess, the rays of a sun or crown. He took it out and held it proudly in front of her nose. Outside, the goat bleaked. Had she come into the courtyard after all?

‚Listen, Heinrich! An owl on broad daylight?‘

‚No, it’s a goat.‘

Olulu, olulu.

The Leutinger looked at Söffken. She was petrified.

She was petrified, in the truest sense of the word. Her eyes wide open, her mouth slightly open, no breath, she was looking into nothing, into everything, into nowhere. No twitching of limbs.

‚Söffken!‘

The Leutinger was overcome with panic. Fear, as if a thousand furies were after him, they would blame him for Söffken’s murder, they would hang him, gut him, quarter him. He wanted to form a thought, a reason, an argument, a defence, a breach, but a blinding pain prevented him from thinking. As if a cooper had forged an iron ring around his temples, as if a giant or titan had pressed a helmet far too small onto his skull. Just escape. He had to get out, away, away, onto the heath, far away, into the wilderness, into the mountains, into the macchia, stony, barren mountains. Once the sun blanched his gnawed bones, all would be well again and there would be harmony between the gods and creation. That was how the Leutinger felt, it was all like a singular impulse to him, and so he jumped up, left almost everything behind him, box, satchel, stick and spoon and ran out of the house, across the courtyard, hatless.

‚Hey, Leutinger, how was it with the Turks?‘ someone called after him, a servant.

But he ran and ran. Behind him there was the sound of goats. But there was no skin, hoof or horn to be seen of the black beast.

That evening, quite early in November, the Leutinger, who had driven himself half to death, arrived in Soltau. The light from the forge was shining and the hammer beating sounded like the pulse of the Leutinger’s heart. Now it was time. There was only one thought he had been able to grasp while running over hill and dale and heath, only one thought that was as clear to him as the Arcadian sky, he had to let it out of his skull. So he stumbled into the smithy.

The sweaty man stood with trembling legs and gasping breath in front of the blacksmith and apprentice, who stopped their work in surprise.

‚Open my skull!‘

‚What the hell?!‘ The blacksmith had never heard anything like it. The apprentice looked at his master, unsure, was this part of the job? Not just pulling teeth?

‚Take hammer, chisel, trepan my head.‘

‚Why?‘

‚I’ve got a demon inside, she wants to split my brain.‘

The blacksmith stood helplessly in front of the wild Leutinger and wiped his horny, oily paws on his leather apron in embarrassment.

‚I can’t…‘

‚Should I put my head on the anvil?‘ The Leutinger staggered forward a step. Blacksmith and apprentice backed away from his wild eyes.

‚Otherwise she won’t be able to get out of my skull,‘ the Leutinger shouted.

The astonished blacksmith, in the habit of obeying orders and instructions from higher-ups, was already reaching for the hammer and looking for a chisel… they all seemed so broad and blunt to him in view of the Leutinger’s thin bones, when Providence or good fortune or a merciful deity intervened and the voice of Father Tonius, who, as those aforementioned forces wanted, had just witnessed the grim spectacle in the smithy, called.

‚Stop, blacksmith! And bring the man to my church.‘

The Leutinger sat in the sacristy of St Ioanni’s and poured a glass of wine down his throat. His hand was trembling, but barely. A crust of salt was on his forehead, eyelids and cheeks from all the sweat that had now dried. The Father sat opposite him, rather unspiritual, with his legs apart, his cassock slightly raised and his sleeves rolled up.

‚Now confess.‘

‚Who are you, Father?‘

‚You can see it and said it. My name is Father Erich Tonius. But that doesn’t matter. What’s on your mind, son?‘

‚I am a murderer.‘

‚Who did you murder?‘

‚I murdered my Söffken. And three hundred Turks. And…‘

‚You didn’t murder Söffken. I’ve just come from there. She’s woken up from her stupor and is wondering where you are.‘

The Leutinger remained silent. The Father took a sip, straight from the bottle. The Leutinger said nothing.

‚If I go to her, will she turn… to stone again?‘

‚What’s weighing so heavily on your conscience?‘ The Father was a homo curiosus and a connoisseur of the soul. He knew it couldn’t be the three hundred or so Turks who were weighing so heavily on the Leutinger’s conscience. Regrettable, certainly, and stain of Cain’s lineage; the Father charged the Turks‘ souls to the Venetians and the Sultan, since it was their war. ‚Who is persecuting you?:

‚Father, you are a Catholic man. But do you also know the old gods?‘

‚I studied theology and philosophy in Göttingen.‘

‚And read one called Homerus?‘

‚Certainly.‘

The Leutinger sighed and ruffled his hair.

‚Out with it, man. It’s called exorcism.‘

‚Another sip of wine.‘

The Father drained his glass. ‚There’s more, like in all churches, but later.‘

So the Leutinger told the end of his sad, very sad story.

‚My battery of mortars was also at a church, called St Nickolas, in the Greek village of Athens, east of the fortress. And as I said,‘ (the Leutinger forgot that he had told this to the landlord and Schröder, not the priest) ‚a deserter came down from the rock from the Turks and said that they had their gun powder in there, all the powder, their magazine, up in the mosque. But it was only a mosque since the Turks, was a church before, a temple before that, the house of Athena. Shoot a grenade into it, was the order, and whoever made it, extra wine and extra ducats. So spoke Königsmarck, and Morosini too. That was in the evening of 26 September. The moon was full. Despite this, I couldn’t really see the white temple with columns and roof and frieze from my vantage point, the rock was too steep, but I could see the Minareh just fine. All right. It’s not for nothing that we learnt about mathematics and angles. We shot a bomb. It broke through the roof. It exploded. The whole temple house. Burst apart. I just heard it. Like when a mountain cries out when it dies. Others told me about it, about the big fireworks, the eruption. I saw the rubble later. And let me tell you something, Father. Nobody cheered. Dead silence. But Königsmarck, no matter what he later whined about, patted me on the back. And Morosini gave me a Judas kiss. And the ducats.‘ Leutinger wiped something off his cheek.

‚The Parthenon, the beautiful chamber of the Virgin Athena,‘ sighed the Father, ‚how I would have loved to have seen it.‘

‚Me too. I only saw it from afar when it was still intact and whole. After their surrender three days after the explosion, I went up there. My work. Dead bodies and rubble. Like ravens, the mercenaries stuffed their satchels with marble heads. Some build skilfully and in years, others… I myself found… but spare me that, Father. Since then, the angry goddess has pursued us in revenge. Do you believe that? I do. Soon a terrible plague broke out in the unfortunate town. The plague devoured generals, colonels and soldiers. Now it’s my turn. For a long time I thought it was only me,‘ he laughed mockingly, ‚who had escaped the wrath. Now she sends me oils, owls and goats. And those I love become as marble themselves. Cut it off already, cut off the head of madness. How shall I live any longer? How can I do penance?‘ The Leutinger sobbed.

The priest thought for a long time.

‚Have you stolen something? Söffken spoke of a necklace.‘

‚I…‘ The Leutinger wondered and dug into his coat pockets. He must have found something to close his fingers around. He had taken it with him after all.

‚Yes, I found something. I also want to confess that. I saw it glittering among the stones of my ruin.‘

‚Show me!‘

‚And if you turn to stone?‘

‚Mischief. Heresy. I am a man of God, what does an old woman want to do to me?‘

The Leutinger hesitantly pulled his hand out of his pocket and showed Father Tonius the necklace and the amulet. He did not turn to stone, only his eyes turned to diamonds.

‚Μια θεά στην κορυφή ενός βουνού,‘ he said in a peculiar singsong. Further:

‚καίγονταν σαν ασημένια φλόγα

Η κορυφή της ομορφιάς και της αγάπης

Και Αθηνά ήταν το όνομά της

Το έχει

Ναι, μωρό μου, το έχει

Λοιπόν, είμαι η Αθηνά σου

Είμαι η φωτιά σου, στην επιθυμία σου.

Poor Leutinger didn’t understand a word and wondered. The Father must have been a little embarrassed by his emotion and outburst. He forced himself to put the necklace back in the Leutinger’s lap and held his hand up in blessing.

‚It’s quite clear what you have to do, Heinrich, to free yourself from the goddess‘ wrath. You have stolen a house from her, now you must build her a new one. Atone for the offence.‘

‚You say that as a man of the one god?‘

‚The divine, my son, has more than one face. And put that amulet into the sanctuary.‘

So the Leutinger had bricks made. He took them to his land and built. He built for a year at least, by the sweat of his brow, to the mockery of many, but that didn’t break his back as much as the many bricks. Thus was made the temple on the heath. Halfway between Embsen and Drögennindorf. And if you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself. And when you pass by, say hello to the children of Söffken and Leutinger. But a warning to anyone who wants to steal the amulet. Watch out for oils, owls and goats.

THE END

The Lieutenant and the Virgin – Part One

THE LIEUTENANT AND THE VIRGIN

a story of the Acropolis

If someone were to walk from the Sülztor in Lüneburg towards Amelinghausen in the Heath, then, depending on which route was chosen, the hiker would pass a very strange building behind Embsen, but before Drögennindorf, which stands on a hill a few hundred yards from the road between two small woods. The hiker’s eye is inevitably drawn to this building, even though it is not right at the side of the road, but, as I said, at least a hundred yards away from it, and no path or access branches off here, because it is white as snow. Or rather, it must have been snow-white at one time, since then wind and rain and ever-zealous nature have weathered whatever it was made of. Nor, it seems, has anyone given it much care recently. However, the cracks and crumbling bricks can only be seen once you, out of curiosity, get closer to the building. It is thanks to the hard-working sheep that it is standing in a green meadow and has not been overgrown by birch trees or some other impertinent vegetation. What kind of creation is it? It is about the size of a small barn or a large shed, an elongated rectangle, probably about three or three and a half metres high, and, as I said, white. Yet it is not made of white stone, let alone marble, but, if you look closely, of burnt brick, most of which – I’m no expert in this regard – has been painted white or whitewashed or coloured in some other way. It has a gable at the front and back, if you knew which was which. The roof, which is of a very slight angle for our rainy region, rests on pillars that surround the building. At least that’s what it looks like at first glance, but the pillars are rather clumsily made of the same bricks and subsequently formed into round shape. In short, it is a small classical temple, or rather: it is a temple in miniature, a copy, certainly not true to scale, and as if made by a clumsy child. Or as if made by someone who has only once been described a Greek or Roman temple. Or by someone who once saw a temple, a very long time ago, who then remembered it with difficulty and then tried to recreate what he had once seen from memory. The temple has no entry, the holy of holies is walled up. Fortunately, because even the few steps leading up to it are, if you look closely, covered in shit. From the sheep, the Schnucken, who otherwise keep the temple free from the vegetation of the heath, as already mentioned. But how did this miniature temple come about in the middle of Lüneburg’s green landscape, which has very little in common with the barren hills of Arcadia? Who built it? And why?

The hiker asks these questions, picks up his or her walking stick and continues at a brisk pace towards Amelinghausen. There is an inn in Betzendorf, ‚Zum Wilden Leutinger‘, where you can get a beer, some bread, hopefully a ham and perhaps the story behind these riddles.

The year was 1688 and it was a miserable November day, hardly distinguishable from evening or dawn, except that Otto Bakkhuus, the landlord of the ‚Wild Man‘ in Betzendorf, thought he could see the rain, like tiny needles, stinging his reddened cheeks and arms as he lifted another barrel from the cart with the brewer’s boy, named Schröder.

‚Shite weather!‘ cursed the landlord. Schröder grunted.

On the one hand shite, thought the innkeeper, because who wants to come in this weather? On the other hand, not shite, because whoever comes will stay. He rubbed his cold hands while the Schröder rolled a barrel to the cellar hatch. We’ll see. He stretched his head and blinked into the whipping wind. Sure enough, down from the slight hill, from the direction of Lüneburg, came a person, probably a man, his tricorn hat tied tightly to his head with a scarf or sash, his stick digging firmly into the path, a bulging satchel on his back, bent forward, driven by the wind faster than he probably wanted. He will need a drink, thought the innkeeper and turned towards the door.

‚I’m going in,‘ he called down into the cellar hole. The Schröder grunted.

A little later, as he had suspected, the man entered the tap room, pushed the door shut against the elements, wound the scarf from his head and knocked the rain off his hat against the beam that supported the low ceiling of the dim room. He had leaned his cane with its silver knob against the wall and thrown his satchel to the floor.

‚Otto, are you still alive, you fat gut?‘ he said half aloud. Now you could see his face. Gaunt, very wrinkled for his age around the eyes, as if he often squinted against the sun, and an already graying, stubbly beard. Slightly sunken cheeks, at least a few teeth must be missing. Nevertheless, he was still almost a young man, around thirty. Suddenly the innkeeper recognised him.

‚By God,‘ he shouted, ‚it’s Leutinger! It’s the Leutinger. Are the Turks beaten?

‚The Turks are, otherwise would I be standing here?‘ said the man the innkeeper called Leutinger. ‚The Turks are, but not the plague,‘ he muttered.

‚What?

‚Don’t worry, I haven’t got it. Give me a mug of the good stuff. Betzendorf beer. How I’ve missed it, with all that resinous wine and even more resinous women.‘

‚I’ve just got a new barrel.‘ The landlord clattered down the cellar stairs in his clogs. ‚Schröder! The Leutinger’s back,‘ he called out. ‚Let him tell us something.

Soon afterwards, the landlord, Schröder and Leutinger were sitting round a solid oak table. The latter, now that one knew, really did make quite a martial impression, even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform, but always kept his back straight; he had pulled a long knife, almost a shiavona, from his belt and was using it to slice the smoked ham, which the landlord had, generous for once, placed on a wooden plate next to the jug of Betzendorfer and the three mugs. Tiny black specks were all over Leutinger’s face and arms, looking like poppy seeds. Did he have them all over his body? If not the plague, was it some other disease that he was now carrying from the Turkish wars to beautiful Lüneburg and Brunswick?

‚What are those black spots?‘ asked the slightly foolish Schröder. ‚Are you ill?‘

‚Are you stupid, Schröder?‘ the innkeeper interrupted. ‚The Leutinger was in the artillery. That’s gun powder, isn’t it?‘

‚Yes, that’s gun powder. Went into my lungs and skin. And my ears don’t work so good anymore.‘

But at that moment, the door suddenly slammed open with a bang and the Leutinger heard it well, because he was startled, slipped off the ham with his knife and almost carved Schröder a second navel if that one hadn’t had the presence of mind to move to the side.

‚Man, watch out with your scythe, I’m not a Turk’s gut.‘ The Schröder took it lightly and adjusted his leather jerkin. But the Leutinger’s forehead was covered in cold sweat and he had turned very pale. He stared at the open door, which must have been pushed open by the wind, because neither man nor beast nor anything else could be seen or heard. Only the lashing rain, which now fell diagonally into the room and wetted the stone floor, and the howling wind. The ceiling lamp began to sway in time and cast shadows.

‚Has this ever happened before?‘ The Leutinger looked at the landlord insistently.

‚No. Hardly at all. You must not have closed it properly. And then the wind.‘ His guest’s irritability seemed a little strange to the innkeeper. Maybe that’s what war does to people. The constant fear of getting a bullet, a grenade or a knife between heart and the life. The old Leutinger, who had set off for Venice three years ago, in January 1685, would not have flinched like a high-bred woman because of a slamming door. And now the Leutinger was flaring his nostrils, scenting like a dog or horse, so that the landlord was starting to feel the creeps on this wet, dark, stormy November day. Why didn’t he close the door? Why did the staring Leutinger seem to have them all in a state of shock? Then Schröder, who had but little imagination, finally jumped up to close the door, paused.

‚Hasn’t the rain a greenish colour?‘

‚You must have goblin in your eye, Schröder.‘

Schröder slipped on the wet stone tiles and hit the floor with his arse, back and the back of his head.

‚Blimey, that’s nasty.‘

The two others rushed to him.

‚Oily?‘ The landlord, who had a strong stomach, wiped his finger over the stone tiles, which were indeed shimmering, and licked. ‚That’s not an oil I know.‘

The Leutinger fiddled with his satchel, which was still lying next to the door, and rummaged through it for something. ‚She’s not here,‘ he muttered quietly, ’she’s not here.‘

By now, Schröder had sat up and was rubbing the back of his head.

‚The oil is in the rain.‘

‚What rubbish!‘ The Leutinger almost shouted, or rather barked, like the officer he had been. ‚Here!‘ He held up a small glass bottle in a comically triumphant manner, in which a remnant of a greenish-golden, viscous liquid could still be seen. ‚The glass must have broken when I dropped the satchel. Then it seeped out. It’s my Oil of Dimitrios.‘

‚What kind of oil is that? For frying, for coach axles, or for extreme unction?‘ The innkeeper considered himself an expert in lubricants and roasting agents and was slightly offended that he had never heard of this Oil of Dimitrios.

‚It’s an oil I got from a Greek church. It’s supposed to help against all sorts of things. But I only have it with me for fun. I’m not missing anything. Never mind that it’s all gone. Maybe it will cure your flagstones.‘

The Leutinger seemed relieved and happy again. However, both innkeeper and Schröder were not quite satisfied with this matter-of-fact explanation. Possibly because such a promising diversion in their boring universe had ended so quickly and without spectacle.

‚But what is the oil made from? From dimitrioses?‘ the landlord wanted to know.

‚The oil was in the rain. That bit of oil from the bottle is never enough. Look how much is on the floor, and most oil from the bottle has seeped into the satchel,‘ insisted Schröder. ‚It came in the rain.‘

‚Enough!‘ said Leutinger calmly but firmly. ‚It was in the bottle. You want to hear about my travels. I want beer. Let’s get back to the table and stop talking nonsense.‘

The landlord quickly fetched a rag and mopped the floor, which was still shimmering, and then joined the two of them at the table. ‚Now tell me, Leutinger. What was it like with the Turks?‘

‚What was it like? How can I tell you plate-lickers and bear-skinners?‘ Leutinger blinked into the round, shiny faces of the innkeeper and Schröder, who looked at him expectantly with wide eyes, like children before a present or a fairy tale. He laughed involuntarily, took a pull from his mug and began.

‚All right, then. As you know, we started in Hanover in January ’85. In April we crossed the Alps, through Tyrol, and stood on St Mark’s Square in Venice – that’s a city with more rivers and moats than Brunswick and Lüneburg have streets. We must have been three thousand troups, Papal, Florentine, Maltese, Dalmatian and Hanoverian. A murmur like Babel. At the command of Captain General Franziskus Morosini and Marshal Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck, we marched to muster. Then by ship down the Adriatic to the Morea, which is a peninsula that the Greeks call island of Pelops. Pelops, whom the ancient gods ate, chopped up and boiled in broth, as someone who always read too much told me. I tell you, gods still eat people there, but that bookworm was soon dismembered by a piece of ancient pillar that the Turks threw from the walls of Koroni, which must have pleased him, such an antiquarian death, better than a bucketful of burning oil. Koroni was the first town we besieged. Fascines woven, batteries and entrenchments thrown up, mines driven forward. Me and the men fired mortars and grenades into the town and gunners worked the ramparts. Then we stormed. Oh, nobody wants to go in there. From close by, the Turks shot at us with chain balls, iron and lead pieces; women and children threw stones, as I said, and poured boiling water and oil down so that it was a horror to behold. But we got into the town and they got theirs, for in the meantime everything we came across in Koroni was destroyed, not even the women and children were spared, what remained was captured and sold for a bit of money. I tell you, Innkeeper and Schröder, the next towns preferred to surrender at once.‘

The Leutinger ran his tongue over his lips as if his throat had gone dry from the story. The innkeeper hurriedly poured him a drink.

‚Was there a harem?‘ the Schröder interjected excitedly. The landlord slapped him on the back of the head with the flat of his hand.

‚Let the Leutinger continue his report!‘

The Leutinger’s eyes were now shining in glorious remembrance, just as those of the eager listeners.

‚The harem girls were taken by Morosini, the Venetian dog. But we found silver hand basins, along with all kinds of precious silverware in the form of cups, bowls, plates and the like, the most beautiful skirts and furs. There was an abundance of grain, flour, bread, coffee and all kinds of preserves. Tobacco was found in large quantities. We opened the war chest and shared the Zechini with hats. All in all, everything you could think of was found in abundance.‘

The landlord frowned at the Leutinger’s rather poor clothes, his worn satchel, and asked: ‚And where are all the cups, bowls, skirts, furs, tobacco and Zechini?‘

‚Pah. Anyone could have made a good haul if the troops and the generals hadn’t taken most of it. And besides… but that’s… the other story.‘

The innkeeper huffed, a little disappointed. He preferred to hear about furs, skirts and Zechini. The Schröder looked equally unsatisfied. He preferred to hear about harems. The Leutinger saw nothing, heard nothing, he was still travelling.

‚So after the Morea was free of the Turks, we, the Calenbergers, what was left, a thousand men, embarked again with Generalkapitän Morosini and our Maximilian Wilhelm and sailed for Athens. What names. Athens, Attica, Alcibiades… even I had heard of Socrates, Xerxes, Marathon, Laconians and Themistocles. We also sailed past Salamis.‘

‚I like salamis,‘ said who? Schröder, of course. The Leutinger ignored him.

‚We sailed past Salamis, the many-masted ships, and anchored in Piraeus on the twenty-first of September without anyone stopping us. We were altogether, oh, about ten thousand. I tell you, Bakkhuus, there were not any more Turks and Greeks, the polis with the big name was a very small nest actually, dirty huts, mules, a deadbeat place, some olive groves here and there.‘

The Leutinger sniffed his fingers. Powder? Oil? The salty sea? Damn, now even the landlord had to sniff his fingers. Beer and ham, as always. Or was there something else? Something spicy? Something fruity? He wiped his hand on his apron.

‚And then?‘

‚Then we encamped. The Turks, the soldiers, but also their wives and children – three hundred perhaps? – had taken refuge in the fortress that… on the big rock, you know, visible from afar, a high minareh, ghastly somehow, it looked like a high chimney on a furnace, like a cross, a tree, a flag, you have to go here, we have on the other hills, Pnyx, Philopappu, Aeropagus, the hill of the god of war, Königsmarck put the batteries there, but I thought, if you want to go in with a grenade, you know that there are apples there, like grenades, with hundreds of red shrapnel in them, two or three days later a deserter came down from the rock from the Turks, who said they have their powder in there, all the powder, their magazine. There was also to be an oil tree up there, of hers, I didn’t find it later.‘

The Leutinger sighed. After his confused speech. The other two looked at him in amazement. Schröder tapped the tip of his outstretched right index finger at his temple. The landlord shook his head unwillingly, disapprovingly, but at Schröder. He patted the Leutinger’s shoulder gently.

‚You must be tired.‘

‚Oh, what, sorry. It just seemed to me that I was there again. Shall I tell you how I got back?‘

‚Oh yes…‘ said Schröder.

‚Oh yes…‘ said the landlord.

But the Leutinger was no longer in a chatty mood. He sat quietly, blown out and sunken, emptying one cup, then the next.

‚Do you want to stay here tonight, Leutinger?‘ the innkeeper finally asked. ‚Or are you going on to yours?‘

‚Or are you going on to Söffken?‘ said the Schröder with a wry grin. ‚She’s been waiting for more than three years now, poor girl.‘

‚Shut up, Schröder,‘ barked the Leutinger, waking from his stupor. To the landlord: ‚How is Sophie?‘

The landlord shrugged his shoulders. ‚Fine, she does not come here much. She’s probably waiting for you.‘

‚Take me upstairs. I want to sleep.‘

‚Should I have Agnes wash out her satchel?‘

‚No.‘

With heavy legs, the Leutinger got up, walked slowly to the stairs and up, satchel in hand. The landlord followed him, carrying knife, stick and hat, lamp. Schröder looked after them briefly, rubbed the bump on the back of his head, poured the rest from the jug into his mug and drank blissfully.

The Leutinger had slept through the whole afternoon, then he went down into the courtyard to the privy, had the landlord give him some water and went back to bed. The short day was long gone, it had become dark, the rain had subsided, but the wind was still blowing as fiercely as before. A wind like that usually doesn’t blow well, the Leutinger thought to himself. He hated strong winds, unless they filled the sails where he wanted to go. But the wind blows just as well for what is chasing you. It only blows against those you turn around to face. The Leutinger slapped his forehead briefly and hard to dispel such stupid attitudes. You’re not used to Betzendorf beer anymore, he thought. And then that idiot Schröder with his oily rain. The Leutinger looked at the almost empty, cracked bottle on the little table next to him. He had rubbed the oil on his wounds many a time and also dripped it onto the cloth that he held to his mouth when the plague raged in Nafplio…? How can a disease have rage? What’s the point? He thought the oil had helped. But if you believe in that? Why not everything else? Let the women and the priests sort it out. Not artillery lieutenants from Lüneburg. Tomorrow the wind would have blown out, the world would be as good as new, he would go to Söffken, who was waiting, fine, he was also a fine fellow, to give the bride money, he had a little something in his satchel of those Zechini – hands off, greedy landlord! – and then… and then… he wanted to dream about it now. He laid his head on the pillow and fell asleep.

Midnight struck from the tower in Betzendorf. The Leutinger opened his eyes. Where am I? The crescent of a Turkish moon had risen and gave off only a little light, miserly. The window wasn’t big either, not much shone in through the thick, rough glass. And the fire had probably gone out, not even a glimmer. Despite this, he vaguely recognised a big wooden chest, a stool, probably his nest of clothes on it, the black rectangle of the door at the back, and remembered where he was. Only a crescent of a Turkish moon… the other night in September it had been different, there was a full moon, full of light and the reflection of its rays from the white marble glistened. Quiet, pure, virginal light, not like the noisy fireworks of lusty grenades. A sharp pain shot through his skull. Oh tarnation, could that be the beer! Couldn’t he take his drink any more? Why was his heart racing? Why was he lying wet, as if in a puddle, in a bath of his own sweat? Where did the fear come from? You’re an even worse blockhead than that Schröder. Suddenly a hand stroked his face, a very hairy hand or one with woollen gloves, and the Leutinger screamed, high and shrill, like the ones they stabbed. Flee, just flee and where is the knife? Then the hand went through his face again, the Leutinger wanted to jump out of bed, got his legs caught in the blankets and crashed to the floor onto his stomach. In the same instant two hands clawed into his back, oh, they must have long sharp nails. The Leutinger screamed again, the claws let go, then the window started rattling. Someone was in front of it, wanted to get in, robbers out to steal Zechini.

‚Help me! They want to murder me!‘ the Leutinger shouted and rolled halfway under the bed. Damn it, you’re a Leutinger and a soldier, you’ve killed a few people, now you’re cowering in the dust under the bed, wrapped in blankets? If only the pain would cease in his skull, like a hammer, but from the inside. And still something rattled at the window and rattled and rattled. Then why don’t you finish me off, the Leutinger thought to himself, I probably deserve it. And he laid his throbbing skull onto the wooden floorboards, ready to die. The dusty breath of death was already blowing into his face, the screams of the Erinyes were deafening.

END of Part One – Part Two can be found here…

Quote of the Day

‚You see he was mad. He believed he was nine people at the same time.‘

‚Must have made life very difficult for him.‘

‚It certainly did. Particularly as one of the people was Ethel Barrymore and another Harpo Marx.‘

‚Were most of them film stars?‘

‚Directors as well. He’d been a script-writer you see.‘

‚Enough to drive anyone off his rocker,‘ I said, remembering my own experience.

‚Exactly,‘ the ATS agreed.

– Julian MacLaren-Ross (‚The Nine Men of Soho‘ in Bitten by the Tarantula and other writing)