The Lieutenant and the Virgin – Part Two


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?‘


‚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.‘


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

‚Tell me, Leutinger.‘


‚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.


‚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.


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.


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.‘


‚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?‘


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.