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Chapter One of Visit to Godenholm
The sea was so calm that it barely rippled at the foot of the cliffs. Seabirds lay in flocks on the waves. It seemed that the melancholy, the decadence of the shore, took on a new depth at the sight of these dreamy squadrons – as if the emptiness was bound up in a knot with them. From time to time this welled up in the voice of a seagull.
With each of these piercing, pitiful cries a shiver ran down Moltner’s face. It was gaunt from a long fast and his skin, which had once been tanned by more southerly rays of sun, was now greenish. The grey birds with red eyes repulsed him; he saw them as embodiments of a spiritless and bloodless element that frightened him even more in its purity, for in it, after all, lay the danger, the fate of his life. And the earth, too, seemed as if it had been carved out of the grey cortex of some brain, as the electric dawn in the pale glow of midnight.
The cries of the birds ended with a knowing, discordant laughter. They seemed to herald a solemn birth – the prophetic cries of the augurs preceding the flow of images. It was like the birth pains Moltner was struggling with – visions soon to rise up from the abyss.
As he followed the shoreline, he spotted flocks of grey birds from time to time. As they circled over his head, he saw a fish they had caught – a silvery shadow with huge eyes and a split belly. The pale viscera was dragged ashore. The image haunted him as he heard their screams, but strangely he found in it an omen of their end.
He shuddered and wrapped himself even tighter in his coat. It was time to put an end to all this. He was leaving tomorrow. He muttered to himself; the monologues were intensifying.
“The Sahara would have been better, at least we would have had some sunshine. But it’s my fault for waiting so long – after all, I should have known what would find me.”
Laughter once again cut through the loneliness. Moltner winced: “I want to make three crosses after I pass Brenner [?]. To come to this after so much anticipation! I know more pleasant ways to ruin the nerves.”
Einar, Ulma, and Gaspar seemed indifferent to his monologues; they were already used to them. They looked at the silhouette of the island looming out of the fog and to which Moltner had turned his back. At this time of year the sun barely rose above the horizon for an hour. But it remained invisible, as its pale disc rose no higher than the mountains. Its glow only deepened the grey shadows that gave the land and sea an abstract appearance. The silence of the night persisted, so that the clatter of oars could be heard in the distance.
Moltner sat on the bench-rest with his head exposed. The effect produced by his huge head was heightened by his baldness, of which only the hairline on the top of his head remained. The rest covered his temples and the back of his head with a black fringe. His body was small in comparison, and Einar once jokingly called him a legless giant. He had an iron will and a passion for research, and he was always looking for new frontiers to cross. But he was too inquisitive to ever reach distant goals. He wandered around the backwaters, changing masters, ideas, and problems, and quickly became disillusioned.
Einar and Ulma sat on the middle bench. They were looking straight ahead. In Einar the legacy of his Flemish ancestors was still strong. His square face with calm, blue, slightly fixed eyes had a peasant shape. His blond hair hung down over his forehead in a mess. He was dressed in a linen shirt like the ones worn by fishermen; his legs, flushed with salt air, peaked out between his trousers and rough boots. He held a fishing rod in his hand.
From his features one could conclude that he was the kind of stubborn character who grasps only what suits them, but who cling to the object once they have grasped it and continue their progress in that single direction. Schools can be built out of such types because what is recognised becomes flesh and blood in them. Moltner saw in all this only a lack of critical thinking.
Einar devoted himself to prehistory, even if he did not accept the term. He wanted it to be called “primordial history”. After finishing his studies at German universities, he lived a life of wandering. Moltner knew that Einar had searched for sun altars in various places in Europe and its outlying islands. It seems that there were certain mounds, recognisable by special features, on top of which such altars were found. They looked like discs with a cross of axes and may have served as observatories or sacrificial sites in ancient times. There must have been a break in history, and so they were buried. Fires were still lit on some of these hills and flaming wheels rolled down the slope on certain days. It was during his research and excavations that Einar must have come across Schwarzenberg, who believed that all the world’s religions originated from the first solar cults. He told Einar to refrain from his research; the stones were like seeds waiting to be harvested. Then they would rise on their own.
Schwarzenberg was not, in fact, an opponent of science. He did not regard it as a late form of spiritual life, and terms such as “the Age of Enlightenment” had a laudatory meaning for him. Only by conquering the highest questions could one prepare the dazzling information of enlightenment. These illuminations would be preceded by periods of conflagration. He wanted to see only the rise of stars, where careful minds almost all agreed in proclaiming a decline. This, of course, is tempting, as are all favourable predictions. When catastrophes strike, one wonders whether this optimism was simply, to put it mildly, a figment of a lucky instinct. But one felt comfortable in his presence.
Now Einar cast his fishing rod and let it run along the side of the boat. The lure was cut from sheet metal and painted red on top. A narrow spiral swirled on the water, in the mirror of which it drew a trail. It was the only red tone in this grey wasteland. Dusk was already beginning to descend.
Ulma leaned forward to follow the bait. She was wearing the same blue outfit as Einar, which was common here for women working on construction sites or in the highland pastures. Beneath the blouse was a woollen jumper that hugged her slim body. Her brown eyes and black hair belonged to the type who inhabited the coves. On the other hand, their restlessness and mobility were not in keeping with anything resembling peasant life. Up here, of course, some things were different; the long nights did more than just spiritualise the land. Each farmhouse had its books. Nor was it unusual for girls to return to the farm after finishing their studies. When you saw them working with hay or milking cows, there were no signs suggesting that they had not spent a few years at the seminaries or institutes. They were free, sovereign, and more sensible than people for whom the mass of mountains and the monotony of the sea seemed like a heavy burden. This can also be seen in Sandnes, where Ulma was a lively element. Her father, farmer Hersen, took Moltner and Einar there at the request of Schwarzenberg. The young men and the girl became good friends; Ulma accompanied Einar on fishing trips and Moltner on walks on the beach and in the mountains. She also frequently accompanied them to Schwarzenberg’s home in Godenholm and took part in conversations there. She had known Schwarzenberg for a long time, as he had lived in Godenholm from time to time during his childhood. He had settled there even earlier. The island was separated from Sandnes only by a narrow inlet, and the two farms had made good neighbours in this desolate region since time immemorial.
Moltner was amazed at how Hersen allowed his daughter to do as she wished. He mentioned this to Einar, who knew the area better than he did due to his travels, and protested:
“You are too prone to look at these things with the eyes of a man accustomed to the lands of the sun. Otherwise a character like Hersen would not surprise you at all: there is nothing out of the ordinary about him.”
There was something true in this. The peasants who lived here, scattered along the bays and in the valleys, all had similar character traits, the same fervour. They almost always worked alone, whether at sea, in a boathouse, or in the mountain forests. When the scale of the work forced them together, they never laughed, and rarely spoke a word.
One does not get the impression that these people accepted loneliness as a necessary evil of their country. They knew it and loved it. Perhaps it was in their blood, a legacy of their fathers, the first sailors and explorers of the land. What forces drew them to the distant shores of the North and South Seas? Conquest, plunder, adventure, wonderful fishing? All these things, certainly, but above all a desire to go to the frontiers and beyond them, to the borders where loneliness begins. As long as this primordial force lived in these men, they ruled the world, no matter whether they stepped ashore alone or landed in the harbour of a densely populated city. Wealth and power, with all their symbols, seemed to be mere interests, the temporal profits of invisible capital. A chimera. It never completely disappeared, but began to flow again like a spring wherever these princes, poets, and explorers appeared. The Icelandic radiance still shone within the constructions of the machine world. One of Schwarzenberg’s ideas was that to establish true sovereignty it was necessary to return, from the surface, to the ancient abysses.
Unfortunately,” thought Moltner, “these are common ideas. Who today does not claim to cultivate the soul?
Here, women often had to hold the reins while the men were away from the farms, fishing, patrolling the coast, on raids and trade expeditions - all which could easily merge with the other - or at festivities which sometimes lasted for weeks. Even now, several years of absence was not uncommon for the men. They hunted whales, sailed with foreign fleets, and cut timber in Canada.
Meanwhile, the women took matters into their own hands. This brought things to a calm equilibrium after the return of the men. Both sides felt that anything was possible, even if little happened in the end. Perhaps it was due to the fact that life here resembled a dream, evidenced by the pervasive greyness. But just as all colours are hidden in the grey, the possibility of a strong awakening and colourful action seemed shrouded, like a veil, in this twilight. This could be sensed in the silence – heavy and anguished.
In fact, here one lived outside of history, or as if bursting into it. There have always been moments of excitement when young people set out on the trail after princes. These attempts changed the face of the world, but rarely resulted in solid foundations. Everything about them was ephemeral compared to the permanence of the magical cities. Matter accumulated there, and power was disperses in this land, to the point where the entire universe risked becoming pure force, in a legendary pattern of cosmic fires.
The surface, of course, was sober, Protestant, and mercantile. It reeked of boredom, just as in the Scandinavian novels. However, the deep sense of alienation remained unchanged. If one closed his eyes to peer through the grey mirror, one could discover the rich life that flooded the fjords. The high marshes were an archive of unknown colours waiting for a great artist to reveal them. The peaks and glaciers were shrouded in a mystery that surpassed all southern intricacies. But everything resembled an empty chessboard; boredom, weariness hung over it like curtains. In the same way, dreams are preceded by periods of tranquility.
One could sense a looming threat in the nucleus. The amnion was colourless; faint ripples heralded hidden life. It could be the yolk of a phoenix egg, or the embryo of the Leviathan. Either way, scratching the surface was dangerous. For this reason the slightest noise often caused alarm – Moltner sensed the warnings when the seagulls screamed, as if they might trigger a landslide.
However, Moltner was wrong in thinking that this country was unsuitable for preparing spiritual offerings. In this respect, Schwarzenberg had made a good choice. Deep down, Moltner remained captive to the concerns of the skin he had once shed. He knew that there had been a shipwreck and that he was floating on a raft formed of the wreckage. Safety diminishes, values become temporary, but one lives from inheritance – commitments limit you, yet persist in the enjoyment of life. The raft, of course, was fragile and was only a temporary solution. If the delicate bonds were broken, all that was left was the monstrous depths of the elements – and who could possibly face them? It was this question that confronted the minds of men today. They were all awaiting a catastrophe – no longer in abundance as before, but in apocalyptic misery.
Exploring the situation in small groups, testing the limits, from experience to experience – this was not absurd behaviour. This was nothing new, it was always done in times of great transition – in deserts, monasteries, hermitages, in sects of Stoics and Gnostics, the philosophers' circles, prophets and initiates. There was always a consciousness, an intuition that was above the historical impulse. At first it could only blossom in a few men, but from then on the pendulum began to swing in a new direction. This had to be preceded by the spiritual act of stopping the pendulum.
This was exactly what Moltner believed Schwarzenberg was capable of – and his disappointment was commensurate with the high expectations he had for him. This was due to his solar temperament, which was at once sanguine and skeptical. Thus, in these latitudes, it was crushed. On the other hand, Einar, who could be described as a phlegmatic and Neptunian, blossomed in the presence of Moltner, and Ulma felt at home here.