The fortified house

Surprised by the winter cold, the Swedes had taken quarters behind the walls of Hajach in a crowd and confusion. Soon there was no house left that was not filled with frost-sick and dying people. The shouts of lament could be heard in the street, and now and then they were wrongfingers, feet and legs cut off on the steps. The wagons had got stuck together and stood so tightly packed from the city gate to the market that the pale-frozen soldiers who poured in from all sides had to crawl through between the wheels and runners. Entangled in their saddles, turned away from the wind and with their loins frozen white, the horses had been standing without food for several days. Nobody paid any attention to them, and some of the haulers sat frozen to death with their hands on their sleeves. Some of the wagons looked like long boxes or coffins, and gloomy faces stared out of the hatch of the flat lid, reading the prayer book or looking longingly at the sheltering houses. A thousand unfortunate people shouted to God for mercy, half aloud or in silence.[8th] the soldiers dead in rows, many with red Cossack skirts over their torn Swedish uniforms and with sheepskins around their bare feet. Wood pigeons and sparrows, so frozen stiff that they could be caught with your hands, sat on the hats and shoulders of the upright corpses and flapped their wings when the field preachers went by to give the dying supper in brandy. Up on the market, between burned-down lots, was a large house from which loud voices could be heard. A soldier gave a bundle of sticks to an ensign that was standing in the doorway and as the soldier walked back down the street he shrugged and said to whoever wanted to hear him:

“It’s only the gentlemen from the firm who quarrel!”

The ensign at the door had just arrived with Lewenhaupt’s troops. He carried the bundle of brushwood into the room and threw it on the stove. The voices inside fell silent immediately, but as soon as he closed the door behind him, they began with renewed zeal. It was Excellency Piper himself, who was standing in the middle of the room, her face wrinkled and furrowed,[9] with heated cheeks and trembling nostrils.

“I say the whole thing is madness,” he burst out, “madness, madness!”

Ermine with his pointed nose constantly moved his eyes and hands and ran back and forth in the room like a little tame rat, but Field Marshal Rhensköld, who was handsome and handsome at the stove, whistled and hummed to himself. If he hadn’t whistled and buzzed, the quarreling would have ended now, for they were all completely in agreement this time, but the fact that he whistled and hummed instead of being silent or at least speaking became unbearable with time. Lewenhaupt at the window sniffed and drummed the snuff-box. His peppery brown eyes shot out of his head and it looked like his ridiculous wig had gotten bigger and bigger. If Rhensköld hadn’t continued whistling and humming, he would have controlled himself, today as yesterday and all other times,

“I don’t ask His Majesty to understand statecraft. But can he lead troops? Does he show real understanding[10] at a single rencontre or attaque ? He sacrifices trained and old warriors who can never be replaced every day for a vain bravado . If our people are to storm a wall, it is considered superfluous for them to tie protective bundles of brushwood or umbrellas, and that is why they are poorly massacred. To be frank , gentlemen, I can forgive a studiosus upsaliensis for many a prank, but I ask something different from a general in Castris . Truly no one will benefit from having an affair under the command of such a gentleman. ”

“Also, His Majesty,” replied Piper, “does not present the General with any difficult orders. Everything went better in the beginning, before one had distinguished himself more than the other, but now His Majesty has to go around mediating and reconciling with a stupid smile that can frenzy you. ”

He raised his arms in the air with an anger that lacked all reflection and measure, regardless of the fact that he was entirely at one with Lewenhaupt. While he was still talking he turned and walked briskly towards the inner rooms. The door slammed shut with such a bang that Rhensköld felt even more[11] felt compelled to whistle and hum. If only he had wanted to say something! But no, he didn’t. Gyllenkrok, who was sitting at the table checking the route, was red-hot in the face, and a small, dry man at his side whispered irritably in his ear:

“A pair of diamond earrings to the Countess von Piper might help Lewenhaupt get new jobs.”

If Rhensköld had now stopped whistling and humming, Lewenhaupt could have mastered himself and picked up the roll of paper he was wearing under his skirt and sat down at the end of the table, but instead the venerable and otherwise taciturn man became angrier and angrier. He turned around indecisively and went to the exit, but there he suddenly stopped, straightened up and clapped his heels as if he were a little mean. Rhensköld fell silent now. The door opened. An icy gust of wind penetrated the chamber, and the ensign announced in a voice as high and stretched as a sentry calling their comrades to the gun:

“Be-my Majesty!”

The king was no longer the blinded and amazed half-grown child of old.[12] Only the boy-like figure with the narrow shoulders was the same. The skirt was sooty and dirty. The crease around the raised upper lip was deeper and a little grinning. He had frost wounds on his nose and one cheek, and his eyelids were rimmed and swollen from a protracted cold, but his combed hair stood like a jagged crown around his prematurely bald head.

He held the fur hat in both hands and tried to hide his embarrassment and shyness behind a stiff and cool delicacy and bowed, smiling, to everyone present.

Each time they bowed deeper, and when he got right into the middle of the room he stopped and bowed a few more times to the sides, although a little faster and apparently completely preoccupied with what he was thinking, so to speak. Then he stood in silence for a while.

Then he went up to Rhensköld and, with a short bow, took him by one of the buttons on his skirt:

“I should like to ask,” said he, “that your Excellency get me two or three men from the Commons to cover a little excursion. I already have two satellites with me. ”

“But your Majesty! The area is from Cossacks[13] flooded. It was quite a daring ride from your majesty’s quarters here into the city with such little cover. ”

“Oh, trivialities! Trivialities! Your Excellency should do as I have said. One of the generals present who is free can also sit up and take a man from his own. ”

Lewenhaupt bowed.

The king looked at him a little hesitantly without answering, and stopped after Rhensköld had hurried out. None of the rest of the ring felt it was proper to break the silence or move.

Only after a very long time did the king bow again to each one and go outside.

“Well,” asked Lewenhaupt, patting the ensign on the shoulder with a regained naturalness. “Mister Ensign should come with me! This is the first time that the ensign has stood face to face with His Majesty. ”

“I had imagined him differently.”

“He’s always like that. He is too royal to command. ”

They followed the king, who climbed over carts and fallen animals. His movements were agile, but never hasty, but measured[14] and rather slowly, so that he never lost his dignity for a moment. When he had finally made his way through the crowd in the city gate, he climbed into the saddle with his retinue, which now numbered seven men.

The horses slipped on the ice road and some fell, but Lewenhaupt’s objections only enticed the king to use the spurs even more heartlessly. The lackey Hultman had read aloud to him or told fairy tales all night and finally made him laugh with the fortune telling that if he had not been chosen by God to be king, he would have been a shy couch potato all his life, the much stranger verse than Blessed Messenius in Disa would have come up with Bollhuset, but above all the mighty battle chants. He tried to think of Rolf Götriksson, who always rode first and foremost in front of his people, but today he would not succeed in locking his thoughts into the playroom of the legend. The unrest that had lately clawed his mind did not want to let go of the royal booty. He had just seen the heated faces in the office. Still trapped in his own earlier imaginary world from the pretenses of childhood, he was for the shrill[15] Emergency screams along the way were deaf and became suspicious of anyone who showed sensitive hearing. Today, as usual, he hardly noticed that he had been offered the most rested horse and the freshest bread, that a bag of five hundred ducats had been put in his pocket that morning, and that the riders would put a ring around him at the first commotion Would consecrate death he challenged. On the other hand, he noticed that the soldiers greeted him with an uncanny silence, and the misfortunes had made him suspicious even of his neighbors. He noticed the most cautious contradiction, the most hidden disapproval, without giving himself away, and every word lay there and gnawed at his soul. It seemed to him that with every hour he was losing an officer whom he had previously trusted, and his heart grew colder and colder.

Suddenly Lewenhaupt stopped and turned around, hoping to influence the king.

“My good Ajax!” He said, petting the steaming horse. “You’re an old crib biter, but I can’t help you with anything[16] again not chasing anything, and myself I’m starting to age like you. But in Jesus name, you guys! Follow the king, whoever can! ”

When he saw the ensign’s anxious sideways glance at the king, he said in a hushed voice:

“Be quiet, my boy! His Majesty never flares up like the rest of us. He’s too royal to scold or quarrel. ”

The king pretended not to notice. Wilder and wilder, he continued the silent race over ice and snow without aim or purpose. He only had four companions now.

A while later the one horse fell with a broken foreleg, and the rider shot him through his ear out of mercy, only to face uncertain fates afterwards, alone and on foot in the cold.

After all, the ensign was the only one who could follow the king, and they had now come between the bushes and the young forest, where they could only walk forward. On the hill above was a large and sooty house with narrow lattice holes and a wall around the yard.

At the same moment a shot was fired.

“How did that work?” Asked the King, looking around.


“Little Satan whistled well when he flew past my ear, but he only bit the corner of the hat,” answered the ensign, without the slightest knowledge of how to behave towards the king. He had a faint Smaaland accent and laughed happily with his whole bright face. Intoxicated with the happiness of being able to be together with someone who seemed to him more than any other mortal, he went on.

“We’ll go up there and take her beard?”

The king pleased the answer, and with one jump he was on the ground.

“We tie the horses to the bushes here,” he said exuberantly and with a strong color on his cheeks. “Then we go up and stab everyone so that they whistle.”

They left the panting horses and bent forward and climbed up through the bushes. Above the wall a few Cossack heads with hanging hair and yellow and grinning looked down like decapitated criminals.

“See,” whispered the king, clapping his hands. “There they are trying to close the rotten gate, the foxtails!”

His previously insignificant look was now alternately unsteady, wide and shiny. He[18] drew the sword and raised it with both hands above his head.

Like a god of youth, he stormed through the half-open gate. The ensign, slashing and stabbing at his side, was often close to being struck by his weapon behind him, and a musket shot blackened the king’s right temple. Four men were cut down in the gateway, and the fifth of the crowd fled into the courtyard with a fire shovel, pursued by the king.

There the king brushed the blood from the sword on the snow, put two ducats in the Cossack’s fire-shovel and burst out in increasing merriment: ‘It is no pleasure to beat yourself with these droplets that never cut back, just run. Come back when you’ve got yourself a decent sword! ”

Understanding nothing, the Cossack stared at the gold coins, sneaked along the wall to the gate and fled. Further and further out in the field he called his comrades roaming around with an eerie and plaintive: Ohaho! Ohaho! together.

The king sang softly to himself, as if to provoke an invisible enemy: “Cossack men, Cossack men, gather your rogues!”


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