अप्सरा (picnicbird) wrote,
अप्सरा
picnicbird

i wanted to walk a trail with no end in sight

I'm back home. Very jetlagged. I have so many things to say. <-- where to begin?

And, because I always liked to pretend that Sweden's glasses represented Gotland.

Excuse the subpar quality of this; it took me like one hour to write.



Aftermath of the Battle of Visby, Gotland; 1361.


No, he didn't expect to see this: the shoreline spattered in old farming equipment, the children screaming and pointing in all directions, at once elated and terrified by the prospect of battle. Death. Destruction, and how far across an island it can reach.

Denmark's back is turned to Sweden as Sweden stumbles onto shore, forgoing ladders and the time it takes for the sparse, beset crowds on land to notice his presence and pull the boat onto land. An unceremonious entrance of authority, he climbs over the side of the boat and wades through the icy water, his breath in erratic puffs, his boots leaden and uncertain against the pebbles and sand. His mouth moves as though to speak, to bark out Denmark's name.

He thinks, he will set this straight.

He thinks he should've been here earlier. The children agree, staring openly at him as though he were just an impotent witness to the destruction.

It must be more than a thousand dead. He had heard they were interred further inland: toothless old men and young farmhands. So excessive in its brutality he expects it to be true, all they say.

Sweden's throat burns dry and he swallows instead of speaking. Denmark's voice carries over the peaceful hush of the waves -- soldiers in a sloppy circle about him, faces light.

Someone is lying dead on the beach further down the coast; children approach him as if he were some strange sea life. Our Father, thinks Sweden. Tries to begin. Their father who lies abandoned at the shore. They didn't try to sink him -- Denmark said, don't sink him. Leave the body. Let him see, let him understand.

The children don't recognize Sweden for who he is. They keep their distance from Denmark, and that's what was meant to happen. Forgive us our Father's trespasses.

The soldiers begin to notice him, uniform soaked, eyes wild and set on the shock of Denmark's blond hair.

Someone says something.

Denmark turns, smiles. "Where've you been?" Estonia peaks over the shining armor of the Danish soldiers. His face looks pale, he looks at Sweden helplessly. He had been brave. His defeated knights sit on the rocks erupting from the monotony of grass, pensive as they wait.

Denmark has not stopped smiling. "You're late."

Something has caught Sweden by his throat. His eyes catch sight of a broom, snapped in half, strewn uselessly on the ground.

Denmark keeps at it. "Here I've been telling Estonia that I'm tired of playing with your peasants. What I want, I want from you."

Estonia is rising to leave. He's biting his lips together, casting glances at Sweden because Sweden looks awfully solitary over there. The citizens of the island massacred; the Danish soldiers vibrant and giddy with their easy victory; Denmark completely exalted in his moment.

Denmark walks right up to Sweden, eyes narrowed pleasantly under all the July sun, armor catching those rare rays and glaring. Walks right up to him and encircles his shoulders with an arm. What a warm gesture. It sears. Sweden steps backward and the boot, it clanks against something metal: makeshift weapons, worthless now.

"Let me have it," says Denmark. "This is all mine now."

Sweden starts, starts forward. Estonia and his weary crew have paused and wonder what next.

He intends to hit Denmark and show what he means but cannot say. So he grits his teeth, grabs a handful of the coarse fabric of Denmark's cape. He pulls him in like he wants to threaten.

A soldier, one of the victories, kicks at a boy scrambling past, returning to the ruins of the Visby. The child stumbles.

Denmark closes in and gently slides Sweden's glasses off his nose -- intimately.

"You're living in my future," he says. "You don't need to watch, everything is under control."

The boy falls. Sweden thinks. He hears but now his sight has forsaken him, as well.

Denmark lets Sweden's glasses fall to the rocky ground; he stomps on them and grinds the shattered glass into the soil. Sweden thinks. Perhaps Denmark will cherish the warped wire frames and wear them occasionally, laughingly, a small token of Sweden's first defeat to him.

You're my future. A barefoot child makes his way through the rubble on the shore, brushes past Sweden, and Sweden's knees wobble. He thinks. Perhaps it's the city giving way. Perhaps his future in great plates shifting into Denmark's open palm. Our father, the children think when they muster the courage to look at Denmark.

And Denmark has now sheathed his bloody sword, but if you touch his cape, the black is wet. Rust-scented.

*

There had been no time for proper funereal preparations, nor rites. The heat bathes the island in a haze further inland, where the soil gives easily and the dead have been carted.

It is such a beautiful day.

Sweden breathes heavily through his mouth. He passes his hand over his face, his bleary eyes, as if to dispel phantoms. He hikes unseeingly uphill, surrounded by women who bear their grief quietly amongst themselves. His head bows with unseen weight.

One by one, the bodies of the unfledged warriors are laid to rest. Sweden cries. He thinks. The heat sticks to his face and the sweat runs, mixes with water and the salt of the sea and he can't see a thing. He exhales, heavily.

Denmark has burned down the churches; a homeless priest sprinkles hallowed dust across the shapeless mass of people who had once, as the living do, pledged allegiance to Sweden.

The children push around him and gather before the mass grave, looking for their grandfathers and brothers.

*

Denmark, his hair ruffled in the seabreeze and his grin proud, waits for Sweden at the shore. His men prepare a boat for him, ready to ferry him back to the over-sized ship anchored further out to sea.

"Lucky to catch you here. We'll see more of each other soon," Denmark remarks. "I think this is the beginning of something good. Something, at least. Yeah?" The waning light glints off of his armor.

Sweden blinks at him.

Denmark's smile turns pitying. "Blind as a bat! For what it's worth..." -- and here he crows in laughter -- "You look pretty damn cute without glasses."

In the next moment, Denmark inhales silty saltwater. He flails, head submerged under the small waves, Sweden's elbow digging ruthlessly against his spine, and his hair torn at, pulled. His arms flounder in water, panicked and grasping blindly at nothing. His nose slams against sand, can't breathe, head-locked and pinned --

Just as swiftly, Sweden is thrown aside and restrained bodily by the multitudinous Danish soldiers. They hold him down as Denmark sputters, coughs, coughs. He finds his breath and spends a moment bewildered and waterlogged, helped up by his guards.

He rubs sand out of his eyes and looks painfully at Sweden. Sweden who sits there on the beach, imprisoned, seething at him. That darkness on his face: hatred. There is no escaping the magnitude of it, the force. It grips him in a vice.

Denmark turns around. The water is tinged with the blood from his clothing; it dilutes slowly, tellingly. He remembers the way Estonia bites his lips and he tries it, walks away.

*

They set sail back to Copenhagen. And only then did Denmark scratch furiously at his scalp, trying to brush out all that sand. It was everywhere, somehow. It always was.

Sweden had refused the offer to return with him, to discuss Denmark's rightful claim to the island. No: it wasn't that he had refused. He had silently let the soldiers drag him where they liked, and he pretended Denmark was no one. One of the dead. He had looked right through Denmark, his face all darkness.

Norway rested his elbows on the railing of the main deck; Norway, that constant presence. At the sound of sand spraying across the freshly swabbed decks, his gaze wandered from the calm swelling of the Baltic Sea. It found all the sand Denmark let loose, and then Denmark's face. The way Denmark looked at him, asking why.

"Sometimes silence means everything," said Norway, who seemed to know.

*
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