Excuse the failure upon failure, I finished this at 5 AM.
I'll probably edit it to make it tolerable later today, after an art thing I've got to go wander.
Northern Crusades (1100s) / and youth / and maybe love
Once upon a time, the world was a great upset.
Long after Sweden has thrown his last torch into the houses of pagans, long after Denmark has dragged the children by their hair to the water, long after baptism and redemption have washed the bad blood clean, he still feels the singe. The hairs on the back of his neck stand as though to recall the heat of the moments.
Houses of sticks and perhaps mud. That's all he finds to destroy the further East the two of them, with their knobby knees and naivete, travel. They seem so simple to construct, and a wiry sort of bold like youth. Curious, Sweden spends the next free morning he has recreating what he'd only glimpsed before all was an inferno. He tries to imagine himself within this hut, sitting cozy and untroubled.
Once upon a time, there was a god for everything to complement the god of everything, a series of checks and balances; a constant brute crashing of forces to keep the earth awake and waiting for its next revolution.
Last Sunday morning, God's day, he'd sat beside the little boy draped in white and picked the ideal blades of grass for him. He'd taught him, without words, how to bring one of those broad blades to the lips and use it as a whistle.
Holy Roman Empire's shoulders finally drop and he forgets to fear Sweden as he eagerly grabs for his own blade. The first try is pitiful, and Sweden smiles. It's easy to make Sweden smile -- a slow, plain lengthening of the lips, like veiled dislike or veiled anguish; quick enough and odd enough that people have been known to suspect something of him: he's dumb or daft or planning to take us all down the moment he has the manpower, enough impressionable men crusading by his side.
- Please take my men. However many you want
says Holy Roman Empire, an intuitive boy underneath all the pressure crowning his head.
- I'd be honored to be a part of your crusade. It's so very noble
he continues, stumbling over his words.
- We believe in spreading our Lord's word as far as He wills it
is what everyone claims these days.
As if it's all the anyone in the world could ever want, a God. As if no one had anyone to love before today.
Sweden takes them, those burly, unquestioning soldiers. He leads them in a wavering line back to the Baltic lands. By noon he smells like his horse and keeps that clunking metal helmet on his head, unwilling to see what miles traveled doused in heat and sweat have done to his hair.
A hand on his shoulder -- Sweden backs into his horse and turns, Denmark offers him water. Denmark doesn't wonder at the fields, has never had time to. He grapples with every inch of land, and only once he has violated it, conquered it, does he sort through the valuable and the expendable.
And there before him is the sea of tall grass; that folding landscape; that furrowing expanse. It swallows itself and undulates back to life, beat after beat. He burns curled twigs on the edge of a forest when the clouds go grey and Denmark plops down beside him, squatting, wishing to move again.
Surely, thinks Sweden, within this mass of men there is a nonbeliever. He keeps to himself and has never learned the Lord's Prayer. Or perhaps he overextends himself in praise, and kisses his new crucifix like it houses his father's honor before he rests. He is a troubled soul. (He is tender-hearted.) He finds Freyja's ethereal beauty in the landscapes they flatten; Odin's strength in the heathens whose hearts he rips from their chests and offers to prove his devotion. He thirsts for conclusions like water.
"Too many!" Denmark exclaims, waving a hand at the sea of soldiers before him. "How do we keep track of all this?"
He's obviously delighted at the turnout. When he has made a show of scrutinizing these men, the finest the Germanic lands have to offer, he puts his hands on his hips and demands they all retire early.
Denmark is sunburnt.
Sweden only now takes off his helmet, quiet.
Deeper in the forest, the shadows grow and slink.
They're beautiful. If only that were the conclusion.
"Look," Denmark barks, eager.
Sweden squints his eyes and searches, but already Denmark has jumped ahead, scrambling through the trees.
It is silent without Denmark; Sweden crosses his legs and blinks hard, but his eyes give out, turn weak like his ankles after a day of walking without pause. Briefly, he wonders if this blindness will be to blame for his death.
The trees shift like breathing: so his eyes tell him. The trees inhale and still themselves when they notice him looking.
There is no articulation between loneliness and living.
Denmark likes to know with his hands.
He takes the nonbeliever by her hair and he throws her on top of the village's meager pile of firewood. She could be a virgin sacrifice, if Denmark were still barbaric.
But Denmark is righteous. He leans over her, beautiful heathen, and slits her neck. Her dark hair tangles around his fingers even after she sighs and sinks down against the angles of wood. He drags her body to the river and baptizes her.
Sweden forgets the Lord's Prayer midway through uttering it, sounds harsh to his own ears, foreign syllables. He forgets and banks his frustration with violence, ever on the defense. The dust rises around the bodies he has felled so artlessly. The sky is cold; no one will dare to whisper the story of Hod, his blind eyes that couldn't chart his own downfall; or perhaps it's that no one is alive to remember it anymore.
The paths cleared to and from their victims, their villages, show rugged as if the Lord scratched his nails against the earth. And Sweden blinks his failing eyes and wonders who they will become.
Denmark likes to feel with his hands, and he returns to Sweden running, holding a gutted hare by its ears. His hair is gold, sometimes tarnished. He burns hot, smile hungry and defiant. Young.
They are too young to be here but that should not be the point.
"Look," he says again.
Sweden kindles a fire with some difficulty. Denmark shares half of the hare with him, solely him.
Everything that lies on this land this night is hungering.
Sweden gets them both lost, when their soldiers have left them to follow through to the conquered lands, their feet already in the doors.
Denmark bites his nails with grave concentration and Sweden's breath quickens the further, the deeper they sink into the distrustfulness of trees. Outside for so long, so open, no calming hand of authority is there to disconnect the war from the man.
Lightly, Sweden treads. Toe-to-heel, even with the burdens he bears.
Denmark hates to not know. He spits on the ground, shoves the blade of his sword into the trunks of trees. He slaughters a deer, but he leaves it to the ants out of spite.
By nightfall, Denmark turns against Sweden because he finds it necessary to do something with himself. He shoves his cinder-stained hands against Sweden's neck and pins him against a rock.
This is the first time they touch.
Sweden smells like smoke. He always seeks warmth in all their man-made destructions. Denmark burns hot, already.
"I'll be damned before I follow you another step," he hisses slowly.
But Denmark has not once looked around himself. There is no way but this one. For a moment, Sweden says nothing. Denmark's hands turn to claws, crescents into his neck.
"Be brave," Sweden says. His voice cracks.
But it's enough to destroy Denmark until they make it to a coastline, enough to soften that blaze before it destroys the skeleton of the structure they have created between themselves, their familiar lands. Denmark keeps his head bowed like a shamed doubter, Thomas but without Jesus to lay his anxiety upon. No one but himself. Loki facing his rightful venom.
Sweden closes his eyes when he sees water (Denmark sees it first, Denmark shouts for the first time in three arduous days) and flashes a smile at the wrong moment, when he still looks haggard and defeated and before he has drunk from the lake.
He looks horribly pitiful, he must, though he feels in this moment as if everything he has done has been right and he could mount the clouds; that hardly matters to Denmark, who shoves him into the water and jumps in after him.
Unbalanced and heavy, he sinks.
-- The shock of cold.
He has ignored it for too long.
Chain-mail hangs off of him like royalty, like burdens. Denmark's arm with all its new scars reaching for him sluggish underwater, Denmark pulling at him until the sea spits them both up again.
Denmark's arms looped around his neck and their legs treading frantically against one another's, clashing and booted and close. The still expanse of water hushes their breathing, their clamor. This is new.
"How did you know," Denmark asks, "how did you know where to go?" because the world is still mysterious and language has not yet grown familiar with the word Love.
Chaos devours peace. Once upon a time, the world was created this way; Sweden finds it baffling how destructive they have made it, how poisonous: the few bodies broken and strewn, the little wooden man-made things shattered. And then, engulfed in flames as the night falls.
He remembers much more of his holy prayer than he did before. Denmark's teeth are too white, too white in all the dark, and his sword slices bright through cinders, and down. Denmark, who must touch and possess every ounce of what he wants.
Further inside the forest, nothing is unsettled. Sweden can never see what he wants to; he rubs at his eyes and smears his face with ash. If he wanders into the forest, they could call that renunciation, heathenism. He would like to plead something more simple. He would like to accept defeat, but to their imaginations, there is nothing worse than resignation, and there is no kind word capable of calming that panic.
Even before the storm they wrought is over, the fire clings to Sweden like a second skin, and Denmark is too young to deny enjoying the havoc he creates, the gale of his own presence. Torch in hand, he eradicates all traces of defiance.
How quick the tides of war and their leashes. This is not new. This is not the point. Plain violence, a speck within a black blot on history itself, cannot be read as anything but a disgrace with nothing to hide. Murders and betrayals and play; passion. No one will ever remember them. How lost, how needless this moment, if not for Sweden, Denmark standing there at the end of it. If not for Denmark to Sweden's left, shouting that they have done it again.
Sweden throws his torch onto a roof, knowing well the wooden frame is nothing more than a once-stable. It alights like a bonfire, like summer solstice, burns so beautifully that Denmark turns and grins because he believes they've won something finally, like this could be joy.
In the dark, there are no hands.
Sweden blinks owlishly, or he thinks; he wishes for the sun, for even longer days. His fingers scrape against brush, bark. Blind or crazy.
Elsewhere, wolves claw at the doors and Denmark and Sweden are the ones mothers warn their children of. Tales scattered like leaves, their own path across unclaimed earth as aimless.
Denmark's hands at the small of his back. This is new. Sweden becomes aware of it, utterly: this is my back. My bones. Every scar I have yet to find on myself, but feel in this moment.
Sweden closes his eyes.
Denmark leads him over scorched earth and laughs carelessly. Exalted in this moment; untouchable, he touches Sweden and guides him down. This could be safety. They lie down.
He thinks himself immune. Soon he will cough out his heart, his heart will flee right out of his mouth like a curse, and he will find it in those he can't have. Denmark will need them like flame curling the edges and a hunger without end. He will forget who he was, just as Sweden will.
There's no reason to remember this moment.
Their land is vast and carries all manner of loves and hates. So Sweden settles into being, vulnerable as it feels.
The trees creak like speaking, right on the calming edge of civilization, of home. Denmark speaks above their chorus.
- Are you with me
Denmark asks, without watching, as if he's afraid, as if he expects wreckage.
But where else could Sweden have been all this time but here, here.