Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Life and times of Aphra Lügenmärchen, Part Two

Today, I return again to the pages of The Life and times of Aphra Lügenmärchen by Constanza, Herzogin von Obernthal und Drötten.

In the first extract from this work, we read about the early life of Aphra Lügenmärchen, up to the point where she found herself homeless and separated from her beloved mistress Anne-Sophie, the dowager Markgräfin von Reißverschluss. 

This latest excerpt finds our heroine making her way to the city of Klow, the capital of Syldavia. 

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"The road south from Shmok took me through a comfortable landscape of farms, fields and bubbling streams. Unfortunately, it also took me away from my home and from my dear, dear mistress, who I feared I would never see again. On the positive side, I had a good, strong horse, alas not my lovely Lipizzaner mare, but a fine bay gelding named Rudolf who I had ridden many times in the past, a bulky valise of good quality ladies' clothes and my Hussar uniform, a brace of pistols, a sabre and a bulging purse of gold and silver khôrs, the currency of Syldavia. I also had letters of introduction to the director of the Royal Bank of Klow, where a small fortune awaited me. The weather was warm and happily I was unencumbered by skirt, petticoats or stays, as I had chosen to dress in breeches, riding boots, loose shirt and richly-embroidered waistcoat in the style of a Zympathian Pandour. My long, curly auburn hair was tied back with a silken ribbon and on my head I wore a traditional fur-trimmed kalpak.

It often pleased me to dress in male attire. It allowed me to ride astride my horse and gave me the freedom to stride boldly around. It certainly made fencing a lot easier and, thanks to my late father and to the steward of my former home of Schloss Reißverschluss, I was a tolerably good swordswoman.

As the day wore on, I began to think about where I might sleep for the coming night. Towns were rare in the Zympathian Oberland, but there were numerous farms and hamlets. The idea of sharing the communal, flea-infested straw palliase of a family of Zympathian peasants did not fill me with joy but neither did I wish to sleep outdoors where there might be wolves or footpads on the prowl. My best hope would be to find a church with a friendly priest or maybe the house of some minor local notable. Food was not so much of an issue. I had apples, bread, excellent ham, cheese and a skin of szprädj wine, which, with care should last me until I reached the city of Tesznik, some two days ride ahead. I hoped that my near fluency in the Syldavian language, acquired from the Castle servants, would stand me in good stead over the coming days and weeks, because I doubted that any of the peasants I might encounter would speak much, if any German.

I knew something of the country through which I would be travelling, having availed myself of the late Markgraf's extensive library while living at the Castle. In my saddlebag was a rough map of Syldavia, which I had copied from an original in the 1632 "Historia provinciae Syldavia incognita", by Adolphus von Baedecker. This was unfortunately the most recent map in the library, but I hoped that none of the villages, rivers, towns and cities had moved in the subsequent 12 decades.

 Furthermore, I was aware that before reaching the capital, Klow, I would first have to pass through the cities of Tesznik, Zlip, Goraselo and Orchovo, where I would cross over the River Bejsu on the great Kravitzer Bridge, named after the great medieval defender of Syldavia against the Ottomans, Lenart Kravitch. From there, the old Roman road led through the town of Rotor straight to Klow. 

As I rode on, I saw a slow-moving wagon convoy in the distance ahead on the road, throwing up clouds of white dust into the windless air. As I approached closer, I could see that these were laden with agricultural produce and followed by a small herd of honey-coloured cattle, no doubt destined for the market in Tesznik.The drovers and wagoneers were dressed in the baggy trousers, sheepskin jerkins and conical wool hats of the aboriginal inhabitants of Zympathia, who claimed descent from the ancient tribes of the region, subjugated by Roman legions under Gaius Hilarius Pollo in 87 BC, and who spoke an almost incomprehensible dialect related to antique Illyrian. They called themselves Ghogs and were widely considered to be hospitable if slow-witted and simple folk. I hoped that they were dim-witted enough to be unable to tell the difference between a moustacheless young Syldavian soldier and a young Thuringian lady's companion.

I resolved that boldness would serve me well and urged Rudolf into a trot. Before long I reached the slow-moving wagons. Slowing down, I addressed, in my most flowery Syldavian the shaggy individual leading the oxen team of the nearest cart. He looked at me with dull incomprehension and pointed to the front of the procession. I rode on, aware that the peasants behind me were showing more interest in me once I passed them than when they were ahead of me. 

When I arrived at the head of this noisome convoy, I discovered that it was led by a dreadful-looking brigand riding the kind of shaggy pony last seen carrying the Grand Turk's Akinjis and Bashi-Bazouks into battle. His skin was burnt to a nut-brown shade and the lower part of his face was obscured by a huge and drooping moustachio. In his waist sash he sported a broad and business-like yataghan of an antique style and a brace of long pistols protruded from holsters on his saddle. Upon his head he wore a tall conical hat of dusty red wool and as he rode, he smoked a long-stemmed carved wooden pipe.

I addressed him cheerfully. “Good day to you, fine sir” I said. “Are you bound for the markets of Tesznik?”

He looked at me, removed the pipe from his mouth and spat into the dust.

What does it look like?” he asked, in a heavily-accented rural dialect that didn't hide his sarcastic tone. “Do you think that we are just taking these cabbages and cattle for a nice country stroll?”

Not knowing how to reply, I smiled, pretending that I had enjoyed his joke. He removed the pipe from his mouth again.

“So, what do you want?” he asked.

“I am riding south with a message for my kinsman, the Ritter von Sportz. His regiment is ordered to muster down in Klow and I am bidden by my father to seek a commission in his service.” I tried to look as martial as I could, painfully aware that at any moment I might find myself exposed as a fraud and a female.

He looked me up and down, leering.

You look a bit undersized for the army, as far as I can see, but I am sure that the Ritter, whoever he might be, can find a use for a peachy young fellow, but if he cannot, come back this way. I can always find a position for a likely lad like yourself.” 

With this last comment, he winked broadly at me and made an obscene gesture involving his nether regions and his hand.

I reddened and felt sweat trickling down my spine. Time for a swift exit, my girl, I thought.

“Well, sir” I said, “I must bid you farewell, for my uncle is expecting me and I cannot spend all day dallying along the road.” 

I turned Rudolf around and kicked him into action. As I cantered off down the road, I could hear his ribald laughter behind me. So much for the simple hospitality of the Ghoggish folk."

- - - - - - - -

Aphra records that that night she slept uneasily in an abandoned barn, fearful that bandits might come across her and steal her horse and possessions but her fears prove to be groundless.

Her journey continues without further cause for concern and within a couple of days she arrives in Tesznik, which she describes as "a mean kind of place, with narrow streets lined with houses whose overhanging upper storeys  shut out the sunlight and keep in the noisome air". Nevertheless, Aphra finds an inn for the evening, of which she writes as being "tolerably well-appointed and of average cleanliness" but notes that "the people of this town lack social graces and are surly and quarrelsome". The following morning, she sets out on the road again, heading south to Zlip, which she hopes will "offer me up opportunities to find travelling companions who have no designs upon my chastity, health or possessions".


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