The Ballad Od Sigurd Jorsalfare

Chapter 42

Norway; autumn 1008

“Harold Gille had completed their new home in forty-seven minutes. It was erected upon the ruins of Tehila’s old home, incorporating remnants of the burnt wood from the house Eystein had destroyed. The ashes left from the fire were mixed with charcoal, pebbles, feathers and mulch and bound together with letters drawn from Harold’s reserve at the time of his creation. In front of the house, the disparate elements formed an elliptical memorial garden, which Tehila dubbed “The Garden of Smoldering Ashes.” A giant slate boulder was placed by the oval and into it were chiseled the words: “L’zecher — In memory of…”

The plans for the new house took a good two months to form. Tehila licked them on Harold’s inner thighs. Harold then had to translate them from her fiery Hebraic tongue into common Norwegian and transport them upwards to his cranium by means of delicate blood vessels, which were in habit of stopping along the way every time they’d get excited, which was often, a process that proved as confusing to Harold as it was arousing to Tehila.

Through this delicate, intimate process, Tehila discovered the sad truth that, by the time information clears their groins, most men receive confusing, often conflicting data saturated with heat and rhythmic anomalies, a process that calls into doubt men’s ability to form coherent thoughts.

The house embodied all of Harold’s opaque otherworldliness and Tehila’s redemptive sensuality. It echoed ancient suffering, power, resilience, unimaginable lust, and inextinguishable innocence.

People passing by would comment on the home’s improbable structure, its alluring asymmetry, its odd proportions; the fact that it glowed at night so brightly and cast a light deep into the North Sea, beckoning unstable Cod and reckless fisherman. The house of destructive salvation drew spiritual peeping toms from across Europe, or what passed for Europe in those days.

“Say something in that Albanian you speak, my Irish android, just for the guests,” said Tehila and Harold would roll some consonants together angrily and pound his chest.

“Ask that Jewish question you ask,” he’d growl and Tehila would cock her head just so, just enough for the Northern Light to hit her eyes and bounce down her alabaster cleavage, sending her admirers into fits of Musar so severe, they made Torah sages in Northern Spain reconsider their calculations of redemption and return confused and pliant to their quivering wives in the sweet dead of night.

The house was a monument of repentance and sin so architecturally intertwined no one knew which was which, a condition known in mediaeval Norway as “Frumkite” — “burnt toastedness”, the state at which strict observance, radical transgression, and art merge.

What good could come of such a house? What virtue could grow within?

The two lovers cooed and preened and danced and sang at each other day and night, colliding and disengaging, merging and departing, weeping and laughing like two drunken planets on a splendidly debauched orbit.

“The boy must be brought up Jewish,” said Tehila, “I don’t insist on much but on this I insist.”

“It’s a boy?” asked Harold, amazed at his beloved’s inner knowledge.

“And what else?” asked Tehila.

No amount of love making, no matter how intense, can prepare a gentile for such esoteric logic, no matter how eager a student the gentile may be. Harold could read his lover’s eyes, divine her desires from the toss of her curls, read her mood from the tilt of her head, her skin temperature, but her questions left him eternally puzzled.

The closer they grew, the farther Tehila drifted from Harold. Not in any perceptible way, not by any measurable distance, perhaps only in his imagination, he thought.

Yes, that’s it, he said to himself in his secret android language only his parents could understand, it’s only in my imagination.

But it wasn’t.

Tehila found herself increasingly alone in her despondent otherness. No matter how much love Harold showed her she felt alone. No matter how much affection he showered upon her, she felt distanced. Perhaps only an inch or two at a time, but distanced and alienated, nonetheless.

“How could he ever understand?” she said to herself in Hebrew, the language of pristine ambivalence, “after all…” but Harold, made of words, understood all too well.

“She’s slipping from me,” he said and trembled so hard his teeth sparked.

“She’s sailing away from me,” he whimpered and gnawed at the pillars of their new home, leaving sorrowful tracks in the hardwood.

Tehila dismissed any fear Harold had, any insecurity. She assured him with a cool kiss and a casual brush of her hardened nipples on his flushed cheeks that all this paranoia was an illegitimate child of his fevered mind, born of hormonal changes he was experiencing due to her enticing pregnancy.

“It’s a known fact,” she declared.

“What is?” Harold pleaded with her, but she would merely smile absentmindedly and walk away, tossing her hair in such a way, Harold would convulse and hump the walls of their house in frustrated rage.

Years later, even centuries, visitors to the Harold Gille Museum of Impossible Probabilities would comment on the concave indentations in the walls of the strange house. The more prudent tour guides would keep their silence, blushing inwardly as they’d stroke the smooth alcoves, formed by Harold’s dejected masculinity.

You cannot love an exile and feel at home; you cannot love a stranger and find yourself. Such love is felt and lived just for the sake of love. It is useless love, hurtful, cruel, and perfect love.

It was winter now, beautiful and treacherous. The wind stole careless thoughts and deposited their frozen breath on bare branches, hung them on jagged rocks, where, come morning, the lonely icy warnings would glisten.

Crystal upon silver; opal against black, white draped on charcoal brown. Mostly white. Giant snow waves lapping against threatening boulders. Trees rising as lighthouses from the soft white sea, pointing the way towards home, as if it mattered, as if anyone were waiting.

The red tears could easily have been missed, burrowed deep in the snow close to the spruce tree that stood apart, coolly observing the Ostfold from the safe height of moral certainty. Such is the Spruce — superior, magnificent, and utterly alone.

Somewhere by the base of the spruce, sixteen feet from the house, just a semi-turn from what would again become the path in Springtime, a faint steam was rising; a slender wisp of silvery breath curling upwards like a dying wish, flailing, changing course, fading.

Harold staggered into the dawn from the heat of his house, naked and confused. Never before had Tehila not been there between his legs, upon his chest, cocooned within his arms. The absence of Tehila shook him from his sleep and hurled him out of bed. He landed first by the wall of remembrance, the main feature of their new dinning room, made entirely of hardened tears and honed by sarcasm into a scintillating backdrop for their dinner parties, to which no one was ever invited.

Catching his distorted reflection in the wall, Harold spun around and broke through the front door into the Garden of Smoldering Ashes. Seeing no Tehila in the embers, Harold ran into the snow, a drunken sailor from the last bar that would tolerate his incoherent outbursts.

“Fire,” he roared, “Angel,” he bellowed, “Life,” he begged and stumbled blind in nineteen directions at once.

“Tehila!” he screamed and kicked up a snow storm, cutting through it with his finger nails, slicing crystals like a scalpel, whirling around himself like a feathered propeller on a diving bomber, falling towards an accelerating death.

Facing his knees and finding no Tehila between them he broke down and wept like an abandoned baby. “Just show me where you are,” he begged.

Another man would have missed the bloody tears. A lesser man would have failed and acknowledged his inadequacy. But Harold Gille spat on ordinary men. He pissed on their inept ways and their frail whimpering.

Harold Gille sniffed the snow and tasted the wind like a starving wolf, like a murderous polar bear aware of his impending extinction. Nine, ten, eleven knee-progressions through the blistering snow and Harold noticed a tear drop to his left, a prick of red against an infinite universe of white.

He growled and turned his head towards the alien color. Swimming through the deadly waves he reached the teardrop and lowered himself like a wolverine, ready to drink the blood of his enemy, but there were many more tears when he’d arrived, scattered tears running away towards the giant spruce ahead of him.

Harold lurched forward, teeth glistening, muscles twitching and a strange sensation of heat and numbing ecstasy in his bowels. He flew through the few remaining dunes, snorting white puffs of white steam and powder in his way, melting waters rushing away from him down the slope, crystallizing on their foolish hopeful path, dying into slender, anguished mirrors by the wayside.

“Blood, my blood, my heart, my fire,” he sang as he prowled nearer and nearer, smelling his lover’s trace in the quick sand, “I’m almost there,” he rumbled, seeing her thighs spread and her mouth agape.

Her mouth agape.

Her frozen mouth in a gruesome howl, hair fanned out in ravenous tendrils, her arms grabbing stars and moons and all the black a sky could offer in its dying moments.

“No,” he roared and pounced on her with such violence the devil himself ripped his skin off from his hideous body and flew to Estonia to evade the wrath of Harold Gille, king of androids, Lord of anger, Servant of Tehila the magnificent, Queen of senseless love.

Her body warm, still; her breath a velvet coming and going; her pale blue eyes still streaming; her breasts moving towards him like once, like just before the world had died, like phylacteries down his arms, like frontlets between his thighs.

“Aba, aba, aba,” she cried, “God of no mercy,” she bled, ”father of dark desire, of unanswered prayers; useless sucker of life, consumer of wishes, destroyer of dreams; protector of nothing, useless guardian of the ravaged doors of Israel.”

“Shh,” whispered Harold in her bleeding ear, “Shh, my precious life, my every wish, my beauty, my desire, my angel, my destroyer, my heart, my breath.”

He kissed her hair, her eyes, her cheeks, her chin, her parched lips, her trembling neck, her exhausted heart, pulsating so close to the white veneer of her suffering.

“Leave,” she whispered like a dying brush fire, crawling through the bracken.

“Never,” he said and licked the flames off her lips, “never.”

“He’s gone,” she moaned and heaved and gasped for air.

“He’s gone?” asked Harold the innocent.

“Look at your knees, you idiot,” she snarled at him and slapped his face so feebly — he thought the wind had kissed his cheeks.

And, reluctant as he was, Harold Gille looked down at the snow beneath him, beyond the suffering beauty of his lover and saw the pool of blood, the source of steam that caught his eye a decade ago, upon stumbling into the dawn, that source of vanishing hope that rose upwards, beyond the lonely sky that paled and thinned out before his eyes.

And even as he looked, the red pool became a smaller, smaller circle, oval, misshaped pond of darkening hope, consumed by snow and ice, congealing, freezing, and hardening like his dying heart, his world constricting and contracting in on itself, his beauty drowning in her intolerable sorrow, drifting away from him, deeper into Norway’s earth, the land that had expelled her and her people long before he had encountered her intolerable beauty, her unmentionable grace.”