Łukasz Malinowski “The Skald”

26 August 2013

Prepare yourself for a bloody, mythical journey into the core of the Viking soul, where fight is like poetry, the love like a curse, the song like gold, the magic like religion, and where death is salvation…




Multiplicity and Unity





Just after midnight he was woken up by scratching at the door. He opened his eyes, but did not move. He was laying on his back and listening. When the sound came again he put his legs over the edge of the bench, bent down and took out the sword from under the bed. He always kept the weapon at hand. He stood up as quietly as he could and came to the door, barefooted on the wooden floor. He put his back against the wooden wall and reached for the latch.


He was ready for everything. If a dozen Brodir Jökulsson’s drottmads burst through the door, he would give his life without a shadow of regret so that he could raise a toast in the Hall of the Slain. And if king Brian sent his messenger to ask for a song, he would improvise a nice visa, or even a drapa. Or if that harlot Grefny came to tempt him with love for money, he would take her without paying. And if a dwarf came and asked him to play hnefatafl, he would win the last penny out of him.


When he opened the door, he didn’t know what to do…


A small girl, three years old, give or take, was looking at him with her teary blue eyes, sniffing, and getting ready to start crying. Instead of bursting into tears however, looking at a skinny, hairy man, armed and dressed only in his underwear, she spoke one word Ainar hoped never to hear:




The poets knees trembled. He looked around, but didn’t see anything, although the moon was exceptionally bright. He heard hooting of an owl, meowing of a cat and a faint sound of footsteps on a paved road. The last sound was distant and so faint that he could have imagine it. For a moment he considered going to one of the cells and asking for help, but he rejected the idea quickly. After all he was in a place where the hosts asked to be called “father” but each of them feared the infernal word “dad”. The monastic life of the monks had its advantages.


In front of his eyes he saw a procession of women he slept with over the years. Quite a lot of them. Neither of them, however, knew where he was staying, so the girl couldn’t have been his daughter. Or his problem.


Something made him look at her for the last time before slamming the door in her face. She looked innocent, staring at him with hope and clutching a strange object in her small hands. He thought he recognizes it, but he bent down to examine it closer. The child was playing with a human ear.


He let the girl inside.






“One is God.”


Maelruain’s words sounded loud and imperiously in a vast hall. His words eradiated self-confidence and disdain to all doubters. If they were spoken from the height of the pulpit, all the congregation would put their heads down ashamed that they doubted them.


“I travelled the length and breadth of the world. Although in the distant countries you can find rare and wonderful things, it is a rule that nothing is unique, or one of its kind” – Ainar replied bluntly, disregarding thunders cast from the eyes of the abbas – an abbot of this respectable muintir.


“You are a fool, geint, follower of demons. If there is a multiplicity, there must be Unity. So does the mind tell us. All multiplicity has its beginning in Unity. Take these slices of bread that we eat as an example. There is so many of them, because they were cut from one loaf of bread. As Eriugena teaches us, all comes from Unity, and to Unity it will return. Exitus–reditus!”


“Oh, I get it. It’s like these slices of bread. I ate many of them, but I will excrete them in one piece.”


He thought that this would upset the abbot, but he only looked at him with pity. The princeps of the abbey looked like a decent man. His black bushy brows, black hair and short trimmed beard would better fit a highwayman, but the time salted them with gray what gave him a pleasant look. His face reminded that of an old wise man to whom men come to seek advice and always return glad, even if they were scolded. In the North, the land of askmad, he would probably be called fródi, a wise man, but here on the Island of the Ira he was called a fili – scholar.


“It is a way of the fool”, abbot explained calmly, as if to a child, “to cover his ignorance with a scoff.”


“There is never enough knowledge. Will you enlighten the fool?”


“I will try. In nature two processes might be observed. The first is division the development of Unity into multiplicity. This Unity is Our Father Almighty who gave himself to the world.”


“I know this story. The flesh of the god is torn, and from the pieces the world is born. It’s like this þáttr (1) about multiplying the bread you told me about.”


“You are a fool, geint. God is not a matter. Divisio is an act of nature, a way in which the Only God develops himself, shows himself in the nature of creation and expresses in the hierarchy of beings. Through this in every being and in every thing there is a particle of God.”


Each word was spoken by the abbot with such resolution that it sounded almost like an order. Ainar knew that this strain of character comes only from a descendant of cenél, overlords, who birthed many a rí túaithe, local kings. In this country, however, such noble origin was neither uncommon nor rare. These people maybe lacked in courage, but not in lustful kings and their kin.


“And in the mundane world, does this… process exist? Or is it the only entertainment of your god?”


“Blasphemous are the words of the snake-tongue. Open your heart and mind for the truth! Do not smother them with your insolence! Did you not hear my words?” the monk shook his head. “Divisio can be met everywhere. Think about the history of the creation. In the beginning there was one man, father of all people. His name was Adam. Using the womb of a sinful woman he populated the world with his descendants. From the Unity there was a multiplicity.






The abbey was a home of many fathers, but the real dad must be one of them. In this case the multiplicity lost to unity. The search plan designed by Ainar to locate this dad was simple: he has to start with finding the owner of the ear. The poet managed to do this faster than he expected.


In the morning, as in every morning, he was woken up by the single sound of the bell. He left the girl asleep on one of the benches of the guesthouse and went to the church. He wasn’t worried about the child. After all the beer she drank at night she should sleep until the afternoon.


He was a guest of the abbey for the tens of days and he learnt that papars paid a lot of attention to measuring time. For him it was enough to know the dawn, the afternoon and the dusk. The monks divided the day into four parts and announced the beginning with each part with the sound of the bells. And so, one toll at the sunrise announced hora prima and called for Matins. Three tolls when the sun passed the first quarter in the sky meant hora tertia and called for a Terce. Afternoon called for six tolls, the time for a Sext, and if someone has still not developed a headache from all this noise, he had to suffer another nine tolls when the sun passed the third quarter of the sky, calling for a None during hora nona. Then there was a time for the most pleasant part of the day – dinner. At sunset, the bell-ringer bothered the inhabitants of the muintir with twelve tolls. The monks would then gather in the oratorio to sing the Vespers. The hora vespera was at least this good, that after the prayers the ascetic went to sleep leaving Ainar free to get drunk. It would be a mistake, however, to think that the monks left the night to itself. They divided it into four parts called vigils. The papars were possessed with trying to rule the time and imposing on the day and night the same discipline they were imposing onto themselves. Only Dagr i Nótt, that old couple of lovers fucked themselves where and how they wished without a thought to ordering efforts of the monks. This way, during winter the monks would just finish the Matins only to get ready for the Terce, whilst in the summer, they could perform most of the household work between them […]


(1) Þáttr (stisl.) – a short stoty, novelette.

Translated by Przemyslaw Walerjan.