Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Amled's Revenge

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket! We are having wonderful June weather, sunshine and temperatures soaring to nearly 20 C some days – what more can one expect from a Danish summer?
Apart from hay fever, of course; the pollen season is hitting late but hard this year after the long, cold spring, and my sinuses are not too happy. The head cold that snuck up on me a few weeks ago doesn’t really want to go away, either, so I’m stuck with the sniffles, some scratchiness in my throat and a touch of conjunctivitis. Darn grass pollen season.
It’s affecting my running a bit, as well: I don’t run when I’m feeling off, so lately, it’s been only two or three times a week instead of four. But never mind; I am not in any rush, my tendons are probably better off for getting a chance to build up their strength slowly – and I am not signed up for any race that could push me into training more than I am properly ready for.

I have some great news this week: Victor was accepted into the Talent Programme at his music school! He auditioned last Monday, and this Monday he got the reply (after a whole week of waiting!); they had 8 spots for 18 applicants and only accepted one classical guitarist this year, so yay! This means he will be having 45 min solo lessons instead of the usual 25 min, acoustic training, and more collaboration with another guitarist – we’ve been hearing Renaissance lute music from other Talent Programme guitarists, so that should be fun.

I am beginning to understand the problem with social networking taking up too much (work) time: I'm on Ravelry, my primary - and first - social site, recently also Goodreads, and just lately, I've set up a profile on LinkedIn (still in progress). So, checking all of those, making new contacts, joining groups and following discussions, and checking email on two accounts can take quite a bite out of a day, if one is not careful. So, I'm working on finding the balance that keeps me satisfied: keeping up sufficiently without making me feel that I'm wasting time. As long as I'm doing something productive, it's not all bad, I think: connecting, advertising myself, learning - that's all good. Falling into the Ravelry hole of reading long, chatty threads or ogling patterns I don't have time to knit - not so good.

The Knitting
It seems that my recent bout of I-have-too-many-wips is turning into the baseline rather than the exception: I keep coming up with things I want to knit, either from lovely, tempting patterns (I am looking at you, Ravelry!) or stuff I make up unique, original designs. Some of these projects have deadlines (birth day and birthdays), and some of them I just want to finish.
Deep breath. I’ll get there, one row at a time. As you know, having to knit All The Things is not exactly a punishment for me – which is probably why I have too many wips in the first place.

One example from this week: having the gorgeous skein of Lotus Mimi mink yarn that I mentioned last week, I was vaguely considering making a cowl or a scarf with it, something soft to go around my neck – at some point before next winter. No rush, no need to cast on right now, it can wait.
And then comes the invitation to the third What (else) Would Madame Defarge Knit? KAL: the pretty, lacy, cabled cowl inspired by Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White. So of course I had to see if The Lady Is A Ninja could be done in lace weight mink yarn.
Result so far: I went down to a needle size 3 mm (from the 4 – 4.5 mm called for in the pattern) to get a fabric I liked, made some calculations, and added two horizontal repeats, giving me 12 repeats instead of 10.
I’ve still only done the garter stitch border, so it doesn’t look like much yet.

And then I cast on for something new that I can’t tell you about just yet – it’s looking good, though, after the obligatory three froggings of the first bit, so watch this space!

Victor’s V neck jumper is coming along nicely; as soon as I had swatched, measured and crunched the numbers in the stitch and row counts, it was pretty straightforward. When I reached the bottom of the V and the armholes, there was more measuring done, trying the shoulder part on the boy himself, to see if my calculations were good. And they were; so now I’m working in the round, with no decreases for feminine waist shaping to worry about.
The remainder of the body will be TV knitting – and even book knitting: I have Kindle for PC now (with a little help from  my tech savvy kids), and I’m reading Treasure Island on it. No need for a heavy object to keep the book lying flat, needing to be moved for every turn of the page.

The Apple of the Week
This week, we get to the end of the Amled story; we follow the party to England and see how Amled makes an impression on the king. And we follow Amled back home, of course, to see how he deals with his uncle. No spoilers – I’ll just give you the story and a few notes afterwards.

SAXO: The Deeds of the Danes (Gesta Danorum)
Book 3, chapter 6

17                         When the party arrived in Britain, the delegates approached the king to hand over the letter which they believed was to be the end of another, but which in reality pointed themselves towards death. The king, pretending nothing was amiss, greeted them in a friendly and hospitable manner. What happened now, tough, was that Amled rejected all the royal dishes served, as if they were low fare. He displayed a strange abstinence, politely refused all of the sumptuous servings, and touched neither food nor drink. Everyone was amazed that a young man from a foreign country could turn up his nose at the choice delicacies and luxurious dishes offered by the royal tables, as if they were grub for peasants. So when the king ended the meal and said good night to his friends, he sent one of them to lurk in the guests’ bedchamber and listen to what they talked about during the night.
18                        Now, then, Amled’s two companions asked him why he at dinner had let all of the food be as if it were poison, and Amled replied that the bread had been soaked in blood, that the drink had tasted of iron, and that the meats had been hewn through with a stench of corpses and completely spoiled by a reek of death and burial. He added that the king had the eyes of a slave, and that the queen on three instances had behaved like a bondswoman – so it was not so much the feast itself as those who had given the feast, whom he targeted with his rudeness. His companions immediately began chiding him for being still not right in the head, and laughed maliciously at his thus criticising that which he ought to praise, and complaining about things that were just fine, when he in this manner disrespectfully denigrated an outstanding king and a woman presenting herself most civilly, and heaped on two people who deserved honour and fame, the most humiliating insults.
19                         The king, hearing this from his servant, declared that the one who had spoken thus must be either superhumanly gifted or correspondingly mad – and with these few words he gauged the true depth of what Amled was doing. He then summoned his groundskeeper and asked him where he had gotten the bread. As he replied that it had been made by the king’s own baker, the king further asked where the grain for it had grown, and if there was any reason to believe that someone had been killed in that spot. The groundskeeper replied that not far away, there was a field showing clear signs of a large number of deaths at some time in the past, for it was littered with the ancient bones of the slain men. That he had had sown in the spring, for he reckoned that it would be more fertile than the other fields and would yield a rich crop. Thus it was not impossible that these rotten remains had given a bad taste to the bread. From this reply the king concluded that Amled had spoken the truth, and he now also wanted to know where the meat had come from. The groundskeeper explained that his pigs by negligence had escaped the sty and had eaten the rotten corpse of a robber, and this could maybe have given the taste of their flesh a hint of rottenness. When the king understood that Amled had been right about this too, he asked him what the liquid was from which he had mixed the drinks. He received the answer that there had been honeycombs and water in the mix, and when the stream had been pointed out to him whence the water came, and a deep hole had been dug in it, he found several rusty swords from which one might suspect that the water had gotten an off taste. Others say that Amled rejected the drink because he was able to taste from it that the bees had sought food in the belly of a corpse, and so the problem lay in a taste that originated in the honeycombs.
20                       When the king saw that a convincing explanation cold be made for the taste that Amled had complained about, he realised that Amled’s harsh words about his own unworthy eyes had to point at something bad in his own heritage, so he secretly sought out his mother and asked her who his father was. She protested that she had never lain with anyone but the king, but when he threatened to torture the truth from her, he was told that he was the son of a slave. So it took coercion to discover why Amled had spoken badly of his heritage.
The king, of course, was quite embarrassed over his heritage, but at the same time thrilled at the cleverness of the young man, and he then asked him why he had exposed the queen with that rude accusation of her behaving like a slave. It pained him that his guest in his nocturnal talk had raised doubts about the nobility of his wife – but he was now informed that she had indeed been born to a bondswoman. For Amled explained that he had noticed three occasions on which she had acted like a slave: the first was that she drew her cloak over her head like a serving girl, the second that she hitched up her skirts when walking, and the third that she picked between her teeth with a toothpick and ate the bits of food she dug out. He also told him that her mother had been captured and made a slave – for he was not to believe that she only behaved like a slave, she was actually born a slave.
21                         In deep admiration of his skills, which he regarded as a sort of divine gift, the king gave him his daughter in marriage, and everything that he said he took as a testimonial from heaven. As for his companions, the king followed the orders from his friend and had them hanged the next day. It was a service done to a friend, but Amled pretended that it was an offence which he regarded most severely, and for blood money, the king made him a payment of gold which he later in secret had melted down and placed inside a pair of hollowed-out wooden staffs.
22                        When he had remained with the king a year, he asked leave to travel, and he thus returned to his homeland not carrying anything with him from his rich and royal equipment but the staffs containing the gold. As soon as he landed in Jutland, he changed his new appearance back into the old, and the dignified behaviour he had now become accustomed to, he carefully replaced with his usual foolery.
When he stepped into the hall where they were celebrating his wake, standing there filthy from head to foot, it came as a shock to everyone in the hall that the rumours of his death had been false. In the end, though, the terror turned to mirth, and all the guests began making fun of each other because the man they were having the wake for as though he were dead, was standing there in front of them very much alive. When they asked about his companions, he held out his staffs and said, ‘This is one, and this is the other.’ And whether that was more truth or joke is impossible to say. For even though most of them took his remark to be pure nonsense, he kept closely to the truth inasmuch as he, instead of speaking of the dead men themselves, spoke of the blood money he had been paid for them.
23                        He now joined the cupbearers and began heartily toasting the guests to liven up the party even more. And to keep his loose shirt from getting in his way when he went about, he strapped his sword belt around his waist, after which he repeatedly drew the sword from its scabbard and on purpose pricked his own fingers on the point. In the end, the men around him had an iron bolt run through both sword and scabbard.
To further his own devious plans, he kept on serving wine for the noble lords: he handed them cup after cup and poured so much wine into them that they were unable to stand on their feet from inebriation, but fell asleep in the hall itself and used the dining hall as a bedchamber.
24                       When he now saw that they were easy to set upon, he made up his mind that now was the time to carry out his plan. He got out the sticks he had readied a long time ago, from their hiding place, and went into the hall where the noble lords lay all over the floor, puking and senseless from drink. In here, the walls were covered by the blanket his mother had made, and he now cut the straps to let it fall down. This blanket he laid over the snoring men, and with the hooked sticks he gathered the knots into a tangle so inextricable that none of those who lay under it were able to get up, no matter how hard they tried. Then, he set the house on fire, and while the flames rose and the fire spread soon to envelop the building and devour all of the king’s hall, they all were caught in it, whether they slept soundly or tried in vain to get to their feet.
25                        After this, Amled went to Fenge’s bedchamber (for Fenge had been led to his quarters earlier by all of his retinue). His sword happened to hang by the bed, and Amled snatched it and hung up his own instead. Then he woke his uncle and told him that his nobles were burning to death: now Amled was here, armed with his old hooks and burning with desire to have his well-deserved revenge for the murder of his father. At these words, Fenge jumped out of bed, but could not find his own sword, and while he tried in vain to pull the strange one out of its scabbard, he was killed.

Here we see a brave man! A man who deserved to win eternal renown! He cleverly armed himself with false simplicity and kept his true wits that outshone ordinary human capabilities, well hidden behind an amazing display of madness. And so he succeeded in not only saving his own life with a ruse, but also, using the same ruse, in the end achieving revenge for the murder of his father. So cunningly he looked out for himself, so bravely he avenged his father, that we have difficulty in deciding which was the largest, his courage or his cleverness.
§19: So, are Amled’s oblique comments the result of uncanny perspicacity or just lucky guesses? Well, given the mortality rate and the level of physical brutality displayed in the day (we really live in an age of unprecedented physical safety), it would perhaps not be too much of a stretch to assume some interference with death and the dead at one or more stages in the production of the foodstuffs. Grain grows on soil into which blood may well have seeped at some point; pigs are well-known to eat anything, including corpses; and water runs over and through just about everything. Amled is clever enough to know this and to choose sufficiently vague modes of expressing himself to let the king find his words confirmed.
§20: As for the heritage of the king himself and his queen ... Amled obviously has knowledge of her birth to a bondswoman, maybe obtained only after the fact, so to speak: he studied her body language and habits during the initial feast and then sought out confirmation of his suspicions. And should it have turned out that she was not born a slave, then at least he had from the beginning only said that she behaved like one.
Likewise concerning the king: Amled’s first claim was that he had the eyes of a slave, which can be construed to mean a variety of things – maybe Amled got lucky on this one, that the father of the king actually was a slave (or could be, at least).
§24: Were you shocked by the brutality in this? The calm arson and burning alive, not of Fenge himself, but of his courtiers, may seem excessive – but Amled is establishing himself as the new king and thus needs a secure power base. He has to get rid of those who would have remained loyal to Fenge: just as well kill them now instead of later, when they pose a direct threat.

This is obviously not the end of Amled: Saxo goes on to tell of his conquests and exploits, his new marriage (the daughter of the English king, mentioned in §21, dies), and finally, his death in battle years later. As this is a history book and not a tragedy, the characters live out their lives and do not all die at once in a huge, dramatic scene.
Shakespeare is compelled by his genre to kill Hamlet off – along with quite a few others – at the end of the single story, the revenge story; and he is, of course, perfectly entitled to meddle with the story to suit his own needs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the world of Amled before Shakespeare, before Denmark as a whole, and almost before the Vikings.

That is it for this week – I hope you have a great week, and I will be back soon.
Keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

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