the journals of ola nilsson

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From  Ola Nilsson’s Journal:

September 12th 1782

It is now three weeks since I last had the chance to write without fear of damp, darkness or wild beasts intruding upon my reverie. Three whole weeks of mud and moss and rocks and water, oh so much water, all bathed in that insidious half-light that slowly eats into the soul casting endless shadows that fool the mind and ultimately lead to nought but madness. Were it not for the patience and silent loyalty of my mute servant, Sjöblom, and the comforting tones of my violin, I do not think I could have made it: yet here I am, in Harstad at last, and, though to some my accommodation might seem little more than a pile of stones and sticks, to me, after such deprivations as would sour the heart of Adelsvärd himself, it is nothing short of a palace. I have a chair, a table, and a simple wooden bed, and there is a generous pile of dried heather and moss in the corner for Sjöblom, to which the landlord adds daily. Last night we celebrated our arrival with a feast of broiled hare, pickles, and Tångbröd [seaweed bread], which made a fine change after weeks of nothing but dried walrus meat and the occasional mushroom or berry. They brew a particularly strong spirit here, which they call Illvilja [bad blood] that certainly has the power to restore the warmth, even in this, the coldest of places.

I only hope that our stay in Harstad proves to be more successful than Narvik. I did not have time to write of our ignoble flight from that village, as it came with the suddenness of a winter storm: enough to say that the peasants there were ignorant and superstitious, and their accusations bore no more sense and intelligence than the weepings of young girls. Of course I have long known of the ignorance of these Norwegians, and yet, still I was not prepared for their barbarity and courseness. The people of Harstad do seem to be a little more civilised, and have already shown some interest in the “magic” I have brought to them.

Sjöblom’s fear of Trolls increases with each step further north, and is proving to be most useful. He has not tried to escape since we left Kiruna. I do think he believes that my violin magically keeps the Trolls at a distance, and hence he clings to me like a child, particularly when we are crossing the mountains. I no longer have any cause to beat him, other than the venting of my own frustrations, which he is by now well used to.

Past experience has already shown me that attempts at dispelling the superstitious rot that riddles these peasants lives are all in vein. This time I shall play upon their folkloric nonsense, and use it to my advantage. I have a plan. I am sure that they have not come upon a violin before, and certainly the tone of my fine Gofriller should seem unreal to them and not of this world, as their own hardingfele [an inlaid folk fiddle with sympathy strings] is thin and puny by comparison; and indeed my virtuosity should leave them aghast as the music they are used to is at best banal. I shall tell them that I won the violin from Geirröður himself [the mythical king of the trolls] in a game of chess, and that it must be played only for the Dead. I shall say that it has the power to protect both the living and the dead from trolls and other beasts that fear Geirröður, and that I alone have the power to weald it. I shall not let them see it, but only play it in here, in secret, until there is a death, which, given that winter is on its way, should not be too long. If I can convince them of its magical origins it should be easy to win them over to obeyance of my Art.


September 20th 1782.

Why oh why did I come here. Herr Gratchenfleis told me to take his Art north, and so I have done, but never did I imagine it would be like this. All is damp and dark, and a cold drizzle has drenched the air for over a week now. It is clear that there is no chance of fellowship amongst these people for they think like peasants, behave as animals, and stink of fish! And it seems they consider it now too cold to wash themselves until next spring! A few days ago I met with the village elders, and a bizarre spectacle they were indeed, with their long beards, pointed hats and embroidered capes: looking not unlike the magicians of old were it not for the lack of light of understanding in their eyes. I kept myself aloof and yet feel I sowed enough seeds of mystery about myself to serve my purpose. I told them of my Art and played further upon their fears and superstitions. It is obvious that I have been the cause of much gossip and mythology already, and they have agreed to give me a free hand, in consultation with their priest, at the next funeral, whenever that may be. So I sit and wait for a death, and can but only hope that it is not my own!
September 22nd 1782.

The rain has finally stopped and I must admit there is some beauty to be found in the dark blue of this twilight sky and the long shadows it casts. Even the blackness of the sea has a certain allure. Today, being Sunday, I decided to attend the church service that I might have a good look at these people close up. How they stay so healthy in this God-forsaken climate is an entire mystery, but of the hundred or so souls that attended the mass, I could see only six or seven marked by any serious illness, and of those only two had the look of Death’s shadow upon them. I made a point of arriving last, in my finest dark blue velvet suit and cloak that I had made in Vienna, and the hush that descended upon the congregation as I strode in was most delicious. The priest, who goes by the pretentious name of Laurentius Johannis on Sundays, but is known as Lars Johansson the rest of the week, was notably shaken at my presence, and I took the opportunity to smile my best Devil’s smile at him throughout the sermon, which was long, causing him to sweat profusely, despite the cold. Afterwards I overheard two women talking of a young boy, called Gunnólfr, who is apparently bedridden with consumption, and is coughing much blood, which sounds promising. Once the cold starts to truly bite I may at last have something to do.


September 30th 1782.

I have found the perfect place from which to spin my enchantments. About a mile inland from Harstad there is a cave, set in the side of the hill, which the local peasants fear greatly. Both the cave itself, and the curvature of the surrounding hillside act as a great amphitheatre focussing all sound and sending it whistling on the wind for some considerable distance, distorted and blurred. There is a definite eeriness about the place: the few twisted stunted trees; the swathes of sinister gorse and blackthorn which make the path almost impassable; the multicoloured lichen that covers almost every rock and hangs from the few spindly branches as if they were the final remnants of ragged clothes caught in the many thorns; and all of it barely lit by the distant starlight, for it lies on the northern side of the hill: if I were inclined to believe in fairies I would place them there. It was Sjöblom who first found the place, whilst out hunting for hares, and he took me there this afternoon. I could barely contain my excitement: rarely have I come upon a spot more suited for the contemplation of my Art, and certainly never before in this dismal land. After sending Sjöblom inside to check for wolves or bears, he gathered some firewood and we lit a fire just inside the mouth, which soon provided enough warmth for me to take out my violin and play. The acoustic is extraordinary. The sound bounces all around inside the cave and is then projected out with a considerable force, into the twilit world beyond. I sent Sjöblom back to Harstad and continued with my practice for some hours before venturing back myself. Upon arriving back at our hut Sjöblom told me (through his usual mix of mouthings and gestures) that occasional wisps of music could be heard, though faint and unclear, even here, and had caused much puzzlement and dread amongst the villagers. This is a very compelling development and will aid me considerably in converting the natives to the magic and mystery of my Art. Once again Sjöblom has proven his usefulness. I shall refrain from beating him for a while as his just reward. Assuming he behaves.

Will all patrons please remain seated
Whilst I belittle myself to amuse you
For I've tried pretty metaphors and sensitive rhymes
But the effort just seemed to confuse you
Rev. Rohan K.

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