A Dread Hour of the Past
by Bertil Falk
part 1 of 2
It happened as early as in the 13th century. Quite close to an insignificant watercourse in the depths of the forests in the highlands of Småland, a castle was erected. After 73 years of continuous construction, this effort became a building, which not only in breadth and in length but also in height constituted something very considerable.
Equipped with towers, no fewer than twelve pinnacles of different sizes and varying heights above the ground, the structure should have been seen far and wide had it not been so enclosed by ancient and tall trees that it was almost totally hidden. Anyone who approached this castle did not see it until she or he was right on top of it.
Now, Sweden is not short of castles embedded in nature. In the province of Skåne with its mighty manors, similar magnificent structures may be completely concealed by tall beeches, but at its time — the 13th and 14th centuries — there was something special to this castle in the highlands of Småland. It was so perfectly isolated.
Its commissioner was a retiring, single man. At his death, his only daughter, the unmarried Eleonora Persson von Klots carried on with the construction. She was as retiring as her father, but gave birth to a son. The father was unknown, but word got about among the servants that it was the head priest in the nearby village who was the boy's father. Insolently, the boy was christened Arvid Persson von Klots, just as if he had been of lawful wedlock.
A convent — there were a few monks as well — was erected between the village church and the castle. One could hear their voices when they sang their prayers at the canonical hours, songs mixing with the whistling of the wind in the surrounding beeches.
In 1349, the Black Death reached Bergen, in Norway, and the next year the pestilence spread to Sweden and Finland, but it was not until 1352 that the plague succeeded in penetrating the thick forests of Småland and hitting the castle. At that time, the mistress was dead. Her 22-year old son had taken over the castle, though nobody knew where he was then.
Arvid Persson von Klots was very popular, very active sexually and very much appreciated, not the least by satisfied nuns (and two or three monks, for that matter). And he was supposed to be second-sighted.
Some time before the epidemic struck, he had returned home late of an evening after an unsuccessful deer hunt. He had dismissed his squires and servants. Holding a wax candle in his hand and without removing his cornet-shaped headgear, Arvid Persson von Klots walked towards his room. All of a sudden, while passing through the gallery, he saw a light, which seemed to be radiating straight through a full-length portrait of his dead mother.
Fascinated, he walked towards the light, which increased and altogether obscured his mother's figure. Before he understood what was happening, he had walked straight through his mother’s painting and was standing in a strange room. It was not big.
One of the walls was covered with something that could be books. On another wall peculiar pictures were hanging. One seemed to represent the crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as seen from above. In the middle of the room sat a bewitching young woman. To his surprise she was redheaded. In front of her, on the table, there was a glowing picture, and she seemed to be doing something with both her hands at the table at the same time that colorful things of a strange nature were moved around in the picture. He was startled as he realized that it was some kind of board with a living picture.
A painting that was alive!?
The young woman had not seen him as yet. She was remarkably dressed, to say the least. Like a man, she was dressed in a pair of blue speckled tight-fitting britches. And that was not really befitting. She wore something white and sleeveless, an open shirt. Unbecoming but exciting. He saw how her muscles moved on her similarly improperly sunburned and naked arms. But she was beautiful.
At that moment she caught sight of him and gave a start. “Where did you come from?” she exclaimed.
Her voice was melodious, had an unusual ring and he did not exactly understand what she said.
“Are you a ghost?” she continued and tried a smile but looked somewhat frightened.
“Who art thou, fair maiden?” the bewildered Arvid Karlsson von Klots cried.
“You speak as funny as you look,” the fair lady said resolutely. She crossed her arms and regarded him.
She had perhaps realized that he was not dangerous, and he himself understood that this ghost could not be any ghost but rather a nice and pleasant ghost. He really liked her looks. He had never before seen anything like her. But then it struck him that she could be a sprite, a siren of the woods, someone who wished to entice him to come to her.
He stepped backwards.
“I think you're afraid of me,” the wench exclaimed. “It's I who should be afraid of you.”
She talked very fast and he did not grasp the meaning of her words.
“Now I say that thou art fair, but art thou a troll?”
At that she burst out laughing. “Me — a troll! No, certainly not!”
The denial seemed to be sincere.
“What about you, handsome hunk?” she continued. “Heading for a fancy-dress ball? Come here. Sit down.”
She pointed at a chair by the table and with some hesitation he settled down.
“I'll be back soon,” she said and disappeared through a door.
Arvid Persson von Klots removed his cornet-shaped headgear and put it on the table. He looked about. Everything was mystic. Strange things, odd pictures on the walls. However, the fair maiden soon returned with two drinking-glasses. From a small, sanguine and stoup-like jug, she poured out a brown drink that hissed and fizzed. He winced.
A magic portion?
She poured out for herself and drank. Carefully, he sipped. It was like some kind of strange burning in his throat, but it tasted good, although different. It was probably a troll portion, but a really good one.
Somehow or other, they began talking and after a while they could easily communicate. Though she spoke a strange dialect and used words he never before had heard.
With her hand she touched his hand, as if she wanted to see if he was for real. The touch sent a feeling of warmth through his body and he knew that he was bewitched. At last, when he almost like drugged, he staggered back the same way he had entered. He rushed to wake up his aunt — actually a cousin of his mother — who served as the mistress of his castle. Excited, he told her about his experience.
Charlotte Rosensvans shook her head and killed a flea with a smack when she heard the information that there was an unknown tenant inside the painting of her cousin. She accompanied her young relative to the gallery, but no light beamed from the picture and all attempts to walk through Eleonora Persson von Klots were in vain. But the rumor was spread. It was said that the castle was haunted and that young Arvid Persson von Klots was on visiting terms with sirens.
And he had left his headgear behind.
When the Black Death hit the castle less than a year later, the place suffered heavy losses. All the servants, as well as all the inhabitants of the little village and all the nuns of the convent and all the few monks fell victims to the Black Death, all except one person. What happened to Arvid Persson von Klots remained unknown.
According to the only survivor, a novitiate, Arvid Persson von Klots had left the castle together with his trolls just before the bubonic plague struck. God knows where. But there was also reason to believe that he, like most other people, had fallen a victim to the pestilence and been transformed to one of the many skeletons that disfigured the castle and its surroundings.
Of the 600,000 inhabitants in Sweden, 200,000 died, but the castle and the village, situated inside the darkest depths of the seven-league forests in the highlands of the province of Småland, was one of the places where almost every single individual died.
As matters then stood, there was no one who was interested in exploring what had happened far away in the depths of the forests. It was not until fifteen years later that a group of hunters by mere chance found the castle. It was then to some extent overgrown with vegetation and the place was studded with bones of the dead.
Another hundred years passed, and by the 15th century three of the twelve towers had collapsed. Trees and shrubs were growing inside the castle, which more and more looked like a ruin. The houses of the village had collapsed as well and were similarly overgrown, and the church was in ruins, as was the old convent.
In the 16th century a distant relative of the Karlsson branch of the family von Klots laid claim to the overgrown castle. It was not in the first place the more and more dilapidated ruin that elk-hunting Karl Karlsson von Klots wanted to get hold of. He wanted the hunting grounds that belonged to the castle. The forests were full of elk, roe deer, wild boar, and a lesser number of bears and lynx.
The legal handling of the case was put on ice. It happened when King Gustavus Vasa abolished Catholicism, introduced Lutheranism and began to melt up the church bells and send out his bailiffs to collect taxes.
Karl Karlsson von Klots died, his grandson kept an eye on the case, but much came in between. The chance to secure the castle during the reign of the generous Queen Christina was grossly missed, and after that the so-called Reduction of King Charles XI came.
Confiscation of private property was the rule of the day. At a time when the autocratic king confiscated the estates of the nobility for the Crown, it was impossible to even try to take possession of property lost in the past. It was not until someone put a bullet in the temple of King Charles XII that the son of a great-grandson succeeded in bringing the case to a successful close.
Per Karlsson von Klots was 33 years old when he together with his escort cut his way through the large forest, through thorn brakes and sloe bushes, across giant uprooted trees and butt ends. They succeeded in making their way through a forest growing wild and they reached the castle.
It was now overgrown to such an extent that they did not discover it until they were in front of the one and a half meters thick stone wall. They waded between collapsed walls and skeletons scattered about, while the setting sun threw cruel shades and shadows across the ruins.
The year was 1765. In Stockholm, the Finnlander Anders Chydenius was putting the finishing touches on the memorial that the next year would be transformed into the world's first Freedom of the Press Act. It was a constitutional law with the in-built principle of public access to official records, a phenomenon prompted by the discovery that those in power over most of the 18th century had kept secret the lousy financial position of the Swedish state.
Two years earlier, another pioneer of freedom of speech, Peter Forsskål, a fellow student in Uppsala of Per Karlsson von Klots and of the same age as he, had met his tragic death at the age of 31 in Jerim, in auspicious Arabia. But the young nobleman did not know about his schoolmate's horrible demise. He was preoccupied by his interest in the recovered family castle.
Of the more than 160 rooms in the castle, most of them contained trees that had grown through narrow openings, cracks and holes and plants that had struck roots in chinks between building stones and performed the functions of wedges in the joints.
The full-length portrait of the venerable Elonora Persson von Klots had in conformity with all the other portraits fallen down from its spot on the wall in the gallery and slowly but surely been gnawed to pieces by the ravages of time and rats.
Only two of the towers were still standing; some had caved in, the others had caved out. And the two that had resisted the eroding effect of the centuries were in a state that made recondition a deadly dangerous work for bricklayers, masons, plasterers, carpenters and other craftsmen.
Young Per Karlsson von Klots immediately came up with a plan to clean up and restore the dilapidated building. When that plan was done, he returned to the capital, where the next year he married 16-year old Elizabeth von Sturzen-Hohenschlacht, the daughter of a superannuated count of some lesser German nobility.
The girl was penniless, more or less rolling in a lack of money, but she was as beautiful as a goddess, and Per Karlsson von Klots had enough coins for them both and much more. Neither did he bother about her slightly noble birth. He would not have cared if she had belonged in a poorhouse, or a brothel for that matter. What he liked was her crushing beauty, her intelligent conversational powers, her exquisite mentality and her enchanting conduct.
Years went by. Elizabeth Karlsson von Klots, née von Sturzen-Hohenschlacht, died after seventeen years while giving birth to her twelfth child. At her death, she had only heard of her husband's castle in the forests and she had never thought of visiting the place.
Now that his wife was dead, the more and more gloomy Per Karlsson von Klots was left behind with eight surviving children and the beautiful memory of his fair lady. He suffered from a sudden energy, which actually was his version of mourning.
He moved with his family, a bunch of governesses and an abundance of servants to the renovated castle, which he had not seen since he ordered its improvement. The year was 1779, and he found that his plans had been realized to the letter. The rooms were all cleaned out and liberated from disturbing vegetation. The disintegrating walls and ceilings had been attended to and the whole castle was reconditioned in a very satisfying way. Some of the towers were still under reconstruction.
Also, parts of the extremely old suite of furniture had been restored, but Per Karlsson von Klots soon realized that the need of furniture was great. To that end, he employed cabinet- and furniture-makers. For the next ten years, they were busy repairing and making all kinds of furniture. Tapestries, with the family coat of arms of the Karlsson von Klots dynasty, were ordered from China and India and carpets from Turkey and Persia.
Everything would have been well, had it not been for the rumors whispered by servants and craftsmen that the castle was haunted. The constant discoveries of skeletons here and there in the most unexpected contexts lent support to these rumors.
The master of the castle himself gave no credit to these notions. However, his eight surviving children, four girls and as many boys, not only appreciated the rumors but took them seriously and devoted a lot of time to hunting ghosts all over the place.
And the castle itself, yes, the very castle!
There it was! The shining pinnacles of its reconstructed towers had a fairy-tale-like image without losing its distinctly spooky character.
Now, not only the castle had been resurrected. The surroundings, in the shape of an ancient herb garden that once belonged to the convent, as well as the village itself with its 13th-century church, had been cared for when the castle arose out of its many hundred years-old torpor.
The Catholic church ruin was in its new shape as a Lutheran phenomenon furnished with a stiffly doctrinaire vicar, while the village was peopled with castle staff and different kinds of enterprises. The vicar strongly disliked that the old papist convent would be restored, but Per Karlsson von Klots thought that it was reasonable to restore the whole territory to its former glory and that to the utmost possible extent. He did not for nothing live in the Age of Enlightenment.
A castle with 160 rooms — actually 197 if we count all the tiny tower spaces and small storage rooms in the cellars — is not a bad playground. The Karlsson von Klots children played advanced forms of hide-and-seek in its nooks and corners.
With his body and soul, young Erik Karlsson von Klots went in for the hunting of ghosts. But he and his sisters and brothers never saw a ghost. It would take just about 230 more years before a ghost manifested itself in the old castle. Then the great-great-great granddaughter of Erik Karlsson von Klots, 17-year old Julia Karlsson von Klots, experienced a real appearance.
During the years, the castle had been very much changed. Where the portrait of Arvid Persson von Klots' mother once had been both hanging and fallen down, a door had been made in the stone wall. Behind that door, an empty space had been furnished to be a small bedroom with a kitchenette and a room, where Julia sat and arranged furniture on her computer screen. The year was 2009.
On one wall, there was a reproduction of the painting Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvadore Dali. Julia had recently and contrary to her mother's will dyed her hair red. She sat in front of her computer.
Then it happened.
Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk