My Prima Donna Swamp Princess [ 11 ] : Tragedy

  • 2005-11-09
Arva and I eventually settled on a bowl of solyanka and pike-perch with a side of boiled potatoes. I drank mineral water and she tea. Like the good Yank that I am, I tried to get her to try Coca-Cola, but she didn't want anything to do with it.
But the meal hit the spot. The princess even scrapped the last morsels of potato - that foreign tuber - off her plate.
"You know the kartofelis was imported from the New World. It's all over Europe now 's a dietary staple," I explained. "The Russians used to call the potato 'the devil's apple' since, out of ignorance, they used to eat the stems and then get really sick."
"Doesn't surprise me one bit," the princess said.

"Well, what do you think?"

"About the potato? It's alright," she said, shrugging.

"What do you mean 'alright?' Judging by the way you scarfed it down, I thought you were going to eat your plate!"

"Just want to keep the fire in my belly burning," she said.

Here she used the old lingo (Sudovian, that is) for fire: "panu." This once again led me to believe that our Princess Arva was a west Balt, since the word for fire in the eastern Baltic languages was "ugnis."

But as usual, it was another connection that got me going. "Funny you should phrase it like that, because 'panu' is related to the Latin word for boy [puer] and adulthood [pubes] 's you know, due to the fire in a young man's loins. While the modern English word for stomach 's 'belly' 's comes from Old English 'bel', meaning fire, since according to anthropomorphic schemes the belly was considered to be the abode of the Eternal Fire and Soul."

Princess Arva stared back with a paled countenance. "So an hour ago it was all about coitus, and now it is fire?" she asked.

"Well, now that you mention it, the leap from coitus to fire, linguistically speaking, is a tiny one, and even tinier physiologically," I said.

I fetched a toothpick and proceeded to pry at my gums while brooding these deep observations of mine. "Hell, even the word 'leap' is fiery, so to speak. It is cognate of Prussian 'lopis' [flame], or Latvian 'lipt' [to burn], which ties into Lithuanian 'lobis' [treasure]." I grinned widely, and then winked. "I can only imagine how all this is related to that other fiery treasure - the labia!"

Arva almost spilled her tea. "Are you always this… wound up?"

"No, not always," I said, grinning. "Just when I'm around things that have been dead for over 500 years."

"Remind me to go back to being dead the next time I wake up."

"Now why would I do that? We're just starting to have fun!"

"Well, while you've been lost in your lustful head, I've been planning war," she said matter-of-factly.

All contentment I had achieved in the past hour vanished. Oh, no.

"The first thing we need to do is contact the Skalvians and the Nadruvians, and from there some of the Prussian tribes - the Nattangians first, and then the Sambia and the Bartians further north. The Warmia are too far away, so no reason bothering. Besides, we would do well to spend our efforts rallying the hardened warrior-tribes, like the Samogithians or the Curonians." Princess Arva's gaze, all concentration now, disappeared into the cafe tabletop. I imagine that on it she saw a battlefield 's no, a forest 's filled with Nattangian cavalry charging at a hapless Teutonic brigade.

Then, for a split-second, she grinned. "Yes, the Curonians will be ready to fight. Throughout the Dark Ages they tolerated the merciless Nordic invasions 's it made them tougher than the rest of us. They will comprise the vanguard of our attack units."

Suddenly a wave of sadness stifled any words I might have expressed. This woman 's whom I just found half-dead in a swamp, who claimed to be a descendent of ancient Baltic royalty 's was daft beyond hope, yet beneath her madness was an extraordinary tragedy in the making. She sincerely believed that all these Baltic peoples 's who in their halcyon days numbered about two dozen 's were still alive and breathing and sowing the land. She had no clue most were extinct, assimilated by the Germanic and Slavic hordes over the centuries, if not killed off deliberately. She had no clue there were only three left 's Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians 's and that they too, if one believes the latest demographic statistics, were disappearing.

My heart plummeted. I feared that I would have to be the one to share the awful truth of history with her.