- Jun 8, 2014
It’s as if I were waking up from a deep sleep, a transparent veil wafting off my face. My eyes begin to focus. I’m sitting at the head of a table. Also seated at the table are five mostly elderly men, one of whom is a dwarf. It comes to me that this man’s name is Jakub of Lekno. He is my Marshal. All have their eyes turned towards me expectantly. They’re waiting for me to answer. But what was the question?
"You do agree, Your Grace?" I turn to the one who has just spoken to me. Your Grace. Me. Ah, yes. I am Przemyslav Poraj, Duke of Greater Poland. The man who just spoke is Andrzej. I know him. My Chancellor. The way he spoke though, it was just as much a statement as a question.
"I must give the matter some thought." No comment -- always a good reply.
A look of incredulity passes over the faces of all around the table.
"Give the matter some thought?" cries a man on my left. A bishop. My Court Chaplain. "May I remind Your Grace that he is not getting any younger? The most eligible brides have already been taken."
"Enough," I say, and stand up. I remember then. They’re waiting for me to agree to a wedding. My wedding. I recall vaguely that they have proposed a candidate. But even though I can’t remember who the lucky girl is, I know my answer is no. I need time alone. I need to get my thoughts together.
"Meeting ajourned," I intone automatically. The words come easily. This is something I am used to doing and saying, apparently. All five men rise. I turn and almost fly from the room.
I know the building I am in. I know my way around. But at the same time, I don’t know how I know. I find my way to my room and lock the door. "Who the hell am I?" I whisper out loud.
Diary of Andrzej, Chancellor of Greater Poland.
16 September 1066
The Duke’s behaviour the past two days has tried the Court almost past all limits of endurance. Thank goodness, he seems to have snapped out of it now. He has changed, somehow. For the better, in my opinion, but change is always suspect. Yesterday, after brushing away the subject of a choice of wife, he disappeared into his quarters until evening meal. Then he was full of questions about politics. He was almost tripping over his words, the questions came so fast. Unusual questions. He asked about Apulia, France, Mallorca, Rome, Constantinople, and even a little about the King. Mostly he asked about the Holy Roman Empire. The fact that the Duchy of Greater Poland shares a border with the Kaiser’s provinces of Lausitz and Brandenburg both fascinates and frightens him. Most peculiar.
I raised the matter of the Duke’s marriage again, in private. He refused categorically the Court’s choice, and announced that he desired a bride from a foreign Court. That incorrigible old gossip, Bishop Bogumil of Gniezdno, was summoned to the Duke’s quarters. The Duke interrogated Bishop Bogumil half the night. This morning, the Duke departed post haste for the city of Dijon in the Kingdom of France. He is determined to marry Constance, daughter of the Duc de Bourgogne.
I rode like the devil, arriving in Dijon only fifteen days after leaving my house in Poznan. (People call it the Ducal Castle, a name I find pathetically pompous. Maybe in a hundred years, when I’ve had some work done on it, it will look like a Ducal Castle should.) My arrival, unsurprisingly, caused a stir, but I was welcomed most civilly by Duke Robert of Burgundy. (Notwithstanding my credentials, and the amazing fact that I speak French fluently, the letter from Bishop Bogumil helped to smooth things over.) His Grace was duly flattered when I asked for the hand of his daughter Constance. He said he would give the matter very serious consideration, naturellement. There was a moment of embarrassment when I blurted out that I would like to get married as soon as possible. It was not, I concede, very courtly behaviour. But Divine Providence was on my side.
The day after I made my request, the Duke organised a wine-tasting party in his cellars with its collection of exquisite vats. We were all feeling quite merry when a messenger appeared. In his hand was a letter for the Duke from the King of France. France was at war. The Holy Roman Empire was attempting to seize the county of Gent. As a vassal of the France, the Duke was expected to participate in the defensive war. In these circumstances, my host consented to the wedding.
all that luscious Burgundy red
I didn’t say anything to Duke Robert, but somehow I just knew there was going to be a war over Gent. Just as I knew without anyone telling me that Duke William of Normandy was going to invade England.
I know many things about myself. I am Polish, although I have no recollection of my parents. I have no brothers or sisters. I can speak Polish, Italian, French, Latin and Greek fluently. Plus a smattering of German, Swedish and English. The same is true of my liege lord, King Boleslaw Piast of Poland, which makes me think we had the same tutors. But who am I really? Or perhaps I should say, what am I? I have thoughts -- memories, I could swear -- of Apulia, Aragon, even the Sahara Desert! I have cravings for Italian wine. Most mysterious of all, when I look at my family name I can’t help thinking of a hot breakfast gruel.... But I also love hunting wild boar and elk, pale winter suns, and the eerie noises that emanate from within the dark, Nordic forests.
I know that I am Przemyslav Poraj, Duke of Greater Poland. I govern three provinces: Poznan, Lubusz and Kalisz, the northernmost regions of Poland, on the left bank of the river Vistula. In addition, the Prince-Archbishop of Gniezdno is my vassal. All told, I rule over a decent crescent of territory forming the northwestern border of the Kingdom of Poland. But I also know that I have a goal. To found a Great Dynasty. It’s as if the meaning of life was to attain that goal, as if I were passing some kind of test. Be it from God or from the Devil, I have to meet the challenge. Which is why, I suppose, I was in such a hurry to get married.
The Duchy of Greater Poland, anno Domini 1066
And a challenge it certainly was. The astonishing fact is that there are practically no women in my duchy, hardly any marriageable girls in all of Poland! My liege lord King Boleslaw has a wife, but she’s of Russian extraction. Orthodox of course, not even Catholic. His only surviving brother is also married to a Russian. Neither of them has any children. None of the men in my Council, let alone my Court, are married. The rulers of my neighbouring counties are also single, and have no sisters. The King of Denmark, on the other hand, has fourteen children. Every one of them seems to have a different mother. I had considered one of those, the Princess Sigrid, as a potential wife. She is eighteen years old to my twenty, but she already has an illegitimate child of her own who is four! What if it turned out that the poor thing was the result of incest? Too disgusting. No such history in the Poraj Dynasty, s’il vous plaît!
With my new bride Constance at my side, we shall found a dynasty of Princes, maybe even Kings!
Long live the House of Poraj!