- Värmland: the landlocked hinterland province of Sweden where The Ringstetten Saga is mostly set. Life revolves around the lakes, of which the largest is the Vänern. On the shores of the Vänern stands many a whitewashed noble estate, such as Vänersvik (Vänern's Creek), the ancestral home of the Swedish Ringstettens. Most of the province is wooded and mountainous, its residents relying largely on forestry, fishing, and mining. The Wallonian settlements (see "Walloons" below) and the local community of Karlstadt (Charlestown) feature a minority bourgeoisie, of foreign descent, second in importance to the lords and gentry of the province. The Governor of Värmland resides in Karlstadt during most of the year. In summer, his family resides on one of the noble estates by the Vänern.
- The Crown and estate lords: Nearly all the noble estates in Sweden were gifts made by Queen Christina to veteran officers, as payment for their services to Crown and state, and Vänersvik is no exception. The impressive whitewashed chateaux with their ordered French gardens offer a stark contrast to the cottages of the common people and to the Walloons' steel mills. In the late seventeenth century, absolute monarch Charles XI claimed vast tracts of land from the lords and gentry of the Swedish provinces. Said lands started to depend directly from the Crown. Decades later, the war on Russia called up most of the blue-blooded youth of the kingdom to battle. Few officers returned from that campaign, having been either killed in action, died of inflicted wounds, or died in captivity in Siberian prisons and camps.
- Walloons in Sweden: In the Flemish/Dutch theatre of the Thirty Years' War, Jean 't Serclaës de Tilly persecuted many of his countrymen on religious grounds, Flanders and Wallonia being Spanish provinces under Habsburg rule. The surviving Protestant Wallonian refugees found sanctuary in Sweden, where Gustavus Adolphus was delighted to give them asylum. The Walloons opened steel mills, around which real industrial colonies/villages, mostly with an all-Wallonian population, were founded. Sweden could finally, with access to Wallonian, Flemish, and Castilian metalworking technology added to its mineral resources, produce weapons (guns and blades) on a massive scale, which partly explains the Swedish victories in the Thirty Years' War. The van der Heide foundry was such an industrial complex. Its purpose in the narrative being to explore noble/bourgeois relations, said dynamics have been completely explored (initial rivalry, arranged marriage, friendship) in the second story arc.
- Classical myths were in vogue in the eighteenth century, especially those of Ovid's Metamorphoses, such as "Echo and Narcissus", "Salmacis and Hermaphroditus", and "Orpheus and Eurydice", all three of which are quoted in the story arc and mirror its plot.
- Old Gewehr: the veteran of the Polish Wars is based upon a real-life phenomenon. During the absolutist reign of Charles XI, every shire in Sweden (Baltic conquests included) was compelled by royal decree to lodge a soldier, who would represent the Crown at a lower scale than the province governor. Depending on the wealth of the local lord, the soldier would have higher or lower rank. A scarred Ensign Johan Gewehr, assigned to Vänersvik before he could receive his lieutenancy and be titled, came over from Poland with his camp follower wife Kerstin and their children, as married "quartered soldiers" always did.
- Old Gewehr's rank? Referred to as "ensign" in English, he is actually a "fanjunkare" ("Fahnenjunker" in German), a Germanic/Nordic rank in between sergeant major and ensign. Since there seemed to be no corresponding rank in the Anglosphere, he was made "assistant ensign", later shortened to "ensign". A true ensign ("fänrik"/"Fähnrich"), just below lieutenant, would have been a far younger (adolescent) commissioned officer, with an aristocratic surname (for instance, young Gerhard von Ringstetten upon joining the Swedish ranks in 1631).
- Charles XII never married or had any children, he was rather close to his own generals... In fact, all of the Swedish royals (Gustavus Adolphus, Christina, Gustavus III... and Charles XII) featured in the Saga were at least bisexual. Charles XII appears to be strictly queer (a more feminine queer would be Gustavus III in Arc 3).
- Carolean culture of self-restraint: reminiscent of Spartans, Romans, Cromwell's Ironsides, and twentieth-century Fascist dictatorships like the Third Reich. Painful punishments (the cat of nine tails) and war trauma helped the values defended by Charles XII (emotional restraint, and keeping cool, but also strength, prowess, and camaraderie).
- A Saxon Oberyn: Indeed, Augustus the Strong von Wettin was heavy-set, with a passion for ladies, big game, strong drink, warmer climates, warfare, and feats of strength.
- Aurora von Königsmarck: impoverished and comeback court lady, poet, musician, polyglot, electoral mistress, in love with King Charles XII... such a powerful and badass lady, and a countess to boot, existed in real life! After Augustus replaced her with the Austrian lady, when Aurora spent her twilight years in Quedlinburg, she devoted herself to her vassals; to her passion, writing poetry (which became a true solace for her); and to her little boy Maurice. Furthermore, Aurora von Königsmarck kept her wit and her good looks with the pass of decades.
- Philipp Christoph von Königsmarck and Sophia Dorothea: It should be remembered, that the young Count had become not only one of the handsomest men of his time, and was possessed of immense wealth that made the very costly style in which he lived the theme of general admiration; but that he was a remarkably intelligent man, apparently a finished gentleman, a graceful courtier, and a brave and skilful officer. The Count had already distinguished himself in a manner that had brought him no slight degree of fame wherever he had shown himself. His handsome person, graceful manners, and sparkling conversation had combined to make him a great favourite with both sexes; but his principles were very unsettled, and his life was disgraced by a tendency to the licentiousness so common at this period. Aurora’s and Amalia’s guardian, brother, and role model casts one of the longest shadows ever in the Saga. The dashing young count and colonel in command of the Braunschweig Electoral Guard, a great officer and courtier of his days, cultured, learned (even at Oxford!), well-travelled, and inured to war, attractive and popular at court, had a love affair with his childhood friend, kindred spirit, and liege lady, who was out of his league and unhappily married, trapped in an abusive relationship and oppressed by her mother-in-law. Then, when Elector George of Braunschweig, the betrayed husband, found out (from an older court lady whom Königsmarck had scorned), the dashing count went missing, as if into thin air, at the Leineschloss, the spouses’ residence. Sophia was accused of his disappearance, separated from her children (said to be her lover’s) and banished by her spouse to the provinces, confined to Schloss Ahlden, for a lifetime, until she died there more than three decades later. His disappearance let his two sisters, who were also his wards, to fend for themselves, kickstarting Aurora’s ambition. In an Easter egg narrated by Countess Clara Elisabeth von Platen née von Meisenberg, the schemer behind it all, the fate of Count Königsmarck is finally revealed: he was stabbed in the back at the Leineschloss by his own drunken men, plied with liquor, at the Elector’s command, having fallen into an ambush set to take his life, a plot devised by the betrayed husband and by the scorned countess. The death scene is shown just like the one in the lovely romantic film Saraband for Dead Lovers: stabbed in the back by the lieutenant who led the detachment and run through with that officer’s sword, the young colonel staggers and collapses, his life quickly ebbing forth. Then, his lifeless form was concealed under the floor of the hall where he was killed. Definitely, it sounds Shakespearean but it’s real life:
- She (Clara) took an early opportunity of exciting the mind of the Elector against him by the most exaggerated account of what he had said about her, her sister, and Mademoiselle Schulenburg, with a comprehensive addition of offensive observations upon the sovereign of Hanover which he had never uttered. The Elector was very much offended with his Colonel of the Guards for such behaviour to his and his son’s mistresses; but though this was very bad, to speak disrespectfully of his patron was abominable, and he readily gave a promise it should not go unpunished.To obtain such proof was now her great object. She was not scrupulous in the means she employed, and if she could not get the testimony she required, She was determined to get something that should be mistaken for it. Excited by rage, jealousy, and hatred, she had sufficient stimulants at work to bring out all that mischievous talent which had so helped her forward during her career, and moreover, she had at her hand agents of all kinds, of whose readiness at any bad purpose she had ample evidence. She well considered her plans, and when they were mature, satisfied of their success, she kept like a bloated spider, out of sight of her victims, but ready to pounce upon them the moment they got entangled in the intricate web she had spun for their destruction.Just at this crisis, Count Königsmark returned, brilliant as ever, and completely ignorant of the danger in which he stood. He met with but a cold reception at the Electoral Palace, but this did not appear to give him any uneasiness.When he retired to his chamber, he found a note written in pencil, from the Princess, requesting he would visit her that evening. It was an unusual time to go to the Princess’s apartments; nevertheless, he went, and was admitted. On some surprise being expressed that he should have ventured there at such an hour, he produced the pencil note. It was a forgery. This discovery should have put them on their guard, and the Princess ought to have dismissed her visitor as speedily as possible. But they had much to say to each other, and the Princess had communications to make, an opportunity for which might not occur again.At last, with many professions of fidelity and devotion, from the Count, and of earnest gratitude from the Princess, the former took his departure under the guidance, to a certain distance from that part of the palace, of the faithful lady in waiting.The forged letter of invitation was the work of the crafty Countess Platen, (as she subsequently confessed,) who immediately she learned it had produced the effect for which it had been designed, rushed to the Elector, and made such an enormity of the unseasonable visit of Königsmark to the Princess, recommending the Count’s imprisonment by so many apparently unanswerable arguments, that he was induced to order his arrest. This, however, he did reluctantly, and was quite unaware to what an extent she was deceiving him, and little imagined how much he was about to compromise the honour of his family. The old man was so completely the dupe of her assurances and representations, that he even complied with her solicitations to leave the management of this arrest to her, believing, as he jocosely observed, she was anxious to prevent so handsome a man as his Colonel of the Guards being hurt, should he be so rash as to offer resistance. Three trabants (yeomen of the guard) and their superior were then placed at her disposal, directions being given them by their sovereign to obey the commands of the Countess Platen, in arresting an individual who would be pointed out to them by her. To this the wily Countess induced him to add, that they were to use their weapons, should it be necessary.The Countess conducted the soldiers, on quitting the presence of the Elector, into the hall that led by three steps to the apartment facing the Leine Street—from the same place three steps led in another direction to a passage conducting to the adjoining wing of the palace, facing the same street, to the door of the Saloon of Knights. In this apartment, there projected a capacious chimney, behind which the trabants were told to conceal themselves. Whilst they remained here, the Countess furnished them with refreshments, and with as much liquor as she believed would fit them for the desperate work she had in hand. She had chosen her time well, for just when they were ripe for any deed they might be set to do, they heard approaching footsteps. With a hint of the great reward they might expect from the Elector if they exhibited their zeal by seizing his enemy, who she took care to add, having been condemned by the laws, it would be of no consequence how they treated if he attempted to escape —-they were ordered to lie close.It was Königsmark, who, having discovered that all the usual outlets were closed, had been obliged to endeavour to make his exit from the palace out of the Saloon of Knights, through the passage into the hall. He was approaching the chimney, congratulating himself that at last he was close to the outer door of the palace, and should soon be at liberty to accomplish the wishes of the Princess, when suddenly a rush was made at him by several armed men. Notwithstanding his complete ignorance as to the number of his assailants, and that it was too dark to see who and what they were, they did not take him so completely by surprise as they had anticipated.On leaving the Princess, the forged letter had presented itself to his mind as a snare that could not have been employed without a purpose; that it was the production of an enemy there could be but little question, and he need not have hesitated long before he must have been satisfied who that enemy was. When be ascertained that the doors through which he had hitherto proceeded out of the palace from the Princess’s apartments were locked, he began to fear he was enclosed in a trap. He walked cautiously along, and on the first rush of the trabants his sword was out of its scabbard before they could lay hold of him.Urged on by the Countess, and inflamed by the liquor they had drunk, the men attacked him furiously with their weapons. A most desperate conflict ensued, the result of which might have been doubtful—for the Count had inflicted several severe wounds on his assailants—had not the blade of his sword snapped in two. He had endeavoured to give the alarm, but his cries were soon stopped ; and,when his weapon became unserviceable, he was easily secured and carried into the adjoining room.Here the alarmed soldiers discovered that the person they had thus arrested was so severely wounded he could not stand upright. He had just strength to murmur an entreaty to “ spare the innocent Princess,” though they murdered him, when he fell into a swoon as they were placing him on the floor.The Countess made her appearance directly the wounded man had been brought out of the hall, and the first object that met his eyes on recovering consciousness, was the face of his malignant enemy bending over him with triumphant malice expressed in every feature. He rallied all his remaining strength to denounce her as the infamous wretch she was, but his mouth was stopped by the foot of his assassin, who pretended she had slipped in his blood, barbarously trod on his wounded face. Life was ebbing fast—too fast either to resent or notice the indignity, and in a few seconds the murdered man breathed his last.When the yeomen of the guard ascertained that they had killed Colonel Königsmark, their consternation was only equalled by their fear. Of this their wily employer took immediate advantage, by assuring them that they were sure to be hanged by their sovereign, if they did not all join in representing the Count’s death as the effect of his own rashness in resisting his arrest. Stupefied by fright, they were ready to promise anything to save their forfeited lives, and when the horror-struck Elector was summoned to see the result of the order he had entrusted to his reckless mistress, they represented themselves as acting only in self-defence, and the Count as madly rushing on his own death.Nevertheless, their royal master was far from being satisfied; indeed, to do him justice, he was exceedingly angry, and no less grieved at so unjustifiable an act. He overwhelmed the Countess with reproaches for having induced him unwittingly to become the abettor of the assassination of so brilliant an officer as his Colonel of the guards, and seemed quite sensible of the odium which must fall upon him for his culpability in so disgraceful a transaction. The Count Königsmark was so well known, that his death thus secretly effected in the Electoral palace, in the dead of the night, when it became public, would raise a storm of indignation throughout Germany, from which he could never hope to escape.The Countess at last contrived to pacify him, and, the consolatory plea of all evil-doers, represented that as the deed was done it could not be undone, and that a plan yet remained to escape from the consequences that so greatly alarmed him. Her plan was to prevent any knowledge of it transpiring. She then very cunningly showed how this might be accomplished most effectually, and in his urgent desire to escape from the consequences of his own criminality in suffering so unprincipled a woman to possess the power of which she had made so bad a use, he consented that measures should be taken instantly to prevent the Count’s death becoming publicly known.The Countess had little trouble in persuading the trabants to save their necks by doing as she desired them. All traces of the murder were soon obliterated. The dead body was unceremoniously cast into the most filthy receptacle that could be found for it, covered with quicklime, and the place walled up. So secretly and so skilfully were these measures taken, that no one in the palace was aware anything extraordinary had occurred during the night, although some persons had heard a slight disturbance of which they had taken little notice, and from that time to this, notwithstanding suspicions had been created by the mysterious disappearance of Count Königsmark, nothing of a positive nature has been brought forward respecting his fate on which any reliance could be placed. The account we have given is derived from two of the principal actors in the murder. One being the Countess Platen, who made a confession of her criminality on her deathbed; the other being one of the trabants, named Busmann, who on his deathbed also made a confession; and, a rather singular coincidence, both penitents were attended by the same clergyman—a M. Kramer.
Thus, then, perished that brilliant adventurer, Count Königsmark, whose large fortune, rare talents, handsome person, and exalted position at court, could not save him from the vengeance of an offended courtesan, who suddenly struck him down, even in the palace of his sovereign, depriving his soul of the consolations of a Christian, and bestowing on his body an unworthy sepulture.Although far from being admirers of such delusive recommendations as he possessed, and unfavourably disposed towards him in consequence ofhis laxity of morals and want of principle, we cannot withhold our sympathy from the victim of one of the most cold-blooded assassinations ever planned. Moreover, his dying entreaty in favour of the Princess showed he possessed a spirit worthy of a better atmosphere than that of a depraved court, and under more favourable circumstances than those by which he had the misfortune to be surrounded, it is not improbable he would have been an honour to his country, and an ornament to the world.Furthermore, Clara (a born and bred court lady, daughter and wife to counts, raised à la mode through and through, a lovely and artistic wind-up doll made to dress, dance, recite and write poetry and drama, compliment, et cetera, à la manière de Versailles, but foremostly with a talent for intrigue without an equal across Europe, who got married up to rise for power) was haunted and confessed her crimes on her deathbed (the featurette reveals her writing, on her deathbed, confessions of her guilt in the Königsmarck affair, as she tells her POV of the story, with her children by her bedside):“It should be remembered, that the young Count had become not only one of the handsomest men of his time, and was possessed of immense wealth that made the very costly style in which he lived the theme of general admiration but that he was a remarkably intelligent man, apparently finished gentleman, graceful courtier, and brave and skilful officer.”The Countess was no longer in office; her conscience had begun to trouble her, and she felt uneasy in her mind with respect to the numerous offences against truth and honesty she had committed. In the last years of her life, when her health had become undermined by a long course of profligacy, and the once beautiful favourite was a loathsome object to herself and to all who approached her, the evil she had committed rose in damning array against her soul, and made her life as miserable as it had been vicious. At last she sent for a clergyman, and eased her overburthened mind by making a full confession of her iniquities; among other crimes dwelling on her murder of Count Königsmark, and exonerating the Princess from all blame in her intimacy with him. This confession was wrung from a guilty conscience in the agonies of a deathbed. She died in the year 1706.The Countess left one son and one daughter. Of the former we know very little. Of the latter, Sophia Charlotte, however, we are differently circumstanced. The Countess early brought her forward in that hotbed of vice in which she herself had flourished, and not without carefully impressing on her mind the necessity of her advancing her fortunes by the same means by which she had obtained both wealth and distinction. We have already alluded to her proffering the young lady to her own lover, by no means an extraordinary thing for the woman who had recommended her sister to fill the same infamous office with the son she occupied with the father; but her next display of indifference to the most ordinary feelings of decency was strange indeed, as strange as it was revolting. She had introduced her sister to the Crown Prince, she had done the same kind office for her friend Mademoiselle Schulenburg, and when the charms of both were fading, she showed one more act of devotion to the son of her liberal patron, by presenting the sated profligate with her own daughter.These infamous transactions are almost incredible—nevertheless they are perfectly true. The Countess Platen's daughter became a favourite mistress of the Elector. She had dissipated the large fortune she had inherited from her mother in every species of extravagance, and after a hasty marriage with a M. Kielmansegge, to conceal her profligacy, rivalled her mother in infamy. The Elector was getting tired of her excesses when, at the time he was about setting off for his English dominions, Madame Kielmansegge, who also took on herself the title of Countess Platen, put herself forward as so devoted to the person of her sovereign, she was ready to accompany him to that country.
- Caroleans (Charles XII's soldiers) killed Russian prisoners: Unfortunately, this is the historical truth. Rather far from Gustavus Adolphus's kindness and mercy towards Catholic POWs, the Swedish ranks of the early eighteenth century took no prisoners. What must it have been like for a young subaltern officer to play executioner towards enemy captives? And, just like in the feuilleton, the real Peter the Great drank to Charles XII and pardoned the Poltava POWs, even paroling the officers (unfortunately, the Russian Empire is rather vast, and commandants in Siberia often resorted to measures interdicted in Saint Petersburg!).
- A white hare crossing the highway: a bad omen in Slavic folklore. Jules Verne invokes this superstition in his Czarist Russian adventure novel Mikhail Strogoff (otherwise known, for instance in Swedish, as The Czar's Courier), and so does Aleksandr Pushkin in Eugene Onegin. Englund and Heidenstam have penned down the legend that Charles XII saw one en route to Poltava, and I had to include it: partially as tribute to Jules Verne, partially as a shout-out to Carroll's Alice novels.
- Never get involved in a land war in Russia! Due to the efficiency of General Winter and General Steppe, combined with the Slavs' trademark scorched earth tactics (retreating eastward, burning their shops and crops in their wake), any attempt is doomed to end in failure, as Charles XII soon discovered. On top of that, one century later, Napoleon Bonaparte (well acquainted with the exploits of Charles XII!) made the same catastrophic mistake. Not to mention Adolf Hitler during the Second World War...
- Poltava, 8th of August 1709: the twilight of Sweden's Golden Age. Since King Charles had been wounded in the left foot during a reconnaissance on the eve of battle, the Swedish army was left in charge of less competent generals (for instance, Rehnskiöld, Gustav Adolf von Ringstetten's superior and leader of the cavalry). The wounded ruler fled southwards, the Swedish ranks were decimated, the few survivors were captured alive and employed as "indentured servants" of the Russian Empire, in fortress prisons and outpost barracks. Just like in the feuilleton, the real Peter the Great drank to his worthy opponent and pardoned the Poltava POWs, even paroling the officers (unfortunately, the Russian Empire is rather vast, and commandants in Siberia often resorted to measures interdicted in Saint Petersburg!): they were able to keep their swords and rank insignia as long as they behaved themselves. Many of the prisoners died in captivity, due to the harsh winters and frequent diseases. In the 1720s, the few survivors who had not fled their prisons and successfully made it to Sweden were finally repatriated. And only a few officers dared to escape clandestinely. The battle itself, which marked the rise to power of the Romanovs and inspired poets such as Lord Byron or Pushkin, is commemorated as a holiday in present-day Federal Russia.
- Rehnskiöld's fate after the battle? He was also taken prisoner, but, due to his higher rank, he was carried into another outpost. Later on, he was freed in 1718, to join the Swedish military, witness his liege's death at Fredrikshald, and then retire to his native estate. All of this is retold in the latest installment of the Saga.
- French Protestants, or Huguenots (the term being a corruption of "Eidgenossen", German for "confederates"), like Katinka's mother Isabeau, were persecuted during the reign of Louis XIV (their faith having been tolerated between the Thirty Years' War and the Sun King's coming of age). Most of them lived in communities along the Atlantic coast. Though the United Provinces (the Dutch federal republic that would become the Netherlands) and Prussia received most of the refugees, there were minorities who found asylum in Russia and Sweden.
- The German researchers: Czar Peter the Great did actually send a scientific expedition into the "Wild East", and its finds (drawings and pressed plants) are still kept in Saint Petersburg. Rhineland-born leader Wilhelm Steller even had a (now extinct) species of manatee named after himself!
- Granny Yaga (Baba Yaga in Russia and Ukraine, Yaga Baba in Bohemia and the Balkans, Vasorrú in Hungary) is one of the most well-known characters in Slavic folklore. Her iconic dwelling, the croft on hen's legs in the swamp in the woods, is retained, and so are her flying mortal and pestle, her guard birches and her pet cat. In Slavic folktales, there is often more than one Granny Yaga, usually three sisters who act as donors to the leading cast. That line, partly as a tribute to the Norns, the Moirae, and Macbeth, was the one I followed (the first Granny Yaga in the woods, "Yaiza" in the steppe camp, and "Yadviga" at court). I made the cats cobalt blue (and able to speak) partly as a visual pun, partly to emphasize the Yagas' otherwordliness. The Yagas also take up a role, in folktale as in the Saga, of wise woman donors similar to that of the Saami Woman (Lappekone) and Finnmark Woman (Finnekone) in the Sixth Story of Andersen's "The Snow Queen", from which some passages are quoted outright. Not by chance, because the "croft on hen's legs" may refer to a njalla, a Saami reindeer meat shed placed on leg-like posts to keep out of both snow and scavengers (wolves, wolverines). Thus, the Granny Yaga character may have been, originally, a Saami shaman, seen as a sorceress through Christian Slavic eyes.
- The plot: the story draws from "Orpheus and Eurydice" (minus tragic ending), "The Snow Queen" (more specifically, the princess character), and "Tam Lin" (in the latter ballad, a mortal held captive and destined for sacrifice by fairies is freed by his beloved Margaret), set against the backdrop of the Great Northern War. Katinka is a tomboyish, spirited version of Margaret. The gap in the palisade recalls Pyramus and Thisbe/Romeo and Juliet. The ostensible victory of the Green Lady is taken from "Salmacis and Hermaphroditus". Unlike Tam Lin, Gustav Adolf has got a reason for the Sidhe to be after him: the young lord's parents promised him to the spirit in times of need: the Jephthah or Isaac folkloric motif of a child rashly promised to the supernatural. The convergent character arcs of Gustav Adolf and Katinka/Katarina are also influenced by Les Misérables. There's also the Frey myth...
- The Frey myth: A real Norse myth... at first a fairytale, later on revealed to be a tragedy, but nevertheless a profound meditation on human nature and a classic story about a star-crossed relationship. This story provided most of the inspiration for Gustav Adolf's development from fallen warrior to reborn landowner.
- Surviving Norse polytheism: in the deepest backwaters of Sweden, the common people still believed in the old gods, even if they went to church, until the mid-twentieth century.
- Tied to a linden tree, with ears unplugged, to hear Kelpie music without drowning: Ilse took actually a cue from Odysseus himself, whose adventures she had read!
- Instant eunuch: One of the funniest scenes includes Gustav Adolf transformed into, well… a person of the third gender. Later on, he becomes a boy-child and a courtier, other non-military people devoid of masculinity. However, it’s by noticing that he’s become a eunuch in the Tatar lands that the former Carolean is startled at first. Perchance because his new identity transcends the Occidental construct of gender as binary.
- Westernization in Russia: at least the higher classes and the military were westernized during the reign of Peter the Great: clean shaven, wearing tricorns, accepting Protestantism (the Czarina, Catherine, was a reverend's daughter, as stated in the Saga!)... A foppish courtier sent to the "Wild East" as a response to disgrace would, though out of place, be historically accurate.
- The lily brand on Isa’s left shoulder: enemies of the State of France were branded with its lily on a shoulder, using red hot irons. The most recognizable fictional character with this “tattoo” is Dumas’s femme fatale Milady de Winter. In the Saga, this French lily functions as a stigma, a sign of Isa’s outsider status and the suffering she has gone through.
- The duel between Etienne and Gustav Adolf: This is my very own tribute to Eugene Onegin, yet, fortunately, without any casualties.
- "A petty fortress and an unknown hand" ("En ringa fästning och en okänd hand"): Do you still remember the words used to describe Charles XII's death during the siege of Fredrikshald, in the arc finale?
a petty fortress, and a dubious hand;
He left a name, at which the world grew pale,
to point a moral, or adorn a tale.
Verses by English eighteenth-century poet Samuel Johnson, employed in the poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes" as a rant against Charles XII's ambition and lust for power. Never having loved nor having been loved, he really deserved to die in a trench, more than probably shot by one of his own officers, during the siege of a frontier outpost. What a stark contrast to the whole-hearted and sympathetic Gustavus Adolphus, fighting for an altruistic cause, violently slain on the battlefield of Lützen, and even mourned by his archenemy!
Returning to Johnson's verses, the author herself has written the translation into Swedish:
Han mötte döden vid en öde strand,
en ringa fästning och en okänd hand.
Kvar lämnades blott ryktet, fruktansvärt,
till att liknelsers sensmoral bli värt.
Swedish magical creatures: Finally, we'll give a review of the supernatural cast of the series, all of them magical creatures in Scandinavian folklore!
- Tomts ("tomtar") are household littlepeople, who care for human families, their homes, and their pets and livestock. A fisherman's or woodsman's croft only has space for one tomt, while an estate usually lodges a whole family, Vänersvik being no exception. Their favourite dish is oat porridge, of which they gladly accept a bowl from their human masters in exchange for prosperity. But their oats must be sweetened with honey, or else... If in a good mood, tomts may braid their favourite horse's mane and tail, for instance, the Ringstetten war horses (Hoffnung, mare; Étoile, mare; Foudre and Poudre; Nuage, gelding [castrated] and Orage, stallion [both foals of Foudre and Poudre]), as a token of endearment.
- Trolls are a rock-based, tailed cave people, without much wit and with a short fuse. A pastime among them is for troll mothers to trade a human newborn with one of their own, a so-called changeling ("bortbyting"). They're not only weak in front of iron and steel: sunlight turns them into stone. They hibernate.
- The Kelpie or Nix, or Näkki ("Näcken") is a freshwater spirit, who usually appears to mortal maidens at rapids, either as a dashing youth, wrapped up in his Rapunzel-long raven hair, playing the violin... or as a majestic wild white stallion with a raven mane and tail. His real form is a centaur with the traits of both his violinist and horse forms. In either guise, he lures the maidens into the stream and drinks up their blood. He has no feelings and shows no mercy.
- The Sidhe, pronounced "She"; Ellewoman; or Green Lady ("skogsrået") is the spirit of the woods. Here she appears as the spirit of the spring ("källrået") Every shire in Sweden has its Green Lady, who ensures the denizens' prosperity if being given an offering. These spirits (a one-gender species) appear as beautiful lilywhite females dressed in moss coats, with dark green, tendril-like hair, "snake eyes", and a vixen's tail. Green Ladies, however, tend to fall in love with mortal men, especially dashing young ones... which their own wistful nature, and longer life expectancy, contradict. In addition, a Sidhe may poison a mortal lover with her plant-based or water-based powers by accident, if not drive him insane or kill him outright. If betrayed, the Green Lady may be rather vengeful towards her rival. The one who slept with an ellewoman often wakes up feeling like suffocating and in a cold sweat. They're powerful, clever female spirits, with power over the climate, flora, fauna, waters... and even human emotions! Ellewomen show children lost in the woods the way home and help shepherds of both genders find their missing charges. The only thing that can be done against them, besides threatening them with cold steel, is turning one's coat or jacket inside out (which Gustav Adolf forgot, leaving him vulnerable to her charms). They hibernate... usually. The Ellewoman of Vänersvik is bound to a spring in the woods, the spring she enchants to take shards of the drinkers' reflections (with Charles XI and Gustav Adolf von Ringstetten). This pond is a healing spring since the Ringstettens made a covenant with the Green Lady, a covenant broken when the child she had been promised, grown into a young lieutenant, left for the war front, then returns decades later with a potential rival (Katia). In animal form, she is usually an oversized green frog or a red vixen.
- The church-cat ("kyrkokatten", "kyrkorået", "kyrkogrimmen") is the spirit of a black cat walled into a church's walls for good luck, to keep away thieves and evil spirits such as trolls or ellewomen. The church-cat of Vänersvik is called Lyckan, "Goodluck/Fortune", and she was walled as a kitten. So she looks like an oversized black kitten.
- Lake cattle ("sjökor", "sjönötkreatur") are the cattle of the freshwater-folk, and they yield seven times more milk and beef than land cattle. A dozen lake cows were presented to House Ringstetten by the Green Lady as part of their covenant.