It is 1761. Prussia is at war with Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prus-sia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.
In Ludwigshain, a Junker estate in East Prussia, Countess Marion von Adler celebrates an ex-ceptional harvest. But it is requisitioned by Russian troops. When Marion tries to stop them, a Russian captain strikes her. His lieutenant, Ian Fermor, defends Marion’s honour and is stabbed for his insubordination. Abandoned by the Russians, Fermor becomes a divisive figure on the estate.
Close to death, Fermor dreams of the Adler, a numinous eagle entity, whose territory extends across the lands of Northern Europe and which is mysteriously connected to the Enlightenment. What happens next will change of the course of human history…
It’s the opening scene of Chapter 3, The Sound of Bagpipes.
It’s from the point of view of Ian Fermor, a Scottish emigree and sapper in the Russian Army. For disobeying orders, he has been stabbed in the side and left to die by the Russians. He’s brought into Castle Ludwigshain, but he’s feverish and near to death.
He felt his life blood ooze out of his side, like a leaking bucket. He blacked out and re-awoke to greet his nemesis – an ocean of pain. Light from a lantern splashed across the room like waves, catching his fading attention. Someone was groaning, crying out in agony… He heard footsteps, someone crossing the room.
“You in pain? Doctor von Ottenhagen gave you our last supplies of laudanum. Oh, you were moaning.” A woman spoke in a voice as gentle as a dove.
“Moaning? Not me,” he replied. He seemed to be listening to his own voice, as if another person was speaking.
“I heard you with my own ears, I did,” the woman said, holding up the lantern. He caught a glimpse of her face and, beyond her, long, solemn tapestries hanging on the walls.
“Who are you?” he murmured. By the Lord, all his strength had been sucked from his marrow. He could barely lift his eyelids.
“Me? I’m Amelia. Looking after you, I am. And you’re that lieutenant fellow.” With a ruddy complexion, she had fire in her green eyes and wore a bonnet with a tie under her chin, showing a pair of tiny, rounded ears. She reminded him of his first love back in Scotland.
“I’m Ian, urgh… Ian Fermor.” The pain pulsed through his body in waves, buffeting his soul. He felt stretched on the rack, being pulled apart.
“Scots,” he mumbled.
“With all that red hair, had to be one or the other,” she said.
“Where am I?”
“In Schloss Ludwigshain, the bestest castle in all of Ostpreussen,” she replied. He envied her keen sense of belonging. Memories of his own upbringing in a croft flashed before him; the kindness of his mother, the gruff indolence of his father. The bedclothes rustled as she pulled them up to examine his side. It hurt like blazes.
“Now you’re awake, you’d better drink this. I’ll get into trouble if you don’t.” Amelia lifted his head and he took a sip. Oh, it tasted as fresh as the waters of Loch Lomond. Once he had swum there, at dusk, on a moonlit night, naked, with his lover, after which they had made languid, passionate love in the long grasses. He could smell the earth odour of the heather mingling with the scent of her body. Unforgettable. Joyous. Sublime.
Amelia was saying, “… I’ll be back right soon.”
Amelia, where are you going? Come back. Make love with me.
He blacked out.
He was next aware that the pain had lessened and his body was no longer weighed down by the slough of despond. With his eyes closed, the darkness swathed him in its silent embrace. With it came an explosion of relief. He felt free. The lightness of the moonbeams eased through the gap in the curtains and enveloped him in their silver effervescence.
He eased out of and hovered above his body. How was that even possible? He glided upwards and found himself floating near the ceiling. He was peering down at his own body, lying on the bed. That wasn’t normal. He must be dying, or already dead.
He moved through the ceiling. Wait, it was solid. This wasn’t his carnal body, it couldn’t be. He was frightened. A voice spoke to him. Somehow he knew it was his soul. It said:
Follow and be not afraid.
Reassured, he rose higher. Something guided, pulled him upwards. In a vortex, he spun through the cluttered attic and emerged through the roof, standing next to a chimney stack.
Coming towards him like a distant scudding cloud, he saw a spot on the horizon. It was a bird. As it approached, he saw it was the King of the birds, a great eagle, with a wing-span as broad as the Schloss itself.
The bird had two heads. Then he knew he was dreaming.
It glided serenely through the fine mists of the ethereal. A seraphic light shone from every feather and claw of this strange and wonderful being. He felt no fear, but instead felt the force of destiny move fluently through the hidden corridors of his own life. With spectral feathers, an airy body and subtle wings, the eagle swept over him with elegant power.
Then he was riding on its back!
Above the lake they rose until he was so high he could peer down on the twin flows of the River Pregel until they merged in the ruby heart of Ostpreussen, the city of Königsberg. Schloss Ludwigshain was no more than a dot on a huge tapestry of land and sea.
Into the air, light as a cloud, they scaled the heights above Ostpreussen, with the languid Masurian Lakes to the south, the Rivers Niemen to the north and Vistula to the west. Truly, he was flying with an eagle. From his Mercator maps, he recognised the outline of the blue waters of the Baltic.
This was a fantastical journey.
“Who are you?” he asked.
The eagle replied, “I am Adler, the eagle of Northern Europe.”
Incredible. Eagles could speak. And he could hear – in the resonance of his soul.
Breaching the Earth’s rarefied vapours, a spectacular panorama unfolded below. The Adler showed him its territory, shaped in a huge crescent or arc, stretching from Ostpreussen in the east, through the German Kingdoms and Marks, all the way to the United Kingdom in the west. Its northern End-mark, the country given its name by a rearrangement of those letters, was Den-mark.
“Why have you appeared to me?”
“By your cry, you summoned me and freely elected to serve me. There are others like you. Find them. Work with them.”
He asked, “What do you want?”
“I have two heads and thus I bring two gifts: the grace of Reason and the grant of Reformation. In truth, humans have great substance but little power. I have great power but little substance. Humanity is ready to advance, to develop. I bring the seeds of that progression. Already it stirs in the lands I have shown you.”
“Where? How?” he asked.
“It is the movement you call the Enlightenment.”
That is what it was about – the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment, the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. And he, Ian Fermor, was going to assist its unfolding. He was privileged, exalted.
There was a large jolt. The eagle disappeared into the ether. He was back in the Schloss, locked in his carnal body. The pain returned bursting over him like a dark, glowering wave. The first rush pressed against his chest like a haystack. He gasped for air.
There were voices in the room. “He’s very weak,” a woman said.
“Can you hear me?” a man asked.
He groaned. He was trying to recall what the double-headed eagle had said, but the pain in his side bored into him.
“Your Excellency,” the man said. “Call the pastor. Don’t delay.”
Pastor. Call the pastor. The words echoed in his befuddled head.
What do they want with me? To say Mass? Or say prayers? Is my salvation…? My salvation! By the Lord, they think I’m dying. I’m dying.
He blacked out.
Thank you, Justin Newland and Zooloo’s Book Tours
About the author
Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.