The Land And the King Are one

One of the strangest things in my professional life — since half the world got mad at me for making Ill Met by Moonlight the title of my first book, because it was the name of a WWII non fiction book (spoiler, I didn’t. The publisher did. The original title was Down the Rushy Glen.) — was when a number of people got mad at Witchfinder for political reasons.

This was funny, first because Witchfinder is a Regency fantasy, so you’re kind of obligated to have a king in it at least in England (yes, I have toyed with the idea of the American revolution in that world) and second because they were upset I was endorsing the divine right of kings.

Which I wasn’t, of course. Anymore than I was endorsing shape shifters, witches, or spells. They, like the bond between the land and the king are not a thing in our world, but would be a thing in a magical world maybe.

Over breakfast, looking out the breakfast nook balcony door at the parched landscape — I actually prefer the view in winter, because it’s dark at 7 am, so I don’t see the neighbors backyards, but the lights of the city — I thought about the king and the land and their union.

Most fantasy stories are sort of allegories, or perhaps a deep dive into our racial (in the sense of the human race, oh, idiot skimmers) memory, having their roots in fairytales, I think. I must here say that I am a thoroughly 20th century woman. I don’t believe in spells or magic (though I do believe in prayers, but it’ll take too long to explain why they’re different if you don’t know.) Part of the reason why I read more science fiction than fantasy, I guess, is that the magic being in the discovery of some gadget that does this thing we now think impossible is more internally acceptable than people being able to change reality with words or really strong belief.

To me fantasy partakes of Jung’s theories (I was once upon a time fascinated with Jung, whose theories feel more right to the creative mind than Freud’s neurotic lens on the world) and reaches or tries to reach into something very deep in the human mind. So deep that our rationality can’t compass it or fully access it. Which is why we have these stories.

And I realized suddenly why people were so upset at “the land and the king are one” and “The land will suffer until the rightful king (or in this case princess) is found.” We don’t have that link, or at least most of us don’t, but moreso, after several generations of high mobility, we can’t even imagine or empathize with the link between man (or woman) and land.

Like many things, modern man has not only lost this link, but isn’t even really aware it ever existed, or how it felt, or of its weight and heft upon the soul.

Not that this is all bad, mind. A lot of feeling a strong link with a land implies that you and your family had very little mobility, and therefore you were in many ways stuck, yes, even if you were a lord.

I mean, it’s not so much that I lament it, as I’m trying to explain, because even though I like you have lost that link, I remember having it. Just like I remember being part of a society where losing half your children in childhood was only one generation distant, which puts a different weight and value on the relationship between parent and child. You both relish them more, to an extent, because you think of the grief that is likely, and you don’t take them seriously as people until they’ve passed some internal marker you view as “safe.” For my mom this appeared to be early adolescence. When hearing of someone losing a child, it added extra weight to her sorrow if the child was between 14 and 20. “Oh, no,” she would say. “And he almost grown.” And you could see she considered this a particularly cruel blow for the parent, because after all they’d done the work of bringing that child through the hardest part, the times when most kids died, and now the goal was in sight and was snatched away.

Her extra sympathy was not for the poor young soul lost (partly because everyone there and then believed the young and relatively innocent dead went straight to heaven) but for the parents’ wasted labor, and one less defense against their lonely and uncared for old age.

I think I’m one of a very few people to even have that kind of memory, to be that close to that kind of widespread child mortality imprinting on the culture. I think most Americans my age have at least another generation between them and that. So, in that way I’m closer to the human beings of history. Though fortunate, since in my generation death was no longer so common for the young.

In the same way (though there’s more of us) I’m probably one of a small percentage of Americans to get “this portion of land, this space I live in, is a part of me. As it was the part of my ancestors going back a long time and possibly back far enough to when there were first humans on the Earth.”

Before I explain this, I want to point out the village I grew up in no longer exists. It’s long been submerged beneath countless stack a prol apartments, buried under highways, its people scattered to the seven winds, starting with a government relocation when the first highway cut the village in half, which had the local farming tenant families relocated to projects with urban poor. Because to the government, particularly those of a socialist bend, the care for “people” is for the collective people, and the individual is assumed to be a widget interchangeable with others.

In the early 90s when I visited, going to the fairs (no, not like a farmer’s market. Fairs have been going on since the middle ages, many are in stalls built by some medieval king on ground sprawling a few acres, and they sell everything, from fish to handcrafts, from things that fell off the back of a truck, to illegal copies of Disney movies. Which I suppose they didn’t, in the middle ages. Unless there is time travel) I’d meet these familiar faces from my childhood, like the lady who used to give us kids a drink of water because she lived across from the school, and they’d clutch my hands or hug me and cry. These ladies and men, the age I’m now, took the bus from the city to come and haunt these markets for a reassuring glimpse of the village where they and their ancestors had lived forever. Even if that glimpse was just a familiar face.

Now I can walk up the village main street and no one has any idea who I am. To understand how staggering this is, you’d have to understand how I wished that I could go unnoticed right after my grandad’s funeral, when curtains twitched up the street as I passed, and I knew the neighbors would gather to discuss whether I was properly grieved. Or how much I hated having just some random neighbor come out the front door and ask me how my exam went, or if I’d had a fight with my boyfriend (here I must point out village gossip gave me a far more exciting love life than I ever had.) The fact that maybe 20 elderly women crashed my wedding ceremony and sat at the back of the church engaging excited gossip is, on the other hand, almost endearing.

But it still feels weird that no one knows me, and I know no one. When people pass me on the street, I instinctively look at their faces to determine their ancestry, and of course, I don’t know, because most of them are transplants from the country or other cities. Some of them are even (gasp) southerners.

Beyond the people, though, there is another bond.

The place I grew up in was called Granja, which yes, comes from the Roman for farm, and not only it but other villages nearby (the one called oven or the one called Clay Manufacture) seem to have been part of a vast estate. (Going further back, the entire region is apparently one of the oldest inhabited places in Europe, and its name derives from one of the few surviving words of Indo European, in this case meaning “a humid and fertile valley.”) Casual digging at the Oven did unearth a vast industrial-scale Roman bakery, and I suppose like many such things it operated well into the Medieval period and people probably took their loaves to be baked at “the oven.”

There was a washing place, built original by a Roman Emperor, and rebuilt by various kings, which is a vast tank, with built in stone scrubbing boards and a roof over the whole thing (It rains a lot.) The water from a creek runs in and out continuous, which I suppose is better than having to kneel or bend down to wash clothes. My family didn’t use it, because we had our own washing tank in the yard, but most people did, and it was the central place for the exchange of gossip. (I think there’s now a garage, in its place.) That was located on the roman road, which was no longer the main road of the village, but was the main secondary one.

Surrounding the village was what to me seemed like endless woods. The place of lightenings. (It was actually its name.) My dad and I used to go for long hikes in it, and, because kids are weird, you know? I assumed it was primeval forest that had survived the various waves of colonization. Which is stupid, because we often sat down to eat a picnic lunch at a fallen/abandoned (and about 12 feet wide) stone mill wheel. And dad liked showing me the wild life and nesting birds living in an abandoned wall. Also, in the middle of the woods, there would be — suddenly — a very old apple or olive tree in a clearing. Or a rose bush. But kids are weird, and to me those were natural features.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago, when I heard of the death of someone who was a features in my childhood, and became morose and looked at aerial maps of the village that I saw there were ruins under those forests, outstripping even those woods and merging into the next village. A cursory look on line showed me the fall back was because of the Black Plague which seems to have killed oh, 9/10th of the village (which makes sense, as the small and very polluted river I grew up with was apparently once upon a time navigable. And the village was a center of trade. Hence all the fairs around the area, one for each day of the week.)

So growing up there, I knew I owned… No, I belonged to, I was owned by that land, that place, for that period of time. I knew it changed. My dad always told me how much things had changed from his time. (Nothing like now.)

Digging in the dirt plot next to my parents’ house which is now sold and the set of two apartment buildings, but which back then was our “vegetable garden” my grandfather and I often found fibulas or human bones. The procedure was to dig a deep grave in the corner and dump all “found” into it. You can’t really tell anyone, or you’d never own any piece of land. What the village was built on was the village. (Though that portion of the village, the terraces going down to what used to be swamps was left unbuilt and there were no foundation markings there, from the air, until the sixties. My parents’ house was the second on that street. Local legend said it was the site of a great battle where the Celts came boiling up out of the swamp and swallowed the first legionaires to venture into the area. Later someone building an industrial-like cowshed nearby found a whole hasty Roman Cemetery with legionaries in it, some in mass graves, which seems to indicate the legend was true. And no, he said nothing. He wanted the cow shed.)

One thing I kept was little silver necklace with tiny silver star charms. I presume a legionnaire gaud, since you know legionaries wore jewelry we’d consider fit for eight year old girls. Eventually I lost it, which is a pity. I thought I was perfectly entitled to it, btw, because (if you read the studies of when they find pre-historic skeletons you know this is true) until highways and the widespread use of cars (in Portugal that was the 90s) people tended to stay more or less in an area. So, though probably minimal, I’m sure I shared some DNA with the original owner, unless he didn’t live long enough to lay a local woman. I probably share some DNA too with the people who turned to dust in the massive and completely eroded tombs in the churchyard, and probably even with the never opened tomb found inside a false wall in the church, which predates the Romans, and who knows what else, as that church is built on the foundations of an ancient temple to who knows whom.

The people who erected that massive millstone, and used to grind grain when the river was wider and stronger are probably part of what made me. So even though it’s abandoned and they likely died in the plague, I hope they looked kindly when dad and I sat there to eat our sandwiches and drink our lemonade.

I belonged to that land, and it to me. The dust that blew in the wind was probably particles of my ancestors, good bad and indifferent.

When I first came to the states, I said that I wasn’t really Portuguese, I never really had fit in, but I was from Granja, and it was part of me, even the parts of it I didn’t like.

And though the village is gone, as gone as Atlantis and Carthage. But if I close my eyes, I can see how it would have looked like right now, with the vines bare, the field filled with stubble, and people starting to fire up fireplaces and wood stoves, whose smoke made a tracery of black on the pale winter sky.

I’d like to believe somewhere that place exists, with other lost lands, and it being November, grandma is chopping wood for the franklin stove, and wondering when I’ll show up. She has some chestnuts ready to roast…

Because of that, perhaps, I needed to love a place to feel whole. I needed to love the place I lived in, to belong to it, and it to me. I needed to adopt its dead as mine and its future as my kin’s.

I never felt that about Charlotte. I loved North Carolina, but Charlotte in the eighties had the character of vanilla pudding. There was nothing individual enough to love there.

However, the first time we drove into Denver I felt in a weird way that it was my home. Like a long lost home I’d never known existed.

I loved the Natural History Museum. I loved city park next to it, where I walked with my boys when they could barely walk. I loved the zoo. I loved Pete’s Kitchen, even back when it was really sketchy. I loved Lakeside park, decayed and old though it was. I loved the mystery bookstore. I’d walk the streets an feel I belonged.

That too is gone, part under high-priced and showy development. Part destroyed by a government that knows it can produce enough fraud via vote by mail not to have to answer to small businesses destroyed, and expensive property devalued y filling the city with feral drug addicts under the name of “compassion for the homeless.”

As gone as the village. As irretrievable. It was might for a portion of time, but is no more. Doesn’t exist.

And perhaps for those of us who transferred out love to it utterly, there will always be a Republic, where the individual rights are paramount, and where a ruler is not proclaimed by acclaim of the enlightened or trickery, but by the will of the people to choose the rule of the piece of land they inhabit.

Perhaps when like Atlantis it is lost under the waves of collectivism and becomes a legend, we who love it will still be able to find our place to it, plunging through the waves of collective memory to happy conjunction of time and land where a lady stands holding her lamp and eternally welcoming those who want to be free and not merely the playthings of the self-proclaimed elites.

It is worth dreaming.

41 comments

  1. There is still a lot of “belonging to the land” in small towns in the United States. Not in the sense of living on the same estate forever, but of living in the same small area, and recognizing not just the people, but the look of the people, so that you know you know someone that person is related to even if you don’t know them specifically.

    I have three brothers and one sister. One of my brothers lives a few blocks from the last house my parents lived in; my parents themselves have moved one town over—the town my mother grew up in— into a condo (of duplexes), and a few years after my parents moved, my sister also moved from the town we grew up in to the town where my parents now were. And when I say “the town one over”, both towns share the same priest (as does one other town), and the churches of those towns share responsibility for various functions.

    Another brother lives in a different town one over, where my father grew up. On that same land my father grew up in. My father and one of his brothers bought the land and broke it up, and my brother bought it from my uncle and built a house on it.

    My other brother lives in a large town about forty-five minutes away from all of that.

    This is all in Michigan; I went to college in New York, moved to California for most of my career, and retired to Texas. I have always felt the distance, much like Douglas Adams’s sense that “in moments of great stress, every life form… communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth.”

  2. Modern peoples forget just how closely related they are to peasants. I mean, when people look at their heritage, they always focus on the “great ancestors of high renown”. But, it’s the peasants whose DNA runs thick through our veins.
    I think one of the great tragedies of our time was the scattering of the young, to distant colleges and beyond. They lost touch with that sense of family and heritage, of “my home territory”. They inhabit interchangeable places, and wonder at their loneliness and disconnectness.
    It’s why the Hallmark Channel is making a killing – they tap into that yearning for MY place in the world, surrounded by people who care about them. The stories are formulaic crap, for the most part, but it touches a deep place in the psyche.

    1. Some of us remember how close we are to peasants. My mother is from a tiny village in Germany named Eussenhausen. It’s right next to the former border with East Germany. My dad met her when he was stationed in Germany in the late 1950’s. Her family records go back about 800 years to when the priests showed up and started keeping records.
      They were peasants, through and through.

      Sometimes my mother talks about it, such as what real refugees look like: lice-ridden, ragged, filthy, starving, and running from the Russians.

      Oddly, my dad’s family is from (we think) northern Germany. Maybe the former Prussia near the Baltic Sea. We don’t know because when my great-grandfather fled, he refused to talk about what he was fleeing from. He landed in North Dakota and said “Now I am an American”.

      The land speaks to us in various ways, some more strongly than others. I’ve made Hershey home. It’s home for our kids.

  3. I was born in Denver and we moved a lot when I was a child but my heart loves the mountains of Utah which gave refuge to my people when they were driven out of other places.

  4. I’m probably some version of a blood and soil type. I think that a lot of people feel affinity to a place. People drive past their childhood homes just to look all the time. The farm where I created worlds out of rock piles (and those rock piles were human artifacts, too, from clearing fields) is likely still in the connections of my brain as it grew, just like someone who was formed by a particular city. It might be sort of baked into us. I know I feel connected to the place I grew up and feel bad for my kids and my nomadic life style and wonder where they feel connected to, if anywhere. Not that I’m going to move home to the Frozen North any time soon, of course.

    I realize that any human impulse can become unbalanced, of course it can. But there’s a war of sorts on connections to people as well. When my kids were small I noticed it a whole lot more than I do now, but there’s a serious push not to feel connected to your own flesh and blood in any particular way. As if it’s wrong, somehow.

    1. I go on google-maps to look at the places where I have lived, places that I loved, a lot of them scattered all over the world. Many are unrecognizable now, the dearest place is utterly gone (due to freeway construction) and the second-dearest is sold and in the hands of strangers. My place is now where I live – with the flag of Texas and of the USA flying out in front, and the chicken coop out in back.
      My home. My place.

  5. My people have been in Virginia for close to 400 years, and in this bit of the Piedmont for about 200 years. What you’re describing answers part of why I have felt so devastated the last year, since the Ds gained control and started turning my homeland into California. They are razing my land, and so in some sense razing me.

    Incidentally, when my brother visited the eponymous village in Scotland (from which our surname, if not our ancestors, came) he found that both the names on the war memorials and the faces in the streets were the same as in our tiny Virginia village. He felt right at home. Some things survive even a transoceanic migration.

    1. Heck, I feel devastated over Denver, my adopted homeland. “Gutted.”
      And my husband’s family has that connection with Norwalk CT. We’d have gone back, but it’s been eaten by NYC really.

    2. I was watching the winter Olympics however many years ago and saw my father carrying a moose head down a village street in Norway.

      I swear.

  6. I met a German journalist at a conference once who told us straight up his editor was always after him for “more bad stuff about America.”
    But he also told us his wife is Hungarian, who moved to Germany with her family when she was 14. She knows she’ll never be German, but when she goes home she’s not considered Hungarian either.
    “She says America is the only place she feels at home,” he said.
    My folk are a wandering people, have been since we first landed on the shores of this New World centuries ago. No two generations of my family have been buried in the same place they were born for hundreds of years that we can tell. Yet wherever I go in this country I feel at home.

  7. I grew up in a small town in western NY on Chautauqua lake.
    Small enough that when the one stoplight broke 5 years later they finally took it down.
    When I would visit my sigh as if to say you are home. Not because of the people but because of the place.

    I sincerely hope and pray that the grand experiment that is America isn’t finished.

  8. In Patricia McKilllip’s Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, the connection of rulers to the land is critically important.

    My own family (including more distant ancestors and relatives) has moved around a lot, so I don’t have that same connection to the land. But where I grew up when I was young (pre-teen years) is still somehow special. I was also fortunate in both my pre-teen years and teen years to live, in locations about 7000 miles apart, next door to open land I could explore.

    And, yes, I do think it’s time for strengthening our community bonds, instead of weakening them. There’s only so much politics can help in this, but politics can certainly help destroy.

  9. There’s a school of thought that links the sick land in the Mabinogi (and in the Fisher King part of the Grail sagas) to the plagues of Justinian and the climatic “splat” that in-part triggered them. A deep memory of an ailing king and an ailing land?

    1. The 536 Cataclysm lines up with the end of the Arthurian era, by some theories, at least. That’s certainly what I’m using in one of my works-in-progress.

  10. My connection is to the planet. I’ve been lots of different places around the world. They are all Earth, to me. I suppose that would be even more so if I ever get to orbit and can see this from the outside.

  11. Some of us do. If we ever have to sell my grandparents’ farm, it will hurt like hell. That’s been in our family since 1850 or so.

  12. The fact that maybe 20 elderly women crashed my wedding ceremony and sat at the back of the church engaging excited gossip is, on the other hand, almost endearing.

    This line solidified something– it’s like a family.

    But when I say “family,” most people hear “mom, dad, siblings, maybe grandparents. If you’re REALLY out there, aunts and uncles with the cousins your age.”

    But when I say “family,” I am saying “people who share a great grandparent with one of the relatives I’m familiar with, plus the friends who really should be siblings to someone but the stork screwed up.”

    The good and bad about it that ends with that line? Sounds very, very familiar. Family is wonderful. Sometimes you wonder how on earth nobody has killed them yet.

    This “land and the people are one” seems similar– it hits really close to some major fears, it’s a serious vulnerability, and most folks simply don’t have a frame of reference for all the little things people do that make their place good or bad.

    But “the land and the king are one” is a wonderful dramatic while avoiding all the really obnoxious stuff you don’t WANT to have to try to put in– is the king doing a good job balancing individual rights with general expectations, compromising on the interests of all involved, enforcing laws with both justice and merch at the right times, etc?

    1. That cracks me up. It’s like the ladies in the parish who knew who I was, and whose kid and grandkid I was, and where I was shopping… before I had been in the parish for a week. Seriously, the CIA has nothing on those ladies.

      And yes, when my parents went to Ireland, everybody could tell that my dad was an O’Brien, and that my mother was “black Irish.” Just like everybody in Odessa recognized my mom’s kind of hair. I suspect that if my dad went to Scotland or my mom to Germany, people would notice different things again.

      As far as I can tell, I’m kind of a Victorian mix. I look vaguely like all kinds of ethnic groups, and exactly like nobody. But one of my brothers has a strong O’Brien look, and the other looks like general Irish.

  13. My family were immigrants from Scotland. I feel no pull from the Highlands nor the Lowlands, if I did I’d have gone there long since. But. Where I live now is about five miles from my mother’s ancestral farm, started seven generations ago by guys fleeing the Highland Clearances. Before which there was -nothing- here at all.

    The Indians were very thin on the ground. You have to look hard to find their artifacts, and I say that as someone who did archaeology in university and spent a lot of time looking for Indian stuff here in Ontario. They were here, for sure, and you can find evidence of broken pots and similar, but you’ll find one (1) pot shard in a ten acre field. Burial sites are rare in the extreme.

    Here in Canada, like the USA, you stick a shovel in the ground you only dig up dirt. In Europe, as Sarah says, you’re liable to find a femur. From Rome. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped socialists from running hog wild with their urban planning bullshit in Europe the same as they have here. They say “blood and soil” when it is convenient, and switch to some other blather when they like. Like the beautiful efficiency of public transit.

    Really, the “connection to the soil” thing is just another fairy tale told by assholes to keep the peasants in line. We don’t have a connection to the soil. We have a connection to EACH OTHER. That’s the truth of the matter, IMHO.

    It is a bit relaxing to live here in this place where everybody looks like me and talks like me. But having lived all over the place previously, and moved fairly constantly, in two countries, the sense of relaxation isn’t that deep. I found Arizona to be nicer from a cultural POV, and given the choice I’d live there. Sadly, I don’t get a choice. Returning to the “home turf” as it were is the least-bad option. At least here they don’t look at me funny when I say “about”.

    Still, the best friends I made in my life were in Arizona and New York. Of all the connections I have, that’s where they were strongest. And I say that while maintaining that New York State is about the most annoying place I’ve ever been in my life. It truly has the best people and the worst, in huge numbers. Toronto, by contrast, has mostly people I don’t really care about that much. They seem to slide past each other without leaving much of an impression at all. Like eels, really. No commitment to them, just convenience.

    I’m reminded though of what the Moonwalkers said after they came home. That looking up at the little blue marble of Earth, and realizing that every person who ever lived and died had left their bones right there on that one little place you could cover with a finger, was extremely sobering.

    Earth is the Place of the Humans. It’s the only one. The only place we have. That’s a pretty profound thing, and a huge change from the thinking of previous generations. It seems to be taking some time to sink in with some people, but I think it will over time. Insights like that don’t sink in overnight.

      1. Phoenician, perhaps? Lisbon, at least, was a Phoenician port long before it became a Roman one. And Punic was a Semitic language…

          1. Punic was certainly known, but can we recognize Punic script? (If we can, and if the scripts here don’t match Punic, then point completely taken…)

            1. Yes. We can recognize it.
              The “looks Semitic” is mine, btw. The only thing I can find about it is “it’s an unknown script and archeologists can’t place it.”

  14. I’ve been known to joke that I have an invisible bungee cord that keeps pulling me back to the High Plains. I keep leaving, and “yoink” I’m back. It seems to fit me, and I seem to fit it. *shrug* It’s not blood and soil in the European sense, but there’s something here that calls me back. Probably sheer stubborn cussedness.

  15. “I do believe in prayers, but it’ll take too long to explain why they’re different if you don’t know.”

    Please explain. :^)

    1. I got this one, Sarah! (although if one of the other theology geeks wants to jump in, that’ll be fun, too)

      Short version:
      A spell is the caster in control, with the goal of shaping great forces to their will.
      A prayer is asking a greater power for help, and in Catholic theology it shapes the asker to His will– “not My will, but Thine, be done,” as a rather popular carpenter once said.

      It’s like the difference between controlling someone or something in your service, and asking a superior you trust and respect for help.

      1. It has appeared in fantasy writing and gaming for quite a while: spells for wizards, prayers for clerics / “channelers”, with a third category, mentalists, defining people who were working strictly within their own “personal” powers, usually psionics. The old Rolemaster system was most explicit; probably the best example in recent fantasy is the way David Weber showed it in his Bahzell books: wizards, priests/champions, and magi/mishuks as the mentalists.

        1. Depending on the game, they all are repainted science with flavor text— Terry Pratchett had a bit about magic researchers that could summon demon with 4ccs of mouse blood and a post-it note, or something similar.

          The Dresden Files had a neat bit about a Cosmic Vending Machine, too.

          I rather like the ones where they recognize a different between an exceptionally responsive granter of miracles vs “if I say this, and hold that item, this thing will happen” type prayer-caster.

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