< SWITCH ME >

picture: Michał Łomnicki
...he was just in time to see - to see her, stepping onto the ground...

This story takes our readers back to the year 971 AD, to follow the true (and truly gothic) story of Princess Theophano of Constantinople, who married the Saxon prince Otto. In the previous installment, Princess Theophano set off on her journey to the Saxon lands. Here we find her approaching her destination, while Otto waits eagerly to catch a first glimpse of his future wife...

One autumn morning, Theophano woke up and felt – fine. It had already been a few weeks since she’d left Constantinople, saying goodbye to everything she'd known so far and setting off towards her new life. The travellers spent the first days at sea, and after landing in Aquileia they took their final direction: straight towards the North, through the mountains. Travelling deeper and deeper into the ancient kingdom of the Lombards was horrible. Theophano had the vague impression that she desperately lacked something, until she realised that it was the sound of the sea she missed. In Constantinople you could always hear it, and it was as natural as seeing the sky above you – it was simply there. Without it, the world seemed incomplete.

And then, on that autumn morning, she knew she wasn’t going to miss it anymore. “One step further,” she thought. She had got rid of another of the things she’d missed – just as she’d planned, she was freeing herself from them one by one. In order to make the coming life in the North bearable, Theophano had decided she must forget most of what she'd known until now: the shouts of the sailors at the port of Galata, the way the Sun shone at the Grand Palace in the evening, the scent of herbs coming from the kitchen in her parent's residence, the colour of the red wine from Colchis. The sound of the sea.

She got up and dressed up warmly. They had already left the Alps behind and on that day they were about to approach Ratisbona, where the entourage of the Saxon king awaited them. Theophano was excited, curiosity mixed with fear. She couldn't tell how she would behave, as she couldn't even tell how she should behave – the Saxons were so different. Their appearance, their gestures, their language – she kept observing the envoys who accompanied them all the way from Constantinople, but she could hardly read them. And yet, she was to marry a Saxon. At this thought she felt something twist in her stomach, and the idea crossed her mind that He might be among the cortege in Ratisbona and thus she would meet him that day. Now, that was something she wouldn't allow herself to think about at all. She didn't want any expectations, any hopes, any fears. She tried to ignore the figure of her future husband as long as he wasn’t standing in front of her, as long as he was still an abstract name (a funny name, by the way, a combination of just two different letters), not yet a man in flesh and blood. But once the possibility presented itself that she might meet him so soon, it wouldn't leave her mind. Suddenly very cheerful, Theophano hastened to the waiting carriage, and the retinue set off.

No, he wasn't there... Theophano looked at those thirty finely dressed people, lined up, curtseying in front of her, and tried very hard not to feel disappointed. “Stupid girl” – she thought – “never dare to hope for too much, just see what happens.” Having said that to herself, she concentrated on the Saxon retinue who came to accompany them on that last passage. A fine company, undeniably. They addressed her with great respect in perfect Latin, yet she could tell that their esteem for her was not entirely sincere. Then she remembered the argument between the Saxon envoys and her Emperor uncle and she understood: the Saxon court had expected a porphyrogenita – a “born-in-the-purple” princess for their future king, the daughter of an Emperor, not the niece. A cold fury overcame her: did these barbarians dare to think of her as not good enough for them? Oh, she'd show them how pathetic they were to think of their nation as the new Roman Empire. She’d make them see what a real Roman ancestry meant...

Three days later, when Theophano stepped out of the carriage to greet the Saxon king and his wife, she knew very well how she wanted to behave and what she wanted to achieve. When she curtseyed before her future parents-in-law, she knew immediately from the look on their faces that she'd won that first encounter. Then, for a moment, she looked into the crowd...

It was one of those rare blue-skied days. Clouds scudded across the sky above the forest, threatening rain, but always in a hurry to speed on towards the other end of the world. Otto was in a hurry too. His mother had insisted that he wait until that evening's feast to greet the princess: she said that was more decorous and fitting. But Otto didn't want to wait for the stuffy platitudes of the feast. He sped down the back staircase and pulled his hat low over his eyes as he approached the throngs of people in front of the castle. Slipping in between menservants and ducking under elbows, he was just in time to see - to see her, stepping onto the ground and approaching his parents.

Something happened which he saw many times after that day. It was something which no one could quite describe: they called it her "haughtiness," but couldn't give an example of any arrogant word or gesture, they called it her "fancy ways" but couldn't say exactly how her ways differed from those of her own entourage. Otto knew what it was: she was a queen, not because of her lineage but because of her attitude. She was regal - and yet barely a grown woman!

She inclined her head to Otto's father and mother, and somehow even that movement made her seem their equal - even their superior. Otto could not see his mother's face, but he knew what he would see there later: indignation, but admiring indignation, wonderment.

The princess... Otto could not see her eyes. She kept them lowered, and pulled her beautiful cloak tightly around her, against the cold Germanic air, against the blue skies and the stares of the people. Then all at once, and only for a moment, she lifted her eyes and looked into the crowd, she seemed to see him! He felt the power of her gaze, eyes so full of meaning that he forgot to wonder what could have made a child look like that.

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