Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac
Carl was seated in his safe room reading a copy of a diary that had been written in 1643 by Roberto Curador. His command of modern Spanish was just barely up to the task of making out the much older version of Spanish Roberto had used. Spelling, style of use, and meaning had drifted a bit since 1643. He had just finished reading the entry in which Roberto had described the stories he had been told about the events of the day when the Swedes sacked the town. There were times when reading it that he could feel tears running down his cheeks.
In reading about the disaster that had befallen his ancestors, he understood why they had chosen to pledge loyalty to each other over King and country. The Baron, charged with protecting them in exchange for taxes, had failed them. Since peasants ... and there were no doubts that they were peasants ... were not allowed to possess weapons, the Baron's failure had left them at the mercy of the Swedes. The Swedes had lacked mercy of any kind.
There was a violence in those times that was unimaginable to the modern mind. By today's standards, pillaging a village and ravaging its occupants was a war crime. In those days, it was just part and parcel of war. A field of grain with peasants to work the field was a source of food for the enemy. Destroying peasants and taking the grain was an acceptable tactic of war. No one expected it to be otherwise. In the ruins of an inn, they realized that the only people they could turn to for help was each other.
It was a sobering thought. In 1643, that kind of sentiment was tantamount to heresy. The accepted hierarchy was God above Church, Church above King, and King above Subjects. For a subject to place himself above the King was to defy the Church. It just wasn't done.
They had accepted a woman, a prostitute no less, to be an equal member of their council. It was a break from custom to raise a woman to that social level. By the time Roberto had recorded the story of that night in his diary, the single men had married the women who had once worked for Helga. In effect, they had given her and her profession a legitimacy that was unprecedented.
Those weren't the only heresies they had committed. They had brought a Jew into their midst, and given him an equal voice in their council. In Spain, anyone suspected of being a Jew, could find themselves facing the Inquisition. The situation was only a little better in Germany. It was agreed that he would publicly declare himself to be a Conversos, a Jew who was a Christian convert, with the name: Gold. In private, the other families would help him practice his Jewish rites.
Their actions would have condemned them to death if anyone in power had learned of them. The Baron would have tortured them before killing them for defying his authority. The Church would have burned them at the stake as heretics. Secrecy was the only way to assure their security. One single misspoken word could doom them all.
Learning that two families had survived intact by hiding in a cellar under the house, explained the Pfand X requirement for a safe room. If more families in that town had had that same option available to them, a lot more of them would have survived the sacking of the town by the Swedes. It was the first lesson of that night, captured in the Pfand.
He had read about how the wife of Siegfried Bauer had led the Swedes away from her family in an attempt to assure their survival. She knew that she would be savagely raped, yet she did it anyway. That kind of bravery and sacrifice was almost unimaginable. Roberto recognized that she would not have died if they'd had a protected escape route to a safe place. It was the second lesson of that night, captured in the Pfand.
There had been a third lesson learned when clearing away the bodies on the morning after the sacking of the town. The wealthiest of the town's people had suffered the worst. The mayor and the male members of his family had been given the Schwedentrunk. The women had been brutally raped, probably in front of the men, before they died as a result of swords inserted through their sex. The priest had been nailed to the church's floor, before the church had been burnt. It was better to be a faceless member of the mob than to stand out from the crowd. The Pfand X stated that they were to live a life of moderation in every respect: wealth, religion, and community.
Anticipating the cold harsh winter, it was obvious that food would be their greatest problem. Their scavenging expeditions through the ruins of the town had allowed them to come up with the barest minimum necessary to survive. The gold coin of Samuel Goldstein had helped significantly, but everyone admitted that his presence in town was fortuitous. The Pfand X stated that they had to have sufficient hidden food and financial resources on hand, to survive until the next harvest.
In light of the lessons of the sacking of the town, and the clean up afterward, the Pfand X was a very practical document. It stated quite clearly what was necessary for survival in an uncaring world. Carl realized very quickly that was why it had managed to last over three and a half centuries.
Reading about how Helga Damenstern and the women who worked for her had survived had intrigued Carl. The way that she had managed to divert the intentions of the Swedish soldiers had been an inspired act of desperation. The amount of courage it had taken to stand in front of soldiers in a state of blood lust and offer the comfortable services of her house to the officers was almost unimaginable. He picked up the biography about her life, which had later been penned by Roberto.
After three hours, he put down the biography. Whether it was her profession or an integral part of her character, Helga Damenstern was exceptionally practical and honest about how the world worked. Every woman, regardless of age or appearance, had an asset between her legs that could serve to protect her or be roughly taken by others. She believed that a smart woman would allow it to protect her by learning to use it to her advantage in every situation.
Helga had spoken of different kinds of sexual congress. There was the congress of love. It was passionate and filled with positive caring emotion. It was the type of sexual congress that was given willingly to lovers.
There was the congress of relief in which a participant expected fun and sexual release from his or her partner. It was a one-sided form of congress, almost selfish at root, unless both partners recognized it for what it was: relief. Having lain with many a married man, she recognized that it had nothing to do with marriage and love. Being a woman, she knew that it was a need that wasn't restricted to just men. It was a view that she repeatedly drilled into the men of the Pfand X.
There was the congress of trade in which a participate would provide congress of relief to another in exchange for something of value. The something of value could be anything including money, food, shelter, or information. She saw this form of sexual congress, i.e., prostitution, as a very fundamental means of survival with which women had been blessed. A man who stood in the way of such congress was threatening the survival of the woman, her children, and often himself. It was a view that was slow to be accepted by the men of the Pfand, particularly when it was their wife or daughter involved in the congress of trade.
She also spoke of the congress of rape, not as a sex act, but as a violent demonstration of power over another by the rapist. This was one of the worst things that could befall a woman, or even a man. Elimination of the threat represented by a rapist, required avoiding or surviving a rape. The key to survival was recognizing that it was an act of power. Playing to the power could eliminate the need for its demonstration. Submitting to the power, could limit the violence of it. Meek submission could turn instantly violent, and catch the rapist by surprise. Even the strongest man, caught unprepared for an attack, could be overcome by a much weaker opponent.
Integral to her view on sex was her opinions about the relationship between men and women. In an idea that was extremely radical for the times, she viewed men and women as being equal partners in the family. The wife was more than cook, housekeeper, nanny, and brood mare; she was a partner in everything.
In times when women weren't allowed to run businesses, she convinced the men of the Pfand to take their wives into their businesses as equal, albeit silent, partners. If an extra hand was needed to plow the field, the husband should turn to the wife. Likewise, the man should support his wife in whatever manner was necessary.
The man who ignored the valuable resource that a wife represented, was a fool. A wife's council would have the husband's best interests at heart. She had just as much at stake in the family's future as the husband. It was practical advice that defied the beliefs of the time. If anyone actually thought about it, they would see she was correct. The Pfand thought about it.
Her attitude about sex and a woman's relationship with a man was remarkable for the time in which she lived. Even more remarkable was that she had been able to get the other members of the Pfand to accept her views. In a way, it spoke highly of the character of the men involved. Rejecting the rigidity of belief that often characterized the peasant mind, they had become agile in their thinking and could accept what was basically the unthinkable. Even today, there were few men outside the Pfand who could entertain the idea of their wife or daughter engaging in 'congress of trade' without anger.
Carl knew that he was having difficulty in accepting that his mother, his sister, and his high school sweetheart had been involved in congress of trade although reading Helga's biography was making it easier. He wasn't sure if it was the subtle change in label that made it more palatable: 'congress of trade' sounded much better than 'prostitution'.
After locking the safe, Carl went upstairs where his sister was putting some of the final touches on his bedroom. The living room was still a disaster, boxes of nick-knacks were piled along one wall, pictures in wooden frames leaned against a box, and furniture was scattered about the room. It would take a while to arrange it to her exacting standard. What he could see of it all, he could envision what the room would look like when she finished.
He walked into the bedroom and looked around. It was a very masculine looking bedroom. Above the solid bed was an oil painting of a nude woman reclining on a settee with an equally naked man between her legs.
Donna asked, "What do you think of the painting?"
"It's rather explicit. I'm not sure that I would have had the nerve to purchase it," Carl answered.
"It's a good painting for a bedroom. It will give your female guests something to anticipate," Donna said.
"I didn't think about it that way," Carl said.
Donna said, "You might want to think about giving Jennifer a call."
"I'll think about it," Carl said.
"Are you concerned about her job?" Donna asked.
"I'd be a liar if I said that I wasn't a little upset about it," Carl answered.
Donna asked, "Do you remember that two year period when the boys and the girls were kept separate from each other at the Cura Private School?"
"That's when got our sex education."
"Same for us," Carl said.
Donna said, "I don't know what the boys got, but the girl's lessons were pretty explicit."
"We ended up having sex with our instructor," Carl said.
"Ours didn't go quite that far," Donna said. "Well, I guess maybe it did. We were given a choice about the time we turned sixteen to have sex with one of our male instructors or to wait until we found the right guy."
"Male instructors? I thought you would have women like us," Carl said.
"We had male and female instructors. We were given the full arsenal of sex toys and taught how to use them on ourselves and on others – including men and women."
"Same here," Carl said.
Donna said, "One of the lessons was to read a cleaned up version of Helga Damenstern's biography."
"All references to the Pfand were removed. Her name was changed. The time period in which the events took place was two hundred years later," Donna said.
"That makes sense," Carl said.
"At the time that I read it, I didn't know that it had been cleaned up. It was presented as excerpts from a personal diary that had been found," Donna said. "It really affected me a lot. I mean, the whole idea that my vagina was the greatest survival asset, was just earthshaking to me. Until reading that, all of the history that I had learned, presented men as the foundation of survival for the family.
"Women were nothing but brood mares. Women were weak. Even queens had to fight for recognition as political powers. Henry VIII married and disposed of wives in a constant effort to get a male heir. Queen Elizabeth I, one of the strongest queens in history, was under unrelenting pressure to get married and have babies. It was almost enough to make me regret being born a woman.
"Then one day in school, I'm reading a diary that is a couple of hundred years old. It says women can use sex for love, for fun, and for survival of the family. I was enthralled when she described how the wife of the miller saved the town by having a long term sexual relationship with a Prince..."
Carl said, "I didn't get to that part yet."
"Actually, in Helga's biography, it was the new Baron who came to town and it was Gertrude Grun who had the long term affair with him. It was more or less expected that a woman would sleep with a nobleman and the husband would not complain."
Carl said, "Why would Gertrude Grun have a long term affair with the new Baron when there was a Damenstern available?
Donna said, "Helga was there and quite prepared to entertain the Baron. Unfortunately, the Baron had other ideas. He had become infatuated with Gertrude. It should be noted that Gertrude was a rather busty woman, whose chest was probably exaggerated as a result of carrying steins of beer around. Helga, as well as Ernest Grun, picked up on the fact that the Baron was interested in Gertrude. Ernest was not happy.
"Helga knew that trouble was on the horizon. She managed to get Ernest off to the side, and explained to him that the Baron was going to have Gertrude, whether he wanted it or not. Ernest, despite being upset, knew that Helga was correct. Putting a smile on his face, Ernest went out and made sure the Baron had the best food and beer that was available at the gasthaus.
While Ernest was plying the Baron with food and drink, Helga was busy talking with Gertrude and explaining that she shouldn't resist the Baron's advances. In fact, she should play up to the Baron about how rich and powerful he was. Using flattery and all of the other tools that a woman has at her disposal, she was to get the Baron talking about himself and what plans he had for the Barony. She was to be the best lover that the Baron ever experienced.
"To make a long story short, she spent the entire night with the Baron. When she wasn't keeping the Baron busy in bed, she kept him busy talking about himself. He told her why he was there and what he planned to do. The Baron didn't fall in love with her, but he did appreciate her skills in bed.
"In the morning, Gertrude told her husband ... who happened to be in a very grumpy mood ... that the Baron suspected that a number of people in town were holding back on their tithes to him and he was having every house searched. By the time the Baron had finished breakfast, every member of the Pfand had hidden away anything of value that had been in their house. Of course, the first place they searched was the gasthaus. The Baron's men only found the coin they had spent plus a few coins consistent with what a gasthaus would have with local trade.
"Ernest, as a result of his wife's warning, had managed to hide a hundred times that amount during breakfast. After a massive search of the other houses, the Baron left believing that he could not get more in tithes from this poor town. Not a single member of the Pfand lost the smallest coin as a result of her warning."
Carl asked, "How did Ernest feel?"
"I'm sure you can imagine. On one hand he was upset that Gertrude had spent the night with the Baron. On the other hand, he was pleased to have kept his head attached to his shoulders, and to keep his money, also. I would also say that Helga probably helped a little. After all, she spent the night with Ernest."
"I feel sorry for Ernest," Carl said.
Donna said, "In a way, Ernest and Gertrude became heroes within the Pfand. Families that could have lost the bulk of their savings and, possibly their lives, thanked the pair of them. Everyone realized just how valuable of a service Gertrude had performed for the Pfand. Helga made sure that Ernest was portrayed as having behaved in the way that a man should act and that Gertrude was portrayed as being the kind of supportive wife that any man should wish for. As you might suspect, that helped both of them come to grips with what they had done."
"It sounds like a fairy tale to me."
"In a way, it is, but it isn't fiction."
"Still, I just can't imagine some guy in 1643, or whenever it took place, patting another guy on the back and saying that he respected him for having let his wife sleep with another man. I really can't imagine some guy being okay with his wife sleeping with someone else," Carl said.
He couldn't imagine that happening in 2010. Most men today would divorce their wife and find another woman who would say, 'Not me. I'm not sleeping with that jerk.'
Donna said, "That's because you're not seeing it from the perspective of a man who has seen nearly everyone in his town die violent horrible deaths at the hands of well armed soldiers. The Baron was surrounded by well armed soldiers. He was a very real threat. For the amount of money they were hiding from the Baron, the punishment would have been death. You don't think they appreciated what Gertrude did. She saved their asses!"
"So what happened next?"
"Well, Gertrude slept with the Baron every time he came to town. Each time she managed to get him to tell her why he was there. Once he was there to find young men to serve in his guard. When the Baron went to look over the young men, the only ones of the Pfand that were available were those who wanted to be there. The others were busy in the fields or off doing something else. The Baron, very pleased with his visit, left town with two young men ... one of them was the son of Manfred Wache."
"That worked out well for everyone," Carl said.
"The details in the story version that we read in school differed in minor ways, but the essence remained true to the events reported in Helga's biography. The fact that things worked out well for everyone involved is what got to me. I thought about that story a lot. To me, Gertrude was a heroine. She was a wife of a respected man who was more or less forced to sleep with a nobleman. Instead of fighting it, she turned it to her advantage and in the process essentially saved her husband and the town."
Carl asked, "Is that when you decided to be an escort?"
"I was wondering when you would figured out that I used to work as an escort in New York," Donna said.
"I suspected it when you were talking about having retired and knowing that you are a member of the Weber family now," Carl said.
"What do you think of me?" Donna asked.
"I don't know. Did you want to be an escort?"
Donna said, "Actually, I wanted to be an interior decorator."
"So how did you become an escort?" Carl asked.
"When I graduated high school, a Weber came to talk to me about interior decorating. I imagine the discussion was much like when you joined the Bauer family. It was only after I joined that I learned that mother was a member of the Damenstern family. I heard about what a great woman our mother was. I couldn't believe it.
"Well, I talked to mother after having joined the Weber family. To say that I was shocked when I learned what mother had done in the past would be an understatement. I screamed at her. I called her a whore. She laughed at me and said that she was a Damenstern and damned proud of it.