Tiit Aleksejev (b.1968) graduated from the University of Tartu with a master’s degree in Medieval History. He has worked as a diplomat in Paris and Brussels, and currently lives in Tallinn. His first short story, Tartu rahu, won the annual award from the literary magazine Looming in 1999. His first novel, Valge kuningriik, a thriller whose action unfolds in Paris and retrospectively in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was awarded the Betti Alver Prize in 2006 for best debut novel. In order to write Palveränd, Aleksejev researched material for ten years and visited the main battle scenes in the Holy Land.
Translated by Christopher Moseley
Anno Domini 1148. Abbey of the Mother of God, Boscodon, Provence. My name is Dieter. Once I was someone else, but that is of no consequence. The country I come from is no longer the one it was and the people who remembered me are dead. For what is one country and one people? A drop of water in a vessel, no more. All the same, I have tried. I have tried to find my home shore. From manuscripts and maps and travellers’ tales. It is nowhere. Yet I remember the clouds in its sky, the mist on its meadows, and the traces left by the blunt-headed snake that slithered through the cut hay. And I know I was not dreaming. A man’s real home is the place he is on the way to. What he is carrying in his thoughts. In my thoughts is the City of God that we won back from the infidels. For me it is everywhere and in everything. Every night the desert creeps across my threshold, the wind blows, the sand-dunes shift and the pilgrims are crossing the wasteland. And then it is no longer necessary to leaf through the yellowed travellers’ chronicles, for each of them must lead the wanderer closer to God, not to his home shore, and at the centre of every map is Jerusalem. † Aristotle writes that the whole cosmos is mapped in the human body. My body is a map of pain. It helps to find places where the flesh has been cut, bruised and broken. Every scar is part of a journey. Every mutilation is a field of battle. Lying on my plank bed at night, I close my eyes and slide my fingers across the peopled lands: Nicaea, Dorylaeum, Harem, Antioch, Kerbola, Jerusalem, Ashkelon. Pain has its own memories. My knees and hips are throbbing from riding. My shoulder joint smarts from a sword wound. My ankles, from falling out of the saddle. All this is only a ripple on the surface. The real pain is somewhere else. On the pilgrimage they said: Fight and be not afraid, your life may be taken from you, but your honour – never. But it will. And dishonour becomes shame, which accompanies a man to the end of his days. Which crushes and gnaws at one and brings itself to mind every blessed day: today, today, today. Today. If today is your day, then you know. And to those pressed down by shame, I can say: I know what you feel. I am you.