The Fall of Castle Isenberg

In Germany on August 26, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Arkipelagos Castle Isenberg

The following is an excerpt from The Iron Mountain, now available by Sabella Press. The photograph above was taken in the ruins of Burg Isenberg.

A small army arrives at Castle Isenberg. If there is anyone left inside the structure, they find a way to leap down from the walls, or escape through the sally gate. The Castle is empty, abandoned. When the army arrives, warmed against the bitter cold by woolen tunics, they dismount and chop at the door. Or they cut down a tree and ram it into the door until it finally falls open. It’s frightening, how empty the castle is. Only chickens peck at the frosted ground.

The invaders make a sweep of the keep and gatehouse and living quarters. They make camp in the many chambers, in the cellars, anywhere they can. They have much work to do.

In the following weeks and months, they cut down more trees. They gather scraps of wood and branches from the forest, whipping them against the ground to clear away snow and ice. The piles of brush and timber grow. Meanwhile, they take picks and axes and start chopping away at the walls. They dig holes, small tunnels. They drive their tools into the stonework, digging out the mortar, chipping away at the masonry until the metal is blunted. They work day and night. The days pass slowly. Their heads ring with the sounds of banging and scraping. The tink of metal on stone grows repetitive, then maddening. But they continue with their work.

They spend Christmas and the New Year in the freezing castle. Some grow fond of it, wondering why they must chip at the walls. It seems like such a waste. After sleeping in warm beds – stolen from the former Master – after enjoying the large quarters of a nobleman, they wonder why they can’t just stay here, managing the castle, watching over the Ruhr. They drink beer at night and each morning watch the sun rise over the valley. It seems so insensible to deface such a magnificent fortress. But they continue. They have their orders. They have no choice. They must undo what has been done.

And they know, just as well as the new Archbishop, that such a stronghold will stand the test of time. Someone will steal the castle – the sons of Isenberg, perhaps – and no-one would dare besiege it. Castle Isenberg is too grand, too dangerous to be left alone. The soldiers cut rifts into the stone, breaking away the brittle rock. No ropes can pull down these walls. No catapult or trebuchet could pierce them. The stacks of wood grow, until sometime in January or February, in the most oppressive overcast of winter, when they start to move the wood.

They jam the logs into the holes in the walls. They fill the rifts with kindling and dead grass and browned leaves. They fill every nook and cranny with dry wood, anything organic – dung, oil, animal fat.

Then they light the torches.

They carry their torches to the walls. They reach over with their balls of crackling flame. The fire touches on the kindling. The fire sparks and snarls. The fire expands, spreading along the logs and bundles of twigs. It ignites, explodes. The fire leaps and vomits sparks into the air. The heat is welcome at first, then overwhelming. The fire climbs the walls, eating through the mortar. Burning stones are spit into the air, singing and whistling before they hit the ground. The fire snakes along the inner-structure of the towers, coating the ceiling, smoking through the floorboards, consuming the empty rooms (for now every possession has been stolen – payment for a job well done). The window-frames collect the fire, then fall into each other – gushing smoke, splitting into chunks of ember and glowing coal. Then the violent crash of the floors collapsing – first the roof caving into the sixth floor of the gatehouse, falling into the fifth, the fourth; without floors to keep the stonework stable, the tower itself begins to implode, sucking into itself, the stonework cracking, swallowed into the tower’s belly, betrayed by its own immeasurable weight.

The soldiers cheer – a requisite, bittersweet cry, for it is a relief to be finished, to know that they are going home, the task is complete, mission accomplished. As they ride and march away, along the lonely road, through the thick forest, the air is suffocated with smoke. Though they face away from the billowing flames, the mushroom cloud of the castle they have wrecked, they can smell their work – the chalky smell of destruction, the smell of a dynasty turning to ash.

The Iron Mountain is available on Amazon.


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