Hengist wants men, A.D. 449

Hengist wants men.

They will rally from the edges of sand which dissolve into
broad seas, from huts filled with smoke, from threadbare
landscapes, from deep forests haunted by wolves, in
whose vague centre Evil lurks.

The ploughmen will abandon the plough and the fisher-
men their nets.

They will leave their wives and their children, for a man
knows that anywhere in the night he can encounter the
one and engender the other.

Hengist the mercenary wants men.

He wants them to subdue an island which is not yet
called England.

Cowed and vicious, they will follow him.

They know him always to have been the first among men
in battle.

They know that once he forgot his vow of vengeance and
that they gave him a naked sword and that the sword
did its work.

They will try their oars against the seas, with neither
compass nor mast.

They will bear swords and bucklers, helmets in the like-
ness of the boar’s head, spells to make the cornfields
multiply, vague cosmogonies, legends of the Huns and
the Goths.

They will conquer the ground, but never will they enter
the cities which Rome abandoned, for these are things
too complicated for their primitive minds.

Hengist wants them for the victory, for the pillaging, for
the corruption of the flesh and for oblivion.

Hengist wants them (but he does not know it) for the
founding of the greatest of empires, for the singing of
Shakespeare and Whitman, for Nelson’s ships to rule
the sea, for Adam and Eve to be banished, hand in hand
and silent, from the Paradise they have lost.

Hengist wants them (but he cannot know it) so that I
may form these letters.

From The Book of Sand

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