Who Is The Man Who Rides Past?
This chapter is basically exposition and background information. It’s a lot of telling, but it’s doing so in a way that is interesting.
Annemarie and Kirsti are in bed, and Kirsti begs for a story. Danish children,we are told, grow up with fairy tales. Hans Christian Anderson himself was Danish. (Annemarie particularly likes the story of The Little Mermaid, which probably tells you a lot about her character right there, as the original tale did not end anything remotely like the Disney version.)
But Kirsti wants one about “A king and queen and a beautiful daughter.” So Annemarie starts a story about a king and queen who have a daughter and live in a palace and wear fancy dresses and eat pink frosted cupcakes. No, we don’t get to hear the story and no, I wouldn’t blog about it if she did, because it sounds wicked boring. Eventually, Kirsti falls asleep, and Annemarie can think.
She starts by thinking about how King Christian X isn’t like the Kings in fairy tales who stand on balconies and shout orders. In fact, Annemarie has seen him often, as he used to ride through the streets of Copenhagen and greet his people. Once he even waved to Annemarie and her older sister, Lise. Lise told Annemarie that she was special, because she had been greeted by a king.
Lise is Annemarie’s older sister. Er, was, actually. She’s dead. Annemarie immediately jumps from thinking about her older sister being dead to thinking about a story her Papa had told her once shortly after Denmark surrendered. A German soldier had asked a teen boy “Who is the man that rides past?” Upon being told that that was the king of Denmark, the soldier was incredulous, and asked where the bodyguard was.
Papa said that the boy looked the soldier straight in the eye and said, “all of Denmark is his bodyguard.”
Annemarie asks if this is true, and her papa confirms. He would absolutely take a bullet for the king, just like any other Danish* citizen. 7 year old Annemarie promises that she would too, if she had to.
7 year old Annemarie asks her papa why the king couldn’t protect Denmark. Her father explains that the Nazis are a very big army, and Denmark is a tiny country. Norway fought the Nazis for a long time, but eventually they were conquered. Papa explains to Annemarie that the King of Denmark knew that if he and his people fought back, many would die, and they’d probably lose.
Sweden, however, managed to not get conquered. Annemarie has seen Sweden, though she’s never been there. Her uncle Henrik lives near the sea, and she can stand in his backyard by the ocean and look across to a strip of land that is Sweden. Uncle Henrik lives North of Copenhagen, near a part of the North Sea that is called Kattegat.
3 years later, Sweden is still free. King Christian X was injured in a fall from his horse and almost died, but he didn’t. Annemarie’s sister, Lise, did die, in an accident. Mr. And Mrs. Johansen don’t talk about Lise, or look at her things.
I don’t think it fully sank in when I was a child how awful that is. They lost a child. That is unnatural and shouldn’t happen.
Not being able to talk about it would be very, very difficult for the whole family.
Peter still visits, but he is no longer full of laughter and jokes. He talks to mamma and papa about things Annemarie doesn’t understand, and he never stays long. Papa looks tired and defeated all the time.
The whole world has changed, Annemarie realizes. Only fairy tales remain the same.
“And they all lived happily ever after,” Annemarie finished, completing the tale for her sister.
*I know, I know, but I can not hear the word Danish without thinking of the pastry, and now I’m hungry.