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10

A Championship Won – Everything else still up for grabs!

In their tenth HT-season, the Falcons brought home their fourth title in style, overwhelming South Moravian side FC Uplakánci 7-1 on Saturday last. The game saw Dutch forward, Merijn ‘Poliorcetes’ Esseling score the very first hattrick of his already illustrious career. Other Falcon stalwarts also got their names on the board, including the marvellous midfield duo of Mikhail Llosa and Manuele Prestandrea. With only a single game left in the league, the Falcons now have a four point advantage, guaranteeing them the title after three seasons in Division V.

João Portugal

The post-game celebrations in an almost sold out Falcon Nest (with 37.821 fan present) – the 179 empty seats apparently belonging to a small number of dissatisfied fans, unhappy with recent developments and decisions taken by the Falcon managerial board regarding the future of Brazilian coach João Portugal, the man responsible for the Falcon titles in divisions six (season 48) and five (season 51) – were extremely intense yet incredibly brief. Falcon manager H70 was seen sipping the tiniest glass of Moravian Sauvignon before ushering his team into the cloakroom to start preparations for the most important part of the season.

The past season can easily be described as the Falcons’ best ever – next to the Division V title, the Falcons also won season six of the HTUM Challenge Trophy and finished in the semi-finals of the seventh season of said tournament, falling only to I-League powerhouse Langer House, while the Falcon Fledglings brought home the HTUM U18 Championship and the HTUM Youth Cup. The most crucial games of the season still lie in the weeks ahead and hence the final analysis and evaluation of the past season will only be made in two weeks time (one never knows who might actually read the Falcon blog!).

Manager Politzia

In the league, direct promotion to Division IV appears as distant and unreal as a mirage in the desert, leaving the only available road to a higher division through a win in an away qualifier in a fortnight. At least if not even more important is the upcoming midweek home game in the Golden League as the Falcons host the knights of Rochdale United in the quarterfinals. Rochdale manager Politzia, in a recent interview, left little doubt that he will send his strongest eleven on the field come Wednesday, making the final result anything but a certainty.

Prague: Proud Host of the Golden League Quarterfinals!

 

H70, before setting of with the team to locations unknown, had only this to say: “Rochdale’s defence and goalkeeper are the stuff legends are made of. Anyone who watched their performance against the offensive power of FCOB Kamenice in the previous round must have been extremely impressed. At the Falcons we do a lot of things, we chat, we blog, we drink and party – but there’s one thing we don’t do – ever – we don’t go down without a fight! WE DIE HARD!”

It’s the Falcons versus Rochdale United, on Wednesday April 24, at 14.00. Only on HT!

12

A Question of Morality

Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Leibniz, Aristoteles, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, David Hume and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

It could have been the line-up for the Falcons upcoming Round of Sixteen appearance against Finland’s Klaukkala Bears in the Golden League, but it is in fact a list of authors whose books were recently borrowed by the Falcon manager from the Klementinum Library in Prague. The gaffer is currently unavailable for comments on the Golden League playoff stage and rumour has it he has secluded himself in the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno. His parting words to the board of the Falcon team were apparently “It is a question of morality”.

The Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno: Horus’ Hiding Hangout

But is it really? Rumours abound in the corridors of power of the Falcon headquarters, suggesting that the manager is throwing up a smoke-screen with his suddenly found morals and ethics. Is one supposed to truly believe that H70 is sitting in the cloister garden of the Abbey of Saint Thomas staring at peas, much like Abbott Gregor Mendel in the 1800s, and contemplating whether it would be morally acceptable to put the strongest possible line-up on the field in the playoff game against the Finnish Bears? Really? This is the Golden League, after all.

Unnamed sources close to the centre of Falcon power have insinuated and alluded in veiled innuendos that a power struggle in the very heart of the Falcon team and management might be at the basis of the manager’s sudden disappearance. The position of long time Falcon coach, the Brazilian magician João Portugal, has come under severe threat, despite the fact that this is the man responsible for the Falcons’ promotion to division V three seasons ago and the Falcon title run in the current season.

The unexpected arrival of Sangap Harianto, an experienced Indonesian midfielder with high leadership qualities – acquired without the coaches’ knowledge – has been interpreted as a first indication of the nearing end of João Portugal’s reign at the helm of the Falcons. It certainly was no coincidence that coach and player ostentatiously ignored one another when Harianto was exchanged 60 minutes into the Golden League game against Falcon’s arch-rival The Flaming Wodkas FC this past Wednesday evening.

A shouting match between various fractions within the Falcon board on the topic of the future of the Falcon coach one day later, overheard by dozens of passerby’s as someone had conveniently forgotten to close the window of the boardroom leading unto the main street, had an even more devastating effect upon team morale  One can only contemplate whether H70 has sought seclusion with the Augustinian brotherhood in an attempt to find a solution to the trouble brewing inside the Falcon team and management. Might H70 in fact not be looking for a moral vindication before launching a “night of the long knives”, purging team and management from subjects in disagreement with his plans for the future of the team? And who will decide the line-up for the first playoff round of the Golden League next Wednesday?

It’s the Klaukkala Bears of Finland versus the Horus Falcons, on Tuesday April 16 at 20.25. Live – only on HT!

4

The Thore Tales – The Book of Thoth V

II. The Professor (continued)

Thore hit the ground hard, immediately being reminded that he might have left hospital but that his head wound had not yet fully recovered from its encounter with a blunt, hard instrument of no further specification. His fall on the sandy lane of the estate had created a large cloud of dust that now slowly covered his clothing and found a way into his ears, nose and eyes. As he tried to contain a sneeze that would undoubtedly divulge his position, he heard a ‘twang’, followed by another shot and a series of hair-raising oaths in French, not fit to be reproduced on these pages.

As the dust finally settled, Thore ventured a quick glance in the direction of the sounds. To his surprise, he observed an elderly gentleman, a smoking shotgun in hand, cursing loudly before signalling to a youngish-looking, rather tall man to launch another clay pigeon into the air. Another twang and shot was followed by even more explicit curses – this time including also some Arabic sounding terms with which Thore was unfamiliar, but whose general meaning could be easily guessed at.

Thore decided it was probably safe enough to get up, dusted half the lane of his clothes before he made his way to the side of the chateau and the shooting range. The younger of the two, operating the machine that sent the clay pigeons flying, was the first to notice his arrival and at his instigation the elderly gentleman turned around, his shotgun rather uncomfortable pointing at Thore’s exposed chest. Thore swallowed hard. A smile spread over the gentleman’s face, thus showing of even more wrinkles than before, as he slung the gun over his shoulder and walked towards Thore.

“Herr Kolbenschmidt! Es freut mich sehr, Sie kennenzulernen! How I enjoyed following you play for the Falcons over the years!” At the mention of the Falcons, his face clouded over. A single word was spit out with venom “Seth!” He turned back to his companion. “We’ll take refreshments in my study”, the professor exclaimed before ushering Thore in front of him, up the steps and into the castle.

The study as a large room located on the first floor at the back of the chateau, with a magnificent view over the estate and the town of Riquewihr in the distance. Thore was seated in a couch, while the professor was pacing up and down the room, mumbling to himself. Finally, he turned to Thore. “I have to apologise for my behaviour, but the theft of the coffin from our storeroom has been a bit of a shocker – not to mention when I found out from your manager a few days later that you had observed the theft, carried out by men, their faces covered by Sethian masks. It does not bode well, not at all”.

The young servant had in the mean time entered the study and served a refreshing Riesling wine from the professor’s estate. Thore took a sip and was more than pleasantly surprised. The thick-bodied wine coated his palate; it was very dry with a cleansing acidity – a sure sign of a high quality Riesling from the Alsace region.

“Humph” Thore raised his eyes to the professor. It was obvious he had missed part of the conversation while staring into his – now empty – glass of wine. “As I said”, the professor continued, “The coffin stolen from the storeroom on its own was not that important. It was rather late in date – early Ptolemaic at that – and did not belong to the original burial equipment of the tomb we were excavating, which dates to the early Twenty-First Dynasty. That’s about 700 BC for you, young man!” The professor pulled a set of photos out of a folder and handed them over to Thore to inspect. “The coffin was clearly intrusive, buried half a millennium later in the courtyard of the tomb. It is a rather pretty specimen, I must admit – always a good people puller at exhibitions – but certainly not unique.”

Thore looked up from the photos. “Then why steal it in such an ostentatious manner, hidden behind the mask of the god of chaos, Seth? Only for money?” “It would certainly make a six figure number”, the professor replied, “but I doubt that money was at the source of the theft. The coffin belonged to the high priest Padihor (“He who was given by Horus”), in the service of the god Horus in the temple of Edfu”. The professor frowned before continuing “I had already wondered why a high priest from Edfu would happen to be buried in the Asasif, hundreds of kilometers to the north of Edfu, and in such an unexpected place. You would imagine he would have been buried in his own tomb, which he had undoubtedly prepared, in the region of Edfu. Instead he was whisked away and deposited in all anonymity in the courtyard of an older tomb – yet the mummification technique was excellent, done by a master of the trade. Humph, I wonder…”.

As the professor starting going into details on mummification practices in early Ptolemaic times, Thore let his eyes drift over the many bookcases that enclosed the study from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. His eyes passed the only entry into the room and he sat up with a shock. He was quite sure the servant had closed the door when leaving a little while ago, but now it stood slightly ajar. Thore did not hesitate, slowly moved out of the chair and tiptoed to the door. He swung it open and stared …. into a large, empty corridor. There was no one in sight. He was about to close the door when he caught a whiff of a scent – a perfume that he had smelled before – and not only the night he had ended up in a Strasbourg hospital.

[to be continued]

4

The Thore Tales – The Book of Thoth IV

II. The Professor

Thore K.

The taxi painstakingly made its way through the traffic, edging ever closer to the outskirts of Strasbourg and the road to the town of Riquewihr. The delay suited Thore just fine. He could do with the extra time to chew over the events of the last few days and carefully consider his next steps. That is, should his driver ever decide to stop using his horn as his preferred mode of communication and refrain from engaging in a wide variety of verbal and non-verbal forms of abuse with other chauffeurs.

Having left the comforts of the local hospital earlier this morning, Thore only had a bulging bruise on his head and his injured pride to show for the events of a few nights ago. It was not something he would forget lightly – the bruise would soon disappear, but he had unfinished business with whomever had knocked him out and left him unconscious underneath one of the ‘Ponts Couverts’ along the river Ill. He had also lost his job as an international scout for the Horus Falcons team, less than a week after he had started. “That must be some sort of record”, Thore mused, as he stared out the window while his taxi attempted to leave the hectic Place de la Gare.

Not that he had been without a position for very long. The Falcon manager, H70, had immediately engaged his services for quite a different type of employment. It had been obvious from the start that H70 seemed to know a lot more about the robbery Thore had witnessed – and this was only confirmed after the manager had returned to his room in hospital.

 “The building you saw being broken into”, H70 had informed him, “is the main storage facility for objects that belong to the egyptological department of the University of Strasbourg. It housed, since only a few days ago, a number of finds made by a French team under the direction of Professor Raunecker in a Twenty-Fifth Dynasty tomb in the Asasif in Western Thebes – the area near the famous temple of Queen Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari across the Nile from modern day Luxor. Two nights ago you observed how a single coffin, meant to be one of the centrepieces of an exhibition showcasing the main results of this excavation, was removed. The police seem to be entirely unaware that you were a witness to these events and I think it would be best if we leave them in the dark.”

The Theban West Bank at Deir el-Bahari

 

“This incident can however not be ignored”, the manager had continued. “A Sethian mask, such as you saw worm be the thieves, is not exactly something one finds lying around in your local supermarket and combined with the theft of a remarkable coffin, it calls for an investigation and explanation. Unfortunately I have to return to Prague, given the current crisis in the Golden League (‘and you know what Lee can be like’, he had whispered under his breath) – but I would like you to take matters in hand and get to the bottom of this sordid affair. If you are willing to take on the job, that is?”

“I thought so”, H70 replied, after Thore had nodded his assent. “Professor Raunecker is an old personal friend of mine and I have already taken the liberty to contact him and asked to talk matters through in detail with you. Once you are able to leave hospital, he awaits you in his residence in Riquewihr.”

Riquewihr

The taxi, having finally reached the suburbs of the city, made good speed and soon the picturesque town of Riquewihr – famous for the Riesling wine it produced – appeared on the horizon. Wine was the last thing on Thore’s mind as he arrived at his destination – a huge estate surrounded by vineyards a few hundred meters outside the fortified town. Giant beech trees, as old as time itself, flanked the wide lane, leading to a small yet elegant eighteenth century chateau. Thore could not help being impressed. He did not know what a professor in Egyptology made, but certainly not enough to afford such a magnificent place. He whistled under his breath as he took in his surroundings. The vineyards outside the estate walls as well as the gardens of the domain were obviously well kept and the chateau looked like it had been recently renovated. The place spoke of money, and not a little at that.

As Thore made his way up the lane, suddenly a shot rang out…

(to be continued)

7

The Thore Tales – The Book of Thoth III

I. The Strasbourg Incident (continued)

“I know you no longer make as much as during your glory days for the Falcons, but I still believe we pay our international scouts adequately so they can, at the very least, afford a halfway decent hotel and do not have to share lodgings with clochards under a bridge, being dragged half drunk and comatose by local police to the nearest hospital in the middle of night.”

Thore in hospital

The sound seemed come from far away, but somehow still penetrated Thore’s subconscious. As he tried to open his eyes, a blinding pain informed him that it was not one of the brightest ideas he had in recent days. His left hand slowly moved to his temple, finding nothing but bandages and searing pain. He felt like he had been hit on the head by Mjölnir – the hammer his namesake, Thor or Þórr, had wielded rather successfully millennia ago. When he finally managed to glance about, the blank, white surroundings, the metal framed bed with neatly tucked in blankets and the typical smell, a combination of disease and disinfection, left little doubt about where he had ended up. Seeming to sway above him was the all too familiar face of his manager H70, looking at the same time concerned and amused. A single word sufficed to wipe the smile of the managers’ face.

The Sethian mask

“Seth”, Thore exclaimed, as the events of last(?) night slowly returned. In between emptying the contents of his stomach by repeatedly and violently throwing up (partly in a container and partly on the trousers of the manager), Thore slowly related the events that had taken place in a small side street of the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes in the dark of night. The location itself meant nothing to Thore – who, as it turned out, had been found several hundred meters away under one of the ‘Ponts Couverts’ he had crossed earlier that same night – but it was obvious that H70 was very much in the know as to exactly which medieval building the thieves, their faces hidden behind those horrid Sethian masks, had broken into and robbed. As the manager excused himself to make a number of calls in the hallway, Thore returned in his mind to the events of that fateful night. He had only seen the shadow of his assailant, moving very quickly with a raised arm, but the sweet fragrance that had accompanied its coming struck a chord deep down in the basement of his brain. He had smelt this scent once before, if only he could remember where he had been.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to fire you”, H70 exclaimed as he entered the hospital room once more, leaving Thore dumbstruck.

 

Thore’s nightly walk in Strasbourg

 

(to be continued)

4

The Thore Tales – The Book of Thoth II

I. The Strasbourg Incident (continued)

Not willing to give much credit to what he thought he had seen only a few moments ago, Thore Kolbenschmidt nonetheless slowly retraced his steps. At a snail’s pace he approached the corner and briefly and as unobtrusively as possible gazed into the small side street leading out into the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes. As almost any other street in the ‘Petite France’ district of Strasbourg – or the Gerbenviertel (Tanner’s district) as it was known in his native German tongue – a combination of medieval white half timbre framed buildings and baroque sandstone houses made up most of this small, completely deserted road.

Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes at night (Strasbourg)

 

Among the many thoughts flashing through Thore’s mind at this particular instance, he could not help but remember – useful at it was at this time of night – reading in his guidebook during the car journey from Basel this morning that no patriotic or nationalistic feelings lay at the origin of the designation ‘Petite-France’. The district derived its name from the ‘hospice of the syphilitic’ (Hospice des Vérolés), which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island to cure persons with syphilis – or the ‘French disease’ (Franzosenkrankheit) as it was known back then.

Pushing similar thoughts to the back of his mind, Thore glanced once more into the small, only half-lit side street. What was it that had made him halt his steps and turn back to have a second look? Granted, it was certainly not the most common of sights, observing four movers in the dark of night, cautiously dragging a box from a medieval house, looking no different from many others in this street, into a large dark van – but then … this was France after all. Another look up the street, made him swallow. The furtive movements of the movers, dragging a box the size of a coffin was disconcerting on its own, but the two guards, on either side of the open doors of the dark van, holding what looked like semi-automatic weapons and urging their colleagues to pick up the pace, was definitely cause for alarm.

By now Thore had realised that it was neither the activity of the movers or the presence of the guards that had made him turn back, but the faces of all participants into this rather bewildering nightly excursion. No individual feature could be observed, as all six of them wore a similar face mask. After a total of nine seasons playing for the Horus Falcons – and being taught some basics of ancient Egyptian religion by Falcons manager H70 on the side – Thore immediately recognised the mask – raising every single tiny hair on his arms and causing minuscule droplets of sweat to run down his back. It was Sethian – a mask imitating the curved snout and the long, rectangular ears of the ancient Egyptian god of chaos Seth – none other but the archenemy of Horus and the murderer of Horus’ father Osiris according to ancient mythologies.

A Sethian Mask

Thore took out his notebook, turning over the page with the information on the Strasbourg player he had come to scout tonight, and quickly drew an image of the face mask. He was certain his manager would be more than a little bit interested into what he had observed tonight. The scouting might have been a failure, but this was information of a much more personal – and, not to say the least, disconcerting – nature.

Nature itself had not been idle these past moments. The wind had picked up and sent waves of raindrops, tiny like microscopic icicles, pounding his back and uncovered neck. As he turned up his collar, that same wind carried with it a fragrance, an unfamiliar yet sweet scent. A shadow could be seen moving on the pavestones and as he quickly turned around a heavy and blunt instrument connected sharply with his temple.

Afterwards there was only darkness.

(to be continued)

7

The Thore Tales – The Book of Thoth

I. The Strasbourg Incident

Darkness had already long fallen over the city of Strasbourg, when former Falcon player Thore Kolbenschmidt got out of a taxi at the Place Dunant. On the spur of the moment he had decided to walk the last hundreds of meters to his hotel on the Place Kléber, despite the cold drizzle that he knew would rather sooner than later find a way through his jacket and into his bones. A fine fog was slowly rising from the river Ill as he crossed the Ponts Couverts towards the picturesque Petite-France area of town. Once it had been the district of fishermen, tanners and millers, but now the area was mainly frequented by tourists from all corners of the world, happily snapping shots of the renaissance houses – if not their reflections in the water of the canals – or watching life go by seated in one of the many bars and restaurants that in modern times made up most of the quarter.

Ponts Couverts – Strasbourg

 

At this time of night only a few establishments appeared to be still open, with sleepy-eyed, grumpy waiters and annoyed and exasperated barmen waiting for the last drunk to stumble from his chair and disappear into the dark of night. Having only barely sidestepped a group of rather loud and drunk British nationals, undoubtedly celebrating someone’s ‘last hours of freedom’, Thore took a moment to gaze over the river to the Barrage Vauban across the water. ‘What am I doing here?’, he mumbled to no one in particular…

Thore Kolbenschmidt

In his mind, the events of the last few days were slowly recreated. Less than a fortnight ago, he had still been playing for the Horus Falcons in Prague – be it only as a shadow of the player he had been in his early years with the team. At least João Portugal, the Brazilian coach, had been honest – the upcoming change in training plans meant there would be no longer a place for him in the team. If he wanted, he could stay on and warm the bench, getting a few minutes in a friendly game on the off chance. He could also try his luck on the transfer market – but with his age, skills and recent injuries, it was obvious even to him that the best he could look forward to would be a new team in a low level league in one of the large HT-nations like Spain, Italy or Poland – or perhaps back to his native Germany… ‘Is this what it comes down to in the end?’, he had wearily thought. But the exploits from his younger years had not been entirely forgotten and on the instigation of manager H70 he had been inducted, as the second player in Falcon history, into the Falcon Hall of Fame on the first day of the New Year. A day later he had signed once again with the Falcons – now as their international scout for Western and Northern Europe.

Was this what he wanted? He did not know – but at least the next few months would give him the advantage of being on the road on his own, with only his thoughts as a faithful companion. He needed the time to think, consider his future and being on the move was definitely better than sitting at home and staring at the kitchen wall, a bottle of whiskey within reach, all day long. He did not even want to consider night time…

Sir-Schluurggi

Besides, as he had found out on his first assignment, being a former player of a Golden League team did have its advantages. With the GL passport in hand, he had been welcomed as royalty at Sutter’s Mill, the home of the Gold Rushers of FC Rünenberg, only a few days ago. The sympathetic Swiss team manager Schluurggi, recently ennobled to Sir, had taken time out from his otherwise hectic schedule to show him around the grounds, introducing him to some of the scouts working for the team and providing him with a few pointers on scouting in the Swiss-French-German borderlands.

It was Sir-Schluurggi who had given him a tip for a young talented player from the Strasbourg suburbs. The manager had even been so kind as to lend him one of his limousines with a driver to take him up north and into France. The short journey had taken him along the magnificent Rhine Valley. Looking to the west from the limousine, Thore had gazed at the lowlands of the Alsace and the beginning of the Vosges hill range. He knew he was driving through a region that had been a major stone of contention between Germany and France for many centuries, changing hands (and nationality) from one war to another. This was nothing new to him, being a native of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost of the German states, he could commiserate. His own region, bordering Southern Jutland, had been an integral part of Denmark for centuries and a chief reason for wars between Denmark and a nascent German state. He himself was a son of both nations – born to German Horst Kolbenschmidt and Dane Sarah Lund, carrying his father’s last name but the Scandinavian name of the hammer wielding god of thunder, lightning and storms – Thor. He had spent his youth in this border country, before moving to the region’s capital, Kiel, for life as a professional football player that would eventually take him to Prague, now already nine years ago. He thought he would do just fine in Strasbourg.

His thoughts now turned to tonight’s game. Interestingly, the player in question proved to be even better than Sir-Schluurggi had led him to believe, but from conversations with the team’s management later that evening in the club’s restaurant, it had soon become obvious that the price was at present far beyond what the Falcons would be willing to pay. After sitting in the cold for a few hours, he had enjoyed the heat the restaurant’s hearth had offered, not mentioning the spirits that had thoroughly warmed him throughout. Little of that inner warmth now remained, as he slowly made his way across the Ill River, trying to keep the drizzle from penetrating his jacket and quietly cursing himself for not having taken the taxi all the way to the hotel.

In thought and contemplating the events of the last few days once more, Thore crossed the three bridges of the Ponts Couverts and turned left into the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes. He had already passed the small side street and walked a few more paces on the main road, when he suddenly stopped and retraced his steps. Did he really see what he thought he had seen in that small street?

(to be continued)