Pilgrim Reindeer in Pisa, 1348

a free multimedia novel by

Thomas A. DuBois, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Detail, Triumph of Death. Camposanto. Pisa

Sálle has waited all his life to be contacted by the spirits. Now that they've called, there's no turning back—not until the spirits say STOP.

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10. Leaving Hattula [August 12, 1347]

 If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?

Bávlos watched his friend riding away with a sense of both outrage and relief. Dealing with Pekka had been trying to say the least. But then again, Pekka had been a source of information and companionship, and Bávlos had learned a great deal about the Finns and their ways from him. He had come to like Pekka, even come to think of him as a friend. Now Pekka was headed off to his Turku alone, and Bávlos wasn’t quite sure where he should go next or what he should do.

“Lead me, o spirits,” he muttered to himself. It occurred to him that he should collect Nieiddash from the priest’s stable and be on his way. He walked toward the house.

“Are you revived then?” said the priest at his side. He had walked up quietly from behind and Bávlos was not sure how much of the exchange with Pekka he had witnessed. He surmised that the horse that Pekka had left on must belong to the priest, so perhaps he knew a great deal about the situation.

“I am feeling fine now,” said Bávlos, looking down. He felt tears welling in his eyes and he willed them away.

“You know,” said the priest quietly, “it is not often that a man passes out when he receives the Eucharist.”

“Is it not?” said Bávlos surprised. He had not realized that his swooning in the church would have attracted attention, although he remembered with a wince Pekka’s words about “falling asleep in church.”

“No,” said the priest, smiling. “In fact, it is quite rare to do so, especially nowadays.”

“Nowadays? What do you mean?” asked Bávlos. He was glad to forget about Pekka for a moment and turn his attention to this novel topic.

“Well, you know,” said the priest, “people are so accustomed to the Eucharist that they hardly think anything of it these days. Why, it is not uncommon for a person to receive the sacred host three or even four times in a year!”

“Ah,” said Bávlos quietly. “Perhaps that was the issue: this was the very first time I received.”

“It was?” said the priest in utter shock. “You mean, you have not always been a Christian?”

“No indeed,” said Bávlos. “I did not know about the faith until I met Brother Pekka about a month ago.”

“I see,” said the priest, scratching his brow. “But then, what sort of Finn are you?”

“I am not a Finn,” said Bávlos, straightening his back slightly. “I am what you people call a Lappalainen. My people live far to the north, where the trees are shorter and the summer days stretch into endless light.”

“Then where have you learned the language of the Finns so well?” asked the priest. “I have served here in Finland for ten years and I still have trouble making sense of the tongue.”

“You are not a Finn?” asked Bávlos. He recognized a different sort of cadence to the priest’s words, a sort of lilt that Brother Pekka and the other strangers he had met so far seemed to lack.

“I am from over the sea on the Swedish side of the kingdom. I come from the city of Kalmar,” said the man. “By the way, my son, would you care to share dinner with me?”

“Gladly!” said Bávlos.

“Then you can tell me about your swooning,” said the priest. “I am most interested in hearing about your experience.” The priest escorted Bávlos to his home. It was large and fine inside, but the furnishings were fairly sparse. An old woman cooked for the priest and he had several other assistants that shared the work of the church, but their number was not great. Bávlos learned that the priest’s name was Father Jens, and that he had come to Finland to serve at the cathedral in Ĺbo but had eventually been reassigned here. “It is a little hard for me,” said Father Jens, “for I have no family in these parts and the Finns are a shy and retreating folk.” Bávlos blinked at the description. Pekka had seemed anything but shy and retreating.“Tell me now,” said the priest after dinner. “Tell me about your fainting. Was it because you received our Savior that you passed out in that way?”

“I think so,” said Bávlos. “I have never passed out before.” He elected not to mention that noaiddit tended to pass out with some regularity during the early time of their training. This priest seemed shocked enough to know that Bávlos had once been a pagan without pressing the point by furnishing more details.

“What did you see in your mind’s eye when it happened?” asked the priest.

Bávlos thought about the question for a moment. “I think I saw a door,” he said.

“A door?” repeated the priest. “What sort of door?”

“A great, heavy door,” said Bávlos as the image swam up into his memory again. “It was a door of heavy wood with a huge metal handle. And I saw that it was being pushed in, as if someone were entering. And behind the door I could sense a blinding light and a great surging wind. And as the light and wind swept inside I, I must have fainted.”

“Ah,” said the priest. “Did the vision contain no words?”

“It did,” said Bávlos slowly, “But I did not understand them. I think they must have been in Latina.

“What did you hear?” asked the priest, leaning forward intently.“The voice said, ‘Bruu-ter, komm till mik.”

“What?” said the priest with a jolt, “You know Swedish?”

“Swedish?” asked Bávlos, “What is that?”

“In your vision, you heard words in my language. They mean ‘Brother come to me.’”

“Ah,” said Bávlos quietly. So Iesh spoke Swedish as well as Sámi. He sat quietly for a moment.

“And you know no Swedish?” asked the priest again, more intent than ever.

“No,” said Bávlos. “I thought those words were Latina.”

“Friend,” said the priest. “You have received a mysterious vision. Such visions are no longer common in Christendom, but once they certainly were. Today there are few people who experience such things. Where is it you are headed now?”

“Well,” said Bávlos, “I don’t rightly know. I had planned to travel with Pekka to Turku, but he has left me on your horse.”

“Yes,” said the priest with a touch of tenderness in his voice. “I think he was very concerned to reach the city as quickly as possible, and I agreed to lend him my horse so that he could travel more swiftly.”

“Ah,” said Bávlos. So that explained it. Pekka had wanted to be rid of Bávlos and Nieiddash because now he was in a rush. A rush to get to his meeting and vote for the new headman. Perhaps his mean words were simply a way of trying ridding himself of Bávlos without admitting to what he was doing. It seemed an irritating ploy. Bávlos made up his mind in an instant: “I think I shall continue to Turku alone,” he said with finality.

“Yes!” said the priest, “do that! And I will send you with a letter for Bishop Hemming. He is a great expert on visions: a friend of the great visionary Lady Birgitta, whose inner ear hears our Savior himself.”

“Oh?” said Bávlos. He had not realized that this was unusual.

“Do you think you can find your way there?” asked the priest.

“I can,” said Bávlos confidently, “I have seen the cathedral once before.” As the words left his mouth, Bávlos realized how difficult they would be to explain. The priest was looking at him in surprise now, waiting for clarification. “I—“ said Bávlos nervously, “I saw it in a dream.”

“I see,” said the priest, nodding gravely. “My friend, you must see the bishop at once. I will write a letter for you.”

“A letter?” said Bávlos.

“Yes,” smiled the priest. “Have you never seen a letter?”

“No,” said Bávlos thoughtfully, “I don’t think I have.” The priest stared at him with eyes wide.

“So innocent, so rustic. And yet gifted with visions and mystical experiences!” he muttered. After some bustling about, the priest had fetched a large piece of thin leather, along with a pot of some sort of dark paint and a feather. The man began to dip the feather in the pot and then carefully applied the dark paint to the surface of the leather.

“What are you doing?” asked Bávlos fascinated.

“I am writing,” said the priest. “What we call skriva, but the Finns pronounce it as kirjoittaa.

“I see,” said Bávlos. “And why do you do this?” The lines the priest was making did not look like the etchings he knew from his grandfather’s drum. In fact, they looked very little like the sun or men, or reindeer, or any of the things that one would expect a person to paint on a fine piece of leather.

“I am writing letters that the bishop will be able to read,” said the priest patiently. “Look here, here is your name B-A-F-L-O-O-S.”

“Ah,” said Bávlos, looking carefully. It seemed to him that the first figure looked a little like Nieiddash with her two packs on. And the second definitely looked like a man striding. He took it that the third and fourth figures described the activities he had been engaged in on the road. There was a man bending over, followed by a man sitting on the ground. Then there were what Bávlos took to be two small lakes, followed by a winding path. “That is my name?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the priest, “That is how we write it.”

“I see, said Bávlos with satisfaction. It seemed a good summary of his current life, the life he had led since becoming a Bávlos. He wondered what sort of figures the man would have drawn to describe him when his name was Sálle or Sálash. After much more careful drawing, the priest at last seemed to have completed his work. He carefully rolled up the piece of leather and tied it closed with a piece of cord.

“When you come to the cathedral,” he said to Bávlos, “hand this scroll to one of the priests there and they will bring you to Bishop Hemming. You must tell them that Father Jens has sent you and that it is very important that you get to speak with the bishop. He will be able to determine the meaning of your visions.”

“I will do that,” said Bávlos happily. He took the roll and tucked it in his tunic. “But now I think I should go,” he said, rising. “Indeed so soon?” said the priest, a look of loneliness in his eyes. “It is so quiet here these days. They have promised to build a finer castle nearby once the work on the church here is complete, and then I shall have lots of company. But right now—"

Bávlos smiled and nodded. He felt sorry for the priest yet he felt no desire to remain. Something was pulling him forward now: perhaps the voice he had heard, perhaps the need to fulfill Iesh’s call, perhaps the desire to catch up with Pekka and even beat him to Turku. Whatever the case, it would not do to stay here much longer. “Thank you, Father,” said Bávlos gratefully. “You have shown me a beautiful sculpture and fed me with the Eucharist and written me my name. And I will never forget your kindness.”

“It was nothing, nothing,” said the priest smiling. “Do come back when you are finished in Turku. You must come to see the new church when it is built!”

“Indeed I am certain it will be a fine church,” said Bávlos.

“Well,” said the priest, “I will bless you in your travels. Bow your head and pray!” Bávlos did and the priest recited a prayer in deep and sonorous Latina. It sounded far different from what Pekka had generally said, and Bávlos felt that it was closer to the way God must speak the language. He thanked the priest and headed on the road headed for Turku.