Pilgrim Reindeer in Pisa, 1348

a free multimedia novel by

Thomas A. DuBois, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Click here to return to Tom's homepage

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.

Navigate the novel by:

Drum head Calendar Click here to return to novel homepage



Previous chapter
Cultural information for this chapter
Notes from the author
Next Chapter

12. The Crowded Ship [August 17, 1347]

A king is not saved by a mighty army, Nor is a warrior delivered by great strength. Useless is the horse for safetyGreat though its strength, it cannot provide escape.

Bávlos returned to the cathedral the next day to see the remains of the holy martyred St. Henrik. He found no body anywhere, although one chapel contained a fine altar that was decorated with a cloth that seemed to tell of the same events which Bishop Hemming had described. It was a very fine chapel and a priest was saying mass there several times a day. Bávlos asked the priest if this was the place of St. Henrik.

“It is indeed,” said the priest eagerly. His very skull is enclosed within this altar and that golden stand there,” he said, pointing at a large object that was shaped like a hand of gold, “holds the holy bishop’s ring finger!”

“His finger?” asked Bávlos, surprised.“Yes,” said the priest eagerly. “Recovered from an ice floe in the melting Lake Köyliö in the spring after his death.”

“How was it ‘recovered’?” asked Bávlos.

“Well,” said the priest, “when the evil Lalli attacked poor St. Henrik, he chopped him into many pieces. And the holy bishop’s servant gathered these up as best he could. But he missed one finger: the finger with the holy bishop’s ring!”Bávlos recalled his having to kiss Bishop Hemming’s ring and reasoned that these must be very important items to bishops.

“He forgot the ring?” he asked.

“Forgot it, no,” said the priest. “There was so much blood on the snow upon the lake that no doubt he could not see the finger. So he took what he could find and placed it in a wagon to be pulled by an ox. For the holy Bishop Henrik had told him: ‘Gather up my remains and place them in a wagon and let an ox lead them to wherever he wishes. And where he stops, there build me a tomb.”

“I see,” said Bávlos. He had a hard time imagining the bishop telling his servant all these instructions at the very moment that the angry Lalli was advancing upon him with his ax. Perhaps if he had been shorter of words he would have lived a longer life.

“Well, spring came,” continued the priest, “and the lake melted. But a holy woman was walking along the shore and she caught sight of two ravens having a tug of war over some scrap. She went over to see what they were fighting about and she discovered the finger with the bishop’s ring. The ring confirmed that it was the holy martyr’s, so it was taken along to his tomb. It had been preserved on the ice floe by our Lord, for he didn’t want it to sink into the darkness of the lake.”

“So they brought it here?” asked Bávlos. “The ox brought the remains to this place?”

“Well, no,” said the priest. “The ox brought them to the place called Nousiainen. And there they built a church and shrine.”

“But then,” said Bávlos, “how did they come to be here in Turku?”

“They were brought here by Bishop Hemming,” said the priest.

“But St. Henrik had said that they should bury him where the ox stopped.”

“The bishop—“ said the priest, and then hesitated. He seemed to have decided to say no more.

Bávlos nodded. “Thank you for this story,” he said. The priest nodded again and returned to his work.

“Go to the shipyard,” said a voice within Bávlos’s head.

“I shall,” said Bávlos. He walked down the hill toward the riverside, where the masts of many ships swayed restlessly in the mid-August wind.As he walked along the shore, various ship owners called out to him.

“Is that a reindeer?” asked one, a tall brawny man whose skin was brown and leathery.

“It is,” said Bávlos.

“Are you a trader of furs?” said the man.

“I have furs to trade, yes,” said Bávlos.

“Let me see them!” said the man eagerly.

“Do not show him all of them,” said a voice within Bávlos’s head. “Only one martin, and one ermine, along with one of the reindeer pelts!”

Bávlos did as the voice instructed, carefully turning Nieiddash around and opening his pack so that the man could not see inside. He found that someone had packed one martin and one ermine skin on top, along with one of the reindeer pelts. He drew these out to show the man. The man took them and examined them carefully.

“Is that all the pelts you’ve got?” he asked.Bávlos chose his words carefully.

“Everything I’ve got is in that pack,” he said.

“Well,” said the man, “Fine goods. What will you take for them?”

“Passage,” said a voice within Bávlos’s head.

“Passage,” he said. He was not sure what this word meant, but he felt that the voice had steered him well thus far.

“Passage?” asked the man in surprise. “You want to travel to Stockholm do you?”

Bávlos was surprised at this statement, but he replied quickly “Yes. Passage for me and my reindeer.”

“You want to bring your reindeer to Stockholm?” laughed the man, shaking his head.

“The reindeer comes as well,” said Bávlos firmly.

The captain looked again at the pelts: “Very well,” he said. “Passage for you and your beast. We sail early tomorrow. Be here before sunrise and don’t be late!” said the man. “We will have great personages on board.” Bávlos nodded and thanked the man for his help. He walked out to the shore and began to fish.

It was not hard for Bávlos to arrive at the ship before dawn, for he spent the night by the shore not a stone’s throw away. The ship was long: some forty paces from front to rear, and it had a place below deck for livestock and goods. Nieiddash was stowed there with some chickens, geese, and pigs. There was also a large house in the center of the ship beneath the main mast.

“That’s not for you,” said one of the sailors. “You’ll sleep out here on deck unless it rains. Then you can come down into the hold with us sailors.”

“Fine,” said Bávlos. He was looking forward to the voyage. This would be his first time on the sea, although his father and uncle had often voyaged on the sea to the north of their lands. Bávlos reflected that he was not exactly following the bishop’s good advice: he had not headed home, nor had he rejected his visions. In fact, if “visions” included voices speaking in one’s head, he must be very guilty of pride by this point. “Ah well,” he said. “The bishop will not know.” It also occurred to him that he was failing to take Pekka’s advice, so strongly given when they had parted in Hattula. “It is time for you to go home,” he had said. What would he think now if he knew that Bávlos was embarking on a ship to the land of Stockholm? Bávlos found a quiet corner of the deck and rolled up to sleep.


It was becoming light when other passengers began to board the ship. They were mostly traders, Bávlos ascertained, and they spoke to each other in a language that was different from the language of the bishop and priests. They seemed to keep to themselves and have little to say to the sailors. There were also some clergy who boarded: priests and brothers, dressed in white and black like Pekka. There was a group of them praying at the prow of the boat. Now all of them but one seemed to be leaving and the remaining one was waving at them as they trundled back over the gangplank to shore. He had his hood pulled over his head and sat huddled in the prow like a sack of roots or grass with which to stuff shoes in winter.

At last the sun was high and the man from yesterday—the captain—began pacing impatiently up and down. “Are we leaving soon?” asked Bávlos of the man as he passed closely by.

“We should have been gone two hours ago!” said the captain, “but we have to wait for the dignitary to arrive.” The man said the word with a certain contempt in his voice, shaking his head back and forth and grimacing.

“Dignitary?” asked Bávlos. He did not understand the word.

“Big man,” said the captain. “Big, important man. He’ll sleep inside.”

“Ah,” said Bávlos, nodding.

It seemed a long, long time before the dignitary at last arrived. He was accompanied by a great train of attendants, who brought many boxes and chests aboard. They were all very excited. One of the attendants held a high red hat: a bishop’s hat. Bávlos stared at the hat and then at the prestigious guest. It was the bishop!

Bávlos thought for a great while what to do. Undoubtedly, the bishop would eventually see him here on the boat: it was unlikely that they could sail clean across the sea without noticing each other. Bávlos would have to confront him sometime, so he decided it might as well be now. He walked to the place where the great bishop sat and humbly bowed before him.

“Paulus the Lappalainen,” said the bishop in surprise. “Are you traveling back to the Torne on this ship as well?”

“I am headed to Stockholm,” said Bávlos, thinking quickly, “and I think there are ships that head from there to the north.”

“There are indeed, my son,” said the bishop smiling. “I am glad that you have seen fit to return to where you belong. It is prideful to go outside of one’s proper place.”

“Indeed,” said Bávlos. “And you, are you headed back to Sweden?” It occurred to him that the bishop might see this question as a hint that he belonged more in Sweden than in Finland, but he decided to ignore the worry and simply push ahead.

“I am on an important mission,” said the bishop impressively. “I am bearing messages of great importance. Messages that I have received by letter from the holy Lady Birgitta. She has asked me to deliver them to the pope in Avignon, to his highness King Philippe of France and to his highness King Edward of England. They are messages that derive from the Lady Birgitta’s divine concourse with our Savior himself!”

“Ah,” said Bávlos nodding. He remembered what the bishop had said about visions of importance.

“Yes,” continued the bishop warmly, “Our Lady Birgitta has foreseen many important things. If his holiness the pope takes heed of her words, it will be possible to convert the evil Novgorodans to the faith at last. And if the kings take heed of the advice she has sent to them, they will patch up their current strife and live in peace forever more as happy kinsmen.”

“I see,” said Bávlos.

“Yes,” said the bishop, “God is at work on this ship. I have prayed for a safe and speedy crossing and I have every confidence that we shall prosper on the waves.”

“I am cheered by the news,” said Bávlos humbly, as he backed away. The bishop motioned with his hand to dismiss him. Bávlos returned to his place in the stern of the ship and watched the waves. The ship swayed in the deep swells of the sea, up and down, over and over, as the sailors brought the boat around in this direction and then that, taking advantage of the winds to cut a jagged path eastward across the sea. From time to time they neared islands large and small, and the captain had to shout commands to turn rapidly, lest the ship become caught in the shallows near shore. It was strange that the sea seemed seldom free of islands.

“We are making good time,” said the captain to Bávlos that afternoon. “At this rate, we should be able to reach Stockholm tomorrow, or the next day at the very latest.”

“I am glad,” said Bávlos. “The bishop has important messages with him.”

“So I understand,” said the captain. “We have all heard about them.”

Bávlos smiled. The captain seemed to have a humorous side to him, but he kept it hidden when there were bishops nearby. Bávlos looked past him toward the bishop, who sat in his great chair in the middle of the deck. Then he allowed his eyes to follow the curve of the ship toward the prow. There in the very front of the ship, clinging to a line as the prow rose and fell, he noticed the lone friar who had remained on board. He was battling the wind and the sea spray that rose from the waves now, and his hood was tossed back. Bávlos stared in disbelief. It was Pekka.

At once, Bávlos felt a fury welling within him. He breathed quickly and curled his lip. He was angry. He began to walk toward the struggling friar and a great desire filled him to lift the wretch off the deck and fling him in the sea. Luckily, he had calmed down by the time he reached the prow. He stood arm’s distance from Pekka and regarded him silently. Pekka pretended not to notice him. “Brother Pekka,” said Bávlos after a long while of the friar’s feigned unawareness. “You have left your beloved Turku again?”

Brother Pekka’s back was rigid and he paused a long while looking out at sea. Then he turned suddenly toward Bávlos and smiled. “Bávlos!” he cried! “What a coincidence meeting you on board! I had not realized you were here!”

“Ah,” said Bávlos quietly. “You never did have much of a sense of observation.”

“Well,” said the friar briskly. “So very nice to see you. You are headed to Stockholm I take it?”

“It would appear so,” said Bávlos drily, “and you?” Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by the captain. He was pacing wildly back and forth, grimacing at the sea and sky and shouting orders at his men.

“I cannot understand it,” said the captain. The winds are fair and we seem to be sailing strongly, yet we make no headway, no headway at all. And we haven’t moved an inch for the past quarter of an hour!”

“Hmph,” said Pekka frowning. He looked over at Bávlos but said nothing. The situation continued and all eyes looked out at the mysterious sea. The wind filled the sails and the waves seemed gentle enough, but the boat failed to go forward. The captain became more and more impatient and more and more suspicious as the minutes turned to an hour and then even longer.

“I almost think,” said the captain to Pekka in a low voice, “that we have some sort of magic holding us back, like the magic of Lappalaiset.” He looked furtively at Bávlos then turned quickly away.

“Magic?” said Pekka with a start. Now he, too, looked at Bávlos.

“Lapp magic,” mouthed the captain, hoping that Bávlos would not see. Naturally Bávlos saw it all, for he had remained standing close by Pekka, waiting for him to give some sort of explanation for his cruel actions two weeks earlier.

“I shall pray to God,” said Pekka sternly. “God’s will shall prevail over any demonic trickery.”

“Do that,” said the captain. “I have asked the bishop to pray as well. We must move through these islands before it turns dark."

Pekka knelt down at once to pray, ignoring Bávlos entirely. He turned his face toward the skies and thrust his arms out wide. The rocking of the ship made it difficult for him to stay upright. A seagull lighted for a moment upon his head.

“Get off, you fiend!” Pekka growled at the seagull. He glanced over at Bávlos, who was sitting where he had left him, staring intently back at him in silence.

Pekka renewed his praying: “Oh ancient one, maker of the sun, moulder of mountains, shaper of oceans, smoother of hills, digger of lakes and scatterer of islands…” Bávlos smiled broadly as he listened. More seagulls were now congregating above Pekka’s head. Pekka began to swat at them madly as he continued his prayer.

At last Bávlos rose and walked over to the captain. “Captain,” he said.

“Yes Sir Passenger,” said the captain, squinting his eyes somewhat. “Please speak quickly, I have much to attend to.”

“The boat,” he said, “will not move.”

“So I gathered,” said the captain, eyeing him with suspicion. “Do you know why?”

Pekka had stopped his praying and was now listening intently to their conversation.

“There is a saying among my people,” said Bávlos.

“Yes?” said the captain, looking at Bávlos’s clothing and clearing his throat.

“There is a saying,” repeated Bávlos, “that no one can go forward if anyone holds onto the past. We must say sorry to each other and forgive each other. Only then may we go forward.”

“Your people say this?” said the captain. “And who are your people?”

“Christians,” said Bávlos simply. “My people are Christians.”

Pekka scowled under his breath.

“I see,” said the captain, glancing at the angry friar. “I see.” After a moment of thought, he spoke again: “All right, Sir Passenger. I, too, am a Christian, and I know what you mean. I hereby order, therefore, that all on this boat confess their evils to those they have done wrong to and ask for forgiveness. Perhaps then God will relent and allow us to continue on our way.”

Immediately, the passengers and crew on the boat began to talk to each other.

“I am sorry I was rude to you and your son,” said a sailor to one of the passengers. “I hope you can forgive me.”

“I am sorry that I took the seat you wanted,” said the son to an old man who was sitting on a bench. "Please come back and take the seat. I have warmed it up for you.”

On the apologies went, each person turning to another and asking forgiveness. At first the bishop appeared very irritated by this display of contrition, but after a while, he permitted his attendants to ask him for forgiveness for various things they had done. He did not seem to have offended anyone himself, but he was content to allow others to acknowledge their failings. The captain had many words to say to his sailors and they to each other. At last Bávlos returned to Pekka.

“Have you nothing at all to say to me?” asked Bávlos. “Nothing at all?”

“I, I—“ said Pekka angrily. He paused and then breathed deeply. “All right, fine. I’m sorry I chased you away,” he said. It seemed to Bávlos like ice breaking on the surface of a lake: at once Pekka began to talk volubly, explaining what had happened.

“I was so desperate to get back to Turku,” he said imploringly, “I needed to borrow the priest’s horse so that I could make it back in time. I knew you could not go as fast on foot, with your reindeer and pack. So I decided to leave you behind. I am sorry.”

“I forgive you,” said Bávlos. “And I am sorry that I became so angry. I was really irritated with you after that, and really, to be honest, even before then.”

“Ah,” said Pekka with a sigh. “You are not the first.”

Almost with the very words, the boat lurched forward. “Hurray!” cried the crew.

The captain beamed. “We seem to have broken free of what held us,” he said. “Thank you, Sir Passenger, for your suggestion.”

Bávlos nodded happily. “Did you make it in time?” he asked Pekka.

Pekka blushed. “In time? Oh you mean to the vote. Do you really want to know?” he asked.

“Of course!” said Bávlos smiling. “I certainly understood how important it was for you to go! I didn’t begrudge you rushing off. Among my people, folks go when they have to go. So tell me, what happened?”

“Well,” said Pekka, now eager. “It happened like this. I came to the priory and I found them taking the vote, just as you had said. Brother Timo was collecting the votes as I entered and he had just announced that he had all the votes when I stepped through the door. And Brother Markku and some others called out ‘Not everyone’s, not everyone’s!” And all the eyes in the room turned toward me! And I could see Brother Jaakko glaring at me with his nasty eyes and Brother Simo smiling at me kindly. And I grabbed a piece of parchment and cast my vote for Brother Simo!”

“And what happened?” asked Bávlos excitedly.

“Brother Simo won!” cried Pekka jubilantly. “Brother Jaakko was furious! He stalked out of the room and got very drunk that night on communion wine!”

“Indeed?” said Bávlos smiling. “So it worked out well then. I am glad.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “But where are you headed now then? I thought you hoped to remain in Turku.”

“I, I did,” said Pekka quietly. “But Brother Simo explained to me how important it was for me to help at Skellefteĺ. There are none of the other brothers who can do the job. And the bishop—” he looked up to the imposing figure of the bishop, seated in the center of the ship with his great pointed hat on, “the bishop insisted that our house must send someone to the mission there. And no one else could go. And since I had shown such ability in traveling all the way back by foot—“

“So they are sending you back to Skellefteĺ,” said Bávlos. “I am sorry, my friend.”

“It’s okay,” said Pekka quietly. “Someone has to go. And I am better at learning languages and new ideas than my brothers, they tell me.” Bávlos said nothing but turned away so as not to laugh.

“Will you come with me to Skellefteĺ? “ said Pekka with sudden intensity. “We could talk all the time then, and I would teach you all you need to know about the faith!”

“Thank you for the invitation,” said Bávlos warmly. “I am glad that we have met again. But no, I cannot go with you to Skellefteĺ. I feel Iesh is calling me elsewhere.”

“Indeed?” said Pekka. He looked at Bávlos suddenly with his mouth open.“The Lord speaks to you, doesn’t he?” he said.

“Yes,” said Bávlos simply, “He does.”

“Then you are blessed indeed,” said Pekka. “And I am glad to have met you.”

“And I am glad to have met you, my friend,” said Bávlos. “I hope that we shall meet again.”

“I hope so as well,” said Pekka. They shook hands and then embraced. The next day, as the ship pulled into the grand port of Stockholm, they courteously took leave of each other with waves and warm words.

“Fare well,” said Pekka.

“Live well,” said Bávlos. They walked their separate ways: one eager and energetic, headed toward the south, and the other, reluctant and rather stooped, trudging toward the north.