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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13. Stockholm and Beyond [August 30, 1347]

Hark! My lover—here he comes, springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.

As grand and as confusing as Turku had been, Stockholm made it seem tiny and familiar. The city was immense, splayed upon various islands about which boats plied this way and that, like slow-moving gulls circling a ship. Where Turku had hundreds of inhabitants, Stockholm had thousands—so many in fact, that the very thought of them all made Bávlos dizzy and panicked. How could one place hold so many people? And where could all of these people have come from? The streets and marketplaces that they poured over, strolled over, ran over, peed upon, lingered in, haggled and bartered and brawled in, laughed in and cried in and yelled in when drunken were all paved in stone like the finest streets in Turku: paved of carefully cut stones set in regular patterns that were pleasing to the eye when they could be seen beneath the piles of offal and trash that littered the streets everywhere one looked. There were many folk that Bávlos heard who spoke Finnish, but far more spoke either the language of the priests back in Finland or the language of the captains and traders. And they all spoke it fast and furiously, as if the day didn’t have enough hours for all the commerce and dealings that needed to be done. As Bávlos wandered through the streets of this bewildering city, he could understand Pekka’s frustrations in coming to this land.

It did not take long for Bávlos to decide to remove himself entirely from Stockholm as quickly as possible, and by the end of his first day, he had managed to reached a quiet road through a countryside of forests and fields, not unlike what he had seen on the way from Hattula to Turku. He had left the great metropolis behind and found himself again in a countryside that made sense to him, traveling at a pace that he could handle. Bávlos found good hunting and fishing in the forests and enjoyed his trek a great deal, although he had no idea whatsoever where he was heading.

“Iesh,” he said, “you will have to guide me where you will.” Several days went by with Bávlos making little or no contact with any of the local folk. In fact, he found himself feeling remarkably shy around them. When he saw strangers approaching in the distance on the road he was traveling, he headed into the forest to stay out of sight. He felt a kind of uneasiness in this new land and a restlessness that he could not explain. Perhaps he was homesick for his father’s lands to the north, where the days were still long and the fishing and hunting so good. Nieiddash, too, had grown restless. Indeed, she seemed to be entering rut season now. She stepped lightly and seemed on the lookout for males, although they were far from any herd that Bávlos knew of. She refused to carry the packs any longer and struggled against her lead and rope. These changes made the going slower for Bávlos and he was not pleased with the difficulties Nieiddash presented.

“You are not going to find a mate in this region!” he told her firmly, “So you had might as well get used to it!”

But he was wrong. That very evening a great, powerful bull reindeer came in sight, grunting hungrily at Nieiddash. His neck was thick with rut vigor and he sported a long mane. He approached menacingly, his wide rack of antlers waving in the air and a look of determination in his eyes. Nieiddash easily slipped her harness and sprang off to join him. Bávlos stared after them in disbelief.

“How did a bull reindeer get to a place like this?” he asked aloud. “And what am I to do without Nieiddash? Iesh told me to bring him an unbred two-year old cow and now I have lost her to this bull!”

He decided to trail the two deer as best he could, keeping a watch on Nieiddash until after the rut. Once she had bred, the bull would no longer take interest in her and Bávlos reasoned that he could recapture her if he knew where she was. Thus he began to shadow the two, keeping them in sight while they traveled the forest and meadows in search of additional females. None materialized. After several days, Nieiddash allowed the great bull to mount her and her breeding was done. The bull turned away with hardly a second look and began to graze absent-mindedly nearby. Nieiddash did likewise, nosing up a large mushroom which she greedily devoured.

“Now,” said Bávlos to himself as he watched from behind a tree, “I can get back to my journey. I hope Iesh doesn’t mind that his cow has been bred.”

All at once, however, something momentous happened. A great horn sounded and both Nieiddash and the bull raised their heads in alarm. Bávlos heard the sounds of hounds baying and of horses charging through the forest. The two reindeer sprang off in panic, their eyes wide with fright. Bávlos watched as the hounds burst into the clearing and raced after the fleeing beasts. Naturally, Nieiddash was the slower of the two, and they soon narrowed their pursuit to her alone. The pack of hounds was followed by a pack of human hunters, mounted on great horses, armed with bows and arrows.

“Oh no!” cried Bávlos, as he raced behind. “What will become of my poor Nieiddash?” The chase continued for at least an hour. Nieiddash was an intelligent animal, who understood the ways of both humans and dogs from her life back on the lands of Bávlos’s uncle. She easily outmaneuvered the hounds, and the hunters seemed unwilling to even attempt a shot until their dogs should have her cornered. On the other hand, Nieiddash had not been eating much during rut and she had just bred, so she was not in her fittest state. And running continually this way took its toll on her, to be sure. Bávlos imagined that she would tire before too long. Fortunately, she did not head off in a single line to escape her pursuers, but circled around several times so that she remained fairly close to Bávlos all the while. Bávlos thought that she might be searching for him as a source of protection, although he could little imagine how he could fight off a pack of hounds and slew of hunters alone. He saw her head down a wooded slope toward a lane that ran through the forest. She was beginning to flag as she reached the slope, trailed by the insistent and fierce hounds. She paused to kick one of their leaders in the snout and brandished her antlers dangerously. The dog whimpered loudly, as it rolled several times over from the kick, blood streaming from its nose. The other hounds continued their pursuit unabated, but hung back somewhat, apparently unwilling to approach too closely until there were enough of them nearby so as to attack their quarry together.

Then something remarkable occurred, the likes of which Bávlos would never forget. A wagon came into sight, drawn by two brown horses, trotting briskly at the urging of a man with a small whip. Behind him, in cushioned seats of beautiful fabric, Bávlos saw two women, talking happily. One was small and old, the other, tall and young, with beautiful yellow hair that shone out from beneath her wimple. Her body was slender and long, and she wore a simple gray gown with long sleeves and a decorated belt. Nieiddash caught sight of the wagon and veered suddenly toward it. In an act that reflected her comfort with human company, she lept onto the wagon and cowered close by the younger woman. Both women shrieked with surprise as the driver brought the wagon to a rapid stop. The hounds circled the wagon, baying furiously and bearing their fangs. The driver stepped in front of the ladies with his whip to beat the dogs away. Bávlos began to run toward the wagon as quickly as he could. But he stopped when he saw the horsemen arriving over the ridge, heading toward the wagon and circling it on their mounts. One of the riders grabbed the reins of the horses that had pulled the wagon and kept them from charging away.

A tall man in a great scarlet cape pushed between the other riders and doffed his hat at the ladies. Bávlos watched carefully to try to make out what they said. He seemed to be laughing as he pointed to the frightened Nieiddash, now lying timidly at the young woman’s feet, panting frantically. The woman was gently petting her, looking up at the man. She drew her arms around the reindeer’s neck lovingly and squeezed her in a hug. Then she spoke further to the man. He bent down and kissed the woman warmly and then made a motion to one of the other men. That man sounded his horn, and the men began to drive the hounds away from the wagon, flogging them if they dared return. Before too long, they had managed to drive all the dogs away and were now charging off in the direction of the bull. Bávlos could hear as the dogs picked up the other scent and the pack headed away into the distance, the horsemen trailing behind.

Bávlos watched as the woman continued to pet Nieiddash’s head. She spoke to the driver and he seemed to be making ready to head away.

“Vuordde! Wait!” cried Bávlos at the top of his lungs as he charged down the hill. If he didn’t reach the wagon soon, he felt certain that he would never see Nieiddash again.