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

Part II. The Hansa Lands and France

24. Lübeck [October 15, 1347]

Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity.

A soft breeze accompanied the boat as it arrived in the great port city of Lübeck. Even from the sea, Bávlos found that it looked very much like Reval, or Visby, or Kalmar, or Stockholm, or even Turku. Its streets were crowded and twisty, and the finest ones were paved with stones. The houses were large and impressive, with big doorways perched high above the street and places to store goods high in their upper stories. Each house had a large wooden beam that thrust out into the street, onto which traders attached pulleys and ropes so that they could hoist goods off wagons and into storage. Nearly everything seemed to be used for trading, or for making goods to be traded, or for feeding and entertaining traders who were passing through. Everything, of course, but the churches. In prominent places, near where all the finest houses were located, huge churches craned upward, their sharp steeples like fingers or knifeblades pointing toward heaven. At regular intervals, great bells in these towers sounded, so that Bávlos found he could judge the time of day by the sounds of their ringing. Everything seemed so lively, so full of optimism and vigor, but also so stressful and loud.

Master Claes had told Bávlos to look up an old friend of his, another carver named Hans. After some wandering and various inquiries, Bávlos located his shop. Like the doorway of Claes’s home, Hans’s workshop was decorated with fine carvings both on the doorway itself and above it. But when Bávlos stepped inside, he found a world completely unlike the one he remembered from Visby. The air was filled with sound: hammering and rasping, people shouting and talking, the sounds of large wooden objects being dragged and loaded and rolled. There were two long tables, each manned by at least a dozen workers: old men with white hair, large men in their prime, young men and boys. And there were women and girls along as well, joining in on the work in various ways. Bávlos noticed a young girl of perhaps twelve carefully carving a hand, while an older girl of sixteen covered a completed sculpture with a coating of white paint. A burly man of sixty was roughly gouging out the back of a future sculpture, striking at his chisel with the huge mallet he held. And a very old man who looked like Master Claes was hunched over a head he was carving, carefully making striations in some saint’s curly beard. They were all busily working on their own tasks, sharing the space and the warmth of the busy shop.

“Hello and God’s blessing to the people of this house!” Bávlos announced in the manner he learned from his dealings in cities before.

The very old man looked up and smiled. “Good day, sir,” he said cheerily. “How can I help you?”

“I am searching for Master Hans,” said Bávlos.

“You have found him !” said he man, rising.

“Hello!” said Bávlos bowing. “My name is Bávlos and I bring you greetings from your friend Master Claes of Visby!”

“Master Claes!” said the man with a cheer. “I have not heard from good Master Claes for several years! How is he doing, my friend?”

“He is doing well,” said Bávlos. “He just completed a fine sculpture for the Church of the Holy Spirit in Reval!”

“The Church of the Holy Spirit?” said the man. “Is that not where the miraculous statue of Master Klaus of Goslar is located? Did you get a chance to see that work?”

“I did,” said Bávlos tersely.

“And it is fine, I should think?” said the craftsman, his eyes twinkling with interest.

“I suppose,” said Bávlos. “But Master Claes’s sculpture is truly something to see: a great statue of our Lady suckling our Savior with her nipple!”

“Do tell?” laughed the old man. “That Master Claes was always one for the newest and most daring!”

“Indeed,” said Bávlos. “It is a remarkable work.”

“Yes,” said the old man, motioning to Bávlos to take a seat across the table from him and returning to his careful carving of the saint’s beard, “Master Claes was never one to let the artistry of his work take second place.”

“Second place?” asked Bávlos. “Second place to what?”

The old man smiled and pointed around him with his nose. “Look around you,” he said. “You will notice that my workshop is a little different than that of Master Claes.” Bávlos looked again at the work going on around him. People were busily carving and sawing and painting. A boy down the line was working on a long leg. He had several more beside him in varying degrees of completion. A tall man with bright yellow hair was rasping the torso of several different statues, some women, some men.

“Your workshop is very busy,” said Bávlos.

“Busy,” said the man. “Do you see any glorious teats on these statues? Any miracle-inducing features or any sort?”

“I don’t know,” said Bávlos hesitantly, “I’m not sure what such features would look like.”

“Don’t fret, my boy, you will be not offend me. Look around at my works. They are all, er, conventional, don’t you think?”

“Conventional?” said Bávlos.

“Yes,” said the old man, smiling sadly. “Predictable. Ordinary. In fact, my whole goal with these statues is not to raise any eyebrows at all.”

“Why not?” asked Bávlos. “Why should you not, as you say, raise the eyebrows of people?”

“Bad for sales,” said the man. “People want what they have seen before. Churches, monasteries, convents, and even some pious homes of wealthy souls, all are anxious for statues of the saints, or of Our Lady, or of the Savior himself. There is plenty of work to be had, and the faster I produce these statues, the more I can earn. I am providing well for my workshop, as you can see. Lots of families are supported by this house.”

“So you make lots of statues so that you can earn lots of money,” said Bávlos, “and then you have to make them all look alike?”

“That is the way,” said the man simply. “High-minded bishops and burgermeisters may seek out a master like your Master Claes or the great Master Klaus. But clerics with more limited funds turn to me or any of the dozen or so competing workshops in the same city.”

“Ah,” said Bávlos. He pictured a throng of similar statues falling from a tree like apples in the autumn.

“I am not sorry for my choices,” said the man. “Do not feel sorry for me. If all carvers were like Master Claes, there would be many faithful who would never see a statue at all!”

Bávlos had lunch with the craftsman and his crew and showed Nieiddash off to the younger members of the household. Then he took his leave, receiving advice from the old man about where he could trade some pelts.

“Master Hubert the furrier will buy pelts,” said the man. “But don’t sell him all you’ve got. If you are planning to travel to Paris and Avignon as you say, save some of your furs to sell there instead.”

“All right,” said Bávlos, “and thank you.” It occurred to him that this advice was much like the one he had received from his spirit gang in Ĺbo. For some reason, no one wanted him to part with all his pelts, even though they were sometimes a nuisance to haul along on the journey.

After some further walking and asking directions and watching of curious activities in the street, Bávlos eventually came to the house of Master Hubert. He entered the shop to find the master, clad in a simple gray tunic with a long hood speaking to a small, jolly looking man with bright eyes and a long graying beard. He wore a heavy black cape over his gown and a wide-brimmed, pointy hat on his head. Bávlos notice a large, wheel-shaped brooch of red and white on his breast.

“Good day,” said Bávlos to both men.

“Good day,” said the burly furrier, folding his red, thick arms. “Have you got some pelts you’re peddling?”

“I do,” said Bávlos, “a few.”

“Well pull them out,” said the man. “I don’t have all day you know.”

“No sir,” said Bávlos. He unbound his pack and took out two fine furs, a fox and a lynx.

“What about the rest?” said the furrier, eyeing the pack.

“These two I have to trade,” said Bávlos. “No others.”

“Shrewd,” muttered the little man, standing by, “very shrewd.”

Bávlos looked at him in confusion, but the man quickly turned away and began to whistle to himself.

“I see,” said the furrier, running his hand over the lynx pelt. “I will pay you for these gladly. They are handsome furs and nicely tanned. Look like goods from the north of Sweden I should say.”

“They are indeed!” said Bávlos smiling. He was glad that this man seemed to know at least something about his land. After Bávlos had completed his dealings with the furrier, he turned and politely left the shop. He stood on the door step tying up his bag of coins to bury inside his tunic.

“Good sir,” said the small man, who had now come out of shop. “Would you care to dine with me?”

“Dine?” asked Bávlos, “with you?”

“Yes,” said the man, suddenly affronted. “Am I unworthy of your company then?” he said with an irritated tone. He tapped the large brooch on his breast as if to call attention to it.

“No, no,” said Bávlos politely. “It’s just that I do not know you and I was surprised that you should want to eat with me.”

“I have a proposal for you,” said the man.

“A proposal?” said Bávlos. He was not sure what the word meant.

“You are a shrewd businessman, I see,” said the man smiling. “I like that. Come, let us take some dinner at the tavern nearby.”

“Gladly,” said Bávlos. Over dinner, Bávlos learned that this jolly man was named Simon, and that he was a Jew. Bávlos had heard of such people quite often by now, but he had never met one in person before. The man seemed much like other Hansa traders, only dressed a little differently, and with a jollier demeanor. The brooch he wore was meant to inform all onlookers that he was of a different faith, and as Simon explained, he was required to wear it by the city’s authorities.

“I am hazarding the guess,” said Simon cheerfully, “that you are headed south with your wares, are you not?”

“I am on my way to Paris, good sir,” said Bávlos and from there to Avignon. I am to bring my reindeer to present to the Holy Father.”

“Ah, yes,” said the man smiling. “That will be a great curiosity in Avignon, I can tell you. It shall fetch a fine price down there.”

“You have been Avignon?” asked Bávlos.

“Many times,” said the man. “I am a prosperous merchant, you see.” Bávlos nodded.“Well,” said the man, “I will not beat around the bush any longer. You are headed, I take it, through Köln, are you not?”

“Köln?” asked Bávlos. He had never heard of that land before.

“Köln!” said the merchant with a touch of impatience. “The great Hansa city to the south! Surely you know of it?”

“Well,” said Bávlos, “Is it on the way to Paris?”

“Of course it is!” cried the man.

“Then yes,” said Bávlos resolutely, “yes you are right. I will be passing through Köln.”

“Ah, good,” said the merchant. “I thought so. Sir, I would ask to accompany you there.”

“Accompany me?” asked Bávlos. “Whatever for?”

“Well,” said the man, somewhat taken aback by Bávlos’s answer, “surely you understand my situation.”

“I am sorry sir,” he said apologetically. “I am a foreigner in these lands, and it seems that there is much that I do not understand.”

“Let us go for a walk, then,” said the man, “and I shall explain it to you.”

“Gladly,” said Bávlos. “I need to walk after eating.”

“Very healthy of you,” said the man. “I expect your parents have raised you well.” Simon and Bávlos left the tavern to breathe the night air.