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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 5. Contact at Last [July 6, 1347]

The Lord called to Samuel, who answered,

“Here I am.”

That night, Sálle and his guest set up camp on a hillside by a stream. They ate some of the smoked meat that Sálle had brought and some water from the stream. Sálle set some snares to catch fowl for breakfast. The man continued his nearly endless chatter, little of which seemed to be of any great importance. The man seemed intent on telling Sálle about Jumala and his son. It was a complicated story, from what Sálle could tell, full of broken promises and violence. Apparently Jumala had sent his son to help another family and the family had killed him. Such things seemed always part of the strangers’ world. Sálle knew it would be best to pass this man on to a new guide at his uncle’s and get back home as soon as possible. Even being near the man made Sálle edgy. As darkness fell, Sálle lay down near the fire, but well away from the stranger, and went to sleep.

“Sálle!” spoke a voice. “Sálle, awake!” Sálle sat up. The grove was almost dark but, apart for the stranger, Sálle could see that he was quite alone. He poked the man, who seemed asleep. “You wanted me?” he asked.

The man rolled over and opened his eyes in confusion. He shook his head vigorously and waved his hand so as to tell his friend to go back to sleep. Sálle lay down again and shut his eyes.

“Sálle!” he heard again. The voice was quiet but insistent. Sálle sat bolt upright and got up again. He poked the stranger once again. “What is it you want?!” he asked. Again, the man looked confused and shaking his head rolled over.

“I want sleep,” he said with decided vigor. Sálle could hear that his voice was not the same as the one that had spoken a moment earlier. Sálle closed his eyes again and pretended to sleep. He knew that spirits could come at night and that they needed to be handled fearlessly or they would drive one insane.

“Sálle,” he heard again.

“What do you want?” he said directly, speakly to the air.

“You,” came the answer. Sálle felt a tingle along his spine. So this was it: the spirit gang had come at last and was offering him their help.

“You want me?” said Sálle.

“Yes,” said the voice. “I am He, the sun’s son, the powerful one that the stranger tried to tell you about. I am a Sámi, you and I are kin, and I want you to come and live with me.”

“Live with you?” asked Sálle, “Where do you live?”

“You must come to me,” said the voice. “Beyond two seas, through many lands of foolish strangers, none of whom understand my ways. You must come and teach them. They have done great wrong.”

“How do I come to you?” asked Sálle, “I have never been beyond my uncle’s lands!”

“Go with this stranger to the trading post,” said the voice. “Take wind knots with you. You will have to cross a second great sea and winds will be needed on the way. Bring a two-year old female reindeer with you. I will lead you on the way.”

“But how will I know when I get there?” asked Sálle. “And what about my parents and brothers and sisters?”

“No one can be my follower who does not leave his parents and his comforts and his easy ways behind,” said the voice impressively. “You must come alone, except for your reindeer, and you must come at once. You are no longer Sálle but Bávlos: that shall be your name.”

“But my family?!” sputtered Sálle. “How are they to get on without me, and who will perform their sacrifices for luck?”

“Sálash,” came another voice, older and kinder than the last. He spoke in an old fashioned manner, with words that seemed like what Sálle’s grandmother had used in the years before she died. “Sálash, Sálle is my name, not yours. I am your father’s father, the great hunter for whom Sállevárri is named. I live here with the Sun’s son now: come join us here. Come, my Bávlos!”

“Grandfather,” whispered Sálle excitedly. “Grandfather, you are there?”

“Yes, Bávlos,” said the kind voice. “And I will be with you as you make your way!”

“You will be part of my spirit gang?” asked Sálle.

“Yes. And there are many more of us here and we will all be your allies. Come to the Sun’s son and our family will prosper, even if they never see you again.”

“But how will I know where to go?”

“You will feel it in your heart, my Bávlos. And when you have reached the place—”

“When you have reached the place,” said the first voice, now triumphant, “I will tell you—Stop!”

“Stop,” said Sálle, now Bávlos: “Bisan. You will tell me when.”

“I will tell you ‘Bisan!’ and you will do for me something that only you can do. You will help me speak the truth to the nitwit strangers and they will finally know my will, at least for a time.”

“I will come, oh Sun!”

“You may call me Iesh,” said the voice: “Myself. I am called Myself.”

“Iesh,” said Bávlos. “I will come to you.”

Bávlos lay down and closed his eyes. He felt a calm unlike anything he had ever felt before, a calm which would not be repeated for some two years, when it would recur in a very different place under far different circumstaces. All that Bávlos knew at the moment, however, was that the spirits had made contact at last and a new stage in his life had begun.