I raised my face to look at him. “Why have I never heard of this?” I asked. “I’d think Augvaldsness would be a place of pilgrimage for the whole north – for the English and the Franks as well.”
“We’ve been chary of the great Roman church here in Rogaland,” said Baard. “They keep throwing that Arian thing you touched on in our faces, when they notice us at all. We’d as soon not have them looking too closely at our ways. We’ve learned that when the Romans look for error, they generally find it, whether it’s there or not.”
“As an Irishman, I know what you mean,” I said.
Baard slipped the cover back on the reliquary, and we went back out into the dark. You’d think that that revelation would be my chief memory of that night, but it pales in recollection, because of what followed.
As we stepped back through the entry and into the hall, a figure filled my view, dark against the light, haloed like a saint in some eastern icon. She sidestepped right to let me pass, and I stepped left to let her pass, and so we did that foolish dance you do in narrow places, each trying to make way for the other. At last we both stopped and laughed, and by now I could see her face.
It was the loveliest face I’d ever seen on human head. She was woman in her full bloom, but slender. A few strands of hair that peeked from under her headcloth were light brown, and her eyes – those eyes! I see them even now – large and blue under dark brows slightly curved. Her face was longer than an oval, rather triangular in shape to make room for those great eyes, and her lips were full, but not to excess.
At that very moment I felt my stomach lurch, as if I’d stepped down a well in the dark.
I closed my eyes and shook my head, fearing I’d eaten something bad and was about to shame myself before this woman, through being sick. The feeling passed.
Then I looked back in her eyes, and my stomach went whump again.
I looked away. All was steady.
I looked back at her.
I was lost for words to say, but Baard moved up from behind me and broke the moment.Continue reading ‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 3