That night, Annoure slept poorly, thinking about her conversation with Erik. Were the beliefs of the Druids as evil as the Christian priests taught? Or were kernels of truth in them that she was afraid to look at? Was she pushing her Christian religion on Thorstein when she knew that other, perhaps higher, truths existed? She rose early while everyone still slept and built up the fire. Erik, who slept on a bearskin by the fire, woke and their eyes met.
“You look pensive this morning,” he said softly. His voice was as rich and melodic when he spoke as when he sang.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said last night. Can we talk?”
“Let’s talk outside where we’ll have some privacy.” He dressed while she slid on her boots and cape, then they stepped into the cold winter day.
Although it was morning, it was still dark and the wind had a bite to it. Snowflakes landed on them as they walked along the path. Annoure stopped under an enormous oak tree and put her gloved hands on its rough bark. She felt energy, life and ancient wisdom as its strength flowed into her. Finally she turned and faced the skald.
“If I were a Druidess, this grove of trees, the ground beneath me and the sky above would be my sanctuary, not the stone walls of a church. The Druids taught me things the Christian priests would say are of the devil’s making. I believed the priests, but in this world where there are no Christian priests, I look through the dark mists alone. What am I to believe, Erik?”
“I don’t know. I am a humble skald,” he said. “I was taught the Norse sagas, which I sing or recite around a campfire. The stories are a way to explain the mystery of creation and life, and to explain the sun, moon and thunder. These stories are passed from one generation to the next until it’s hard to know what is truth and what isn’t.”
She leaned back against the oak tree. “Christians believe there is one God who sent his only son here to suffer for our sins. The priests say they are intermediaries between God and man. I know this isn’t so. I have my own experiences.” The wind whipped up the corner of her cape. “I don’t know if you can help me. You are of a different world than the two I was already torn between before coming here.”
“The answers are in you, Annoure, not outside of yourself. You will not get answers from me, the priests, or even from the Druids. From each, you will get hints of truth and pieces to help you unlock the ancient mysteries of life. You will only know truth from experience, from what life teaches you, from your dreams, visions and travels into the other worlds. If I said to you, this is truth and that is not, you would not believe me. You would not accept it any more than you accepted what the priests and Druids taught you.
“I will say this much. Following the Druid practice of having power over others will not bring happiness. Your heart must be pure, your desire for truth must be for a good reason or you will be burned and torn asunder by this power. You will lose the purity and beauty surrounding you that draws others to you.”
“Is there more you can share? A kernel of truth you’ve discovered in your wanderings or perhaps in the stories you’ve memorized?”
“I’ve learned there is more than what we see on the surface. Gaze upon the sea.” He pointed at the fjord. “What do you see?”
“I see the sea is ever-changing as the waves rise up and down and I see the trees reflected in its surface.”
“What about what lies beneath the sea — the rocks, seaweed, fish and hvalrs? Have you thought about what is not apparent on the surface?” He stared pensively at the water, not saying anything further.
“What else, skald?” she asked, touching his arm, knowing there was more she needed to learn from him to make sense of the world.
He looked at her smiling. “You are like a greedy child begging for sweets. Your hunger for truth is just as great.”
“Greater. A child’s craving for sweets is easily satisfied whereas mine grows within me ever stronger.”
“Does Thorstein know or even suspect what kind of woman you are? Does he see that you’re not just a pretty young woman to give him children and keep him warm at night? Does he know you’re not a woman he can carve as a piece of wood to his northern ways? I suspect he does and is drawn to you as a ship is drawn to harbor during a storm at sea.
“I’ll tell you this much. You are not your body, which will someday perish. The part of you that is immortal leaves your body in dreams and will leave your body permanently upon death. Whether you choose to call this inner world heaven or Valhalla, it makes no difference. There may be one God or power that created us, but there are also lesser gods and rulers who watch over our world. They are deities with human emotions, not the creator of life. Some lesser gods are good and some are evil, so be careful when you travel in their worlds.”
His piercing eyes searched hers. She felt exposed before him as he seemed to be looking inside her. Although it was not an outer sensation, she wrapped her cape tighter around her body.
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