Historical setting: 589 C.E. A house in the Pagan village
Thole and Largin caught up in wonder argue incessantly over taking turns to hold the baby. Both father and grandfather have acquired that skill overnight. Tilp is doing well, Ana says. Colleen recites instructions in monotone. I’ve known some who are Irish ceaselessly yammer – and I expect from that brogue poetry, song, and great passions of words. But Colleen is the quiet listener. If Ana weren’t cheerful this morning we would think this had been a tragic end. But now it’s a time of unspeakable joy. Villagers are outside with gifts, wreaths and bouquets, little precious pieces of linen they have kept in safe places waiting for a moment to be invited in and see this wonder that artists only wish to capture in stone – the mother and baby.
This new morning now, I take a walk by the River to speak my thanksgivings to God alone. The river is flowing within its banks today, and the week’s flood is remembered in the debris along the banks. It seems there is a gathering of monks and other Christians from Tours on this side of the river between this path and the ferry landing. Closer, I can see that they are gathered, but standing a distance from a twisted form of human flesh tangled in the debris. Closer yet, I am warned it may be plague.
The rites and chants over this death are from a distance. No one dare go near the dead. Only a person who has lived beyond plague can go near. And so I go. It’s one of the ferrymen drowned. He was dead for a few days perhaps. Maybe it happened on that same day when we came seeking passage across the river.
I climb down the bank to him. When I turn him onto the bank everyone steps back a further distance, and the other two ferrymen are keening for the man. Maybe the howls are grief, but surely the shock and sorrow is also fear of plague. I can assure everyone he has no buboes of plague. No one else would touch him so they only have my word that this is a drowning. At least now we can bring the body from the water, and a proper burial can be given.
(Continues Tuesday, October 18, 2022)