In todays excerpt, Uilleam’s new friend Kara quizzes him about his strange new faith.
It was here she found Wilhjelmr, kneeling beside the pool. In his reflection she could see his lips moving slightly, his eyes closed. Was it simple fancy, or did the air around him seem brighter, somehow?
Though she walked quietly along the packed earth of the trail, his head lifted at her approach. But he smiled, and her breath quickened at the unfeigned welcome. She knelt down beside him.
“What brings you to our hof, Will?” she asked, shortening his name for ease. “I thought you served the Hvitr Kristr?”
His smile brightened. “I do. I may serve him anywhere, even ground said to be sacred to another. In fact, there is no better place.”
“My father wouldn’t like it.”
He lifted his shoulders lightly. “I have no wish to cause your father insult, but the work of my God comes first in my heart.”
“To bring good news of freedom to thralls.”
“My father would like that even less. You plan on freeing all our thralls?” She laughed at the thought.
“I don’t mean slaves of earthly masters. All men are thralls – all women, as well,” he added at the gleam in her eye. “They are slaves to the powers of darkness, if they are not freed by Kristr.”
The very idea rankled. “I am no thrall. I am the daughter of a Jarl, and as free as any woman can be.”
“Are you?” Wilhjelmr raised his eyes to the trees, the hof, back to the pool.
“What do you mean by that?” Did he know the bones that crumbled beneath those oaks, the blood of centuries soaked into the earth? Did he know the horrors that poisoned the waters at his knees? With a shiver, Kara remembered the man who had died in that pool when she was only a child. She still remembered the bubbles disturbing the mirror-smooth surface, roiling with greater and greater force until the water suddenly stilled again, reflecting the trees as though the man had never been.
“What do you mean?” she asked again, insisting.
“I think you feel it, even if you don’t yet understand.”
Why did the empty grove seem so full, so malignant? She’d felt it all her life, but had never identified it until this moment. She drew in her breath sharply to repudiate his words, but it came out in a gasping wordless rush.
“You know there is something wrong with the very fabric of your world – something woven in that doesn’t belong. You know you are held hostage by the whims of your gods.”
“And you are not?” the sense of unease gave vent finally in a storm of anger. “You say you are free, but here you are, shipwrecked on a shore not your own, and you say you were sent here by your god. Why would you even leave your home unless he somehow coerced you?”
“Ah, but I did not come here out of fear – a blind terror that if I did not please my God I would face his wrath. I came out of love.”
“Love?” She snorted in disgust even as she hung on his words.
“Yes, love. I love my God. And he loves me. He loves you and your people, too, and so do I. It is not his wish to leave you in darkness and chains, and so his wish becomes my wish, out of gratitude. Out of love.”
“Love for strangers?”
He smiled, and her heart was in her throat. He spoke of love – she wanted it, like a greedy child at a feast. She wanted his god’s love, and she wanted his. This stranger’s message was powerful indeed.
“My father won’t like this,” she said again, but all humour drained from the words this time. She thought of Wilhjelmr plunging into the holy pool and her father holding him down until he died. She fought the urge to move away from the water’s edge. “Would you really risk everything – your life – for someone you don’t know?”
He smiled sadly. “If I must. After all, Kristr gave everything for me. He was a sacrifice, you know. A sacrifice who lived.”
His words raised gooseflesh on her arms and neck. She stared at him, mesmerized.
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