Harald's Story

In the Abbot's Study

Father Delling sat behind his desk in his study. The old abbot leaned over a leather-bound book, a pen in his hand. He was about halfway done recording the events of the day. He had taken up chronicling the happenings of the abbey the same day he officially succeeded his mentor as the head of this small monastery twenty years ago. He doubted anyone would ever find his recollections and reflections interesting enough to read, but he found that the process of writing them down to be quite relaxing.

He paused as he heard the rapid approach of footprints. Surely, that would be Brother Jens to give his report on who he found knocking at the door. He waited to hear the young monk lightly tap on the door of his study before answering, "Yes, come in." He watched as the young monk opened the door slowly and shuffled into the room.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at this hour, Father Abbot."

Father Delling set down his pen and held his hands in front of his chest, palms and fingers touching one another. He studied Jens for a few moments, noting the young monk's troubled expression. "Quite okay, my son. As patriarch of this monastery, I am always available to the brothers and their concerns."

"Well, Father, that's the thing. This isn't about me or another brother. Father, there is a man at the door who has requested an audience with you at this late hour."

"I see. This is somewhat unusual. Did this stranger give any indication of why he wishes to speak with me?"

The young monk grimaced at this question. "Yes, Father. He says that he is a lost pilgrim who has 'broken troth and seeks to earn it back.'"

The old abbot nodded at this, smiling inwardly. Jens's unrest made much more sense now. "I see. I am not in the habit of turning away pilgrims who are seeking to find their way again. Please escort the visitor to my study immediately."

"But Father Abbot," the young monk began.

Father Delling waved him off with a firm smile. "I've given you my instructions, Brother Jens. Please do not disgrace yourself by questioning my generosity in this matter."

"Of course, Father Abbot. I apologize." He began to leave, but paused at the door. "Father Abbot?"

"Yes, my son?"

"Should I do penance for my moment of prideful weakness?"

The abbot smiled at the question. "No, my son. I do not think that your weakness was severe enough to merit penance. You have rectified the situation, which is satisfactory in this matter."

"Thank you, Father Abbot." At that, the monk disappeared down the hall. The abbot shook his head. Brother Jens was an excellent servant of God, but he was young. The abbot could not think of a greater challenge to Holy service than youth and the failings it entailed.

Father Delling marked his place in the journal, closed it, and set both it and the pen he had been using aside. He then stood and lit a couple more lamps in the room. When he wrote, he doused all but the small lamp on his desk. However, this low lighting would not be proper for meeting with a pilgrim.

He finished this task and returned to his chair just in time to see Brother Jens usher the pilgrim into the room. He took one look at the man and struggled to suppress the scowl that he suddenly felt rushing to form on his face. After a few seconds, the abbot managed to fix a warm smile on his face. "Hello, my son. Brother Jens tells me that you a pilgrim seeking my help."

"Yes, Father Abbot," the newcomer said. "I apologize for disturbing you at this late hour."

The abbot laughed at this. "Pay that no heed. Pilgrims are welcome to this place of worship at any hour. Please, have a seat."

The pilgrim sat. "Thank you, Father Abbot. Your reputation for hospitality is wide-known. I am grateful to discover it is not exaggerated."

"The Lord himself calls us to be generous. After all, we never know when we might find ourselves housing angels in disguise." Father Delling watched the figure absorb this before turning to the monk who was still standing. "Brother Jens, I believe you were roused from your evening devotions when our new friend arrived. You are free to return to them now."

The monk stood thinking for a moment, and even made a few false starts as if to say something. Finally, he replied, "Thank you, Father Abbot. I am available if you need me again. Good night." At that, he left, closing the door behind him.

After giving Brother Jens sufficient time to move beyond hearing range, Father Delling again turned his attention to the figure seated before him. "I have seen many unexpected people come to me as pilgrims seeking to make a new start. Still, had any man told me that Harald Erickson would be one such pilgrim, I would have told that man he was mad."

"I see you remember me, then," Harald said tentatively.

"One does not forget a man like you, easily. Indeed, it took a considerable amount of self-restraint on my part to keep from telling Brother Jens to lock up the silver before he retired to his chambers."

Harald winced at the abbot's admonition. "I understand, Father Abbot. And I appreciate your discretion. Brother Jens seemed to be displeased with me enough without knowing my history."

Father Delling nodded. "Yes, I imagine he did. Jens is a good man, but he is quite abrasive towards anyone who shows any sign of pagan beliefs."

Harald started at that statement. "Pagan beliefs? I don't believe I've said anything to suggest that I honor pagan gods!"

Father Delling studied Harald carefully. Finally, he replied. "No, I imagine you wouldn't think so. To be honest, you strike me as the kind of man who would rely on himself rather than any divine being, be it the true one or some false one."

"You are quite correct. Though I doubt those who follow the old gods would appreciate you calling them false."

The abbot waved the comment off. "That is not important. However, your greeting at the door was quite pagan in nature. A Christian pilgrim would have been more likely to identify themselves as one who had fallen from grace rather than one who has broken troth. Brother Jens is observant enough to notice that distinction. Of course, the fact that you are not Christian would also hold more weight with him than the fact that you are not strictly pagan, either."

"I see."

"But enough of that. Tell me your story so that I might see what aid I am able and inclined to give you."

Harald began to recount his visit with the old witch as well as his conversation with the king. The abbot listened intently, nodding thoughtfully at many details. He asked a few questions about the spirit who spoke through the old woman, but otherwise allowed Harald to tell his tale. Harald also told of his trip to the monastery. Father Delling was rather amazed that Harald had managed to resist the temptation to utilize his skills as a thief despite his hunger.

Eventually, Harald ended his tale. At this point, he pulled a bundle from under his coat. The abbot's eyes widened slightly, now realizing what the thief was about to do. Harald laid the bundle next to the abbot as he had been instructed. Then he paused to recall the words. "I take upon this quest to retrieve the honor I have forsaken. To do this, I first divest myself of all those things I have unjustly gained through dishonor. I ask that you find a more suitable use for these belongings I do not deserve." Harald returned to his own seat and waited for Father Delling to reply. The abbot noted how nervous he looked.

After several seconds, the abbot finally spoke. "I accept your gift of repentance. I now offer you my blessing, so that your quest might succeed."

Harald nodded humbly. "Thank you, Father Abbot. Will you help me, then?"

"The king has already predicted my answer. But I wonder, Harald, do you truly understand what you have done?"

Harald looked at the abbot quizzically. "What do you mean?"

"My son, the words you spoke are the words to an old oath. They bind you to this quest. You cannot abandon it without forsaking everything, even your soul. Whether you speak of the Christian afterlife or the pagan one, turning away from the course you have now claimed as your own will result in damnation."

Harald sat in stunned silence. After several moments, he said, "I suppose it doesn't matter. Even if I had not taken this oath, I would have little choice but to proceed. The old king made it clear that it was the only way to appease my tormentors."

"This may be true. At any rate, I think I can help you. I will have one of the brothers - someone other than Brother Jens, I think - make you up a room. You will stay with us until you leave. I can also provide you with a small provision of money. Not much, mind you. But it should be sufficient to procure many of the provisions you will need. Plus it will enable you to buy just enough at that pub while you wait for your friend to arrive."

"Thank you, Father Abbot. You have promised me more than I have any right to expect."

"This is not a matter of what you deserve, my son. It is a matter of performing my duties as an abbot and a man of God."

"I understand."

"I think I can also help you find a suitable ship to transport you to your destination. We can discuss this more. But you must be hungry. Allow me to have one of the brothers bring you a small snack."