She needed medical attention, so I placed her in the front seat of the Golf, buckled her in, and sped toward Kalvarija. But within five minutes she came to. She sat rigidly, eyes glued on the road and mind locked on an enigmatic thought. No matter how many times I asked, she assured me she was alright. To keep her conscious, I tried palaver.
"So what's your name?"
She looked at me askance. "Names are for dogs and Germans. We Balts have pravarde!"
"Well, excuse me!" I said, leery about what personality had awakened after the swoon. "Then what is your pravarde?"
She raised her chin a bit, theatrically, as if contemplating whether I deserved to be privy to such information. "You can call me Arva."
Oh, so I can call her Arva! I rescue her from certain death in a bog, and she turns haughty. I felt acid on my tongue (the same strain that never failed to get me in trouble). "Hmmm, Arvaâ€¦ Isn't that Galindian for ungrateful wench?"
"I'm not sure I understand, American crusader."
"First of all, I'm not a crusader. And since we're talking about pravarde, why don't I just call you Pannea? Seems more appropriate."
Master of several languages, Arva instantly recognized my suggestion - it came from pannean, the Prussian word for bog - and, to my surprise, she didn't miss a beat. "In that case, I'll call you ******* " she countered.
It was the first of about a thousand times I would see thatsubtle smirk of hers. "I'm afraid to ask what that means," I said, swallowing hard.
"Don't be - I'll tell you anyway! It's Galindian for 'He Who Pees on Himself When Meeting a Princess.'"
I gripped the wheel and nearly veered into oncoming traffic. Strike one for Arva. "Okay, Princess, let's start overâ€¦ Pray tell, what is this about a message you were supposed to deliver for the Skalvians."
She sat up straight, instantly animated. "You see, after vanquishing the crusader scum at Grunwald, many Baltic tribes hoped that they could break the pact with the Poles and peacefully return to their ancient traditions."
"You mean pagan?"
"A foul word, American crusader. Comes from Latin for country dweller and is synonymous with peasant. And just because we worshipped trees and grass snakes did not mean we were peasants."
"Point taken," I said, quite impressed with her etymological rejoinder. In fact, it got me wound up. "Now that you mention it, do you ever stop to consider that the Lithuanian word for snake [gyvate] comes from the verb "to live" [gyventi], because in olden times Lithuanians regarded the snake as a life force? And the Prussian word for snake - angis - is directly related to the Avestan word for universe - anghu. You see, the snake was seen by ancient Indo-European man as the personification of Creation, the Cosmic One."
She looked at me as if at a man possessed by some goofball demon. "I think I'm going to faint again," she said.
"Okay, okay," I said, suddenly convinced I should have left her in the bog. "I'll shut up. Continue, please."
"So many landed nobles and boyars were pressuring Grand Duke Jogaila to rescind his baptism of 1389, if even privately, and once again allow the Baltic tribes to practice their unique rituals. We were the last bastion of non-Christianity on the continent, and we wanted to keep it that way."
"And your job?"
"From my birth I was trained to be an emissary. I was taught all the Baltic tongues. The leaders of the non-Christian movement wanted to have a legion of pan-Baltic messengers - from Tallinn to â€¦ - who could facilitate the common cause."
So that was it! Once upon a time there was Princess Arva, a traveling diplomat who knew numerous languages and, having fallen asleep for centuries, was now thoroughly confusing them (linguistically, it was quite understandable, I should add in her defense).
Then came the shocker. Quite calmly, Arva explained that, even though her mission - to unite the Baltic tribes and cast off the yoke of Christianity - was almost 600 years old, she intended to carry it out. She would foster a renaissance in forgotten Baltic traditions. She would incite all Balts to cast off the yoke of Catholic obscurantism and embrace the ancient rituals of these forested lands.
But her first task, she added, would be to form a hard-core group of allies. "And you're going to be the first, American."
"WHAT!? But I'm a linguist! A tenured professor, for crying out loud!"
"And now a warrior," she whispered.