My Prima Donna Swamp Princess [ 12 ] :

  • 2005-11-16
Our first run-in with the law occurred not long after Arva and I had our first meal together. We were strolling along the streets of Kalvarija, the princess basking in the oohs and aahs from the locals taken to her medieval attire, while I happily digested lunch. All of a sudden Arva stopped and stared. At what, I couldn't tell. Let's face it: such behavior was only to be expected from someone who has been absent from the land of the living for over five centuries, but the fact that the princess, out of place and out of time, froze in the middle of a busy street was a bit odd. No, considering the way she was dressed, it was majorly bizarre.

Sure enough, the stares of awe she had received a minute earlier turned to quizzical looks. Each carried the same message: This woman requires urgent mental assistance. And since I was the one next to her, I could feel these silent pleas directed at me.

I did what I could. "Arva 's what happened? Are you alright?" She didn't respond. She just stood like a stone statue, eyes as wide as one facing death, staring off in the distance. I looked to see the object of her transfixion, and when I saw it, I immediately realized there was going to be trouble.

Taking her gently by the elbow, I ushered her out of the street and onto a sidewalk. The entire time her eyes remained fastened on the object of her horror: a Catholic church. I don't know which one it was, and honestly, it didn't matter. To Arva, the epitome of what I would call "religious irredentism" in the Baltics, all churches were an affront. (To be sure, Catholic churches were particularly odious.)

And I was about to witness, she intended to carry out her beliefs in practice.

Snapping out of her trance, she dashed to and fro like a madwoman while searching for something on the ground. People were really staring hard now, and when Arva found a nice-sized rock and started running toward the church, the public surprise turned to shock. I just stood and gawked, clueless as to what to do. In full-stride, Arva shouted an unintelligible imprecation and hurled the stone at the church doors. Her aim was sure, and the rock hit the wood with a small thud.

My entire organism seemed to lock up. I didn't know what to do. Drag Arva away? Apologize to onlookers? Run for my life? Then, when I saw retrieve the rock and back up for a new hurl, I saw a number of cell phones materialize from bystanders.

"You ought to control your woman," a voice somewhere behind me said.

"Not my woman," I growled softly.

I felt sorry for Arva. I hadn't known her for more than several hours, and I knew she was severely disturbed psychologically. Linguistically, however, she was a walking miracle with her confused basket of Baltic language. And spiritually, well, I believed then--and this may be the only thing I ever got right between us--that she had something important to tell of us.

I ran up to her. "Arva, you must stop this!"

She stood 10 meters away from the front door, stone in hand, arm prepared to sling. Her gorgeous blue eyes were alight with fire. "Stop?!? Do you not know, American professor, what these foul citadels of sanctimony did to the Baltic peoples? Need I remind you, of all people, how the knights of the cross and the sword went about converting the innocents?"

"Yes, that's true," I said, offering a tired smile, "but that was a long time ago, Arva. For better or for worse, people around here don't particularly care about that anymore. There've been other conflicts and tragedies since then, some no less worse--"

She turned and readied to fire the projectile. "I refuse to listen to such aukruwja!"

I turned to size up our predicament. Not good. Other than a small crowd of 20 gawkers, there were two patrol officers, dressed in that ugly olive green uniform, approaching us. One spoke into a hand radio.

Addled, I turned back around to Arva. I was just in time to see the rock impact straight in the heart of the church. This time the sound was stentorian.

"What's going on here," the older, portly officer asked me.

Princess Arva straightened herself and raised her chin like only royalty can. Then she uttered a phrase that, to my knowledge, contained five different Baltic tongues. Stunned, both policemen looked at me. "Is she Latvian?"

"Maybe," I said. "From what I can tell she's Galindian, or perhaps Samogitian, but with a definite trace of Prussian. You see, she was dead for some 570 years." I smiled, adding, "Even took part in a plot to assassinate Jogaila."

Pale-faced, the police looked at each other. "Why don't you two come with us."