"These people aren't Lithuanians!" the princess cried out at the bottom of Gediminas' Hill. I swear it looked as if she wanted to spit in the face of every Vilniusite. "They're some kind of Polish-papal half-breeds, utterly ignorant of their true origins." I saw that she was inconsolable, so I took the truest course of action: patronization. "You're right, Arva 's you practically took the words straight out of my mouth. Every time I visit I get this bad, Catholicism-infested vibe." I panned the area and saw a couple long stares; but for the most part, we were spared gross public ignominy. So far.
"Can we go now?"
Utter horror filled Arva's face. "What's that?" she asked, pointing down the street.
I gazed down the street, and saw the object of the princess' extreme dislike: The Church of St. Anne.
But before I could say anything, the princess was off, in full stride, toward the church. On the way she picked up a rock, and terror shrieked down my elderly spine. Oh, noâ€¦.
By the time I reached her, she was standing in front of the Gothic masterpiece, considered to be one of finest of its style, and trying to burn holes in it with her evil eye. "Blogis," she whispered. "Blogisâ€¦"
"Did you know there are 33 different types of bricks in the church?" I asked in a pitiful attempt to draw her into a discussion on aesthetics.
We both must've looked odd 's me, a gaunt, out-of-breath foreigner, and an academic to boot, and Arva, a woman claiming to be the scion of medieval Baltic aristocracy and who personally knew Grand Duke Jogaila. But I knew I should worry less about appearances and more about saving our necks. One look at Arva, and you realized trouble was about to erupt big-time.
"Sauluze anksti keles, Menuzis atsiskyreâ€¦"
And with that 's a line plucked from an ancient pagan diddle 's Princess Arva hurled the stone at the facade of the architectural masterpiece.
It bounced off the brick, just missing a pane of glass by inches.
"Arva? What are you doing?" The last time she pulled a stunt like this, in Kavalrija, we were almost arrested. Vilnius police would be less forgiving.
Forcibly, I dragged her across the street to the safety of Old Town. It would turn out to be another of my classic mistakes. For no sooner had we crossed Maironio Street than she was staring, dumbfounded, at St. Michael's. This eclectic church is less striking that St. Anne's, but still a much-visited landmark. For Arva, it was bubonic plague.
Another rock materialized, and the fury returned to the princess' eyes.
"Perkuns, didziai supykes, ji kardu perdalijo: Ko sauluzes atsiskyrei?"
And the rock was airborne. It flew high and true, and impacted on the Baroque bell tower.
We lucked out, as only a lone passerby noticed the princess' defiance, and at that a pre-adolescent schoolboy lugging an oversized backpack. I dragged Arva away, into the thick of Old Town. We turned on Pilies Street, and as I scanned the environs, the marrow in my bones froze.
Nothing but churches.
Immediately Princess Arva's pagan sensibilities boiled over, and before I could take any preventive measures, she was on the rampage. She directed her ire against St. John's 's one of the oldest churches in the Baltics 's and after a pagan battle cry that I'm glad I couldn't comprehend, she hurled a rock.
Next, just up the street, came the Church of All Saints. "For Zemyna!" cried Arva, and she propelled a rock. Her aim was true.
Then it was St. Casimir's turn.
"For Saule!" Arva shouted, tossing another rock. Where the hell did she get all the rocks, I wondered.
Then the Church of the Holy Spirit.
I wondered sardonically: of which are there more: pagan gods, or churches in Vilnius?
Finally, when I was sure I could take no more and I would swoon, hopefully for all eternity, I looked at Arva and saw her entire body go limp. Her lovely face took on a deathly pallor as her eyes latched onto something in the distance.
I turned to look, and I think it was at that very instant that I suffered my first heart attack.
The Gates of Dawn.
Before I could grasp what was happening, the princess, driven by a madness that I was just beginning to probe, had taken to her heels.
I knew right then that we were in a state of war.