She became fully conscious again. Or, perhaps, hyper-conscious of everything around her. And she was no longer in her familiar flat.
A throne, carved of wood, sat along the opposite wall on a platform a step above the general floor. A group of men, off from the rest, stood around it. They toasted with their flagons then downed their mead as they planned quietly.
“That is Prince Vladimir of the Rus,” Odin said.
Until then, Anna hadn’t noticed him next to her. And she hadn’t noticed they were holding hands. When she looked over at him she saw that now he had a full white beard and long hair — just like from her visions. He was wearing that same threadbare blue robe.
Two men, nobles, based on their appearance, walked past. They nodded to Odin, who nodded back.
“Next time, bow,” he told Anna. “And do not gaze into their eyes. They have a right to whip you, and I don’t mean the way you’d enjoy.”
“Where are we?” Anna asked. Then she noticed that she too was dressed for the part: in a simple, ankle-length dress of silk, silver bracelets on her wrists, and sandals on her feet.
“Kiev,” Odin answered. Then before she could ask, he added, “in the year 988.” He let her survey the room before continuing. “Next to Prince Vladimir is Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. Over there in the corner with her handmaids is Basil’s sister, Anna. She and Vladimir are about to be wed. Over there, those three women are Vladimir’s current wives.”
“They don’t look too happy.”
“Vladimir is about to accept Christianity and put aside his pagan ways. That means only one wife, and that would be the new one. I’m not surprised the girls are none-too-happy. The wives plotting his demise aren’t even in attendance.”
“How many wives does he have?”
“Seven to twelve, depending on who he has in his good favors at any particular time.”
“That wife looks like Liudmila. And, hey, this Vladimir guy looks like Uri!”
“Don’t read too much into looks. I assure you, there is no past-life trickery going on. All you are seeing is familiar Slavic features. I think the combined baptism and wedding is about to begin.”
They watched as Varangian knights lined up on one side of the hall and Orthodox priests on the other. Emperor Basil stood beside the throne while Vladimir stood next to him. A bishop, flanked by a dozen priests chanting and waving incense, marched slowly into the hall and up to the throne.
The ceremony took the better part of the day. Young slave girls continuously served food, wine, and ale. These slaves didn’t see past the wedding to its significance other than a peace and trade treaty, if even that. But Anna saw what was happening; the old ways were over. And what of Odin? He was losing his worshipers to the new faith. Anna looked to him, but he betrayed no emotion at being brushed aside for political expedience.
“Why bring me here?” she whispered.
“It makes a better date than screwing in the bath.”
“They will no longer make sacrifices to you. Are you showing me that you are a faded god?”
“I need but only a few followers to keep my name alive.”
“You need me and the girls as your worshipers, is that it? I’m sorry, Odin, but I can’t make up for your loss of the Viking world —”
“Then what do you need?” Anna said. “Because whatever it is, I’m sure I can’t feed it to you.”
“I’m not asking a lot from you. A smile, a nod, a kind word once in a while.”
“You’ve been asking much more than that.”
“And you’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
... to be continued ...
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