For those following Neve, Chapter Three:
Be banished, He bellowed . . .
Doctor Filbert lived in Yalesham, in Newtown, north off the High Street, in a bungalow 1970’s built. There was something about the man, with his florid face, that suggested outdoor pursuits. Neve instantly liked him; she felt she could trust him. Perhaps it was his deep blue eyes set off by his silvering hair. He invited her in, clucking of another miserable night, taking her coat. “But you didn’t say why your visit. Is it professional? A question of divinities?”
In a way it was, but she couldn’t say that. “I hoped you might be able to tell me about Yalesham Sands.”
“Ah yes, I remember now, you said on the phone. And you’ve come to the right man.”
He left her to settle in his study while he conjured up coffee. Two walls of books, a third totally draped in worn-bare velvet of indeterminate mud-brown; two leather-upholstered armchairs hugging a low, pale-wood table. She sat. The smelled of leather returned her to childhood: grandma’s old mare, the harness and trappings. But the rattle of cups broke the memory. Filbert must have had the coffee already brewing. Had he a pot of tea handy as well?
He launched into a talk on the coast’s formation. In a breathless stream he said of storms and erosion, of rising sea levels and post-glacial floods that drowned the former North Sea Plain. “Cut us off from the continent,” he said. “Gave to us our English character. Insular. Though some say it’s stand-offish.”
By the time he stopped talking and took a sip of his coffee Neve’s cup was cold. “Interesting,” she agreed, “but I was wondering if you knew why Yalesham Sands were once known as Widow Cob’s Cat.”
“Ah, the discussion in the East Coast News. And many were the views put forward on that. No, the cat was more likely a dragon. The Welsh, you see. They have cats all over the place when really they’re dragons. It’s the erroneous taking of the cat-as-battle for the cat-as-creature. Or so I believe. A cat is a battle in the Celtic tongue, you see.”
“So you’re saying the name predates the Roman era?”
“Oh, I’d not thought.” He sat back with a jolt. “Yes, it may be so. Though, no, I was thinking of Catfield. You know the village, a drop south of our corner? A mere dragon’s spit from Saint Benet’s old abbey – I take it you know of Saint Benet’s dragon.”
She did not. She stared at the dregs in her cup. Interesting that he should associate a dragon with the Sands, but she’d rather that Skimaskall had been a total invention. As to the reverent doctor’s theory, his logic was weak. “But what of the Widow Cob? Do you know who she was?”
“I know that the Sands weren’t always called that. The name Yalesham Sands is found only after 1860 – the first Ordinance Survey maps. Before then, as you rightly surmised, it was called Widow Cob’s Cat. But how that arose . . . Yet I can tell you that in the Domesday Book it is given as Hagglesland.”
Neve turned her gasp to a cough which he ignored and went on.
“Yes, Hagglesland. It was only a berewick then, in Yalesham’s demesne. And already an island, as I believe. There is a ‘Tern the ferryman’ mentioned. It was part of the holdings of Roger Bigod, our sheriff of those days. Bigod, now there was a man. Unique amongst the Normans: he held the commendation of more than a thousand freemen, and that in Norfolk alone – but then Norfolk was a part of the Danelaw. No, I’d say he was not a man to be crossed, what with his veritable army of Danish bondi at his command. Yet oddly our Bigod held only two manors. Yalesham was one.”
Neve winced at his error. She was no linguist, but she had managed good ‘A’ level grades in Latin, French and German and recognised his blunder: he’d applied a Latin plural to a Germanic word. She didn’t know what the correct form was, probably bunder or bunden. But she nodded and forced a smile. She too was interested in medieval history, though hers came from embroidery, the Bayeux tapestry, and wasn’t as politically angled.
He beamed his pleasure that he had helped her. She, however, wasn’t so pleased. She rubbed gently across her midriff, where an invisible force had fisted her.
“Have you any idea what the ‘haggle’ of Haggleland might be? Could it be, as in to haggle for a bargain?” She had read of early traders, that they preferred islands. Safer. Less chance of the natives sneaking behind them, a crack on the head and away with the goods.
But he shook his head emphatically. “I would say ‘hedged’ is a distinct possibility. Or ‘holy’. Yes, ‘holy’ is better. I’m thinking of the early saints and their battles with dragons.”
“So, might this Widow Cob have been an early saint?”
He chuckled. “Indeed she might have. You’re thinking of our King Anna and his daughters? Quite a prolific breeder of saints, that one – though the Bretons excelled in the same department. Twenty-five saints, all begot in one bed! Catholic, of course. Oops, I ought not to say . . . Might I ask, you’ve not yet said and I have no wish to offend, to which denomination do you subscribe? Carpory. Is that Irish?”
That question again. She had had little to do with religion, even at school, and living with her grandma on the outskirts of the village there had been no happy-tappers to disturb their peace on a Sunday. But since moving to Yalesham, and getting the job at Cox’s Craft Corner, that’s now all she heard. “Why not come along to our church. Catholic, we welcome all, even young wayward sinners.” Even James Bullock was pushing her.
“You’re pagan,” he said when she didn’t answer. “No, I’ve no issues with that. As long as you recognise some divine source.”
Hmm, she thought of the comments she could make to that but she held them quiet.
“You’ve been most helpful,” she said. “I hardly dare ask another question.” But he was the expert, who else could she ask. Three days it had taken to decide how to broach it without him querying her sanity. She tutted. “I laid out some bookmarks I’ve made but . . . I’ve forgotten to bring them.”
“I wanted to show you my work – needlecrafts, I embroider – so you’d understand why my question.”
“Then I shall just have to take it on faith. What is it, my dear?”
She took a deep breath and spewed out the words she’d rehearsed. “I’m planning a large work –” she framed the size with her hands so he’d not think it ‘church-sized’ “– with a theme of fallen angels. Only . . . while I know the phrase I’m not so sure of their history. It must be somewhere in the Bible—“
“But the Bible is no tiny pocket-book. I do understand.”
“I’ve tried the internet, but it’s all New Age, and adverts for fantasy fiction.”
“So you came here, to ask me?”
Was that said with pleasure or annoyance? There was a creak of leather as he sat back, fingers steepled. He was silent a disquieting time. Neve found herself linking her fingers and pushing them back till they hurt. Odd, that had never been a habit of hers.
“Gosh. You’ve . . . it’s not exactly . . . this is more the other team’s speciality. But, if you’ll wait a moment, I have my wife’s folders. I’m sure she would want me to . . . Listen, would you like another coffee while I . . . ?”
He seemed to take forever, obviously making the coffee afresh despite she’d said instant was fine. Bored, she decided to browse his books. Would he have ‘How To Books for the Clergy’? Or would everything be heavy philosophy? She was surprised to find Robert Graves’ Greek Myths and White Goddess. Further along the same shelf was Fraser’s Golden Bough, and Lyall Watson’s Beyond Supernature and Gifts of Unknown Things. Beneath them an entire shelf was taken by the works of Carl Gustave Jung. She had just found the history section when he returned with tray laden.
“Ah, you’re admiring my collection. Unfortunately, the one book we need isn’t there. Please sit. Coffee. I’ll fetch the folder.” He returned still wiping the dust from its cover and set it on the floor beside him. “Yes, the book I’ve just mentioned . . . a friend, a roommate when I was at Oxford, he was an absolute whizz at classical languages while I barely scraped through. But to the point, he spent his free hours in translating obscure texts – well, you’d think them obscure. In layman’s terms, they were the books refused entry to our King James Bible: Tobit, Enoch . . .”
He was right, he’d lost on somewhere around the classical languages. Greek and Hebrew, she assumed.
“No matter, I shall make it easy. Dumb it down, don’t they say now? Time was, it was the other way round. Still, one voice, crying alone in the wilderness . . . There is a passage in the Bible, much quoted at the time of the Neanderthal finds on Mount Carmel:
‘And the Sons of God saw the Daughters of Man, and desired them.’
“That is the nub of Enoch’s story – that and Noah’s Flood. God, having banished mankind from the Garden of Eden, then relented and sent a group of His angels to watch over them. But these angels – led by Semjaza, if I remember the name – found the human women just too irresistible and gave in to temptation. Their offspring were the anakim. That’s anakim as in the Bible, not Anakin as in Star Wars.”
Neve felt the blood drain from her head and coagulate in the pit of her stomach.
“You’re looking thoughtful, my dear. Has it given you ideas?”
After Raesan had shown her the dragon, he had again said of her ‘illegal begetting’. It wasn’t her fault, he repeated, the oath was sworn centuries before, at the Atonement. He said again of the Asars, deciding now they might best be called Bellinn.
“Bellinn, as in ‘Beautiful People’?”
His mouth twitched, she thought he might smile. He had such a sullen look to him elsewise. “Bellinn, for our tricks. It’s a Dane-word. Or was. From the time of the Atonement.You’ve got to understand, we didn’t want to be here. It was our punishment.”
Now the reverent doctor had confirmed her fears: Raesan and his Asars were fallen angels. She possibly could have ignored that, but she as an offspring shared their nature.
“What happened to these . . . anakim?”
“According to Enoch, they grew to be giants. Wicked creatures who imposed their will upon mankind, extracting from them, and I quote: ‘whatever their pleasure’. But God was less concerned with them. He said it was their nature to destroy one another, so let them be. Instead His concern was for the offending angels, in particular for the skills they were busily teaching mankind. It was to be rid of those skills that God sent the Flood.”
She couldn’t help the chuckle. “But the Flood is a myth. It didn’t really happen.” It was the one Bible story she remembered, having heard it when the nursery class at the village school.
He fixed her with a knowing smile.
“So when was it?” she asked.
“Opinions there are divided. Was it the marine transgression of the Persian Gulf? In which case we’re looking at three or four thousand B.C. Or was it when the Black Sea flooded? Six and half thousand years B.C. Or – and I am of this opinion – was it at the end of the Ice Age, when melting glaciers caused widespread inundation around the coasts? That would place it at 13,000 years ago—my dear, you’re shivering again.”
“I’m fine.” It was just she remembered what Raesan had said: I have lived here, on Earth, for 13,000 years. “So, God banished these angels because . . . what, they’d seduced human women?”
“No, Enoch was strong on this, it was for what they taught – though I confess I remember only one charge. They taught man to write, and then provided him with ink and paper. Can you imagine? But we must remember, in ancient times, sacred words were not to be written. Now my wife’s researches . . .”
He had loved his wife. While his finger trawled down page after page he frequently stopped to chuckle affectionately at what she had written in her cramped hand. Occasionally he read it aloud. He stopped a third through the folder with an exasperated sigh. “My wife! She would not take a reference. I have no idea which books she used. Though she had no classical language so . . . I don’t know, she could only have used translations. Yes, here it is.”
Neve leaned forward, eager to know what the wife had found. Had she been a Bellinn too, an anakim begotten by a fallen angel?
“I take it you know of Satan’s rebellion? God’s brother? He wanted to take God’s throne. It’s not strictly Judaic. Battles between good and evil usually have a Zoroastrian foundation.”
Neve said nothing. His finger returned to tracking the page.
“Yes, here, see. My wife tagged several of these angels as being involved. Abbadona, ‘not a 100% in favour of rebellion’. And here, Abdiel – he was on God’s side. ‘With his mighty sword he felled God’s brother.’”
He listed the names as he worked down the page. Would Raesan be listed? Or Ypsi? She knew other names she assumed to be Asars. They’d had pinged into her head these past few days along with memories certainly not hers.
“At least she listed them alphabetically,” Filbert said. “And here, Amitiel, this is what I’ve been looking for. ‘An angel of truth.’ Apparently, the angels of truth and peace opposed the creation of Man, and for that God zapped them – my wife’s words, not mine. Though I believe He later relented and reinstated them.”
Neve peered at the paper as if by seeing the purple-inked writing she’d . . . what? She didn’t want to know what Raesan was for whatever he was so was she, at least in part. Were his fellow Asars the seducers of mankind 13,000 years ago? It wouldn’t have been difficult, not with their mind-tricks. And if they all looked like Raesan . . . She’d prefer that the Asars was these angels of peace and truth. Raesan had said of atonement, a reconciliation. All reinstated, all except for him. So what additional sin had he committed?
“Ah, here it is. As I said, the angels of peace were later forgiven.” Filbert chuckled. “I can’t help thinking they had some premonitions of us. I can imagine it. ‘Oh, Mighty God, what have you done in making mankind?’”
“We’ve given Him enough reason to regret,” she said.
“Indeed, my dear, the mess we’ve made of the world. Ah, here. Another rebel angel overthrown by Abdiel during Satan’s war. I do wish my wife had noted the references, it takes but a moment. But, not university-trained. Are you, my dear?”
“I wish. But circumstances . . . ”
“Now that does surprise me. A certain brightness about you.” He returned to the page.
He tutted and yet seemed amused. “These angels certainly liked women. ‘Led astray by Semjaza.’ But there’s a list of other sins. Wonderfully revealing of the Judaic culture, particularly of their struggle to remain apart from the Syrians – and more especially the Chaldeans. See? Astrology. Astrology. Portents by stars. Azazael, one of the chiefs of the 200, apparently taught men to fashion swords, and—you’re shivering again. Could you be sickening for something?”
Two hundred Asars, Raesan had said. 200! “A draught from the door. Must be an easterly wind.”
“Indeed, I swear a strong east wind can get into anything, even if sealed with lead. If you’re sure that you’re well . . . Azazael was charged with teaching the women to ‘beautify their eyes’. I expect that’s a knock against the Egyptians.”
Filbert turned the next page.
“Here’s another who refused to bow to Adam. Iblis. But she doesn’t say if he was an angel of peace. And Forcas. Oh, tut.” Again he chuckled. “Imprisoned in Hell for having taught rhetoric and logic. I can certainly sympathise with God on that one.”
Then . . . “Ah-ha! Now we find the buried treasure.”
Neve leaned forward again, the better to see while he read aloud his wife’s purpled words.
Feeling chuffed at His making of Adam, God called for His angels to gather around him.
“Look!” He said. “Isn’t this the most exquisite creation?” And He bid them bow low in admiration.
The angels of love readily fell to their knees. But those angels led by Azazael just plain refused.
God beetled his brows. “You dare disobey me?”
Azazael hitched his trousers before he answered, “Why should we, the sons of pure fire and light, fall down before this, of muck and water?” Which somewhat pissed-off our Mighty God.
“Be banished!” God bellowed and caused a storm. “And may your feet forever be mucky and wet to remind you of your audacity.”
And with an almighty thrust, He kicked Azazael and his 200 angels from Heaven.
Neve sat with head hung. It wasn’t the first time in her life she’d realised that ignorance was bliss. But this time the unwanted knowledge was grimly laced with foreboding.
Tuesday next (Ch 4): Who has a Mk3 saffron-yellow Triumph Spitfire, licence plate SPY101E?
Next episode: Road To Hell