Neve, Chapter 5: Flame, Crystal, Silver and Gold
To Neve’s surprise the kitchen was as she had left it: tidy, but not clinical, no piles of Raesan’s clothes – she’d seen none in his bedroom either. His bedroom? She sighed. And leapt from her skin. The phone! She snatched it from its cradle before Raesan had a chance to take the upstairs extension.
“Why don’t you get yourself a mobile?” James Bullock’s voice boomed.
She was usually pleased to hear from him but not at the moment. She replied with the usual: “And who’s to phone me?”
“Your solicitor?” he suggested. “I have news. Making me phone in the evening, on my own time.”
“Do hush, Uncle James. We both know you will bill it. But what’s the news? Contracts ready to sign?”
“Hasty, Neve. No, still waiting on planning permission.”
So they could turn it into another housing estate. It hurt just to think of it. The old house, the grounds – her garden, the years of vegetables she’d grown there, and the goats, and old Bessie pastured until so old she’d had to be put down. Now they’d pipe in water and pump out sewage and it all would be gone. The house, her memories . . .
“Bradstreet has finally agreed to renew his lease on Blythe Meadow,” James said.
“That’s good.” It brought a small smile. Until her grandmother’s death she had thought Blythe Meadow already a part of the Bradstreet farm. She’d been so respectful when, as a child, he had caught her trespassing, picking wildflowers.
“And the agent tells us that Five Acre Field now has a buyer.”
“What, no delay for planning permission? Think how many houses.”
“Apparently that’s not the buyer’s intent.”
“A golf course then.” She wanted to hear all his news, yet she wanted to hurry him. She dreaded hearing Raesan’s voice at any moment on the upstairs phone. “What about Arthurs Sleep?” Again a small smile as she remembered their argument of whether to call it a hill.
“Sorry, Nevey, still no takers. No one wants trees.”
“I do. Why can’t I keep Arthurs Sleep? I don’t need the money.”
“We have spoken of this,” James said. “Trees don’t look after themselves. You would need to employ someone to manage it and you’d soon find your funds depleted.”
“I have Grandpa’s investments. And you said as long as people keep building and laying roads . . .” She was aware of the irony.
“Neve, I am not discussing this on the phone. You want to talk more of it, then come into the office. And have you fitted that burglar alarm?”
“You know that I have.” She didn’t say of it being defective.
“What about friends? Have you made any yet?”
She opened her mouth, and shut it. How could she say, Yes, Uncle James. I’ve made friends with an angel and now he’s moved in – despite she’d the burglar alarm set.
“You know that I worry for you,” James said “If your mother had had you christened you know I’d have been your godfather. I feel responsible for you. Especially now with Phoebe dead. Why not go along to the local church? You have three to chose from in Yalesham. And a church is a good place to meet reliable friends.”
She said nothing.
“Have you seen the news? No, I don’t suppose you have. No TV. So I’ll tell you. There has been a murder. The body found across Yalesham South Marshes.”
“No TV doesn’t mean no radio.” And Ms Cox had made sure she knew of it.
“I worry,” he said.
“As you’ve said. But there’s no need. I’m fine.”
“Well . . . just be careful. The police believe the woman had recently befriended her killer. But on a lighter note, we have a date for the auction. June 14th.”
“But that’s not for another two and a half months.”
“And well worth the wait. It’s a ‘special’, for rock memorabilia. They’re expecting collectors from all over the world, and the museums. I guarantee your posters will fetch a good price.”
There weren’t her posters, they were her mother’s. “I said, I’m not concerned with the money.”
“Still, five mint condition emperor-sized posters, and of Eastan, the Wise Man who died? Neve, that was in 1969.”
She mused on that as she replaced the receiver. It seemed her mother had been Eastan’s biggest fan, judging by those posters found under her bed. The Wise Men Three, but until his death there had been four in the band. Evans and Bates, the songwriters-guitarists, Wiseman, the drummer-lead singer, and Eastan on keyboards. Neve had found none of their records. Her mother must have taken them with her. That was no loss to her. Despite she liked blues music of that era, and many of her favourite tracks were Evans and Bates written, she didn’t actually like the band. But 1969, was it really that long ago? Her mother would have been fifteen. It was the same year Grandpa Eddy died.
She needed music, something chilled. She thought Raesan might appreciate the medieval-inspired music of Gothic B-Damned.
“Don’t like that,” he said from the door. “Play something else, yeh?”
“Got the Wise Men?”
She stopped as if freeze-framed. He’d been listening on the phone.
“There’s none amongst those records in the other room,” he said.
She exploded. “They were my mother’s, you leave them alone!”
He grinned. “You can’t play them, anyway. You don’t have a disk-spinner. No TV either.”
“Then why don’t you move in with someone who has?”
He clicked his tongue at her. “I’m here for a reason. So what are you feeding me?”
And what might that reason be? To torment her. “Spaghetti bolognaise,” she snapped.
“Yeh, what’s that? Oh, you mean like Miss Piggy provides in the High Street.”
It was unlikely to be as good. Her grandma had liked only plain food. So now she was experimenting from the cookbooks stacked on the Queen Anne table that incongruously crowded her kitchen.
“Any venison?” he asked.
“Oh, yea, sure. You find it every day in Tesco’s. Is it the pasta you don’t like? How about chilli, with rice? Do you like spicy food?” What was she doing, pandering to him? Let him go to Miss Piggy’s.
“What I like is un-messed with food. So I can see what the animal I’m eating, yeh.”
She moved packages around in the freezer, looking for something a food-fussy angel might eat. Angel or not, she was tempted to throw the frozen meat at him. Yet the tensions that had wound her tight now were draining away. Like bathwater spiralling down the plughole. She would have sighed with the pleasure except she knew this restoration of calm was by his coercion.
“Fish?” she asked over a shoulder. “Smoked haddock?”
“As long as you leave it whole.”
“It’s a fillet. And you mightn’t find bones.”
“No bones are fine.” To her delight, he wandered away.
Fish. New potatoes. Veg. Served with cheese sauce. Not exactly cordon bleu.
“This a pc?” he called through from the front room.
His calming coercion was instantly gone. “Don’t touch it!”
“Nah, not going to. I don’t know how. I got me a laptop, yeh, but . . . maybe you’ll teach me? You could start with how to power it.”
He was kidding. Wasn’t he? Though maybe he wasn’t up on IT. Just because he could drive a car . . . . and she’d no idea of well he did that.
“I like the slippy-sliddy chair,” he called through.
That would be the Art Décor deck-lounger, an early version of the Parker-Knoll recliner and, according to James Bullock, worth a fortune. If he broke it . . .
“So are you going to give me some sounds? Or shall I fetch mine?”
She flew through to the front room, fish left defrosting in the microwave. She’d power the computer and connect him to iTunes, then she could leave him to chose.
“Wow, that’s pretty.” He stared at the desktop, a tranquil scene of water and sky, all shades of blue. “Typical of Silver, you like water.”
She paused in bringing up iTunes. “What do you mean, typically Silver?”
He huffed a huge sigh. The curtains rippled. “Haven’t I explained of Bellinn races? Well, not races really, not the way you’d say it.”
He clapped, loud with sarcasm.
She knew he was again coercing her, this time to open her curiosity. “So what’s mine? You say Silver, but I’d have thought water. And the Lights of those on that island –” she thought that light needed a capital ‘L’ “– they mostly were fire. While yours—”
“Wind,” he supplied with extravagant pride. “A.K.A. Gold. Fire, as you say, is A.K.A. Flame. But those and your water are obvious. It’s the A.K.A. Crystal no one agrees.”
“Like the spectrum breaking in a prism? All bright colours, always changing? I noticed one amongst those on the island.”
“A Crystal, yeh. One of Regin-yorl’s Stoats.”
“Who’s Regin-yorl – is it a who?” But she hardly noticed when he didn’t answer, repeating to herself the Lights, to commit them to memory. Flame-fire, Gold-wind, Silver-water, and Crystal . . . “Crystal’s the one that no one agrees? But it’s earth.” Fire, Water, Air and Earth, the four elements.
He stared at her like she had knowledge she shouldn’t have had. “Rock or muck?” he asked.
She laughed. “Rock. How can muck be crystal?”
“Hm.” He turned away. Had she said something wrong?
“I’ll show you how to operate iTunes,” she hurriedly said. No fear of him blasting the music, since he’d never work out how to change the settings.
But he moved away, hands up. “Nah. Complicated. You find something for me, yeh.”
He shrugged. “Anything. Radio-music.”
“I don’t . . . if I want radio-music, I turn on the radio.”
“So what have you got?”
“You didn’t like Gothic B-Damned.”
“Just now. You complained.”
“How about Rush?” She clicked on a track.
“Bon Jovi?” That was as ‘radio-music’ as she had. But he didn’t want that either.
“Why don’t you have disks? CDs, yeh. CDs I understand. But you have invisible music.”
I won’t have those invisible voices, her grandma had said. Which had meant no radio and no TV either.
The microwave pinged. Neve looked off to the kitchen and back to Raesan. Would he be safe left alone in the room? She connected to the local radio via iTunes. “There, radio-music.” She left him with it. He played it loud.
She leant against the fridge-freezer, eyes closed. And to think James Bullock dared to suggest that she married.
~ ~ ~
Fifteen minutes of blessed peace, left alone after the meal while she washed up and tidied the kitchen. Then she brought in the coffees. He stood in front of her bookshelf.
“Textiles. Embroidery. History. Textiles.”
“My passion,” she said. “Hence the embroidered hangings.”
He glanced round at her.
“Those. On the chimney breast.” All these years and she still glowed with pride. And the panels displayed to good effect, pale linen against the dark blood of the wall.
“I thought them—“
“Bayeux tapestry? I take that as a compliment. No, these were my exam pieces for A level Needlecrafts.”
She’d had to produce one in the style of the work she had chosen for study: the Bayeux tapestry. And another as a copy, though obviously not the entire 70 metres. She had chosen the panel ‘Elfgiva and the priest’. And still it intrigued her. The priest, who was he? And the lady, stood within either a hall or a church? And what was he doing, his arm outstretched, his palm against her brow? Like he was exorcising her demons.
“Raesan . . .” she turned to face him. “You lived through those days. Do you know who Elfgiva was?” She’d have wet herself had he said yeh. But he merely looked blank.
The other panel was the prelude to Boudicca’s revolt. ‘And here is Prasto,’ Boudicca’s husband, a client-king of Rome. ‘And here the Romans violate her daughters,’ because after Prasto died Rome no longer honoured the agreement.
“You’ve read all these books?” They seemed to hold him mesmerised. “I’m envious, yeh. I thought I’d read books once I had learned how. Ypsi always was saying of books, that they stored words and knowledge and . . . well, you know how Ypsi always loved words.”
She frowned. She’d seen Ypsi the once, high-riding a dragon, and from that Raesan expected her to know of his books? “You miss him?”
He lifted a shoulder, not quite a shrug. His light had closed around him, responding to his emotions in the same way as an aura.
“So I went to a school to learn to read.” The joy was gone from his voice. “A grammar school, yeh, cos I thought grammar was all that I needed. Only they said first I must learn how to read. I told them that’s why I was there, but they laughed. Foul angel-seekers. So it wasn’t until fifty years back – after the bombs had dropped. Because teachers now aren’t angel-seekers. But I had to sit on a small chair surrounded by children and read stories about teddies and mice. So now I can read, but I can’t find a book.”
“That’s the saddest story I’ve heard. For someone to seek, and to be turned away.”
“If Ypsi were here . . .” His light shrank, enclosing him in a golden sheath. That was strong sorrow for a departed friend. But his mood didn’t last, his light again swelled, depression immediately gone. “You ready, yeh?”
“For what? To drink this cold coffee?”
“To enter Eldsland of course. That is why I’m here. Oh, and you thought I was after your cooking?” He laughed.
Neve dropped to her grandma’s ancient settee. “You’d like to explain that?”
“Well, yeh, your cooking is not so—”
“I meant of Eldsland.”
“Oh, is this something else I’ve not said? It’s all in your blood.”
“What, B rhesus positive? Rom descent.”
“Nah. From your grandfa.”
She shook her head. “Rawn.” He looked down at her, like he was accusing. “Rawn Edmunds,” she amended.
“He broke with the Oath – I’ve said.” He began pacing, agitated, his yellow shimmer shredding about him, leaving trails. “It’s not your fault, nor your mother’s. It was him, he was the one. So we must find him and tell him. The same with your mother.”
“My . . . ? You know where she is?”
“Not in this land.”
That possibility had never occurred to her. She felt suddenly weak. “Dead?” She was glad to be sitting.
“Nah,” he said lightly. “Not with her blood.”
It took her a moment to understand. But her mother’s blood was like hers. Angelic, though banished.
“So what’s this Eldsland to do with it?”
“You’re not listening to me, I’ve just said. We must find your grandfa, yeh. And that’ll be easier if we know who he is.”
“Yea,” she agreed, trying to reason through his logic. “And how do you propose to do that?” She had not a clue what he meant.
“I’ve a inkling. Edmund—”
“Rawn,” she said. Her grandma had always called him Eddy but his name was Rawn.
“Rawn Edmunds. But things you need know before venturing there.”
He tutted. “You don’t listen. I just told you. Eldsland.”
“But you haven’t yet said where this Eldsland is.”
He pulled a face at the awkward question. “Everywhere. Yeh, everywhere, you could say. Though this particular Eldsland is more of a when.”
“Fine. So when is it, this Eldsland?”
“The year of the Domesday commission?” Did he think her that gullible, that she’d not seen the way he had glanced at the embroideries, that she didn’t know he was dangling 1086 as his bait? He was just waiting to reel her in. She knew he was playing a game. But what game was it?
“1086,” he said, “was when Guy laid the dragon.”
On the evidence of fashions she couldn’t argue the date. It had to be post-1066, post-Conquest, and the fashions were shortly to change again when William Rufus came to be king. “So you’re going to take me to 1086?”
He nodded, green eyes sparkling, his light ballooning.
There could have been arsenic and cyanide laced in that bait. But 1086, how could she refuse it. There was even a chance she might discover the truth about Elfgiva. She tried to remain nonchalant, calm. It wasn’t easy. “How? I mean, how can you do that?”
“Same as I showed you Skimaskall.”
“Oh.” She sat back, now disappointed. So she was to have only his memories.
Only? Like she’d only had his memories of Skimaskall and Haggleland, and yet she had been there. The smells, the sounds, the wind, the sun, the sand gritty beneath her feet. “But it’s already late, and I’ve work in the morning.”
“I work Saturdays, it’s a shop.”
“Saturday night. Lady, there’s so much to show you.”
More than she’d already seen? The memories still were unfolding within her of Skimaskall and the Asars and Haggleland. Every day she found more.
. _____ .
Next Tuesday (15th January 2013): An impulse to murder