Neve, Chapter Six . . .
Neve dreaded that Raesan would answer the phone to Ms Cox, not that her employer had reason to phone. But if she did she’d think him Neve’s boyfriend. No, she’d be wise to prepare Ms Cox against that possibility. Besides, small town, people talked. So next day at work she explained of an family friend who had come to stay. Then rather than to compound the lie by calling him Tony or Doug, she omitted his name.
Ms Cox immediately flapped. “Oh, do be careful.” She even wrung her hands.
“He is just an old family friend,” Neve repeated.
“Yes, but to invite any man into your home . . . and you living alone. I am reminded of my sister’s neighbour. She’s a single woman like you, and young. Three or five years past she invited home a young man she thought needed feeding. The fool thought she was doing a good deed. You know what the cheeky tike did? He moved in with her that very same day. Well, she wasn’t having that, she stood firm and told him to go. And that earned her a beating, the poor thing. And then, while she was away at the hospital being stitched, would you believe it, the little bleep-bleep emptied her house of all that she had. Everything. Even her knickers! No, where you come from maybe men are respectable. But this is a town, Miss Carpory, and you’re a woman alone.”
Why did everyone think her vulnerable, just because she was a woman alone. All those years since leaving school, ‘alone’ in that rambling old house while she nursed her grandma. COPD, congested obstructive pulmonary disease, the local GP had said and suggested Neve packed her away to a nursing home while she went off to university as planned. He had given ‘Old Phoebe’ five years to live; eight, if she changed from coal-fires to gas or electric central heating. That had been eighteen years ago, and never once had Neve feared to be alone.
“He’s just an old family friend.” That was the third time she’d told that lie. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“And I expect that’s what that dead woman thought.”
Neve shivered as she thought of the Watcher. If it wasn’t Warren, then who was it? It had to be Raesan. In which case it would stop now that he’d moved in. That, at least, was a blessing.
Yet two days later, she’d still that sense of someone watching.
Those two days had passed as slowly as if they’d been months. Neve counted the days on her fingers just to be sure. Wednesday evening. Thursday. Friday. This was still only Friday? Two nights, both broken by the return of the nightmares.
She supposed they were the same. It was just that instead of a gang of girls carrying her off, muted and paralysed, onto a plane, now it was a band of gremlins headed by Grendel and they carried her into a creepy dark cavern. It was the lack of control, she needed no psychiatrist to tell her that. That’s what had freaked her on that school trip to Milan. She still suffered intense embarrassment just at the thought of it: terrifed, back to a corner, screaming, refusing to board the plane for the return flight. And now according to Beasley’s report her mother was in New Zealand and Raesan had said they must find her. Neve could only hope, by the time they’d found Grandpa Eddy, that something had happened so she would not have to fly.
“We must find him,” Raesan had ranted. “Before he spreads his blood more thickly than any Asar before him.”
“He was an Asar?” She’d not thought of that, her grandma’s beloved Eddy, a banished angel.
“Nah, your source is Amblushe.”
“Source? No, it’s okay, I think I know what you mean. So this Amblushe was an Asar?” She had been pondering that word. It most likely came from the same Proto Indo-European root-word as gave Latin aura, aurum, aurora, to shine, as in ‘the golden dawn of the east’.
“It means to burn,” Raesan told her, having heard her thoughts. “And it’s Usaric, yeh. None of your pie-talk.”
“Proto Indo-European is the origin of most modern languages,” she defended.
“So it might be, but not of Usaric. Olun named us – though he thought us only nine, not the two hundred.”
Two hundred, that number again. “If there are so many, why haven’t I seen them? Only you.”
“And why must I keep repeating? You don’t listen! I have said, Lady, the Atonement.”
She nodded, he was right, he had said that, that day on the jetty. But he had loaded her head with his memories and . . . “So what exactly did Guy do to bring about this reconciliation?”
“Atonement. At. One. Ment. But you’re tired, yeh, you must sleep, you have work. So you’ll just have to wait until Saturday.”
“Can’t you just tell me?” She didn’t like his smirks.
He looked at her. She didn’t like his games.
“Well I don’t see how we’re to find Grandpa Eddy. He’s long dead,” she said.
Raesan circled the room. His shimmer twitched, sending out windy fingers. The papers she’d left by the computer lifted and fluttered. She watched them scatter across the floor.
“I’ve said, Lady.” Hands suddenly thrust into jacket pockets. “We do not age. And mortals ask questions. So a Bellinn must feign his death – it’s commonly done.”
“No!” Commonly done, but not by her grandpa. She jumped to her feet, hands to hips. “He would not have done that, not to make my grandma grieve. Like a cup and saucer they were, meant for each other, a good fit. He would not have done that, they so loved each other.”
“Did I say he wanted? But you think your grandma would have liked it, yeh, with him still young and she a toothless crone?”
“She wasn’t a crone!”
He shrugged. “Regardless, he broke the Oath in begetting your mother.”
“You keep saying that, the Oath, the Oath. But what was the Oath?”
“You have not!” She snatched up the abandoned coffee mugs – his entirely untouched – and took them through to the kitchen, leaving the papers scattered.
He followed her. “The Nocks agreed it, no more begetting.”
“Whoa, stop. The Nocks? And don’t let your wind whip around in here.”
“Lady, you’re the one agitated. Your light’s all a-swirl. Nocks and Asars both are Bellinn, but Asars are the source while Nocks are what you’d call the flow.”
“You mean they’re the anakim.”
“Begotten by Asars upon mortal women.”
He lifted a shoulder. “Unto the seventh. But they swore to it. They agreed their numbers must diminish, the blood disappear. And your grandfa broke it.”
“I don’t know! When we find him you can ask.”
“For someone who can get inside my head, you’re not reading me. I meant why must their numbers diminish.”
He stood for a very long moment, just staring out of the window. Beyond was blackness. The lights within made it a mirror. It was reassuring to see him reflected. It meant he was real.
“We thought ourselves indestructible, yeh. Immortal. And so we were till the Flood. That was a shock. And myself nearly died at the Battle of Idiglat. But we’re sentenced always to dwell here. So if an Asar dies then he must be born again. Just . . . not as an Asar. He only can be a Nock, a child of an Asar, or a child of a child of a . . . yeh, of a Nock. And just as they were trapped in their first Asar-bodies, so they’re then trapped into the Nock’s body. And those so trapped couldn’t leave when came the Atonement. They never will leave, not while there are Bellinn-Nock bodies for them to be born to. And that’s why the Oath. When this Earth is purged of the blood, then the last of we Asars can return.”
He looked at her, his green eyes accusing. But it wasn’t her fault she’d been born.
“Lady, you must understand this. We Asars do not belong here, no matter we’re born into these bodies. Our presence upsets the balance, not of your Earth alone but of the entire universe. All Asars must return.”
“And you? You’re saying you’re a born-again Nock?”
He didn’t answer except to slowly shake his head. So he had remained to ensure the cleansing? And that meant finding her grandfather before he could beget more of these Bellin-Nock-anakim. Her head performed the arithmetic. At one conception a night that would be a thousand in just three years. She felt sick at the thought of it.
“But Grandpa Eddy would not be that irresponsible.”
“Yeh? But here is you, and there is your mother.”
“Because he didn’t know.”
“At last! Now you’re understanding it. Because, yeh, your grandfa was born after the Atonement. And he was raised in seclusion. Because, yeh, he was begotten upon a nun.”
~ ~ ~
Arms aggressively folded, Nerys stood at her front door. Waiting for Neve. That was a feature Neve didn’t like about the house: no front garden, not even a handkerchief yard. Though at the back the garden fanned wide, offering ample cover for the Watcher.
“Your druggie friend, you tell him from me to keep his noise down. Else I’m getting a court order slapped on him.”
Neve couldn’t argue. She’d heard his music blasting as soon as she’d turned off the High Street, although the track now playing was quieter. So again she must tell him. She had told him so many things these past two days.
To wear clothes about the house.
“Is that an essential?”
“Do my shorts count as clothes?” Black silk boxers with a pink ‘Bunny Girl’ motif. And what would Nerys make of those when they were out on the washing-line.
She told him of the washing. “If you put your dirty clothes in the bin I’ll do them with mine.”
“But I only have these.”
She felt her jaw drop, powerless to stop it. “But what about when they smell and are dirty?” She felt her lip curl.
He shrugged. “I go get some more.”
She told him, “Raesan, you mightn’t need sleep, but others do. So, please, be considerate of them and not play that handheld game-thing – whatever it is – after midnight. And preferably not until I’m at work.” It bleeped and whirred and clanged 29/7, usually accompanied by his music. And how many times had she said of that!
“Instead of the game, yeh, I could use the laptop. If you’d show me how. You said that you would.”
She had agreed to show him that evening but now she was straight in, coat discarded, up the stairs, and never mind a knock at the door, she stormed into his room. Angel he might be but she was of the same breed and now she was fuming. Not a word to him – mutely, he watched. In the bottom of the cupboard over the stairs was a box of bits she had yet to find homes for. Amongst them were her old headphones. She hurled them at Raesan. He blinked as he caught them.
He looked at them like they were an alien artefact.
“Here. I’ll show you.” Anger exhausted, she deflated to calm – or was that his coercion again? She plugged the headphones into his ‘blaster. Bliss. Immediate mute.
“Hey!” he objected.
She fitted the contraption over his head though he tried to bat her hands away. Playing? It was impossible to tell what his games.
“It’s polite when playing loud music,” she said and positioned the black padded cuffs on his ears. His face lit up.
Then he was all looking around him, looking above, looking confused. Comical to watch. But she had quickly to back from the room when he started to dance. He was like a 1980s computer game, a ball bouncing off walls.
“Nah.” He ripped off the headphones and offered them back. “I’ll tangle myself in the rope.”
“The lead,” she corrected. But she could see his point. He needed to be shown the value of listening. “Come downstairs with me.”
She plugged the headphones into the computer, loaded iTunes, loaded Ashwar, a psychedelic rock band from the 70’s.
For a moment she wondered if she weres playing with death, being so bossy. He could be the Marsh Murderer. But she’d not have her hospitality abused, and she’d not have her neighbours annoyed. Relations were already strained, and heading for worse.
And now Raesan was spinning round in her chair. “Stop it! Sit still!” He was such a child!
Again, she fitted him with the headphones.
“Ground-control to upside-down.” He chuckled, aping weightless motions.
“Listen –” he obliged by raising an earmuff “– I don’t suppose you’ll like the music but bear with it. I’m just demonstrating.”
“Yeh? So where’s your placard?”
She turned away while she fought for composure, not knowing if he was making light to annoy her, to amuse her, or just because that was his way.
“It’s to show you the advantages of wearing headphones.”
“But you’ve just said, yeh, it’s polite when playing loud music. I listen.”
“Well listen to this.”
She watched his face as the first track played. Experimental, it featured various non-musical sounds. His eyes followed the flight of an imaginary helicopter over his head. He looked startled at the sound of manic laughter. Then himself was laughing – though trying not to, his cheeks as wide as a well-fed hamster’s. He kept ducking his head. Then he flew off the chair at the sudden rattle of machinegun-fire. Then he settled, now quietened, eyes thoughtful, as the music tracks played. By the third track she knew her point was made.
“Wow,” he said when she switched off the music. “Lady, I have never heard music like that.”
“Oh? You mean it’s not like they play on the radio?”
“Nor in the clubs either.”
Was that all the music he’d heard? Though what chance to listen more fully to music if he’d been sleeping out in that tent. And now she had his attention she tried to explain. “The sounds that come from a radio, or from the speakers in a nightclub, whizz around and bounce off walls. They’re absorbed by the soft furnishings and by clothes. But with headphones they’re delivered direct to your head. So you hear precisely what the musicians intended.” She wasn’t at all sure he understood.
“You like that music?” he asked.
Since he seemed sincere in his interest, she explained it further. “There are certain artists and tracks . . . . the singer, the musicians, you can hear that they love what they’re doing, the way I am with embroidery. They put everything into it, and that love fills the work. Then when I listen, it’s like that love is enfolding me.” That’s why she never felt truly alone.
“Wow,” he said still seeming sincere.
She had her old school-friend, Rosemary, to thank for that understanding. Her brother had been in a rock band and had a fabulous CD collection that Rosemary dipped into. She had shown Neve music with muscle. But it then became Neve’s dream, to be able to make music like that.
They taught guitar at Carleston College, but first the girls must learn violin. So Neve asked her grandma. And her grandma refused her. She asked why not. But all her grandma would say was, “Your grandpa.” Neve never did know what she meant. When she returned for the new term she told Rosemary what had happened – and one of the older girls overheard their talk. “Oh, but I thought all gypsies were born on the fiddle.”
Rosemary had tugged on her arm, pulling her away from an imminent fight.
But Rosemary had lived at Hoddesdon, in Herfortshire. Too far for Neve to visit during school holidays. And she couldn’t ask Rosemary to stay at Dowsingham, not with Grandma’s invisible voices, no TV, no music. So she’d had Jazzy Hardcastle’s company instead, the two-faced bitch.
Raesan’s voice brought her out of the memory. “But you like Heading’s music, and they don’t make music like that.”
That was true. Neve laughed. There was something of Heading’s music that always brought a smile. “It’s the singer – though it’s the rest of the band as well. But that Jon Daines, he just loves his music. You can hear it, he’s all fired up.”
Raesan nodded, and she thought he understood. Then he took off the headphones and handed them back.
“No. They’re yours, for you.” She refused them.
“Nah. You’re Silver Fold, I’m Gold. I don’t need them.”
She took a deep breath, understanding now the impulse to murder.
. _____ .
Next Tuesday (22nd January 2013): A Knight’s Fee