Neve: Chapter 9
Neve knew she existed outside of Guy’s memory. Yet that existence seemed dream-like, like something only vaguely remembered and she didn’t want to wake from it. So she was as grumpy as Guy when Toli shook him awake.
He opened an eye.
“Sir Guy, sir. Get your shoes on, sir, come look.”
With bladder bursting Guy needed no nagging. He disentangled his legs and wrapped the green mantle around him. He slipped into the shoes that Toli had laid out for him and followed his squire to the door. Barn Hagni, de Lissay’s predecessor at Covesby, had built the hall right on the edge of the rise from the marshes. It gave good views over the grazing, flat as deal-flooring between the Run and the Garen. It gave good warning should warships be coming.
Guy squinted against the sun. Where was the marshland? There only was water that lapped at the tangled tops of thorn bushes. He could see Cerdinga Sands off to the east, but only by its many ships’ masts. Between there and Covesby, the Dane-raised halls and sheds that had edged that marsh now stood like places offered for moorings, with their feet getting wet. Guy let out a low whistle.
“That’s what I thought, Sir Guy. That water stands broad.”
It took Guy a while to take it in. And the din!
Yesterday 2,000 sheep had grazed those marshes. This morning 10,000 birds feasted upon the fish trapped there. Gulls, and herons, terns, all manner of duck and long-shanked waders, all a-squabbled. And the crows! Those and other carrion eaters – red kites, a buzzard, rare in these parts. He’d not seen at first the draggled drowned fleeces.
He banged on the boarded wall beside him, to wake his brother. Hearing movement within, he called to Miles, “You’d best come see.”
Instead, Miles dragged a stool close in by the fire, causing a scrape that Guy heard above all of the noise. “That’s last night’s storm,” he said. “Held up the tide. It does that at times when there’s a northwester. The Run overflows. It will drain with the tide.”
Guy looked again at the flood. He hadn’t the local knowledge of his brother, yet he knew not to put sheep to graze on land where they’d easily drown.
A skin-and-bone swain, younger than Toli, bare muddy feet beneath dripping-wet breeks, knocked into Guy as he hastened to enter the hall. He was trailing a string of red and green fish. “Look, Lord Miles. Look! They’re just there for the taking.”
Guy noticed his brother’s frown. Those fish were freshwater fish, mostly perch and rudd. Hugh the French steward took them.
“How the Deuce . . . ?” Miles muttered, a hint of anger.
“That’s no salt flood,” Toli said. “Looks like Garen’s burst her banks.”
Miles cast a stony glare at where, outside, Toli leaned against the wall.
“Lord Miles,” the tow-headed swain siad, “that flood’s in from the north.”
The north? Sudden dread seized Guy’s guts. Adele. Ristun. Ristun manor licked at the Bewer’s Pull, a widened part of the northern river. He straightened his back and glanced at Toli. The lad knew his duty.
His heavy livery-tunic wasn’t yet dry. So Toli held out instead a blue linen shirt, close-fitting, fancy braid at the neck and cuffs, the latest French fashion. He helped Guy wriggle into it. He fastened Guy’s belt with the big brass buckle and offered clean stockings. Guy wanted to say that those beige didn’t quite suit the otherwise blues but he’d not say it in front of Miles who watched the scene with scorn in his eyes. Toli gartered the stockings, navy with golden tassels, and laced more securely the red-dyed shoes – as with his livery, yesterday’s boots were still wet. Finally, he brooched the mantle, unfastened last night for use as a blanket.
“I’ll fetch horses, Sir Guy,” Toli broke the uneasy silence.
Guy nodded, proud of of the lad now in front of his brother.
He had one foot in the stirrup, ready to up and swing his leg over, when the priest came helling across the yard, arms waving over his head. “Lord Miles! Lord! Lord Miles!” Guy mightn’t have been there, he went straight to the hall.
“My lord,” Guy could hear him still. “I cannot explain the process but all this water is due to the dragon.”
“Godfrey, fermez! And what’s this of a dragon?”
Though Guy ought to be gone, his fears for Adele were building, yet intrigued by the priest, he held still and listened.
“I saw him last night – a beautiful beast, though still a dragon. Ravaging across these marshes, my lord. I saw him! I prayed, my lord. I did as I could. Prayed to Michael, Saint de la Mont. Prayed to Saint Samson as well.”
“I am sure that you did everything right.” Miles’s voice had a catch of amusement. His feet padded towards the door. Guy watched, with his own amusement, as his brother’s face dropped. The water lapped but three rods from his feet.
“If there are dead,” the priest wittered on, “you tell them, you tell them I did toll that bell. I tolled and I tolled but nobody came. Any dead by that dragon’s ravaging, it is not by my doing. You can tell them that, my lord.”
“It is my flock that concerns me,” Miles said and turned on his heel, shoving the priest hard. The priest stumbled.
“Hugh! And I want clothes! If there’s damage I need to know.”
“I can see that you’re busy,” Guy called to him. “And I have things too. I thank you for the night’s hospitality.”
He turned Grimbag’s head. Unable to cut across the marsh, he would need to go first to the burgh, then again out. He hoped the ferryman would be at the Bewer, even if surly.
“Ay, good brother,” Miles sneered. “Indeed, leave me with this. When there’s work to be done . . .”
Guy started to say of Covesby, that it was Miles’s demesne. But a sudden light and something moving, off to the east, caught his eye. He squinted, eyes shaded with his hand. Whatever it was, it was moving towards them.
“What is it?” Miles demanded to know.
“Looks like two riders.”
“Oh, not rainbows?” Toli was struggling to hold his bay gelding. It was anxiously turning.
“Could be rainbows.” Guy agreed. Though he’d not seen a rainbow with colours breaking and changing, and neither a rainbow that rode upon horses. “They are definitely heading this way.”
“Deuce, but I’m surrounded by idiots! First a dragon and now knights wearing rainbows.” Yet Miles called for the steward to come see.
“It’s the effect of the light. Must be,” Guy said.
“They’re following the course of the Run.”
“Impossible, Hugh. That Run is two fathoms deep without the additional flood.”
“They’re riding atop the water,”Toli said and all turned to look at him. “But they are, Sirs.”
Godfrey the priest squeezed between Miles and the steward to venture out, though he kept a safe distance from the horses. He peered at the vision. Now they were closer Guy clearly could see they were riders. The priest smiled. He grinned, so wide it nigh cut his face. He laughed, and broke into a jig with much clapping.
“Those, my lord, are angels.”
~ ~ ~
“Why’d you do that?” Neve asked though she wasn’t awake enough to say it with anger.
She followed Raesan through to the kitchen, then through the utility room. He threw open the door. Smells of the sea and the harbour hung on the damp air. A rustle, a movement, Neve thought of the Watcher, but the garden was dark with shadows upon shadows. She dismissed it: it was probably next door’s cat. Along Back Lane the sparrows already were greeting the day. Closer, a wren chirped like stones chipping.
“I needed a break, yeh,” Raesan answered brusquely as, barefoot, he ventured into the garden, his Asaric shimmer illumining around him. Golden-eyed auriculars peeped from under the delphiniums’ fresh flush of leaves. Neve watched him, sniffing and breathing, up on his toes, arms stretching. “I’ve not done this before and . . . rammitting jiggers, but it’s exhausting.”
“That wasn’t my question,” Neve said. “I meant why did you show me this Guy de Hamahall?”
“You need to know of angels.”
She laughed, scorning. “All that of Guy, and a snip of the angels?”
“Yeh,” he said and pushed past her – back through the utility room, back into kitchen.
Again she followed. And caught sight of the microwave clock. She groaned. Thank God it was Sunday, at least she could snatch a nap during the day. She filled the kettle. Though tired, she didn’t want to sleep yet. She had questions to ask.
“And I need to know of the angels for why? Because Asars are angels, banished angels?”
“You shouldn’t heed all you hear.”
“Which group were you?”
“Which, Raesan? You’re here in my house. You’re filling my head with . . . whatever. I’ve a right to ask. So which group were you?”
He returned to the front room. Again she followed.
“Why were you banished? Because you chose evil?”
He dropped onto the recliner. With a squirm of his body it shot out to a bed-shape. He linked his hands behind his head and raised an eyebrow at her. “What’s evil? Can you answer, do you know?”
“The taking of a person’s free-will.”
He laughed. “But that’s not us. Certainly not before the banishment, and only a few since then.”
“No?” She looked at him accusingly.
“I had a need to hold you still,” he said in defence. “It wasn’t done with evil intent.”
“Then the Asars are those who seduced womankind, and taught us the civilising arts? Swords, pens . . . the wearing of make-up.”
“You could say there’s been some seduction over the years. Just look at yourself.”
She frowned. Then realised what he meant: her grandfather. “But that was after your banishment.”
“So you answer it for me.”
“Well, if not the seducers, man’s educators, are you the angels of peace and love?”
“Yeh, that’s us,” he laughed but it seemed to be self-mocking. “Na, Lady, not us. But you can stop asking me, all lips are seal and ever will be. Now sit. You need your memory refreshed of these angels.”
She didn’t register all of his words. Neither did she hear the kettle when it switched itself off. She sank into her grandma’s ancient settee. Reupholstered with thick foam to cover the webbing and deep microfibre over that, it invited surrender.
~ ~ ~
Gui de Hamahall?
The voice has no source, was everywhere, though Guy looked to find it. And how to answer? He was panting in panic upon his steed. Was it God? He looked up at the sky.
These ones seek you; they seek your assistance.
Swive alive, it was God! Could the others hear Him? But he didn’t want to be seen to look. With a sneaked glance back he saw his brother’s frown deepened, while the steward’s lips were now compressed to nothing. As for cousin Godfrey, the priest in a swoon was upon the ground.
Yet how could these . . . beings . . . be angels when one wore a face as black as a Moor? That one rode forward. Ropes of black hair to his waist, not a hint of a whisker upon him, yet everything of him said male.
“W-what do you want of me?” Guy’s voice had retreated.
Your assistance to seek out a dragon.
Guy thought it more he who needed assistance. A priest perhaps, to guide him, to give wise counsel. But not his humble cousin, now flat on his face and muttering and moaning. Neither Miles, who at Guy’s look, looked away. The message was plain. Guy could deal with this alone.
“What . . .” he started. “I mean . . . dragons? I thought them all slain.”
Silence. Gone the breeze that disturbed the trees. Gone the din of the birds. No cloak in the wind suddenly snapped. No stamp or snort of a restless horse. Guy’s breathing was all, and it was loud in his ears. In fear, in dread, in confusion and nervousness, he licked his lips. He fumbled with fingers. He was not a religious, not a mystic, he’d done nothing to invite this visit. One prayer, one prayer was all.
“Introductions . . ?” he suggested. Doubtless there was protocol. But nothing at court had prepared him for this. “Who are you?”
It wasn’t unreasonable to ask. These luminous beings before him could have been sent by the Devil. To tempt him. To entice him with beauty. To lead him directly down the road to Hell.
Amphora. The voice was undeniably female though, again, Guy was unable to source it. He supposed it came from the fairer one. Androgynous face, ivory-pink lips, hair lazily drifting in the morning breeze, silken threads of silvery-gold. She was small, and clad in incongruous neck-to-toe armour. It wasn’t of iron but made of a million lens caught upon webs.
Zadki, the dark one said.
So it had not been God’s voice he’d heard at the first, only this Zadki’s. Still, it was chilling, not of this world.
Sent are these by Micha, as scouts, said Zadki. Guy had to twist the words round to understand them. You find for them flood-causing dragon.
These prompt for an answer, Amphora said. Will you help?
Though he’d a head full of questions he could ask but the one. “And Adele?”
Named maid remains safe . . . whilst you travail with these.
~ ~ ~
Time passed, the sun rose, the air thickened. It condensed on Guy’s back where it ran like rivers while he obediently rode behind the angels, eyes fixed on Zadki’s swords. They were strapped crosswise on his back.
They rode through the flood though his horse made no splash. He glanced down. Grimbag’s most ordinary hooves barely kissed water. More, the rafts of wild-fowl, of which there were plenty, did not rise up in protest, as expected, but meekly move aside and allowed them passage. And while trees and rooftops and floating corpses passed them by at alarming speed, Guy’s horse no more than gently trotted.
His mail-coat soon grew heavy and prickly-hot. He regretted he’d donned it before setting out. His eyes fixed on the angels’ mail, shot with colours, formed like dewdrops caught upon webs. Beneath it was no hint of a wing – certainly not folded, for their bodies were sleek, no disfiguring bulge, and their mail was continuous, no slit to slip their wings through.
Guy wondered . . . but it wouldn’t be polite to ask of such things. His cousin Godfrey would have known, but himself knew nothing of angel-etiquette. Perhaps if he was careful with how he phrased it . . .
It is the theologists who have given angels their wings, Amphora said.
As impolite to yelp in startlement. Too late. Guy tried to gather his wits.
The angel laughed: delighted trills that bounced off the land to either side of the flood, that stirred the water, creating minuscule ripples, that was the source of the gustlets that buffeted Guy and his horse from every direction, that disturbed his hair, that caressed his cheeks, that tickled him.
She said, her words sounding direct in his head, Your churchmen believe themselves great thinkers. Yet they cannot understand how angels travel from Heaven to Earth without a wing. They do not understand the nature of Heaven. It is light. Angels are light, existing in two places – though to manifest in this space-time continuum, angels must first be observed. Then angels cease to appear in Heaven, and simultaneously appear here. Thus without need to travel intervening spaces, angels have no use of wings.
He floundered for a while in the space-time continuum, then set it aside. He’d rather know how they travelled so fast through this flood.
Again, Amphora anticipated his question. Angels, not of this world, are not held by its law of gravity.
He stumbled over the ‘law of gravity’. Did it pertain to the dead? But he and his horse, and his squire riding behind them, were part of the world, and alive, so why did this law of the grave apply also to them?
You would have progress slowed in waiting on you?
He supposed not. Yet had they previously warned him it would have helped make steady his belly and head.
This angel Amphora is a magician, she said in her strange way of naming herself, never saying ‘I’.
“A magician who knows all my thoughts?”
That would be tiresome. Only thoughts you direct at angels Amphora and Zadki.
Like this? Guy thought the words at her but she continued speaking as if she’d not heard.
Before this quest ends you will know much about angels. That different angels have different powers. This angel Amphora, with a thought, can rise you into sky. Can protect you with warding spell. Can bind you to stay in one place. Can move you to places at sub-sonic speed.
More words here he did not understand. But he asked, “If an angel can do this, why do you need me to help find the dragon?”
Zadki answered in a thunderous voice that frightened the birds, and only inside Guy’s head did it become distinct words. Gui de Hamahall seeks knightly deed. When one prays, one is answered.
Guy’s jaw started to drop but he snapped his mouth shut. His prayer – his – had brought forth the storm, the dragon and flood?
. _____ .
Next Tuesday (12th February 2013): At Dragon’s Mere