Neve rested her head against the door. The other side of it, in the street, a car-door slammed. There was a burst of engine, then a roar as the saffron yellow Spitfire bulletted away. Tension released, Neve’s shoulders sagged. She locked the door. At lunchtime she’d nip to the ironmongers. Her DIY skills ought to be up to fitting bolts to the back and front doors. She’d already fitted window locks. That ought to keep him out, him and the Watcher.
Yet even while she was making the plans the lure of King Harold’s daughter, a Bellinn like herself, pulled at her to return. She wanted to learn more – though she corrected herself: Gunnhild wasn’t Harold Godwinsson’s daughter but a cuckoo planted by Amblushe’s son. Neve shivered. Amblushe, the same source as her own. She was kin to Gunnhild, Princess of England.
She checked that the back door was locked. And her eyes fixed on the microwave clock. Slowly she shook her head. No, though tempted, she could have no more of it. It was 3:00 a.m. and not even Monday, but Tuesday.
She’d been furious on waking. “You’ve done it again!”
“Na,” he’d said with a stupid wobble of his head. “Na, it’s nothing like it was before. I’ve learned, yeh. I made sure you sipped water. And when I couldn’t recover you I used your phone to speak with Miss Crabby. I told her you’re sick.”
Neve quietened, enough to ask what Ms Cox had said.
“That this being the second Monday she wonders if the sickness is drink related,” he quoted. “She thought I was you, yeh, cos I put on your voice.”
Neve turned her back to him, the clever little boy, and groaned, her head in her hands.
“But I told her, Lady, I told her wasn’t that so. I said you’d had plenty to drink. Only I said “I”, yeh, cos I was you.”
Oh that a hole would open beneath her feet and she’d disappear deep into some lightless cavern, there to remain for ever and ever. To have never to see him again, the stupid, idiotic, unthinking man. He had only managed to imply she’d a hangover. She exploded at him.
“Go! Just go, Raesan, go!”
“But . . .” He’d spluttered several more “buts”. “Wasn’t my fault, Lady. I couldn’t fetch you back. They weren’t my memories. Guy stole you.”
“I said go.”
“But your grandfa—”
“Your concern, you go find him, Mr Almighty-Powerful Asar. You found me. Right now I’m more concerned about that dragon – though that seems not to bother you.”
She imagined it. The dragon rising. The armed forces closing. Their bullets proved useless, now they’re bringing in nucleur weapons. She could hear the clamour of Animal Rights, see the cameras as the media converged. What terrible chaos. But what could she do to stop it? Write to her MP? And who would believe her of dragons, until Aquilergy’s turbine woke it? Then the death and destruction. She ought to focus on finding a solution not chase after her grandfather.
Raesan had but-but-butted again, hands flapping. His light, previously contracted, had ballooned, and ruptured, a gale blasting at her. It had hurled her against the computer-desk, the corner of it gouging her hip.
“Lady, you don’t understand,” he’d shouted while she was still finding her feet amid pain. “Forget the dragon. That turbine is close, yeh, but not on top of it. Lady, you don’t understand what danger you’re in.”
“Yea? And what danger is that, clever-clogs?”
“I keep trying to show you but . . .” He threw his arms wide. “Lady, you need so badly to understand but instead you chase after Guy.”
“I do not ‘chase after’. And you have told my employer I’m drunk. So go. I said go!”
Everything slammed behind him.
She set the alarm and sought her bed. She felt so completely drained.
~ ~ ~
No trolls or gremlins abducted her during the night. Though short, she’d had a deep and refreshing sleep. As her hand reached for her clock to cut the alarm she was already planning the evening. After she’d fitted the bolts, the internet. Check out Gunnhild, daughter of King Harold. Check out Count Alan, King’s Counsel. Strange that with her interest in that period, and the history books on her shelves. she never had encountered his name. She’d check out Hindrelagh too. Where was it? Somewhere north of York, beside a white river, where the count had his castle. She’d check out his brothers, and his holdings in Norfolk. Norfolk in Breton hands? Why hadn’t she known it? Somewhere in her head, stored as a trivial fact, she’d known that the rebel Earl Ralph had been Breton. But Archbishop Lanfranc, who in the king’s absence had dealt with the uprising, claimed he had cleared the Breton scum from the land. Count Alan, the wealthiest man for far around. How could he disappear from the pages of history?
She was in the bathroom when she caught the distinct aroma of fresh-made coffee. Not wafted from Nerys next door, the smell was too strong. She was down those stairs, winceyette robe clutched around her.
Raesan nodded to the pot he set on the deep-polished table. “Thought you might need waking, yeh. Muesli?” He held out a cereal bowl. He’d even thought to add a handful of blueberries.
“I thought I told you to go?”
“Yeh, you did, and I went.” He placed a desert spoon beside the bowl.
“But you’re back.”
He looked around him. “Yeh, Lady, I do believe that I am. Unless I’m an illusion, that is. I had to come back, Lady. I can’t let you face the danger alone.”
“What danger?” He’d been waffling of danger last night.
“Eat,” he said making the motions. “You don’t want to be late for work. Another written warning, yeh?”
“The word’s gremlin.” And had he been tapping into her dreams?
“You saw that movie too, yeh? Na, these are grimmen. Nothing like gremlins – mostly. Eat.”
She didn’t want to eat. She poured the coffee. And switched on the music, left last night on Gothic B-Damned. He turned it off again.
“Sorry. I guess they remind you too much of the good times. Revels in Regin-yorl’s hall?”
“It’s not that. It’s those ladies use angel-speak.”
Puzzled, she looked at him.
He ignored her question.
“So tell me of grimmen,” she said. “But make it brief, I’ve to work.”
For a few moments he simply scratched his head. Then he said, “Inbreds.”
Neve understood his meaning; she knew enough genetics for that.
“From the same source,” he expanded.
“Brother and sister? First cousins?”
He rolled his eyes. “As if as easy. Na, these are Nocks, it’s through all generations, the seven – we count only to seven, beyond seven the blood anyway is impotent. Besides, beyond seven is most of the world. Even a thousand years ago it was most. That’s why it had to be Guy speak for us.”
“Because he’d no aura, no Bellinn blood, not even dilute?”
“Lady, that’s past, you want this brief?”
In other words, ‘be quiet and don’t digress’. She nodded.
“Inbreeding, yeh, it . . . overloads the blood. Makes it too much Bellinn, not enough mortal. So time comes when the mortal parts die and the Bellinn parts cling to whatever is left. Results vary. None nice, all nasty.”
“You like horror movies?”
“Horror movie nasty.”
She poured a second cup of coffee. She didn’t ask how these grimmen could remain hidden from the world, not when an entire settlement of Bellinn could remain invisible to the Oddssons’ eyes. “But how does this affect me?”
“As we have established.”
“So you’re fair game.”
“You’d better explain.”
“Brief, yeh? They want your blood.”
“Like . . . vampires?”
“Sort of, yeh. Yeh, much like that. Though they haven’t the fangs. Usually.”
Neve tried to swallow. “Why my blood? Why, if it’s the mortal they’re missing?”
“You think rather they’d go for full-mortal? Na. Full-mortals die. Yours is Bellinn, and yours is young with hundreds of years yet to live.”
She didn’t know what to say to this. It seemed unreal. Until in flitting her eyes found the garden.
“That’s why I need to be here,” Raesan said. “And that’s why you need to wake up and know who you are. You have to use your tricks. Only, Lady, you won’t, you refuse.”
“Is that what makes me vulnerable?”
“A baby-Bellinn has more tricks than you,” he said, surly.
“The one who watches?” she asked, her eyes still focused on the garden outside the kitchen window. “It’s a grimmen isn’t it?” That fitted. A Bellinn, now in decay, an illusion-caster, able to remain invisible. Awaiting the chance to suck the Bellinn blood from her.
But Raesan shrugged. He wouldn’t say.
~ ~ ~
Regin-yorl’s hall was aswirl with blue and green lights, every Bellinn there a Silver Fold. The women again were singing. It was the same song, performed as a round. But what was the language? Neve had absorbed Guy’s northern version of medieval French. And from Toli she’d learned at least to recognise Anglo-Saxon; the same with East Dane as used by the Oddssons. She no longer needed Raesan’s translations. But this of their song was no language she knew.
Their voices, as more and more rounds were joined, seemed to swell and totally fill the hall. How was there room for aught else? Their singing filled her too, squeezing out other of Raesan’s memories, chasing away his recalls of dancing and holding and getting in erotically close. The singing threatened to become everything, to commandeer her every sense.
And so it would have, were it not for her love of the colours and fabrics and styles of their clothing. Guy had marvelled at them, though he’d thought the women indecently clad. What would he make of the clothes that Neve wore, and she never dressed provocatively. Oh but those gossamer-silk gowns that swept the ground, and few wore the obligatory white linen shifts beneath them. Though why should they when here was high summer.
Turning, and seeing through Raesan’s eyes now, she noticed what she’d missed before. Every one of the women had a drop-spindle with her. Most had tucked them into their belts else under their arms. Incredible. They’re spinning while singing.
But what did they spin? Not wool, she could see that. Neither was it flax. It looked like candyfloss. It could not have been cotton, not in England, not yet.
Eldspin, but it no longer grows, Raesan’s voice broke through her wonderment, prised her a little away from the enchantment. She wanted to complain, yet it was a good thing. Less chance of her again getting lost in it. Though she resented the distance.
You were to show me of Gunnhild and Count Alan, she said. This past week, every evening on the internet, seeking out Count Alan: Alan the Red, Alan Rufus. His brother, too, Alan the Black, Alan Niger. And to confuse things she’d found a third Alan. Alan Fergant, Duke of Brittany.
But she didn’t want to think of that now, that again would put distance when she wanted nothing more than to study minutely the embroidery that trimmed every gown, every shirt, every pair of breeches. But even more than their clothes was that saga-band. She’d not noticed that before either, not in this detail. It encircled the hall yet Guy hadn’t seen it, How could he not? Yet, she allowed, he’d had other thoughts. That saga-band resembled the Bayeux tapestry in every aspect: the size, materials, the linen, the wool, the colours, the greens, the blues, the yellows, everything. But of course the colours would be the same; they used the same dyes.
Yet despite Raesan had shown her this, it was frustrating to see with his eyes. Guy was more curious, he looked around, seeing things for the first time. While Raesan had seen Regin-yorl’s hall so many times. He stood with his back to the empty throne, eyes sweeping the hall. Seeking out Alan, she supposed. She was surprised at the size of the hall. Bigger by twice than Bradstreet’s hay-barn. It would hold four hundred—no, six hundred—easily. Though there were perhaps only two hundred now, and they mostly women. They gathered in groups as they sang. None were old; she could see no grey hair, not a wrinkle anywhere. It could have been a Students’ Union bar, but for the children. Yet she could see only three of these. And again her eyes greedily took in small details of fashion. How odd that it was the men who displayed most variety. Their breeks worn long and baggy, or narrow as leggings. And the socks worn beneath them, all bright, and silk, in stripes of every clashing colour. Shirts too, full and swaying, else full and belted, other almost body-tight and tucked into their pants. But there was little variety in the men’s hair. It was like being in an army barracks, they all wore it short. A Norman fashion, as well she knew.
Raesan’s eyes fixed on Amblushe. Neve didn’t like her, she didn’t want to look at her. But no, his eyes didn’t stay there. They moved on to the young woman standing next to her. Equally as pale as her swan-cloaked companion yet definitely younger, more rounded – which was probably the reason that Raesan was looking. She wore a silver link-belt tight to her waist, studded with some rosy stone, possibly amethyst. Pale purple and pink silks floated like wisps around her. Her lips, full and pouting, seemed to echo the curves of her body. With one slender finger she stroked an armband worked from silver with opal beads.
Who is she? Neve asked, since Raesan insisted on showing her.
All that day we were asking that. She’s Zelina.
Amblushe her source? It didn’t take much guessing.
Neve could see the resemblance. The both had an wicked look about them.
Yeh, agreed Raesan. You could say.
A third woman stood with them, easily recognised from Neve’s first visit. Gunnhild, out of place with her wimple, the scarf that long it trailed down her back. Amongst all the silks, her gown was wool, a deep-rose. And amongst the silver and gold, her gown was girded, low on her hips, with plain brown leather. What’s more, she alone of the women wore a cross. Of filigree gold, it was studded with garnets or rubies, and hung on a long string of pearls. Her fingers constantly went to it, like counting rosary beads, only then again to fall.
She didn’t know? Neve remembered the talk between Nihel and Count Alan. Until her abduction Gunnhild hadn’t known she was Bellinn. Neve could sympathise. The shock she must have suffered.
A devout angel-seeker. More sand-headed than you, Raesan said.
But how did she explain her aura? It’s brighter than mine. It was brighter than she remembered her mother’s.
She thought herself a saint, what with her prayers.
Neve could see Count Alan there too. He seemed to be inching in closer to Gunnhild, but Amblushe blocked him with her body. He was the only other there to wear a cross. Nothing fancy, just polished black wood. She realised he’d straightened his clothing since her first sight of him, straddled by the nymph in the woods, disarrayed. His complexion, previously florid, now was drained. His anguish radiated, she could feel it from across the hall. Disturbing, she wanted to curl into a ball along with him.
That seemed to serve as invite, for she found herself suddenly with him, inside him, sharing his thoughts, his feelings, his memories. Intense, it was frightening.
Only two weeks since Nihel had told him of this. Now to see her, his most gentle devout Christian lady, with these. Oh, he knows what they are. Fallen angels, demons – and she was begotten by one! He ought to turn his back, to renounce her. Yet look at her, she didn’t know until now.
And how to say ‘demon’ of her when he is the demon. Aye, him. Three oaths he has broken. Three! In breaking her virginity. Give him a whip, let him lash himself into a bloody death. He deserved it. Dearest Lord in Heaven, he needed no other to tell him. His one frail moment of weakness has sealed her death. His angel. His purest, sweetest angel. Oh, when the king finds of it . . . O woe! Foul death to her, and exile for me. To hold her, let me hold her, allow me to make everything right. Dear God. Please! But no, that white demonous grandmother stood in his way.
Then a thought. She’s not Harold’s get. That’s what they’re saying, that she’s not Harold’s get. Then why ought the Bastard to worry of her?
But he countered that. To tell the king that Gunnhild was the offspring of fallen angels? No, that would be her certain execution.
He had tried to keep her safe. This was that Leofrun’s doing.
He gazed up at the banners, the wide-horned white bulls on the black. But he saw none of them. He saw only his own white Mercian knot on his own red ground. And again he heard Hegrea.
“Lord Alan, I tell you no lies. I saw them with these own eyes. The abbess has taken Gunnhild south.” She stopped him as he called for his horse. “You cannot so easily catch them. They were boarding a ship.”
“To Flanders? To France? I’ll follow.”
“To London – though I cannot say where once there.”
Still he called for his horse. He rode it no distance, only as far as the convent of St Mary Magdalen at Bargate. Leofrun’s foundation though latterly the king had removed her to Wilton.
“Gunnhild, my ward? I’m here to visit,” he told the replacement abbess.
The abbess sniffed. “My Lord Alan, you ask three days too late. Abbess Leofrun has taken her to Wilton.”
And that was all Alan needed to know. He turned to go. But the hairy old crone of an abbess, sent there by the king, held him back. She wasn’t yet done.
“She accused me – aye, and you, my Lord Alan – accused us of want and of lack, unable to protect our own charge. Said she must be moved to a place of safety. Huh! She claimed she fears, what with the Danish invasion – she intimated, my Lord Alan, that you might be conspiring with them – she said you’re not to be trusted with her. She said that with our Lady Gunnhild a valuable hostage for the Danes – and none can deny it – and with Yorkshire their customary gateway to England. She said, my Lord Alan, that a witch is living within your walls, with your brother, and who knows what a witch might do. She said, my Lord Alan, much better that Lady Gunnhild be close to the king’s court. At Wilton. I did not agree and have sent a missive to complain to our lord king.”
It was clear from her talk that this replacement abbess knew his ward’s true identity. That alone angered. But this concocted story that Leofrun offered, no, he could believe not a word of it. What, while fearing for Gunnhild’s safety, Abbess Leofrun then took her on a dangerous sea journey? He’d better believe a sheep might fly. So how many men had she brought as protection? Hegrea had mentioned none. No, this wasn’t about Gunnhild’s safety. But if not that, then what mischief might Leofrun be planning? And Leofrun from one of the oldest English families. Earl Edwin’s young sister.
. _____ .
Next episode, 16th April: An Elastoplast For Raesan