It could have been Led Zeppelin’s Bron-Y-Aur Stomp rather than Bellinn musicians. A handsome youth, dark hair swinging, plucked at a twenty-plus stringed zither upon his spread knees. A matching pair of pipers accompanied him; twins, they tooted upon their long curving horns while, high-footed, they jigged. Behind them the drums were arrayed. Five in all, the bass was of colossal size, its booming throbbed through the air. The men clapped hands and stamped their feet and encouraged the women. They alone danced, arms linked around-shoulders, some hands upon waists, fair skin aglisten in the heat. Silver nocks all, their lights were busy, a sun-kissed turbulent sea.
Regin-yorl’s hall. Again?
Yeh, but it’s later. See Guy and Hawk, over there?
She started to ask, in sarcastic tone, if he’d no other memories but was cut short by a young lad, about Toli’s age, He exploded through the hall door calling, “Ruma, ruma!”
That’s Alfi. This day’s his birthday, yeh, twenty-five years.
Twenty-five years he might have lived yet his growth had stopped at fourteen. And a brighter lad she’d never seen. Scarlet tunic, crimson (Frankish) breeches, silk stockings striped yellow and green, all a-clash with his startle of loud orange hair.
“Make way for the lord. Lord’s near a-coming. Look here, Lord’s here!”
The dancing stopped. A buzz arose, all expectation. The music changed, the drums now whispering, all but silent, the zither lyrical, the pipes deep and plaintive. And through the door came a light like the sun had fallen to Earth! Such colours too, after the Silver Folds’ monochromatic hues of blue. Sapphire, citron, ruby, topaz, emerald, lapis . . . a Crystal Fold.
Who is it? Is it Regin-yorl? Why wouldn’t Raesan stand upon tiptoes so she could see over those now blocking the door.
As if in answer, Raesan pushed through Bellinn. Yet it was a memory, not done for her, it had already happened before. To either side Bellinn melted away and instantly she was outside the hall with the dark trees confining this riot of lights.
To her surprise, a Silver Fold co-led this dazzling procession of ‘Christmas-tree’ lights. A true Asar of the first generation, like Amblushe, like Raesan, his light must have been ten times brighter than hers. She thought him a shaman, his eyes black-ringed, his black hair wild. His arms whirled like some mad professor as he talked to his companion, another full Asar. Young, sleek and swarthy, and like his followers, a Crystal Fold.
She began to see others. Two Flame Folds. One she recognised from that first day of meeting Raesan. He’d been amongst those standing with Kerrid at the edge of the pit that awaited the dragon. Freilsen, all-over pale with hair like white dreadlocks hanging from him. And she suddenly had the other one’s name: Zrone. Raesan gave her no time for more but threw himself, and thus her, upon a Gold Fold. It was Ypsi, the one she’d seen riding the dragon, his bright red hair streaming behind him. He was exceptionally tall, even for a Bellinn, but thin. The brothers hugged and back-slapped and laughed in reunion. Great for Raesan, but she wanted to see more of the procession.
As long as the movement was small, she found she could use Raesan’s eyes independent of him. This wasn’t the same as she’d done before; joining Guy’s thoughts hadn’t been of her volition. She tracked with his eyes along the procession. How many Bellinn were there? Their lights snaked back even beyond the Linn river, seen as a sparkle in the darkening day. But how did the folks from far around not see it?
Then again Raesan was in control, snatching away the vision. He wanted to see the shaman and his companion as they entered the hall. As they passed through the door so the Bellinn within set off a Mexican wave with their bows.
Zemowit, Raesan finally informed her. Lord of these reaches.
Yea? Which one, the Crystal or the Silver? Though at once she realised the answer. It wouldn’t be the Silver Fold. The shaman had clothes more grubby than Raesan’s had been on their first meeting. It would be the Crystal Fold, decked in silks of every green hue, held by a low-slung gold belt, lapis-studded. His cloak, not of silk or linen but of something softly other, was long and voluminous of a deep golden yellow, and heavily beaded in gold. Yet to her surprise he was bare-legged, wearing gold strappy sandals upon his unstockinged feet. But such wealth for one who seemed still in his teens. And what do you mean, ‘Lord of these reaches’?
The Asar-protector of the Bellinn, yeh. From east in this country to Austerland – the Ukraine, you say it. That Freilsen you see with him, yeh, at this time he’s Asar-lord for south of the water – Llydaw and into Eir’s Land. In those days all lands had their Asar-protector. Before the Atonement. And all lords had a lady. But now all that has gone. He sighed, decidedly sad.
She hadn’t noticed before – or maybe Raesan had not – but Lord Zemowit had a guard. It was formed of six men, their only weapons their sharp bladed staffs. They stationed behind him as he sat on the high-seat.
Zemowit is Regin-yorl?
In answer Raesan shot her his scorn. Apparently she ought to have known.
The shaman informally perched on the edge of the dais. He waved at Raesan – like a child, but with a deformed hand.
Huat. My brother.
He looks more like Jiar. She remembered Jiar from that day on Haggleland, standing affectionately close to Kerrid, so close they’d seemed to be ‘one’. Now she’d a closer look at this Huat . . . the jaw, the eyes, the pert nose. In her head Raesan grunted. She’d noticed before he didn’t like Jiar. An ancient grudge, long retained?
What happened to his hand?
He was a fool, yeh, to compete with Jiar. He deserved that and more. She wondered what the story but Raesan’s tone forbade her asking.
As Zemowit raised his hands quiet rapidly spread across the hall. He scanned the faces, making a show of it. Neve was sure he already knew who was there.
“Regin?” he asked, his tone severe.
“Lord, you know he is always the last,” the gold-encrusted Skrauti called from where he stood guard on Guy and his company.
Zemowit turned his gaze to there. And his perfect brows beetled. “Mortals? You bring mortals here!” His face darkened yet further.
“Lord, we brought them only for Regin-yorl’s judgement. We caught them. Intruders.”
“Ob-vi-ous-ly,” Zemowit enounced every slow syllable. “How many Asars here?” His eyes sought out Raesan. “Can you not guard the gates better than this?”
“Hey, not me, Zemowit. I’m not resident here. Your lady . . . and Regin-yorl, yeh” He might try to make light of it but Neve was aware of his fear. She wanted to snort; typical Raesan to pass the blame.
“Regin’s a nock, not an Asar,” Zemowit snapped and turned back to the captives. ‘“Hawk,” he tossed his head as if in summons, “what is the reason for bringing in these? Reek of angelica, unspeakable angel-speakers.”
It wasn’t angelica. Neve had noticed a smell but not realised what. Now she could name it. Myrrh, and musk, and something other. It was heavy, and cloying, and too long within it would be nauseating.
Face flushed with anger, Guy spoke. “Lord, my presence here is not of Hawk’s doing. I can explain myself. I was following Lord Alan – who was abducted by your own people.”
Gasps sounded, like a storm amongst trees, the Bellinn shocked at the intruder’s audacity. But Zemowit turned sharply away with no comment made.
He lifted his chin to see over their heads, an arrogant stance. “Amblushe?” He waited a moment while his light, previously vivid in rapid-changing colours, began to calm. “And why are you here when your place is in Vanaland?”
“Zemmy,” Amblushe simpered while maintaining a harshness about her. “My granddaughter. Her marriage, you know. It has finally been consummated, But now her life, oh it’s in such danger. I came to protect her. You’d not have more war in your lands?”
“War?” Zemowit snorted. “But war is the nature of man. And rather would I have men fighting men than have those men batter we elders. Herm?”
“Isn’t that gainsaying, when he forbids us to fight?” The speaker, unwisely loud, was hidden amongst Zemowit’s own entourage.
Zemowit turned on him. “Gamal. Again. So again, I shall say. A lord provides more than sumptuous feasts. He provides protection. And particularly he protects his wilful sons from de-capi-tation. A fate more final than losing a limb. Unfortunately my lady, much enamoured with warriors, does not do the same. And where is she? Where’s Cesar?”
There came no answer, except throughout the hall all heads turned.
Why are you showing me this? Neve asked. Interesting, I agree., but what, specifically, do you want me to see?
Just watch, yeh. Observe.
You’ll see. I have promised not again to exhaust you by allowing you to devour everything all in one sitting. Yeh?
Did Ypsi ever tell you that you are infuriating?
Raesan didn’t bite on it. Amblushe was speaking.
“Zemmy, likely your lady sits by her well.” Her cattiness was unmistakable. Beside her, Vyvain and Zelina, heads-in together, pulled faces like children, and smirked.
“You have something to say?” Zemowit asked them.
Zelina shrugged with a flash of swelling pale breasts. “Should a lady not sit beside her lord, not dally with spells as if she’s a Norn? Now, were I your lady—” But Vyvain nudged her and pink suffused her.
For a moment Zemowit, before so assertive, seemed to be flustered. Then his indecision broke and instead he looked directly at a grubby faced, blonde-headed girl. She looked no more than ten years old, though that was no indication of the real years she’d lived. “Inga. Go fetch my lady for me.”
What’s the fuss, Raesan? What’s this of his lady and a well? The Oddssons had said of three wells on their land; they gave the chase its name, Tree Bruna.
Hush. Wait, yeh.
Wait, wait, of late that’s all he said. But she wanted to know now. She glanced around at the Bellinn, only part-marvelling at how Raesan allowed it. But if she could do that . . . the possibilities dawned slowly upon her. Was it such a big leap to join thoughts with another? She was Bellinn, it was one of her talents, though she had vowed never to use it again. But how could she join thoughts when it was across the centuries? Yet wasn’t that what had happened with Guy. She could join with him again. They had an affinity so it ought to be easy. But then, newly arrived in Eldsland, he was unlikely to have any answers. So who might?
Standing near, in red clothes and ginger hair, was Alfi. She opened her thoughts to him, the way she had as a child to her school-friends and her teachers. But she received nothing.
Think you can do it without me to start it? Raesan scoffed at her. But if you can, yeh, then it’ll be with a nock lesser than you. That’s the way of it, a fact for all Bellinn. And that Alfi is second from source.
What’s the girl Inga?
Still above you. Fifth generation. That’s fourth from source.
So what was she? She counted: herself; her mother, Connie; her father, Rawn Edmunds; her grandmother, Gunnhild, at which she chuckled; then Luin, Gunnhild’s cuckolding father; and the devouring white mother Amblushe. Sixth generation, fifth from source. Hmm. Yet who better to join with than the child then sent to investigate? And they were only one nock apart. Perhaps it was possible. She opened her thoughts to the child.
. _____ .
Next episode, 30th April: Three Oaths To Bind Him