Neve had found a way to watch, independent of Raesan. But she still wasn’t close enough to see the details of the saga band. And now her eye was caught by Skrauti, with his golden braid and golden brooches. Apparently he deemed his captives, Guy and Toli, Hawk and Nihel, no longer a danger – there were some hundred or so Bellinn here. He left them crammed into their corner while he beckoned to a young lad, head-to-toe clad in storm blue.
He’s not a lad, Raesan said. He’s Titling, 700 years old. Stopped growing when he reached a bare twelve.
Titling had arrived with Zemowit, part of his entourage. Now he squeezed his way through the press to join Skrauti. Raesan alone was close to the door – no need to post Bellinn doormen, not when outside two sentient carved beasts stood guard. Neve heard the talk as Skrauti and Titling left the hall.
“What results from your people?” Skrauti’s voice was conspiratorially quiet. Then why not speak head-to-head, no one would overhear that. But Neve immediately answered the thought. No Bellinn with sense would invite in another. Bad enough that a Bellinn had no protection against those nocks closer to source.
Titling shrugged in Gallic rather than northern form. “There’s Drifa, mayhap.”
“What!” Skrauti’s exclamation turned nearest heads. He lowered his voice again. “Only one? And she a woman,”
“But Cnut Sven-Estridsson is dead. There’ll be no battles where we can move unseen.”
“Cnut is . . .?”
“Last month. Struck down whilst he prayed. That’s why Lord Zemowit visits, to bring Cesar the news.”
“Damn! And damn that frigid angel-seeker. But there must be another way. Be rid of William, then I take the throne. No contest this time, there are no others.”
“And what of Togrim?”
“Toggy? Unlikely, he has a head full of air. No, that throne is mine. And once I’ve taken it I’ll see you richly rewarded. Oh, to break this constricting cover, let the people know that we’re here – let them know what we are, what we can do. Ha, then to watch them cower. This secrecy, I hate it. Hate it! And why should Gudrum be the only Bellinn ever to hold mortal throne? Not even close to source, that one; a full four nocks from it.”
“Hush,” Titling urged with an anxious glance back at the hall. They’d not moved far from it. “If Zemowit knows . . .”
Skrauti scoffed. Yet the reminder seemed to have worked. He hurried Titling away, into the deep shadows between the trees.
They’re conspiring to overthrow the king?
Na, forget it. It was just Skrauti’s mouth. It didn’t happen, yeh, you know that. Just he thinks, ‘cause he’s Harold’s son . . .
Neve slowly digested that. But why shouldn’t Skrauti be Harold’s son. Didn’t Amblushe’s son Luin seduce Eadgyth Swannhals. Who was his mother?
Skrauti? Cesar. Old Cesar.
Raesan was still near the door when Titling and Skrauti returned. Neve saw Skrauti’s face, dark as thunder. He abandoned Titling and targeted a curvaceous tall blonde from Zemowit’s entourage. No bright silken gown for her; bare legged, she wore a man’s tunic. Neve could see Skrauti’s fingers squeeze round her wrist. There was a moment of scuffle, then they disappeared into the crowd.
Drifa, Raesan said.
Who’s that Titling is heads-together with? It was a sour-faced Bellinn, his hair as pale as Drifa’s.
Drifa’s son. Saukkolf.
For one who’d previously warned Skrauti to quieten, Titling now seemed free with his talk. Neve could easily hear it. “Listen,” Titling said. “If he carries through this maniacal plan, I’m off to Iceland. You’d be wise to go too. That one, he’s set on ruining everything.”
~ ~ ~
“Water,” Raesan said as Neve opened her eyes.
“Why’d you pull me out? It was just beginning to heat up.”
“Yeh? Cos I don’t want you dead again.”
“Why, what time is it?” Though pointless to ask him. He’d already admitted that clocks confused him.
She glanced at the clock on the microwave while she filled the kettle. “And when he returned from fairyland, he found 300 years had passed him by.” Though it wasn’t that bad. In fact it was still only the wee hours of the morning. While spooning coffee into the mug, she mused of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. When travelling close to the speed of light, time slows relative to time on Earth. But she’d travelled nowhere, except in her head.
“I want to see that tapestry,” she told Raesan when she returned to the front room.
“And how? I’ve said, yeh, I can’t change what I did a thousand years back, and a thousand years back I wasn’t looking at that. Hey, I’m not to blame, yeh.” He held up his hands in acted innocence forgetting his grin betrayed him. “There were all these bouncing blondes all around – you saw them – and I was banished into this form. Na, you’ll only see that ‘broidery if you lock into a lesser nock.”
“We’ve talked of this before. And I still say Amblushe isn’t my source. The colour is wrong.”
Amblushe was pale-skinned with white-blonde hair. Gunnhild too was fair, both skin and hair. While Alan was ruddy complexioned and ginger. But Grandpa Eddy had been more like Raesan, Mediterranean with gypsy-black hair; so too her mother. That’s why she’d thought first off that Raesan was her brother.
But who else might be her source? One of the three Cesars? She thought of Vyvain, and of Starri and Skrauti. Yea, she might fit better with them.
~ ~ ~
Titling and Skrauti were again leaving the hall, talking again of usurping King William’s throne. Neve scanned the hall; who was there she could lock into. Ah-ha, a young woman who’d arrived in Zemowit’s entourage had noticed the saga band and was making her way to it. Her hair a mess of red curls, heavy silk dress gold embroidery encrusted, a dextrous lady, not spinning as did the others but embroidering, her work held taught in a small frame. Such skill, to walk, listen, look, and embroider all at the same time. Neve joined with her thoughts, happy to see through her eyes.
And finally she saw it, and saw it up-close. The band. It differed from the Bayeux Tapestry in that the borders top and bottom were filled with the runic script. She was glad of that else she’d not have known that the figure fighting the dragon was Ingvi. She assumed it a dragon and not a mere serpent since gods didn’t usually wrangle with ordinary vipers. She followed the story:
Yngvi throws the dragon into the sea.
The dragon there thrashes and writhes.
Its agony throws up a flood.
The flood inundates all the northern land.
Folks take to their boats.
INGVAR-KING COMES ASHORE AT AN ISLAND
(Said island shown as a pimple sticking out of the water.)
HERE YNGVI SAYS TO STAY. THIS IS YOURS.
Neve smiled at that. Ingvi-god had made Ingvar king of a very small island, hardly enough to stretch out a bed. But this saga band was displayed in Regin-yorl’s hall, so it must tell Regin-yorl’s story.
The red-head, her needle prick-prick-pricking into the taut-held linen, ignored the host in the hall and sauntered along. Neve read on:
Ingvar-king builds a long-house on an isle.
(Shown as a very small house).
Ingvar-king erects a pole with a sun-wheel atop it.
(Shown with its six spokes visible: the six division of the year.)
A bird builds her nest on the wheel.
Crops yield high.
The sea gives up fish.
Sons are born.
The island grows big.
(Shown as a bump.)
Ingvar-king sets up a second pole.
(This on the newly risen land.)
A stork nests upon it.
Crops yield in mounds.
The sea yields heaps of fish.
The sons of Ingvar-king marry.
Grandsons are born.
The island grows big.
(Shown as three overlapping bumps.)
Reindeer graze by the foot of the pole.
Ingvar-king sets up a third pole
(This on the third, eastern, bump.)
An eagle nests upon it.
The crop-yield is so high it is toppling.
The sea yields mickle-heaps of fish.
The grandsons marry.
The grandsons have sons of their own.
The island is a wide land to be so named.
Ingvar’s grandsons are numerous, and so are named.
Come Danes from the east.
Come Saxons from the south.
Come Wends and Franks.
All come raiding. All want to take Arnssholm, the Arnlings’ land.
Ingvar-king and sons and grandsons fight many battles.
They defeat the invaders.
PRAISE TO YNGVI WHO PROTECTS US
(The saga jumps then to the days of Arnfast-king.)
HERE IS ARNMODR, BROTHER OF ARNFAST-KING.
HERE IS SIGRID, ERIK BARN’S SISTER.
(Shown as the couple stepping over a threshold.)
Neve didn’t know the name of Erik Barn, and the visual saga didn’t provide more information. But Alfeida, the red-head, knew, and Neve found it. Erik was nephew of Horik-king who, with his brothers, had ousted Klak from Heithabyr. Klak wasn’t much liked and the Arnlings were happy to ally with Erik.
HERE INN HRAFN IS BORN SON OF ARNFAST.
HERE ARNORR IS BORN SON OF ARNMODR.
Arnmodr is voted into the seat.
His wife Sigrid is happy.
Arnmodr dies too.
HERE IS INN HRAFN; HERE IS ARNORR, COUSIN
(Shown as two young boys.)
Erik Barn, King of Danes, arrives.
He brings many armed warriors.
He sits on the high seat.
Arnssholm is lost to Inn Hrafn and Arnorr.
HERE ARE INN HRAFN AND ARNORR
(Shown as youths armed with battle-axes.)
Arnorr is wounded.
Inn Hrafn is forced into exile.
Inn Hrafn joins a raiding party.
Erik Barn dies.
HERE IS BAGSECG KING OF DANES.
Bagsecg-king makes of Arnssholm his rallying place.
Bagsecg-king gathers a force.
Bagsecg-king harries the English and raid their lands.
HERE IS BAGSECG KING WELCOMES INN HRAFN
Inn Hrafn joins Bagsecg Micel-here.
Bagsecg is killed in battle.
Halfdan Ragnarsson becomes king.
Inn Hrafn meets with Hubbe and Ingvar.
Inn Hrafn takes this as good omen from Ingvi.
(Ingvar is Arnlings founder-king’s name.)
HERE INN HRAFN MEETS GUDRUM
Inn Hrafn and Gudrum fight battles as brothers.
Inn Hrafn and Gudrum share beer together.
Inn Hrafn and Gudrum share laughs together.
CESAR’S WELL; WADE’S WELL; SERPENT’S WELL
(Three wells shown)
HERE GUDRUM-KING GIVES TO INN HRAFN THRIGG BRUNNA
And this would be the same Gudrum-King to whom Alfred the Great granted the rule of Danelaw. The same Gudrum that Skrauti said was a Bellinn upon a mortal throne. Wow. But that same King Gudrum gave to Inn Hrafn, not to the Oddssons, this land they now called Tree Brunna, the land of the three wells.
She wanted to know more of this but at that moment Alfeida’s interest in the frieze abruptly ended as strong masculine arms suddenly wrapped around her. “Eida!” She didn’t even turn to see who it was before pressing her butt into his groin.
Neve deemed it time to leave. But now Raesan was in close embrace with a pert little blonde from amongst Zemowit’s entourage. Though she was amply-clothed, still Neve could feel far too much of her young body where Raesan’s hands were groping. And it wasn’t only that; she was uncomfortably aware of what was happening beneath Raesan’s robe. She didn’t want to break the trance but neither could she remain in this situation. She needed to lock into another, and that quickly before things got even more intimate.
She found Kazla, a dark haired, kitten-faced woman of Zemowit’s entourage, who was watching the door like a hawk. Waiting for her brother. He – Razimer, though she called him Rat – was one of Regin-yorl’s guards.
Neve joined with her thoughts, and at once was flushed with Kazla’s excitement. Memories flowed. Her brother Razimer leaving to join a raiding party. Her brother, Rat, ignoring their mother’s pleading, not to risk limb and life in foolishness. Kazla speaking out for him, she knew how her brother fed off the danger, he needed to go. Their father Sobek grumping at them. And again at her when within weeks she followed her brother. But they’d never been apart, they were twins.
Neve felt Kazla’s remembered shock when she found Rat in the emporium of Arkona. There he was, all softly draped in Eastern robes and all of pretty colours. And his eyes were black lined, the eyelids corpse-coloured. “It’s the fashion,” he’d said.
In that first sight of him, seen only in Kazla’s memory, Neve already knew here was a man who needed no Asaric coercion to win him a woman. It wasn’t his looks, but something other. Charisma.
Kazla heard and knew before Neve was aware, that approaching sound, that tramp and jingle, almost like horses, was Regin-yorl and his guard. Rat would any moment be there. Kazla grinned her delight, even until her cheeks were hurting. Her heart pounded at the excitement. She ran to meet him, disregarding Regin-yorl, her arms thrown around Rat.
Neve wanted to stay with Kazla, who now was locked into her brother’s embrace. But she’d caught sight of Regin-yorl and his face seemed somehow familiar. Though . . . maybe it wasn’t his face. Maybe his hair. Or maybe it was the full effect of him, with his ankle-length coat all aswirl. Leather, its hem thickly embroidered with gold and white horses. He looked every inch a rock star, right down to the pendant that nestled against the bare skin of his chest.
. _____ .
Next episode, 28th May: Regin-yorl