Neve starred at the door. It seemed still to judder from when it was slammed yet his car had already become an angry buzz in the distance. Fool man!
“I know what you’re doing,” he’d said when he broke the trance, his light already solidified to a golden encasing. “Jealous you are. Cos I was getting in close with that Heitha.”
“Embarrassed, more like.”
‘Yeh? But it’s fine for you to ogle that Regin-yorl.”
“I wasn’t ogling anyone.” Though she had enjoyed Kazla’s embrace with her brother. “I was wondering why Regin-yorl looks so familiar.”
He jerked his head while throwing a sneer, one eyebrow arched nigh into his hair. “Familiar,” he scoffed.
He was wearing a Chinese-looking, wrap-around jacket, black silk with a bright embroidered dragon. It matched the black silk shorts. An outfit more suited to the bedroom. Yet he yanked open the door, strode through it, slammed it behind him, and was gone, leaving the atmosphere roiling with anger.
“Coffee,” Neve muttered while heading to the kitchen to make it.
“Oh, two a’clock,” she muttered again when she saw the time. “We could have had all day Sunday to stay in that trance.” She sank onto a chair by the Queen Anne’s table. It suddenly looked ridiculous in her converted and modernised fitted kitchen. “Oh, Grandma.” With Raesan gone the pain of that loss returned.
~ ~ ~
Sunday, weather warm, Neve weeded the garden. Yet she couldn’t settle to it. At the slightest sound of every car she perked her head. He would return. She’d woke from a dream-disturbed sleep, already admitting she missed him. Her weeding brought her to the Back Lane hedge. That’s where she thought she had seen the Watcher. It was less a hedge more a barrier of well-grown shrubs of every variety. Now they were into leaf she could identify some of them. Lilac, mock orange blossom, a small-leaved variety of rambling rose, and a tangle of honeysuckle. She couldn’t wait to see the shrubs in bloom.
She stopped weeding and sat back on her heels. Last autumn’s dead leaves here had been pressed into the soil. Like someone had trampled upon them. No, more than trampled, had stood there for some time. Not the action of spirit-feet. This was human done. Else grimmen. She shuddered as if at that moment kissed by the breeze.
“Friggle jacks to you!” She threw the fork down, close to tears, and strode back to the house. There was the story on Inn Hrafn’s saga band yet to check out, the Great Army and Ingvar and Hubbe. It was more than something to do while Raesan was away, and without his childish twittering. It was something to stop her from thinking. That dream in the night had been another gremlin abduction.
She didn’t stop to eat. Night closed around her before she knew it. And Raesan still wasn’t home. But she had learned much. Ingvar and Hubbe had been two of the Great Army’s leaders, just as the saga band showed. Hubbe was credited with the death of St Edmund, torturing him, impaling him with spears, leaving his body bristling with arrows. Nice people, these Vikings. Recently, historians had queried the identity of the body accredited to the East Anglian king. Found in a bog, in perfect preservation, might it have been a sacrifice dating from the Iron Age?
But it was the early part of the Inn Hrafn’s saga that had held her tight to the computer. Ingvi the dragon-slayer, she’d not heard of that tale.
She easily found the god Ingvi. Both the Ingvaeones and the Yngling dynasty claimed descent from him. But these were two distinct people, separated by space and time. Tacitus had recorded the Ingvaeones in 98 CE, living on the North Sea coast of Jutland and Frisia. While the Ynglings were a Swedish dynasty of the ninth century. Interestingly, many of the ‘Saxons’ who settled the south of England shared names with those Ingvaeones.
And there had been a flood, just as in the Inn Hrafn saga. It was credited with the unsettling of the Frisian people. She found there had been two peoples named Frisians. Confusing. It was the earlier people that interested her. They, in fleeing the flood, had stumbled upon the Romans in Gaul. Some had joined the Roman army. Others had remained to harry the borders. Then some of those who served in the legions were later settled along the south coast of England. Another time she’d have investigated further. Was it possible that the Hengist and Horsa story was so much lip-flap, that the so-called Saxons had been there long before the Roman withdrawal?
The door creaked as it opened. She’d been too involved in finding the stories she’d not heard the approach. She flew round in her chair, her heart crazily leaping. Fear, terror. Then a pulse of pleasure. But she wasn’t fool enough to throw her arms around him. He’d only take it the wrong way.
~ ~ ~
“You don’t you have a TV,” Raesan complained.
“I’ve explained that. Grandma wouldn’t; now eighteen years without, I’m used to it.” She wanted to repeat as she’d said before, that if he wanted TV then go find somebody else. But she was intensely aware of the Watcher who lurked in the lilacs. Not a spirit, a wight, but now proven as someone with weight.
“Can’t watch these movies then,” Raesan said in a gloat.
“I’ve DVD software on the computer.” She ran her fingers along the DVDs on the shelf above. “Movies, see.”
He peered at them over her shoulder. “These all you’ve got?”
“They’re what I like. Musicals, magicals and historical dramas.”
Raesan held up a plastic shopper, pocked with tears from the DVDs it carried. “Peace offering, yeh? Like they do in the movies.”
He emptied the bag on the floor. She knelt beside the disordered pile. She tried not to sigh.
There must have been 30 or more DVDs but apart from some black-and-white Chaplin classics they nearly all involved violence. “Real stuff, yeh.” He sounded just like a child with his nursery-class painting.
She picked out three martial arts movies, starring Charlie Chan and Michelle Yeoh. They oughtn’t be too disturbing.
“I’ve been there,” he said when the action moved to a dramatic landscape. “And there.”
He didn’t try to sit beside her, though there was space enough. And she noticed he’s changed his clothes without her saying. He wore a loudly coloured shirt over knee-length muted-khaki shorts.
~ ~ ~
Raesan showed her Gudrum. He had startling blue eyes and wore an ankle-length coat, red-brown leather, similar to the coat she’d glimpsed on Regin-yorl. Around its yoke, worked in gold thread and silks, was the Tree of Life, though he probably thought it was Yggdrasil. Beneath the coat flashed an ornate buckle, the belt securing a tunic of blood-crimson silk. She was surprised to see he held only a staff. No spear like the other men. As far as she could see, his only bladed weapon was the seax sheathed at his belt, and that was barely visible.
He served Regin-yorl?
Regin, Regin, Regin . . . of course. Gudrum’s only a fourth; that Regin-yorl is Cesar’s son.”
There’s a difference? They’re all the same.
Then Razimer was there again, and Kazla was hugging him and Neve couldn’t tear her eyes from him and she was sure that Raesan would break the trance. Yet he allowed her to remain. Still joined with him, she could only see Regin-yorl’s men from a distance. Yet she better could see that Kazla and Rat were undeniably twins. And there amongst Regin-yorl’s men was Sobek, their father. But, frustrating, Raesan wouldn’t allow her a closer look at Regin-yorl.
She looked around for someone to join. And there by the door stood Vindalf, young Ingvilda’s brother.
As soon as she joined with him the scene changed, Vindalf lost in a memory. They were still in the hall but now it was empty – empty but for Regin-yorl’s men. An icy draught cut through the door. But Vindalf had eyes only for Rat, of Regin-yorl’s men he was the boy’s sole hero. And it looked as if Rat knew it well. He was up on the raised stage where sat Regin-yorl’s empty throne, hammering a passable tune from the drums there. Neve almost could recognise it. He was prancing and jumping while drumming. Like Regin-yorl, he looked every part the rock star. He started to chant. Never could it be called a song. But what was the language? None that resembled any Neve knew. Eilif, standing off to the side, was egging him on, clapping and stamping. Then silence.
Vindalf saw Zemowit stood in the door. Now might be a good time to leave. He only was there to deliver a message to Raum from his mother, that if he found moss while out in the woods would he fetch it home for her. Vindalf had repeated it, not knowing what it was with women and moss, and Eilif has taken piss, as usual. Vindalf started to edge his way out . . . but Zemowit didn’t move from the door.
Vindalf’s eyes flitted from the winter-lit door to the shaded corner beyond the stage. Neve hadn’t noticed him there, his swirling blue light toned a blur but there was Regin-yorl, feet up and beer-swigging with Gudrum. He set down the drinking-horn with deliberate care. Lowered his feet from stool to floor. And stood.
“Weapons!” Zemowit barked at him. “Not allowed in here.”
Vindalf glanced back at the rest of Regin-yorl’s band, Eirik and Eida and Raum. They sat in a ragged circle, each surrounded by a stack of their weapons.
Regin-yorl walked with deliberate step towards the door, eyeing the swarthy eastern lord with open scorn. “You think to wear costly things makes you a lord? You live still in the past, when people fell at your glittering feet. Times have changed. Our swords rule now. So don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Besides, as I remember, I was here before you.”
“How could I forget, my lady’s get. You might remember that, too.”
The distance between them now had closed. Vindalf had taken ten, twelve, twenty steps back. And still he knew if a fight erupted there’d be no avoiding it here.
“My hall, Zemo, Lord. My men will clean their weapons here as they will.”
“Cleaning them? Ready, eh – for your bears need no egging to violence.”
There was a metallic clatter as part-cleaned blades hit against other blades waiting. There was a scuffle as warriors rose to their feet. There was a thick sense of menace. Yet Regin-yorl remained calm.
“Zemowit-lord, for the three thousandth and sixty-second time, I use no bears. See their horns?” Those horns were on the banners hung all around. They were on the coats the men wore, all but for Gudrum. “Aurochs. The aurochs is our beast.”
Rat jumped off the stage landing between his lord and Lord Zemowit. Neve didn’t know the language but there was no mistaking the tone, nor Regin-yorl’s snapped retort, to drop it. This was his to deal with.
“Would our Lord Zemowit rather we used the holy hof?”
“Would be apt. Your holy Tyr rules there.”
“Wrong. Lord. But what to expect of an Eastern Hun. Ingvi, Ingvi rules there. Ingvi’s is the Road of Dead. Tyr gives us justice, a stranger to your arrogant heart.”
Vindalf pressed himself against the wall. Neve could feel his guts churning. And the worst of it, Vindalf thought himself strong. He so wanted to be one of Regin-yorl’s men when he’d grown. Neve imagined what a fight between these men would be. But it wouldn’t happen. For all Zemowit’s higher degree, a full Asar compared to Regin-yorl, son of Cesar, and the others perhaps fourth nocks, they had weapons and Zemowit had not.
Still, Zemowit seemed to grow another six inches – and still he was short next to Regin-yorl. He drew back his shoulders. Neve had seen a video once of Jane Goodall’s chimps in Africa. And where was the difference. Zemowit tilted his chin.
“You give me reason to make it three thousandth and sixty-three, and I’ll order boards put on their horns. Isn’t that what you do with wild bulls?” He turned on his heel.
Rat was straight back to the drums and hammering out a cheeky beat. The others joined in with a chant. And seeing Vindalf pressed close to the wall, Regin-yorl beckoned to him. Then with affection, when close enough, he ruffled the boy’s ice-blond hair.
But even though Neve could see him up close, she still couldn’t place his face.
. _____ .
Next episode, 4th June: Raesan’s Game