Neve fumbled with the key in the lock, in a panic to get to the phone before Raesan broke his habit and answered it. She went into a sweat just thinking of that. The key finally fitted. She turned it. The door flew open.
“Phone’s ringing.” Raesan looked from her to the kitchen. “You want me to lift it, yeh?”
“No!” She rushed through to the kitchen. It was Uncle James. While he complained again of her having no smartphone, she sank onto a chair, relief-weakened that she’d got the phone before Raesan.
“Have you seen today’s news?” he finally said.
“No TV, remember. But yea, I heard it on the radio, another woman gone missing. And I told you, I’m fine. I don’t mess with strangers.” Not when there could be a grimmen out there, just waiting to get at her blood.
Was the missing woman a Bellinn too? She looked out of the window. How innocent the garden looked, the flowers now in full bloom – as if the Watcher didn’t lurk there.
“No, Nevey, not that news. Though I suppose you only listen to local radio. Why don’t you get a television-set? I worry of you, you’re missing so much.”
She rolled her eyes at another repeat. Besides, she would rather spend an evening at Regin-yorl’s hall than sit like a spud in front of a box. “I had a TV – you gave it to me. And I gave it to charity. They jangle me. So what’s this news I’ve missed?”
“Well if you don’t know, we’ll cover the other things first and come to that later. The sale is agreed for the house and the grounds. Drawing up contracts, etcetera. Bradstreet has also signed the 99-lease for the Blythe Meadow. We’ll need your signature there too. This all would have been easier had you given me power of attorney. However . . .” He sighed to indicate his annoyance. “We’ve sold another five acres, at auction.”
“And Arthurs Sleep?” she asked.
“I have someone interested.”
“So I’m a rich woman?” She’d rather be poor if it meant living again in grandma’s old house.
“Um, not through the sale of the house and land – not what I’d call rich. Comfortable.”
“But with grandpa’s investments?”
“Comfortable,” he repeated but she could hear he was holding back on something. “Nevey, you know today’s date?”
“June fourteenth. Why?”
“Not ringing a bell?”
She shook her head as if he could see.
“The auction – the ‘Pop Memorabilia’. The posters of Eastan.”
“Oh, friggle jacks, I forgot about that. How much did they fetch?”
“Are you sitting?”
“I said, are you sitting?”
She sat again by the table.
“One. Million. Pounds.”
Her mouth fell open. She wanted to say he was joking, but she couldn’t say anything. Totally stunned.
“Mint condition, you see,” he spoke into the silence. “And five, clearly a set. And with the circumstances of Eastan’s death . . . I told you they’d fetch a good price. But before you go spending it, I have to tell you, you won’t get it all. Bullock and Mays will be taking our cut. Then there were costs that have to be covered. But you’ll be left with enough spare funding to . . . well, whatever you need do to find your mother. Though what I said at the start still stands. I am thoroughly against it. Are you there, Nevey? Not passed out on me?”
“I’m . . . Yea, I’m here.” There in body, but her head had turned to mush, and a high pitched buzz was in her ears and she felt decidedly nauseous. She had the spare funding to go find her mother. But her mother was in New Zealand and that meant flying. She took several deep breaths.
“I’ll get the paperwork sorted for the sale of house, grounds and acres, then arrange a meeting. Don’t panic, I shan’t ask you to attend the office. It’s time I paid you a visit, see this town you now call home. Though I still don’t know why you wanted to move there.”
No, neither did she. She ought to have stayed in Dowsingham. She cradled the phone. And noticed Raesan leaning against the wall by the stairs.
“Hey, Lady, is it really so bad to have stacks of dosh?”
She swallowed. She couldn’t answer. Uncle James was going to visit. And there was Raesan. She again sank to the chair and cradled her head. She didn’t want any of this.
~ ~ ~
It was the following Saturday, with the bathroom door locked because of Raesan, with soul music softly easing the work-week out of her bones, that it suddenly came to her. She’d been thinking of Uncle James, thoughts brought on by the smell of the freesia bath-foam. He had still been holding the Christmas-wrapped gift when he’d told her his concerns with her grandfather’s signature.
“We hold five of his documents. The first dated 1930 when he transferred the deeds of his house to your grandmother. The last in 1967 when he instructed us to arrange suitable schooling should there be children born to Constance after his death. Which of course there was: there was you.”
On the first document his name had been given as Rawn Aldmon. James put that down to clerical error. The others were consistently Rawn Edmund.
“All very well, but the signatures do not agree. I would have looked into it, but my father was then head of the firm, and he let it go.”
Neve remembered asking what was wrong with the signatures. She had expected James to say of wide variations, which would have been understandable over the years. But no.
“Signatures are always difficult to read – and so they should be. Less easy to forge. But his . . . I swear it looks like ‘Roger’. How does Rawn become Roger? I’ve scribbled it several times. But . . . water and bridges, hey; it’s now too late.”
Roger. Regin. She laughed. Was it possible, had she actually found him? But that was why Regin-yorl looked so familiar. Not that he looked like her grandpa, she never had seen him, But that he looked like Eastan of the Wise Men Three. Friggle jacks! She ought to have kept those posters, she didn’t want the money, how many times had she said.
She slid back under the water. So Regin-yorl’s hair was darker – black compared with blond. But that face. There was no mistaking it. His lips, his eyes . . . But it wasn’t that Grandpa Eddy was Eastan. No. Eastan had drowned, an impossibility for a Silver Fold. And Grandpa Eddy must have been that, because she was. No, it was that her mother had seen the likeness and that’s why she’d hoarded the posters. Neve had thought it odd, the posters yet no Wise Men records in her mother’s collection. Constance had not been a fan. What, Wise Men Three next to the likes of Elvis and Orbison and the Tamla sounds. No. But now it all fell into place.
She grinned. She had found the answer of who was her grandpa – and it wasn’t any child of Count Alan and Gunnhild. She was out of that bath and quickly drying. She had to tell Raesan.
~ ~ ~
“Na, Neve, I’m not an idiot. I mayn’t know how to use your silly computers but I do know when someone is lusting.”
Neve’s mouth fell open.
“Covering it with your tales that he’s your grandpa,” Raesan scoffed – and returned to his bleeping hand-held game,
Neve didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t what she’d expected. “No, but listen . . . no, wait, I’ll show you.”
She powered the computer, hit the internet, clicked on ‘Images’ and keyed in ‘Eastan, Wise Men Three’. And the photos all showed him as having blond hair.
“Na.” Raesan turned away. “Nothing like.”
“No, wait.” God loved her! She could hardly believe it, an early photo of Eastan. And look at his hair, it was dark brown. This must have been his natural colour and he’d bleached it only when the band hit the big time. “Look, see!”
Raesan deigned to glance at the screen. “So what’s that prove, huh? That this ‘Wise Man from the East’ bore some resemblance to Regin-yorl? How does that make Regin-yorl your grandpa?”
“Their names,” Neve said, enthusiasm unabated despite Raesan’s dampener. “My grandpa’s name was Rawn. Rawn, Regin, don’t you see? He even signed himself Regin.”
“And as I’ve told you, Regin-yorl was Cesar’s son. Amongst her first when she came to the land.”
The curtains fluttered in a sudden draught. At the same time Raesan’s usual yellow halo condensed to a gold band about him. He shuffled his shoulders. “So, Lady, you work it out for yourself, yeh.”
“If Regin-yorl is my grandpa, then I’m fourth nock.”
Raesan humphed, a dark scowl on his face. The embroidered panels that hung on the chimney-breast wall swayed widely as he passed them by.
“Raesan, truth is truth. You said I couldn’t take memories from Bellinn of a higher nock. Yet I took them from Alfeida, fourth nock. And I took them from Kazla, fourth nock. And from Vindalf and his sister. Fourth nocks all. So wouldn’t you agree, that makes a fourth nock of me?”
He threw up in hands with a growl. “But it’s just not possible. Sayt as you will, he can’t be your grandpa.”
“Yea? Well I’ve given my evidence, now you give me yours.”
“I’ve said. The Oath. Regin-yorl would not have broken it. He would not.” He dropped with a resounding thud to the settee. Neve winced on behalf of the ancient springs. But she would not desist.
“Raesan, I am not Edmund’s granddaughter. I’m not in any way related to Alan and Gunnhild, and it doesn’t matter how many times you show me.” Oh yea, the romance of that, she’d have liked to claim it. What, a Breton connection, her mother would have been out of her head with delight. All things Arthurian, and that meant Brittany. She’d even named her daughter Nineve, one of the Ladies of the Lake. How Neve had taken some torment for that. But not even Raesan could rearrange her DNA.
“So, yea, there could some other reason my mother kept those posters,” she conceded. “But explain to me how a red head and a blond produces a dark-haired son. Because that’s what my grandpa was – as dark as you. And maybe Rawn isn’t Regin, but I hear no solid reason from you why it shouldn’t be.”
“The Oath,” he said sullenly.
~ ~ ~
Neve found herself in Regin-yorl’s hall, no warning, the transition abrupt and startling. There was commotion as Huat swept the Bellinn out of his way, his staff used as a broom. Ypsi and Zrone followed him.
What’s happening? Neve asked but Raesan wouldn’t respond.
He, too, followed the black-eyed, mess-haired shaman him out of the hall. Neve heard behind them a buzz of speculation. Seemed she wasn’t the only one not to know what was happening. She could hear Zemowit imperiously querying it.
Huat, Ypsi, Zrone and Raesan – brothers, the Uissids, sons of Chief Uissinir, Raesan had told her the name – turned as if one with their backs to the woodland and scanned the sky.
What are you looking for?
But, again, Raesan didn’t respond.
Then, there, she could see it. A light. It was expanding rapidly as fell towards them. A fireball? But no, five breaths before it ought to hit it resolved into birds, two eagles, each with the fiercely bright halo of a first-born Asar.
But these couldn’t be real. Asaric or not, birds didn’t grow to this size. Their bodies were huge, their wingspans vast. It had to be an illusion. Neve watched with awe as they plummeted out of the sky – and felt the deep jitters in Raesan’s belly. The man was worried, but what did he fear? That these birds would plunge into the roof of the hall? She agreed, at that moment it did look likely.
But no. At the last moment, they reoriented their bodies and with wings arched back and taloned feet reaching, they came to land in front of the hall, frighteningly close to where Raesan was waiting.
She was aware of his fingernails rhythmically scraping his thumbs. He wanted to move back, Neve could sense it. He wanted to merge with the trees and be gone. But why his fears, what was wrong? She wouldn’t ask, not after being twice ignored. Besides, these birds now were morphing, before her eyes, like some special effect in a movie. But this was real, no CGI here. They morphed into Kerrid and Jiar.
Neat trick. Can you do that?
Raesan grunted. She guessed not.
Huat held out his arms as he helled towards Jiar. The brothers hugged. That day on the island Neve had noticed a likeness between these brothers, but she’d not been this close. Now, it was undeniable. The same delicate nose, the same almost-square jaw, the same width of mouth, the same slightly plumped lips. But not the same hair. Both black, but Jiar’s hung straight as a curtain framing his face while Huat’s . . . well his more resembled a black spider’s nest.
Raesan opened his arms to welcome Jiar and Kerrid. The longing in him cut through Neve like a knife. And they ignored him. Instead it was Zrone who Kerrid welcomed. Though there was no joy in that embrace.
As their Asaric lights closed around them Neve noticed the tears thickening in Kerrid’s eyes. “How long has it been?”
Zrone lifted his face from where it was buried against her hair. “Fifteen . . .” His voice crackled and stopped.
“Fifteen years, he’s been travelling with Zemowit,” Huat said. “Isn’t that so?”
“Fifteen tortuous, colourless years.” Zrone had scarcely a voice.
“Looking for her?”
Zrone nodded his answer, drawing himself out of her caring arms. Their hands still touched. “For him or for her. But, Kerrid, so few are born now. I had thought – no, I’d fervently hoped – that Vindalf . . . No, I’ll just keep on looking. But, tell me, what brings you here?”
“You have a mortal, come pleading. This so?”
“You knew that, from all the way across that walloping ocean?” Zrone glanced westward. Raesan’s eyes followed. “Wow, mighty astounding, that. Or . . . is it time? How many years?”
There was something about Kerrid. It wasn’t her clothes, though it did seem odd that beside her was Jiar, buff deerskin clad, quilled and beaded, while she wore voluminous robes of indeterminate making. Neve guessed the fibre was the same Elds-spin that the women here always were spinning. No, it was her hair, bobbed short, that seemed so odd next to Jiar’s long locks. And her voice . . .
“Twelve thousand,” Kerrid answered Zrone.
. . . such warmth, like a sweet summer’s breeze caressing. It seemed to wrap around and enfold and—Neve suddenly remembered, as she was about to rapturously sigh, that these were still Raesan’s thoughts she was receiving.
Out of his grief, Zrone’s face brightened. “Then it’s time for us to go?”
“If your mortal will speak out for us, yes.”
“Oh, Magical Lady, that mortal has not spoken at all. But then, if he does . . .” Zrone’s face again fell. “I mean, Lady, what then of Hawena?”
“It’s not only Hawena, is it. There’s Barega, and Paddlo. But we cannot delay for them. They’d not want it. And so in Bellinn form they must remain.”
I know why you’re showing me this. You’re driving home about the Oath.
~ ~ ~
“I wanted you to see their grief, yeh.” Raesan said while Neve was still easing the crick from her neck. “We all saw that grief. Zrone, our brother, he was . . . well, he was like his horses, always carefree, nothing troubled him. Always teasing and laughing, he was. But then Gimmerin died, as I said, in the flood, and he was born again, yeh, as Kerrid’s daughter Hawena. Hawena was like him, like Zrone. And 6000 years they’d been together, always loving and happy, a proper couple. I suppose Kerrid felt it less. She’d not seen Hawena, yeh, for most of those years, and as for Gimmerin, she’d never wanted to be with him. So that’s why I say of the Oath. The dead Asars must be released, and there’s not one Bellinn who’d go against that. So your grandpa can’t be Regin-yorl. He only can be Edmund Gunnhildsson, because only he wouldn’t have known.”
“Fine,” Neve said, unmoved. “Now sit down, take a breath, then, again, I ask you to give me the proof.”
He slammed onto the recliner. Its seat shot forward, sending him nigh horizontal. Had he not been so infuriating maybe she’d have laughed.
“Lady, I’ve given you everything I have.” He pushed himself up. “I didn’t follow Alan and Gunnhild around, yeh, waiting for the babe to be born. I only saw them together that day.”
“Fine. So best I find Edmund and ask him.”
For a moment he was unusually still. Then with a smile he nodded his head towards the computer. “You mean finding on that, yeh? I mean, that finds you everything, doesn’t it, yeh.”
She thought about that. If she could find Edmund she’d have no more reason to attend Regin-yorl’s hall. That meant she never would know the Cesars’ story. And she would never again see Razimer. She felt a slight flutter and looked away lest Raesan should notice.
“I . . . I mean, while I’m checking out Edmund on the internet, will you still take me to Eldsland?”
“I won’t take you to him. Regin-yorl. I’m not that easy deceived.”
No, of course he was not. “I want to see the Cesars. I want to know what their story.”
“Cesar, yeh?” The sun dropped from the sky and took a new position – in the recliner. “Yeh, I can do that.”
. _____ .
Next episode, 11th June: Return Match