Wednesday, Ms Cox’s day off. Neve had hoped to get away early. It wasn’t only the need to escape this oven – all afternoon the sun had burned through the window; “It only happens two weeks either side of the solstice,” Cox had told her – but also she wanted words with Raesan. And it was bad enough that the detour to bank to deposit the takings would delay her but then at the last moment in came a customer. And she didn’t even buy a reel of white cotton, just flicked through the craft packs, looking for a gift for her aunt’s birthday, she said. Neve locked the door behind her. At last. She cashed up, gathered bag and jacket, locked up and headed left, to the bank.
Being alone, with only an occasional customer to distract her, had given Neve ample time to think. And what she’d thought didn’t please her. “That bastard, he doesn’t care who my grandpa was. Of all the selfish . . .” she hadn’t the words to express it “. . . bullshit artist!” she borrowed from Uncle James.
It wasn’t that she doubted the truth of his memories. It would have taken a thorough study of medieval history and a vivid imagination to bamboozle her with it. Everything he’d shown her, everything he’d said, everything checked out exactly. And apart from refusing her sight of Regin-yorl, he’d kept nothing from her. But then when he’d thought she wouldn’t want more of his memories – because she knew who her grandpa was – he’d had these sudden sulks, punctuated by sudden bursts of anger, and then laughter.
This wasn’t about finding her grandpa, no matter his insistence it was. It was no more than a ruse to keep her roof over his head.
She couldn’t blame him. It must be rough to live alone in a tent. But she did wonder how genuine his concern of the broken Oath. She suspected it had only now occurred to him, the consequences of their success. If they found her grandpa then bang would go his claim on her.
The takings thunked into the nightsafe, she settled the headphones into place. Ms Cox had insisted. “A mugger could be up behind you and you’d not know it.” Neve had wanted to answer that yes she would. But instead she did as she was told. Small town, people noticed her, people who knew Ms Cox, people who attended the same church. No need to antagonise her employer further; she didn’t want another written warning. The chilled guitar riffs of Jeff Beck’s Steeled Blues helped soothe her.
So Raesan wanted her roof. Then best he gave her what she wanted. And that wasn’t to know more about Gunnhild and Alan, nor to feast her eyes upon Regin-yorl. Rather it was to unravel the mystery surrounding the Cesars. For if she was right of Regin-yorl being her grandpa, then one of the Cesars was her great-grandma.
There was something odd about them. Old Cesar? The lesser nocks might age, indeed become grimmen, but the way Raesan had explained it that was due to their mortal component. Yet Old Cesar was an Asar, first-born, and had no mortal blood. So that wouldn’t explain it. And why three with all the same name? And why didn’t Raesan know which one was Regin-yorl’s mother?
She had replayed her memories –Raesan’s memories – but all she could find, and that learned from facial expressions, flitting eyes and two overheard conversations, was that Amblushe didn’t like them, Zelina was jealous of them, and Vyvain held them in angry contempt.
But Raesan wanted her grandpa to be Edmund Gunnhildsson, so it was best to keep her interest in the Cesars to herself. At least now she was better able to shield her thoughts from him – or was it that he no longer bothered to probe. She must feign a belief in this Edmund. She’d already tried several search criteria but so far the internet had yielded her nothing. That didn’t surprise her; Gunnhild would have made sure their heads were kept low. When Nihel died soon after Alan she probably sought comfort with the younger brother, Stefan. She probably followed him to Brittany. She’d have been safer there than there in war-torn England, and more places to hide.
She started on Raesan as soon as through the door. “You said of Eldsland, that it was a state generated by the Asars. So after the Atonement, when no more Asars, there was no more Eldsland. Am I right?”
“Lady, Lady, what’s this, yeh? You’re all heated-hot. Sun’s too much, is it? Na, I know what it is. ‘Presumed Lunar Tension’. Sit, Lady, yeh, I fetch you a drink.”
“I am not agitated, though you can fetch me a juice.” She’d make use of his services if he insisted. This was how he had been, almost fawning, ever since his night away without explanation. “It’s just, well, with Eldsland gone I was wondering where the Bellinn are now.”
“Dispersed.” He waved his hands airily and headed to the kitchen to pour her a mango juice.
She sat by the table, a mat quickly placed before Raesan could spill sticky juice on the highly polished antique surface.
“Lirabien Marskonung, yeh, he ferried them to Iceland and Greenland and Norway. Though some went to Normandy, too, and to Brittany. He took them wherever, yeh. Most went. Few wanted to remain here.”
“But some did? So what of them, those who remained?” Her thoughts were racing. A ferry to France; she could make a summer holiday of it. She was entitled to time off. But she’d have to take Raesan with her. He could drive, she could not, and she doubted the Bellinn would be living a riot in Paris. More likely they’d taken to the back-of-beyond villages.
“Lady, I wasn’t party to it. I looked for them. Looked on and off. But they don’t want to be found.” He shrugged, a return to the morosity of when they’d first met. “Only ones I ever saw were the aging, decaying. The grimmen, the ones the Bellinn don’t want. Poor ugly discarded sprites, yeh, they only want to survive. They’re your tales of boggarts and brownies, you know, your knockers and gnomes. Woeful creatures. But best you don’t ever meet them. They’ll have your Asar blood, like I’ve said. They’ll prey upon you.”
“Then how am I to find my grandpa?”
The fall of his mouth seemed genuine. She was right, he’d not thought this through. He started to pace, a cooling breeze circling with him.
“Raesan, you must know where they are. That day we met, you said you’re outcast from them.”
“I know of a couple or two,” he admitted. “But you won’t find your Grandpa Eddy with them.”
She waited. He offered no more so she prompted, “Well? Who, where, why?”
He shrugged again, now leaning against the kitchen’s base-units, his back towards her as he looked out of the window. “In the 60s, yeh. They had, like, hippy communes. They could still be there, I suppose. They were working the old crafts, like you do, yeh. Sewing and . . . handy-stuff. And they’d sell their wares at the craft fairs. Lots of people did that then, weren’t just the Bellinn, so none thought them different. Then others, I suppose the less handy, yeh, they acted as street entertainers, buskers and . . . well, yeh. But that, Lady, is all that I know of them. I’ve not seen them, Lady, and as I said, they don’t want me. They don’t understand.”
He didn’t turn, his aura a tight yellow band as he strared out of the window.
“I’ll go change. Then rustle us up something nice to eat. Yea?” She left him standing there. She felt for him. Though she was happy now to be alone, time was when she wanted so much to be normal and be accepted. How much deeper the pain when it was his own kind who rejected him. For once she didn’t play music.
~ ~ ~
It had been another blistering day, with tempers frayed. So Neve wasn’t surprised to see Nerys, skimpy t-shirt coffee-stained, tight-lipped as she stood in the dark open doorway. Neve knew why she was there. Waiting to pounce on her as soon as she returned from work.
“Tell that friend of yours to turn that music down else you’ll find the police at your door.”
Neve nodded. She’d heard the music even before she turned into South Grove.
“Raesan!” she yelled before she’d yet shut the door. “Turn it down!” But T Rex continued to boogie. Neve stomped up the stairs.
There was Raesan, sapphire silk shirt swinging around him, clean white jeans, far too tight-fitting, boogying. “Hey!” he said when he turned and saw her. “Grab yer glad-rags, Baby, don your duds. We’re going to party.”
She cut his power at the socket. Silence echoed.
“Neve,” he whined. “You’re no fun.”
“No, and nor would you be if you’d had that Crabby Cox down your ear all day, complaining that I’m slow putting the delivery away, and I’m to smile now matter how awkward the customer, and . . . and then I come home to this! I’ve told you, multiple times, to keep it down.”
He lumped onto the floor and folded his legs into perfect full-lotus. He hung his head. And now she felt bad at having shouted.
He looked up, eyes lonely-pup-pleading. “Lady, come clubbing with me tonight, yeh? It’ll do you oodles of good. When was the last time? Na, don’t tell me. Your last Christmas at school . . . male partners imported from the neighbouring boys’ school. Gangly youths jerking and jumping like puppets performing St. Vitas’s dance. Am I right? I am right. So come on, Lady, leave that computer of yours, forget about searching, and spend time with me – like you would with a friend.”
“I don’t do clubs, they’re crowded. And I don’t like music so loud I can’t hear. But no, you go.” An evening without his company, oh, that would be bliss.
“Yeh, okay,” he said. But then didn’t move.
Though she felt awkward, she left him with his hangdog expression while she changed from work-clothes into loose trousers and shirt. She heard no more from him. She cooked a pizza from the freezer and served it with salad. He didn’t join her. She was then washing up when she heard him descending the stairs. He stood on the bottom tread watching her.
“Please, don’t turn that computer on tonight, yeh.”
“And how do I find Edmund without it? You started it, telling me how important—”
“Yeh and it is, but . . . you don’t have to spend every ticky-tock looking. I want you to spend time with me. But you’re always at work or on that machine.”
“And what’s sharing your memories, if it’s not being with you?” She knew where this was leading, and she was not going clubbing with him. She could scream at the mere thought of it.
“I know!” He suddenly brightened, all animation. “Let’s go for a drive, yeh. Ha, that’s got your attention.”
It had. She wiped her hands dry while she considered it.
“Weather’s good for it,” he said. “And you’ve only been in my car the once.”
She remembered it well – particularly how loud the music. Besides, had he a licence? Indeed, had he ever taken the test? She doubted it. Yet, on consideration, he had seemed a careful driver, if a trifle erratic. No, impulsive might better describe it.
“I’ll take you out in the country. Trees. Green fields, yeh. I know that you miss them, and I won’t play the music. Please? You won’t have to do anything, just be with me, yeh? You can fully take ease. You’d like that.”
She looked out of the window. The back garden now was awash with blue and purple sweet-smelling flowers. The shrubs, the trees, all were in leaf. It was a green and pleasant place. But it wasn’t the countryside where all her life she had lived. That garden was tightly confined by fences. The countryside was wide open spaces.
~ ~ ~
She woke with a jolt. Music. “You said . . .”
“But you were asleep,” answered Raesan’s disembodied voice.
She craned round. Where was he? They were parked into a lay-by while he fussed over fastening the roof.
How tired she must have been to so-easily sleep. And it had been so exhilarating. The wind in her hair, and buffeting her face, the warm evening air, the greens of the trees and the fields and the meadows, and the birds and the cows and even the farmyard smells. But now the sun had set and what was left of the twilight was shredded by the cars streaming past. Where were they?
Raesan settled again into the car. “A nuisance, that hood. But it’s not as bad as the one before. That had to be lugged out of the boot, yeh, and manfully fitted.”
“How long ago was that?” she asked, despite she’d rather complain of the music. He had said no music.
“You expect me to count years? After 13,000, yeh? Na, but I’ve had this baby since, oh, ’67. Six hundred and forty quid – including purchase tax. A snip, hey.”
“Um, yea.” She knew nothing of cars, but the vehicle looked new, such immaculate condition.
“I put her into the garage once a month for a valet and service,” he said. “Have to look after my baby.” His baby responded to his touch with a purr of her engine.
“Are we heading for home now?”
He didn’t answer. The CD in the slot was a compilation. It was easy listening, she had to admit. Motoring music. It was acceptable. Then the track again changed. Her mouth fell.
“You like?” he asked.
“. . . is that Jeff Beck’s version?”
“You like Becky-Boy.” He sang along with it. Hi Ho Silver Lining.
She liked Beck as in the Yardbirds, not this. Though it wasn’t offensive unlike most of Raesan’s music, and it did seem to suit him – as long as he didn’t take his hands off the wheel and start waving his arms.
“So where are we?” Beyond the headlights all was black.
He still didn’t answer.
She peered out of the side window but all she could see was the verge rushing past. She wondered the time. She didn’t wear a wristwatch, another cause of Ms Cox’s complaints, and the clock on the dashboard was working only in as much as the second hand swept round the face. It showed half-past seven; that couldn’t be right. She didn’t even know in which direction they headed.
“I have to be home. I’ve work in the morning.”
“Your Crabby Cox thinks I’m a psycho-killer,” he said.
“She doesn’t like men.”
“Your Nerys next door, yeh, she thinks I’m a druggie.”
Neve couldn’t dispute that – neither Nerys’s assumption nor the grounds for it. Neve had smelled it more than once when passing his door.
“Where are we?” she asked.
Again, no answer.
They passed through a town. It didn’t look like a Norfolk town, but she couldn’t say why. Groups of young people staggered across the high street, arms flung round each other and calling. Well, that told her the time – though, was it pubs or clubs closing? Then they were through the town and onto a dual-carriage way which soon delivered them onto a motorway.
“You worry too much, yeh. This is my treat to you. Just let it be.”
She fretted. He wouldn’t answer her. Chilled music played. There was nothing she could do. She relaxed into the night. She was aware only when he turned off the motorway. Around them now were hills, but it was again too dark to see. In the distance, lights, like fairy glens. Then they disappeared.
“She’ll go ape at me,” Neve muttered as shapes started to emerge out of the dark. It soon would be dawn.
Raesan finally drew to a stop. “Out you get.”
She wouldn’t have, except he got out first. She didn’t trust him not to leave her stranded. He took her hand and led her over a verge of rough grass. From there the land fell away and, before her, eerily lit in the early dawn, lay a mist-shrouded plain.
“Where . . .?”
“Mists, Lady, yeh. Tells you what?”
She looked at him.
“Avalon, yeh, maybe, huh?” She could hear the grin in his words. “Just be here, Lady, and watch; you’ll like this.”
She was cold. Shivering. The grass was bedewed, her feet were wet. Yet as the sun rose it turned the plain below her to a magical vista. The rays caught the mist and turned it to gold, all filigreed through with silver threads. Trees standing as solitary sentinels suddenly blazed as if with fire while everything untouched turned to black. Then as she watched, from the blackness the greens began to emerge, and the creamy-whites and the reds of the houses beneath the tarnished bronze of thatches.
“But where are we?” she asked.
“Truly don’t know? This is my country, yeh, here and across the Channel. We stand on the Mendips, Lady. While over there . . .” he nodded to across the mist-filled Levels. “See?”
She saw, a grin spreading her face. Completely painted in gold, a perfect cone of a hill floated as if rootless above the mist.
“Glastonbury? And you were the lord here?” She’d never imagined . . .
He laughed. “Na, that never was me. Freilsen, he was the lord here, and his lady Ardhea.”
Neve glanced at him. He had stumbled slightly on saying the name, as if there was pain connected there. Had he loved the lady? But she wouldn’t enquire and spoil his day.
“Back in the car, yeh. Can’t come this far without climbing the tor.”
She started to giggle at the thought. But stopped. “You’d best find me a phone box first.” She didn’t want to tell such a lie but the least she could do was to phone in sick.
. _____ .
Next episode, 18th June: Super-Warrior-Killing-Machine