Neve put on trousers and shirt. After the crashes and bangs, now all was quiet. She eased open the bedroom door, and listened. The music was no longer playing. She looked into the bathroom. There, too, was quiet, the water no longer running. She looked at his door. To open it? Or to knock first? She knocked. No answer. She eased open the door. The room was empty. No Raesan. No tent. No CDs and ghetto-blaster. So he had gone, entirely gone.
She didn’t understand how a day so perfect had changed to this. They had sat upon Glastonbury Tor and he’d told her of the three Arthurs, though she’d laughed and said she didn’t believe him, that there’d been only one.
“There may have been more than the three,” he’d said, half-turning to face her. “It’s a title, Arthur, yeh. Like Regin-yorl.”
“Like dux?” she had said. “Defender of a region?”
He’d pulled a face. “Na. More like . . . Bear-God-Inspired Super-Warrior-Killing-Machine.” And he’d laughed.
The first Arthur had been named ‘son of Camulod’. But Raesan hadn’t been much in the land at that time, being instead with Ardhea and Hegrea in Llydaw, that’s—
“Brittany,” they’d both said together.
Arthur, son of Camulod, was elsewise known as Caradoc-Bear.
“Oh,” Neve realised then who Raesan meant. “Wasn’t he king or something at Camulodonum?” Her knowledge of Roman history didn’t extend far beyond Boudicca.
“He was a resistance-fighter in the early days of Roman occupation, and he had the right of the fight. The emperor of Rome, yeh, had told to Caradoc’s father – or was it his uncle? Well, some such kin who was king – that they would be friends and be mutually supportive. Surprise, that was a Roman-packaged lie. For when the king died, in came the emperor’s men and destroyed all the fancy wall-ringed settlement. Torched it so they could build another more to their liking. Well, was Caradoc supposed to embrace them, yeh, say how happy he was they’d done that? Na. But he and his tribe wouldn’t have been in that shit-pit had they listened to their Gallic kin. Oh, we knew about Roman traits, knew them well. They’d already trampled on us.”
He spoke as if he had personally suffered the spears and swords and . . . Neve dared not ask, but had he lost a lover to the Roman machinery?
“I spit on the Romans and spit trebly upon that hill tribe queen, his own kin, who handed him over to the emperor’s men, saying she ‘feared Roman retribution elsewise’.”
“Yeh, her. My little pony.”
Neve didn’t understand the reference but understood the savage tone. Raesan definitely didn’t like her. “You said there were three?” Neve prompted to lift him from the mood.
“The next was Gereint.”
“Briton. And a traitor to himself and his people, yeh. I tell you, he never deserved the title.” There was more spitting. But Raesan had known even less of that story, only that Gereint had served in the emperor’s army and had supported a British emperor. To Raesan, with his disgust of all things Roman, that had been bad enough, but then when the emperor died Gereint had marched upon Rome and declared himself Emperor instead. More spitting followed. “How did that make him an Arthur, hey, you tell me that?”
Neve had prompted for the third Arthur, and for the same reason. “He was the Arthur who fought the Saxons, yea?”
“The Goth, yeh – or at least his father was Goth. Uther—”
‘No, wait. You’re saying Uther Pendragon was a Goth? Like, Gotland, Scandinavia, Sweden, Goth?”
“There’s a problem, yeh? Excuse me, Lady, but wasn’t Odinn born in Gotland? Wasn’t Odinn a Goth?”
“You speak like he existed,” Neve blurted before she could stop it.
“Odinn and Arthur, I have said, were the same. Now you want me to tell you this, yeh? So hush. Uther had served in the emperor’s army. But Uther deserted – he wasn’t alone, it was every man for himself in those bleak days. Uther deserted and instead swore to a new lord, to a one-time underling who sought now to be king of Dumnonia. This king was in a good place too; of old he’d had good trade with the Mediterranean sailors.”
“The very place. But this king’s wealth attracted pirates, yeh, so he used Uther and his men to defend the settlements all along the coast there.”
“And there he begot the third Arthur upon the king’s wife?”
“So says your romances. Na. Uther had his own wife. And his son grew, and his son walked in his father’s footsteps. And yeh, that one was super-warrior-god-inspired. The previous two had been merely Caradoc-Bear, and Gereint-Bear. But this one, this one was The Bear. And everyone wanted him. Tribes clubbed together to afford him and his men. But he wasn’t there just to hold off the Saxons, or not only them. They were bleak days, as I’ve said. Those who fancied themselves as kings, formed the old tribes around them. Rising like Phoenix, they were, out of the ashes of Rome. So then it was tribe fighting tribe. And those who could afford the fiercest fighters, yeh, they were the ones who won.”
“And then Arthur was killed by Mordred, his son and nephew.”
Raesan laughed. “Yeh, yeh, ‘course he was.” He laughed again. “Na, Mordred wasn’t kin – though he was one of Arthur’s own men, and that was as wrong. He was jealous, yeh, of his commander’s glory. But your fancy tales do tell it right, they did both die in their shouldn’t-be-fight.” Raesan made as if to shoot left and right guns, miming a ‘shootout at the OK Corral’ – and his too-realistic sounds scared away a half-grown calf who had left the herd to investigate them. “Here!” Neve tried to recall it but it wouldn’t return.
“So now you’re to tell me that Arthur wasn’t brought here?” she said. After all, in his version nothing else of the romance remained.
“Na, Lady, they may have brought him here – but not to be received by your namesake. Even then here was a stronghold of angel-speakers. So now, sorry, I’ve destroyed all your stories.”
“No, I’d rather the truth. And it was my mother into all things Arthurian, not me. But did you know there’s a story that Arthur sleeps beneath Richmond Castle?”
“That’ll be the Bretons, yeh. They carry the tales no matter they roam and it was a Breton who built the castle there – your kinsman-ancestor Alan. But Arthur, by the tales, he sleeps everywhere.”
“He sleeps beneath Dowsingham Hills,” Neve said and waited while Raesan laughed deep from his belly. “Arthurs Sleep,” she said.
“But, Lady, that’s not even a hill. There are no hills in Norfolk.”
Technically, Raesan had abducted her. But he had taken her to Glastonbury, to King Arthur’s country – to the focus of her mother’s dreams – and from the moment she had stepped from his car the tensions between them had drifted away. They had sat atop Glastonbury Tor at the summer solstice, there ought to have been crowds, yet they were alone. It wasn’t that no one else knew the day. She’d been watching, in the distance, the cars arrive, the sun glinting off glass and chrome. No, Raesan had been holding the people away so that they could be alone there together.
Then they had stopped into a café along the High Street before heading home. It was table-service and the service was slow. Neve had been on edge lest Raesan do something to attract unwanted attention. But his talk had been quiet enough – though the content . . . Neve didn’t understand what he was about.
“Remember this place in the winter, yeh.” He spoke, leaning in close. “Remember, before all these houses, yeh, when people lived only in little turf huts?”
”Did any folk live here?” she responded as quietly. She didn’t want him to blast it out loud that he’d lived here in 3000 BC.
“Not many, you’re right. No, it was all marsh then. A person gets lost in that marsh, without the help of a heron.”
“I thought the heron a guide to the Otherworld.”
“Were it not for that heron, Eld Freilsen would have had you.”
“Eld Freilsen? Eld as in Elder?” Raesan had said he was the lord here in times long gone.
Raesan shook his head. “Na, Lady, no memories left? Eld is Erbhelmn, yeh – remember the language spoken here before Urinod sent Krisnavn to establish the tin cultures? It means Lord. Yeh, before the Atonement, Freilsen was tight-in with Zemowit. But long before that he was no nice person – though I understood him, alone of the Asars. He was frustrated, at having to wait three hundred years cos that little Ardhea – na, I did like her, Ardhea, but you’d now call her a minx, showing to Freilsen that image, and making him . . . want.”
Neve was glad when the waitress appeared to take their order. Then the food wasn’t long in coming. The café served only vegetarian dishes but Raesan didn’t object, munching into a wholemeal pasty. “Just like my mother used to make.”
It was the first time he’d mentioned his family other than to say of his Uissid-brothers. It was preferable to his strange talk of Ardhea and Freilsen. “What was your mother like? Do you remember her from so many years?”
“Could I forget her? Her? But she was a tail-wagger,” he said, disappointed.
Neve frowned. She didn’t understand the word.
“Put horns on the chief.” He waggled his fingers up by his head. “Were it not for Kerrid . . . but she was wrong to say I didn’t love her, that it only was me being grateful.”
Neve thought he would cry. She noticed his hands, his nails scraping over the thumb-pads. “I’m sorry. I’ve disturbed painful memories.”
She had wanted to puzzle on that all the way back but she feared he would pick up on her thoughts and again be distressed. Instead they sang together to his sing-along-motoring music. But who had been wrong to say he didn’t love her? And who was the ‘her’ he didn’t love?
And then, when they reached home . . .
It had been a wonderful day. But now it was late and Neve was tired, and she had work in the morning. She left Raesan in the front room playing his little hand-held game while she climbed the stairs, undoing her buttons as she went, in thoughts of a bath. She turned on the taps as she passed by the bathroom, and finished undressing in the bedroom.
But when she opened the door, there Raesan had stood at the top of the stairs. Just looking at her. She pulled the bathrobe tighter about her. “Whatever it is, Raesan . . .” she pointed to the bathroom. “Will it wait?”
“No.” He was in front of her door though she’d not seen him move. He spread his arms, hands against the jambs, effectively blocking. Downstairs she noticed music now playing. But Raesan didn’t know how to control her ‘machine’. It was Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. “I thought . . . well it has been. Perfect I mean.” He smiled. And brought his face in close as if to kiss her. She backed away.
But that was a wrong move. He followed her into the room, and closed the door behind him.
“I’ve sown beautiful seeds – didn’t we have a great time? You said it, too, yeh, the best day you’ve ever had, that’s what you said. And I told you all those stories of Arthur cos I knew that’s what you’d like. And I didn’t once touch you. Now’s time to reap.”
She felt a tug on the belt of her robe. She snatched it from him and stepped further back, careful to angle herself away from the bed.
“No, Raesan. We’ve been through this before. It’s not going to happen. Friends, that’s all. Now, I’ve work in the morning and I want a bath. Please leave the room.” But she knew if he wanted he could just take. He could be into her head, even making her want it. How to protect herself from that?
“That’s right, Lady, no protection, not this time round.” His hand snaked out and caught her wrist, his fingers tight around her. “But please don’t fight. I don’t want to hurt you.” Then why force his mouth upon hers, her body pulled hard against his. Even without his Asaric tricks, she was helpless against him. What could she do.
She prayed. Never in her life had she prayed, even feigning in assembly at school. But now she prayed. Please, dear Lord, please, dear Lord, please deliver me.
He leapt away as if she were poison. Looking at his hands as if they’d been burned. And he raged, his halo billowing, swirling, becoming a whirlwind that crashed through her house, tore through the rooms, glassware and pottery smashed in its wake. Then quiet.
Had he left? Amid the crashes, it was hard to distinguish the slam of a door. She waited. No further sounds.
“Raesan?” she called down the stairs.
She took the stairs slowly. What if he was waiting down there with a knife? She didn’t understand what had happened. All this time, alone, together with her. Why now? From the bottom tread she could see into the kitchen. No, no one was there. She opened the front room door. The room was empty. Yet she’d not heard the sound of any doors opening or shutting. She locked the front and back doors then sat on the settee and she wept.
~ ~ ~
She must have gone to bed though she couldn’t remember. Yet that’s where she was when the sound of Lyn Jones tumbling down next door’s stairs drew her out of the dream. She’d never been so glad to hear that sound. Nor so pleased to see a light from the landing. But Grandma had always had a light. She used to say of being a child, of the bender by the campfire; she’d never known a lightless night. And neither had Neve. Even at school the dorms had been lit by nightlights, as much for the dorm-stewards to see what mischief the girls were up to, as for the safety as the girls as they stumbled to the toilets in the night. She was wearing pyjamas; when had that happened? She had dressed again after Raesan attacked her. But she didn’t want to think about that. She was hungry.
She flicked on all lights as she passed them. In the kitchen she scrolled through playlists. She wanted something to settle her while she fetched a snack. Rock. She set it to random. Alice Cooper, Poison played. She jumped it a track. Deep Purple, Living Wreck. She laughed at that. With cheese sandwich before her she sat at the table.
It helped to review the dream, she’d read that somewhere. It was the gremlins again. They’d waited until she’d slipped into bed, until she nigh was asleep. Then they’d crept in, when she was too deep into sleepfulness to fight them away. Limbs heavy, wouldn’t move. Though she tried, she couldn’t even scream. Powerless.
Powerless, they’d lifted her up from the bed and carried her right through the wall. That was freakiest of all. And that wall was thick and seemed never to end. But that was as well for something terrible waited beyond.
Powerless. That’s what it had been with that flight to Milan. She’d been fine, she’d boarded the plane. It had only been when . . . after take-off, when . . . On a boat if it sank she could swim. Though she’d likely not make it to safety, at least she could try. But on a plane, if something happened . . . she couldn’t fly. Powerless, dependant upon another. A pilot. The humiliation, that return flight when she’d squashed herself into a corner and screamed. No! She was not going to board it. No! And Miss Burton had offered to stay with her and they’d journeyed home by boat and train. That first train had been crowded, and the weather hot. Oh, but that was preferable. Better than being lifted up in a tight-sealed box. She couldn’t be rid of the list of calamities that could end a flight in disaster. So many reasons for a plane to crash. Never, she never would fly again.
“And so still I have the nightmares.” She wiped her eyes. But wasn’t it cathartic to cry? And as she looked up, there was a figure outside.
She stood, the better to see. But now it was gone. She leaned against the sink, straining over, but . . . but she was sure she had seen it.
. _____ .
Next episode, 25th June: Alone