Ms Cox tapped the face of her wristwatch. Neve squinted at it through her rain-sodden hair. “But it’s still a minute to nine.”
“And you are supposed to be ready to open that door and serve the first customer. And are you?”
Neve closed her mouth and looked away. No need to antagonise. But then it was ten-thirty before the door dinged to announce the first customer. Neve stifled an incipient yawn and went into action, aware that Cox was hovering in the curtain-hung door to the backroom, watching. She pounced as soon as the customer left.
“I suppose your boyfriend is back,” she said, prefaced by a theatrical sniff. “I suppose it was him Saturday, who set off your alarms.”
“He is not my boyfriend,” Neve repeated with enforced patience. “He’s just a friend of the family, is all. He’s helping me trace my mother.”
“He is keeping you up half the night. And these past few weeks you’d been so much better.”
That was Monday. The week at work continued the same: Neve arriving bleary-eyed and yawning, Ms Cox sniping. But Ms Cox was wrong of the cause. It wasn’t Raesan’s fault, it was Neve, unable to turn off the computer until a numbed-weariness forced her. She was again obsessed with checking out facts. This time it was the historical details revealed by Hawk’s thoughts. She found Ulfcytel, described as an Anglo-Saxon nobleman. He was granted the title of ‘dux of East Anglia’ in John of Worcester’s chronicle. Though, as far as Neve could find, he was never made an earl. Yet Saint Olaf’s saga referred to East Anglia as Ulfcytel’s Land. But earl or not, Ulfcytel showed himself a fierce fighter. He led an East Anglian army against Sven Forkbeard in 1004 CE. And again in 1010 CE, he and his men gained victory over the invading Danes. But his career was brought to an end in 1016 when, fighting alongside Edmund Ironside, he was killed at the Battle of Assandun.
Neve next checked out when Harold was made earl of East Anglia. 1044 CE. But Harold held it for less than ten years, losing it in 1051, the year of the Godwines’ exile, to Alfgar, later made earl of Mercia – Alfgar who, according to Raesan, was kinsman to Eadgyth Swannhals, Harold’s hand-fasted wife. Neve waggled her head, self-berating. East Anglian born, always lived there, yet for all those years of chasing English history she’d never checked out the East Anglian earls. Now she remedied it.
Alfgar Leofricson had held the earldom only during the Godwines’ exile. Then again Harold was granted it – but only until his father died. With Harold then made earl of Wessex, his younger brother Gyrth (or Gurt as she also found it) was granted the East Anglian earldom. Gyrth still held it at his death in 1066.
William, conqueror, gave the earldom to Ralf ‘the Staller’, a Danish term that was generally translated as steward. Though a Breton, his father had served Queen Emma (King Edward’s mother and Ethelred’s queen), and, so it’s thought, had married an English woman. So likely the family already held land in England, and probably in East Anglia. So he would have been the natural choice for William to make. But the next earl proved a disasterous choice. Ralf de Gael, the Staller’s son, was one of the three earls involved in the Earls’ Rebellion of 1075. He was also Blide’s father and probably Vyvain’s too. Then after Ralf, Count Alan.
“Young Cesar refuses to lay him,” Vyvain had said when her brothers found her straddling the unwilling earl. “So I thought that I would.”
What was the story entangled there? The scene and the memory niggled at Neve, as if important, perhaps a clue in her search for her mother. And that search still was going nowhere. This same week she’d had another report from Beasley.
Beasley had had a report from an associate in New Zealand. No way could this woman, Constance Carpory, resident of Hamilton, be Neve’s mother. She was a woman of no more than thirty. Neve couldn’t tell him of the Bellinn, of them not aging. Might as well tell him he was seeking an elf. As it was he had hesitated at the lack of a photo. But apparently photographic film was too sensitive to capture a Bellinn. Grandma Phoebe had mourned the lack of a photo, a little memento of her beloved Eddy. But all her attempts with her battered box-Brownie developed the same. Bleached-out, like they were over-exposed. Neve’s school photos had been the same. Luckily, or not, that school trip to Milan had been on a group passport. She was hoping digital would cope with it better. Else, no need to fear flying, she’d not be leaving the country.
Neve replied to Beasley with instructions to widen his search. Well he could be right, perhaps the Hamilton woman wasn’t her mother. She told him to try Canada, South America, Africa. Try Asia. Try bloody Tibet if need be. Connie wouldn’t be the first English woman to find a life there. And if found in Africa or Asia, though long overland journeys, she’d have no need to fly.
In the meantime, Raesan showed her Regin-yorl’s hall. Again
~ ~ ~
Alfeida was scanning the crowd, desperate to find a familiar face, hopefully Eida. She belonged to the north, where Baran was jarl, and Hegrea his lady, and everything here was so strange. She’d not have joined Zemowit’s entourage but for the chance to see Eida again. To see him, to talk. And when the talking was done and the honey-mead flowing, and with the closeness of the dance . . .
Neve almost broke the connection, not wanting to share the more intimate of Alfeida’s memories. But Alfeida’s thoughts shot back to the present. There was Eida – though she almost dropped her embroidery, eager to grasp at his hips, the better to grind her butt into his groin. He turned her around.
“Later,” he whispered into her ear while nibbling and nuzzling.
Neve didn’t need this, not in the sticky summer heat. She found herself staring into his hair. It could have done with a decent conditioner. Brittle as straw, and as pale – the effects, no doubt, of long days at sea beneath a scorching sun. His clothes told the same of him: sturdy and warm, nothing fancy, except for the gold and carved-ivory brooch that held fast his deep red skin-and-fur cloak. Like Lirabien and Sobek, Eida was a ship-rider and raider, aka, a marauding Viking. Still, he had a handsome enough face.
“Look. For you.” Alfeida held the embroidery for him to see. “It’s for your tunic – when I sew you a new one.” The design worked on plain linen was a spray of pussy-willow, with gold-thread ‘dusting’ the fluffy heads.
Eida’s hold of Alfeida tightened. “My little day’s beam, are you saying ay to me?”
What? Neve wanted to object. This couple had met just the once, and that had almost been straight to the bedding. Now they were talking of marriage? No, this was far too fast work. But apparently not for Alfeida.
“But only if you’ll come live with my folks.” Alfeida traced with her finger the top rim of Eida’s arm-ring. That ring showed him a sworn warrior of Regin-yorl’s ring-band, the Stoats. But she didn’t want him now risking his life by fighting alongside them. In the north, with her folks, his life would be easy and safe.
Safe? Neve doubted that. Did Eida know of her parents? Neve had found it in Alfeida’s head: both Svana, her snow-haired mother, and her equally paled-out father, Snaebiorn, were Zemowit’s grandchildren. Which made of them inbreds; Alfeida too. All were destined to age into grimmen. Ugly, malformed, blood-lusting things. Eida’s chances of survival might be higher amongst the head-lopping warriors on a field of battle, than nestling amongst these future blood-suckers.
“What is it?” Alfeida had sensed Eida’s hesitation. “Your father?”
Since Eida was also a fourth nock, Neve left Alfeida and locked into him.
It was true, he didn’t want to leave his father. Harri wasn’t there in the hall, he’d remained at their dwellings, just north of the Fenlands, another of Zemowit’s Eldslands held by Regin-yorl. The entire family lived there: Eida’s cousins, Eilif and Eirik, their mother Gisl and her brother Verlidi. Even Raum, son of the holy Godzifal. Nigh all the Stoats had their families there. Only the granddame, Sea-Utha, was absent, remained in the ancestral lands across the North Way. But it wasn’t only the fact of leaving his family that held Eida back. Nor that he’d have to leave Regin-yorl’s service. It was that peace-kissing Zemowit, he scorned Regin-yorl’s warriors to relentless degree.
“I would miss my family,” Eida admitted.
“Oh, and I would not?” Alfeida tossed her head sharply. “Besides, you’ve a boat.”
“A ship,” Eida correct, annoyed at her error. “Now, shush the moment! Vyvain is saying . . .”
Neve hadn’t noticed. But now she turned her attention to Blide’s half-sister.
“You’re not going to kill them?” Vyvain squealed. “Are you earless? Eyeless? These men have trespassed. They attacked me!”
“Harken that!” Amblushe cawed like a crow across the hall. “Hapless Vyvain attacked. When she, the swive, abducted my granddaughter’s wedded man. They only came looking for him.”
Vyvain the Swive: was this pots and kettles? The ice-queen Amblushe was openly eyeing young Sir Guy, like she was planning to eat him – after she’d sexually devoured him.
Amblushe did have a reputation, yeh, for leaving many a mortal man drained. Though I never did hear of her eating them.
Sometimes, Raesan, you take my words too literally.
Lady, that’s unwarranted. No intent to offend but, na, your words are not Shakespearean.
As I said, too literal. Look it up in the dictionary, Raesan. And hush.
Ypsi would know, Raesan persisted.
But Ypsi’s not here.
At times, Lady, you are very hurtful.
Reverse and apply, Neve snapped back. And hush!
“I say to set them in our enclosure,” Vyvain still was whittling about the captured mortals, Guy and Toli, Hawk, Nihel and Alan. “Let them fight with my brothers. Let those with clear conscience then win. Or is Zemowit less just in his punishments than our own Regin-yorl?”
Wow! The seething sounds of astounded astonishment that travelled the hall could have equalled or doubled the hiss of the Midgard Serpent. Else Vyvain had stepped in a nest of vipers.
“Brave, your women,” Alfeida remarked to Eida, who wasn’t sure how much was sarcasm. He had noticed this of his beloved. Did she have it off her mother? Another reason for not moving north.
“You deem Regin-yorl more just than I?” An unruffled, Zemowit answered. “Then perhaps we should wait until Regin-yorl eventually arrives.” He looked pointedly towards the door.
“Are all your Cesars’ broods the same?” Alfeida asked. Then, perhaps misunderstanding Eida’s frown, “But you have to agree, it’s arrogant of Regin-yorl not to be here.”
“You think that of me as well? I, too, am of Cesar’s brood, though I wasn’t born in this land.”
“Ah. So are you saying they have their arrogance only from their English begetters?”
Eida didn’t immediately answer. Alfeida had a son by an English father. Instead, he considered the question. The names of offspring and begetters whizzed through his head at dizzying speed, all jumbled with the names of peoples and lands long since erased from the pages of history.
“Na, it’s not the offspring of the English earls, but those of Inn Hrafn and his descendants. It’s Vether, Audri and Starri, Thura, Thogn and Asta. Strong-minded women, strong fighting men. While those who were born before Cesar came to this land – Yarisul, Geirrida, Sea-Utha, and Erisp, fathered by a Wend, two Scandics – and a Breton, are noticeably peaceful of nature.”
Neve’s head was still reeling in names when a commotion at the door finally heralded Regin-yorl’s arrival. Neve relinquished Eida and joined instead with the kittenish Kazla. But, damn and friggle jacks, the Bellinn’s eyes were fixed on her brother, with old memories rolling – the rush of excitement as Razimer wraps his arms round her, that time she found him in Arkona, silken robes of pink and yellow, kohl-lined eyes and lids liverish coloured. She still teased him of that. No, that hug was just too distracting for Neve. Besides, her quarry was Regin-yorl. She had to learn more of him. Who else could she join with?
Vindalf. He stood by the doorway, his sister’s hand tightly held. He would have the perfect view of Regin-yorl.
And again, that jolt of recognition, though this time she knew what the cause. Those posters of Eastan, of the Wise Men Three. She sensed an odd quality to the Bellinn, difficult to define. It had to do with his age. He wasn’t an Asar, yet apart from them he was the oldest there. Ancient, how many the changes must he have seen. And here he had long been the yorl – which term Neve now translated to jarl. It was more than an earl, it was more of a king. No wonder he resented Zemowit lording it. Yet his light held steady; Silver, the same as her own. An aura of serenity enfolded him. “Never ruffled, never riled, that was your Grandpa Eddy,” Neve remembered, again, her grandma saying. “He was always a just man.”
He might be calm, but others in that hall were not. Neve almost could see the tension travelling. It sizzled like loose electricity around and through those who surrounded him, especially his lieutenants. Razimer, Gudrum, Eilif, Eirik, Raum. Vindalf too, the lad was shaking with fear. Neve had witnessed once the clash between them yorl and lord, but how many more times had Vindalf seen it? Enough to prefer not to be near them? He edged a foot back . . .
“When you’ve finished lusting for him,” Raesan shouted, bringing her abruptly from trance to awake. He stood by the window that Neve had left opened, hoping for a through-draft, so hot this summer. But the draft she felt now came from Raesan. And it could have been Arctic.
“He’s my grandpa, there isn’t a doubt. The same qualities.” And she wasn’t lusting for him.
“Yeh? Well I think not. Regin-yorl didn’t dally with women. Not ever.” Raesan paced, his light tight about him.
“So you disagree but why this anger?”
“Why? Why! I allow you the view, yeh, and you lust again. Though it’ll do you no good. Why can’t you lust for someone who’s here.”
She wanted to laugh though it wasn’t funny. But rather laugh than to tear out her hair. “Raesan . . .” How was she to answer him. “Raesan, I hold you dear as a friend.” That’s what he’d asked of her, that’s how it began. “But I’ve told you. I don’t want more than that. Not with anyone.”
He huffed. His light suddenly swelled and gusted around. “You know, Lady, you could be right of him being your grandfa – you share the same quality, yeh. Of being chaste. Except, you bone-headed wench, that’s why he can’t be your grandfa. When will you learn that.”
“Raesan, please. Calm it.” She glanced at the open window, straight onto the street. “There’s no need to shout.”
And just listen to her words, exactly as her grandpa might say. Precisely, because she had inherited his qualities: calm, serenity and a strong sense of justice. But how could she go hunt for him without Raesan agreeing it.
“Raesan, how old is he?”
“I can’t say when his birth, I’ve told you,” he snarled, hands flailing. “How would I know? I know he was born here in England, and that the Cesars followed Bagsecg’s army. You do the sums.”
“Born post 900, but that’s odd.” It had just occurred to her. “Eida didn’t list him along with the others.”
“Lady, Lady, change the tune, huh. Always talking of him. Listen, yeh, he can’t be your grandfa; get that into your head. And if he were that then, pah! You shouldn’t be lusting for him. That is the reason we keep tails on our gets, you know. All young-looking and all desirable, yeh.”
. _____ .
Next episode, 16th July: Kerrid Speaks