“Quiet!” Zemowit called across the music and dancing, the talk and the laughter.
Neve was again in Regin-yorl’s hall. But where was she in the day’s sequence? Obviously Zemowit with his entourage of Asars and high-nocked Bellinn had arrived. The Cesars too were there, a spit’s length from Amblushe. The air between them crackled despite Amblushe’s clear preference to ogle Guy. She was licking her lips, no attempt to hide it. Dear God, Neve silently implored, don’t let me be descended from her.
As the music stopped two things happened. Kerrid and Jiar stepped onto the platform then vacated by the musicians and sat upon chairs that suddenly appeared. And in the sudden quiet a voice rang out. “Death to the Norman intruders.”
Zemowit scanned the crowd. His eyes lit upon a gilt-encrusted Bellinn. “Skrauti. Skrauti, the one who brought the mortals here. Well, Skrauti, listen to me. We Bellinn do not kill indiscriminately.” His eyes seemed to flick towards the door as if willing Regin-yorl to appear with his ring-band of weapon-hung Stoats. He looked back at Skrauti, and along to the captured mortals. Nihel, Hawk, Guy and Toli were squeezed into their corner by the press of bodies. Zemowit grimaced as if he’d eaten rotten fish. “But Normans, you’re right, and they reek of angels.”
“Lord Zemowit, with respect,” Nihel said despite Hawk was pulling at him to be quiet. “You’re wrong of us being Norman. Myself and Guy are Bretons – though he was born in this land. And Hawk and Toli both are Saxon.”
“English,” said Toli.
“I’m only part Breton,” Guy said. “My father’s family claim descent from Rome.”
Neve wanted to groan. Poor Guy, he didn’t know of the Bellinn’s hatred of all things Roman; his own mouth had condemned him. There was silence around him. Broken moments before it grew unbearably brittle by Amblushe.
“Zemmy, my lord, might I have the mortal? Oh, the ways I can find to pleasantly kill him.”
This isn’t the way it was before, Neve said.
You expect perfect recall, yeh? Then tell me what you did on your tenth birthday.
“Please, don’t kill me, I have to live,” Guy pleaded. “Thousands of lives hang on my quest.”
“I have yet to decide your fate,” Zemowit answered him.
This isn’t the same, Neve repeated.
Hush. Else I’ll bring you out of it. And anyway, yeh, maybe this is really how it was and the other wasn’t.
You don’t want me to see Regin-yorl, she accused him.
Wrong, Lady. You can see him as much as you like. Though it’ll do you no good.
“Kill them! Reeking Norman bastards,” Skrauti snarled.
“Set them in the vé-ring, set them against my brothers,” Vyvain repeated, the same as she had on the previous recall. “That’s what Regin-yorl would do.”
“But I see Regin-yorl has yet to appear. Na, their fate will wait. I didn’t travel so far just to deal with intrusive mortals, angel-reeking or not. We need to plan for the Danish invasion. Don’t think the death of their king will alter a thing. The Danes want this land. It is theirs, fairly granted.”
“Halt your words there, Lord Zemowit!”
Heads turned to see who had dared to speak across Zemowit – though Neve had easily recognised it was Skrauti again. He did like to live dangerously.
Zemowit said nothing. Merely stared.
“But you can’t talk of this with so many non-Bellinn ears. Bretons and English they say, but I know that Hawk is a Dane. Kill them first, then make our plans.”
“Wouldn’t you say death is extreme?” Eida shouted back at Skrauti.
“That’s rich from you. One of Regin’s slayers.”
Neve could feel the tension building throughout the hall. Everyone waiting to see what Zemowit would do. He nodded, his demeanour unruffled. “First your sister tells me that I am not as just as your Regin-yorl. Now you tell me what I cannot say in front of these mortals – mortals that you brought here. I ought to lop off your ears. And Eida, you are here and yet not Regin?”
“Eida came early to be with his love,” someone, female, called out. Loud and ribald hoots followed – until Zemowit held up his hands.
“Mayhap we’ll put the mortals in the doom-ring – with young Skrauti, alone. See how well he does, a Bellinn against a mortal four.” That brought yet more hoots and cheers. Zemowit allowed it, eyes fixed on Skrauti. And when the Bellinn’s ears had turned a deep beet-red, Zemowit again silenced them. “But day fades, night comes. Mayhap the doom-ring in morning. Now, Guy – is that your name? You say of a quest?”
But he was to speak of the Danes before dealing with Guy.
Are you doubting my memory again? He’s a lord, yeh, and a full Asar. You think he can’t judge the feel of that crowd? Regin-yorl’s folk are not Zemowit’s.
So he listened to Skrauti’s objection and acted upon it?
Yeh, exactly, Lady.
Finally allowed to speak, Guy gabbled his account of how the quest started. Did the Bellinn listen intently, so quiet the hall? Or was it Zemowit’s doing, some kind of Asaric coercion? Was he able, a full Asar? But then he wasn’t the only Asar there. The others, Kerrid and Jiar, the Cesars, Amblushe and Freilsen, Huat, Zrone and Ypsi, they might have helped him. Huat, Zrone and Ypsi were Raesan’s brothers. Why then did Raesan stand alone, amongst the Bellinn? Neve had noticed that before – that first day on the island, he had stood apart from them.
That day on the island, the Asars had been there. At least, Kerrid and Jiar and Freilsen. True, Regin-yorl’s Stoats had been there too, but they’d only stood guard. It was clear now, the Asars wanted that dragon buried. Neve saw it as Guy started to say of the angels’ involvement. Every one of the Asars’ green eyes hardened to stone. Though the movement was miniscule, yet their ears visibly turned, full attention on Guy.
“They answered my prayers with a storm and the dragon. But then they said we couldn’t kill the dragon. Skimaskall, they called it. They said it was the last and it had to be free. Ay, free to eat cattle and maidens, just as its appetite takes it. And worse is to come; there soon will be younglings to feed.” Guy, distraught, paused for breath.
The hall filled with angry murmurs. Though not from the Asars; they merely nodded. All except for Kerrid. She held up a hand for silence.
“We know this of angels,” she said. “Deceitful, scheming, self-obsessed beings. They care not at all how many die.”
Well the Asars might know it, and the Bellinn also, but Neve did not. She reeled as much as the mortals there. Count Alan’s face, already red, deepened almost to black. Was it anger? Embarrassment? Shock? Neve wanted to join with him, to hear what his thoughts. Beside him, Gunnhild pulled back as if slapped. Nihel, too, seemed shocked. Apparently his mistress, Hegrea the Bellinn-witch, had forgotten to tell him of this aspect to angels. Hawk, of course, had already heard Guy’s story. Yet to hear from an Asar that this uncaring attitude of angels, an attitude contrary to all that the Church had tried to teach him, was known, that was too much to absorb. He held his head as if bewildered, which probably he was.
Kerrid stood, and brought back to her the mortals’ scattered attentions. “Let me tell you our story,” she said. “How we came to be in this world.”
Neve’s interest sharpened. It was almost as if her ears were twitching. Now she would hear the truth of these Asars, what their sin and why their banishment.
She wrote all this down, yeh. In a book.
Hush. Please. Raesan’s voice sounded loud in her head. I want to hear this.
She had more skills than any, Raesan persisted. She was our queen.
Please, Neve hissed at him. I’m trying to listen.
But I’m telling you, yeh; she wrote it all down during the three weeks left. She knew, see, that we were to reconcile.
Beam me aboard, Scotty, eh, Neve joked, though she remembered Amphora’s explanation when she was locked into Guy. It was a process of perception and manifestation which involved, literally, a quantum leap. But this book Raesan kept saying of, was it written in Latin? Though with the Asars’ hatred of Rome and the Church, that seemed unlikely.
You think she would work in that angel-speak? She wrote in the tongue of the day.
You mean Old English? Or Norse? And why was he telling her? Did he intend for her to find it and read at leisure? She might have to if she wanted to know the original Asaric sin, since Raesan was determined she wouldn’t hear it off Kerrid.
So where is the book?
I buried it.
Yea, where? Though she knew the answer before he said it.
Beneath the dragon.
Well, that put it thoroughly out of her reach. Kerrid’s voice again filtered through to her.
“In the beginning was – was unimaginable, now that we live in this world of form. Light had yet to be created, all was dark. No matter existed. Then – bang!”
The Big Bang Theory, Neve remarked, less awed than Kerrid.
She doesn’t mean it was an out-bang, yeh, like your mushroom-explosions. She means an in-bang. An in-bang, yeh, like . . . yeh, like a light-bulb imploding.
“And in that moment there was light.” Kerrid truly was awed by the notion. “And that light existed in the twenty-two dimensions.”
Neve felt a shiver whip through her. The superstring theory postulated 26 dimensions, though she couldn’t remember where she’d found that. Yet the angel Micha had said of only twenty-two. And here Kerrid was saying the same.
“Within a nanth of a nano-second—”
A nanth? Raesan, these are not Kerrid’s own words. You’re translating. So what is a nanth? And where had he found such a word.
But he didn’t answer. Instead, Kerrid repeated her words. “Within a nanth of a nano-second, these twenty-two dimensions collapsed, one into another, leaving just the five of the space-time continuum – or at least that’s how it seems to us now, stranded here.”
The Theory of Collapsing Dimensions. Wow! But twenty-two and five, that’s . . . twenty-seven. That’s . . . one too many.
You’ve heard this before?
Apparently. But the physics are way beyond me. Though she was certainly interested. Yet five dimensions of the space-time continuum? Three of space and one of time. What was the fifth?
Count Alan, educated in the classics. asked the same.
Kerrid smiled. “Spirit. And that spirit is contained within all the dimensions. It was there that we dwelt. There we were angels.”
Alan wasn’t the only one to suffer amazement. He and Gunnhild stared at each other, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Hawk too, and Nihel, but not Guy and Toli.
Gunnhild never accepted.
Where is she now?
No one knows.
Is she with Edmund?
Nevey, believe me, I do not know.
Nevey: he’d not called her that before. It was usually Lady, for Nineve, Lady of the Lake. Or so Neve supposed. But Kerrid was speaking again.
“When first I came to know this, I misunderstood. I had seen in the Web—”
Web? What, like some ancient internet?
The spirit-connections, yeh, of all things living. Like grass and lichen and fleas and fish. All things alive, yeh, and ready to die.
“I saw only three realms,” Kerrid said. “And in each were three houses—”
Kerrid likes threes. She served the Spinner, yeh. Until she found what she was.
What, ‘she’ as in Kerrid, or ‘she’ the Spinner?
Na, hush, You want to hear Kerrid.
She also wanted to know what the Spinner was that Kerrid wouldn’t serve her once she discovered her own divine nature.
“I didn’t know then of the collapsed dimensions. Yet I saw that the realms overlapped.”
And by their overlapping, yeh, communion between them is possible, Raesan so-helpfully explained, though Neve could have worked that out for herself. Altered states, your culture calls it.
“We were banished,” Kerrid said.
Raesan, have you cut some of her talk?
Why would I do that?
“There, I told you,” Gunnhild said to Alan, and none too quietly. “They’re the Fallen Angels, they’re demons.”
Kerrid turned smouldering green eyes on her, and smiled. “No. Forget your Churchmen. In your sagas, who are the banished?”
“The rightful heirs to the throne. Usually,” Alan answered.
“When the throne is usurped,” another said from somewhere behind Raesan.
Heads turned, Raesan’s too. Now Neve could see who had added that. It was Gudrum. He was standing with Regin-yorl and the Stoats, still close by the door.
I knew you’d cut some of this. You didn’t show me when they entered.
Oh, you’ve not seen that scene before? And here I thought you’d like to hear Kerrid’s story – always on at me for answers, yeh.
“Some wrongs do not fade,” Gudrum said and apologised.
Kerrid waved the apology aside. “But you’re right. They do not.” She glanced at Jiar beside her. He had taken hold of her hand. And again Neve was struck by their rightness together. Yet that also jarred her, like she was jealous. She felt for a moment all jagged with resentment. But no, she realised that came from Raesan. Of course: alone, so many years, was it a wonder when faced with this picture of their togetherness.
“As in your sagas, so we too were banished,” Jiar said. “But with a dishonourable difference. We were banished before our thrones were usurped.”
“Because you wouldn’t bow to Adam,” Gunnhild spat an angry accusation.
“Oh, now that’s a walloping twist to the tale,” Zrone said and almost smiled.
“Then it was that you fornicated with mortal women, and taught them your evil ways,” Gunnhild said though Alan was doing his best to quieten her, his arm snaked around her. “Hush. Let them talk, let them say. Let us listen.”
But Gunnhild pushed him away. “So you’re a demon-worshipper too? And I thought that I loved you.” Bellinn parted to allow her egress as she stormed out of the hall. Alan started to follow, but mortal, he couldn’t leave without permission. And by the way he was suddenly slammed to a halt at the door, that permission wasn’t granted.
“Stay,” Amblushe told him. “I shall go calm her.”
“This day has been shock-full for her,” Kerrid said in excuse of Gunnhild’s behaviour.
“And it’s been less for me?” Alan snapped back at her.
“But you are not Bellinn. Not close-kin to we angels.”
Of course. Neve realised now why Gunnhild’s anger. She herself had been shocked to discover her kinship to these Asars, these banished angels. But to Gunnhild, the devout Christian, to be faced with this revelation: that she was the grandchild of a fallen angel. A demon, as she’d said it. Christ, how awful! She must have thought herself a demon too.
And now does your dammed-up head understand? You think she’d have told her son of this? Eh? Na, she’d have made sure that Edmund never discovered it. And by not knowing it, yeh, he couldn’t know of the Oath.
“Lord Alan, with respect.” Guy from his corner gave a marked bow of his head. “Your lady has not encountered these angels. I have, And I have said how they are. Truly, they are the demons.”
“It’s true,” Huat said from his perch on the edge of the dais. No other Asar spoke, yet all nodded their heads, as one, in comical unison.
Alan considered the young knight for several long moments. Then he too nodded as if now he accepted. “Please,” he said to Kerrid. “I would hear more of your story.”
Yet Kerrid didn’t continue. She paused to listen to Gunnhild’s hysterical screeches, though they now were muffled by trees. Perhaps allowing Amblushe to go after her, to offer succour, wasn’t the best of ideas. Amblushe, the ghost-coloured ‘demon’. Neve could see Kerrid was biting her lip while waiting, and hands together, pushing back her fingers. Neve did that too in times of stress. A counter-pain, it made the other pain less.
“Pried away from what was rightfully ours,” Kerrid continued as Gunnhild fell to silence, “we were banished to here – to live within form. Now we are as you are. Born of a woman, begot by a man. We are the same in every way, except we Asars do not die. Two hundred, our number. Two hundred were banished.”
We didn’t know our number, not until the Battle of Idiglat Plain. We weren’t all together, yeh. We didn’t know this story though we’d guessed of our nature – or she had, our Kerrid, our queen. Then at the Battle of Idiglat Plain, that’s when the angels told Kerrid and Jiar, yeh, 12,000 years we were to be here. And if at the end, a mortal, untainted by our blood, would speak well of us . . . then we could return.
And Guy spoke for you? That’s how the Atonement?
The Reconciliation, yeh. Gui de Lissay, see, he was of a Roman family from the days of Gaul. He had no Asaric blood to him – and by then that was rare. We wondered of his mother, Marta, daughter of Samson, viscount de Guincamp. But Freilsen vouched for the family, that they, too, were free of the blood.
“You mortals have heard the stories they’ve told of us.” Kerrid’s hands were still moving, now folding, refolding, now making mountains and trees. Neve did that too, though not often, only when agitated. “These – our supposed brothers and sisters – these treacherous sprites, they’ve made it so no one will ever speak good of us. Ever whispering their seditious lies.”
See, there you have your answers, yeh.
I still don’t know what your sin. You cut it.
So play it again.
But Raesan would not. Instead, he abruptly cut the memories.
. ____ .
Next episode, 23rd July: Sir Guy’s Dragon Quest