The worm’s gastric juices rose from the sand in a choking cloud of poisonous gases. Alan leapt back, even as Kerrid ran to Guy’s aid. But what could she do; Neve couldn’t believe this thing that had spilled from the reeking meat could still be alive, not when imprisoned for so long in that acidic container. She wished she could close her eyes and not have to see.
He must have been curled inside the worm for on his face and his groin some skin remained. But his clothes were gone, his limbs and torso showed angry-red, deep-sore pitted, and he was awash with the blood that oozed from broken capillaries. That bloody film perhaps protected him, and at least his arteries weren’t breached.
Hawk cried at the pain of his sworn oath-brother. “Ay-eye! Even unto Blide’s seax. See, Toli-boy, its handle is gone.”
They held together, hunter and squire, finding mutual comfort. Neve, wishing she could find the same, withdrew from Hawk to join again with Raesan.
Take this vision from me, please, she pleaded.
But he refused her. Not till all’s done. See?
She saw – though it all was happening so fast. The dragon, now at a distance, was blurred by the mist that, in the day’s heat, rose up from the drying mud. Yet Neve could see her huge horned head aslant this way and that as she tried to make out what was happening. With what Ypsi had told her, did she mistake Guy for a baby, new born? And there Kerrid was running though the mud threatened to swallow her. Then why didn’t she fly? Neve knew she was able. And Guy, though conscious on emerging, now was slipping away, so close to death it would take ten miracles for him to survive – and a wall of light was suddenly around him, tall and blue and Otherworldly.
What . . . ?
The mud suddenly held fast Kerrid’s feet. In micro-seconds she was sinking in deep. And within the light’s circle there crystallised a silvery rainbow.
Out of that rainbow an angel appeared. Neve recognised the fair form of Amphora. In fluid movement she scooped into her arms Guy’s acid-burnt body.
“No! Wait!” Kerrid called.
As if to guard Amphora, the dark form of Zadki appeared before her, an effective block to Kerrid’s already slow progress.
“What in Heavens is your intent?” Jiar asked them. Though Neve hadn’t seen how, he now stood beside Kerrid.
This one named Guy now has no use, Zadki’s deep voice boomed across the mudflats. Clouds of birds, startled, took to the air. This one named Guy has turned angels’ plans.
“Plans typically evil,” Jiar sneered. “You directed Neka to take him!”
Our Meeting of Angels directed. This one named Guy had to be stopped.
“Why?’ Jiar demanded, his light joined with Kerrid’s so bright it deflected mortal eyes. Neve could see through it but only because she was in Raesan’s memory.
The people here no longer praise angels. Angels have need of this last dragon’s babies. She must not be laid.
“That is no answer,” said Jiar. “Besides, you now are too late. Her skima-mode’s gone.”
For a thousand years only. It will return.
A thousand? Is that a thousand exact or . . .? Neve asked, aghast. But Raesan didn’t reply. A thousand years, if exact, would be in another seventy years.
And more angels now were arriving. They hung over the smouldering worm as a myriad of rainbows. One expanded and landed. From out of its shimmer an androgynous body was formed. Neve had seen him before, unforgettable with his long train of sorrel-hued hair.
“Dominatrix. Dominator,” he bowed as he said. Had Neve heard this said when first meeting Kerrid and Jiar she’d have questioned its meaning. Not so anymore though she dared not put words to her certain knowledge; it still was unthinkable.
“Gabs!” Jiar sounded relieved by his arrival. “Will you talk to this . . . this—”
“Amphora – this one with your dying mortal. Zadki, this one who stands as her guard.”
“You know the purpose of this mortal?”
“Of course they know it,” Kerrid snapped, her yellow light wrapping shell-like around her. “Why else would they take him.”
Jiar glanced at her. The solid gold of her emanation liquefied, became intangible, a yellow shimmer, so fast it defied even Raesan’s fast eye. She nodded in deference to him.
“Twelve thousand years, the term was set. Now those years have passed and by your own set conditions, a mortal who’s untouched by our Asaric blood might speak out for us. That mortal is Guy. But you and your kind would have him die.”
“I, too, remember what the God-of-Angels-Meeting agreed. Yet you expect us to remain in stasis? There has been division regarding adherence to terms. They were made so long ago.” As if to enclose the angel’s words, those rainbows hovering above him now descended to form as a palisade around him, a barrier as solid. He puffed out a breath and made him a gate.
“You forget,” Kerrid said, her hands clasped, yet moving, fingers forced backwards. Neve recognised the motion: it was to cause pain, “even when that term was set, already we had lived in this world for seven thousand years.”
“And the original banishment was to have no end,” Gabs retorted.
Neve heard the crack of Kerrid’s finger, and saw its immediate mend even as Kerrid barked back at the androgynous angel. “And you forget the reason for this concession. Who was it returned Neka to his lair!”
Who was it called him forth? Zadki said.
“Not to loose him upon this Earth as you have done.”
Yet loose upon this Earth he was, Zadki answered.
Raesan, what has happened to Neka? She’d not thought before, but now its host was destroyed, was the demon dead too. Or did it still lurk in her world?
You take gnats for demons? Na, he’s not dead, though, yeh, he is gone. Denied his shell, he’s thrust from this world – same as happened before.
“We were promised that hearing,” Jiar said, his anger lacing his light with red.
“So you were. Release the mortal,” Gabs ordered Amphora. “Place him again on the mud. Allow Dominatrix-Divine to heal him. Then we shall hear him – if he cares to speak for them.” He tilted his head, “Is fair?” he asked Jiar.
“And the Meeting-Of-Angels shall abide by it?” Kerrid asked. “Well?” she prompted when Gabs didn’t answer.
Empty question, Dominatrix-Divine. This mortal lacks Asaric light. He shall not survive.
“I asked a question. I addressed it to Gabs. Well?” Kerrid prompted again.
“This one alone cannot guarantee, for one alone does not act. You, for all your glory, one of the Twelve, must remember that.”
“While we talk we waste time,” Jiar said. “And a mortal’s life is bound to time’s passing.”
His words effected the angels’ exit. It an instant, faster still than switching channels, their lights disappeared – leaving dragon and worm and the mortals and Asars. And Guy, still unconscious and rapidly dying.
“By Odin and Thor, I thought I was used to elves,” Hawk said while still shaking his head. “But those strange beings—”
“Angels,” Toli said and threw down his rough woollen cloak beside the burnt body for Kerrid to kneel on.
Neve couldn’t imagine how the Asaric Queen was to heal and mend Guy. And all she could see at the first was Kerrid’s light deepening in colour until it became solid as gold. Then it flowed as would metal, and expanded and spread to enclose the body of Guy. She could hear whispers behind her. Alan saying of the waters returning; Zrone answering that not even the Asars could still the tide. Hawk and Toli praying, though no Christian prayer, and Alan latterly joining them. Neve, too, was tense as any. She watched, incredulous, as islands of skin began to appear. In no time they had joined to cover Guy’s body. Then hair, in places, also sprouted.
Hawk handed his cloak to Jiar who gave it to Kerrid to cover the man. She stood then, looking exhausted, and fell as unconscious into Jiar’s arms.
Guy opened his newly-lashed eyes. For a moment those eyes fixed on nothing. But then they focused on something that Neve couldn’t see. Hawk held out his hand. Hawk, Alan and Toli helped him to stand.
I think I shall cry, Neve told Raesan. It’s truly a miracle.
Newly-healed, and wrapped in Hawk’s deep crimson wool cloak, Guy pushed his helpers away. “I am guilty,” he said, his voice yet unsteady but growing. “I deserve not your aid and not your friendship. I deserve not to live. It was my own selfish desires brought us to this. See, the angels of death crowd around me.”
He had seen what Neve had not. Yet now, again, the angels materialised. They resembled, to Neve, some Renaissance painting: choirs, tier upon tier, golden and glistening.
“For myself, what do I care?” Guy held out his arms and circled around. “Do with me as you will. But not those thousands of women and children and . . . all those innocents you’d have be prey for this dragon’s nestlings, just so more Christians will pray at your feet. What are you, supposed angels of God?”
He stopped his circling and steadied his stance. He set his gaze on Amphora and Zadki.
“Rather I would do as I did and turn to the pagans. Rather traffic with the elves, with those fallen angels, with those you and your angel-seekers call demons. For they helped me when you would not. It’s they who have saved the lives of those you’d have fed to the nestlings. Now how dark must be your Heaven, when you banish from it all their light.”
He began his circling again, until his eyes fell on Kerrid and Jiar, and Ypsi and Zrone.
“These Asars belong in that realm. Without them, you angels have grown out of kilter. No wonder you now behave more as demons. And you want all the world Christian? Ney, that never will happen. For if this God is, as you say, a Meeting of Angels, then I say that Meeting is like a witan with only bishops and abbots. What way is that to decide what’s to happen? I am no philosopher to converse with high thinkers, yet I know what happens when there is imbalance. Must the right hand always smite the left?”
“He has that the wrong way round,” said Kerrid, quietly.
“Why keep up this feud, everyone suffering? Asars and angels belong together. Allow the Asars now to return – else be cast down yourselves, for you’ve become nothing but demons in gold.”
And that’s how it happened, Raesan said as the vision faded and Neve found herself deposited again on her own settee. “How Guy brought about the Atonement. The At-One-Ment, yeh.”
“But you didn’t leave with the others, Raesan. Are you to explain that now? And you’ve not yet told me of why the banishment.”
He slid himself off the Art Deco recliner and shuffled his shoulders ready to pontificate. “Yeh, but now you see who did the banishing. And you think it was just? No more than it is to hold us here – pure cruelty, yeh, to allow Bellinn births. And that’s why your mother Connie and your grandfa Eddy must be found. At all costs.”
Even the cost of her flying? But she knew it was true.
. _____ .
Next episode, 10th September: Gudrum Kin-of-Kings