It was no surprise when Neve turned the corner and there stood Nerys, arms folded aggressively over her sauce-and-baby-vomit-stained shirt. Neve had heard the music even before she turned into South Grove.
“You!” Nerys shouted. Her straggly hair clung to her scalp; her face was red. Behind her, the toddler Morgana poked her head round the door.
Neve crossed the road, aware of the neighbours twitching their curtains. In the continuing heat of late summer all windows were open. She waited for Nerys to screech the complaint.
“That freak – that junkie boyfriend of yours! We still can’t think for the tones of his music. And the parties! The screams. You think he’s faithful? Forget it. We can hear what he’s doing in there. And the smell – don’t think I don’t know what it is.” She stopped to draw breath or to muster her thoughts. “I’m telling you, Neve Carpory, I’ve had it to my neck and then over with him and you. As for that car of his always parked there, never mind that my Lyn wants to park . . . ”
Neve wanted to answer that her Lyn had no car, not that Neve had yet seen. Which was as well since more often than not Lyn stumbled home, drunk.
“I’m reporting you both to the law, he’s never old enough – and that’s another thing, why isn’t he at school? You, and him, it makes me sick to think of your doings – you do know that’s against the law don’t you? Well, I’m having an end to it now.”
“You report to the police,” Neve said. “They’ll find nothing illegal happening here.” She walked wide of the woman.
Raesan opened the door before she reached it. She wanted to blast him, right into the farthest reach of the Universe. But then Nerys would hear them. She didn’t even look at him but waited till she heard the door close behind her.
“So what the bleep are you playing?” she seethed without raising her voice.
“Raven Maize, Fascinated – cos I am, with you,” he replied.
“I don’t mean what music. I meant playing it loud. Annoying the neighbours. I thought we’d agreed, no more of it.”
“Na,” Raesan said, looking innocent. “Though I do remember you saying it, yeh. You yelled and I nodded – it quietens you, so. But I didn’t agree it.”
“Well you’ll agree it now. No. More. Loud. Music. Else you are out. You’re still not forgiven for quitting that memory before I heard what Cesar wanted to say to Gudrum.”
He shook his head, his hands held up. “That weren’t me. I told you, yeh, that was Gudrum’s memory. Besides, you had work in the morning; don’t want the Crab snapping pincers at you. Best would be if you quit the work altogether, yeh. Then I could show you whatever you want – assuming I’ve the memory of it. So what’s for tea, yeh, what are you cooking? Tea, ha! But tea’s a drink. You folks these days, you’re weird.”
She ignored his feeble attempt at humour. He knew he was wrong, both with the music and the memories. He was blocking her still. There was something in those memories he didn’t want her to find. She had assumed it was to do with Regin-yorl, that Raesan was jealous though that was ridiculous. It could be he was only playing at that. Yet it made no sense. How was she to find Grandpa Eddy without his memories? And he’d been so insistent that she understood of the Oath.
And now she’d lost both appetite and inclination to cook. Let him go to the chippy. She’d rather sit at the computer and trawl the net.
In 878 CE was a solar eclipse. 28th October to be precise. She’d discovered that last night, courtesy of Wikipedia. But that eve of battle she had witnessed was much earlier in the year. There had been the scent of may blossoms on the air. Then there was the landscape: the wide-bottomed valley and the deep-folded scarp. She’d stake money on it being in Wiltshire. Then if it had been eight years since Bagsecg led his men to England, as Gudrum had mused – she had all the information needed to identify the battle.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclers Bagsecg was co-commander of the Danes’ Raiding Army, with Halfdan Ragnarsson. Their recorded first battle was on 4th January 871 CE at Reading. A resounding victory against Alfred – who wasn’t yet Great and neither a king. A mere four days later Bagsecg was slain.
Eight years along would be 878-79 CE, the year Alfred, now Great and the king, granted to Gudrum the eastern lands, thence to be known as the Danelaw.
Neve read the other entries for that year in the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclers. She was glad she didn’t live then, it must have been grim. In midwinter, after twelfth night, the Danes had taken Chippenham in Wiltshire, a major estate of Wessex. They occupied the land, it was said, and those who could fled overseas. Neve wondered if that was to Brittany, or to France? Yet neither place was free of the raiders. The Vikings were even raiding the Mediterranean. Back in Wessex, Hubbe brother of Ingvar and Halfdan, sword in one hand, axe in the other, had stomped all over the blood-soaked land while, thoroughly thrashed, King Alfred hid away in the Somerset marshes. There, while burning the cakes, he planned his comeback. It would be thick with vengeance.
At first he’d had but a small band of supporters. Yet they’d made war upon the invaders, nibbling away in tiny pieces. As news of their success spread so their numbers grew. Alfred, after all, had the right, and these Godless Danes were committing atrocities. By May Alfred had gathered strength enough to meet the entire raiding-army. The downs by Edington were chosen. North of Warminster, the king’s rallying point, south of the Danes’ hold at Chippenham, they would meet halfway.
The battle was an utter defeat for the Danes. Trounced, they fled to again take shelter at Chippenham. According to the Chronicles: ‘The Danes granted noble hostages and made oaths that they would leave King Alfred’s kingdom. They also promised their king would receive baptism.’ Clearly they were seeking peace. They were defeated. They were nothing.
So why then did King Alfred grant to King Gudrum rule of the eastern lands? It made no sense, he had no need. He could have besieged the town, slaughtered them all and been fully rid of them. Did he think to set Gudrum’s men in the east as a buffer? Charles the Simple was later to use that same tactic when he allowed the Viking Rollo and his men to settle around the Rouen-Vexin region. If this was King Alfred’s intent, then as a tactic it failed. Danish raiding armies still terrorised Kent and Mercia and Wessex, Who was to say those armies didn’t include men from Danelaw. Certainly the English so accused them when they discovered that grant of Danelaw wasn’t the end of their troubles.
But that was the battle for which the Danes were preparing. Battle of Edington, between sixth and twelfth of May, 878 CE. So what did Cesar want to say to Gudrum that night? And which Cesar was it?
~ ~ ~
No police called that evening, which didn’t surprise her. But the following morning, on entering the shop, she found Ms Cox close to the boil.
She looked up from the till where she was throwing in the day’s float. “You, Ms Carpory, have put me in a–a most tense situation.”
Neve drew back with what she hoped was shocked innocence upon her face. Meanwhile she was straight into her employer’s thoughts to discover what her offence.
“I only took you on because of my sister,” Cox said. “Because she gave you such impeccable reference. Now I shall have to say she was wrong and she will not like it. She thought she knew you, a guest at her Cobblestones.” Ms Cox clutched her hands, her knuckles squeezed white.
Neve pasted a perplexed look on her face while she waited for what she knew was to come. Rather would she have turned and been gone.
“Your neighbour – the good Mrs Jones, we meet often at church – has told me everything. Everything. Shame on you, Ms Carpory. I cannot believe . . . ”
Neve waited, pointless to argue or try to defend. Yet it wrenched her to see Ms Cox so upset. And not by truth but by Nerys’s lies.
“I cannot have it,” Ms Cox went on having regained her composure. “I mean, what will people think? And with me being so–so visible in the church.”
Neve was tempted to say of Christian charity. And wasn’t there something in the Bible: judge not lest yourself be judged? But wiser to seal her mouth lest her sins were compounded.
“I can see now why you’re always late into work – telling your lies of your sickness. I will have it no longer. This is your third warning, and with it you’re fired.”
Neve turned on her heel.
“Hey, but that’s great!” Raesan said when she told him.
“I thought you’d be pleased – since you engineered it. What nonsense have you fed into Nerys’s head?”
“Yeh, but you must see the benefits.” He’d not be chided, all excited like a ‘birthday girl’. A wonder he didn’t jump about and clap. “You can be on your computer now, yeh, and we can share my memories, and we’ll still have time to be together, and—”
“And we’ll have time to go seek my grandpa,” she cut in, head cocked.
He stilled, his yellow shimmer contracting, to become all but solid.
“And that shouldn’t take long us too long. Not once I find where the Bellinn are hiding. Sooner or later, someone I ask is bound to know where he is.”
“Na, Lady, na, you don’t want to do that,” Raesan said quickly. He was agitated again, but not with excitement. “Na, Lady, that’s an ocean away from wise. You’re illegal, yeh, remember that. They’ll none of them welcome you. Besides, how will you find them, huh?”
“I won’t. You will.”
“But-but, na, I don’t know—”
“No, Raesan, you do.”
She had him pinned like a butterfly in a Victorian rector’s collection. Not a movement came from him except for his eyes. And though he seemed to be seeking escape, she knew he was busy inside his head. A desperate scroll through his memories of what he had told her concerning the Bellinn. She almost could smile.
“Look at it this way, Raesan. While you’re taking me to visit these Bellinn—”
“Visit? Me? Never! Na, no way!”
“—while we are visiting these Bellinn,” she persisted, “you and I will be together. That is what you want, isn’t it? Of course, I could just fly out to New Zealand.”
“N-na, you can’t.”
She cocked her head and raised a brow, but otherwise said nothing. She still didn’t know the full of his game, yet she had caught the measure of him. He was shaking. And were his light to draw any tighter he’d become like an Oscar. After all these weeks, it was amusing to watch.
“I suppose, yeh, you intend for us to use my car? That’s going to cost some in petrol.”
“It would cost more in taxi fares,” she said. “And as you like to tell me, I’m good for the money. But, Raesan, don’t think I’m happy at losing my job – especially with how it was done. Were you mortal, believe me, you’d now be curled up in agony. So you will do this thing for me. Won’t you.”
She too was shaking. But with anger, or in horror at her audacity? To speak so to a Fallen Angel!
. _____ .
Next episode, 24th September: Bissen Hall