Neve uncurled Raesan’s arm from around her shoulders and pushed him away. “And you can get off my bed. Now!”
Raesan obeyed though his face crumpled and his brows drew tight. “I thought . . . you stood up for me, yeh.”
“I stood up for you – yeh – ‘cause I don’t like pots and kettles; something I get from my grandpa, the jarl. And I don’t like bullies either.”
And now he was off her bed she could set up the laptop, though it was slow to find the connection. As soon as she had it, she keyed-in a search for St Keldred’s Well.
Nothing. The on-screen dialogue asked if she intended ‘St Mildred’s Well’ and suggested she checked the spelling, or simplified the search criteria.
She broke the connection and slammed shut the cover, though she left it plugged in. She’d paid for the room, she’d use the motel’s electricity to charge the batteries.
Instead, she fished out the books she had bought en-route. She spread them across the bed. That ought to prevent a repeat of his amorous advances. Though, right now, he was slumped in a glossy grey bucket-chair set by the window, gazing out, in a sulk. Beyond was a merry display of fast-moving white headlights, framed by the blue-white of the car park, the yellow glow from the café and the yellow and blue petrol pumps. She turned back to the books: guides to Yorkshire, its folklore, history, places of interest, its geology, everything she’d been able to find. For, despite Dove’s assertion, Raesan claimed he’d no notion of how to find St Keldred’s well.
Fifteen books she had bought; not one listed the well in its index. But Neve had been there. In 1086, with Alan and Nihel, the Asars and his men. It was on Helgrind Moor, west of Richmond, almost into Westmorland – part of the Pennines. She tried to remember what she’d seen on the way. To avoid the river, swollen, fast running, in danger of flooding, they’d taken a higher road, cut horizontal into the hillside. It was rough, deeply rutted by the constant passing of wagons serving the mine. Lead, open cast, a sore gash in the land. There had been what had looked like a village, all grey stone buildings. The mine-workers’ huts. And there the road had divided. They had taken a track that led them yet higher, following a fast-running rill. She remembered how steep; it had been a relentless climb, and that aback Zrone’s magical mounts.
She looked at the map. So many wells, so many rills, so many dales and moors. Yet she had the direction. And the well had been on Count Alan’s land.
She ringed in red every well marked on that map. Checked them against the guides – and found three more which she then amended. She listed, where given, the local names which weren’t always the ones on the map. Armed with her copy of Domesday Book, she marked in blue all Count Alan’s holdings. By now the original map was lost beneath the many coloured marks.
“Found it yet?” Raesan asked, tone sharp with sarcasm.
“Getting close.” She didn’t look up. She could hear him drumming his fingers against the plastic arm of the chair.
“Why do you bother when your grandfa, yeh, isn’t Regin-yorl.”
So he was back to that. “Well neither is he Edmund,” she said. “So you tell me who he is.” That quietened him.
She turned next to the local folklore. Not knowing what to look for, she simply marked on the map every place mentioned. She devised different symbols to denote types of tale.
“Got it!” She leaped up, punching the air. Then, “Gosh.” She caught sight of outside. To the east the sky was already light. It was dawn. Raesan looked at her, expressionless except for his sullen eyes.
She showed him the book. “See here, it says of a well. South Elgrin. Elgrin-Helgrind, it is the same. And listen to this. A story, dated to the eleventh century, says of a lowly farmer praying for deliverance, for he had seen – rise out of this South Elgrin well – a thirty foot worm! His prayers were answered; God sent the Archangel Michael and his angel-warriors to defeat and to banish the demon-beast. See, here’s a picture – looks like a nineteenth century engraving.”
Raesan merely looked at her.
“I wonder if that’s the origin of the Laidlaw Worm story,” she said, and returned to perch on the edge of the bed.
Raesan snorted. “There was no worm in that well,”
“Precisely, Raesan. You and I both know what it was. But the events of that day are remembered in the folklore of Skogdale.”
“No Archangel Michael, neither,” he said in monotone. “That was Zrone.”
“South Elgrin Well, that’s what we’re looking for. That’s our St Keldred’s,” Neve enthused.
The only problem was, there was no miners’ village nearby though there was a Skailton mentioned in Domesday Survey. But, Friggle Jacks, did the folktales abound, and all focused upon that same region.
The entire area was famed for sightings of flying demons. While a family of trolls, so it was said, laid in wait beneath Winton bridge. It was said they had first turned dangerous when the Church had forbidden the usual sacrifice when Sire Ellisan, the local lord, had set out to build the bridge. Close by that bridge was a particularly foul pit where lurked Jenny Greenteeth. The locals blamed her for a number of children who’d gone missing. The reports began in the early twelve century. Then in that same river there dwelt ravenous dragons.
But it was what ran alongside this river, and it wasn’t only the folklore. Neve starred at it, marked on the map. A ravine. But it ran the wrong way. Not down from the moor, but parallel with the vale’s bottom. Geologically speaking it oughtn’t to be there. Yet there it was.
The stories continued, fanning out from the region around the well. South Elgrin Moor, rising to the north of the river, was equally frightening. Apparently, a man who’d been forced to cross the moor at night was found in the morning a gibbering mess. So many stories, piled one on another, focused on a ten mile radius of South Elgrin Well. And of course, Count Alan had held the lands all around.
She looked up to tell Raesan. But Raesan no longer sat in the chair. He was looming over her. She yelped as he ripped the book from her hands and hurled it away. It hit the far wall with a thud. But what had brought this on. Every instinct said to be out of the way, yet she stayed.
He dropped to his knees, his hands grabbing hers. She tried to snatch them away but he held them more tightly. “Forget your search, hey,” he implored her. “Forget your family, you don’t need their love. You have me.”
Speechless. she stared at him.
“I love you.”
She gulped. Her brain, switched to fast-spin and emptied. What was she to do? He was like a puppy dog the way he looked pleadingly at her.
“Raesan . . .” Her hands were hurting from how tight he was squeezing.
“You have me, yeh. I won’t desert you.” Though a wind-Asar, he had fire in his eyes.
“Um,” she stalled. “Raesan, can’t this wait until later?”
“Later, yeh – like later after you’ve found Regin-yorl and then you’re off to find your ma. Later, like you’ll be leaving me later.”
She wanted to run but couldn’t now. His shimmer had become a vengeful wind, whirling tornado-like around the room, snatching up bedding and tearing the curtains, catching at everything that wasn’t nailed down. The only safe place was close beside him.
He clutched at her. “Please. Please, please, please, don’t go look. Just stay with me, please.” His head dropped to her knees, his light suddenly contracted. His shoulders shook. He was crying.
She looked around at the room. How was she to explain it? It looked more like a rock-star had stayed here the night, coming down off his drugs. It was going to cost her to put it all right. But that could wait. It was what to do with him, with Raesan. What was she to say? What did she know of men and their feelings. Was this her fault; she had allowed it to happen?
“Raesan, listen. I like you, you know that I do. But as a friend. We’ve been through all this.”
“Yeh, I know that,” he said with such feeling, his breath hot on her knees. “And that’s what I want, yeh, you as my friend.”
“Then . . . how will finding my family change that? My mother won’t come back with me, I know that. I’ll go find her, come back, we’ll still be friends.”
She was still stalling. She didn’t want him any place near her. Yet he’d already shown her he’d not leave her alone. He had powers beyond her ken. It seemed wherever the air could go, so could he. Was she to live her long life submerged, beneath water, just to be free of him? And she still didn’t know why the Bellinn reviled him.
He lifted his head. She tried and failed to suppress a shudder – his eyes were dry, no sign of his crying.
“You think I behave like a boy?” He sounded like a boy, a boy in a sulk.
Her grandma’s words lingered on her lips: that one needed longer upon the tree. She swallowed the words before they fell. “Not a boy, no. More like a sixteen year old.” She forced a laugh.
He looked at her, face strained with serious intent. “I have lived this life, yeh, for thirteen thousand years.”
Yea, he was no innocent child.
~ ~ ~
It felt good to be away from that room. Once at the wheel of his car he became more stable. She could almost forget . . .
She showed him the view displayed on the laptop. There were the trees, see, and the buildings. And there, that little Ells Beck she’d found on the map. Though the image wasn’t as sharp as it had been for Bissen Hall in Cambridgeshire, still it could have been taken by someone standing immediately in front of her.
“I was right about that turning,” she said. “It is to Skailton. Asaric coercion might keep people away, but it can’t blind satellites and digital cameras.” Though she’d no doubt it was Bellinn coercion that played with her now.
Twice, she could swear, they had passed that turning. And she’d known full well it would take them straight to Skailton, the village that wasn’t supposed to be there. Yet twice Raesan had ignored her promptings. And then, once past it, she’d doubted she’d seen the turning at all. She wasn’t going to let it happen a third time.
“Stop! Pull in. Now.” And when he didn’t . . . “Fine. Any time soon.”
They had wasted most of the day, driving back and forth along these roads. Though the scenery was breathtaking, the appeal of those hills soon begun to pall. Hills. And mist. So few trees, and those dour grey buildings. Grey. The grey stone was everywhere. Field walls, houses, churches, bridges . . . The heather turned to rust splashed relieving colour. And now she had finally thought to consult Google Maps.
“It was that road back there.” She opened the car door. “It’s not that far, I’ll walk it from here.”
“Neve . . .” Panic sharpened his voice and his face. He clutched at her hand, dragging her back, theatrically holding it firm to his chest. “It mightn’t be safe.”
She laughed. “You think there’s truth in those stories? Raesan, they’ve been Asarically planted over the centuries to keep people away. The same as we couldn’t find the road. Yet look, it’s there on the screen, you can see it.”
“Bloody stubborn woman, yeh. I’m coming with you,” he said.
“No.” She’d decided this even before they left the motel though she hadn’t got round to telling him yet. “It’s your presence causes the trouble. Alone I can blag my way in. I have a story all ready constructed. I’ll be fine.”
“But you won’t, Lady, you won’t. They put that screen around their village, yeh, to keep people out. So they’re not about to welcome you in.”
“I agree, not at first. Yet once they hear my story—”
“As if they’ll give you the chance. And I’m just to wait here?”
“It’s best. It’ll work. Trust me, Raesan.”
“There could be grimmen.”
She ignored him and packed the laptop into its carrier; she’d take it with her. It would be her eyes, and cut through their illusions. She had a mobile phone too, Uncle James had bought it. She never had used it. It wasn’t that she thought she’d use it now, but it would provide a prop to her story. With bag slung over her shoulder, she walked back along the road to the turning she’d seen.
Only it wasn’t as near as she’d thought. She kept walking. And walking. But there was no turning. She looked around her. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it had been. It wasn’t as she’d seen on the Google map.
She plonked herself down on the side of the road. Though she wasn’t that far from Grettesby Corner, a notorious accident black-spot on the road to Richmond, she was in no danger of being run over. They’d encountered neither car, truck nor bicycle since turning off the main road. She powered the laptop, clicked on Maps, and checked again the landscape to either side of the turning.
To the left should be a thicket of thorn, to the right a lone elder tree. The road was edged with dry-stone walling; such trees ought to stand out like a beacon. She rolled her eyes and tutted complaint at herself. She had passed those trees a half mile back. She snapped shut the laptop and set off again.
She found the trees. But now there wasn’t a dry-stone wall. And what ought to be grassland, perhaps a sheep-grazing pasture, was mist-shrouded moorland. It rolled right down to the road.
Forewarned by the digital image, she clambered over the invisible wall. It reappeared. So too did the grassland though the mist remained.
A hundred yards into the field she froze, her logic departed. One minute fine, the next moment faced with a snarling beast, hot-smelling, its breath sweet with freshly slaughtered meat. A tiger. Her heart may have slipped through her guts. Her brain ceased to function, not even a response to the fight or flight button.
It was the cry of a circling hawk drew her out of the flunk. Without moving her body, her eyes sought for it – and in so doing she saw the mist now had lifted and the field lost its boundaries. She could see for miles along the dale. She could see into the hills. But she could see not a feature anywhere around her. All was grass. There wasn’t even a tiger. And that was worrying. Just because she couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there. She hadn’t seen it before it appeared. It could reappear at any moment. It could again stand before her, glazed eyes fixed upon her, whiskers a’twitch. But at least now she could move. To be sure to avoid it she veered off to the right. Even then, she kept looking behind her.
She was undecided, if it was real. There’d been that spate of sightings across Dartmoor that turned out to be a puma escaped from a millionaire’s private zoo. She needed to find a place to hide, then she could phone the police. They’d know if there’d been other sightings.
But where was she? It seemed she’d lost her sense of direction. That wasn’t good. She could be like the man in the desert, lacking landmarks, walking ever round in circles. But wasn’t that because men had one leg longer than the other? Did that apply to women as well? She laughed. It sounded manic. She laughed again. It sounded pathetic. But what if she walked for ever around this field, never to find the way out. She shook herself out of the thought. There was a landmark. In fact there were two. To the north, in front of her, rose South Elgrin Moor. Spread east to west was Skogdale, the river Wade rippling through it.
She again consulted the digital map – and ducked as a dragon-fly, ten feet long, dived at her. It skimmed her head, she felt the draught of it.
Illusion, she told herself. Illusion, illusion, illusion. Unlike the tiger, the likes of this just didn’t exist. But that draught felt real. And that one wasn’t alone. In wartime formation, droning like aircraft, they came at her, coming in for a strike.
From her imagination? She tried to convince herself it was so. Yet she’d never watched those kinds of movies so whence the imagery. Their wings were transparent but for a large black spot. Their bodies, too, black iridescent. She ducked again as they swooped upon her, hands over her head for protection. No, she could reason it out, but these flies were real. She could hear them, see them, feel them as they entangled her hair.
Illusion, she told herself again. Illusion, illusion. Yet she stayed low in the grass until she was sure the huge creatures were gone.
In their absence dense silence encroached. In the silence, her faculty for logic returned. Now she lay in the grass and reasoned it out. The dragon-flies and tiger easily dismissed, she turned then to the landscape. She knew the village of Skailton nestled into the hillside. And it straddled Ells Beck which, she assumed, rose on the moor at St Keldred’s Well. The image of she’d found on Google Maps showed houses in decay and overgrown. She would have dismissed them as the remains of the old miners’ village, except for one building. With squared-off walls of what looked like fresh wood, it sat beside the beck. It was a mill, and someone had recently built it.
Her plan now was clear. Find the river and follow it back to the beck. Now she could think, it seemed so simple. And since water flowed to the lowest point, and the lowest point was off to her right, deep in the dale, that was a good place to start.
Deep in the dale purple crocodiles paraded, guarding the banks of the Wade. She laughed – till they turned their attention upon her. Their colour was fake but those teeth sure looked real.
Illusion, she repeated. It seemed to work like a charm.
They continued to snap at invisible prey while she followed the Wade upstream, eyes keen for a tributary that flowed in from the moor.
There! Ells Beck. And there was a bridge over it. And a road, though only a dirt-and-stone track.
She climbed over the wall, back onto the road. “You think to deceive me, Lord Whoever?”
Raesan hadn’t known who was the lord and lady here. “And what interest have I in the north?” he’d snapped at her, “Hegrea’s no longer the lady, that’s all I know. She returned to Brittany. Baran-jarl, yeh, he held it of old so maybe it’s him. If not, yeh, it’ll be another of Zemowit’s sons.”
Zemowit had many sons. He’d been the original hippy: make love, not war. Though some of those sons – particularly those at Bissen Hall – had clearly rejoiced at his return to his own domain so they then could display their proud battle standards. Neve tried to remember which of the sons she’d seen at Regin-yorl’s hall. Drogoswiet. Hrogn. Titling. Zabos. Not Baran – as jarl of the north he’d not have followed Lord Zemowit south. She ought to remember more, the times Raesan had shown her these sons arriving, acting guard for their father. Yet she’d been impatient to see Regin, else her interest had fixed on the Cesars and their riddle. She regretted now, in finding her grandpa she’d have no more clues to help unravel it.
As she neared the village she changed her assessment of that recent-built building. It wasn’t, as she’d thought it, a mill. The crystal-clear stream now burbling alongside the dirt-and-stone road, tiny pink and blue forget-me-nots tumbling around it, wouldn’t have the volume to power it.
And now she thought, she’d not seen power-lines to bring in the electric. No telegraph poles either. She supposed there could be cables buried though she doubted it. That would require for someone to enter the village and none had entered here but the Bellinn. That was scary. Yet it also could work to her advantage. It would help with her story.
~ ~ ~
Next episode, 15th October: Skailton Hall