The early sun dazzled Neve’s eyes as she stepped through the door. She squinted, blinked and turned away. When she looked again, hand up to shade her eyes, she saw the dancing lights of two crystal-fold Bellinn. They had corralled Raesan’s Spitfire with their heavy black bikes bedecked with sparkling chrome. Neve thought of the jacket now packed into her bag. Yet Rat wore another. He’d rested his helmet on the fuel-tank and both that tank and helmet repeated the design she’d seen Eldsland: a bull’s head, front on, with impossibly wide flaring horns.
“We tried to catch up with you yesterday,” Rat said.
“Yeh, well,” Raesan gave a swift shoulder shuffle, “proves my Spit bests your . . . what did you say they are?”
“Yamaha. Virago. And it wasn’t a matter of speed. You want a race, I’ll give you one.”
“Boys,” Kazla tutted. She caught Neve’s attention, flashed a grin and rolled her eyes skywards. Neve grinned in return and nodded. “We delayed for a detour to Sheffield,” she said.
“We had to deliver Tythwar and Gudrum to some friends,” Rat said. “They might join us later.”
“Interesting.” Raesan’s tone said it wasn’t. “Join you where?”
“Depends,” Rat said, fingernails scraping his stubbled chin. He flashed a look at Neve. For a moment her breath caught. And what might her light be doing: showing one and all the panic inside her? Was it panic? Her body was zinging the same, though it was far more pleasant. Beside her, Raesan fumbled to catch hold of her hand but she hid it behind her. Kazla, lips in a slight twist, missed not a thing of it.
“We’ve left Zelina,” she said. “Tythwar and Gudrum too. But Eida refuses because of Alfeida. And our father . . . no, he’s been there so long. The same with the others. None want to be with Zelina but all are afraid to encounter the world.”
“Baran stays in the hope of regaining his lordship,” Rat said. His eyes hadn’t yet strayed from Neve.
“Interesting,” Raesan repeated. “But Neve and I have an urgent errand. So if you’ll back off with your bikes, yeh?”
“I have your jacket.” Neve held out the bag.
“You keep it. I got me another.” He pointed to the leather he was wearing. “But you were asking after Regin-yorl. You say he’s your grandfather?” He shook his head. “I doubt it. But I’d like to find him too – old friends, you know. So, I’ve come to help you.”
Raesan bristled. “I am helping her.” His light had collapsed to a tight band about him. Neve thought if she tapped it, it would ring like metal.
“Relax, Man, I’m not squeezing you out.”
“I think I know where he is,” Neve put in quickly before they could fight.
“Thrigg Brunna,” Rat said. “You know what ‘Thrigg’ means – ‘course you do. You know where it is?”
“I know the area, I just need a map. It’s somewhere close to the river.”
“So we don’t need your help.” A wonder Raesan didn’t stick out his tongue, so smarmily said.
“Shame,” Kazla said, her eyes on Raesan. “I thought, while those two got their obsessed heads together, we might . . . you know, rub other parts?” Kazla traced parted lips with two red-painted nails. Not even Neve could miss what she offered.
Neither did Raesan; his light zoomed from a tight band to a wide balloon. And his heat, like a sudden blast from a furnace.
Kazla winked at Neve. So, she was playing. Neve lifted her thumb, away from Raesan.
“So you agree?” Kazla tilted her head shamelessly.
In answer, Raesan taunted Rat. “Think you’re onto a good thing, yeh? Na, but you’ll soon find out.” He turned to Neve. “He who hesitates, yeh? Now you’ve lost your chance.”
Neve’s jaw dropped. She wanted to laugh but she’d not shame Raesan in front of the others.
“Put the jacket on,” Rat told her. “You can ride pillion.”
“No way!” Raesan’s hands flew up, his light again shrank to a sheath. “Na, she’s not riding that. Anyway, it’s against the law without a helmet.”
Neve wondered when she’d been asked what she wanted. Truth was, she didn’t want to ride pillion. How was she supposed to get on it with those panniers bulging either side? It reminded her of her sole attempt to ride her grandma’s old horse.
Kazla offered Neve her helmet before turning to Raesan with a kittenish smile. “I can leave my bike here; I’m happy to snuggle beside you . . . all the way.”
Rat looked at Raesan, a prompt for an answer. But this should be Neve’s decision as well, though she didn’t want to make it. She’d rather rewind the entire conversation and start it again. But she’d no need. A high-topped white van rounded the corner, clipping the decaying flowers in the nearby grey planters. The driver slowed as he wound down his window. He leaned out. “Will you kids move those fucking bikes out of the way.”
Rat held up his hand to acknowledge. Neve suspected he was also into the driver’s head, Asarically calming. The driver left his window down. Elsewise they’d not have heard the news.
“Wait,” Neve shouted to Rat and Kazla as they prepared to back up their bikes. She was afraid they were leaving. But Rat signed that they were only parking their bikes; they’d be back.
Raesan faffed about with the car, first to unlock it – no electronic devices – then because the day looked to be fine, he folded the roof. But she wanted to be inside; she wanted to set up the laptop. She wanted an internet connection. She wanted a news’ site. Not a national, but the local coastal station at Yalesham. It would carry more information. The news they’d heard on the van driver’s radio had said only of a disturbance at the Yalesham wind farm, and that work had been halted awaiting a geologist’s report. There were fears of an earthquake. Though rare in England, they weren’t fully unheard of. Yet there’d been no seismic activity outside of that area. By the time she’d found the report Rat and Kazla were back. They came to stand by her side of the Spitfire.
“Is this Guy’s dragon waking?” Rat asked. But Neve’s attention was on the screen, and Raesan didn’t answer.
“Turbine five,” she said. “It’s the last one to be constructed. I’ll see what I can find on Aquilergy’s site. They had a map of the Sands earlier this year.” She swore as she lost the connection. She had to wait; then, “There.” She showed Raesan the map. He nodded.
“Yeh, that’s right on the edge of her pit. We have to stop them.”
“But they have stopped,” Rat said.
“Yea, but only for the geologist’s report. Once they find the bedrock is sound,” Neve said, “they’ll resume.”
“What will happen?” Kazla asked. Her arm was draped around Rat. His arm encircled her.
Raesan snapped. “What do you jigging think she’ll do, woken from a thousand-year sleep? How would you be?”
“Hungry and horny,” Kazla said. “Maybe not in that order.”
“You’re always hungry and horny,” Rat teased her. “Nej, a dragon guarding her treasure? She’s not going to be happy.”
“She’ll wake with her lungs afire and go looking for food,” Raesan said. “And she won’t be fussy of what she eats. Sheep, yeh, goats, cows – humans. It’s all meat.”
Kazla shuddered. “Then best we coerce her back to sleep.”
Neve agreed. “Fine for now. But—”
“We have to stop the construction,” Raesan cut her.
“But how do the four of us do that? I take it you’ll stay to help?” she asked Rat and Kazla.
Rat nodded. He had started to reach for her hand when Raesan snarled. “Two, Nevey – we don’t need them. I could do it myself, yeh, alone, it’s that simple. What, to just coerce the workers so they’ll stop their digging. I am an Asar, yeh, remember, not some lowly fourth.”
“Yea, and I suppose you’ll also coerce the bosses when they come along and say, ‘Hurry on with it’?” Rat said. “For how many years, Raesan? You’re not thinking,”
“Hark at the Viking. Your day is done, you’re no longer a hero.”
Neve frowned, squinting, nose crinkling. When had Vikings ever been heroes?
“I think you’re mistaking Southern Romance for Northern Heroism,” Rat said, unruffled. “The Northern Hero has honour and courage in face of evil; it’s a personal thing. While Southern Romance is . . . like you, trying to impress the lady. Honour is held, maybe, but only to flaunt.”
Neve’s eyes shot open. That wasn’t what she was expecting from him.
“But Northern, Southern, Viking or no,” Rat continued, “fighting won’t help us to lay the dragon.”
“She is already laid,” Raesan sneered. Neve could have sworn his nose tilted higher. “What you mean is to coerce her. To return her to slumber—”
“And fighting won’t—”
“You know nothing. She hasn’t yet woken, yeh, else the news would have said of roasted fatalities. I assure you, brave warrior, were she out of that pit you would be filling your boots with shit—”
“I only was saying—”
“You didn’t see her, I did.”
“No, actually, Raesan, you’re wrong,” Neve started to say but Raesan wasn’t listening.
“The thing is, yeh, to stop further work. And what makes you think you can help with that?”
“Don’t you think I’m as concerned as you of who that dragon might eat,” Rat snarled back.
“Yeh? Well you don’t need to worry about that. I shall go to Aquilergy, yeh. I shall find the bosses. And I shall tell them.”
“Raesan, that’s not going to work,” Neve said, trying to be assertive without being offensive. “People these days don’t believe in dragons; they no longer exist. And don’t say you’ll coerce them, that won’t work either.”
“Too many,” Rat said.
“And you’d have to hold them for—” Neve was going to say ‘forever’ but she supposed the project would eventually be shelved.
“Moreover,” said Rat, “how do you propose to find the bosses? Not the managers and directors but the decision makers. You think they’ll all be sitting in an office, awaiting your call? They’re probably scattered all over the world.”
“Yeh, yeh, yeh, so my idea is crap. You don’t have to—” Raesan suddenly turned, probably to hide his humiliation. It made no difference, all could see by the tight snap of his golden light. No one spoke. They allowed him time to sort his emotions. “Yeh, well let’s hear what you have to say.”
“I say we kill the dragon,” Kazla said.
“Can’t. Protected species,” Neve said. “So God the Committee in his—their infinite wisdom told Guy.”
“God the who?” Rat laughed.
“Had you associated more with Asars, and less with your Vikings, yeh, you might know of these things.” Raesan again was in superior mode.
It was because he was jealous of Rat, which infuriated Neve. Why couldn’t he get it into his head that he hadn’t the right.
“We can’t kill the dragon,” Neve said and left it at that.
“You mean you three can’t do it,” Raesan jeered. He jumped out of the car. The door slammed behind him. He paced in an arc around them and theatrically sniffed. “Na, I’m the only one who knows where she is.”
Neve shook her head, despairing of him. He was working himself into such a state he could no longer think straight. Neve had to tell him. “Raesan, a thousand years gone, things have changed. Haggleland then had trees—well, a tree. And small hills and hollows. It had notable features. But it’s had a thousand years of spring tides to sweep over it and smooth and erode it. You said yourself, it didn’t look so big. It’s now little more than a sandbank.”
But Raesan strutted, his light now a menace of gusts.
“Is he always like this?” Rat asked in a whisper.
Neve shrugged. “Has his moments.”
“I know how to change his mood,” Kazla said.
“You be careful of what you’re doing,” Rat warned his sister. “As he says, he is an Asar.”
“What we need is a metal detector,” Neve said loud enough that Raesan could hear though he now was heading across the car park. “That dragon is laying on treasure, remember.”
Rat up-slapped his head. “Didn’t think, didn’t think, come on and smack me. I am the metal detector.” He pointed to himself. “It’s true,” he said when Neve looked askance at him. “I get shivers whenever I stand on metal.”
“Buried metal?” Neve raised a brow.
“Absolutely. But not so much of recent years.”
“He was always good at finding rich graves,” his sister said.
“So that’s why archaeologists can’t find any now?” Neve joked.
“When one is in need of filling one’s belly—”
“And the many bellies of his merry band,” his sister added.
“—one doesn’t fret of the metal’s source. Besides,” Rat said, “the alternative was to steal off the living. And, alas, the living tend to defend – to the death.”
“Yea.” Neve turned away at the reminder.
“A different age,” Kazla said; then to her brother, “You need lessons, you do.”
“So you’ll locate her for us?” Neve asked. “Then all we need do is to stop the construction at that particular spot. I don’t know, maybe encourage Aquilergy to place turbine five further along?”
~ ~ ~
They arrived at Yalesham in early afternoon. Though the last leg of the journey was the shortest it took the longest, being on country ‘switchback’ roads. Raesan had hardly said a word, just the occasional huff and tut; watching Rat in the rear-view mirror. Neve wanted to remind him he ought to be grateful that she was in his car and not on the back of Rat’s bike. That machine had terrified her. Then as they neared the town, Neve started to worry. What would Rat make of it? Though why should she care.
Raesan didn’t wait for Rat and Kazla. He parked up at the car park on Back Staithe Lane and was off at a sprint. Rat arrived just in time to see where he’d gone. Yet his first remark was about the town.
“Snug. It suits you. Yea, most fitting, I’d say.”
“It’s not an insult,” Kazla quickly put in.
Most fitting, what did that mean? Yet it pleased her beyond reason.
“But he’s in a hurry.” Rat turned again to look at the cut between warehouse and quayside where Raesan had just disappeared.
“He’s to find us a boat and the tide’s on the turn so we need to be quick. The river’s not as deep as it was.”
“Yea, it once was a thriving port. Like Dunwich.”
Neve had to run to keep up as Rat set off. “You know of Dunwich?” she asked.
“And before motorbikes there were horses,” he said by way of answer. “And there have always been boats.”
“My brother’s a ganger. You know what that means?” Kazla asked.
“Ingang, ausgang; gehen, to go.” Though her German was rusty, she could suss that.
“He was always on the sea; a trading vik here, another there. Baltic coast, mostly – East Baltic,” Kazla added to Neve’s unspoken query. “That was his life in our early days, the craft he learned from our father. But he’s quietened of late, and forsaken the sea.”
“I haven’t forsaken it. And a ship was the only fast means of transport till this last century. Is this where he turned?” Rat glanced back to Neve, not quite on his heels. “I’m sorry, Lubschinka, if your Raesan and I don’t get along.”
“He’s not my Raesan. He was in need of a friend. I suppose I was, too.”
“Ought to beware of that word,” Rat said. “Across the waters, and back in time, a friend was a lover.”
Neve gulped. She felt suddenly sick.
“No boats,” Kazla said, looking the length of the quay.
Neve looked too, as if such scrutiny were needed. “But I’ve never seen the harbour this empty.” Not even a seagull. “Okay for the fishermen to be out, that’s not unusual. But it’s too early for the weekenders to be here and be gone.”
“Empty harbour, and a raft of boats clogging the mouth,” Rat said. “I’ll hazard a guess of what that means. Oh and look. Here comes Raesan strolling back. Doesn’t he look the innocent one.”
Raesan‘s arms were held wide in helpless gesture. A lonesome dog whimpered and fled as he passed. “Alas, Miss Clever,” he said as he drew closer, “now we’ll have to think of another scheme. And as I see it, yeh, there’s only one way now to reach that island. Rat and I will have to drive down to Yarmouth to pick up a helicopter. You and Kazla, yeh, you’d best stay here. You can drink coffee and chat and whatever you women do while we men are away hard grafting. Of course I would go alone, yeh, but I need Razimer as a metal detector.”
“I thought our plan requires for Neve to be there?” Rat said.
“Hold a mo.” Kazla waved her hand for attention. “What’s the rush? The work has been stopped. We can find a boat from here tomorrow.”
But Neve shook her head. “No, it’s got to be done today. By tomorrow there could be geologists crawling all over the place.” Though she thought Monday was more likely.
“See, Bike-for-brains Viking. So now we’ll have to change the plan, yeh, ‘cause Nevey here pisses her pants at the thought of flying.”
“And I used to quake at the thought of being out on the sea,” Rat said and turned to Neve. “You’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll hold your hand.”
Neve swallowed. She wished that her panic wasn’t so visible, but it wasn’t only her innards that trembled. And already her breathing . . . and now she was beginning to shiver. She must have looked a sight, no doubt to Raesan’s delight.
“Hush. You’ll be fine. I promise.” Rat encircled her, pincer-like, with his arms. She laughed a little. “Is better. Besides, after a night with the grimmen, what is flying? And you won’t be alone; we’ll be there together.”
She felt such a baby, and now she was crying. She couldn’t help it, it was only the panic. How would she manage the long-haul to New Zealand; yet she must. Best she faced the fear now, and be done. She took several deep breaths.
~ ~ ~
Next episode: Psycho Killer