My father insisted, he was to accompany me for my next appointment with friendly psychiatrist, Madeleine Penner—that was the Monday after school finished. I didn’t need to hear his thoughts: he oozed impatience and barely-held anger. He wanted this sorted, and sorted now. He wanted me on medication and receiving therapy. He’d had enough of the doctors shilly-shallying. It was no good telling him they couldn’t treat me without first diagnosis.
Meantime I’d been reading more deeply on my potential disorder. Of particular interest:
The majority of patients with DID report childhood sexual and/or physical abuse.
My parents weren’t gonna like that. And I still hadn’t told them. However, it did seem they’d finally climbed off my back. They were giving me space—as long as I did my chores. But it wasn’t needed, for after that last dream I again became enthused about the farm chores. It was my farm, or would be; Failan’s Farm. I found it soothing to be with the animals after the hectic bombardment of thoughts that had been school.
At Madeleine’s clinic, the receptionist eyed my father as we walked in. I heard her muttered, Shit and drat. After ‘arriving’ us, she tapped out an alert to Madeleine. Neat system they had, so the psychiatrist knew in advance if there was likely trouble. It made me wonder what sort of stink my mother had created while I’d been ensconced in the inner sanctum. I had heard nothing (yea, that did happen sometimes), but then my thoughts had been focused elsewhere.
As before, the buzzer sounded. But it wasn’t for us. The next buzzer was.
Madeleine herself opened the door. “Ah! The very person we wanted to see,” she greeted my father.
His head leaked an explosion of panic. For a flash I saw it in cartoon fashion. I saw him glance back at the door, his exit to safety. Unfortunate for him, it opened just at that moment and in walked a grey-haired man in white coat.
“Excellently timed,” Madeleine remarked in sun-bright tone. “Mr Elvin, if you’d like to go along with Doctor Langton?”
“I . . . yea,” and obligingly my father followed the doctor down a side corridor.
“Arwen . . .?” Madeleine gestured towards her consulting room.
. . .
Once seated on those wonderfully soft and supportive sofas, Madeleine explained of my father. “We need to know of your childhood—things perhaps you wouldn’t remember. We’ll need to see your mother too, but fortuitous that your father came with you today.”
I glanced in the direction he’d disappeared, his waves of alarm still reaching me.
“It’s okay,” Madeleine said, hushed, conspiratorial, “no one’s going to hurt him.” She smiled in amusement. “We’ll be asking you very much the same questions. Though we expect your answers will lead us in different directions. But first, results of scans and bloods.”
Apparently everything had shown up normal—that should set my mother’s worries to rest. No brain tumours. But that hadn’t been their only purpose. Apparently parts of the brain can be either over- or under-developed and cause all kinds of problems, many masquerading as psychotic, mental or personality disorders.
“How’d you treat an overgrown brain?” I asked. “Trim it down to a more normal size?”
She laughed. “No. There’s medication, there’s therapy. And then again, sometimes there’s only acceptance. So, your childhood, hey? What are your earliest memories?”
Whoa, I was unprepared for that. I had to think real hard. Up to the time I went to school everything seemed to blur into one. I didn’t go to playschool or nursery; I was home with my mother. I didn’t have playmates, either, except when I went to Aunt Maggie’s.
“How old were you when you first went there?”
I shrugged. “I just always went there.”
“What about when you first started school?”
“I don’t remember much, but I do remember the smells. Paper towels. Wet coats. Slimy gravy, all lumpy—Mum insisted I stayed for school dinners. There was a boy in our class who regularly pooped himself. Oh, and the smell of disinfectant.”
If Madeleine was hoping for some hint of abuse she’d just lucked-out. She tried another tack.
“Have you, or anyone in your family, ever had counselling? Of any kind.”
“Yeeeaa,” I said kinda hesitant. “I guess my mother must’ve before having the fertility treatment for me. Isn’t that standard?” Though she’d never said of it.
“Mmm,” Madeleine lightly grunted.
I guess I wasn’t giving her much. Maybe they’d find more from my father.
She asked, “Have you ever been admitted to hospital?”
I knew what she was after with this. She wanted to know if I’d ever self-harmed. But that wasn’t part of the DID-disorder.
“Mmm,” she again grunted lightly and I heard her thoughts, negative on Borderline Personality. “Well, that’s all I need from you for now. Once we’ve spoken to your mother—assuming your father doesn’t produce anything shocking—we can compare our notes and hopefully give diagnosis. The next stage then is to heads-together on a treatment plan.”
I had to wait for Dad. He came down that corridor, steaming.
“Bloody intrusive!” he griped as we followed the signage back to the car park.
Another dream came that night—or rather it seemed a continuation of the previous dream, my dream-guide’s arrival at Failan’s hall.
. . .
The same two men stand at the door. My dream-guide probes for names. Olfsten, hair flint-black with white-ripples, a wolf-skin covering dark shades of yellow. Eadkin, younger, honey-brown hair, decked in the oak’s colours as it falls to autumn, a staff in his hand. They stand gawping like they’ve never seen our like before. My guide bits back on a taunting call: Aye, but at least we’re not the sheriff’s men.
“Who-what-why?” Olfsten asks—then, belatedly, “—Grand-dames.”
My guide decides she likes him. She—we—can hear beneath his powerful voice an ill-hidden chuckle.
Her mother motions her horse a few steps closer, allowing her kinsman to see who is come calling.
“I am Gunnhild,” she says. “Daughter of your sister Edgiva.”
“My . . .?” and now his face falls, his hand to his back. “Nay, but you tease. My sister Edgiva?—the same who fifty, sixty years back ran off with that Harold? Who then brought the wrath of those French bastards upon us? Who lost us our lands, our sons, our teeth?”
My guide purses her lips, her mouth compulsively twisting as she looks asquint at this Olfsten.
He sees. He answers, “You think that shaky?”
She shakes her head, nay. “But you lost your teeth? By-ya! So what, you got those off a wolf—like that feikin hide you’ve around you? You dip too deep, Olfsten Failan; your eyes full-smiling while yet you’re all ranting. You could least wait till you get the ‘why’ of our coming.”
He laughs, arms thrown wide. “Got the good of me there, and you still a youngling. So my eyes laugh; I’m always a’laughing—isn’t that so, my son? So let’s get the why of this visit, come late as you have after all these years. And keep it word-fast; don’t you go telling more than truth.”
“Huh,” she scoffs at him. “An’ that’s one calling one.”
“Aye, deep found, youngling,” he objects while sounding impressed.
My guide is surprised that her mother allows her this. But looking at her mother, that woman is full-bewildered.
“You come with a bringing-hand?” he asks.
“Scoff not at the guest,” my guide tells him—to which Olfsten turns to his son to whisper words he believes they can’t hear. “You know who the guest? You see ravens around them?”
“We come seeking shelter,” says her mother—Gunnhild—finishing weakly. But that’s not what my guide has heard her rehearsing a hundred times on the way.
“Shelter? There’s shelter.” Olfsten looks across the garth to his barn. “How long will you stay? Only, come the cold end you’ll freeze up to your knees.”
My guide looks equally pointedly at the hall behind him. She swears if this were left to her mother they’d freeze on the roadside.
“Ah,” he says, “you want to share our fire-hall? Is it this night only you’re asking? Or will there be more? Besides, what of yon men?”
“Once we are safely . . . here . . .” her mother struggles to say the words. My guide has to jump in.
“What my mother is saying, is that these men have been lent us only to see us safe to haven. We had hoped to find Vidarr at Haganword but . . . seems you’re now our only kin with a hall.”
“Aye, I agree likely I am. But I’m still waiting to catch the why of it. Last we heard, that good-faced mother a’yean was safely moored in a grand-ish northern lord’s hall. Now I see ye ‘n she’s here. Like to explain?”
She doesn’t know what it is with her mother—the shock of returning to her kin?—but her mother nods that my guide should give explanation.
She obeys. “Lord Alan Le Roussel, died, having begot me. Yet his brother Nihel allowed us to stay. Then, next, Nihel, too, went that course. And so, as you say, we harboured with the next lord of Richemont, Alan and Nihel’s younger brother Stefan. Only next Stefan gets a young wife—bright as a goose but no longer alone, if you know what I mean—she’s growing one on. So now we’re full-embarrassing to him. Noble born and noble does, but he wishes us gone.”
“Ah,” Olfsten says. “Sounds like your meat got burned in the cooling, eh?”
“We could have gone to Brittany with him,” she says, “and entered a convent.”
Olfsten winces. “I can’t say of your mother, but I can see for you that’s a finger-breaker. Yet . . . here?” She hears him thinking while he sucks on his teeth.
She tells him, “My mother is convent-schooled and, as such, could prove useful to you. She can read. Write. Compose verses—”
“Aye, we have great need of verses around here!”
“She can keep your accounts—no more overpaying your rent, your tithes and your taxes,” she says.
“She can do that, eh?”
She knows she’s offering more than her mother intended when first she spoke of a return to her kin. But if that’s what it takes to find them a place . . . “Also, I hear your Eadkin lost his wife a time back?” She’s found that in his head. “With your own good lady no longer young? My mother, here, will happily tread in both steads.”
No, my daughter, you go too far.
I don’t mean for you to bed with them. But to be the lady of their hall, would that not suit? And if she objected, she should say of her own. Sitting astride, all but mute!
“It’s full-true what she says,” Eadkin answers—the first he’s spoken. “More, it’ll allow my Syllan to wed with Osfrith over at Flegg-land, and that’ll move the sheriff from off our backs—you know how often he reminds us of that. I say to take them in—it’s a path to follow. We’ve work aplenty for both.”
“What voice have I when my own youngling says you can stay?” Olfsten says with a grin and wide arms.
My guide’s answering grin freezes when, exploding from the depths of the hall, appears a young lad. “Is that woman to be my mother?”
She doesn’t need his thoughts to know him fully displeased. Same with the old woman who follows him out. Lifa her name. So this is the reputed enchantress? But this Lifa isn’t one their kind. She lacks a light.
“And who,” this Lifa asks Olfsten, “gave you the right to be free with my hall?”
My guide’s mother’s soft groan is scarcely noticed except by my guide. Ay-yi-yi, have they come here only for her mother to die, centuries before her time?
Next episode, Squaring the Circle