I knew that woman with her scraped-back black hair. I knew that I knew her, I just couldn’t place her. I knew, too, she was reaching out to me; I wanted to reach out to her too.
“I’m sorry, I had no chance to warn him . . .” She smiled at me, and me prone in this hospital bed.
I wanted to say . . . what? And, anyway, clouds were crowding around me, muffling my hearing, my vision, my thoughts. They formed into a wagon. They took me away.
. . .
I find myself outside Failan’s hall—at the side where others were less likely to hear us. I am brimming with cleverness.
No! That’s not me. That’s my dream-guide. These are her memories; it’s not my dream.
“But no fret, my mother,” my dream-guide says. “I have washed his memory clean of it.”
“So we need not attend church?” her mother says. “I don’t mind that we go there. I’m not like the other Bellinn, those of . . .”
She leaves my guide to complete that thought . . . like the Bellinn of the northern Eldsland. Her mother nods.
For years I lived with the most devout angel-seekers. I prayed, I praised. I did not shrivel, I did not burn. I don’t understand what Hegrea says of it.
Aye, and so my dream-guide knows. And no matter the number of times she tells her mother: “But that was before, when you were one of them. But you’re not one of them now;” it seems not to stay with her.
As for herself, my guide, they have never claimed her. So, best not to tempt the angelic powers and call down their ire and cause themselves to shrivel and burn.
“I prefer that we don’t go to church,” she tells her mother. “Eadkin doesn’t go, and neither Lifa. If we never make the appearance, we shall never be missed.”
Her mother nods, though it seems half-hearted. “And you are sure you wiped his memory of this? You’re very young yet; you don’t understand what your powers. I didn’t know mine till Roussel took me, and at what age was that.”
“Because you’d been cloistered with angel-seekers.” How many more times must she say it. At times, she wonders who is the child. “Unlike you, I’ve had Hegrea to teach me. I tell you, the sheriff has no memory of it. We have no need to worry.”
. . .
The scene changes. My guide’s in a weave-shed with Syllan, who’s teaching her the skill, and I know, without knowing how, that at least a week has gone by. The evening sun paints the hempen-cloth gold. A hound barks and it’s not the hall’s hound. My guide opens her thoughts. Strangers approach. Who? Two horses, two men. She feels more than hears their thoughts. She recognises one as that sheriff’s reeve, Brun, already met with. But the other . . .? Not the sheriff. For this one is . . .
She leaps away from the loom, straight out the shed. She hasn’t felt this since, oh, long before she left Richemont: the fizzling shock of the first touch of a Bellinn, a Bellinn of a higher nock. But who is it? And why travel along with the reeve?
Olfsten already waits at the garth-gate, pulled from the back of the hall where he crafts his mallow-stem baskets. He stands full-square to the visitors, the hall-hound at heel. She catches his thoughts. In its day that hound was a heckler, battle-eager. Now it’s fey-footed and slow. Rather Olfsten would have Eadkin beside him. But Eadkin and his lad are over the far side of the common. Olfsten silently pleads that Lifa stays put in her buttery. Full-often, with her fierceness of face and eyes, she seems to shake spears at that Brun. Still, he’s pleased that Gunnhild is over at Cavestun, attending the birth of Ethold’s fifth grandson, and out of harm’s way.
Just as my guide swings into sight, she catches Olfsten’s broken prayer, that she’ll stay put at the loom. She hears him swear. Too late now to wave her back; haring like that, she’d trip herself, trying to halt, to wheel and a-heel.
She slows to a dignified walk, eyes fixed on the Bellinn. He’s older than her though he’s not yet attained his majority. His face hasn’t down enough to stuff a sprat’s pillow. Oh, but those eyes. Sea-green-grey, and fixed on her as hers are on him. She feels the heat of embarrassment and lowers her eyes—to look instead at his lips, all late summer berries, all full, all pouting.
Who is he: the reeve’s own boy? They share the same burnt-wood hair, the youth’s unkempt. Yet, also, he seems more used to using his brawn than a pen (his hands, she notes, bear not one purple stain). Besides, he wears a felted wool coat of deepest green, generously studded with pearls. Certainly not the reeve’s kin.
And you? he asks her, head atilt. No, do not tell me. You are the ‘irreligious daughter of the apostate nun’. But I don’t know your name. Brun’s brain doesn’t retain it.
Arvina, she feels compelled to answer. Daughter of—
—of Gunnhild. Her name is known. But daughter? I heard only that she had a son. Born after the Oath?
She refuses an answer. Besides, what does he want her to say? And he hasn’t yet given his name.
Guillan he tells her. Son and heir to our lord the sheriff. And also born after the Oath, thus held contemptible by my mother’s kind. But you!—and one who knows how it is to be scorned—at last I have found you. You cannot deny it; I can’t be fooled out of it: you are my Torch.
I—. She doesn’t get what he means, though she feels his ethereal hands close around her. She takes a stride back, though what good is that.
“Are you—?” Olfsten asks her.
“Entirely-good.” She waves aside his concern.
“Not ailing? Yet you seem . . . not with us; on the brim of flitting. Did you get what Brun’s been saying? He and my lord sheriff’s son are asking after our attendance at church.”
When was that said? She has heard only Guillan’s voice, and that in her head.
“From over the seas comes the least expected,” Guillan remarks, and smiles at her. She doesn’t get that, either. “I am learning my father’s business,” he explains as if nothing other has been said between them.
“And we have attended church,” says Olfsten, gruffly. “Though not here at Aldebur. Nay. Nay, my good lady Lifa had need to visit her kin. We attended at Matelasc—this Sunday back.” He spreads his arms in a wide flourish and offers the start of a bow. And comes up grinning.
My guide sees Guillan’s look: from reeve with soured face, to Olfsten, all cheery. I believe your kinsman might lie, my lady. But, (he pastes a most charming smile on his face) tell me, true, that you are the Torch I have so long awaited—the Torch promised me by the rune-master—and no further consequence will come of it.
Again, she doesn’t get what he means. What’s this of a torch? And a rune-master? She opens her mouth. But nothing comes out.
You prefer the company of your cousin Syllan—who soon will be wed—to the circle of your own kind?
Aye, we are of a kind she admits. Yet I am also kin of your father’s tenant. I ask, would such an association be proper? Would your father allow it? She has already wiped the sheriff’s memory, once, of her and her mother. To remind him of their existence would be the worst folly.
“My father will know nothing of it, most hesitant flame-haired lady,” he says, now speaking out loud—which alarms her. “No fear, the reeve and your kinsman cannot hear us. Though I’m as yet unable to take us out of time, yet I can stopper up ears and blinker their eyes. Now, your answer will be . . .?”
“My answer to what?” For he hasn’t said.
“Why, to be my Torch, of course—my completion, my inspiration, my guide. Oh!” he laughs. “You thought I meant to bed you! Though, aye, that, too, might prove agreeable—unless you prefer to be forced to marriage with one of my father’s dour men?”
Her mouth falls. He said that as a threat? A higher nock than she, his Bellinn abilities greater, in truth he can do as he likes with her. But is that what he wants, to threaten and bully her into submission?
“I would prefer a firmer foundation,” he answers her thoughts. “But . . . Lady, you must leave me my dignity for I shall not I plead. I cast the runes; I pulled Gyfu, Cen and Æsc: the Gift, the Torch . . . and my Lady, that is you. Do not deny me the rune-master’s promise.”
“But I know nothing of runes.” Except that her Uncle Nihel had carved runes on the rod he had given her; protective: that she might use it to poke out an attacker’s eye.
“Then we shall explore the rune-world together. I asked for a guide; I pulled the Torch. That Torch is you. You cannot deny it. Now agree to this else your kin shall suffer.” His voice has changed as has his face. Demanding now, and cruelly twisted. It seems to my dream-guide, this Guillan is as changeable as the Eastern Seas.
Next episode, Words Discordant