I woke to find Woden outside my window, peering in at me, his light so bright it reached my bed.
I might have thought him real when first I saw him. I might have wanted to go to him, to—I don’t know—to talk of the runes with him? But not no. Now I knew the truth of him. He was nothing but a residual trance-image. An hallucination. It was that drug they’d been pumping into me, that sedate, injected without my knowing. I turned my back to him; I didn’t want to see him.
A domestic came in; I thought her a domestic. Apart from the nurses in traditional blue I’d seen two other uniforms here. The carers wore a murky green, cleaners and others wore pink. This one was in pink.
“Are yer no getting up for brekkie?” she asked me. Then looked down at my notes, clipped to the end of my bed. “Ah, another disturbed night, was it?”
Then her eyes caught the window and what was beyond. “Shoo! Shoo!” She flicked her fingers at the offending vision. “If he’s one of ours he shouldna be out there, this early. You’d like me to close the blinds, aye, be rid of the peeping tom?”
“Yea,” I said, now in total confusion. I’d been prepared to accept Woden as an hallucination. But if the domestic could see him he must be real, and that totally scrolled my knob.
I ate my breakfast, still in bed, not wanting to get up. I was still there when . . .
“Mum?” I couldn’t believe it. Yet it was her, letting the door slam with a whump behind her. I was too flabbered to smile or anything.
She brought me some fruit. “Well I couldn’t come empty-handed, though your Dad will have seven fits if he knows where I am. We’re to leave you alone, he says. Give you time to sort it all out. He doesn’t want us blamed for what’s happened to you, though I’ve told him that’s a mite too late. I’m sorry, my love, whatever we’ve done.” She sobbed. Quietly. Into a hanky.
“It’s okay, Mum. You haven’t done anything. Well, except that you didn’t listen to me. You wouldn’t believe me. You feared I was nuts. I’m not, I’m psychic, and I’m hosting a ghost.”
But I doubt she heard a word of it, all wrapped up in her troubles.
“Have you brought any clothes?” I could but hope.
She nodded. She smiled—a rather wet one. “That Doctor Penner called on me yesterday, late. She told me you wanted your bits from your room. Well, I didn’t know what to bring so I packed you a case like you were going to Aunt Maggie’s.”
“And?” I looked around but could see no sign of it.
“The nurse out there,” she nodded towards the door, “she took it from me. Said it would have to be cleared with the doctor.”
I rolled my eyes and heaved a sigh. Still, I was one foot closer to wearing a shoe. “What about the rune-wand? Have you brought that?”
“What you want that old stick for I don’t know, but . . . comfort blanket I suppose.” She fished it out of her shopping bag. I would’ve kissed if she’d have come closer.
She sat there, tugging her hankie and dabbing her eyes. Until she caught sight of the time—on the clock on the wall above my bed; it ticked, loudly, all night long.
“I’m sorry, love, but I have to fly. Now, don’t you go eating all those grapes in a go, they’ll give you a belly ache. We’re thinking of you, we both are. We want you better, we want you out of here. I’ll come again when I can.” She kissed me, barely skimming my cheek, and left. She hadn’t stayed long.
I watched the door close behind her . . . and jumped at the knock on the window.
. . .
I knew who it was even before I opened the blinds. Light streamed in though it wasn’t the sun. Woden, grinning at me. He motioned for me to open the window. That’s when I discovered the windows—Georgian-style sash openers—were cleverly set. Only the top windows opened, and that no more than four inches. I shrugged: no can do.
Arvina, there’s a door, his voice sounded inside my head as he pointed off beyond the day room.
“I’m not . . .” I shook my head at him.
He held a finger to his lips. Apparently, I had to keep quiet. Then, again, his voice sounded in my head: Use the door. The others use it.
I looked at the time. It wouldn’t be long till they were serving lunch. I supposed they’d raise the alarm if I was missing so, well, I’d be okay to quickly nip out. I admit I was somewhat afraid, for if he wasn’t an hallucination he must to be a Bellinn. Fact: he could speak direct into my head, and that’s a Bellinn ability. Though his ‘light’ didn’t quite match those in Arvina’s memories.
I now had these Bellinn-beings figured—though no way was I about to share it, not even with my friendly psychiatrist; that would get me another label. But, as far as I could see, these Bellinn had three typical characteristics. Longevity, though probably not immortality. Telepathy. Plus they possessed like a greeny-blue watery light—except here was Woden showing something other. What beings likewise had light? Angels and fairies and their like. I dismissed angels: everything of Arvina’s memories said the Church didn’t like these Bellinn-beings. And fairies? I had read somewhere, I don’t remember where, that our word ‘fairy’ comes from the word ‘fey’ and that ‘the fey’ are ‘the dead’. With those two removed . . .
I hadn’t read Tolkien, off-put by my mother obsession, disgusted that she’d named me Arwen. But I’d seen the films. To Tolkien—who as a professor of Anglo-Saxon would have studied the culture as well as the lingo—the elves emitted a light. But of course, for that’s what their name means: Light Being. I read that somewhere, too, though I don’t remember where except it was when I was first getting into the history of Failans Farm. My family’s farm. The Elvin’s farm. Elvin, Elfin, hmm.
Also obvious from the films, Tolkien—who had studied the culture—gave his elfin-kind telepathic powers, and longevity. So, I reckoned it was fair to say that the Anglo-Saxons believed all this too. And at some distant time, they had known and had seen there light-bearing beings. So, the Bellinn were the elves of old. QED
And now I was about to meet one of these elves in the flesh. And I was no little afraid—especially since I’d previously seen him in that hypnotic trance in the guise of the Anglo-Saxon god Woden.
. . .
The door was hidden away down a corridor. Unlocked, I opened it. Warm summer air greeted and caressed me. I’ve never been so glad to be out of doors and under the sky! But I wouldn’t be venturing far. Though I stood on a paved patch it couldn’t have measured above two yards square. Beyond was a stretch of pea-gravel, and I was wearing these sloppy slippers.
All this time I’d been at Green Haven (two weeks?), apart from the fact of the lawn fronting the day room, I had paid no heed to my surrounds. I knew Green Haven wasn’t a modern purpose-built hospital. Now I could see it was a country house, probably Georgian, and converted to this. I suppose I was vaguely aware that the day room gave onto a terrace from which steps led down to the lawn. This door I’d discovered, set at the side of this grand Georgian country house, was squeezed between two rooms with glazed wide bays. Woden was waiting for me there.
“Arvina!” he opened his arms to . . . What, hug me in greeting?
“I’m not Arvina,” I said, which stilled him. “She’s been dead these past—”
But how long had it been? I quickly calculated. Her Uncle Nihel (Alan Niger) had died in1098, and that was eight years before these memories she’d shared with me. Eight plus eight equalling sixteen means these memories must have dated to 1106. Besides, according to my friendly psychiatrist, Guillan had died in 1120, by which time Arvina must have been dead. Slain. Off-headed. Decapitated. Not something one survives, not even a fast-healing Bellinn.
“She’s been dead these past nine hundred years,” I said.
“Aye, Arvina, if you say.” Woden grinned at me like a Cheshire cat. “So, you’ve found a way to slip in to society. Found a new identity have you, forged the papers? How’d you do it convincingly? I know a whole lot of our kin who’d eagerly copy it.”
“I’m serious,” I said. “I am not Arvina. Do I look like Arvina?”
“Huh,” he said. “You think I’d know that? Do you remember us ever meeting? But I’ve had your description in all its fullness from Toggy. By the way, he sends his love, or he will once I tell him I’ve found you. Do you have any idea what he’s been going through? You don’t have to wave your nine hundred years at me. He’s been hunting every which place for you those same many years. All we knew was you’d disappeared, and everyone assumed it was with that illegal jerk Guillan.”
“And who’s fault is that?” I’d been trying to keep my voice down, being so close to the house, but now he’d annoyed me. “You’re the one who convinced Guillan his future life required Arvina to be his torch.”
“Er?” Woden stepped back—for which I was grateful. He had been crowding me. Though it could have been cos I was pointing the gand-stangir at him.
“You were his ‘rune-master’,” I said, aware how sharp my voice had become.
“I . . .” He held up his hands. “Nah, I . . .” He shook his head. “Nah, I . . . whoa, no, hold that thought there.”
Yea, like that thought was going anywhere.
He sucked on his lip. Thinking? But he wasn’t quick with it. I suppose nine hundred years of living does clutter the memory. “So is that what that Guillan says? That I was his rune-master?”
“Well weren’t you?” I didn’t want to say of seeing him while in that hypnotised trance-state.
He swayed his shoulders and wobbled his head like he was weighing up his answer—a trait probably copied from Loki in the Thor films. “Rune-master, aye, but not his. I . . .” He scraped his fingertips through his short-cropped hair. “Aye, yet I do remember casting the runes for him. Poor little runt, ten years old and just discovered how shitty this life. He’d wanted an end. Huh! Bellinn, born after the Oath, with another 3000 years to live. Hey, but he has only another 2000 years now.”
I shook my head. “But he hasn’t: he’s already dead. Died in 1120.”
Woden roared. “What, drowned along with those noble sons? Arvina, I know that’s the story but you of all people know that’s not true. It was already later than that when he stole you from Toggy.”
I jumped on that. “Then that proves what I’m saying. Since I didn’t know that, I can’t be your Arvina. Besides, look, no light—I’m not even one of your Bellinn.”
“Aye,” he grinned, “and I can do that. It’s no clever trick and not worth the effort since, anyway, the non-nocks can’t see it.”
We both clammed tight as a fellow patient, grey PJs, wine-red gown, squeezed past us.
“Look, can we move away from this door? I don’t know what’s happening here, but we need to talk. And that before I go see Toggy.”
“Third time you’ve mentioned that name. Who is he?”
“Ay-yi-yi, you’re not kidding me, are you. You are not Arvina. She would never ask that. Yet she’s not dead, can’t be. She came seeking me just two weeks ago. Was her that directed me here.”
“You’re right,” I said, “we do need to talk. But right now I gotta go in for my lunch.” I also wanted time to think about what he’d just said.
“Okay. Fine. This afternoon, huh? Soonest best. And away from this place.” He looked over his shoulder to the trees screening this side of the house. “I’ll meet you in the meadow beyond those trees.”
“You are right. In these clothes?” I held out my arms.
He leant in closer and whispered, “Haven’t you noticed? You’re living here in the twenty-first century. Give it two hours. And be there.”
Next episode, A Hailstorm in Summer