She freezes, iciness spreading within her. She’d thought never to hear that voice again. Where is he? And now she finds she can’t look round. Can’t move her head. Can only face front.
Her feet, her legs, no longer belong to her, unresponsive to her will. With the bolt of wool-bound silk clutched to her chest, whether she’d will it or not, those legs carry her out of the merchant’s hall. The merchant, Edward Byrd, calls a cheery Guðs friði! She goes to reply—and finds her voice is denied her as well. She tries to acknowledge with a raised hand. But no. Maybe Byrd will relate how oddly she’s behaving and say when the other Bellinn come to visit him—but the rest of that thought ebbs away.
The times she has been to this hall to find silks. The times her feet have known of their own volition to turn right on leaving. Yet now they turn left.
They walk her beneath the castle fence. She hears him following.
They walk her down the hill to the river. And still he is following.
They walk her on to a busy wharf, all strange to her: this isn’t a place she’d ever come. She hears his voice call out in greeting. But it’s not name she hears by return. They call him ‘Keneu’, and ‘Kenguethen’. One man there calls him ‘Le Falc-her’. She wants to think on this. She knows it means something important.
Her legs walk her along the wharf. She sees there a small cog, an Easterling’s ship. She reads its name—Catlouen—and knows somehow it connects with the names these wharfmen have called him. But she can’t get to what’s beneath it. Her legs walk her along the cog’s narrow gangplank and onto its deck. They turn her around, and that’s when she sees him.
He smiles though there’s neither humour nor pleasure in it. “Your . . . accommodation . . . awaits you.” He nods to a stout ladder that leads down to a door. The door stands open. Within she can see a bed, a chair and a table. But it’s dark in there. No windows. It’s a hold, though only partly beneath deck. The rest protrudes like a shepherd’s hut in the ship’s prow.
Still compelled by him, she steps down to the cabin. He closes the door. She hears a bar slot into place. For your protection, he tells her. So the crew don’t molest you.
And she breathes at last, for now he has relinquished his hold of her body and she can move again as she wishes. Yet all she does is to grope her way to the bed where she sits and she cries. For, aye, she can move but now what is there to do? The only thing left to her is to think.
. . .
Three—she thinks it’s three—days and nights in this cabin with only her thoughts for company. The sea has been rough, the weather stormy. She’s heard his barked orders; heard the creak of timbers and the crack and snap of the sails. She’s had to hold tight to the bed’s railings lest she be thrown from this refuge and battered against the bulkhead. But, some mercy, she has been ‘attended’.
A young boy comes with food—biscuits mostly, and apples. He collects her waste bucket. He is quite safe from her. She’s safe from him. There is no talk between them. He—Guillan—controls them both for the visit’s duration. She’s not even able to speak into his thoughts. Not able to thank him, nor to plead with him. Unable to ask him where they are headed. Her guess is to Brittany.
Now she’s had time—too much time—to think, she realises Guillan’s acquired names, Keneu/Kenguethen, are Breton. Both mean ‘young warrior’. His ship’s name, too, is Breton: Catlouen, Battle-joy. So that’s where he’s been since his supposed drowning. In Brittany. Though not at the ducal house, and not with her father’s kin. They’d know him. Yet there are many more princes in that land, all battle-eager, all seizing castles and lands. A mercenary would have no problem finding employment.
So, they’ll pull into . . . which port? She doesn’t know. But whichever it is, it’ll be west of her father’s kin’s lands. All she needs do is to run. RUN! Run ever eastward till she’s safe from his grasp and can find someone to help her return to her friends and her kin.
That’s the plan. But she needs be alert. She can’t allow his intrusive thoughts to gain control of her while she’s not looking, all unexpected, as before. She must raise a barrier, a solid curtain. She must block him before he can act. Aye, as soon as they dock, she’ll be alert!
. . .
Three, maybe four days and nights. The winds have slackened. The sea’s not so rough. It seems to be warmer. Oh, how blessed she is that she hasn’t contracted mal-de-mar.
He has come to her twice, now. Each time he immobilises her like he’s afraid she will attack him. He’s no big warrior, then. He immobilises her, then he rapes her. But so far only the twice. She prays to Hlæfdi, it’ll be no more. But what if he begets upon her? Toggy then won’t accept her. Is that why he does it: to ruin her? It’s not to make her love him. She hates him. She wishes him dead.
On deck there’s activity: feet running, men calling, wood creaking, sails . . . folding? Are they approaching a port? Then she must be ready. She must be alert. She must not allow his control again. She waits in a state like sitting on the sharpest of knives. She’s ready to make her dash as soon as the door opens.
But . . . No! It’s not him who opens it, it’s the young boy. To dash past him will fetch him in trouble. What to do now? But she’s up on her feet. She throws him aside. She mumbles apologies—but he must understand. And she’s up that ladder and onto the deck and . . .
Guillan’s arms close around her like an arc of iron. He allows her one brief look port-ward, then again takes control of her. She doesn’t know this place, but it doesn’t look Breton. She catches a name. Britsport. That’s English. Then have they not crossed the Channel, in all this time? And they’re not on the coast but a way upriver. The ship is moored, the ropes secured, everything tidy.
He calls his men to him. Only three? It seems they’re waiting now to go ashore, though in her brief glimpse she noticed few buildings beyond the one wharf. More-on, other than Guillan’s ship that wharf seems deserted.
He throws her down. She sprawls on the deck. Good! For now is her chance. But his control stays firm, no moment of waver.
She sees his hand come to rest atop his sword. Its scabbard isn’t the ornate thing he’d had from his father, the one she’d seen that day he rescued her from his father’s castle. This one is plain, neither gold, nor silver trim, no gem-stones studding. The sword within it, too, looks plain.
He draws it. He swings it. The young boy’s head flies into the air. She watches its flight, shocked at the seeing. It tumbles with a gurgling splash into the water off the steer-board side. She’s not alone in her horror as the boy’s headless trunk stands for a moment, spurting blood, before collapsing slowly onto the deck.
“Dump it. And clean it!” Guillan barks at the two remaining, now gawping, seamen.
She sees one glance to the wharf. Yet he turns back. He helps his companion to heave the boy’s body into what she guesses is the deep central run of the river. They fetch the buckets. They haul up water from off that side. They scrub the boards clean, as much compelled to work as she is to watch.
The deck now clean, the buckets bloody, the remaining crewmen make to heave the red water into the river. Instead, they find themselves toppled over the top-strake, knife wounds leaking red stains, to drown in that bloodied water. She doesn’t scream. Even were she not under compulsion she would not. She is too shocked for that.
. . .
And now he sits on the deck before her and reaches out for her hands. He takes them in his. A loving gesture? Perhaps he believes so.
“Let me repeat what once I told you. As the rune-master bid me, I cast the runes. I pulled Gyfu, Cen and Æsc. Gyfu—” he said, his tone not so loving “—for I was to be given a gift. Cen, for this gift would appear to me as a torch—a torch that would effect my transformation and make this horrid life worth living. And Æsc—for it was promised me, once transformed by my torch, that I would have mastery over the nine worlds. You remember me saying?”
Aye, she remembers, remembers too clearly that day. It was the start of her undoing.
“That rune-master called himself Gamal. But I knew his true name. I followed where that rune-master led me. I hung myself upon that same tree. But what do you care about my suffering? You remember that day?”
Him skipping between memories confuses her. She tries to find sense in them. But the only sense she can find is that Guillan is mad. She can deny it no longer.
“And I told you,” he continues, “that same day, that any that tried to hide you from me, those I would kill. And what happened next? Someone was hiding you!”
“Nah, nix!” she finds she can speak. Is he so absorbed in his phantasm he’s relaxing control of her? “That’s not how it was. You took me to sea, we would have gone to Brittany but for your father. No one hid me.”
“After. After, someone stole you from my keeping. I left you safe in the trust of my uncle’s bondsman. Yet someone found you and took you. But no mind, for I found that someone, and I killed her. Ha! Your kinswoman, Beraht. Anyway, she’d lived long enough; I ended her life—aye, just like Saint Johann—with her head on a plate!”
He finds it amusing, he laughs. She shudders, more nauseated by his treatment of her kinswoman than from watching the young boy’s unwarranted death. She hadn’t even known the old woman was dead, so long ago, no news reaching them, only that Eadkin had returned safely to Aldebur.
“A screen, that old woman cast over you with her runes. But a screen no more. Now there’s no more hiding you. So now you will be my torch.”
“Na, Guillan. I refuse it. Refuse any dealings with you.”
She’s onto her feet. Guillan, so taken with his madness, so intent on his gloating, has forgotten to keep his control of her.
She’s across that deck. There is no gangplank. She leaps the gap to the wharf, and she runs. Runs and runs and runs. Eastward, she must run eastwards, though she’s forgotten why. She gives no thought to where she might be. She runs.
. . .
Night closes around her, sealing her into the dark of a woodland. In her panic, she has blundered into a trackless place. Now she is lost. Which way to go?
She forces her Bellinn light to bloom. But it’s weak and barely touches the trees. Besides, blue-green, an eerie light that’s no aid to her sight. Yet she must find a way out.
Every slight noise slams and rattles her. Hush, be calm, she tells herself, these aren’t ghouls, their hands, their faces. She remembers that night Hrafn led her and her mother through Oddessey deer-garth, how her mother had mocked her for these same silly fears. And those noises are only forest-folk about their business, scuttling through the undergrowth: badgers, shrews, foxes, weasels. That helps still her fear. That helps calm her breathing.
She peers into what light she is casting—and too late she senses someone behind her.
There’s no feel to the sword’s swipe. There’s only a cold draught as of wind.
The world tumbles around her. Ground above, ground below.
Trees . . . trees, but where are the leaves?
Over, under, sideways on, everything tumbling. Till with a dull thud her head hits land. She has found the leaves. Sharp and dry, they drive into her bloodless cheek. Beside her, she sees her body—absent her head—her neck oozing with blood, blood that is wasted, for she is dead.
Next episode, Ground Rules