That night, after our talk, Arvina reeled out another of her memories. A continuation of her failed elopement with Guillan. This time she prefaced it.
I was a fool to go off with Guillan. I didn’t need his father to tell me that. And I was glad when the sheriff found us. Glad-hearted to be aboard the king’s ship. But that didn’t last long.
Wow, that was the most she’d ever said direct in my head. Perhaps cos by then I was bordering on sleep.
The sheriff’s men took me to the king’s own cabin. For a moment I rejoiced at the comfort. Till I heard a wood-and-iron groan: they’d fixed a bar across the door. What a fool, to think myself rescued by him. And I heard his thoughts: berating himself for not having realised what I was. One of her kind, akin to his treacherous, gold-grabbing Vyvain.
. . .
Arvina, a slip of a thing, it’s no effort for the sheriff’s men to offload her, ashore. They surround her, a guard of armed men. She sees nothing of Guillan. She hopes his father has meted out suitable punishment—maybe left him at sea to bob about in his unseaworthy boat.
The men heft her into a cart. It could be worse: at least it was last used for hay; it could’ve been night-soil.
The journey is long, and not once do they leave her alone, not even when she’s off to do her business. They don’t talk to her, either. Yet they do feed her. She gets into their thoughts; she tries to get their destination. Though the sheriff had been using the king’s own ship, she’s no traitor, she’s done no wrong; it’s unlikely she’ll be taken before King Henry. Though she could almost wish it. King Henry’s wife and Arvina’s mother had been together in that nunnery; they’d even been friends. If taken to him, the king soon would sort it. But that’s not where the sheriff is taking her.
She tries to coerce her guards to look the wrong way while she runs. But two together she can control, not all nine. She risks it the once. And for her troubles she’s thrown down roughly, her skirts thrown up, the guard loosening his breeks.
“Hey! Don’t!” a fellow-guards stops him. “She has powerful kin.”
On reaching London they cart her down to the docks. There she’s loaded aboard another ship and again locked into a cabin. Another search of heads tells her they’re bound for Gernemuth. She tries to sleep. What else is there for her? Yet she has to be ready when they reach Gernemuth. From Gernemuth she’s sure she can make her way home—if she can escape her guards.
But even while planning, a thought hits and sickens her; it shakes her with horror. What’s the first place the sheriff will look for her? And already he’s all hoots and scowls for the ‘apostate nun’, her mother. But if not to her family, where can she run? Where to hide away from the sheriff, and away Guillan?
The ship doesn’t dock at Gernemuth but continues up river to Norwich. There, mindless hands shove her head into a black hood, and draw it tight about her. They leave her a glimmer of light. Her hands bound behind her, she’s hauled onto deck . . . and led through the town
She hears the thoughts and comments of watchers passed. Who is she? Is she a traitor? Is Bigod taking her up to his castle? Why is she hidden, has she the Devil’s beauty? She’ll be another like Vyvain. Aye, and he’s got himself a proper wife now. Haps she’s to serve as his concubine.
She wishes she’d not heard half of that. But it’s now in her head and it won’t go away. What if he . . .? Hlæfdi, Hlæfdi, please not! At least, as yet, apart from the one guard, no one has abused her, not in that way. But, Vyvain? That’s the second time she’s heard that name around him. His first wife? Guillan’s mother? A Bellinn, then, to be like Arvina.
Distance and time passes in thinking. In the dark of the hood she’s hardly aware of where she is walking. Then . . .
Earth gives to flagstone.
Noises confuse her. Metal grates hard.
There is heat, overwhelming. Smells, stomach turning. A cold hand on her arm guides her down what seems a stone stairway. The smells are increasingly foul.
Then the heat shrinks to nothing. She hears water dripping.
She’s pushed. She stumbles. Something hard—the ground—slams her. No one attends her, metal grating on stone behind her.
At what stage of this journey might she have escaped? Too many to guard her, always watching. How wondrous to have these Bellinn powers, to hear thoughts, to mould them, redirect and coerce them. Yet to no effect when the guards number too many. And where might she hide, ever that question. If she escaped, where could she go without bringing retribution upon those who hid her? And so here she is, in Sheriff Bigod’s castle in Norwich. His to do with as he pleases.
If she so befouls herself, she wonders, will he be so disgusted he’ll then send her away without the touching? For though she hasn’t found it in his thoughts she has no doubt he intends to use her in the same way as his son. A maiden she left Beraht’s care. She’s a maiden no more.
. . .
You want to know of incarceration? Arvina whispered softly inside my head. Incarceration has been my life. Aye, Guillan stole me from that donjon—but you know that. Stole me and hid me with his uncle’s bondsmen at Fornesett. But he did things to my head. He altered my thoughts so it seemed that I loved him—so I’d not run away.
Yet, I remarked, you did run.
He had been too long in his coming. His coercion was weakening. I . . . didn’t know where, I had no plan. I only knew that I must get away. I never thought where I was going. I was going home, is all. As well, it was, that my mother found me.
And that was the last you saw of Guillan? I asked her. Till that time in Norwich?
She sighed, a susurration inside my head, so wearied by all that had happened to her. Wearied with her regrets.
Nah, she said. I saw him again before that. I had gone with Toggy—when Ragen Jarl said he must leave Tree Brunna. I’d have gone anyway. I could not bear to be near to Vyvain. I knew who she was. I feared one day I’d tell her about her abandoned son. I’d shame her in front of the other Bellinn—for the Bellinn care deeply for their begots. And there was she, a second nock; what was I? She’d have chewed me. Destroyed me. Ensured I’d ever regret the meeting.
I realised now I was fully awake. Hells, I wasn’t even in bed but was standing by the window, the blinds part-open, looking out at the grass. I suppose she was looking for Toggy. Or did she fear Guillan might find her again?
We went to Zelina’s Eldsland. In Yorkshire. But we weren’t long there. I was kin to Zelina and Atall; they knew me from my father’s hall, yet . . . I was born after the Oath. They said I was accursed. And seeing my life, the many lives part-lived, most killed because of me. I do believe it.
“So where did you go after that?” I asked. “Where was it that Guillan found you?”
Did I say he found us? Nah, we saw him. We hid. Toggy—Guillan’s uncle, that amuses—cast a screen around us till he was gone. It was in York. Guillan was asking after me. He didn’t know about Toggy. But he found nothing to help him there. Until then we had far stayed away from that town.
Now thoroughly woken, I’d no desire to return to that hard hospital bed. I moved the chair close to the window and sat there instead, allowing her to look out. It seemed to please her.
My life—so many lives—trapped in prisons of many makings. Donjons. Asylums. Gaols, and attics. Down pits where those who’d thrown me knew I must die. But those were prisons of man’s own makings. And you in your twenty-first century complain of this place of respite?
Okay, so I knew that was petty of me. ‘Oh dear, what can I do, I haven’t my own gear, I’ve only these slippers, I haven’t my shoes.’ But I had freedom—at least enough to roam the grounds; enough to come and go as I pleased. No locked doors. No dark dungeons. No manacles. No pay-per-view sessions of public ridicule.
You think I don’t want to be free of your body? she asked, Arwen, it’s a cage for me, as much a prison as Bigod’s castle—more so, since with Guillan’s help I escaped from there. I want a full Bellinn body, Arwen; I want to be free. I want to feel the dewed grass beneath my feet, breathe in the fresh morning air. I want to trip and fall and feel the sting where I’ve grazed my knees. I want to taste the food, be refreshed by the drink. And, aye, I want to feel Toggy’s arms around me. I want to feel his lips when he kisses. But I can’t. ‘Cause I’m stuck inside you. And you are merely the latest prison amongst many.
My eyes were leaky. I finger-dried them. I wanted to throw my arms around her. But how could I when she was within me.
“There must be some way to free you, some way to find you a Bellinn body. We of the twenty-first century have a saying. Never say die.”
Next episode, Pried from Prison