“It’s not so difficult,” said Gamal. “You just walk round to the front. Get into the car. We’ll be waiting, engines running. Vroom, gone.”
“I need clothes,” I said. We were again down by the meadow, sitting in our cosy circle, just the three/four of us. Up till then Arvina had been unusually quiet. And Toggy had made no move to grope her. I probably had Gamal to thank for that.
But now she spoke up. “She’s petty, I have told her. We can escape no matter our clothing; this is the twenty-first century.”
“Sure,” I said, reclaiming my speech faculty. “Like, no one would notice when I got into the car in my PJs? And I need to let Madeleine know, so she can tell my parents. I won’t have them worrying about me.”
Toggy laughed. “Hi, Mum, I don’t want you to worry but I’m running away with a couple of—of what? I suppose she doesn’t know about Bellinn?”
“Elves,” I said.
“Of course, slow thinking,” said Gamal. “Your parents are witches; they’d know about elves.”
“I’m not sure about that,” I said, unable to help the dubious face pulled. “But my mother is totally into Tolkien. Where’d you think they got the name Arwen?”
Gamal mockingly slapped his wrist. “Should not assume. How many times must we tell you. But, Arwen, I do admit, I did assume it to be Arvina’s doing.”
Maybe it was, though if so she wasn’t admitting it. I thought also of my mother’s fertility treatment, perhaps that could be laid at her feet. Odd, the timing of that. Pushed through in the final years of Aunt Eddy’s life. To allow Arvina to skip from one body to another? It was Aunt Eddy who’d had dementia praecox, which I now had learned was an earlier name for schizophrenia.
Seriousness regained, Gamal agreed, “Of course you must let your parents know where you are. We don’t want them worrying, unnecessarily.”
“Like disappearing off with a couple of weirdos isn’t enough to worry them?” Toggy persisted. “Will you also be telling them we’re off to hunt the Axeman?”
“Now I like that,” Gamal said, a finger pointing at an invisible word. “Aye, Axeman. ‘Cause that’s where we think Guillan will be—somewhere in the region of Axmouth. The Lyme Bay murders . . . Sorry. Riffing. I get carried away. So, have you thought how you want to do this—the contact? By phone? By letter? By—”
“By postcard, once we get there?” Toggy pushed it.
“Best would be email,” I said. “I guess I can do that from wherever’s the nearest library.” At which point I finally thought to ask—I mean, how long had I been here at Green Haven: “What’s the nearest town?”
“Town?” Gamal weaved his head, doing his Loki impression. “Stratton, I guess. Don’t you know where you are? At all? You’re at Forncett—as in Fornesetta, one-time manor of William Bigod, brother to the troublesome Roger.”
I sat back, expecting a reaction from Arvina. But she stayed silent within me. Yet that did explain her vigilance; I’d lay money she’d known it all along.
“Wow!” I eventually said. And again, “Wow!”
“Are you alright?” Gamal asked, a hand to touch mine. “You’ve gone quite white.”
“Yea. I’m . . . good. But it bothers me why you’re helping me—helping us.” Was it just to do a good deed for his friend?
“Quick answer? ‘Cause I’m a rune-master, and it’s beholden to me to set right an error made nine hundred years back. You’ve been reading that book, you know about balance, the Fire and the Ice, of Chaos and Order. Well, in failing young Guillan I upset that balance, and so his killing continues. What is it, nine victims now? But that’s only those that we know of. Who knows how many more just haven’t been found. He has to be stopped. And Arvina has to be given a Bellinn body. And you’ve to be freed to live your own life. Is that enough reason to help?”
I nodded. And perhaps I grinned cos he’d just shown me why I was right to trust and to like him.
“Now,” I said, to set us back on track, “I need clothes. But keep it simple, yea. I can always get more once I’m away from here.”
Though what I’d use for money? I was guessing my two gallant heroes had some fluid funds. They were talking of cars and stuff. And neither looked to be exactly on the streets, homeless and starving. But until now we’d had no need to talk of money.
“Leave everything to us,” Gamal said. “Clothes. Shoes. Here, and I mean right here. Tomorrow morning. 5:00 am. Yep?”
“But that’s too early,” I said. “A car sat out front will draw attention.”
Gamal shook his head. “Will not, I promise you. To all but you it’ll be invisible.”
I may have harrumphed.
. . .
I couldn’t sleept, though I had to pretend it. If the duty nurse saw me awake she’d jab me full of her nasty sedatives. But in not sleeping, my head filled with every imaginable worry of what could go wrong. It was Arvina who repeatedly calmed me.
No, Arwen, we won’t be seen leaving. 5:00 am is when they all take their tea-break—in a canteen at the other side of the building.
“How’d you know that?”
Because while you’re a sleep I often prowl.
“You knew this was Fornesetta, didn’t you,” I accused.
I . . . nah. Or . . . maybe. It had a familiar feel, and a feel of him. But it could have been several other places. Felebruge. Pritesport.
Midnight struck. I gave up the pretence of sleeping and sat in the chair. I watched the clock. But even its second-hand seemed slow in its sweeping. Then . . .
I up-slapped my head. “Duh! Pinhead, what was I thinking? I can’t email Madeleine from the library. I’ll need my library pin number and stuff to log-in, and it’s all on my phone. Besides,” I now realised, “five a.m., it won’t even be open. We can’t hang around four hours in waiting. Shit, shit, and treble shit. I’ll have to connect via a phone.” I could think of no other way for it.
You want me go walkabouts; see what I can find? The staff room might—
“No!” I wrest control from Arvina. “No, you can’t do that, not take someone’s phone. That’s . . . And anyway, if Madeleine phones back, that’s the staff alerted and . . . No, we’ll have to buy one. Oh, I suppose that’s not so bad. I can stock up on clothes at the same time. I mean, we’re gonna be away for more than a day. I’m gonna need more than whatever Gamal brings with him. Knickers and things.”
. . .
I may have nodded off for a while. When I came to I was still in the chair but the clock now showed quarter-to-five. At last, it was time to move.
Bladder emptied. Quick wash with toiletries kindly provided by Green Haven. They’d probably been added to the bill, so basically they were mine. They came in a green vinyl sponge bag. I took the lot.
Sponge bag dangling from my wrist, slippers kinda firmly affixed, my two runes’ books and the gand-stangir tucked under arm, I sauntered, nonchalantly, along to the side door, heart furiously beating.
Yikes! What if the door was locked?
I could feel the sweat breaking. At this rate I’d need to shower again before I got into the car. The car! I’d not heard the crunch of wheels on gravel. Now I scarcely could breathe through my panic.
I tried the door. Yes! Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes! I thank you, Hlæfdi—I think that’s the name Arvina had used for the Lady. Hey, Mum, seems I’m coming round to your religion.
And out of the door and across the gravel, and try not to run, you’ll make too much noise. And still I hadn’t heard the crunch of wheels. And picking my way through the trees. A path already beginning to form from my back-and-forth trekking. And off to the right, and slight down the hill, and . . . There!
Though it wasn’t as I’d expected, a neat pile of clothes. It was a backpack. Largish. Roomy. Eagerly I fished in it. Trainers! Yes! Good old Gamal. And . . . oh, restrained disappointment. A track suit. I mean, a bloody track suit. Black, pink flashes. Not exactly my usual wear. But I supposed it better than those drab PJs. And undies! He’d thought to get me undies. Ah, but how did he know my size?
I think you will find it was Toggy got these, Arvina said smugly. He knows my body, the size of everything.
Yea, I’m sure that he did. But this wasn’t a conversation I wanted at this hour of the morning.
Everything fitted—or rather, nothing pinched and nothing bagged, though this wasn’t a look that I would have gone for. I stuffed the toiletries, books and the gand-stangir into the bag and rammed the PJs on top. No need to let the staff know I wasn’t wearing them. They’d be included in any description they gave of me. To the police? Would they notify the police? Would we have cop-cars blah-blah-blahing behind us? Would we career off the road, skid over the edge and down a steep gulley while trying to outrun them?
Too much movies, Arvina jibed at me.
I kept to the meadow side of the trees until level with the front of the house. Then my heart lurched and fell into my feet.
Where was the car?
But Gamal had said . . .
Damn and blast and shit and fuck! Now I didn’t know what to do?
Next episode, Five Hours