Where was the car? Gamal had promised, so sure he’d be there, even mocking my panics. Besides, this wasn’t making sense. The bag was there, and freshly dumped, not dew-speckled along with the grass. Shit! The dew. I looked back. And there were my tracks, clear as if made with fluorescent paint. But, no, wait. There was more than my small-footed set. I turned back, again to look at the driveway as it passed the front of Green Haven House.
Ha! See! The car is there. Phew!
“Let’s go!” I forgot for the moment that Arvina was inside me.
. . .
We stopped en route to the South at a 24/7 supermarket. I was glad—if surprised—to see Gamal was wearing regular clothes, as in jeans and a green and blue quartered rugby shirt.
“But of course. What’s more guaranteed to get us noticed than a girl with red hair and a man in a black frock? Oh, drat!” He up-slapped his head. “I forgot to bring you that hat. Nah, only teasing.”
Now he’d mentioned it I pondered on buying a hat—while sorting a phone plus some clothes more to my liking (as in seven pairs of black leggings, three short pleated skirts, seven strappy tops—Mum wouldn’t approve but what the hell—undies (of course, and PJs more dabby than like those issued by Green Haven, like with definable colourful. While choosing those I had to mentally slap back Arvina’s desire for a silky shorts-and-cami set. We didn’t yet know what the sleeping arrangements would be. Oh, and I saw this awesome belt that I just had to have, reeking of heavy-metal. For once in my life I was really gonna look the biz.
Meanwhile, Gamal and Toggy stocked on food. Fruit mostly, and bottles of water. Hey, where was the muesli I’d asked for for breakfast? Without batting a lid Gamal flashed the plastic.
“Don’t worry about it,” Toggy said—his excuse to sidle up to me. “He’s loaded. Bought that car just for this trip.”
“Aye,” Gamal said, transaction completed. “But I hadn’t the choice. I couldn’t take the fourby’, not for a week. What would Kyrri and Tora use for their shopping?”
Back in the car—a rather plush Audi—I asked Gamal about where he’d been living. All his visits, I took it he lived near to Green Haven.
“Nah,” he said. “Way way away. Well, easy drive distance. Near Cambridge. Bissen Hall. An old Georgian building—like Green Haven House; all elegant. Invisible from the road, totally hidden behind a screening business. Chicken farm. Our numbers vary, but mostly we’re a close coven of thirteen, all Zemowit’s gets. But all kinsfolk, the tensions can rise. And between Bellinn that can get nasty. Hence, every so often I like to get out.”
That left a hollow silence between us that felt uncomfortable. Things left unsaid?
“What about you, Toggy?” I asked. “Are you still at Tree Brunna?”
“Ah, she’s told you of that, huh?”
“She’s shown me. At least, of how you first met.”
He laughed. “Aye, I fell atop of her.” He seemed to drift with his thoughts. Then added dreamily, “Fell totally for her. Shame she’s stuck in your body and you don’t like me,”
“It’s not I don’t like you, Toggy. Just—”
“Just you climb all over her and she doesn’t like it,” Gamal supplied, a glance round at me when he should have been watching the road. Well, maybe Bellinn don’t need to?
“Anyway,” Toggy said, “I keep meaning to ask but I’m always out-spoken—”
“No comment there,” said Gamal.
“No, I mean, someone always cut in before I can say. But, Arwen, what exactly is that wand-thing you sometimes carry?”
“That,” Arvina took charge of my mouth, “is my rune-rod. And don’t you dare touch it. None of you. I thought I’d lost it. That moody scum-bag of a cousin, that Ulfkin, stole it from me. And Nihel had carved it particularly to protect me. If that oaf hadn’t taken it . . .”
“So how came you to find it again?” Gamal asked, a glance at me—or was it at her?
“Arwen found it. Failans Farm, you know, it’s my kinsland. I thought you knew that.”
After that we lapsed into silence. We had 270 miles to cover, which ought to take about 5 hours if we made good time. But with these aching silences it would probably feel like ten times longer. I played with my new phone, figuring it before I finally configured it. Then I hit the net, on to Google, onto Gmail, and emailed Madeleine with my message. I’d been thinking how much to tell her. Though tapping it out while swinging around a series of roundabouts determined the length of it. Short.
Left Green Haven this morning. Not discharged. Walked out. No, not nuts. Arvina wants to go to where she was killed. Don’t worry, I’m in company with 2 responsible adults (not G.H. inmates). Will you tell Mum so she won’t worry? Contact you later.
I added a grin emoticon.
. . .
An indeterminate time later . . .
I know that wasn’t polite of me but with the constant soft movement, and nothing but motorway scenery—and I hadn’t slept much the previous night—I’d kinda dozed off and woke to find myself enfolded into Toggy’s arms. I sat up and put distance between us. Fast.
“Told you,” Gamal said, looking at us in the rear-view mirror.
“I didn’t mean to offend,” I said. “It’s not that you gross me out or anything, but . . .” How do you tell a guy he’s just not your type? But then, what was my type? That guy at the Coop checkout?
Gamal, Arvina suggested.
Shut up! If she weren’t within me I’d have thumped her.
Arwen’s in love, Arvina gave it in sing-song fashion
I am not so.
You are so.
I just like him, is all.
Aye, that’s why you get all gooey at his slightest touch.
I do not. And when has he ever touched me?
Plenty times. I might be insensitive to heat and pain and touch but I am not blind; I’ve seen it.
“That’s odd,” I said, thinking out loud.
“What’s that?” asked Gamal.
“What Arvina just said.” No, whoa, hold. I’d suddenly realised, Gamal could hear everything going on in my head.
Na-na-na-no. Not enough no’s in the world to deny that before sense percolated through. Like, he could, if he wanted, hear everything I thought. But right now, he was driving and I doubt he had time to earwig on me. Besides, if he’d been earwigging he’d have known what I meant by ‘odd’.
“Arvina’s in my body, yea?” I said, continuing that thought of oddness. “She can move my feet. She can use my mouth. She’s like a puppeteer. But what she can’t do is to feel while I’m feeling. Heat. Pain—remember those thistles?—Touch. It’s like . . . it’s like it’s not a two-way thing. She can broadcast but she can’t receive.”
“Except she can hear,” Toggy said.
“But can she? Or is it just that she hears my thoughts—along with every other person’s. That’s what caused the alert to my ‘problem’: it’s chuffing distracting to hear everyone’s thoughts. But does she hear the thoughts, and not the words—like, spoken words?”
“Have you tried asking her?” said Gamal.
“I’ve only just thought of it.”
“Aye,” Arvina hijacked my mouth, “you might try speaking directly to me— it’s not like I’m not here.”
“Soz,” I said. “I never know . . . but, well, do you? I mean, hear only the thoughts? Or do you hear the spoken word?”
“And I would know?” she said.
“You want to watch that,” Toggy said, with an elbow dug into my ribs. “First sign of madness, to talk to yourself.”
“Second sign is answering,” Gamal added.
“Cheers,” I said.
“Hey, Arvina,” Gamal called over his shoulder. “Did you hear that advert just now, on the radio? The one before this one? What was it about, d’you know?”
I thought that a tough question. Like, we were talking, not listening to the crazy ads, even if that previous ad was one of those annoying ones that get into your head. But right now, inside my head . . . whoa! Talk of confusion. I thought any moment my head might explode.
“Hmm,” Gamal said when neither Arvina nor I answered. “I take that as negative. And that is extremely interesting. Requires pondering time does that one. I think we may have stumbled on a clue to the reality of the Bellinn-human symbiosis.”
Not long after, despite it was only midday, Gamal pulled the car onto a motel forecourt and sent Toggy in to book us a room. Two rooms.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Dorchester,” Gamal said. “That’s close enough for now. So, right, order of the day. One—”
“To dive into that room so I can get changed,” I said. “Nice gear you provided, Gamal, I’m not complaining, but it’s not exactly me.”
“Right, order of the day,” he repeated. “After we’ve waited for Arwen to don her new togs. One: Find us food. Hot, nourishing, good for us food. Two: Find us a wood-yard—”
“Eh?” I didn’t get that.
“Wood-shavings. Time to do rune cast. Three: Retire to our room and do aforementioned cast. Four: Depending on outcome—nah, we’ll do it anyway. A foray into Rune-world. Let’s see if we can get a fix on this fella, the poor unfortunate that’s carrying Guillan.”
“He’s a comedian,” I said.
“Really? What makes you say that?”
“That time in the Rune-world, I heard laughter. And it seemed to be associated with Guillan. That is, if Guillan is Lagu, sea-water, yea—if they should venture out on an unsteady ship—” I part-quoted from my book.
“—and the sea-waves frighten them very much. I knew you were ready for this,” Gamal nodded, self-congratulatory. “And Guillan’s host is Monn—I saw that much. But the laughter? But of course: Man is in his mirth dear to his kinsman, although each shall . . . each shall depart from the other. I think we might have us a clue. Though as yet it’s as impenetrable as a pitch-painted wall. Come, this saga began with a rune cast; let’s see if it’ll end with one, too.”
Next episode, A Sacred Enclosure