Gamal again was in a black dress, though not the same one. This looked newer. He sat opposite me at a table kindly provided by the management. I think Toggy might have used coercion; coercion too brought us the chairs. Gamal held out his hand to me. I withdrew mine.
“It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “Only blunt blades hurt.”
“Time for a shower and freshen up,” Toggy said, though neither Gamal nor I turned to see him. “I’ll see you folks later. If I can find you through this fug.” I was vaguely aware of the door closing behind him.
Again, Gamal held out his hand to me. I took a deep breath (Toggy had been right of the fug; penalty of using cheap incense) and laid mine in his.
“Actually,” he said, “I only need the index finger. The pointy one. It forms a line direct from the mind.”
“Why’d you need my blood anyway? You’re not casting runes for me. Are you?” Only, this was to do with our hunt for the Axeman and what had he to do with me.
“Me, Bellinn, you, human,” he said. “Me, the past, old, You, the present, new. Me, the master; you, the pupil. Me, the shaft of Dæg. You the Sacred Ring, Ethel. Or more simply put: me, male; you, female. Opposites, Arwen. Their joining produces the most powerful of forces. Do it right and it can even create life.”
While I was still trying to think up a witty retort he’d sliced my finger. He positioned it over the expectant silver chalice, bought especially for this.
“You’re right,” I said. “It didn’t hurt.”
“But we’d best keep it nice and clean, hey.” Having collected enough blood, he wrapped my finger in an Elastoplast strip, and set about his own donation of blood. I watched them mix in the cup.
“You okay?” he asked. “It’s not as much as a blood donor gives.”
“Nah, I’m good. So, next you use the blood to paint the runes on the wood-slips, yea?”
“You’ve seen this done before,” he said.
“Arvina showed me—Beraht cast the runes for her.”
I watched in absorbed fascination as he painted the runes. Now I’d read more of that book, I understood more of the process.
“Now, both of us must to call on the gods. You got a god? If not, I’ve got several, you can have one of mine.”
Was he teasing? He’d got such a weird sense of humour, I couldn’t tell. But, anyway, I’d already decided on my god—or goddess. I would call on Hlæfdi.
“Then call upon your god, and ask that we have a true cast.”
I did as bid, first apologising to Hlæfdi for the cheap incense, but it was the best we could find in town. I knew it wasn’t authentic; it was nothing as good as the stuff my mother used. Then I asked that Hlæfdi give us a true cast, and that she would guide us.
Gamal removed the chalice and the runes and spread a white linen cloth in their place. Then, just as Beraht had done, he threw the entire 33 rune-chips straight up in the air. They landed, some down-facing, some up. He cleared away those facing up.
“My hand to pick them, my god to guide me,” Gamal said.
I was happy with that. I wouldn’t want to abort the cast by misguided picking.
Gamal’s fingers went directly to a rune-chip, no hesitation. He turned it. Ing.
I ran through in my mind what I knew about Ing; the name, not the rune. Though could they really be separated? Probably not. Ing, ancestral god of the East Danes. Ing, whose shaft echoed that of Yggdrasil. But while Ygg-drasil threaded the nine worlds, Ing-drasil threaded only this world. In Nordic terms, Middle Earth. But as the rune in this cast? Ing was the past, transformed and brought into the present.
Gamal glanced up at me and smiled. “A good beginning; bodes well: Ing confirms it a true casting. Second rune. What’s now to happen?”
Again, Gamal’s fingers went direct to a rune-chip. Without hesitation, he turned it over. The second rune: Feoh.
I had read what the book said of Feoh. Cattle. Wealth. But I thought of it rather as that force which binds society together, be it coinage, trade, a common religion, a shared language, or a shared sense of ethnicity. But, then, in the Nordic tradition Feoh is also the gift of three gods, Frigg, Freyja and Freyr. That is, the power of the seer. I wondered how that would relate here.
From death shall come life, from darkness, light, I heard the words, quoted by Gamal, in my head. And he added: As the Bellinn transforms from the past life to the next, so shall he gain wisdom and foresight.
Though he’d been the one to say it, yet he looked at me, apparently as equally puzzled as I was. He moved his head in that either/or, weighing it kind of way that made me think of Loki in the Thor films. “We shall see. And the outcome?”
Again, his fingers moved, seemingly of their own volition—or maybe at the direction of whomever his god. He turned up the third rune-chip.
It was exactly as I’d been expecting, though I don’t know why I’d expected it. Peordh. Usually named the Lot Cup, from which the runes were traditionally thrown in an ancient Germanic kind of lottery. But here I thought it referred to the Well of Wyrd. The Well of Urdhr.
“That which has turned,” Gamal quoted.
“And in turning, has brought the past into the present?”
On that he agreed. “And there is no doubt, this is a true cast.”
“But its meaning?”
He repeated his waggling Loki-head. “Whatever its more obvious reading, that first is discarded. The truth can never be skimmed off the surface. The truth lies deeper. Aye, sometimes we must hang on the tree for nine nights before we can see it. And sometimes we’ll be riding along when it hits us, Slap! Like an arrow out of the blue. We must put it out of our minds for now. And to help us do that . . .”
He gathered the rune-chips. He fished in the pouch he wore at his belt and pulled out a lighter. He ushered me out of the door, and across the car park to its far side. There he made a mini-pyre to cremate our used runes.
“Now,” he said. “Rune-world.”
. . .
I sit enfolded in Gamal’s arms, he holding my hands, his heart, I can feel, hot and pounding against me . . . I need nothing other. The bed beneath us becomes a cloud.
Through that cloud, erect and reaching up towards the stars, thrusts as a shaft.
And my body, dissolving, reforming, encircles that shaft, nine times over. Gold, and spinning—like rings on a fairground hoopla stall. I win!
Oh, in that ecstasy so easy to forget why we’re here.
Water. Lagu. The sea.
Beneath me the sea susurrates on the shingle shore. Boats adrift, absent masters, all a’bobbing. A river, I see, and along it a harbour—a protected haven, surrounded by ring after ring of tall trees.
I see a grave cut into cold earth. I see the grave-digger. I see the man who orders the job done. Black-hatted, long faced, sombre and grim. I see . . . but why now do I see a monastery? A man knocks at its door. The rags of the grave scarcely cling to him. He’s invited within.
This isn’t the Rune-world as I saw it before.
Around me I see the runes are forming/dissolving cyclically. And writing—aye, writing. Yet I see only one word. Gyfu. The word, four letters, one rune, forms into a circle. And I see that circle is me. Become as the Gift-word, my Rune-self spins around a shaft. But that shaft, too, has changed. Now longer is Ing-drasil, it now is Ear, the grave-maker, the shovel, the spade. What does it all mean?
And the sea surges in and washes away . . . everything. Naught there now but the shingle endlessly sussurating like the asthmatic gasp of the waves.
Next episode, Sweeping Cobwebs