“Holiday camp,” Gamal said, “Dear ancient Fearn said the gravedigger’s now a comedian.”
“Implies the coast,” I said.
He looked at the map again. “That’s a bummer; not a coast road.”
“So what’s that?” I followed with my finger the snaking browny-yellowy line.
I looked at him.
“Aye, that’s a road,” he agreed, “—if you’d call it that; a tiddler.”
“That, from you, who lived when roads were nothing more than muddy streams?”
“Factoid. Not true. A medieval urban myth,” he said. “So, a holiday camp in this area here?” He drew an invisible ring just west of the Axe.
I grunted. “The real holiday centre is farther west. But, if the police are focused on the Axe valley . . .” I shrugged.
“If the police are, then so should we, is that what you’re saying?”
I wasn’t sure but I grunted and nodded. I had an edgy kind of feeling, like I’d rather not be here.
Toggy leaned over our shoulder. Budleigh. Sidmouth. Branscombe. Frayingwell. Beer,” he reeled off a few placenames.
“Whoa,” Gamal said. “Frayingwell, that’s it. Fray. Ing. Well. But . . . nah, it couldn’t be. Could it? It’s too easy.”
“Hey,” I said, “you’re the rune-master, not me. But yea, Ing, and Peordh—the well of the Norns, fate, destiny, as a lottery. Though I’m not sure of the ‘Fray’.”
“Frea,” he said. “It’s another name for the god Ingui.”
“And look,” I pointed. “There’s a caravan symbol, as in a holiday camp.”
“So, let’s go for a drive-about. See what we see.”
“A-ha,” Toggy shook his head at us. “First let’s find us a place for the night. You know, height of the holiday season. Prime tourist area. We could find everywhere full.”
“Aye, you’ve a point,” Gamal nodded agreement. “Except the motels won’t be full. I mean, there’s always space at a motel. ‘Yer average bucket-and-spade brigade, yer know, they don’t go there.’”
“Even so,” I said, “I think we would be wise to book-in first.”
“Oh, and now the pupil is telling the master what’s wise?”
“Sorry, Woden,” I said. “Just this once, eh.”
. . .
As it happened, we didn’t need a motel. Instead, we found a double and a single in a guest-house perched high on the cliff just west of Frayingwell. It couldn’t have been better placed. On the edge of town; restaurants, cafes, takeaways, touristy novelty shops that sold . . . swords.
“I want one. That one,” Arvina said, pointing to the weapons display in ,the shop window, all-but jumping up and down.
Hey, Wayfarer, I warned her, calm it.
“But I want it,” she said—courtesy of my mouth. “I must have it. I’m going to have that feaking bastard’s head on a plate—never mind what he did to me, this will be payment for Beraht.”
“Calm,” Gamal told her. “Several reasons why that’s not going to happen. One: That sword is for show. It’ll be blunt as Sif’s Old Knickers. And don’t look to me and Toggy to sharpen it. It would take us too long. Two: You kill him, it’s you the police will lock up for a lifetime—you, and Arwen. You might think about that. Three: Though we all understand your desire for revenge, killing him wouldn’t be the end of it, and you know it will. He, like you, would simply find a new—”
“Wheel. Vehicle,” I said before he could say ‘host’.
“A new vehicle,” he took my prompt, “and there we begin all over again when in, say, twenty years’ time there are girls go missing again and we’ll have to hunt him. So, you are going to stay your hand, Arvina —though I’ll turn a blind eye to a hard kick in the nuts. Instead, I’ve a plan for how we can handle it. It began with a rune casting, it shall end with one.”
There, so that was her told. I thought no more about it. Gear dumped in our rooms, bellies sated on cod and chips—Gamal tutted cos all that batter and chips weren’t healthy—we resumed the hunt. How many holiday camps could this place support? The resort wasn’t that big, squeezed between the sea and the rising hills. We covered it on foot; took less than an afternoon. Most of the camps were just places to park up a tourer though some rented out statics by the week. All were caravans, none were chalets. We looked for clubhouses. Most didn’t have one. Three did.
We sauntered along like we belonged on site, eyes and minds trebly sharp on the lookout for Guillan-cum-Billy Harman. We didn’t want to run into him yet. We wanted our meeting to be a surprise. I don’t know about Gamal and Toggy, but I was looking particularly for signage around the clubhouse doors.
I nudged Gamal, and nodded. It wasn’t only the publicity pic. It was also the name of the clubhouse. The Hermitage. That fitted in sweet with the rune-vision, the gravedigger seeking shelter at the monastery.
Gamal looked. Gamal agreed.
We walked on by.
“B-but . . .” Arvina stuttered.
“We’ll come back later. This evening,” Gamal told her. “Let’s see first that it’s him.” Though there was no mistaking that face in the photo.
“It’s him!” Arvina insisted, trying to turn back for another look. I almost smiled—I’d actually managed to wrest control of my body, though she still worked my mouth.
. . .
Back at the guest house for a wash and brush-up. I’d just completed my clad for the evening when Gamal came to my room.
“I’m dressed,” I said.
“Good, ‘cause we need to talk.” He stopped to eye me but said nothing of it. Pooh-shame, when I thought I was looking so good. “Remember I said I’d give thought to your Bellinn wayfarer. Meeting Fearn today has helped slot a few things into place. Sit.”
Obediently I perched on the edge of the bed though I’m sure I displayed everything much better when standing. But, nah, he was not interested.
“Life on this Earth,” he said, “wasn’t always conscious—”
“Yea, I’ve heard the theory,” I said. “It didn’t happen till three thousand years ago. But that’s crap. For all humans, across the world, to be conscious, it has to date back to when we shared a gene-pool, and therefore before we left Africa and that’s—I don’t know. Sixty thousand years ago?”
“Wrong,” Gamal said. And before I could splutter he went on, “Good logic. Wrong premise.”
“That assumes that consciousness comes from within. That it’s a function, a product, of the brain. But it’s not. It also assumes that, worldwide, everyone shares the same level of consciousness. Yet they do not. And sit!” he said for I’d jumped up and was about to jump down his throat.
“Now listen,” he said. “I’m a rune-master. But that doesn’t mean I’m like a schoolmaster and you’re my pupil, though we both have riffed on that. The runes are like constellations of consciousness. You get that? Of course you do, you’ve been reading. To be a rune-master means to have access and control of those centres of consciousness. It’s the runes I master, not any students.”
“Yea, I kinda understand,” I said. “But I thought you wanted to talk of Bellinn wayfarers?”
“Patience,” he said. “I’ll get there. Because of the way I came to it, and the way you’re now learning it, I’ll use the Germanic god-names. But I have to say, that’s not how we Bellinn would say it. So, Woden. Father of humankind. Sacrificed himself to his Self, and pulled forth the runes from the Well of Wyrd. You know the story. These runes he then cast forth into our world. You hear what I’m saying? The runes are like constellations of consciousness, given us from WITHOUT. Not innate. Not evolving with us. And though you assume all humans have the same levels of consciousness, this is not so. To learn the runes, to learn mastery of them, is to take for yourself this gift of the gods. It takes effort, and not everyone does it, not beyond what’s needed for their sluggish existence.”
I knew, by the way he was looking at me, that he was willing me to understand. And I did understand. Though it had seemed like so much gobbledegook when read in that book, it now fell into place with a euphoric blast. I wanted to jump out of my bath and shout ‘Eureka’. Except I wasn’t in a bath, and I wouldn’t have jumped out with him being there, not naked.
“There’s so much more I need to tell you,” he said. “But for now it’s the application that’s important, that’s what’s brought me here. Consciousness comes to us from without. And so does the Bellinn wayfarer. It—she, Arvina—uses your body and hijacks your consciousness. Shit! I’ve skipped a step—I’m not good at explaining; and I’d so wanted to keep this snappy and short.”
I glanced at the time. We’d have to leave soon if we were going to arrive before the end of the show. Gamal saw. He rolled his eyes.
“You know the three aetts?” he said. “Twenty-four aspects of consciousness, right? But you also know there are thirty-three runes, so that’s nine more. Those nine are the original endowment—what you’d call our genetic makeup, shared by all. Following still? Well, as I see it, it’s those nine—if you like, lesser—aspects of consciousness that the wayfarer hijacks on first entry. It’s only later, once the ‘vehicle’ accepts the wayfarer’s presence that the wayfarer can then commandeer the runic centres. But that’s assuming they’ve been activated.”
“Which is why Arvina isn’t much into the runes?” I said.
“As soon as she could, she hijacked your higher centres, and brought you into Rune-world. But that was only to find Guillan, and me. Her Uncle Nihel had made for her a powerful gift, a gift she does not understand. It belongs in your hands, not hers—you understand it. And that’s why I’m praying the Sisters will keep Arvina out of this mission, that she’ll leave it to us.”
I prayed something similar.
. . .
Billy Harman didn’t perform under that name, no surprise there. He had taken as his stage name Ken Kenew. If we’d needed verification, this was it. Breton, it translates to Handsome Young Warrior. I knew I’d heard it someplace before but couldn’t quite place it. Also, that ‘Ken’ could double as the runic Torch. Both Arvina and I were satisfied: this was definitely him. Yet Gamal still insisted we joined with the punters and watched the show.
A hefty doorman, squeezed into a black suit, his thick neck sweating beneath an ill-fitting bowtie, asked my age. “No under eighteens,” he said. Apparently Ken Kenew did adult material.
“She’s twenty-two,” Gamal said. “And my wife.”
The doorman let us through. He didn’t seem to notice the gand-stangir tucked into my belt.
We found a table sticky with a week’s worth of spilled drinks, and grabbed it while Toggy went in search of three chairs to go with it. The table was well-placed for our purpose, set far enough back that the acts couldn’t see us even with the house lights up, yet over to the side so we could see obliquely through the heads of those in front of us. We’d discussed the possibility of Guillan recognising us. But as Gamal said, he’d never met Toggy, and he only knew Gamal in his Woden guise. Of course, Guillan would know there were Bellinn present, but we were hardly the only two Bellinn left in the world, though these days most keep a low profile. I took it Gamal and Toggy screened our thoughts. Wouldn’t do to sit there, thinking of how to handle this, and Guillan overhear the lot of it. Arvina acted like she wasn’t there.
Having been talked out of the sword, she had then spotted a coat that she ‘just had to have’. A duster coat like in the Westerns, but with loads more pockets. Waxed canvas, an ankle-banger, it cost a packet. I dreaded my parents’ reaction if Gamal ever presented them with the bill. Likely I’d inherit the farm complete with big mortgage. I wasn’t sure that I liked the coat. I kept checking my reflection in every shop window. Nah, it just was not me. But then Gamal leant in close. “That’s precisely the point.” The good thing of it was it had a deep collar. Sat in that clubhouse, sat sideways on to the stage, with that collar turned up no way would Guillan see me.
Table and chairs sorted, I asked for a coke, ice, no slice. Toggy came back from the bar with that plus two pints of anaemic-looking lager.
“You’d have done better with bitter,” I said.
“It’s not for drinking,” Gamal answered.
“Speak for yourself,” said Toggy.
The show began.
Ken Kenew hadn’t a spot of his own. He was the Emcee, his attempts at humour squeezed between others. His material was stale. I’d heard most of his jokes either on TV or at school. But his delivery was good. Good comic-timing as they say.
“I can’t believe that bastard begot a brat on my girl,” Toggy said, “—and I wasn’t even allowed to touch her.”
“Were you not?” Gamal asked.
“No. That freaking Oath.”
“But I thought . . .”
Yea, I’d thought that too. No wonder he was climbing all over me when first we met. Twenty-first century, contraceptives, safe-sex despite the Oath.
Arvina remained strangely quiet.
“Okay, that’s it, let’s go,” Gamal said at the end of the show.
And still Arvina said nothing, made no objection. She meekly allowed me control of my body. Maybe she’d figured Gamal and I could handle it best. It was the thing of the runes. She didn’t get it like I did.
. . .
Next morning we went back to the clubhouse. The cleaners were in but we ignored them. We wanted to check out the layout, the dressing rooms, the exits—especially the exits. Security was lax. Hells, it was non-existent. No need for Gamal and Toggy to do their Jedi bit: You don’t need to see our ID. Again, Arvina was remarkably quiet. Even if it passed unnoticed with Toggy and Gamal, it should have alerted me.
And what happens next? Whatever it is, it probably involves Arvina’s gand-stangir. Next episode: Nihel Carved It