We were late in arriving. But then we weren’t here to watch the show. We didn’t want Guillan to be pre-warned, which would have happened with what Gamal was wearing. Indeed, all three of us looked like we’d walked out of a gaming convention. Okay, maybe not Toggy.
Gamal was in his Woden gear: long black dress—his 70’s caftan—with several pouches hanging off a low-slung belt, and a hat for good measure. I don’t know where he’d found that, first I’d seen it. A high crowned Stetson, black leather, sporting a small feather in its narrow band. Me, I was in black leggings beneath a tiny tartan skirt and a black strappy top, the gand-stangir stuck through my mega-cool heavy-metal belt, all topped by Arvina’s ankle-banging multi-pocketed duster-coat. And then there was Toggy, the ‘normal’ guy, in distressed jeans and t-shirt—Bor-ring!
Security at the camp was more for the campers’ safety than for the artistes’ protection. The beefies scattered about the site took no notice of us. Maybe if we’d walked away with someone’s TV they might have stopped us. We headed to the back of the clubhouse. Behind was a skip-area, behind that, a car park. It was badly lit but that was no fuss; we had Gamal and Toggy’s Bellinn lights. That morning when we’d sussed the joint there’d been just the one car. Now there were nine. Mostly the bar staff, we guessed.
We opened what passed for the stage door. It gave on to a corridor that also served the bar and the manager’s office. The whole place smelled of stale beer and sneaked cigarettes. First door off to the left was the office. Opposite that, the bar to our right. Then, again to the left, three dressing-rooms. Which one was his? But it didn’t matter. We weren’t about to make that mistake. (Him at the door, realisation. quick turnabout and getaway.) Opposite the farthest dressing-room was a curtained alcove. We’d investigated that on our morning visit. Behind the black curtain was an alcove, and a door. Beyond the door was a cubby that gave onto the stage. Our man would be waiting in there, in the cubby, between his spots. We knew that. We’d found his magazine left there. Pornographic. Barely Legal. Which didn’t surprise.
Our own hidey-hole was at the far end of the shared corridor. Another alcove, this one housing a small wheelie bin. We three just fitted in. We’d no problem of being seen. Late evening, close to closing, the staff would be too busy in the club to notice us. Even so, in case we were seen by the previous acts leaving, Toggy and Gamal threw a screen around us. Arvina remained as she’d been all day: exceptionally quiet.
I had noticed yesterday, beside the entrance, the line-up wasn’t the same every night. However, the Emcee, Ken Kenew, remained the same. Now through the thin internal wall we endured the strained warblings of some goon’s rendition of Gene Pitney’s Twenty-four Hours. We waited. My phone vibrated.
What the . . .!? No one knew my number. I purposely hadn’t texted Madeleine but had used the Gmail.
But no, it was just to tell me it had downloaded a new app. Yea, whatever. As well that I’d turned off the sound. While I had it in hand, I checked the time. Four minutes to go.
The door to the cubby whispered open. And closed. From behind its screening curtain the Gene Pitney wannabe emerged in a flap. Apparently he had just one thought on his mind: to escape this place so he wouldn’t hear how weak the applause. He was into his dressing-room, holdall grabbed, and out and gone.
Ken Kenew took the stage. He tried to rouse the audience to louder applause. Beyond the clubhouse walls was the roar of an engine. Gene Pitney heading for Tulsa, unaware of Guillan’s unsuccessful attempt. There followed a long and meandering story that I’m sure I’d heard Ronnie Corbett do once on a BBC repeat. It was mildly funny. But the house, most on the way to being thoroughly hammered, clapped at it anyway.
Ken Kenew had finished his act so why the delay? Had he sensed our presence? After what Gamal had said of wayfarers and the runic consciousness of their vehicles, and what Fearn had said of Billy Harman’s denial that he was a duet, I very much doubted Guillan’s host had much by way of psychic ability.
The door whispered open. I shivered. And jumped as the same door slammed shut. I peeped around the corner just in time to see the black curtain bulge and the Emcee push his way through.
That’s when Gamal’s plans went totally pear-shaped. Arvina screamed. “Bastard!”
I tried to control her but couldn’t. She had use of my legs, she had my hands. And those hands were now thrust into my pockets. Right. Left. The touch of cold metal shocked me. Beyond my control, first one hand then the other closed around a pair of knives, slim-handled—Where the hell she get them? In a lightning-smooth whisk they were out of my pockets and thrown, one after the other, so fast it took us all by surprise.
Miraculously, Ken Kenew managed to dodge them. But, bewildered, he peed himself.
Finally, belatedly, I wrested control of at least my left hand—even as that hand was delving back into a pocket. I used it to tug at the gand-stangir still stuck through my belt. I held it out, pointed wizard-fashion at Ken Kenew—who now was heading for the door, almost lightning-fast.
Nihel gave that rune-rod to Arvina to protect her. But Arvina had never learned how to use it. Sure, ‘Nihel carved it’. Yet there are many layers to the runes, they run deep in the mysteries. Nyd. Is. Hægl. ‘Nihel’ is only one reading.
“Hlæfdi Gefyn,” I intoned and implored, “I call on your power to charge these runes. Fire channelled through Ice to halt the progress, scoured with the cleansing crystals of Hail.” Nyd. Is. Hægl.
Ken Kenew stopped running. Not to slow to a walk. No walk, no turn, he didn’t do anything. He couldn’t. He now was frozen in space and time amid a crystalline whiteness that formed like a halo around him.
Unfortunately, our own actions, too, were frozen, including mine. But at least Arvina now couldn’t throw that third knife. Where had she gotten them, and when? No wonder she wanted that coat.
The thaw was slow, effected by Gamal.
“Dressing-room,” he said to a bewildered Ken Kenew, and pointed to way.
Meekly, the feeble comedian, unwitting host to a serial killer, obeyed. I started to follow but Gamal stopped me. He frisked my pockets and found two more knives.
“You knew?” he asked me.
I vigorously shook my head.
“Nah,” he said. “Thought not.”
He handed the knives to Toggy who slipped them into his back pockets. They weren’t proper throwing knives, not as I’d seen them. Most likely she’d taken from a kitchen. I wondered if the guest house yet had missed them.
Once inside and seated—we three blocking the door—Ken Kenew folded. Ken Kenew—William Harman—Guillan the Warrior—an apt choosing of vehicles. But it was the original Guillan who now looked up.
“You lied to me,” he accused Gamal.
“I am the rune-master, I am Woden, I do not lie.”
“I was a child,” he said, angry and sullen, a thwarted child. “I was in darkness, dejected, abandoned, ready to take my own life when you stepped along with your otherworldly wisdom. Glowing, as my mother had glowed. And that should have warned me.”
“The rune cast was to offer you hope,” Gamal answered. “And it did give you hope. But you misread it, and you abused it.”
This wasn’t the Gamal I knew; that Gamal was sweet natured. This one was angry, like the wrath of the gods flowed through him.
“I remember those runes,” Guillan said with mounting fury. “Gyfu for the Gift I was to be given. Cen for the Torch that would come to transform me. Æsc for my mastery over the nine worlds—though then I knew only of Europe, and Asia beyond. But you lied. You lied, you lied, you lied.”
“Really?” Gamal swayed his head in that way he had, as if considering. “Yet it is not my habit to give a ‘reading’. I aid the cast. I describe each rune. It is for the enquirer to decide on the meaning.”
I had to blink, to clear my vision. Was there really steam seeping from Guillan’s eyes? No, not possible—or so I convinced myself which, as it turned, was a mistake. But steam or no steam, his mouth was set in a sullen droop. He was not enjoying this re-encounter with Gamal. What a shame.
“Cut off the bastard’s nuts,” Arvina snarled through my mouth. “Come on, Toggy, you’ve got the knives now. You said that you would. He raped me!”
“Hush,” Gamal said without turning. Then to Guillan, “You know who this is, this Toggy? He is your mother’s brother. Your uncle. Aye, well might you squirm in your seat. Less than a maggot—at least maggots have uses. Aye, your memory’s corrupted, I told you none of these things. Had I said, I would have said this:
“That Gyfu is the Gift of your life from the gods, and is not to be thrown away when it no longer pleases.
“That Cen is the Torch you’d become when, in honouring the gods, you dissolved the old forms to reshape and rebuild. Indeed, you might even have become the founder of a new religious order. But you chose not to see it. You threw it away.”
Guillan slipped down in the chair, seeming as beaten by Gamal’s delivery. Yet from his lowness he angrily spat, “No! That’s not how it was. You said, I remember, the gift would appear in the form of a torch. And that torch would be the transformation of me. You told me that torch would give meaning and worth to my life. But you lied. You lied.”
Gamal repeated, “I am Woden, I do not lie—” But he got no further. A dozen geysers of scalding steam jetted from Guillan’s mouth, his nose, his eyes.
Quick, where was the gand-stangir? What was the spell I had used? In my panic I couldn’t remember. Gamal had dropped to the ground, the clutter of the dressing-room acting as shield. But that scalding steam was soaking everything.
Nyd. Is. Hægl. Gamal said into my head.
It was enough to nudge me; I repeated my ice-and-hail spell.
Gamal stood as if nothing had happened, not caught in the instant deep freeze.
“You, however, do not open your eyes,” he continued his answer to Guillan never mind that Guillan looked like he’d just been pulled from the frozen food cabinet. Myself, I was slowly defrosting. “Full woe to you, Guillan Bigod. Unable and unwilling to apply yourself—you haven’t the discipline; you didn’t want to work at it—you got it into your head that an external ‘torch’ would deliver your needs. And when it failed to do so, then you killed it. Not once, but time and again. And again, and again, leaving behind you a trail of headless corpses. And by that trail I now have found you. And now you will pay for abusing your gifts.
“Æsc was the third in that cast,” Gamal said. “And in following the path as set out by the runes you would have become as Woden. As me. As others like me. And in sacrificing yourself to your Self, you would have gained the ultimate gift, the wisdom and knowledge of all Nine Worlds. But this, like the gift, you chose to squander.”
Guillan glanced at the door. Was he sufficiently thawed to make the run? Must I cast the rune-ice again?
“What . . .?” But his question hung, choked and unspoken. He tried again. “What . . .?” Perhaps his vocal chords were still frozen. He tried for a third time and with great effort he forced out the words. “What punishment do you intend for me?”
That surprised me. Contrition? I’d not thought it of him.
The notion seemed to amuse Gamal as well. “Nah, this world shall have the punishment of you. For it’s against this world that you have offended. As to Woden, he shall have due respect for his gifts. There’s a cell waiting for you; that’s of this world. But there’s also a tree waiting for you, and that’s of the Other.”
The ice that had held Guillan was melting away, leaving the sullen boy serial-killer compliant. Gamal nodded, no more was needed. He ushered us out of Ken Kenew’s dressing room, leaving Guillan to do the right thing. Gamal—Woden—had demanded it of him.
“But what if he doesn’t?” Toggy asked. He’d not been party to Gamal’s plans.
“You think I spent this afternoon only shopping for hats? The police ought to be here around about . . . now.”
Next, and concluding, episode, A New Vehicle