Again, Raesan’s memories spooled into Neve’s head, again of Eldsland and of Regin-Yorl’s hall.
He showed her Gudrum. Startling blue eyes and an ankle-length coat—red-brown leather, similar to the coat she had glimpsed before on Regin-yorl. Around its yoke, worked in gold thread and silks, was the Tree of Life, though probably his name for it was Yggdrasil. Beneath the coat flashed an ornate buckle, the belt securing a tunic of blood-crimson silk. She was surprised to see he held only a staff. No spear like the other men. As far as she could see, his only bladed weapon was the seax sheathed at his belt, and that barely visible.
He served Regin-yorl?
Regin, Regin, Regin, Raesan snapped, annoyed at her continued interest in him. Of course he served Regin. Gudrum’s only a fourth nock, while Regin-yorl is Cesar’s son.
Which Cesar? She had seen three sitting around Cesar’s Well, all named Cesar.
There’s a difference? he asked. They’re all the same.
Raesan’s memories jumped. Skimmed over events he didn’t want Neve to see? Again, she saw Kazla as again she hugged her brother Razimer. They were way at the back of Zemowit’s procession. Zemowit, a full-blooded Asar, was lord of this Eastern Province. But this wasn’t what she wanted to see. She wanted a closer look at Regin-yorl.
Much to Raesan’s chagrin, Neve had discovered she could view through other eyes, access others’ memories—so long as the Bellinn chosen was of the same or lower nock than she. She looked around for someone to join. And there by the door stood Vindalf.
As soon as she joined with the boy, the scene changed, taken with Vindalf into a memory. The boy was still in the hall but now it was empty but for Regin-yorl’s men. An icy draught cut through the door. Vindalf ignored it, his eyes only for Razimer. Razimer—Rat—was the boy’s sole hero amongst Regin-yorl’s men. And it looked as if Rat knew it well. He was up on the raised stage where Regin-yorl’s empty throne sat, hammering at the drums hung there. And while drumming he leapt and pranced, seen here in a medieval Eldsland, yet every part the rock star. He started to chant. Neve wouldn’t call it a song. But what was the language? None that resembled any Neve knew. Eilif, standing off to the side, was egging him on, clapping and stamping. Then silence.
Vindalf turned. To see Zemowit, his Asaric aura like dazzlingly bright Christmas tree lights, garbed in silks of every green hue, held by a low-slung gold belt, lapis-studded, a cloak long and voluminous of a deep golden yellow, heavily beaded in gold. Oddly, his feet were unstockinged in his gold strappy sandals. Such wealth for one who seemed still in his teens.
Now might be a good time for Vindalf to leave. He was only here to deliver a message to Raum from his mother, that if he found moss while out in the woods would he fetch it home for her. Vindalf had repeated it, not knowing what it was with women and moss, and Eilif has taken the piss, as usual. Vindalf started to edge his way out. But Zemowit still blocked the door.
The boy’s eyes flitted from the winter-lit door to the shaded corner beyond the stage. Neve hadn’t noticed him there, his presence blurred by his swirling blue light: Regin-yorl, feet up and beer-swigging with Gudrum. He set down the drinking-horn with deliberate care. Lowered his feet from stool to floor. And stood.
‘Weapons!’ Zemowit barked at him. ‘Not allowed in here.’
Vindalf glanced back to the others of Regin-yorl’s band: Eirik and Eida and Raum. They sat in a ragged circle, each surrounded by a stack of weapons.
Regin-yorl prowled with deliberate step towards the door, eyeing the swarthy eastern Asar with open scorn. ‘You think to wear costly things makes you a lord? You live still in the past when people fell at your glittering feet. Times have changed. Our swords rule now. So don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Besides, as I remember, I was here before you.’
‘How could I forget, my lady’s “get”. You might remember that, too.’
The distance between them now had closed. Vindalf had taken ten, twelve, twenty steps back. And still he knew if a fight erupted there’d be no avoiding it here.
‘My hall, Zemo, Lord. My men clean their weapons here, as they and I will it.’
‘Cleaning them? Ready, eh? But your bears need no egging to violence.’
There was a metallic clatter as part-cleaned blades hit against other blades waiting. There was a scrap as warriors rose to their feet. There was a thick sense of menace. Yet Regin-yorl remained calm.
‘Zemowit-lord, for the three thousandth and sixty-second time, I use no bears. See their horns?’ Embroidered wide horns adorned the men’s coats, all but for Gudrum’s. The same horns decorated the banners hung all around. ‘Aurochs. Our beast is the aurochs.’
Rat jumped off the stage landing between his lord and Lord Zemowit. Neve didn’t know the language but there was no mistaking the tone, nor Regin-yorl’s snapped retort, to drop it. This was his to deal with.
‘Would our Lord Zemowit rather we resorted to the holy hof to settle this?’
‘Would be apt. Your holy Tyr rules there.’
‘Wrong. Lord. But what to expect of a Sauromatai. Ingvi, Ingvi rules the hof. Ingvi’s is the Road of Dead. Tyr gives us justice—a stranger to your arrogant heart.’
Vindalf pressed himself against the wall. Neve could feel his guts churning. And the worst of it, Vindalf thought himself strong. He so wanted to be one of Regin-yorl’s men when he’d grown. Neve imagined what a fight between these men would be. But it wouldn’t happen. For all Zemowit’s higher degree, a full Asar compared to Regin-yorl, son of Cesar, and the others perhaps fourth nocks, they had weapons and Zemowit had not.
Still, Zemowit seemed to grow another six inches. And still he was short next to Regin-yorl. He drew back his shoulders. Neve had seen a video of chimps in the wild in Africa. And where was the difference? Zemowit tilted his chin.
‘You give me reason to make it three thousandth and sixty-three, and I’ll order boards put on their horns. Isn’t that what you do with wild bulls?’ He turned on his heel.
Rat was straight back to the drums and hammering out a cheeky beat. The others joined in with a chant.
Vindalf remained pressed close to the wall. Until Regin-yorl noticed and beckoned him. Then, as with affection, when close enough he ruffled the boy’s ice-blond hair.
But despite now she saw him up close, she still couldn’t place where she’d seen Regin-yorl’s face.