Neve settled on a bench away from the stalls – beneath the bare stems of an ornamental maple – and peeled back the foil from her sandwiches. But her hand hovered as she caught sight of him. He was the reason she was sitting there, though the day was invitingly mild. Yet it had been her habit, during the winter weeks, to eat her lunch in the small back-room at the shop. Not today. Today Ms Cox was being particularly crabby. Neve, too, still smarted from that letter she’d slapped in her hand. She had shown it Raesan when she got home.
“Yeh? What is it?”
“A written warning, is what!”
“Yeh, read that – big letters. But what’s it mean?”
“It means she’s looking for a way to be rid of me. Only there are laws and she can’t without good reason.”
He didn’t understand. She had to explain it, three written warnings and her employer could sack her.
“Oh. So. how, um . . . how do you get them, these warnings?”
He couldn’t see it was his fault. And he showed such concern for her. She ought not to doubt him, that there could be anything Satanic about him. True, he had coerced her that first day on the pier but that had only been to get her attention. He couldn’t have known it would spark off her nightmares. And he wasn’t the Watcher for that presence still was there. But it did puzzle her how he got into the house that night when she’d had everything locked and alarmed.
She watched him now as he came out of Jon Jones, Gents Outfitters, his Asaric light like a beacon. By the looks, he’d been on a spending spree. Four carrier-bags, all bulging. She approved. His socks and jeans and the linen jacket were beginning to hum.
He looked towards her. She had a sudden thought to hide behind the market-traders’ seried white vans. But why shouldn’t she be seen talking to him? And anyway, he ignored her and headed straight for the stalls.
Like a meercat, she peered. What was he doing? He was browsing that cheap stall that sold jigsaws and puzzle books and tatty gift-junk. A bright orange carrier-bag appeared from his pocket. He shook it to open. Then, bold-faced and with everyone watching, he filled it from the trader’s displays. Neve’s jaw dropped. He was shoplifting! Filling their heads with the need not to see, and taking it, scooping it all into his bag. Had he done the same at the men’s clothiers?
She quickly returned the uneaten sandwiches to her bag and followed him. He turned down Clayden’s Alley and was out of sight before she reached there. Yet there was his light illuming the front of a shop. She held back at the top of the alley, though she felt conspicuous, as if she lurked ‘with intent’. The cobbles there pressed into her feet. These weren’t the shoes for walking.
He wasn’t long in the shop. He left without bags. Her curiosity burst. She had to see what shop this was.
She sauntered along the alley, an idle lunchtime browse if he should see her. But what was this? She couldn’t believe it. A charity thrift shop. He had donated his stolen goods to help the aged!
~ ~ ~
“That was fun,” Raesan said as he burst through the door.
Neve turned down the music and looked round from the computer. Now what was he up to? She had a sudden appreciation of the Bellinn’s agreement to breed no more. By the time she was rid of this child – 13,000 years old – no way would she ever want children.
“Take it back,” she snapped.
He looked around, acting puzzled.
“The magic marker – that pen. Put it back with the calendar, where it belongs.”
Still he still looked puzzled.
“So it’s to hand when you mark off tomorrow,” she explained. She’d been teaching him of counting days.
He laughed. “Why want I to mark off tomorrow? Tomorrow is Saturday, yeh? And what are you doing?” He peered over her shoulder, magic marker still in his hand. She hoped he had capped it. He wasn’t only a child, but dysfunctional.
She removed the headphones. “I’m checking some facts. I’m not happy with what Filbert told me.”
“Oh, so we Asars aren’t Satanists, yeh?”
“I was referring more to the linguistics.”
She could see him silently repeating the word, trying to understand it.
“He might have classical languages,” Neve said, leaving Raesan to ponder it, “but he said that the Cat of Widow Cob’s Cat referred to a battle, with a dragon. Yet look at this, on PlaceNames-dot-com. A cat is a portion of land, detached from the main.”
“I could have told you that. It’s an island broken off the mainland.”
“As Filbert knew, yet he still got it wrong. And I could kick myself for not realising the meaning of Cob. What with our cobblestoned marketplace and the cob-loaves that I buy. And Filbert too, himself is a cobnut.”
“There are cobwebs, too,” Raesan said.
“Precisely,” Neve agreed, though she didn’t understand the reference. “Thus Widow Cob’s Cat is a hilly island. How could I have missed it? So now I’m checking out the Widow, to see if that means something other.”
“You could just ask me.”
She glanced back at him. “And?”
He shrugged, again childlike, annoying. “Not telling. You want to ask your clever PC, so ask your clever PC. What’s it say?” He leant over her shoulder to read off the screen. “Merry widows. Widow spiders. A state widow’s pension? Ha! It doesn’t know, does it.”
She tried the search again, this time adding in <name>.
“You’ve missed the second w—”
But the results were already up.
He laughed. “Baby’s names.”
But it looked like she’d struck gold.
“Wido. Old Germanic name meaning guide. And look.” She hardly could say for grinning. “Wido becomes Guido in French. And in English . . . Guy. Incredible! The island was named for him: Guy’s Hilly Island.”
“Oh, clever PC.” Neve turned sharply at his sarcastic tone. “Na, I mean it. I never grudge cleverness. So what else does the clever thing know? I’m impressed.”
“We could try for the dragon.”
“Yeh? You think it’ll know about Skimaskall?”
“It’s not the machine that knows, it’s . . .” But it was easier to let him think it. “Let’s see.”
She keyed-in <norfolk dragons>. 13,800,000 results. On the first five pages – she refused to look further – were listed a boat race, an ancient monument, a cruise boat, some newly hatched red bearded reptiles, a hockey team, a rugby team and the rest, which formed the bulk, were an assortment of restaurants, hotels and public houses.
“Huh! I didn’t think your PC would know.”
“It just needs the right wording. Let’s try dragons folklore norfolk.”
She laughed as the results listed. Heading them was Filbert’s dragon – or rather St Benet’s. A map gave the location, slap in the middle of the Norfolk Broads, a spit from Covesby – and just over the river from Baston Fen.
Baston. Her mood changed.
“Bad memories, huh?”
“You could say. I visited there once with Jazzy, two-faced Jazzy Hardcastle.”
~ ~ ~
She had thought Jazzy her friend – until the summer they turned seventeen.
“You must come with us to Baston Fen. The boys have been working there. Volunteering, really. Getting it spruced for the public. Some wildlife thingy has just acquired it.”
The ‘boys’, Lyndon and Wesley, were students at the University of East Anglia, at the School of Environmental Studies, and though Jazzy had made it sound like a fun expedition, her true intent was to show off the new boyfriend.
They parked up the car in the single-track lane, radio blaring Right Said Fred. They eased through the grass-blocked gate. “Not spruced yet,” Jazzy said with that silly scrunch of her shoulders.
The reserve warden eyed them, his unspoken thought blaring. The lads held up peace-abiding hands. “They’re with us. We’ll keep them in order.” The sun-wrinkled warden raised an eyebrow like he didn’t believe a word of it. But he allowed them entrance.
The day was hot and uncomfortably humid. In the distance, the rumble of thunder. Horse-flies savaged Neve’s feet and ankles, though the welts soon disappeared. Mosquitoes feasted on Jazzy. Fair-skinned, she was already burning. On such a day the woodland ahead looked inviting.
“It’s called a carr,” Wesley said.
Neve didn’t like him. It wasn’t his red-blotched face or the waistline that wobbled, but his attitude. Arch. He slapped at a fly, its long proboscis deep in his arm.
Lyndon tutted. “Protected species.”
“Humh.” Wesley flicked the mangled chitin from his arm. “You might not know, but as late as 1912 these Baston mosquitoes still carried malaria. It was the last place in England to be clear of it.” He directed his words at Neve, perhaps his idea of a chat-up.
“I didn’t know we had malaria in this country,” Jazzy said.
“Humh, no surprise there,” Wesley said and turned back to Neve. “It was more commonly known as the ague.”
Beneath the trees was no cooler, humidity held in by the foliage. A rainforest swelter, absent the monkeys – though there probably were snakes. Wesley darted ahead, then stood with his chunky legs spread. As he shifted his weight from one foot to the other so the ground beneath him rocked. In short time the quakes were spreading. They unsteadied the others. “Try it,” he said – specifically to Neve.
For politeness sake she obliged though it made her feel queasy.
“And do you know why this is?”
“Because there is water beneath us,” Neve answered, destroying his hopes of a chat-up. “The trees are rooted into a raft of sedge tussocks.”
“Ergyuk!” Jazzy squealed. “You mean we’re walking on water?”
“Not you, Babes. You have to be holy to do that,” Lyndon said and Jazzy giggled.
Wesley sniffed in disdain. “And do you know the origin and formation of the Broads?” he asked Neve.
If he’d been setting himself up to show off his superior knowledge he’d now asked the wrong person. To support her ‘A’ level Needlecrafts project, she was also taking Medieval History. The curriculum covered the making of the Broads. “They’re peat diggings, flooded as the sea-levels rose in the later middle ages.”
“But the Broads are vast,” Jazzy said. “Whatever could anyone want with that much peat?”
“For their roses,’ Lyndon said and countered his tease with a kiss on her blazing-red cheek.
“Perhaps Miss Mastermind can tell us,” Wesley said, now ultra-arch.
It was too late now to be polite and dumb it down, so Neve answered of the monasteries using the peat to fire their ovens. “Mostly, I suppose, in the bakeries. Vast quantities were taken up river every year to Norwich.”
“Humh.” Clearly Wesley was not happy. “Not bad for a gypo.”
Neve had frozen at that, a hard glared at Jazzy – and she had thought the matter of her ancestry long since forgotten. That day she had understood the impulse to kill.
She wiped at a tear. Stupid! The loss of a false friend, and so long ago. It wasn’t worth that. Besides, maybe it was as she sometimes fancied when hearing Nerys screech ‘Lyn, Lyn, Lyn!’ that said Lyn was Jazzy’s old boyfriend Lyndon. Now wouldn’t that be poetic, if he had dumped ‘Got-everything-Jazzy’ in preference of Nerys next door.
“What’s a gypo that it so hurts to be one?” Raesan asked.
“Nothing. It’s a word, that’s all.”
He looked at her, and she couldn’t help the words coming.
“It means ‘from Egypt’, but they’re not. They were originally from India, northern India. They were the gold-smiths – artificers – and entertainers at, I don’t know, some royal court a thousand years ago. The Rom. Then one day they loaded their wagons and left. For centuries they travelled through Eastern Europe, keeping themselves to themselves. Though here in Britain they joined up with other displaced people, namely the remnants of druid-families. Probably most of them have settled by now. Likely you could live next door to one and not know. But it’s the others, those who keep to their traditions, who keep themselves to themselves. They’re despised, because of that choice. Then everything bad in society is loaded upon them. Like no one else ever thieves, only them. And no else gets violent and gets into fights, only them. Just because they have their own rules.”
“That’s what you meant of your blood, Rom descent?”
Neve nodded, too many memories now choking her words.
“We’re both outcasts then, yeh?”
“Yea.” She returned her attention to the computer. “So, this story of St Benet’s dragon . . .”
~ ~ ~
She held out the A4 sheet. Raesan looked at it. “What’s this?”
“Haggleland.” She’d taken it from Aquilergy’s website.
She heaved an exasperated sigh. “It’s a map of Haggleland.” She laid it on the desk between them. “See? These blue rings are the wind-turbines. There are to be sixteen in all, though only twelve are yet in construction. And that oblong marked there is, oh, something to do with the distribution of energy. But look, it shows us the hollows and rises as they are now.”
“How ‘shows the hollows and rises’? I see only squiggly lines.”
“Contour lines. Close together means a steep incline, farther apart means a gentle rise.”
The blue rings of the turbines had looked randomly scattered until she’d seen them against the contours. Now she could see how they avoided the worst of the uneven ground. Since Raesan still couldn’t see them she pointed out the hollows.
“Confusion, Lady. Why show me this?”
“Because you know where Skimaskall is buried. And if she’s anywhere close to those turbines . . . that was why you were watching. You said.”
“And you said you didn’t believe. You even denied that dragons exist.”
“That was before. Now . . . Raesan, we can’t have that dragon disturbed. We need to know exactly where Aquilergy is erecting their turbines.”
“But I can’t see on this, your piece of paper. Would you give a surgeon a painting to guide him? Na, I need to go out there. Hey, we could coerce a pilot – helicopter, whirligigs. That would be fun. Just like the movies. You can come too.”
“No.” Neve gave a definite shake of her head.
“Ah, yeh, I forgot. You’re a bench-piddler.”
“A . . . ?”
“Children, first year at school.”
She ignored him and loaded Google Earth. “I know an easier way.”
“Wow!” Raesan said, watching the screen as Neve zoomed in. “We’re flying with feet on the ground.”
It was the only flying she’d be doing. A helicopter? That would be worse than a plane.
It took her a moment to fix on Yalesham Sands. It wasn’t exactly highly visible, just a small chunk of off-shore land. She was surprised to see how green – the views predated Aquilergy’s construction. She had thought Sands, it would be all dunes and shore-like. Yet despite the occasional total submersion there were some trees. Well, battered and misshapen stunted bushes. She couldn’t distinguish their type.
“There!” Raesan tapped on the screen as she zoomed in yet closer. She compared the given view with Aquilergy’s map.
“Friggle Jacks! Are you sure?”
“Yeh. Look, a hop and a skip and you’re into the sea, northward and eastward. I remember that. Yeh, definitely.”
Now he said of it, she remembered it too. The sea was behind her, wrapping around her, the pit nestled as into a corner.
“But that’s right beside turbine eleven.”
“Beside it, yeh,” Raesan agreed, following Neve’s finger on the map. “But it’s not right on top of her.”
No, but it was close enough. She clicked again on the Aquilergy website and checked on the Schedule of Works.
“Well that is something. There’ll be no work on turbine eleven until September.”
“Hey, Lady, determined look upon face. What do you intend to do?”
“Me? But she’s your dragon.”
. _____ .
Next episode, Tuesday 12th March: Hegrea’s Green Castle