Raesan . . .
It was the same music playing: the long-fingered zitherist, the twin pipers, the five drummers, that sounded like Led Zeppelin’s Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. Neve had no complaint over that. But why was Raesan showing her the hall’s rafters and the banners that hung from them like some giant’s fringe.
I’m showing you all that I can, he said.
He had been meek as a lamb since she had grilled him upon his return.
“How’d you do that thing with the iTunes?”
“Warren helped me. But you liked it; I didn’t do wrong,” he added when she had glared at him.
“You invited Warren into my home. Worse, you allowed that delinquent to play with my computer. And his sister, how’d she get in here?”
Raesan hesitated to answer. Then, “She often comes play. When you’re at work, yeh. But she’s not Warren to be a deli-quaint.”
He was trying to be funny, to make her laugh and deflect her from the implications of what he had said. It almost worked. “You were here all the time!” And now she was angry.
“Invisible, yeh.” Though he hung his head she saw seen his grin spreading.
She tried to think back. Had she walked about naked, thinking him gone? She felt the flush spreading, a sweat beading. But no. She relaxed. No, she’d been too afraid of the Watcher. She had wrapped herself. Unless – had he been there in the bathroom?
“Raesan . . .” she had to take several breaths before saying this. “Raesan, if I lose my job because of today—”
“But, Lady, you don’t need that job. You ought to let it go, yeh, let other’s have it, others who need it.”
“Oh, and you know someone just waiting to step in if I leave?”
At that he crumpled just like a small child. The only thing missing was the hankie to suck and to wring. She looked away, looked out the window. It was raining, though only a drizzle. Yet it helped kill the heat and refreshed the air. Her garden was greedily drinking it in. She wanted to go stand outside, so her body could drink it in, too. But she’d still to go back to work.
“You say Edmund’s my grandfather, and not Regin-yorl,” she changed the subject. “Fine, I’ll accept that – if you show me more of Regin-yorl so I can see for myself.”
“Lady, I can’t show you what I never I saw.”
“I’m to believe you only saw that one day, when Zemowit visited?”
“Tree Brunna wasn’t Regin-yorl’s only hall, yeh. All over the land of the Angles – Danelaw – he had halls. He was only at Tree Brunna when he visited his mother.”
“And his mother was Cesar. So which Cesar?”
“This might surprise you, Lady, yeh, but I wasn’t there at his begetting. I didn’t return to England, yeh, until the Norman Emma brought her Breton friends here. I came here with Hegrea.”
“With the witch Hegrea?”
“With Freilsen’s daughter Hegrea.”
“I want to see Regin-yorl,” Neve had repeated, turning again to face him. “And I want to see the Cesars. Now you give me that, or else you’re out.”
“But I only visited that hall that one day!”
“So best you remember more of that day.”
So now he was showing her the banners. Well maybe she’d find some clue amongst them.
Most had tail-like streamers, but there was one that had not. Skrauti’s, she guessed, son of King Harold. A red dragon appliquéd upon a white ground. Which one was Regin-yorl’s? She’d caught glimpses of horses on his coat but there were no horses here. There was a whole array of black bull’s heads, horns unnaturally wide. The aurochs of Eastern Europe; it had still existed in 1086. It was the emblem worn by Regin-yorl’s Stoats. She’d first seen it that day on the island. That was where she’d first seen Razimer, a Crystal Fold amongst so many Silver.
Raum, Eilif, Eirik and Eida, Raesan so helpfully supplied. But Tythwar was there, too, so that’s two Crystals, yeh, not the one. And there was a Flame Fold; your precious King Gudrum.
She ignored his tone. So which banner is Regin-yorl’s? That one, the yellow eagle with the three yellow tails? That would made sense. The saga-band told of the Arnlings, and the Arnlings were named for the eagle.
But why must you know? What will it help? And anyway, it’s that one, there. He turned his head and she saw the banner. A white arch laid on blue. Bifrost, yeh, it’s supposed to be bifrost.
He thinks himself a bridge, between Bellinn and mortals?
I should know? Have I ever been into his head?
A commotion behind them, and Raesan turned. The music had stopped. The Bellinn were moving aside, clearing a way through the hall. What’s happening?.
You might want to see this.
Of course she had seen the Cesars before, seen them sitting by their well. But that had been through the eyes of Ingvilda. This now was through Raesan’s eyes.
Despite the day’s warmth they wore their green cloaks. It could have been just one cloak, seen at different times: once when new, once when worn some and beginning to fade, and once when aged and tattered. They could have been the same woman . . . like three photographs taken at three different ages. Raesan turned to look at Hawk Oddsson, made suddenly visible as the Bellinn moved away.
There was a hush to the hall, like something ominous was about to happen. Neve could feel it, as tense as that instant before lightning strikes. Yet nothing followed, only Old Cesar looking intently at Hawk. Did she snarl? It seemed to Neve that she did. In anger? Something was happening here, but what? Neve could see that Hawk was looking back at the Cesars. No, not at all the Cesars, only at one. Oh, outrageous, Hawk was openly ogling the youngest Cesar. Was Old Cesar jealous, was that why the snarl?
Oh, but why shouldn’t he look at Young Cesar? She truly was beautiful. Sleek as a cat, a panther, a black panther with that hair. Glossy black, it hung Cleopatra-style around her ivory-pale face. A Silver Fold, like Neve, her green light all ripples, eddies and sprays. But Neve’s light was never like this. Hers was a torchlight, the battery on the blink Cesar’s was twenty 100 watt bulbs.
The difference of Asar and sixth-Nock Bellinn, yeh.
And the other two Cesars? Who, or what, are they? Not Asars, for Asars don’t age.
Neve’s eyes, or Raesan’s, returned to Hawk, blatantly out of place with his huntsman’s green tunic and narrow legged trousers when all around was Bellinn finery. She saw now he wasn’t so much ogling Young Cesar with lust as he was intently observing. Neve caught his thoughts, or maybe that too was Raesan’s doing. He was seeing the likeness between Young Cesar and his sister Blide. And Neve had to admit, the likeness was strong. Then she was with him, in his head, with his thoughts.
That saga-band, what was it doing here, in this hall? He’d been studying it before this disruption, and he’d swear it told the tale of his own family, though not to the present. Arnssholm had been his family home. And they too had lost it to Erik Barn, King of Danes. But the saga-band recorded the names wrongly. It ought to be ‘Aroddr and Arnorr’, not ‘Inn Hrafn and Arnorr’. Arnorr was wounded, he died, and Aroddr was banished, forced into exile. Aroddr joined with Bagsecg, King of Danes. He fought beside Gudrum-king. It was Gudrum-king who gave Tree-Brunna Chase to Aroddr, to Hawk’s own forefather.
Aroddr had returned to Jutland. The saga-band said nothing of that. He’d returned, not to fight the powerful Klak family as previously intended, for now Aroddr had land and wealth and slaves, and a family in the form of his warriors. He even had a valkyrie mistress so the family tale told. Hawk looked again at Young Cesar. No, Aroddr had returned to fetch the sacred pole – one, not three as shown on the saga-band. That pole embodied the family’s fertility, their ‘spirit’; Yngvi inhabited it. But Aroddr had failed. Half his men lost on that journey. Then, dispiriting, the people there, his people of whom he should be the king, didn’t even remember him. And so he’d returned empty handed, convinced that Yngvi had deserted him.
Yet everyone said that Yngvi still blessed him, Weren’t there three sacred springs on his land.
Three, and how long did the family have them? The first was taken in the days of Arnoddr, by the churchman sent by Alfred-king’s son – that lying pig-man who broke all Alfred-king’s promises, who took back the land sworn to Gudrum. Aye, and that set the pattern of what was to be.
Aroddr, Arnfast, Arnoddr, Arngrimr, Arngeirr, then his own father, Oddr: Hawk listed his blood-line. There wasn’t a one of them who’d not lost the family some land.
The family had developed the north market, just shy of the rivers’ meet – and that jumped-up Ulfcytel had taken it from them. That was in Arngeirr’s time. It was now part of the new earldom, Ulfcytel had said as he cut a wide swathe through the family’s land. Yet Ulfcytel had never been appointed as earl.
Hawk’s own father Oddr Arngeirsson had been the worst, foolishly ranting at Edward-king they now called Holy, and his henchman, that Harold-king who now was dead. The pair of them come riding over the brakes, scaring the sheep and trampling the corn. Arngeirsson’s men running to him, begging his help. Aye, he helped. He took up his axe and went to see what the trouble. Then he ordered the king and the earl off his land. And that earned him a deep scar on his face, there till the day that he died. That cut raised his ire. He ranted, calling this not a Christian land when his wife and his children and his brothers could all be killed at the whim of a king. He’d been referring back to St. Brice’s Day massacre, not the doings of this Holy King, but of his Ill-Counselled father. And in payment of that rant he lost the family the rest of their land. The king talked treason; Oddr was lucky to be left with his life.
Aye, Hawk mused, Yngvi had deserted them. Because Aroddr failed to fetch the pole? Or because of the valkyrie? And now he and Geirri held but a fraction of the land given Aroddr by Gudrum-king. And that only by the kindness of Harold-dead-king when, newly-made earl, he’d been granted what had been the Oddsson’s land. Harold took that portion known as Coster’s Isle and made a private chase of it, Frankish fashion. He then granted Oddr a very small part in return for being the park-keeper and huntsman. Thinking now of it, that was likely more than Oddr deserved. He’d always had a sharp tongue to him.
Oddr had fetched a new wife from over the waves and the Danish Dagrun had given him two more sons, Hawk and Geirri, before he died. Blide, though, had been born four years later. They knew who her father, but they kept quiet of it. Rauf, the Breton, earl before Alan, was now disgraced in exile.
Hawk looked at Vyvain. She could have been twin to Blide. He looked at Young Cesar. Though the Oddssons had always left the breeding of herds to their women, he knew enough of sired-likenesses. The Breton Rauf had been Vyvain’s father, there was no doubt of it. And one of these Cesars, the middle one likely though maybe the oldest, had been their mare.
You wanted to see Cesar, yeh, so leave Hawk alone. He’s nothing to you, long since dead. Raesan drew Neve back.
She noticed Old Cesar now was starring at Alan. “Now,” she pushed against the young one. “Here’s your chance, while he is here.”
“He is here with my grandchild,” Amblushe said, having pushed through the crowd to reach them. “And that would not have been needed had you been in your place. Always playing your games! It takes your own daughters to tell me about it.”
Young Cesar cast a scorn-laden look at the ice-coloured Lady. “Tell your stories to another. We all know why you’re here, and it has nothing to do with yon Alan. I’d say rather it has to do with my lord.”
“Your lord? Well were he mine I’d not let him out of my sight. But then, I’d not be busy with your games.”
“Hush!” Old Cesar snapped. “Whatever our part, what of your own, Lady Amblushe? So you abduct your own grandchild to keep her safe. But what a chain of events that has unleashed. Alan, Nihel, Hawk, and these mortals, all traipsing after. I see why Zemowit is furious and has called for me. And all this with an imminent invasion.”
“Well you shouldn’t mind that Hawk is here,” Amblushe retorted. “I see you can hardly keep your eyes off him. Not been so besotted since when? Since Inn Hrafn?”
“I was looking at Alan.”
“Yeh?” Amblushe sneered. “Well keep your lustful eyes off him. As you said, he is my granddaughter’s husband. Though, how novel; have you finally stopped living in the past?”
Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted to see? Raesan said.
. _____ .
Next episode, 9th July: A Mother Too Young