Arthur’s Sleep

Someone was in Neve’s garden. But though she was up on tiptoes all she could see was a restlessly moving Asaric light. Was it the Watcher? It wasn’t Raesan; she’d finally sent him on his way. That return flight from the island: all three had refused to speak to him until safely arrived at the heliport, but the tension . . . like she’d sat in a bath with a butter-fingered someone holding a bar-heater above her. It was a wonder the combined anger of Rat and Raesan didn’t burn every thread of the helicopter’s wiring. Ten minutes into the flight, she’d have talked of the latest soaps; anything to cut through the air of hostility.

“So, were you a Jomsviking?” she asked Rat

“So you’ve heard that saga too? We roared when we heard it – Groa brought us a skald from Iceland.” He laughed, a gloriously normal sound.

“You’re saying Jomsviking didn’t exist, that they were a fiction?” she asked.

“Oh, they existed, flesh, bone and blood. They were in service to the temple of Svantevit, on Rügen.”

“Where I found him,” Kazla butted in. “At Arkona.”

“Rügen, you might say, was our prime cult centre – Slav, Rani, not Scandinavian; certainly not Dane. The god Svantevit had his own army there: pirates, the legendary Jomsvikings. Their sole purpose was to cram his temple with gold and riches.”

“But . . . Harald Bluetooth . . . Sven, his son?”

Rat laughed again – which earned a thunderous scowl from Raesan. Rat ignored him. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with your question. First, Sven Forkbeard wasn’t his son – I take it that’s who you meant? I was there; I fought alongside our heroic Sven. He took his name from Svantevit. He had served in Svantevit’s army – until he fell in love with a Rani princess. Oh, and then it wouldn’t do to be only a priest – for that’s what the Jomsvikings were. He deserted, and made for himself a name as a ganger.”

“You mean Sven wasn’t even a Dane?”

“Nej, Lubschinka – only by adoption. He was a Slav, like me. He even named his daughter for Svantevit.”

“I suppose that explains why his son Cnut used Polish forces when he came to take England. But what about Harald Bluetooth; didn’t he found Jomsborg?”

“Nej. Tell me, what would Bluetooth be doing with Svantevit? Bluetooth was what our friend there calls an angel seeker. A Christian. Nej, the thing Bluetooth founded was the dinky little emporium at nearby Arkona—”

“Where wearing eye make-up and fancy silks was the fashion,” Kazla put in with a smirk.

Rat ignored her. “Perhaps the skalds heard whispers of our Rani god Triglav – he too had a shrine on Rügen – and muddled his name with the evil Olaf. Olaf Tryggvasson, the so-called Christian. What a man will do to gain a name!” He seemed almost without thinking to snake his arm around Neve.

At that moment she’d realised . . . “Hey, we’re flying, and I’m not freaking!” She didn’t know if it was Rat, or the talk, but no matter, she’d rested her head against his shoulder.

“She’s a funny one,” Rat had said as if she weren’t there. “She asks me of Vikings when I could have told her of my days with Chaucer and Shakespeare.”

Kazla had tutted, and rolled her eyes. “He does like to exaggerate, sometimes.”

~ ~ ~

Neve could see more of the garden from the utility room. Lo, the intruder was Kazla! But what was she doing in the garden. The gate was locked, she must have climbed over. Why hadn’t she knocked at the front door like any . . . why did she now not knock at the back? Neve shot the bolts.

“What are you doing here?” she called out of the door. “I thought you were heading off to Sheffield.”

“Nej, couldn’t find the way.” Kazla flashed a smile and walked past Neve, through the utility room and into the kitchen, bringing wisps of chill morning air with her.

Neve wrapped the dressing gown tighter around her.

“I’m what you might call spatially dyslexic. That’s why Rat said to follow the signs. But there are no signs to Sheffield.”

“No,” Neve agreed. “I don’t suppose there are, not from here. What if I show you a map and draw it out? But where have you been all weekend?” This now was Monday.

“Cobblestones Guest House. I didn’t want to disturb you and . . .” she glanced up as if seeking the bedroom where her brother lay sleeping. They could hear his snores. “Did Raesan go with no problem? He’s lucky to be alive you know. Rat wanted to—”

“Yea, I’m aware what Rat wanted. But, yea, he meekly gathered his gear and departed.”

She had waited till they were almost back at Yalesham. She’d not dared to speak before lest he kicked her out of the car. Rat hadn’t been happy that she’d taken the ride with him; he wanted her safe on his pillion. But as she’d said, she’d be safer with Raesan since Rat was the target. Even so, it had been like a box of fireworks sat on the console between them, blue touch-paper lit.

“I owe you my thanks,” she’d said.

“What d’you mean? I didn’t do anything, yeh, I was wholly absorbed in calming the dragon.”

“Raesan, I know exactly what you did. Rat and Kazla know it too. And we know why. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I was thanking you for waking me.”

He flicked her a sideways glance.

“I didn’t know what I was,” she clarified.

“Yeh? And you do now?”

“Yea – though I still don’t know what you Asars did to be so reviled and banished.”

“Yeh, and never will you; my lips are sealed. Besides, I did nothing, yeh, I’m only a power.”

“That seems to be a habit of yours, to do nothing. Like you didn’t hold the dragon as you were supposed to. What did Ypsi say of you? That you don’t a thing; you don’t get jigging involved.”

“I was a power, not a creator!” He took the corner at reckless speed. She snapped shut her mouth on a squeal.

But, there, she had pressed a button and squeezed out an answer. They had been banished for creating. But creating what? Some abomination. It didn’t take much to guess it.

“The dragons,” she said. “That’s it, isn’t it? You Asars were banished for creating the dragons.”

Raesan barked in derision. “They created the dragons – the angels. Anything that procreates, yeh, without sexual contact, that’s them.” He glanced at her sharply. “You think you’re clever, don’t you, yeh. But you’ll trick no more out of me.”

And Nineve tricked from the wizard Merlin all she wanted to know, that line from the story seemed particularly apt. Though Raesan was no Merlin, he was a Uissid.

“So what did the creators create?” she asked.

But Raesan, eyes fixed on the road, wouldn’t oblige.

She didn’t mind. She had Kerrid’s book. Maybe the answer was there. She hugged it closer to her. Its foul smell wasn’t so bad; with the day again fine, the roof was down.

“Anyway, I thank you. I’ve now learned what it is to be Bellinn. I hadn’t realised it before, but we elves really do have magical powers.”

She waited for some, for any, response from Raesan. But still he was silent.

“When we get back to my place you can gather your gear and go.”

She had thought that might spark a protest. Yet he still had said nothing. Though his eyes had remained fixed on the road, she thought she’d seen the glisten of tears.

“Yea,” Neve repeated to Kazla. “Raesan went. No problem.” She said nothing of his last minute snatch of Kerrid’s book. She guessed that was the price she had to pay. “Look, I’ll make us a coffee.”

“No, no, I’ll make the coffee. You wake my brother. I need desperately to speak with him.”

Neve shrugged, not trusting her voice as a sudden hurt twisted her guts. She scarcely could lift her feet up the stairs, now so reluctant. So Kazla had come here seeking directions? No, she’d come for her twin.

Rat was vaguely awake. Neve perched on the edge of the bed. “Your sister is downstairs.”

“I heard.” He pulled back the covers. “She’ll wait, Come on, get back in bed.”

Neve drew back.

“What is it? You’re not regretting . . .?”

She shook her head.

“Then get back into bed.”

Neve glanced at the door.

“Okay,” Rat said as if he understood. “Different times, different ways. So we’ll wait till she’s gone. You’re not regretting it are you?”

He sounded so plaintive; it pulled hard on her heart. She looked down, hiding the fact that she was chewing her lip.

“You are,” he said in alarm.

Again she shook her head. “I don’t know how to be. It’s like I’m no longer me.” She couldn’t say what was really troubling her.

He took hold of her hand – but she didn’t want that; she liked it too much. “I’m no expert on women,” he said, not knowing what was the real problem, “but I’d say what you’re feeling is the very opposite. This is the true you, the one that’s been curled up inside you, afraid.”

She tried to laugh. “Oh, a philosopher too.”

“Well I did go to Cambridge. Okay, so I only sat in on some lectures.”

She turned her head, tears welling she didn’t want him to see.

“Hey!” He found her hand again. He held it gently; she didn’t want to respond. “Hey, look at me.”

But she would not, could not.

“Is this because my sister’s downstairs? You’re afraid I’ll leave?”

“You’re a ganger,” she said without a shake to her voice (she ought to have been on the stage).

“A ganger, yea, but you’ve seen my bike; it’s built for two. Or—idea, idea!” Now excited, he jerked to a sit. “Let’s buy us a boat. Hey, don’t you see? That’s why the Norns brought you here, to Yalesham-on-Sea – so we can get us a boat and sail it from here.”

“Yalesham was my mother’s last known address, that’s what brought me,” she said, yet it gladdened her to hear his talk.

“Ne-ne-nej, same story but twist it. The Norns brought you here so you would meet Raesan – who was concerned of the dragon – and la-la-la, you were sure to meet me while seeking your mother—”

“Grandpa.”

“Mother, grandfather, what the . . . and now we’re neatly at Yalesham where we can moor us our boat. Oh, so neat, the Norns, as ever.”

Neve nodded. It all sounded good. But still Kazla was waiting for him.

“Lubschinka, I am not your mother, I won’t desert you. Though I’m not going to say I’ll always stay – you know I’ve only 800 years left to live? But until we’ve both had enough of each other, hey? Now, let me into that bathroom before I go down.”

“I want the shower.”

“And?”

“I told you yesterday, I don’t share the bathroom.”

“I’ll be two ticks.” He held up two fingers.

Neve remained on the edge of the bed. She waited until she heard Rat’s feet lightly tread the stairs. Then music sounded. That must have been Kazla, too soon for Rat. It was the Waterboys. Neve couldn’t help the smile. A Man Is In Love. She heard his sister’s taunt, too. “Ha! Our Rat’s got him a leman at last. About time too. We were despairing of you, with your silks and make-up.” Only then did she take a shower.

~ ~ ~

The smell of fresh-made coffee hit her as soon as she opened the bathroom door. She wasn’t long in dressing. Their cups dotted Old Phoebe’s grand round table, too many for two people to drink yet there was only Kazla and Rat. Neve headed for the coffee pot left by the kettle.

“I’ll get it.” Kazla jumped up. Neve sat. But the coffee was more than a touch too strong. Neve, shudder suppressed, said nothing of it.

“We’ve been talking,” Rat said. “You know my sister and I are seldom parted.”

It was what she had dreaded; she looked away without speaking. But she couldn’t hide how her aura behaved. He clasped her hand; a sharp tug so she’d look back at him.

“You’re jumping ahead of what’s been said. I was going to ask how you’d feel if she stayed here with us.”

Neve wasn’t aware that she’d slumped yet she felt her back straighten. She looked at Kazla. Slowly she nodded – at least in principle, she liked the idea. It felt like she’d known Kazla for years, as if they were sisters. But there were practical matters . . .

Kazla snapped a debit card onto the table. “I confess much of the funds have been, um, filtered. From Baran.”

“Baran took care of investments at Skailton,” Rat said.

“You’ve stolen—”

Rat hsst. “There you go, jumping again. She filtered out only our share. That money he held was to keep all of us, not just Zelina.”

Once a Viking, always a Viking. Neve nodded. She couldn’t now control her grin. “Of course your sister must stay. But there is one condition.” She had to wait for their hooping to stop. “She goes a tad lighter on that coffee.”

The twins pulled her up on her feet, eager to include her in a huge, three-way hug. “And please,” Kazla said,” you must call me Kaz. Everyone does.”

“What of the bikes?” Neve grew serious again. “Nerys is going to—”

“Lubschinka, hush, hush. Like we didn’t exist before you met us? The bikes will fit in the yard.”

Neve nodded again and added a sigh. Then she laughed; after all the exasperation with Raesan, it was good to have a happy sigh.

“But for now, the last stage of ‘Mission Dragon’,” she said. “Ten small pieces of Saxon—”

“Dane,” Rat and Kaz said, both together. “They are mostly Dane-crafted,” Rat added.

“Ten small pieces, packaged with letters and ready for posting. Press releases written and copied to disk. Next stop, that Internet Café along the High Street – that way it won’t be traced back to us.”

“But is it really believable?” Kaz asked. “A playboy millionaire, while out on his yacht . . ?”

Neve shrugged. “Does it matter? They’ll hardly query it; they’ll be too excited. They’ll slap an order to halt construction while the archaeologists do an explorative dig. So Aquilergy won’t like it; they have shareholders; they’ll be forced into a remedial action. As I see it, they have two options. Either reduce the number of turbines, else find a new site for that troublesome ‘Five’ – a site away from that hollow. Either way, that leaves only my grandpa to find.”

While Neve fetched the map Rat selected new sounds. Her Sunday with Rat had been a musical delight. The man shared most of her tastes, not only the blues and the rock. He even liked Medieval Babes – he’d seen them in concert. For now, he picked on The Commitments and returned to the kitchen singing I Thank You. He kissed Neve’s ear as he passed behind her.

“That trick’s not going to work today.” She forced her attention back to the map before her resolve could weaken at his plaintive singing. “These here are the ‘brakes’ above Gear River, just as the Renegale joins it –  not that they’re marked as that now.” She showed Kaz where she meant, a triangular patch hemmed in by two rivers. “You can’t see the contours here, too many buildings, but that land drops, almost sheer, to the river. Standing there, you’d be on the brink.”

“Brink, that’s what the word means,” Rat put in.

“These two rivers formed the easternmost bounds of the land that Gudrum granted to Inn Hrafn.”

Bracon-dale, brakes? Yea, I guess. But Gear River?”

“The Yare,” Neve said. “I’ve looked it up. ‘Yare’ means ‘to get ready’.”

“Yea, to gear up, to get ready to raid,” Rat said. “We used the mouth of the Yare for exactly that.”

“It formed the bounds of Tree Brunna,” Neve said.

Thrigg Brunna,” Kaz said.

“And here you’ll find the ‘Honey-maker’s Home’.” Rat touched the map a centimetre west of Dowsingham. All her life, she had lived that close to Tree Brunna and yet until yesterday had not known it.

“And here –” Neve slid her finger along a tightening of contours. “This is Arthurs Sleep. There’s a local tale that King Arthur sleeps there. But, your brother and I discussed it yesterday; we think the tale came late.”

“Attracted by an older name,” Rat added. “Say, Artred’s Slope, or something like.”

“Artred? You mean Regin, our Regin?”

Neve and Rat both nodded together.

“Wow! So that name must be older than us.”

“There are other names that prove the location.” Neve pointed to a loop in the other river. “Coster Green. And see here, there’s a spring. That must be Costringham well – which means Coster Green must once have Costringham – Gunnhild’s dower land. There’s more, though less telling. Ravens Wood, Ravens Hill, Ravendale. But the best one is this. And all my life, just staring at me. I lived on the border of Dowsingham, Dowsingham and Oddessey. Don’t you see? Oddessey, Oddr’s Isle. This here is Tree Brunna.”

Kaz grinned. “Impressive. But Tree Brunna, three wells. Where are the other two?”

“I admit, I know only one other. To me, it’s Carlin’s well, but it’s more properly named Saint Ceorlwyn’s. Count Alan developed it as a pilgrimage centre – at one time it rivalled even Walsingham. I researched it yesterday on the ‘Net. And, oh spooky, it had me shivering. Saint Ceorlwyn was a monk at St Benet’s abbey, only then his name was Eadwig. But he didn’t stay there long. He wanted to emulate his guru, Jesus, and live the simple life. So he became a farmhand and changed his name to Ceorlwyn.”

“The churls’ friend,” Rat provided.

“But the dates and everything, the name . . . I’d put money on St. Ceorlwyn being the grandson of King Eadwig and his beloved Alfgifu – the missing heir that King Edward sent Harold to Flanders to find. Ironic, that Harold had once held the very land where this missing heir had lived.”

“Sweet story, hey? And now tomorrow we’re off to Oddessey,” Rat said.

“But there’s a problem.” Neve left the map spread over the cup-littered table and beckoned Kaz through to the front room. She loaded Google Earth on her pc.

“There.” The picture was grim. A clutter of machinery and heavy lorries, and a car park next to a small square building. No trees, no grass, just featureless sand, and gravel quarries everywhere, all threaded through with grey where the subsurface chalk was exposed. Then, right at the heart of this lunarscape, was a small circle of green.

“That,” Neve said, “is Oddessey Hall. In the village we thought it demolished long ago, grubbed up to make way for the gravel-works.”

“But it’s still there,” Kaz said.

“There, yea, but how do we reach it?”

Rat, sneaking up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, mouth close to her ear. “We’re Bellinn, remember. We have ways.”

She turned to face him. “But will my grandpa still be alive?” What if she’d found him too late?

~ ~ ~

Next episode: Oddessey Hall

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About crimsonprose

After years as a multi-colour octopus in entertainment, now chilling and writing
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4 Responses to Arthur’s Sleep

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    I’m surprised Raesan left so easily, and have to wonder what else he’s up to. And the Watcher? Neve may think she’s down to one last problem, but I think not.

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