The two murdered girls had now been identified, though the police weren’t yet releasing their names. A fifteen and a sixteen year old, both of average height, slender build . . . and both with red-hair. I wanted to cry, though I refused to admit that I was scared. Yet there was the question newly-come, that the repeating dream was a premonition. With my next hospital appointment less than a week away I took to my room—incredibly my parents allowed it. I just sat on my bed, holding that rune-carved wand, and trying—trying so hard—not to think. In that near-vacant state a new dream took me.
. . .
It’s late in the day. Though also it’s summer and the sun remains, though low in the sky, to bounce its light around us. I’m hurting, riding a horse and unused to it. It feels like I’ve been riding for days, Yet at the same time there’s joy within me. Glimpses, now, I’ve had of a hall. From around me I’ve heard the name of Haganword, our destination. Oh blessed relief, we’re almost there. Reeled memories of days on the road with nights in a ragged pavilion on a canvas-bed. A voice within me says I shouldn’t complain. Those beds are more than our escort have had. Northmen they are, but more used to plying the plough than slaughtering men. Aye, and my mother complains I’ve taken their speech, lamenting my lack of court-polish.
I pass through the gate, my mother-not-mother—my dream-mother—riding beside me. We’re into the garth. A man stands framed by the hall-door, with a short knife preening his nails.
That’s not my mother’s brother, not Vidarr Kappi, a voice—my dream-mother’s—says direct into my head. Her face shows even whiter than the veil wrapped around it.
Mayhap his son? I answer.
Ethold? Or Alfi? Sure, but . . . no, he’s too old, his hair beneath that grey, too dark. Besides, what Kappi ever stood so short? Nor showed such a raw face.
So will you rifle his head? I ask, Or shall I?
No, we shall do this properly—so our escort may hear us.
So I wait for her to speak. Yet she says nothing—nothing till the horses have delivered us to within four yards of the door. Meanwhile, this man-not-Kappi blatantly studies us through small red-rimmed eyes. Aye-yi! A marvel he can see at all, so puffed is his flesh around them.
“My lord bids me welcome any stray traveller,” he finally breaks his silence, his preening knife still in his hand. “Though I would first know your name.” He’s addressing me even while looking beyond me at our raggedy guard. I hear his thoughts: So, young lady, fallen on rough days, no longer so grand?
I hide a breaking smile. He thinks himself quick on the uptake? Yet he has taken me for the lady and this woman beside me for my nurse or my maid. Though he is right that we are no longer so grand.
“You address the wrong lady,” my dream-mother tells him.
He realigns his eyes to look only at her, impossible to miss her authoritative tone. And now he believes he has her pinned right: a religious, an abbess by her tone and breeding. Wisely, he dips his head. “My lady?”
“Gunnhild,” she says. “Daughter of . . .” She hesitates. “—of Edgiva of here, of Haganword—of Haganword and Turgatun—of Turgatun, Stinetun, Hacford, Gersam and Aldebur.”
At least three of those names sound halfway familiar. Yet they’re said wrongly for my ears. Not wrong, says a strongly accented voice. This is not dream, this is memory. I don’t understand, and the dream flows on.
The man sheaths his knife into his belt and blouses his tunic over. He nods. Slowly. “Aye, I remember your kinsman. Vidarr. I can tell you, my father—Siward, you remember him?—he was your father’s man. Before.”
“Vidarr is dead?” asks my dream-mother, this woman called Gunnhild.
The man nods, his dour lips tight-pressed. “These twenty, twenty-four years. Flux, they said. I can tell you it wasn’t poison—it was heard by the men. It was then our sheriff asked me to oversee Haganword. Aye, and what is one more?”
His lips pout as he continues to nod. Yet it seems to me he’s overplaying his part, forcing the glumness when inside, as it leaks out to us, he’s full-delighted.
“Beraht Kena?” this woman Gunnhild, my dream-mother, asks.
“His widow?” And now the man does smile. “That, I am well qualified to tell. Our sheriff gave her to my widowed father, to be his wife. She now is my mother.”
By Thor’s Sweaty Bollocks, but this woman takes a long route to politely arrive. I take a shorter route and cut across her. “And you are?”
“Myself? Oh, I am Ailward, Ailward of Felebruge. Also of Hametun and Sustede, of Burc and Turgatun.”
“But Edgiva gave Turgatun to Saint Benet at Holme!” my dream-mother finally shows strong emotion.
Ailward smiles, almost kin-like. “The abbey does hold a portion, that’s true. But I hold the rest. Now, if I might direct you . . .” He glances skyward. “Aye, with your horses, I can tell you, you’ve time aplenty to arrive at Cavestun before night catches. Ethold Kappi,” he explains when my dream-mother narrows her eyes at him. “He serves our sheriff—alas, reduced to a sokeman now.”
My dream-mother, Gunnhild, drags her breath, her face drains beyond graveyard-pale. I fear for her, that her wits might strand her and she’ll slip off her horse, her head greet the ground and . . . crack! Yet she holds it.
“Are none of my mother’s kin left with a holding? What of Vidarr’s brother Olfsten?”
“You speak of Olfsten Failan?” asks the puff-eyed runt, his slight form still framed by the hall door.
“Aye, what of him?” she asks. “Does he still live? Where is he? Or is he, too, reduced to servile status?”
“Nmm, I can tell you he lives, and near. At Aldebur. I can tell you, too, he holds that as rental, not by service. Aye, by two rentals, one off our sheriff, the other, de Warenne’s. Now, if you turn about . . . but you’d best hurry; he’ll need time to kill the fatted calf for you and . . . ” His eyes fix on me prompting for introduction. But my dream-mother remains mute on it. “Though I’d expect no Christian hospitality there. There’s talk of his wife being a . . . how do they say it? A glamling. But I’m not one to repeat.”
Not one to repeat? this Gunnhild says as we wend our horses out of the hall-garth, Yet I’ll lay a pound of pennies he’ll be straight to ’our sheriff’, telling every scrappet of our arrival.
Fu-ssum, Mother! I offer feigned shock. Wagering? But he’s wrong of glamling—unless she really does talk dross. Nay, I’ll wager that same pound of pennies he means a galarr-kuna.
A . . . and what exactly is that?—And where did you find such a word? (I’d had the same thought.)
A ‘galarr-kuna’? An enchantress—a sorceress. I do not answer whence the word except to glance at our Northern guard. Perhaps, Mother, she’s one of our kind?
. . .
In the way of dreams there’s a dislocation of time and place. It resumes as the sun is sinking, gilding the land. And it seems I now have accepted what I have been told: that this dream isn’t a dream but a memory. So it’s not me who rides with my mother-not-mother, this Gunnhild, into another hall-garth. It is my ‘dream-guide’.
Haganword’s hall had not been grand, but this hall is less so. I feel my dream-guide’s unspoken lament: How far she has fallen from her father’s high hall!
“I hope they’ve something for us to eat.” Her belly is curdling with want. It sours her mood.
But none emerge from that hall to greet her and her mother. Excepting the geese and some small-fowl, the cats and a hound, the garth is deserted.
“All within the hall?” My guide points to the closed door, her reach extended through a carved rod. My eyes fix on that rod while yet she’s complaining. The door closed? While the evening is warm, and doubtless inside is a roaring fire!
“Then we must call their attention,” says her mother.
“Wouldn’t be needed if they’d left the door open,” says my guide. “Do your Dane-kin suffer from ice-chilled blood? Left open, they’d have heard us, heard our horses. We’re not soldiers to arrive with rag-muffled hooves.”
“My lady . . .?” their escort’s self-appointed captain offers.
My guide’s mother nods: Aye, to do it.
He dismounts, reins given to his nearest companion. He struts, exuding an air of importance, climbs the five steps to the door—the hall’s floor is raised on a wall of flint-rubble and mortar, witness to the ill-siting of this ill-drained garth, too close to a fenny-fringed beck. He raps at the door. He waits—but overlong, for then he skids down the steps, not to be bulled-over.
Meanwhile, my guide has been listening to the exchanges within—see, even in my dreams I have this extended ability!
“Who is this come at this late-day, and after the night-meal? Oh, please don’t tell me it’s Bigod.”
“An’ why would he come here? He’s had his quota of men, he’s had his taxes. Nor does that bridge yet need re-mending and the roads are full-patched to his satisfaction.”
“Is it the rent-master?”
“Well why don’t you get the call? You might then get the knowing,” a woman’s voice says. It’s not the old one, the supposed galarr-kona. This one is young. Syllan-Bote; my guide finds her name.
The door swings wide to reveal two men. Both lean of body, both muscled hard. Both tall—at least taller than the Bretons my dream-guide is used to. Both with bronzed faces that show an undeniable family likeness.
Their name echoes down through the centuries, kicking me out of the dream. So these are the Failans, father and son?
. . .
I was still sitting on the edge of the bed—I’d been dreaming without laying me down—the rune-carved wand still in my hand. It was that, the wand, I was sure of it now, that connected me to this dream-guide. A dream-guide, showing me her memories. How could it be otherwise, for aren’t we supposed to people our dreams with familiar faces? And here there were none.
Yet there had been familiar placenames if said somewhat wrong. I could recognise some as the villages around me. And, of course, here I was at Failans Farm. So it seemed my dream-guide once had lived here. But of course, that’s how I came by the rune-wand. But was she an ancestress? Or—the horror struck me—what if one of the Failans killed her: decapitated, and now she was haunting her killer’s family down through the centuries?
But that didn’t explain my mother’s report of a supposed alter-entity who shouted angrily at someone named Gillan, though I swear that I knew none by that name.
Next episode, A Path to Follow