When next my friendly psychiatrist Madeleine called she found me plumped into the day-room. I hadn’t much choice, craving, as I did, a different room with a different view. That view was a wide expanse of neatly mown lawn, more frightening than inviting. Though not everyone thought so. Many of the patients were out there in the sun, sitting on brightly striped collapsible deckchairs else ambling around, all incongruously dressed in pyjamas or dressing-gowns. Where were their clothes? Where were mine?
“What’s happened to my parents?” I asked before Madeleine had so much as sat down on the vinyl upholstered [un]easy chair. “Why don’t they visit?”
I had asked the nurses if I’d been I asleep when they’d called—like, every time? Not a sign of them. Had they abandoned me; washed their hands of me? Was I that much of a disappointment to them?
“I would say your father is somewhat burying his head under his arm,” Madeleine ventured, wafting whiffs of dislike. “But at least he’s paying for this facility—you’re not in a NHS-bed. Neither, I must tell you, am I officially your doctor. Just a friend as far as any might know.”
All that was too much for me to take in, to process and to apply. I said nothing. Let it mull for a while.
“You asked me to find you some information,” she said.
“Ah! I’d forgotten. Arvina’s father. What did you find?”
She pulled from her briefcase an A4 envelope common old manilla: no expense spared (lol). She cleared space between my (faded orange plastic) beaker of water and another left there probably by a previous patient, and set the envelop down.
“Downloaded,” she said. “Full print-out. As much as I could find without venturing into more academic sites. And this.” She topped the envelop with two books.
I scarcely could control the grin that spread my face. By the looks of it, at least with one of them, she had struck gold. True, the top book, the smaller of the two, was only a basic handbook on reading the runes, and that using the Younger Futhark. But that other . . .
Awesome! A veritable tome and a half. Runes, Their History and Uses: An essential guide for the serious runester travelling towards self-actualization. My hands itched to open it. But . . . the envelop first. Only Madeleine wouldn’t allow it. She laid her hand over mine.
“We need to talk,” she said. “Arwen-Arvina, but she’s not an alter, you say? Care to explain?”
I closed my eyes, the better to think. It wasn’t that I’d given it no thought before. Of course I had—almost my every waking thought.
“She’s a ghost.” I couldn’t see how she could be anything other. “An ancestress—or more likely kin to an ancestor. I think she was killed while young—my age.”
I half-expected Madeleine to pooh-pooh my theory. Or at least to ask questions. But she didn’t. She sat in silence and listened, not even moving enough to squeak the plastic-coated institutional-style chair.
“My earliest dreams are of her death,” I said. “Beheaded, decapitated. And I’m pretty sure it was Guillan who did it. Guillan,” I repeated his name. “Not Gillan as my mother heard it. I can even tell you who this Guillan was. Son and heir of the sheriff of Norfolk. But I don’t yet know why he did it. Only something about a rune-master. Arvina has been telling me her story. That’s why I’ve been sleeping so much: it’s the only time she can get into my head.”
“William,” Madeleine said having shivered when I mentioned his involvement. “Son of Sheriff Roger Bigod. He died in 1120 in the White Ship Disaster, along with William Adelin, heir to the first King Henry. It was that which sparked the battles between Stephan and his cousin Matilda, for the throne.”
I looked at her through narrowed eyes. “But you’re Spanish; how do you know so much of our history?” Could I, I wondered, like Arvina and her mother, take the answer straight from her head? Or did I only hear what was leaked? Apparently, only the latter.
“My mother was Spanish,” she said, supplementing what little I’d managed to pick up from her thoughts. “And I grew up in Spain, but only until I was ten. Then my father brought us to England. So most of my schooling was here. But that’s not why I know of your Guillan. I went to a boarding school where the dorm-houses were named for local historical characters. We were set a project, the first year, to learn what we could of our house-cognomen. I was in Bigod House.”
“Cool,” I said.
“So, what, you think this ghost, Arvina, is trying to contact you, for you to set right her death? Or do you think it more a case of possession? Like her unquiet spirit is trying, again, to live through you?”
I laughed. “No, if I thought that you’d slap me in the loony—ah, yea, well. But, no, it’s not what I’m saying and it’s not what I think.”
“And I didn’t ‘slap you’ in here,” she said. “That was your father.”
“You don’t much like him, do you.”
“It’s not for me to like or dislike.”
So she might say, yet I could feel her dislike clear as the sun on a hot August day. He had taken me to that hypnotist, who had set off who knows what fireworks inside my head, and then had ‘slapped me’ in here, and didn’t even come visit me. I ought to hate him, too. Except, whatever else might have happened while in Longman’s reclining chair, it had removed a barrier, allowing Arvina to communicate more directly with me. And as I saw it, that was more likely to resolve my problems than any amount of therapy and medication.
I said, “I’ll tell you how it seems to me. First, there’s the resonance of our names. Arwen, Arvina. Then, she lived at Failans Farm, same as me. She was kin to the family there. And I have her gand-stangir. That’s really what’s plugging us together—except I haven’t access to it while I’m in here. Unless, of course, one of my parents finally gets off their arse and visits me here. I don’t suppose you could . . . could you?”
“Gand-stangir,” she queried. “What’s that?”
“I thought it a wand,” I said, “when first I found it.”
“And when was that?”
“When I seven—haven’t I said? I found it while clearing scrub for the henhouse. My father thought an old house used to stand there. I think it was likely Aldebur Hall—the Failan’s place.” I sighed, heavily. “And now you’ve disrupted my thoughts. Where was I? Ah, the gand-stangir. That’s what Arvina’s Dane-kin called it—the Failans. But to her, it was a rod that her Uncle Nihel had carved with runes while he sat with his brother—Arvina’s father—while he was dying.”
“And that’s why you asked for a book on runes?”
“No, not totally. I know what the runes say: that Nihel carved it.”
“Then . . .?”
I grimaced. This was awkward. I shook my head. “No, I’m not yet ready to tell you of that. I don’t know enough. Arvina hasn’t told me yet. It’s just that . . . there are hints that a rune-master caused Guillan to kill her.” But as far as I could remember that hadn’t come from the dreams. So where had I found it?
I didn’t know how much Madeleine believed of this. It didn’t exactly fit with her diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder—unless she wanted to label me delusional, and see it as a rich case of denial. As happens, she didn’t leak any such thoughts. Only a piqued interest.
“Arvina’s Uncle Nihel?” She reached for the envelop but then left it lying there. “His name was Alan, same as his brother. Alan Rufus and Alan Niger. They were part of the Breton ducal family, though their line was no longer in ascendancy. Alan Rufus—the Red—died fourth of August 1093. Alan Niger—the Black—died in 1098, or so it is thought. If your dream character is real, perhaps you’ll know who her mother.”
The shivers shot through me. It was one thing to speculate, another to have it confirmed as real. I hardly dared say her name.
“Gunnhild,” I said, suddenly sitting in what seemed a fridge. ”She had been a nun for a good many years, till Le Roussel—Alan—‘took’ her.” I wasn’t sure how to take that word.
My words didn’t only shiver me. Madeleine had to moisten her lips before she could speak.
“Alan Rufus ‘abducted a certain Gunnhild’ from Wilton Abbey. It can be dated almost certainly to 1093, not long before he died. It’s believed she was—but no, you tell me. Who was Gunnhild’s father? Has your Arvina told you that?”
“All I know is his name was Harold.”
“Will it help if I say he died with an arrow in his eye?” She looked at me like I should know the answer. Well, I did. But only cos she leaked it.
“King Harold? 1066 and all that? Wow, that’s beyond awesome! But . . . yikes! And Gunnhild’s mother was Edgiva—that’s Edith Swanneshals, yea? But . . .” I took a deep breath. And I had wanted to delve into the history of Failans Farm? It had once belonged to Edith Swanneshals’ family!
Oh, and by Thor’s Sweaty Bollocks, it now was all fitting together. But why feel so clammy-cold on this hot August day?
“I have to seek sleep,” I said. “I have to know more.”
I was already on my feet, heading to the door, Madeleine and her very kindly-brought books and the downloaded copy all forgotten.
“Hey!” she called me back.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you and this Arvina, but I withdraw my previous diagnosis. This is not a case of Dissociative Identity Disorder.”
“Nor delusions?” I asked and began to smile—till I caught sight through the window of a man in a long black shift strolling across the sun-baked lawn. He looked the spit of the Woden I’d seen him in that rune-world vision.
Next episode, Rune Caster