I asked the nurse the next morning, “How long must I wait for my clothes?”
“Until the doctor—”
“And when might that be?—No! I don’t need another of your chuffing injections to quieten me.” I had caught her thought. “I am reasonably and rationally annoyed.”
“I shall ask,” she said but I knew it a lie.
I wasn’t to be allowed my clothes. Though free to roam the grounds, I was to be kept close to Green Haven House. At least I wasn’t confined to quarters. I couldn’t imagine what Arvina must have suffered: incarceration, and worse, many times over as her possessed host was accused of witchcraft or insanity. But, I had arranged to meet Gamal again down by the meadow. And sure enough, he was there waiting for me.
“You could start a new fashion, that outfit,” he said in greeting.
“As could you in yours?” I returned.
“Na-na-nah.” He spread his arms. “I’ll have you know, young lady, this is a genuine ‘70’s caftan.”
I liked Gamal—Woden—whatever his name, even if he did wear a dress. I felt comfortable with him. He reminded me of Joe, one of my father’s part-time hands. I’d known Joe since forever. We’d horsed around together. And I could say anything to him, things I’d be too shy to say to the boys at school—or to those I was about to meet at college, if I ever got there. I felt more open with Joe, and now, too, with Gamal, and more confident than I did even with Donovan, though I’d known Donovan since forever as well. I tried to put an age to Gamal’s face. Perhaps about the same as Donovan, which would make him coming-on twenty-two. Except I knew he had lived for at least nine hundred years. A wise old man, eh.
“So, tell me about Guillan,” I said once we’d found an easy place to sit and while he was skinning a joint (I again waved it away. My parents smoked it but I did not.)
“Guillan, hmm? I don’t know much more than I’ve already said. Like Arvina, he was born after the Oath. We Bellinn wouldn’t have much to do with him.”
“But that’s unfair,” I said. “An unborn kid can’t stop his parents from, you know . . . begetting.” Yea, I know that sounds Biblical but I liked the word.
He looked at me like I just didn’t understand. “Has Arvina never compelled you to do what you don’t want to do?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Not as I know.”
“Okay, try it this way. I know she’s downloaded her memories on you.”
“Some,” I said.
“You notice her compelling others? Or maybe some other Bellinn compelling her?”
He passed me his spliff. Without thinking I took it. He arched an eyebrow. I thrust the weed-packed spliff back to him.
“We Bellinn have devilish powers of persuasion,” he said. “Without saying a word, we can coerce you into doing whatever we like. But most of us have what you’d call a moral conscience. Like, right now you and I could be having rampant sex, and you could be deeply enjoying it. But it wouldn’t be what you wanted. I would have stolen your will.” He shook his head, he tutted. “A good Bellinn doesn’t do that.”
I was glad about that. It hadn’t occurred to me what I could be risking by meeting him here, away from Green Haven House, where we couldn’t be seen.
“So, imagine it,” he said. “Here’s this good Bellinn, and he’s got him a woman—who may or may not be a Bellinn too—though if she is then hopefully she’s of a different Fold—na, don’t worry your head about that; maybe I’ll tell you of Folds at some other time. And this Bellinn couple, being much in love, are—how’d you say it these days? Humping? Connecting? Plugging in? Hooking up? Making out? You get what I’m saying. And though the chances are hellishly high against it, there is a meagre chance of a baby developing. And I know you know how that happens. The wonders of modern education, eh. But somewhere in the vicinity there’s a Bellinn recently dead.”
And . . .? But it seems I had to wait while he took another toke off his rapidly diminishing joint. Amazing it didn’t burn his fingers. Though I did notice the effect it had on his elvish light. Awesome. Like he was sitting at the centre of the most amazing fireworks display.
“But a Bellinn isn’t just a body,” he said. “A Bellinn is spirit, and a spirit of the highest kind—let’s not forget our divine origin. So, this spirit, compelled to continue its life in this realm, is in serious need of a Bellinn-compatible body. What does it do? It compels the couple to be its parents. Nine months later, a new Bellinn is born.”
I scrunched up my face while I thought about that. My parents had barred me from their coven. They didn’t want me to be influenced by their beliefs. They wanted me to find my own answers to the perpetual questions. I’m not saying I hadn’t thought at all about it, though I hadn’t thought much. But the one idea I had been pondering was that of reincarnation. And that’s what Gamal was talking about. And what’s the difference, human or Bellinn? I felt a kinda click in my head. A resonance maybe, an acceptance. Though it may just have been Arvina agreeing.
Having mulled on it a while, I nodded. “Yea, I can go with that.”
“So, Guillan was as much to blame as his Bellinn mother. Same with Arvina, though Gunnhild always held that she’d not taken the Oath and couldn’t be ruled by it. That’s why Arvina was accepted, while Guillan was not. Are you hungry?”
I shook my head.
“Shame. Mind if I . . .?” He pulled a snack bar from out of his pouch and munched on it noisily.
“And does he still live?” I asked. “This Guillan.”
“To my knowledge,” he said around the nuts and raisins. “No reason why not. We Bellinn are not easy to kill. Ripped apart by explosion, I’d say that’s pretty effective, though that’s only recent. Before then it was mostly decapitation.”
I pulled a face at the reminder.
“Ah, forgot,” he said. “Arvina was lopped. She’s shared that with you?”
“The first,” I said. “Since I was a child, over and over.”
“Trying to grab your attention. Hey, maybe that’s what Guillan is doing? Na-nah, better thought. Maybe he isn’t still living at all, or not as a full-blown Bellinn. Aye, that would better explain the confusing signatures he leaves in the Rune-world.”
“The . . . Rune-world? Where’s that?”
“Within, without,” he said. “It is in the vastness, in vacuous space. It’s in this place; it’s in no place. It is beyond; it is before. It’s in the glass; it’s in the grain. It’s after, always, and again.” He smiled.
“Ah. Not one of the Nine, then?”
Gamal laughed, and for a while didn’t seem able to stop. But that was okay, I was used to that with my witchity parents.
He straightened his face. “But you’ve already been there the once, brought in by Arvina. So, this time let me take you—or at least let me open the door for you.”
“Why would I want . . .?”
“Because you’re a rune seeker,” he said and almost touched the gand-stangir. I could hear Arvina growling inside me. “And better to seek the runes there than in that book back in your room.”
“If this involves drugs . . .”
He laughed, again, but not so prolonged. Then he turned serious. “Was it drugs took you there before? Nah, your hold released, Arvina snatched up her chance—or so I’m guessing. Looking for me, looking for Guillan—”
“Looking for Guillan,” I said. “She said he’d killed the old woman Beraht.”
“Ah. Well, coincidence; I was looking for her. But, nah, this isn’t an Alice In Wonderland trip. And I’d offer to hold your hand, but once there you’ll be on your own . . . except that Arvina will likely be with you.”
“Aye.” Without warning, Arvina commandeered my mouth. “For a certainty, I shall be along with her. Seeking out that bastard Guillan. Tell me, can a person be killed in your Rune-world?”
. . .
The transition is swift. One moment sitting in the meadow, in the protective fold of Gamal’s arms, he holding my hands and me thinking how much I like that when . . . the meadow, the trees, the sky and him all start to dissolve. Everything familiar . . . gone.
Now I’m alone, not even a body. And yet . . .? Not alone. I am nine rings, all spinning together like I’m part of some crazy circus act.
I know what the rings are, I’ve been reading of this. Although there are nine, they are Ethel. Ethel: the separation of the profane from the sacred. Ethel: my signature here in Rune-world. Ethel: the completion to Arvina’s rune cast from nine hundred years back, performed by Beraht Kena. Ethel: in a mundane sense, ancestral property. I am both an altar to the divine, and Failans Farm.
As if that thought calls forth my companion, a horse appears. But nebulous, made of mist, dripping water.
He’s yonder, she says looking off to her right.
I look to the left and see a low sun sparkling on water, creating a light-formed road for us to travel. And again, Lord Manawydan sends us our transport. A greeny-blue cloud-formed wagon. This time I’m not surprised by him, understanding now of the Welsh and the Norse.
Danes, Arvina corrects me. They were Danes, the same as in Brittany.
Whatever. It’s not important. Not worth losing friends over.
The green-blue cloud-formed wagon, pulled by nine ice-rimed horses, skims the sun-tracked sea. I fear it’s to take us direct into the sun. Will we burn?
But we’re through it, the sun, and now on the far side of it. Back to where our folk began.
We circle a pole that stretches up—up-up-up, high into the darkness with a hailstorm around it. I see two dragons chasing each other around that pole, each trying to catch the other’s tail. I think firstly of Yggdrasill, but it cannot be, for here there’s no eagle. Instead, there are swallows, for this is Ingavassil.
Having risen, we plunge down at great speed—like we’re slithering the length of this great pole, Ingavassil. And splash! We’re into water. Upon it, beside us, are boats, all adrift without rudders or sails.
It seems to me I hear a voice. A man’s it is, and he’s telling jokes though I can’t hear the words.
Bang! Bang! Bang! I hear and it sounds like gun shots.
What’s that? I ask my companion—who now looks like me though with a horse’s accoutrements.
I shot the bastard, she says, the sheriff’s son.
But . . . Nah, I say. A person can’t die here in Rune-world.
They can, she says, if they’re set on a stage.
I look around, feeling for Gamal/Woden—Os, the Breath—to ask him of this.
Wrong move. I’m back in the meadow, Gamal’s arms lightly holding me.
Next episode, Brittany Thwarted