He is there as arranged, waiting by the garth-gate. Why couldn’t he come later? The day’s yet to rise. “Because of the tides,” he’d told her.
This isn’t a dream, not like a usual dream. It’s Arvina’s memories downloaded to me while I sleep.
She carries a bundle. All the things she’d taken to Felebruge with her to stay those few days, all wrapped in a linen shift. There’s another for spare, and her extra foot-wrappings; the knife given by her mother that had been her father’s; and a heel of bread and some cheese. The only thing missing is the gand-stangir, that rune-carved rod that her Uncle Nihel gave her before he died. Aye, well she knows where it is. That thieving cousin of hers, Ulfkin, has it. She regrets its leaving, yet how can she return for it now? That bundle, though light, drags her down like a log.
She can’t see what Guillan has brought with him—he said he’d bring some food, too, and some wine. She can see he’s not gowned in his usual gear. He looks more a tiller of soil, warm in a flock-cowl. Might his rich gowns be packed, along with the food, into that roll at back of him?
He tries hauling her up onto Ranger’s back. She complains, “I can’t sit like this; you’ll have to move that roll.”
But he can’t move it without first dismounting. That displeases him. “If we get caught because of this . . .”
He moves it so now it sits before him, and again hauls her up to straddle behind him.
She glances back across the garth. What is looking for? What’s she afraid of? That Ailward’s son Wulfward will see them together? That Wulfward acts the lord when his father’s away. And in looking she nigh drops that bundle. How is she to hold that while her arms are tight about him? She wedges it between them and hopes nothing hard pricks into his back.
A rich sigh escapes her. Look at her. She’s leaving the life her mother wants for her. Leaving her mother’s black-gowned past. Riding away into a new life. Face forward and gone.
Ay-yi-yi! But must he heel into his stallion; must he ride so fiercely? They’ll be far away before Beraht Kena ever shall miss her. And then Beraht will take it that she’s returned to Aldebur.
His boat is at Scipdene, up on the beach away from the sea, but not so close the cliff might fall on it. They’d first said they’d wait till summer’s end, but that’s now become difficult days to dwell. Her mother’s constant concerns for her, ever dealing her mind to it . . . and now she’s talking of marrying her daughter to some drab of a man over at Cavestun. “Loved by all,” her mother said of him. Aye, but ‘all’ weren’t to wed him. Why does her mother do to Arvina what she would have refused to be done to herself? All to keep Arvina away from Guillan.
“He loves me.”
“Aye, my child, and he tells more than the truth.”
Her mother was happy that Arvina was to stay a few days with Beraht. Away from him.
. . .
They reach the end-land, the sun keen on the sea. It blinds, winking at her. She looks to the north. There the clouds are clotted, and the day not yet advanced. Guillan lades her high with his roll and her bundle and slaps Ranger’s arse and watches to be sure that the stallion heads home. Then it’s a slither and skid down a steep sandy track, down to the shore. He stows their meagre belongings in his boat. It’s not as big as her mind’s eye has seen it.
“What, you thought I’d have an Easterling’s cog? You expect me to sail that alone? No, this keel is no mean ship and she serves me well. You know how to row? No? You’ll learn.”
“We’re to row the way to Brittany?” She doesn’t get how far that is but it’s more than crossing a river. But her words are like wind around him.
“Push,” he says. “You think the sea’ll rise up and drag the boat out?”
She doesn’t like it here on the foreshore. She’s heard how the Churchmen use it for burying those who won’t bend to their Faith. More-on, those sea-rolled stones might help the boat move, but they’re not easy under her feet. And that sea isn’t looking as blue as before. I more resembles Lifa’s kale-broth, same colour but thicker. There’s even ‘kale’-bits in it, full a’swirl as she splashes through the break of the waves.
Guillan’s first into the boat, leaving her to wait up to her waist in cold water. She reaches a hand to him. He grabs her arm and yanks her high, near pulling her arm from its socket. He’s no gentle man for all his high kin. He leaves her belly-down astride the boat’s brim, to roll herself the full way in. She slams hard into the keel’s belly.
“Stop your yowling. You’ll be wetter and fouler before we’re there.”
“How far is it? How long?” she asks him.
“A good many days longer if you don’t shut up. I need all my thoughts to set this sail. And you could lend a hand. Here, help me raise the mast.”
That mast is full heavy, wet and slippery. Her hands are wet and cold. Is this truly summer? She fears she’ll lose her fingers, already can’t feel them, so numb.
“Come on, you can do better.”
Does he say that as encouragement or to berate her?
“You wanted this,” he says.
Aye and, as she reminds herself, blizzards never do last. Soon she’ll be safely away from her mother and her unshakeable past. Though she will miss Beraht, wise lady of the nightshade eyes. But she’ll be over to Brittany, her father’s own kin and—
“And I trust they’ll be eager to take us in. I am, after all, a most valuable asset,” he says in his ever-big words. “Direct from the court of the King of England, me.” (Aye, and big throated, too.) “What better connections? Educated and trained as a count—a peer superior to your Breton, down-trodden, kin.”
Aw, let him talk, let him dream. Let him drop his words unregarded. She shall yet have her own kin’s inheritance returned to them.
With the mast now erected she slumps to the thwart-seat. Her belly doesn’t much like the sea, heaving worse than the waves that wash around them. And the cliff-fowl! Why don’t they ever cease bellowing, worse than a mad bull, they are.
“Don’t sit there,” he says. “You’re not done yet. There’s the sail to raise. You think this mast is a useless adornment?”
She tucks her hands into her armpits, hoping there to warm them enough to handle the heavy drag of the tarred woollen sheet. She fights away tears: they’ll only anger him. But, truth, she’d not realised the work she’d be doing. That’s not how he told it. Too late, she’s realising now, while he might be a delight for the eyes his promises are just so much wind.
. . .
The day’s again rising but she has lost count. Is this the third or the fourth day? They’ve no longer food. They’ve a jar of wine, is all, and that gives her an ailing pain in the head. Where is the land? Why don’t they sight it? She hadn’t realised it would take them so long. Yet he seems altogether at ease, sitting at the thwart-seat, the steer-board to his hand, leisurely guiding his keel. But guiding to where? They seem to be still heading south, as if to Frankland.
She turns her head sharpish. Something seen on the horizon. Her heart and her hopes leap. Can it be land? Any land, she no longer cares. But this is white and it’s small and . . . nah, it’s not land. Besides, Brittany’s still a way south, while this . . . even she can see it northward of them. She watches as the distance between them closes.
“It’s a ship,” Guillan says. “Best we set course away from it.”
That full puzzles her, and yet she says nothing. His keel. His knowledge. He’s the sailor. Now the trouble of mast and sail is done, she’s just the passenger here. But he’s right, what he said of being wet and filthy. That first day out, in the heat of midday, she had stripped down to her linen. But that so excited him he left the keel to drift in circles while he drove himself into her. Since then she’s kept herself covered. But she’s wet and she’s filthy, and she doesn’t like it.
“That ship’s coming closer,” she says. “It’s flies the King’s colours.” She just can make out the pennant though it’s wildly flapping.
Without a word, Guillan again changes course.
“What’s your father’s device?” she asks now that ship is closing and she can see more.
“You know what it is. A hammer, double-headed.”
“Then I think it’s your father aboard that ship.” And by Hel’s venom-dipped fingers, she finds that she’s glad of it, for one look at the sky behind them and she can see it’s coming on dark and wet. She doesn’t want to be caught out at sea in a storm.
. . .
A high moon lit my room. I would have delighted of it except my head hurt and my stomach was queasy like I was about to upchuck. Some of Arvina’s memories I’d rather not have.
But why did she persist with him? If that had been me in that boat I’d have said, “Ta muchly, Sheriff Bigod, for the rescue,” and been gone.
I wanted my kin’s lands returned to them, she said in my head.
Well, that was something: she was now talking directly to me.
Next episode, Madeleine