A Hailstorm in Summer

Ep17_Hailstorm_In_Summer

Continuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

“Þe! Run-frea!” The words came from my mouth yet it wasn’t me spoke them. Wasn’t even my voice. Hells, I could never shout that loud. And the language? Sounded kinda German to me, with an odd German accent. But I knew who it was. Arvina.

She had surged out of her cage at the first sight of that black befrocked Woden, waiting as promised beyond the trees. Why she’d remained quiescent earlier, when I was talking to him outside Green Haven House, I really don’t know. But I was glad that she had. Perhaps she, too, had a social horror of making a scene. Now, here in the flesh as much as she ever could be, she had taken control of my body—why had she left me my thoughts? At least those previous times she’d done this to me I’d not been aware of it, and not had to suffer this blithering frustration. I was powerless, unable to move unless she moved me; unable to speak unless she spoke for me. And why she had left me with physical feelings . . . Ouch! The bitch, having slipped out of my slippers at the edge of the meadow—should I be thankful she’d kept them on through the trees—she then ploughed heedlessly through thistles and nettles and everything else sharp and prickly.

“Arvina” Woden greeted her—me—us. “I knew it was you.”

“It was not me, it was her,” she said, same Germanic accent but now in English and with a vague wave in no direction. “I am Arvina. She is Arwen. I am daughter of Count Alan Le Roussel and his lady Gunnhild. She is child of the Elvins. We share her body. And you, Run-frea, I ought to kill. You ought, at least, to pay my kin a blood-fee—with interest accumulated down through the years. Nhh!” She finished with a definitive nod.

He held up his hands. “Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi, never did Loki open such a worm-filled can! We must talk, you and I. But whether we stand, sit or walk –” he looked down at my feet (it could have been worse, this could have been winter, there could have been mud) “– I leave that to you, Lady Arvina.”

“Huh,” she snorted. “We will walk. You think I’ve not had enough of confinement—and what recompense might you give me for that?”

That wretched Woden, I did feel sorry for him. My resident ghost was blaming the wrong person. She should have been ranting at Guillan. I suddenly wondered, if Guillan hadn’t drowned in the White Ship Disaster, as Madeleine Penner had claimed, was he still alive? I couldn’t ask: I’d no voice. No effing choice either but to tramp barefoot through that meadow. We didn’t go far, just back and forth alongside that screening band of trees.

“First,” Woden said. “you might explain to me how you come to be dead. Then, you might explain why you hold me to blame. Further, how you came to be sharing this person’s body.”

Yea, I’d like to know the same. Was I right: was it because of the gand-stangir? And if so, how?

He—your obedient runester—lopped off my head. Because I turned out not to be the Torch you had promised—”

“Whoa! We’re talking of Guillan Bigod here? But I never did promise him any such thing. I don’t make promises, never. And neither was he ever my ‘runester’. Where’d you find such a word? I’ve already told Arwen about it; I cast the runes for him, that’s all.”

I could feel Arvina’s tension loosen. I hoped, now, she’d release my body. But nah.

“Ay-yi-yi,” she groaned. “Aye, I knew him . . . disturbed. Many times, I tried to turn from him. But a higher nock and . . .” she shrugged my shoulders. “Let’s sit.”

Oh, glorious relief for my feet! I’d thought them on fire.

“But if not from you,” she said, “whence his knowledge? I don’t mean the runes; I mean the Bellinn-ways. He was raised away from them, same as my mother, and she’s a nestling considering her nock. I always was stronger, I’d had Hegrea to teach me. But him? Guillan? He was stronger than me.”

Woden lifted a shoulder in a part-shrug. “So, what have you done, these past . . . nine hundred years? Is it really that long? Yet Arwen tells me so.”

She nodded my head. “Nine hundred, aye, since my first death.”

“Since . . .?” he squinted at her. And so, too, would I—had I a body that she wasn’t using.

She snorted. “Aye, and that’s another issue I’d like to take with you. Though it’s not just you, it’s all you pre-Atonement Bellinn. Whose clever idea was it to take that ridiculous Oath: Thou shalt not beget? Aye, you wait till your time comes to wither away. But that’s just the body. The Bellinn within us remains. And that Bellinn is as much Asaric as were the Asars. It seeks a new life. It’s driven, compelled, it must live. But where is the Bellinn baby it needs? There are none! So, what have we but to creep into the nearest foetus then available? You know how many times I have died? How many times I’ve had to do that? And I’m not alone. Every Bellinn that dies—every one of them, clawing at life. Yet we cannot bring our longevity with us. Cannot even bring our light.

There, Arvina had had her say. With a definitive harrumph, she aggressively slammed her arms close across her chest. Um, my arms, my chest. “So, now, you have your answers, I leave you to Arwen. Though, you think on it. I want my blood-fee, whether from you or from him. From somebody.”

. . .

First thing I did on recovering my body was to rub my feet. Just because I was born a Piscean, doesn’t mean my feet have to suffer.

“Wow,” Woden said. “That’s one angry Bellinn you’ve got in you there. Were you aware—could you hear?”

I nodded. “She’s not quite what I thought her. Not a ghost, is she. But neither is she part of my psyche.”

He nodded. “Neither. And I’ve still many questions for her.”

“Huh, you have? At least you being Bellinn you know what the frecking-heck she was on about. Like, ‘cuse me, but what’s a chuffing Asar? And what’s the Atonement? And . . .” And I’d thought I’d got it all sorted with elves.

“You want answers? Sitting comfy?” he asked. Despite his recent ear-bashing, he seemed in high mood. “Ready for a story that’ll blow your mind? But first, do you want me to skin one?” His hands went to the pouch fixed to his belt. “Do you . . .? Grass . . . weed?”

I shook my head and waved that away. I was already feeling like I’d fell down a rabbit hole.

“Mind if I . . .? No, you’re right, best not. So, once upon a time, way up in a realm beyond the rainbows—above even Asgard of the Northmen’s dreams—was the most beautiful being. Breath, she was, and with Fire she’d been born from the black abyss. Breath and Fire had already created wondrous beings of colour and song—angels, the Churchmen called them, though they’re not. But now Breath wanted to create something . . . other. Something more complex, having more form.”

“So, what, you’re saying this ‘Breath’ was a god?”

“Nah, I told you, above the gods—above even Asgard. And as she desired, so she created—she created you humans. But her colourful, sweet-singling, first-created weren’t happy at this. They were being slighted in preference to others. They turned against Breath. They rounded up all her helpers. And in one great hailstorm, they threw these accused offenders out of their realm.”

I laughed. “Yea, right. Like, Woden, this really is a ‘once upon a time’ tale. I’m not a kid, you know.”

“And my name’s not Woden. Why call me that? Ah! You think me out of my head?” He laughed, then sobered. “Nah, but don’t tell me you think me the rune-god? I’ll have you know, young lady, my name is Gamal. There,” he leaned towards me, “I’ve given part of my power to you. Gamal, son of Asny daughter of Zemowit the Asar.”

Zemo the . . . Asar? That could interest me, considerably more than his ancient myth created for kids. But how to lead him to tell me more?

“Okay,” I said. “So, this high-above goddess created we humans, for which she and her helpers were kicked out of their god-realm. And they fell, I take it, to here?” Why else the story?

The fella in the black frock—whose name was Gamal not Woden—nodded. Enthusiastically. “They were condemned to live on this Earth, amongst those they’d created, in their exact forms, for twelve thousand years. But even then they’d not be allowed to return to their realm unless some human was found, untainted by them, who’d speak well of them. And thus did Sir Guy speak and with it began the Atonement. But when the Asars returned to their realm they left us behind. Their begots, their half-breeds, their children—the Bellinn, the Brictan, we’ve been known by many a name.”

“So . . . what are you saying here? That these Asars were, like, kicked-out gods? And from them came you Bellinn—what my ancestors knew as the elves?”

“The Asars took human form,” he said. “That was their punishment. They were even begotten by human fathers upon human mothers. But they were not human. As you say, they were gods. But not just ‘gods’: they’d once been above the gods. And even now, in human form, they were immortal—though, aye, they could be killed. Yet upon their death they were, within the nine months, again born to this world. And that required a Bellinn’s child, for none but a Bellinn’s body can sustain them.”

He sat, quietly now in his faded black frock. I guess he was waiting while I absorbed it all. While my thoughts shuffled to make room and accommodate, to splice all this into my pre-existing knowledge and theories. I guess, at an unconscious level, that’s what was happening, though I wasn’t aware of it.

“So,” I said. “What was this Oath that Arvina was shouting about?” Whatever it was, it was that which necessitated her borrowing bodies. I wondered how many borrowed in nine hundred years. Though it seemed Bellinn requirements were less than Asaric. Apparently, they could survive by sharing a non-Bellinn body; just not as a separate entity. But . . . had Arvina ever thought that each of her hosts was a feeling, thinking, caring person? Did that not bother her?

Gamal sighed. “The Oath. If you had seen the pain on the faces of the Atoning Asars, that they must leave some of their number behind . . . you would not ask. With no newly-begotten Bellinn bodies, those remaining Asars who currently were Bellinn-embodied would have nothing to hold them to this world when finally freed by death. They then could join with the first Atonement. We thought it right to refrain from begetting. To allow the Asars to escape. We weren’t thinking of ourselves, we Bellinn. And now, listening to Arvina . . . what pains have we have caused our own kind? I’d say not to think upon that.”

His high mood had gone. He sat, droop-shouldered, his face now glum.

Though he’d said not to think of it, of course I did. Down through the centuries, men and women sharing their bodies with these Bellinn who were desperately clinging to life. I live in the twenty-first century, born millennia year, yet my GP had labelled me schizophrenic, my mother had thought me schizoid, my teachers thought me ADD, my father feared I might be mad like a relative of his. What hope, then, for those in the centuries before me, labelled insane and locked away? What of those who were accused as witches and condemned to the flames and the stake?


Next episode, Rune-World

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Beside the . . . Sea?

Living on the coast, it’s easy for me to walk down to the beach on these hot July days. Yet I don’t. I prefer to be out of the noise—the babies crying, kids yelling and screaming, parents shouting, amusement arcades blaring out their annoying jingles. Besides, with Breydon Water lapping my feet (so to speak), why go elsewhere. I could never take pictures like these on the beach . . .

High Tide at Breydon

A grass-grown island being slowly eroded at every high tide

Breydon Water, remnant of the pre-Roman Great Estuary

Breydon Water, much diminished from its pre-Roman guise as the Great Estuary

Breydon beneath moody sky

A place of many moods. As a cloud passes over Breydon Water and the first drops fall, its time to head home.

But it’s not just for the sky and the water that attracts me to Breydon. There is an interesting plant community here.

Seeds of Alexanders

Seeds of Alexanders. Wherever the Romans went, seems they took this plant with them. So not surprising to see it around Breydon, with its two Roman forts guarding north and south of the old estuary mouth (Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle)

Wild Carrot

Our ancestors first harvested the humble carrot from such estuary margins as Breydon. Here’s the real McCoy, carrot, the wild variety. Though I admit, i don’t know why its foliage has turned such a wonderful crimson, but it was a must-have photo.


Photos taken 9th July 2017

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Horse Whispers

Halvergate Marshes

Halvergate Marshes in their winter bleakness, absent the herds this time of year. Photo taken 4th January 2017

The road from Great Yarmouth to Norwich crosses the former ‘Great Estuary’, now better known as the Halvergate marshes. Travelling by bus, I’m free to gaze out the window, to enjoy the serenity of this landscape, dotted with windmills, with the occasional swan-couples breeding, and the distinctive herons and egrets in flight. And, of course, the grazing animals.

I have recently learned that these marshes weren’t drained until almost into the eighteenth century.

Tunstall Mills

Tunstall Mills, two examples of the now outdated mills used for marsh drainage. Photo taken 25th March 2017

Before then, their winter face was one of lakes, fens and quagmires, and in the summer, able to support only the light feet of sheep. The drainage proceeding, the Halvergate marshes have since become famous for supporting large herds of cattle. But of late, another herd animal has been seen enjoying the sweet grasses. Horses.

Horses graze beside A47

Horses grazing marshes alongside GY-Norwich A47 (photo taken from north banks of Breydon Water, ‘beyond the tracks’; not so close but somewhat safer than standing by that road): 9th July 2017

Of course, horses have always grazed here. But in small numbers, the precious livestock of local farmers or marshmen—or their children’s pets. I remember (way back in the ’80’s) encountering a small herd of palominos—by which I mean 5 or 6. I’ve had to dodge a territorial battle between a shire and a Shetland pony (the pony was the aggressor). But a few years ago, larger herds began to appear. At first, I took no notice of these, expecting them to be there just the one year. But, no, another year came, and there were more. They still are grazing there, their numbers greatly increasing.

Curious of this, I remarked on it to the woman sitting next to me (I’m always chatty with strangers on buses—I am the annoying person!). She said they were Polish horses. By which I took her to mean the ‘Polish Ponies’ more correctly know as Konik, the modern-day hybridised descendants of the primitive Tarpan, which themselves were probably brought to Europe by the horse-herding Indo-Europeans from their homeland across the Steppes. In recent years, various conservation bodies have brought in these Konik graze the delicately eco-balanced fenny meadows.

Konik Ponies in Poland

Spot the difference? Polish Ponies (aka Konik) from Wikipedia’s article https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=113123

But, as you can see by the photo above, these Konik are somewhat distinctive; I would recognise these for what they were, no problem. Besides, those grazing our marshes are mixed herds—mixed in breed and in age, from ponies to carthorses, thoroughbreds, piebalds and skewbalds and gypsy cobs.

Halvergate Horses

Not a brilliant photo, but it does show the variety of breeds in this herd; Photo taken 9th July 2017

I asked this woman, how come these Polish ‘horses’ are grazing our marshes? I mean, have they been shipped from Poland just for the sake of the Halvergate grasses? Which might imply a lack of grazing in Poland though that seemed unlikely. The woman suggested they might belong to someone amongst our growing Polish population. Hmm, I thought, perhaps.

And so another year went by without me thinking more about it. Then, one day, making this journey, alone, I pondered some more on it. The sheep were the earliest grazers of these marshes, bred for their wool, but used, too, for their meat. Then came the cattle. Okay, providers of leather, but mostly seen as meat-on-the-hoof. So these horses . . .?

I felt sudden revulsion, a typical British reaction (I tried it on a few ramblers I met while taking photos; they all reacted the same). See, to we Brits the thought of horse-meat is . . . well, unthinkable. I’ve always thought that a particularly British attitude, knowing that horse-meat is found on almost every European plate—except in parts of Spain; though, oddly, the Wikipedia article on food taboos remarks ‘not Poland’. Anyway, that set me thinking further.

Why are we Brits so delicate of it? Would we rather go hungry, and risk starvation, than eat a horse? Seems so (though when I read further it seems we would not). But why this refusal? Is it that, to us, horse-meat is as much taboo as pork is to Jews. And if so, then why this taboo? Surely not for the same reason as the horse is also taboo for Jews (it doesn’t have cloven hooves).

White Horse at Uffington

The White Horse at Uffington (not a pub but a hill-carving). Photo from National Trust; https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-horse-hill

You might look at the Uffington White Horse, and other chalk carvings in southern Britain, or point to the number of early coins minted in the same southern region of Britain (which also feature the horse). You might throw in the horse-icons of Epona from Gaul and conclude that at least the Celtic portion of we Brits have been horse-fixated for at least two and half millennia. And you’d be right. You might care to add evidence from Celtic mythology: the Irish horse-goddess Macha, and the Welsh ‘Great Queen’, Rhiannon. Yea, there’s no denying it: In times past, the Britons revered the horse.

So, is that the reason we modern-day Brits won’t eat horse-meat? No. Or at least, not entirely.

In 732 CE, Pope Gregory III instructed Saint Boniface (c.675-754 CE) to:

“suppress the pagan practice of eating horses”

This was probably during the saint’s visit to Rome, when he was raised to archbishop of Germany. Despite Saint Boniface was Wessex born, his mission was to the Germanic peoples of the Frankish Empire (note, not Celts). Pope Gregory III called the eating of horse-meat a “filthy and abominable custom”, being associated with pagan rituals (those of the Germanic Odin, not the Celtic Great Goddess). Reading the subtext here, this pagan custom would have seemed to the Christians a parody of their Holy Eucharist. i.e. the horse as the sacrament; eating the flesh of the god. Of course, it was banned. One assumes (though I’ve failed to find evidence) that a similar ban had long-since been widespread through the Celtic Fringe, some of which had been converted to Christianity while still part of the Roman Empire.

Yet, here, there’s a glaring contradiction. The very places where Saint Boniface preached and converted are those came places which, today, regularly eat horse-meat. So, what happened? Why have they discarded the ban, while we have not?

In France, it was the French Revolution put horse-meat back on the menu. Since only the aristocrats could afford a horse, as these aristocrats slipped from their saddles, so their horses became food for the masses—far more nutritious than Marie-Antionette’s famous ‘cake’.

In other European countries, widespread hunger, especially in times of war, broke through the ancient prohibition. In many of these countries horse-meat is now considered a poor-man’s meal. In most of these countries it is an ingredient only of sausages, seldom eaten as steak.

But what of Britain and Ireland, both Celtic and Germanic? How come we’re the last to hold out?

Well, actually, we’re not. Until the 1930s, horse-meat was regularly fare in Yorkshire. But. then, we all know that’s an area, historically at least, more Norse than English. Yet, when you start looking, you find horse-meat consumption cropping up in times of hardship, right across Britain, with no geographical restriction. We Brits have eaten horse-meat. But only when times were really hard. And I can imagine, even during this past century, there were  many a poor family who went to the knacker’s yard, precious pennies in hand.

Perhaps the one striking difference between we Brits and Irish, and the rest of Europe, is that here the horse was early given pet-status (this, incidentally, is also found in Poland). One does not eat one’s pet. That’s verges on cannibalism.

So, back to the original question, of these horses that now graze our marshes.

I can only assume that my informant miss-read the Broads Authority’s web-site where it says of ‘Polish Ponies’—but it also says these have been brought in to graze the various fen areas within the Broads Area. The Halvergate marshes are marshes, not fens. Oops! You won’t find any hybrid-Tarpan descendants here.

The truth  of the horses’ identity took some searching. But with the help of my good friend Google I finally found it. These herds of mixed horses belong to Hillside Animal Sanctuary—who rescue and care for maltreated animals. Oops, and double oops.

And to the fellow I met on my way to take the photos (above) of these horses, I do apologise if I misled you with my miss-information. And he was a vegetarian, to boot!

 

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Woden

Ep16_WodenContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

I woke to find Woden outside my window, peering in at me, his light so bright it reached my bed.

I might have thought him real when first I saw him. I might have wanted to go to him, to—I don’t know—to talk of the runes with him? But not no. Now I knew the truth of him. He was nothing but a residual trance-image. An hallucination. It was that drug they’d been pumping into me, that sedate, injected without my knowing. I turned my back to him; I didn’t want to see him.

A domestic came in; I thought her a domestic. Apart from the nurses in traditional blue I’d seen two other uniforms here. The carers wore a murky green, cleaners and others wore pink. This one was in pink.

“Are yer no getting up for brekkie?” she asked me. Then looked down at my notes, clipped to the end of my bed. “Ah, another disturbed night, was it?”

Then her eyes caught the window and what was beyond. “Shoo! Shoo!” She flicked her fingers at the offending vision. “If he’s one of ours he shouldna be out there, this early. You’d like me to close the blinds, aye, be rid of the peeping tom?”

“Yea,” I said, now in total confusion. I’d been prepared to accept Woden as an hallucination. But if the domestic could see him he must be real, and that totally scrolled my knob.

I ate my breakfast, still in bed, not wanting to get up. I was still there when . . .

“Mum?” I couldn’t believe it. Yet it was her, letting the door slam with a whump behind her. I was too flabbered to smile or anything.

She brought me some fruit. “Well I couldn’t come empty-handed, though your Dad will have seven fits if he knows where I am. We’re to leave you alone, he says. Give you time to sort it all out. He doesn’t want us blamed for what’s happened to you, though I’ve told him that’s a mite too late. I’m sorry, my love, whatever we’ve done.” She sobbed. Quietly. Into a hanky.

“It’s okay, Mum. You haven’t done anything. Well, except that you didn’t listen to me. You wouldn’t believe me. You feared I was nuts. I’m not, I’m psychic, and I’m hosting a ghost.”

But I doubt she heard a word of it, all wrapped up in her troubles.

“Have you brought any clothes?” I could but hope.

She nodded. She smiled—a rather wet one. “That Doctor Penner called on me yesterday, late. She told me you wanted your bits from your room. Well, I didn’t know what to bring so I packed you a case like you were going to Aunt Maggie’s.”

“And?” I looked around but could see no sign of it.

“The nurse out there,” she nodded towards the door, “she took it from me. Said it would have to be cleared with the doctor.”

I rolled my eyes and heaved a sigh. Still, I was one foot closer to wearing a shoe. “What about the rune-wand? Have you brought that?”

“What you want that old stick for I don’t know, but . . . comfort blanket I suppose.” She fished it out of her shopping bag. I would’ve kissed if she’d have come closer.

She sat there, tugging her hankie and dabbing her eyes. Until she caught sight of the time—on the clock on the wall above my bed; it ticked, loudly, all night long.

“I’m sorry, love, but I have to fly. Now, don’t you go eating all those grapes in a go, they’ll give you a belly ache. We’re thinking of you, we both are. We want you better, we want you out of here. I’ll come again when I can.” She kissed me, barely skimming my cheek, and left. She hadn’t stayed long.

I watched the door close behind her . . . and jumped at the knock on the window.

. . .

I knew who it was even before I opened the blinds. Light streamed in though it wasn’t the sun. Woden, grinning at me. He motioned for me to open the window. That’s when I discovered the windows—Georgian-style sash openers—were cleverly set. Only the top windows opened, and that no more than four inches. I shrugged: no can do.

Arvina, there’s a door, his voice sounded inside my head as he pointed off beyond the day room.

“I’m not . . .” I shook my head at him.

He held a finger to his lips. Apparently, I had to keep quiet. Then, again, his voice sounded in my head: Use the door. The others use it.

I looked at the time. It wouldn’t be long till they were serving lunch. I supposed they’d raise the alarm if I was missing so, well, I’d be okay to quickly nip out. I admit I was somewhat afraid, for if he wasn’t an hallucination he must to be a Bellinn. Fact: he could speak direct into my head, and that’s a Bellinn ability. Though his ‘light’ didn’t quite match those in Arvina’s memories.

I now had these Bellinn-beings figured—though no way was I about to share it, not even with my friendly psychiatrist; that would get me another label. But, as far as I could see, these Bellinn had three typical characteristics. Longevity, though probably not immortality. Telepathy. Plus they possessed like a greeny-blue watery light—except here was Woden showing something other. What beings likewise had light? Angels and fairies and their like. I dismissed angels: everything of Arvina’s memories said the Church didn’t like these Bellinn-beings. And fairies? I had read somewhere, I don’t remember where, that our word ‘fairy’ comes from the word ‘fey’ and that ‘the fey’ are ‘the dead’. With those two removed . . .

I hadn’t read Tolkien, off-put by my mother obsession, disgusted that she’d named me Arwen. But I’d seen the films. To Tolkien—who as a professor of Anglo-Saxon would have studied the culture as well as the lingo—the elves emitted a light. But of course, for that’s what their name means: Light Being. I read that somewhere, too, though I don’t remember where except it was when I was first getting into the history of Failans Farm. My family’s farm. The Elvin’s farm. Elvin, Elfin, hmm.

Also obvious from the films, Tolkien—who had studied the culture—gave his elfin-kind telepathic powers, and longevity. So, I reckoned it was fair to say that the Anglo-Saxons believed all this too. And at some distant time, they had known and had seen there light-bearing beings. So, the Bellinn were the elves of old. QED

And now I was about to meet one of these elves in the flesh. And I was no little afraid—especially since I’d previously seen him in that hypnotic trance in the guise of the Anglo-Saxon god Woden.

. . .

The door was hidden away down a corridor. Unlocked, I opened it. Warm summer air greeted and caressed me. I’ve never been so glad to be out of doors and under the sky! But I wouldn’t be venturing far. Though I stood on a paved patch it couldn’t have measured above two yards square. Beyond was a stretch of pea-gravel, and I was wearing these sloppy slippers.

All this time I’d been at Green Haven (two weeks?), apart from the fact of the lawn fronting the day room, I had paid no heed to my surrounds. I knew Green Haven wasn’t a modern purpose-built hospital. Now I could see it was a country house, probably Georgian, and converted to this. I suppose I was vaguely aware that the day room gave onto a terrace from which steps led down to the lawn. This door I’d discovered, set at the side of this grand Georgian country house, was squeezed between two rooms with glazed wide bays. Woden was waiting for me there.

“Arvina!” he opened his arms to . . . What, hug me in greeting?

“I’m not Arvina,” I said, which stilled him. “She’s been dead these past—”

But how long had it been? I quickly calculated. Her Uncle Nihel (Alan Niger) had died in1098, and that was eight years before these memories she’d shared with me. Eight plus eight equalling sixteen means these memories must have dated to 1106. Besides, according to my friendly psychiatrist, Guillan had died in 1120, by which time Arvina must have been dead. Slain. Off-headed. Decapitated. Not something one survives, not even a fast-healing Bellinn.

“She’s been dead these past nine hundred years,” I said.

“Aye, Arvina, if you say.” Woden grinned at me like a Cheshire cat. “So, you’ve found a way to slip in to society. Found a new identity have you, forged the papers? How’d you do it convincingly? I know a whole lot of our kin who’d eagerly copy it.”

“I’m serious,” I said. “I am not Arvina. Do I look like Arvina?”

“Huh,” he said. “You think I’d know that? Do you remember us ever meeting? But I’ve had your description in all its fullness from Toggy. By the way, he sends his love, or he will once I tell him I’ve found you. Do you have any idea what he’s been going through? You don’t have to wave your nine hundred years at me. He’s been hunting every which place for you those same many years. All we knew was you’d disappeared, and everyone assumed it was with that illegal jerk Guillan.”

“And who’s fault is that?” I’d been trying to keep my voice down, being so close to the house, but now he’d annoyed me. “You’re the one who convinced Guillan his future life required Arvina to be his torch.”

“Er?” Woden stepped back—for which I was grateful. He had been crowding me. Though it could have been cos I was pointing the gand-stangir at him.

“You were his ‘rune-master’,” I said, aware how sharp my voice had become.

“I . . .” He held up his hands. “Nah, I . . .” He shook his head. “Nah, I . . . whoa, no, hold that thought there.”

Yea, like that thought was going anywhere.

He sucked on his lip. Thinking? But he wasn’t quick with it. I suppose nine hundred years of living does clutter the memory. “So is that what that Guillan says? That I was his rune-master?”

“Well weren’t you?” I didn’t want to say of seeing him while in that hypnotised trance-state.

He swayed his shoulders and wobbled his head like he was weighing up his answer—a trait probably copied from Loki in the Thor films. “Rune-master, aye, but not his. I . . .” He scraped his fingertips through his short-cropped hair. “Aye, yet I do remember casting the runes for him. Poor little runt, ten years old and just discovered how shitty this life. He’d wanted an end. Huh! Bellinn, born after the Oath, with another 3000 years to live. Hey, but he has only another 2000 years now.”

I shook my head. “But he hasn’t: he’s already dead. Died in 1120.”

Woden roared. “What, drowned along with those noble sons? Arvina, I know that’s the story but you of all people know that’s not true. It was already later than that when he stole you from Toggy.”

I jumped on that. “Then that proves what I’m saying. Since I didn’t know that, I can’t be your Arvina. Besides, look, no light—I’m not even one of your Bellinn.”

“Aye,” he grinned, “and I can do that. It’s no clever trick and not worth the effort since, anyway, the non-nocks can’t see it.”

We both clammed tight as a fellow patient, grey PJs, wine-red gown, squeezed past us.

“Look, can we move away from this door? I don’t know what’s happening here, but we need to talk. And that before I go see Toggy.”

“Third time you’ve mentioned that name. Who is he?”

“Ay-yi-yi, you’re not kidding me, are you. You are not Arvina. She would never ask that. Yet she’s not dead, can’t be. She came seeking me just two weeks ago. Was her that directed me here.”

“You’re right,” I said, “we do need to talk. But right now I gotta go in for my lunch.” I also wanted time to think about what he’d just said.

“Okay. Fine. This afternoon, huh? Soonest best. And away from this place.” He looked over his shoulder to the trees screening this side of the house. “I’ll meet you in the meadow beyond those trees.”

“You are right. In these clothes?” I held out my arms.

He leant in closer and whispered, “Haven’t you noticed? You’re living here in the twenty-first century. Give it two hours. And be there.”


Next episode, A Hailstorm in Summer

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The Bug with the Bulging Thighs

Swollen-thighed Beetle

It’s taken me a week to find the name of this bug. And, lo! it’s so descriptive:

  • Swollen-thighed Beetle (Oedemera nobilis)

Apparently, this is the male of the species—the female sports more slender, typically beetle, thighs.

I don’t know what the smaller bug in the photo might be.

Photo taken 9th July 2017, on banks of Breydon Water, Norfolk, UK. 

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Guillan

Ep15_GuillanContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

Guillan’s voice bears a calling-charm which enchants and enfolds her. It pulls here towards him whether she wills it or not.

Aye, Arvina wills it, though until this moment she’s been unsure. Now, surely the runes are confirmed? Just as he claimed, she is his Torch, his completion—not that she’s yet got the full drift of that. And if she is his then he must be hers. Her thoughts run swifter than her legs, thinking on this. Together, as one, that’s what he wants. And with him as heir to his father’s estate, she too shall inherit. She has only to wait till old Bigod dies . . . then shall her kin be restored to their ancestral property. It must be so: the runes have said it!

Oh, how wrong her mother to warn her against him.

In moments, she’s in his arms, he wraps them around her. She feels his heart beating, she feels the heat of him—such exquisite charges to her senses! Never has she felt this melting of barriers, this melding of beings, this . . . Is this love? Is this what fetched her mother from her nunnery to be with Alan Le Roussel? Ay-yi-yi, she no longer holds wonder at it.

As her grin begins, so his lips seal over it. Aye, and she who has never been kissed! Such soft lips, has her lover. And she cannot deny him: she is totally and fully his. She nigh climbs upon him to gain closer union.

But he breaks their kisses. He moves her away. He looks at her. She feels it as a physical tearing, a pain. Then, bliss-of-the-days, he, too, grins—and looks back over his shoulder.

“Horse,” he says—and she thinks he’s using her rune-name. But then, “Ranger,” he’s calling his horse.

The tall black stallion ambles towards them, meeting them midway through Felebruge’s fertile fruityard. There must be many an omen there! He mounts. And she’s distraught, thinking he’ll leave her. She could not bear it if he were to leave her now. But nah, he hauls her up to sit behind him. Then, before she has time to tuck in her skirts and arrange all into folds, he’s heeling the mount and the mount is off like a hell-hound!

Never, not ever, has she been on a horse when it’s so recklessly charging. She clings tight to Guillan, terrified lest she should fall. And even then, were she not to be, by Thor and by Hœnir, at this speed it surely would hurt. A lot.

He hears her fears. Arvina, my heart, you are too Dane in your ways. We Bigods are Franks, and so, too, must you be.

“Yet you have a rune-master!” And that never is Frankish, that is Saxon and Danish.

She doubts he has heard her, what with the horse drumming its hooves on the road, and the wind whipping around them—and now they’ve come to Crows’ Mere where the birds are especially loud. She repeats what she’s said of his rune-master, direct into his head . . .

And there she comes to a heart-shattering stop. What is a barrier; why has he sealed his head against her?

“Guillan?” She taps on his pearl-seeded shoulder, though that woollen coat is too warm to be wearing this day. “Guillan, why are you blocking me?” How can they be one, together, completion, if he is to block her thoughts from his mind?

And still he ignores her, heeling his horse, this black-coated Ranger, to yet greater speed.

But of course, now she sees it! He needs give his every thought to controlling the horse. Likely he and the horse have now become one. He hasn’t a thought to spare for her. Aye, that’ll be it.

She’s pleased, now, to have reasoned it. Please to be happy in their love, better than that panic she felt for too long a moment, all pained within. She wraps her arms further around him and rests her cheek against his back—though those pearls dig deeply into her cheek.

. . .

Beyond Crows Mere are sheep meadows. She hasn’t travelled so far before, and neither plundered a head that knows it. It’s all full-new to her, acres and acres, all unfenced, unhedged, divided only by hurdles and that into pens, and grouped in their pens, the sheep. And beyond . . . she knows what is there, she’s been told of it, but she is yet to have her first sight of it. At the thought and the prospect she’s all excited, a child hunting hares’ eggs. She strains to see past Guillan.

And aye, there! Seen in the dip of the land. So blue! So very, very dark, dark blue. Like woad-dyed woollen weave. And now it rises above the land, though she knows that’s only illusion. A ribbon, it is, a band. Now a sheet. Now fully exposed, like a plain—except it’s not land, it’s the sea.

Guillan reins in the horse. Too abruptly, the horse doesn’t like it. It rears. Arvina fears to fall and again clings to Guillan.

“You want to decapitate me? Let go!” he snaps at her.

She starts to deny—then realises what she is doing. She’s pulling too tightly on his coat and it’s cutting his throat. She offers apologies—in polished-court French.

He hands her down from the horse, his mood restored. His arms again wrap around her, though now from behind. She feels his head resting on hers. She feels his breath disturbing her hair though that must now be a mess, she has worn no head’chef.

“Mine,” he says.

But she doesn’t get what he means.

“Down there,” he says, walking her now to the edge of the cliff, “there is my boat.”

So he says, but she can’t see it, not without looking far over. He pulls her back from the edge. “It’s unstable. Breathe too heavy, that cliff will fall.”

“Yet you keep your boat down there? Is it safe?”

She doesn’t mean to criticise yet that’s how he takes it. He brings his hand hard across her face. Her flesh receives it fiercely, already stinging with the cold wind. She cries her pain. And he hears, and he sees, and he’s sorry and he’s hugging her, hugging and kissing her, and everything’s fine again. Everything is just fine.

“Fool,” he says. “I keep my boat up from the water, but away from the cliff. Besides, I shall move it before the autumn storms.” He laughs so suddenly it alarms her. “At summer’s end we shall sail away, together. Where would you most like me to take you?”

She needs no thought to answer that. “Brittany.”

He grunts. “But Gascony’s better. And Italia. But no need now to decide. We shall travel the worlds, two runes holding secret, the Torch that carries the Water, the Water that carries the Torch.”

His fingers unflexing, he releases her hand. She looks in query. He seems entranced, his eyes set only upon the sea. He has no further thought of her. She repeats in her head what the runes have shown her. She is the Horse, and they are the Torch, and together she’ll reclaim the Ring of her kin-garth, their ancestral property.

But . . . Latinate logic hits her head, grinding against the Anglo-Dane of her. She can only attain her kin’s ancestral lands if Guillan remains his father’s heir. And here he is talking of them sailing the world—for him, that blue plain is his demesne, his inheritance. He cares not if his father disinherits him. That is not what she wants.

He turns on her, a wild look in his eyes. Fear hits her, clenching her belly, drenching her body with bilious waves. Has he head her thoughts? What now if he attacks her? What hope for her? She ought to have brought her father’s blade with her. Why learn defence if . . .

But . . . “They’ll try to thwart me.” His voice sounds rippled through with . . . is it rage? Not directed at her as she feared, yet such fierce emotion, still it scares her. “They’ll try every way. But, my heart, my Torch, all their efforts shall only work to make us stronger. Our every triumph, their every defeat, shall be another sword in our fist, another wind in our sails, another shoe to our feet.”

And who is she to gainsay him? But is this what she wants? Yet, the runes . . .

“It will not be yet,” he says, and teases out the tangles from her wind-tousled hair. “First, we shall have this summer to . . . perfect our joining. We shall make merry, is that how your Danes say it? Make merry time and again before this summer ends. And Hell take the one who stands in our way be that your mother or Felebruge’s old hearth-sitter.”

She clamps tight to her thoughts for she doesn’t much like the way of his talk. But then he’s nibbling her neck, and sucking her earlobes and . . . ay-yi-yi, aroused, she is melting into him. And there’s nothing to worry her there, for the runes have said . . .

. . .

No! I shout, desperate for her to hear me. No, Arvina, you cannot, must not. No! He’s unstable. Mad. In the end he will kill you. I have to tell her, I have somehow to reach her. Guillan has read his runes wrong. It’s him who’s the Torch. I’ve read enough now to understand that.

. . .

I woke from the dream in such agitation a nurse came running with something to calm me. Another injection? I fetched that from her thoughts, though this is the first one I had noticed.


Next episode, Woden

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A Desire That Drives

Ep14_A_Desire_That_DrivesContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

I heard my name, not called, not said, but thought. I looked up from reading the book on runecraft. There was a window in the day-room’s door and through it I could see one small part of a man—his hands and an arm. Clothed in white and holding, open, what looked like a medical file, I guessed him a doctor. I closed the book and listened more closely.

Arwen Elvin. Aged . . .? Hmm, 16. Admitted . . .? Two weeks ago. Why . . . why . . .? Ah, in state of stupor. Physical examination reveals no physical causes; believed induced . . . during hypnosis? Hmm.

He pushed his way through the door, the file still open in his hands. I could see no name tag. If it weren’t for that file he could have been anything, a cleaner, or a fellow patient having a prank. I thought him probably from a Near Eastern country: he looked a little like Omar Sharif. But then when he spoke his residual accent placed him as East European.

“Ah, Arwen! And ‘ow are we today?”

I didn’t know about him but I was fine. I quirked a smile.

“Good, good. And you must be wondering where you are? I have not been lax in my duties; I have been to see you trize since you arrived. But each time you are sleeping. May I welcome you to Green Haven.”

“Cheers,” I said, less than impressed.

“At Green Haven, it offers the patient an open-ended period of what uzt to be called ‘con-valescence’. High quality rest, away from stresses of twenty-first century societal living, yeh? Our staff, you have noticed already discreet and non-intrusive, are here to ensure patient has no undue cares and worries. Yeh?”

“Mmm,” I grunted. I wasn’t sure about this. I was waiting for the word ‘asylum’.

“Are you finding the food?”

Was I finding it what? Palatable? Sufficient? As a kid who was used to school meals, I gave a grunt in reply, which seemed to satisfy.

“Have you questions of me?” he asked.

“My clothes?” I hadn’t been admitted naked.

He glanced down at the file. He turned over the page. “Ah, clothes. Yeh. Patient’s father took.”

“Cheers,” I said. Now that I was remaining mostly conscious for most of the day, and understood more of what was happening inside my head, my darling Dad’s dictatorial behaviour was beginning to chafe me. Greatly. It was almost like he wanted to keep me here as a prisoner, no expense spared. Was this another crazy notion of his, to get me back on track before the new college term started?

“Then, if nothing other, I leave you to read. What is it? Not a tense thriller, I trust? Or a horror?”

I held up the book.

“Ah, you wish to divine your future. It will be healthful, Miss Arwen, I do assure.”

. . .

Asleep again, and back into dreams: dreams that are memories of Arvina’s short life:

The old seer Beraht, surprisingly sprightly for one so ancient, perches atop a short stool beside the hall-fire. Her voice though strong is hushed. “You ask me of foretellings?”

“Eadkin sent me,” Arvina tells her in equally hushed tones. “He says you’ll cast runes for me. Also, he says you know many a tale of our sheriff and his kin.”

The old seer chuckles. “Oh that, aye. It cleaves to the ear, the doings of powerful wealth-herders. You know it’s all fly-talk, that his first wife is dead? She upped and walked in the night. But he makes like she’s dead. Gets him a corpse, like she’s in her grave—and don’t ask me how he came by that. Then off he goes and marries this other. Now she’s all very big—like a cloak wouldn’t cover her pride. Yet before her coming he were loved by all—for a sheriff and lord. Now he’s ill-changed, led by the woman’s persuasion. But you want to know your foretellings? Have yourself an arm-dweller? That’s the usual desire drives women to here. But it cannot be done by this fire.” She ups to her feet.

Arvina’s not regretful of leaving the fire-hall, fancily decked though it is with wall-hangings as rich as those at Richemont. But with not a cloud in the sky, the sun blistering down, scarcely a slight breeze to cool them, this isn’t a day for clustering inside.

Beraht Kena, gnarled and bent, is a tiny thing, birdlike in all her ways, and as delicate-seeming as a nestling. She beckons Arvina to follow her out of the hall-garth and across a fruit-yard, into a second garth, this one guarding a hut so small it could be mistaken for a garth-house.

“Mine.” Beraht nods towards it. “I told that sheriff when he moved me to here, ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘but I want a nook to call my own, undisturbed.’ I work with the heal-worts, see. And some—the dwale-worts— they can fetch us a death if wrongly taken. So, I don’t want them beckoning the curious reach of a child. Here, this is my dispensary.” She chuckles at the French-found word.

There are five catches to the door in all, the highest almost beyond her own reach. With each one lifted and freed, she stands back a pace, opening the door outwards.

Arvina has already noticed eyes blue as nightshade, sharp as a knife in the old seer’s weather-hued face, and now they sparkle as not before. She motions her head that Arvina should enter.

Inside is dark save for a sun-patch through the open door. But the ancient seer-cum-healer needs more light than this; she lights a three-wicked lamp. As the light blooms, so too does the smell of colza oil; not even the sweetest savour of her herbs can mask it.

“You come with a bringing hand?” she asks. “Those baskets, mayhap?”

Olfsten had laden Arvina with them, winking and saying they’d ‘oil the way’. Is there not one of her Dane-kin who knows not her errand this day? Yet her mother has said nothing of it and, into everyone’s head, of course she must know it. No doubt she’s happy that Beraht will deal out ill-words about Guillan’s kin, enough to make Arvina slam the door against him. And maybe Beraht will yet say, though so far she has merely confirmed what Guillan has said.

Arvina knows nothing of runes, except for those Nihel carved on the rod. And despite his saying the rod would protect her, those runes say only that he carved them. So, she watches alert as the ancient healer digs her fingers into a dusty old sack. She’s surprised, though, that all the seer pulls out are thin shavings of wood.

“Thirty-three,” Beraht says. “Four-and-twenty for the three aetts—the most ancient secrets revealed to our god. And nine for the Nine Worlds.”

Arvina hopes Beraht might name those Nine Worlds for she’s heard the Northmen say of the Nine and has yet to know their natures and names. More-on, might they be the same as the Bellinn’s nine worlds as revealed by their own Queen Kared? But Beraht seems not to know, even though Arvina tries fishing for them.

“Your hand,” Beraht says and, so trusting, Arvina holds it out to her. “The left, your heart-hand.”

Arvina has seen the old seer’s knife, has seen her place it beside a small pot. She sees the sign the seer-healer makes over them both. Then she oughtn’t be surprised. Yet it’s with horror she watches that knife slice nigh through her leech-finger. Then comes the sting. “Ouch!”

“Hush!” Beraht hisses as with a firm grip she holds Arvina’s dripping finger over the pot.

How much blood does she need? That pot’s not big but her blood’s swiftly filling it.

Pot full, the blood abruptly stops. Bellinn, Arvina’s flesh heals even as watching.

Seer and healer, Beraht looks at her, wrinkled lips pursing, nightshade eyes all-but hidden in her hard squint. “So, you’re one of those, too?” Arvina senses her awe and surprise.

But, ‘too’, she’d said: Arvina wants to ask who else the seer knows of her kind, and yet to ask without admitting. Instead, she searches the ancient healer’s head. And finds Guillan’s mother, a mind-image held of her, sitting in this—no, not the same place but similar. Petite and pale and garbed in silk colours, brightly dreggled. ‘Valkyrie’, the word held in Beraht’s head, but it has no meaning for Arvina. She seeks some other name, and finds only ‘Bigod’s bride’.

“No fear,” Beraht says. “You are safely hidden in me.”

She releases Arvina’s hand and briefly clamps both of her own to her chest before she continued the preparations. The blood she uses to paint the rune-signs, one to each chip. Then, pot removed, she spreads a white linen cloth.

“Now,” she says, “you hold quiet.”

It’s as well that Arvina is fast in fascination elseways the seer would likely complain of her jiffling. And now what is she doing? Praying, it seems. Aye, calling upon her gods. Arvina wants to know their names but dare not delve any further lest she disturbs the seer; then she’d have to start this over again.

Without change, sign or word, the seer Beraht throws the full thirty-three chips straight up in the air. Arvina pulls back sharply. Most land on the cloth. The old woman discards those up-facing.

“Now you pick up three,” she tells Arvina. “But don’t listen to head; let your blood guide you.”

Arvina can see, while she’s teasing out those three, Beraht’s lips silently moving; calling upon her gods again?

“Give me.” Beraht holds out her hands. She lays the three chips on the cloth so both may see them. She has already scraped the others aside. “Eh, the Horse, is you. Aye, I’d say it is, two beings blended as one. You’d say that is you, too? If I’d not known of your . . . Nah, this is you. The gods are good. The gods answer us.”

She turns the chip over. Arvina and Beraht, both look at the next.

Cen, the Torch.”

A shiver squeezes Arvina’s flesh, raising tight bumps.

“This has meaning for you?” The seer looks at her.

“Someone, recently, has called me that.”

The seer Beraht laughs. “With your hair? This is the first time? But Cen, and Torch are not about hair. The old way, when the body dies, was to burn it, to release what’s within. And being released, that within-ness then recombines with the physical, and thence builds a new body.”

Arvina knits-up her face; she does not understand. “How does that apply to my future?”

“I cast, only cast. For prophesy you need a wise man’s guesses.”

She turns that chip over. Now there’s but one. She says this is the ‘outcome’. Aye, but the outcome to what?

Ethel. The Sacred Ring, harboured in ancestral property.”

Surely that would be Failan’s hall?—or Haganword? But . . . “What is it, this ring?”

The old seer chortles, disparagingly. “It is not one you’d wear on a finger or arm. Rather, it is a sacred place, set aside for the gods. Now—”

But they’re disturbed by a call. “Arvina! I know you’re around here somewhere. Arvina!”

“Best you go to him, child,” Beraht says. “For I believe that young man desires you.”

Aye, Arvina knows who it is; she can feel his ethereal fingers flensing her mind.


Next episode, Guillan

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