Broken Water

Ep10 Broken WaterContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

I knew that woman with her scraped-back black hair. I knew that I knew her, I just couldn’t place her. I knew, too, she was reaching out to me; I wanted to reach out to her too.

“I’m sorry, I had no chance to warn him . . .” She smiled at me, and me prone in this hospital bed.

I wanted to say . . . what? And, anyway, clouds were crowding around me, muffling my hearing, my vision, my thoughts. They formed into a wagon. They took me away.

. . .

I find myself outside Failan’s hall—at the side where others were less likely to hear us. I am brimming with cleverness.

No! That’s not me. That’s my dream-guide. These are her memories; it’s not my dream.

“But no fret, my mother,” my dream-guide says. “I have washed his memory clean of it.”

“So we need not attend church?” her mother says. “I don’t mind that we go there. I’m not like the other Bellinn, those of . . .”

She leaves my guide to complete that thought . . . like the Bellinn of the northern Eldsland. Her mother nods.

For years I lived with the most devout angel-seekers. I prayed, I praised. I did not shrivel, I did not burn. I don’t understand what Hegrea says of it.

Aye, and so my dream-guide knows. And no matter the number of times she tells her mother: “But that was before, when you were one of them. But you’re not one of them now;” it seems not to stay with her.

As for herself, my guide, they have never claimed her. So, best not to tempt the angelic powers and call down their ire and cause themselves to shrivel and burn.

“I prefer that we don’t go to church,” she tells her mother. “Eadkin doesn’t go, and neither Lifa. If we never make the appearance, we shall never be missed.”

Her mother nods, though it seems half-hearted. “And you are sure you wiped his memory of this? You’re very young yet; you don’t understand what your powers. I didn’t know mine till Roussel took me, and at what age was that.”

“Because you’d been cloistered with angel-seekers.” How many more times must she say it. At times, she wonders who is the child. “Unlike you, I’ve had Hegrea to teach me. I tell you, the sheriff has no memory of it. We have no need to worry.”

. . .

The scene changes. My guide’s in a weave-shed with Syllan, who’s teaching her the skill, and I know, without knowing how, that at least a week has gone by. The evening sun paints the hempen-cloth gold. A hound barks and it’s not the hall’s hound. My guide opens her thoughts. Strangers approach. Who? Two horses, two men. She feels more than hears their thoughts. She recognises one as that sheriff’s reeve, Brun, already met with. But the other . . .? Not the sheriff. For this one is . . .

She leaps away from the loom, straight out the shed. She hasn’t felt this since, oh, long before she left Richemont: the fizzling shock of the first touch of a Bellinn, a Bellinn of a higher nock. But who is it? And why travel along with the reeve?

Olfsten already waits at the garth-gate, pulled from the back of the hall where he crafts his mallow-stem baskets. He stands full-square to the visitors, the hall-hound at heel. She catches his thoughts. In its day that hound was a heckler, battle-eager. Now it’s fey-footed and slow. Rather Olfsten would have Eadkin beside him. But Eadkin and his lad are over the far side of the common. Olfsten silently pleads that Lifa stays put in her buttery. Full-often, with her fierceness of face and eyes, she seems to shake spears at that Brun. Still, he’s pleased that Gunnhild is over at Cavestun, attending the birth of Ethold’s fifth grandson, and out of harm’s way.

Just as my guide swings into sight, she catches Olfsten’s broken prayer, that she’ll stay put at the loom. She hears him swear. Too late now to wave her back; haring like that, she’d trip herself, trying to halt, to wheel and a-heel.

She slows to a dignified walk, eyes fixed on the Bellinn. He’s older than her though he’s not yet attained his majority. His face hasn’t down enough to stuff a sprat’s pillow. Oh, but those eyes. Sea-green-grey, and fixed on her as hers are on him. She feels the heat of embarrassment and lowers her eyes—to look instead at his lips, all late summer berries, all full, all pouting.

Who is he: the reeve’s own boy? They share the same burnt-wood hair, the youth’s unkempt. Yet, also, he seems more used to using his brawn than a pen (his hands, she notes, bear not one purple stain). Besides, he wears a felted wool coat of deepest green, generously studded with pearls. Certainly not the reeve’s kin.

And you? he asks her, head atilt. No, do not tell me. You are the ‘irreligious daughter of the apostate nun’. But I don’t know your name. Brun’s brain doesn’t retain it.

Arvina, she feels compelled to answer. Daughter of—

—of Gunnhild. Her name is known. But daughter? I heard only that she had a son. Born after the Oath?

She refuses an answer. Besides, what does he want her to say? And he hasn’t yet given his name.

Guillan he tells her. Son and heir to our lord the sheriff. And also born after the Oath, thus held contemptible by my mother’s kind. But you!—and one who knows how it is to be scorned—at last I have found you. You cannot deny it; I can’t be fooled out of it: you are my Torch.

I—. She doesn’t get what he means, though she feels his ethereal hands close around her. She takes a stride back, though what good is that.

“Are you—?” Olfsten asks her.

“Entirely-good.” She waves aside his concern.

“Not ailing? Yet you seem . . . not with us; on the brim of flitting. Did you get what Brun’s been saying? He and my lord sheriff’s son are asking after our attendance at church.”

When was that said? She has heard only Guillan’s voice, and that in her head.

“From over the seas comes the least expected,” Guillan remarks, and smiles at her. She doesn’t get that, either. “I am learning my father’s business,” he explains as if nothing other has been said between them.

“And we have attended church,” says Olfsten, gruffly. “Though not here at Aldebur. Nay. Nay, my good lady Lifa had need to visit her kin. We attended at Matelasc—this Sunday back.” He spreads his arms in a wide flourish and offers the start of a bow. And comes up grinning.

My guide sees Guillan’s look: from reeve with soured face, to Olfsten, all cheery. I believe your kinsman might lie, my lady. But, (he pastes a most charming smile on his face) tell me, true, that you are the Torch I have so long awaited—the Torch promised me by the rune-master—and no further consequence will come of it.

Again, she doesn’t get what he means. What’s this of a torch? And a rune-master? She opens her mouth. But nothing comes out.

You prefer the company of your cousin Syllan—who soon will be wed—to the circle of your own kind?

Aye, we are of a kind she admits. Yet I am also kin of your father’s tenant. I ask, would such an association be proper? Would your father allow it? She has already wiped the sheriff’s memory, once, of her and her mother. To remind him of their existence would be the worst folly.

“My father will know nothing of it, most hesitant flame-haired lady,” he says, now speaking out loud—which alarms her. “No fear, the reeve and your kinsman cannot hear us. Though I’m as yet unable to take us out of time, yet I can stopper up ears and blinker their eyes. Now, your answer will be . . .?”

“My answer to what?” For he hasn’t said.

“Why, to be my Torch, of course—my completion, my inspiration, my guide. Oh!” he laughs. “You thought I meant to bed you! Though, aye, that, too, might prove agreeable—unless you prefer to be forced to marriage with one of my father’s dour men?”

Her mouth falls. He said that as a threat? A higher nock than she, his Bellinn abilities greater, in truth he can do as he likes with her. But is that what he wants, to threaten and bully her into submission?

“I would prefer a firmer foundation,” he answers her thoughts. “But . . . Lady, you must leave me my dignity for I shall not I plead. I cast the runes; I pulled Gyfu, Cen and Æsc: the Gift, the Torch . . . and my Lady, that is you. Do not deny me the rune-master’s promise.”

“But I know nothing of runes.” Except that her Uncle Nihel had carved runes on the rod he had given her; protective: that she might use it to poke out an attacker’s eye.

“Then we shall explore the rune-world together. I asked for a guide; I pulled the Torch. That Torch is you. You cannot deny it. Now agree to this else your kin shall suffer.” His voice has changed as has his face. Demanding now, and cruelly twisted. It seems to my dream-guide, this Guillan is as changeable as the Eastern Seas.


Next episode, Words Discordant

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Passionate About Pylons

Second to plants, this is my other passion . . .

PylonsPhoto taken 31st May 2017, between Forncett St Mary and Hapton, Norfolk

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From Heath to Fen to Broad

Continuing the series of Broads’ posts: An easy and enjoyable, 10 mile, walk through varied terrain, beginning on the acidic sandy soils ENE of Norwich through to the miry fens and the Broads that nestle amongst the marshes along the southern banks of the River Bure.

Map 1 Blofield to Uption

Map 1: The Walk: Blofield Heath to Upton Broad

To begin . . .

Blofield Heath

I alighted the bus at Blofield Heath—cos that’s as far as the service goes. Today, the village here is known as Blofield Corner. But way back in 1881, when the area was surveyed for an OS map, its name was given as Hemblington Corner, which suggests a change in parish boundaries.

It’s not the first time I’ve visited here. A few weeks back, I walked from here, in a more-or-less straight line, due east to Acle, and was surprised to see bluebells growing along the way. Bluebells are a marker of old or relict woodland, not of heathland. So how come? I wondered, could the answer be found in the history of the Heath.

Bluebells on Blofield Heath

Bluebells on Blofield Heath; photo taken 29th April 2017

In all likelihood, Blofield Heath was the ‘moot hill’ of the old Hundred of Blofield. Generally, the Hundreds were named for these ‘moot hills’, and the ‘moot hills’ tended to be close to the edge of the Hundred. Three such Hundreds meet at Blofield Heath (Taverham, Walsham and Blofield). Here was an important place, locally.

Blofield, its etymology:

The earliest spellings I’ve found are those given in Domesday Book: Blafelda and Blawefelda.

The shared suffix is the easy part: felda, open country (as opposed to forest); level land (as opposed to hilly). While from late C10th this might be applied to arable land, generally it’s taken to mean heathland.

However, the two prefixes—Bla- and Blawe-—present more of a problem.

The first could be Old Norse blár (this is in an area much settled by Danes). If so, we’ve a choice of ‘cold and exposed’ (which seems most fitting a heath), or ‘blue; dark’. Since open land is seldom ‘dark’ we can ignore that suggestion. But ‘blue’?

The second prefix, blawe-, however, seems to support the Old Norse ‘blue’. For, according to the Institute of Name-Studies’ site, Key to English Place-names, blāw is Old English ‘blue’.

Others, jumping on this, have suggested that the ‘blue’ in question was woad. But, while other dye-plants grow wild hereabouts (weld, reseda luteola, and madder), never no woad. In fact, my field guide says it’s just not seen in this part of country.

So if the blāw wasn’t OE ‘blue’—what was it?

I decided to try it a different way. I checked on the online Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.  Ah-ha! This was more like it.

Although blǽwen is given as ‘light blue’, in delving deeper I found bláwan:

(of a place) ‘to have wind blowing in it’

And further:

‘of the wind’
(of living creatures) ‘to blow, breathe’
‘to emit air’
‘to blow, sound’ (of a trumpet)
(of fire) ‘to flame, blaze’

The example given is Bytte bláwan fulle windes.

Further:

bláwende, ‘blustering, with high winds’

All of which tallies neatly with the Old Norse blár, ‘cold and exposed’.

Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort Plantain, a plant typical of heathland; photo taken between Blofield Heath and Hemblington

But I am disappointed that I had to turn to the Bosworth-Toller Dictionary when almost certainly the fellows at the Institute of Name-Studies would have used the same source. But, ho-hum, hey.

So, back to the history . . .

Mousehold

Today, Mousehold Heath stops far short of the parishes of Blofield and Hemblington. But it wasn’t always so.

While today’s Mousehold is 184 acres of heathland, woodland and ‘recreational open space’ to the north-northeast of Norwich, in Tudor times it the heath had stretched as far north as South Walsham (see map below).

Faden crop of Mousehold

Map 2: showing extent of Mousehold Heath in 1797, and site of ‘Petty Mill’

Even by 1779 it still reached as far as Woodbastwick despite it being nibbled away by the inexorable chug of the enclosure movement (which, contrary to popular belief, began way back in C14th, only culminating in the Parliamentary Enclosure Acts of the mid C19th).
Of course, private ownership didn’t stop people exercising their traditional rights to the heath. We’re talking of the ever-rebellious Norfolk folk here.

Mousehold has been the focus of at least two major rebellions: the Norfolk arm of the Peasants’ Revolt (1381); and, in 1549, Kett’s Rebellion (which, incidentally, despite it was sparked by the spate of enclosures that followed the acquisition, post-Dissolution, of various church lands, enclosure itself didn’t even rate a mention in Kett’s list of thirty-nine demands).

Mosehold post enclosure

Mousehold—post ‘Enclosure’

As late as the 1900s the heath was still open countryside, kept that way by the grazing of animals, the wild-reap of bedding and fodder for winter livestock, and the gathering of household fuel (yea, there were trees, just not ‘woodland’). But times were changing, traditional activities falling away. Left ‘uncropped’ the one-time open heath reverted to scrub and, yeah, woodland.

Alpaca

Recently-shorn Alpaca looking cute. A modern use of the former heath

Twenty years previous, in response to an increasing (Victorian) awareness of the importance of open spaces in cities, Mousehold had been given into the care of Norwich City Council (1880). For the benefit of their citizens. And so it remains.

But those deep-blue beds of bluebells—in open country where they shouldn’t be!—can they really be a regeneration after . . . how many centuries?

Mousehold, its etymplogy

The author of the Wiki article on Mousehold Heath, citing an article in the Eastern Daily Press (April 15, 2010 ) suggests the heath takes its name from Anglo-Saxon moch-holt, i.e. thick wood.

Not only is this at odds with the Blofield name but AS moc (the only form I can find) translates as ‘muck’, as in dung.

However, in Middle English moch equates to our word ‘much’. Though perhaps ‘great wood’ would be a better translation than ‘thick wood’.

So, Blofield was a heath, but Mousehold a wood? Might that explain the bluebells!

A second suggestion for its etymology is moss-wold.

From the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary:

mos, a moss, a marshy place
as in In ðæt micle mos; of ðæm mose (Cod. Dip. Kmbl. iii. 121, 19.)

This, then, gives the Anglo-Saxon name for Mousehold, not as a ‘great wood’ but a ‘marshy wood’.

Yet, a ‘marshy wood’ upon a heath? Might we find explanation for that?

Mousehold Heath is a glacial outwash with no obvious water source. Yet rain falling upon the sand-and-gravel soil must drain away somewhere. In fact, it feeds into two small ‘runs’, one flowing northward, the other to south. While this southern ‘run’ is marked on maps as Witton Run, the northern ‘run’ has no name that I can find. But since it rises north of the tiny hamlet of Pedham, I’m calling it the Pedham Run. And I believe it was from that—the Pedham Run—that Mousehold acquired its ‘marshy wood’ name. I shall explain . . .

Pedham

Pedham isn’t mentioned in Domesday Book. The earliest mention I can find is in Francis Blomefield’s An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Langley Town and Abbey in Volume 10 (London, 1809), pp. 147-152.

“Hermer, son of Richard, gives to God, and the church of the Holy Trinity of Norwich 20s. rent out of his mill in Pedeham, belonging to the manor of Langley, for the soul of Richard (prior of Norwich) his brother, and the souls of his father, &c. and of Richard de Wirmegay, his lord, to keep the anniversary of his brother Richard by name yearly, in the said church, and Richard de Wirmegaye confirmed it, the prior being his uncle; this was about 1150.”

The next mention comes in the Pipe Roll of 1176 and 1177. (Historical Gazetteer of English Place-Names )

But neither of these give much information. Better is the Norfolk Heritage Explorer site:

Record No 15619:
Site of ‘Petty Mill’, ‘Peaty Mill Dam’ or ‘Pedeham’
post medieval watermill.

The mill is marked on Faden’s 1797 map of Norfolk (see Map 2); also on the 1836 (1st edition) Ordnance Survey map (which I don’t have), on which said ‘Petty Mill’ is shown sited on an overflow stream from Pedham lake.

The Norfolk Heritage report goes on to note that in the c.1150 Langley bequest of rent for a mill at ‘Pedeham’ (as quoted in part by Blomefield) the lake’s name is given as ‘Peaty Mill Dam’. They suggest the more recent name of Pedham might be a corruption of this. Does seem likely.

This ‘Pedham Run’ stands out clear on Map 1 (my version of the 1881 OS map). If Mousehold took its name from a mossy-wood, or marshy grove, there can be no other place but here.

Which provides a neat segue to the . . .

A track across former Mousehold

Heading for a meeting with Pedham Run . . .

Walsham Fen

Walsham Fen straddles Pedham Run. Owned by Norfolk County Council, this 3.7 acres site has been a local nature reserve since 1988. The site has every imaginable environment: fen-meadow, tall-herb fen, stream, ditches, ponds, carr, scrub. Yet I had passed it twice on previous walks without venturing in. This time, I took the plunge and am glad I did.

Fen meadow flora

Fen meadow flora at Walsham Fen

For long the fen had been used for rough summer grazing—cattle and horses. Regular mowing of the fen ensured sweet palatable grass while deterring the less digestible sedge. The mown grasses, rushes and sedge were then used as marsh litter and hay. However, attempts during C20th to improve the drainage only resulted in shrinkage of the formerly water-logged peat (as also happened in the Fens). But then, when the drainage was abandoned, the unattended drains choked with vegetation and by 1980s the fen had become too wet for grazing or mowing. Its only use then was a game-shoot. It was only in becoming a nature reserve that this rich and unique environment was saved.

Cuckoo flower

The Cuckooflower . . . inhabitant of fenny meadows . . .

I’m not going to list its species-rich flora. Sufficient to say, the whole gamut of a fen-meadow community is here; while the stream holds yet more varieties. All of which attracts birds and insects, (15 species of butterfly, 10 species of dragonfly recorded to date) and, of course, small and large mammals, and the occasional grass-snake (which now are quite rare).

And on to the Broads . . .

South Walsham Broad

South Walsham (the village) has two churches—they sit side-by-side, sharing a graveyard—because in times of yore there were two parishes (St Mary and St Lawrence). Likewise, South Walsham Broad features two parts, a private Inner Broad, and the open, outer, broad accessed from the River Bure via Fleet Dyke.

I have visited here several times, and in all seasons; a great place, with walks along the Fleet and into the marshes. Boats are available for day-hire, and even canoes. But even without a boat the water still is accessible. On this occasion, I found myself a conveniently sited bench to eat lunch—and was treated to the enchanting spectacle of ‘mother and father’ Egyptian Goose (aka Spectacled Geese) taking their young progeny out for a swim on the Broad. See photos.

Egyptian Goose, male

Father Egyptian Goose (gander) looking concernedly at . . . ?

Egyptian Goose with goslings

Mother Egyptian Goose and two goslings looking concernedly at . . . ?

Egyptian Goose, Gander and 3 goslings

Ah-ha, so there are THREE goslings, and one had already taken the dive! And now as a family they’re off . . . I wonder, to where? Is this the last I shall see of them?

Egyptian Geese family

But no. Wait! They are returning. Escaping the aggro from Mr Mallard?

Egyptian Geese family 2

All safely returned. Phew!

And on to the next . . .

Upton Fen and Broad

I visited here way back in winter (20 January)—or at least I skirted the reserve (along a very muddy track only passable in places because it was frozen). Now, May 10th, and following an exceptionally dry spring, I thought it might be possible to venture deeper into the reserve without risk of getting stuck in the mire.

Upton Fen 1

Upton Fen, and the spring-greening of new reed growth is a welcome change from the muted tones of winter last time I called here

Alas, not. Despite the corduroy paths provided, many are in bad repair, in places the wood rotted away else sank deep into the mud. I know the damselflies here are worth the visit, many are rare, but the thought of squelching my way home in soggy shoes . . .

I confess, these damselfly photos were taken elsewhere, and this past week (31st May 2017) but this seemed an appropriate place to show them.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly on a burdock leaf

Banded Demoiselle

A male Banded Demoiselle almost entirely hidden amongst the vegetation

Banded Demoiselle female

A female Banded Demoiselle, excellently camouflaged in the reeds

Beautiful Demoiselle, male and female

Beautiful Demoiselles, the male blue, the female green, seen here with the midday sunlight shining through their chitinous wings

Common Blue Damselfly

Common Blue Damselfly

So I kept to a path that hugs the southern bounds of the reserve. And discovered a magical woodland. Even so, you can see how wet by the boards laid for walking.

Wet woodland Upton Fen

The wet woodland that fringes the southern edges of Upton Fen

And so, I have yet to reach Upton Broad.

From there it was through the village and across the fields to Acle, and a bus home.

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My Land, My County, My People

Ep09 My Land My PeopleContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

I knew where I was. In hospital. But how? And why? I rubbed my head. It seemed exceedingly jumbled. A nurse provided a name. Was it mine? It didn’t sound familiar.

“Miss Elvin is awake now.”

Who was she talking to? There was no one else in the room, as far as I could see. I picked up her thoughts: She wanted someone to come along quick; she needed to pee.

I said, “You can go. You don’t have to stay.”

At least, I thought I said that. Yet I heard no noise come from my mouth. Maybe it was only a thought?

But . . . I was so very tired. I absolutely must go to sleep . . . and in sleep, I dreamed what I now know as snatches from my dream-guide’s memory.

. . .

It’s gone! She can’t find it. Yet she buried it, she knew that she had: buried beneath her bedding as always she does. It can’t have slipped onto the floor, there to be mindlessly kicked into some far corner. Neither likely was a thiefling to slip a hand beneath the bedding without her knowing. So where was it?

“Mother,” she asks loudly so all should hear, “have you seen my carved rod?”

“I’ve got it,” the old lady Lifa admits and, bold as a warrior, holds it high.

My dream-guide is straight into her head.

“I didn’t get it as yours,” the old lady claims. “I rescued it from fire-pit. You must have dropped it when you moved in the night.”

‘Moved in the night’, that’s her way of saying ‘gone on an errand’, or ‘gone to the garth-house’. And it’s true, my guide did pay a small visit. But that rod went with her, and she didn’t drop it. And neither did Lifa rescue it—unless it was from her grandson’s hot hands.

She has found the full story in the grandmother’s head. Not long before waking, young Ulfkin had slipped his hand beneath her bedding, though his moves must have been kolsa-sleek. Yet his grandma, with age not sleeping so soundly, had noticed his moves.

“What’s that you got? Bring it, see it.” Caught fire-handed, he had given it over.

Lifa had cooed as she turned the rod, seeing the runes carved on it. Her hand went to her mouth. A gand-stangir. Powerful. She wanted it. Yet she knew what upset would flow from its keeping.

No choice, now, she has to admit she has it. But she’ll not allow my dream-guide to cuff her grandson again as she had last night. She allows the old lady’s lies to stand. She’s new in this family and already had one fight. As long as she has the rod . . .

. . .

The dream moves to later, maybe the same day. My dream-guide follows Eadkin into the off-room, hoping to find makings of breakfast.

“Ah,” he says, “two travellers together,” and hip-nudges her out of his way.

Her eyes watch how much he’ll take of the bread, her belly painful with its gnawing.

He laughs. “Here!” and pulls a second loaf, untouched, from an earthen pot. “Not used to stores, are you. Used only to having it brought. But go leaving food atop the pot, all sorts of thieves get it. You’ve a knife?”

She has, though it’s small next to his. His looks more of a warrior’s blade. She cuts the bread and cuts some cheese. The cheese isn’t hard like she’s used to but is soft, almost as butter; it hardly needs cutting. He watches her.

She asks him, “Why say you’re a traveller?” Last night when she searched his head she found nothing to say he has travelled beyond the local ports where he trades.

He chuckles. “See these shoes?” He pulls them down from a shelf. “Dragon-skin, them. Magical. There’s more ways of travelling than a sweat-and-blood horse or shank’s pony.”

“You’re a sorcerer?” Her eyes shoot wide. She hadn’t found that in him. But, son of the reputed galarr-kuna, she can believe it.

He laughs the more, hands up to shield off the accusation. “Nay, nary that. What, take me for a fly-dealer? Aye, well, maybe, in a way. Between you and me, I travel the between-worlds. You get what I mean? But I know that you do, since I snatched sight of that rod. A proper gand-stangir, that.”

But it’s—she bites back her denial. It’s just a rod that Nihel carved for her, and he was never a magician. He carved it while keeping watch beside his brother’s bed, her father, who then was dying. Herself, she was just a speck in her mother’s belly. And yet he had told her when he gave her that rod, before himself died, that it would protect her. Aye, she since had chortled on that: she might use it to poke out an eye!

“We’ll talk another time, eh?” Eadkin says and with his huge hands squeezes her shoulder. “Best wolf down that cheese. Our Syllan is calling. Don’t want her stamping, too, do you.”

. . .

It’s later yet, and by the way my dream-guide now is with Eadkin’s daughter, Syllan-Bote, I guess it’s still the same day. They’ve been cutting rushes, barefoot in the mud. She’s enjoyed it, enjoyed the way the warm mud squelches between her toes. All the more fun for it not being what a court-lady does.

But now they’re sat on the bank by the bridge cleaning their feet, at least enough to wrap again and put on their shoes. At the suddenly-heard though not-so-distant rattle of harness and arms, she feels Syllan stiffen. But she doesn’t need Syllan’s leaked panic to know this bodes ill. Two young women . . . and two or more horsemen.

Syllan’s first to her feet, more used to these clammy wrappings. By the time my dream-guide joins her, the men are emerging from an elder-and-thorn hedge that hides that stretch of road and muffles all sound. A wolfhound, all gangly legs and scrappy fur, trots alongside them.

“Who . . .?” she asks even while taking the names from Syllan’s head.

“Our sheriff, foul man, and we’re shut in his arms,” Syllan silently mouths, her face hidden from the men behind the piled high bundled rushes now in her arms. “That with him is son of my soon-to-be neighbour. Brun, the sheriff’s reeve.” Syllan sounds distinctly ruffled.

Though it’s the first time met, my dream-guide takes an instant dislike to the sheriff. Big, pasty, old, his hand resting on his sword’s pommel; a mace, hung from his saddle, resting against his leg. Both men glitter with brocaded bands though are otherwise soberly dressed. The younger—the thin-lipped reeve—has purple stains around his mouth.

“Ah!” the sheriff’s voice booms across the distance, laced with a forced good humour. “The very person I seek.”

His words startle my dream-guide, yet it’s me who has heard that recently said though I don’t recall the where, the who or the why. Regaining calm, she plays to his words, looking back across the common, like surely he’s not speaking to her? They’ve had no dealings; they’ve only then met.

“If it’s to ask of my wedding . . .” Syllan offers.

But the sheriff snorts derisively. “And I’d come half across county for that, eh? No, my reeve informs me we have additional heads at Failans hall. This young one with you. And another I’m told is her mother.”

My guide decides now is wiser to turn full around. She briefly dips her head.

“Look up at me.” His tone, though not friendly, isn’t quite a command. She obeys.

He pulls in his lips—pale, fleshy—and chews upon them, his leather-gloved hand up to cover it. Did he intend the impression of thinking? Aye, and she knows what he’s thinking. He’s wondering what to do with this parcel of worms. He’s more than a little afraid of her and her mother.

“The stolen nun’s daughter,” he says with disgust.

She says nothing, waiting for him to declare his intent. Clearly, he’s not come this distance simply to pass the time of day. There’s been no introductions; no polite ‘you’re welcome to stay’.

He shakes his over-large head. “No, I am not happy. When was last you went to church, eh? Which church was it, and when? Come on, say up quickly else I’ll have to believe you’re constructing a lie.”

“Not since a fortnight back,” she admits though even that’s not the truth. Truth is she has never as much as entered a church—one of Stefan’s many complaints of the Bellinn at his court: they refuse the Christian faith. “It was Count Stefan’s chapel at Richemont,” she compounds the lie.

“Count Stefan?” he queries as if he didn’t already know.

“Stefan. Comte de Penthièvre. Comte de Tréguier. Lord de Richemont. He is my guardian.”

“He knows you are here?”

“He knows we were to return to my grandmother’s family. He lent us an escort. He’ll know which hall once that escort returns.”

“I think he will not,” the sheriff says. “Your Lord Stefan, ‘comte-de-dumpte’ has now departed overseas, with his wife. Still, I expect someone will run the message to him, eh? But Richemont and Brittany, they’re not Norfolk. You understand me? This is my county. My land. My people. And it is my God-given duty to protect them from . . . what? Apostate nuns? Is that what she is, your mother?”

Well might Syllan visibly squirm with cheeks a fierce-red. Yet my guide refuses an answer.

“I shall be keeping my eye on you,” he says. “I expect to see you in church. REG-U-LAL-LY. Which is your church, Syllan? Aldebur? Eh? Or do you use Calestorp?”

“Aldebur,” the reeve, Brun, answers for her.

“Aldebur it is, then. And if you fail to appear there, irreligious daughter of an apostate whore, your comte-le-protecteur will protect you no more.”

My dream-guide doesn’t like this man and now is in a cold sweat. Perhaps it’s that which wakes me.

I open my eyes. And there’s a familiar face looking down at me, glossy-black hair scraped severely back. But I cannot put a name to her.


Next episode, Broken Water

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Leaving Leaves

The first flush of spring flowers are over (everybody, ‘ahhh’) leaving the wayside decked with leaves . . . .

Black Poplar Leaves

One of my favourite trees for spring colour: the Black Poplar (so named for its dark -coloured bark)

Early leaves of Ash

The first leaves of Ash, a near rival to the Black Poplar for colour

Oak Leaves and a gall

I always think of the Oak in spring as ‘bronzing’. But in the right light, it positively glows with gold. Here it plays host to the Oak Gall Wasp, like a bright carbuncle. That red, though, soon will fade to a biscuit-beige

Oak Tree

The Majestic Oak, showy with its golden crown

Sycamore leaves

In spring the Sycamore’s new leaves resemble crimson fans. But when full grown, and in full summer, the tree casts a deep shadow

Dog's Mercury

. . . which is why woodland plants must flower early. Here, the Dog Mercury is caught in bloom but its leaves are destined to last until autumn, spread as a thick carpet

Buckler Fern

I tentatively identify this as ‘a Buckler Fern’, though which one is beyond me. I found it in the very woodland where, as a child, I first began to learn the names of plants. But odd, I remember no ferns growing here, only bracken; now it seems the bracken is gone, and everywhere now is this fronzy fern. I was delighted to see it.

Bracken

Bracken, its coppery head perfectly foiled by the mellow green leaves of Hogweed

Lords and Ladies

I include this lovely wayside lily (Lords and Ladies) just cos I like it! Goosegrass, and ivy and dead leaves . . . . and that thrusting sheathed phallus

Thistle Leaves

Where colour is lacking, texture takes over. The humble thistle (probably the Spear Thistle, but without the flowers . . .I’m not staking my hat on it)

Wayside Medley

And to end, a Wayside Medley! Bedstraw, horsetail, and leaves of red campion.

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Squaring the Circle

Ep09 My Land My PeopleContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

“I’ve made the appointment,” my father said. “He can fit us in tomorrow morning. So let’s be done with this.”

I groaned. I had told him and told him that the worst thing for me was any form of hypnotherapy. But would he listen? No he would not. He was so impatient to have the condition resolved.

“He’s a good man,” my father said. “He’ll sort you. He got Roger’s boy Wayne off those drugs.”

“Yea, for five minutes.”

But what was the use of arguing. When his mind was made up there was no shifting my father. But then when I checked out the ‘hypnotherapist’ . . . What! He wasn’t even NHS registered. He treated smoking cessation, and dieting problems, and got anxious drivers through their tests. As for Wayne, grandson of one of my father’s old-time buddies, yea sure, he got him off drugs. But then Wayne disappeared off to London and Dad heard no more of it. But I did. Wayne’s sister was at our school. Wayne died just before Christmas last, ‘chasing the dragon’ whatever that means. I do know it involves doing drugs.

I wondered, could I dig in my heels and refuse to go? But my father would never wear that. Old though he was, he still was strong enough to throw me over his shoulder and deliver me out to the car. I thought about locking myself in the bathroom but . . . easiest was just to go along with it. Though I swore I’d do my utmost to resist ‘going under’.

And that showed how much I knew about hypnotism. Or more correctly the affects of hypnotism on my personality type. I hadn’t understood exactly what ‘high suggestibility’ meant.

. . .

David Longman had an office in town. That pleased my father, no long drive into the city with the road-works and traffic. I looked at the plaque on the door as my father ‘guided’ me through. Shame he didn’t do that. He might then have noticed the distinct lack of relevant initials. Not that he’d have known which were relevant and which were not.

David—he asked me to call him that—was probably approaching retirement. And he’d probably been handsome in his day. But now everything about him that wasn’t bone was sagging. My father deposited me, accompanied by the briefest of explanations, and said he’d return to collect me in a couple of hours. David directed me to what looked suspiciously like a dentist’s chair.

“Comfortable?”

I shrugged.

“A problem with intrusive thoughts, eh? Not voices, and not schizophrenic, your father assures me. You want to confirm this?”

“Just people’s thoughts,” I said. “ESP-type.”

“And you want them silenced so you can concentrate on your studies? Quite right. And that is what we’re going to do. Simply that.”

Huh, that’s what he thought. Yea, I know, I ought to have told him of the DID diagnosis. I doubt then he’d have come near me. And of course my father hadn’t told him cos my father still didn’t know. But I’d decided to play along, just to please him. Though no way was I going to allow this quack to hypnotise me. Ha! FLAW (Hermione’s favourite saying: Famous Last Words). Besides, the thoughts weren’t quite so intrusive now, not since the latest cycle of dreams.

It wasn’t that the dreams themselves did anything to block the thoughts. It was more that in remembering the dreams and trying to figure them the intrusions were blocked as effectively as if I were singing. Of course, I still presented that distracted look.

So this David explained what he’d do and what to expect. But he intoned it with the same boring inflection of an oft-repeated familiar script. I yawned. He then held a pen above my head where it was barely visible. A smart pen, too, it must have cost him. It didn’t shine as in reflecting the lights, but was all soft lustre. I know this cos he told me to look at it. He obligingly lowered it just enough so I could see it without having to strain my eyeballs out of their sockets.

“Relax,” he said.

Redundant instruction; I was already relaxed. It was that chair, it was excellent. It moulded around me. It ‘held’ me.

“You’re feeling drowsy.”

Yea, course I was, as usually happens with lack of interesting stimuli.

Then I realised what he was doing. Na-na-nah, no way, mister!

I pulled that drum-an-dance scene from my dreams back into focus. I tried to understand what I was seeing. Like, what were those mist-halos these folk exhibited? Were they their auras? My dream-guide’s mother looked like an angel, all pale-faced, ashen blonde hair, with that light all a’swirl in hues of blue and green. I thought there something watery of it. I held that image in mind. Let that bastard hypnotist get through that.

. . .

Mist-formed light of those halos fill my vision; it’s all around me. Every possible hue of green and then some I’ve never seen, all softly swirling, in places blending with blues dark as the night-sky, in places pale as ice. All feathery soft. It lifts me aloft. I am riding the clouds. Riding . . .

The cloud becomes wagon and before it a horse. Yet it’s no horse such as I’ve ever seen—as if carved of wood and improperly formed. I may have laughed. But with amusement? Enjoyment and pleasure? Or with fear?

Where am I? Where’s the ground—it’s no longer beneath me.

A voice, distant at first, calls my name. Arvina. I don’t know the voice but, as if it’s commanding, I know I must reach it. Is it God? Is that God’s voice? The voice feels like a soft breath on my face, calling my name, calling Arvina, over and over. I hasten towards it though it seems so far away.

Someone/something asks me a question: Which way to go?

Which way?

We can’t do this in less than four moves. From Ethel to Eolhx to Cen to Rad to Os. But better might be: From Ethel to Dæg to Peordh, then again to Rad and then to Os. Yet to go via Peordh is a bit of a gamble.

I chose to ignore these directions, not knowing their source. Instead, I wander in wonder, like someone who’s lost. Here are sedge grasses . . . am I again in the fen at the back of the farm? Yet the sky remains clouded in soft blues and greens. And that voice still is calling, its breath strong in my face, insistent, commanding.

Ah! I see a torch. Is it there to light me the way? But . . . no. No! NO! Don’t take it away!

In its stead is a mirror. I look—who is the fairest? But this cannot be me I see reflected. I close the circle that’s forming around me like closing a gate. Only to find that she, too, from the mirror, is within it.

Who are you? we both ask at the same time. She seems to have horse ears and a tail.

Arvina; Arwen, we say together as we both look at the other, heads tilted.

I’m seeking the voice, I say.

I am seeking the killer of the old seer Beraht.

We both look round as the voice calls again.

The horse-tailed Arvina gasps. That’s the runester, his master. Was him made him do it.

I don’t understand.

She takes my hand—or she tries but we’ve no physical presence and out hands pass through each other.

Was him caused Guillan to kill Old Beraht. And weren’t it for that he wouldn’t have killed me.

The rune-master? I ask. But no one can make anyone . . .  every man has free will.

Come, she says and we climb upon a seal-pulled wagon. You ask him yourself if you don’t believe me.

The cloud-sky dissolves, replaced by the sea. Lord Manawydan’s domain, I say.

Woden’s she says—his horses.

I don’t disagree. The sea breezes blow strong in our face as our sea-and-seal wagon lifts into the sky.

There! she says and her arms wrap around me, reinforcing the circle, as pell-mell we descend. At the last we’re deposited at the foot of a god. Well, I thought him a god. But what god wears a long shift of washed-out black linen, his head topped by a short crop of straw coloured hair?

Woden? For here are his ravens. I feel my mouth open in a horror-struck gasp . . .

“Ah, looks like she’s regaining consciousness,” says a voice unfamiliar.

I can smell something . . . disinfectant?

There are odd noises, too, all around me. I cannot place anything, not find a word or a name. With tortuous slowness I open my eyes—their lids feel glued and their prying painful. But now I can see, I find the words rush in though I don’t want to use them. How came I to here? In a bed, in a hospital, in a ward on my own.


Next episode, My Land, My County, My People

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A Path To Follow

EP07 A Path To FollowContinuing the time-slip story, Can of Worms, a 16 year old girl’s rune-aided hunt for a serial-killer . . . Read on

My father insisted, he was to accompany me for my next appointment with friendly psychiatrist, Madeleine Penner—that was the Monday after school finished. I didn’t need to hear his thoughts: he oozed impatience and barely-held anger. He wanted this sorted, and sorted now. He wanted me on medication and receiving therapy. He’d had enough of the doctors shilly-shallying. It was no good telling him they couldn’t treat me without first diagnosis.

Meantime I’d been reading more deeply on my potential disorder. Of particular interest:

The majority of patients with DID report childhood sexual and/or physical abuse.

My parents weren’t gonna like that. And I still hadn’t told them. However, it did seem they’d finally climbed off my back. They were giving me space—as long as I did my chores. But it wasn’t needed, for after that last dream I again became enthused about the farm chores. It was my farm, or would be; Failan’s Farm. I found it soothing to be with the animals after the hectic bombardment of thoughts that had been school.

At Madeleine’s clinic, the receptionist eyed my father as we walked in. I heard her muttered, Shit and drat. After ‘arriving’ us, she tapped out an alert to Madeleine. Neat system they had, so the psychiatrist knew in advance if there was likely trouble. It made me wonder what sort of stink my mother had created while I’d been ensconced in the inner sanctum. I had heard nothing (yea, that did happen sometimes), but then my thoughts had been focused elsewhere.

As before, the buzzer sounded. But it wasn’t for us. The next buzzer was.

Madeleine herself opened the door. “Ah! The very person we wanted to see,” she greeted my father.

His head leaked an explosion of panic. For a flash I saw it in cartoon fashion. I saw him glance back at the door, his exit to safety. Unfortunate for him, it opened just at that moment and in walked a grey-haired man in white coat.

“Excellently timed,” Madeleine remarked in sun-bright tone. “Mr Elvin, if you’d like to go along with Doctor Langton?”

“I . . . yea,” and obligingly my father followed the doctor down a side corridor.

“Arwen . . .?” Madeleine gestured towards her consulting room.

. . .

Once seated on those wonderfully soft and supportive sofas, Madeleine explained of my father. “We need to know of your childhood—things perhaps you wouldn’t remember. We’ll need to see your mother too, but fortuitous that your father came with you today.”

I glanced in the direction he’d disappeared, his waves of alarm still reaching me.

“It’s okay,” Madeleine said, hushed, conspiratorial, “no one’s going to hurt him.” She smiled in amusement. “We’ll be asking you very much the same questions. Though we expect your answers will lead us in different directions. But first, results of scans and bloods.”

Apparently everything had shown up normal—that should set my mother’s worries to rest. No brain tumours. But that hadn’t been their only purpose. Apparently parts of the brain can be either over- or under-developed and cause all kinds of problems, many masquerading as psychotic, mental or personality disorders.

“How’d you treat an overgrown brain?” I asked. “Trim it down to a more normal size?”

She laughed. “No. There’s medication, there’s therapy. And then again, sometimes there’s only acceptance. So, your childhood, hey? What are your earliest memories?”

Whoa, I was unprepared for that. I had to think real hard. Up to the time I went to school everything seemed to blur into one. I didn’t go to playschool or nursery; I was home with my mother. I didn’t have playmates, either, except when I went to Aunt Maggie’s.

“How old were you when you first went there?”

I shrugged. “I just always went there.”

“What about when you first started school?”

“I don’t remember much, but I do remember the smells. Paper towels. Wet coats. Slimy gravy, all lumpy—Mum insisted I stayed for school dinners. There was a boy in our class who regularly pooped himself. Oh, and the smell of disinfectant.”

If Madeleine was hoping for some hint of abuse she’d just lucked-out. She tried another tack.

“Have you, or anyone in your family, ever had counselling? Of any kind.”

“Yeeeaa,” I said kinda hesitant. “I guess my mother must’ve before having the fertility treatment for me. Isn’t that standard?” Though she’d never said of it.

“Mmm,” Madeleine lightly grunted.

I guess I wasn’t giving her much. Maybe they’d find more from my father.

She asked, “Have you ever been admitted to hospital?”

“Nope.”

“Attended outpatients?”

“Only this.”

I knew what she was after with this. She wanted to know if I’d ever self-harmed. But that wasn’t part of the DID-disorder.

“Mmm,” she again grunted lightly and I heard her thoughts, negative on Borderline Personality. “Well, that’s all I need from you for now. Once we’ve spoken to your mother—assuming your father doesn’t produce anything shocking—we can compare our notes and hopefully give diagnosis. The next stage then is to heads-together on a treatment plan.”

I had to wait for Dad. He came down that corridor, steaming.

“Bloody intrusive!” he griped as we followed the signage back to the car park.

Another dream came that night—or rather it seemed a continuation of the previous dream, my dream-guide’s arrival at Failan’s hall.

. . .

The same two men stand at the door. My dream-guide probes for names. Olfsten, hair flint-black with white-ripples, a wolf-skin covering dark shades of yellow. Eadkin, younger, honey-brown hair, decked in the oak’s colours as it falls to autumn, a staff in his hand. They stand gawping like they’ve never seen our like before. My guide bits back on a taunting call: Aye, but at least we’re not the sheriff’s men.

“Who-what-why?” Olfsten asks—then, belatedly, “—Grand-dames.”

My guide decides she likes him. She—we—can hear beneath his powerful voice an ill-hidden chuckle.

Her mother motions her horse a few steps closer, allowing her kinsman to see who is come calling.

“I am Gunnhild,” she says. “Daughter of your sister Edgiva.”

“My . . .?” and now his face falls, his hand to his back. “Nay, but you tease. My sister Edgiva?—the same who fifty, sixty years back ran off with that Harold? Who then brought the wrath of those French bastards upon us? Who lost us our lands, our sons, our teeth?”

My guide purses her lips, her mouth compulsively twisting as she looks asquint at this Olfsten.

He sees. He answers, “You think that shaky?”

She shakes her head, nay. “But you lost your teeth? By-ya! So what, you got those off a wolf—like that feikin hide you’ve around you? You dip too deep, Olfsten Failan; your eyes full-smiling while yet you’re all ranting. You could least wait till you get the ‘why’ of our coming.”

He laughs, arms thrown wide. “Got the good of me there, and you still a youngling. So my eyes laugh; I’m always a’laughing—isn’t that so, my son? So let’s get the why of this visit, come late as you have after all these years. And keep it word-fast; don’t you go telling more than truth.”

“Huh,” she scoffs at him. “An’ that’s one calling one.”

“Aye, deep found, youngling,” he objects while sounding impressed.

My guide is surprised that her mother allows her this. But looking at her mother, that woman is full-bewildered.

“You come with a bringing-hand?” he asks.

“Scoff not at the guest,” my guide tells him—to which Olfsten turns to his son to whisper words he believes they can’t hear. “You know who the guest? You see ravens around them?”

“We come seeking shelter,” says her mother—Gunnhild—finishing weakly. But that’s not what my guide has heard her rehearsing a hundred times on the way.

“Shelter? There’s shelter.” Olfsten looks across the garth to his barn. “How long will you stay? Only, come the cold end you’ll freeze up to your knees.”

My guide looks equally pointedly at the hall behind him. She swears if this were left to her mother they’d freeze on the roadside.

“Ah,” he says, “you want to share our fire-hall? Is it this night only you’re asking? Or will there be more? Besides, what of yon men?”

“Once we are safely . . . here . . .” her mother struggles to say the words. My guide has to jump in.

“What my mother is saying, is that these men have been lent us only to see us safe to haven. We had hoped to find Vidarr at Haganword but . . . seems you’re now our only kin with a hall.”

“Aye, I agree likely I am. But I’m still waiting to catch the why of it. Last we heard, that good-faced mother a’yean was safely moored in a grand-ish northern lord’s hall. Now I see ye ‘n she’s here. Like to explain?”

She doesn’t know what it is with her mother—the shock of returning to her kin?—but her mother nods that my guide should give explanation.

She obeys. “Lord Alan Le Roussel, died, having begot me. Yet his brother Nihel allowed us to stay. Then, next, Nihel, too, went that course. And so, as you say, we harboured with the next lord of Richemont, Alan and Nihel’s younger brother Stefan. Only next Stefan gets a young wife—bright as a goose but no longer alone, if you know what I mean—she’s growing one on. So now we’re full-embarrassing to him. Noble born and noble does, but he wishes us gone.”

“Ah,” Olfsten says. “Sounds like your meat got burned in the cooling, eh?”

“We could have gone to Brittany with him,” she says, “and entered a convent.”

Olfsten winces. “I can’t say of your mother, but I can see for you that’s a finger-breaker. Yet . . . here?” She hears him thinking while he sucks on his teeth.

She tells him, “My mother is convent-schooled and, as such, could prove useful to you. She can read. Write. Compose verses—”

“Aye, we have great need of verses around here!”

“She can keep your accounts—no more overpaying your rent, your tithes and your taxes,” she says.

“She can do that, eh?”

She knows she’s offering more than her mother intended when first she spoke of a return to her kin. But if that’s what it takes to find them a place . . . “Also, I hear your Eadkin lost his wife a time back?” She’s found that in his head. “With your own good lady no longer young? My mother, here, will happily tread in both steads.”

No, my daughter, you go too far.

I don’t mean for you to bed with them. But to be the lady of their hall, would that not suit? And if she objected, she should say of her own. Sitting astride, all but mute!

“It’s full-true what she says,” Eadkin answers—the first he’s spoken. “More, it’ll allow my Syllan to wed with Osfrith over at Flegg-land, and that’ll move the sheriff from off our backs—you know how often he reminds us of that. I say to take them in—it’s a path to follow. We’ve work aplenty for both.”

“What voice have I when my own youngling says you can stay?” Olfsten says with a grin and wide arms.

My guide’s answering grin freezes when, exploding from the depths of the hall, appears a young lad. “Is that woman to be my mother?”

She doesn’t need his thoughts to know him fully displeased. Same with the old woman who follows him out. Lifa her name. So this is the reputed enchantress? But this Lifa isn’t one their kind. She lacks a light.

“And who,” this Lifa asks Olfsten, “gave you the right to be free with my hall?”

My guide’s mother’s soft groan is scarcely noticed except by my guide. Ay-yi-yi, have they come here only for her mother to die, centuries before her time?


Next episode, Squaring the Circle

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