Somewhere, past the edge of logic lies a land called...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 9 - Why, I oughtta...
Tahtie sat at the end of the high table with the woman who had been sewing in the corner sitting at his right-hand side and me on his left sitting on one of the long sides. Across from me sat Valto and beside him Zenner then Asamund. Beside me on my left sat Rotgar and beyond him one of the bardamessers named Durnhelm. More men filled out the rest of the table and the more junior types sat at the lower table that crossed the high table at the foot. And still more people at two smaller and presumably even less important tables. About thirty people in all.
Kilda and two other serving women walked around the tables, refilling mugs and steins. She put a slender, silvery cup in front of me, poured in a bit of wine from one jug and filled the container with water from another. After I had tasted the wine, I wished she had given me all water. Tahtie, and the woman who had been sitting near the wall sewing, got wine also but with less water added. Kilda offered Rotgar and Valto wine, too but both opted for ale from another pitcher. The prisoner/guest and all the big beards got ale, as well.
Sitting right across from him, I had a good view of Valto, Alenna’s older half-brother and apparently captain of guards or whatever the position was called here. Other than beard, scars, hair-do and expression, he looked a lot like Corporal August Gallant of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office. The resemblance was there, but I couldn’t say how close it might be, I wasn’t really that familiar with the non-reversed image of what had been my face for more than thirty years. But Valto looked as much or more like Gus’s brother as he did Alenna’s.
Like all of the men here, he was large, maybe larger than Deputy Gus had been. And I was the smallest person in the room, smaller than any of the women by a couple of inches at least and ten or twenty pounds or more. Judging by the furniture, I couldn’t be much more than five feet tall. I wanted to gnash my teeth and howl about that, but it would not help the situation. Being female was bad but being a short, young female a few days before her wedding night was even worse.
So I kept looking at Valto, trying to figure out if his resemblance to the old me, including the green eyes meant something; something maybe that would help me get back to my own world and my own body.
He noticed me staring at him and made a face; like someone might at an annoying younger sister. I resolved to be as annoying as possible to him when I got a chance. Then he smiled, a bit crookedly because of the scar through his upper lip, and the expression did not erase the worry lines between his eyes, but I realized that he had some of the same charisma I had felt from Tahtie. And I remembered that Kilda had said that his wife and children had been kidnapped by Vikings and that he wasn’t allowed to go after them.
That had to suck.
Before I could think of something to say to him, Tahtie asked, “Valto, where are your other fingers?”
I glanced at Valto’s hands which seemed to have the usual complement of digits, though rough and scarred. I wondered if I had heard the question right but Valto answered, just as if it had made perfect sense. “I sent them after the horse holder. They won’t catch him unless he falls off that big black he’s riding but they’ll find out where he’s going and come back to tell us.”
Oh. Fingers meaning members of the troop of warriors sent after the invaders. But I didn’t have more time to get acquainted with my lookalike; things were still happening in the moment.
Zenner cleared his throat, then took a gulp from the refilled mug in front of him. “Orladeen iss his name. He iss riding to his fazer’ss house. Illa bella shenta on okse furda of luh douche doo shanson lyle.”
That’s what I heard. Then something clicked over in my mind again and translated. The beautiful house in Oxford of the Duke of Song Isle. The language, a sort of distorted French or Latin, must be what Rotgar had called Reymish. The guy whose title I had earlier heard as Deuce of Shanghai, the one who had married Alenna’s mother after she was stolen from Tahtie. Not deuce or douche but… Dux?
And Oxford? Oxford was a real city in the England of my own world. Was this Oxford in the same place here? And what did that matter? I had no idea where in my England Oxford had been or was. But at least I had heard of the place. And wasn’t it not too far from London? Again, I wished for a map.
“The Duke of Song Isle has a house in Oxford? That’s more than a dozen gemelreek to a port from which he can reach his island. What’s he doing there?” Tahtie demanded.
Gemelreek was a land measurement, but I wasn’t sure what distance it represented. My brain suggested league as a translation, but that didn’t help because I had no idea how far a league was in any measurement I knew. Reek was reach, but gemel had several meanings. Come to think of it, reek could mean state or kingdom, too. I tried not to consider linguistic complications and concentrate on what people were saying.
Zenner shrugged in a very Gallic way. “Ploos reason,” he said. “One of kellam is to ray-akweera his stepdaughter.” He nodded at me. Oh, great, mixing languages did a number on my head.
“Ray-akweera?” Tahtie repeated the foreign word. “If that means what I think it means, I might say, he never had her in the first place!” He scowled in my direction, but I knew his anger was not aimed at Alenna.
“Pardon. I should have say, ray-akweera for his wife who has ray-gressa that she mokta lost den infant ploos gars a-gone.” Between his accent, using unfamiliar Reymish words and mangled Bloddish syntax, he wasn’t easy to understand. But everyone seemed to have gotten the gist of it, and the table erupted in noise with all talking at once.
Oh, shit. This was a continuation of the story Kilda had been telling me about Alenna’s mother being stolen back by her father and married off to the Duke of Song Isle. The Duke (a military rather than a noble rank my personal Babelfish suggested) had sent his men to put the snatch on Alenna, me, because “my” mother felt bad at having had to leave “me” behind in the earlier kidnapping. How long ago had that been?
A hot anger suddenly welled up in me. I had already been stolen from my own world and my own body, and this asshole worked for someone who wanted to steal me again before I could work out how to maybe get back to my life. I jumped to my feet and added my voice to the hubbub. “Instead of pouring beer on your head, I should have had them drown you!” And wonder of wonder, that came out in Bloddish instead of English.
The man whose life I had more or less spared smiled at me calmly. “Non ays kayd illa escreeta on seva pista,” he said in pure Reymish. And I understood! “That’s not what you wrote in your letter,” he had said.
Several people at the table gave me hard looks, including Tahtie, Rotgar and Valto. Of course, all of them understood some Reymish. Apparently, Alenna had written her mother a letter before pulling her switcheroo with me. And hadn’t Kilda said that “Mom” had been the one to initiate Alenna in witchcraft?
I wished I had either of my Glocks. I probably wouldn’t have shot Zenner but firing into the ceiling over his head with the huge noise that would make would have been so satisfying. I glared at him. “All foxes are liars,” I said and noted that that had come out in what must be Reymish, too. Or Remice as I realized it was spelled in the language itself.
So, I probably could write a letter, though it occurred to me that I had seen no writing at all here other than what I had brought with me. Or anything to write with. I sat down, disgusted and vaguely embarrassed, while Zenner shrugged off my insult with another of his French-like gestures.
“Kella pista?” Rotgar asked him in Remice, confirming my guess that he understood that language.
A glare from Tahtie silenced everyone for a moment. The old man took a breath, summoning the authority of his rank as Orley before he spoke. In the end, though, he simply repeated Rotgar’s question, except in Bloddish. “What letter?” he asked.
Well, not quite, I reflected. Rotgar had really asked, “Which letter,” implying that there might have been more than one. Had they written back and forth, plotting something between them? Had “Mom” supplied Alenna with the spells that she had used to travel to my world and send me back to take her place?
I looked at him sideways but he was concentrating on Zenner’s reply.
The foreigner shrugged again. “The one in which she ray-kwairt-a to be saved from a be-housing she would odeeray-hate.” Be-housing I realized was his try at translating the Remice word for marriage into Bloddish. Bloddingrteng, that is, going with the native way to write it. Except I realized I was picturing it written in Latin letters, not runes. Were Latin letters the same as Remice ones? Did anyone even write Bloddingrteng in Remice letters? Did I know how to write runes, too? Was ‘r’ a fucking vowel?
Tahtie and everyone else at the table looked at me and I know I looked back at them with genuine confusion. I had to stop trying to think in anything but Bloddingrteng or someone would end up hanging me in a tree with a horsemeat rope. So I spoke the truth, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.” I tried to fill my words with exasperated sincerity and as much truthiness as I could manage.
I think what saved me was the ambiguity of Zenner’s accusation. Since I outranked him socially, he could not politely refer to me in Remice as “you” and so had, in effect, called me “she.” Minor grimace at that reminder, but the point was what he had said could have been heard as “Not what she wrote in her letter.” Ignoring for the moment that I wasn’t originally a she, that statement could have referred to Alenna’s mother writing a letter. Was I the only one at the table with subtle enough knowledge of Remice to understand that?
What was the woman’s name, anyway? Crap. I didn’t want to refer to her with the female equivalent of Tahtie, which would be like calling her “mommie” in English and sounded pretty much the same. I could say “mamika,” my mother, but I didn’t want to do that either. “Madra” or “matheru” were other words for mother, and I guessed I would have to use one of them until I found out her name which I couldn’t ask anyone about until I was alone with Kilda.
But again I had gone down a mental rabbit hole and missed part of the conversation. Everyone was looking at me, apparently waiting for my answer to some question I hadn’t heard. I considered faking being upset. What’s the point of being little and cute and female if one cannot take advantage of the situation to avoid unpleasantness? It took no effort at all to make my lower lip quiver and tears leak out of my eyes.
It quickly began to get out of hand. Dimly, I realized that the question had been did I want to send a letter to “my” mother telling her to lay off trying to get me back. It would go by messenger to the Duke along with a ransom demand for Zenner.
That caused unexpected pain. I had never really had a mother, though I did believe that several of my foster mothers had genuinely cared for me. But there I was, trapped in a body that wasn’t my own, and worse, one that was probably going through the hormonal storms of the wrong sort of puberty and they wanted me to reject this mother I had never met.
Faked tears turned to real ones with sobbing and coughing and I tried to get up from the chair to run away, though I had no idea where I would run to.
Tahtie stood, too, reaching for me and calling me “Lubbikin,” again. Past him, I could see Alenna’s stepmom looking at me with a cynical and exasperated glint in her eye. Behind her, Kilda dropped a serving pitcher of ale and rushed toward me.
Across the table, Valto looked concerned and glared at Zenner then gave him a knuckle punch in the side of the neck. The faux-Frenchman looked surprised and shocked but before he could react, Asamund slapped him upside the head from the other side. It was like when Moe and Larry would both attack Shemp. Zenner looked more like Shemp than Curly, anyway.
I knew I would laugh at that image later but just then it only made me strangle on a sob. I squeezed my eyes closed to force out tears while trying to stand and turn away, so of course, I got tangled in the stool and started to fall.
Someone grabbed me in a hug and it took me a moment to realize it was Rotgar, the shorter beard giving him away. “Be brave.” He whispered, pulling me against his chest. “You’re the rabbit that calls down lightning. Don’t let these wolves scare you, my little Thunderbunny.” Donnekaninkin? Thunderbunny.
I collapsed against him, laughing and crying at the same time. All I needed now was a case of the hiccoughs, so of course….
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