Bian -7- A Frozen Carp?

Somewhere, past the edge of fantasy lies a land called...

by Erin Halfelven


Chapter 7 - A Frozen Carp?

We held each other for awhile then I pushed her away and looked her in the face. I had to look up to do that; she was several inches taller than me, and that was disconcerting, but I needed information. “There’s so much I need to know, Nontie,” I said, frustrated that I couldn’t even think of where to start.

“We have only a little time but you are known to be slow to come when called, so we can talk until your father sends someone else to fetch us,” she said.

“Good,” I said. I am a teenager; of course, I don’t come immediately. Worse, I’m a teenage girl, so being late is practically required.

I tried to get back to the information I wanted. “First off, I guess, where are we?”

“We’re in your father’s great house, Adelmolinhus. We are near his town of Molsby, in his lands called Moleen.” Mol was the local word for mill, but really meant any kind of machinery. So the building was The Noble House of Mills, the town was Milltown, and the area was the Place of Mills.

“And, uh, where is that in the world?” I asked.

She blinked. “On Blodsey, the island the Reymish call Ilbian and some of the older people just call Bian.” Blodsey meant Wet Island. Well, dur; most islands are wet because they are surrounded by water!

Ilbian? That translated, too, but with a different flavor: White Island. Albion? “Is it sometimes also called Britain?” I asked. “Or maybe England?”

She snorted, “The wild Kimbru to the west do call it ‘Burton’, or the like. And the Anglings call their eastern lands beyond Esvulk ‘Angland.’ I think.”

Okay. So I am in the time of the Viking invasions of Britain. When was that? How would knowing that help me? Am I in the past? Or is it a whole different world?

I would say it’s a different world because apparently magic works here, but then apparently magic worked in my world too or how did I get here?

My head hurt with the effort of trying to think and worry at the same time.

* * *

We talked more, but Kilda didn’t know much about the wider world. Reyma was a distant land beyond the sea to her, about as real as Neverland, and filled with people who had no idea how to talk. Kimbru was to the west and was also known as Vails, so it was probably Wales. She had no idea of distances, either. The edge of Kimbru was about a week’s walk away was her best estimate. Maybe two weeks.

Even farther away to the north were legendary people called Scotti and Niffelings and Dennorsk. The land of Rotgar’s father, Proits, was somewhere beyond the North Sea, far to the east and near to the lands of the Easterlings, people who wore pants, mined silver and breathed fire.

I gave up asking about foreign lands after that piece of information. But what did I know? After all, I could throw lightning or so it appeared to the locals.

“How many people live here?” I asked, changing the subject to something she might know more about.

“Two hundred or so,” she shrugged. “If you mean in the great house itself. A few thousand in the town and more in the villages and hamlets around.”

I considered that. “How many people will think I should know them?”

“Probably all of them who live in the castle, but Alenna did not speak to that many of them.”

Of course not. I’m the daughter of the local bigwig and probably more than a bit snooty about it. I rubbed my face. “Do I have brothers and sisters?”

“Yes. Your eldest brother is Adelard, he is Byarn of Molsby and will inherit from your father. His wife is Guuni and he has three sons, Valterin, Ardurin and Vulfin.” She went on a bit more, but I had stopped listening for a moment at the thought of having a sister-in-law named Gooney. Okay, it wasn’t pronounced quite the same, but that was what it sounded like.

“Your second eldest brother is Valto, his wife was stolen by Vikings, but your father has forbidden him to hunt them down.”

“Wait!” I said. “Aren’t we Vikings, too?”

She snorted, surprised. “Does this look like a dragonship?” she asked gesturing around the room. “We’re Bloddings, from the men who followed Henrik Blodde.” Henrik Blodde? Henry the Wet?

“Why was he called that?” I asked, feeling a bit weak.

She suddenly dimpled. “The leid has it that he fell off the boat that brought him from Geatasland to Yorvik five times. It’s a funny tale, do you want to hear it? Each time he came up with a different kind of fish in his mouth.” She laughed.

“Not right now,” I said. This Henry Overboard (another possible meaning of “den Blodde”) conquered Britain and died almost ninety years ago. Some joke. Vaguely I realized that Viking just meant someone who crossed deep water in a boat. It had nothing to do with wearing cow parts on your helmet.

Kilda went back to telling me about my “new” family.

It seemed I had four brothers and five sisters, most of them older than me and married with children of their own. Kilda mentioned that Adelard was the only one with a claim to lands, the way I understood it. Byarn meant baron, or something like, and Orley was earl, my father’s title.

I asked if Rotgar had a title and she said, “Yes, but it doesn’t mean much. He has no lands with it but he is the Haltayn of Over-under.”

I knew I had misheard that so I had her repeat it. Oberumber. Almost just as funny.

“What is a haltayn?” I asked. She told me and as near as I could figure out, a tayn is the same as an orley, it’s just what they call them in the north and a haltayn is someone who would be tayn but somebody else got the job first. Sort of.

“The man who would be tayn,” I mused.

We had been talking for about ten minutes when we realized that no one had come back for us.

“They must be busy,” I said.

“The Orley will send someone for us again, shortly, but maybe we should go now to help keep him sweet.”

“Och, aye,” I said, again translating my automatic okay.

Kilda fetched furry robes from the keldringer and we put them on over our other clothes. “It will be cold in the halls and in the Muckelgehrtrom.” Big courtroom? I blinked, then shrugged.

The fur seemed like an astonishing luxury, soft and smelling of some fragrant oil rubbed into the hide. I couldn’t tell what kind of animal they came from but mine was a golden-gray with faint spots and streaks and Kilda’s had a more mottled appearance, tan and brown and off-white, as if it were pieced together from smaller pelts.

I snuggled into the warmth and rubbed the collar against my cheek. It somehow felt cat-like and I wondered if they had lynxes here. We left the furs open because it wasn’t terribly cold inside but leather ties could be used to close them against outside weather. Perhaps a bit decadent to be wearing such an extravagance and even my serving woman had one, but if you’re going to be stuck in a medieval winter, it’s good to be rich enough to wear fur.

We stepped out into a narrow, poorly lit hallway that smelled of smoke, unwashed dogs, armpits and possibly genitals and other nether parts. So much for luxury. There were weeds on the floor and flames burning in bowls that were kind of built into the walls which were decorated with paintings.

I’d never seen anything like them! People in medieval-looking clothes marched and fought and plowed fields and built walls of brick and stone and ground grain and carried water and baked bread. Kilda had hold of my arm and kept us moving or I would have stopped to gawk at everything.

The paintings were mostly all on the inner wall because the windows were on the other side, high in the walls and narrow, with a sort of built-in step directly below them. Not that the corridor was that tall; though my own reduced height made that hard to judge. Seven feet or a bit over? Where in my world, you would think a hallway in a big building would be eight or ten feet high.

We turned a corner and the same bald man in the ratty robe came out of a doorway ahead of us. “Good,” he said. “You’re coming.” And with that, he popped back through the opening like a woodchuck seeing his shadow.

A moment later, Rotgar came through the same doorway, smiling. I smiled back and felt lighter somehow, the gloomy hall seeming brighter because of his blond hair and blue eyes.

Whoa. What?

“I’ve been named by Adelvalt to be your bodyguard, kvinnakin,” he said. “So I shall begin my task now.” He glared around the area as if looking for Dishonest John lurking in the shadows.

“You are such a fool,” I said, shaking my head but I couldn’t stop grinning at him.

“Sooth,” he said, “but a foolish guard is better than a frozen carp.”

“What wouldn’t be?”

“Stop it, you two,” said Kilda.

Rotgar looked at her with such blue-eyed innocence that I blushed as if caught in doing something wrong myself. What the heck had we been doing?

“We have to see Orley,” said Kilda.

Rotgar stepped out of the way and waved us by. He winked at me as we passed, again with the eye Kilda couldn’t see.

Down another short hall and the space opened up into a large room with a higher ceiling, though the upper reaches were smoky from oil lamps and cooking fires. On a sort of platform at one end stood a table and in front of the that were three more long tables in a horseshoe arrangement, open end toward the raised area.

At the high table, an older man sat on the one real chair I had seen here, everything else could be called benches or stools. The man wore a fur robe, shaggier than mine and almost black in color. Bear? Wolf?

There were other men in the room, but the one man seated at the high table drew the eye. All the men had beards, some scraggly like that of the balding messenger and some downy like Rotgar’s but many had full beards, some of which reached nearly waist-length. Most of the beards were trimmed with ribbons and beads near the fringes.

The Orley, for so I assumed the man must be, had a graying beard shot through with gold and red. His trimmings were blue ribbons that matched his eyes plus little white and green beads. He had a tattoo above his right eye; it looked like a bird of some sort.

The expressions he and the other men traded were gruff and stern and reminded me of businessmen in an important meeting but when he saw me at the door, he smiled showing slightly yellowed teeth and a gap or two. The left side of his face had scars, too. He stood, as tall as Rotgar and bulkier, even without counting the fur.

“Alenna,” he called to me. “Come.” He stood and made finger motions that I should climb up onto the platform to meet him.

“Tahtie?” I said, trying it out. Kilda hung back and I stepped forward with Rotgar at my side.

“Lubbikin,” the old man said quietly when I got within arms reach. Then he grabbed me up in a bear hug and made me feel even tinier than I had before. He smelled of beer and woodsmoke, animal and mansweat. And he smelled familiar in a way I had never experienced.

I gasped because I recognized the scent though I had never before encountered such a thing. He smelled like family. “Tahtie?” I said again, still questioning. I had had some foster dads that had been great guys and some others that were assholes through and through but I had never felt about any of them as I felt in that moment about this one old man.

How could I have a family here? First Kilda and now this….

Orley Adelwalt kissed me on the forehead and I pushed his beard out of my face. It felt so much like something I had done before. “Are you all right?” he murmured.

I nodded. “Yes, ever,” I said, not sure why I phrased it in the strongest affirmative available. I buried my face in his robe and wept and I didn’t know why I did that either.

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