Bian -10- Large Uncertain Number

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

by Erin Halfelven


Chapter 10 - Large Uncertain Number

We got the hiccoughs under control when Kilda held the cup for me and made me drink that awful watered wine from the wrong side. Rotgar grinned at me the whole time.

But that was the end of me sitting at the grown-ups table; Tahtie sent me back to my rooms and gave orders to Rotgar to stand guard at my door until relieved by someone else he would send.

When we had negotiated the corridors with their scenic decorations, I firmly closed the door with Rotgar on the outside. I didn’t want him close to me for at least awhile. It had been very disturbing to feel his arms around me. Even his smell bothered me; he didn’t smell bad, and that was part of the problem.

As soon as we were alone, I turned to Kilda. “I’m not leaving this room again until I have pockets in my clothes.” I had to invent the word, ‘pochikinin,’ little pouches. I went directly to the keldringer/wardrobe and opened it, half afraid that my effen stuff would be gone.

But no, it all seemed to be there. I checked the boots first. Kilda had said she stuffed the Glocks in them, and yes, one gun in each boot with the communicator on top of the small pistol and the taser on top of the other. I’d forgotten about the taser, which might be just as useful as one of the guns. I found the can of pepper spray, too, the folding knife, and the expandable baton. That last item was especially useful to someone who knew how to use it, and I did; less a matter of strength than a knowledge of anatomy.

One problem I noted: I didn’t have a gun cleaning kit. There had been one in the trunk of the cruiser in my barracks bag, but that was useless knowledge. I spent only a moment considering if I could improvise a kit and decided I probably could; Glocks don’t require any specialized tools to take them apart or clean them, just rods and patches and cleaning solvent.

I wanted to count my ammo, too, but first, I needed to get Kilda working on making pockets.

She was already protesting my interest in the Glocks, and I needed her help to make the pockets. “All that stuff is of Hela’s brood, heart. You should leave it alone,” she said.

I shook my head but didn’t try to argue with her. I’d had command responsibilities; I knew you didn’t argue with your troops and it was usually best to take no notice if they disagreed with you. I dug through the clothes in the keldringer to find the pants; I could show her what a pocket looked like with them.

The idea of pockets, once I showed her how one was made, intrigued her. She grasped the concept immediately and retrieved another, older gown, to practice on while I explored the room we were in and another room which seemed to be my bedroom. Alenna’s bedroom, anyway. I resolved to be careful about thinking things belonged to me, or I might end up forgetting who I really was.

Both of Alenna’s rooms were about twice my height in width and a bit more than that deep, and both had doors to the hallway, though the one in the bedroom was barred with a heavy board in metal hooks hanging across it. Besides the bed, the inner room had another keldringer/wardrobe with even more finely made clothing, some of which looked suitable for warmer weather. Several trunks with padded lids, a table, and a stool, and a thing like a waist high push-pull completed the furnishings. Also, another closet-like construction I wasn’t sure the purpose of but suspected it might be the equivalent of an indoor porta-potty.

The walls were decorated with cloth hangings for the most part, some with images of ladies in gowns, animals, flowers, or other pretty scenes. No men fighting which had been common in the painted corridor walls. Above the short push-pull hung an elaborately framed mirror, about as wide as my forearm and half again as tall. Dimmer than the mirrors I was used to and with some distortions, still it showed me my image: the face pretty much that of the girl I had seen in the fountain in Los Perdidos.

Looking at myself disturbed me, though, I didn’t like being so forcefully reminded that I was now a short, barely teenaged girl. It was easier to think of things that needed doing if I avoided confronting that fact, so I went back to examining the room.

The bed was basically a wooden frame filled with, well, sacks of wool or feathers or something similar. A covering was stretched over this and duvets and furs and pillows stacked on top of the bedcover. I finally took off my fur coat and boots and tried the bed out, and it was surprisingly comfortable.

It seemed huge, but I remembered that I was not that big myself so I figured it must be about six feet long and four feet wide. Assuming that I stood about five feet tall or a little over.

Curious, I padded in stocking feet back out to the sitting room where Kilda sat on one of the benches sewing with the tip of her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth.

“Nontie, how tall am I?” I asked, sitting on the same bench with my feet under me to get them off the cold stone floor.

She squinted at me. “About six spans and maybe half a knuckle,” she said, smiling.

Great. “Uh, how much is that in inches and feet?” I asked. ‘Unkse’ was apparently the word for inch and feet were feet. Well, close enough.

“Feet?” said Kilda, startled. “Why would you reckon how tall you are in feet?”

She had a point, and I remembered having the same question when I was starting grade school. “I don’t know how long a span is,” I told her.

“Eight knuckles,” she said quickly then added more thoughtfully, “and I think that is nine or ten inches, I forget. The Reymish use inches and other outlandish inklings. Rotgar would probably know.”

“I’ll ask him later,” I said. I didn’t want the man near me at the moment. At ten inches to a span, that would make me—a bit less than five foot one. That fit with my experience, but it did not make me happy.

I looked at my own hand. If a knuckle was supposed to be longer than an inch, it must be the length from one knuckle to the next, rather than the width. I remembered vaguely that an inch was once defined as the width of some king’s thumb. Guy must have had big hands. “Any particular knuckle?”

“Och, aye,” she said. “Originally, it was the second joint of the long finger on Henrik Blodde’s left hand. But now they just say it is one-eighth of a span which is the width of a certain stone in the Great House up in Yorvik. But every Great House and God House keeps such a stone, all of which are supposed to be the same size. Henrik Blodde set that up before he died. Our own spanstone is part of the hearth in the Great Hall.”

“Wow,” I said. Blodde was not only a conqueror; he appeared to have been a visionary. “How far is a gemelreek?”

“I don’t know just how far, it’s a count of strides, but it’s about as much as a man can walk in an hour,” she said. “A stride is three spans, an ell is two, a yard is four, and a reek is, uh, five? Six?” she added thoughtfully, if a little unsurely.

I’d been in the military and done my share of marching. I knew a mile was about a thousand paces; that is the right boot heel hitting the ground a thousand times. And an hour’s march was about three miles; a gemelreek, then, was an old-fashioned league. Gemel meant a turning, or a hinge, or a fold, or a layer, or a bend. Gemelkin meant a twin; gemellon meant a large uncertain number. Whatever. So Oxford was about thirty-six miles from a port.

I didn’t know that much about British geography but probably most of the country was closer to water than that; it was an island. So, I wasn’t terribly smarter than before but it kind of confirmed my guess about where Oxford might be. “How far away is Oxford and in what direction?” I asked anyway.

She considered. “South, mostly, I think. A little west. And three or four leagues. A person can go there and back in one day.”

“How about London?” I asked.

“Lundenna? About twice as far to the southeast. A wicked big town is Lundenna. It’s said you can buy anything you could want on the strand there. It’s a free town, too, not part of any of the five Bloddish kingdoms. The Saxons vow it’s theirs, but it has its own ruler and him picked by the noisy crowd instead of by good folk!”

That sounded like a criticism of democracy. I smiled.

She frowned. “They call it Tremursby, too, because it has three walls around it. An inner Reymish wall, an outer Saxon wall and a middle wall built by the Cymru. It’s not been conquered since the Saxons took it before Henrik’s time. They built their wall against him but then we Bloddish took all the lands around it from them blood-drinking wildmen,” she ended in satisfaction.

I suspected anti-Saxon propaganda.

“They worship Ti-waw, you know. God of iron and war, and, they say, judgment; we leave that to Wedna. But they respect Donner and Wedna and Baldur the Holy,” she conceded. “And Frigga, too, goddess of hearths and families.”

Something came back to me from a dream: a tall woman walking out of a green forest saying to me, “I am called Idunn.” I hadn’t understood her words at the time, but now they made sense.

“What about Idunn?” I asked suddenly.

Kilda smiled. “She is goddess of apples and youth and the sweetness of life. She is supposed to protect maidens from….” She trailed off, staring at me oddly.

“From…?” I prompted. We looked at each other intently for a moment.

“From being stolen,” she finished.

That info caused a weird sensation, kind of like a cross between a warm fuzzy and a cold chill. Had it just been a dream or had I really had an encounter with a goddess? And why would that be any more unbelievable than what else had happened?

But gods and goddesses? I decided to avoid thinking about that and go count the rounds I had available because they were almost certainly all the ammo I would have until I figured out how to get home.

An accurate count would require unloading both guns and all six magazines. The big pistol had 17 rounds in each of three mags, and the small one had ten rounds in each, also three mags. Plus one in the chute of the G17, minus the one I had fired from the G26. 3x17+1+3x10-1. I should have eighty-one rounds left. Or had there been one in the chamber of the G26? I couldn’t remember. And were all the magazines full? This was why I needed to count them.

I wrapped both weapons and the four spare magazines in my old t-shirt and carried them past Kilda into the inner room where I spread the lot of them out on the table and sat down on the stool. I could see myself in the mirror over the push-pull, but I ignored my own blonde cuteness and began unloading magazines from guns and shells from magazines. Both Glocks had had rounds chambered when I started counting, so I made sure that they were empty with their chambers held open and stuck my little finger (ear-finger in Bloddish) into the chambers to be sure.

When I had done all this and lined up the shells for counting, I had eight rows of ten and three left over.

That couldn’t be right.

That would be 3x17+3x10+2. Six full magazines and a round chambered in each Glock. What about the one I had fired? The used shell would have been ejected and was probably lying in the snow under the cedar bush, and I was not going to go outside to look for it unless Rotgar had brought it in with my “odur effen.”

I stopped myself from wondering where the spent cartridge was; even if I found it, I would have one shell too many. Especially if I found it.

Maybe one of the magazines held more that it was supposed to. I looked them over. Glock magazines are very precisely made; none of them seemed likely to hold an extra cartridge. One way to find out. I reloaded all the magazines as full as I could and still had two cartridges left over, the ones that would go in the chambers ready to be fired.


Maybe I hadn’t fired the Glock even though I remembered doing so. Maybe I really had called down lightning….

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