Monday, 18 April 2016





Parting the Veils - Part 3

 Aestrid walked back to her room, careful to show no sign of the hope she now felt. She had obeyed the Lightstepper’s instructions and faced that fierce Guard Commander without a tremor in her speech or a tremble in her body. She wanted to shout aloud.      Instead she forced herself to walk with her head down and her shoulders slumped. She hoped the two women escorting her could not sense her exultation. She was sure now that Virren Lightstepper somehow had the power to arrange her escape and bring her back to the arms of her father.     As she was shown into her room and the door closed behind her, she heard the two women whispering. She stayed close to the door and held her breath to hear better.   ‘Perhaps she will be ready sooner than we thought.’    ‘I’m not sure,’ said the other. ‘She may be more clever than we think. She has a strong mind. I’ve seen others burst into tears if they had to face the Guard Commander. We must consult Eneida. She will know what to do.’     Aestrid did not understand every word but one thing was clear: she should not have been so bold when she faced the officer’s questions. They would watch her more closely now. She needed Virren’s advice.     As if in answer to her unspoken wish, the Lightstepper’s voice came into her head.      Instead she forced herself to walk with her head down and her shoulders slumped. She hoped the two women escorting her could not sense her exultation. She was sure now that Virren Lightstepper somehow had the power to arrange her escape and bring her back to the arms of her father.     As she was shown into her room and the door closed behind her, she heard the two women whispering. She stayed close to the door and held her breath to hear better.   ‘Perhaps she will be ready sooner than we thought.’    ‘I’m not sure,’ said the other. ‘She may be more clever than we think. She has a strong mind. I’ve seen others burst into tears if they had to face the Guard Commander. We must consult Eneida. She will know what to do.’     Aestrid did not understand every word but one thing was clear: she should not have been so bold when she faced the officer’s questions. They would watch her more closely now. She needed Virren’s advice.     As if in answer to her unspoken wish, the Lightstepper’s voice came into her head.     ‘Aestrid. I have listened to their talk with the First Wife. They believe you are almost ready to accept your situation. You must keep them thinking that. They will soon take you to be with the other women. There I have found a place where I can part the veils. It will be easier to take you from there. But I need more help. I must go back and bring . . .’
     ‘Virren, I don’t understand. What do you mean, “Part the veils”?’
     ‘I cannot explain now.’ His voice was sharper. ‘Just listen. I can bring only two of your father’s warriors to help.’
     ‘But how …?’
     ‘Hush, child. Listen. There is something else I must tell you. The king has demanded that you be prepared and brought to his bed tomorrow.’
     Aestrid cried out in alarm, ‘No, never! I will dig out his eyes before . . .’
     ‘Will you be quiet!’ That was a shout inside her head that made her wince.
     Virren went on, ‘You will be eating with the other women tonight. Make sure you eat from every dish. I will find a way to add something to one dish. I promise you it will not harm you, but you will not be acceptable to the king for a few days. That gives me the time I need. I will return within two days. Do you understand?’
     'No,’ she answered, ‘I don’t understand how you can . . .’
     Virren Lightstepper was losing patience. ‘You will find out in time. Do you understand what I want you to do?’
     ‘Yes, Virren. I’m sorry.’
     ‘Then do it!’
      Virren was gone. She felt him slip away, just as a dream would disappear as soon as she awoke from sleep. But unlike a dream, she could remember every word of his instructions. As she recited them over to herself, she felt more and more certain that this strange and unpredictable man would be able to help her. But still she puzzled herself with questions.
    The help he had promised to bring was at least three days away, yet he had said confidently that he would be back within two days. And what were the veils he spoke of?
     Wearied by these problems and worried about what Virren was planning to add to the meal that would make her “unacceptable”, she finally dozed off into a troubled sleep.
     She didn’t hear the key in the lock or the tapping on the door. She had to be shaken awake by the women who came to fetch her. These two were different, younger. One of them had light brown hair and spoke in a language very like her own.
     Aestrid was beginning to realise the value of accepting or appearing to accept her fate. It should be easy to make a friend of this woman whose speech she could understand. But it was also clear that it was the older women, the senior wives, she needed to convince. Once again she was led to a bathroom and this time she was helped, much more gently, to bathe herself. There were oils and     perfumes softer and richer than she had ever experienced.
      As Aestrid and the two women began to talk, hesitantly at first and then with increasing confidence, a more pleasant atmosphere began to develop. A smile , a playful splash, a laugh at a misunderstanding. Despite her fears , Aestrid relaxed a little and that helped her to keep up this essential façade of acceptance.
      When they led her into the main hall of the harem, dressed in colourful robes like the ones that had tempted her in the market-place, the younger women gathered round, eager to meet this new and exotic newcomer. Aestrid guessed that they would not have seen many with her colouring. She noticed that the older women and even some of the younger ones, held back, as if they had a status that set them apart.
     They were in time for the evening meal. A tempting and colourful array of dishes were set forth and everyone helped themselves. There seemed to be a very clear order of precedence here and Aestrid was not motioned forward to eat till the others had helped themselves.
     As Virren Lightstepper had ordered, Aestrid made sure to eat a little from each dish, though she was unsure of the taste or the ingredients. She was surprised that there was hardly any meat, certainly not the great joints of sheep and cattle she had been used to in her father’s feasting-hall. No knives were needed, only fingers.
     There was no way of knowing which dish Virren had added to. She tried to judge by the taste but each one was different from what she was used to. It was impossible to guess.
     Her two new friends, as she had reluctantly begun to think of them, took her now to a larger, well-lit room, luxuriously furnished with colourful hangings and carpets, and beds for the three of them. There was no lock on the door.
     As the girls chatted and prepared for sleep, Aestrid brought up the subject she had hardly dared think about. She spoke to Marelja, the one
     ‘Virren, I don’t understand. What do you mean, “Part the veils”?’     ‘I cannot explain now.’ His voice was sharper. ‘Just listen. I can bring only two of your father’s warriors to help.’     ‘But how …?’     ‘Hush, child. Listen. There is something else I must tell you. The king has demanded that you be prepared and brought to his bed tomorrow.’     Aestrid cried out in alarm, ‘No, never! I will dig out his eyes before . . .’     ‘Will you be quiet!’ That was a shout inside her head that made her wince.     Virren went on, ‘You will be eating with the other women tonight. Make sure you eat from every dish. I will find a way to add something to one dish. I promise you it will not harm you, but you will not be acceptable to the king for a few days. That gives me the time I need. I will return within two days. Do you understand?’     'No,’ she answered, ‘I don’t understand how you can . . .’     Virren Lightstepper was losing patience. ‘You will find out in time. Do you understand what I want you to do?’     ‘Yes, Virren. I’m sorry.’     ‘Then do it!’      Virren was gone. She felt him slip away, just as a dream would disappear as soon as she awoke from sleep. But unlike a dream, she could remember every word of his instructions. As she recited them over to herself, she felt more and more certain that this strange and unpredictable man would be able to help her. But still she puzzled herself with questions.    The help he had promised to bring was at least three days away, yet he had said confidently that he would be back within two days. And what were the veils he spoke of?     Wearied by these problems and worried about what Virren was planning to add to the meal that would make her “unacceptable”, she finally dozed off into a troubled sleep.     She didn’t hear the key in the lock or the tapping on the door. She had to be shaken awake by the women who came to fetch her. These two were different, younger. One of them had light brown hair and spoke in a language very like her own.     Aestrid was beginning to realise the value of accepting or appearing to accept her fate. It should be easy to make a friend of this woman whose speech she could understand. But it was also clear that it was the older women, the senior wives, she needed to convince. Once again she was led to a bathroom and this time she was helped, much more gently, to bathe herself. There were oils and     perfumes softer and richer than she had ever experienced.      As Aestrid and the two women began to talk, hesitantly at first and then with increasing confidence, a more pleasant atmosphere began to develop. A smile , a playful splash, a laugh at a misunderstanding. Despite her fears , Aestrid relaxed a little and that helped her to keep up this essential façade of acceptance.
      When they led her into the main hall of the harem, dressed in colourful robes like the ones that had tempted her in the market-place, the younger women gathered round, eager to meet this new and exotic newcomer. Aestrid guessed that they would not have seen many with her colouring. She noticed that the older women and even some of the younger ones, held back, as if they had a status that set them apart.     They were in time for the evening meal. A tempting and colourful array of dishes were set forth and everyone helped themselves. There seemed to be a very clear order of precedence here and Aestrid was not motioned forward to eat till the others had helped themselves.     As Virren Lightstepper had ordered, Aestrid made sure to eat a little from each dish, though she was unsure of the taste or the ingredients. She was surprised that there was hardly any meat, certainly not the great joints of sheep and cattle she had been used to in her father’s feasting-hall. No knives were needed, only fingers.     There was no way of knowing which dish Virren had added to. She tried to judge by the taste but each one was different from what she was used to. It was impossible to guess.     Her two new friends, as she had reluctantly begun to think of them, took her now to a larger, well-lit room, luxuriously furnished with colourful hangings and carpets, and beds for the three of them. There was no lock on the door.     As the girls chatted and prepared for sleep, Aestrid brought up the subject she had hardly dared think about. She spoke to Marelja, the one     ‘Virren, I don’t understand. What do you mean, “Part the veils”?’     ‘I cannot explain now.’ His voice was sharper. ‘Just listen. I can bring only two of your father’s warriors to help.’     ‘But how …?’     ‘Hush, child. Listen. There is something else I must tell you. The king has demanded that you be prepared and brought to his bed tomorrow.’     Aestrid cried out in alarm, ‘No, never! I will dig out his eyes before . . .’     ‘Will you be quiet!’ That was a shout inside her head that made her wince.     Virren went on, ‘You will be eating with the other women tonight. Make sure you eat from every dish. I will find a way to add something to one dish. I promise you it will not harm you, but you will not be acceptable to the king for a few days. That gives me the time I need. I will return within two days. Do you understand?’     'No,’ she answered, ‘I don’t understand how you can . . .’     Virren Lightstepper was losing patience. ‘You will find out in time. Do you understand what I want you to do?’     ‘Yes, Virren. I’m sorry.’     ‘Then do it!’      Virren was gone. She felt him slip away, just as a dream would disappear as soon as she awoke from sleep. But unlike a dream, she could remember every word of his instructions. As she recited them over to herself, she felt more and more certain that this strange and unpredictable man would be able to help her. But still she puzzled herself with questions.    The help he had promised to bring was at least three days away, yet he had said confidently that he would be back within two days. And what were the veils he spoke of?     Wearied by these problems and worried about what Virren was planning to add to the meal that would make her “unacceptable”, she finally dozed off into a troubled sleep.     She didn’t hear the key in the lock or the tapping on the door. She had to be shaken awake by the women who came to fetch her. These two were different, younger. One of them had light brown hair and spoke in a language very like her own.     Aestrid was beginning to realise the value of accepting or appearing to accept her fate. It should be easy to make a friend of this woman whose speech she could understand. But it was also clear that it was the older women, the senior wives, she needed to convince. Once again she was led to a bathroom and this time she was helped, much more gently, to bathe herself. There were oils and     perfumes softer and richer than she had ever experienced.      As Aestrid and the two women began to talk, hesitantly at first and then with increasing confidence, a more pleasant atmosphere began to develop. A smile , a playful splash, a laugh at a misunderstanding. Despite her fears , Aestrid relaxed a little and that helped her to keep up this essential façade of acceptance.
      When they led her into the main hall of the harem, dressed in colourful robes like the ones that had tempted her in the market-place, the younger women gathered round, eager to meet this new and exotic newcomer. Aestrid guessed that they would not have seen many with her colouring. She noticed that the older women and even some of the younger ones, held back, as if they had a status that set them apart.     They were in time for the evening meal. A tempting and colourful array of dishes were set forth and everyone helped themselves. There seemed to be a very clear order of precedence here and Aestrid was not motioned forward to eat till the others had helped themselves.     As Virren Lightstepper had ordered, Aestrid made sure to eat a little from each dish, though she was unsure of the taste or the ingredients. She was surprised that there was hardly any meat, certainly not the great joints of sheep and cattle she had been used to in her father’s feasting-hall. No knives were needed, only fingers.     There was no way of knowing which dish Virren had added to. She tried to judge by the taste but each one was different from what she was used to. It was impossible to guess.     Her two new friends, as she had reluctantly begun to think of them, took her now to a larger, well-lit room, luxuriously furnished with colourful hangings and carpets, and beds for the three of them. There was no lock on the door.     As the girls chatted and prepared for sleep, Aestrid brought up the subject she had hardly dared think about. She spoke to Marelja, the one who understood her language.
     ‘Have you?’ she began. Her voice sounded like it belonged to someone else. The girls looked at her, waiting for the question. ‘Have you sometimes been with the king, you know, in his bed?’
     ‘Oh, yes,’ said Marelja, then spoke to the other girl. ‘Don’t worry, Aestrid. It’s not that bad. Will it be your first time?’
     She nodded, not able to speak.
     Marelja came over and put an arm round her. ‘You have to tell yourself it’s just something you have to do. If you can relax, it won’t hurt much. The worst thing is, he’s so fat and sweaty – and sometimes he takes so long about it, I nearly fall asleep.’
      The two girls laughed.
      Aestrid turned over in her bed and shut her eyes tight to stop the tears. Had Virren managed to do something to the food she’d eaten? Had she tried every dish? She didn’t feel different in any way.
     ‘Have you?’ she began. Her voice sounded like it belonged to someone else. The girls looked at her, waiting for the question. ‘Have you sometimes been with the king, you know, in his bed?’     ‘Oh, yes,’ said Marelja, then spoke to the other girl. ‘Don’t worry, Aestrid. It’s not that bad. Will it be your first time?’     She nodded, not able to speak.     Marelja came over and put an arm round her. ‘You have to tell yourself it’s just something you have to do. If you can relax, it won’t hurt much. The worst thing is, he’s so fat and sweaty – and sometimes he takes so long about it, I nearly fall asleep.’      The two girls laughed.      Aestrid turned over in her bed and shut her eyes tight to stop the tears. Had Virren managed to do something to the food she’d eaten? Had she tried every dish? She didn’t feel different in any way.     ‘Have you?’ she began. Her voice sounded like it belonged to someone else. The girls looked at her, waiting for the question. ‘Have you sometimes been with the king, you know, in his bed?’     ‘Oh, yes,’ said Marelja, then spoke to the other girl. ‘Don’t worry, Aestrid. It’s not that bad. Will it be your first time?’     She nodded, not able to speak.     Marelja came over and put an arm round her. ‘You have to tell yourself it’s just something you have to do. If you can relax, it won’t hurt much. The worst thing is, he’s so fat and sweaty – and sometimes he takes so long about it, I nearly fall asleep.’      The two girls laughed.      Aestrid turned over in her bed and shut her eyes tight to stop the tears. Had Virren managed to do something to the food she’d eaten? Had she tried every dish? She didn’t feel different in any way.
     ‘Virren, I don’t understand. What do you mean, “Part the veils”?’     ‘I cannot explain now.’ His voice was sharper. ‘Just listen. I can bring only two of your father’s warriors to help.’     ‘But how …?’     ‘Hush, child. Listen. There is something else I must tell you. The king has demanded that you be prepared and brought to his bed tomorrow.’     Aestrid cried out in alarm, ‘No, never! I will dig out his eyes before . . .’     ‘Will you be quiet!’ That was a shout inside her head that made her wince.     Virren went on, ‘You will be eating with the other women tonight. Make sure you eat from every dish. I will find a way to add something to one dish. I promise you it will not harm you, but you will not be acceptable to the king for a few days. That gives me the time I need. I will return within two days. Do you understand?’     'No,’ she answered, ‘I don’t understand how you can . . .’     Virren Lightstepper was losing patience. ‘You will find out in time. Do you understand what I want you to do?’     ‘Yes, Virren. I’m sorry.’     ‘Then do it!’      Virren was gone. She felt him slip away, just as a dream would disappear as soon as she awoke from sleep. But unlike a dream, she could remember every word of his instructions. As she recited them over to herself, she felt more and more certain that this strange and unpredictable man would be able to help her. But still she puzzled herself with questions.    The help he had promised to bring was at least three days away, yet he had said confidently that he would be back within two days. And what were the veils he spoke of?     Wearied by these problems and worried about what Virren was planning to add to the meal that would make her “unacceptable”, she finally dozed off into a troubled sleep.     She didn’t hear the key in the lock or the tapping on the door. She had to be shaken awake by the women who came to fetch her. These two were different, younger. One of them had light brown hair and spoke in a language very like her own.     Aestrid was beginning to realise the value of accepting or appearing to accept her fate. It should be easy to make a friend of this woman whose speech she could understand. But it was also clear that it was the older women, the senior wives, she needed to convince. Once again she was led to a bathroom and this time she was helped, much more gently, to bathe herself. There were oils and     perfumes softer and richer than she had ever experienced.      As Aestrid and the two women began to talk, hesitantly at first and then with increasing confidence, a more pleasant atmosphere began to develop. A smile , a playful splash, a laugh at a misunderstanding. Despite her fears , Aestrid relaxed a little and that helped her to keep up this essential façade of acceptance.
      When they led her into the main hall of the harem, dressed in colourful robes like the ones that had tempted her in the market-place, the younger women gathered round, eager to meet this new and exotic newcomer. Aestrid guessed that they would not have seen many with her colouring. She noticed that the older women and even some of the younger ones, held back, as if they had a status that set them apart.     They were in time for the evening meal. A tempting and colourful array of dishes were set forth and everyone helped themselves. There seemed to be a very clear order of precedence here and Aestrid was not motioned forward to eat till the others had helped themselves.     As Virren Lightstepper had ordered, Aestrid made sure to eat a little from each dish, though she was unsure of the taste or the ingredients. She was surprised that there was hardly any meat, certainly not the great joints of sheep and cattle she had been used to in her father’s feasting-hall. No knives were needed, only fingers.     There was no way of knowing which dish Virren had added to. She tried to judge by the taste but each one was different from what she was used to. It was impossible to guess.     Her two new friends, as she had reluctantly begun to think of them, took her now to a larger, well-lit room, luxuriously furnished with colourful hangings and carpets, and beds for the three of them. There was no lock on the door.     As the girls chatted and prepared for sleep, Aestrid brought up the subject she had hardly dared think about. She spoke to Marelja, the one who understood her language.     ‘Have you?’ she began. Her voice sounded like it belonged to someone else. The girls looked at her, waiting for the question. ‘Have you sometimes been with the king, you know, in his bed?’     ‘Oh, yes,’ said Marelja, then spoke to the other girl. ‘Don’t worry, Aestrid. It’s not that bad. Will it be your first time?’     She nodded, not able to speak.     Marelja came over and put an arm round her. ‘You have to tell yourself it’s just something you have to do. If you can relax, it won’t hurt much. The worst thing is, he’s so fat and sweaty – and sometimes he takes so long about it, I nearly fall asleep.’      The two girls laughed.      Aestrid turned over in her bed and shut her eyes tight to stop the tears. Had Virren managed to do something to the food she’d eaten? Had she tried every dish? She didn’t feel different in any way.

It seems I was optimistic about finishing this story in three episodes. There will have to be at least one more to bring it to a satisfactory ending.