Usual warning to those seeking my memories of late friend and former colleague Kyril Bonfiglioli, novelist, wit, raconteur and knife-thrower: only the first nine posts of this blog are concerned wholly or in part with his exploits (posts from 31st March to 23rd July 2013) plus a "Mentioned in Despatches" on 9th January 2014.
Parting the Veils – Part 6
Once the little girl’s eyes had closed in sleep, Virren feel it was safe to move. They slipped cautiously between the veils once more. Aestrid was becoming used to the unusual sensation. Although she could feel her feet touching the ground, her body seemed to have no weight. Sometimes they moved so fast that the veils were a whirling mass of changing colour.
Virren told her, ‘When we next come out from the veils, we shall be more than a day’s journey from Merdegar’s palace. Don’t ask me how it happens, No matter what men say, Virren Lightstepper does not know everything. There is one thing that is the same here as it is in our world: North is North and South is South. I can navigate here just as your father navigates the seas of our world.’
In a deserted spot they emerged beside another well to drink and Aestrid was able to wash her face. It was almost recovered from its earlier puffiness. The memory of that and their flight from the palace brought back the thought of the brave boys who had died for her.
Virren saw her grief. ‘Do not weep, child. You still think of them as your playmates but I tell you, when your father asked for help, they knocked full-grown men over in their eagerness to offer their swords.
‘Now, no more tears. The next journey between the veils will be our last. When we next step through into our own world, we will be close to your father’s hall. For the last time, Aestrid and Virren passed between the veils where time and space and distance worked in a different way.
When they emerged, it was into a dark street in the port of Oran where her father’s ships still rode at anchor. Aestrid recognised the large building where her father’s crews lodged.
‘Is my father . . ?’ she began, but Virren paid no heed. He took her arm in a firm grip and led her towards the entrance. The doors opened immediately.
The hall, smaller than the Great Hall at home, was bright with the light of a hundred torches. Somehow all of her father’s men had crowded inside. The massed ranks stood, in full armour, at each side, leaving only a narrow passage the length of the hall. At the far end sat the imposing figure of the Sea-Wolf, Leif Gustavsson.
‘Father!’ Aestrid cried and started to run towards him.
‘Stand still!’ bellowed her father in the voice that could be heard above a North Sea storm.
Aestrid stopped, bewildered. ‘Father, please,’ she begged.
In a second, Virren was beside her. ‘Listen,’ he said. As I have told you so many times – stop thinking only of yourself and listen!’
Leif Gustavsson addressed the assembled warriors.
‘This girl, this girl who is not yet a woman, disobeyed me. This girl, who has been allowed to run wild since her mother died ten years ago, has kept us sweating in this stinking port of the desert people for days. She has caused the death of two of our finest young men. They became warriors for one day, then heroes in Valhalla the next. Remember forever the names of Ragnar and Ulf, sons of Svein Redbeard!’
A great shout went up and the hall rang with the sound of swords on shields and stamping feet and over all, the names of Ragnar and Ulf Sveinsson.
He turned his gaze on his daughter. ‘What do you say to this – you who bear my name?’
Aestrid’s body shook and her tears flowed.
‘I cannot find words for my grief. Ragnar and Ulf were like my brothers. Now they have given their lives for me. I ask their forgivemess. I ask your forgiveness, Father. I cannot bear to lose your love.’ She sank to her knees.
Leif Gustavsson could sit no longer. Hecame striding down the hall and took his daughter up into his massive arms.
‘Aestrid, my daughter, my lode-star of the heavens. You have come back. That is enough.’ Tears were running down his cheeks into his fierce red beard.
Quickly he composed himself.
‘Virren Lightstepper, stand by me.
‘Hear me, my warriors, my Wolves of the Sea. This man has guided me, as he guided my father, for many years. Now he has rendered a service that I can never repay. He has brought my beloved daughter back across the empty miles of desert, back from the grip of an evil tyrant who would have despoiled her and kept her from me. All honour to Virren Lightstepper!’
Again the hall erupted with the clash of weapons and voices roaring the name of Virren Lightstepper. Leif Gustavsson the Sea-Wolf raised his hand as the clamour died away.
‘Tonight we feast and drink and sing the praises of the heroes of old and the heroes of today. Tomorrow we ride the seas again!’
(Total: 5,650 words – too long for a short story, too short for any other known format. I’ll have to call it a mini-saga.)