I’ve never had a desire to be a beach bum. There are too many things to do with a lifetime than to spend it all getting tanned to the color of mahogany on hot sand. Still, it was pleasant, after all the excitement, to relax on an unpopulated stretch and just watch the water roll in and then roll back out. The rain was finished for awhile. The afternoon sky was sky blue, just starting to darken at the edges. For company I had seven naked women, one of them gorgeous and three of them not too bad looking, plus one half dead Indian. He was naked too. Shucks, even Blæda wasn’t all that bad looking, despite lugging a few too many pounds around with her.
Why were we all naked? Because everyone’s clothing had been soaked in the rain, and then been permeated with the smell of explosives and a house fire. Underlying all that was the ground in smell of sweat from tromping from the coven’s village at the crossroads to the ocean shore. Everyone but Nannakussi had taken a long bath in the ocean. He had just dropped, from shock and blood loss. Our clothing was spread over what vegetation there was, mostly salt hay, to dry. It would be a little salty, but so were we after our ocean baths.
Leofgif and Sigeflæd, the Teacher and the Wise Woman, were attending to Nannakussi, who was still mostly out of it. That was a mercy for him, because I’d left him with a splitting headache. Usually you think of Injuns as stoic tough guys; you don’t expect them to whimper, even if they’re burning each other at the stake. Nannakussi whimpered every time he moved his head. The piece of firewood I’d beaned him with had been oak, and I hadn’t been intending to just knock him out. If his head hadn’t been hard as a rock he would have ughed his last ugh.
Milly, the “Cackling Crone” was supervising his care. That was her title, not an accurate description. She was maybe in her sixties, pushing seventy, at least in my estimation. She was probably younger than that, since life was harder than in my easy-livin’ realm. She was eldest in the coven, the matriarch. Her hair was gray but not yet white. She had a good crop of wrinkles on her and her boobs drooped to about the level of her belly button. She didn’t cackle. She was pretty knowledgeable, filling me in on the detail of the great world beyond that Nevianne didn’t know or was vague on.
Blæda and Eadgyth were trying to catch some fish for our dinner. I don’t know what they used, since we hadn’t brought anything with us, but they came back with a couple flounder and a decent-sized sand shark, plus a lot of clams. They gathered wood for a bonfire and tried to start it with the same hand-passing trick Nevy had tried. It didn’t work for them either. I wondered why they kept trying it. Blæda and Eadgyth jabbered at each other for awhile, having a minor argument evidenced by rising voices.
“Gæst ye förðer æn dem plæge!” Mildrith told them, ending the argument. I translated that as “Go further up the beach.”
Edie took a long, thick stick and headed up the beach, leaving Blæda behind to grumble. Eadgyth’s title was “Chaste Wife,” and she looked like just that, a young red-haired matron, a (capital M) Mom. Her title could have just as well been Chaser of Kids. Blæda finished grumbling and cleaned the fish, using Nannakussi’s razor-sharp steel knife. Ten minutes later Eadgyth returned, with the stick burning at one end. I assumed she’d rubbed two sticks together or something. She started the bonfire.
My work was done for the day. I’d killed ten men, burned down Nevy’s house, and taken a prisoner. I can’t say it gave me a feeling of accomplishment, but we weren’t the ones who were dead. That did ease my conscience a little. They shouldn’t have come with murder in mind.
I lay on the sand between Nevianne and Ælflæda. The latter was short, very slender, small breasted, and a little sharp-nosed. She was kind of blond, but her hair was darker than Nevy’s, more of a brown that was streaked with blond. She wasn’t at all bad-looking, but she wasn’t in the same class of cute as Nevianne by a long shot. Her job title was “Cheerful Wanton.” Once she got over being afraid that I was going to breathe fire and fry her on the spot, she insisted on addressing me as Lord of Lust. Her attitude suggested we should get together sometime when Nevy wasn’t around. She also assumed Nevy and I were a couple, which didn’t bother me. I found I liked Ælflæda, even without lusting after her; she had a smart-assed, teasing sense humor that appealed to me, even through the language barrier.
I put my arm around Nevianne and she snuggled with me. There was no reluctance to it, nor eagerness. It was just… comfortable for both of us. Ælflæda didn’t seem to mind. I think jealousy was foreign to her nature. After a bit she patted my cheek, kissed where she’d patted, and got up to help with the cooking.
“I’m sorry I burned your house down,” I told Nevianne when we were alone. I really felt guilty about that.
“Thou promis’t tæ byldan mic oþer,” she pointed out, her hand warm on my chest. I made that “You promised to build me another.” I’ll translate from here on.
“And I will,” I promised again. “I warn you though: I’m not that great a carpenter.”
“It wasn’t much of a house,” she comforted me. “What is thy house like?”
“It’s just an old farmhouse,” I told her, stroking the softest skin I’d ever felt outside a baby’s bottom or a mouse’s ear. “Nothing much.”
“Does it leak much?” she asked. “Thy roof is thatch?”
“Thirty year shingles. Frame construction. Two and a half baths. Three bedrooms upstairs. I have a porch with a swing on it. The kitchen’s not much, just a galley. I’ve got a living room with a fireplace, and a sun room under shade trees. Detached one-car garage. I’ve got a shed out back, about the size of your house, to store junk…”
Then I had to explain what thirty year shingles were, then had to explain asphalt shingles, then had to try and explain what asphalt was, which I didn’t know much about. It was a long, long explanation. She liked the idea of indoor plumbing. It was found in rich folks’ houses here. Two-story houses weren’t common, except in towns. People tended to build out, not up in the sparsely populated Western Provinces. She was disappointed that I didn’t have an atrium, like manor houses have. She told me I should build one. I tried to imagine how I would fit that and started getting a headache. Instead I gave her a kiss.
She returned it willingly enough, but then she told me, “Thou knowest I must remain a maiden till our quest be done?” she reminded.
“Thou muss’t?” I asked, trying my hand at her dialect.
“Aye, sir. Thou know’st, desire though wit might.”
Her use of the dual threw me for a moment. In Olde Saxon, the pronouns went “Ic,” singular, “wit,” we two, and “we,” which was we more than two. I found it encouraging that the desire went both ways. “And after?” I asked.
“And after I’ll be thine forever,” she told me airily. “‘Twas ye bargain, entered willingly.”
“That means we’re engaged?” I asked, surprised. I had a quick vision of her wearing shorts and a tee shirt, helping in the shop. She looked very pretty. It was a very nice vision. I hugged her. “You know I’m not a demon?” I asked. “I’m nothing grand. I’m a shopkeeper. I sell sea shells by the sea shore.”
“I would hate to see a demon in thy realm, my lord. I am disappointed that thou breathest not fire.”
“Oh, I can do that,” I told her. I’d taught myself fire-eating when I was a teenager. It went with being named after a demon. Important safety tip: Don’t try to learn it on your own. “I can teach you to do it, if you don’t mind a few blisters until you get it down. I just don’t want you to expect too much of me. I’m nobody special. There’s no magic about me.”
“Thou’rt large,” she pointed out.
“Thou art large for a woman,” I told her. She was about five eight or nine. “Tall, anyway. Everything is very nicely proportioned.” She wasn’t going to find much in the Petite Shoppe.
“And thou like’st mine ærse,” she reminded me.
“That I do. Actually, I like all of you,” I said, patting her lovely ærse. “Thou art very pretty all over. I think you’re pretty on the inside too. How’d you come to be a witch?”
“Leofgif is my mother,” she told me. “’Tis passed mother to daughter.”
“She’s your mother?”
“Aye. She saw ye pow’r in me, ye pow’r that hath fled in thy presence. She nurturèd it, and grow it did. I was barely a woman when I joined the Outer Circle. Betimes wann… when I saw thee, I was dressed as thou art now, and I was with thee as thy woman.”
“You’re a Wit too?” I asked, surprised.
“Aye. All of us can See sometimes. Blæda can See always, save in thy presence. Nannakussi is said to be a Wit of gross pow’r.”
“Yet you were scared when you actually saw me?” I wondered.
“I had summoned a demon. The demon was thee. I knew not you were a demon!”
“But now you see I’m not?”
“Nannakussi’s men believèd thou wast,” she pointed out. “Nannakussi himself believeth.”
I stroked a very lovely boobie and she didn’t move my hand away this time. “Rememb’rest thou, I must æn maiden remain?” she chided.
“If you don’t like it...”
“I said not that I like it not. Buton… but I must æn maiden remain. Otherwise my spells work not.”
“But we can mess around now and then?” I suggested as a compromise.
“Never have I messèd around,” she told me, her voice sweetly content. “But ye very second time I Saw thee, we were three.”
If she kept it up, I thought, she’d have me believing it. I’d just met her, burned her house down, and she already had us married and with a baby.
Millie called us, interrupting what was turning into a very nice fantasy for me. Nevy and I held hands as we walked to the fire. Leofgif looked worried, probably about Nevy’s maidenhead. Certain magic, my newly intended had explained to me, required a maiden to perform it, otherwise it wouldn’t work. Summoning of demons and imps and seraphs was included on that list. Maiden’s monthly blood was also required to repel trolls and goblins.
I’d never seen a troll nor a goblin. The only demons I’d run into were myself (and I didn’t believe it for a moment); the Demon Rum, who was an occasional pal o’ mine; and the demon that was regularly awakened in me at the sight of Nevy naked.
We ate fish and shark and clams and the ladies sang as the sun went down. Their songs sounded kind of sad and minor key-ish. I gave what I thought was a rousing rendition of “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey?” to a kind of puzzled appreciation.
“How’s Nannakussi doing?” I asked after the polite noises of appreciation had died down, a space of seconds. I never said I could sing. “Is he going to make it?”
“Thy firewood hurt him more than ye explosions, Lord of the Corpse-strewn Plain,” Edie told me. I wished they would quit calling me that. “He can hear and see. He liketh not to open his eyes, but he speaketh a little. He is grieved his men are dead.”
“I would be too,” I told her. “I’d be grieved if it were any of you.” Nevy gave my hand a squeeze in response. The vision of her head on a stake rose up before me again, and I resisted the impulse to go give the Indian a kick in the head.
“He is a warrior of note,” Ælflæda told me. “He grieveth to lose his scalp lock. His life ist now thine.”
“What would I do with it?” I asked, surprised.
“As thou wilt,” she told me. “Take it, leave it. His woman is thine, his child is thine.”
“Tough rules,” I shrugged. I had no intention of collecting. “I’ll settle for getting some information from him. Then he can go home.”
“’Twould be cruel,” Nevy told me. “To reject him would mark him as beneath notice. His own people would kill him. If thou carest not…”
“You mean I’m stuck with him?”
“He is sore wounded,” she mused. “If he escaped…”
“… then Palégos will kill him for failing his mission,” her mother stated.” Millie agreed, nodding gravely, joined by Sigeflæd.
While the rest of the ladies cleaned up, Nevianne joined me to check on Nannakussi. He was still alive, at least. Nevy spoke some of his language, but he spoke hers much better. We soon established that I couldn’t communicate with him directly. Nevy and her coven could usually understand me, assuming I spoke slowly about things they were familiar with, because our dialects were somewhat close. He was a step removed. I needed her as an interpreter.
“How are you?” I had her ask him.
They had a brief exchange, not quite an argument. They seemed to be discussing terminology. He would address me as “shësa,” Nevy explained. That was “mother’s brother.” The Lenape were matrilineal. “Mëxumës,” his preference, was “grandfather.” She thought shësa was appropriately deferential. It made no difference to me. He could call me “Harry” if he wanted. Or “Asmody.” Eventually we ended up with Latin, dominus. Lord.
“How do I find Palégos?” I had her ask.
“Ehr wurd’t finden ye,” he told her. He didn’t speak quite the same dialect she did. She translated it as “He will find you” as I was translating it to the same thing in my own mind.
“He knows where we are?” I asked. Nevy translated.
This exchange was a gabble, more than simple question and answer. “He sayeth ye wizard knoweth not,” she told me. The bad guy was looking for us, he was sure, but he hadn’t Seen Nannakussi, nor could Nannakussi see him. That was understandable, since we were in a different reality stream. There was no “us” to find where he was looking.
“So where does he live?” I asked. “Palégos, not Nannakussi,” I clarified.
Another discussion, even longer than when they argued over whether I was grampaw or uncle. “He knoweth not,” she finally said. “Ænlic… only somewhere on ye mainland.”
That meant we’d have to go looking for the fellow.
“And where’s Nannakussi live?”
Quick question, quick answer: “He liveth to ye south, on ye other isle.”
“Will he take us there?”
“Aye. He must. Thou’rt his dominus. His is thy servus.”
“We’ll leave in the morning,” I decided. “He’ll have to learn either your language or mine or both if we can’t throw him back.”