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Notes from ‘Rivendale’

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Hi all!
Writing is important to me but sometimes life makes you stop and take stock for a while.
The Viking novel will continue when I get back into that groove but at the moment it’s on hold. So I thought I’d write about my small farm, some of the stories that we tell and retell at the dinner table which are usually funny and sad at the same time.
I was offered and took care of two very aged farm animals who had been brought up together, a sheep and a goat whose owner had gone into a local Aged Care facility (Old People’s Home). We had been watching a funny TV series at the time called ‘Summer Heights High’ starring Chris Lilley and his character name was Mr G. Mr G had a dog called Celine whom he taught to do tricks, so we called the old sheep Mr G and the female goat, Celine.
Mr G was indeed very ancient. His legs were like sticks and he was extremely skinny, as old people get too. He had only one tooth left in his mouth but still managed to eat the abundant grass we have here. The kids fed him bread and patted him but he usually just stood around looking old and feeble. Celine was an angora goat whose light and fluffy goat is not really suited to this climate and its extreme weather and storms in Winter. However, I agreed to take them as they had been kept in a back yard and I thought our 4 acres would be like a retirement home for them.
One day Mr G disappeared. I was perplexed because he hardly had the strength to wander far and the kids and I searched thoroughly but he couldn’t be found. About a day and a half later, I was sitting eating breakfast pondering where Mr G might have gone when I had a sudden revelation. Maybe he had fallen down somewhere, but where? I raced out to the paddock, there was only one place he might have fallen into. The wombat hole. Those of you unfamiliar with wombats, they are a short fat furry native animal whose nocturnal wanderings include digging deep holes in our red dirt in sleep in during the day.
Sure enough, there he was, Mr G was head first down the wombat hole with only his hind legs sticking out! Andrew, my son, helped me pull him out. Amazingly, he was still alive. I got water and forced some into him and we pulled him onto his legs. He was wobbly and unsteady but had miraculously survived his ordeal despite his age. After twenty minutes or so he was able to walk. He joined Celine in the chook paddock well away from wombat holes.

The poor old fellow lasted a few more months until he had to get shorn. We put a coat on him but he was so thin, like a white stick insect, but he didn’t last the night. He was happy at least for the six months he lived with us. Celine lived on a month or so longer.

Mark Maker #20

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After a time we too climb the hill, pass through a forested path and come upon a hut set in a clearing on the other side of the hill. It has a view of the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing and I shudder. I will slit my own throat rather than go onto that merciless element again. The sun is high in the sky as we approach a turf roofed hut and outbuildings. Ring Man makes me stay and he calls out to the house in his strange tongue. Another man appears at the doorway, a dark-haired younger version of Ring Man. His eyes openly glare at me and run up and down my body as if to say, “This is her!” We walk up to him. Ring man points at him and says: “Valdr” He turns to me and holding his hand on his chest says: “Asmundr.” I catch his blue eyes and deliberately look away as I don’t understand. He repeats the introductions. I repeat the names and he nods, seeming pleased. Then he points at me. I give him the word that means I can walk on the earth’s sods again, “Isla.” He looks at me and smiles again and says, “Isla.” I nod now too and smile at the deception. It is better he does not know who I am. It is better no one here knows. Then I might be safe.
I am prepared for his sexual attention as soon as I enter the hut and see furs heaped on the bed platform. I have learnt these months not to struggle. Fryth fared worse than me because they liked her dark hair better. He goes instead to the fire pit and lifts a rabbit roasting there on a stick and pulls off a hindquarter and hands it to me. The juices drip down my chin as the sweet hot meat fills my mouth. I sit on the bed platform. Valdr is creeping around like a ghost and Asmundr is throwing chests and pails, milk pots and boxes from the floor into a corner. I cannot believe they have not attacked me already. I begin to cry, great sobbing, heaving cries of relief and frustration and loneliness.
(c) 2013 Amundr

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‘Finally, finally a moment alone again. I’m sorry, I know it’s been months. She outdoes herself doesn’t she? That was Isla, in the boat. Isla arrived on the island and Asmundr, the man she chooses, Asmundr of the broken jaw and incredulous lack of imagination. Unbelieveable both of them. So ordinary. So cute. Do you really think a slave woman and the strong, silent blacksmith would hit it off so well in such a short time? Come on! They’d be way more suspicious of each other. They couldn’t even communicate with each other! Except, ok, yeah, yeah in the intimate fluid exchange way. Pathetic. In their private little world all cosy and snug in their turf-roofed hut- how sweet! Soon to be all pulled apart in a Viking holocaust. It’s a pity they didn’t snuff out Asmundr and then we wouldn’t have to listen to his drivel. Did you pick up the invisible throat-ripping monster who wiped out most of the villagers? How convenient. Now she doesn’t have to describe him or her. You darlings get to use your imaginations again because she is so bereft of ability. Hahahahahaha. That little weevil, Ragi, the completely gutless wonder who ran to save his bloody sheep of all things, the one Asmundr doesn’t trust , well, let me tell you HE DIDN’T LIE to cover up his yellow-livered cowardice. No. The monster is actually…’ (c) 2013.

Mark Maker #18

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(c) 2013.
Chapter Two.

There is a heavy poison in my guts. The bile rises and burns my throat. My head is heavy on the sacking. People move near me and the movement is a torture. I want them to stop! They pace, they grunt and spew while I am like a flower seed tossed in a massive north wind. My mind struggles to remember why I am here; if it is better here than it was before. How long was before? Did I live any of it? When was my skin last clean? When did I last eat food I did not want to immediately vomit up? But most of all, I want to know what it was I did to come here, to deserve this living death? I scream now and the poison in my guts comes up at last in violent heaves. I splutter and drop exhausted on the decking. Fryth, her face chalk-white catches my eye and murmurs: “Isla, death would be easier.” I smile at her in acknowledgement.
I cannot tell how long we have been heaving around in the boat’s hull, covered by the thin woollen cloaks allowed us. As I sip water, I wonder when my stomach will be still. In between the long sleep of the nauseous, I notice the sky is sometimes blue but most often yellow-laden grey. Yesterday I saw a bird, a thin black bird that flew with a fish hanging out of its mouth. A bird I had never seen before. We are near land and the sailors, our gaolers, are suddenly more urgent in their movements. Arguments banter amongst them. I cannot understand any of them fully, only the word for ‘money’.

Not long after sunrise, the longboat is beached on an island. One of the sailors runs off down the beach and up the hill. We are made stay in the boat so we sleep without the awful motion of the sea. We are yelled at to wake. Mossy rocks and flat green turf is all I notice of the landscape for coming up the beach is a party of men. They are all tall for the most, with blond or dark hair, dressed in cloaks and breeches in varying shades of orange and brown. My eyes squint to see weapons. They have none, not even daggers on their belts. About half are clean-shaven. When they are close to the boat, I notice one man, taller than the others with dark hair and a thin black beard. He has piercing green eyes, a smallish nose, a red mouth. His hands are big but the fingers are tapered and he wears a gold ring on the right one that the sun’s rays have caught for a moment. The flash of sunlight from the ring illuminates the brooch holding his cloak and sets the ruby there on fire. The others, I notice, have such booty displayed as well but none wear it as he does with such confidence.
The captain of our ship, the greasiest of the sailors, yells at us to disembark motioning with his hand. We all, all us women get up and clutch each other to steady our legs. Most trip on ropes or their own feet in our effort to leave this tortuous vessel. I want to throw myself on the sand and not move again. When my feet finally feel the sand beneath them, I splay out my legs to stand still and fix my eyes on the man of the ring and ruby brooch to stop from falling down. There is a flicker in his green eyes. The captain pushes us into a line. Our rag bundles, our only possessions are thrown onto the beach in front of us.
He begins to speak to the party of islanders, pointing at us and raising his eyebrows. He pulls out a leather bag from his shirt and indicates the emptiness of it. The man of the ring steps forward and gives the captain a handful of hack silver, bent and twisted ring money with a few gold coins among it. The captain shakes his head and the Ring Man steps back. He is smiling as he does so. Then the next man steps up and throws his own pile of bullion at the captain. One of the sailors hurries to get a sack and put it before the captain and each of the other eight men in the line now throws their hoard onto the sack. When the last is done, the pile reaches to above his boots. The captain is laughing now, and the other sailors’ eyes are popping with greed. The Ring Man speaks now to the captain and the captain receives his message with great amusement, snorting as he gets the idea, whatever it is. The captain, his black eyes dimmed with perverse pleasure, turns to us women and says one word: “Choose!” He holds his hand flat indicating the men. My ‘sisters’ are confused. I tell them. “We are to choose a man!” They giggle in astonishment. Fryth says aloud, to me, “Isla, it your right to go first.”
I look at the men and stare at their faces, full of lust and the need to appear unperturbed by the circumstances. They stand steady, their shoulders a little straighter than before.
The first man, the Ring Man, stares at me as if to mesmerize me. I stare back at him and frown and for a moment his gaze falters and he looks at the ground. I step forward and taking up my bundle, I walk towards him and reach my hand out to him. He takes my hand in his and we turn and walk back along the beach.

Mark Maker #17

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(C) 2013
“Ragi, how did you survive?”
Ragi turns as if I have poked him in the back.
“You have no marks at all!”
Valdr is sitting as before and the intensity on his face matches my own.
Ragi stands up and drops the rope he is knotting. He pauses longer than I want. I want to know now. I move menacingly towards him.
“Stop! I hid. I heard them screaming and I ran.”
“Where? Where did you hide?”
“In the caves above the beach.”
“And you stayed there while all of them, even the babes, were massacred!”
Ragi hangs his head. “There were too many. Hundreds of them.”
Valdr speaks now: “How do you know, you ran!”
“I heard them.”
I feel anger rising like a red snake in my belly. “Tell me now what you know, all of what you heard and saw.”
“I was at the north end of the village, returning home after leaving skins for Ingar. I cannot for sure say how but they were inside the village walls before anyone saw them. Gunnar screamed the warning first and the men sought their arms. The women, those outside, turned and ran into their houses and bolted the doors. I had left my sword at home, There had been no need of it. To defend myself, I had nothing. I thought only of my farm and the flock built up from a few weak lambs to a herd worth having. I wanted to save them. So I turned and ran for the back gate and locking it close behind me sought the caves above my beach.”
I am fuming now and want to kill him myself but I need to know what happened more.
“Who were they? Were they like us?’
“Some were…men. Those I could see. There was also something else. A feeling of some such thing moving, a kind of blurr. Our men I saw fall holding their blood-streaming throats with nothing near them.” Ragi begins to groan and hold his head. “I can’t stop seeing them fall! Will Thor forgive such as I?”
Valdr raises himself up to see Ragi better, “What do you mean, something invisible?”
Ragi tries to control his pain, “Something was moving with… a great fastness… Many men fell quickly without the chance to fight back, yes.”
“So there was none of them killed by us?”
“None as I saw with my looking, brief as it was.”
“This explains why I found no evidence of them, the warriors. Who were they, Ragi? Did they have markings on their shields?”
“I who ran fast as I could but cannot for sureness say of the colours nor the workings on their shields. If I saw, the memory of them is lost. I expected my throat out too.”
“Now you must tell me of my wife!”
“I have not news of her, as I have said before. Only the cloak…”
“And from the cave, as I remember from my boyhood searches there, you can see the beach!”
“Aye, as one does look. Would I my face shown then, after such sights in the village!”
“I expect not. But for the sounds perhaps of men moving off into the ocean, do you recall any of THAT?”
“I heard them yelling as of a triumph. Of victory they did chant.”
“Aye of a victory, then you must have heard them in a tongue known to us?”
“Nay, of words a few only, and then in a Norseward tongue unspoken by us.”
“Which words did you understand?”
“They sang only a few I know. They spoke of the ‘victory of the markmaker’ and ‘we have her.’
“And you thought not to tell me this until NOW!”
Ragi looks at me in a puzzled way. “I did attend your needs first, Asmundr and of your brother’s.”
I cannot deny his help and to show him I wish him no harm, I sit down again next to Valdr.
Valdr turns to me, “Asmundr, it may be her they have.”
“I would wish it so and then not. Both.”
“You wish her alive!”
“Yes.”
When the injury has left me, when the winter begins to thaw, when Valdr is fit, then we will go to the mainland and consult the Thing as to what can be done. I know in my heart this is a god-driven outcome: The massacre, the loss of Isla, our injuries. All of it is nothing more than we deserve.

MarkMaker #16

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(C) 2013.
I tell him. He shakes his head, “Asmundr…”
“I know, it looks bad but I need to know.”
Ragi enters the hut and is surprised to see Valdr sitting up.
He smiles and offers the young man a drink of fresh sheep milk which he readily drains. I hold out my hand and breakfast on the sweet cup too. I look at Ragi and he nods. I begin to strap on the splint and reach for my crutch again. Together we set out to the beach.
There is fresh green seaweed washed up in lumps all over the small grey beach. Driftwood litters the ground and I resist the impulse to collect it as I have so many times before on our own section of the beach. Gulls coarse cries add an eerie backdrop to the grey crashing waves. A storm is brewing out to sea, the sharp tang of rain is on the air. Ragi moves nimbly over the rocks unlike me. I am as awkward as a crab. My eyes hurt from concentrating on each and every shape around me, searching for anything that might give me a clue to what happened to her. Ragi waits patiently while I catch up. “Here, he says,” This is where I found the cloak.” I drop to the sand and rub my hand over its surface, willing the essence of her to spring up out of the sand or her sense to tell me what I need to look for. The cloak had dropped, fortunately out of the reach of the waves. Ragi has enough sense to let me watch and feel for a while. He wanders off up the shore, gathering the driftwood that keeps us all warm without effort.
The sand draws me back. The only hope she is alive is if she is slave again as she came to me, captured in her native land, the islands above the Pictish Isle, the Norseman’s new realm. But how, after all these weeks to know if the cloak is ripped then dropped as men flee here, more like monsters not men, dropped by them or by her? After I look well for many moments, the dragging shape of their keel as it was heaved back into the surf appears to my tired eyes. I touch the edges of the furrow the keel drew in the sand, the edges softened now by weeks of wind over the beach. Its definition is too sandblasted for me to tell if the keel is one we use or not. I drag my bad leg alongside the shape and touch the sand as I go at intervals hoping, with my heart bursting that I can make something tell me here messages I must know. Ragi comes back weighed down by sticks, concerned, I can tell at my anguish. “Stay till the storm”, he advises.
I continue my searches. A dried fish, a seal skull and the curved half of a leather shoe are all I find after some time. The sky blackens and the surf begins to roar with increasing violence. I look along the empty beach and try to visualise her last moments here. Would she think I had survived? I had left her in the hut and this is the last I can remember until I woke up with my face in my own vomit. How long were we together? One winter to one winter, a year. Was this time enough to forge a bond unbreakable or was the pull of her own islands still strong in her heart and the chance to escape stronger still as a way back. But what of the monsters? Did she witness their carnage of her fellow countrywomen? And why she, of them all, was saved to be taken away? If she was at all.
She was a woman of skill. In the time I knew her, she was adept at the arts of healing and taught me some of her ways: the use of herbs and plants to stem blood flow or take away pain; the grinding of poultices to draw out the poison in a wound; the setting of a broken limb. She birthed babies I saw discarded on the hillside and I wish, I hope, her eyes did not take in those awful sights, her handiwork all wasted, their mothers never to birth again. She surprised me by how willingly she gave of her sweet loving and how expert she was at bringing me pleasure and prolonging the ecstasy. For many a moon’s progress from fingernail to coin, she spoke her own language and laughed at me trying to copy until I made her speak mine which she did one or two words a day, repeated often. Soon the daily round of food, weaving and helping me with the forge was spoken in our native tongue with her strange and weird accent. She and Valdr began to speak of our island and our life and after a long time, she spoke of hers. She described her island and their customs similar to our own. Her speech had sounds like ours too and I detected some common heritage for us both. She would never say her real name or her family name so I called her Isla because she made the island new for me.

I walk back to the hut in my crab way. I am bursting with questions.

Mark Maker #15

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(c) 2013
I feel nothing until the first light and then I sit up and remember the dream: There is smoke swirling up from the heath to the ceiling of our hut. Isla bends down and places food in my lap. I don’t look at the food because it’s not food I want. I pull gently on the shoulder of her cloak and pull her towards me .I taste her wet lips in mine and brush her teeth with my tongue. She responds with a low grunt and maneuvers the bowl out of my lap and drops her warm rump there instead. She can feel me and she grinds her loins over mine until I am gasping for breath. I have her cloak off and am taking her shift over her bare white shoulders. Her breasts flop into my face and I kiss them all over and tongue the nipples softly. She tugs at my trousers…
“Asmundr!”
I groan now, feeling the effect of the dream as I force myself to turn and look at Valdr. He has raised his upper body with his arms and is trying to sit up. “Asmundr, please…” I get up off the platform and pull him up into a sitting position.
“Well, little brother, back from Valhalla?”
He looks at me with gritty, blurry eyes and tries to grin, “I stink!”
“You do, did you expect me to wash you every day?”
Valdr begins to sway and I steady him with an arm. “More ale?”
“NO! I want to know…”
“So do I..ah.. first, you are in Ragi’s hut. We have been here some days now. He’s helped a lot, in fact…”
Valdr looks at me from under heavy lids. His young face has dark shadows and his beard growth is very black against his white skin. He attempts to speak again through lips dry and cracked. He forces the words out: “Will I walk?”
I shake my head and then realize how that looks, “You have two legs. How they will act I do not know.”
He wants to put them to the ground. I shake my head. He swivels around anyway and drops the broken leg down. I wish I am not so near him as his scream sets off my jaw aching badly again. I roll my eyes.
“Take the moment slow. Just sit up for now.”
“I want…” The conversation goes on and on the same. I fetch this and that for him. Finally I say. “No more, I want to look for my wife.”
He grimaces, “News?”

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