The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Lindorn of Storsjon
Wednesday 18th September 1998, 8pm
While Daniel struggles to haul the corpse out of the water with the aid of the boat hook, his torch catches Krippner's open, gleamless eyes. They are dull and distant, the brows a little furrowed, as if in resentment of the SITU operative's interference. Krippner's face has a slightly distracted, stupid expression, as if he were trying to grasp a difficult concept, or to make out the notes of a faint music. His tan has been almost bleached away by the effects of the water.
As if even in death the rowing instructor retains some hostility to Daniel, the corpse seems perversely disinclined to leave the dark water in which it dances. Again and again it slides from the boat hook to bob grotesquely. At one point Daniel grips the body by the shoulder in order to haul it from the water. He has never touched dead flesh before - he is startled by its coldness and rigidity. At first he seems to be gripping a thing of wet marble, then there is a slight sense that the clammy substance is yielding under his fingers a little, like stiff clay.
...winter water is rising today, from the deep of the lake. If you were to slide down into that, it might cold your blood, make your breath hard, stop your heart... Daniel recalls the words of Sverre Krippner, and the strange, meaningful hostility with which he had spoken the words. He gives an involuntary recoil, a spasm thrilling his arm like an electric shock so that he looses his grasp. The corpse slides back into the water once more with a splash. A small cloud of black blood billows for a moment in the dark below it.
For several minutes, Daniel is shaking too violently to consider another attempt.
"Loki, there's a theory of mine I'd like to check out, at the hotel. Will you go back with me?"
"Sure. Let's go and tell the others we've found Dubois." The pair walk in silence for a short while, then Mal speaks again, after casting a quick glance aside at his companion to gauge his mood.
"Loki, I've been meaning to ask. The face that you and the others may have seen, down on the beach... it was the lindorn, wasn't it?"
"No. No, I don't think it was. Look, I can't very well make any mistake about what the lindorn is supposed to look like, can I? Since we've been on the island, we've been besieged on all sides by lindorn mascots, and lindorn bumper stickers, and lindorn paper napkins. And most of them show the lindorn's head as looking like something between a horse's and a plesiosaur's. You know, long snout, scaly, streamlined, reptilian head, with little ears far back.
"The face I thought I saw wasn't like that. It was far more... I can't think of the right word. 'Human' isn't the right word. I mean, I guess the proportions were more human. But human really wasn't the right word for that face..."
Unlit, the hotel seems somehow larger, yet another vast, dark protrusion from the rock face. In the lobby, Mal and Loki separate, Loki to join Micheal in the main dining hall, Mal to pursue his new theory.
During his previous investigations, Mal has developed a sense of the layout of the hotel, and a fair idea where the private rooms of the staff must be located. To this part of the hotel he now ventures, taking care to make himself unobtrusive, and making only occasional use of his torch.
Once or twice he sees one or another of the staff walking along the corridors, but the darkness acts in his favour, and he is able to find hiding places until they have passed. At last he reaches a series of corridors in which the doors are unnumbered. Some of the doors have coat hangers hooked about their handles. Upon these hangers Mal sees freshly ironed clothes, sheathed in light, plastic covers, as if newly returned from being laundered. On one door he recognises the uniform of a hotel chambermaid, and smiles - he has evidently found the private rooms of the staff. Mal surmises that the hotel must have laundry facilities available to the staff - perhaps the clothes are always left outside their owner's doors after they have been cleaned.
Moving quickly along the corridor, Mal examines the clothes hanging from each door, until he reaches one upon which is suspended a white blazer with a lining of cream-coloured silk, and cream margins to the lapels. Recognising the garment, Mal drops to his knees, and peers through the keyhole, satisfying himself that no light is issuing from the room beyond the door.
After a quick glance up and down the corridor, Mal applies himself to opening the door, torch in one hand, lock-pick in the other. There is a dull click, and the door opens. When he is certain that the blinds are down, Mal passes his torch over the room, then closes the door behind him.
The torch gleams upon the surface of some four of five mirrors, one of them an elaborate full length affair framed with gilt adorned mahogany. Mal raises an eyebrow - he has become adept at assessing the value of objects at a moment's notice. The mirror is of 1920s manufacture, and would probably interest many collectors. The old-fashioned gramophone, which he glimpses reflected in its glass, is of similar interest. He glances quickly over the records that are stacked neatly near to the gramophone. Cole Porter seems to feature heavily. A record labelled 'The Warsaw Concerto' holds a privileged place at the top of the stack.
On one wall Jean Harlow postures mischievously in a bath tub, most of her body obscured in foam. On another Fred Astaire swings both arms out to balance himself as he leaps from one foot onto another, waving his cane like a wand. A foot to his left, Ronald Colman stares mistily in the direction of a photograph of Olivia de Havilland on the opposite wall.
There are other photographs too, though these are smaller and more intimate, with frames of dull wood. One shows three children, two girls and a boy. There is enough similarity between the three rounded, beaming faces to suggest that they are brother and sisters. The boy stands a little apart, staring in the direction of the camera with a smile that somehow suggests an element of hostility. He is cleaning a pair of heavy-lensed glasses. His exposed eyes are unusually large, like those of a bush-baby.
Here is another photograph, a little further along the wall. The boy with the bush-baby eyes is a little older here, and stiffly clad in a school uniform. Perhaps in response to pressure from a school photographer, he has taken off his glasses, and his eyes have a somewhat startled, dazzled appearance as he smiles obediently into the camera. A cross is embroidered into the upper pocket of his blazer, perhaps as the heraldry of some Catholic school.
The next photograph has clearly been taken at some university graduation ceremony. The boy is now a man, a man that Mal can identify. The gown is worn decorously, but the scholar's cap has been adjusted on the blond head so that it juts at a subtly jaunty angle. The figure is clearly in his element, enjoying the old-fashioned pomp of the event. Mal smiles to himself, then continues his search of the room.
Reflecting upon Dr Gottlind's story concerning the individual who had reported their sleeping pills stolen, it had occurred to Mal that this man might be Louis, whom he had noticed looking unusually fatigued, as if he had been missing sleep. For this reason, he now engages in a search for any trace of sleeping pills such as those which had been used to drug Daniel.
In the bathroom he finds a small stack of Imperial Leather Soap, and a rather beautiful silk dressing gown designed to resemble a kimono, but no trace of any pills. The side table features several dog-eared copies of Readers' Digest, but no pills. After a moment's hesitation, Mal turns his attention to the small mahogany desk that sits near the window. The lock is rather old and stiff, but yields to the SITU agent's persistence after a few minutes.
Within the drawers of the desk are numerous papers, many of them relating to the running of the hotel. It is clear to Mal, after he has quickly surveyed these documents, that the job of 'dogsbody' is a profoundly arduous and varied one. It seems that he is intimately involved in the organisation of the hotel's finances, security, catering, public relations and legal affairs.
There are no personal letters. Mal looks through the available documents twice to make sure of this. There are no letters from old friends or casual social acquaintances. There are no letters from relations. There are no letters from societies of which Louis might be a member. Given Louis' naturally gregarious and friendly nature, Mal finds this curious, and starts to suspect that personal papers must be hidden elsewhere.
Gently, he scratches at the green baize that lines the desk, and his suspicions are confirmed. The lining is loose. Removing the papers from the drawer, he carefully peels away the baize, to reveal a small stack of papers underneath. He takes them out and spreads them out on the carpet to examine them.
Three of the papers are smudged with charcoal, or some similar substance. Mal blows upon them gently to clear away the loose grains. As they disperse like mist, exposing the image underneath, Mal frowns as he makes out the long, fanged muzzle of the Gripping Beast, and the sketchy outlines of runes.
For some reason, Louis Lakersson has made several rubbings of the runestone.
There are also several sketches of the designs upon the stone. One or two of these sketches have been annotated with scribbled notes. Unfortunately, these notes appear to be in some form of shorthand, and are illegible to the operative.
On some sheets of black paper, some other runes have been drawn, in silver pen. Fascinated, Mal takes out his own notebook, and makes crude copies of each.
The only other item to be found behind the lining is a brown paper envelope. Mal eases back the flap and tips out the contents. Some dozen photographs slide out onto the carpet.
The first picture shows a girl of eighteen, pale and almost skeletal of feature, in a long, dark, green evening dress. Although she is younger here, and her hair rather longer, Mal recognises her as Belle-Marie. Her arm is looped through that of a robust-looking middle-aged man in black-tie evening wear. He is beaming, she half shielding her face from the flash of the camera as if the light is painful. There are balloons attached to the wall behind them. A photograph from Ingvar Njalsonn's engagement party, perhaps.
The second is a picture of the docks on a bright day. Sverre Krippner is in the centre of the picture, smiling into the camera while the wind blows his hair awry and runs ripples into the cloth of his T shirt. However, despite his central position, Krippner is out of focus. Far clearer is the figure that stands some ten paces behind him, apparently oblivious of the proceedings. The camera has been adjusted, either by accident or intent, to bring the figure of Belle-Marie into perfect focus, where she stands, arms folded, scowling out across the lake.
The third photograph is of Belle-Marie. So is the fourth. So is the fifth. Mal leafs quickly through the photographs, which appear to be organised in chronological order, and watches the shadows of seven years pass across the same face. Many of the photographs seem to have been taken without the subject's knowledge, to judge by the distracted, meditative expression that the girl wears in many of them. In other pictures, the quality is rather grainy, as if it were a small section of a larger photograph that had been blown up in size.
As he fingers the photographs, Mal is alerted by a tiny scraping sound, which he quickly identifies as the sound of the hanger being lifted from the handle on the outside of the door. There is no time to return everything to its place once more. Mal shuts the drawer, seizes the papers from the carpet, and is rolling neatly under the bed just as the key turns in the lock, and the door starts to open.
There is a pause after Massey has ceased to read.
"There's always something uncanny about listening to a dead tongue being spoken aloud." Leda breaks the silence. "The page itself is dead, and so dead words disturb us less when we find them there. Hearing a lost word filled with breath once more is like placing your foot on a step where other feet trod for centuries, and feeling the hollow that their soles wore away in the stone. At least that's what I always think."
Robert glances at her in surprise. It is something of a shock to remember that she is in fact Massey's research assistant, rather than his nanny.
"I know what you mean. It's a rather strange and beautiful poem you have there. I'd really like to get a definitive interpretation of it, though, Massey. Do you think..."
"Coffee first," announces Leda. "Coffee first, before any more study. Do you have any idea how many hours the pair of you have been working on this without a break? This applies to you too, Mr Flint." Although he is unsure how to react to the prospect of being taken under the formidable wing of Leda Piers, who now seems inclined to treat him much as she does Dr Massey, Robert does upon reflection appreciate the justice of her point. He becomes aware that he has not eaten or rested for most of the day.
Leda allows the conference to reconvene after the assembled company have revived themselves with the aid of a pot of coffee and two packets of chocolate digestives.
"So what do you think it is saying, Massey? To put it crudely, what is it for? And where does this beast come in?" Delicately, Robert traces the outline of the Gripping Beast with his finger tip. "It seems to involve some kind of summoning, and to warn against some kind of danger. A lot of the locals seem to regard the lindorn as a guardian. Is it possible that the stone might be designed to summon the lindorn to protect the island against something worse?"
Massey ponders. "It's an interesting theory, but I don't think it's very likely. Here, I'll read out the translation as we have it, and you'll see what I mean.
It is claimed now of the warrior, the promise to his lord
The promise of his service in arms, for which he was given the bright armlet and much honour.
It is now the time when once again he must take up shield and sword,
To go down to the waters, as before he has done, to shed the blood of the enemy.
It is now as it was then, the enemy that penetrates the hall.
There is once again the hell-fire, the red eye,
The flame that burned in the water-hall of the she-wolf of the waters,
Master of the serpents, devourer of flesh.
Brave was the man of strength, mighty with the sword.
We lament for the warrior, the wanderer from across the sea.
"Do you see? The runes refer to a protector, but this protector seems to be a man rather than a lindorn. Lindorns would have trouble wielding swords or wearing armlets. The mention of the armlet suggests that the man was a thane of some sort. Presumably, his lord must have given him a piece of jewellery in order to show him favour and 'purchase his allegiance.' All very symbolic, like accepting the King's Shilling."
"So this man is being summoned to deal with this 'she-wolf.' What about this last bit, which looks like an elegy? How does that fit in?"
"Well, that's the tricky bit, isn't it? There are three possibilities that spring to mind. The first possibility is that the two sections are referring to two different warriors, and that perhaps the first is being asked to avenge the second. I'm not sure how likely this is however. You get a number of the same terms being used in each section to describe the 'warrior.' The second possibility is that the first section takes place chronologically before the latter, and that the warrior gets himself killed obeying the summons of his lord.
"There is a third possibility, but you're not going to like it." Massey blinks at Flint, and smiles sheepishly. "It's all rather 'Once and Future King,' if you know what I mean. The third option is that the warrior really is already dead even at the very start of the poem, and that the runes are designed to, well, call him back..."
Hearing the wardrobe door open and shut, presumably so that the owner of the room can put away his newly-laundered blazer, Mal thanks his stars that he has had the presence of mind to hide under the bed, rather than in the wardrobe.
From his vantage point, the SITU operative can see two beautifully polished shoes moving around the room, pausing now here, now there. In the centre of the room they come to stop, and all falls silent. Breathlessly, Mal tries to remember whether he has left anything awry that might betray him. The bathroom? No, he had touched almost nothing. The records? Yes, he had handled them, but he is almost sure that he has placed them much as he found them. The more he considers, the more certain he becomes that only the unlocked and empty drawer can give away his intrusion. As yet, the owner of the black spats shows no sign of venturing near the desk.
So why is he standing so still in the centre of the room? Mal tries to imagine the other man performing some natural and ordinary action, perhaps winding his watch, or daydreaming, or reading a letter. Even as these ideas pass through his mind, he becomes aware that light in the room is shifting slightly from second to second, as if someone was flicking the beam of a torch around the room, searchingly.
The shoes are on the move. They stride to the wardrobe and there is a sound of the door being opened. Hangers chime and cloth rustles. The spats cross the room towards Mal's hiding place, and there is a soft thud, as if numerous items have been thrown carelessly onto the bed.
Mal watches the feet walk towards the desk, and pause. He holds his breath.
There is a knock at the door.
At this point, in another part of the hotel, Daniel is being smothered in blankets and plied with mulled wine.
After finally managing to haul the body of Krippner out of the water, he had proceeded back to the hotel, to report his grisly discovery. Not wishing to alarm the other guests, he had informed Thorveig of his findings. Without even blanching at the report, she had sent three men to the waterside to retrieve the body. Daniel could not help but feel a sort of admiration mixed with revulsion at her coolness.
This done, she had cast a careful eye over Daniel's dripping, shaking form, and then hurried him into the dining hall to a place near the fire. Halfway along the corridor, the weakness of Daniel's constitution had reasserted itself, causing his knees to give way, and Frans had been called in to help him to the hearth.
At least, Daniel has the consolation of knowing that he is unlikely to be suspected of killing Krippner just because he had found the body. Even without medical knowledge, he is aware that the rowing instructor must have been dead in the water for a considerable time.
When Robert returns to the dining room a little after midnight, he sees Daniel near the hearth, pale-faced and swaddled to the gills in dark blue blankets. Micheal is seated beside him, his face a picture of concern.
Upon seeing the new arrival, Micheal leaves Daniel's side, and crosses the room to join Robert.
"What's happened to him?"
"He's OK, just a bit shaky. Krippner's dead. Daniel found his body by the waterfront."
"Jesus Christ. Where are the others?"
"Loki's just over there, talking with Sihtric. Mal's somewhere in the hotel, but we're not sure where. Loki's a bit worried about him, actually. It seems he went off 'to test a theory,' and he hasn't been back since."
"Damn! This is getting like 'Ten Little Indians.'"
"Don't worry," Mal's voice sounds from behind the two men. "This 'little Indian' is still in the song."
"Thank God," mutters Robert. "Micheal, can you go and tell Daniel to meet us up at my room as soon as he's a little recovered? I'll go and grab Loki. The group of us really need to talk."
"So, at long last, it seems we've tracked down the elusive Gerald Dubois. Good work."
"Well, it's a step forward. I suggest Loki and I go alone to the meeting. Dubois seems to get a little, er, nervous."
Mal and Loki give a full account of their encounter with the Frenchman, including his sudden departure. "His behaviour is a little... startling sometimes. I don't quite know what it all means."
"It means he's a fruit loop," opines Daniel. "OK, I'm sure he knows something, and I'd recommend questioning him to try and find out what's going on, but it sounds like he's quite mad. As a matter of fact I'd recommend keeping an eye on him to make sure that he doesn't get himself hurt. I think Mal's right, and that we should only send Mal and Loki to actually talk to him, but we could have someone else just watching him."
There is unanimous agreement that only Mal and Loki should openly approach the Frenchman, and after some discussion it is decided that Robert should be given the task of unobtrusively observing Dubois during and after the interview. The party then spend some quarter of an hour compiling a list of questions to be addressed to the fugitive. Upon Mal's suggestion, it is decided that the meeting with Dubois should be kept secret from the authorities, and that provisions should be offered to the Frenchman in order to win his trust and friendship.
"What worries me," remarks Daniel, "is this remark about 'the lindorns are the least of our worries.' What should we be worrying about, then? From what you've been telling us, Robert, it sounds like the runestone may have some connection to this other danger."
"You mean 'the she-wolf of the waters?'"
"Yes. I just hope that reading out the inscription doesn't summon something nasty to kill everyone. That sounded crazy, didn't it? I can't believe I just heard myself say that."
"Well if it does summon a monster, it's rather late to worry about it. Dr Massey read the whole lot aloud about a couple of hours ago. However Massey seems to think the summoning is directed towards a man rather than a monster. I did make sure to ask him. I was wondering whether the lindorn might be a guardian after all, like the VAM believe."
"I wouldn't be too sure," remarks Mal. "I suggest that if we find the creature exists, we should consider it dangerous. No one should take unnecessary risks. Daniel," he inquires gently, turning to his colleague, "could you give us some details about the body you found? Did it seem to have been attacked with a knife or something, or could the injuries Krippner sustained have been caused by, well, claws and teeth?" Daniel gives a small, involuntary shudder.
"I've tried not to think along these lines. I've just been wondering who might have had it in for Krippner. I guess maybe whoever came after me might also have killed him, for the same reason. But I keep catching myself wondering if maybe it was the lindorn that took him out. I don't know, it doesn't sound likely to me, but who knows, on this crazy island.
"No, if you want an honest answer, it didn't look like Sverre had been hacked up with a knife. He'd been in the water for a while, so it was a little hard to tell, but it looked as if the lower half of his body had been chewed right off." There is a small pause, while Daniel fights a resurgence of nausea. "Sorry. I think all of this is getting to me a bit. Just the corpses, the hurricanes and the murder attempts, you know, the ordinary daily grind of it. After a while I even catch myself wondering whether our enemy might be some sort of Swedish god in disguise..." He gives an embarrassed little shrug.
"Well, if nothing else, you saved my bacon by reporting Krippner's body when you did." Mal describes his visit to the room of Louis Lakersson. "He had walked to the desk, and I was afraid that at any moment he would open the drawer and find it unlocked. Just at that moment, there was a knock at the door, and he went to answer it. It was the little maid, Margaretta, chattering about the body by the waterfront, and saying that Thorveig wanted his help in the lobby. He left with her then and there, and I was able to make my escape, after putting his things back in order."
Mal then gives an account of the items found in Louis' drawer, and has the satisfaction of watching the expressions of his fellows pass from interest to incredulity.
Micheal voices the general feeling. "It couldn't be him, could it? I mean, well, Louis! He's just so... so... harmless."
"Maybe, maybe not. But I'll tell you something. I think he knew someone had been in his room. I don't know how, I'd swear I hadn't left any trace. I don't think he realised I was still there, or he'd have looked under the bed. It's the first place you look when you think there's an intruder. Anyway, he didn't start searching the room. He was striding around the room, alright, but he wasn't looking for anything. I only realised what he'd been doing when I left the room, and had a chance to glance about. He'd been packing a suitcase."
After most of the group have left Robert's room to catch some sleep, Mal takes the opportunity for a quiet word with Daniel. He is somewhat concerned by the younger man's deathly appearance.
"I suppose," he begins carefully, "I suppose you'll be staying at the hotel to recover?"
Daniel shakes his head. "Belle-Marie needs to be watched. I don't intend to leave her alone for a moment."
"Daniel, are you sure you're well enough to go anywhere? I'm sorry, but you must be careful that your judgement isn't clouded by your emotions."
"Look, I get the feeling she's in danger. And I need to let her know what's happened to Krippner."
Recognising the impossibility of swaying his colleague on this point, Mal gives a slight nod and shrugs.
"I understand," he says, simply. "I can see you've grown very fond of each other, and I hope it'll be a good thing for both of you. Look, if you need to borrow any money to help pay for Belle-Marie's ticket when we get out of here, you'll let me know, right?" He smiles shyly, leaving the younger man to consider the matter.
"You look like death. What happened to you?" Belle-Marie quickly ushers Daniel inside, close to the little heater. As gently and sparsely as he can, Daniel tells her of Sverre Krippner's death, and watches her green eyes grow wider and wider as she listens.
"I can't believe it. Sverre's dead, that's horrible, that's so horrible. It is me, it must be me. Everyone I get involved with... and I think I hated him some of the time, but I didn't want him dead..." Daniel puts his arms around her, partly to stop her shaking, partly to anchor himself in the pool of light and warmth by the simple bar heater..
"It's worse than you think. Daniel, I think maybe I saw Sverre last night, once when I went to wipe the window. Just standing out in the street, looking at my house. I didn't tell you at the time, because I wasn't sure it was him. And just then you and I were so comfortable and mellow, I didn't want to spoil it. Anyway, when I looked out again five minutes later, he was gone.
"You're not going anywhere, are you? I feel if you go out of my sight something terrible might happen to you. We've got provisions enough to stand a siege of two weeks. Why can't we just stay here, until things get normal?"
"Alright. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."
On Robert's suggestion, the other operatives try for a full night's sleep in order to have all their faculties about them the following day. Once again, they share rooms, for purposes of security.
At about midday, Mal and Robert knock upon the door of Dr Marcus Massey. After only a brief interval, the door to the next room opens, and Leda peers around it. She has fatigue shadows about her eyes, and is dressed in slippers and a turquoise flannel dressing gown.
"Dr Massey is asleep." She speaks in a loud and slightly harassed whisper, for all the world like a young mother who has succeeded for the first time in several days in getting the baby to sleep. The next instant she gives a long sigh as from Massey's room there issue distinct sounds of movement. There are a few heavy steps, a crash and mutter, as if someone has knocked heavily into an item of furniture, then the clumsy rattle of a key being manipulated by one half-drugged with sleep.
Massey appears in the doorway, in pyjamas with pictures of Paddington Bear on the pockets. His hair is dishevelled and tussocky with sleep, tufts starting from his scalp at abrupt and disparate angles, like semaphore flags.
"Hello, Massey, sorry to wake you. My friend here," Robert gestures towards Mal, "has stumbled upon another mystery which we think may be in your field, and I knew you'd be put out if you weren't allowed a bash at solving it." Massey blinks rapidly, his hair-trigger enthusiasm already dispersing the fog of sleep. He waves the two operatives into his room.
While Leda sets about picking up the table and ornaments that her employer has upset with his sleepy motions, Mal shows the newly wakened academic the sketches he made of the runes in Louis' secret drawer.
"Very strange. Where did you find these? They aren't drawn out in any way I've seen before."
Robert hesitates before answering. "They're not taken from an ancient engraving, or at least we don't believe so. These are copies of designs found among some papers that included sketches of runes from an authentic historical artifact." Aware that his words still have a somewhat curious ring, and that Leda Piers is regarding him with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, Robert changes the subject. "I was hoping to get a second opinion on these. To me they look as if they might be amalgams of several Viking runes, although it looks as if some other patterns have been worked in."
"Hmm. Interesting." Massey squints at Mal's scrawls. "Yes. I think you're right. They're rather skilfully put together, aren't they? Particularly this one, where the intersection of these three runes forms a fourth. Yes, there are other patterns incorporated, aren't there? I don't think they're just decoration, they're repeated too exactly. They might almost be additional runes we don't recognise."
"What do you make of this clump here? They seem to appear in several of the designs."
"Well that looks like the fehu, doesn't it? Symbol of water, fertility, the sea, and whatnot. And if that bit is a rune, it looks like one I've seen a lot. It's often connected with Thor, but you also find it used to refer to ogres, demons or monsters. And this one, lodged between then, that's a symbol of signals and communication, the mouth."
"Dr Massey," Mal interjects gently, "do you happen to know what 'hagalaz' means?"
"Hagalaz? Well, yes. It's one of the standard Germanic pronunciations of a rune from the futhark, the Norse runic alphabet."
"What does it mean?"
"Well, metaphorically, it can be interpreted as meaning a disruption of some sort, a damaging force. In literal terms, some say it refers to disruptive weather, hail, sleet, fog, that sort of thing."
Dr Massey is unable to supply any suggestions as to why runic symbols should be placed on black paper in silver pen.
After lunch, Loki and Micheal stroll into the village. Again they are struck by the strange appearance of the deserted streets. The front window of the Gatukok has been boarded shut, presumably to keep out the weather. It is hard to believe that somewhere above the cloud is the domain of the sun through which their plane had glided a mere week and a half before. In the world into which they have since fallen, a shaggy grey dusk seems to have crept in upon the day like a hungry wolf and swallowed it whole.
The headquarters of the Children of the Lindorn seems to have sustained some damage. Numerous windows are broken, and the paint of the door is now scratched and dented. Loki pushes at the door, and it swings open. Many of the glass display cases within have been smashed, and several of the photographs torn or defaced.
There is no sign of Cormac, but several of the nymphs are present, in jeans and light coats, sweeping up the debris. They need little encouragement to talk about the excitement of the previous day, although their English is a little halting, and they have a tendency to talk at once.
From conversation with these girls, many of whom seem to have rather enjoyed watching the fracas than otherwise, the operatives gather that several of the VAM attackers had made rather well-seasoned accusations that the Children of the Lindorn had 'stolen the runestone from them.'
After leaving the nymphs to continue clearing the battlefield, Loki and Micheal walk to the house of the Bergets, in the hope of gaining the VAM perspective upon the fight from Ulrika. There is no response when they knock upon the door. All the windows are dark.
As evening sets in, all the operatives but Daniel reconvene. Micheal, who has visited the house of Belle-Marie once or twice during the day to make sure that Daniel is still safe and well, is able to inform the others of Daniel's resolve to stay with Belle-Marie, in case she is threatened.
Micheal volunteers to stay behind at the hotel, so as to keep an eye on the development of events, and to note the movements of the staff. As the time of the appointment with Gerard Dubois approaches, Mal, Loki and Robert leave the hotel, and set out for Bjarnison's house.
A slight frost has sketched silver fractals on the glass of Bjarnison's window. Mal rubs these away with his sleeve, and peers in. The scene that meets his eye is unaltered. Still the interrupted meal waits its owner in the kitchen. Still the windows are lightless. The old man has not returned.
Loki waits for Mal, taking the opportunity to scan the surrounding rocks for approaching friend or foe. Robert has already separated himself from his colleagues, and is currently crouching in a convenient hiding place from which he can watch events unfold.
The light frost has given the earth a hard, crystalline glitter. In sunlight, this twinkle, combined with the pure, pale mist, might have given the scene a radiant, fairy-land look. Under this sullen sky, however, the atmosphere is of quite another kind. When Loki sees a dark figure seemingly rising out of the very earth, he is reminded of the stories of the underjordiske, the 'underground people,' as described by Birgitta's mother. He catches his breath and tugs at Mal's sleeve. The next instant, he realises that the figure is that of Dubois, pulling himself up from yet another rocky crevice within which he has been hiding.
"You came. I'm glad. Come into the shelter of this rock, and we shall talk."
When the three are settled into a little cave that the operatives little suspected existed so close to the path, Mal produces the provisions he has prepared for Dubois. The latter seems very affected and relieved at the receipt of these gifts. He seems somewhat the worse for living rough in the harsh climate of Froson. His eyes are red-rimmed, and he has acquired a deep juddering cough.
As ever, his manner is perpetually nervous. Twice or three times, as the group try to settle, he starts to his feet and peers out of the cave mouth, as if he has sighted something. On the third occasion he pauses for a long time, squinting up into the sky, then gives a long laugh that dies into a cough.
"Please, can you tell your friend that I would be happier if he joined us? You do have a friend hiding over there somewhere, do you not?" He waves a finger in the vague direction of Robert's hiding place. "He would be happier in here too. The wind can sting after a while."
Mal and Loki exchange looks, but there seems no point in making a denial. Loki stands.
"Robert, you've been rumbled. Come here and join the party." Somewhat nonplussed, Robert rises, brushing the earth from his knees, and walks to the opening in the rock.
"You were betrayed by your hawk. It was circling in the sky, spying out the land." Dubois laughs again, then grows serious. "I think I must explain. Yes, if I am to tell you the things I must, then I shall probably need to explain. I can see things, I do not know why. I did not always do so, but now I can.
"Every soul has a little brother or sister that follows it everywhere, a little familiar like in the old stories of the witches. These little followers are animals, birds, insects. They are like the soul without covering, you see what a person is by the animal that follows him. Yours is a small hawk. Just now it is on your shoulder - no, don't look round, you will not see it. A fine bird, well groomed. Not a wild bird. I think it has its home on a falconer's glove."
He glances at Loki. "Yours is a cat, a little cat. Do you remember the little lady that introduced us? It has her size and colouring. But your little cat has only three legs. It runs so well on its three legs that you hardly notice it, but there are scars under its fur. It is sitting now by your knee like a little lion, grooming itself and pretending not to watch me.
"There's another animal in the cave, but it keeps hiding away from my sight." He smiles at Mal. "Even though I know what I am looking for, I cannot see it at this moment. I think the little, black mouse is hiding somewhere between your ankles. He is a little piece of shadow, that one. Fast and silent." Dubois pauses once more with a smile, and casts a glance around at the invisible menagerie. "I hear my own words, and know how they must sound in your ears. Nonetheless, there is something in the sight of these animals that makes me trust you. I cannot explain myself fully."
"I'm glad you feel able to trust us," says Mal. "When we last met, you said that the lindorns were the least of our problems. Could you explain what you meant by that?"
"It was perhaps a foolish remark. The lindorns are no inconsiderable threat - I of all people should know that - but they are by no means the greatest. They are simply the servants of something greater, and I think older. Perhaps I had better start at the beginning." Dubois glances around and, after a pause, begins his account, prompted occasionally by questions from his interlocutors.
"A few years ago, in the last days I remember the sun actually warming me, I came here on holiday with my brother. The S/S Stiklestad was to take us back to the mainland at the end of our stay. Half way across the lake, however, a storm suddenly descended upon us. A terrible, unreal storm. There were waves suddenly so high, so high that I thought they were land lurching out of the fog. Then there were waves that were not waves, but coils, great black coils. The boat was struck by the coils - there was water and screaming..." He pauses, overwhelmed by a fit of coughing.
"I awoke on a beach. There was pain in every inch of me, I could not move, and there seemed to be no air in my lungs for speech. There were other bodies on the sand. One of the bodies was moving, crawling up the beach, and I tried hard to call aloud to whoever it was, so I would not be left to die, but it did not see me. Thank the gods, it did not see me.
"As it grew closer, I suddenly realised how large it was. How very large. How it moved, and how it looked... and I could do nothing but lie there in silence as it, as she, crawled over the beach devouring the other bodies. One or two were not dead when she found them. I heard their screams of horror cut short. But she did not see me, so I lived. Only I survived, my brother and the others made a meal for that creature.
"How could I return to my life, knowing that this thing lived still in the lake near to beaches where children and innocent people played? I came back to Froson. By then I was starting to see the 'little souls,' the animals. And I started to notice one animal in particular.
"It was a little fox, with black fur, and strange, white eyes. At first it just seemed strange to me. Then I noticed a smell about it, like carrion, and seaweed, and dank, deathly smell. Most 'animals' follow their 'owners' all the time, but the fox would sometimes run off into the waters of the lake, then hurry back, is if with new orders. I started to understand. The 'owner' of the fox was working with her, reporting back to her, helping her find flesh. The longer I watched him, the more certain I became.
"At last, I knew that I had to stake all and eliminate him. I chose an event at which I knew he would be present, and made my attack." He shrugs, ruefully. "I missed, and shot poor Mr Haarkon Cormac. I had a knife ready for a second attack, but by then the other hotel staff were closing in, and I could not justify using my blade on them. In any case, my target was shielding himself with the body of Cormac, under cover of dragging him to safety."
"The very same."
"That bang? Oh, the window sash in the other room must have slammed down again. I hate it when it does that, it fills the whole room with draughts. Don't go anywhere, I'll go and prop it shut again." Belle-Marie climbs out of the nest of blankets. "Ooh, the floor's freezing." She slips on her slippers, and wanders into the next room.
"Do you need a hand with that?" There is a rattle, and another bang. "It doesn't sound like you're having much luck with that. Would you like me to give you a hand?" One of the blankets draped around his shoulders, Daniel follows into the next room.
Belle-Marie is lying near the window, face down, motionless. A foot or two away, Louis Lakersson is standing, his spectacle lenses flame coloured disks in the light of the candle.
"I think she... fell. I came by to... to..." The voice is a feathery, breathless travesty of Louis' usual chirpy manner.
The seconds are slow, and cold, and terrible, like the glide of a glacier. Both men seem fossilized in the dense and terrible silence, incapable of moving.
...I mean, Louis! He's so... so... harmless...
Louis' eyes are great, and clear, and soulless as lakes. He is still smiling, apologetically, gently, comically. And his hand is moving very fast.
He has a poker in his hand. He's hitting me in the head with a poker.
These are Daniel's last thoughts before pain and darkness swallow him.
Dubois has started to his feet.
"Get up, please. Something's happening. He's on the move." Dubois seizes his harpoon gun, and leaves the cave mouth at a jog. Loath to lose their new if eccentric companion, the operatives follow.
As they run, the agents become aware that the wind seems to be declining, and the fog thickening. "I fought with him, shot at him on the clifftop two nights ago, when he was carrying the runestone," Dubois explains over his shoulder, "but I lost him in the fog... he is strong now, very strong."
Dubois' steps lead them to the harbour, where they run into a distraught Micheal. It emerges that Micheal has been taking pains to keep an eye on Louis but that at one point he was cornered by Penny Tyler and did not succeed in extricating himself until half an hour later. He was then dismayed to find that Louis had entirely disappeared. He had decided to drop in on Daniel and Belle-Marie to warn them of this situation, but had found the house entirely empty, and some of the furniture disarranged.
"That's a boat." Dubois is on the waterfront, staring out across the lake. "He's taken a boat. Quick, we don't have much time. We'll have to borrow one of these other craft, and go after him. I don't think I'm strong enough to sail this alone. Please, I need your help."
Daniel wakes groggily to the sound of lapping water, and a sensation of pain in his left temple. He becomes aware that his wrists and ankles have been bound. Beside him, he can just glimpse the bound form of Belle-Marie. She seems to be breathing, but unconscious.
"I'd like to say this wasn't personal," comes Louis' voice from a place by Daniel's ear, "but I'm afraid it is. I'm going to enjoy introducing you to the lady of the lake, Mr Masterson."