Haven’t I read once that Icelanders could talk to vikings? Something about how they were geographically isolated for so long that their language barely changed in centuries. It rings a bell that vikings might sound a bit like Shakespeare to them — a bit odd and old fashioned, but basically intelligible.
There was a guy from Iceland who trained at a gym I went to once upon a time. Aevar. Tall, quiet boy, who didn’t say much, but had a friendly smile and always wiped his weights down when he was finished with them. The chances of him — or the gym itself, come to think of it — still being around are slim, but could be worth a go.
The guy who ran the gym was brilliant. Kenny. Big mad Kenny. He had a man bun long before it was cool, scars and tattoos to rival Frej’s, and a missing eye tooth that altogether too many women found inexplicably sexy. He’s one of those Glasgow characters equally likely to knock your teeth out or talk to you about meditating, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Whether Aevar is still around or not, I’d like to see Kenny again.
I do a quick bit of Googling and find that there is a department for Scandinavian studies at the University of Glasgow, headed by a Dr Solveig Ljotrsdóttir. Even if she doesn’t turn out to be Icelandic herself, she might well know something about Frej and Axey Man and whatever they were doing in Govan before I yanked Frej out the fire and them all into the 21st century.
I should take Frej to see the runes at Govan Parish Church, I think. Maybe he could read them. Maybe they’d be like texts to him. Or at least, maybe they could help us figure out when in the three hundred odd years of the Viking Age his pals decided to try to sacrifice him on the banks of the Clyde. I don’t know what difference that knowledge would make, but my gut tells me that the more information we can gather, the more chance any of it has of making sense. It’s as though it’s all a big jigsaw puzzle, one of those hellish ones with eight billion identical bits of sky. Right now, we have a tiny handful of random pieces. The more pieces we can track down, the more chance we have of seeing the whole picture.
There is no sign of either sleeping man rousing himself, so I leave a note and head to the gym.
The heavens have opened by the time I reach the city centre, and of course the gym isn’t open yet. Gutters are overflowing and a coffee shop sign skids merrily across slick pavement slabs. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself and I can’t really get any wetter, so I stroll up Buchanan Street.
Folk are sprinting for shops and cafés as I stop by the steps of the concert hall where last night I battled vikings and turned one of them to dust. The dust is gone now. Heavy sheets of grey rain wash the pavement clean, but it happened. White light shot from my fingers and turned a man to dust. An ancient man who shouldn’t be here, who certainly had no business breaking a wee polis guy’s arm. But a person, who’d never done anything to me. Who must have had friends and siblings, probably a wife, possibly children. Hopes. Dreams. Annoying habits. And now he’s dust, because of me.
I wonder about the people Frej must have killed. Monks and villagers and warriors. I wonder how Nathan feels about having shot German soldiers, random wee guys who may not have believed in the Nazi cause but had been conscripted to fight for their country just like the Allies.
He’s a blether, Nathan. He’ll chat about just about everything, but he’s never said a word beyond the basic facts of his service. I know it’s a bit rich to think of last night as a battle, but I think I have to. The viking would have hurt me, would have hurt more of the randoms caught in the crossfire, but I got to him first.
I suppose he would be dust one way or another by now. Most vikings died young, either gruesomely in battle or of horrific diseases. Maybe being turned instantaneously to dust was better than getting a dagger to the eye and it going septic because antibiotics won’t be invented for the best part of a millennium.
A bit farther up Sauchiehall Street, a lone busker holds firm against Mother Nature, defiantly screeching out the Star Wars theme tune on the bagpipes as though he’s facing down a Redcoat army. I fish in my bag for a few coins, because if that kind of tenacity doesn’t deserve a pound I don’t know what does. He nods thanks and I turn to go and then I stop short as I feel the vibration dancing down my spine.
A woman stands outside the Willow Tea Rooms, impatiently waiting for someone. It’s not raining where she is — when she is — though she does carry a large silk parasol, drumming her fingers on the elaborately carved handle as she looks up and down the street. Her dress is long, the colour of cornflowers, with a generous bustle and a ruffle down the front. She wears a sort of oversized top hat, made of midnight blue velvet and adorned with a large silken peacock, its enormous feather tail reaching halfway down her back. There’s an determined tilt to her jaw as she scans the crowd on the street. A skinny guy in a drab suit and flat cap gives her a leer and she stares him down until he all but whimpers and scuttles away.
Pinpricks of thrill break out over me as I realise who I’m looking at. I wrote an essay about Kate Cranston at school because I thought she was brilliant. She was a female entrepreneur who invented café culture in the late 1900s, opening tea rooms that were welcoming and pleasant and an alternative to male-dominated pub culture. I always loved how, even though she was happily married — she retired after her husband’s death to mourn full time — she traded under the name Miss Cranston, which must have been fairly revolutionary given that for much of her life she couldn’t so much as vote.
The building behind Miss Cranston is blackened with soot. I can hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on cobblestones that haven’t been there in decades. Manure and smoke and sweat reach my nose and I understand why Miss Cranston holds a beautifully embroidered hanky to hers.
A man appears. His tweet suit hangs off his skinny frame, a teal silk scarf is knotted at his neck and his dark handlebar moustache is gelled into curly ends. I hold my breath as Glasgow’s most famous artist grins and bends to kiss his patron’s hand and she rolls her eyes in exasperation. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was always late, I think. I feel honoured to know that. There must be some scholar in a dusty library at the university somewhere that would be thrilled, if only I could let them know without them phoning the men in white coats. Mackintosh holds the door of the tea room open for Miss Cranston and I spot the leather-bound portfolio tucked under his other arm.
‘I’ve got your rose tattooed on my bum!’ I yell and they both look round, startled.
They heard me.
‘You okay, hen?’ asks the bagpiper and I jump. The rain is bucketing down and I’m soaked to the skin. The tearoom is the modern, restored version and its owner and architect fade into the ether. ‘You look a bit peaky.’
‘I’m fine,’ I mutter. ‘I’m on — new, uhh, tablets,’ I lie my face off. ‘They make me dizzy.’
‘You’re no’ gonnae drive in that state, are you?’ The bagpiper’s eyes are full of concern.
‘I don’t have a car.’
‘That’s okay then. Cheery-bye.’