“He speaks the language of the sagas,” Solveig says in a half whisper.
We’re all at Cara’s restaurant, in our usual corner table. Me, Granny, Nate, Roddy, Solveig and Cara. My family, I realise, looking around. I could do worse.
“What does that mean, though?” I ask. “Is he from Iceland?”
She shakes her head. “No. Well, maybe.” She trails off, toys with the fresh bread that Cara signalled to Alessandro to bring over when we arrived.
Even though I couldn’t understand a word they said at the identity parade, it did become clear that though they were picking their way through a conversation, it was a struggle. We were all rapt though, me, Mila, the platinum blonde officer and the other guys in the line up, listening to this strange and ancient language float over us.
Ice forms in my stomach as I realise what she means. The Sagas.
We did them at school. Eric the Red. The plundering of Iona.
The cow hung from the tree.
People torn limb from limb.
“It’s like,” Solveig is saying, though I can barely hear her above the roaring of blood in my ears. “If you can imagine someone speaking English like a pirate, or Shakespeare. I can sort of follow but I need to concentrate. He wouldn’t say much, though, after he got over the shock that he could understand me a little.”
“He must be terrified,” I blurt. “Hearing your voice but not being able to see us.”
“I don’t think much frightens them,” replies Solveig softly. “If you can take off across the sea in a rowing boat with no idea what is at the other end, I think you can get your head around an intercom.”
A stormy sea. The night sky.
“Them? Who exactly is ‘them’ when they’re at home?” demands Cara.
“When they’re at home they’re just Scandinavians,” says Solveig with a faint smile. “But when they raid they are Vikingr.”
Even though I clicked what she was going to say minutes ago, hearing it out loud – especially with Solveig’s pronunciation, veekinger – still sends hundreds of tiny spiders of horror scuttling down my spine.
Granny and Nate exchange a look, which turns the hundreds of spiders into thousands. What do they know?
“You accept things quicker than you’d think,” says Nate, in his black and white film drawl. “Intercoms and suchlike. I knew about wirelesses and radios already, I once even thought that if a radio could work without wires then why not a telephone? But when you see things in front of your own eyes, you accept how they are real quick. I really want to look at the engine of a car,” he adds. “I’ve gotta know what makes them go so fast.”
It’s the longest speech I’ve ever heard him make. When he’s finished, he’s blushing, eyes shining in wonder at the thought of what’s under the bonnet of a Ford Fiesta. So we’ve got a 1940s mechanic, a lost Viking – and me. I’m quite boring, just having missed Christmas and Brexit. I suddenly say a quick thank you to – whoever, whatever – that I came back when the people I love are still around.
Because I don’t care what Solveig says. Even if he is a fearless warrior, he’s all alone in a – millennia.
Except he isn’t, is he? If it wasn’t him that attacked me, it must have been another one. He hardly rowed across the North Sea by himself. I get a sudden vision of a picture from a school text book, hundreds of Viking ships sailing up the Clyde to take the Kingdom of Strathclyde. That’s why we say flitting, meaning to move house. It’s Norse. Att flytta. Solveig told me that once.
I glance warily at the door, suddenly wondering if there’s an army of pagan barbarians rampaging up Sauchiehall Street as we speak, and if so are folk assuming it’s a slightly tame stag do. In a fight between Vikings and Glasgow hardnuts, who would win? Will we regret having gentrified the Gorbals?
“Could he not just be from some remote village, or the Faroe Islands or something, where the language has never changed?” Cara asks, though even as she does she’s staring at Nate and I know she doesn’t really mean it. One of us in the wrong time is one thing, but three?
Three’s a thing.
What happened to us? Where did we go?
And why are we all back now?
I can’t sit around any longer. I tell them I’m going for fresh air, and I leave before any of them can object.
I’m waiting outside the police station.
They were going to hold him a few more hours, to charge him with battering half the police force, and try to track down an official Icelandic interpreter, though Solveig had warned them he spoke an ‘unusual dialect.’ But they must be releasing him soon.
Where will he go?
Does he have a wee den like Nate’s? Or do they have an encampment somewhere, hidden deep in a Highland forest. Is it really possible for people to be so hidden in Scotland? We have our fair share of countryside, but it’s a totey wee country, it’s not as though we’re Russia or Australia with hundreds of kilometres of bugger all.
I know that I’m thinking random stuff to distract myself. Because what am I going to do? Try to talk to him – with my knowledge of Icelandic, which begins and ends with a couple of swear words Solveig taught me once upon a time? Or follow him, knowing he might lead me to whoever tried to kill me.
Did they decide to spare me? Or did one of them save me from the others?
A double decker bus goes by, and for a moment I’m so deeply in a world of sacrifice and battles that the sight of it stuns me. I’m standing half behind a bus stop on a busy urban street. Shoppers bustle by me, someone slams their horn as a gaggle of teenagers race across the road. A hen do in matching Pink Lady jackets staggers by, and I wonder if this is them getting going at lunchtime or if they’re winding up from last night. A faint sun peeks from behind a low cloud, glistening on puddles and dew soaked grass verges.
And I wait for a Viking.
Then suddenly he’s there. In his daft tracksuit. A bobby walks him down the steps from the police station door to the pavement, says something that the Viking nods vaguely at, and then he’s alone.
He hasn’t seen me. I could just slip away.
But instead I step out from behind the bus shelter and approach him. His eyes widen when he sees me, of course he wouldn’t have known I was behind the glass during the identity parade. I hold up my hand, palm facing him, like a Native American.
On the bus from the restaurant to the police station, I googled rune symbols. Craig took a notion to get a Viking tattoo ages ago and I looked up the symbols and their meanings for him. I’ve roughly scribbled the one I wanted on my hand. It looks a bit like a capital M, but with longer sides and a shallower dip. It means trust, faith and companionship.
He stares at it, emotion filling his deep blue eyes, then he drops to one knee and bows his head in a gesture of respect to a superior.