I do love reading stories about genies, I mean, fantasy is a great escape, and lets be completely honest, fantasy is what they are. It's pretty clear that none of the writers have ever encountered a real genie, well for heavens sake, how many of us have? Well, me to start with, and I can tell you that most of what you read is just ... fantasy. Oh yes, beautiful girls, absolutely, and clever, oh yes, but able to speak modern idiomatic English, forget it. Able to provide whatever your heart desires, well yes, provided your heart desires something that they know about. If, for instance, your genie was bottled in, say the 1950s, and yes, they are about, and you asked for a new television, you'd get one. Black and white and only able to receive one channel. And a car? It'd be an upright Ford probably in black. But I wasn't even that lucky. There are other things the writers get wrong too. That bit about misinterpreting your wishes, you know, like the old joke about the bloke who goes into a pub with a stork and a cat who immediately start arguing, the cat saying he isn't going to pay and ... to cut a long story to size the bloke tells the barman that he wished for a bird with long legs, and a tight pussy. You see, he put a comma in where he shouldn't have. That's malicious, and it's the sort of thing that leprechauns do, but not genies, no they can't do that. If you wish for a comfy bed then that is what you'll get. Whether you will be comfortable using it is another matter entirely.
I'm an archaeologist, an amateur admittedly. Oh well, OK, I've got a metal detector, but our knowledge of history owes a lot to metal detectorists, we've found lots of goodies, though I'll admit that some of us just put them in our pockets, which isn't good. But I have done an evening course on archaeology at the local college and I've been on a couple of digs too. Well, OK, just as an extra, walk across that field in a line and see if you see anything, that sort of thing, but it was really interesting. I always watch Time Team too, so I know what I'm doing. There was one spin off from college which turned out to be fortuitous. Several of us went on a course to learn to speak Saxon. It's a great language, and once you get the hang of it you can read all the old epic poems and they really come to life. Well we practised until we could hold reasonable conversations, although to be honest there is no way you can talk about 'what I did at work today' because the words simply aren't there, a bit like Welsh y'know, but you can ask for another drink fairly easily, they did a lot of that, although our local pub doesn't accept groats anymore, and you can discuss the quality of the local ale, they did a lot of that too. Well, you can until the landlord recommends that you say whatever you want to say in English because he doesn't hold with none of that there A-rab lingo, and the next thing we'll be doing is blowing up his pub. Waste of good explosives if you ask me. A roman candle up his bum might put a bit of life into him though.
I'd been detecting on a local farm, with the farmer's permission I hasten to add, for some time. Willie reckoned if I ever found more than the nuts and bolts that regularly fall off his machinery I'd be lucky. I didn't bother to tell him that if he ever did basic maintenance he'd have a lot less trouble, I think he knows that. I witnessed him and his son trying to start their old combine on one occasion. Half an hour of whirring, graunching and groaning, some from the machine and some from them, several cans of easy start and clouds of dense black smoke when it finally decided to go. They were just like Laurel and Hardy, I really expected one of them to say 'There's another fine mess you've gotten me into.' But the nearest I got was, 'Don't hit the starter when I'm down here ... ow! You miserable old fucker, why'd 'ee do that?'
So one Saturday afternoon in March, fine and sunny, but with a very chilly wind blowing from the east, found me in one of the larger fields, well wrapped up and getting toward the end of my final pass, when suddenly there was a beep. I stepped back and checked. Yes no doubt about it, loud and clear. It was getting a bit late by this time and I thought about marking the spot and going back the next day, but I hadn't found anything for some time, well, it felt like forever, so I decided to see what it was. I'd excavated a fair sized hole and the sun was nearly on the horizon when I saw something. I knelt down and carefully exposed a piece of pottery. As I exposed more I realised that it was a complete jar, and sealed too. I was very excited as I lifted it out of the hole. I was sure it was Saxon, but it was very unusual, with ornate gold banding applied to it, this being what had alerted the metal detector. I gazed at it in awe. A real find. I gently rubbed off the last of the dirt on the gold, which glinted in the dying sunlight. To my surprise I realised that my hands were warm, despite the cold. And they were getting warmer. I hastily set the jar down on the ground.
I stepped back when I saw that it was beginning to glow. It was just as well I did so, because a few seconds later the lid blew off. Not particularly explosively, perhaps I should have said 'popped' off, but whatever the next bit is where they get it wrong too. There was no smoke. Not white, black, pink or any other colour. What there was, was like a heat haze, something shimmered out of the jar and formed a cloud above it. Not a cloud in the normal sense, but the view of the hedge beyond was distorted as if by a cloud of heat. There were sparkly bits in it too, I remember.
As quickly as the hazy cloud had formed it disappeared, and there, standing before me, was truly a vision of loveliness. Well, at least they got that right.
She was tall and slim, her face had high cheekbones, a rather cute turned up nose, a full mouth and large blue eyes. Her blonde hair was centrally parted and hung in plaits to her waist. She was wearing a long blue dress and a grey woollen cape. I was trying to take in just how gorgeous this woman was, and to try to understand what had happened when she spoke.
"About time too. I am Ælfthryth. You have left me in that jar a long time."
"What the fuck..."
"I think you are repeating yourself. I," and it was definitely a capital 'I', "am a Djinni."
Djinni. Hmm ... blow me, a genie. Really? My brain slowly ground through the evidence, sparse as it was, and could come to no other conclusion.
She looked at me with what can only be described as contempt.
"You are my master?"
And her lip curled.
"I am called Harold Iverson." I said.
I wouldn't have thought that her lip could curl any further, but I swear it did.
"That is a Viking name. Am I to be slave to a barbarian?"
Slave? You will have noticed that some, well, yes, most of the speech is shown in italics. The reason for this is that she had addressed me in the Saxon tongue, which if I wrote here you wouldn't understand, and since I have had Ælfthryth I have learnt that there is no point in casting pearls before swine. Metaphorically you understand, I do not think of you as pigs. Well, not unless you are of the law enforcement persuasion anyway. Anyway, she always cuts straight to the chase, if she thinks you're an idiot she says so. I eventually realised that she didn't, or possibly wasn't going to, speak English, although perhaps my expression of surprise was rather short to make a full judgement on that. Plus, the main word I had used wasn't English, but old Dutch.
"And what year is it? I know I have been in that jar a long time."
So they got that wrong too, she was aware of the passage of time.
"Umm ... what year was it when you entered the jar?"
"It was the year after Athelstan conquered Northumbria."
So that would be... 927... 928, so that's 2010 minus 928, umm ... that's 1082. I told her. She was silent. Well, that was a relief.
It was now almost dark and very cold, with a clear sky there would be a sharp frost and I wanted to get back to my nice warm house.
"Are you going to stay here? Is this where you live?" I asked.
I was treated to a further look of contempt.
"What kind of person are you? Are you the spawn of the village idiot? I am your Djinni, I cannot leave you. Where you go, I go. Where your home is that is mine too."
Now, I'm not married, well I was, but you know how these things go, but I do have a girlfriend, although I suspected that did was going to be the correct tense when she met Ælfthryth, if indeed she was now attached to me.
It was now far too cold to stand in a field arguing so I picked up the jar and lid. It must, I thought, be quite valuable, and in any case she might need to get back into it, lamp type genies seemed to.
We walked the few hundred yards back to my Landcruiser in silence. She, I think, was trying to cope with the date, and I was wondering just what was going on. As we approached the car she came back to life.
"What kind of chariot is this? Where are the horses?"
"It's a horseless chariot."
"Do not be ridiculous, there cannot be any such thing." She paused. " It smells horrible."
"Well just get in and you'll see. I'm certainly not going to hang around here in the cold any longer."
I opened the door. She stood there.
I've never thought about this before, but getting into a car really isn't intuitive.
"A lady turns around, sits on the seat and turns as she puts her legs in."
She tried, and with a little guidance ended up sitting rigidly in the front seat. I chucked the metal detector in the back set the jar down carefully, and got into the drivers seat.
I started the engine.
"WHAT IS THAT? YOU HAVE A WILD BEAST IN THIS THING?"
Now I've never thought of my Landcruiser as having a wild beast under the bonnet, lots of big cart horses yes, but a Ferrari it isn't. And anyone who has ever driven one on a motorway will have tried to see 'what it'll do', and at 100mph it is frightening, enough to make you evacuate your bowels, which, since they are built like brick shithouses seems quite appropriate.
"It's the... engine."
"What is this ... I don't know what you said, eengyn?"
"It's ... a box with an essence of horses in it."
"Yes, sort of."
Who was it said that if technology was sufficiently advanced it was indistinguishable from magic? Arthur C. Clarke. Yes, and he was probably right too. But I was beginning to wonder about genies, or in this case Djinni, I think that's plural as well as singular. She clearly wasn't as clued up as the American variety that I had read about. She seemed to have no ability to read my mind, she didn't immediately speak idiomatic English, she'd said nothing about wishes and neither had she shown any desire to leap on me and shag my brains out, indeed, she seemed to indicate that I was anything but a desirable specimen of manhood. A bit unreasonable, that last bit. I'll admit I'm only five nine, but I'm quite broad shouldered and not overweight, I have fairly long hair, not down to my shoulders (the broad ones) and I have a beard. Most ladies seem to think I'm at least passably good looking, I'm kind to animals and children and I daresay you get used to the smell. OK, I'm joking on that last bit. I think.
She sat, if anything even more rigidly, as we drove the three miles to my cottage. We passed a couple of cars coming the other way and her reaction appeared to be one of abject terror. I parked up, switched of and went round to open her door. I reasoned that it was unlikely that she would know how to do that. When I opened the door she just sat there. In order to help her I reached for her knees. The next thing I knew I was flat on my back. I sat gently up, checking to see if anything was broken other than my jaw. OK, it wasn't actually broken but it had received an amazing right handed punch from the woman who was now standing over me clearly dripping fury.
"Do you try to take advantage of any damsel that you find distressed?"
She spoke quietly, but somehow it seemed very loud. I stood up.
"I am sorry, my lady. I did not intend to take advantage of you, but to assist you from the chariot as I assisted you into it."
And I've never heard that invested with so much meaning before.
"This is your hall?"
"Where are your servants, why do they not come out to greet you?"
"I don't have any servants. Well there is the lady who comes in to clean once a week, but I wouldn't call her a servant, more a friend."
She hmmphed again, indicating that she didn't think much of anything, me in particular.
I opened the door and held it open for her. The front door opened directly into the sitting room, well, the only room on the ground floor apart from the kitchen and my study. Oh and the cloakroom, so it wasn't the only room. There was some light on but I switched on more to brighten the place up.
"How did you do that? Is it more magick? You can light your lamps without touching them, and without a flame. Are you truly a magician? Will you put a spell on me?"
"No, it is very simple. You must remember that you have been in your jar for over a thousand years and much has changed. We now have much control over light and fire and many other things. They will seem like magic to you, but they are not."
She stood silently in the middle of the room.
"I'll show you around."
"There is more? It is already a very impressive hall, and very warm too."
We went through into the kitchen. On the way through I showed her the light switch. Obviously it had to be magic. She could see the light, and she could see the switch. They were obviously connected by magic.
"This is where I prepare food, and sometimes where I eat."
I indicated the big oak kitchen table. I saw little point in trying to tell her what everything in the kitchen did. She was an intelligent woman, well Djinni, but I supposed that was much the same thing, it had certainly seemed so this far, but grasping the concepts involved would take time.
"You live alone with no servants, no retainers, no woman. I do not understand. You are not the kind of man that likes not women?"
"No, no. I like women. I had a wife but we ... no longer live together."
Some of the concepts of modern living were just not translatable, or I didn't know the words. This was demonstrated by my answer to her next question.
"You have children? But they do not live with you?"
"Yes, a boy and a girl, but they are both at... university... there is no word for it. They go away to learn things."
"What things? Why do they have to go away to learn them? What can they not learn at home from their father?
"It is like in the old days when young men went to monasteries to learn."
If you can come up with the Saxon for computers and information technology then I'd like to know what it is. Likewise, drama school.
"My son does things that you would call magic, like lighting the lamps, but much more complicated. My daughter studies, umm ... like troupes of players, and storytelling, and singing."
"A girl does this? These things are for men! Singing, yes, but does she not learn from her mother? Along with sewing and cooking and things to do with children. What kind of woman leaves her husband and does not teach her daughter? What things do you do? Do you hunt, or grow crops?"
"I draw things ... like monks do, illustration. In my spare time I often go out into the fields to see if I can dig up something from the past. It is called... archaeology"
"Ark ... e ... logy. What is this?"
"We go out and dig up thing from the past, sometimes bodies to see what people were buried with. Grave goods and the like."
"Hmm ... it sounds like grave robbing to me."
By this time we had negotiated the stairs to the first floor which caused Ælfthryth no apparent problem, even to her holding her skirt up so that she did not tread on it just as any woman would. I showed her the bedrooms which seemed to meet with some sort of approval, and then, with some trepidation, the bathroom.
"What is this? You wash and defecate inside your hall? Do you not have an outhouse?"
I just knew this was going to be a problem.
"We sit on here and do our ... business. And then we press this, " and I press the flush, water swirling around the pan, she jumped, "and the water carries the ordures away." I was very proud at remembering that word.
"Is that not dirty?"
"No, the water takes everything away."
She gazed at it.
"You sit on it?"
She turned round and sat.
"Yes. But you would bare your ... arse." I couldn't think of a more polite word.
"With you here?" she said disdainfully. "And ladies do not have arses."
I was beginning to believe that she didn't think her shit would stink, and if she didn't have an arse then I suppose it wouldn't. Sorry, but I was getting somewhat exasperated.
"I wouldn't be here, there is a lock on the door."
"And when you have finished you take some of this and clean yourself." I pulled off some tissue.
"What do you do with it then?"
"You drop it down with the rest."
"You throw it away?" she said, her voice full of incredulity. "But it must be far too valuable to throw away."
"No, it costs very little."
She pursed her lips. She stood.
"And then you press this?"
Water cascaded into the pan.
She pressed it again.
"The magick has gone."
"It takes a minute or two for it to return. Do you want to use it now?"
"I'll wait outside."
A minute later, standing outside the door I heard the tinkle of water, followed a moment later by the sound of the flush. She appeared at the door with the first smile I had seen. It lit her face into almost unworldly beauty.
"I am remiss," I said. "You are a visitor in my house and I have offered you no refreshment. We will go downstairs."
I got her to sit on one of the settees that were at right angles to the big wood burning stove. Between them was a long coffee table.
"A cup of wine lady?"
Ælfthryth nodded yes.
"My friends call me Harry, what should I call you?"
I went to the fridge and took out a bottle of chardonnay, collected two glasses and returned. She was still sitting looking around her. I set a glass before her and poured wine into it, sat down and did the same for my self. I raised my glass in a time honoured gesture. She picked up her glass, acknowledged my toast and sipped. She sipped more, and then drank deeply, finishing the glass. I refilled it.
"I have never seen such fine glass. You must be rich beyond belief."
"Well, they are good glasses, they are bohemian, from the Czech Republic but not particularly fine."
"Where is this place?"
"It sits astride the Danube river beyond the land of the Franks."
I was guessing here that she might have heard of some of theses places, and apparently she did seem aware of them.
"That is a long way away."
"And the wine is from a place called New Zealand that is on the other side of the world."
She sipped some more.
"I have never had such fine wine. And it is so cold, do you keep it outside?"
Which statement frankly didn't surprise me, almost the only thing that hadn't since about four o'clock that afternoon. I decided that the time had come to find out a bit more about what was in store for me.
"You are a Djinni?"
"And I am now your master?"
"Yes. This is the way of things."
"And you can grant me wishes?"
"You don't sound too sure about that."
"You don't seems to need anything that I could grant you."
"A weapon, perhaps?"
She concentrated for a second.
There was a slight haziness over the coffee table and the most magnificent broad sword materialised. Its double handed hilt bound in fine leather and set with jewels and inlaid with gold. The blade looked murderous, finely honed and ready to kill.
I sat with my mouth open for a moment.
"Can you protect me?"
Again the haziness and a helmet not unlike that from Sutton Hoo appeared together with body armour.
"Not quite what I had in mind."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Oh ... evil spirits, that sort of thing."
"I know nothing of these Master."
She sat with eyes downcast seemingly contrite.
"Are you able to read my mind?"
"Can you speak English?"
"What is English?"
"My language, it is what yours will become centuries hence."
"No, Master. I speak only the tongue in which we converse, plus a little Norse and a small amount of the language spoken by the Norman barbarians. But that is only from ballads."
I thought about what the Americans always write about, how genies are always good for sex.
"What about sex?"
"Oh, do I get to sleep with you?"
"Sleep Master? OH! TO LIE WITH YOU! OUT OF WEDLOCK? OUT OF THE QUESTION. HAROLD IVERSON I MAY BE YOUR THRALL BUT I AM A LADY. WOULD YOU TREAT ME AS A WHORE? TRULY YOU ARE A BARBARIAN!"
As she snarled this, her voice dripping venom, she leapt to her feet and stormed into the kitchen.
Well thank you Uncle Sam!
I sat there wondering what to do next. After a couple of minutes she reappeared and asked in a very small voice.
"Master, where is the well, I am thirsty."
I went out to the fridge and took out a bottle of sparkling water.
"You keep water in bottles? Do you not have a well?" she sipped. "Oh! It tickles my mouth and my nose. What kind of water is this? That chest seems cold, but there is a lamp in it. How can this be?"
"I'm sorry about asking you that question, it won't happen again."
"That is all right Master. Some Djinni do lie with their masters, but only lower class sluts. I am NOT one of those."
No indeed not.
"Are you hungry?"
"Yes, Master. But I do not know how to cook here, everything is so strange."
I went to the fridge and took out a couple of steaks. I showed one to her.
"Will this be alright?"
Whilst I prepared baked potatoes – no, she had no idea what they were – steak, yes, she was familiar with that, and a salad, she knew what that was but mine was beyond her knowledge – we had another question and answer session that merely filled in a few blanks for both of us. We finally sat down to eat our meal with a bottle of Australian shiraz. I had, of course, provided a knife and fork without thinking that of course she wouldn't use them. Well she did cut the steak with the knife, but beyond that she used her fingers. Very ladylike, but nevertheless fingers. After she had wiped her fingers on a napkin she demolished an apple and an orange. Yes, it surprised me, but she had encountered oranges, although they were a rarity naturally.
Halfway through her final glass of wine she fell asleep on the table. I picked her up and carried her upstairs to a spare bedroom, dumped her on the bed and covered her up. No, I didn't take a peek at anything I shouldn't, I still wasn't sure that I might not get turned into something. Besides, I'm not a complete cad. Not quite anyway.
I went back downstairs to put out the lights and stoke up the fire. I looked at the sword and armour. I picked up the helmet and put it on. It fitted perfectly. I pick up the sword, with some difficulty, it was incredibly heavy and I decided that the only way I could do anyone damage with it would be to drop it on them. I put down the sword and removed the helmet. I was going to have to decide what to do with my ... my what?
And so I went up to bed. It had been an odd sort of day, and it seemed reasonable to assume that tomorrow would be another one, the more so since my girlfriend Caroline was coming over.