Chapter One Ten months later It is very difficult to hold a conversation with a Viking. It's terribly distracting for one thing, the little horns on top of his helmet are practically quivering with indignation and he keeps tossing his cape in my face. "I just don't feel as though you're giving me enough to work with. How can one be expected to express oneself with this?" He brandishes his stubby plastic sword in front of my eyes. "How can one's true Nordic inner self be found? Hmmm? Tell me that? And why does Oliver get the pick axe and the hammer and I get this?" I glance over to Oliver, who is waiting patiently and in a decidedly un-Nordic fashion by the door. Probably hoping for the off. He lights up a cigarette resignedly. I turn back to the irate Viking and say quietly, "Now, Sean, you know perfectly well that you have a much more important role in the proceedings than Oliver. I just thought that giving him a few more props would help him feel he wasn't being left out." It's plain to everyone except Sean that Oliver couldn't give a toss about being left in or out. Sean looks slightly mollified. "I can see your point, Izzy. Thank you for being so honest. But I really think . . ." he drops his voice to a whisper ". . . that you should ask Oliver to lose a few pounds. I mean, as a Viking one wouldn't have had a lot of food, would one? A few vegetables and a bit of chicken perhaps. One wouldn't look as if one had just swallowed Delia Smith and all her cookbooks." "Aahh, but Oliver isn't really your fighting sort of Viking. He's more the bring-up-the-rear sort." "More pillaging than plundering?" "That's right." Sean nods understandingly and even manages to shoot the unsuspecting Oliver a nasty look. He sniffs. "I thought as much." I pat his arm reassuringly, but before I can plan my escape he adds, "Another petit point, Izzy. I was thinking that you ought to call me something like Arnog from now on." "Arnog?" "I think it will help me project myself into character." I smile tightly and resist the temptation to look at my watch again. We have been here for over two hours and I know Aidan is waiting to use the room for his own dress rehearsal. Lady Boswell's Nordic Ice Feast is proving more troublesome than first imagined and I've still got weeks of planning to do. "Fine, er, Arnog. Whatever you think is best. Shall we take it from the top?" I watch through a gap in my fingers as they take their positions. The door gently opens and Aidan sidles in. He looks around for a second, spots me and then tiptoes around the perimeter of the room. "How's it going?" he whispers to me with a grimace that shows his vote would be "appallingly badly." "Appallingly badly," I say and grimace back. "I think it might be the feng shui in here. I've been having bad rehearsals lately too." The proceedings kick off. Oliver nearly takes Sean's eye out with his pick axe within the first two seconds but whether this is deliberate or not it is hard to tell. All I can say is that the Vikings must have been jolly glad they were wearing those helmets. What is supposed to be a show of natural Nordic exuberance is fast turning into a French farce. Along with the fierce battle cries and sword-wielding there are people falling over bearskin rugs amid sing-song "Sorry, darling!"s, two people have their helmets on backward and Oliver has rugby-tackled Sean, wrestled him to the floor and is trying to suffocate him with his cloak. Aidan leans over to me. "God, darling, this is more than just feng shui. My rehearsals have never gone this badly. I think you must have a jinx." "It certainly would seem that way," I say dullMason, Sarah is the author of 'Party Girl Novel', published 2005 under ISBN 9780345469564 and ISBN 0345469569.