Something about Ken’s experience of Destination is bugging Julia. How can he walk the length of the Plain, and beyond, and yet see no other person?
I was in a much better mood when I returned from my walk. Without really pushing it, in less than four hours I’d walked to the river and back. Eight hours at Destination would be ample to check out Ken’s long barrow, even allowing for tramping through trackless scrub. After all, who knew what I’d find. Tangles of briars. Ferocious bulls. A series of fenced-in fields to slow my progress.
But the afternoon jaunt had been more than a reccie; more, too, than the exercise and much-needed fresh air. It had been time alone to think, mostly of Kenneth and Fliss.
Maybe Fliss wasn’t such a manipulative schemer. It was just those memories of childhood planting fears in my head. Dave’s explanation (his father, my mother) helped to allay my suspicions. And why shouldn’t they take advantage of my return. I ought to be flattered that they considered me sufficiently qualified, even if my table-thumping had ruffled their fur. But I truly was worried that Ken would blow it for Fliss with his insistence on that anachronistic long barrow. Whether he like it or not, I had to step in to salvage the project.
Poor Kenneth. I could see how he made the mistake. It was the same principle as my sighting of the Viking-cum-Davy Crockett ghost-chap. I could have sworn he’d seen me in that instant before the ‘pod retrieved me. He seemed to have been in the act of greeting, hand raised, about to say something. But in truth that had been my subconscious playing director, filling in what it thought was most likely to happen. And that’s how Ken made his mistake.
First, how old were the books he’d been reading? And even if he’d data-ripped from Wikipedia, some of those articles were massively out of date. In archaeology, just as in other fields, things can move quickly. With the advent of accelerator mass spectrometry there had been a significant improvement in carbon-dating. No longer necessary to provide the test material in bulk, there was no need to pad-out bones with charcoal, which is what used to happen. But a tree could lie for 500 years, slowly rotting, before being burned. That could severely distort the given dates. Now, suddenly, there was a whole new range of dates for bones, and tighter dates for charcoal too. Perhaps it wasn’t the major breakthrough represented first by the radiocarbon and then by the bristle-cones calibration; there was no sudden disconnection of Western Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean, but it had certainly fine tuned the European Neolithic, particularly the dating of chambered tombs and long barrows.
I wondered, too, if Ken knew the difference between the two: chambered tomb and long barrow. The one of hard, enduring stone, the other of rapidly flattening earth; to me they’re impossible to confuse. Yet I knew from my work how often it happened, especially with the uninformed public. Chamber and barrow both presented the same general profile. And it didn’t help that Wessex is an area of overlap, with the megalithic chambered tombs of the Severn-Cotswold group intruding into an area of the Eastern earthen mounds.
All this had trickled through my thoughts as I walked. And I could see what had happened. Ken had seen a mound of raw earth, had seen the quarry ditch, had remembered the drawings seen, especially if he’d seen those of Fussell’s Lodge which made it seem an impressive edifice, and his subconscious had filled in the rest. Yet . . . even that scenario didn’t quite fit.
He was honest in saying of only one ditch. Had it been his subconscious talking, surely he’d have said of two. And he made no great claim for the ditch offerings: no rows of antlers or ox-horns, no settings of skulls. Now that I had calmed down and pondered more on it, I could see his supposed barrow wasn’t anachronistic at all. It was only that he’d applied the wrong label. He wasn’t an expert: he wasn’t to know that our Neolithic farmers had been obsessed with rearranging the landscape. It wasn’t just long barrows but parallel banks that ran on for miles, mistakenly thought to be race courses and thus named as cursuses (though those had appeared, briefly, a thousand years before our study). No, there would be some neat explanation for Ken’s ‘long barrow’. It may have been raised to mark a sacred spot. Regardless, I wanted to check it out before he made a fool of himself—and of Fliss.
I waited until after we’d eaten—one of Ken’s curries at which he excelled. Then I went straight to the subject. “Kenneth, I’ve been thinking about that barrow of yours. Where did you say it was?”
He looked pleasantly surprised by my interest; his face opened up. “Er—yea. Just across the Avon.” American, he stressed both syllables, dividing the word, A-Von.
“Upavon, “ Fliss said, her aggression returned.
“Hilltop?” I asked. Whatever else its purpose, a hilltop earthwork would act as a territorial flag.
Ken nodded. “Yea, ish.”
“I’d like to see it. Is that possible?” I asked Fliss.
“You tell me,” she said. Oh, was that a sneer? “Two people sharing a dream; would you say that were possible?”
“But we’re not actually dreaming, are we.”
“Me and Davey tried to coordinate.” Ken said. “Doesn’t work. Rigs aren’t that closely synced.”
“Okay, so can I go it alone?”
Fliss leaned back in her gothic-backed chair and regarded me like she was a Spanish Inquisitor. “Is this a contrivance, some devious game?”
I laughed. How absurd. “No game, just genuinely interested in Kenneth’s new find.”
She gave a disparaging sniff, imperious nose presented profile. I’d already attributed her rapid mood swings to whatever her medication, plus, of course, the frustration of being strapped to that chair. It couldn’t have been easy. But easy or tough, she still rubbed me wrong. Kenneth stepped in.
“Fliss-babes, quit your evil eyes. She’s in for her knowledge. Use it.”
“That barrow is your discovery,” she said.
“Sure, Babes. Same as Dave’s swamps are his, despite he’ll have students swarming over them, and some lab-geek to verify his dates. So why not have Julia verify my find?”
What was this: Was the worm turning? Though perhaps I oughtn’t to smile, it didn’t bode well. From our first meeting I’d noticed Ken’s compliance, his malleability, and imagined it a significant factor in Fliss’s attraction to him. Not that he lacked personality. Laid-back, sure, yet his paternal Germanic descent shone through. But I could see danger lurking some place ahead. He gets too assertive and overrules her, who’s the one she’s going to blame? Oui, c’est moi.
“I’d rather submit to Julia’s expertise,” he said. “Then if it’s not apple-pie, she takes the dust-fall.”
There were two words in what he’d said that I didn’t like. Maybe three. Still, I looked at Fliss, hoping my expectant expression would prompt the desired response. Hell, she was the one who’d invited me in.
She didn’t answer. So I went for the sledge-hammer approach.
“So when can I go? Tomorrow? I can do the river in two, maybe three hours. Eight should be ample for me to ford the river and nose round. But before I go, I want to check it out on Google Earth.” In my head I was saying, Yes, Fliss, that’s two worms that have turned.
“Boy, she’s compos!” Ken laughed—which maybe wasn’t so tactful just at that moment. “Never gave Google a flash. But, Jules, your Ordnance Survey shows a botch of earthworks across that hill—later earthworks. So don’t you take them as mine.”
“Aren’t you rushing your fences, Kenneth?” Fliss cut through his enthusiasm. “I have yet to agree she can go. One one-hour ‘trip, and she thinks she can progress straight to eight. Jules-darling, you might know your Neolithic shards, but you don’t know my ‘pods. Fifteen minutes inside, but you’ll still feel the effects of eight hours ‘Destination’. You’ll feel cold if it’s cold and wet if it rains. You’ll feel thirsty and hungry. Kenneth has experienced it, Dave as well. It will affect you the same, you’re no different. So, what’s your answer to that, Little Miss Boffin?”
Dave’s timely arrival, DVD waved in the air, answered her that. “Bushman Survival Course, as promised.” He stopped dead and looked around the table where we still were sitting despite having finished the meal and the coffee. “What’s up? Something I said?”
I had Google Earth on my laptop but that was away in my room and I wasn’t about to invite Ken to there. Instead, I used the computer in the office. Fliss followed behind Ken; Dave brought up the rear. With all four of us crammed in, what I’d thought was a spacious office now resembled a crowded lift. I signed to Dave to open the window. Fliss scowled. Oops, was fresh air not allowed?
With Google Earth loaded, I zoomed into the Avon valley and tracked along till I came to Upavon.
“Ignore the scuzzy patch, that’s the later works,” Ken said, his hand on the back of my chair. The movement was slight but it still annoyed me. “Move more to north—northwest, edging the Vale.”
But I was still on the golf course. “Wow, Kenneth, just look at that.” I zoomed in closer and used a pencil to point. Ken leaned yet further over my shoulder.
“But . . . Shoot! Is that a cursus?”
“Looks like it. Though pretty minor; not a patch on the one near Stonehenge. I wonder if County Records has anything on it. I can’t believe something like that can go unnoticed, especially with where it is.”
Ken’s hand released my chair as he pulled back. I could hear him scratching his head.
“You’re not going to keep shtoom? Just tell her,” Fliss said and then didn’t wait for him to obey. “Jules-darling, I hate to rain, but Kenneth has explored all that area. There is no earthwork, cursus or barrow. As he said, the earthworks there are later.”
I looked round at Ken. “Is that right? But by the time you’re at Destination it’ll be a thousand years old and probably eroded. And it mayn’t have been high-banked and deep-ditched to begin with.” Yet it had obviously been deep enough that it still was causing a notable difference in the plant growth above it. “Perhaps it was seriously overgrown and you didn’t notice it. Were there copses and thickets in the vicinity?”
Ken grunted. “Nix, Jules, that hilltop’s bald as a Kojak-pate. Yet . . . Nix, Missy, it’s gotta be later. Bronze Age. Iron. Cattle corral, probably, or some-such doodah.”
I nodded, though I wasn’t buying it. Yet I didn’t want to push, not now he was okay about us working together. Besides, County Records would provide the answer, though for that I’d wait until alone in my room. That gave me two reasons to hit the bed early (the other being Dave’s ‘Survival Course’). I moved the focus north and west, to where Kenneth had said of the bank and ditch.
Nothing. Not the slightest variation in plant growth. Of course, the lighting conditions at the time of the photo would make a difference. But there was also a belt of trees. Perhaps no more than three trees deep, it ran for maybe 100 yards.
“I take it your barrow lies beneath these?” I used the pencil again to point.
“Nix.” Ken refused my offer to help him save face. But this was crazy: a cursus shown on the aerials where he’d found nothing, and his claimed barrow where nothing showed on the aerials. Yet he seemed unperturbed. “Down the hill a squitch—now move it left. That’s it. No, closer in to the river. There.”
But I’d already checked there, and there was nothing. I’d no choice but to show Dave and Fliss the featureless field. Of course, Fliss wouldn’t question Ken’s last two reports. It would be me cast as demon.
“You sure of that field?” Dave asked. “A tad down and you’re into a modern build. Those bungalows, see? I dated a bird who lived there—once, long time gone. And now I remember, she kept ratting on about some flints and shards her father had picked from the garden—he was digging it over; they’d just moved in.”
But again Ken refused the help. “Negative, nix-it, Davey. It’s higher up. Idem, factual.”
“Nah, Kenny-poo’s, I say your memory’s slipping,” Dave offered yet another get-out. “Slipping fast as our hills. You do know that, don’t you? That these hills are slipping. What used to be hilltop now is valley.”
I glanced round at him. Not total bullshit, but close. Sure, the soil was slipping, but we were talking here of a ditch dug into the subsoil, and that wouldn’t move. Still, he meant well.
“Did your girlfriend’s father take his finds to the museum?” I asked. “If so, the County Records will show them.”
“How would I know? I was dating the girl not grilling her father. And I admit I didn’t much listen to her—it wasn’t her father’s garden that interested me,” he said and plastered an evil grin.
If he was trying to wind me it failed, courtesy of Fliss. Her arm suddenly shot up. For a moment I thought she was having a fit.
“Desist! I suppose it’ll be this, this inexorable prattle till I agree to her terms.”
I held my breath; she was to agree my eight hours? But no, she then looked away, saying nothing. Yet a moment later she took a massive, dramatic intake of breath and turned back again.
“Fine, Jules, fine.” She sighed yet more dramatically. “You can have your eight hours—but don’t come crying your woes to me when you return in a grievous mess.”
“When?” I asked before she’d a chance to change of mind. The sooner Ken’s anomaly was sorted the sooner I could toddle off to Durrington Walls, and I wasn’t forgetting that was my main aim.
“You realise, Jules-darling, these two are going to hate you for this? They had to wait months. And I’m only allowing it so you can verify what Kenneth has found. So, eight hours Destination-Time. You’d be wise to be early to bed.”
It took a moment for her words to sink in. Tomorrow? I was permitted the eight-hour trip tomorrow? I hadn’t expected it so soon.