At Destination, 2,500 BCE, someone behind her calls out her name. Startled, not thinking, Julia turns, though she knows that she oughtn’t. But who could possibly know her here?
Even as I turn my thoughts are answering: It has to be Ken. Yet Kenneth, I know, is supposed to be north of the Vale. What’s he found that’s so vital he’d come chasing south after me?
How many thoughts in such a short flash. I’m telling myself no, it can’t be him. The word ILLOGICAL swells within me followed by a rapid scenario of explanation. We pod-trippers are wrong and Fliss is right, it’s a dreamscape, peopled with characters from out of our heads. And as with our dreams, where we change external noises into part of the narrative, so I have changed—I don’t know, perhaps a deer grunting—into the call of my name.
An interesting theory that seems to hold true as I turn and see, his blond hair shining in the late afternoon sun, that same indigenous ‘Davy Crockett’.
“My Mistress Inspiration,” he says, “I am true to my word. I did say I would wait.”
I want to laugh. To think I believed this Neolithic version of Wessex was real. As if a genuine inhabitant here would have such perfect use of our English language! Okay, so there’s an accent I can’t quite place, possibly Celtic though maybe Spanish. Super-fast I parse his words. He said he would wait. Yea, right, like I’ve been here before. Or . . . did he refer to that wafer-thin glimpse on my first trip here when he started to hail me? I’m beginning to feel like Alice in Wonderland. This has to be part of a dream. I smile while trying to reason it out.
“This time you come seeking Hegrea’s Isle.” He doesn’t ask; he more or less tells me.
“Durrington,” I murmur, surprised to hear my voice. It doesn’t always sound in my dreams.
He smiles. He has a wonderful smile. He has a wonderful everything. I want to fall into his arms—which proves this is akin to a dream: it’s hardly my usual response to a fella. But, no, he is simply gorgeous. I want to take him home, to perch him upon the mantel. Okay, so I’ve neither fireplace nor mantel, but I’m sure I can a suitable place for him, some place I can gaze upon him.
“Durrington, we agreed, is Hegrea’s Isle,” he says. “May I?” He holds out his hand to me.
It takes a moment to realise his intent—to help me over the stile (how very ‘Jane Austen’).
“It is death to those who enter alone,” he explains—as if he’s heard my thoughts. “Is why I mistook you for our Eblann Mistress Inspiration when . . . before. How else come you here, without Eblan Murdan has killed you.”
An excellent question: How else, indeed. And dream, real or a water-recording, he has the advantage on me (in several meanings, like the shiver that quickens my body just at his touch, and the fleeting images of steamy entangles that take what’s left of my breath.)
I don’t know who he is, how he might know me, where and when we’ve met before. I don’t know what he means with his talk of Mistress Inspiration, Hegrea’s Isle and Eblan Murdan. I don’t even know if I want to stay; I might rather have the ‘pod snatch me back. I guess at this point I’m a tad confused. Might be best just to go along with it. Maybe something like sense will slowly rise from it.
“You have your maps with you?” he asks.
Mutely I nod. But how does he know of them?
“Show me, and I shall show you where we are.”
I know where we were (-ish), yet still I fish the crumpled map from my pocket. He spreads it upon the top bar of the stile.
“Ah, the river,” he says in apparent delight, his finger following it. “Her path is changed, yet her valley remains. Years . . . ” He seems to muse, a philosopher passing comment on the passing of time.
“Four thousand, five hundred,” I try the actual number on him.
He nods. “So you have said—and you showed me. And now here you are, returned. So now I believe you.”
It seems he knows far more of me than I do of him. I can’t even ask him his name for that would be tantamount to saying how unimpressive the previous meeting. And clearly it wasn’t unimpressive for him.
“Dannyn, Eblan Dannyn,” he says as if he has heard me. “I forget, you’ve not yet met me.”
No point in querying how he knows what I’m thinking. No doubt his answer won’t make any sense. ‘Sense’, it seems, has taken a holiday. I squeeze my eyes tight. And when I open them, still he is there. And he still has the map.
“This—” he squiggles his finger over the land on the far side of the track “—is Murkem-Eblan land. Cross that fence, they kill you—unless you know the visiting formula. Or unless you go by-hand with an eblan. An eblan is me.”
“Only that particular fence? Or any fence?” Would that explain the spears levelled at me? “Only I crossed one before.”
“That, too, was Murkem land, though not Murkem-Eblan. I did not know it then, but I heard much of it later. Your appearance was taken as portent.”
“Taken as what?” That kind of shakes me. “But how a portent when they hurled spears at me?”
“How else to explain you,” Dannyn asks, “when instead of dying you simply vanish. And three years later . . . no, you not ask of it. But three years later, they said it was obvious, you were a portent.”
Overtly, he returns to the map. “Here is where we must go. Hegrea’s Isle.” He jabs his finger at Durrington Walls. “Here—this land around Hegrea’s Isle—this is Ulmkem-Eblan land. I am Ulmkem-Eblan. Here—this land before it—is Eblan Freeland.”
“And you are eblan?” Hey, I’m catching on quick.
“As we agreed, I shall take you to Hegrea’s Isle. But not until morning. Then all shall be safe; no one kills you.”
“Um, er . . .” I want to ask . . . we have yet an evening and the night-time to pass. I want also to ask a million questions, like: When was I here before? And: What then transpired between us? He seems exceptionally friendly; have I already slept with him? I don’t usually jump into bed upon the first meeting. Lawks, but this is all so confusing. I’ve no choice, really, but to go along with it. Eventually I might find some answers.
But ‘Dannyn the Eblan’ isn’t yet done with my map. “Here—” more jabbing of finger “—this place here is my winter-roof.”
He shows me on the map a place midway to Durrington Walls (which he refers to as Hegrea’s Isle). Apparently his ‘winter-roof’ is plonk in the midst of where today there’s a complex of military barracks. The way to it is through that wilderness-woodland he called a ‘Freeland’.
“Why ‘Freeland’?” I ask, it being time I start to ask questions.
“Every society has a freeland where none may build—only a bender, then only those of the society. None may take from here, except as required, and only then by the society. I take plants for my whirl-juice. I gather antlers. Sometimes I kill for them.”
“A Neolithic nature reserve?”
He frowns for a moment, then brightens. “Reserve, yes. Reserved for our society use only. But Neolithic? No, but you say this before.”
He’s prompting for an explanation, and I suppose it’s a fair trade. “In my time—”
“Four thousand, five hundred years into my future. Only is not my future, for by then Death will have taken me—though I shall be reborn. Alas, not as Dannyn; you will not know me.”
I wonder if he’ll cut into my every explanation. How tedious that could be, like having footnotes permanently attached.
“In my time,” I try again, “four thousand, five hundred years into the future, archaeologists will divide the past into what they call ‘Ages’. It will help them to talk in broad terms.” Oops. Too late I realise I’ve used a word that needs clarification.
“What is archaeologists?” he asks on cue—then answers it for himself. “Men who dig and delve, to unbury the past. I am right? And do put into your mind the land and the way we are treading—to remember it for when you come here before.”
Though I have to rearrange his words to make more sense of them, I do as he says and take note of the way—so I’ll know how to find him when . . . I come here before? I set that aside for later mulling.
“You’re no ignoramus, are you,” I say with a friendly laugh. But why should he be when he possesses a brain the equal of any rocket scientist. It’s only his lifestyle that’s simple. Though with his talk of societies and freeland reserves I’d question that. And, again, I realise, I’m accepting I really am there.
“Neolithic,” I return to the subject, “named for the ‘New Stone Age’, to set these years apart from the Mesolithic—Middle Stone Age—and Palaeolithic, Old Stone Age.”
“But why define, New, Middle and Old, by age of stone?”
“Because that’s the defining technology,” I tell him, and though he frowns, I leave him to figure it out.
“Tech-no,” he says. “This is to build houses? Not words in Alisime speech but is in Tuädik. But we build no houses of stone—unless you speak of Kara’s Cave at His Indwelling. Yes, now I think, they have houses there too. Had. Had them, but have them no more. Not since Murdan . . . Is that why this age is ‘New Stone Age’?”
I want to tell him yes, that he’s reasoned it well, that it’s no easy concept even here in our 21st century. But his theory isn’t quite right. Moreover, if I were a taddy-bit brighter I might pick him up on that ‘had but not any more, stone houses at His Indwelling’. Are these the same houses that Ken has discovered? Yet, had, that doesn’t fit.
“Ah, we are here. Look around,” he advises. “Next time you come here you shall be alone. For me, you shall not have been here before. So, how shall I know to meet you? It is important not to stray, else Eblan Murdan shall kill you. That Murdan—” he indraws his breath through his perfect white teeth and shakes his head “—so angry, those eblan-seasons he spent in the wilds.”
While he’s talking of Murdan—and, to me, at the time, not making much sense—I look around me. I can’t see anything here I can take as a landmark. Perhaps . . . there’s an oak. It’s ancient, its trunk hollow—a family could live there—yet fresh bronzy-green leaves are shooting around it. Yes, that’s distinctive enough to serve. So too that barrow, mounded beside it. Well, at first sight I think it’s a barrow—bank encircled (around five feet high), broken only where an apple and a holly tree grow. It could be taken as a henge, having its quarry-ditch sited within it—except for that mound. I’m guessing it’s eight feet tall, or more, its diameter circa 20 feet. But, I smile at my error: a thin haze of smoke seeps out from around it.
“This is your winter-roof!”
“Winter, though now we have summer-half. I think you prefer this to my crammed bender. You have not yet met me; it is not like before.”
The look he gives me—those sparkling blue eyes, the finest of lines that crinkle around them, the way it unsettles me from inside to out, from top to bottom—no, I shan’t ask what had happened ‘before’. I’m beginning to get the grip of this; it’s something that hasn’t yet happened for me: it’s in my future.
“You know how to find?” He’s quite insistent of its importance.
“Yea,” I say. “And I have the map; I can find it.”
He nods. “Then in you may go. And welcome to my roof, my Mistress Inspiration.”
He doesn’t stand aside to let me go first, but disappears off between the holly and apple. With some apprehension, I follow him through. The ditch, I now can see, is clay-lined, and bright with fresh water. A porch fills the space between ‘moat’ and mound. There’s a door oddly set a good foot off the ground. It forced me to high-step through it. Though its outer face is woven like a hurdle,inside it is smooth-covered with hide. Inside, too, it is dark.
“I provide,” he says. He, he, he; I must start calling him Dannyn for that is his name (telling, for it’s not one I’d dream up).
Dannyn provides light: a dozen or so lamps that hang from the internal ribs of the ‘roof. The ‘roof is no different, really, from a bender. Maybe its ribs are thicker—and yet there’s a limit to size, if they’re to bend. Anyway, Dannyn—I take it he’s the builder—has achieved greater strength by binding together several thin stems. Woven through them and tied at junctions with their own bark are a myriad of finer stems. (It’s exactly the way Fliss and I made our dens in the Plessey’s woodland, her mother constantly on about watching for snakes.) As the lamps light up the dome I can see, first, an unexpected array of—is that wool? it’s in matted clumps—wall hangings, but between them I see that the roof was lined with leaves before the outer covering turves were applied. Some leaves still hold a hint of their green.
“You still like?” Dannyn asks, arms outspread to encompass his spacious domain.
Hides cover the floor, all bar the hearth at the centre. Amazing, I can see not a fragment of flint nor a drop of old gruel, all freshly swept. And though the image of Neolithic Man sleeping rough on the bare floor was smashed long ago with the discovery of the stone houses at Skara Brae, Dannyn’s home is yet a surprise. Those same-styled box-beds have been found at Durrington Walls, but not here. Dannyn’s bed is a six-legged frame of (probably) ash-wood (it has the right colour, though it could be beech), supporting a mattress stuffed with something unseen, its woven cover perhaps being of nettle (it’s certainly not linen). The whole is topped by various furs, plus more of those colourful woollen hangings—though perhaps they’re intended as rugs?
“Before the night comes, you help me move this bed to left of the door? It is not right you sleep in the man’s place.”
That seems fair, and answers one question. But— “And where will you sleep?”
“There,” he says as if it’s obvious, and nods to where the bed currently stands. “And see—” he all-but gambols to the far wall where, beside a cascade of black feathers I’ve suddenly noticed, stands a chest intricately woven of dried and dyed grasses. He lifts the lid and pulls out a blanket. “My mother’s gift to me before she departed.”
Everything of it surprises me. I can’t believe it; it’s wool! And it’s finely spun and finely woven. But it shouldn’t be. It’s wide, wider than it ought to be with an early loom—though now I see it’s three pieces joined. It’s been woven as tartan—seven colours. If this were a Celtic society, those seven colours would mark Dannyn as royal. Though I still don’t know what an eblan is. Perhaps he is royal, though nothing about him would suggest it.
“This shall be yours for this night.”
That seems fair. I’m taking his bed; I can’t take his bed-furs and rugs as well.
“You settle in here,” he says, a finger wagging. “Though Murdan now has gone away there still are others who, if seen, would kill you. So, Julia—my Mistress Inspiration—you stay in here safely and do not stray. I fetch us meat. Then I have a treat, I still have some of Aldliks Hanaplan’s honeyed fruits. Crunchy now, but just as sweet. And as sticky. Oh, and while I am gone, if a pot has a lid on, you shall not touch. I have swirly juice here, it is forbidden for you. Understand me?”
“I understand,” I tell him. And by now he’s at the door, having gathered his hunting gear while he’s talking. I wave him away.
In the crashing silence that follows, I finally have time to think. I have been here before—before in his time, not before in mine. I wonder how that works out.
Again, I mull over the Destination-Times. Does Dannyn’s time, i.e. twenty-fifth century BCE, roll along in sync with our twenty-first century CE? Or is there some kind of slippage? I know I’ve pondered on this before but it’s gained importance. Before I’d been musing on Ken’s consecutive three day ‘trips. If both CE and BCE roll at the same rate then Ken risks treading on the toes of his ‘pod double. I had intended to ask Fliss about this but it hasn’t happened. And now . . . Dannyn has met me sometime before, and it wasn’t just that almost-hail on my first outing. He clearly knows a whole lot about me. Moreover, he has learned our English language. And he knows I come from the future. He knows of my maps. And that twinkle in his eye when he says of ‘before’ suggests strongly ‘before’ there was no moving of beds. This is all so confusing. He seems so modern, and yet . . . I look around his place, at where I am. No way can this be the twenty-first century, not in England. Not even Dave could pull this big a deceit.
I think again of the time-pods. Are they calibrated sufficiently fine that a slight alteration in the Destination-setting will take me back to . . . to how much earlier? When, exactly, was our first meeting? Was it earlier this year, perhaps in early spring? Or was it a matter of years? If there’s been a clue in what he’s been saying, I have missed it. Of course, I could just ask him when it was. In fact, how else can I be certain to return at the right time.
And if I don’t return then? Then we won’t have met. And if we haven’t met then he wouldn’t be waiting. And if he wasn’t waiting, then he couldn’t have brought me safely to here. Without that first meeting I could now be dead, one of those flint-headed spears having driven deep in me. And who knows what else might happen on a future visit . . . if I fail to return to his previous time.