I’ll tell you my story, Dannyn said. But the story was had as a dream. Now, in the morning, he has promised to take her to Hegrea’s Isle.
I’m curious, looking down at the encircling ditch, how it stays full, and the water sparkling clean. I can see the clay lining that helps retain it. But it can’t all be rainwater.
“Here.” Dannyn takes my hand. Not for the first time I notice how soft his skin; unlikely for someone who lives alone in the ‘wilds’. He leads me round to the back of the high-domed ‘roof and nods to a bubbling beneath the water.
“A spring? But . . . we’re on a hilltop.” I’m no geologist yet I do know that springs generally appear where the porous and the impervious meet, which isn’t here but down in the valley.
“Springs appear where an eblan digs deep,” he says.
That he knows my thoughts no longer disturbs me—though I do try to censor their content. Their content now is that we’re some 400 feet above the water-table. That’s one hell of a deep well.
“It’s the water of life,” he says. “It comes from the Deep—like the white rock that rings around Hegrea’s Isle. Are you ready to walk?”
“Sure.” Though suddenly my breath catches. Excitement: Durrington Walls, that’s why I’m here. Yet anxiety: what of the people there. By their houses they ought to be the northern matries. The Ulvregan? Yet around them, according to Dannyn’s vision, his story, my dream, are the Indies, the Alisime. I correct that to Alsime, aware of the grammar if not the language.
“It is not far,” Dannyn assures me, not for the first time. “One track to cross, one fence to hop, then we’re into Hegrea’s Land—though it wasn’t always Hegrea’s. Aldliks Sappaken gave it to her.”
“Aldliks?” I’ve heard him use this word before. It seems more of a title than a name. “What is this aldliks?”
“This, from the first, I have liked about you,” he says. “Julia ’fanteshi’, always asking.”
I quietly humph as, without answering, he dodges back into his winter-roof. He returns wearing a cloak of black feathers (the cascade I’ve seen beside the chest). The three-legged venison is slung over his shoulder while, in the opposing hand, is a staff four feet long.
“We go,” he says and without ado starts out. I scramble to follow.
“I like not to wear feathers,” he says, “but I must when I visit an aldliks and her eldliks—Yes, I hear your question,” he snaps without rancour. “What is aldliks, what is eldliks?”
He walks on a way in silence, before finally he begins an answer.
“But I must say, first, of the Alsime ‘isles’—by which, those hedged-around settlements you see in the valley. So many places the Alsime enclose—fenced, hedged, ditched, banked—and they say of them all that they are isles. Even their fenced-in fields! An isle is place set apart.”
I can’t argue with that. He then says, more specifically, of Hegrea’s Isle (Durrington Walls).
Until the coming of the Ulvregan—which event Dannyn told me last night though I saw it as a dreamscape (downloaded from his own memory though I don’t know how)—until then the ‘lands’ had only the one isle each. Hegrea’s Land didn’t yet exist, still a part of Bisaplan’s Land. Bisaplan, their ancestress, lived in the time of the Ancients. Not being Alisime, Dannyn doesn’t know the number of years or the generations—glunen he calls them—but, as he says, everyone knows that the Ancients lived at a time before the Alsime grew grain.
“In those days there were none here but the Alsime, from shore to shore. And they were not East Alsime, River Alsime, South and North Alsime. They simply were Alsime. But that changed when the Eskin came with their grains, and, shortly after, the Krediche, too.”
The story of their encounter with the Eskin grain-growers is much the same as that of the Ulvregan, except while the Ulvregan had upped and went, taking their stolen goats with them, here the Alsime, having stolen the Eskin and Krediche cattle and grain—and their swine—remained on their land. The women cut their fields and named that their ancestral land. Thus, Bisaplan’s Land is where the ancestress Bisaplan first cut her fields.
While Dannyn is telling me this, my head is rapidly reckoning. The earliest signs of agriculture in Wessex is circa 4,000 BCE. So that’s probably when Bisaplan lived—1500 years before Destination-Time. Bisaplan’s descendants have much deeper roots than Fliss with her Plessey ancestors.
“These founding ‘grandmas’,” Dannyn says, a smile lifting his voice, “they marked the limits of their land by an upturn of chalk—you understand, white rock from the depths is the very substance of life. It is the colour of the Ancestors’ bones. White, the white of life. And the Ancestors’ bones are buried there. You understand all this?”
I nod. It seems logical.
He asks for my map and squiggles his finger over a mark near the causeway enclosure, Robin Hood’s Ball, where there’s a long barrow. “There is their north-most marker.” He points to another—south of Stonehenge.
“Stonehenge was built on Bisaplan’s Land?” But I ought to know that from the dream.
“The Old Isle of the Dead where Murdan raised his Broken Circles? Yes, that is on Bisaplan’s Land. But I speak of the aldliks, not of Murdan.”
Ahead is a fence. It marks the end of the Eblan Freeland. Once we cross the track we’ll be into Hegrea’s Land. Almost there, to Hegrea’s Isle. But Dannyn decides here is a good place to stop while he tells me more. He sits upon the top rail of a stile.
“From Bisaplan to Sinya (who was born this last year) all are kin through the mother. And all are ordered by the aldliks. At Bisaplan’s Isle, now she is Aldliks Priäplan; at Hegrea’s Isle she is Aldliks Bisdata. It is she we visit today.”
Yea, I can get my ahead around that—though he’s slowly destroying my theory of Ken’s matries north of the Vale being Ulvregan while the Indies, south, (but not at Durrington Walls) are Alsime. It’s the Alsime—the Indies—who are matrilineal, matrifocal and, at least to some degree, matriarchal. But if the women belong to the ‘isle’, how do they get it together with the men, to make more? I ask Dannyn, though not quite in those words.
“Oh, it’s easy,” he says with a tilt of his chin and a sparkling smile. “They meet at the feasts of Winter Ending. It is . . . you say, for adults only?”
X-rated feasts? Orgies? But possibly not. It’s all controlled by the aldliks. It’s she who says when a girl is old enough to attend the feast, which then marks her as a woman. Thereafter she must never show her hair outside of her family’s dwelling. For the Alsime to show their hair is like us walking about naked in polite society. (Yes, I’ve brought a hat with me and, though Dannyn hasn’t said, I fiddle with my hair to make sure every last scrap is tucked in.) Having met, and liked, the woman now invites the man to visit.
Something of this amuses Dannyn. He chuckles, not quite a full laugh. I look at him, inquisitive. And he has such an infectious laugh I’m beginning to chuckle along with him.
“I am glad I never have to endure it,” he says, once he regains his breath. “Those woe-some men. He arrives at the woman’s isle with his cattle and . . .” He laughs again.
“They arrive with their cattle—so that’s why the fenced tracks!” I exclaim as if it’s Eureka!
“But yes. Without their fences our Alsime would be like the Ulvregan—their fields illegally cropped, they must leave. They are the same people, you know, though long ago separated by the sea. They speak with the same tongue—this is what Hegrea noticed. I tell you, if one speaks slowly and clearly, and the other attends, they mostly can understand each other. They share their names, though sometimes given in different forms. It is only their ways that are different. I wonder which will win out in the end? It amuses to watch from the woodland, for I am neither. But, I say of the visiting . . . the man arrives with his cattle—which might be as few as two—and is met by the eldliks.”
“Aldliks and eldliks—I’m guessing the eldliks is the man—the headman; am I right?”
“Wait. I say first of the aldliks—though we should move now. We want to arrive at Hegrea’s Isle before all are dispersed with their chores.”
The eldliks (who surely is accounted the headman) plays out the first part of the visiting formula. Your need must be great to attend us this day, bringing your cattle with you. So, the wording varies according to need, but always ‘your need must be great’. The man—usually young—answers that he needs to speak with the aldliks. He, of course, knows her name having already met: it was she who approved the visit while still at the feast. The eldliks now offers to tend the cattle while the visiting man attends the aldliks. One of the younger boys is usually on hand to act the usher—as you say, yea?
“He’s a wise visitor who brings with him a gift for the aldliks—something he has made with his hands: say, something carved, a bowl or a box; though he may bring something crafted of leather. But the gift, alone, is not enough. There must be a story given along with it. And it is best that the story is funny, for on this the visiting man is judged.”
If the aldliks likes the gift, and laughs at the story, the young man is in. He may leave his small herd with the family’s herdsman, who drives it, with the others, to the best pastures to graze, while he (the young man) enjoys the summer alone with his woman—though they’ll be accompanied by any number of children from the previous summers’ alliances. Together the young couple herd her goats. I realise it’s these young couples I saw along the north scarp, with their temporary summer benders. I’m not an anthropologist, but even so, it’s all so fascinating.
At summer’s end, before the man returns to his own family’s isle for the winter, he cuts out a calf from his herd as a gift to his hosts, to pay for the good grazing he’s had. Every young man must make the choice, every feast of Winter-Ending: to increase his herd, or to go visiting. The two are mutually exclusive. But there is a way around it. The man might stay at the woman’s isle summer and winter through. Then there’s no need to give up the calf, and then he can build up a herd. But that seldom happens until the couple have spent several summers together, and have probably begotten several children. As I say, matrifocal, matrilineal.
But what of the eldliks, apart from playing a part in greeting the visiting men?
The eldliks is chosen from the family’s older men—those who no longer leave the isle to go summer-visiting. Considered sensible, responsible—steady—he’s safely come through the fires of youth. He’s usually the son of the aldliks.
As with the aldliks who ‘orders the women’, so too the eldliks with the men—though according to Dannyn he’s not the headman. His main concern is with the cattle. It’s he who says when they’re let out of the isle after winter, and which of the spring pastures then to use. It’s he who says when they’ll be returned, and how many and which to kill before winter makes short their fodder. He’s also responsible for keeping the roofs, sheds and fencing in good repair—and for defence of the isle. Those men who aimed their spears at me for trespass? It was at the direction of their eldliks.
But, heading now to Hegrea’s Isle, I want to know as much as possible before we arrive. Dannyn has said Bisdata, the present aldliks, is kin to the ancestress Bisaplan. So I’m guessing that Hegrea was too. Certainly, that’s the impression I gained last night from Dannyn’s story. So I ask: “You say that Aldliks Sappaken gave Hegrea the land for her isle: How did that happen?”
“Oh,” he groans. “It’s a knot, not easily said.”
“Can you not untangle it?” I smile—though I’m sure he doesn’t need the encouragement. He seems keen to explain everything to me, like it’s important to him that I understand how life is lived at Destination. I confess, I don’t at this time wonder why.
“See,” he says, “mostly it happens before I am here. Another can tell it so much better. Eblan Hegrea was . . . how to say? Extraordinary—and I don’t mean only her beauty. She was inspired—the most inspired eblan ever. Not even Murdan could equal her creations: her bread, her brew, her dances, her songs—her stories! She was thrice-born. It was at her second-birth—on the very same day that Murdan was born—that her name was fixed to the isle. Before, it was known better as Eblan Burnisen’s Inspired Isle. But his isle was small—though so too was Hegrea’s at first. Then she built there an eblan-lodge. And she insisted the next feast of Winter-Ending would be held there, beside it, so they fenced a wide space around it. And later she had the granary, too—though by then she already held the land. It was given by Aldliks Sappaken because Hegrea needed special fields for her special grains. She was the first Alsime to make the Mother’s Bread. And the first Alsime to know the secret of the Father’s Brew. It was that brew inspired Murdan to make his Rings.”
I laugh. “For one who says it’s not easily said, you’ve told me loads.”
We walk on in companionable silence. I don’t know his thoughts, but mine are occupied with splicing the snippets of Hegrea’s story into some kind of logical sequence. I know I’m avoiding the issue: How did this woman acquire proprietorship of an isle constructed to house the workers at Stonehenge?
When Dannyn suddenly stops I almost collide with him. “There!” he declares. “There is Hegrea’s Isle—your Durrington Walls.”
Though seen through a screen of trees, I know it’s the place by the location and the encircling white wall. But . . . I stand shocked-still. I swallow, feeling decidedly ill. Yet I should have known. In his vision last night I’d seen Stonehenge without a stone in it. So what were the chances for Durrington Walls?