That Dannyn refers to Durrington Walls (the seasonal Neolithic town erected to house the workers at Stonehenge) as Hegrea’s Isle, and that Hegrea was a shaman who brought bread-wheat to the indigenous Alsime, has left Julia with a slight sense of disquiet. But that disquiet explodes into shock as she stands on the hill above the isle.
As a kid I was here many times, and I’ve been here many times since. I’ve read every report from the Riverside Project. You could say I’m obsessed by it. I know its every dimension, I know its dates. And I know what I’m looking here at isn’t Durrington Walls as it ought to be. Yet by its fit in the land, its placement against the loop of the river, this place Dannyn calls Hegrea’s Isle is exactly where the Walls ought to be.
The bank and the ditch are already in place—the white rock thrown up around the isle, as Dannyn has said. (And that didn’t alert me? It’s at least 50 years too early. Telling myself the error lies in Fliss’s calibrations.) But even from this distance I can see the isle is impressive. I know from the Riverside and earlier reports that the ditch is cut, almost vertical, to a depth of 18 feet. At its base it measures 22 feet (a JCB can easily drive along it). The radius of the circle, defined by that ditch, is close to 760 feet. (I’ve not found that in any published report; it’s my own calculation.) And as with the more ancient long barrows, the quarried material forms the bank. Laid topsoil to base, white rock to top, that bank climbs to a good 10 feet. It would stand higher but for the exceptionally wide berm—90 feet. Result: the bank’s circumference (the outer ring) is massively longer than the ditch (inner ring). Thus the height of the bank measures a scant half of the depth of the ditch. Yet the base of that bank is disproportionately wide, forming in effect low rolling mound (like a squashed sausage). The radius of the circle, contained by that bank, is close to 890 feet.
Though I measure only by eye, and that from a distance, it seems to me this Hegrea’s Isle and Durrington Walls measure much the same.
Yet the ditch and bank at Durrington Walls only appeared at the end of its useful life. The Stonehenge workers having completed the horseshoe setting of five trilithons and its circle of dressed lintelled sarsens, the seasonal town no longer was needed. In fact, several of its houses are beneath the bank.
Moreover, there ought to be a circle of timber posts, the prototype for Stonehenge—though by the time the ditch was dug and the bank was raised these posts were already decaying. Yet here I see—no, I can’t deny sight of them altogether. Here there’s a roofed circular building instead. Yet that timber circle sat close to the southeast entrance. The roofed building does not. It’s sited more or less central with another, smaller, circular roofed building behind it, offset to northeast.
Could these possibly be the Southern and Northern Circles? But that still leaves the estimated 1000 houses; where are they? Not all were buried beneath the bank. Yet, squint and place my head atilt, stand on tiptoes, twirl around, there is no sign of them. No crumbling walls, no yellowy patches where their plastered floors remain.
And there’s more than that amiss—though I need to get closer to have a good look. Even so, I doubt I’d miss a paved avenue 50 feet wide connecting isle and river. Yet here, all I can see is a tread of a foot-worn track.
I’m thoroughly disappointed, and no little bit puzzled. But no way can this Hegrea’s Isle be equated with Durrington Walls. And it’s not merely a matter of time-frames, as if Fliss’s ‘pods were miss-calibrated, 100 years out. (I wish—how I wish—it could be that!) Anachronistic houses, a stoneless Stonehenge, a ditch and bank but a lack of houses: what’s happening here? If it weren’t for the river, the Plain, the geographical setting, I would wonder if I’m in the same universe. Perhaps Fliss can explain it?
Staring down at Hegrea’s Isle won’t bring any answers. I am here for the duration (3 days), until the ‘pod fetches me back. Besides, Dannyn is waiting to introduce me to the people here at this Alisime isle. Yet, even by Alisime standards it is an odd isle. Where’s the hedge, the wide barred gate, the array of longhouses part-hidden within? Instead, there’s a colossal circular building. With the advantage of height, being stood on the hillside, I can see it’s hollow at the middle. A central courtyard? I’ve seen that construct before, last night in Dannyn’s memory/my dream. It’s an Ulishvregan winter-roof. Again, a quick eye-measurement: I’d say it has a diameter of c.125 feet. That’s some building. How many families live there?
I ask Dannyn. He doesn’t answer straight off, apparently calculating in his head. I expect him to say some enormous number.
“Aldliks Bisdata and her trader Staldan; the old trader Alsvregn and Hegfelanha; Hegfelanha’s brother Staëdan and Sapapla—who happens to be Alsvregn’s sister. Then all their various children, some grown, some gone. I reckon they number fifteen, maybe twenty by now. My,” he laughs, “how their numbers have grown.”
“When did you last visit?”
“Me?” He shrugs. “I set the charms at each summer-ending. But since my mother Luänha left . . . She and Murdan and my sister Jitjana went off in search of Meksuin and Luin. By then Eblan Hegrea had already gone—no one knows where. She wandered away one day, not long after Arith had died. Hegrea’s Isle is much changed, with all of them gone.”
And now I’ve started him into a dirge. But again he brightens.
“Myself, I hadn’t dwelt there since my sister Jitjana went off with Sapapsan to run the granary at His Indwelling.”
His words are like chalk scratching dry on a blackboard. His Indwelling, as I’ve already discovered, is the Alisime name for Marlborough Downs—Ken’s study area, where (according to Ken) the farmers take their grain to what he says is ‘the Big Woman’ who stows it away in a large building he thinks is a granary. Though he’s seen three women there, he says this granary is under ‘the Big Woman’s’ control. He might be convinced of what he’s seen, but I’ve kept quiet, preferring to wait until there’s more evidence. The trouble is, while most popularising writers are happy to label these people as ‘farmers’, they’re not yet making a heavy investment in the growing of grain. That doesn’t happen until late in the Bronze Age. Even then it’s still a small-scale, family affair—as in the fenced fields that I’ve seen. So it follows that, at this period (and through to even the Iron Age) the families each have their own small granary, e.g. a tub raised on legs, or a pit lined with clay. Until now, I’d happily stake a month’s salary on Ken’s ‘large building’ being anything other than a communal granary. A feasting hall, perhaps. Yet here is Dannyn saying of his sister Jitjana who went off to His Indwelling to help run a granary there. Was she one of the three women Ken saw?
I ask Dannyn about the granary, to tell me more.
“Which granary?” He laughs though lightly. “The Alsime now have three. Eblan Hegrea’s granary, here at her isle, was the first—though it was full-against the Alisime ways. Then, after Eblan Murdan killed the Kerdolan and chased away their granary-keepers from His Indwelling, the Kredese came here to ask if Eblan Hegrea would keep their granary as well. Yet, to all surprise, she refused, even though it had been promised to her as a child. Instead, she sent Sapapsan. Sapapsan was . . . how you say it? Adopted? Sapapsan and the sisters Sapsinhea and Bisdata came from Bisaplan’s Isle when their mothers died in quick succession. Eblan Hegrea had no other children than Murdan so . . . ”
I’ve spent less than twenty-four hours in Dannyn’s company yet already I’ve noticed that to ask him even a simple question is to open the floodgates of an entire library of facts. Yet without first my questions he can be cryptically curt.
“The third granary serves the South Alsime,” he says. “They saw how the River Alsime have profited from this first granary and asked Aldliks Bisdata if they might have one too—Aldliks Bisdata is granary-keeper here at Hegrea’s Isle now that Hegrea is gone. Aldliks Bisdata sent her young sister Sapsinhea to the South Alsime, with Mataken to be her granary trader.”
Dannyn’s encyclopaedic answer raises another two questions. When did Eblan Murdan chase away their granary-keepers, i.e. how long ago was it? And what’s this of a granary-trader? Yet I ask neither question.
“So you’re saying the first Alisime granary was here, at Hegrea’s Isle.”
I want to say that, no, it’s not possible. But then, when I think, I can see that it could be so. The workers at Stonehenge would need feeding, and Man doesn’t work on cattle alone. Moreover, there are several as-yet unexplained structures at Durrington Walls. But, no, I know I’m kidding myself. My Durrington Walls and his Hegrea’s Isle are not one and the same, not even if Fliss’s ‘pods distort and warp time. Besides, there’s the evidence of my eyes. Down there, in Hegrea’s Isle, is Hegrea’s granary where Aldliks Bisdata is Hegrea’s successor as granary-keeper.
Dannyn is exceptionally long legged—as I noticed last night as he settled upon his storyteller’s sack. Now he’s set off at such a pace I have to trot to catch up. Though once there I easily keep pace—and I’ve still questions for him. Just ‘cause it’s not Durrington Walls, I still want to know everything of it.
“Did you say there’s a newborn at Hegrea’s Isle?”
I’ve found, with my gypsy-existence, always moving, having to make new friends, that to fuss over a newborn is an easy ‘in’, a way to gain the family’s acceptance. And I doubt I’ll learn much without that.
“Sinya?” He barely perceptibly shrugs, yet it turns his black feathers iridescent and makes the three-legged venison slightly shudder. “Sinya is Aldliks Sapsinhea’s daughter. But she’s at First Landing—just south of Flowriver.”
“Ah. Serving the South Alsime,” I say to show I’ve been listening. “So who’s the youngest here, at Hegrea’s Isle?”
“I had not realised you cluck like a duck. But I warn you now, I shall laugh if you do.” He grins as he turns to look at me. A walking library, prone to excitability, and playful too.
But I admit, I haven’t much experience of children, only through friends.
“Ah, friends,” he says, this time without turning. “An unusual word to be claimed by a woman.”
“Oh, that sounds grim. Are you saying your womenfolk have no friends?”
“Hey,” he objects, “not my womenfolk. I live alone in the Eblan Woodland since . . . well, for a very long while. But why say grim? What need has a woman for friends? She has sisters and cousins and mothers and aunts and . . . But in answer to you of Hegrea’s Isle’s children: the youngest is Buksan, Berghata’s young boy. He now has seven winters-seen. And if I were a proper eblan I now would be buzzing around him, hoping he shows some sign of inspiration. Seven winters, it is often the time.”
And when he’s not plying me with encyclopaedic detail, he gives answers that engender yet further questions . . .
“If you were a proper eblan?” I’ve sort of sussed that an eblan is probably a shaman. It’s his crow-feathered cloak that gives it away. He says he’s explained it, but as yet that’s in my future.
Bur now he denies he is eblan. “I am not, not in the way of Burnisen, and Hegrea, and Murdan. I play at it, like a child with a bow shooting at shadows. For these past seasons since . . . I live in the woodland, I stay there alone, I keep to myself and no one asks of me. Though it is so, one might occasionally seek me to heal them. That I can do—for what is an eblan without that he heals? But I know Murdan would say that is not being a proper eblan. He would say, ‘The mark of an eblan is his inspired creations.’ And so it is. But now there is you, Julia Cannings of the twenty-first century, and as in my youth, when first you came to me, again I’m inspired.”
He fixes me with his periwinkle-blue eyes. I don’t know what to say, though a voice within me says to beware. Periwinkle is one of the few plant-names I know; its Latin name, vinca, means to fetter and bind. He smiles—and that takes my breath away.
“I shall die,” he says, “before you are born.” And he turns abruptly around.
“Who is Berghata?” I call up ahead where he’s set a fierce pace.
Without turning he answers, “Daughter of Staëdan and Sapapla. Sapapla is sister to the old trader Alsvregn.”
“Yea, you’ve said.” Again I show I’ve been listening.
“So, I talk not to birds? Berghata has two older children,” he says. “Daughters. Aplaälda and Apladata. This last feast of Winter-Ending, Bisdata declared Aplaälda a woman.”
“And has she now a young man visiting?”
“What know I?” he says, his feathers iridescent as he shrugs a shoulder. “I have not visited since before the snows.”
My breath catches. I’m almost in panic now we’re so close to the isle. The place looks vast with its high white wall. But, despite the northern entrance lies just a short sprint ahead, we’re angling in obliquely and I can’t see within—except several towering post show above the wall. Six, I count them. Four of these form some kind of setting, with a platform suspended close to its top. Perhaps it’s that which drives into me that people, real people, really do live here. What’s more, Dannyn has spoken so much of them that they’ve become almost as familiar as family to me—and against that a little voice niggles, ringing loudly with the de Plessey’s haughty inflections: This world at Destination is merely a water-and-rock recording, no more real than the fleeting figments of a dream.
I refuse the reminder. Sure, I can be inventive and creative—I’m paid to be—but no way could I ever imagine all this. I can’t explain it, I need more talk with Dave and Ken, but I know that Dannyn is real. The ‘pods’ Destination is real. This isn’t a dream. But it is confusing. It would be less so if Hegrea’s Isle accorded more with what I know of Durrington Walls.
Dannyn retrieves my attention, veering off to the right. Why isn’t he heading straight for the gate? “Where are you going?”
“I am no longer granary-family; we go in by the visitor’s gate. This allows Eldliks Erlunen to greet us. We do it the proper way.”
I follow him round to the southeast entrance—where, if this were Durrington Walls, there’d be a flint-paved avenue 50 feet wide.
The bank beside us ought to resemble a splayed-out mound, at its highest no more than ten feet. But instead it tops-out at about three times my height. And instead of gentle rolling it’s steeply sloped, stability alone being its limiting factor. Close-to now, I see this high intimidating wall isn’t so white as I’d thought, but is spread with a green net—the plants’ first attempt at colonisation.
We follow it round. And round, and round. It seems never to end. If the aim of this place is to impress then it certainly succeeds. Ah, and finally we’re at the entrance, the ‘gate’ as Dannyn calls it. Beside it the land falls steeply down to the river—no flint pavement but, as I’ve already seen, the foot-scuffed track, white against green. That’s no surprise; everything here is wrong—including the gate. Far from being 50 feet wide, it barely scrapes ten.
We walk the 100 feet through the bank to the isle within. There’s a lump in my throat and what feels like a bird in my belly. This is like walking down a very long tunnel, the view ahead severely restricted. Yet I can see the posts, they being incredibly tall—what kind of trees provided these? Dannyn grabs my hand—to steady me, or is it for his own reassurance? I think of the times, i.e. just this morning, when he’s started to say ‘since . . .’ and has left it hanging. Since what? What happened here to send him into the Eblan Freeland, alone? I know it’s to do with his cousin Murdan. It’s so easy to get lost in his story and forget my purpose here.
One hundred feet, the length of the gate; it seems never to stop. Beside us is lost to the cold and dark shadows beneath the steep wall. We keep to the left where it’s sunny. Then, halleluiah, the wall falls away and there is the trench, and there the isle, wide and open with only two buildings—but I’m allowed only a glimpse.