Julia had already guessed what happened between her and the shaman Dannyn at their first meeting, which she’s yet to have. Yet to hear him say it . . .
Episode 23 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi-Fantasy
The warning from Alsvregn comes too late. Whatever he is—shaman, Brictan—he can plant words in my head, can transfer, so it seems, anyone’s memories to me so that I then relive them as if they were real—real to me. What chance have I to refuse him?
I flick a look at him. Is this desire real, is it mine? And what of the need I feel to be close, to be held? It’s not something I’ve felt before, not with anyone else. Is it simply my fear of being here, alone, at Destination? Whatever its cause and origin I don’t want it. It’s too intense. If I ignore it perhaps it’ll go away, like a troublesome wasp. After all, I’m not here to enrich my sex-life. I’m a scholar—says he—here to learn. And I know I’ve said it before but it’s now said in earnest: since Hegrea’s Isle isn’t Durrington Walls I’ve no choice but to change my objective. I’ll learn all I can of the British Neolithic instead. And I’ll start with these anachronistic granaries.
The granaries aren’t native Alisime. Aldliks Hegrea created the first, and she was trained as a granary-keeper by the Kerdolan of Liënershi.
My thoughts chug along:
- The original keepers of the granary at His Indwelling were the Kredese (witness the reference of Murdan ‘chasing’ them away).
- Like Hegrea, those granary-keepers were Kerdolak-trained.
- But who are the Kredese? I’d say, almost without doubt, they’re descendants of the Cotswold-Severn group.
- The Cotswold-Severn group of megalithic tomb-builders were part of the wider Atlantic Seaboard culture.
- Conclusion: The Kerdolan of Liënershi are located some place south on the Atlantic Seaboard.
But why do I say south? Partly it’s the white linen shifts worn by Anachaël’s guard: they conjure up thoughts of the Eastern Med. And where better to find a prototype for the Kerdolak communal granaries than the Eastern Med, the Fertile Crescent, the ‘cradle of civilisation’? But I wouldn’t place Liënershi as distant as that. In this period the cultural exchange between the Med and the Atlantic is microscopic. No, I’d tentatively place it either along the western coast of Iberia. Or in Brittany. Yea, I favour the latter.
But Liënershi’s location is irrelevant to the founding of the Alisime granaries. Though Hegrea was Kerdolak-trained, she had the vital element, the ‘craft’, from some other source. If it had been otherwise, if she’d had it from Kared, the apparent Head of the Kerdolak granaries, then Anachaël could have legitimately claimed Hegrea’s granary.
So whence Hegrea’s ‘craft’? And what is it?
Taking the second question first (it’s easier answered): Hegrea, the only Alsime to have the secret of the Fathers’ Brew—and I’m betting that is alcoholic; and Hegrea, who serves the Mother’s Bread—which doubtless rises like a swelling pregnant belly (while the usual fare is the crisp pitta-tortilla-cross). Her ‘craft’, usually had off the ‘Head of Kared’, was none other than a roll of yeasty dough, a ‘starter’. As with yoghurt, once the starter’s acquired it can be divided and multiplied, ever more. And I’m guessing she had it off Luänha.
Witness: Luänha was trained as a holy woman, a ‘Servant of Brega’. Though no one yet has openly said it, I’ll lay money this Brega is an Ormalish deity. Moreover, she was probably ‘Mother of the Grain’, thus hated by the Ulvregan with their ancestral resentment of all growers of grain. And that, too, explains why Dannyn, as a boy, was shy and withdrawn. Is it a wonder, his devotion to his suddenly-discovered cousin Murdan, even though Murdan was to outshine him. Moreover, I remember what Dannyn said of the reunion between Hegrea and Luänha. He was jealous, fearful that Hegrea would take his mother from him. That’s an intense friendship considering their brief stay together in that Ormalin village. Yet it’s easily explained if they’re sisters in the ‘craft’.
The granary-traders aren’t so easily explained, though these, too, are a Kerdolak feature. Witness: Anachaël asked who was the trader at Hegrea’s Isle. At least their involvement makes the trade less anachronistic.
And this is as far as I get with ordering my thoughts.
“Come on, you young-uns,” Sapapla calls to Eldliks Erlunen’s boys. “Fetch me here the tale-teller’s sack.”
Apparently this is unscheduled. Their father, Eldliks Erlunen, looks askance at her.
“Well, did you not hear Dannyn say it? The English have a problem. And they’ve chosen us to help them solve it. That’s why this Julia Cannings is here—she must learn of our ways. So, what tale have we that’ll answer that? Why, none other than Eblan Murdan’s return, carrying his instructions the Ancients had given him.”
I look at Dannyn. Will he again give me her memories. I’m keen to see this boy-wonder, Murdan.
“I have not the memories,” Dannyn says. “My mother, Hegrea, Murdan, I couldn’t take from them. And the others . . .” He shakes his very blond head. “Bits, just bits.”
I’m disappointed. But it doesn’t last long. I’m not to listen to another story but to be shown it. And the actors will be all the isle’s young generation. Nine in all, they range in age from six-ish to mid-to-late teens. They move into a huddle to discuss what’s to happen.
The two tallest—which includes Aplaälda, the only name I remember—will play ‘the Wall’. The next tallest—Bukeld, Dannyn supplies—plays Murdan, the star of the show. Though quickly done, the troop of actors effectively make ‘wild’ his appearance—dishevelled and grime-encrusted. He’s now alone outside the Wall. The others are within (backs turned).
Bukeld-playing-Murdan stops at the gate. He looks—amazed, puzzled, concerned—at the Wall. His frowning face becomes a picture of woe.
“He weeps,” says Sapapla in the role of narrator, possibly adopted solely for my benefit, the others here all knowing the tale.
Murdan dabs at his eyes, and cautiously creeps through the long narrow tunnel that is the gate. If he’s feeling intimidated, I’m not surprised. I’ve been there; I know its affect.
In case I’ve missed it Sapapla (narrator) supplies it: “Yet it’s by his own making. All the measures he said, Eblan Burnisen and Eldliks Bukfesen has kept them.”
Murdan’s eyes track up. He’s looking to the top of Old Boney’s Tower.
In those days they called it the Sun Tower, says Dannyn. Burnisen’s place, for few others would climb it. He would sit all day on that high platform, surveying the land far around.
But this day no one sits there. Bukeld-playing-Murdan looks disappointed.
Narrator: “Returning from his seven seasons in the wilds, Eblan Murdan wonders if Burnisen still exists in this world.”
Murdan’s eyes track the width of the eblan-lodge—as it was intended when it was first built. He looks beyond it at his mother’s granary. (I guess he’s wondering where everyone is. Miraculously, the waiting actors remain silent, unmoving.)
They’re not sufficiently skilled to show what he was feeling. But I know, for I felt it too when I returned. A conflicting and crossing tangle of feelings; memories tumbling each over the other; voices echoing from a forgotten past. Here were all things that should be familiar, yet he wants to return to the Wilds.
“As did you?” I part-ask, part-say.
Not fully at once. I lived here for a while, and longer still at His Indwelling.
Murdan scans the isle. Where is his family, where his kin? Will none come to greet him?
The youngest of the actors squeezes his body between the others as if emerging from the ‘roof’s hidden door. Though played by a boy, Sapapla, narrator, says it’s Berghata, and that when Murdan set out for the Wilds Berghata wasn’t yet in her mother’s belly. The lad does a convincing act of a terrified child, turning heel and fleeing.
From behind the wall of actors’ back we hear a woman shouting. Dannyn omits the translation, though he does supply the child’s reply. “There’s a beast-man in our isle!”
“Where are the men?” the narrator asks. “Eldliks Bukfesen has taken them this day to move the animals—Arith, Staëdan and Alsvregn; Erlunen, too, is helping though he’s young.”
She needs say no more. I get the picture. The women and children are alone at the isle.
There is whispering and jostling behind the human-made wall. Who’s to be the brave one? Who’ll go out there and see what’s so frightened their little Berghata?
It’s Hegrea’s isle, she’s the aldliks, let it be her. Yet two actors emerge.
Bajapa, and Hamfala, Bisdata’s two daughters, being Hegrea and my mother Luänha, says Dannyn.
“That’s aptly cast,” I say, quietly.
Hegrea leads, Luänha follows. And as soon as Hegrea sees her son she bursts into tears. I interpret that as relief at his return, but I’m wrong.
Hegrea is distraught at the shameful sight of him. Though it was forbidden, I’d seen him in the Wild, so I know how he looked. His gleaming white curls uncombed for seven years, and no hat worn. Grown long. Tangled. Matted. Full of bits of leaf and twig. And, for whatever his reasons, he’d stuck in feathers of every kind. A disgrace for any Alisime man. And his skin was no better, not touched by water in all those years. As to his clothes . . . they were not clothes. His mother always said of him that he shied from use of needle and awl. Rather he’d wear his shirt too tight than make a new one. Now, alone in the Wilds, he’d forsaken sewing; he had pieced together small furs off the fox and marten and their like and tied them together, no stitch in sight. And of course the skins all stank. A beast-man, Berghata said of him; a beast-man indeed.
Bajapa-playing-Hegrea peers hard at the returning Murdan. She says, “By the hair on your head, I see it is you, my Murdan, if by no other means.”
I’ve a feeling those were the actual words.
In return, Murdan says, “Is this the only greeting I have after so long away?”
Bajapa-playing-Hegrea makes a thing of hesitating, not wanting to hug lest she caught something from him.
But it was more than that, Dannyn says. Murdan now is an eblan-true, an equal in power to his mother. She fears that that will change their . . . how you say it? Hierarchy?
“I think ‘relationship’ covers it better,” I laugh as I answer—which earns me several Alisime hisses.
Whatever the fears, and whatever the facts, Murdan and Hegrea finally hug. The actor-formed wall breaks apart. Everyone rushes to hug and slap Murdan. The returning eblan is duly welcomed home.
But then Murdan pulls away. He stands apart. Again he looks up at the tower. “Is Eblan Head Man Burnisen still in this world? Does he still lodge with you? For I have much to discuss with him.”
Hegrea nods and answers, “He is old-grown and feeble and prepares now to leave for the spirit world. Yet he is still with us.”
Again, the acted words have the peel of veracity. I am impressed.
“And what of Dannyn?” Murdan asks. “My talk must include him too.”
There’s no narration, there is no need. All but one of troop shake their heads. Hamfala, the girl playing Luänha, weeps.
It was difficult for my mother that day. To greet Eblan Murdan and yet know nothing of me.
I can imagine it was. He slips his hand around mine. I let it remain.
Erlunen’s sons separate out, to await the narrator’s cue: “The men return to the isle.”
Erlunen’s sons , playing Arith, Bukfesen and Alsvregn, return. Another boy, the youngest there, hurries after them. I suppose he’s Erlunen, not yet the eldliks, not yet grown.
They do no justice to Arith, Dannyn says. By then he’d grown old, and it all so soon, while we were away. White haired and wrinkled, though still some strength left to him. But he slept—how he did sleep! So it was best to have a new trader. That’s when Alsvregn took his place. The visiting traders already knew him.
I want to know more but there’s no stopping the play.
“With all the commotion,” the narrator narrates, “Burnisen awakes.”
Burnisen, bent double and hobbling, says nothing. He simply looks at Murdan and nods. One of the women offers a share of the brew she’s prepared, but he refuses it.
“Tell me when the other returns,” he says, and with weary steps takes himself back to his bed.
Clearly this isn’t what Murdan wants. Bukeld playing him does a good job of portraying his rage.
And ever it was with Murdan. But as I hear it, it wasn’t so on this day. He sighed, yes. But he then turned to greet all the young ones of the isle. He especially fussed over my sister Jitjana, and so smoothed the moment.
The small troop of actors act out the ensuing feast. But Sapapla’s not happy with that; she adds narration. “Though Eblan Dannyn has yet to return, this night we feast for Murdan. All are happy. Only Luänha is sad, afraid for her son.”
I have to strain to hear her words—which is an odd situation since Dannyn is translating them direct into my head. Yet the noise of the actors is such as they sing and laugh and clap and generally make loads of din—one of them drums. All of which disturbs the aged Burnisen. Though he’s not seen by the others, he creeps to the door and stands there to watch.
“Now Murdan tells of his stay in the Wilds,” says the narrator. “And especially what happened the summer before his return.”
I look at Dannyn. I hope whatever happened didn’t involve me. But Dannyn’s not letting on.
Until now the narrator’s lines have been few, the actors able to effectively ‘show’. But now the action moves to the Wilds which, as Dannyn has been at pains to tell me, is an exclusive eblann reserve. Thus these actors never have been there and, though they might have been told, the land is beyond their imagination.
It is not they lack imagination. It is forbidden to see.
And so Sapapla narrates it. “In the Wilds there is a hill, tallest of all the others. Bear Hill. And upon Bear Hill there is a place—I am not eblan, I know no more of it, though Eblan Dannyn might say. Occasionally, at this place upon Bear Hill, the Ancients might speak to the eblann. There it was that the Ancients spoke to Eblan Murdan his last summer-half in the Wilds. They more than spoke to him—they guided him.”
Apparently they guided him out of the Wilds—handy that, for now the actors again can act. Aplaälda, now playing the Ancients’ Spirit, leads Eblan Murdan first north, and then westward.
“Here Eblan Murdan arrives at the west bounds of North Alsime land,” the narrator narrates. “Here our Alsime-land abuts the Krediche Ani Cobi—though first there is marshes.”
Marsh there might be, yet Murdan finds there a shelter—constructed of the arms and legs of actors.
“Here you must stay,” says Aplaälda-playing-the-Spirit. “Here you must watch the marsh.”
I look at Murdan. “Why?” But he shushes me.
“A few days pass,” the narrator says.
Now along come some men in a boat. It’s shown to be a long-boat, unlike the round Alisime river-craft. As Sapapla explains, these men are Kerdolak mariners.
“Mariners?” I query. “But we’re talking of marshes and . . .” I quickly visualise the map “. . . the western Avon. They’re far from the sea.”
Yet Dannyn insists that they are indeed mariners.
These (misplaced) mariners lay-up their boat in the shelter quickly vacated by Murdan, and climb the ridge.
Again I’m visualising the map. They’re heading to Avebury, or at least to the Marlborough Downs.
They go to the granary at His Indwelling, using for a short reach First Water, says Dannyn.
Of course, I ought to have realised that. Kerdolak mariners, they’ll be going to the Krediche granary. But why?
By the puzzled look on Murdan’s face, he too is wondering that. He follows at a distance. He hides. He watches. He sees the mariners return laden with sacks.
“These sacks,” says the narrator, “are heavy with grain.”
They also carry furs rolled tight. All these they stow in their long-boat and make their way back to ‘West River’.
“There’s a Kerdolak trading-hold along that river, close to its gate,” says Alsvregn in an unscheduled aside. “The Kerdolan call it Cobi Go.”
The Kerdolan exits stage left. The scene returns to Hegrea’s Isle. The actors act out gasps of horror and surprise—except for Hegrea who smiles.
“Have I not told you?” says Bajapa-playing-Hegrea. “This is the Kerdolak way. Late every summer-half they come from Liënershi to collect grain from the granary-keeper.”
And that was the start of the trouble between them, mother and son, Dannyn says, though I don’t immediately understand him. Everyone there could see, that day, that Murdan weren’t pleased at her words. They could see him grow angry. Why hasn’t she told him of the Kerdolak, that they travel through Alisime lands to reach the granary? But, used to Murdan’s little furies, she remained unruffled. She told him, they could as easily use the Water of Waters, it only would take them longer.
None of this is shown by the actors. And I’m not sure what its significance. Yet Dannyn is insistent he tells me.
“I cannot show you,” he says, for once speaking out loud. “I wasn’t there.” It will disturb memories best forgotten to take from their heads. But, I tell you, the shouting, his anger—it had the younger children blubbing—Murdan was snorting fire like he was a bull. This wasn’t what they expected from a returning eblan. It all was to do with her child-days, and where she was taken before they took her to Liënershi. And she kept saying, but she was a child, ten winters-seen, what did she know of it. But it made no difference. She had known all these years that the Kerdolan trespass on Alisime land to reach the granary at His Indwelling.
“That’s how they brought the stones for Kara’s Cave!” I say—and suddenly I’m there. And we’re not outside as I’d thought, but in the inner, central courtyard. I’m at my chamber’s door, leaning for support upon the doorpost.
Silence, stunned, greets my words. Then Murdan greets me. “Burnisen! Welcome to my feast.”
I snort, not happy with the boy—for to me, that’s what he is.
“What’s Kara’s Cave?” Hegfelanha asks. I’m surprised she doesn’t know: she’s Alisime, not Ulishvregan.
“It’s a cave,” Hegrea quickly says, like me, wanting to disperse the anger. “It’s an entrance to the Land of Nod—Nod the Moon who is eldliks over all the seas. It’s to his land that the old and the ruined go to be made anew. But it’s a belly, too. It’s where the Kredese put their dead, once their bones are clean. But, too, it’s a ‘roof, though the Kredese don’t call it that. Yet the Mother Hare indwells there. Then again it’s a boat, an Ancestral Long Boat, just like ours here; it carries the sun on her winter journey.”
I nod. I don’t censure her for her excited telling. But that boy of hers, Murdan . . . the fury still is upon him.
Hegfelanha valiantly tries to cut the tension. She asks, “Why don’t they burn their bones and spread the ashes across the fields as we do?”
Hegrea opens her mouth to answer. But Alsvregn interrupts her. “Why bring stones to build this cave, or boat or ‘roof, whatever it is, when there are stones aplenty at His Indwelling?”
“They weren’t the stones of their ancestors,” Hegrea answers him.
“It’s not that,” I say—or rather, says Burnisen, his voice a croak. “It’s the North Alsime won’t allow them those stones.”
And now I’m this far, I pad my way across the courtyard to sit at the main fire in the place the Ulvregan here call ‘Dreld’s place’.
“There’s a story,” I say. “The North Alsime tell it. It concerns those stones.” I’m pleased that my voice is strengthening while I am talking. I might yet be able to tell the tale. It’ll keep that Murdan from murdering his mother. “It happened in the days of the First Ancestors, when the Krediche families hadn’t long been in our land.”
I glare at Dannyn. I want to hear the story, blast him, but he chooses that moment to cut the memory. Doesn’t he know it’s important to me. It doesn’t take much to figure the stones, brought via West Avon, are the same bluestones that are used at Stonehenge. Except here, anachronistically, they weren’t set in a circle until Eblan Murdan did it some time within the last twenty-five years.
I’ll tell it to you another time, says Dannyn. There’s a story progressing. And they tell it for you.
So they might, but all that’s left is the decision to await Dannyn’s return before they (the eblann Murdan and Dannyn) attack the Kerdolan who come for the grain. And, overall, I don’t see as Sapapla’s acted-out story has told me much at all.
I’m disappointed. And frustrated. To what kind of a mish-mashed, turned-around, upside-down place has the time-pod sent me? And what am I to tell Fliss upon my return?
But that return isn’t due for another day and a bit. And now Hegrea’s kin—I suppose that’s what I’m to call them—are drifting away, leaving Dannyn and me alone. I’m not happy with that, not now I know what’s to happen on that previous meeting, the one I’ve yet to have. For Christ’s sake, he announced it to everyone!
He turns to look at me and . . . I’m confused. Is it sexual? Is it something deeper? If I’d only had more of a love life (sex aplenty, but nothing emotionally involved) I might be able to handle this better. I might understand it. And what’s the point of it anyway. We live four and half thousand years apart, that’s one hell of a long-distance relationship.
He offers his hand. I wish that he wouldn’t, and I can’t refuse. He pulls me in closer. I fight to dam the panic, for I know what’s to come. His soft-soft ‘tache and his beard, his eyes of twinkling vinca-blue, his lips soft and yet not . . . and damn, and blast, I fear I might explode with the given pleasure.
“And you can stop that!” Aldliks Bisdata comes to my rescue, bless her. “Your Eblan Mistress Inspiration mayn’t mind that you’re bedding this woman, but I do. So there’ll be none of that within these walls. Which means, unless you’re here to lay new charms along that trench, Eblan Head Man, you and your ‘guest’ had best be gone.”
Dannyn laughs as she struts away. “Come. I’ll take you to meet Aldliks Priäplan at Bisaplan’s Isle. Then afterwards we can go see your Stonehenge.”
My Stonehenge? No, I don’t think so. Before I’ve yet seen it, I know it won’t be our Stonehenge.