Julia has seen what ought to have been Stonehenge but, like Durrington Walls, it is wrong. She knows the answer waits deep within her but she’s afraid to reach down. Instead, she tells herself, she’ll just plough on. Everything will resolve . . . in the end.
Episode 25 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi-Fantasy
Dannyn directs me away from the henge, with its ‘broken’ anachronistic bluestone circles, another of Murdan’s ‘Inspired Creations’.
“It was to celebrate his triumph over the Kerdolan,” Dannyn says as in disgust I show it my back. “Kerdolak stones in a broken circle, to show he’d broken their power.”
“Mmm,” I grunt. I’ve heard the explanation before. But something other is troubling me. (A deliberate aversion of the real problem?) “How old was Murdan when he dictated the rings around Hegrea’s Isle?”
“Not ‘dictate’,” Dannyn says, curt at my tone. “He had a dream—but it’s not as Alsvregn said, that he desired to protect his mother. That’s not the way of the eblann. First appears the inspiration to torment and bedevil—a driving need to create whatever it is that must be made. There is no escaping it. It is not done on a whim. You understand this? And it’s only after the creation has been fully expressed that purpose and meaning is found. When Eblan Murdan returned from the Wilds and saw . . . he was bemused of what he’d created. The Mistress asked it of him, is all.”
“So how old was he,” I persist “—when he had this dream?”
Dannyn gives one of his shoulder-lift shrugs. “Three winters, I suppose it was, after I came here with the Ulvregan.”
“And he had how many winters-seen?”
“Nine,” Dannyn says, with a look cast at me.
He needs no explanation from me to know what I’m thinking. Shaman, or semi-divine Brictan, he knows all my thoughts. So he knows I want to laugh. Yet instead of laughing my jaw muscles ‘give’ and it drops. All that work, over all those years, on the say of a nine year old boy? A boy, moreover, tanked up on some kind of adults-only brew. I grunt. Let Dannyn decide the meaning of that.
“Now you see the shadow he casts,” he says. “And how I was lost in it.”
Yea, I’m beginning to understand it. I nod.
We pass, on a rise to our right, the overgrown bank of another henge. The map of Salisbury Plain forms in my head.
“Coneybury,” I say, inordinately pleased that something here sits where it should.
“Our New Isle of the Dead,” Dannyn corrects though I hear the grin in his voice. “The inspired creation of Eblan Staëldan—Old Boney’s eblan-guide. But it’s not used now—though it was when first I arrived. A grim place it was then, with the dead laid out on high beds.”
“Laid out to be excarnated?” I ask, though I know it is so. Archaeologists have long been convinced that, at least through to the Late Neolithic, a two-stage burial was practiced here. It’s just there’s not been the evidence of which process was used: burial followed by disinterment for entombment, or ‘sky’ burial, as here, with the body exposed to elements and birds.
“Ex-carn . . .?” Dannyn struggles with the word I’ve used. “Ah, for the flesh to be stripped. But these isles aren’t just for one body. No, here the breadth of the isle, like one high board. And, da! The noise whenever a fresh one was split. The birds—the sky black with them.” Then to my surprise he chuckles. “But it was happy hunting for black crow feathers—and no, that’s not where mine were found. But Eblan Burnisen’s, his . . .“ He stops, seeming to drift, maybe remembering his old eblan-master.
“So, um, if this is the ‘new’ isle, and Stonehenge is the ‘old’ . . . I take it, it had the same use?” But of course, I’ve known for ages its close association with the dead. But I’d thought it cremations mostly.
“You saw it,” Dannyn says. “I showed you—the bones? But it had not been used for . . .” He shrugs and airily waves his hand which I take to mean ‘a very long time’. Yet it couldn’t have been more than a hundred years: Staëldan was Burnisen’s eblan-guide, and Burnisen was Dannyn’s . . .
“Here,” Dannyn says and directs me to a turn-off of the path which takes us east-and-northward while keeping us south of the trees.
Here I see Bisaplan’s fenced fields. Everywhere, too many to count. Yet nowhere does one join to another. Does each woman have her own fields? I notice too the fences: their varying states of weathering suggest new fields are cut rather than to use any crop rotation. And between the fields—I have to grin, for here’s where the Alisime find their ‘small-foods’. Not weed-grown baulks as first I thought but (I’d lay money on it) here are their vegetable gardens.
“There . . .” Dannyn nods up ahead. “Bisaplan’s Isle.”
And I’d thought it another small copse. I should have known, hedge-enclosed like the Alisime settlements I’ve already seen in the valley. This hedge grows tall—except for one small stretch. Through it and over it I just can see roofs. Pointless to count them. This time I have the invite in.
But, no! I suddenly remember, we’ve not brought a gift. Will the eldliks allow us in without it?
Dannyn laughs—when does he not. “But we have brought it—or, correctly, you have.”
I have? So what’s he thinking? My map, perhaps? Or some of my food? I can imagine the eldliks going a bundle on muesli bars. But no. Dannyn unwraps his arm from me (I’ve grown more used to it now; its presence seems slightly less overpowering). From a pouch at his belt he pulls forth a stone and sets it in his outstretched palm for me to see.
“Lapis lazuli?” Impossible! Yet that’s what it is: the depth of blue, the flecks of gold; no plastics here to fake it. “Where . . .?”
“Julia Cannings, my English companion, she brought it from far away to the East. Is this not so?” He winks and grins at me.
“Well you have the right place, from the East. But how’d you acquire it?”
“My father—Jarmel I mean, not Bukfesen. He says to give it to the woman I choose. He didn’t know then I was to be eblan. I give it to you.”
It isn’t small—perhaps bantam egg size. It’s been shaped and polished smooth, an egg of the earth. He folds it into my hand. I try to refuse it.
“No, Dannyn. So you give it to me, but I give it to the eldliks. It’ll be lost to us both. Let him have a different gift from us.” I’m still thinking of high-sugared food.
But Dannyn chuckles. “No, no, no. Eldliks Arskraken returns it to you, you’ll see. Once he has seen it and held it, and explored it. He’ll know it’s too much for him to keep. He’ll return it, I promise.” He folds his bigger and stronger hand around mine. “It is yours. I give it.”
I don’t like it. I can see him getting more amorous, more possessive. I’m not used to it, No, while I like the stone, I don’t like this.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “Four thousand years stand as a chasm between us. But, Julia Cannings, I see you, I touch you, you are here. Tomorrow . . .” He gives another of his high shouldered-shrugs.
The path delivers us to the gate—if I can draw my eyes there. I mean, where’s my phone, why haven’t I brought it? I need it, I need its camera. Just look. This is . . . divine. The dog-rose, the honeysuckle, the brambles—the hedge is majorly entwined with them. There are flowers too, though what are their names. And the elders and thorns are just smothered in blossoms and . . . I realise most of these plants in their season will bear some kind of edible berry or seed. And the smell, that’s something no camera can capture. But, back to the gate . . .
It’s wide, as wide as you’d see on stockyard. Beside is another gate, smaller. It’s what I know as a ‘kissing gate’ though I’m sure there’s another name for it. I don’t need Dannyn to explain its use. While allowing general foot-traffic, it keeps both the inquisitive toddler in and the four-footed predator out—providing the big gate is shut. Both gates are formed from hurdles strung upon wood frames.
I’m here. I’m about to enter an Alisime isle. My head hardly can contain my grin. Okay, so it oughtn’t to be here, at Destination, but . . . wow! And Ken’s gonna be so jealous. I count the roofs. Four long roofs, and two smaller ones. How many people live here? But I can see no sign of life.
“It’s summer-half,” Dannyn says. “The women are away, with their children and men, away in the valleys to graze their goats.” He nods vaguely southward. “We won’t see them till time to harvest. The younger men, too, they’re away—visiting women. So here is only the old folk for company. Not so lively –” he shows me a tease-type frown “– but plenty of tales. You can use your talking-tape now.”
I swivel to look at him. He grins.
“You showed me, before. You should have used it before, at Hegrea’s Isle.”
I open my mouth but . . . nothing. I try again. “I never thought. I brought it with me to record my thoughts, my impressions, lest I forget them when the ‘pod grabs me. Besides, you give me their memories; nothing is said.”
At that his mouth twitches with a hint of a smile. How foolish of me! Of course something is said. They tell their stories, they speak to him, he merely translates it into my head.
“But won’t they ask? I mean, it’s way beyond the familiar for them.”
“For me too,” he says. “But they need not see. I lay a veil.”
I take it he means to work some kind of magic but I’ve no chance to ask. Eldliks Arskraken pounds out to meet us, a beefy dark-haired man. His lightly-spangled beard marks him as perhaps early forties. His dark eyes nestle in a maze of lines. I notice he has two missing teeth, though not immediately visible. He reels through the visiting formula. As with Eldliks Erlunen, he notes the ‘stranger’ beside Eblan Dannyn.
“But—” he holds up his hand “—I know who she is. Word flies to us from our daughter’s isle. She is the woman you met in the Wilds. Has she returned to you; is she to stay?”
I look at Dannyn. What will he say? His arm again is around my waist; he pulls me in close. But no matter his answer, he must know I can’t stay beyond the next day. For that, with the way he’s behaving, I think I am grateful.