Julia finally knows the truth of Murdan. Though she had suspected it, she now is convinced: Dannyn’s cousin, the white-crested shaman, is a psychopath, fixed on killing any—ANY—who trespass, including his own mother. So is it a wonder that, after hearing Priäplan and Dannyn talk of the matricide, she’s unable to sleep.
Episode 30 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
It’s not the bed. It’s remarkably soft, its base filled with last season’s bracken—but what of the bugs imported with it? The bracken then is topped with a feather-stuffed mattress, its cover probably nettle-cloth. But whoever stuffed it didn’t restrict the feathers to ‘soft down’ only. Quills protrude and, despite the thick Alisime rug that in turn tops the mattress, they painfully jab my flesh whenever I’m still for a minute or more. But I can’t complain of the cold. I’m toasty-warm, covered over with a real fur throw.
Thanks to the movie-biz, we’ve this idea that before weaving no one knew how to sew, that furs were left in their stripped-off-the-beast state. Yet one of the earliest artefacts found, beyond the ubiquitous hand-held all-purpose cutting-tool generally labelled ‘an axe’, is the eyed sewing needle. Thirty-five thousand years ago women were shaping comfortable garments from animal skins. Yet Caesar, in his propaganda campaign, had his Britons garbed in nothing but ‘woad and furs’, and that image has stuck. But this pieced-together fur cover could easily grace any millionaire’s bed—though there’d be Animal Rights’ activists breaking down the door.
No, it’s not the bed. It’s that I daren’t close my eyes for more than five minutes because of two fears. Fear 1: fire. Okay, so Priäplan’s hearth is smouldering safely within its high stone kerb. But this entire ‘roof and everything in it is of highly inflammable fabrics. Yea, I know Dannyn has said that the slow rising billows of wood-smoke help to keep the roof bug-free, but that’s the cause of Fear 2: of waking up crunching the chitinous skin of a bug. Okay, so I sleep on my side. Yet I know that at some point in the night I tend to turn onto my back. I probably open my mouth, as well. I probably snore (though how would I know when living alone?). So I can easily imagine the bugs in the thatch, stunned by the smoke, free-falling in the night . . . and landing smack in my wide-open mouth. Yuk. The thought of it gives me the creeps and keeps me awake. And being awake, I’ve ample time to mull on Murdan.
When I first heard of him killing his mother, and her subsequent revival, I thought, yea, sure, he probably bashed her across the head. Stunned. Unconscious. Yet revivable, not dead. Though saying that she died and was revived makes for a far better story.
There’s plenty of archaeological evidence for head injuries in the Neolithic, many of them fatal, and they can’t all have been accidents. Hence Neolithic society is no longer considered as egalitarian and irenic. Though that view only changed these past two decades. And as far as I’m concerned, Arskraken and Priäplan, with their stories, have driven the final nail into that theory. The truth is more brutal.
Everything I’ve heard about Murdan adds to one thing. He’s psychotic. Obsessed with trespasses. Obsessed with the Kerdolan. Even killing his own mother because of an earlier association—when she was a child! He’s also an egotistical mega-maniac—though I suppose they add to the same thing. At nine years old he moved an entire population to dig a trench eighteen feet deep, twenty-two feet wide at the bottom, forty-two feet at the top, with a radius of 762 feet, enclosing an area of forty-two acres—and just because he had a dream? Or because he was terrified of the Lower Realm demons? Dannyn might deny Murdan’s conscious intent at the works’ inception, yet even he mentioned the low-demons tormenting Murdan while he hung upside down in his own trench.
Did Murdan fear demon-possession, was that it? At one time demon-possession was a serious and frightening belief, all through the world. It’s not that long ago that we shrugged it off. And hid he, perhaps, associate those demons with the Kerdolan?
Maybe that’s the real reason I can’t sleep: I know I have to enter the Eblan Freeland during the years when he was prowling it, obsessed with trespassers and only too keen to kill. But how else do I arrive at Dannyn’s winter-roof—which I obviously do. For him it’s already happened.
But he doesn’t know, or hasn’t said, what might have happened before I arrived there, entered, and lit all his lamps. Did I need that light? Was I terrified to be there alone in the dark? Did I need to hide inside the ‘roof, and not wait outside for Dannyn’s return? What if Murdan had caught me? If he had tortured me? Raped me? Before I even arrived, while I was trespassing in their precious Freeland?
Now in a sweat, I again turn over—and again a quill digs into my leg.
For distraction I turn my thoughts to Hegrea, instead. How did a Krediche-born, Kerdolak-trained granary-keeper become an Alisime eblan-apprentice? Sure, Burnisen was in desperate need and eagerly took what was offered. But how did they meet; what brought her to him?
As I figure it, Burnisen was the head honcho for the eblann of the Highlands of the Sun, i.e. Salisbury Plain plus the land for some distance around. So it wasn’t that he was the eblan serving her family—who, I gather, lived at His Indwelling (hence she’d been promised the granary there). And besides which, her family was Krediche and probably wouldn’t resort to an Alisime eblan anyway. (They probably lived in one of those clustered houses that Ken saw on Marlborough Downs: southern copies of the Orkney houses, like those that the Riverside Project unearthed at Durrington Walls, except there the walls were wattle and daub.)
From this Krediche family, in their northern-styled house, she was taken, as a child of ten winters-seen, to Liënershi—which is clearly where the mother of the Krediche granaries sits, the HQ training the new keepers, receiving surplus grain, and possibly also trade goods. By raking in the excess from its many dependant granaries, it can afford to trade with the Near and Middle East (witness the white linen shifts Anachaël’s bodyguard wore).
Now I’m thinking, I realise no one’s yet said how Hegrea got from Liënershi to the smith-camp high in the Carpathians, where the nasty Luin raped her (apart from Dannyn’s brief mention of being ‘abandoned in very far place’ and ‘Arith entrusted her into the care of the Saëntoish traders’).
Arith: I wonder what’s his story. How did he and Hegrea meet? And where? And why give her over to the Saëntoish traders to return her to Britain—aka Albinnis? Why didn’t he return her himself? He obviously wanted to be with her. Or at least, he later sought her out. Instead, after she’d fled the smith-camp under a rain of stones, he took her to be healed by Luin’s own sister, Luänha. That seems illogical. And once healed, what did he do? He entrusted her again to those same two traders who’d already messed it. None of it makes any sense. He cared for her, so why entrust her to the traders? But, pooh, it’s irrelevant.
So, Hegrea arrives home, pregnant. But why go to His Indwelling, instead of Liënershi? Surely she had to go to HQ to be given the final grant of the granary? Unless the Krediche granaries had the same rule as the Ormalish Servants of Brega: ‘the holy women did not open their wombs’. So already she knew she’d be denied her granary because of the child she’s carrying, fathered by Luänha’s nasty brother. Hence Hegrea seeks out the Alisime eblan.
Yet with what motives—what hopes? Was she seeking a termination? Or maybe she’d already conceived of establishing an Alisime granary? Was her intent to copy the Head of Kared (whoever/whatever that is), and establish a vast network of trading granaries? She’d already three up and running by the time she left the Highlands. Did she see her acceptance as Burnisen’s apprentice as the first step in achieving her plans? Though Priäplan hasn’t said it in so many words, yet it seems likely that as Burnisen’s apprentice she must also be of Bisaplan’s family. So Hegrea tricks him into taking her as his apprentice, knowing that she then must be adopted into his family—witness the story of her second-birth (which was actually her third), to Aldliks Sappaken. She then is given land for her isle. But that doesn’t seem a normal procedure; how did that happen? I ponder more on it.
Hegrea was the first Alsime to make ‘Mother’s Bread’. I’d stake money on that being a leavened loaf. Not only does it rise in baking like a pregnant woman’s belly, but during the proving and kneading process there comes a stage where, according to my mother, the dough resembles the flaccid belly of a newly-delivered mum. Mother’s Bread. But Mother’s Bread requires more than the yeast: it needs the gluten found in bread wheat. Without it, it’s biscuits. So Hegrea brings with her, from the Carpathians, along with the starter dough, at least that one variety of wheat. And I know that strain of wheat didn’t arrive in Western Europe, in Britain, until late in the Neolithic, or maybe as late as the Bronze Age.
I saw her arrive, courtesy of Priäplan’s memories and Dannyn’s trickery. Despite a backpack expertly crafted, I could see it was throwing her off-balance. It clearly was heavy. Yet it wasn’t that big; it couldn’t have contained any great quantity of grain. She’d have to increase her stock with an annual sow and reap. It would be slow. And for that she’d need more than patience, she’d need land. Sappaken gave it, cutting off part of Bisaplan’s Land. But it was another six years before they built her ‘Roof. And yet several more years before she had her granary. And what had Sapapla asked on seeing it? Why did she need it so big. I’d say it’s because she was planning ahead. It wouldn’t surprise me if Luänha was in on it, too. Perhaps they’d laid plans back there in the Ormalish village, while Luänha was healing her. Maybe they’d intended to travel together, with Jarmel and Linl. But then Luin’s half-brothers hauled him out of his pit and brought him in for healing, messing their plans. It’s possible, isn’t it.
Luänha and Luin, and Hegrea and Arith, all were Brictan. What exactly does that mean—apart from being swift-healers? Oh, and didn’t Dannyn say something of longevity?
I intend to ponder on this—except, it seems, sleep finally finds me.
Hegrea’s Isle isn’t Durrington Walls. The Old Isle of the Dead isn’t Stonehenge. Yet there are stones: two half-circles of bluestones. I look at them, glum with despair. What am I to tell Fliss? Not the truth; I can’t see that going down well. And there are implications here, though my head refuses them. I’ll tell Ken. Ken will grasp it, he’ll understand. Ken has experience of Destination. But Fliss? No, I can’t tell Fliss.
So what am I to tell her? I can’t even report of the settlements. She’ll say there’s nothing but postholes, at most, to find. And she’s right. Though I could argue of middens. Yet it remains that those in the valley are now lost to silt and modern developments, while Bisaplan’s Isle will be all ploughed out. Even Dannyn’s winter-roof, if it leaves a trace, will be classified as just another small henge, and ignored. But Stonehenge and Durrington Walls . . .
“This isn’t what you hoped to see,” Dannyn says. It’s not a question.
And what can I say? Hells! Even the Station Stones, erected by Hegrea as her Calendar, now are lacking. No Heel Stone. No Avenue. There’s a foot-worn track running beside the Path of the Sun. The eblann have kept the grooves free of growth. They’re exposed, displayed. Dannyn tells me I’m not to stand on them. They’re sacred, supposedly made by the Ancients. I can’t tell him the truth of it.
“They made the Send-Off Boat, too,” he says, directing my attention northward, to what I knew as Stonehenge Cursus. It must be a thousand years old or more yet its banks stand as high and as white as those around Hegrea’s Isle.
“The Send-Off Boat?” I repeat.
“The Ancestral Long Boat. I did say I’d show you. It’s where the Alsime held their feasts of Summer-Ending till I changed how they treat their dead. Though still they call it Send-Off Feast. And so the—”
“The Send-Off Boat?” I interrupt. Then, “Yea, I get it.”
“You’re disappointed. This isn’t what you expected, it’s not your Stonehenge, that wasn’t your Durrington Walls. For twenty-six years I’ve known it. You are not from my world. You’re not from our future.”
I shiver. I feel tears insistently forming. I want to close my ears. Instead I pull at my lip. I pinch it, hard. I make it hurt. Distraction. But it’s not working. I turn around, several times. I clasp my hands. I squeeze them, bone-crunchingly hard.
“My head won’t . . .” I say. “I can’t . . . It’s . . . pure crazy!”
Dannyn offers a cute little laugh. “To me it is not. There is more than one world. There are many. I am eblan, I know this. Though it disturbed my head, too, when first you came here. Come. I take you away from this.”
“To where?” I’m vicious with disappointment. Though, truth, it’s not that I’ve only now realised it. It’s just I’ve been pushing it away, refusing to see it. And over and over, the same damned chorus: What will I tell Fliss? That’s the thing. This thing of the worlds excites me. Though even that I’ve not yet grasped. But . . . Fliss. I can’t shatter her dream—my excuse, laced with self-interest. Because if I tell her the truth she won’t allow me back here again. And I have to return. I do return; Dannyn can vouch for it. The answer is simple: I just don’t tell her.
Dannyn asks for my map. I pass him a clean copy (I have five). He wraps his arm around my shoulder on the excuse of drawing me close so we both can see where he’s pointing.
“Here,” he squiggles his finger on the paper, over an area mostly devoid of archaeological interest. “I see this before. On your map there are no signs for Boat Humps. No Ancestral Long Boats. Not even an island. This means your twenty-first century English people know nothing of what is really here in my world. I am right?”
I agree. “No known remains.”
“So you tell your Fliss something big is here, and she will be happy. That is the purpose of her project?”
I laugh. “I’ll say. As long as either it’s stone, or big posts with deep roots.”
“What is here is—what did you call it? Neolithic: stone-built? What is here is stone-built, and vast. But also it is most sacred. It’s here, see, on Bear Hill—where only eblann may go. I ought not to take you. I ought not to show you. There are none but eblann know of it. But this I shall show you. Then you shall take word back to your Fliss. And your Fliss shall return you to me. So simple, yea?”
I open my mouth . . . but there are no words. What is it he has to show me? Stone-built, vast, and sacred? My breath comes short; I chew on my thumb. I hope he’s not kidding.