A Vast Squat Toad

Tumun Alsaldhelm squats on the hillside above what’s now a non-existent stream, like a giant toad guarding its spring. For Dannyn, it’s a magical secret to assure her return. To Julia it’s plain astounding.

Episode 32 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

“Tumun Alsaldhelm?” I ask for translation, surprised Dannyn hasn’t already offered it.

“Alsalda’s—” he shrugs. “Tumun? Your twenty-first century English hasn’t a word for it.”

“Tomb?” I suggest, though even as I’m saying it I know it’s not so. “Temple?”

Alsalda’s Temple. He seems to like that.

“So who, or what, is Alsalda?” I ask.

He waves airy hands, though this time it’s not for not knowing. “The Alsime claim themselves Children of Mother Bear. But in truth Mother Bear had two children. Alsalda and Ulmelden—”

“River Woman and Earth Man,” I translate the names, able this much now I’ve heard sufficient of their language. “And the Alsime are Alsalda’s children? And the Ulvregan, Ulmelden’s?”

He grins. “That’s quick. Yea, it was Alsalda’s permission that Eblan Hegrea sought that the Ulvregan might remain in the Ancients Land.”

“She came here, to this tumun?”

He shrugs—unable, or not wanting, to answer.

“And this . . . temple was built by the Ancients?” It wasn’t a question. And if by ‘Ancients’ is meant those Alsime living before the Kredese brought their grain—which Eblan Soänsha then stole—then Alsalda’s Tumun must date to around 4000 BCE. At the latest.

I can’t help laughing. I’m looking at a passage tomb, complete with rock art, that’s 6000 years old! Will Fliss be interested? Yea, I lick my lips, I reckon she will.

I want to enter, to go inside, but Dannyn stops me. “It is not this land in there.”

I frown.

“Murdan entered. After then he was mad.”

And Hegrea? But I don’t ask it.

« »

I haven’t been to Ireland, not seen the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, except as photographs. To me Newgrange in its reconstructed state looks like an enormous wedding cake topped by a low green-iced mound. It’s thought that’s not how it looked when first built. But to me its attraction isn’t the size but the rock-art around it. Gouged into the recumbent stones that encircle the mound are fluid swirls that could easily be the eddies and waves of the sea lashing upon its ‘shore’. Tellingly, Newgrange overlooks a river, the Boyne.

But there are other motifs at Newgrange, as at the other tombs, hidden inside. The chevron and trellis, the nested arcs, the enclosures containing (usually) three holes; there are swirls that cleverly meet to become the ‘eyes’ and the ‘beak’ of a bird. No one knows for certain the whys and wherefores of these motifs, yet there is general agreement that the art in some way relates to the shamanic trance-state.

The more I look at Tumun Alsaldhelm, the more obvious it becomes that this isn’t an outlier of the Boyne culture. There are slight differences in the art, the motifs used. Less eddies and swirls, more nested arcs; more chevrons, less trellises. In that it more resembles the Breton cairns: Gavrinis, Bougon and the Table des Marchand at Locmariaquer. These I have visited, though now long ago. Profile-wise, this Tumun Alsaldhelm, the Boyne group and the Breton cairns are all much alike varying only in size (Gavrinis 164 feet diameter, Newgrange 250 feet; I can’t say of this one, but certainly no smaller). Like those, its façade towers over me. Like those, its lintelled portal is low.

Am I impressed? I’m stunned. And awed.

That lintelled portal is repeated seven times more, regularly placed around the tumun. Yet even between these are additional trilithons, infilled with dry-stone walling. For a moment I think it’s a converted building, the unwanted entrances bricked up.

Huge sarsen slabs have been used, like those at Stonehenge and Avebury. Only these have been painstakingly dressed before the intense application of nested arcs and chevrons. Sarsens contain silica and, like granite, on a moonlit night will sparkle as if sprinkled with fairy-dust. But apparently that wasn’t magical enough for the builders here. They didn’t use just any old stone for the dry-stone walling. This is quartzite. It doesn’t just ‘sparkle’; it lights up—millions of ‘cats-eyes’ hit by the headlights of a thousand vehicles. They’ve made it so the tumun shines in the dark like an ethereal beacon. And now I don’t see it as toad, temple or tomb; it’s a UFO shining out of a moonlit night. It is, after all, an identical in shape.

But whence the stones used? The sarsens, fine, they’re locally found, the remnants of a silicate-sandstone cap. At the end of the last Ice-Age these enormous slabs littered both Marlborough Downs and Salisbury Plain (a few other places as well). But the quartzite, a metamorphic form of sandstone, has a different source, and that not local. From Dorset to Berkshire, from Sussex across to the Severn estuary, all is either porous chalk or the harder limestone. Other than this are the clay-filled valleys. No, the nearest source is Cornwall and Devon; thereafter Wales, Ireland and the Pennines.

I’m itching to know what stones are inside. Will it be like the West Kennet barrow and have a blood-red stone at its heart? But Dannyn is firmly planted; he won’t stand aside while I investigate. In fact he’s growing impatient to be moving on. I’m not eblan; I’m not supposed to be here. I could—will be killed if I’m found here.

“I tell you, this is no good place, even for eblann.” Dannyn pulls my hand to be moving away. “Murdan came here—he even slept here. Murdan had no skills; he couldn’t weave a bender, couldn’t kill a deer except by trapping. I believe he slept in there. It was here that the Ancients spoke to him, told him what the Kerdolan did, told him to destroy everything Kerdolan.”

“So he killed his mother.” Though flat, I notice my tone is sour.

“Those Kerdolan would have killed him before yet he was born—had they known of him.”

That annoys me. “But as Burnisen said, it wasn’t Hegrea’s fault. Luin raped her.”

“But it was the same with my mother,” Dannyn says. “Her womb was not to be opened. She was to be Mother to the Brew, the Bread, and the visions. She was not to be a mortal mother.”

“And Luin gets away free.” Has nothing changed in all these years.

“He should have died in that pit,” Dannyn says, defending. “That was the Old Man’s intent. But the Old Man should have known, Brictan, he’d survive. Come.” He offers his hand to help me past the entangling branches of a clump of brambles.

« »

“And where are we going?” It was no short walk in getting here. Though late May, still the day is swift-passing. So I’m not surprised when he says he’s taking me back to his ‘roof.

My allotted three days are close to an end. I’ve been constant in Dannyn’s company and he no longer sparks that alarming affect on me—until he looks at me with those deep blue eyes, and he grins. Oh, then I’m again so weakened I could easily fall into his arms. That will happen, I know. For him it already has. But to realise it is . . . weird. We’ve been intimate, but I’ve no memory of it. I pull my thoughts away, return them again to Luin.

“What happened to him? Alsvregn said he was the Ulishvregan Champion, and that he led the Ulvregan to the coast, ready to cross the sea to Britain. But then Arith appeared, and Luin fled. Do I have that right?”

“Arith, son of the Immortal Gimmerin. Immortal, huh,” Dannyn scoffs, “—and dead. But Arith . . . he had pledged to the Immortal Kared to destroy every last demon-dragon, and by then he had done so. Now, when he came to claim his Hegrea, he found Luin, her violator, still lived. Brictans do not fight as mortals fight. Instead, they contested to be the Ulishvregan Champion—for Arith, too, wished to cross the sea to Albinnis, where he knew Hegrea waited.”

“Yet,” I say, “how could he have known? You said she told Burnisen she’d intended to go to Liënershi, that she only returned to His Indwelling when the Hiemen seamen refused to take her. If she’d gone there, she would have been dead. And if she had lost the child, and flannelled her way back to her former position, then she’d be a granary-keeper, and unable to wed.”

“Flannelled her way?” he asks.

I shrug. He grins. We both have words not easily translated.

“But no longer you speak our Alisime words with your twenty-first century English tongue. You sound our words like . . . like a true River Woman born.”

He stops. We’re already walking close, forced by the tight path. Now, before I know what is happening, he’s wrapping his arms around me, enfolding me in his shimmering, black feathered-cloak. And there I’ve been thinking I no longer react emotionally to him. Not so. But it’s more than just that. Everything in me tumbles and spins. I feel giddy, like I’ve just stepped off a fairground ride. He holds me gently against him, steadying. It’s the closest we’ve been. And there we are in the Eblan Wilds. Alone. I know what I want, and it’s pretty damned obvious he wants it too. Yet he doesn’t as much as kiss me. He releases me. And apart from again grabbing my hand, he walks on as if nothing has happened. That’s confusing.

« »

“You understood Hegrea’s story well,” he says. “But you forget to factor in a vital element. Jarmel.”

“Jarmel, who returned her to His Indwelling,” I say, realising that’s what he meant. “And Jarmel told Arith?”

“And, yea, my father told Arith. But it wasn’t so easy. First Jarmel must find him. But Arith . . . he thought, when he defeated the Champion Luin, that that was an end to it. Luin had lost face. Not even his sister wanted to know him. Luin . . . ” he’s quiet for a moment, as if considering. Then, “I think Murdan is much like his father, like Luin.”

Again he is quiet. I don’t interrupt. He seems to be thinking.

“We didn’t know—how could we?—that defeated, angry, bitter, Luin would then seek out the Immortal Urinod, who was Lord to Luin’s mother.”

“Whoa,” I halt his flow. “I thought some Ulvregan was Luin’s father. Markreken, wasn’t that the name Alsvregn said?”

Lord to his mother, not lover. Is that the right word?” Again he stops, his eyes fixed on me, seeming to bore into me, silently to question me. “You twenty-first century English have words for rites I don’t understand,” he says. “A lover might father a child?”

I laugh. “Yea.” I can see a full explanation, including all situations and permutations, is likely to take us through to the morning—when the time-pod again will fetch me home. I wish I could escape it, to remain here. Not to be with Dannyn, just to . . . to be here. Here is a quality we long have lost.

“So,” I ask, “what does ‘Lord to his mother’ mean?”

He gives that some thought as well. “Partner,” he says. “Partner-in-power.”

“Wow.” I don’t know what else to say. He said before of the Immortals having ‘power’—that first day with him. Has it really been less than three days? So much has happened. Yet when I think back, to record it, I realise very little has happened. Till now. I’ve heard stories, met people.

“So Luin went begging power off his mother’s Immortal partner? To zap Arith?”

“Zap?” Dannyn laughs. “You twenty-first century English use very strange words. But yea, I suppose—though I wasn’t in his head to know. We heard no more of him till . . .” He looks up—calculating the years? “Until two years—you say years?—after Sapapsan had taken the granary at His Indwelling.”

“Because Hegrea wouldn’t take it,” I say. “Even though it was promised her.”

He nods. “You listen, you understand.”

“I’m trying to piece her story together. But I’ve noticed of the Alsime—and the Ulvregan. They say here is a story, then give only part of it.”

He laughs, and suddenly hugs me. Nothing sexual, just in the way a brother or friend.

“I tell you why this,” he says. “You are supposed to stay with the storyteller till all tale is told.”

“Oh? You mean if I return to Hegrea’s Isle Alsvregn will continue his story? And Sapapla?”

“You will return to them,” he says with unquestionable certainty. Though for myself, I’m not so sure. “So, two years passed from when Sapapsan went to the granary beside First Water.”

“Whoa. First Water. The Kennet, yea?” I show him the map. He squiggles his finger over the blue line of the Kennet where it flows through Avebury and West Kennet on its way to Marlborough. “All right,” I say. “Continue.”

“Why, I thank you, Lady,” he says in his cheeky way. “I lodged at Sapapsan’s Isle. I was her eblan there—there with my part-sister Jitjana and her trader-man Dalkude, and Sapapsan and her granary-trader Ardeld.”

“Trader-man, granary-trader. What’s the difference?” I ask. “A trader is a trader, isn’t it?”

“No, a trader is not a trader, not in the way that you say it. A granary-trader trades on behalf of the granary. Though he might deal in the same wares as his trader-brothers, yet he also trades grain. It’s complicated, the system brought by Hegrea from the Kerdolan. Though it’s not the same system the Krediche use. The Alsime wouldn’t agree that.”

My turn to nod. “So, your sister’s trader-man?”

“He was bird-free to trade as he would. Though he had been asked by Arith to stay at His Indwelling, to be there for Jitjana, to help Ardeld if need be.”

“So there were five of you beneath Sapapsan’s roof?”

“There soon were more. The women, their bellies . . .”

“Yea,” I say, “I get the picture.”

“The North Alsime Eblan Head Man died soon after. Already I had closed Kara’s Cave. I was then in process of constructing the Processional Way—between the granary and the Cloud Stone Isle. Such was the affect you had upon me, inspiring me to great creations. Though, after the Sun Tower, I created no more. Maybe now you’ve returned . . .?”

“So, Eblan Dannyn, the Inspired Creator, was elected Head Man of the North Alsime eblann?” I say it with deliberate intent for he’d previously said that he’d never created.

“See, already you understand our ways. Yes, I was elected to that. That I was Murdan’s cousin, and Luänha’s son must have supported the nomination. And so, the relevance of this digression, is that I wasn’t at Hegrea’s Isle to know everything that then was happening.”

“And what was happening?”

“Here.” He again offers his hand, this time to climb a stile—and I realise we’re back on the track I’d been followed that morning when he startled me out of my wits. Dusk is fast-closing around us. Though I’m anxious to gain his ‘roof before the dark smothers us, yet I prompt him to continue the story.

“So what was happening?”

“Luin was building a House of Heaven.”

“A House of . . . what? What’s that?”

He looks down, and around, and finally skyward. Seeking inspiration? How best to answer me?

“So long the story. Listen; I shall try to clip it to its core.”

« »

According to Dannyn, who’d had it from Arith, Urinod the Immortal had a long-standing grudge of the Head of Kared. She was, and I quote, ‘Lady to the Kerdolan of Liënershi’. So Urinod devised a way to deprive her and her Kerdolan of their gold and copper. He called his scheme ‘The Sons of Heaven’. He used mortal/Immortal hybrids (of first generation) to serve as the ‘Sons’. Although Brictan—and I’ve yet to discover what that means in its entirety—those of the first generation have qualities subsequent descendants lack. Of relevance to his scam, they can sustain severe injuries, apparent death, and yet survive.

In an almost parody of the Christian crucifixion (though predating it by some 2,500 years) the ‘Son’ is sacrificed to Father Above (their god of Heaven). The ‘Son’ appears to be dead, yet three days later he revives. He then tells his awed followers that the same will happen to whatever their sacrifices. Whatever they give to the ‘House of Heaven’, it will be returned to them ten-fold. All they need is faith, and the wealth of the world will be theirs.

It was a scam. The promised miracle never happened. The ‘Son’ hung around until everyone’s treasures were piled into the hastily erected ‘House’, then he made away with it all. Obviously, the scam could only be worked the once.

“Word does not travel fast through our lands,” Dannyn says, his heart still sore at what Luin had done—for the scheme had a tragic side to it. People gave their children, throats cut and bled like lambs, thinking then to increase their numbers. I can hear the hurt in Dannyn as he continues, “The first to raise these—you say fictitious?—‘Houses’ were the Jinni Grits north of the Upland Alsime. Then the Eskin south of those. The next were the Jinni Grits of the Lowlands, around the Estuaries at the far end of the Ridge-Drive. Urinod thought—though he thought wrong—that the Kerdolan had their gold and copper from these peoples. Because, like the Kredese, these peoples all support the Kerdolak granaries. But he wasn’t so clever, for it wasn’t so. They no more had gold than we Alsime do. As Hegrea told Burnisen, the Kerdolan take it from the streams of Banva Go, and some from the back-lands of South Eskin Head. Now Luin was bringing the ‘House of Heaven’ to the River Alsime—as if Hegrea was about to allow it.”

“Is this what Arskraken meant when he said they’d sent Luin running? Priäplan said of it, too: a battle between Arith and Luin.”

“Between Arith and Luin. Ha! There were a few more than that,” Dannyn grunts. “Murdan’s Alsime. The Ulvregan. Even some of my Alsime. And, yes, Luin ran—but not before he’d made a good start on his ‘House’.”

“You say ‘House’ not roof. I’ve not heard you say that before. There’s a reason? Why call it that?”

Again, he grunts. These aren’t happy memories for him. Though from what he’s said he wasn’t directly involved.

“Why say ‘roof” he says, “when it hasn’t a roof? But ‘House’ was Luin’s word. It’s Tuädik and need not mean a roofed building. His ‘House’ had walls. Only walls. Long-long walls, but narrow between them—like the Alisime Ancestral Long Boat. Perhaps that’s where they had the idea? They raised their walls in the same white-chalk. But that was their error. Though the Eskin and Grits seemed not to notice, when Luin tried the trick on the Alsime . . . That was where Urinod made his mistake.White-rock for us is the rock of Death—of the Ancestors, of the Ancients. It’s not a rock to use for the living, for birth and for field fertility. He’d have done better to raise his walls with green turf.”

My spine is tingling even as he tells it. I ask him—though I already know the answer, “And where did Luin build this ‘House’?”

“Across South River, on Murkem land. Where first you were seen.”

The tingling spreads, now across my shoulders and down my arms. I want to high-five the air but I must first be sure. But how to ask when my mouth is dry. “And when was this, exactly, when first I was seen?”

“But I have said. It was perhaps a half-moon before you appeared to me and unbalanced my life entirely.”

That’s the answer I wanted. Now I know how I’m to meet with Dannyn twenty-six years previous to this, and it requires no recalibration of time-pods.

«»

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About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
This entry was posted in Mythic Fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Vast Squat Toad

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    Julia has, shall we say, “reconciled” to her future/past intimacy with Dannyn. He’s a smooth operator.

    Like

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