Eve used an apple to gain knowledge forbidden. Julia used figs. Though she doesn’t yet know it, the result is the same.
Episode 39 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
I open my eyes and there is an angel. Okay, so it’s only his white-blond hair with the lamplight on it. Yet it looks like a halo. And that beatific look on his face. And his eyes turned now to the vibrant blue of the pre-dawn sky. And let’s not forget his sleek-muscled arms that hold him above me, seeming to hover whilst all parts connecting. He opens his mouth as if to speak. I wait. But instead of speaking he folds me tightly into his arms and he laughs. He laughs and he laughs, and he laughs. Thereafter he sleeps.
Maybe I also slip into a sleep, for the next I know there’s a ghostly light seeping into the ‘roof through its low passage. It turns everything within to uniform grey—except him. I watch him. Can this be real; am I actually here with him? Surely it must be a dream. I trace my fingers lightly over his skin—and find not one imperfection. How can that be, here in the Neolithic, with no medicines, nothing of what we’d deem essential hygiene, no soothing antiseptic creams, no kiss-it-better sticking-plasters, no inoculations. How can his body, especially his skin, be so incredibly perfect?
“I am Brictan,” he says, coming awake and stepping off the bed, still naked. He squats by the hearth to bring the fire back to life.
“Did I wake you?”
He shakes his head. “This did.” He gives a brief look down, and leaves the ‘roof to relieve his bladder.
By the time he returns I’m knelt by the hearth, again modestly covered in cami-top, shorts and wrap (I’m unused to being naked in company). Passing behind me he fondles my hair. I close my mouth on a contented sigh.
“Water,” he says, and slaps down a flaccid (probably goat’s) bladder beside me.
While fetching the water from out of his moat I stop for a quick freshen. Oh, but the day is so glorious! The birds loud in their welcome of light, dew upon everything, sparkling. I take a deep draught. I never want to leave here. But—a less content sigh—I know that I must.
Dannyn has been awaiting the water to heat for our breakfast. I watch. If asked I’d say I’ve learned much of the old skills from watching my parents, my mother particularly. They’re both so hot on self-sufficiency. Yet here I feel useless. He has flints already hot on the fire which he drops into the water. They hiss. And in less time than it takes me to boil a kettle he has scalding hot and steaming water.
“I have only the one eating-bowl,” he says as he ladles the water in and stirs. “We share? But first . . .” He sprinkles in the remains of the apricots, torn now into small pieces. “Now she is ready,” he says with pride.
“What is it? I mean, is it grain, or only seeds?”
He shrugs. “Seeds. Nuts. Eat, while she is warm.”
Seed-porridge, made with water, doesn’t exactly sound inviting. Yet it’s not bad. And except that I don’t know which seeds he used, and I don’t how to heat the water, I could make this in my canalboat galley. It’s not so different from my winter fare: a kind of hot muesli of flaxseeds, pumpkin and sesame seeds, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts—you name it—and made with hot water, not milk. No sugar required: I use fruit as a sweetener—blueberries, raisins, cranberries, whatever.
He’s a tidy chap. Perhaps he needs be, living alone in the Wilds. He swills fresh water around the used bowl and disappears outside to properly clean it in the fresh water, our bone-spoons in hand.
“Now we shall speak. Are we still trading?” He gives me no time to reply. “You have been in my future; you know what’s to happen. I want to know about Murdan. For this I tell you . . .” He pauses, a look up at the roof while he’s thinking “. . . I tell you of Immortals and Brictan. I am Brictan. You have Brictans in your world?”
Before I can answer he’s reached out for my hand and pulls me in closer. With twinkling eyes he suggests we lie on the bed.
“Oh, and then we shall talk?” I jibed.
“You stay with me again this night?”
Yea—though somewhere around dawn the ‘pod will again grab me. I ought to warn him. It could his mind to have me disappear right out from his arms.
He says, “I never have slept as I slept last night; be best, we stay off the bed. But I will have you near me. And you do not answer. You have Brictans in your world?”
“And how can I answer,” I say, “when I’ve yet to discover what they are?”
He grunts. “You say true. So first. There are the Immortals, yea—you say ‘yea’ I hear, though in your head you say ‘yes’. These Immortals, not spirits yet do not die. They live, and they live, and they live, while descendants around them die. No animal harms them, no spirit corrupts. Perfection in form, and powerful beings—though I’m told they’ve not—they’ve not/they haven’t, which is? No mind— they have not the power of spirits. I tell you their powers. Then you shall tell me of Murdan. We deal?”
“Must we spit on it?”
He laughs, and then hugs me. “If you prefer not—I trust to your word. So, the Immortals need not use words. What is in your head, it is also in theirs. To them it is impossible to lie, to cheat or deceive. But there is more to this head-thing than this. The Immortals can be in your head making you do what you rather would not. You become like a . . . like a man upon strings?”
“Like that, yes. And you know how I know this? Because we Brictans have the Immortals’ powers—we are their children. Yet with each generation the strength of our power is weakened. Each time just that little bit more.”
Even while he’s talking my thoughts are racing. Finding answers. Arousing suspicions. I shiver. “And which generation are you?”
“The Immortal Amblushe is my grandma.”
“That close” I want to whistle but don’t. I’m not at all sure how I feel about this—I’d no idea he was . . . . and I’d thought him an angel. “What’s she like, your grandma Amblushe?”
He shrugs. “I never have met. Yet from my father’s saying—and from Aldliks Hegrea, I say she is hungry for power over people. Too, she hungers for the lusts of men. A bitch—this your Twenty First Century English word, yes? See, I take your English from your head.”
“That’s what you were doing when crossing the Plain? When my head was full of words forming strings?” I’d more or less sussed it, yet it still makes me uneasy. “Are you into my head: is that why I—” I’m about to say ‘want you’ but halt on the word.
He doesn’t answer straight off, which is alarming. Now I’m wondering how truthful he’ll be. Though how will I know if he lies? I don’t want to put distance between us. Not now. Yet his Brictish (?) confession makes me uncertain. After a night when I felt so empowered, I’m now reduced to a vulnerable virgin, not knowing if I can trust him.
“Yes,” he says, “I can make you want me—want me to hold you, want me to be a bull for you.”
“That’s not what I asked. I asked, did you?”
I remember when we first met—that day, for him, twenty-six years on. And it’s true, it did seem he had cast a spell over me. Then Alsvregn’s story, told as a warning: “Luänha, his mother, she captured and held me.” It’s not I’ve been blind, I’ve not been unaware. It’s been there all along, it’s just I’ve preferred to ignore it. Damn and blast him, he muddles my head. How can I think when he’s in there, stirring.
He nuzzles my neck and again pulls me closer. “You would know. The same you knew when I took your speech.”
Fine words, but I’m not so sure. I look at him, and I’m aware my face shows distrust.
“No, I would not do it,” he protests. “Why would I, and then tell you? Julia Cannings, from far distant England—a land set years away from me here—why would I pull your affections to me? Why pull you into my bed? If Murdan knew of it . . . It must be hidden from him for ever. He finds it and—no!” He shakes his head, almost manic.
“What would he do?”
I’ve already figured from the testament of others that the man is a psycho. So I doubt Dannyn exaggerates when he says of the consequences. And now that I know he’s Brictan too, (he and Dannyn are cousins, sharing their Immortal bitch of a grandma) I can better understand the power of him: how he could move an entire people to build his rings at the crazily unlikely age of nine winters-seen.
But Dannyn hasn’t answered me yet. Instead, he holds me possessively close. Perhaps he finds comfort in that.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I don’t doubt you. Though I don’t know the man, and haven’t met him, yet I know enough of him. I understand you’d do nothing to bring his wrath down upon you.”
He turns me around so that I’m facing him. “You know of him, my cousin Murdan. You have been twenty-six years into our future. This is our trade: I say of Immortals and Brictans, and you tell me of him. Now, what does he do?”
I hesitate, unsure how much to tell.
“I trusted your word on it,” he says “—without the soul-spit.”
I look away. Yet it’s true, I did agree to it. But I hadn’t thought it through, the consequences.
“Dannyn, you know it’s not always good to know the future. Knowing it, you might try to change it. And if you changed it then how can I live through it? You change it and maybe we don’t even meet. No, what happens must happen, regardless. But I can tell you this: at least up till that time, twenty-six years on, Murdan hasn’t killed you. Does that satisfy?” Bless him, he looks so distraught. “But when you can take all you want from my head—my language, my memories?—why not take all knowledge? Why must you ask it off me?”
“You change the talk,” he says in a grump. But then he answers, as unruffled as ever “Because I take words, and pictures. I take pieces of what these mean to you. But they remain pieces; I cannot put them together. Now, might we extend the agreed trade? You tell me of Murdan—all you know of him. And I shall tell you all that you ask.”
That’s one hell of an offer, but it needs thinking upon. Despite his complaint of ‘not piecing together’, yet he can take what he wants from my memory. And I’ve enough stored there about Murdan to answer his queries. Perhaps he doesn’t want to go delving. Perhaps he wants to rebuild my trust. And what might I ask him in return? Now I know of the Eblan-numbers, and the Alisime spirits, I’ve no pressing questions. I’ll be returning here many more times—Fliss permitting—so I’ve ample time to learn all I can. But no, it’s about him, about Dannyn, that I want to know more.