After what might be described as a ‘pleasure-trip’ to Destination, Julia is again returned to the Priory, but now with her knowledge of Murdan further extended.
Episode 41 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
I was jumping to show Ken and Dave the photos I’d taken of Alsaldhelm Tumun but first I wanted to see them myself. So we set a meeting. It couldn’t be at the Priory, not with Fliss there (unless we met between 2 and 4 pm—but if a weekday I’d then be working). And though we could have used Dave’s ‘granny annexe’ at the back of his father’s nursery-cum-garden centre, that would entail either Dave or Ken driving over to pick me up. (Though Dave lived only two villages along from Fliss and Ken, after 7 pm the ‘phone-a-bus’ didn’t run.) So we opted for my place, the Lady.
The photos fetched the predictable responses: “Damn ‘n damnation!” and “I’ll be jiggered.” (Ken), and “Bloody ‘ell. I mean . . . bloody ‘ell” (Dave).
I let the exclamations settle before moving the talk on. I needed to know how long Ken thought we could hold out before telling Fliss that her ‘Destination’ wasn’t our Neolithic but that of a parallel universe.
She’d been impressed with my report on the internals of the Tumun—though obviously I didn’t show her the photos (she didn’t even know I’d taken a camera with me). I made piles of studies of the rock-art. That kept her happy. But I couldn’t stall much longer. On the next ‘trip (which I hoped would be another 3 day-er) I’d have to return with a report on Durrington Walls. As Ken said, I knew enough to bull it. And I didn’t want to tell her the truth—I didn’t want her to pull my ‘trips.
It wasn’t only about Dannyn—though I’ll admit what was happening there had a certain plus-factor. It was the entire Neolithic thing. As I’d told Siobhán, I wanted to study the culture, in depth. It didn’t matter that Dannyn’s Neolithic didn’t lead to our Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval. It was a Neolithic culture and that’s what mattered.
I wanted to know what the pots were used for that were frequently found in the burials. And what foods did they eat? Was grain grown only to supplement the previous hunter-gatherer-fisher diet? Or was it grown, as some archaeologists have suggested, only as fodder for their over-wintering herds? Or, again a suggestion of one school of archaeology, was it grown only to make beer for the feasts? There was also a suggestion that deer were being herded, and had been since Mesolithic days. But I’d seen no sign of that. Though, so far, I’d had only a restricted view. Okay, so I’d heard several tales, but they’d been translated by Dannyn. Could I trust that he wasn’t censoring their words? I’d been able to complete many of my labelled boxes yet there was still one hell of a lot more to learn. So I didn’t want Fliss to cut my trips—to abandon the project all together, as she might once she knew the truth.
I didn’t need to persuade Ken of this. He’d been investigating further into the Krediche culture of His Indwelling on the banks of the Kennet on Marlborough Downs. I was able to supplement his findings from what I’d learned from Dannyn and from the Alisime stories. He wanted to know how much the Alsime were affected by their Krediche neighbours. I was able to tell him of the mixed marriages, how the Alisime isles opened their gates to Krediche wives (though possibly not the other way round), of the strength of the Alisime culture that in most cases overrode the brides’ Krediche upbringing.
“They use metals,” he said. “Bronze.”
I shook my head vehemently. “No, not even the Krediche. Metallurgy belongs exclusively to the Kerdolan—I’d even say only the Kerdolan of Liënershi.”
“Traded?” he suggested.
“No. Not from what I’ve heard. If you’ve seen bronze, then it was in the hands of a Kerdolan.”
“At the granary,” he said.
“The granary’s trader? He’d be Kerdolak. All the traders attached to the Krediche granaries are Kerdolak.”
He shrugged. It wasn’t in Ken’s nature to argue a point. “Kerdolak-, Krediche- or other-made, I eyed said object—in extensor.” He tapped his head. “Now it’s there in the nous. I’ll gig-up a bronze dagger, as per, to show you. Next week.”
“You know how?” I asked. “I mean, how it was done then.”
“Do you?” he asked in return.
I nodded. “It was part of my Masters.”
He grimaced and shrugged, both together. “I’ve read, I’ve watched, I’ve made me a sword.”
“Bloody ‘ell,” Dave said, quiet until now. “Is there no end to his talents?”
“Yea,” Ken said. “I’m a deadhead with plants—don’t know a bulb from a corm.”
We talked some more, mostly of what Ken had found on Marlborough Downs, though nothing he said came as news.
“So what’s the chance of you and Dave swapping ‘pods?” I asked—which drew a blank look from them both. “We’ve a lapse of twenty-six years between the ‘pods during which several important changes occur—i.e.: the Kerdolak hold of the granary is destroyed, replaced by an Alisime keeper. I’ve not yet been told it, but my guess is that the Krediche culture fades away, the Alisime being the stronger. That would be when the West Kennet long barrow was closed.” I wanted to check it out.
“When the West Kennet long barrow was . . . ?” Dave shook his head, wearisome, at me. “What the bleep makes you think there’s a West Kennet long barrow? We’re talking different universes here.”
“Yet, piddle-brain,” said Ken, “there is one.”
“Okay, so there is. But why should its closure tally? Hello, different universes, you know.”
“Hello,” I said back to him, “we’ve already said it: In significant areas they tally. If you will swap ‘pods—or why don’t you check it out yourself?”
“Me?” Dave looked shaken. “Na, I wouldn’t know how to reach it. I only wander the fens.”
I ignored Dave’s refusal and turned back to Ken. “How many more ‘trips before we must tell her? Only—much as I don’t want my ‘trips pulled—I don’t like this lying to her. And you know full well she’s going to blast.”
“Nix!” he said. “You down-think her. So the project’s her baby, but that shouldn’t blind her. No, she’ll realise our bombshell—your bombshell, the whole shebang—outguns it all.”
“Yea,” I said, “a great discovery. But not her discovery And it’s best not to say that discovery is mine. That’s a guaranteed ‘sky-high’. So, how many more trips, do you think?” I pushed.
“Depends how many reports can you bull.”
I thought. “Durrington. Stonehenge. Woodhenge—which doesn’t even exist at Destination. Maybe Bluestonehenge. But unless I can find something more as yet unknown to us—another tumun perhaps—that has to be all.”
Ken shrugged. “Three, maybe four more trips?”
I didn’t want that: no more hands and feet in the Neolithic—no more Dannyn. But I dreaded our telling her. Would we draw lots for it?
Friday evening I again set off for Priory House. I had three, maybe four more ‘trips, according to Ken. Two of those ‘trips were scheduled for that weekend: Saturday in Dave’s ‘pod and Sunday in Ken’s. The latter would deliver me to Destination Minus 26—of which Dannyn had had no recollection. But that’s not surprising since I didn’t intend to make the ‘trip.
Siobhán had phoned. Would I like to join her for Sunday lunch. That’s an invitation I couldn’t refuse. She had completed the Alisime lexicon and grammar. With so few trips left to me now I wanted to make full use of them. That lexicon and grammar would be an enormous help. She also wanted to discuss it.
So, two lies to Fliss on my return on Saturday. One, my report of Durrington Walls, as it ought to be. And two, faked nausea and headache to excuse me from Sunday.
“Ah, Jules-Baby!” Fliss gushed almost as soon as I arrived at the Priory. “I have wonderful news for you—though you really ought to thank Kenneth for this. He has pointed out what a slow walker you are. And here’s me, expecting you to cover the miles on legs as strong and as fit as his. Silly me. I should have noticed how you’ve let yourself go. Don’t you ever go to the gym?”
I ignored the snipe, waiting instead for the ‘wonderful news’. No doubt it would come, just as soon as she’d finished insulting me.
“So,” she smiled a particularly saccharin smile. “Instead of the three days I allot to Kenneth, I am allotting you almost a week. Five. Whole. Days.” She looked round at Ken. “This won’t be hazardous for her, will it? I mean, she can stay alive for five days—in her dreams?” She sarcastically tittered.
Five days. Five! How could I contain the grin. Five days, five nights. I had, of course, brought more figs and apricots with me. Five nights. I had to excuse myself and rush to the lavvy; I couldn’t possibly hold back the grin any longer.
Dannyn is waiting for me at the top of the hill as if we’ve arranged it. Multiple questions vie for attention. Where’s he intending to take me? He’s wearing his feathered cloak; it’s cracking and flapping around. So it’s not a quick flit back to his place. Moreover, how did he know to meet me now? Whatever the answer, he’s pleased to see me—his hug nigh breaks my ribs. And needless to say, I melt right into it. Yet . . . this is utterly crazy: here I am thinking, again, if only I could stay—or perhaps I could bring him back with me? But neither is possible.
“How long has your aldliks allowed you to stay?” he asks as soon as we’ve separated enough to speak.
“Five days.” I watch his grin spread to match mine.
“Is good,” he says. “I want to take you to His Indwelling.”
My mouth hangs. I’m stunned. Okay, so he can tap into my thoughts but . . . thoughts I had back in my world, before ever I entered the ‘pod? Still, everyone met on the Highlands of the Sun has had something to say about His Indwelling, if only in passing. And now Dannyn’s to take me there without my asking. This is going to be a fantastic five days. I think I may be walking on air!
“It was the eblann at His Indwelling first made me their Head Man,” he says. “Our Highland eblann had to wait until Eblan Murdan had left. I’ve told you? I’ve told you.” He nods: it is so.
“But how do we cross the Wetlands?” I glance at my trainers. They really aren’t suited to wading through marshes, and Dave’s always ratting-on at how wet the fens.
Dannyn laughs. “No mud-wading. We river-walk.”
Already he’s leading me eastwards towards the river, my hand comfortably clasped in his. We’re following that same fenced track I used my first ‘trip, when I investigated Ken’s long barrow-that-wasn’t. My querying frown prompts explanation.
“The Alsime are river-people—like you with your boat-roof. Alsime, river-people, that is their name. Always they’ve lived alongside the rivers—Children of Alsalda, remember. But riversides can by muddy, marshy, dense with reeds. Not good for walking—though good for egg and feather gathering, for netting ducks and eel-catching, for cutting reeds for our roofs. The riversides make ‘grand mothers’, yea? They are Alsalda. But they‘re not for walking. We have boats. River-craft.”
“River-craft? That implies you also have sea-craft. Have you?”
He laughs. “Myself? No, mine is only a river-walker’s craft. Small, we must squeeze to fit you into it too. It’s not like yours, able to pack into it bed, stores and cooking hearth. Neither do the River Alsime have sea-craft—or most do not. It’s only the Southern Alsime have them. They fish the sea. They ‘sea-walk’—though they don’t call it that.” Again he laughs. “They sea-walk all the way to the Hiemen shore.”
“They’re lirvregan?” I try out what I’ve gleaned of the Alisime vocabulary—which doesn’t actually include that word. It’s my on-the-spot creation.
Dannyn likes it, he laughs. Dannyn’s always laughing. I’ve never known anyone laugh as he does. “Lirvregan, I like—though I’ve not heard them say it themselves. But, you learn our speech now?”
“Know too much of it, you’ll be asked for a story,” he warns, suddenly turned serious. “You have a story to tell?”
“No, and it would be a poor tale. I haven’t enough of your language yet.”
“Then until you are able, allow me, please, to be your mouth.”
There’s something ominous in the way he says it, like it’s an unspoken threat. I’ve wondered before, I wonder again if perhaps he doesn’t want me to speak to his people. What’s he afraid I might say?
We walk on in silence. In a sulk, because I’m no longer reliant on him? Yet he’s still holding my hand. And even as I think it, he squeezes that hand as if to reassure me. The joy, or not, of him knowing my thoughts? We’ve barely walked a few more steps before he’s talking again.
His riverboat is ‘banked’, so he says, close to the bridge—that’s the one I used to cross the Avon on my way to Ken’s long barrow-that-wasn’t.
“Aplaldhea’s eblan had his kin cut that trench,” Dannyn says, again catching my thoughts. “He created it as a triple defence against further intrusion by Luin and his like.”
I puzzle on that. Yet I know enough now of the culture to understand how an earthwork might function as a triple defence. The trench provides defence in the lower world; the bank provides it in the upper; and land upon which it’s built provides it in the middle world, this world. Yet its so situated as to overlook the Wetlands—not the most obvious direction for Luin’s potential return, not when he built his ‘House of Heaven’ behind the earthwork, and far back from there. And again Dannyn has heard my thoughts.
“If Luin is to—were to return from the north, or from the east, he will—would?—come by the Water of Waters. He then turns his rivercraft onto First Water and she brings him south. He then picks up Long Water—which is where we soon go. Long Water almost kisses South River as she flows through the Wetland. That will—would be the best way for Luin to come. The next nearest river flows far east of Luin’s proclaimed Heavenly erection—far-far east in East Alsime land. Like your English of Twenty First Century, we do not walk with legs and feet. Where your English drive cars—have I remembered it right?—we river-walk.”
I can’t believe it, he remembers of cars from our meeting of twenty-six years ago? Then why no mention of this when first I met him? And was that only two weeks ago?
“You think when you have lived another twenty-six years you will have forgotten Alsaldhelm Tumun?” he says.
I laugh. “No. No way. And I take your point. Though Alsaldhelm Tumun is pretty amazing.”
“You think for a man to make a device that will carry him where he desires without his effort is not also amazing? And I made no mention when last you were here because, for you, that meeting twenty-six years ago had yet to occur.”
I think about that. “Wow”—though I can’t explain to him what I mean by it. Just . . . he’s an incredibly thoughtful fella.
“I hope you will remember,” he says, “—when you have lived another twenty-six years—how amazing our rivercrafts are. But I tell you more about our River Alsime. How they planted their feet on the lands of His Indwelling. Aldliks Hegrea’s Alisime granary was—how you say, the arrow-head? Until that had happened the River Alsime couldn’t stretch out their feet to cross the Wetlands—to establish a toehold—?—at His Indwelling. Of course, for Aldliks Hegrea, she was returning home. But until all that happened, I could not be the North Alsime eblann’s Head Man.”
He tells me the story as we walk the fenced track, heading down to the river. But Dannyn doesn’t know the word ‘succinct’—or maybe that’s an Alisime trait. I hope our route to His Indwelling won’t meander half as much.