Dannyn is taking Julia to His Indwelling, the scene of the Murdan’s Kerdolak slaughter, where Hegrea has her second granary. Today, in our world, this is the site of Avebury circle, with its Avenue that leads to the Sanctuary, of the mysterious Silbury Hill, and of West Kennet Long Barrow. Will they, like Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, be something other? Julia fears that they will.
Episode 43 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
We find Dannyn’s riverboat upturned on the riverbank just north of the bridge to Aplaldhea’s Land. It’s a Welsh coracle (I can see as it nothing other): a basketry framework skinned with waterproofed hides.
“What happens if you hit a stone?” I ask. “Or a sharp rock, submerged? Won’t she leak?”
He slings the boat into the water before he answers, tethering rope held in his hand. “You fear we might drown? But see her draught? The water must be shallow before such obstacle rips her. Then if she leaks we’ll be only knee-deep in water. No danger there. We simply wade to shore, pulling her after. But this seldom happens. Mostly the water is clear and the river-walker can see the rock or the log before damage is done.”
He tugs the boat close to the bank and rams a pole, twice his height, into the riverbed, there to stay her. Then he tethers it tightly while I step in. Despite I live on a boat, I’m hesitant. Where do I put my feet in this loose ribbed weave. I’m afraid I’ll put my foot straight through it. The only recourse it to splay my feet, inelegantly, over the thicker of the ribs. The boat barely bobs.
As a seat there’s a plank athwart. But it’s set high, with the boat’s sides rising less than a hand-span. But what if I overbalance, what’s to stop me from falling out? I want to sit in the middle, the only place I’ll feel half-way safe.
“That’s right,” Dannyn says, “take the middle. Me, the river-walker, never sits. A river-walker always must stand.”
I squiggle and shuffle along the plank. That feels a tad safer.
Dannyn’s feathered cloak crackles and whumps as he steps into the boat. I’m disappointed. I was hoping to admire his rippling muscles as he rhythmically poles the boat upstream. But alas for me, as with the Venetian gondoliers and the Cam River punters, he poles from the stern. Later—once I’ve gained confidence in this flimsy-seeming inadequate boat—I might turn to look at him. For now, in anxiety, I hold tight to the seat and look only directly ahead.
I’m puzzling in my head of how we’re to reach His Indwelling entirely by boat. I try to visualise the rivers that drain the Vale but all I can see is the south-flowing Avon and the east-west Avon and Kennet Canal. Once I realise our route it’s a total surprise. But there are two other surprises before that.
First surprise is how restful this form of travel—at least restful for me. Dannyn’s cloak sighs and soughs in the gentle breeze. His pole reaches alongside me. It scrapes river bottom. It glides on past me. And after a slight slurp, it reaches alongside me again—to endlessly repeat in soporific rhythm.
Second surprise is the speed. Despite I live on a canal, I’ve never messed about on the river—I prefer to leave that to Mr Toad and Ratty, and Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men’. I’d no idea just punting a boat can fetch such a speed—plus it seems far less effort than paddling or rowing. I’m almost tempted to try.
And now my attention is back to the route.
We’ve not long left the bridge when the river divides—at least perched on that plank athwart the boat that’s how it looks. But it’s entirely the wrong way to say it: one is the main stream, the other a tributary. Dannyn guides us into the right-hand channel. And that’s the third surprise. If I were to walk it or cycle from where we are, I would veer left. Right will take us towards Marlborough and entirely the wrong direction for His Indwelling—unless I’m wrong and it’s not represented today by Avebury and West Kennet.
Moreover, I’m wrong of how fast our progress—or rather I’ve not realised how far we’ve to go. I pull out one of my many map-copies and try to locate us. But I soon see it’s not possible. The map shows the Wetland long after it’s dried into the Vale of Pewsey. What in the Neolithic are rills and streams and multiple tributaries arising in that waterlogged land, on my map have long since been man-channelled into entirely new streams (oddly, all labelled as ‘River Avon’). Still, I’m guessing we’re heading towards today’s Pewsey where, on the map, there’s a very small stream that feeds in from the south. And I’m right: we suddenly veer to the right.
“And now we walk,” Dannyn says—we’ve run out of water to float the boat!
“How far? All the way?”
He laughs. “Will it hurt you? But no, I intend that we reach there today.”
It’s not a long walk. And though Dannyn calls the next streamlet ‘Long River’ I match it on the map to the River Dun. Meanwhile he’s talking—or rather, he’s telling me more of the story of Hegrea’s granary. I’d say he’s crafty: into my head, knowing my interests. He can’t possibly bore me with this.
“So now we’d chased away the Kerdolan—”
“Chased? I thought Murdan scared them and they ran away witless.” I refuse to say of the snakes and corpses. How disgustingly foul.
“Murdan, Murdan,” he snarls with ill-grace. “Murdan Marbriën, the Great Doer, as if he did all of his own. We did it: Hegrea, and Arith, my mother, myself, and Arskraken. Yet ask anyone here and they’ll say it was Eblan Murdan. But, now the keepers and traders were gone, and a void was left at His Indwelling. Many of the North Alsime already were trading at Hegrea’s Isle; but what of the Krediche families there?”
“But I thought them all gone.”
“No, only the granary-keepers. But that granary now was empty and bellies were wanting. Aldliks Hegrea had timed our attack purposely for it, though it didn’t immediately happen—which was as well since that’s when Murdan killed his mother.”
“You don’t really believe it was murder, do you?” Now that I understand the Brictan nature, I don’t see it in quite the same light. “Murdan must have known she’d survive his attack. He was angry, he lashed out. But did he really intend her death?”
“You defend him?” Dannyn asks, offended.
“No! I’m just trying to understand it.”
“Sphw! Everyone, everyone, even Arith excused him. Though he hung the—is the word brat? Though he hung the brat from that post as punishment, yet he excused him. He should have decapitated him. And the Alsime saw that though Arith punished, yet he excused him, and so they, too, excused him.”
“So you do believe he intended her death?”
He snorts, which I take as yes. “In that moment,” he adds, “I doubt he was thinking that by driving that blade through her heart she’d be brought close to death yet as a Brictan she would survive it. If my mother had not been there . . . No, maybe Hegrea would not have survived. So yes, I believe Murdan intended her death. I am sure of it. But I keep quiet when amongst the Alsime.”
“I take it the Kredese made no approach regards the granary until Hegrea had fully recovered, that they waited to see if she’d live? Would they have asked your mother, Luänha, if not?”
He shrugs, upsetting his boat and his cloak. “Mayhap. And likely they did know of the attack, though we tried to hush it. I remember that day—fateful you would say?”
He’s quiet in his thoughts for a moment, then launches into the story.
“Aldliks Hegrea was across at the Old Isle of the Dead that day—helping Murdan to mark out the settings for the Kerdolak stones.”
“She was helping him? After what he’d done to her?”
“See, you defend, and then you attack,” says Dannyn. “But he had been punished. He’d had time to regret. Now everyone forgave him. He was the Mighty Murdan again—and mother and son now were closer than ever. Besides, Hegrea knew how to mark the circle—it was too wide this time to swing his legs. And she knew how to divide it equally so the stones sat so-far apart and no more. Hegrea would do that; it would bring her fame. And it didn’t hurt to be seen to forgive him.”
Even as he’s talking he shows me the scene. Though not of the Old Isle but of Hegrea’s. A visitor arrives. From his clothes it’s clear that he’s Krediche; he must be from His Indwelling. He wears woven stuffs, and no hat. As soon the women see him they hurry the children inside to the ‘Roof; they weren’t to see the scandalous sight.
I interrupt—I’ve discovered now how to break a vision. “But you don’t wear a hat. Isn’t that scandalous too?”
“I am eblan.”
“So . . . what? You’re not potential for bedding?” Recent events considered, I laugh.
“I am not potential for—what’s your word? Matrimony?”
“Yet” I remind him, “Hegrea took up with Arith.”
“Hegrea did many things. She was inspired. So too am I,” he adds, the timbre of his voice suddenly changed, “since I have you. But I still am eblan, not potential in Alisime eyes for matrimony. Therefore no hat.”
The vision resumes.
Eldliks Bukfesen greets the visitor, playing out the usual formula. The visitor endures it, though he’s clearly impatient. That he understands the Alisime speech—though his own use is halting with many words wrong—shows him to be from a mixed Krediche-Alisime isle. He asks for Aldliks Hegrea. Bukfesen calls for Dannyn to take him across to the Old Isle.
All the way there he says not a word. He’s full-unaware of Dannyn’s potential for taking thoughts if he so wants it. Dannyn wants; he delves—and finds the man’s name and his isle and why he has come. He also knows this man comes here unwillingly.
He is Gouis, Hegrea’s brother from Buknekhea’s Isle. And clearly Hegrea’s not pleased to see him. She snaps at Dannyn as if he’s to blame for bringing the man.
“But even that didn’t vent her wrath,” Dannyn says, himself now breaking the vision. “When she returned to her Isle, everyone stayed out of her way. I tell you, Hegrea when moved to bad mood!” He laughs—he can, now there’s distance between them. “You think Murdan volatile? It wasn’t safe to be near that woman. She threw things, mostly. And sometimes they hit. But when angry she’d no skill at throwing so we never knew if the injured person was the intended target. And when I say injured, I do mean injured—she didn’t lack strength. Cuts, bruises—broken bones. No, I do not exaggerate. Had I not been Brictan I’d have suffered plenty that day. See, she’d thought never to see her brother again, especially not here on the Highlands. Then to look up from her work and see him there, in the gate of the Old Isle . . .”
She walks over to greet her brother. Does she recognise him? She’s not seen him since she was ten winters-seen. Yet, Brictan, she’ll be in his head and fishing. He’s older, far older than her, his Brictan blood weak.
“Hegrea, remember,” Dannyn again interrupts, “is an Immortal’s own daughter. She never shows age.”
She glances back to the far side of the Isle where Murdan is working. It’s not far enough, not when this man is Krediche and a servant of the Kerdolan. Gouis mines the sacred black flint from deep in the earth, delivering it out the Alisime land into the hands of the Kerdolan. Wisely, she guides Gouis away.
“What brings you?” she then asks. Curt.
Perhaps Murdan hears despite the distance. He stops work, looks across to the gate. There’s the Krediche man with his mother, and a big white cow held by its halter. There’s no sign of Dannyn. Though he’s there, he has stood back.
“Coward,” I tease him.
“No, but I didn’t want involvement in this. I tell you, would you stand between two of your cars racing towards you?”
I have to admit no I would not. And that image is rich.
Gouis explains to Hegrea as Dannyn has found. The Krediche families at His Indwelling have sent him to speak with—as he calls her—‘the Alisime Eblan Hegrea’. He speaks with cold formality, no hint of a childhood shared. The white cow is for her. A gift.
“A sweetener?” I ask.
“An obliger,” Dannyn corrects, which I guess is the same. “And it’s probably that which irked her most. Enough that he had to be sent, that he wouldn’t come of his own accord, that he’d rather not be there, without this cow to oblige her.”
“I am that ‘Alisime Eblan Hegrea’,” Hegrea answers, words so sharp they cut the air. “And what have the Kredese told you to say?”
He delivers the message, obviously speaking it word for word as it’s been given to him. “There is no longer anyone to keep the granary at His Indwelling. And no Krediche woman knows how it is done. But on the Highlands of the Sun there is a well-kept granary. We have heard that the Alisime Eblan Hegrea keeps this granary. We have heard that she makes the Kerdolak Brew. The Kredese asks that the Alisime Eblan Hegrea will keep our granary as well.”
Hegrea allows long moments to pass while she eyes him. He, unmoving, stands erect—that must hurt, every part of his body held tight and erect.
“Why have your Kredese chosen you,” she asks him at last “—amongst all the Kredese living at His Indwelling? Did they think I’ll agree simply because you’re my brother?
“Ah, but for you to be my brother, Gouis, first you must acknowledge that I am your sister,” Hegrea says when he makes no reply.
“My sister died,” he answers “—a long time ago. You are the Alisime Eblan Hegrea, and the Krediche families ask if you will keep our granary for us. It is an honour to be asked.”
“And so it was,” Dannyn says, again breaking the vision. “And Hegrea couldn’t deny it. For the Kredese to ask an Alsime, when the Kredese had no liking for them? I’ve no doubt she remembered from long years passed how the Kredese said the Alsime are lazy. Dishonest. Liars and cheats and tellers of tall-stories. She must have been thinking, indeed, what an honour—in Krediche eyes–to be asked to keep their granary for them. But she looked more like she wanted to spit at her brother’s feet.”
Though Hegrea tells Gouis she’ll keep their granary she has conditions. “It shall be kept in my way. There will be no Kerdolan visiting there. And it will no longer be the Krediche granary. It will be the Alisime granary at His Indwelling and the Alsime, as well as the Kredese, will have the use of it. So now you may return to your kinsmen, Gouis, and say this from me: I shall keep the granary for them, but I shall keep it the same way as I keep this one on the Highlands of the Sun.”
With yet colder formality he presents the cow. Unblemished white, it is a rarity. Too softly for Gouis to hear, she murmurs of it being a worthy offering to the Krediche Kara. He repeats her answer back to her, and adds on behalf of the Kredese their thanks. Still no mention of their kinship. He’s that eager to be away from her now, her and her Alisime kin, that he stumbles over his feet. She watches him go, this man who once had been her brother.
Hegrea waits till he’s out of sight, which isn’t long, then calls Dannyn over. “Take this . . . thing . . . back to the isle.” She hands him the rope.
“But . . .?” But he’s wise enough not to pursue that thought. Hegrea remains at the Old Isle of the Dead, with Murdan.
Back at Hegrea’s Isle the cow has everyone talking, clamouring with questions. But it’s not his place to answer. Arith takes one look and, though he’s not strong in his aging and dying, he hurries off to find Hegrea.
Nothing is said at Hegrea’s Isle—not by Dannyn, by Murdan, by Hegrea nor Arith. The family must wait to know what it’s about—and that doesn’t happen till the following day, when all work is done and the family settles around their hearth. Then Hegrea tells her story.
“But surely that’s the best of news,” Luänha says. “It’s what you’ve wanted.”
“So it is,” she admits. “But how would you feel if you went back to your Ormalish village to visit your Holy Sisters of Brega. And though they recognised you, yet they wouldn’t acknowledge you as Kin-in-Brega. What then would you feel?”
“You know the reason I left those Sisters,” Luänha answers. “It would be unwise, now, for me to visit. It would only fetch memories that again causes pain.”
“So you believe that’s why he denied me?” Hegrea asks. But Luänha refuses to answer.
“But you accepted their offer?” says Arith.
Hegrea shrugs. “I said yes. But I didn’t accept it simply because it was Gouis said it, nor any at Buknekhea’s Isle. I was born to Bisaplan’s Isle, to Aldliks Sappaken; these others are no kin of mine. I told him, yes I will keep the granary at His Indwelling, but not for the Krediche families only, for the Alisime as well—for those the Krediche turned away.”
Hegrea sits quietly in pondering a good while longer. Then suddenly jumps to her feet.
“I am not leaving my Roof, my Isle. I am not going to His Indwelling. No, let Sapapsan have that granary. Let her make it her own.”
“So that’s who we’re going to visit at His Indwelling?” I say. “Sapapsan.”
But Dannyn shakes his head. “No. I’m taking you to meet Eblan Markreën. My apprentice. My brother.”