She’s on her way to His Indwelling—to meet, so Julia had thought, the Alisime granary-keeper there. And shouldn’t that be Sapapsan? The granary-isle is named for her. But Dannyn now has told her that she’s to meet his brother, Eblan Markreën (she assumes that’s instead).
Episode 44 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
The river becomes a stream, the stream a rill, the rill becomes no more than the over-spill from a dozen springs: water-saturated grass. I cannot imagine the strength of that man. For the last few miles Dannyn has not only poled his craft against the river’s flow but also has poled it decidedly uphill. Several times I’ve suggested we walk. Yet he will insist. But now, at the river’s source, we haven’t the choice. Dannyn hefts the boat atop his head and we walk.
Less than a mile later we’re cresting the hill. A glance behind us shows a goat-grazed valley falling away, dotted with benders (the goat-herders habitation for the summer-half). That’s when it hits me. Here are no fences. No high hedges. Nothing to divide the land.
“This is Common Land,” Dannyn says, again aware of my thoughts. “Too many springs. No family may claim the source of this many rivers.”
“Yea? And how many rivers is that?” I hadn’t realised Wiltshire was that abundant in rivers. But no, he’s referring to tributary-streams.
“Long River has eight streams fed by the springs in this Common Land,” he says after some delay while apparently he silently totted them. “South River has four streams—though the Sometimes Stream is almost a river itself.”
It’s another mile across the fairly flat hilltop. For me it’s a doddle, and after all that sitting I appreciate using my legs. But Dannyn I feel for, having to heft his craft all that way. By the time we see water again—one of Long River’s eight tributary-streams—he must be keen to offload the boat.
“Hold tight,” he says with a sense of irrepressible fun. “We have good ride now.”
It’s not what I’d call a steep decline, yet there’s enough of a gradient not to need poling. And yet Dannyn again stands, pole in hand, this time to guide the craft lest it bumps against the weed-grown banks. And I notice the fences begin again. Running roughly east-west, they’re interrupted only by the river. I mentally chide myself: I ought to be studying the Alisime isles, or at least take note of them. But, shucks, they’re so many. I wonder, though idly, if they correspond at all with our parishes. I suppose if they do it wouldn’t be surprising since the Alisime families and the Early Church both needed to divide the land into workable portions. But how unlikely, that the parish boundaries follow the lines of these ancestral fences. Yet the more I look, the more I am sure of it.
“Hold tight, now,” Dannyn says—just in time.
While I’ve been mulling, the land has been closing around us, the open hill morphing into a steep-sided valley, our river trapped in its bed. More water, less space—we’re now on a log-flume ride. Exhilarating, yea, but with no rides’ inspectors . . . I cling on for life.
“This is, um, a long journey,” I say to cover my fears. “Will we arrive before dark?” The idea of this in the dark, with who knows what prowling about us . . . I shudder.
“From Hegrea’s Isle to Sapapsan’s at His Indwelling? No,” he says. “From Hegrea’s Isle, I must shelter beneath my craft for the night—it has many uses; fun in winter when the snow is around us.”
“You use it as a toboggan?” I laugh, caught by surprise. “Oh, but that must be fantastic fun.”
“You join me this winter?”
I so want to say yes. But three or four visits, that’s all we have left, and I don’t want to spoil this visit by talking of that.
“So, you want to know more of the granaries?” he says in a swift change of subject. “I tell you how my sister Jitjana came to His Indwelling—though she was never the granary-keeper there.”
“Was? She’s not there now?”
Oops, wrong question to ask. He’s one moment buoyant, the next sounding sad. And I know the answer; I shouldn’t have asked it. Jitjana left the Highlands with Luänha and Murdan in search of the metal-smith Meksuin and his brother, the trader Bulapon. By then Dannyn’s young brother Luktosn was already serving as Meksuin’s substitute apprentice.
“So how come Jitjana went to His Indwelling?” I ask, trying to recover the mood.
“Ah, that was because of Sapapsan. She was too young to go there alone.”
Hegrea’s Roof is loud with voices. Such upset, such uproar. But how could Hegrea accept the Krediche granary, so long promised her—her birth-right as often she’d claimed—and yet declare she’d not go there? She’d been chosen for it, trained for it. Yet now she refused it?
“I am born to the Alsime,” she says—repeats. “And I’m eblan of the Highlands. And I have a granary here. So why want this other at His Indwelling? Let Sapapsan have it.”
“Yes, but . . . “ Luänha splutters, confounded. “But why Sapapsan?”
Hegrea shrugs. “She has the ways: I’ve trained her to the granary since the day she came here, bereft of a mother. And this past year I gave her the granary-craft.”
Luänha sniffs. Dannyn understands why. Of all those trained to the granary-ways, why has Hegrea given the ‘craft’ only to Sapapsan? Why not to herself? Luänha left hers behind the House of Brega when her brother dragged her away. And why not gift it to Luänha’s daughter Jitjana as well; they’re both of an age.
Dannyn’s also aware of the whispers that for some time have passed between his sister and Sapapsan. Speculations, that when Arith dies—and everyone know that won’t be long—then Aldliks Hegrea will leave the Highlands of the Sun and, as the girls both agree, Sapapsan shall then have Hegrea’s granary as her own.
Although the granary is nothing to do with Arith, and Sapapsan isn’t his child, yet Arith objects. “She’s too young—too young to leave this roof, too young to keep a granary.”
“Too young to keep it on her own,” Hegrea allows. “But if she has someone there to help her—as I have Luänha—then I know she can manage. She has the skills, Arith. And Jitjana, too, has been trained to it. It’s my granary, and I trust them to keep it.”
Arith looks at Luänha. Perhaps he’s hoping she’ll agree with him. One word from her and there’ll be no Jitjana to accompany Sapapsan. What then? Will Hegrea allow Sapapsan to go to His Indwelling alone? Dannyn doubts it. He too looks to his mother. Though Jitjana’s eldest brother, he has no say in her affairs, not while there’s still Luänha here.
“You are right,” Luänha says. “Both have been trained to it. Yet I agree with Arith as well. They are too young. Still, I suppose the two together will manage well.”
“Young as cublings,” Arith says.
“But there are no others,” Hegrea snaps back. “If I go to His Indwelling then Sapapsan must keep the granary here. What difference? Either way, she keeps a granary. It’s time for her—it’s what we’ve planned for her all along.”
“I’m happy to go there with Sapapsan,” Jitjana jumps in (this aimed at Arith).
“No!” Arith now is shouting. “To keep a granary at His Indwelling? You’d send two inexperienced girls—”
“Women,” Hegrea corrects him.
“Girls, women—young—without experience. And you’d send them to His Indwelling where there’s no River Alsime. All Kredese and—”
“No, Arith,” Dannyn bravely says. “There are River Alsime using that granary; I remember Old Boney saying.”
“Besides,” adds Hegrea, “there’s been plenty Alisime women from there come here to my granary. They’ll be no strangers.”
“If they’re to go, then I shall accompany them.”
But Hegrea violently shakes her head. “No, Luänha, I need you here. Without you all I have is Bisdata and Sapsinhea to help me. And as yet both are too young to rely upon.”
“No-no, no way, Luänha,” Bukfesen tells her, gruff with sternness. “If you go to His Indwelling, then I shall have to go there too. Then who shall be eldliks of Hegrea’s Isle? Alsvregn’s son Erlunen? He’s the eldest boy here. Yet he’s no more than fifteen winters-seen; he’s not old enough yet to be an eldliks.”
“Oh? Yet Sapapsan and Jitjana, of an age with Erlunen, are old enough to be granary-keepers,” says Arith.
“They’re old enough to take a man to their beds,” Hegrea says. “They’re old enough to have babies.”
“Well that’s the answer,” Luänha says and everyone looks at her. “Two young women alone, barely more than girls; I don’t like it any more than does Arith. So let them take young men along with them.”
“Excellent, Luänha,” Hegrea picks it up before Arith can splutter an objection. “For it’s true, they’ll have the need of a granary-trader.”
“Sapapsan will need the granary-trader,” Bukfesen says with a savage squint at Hegrea. “But not my daughter Jitjana. She will not.”
“And you, Bukfesen, have become too Ulishvregan in your ways,” Hegrea says back to him. “Fifteen winters-seen: an Alisime woman should have her first swollen belly. Maybe even her second.” But Hegrea’s family is no longer Alisime in any of their ways.
Sapapsan quickly looks at Jitjana. Dannyn sees how his sister quickly covers blush. And what is this? He decides to observe them more closely.
“Every granary has a trader,” Hegrea says in answer to Bukfesen. “Alsvregn is trader for my granary. Arith was trader before his aging.”
“Arith is also father of your children,” Bukfesen says and quickly amends, “—your adopted children.” Bukfesen’s face is full of fatherly as he looks at Jitjana, his own ‘little girl’. Dannyn realises she isn’t so little.
“Yet the aldliks is right,” Jitjana answers her father. “If I were to live at Bisaplan’s Isle I’d have visitors by now, and a swelled belly. I am not too young to take a man to my bed. If I want.”
This talk is too much for Bukfesen. With a sniff, and twisted lips, he looks away. But he soon looks back. “With visiting, the young men come and go. And there’s always close kin to keep an eye on a girl—woman. And there’s no staying together if one wants to end it. But is that how it’s to be with Sapapsan’s trader?”
“Yes, Sapapsan’s trader,” Jitjana shoots back at him. “So why are you so concerned about me?”
“No,” Hegrea cuts in. “It would be best if you both have traders—with you both being so young. Though you’re right, only Sapapsan’s trader will trade for the granary.”
“Huh,” snorts Bukfesen—though Dannyn’s not sure where his comment belongs. “And if he’s a trader he’ll be Ulishvregan. And if Ulishvregan he’ll want to join with you in a more permanent way. Arith and Hegrea,” he says, “see how long they’ve stayed together.”
“But neither Arith nor I are Ulishvregan,” Hegrea says and laughs—to defuse the situation between father and child? “Yet we stay together because of the granary. I cannot do it alone—a grain-mother alone isn’t enough, she needs a trader. And neither could Arith have established the trade without my granary. He needed my grain and honey—as does Alsvregn, now.”
Arith opens his mouth. Dannyn reads the expression: What! They’ve only stayed together for the sake of the granary? But then something Brictish passes between them and Arith sits back again.
“So you’re saying I’m to have a trader too?” asks Jitjana—with another glance at Sapapsan who sits by the fire, looking awkward at all of the talk.
“If I’m to be the granary-keeper,” Sapapsan says (perhaps something in Jitjana’s glance has prompted her), “then I’d rather have Arith say who is my trader.”
Hegrea shakes her head. “No. That’s the Kerdolak way.”
But Sapapsan shrugs. “Kerdolak or not, I’ve seen no trader I want in my bed. So it’s best he’s chosen for his trading skills.”
“Does Sapapsan have to have this trader into her bed?” asks little Sapsinhea with the wide-eyed look of the young.
“And will she have daughters to continue our craft if her bed remains empty?” Hegrea asks in return.
Again, something unspoken passes between Arith and Hegrea. Dannyn wonders: All this talk of their staying together for the sake of the granary, and there’s been no children between them, because of his aging. As it often is said, that’s why she adopted Bisaplan’s Daughters when their mothers died. But whatever is Brictishly said between them seems to satisfy Arith. He takes Hegrea’s hand and gently squeezes it, affection restored.
Now Bisdata joins in, displaying knowledge beyond her years, “There doesn’t have to be a trader in her bed for Sapapsan’s belly to swell. Any man can do it, as long as the Mother wants it. So if Sapapsan has to have daughters she can get them at the Feast of Winter Ending.”
Sapapsan mumbles of preferring that. “Why do I have to bed with a trader? Why do I have to bed with anyone? Is it part of our craft?”
“Hmm . . .”Hegrea seems at a loss for an answer. Then, “Beekeeper-swineherd, granary-keeper-granary-trader, that’s the way of it.”
“The Kerdolak way,” Murdan sneers, finally joining in the discussion.
“So is there another way?” Hegrea asks with a particular look at Arith, as trader.
“It’s true, Sapapsan should have a trader,” he agrees. “And it’s right, he should share her bed—though not for the children he brings. No, it’s for the bond between them.” He turns to Sapapsan. “You’ll need a strong bond, if you’re to work together as one.”
Sapapsan snorts, “And what of Alsvregn? How is he bonded to our aldliks?”
“The Alisime granary still is a child,” Luänha answers swiftly. “And like a child, we try one way, we try another. We are learning. And what we have learned is that the granary-keeper needs a trader, bonded and bedded. It’s best.”
Now it’s Dannyn who sniffs. Why is his mother turning about?
“This is the Alisime way,” Luänha says with a direct look at Murdan“—The new Alisime way.”
“So you’re saying, I must have this trader in my bed?” Sapapsan’s resentment is clear.
Hegrea looks away. She seems disappointed: Sapapsan ought to feel honoured at the gift of the granary.
“You ask me to find you a trader?” says Arith. “I can find you the very best, but likely you’ll find him unacceptable. Then again, you can find a man who’s acceptable to you—maybe tolerable if not desirable—and likely he’ll be the worst of traders. I can train a man to be the best of traders, but I can’t train a trader to be best in your bed. I can give him trading skills, but not even the eblann can give him whatever he needs for you to like him.”
If Sapapsan was building to stamp her feet, sob and moan, Arith’s words have chased that away. “Then he needn’t be a trader? You can give him the skills that he’ll need?”
“I have said,” Arith says. “But he must be Ulishvregan, even if not a seasoned trader.”
“Why Ulishvregan?” Bukfesen asks—now the talk is away from Jitjana he’s happy again.
“Because every Ulvregan knows how to trade,” several answer in chorus.
“They learn it at their father’s side,” says Alsvregn as he finally joins in. ”The girls as much as the boys.”
“It’s true,” Alsvregn’s sister Sapapla adds. “I learned to trade from my father—though I’ve not traded since taking up with Staëdan.”
“Even Erlunen knows how to deal,” says Alsvregn’s Alisime woman, Hegfelanha from Bisaplan’s Isle.
“So . . .” Sapapsan’s fast-thinking. “if I find an Ulishvregan man, will you give him the skills?”
Arith nods. “I have said.”
“Then . . . there is an Ulvregan I would have.” The change in Sapapsan: now bright as the morning after a storm.
“If he’ll have you,” Jitjana teases (but Sapapsan smirks back at her).
“Do I go to him now and ask him? Only . . . ” Sapapsan is all of a dither, hand to her mouth and fingernail nibbling “. . . he’s Ulishvregan, isn’t he. So chances are he’ll be away wandering. Might it be better if I tell you who and you do what’s needed?”
Arith shrugs. And neither can Hegrea answer. This is a new situation.
“He should be invited to the isle,” Hegfelanha says “—to visit. Only, if it’s to be an Alisime granary then it ought to be done in the Alisime way.”
Hegrea laughs. “Oh, surely, yes. Then all the family can gather together and all together examine him—to see if he meets with the family’s approval.”
After the tensions it’s good that they laugh, though it’s Bukfesen who laughs the loudest, the only one there who has personally experienced the Alisime way.
“However do the Alisime men find the courage to go visiting,” Luänha tuts, “when they know they must endure such withering treatment?”
“It’s the way we do it,” Bukfesen defends. He sounds offended.
“Well I agree we should invite him here,” Hegrea says to cut through the again-mounting tensions. “But not that we all should examine him. It’s not this man who seeks our Sapapsan, but our Sapapsan who—”
“—seeks him!” Jitjana splutters into discordant giggles.
“Then that’s decided,” Arith declares. “So, if Sapapsan will just tell us who she’ll have with her at the granary at His Indwelling, I can invite him to visit our isle.”
“Must I name him now?” Dannyn can almost hear Sapapsan cringing. The family are bound to tease her.
“Well, I for one am curious to know who has caught my daughter’s eye,” Hegrea says, encouraging.
Though quietly said Sapapsan admits, “It is Ardeld.”
“Ardeld? Trader Dalnam’s son? He’s young,” Arith remarks.
“I am young,” Sapapsan says since he’s made so much of it. “But he has a beard, and full-grown status.”
“He has no beard,” Arith teases her.
Arith grins, and laughs—until he sees Sapapsan’s discomfort. “I am delighted with your choice,” he tells her.
“Then why did you laugh?” Again she’s turned sullen.
“Because I am delighted. I tell you, if I had chosen for you, it would have been Ardeld. His grandmother is Bisapsha—Alsvregn’s and Sapapla’s foster-mother, and there is a strong family bond there. They’re a large family, too, and loyal to each other. It’ll be good for the granary to further ally itself with them.”
“So that’s why your family welcomed me?” Alsvregn teases Hegfelanha. In return she elbows him sharply.
“Ardeld’s uncle is the most notable of all the Ulishvregan traders, Burnise,” Arith explains to any who’ll listen, for around him now there is much chatter. “Ardeld was birthed to the best of all trader-families. And yet,” he’s suddenly thoughtful, “the young man cares not to trade. I often do wonder the why.”
Dannyn wants to answer, Arith is Brictan, Arith should know, but Sapapsan volunteers the answer.
“He had hoped to find an Alisime woman and not go wandering again but,” she glances at Hegfelanha, “he says he’s found none he likes enough to pass through the Alisime formula. And so he keeps wandering, but he does not trade.”
“And I suppose he likes you enough?” Bisdata cheeks her.
“I haven’t exactly asked him,” Sapapsan snaps back.
“He does,” Jitjana says casting her words around—which cause Sapapsan to blush a more vivid red.
“And what of you?” Luänha now asks her daughter.
Jitjana blushes equally bright.
“You may as well name him,” Sapapsan says, taking delight in the retaliation. “If you don’t, I will.”
“Dalkude,” says Jitjana, notably sheepish.
Arith’s eyebrows rise. “Another of Alsvregn’s kin? Mandatn’s grandson—that is who you mean? I wonder, does he have the stories his grandsire had?”
But Jitjana, now trying her best to hide her face, doesn’t answer.
“He’s not a bad choice,” Arith says. “I take it from Sapsinhea’s and Bisdata’s giggles that there’s been something more than pleasantries between you?”
Jitjana’s blush deepens.
“If you’ll not tell them, I will,” Sapapsan threatens her.
Jitjana snorts back at her. “Actually, he has already asked me to join with him.”
Luänha frowns and asks her sharply, “Just when was this?”
Dannyn groans. More family squabbles.
“The Feast of Winter Ending last,” says Jitjana, now fully sullen. “I told him he must come visiting—in the Alisime way—and since then he’s gone travelling.”
Arith nods his understanding. “We shall have to wait till summer-ending. Then we’ll invite them both to the isle. And I shall talk with them both. And I promise you, no endless questions from all of the family.”
“And that’s how Sapapsan and Jitjana acquired their traders,” says Dannyn, having now withdrawn his memories from me. “Does it help you fill in some ‘boxes’?” He grins.
“Yea,” I admit. “It answers about the granary-traders.”
“Of course, their move to His Indwelling still wasn’t simple. When Hegrea inspected the Krediche granary she declared it unsuitable. So then a new granary had to be built, and also a new ‘roof—Hegrea wouldn’t allow them to live in the Krediche cotts.”
“And we’re almost there?” I ask. By now we’re now heading west again, having long since swung into First Water—or the Kennet as I know it. And I’m curious to meet his eblan brother. Why hasn’t previously mentioned him?