A proper river-walker is skilled in the swing from Long River to First Water—or so says Dannyn. And yet he has bungled it, battling the combined flow of the rivers, both waters determined to carry his boat swiftly eastward. Julia, however, lost in his memories, hasn’t noticed a thing. All she knows is they’re now heading upriver. And, so long since breakfast, she now is hungry.
Episode 45 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
My grumbling belly lets me know it’s time for a snack—a muesli bar; I’ve several stuffed into my pockets. I offer half to Dannyn. It’s loaded with luscious chocolate chips.
“This grows where?” he asks, mouth full, still munching.
“South America,” I say and restrain the chuckle at the state of him: oat-crumbs spilling. “A vast north-to-south land that lies four thousand miles across the ocean.”
“The . . . ocean? Ah, you mean the sea! But you must mean the Western Sea; to the east is where the Ulvregan walk. Yet across the Western Sea? The Sun’s Lover waits there.”
“Well, it’s certainly where the sun sets at night.” So, yea, I can understand why he’d think the Sun’s Lover waits there.
“We go now to the west,” he says. “but not so far. Four thousand miles? I don’t know miles, but four thousand sounds far.”
“It is far. Are we going to Avebury?” I purposely visualise the standing-stones there.
“You ask of the Cloud Stone Isle? It’s not where we’re going yet, but before we leave I shall take you. No one goes to His Indwelling without also they go to the Cloud Stone Isle. But, no, we go first to Sapapsan’s Isle. It isn’t so far. Yet . . .” he looks up at the sky, “the day will almost be gone by the time we are there.”
“Don’t you need a break from that poling? I mean, your arms must be really be aching.”
“Brictan,” he says, as if that answers all–and I suppose that it does. “Besides—your word, yes?—if I take a break, pull the boat up onto the bank, I shall want to be playful. Then it’ll be morning before we are there.”
I wonder which bank he’d pull the boat onto. Extensive reed-beds line either side. Bearded tits and reed warblers flit in and out of their stems. A harrier quarters the beds, seeking some morsel, perhaps one of the warblers. There’s a ‘plop’ as an unseen something disappears into the water. An otter? It’s a most pleasant day, despite the sun sizzling my skin—and of course I didn’t think to pack sun-block. No sunglasses, either—so now I’m intermittently blinded as the sun’s blazing orb weaves between the few thready clouds. My hat is my only protection. I pull it forward, making the most of its skimpy brim.
The fen-and-marsh eventually gives way to steep hills, heavily wooded. They tightly enclose us, their shade most welcome.
“It is Freeland,” Dannyn says “—to either side of us.”
The wooded Freeland continues some distance, broken and bounded by a stream that, sweeping around a steep hill, suddenly buffets the boat. It jolts and judders through me.
“The Piglet Stream,” Dannyn says without explaining its name. “It falls from the northern Hills of His Indwelling.”
“You know this land well?”
He laughs. “I am Eblan Head Man here, and have been almost since my sister and Sapapsan came to live here. I moved here with them. Have I not said? I have said. When the North Alsime Eblan Head Man left this world—Bukdaten his name—then the remaining eblann wanted me here. I should have been honoured, yet I knew it was only because of Murdan. It still is because of him. But my Inspired Creations all are here.” He laughs. “This was so soon after that first time you came to me, truly, Julia Cannings, I was inspired.
“The first thing I did was to change how the Alsime treat their dead—but that was on the Highlands, and Hegrea and Murdan were there so no one thought it my creation; it was his. Everything always was his. But at His Indwelling . . . these here are my creations. The first was to close that Long Boat the Kredese call Kara’s Cave, the Cave of the Sun.”
Dannyn has several times mentioned this Kara’s Cave. Sapapla, too, said of it. What was it exactly she said? Something of Hegrea growing excited at its mere mention, and then having to explain of it. It’s a cave, Hegrea had said, the entrance to the Land of Nod. To me (disregarding the Biblical Nod) the ‘Land of Nod’ refers to sleep, much like ‘the wooded hills of Bedfordshire’. And so it appears for the Kredese, too. As Hegrea explained it (if I remember), Nod is the Krediche (or is it the Kerdolak) name for the Moon, who controls the waves. Coming so soon after Dannyn’s remark of the Sun’s Lover waiting beyond the Western Sea, I can see now how Kara’s Cave and the Land of Nod fit neatly together. If I remember rightly, Hegrea also called it a ‘Long Boat’, same as Dannyn did just now. Yea, it all fits neatly together.
But there’s another aspect to this Sun’s Cave/Long Boat/Entrance to Land of Nod. Apparently it’s the same as the Celtic ‘Land of Youth’, where the old and the ruined are remade anew—i.e. it’s where the Kredese put their dead. And that tells me, definitively, where it is. It’s the West Kennet Long Barrow.
But did its closure relate, in any way, to the change in the granary-personnel here? I’d say yes, though indirectly. Had Dannyn not moved to His Indwelling with his sister he’d not have been elected Eblan Head Man. If he’d not been Eblan Head Man then he’d not have been able to close the Cave. And as he’s just said, it was the first thing that he did. That gives me a date for its closure, though even that is relative. Yet I can say it was about 25 years previous to this present at Destination.
“My next Inspired Creation,” Dannyn says, pride oozing around the remains of the munched muesli bar, “was the Processional Way—it joins Sapapsan’s granary to the Cloud Stone Isle. On the Highlands such a Way isn’t needed. Hegrea’s Isle is vast; easily holds all the revellers. But at Sapapsan’s . . . no. That granary is . . . tight? A cramped little thing—because it was built on the Krediche site. And how’s to feast in such a small place? ‘Sides, the Cloud Stone Isle was always the Alisime feast ground. Would the Alsime want to feast where the Kredese had feasted—around and in front of their Sun Cave? No, this they would not.”
My thoughts race, even before he’s finished spieling. His Cloud Stone Isle is our Avebury henge, there’s no doubt of that. Though, a swift reminder, before I get carried away with excitement, Hegrea’s Isle’s bears scant resemblance to Durrington Walls, ditto Stonehenge. Thus, apart from both being circular and in the same place AND both having at least some standing-stones, there’s nothing to say this Cloud Stone Isle will resemble our Avebury henge.
Yet, if Dannyn’s Processional Way connects this Cloud Stone Isle (aka Avebury henge) to the granary, then that granary must be what we know, C21st, as the Sanctuary. Wow! But, no. The Sanctuary once was a timber-set circle—just like Woodhenge which, C21st, sits beyond outside Durrington Walls yet here at Destination is non-existent. In both cases the initial timber was later replaced by stone-settings (i.e. a lithification used to convert a place of the Living into a land of the Ancestors). I really don’t need this additional confirmation, yet it proves beyond doubt that here I am in another world. And yet Kara’s Cave-West Kennet Barrow seems such an excellent fit.
“My last Inspired Creation was the Sun Tower. After that, alas, I created no more.” (My heart goes to him: he suddenly sounds so sad.)
I want to ask him about this Sun Tower—what is it? But he’s now lost in reverie and I don’t want to disturb him. Besides, I’m worried of what exactly has dulled his spirits, usually so bright? Is it only his later lack of inspiration? Considering previously he said he wasn’t inspired at all these four creations are no mean achievement.
“Oh,” he says (an effort to brighten?), “and also I took my young brother as apprentice. Markreën, he was born twenty years later from me.”
“You’ve two brothers?” I hope to keep him from brooding.
“Three. Luktosn—but you know of him. He was apprenticed to Meksuin the metal-smith, there in my stead. Then Lusket. He lives now at Mandatn’s Hold, most southly-set in the Ancients Land. He took up with Mandatn’s son’s granddaughter, Balsana—she is sister to Dalkude, my sister’s trader-man—I told you of him? But Dalkude now is gone.”
Dannyn grunts which I take to mean yes. I won’t enquire into details. Perhaps his death is related to Dannyn’s brooding?Maybe he died in building the Sun Tower. And what is that Sun Tower? Is it the same kind of structure as the central watch-tower at Hegrea’s Roof?
“My brother Lusket does well with Balsana,” Dannyn says, almost musing. “Six children now, the youngest just three winters-seen, the eldest fifteen. We see little of him, his brood keeps him busy. We see nothing of Luktosn, either. But Markreën, ha! Markreën you’ll meet. He lodges here at Sapapsan’s Isle.”
He’d no need to say that we’re almost there. Since he said of the Freeland I’ve been counting the Alisime isles that sit back from the river. So far I’ve counted a total of six (four to the south, two to the north). But for some time now there’s been none. So I figure we’re now passing through Krediche country. They build in a different style, more akin to the houses at Skara Brae. Set in the same clusters too, though Ken called them ‘courtyard complexes’. Moreover, they seem to disdain the riverside sites. I’ve seen several now, all set up high—though admittedly I’ve only seen their roofs. And if that’s not enough to tell me just where we are, the river now has dwindled to more of a stream—yet it’s incredibly clear. Every minnow, every pebble, every chunk of chalk, every water-weed—even to where it’s rooted—all is visible.
But more than that, high on the bank to my right, I catch my first sight of—no, it’s not the Sanctuary; it’s the granary: a steeply pitched circular thatched roof outlined against the late afternoon sky. But its roof is all I can see, though that looks an exact replica of the second building at Hegrea’s Isle—the one no one wanted to show me: Aldliks Bisdata’s domain. I can’t see more of it for a dense hedge surrounds it—hawthorn, still in flower. I can smell it, divine, even from here.
The river loops around it. Not wanting to lose sight, I twist and squirm, hoping for a break in the hedge to see it better. Dannyn chuckles, amused by my antics.
“You’d do better to look ahead,” he advises.
And he’s right. Ahead is Sapapsan’s Isle. But . . . “Which is the Isle, and what’s the other?” For two circular thatched buildings, both protected by high palisades, sit one either side of First Water.
“It’s Sapapsan’s Isle to the north. Tiny, yes, next to Hegrea’s Isle?” Dannyn’s tone again has grown bright. “It was built where the Krediche keepers had their cotts—and it was raised quickly. The second building, across the river—“ (which, now I’m able to see it better, I can see it’s smaller still) “—that is Ardeld’s trading store. But he has no dogs to guard it—he has my brother Markreën instead. Brictan, like me.”
For some reason I think of Cuchulian, who in his young days served as the Smith’s Hound.
I pull my attention back to the present, and the terrain. These buildings beside the river are a distraction. I have to purposely look to find Kara’s Cave, though, if it’s West Kennet Long Barrow, I know full-well where it’ll be. And yes, there it is: sat on the hilltop to the south, above the trader’s store. And does it look as it does today, C21st? I can see that, yea, it will, one day—in another 4500 years!
“Inspired, yes?” Dannyn asks, almost bubbling now with excitement. “I remembered Eblan Hegrea telling us this Kara’s Cave was also the lair of the Mother Hare. And so I make it appear as the hare. It is done to honour the Krediche customs. But if ever you meet with Murdan, you don’t tell him this.”
“It certainly looks like a hare.” A giant crouching hare, the huge blocking stones at its eastern end resembling its sticky-up ears. But a white hare, brilliantly alive in the raking rays of the westering sun. “And I so assure you, I won’t tell Murdan.” I’d rather not speak to him. Ever.
“And there,” Dannyn says, hand on my head to forcibly turn it, “—there is my inspired Sun Tower.” He adds with a laugh, “It’s for eblann to use who’ve not Old Boney’s head for climbing tall ladders.”
If I’d been approaching Sapapsan’s Isle along the riverbank, on foot, I’d have seen Dannyn’s inspired Sun Tower before anything else. But here I am low in the water, and the Isle and the trading stores effectively block it—and then being distracted by the long barrow. But now, oh yea, now I can see it. And what is it? Nothing other than the huge enigmatic man-made mound C21st knows as Silbury Hill. Yet it’s not quite as expected.
It’s totally white, while I know Silbury was built of layered chalk and turf. Moreover, Silbury wasn’t built in just 20 years but, according to C14 dating, was slowly raised over the course of 150—seven-nearly eight times as long as Dannyn’s creation. There’s C21st speculation that the hill once was surrounded by water. No speculation: here it is—and it seems to float upon a wide moat. Water supplied by the Swallow Head Springs nearby, source of the Kennet? Maybe. Yet according to the Alsime the streams that feed First Water rise way across the Plain of His Indwelling, almost upon the scarps, northern and western.
Again, it’s forced upon me: this Destination is a totally other world. The two only touch where the earth is marked.
There’s another difference between Dannyn’s Sun Tower and Silbury Hill: their profiles. As hinted by recent studies, the hill doesn’t rise smoothly but, like an unclad Egyptian pyramid, it rises by steps. And neither is it circular. I can’t see clearly from this distance but I’m guessing it’s hexahedral.
“You are wondering the form?” Dannyn asks, knowing full well that I am.
“I was expecting more of a . . . a disorganised mound.”
He laughs. “How could it be disorganised, as you say it, when the Alsime raised it? You know of the Alisime societies, Drukem, Murkem, Ulmkem, Skakem, Eblann. These divisions the Ancients created, each with its specific function for erecting the winter encampment—I told you. But the Alsime no longer have winter encampments, no longer have need to apportion the roles. Yet the tradition remains, of everyone helping, each with a clear role. It was so with Murdan’s Rings. It was so here.”
“But five societies, six sides?”
“No, no, no.” He laughs again. “Not societies. Eblann. Six eblann participated. So each eblan takes one side. My first markers described a small space—my arms’ lengths only. But as the tower grew the measurements each exceeded my arms. Now how to build without one side exceeding that of another?” He chuckles at the memory. “Oh, the measures they took—the times their stakes were moved. None would allow another to have bigger share.”
“But are there only six eblann at His Indwelling?” I’m still not sure the extent of this North Alsime land. But Hills and Plains of His Indwelling, so I’m guessing it fills the gore of land that lies between the Thames and the Vale of Pewsey—and that makes it three times at least the size of the Highlands of the Sun, assuming those Highlands to extend to the lands east of the Avon and north as far the Wetlands.
Dannyn sniffs dismissively. “Only six cared to participate. They asked why I did not—participate, that is. Yet how could I? They had their families to dig and heap. What had I but those at the granary? That—what do you say, alienated?—that alienated some, particularly those from the eastern hills. But, look, here we are,” he says and poles the boat in close to the water-side wharf.
Maybe wharf isn’t quite the right word. It comes with images grander than this. It’s more a few split-logs, pegged in place, to prevent bank erosion. But I’m glad to be out of the boat. Apart from that short stretch of walking, I’ve been sitting here all day and certain parts of my anatomy have become somewhat numb—and now those same parts are nastily tingling. I walk around, as much to disperse the pins and needles as to stretch my legs—nay, to stretch my arms and all parts of my body.
I’m still de-kinking when a befeathered almost-copy of Dannyn slaps him heartily upon his back.
“Markreën!” Dannyn exclaims.
I hold back while the brothers hug. Their emotional greeting somewhat surprises: Dannyn, Head Man, Markreën his apprentice—though surely by now he’s an eblan-true? Still, I’d expect more respect. More deference.
“Markreën,” Dannyn introduces him. “My brother.”
Physically he differs from Dannyn in only his hair. It’s darker than Dannyn’s wheat-white—more sandy-blond. They share the same startling sapphire-blue eyes. They stand at the same height—even their touching shoulders the same. It’s when it comes to the clothes there’s a difference, and it’s more than the choice of eblan-feathers (Markreën’s are taken from the mallard.) It’s that Dannyn wears leather, and leather only, while Markreën’s shirt is of some woven fibre, dark blue dyed. He also wears a woven skirt. Pleated and gathered, cinched at the waist, it’s of a vaguely tartan pattern. I’ve seen similar before at Hegrea’s Isle—worn by Eldliks Erlunen. I guess it’s Luänha’s handicraft: the colours used are the same as Dannyn’s blanket, loaned to me that first night in his ‘roof.
Dannyn pulls me in closer, his arm snaking around my waist. He introduces me in the Alisime tongue—which I know well enough now to translate. “This is my Julia Cannings. I tell you I bring her to you.”
I can feel my face colouring as Markreën passes his appraising eyes over me.
“It is true what they say of her,” he says in Alisime (with no helpful translation from Dannyn). “She is kin to spirit Dreld.”