Julia could have happily settled into the company at Sapapsan’s Isle. But Dannyn has other ideas. Still, at least he has allowed his brother Markreën to take her to the Cloud Stone Isle before he whizzes her away the next day. But, instead of excitement at seeing the Neolithic marvel she dreads what she’ll find there.
Episode 47 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
I know the C21st/our world data. The henge itself an astounding 1380 feet in diameter. The ditch originally 69 feet wide and 36 feet deep. This before me looks much the same. But then, Hegrea’s Isle conforms size-wise to Durrington Walls. It’s what sits within that could different.
I try to assess its age. I know it pre-existed Murdan’s Rings at Hegrea’s Isle, for Murdan was supposedly inspired by his visit there. But how much older is it? Our Avebury henge (or at least its ditch and bank) has been C14 dated to between 3300 to 2630 BCE. But how do I assess the age of this? By how green the bank? The plants here form somewhat more than the subtle netting I saw at Hegrea’s Isle without being total cover. Murdan’s Rings at Hegrea’s Isle are close to forty years old. Here I’d double that age—which puts the construction of Cloud Stone Isle at circa 2580 BCE. I grunt dissatisfaction. By my calculation the Isle is too young. Perhaps my guide, Eblan Markreën, can correct me.
“When was this built?” I ask in awkwardly halting Alisime. As well that he’s Brictan and can delve into my head.
“In the days of Eblan Buktalen. It is his Inspired Creation.”
Yea, great, but when did this Eblan Buktalen live. I’ve no need to ask: like his brother, Markreën anticipates.
“The Inspired Eblan Buktalen lived in the days of Eblan Negkraken—whose Inspired Creation is the Ancestral Boat of the Dead.”
“On the Highlands of the Sun?” Though that’s not the question I should be asking.
“There are others,” he says. “But yes, on the Sun’s Highlands.”
Drat! Double and treble and quadruple drat. So, tell me now, when was the Ancestral Boat of the Dead created? Or should I say the Stonehenge Cursus. It’s been dated to between 3630 and 3375 BCE. Hey, by taking the lesser date, the creation of this Cloud Stone Isle almost matches those for our Avebury henge. Moreover, at least here at the outside, the henge looks as it should—like our Avebury henge. Except . . . 3375-3300 BCE? Shouldn’t it be much greener by now? Hells, it ought to be bright green banks, totally covered by now. Perhaps the Alsime here regularly scrape it. Or maybe they regularly re-dig the ditch and cover over the growth. That would explain the depth of ditch and height of bank. And, as I know from Dannyn, the important thing here is the whiteness of bank.
We’ve gained the henge—or rather the Cloud Stone Isle—via Dannyn’s stone-lined Processional Way. But the Way cleverly angles as it enters the henge—Isle—effectively hiding its innards till the very last moment. I scarcely dare enter. Will there be standing stone circles? Avebury has three: the Perimeter or Outer Circle, and the North and South Inner Circles. Deep breath, fingers crossed.
And yes! Or at least the colossal sarsens-stones of the outer stone circle are there. 98 in total, some in excess of 40 tons. With a whopping 1,088 feet diameter, this is one of the very largest stone circles in Europe.
But all these mammoth stones, not only here but also lining Dannyn’s Processional Way, beg a question. That of logistics. Okay, so the stones are found east of here, across Marlborough Downs, which sounds no big deal, no hauling from Wales, no crossing the Vale. But even so, moving them? Erecting them? How did Dannyn engineer his Processional Way in so few years? Could the answer lie in his being Brictan? Can Brictans also do telekinesis? He hasn’t said, and I’ve seen no sign of it. I look at Markreën. Will he answer honestly if I ask him? He seems a nice chap but mayn’t be polite if put on the spot.
He volunteers no information, though I know he can pick up my thoughts. So that caps that. Back to the henge—I mean, the Cloud Stone Isle.
There are no inner rings—which doesn’t surprise me. While C14 dates for the outer circle range from 2900 to 2600 BCE there are none for the inner circles, and it’s generally agreed they came later. The trimmings, so to speak. The Inspired Creations of some later eblan. Maybe even Eblan Markreën.
“Why is it called the Cloud Stone Isle?” I ask him.
He looks up at the sky as if in answer. Weird answer: there’s not a cloud in the sky.
“You have watched the clouds?” he says. “How they are a beast, then they change to another? From one side of the sky to the other, they can take the form of great-many beasts. And so, too, with these stones. They are beasts in becoming.”
I smile at him. Nice chap. But it seems I lack his imagination.
After a quick tour of the stones—during which he tells me NOT to poke my fingers into the stones’ many holes—”Why not, what happens?”—“The Mother blesses your couplings!”—Oops, swift retrieval of finger—Markreën delivers back to Sapapsan’s Isle where Aplan is taking an extended and fond farewell of her surrogate father. I sheath my claws though with some difficulty. (And what right have I, a part-time visitor who soon will be gone and to never return.)
Ah-ha, he’s now disentangled. He gestures me into the boat—just in time to receive a stack of food-bundles from Sapapsan, along with her well-wishes for a safe journey south to the Ancients Land.
To the Ancients Land? I look at Dannyn, query written large on my face. He grins. Oops, I’d forgotten, he doesn’t read.
“We’re going to visit your other brother?” I ask, desperately trying to remember his name.
I know he has two brothers with names much the same (or at least, the same to my C21st English ears). One has been apprenticed to Meksuin the metal-smith. The other lives ‘in the very south of the Ancients Land’. Lusket, that’s it! And he’s ‘taken up’ with Mandatn’s son’s granddaughter Balsana—who is sister to the late Dalkude who was Jitjana’s trader-man.
“Can we travel so far in one day?” Not that I know where the Ancients Land is. But I’ve heard it mentioned several times and have the impression of it being south of Salisbury—okay, south of the Rivers Meet which, visualising the OS map on the wall of the ‘Pod Room back at Priory House, amounts to the same. Just south of Salisbury is the confluence of the Avon and the Nadder plus, a sneeze later, the Bourne joins in.
Dannyn chuckles at my naivety. “No, it’s a two-day journey.”
“Oh.” Then the thought occurs to me: “So we’ll spend the night under the boat?”
I can’t remember ever feeling so rampantly horny before, in all my life. Is it just that this is a different world? The holiday syndrome. Or is it him, being Brictan, having some kind of ‘in’ to my desires, knowing how to arouse them, then how to satisfy? Or maybe it’s because this all is to end very soon. As soon as we tell Fliss of our discovery, that this isn’t our past but a parallel universe, I can guarantee she’ll pull the project. And that spells the end of me and Dannyn. No, I don’t want to think of it. I know I’m going to miss him, way beyond words, but what good is brooding. I’ve already screwed my brain down to my boots thinking up ways either for me to remain in his world, or to somehow smuggle him back into mine. But, no, it won’t work; it’s plain impossible. So, rather than spoil the time that’s left to us in whingeing and whining about the drab situation I intend to live every moment of it in full awareness—which might also account for my insatiable appetite for nestling up close with him.
He hasn’t yet answered me. He’s merely poling away down river.
So here I am thinking this trip will be quicker, plus being easier on his muscles, the current here taking us, when—full unexpected—he propels his river-craft into the southern bank and drives the pole into the riverbed to hold it. But, hey, we’re barely past Sapapsan’s granary—I mean, the Sanctuary.
“What . . .?”
“From here we walk.”
I grin like a chimpanzee. “You’re joshing me, yea. From here to the Ancients Land?”
He flashes one of his ‘melt me’ smiles (which thoroughly works) and tells me no. “There is someone I like you to meet.”
I’m beginning to think he’s purposely lined up a series of people he wants me to meet. Five days, five nights, what’s wrong with tucking me away in his winter-roof and never allowing me the light of day? Oh sigh. Such thoughts—which apparently leak.
“I want to give you all that you want, on this visit.”
But I want to be tucked away in his winter-roof for the full five days and five nights. Only it seems he knows me better than I know myself. If he gives in to my (uncharacteristic) lustful behaviour then by the end of this adventure, guarantee it, I’ll be mourning the loss of so many lost chances. And those chances never will come again. So I concede him the point. Forty-love, advantage Dannyn.
“So who are we going to meet? And, hey, how much do you think I can carry?” He’s piling me high with Sapapsan’s food parcels.
Maybe it’s merely Neolithic forethought, though perhaps Dannyn had told her where we are going, for each of these parcels is so tied that they’re easily knotted onto my belt and the straps of my backpack. Regardless, I still feel much like a donkey loaded for market, rather than a woman here on vacation from the twenty-first century. And then I feel bad at my grouse, for Dannyn just ups the boat out of the river and swings it over his head to port it. I tag along slightly behind him—not cos he’s a big brave trailblazing a man and I’m only a weakling woman in need of protection, but because he knows the way.
The way at first is easy to follow. We’ve hit onto the Ridgeway. Though the going at first is steep, climbing as we are out of the Kennet valley, yet it eases off as we near the top of the Marlborough Down’s southern scarp. Millennia later the Wansdyke will run across here in an attempt to hold back (assumingly) the Saxons. But for now, despite the fences to either side, too recently erected to have attracted hedges, I have wonderful views of the Krediche lands. Yea! Finally I see a full cluster of Krediche cotts. Apart from the difference in building materials they could have been lifted from Skara Brae. Incredible. And these are the same type of houses excavated at Durrington Walls by the Riverside Project. But how, and why? These aren’t Alsime houses, they’re Krediche. I tell myself, it’s the difference of worlds.
I’m not sure when the thought first occurred, but by now it’s taken firm hold. This ‘parallel world’ only diverged from our world when Hegrea became Eblan Burnisen’s apprentice and was subsequently re- born into an Alisime family. Her sweet little son Murdan then drove the wedge deeper (but the less said of him the better). Essentially, it was Hegrea’s granary that sent this world spinning away from our own. Except . . .
Except the Alisime long-houses. They didn’t exist in our Neolithic—at least, not here in Wessex. In the early Neolithic of southeast Europe, sure, in the tell culture. And perhaps they spread as far as Bavaria, even into the Paris basin. But they didn’t reach here. Here in Britain they’re full out of place. So, so much for my thesis of Hegrea screwing things up.
Maybe it’s the Immortals that did it—spun us apart. Only, as far as I know, there were no Immortals in our Neolithic; no gods and demi-gods either until much later, circa the Bronze Age. Hmm, I grunt, still dissatisfied with my thesis.
“We have not much farther,” Dannyn says, perhaps miss-taking the cause that grunt. “Just past the White Hill and take the track down.”
White Hill, which White Hill? If by ‘White Hill’ he means those white-rock walls topping the extreme heights along this scarp, I now can see three. And it dawns on me exactly what they are. I don’t mean their contemporary names, though I can name one as Knap Hill and another as Walkers Hill—the track takes us between them. No, it’s as to their nature I’ve suddenly clicked. Once, five or six thousand years ago, at the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic, these had been tribal gathering places. But not now. Knap Hill, to the left of the track, is black with birds. Black, and loud. I’d not realised how squeamish I am till I have to look away in revulsion at the reddish-grey stuff these birds are carrying away in their beaks.
I’ve read (somewhere) that to this day the Parsees of Calcutta continue the practice, with complaints from residents of high-rise flats nearby. In answer, the tradition-practicing Parsees point to the open cremations alongside the rivers. Death leaves a void in the beloveds’ life. But it also presents the problem of what to do with the dead one’s physical remains. Sky burial is an ancient solution, and one practiced by our Neolithic ancestors—though, remembering the cremation I witnessed on my first ‘trip (though only by its smell and smoke), I’d say apparently not everyone here practices the same. Then again, Dannyn has said of changing the death rites.
I pray the birds won’t drop their morsels as they fly above me, and keep my head down as I walk.
It was early of the day when we set out. It’s now around 2 ‘of the clock’ in the afternoon. How do I know? No, it’s not by accessing my phone. Dannyn has shown me how to hand-span the time. With an open landscape, the sky divides into twelve hand-spans—obviously less when the sky is squeezed between high hills or mountains. Six hands is midday. So simple, and perhaps the origin of the counting base 12 (which in turn gave rise to the 360 degrees of a circle, 24 hour clock et al).
Early afternoon, and we’re back into Alisime-held land where old-grown hedges again line the fences. Ahead is a break in the elders and brambles. As we approach, I see there’s a stile. Dannyn throws the boat over, and turns back to help me.
Truly, I could up-slap my head. I ought to have realised sooner where we are going. While telling his story, Dannyn also told me of the first meeting of Hegrea and Eblan Burnisen—plus, of course, there have been others who’ve mentioned it.