With Dannyn not expecting her, and lunch with Siobhán seeming more important, Julia had ducked out of her scheduled ‘trip to Destination-minus-26. So now (Monday evening) she has Fliss on the phone.
Episode 52 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
“Jules-darling, how are you now?”
“Fine now,” I said. “Migraine. I slept it off.”
“Migraine, darling? Excuse but . . . no, I’ve no recollection of you with migraines when we were at school.”
“No, they’ve only plagued me since I’ve been working—dry air, stuffy environments, cleaning materials.” Oh, how easily I lied! “You know how museums can be.” Or maybe she didn’t: Dr Nobel-Prize-Potential Plessey.
“Oh.” Was that disappointment? “You’re not preggers then? Another of Dave’s little wind-ups, yeah? Only, well, it takes two, doesn’t it. And who have you . . . ? I mean, you’re not in a relationship—you said.”
“No, Fliss, I am not ‘in a relationship’, and I am not pregnant.” I wanted to tut, yet even as I said it my mind was racing, busy calculating.
I mightn’t be in what she’d call a relationship but there was Dannyn. So it was as well that I was perpetually on the Pill. To me it had always made sense. I never knew when I might meet that certain someone and—a drink, a meal, a heavy flirtation, and oops! Yea, we all know about condoms and safe sex, but I like to be doubly certain. After all, accidents do happen. But I had another reason for staying with the Pill. It meant I had control of things while at Destination. As long as I kept taking the Pill I had no awkward moments. Then those weekends I wasn’t ‘tripping I could stop the Pill and catch up on things. Except . . . well, it hadn’t quite worked as it should so far. I stopped the Pill last Saturday and . . . nothing.
I’d convinced myself I’d no worries. But now, with Fliss saying of it, I began to wonder. I hadn’t missed a Pill (except when intended). But, though only fifteen minutes passed while I was in the ‘pod, I had been at Destination for three entire days. I swallowed. Hard. And what of this last weekend? Five days away. And now, as I realised, unprotected. Oh, Julia, you fool! I had been taking big-big chances.
But Fliss wasn’t yet finished. “You do remember our little talk? About Kenneth? About how you’re dead if I get one little whiff of anything UN-professional between you?”
I laughed. “Fliss, you’re way off track. I told you, he’s not my type.”
“Of course,” she cooed. “You prefer your Neolithic hunk.”
Yea. But I was almost sick just thinking of it.
Time was fast coming when we must tell Fliss the truth about Destination. Whatever else her reactions I knew of a certainty she’d pull my ‘trips. She might even do that before—in consideration of my ‘sickness’. I might never make another ‘trip. My head went into irrational turmoil at the thought of not seeing Dannyn again. I needed distraction. So I used the rest of that week to complete my report, to fill in the missing data beneath the labels.
I started with Dannyn and wrote his biography, now with very few gaps. There was bitter-sweet satisfaction in that.
The next was what I deemed ‘My Project’ with its several sub-headings: Granary, Trade, Culture—further subdivided to Religion, Society, and Family. Except I still hadn’t seen inside a granary, I was able to construct an in-depth history of its development, both the Kerdolak/Krediche and the Alisime. Surprisingly, ditto ‘Trade’. And I was able to answer most of my questions on Alisime, Ulishvregan and Krediche society. Ditto for ‘Family’.
Which left ‘Religion’. I had a passable overview of the Alisime eblann and their role in society. I knew their Numbers Theory: what they assigned to each. I knew their Law of Opposites. But I didn’t know their mythology. Had they yet a developed cosmogony? Did they make pantheons of their spirit-entities? This I doubted, the Alisime culture as yet being only at the animistic stage. Even so, there was Alsaldhelm Tumun, home of Judlamhe Upsulm, the Dark Mother of the Underworld: a place of communion with the Ancients, thus a route into Land of the Dead. This, at least, must represent the beginning of an Alisime mythology. But I wanted to know more. Here were boxes with labels and I’d nothing to put into them.
Inevitably, spending my evenings on this, my thoughts kept returning to Destination. Ken had claimed my findings were evidence of a multi-verse. Though at first I’d agreed, I now wasn’t so sure. In inputting the data I could see so many similarities between our Neolithic and theirs. Perhaps that could be answered by parallel evolution. Yet wasn’t that pushing belief? More likely was a divergent universe, with a split at some point in the past. I could even point to that moment.
It was when Hegrea introduced the granaries to the Alsime. That was the catalyst for all subsequent change—or so I thought at first. Without Hegrea and her granary Durrington Walls and Stonehenge would have proceeded as in our world.
But, no. What of the bluestones at Stonehenge? Hegrea wasn’t involved in that. Until her son Murdan brought the stones from His Indwelling all that existed at Stonehenge were Hegrea’s ‘Calendar Stones’ (which I’d taken to mean what we know as the four Station Stones). But why were the bluestones at His Indwelling when they should have been erected on Salisbury Plain long before then?
Sapapla said of Burnisen’s story. Though she couldn’t remember the details, she did remember Burnisen saying it had happened in the days of the First Ancestors, when the Krediche families hadn’t long been at His Indwelling. The Kerdolan had brought the stones across the Plains of His Indwelling because the North Alsime wouldn’t allow them use the local stones, the sarsens being sacred to them.
So that laid the divergence at the feet of the Alsime.
But there was the anomaly of the Alisime longhouses. Definitely not what’s found in our Neolithic. They suggested a connection with the Early Neolithic Linear-Band-Keramic of Eastern and Central Europe. The LBK culture had stretched its fingers as far west as the Ile de Paris. But had it also reached across the Channel? I doubted our archaeologists would yet know of it, the remains of the longhouses buried beneath metres of silt, later villages constructed upon them.
Yet, dissatisfaction niggled as scenarios clashed—in the form of the Alisime tale of origins. And yet . . . The Ulvregan and Alsime once were one people. But while the Ulvregan refused the ‘gift of grain’, seeing the grain-growers as intrusive perpetrators of land-theft, the Alsime accepted it. Yet how to explain the Alisime claim that they are indigenous, and that they accepted their grain from the intrusive grain-growers (surely the LBK)? Yet the Alsime claim their grain came from the Kredese, and it’s the Alsime themselves who construct the LBK longhouses. Confusion.
I sat a long time, simply staring at what I had written. Somewhere in my head was an answer, something that would bridge the Channel and make the Alsime of Southern Britain an offshoot of the LBK of the Low Countries and the Rhine.
And there it was. The Ancestral Boat Humps—or rather, the long barrows. According to Dannyn they were erected at the boundaries of the Ancestresses’ Lands—particularly where the land abutted the river. What did he say of them? That the Alsime called them Boat Humps because the time came when they pulled up their boats and went no more to sea.
Dannyn was neither Ulishvregan nor Alisime to have learnt their stories at his mother’s knee. Yet because he was eblan he’d not only learned them but had to make sense of them. According to him it was the Ancients (or those I’d call the Mesolithic pre-farmers) who had used their upturned boats to say, ‘Here we are for the summer-half, this land is ours.’ So wasn’t it possible that the Alsime weren’t indigenous at all? That they were sea-farers from across the Channel?
And what had he said of their acquiring the grain?
“In the time of the Ancients, before the Alsime knew grain, they were alone in this land, from shore to shore. There were no East Alsime, River Alsime, South and North Alsime. Then the Eskin had come with their grains. And shortly after the Kredese too.”
But while the Ulvregan had upped roots and left, taking their (stolen) goats with them, the Alsime had stolen the Eskit and Krediche cattle and grain, and had stayed. The women cut fields, and wherever the fields, that was their land. I remembered thinking how deep Bisaplan’s roots.
The Alsime weren’t native to Britain. Rather, the story of their stolen grain should be set in Europe, perhaps on the banks of the Rhine. That would explain their islands and longhouses, for these features are found amongst the Western Linear-Band-Keramic of Belgium, Germany and Poland.
However, neither the Alisime pottery nor the construction techniques for their longhouses match their continental versions. Yet, apart from that, there are sufficient similarities to suggest an affinity.
So, indigenous to the Rhine, the Alsime ‘steal’ their neighbours grain and livestock, and ferry their gains across the Channel, to set up new homes in Southern Britain. It seemed to make sense to me.
But, despite Dannyn’s claim of coast-to-coast Alsime, they weren’t alone in this land. There were Eskin and Kredese, both hailing from Brittany and points further south. Conflict ensued. The Alsime blocked Krediche expansion—and that is when our two worlds parted. In our world, the Kredese pushed south, across the Vale of Pewsey, and onto Salisbury Plain.
Again, I sat and stared at my jottings.
Then I wrote out another question: Why in Dannyn’s world were the Alsime dominant, while in my world it was the Kredese and Eskin? I resolved to ask Dannyn about Eblan Soänsha (he’d said he would tell me the story, but as yet he’d not), for it was Soänsha who was credited with stealing the Krediche grain.
So, next question. Would this revised scenario fit with that other, major, divergence: Alsaldhelm Tumun?
Nothing—but nothing—like that tumun has ever existed any place on Salisbury Plain (nor yet on Cranborne Chase or Marlborough Downs). It was akin to the Early Neolithic shrines found in Brittany, in Ireland, Wales and the Orkneys—the work of the Kerdolan, or maybe the Kredese or Eskin. Yet according to the Alisime eblann, it’s the work of the Ancients. It is the entrance to the Land of the Ancestors, the Land of the Dead.
I needed more information to untangle this one. As with the Boat Humps, something was tugging at the back of my mind. But as I sat there, it suddenly leapt into focus. I hastily wrote the question: What is the major difference between my world, and Dannyn’s?
Answer: Immortals and Brictans.
There are no Brictans loose in this land, and no Immortals—though maybe some would disagree with me. (My mother, for one: “And what of the fairies, my dear?”)
The Head of Kared, an Immortal. Hegrea, a Brictan, daughter of Freilsen, an Immortal. Luin, a Brictan, son of Amblushe, an Immortal. Murdan, a Brictan, son of Luin and Hegrea, both Brictan. Dannyn, a Brictan, son of Luänha, daughter of Amblushe, an Immortal.
The Head of Kared was the first to establish the granary-system in Western Europe. It was that which altered all else that followed. Because of the Kerdolak-run granary, the Alsime stood firm against their Krediche neighbours. And that tumun, despite what the Alisime eblann might say, was constructed by the Kerdolan, the Eskin or the Kredese, and I’d favour the first: the Kerdolan.
But what were the Immortals that they should be so troublesome in Dannyn’s world, yet non-existent in mine?
Saturday came, and I took observation duty with Fliss, while Ken and Dave had the ‘pods. Left alone together, she scarcely spoke to me. Yet her every look was loaded with daggers. What had I done? Was this because I was ill last weekend? Had I so desperately inconvenienced her by ducking out of last Sunday’s ‘trip? Yet I hadn’t left her alone to observe as I would had I done it today. Perhaps something had been said? Words spoken behind my back, possibly untruths? Yet there’d been no hint of that the night before; everything had seemed . . . normal. Maybe it was PMT: a monthly reminder of her childless state, not helped by Dave’s wind-up of me being pregnant. Yea, that did seem most likely. Since there was nothing I could do about it I decided best to shrug it off and let her get on with it.
Fliss continued in her silent state, even when Dave and Ken returned and made their reports—nothing new to report. When Fliss made no move to serve lunch, Ken jumped to it. It was a relief to us all when her physio called her away for her daily session.
“Kenneth-darling,” she called over her shoulder as she whirred out of the door, “don’t forget that errand you have for this afternoon.”
Ken grunted acknowledgement and, to us, rolled his eyes.
“What’s with her?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Women’s things.”
“Oh.” So I was right.
“Hey, Julie-poos!” Dave punched me hard on the shoulder. “Take you for a spin? Pops wants to see you. Dog-honest.”
I agreed—though it felt like I was in the midst of a conspiracy. But Dave’s father truly was pleased to see me. Though he asked that age-old, out-dated question, “When are you two going to get married?” I looked at Dave. He actually blushed. Myself, I gave his father an awkward smile.
On our return to Priory House (laden with punnets of strawberries and bags of tomatoes) all seemed to be sweetness with Fliss and Ken. While away I’d asked Dave if he knew Fliss’s problem but he was as dense about it as me. In the evening, after we’d eaten, we all played Monopoly. That took me back to college days. But I confess, several times I turned a blind eye to Fliss’s little ‘tramp’s boot’ as it stopped on my Mayfair hotel. I didn’t want to win; I didn’t want her to lose. I didn’t want a return of her mood. And all that evening I was itching to know what was to be my Destination allowance. She told me the next morning, the Sunday, as I was climbing into the ‘pod.
I had feared, after my illness, she might cut me back to just the one day. Yet by the official story one day would not be enough to hike to Stonehenge and have a nose round. As it was I was amazed that she’d swallowed my story about Durrington Walls. Accurate in detail, according to what is known of it. Yet five days to gather so little information? I’d never thought of Fliss as gullible.
“We’re allowing you only three days Destination,” she said, already closing the pod.
Was that calculated to distract me at such a vital moment? And what was with the royal ‘we’? Did she mean Ken; had she discussed it with him? But, no matter, three days was a vast improvement on one.
The lid closed over me, sealing me in. The only sound now, for several seconds, was that of my breathing. I focused on that. Then, the barely audible sound of water-on-rock.