According to the eblan-story, Soänsha was the first Alsime to grow the grain. Julia had hoped, in hearing the story, to be able to locate the Alisime Urheimat. Was it along the Thames or the Rhine?
Episode 54 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
I’m disappointed. There’s nothing in the story of Eblan Soänsha to say definitively where the Alsime arose. However, I still favour the Rhine. The Rhine would put the Ulvregan in the right place and allow the Alsime and Ulvregan descent from the same Mesolithic ancestral stock. Besides, what’s the alternative? A separation that dates back an additional 2,500 years to the submersion of Doggerland and formation of the North Sea, circa 6,500 BCE. No. These two people share a language more alike than Dutch and German; they’ve not been apart for that long.
There is another approach that might help me to locate their Urheimat—if I can find a way to phrase it, though it’s early morning before I’ve a chance (not that I’m not complaining).
I’d thought from the first time I saw Alsaldhelm Tumun that, though the eblann might claim it the place of the Ancients, the Alsime didn’t build it, merely adopted it. Have they a story to account it? I doubt it. Yet there is Judlamhe Upsulm (Dark Mother of the Underworld) who seems to fit seamlessly into the little I know of Alisime beliefs. But what if those beliefs were also adopted? And if they were, how would I know? So, since it’s pointless to play it cute with Dannyn, to trick him out of information (he picks up my thoughts as if they’re his own), I figure my only recourse is to immerse myself fully into their Alisime beliefs and mythology.
“Alsaldhelm Tumun,” I begin. And being still snuggled into the crook of his arm I can’t see the roll of his eyes (Oh, not that old chestnut again) though I do hear his sigh. I ignore it and press on. “It still bothers me. It . . . it asks questions that I’ve no words to phrase.”
“I too hear those questions,” he says, sounding weary. “It is . . . how’d you say? An enigma.”
“Is it blasphemous for me to say that tumun isn’t Alisime-made?” I ask him.
He laughs. “No, we do know that. It was there when the Alisime women cut their first fields. But blasphemous? How can it be blasphemous to say the tumun isn’t Alisime? Blasphemy is to say it’s not the Father’s love of the Mother that brings forth Her riches each spring. No, it’s no more blasphemous than to say the Alsime and Ulvregan aren’t kin—though you might be wise not to speak it out loud.”
I let his words wash over me. But I’m annoyed with myself that I phrased the question so awkwardly. Yet at least I know now that he, too, has a problem with the tumun: he’d called it an enigma, an enigma that predates the Alsime.
“Will you take me there?” I ask, not quite a plea. But maybe on site, and without the fear of Murdan about to pounce on me . . . But, I don’t know. What am I expecting? Some astounding revelation?
“I hear your thoughts,” he says, now sitting up and looking down at me. “But you ask for knowledge that’s not mine to give. You’re not even apprenticed to me.”
Despite only the one lamp to light us, yet I can see the twinkle in his periwinkle-blue eyes. There’s also a hint of crinkling around them, as if at any moment he’ll laugh. Instead, he studies me intently.
It is not for the eblan-guide to ask, but for the apprentice . . . I hear again him telling the story of Hegrea and Burnisen. Is he inviting me now to ask? That might prove a tad deeper immersion than I’m intending. Still, in for a penny . . .
I sit. Lick my lips. Feel myself growing breathless. And yet I ask. “So will you accept me, as your apprentice?”
“Are you Alisime?” he asks in return.
What? Then I realise this is an eblan catechism. “I suppose,” I say. “I was born at the base of Bear Hill. You could say I’m a child of Alsalda.”
“This knowledge I give you, what first will you do with it?” he asks.
Without that word first I wouldn’t know how to answer. But I remember what he said to Aldliks Bisdata: The eblan’s first duty . . .
“I shall use it to the glory of Mistress Inspiration,” I answer.
“Glory?” he queries. Then grins. “This is your Twenty-first Century word? We would say ‘to the support of . . . ’.
“Then I shall use it to the support of Mistress Inspiration,” I amend.
He nods, and asks the next question. “This knowledge I give you, what after the first will you do with it?”
“Secondly,” I say, falling into the swing of it, “I shall use it in support of my family of birth—who are the Plessey’s and Canning’s.”
Again, he nods approval. He asks the next question. “This knowledge I give you, what twice after the first will you do with it?”
“Thirdly,” I say (which is less cumbersome than his way of saying it). “I shall use it in support of my society—who are archaeologists, anthropologists, and museum curators.” I reckon that a fair translation of the now-obsolete Alisime ‘society’.
Apparently Dannyn agrees as, with a renewed sparkle, he nods. “This knowledge I give you, what thrice after the first will you do with it?”
“Fourthly,” I say, “I shall use it in support of the Alsime of my birth. The people of Wessex.”
I figure these pledges will be easy to uphold since it’s exactly what I’m intending with whatever the information gained.
Dannyn asks the final questions. “This knowledge I give you, what lastly will you do with it?”
“Lastly,” I answer, “I shall use it in support of the Twenty-first Century English.”
Again he nods approval. Yet, despite the obscuring beard and ‘tache, I can see he is biting his lip, like a naughty boy done something wrong. “I never thought to take you as my apprentice.” He lets loose a little chuckling noise. “I wonder whose body my old master now wears? Does he realise his coup—is that the word?—now has been topped?”
He laughs, delighted at what Old Boney, Eblan Burnisen, would see as his triumph. Though with Dannyn there’s no crowing of it. I laugh as well, and we fall together, hugging and kissing and . . . It’s then some time later before we pry our bodies apart.
“Best now we fill the water-bladder. For we must climb to Bear Hill.”
I don’t know what else Dannyn is taking to Bear Hill. All I know is, when I returned from a brisk refresh and wash in his moat, he has added an array of stuffed-out pouches to his belt which, as he moves, bobble and sway. Myself, I spend several minutes arranging my bits-and-bobs into my many pockets, and what won’t fit there I squeeze into my backpack. I don’t know his plans so I need be prepared in case the ‘pod grabs me before we return. It wouldn’t do to step out at Priory House without every scrap of my clothing, my foods and gadgets.
We leave his ‘roof without much said and head out first northward then westward, picking up a diagonal track across Salisbury Plain—which I ought now to call the Highlands of the Sun since the two places are not quite the same. The sun, now well risen, stays warm on our backs as we climb Bear Hill. And only now does he tell me why we are here. This is to be my initiation. He tells me I must cut a hazel rod.
“Um . . . I’m not much on trees,” I say. “But doesn’t hazel prefer damp soils to this quick-draining chalk?” I remember Dave saying of it.
He grins. While usually endearing, this time it’s annoying. “We have passed the hazels where you need cut.”
“Then . . .” I glance back. What’s the point in climbing the hill only to then retrace our steps?
“First, Alsalda must meet with you,” he says. “—In all her guises.”
All her guises? “Alsalda, Mother of the Alsime,” I say, but that one is obvious. “Alsalda . . . Dark Mother?”
He nods. Gosh, I don’t like the sound of that.
“And the third guise?” he prompts me. “Have you forgotten? There are three worlds.”
“No, I remember. The Upper, the sky, which belongs to the Father. Here, the Earth, which belongs to Alsalda, the Mother. And . . .” I swallow, “the Under-world, which belongs to Judlamhe Upsulm—Alsalda as the Dark Mother.”
“But the Father is not alone in the sky. Who is there with him?” He turns suddenly serious. He frowns. “She will be most offended if you fail to remember her.”
And I don’t want to offend her, not when I must meet her in her dark, Underworld guise, the one who feeds upon bones. It matters not what I believe in my C21st home world. I’m here in this world, a world where Immortals walk amongst the ordinary humans, a world where I’ve been canoodling with a semi-divine.
“What being belongs in the sky?” I repeat as I stall for time. She doesn’t wear the guise of the Moon. The Moon is Nod, the Lord of the Sea. “Oh!” I laugh as realisation dawns (if I might be forgiven the allusion) “You mean Alsalda in her guise as the Sun, born each day from the waves.” Or is that Aphrodite?
“She does have another name.” Ouch, that’s a reprimand.
“The Eblan Mistress Inspiration!” There’s a clatter of cogs and a tumble of pegs as everything clicks into place. Why are the stone settings all aligned to the sun? Why have all the henges a sun-alignment? There’s not a feature in the Neolithic built-landscape that doesn’t in some way point to the sun. And all are eblann-constructed, at the bidding of their Mistress Inspiration.
But now I’m awed and appalled. When first we met, Dannyn mistook me for this same Alsalda. I’m speechless.
“She returned you to me,” he says with a quirk of a smile.
“So we climb Bear Hill?” I say to change the subject, and fast. “Where I’m to make her acquaintance in all her three guises.” A prospect I now like even less. “Then we go . . . where? to gather a hazel rod.”
“You really don’t know the trees, and you call yourself Alsime.” Yet Dannyn nods back down to the stream and a small thicket of trees. Barely visible beneath their leaves I just can sees a tangle of candy-cane stems.
“They’re . . . ? Right. So let’s get on with it.” Brave words. And though I want to ask how Alsalda and I are to ‘become acquainted’, I’ve a feeling I’d rather not know. This is, after all, an initiation. Though, as I remind myself, it’s also a process that Dannyn himself endured when he was but a child of nine winters-seen. So I figure it can’t be too horrendous. Can it?
Alsalda’s tumun squats toad-like atop the hill. And I’m thinking Dannyn will accompany me in. But no.
“You walk,” he says while drawing air-circles with his finger, “three times around the tumun.”
That’s it? But that’s a tad anti-climactic.
“While walking,” he says, “—but without speaking out loud—”
“You mean I think it, inside my head?”
I guess his curt nod means yes.
“—you introduce yourself to Alsalda. On the first circuit, Alsalda Dark Mother. On the second, Alsalda Earth Mother. On the third, Alsalda Mistress Inspiration.”
That seems easy enough to remember. I’m to work up from bottom to top. Though I’m not sure what I’m to say as introduction. And am I to visualise Alsalda in each of her guises? I guess I ought.
“On each circuit,” Dannyn continues—and I thought his instructions done, “as you approach her tumun’s entrance, pay especial heed to what is around you. What you hear. What you see. What you smell. Be alert in all your senses. What you feel. For therein lies Alsalda’s message to you.”
This is turning into something different. No longer a simple stroll three times around. And it’s touching me deeper than I expected. It now has taken a spiritual meaning, and me not religiously inclined. It’s become serious; an initiation not to be jokingly done.
“Are you ready? You know what to do?”
I nod. Mouth dry.
I make the first circuit. Though Dannyn hasn’t said, yet I find myself focusing on the land beneath my feet. Here are dark caverns, sinuously connected, where snakes curl into Alsalda’s lap to sleep the winter through. I am Julia Cannings, I silently say, born of the Alsime. And I seek your acquaintance. Even as I think it I shudder.
It’s no short distance around the tumun, and it seems to take an eon to return to the entrance. There, without thinking, I’m quintessentially alert, like I’ve never in my life been before. So what message, if any, will the Dark Mother give me?
Oddly, I hear a baby cry. Incongruous, out of place upon Bear Hill, I look around me. Who has brought a child up here—brought it here to meet the Dark Mother? But my mistake, it isn’t a child. It’s the squeal of a hare as a hawk swoops upon it. I don’t want to look. Tufts of are everywhere. I swallow, am shaken by what I’ve seen. And how in keeping for the Dark Mother!
I have no trouble in clearing my mind of serpents and caverns. That scene of real death has emptied my head of everything else. But now to clear that before I begin the second circuit.
I think of Alsalda the Bear—and she’s suddenly there. It’s no forced construction; I suppose the association is already strong. I see her—it’s early spring—she emerges from a cave, her cub-twins tagging along behind her. The image probably comes from some nature documentary seen long ago. As on the first circuit, I introduce myself. I am Julia Cannings, born of the Alsime. And I seek your acquaintance. At that, and to my surprise, the darker of the two cubs changes direction to look directly at me. But of course! Alsalda’s the cub, not the mother.
I’m almost back to the tumun entrance before Alsalda sends me a sign. The call of a wren-bird.
I find the third circuit easier. Perhaps I feel more at ease with Alsalda, Mistress Inspiration. I see in my mind a golden dawn. Then the first rays of the sun as they gild every ear of grain that grows upon my imagined hillside. I inhale of the sweet morning air (though in truth, it’s now closer to noon). And again I introduce myself. I am Julia Cannings, born of the Alsime. And I seek your acquaintance.
She answers me as I reach her cave entrance. Though I’ve not noticed before, there are three pairs of eyes, one upon another, pecked into the upright sarsen to the left of the door. I stop, and trace the eyes with my finger.
“What does it mean?” I ask Dannyn. “These signs she’s sent me?”
“That Alsalda accepts you.”
“No, specifically?” I press him. “These eyes? The wren? The hare?”
“It’s interesting that you pick out just those three,” he remarks.
Just those . . . ? “Why?”
He hesitates, then says of the kite.
Obviously I’m no better with birds than I am with trees. “I thought it a hawk.”
No. He shakes his head. “And the ‘cave’? And your fingers?”
I spread my hands. I need help to interpret all this.
“The hare,” he says, “its fur, the wren, the cave, all show you’re under the protection of the Spirit of the Moon, the Spirit of Joy and Sorrow.”
I shiver. That ‘Joy’ sounds fine but I don’t like the sound of that ‘Sorrow’. And there’s something deep and old in his words that touch something deep and old within me.
“The kite,” he says, “shows who is making the statement. But you already know it: it is the Dark Mother. So, too, the eyes and the finger—they belong to solar Alsalda. It seems the Lady Inspiration fully approves you.”
“How do you know all this? Is it intuition, arising into your head at the sight of the sign?” I can see that could be so.
But no, he shakes his head, his habitual grin for now held in. “Remember I said of the Constellations of Opposites?—These, as my apprentice, you now will learn. Well, there are also Constellations of Spirits. Under the protection of the Spirit of the Moon, your signs are the hare, black stones, bats, caves, the cold, feasts—all feasts—foxes, skulls, tides, trade, the winter, the wren-bird, all young animals, infants—in fact, all children—river-boats, hides, skins and pelts, hair—”
“Whoa! Give my head a chance. And now I’m your apprentice I’m to learn all these lists?”
“Constellations,” he corrects me.
“Why do we call them constellations? No, I see that’s not what you mean. Why must you learn them? To know which gift best pleases which spirit. Now, you’ve an eblan-rod to cut, and an appropriate gift to make.”
“Which spirit protects the hazel?” I ask. That I realise the hazel has a protecting spirit pleases my eblan-guide enormously. But he throws it back to me.
“Can you not guess?”
“Well I might be able, if I knew all the names of the spirits.”
“I will tell you in the Order of Creation,” he says while also guiding me back down the hill. “First Spirits that were, the Uncreated: Father Above and Mother Below. Then the First Created: Sun and Moon.”
“Is the Spirit of the Moon the same as the First Created Moon?” I ask. But I guess I already know the answer.
“No,” he says. “And don’t expect to understand everything on this, your first day. Eblann are allowed a full seven years to absorb and understand.”
“But I don’t have a full seven years.” I might have no more than these three days—and one of those is already gone.
He stops. Draws me to him. He hugs me and hugs me until I feel his pain more keenly than even my own.
“There is no way,” I say, for I know what he wants. And he knows what I mean. I can never be anything but a temporary visitor to his world.
“Maybe my spirit shall find a new body in your world,” he says. “How many years lie between us?”
“Four thousand,” I say. “Four thousand five hundred.”
“Well then, this body shall die before then—after it’s had three thousand years of living.”
I look at him, wanting what he’s suggesting. But I can’t see how it can be. “If you’re born again, you’ll already be one thousand five hundred years old when we meet.” And that’s if he can be born into my world.
He presses his fingers to my lips. “The years half with each new birth. Next time I shall live for only those one thousand five hundred years. So I shall be newly born when we meet again.”
“I’d rather you were a man in your twenties or thirties,” I say, an attempt to bring humour to a hopeless situation.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he says then changes the subject. “Now my apprentice, your lesson is far from complete. The First Spirits, these are six: Spirit of the Sun (Inspiration and Decay), Spirit of the Moon (Joy and Sorrow), Spirit of Sweet Waters (Ease and Pain), Spirit of Salt Waters (Holding, and Releasing), Spirit of the Mountains (Becoming, and Decreasing), and Spirit of Woodlands (Abundance and Dearth). Now, to which does the hazel belong?”
I take a guess, based on Dave’s word, that the hazel grows in damp conditions. “Spirit of Sweet Waters.”
“So now you know what gifts to give it.”