In her attempt to understand the Alsime, and to locate them (pre)-historically, Julia has undergone initiation into the mysteries of the Alisime eblann . . . which required of her a sacrifice.
Episode 55 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-Fi Fantasy
I didn’t want to draw attention, yet I found it awkward to climb out of the ‘pod. Of course, Dave had to notice.
“Hey, Julie-Poos, you hurting or something? Ancient injury, is it?”
Then Ken, now out of his ‘pod, had to have a look at it, drawing yet more attention. But at least the way he stood, he screened me from Fliss, that was something. He turned my hand over and uncurled my fingers. The cut was healing—indeed, healed more than expected in the day and a half since my initiation. Ken drew a finger over the salve-smeared skin; he rubbed finger and thumb together. I could see his unspoken query. I could see, too, that he understood why I didn’t want the fuss. I didn’t want Fliss to start asking questions. He gave the slightest of nods, and curled my fingers back over. “A meeting,” he silently mouthed. “Later. Today.” His eyes moved as if to seek out Fliss. I nodded.
Nothing more was said of it. We made our reports. Again, I bulled it with amazing details of the making of Stonehenge, most of which gleaned from the latest reports from Operation Stonehenge (though peppered with drawings from my imagination). Fliss didn’t question it once, which made me feel worse about the deception. My one consolation, if it could be called that, was that my lies would never go public. The Priory Project would implode the moment we told Fliss the truth of it.
After lunch I gathered together my weekend bags, laptop, various paraphernalia and said my thanks and goodbyes—at which Fliss cut in with a sarcastically said, “Oh, Jules-darling, you’ll have to make do with the gardener today—” (she meant Dave) “—that is, if you need a lift home. Only Kenneth and I have . . . plans.”
Ken’s face showed this was the first he knew of it. But Dave jumped in anyway.
“Yea, no probs. My delight to be crammed in a tight place with you.”
I took it he referred to his patched-up mini-van rather than that space between finger and thumb where Fliss was squeezing me. Did he know of her unfounded jealousy, and of her warnings to me?
Ken, having repositioned himself behind Fliss’s high-backed chair, again mouthed of a meeting. He tapped his watch and held up three fingers.
“Did you catch that, Julie-Poos?” Dave asked once outside and hopefully out of hearing. “We have till three o’clock to get down to it, then he’ll be with us.”
I ignored him, scooting round to the passenger door. My bags tucked in under my feet, I prayed there’d be no need of an emergency stop. The floor of his van was woefully rusted and I was afraid, in bracing, my feet would go through it, with the potential loss of all my equipment.
“So what’s this with your hand?” he asked as he pulled out of the gateway and into the lane.
“It’s healing,” I said.
“Yea, so you said. But that’s not what I asked. Come on, Julie, what’s the big deal? Why mustn’t Fliss know of it?”
“It wasn’t an accident,” I said, grudging him this much. I’d only have to repeat it over for Ken.
Dave shot me a sideways glance. “Self-inflicted? What’s your problem, turning self-harmer?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Then give. Might as well, I shall only batter your lugs till you do. And, hey, think of the interesting—satisfying—things we could do with the time. Like, we might christen your hammock-y bed-thing.”
It was my turn to shoot a sideways look. “If you think the hour we have before Ken joins us is enough to satisfy me . . .” I could play at wind-ups, too.
“I wouldn’t know how long it takes, would I. But then again, you don’t know how good I am. Do you.” The accompanying look was more than a glance.
“Dave! The road!”
He swerved to avoid the oncoming lorry. “Damned Sunday drivers!”
Dave was still pestering about my hand when Ken arrived. There was a swift exchange: I passed Ken a chilled orange juice and he passed me a parcel. “Don’t open it yet,” he said quietly.
Dave looked from the one to the other of us. “So you fixed it, then. The fridge. Good boy, Ken.”
“Don’t start,” Ken said. “You wouldn’t believe the almighty grilling.”
“Fliss thinks we’re having an affair,” I supplied for Dave though he must have guessed it.
“Oh,” he said, an eyebrow raised. “So it’s Ken, the father of your child.”
“Are you pregnant?” Ken asked with genuine concern.
“No. And will you all shut up of it. I’m not and that’s that.” Yet despite my denial, I couldn’t be certain. There was a niggle at the back of my head that wouldn’t desist. Protected by the Spirit of the ruddy Moon; I wanted to sigh in exasperation but held it in.
“So what’s this with your hand?” Ken asked once he’d settled into my latest addition to comfort, a folding canvas chair. I’d bought a matching set of four for sitting out on the Lady’s rear deck. Though to use all four would leave no room for our legs.
I sighed while I gathered my thoughts, how best to phrase it.
“Initiation?” Ken guessed. Then when he saw my reaction, “I’ve seen cuts like that before. With a biker fraternity.”
“You?” I couldn’t help the sound of disbelief.
“Not your actual Hell’s Angel,” he said. “But . . . It was way before Fliss and—”
“You were a long-haired, greasy-arsed biker?” Dave asked, as incredulous as me.
“That is where my talent with machinery was born, yea. Then Fliss put me through college and—”
“You’re kidding me!” Dave just wasn’t having it.
But, yea, I could believe it. I laughed. “Fliss, falling for the bad guy.”
It amused me enormously. And I suppose that explained some of her jealousy. She was painting me with the same brush as my mother, and equating Hippies with Hell’s Angel-type bikers—though I could see only one similarity: the word ‘Freedom’.
“But, no tattoos, Ken? No ‘Hate’ and ‘Love’. I thought them obligatory.”
Ken hmm’d, more than a slight clearing of throat. “Removed. She paid.”
“You’re kidding me!” Dave repeated.
So that’s what her hold on him; I had wondered. And now I wondered what else she had done for him. Time, I thought, to change the subject.
“But you’re right of the hand. I am now an apprentice shaman.”
“Wow,” Dave gosh’d. “Now I see why the secrecy. Too in-yer-face, vows sealed in real blood. Fliss wouldn’t like that; destroy her theory of it all in our noodles.”
“Something like that,” I agreed.
“This wouldn’t chuff her, either.” Ken tapped on the parcel now laid on my knees. “You can open it now.”
I already knew what it was, its shape scarcely obscured by the protective bubble-wrap. But I was eager to see the results. Would it be indistinguishable from the real thing? I peeled away the layers to lay it bare.
“Wow!” Dave exclaimed again. “Wow, that’s . . . that’s . . . too real. And you made it?”
“I said that I would.”
It was bronze, a squat triangular blade, perhaps 20 centimetres in length, eight centimetres maximum width, with a bulked-up fuller. It wasn’t tanged as later daggers would be, but was attached to a carved wooden handle by rivets.
“Arsenic-bronze?” I asked. “Or stannic-alloy?”
“Latter. As I read it, arsenic-bronze was more restricted in range. The Balkans only, wasn’t it?”
“Generally. But it’s still early for the tin-copper-alloy—at least early for the West.”
“Sure. But it’s an exact copy of the ones I’ve seen. So what did you use for your hand?”
“Flint. Black flint. Almost certainly from Grimes Graves,” I said.
Ken ouched and closed his own hand in sympathy.
“It was sharp,” I said. “And Dannyn smeared some kind of salve on it. An anaesthetic.”
“Which also helped to rapidly heal it? That wound looks at least five days old.” Then, “I suppose, initiation, it’s all very secret?”
I nodded. It also wasn’t very interesting to tell. I cut my required eblan-rod—which, alas, didn’t transport with me—and with the same flint blade cut across my palm. I then had to let it bleed, dripping blood on the hazel’s cut surface, till the flow stopped of its own accord. I remember wondering how many initiates die in the process, the blood flow not stemmed. But I suppose that would only happen with haemophiliacs. I rubbed my thumb along the scar, and held my hand against my heart. This would be my only tangible keepsake of Dannyn when Fliss finally pulled the project. And I’d a feeling that wouldn’t be long.
“Anyway,” I said. “I’ve loads to tell you about the Kredese of His Indwelling. Once you know this, it’ll help you make sense of what you’re seeing.”
Saturday, and I was again assigned to Ken’s ‘pod. But it would deliver me to Destination while Dannyn was still serving his seven eblan-seasons in the Wilds. He’d said nothing of a second meeting. So I assumed it wouldn’t happen. What then to do?
According to our deceit, I was to investigate Bluestonehenge, the setting at the Avon end of the Stonehenge Avenue only discovered during the Riverside Project. Not much was known about it, other than twenty-five of the bluestones destined for Stonehenge had previously been set here. But as with Woodhenge (the timber setting outside Durrington Walls), Bluestonehenge didn’t exist at Destination—because until Murdan moved them, the relevant stones still waited at His Indwelling, the North Alsime having blocked their progress.
For me, that raised another question. How long had the River Alsime occupied this land?
It’s thought that Bluestonehenge was erected circa 3,400-3,000 BCE. But at Destination it didn’t happen. Surely that dates the stone-blocking activities of the North Alsime to that same period. And if the would-be builders of Bluestonehenge were attempting then to bring the stones over North Alsime land . . . doesn’t it follow that they already had a toe-hold on Salisbury Plain, be they Eskin, Kerdolan, or Kredese?
I thought again of the causewayed enclosure that wrapped its ditches around Alsaldhelm Tumun. I was beginning to think I had it wrong. That Robin Hood’s Ball, the Tumun enclosure and the one north of it, Windmill Hill, weren’t Alisime tribal centres at all, for the Alsime hadn’t yet arrived from across the sea. No, these enclosures belonged, rather, to an Atlantic seaboard culture: the Eskin (who I was beginning to equate with Brittany), or the Kerdolan (from Iberia). The fact that similar causewayed enclosure had been found in Iberia (and even in Southern Italy) helped to confirm it.
As I slipped into the ‘pod, with an enormous three empty days ahead of me, I decided how I would fill them. Though I now spoke the lingo passably well I couldn’t risk being seen by those I’d already met—which ruled out travelling south. But at Destination-minus-26 Hegrea hadn’t yet established her granary at His Indwelling. It was the Kredese held there. And the Kredese didn’t know me. Though strictly speaking this was Ken’s territory, I was sure he wouldn’t mind me taking a peep at their granary set-up.