A Thousand Fragments Of Mother Sea

CM7_A_Thousand_Fragments_of_the_SeaMideer is into another trance, set off by a puff of ‘dust’. But where is she, so soon delivered there? As she says, it’s not the same place as before. And what is her purpose? Hean has said something of gaining a wider perspective . . . Read on

This wasn’t the fertile plain I’d seen before. I was, instead, in a cave. And though I didn’t know how I knew it, yet I knew it the next cave along from where I had met Honapple. Along . . . behind . . . beyond . . . at the back of him. Or maybe beneath? But, undeniably, it was a cave. It was dark. And yet it was lit.

That cave was populated—by little people—little green people. But how so ‘green’? Was it their skin green, or their clothes, or was it this odd non-directional diffused light? I couldn’t discern. Yet Hean has since told me, he’s seen them green, too.

They were not frightening. Rather, they were excitedly welcoming. They made gifts for me from out of their bodies. I assume it was this, for the ribbons they gave me were pulled from their mouths. Were they a thousand fragments of Mother Sea? Were the ribbons they gave me threads of seaweed? But no, for seaweed has a base and a definite top. These ribbons had neither.

The Glyntlanders have a word for these ribbons. Non-orientable bands. They talk of them in their mathematically grounded philosophies that they brag are beyond our mentalities. But whatever you care to call these ribbons they were also the ‘song of the sea’ that the singers were singing. Moreover, as Mother Sea is the ‘end-and-the beginning’ of the Source, so too these ribbons. Thus they were the Abyss. But let me explain that.

Doubtless you think when I say ‘Sea-Mother’ and ‘Abyss’ that I mean that body of water that surrounds Madjaria, that separates us from Macara and the Glyntlanders, that holds our three lands apart. But no, these ribbons, that song, the Sea-Mother, all was that same abyss wherein I sat. The Abyss of the Cave of the Holy Land. For from that Abyss, in the form of the Sea-Mother, all was created, and all that was created is the Abyss: the Sea-Mother.

But you don’t understand what I mean. You’ve not been where I have been, not seen what I have seen. Yet this all is open to you. You merely need ask my holy men and they will take you.


My stay in the Holy Land was short, my return to Hean’s side as abrupt as my departure. I remember I giggled, my cheeks hurting with grinning. And yet I shivered. Such a momentous thing I had seen, and all so briefly, yet it had a profound effect—though, I confess, as yet I couldn’t comprehend it, not sufficient to put into words, as I now have done in the hope that you, my priests, might understand me.

It was late, the sun setting, and no one moving to return to their homes. Hean caught my hand. “Walk,” he said.

I looked at our hosts. He shook his head. “They will assume we seek a place for loving.”

We walked. He took me down to the shore, which here was a good way away from the river and the wharf and my boat with its crew and my corps. I knew before he asked what he would say, but I allowed him to ask it the same.

“Now tell me, how will you fulfill the prophesy?”

“I want those singers, and the dancers,” I said. “And I want Hensable. I want them to return to Madjaria with me. I want them to perform for my Landed-lords and my priests as they have now performed for me. I’d like use of your Holy Dust too.”

“You cannot dose your people with Holy Dust, unprepared,” he said. He laughed, “It will scramble their brains. But I think Hensable might be persuaded to bring some of his band to Madjaria for you. To perform, as they have this day. Now tell me your reasons for this.”

“As they have shown me so, too, I would show my people. Maybe they won’t understand,” I gave Hean no chance to say it. “Yet maybe in seeing, and hearing, some small part of it will seep through to the depths of them.” Besides, I had another reason. “And in their seeing me with these Macaran—accepting them, for why should I not—they too might begin to accept, and not be so blindly against them. And if I can do the same with the Glyntlanders . . . bring them together. Won’t that go some way to fulfilling the prophecy?”

He nodded—and I had expected him to object. “Then we must speak to Hensable. But, a word in your ear. He let slip to me, his interest in you is not what you’d say ‘honourable’.”

I was soon to discover the truth of that. Though it was not quite as Hean had said it.


It was the day after Hean’s next visit, when he had again left me in the care of his father and sister.

“The feast-berries are ripe,” Zean had enthused. “You must come help pick them.”

The berries—we have nothing to liken them to amongst our fruits—grow deep in a ravine edging the jungle. The Macaran girls use them, mixed with a white-clay, to paint their bodies for the big feast. Although Zean had already tempted me several times into the edge of the jungle when gathering foods, yet I still was hesitant of risking the dangerous animals there. She laughed at my fears.

“You walk the plain, you do not fear there.”

“I know the plain has predators hidden,” I said. “But I haven’t seen them. And no one speaks of them. Somehow that makes them less scary.”

Her eyes opened wide. “We do not speak of them for to speak their name is to call them! But they are there, as you say, hidden, And they are more dangerous than any found in our jungle. At least those you can see.”

I remember looking behind me and all around me, seeking these predators that nobody could see. So were they spirits, these invisible predators? Were they, perhaps, beings called from the Abyss and released to here? But, though I could imagine many amongst you, my priests, who might be tempted to do such a thing, I could not imagine it of the Macaran holy men.

Zean covered her ears when I asked her, “Is there such a thing as a bad holy man?” She said, “No-no-no-no,” repeatedly so she couldn’t hear me. “Come, we gather feast-berries,” she then said as if I’d said nothing.

We gathered feast-berries. But then with two brimming baskets she said of ‘scrumming-around’ for the clay. She knew of a place that the girls-now-women had barely touched. It was secret, she said, none others were to know of it.

“That is why I bring you and not Sheena and Schola.” She set off at a fast pace. “It’s in one of the caves along the Cave-Cliff.”

She didn’t tell me where the Cave-Cliff was. If she had said then what later happened might not have happened, for I would have known the way.

It was a single-footed track, so I’d no choice but to follow behind her. But I was happy with that. It meant she wouldn’t see how often I looked about me, watching for the unseen predators.

“How far?” I asked after a while, for it did seem to be a long way away.

“Not far. Up ahead,” she said. “But, oh . . .” she squealed and hopped from one foot to the other. “I urgently need to pass water . . .”

Now you might think in such a place we would do as the Land-labours do when they work in the fields and just squat wherever we are. But no. There are particular places where the Macaran go: places for men, places for women, places for boys—and particularly places for girls of our age. But that didn’t require her return to the village. There are many such places; it was just a matter of . . . She squealed and ran and left me standing.

But where did she go? I didn’t see. And I hadn’t been to this part of the plain before to know where the places were. So I waited for her to return. I didn’t dare move. What if I passed by her and didn’t see her? No, safer to wait for her return. But she didn’t return.

I waited, and I waited. Where was she? She couldn’t be much longer. After all, how long does it take to pass water? But standing there alone on the plain, after our talk of the hidden predators . . . I felt intensely vulnerable. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck beginning to rise. I scanned in every direction, pleading with her that she soon would return. What a relief it was when I finally saw her! I ran to meet her.

But . .  what! She veered off the track, taking a turning I supposed would lead to the cliff. I wanted to call to her but, as with the thing of not naming the predators, she long ago had warned me not to call out a person’s name, not while out on the plain. So I called to her, “Oi!” But she neither looked my way nor stopped to wait for me. I wondered, maybe it wasn’t her. Maybe it was some other girl of our age. Yet there were no others in Hensit’s band, unless it was Schola or Sheena and I knew it wasn’t either of them. No, it was Zean’s height and Zean’s build and Zean’s hair and . . . it was Zean. I could even see the basket she carried. So why was she running in what seemed to me the wrong direction?

I tell you, though I had travelled the sea from Madjaria to Macara, and twice had travelled into the Holy Land, such travels were of no help when finding my way around that plain. Without a constant sighting of Zean I would have been lost. But why, why, why was she running away? For I now was convinced that’s what she was doing.

She came at last to a cliff, the Cave-Cliff, and now I recognised it. It was that same place where Holy Man Honapple had his cave, where I had first tasted his vile brew, from where he’d sent me reeling into the Holy Land. I wondered, was he there in his cave now? Would he help me?—if I lost sight of Zean which looked increasingly likely.

You wonder at this? That she should run so fast that I lost her? What, I cannot run like a Macaran runs? Here in Madjaria, yes I can. But not across that unfamiliar plain, where predators might lay in wait for an unheeding juicy morsel like me. For Zean, she knew where it was safe. Me, I must be ever alert and searching—and that delayed me. So too did my thoughts.

Endlessly over I asked and asked, why did she run? I tried to give her a reason. She had somehow received a message that she must return home. She had seen something when at the piss-place: a girl maybe, maybe even Schola or Sheena, but that girl was injured, so now Zean raced ahead to fetch some help. Or she had stumbled upon one of the unmentionable predators and now she fled from it, drawing it ever farther from me. And all these thoughts further slowed me. And if the latter . . . perhaps it wasn’t so wise to catch her?

I lost sight of her. That Cave-Cliff is aptly named. I didn’t notice the first time there—other matters filled my mind—but there must be ten, twelve, maybe more caves along that one rock-wall, all accessible from the plain as if the plain had been lifted up in one piece to be on a level with all the cave mouths. Or perhaps the caves weren’t naturally made?

“Oi!” I called again. And I stood still and I listened. But I could hear nothing beyond the natural sounds: the birds and the beasts of the plain which by now were familiar.

So where was she now? Disappeared into one of the caves? There could be no other answer. Which left me but one recourse: I must methodically check. I would investigate each and every one of them. One must yield her. Oh, I did so hope so. One look at the sky told me we soon must be starting home. Maybe that was the reason she ran? Maybe she intended to double back and collect me once she’d scrummed-up the clay?


I squeezed into the first cave—and quickly out again. That one was occupied by something ‘hissy’. At least it had warned me. I doubted Zean had gone in there. I moved along to the next—and disturbed a colony of birds. I almost fell back, such a volley of bodies came flying towards me. But that was another cave empty of Zean.

In the next cave my steps sounded hollow. I called out for Zean. My voice answered back. There was a smell, I couldn’t mistake it. It triggered a memory so strong I almost expected to find my mother beside me. She had taken me to the Queens Sepulchre to show me the coffin the men prepared for her though none expected her to die for many years yet. Indeed, since I couldn’t have been more than five or six at the time she still had eight or nine years left to live. But as she’d said, we none of us know the day so it is better to be prepared. I had asked her what that smell? And she had answered, “It is our Source.” Why have I not remembered till now? She said that deep down in the Sepulchre there was a passage that led to the sea. So in this cave too?

I found Zean in the seventh cave. She sat on the floor, her hands smeared in white. She shushed me as soon as I started to speak. She motioned me to sit.

I was brimming with things to say, bulging with questions if not rebukes. Yet again she held up a finger to quiet.

“Here,” she said. “You must be thirsty, all that running.” She offered me a cup.

A cup? That should have alerted me for she’d carried none with her. I should at least have been wary. But, oh, not me, for indeed I was thirsty.

As I brought the cup up to my lips I thought I saw an unnatural twinkle in her dark eyes. She tipped her head back, encouraging me to guzzle the drink. “All,” she said.

It was slithering down my gullet before I realised the change. That wasn’t Zean sitting naked-breasted before me. It was Hensable, with his naked sun-baked skin striped by a clay-based paint. He grinned.

“Have you not met a shape-shifter before? You have no such predators in Madjaria?”

I think what astounded me most in that moment was that he spoke the Madja-tongue.


Looking, now, at the truth of him, I belatedly wondered what he had given me. One thing for certain, it wasn’t the vile concoction Holy Man Honapple had given me. Indeed, I hadn’t discerned any definite taste, but neither was it water. Nor was it wine—at least not like our Madjarian wines—neither had it the bite and the lingering glow of the fermented juices served at the Macaran feast. Perhaps it was something harmless. But no. The way that shape-shifter now was looking at me—expectant—told me otherwise.

Then my tongue began to swell—the right side only. The left side was shrinking. The left side of my body, too, was drawing in tightly upon itself, shrivelling, while the right side swelled. And lights, again lights, but this time different. Iridescent, scintillating, colours so sharp they cut my eyes leaving voids in my vision.

Hensable, the shape-shifter, took the cup from me. I had a distant vague feeling of surprise that I still held it. My hands were numb. But, no, I realised they weren’t numb; they didn’t exist. My arms didn’t exist! And now where was Hensable? He was inside the cup looking up at me, a big grin on his face.

“Can you swim?” he asked. “The water’s lovely. Come on in.”

I drew back. “Ridiculous!” How could I swim in the cup? Yet there I was, treading water beside him—which was all very rum since never in my life had I done this before.

“Ah, but this isn’t your life,” he said.

The rim of the cup had become the shores of a lake. Trees grew there. Now I stood there. I was looking for something to wrap around me. Now I wore Hensable’s ‘all-the-world’ cloak. He held me close to him. Close and safe. We needed to be safe for all around us were snakes.

“They will not harm you,” he said, his voice swelling to fill the sky around us. “But that will.”

I turned in his arms to see what he was seeing. We were again in a cave.

“What . . .?” I could form no other words, at once terrified and puzzled by what I was facing. It filled the cave entrance—the cave exit?. And it wouldn’t be still, changing, always changing. Now some single beast of vast amorphous form. Now a squirming insectoidal colony. Now a growing structure, crystalline, branching, joining, maze-creating. A tree—that surprised me—a tree with feet that walked and hands that reached towards me.

After Hean had warned her of Hensable’s dubious motives, was Mideer wise to trust him? Yet he had tricked her to this. Of more concern is the ‘thing’ that’s blocking the cave and Mideer’s exit to safety. Is it all part of her trance? Next episode, 2nd August, And Every One Me

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Following The Thread

Anyone who has followed my fiction will know there are two things that fascinate me: archaeology, and textiles. A recent article (14 July 2016) in UK’s Independent newspaper by their archaeology correspondent, David Keys, snared me on both.

Circa 3000 years ago, in the Bronze Age, a settlement, its houses built upon stilts in a riverside setting amid the marshes of Cambridgeshire, was attacked, burnt and destroyed. Its inhabitants fled, leaving all behind them. It would have been lost to us, but as the houses collapsed into the water the charred remains became waterlogged. And that is the perfect environment to ensure preservation. It is now being excavated (at Whittlesea). And what the archaeologists are finding is incredible.

Never mind the exotic jewellery of blue, black, yellow and green glass beads from the eastern Mediterranean. Nor the 50-plus bronze axes, sickles, spears, swords, razors, hammers, tweezers and awls that have been found. Nor the 60 or so wooden buckets, platters and troughs, the ceramic bowls, mugs and storage jars—‘the largest collection of complete bronze, wooden and ceramic artefacts ever found in a British Bronze Age settlement’. No, it’s the textiles that interest me—found as ‘neatly folded garments hung on the exceptionally well-made wooden furniture’.

Over 100 fragments of textile, processed fibre and textile yarn have been found—so far! Some of these are, say the report, ‘of superfine quality, with some threads just 1/10 of a millimetre in diameter and some fabrics with 28 threads per centimetre, fine even by modern standards.’ Some of these fabrics had been folded—some in up to 10 layers. That’s not possible with small pieces; therefore these must have been quite large e.g. capes, cloaks, or drapes, potentially up to 3 metres square.

primitive loom

Illustration of a Scandinavian warp weighted loom in the Copenhagen Museum. The illustration is taken from Montelius’ Civilisation of Sweden in Heathen Times, translated by the Rev. F. H. Woods, London.

This is most likely the kind of loom these Bronze Age weavers would have used.

Most of the finds were of linen; the most versatile of fabrics capable of producing a luxurious gauze, soft for veils and undergarments—as was used in the Middle Ages—yet coarse and strong enough to make sails. But these weavers also processed a ‘non-stinging subspecies’ of nettle which grew locally (the fen nettle). This nettle-fibre produces a particularly fine and silky fabric—not to mention its magical qualities (in the European folktale of the Wild Swans, shirts made of nettle yarn were used to break a witch’s spell).

But so far the excavation has revealed no coloured dyes. Undyed linen is a mid-brown colour. But soaked in stale urine and dried in the sun, it then would be bleached sufficiently light to take a plant dye. Or it could have been treated in like manner to the linen support for the Bayeux Tapestry: boiled in a solution of water with the alkalising addition of ash from wood, fern or seaweed, then, again, spread in the sun to dry and complete the bleaching.

Fine Linen

Example of undyed linen

Locally available plant dyes—madder, woad and weld—would yield a wide range of colours. The Bayeux Tapestry has ten main tones: two reds, a yellow, a beige, a blue-black, navy and mid-blue, olive green, sage green and laurel. Yet these came from just three plants: Weld (Reseda luteola) whose flowers and leaves provide beige and yellow; Woad (Isatis tinctoria which apart from the blues, when mixed with weld will produce green; and Madder (Rubia tinctoria) which gives a range of reds.

Dyed Yarn

From http://www.snail-trail.co.uk; natural colours madder, weld and indigo produced on a dyeing course

Such a magnificent find. Reading of that has set my fingers itching and toes curling!

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He Wears The World

CM6_He_Wears_The_WorldHean has schemed up a feast—in honour of Mideer though her hosts don’t know it. But he refuses to tell her of what’s to happen ‘lest she arms herself with preconceptions’ . . . Read on

As the day of the feast approached so our Macaran band launched into increasingly frenetic activity. So much to prepare, and of course it all must be outstanding, remarkable, the bestest-best feast. The bands competed when giving these ‘lesser feasts’ to outdo one another (Zean explained, though it really wasn’t needed so obvious was it). A reputation gained here would hold through the years until another headman knocked it away—or the present holder died. Our headman—Hensit his name—had held his reputation since before his daughter Zean was born. He was not about to let it wane.

The men disappeared off in their hunting parties. Some were gone as long as three days. We women (yes, I now was counted amongst them) scoured the plain, and even into the jungle, to find fruits and roots, and seeds and leaves, all at the very peak of ripeness. We raided nests for the eggs. We clubbed escaping lizards (roasted, they were served as titbits). We netted fish (only the men were allowed the fish-spears). Meanwhile new cloths were dyed and woven, and a whole array of personal ornaments especially reserved for  these feasts were unpacked from their boxes. I too had a box. Hean delivered it late on the eve of the feast.

“I thought you’d prefer not to wear what our girls wear,” he said, passing the box to me.

“I washed my shift,” I said when I realised what he’d brought me. In fact I had washed it several times by now, each time hiding out at the women’s place along the river until it had dried.

“No,” he said. “Look into the folds.”

So I eased the new shift out of its box—and it differed not a jot from the one I was wearing except in its smell (it had been inter-layered with fragrant herbs). And there, residing beneath it, was my comb! I cannot say how excited I was. Only then I must be careful not to offend Schola, for she had given me a comb on that first night. But my comb was of ivory, and polished smooth from fourteen years of use. Hers, though perfectly made, was new, and if I wasn’t careful it snagged my hair.

Hean had brought other things too, things that, being snatched so abruptly from our boat, I’d had no time to retrieve. He had brought a belt. It was almost the twin of the one he wore, except his was of brass and mine of gold. Wide metal plates with leather links.

“I thought . . .” he seemed suddenly shy, not at all like him. “It will help define your . . .” I could see he was struggling for the words.

“My hips? My waist? My womanly attributes? To show I’m the same age as Zean and Schola, but without bearing all?”

He nodded.

“I thank you,” I said.

“And there’s this.” He took a thong-threaded pendant from the box and before I’d chance to see it properly he had tied it around my neck. I had to hold it up to see it. An opal, its depth lit by a fierce fire.

“I thank you,” I said though I hardly could speak: I was stunned.

“The men should not—this isn’t that feast, besides you’re a guest—but this will protect you.” He then thought to add, “It’s the usual gift when a man wants a girl. For you to wear it means I have claimed you as mine.”

I think I swallowed at that. At least I remember breaking into a sweat, and felt breathless—

—until he laughed, his hands held up in surrender, “It is just for their eyes. For this feast. I know you have your baby cousin Jon.”

“You do not approve?”

“My ways, your ways.” He shrugged.

“And how would you have it?” I asked. “I’m to be their queen.”

He changed the subject, I thought rather abruptly. “I should warn you, there will be another visit. During the feast. Tomorrow.”

“A . . .?”

“To the Holy Land. Regretful you could not be warned that first time. Yet how it was done was needed. But don’t fret. I shall be with you.”

“Ah, yes, Hean the Holy Man,” I said—at which he pulled such a strange face, I could give it no meaning and before I could ask he had hurried away.


The feast: In its earlier part the feast was no different to those we hold in our halls (simpler, perhaps)—and you, my priests, need no description of this. Even when you’ve no need to attend upon gods still you acquire an invitation as if it’s your right.

The feast rolled along until late in the day, with the day’s heat abating, all pleasantly sated, and the spirit of companionable ease wafting thickly amongst us. It was then that the feast changed—orchestrated by a holy man.

Hean had introduced me to Hensable when first his band had arrived. Older than Hean, he too had been apprenticed to the old man Honapple. He nodded to me. He did not speak. Indeed, I’m not sure once throughout that day I heard him speak. Was he a born mute? I know amongst we Madja many with deformities and disabilities seek out the priesthood. But then, there they might hide. Not so with the Macaran holy men. And nothing of Hensable suggested a man in hiding.

Unlike Hean (who wore a simple though colourful woollen gown of Madja-weave) it was obvious that Hensable liked to dress up. I could imagine him revelling in our pageants; keen to organise them too. From top to toe he was something ‘apart’, something strange, not quite human. He wore—a cloak I supposed it—hung with every coloured strip of cloth, every tail of beast and bird, every claw and talon, every scaled skin of snake and fish and lizard. Beneath the cloak, which mostly enclosed him, were flashes of naked, sun-baked skin striped by a clay-made paint. His head, covered in an explosion of feathers, was crowned by a bare patch. It seemed to me, except for this one spot of humanity, he wore the world!

This Hensable stage-managed a performance in which, it seemed to me, his entire band were involved. Moreover, it wasn’t long before I realised it was performed especially for me. It began with the singers.

I know you have heard them: they have performed several times in my hall. But you, no more than I at that time, would not have known the words. No doubt if Zean had sat beside me she would have translated. But she sat with the girls of her age while I sat in an honoured place beside Hean. And perhaps that was another reason he had marked me with the opal; so he could be there beside me. But Hean was no translator, at least not in that sense.

Without knowing the words yet I knew the song—or maybe I ought to say that I sensed its meaning. Maybe some of you, my priests, have realised the same on hearing it. The rhythm, the sounds . . .: that first time they sucked me in with their familiarity. I thought at once of the sea—though not of that sea I had crossed, battered and bounced till my belly and bones cried for cessation. No, it was the sea as she gently sweeps our own Madjarian shores.

The sea. The Mother. How apt that image. And how—HOW—I ask you, my priests, could you have ever believed the Creator to be your Dark Father? That most honoured, most sacred, most precious of roles belongs to the Sea-Mother. How could it be otherwise? Does not a woman, following the lead of Mother Sea, create from her own person when she creates a baby? That child even resides in ‘the sea’ while in her belly. But what of a man, what does he create from his own person, from his own body? Nothing. He must take clay for his pots, and ore for his iron. He even must plunder the woman’s belly to get him a son.

You do not see it, do you, my priests, even now? Yet I saw it. I saw it that day at the feast, just on hearing that song. And then there, too, were the dancers. But you, too, have seen them. Were you not watching, my priests? Did you not see how they danced that song of the sea? So let me remind you.

Their steps were a mimic of the constant wash of the waves on the shore. Move to the centre, moved out again, move to the centre, move out again. That is life: a perfect facsimile of our souls. See how they repeatedly leave the central spirit. How they venture out to animate our bodies. How thence on the body’s death they return to the centre again. Back and forth, back and forth, like the sea in constant motion. But no, my blind priests, you cannot see it. Have you no story that might tell you of this? Ancient, surviving, Queen-given? Blind, my priests, you are blind—blinded by your dark gods who care only for blood, and for battle, and for wealth and possessions. But Hean says I must forgive you if you don’t understand. For you haven’t yet entered the Holy Land.


Hean had warned me . . . yet even so it was sudden: a puff of Holy Dust and . . .

“Breathe!” he said.

“I am breathing,” I said.

“Breathe deeply,” he said.

And so I breathed deeply. And there were lights before me. And I knew of a certainty only I could see them. Fire-lights they seemed, and yet not. Intensely coloured blobs that rapidly swelled. Only then to retreat (just like the tides). I thought them like fishes trying to escape a net. And next I knew . . . I was there. But where was ‘there’? It was not the same place as before.

Where has Hean taken Mideer this time, with his Holy Dust? To meet the Sea-Mother, perhaps; to dance on her shore? Or maybe to meet her tide-carried self coming back? Anything’s possible . . . in the next episode, A Thousand Fragments Of Mother Sea


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A Spot Too Tight

CM5_A_Spot_Too_TightMideer has successfully come through her first ordeal. And now she knows, at least in outline, what she must do to complete the prophecy to unite the Three Lands. But in the meantime, here she is on the isle of Macara, amongst people fully unfamiliar to her . . . Read on

It was now that the truth of my circumstances slammed into me. Though, as I’ve said, I had regained my trust in Hean, yet I was alarmed by the absence of my corps. Where were they? They’d been assigned to protect me. Further, it wasn’t until I registered their absence that I realised I’d no idea where I’d be spending the night.

All through the days of waiting, back on Madjaria, nothing had been said of the practicalities of my visit. I’d been allowed to assume that Hean would take care of it all. This was his venture; it was at his request. Then, on the journey, the seasickness, the lack of a woman-in-waiting, then Hean rehearsing me for the imminent meeting with the headman, I hadn’t once thought this far ahead. I had swept it into the box that, figuratively, Hean carried for me.

Now, entering the village, all heads turned, all eyes upon me . . . I felt exactly what I was. A stranger, an outsider, walking into a unfamiliar place that didn’t, in any sense, belong to me. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I prayed Hean would direct me and help me through it. For without my corps I’d no other help.

The headman stood—he’d been sitting by a communal fire. He turned to a grass-thatched hut at the back of him. And he called.

I didn’t know the language, so I didn’t know then what his words. Except they did sound like a summons,. And it was as it seemed, for three girls emerged from the hut behind him to arrange themselves into a clear order of height. They each held their hands demurely before them. All three I judged of an age with me, though I deemed the tallest to be the youngest judging by her lack of feminine development (none were covered from the hips up, at which I was glad that my corps was not here).

The headman beckoned the middle girl closer. He said something too softly for me to hear. Not that I’d have understood it. The girl smiled, first at the headman, then at me. I smiled in return, eager for this small sign of a welcome. She tossed her head back: it was to beckon me. She signed that I should join her group, to join them in their hut.

“They will not hurt you,” Hean whispered to me when I didn’t immediately move. I believe he was teasing me.


“Zee-ane,” the middle girl said, pointing to herself. She then looked at me.

I was annoyed she’d given me no time to take in my surroundings. Yet I couldn’t refuse this offer of friendship.

“Mideer,” I said. But she struggled with that. I said it again, this time breaking it into component sounds as she had done with her own name: Zean. “Mi’-dee-er.”

This naming passed to the other two girls. The tallest (but youngest) was Sheena. The other was Schola.

“All ‘shusses’,” I said forgetting they couldn’t understand my Madjarian. Yet they must have caught the meaning for they laughed.

Zean—clearly the spokesperson—took up the theme. “Susses,” she said with a sweeping gesture to include them all, including me. “Henses,” she said and mimed a masculine strut.

“Ah, girls have names beginning with ‘Shus’? While boys have names beginning with ‘Hens’?” I added some obvious gender gestures. She nodded vigorously. I had it right.

“Hean?” I asked. At which Schola and Sheena fell together in laughter. They landed, plonk, on a rush-mat. Apart from that there wasn’t much by way of furniture here.

“Hean, Zean,” Zean said with gestures to suggest they were kin.

“He’s your brother?” I asked, surprised.

She nodded, though I doubted she’d ever heard the word before. She repeated it, using a deep resonant voice, “Broo-the-er. Broo-the-er.”

Before we ever sought out our beds that night Zean was already speaking several words of our Madjarian tongue. She had a keen ear, and was fast to learn. Perhaps not so the other two, but Zean seemed happy to act as translator.


During the next few days, as Zean was acquiring our language, she told me snips and bits about her brother.

He had been apprenticed to Honapple, the old man–Honapple the Holy Man, she called him. But it wasn’t in Hean to be content with waiting.

“Waiting?” I queried it.

She shrugged. “Waiting, is what he said.” She shrugged again.

I figured maybe he had wanted to be the Holy Man, which position couldn’t be had until this Honapple died. And still this Honapple, most ancient of days, refused to oblige.

Zean continued her brother’s story. Restless, unable to settle, his head not turned by the eligible girls in the other bands, Hean had said he would leave. Their father had tried to reason with him, to persuade him to stay, but he would not. He went away, having found passage aboard a Glyntlander-vessel.

“And this is the first he’s returned?” I asked.

But Zean shook her head. “Many times now. Once he returns, every year.” She nodded. “I had four years when he left. I now have ten more. I wait now the big feast.” Her face glowed at the mention.

“And what happens then, at the big feast?” I asked her.

She grinned ear to ear. “All bands come together—all but the Demons. And girls –” she indicated the three of them, so I guessed she meant girls of their age, “we find our . . . our men.”

“Wed-men?” I said seeing her struggle to find a word.

“You find wed-man?” she asked me.

I shook my head. I didn’t want to explain why there’d be no ‘wed-man’ for me, only a child not yet walking.


I stayed in that village near a month round. By that time Zean truly had our language. She answered my every question about her people. I accompanied her everywhere. I learned of gathering foods, and preparing their simple cloths from bark-fibres. I learned some of their stories. I learned of the Demons.

“They came,” she said, her usual cheerful face turning sombre, “in the days of my father’s . . .” she stopped to recite names while counting on fingers then flashed up her fingers, twice.


She nodded. “My father’s twenty mothers before.”

I didn’t work it out then, but I figure that dates the Demons’ advent to around 700 years ago.

“They came here like Glyntlanders, strutting and taking. Our holy man said no, we must not let them. We must raise our arms. We must drive them away. And we did. Many were the deaths in that battle. Yet we drove them back into their boats. But those boats went not far. The Daughter raised a high sea-wave. Violent it was, snake-stirred. And it smashed their boats. But all did not drown. Perhaps a half of a half of the Demons survived. Yet they no more trouble us.”

“And where are they now? You say they’re still on Macara?”

“They have hunting-range west of here. Far-far west. Mountains rise, valleys fall. They come not to our feasts. Not welcome. Yet they find some women from somewhere though they are not many.”

I could guess where they found their women. I’d wager these ‘Demons’ are the Macaran of our oldest traditions, those we accuse of stealing our women.

Hean didn’t remain in the village. I thought perhaps he was visiting the other bands, looking there for a wed-woman—and yet, by Zean’s telling, the time for that was at the big feast. He returned to our village three times. Each time he sought me. Each time he took me walking, so we were alone.

The first time he wasted no time but asked me again if I’d yet decided how I would show my people that there is no ‘good, better, best’, that we all have the same value, just our ways are different.

“I’ve been thinking: Your sister Zean might return home with me.” Though I admit my thoughts hadn’t yet progressed beyond that. I mean, how could I present her to required effect . . .

“No,” he said in a tone not to be challenged.

“Because she’s your sister?”

“No to any woman alone, not one of her age.”

“But—” I didn’t understand. She was of the same age as me.

“No,” he repeated.

“Yet it’s fine for me to come here alone?” I didn’t quite rant, but I was annoyed.

“Oh I do not see you come here alone. You have crewmen. You have ten corps. You have me. You are not alone. But you take Zean to Madjaria, who is there with her? Just you. Just me. And your Madja-lords are not Macaran to care to honour a guest.”


“I said no.” He would not be gainsaid and I did not push.

Perhaps I’d have said more, tried to persuade him, if I’d had some plan of how to make use of Zean’s presence. But I did not. And I could see what Hean was saying, I could imagine Zean at our court. Imagine our Landed-lords, the young, the old—the whole lot of them—imagine their attempts to disabuse her of what they’d think was her innocence. Then how could I blame Hean if he stepped in to prevent it. No, with Zean there, I could see there would soon be an incident. Her presence would have the opposite effect of what I wanted.

“I have for you a better idea,” he said. “Though I did want you to find it yourself. Yet now I see it was unreasonable of me. How to find a solution when you see but a spot too tight. No, you need see a wider scene, and so there’s to be a feast. No!” he held up his hands before I could speak. “They do not know this feast is for you; they believe it for me. It is only for three bands—mine and the two neighbouring either side of us. It will not be the big feast such as my sister has mentioned. You need not be afraid any man will molest you.”

He refused to say more of it. “I don’t want you armed with your preconceptions. I want you open. Open, and trusting.”

What feast is this that Hean has schemed up, in honour of Mideer though her hosts do not know it? And what’s to happen that he won’t tell her more lest she arms herself with her preconceptions? Next episode, He Wears The World, 19th July.

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Rhapsody In Pink

It needs no introduction . . . except this is a selection of photos taken over the past 6 weeks . . . . Enjoy . . .

Wild Rose

I was going to label these with the particular species but . . . dog rose . . . field rose . . . sweetbriar . . .

Rose blush

A different species . . I think. It clambered for some distance through the farmer’s hedge

Sweetbriar Hedge

Sweetbriar . . . it has smaller leaves than the dog and field rose (I think)

Yellow rose

A charming change of colour. But now back to the pinks . . .

Common Mallow

The common mallow . . . so pink, it’s almost purple

Musk Mallow

Pretty in pink: the musk mallow


Foxglove . . . and a visiting bee

Hedge woundwort

Hedge woundwort, of the deadnettle family, aptly found in a hedge amongst stinging nettles

Pink Hogweed

This pink variety is less often seen than the common (white-flowered) hogweed. But what an inelegant name for a star of a flower


Willowherb . . . it’s one of those wild flowers that come in multiple species


Honeysuckle, a rare pink


Honeysuckle . . . in the more common cream. And smelling divine

Honeysuckle cascade

A cascade of honeysuckle. It seems to tumble through every hedge and clamber around every tree.

It’s such a shame I can’t include the scents of these flowers. June in particular was a rich month for perfumes. But it’s been so difficult to pick out just a few photos from the many I’ve taken. And while themed pink, contrast is needed, hence the purples and creams.

All these photos (except the foxglove) were taken on my rambles around the old hundred of Henstead, southeast of Norwich between the rivers Yare and Tas. Although the villages there are rapidly growing, becoming dormitories for Norwich, yet between the villages is as rural as ever, crisscrossed with footpaths, green-lanes and farm tracks. Excellent walking.  The foxglove was taken alongside a footpath that runs from Somerleyton to Flixton (between Yarmouth & Lowestoft) as were many of the previous tree photos.

Posted in On The Door | Tagged , | 7 Comments

A Confusion of Daughters

MC4_Confusion_of_DaughtersBeckoned over a bridge high over a chasm by a mysterious old man, and led to a cave, now Mideer has imbibed a foul-tasting brew. Is it prejudice only that says that doesn’t bode well? . . . Read on.

Perhaps I passed out though I’d say not (I’d no recollection of it). Rather, I saw lights—on the dark wall of the cave—the colours of fire, and ten times as bright. Not huge lights, not first. They began tiny, like seeds, then erupted and exploded before me. I would have been frightened but that they were restrained by some kind of sinuous net. But I was greatly confused. That, and the foulness in my belly . . . oh, and now a horrendous roar and a buzz in my ears!

I’m not sure when I realised I was no more in the old man’s cave. I was, instead, in an entirely and unlikely world. Perhaps now I was dreaming.

“No dream,” Hean said though I couldn’t see him. “This is the Holy Land. Feast. Feast all your senses.”

Feast all my senses, as if I needed his bidding—as if I’d a choice. Write it all down, they have told me. Yet how? So much I haven’t the words for. But as much as I can I shall try.

First, I now was outside on a plain. But it wasn’t the plain I’d seen outside the cave. That plain had been scantily scattered with trees and bushes while here was of a more luxuriant growth. Was I now in the jungle? I thought I ought to be afraid, and yet I was not. I was bewildered, I’ll not deny that, but I wasn’t afraid. And that in itself was rather alarming. Maybe it was because, though I couldn’t see him, I knew Hean was somewhere here with me.

The sky—let me describe that. It was night, there were stars. Yet they weren’t the twinkling white we see in our night. They each were a tiny kaleidoscope rapidly spinning with sparkling colours. And the colours fell from them, like rain, and I tried to catch them. I wasn’t alone in that. A beast of sorts was rearing up, maw full open, guzzling of the falling spangles. I watched falling spangles and guzzling beast for an uncountable time—perhaps for a year, perhaps less, perhaps less than a minute. Time seemed to yawn and contract as if it were breathing.

There were flowers. Yes, I suppose you could call them that: flowers. Yet flowers are plants and these weren’t that. They were . . . I suppose you could say people. People whose flesh was growing these flowers. Such a strange thing, I laughed to see it, and that seem incongruous. Yet these people didn’t remain people for long; now they were birds—brightly petalled birds that filled the air with their song. Strange, that their song had human words. Oh, it all seems so very confusing now I try to tell it. Yet it all seemed right at the time, as if this was how the world ought to be.

And there was a snake.

No small snake this, and neither evil. She seemed . . . I suppose you might say friendly. She oozed acceptance of me. Love, yes, that’s what it was: she oozed love of me. I held out my arms to her, inviting her into my being. And she came.

How she entered I do not know yet she was within me. I was aware of her there, aware of her cleansing me (from the inside out—yes, that’s how it was). She moved with sinuous motions through the base of me, through my organs, through my intestines and into my heart. She wriggled herself through my airways. She wreathed and climbed the tree of my spine and entered my brain. I remember how I smiled at that. I chuckled. I grinned. I was happy, so happy, content to have her coiled there.

“Who are you?” I finally asked her. “Our Mother?” I meant our Mother-Goddess.

Though she offered no words yet I knew her answer: « I am the Daughter. »

“The Mother’s daughter?”

Again, her wordless answer, « No. » She showed me.

Between the people who really were birds, beneath the trees that were star-sated beasts, all around that plain before me, there sprang what I thought at first were a hundred-million fungi. Earth-balls, perhaps. But even as I watched so they grew taller, and more turgid. There was a great tension, I could feel it inside me, almost unbearable, as their filmy skins stretched over their straining glans. Then, all as one, their hundred-million skins ripped and tore, and they showered the land not with spores but with a thickly viscous pearlescent fluid. Me, an unbroken virgin, ought not to have known what it was, yet I did.

“You are the Daughter of the land.” I said. “This land, I mean, this Holy Land?” I knew the Holy Land wasn’t the land of Macara.

Apparently I had said it right for then she left me. Yet it was only to twine into a tree. She left her voice within me. « See, Holy Daughter, me. »

The tree blossomed. Yet . . . the blossoms weren’t flowers but coupling snakes—coupling as they do in spring. Thousands, beyond any counting, hanging from every branch and small twig, from the top of the tree down to its very first sprig. And as they ripened they didn’t fall as blossoms will do but they drifted away, bubble-like floating high into the sky there to form a hundred waterfalls, cascading down. I knew, though she didn’t tell me, that this she was showing me was the line of the Queens. It reminded me so of the tree in the painting in my mother’s own chamber, the tree that was to be mine.

Branches fell from the tree. Some landed and withered and faded away. Others rolled log-like until hitting a stone they upended and rooted and grew and blossomed. I wanted to say, for I knew it, that these were the lesser daughters in every generation (for only the first three born were eligible queens). My eyes searched the tree. Where was the line which would be mine?

But before I could find it my eyes were distracted. From the newly-rooted branches fell a myriad of multicoloured petals. And as they fell they changed to seeds. But not, as you’d think them, hard encased things. No, squirming these, as wormlike they buried into the ground—thence to erupt as more fungal-heads.

« You know what it means? » she asked me.

And, yes, I knew its meaning. I believe I always had known though it always had been buried deep, awaiting this moment to erupt like those heads. “Every Madja-woman is related to me. We all are descended from the First Queen.”

« Every woman of the Three Lands, » she corrected me. « Of Macara, which is the Mother; of Madjaria, which is the Middle; of Glyntland, which once was the Father. »

I must have pondered on this yet it seemed that I didn’t. for my response was fast-coming. “Then the prophecy doesn’t belong to only me?”

She laughed. And with her laughing I found myself smiling. Yet—

“The Macaran . . . ?” I frowned. “No, they cannot be Queen. And the Glyntlanders? No!” And at once I felt abashed of what I had said.

In an instant, before me appeared an infinite range of numbers, all busily changing, all confusing. I knew their meaning: they were Glyntlanders. I didn’t like them; I wanted them gone.

She untwined her body from the tree and spread her mass across the numbers and bit-by-bit and little-by-little her massive body simply absorbed them. « My children, » she said (though afterwards I thought I’d mistaken and she had said, « My husbands, my men. »).

“But . . . ! No!. Glyntlanders care only for numbers, for coins.”

« And in the beginning there was the Queen and her three daughters, » she said which ought to begin an ancient tale I’d known from the nursery yet didn’t. « And becoming women each of the daughters went a separate way. Three different ways. Macara. Madjaria. Glyntland. Which way is the right way? You would judge them? »

I sat back, feeling shame and deep in guilt. I was sure I stank like I’d rolled with the swine. Bile filled my mouth. I shuddered. I wanted the stink and the taste and the shame gone; they were spoiling my pleasant day. I knew the way to be rid but I didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to admit that the Holy Daughter was right. Who was I, by what knowledge, by what right, did I made this judgement against the Macara and the Glyntlanders?

« Mideer, » the way she whispered my name was like warmth caressing me, loving, accepting. Yet it made me feel the shame the worse. « Mideer, there is no ‘right’. No ‘wrong’. No ‘good’. No ‘better’. No ‘best’. There are only a myriad of different ways. Each has value. Each belongs. Accept. »


As I’d had no awareness of entering that land so I had none of leaving it. I merely found myself by the old man’s hearth in the cave with a belly that wanted to eject whatever potion I’d drunk. I felt gross. I was sweating. Parts of my body were tingly, other parts seemed not to be mine. I want to sleep and yet to escape—but escape what? My body? My guilt? My shame?

It took me a while—registering my ailments, wallowing in these foul sensations—before I noticed the old man was gone. In his place was Hean.

He nodded to me. I wasn’t sure what that meant except it felt good. I was pleased for a reason to smile.

“I shan’t ask you,” he said. “I’ve been there.”

“You met the Daughter?”

He nodded a gentle assent. He seemed to be smiling though not with his mouth. Perhaps it was coming from deep within him.

“Now,” he said, “and what will you do to complete the prophecy?”

“Can’t this wait till I’m . . .” But I suppose he wouldn’t have asked so soon if it could wait. “Return to Madjaria. Tell them what I have seen.”

“And what have you seen? I mean, what have you seen that will convince your Madja—priests, lords and all—that they’re wasting their energies in resenting the Glyntlanders; that those Glyntlanders aren’t so bad? I suppose that is your first call. Then I suppose you’ll do likewise for the Macaran? Well?” He looked at me.

But what amongst all I’d seen could I tell my Madja that would convince them?

“And, of course, your people, the Madja, will listen to you, breath-held in awe,” he said, stacking high the obvious objections that had escaped me. “The charismatic new queen, teaching her people the basics of love. Is that how it’s to happen?”

I now felt awkward, looking about me, not at all liking what Hean was saying, yet recognising the truth of it.

“Anyway,” I tried to duck out of it, “who’s to say your prophecy refers to me. Every woman in all three lands—EVERY woman—we all are descended from the same Queens Line. Your prophecy could refer to . . . to any one of them.”

He chortled softly, the while shaking his head. “Yes, you speak true: Every woman is of the same Queen’s Line. But not every woman has been raised in the Queens House; none trained to the role that now awaits you. You think the Madja would accept any other but you?”

“My uncles’ daughters. They’ve been raised there too.”

“Your uncles’ daughters.” He nodded and chuckled. “Oh, indeed, your uncles would like that. But first they must battle, brother to brother and wed-man to wed-man, until they agree whose daughter to name. But, Mideer, those girls, those women, have not been trained to it from birth as have you.”

I sat up sharply—which was a mistake. I hadn’t realised how much my head hurt. Had the cave spat rocks while I was away? Yet the worst of the pain was inside, within the brain-case. Lords! But I didn’t ever want to drink that muck again, no matter that it did transport me to a Holy Land.

“I have not been trained from birth,” I objected, slowly and not too loudly, yet firmly. “I received no training until . . .” I paused while I thought when it was. It must have been when the Landed of the Assembly had grown weary of waiting for my mother to produce the next king. No sons. Just a single child. Me.

“Mideer, think,” Hean pressed gently (I guess this was the first time I really suspected he might know my thoughts). “Your father has no sons. None.”

That was true. 329 daughters (as far as known), but not one solitary son. I’m not the eldest of his children. Half of those daughters were born before me. Heading-on 200 children before I was born and not one son amongst them. By the time of my birth, I’d wager, the Landed of the Assembly had long been talking.

“You have been trained to this from the day of your birth,” Hean persisted.

“Then why no talks of succession until—”

“Your mother, Queen Megan, is dying. It had to be done, to be set in stone. You cannot imagine the chaos caused by a vacant throne.”

“Hean, sorry, ” I said. “I need fresh air.” I held out my hand for him to help me.


Outside the cave I still wasn’t able to stand unaided. I rested against the rock-wall and allowed the air to wash around me, to fill me, refresh me. It felt . . . it felt like I was newborn and these were my first breaths.

“Now,” Hean said, “shall we try again? How do you intend to complete the prophecy?”

“Good, better, best,” I said, and he seemed to understand my intent.

But though he nodded still he objected. “And you are an untried woman. Though their future queen, you are no priest, no preacher. Why then should they listen to you?”

“I could . . .” But I didn’t know what I could do. I was wildly searching for a solution (not easy with a head that hurts this much). Then what seemed to me a solution: “I will instruct my father in it. They’ll listen to him.”

Hean raised a brow at me. I looked away. “If I had told you these things you now have learned—”

“Of the snake-tree?” I asked. “Of we women all being one line?”

“Is that all you have learned?” He raised that same brow at me.

I looked away, speaking now to the plain instead of to him. “I have learned, too, of the good, the better, the best: that we all have the same values, we just tread different ways. But I’ve already said of that.”

“So consider this: If before we came here I had told you these things—and we ought to be walking,” he said, a glance off towards the darkening sky. He held out his hand, to beckon, to encourage, to lead me away. Where would he take me? I don’t remember ever asking it. Did that mean I now trusted him implicitly? He said, now we were walking, “If I had told you these things when we were still in Madjaria, would you have understood them?”

I was quiet while thinking on that, and he didn’t press me. And now I could see our destination: a village in the distance, quite close to the shore.

“I would have believed of the tree—it’s there on my mother’s wall.” It had not yet occurred to me to ask how Queens House had came by their heirloom. “But I admit I would not have understood of the other. Can you imagine the priests saying to me of the ‘good, better, best’? No, it is the antithesis of what they teach. They want to keep us all hating each other—baiting their gods, for a baited god grows strong.”

As soon as I said it I shuddered. For I realised with a sickening sensation that this was exactly true. And it is true, you priests. Moreover, you keep us hating the Macaran and Glyntlanders so we don’t stray towards them, begin to like them, to understand them. You keep us tied to your strings where you can control us. And, for saying less, men have lost their heads, so don’t say it’s not true.

“Hmm. Good,” Hean said. “Now, Mideer, see how your wrappings are falling away? But the same isn’t true of your people. And it certainly isn’t true of the Glyntlanders.”

“I know where you’re steering me,” I said. “I know what I must do. I must show them.” We were almost at the village before I added, “But how?”

Mideer has learned many things from her visit to the Holy Land. Some things cannot be put into words. Others are hard to put into action. Yet there was one lesson that threads through them all: that to ‘see’ is to understand. Now, if she can find a way to apply it she might thereby—maybe, possibly, perhaps—fulfill the prophecy. But she’s not there yet. And then there are the priests to contend with . . . and her uncles, maternal and paternal. See the next episode, A Spot Too Tight.

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The Confusing Case of the Norman Arches

Tuesday 28th June. Up early. Breakfast. Packed lunch. Kit up. Catch bus into Norwich. And another out. I’m heading upriver—the Yare that is. First port of call: Hellington, where I get off the bus. I’ve never been there before. I’m in for a surprise.



Cute, I thought. Castle or church? Though I’d already seen what it was, marked on the map.


Hellington Church . . . up close

I’m so used to seeing late medieval fancified churches (English Perpendicular etc), receipts of the wooltrade lavished upon them, that this, by comparison seemed simple, uncluttered, clean. I found it quite delightful. And then I entered the porch.


Lo! Above the door . . .

and . . .


a close-up of those capitals

Wow! I mean, wow! But this is only a small parish church.

But having taken the photos I went on my way. Only my brain kept harking back to that arch. It seemed so out of place for a small backwater village. I mean, for all that Norwich cathedral has some interesting Romanesque features, including ornate arches around its doors, I do not remember seeing any quite the equal of this—and I did thoroughly interrogate Google Images when I returned home, but it failed to deliver.

I was on the outskirts of Surlingham already before the cogs really started to turn.

Earlier this week—for reasons best known to myself—I was looking up various placenames of the old Norfolk hundred of Henstead on the Nottingham University site, Key To English Placenames and I noticed, just over the border in the old Loddon hundred, Hellington. Ah, I thought, that’s where I need to get off the bus when I go to Surlingham on Tuesday. And I wondered of its origin and meaning.

Answer: Anglo-Saxon, Helgheton, Helgi’s farm.

So now I’m thinking, Helgi’s farm, Helgi’s farm: why is that ringing a bell? Ah, yes, of course: because it’s remarkably similar to Haegel’s farm. And Haegel’s farm is better known as Hægelisdun—where, according to Abbo of Fleury who wrote ‘the life and martyrdom of Edmund’, St Edmund was killed.

Saint Edmund
Edmund, alias Edmund the Martyr, was king of East Anglia from circa 855 till his death: 20 November 869. But not a lot is known about him—basically, only what Abbo of Fleury tells us, and he was writing 100 years after the reported events.

But it’s not unusual to know next to nothing about East Anglian kings. It’s possible more is known about Boudica, the Iceni queen who led the blood-curdling revolt against the Romans in AD 60, than the majority of East Anglia’s subsequent kings. Everything has to be gleaned from Bede’s Ecclesiatical History of the English People, and various saints’ lives, or from the alliances and warfare with the neighbouring dynasties, e.g. Offa of Merca, and his ilk who found favour with the composers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (who seemed to be blinkered when it came to East Anglia).

One informative document is the ‘Textus Roffensis’, a C12th manuscript which contains what I think of as ‘Ælfwald’s Tally’ but is usually tagged as ’the East Anglian genealogical tally’.


Part of a 12th century manuscript, the ‘Textus Roffensis’,
now kept in Strood at Medway Archives
(source: Wikipedia, public domain)

Since the tally stops at Ælfwald (elf-ruler) who reigned in East Anglia 713-749, it’s fair to assume it was compiled during his reign.

In transcription the tally reads:

  • Woden
  • Caser Wodning
  • Tyttman Casering
  • Trygil Tyttmaning
  • Hrothmund Trygling—It is thought that Hrothmund is the same King Hrothgar whose magnificent mead-hall is foully beblooded by Grendel in Beowulf. He is usually taken as the first actual king of East Anglia, the probable founder of the Wuffinga dynasty—but not, as most commentators would have it, based only at Rendlesham in Suffolk. As was usual in this age, as well as long after, there would have been regnal estates scattered throughout the land, each to be visited, with his retinue, on rotation.
  • Hryp Hrothmunding
  • Wilhelm Hryping—The Helmings were probably a rival dynasty. Their name appears in ‘Helmingham’.
  • Wehha Wilhelming
  • Wuffa Wehing
  • Tyttla Wuffing (yes, I know we tend to give ‘-y-’ an ‘-i-’ sound, but here it is pronounced as a long –o-, Tootla—just to confuse us.)
  • Eni Tyttling
  • Ethilric Ening
  • Aldwulf Ethilricing
  • Ælfwald Aldwulfing (whose list this is; first ‘recorded’ king 713-749)

Note: This is not a kings list but a genealogy—because, as is the nature of Man, Ælfwald was concerned with his own ancestors only. He—or his priestly compiler—omitted the following kings who, although of the same dynasty, were not on the pathway to Ælfwald:

  • Rædwald, reigned 599 to c.624, son of Tyttla Wuffing and eldest brother of Eni; believed to the king buried at Sutton Hoo.
  • Eorpwald (Erpenwald), son of Rædwald, reigned 624-627/632
  • Ecgric reigned 632-636, co-king with Rædwald’s son Sigebert. Although of the Wuffingas, Ecgric’s exact relationship is unknown. He may have been brother or cousin to Anna/Onna; or perhaps he was aka Æthelric (Ethilric Ening), father of Ealdwulf (Aldwulf Ethilricing)—see below
  • Anna/Onna, one of 3 sons of Eni Tyttling, reigned c.636-653. He fathered a family of saints (Jumin, Seaxburh, Æthelthryth, Æthelburh and, possibly, Wihtburh).
  • Æthelhere, brother of Anna/Onna, and his successor (653-655).
  • Æthelwold  another son of Eni, reigned 654-664.
  • Ealdwulf (Aldwulf Ethilricing) reigned 663-713

And so we return to Ælfwald Aldwulfing, first of many East Anglians to be hooked on tracing his roots.

But it seems his kingdom was then divided, for we find him succeeded by three kings, each of whom are given 749 as the start-date of their reign:

  • Alberht/Æthelbert, heir of the ‘Wuffinga’ Ælfwald, reigned 749-760
  • Beonna, reigned 749-760; possibly with a strong Mercian connection
  • Hun, reigned 749-???—though, as argued in wiki’s article on Beonna, the name ‘Hun’ may have belonged to Beonna, as in Hunbeonna. Hun was a common component of the Germanic diathematic names.

Æthelred I follows: described by the wiki article as ‘semi-historical’, which means that, lacking coinage, even less is known of him than the others. He reigned 762-779

Æthelberht II, son of Æthelred I (so I guess Æthelred must have existed) reigned 779-794. He became a saint when Offa of Mercia deceitfully cut off his head. Since he was, at the time, on a mission to meet his future wife we can take it he wasn’t succeeded by his son.

And here we come to a hiatus in the East Anglian kings. For here Offa of Mercia, having lopped off head the last East Anglian king firmly planted his foot on his land.

When East Anglian kingship resumes it is with Æthelstan, reigned c.821-840s.

As with the other kings of East Anglia, there is very little textual information available . . . this endlessly repeats through these wiki articles on the kings of East Anglia.

Æthelweard, reigned 840s-854. He was succeed by his fourteen year old son . . . .

Edmund, reigned 843-869. Though to be honest, as befits an East Anglian king, his origins are somewhat obscure, his light but a glimmer straining through that devastation of East Anglian monasteries subsequent upon the Viking incursions.

He is thought to be of East Anglian origin. But he’d been dead several years before anything ever was written of him. His association as son of Æthelweard is even later. In that story he was born 841. Another story makes him the son of Alcmund, a Germanic king. His ‘saint’s life’ has him crowned on 25 December 855 at (probably) Bures St Mary in Suffolk, and makes of him a model (Christian) king. All of which is probably fictional garbage. Even the details of his martyrdom are questionable. But, let’s go for it.

At its briefest, in 869 the Great Heathen Army invaded East Anglia and, encountering King Edmund, killed him. That much is probably true.

There is less certainty about the manner of his death. Was he slain in battle, defending his people and land as a good king should? Or, as his ‘saint’s life’ has it, did he refuse to renounce his God, and refused to fight,and thus invited the consequences in true martyrdom form? Regardless of how, he is portrayed as wearing a ‘porcupine coat’ (shot full of arrows) and beheaded. The arrows bestow on him an iconography remarkably similar to that of Saint Sebastian, while his beheading echoes that of both Saint Denis and his (possible) ancestor, the other East Anglian saint, King Æthelberht—whose iconography seems to lack the post-decapitation scene.

Saint Sebastian

St. Sebastian (detail),Andrea Mantegna, 1480, Musée du Louvre, Paris (source: wikipedia)

St Denis

From Schedelsche Weltchronik (Nuremberg Chronicle) (source: wikipedia)

Saint Ethelbert

The decapitation of Saint Ethelbert, from Hereford cathedral

According to the main source of the story of Edmund’s martyrdom it was Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubba, sons of Ragnor Lodbroc, who were responsible for Edmund’s death. But considering the account was written a hundred years after I, for one, wouldn’t hang my breath on it. Though, in fairness, its author, Abbo of Fleury, did spend two years in England (985-967), and that at Ramsey monastery in Fenland. But generally his focus was Paris and all things French.

Edmund’s remains (decapitated body, disembodied head) were found some considerable time later perfectly preserved in quaggy water. I have seen a suggestion that this was an Iron Age bog-body such as occasionally are found in peat-diggings. Edmund’s supposedly freshly fleshed remains were taken to Bedrichesworth (today’s Bury St Edmunds) there to be interred, in 903, in the monastery founded c.633, by the aforementioned Sigebert, son of King Rædwald.

One assumes by then the monastery was back on its feet after its ruination by the Vikings. Perhaps the East Anglian Danelaw king, Guthrum, baptised as Æthelstan, repented the damage and ensured its survival. King Cnut certainly contributed to it in the next century.

There is little doubt that the presence of the remains of the martyred King Edmund—in a wondrous state of preservation—did much to spread the fame of the abbey of Saint Edmundsbury, not to mention attracting great wealth. Miracles occurred at his shrine. The abbey became a site of pilgrimage. A town grew around it.

Unsurprisingly, a number of East Anglian churches were given St Edmund for their devotion. One such was at Caister, near Norwich,, built within the old walls the Roman Venta Icenorum.

St Edmunds church Casiter by Nch

Saint Edmunds church, set within the walls of Venta Icenorum Copyright Evelyn Simak Creative Commons Licence

Another was at Costessey, where I grew up.

St Edmunds church at Costessey Church

St Edmund’s, Costessey, with its mish-mash of styles Copyright Evelyn Simak Creative Commons Licence.

I have always thought it likely that the St Edmund dedication here came from the Domesday holder of the manor, the Breton count Alan Rufus. During his life Alan was very close with Baldwin, abbot of Saint Edmundsbury, and at his death was initially buried there (before his brothers moved his remains to St Mary’s abbey in York).

But, back to Abbo’s account. As I said, he places Edmund’s death at Haegelisdun. But where is Haegelisdun? Two places have been put forward. Hoxne (pronounced Hoxen), and Hellesdon.

Hoxne is wonderfully rich in archaeology, but so far nothing to suggest it was the scene of Edmund’s death. The association comes from a charter of Bishop Losinga, in 1101. And it helps with it being associated with the abbey of St Edmundsbury.

Personally, I have always favoured Hellesdon. It is recorded as Hægelisdun in a document of c.985, and that looks pretty close to the name given by Abbo. Moreover, Hellesdon lies adjacent to two villages with St Edmund churches (Costessey and Taverham.) But now there was another contender. Helgi’s farm: Hellington.

There is another factor in identifying Hellington as Hægelisdun. For there is another story concerning the death of Edmund. This I found in Francis Blomefield’s Toppgraphical History of Norfolk, vol.11, pp121-132 [Reedham]:

“Lodbroc, said to be a Danish king, but supposed by Sir John Spilman to have been King of Zeland, hawking among certain little islands, in a boat, was by a sudden tempest carried out to sea, and drove ashore here, and brought to Edmund, King of the East Angles, then residing at Castor in Flegg, who being pleased with his behaviour, fortune, and great skill in hunting, Bern, the king’s falconer, envying him, murdered him privately in a wood. Lothbrok’s dog was observed in a day or two, to come to the King’s house, half famished, and as soon as fed to be gone again, and being on the King’s command watched, brought them to the body of his dead master.
Bern being found guilty of this murder, was condemned to be put into the boat that Lothbrock arrived in, and committed to the mercy of the sea, without provision or tackle. This boat being providentially driven on the same place it came from, and known, Bern was seised, and to save himself, declared that Lothbrock, on his arrival into England had been killed by order of King Edmund.

“Hingar, and Hubba, the 2 sons of Lothbroc, swearing revenge, invaded with 20,000 men, Edmund’s kingdom of the East-Angles, attended by Bern the traitor, and by them Edmund was barbarously murdered, in the year 870.

“The truth of this tradition may be justly called in question, on many accounts. It is not to be credited, that Lothbroc, in his great distress, would have passed by Yarmouth, at the mouth of the river Yar, and gone up in search of another port or place, especially as Yarmouth was at that time, and long before, a port, and a place of fame in the time of the Britons and Romans.”

I have quoted the passage in full. Blomefield was man of his times (C18th) and wasn’t aware of the deeper history of Yarmouth: that, while the sand bar was there in 870s it would have hosted, at most, a small summer settlement of fishermen. Perhaps there was a seasonal market, too; perhaps the Danes attended. But I particularly like this account for it puts King Edmund at a place other than Rendlesham, the supposed only seat of the Wuffingas. It also puts him in an area later marked by the Norfolk Broads.

As I remarked, above, that wonderfully preserved saint’s body might have been a bog-body. And just look at this map, taken from my own redrawing of Faden’s 1797 map of Norfolk.

Faden's Map for CP post


See how close Hellington is to Rockland, Wheatfen and Surlingham Broads (oops, belatedly realised that Faden included only Rockland Broad! Therefore see ‘Surlingham Fen’ and the OS inset)—and neither is it far from Reedham. The Norfolk Broads aren’t natural formations. They are the flooded remains of peat diggings! By the time Faden surveyed for his map many of the flooded pits were overgrown with fens. They have since been cleared and returned to their former extents as havens for holidaymakers and wildlife alike.

As I sat by the river to eat my lunch, my thoughts turned again to that carved Norman arch. To me, that suggested the presence of important history. Was it, I wondered, a Norman rebuild of an early ‘minster’ church.

Minster churches were kinda like monasteries but without the monks. They served as HQ for a gaggle of priests who then would take their pastoral care out into the surrounding communities. Most were founded on royal or comital land, in the Middle Saxon period. Later, in C10th, they were absorbed into the parish system which did much to organise the growing numbers of smaller churches. I’m having to chose my words with care, for villages didn’t exactly exist, at least not in most parts of Norfolk. There was, instead, a fairly dense scatter of farmsteads and hamlets. So, no village church.

One of the marks of the minster churches is that today they tend to be encircled by a plethora of parishes, as  of their previously dependent churches, like petals formed around the heart of a daisy. Although not as magnificently be-petalled as e.g. North Walsham with its 14 surrounding parishes, Hellington does have a good few:

  • Rockland St Mary immediately to north
  • Claxton to northeast
  • Ashby St Mary to east
  • Thurton to southsoutheast
  • Bergh Apton to south
  • Alpington and Yelverton to southwest
  • Holveston to west
  • and Bramerton to northwest.

So it seemed to me that Hellington was a place of some importance—a potential minster with an outstanding Norman arch. Thus I was convinced I had found the real Haegelisdon. After all, what was the dedication at Hellington church? Oh, only John the Baptist. A coincidence that he’s another who lost his head?

Besides, how else to explain that this one-time wooden church in an otherwise unremarkable parish had not only been rebuilt in stone c. late C11th/early C12th, but had been embellished with that totally unnecessary stone carving the artistry of which must have cost a bomb. But let me explain this further.

Disregarding its abundance of high quality black flint (and the red limestone known as carstone found around Hunstanton on the North Norfolk coast), Norfolk has no native building stone  The limestone used on this church, as with that of Norwich cathedral, had to be imported, probably from Caen in France. That took money. And someone cared enough to employ a stone mason skilled in the carving of Romanesque arches.  At this point I was willing to bet I knew who.

Two men held land at Hellington in 1086. One was Godric, royal steward, formerly steward to the Breton family of earls of East Anglia, Ralph the Staller under William I until his death in 1071, and his son, Ralph de Gaël until his rebellion and consequent exile in 1075. And Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, father of Hugh Bigod, 1st earl of Norfolk in the reign of King Stephen.

Although the Bigod’s most famous castle, is without doubt Framlingham in Suffolk, this was not their only one. But Henry II confiscated the lot in a general countrywide purge on private-held castles when he came to power in 1154.—though he kept Framlingham for himself. The others were dismantled. One such was at Bungay in the Waveney valley, not a million miles from Hellington. (While there is still a castle at Bungay—or ruins of—it is not the original as built by Roger Bigod c.1100).


Framlingham Castle: By Squeezyboy from UK

By now I was on the bus, slowly trundling homewards. But I was impatient. I wanted to get on the internet. I needed to check out a few things. Such as churches at Ashby St Mary and Claxton, also on land held by Roger Bigod in 1086. I expected their doorways to be Romanesque in outline, yes, but otherwise decoratively plain. I expected to find that Hellington shone out, a lone star.

In that I was disappointed . . .

Ashby church door

Looks familiar, hah? Ashby church


Thurton, too, has an equally outstanding Romanesque arch—plus a dedication to that other East Anglian king, Saint Æthelbert.

Thurton Church door

And again! Thurton church


BTW, the church at nearby Mundham has the same dedication to St Æthelbert, but is now a ruin much hidden by a vegetational scramble.

I knew without looking that Loddon church would have nothing Norman remaining. Its generous size advertises its later rebuild. But its close neighbour Chedgrave is another matter.

Chedgrave church

Chedgrave Church. Copyright Evelyn Simak Creative Commons Licence.

So my wonderful theory regards Saint Edmund came tumbling down amid a surfeit of decorated Norman arches.

But their origins still puzzles me. It was not the Bigods who built them—or not the Bigods alone since Roger didn’t hold all these vills. More likely what we see here was the result of a competitive spirit amongst the local freemen, each kin-group working their butts off to outdo the other, saving their profits, clubbing together to afford the best materials and craftsmen.

The Norfolk Domesday Survey is heavy with freemen who, pre-1066, had held their land off no one, but now were subjugated to often absent landlords, some of whom hadn’t yet got their heads around the situation and thought of the men and their land as their own personal possessions. To invest in a church was to display ownership, a visible mark of their independence.

There were probably many—loads—more of these ornate door-arches. But, alas, so many Norfolk churches were rebuilt in the latest fashions in later times, the Black Death being an impetus to refocus on the survival of the soul in the hereafter. The priests invested in new chancels, the parishioners in new naves. And the old styles were rubbished. These few remaining—and in truth I don’t know how many more—exist simply because no later parishioner could afford to replace them. I’m pleased about that. And yet it is sad.

Oh, and to prove I did get to the river at Surlingham and Bramerton here’s a shot of a yacht . .  and some ducks (but strictly speaking they’re drakes).



(Not always ‘still life’s)

Posted in History, On The Door, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments