Solutions (maybe)

In the previous episode of Feast Fables Kerrid was faced with the awkward chore of explaining to Jiar how she came to be wed to Nodlushen. In such situation how could Jiar stay, though he so wants to help with the sky-ladder.

In this next episode, solutions (maybe): To Leave, To Return ready now.

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A Fantastical Tale

Aldliks Sarnutha jabbed at the fire, everything of her shouting reluctance to remember Hegrissa. There’ll be no tale told here. But then Dannyn applies his Brictish tricks and, again, another’s memories flow through Julia as if they’re her own.

Episode 49 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

Memories. Child-days. When Hegrissa was here. Alive. Living. Not yet believed dead.

Sarnutha wasn’t alone in hounding the half-Krediche sprouts. Everyone did it. But Hegrissa—this same Hegrissa who sits across the hearth from her now, who in the morning again will be dead—she was Sarnutha’s favourite target. Hounded by taunts, spat upon, her Krediche curls yanked. Tangled-topped, shit-coloured, like dirt. Sarnutha nods grimly at the memory. In those far-away child-days she’d do whatever it took to make Hegrissa’s life yet more a misery. Born of the same moon, they shared nothing other. But Jinketis, she remembers lame Jinketis, he wasn’t so cruel to her. Nah, because he knew how it was to be taunted. In shame Sarnutha remembers the taunts they’d thrown at him too.

Sarnutha looks at Hegrissa, shakes her head and pulls a grimace. What had the half-Krediche shit done that she so should hate her? Taunted without knowing. Picked up from the others, from the women, particularly. Sarnutha snorts. A newly-birthed mother, now with fields of her own, she now understands it. The thieving Krediche women, taking grain from the Alisime lands.

She looks again at Hegrissa, the grown Hegrissa. What a shock, what a fright, to see her here, within the gates of the isle. But she’s dead! She died some ten seasons since. Sarnutha remembers well the day.

It was the day of the feast of Winter Ending. The Kredese, too, hold a feast the day. Sarnutha hasn’t an inkling what the Krediche festivities, other than she’d lay good grain against it resembling, in any small way, the Alisime feast. After all, what Alisime mother would take a child, ten winter-seen, to the Alisime feast? Sarnutha shudders just at the thought. Yet Mouess had taken her daughter Hegrissa up and over the Hills of His Indwelling, to their Ancestral Long Boat that they call Kara’s Cave.

That morning the two left the isle, Mouess and Hegrissa. But next morning only Mouess returned. Sarnutha particularly remembers that. And not one of Buknekhea’s Alisime kin thought to ask after the child.

Considering it now, perhaps that’s not true. Perhaps Jinketis asked. But questions Jinketis ask seldom are answered. Looking at Hegrissa now . . . no, it’s true she did wonder, she did. Though she didn’t ask. She wondered what had happened at Kara’s Cave that the girl should be gone.

It wasn’t till a two-day after that she overheard the aldliks saying to her sister that Mouess had given little Hegrissa to the Mother. Sarnutha can still see the vision this engendered: the Krediche granary-keeper with her sharp blood-smeared blade slicing through Hegrissa’s tender young throat as if she were a goat. She sees others holding her, too, neck out-stretched, while her little child’s heart pumps out the last of her life-blood, puddling red the green grass.

Did they bury her?—as the Alsime bury the first-killed goat at their feasts saying: Mother, we return this to you; please give us more. She had never the courage to ask. To ask would show that she’d been listening where she oughtn’t. But buried or not, it was clear as spring-water that Hegrissa was dead.

How then this evening does she walk through the gate? Unless she’s a ghost.

The Ancestors arranged it. Or the Father or Mother. No, ‘twas the Mother; that fits. See, summer-half, Sarnutha ought to be away in the hills, the same as her mother, her aunts and her sisters (then she’d not be here to witness this). But late winter-half she birthed her first child. Jinfrahen, she named him. She hadn’t wanted to stay at the isle but Aldliks Feskenn had insisted. “An infant kept his first summer-half at the winter-hold thrives better than one taken into the hills.”

What use in objecting when the aldliks’ words must be obeyed. She’d not even the support of her mother. “What use you being up in the hills without a man visiting?” And why hadn’t she a man visiting? Because she’d sent him away as soon as she swelled with the child.

Summer-half, early, and there’s only two others beside her left at the isle: Jinketis and Aldliks Feskenn—and little Jinfrahen. There should be an eldliks but the old eldliks died and the new one is yet to be named. Meanwhile, Jinketis must serve. Again she snorts. Jinketis-the-lame protecting the isle. Yet maybe he’s able. He has a good eye for hunting, and strong arms for fighting. But, truth told, they’ve only left him here because nobody wants him.

Again, she looks across the hearth to Hegrissa.

They’d already eaten—a stew of last season’s meat, eked out with last season’s nuts—when she arrived, so late in the day, the sun disappearing behind the hills, the mist creeping up from the Wetlands. Feskenn had left the cook-fire to burn itself out beneath the porch while they sought the warmth of the hearth within. Jinketis had been sent to close the gates—who’d expect anyone to visit this late? He should have then headed off to Dunsephe’s roof to sleep. Instead, next thing, he comes bursting in on them, babbling of strangers at the gate.

“It’s Hegrissa come back,” he keeps saying.

“It’s her ghost come to haunt us!” Sarnutha squeals—which earns her a slapped face off Aldliks Feskenn.

Feskenn then heaves herself to her feet and offs to meet whoever this is at the gate. Sarnutha watches from the porch, afraid to go nearer.

At first sight, in the dim light, this stranger, this woman, looks nothing like she remembers Hegrissa. Such a bedraggled sight! And were it not that she walks and she talks she’d not seem alive. Again, Sarnutha screams. And who wouldn’t?

Feskenn swings round, name-calls her, and sends her inside, out of the way—she says to tend the infant yet Jinfrahen is sleeping, sweet as a bud. It’s then she realises this ghost-riven woman isn’t alone.

Who is he, this man, the ghost’s companion? Oh, how she itches to know. Then, glory, Feskenn invites them in to eat by the hearth because here it is warmer.

She’s never seen a trader before, though she’s heard the men talk. There are traders at the Krediche granaries where the men go to trade their furs for honey. Traders, too, arrive at the trading-camp at South River’s gate. But before this night she’s never seen one. Yet she knows that’s what he is, this man sitting across the hearth from her, tucking into what’s left of the stew. This man is a trader. And hah! when Hegrissa introduces him, see, she is right. Jarmel the Trader.

She glances aside at him, now wrapped in a ball on the floor, softly snoring.

He’s not young; he looks old, and dark, probably because he comes from the East. According to talk, that’s where all traders hail. This one’s been too long in the sun. Yet for all that he’s dark and old, too he is handsome. Has a ready smile, the kind that catches a woman though he hasn’t a thought to keep her. Yet he has honour: he’s brought Hegrissa back to her home. How did that happen? Snippets told, she’s yet to hear Hegrissa’s story.

He’s tall, much taller than any Alisime man. Tall, with shoulders that say either he spends his days chopping wood, else he’s a river-walker, used to poling his craft against the flow. Strong arms, but puny legs—thin and reedy. An Alisime man would be ashamed to show them. Shows he’s no cattle to drive across the hills, across the plains, to drive before him when he visits a woman.

His clothes disappoint her. Nothing special, just deer-leather leggings and a shirt of the same. Though he does wear a skirt instead of the Alisime double-apron. It’s made of some light woven stuff, all tiny pleats and wrapped around him. Not new though; it’s covered in stains of every description—quite colourful against its otherwise dull goosy-grey.

He wears a hat, which pleased Feskenn. Leather-crafted, red, and cut to fit close to his head. His hair pokes out all around it. That hair is black and not smooth like hers but crisp. Then—and this is the marvellous bit—all around his hat, and framing his face and his neck, are tiny bits of glittery stuff. Hegrissa says they’re ‘metal’, but that means nothing to her.

« »

It’s while Jarmel, warm and sated, is snoring beside them that Hegrissa finally tells her story. But though she uses their Alisime speech it snags and snarls on her Krediche tongue so much at times that Sarnutha strains to understand her.

She tells how she came to leave Buknekhea’s Isle. “Is it only ten years?” Hegrissa seems aghast when Sarnutha interrupts to say it.

“Hush!” Feskenn raps her knuckles. “You might want to gossip but I want to hear. It’s important, this story.”

Sarnutha shrinks away from the aldliks. Yet when Hegrissa starts again with her tale, she’s again leaning in.

The story begins the day her mother Mouess took her to the Krediche feast of Winter Ending. There she’s taken to see the old seer who lodges with the keepers of the First Water granary. She’s not the only girl there. All Krediche girls at ten winters-seen are taken to the granary’s seer.

Sarnutha opens her mouth to ask a question. Aldliks Feskenn scowls at her. But Hegrissa answers without the asking.

“We girls stand in a line front of the seer, all together and anxious. She’s only able to move because of her staff, so gnarled and bent the old woman. But it’s terrifying—especially for me who hasn’t a notion of what this old seer is seeking. Worse is when the seer taps my shoulder and declares I’ve ‘the Light’. Me,” Hegrissa says. “Of all the girls, only I have Kared’s Light.”

Sarnutha sniffs. So what exactly is this ‘Light’? Again, she opens her mouth to ask. Again, at Feskenn’s scowl, she shuts it. But it doesn’t matter because Hegrissa is already explaining—except she stops, a shake of her head, and says that she can’t.

Why not? Is it so difficult to find the words? Can it only be said in the Krediche tongue, like the meaning of the Krediche wren-stones? Then (almost as if she’s heard these thoughts) Hegrissa says she can’t explain it in such a way that their Alisime heads will understand it. She says that unless they can see this ‘light’ that—but she shrugs. Sarnutha supposes the ‘light’ is a Krediche thing.

Whatever this ‘Kared’s Light’, it marks Hegrissa for the granary—or so the old seer says. Yet then the seer  marks her further.

Hegrissa pulls aside her uncovered hair—and, oh, does Aldliks Feskenn have something to say about that—after. And there on Hegrissa’s forehead, plain as day, is a criss-cross thing, bitten into her flesh the way the eblann do it, so it stays.

“They kept me the night at the Krediche court.” Just ten winters-seen, with a painful mark on her head? “There with the granary-keepers, the old seer, the granary-traders and two Kerdolak mariners from Liënershi.”

Sarnutha again opens her mouth. And again shuts it. For it seems, again, that Hegrissa has heard her unvoiced question.

“The island of Liënershi—set far out in the western ocean—is home to the Kerdolan, their traders, their metal-smiths and artificers, and to the Head of Kared and her daughters the Anas.”

For all that Sarnutha understands, it could have been said in Kerdolak. But now she’s learned not to open her mouth, even though she brimming with questions. Perhaps in the morning she’ll find Hegrissa alone and be able to ask. (Except in the morning Hegrissa is gone.)

The Kerdolak mariners take Hegrissa west through the Eskit marshes, down West River to a trading-hold that’s close by the river’s sea-gate. Sarnutha itches to ask what’s a trading-hold, but that, too, must wait. There Hegrissa is held for a further seven nights till a Kerdolak sea-craft comes to take her away to Liënershi.

“I tell you, I couldn’t believe my eyes when that boat arrived. Big? It was bigger than big; it was huge. And oddly crafted, with a tall post in its middle from which hung a broad sheet of seamed and joined hides.”

Sarnutha wants to know more but Hegrissa now has warmed to her tale and hurries along, though she does delay long enough to say of this craft that it goes farther and faster than any used by the Himen. That doesn’t mean much to Sarnutha who hasn’t seen a Hiemen craft either.

The Kerdolak boat is brimming with girls, all ten winters-seen, all newly marked with the granary cross, all excited at being chosen, all anxious of what lies ahead. But not a one of them talks to Hegrissa. They are Krediche-proper, she is Alisime. But she’s not! Yet hasn’t she lived in an Alisime hold these ten winters past? She tries to explain of Mouess and of the mixed isle . . . but still, according to them, she’s Alisime and shouldn’t be there.

They torment her—all the way to Liënershi—just as her Alisime kin at Buknekhea’s Isle. She stinks of shit and fish they say, and call her a bad word meaning ‘fish-eater’. “I only know the word through hearing the Kredese say of the Alsime (because when food is scarce, they say, the Alsime aren’t fussy about eating the Ancestors’ fish). But what’s torment to me? I’d long grown used to it.”

Hegrissa keeps her eyes averted but that doesn’t stop Sarnutha from feeling bad, for the first time in all these years. Yet she’d done no more than the others had done. Oh but to now see Hegrissa, her silent tears glistening her cheeks . . . What was her life, not proper-Krediche, not proper-Alisime. And wherever she went the torments followed.

“I tell you,” Hegrissa says, “our legs were atremble when, at Liënershi, we clambered out of that boat. It seemed to me the land was rocking. But I wasn’t to stay there. We none of us were. An Ana garbed in a sparkling cloud directed us along to a flotilla of boats. Small boats they might be, yet each larger by far than the Alisime river-craft, and crafted to slice through sea-waves. Where the others went I do not know; I was ferried to Banva Go.”

Where’s that? Sarnutha asks without quite saying.

“That’s an island, much bigger than Liënershi, off to the north of it, yet still in the west,” Hegrissa says—as if she has heard her. “And there I lived at a granary for seven more years until one day the Kerdolak mariners came to fetch me and take me back to Liënershi. Ah, but this time I knew what to expect. The keepers at the granary had told me of it. For one year the Anas of Liënershi would be my teachers. I then would be tested. Thereafter I’d be given a trader, and returned to here, to His Indwelling, to be the Krediche granary-keeper. But that didn’t happen.”

Sarnutha bites her tongue lest she blurts, well obviously not. Had it happened as it ought Hegrissa now would be at the granary above First Water not here at Buknekhea’s Isle. Something as yet untold had gone terribly wrong.

“I’d been on the island for only three moons when Anachaël came to fetch me to take me to the Head of Kared. I tell you, I was both excited and terrified. Had I been such a fast-learner I was to be tested so early? Yet there was something about Anachaël that said perhaps it was the opposite—that I’d done something wrong.

“I knew where Kared would be, though as yet I’d only seen it from a distance. It was, yes, like a bee’s home. Yet vast and made of stone. A hundred small cells gathered around it belonged to the Anas. But Kared, I knew, would be at the centre. Just as instructed, as soon as before I fell to my face, prone upon the cold stone floor. Yet she bid me rise. She said she was sending me south. I asked why. She said, ‘To observe the sun.’

“I did not understand. And though I asked and asked no one would tell me. So, bewildered, not unknowing, I was bundled into another Kerdolak craft, which shortly set off across the waves, heading south. But at least I wasn’t alone with the mariners. A trader, Krisi, was assigned as my guide. And yet this Krisi would tell me nothing—nothing—of where we were going, nor why. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

“Their Kerdolak craft delivered me to a southern land. With no cooling breeze. And no cooling cloud. And the land as bare as if it’s never seen rain. And no sooner had we disembarked than the boat pulled away and left us stranded. And still Krisi gave no word of explanation. But even that wasn’t the worst of it. Krisi then caught a fever and died. I was troubled. Here in a strange land, what ought I to do?

“Yet I swear the Mother was smiling upon me. For the very next day this small child, a boy, stumbles upon me, sadly sitting on a rock overlooking the bay, the fly-bothered corpse of Krisi beside me.

“I told him I’m cursed, he must go away. But he—in perfect Kerdolak speech—asks if this corpse, newly dead, is my man. I tell him no, I scarcely know him. I explain to the boy, this man was to take me to see the sun. But even as I say it I knew how senseless that sounds. For where is the sun if the sun isn’t here? Here, with no shelter from it.

“The boy was perfect—though never he gave me his name. He helped me pile rocks to cover the corpse. He waited while I cleansed the pollution in the sea’s salty waters. Then with everything done—as close as near it to how it should be—this boy then took me to the lord of this land. The Eld, the boy said. He said it was his duty, that anyone found wandering should there be taken. I never questioned. I accepted. What choice had I if death now was my fate?

“The Eld lived in a cave—though around it were hundreds and hundreds of stone-built roofs, nothing like anything I ever had seen. Inside, the cave was refreshingly cool, but dark. Though the Eld was easily seen—he shone. I tell you, he shone bright as the sun.

“He grunted and laughed when he saw me, and asked who was her mother. ‘Mouess’, I answered—at which he scratched the tangle of white ropes that was his hair. I suppose he was thinking. Or maybe remembering. Then, ‘Mouess! Ha! I remember her. So I got you upon her, did I?’ I tell you, I was agog. What? This Eld was my father, and not Tilsnaken?”

« »

“So you’re not a true daughter of this Isle,” Feskenn remarks with a significant grunt.

Sarnutha looks from Hegrissa to Feskenn, not understanding—though she will in the morning.

“The Eld—my father—asked me whence I came to be there, and I told him of the Head of Kared on Liënershi. ‘Ah, Kerrid, of course,’ he says and nods, his hair-ropes writhing like white adders about him. ‘She sent you to here? Yes, I imagine you are like a canker to her.’ He asked me had I received the ‘craft’, and I said no. ‘A shame,’ he said. ‘For that I’d have kept you. So, Hegrissa, the world now is yours, where will you go?’ And fool, me, not understanding, I said I had to return to Liënershi.”

The boy returned her to the coast, where she found a boat. It belonged to Shindig, another trader. When she asked if he’d take her home he said yes. Yet as the boat pulled away from shore it too headed south—south, then eastward. It was a long sea-journey, and never she was allowed to touch land, though the sailors all did. Yet while on the boat this trader Shindig always was good to her.

“But of course,” Hegrissa explains. “He wanted me whole and healthy, so he could use me to trade for gold from a king. The king’s men then kept me captive in a foul crowded place. I tell you, thousands of people all crammed together inside one big wall, all gasping for breath of their own, and the air so fetid and putrid with everyone’s wastes.”

Sarnutha yawns. From the start it’s been a strange tale, but it now is spiralling into fantastic—as if there’s ever been such a place! Yet it was here that, according to Hegrissa, she finally realised just what the Head of Kared had done to her.

“But now you are here,” Feskenn says and Sarnutha’s too tired to understand her.

“I escaped,” says Hegrissa. “Though it wasn’t easily done. Yet . . . there was an uprising—like screaming demons, all flashing colours, descending in a crowd upon the town. I ran—straight into Arith. You’ve heard of Arith, the dragon-slayer?”

Sarnutha remembers no more. Hegrissa’s tale has grown too fancy; like Jarmel the trader, and Jinketis, she drifts into a deep though troubled sleep, Hegrissa’s story still sounding around her.

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Next morning Sarnutha looks high and low, in and out, for Hegrissa but she is not there. Her companion, Jarmel the trader, too, is gone.

“Has she gone to her mother’s court,” she asks, despite she knows that Mouess is away in the hills with her goats.

“Best you forget that she ever was here,” Feskenn tells her. Sternly.

But she won’t be so easily brushed aside. “Where is she?”

“Jinketis has taken her to the Highlands of the Sun, to seek out the Eblan Head Man there. That’s all you need know. Now forget that she came here.”

“No, you’re telling lies. I know what you’ve done, you’ve killed her!” —which earns Sarnutha a blow that tumbles her over.

“Now, for your own good,” Feskenn tells her, “forget her!”

« »

“And I thought that I had, till you came calling.”

I can’t but shiver. Aldliks Sarnutha’s glare seems none too friendly.

 

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Next episode: Tuesday 30th June

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Discord. The Mark Of A Mixed Isle

Julia’s been slow to realise where Dannyn is taking her. Certainly not to the Ancients Land in the far south, best reached by river, for he’s hauled his river-craft onto his back and set off walking—up through the Hills of His Indwelling, towards the Wetlands.

Episode 48 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

The worst of the walk now is over. No more hills for us to climb—merely descend. Even so, in the increasing heat the straps of my backpack, weighted by the additional donated food packets, are beginning to burn into my shoulders. We pass an ancient long barrow, totally grass-grown. A Boat Hump, as the eblann call them. I concede it vaguely resembles an out-sized upturned boat, though I’d say sea-craft rather than river-.

“It is Buknekhea’s farthest marker,” Dannyn says.

So I’m right in my guess, that is where we’re going.

“Do they often trundle a cart along here?” I ask, for the path we’re following is deeply grooved.

“A car?” Dannyn laughs. “No, not ever; you’re mistaking our worlds.”

“No, cart, I said cart. ”

“No, not even a car, we’ve no wheelie-things yet. These are sledge-marks, the runners. Mouess earned the ire of her Alisime family by taking her grain to the Krediche granary.”

That almost stops me in those same tracks. “The Alisime women have their own fields?” But I’d thought since Hegrea had to ask Sappaken for land for her fields that the kin-women tilled their lands in common.

“The Alisime women, they have their fields,” Dannyn says, “but not the Krediche. Is another reason for trouble to haunt the mixed isles—unless the Krediche woman relinquishes her old ways.”

“Which Mouess did not?”

He shakes his head—which effectively wobbles the boat. “Hegkrehe is not Hegrea’s birth-name. It is Hegrissa. And what does that tell you? Gouis, Hegrissa and Drysesit. How she lived so long in that hate-torn isle, I do not know.”

Despite his talk of hate I find myself chuckling, musing on names. I’m told the Kredese share the Kerdolak snake-fear—yet the Krediche names are full of h’esses’.

We’re not far along the track when the fields start again, the first hemmed by an arc of coppiced wood.

“Count them,” says Dannyn. “The number of fields tell how many women belong to an isle.”

Yea, really, with far-scattered fields? I’d be wandering across their land for ever. And now I see the familiar benders snuggled into a woodland edge. Goats proliferate; they’re everywhere.

I stop and fish out the camera.

“No,” Dannyn stops me. “They would not like.”

“It’s okay. It’s the view of the Vale that I want.” The sun’s light is catching the streams and rills as they thread in and out of the marshy fens. The almost-blackness of sedge and alder stands in marked contrast. “And if I don’t take it now the light will be gone, hidden by the hills we’ve been walking.”

He nods and allows it. “You return here in winter; take your ‘piccies’ of whiteness creeping up from the Wetland.”

I’d like to return, summer or winter, but I say nothing. Instead I smile. Dannyn looks at me. I shake my head, explanation not easy. I’ve just seen this scene as if transferred to Africa—the Masai, maybe—minus the water. The same herds tightly gathered together, each a group of diminutive red cattle, each tended by its male herder. Here, goats make women while cattle maketh man.

Beyond the Vale, the northern scarp of the Highlands rise black and forbidding. I think of the monks who, in another four thousand years, will build a priory amongst its folds. But no, they won’t. For this isn’t my world.

“Done?” Dannyn asks me, a little bit sharp.

I hurry along.

At a stand of hazel and ash trees the path divides, a track either side. “Which way?”

“Which would you rather? East for the living, west for the dead.”

We take the left fork, the east. But we must be almost there and I want to prepare.

“Is Aldliks Feskenn still living?” I ask.

Dannyn chuckles. “Aldliks Feskenn was old when Hegrea was young. She was born older than Burnisen. No, today’s aldliks is Sarnutha—a most strange choice.”

“Oh?”

“You’ll see. And Hegrea’s parents, too, both are dead.”

Well, that answers that. “What about Gouis?”

He grunts what I take is a no. “It is unwise to speak his name,” he advises. “A mining accident—far away to the north. The Mother claimed him.”

Away to the north? Would that be Grimes Graves in Norfolk? The unique and high quality black flint mined from there was used extensively in building the Late Neolithic monuments of Wiltshire, particularly those of Salisbury Plain. I used to think that a long distance for Neolithic man to port his flint nodules, until I discovered that cattle were driven to Durrington Walls from as far away as the Orkneys.

The ash trees thin, and then are gone. Now it’s all hazel mixed with briar and thorn, and brambles and rose that thickly entwine. I don’t need Dannyn to tell me that this now is the hedge to Buknekhea’s Isle. The path delivers us to the southern gates.

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Dannyn deposits his boat beside the small swing-gate before pushing through—the bigger, wider gate, as I was told at Bisaplan’s Isle, is used only for cattle and goats. I follow him in.

Though the air seems to swirl with the scent of wood smoke—and somewhere someone is cooking perhaps a stew—there are less pleasant smells. The isle serves as stock yard in the winter; their dung has been stacked to dry in the sun. That’s not so bad. It’s that somewhere is the family’s latrine, and someone of late has had the ‘runs’.

I’d not noticed the smells at Bisaplan’s Isle—or not so strongly. Neither had I seen so many longhouses decaying. There was but the one which, as Dannyn explained, was used as a winter-roof for the cattle and goats. Here . . . phew, a big difference. I know the reason. Bisaplan’s Isle is wider and more open and thus is fresher. Here, while the dense high hedge protects from the winds, it also holds in the dampness (as well as the smells).

There’s another difference, too, and it’s highly visible. Here are two clusters of Krediche cotts.

Two clusters of Krediche cotts and only two longhouses (‘roofs) still in use. I see a further three ‘roofs but they’re in varying stages of decay; one perhaps not long abandoned (I wonder its story), and one so decayed that not much is standing. I’m surprised, with what we think of as Neolithic (read subsistence) culture, that the family don’t recycle the wood and thatch. They could use it as firewood if nothing more. But no, it just lays there, slowly rotting. Such a waste, plus it must harbour all manner of pests and vermin. I look at Dannyn, hoping he’ll explain without my asking, but no.

But my eyes soon turn to the Krediche cluster; my first chance to see one at such close quarters. An open space large enough for a tennis court separates the clusters from the Alisime ‘roofs. Though I don’t imagine any games are played there. Its centre is broken by overgrown holes all set in a line. Clearly a palisade once had sat there. And there’s the evidence: a pile of posts stacked against the hedge at the west side of the isle. The west of the isle, where the Krediche cotts are. The woman’s place—or the place of the dead. That says it all.

I can’t help but nose into the first cluster we pass, though I can’t see further than its enclosed communal yard, covered with a tattered hide canopy. It seems no longer in use. No fire burns there, no smoke seeps through the wattle and hide roofs. Again I look at Dannyn for explanation. This time he obliges.

“Spekan’s court,” he says. “He was the first Buknekhea’s kin to bring home a Krediche woman and though the aldliks at the time was his own mother yet she refused the woman a bed in the Alisime roofs. It was unthinkable, it just wasn’t done. And so Spekan built her a Krediche cott.

“Then came the next generation—three sons, no daughters. The eldest, Talaon, kept to the Alisime ways, visiting. And when not away he lodged with his mother in the Alisime way despite she was Krediche. But the youngest, Ardrekis, followed his father. He brought home a Krediche-named woman, Datesse, though she, like him, was born of an Alisime isle. It was he that started this other cluster.”

The other cluster, Ardrekis’s court, has seven cotts, all apparently occupied though none show their faces. Are all away with their goats?

“So which was Hegrea’s cluster?”

Dannyn nods at the nearest, the one that looks derelict and deserted. “Her father, Tilsnaken, was Spekan’s number two son—”

“He wasn’t full Alisime? Yet his name . . . .” Though I suppose his name is no more Krediche than those of his brothers, Talaon and Ardrekis.

“Drysesit’s the only one who remains—Hegrea’s young brother. And he’s away visiting.”

“So though he’s taken to Alisime ways he still lives there in a Krediche court?”

Dannyn smiles (though I think it is sadly). “Where else can he dwell? By the Alisime way, only the women have rights to their mother’s ‘roof. A man is there by invitation—ever the lodger.”

“But . . . if he’s born there?”

“It is their way.” I notice he doesn’t say it’s his own people’s way. Though most of the time he blends with his Alisime hosts, he is still an outsider, the Ormalish son of a Saëntoish trader.

He gives a curt nod, directing my attention to the nearest of the thatched long ‘roofs. “Feskenn’s Roof,” he says.

“But you said she’s long dead.” Is he purposely trying to confuse me?

He laughs. “Dunsephe’s family grew too big, so a new roof was build for her. Now her granddaughter Sarnutha is aldliks here.”

“And she had it raised in front of—who was Dunsephe, her mother?” Was that arrogant or was that arrogant.

“You are right in how the women relate,” he says and again he laughs. At my ignorance, or at my uppity reactions? Probably the latter since he’s not mocked my lack of knowledge before. “But you are wrong in the importance of roof positions. Which roofs are nearest the gate?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “The Krediche courts.”

“Ah! So the further back, the greater the kudus? Yet Priäplan’s roof wasn’t set very far back.”

“Only because others have since built behind it. When this was built, Feskenn’s sister Bakesha was named as the next aldliks.”

“Now you’re confusing me. Do I need to know this?”

He shrugs. “You wanted to know of Alisime ways.”

“Okay, so Feskenn was aldliks when Hegrea lived here. And her sister Bakesha was named as the next aldliks. So how come Sarnutha now is the aldliks, and she is granddaughter to Dunsephe?”

“One might be named,” he says, “but not have enough children—not children who live.”

“Ah! Priäplan said something of that.” Or at least one of the women at Bisaplan’s Isle had said of it.

“Next after Sarnutha will be Truütha. Her grandmother, Sinash, is granddaughter to Bakesha. She has lots and lots of children, all living.”

I’m not sure what qualifies as ‘lots of children’. I’ve visions of the colossal Victorian families.

“Three,” Dannyn says and holds up three fingers. “Three children who survive to be women.”

I sigh, anticipating a repeat of the questions. Have I a man visiting? How many children? Then Sarnutha will imply some kind of shame at my lack. I shiver—not entirely because the sudden wind blowing, the sun having now disappeared behind the ridge. Despite the sky still is blue I’ve the sense of night wrapping around us.

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I’m pleased to see the warm glow of a fire—though it’s set so deep beneath the long overhang of roof that I can’t see its attendant. I squint, I peer. But no one is there. Indeed, were it not for the smoke, and now an infant crying, I’d think we’ve come to an deserted isle.

Then—I blink. Where’d he come from? Standing there in front of the hearth, a man who’s appeared as if from nowhere. But surely he merely emerged from the shadows behind him? Dannyn whispers his name: Eldliks Alsublen. I’ve no idea his age—maybe forty, maybe fifty: his beard is heavily speckled grey, his eyes web-woven. Yet he flashes a full set of teeth—all white.

Dannyn signs for me to hold still as this Eldliks Alsublen advances upon us. I notice he leans on his staff. He has a noticeable limp. He stops at least three yards in front of us.

“The Summer Half is no time for visiting,” he tells us, his feather-topped staff held slantwise in defiance.

“Yet it’s Summer Half,” Dannyn answers, “and we are visiting.”

I hold back my grin. No translation this time from Dannyn yet I’ve understood every word. Maybe it helps that I now know what form this formula takes.

“We’ve come to see Aldliks Sarnutha,” Dannyn tells the eldliks. “We have gifts.” He turns back to me and swiftly unties the nearest parcel. He holds it out to Eldliks Alsublen.

“It’s late in the day to disturb the aldliks,” Alsublen replies, eyes fixed on the leather-wrapped packet.

“Yet her fire still burns,” Dannyn says, a glance at the hearth behind Eldliks Alsublen.

Alsublen glances round. Is he trying to divine the aldliks’ instructions? Is he to allow these visitors in, or ought he to shoo them away? I’m surprised he gave no hint of knowing Dannyn. Yet Dannyn is Eblan Head Man here and has been for these past many years. He looks worried. Perhaps he’s concerned of who is this woman brought by the eblan. I’ve met so many people now I’ve forgotten how oddly dressed I am—or so it must seem to them. At least I’ve remembered to wear the hat.

He looks more closely at me, his head slowly shaking. Then, “This the woman we’re hearing of? From that distant place we’ve none of us heard before? Twenty . . . Twenty . . . Engleïsh?”

“The woman Julia Cannings from Twenty-first Century English,” says Dannyn.

Alsublen sniffs, his head jerking back. “And she hasn’t our Alisime speech?”

“No,” Dannyn says most emphatically, a swift look at me.

Okay, Julia, time to keep the mouth shut—which is a shame now I’m learning the lingo.

Alsublen nods. “Eye-pleasing, that. She yours, you say? Dah! Eblann: a life, to us, unknown. Though you could clothe her better. She looks like a man, but for the bumps.”

“So you’ll tell Aldliks Sarnutha we’re here?” Dannyn pushes. I hear the amusement in his voice. And his hand flaps around beside him until it finds mine—which he squeezes in his possessively reassuring way.

Alsublen turns enough to shout over his shoulder to the ‘roof behind him. “Sarnutha! Guests for you. Gifts for you.”

The aldliks doesn’t need any calling. I’ve no idea how long she’s been standing beside her hearth beneath the porch roof, but that’s where she is now, part-painted in shadow. She’s older than I’d expected. Though with her hair covered by the usual soft leather bonnet there’s only her weathered skin to go by. She could be fifty, she could be seventy.

“Well met,” she tells her eldliks.

She looks like she’s enjoyed a good life: her Alisime shirt strains across her big belly. And about her neck she bears a necklace of shaped polished bones. I can’t be certain, and I don’t want to stare, but I’ve a feeling those bones are from a young child’s spine. I shouldn’t be so surprised, yet my C21st mind finds it macabre. Had the child been her own?

“Eblan Dannyn.” She nods a greeting. “So you have brought Julia Cannings to meet me. Am I to be honoured? Ought I to be flattered? Or should I be curious of why she comes; what interest she has in me? No, don’t answer. She comes asking after Hegrissa.” She sighs, so wearily. I’ve a feeling Hegrissa is someone she’d rather forget.

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How Awkward, The Situation

In the previous episode of Feast Fables 3, Nodlushen caught Kerrid alone with Jiar at the edge of the woods—when she was supposed to be in the vetch-lands. Deary-dear, what will he make of it?

Next episode, FF3 Ch19 Of Hawks And Orioles, ready now.

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Cloud Stones and White Hills and . . . Then Where?

Julia could have happily settled into the company at Sapapsan’s Isle. But Dannyn has other ideas. Still, at least he has allowed his brother Markreën to take her to the Cloud Stone Isle before he whizzes her away the next day. But, instead of excitement at seeing the Neolithic marvel she dreads what she’ll find there. 

Episode 47 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

I know the C21st/our world data. The henge itself an astounding 1380 feet in diameter. The ditch originally 69 feet wide and 36 feet deep. This before me looks much the same. But then, Hegrea’s Isle conforms size-wise to Durrington Walls. It’s what sits within that could different.

I try to assess its age. I know it pre-existed Murdan’s Rings at Hegrea’s Isle, for Murdan was supposedly inspired by his visit there. But how much older is it? Our Avebury henge (or at least its ditch and bank) has been C14 dated to between 3300 to 2630 BCE. But how do I assess the age of this? By how green the bank? The plants here form somewhat more than the subtle netting I saw at Hegrea’s Isle without being total cover. Murdan’s Rings at Hegrea’s Isle are close to forty years old. Here I’d double that age—which puts the construction of Cloud Stone Isle at circa 2580 BCE. I grunt dissatisfaction. By my calculation the Isle is too young. Perhaps my guide, Eblan Markreën, can correct me.

“When was this built?” I ask in awkwardly halting Alisime. As well that he’s Brictan and can delve into my head.

“In the days of Eblan Buktalen. It is his Inspired Creation.”

Yea, great, but when did this Eblan Buktalen live. I’ve no need to ask: like his brother, Markreën anticipates.

“The Inspired Eblan Buktalen lived in the days of Eblan Negkraken—whose Inspired Creation is the Ancestral Boat of the Dead.”

“On the Highlands of the Sun?” Though that’s not the question I should be asking.

“There are others,” he says. “But yes, on the Sun’s Highlands.”

Drat! Double and treble and quadruple drat. So, tell me now, when was the Ancestral Boat of the Dead created? Or should I say the Stonehenge Cursus. It’s been dated to between 3630 and 3375 BCE. Hey, by taking the lesser date, the creation of this Cloud Stone Isle almost matches those for our Avebury henge. Moreover, at least here at the outside, the henge looks as it should—like our Avebury henge. Except . . . 3375-3300 BCE? Shouldn’t it be much greener by now? Hells, it ought to be bright green banks, totally covered by now. Perhaps the Alsime here regularly scrape it. Or maybe they regularly re-dig the ditch and cover over the growth. That would explain the depth of ditch and height of bank. And, as I know from Dannyn, the important thing here is the whiteness of bank.

We’ve gained the henge—or rather the Cloud Stone Isle—via Dannyn’s stone-lined Processional Way. But the Way cleverly angles as it enters the henge—Isle—effectively hiding its innards till the very last moment. I scarcely dare enter. Will there be standing stone circles? Avebury has three: the Perimeter or Outer Circle, and the North and South Inner Circles. Deep breath, fingers crossed.

And yes! Or at least the colossal sarsens-stones of the outer stone circle are there. 98 in total, some in excess of 40 tons. With a whopping 1,088 feet diameter, this is one of the very largest stone circles in Europe.

But all these mammoth stones, not only here but also lining Dannyn’s Processional Way, beg a question. That of logistics. Okay, so the stones are found east of here, across Marlborough Downs, which sounds no big deal, no hauling from Wales, no crossing the Vale. But even so, moving them? Erecting them? How did Dannyn engineer his Processional Way in so few years? Could the answer lie in his being Brictan? Can Brictans also do telekinesis? He hasn’t said, and I’ve seen no sign of it. I look at Markreën. Will he answer honestly if I ask him? He seems a nice chap but mayn’t be polite if put on the spot.

He volunteers no information, though I know he can pick up my thoughts. So that caps that. Back to the henge—I mean, the Cloud Stone Isle.

There are no inner rings—which doesn’t surprise me. While C14 dates for the outer circle range from 2900 to 2600 BCE there are none for the inner circles, and it’s generally agreed they came later. The trimmings, so to speak. The Inspired Creations of some later eblan. Maybe even Eblan Markreën.

“Why is it called the Cloud Stone Isle?” I ask him.

He looks up at the sky as if in answer. Weird answer: there’s not a cloud in the sky.

“You have watched the clouds?” he says. “How they are a beast, then they change to another? From one side of the sky to the other, they can take the form of great-many beasts. And so, too, with these stones. They are beasts in becoming.”

I smile at him. Nice chap. But it seems I lack his imagination.

After a quick tour of the stones—during which he tells me NOT to poke my fingers into the stones’ many holes—”Why not, what happens?”—“The Mother blesses your couplings!”—Oops, swift retrieval of finger—Markreën delivers back to Sapapsan’s Isle where Aplan is taking an extended and fond farewell of her surrogate father. I sheath my claws though with some difficulty. (And what right have I, a part-time visitor who soon will be gone and to never return.)

Ah-ha, he’s now disentangled. He gestures me into the boat—just in time to receive a stack of food-bundles from Sapapsan, along with her well-wishes for a safe journey south to the Ancients Land.

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To the Ancients Land? I look at Dannyn, query written large on my face. He grins. Oops, I’d forgotten, he doesn’t read.

“We’re going to visit your other brother?” I ask, desperately trying to remember his name.

I know he has two brothers with names much the same (or at least, the same to my C21st English ears). One has been apprenticed to Meksuin the metal-smith. The other lives ‘in the very south of the Ancients Land’. Lusket, that’s it! And he’s ‘taken up’ with Mandatn’s son’s granddaughter Balsana—who is sister to the late Dalkude who was Jitjana’s trader-man.

“Can we travel so far in one day?” Not that I know where the Ancients Land is. But I’ve heard it mentioned several times and have the impression of it being south of Salisbury—okay, south of the Rivers Meet which, visualising the OS map on the wall of the ‘Pod Room back at Priory House, amounts to the same. Just south of Salisbury is the confluence of the Avon and the Nadder plus, a sneeze later, the Bourne joins in.

Dannyn chuckles at my naivety. “No, it’s a two-day journey.”

“Oh.” Then the thought occurs to me: “So we’ll spend the night under the boat?”

I can’t remember ever feeling so rampantly horny before, in all my life. Is it just that this is a different world? The holiday syndrome. Or is it him, being Brictan, having some kind of ‘in’ to my desires, knowing how to arouse them, then how to satisfy? Or maybe it’s because this all is to end very soon. As soon as we tell Fliss of our discovery, that this isn’t our past but a parallel universe, I can guarantee she’ll pull the project. And that spells the end of me and Dannyn. No, I don’t want to think of it. I know I’m going to miss him, way beyond words, but what good is brooding. I’ve already screwed my brain down to my boots thinking up ways either for me to remain in his world, or to somehow smuggle him back into mine. But, no, it won’t work; it’s plain impossible. So, rather than spoil the time that’s left to us in whingeing and whining about the drab situation I intend to live every moment of it in full awareness—which might also account for my insatiable appetite for nestling up close with him.

He hasn’t yet answered me. He’s merely poling away down river.

« »

So here I am thinking this trip will be quicker, plus being easier on his muscles, the current here taking us, when—full unexpected—he propels his river-craft into the southern bank and drives the pole into the riverbed to hold it. But, hey, we’re barely past Sapapsan’s granary—I mean, the Sanctuary.

“What . . .?”

“From here we walk.”

I grin like a chimpanzee. “You’re joshing me, yea. From here to the Ancients Land?”

He flashes one of his ‘melt me’ smiles (which thoroughly works) and tells me no. “There is someone I like you to meet.”

I’m beginning to think he’s purposely lined up a series of people he wants me to meet. Five days, five nights, what’s wrong with tucking me away in his winter-roof and never allowing me the light of day? Oh sigh. Such thoughts—which apparently leak.

“I want to give you all that you want, on this visit.”

But I want to be tucked away in his winter-roof for the full five days and five nights. Only it seems he knows me better than I know myself. If he gives in to my (uncharacteristic) lustful behaviour then by the end of this adventure, guarantee it, I’ll be mourning the loss of so many lost chances. And those chances never will come again. So I concede him the point. Forty-love, advantage Dannyn.

“So who are we going to meet? And, hey, how much do you think I can carry?” He’s piling me high with Sapapsan’s food parcels.

Maybe it’s merely Neolithic forethought, though perhaps Dannyn had told her where we are going, for each of these parcels is so tied that they’re easily knotted onto my belt and the straps of my backpack. Regardless, I still feel much like a donkey loaded for market, rather than a woman here on vacation from the twenty-first century. And then I feel bad at my grouse, for Dannyn just ups the boat out of the river and swings it over his head to port it. I tag along slightly behind him—not cos he’s a big brave trailblazing a man and I’m only a weakling woman in need of protection, but because he knows the way.

The way at first is easy to follow. We’ve hit onto the Ridgeway. Though the going at first is steep, climbing as we are out of the Kennet valley, yet it eases off as we near the top of the Marlborough Down’s southern scarp. Millennia later the Wansdyke will run across here in an attempt to hold back (assumingly) the Saxons. But for now, despite the fences to either side, too recently erected to have attracted hedges, I have wonderful views of the Krediche lands. Yea! Finally I see a full cluster of Krediche cotts. Apart from the difference in building materials they could have been lifted from Skara Brae. Incredible. And these are the same type of houses excavated at Durrington Walls by the Riverside Project. But how, and why? These aren’t Alsime houses, they’re Krediche. I tell myself, it’s the difference of worlds.

I’m not sure when the thought first occurred, but by now it’s taken firm hold. This ‘parallel world’ only diverged from our world when Hegrea became Eblan Burnisen’s apprentice and was subsequently re- born into an Alisime family. Her sweet little son Murdan then drove the wedge deeper (but the less said of him the better). Essentially, it was Hegrea’s granary that sent this world spinning away from our own. Except . . .

Except the Alisime long-houses. They didn’t exist in our Neolithic—at least, not here in Wessex. In the early Neolithic of southeast Europe, sure, in the tell culture. And perhaps they spread as far as Bavaria, even into the Paris basin. But they didn’t reach here. Here in Britain they’re full out of place. So, so much for my thesis of Hegrea screwing things up.

Maybe it’s the Immortals that did it—spun us apart. Only, as far as I know, there were no Immortals in our Neolithic; no gods and demi-gods either until much later, circa the Bronze Age. Hmm, I grunt, still dissatisfied with my thesis.

“We have not much farther,” Dannyn says, perhaps miss-taking the cause that grunt. “Just past the White Hill and take the track down.”

White Hill, which White Hill? If by ‘White Hill’ he means those white-rock walls topping the extreme heights along this scarp, I now can see three. And it dawns on me exactly what they are. I don’t mean their contemporary names, though I can name one as Knap Hill and another as Walkers Hill—the track takes us between them. No, it’s as to their nature I’ve suddenly clicked. Once, five or six thousand years ago, at the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic, these had been tribal gathering places. But not now. Knap Hill, to the left of the track, is black with birds. Black, and loud. I’d not realised how squeamish I am till I have to look away in revulsion at the reddish-grey stuff these birds are carrying away in their beaks.

I’ve read (somewhere) that to this day the Parsees of Calcutta continue the practice, with complaints from residents of high-rise flats nearby. In answer, the tradition-practicing Parsees point to the open cremations alongside the rivers. Death leaves a void in the beloveds’ life. But it also presents the problem of what to do with the dead one’s physical remains. Sky burial is an ancient solution, and one practiced by our Neolithic ancestors—though, remembering the cremation I witnessed on my first ‘trip (though only by its smell and smoke), I’d say apparently not everyone here practices the same. Then again, Dannyn has said of changing the death rites.

I pray the birds won’t drop their morsels as they fly above me, and keep my head down as I walk.

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It was early of the day when we set out. It’s now around 2 ‘of the clock’ in the afternoon. How do I know? No, it’s not by accessing my phone. Dannyn has shown me how to hand-span the time. With an open landscape, the sky divides into twelve hand-spans—obviously less when the sky is squeezed between high hills or mountains. Six hands is midday. So simple, and perhaps the origin of the counting base 12 (which in turn gave rise to the 360 degrees of a circle, 24 hour clock et al).

Early afternoon, and we’re back into Alisime-held land where old-grown hedges again line the fences. Ahead is a break in the elders and brambles. As we approach, I see there’s a stile. Dannyn throws the boat over, and turns back to help me.

Truly, I could up-slap my head. I ought to have realised sooner where we are going. While telling his story, Dannyn also told me of the first meeting of Hegrea and Eblan Burnisen—plus, of course, there have been others who’ve mentioned it.

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Our Hero

Arriving at Sapapsan’s Isle, at His Indwelling, Julia assumes the greetings and questions will repeat as before. And what if Aldliks Sapapsan is as hostile as her opposite number at Hegrea’s Isle? Suddenly she’s not looking forward to it.

Episode 46 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

A girl, age best described as ‘nubile teen’, comes flying at us as we enter the high double gates of the isle. With a bounding leap she’s into Dannyn’s arms, her legs wrapped around him. I bite my lip and try very hard to swallow my feelings. I confess, I am jealous. Why does he hug her with such affection? Why does she hug him? I try to explain it. She could be his daughter. If I remember, he said something about fixing fertility problems within his birth-family. The word ‘incest’ screeches at me. I shudder.

“My sister’s daughter, Aplan,” he says over the head of the tenacious teenager. He literally has to pry her hands off him. “She seems to have adopted me since her father departed.”

Ah. Foolish woman to have such suspicions.

Pried from Dannyn, she turns on me. “Are you that stranger that’s got everyone talking?” She juts her chin. But it’s not a jibe, it’s only to beckon us in. “Aldliks Sapapsan is waiting. She says if you’re to eat then you’d best get your bodies around her hearth, for she’ll not keep it warm any longer.”

“We’ve been told,” Markreën says, flashing a copy of Dannyn’s own smile.

Though it’s hardly needed, I allow Dannyn to guide me, his physical closeness appreciated after witnessing that extremely nubile Aplan’s greeting. She—Aplan—skips back to Sapapsan’s thatched ‘roof (not that that’s any great distance) and holds open the door for us to enter, counting us in and shouting our names to whoever, apart from Sapapsan, is waiting within.

It occurs to me that Sapapsan must have known we were on our way. Two extra mouths to feed means more preparation. And to have it ready just as we arrive? There has clearly been some communication between Dannyn and . . . but not Sapapsan, surely. As far as I know she isn’t Brictan. Markreën, then. Or maybe even the lively Aplan, Jitjana’s daughter?

As Dannyn has said, though styled the same as Hegrea’s Roof, Sapapsan’s in comparison is tiny—only six chambers set around the central yard instead of Hegrea’s twelve. I try to figure who belongs where, though the introductions are yet to begin, and which chamber, if any, will be free for Dannyn and me.

Obviously Sapapsan and her trader Ardeld will occupy one—probably the one to left of the long entrance tunnel. Or will it be the one to the right? If the chamber is nominally Sapapsan’s then it ought to be to the left. I know such privacy and space isn’t the norm, witness how all-jammed-together it was at Bisaplan’s Isle. Yet if you have the space then I suppose you use it.

In addition to Sapapsan and Ardeld, there are also their daughters. The eldest looks about thirty yet by my calculations can’t be much more than twenty. The other is barely into her teens. Together with Aplan, they all wear the granary-uniform—ankle-length shifts in yellow-red gingham with deep sashes swathing their hips. So I figure while Aplan probably has her parents’ old chamber, Sapapsan’s two daughters will share another.  That’s three chambers accounted. So what of the other three? (I really do want us to have our own chamber.) If the aldliks has the one to the left, the eldliks will have the one to the right. But who is the eldliks here? Perhaps it’s Markreën. He lodges here, as Dannyn did before his return to the Wilds, so that makes him as much the ‘man of the ‘roof’ as any eldliks elsewhere. Yet there’s a withered-looking chap—probably more weathered than aged—beside the hearth, a weathered woman close beside him.

And finally, lo, the introductions. They begin with him.

“Our eldliks,” Markreën says.

The man stands and yanks on his woman’s hand to do same. “Greetings and welcome, Dannyn’s woman, Julia Cannings. Excuse that I repeat no visiting formula. Our aldliks assures me it won’t be needed.”

I smile and nod to assure him it isn’t. It doesn’t escape me that Dannyn again is translating—i.e. he’d prefers me not to try my hesitant Alisime on Sapapsan’s family.

“I trust you won’t lose it if I give you my name?” the weathered chap say with a grin. “I am Eldliks Hameldn, son of my father Bukplugn and his woman Hamvala. Ah! I see you have heard the name of Bukplugn? He was first of the Ulvregan to walk on this land.”

It’s true, I have heard the name. But scramble around in my memory as I may I cannot find it. Maybe he’s just assuming, his father so famous.

“And here my woman, bringer of my several sons.” He doesn’t say how many, and none are here with him, probably off wandering.“She bears the name of Hadalta. She’s sister to our Trader Ardeld.”

Again I smile, though this time as much to acknowledge the unspoken. So Sapapsan took Ardeld’s brother-in-law as her eldliks (keeping it in the family). But it does seem strange to have Ulvregan beneath an Alisime granary-‘roof. Yet (I kick myself) what is Alsvregn if not Ulishvregan, and for year he was Hegrea’s granary-trader.

My thoughts return to our sleeping arrangement. There now are two chambers left. One will certainly be the stores. The other . . . reserved for the eblann? Silently I curse. That leaves Dannyn and I to share with Markreën. How restricting is that to nocturnal activities.

But Dannyn squeezes my hand and whispers close in my ear. “You do not listen to what I say. Ardeld has Markreën instead of a dog.”

“You mean . . . he sleeps there, in the trader’s store?” Now I have to hold back on my grin. A familiar twinkle lights Dannyn’s eyes. A swift tingle sweeps me.

The introductions continue.

Sapapsan, I find, is one of those women who are born to be mothers—and if they’ve no children then they mother all others. Though she tries to be stern, yet she spreads wide her arms to embrace all the world. And she cooks up a mean stew. I’ve never had tastier.

“Goat-meat,” she tells me.

Its flavour-rich gravy has dumplings bobbing—yet dumplings require a glutinous dough. Yea, and Hegrea introduced that very same bread-wheat. Plus, if Sapapsan also is brewing, then she also has yeast (though perhaps not in a form I would recognise). They’re ‘speckled’ dumplings, flavoured with indigenous herbs and spices. Suddenly my thoughts go to Dave; how he would like to know of them. If only I could stay in one place for more than a day I then could persuade one of the women—or maybe one of the girls—to take me out to harvest the plants. Then I might learn what’s producing these flavours. Now wouldn’t that be something, to return home with a recipe for Neolithic stew! That beckons another thought. The museum could include that in its exhibits.

Finally the daughters are introduced to me. And oops, major error!

The youngest’s name is Bridata, not Bisdata. But, hey, it’s an easy mistake, the names so close. And yet they are not. Bridata, ‘do-talker’, i.e. ‘the one who commands’. Compared with Bisdata ‘quiet talker’? No wonder Sapapsan shoots sudden bristles. Plus, of course, Bisdata is the hostile granary-keeper at Hegrea’s Isle. The eldest sister is Ablabran.

Dannyn drains the last drop of juice from his dish and wraps his arm around me. Doubly appreciative, I snuggle against him. It’s then it hits me. Aplan apart, no one here shows any affection.

“They all are too old,” Dannyn says close to my ear. “But I lodged here when Ardeld and Sapapsan were always pawing. I was jealous, then, remembering you—wanting you. But now you are here—if for a few days only. Anyway,” he says, speaking up, “our aldliks has a story to tell you.”

Yea? And will she tell it through to the end, or leave it half-told to ensure my return?

“You want to know this man you are with?” Sapapsan asks, a glance at Dannyn, and back to me. “I tell you something of him he never tells you.”

I grin. And what’s she about to dish that I might later use to tease him?

“He has told you, I know, how the Krediche families and the North Alsime here asked Hegrea to keep this granary at His Indwelling. He has told you, too, how Hegrea refused it and so gave it to me. And I know he has said of her rebuilding the granary to make it fit, and the same with the Krediche cotts to make them this ‘roof.

“Well, all this work kept Bukfesen busy—and he, too, was fetching the Kerdolak stones for Eblan Murdan. Bukfesen was busy-busy for several long seasons, and Jitjana and I grew impatient to be here. Yet it was as it should be, and so in time all was done. It was then that our Eblan Dannyn announced his intention to live with us here at His Indwelling.”

“But what else could I do?” Dannyn puts in. “You know Murdan was dulling my light. And there was me enthused and inspired by—” he looks and grins at me “–by this spirit of Dreld. I had to get away from him. Though I never thought they’d create me the Head Man.”

Sapapsan tushes, “But you deserved it—you, always hiding your light. Those who acclaimed Murdan, they were blinded to the truth of him. Even after what he did to Hegrea. But that’s not what I’m to tell your woman, this Julia Cannings.”

« »

The day has finally has come. Sapapsan and Jitjana, with their Ulvregan traders, are leaving Hegrea’s Isle, to make the long journey to His Indwelling. Dannyn has already moved his few items the day before, making the journey by river-craft. But Ulvregan traders aren’t river-walkers; they’ve no choice but to haul their sledges across the Highlands.

So much to take, and such a long haul, the day grows old, the air turns chill, before they’ve yet sight of their destination. Sapapsan particularly is tired and aching—unlike Jitjana, she isn’t Brictan. She so had hoped to enjoy that first night away from Hegrea. But no. Now all she wants is to sleep.

Almost there—at least having crested the ridge—she sees Dannyn coming to meet them.

She rejoices. “Oh good! He’s come to help us.”

But Dannyn holds up his hands in refusal. “I come only to say that you have visitors.”

“No! Dear Father and Mother,” Sapapsan rolls her eyes skywards, “how drastically inconsiderate of them. I suppose it is someone wanting grain? Can they not come back the morrow? I’m thinking sleep, not of being polite to Krediche visitors.”

“These are not Kredese,” says Dannyn, his tone alerting her. “And it’s unlikely they’ll leave till we chase them away.”

That to Ardeld is the starter’s flag at the Feast Games. Already he’s searching through the wares piled on his sledge. “Somewhere, I know, I’ve a spear.”

“You too,” Dannyn tells Dalkude. “You’d best arm yourself.” Yet Dannyn has only his eblan-rod.

All this talk of weapons, Sapapsan’s now worried. “So who are these visitors?”

“Kerdolan.” Though Dannyn says it lightly, yet she can hear his dislike of them.

Sapapsan grinds her teeth. “By the High Father, will these Kerdolan never be gone from here?”

“How many?” Ardeld asks. He now has found the spears, buried deep beneath his wares. Sapapsan looks askance at the weapons. Never had she expected her Ulvregan trader to have a use of them.

Ardeld tosses a spear at Dannyn. But Dannyn tosses it to Dalkude instead. He spreads his hands. “If I haven’t a weapon, I’m not a threat.”

Dalkude groans, “But woe-woe-woeful, we’re hardly fresh enough to fight.”

“But at least if we have spears at the ready . . .” Ardeld says, and turns back to Dannyn. “How many did you say?”

“Likely ten though I didn’t count them. There’s a woman with them.”

“The Head of Kared,” Sapapsan and Jitjana both say together.

“No,” Dannyn says. “It’s not her. The Head’s an Immortal while this woman is not. She’s merely Brictan.”

“One of the Anas?” Jitjana’s breath catches with awe.

Sapapsan sighs, “Well that is something. At least it’s not the Head of Kared come to visit, just one of her daughters. What does she want?”

“To speak with Hegrea.”

Sapapsan laughs. “Witless woman, she’s at the wrong isle!”

But Dannyn shakes his head. “I told her that. She says she’ll wait here till Hegrea is fetched.”

“Fetched?” Sapapsan echoes. “Fetched!” she repeats with anger growing. She is hot, and tired, and all she wants is to lie down and to sleep. She does not need this wretched visitor, not this day. She doesn’t want to talk to a Kerdolan of any sort, Ana or not. She sighs, dismayed. “Why come here, when the Kerdolan know full-well how to find Hegrea? Dannyn, you’ll just have to tell her to scram. Tell her she’s at the wrong isle; tell her again. Tell her to hare off down river.”

“I have told her,” he says, calm as can be, never mind he’s talking of one of the Anas.

Sapapsan lumps down on the unpacked part of Ardeld’s sledge. “So what do we do?”

“Pretend,” Dannyn says.

Sapapsan blinks at him.

“Let Jitjana pretend that she’s Hegrea. She has the same colour,” Dannyn says. “But it’s best that she doesn’t see these sledges.”

“I like that idea,” Ardeld says. “But where do we hide them? We’ve five seasons of trade wares here.”

Dannyn knows a place at the back of the springs, in the same coppiced wood. “They’ll be safe there for a while. And they’ll be away from Kerdolak sight.”

“You sure they’ll be safe?” Dalkude’s not happy. “It’s not only trade wares on these, you know. Some of those packages are food.”

“Do stop fussing,” Sapapsan tells him, losing patience. “The food is wrapped, isn’t it. And it won’t be here long enough for four-footed thieves to raid it.”

“It won’t be there long—if we can be rid of these Kerdolak pests,” Dalkude says.

“Do you think I look enough like Hegrea?” Jitjana asks. “But, no! I don’t have the Kerdolak speech. Has any here the use of that tongue-tangler?”

“Dannyn has, I’m sure,” Sapapsan offers. “How else did he speak with her?”

“No, they used the Krediche speech,” he says. “Or, rather, the Ana used Krediche. It’s only the men used Kerdolak.”

“But you understood them?” Sapapsan presses.

Dannyn shrugs. “I am Brictan, I take speech.”

“Jitjana’s Brictan too,” Sapapsan says with an eye turned to her.

“It’s not my skill. We each are different.”

“Fine, so can Dannyn relay it to you?”

“I suppose.”

“Yea, sure, it’s easy,” Dannyn agrees.

« »

The Kerdolan surround the newly-built granary, spears held out against the small Alisime party. Of the woman there is no sign.

“It’s been like this since they arrived,” says Dannyn.

“So where’s the Ana?” asks Jitjana.

“Inside.”

“What! No!” Sapapsan has barely cooled down from the hike and again she’s boiling. How dare the woman! What’s she doing? If she should as much as lay one little finger on the new baskets waiting to be filled this summer-half . . . Sapapsan’s not sure what she’ll do but it’ll be much the worse for the woman. “I want her out of there. Now!”

But when Dannyn and the two traders make for the gate, even though casually done, the Kerdolan raise their spears as if to throw them. At such a distance there could be no missing. Wisely Dannyn and the traders step back.

“Now believe me?” Dannyn taunts and Sapapsan blushes. True, she hadn’t entirely believed him.

But being taunted, on top of those Kerdolak spears—How dare they to keep her out of her granary! Yet the situation isn’t hers to resolve. Dannyn has to hold her back to allow Jitjana now to step forward and play her part.

And off Jitjana strides—towards the gate—head held high, in total disregard of the Kerdolak men. And again they raise their spears as if to throw. And Jitjana gives the Kerdolak mariners such a look they know not to stop her. She walks on, without hesitation, a glare at those who’d bar her way. Sapapsan wants to look away, ashamed she hasn’t her friend’s control and audacity.

“That wouldn’t work,” Dannyn whispers close to Sapapsan, “if those mariners were as high a Brictan as Jitjana. Even so, I’m having to help her.”

Jitjana reaches the gate. The two Kerdolan there cross their spears to block her. But she pushes them aside. Sapapsan’s jaw drops.

“Brictish stuff, hey,” Dannyn grins. “A shame Eblan Murdan isn’t there to see it.”

Beyond the granary’s gate Sapapsan can’t see. And she’s itching to know what’s happening there. Yet suddenly she has vision. She looks at Dannyn; he grins.

“Eblan Hegrea?”  the Ana greets Jitjana. “I thank you for coming here to speak with me.” She uses the Krediche, and it’s obvious it isn’t her natural speech. Her Kerdolak tongue can’t chase round the Krediche ‘ouses’ and ‘esses’.

“I don’t know who you think you are to come here, and to summon me,” Jitjana says cutting across all pleasantries. “But you can get out of my granary. You can get back to Liënershi, where you belong. And you can take your laplings with you.”

Outside, though they can’t see her they can certainly hear—even if they don’t understand her words.

“That’s my woman,” Dalkude grins fit to catch robins.

But the Ana isn’t so easily cowed. “I am Ana-Uadnis. Kared’s own daughter, as well you know.”

“I care not if you are Kared herself. This is my granary, and you are trespassing, and you can get out.”

Outside, Dannyn grins. He translates into the Alisime tongue the Kerdolak words he has given to her.

“Do not be so angry, Eblan Hegrea,” Ana-Uadnis says in a snakish-insidious voice. “I come only to give you news. You will be pleased at it.”

Sapapsan can’t encumber Ardeld—he needs his spear-arm free—yet she needs to clutch someone. She clutches at Dannyn; he offers his hand. She can’t believe it, this supposedly all-knowing Ana has fallen for it. Yet surely she knew Hegrea when Hegrea was at Liënershi? And Brictan, too: able to delve into Jitjana’s head. Then why hasn’t she realised?

“Despite we’re two generations off the Immortal Amblushe, Jitjana and I together are easily the equal of this Ana-Uadnis—even though she’s but the one generation off the Immortal Kared.”

“Hush!” Dalkude shushes him. “I want to hear this.”

“But you can’t hear it,” Sapapsan says. ”Not without Dannyn here to re-say it.”

Dannyn translates: “Report your news,” Jitjana says (they all hear her hard tone). “Then go.”

Sapapsan’s beginning to feel uneasy. Queasy, in fact, at seeing two separate views with her one set of eyes. She sees the Ana’s careless shrug, as if Jitjana’s brusqueness means nothing to her.

“There are few Krediche families left at His Indwelling,” says Ana-Uadnis. “Too few to need our granary. My mother has therefore decided to withdraw her support. If these Krediche families want a granary then they must now use yours. If they want to trade . . . These Kredese have nothing we want, she says for others to have it.”

Sapapsan waits for Jitjana’s response. But Jitjana says nothing.

“Why doesn’t she answer?”

“Stunned,” Dannyn says. “As am I. It is . . . unexpected. Neither Jitjana nor I know how to respond. How would you do?”

Sapapsan shakes her head. She admits to not knowing.

Aching silence seeps from the granary. Not even a movement’s rustle.

“Why doesn’t the Ana go, now she’s told Jitjana the news?” Ardeld asks Sapapsan—as if she’s the fount of all answers! Today is being a most unexpected trying day. Her hand slips to her belly. Her first child’s first kick. But it shouldn’t be like this.

“You’ve built a good granary here,” says the Ana. “I admire your skills and your knowledge. I see that we have taught you well.”

“It’s not believable, the fool woman,” Dalkude says, tiring now of the charade. “To mistake Jitjana—Luänha’s daughter!—for Aldliks Hegrea.”

« »

“Yet thanks to Dannyn that’s exactly what happened,” Aldliks Sapapsan concludes with a sheepish smile I can’t quite translate. “The Kerdolak mariners, the Ana, all left. Apparently they’d left their long-boats moored in the valley, below the granary. We laughed as they left. Such a long journey from Liënershi, just to tell us this thing. But it couldn’t have been done without your Dannyn. That day he was our hero. Oh?” she says as if taken full by surprise. “And what’s that word, hero, and why on my lips?”

I can’t help but look at Dannyn.

« »

Next episode

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Talks Are Pending

Jiar has explained his purpose in seeking out Kerrid—to help Chadtamen make the ladder, the sooner to be back in their rightful realm. Now, in this episode of Feast Fables 3, Kerrid must explain why they can’t be together.

Two Hundred And Fifty Birth-to-Begettings, ready now.

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