It might seem to Julia an age has passed since she woke this morning beneath Dannyn’s ‘roof—the visions that warned, the stories that told of unlikely happenings (anachronistic, like everything here at Destination), her head full of newly-acquired knowledge (though not the accompanying understanding)—yet the afternoon is barely started. And, as promised, Dannyn is taking her to see Stonehenge.
Episode 24 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi-Fantasy
Dannyn still holds my hand, as if we’re young sweethearts. Memories flood—of Dave. I ‘ve not known emotions so strong since him, those four blissful months of my teens. I sneak a look up (he’s so tall, my would-be Neolithic lover). And the war inside me resumes. What’s he doing to my desires and affections with his impossible ESP? Lest I forget, he isn’t ‘normal’; he claims to be Brictish: a semi-immortal. Besides, what could there be, beyond a night? Okay, maybe a few, though not if Fliss knows. What, to run her precious machines just to keep me sated? No, according to her I’m here for one purpose only: to observe, to record and to report to her. For myself, I’m here to learn of a culture that long has fascinated me. Guess I’m still the girl on the bike whizzing along the country lanes to check out the sites. Only . . . Destination isn’t the place it’s supposed to be.
The isle’s long narrow gate channels a slight summery breeze. It’s needed, for the wide open isle now is hot as a pizza straight from the cooker. We keep to the shade, to the right. We’re almost through it when I remember my mental note, re Woodhenge.
I say to Dannyn of its existence. “It’s a timber-setting, concentric circles.”
He says nothing till we’re out of the tunnel. Then he gestures with opened arms (and him still holding my hand). “You see what is here. This is here.”
This is a holding pen for the family’s cattle. True, it is circular, and has timber posts—though slender. But—cowpats, trampled earth, small deep pits where their hooves have sunk deep in wet mud—there is no mistaking its purpose. A nearby ash-tree of massive girth offers late-afternoon shade for the beasts, though the pen now stands empty.
My eyes follow a foot-worn path that skirts the pen to lead down to the river, which here is wider than I’ve ever seen it. Wider, cleaner; I can see the chalk-rubble lining the bottom.
“Hegrea’s men did that,” Dannyn says, seeing the line of my gaze. “Here many people are wading, men with cattle, men with wares. And women, too, come with theirs.”
“The women here trade, yea?” Though Sapapla’s already said, at least of the Ulishvregan women.
“Yea, the Alisime women too.” Dannyn laughs (I do like his laugh) “They brings their rugs, their honeyed fruits. The granary-traders complain, yet . . . this comprises most of their trade. They bring their grains, too, when the harvest is good and they’ve more than they need. The granary-keepers give them tokens—notched sticks. I’m not a woman to know their system, yet I know when the harvest is poor and they’ve need of more grain, they bring their sticks and the keepers return what is here stored for them. Least, that’s how my mother explained it.”
My mouth is slow to close. So much information, unbiddenly given. And these notched sticks: could they be the origin of Ogham? Though, surely not: it couldn’t have roots that deep. Historians date it to only the third century or so—post Roman contact.
And Dannyn still talks of the ford. “It’s most used when they come for the feasts.”
“At Stonehenge,” I say.
“No.” He laughs. Then: “No, it’s not you,” he apologises. “I don’t mock. It is your strange ideas of us—what did you call our times? The Neolithic, because we are builders in stone. Da! Eblan Murdan, alone, is Neolithic. I think these Alsime and Ulvregan are not.”
We walk on in silence, his arm wrapped around me. He sneakily snaked it there when, in laughing, he pulled me close so I’d not be offended. It’s now having a disturbingly strong affect upon me (affect, as in ‘emotions’, not ‘effect’ as in actions). And the silence between us, easy, companionable, has taken the feel of an unbreakable bond. It scares me. I break it.
“So, um, if not at Stonehenge, where do your people hold their feasts?”
“Wherever.” He airily waves his free hand. “But, no, Julia-’fanteshi’, it depends which feast.”
I glance up at him. He knows my meaning.
“Fanteshi, ‘she asks’. But you do. You ask and I must answer. You stretch my head; I dig into the softness exposed.” He groans theatrically and shakes his very-blond head. “Listen, there are many types—word, yea?—types of feast.”
“I meant the big ones,” I say. “The solstice.”
Apparently I’m stretching his head. He responds with a fully-blank look.
“When the sun seems to stand still?” I say.
“Ah! Feasts of Sun-Standing. They are held at the granary isles—though not all attend, unlike the big feasts—those of Summer- and Winter-Ending. Those, none will willingly miss.”
So instead I ask where these big feasts are held. The answer requires him using two hands to gesture ‘everywhere and nowhere’. I’m quick to seize the opportunity, to open the distance between us. There’s something of him overpowering. I’m unused to it, I need space to breathe. And I’m not sure I trust him. But deep in his topic, he seems not to notice.
He holds up a finger to serve as pointer for his lecture. “The feasts of Winter-Ending are society feasts; that’s what determines the ‘where’ of them. Any of the societies’ isles might host them—there’s always competition for it. To host the feast is good for their women. The men then come to show off their cattle.” He chuckles, says something I don’t understand, and vigorously nods.
Thereafter a while he seems deep in thought. He startles me when again he speaks.
“Say I am Skakem man, and in need of a woman. All women are open to me, except for my own Skakem women. These are not my sisters and aunts and cousins only but also my neighbours—for a society holds lands for far around. So, too, it includes—or rather excludes—the Skakem women of the other Alsime, the North and East. So, how might I find me this un-Skakem woman? I use the right word?”
I would have suggested ‘non’-Skakem, but he doesn’t wait for my answer.
“The answer,” he says in almost a pounce, “is to go to a Feast of Winter-Ending, but one held by a different, an eligible, society. My choice there might be nudged by my brothers and uncles and cousins who might say good things of this or that society women. So I go to this society’s feast—Ah! Hegrea’s fence is here.”
His change of subject totally throws me. Yet sure enough, there’s both fence (with stile to hitch over) and a territorial marker, i.e. a long barrow. And it is long (I’m guessing four hundred feet), standing ten-to-fifteen feet high.
Yea, I know, it’s a ‘long’ barrow, length is expected. But I’m unused to it. None of the long barrows peppering the (C21st) Wessex landscape can genuinely qualify for that sobriquet, all being heavily eroded. But this, as yet only a thousand years old, still holds its shape and size—though the quarry ditches either side, obscured by goose-grass and dead-nettles, are probably silted. Moreover, considering its greater age, the colonising greenery across the mound’s chalk-face is but a fine tracery, little more developed than that on the walls of Hegrea’s Isle.
“It’s not Hegrea’s,” Dannyn says, his arm snaking around me.
“What’s not Hegrea’s?” And I shouldn’t have stopped to see the barrow. It’s given him the chance to renew his hold. He pulls me in, now even closer. And how easy to drift into seventh heaven; how stiff the battle to resist him.
“It’s an Ancestral Boat Hump,” he says. “There’s an Alisime story. Eblan, I’m supposed to know, but . . . Besides, an eblan only knows what his eblan-guide tells him. Old Boney filled his head with tales of Eblan Hegrea and how she had—No, no mind. The Boat Hump, yea. ‘Because the time came when they pulled up their boats and went no more to sea.’”
“But their ancestors are buried there?”
“No,” he says—which brings my head round sharply to seek explanation.
He shrugs. I’ve noticed his shrugs are more of a high shoulder-lift. “Oh, a few bones, laid there as protection from spirits.”
“But the work of making this . . . I can’t imagine it.” I’ve seen the figures for Durrington Walls (man-hours), though the two sites don’t compare in scale. I’ve seen speculations, too, e.g. for Fussell’s Lodge. But even at this size, to complete it in just one season would be ‘all hands required’.
“The Ancestors,” Dannyn says, “—though the Ancients they were, I suppose—they used their upturned boats to say ‘here we are for the summer-half; this land is ours.’ They were simply turning wood into stone when later they made these white markers. The wood of their boats was of this world; the white of the rock is of that world, the world of spirits. This you now compr’end? So, come.”
I’ve no choice. Subject and lecture done, he steers me away, firmly but gently. We climbs a stile, we climb another, picking the way over well-churned track that lay between.
“Out of one, into another,” he says, again taking my hand as I descend for a second time. “This now is Bisaplan’s Land. That,” he gestures back to the long barrow, “was Bisaplan’s Boat Hump.”
That draws a frown. Surely Bisaplan’s marker should be to their side of the fence and track, not back there in Hegrea’s Land? Of course, he hears my voiceless thought, him with his weird ESP.
“Traders use that marker to know where to moor. You think Aldliks Sappaken wanted these traders to call at her isle? So she allowed it to be into Hegrea’s Land.”
Hmm, I grunt understanding.
Ahead, the path and the river take separate tacks, the river veering vaguely east, the path continuing vaguely south. To our right Bisaplan’s Land extends for far across the Plain. It’s given mostly to grazing, though there’s an occasional small fenced circular field. The pennings are more numerous, some of moveable hurdles (I’m guessing for sheep and goats), others more sturdily crafted to contain cattle.
Fences, for me they characterise the Alsime; no wonder the woodland now is gone. All that remains is a scatter of copses that separates pens, paddocks and fields. But, what’s this? There’s now a ragged belt of trees barring our way. I try to place us C21st. I’m guessing we’re level with Amesbury
The trees force our path to veer—directly to west. And as the trees fall away to my left, I see . . .
Stonehenge Stage 1, ca 3000 BCE, comprised a circular ditch sandwiched between an inner and an outer bank. Closely hugging the inner bank was a bluestone circle, their sockets now known as the Aubrey Holes. (It’s believed it was they which were moved and re-constructed as Bluestonehenge, found by the Riverside Project, close by Amesbury.) At the northeast entrance of Stage 1 Stonehenge, but outside its ditch and bank, was a SW-NE alignment of standing stones—reminiscent of those at Carnac in Brittany. These stones marked an astounding natural feature, created during a previous Ice Age: a run of parallel grooves and ridges that, incredibly, align exactly to sunset at the Midwinter Solstice.
Imagine this to the Neolithic mind; it must have seemed that the Sun itself had marked the land. For while those grooves by then were buried beneath the topsoil, the overgrowing vegetation still betrayed their presence—in stripes of scant and lush growth. Hardly surprising, the Avenue, constructed sometime between 2500 and 2270 BCE, followed this same ’Path of the Sun’.
The building of Stonehenge Stage 2 occurred in the time-slot between 2620 and 2480 BCE. The five trilithons were erected in their horseshoe settings, the bluestones removed to Bluestonehenge (if they hadn’t been moved before), and the settings sealed with the lintelled circle of sarsens, as we see now (C21st). Oh, and outside the henge, at the northeast entrance, the famous Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone were erected along with two others. No mean achievement in a mere 140 years. It also occasioned the founding of the non-too-small town at Durrington Walls with its 1000+ houses.
All afternoon I’ve been trying to ignore where we’re heading. Fliss tells us the Destination-Date is 2500 BCE, though it mightn’t be exact. Makes no difference. Since 3,000 BCE there have been stones at Stonehenge. Since 2600 BCE there have been sarsens. I’m not close enough yet to see in detail, but I can see clearly there are no sarsens, only the smaller bluestones—the stones that ought now to sit down by the river.
I’ve had ample warning, I ought not be surprised. Yet I want to cry. Why is nothing as it ought to be here? Everything’s WRONG! And it’s not just here, at Stonehenge. It’s Durrington Walls. I’ve been floundering through, trying not to think. But now it can’t be avoided it. And deep in my subconscious I know the answer. I’ve glimpsed it several times now. But always it slips before I can grasp it. Perhaps I don’t want to know.
“Stonehenge is built on Bisaplan’s Land?” I ask my eblan-guide. And what else can I say?
“Your Stonehenge, I think no,” he answers, again closing the distance he’d briefly allowed me while I gawped at the structure. “But our Old Isle of the Dead, yes, it is on Bisaplan’s Land. And Eblan Hegrea’s Feast Stones, too, yes. And Eblan Murdan’s Broken Circles, yes. But the Ancestral Long Boat? I’m not so certain. Maybe. It forms the northern boundary. Beyond it is Eblan-Drukem land.”
“A-Ancestral Long Boat?” I want to doubly, trebly groan. Ancestral Long Boat, I’ve heard that phrase before. Hegrea applied it, amongst other aliases, to a stone-built structure at His Indwelling. Kara’s Cave, she called it. And there’s only one place that could be. West Kennet Long Barrow. But there’s nothing vaguely resembling that north of Stonehenge. No, there’s only one pre-Bronze Age feature there. And that’s Stonehenge Cursus.
“I show you tomorrow,” Dannyn says.
He knows my thoughts, he knows my emotions. So, too, he must know my present turmoil. Yet he remains annoyingly buoyant.
“It’s where the Alsime held the feasts of Summer-Ending,” he says, “—till I changed their way of treating the dead. Still they call that feast the ‘Send-Off’, and I suppose that it is. Come. We’ll be late, and Aldliks Priäplan won’t feed us.”
Next episode: tomorrow 1st April