Coming Soon . . .

ALSALDA

The unexpected arrival of four Saramequai horsemen at Isle Ardy, on the Highlands of the Sun, heralds a sequence of far-reaching changes. For the Granary family. For the Alsime and their eblann. For the Ulvregan and their traders. But ultimately for the fabled Kerdolan of Liënershi.

Every Tuesday, beginning 18th August.

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In The Eyes Of The Law

Ken is dead. Apparently murdered. Possibly caught by the Kredese and killed as a trespasser. But possibly killed by his wife. The incriminating weapon was either Kerdolan-made at Destination. Or the copy Ken himself had made. And with Fliss convinced that Ken and Julia were having an affair . . . of course the police will be interested in her.

Episode 59 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

As Dave had predicted, the police weren’t long in calling on me—even before the day was out (while I was at work). And they didn’t just ask me to call in at the station, but bundled me into a brightly-marked car and ‘escorted’ me. Talk about being treated as a criminal. The only thing missing were the ‘cuffs.

I was shown the dagger. Did I recognise it, had I seen it before? I admitted it could be Ken’s, that he had made a replica of one he’d seen at Destination.

Apparently this was third time they’d heard that term at Destination. “We’re waiting on a chap from Leeds,” the interviewing officer said as an aside to the WPC attending. “An expert in . . . whatever. We’re hoping he’ll understand these technicalities Mrs Friedman spouted about her supposed ‘time-pods’. Now,” he turned back to me. “You’d like to tell us about this Destination?”

Though I couldn’t see the police believing one word of it yet I explained of the culture I’d found. I explained how we had expected it to conform to the known archaeology, and how it had not. I said of Ken’s speculated multi-verse and my preferred ‘divergent worlds’. They asked me for proof. Both Fliss and Dave had mentioned my photos and the tape. Fliss could only have known of the photos from Ken. I hadn’t shown them to her. So the police commandeered my phone (photos still in memory), and accompanied me back to The Lady where I handed over the tape and transcript. And that led to Siobhán being questioned.

I’m absolutely sure if Fliss had been other than a respected scientist, even though her reputation had been gained States-side, they wouldn’t have believed a word we told them, even with my supplied evidence and the expert from Leeds. And even then I could see their immense hesitation.

Next they asked me if I was pregnant. I told them yes, I was less than two months gone. They asked of the father. I told them, Dannyn, a shaman at Destination. That raised a few brows. They asked how that came about. I refused an answer. “It’s my business.”

“No, madam,” said the interviewing officer. “It was ‘your business’ until your chum, Kenneth Freidman, turned up dead in a granite coffin.”

“It’s a time-pod,” I corrected.

“Now if it’s the deceased’s baby,” he continued, “your friend Felicity could be in a whole lot of trouble.”

Forensics had found Fliss’s fingerprints on the dagger—the murder weapon. I could feel my face pale. Though Dave had thought it 99% likely, I still refused to believe her guilty. I mean, how was it possible when she was stuck in that wheelchair? I told the police, if her prints were on it then so would be ours. I explained how Ken had shown his dagger to me and Dave. “We all handled it.”

“Then Mr Freidman must have subsequently wiped it. We found only one set of prints.”

“But . . . “ I didn’t want to believe it. “She must have tried pulling it out. When he arrived back. Was there blood on her?”

They’d already gone over this with Fliss. Apparently, and this came out at the trial, she’d answered, quite reasonably, that if she had plunged that dagger into his heart before sending him for a three day sojourn in the Neolithic, why was there no blood on her?

It was only when they repeated this back to me that I was could see how she’d done it—if she had done it. She had fifteen minutes before his return. That’s ample time to wash away any blood, and to change her clothes. Fliss always wore the same colour; all her clothes were the same ivory-cream. And they all had that same fluid, almost insubstantial quality. Kind of Gothic. Would her cleaner, Mrs Sharmin, notice the change? I wouldn’t have. And who else was there to see? Poor Mrs Sharmin, she was in such a state, she wouldn’t have been taking notice of the finer points of Fliss’s apparel. Yea, fifteen minutes, that was ample—though what had she done with the clothes? Burned them? She couldn’t have just consigned them to the bins. The police would be sure to check out such things. It was as well that the police officer conducting the interview wasn’t equipped with Dannyn’s Brictish abilities, for my thoughts were enough to condemn her.

I wanted to ask about Ken’s camera. That was the reason for his ‘trip. But I wasn’t supposed to know of it. Dave only knew because Mrs Sharmin had told him. Besides, if they’d seen the camera, and seen the photos, then they’d have passed them to someone who’d know what they were. My boss, most likely. The photos would prove him alive at Destination. Those, photos, if they existed, would clear Fliss of the charge. But clearly that wasn’t the case since they still were holding her, and questioning me. Ipso facto, there were no photos.

« »

The police were looking for a motive. Before her accident Fliss had been an outstanding physicist in her field who had made significant advances in the technology that she and Ken had later developed into the Priory Project. Though she’d lost her funding because of the accident—too long away from her project—the accident itself wasn’t as crippling to her career as it would have been fifty years previous. Even so, she was dependent on Ken for his technical skills. So, from the career angle, it would be counter-productive for her to kill him. On a personal level, too, though Fliss was attractive, she was confined to that wheelchair and, according to Ken, sexually unable. Unless the woman was self-destructive, it made no sense for her to kill him. Ken’s possible adultery was taken as insufficient motive (and they only had Mrs Sharmin’s statement for that; apparently Fliss had had the sense to keep quiet). Given Fliss’s situation, they expected she’d tolerate it.

But for her husband to father a child on his lover, when she herself wasn’t able to bear one, that, they judged, would be sufficient to drive her over the edge. So, again it was asked, was Ken the father of my child? When they’d asked Fliss about it she had pooh-poohed it. “Jules, and my Kenneth? No. More likely it’s Dave’s.”

They asked again of my relationship with the shaman, the where and when of intercourse. The way they asked their questions, so matter-of-factly, was embarrassing and emotionally destructive. And it should have been a woman officer asking me this. It was downright intrusive. I felt like they were stripping me naked. But I could see their tack and it wasn’t subtle. They were trying to trip me into revealing a lie. But there was no lie, only a beautiful truth that now would be forever tainted.

The answer, of course, would be a DNA test. There’d be no arguing with that.

I’d no doubt they had already taken DNA from Ken. And I knew they could order the test done on my baby. It might be as well to volunteer it, to show I’d nothing to hide.

But that’s when I suffered a major shock, delivered by a woman police officer specially brought in to deal with it. “We have to bail you over till the baby’s born.”

My mouth dropped. I squealed. “What?”

“You’re a vital witness—or the baby is. We can’t afford to lose you.”

“Yea, but witness, not suspect. This is outrageous!”

“I can see you would think it,” she said, and even nodded. “But we have to conform to the law. Your baby is evidence. And we can’t have you absconding with the evidence now can we. Your friend wouldn’t like that. Not when it’s that and only that that’s going to get her off this charge.”

“But-but . . .” I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t the choice of volunteering; I was being sequestered. “I’m only five weeks gone. It’s another eight months till its born.”

“Unless you have a termination,” she said. “Your friend might prefer that. Mrs Freidman, is it? You’re objecting to being sworn over, but think of her. She’s already in prison, on remand.”

“But I thought it could be done in uterus. Can’t it be done from the amniotic fluid?”

“So I understand,” she said. “But there’s a one in a hundred chance of miscarriage. And it costs.”

I was about to say to go for it, I’d pay for it, but she wasn’t finished.

“A pointless exercise when the courts won’t accept it anyway. They’ll only accept a buccal swab—for which your baby must be delivered. Even then,” she went on, with all my hopes collapsing around me, “the test mayn’t exclude . . . Kenneth Freidman, is it? . . . as the biological father. It would be better if we could test the other —the claimed father?”

My head was whirling, trying to grasp what she was saying. “So either we wait another eight months till the baby is born, or I have a termination? And even then it won’t prove that Ken isn’t the father?”

“It might prove that he is,” she said and smiled, cold as a fish on a marble slab.

“Well, I can tell you now, there’ll be no termination,” I said.

“Then your friend will stay in prison. And you will report in once a week. You weren’t thinking of taking a holiday? Only you’re not to leave the country.”

“But . . .” I was trapped. Helpless. And I hadn’t done anything; I wasn’t even a witness. Yet the child I was carrying could either clear or convict Fliss of murder.

« »

Danny was born in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. Dave was with me. Dave had been with me since the fourth month of pregnancy—a month after his father died. There wasn’t a day in that month when he hadn’t pleaded with me to go live with him (he couldn’t leave the nursery, not while it was in turmoil). But, stubborn, I stayed on the Lazy Lady. It was only when the Press found my address. Then Dave’s nursery seemed a safer retreat. And now, with everything coming out in court, the Press again will be chasing me.

As I had so fervently hoped (and despite what that WPO had said), the DNA test proved beyond any doubt that Ken was not the father. How could he be, when my child’s DNA was labelled ‘Archaic’. Oh how they buzzed around me. The geneticists first, then other specialists, homing in like I was a mosquito on heat. But at least Siobhán can now go ahead and publish her findings, amended to this new—and proven—development.

But there is concern for my child with his 4,500 years old DNA. They say he could have adverse reactions to our 21st century environment. Yet he has my antibodies, I’ve given him the best of starts. And he’s booked in for three-monthly check-ups. Later, when they’re happy with his progress, they’ll relax that to yearly.

My Neolithic baby has become the star of his own show in other ways, too. His existence demonstrates and verifies Fliss’s ‘pod-technology as a means of trans-world-portation. But now there’s the question of whether those worlds are separated only by time, or whether they exist as discrete (but divergent) worlds in this universe, or in a multi-verse. My evidence—the photos, the tape, my observations—is now being studied. But by my reasoning the answer can only be of past or divergent worlds. How else to explain the DNA?

And I wish even the divergent world weren’t so. When Dannyn said of his longevity and of his cyclic rebirth, he’d thought he’d be due for another rebirth around about now. And if this were the same world as Dannyn’s then there’d be a chance of us meeting again. But I can’t kid myself. And at least I have his child. Little Danny.

Fliss hasn’t been slow to capitalise. She was released from prison the day following the DNA results, though she still had the court appearance to endure. She’s used that time to offer her machines, Ken’s notes, her direction and knowledge, to any university willing to undertake study of how and why this technology works. She has had two takers so far, both in America.

That disappoints me. She’ll be shipping the ‘pods there, and I had hoped for another chance to visit Dannyn. He would have liked to hold his son, and it would have been good for little Danny to meet his real dad—though Dave is doing his best to shape up. We’ve given him Dave’s name, Eastman (Daniel Cannings sounded too much like an illusionist, a stage magician).

And like his father, he is Brictish. How do I know? By the way I’m always there to attend him before he cries. I’m just waiting now for him to tell me what I’m thinking.

But there remains the question of who killed Ken. Dave still is convinced it was Fliss. And though publicly and to the police I repeatedly denied it, yet I can see no other answer. Why then have I gone all out to defend her? Because she’s my cousin and blood is thicker? No, I think not. I did it as penance. In killing her ‘baby’ I’d helped to push her over the edge. So I’m as guilty of Ken’s death as she.

The End

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Whose Dagger, Anyway?

Julia’s morning sickness has pressed Fliss’s buttons. And the only way to call off the hounds (that threaten to tear Ken limb-from-limb as the falsely accused father) is to tell the truth of Destination. But Fliss isn’t impressed. That her ‘pods might facilitate actual time travel, that’s one thing. That’s marketable. But as a means of world-hopping in hypothetical multiverse? No, she’s not buying it.

Episode 58 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

My phone rang—or rather, vibrated. The Museum Director expressed his displeasure in a single look. Oops! I should have turned the phone off before starting on this presentation, even thought it was between only the two of us. I gestured apologies. He gestured for me to answer. It was Dave. Yet I couldn’t say, Hi Dave. I didn’t want my boss to know how personal the call.

“Yes? Sorry, I’m in a meeting. Can you phone later?”

“No. Julia, no bulling, I need talk to you NOW.”

“What is it?” I asked, a glance round at my boss.

“Can’t say, not on the phone.” He was gabbling. And he sounded panicked. Whatever it was, I was in no doubt it was urgent.

“I can meet you for lunch,” I said. I couldn’t get away before then. He must realise that.

“Yea-yea, fine; it’ll have to do. Where, when?”

“Gosh, you are in a hurry. Um . . . I can probably get away at twelve.” I looked to my boss for confirmation. I didn’t usually take my lunch that early and there was this presentation to complete and discuss, but he nodded. Maybe he could hear some of what Dave was saying, at least his express-train-delivery. “Meet you at the Green?”

“Sure. By the pond at twelve.” The phone went dumb.

“Trouble?” My boss wasn’t renowned for his compassion, yet he was showing it now. And he didn’t even know what the problem. At that time, neither did I.

« »

Dave pounced on me as soon as I crossed the road and into the lane opposite.

“My God! you’re in a state.” He couldn’t even wait for me to walk across town to the Green. “What’s the matter? Oh my God, it’s not your father?”

I had tried not to speculate, though I had wondered if it was something to do with my mother. She often drove out to his father’s nursery. But it would have been my father phoned, not Dave. That obvious fear put to rest, I had then applied full focus to what I was doing (the presentation and discussion)—which had kept me happily distracted.

“Not my father,” he said, grabbing my hand and steering me down a tight alleyway—at which I objected.

“What . . .?”

“Best we’re not seen—didn’t think when you said.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Anyone know you’re here? Meeting me?”

“No. Dave, what the hell is this about?” He was behaving like some hunted character in a TV detective series.

“Ken’s dead,” he said and had the consideration to wait for that to sink in before saying more.

“D-Dead?” I could feel my eyes searching his face, asking for him to tell me more.

“Police will want statements; it mustn’t look like we’ve colluded.”

“Dave, can you take this from the start?” Perhaps I wasn’t being too bright. “I mean, why would the police want statements from us? Oh.” The basics were beginning to filter through. “H-how did he—Dave, you didn’t . . . ?”

“No. No! But . . .” he rattled a sigh like he was breathing out the enormity of it, “it’s not natural causes—not even a car crash.”

I asked him again to tell it from the start. “I mean, this is like trying to see the picture when I’ve only two pieces.”

“Haven’t much more myself. I’ve only what Mrs Sharmin told me, and she’s in a hell of a state, and not meant to be talking.”

I pulled him deeper into the alley. There was a door to a solicitor’s beside us and by the sounds someone inside was about to open it. The door yawned, conveniently hiding us behind it. I heard staccato heels and guessed it a secretary hurrying to do her lunch-time shop. Which reminded me I was hungry. I had sandwiches in my bag but this wasn’t the time to be eating. Yikes, ought I to be eating with Ken newly . . . dead? But it still hadn’t really sunk it.

“So, let’s get this straight.” One of us had to be calm and logical and since Dave was racing into mania that one had to be me. “Mrs Sharmin told you. And who is she?”

“The char.”

Oh silly me for not knowing. “And that would be Fliss’s cleaner?”

“The Freidmans’, yea.” I’d noticed that of Dave: he tended to call them collectively ‘The Freidmans’, always a couple. While to me they were Fliss and Ken.

And now it really was sinking in. “Oh my God . . . Fliss! How is she—where is she? Cripes! this must be awful for her.”

“She’s at the police station,” Dave said, though he hesitated a moment before saying the ‘P-word’. “Listen—will you let me say—you have to understand before they start questioning you.”

“Question me about what? Oh, shitty deaths, they’re treating it as murder.” From my mouth to my toes, the horror swelled in me. Nausea, cold sweat, my head refusing to think. And the police were wanting to question me? “Dave, when did this happen?”

“This morning,” he said, running frantic fingers through his hair. “It was all over when I got there. I mean, well, the police were everywhere, and Mrs Sharmin in an awful state, jabbering away. They’ve taken her now to the hospital, doping her up with tranquilizers or—I don’t know, whatever. She’s a main witness—apart from Fliss, the only witness.”

“Dave, you are still not making much sense.” I looked at my watch. I’d have to get back to work soon.

He took a deep breath. “Mrs Sharmin was cleaning the Pod Room—that’s her first duty Monday mornings. She’d already heard their raised voices but, no change there, she ignored it, went about her work. But she’d only half finished when the Freidmans burst in and Fliss, angry, yells at her to get out.”

“Which wisely she did?”

He nodded, and again glanced down the alley (the door that had hidden us now had slowly closed of its own volition).

“She listened at the door—well, you know what chars are.”

Another time I’d have objected to the generalisation but I let it pass as currently irrelevant. We were getting to the meat of the story, and apparently it was imperative for me to know this before the police questioned me.

“She heard Fliss accusing Ken of an affair with you, a rehash of the codswallop yesterday. She heard her say of you being pregnant, and that Ken’s the father.”

I groaned. “Lawks, it’ll be all over the village. You don’t believe it do you?”

“Hush, let me say. I’ve job enough to pull sense out of the old dear’s ramblings. And no, I don’t believe it. So, course, Ken denies it. So then Fliss asks about your meetings in the evenings.”

“But you’ve always been there as well; nothing iffy about them.”

“Yea but Fliss doesn’t know that. Anyway, apparently Ken said these meetings were to discuss—and here, with Mrs Sharmin not understanding, her account gets even more mangled—but seems Ken said we’d been meeting to discuss the reality of the ‘pod’s Destination. And, again, Fliss wasn’t having it. She screeches back at him (and according to Mrs Sharmin she’s now totally hysterical) something about her not being so gullible she’d believe we’ve hit on a parallel universe.”

“The cleaner actually used those words, ‘parallel universe’?” I asked.

“Maybe she’s a fan of X Files or something—Doctor Who. Anyway, Ken came back at her that she’s the physicist, she ought to believe it.”

“Yea, and it’s true,” I said.

“Ken said he’d prove it—”

“Prove—How?”

“Said that you’d taken photos so he’d do the same. That next time he’d take a camera.”

“Oh, that poor Mrs Sharmin,” I said. “It must have seemed so bizarre to her.”

“Yea, like she’d walked into another world—That’s what she kept saying. And she thought at first they were acting, a play or something. The old dear, she tried to make sense of it. And then when she saw—but I jump ahead. Fliss egged him on. ‘Yea, yea, so why not go now?’ She made it known she wouldn’t believe about you and the baby till this of the universe was sorted.”

“And he went,” I said. I knew Ken well enough to know that’s what he’d do. Whatever it took to stop the fighting and return to peace. So, yea, he’d take a camera and go.

“He told Fliss to give him three days.”

“There and then?” I asked. “No time to prepare?”

“Seems so. According to Mrs Sharmin, it all went quiet—just, as she describes it, a mechanical hum. She doesn’t understand of the ‘pods, only that they’re something ‘scientific’. She started jabbering then about Frankenstein, and working for monsters, and she ought to have seen it sooner. I tell you. Julia, that old dear’s head has been totally blown.”

“I can imagine.” Though if Fliss and Ken had told the woman the ‘pods’ true purpose she probably wouldn’t have believed it, and she’d have spread Frankenstein tales all over the village. I had a sudden horror of my mother hearing all this. What would she make of it? Yet more eye-scratching between the de Plessey cousins. “So, fifteen minutes later . . .?” I prompted.

“Yea, fifteen minutes later. By then Mrs Sharmin was cleaning the Den—she calls it the Hall. She hears Fliss screaming and screaming like she’s in a horror movie—Mrs Sharmin’s words. So, course, she rushes in to see what’s the matter.”

Dave closed his eyes and turned away. I could see he was taking deep calming breaths—which warned me the next bit mightn’t be nice.

“She . . . in the Pod Room, the ‘pod, it was open. She couldn’t describe—she wouldn’t, and I can’t say I blame her. Ken, dead, but not recently dead—no fresh blood, she said, though blood aplenty. It was dry, brown, she said. And his body was . . . it was like . . .  maybe a dog had mauled it. And there was this carved-wood handle sticking out of his chest. ‘Not like any knife we’d ever use‘.”

“Wow!” I fell against the wall, glad it was there to support me. My thoughts were racing though none wanted to stick.

“She was keen to be out of the Pod Room—”

“Yea, I imagine . . .”

“Says the smell was . . . not pleasant.”

That was more information than I needed. And I hadn’t yet started to form the scene in my mind. Jeez, I’d no idea of the horrors that later would hit me.

“Good ole British old dear, she took Fliss to the kitchen and made her a cuppa, and phoned the medical centre here, in town. And all that before I arrived to do the garden. As I say, when I got there the place was crawling. Scenes-of-Crime, patrol cars, couple of detectives, some technical units in a big van. Looked like the day the circus arrives. And there was Mrs Sharmin, wandering around, out of it—till they realised and took her.”

“But not you?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Just arrived, I’m the gardener, what do I know? They’d rather me out of the way. Shoo, go home, more or less said. But once they hear what Fliss has to . . .” He wrapped his arms over his head. “Sorry to dump this on you.”

“Dump? Hardly. But what’d you reckon? Was it a dagger? Did the Kredese kill him at Destination? I mean, he claimed the Kredese have daggers but I’d swear it’s only the Kerdolan. Was he caught trespassing?”

“It was Ken’s dagger,” he said.

“No. Dave, you don’t know that. Anyway, how? I mean, if it’s Ken’s dagger, then . . .” No, I couldn’t believe that. “Are you accusing Fliss of murder? But . . . How, with her stuck in that chair?”

“You think she can’t lean over? She’s not totally immobile—or haven’t you noticed?”

“Dave, no. She wouldn’t do that. She would not.”

“She talked of castration.”

“No!” Yet she had talked of killing him, too.

« »

Don’t miss tomorrow’s final episode

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A Dream Come True?

In the previous episode of Feast Fables 3 Torund, craft-master, took his leave, his task (to help establish the Cult of the Spinner) now done. And feast by feast, fable by fable, the years have come and gone, time spinning round. So surely Kallaren and Jiar will soon return with the awaited news of the ladder.

Or perhaps it’ll be an entirely different visitor. Next episode, Not Alone In Her Bed, ready now.

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Oops!

Face to face with the psychotic Murdan, Julia’s first impulse is to run. Fast. Get out of there. But he’s a Brictan and, like Dannyn, can rummage around in her thoughts and memories. And she knows, at all costs, he mustn’t know about her and his cousin.

Episode 57 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

I still was shaking long after the ‘pod grabbed me. Of course Fliss noticed, though she let it pass without comment. She said nothing the next morning either when, during out shared Watch, I had to rush off to be sick. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Well, yea, Dave could have been there; he’d have picked at it and worried it like a dog with a bone. Fliss merely looked at me, laden with loathing. And it wasn’t the first time either.

I’d been sick while at Destination, about an hour after waking. The aldliks of Buktalha’s Isle had made a cutting remark about it. Unlike Eblan Murdan, she didn’t take me for a supernatural being. Neither did she fall for me being an East Alsime eblan. She, herself, was of the East Alsime people and I didn’t have the right ‘burr’ to my voice.

“I don’t know the truth of you—and anyways eblan, your doings is none of mine. But I tell you this, if it’s there in your belly you can’t run away from it.” That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, four and a half thousand years from home, and feeling wretched. And until then I’d been trying to deny it but . . . like it or not it was there.

It. Did I think to distance myself by calling it it. Did I think it wouldn’t then be a problem? I could visit the GP, ask for termination. All over and done, as if it never had happened. But I couldn’t do that. Everything in me screamed loudly No!

And over all this was the memory of Murdan. That encounter continued to bedevil my thoughts and distract me. I had become a mirror to him, calling to mind every tale I had heard of him. Filling my head with the images: His inspired rings at Hegrea’s Isle; his setting of the Kerdolak stones within the Old Isle of the Dead; his campaign against the Kerdolan; his massacre of them and how he then treated them; his rout of the remaining granary-keepers and trader at His Indwelling.

I thought if I filled my head with that he wouldn’t see beyond it. Fool! Fool. Only later did I realise what I’d done.

« »

His stare seems to last for all eternity. I try not to think how he must see me, garbed not as the Alsime, not as the Kredese or Kerdolan. Not knowing what this strange vision. Yet for all that I’ve filled my head with visions of him, there arises a fleet memory of Dannyn saying he took me first to be his Eblan Mistress Inspiration. And Eblan Murdan has found it.

He drops to his knees—there in the stone-riddled gulley—drops first to his knees then down to his belly. I half-expect him to slide back down, so steep the incline. But it strikes me at once what has happened—maybe I receive such insight from him? The mighty—psychotic—Eblan Murdan believes me a divine. Were it a scene in a movie I’d probably laugh.

“Alsalda,” he breathes the name in utter awe.

But . . . he hasn’t taken me to be his Mistress Inspiration? Perhaps it’s the colour of my hair. Not blonde as it should be if I’m his Mistress Inspiration, the Spirit Sun. Instead, Chocolate Cherry; more in keeping with Alsalda Bear-Mother. I don’t know how he’s reasoned away my army surplus fatigues. Perhaps he takes them for the Bear’s camouflage now she’s taken human form.

All this I try not to think; holding fast to the received visions of him. One in particular comes fast upon me, and keeps on repeating, that of the children at Hegrea’s Isle running and screaming into their mothers at the very sight of him. Jeez, but he does look a mess. And he reeks worse than any tramp I’ve ever encountered.

Another thought worms its way into awareness, though I doubt it’s him found it and teased it out. Here he takes me to be Alsalda, the Ancients’ indwelling spirit who’s to task him regarding the Kerdolan. So might I then stop the slaughter, turn him for it? Yet how? I could tell him the true origin of Alsalda’s tumun (likely at the hands of the Kerdolan). But that would shatter his every illusion and I don’t want to think of the effects upon him.

Besides, if diverted from his course, what then will happen? There’ll be no Sapapsan’s Granary at His Indwelling; no haven for he-I-must-not-mention; no place for him to escape his cousin’s constant hammering.

My thoughts ride on, barely breaking the subconscious barrier. There’ll be no election to Eblan Head Man for he-I-must-not-mention; no Sun Tower, no Processional Way, no closing of Kara’s Cave. To divert Murdan’s course would be to drive our two worlds yet further apart.

No. I can’t interfere. What will be, will be. Haven’t I proclaimed that as the time-travellers’ creed? So instead I continue to show him his future in the glorious Technicolor of my imagination. And he, prone on the rubble in that gulley, eagerly sups of it.

I pray that the ‘pod will grab me, take me out of here, despite it’s not due. Instead, I must subtly disengage myself, hoping now I’m cast as Alsalda he’ll fear to look directly at me.

It’s not till I sit by the hearth at Buktalha’s Isle that I realise what I have done. Cast as Alsalda, I’ve become Alsalda, and given him his mission. Everything he does from this moment on is because I have shown it to him. I feel sick at the thought, nauseated by what I have done. And all to protect Dannyn.

« »

The guilt of it, the remorse, regret, wrapped heavily around me—which Fliss mistook for something other.

“It’s Kenneth’s, isn’t it?” she suddenly asked me.

“Say again. What’s this about?” I tried to play it down though I knew full well what she meant.

“You’ve been screwing, the pair of you, away from here. On that little Bohemian boat of yours.” Her face almost was puce; when she tutted her mouth boiled with saliva. “I knew it—from the moment he said to invite you in. Once a biker, always a biker; once a hippy—”

“Fliss, you have it all wrong.” On top of everything else I didn’t need this.

“Have it wrong? Wrong? I think not, Jules-darling. All those little meetings—you think I don’t know of them? You think I don’t know the number of miles between here and your little love nest? You think I don’t know the cost of petrol? Too many unexplained journeys, Jules-darling. But it’s all revealed now.”

It was pointless to argue with her. Her head was sealed tighter than an alchemist’s hermetic flask. I would have to give her the total story before she’d start to see truth. And that meant she’d pull the project, and this wasn’t mine to do alone.

My stomach turned queasy, this time not with morning sickness. It was all about to come crashing down. As surely as I’d killed those mariners by not breaking Murdan’s delusion, so with my pregnancy I was about to kill my best friend’s baby. For that’s what the project was to her. This was not a good day.

« »

The ‘pods flipped open in perfect unison. Dave as usual jumped out, stepped back, allowed Ken the floor to report on his findings. But Ken saw at once the situation.

“It’s time we told her,” I said.

But Fliss allowed us no time. She jumped at him. I thought she was about to leap out of her chair. The way her arms stretched out, her hands seeming to grope for Ken’s throat, I thought her capable then of killing him. Maybe had she not been disabled, confined to that chair . . . “You cheating, deceiving, dilly-dipping bastard,” she screeched at him.

Ken, dumbfounded, shook his head. “What’s this about?” he asked me.

“I’m pregnant.” It was the first time I’d said it out loud. The horror of it, everything collapsing because of it. It made no difference what I did about it, termination or no. It was already effecting a total destruction.

“I knew it,” Dave said.

I ignored him, turning instead to Ken. “She’s convinced it’s yours. It’s time we told her the truth.”

“Huh!” Fliss scoffed. “So you’ve concocted some story to cover. No, I don’t want to hear it—pathetic lies.” She turned her chair, its high gothic back a statement towards us. And whirred out of the ‘pod-room.

Ken looked at me. I deserved him to hate me, causing disruption between him and his wife. Yet his face, his eyes, showed only concern for me. “Is it true?”

I nodded.

“But whose?” He glanced at Dave.

Dave held up his hands. “I wish.”

“Dannyn’s,” I said.

“Your shaman-guide?” By his tone, I’d say Ken wasn’t at all surprised.

My nod was more of a defiant up-tilt of chin. I tried to smile. I was expecting Dannyn’s child, but I never would see him again. This was turning out to be a very bad day.

“Drats!” as Ken’s first reaction. “But we couldn’t lid it much longer. You okay? You don’t look good. Would you rather lay down? Let Dave and me handle it.”

“When I’m the one with the evidence?” I tapped the pocket where I kept the recorder, though the relevant tape and the transcript were back in my room. Dave came with me to fetch them. Meanwhile, Ken tidied up in the ‘pod-room. Conscientious mechanic to the last.

« »

“Sit,” Ken bid us when Dave and I joined him in the Priory’s cavernous den.

I looked pointedly at Fliss. Not that I could see her, only the high gothic back of her wheelchair. She had literally distanced herself from us at the far end of the room. But if she thought her act of intently browsing the books in that section of broken library was credible, she was mistaken. She looked like a child, sulking.

“Felicity?” Ken tried to fetch her attention. “Look, this is important. We must speak to you.”

She made no reply and made no move, though any facial or body expression was effectively screened by the chair.

“Look, Fliss,” I said, “if it helps, I’ll have it DNA tested. To prove Ken isn’t the father. But I can’t tell you whose baby it is till first we’ve explained this to you.”

I thought I heard a sniff. If so it was theatrical. When she turned her chair her face betrayed not a tear. Though its previous puce had drained to a spectral white.

“Explain what to me?”

“Felicity, please . . .” Ken tried. Then spread his hands in helpless gesture, a glance at Dave that pointedly didn’t include me.

“There are things we need show you,” I said. “It’s easier if you’re sitting here with us.”

So theatrical, our Fliss. She rolled her eyes, an upwards glance, a heavy sigh. Yet she directed the chair towards us. Though she stopped it at a standoffish distance.

“This had better be good. And yes, Julia Cannings, we will have that DNA done.”

“Fine,” I said. “But do you mind if we wait till the baby’s born. I’m not very far gone.” To be honest, I didn’t know how far. Though later, when I’d a chance to work it out, turned out I was only then five weeks pregnant.

She stared at me a good long while. Then slowly she shook her head. “No, that won’t do. You expect me to wait? You’re to do it as soon as able—no matter what your cobbled tale. And Kenneth, if it turns out you’re the father, you are castrated. You understand?”

“Dammit woman, just listen will you,” Ken said now loosing his tolerance. “You have it wrong, the entire shebang. Julia, you got the tape? Then play it for her. Maybe that will penetrate her refusenik head.”

Fliss regarded me with icy eyes, following my every move as I set up the tape and switched it to play. And again, there was Eldliks Arskraken of Bisaplan’s Isle telling the story of Murdan’s Kerdolak Trap, the slaughter I had, just two days previously, ensured would happen when I could have stopped it.

“What’s this?” Fliss asked. She sounded confused, not knowing what to make of it. Her eyes searched out Ken, then Dave. Neither answered her. “Well?” she prompted with an edge of panic.

“Would you like the transcript?” I offered her the bound booklet produced by Siobhán. “It’s the English translation.”

She scarcely scanned it before she slung it back at me. “I don’t want this. This tells me nothing. Will someone explain. Kenneth? What’s this about? Why this strange jabbering man?”

“His name is Arskraken,” Ken said, a glance at me to be sure of the name. “He’s a head man—head of his family. He’s of the River Alsime.”

She stared at him. “And? Relevance? Kenneth, woeful presentation. I thought I trained you better than this.”

“The Alsime are the people at Destination,” I said. “It’s to their land we transport in your time-pods.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” she snapped at me. “You have never quite got it into your head, have you. You. Go. Nowhere. It’s all memories held in the water.”

“No, Fliss,” Dave said. “It’s for real where we go. We go to a real world. That man, speaking on that tape, lives there. He’s Alisime.”

She was quiet a very long while. And we allowed it. She needed time to digest, to shuffle, to rearrange her ideas. The technology she had developed with Ken wasn’t what she’d thought it was. It was something more, something infinitely better. I could see the progression of her thoughts. It wasn’t merely a memory accessed through the medium of rock and water; those ‘pods transported, physically, through time.

She seemed to like the idea. My inconvenient pregnancy forgotten, a smile spread slowly. Her tongue flicked over her lips. Oh, think of the kudus, think of the fame. Her name indelibly attached to the technology, there forever throughout all history.

“You actually time-travel?” she said at last, a voice loaded with awe.

Then Ken had to spoil it. “Not quite.”

“What do you mean?” Fliss snapped at him. “Either you do or you don’t.”

“Well, yea, we do travel—”

“Four and a half thousand years,” I said.

“But not into our past,” Ken completed.

Fliss frowned. She looked from Ken to me, from me to Dave, and back to Ken. “What do you mean? Kenneth Freidman, you are making no sense.”

I said, “The ‘pods transport us to another world.”

“To a parallel universe,” Ken said.

“No, Ken,” I had to disagree. “It’s a divergent world. I’ve worked it out, I’ll explain it later, but it has to be. It would have developed into this world but that the Immortals have set it off course.”

I’d said too much. Fliss gave me one of her shrivelling looks. I half expected to be sent to my room till I’d learned to behave. I sat back, and vowed to keep quiet. Ken could handle it.

But Ken couldn’t.

Fliss screeched. Her pale face again blazed red. She was a child in a temper, throwing a tantrum made worse by her paralysed legs. She slapped her hands down hard on the gothic chair’s arms. But no satisfaction there, the arms were padded, and that angered her further. Her anger mangled her words. Yet at intervals came clarity—as in her fierce refusal to accept Ken’s offer of ‘this ridiculous notion of a parallel universe’, and my ‘stodgy steamed pudding of a divergent world’.

“It’s piffle! Drivel! Pap! You take me for an imbecile? It was my legs that drunken driver damaged, not my brain. Dimwits! Think to offer me fairy tales to cover your blatant adultery.”

Dave motioned for me to leave Ken with it. “I’ll take you home,” he whispered once we were out of the room.

The last I heard was Ken saying of the bronze dagger he’d made, a copy of what he had seen. “Ask Jules, she’ll tell you. At Destination it’s far too early in our world to have alloyed bronze.”

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A C21st Device

It’s Julia’s turn to use Ken’s pod . . . which will deliver her to Destination minus-26, for the second time. But with no mention from Dannyn of a subsequent meeting, and he still a raw youth in the Eblan Wilds, Julia deems it wisest to leave him alone. Instead she plans to explore the Krediche settlement at His Indwelling.

Episode 56 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

How strange it feels to be here without Dannyn. And now I realise his absence presents a problem. How to cross the Wetlands? I don’t need Dave to tell me of the extensive fenlands. I’ve seen the watery morasses, seen them from Dannyn’s river-boat. I glance towards the Avon. It’s early morning; might I be able to purloin a boat and quietly slip away? But I squash that idea. Imagine it, me trying to manoeuvre one of those bob-about boats. No, despite I live on a canalboat, I’m definitely a two-feet-on-the-ground type of walker. So, problem remains of how to cross the Wetlands. I’m guessing there must a causeway, dry underfoot. It figures, for how else did Eldliks Bukfesen bring the Kerdolak stones from His Indwelling. Give it another five years and I’d be able to see clearly where he’d rollered and dragged them. But that’s no good to me now.

Then . . . I up-slap my head. Fool! And where am I standing? Only on the Ridgeway, fenced either side to stop cattle from straying. And whence came those cattle if not from the far side of the Wetlands? And since to drive cattle through fens is a certain recipe for disaster and loss, that track must follow upon dry footing. But, ironic for someone born to this area, and employed in the museum, I’m totally ignorant of its original route (much diverted by the cutting of roads and canals). Yet at one time it must have strode out across the Vale. It is probably via this that Bukfesen will bring Murdan’s Kerdolak stones. And I need no map for it; all I need is to follow the fences.

Happy at that, I set out northward. And that too feels strange: Marlborough Downs instead of Salisbury Plain; His Indwelling instead of the Highlands. Maybe it’s that strangeness that causes my sudden sense of foreboding.

I try to brush it aside, telling myself it’s because of the lingo. To be in a stranger in a strange land, with a strange tongue . . . For while my Alisime now is passable, I can’t say the same for Krediche. Moreover, despite all Balsana has said of their granaries, and the several mentions in the various tales, I have to admit I don’t know much about their culture. They don’t fence their fields, I do know that—which gives the lie to Eblan Soänsha’s story and places her safely over the Channel, for in that telling the Kredese fence around their fields. But, while by the Alisime way of thinking the Krediche fields are left undefended, as I saw when Dannyn took me to Buknekhea’s Isle, they fence their family-lands around. To keep out the Alsime? But whatever the cause, all I need do is to keep to the track. And should I inadvertently trespass? Will the Kredese kill as fast as the Alsime threaten? So is it a wonder I’m fizzed.

I ask myself my intent. And answer, it’s to see the Krediche granary, and the trader’s hold—oh, and the Krediche court of cotts—so scorned by Hegrea that new had to be built before she’d allow Sapapsan and Jitjana to take up residence. And I also want to see West Kennet Long Barrow—Kara’s Cave—as it was before Dannyn sealed it. I sigh. I ought not to encounter problems here. But as yet I’ve no idea of the lie of the land, how it’s divided, and where the tracks.

I tell myself I stop worrying; all will be revealed in time. Besides, I’ve first to cross the Wetlands, then to climb the scarp.

« »

Even as I set out in early morning the day has the promise of being unbearably hot. That’s not been a problem on previous visits, the Highlands’ periphery being dense with trees. But I can’t say the same here. I seem to be traversing endless reaches of treelessness with only an occasional scraggy thorn for shelter. Moreover, as yet, to either side of the track are Alisime lands, their goats out grazing, naked children chasing, harassed mothers flapping as the fire in front of the tiny benders refuse to light. I’d like to call out a greeting but . . . good sense prohibits. There’s no need to spread the word about visiting spirits. As if Ken’s visits this past year haven’t done that.

The day is edging to noon (six hand-spans from horizon to sun) before the track begins its climb. Not yet steep, it becomes inexorable. To the east the land falls away, swallowed by shadowed vales.

The day wears on. I plod along.

At first I was grateful to be dry footed. Now I wish for a cool puddle. I’ve long given up trying to match hills and rills with those I know from my child-days, or even trying to match them to the contours on the map (best left in my pocket—I’ve found using the map is the fastest way to find myself totally lost; while, to my surprise, left alone with the land I have some slight notion of where I might be).

My thoughts not overly exercised, I muse on the name of this land west of the Wetlands. It isn’t the Highlands, nor yet His Indwelling. I see it as a kind of a bridge, connecting the North Alsime to the River Alsime. Though I suppose it’s all part of the western rim. Isn’t that what Eldliks Arskraken called it?

My legs start to object, not liking this constant uphill plod. How long have I been climbing now? I can’t be far from Avebury—I mean the Cloud Stone Isle. Though it wasn’t my intention to visit there, yet it seems that’s where this track is leading. Perhaps it’s safer to be delivered into Alisime hands than to be disgorged direct into the lap of the Kredese, and that before I’ve time to check out the land.

So, if I’m to be at the Cloud Stone Isle, how then do I get to the Krediche granary—without use of Dannyn’s Processional Way (which he hasn’t yet constructed)? Time to retrieve the map from my pocket.

There is a river—I should have thought of that. In my C21st world, it trickles, a mere dyke, between Silbury Hill and Warden Hill to the north of it, only later to swell into the Kennet-proper when the waters from the Swallowhead Springs are added. Yet, as I remember when Markreën brought me here it was more than a stream. So if I follow the Kennet (oops, First Water) I’ll come at length to the traders’ hold, with Kara’s Cave on the hillside to south of it. Thereafter, a little way on, there’ll be the Krediche granary perched upon the hill. But problem. What of fences? Yet surely the land along there must be free of them, to allow access for those come to trade. But all that is pre-empting. As yet it’s one determined foot in front of the other as I slog up the hill, the sun now burning.

It’s well past midday before, having waded two fords—the first unexpected, the second appearing in quick succession, both running with deliciously cool waters—I finally arrive at Cloud Stone Isle.

Interesting that the track ends there—though on reflection I realise its logic. Despite the North and River Alsime are rivals in many respects, yet their young men aren’t averse to visiting each other’s women come summer.And of course they drive their cattle before them. Hence the fenced corridor I’ve been trudging. And hence this natural break (or start).

With the heat, and I’m tired, it’s tempting beyond measure to settle myself in the shade of a Cloud Stone and demolish at least one of the muesli bars brought with me. But I can’t; it seems disrespectful. Besides, there’s no surer way to get myself noticed. Instead I ramble on, now in search of a means of reaching the Swallowhead Springs—and that, I discover, entails back-tracking, all the way to the fords. Here, to both sides, there’s an absence of fencing. Of course, for the river-walkers need access. I consider the wisdom of walking the riverbed. It’s tempting, it’s cool. But to the Alsime this river is sacred and I’ve sufficient respect for their beliefs (hells, I’m even an initiated shaman of them). So I can’t allow my unholy feet to desecrate it. I keep to the riverbank. I’ll stop at the Springs to have lunch. I’m looking forward to that (an understatement). A more delightful spot I cannot imagine. But will there be a willow offering shade, as there is in my world?

But, ho-hum, hey, the best made plans.

« »

I’m still following the stream beneath Warden Hill when ahead of me I see a palisade. It has to be the traders’ hold. Bang on where expected. And there atop the hill opposite is the gleaming white structure of Kara’s Cave. I’m looking at that—fool that I am—despite I can hear several men talking. And when I bring my eyes down . . .

These aren’t merely Krediche men but, by their clothing, I’d say they’re Kerdolan. In fact, it’s like I’ve walked in to a film set of ancient Rome, in first instant of seeing them. With their black hair and deep-tanned skin, they’d pass for Italian, Greek or Spanish. And those white knee-length tunics shouted of Rome—though not with those wide hip-bands. The bands vary in colour, red, blue, green, with leather belts rested loosely over. On first sight, too, their hair seems short—and all are smooth-shaven. But with looking I see each has a tightly-bound length of hair hanging behind them (like the British ‘tars’ in Nelson’s day). Not so easily missed is the glint of sun on copper and bronze—their daggers shoved into their belts. And they carry sharp-headed spears.

So these are Murdan’s Kerdolak mariners. But what are they doing here? Not collecting the harvest, not this early. Oh that I’d learned the Krediche lingo. Or are they speaking Kerdolak? It’s probably the latter.

But now what to do? As yet I’m not noticed. They’re busy jabbering, excited, arm-waving, faces reddening. I haven’t a clue of what’s happening, and I’m disinclined to stroll amongst them. Retreat is wisest option. I make it smartish back to the track. But now what? I’m desperate for shade, to sit for a while, to rest. But I have to be careful. I don’t want fingers—or spears—pointing at me as they jabber of trespass. Neither do I want to be mistaken for as spirit. Nor any other misunderstanding.

He who hesitates . . . And here I am hesitating while considering options.

My eyes stray westward along First River, towards, if I remember Arskraken’s tale rightly, the Skakem society lands, and Buktalha’s and Negkrakhea’s Isles. An idea creeps in. Those isles are Alisime, and I have the lingo. Though they’ll think me odd in these clothes, and I certainly can’t use my real name (that’s not to be bandied for another 26 years). Yet I can genuinely say I am a visiting eblan.

I retrace my steps, back to the Ridgeway, then again further back. There I’d seen a fenced track running approximately westwards. Meanwhile there’s the question of names. Such choices! And I laugh. I’ve the perfect name for me. Fanteshi, she who asks; it’s what Dannyn once called me, and it does seem apt. When—if—I am asked, I shall say I’m Eblan Fanteshi, visiting from the East Alsime.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Though there are gates off to my left, as yet I keep to the fenced run. Ahead I see a shady copse and, oh, how my feet ache to sit there a while. Bliss! To be out of the sun. It’s so hot now even the birds aren’t calling. And what care I that I sit direct on the track where, earlier in the month, cattle were making deposits. Okay, so I’ve a waterproof sheet to spread (part of my makeshift tent should ever I need it). With belly now screaming for sustenance, I munch my supplies—though with this heat I don’t want much. But I drink my fill of the water. I’ll have to fetch more though I don’t see from where, the track and the stream having long parted. I suppose sooner rather than later I’ll have to trespass.

Refreshed, I set off again.

« »

The shady copse has been hiding an abrupt turn in the track. It now heads northward. But that’s not the direction I want, not if I’m to follow Arskraken’s directions to the two Skakem isles. Instead, I need to keep westward—the same direction as the now-disappeared stream.

I realise (maybe, I confess, belatedly) that beyond Negkrakhea’s and Buktalha’s Isles is the gulley that the psychopathic Eblan Murdan will later trim up like a Christmas tree with arrow-slain Kerdolak corpses. By Arskraken’s telling I imagined the gulley to cut into the hill above Cherhill, or maybe by Compton Bassett—until later I checked with a map. It could be neither. And now I’m curious to see it: the gulley, the marshes, the network of streams that bring the mariners who then take away the Krediche-grown grain. And since I’m so close . . .

I’ve no idea where I’ll end up if I stay on the track. Not where I want to be, that’s for certain. So I keep my eyes sharp for the next gate—not always easy to spot with them being a simple construction of slidable poles laid horizontal. As it happens, I come to a stile first. So now I’ve set my trespassing foot upon Skakem land.

Shortly after I find myself fully confused. That stream I saw flowing to west ought to be alongside my left. So how come it now flows on my right side? It’s pointless checking the map. Even at Destination -26, this far from the Springs these ‘streams’ are little more than runnels. How much less will they be in my C21st world. Given modern drainage methods, they’d likely disappeared long before I was born.

When I put my head to it I realise there is no  mystery. This to my right isn’t the same straggly stream that I’d seen to the other side of me. Instead it’s the headwaters of the First Water. It must be so, else it wouldn’t fit Arskraken’s tale, for he said that First Water flowed to the granary all the way from Negkrakhea’s land. Q.E.D.

So now I know where I am. And Negkrakhea’s Isle can’t be too far away. But is it best to go there first—to get waylaid by stories, with food and introductions? Rather, I’ll carry on walking, check out the gulley of the Kerdolak slaughter, then return there. Though on further consideration, it might be better to call at Buktalha’s Isle instead. I remember Arskraken saying of the eldliks there. Eldliks Bukaken. Equipped with his name,  and the fact I’m eblan, I ought to get away with the trespass. And so, convinced and assured, I continue out to the gulley.

No, actually I’m not that assured. My heart has taken residence high in my chest, and is beating loud in my head. Despite I’ve worked out a story, I still fear discovery. Still, head up, hey.

I follow the stream and—Ah!—there are the Kerdolak stones, though not so much strewn as stacked. And now I’m blocked by a fence. Yet there’s a stile over. I guess this now is Buktalha’s land. I continue to walk, determined now to reach the gulley before turning round and seeking shelter in the guise of the visiting East Alsime Eblan Fanteshi.

Trees close around me. There’s another stile. But of course, it’s the Skakem Freeland that edges the scarp, not any family-held land. Despite my story I’m keenly aware that even though I’m legally eblan I’m not of the Skakem Society, and shouldn’t be here. But if I don’t touch and don’t take . . . I hurry my steps, eyes sweeping the terrain to either side of me.

The path I’m following swerves sharply to avoid a tall gorse-bush . . . and I almost fall down the gulley!

I stare, looking downwards. The land falls away, rain-eroded to a tumble of stones. If I’m to descend I need dig in my heels to stop myself slipping. A loosened stone rattles before me. I ouch at the noise—but too late: that noise has alerted another.

At first I don’t see him, easily taken for a beast of the wilds. But I then see his hair. And his eyes that suddenly turn to me. Blond curls. Startling blue eyes. If it isn’t Dannyn, then it must be . . .

Murdan.

Staring straight at me, of course he’s seen me, and recognised me as someone who shouldn’t be there. And how could he not in the clothes I’m wearing, more out of kilter than if I stood naked.

And now he’s walking towards me. Only a matter of yards between us. I’m guessing if I don’t think quick, I’ll be dead.

My first reaction is to run. No idea where, just to get out of there. But he’s Brictan, he can be in my head. And there are things in my head—memories, knowledge, names—that he mustn’t find. It isn’t only me in danger here, it’s . . . but I dare not even think of the name.

All this in a blink of a second before I reconsider my actions. First I have to screen my thoughts. But how? I’m not Brictan to use Brictish devices. I’m a C21st woman . . . who just happens to be used to using mirrors. Genius!

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Vampire Proof

or
Why Mozzies Don’t Like Me

We’ve all known it to happen—while camping, or at an open air concert, or just idling beside the lakeside: the mozzie attack that seems to be personally aimed at you while your companions are left bite-free. It happened this week to my daughter who looked daggers at me. “Why don’t they bite you? There’s not even one near you.” And it was true. They swarmed around  her like she was serving best bitter, while me they left fully alone. Now why is that?

Culex pipiens 2007-1.jpg

Culex pipiens (the English Gnat)
image by alvesgasper, taken from wiki

Back at home I Googled the question. Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others? Here’s what Smithsonian.com has to say.

  • Clothing Colour: Mozzies are particularly attracted to colours that stand out i.e. dark blue, black, and red.

But that wasn’t the answer since both my daughter and I were wearing soft muted colours.

  • Beer: Mozzies will hone in on anyone drinking beer.

But my daughter had fruit juice, and I had cold fruit tea (very refreshing when out hiking)

  • Carbon dioxide: Apparently mosquitoes can smell the CO2 we exhale with every breath. And the larger the person, the more CO2.

In which case the mozzies should have been feasting on me. We’re of different body types. Strip us down to skeletons and she’d be classed as gracile, and me as robust. Add muscle sufficient to move those bones and, even without addition of subcutaneous fat, I’m always going to weigh in heavier than her.

  • Exercise and metabolism: In exerting our muscles we produce a most inviting blend of chemicals that lather our skin and call the mozzies in.

But with my extra weight it should have been me bathed in the inviting sweat. To move that extra weight I needed to work harder. And we had skirted marshes, hastened through townland bright with sun, trudged along a grimy road with traffic kicking up dust, on past fields where rapeseed was being harvested, pushed through an overgrowth of bramble, nettle and bracken on a path less-often used. Now, finally, we had come upon a green-lane, overhung with ancient oaks (at last, out of the sun!). So here we decided to stop for lunch. It was then that the attack happened, leaving me unbitten and my daughter stinging. But it wasn’t that intoxicating mix of chemicals that had invited the mozzies to join in.

  • Pregnancy: In studies, pregnant women were found to be twice as likely to attract mosquitoes . . . because they exhale more CO2 and have a slightly higher body temperature.

No, my daughter isn’t pregnant.

  • Blood type: It seems mosquitoes have a definite preference for blood type O over blood type A.

Both my daughter and I are blood type B (which as far as invites to mozzies are concerned fall somewhere in the middle). Coincidentally, we had both recently given blood. Myself, 2 phials required for blood tests (which had left a massive bruise where the blood had leaked back); my daughter a pint because she’s a blood-donor.

This leaves just two possibilities.

  • Genetics: One person may have a genetic tendency to produce yummy chemicals that mosquitoes just can’t resist, while another genetically produces natural repellents.

But I am not a natural producer of mozzie-repellents. If I were I’d not have suffered their bites in the past (which I most certainly have though not for a while).

  • Skin bacteria: A 2011 study showed that having large amounts of certain types of bacteria makes the skin irresistible.

Well, that’s got to be it. Though I did suggest next time we’re out hiking she might like to use my dr.organic moisturizer. It’s one of the few such products without nasty chemicals that 1: bring me out in a rash 2: induces migraine 3: brings on an asthma attack. Based on Vit E, Aloe Vera, Cocoa Butter, and Shea Butter, it contains about two herb gardens full of plant extracts. Evidently at least one of these is a mozzie repellent! I wonder which one.


 

Of course, it’s possible that different species of mozzies respond to different attractants. In which case, it’s possible none of the above apply!

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