Water, Woods, Walks and Well-being

The forecast said ‘Overcast, clearing later. Temp.max.8°.’ But the cloud cover cleared early and by the time we stopped for lunch the early sun coupled with lack of wind had caused a soar in temperature. A most unseasonal 18°. This is the East of England, after all.

It wasn’t the first walk of the season. Neither was it exceptionally long (10miles). But it was road-walking. While road-walking has the advantage of speed, it does tend to jar the joints. Usually the next day I’m suffering. But not this time. Another indication of improved health situation.

Last October I promised an update on the diabetes/adrenal syndrome situation. I had already reduced my blood sugars levels dramatically, but I’d not had a wide-sweep check. That was to come in 6 months time. Well, the results now are in.

Blood sugars, 31 mml/mol (have I got that right? Anyway, ultra low) I’m now off medication. One more blood test in 3 months time and if the sugars remain down the GP will remove the diabetes flag from my record.

Also, thyroid normal. Liver and kidney function normal. Blood salts, normal and balanced. Serum cholesterol was high, but so was the HDL, and the GP was happy with it because 1: my blood pressure remains low (like stupidly low) and 2: inflammation zero.

This last factor delights me. One hits a certain age when the matter of heart-health begins to intrude upon life. Alas, with reluctance I have reached that age. But ‘inflammation zero’ indicates ultra-clean arteries—which is the very best of news. The other implication is that my gut is no longer reacting to gluten (which is now totally out of my diet) and therefore is absorbing all the good nutrients I give it.

So, in answer to last year’s question. Yes, I am cured. By changing to an EXTREMELY low carb diet (paleo), and with regular dance-aerobics—which anyway is my love (playlist included at the end of this post)—and weight-training (love those endorphin highs), plus plenty of walking (sunlight=vitD, stamina), I have proven it possible to reverse what for so many people becomes a deteriorating and ultimately fatal disorder. And that in just nine months! And that is the real reason for this post. I’m nothing special, I’m not young, I even have CFS (though now reverted to mild) and if I can recover my health then so can others can. I wish them well.

But back to the walk . . . we chose the Broads. With living on the doorstep it might seem a natural choice. But, fact is, the Broads area generally isn’t kind to the hiker. Oh, plenty of quaint olde worlde villages with an abundance of top-heavy thatched roofs (which now is being used on modern builds too, now that everyone has central heating and the fire risk is nil). But no footpaths (or very few), and very few places where the walker comes close to the water. But I did manage to take a few pics.

Malthouse Broad

Malthouse Broad: here we had lunch.

A Norfolk Country Road

Oh the joys of an uncluttered road! Not a car, van or lorry in sight. And so it remained
But I took the photo for the sake of the oak tree.

Oak before Ash, in for a splash.
Ash before Oak, in for a soak.

The ash, so far, are still in black buds!


A Broadland Hill

Norfolk is flat, everyone knows that (but it’s not, though it does lack mountains).
The Broads’ area especially resembles a pancake—except occasionally you’ll find like a bump like this.

Broad Norfolk

I couldn’t resist this signage (on a gate to a village hall)
It’s in the (broad) Norfolk dialect, in case you’re wondering.
Can’t figure it? Think long ‘drawn-out’ vowels.

Oh, and where did we walk? From Acle to Wroxham, by all the back roads (via Fishley, Upton, Pilson Green, South Walsham, Ranworth, Woodbastwick and Salhouse). We had to keep going, after Acle there’s no public transport till Salhouse!

Dance Aerobics Playlist

New York City . . . TRex
Warm-up with an exaggerated and fluid walk (like you’d never use in the street!);
all body parts moved [4:22 mins]

Mony Mony . . . Billy Idol
Concentrates on upper body, stretches, high 5s, alternating with a mock-gallop that’s a real ab-crunch [5:02 mins]

One Way Or Another . . . Blondie
The equivalent of changing from jog to sprint. Legs brought wide of the body, great for inner thighs and butts [3:36 mins]

Rag Mama Rag . . . The Band
Keeping the heat up, but with legs brought over the body; great for butts and thighs [3:03 mins]

Boom Shack-A-Lak . . . Apache Indian
Remember the twist? And hoola hoops? Action’s kinda the same: a total grind of the hips, alternating with pelvis tilts. Great for the waist, the stomach, the butt, and those vital pelvic floor muscles. [4:34 mins]

Tiger Feet . . . Mud
(I love this one, it’s so energising) But how to describe? It’s a kind of exaggerated foot jive alternating with high kicks with wide thrashing of arms—every part of the body used. Though it’s the continuous rate that counts (it really does raise bp, respiration and pulse and works up a sweat) it’s another that’s good for all parts south of the neck. [3:50 mins]

Rebel Yell . . . Billy Idol
Cool down. Much like NYC TRex for warm-up, an exaggerated fluid walk but now with a tad more energy applied; all body parts moved [4:49 mins]

Total time: 30 mins.
I use this as a warm up to the weights. I have the music on high, the windows open—and head-phones on.

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They Meet . . .

A meeting has been arranged for Kerrid and her (grit the teeth) sister, Barega. But Barega has for her pet the demon-snake Neka. So, at all costs, Barega mustn’t know of Kallaren’s existence. In the previous episode of Feast Fables Kerrid hid him away in Chadtamen’s house. Now Kerrid’s on edge. A young boy, Kallaren’s not known to be obedient; will he stay put? Or might Neka find him by some other way?

Next episode: Ouch! Kerrid’s Cheek, ready now.

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Dannyn To The Rescue

Finally Julia has accepted the truth, and it’s not only that the time-pods’ Destination is a real place, but also that this Destination belongs to another world. But she can’t tell this to Fliss. Fliss would never allow her another trip. So what’s she to do? Dannyn comes to the rescue . . .

Episode 31 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

The walk is long, directly across the Highlands of the Sun, to Bear Hill. Moreover, Dannyn won’t answer my questions about this place he’s to show me. A sacred stone structure known only to eblann, that’s all he’ll say. So instead I ask him about Hegrea. She fascinates me. A powerful woman, though scheming and devious, she knows how to get what she wants.

“But how,” I ask, “if she was Krediche-born did she ever become Eblan Burnisen’s apprentice?”

“You want to know this?” Dannyn laughs, perhaps pleased at my change of direction. “That I can tell you. See, Burnisen and I were . . . close, closer than Murdan was with him. Though why, when all I was was the son of a Saëntoish trader and a Tuädik smith’s sister. An outlander. Yet Burnisen took me as his apprentice—I’ve already told you of this, though it’s still in your future. But Burnisen, he was more to me than an eblan-guide; more than a father. Anything troubling me, I’d turn to Burnisen. I told him of you, and how you’d unbalanced me. In return, Burnisen told me things he’d not tell to Murdan. He told me how he’d acquired Hegrea to be his apprentice; he told me the truth, not that invention he gave to Bisaplan’s kin.”

As Dannyn tells me the story I can see it unfolding, but more like a movie superimposed on the landscape than the previous re-livings (I need my full senses, we’re walking).

It was early summer, and Burnisen as usual was across at the Old Isle of the Dead. He had a small bender there—tight on space, but he lived alone and it served. Though he’d laugh that he wasn’t really alone, for he shared the Isle with a family of adders.

I turn sharply to Dannyn. “Snakes? And Hegrea was Krediche.”

He grins. “Indeed. And Burnisen’s snakes did play a part. But wait; I shall tell you.”

Burnisen enjoyed his summers alone. Yet he knew soon he must take an apprentice. Though more than that, he desperately needed inspiration. Five winters, Eblan Head Man, and nothing created. He was aware the eblann were looking at him. Aware, too, they’d chosen him as Head Man only because he’d been Eblan Staëldan’s apprentice. Staëldan had been Head Man thirty winters, and lived to seventy winters-seen. His name remained honoured, an inspired creator. But when Burnisen departed this world, what would they say of him? Woeful, with hope and despair forever colliding, watched by his family and eblann, both, he resorted to desperate measures. He gifted and pleaded and obliged the Mistress. And this summer-half, on a day sweetened by flowers and bright with the sun, it seemed maybe she had answered.

He watched as the woman crossed the hollow that divides Bisaplan’s Isle from the Old Isle of the Dead. For a while she was lost to his view, yet still he tracked her: feet rustling the grasses, small disturbed animals scuttling there. He knew who she was. Yet like her family he’d thought her dead. She was Hegkrehe, born to Buknekhea’s Isle. Though north of the Wetlands, the Alisime isles along that ridge are accounted River Alsime; they were in his protection.

“Whoa,” I say, and jump a little ahead. “How could she be born to an Alisime isle and yet be Krediche?”

“I shall explain,” Dannyn says. “It wasn’t common, but occasionally an Alisime man brought home a Krediche woman. Fine if she abandoned her Krediche ways, became fully Alisime. But not so good if she clung to the Krediche granary; then there’d be trouble. And that was Hegrea’s mother, refusing to renege on the granary. Their aldliks was always visiting Burnisen. He knew Feskenn well.”

So as Burnisen watched this woman (without Alisime bonnet) he easily could guess who it was. But he struggled to guess her purpose. And had she come here of her own volition? Or—as he fervently hoped—was his Mistress Inspiration in some way involved? He stood atop the Isle’s white wall, watching, waiting. Closer to, and he nodded: she was of an age to be Hegkrehe. A pretty young thing, despite being all sinew and bone.

It amused him that she couldn’t find him. It was her Krediche fear of the dead. She averted her eyes as she passed the Isle’s gaping gate, afraid to see a forest of posts, platforms atop them with the rotting remains of the corpses. She’d have remembered those from her child-days, the White Hills that top the ridge north of the Wetlands. Yet the Old Isle hadn’t served as a white hill since Eblan Staëldan created the new one.

She circled the Isle alongside the old ditch outside the broken white walls. She turned, she looked—she even looked back the way she’d come. But in her refusal to see, she saw nothing but grasses, thorns and thistles. Meanwhile Burnisen followed her, walking in full open sight atop the wall. He chuckled, believing himself invisible to her in his black-feathered cloak. Then, before she’d yet walked full circle again, he planted himself, square-footed, within the gap of the gate. With the sun now beating directly above him he cast no shadow. That too amused him.

“Poor Hegrea,” Dannyn laughs. “She must have started out of her skin when Burnisen greeted her, and by name. Hegkrehe.”

I’ve seen Burnisen, if only through the eyes of others. He was indeed a frightening sight with his tattooed face, all black squiggly snakes; his beard wispy; his tangled hair matted, held back with a snakeskin band—and that off an adder; his cloak of changing colours, green-blue-brown, black only when seen out of the sun. Crow feathers, and to the Alsime the crow is the ‘corpse-stripper’. I can imagine how terrifying the mere sight of him, for a Krediche woman with a corpse- and snake-fear. And as if that weren’t enough he kept, hung from his belt, the preserved head of his old eblan-guide, Staëldan.

Casting no shadow, appearing crow-like, the skulls and long bones of the not-so-long dead dangling around him from a high wooden bar—yet Hegkrehe stood her ground.

“Eblan Burnisen?” she inquired of him.

“Is it Eblan Burnisen you’re looking for?”

“It’s Eblan Burnisen I’ve been advised to seek.”

“Advised by Aldliks Feskenn,” he said—not a question. “And her reason: your return from the dead. But your mother Mouess, having mourned you, will not be pleased at your return.”

Burnisen had seen her mother soon after the choosing. She had glowed with pride, that her Hegkrehe was to be a granary-keeper. Yet here she was in Alisime-red, when she ought to have returned in the colour of the grain.

“You’ve seen the Alisime granary-keepers?” Dannyn asks, rhetorical. “You’ve seen what they wear? It’s the same pattern as used by the Krediche ‘keepers. Though it was my mother who taught Bisaplan’s Daughters to weave it. Even the colours repeat the same: red and yellow. From a distance they blend to the colour of grain.”

So that’s it! I could kick myself for not having seen it, especially with how important the visual element is in my work. But then, museum displays aren’t usually viewed from a distance.

Having raced impatiently through the visiting formula, Burnisen invited Hegkrehe to his shelter, to partake of a brew. “Not granary-brew,” he told her. The secret of that was known only to the granary-keepers.

Dannyn again stops the vision. “I must tell you the story of Eblan Soänsha—perhaps when you next visit? It was she who first sowed the grain in Alisime land, trying to make the Krediche brew. Eblann long had sought its secret, ever since they’d first seen its affects. Hegrea, Kerdolan-trained to be a Krediche-keeper, had that craft, though she called it the Fathers Brew.”

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Though Hegkrehe was reluctant to follow Burnisen into the Isle, yet her need was great and she ventured in—only to find the only ‘dead’ here were the rotting stumps part-hidden amongst the tangles. All else was the same: grasses and thistles.

She took the offered place beside Burnisen’s fire. She accepted his brew. Now was the time, by Alisime tradition, to offer her gifts to the eblan. She told Burnisen she had gifts for him. He noted the plural form used. But Hegkrehe hadn’t good use of Alisime speech, perhaps she’d intended only the one. To be sure he queried it.

She told him she had a gift from Aldliks Feskenn, and some gifts she’d give of herself. He tried not to smile: she’d used the plural again. But of more concern was how dire was her problem that she must offer him more.

Feskenn’s gift he already knew. He’d received plenty from her, always the same. A rug. But Feskenn hadn’t much skill at the craft. Burnisen feigned interest and politely examined it, with an eye on Hegkrehe, who now was fumbling around in her pack.

Again, he wondered what her problem. He didn’t doubt it was Aldliks Feskenn who’d sent her to him, hence the sent-gift. And he couldn’t fault her for wanting Hegkrehe moved quickly along. Hegkrehe was supposed to be dead; it had been known these past five years. Why else had another Krediche woman been assigned to the granary at His Indwelling. So where had she been? And why now her return?

She pulled from her pack a heavy pouch. It bulged with something soft and malleable. His fingers fumbled with the tie-cords, so eager to pry apart the gatherings. He peered inside. He poked in his finger. He looked at its red coating of dust. It wasn’t his habit to pass comment on gifts, yet for this he did.

“This red-earth doesn’t grow around here.”

She told him she’d acquired it in a land far to the east, across the sea. She told him a story, that there the sun was born from a mountain so high the storm clouds enfolded it. It was the place of First Creation, and this red-earth was what remained of the birthing. But the North Alsime eblann claimed His Indwelling as the place of First Creation, and have the stones to prove it. So Burnisen asked had she been there, and she said she had. Moreover, she knew the Cloud Stones at His Indwelling, yet claimed the eastern land to be the true place. Burnisen looked at her anew. She was somewhat more than the Krediche girl from Buknekhea’s Isle. He began gently to warm to her.

She pulled another pouch from her pack, larger than the first, and more-or-less flat. Burnisen, bursting with curiosity, all but ripped open the neck of its bag. With excited fingers he freed a shallow circular plate. But what was its making?

“Copper,” she told him, and showed him the nuggets she’d gathered, as she said, from the Old Man’s Mountain. Those she’d found in a stream. But the copper for the plate came from a place deep within the Mother.

Burnisen declared the nuggets ‘the seeds of the Father’, and dared not to touch them. While the plate, he said, was the Mother’s Child. Eblan-talk, yet it seemed Hegkrehe had understood it. She nodded agreement.

He held the copper plate a long count, just looking at it in deep contemplation. He sensed the presence of something extraordinary and magical, both in the gift and in its giver. He knew then without doubt that his Eblan-Mistress had sent her to him. She had answered his pleas! Yet . . . a Krediche granary-keeper? He didn’t know how this visit would turn, only that she with her gifts would somehow inspire him.

Eventually Burnisen spoke. “Powerful, these gifts you bear. Now you can tell me why have you come.”

She answered simply that she had taken seed and her belly now swelled, and in that she’d broken with granary-law. But worse, she had created a death.

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It seemed now she’d said as much, she couldn’t stop talking. She wanted to explain everything to him, all in one gush. But it came too fast at him. She said something of returning to Liënershi, even though to go there meant she’d be laid upon the Flames of Kared. But she’d not gone there; the Hiemen seaman had refused them. So Jarmel had brought her back to His Indwelling, to Buknekhea’s Isle, instead. It seemed that’s what the Mother intended for her. But no. Aldliks Feskenn refused her too, saying she’d bring trouble, and packed her off to consult with Burnisen.

Burnisen held up his hands. He told her, please, one piece at a time. His first concern was this death she said she’d created. He asked her who was it and how. She had shown how powerful she was with her magical gifts; ought he to fear her? But there are many ways to bring about death, and she’d not said she’d killed with an axe or a spear.

Her answer, like everything of her, wasn’t straight forward. For Burnisen to understand what part she had played he must first understand of the copper-smiths’ laws. Only the Alsime have no word for copper-smith, and so Hegkrehe used Ulmdriën, a miner and crafter of the sacred black-flint. As happens, the Ulmdriënn are governed by the same laws as the copper-smiths, so now Burnisen understood.

He asked her to say what had happened, but then had to hold his patience for her words at first wouldn’t come. Yet at the end he’d discovered she’d not caused the copper-smith’s death at all. Neither had she truly broken her vows. It was him, this copper-smith, Luin, who had forced her to it. Burnisen told her, he approved the master-smith in having the young smith killed. But, as she said, it didn’t change that a child now grew in her belly, and to return to Liënershi was to face death in the Flames of Kared.

“No,” Burnisen said with a stern shake of his head. “You carry a child. The Mother intends no Liënershulm ‘Flames’ for you. Did the Himen not refuse you passage? It wasn’t you broke the vow, but the smith, and he only at the Mother’s bidding.” Burnisen was convinced of it. “So now you return to your family, with a child to be born come winter-half.”

But winter-half’s no time for birthing infants, they seldom thrive. He had an herb he could give her. But that would thwart the Mother’s plans, and he’d not give it. Yet he could see Hegkrehe’s plight. Were she Alsime-true none would say against her that her belly swelled and no father in sight. But she was born of a Krediche mother, and the Krediche are different. Mouess would be shamed by it, returned from the dead with a fatherless child.

“But tell me, why return to Buknekhea’s Isle instead of going direct to the granary at His Indwelling? Did you already know this other keeper was installed in your stead?”

She shook her sorrisome head. “So long away, how could it be else?”

She then told of her life, her story since, at ten winters-seen, she’d been taken from His Indwelling. For the first seven years she had lived in Banva Go, serving a granary in Ul Dlida, and learning her craft. The names meant nothing to Burnisen, but he said nothing, allowing her talk. Almost at the seventh year’s end mariners came for her. They took her then to Liënershi, there to receive what she called ‘the last part of her craft’.

Burnisen realised her need to talk; he allowed her story to circle and wind. She told him of the Brictan, and of the Immortals. She told him, too, of the Kerdolan: how they’d come to Liënershi, how, in those first years, they’d survived; how they’d become traders. But it all was confusing to Burnisen. She said of their trading, that the Kerdolan traded their copperwares for wares they desired from their distant homeland.

“Whoa!” I say and again Dannyn stops the vision-led story. “This distant homeland, it was across the sea, yea? To the east?” It will satisfy me enormously if he says yes. It’ll confirm my speculation, that their place of origin was the Near or Middle East. How else the linen, the trading and the communal granaries?

But apparently Burnisen didn’t tell him this answer. Or maybe Hegrea didn’t say. Dannyn shrugs and returns to the tale.

When Burnisen thought her tale told, he repeated back the pertinent parts and asked if he’d understood it right—that as the Krediche granary-keeper of the Kerdolak granary at His Indwelling she would also have been their bee-keeper, the brewer of their Kerdolak Brew, and the maker of their Kared’s Bread.

Hegkrehe agreed, these were the crafts the keepers have off the Kerdolan. But for her, she never received the last part of her craft. Without it she was useless, she could do none it.

“And yet . . .” She looked to Burnisen as if she would smile. But then she said nothing.

Again I interrupt Dannyn. “She wanted to tell him she still had the craft. That’s what the talk was at the Feast of Completion, between her and that Anachaël. No, Hegrea had had her craft off another. Your mother.” There! I feel so chuffed that I’ve said it.

But apparently I’m wrong.

“I can see why you think it,” he says lightly not to upset me. “But Hegrea already had that part of her craft before she and my mother met. She had it off Naussia, though she too was a Servant of Brega.”

My face falls. I’d been so sure.

“Burnisen now made another brew—time for his old eblan-head to consider all this.”

But I’m not ready for more. Dannyn’s moving too fast. I have questions. “Did Hegrea say nothing of what happened on Liënershi that fetched her up in the Carpathians with your mother and Luin?”

“Oh that. Yea, she did. You want to know of it? I can tell you—though I’d thought to craft this story to fill the time it takes to climb to Bear Hill.”

“But,” I say, “I’d like to know it.”

He shrugs compliance (he’s the eblan, I’m the client). “Well, since we’re almost there . . . She was tested, by the Anas. She should then have been given the craft, and her granary-trader. But, for reasons she didn’t yet know, the Head of Kared sent her south with instructions to seek out an Immortal. The Eld. The Eld, she discovered, was her father. But, as she told it, it was not a good meeting. She fled and, by now furious with the Head of Kared, sought passage back to Liënershi. But that didn’t happen. She was tricked by an eastern trader who intended to sell her to, as she said, a wealthy potentate. You can imagine, Burnisen understood none of this, no more than he’d understood of Immortals. Even I was k’foffled—?—when he told it to me. But, whatever. Hegkrehe escaped the trader, and blundered straight’way into Arith. You’ve heard that part of her story? Arith gave her into the care of my father and his partner Linl.”

“Okay,” I say. “You now may continue.”

“Why, I thank you,” Dannyn says, and that cheek of a smile on his face flips everything in me (after I’ve tried so hard to deny the attraction). “But,” he says, “the rest of the story must hold. We’re here. At Tumun Alsaldhelm.”

I’ve hardly noticed the terrain, lost in Hegrea’s story—though this last little stretch has been noticeably steep, climbing alongside a stream that C21st isn’t there.

And now I look at what he’s to show me. Sitting, toad-like, above the spring that feeds the stream. Tumun Alsaldhelm

I look. I cannot speak. I just keep saying in my head that it shouldn’t be here. It should not be here. It belongs in Ireland. In Anglesey. In Brittany. Or maybe in Spain. But it doesn’t belong here, in Wiltshire, in Wessex. Then I hear him again, his voice in my head: But I told you, this isn’t your world.

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Next episode: 28th April

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To Accept and Refuse

Julia finally knows the truth of Murdan. Though she had suspected it, she now is convinced: Dannyn’s cousin, the white-crested shaman, is a psychopath, fixed on killing any—ANY—who trespass, including his own mother. So is it a wonder that, after hearing Priäplan and Dannyn talk of the matricide, she’s unable to sleep.

Episode 30 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

It’s not the bed. It’s remarkably soft, its base filled with last season’s bracken—but what of the bugs imported with it? The bracken then is topped with a feather-stuffed mattress, its cover probably nettle-cloth. But whoever stuffed it didn’t restrict the feathers to ‘soft down’ only. Quills protrude and, despite the thick Alisime rug that in turn tops the mattress, they painfully jab my flesh whenever I’m still for a minute or more. But I can’t complain of the cold. I’m toasty-warm, covered over with a real fur throw.

Thanks to the movie-biz, we’ve this idea that before weaving no one knew how to sew, that furs were left in their stripped-off-the-beast state. Yet one of the earliest artefacts found, beyond the ubiquitous hand-held all-purpose cutting-tool generally labelled ‘an axe’, is the eyed sewing needle. Thirty-five thousand years ago women were shaping comfortable garments from animal skins. Yet Caesar, in his propaganda campaign, had his Britons garbed in nothing but ‘woad and furs’, and that image has stuck. But this pieced-together fur cover could easily grace any millionaire’s bed—though there’d be Animal Rights’ activists breaking down the door.

No, it’s not the bed. It’s that I daren’t close my eyes for more than five minutes because of two fears. Fear 1: fire. Okay, so Priäplan’s hearth is smouldering safely within its high stone kerb. But this entire ‘roof and everything in it is of highly inflammable fabrics. Yea, I know Dannyn has said that the slow rising billows of wood-smoke help to keep the roof bug-free, but that’s the cause of Fear 2: of waking up crunching the chitinous skin of a bug. Okay, so I sleep on my side. Yet I know that at some point in the night I tend to turn onto my back. I probably open my mouth, as well. I probably snore (though how would I know when living alone?). So I can easily imagine the bugs in the thatch, stunned by the smoke, free-falling in the night . . . and landing smack in my wide-open mouth. Yuk. The thought of it gives me the creeps and keeps me awake. And being awake, I’ve ample time to mull on Murdan.

When I first heard of him killing his mother, and her subsequent revival, I thought, yea, sure, he probably bashed her across the head. Stunned. Unconscious. Yet revivable, not dead. Though saying that she died and was revived makes for a far better story.

There’s plenty of archaeological evidence for head injuries in the Neolithic, many of them fatal, and they can’t all have been accidents. Hence Neolithic society is no longer considered as egalitarian and irenic. Though that view only changed these past two decades. And as far as I’m concerned, Arskraken and Priäplan, with their stories, have driven the final nail into that theory. The truth is more brutal.

Everything I’ve heard about Murdan adds to one thing. He’s psychotic. Obsessed with trespasses. Obsessed with the Kerdolan. Even killing his own mother because of an earlier association—when she was a child! He’s also an egotistical mega-maniac—though I suppose they add to the same thing. At nine years old he moved an entire population to dig a trench eighteen feet deep, twenty-two feet wide at the bottom, forty-two feet at the top, with a radius of 762 feet, enclosing an area of forty-two acres—and just because he had a dream? Or because he was terrified of the Lower Realm demons? Dannyn might deny Murdan’s conscious intent at the works’ inception, yet even he mentioned the low-demons tormenting Murdan while he hung upside down in his own trench.

Did Murdan fear demon-possession, was that it? At one time demon-possession was a serious and frightening belief, all through the world. It’s not that long ago that we shrugged it off. And hid he, perhaps, associate those demons with the Kerdolan?

Maybe that’s the real reason I can’t sleep: I know I have to enter the Eblan Freeland during the years when he was prowling it, obsessed with trespassers and only too keen to kill. But how else do I arrive at Dannyn’s winter-roof—which I obviously do. For him it’s already happened.

But he doesn’t know, or hasn’t said, what might have happened before I arrived there, entered, and lit all his lamps. Did I need that light? Was I terrified to be there alone in the dark? Did I need to hide inside the ‘roof, and not wait outside for Dannyn’s return? What if Murdan had caught me? If he had tortured me? Raped me? Before I even arrived, while I was trespassing in their precious Freeland?

Now in a sweat, I again turn over—and again a quill digs into my leg.

For distraction I turn my thoughts to Hegrea, instead. How did a Krediche-born, Kerdolak-trained granary-keeper become an Alisime eblan-apprentice? Sure, Burnisen was in desperate need and eagerly took what was offered. But how did they meet; what brought her to him?

As I figure it, Burnisen was the head honcho for the eblann of the Highlands of the Sun, i.e. Salisbury Plain plus the land for some distance around. So it wasn’t that he was the eblan serving her family—who, I gather, lived at His Indwelling (hence she’d been promised the granary there). And besides which, her family was Krediche and probably wouldn’t resort to an Alisime eblan anyway. (They probably lived in one of those clustered houses that Ken saw on Marlborough Downs: southern copies of the Orkney houses, like those that the Riverside Project unearthed at Durrington Walls, except there the walls were wattle and daub.)

From this Krediche family, in their northern-styled house, she was taken, as a child of ten winters-seen, to Liënershi—which is clearly where the mother of the Krediche granaries sits, the HQ training the new keepers, receiving surplus grain, and possibly also trade goods. By raking in the excess from its many dependant granaries, it can afford to trade with the Near and Middle East (witness the white linen shifts Anachaël’s bodyguard wore).

Now I’m thinking, I realise no one’s yet said how Hegrea got from Liënershi to the smith-camp high in the Carpathians, where the nasty Luin raped her (apart from Dannyn’s brief mention of being ‘abandoned in very far place’ and ‘Arith entrusted her into the care of the Saëntoish traders’).

Arith: I wonder what’s his story. How did he and Hegrea meet? And where? And why give her over to the Saëntoish traders to return her to Britain—aka Albinnis? Why didn’t he return her himself? He obviously wanted to be with her. Or at least, he later sought her out. Instead, after she’d fled the smith-camp under a rain of stones, he took her to be healed by Luin’s own sister, Luänha. That seems illogical. And once healed, what did he do? He entrusted her again to those same two traders who’d already messed it. None of it makes any sense. He cared for her, so why entrust her to the traders? But, pooh, it’s irrelevant.

So, Hegrea arrives home, pregnant. But why go to His Indwelling, instead of Liënershi? Surely she had to go to HQ to be given the final grant of the granary? Unless the Krediche granaries had the same rule as the Ormalish Servants of Brega: ‘the holy women did not open their wombs’. So already she knew she’d be denied her granary because of the child she’s carrying, fathered by Luänha’s nasty brother. Hence Hegrea seeks out the Alisime eblan.

Yet with what motives—what hopes? Was she seeking a termination? Or maybe she’d already conceived of establishing an Alisime granary? Was her intent to copy the Head of Kared (whoever/whatever that is), and establish a vast network of trading granaries? She’d already three up and running by the time she left the Highlands. Did she see her acceptance as Burnisen’s apprentice as the first step in achieving her plans? Though Priäplan hasn’t said it in so many words, yet it seems likely that as Burnisen’s apprentice she must also be of Bisaplan’s family. So Hegrea tricks him into taking her as his apprentice, knowing that she then must be adopted into his family—witness the story of her second-birth (which was actually her third), to Aldliks Sappaken. She then is given land for her isle. But that doesn’t seem a normal procedure; how did that happen? I ponder more on it.

Hegrea was the first Alsime to make ‘Mother’s Bread’. I’d stake money on that being a leavened loaf. Not only does it rise in baking like a pregnant woman’s belly, but during the proving and kneading process there comes a stage where, according to my mother, the dough resembles the flaccid belly of a newly-delivered mum. Mother’s Bread. But Mother’s Bread requires more than the yeast: it needs the gluten found in bread wheat. Without it, it’s biscuits. So Hegrea brings with her, from the Carpathians, along with the starter dough, at least that one variety of wheat. And I know that strain of wheat didn’t arrive in Western Europe, in Britain, until late in the Neolithic, or maybe as late as the Bronze Age.

I saw her arrive, courtesy of Priäplan’s memories and Dannyn’s trickery. Despite a backpack expertly crafted, I could see it was throwing her off-balance. It clearly was heavy. Yet it wasn’t that big; it couldn’t have contained any great quantity of grain. She’d have to increase her stock with an annual sow and reap. It would be slow. And for that she’d need more than patience, she’d need land. Sappaken gave it, cutting off part of Bisaplan’s Land. But it was another six years before they built her ‘Roof. And yet several more years before she had her granary. And what had Sapapla asked on seeing it? Why did she need it so big. I’d say it’s because she was planning ahead. It wouldn’t surprise me if Luänha was in on it, too. Perhaps they’d laid plans back there in the Ormalish village, while Luänha was healing her. Maybe they’d intended to travel together, with Jarmel and Linl. But then Luin’s half-brothers hauled him out of his pit and brought him in for healing, messing their plans. It’s possible, isn’t it.

Luänha and Luin, and Hegrea and Arith, all were Brictan. What exactly does that mean—apart from being swift-healers? Oh, and didn’t Dannyn say something of longevity?

I intend to ponder on this—except, it seems, sleep finally finds me.

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Hegrea’s Isle isn’t Durrington Walls. The Old Isle of the Dead isn’t Stonehenge. Yet there are stones: two half-circles of bluestones. I look at them, glum with despair. What am I to tell Fliss? Not the truth; I can’t see that going down well. And there are implications here, though my head refuses them. I’ll tell Ken. Ken will grasp it, he’ll understand. Ken has experience of Destination. But Fliss? No, I can’t tell Fliss.

So what am I to tell her? I can’t even report of the settlements. She’ll say there’s nothing but postholes, at most, to find. And she’s right. Though I could argue of middens. Yet it remains that those in the valley are now lost to silt and modern developments, while Bisaplan’s Isle will be all ploughed out. Even Dannyn’s winter-roof, if it leaves a trace, will be classified as just another small henge, and ignored. But Stonehenge and Durrington Walls . . .

“This isn’t what you hoped to see,” Dannyn says. It’s not a question.

And what can I say? Hells! Even the Station Stones, erected by Hegrea as her Calendar, now are lacking. No Heel Stone. No Avenue. There’s a foot-worn track running beside the Path of the Sun. The eblann have kept the grooves free of growth. They’re exposed, displayed. Dannyn tells me I’m not to stand on them. They’re sacred, supposedly made by the Ancients. I can’t tell him the truth of it.

“They made the Send-Off Boat, too,” he says, directing my attention northward, to what I knew as Stonehenge Cursus. It must be a thousand years old or more yet its banks stand as high and as white as those around Hegrea’s Isle.

“The Send-Off Boat?” I repeat.

“The Ancestral Long Boat. I did say I’d show you. It’s where the Alsime held their feasts of Summer-Ending till I changed how they treat their dead. Though still they call it Send-Off Feast. And so the—”

“The Send-Off Boat?” I interrupt. Then, “Yea, I get it.”

“You’re disappointed. This isn’t what you expected, it’s not your Stonehenge, that wasn’t your Durrington Walls. For twenty-six years I’ve known it. You are not from my world. You’re not from our future.”

I shiver. I feel tears insistently forming. I want to close my ears. Instead I pull at my lip. I pinch it, hard. I make it hurt. Distraction. But it’s not working. I turn around, several times. I clasp my hands. I squeeze them, bone-crunchingly hard.

“My head won’t . . .” I say. “I can’t . . . It’s . . . pure crazy!”

Dannyn offers a cute little laugh. “To me it is not. There is more than one world. There are many. I am eblan, I know this. Though it disturbed my head, too, when first you came here. Come. I take you away from this.”

“To where?” I’m vicious with disappointment. Though, truth, it’s not that I’ve only now realised it. It’s just I’ve been pushing it away, refusing to see it. And over and over, the same damned chorus: What will I tell Fliss? That’s the thing. This thing of the worlds excites me. Though even that I’ve not yet grasped. But . . . Fliss. I can’t shatter her dream—my excuse, laced with self-interest. Because if I tell her the truth she won’t allow me back here again. And I have to return. I do return; Dannyn can vouch for it. The answer is simple: I just don’t tell her.

Dannyn asks for my map. I pass him a clean copy (I have five). He wraps his arm around my shoulder on the excuse of drawing me close so we both can see where he’s pointing.

“Here,” he squiggles his finger on the paper, over an area mostly devoid of archaeological interest. “I see this before. On your map there are no signs for Boat Humps. No Ancestral Long Boats. Not even an island. This means your twenty-first century English people know nothing of what is really here in my world. I am right?”

I agree. “No known remains.”

“So you tell your Fliss something big is here, and she will be happy. That is the purpose of her project?”

I laugh. “I’ll say. As long as either it’s stone, or big posts with deep roots.”

“What is here is—what did you call it? Neolithic: stone-built? What is here is stone-built, and vast. But also it is most sacred. It’s here, see, on Bear Hill—where only eblann may go. I ought not to take you. I ought not to show you. There are none but eblann know of it. But this I shall show you. Then you shall take word back to your Fliss. And your Fliss shall return you to me. So simple, yea?”

I open my mouth . . . but there are no words. What is it he has to show me? Stone-built, vast, and sacred? My breath comes short; I chew on my thumb. I hope he’s not kidding.

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Next episode

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The Kerdolak Stones

A Priory Project Supplement

As told by Eblan Head Man Burnisen

The North Alsime tell this story to account for the stones found strewn across the land to the west of His Indwelling. (Not the Cloud Stones to the north, you understand, for they have been there since First Creation).

It happened in the days of the First Ancestors, when the Krediche families were not long in the land. The Kredese wanted to build a cave as they call it—Kared’s Cave, the Cave of the Sun. The ‘Krediche Rock-Roof’, the North Alsime call it.

Of course, the Alsime were interested to see what the Kredese were doing on Alisime land. They kept a watch on them. And just as well that they did, for soon enough the Kredese were looking about and, seeing the Cloud Stones up on the hillside above His Indwelling, they made straight for them. It was easy to guess what they were about, carrying ropes and stout poles to use as levers. The Alsime waited to catch them, on the stone-strewn hillside, guilty-handed.

“If you touch these stones,” their eblan said, “we’ll cut off your hands and sew them on to your legs.” And they showed the Krediche men how sharp were their blades.

But the Kredese aren’t Alsime to be warned and be done. They continued with what they were doing . . . and touched the stones.

In truth, not all the Kredese lost their hands that day. And no Krediche man had hands sewn to his legs—because all ran away.

Two winters passed and no more was thought concerning the stones. Then, come one day that next summer-half the Alsime heard a mighty commotion. Looking around they realised it came from the west feeder-stream of First Water. So off they went to see what was making this din. What they saw fully astonished them.

Stones! Mighty big stones! (Though not as big as the Cloud Stones.) And a great many Krediche men, and many beasts all busy at pulling and dragging and hauling the stones.

“Halt!” the eblan shouted.

But the Kredese took no notice.

“This is the land of the North Alisime,” the eblan told the Kredese, coming as close as able, and shouting loudly.

But the Kredese heeded him not a jot. They continued to pull at the stones.

“We kill any man who trespasses here,” the eblan warned the Kredese.

But still the Kredese pulled at the stones.

So the eblan signed to the Alisime men, and the Alsime let loose their arrows. Some of the trespasses died that day, but most did not.

Again, the Alsime raised their bows. But they did not let loose, for it seemed not to be needed. The Kredese now had stopped pulling the stones. Indeed, but instead the Kredese now reached for their spears and hurled them, viciously, at the Alsime—who, being Alisime men, dodged the spears. Not one Krediche spear found an Alisime mark.

Now, with volleys equalled, the Kredese and the eblan could talk.

The Kredese said they were taking the stones to His Indwelling.

The eblan looked back towards the western bounds, and saw that the Kredese had already come a long way through Alisime land and they had not much farther to go. So he said for the Kredese to take their dead and to take their stones and to be gone as soon as able. Which all agreed was a fair decision.

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Though this first part of the story tells why the Kredese of His Indwelling had to fetch stones from their ancestral lands to build the ‘Krediche Rock-Roof ‘ (that they call Kared’s Cave, or the Cave of the Sun) there is a second part to the story.

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Many winters passed—perhaps as many as maybe two hundred, though some say more—and the Eblan Mistress inspired Eblan Buktalen to create the Cloud Stone Isle. This, according to the North Alsime, marks the place of First Creation. It is to the North Alsime as the Path of the Sun is to we River Alsime: the most sacred of places.

When the work was first begun (concerning the island’s rings and the circles of stones that were sited within) the Kredese didn’t have a clear sight of it. It was blocked by the hills around it. But as the white walls grew tall, and they saw the first of the stones being moved, then the Kredese saw it, and they wondered.

Some say they were hard-bitten by a powerful envy, for they then decided to build some such island of their own and to fill it with more—many more—shining stone circles.

But, alas-alack, though there were stones aplenty on the hills above them they had been told long ago not to touch them. What were they to do? They did as they had done before. They brought in stones from their ancestral homeland.

Again, the North Alsime heard a great commotion. Again, they went to see what was making the noise. Again, they saw a great many men and a great many beasts pulling at stones.

Again, one of their eblann called out for the Kredese to stop. But, as before, the Kredese continued to pull at the stones.

“You trespass on North Alsime land,” as before, the eblan called out (though this was a different eblan, being two hundred winters-past).

And as before, the Kredese continued to pull at the stones.

“We Alsime kill all who trespass here,” the eblan warned them.

But, again, the Kredese took no note. They continued to pull at the stones.

So, as before, the eblan gave the sign, and the Alisime men let loose their arrows. But unlike before, the Alsime continued to loose arrows, and no man who had pulled at those stones that morning lived beyond the day.

Eblan Skaken (who then was Head Man of the North Alsime eblann) laid out the Krediche corpses to enable the birds and the sun to clean and dry them as always is done. Then, when nought remained but clean bones, he laid them neatly on the bare earth and heaped a great hump over them.

This Boat Hump, they say (which now marks the Eblan-held lands at His Indwelling) was set there as a warning to the Kredese that they never should again trespass on this land. But Eblan Skaken had no use of the stones, and so he left them where they lay by First Water. And there they remain unto this day.

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As readers of Priory Project will know, the story concerns the ‘Kerdolak Stones’ that Eblan Murdan took and erected in two broken circles within the walls of the Old Isle of the Dead, on the Highlands of the Sun (River Alsime land). His intent, to show he had broken the Kerdolak power at His Indwelling, the Kerdolan being the driving force behind the Kredese. But it seems that none of the Alsime yet met by Julia wants to tell the story in full. So I thought I’d include it here.

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A Fateful Meeting?

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Chadtamen explained of Amblushe’s ‘little slip’ in front of Barega, Kerrid’s sister. Now for his safety, Kallaren must hide while Kerrid and Barega again meet.

Next episode, Hissing Sisters, ready now.


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Of A Mother’s Murder

Set up for the night at Bisaplan’s Isle, and after a day of several tales, Julia is about to hear the one story that’ll cast her in fear . . .

Episode 29 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

Frustration. I want to hear about Murdan, how he killed his mother, and yet she lived (I have my theories on that). But instead I get Aldliks Priäplan waffling on about her first meeting with Hegrea. Not that Hegrea was known as that yet. She was Hegkrehe until Burnisen renamed her. Priäplan probably has explained all of this, and that Hegrea isn’t a proper name as used by the kin (it’s a title: the Family-Maker), but I’ve heard none of it. Dannyn again has done his twiddly bit, and I’ve lived through the story as a seven year old girl. An interesting experience, but one I wish not to repeat.

So, now I know how Hegrea came to be thrice-born (first to the Kredese, second to the Kerdolan as a granary-keeper, and third to Bisaplan’s Isle as Sappaken’s daughter). And at this third birthing her son, Murdan, was born, literally on the same day. That, coupled with the birthing-gifts from Sappaken and Burnisen, marked her as special.

It was scary to see her, so powerful she looked standing before that birthing-cave, garbed in a white owl-bonnet, its long wings framing her face (Sappaken’s gift), and an eblan-cloak of grey heron feathers, yoked upon the feathered skins of countless bright kingfisher-birds (Burnisen’s gift). I wanted to fall on the earth, to lower my head, to crawl before her. But, then, being Priäplan, I was only a child.

It’s amusing, and devious, the spin Burnisen gave to this odd acquisition (his new apprentice). Krediche-born and granary-trained, Bisaplan’s kin ought to hate her—which they did when Burnisen returned with her from the Old Isle of the Dead where he and she had spent the summer. We—they—could see she was pregnant. Was he the father? But he made them all wait for the family’s Feast of Home-Coming to hear his story.

With everyone gathered after the summer apart, that feast is traditionally a time for the men of the isle to compete in telling their tales. But this year Burnisen outdid them all.

He sits on the sack beneath the tree. “Mistress Inspiration finally has heard my pleas,” says he. “Finally, she responds to my gifts. Finally she sends me what most I want. An apprentice!”

Heads turn at that—to look at Priäplan (that’s currently me). But I don’t mind. Why would I want to be his apprentice, learning how to spill guts?

Burnisen coughs before he says more. Then he spills it. “This woman beside me is my apprentice, Mistress-sent . You notice she speaks a bit strange. As some of you—Bukfesen—have already noticed, my new apprentice is Krediche.”

He then can’t say more for the uproar. But once it settles he says, “This, my Mistress-sent apprentice . . .”

Mistress-sent, Mistress-sent, so devious. How can his kin complain, though she is Krediche, when the Mistress herself has sent her? I—Priäplan—grin.

“She’s been trained by the Kerdolan of Liënershi to be a granary-keeper,” says he.

Silence. Arching. Aching. Uncomfortable. A granary-keeper!

But what can we say?—I mean what can ‘they’ say. Burnisen has urgent need of an apprentice. Eblan Head Man five winters now and he’s done nothing of note. Nothing created, not since  a child. He creates his dramas—Burnisen especially likes creating dramas. But they’re more for the needs of Bisaplan’s kin; no one would call them Mistress-inspired. Eblan Head Man five winters now, no inspired creations, no apprentice to follow. if he leaves this world now, what of our family—I mean their family: Bisaplan’s kin? They would no longer be an eblan-family. They’d be Ulmkem, —no different from those across the river at Hadtama’s Isle. So it’s crucial he has an apprentice, and that’s why all winter-half he’d his eyes on me—I mean, on Priäplan. And that’s why I—she—had to stay the summer-half at the isle with Sappaken, so he’d be close when inspiration happened.

Burnisen is famed across the Highlands for making big out of something small. Of course he is, he’s eblan. But he hasn’t a need to embellish his story. Thunderous Father, what other eblan can boast of a Krediche-born, Kerdolak-trained apprentice who, according to him, was guided to him by the Eblan Mistress herself?

The story is gripping, the cultural details fascinating. But it’s Murdan who concerns me now, not his mother who now has left the Highlands. So I’m glad when Dannyn brings me out of Priäplan’s memories.

« »

Priäplan re-shuffles her bones before she continues. She’s promised me the story of Murdan and the murder. I cross my fingers—hidden beneath the Dictaphone. And just at that moment the tape clunk-clunks. Damn and drat it, it’s full.  And I can hardly be seen taking notes.

“So now to the killing,” Priäplan says. (Gratification overcomes the frustration: at least the crossed fingers have worked.) “It happens the summer-half after Eblan Murdan chased off the Kredese from the Krediche granary at His Indwelling. But it happens early, the Feast of Winter Ending not long gone. That’s a busy time for us, busy for everyone, but particularly for Bukfesen who, beyond his own tasks, now has the task of moving the Kerdolak stones from His Indwelling.”

That man, he doesn’t need Murdan chipping away at him. Last season he fetched five of the stones, but then the snow stopped him—they’re resting now in the long grass just outside the Old Isle of the Dead. But now, with the weather clear, he’s organised another three teams of the strongest men to fetch over the rest. Only Murdan won’t let him be. He grabs Bukfesen’s arm and bids him follow—he wants to discuss their setting, says he.

They go to the Old Isle of the Dead. There are things I need from around there. Small foods and eggs. So I follow. I have every right, every reason. The men want to eat?

It’s hard to say exactly what happens; it’s mostly inside him, inside his head. Yet he must know of his mother’s Feast Stones even though she had them erected while he and Dannyn were away in the Wilds. But both the young eblann now have back awhile. There’s been the Trap and the Chase since then, and the planning for them. (These things don’t happen overnight.) So he must know that they’re there. And yet he rears up, like he’s suddenly seen them.

“What stones are these?” he asks Bukfesen. “Who has planted them here?”

Bukfesen tells him, as everyone knows, that these are Hegrea’s Feast Stones, put there by his mother so she can more easily tell the Ulishvregan traders when to appear at the Eskin and the Kredese feasts. Those traders long have relied upon her for her knowledge of feasts. But, as she often mumbled before the stones’ erection, over the years her own-kept calendar was drifting off from that kept by the Kerdolan. Those stones, so she says, are to keep the feast-calendar fixed. Though none but her and that Luänha know how the stones do it.

So, Bukfesen tells Murdan this. But even from where I am, gathering eggs, I can see that the swan-headed Murdan isn’t listening, not beyond the mention of the Kerdolan. I can see the anger in his pale face rising—redder than blood. And it’s like his anger is stirring the wind—and that absent before his anger. Without a word, he spins on his heel and though he doesn’t quite run he fast-covers the ground, back to Hegrea’s Isle, and his mother.

Bukfesen calls me over.

“You see that?”

I see it: A hollow new-made by his heel in the spinning. (It’s there to this day at the Old Isle.)

Much as I want to know what’s happening now at Hegrea’s Isle, I can’t move as fast as him. Besides, I’ve no excuse for heading there. It’s as well that Dannyn is there. He’ll tell me.

« »

The transition is smooth. A magician, that man. I’m no longer crouching around the Old Isle, searching for eggs and succulent foods. I’m at Hegrea’s Isle. I am Dannyn. (Yes, it is confusing. It’s frightening too.)

We’ve no warning of his coming, the high walls and that long tunnel-gate effectively sealing the isle from the land around it. The first we know is his explosion—that’s how it seems—as he clears the tunnel and is into the isle. Red as a fiery beacon, he is. I half-expect to see smoke seeping from him. As it is, if it hadn’t just rained his feet would have been raising a cloud.

“Where is she?” he shouts. But which ‘she’ does he mean? What’s happening, why’s he is angry?

“Hey, wait!” I try to calm him but he won’t have it. He tears out of my grasp, and heads straight for the granary.

But no. No! There are children in there! (The granary-women begin their craft young.)

I ease off. Hegrea has heard him and is already out. It would be a wonder if she’d have him in there: none but granary-trained are allowed. I see my mother, Luänha, is following behind her.

What happens ‘tween Murdan and his mother, that’s them. But not when my mother is standing that close. I dive, trying to deflect him. Useless. With the strength of a bear, he’s straight at Hegrea. I haul him off her. Twice. Thrice. Twice he shrugs me, the third time he sends me flying.

By now the various men at the isle have heard and seen. They come running now from every direction, all trying to do the same. We’d be better to hide Hegrea from him, but none of us think it. Hidden a while, she could get away from him. But, excuses, who amongst us know what he’s to do. Not even me, with Brictish powers.

“Murdan!” Hegrea yells at him. “Murdan, let me be.” She’s no more a notion of what’s upset him. We none of us have.

“Those stones,” he snarls, a savage dog, his hands in her flesh as if they are teeth. “To set a Kerdolak calendar? What need have we of a Kerdolak calendar?”

She pulls at his hands. “Let me breathe. Let me explain it. It’s for the feasts.”

But that doesn’t please him. “Feasts? Feasts? We don’t need calendars to set our feasts. You of all people know of the moon. You of them all, know of the Mother.”

“Not Alisime feasts,” Hegrea struggles to speak. She’s desperately trying to free her arm from his grip.

“If not Alisime, then which feasts? Not Ulishvregan, they’re the same.” With every word he tightens his grip. Her face now is brighter even than his. And I know what he’s doing. He wants her to say the word ‘Kerdolan’ with her own breath, though she’s scarce none of it left.

By now Arith has heard the commotion—and who has not. He comes to see what Murdan is up to, with his shouting and the scuffling. To Arith, Murdan is like his own planted son; he has pride and affection for the young eblan. But when he sees what he’s doing . . .

All eblann wear a black-flint blade at the waist. Murdan’s no different. But it’s for use at the feasts, for the sacrifices. It’s not intended for other use. Yet there is Murdan, by now his rage apparently spent, his one hand closed around his mother’s throat, the other around the blade’s short hilt. Seeing it, Arith halts. He’ll do nothing to force his foster-son’s moves.

Slowly, so slowly—or so it seems to us, all wanting to help, to prevent, yet none are able—he draws the sacred blade from its holder. He brings it between them where we can’t see it. Yet we see,  oh we see, and it’s chilling to see, her judder. And we know then what he’s done. He’s plunged that blade deep into his own mother’s chest.

“Even now,” he says, his bite returned, “you are too much the Kredese, too much the Kerdolan. So like them you shall die!”

Murdan knew well where his mother’s heart; he can’t be excused. It’s the eblan’s duty to slit the corpses, to let out the guts. He knew full well what would happen if he plunged that blade in. Yet he plunged it.

He steps aside and allows her to fall. He doesn’t even gentle her down.

Utter silence spreads over the isle. Everyone stunned that a son can do this to his mother.

But Luänha, my mother, the one everyone hates—still hates—she’s there; she wastes no time. What she does, nobody knows—I don’t. But while Arith hauls away the boy (how can we call that monster a man?), somehow she staunches the flow of blood from Hegrea’s heart. Luänha the Hated saves Hegrea from Death. Brictish, Hegrea, the same as me, yet Brictans aren’t immortal.

Meanwhile there’s Arith knocking the spirit from out of Murdan.

He does what we all want to do. He punches and punches and punches, until finally Murdan’s knees crumple and he’s down. Then, while his spirit is absent, we watchers bind him and take him and plant him into that deep-deep trench of his own creating. Plant him there, yes—for Arith has found a forked post, and having rammed it securely into the chalk he hangs his foster-son from it—upside down, hung from his feet, just as Murdan did to those Kerdolak mariners.

Another man would die hung like that. And soon. But not Murdan. And not because he’s Brictan, either. It’s Arith: Arith won’t allow him to die. The hanging is punishment for what he has done; it’s not to be rid of him.

He tells Murdan, “Here you will hang for as long as it takes for your mother to recover enough to come to you. And still you will hang here until you know to apologise to her. You understand what I’m saying?”

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There’s silence. Aldliks Priäplan sits back, her arms folded like it’s a punctuation mark. Full stop.

I’m sweating, yet cold. I feel sick. I look at Dannyn. What can I say? I wanted to know.

“Ten days and ten nights my cousin hung there, from that post,” Dannyn says. “Ten days and ten nights hung from his feet in that deep trench of his own making. Ten days and ten nights his head but a finger-width from the world of low-spirits—that same world as he so-dreaded. And did those spirits torment him? I’m not alone in hoping they did. For he did deserve it.

“And not once did Arith leave his side, such was his father’s devotion, though Murdan wasn’t his get. He moistened his lips when they began to dry, though he allowed him not a sip of drink. He cleaned Murdan when during the first days of hanging he fouled himself. He massaged his belly, and chest, so his organs wouldn’t descend and choke him. Yes, Arith did that. He sat beside his son—Luin’s son—and whenever Murdan was sufficiently awake, Arith would tell him tales of the Immortals, and of we Brictans. It was the first I’d heard of our breed and their doings. Arith knew more than we ever could guess.”

“And that’s the story,” says Priäplan, not to be so soon forgotten.

“And this Murdan was there in the Eblan Freeland when I came to you?” I ask of Dannyn. “That first time?”

He hesitates before answering, “Yes.”

That does nothing to settle the jitters that rack me. I’ve an appointment with Dannyn, twenty-six years previously. How am I to keep it without entering the Eblan Freeland—and trespass where Murdan prowls?

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