On The Flanks Of Black Mother Mountain . . .

Kerrid has birthed her child, a son, in the previous episode of Feast Fables 3 (A Glut of Dead Fathers). But the demon Neka destroys all she loves . . . what can she do to keep the boy safe? Perhaps the Spinner will provide an answer?

Next episode, Of Swan, Cygnets And Stones, ready now.

 

 

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And Another Thing . . .

That Dannyn refers to Durrington Walls (the seasonal Neolithic town erected to house the workers at Stonehenge) as Hegrea’s Isle, and that Hegrea was a shaman who brought bread-wheat to the indigenous Alsime, has left Julia with a slight sense of disquiet. But that disquiet explodes into shock as she stands on the hill above the isle.

PP Episode 17

As a kid I was here many times, and I’ve been here many times since. I’ve read every report from the Riverside Project. You could say I’m obsessed by it. I know its every dimension, I know its dates. And I know what I’m looking here at isn’t Durrington Walls as it ought to be. Yet by its fit in the land, its placement against the loop of the river, this place Dannyn calls Hegrea’s Isle is exactly where the Walls ought to be.

The bank and the ditch are already in place—the white rock thrown up around the isle, as Dannyn has said. (And that didn’t alert me? It’s at least 50 years too early. Telling myself the error lies in Fliss’s calibrations.) But even from this distance I can see the isle is impressive. I know from the Riverside and earlier reports that the ditch is cut, almost vertical, to a depth of 18 feet. At its base it measures 22 feet (a JCB can easily drive along it). The radius of the circle, defined by that ditch, is close to 760 feet. (I’ve not found that in any published report; it’s my own calculation.) And as with the more ancient long barrows, the quarried material forms the bank. Laid topsoil to base, white rock to top, that bank climbs to a good 10 feet. It would stand higher but for the exceptionally wide berm—90 feet. Result: the bank’s circumference (the outer ring) is massively longer than the ditch (inner ring). Thus the height of the bank measures a scant half of the depth of the ditch. Yet the base of that bank is disproportionately wide, forming in effect low rolling mound (like a squashed sausage). The radius of the circle, contained by that bank, is close to 890 feet.

Though I measure only by eye, and that from a distance, it seems to me this Hegrea’s Isle and Durrington Walls measure much the same.

Yet the ditch and bank at Durrington Walls only appeared at the end of its useful life. The Stonehenge workers having completed the horseshoe setting of five trilithons and its circle of dressed lintelled sarsens, the seasonal town no longer was needed. In fact, several of its houses are beneath the bank.

Moreover, there ought to be a circle of timber posts, the prototype for Stonehenge—though by the time the ditch was dug and the bank was raised these posts were already decaying. Yet here I see—no, I can’t deny sight of them altogether. Here there’s a roofed circular building instead. Yet that timber circle sat close to the southeast entrance. The roofed building does not. It’s sited more or less central with another, smaller, circular roofed building  behind it, offset to northeast.

Could these possibly be the Southern and Northern Circles? But that still leaves the estimated 1000 houses; where are they? Not all were buried beneath the bank. Yet, squint and place my head atilt, stand on tiptoes, twirl around, there is no sign of them. No crumbling walls, no yellowy patches where their plastered floors remain.

And there’s more than that amiss—though I need to get closer to have a good look. Even so, I doubt I’d miss a paved avenue 50 feet wide connecting isle and river. Yet here, all I can see is a tread of a foot-worn track.

I’m thoroughly disappointed, and no little bit puzzled. But no way can this Hegrea’s Isle be equated with Durrington Walls. And it’s not merely a matter of time-frames, as if Fliss’s ‘pods were miss-calibrated, 100 years out. (I wish—how I wish—it could be that!) Anachronistic houses, a stoneless Stonehenge, a ditch and bank but a lack of houses: what’s happening here? If it weren’t for the river, the Plain, the geographical setting, I would wonder if I’m in the same universe. Perhaps Fliss can explain it?

Staring down at Hegrea’s Isle won’t bring any answers. I am here for the duration (3 days), until the ‘pod fetches me back. Besides, Dannyn is waiting to introduce me to the people here at this Alisime isle. Yet, even by Alisime standards it is an odd isle. Where’s the hedge, the wide barred gate, the array of longhouses part-hidden within? Instead, there’s a colossal circular building. With the advantage of height, being stood on the hillside, I can see it’s hollow at the middle. A central courtyard? I’ve seen that construct before, last night in Dannyn’s memory/my dream. It’s an Ulishvregan winter-roof. Again, a quick eye-measurement: I’d say it has a diameter of c.125 feet. That’s some building. How many families live there?

I ask Dannyn. He doesn’t answer straight off, apparently calculating in his head. I expect him to say some enormous number.

“Aldliks Bisdata and her trader Staldan; the old trader Alsvregn and Hegfelanha; Hegfelanha’s brother Staëdan and Sapapla—who happens to be Alsvregn’s sister. Then all their various children, some grown, some gone. I reckon they number fifteen, maybe twenty by now. My,” he laughs, “how their numbers have grown.”

“When did you last visit?”

“Me?” He shrugs. “I set the charms at each summer-ending. But since my mother Luänha left . . . She and Murdan and my sister Jitjana went off in search of Meksuin and Luin. By then Eblan Hegrea had already gone—no one knows where. She wandered away one day, not long after Arith had died. Hegrea’s Isle is much changed, with all of them gone.”

And now I’ve started him into a dirge. But again he brightens.

“Myself, I hadn’t dwelt there since my sister Jitjana went off with Sapapsan to run the granary at His Indwelling.”

His words are like chalk scratching dry on a blackboard. His Indwelling, as I’ve already discovered, is the Alisime name for Marlborough Downs—Ken’s study area, where (according to Ken) the farmers take their grain to what he says is ‘the Big Woman’ who stows it away in a large building he thinks is a granary. Though he’s seen three women there, he says this granary is under ‘the Big Woman’s’ control. He might be convinced of what he’s seen, but I’ve kept quiet, preferring to wait until there’s more evidence. The trouble is, while most popularising writers are happy to label these people as ‘farmers’, they’re not yet making a heavy investment in the growing of grain. That doesn’t happen until late in the Bronze Age. Even then it’s still a small-scale, family affair—as in the fenced fields that I’ve seen. So it follows that, at this period (and through to even the Iron Age) the families each have their own small granary, e.g. a tub raised on legs, or a pit lined with clay. Until now, I’d happily stake a month’s salary on Ken’s ‘large building’ being anything other than a communal granary. A feasting hall, perhaps. Yet here is Dannyn saying of his sister Jitjana who went off to His Indwelling to help run a granary there. Was she one of the three women Ken saw?

I ask Dannyn about the granary, to tell me more.

“Which granary?” He laughs though lightly. “The Alsime now have three. Eblan Hegrea’s granary, here at her isle, was the first—though it was full-against the Alisime ways. Then, after Eblan Murdan killed the Kerdolan and chased away their granary-keepers from His Indwelling, the Kredese came here to ask if Eblan Hegrea would keep their granary as well. Yet, to all surprise, she refused, even though it had been promised to her as a child. Instead, she sent Sapapsan. Sapapsan was . . . how you say it? Adopted? Sapapsan and the sisters Sapsinhea and Bisdata came from Bisaplan’s Isle when their mothers died in quick succession. Eblan Hegrea had no other children than Murdan so . . . ”

I’ve spent less than twenty-four hours in Dannyn’s company yet already I’ve noticed that to ask him even a simple question is to open the floodgates of an entire library of facts. Yet without first my questions he can be cryptically curt.

“The third granary serves the South Alsime,” he says. “They saw how the River Alsime have profited from this first granary and asked Aldliks Bisdata if they might have one too—Aldliks Bisdata is granary-keeper here at Hegrea’s Isle now that Hegrea is gone. Aldliks Bisdata sent her young sister Sapsinhea to the South Alsime, with Mataken to be her granary trader.”

Dannyn’s encyclopaedic answer raises another two questions. When did Eblan Murdan chase away their granary-keepers, i.e. how long ago was it? And what’s this of a granary-trader? Yet I ask neither question.

“So you’re saying the first Alisime granary was here, at Hegrea’s Isle.”

I want to say that, no, it’s not possible. But then, when I think, I can see that it could be so. The workers at Stonehenge would need feeding, and Man doesn’t work on cattle alone. Moreover, there are several as-yet unexplained structures at Durrington Walls. But, no, I know I’m kidding myself. My Durrington Walls and his Hegrea’s Isle are not one and the same, not even if Fliss’s ‘pods distort and warp time. Besides, there’s the evidence of my eyes. Down there, in Hegrea’s Isle, is Hegrea’s granary where Aldliks Bisdata is Hegrea’s successor as granary-keeper.

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Dannyn is exceptionally long legged—as I noticed last night as he settled upon his storyteller’s sack. Now he’s set off at such a pace I have to trot to catch up. Though once there I easily keep pace—and I’ve still questions for him. Just ‘cause it’s not Durrington Walls, I still want to know everything of it.

“Did you say there’s a newborn at Hegrea’s Isle?”

I’ve found, with my gypsy-existence, always moving, having to make new friends, that to fuss over a newborn is an easy ‘in’, a way to gain the family’s acceptance. And I doubt I’ll learn much without that.

“Sinya?” He barely perceptibly shrugs, yet it turns his black feathers iridescent and makes the three-legged venison slightly shudder. “Sinya is Aldliks Sapsinhea’s daughter. But she’s at First Landing—just south of Flowriver.”

“Ah. Serving the South Alsime,” I say to show I’ve been listening. “So who’s the youngest here, at Hegrea’s Isle?”

“I had not realised you cluck like a duck. But I warn you now, I shall laugh if you do.” He grins as he turns to look at me. A walking library, prone to excitability, and playful too.

But I admit, I haven’t much experience of children, only through friends.

“Ah, friends,” he says, this time without turning. “An unusual word to be claimed by a woman.”

“Oh, that sounds grim. Are you saying your womenfolk have no friends?”

“Hey,” he objects, “not my womenfolk. I live alone in the Eblan Woodland since . . . well, for a very long while. But why say grim? What need has a woman for friends? She has sisters and cousins and mothers and aunts and . . . But in answer to you of Hegrea’s Isle’s children: the youngest is Buksan, Berghata’s young boy. He now has seven winters-seen. And if I were a proper eblan I now would be buzzing around him, hoping he shows some sign of inspiration. Seven winters, it is often the time.”

And when he’s not plying me with encyclopaedic detail, he gives answers that engender yet further questions . . .

“If you were a proper eblan?” I’ve sort of sussed that an eblan is probably a shaman. It’s his crow-feathered cloak that gives it away. He says he’s explained it, but as yet that’s in my future.

Bur now he denies he is eblan. “I am not, not in the way of Burnisen, and Hegrea, and Murdan. I play at it, like a child with a bow shooting at shadows. For these past seasons since . . . I live in the woodland, I stay there alone, I keep to myself and no one asks of me. Though it is so, one might occasionally seek me to heal them. That I can do—for what is an eblan without that he heals? But I know Murdan would say that is not being a proper eblan. He would say, ‘The mark of an eblan is his inspired creations.’ And so it is. But now there is you, Julia Cannings of the twenty-first century, and as in my youth, when first you came to me, again I’m inspired.”

He fixes me with his periwinkle-blue eyes. I don’t know what to say, though a voice within me says to beware. Periwinkle is one of the few plant-names I know; its Latin name, vinca, means to fetter and bind. He smiles—and that takes my breath away.

“I shall die,” he says, “before you are born.” And he turns abruptly around.

“Who is Berghata?” I call up ahead where he’s set a fierce pace.

Without turning he answers, “Daughter of Staëdan and Sapapla. Sapapla is sister to the old trader Alsvregn.”

“Yea, you’ve said.” Again I show I’ve been listening.

“So, I talk not to birds? Berghata has two older children,” he says. “Daughters. Aplaälda and Apladata. This last feast of Winter-Ending, Bisdata declared Aplaälda a woman.”

“And has she now a young man visiting?”

“What know I?” he says, his feathers iridescent as he shrugs a shoulder. “I have not visited since before the snows.”

« »

My breath catches. I’m almost in panic now we’re so close to the isle. The place looks vast with its high white wall. But, despite the northern entrance lies just a short sprint ahead, we’re angling in obliquely and I can’t see within—except several towering post show above the wall. Six, I count them. Four of these form some kind of setting, with a platform suspended close to its top. Perhaps it’s that which drives into me that people, real people, really do live here. What’s more, Dannyn has spoken so much of them that they’ve become almost as familiar as family to me—and against that a little voice niggles, ringing loudly with the de Plessey’s haughty inflections: This world at Destination is merely a water-and-rock recording, no more real than the fleeting figments of a dream.

I refuse the reminder. Sure, I can be inventive and creative—I’m paid to be—but no way could I ever imagine all this. I can’t explain it, I need more talk with Dave and Ken, but I know that Dannyn is real. The ‘pods’ Destination is real. This isn’t a dream. But it is confusing. It would be less so if Hegrea’s Isle accorded more with what I know of Durrington Walls.

Dannyn retrieves my attention, veering off to the right. Why isn’t he heading straight for the gate? “Where are you going?”

“I am no longer granary-family; we go in by the visitor’s gate. This allows Eldliks Erlunen to greet us. We do it the proper way.”

I follow him round to the southeast entrance—where, if this were Durrington Walls, there’d be a flint-paved avenue 50 feet wide.

The bank beside us ought to resemble a splayed-out mound, at its highest no more than ten feet. But instead it tops-out at about three times my height. And instead of gentle rolling it’s steeply sloped, stability alone being its limiting factor. Close-to now, I see this high intimidating wall isn’t so white as I’d thought, but is spread with a green net—the plants’ first attempt at colonisation.

We follow it round. And round, and round. It seems never to end. If the aim of this place is to impress then it certainly succeeds. Ah, and finally we’re at the entrance, the ‘gate’ as Dannyn calls it. Beside it the land falls steeply down to the river—no flint pavement but, as I’ve already seen, the foot-scuffed track, white against green. That’s no surprise; everything here is wrong—including the gate. Far from being 50 feet wide, it barely scrapes ten.

We walk the 100 feet through the bank to the isle within. There’s a lump in my throat and what feels like a bird in my belly. This is like walking down a very long tunnel, the view ahead severely restricted. Yet I can see the posts, they being incredibly tall—what kind of trees provided these? Dannyn grabs my hand—to steady me, or is it for his own reassurance? I think of the times, i.e. just this morning, when he’s started to say ‘since . . .’ and has left it hanging. Since what? What happened here to send him into the Eblan Freeland, alone? I know it’s to do with his cousin Murdan. It’s so easy to get lost in his story and forget my purpose here.

One hundred feet, the length of the gate; it seems never to stop. Beside us is lost to the cold and dark shadows beneath the steep wall. We keep to the left where it’s sunny. Then, halleluiah, the wall falls away and there is the trench, and there the isle, wide and open with only two buildings—but I’m allowed only a glimpse.

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Next episode: Tuesday 10th March

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A Knot Not Easily Said

I’ll tell you my story, Dannyn said. But the story was had as a dream. Now, in the morning, he has promised to take her to Hegrea’s Isle.

 PP Episode 16

I’m curious, looking down at the encircling ditch, how it stays full, and the water sparkling clean. I can see the clay lining that helps retain it. But it can’t all be rainwater.

“Here.” Dannyn takes my hand. Not for the first time I notice how soft his skin; unlikely for someone who lives alone in the ‘wilds’. He leads me round to the back of the high-domed ‘roof and nods to a bubbling beneath the water.

“A spring? But . . . we’re on a hilltop.” I’m no geologist yet I do know that springs generally appear where the porous and the impervious meet, which isn’t here but down in the valley.

“Springs appear where an eblan digs deep,” he says.

That he knows my thoughts no longer disturbs me—though I do try to censor their content. Their content now is that we’re some 400 feet above the water-table. That’s one hell of a deep well.

“It’s the water of life,” he says. “It comes from the Deep—like the white rock that rings around Hegrea’s Isle. Are you ready to walk?”

“Sure.” Though suddenly my breath catches. Excitement: Durrington Walls, that’s why I’m here. Yet anxiety: what of the people there. By their houses they ought to be the northern matries. The Ulvregan? Yet around them, according to Dannyn’s vision, his story, my dream, are the Indies, the Alisime. I correct that to Alsime, aware of the grammar if not the language.

“It is not far,” Dannyn assures me, not for the first time. “One track to cross, one fence to hop, then we’re into Hegrea’s Land—though it wasn’t always Hegrea’s. Aldliks Sappaken gave it to her.”

Aldliks?” I’ve heard him use this word before. It seems more of a title than a name. “What is this aldliks?”

“This, from the first, I have liked about you,” he says. “Julia ’fanteshi’, always asking.”

I quietly humph as, without answering, he dodges back into his winter-roof. He returns wearing a cloak of black feathers (the cascade I’ve seen beside the chest). The three-legged venison is slung over his shoulder while, in the opposing hand, is a staff four feet long.

“We go,” he says and without ado starts out. I scramble to follow.

« »

 “I like not to wear feathers,” he says, “but I must when I visit an aldliks and her eldliks—Yes, I hear your question,” he snaps without rancour. “What is aldliks, what is eldliks?”

He walks on a way in silence, before finally he begins an answer.

“But I must say, first, of the Alsime ‘isles’—by which, those hedged-around settlements you see in the valley. So many places the Alsime enclose—fenced, hedged, ditched, banked—and they say of them all that they are isles. Even their fenced-in fields! An isle is place set apart.”

I can’t argue with that. He then says, more specifically, of Hegrea’s Isle (Durrington Walls).

Until the coming of the Ulvregan—which event Dannyn told me last night though I saw it as a dreamscape (downloaded from his own memory though I don’t know how)—until then the ‘lands’ had only the one isle each. Hegrea’s Land didn’t yet exist, still a part of Bisaplan’s Land. Bisaplan, their ancestress, lived in the time of the Ancients. Not being Alisime, Dannyn doesn’t know the number of years or the generations—glunen he calls them—but, as he says, everyone knows that the Ancients lived at a time before the Alsime grew grain.

“In those days there were none here but the Alsime, from shore to shore. And they were not East Alsime, River Alsime, South and North Alsime. They simply were Alsime. But that changed when the Eskin came with their grains, and, shortly after, the Krediche, too.”

The story of their encounter with the Eskin grain-growers is much the same as that of the Ulvregan, except while the Ulvregan had upped and went, taking their stolen goats with them, here the Alsime, having stolen the Eskin and Krediche cattle and grain—and their swine—remained on their land. The women cut their fields and named that their ancestral land. Thus, Bisaplan’s Land is where the ancestress Bisaplan first cut her fields.

While Dannyn is telling me this, my head is rapidly reckoning. The earliest signs of agriculture in Wessex is circa 4,000 BCE. So that’s probably when Bisaplan lived—1500 years before Destination-Time. Bisaplan’s descendants have much deeper roots than Fliss with her Plessey ancestors.

“These founding ‘grandmas’,” Dannyn says, a smile lifting his voice, “they marked the limits of their land by an upturn of chalk—you understand, white rock from the depths is the very substance of life. It is the colour of the Ancestors’ bones. White, the white of life. And the Ancestors’ bones are buried there. You understand all this?”

I nod. It seems logical.

He asks for my map and squiggles his finger over a mark near the causeway enclosure, Robin Hood’s Ball, where there’s a long barrow. “There is their north-most marker.” He points to another—south of Stonehenge.

“Stonehenge was built on Bisaplan’s Land?” But I ought to know that from the dream.

“The Old Isle of the Dead where Murdan raised his Broken Circles? Yes, that is on Bisaplan’s Land. But I speak of the aldliks, not of Murdan.”

Ahead is a fence. It marks the end of the Eblan Freeland. Once we cross the track we’ll be into Hegrea’s Land. Almost there, to Hegrea’s Isle. But Dannyn decides here is a good place to stop while he tells me more. He sits upon the top rail of a stile.

“From Bisaplan to Sinya (who was born this last year) all are kin through the mother. And all are ordered by the aldliks. At Bisaplan’s Isle, now she is Aldliks Priäplan; at Hegrea’s Isle she is Aldliks Bisdata. It is she we visit today.”

Yea, I can get my ahead around that—though he’s slowly destroying my theory of Ken’s matries north of the Vale being Ulvregan while the Indies, south, (but not at Durrington Walls) are Alsime. It’s the Alsime—the Indies—who are matrilineal, matrifocal and, at least to some degree, matriarchal. But if the women belong to the ‘isle’, how do they get it together with the men, to make more? I ask Dannyn, though not quite in those words.

“Oh, it’s easy,” he says with a tilt of his chin and a sparkling smile. “They meet at the feasts of Winter Ending. It is . . . you say, for adults only?”

X-rated feasts? Orgies? But possibly not. It’s all controlled by the aldliks. It’s she who says when a girl is old enough to attend the feast, which then marks her as a woman. Thereafter she must never show her hair outside of her family’s dwelling. For the Alsime to show their hair is like us walking about naked in polite society. (Yes, I’ve brought a hat with me and, though Dannyn hasn’t said, I fiddle with my hair to make sure every last scrap is tucked in.) Having met, and liked, the woman now invites the man to visit.

Something of this amuses Dannyn. He chuckles, not quite a full laugh. I look at him, inquisitive. And he has such an infectious laugh I’m beginning to chuckle along with him.

“I am glad I never have to endure it,” he says, once he regains his breath. “Those woe-some men. He arrives at the woman’s isle with his cattle and . . .” He laughs again.

“They arrive with their cattle—so that’s why the fenced tracks!” I exclaim as if it’s Eureka!

“But yes. Without their fences our Alsime would be like the Ulvregan—their fields illegally cropped, they must leave. They are the same people, you know, though long ago separated by the sea. They speak with the same tongue—this is what Hegrea noticed. I tell you, if one speaks slowly and clearly, and the other attends, they mostly can understand each other. They share their names, though sometimes given in different forms. It is only their ways that are different. I wonder which will win out in the end? It amuses to watch from the woodland, for I am neither. But, I say of the visiting . . . the man arrives with his cattle—which might be as few as two—and is met by the eldliks.”

“Aldliks and eldliks—I’m guessing the eldliks is the man—the headman; am I right?”

“Wait. I say first of the aldliks—though we should move now. We want to arrive at Hegrea’s Isle before all are dispersed with their chores.”

The eldliks (who surely is accounted the headman) plays out the first part of the visiting formula. Your need must be great to attend us this day, bringing your cattle with you. So, the wording varies according to need, but always ‘your need must be great’. The man—usually young—answers that he needs to speak with the aldliks. He, of course, knows her name having already met: it was she who approved the visit while still at the feast. The eldliks now offers to tend the cattle while the visiting man attends the aldliks. One of the younger boys is usually on hand to act the usher—as you say, yea?

“He’s a wise visitor who brings with him a gift for the aldliks—something he has made with his hands: say, something carved, a bowl or a box; though he may bring something crafted of leather. But the gift, alone, is not enough. There must be a story given along with it. And it is best that the story is funny, for on this the visiting man is judged.”

If the aldliks likes the gift, and laughs at the story, the young man is in. He may leave his small herd with the family’s herdsman, who drives it, with the others, to the best pastures to graze, while he (the young man) enjoys the summer alone with his woman—though they’ll be accompanied by any number of children from the previous summers’ alliances. Together the young couple herd her goats. I realise it’s these young couples I saw along the north scarp, with their temporary summer benders. I’m not an anthropologist, but even so, it’s all so fascinating.

At summer’s end, before the man returns to his own family’s isle for the winter, he cuts out a calf from his herd as a gift to his hosts, to pay for the good grazing he’s had. Every young man must make the choice, every feast of Winter-Ending: to increase his herd, or to go visiting. The two are mutually exclusive. But there is a way around it. The man might stay at the woman’s isle summer and winter through. Then there’s no need to give up the calf, and then he can build up a herd. But that seldom happens until the couple have spent several summers together, and have probably begotten several children. As I say, matrifocal, matrilineal.

But what of the eldliks, apart from playing a part in greeting the visiting men?

The eldliks is chosen from the family’s older men—those who no longer leave the isle to go summer-visiting. Considered sensible, responsible—steady—he’s safely come through the fires of youth. He’s usually the son of the aldliks.

As with the aldliks who ‘orders the women’, so too the eldliks with the men—though according to Dannyn he’s not the headman. His main concern is with the cattle. It’s he who says when they’re let out of the isle after winter, and which of the spring pastures then to use. It’s he who says when they’ll be returned, and how many and which to kill before winter makes short their fodder. He’s also responsible for keeping the roofs, sheds and fencing in good repair—and for defence of the isle. Those men who aimed their spears at me for trespass? It was at the direction of their eldliks.

But, heading now to Hegrea’s Isle, I want to know as much as possible before we arrive. Dannyn has said Bisdata, the present aldliks, is kin to the ancestress Bisaplan. So I’m guessing that Hegrea was too. Certainly, that’s the impression I gained last night from Dannyn’s story. So I ask: “You say that Aldliks Sappaken gave Hegrea the land for her isle: How did that happen?”

“Oh,” he groans. “It’s a knot, not easily said.”

“Can you not untangle it?” I smile—though I’m sure he doesn’t need the encouragement. He seems keen to explain everything to me, like it’s important to him that I understand how life is lived at Destination. I confess, I don’t at this time wonder why.

“See,” he says, “mostly it happens before I am here. Another can tell it so much better. Eblan Hegrea was . . . how to say? Extraordinary—and I don’t mean only her beauty. She was inspired—the most inspired eblan ever. Not even Murdan could equal her creations: her bread, her brew, her dances, her songs—her stories! She was thrice-born. It was at her second-birth—on the very same day that Murdan was born—that  her name was fixed to the isle. Before, it was known better as Eblan Burnisen’s Inspired Isle. But his isle was small—though so too was Hegrea’s at first. Then she built there an eblan-lodge. And she insisted the next feast of Winter-Ending would be held there, beside it, so they fenced a wide space around it. And later she had the granary, too—though by then she already held the land. It was given by Aldliks Sappaken because Hegrea needed special fields for her special grains. She was the first Alsime to make the Mother’s Bread. And the first Alsime to know the secret of the Father’s Brew. It was that brew inspired Murdan to make his Rings.”

I laugh. “For one who says it’s not easily said, you’ve told me loads.”

We walk on in companionable silence. I don’t know his thoughts, but mine are occupied with splicing the snippets of Hegrea’s story into some kind of logical sequence. I know I’m avoiding the issue: How did this woman acquire proprietorship of an isle constructed to house the workers at Stonehenge?

When Dannyn suddenly stops I almost collide with him. “There!” he declares. “There is Hegrea’s Isle—your Durrington Walls.”

Though seen through a screen of trees, I know it’s the place by the location and the encircling white wall. But . . . I stand shocked-still. I swallow, feeling decidedly ill. Yet I should have known. In his vision last night I’d seen Stonehenge without a stone in it. So what were the chances for Durrington Walls?

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In Dreams . . .

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, we left Kerrid on the edge of a dream . . . and in dreams things aren’t as they seem to be (sometimes they’re real).

Next episode, The Dead, Yet To Be, ready now.

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The High Crested Heron

His mother had been a priestess in the Carpathian Mountains. But Julia would rather know of the woman Hegrea who gave her name to what now is known Durrington Walls. For that she must wait. First, Dannyn insists he’ll tell his own story. And she really ought to switch on the Dictaphone; she has it with her. Yet as it turns out, it wouldn’t record his story.

PP Episode 15

“My earliest memory is running round and around . . .”

I hear his words but they’re distant. My eyes grow heavy, I’ve no choice but to close them. Wrapped in his mother’s woven-wool blanket, I ease myself down, to lie on his bed. So incredibly comfy. It occurs—as far distant as his voice and his tale has become—that drink he offered a few moments ago, alcoholic, strong; what else was it in? Spiked with something, I’ve no doubt.

As he talks I see him, running round and around a huge Ulishvregan ‘roof. Oh for a camera to capture this. It’s like . . . nothing I’ve seen. A doughnut, the thought comes to me. Or that place near Geneva. CERN? A something particle collider. I’m sure Flish would know. I mean Fliss. It’s a continuous circle. Of course it’s continuous; it wouldn’t be a circle elsewise. At its centre a courtyard, hidden. It’s not like Dannyn’s ‘roof. Dannyn’s is small. This is . . . to a small child, truly enormous. Perhaps it houses 20, 30, 50 families, or more.

D’ouch! Some stern old man snatches hold of my arm [not my arm, his. Yet it is my arm, I can feel it] and drags me off to find my mother. The Ulvregan don’t like her, I know that. Ormalish, I can tell by the way it’s said. Ans that’s bad enough but she’s also a Daughter of Brega, and who is Brega but the Mother of the Grain. “It shall not happen again,” my mother tells him. She swears she’ll keep me by her. My legs sting where she slaps me.

And suddenly I’m grown—though not tall as the people around me; I’ve not yet seven winters-seen. We’re walking—walking, walking, walking, my mother beside me and two men behind me. I suppose they’re Meksuin and Bulapon. Tuädik, they’ve no claim upon the Ulvregan yet the Ulvregan allow them to stay. There are goats around, too, as numerous as the grains in the fields which I’m not supposed to see.

I hear the Ulvregan talk. They’re excited. We’re going now to a new land. I too am excited at that. But not my mother who yanks hard on my arm, she’s glum. The Himen, whose land we’re traversing, say where we’re going is called the White Isle. My Tuädik uncles say it’s Albinnis. Arith says the same though he’s not Tuädik. Saëntoish, my mother says, the same as my father. Jarmel.

The land around me has changed, it’s wide, and open. And the Ulvregan, too, they now are in fear—even those who pretend to be brave. It’s unnatural to cross the waves, they say. Unnatural, maybe, but I want to see. And there’s the boat and I lift my feet to it, and the waves are before me. And there’s the boat and I lift my feet from it, but now the waves are behind me. But this cannot be! Have we crossed the sea? I don’t remember and I want to remember. Such a momentous event. Did I sleep through it? I ask my mother, did she induce me to sleep? She can do that. I don’t thank her. I wanted to see the sea.

Again we are walking. I hear the sea behind us, pounding and shushing like it’s waving goodbye. We’re in a wide place and sandy. No trees grow upon it. I suppose something similar was the far side of the sea. Why don’t I remember? My mother couldn’t induce sleep the entire duration. I hear the talk. An entire winter-half we spent there. It was there that Arith joined us.

Arith. He challenged my mother’s brother Luin. That’s how he became the new Ulishvregan Champion. He took the title from my mother’s brother. And a good result, everyone says—all but her, Brega’s Ormalish Daughter. Why must she bring their hatred upon me? But Arith scruffles my hair and says everything’s fine. I don’t remember if Luin did that. I don’t remember Luin, only his name.

We walk alongside a river. So many rivers I’ve seen as we walk; rivers to wade, rivers to swim, rivers calm and rivers wild, rivers that terrify me. This one starts as an old woman meandering, her broad waters slow. But as we walk so she grows tighter and younger.

The river flows faster, her waters sizzling—sizzling like the hope that’s in the air around us. That’s mostly Arith’s. I walk close beside him, happy to walk without my mother. She walks with her half-brother Meksuin behind us. Inhaling of Arith’s hope I understand it. He hopes that the River Alsime Eblan Head Man—whose name, he’s been told, is Burnisen—will grant us leave to over-winter in their Ancients’ Land. But where is this Ancients’ Land? It’s only now I discover we’ve been walking beside it since leaving the sea. It’s wooded, and unused. The Ulishvregan men have been hunting there—and overnight trapping; the women have gathered wood for their cook-fires there. Our goats have grazed happily there. There would be a good place for the Ulvregan to winter—if the River Alsime Eblan Head Man should allow it.

Arith hopes, too, to see Hegrea again. Though young, I’m not too young to know of desires. Within him is an affection immense. He would move an entire land just to find her. His isn’t the petty desires of the Ulvregan around me. I hope he does find her; I want to see the air blossom and flower. I imagine seeds cascading around them, enormous slithering piles of fertility.

The river beside us becomes a slender young woman. Much farther and she’ll be but a child. Are we to walk all the way to her birth? How far might that be? We have already passed where the big rivers join. Passing there Arith nodded and muttered of ’Rivers Meet’. He seems to know much of this land, the Alisime isle-land he calls it sometimes, though mostly he calls it Albinnis. He knows when to wade the river.

“We now are entering Bisaplan’s Land,” he says, and I notice how his voice catches.

We climb the bank and there we wait till all have arrived. I want to cry though I don’t know why. Is it that other children here are crying? But why do they cry? I feel fear in the air. Arith must feel it; he squeezes my hand. Then I see.

“They are Alisime men,” Arith tells me. “They will not harm us.”

Yet they’re like so many spine-hogs with their spears held ready. “Because they fear us,” Arith explains.

They fear us enough to herd us like goats into a wide pen, all squeezed together so great our number. Yet this place isn’t a herding-corral, no place for the living. It’s a place for the dead. Broken walls and a gate that refuses to close; it’s an old place. Old dry bones—leg bones and arm bones and skulls—dangle on strings from the gate’s high bar. They’ve herded us here to be within their Ancestors’ guard. But at least there’s no the high platforms here, offering up their dead to the sky, a stinking place passed while driven to here. And around me the women are wailing that all we want is a wintering place. Most now are cursing Luin, for wasn’t it he who said to come here? None mention Arith, though it is Arith who has led us.

We wait at that death-place, beneath the unseen gaze of their ancient ancestors, for what seems to me (a young boy impatient to be moving) to be days. Though no night comes so it can only be less than the one.

Two knowing-ones comes. Arith nudges me not to gawk. He says they are eblann. But how does a boy not gawk when they’re clad in their feathered cloaks, holding their rods? It’s only then I remember my mother; remembered because she, like Arith, nudges at me. But she, unlike Arith, leaks her thoughts to me. She knows one of these knowing-ones—eblann. Arith knows her too. It is Hegrea. But what is she doing here, and in the guise of a bird? She is a heron—and yet her cloak also is made of fisher-bird feathers. A snow-owl sits upon her head, clasping her skull.

I know, now, why Arith desires her. Even so clad, to me she’s the most beautiful woman who ever has lived. But as the one is beautiful, so the other is frightening—in a black feathered-cloak that flaps and snaps about him as if it’s alive. Will it grab me and eat me? His face, too, tattooed over with writhing snakes, it terrifies me.

“That other is Eblan Head Man Burnisen,” Arith whispers to me, for to hold a name is to hold some power. And so it is; I soon grow accustomed to him.

This Eblan Head Man assigns our Ulvregan to the Ancients Land, but not as a wintering-place. It is only until he has the Ancients’ word on it. We have a moon, he says, while our fate is decided.

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We’ve been here, at our camp, for five days now. Arith set it for us between river and woods. He won’t venture in, and he advises my mother and uncles against it. He doesn’t say why. ‘Wisdom’ is all that he’ll say. But today is a day to remember throughout all my winters. Today the black-crow Burnisen again came visiting. He came with the other eblan—Eblan Hegrea—when we’d been at our camp just the one day.

She and my mother talked and laughed and talked and hugged. Though I’ve been much with Arith, ignoring my mother, she’s still my mother and this Eblan Hegrea with her talk and her hugging took her away. My uncles shake their heads at me; not even Arith understands. But I am unused to sharing my mother. Even Jarmel, when he stayed with us those few winter-halves, he wasn’t with my mother as this Eblan Hegrea is now. She takes my mother’s thoughts from me.

But today . . . ah, today I laugh and grin and laugh again. I have a cousin! So I am like the Ulishvregan boys after all.

The black-crow Burnisen brought him to visit. He changes everything! Murdan, this boy, of an age with me, my cousin.

Now I have someone to talk with—other than my mother and my uncles, and Arith, and the occasional Jarmel—even if this boy, my cousin, uses the Alisime speech and I do not, and I use the Tuädik—and sometimes the Ormalish—and he does not. But now I’ve reason to learn quickly to speak the Alisime way (which already I do). Perhaps he shall learn to speak Tuädik?

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The moon cycles, it dies, it swells. The Alsime feast us this day to welcome us to the Highlands of the Sun. To say I’m excited is like saying the rivers run. All around me, too, are excited. But they have no new cousin to meet! I must be with him now as much as I can, for my mother and my uncles talk of leaving the Ancients’ Land. They want to travel this Alisime isle-land. Meksuin needs metals for his craft and Burnisen has told him here there is none.

Murdan and I hug and slap shoulders and backs, which amuses my uncles saying we’re acting like we’re grown. Then Murdan, curious, asks to see inside an Ulishvregan hide-roof. He’s never seen such a thing. I show him inside the ‘roof my mother shares with Arith and Meksuin and Bulapon. Murdan inspects, looking intently at the walls to see how they’re made, and at the carved wood-sky that forms the centre-roof-ring. But we’re not allowed to be long in there. My mother calls for us.

She’s all flapping, excited. “Would you ever! That Eblan Head Man has given to Arith a bull-calf.”

I laugh—which is probably fear. I’ve never been close-up to cattle before and I’ve been told that bulls are dangerous beasts. But there is Arith taking the bull-calf to give to Eblan Hegrea. So Murdan and I have to hurry after. (We’re not alone in it.) But he’s already given it by the time we catch him and Murdan is determined we see the bull close. So now, instead, we follow Eblan Hegrea.

Eblan Hegrea is Murdan’s mother. That was a shock when first he said it—though I laughed and said should I call him a chick. It seems that is a bad thing to say, as bad as an insult. His pale face reddened, he clenched his fists. He said he was not a baby-heron. (Though with that crest of white hair on his head . . . but, wisdom, as Arith would say; I did not say it.)

Murdan explains of the bull-gift, though I don’t understand half of it and I don’t want to say. Apparently Arith now is the River Alsime Champion as well as he’s the Ulishvregan. So Eblan Head Man Burnisen must give him a bull-calf. Burnisen has none, so he has ‘borrowed’ one from his kinsman, Bukfesen, at Bisaplan’s Isle. But Arith knows nothing of keeping bulls, and so he, in turn, has given it to Eblan Hegrea.

“But why her?” I ask Murdan, my cousin.

“Because it was my mother who took the Ulishvregan plea to Alsalda the Bear. It was She said your Ulvregan may stay, that the Ulvregan and Alsime are kin. So now Arith must thank my mother. But Burnisen is playing, too. My mother isn’t an eblan-true unless she is given a bull.”

I smile—though I know he knows that I don’t know a thing of the things he’s saying. “So where is your mother, Hegrea, taking the bull-calf?” We’re still chasing after her. Is it she who walks fast, or is it the calf?

“She is taking the bull-calf to Bukfesen—to be her bull-keeper.”

“But . . . did you not say at the first this is his bull-calf?”

Murdan smiles, which annoys me, knowing, and cocky. I want to punch his pouting pink lips but he is my cousin, and I have no other. “But as keeper of the eblan-bull, my mother is naming him as the eldliks of her isle.”

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I blink, and I sit, and take in my surroundings. “I’m sorry,” I say to Dannyn. “How rude of me, I must have fallen asleep.”

He shakes his wild blond locks, so similar to those of the boy in my dream. Murdan, his cousin. The name rings through me. Murdan, who would kill me if he found me here.

“It was not a dream. It was my story. Or . . . you would say, the opening chapter?”

“How you arrived here, in Britain—in Albinnis? But what was that place where the Alsime corralled you?” But I know the answer before he says it. He asks for my map. Our fingers touch as he takes it from me. I’ve heard people say of the electricity? It’s the first I’ve experience it. It shatters my breath.

“Here,” he squiggles on the map with his finger. There is Stonehenge.

“But what of the stones? I saw no stones.”

“There were no stones when I came here,” he says, all wide-eyed (they’re so deeply blue). “Hegrea erected the first, the Calendar Stones, to help the Ulvregan attend Eskin feasts. Thereafter, Eblan Murdan erected his Broken Circles in celebration of his defeat of the Kerdolan. The Alsime are neither Eskin nor Krediche to be setting stones.”

“Yet four and half thousand years ago there were stones at Stonehenge.” The first stones were erected around 3,000 BCE, a ring of bluestones that more or less hugged the inner bank. Their sockets now are known as the Aubrey Holes.

An age seems to pass as I stare at the map. It was a dream. If a memory then it’s colossally at odds with what I know as reality.

“How long ago . . . ?” I ask. “You cannot be more than thirty, at most.”

“I have forty-five winters-seen. Maybe a few more.”

But that’s impossible.

He annoyingly smiles. “I told you of this when first we met.”

“Which is still in my future? But, Dannyn, you’re mistaking the years. You can’t be that old. You’re not older than me.”

He smiles, so wide it grades into a grin, and leans forward, his hand fiercely hot as he touches my knee. “I told you, but you have yet to live that memory. Son of my mother, grandson of the Old Man, I am Brictan, part-Immortal.”

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The Trader’s Son

Julia has made contact with an indie at Destination—or rather, the indie has contacted her. So, does this prove she is really there, at Destination? Yet the encounter has elements more akin to a dream. Moreover, this indie insists she has been there before.

PP Episode 14

Torn between staying safely inside, as Dannyn instructed, and impatience for his return, I compromise. I lurk by the winter-roof’s door where I can scan the woodland. I see him weaving through the trees. But what’s that he’s carrying, slung over his shoulder? It looks like the limp form of a dog. I’m not going to eat that. But once he’s nearer I see it’s a deer. He shrugs its still-warm body from his shoulder onto the berm between ‘roof and moat.

I’m glad to see he’s already removed its innards (how delicately we put it: that potentially contaminating lower gut) but he has still to continue the slit through its chest cavity. I’d promised myself I’d not be C21st-squeamish, yet I have to move back and turn away, its heat and sweetness nauseating. His hands move swiftly, they know what they’re doing. As he works he mumbles in his own language. Earlier, when we were talking of stone technology, he mentioned both Alisime and Tuädik speech. Which one is this?

“Ormalish,” he says without looking up. “The tongue of my mother.”

Head atilt, I regard him. It’s not the first time he’s known what I’m thinking. It’s just this time it’s more obvious.

“I explained it last time,” he says, demonstrating the same unsettling talent.

“So,” I ask, trying to ignore the further implications of his bizarre skill, “who are the Alisime, if not your mother’s people?”

“I shall explain it all later. For now, I do this.”

He needs to concentrate. So instead I watch in fascination (now the gruesome bits are done). We of the C21st don’t often see the reality of meat preparation, hidden away in sterile environments, the end result delivered neatly packaged to the supermarket cold-shelf looking nothing like the animal we’re about to eat. But, to my disappointment, he only part-butchers the meat—i.e. he skins one hind leg, and joints it out, folding the removed skin to cover the lack.

“We shall take the remainder to Eldliks Erlunen tomorrow,” he says. “It shall be your gift, by your hand.”

I look askance at the three-legged deer. It’ll be no mean weight to carry, especially once rigor-mortis has set in. But Dannyn wags a raised finger at me. “In your hands to give, not in your hands to carry.”

Well, that’s some relief.

He’s still wordlessly working as he prepares a cook-fire outside, beside the moat. He sets a smouldering stick to it, from his hearth inside, and soon has a blaze. He then allows me to help, threading thin slices of venison on to some sticks he’s collected. These we jam into the ground arrayed round the fire. Instant BBQ. Brilliant. And the meat takes no time to cook—though, being traditionally British in my expectations, I look around for the veg.

He unsettles me again with his ESP. “Veg I do not know.” Yet he brings forth a basket he’d previously fetched from his ‘roof. “Small-foods. They are fresh. Gathered this morning.”

The basket (of tightly woven grasses) brim with a Neolithic salad of unfamiliar ingredients. The bulk is of buds of several varieties, mostly green so presumably leaf rather than flower. Yet there are flowers: white and yellow, they taste of honey. There are full-grown leaves, too, though shredded; they taste kind of peppery. Overall, it’s generally acceptable, though some kind of dressing wouldn’t hurt. Still, better than anything I’ve stowed in my pouches.

“A pleasant meal with a pleasant woman to keep me company,” he breaks the silence, “this demands a pleasant tale to complete it. You ask of me questions. You ask of the Alsime, the Ormalin and Tuätin. So now I shall tell you. But first I say of my mother. Without this, your head shall whirl as if with juice.”

That’s twice now he’s referenced his whirl-juice. I’m guessing it contains an hallucinogen; I’ve no intention of touching it.

“My mother—Luänha—she was born to the Old Man’s sister. The Old Man, head-smith, was an Immortal. He wasn’t much liked, he ruled with harsh resolve. My mother Luänha, when seven winters-seen, ran away, slipping and slithering her way down the Old Man’s Mountain. But crossing the river she failed. The holy women of Brega found her, wet and exhausted. They took her, and they trained her to be one of their own.

“I tell you, had she been a boy, the Old Man would not have let her go. He would have brought her back screaming as he did with my uncle, my mother’s brother, when he ran away too, for he wanted to be with her. Inseparable as children, my mother and her brother. But he was already training to be a smith so the Old Man was insistent to keep him. But a girl was no loss—except in time she would take a man who then would serve as a trader to carry the Old Man’s wares. This was their way. The Old Man and his smiths were Tuädik, one of the many of that widespread people. But in the valley there lived the Ormalin. And so, too, my mother became.”

Though I’m nodding my way through his story, I’m glad when he stops while he fetches a pot and a dish from out of his ‘roof. It gives me time to absorb what he’s said. The Old Man was an Immortal. I try to explain it: it’s probably the title applied to a master-smith. They were, after all, considered master magicians.

Dannyn returns, and places the pot between us. His pots—of which there are several inside—seem to me anachronistic. They haven’t the clean lines of Grooved Ware, which by 2,500 BCE should be everywhere. Instead, they have the sinuous forms of the long-outdated Peterborough Ware. (Maybe they’re heirlooms?) He uses the dish to scoop sparkling water from the moat. “For sticky fingers,” he explains, and sets that between us, too. I’m wondering what’s in the pot, too polite to peep under its woven-grass cover.

Answers soon come: the promised fruits. And he’s right of the crystallised honey. Yet its crunch is a perfect complement to the otherwise squelchy wood-raspberries and -strawberries.

Dannyn waits till I’m covered in goo, then says, to confuse me, “Now you must ask me how, when my mother is a holy-woman of Brega in an Ormalish village far to the East, she comes to this place with me, who’d been planted in her belly.”

Though I’m curious, I’m not sure I want to oblige—all because I wondered what language he used. Besides, does he intend me literally to ask, or is he speaking figuratively, his way of beginning, again, the story? Instead, I say of the Old Man’s Mountain: “That would be in the Carpathians. It’s known as an early centre for metallurgy.”

I can’t quite judge Dannyn’s response—he emits a thin squeal. I cover it by obediently asking, “So how did your mother come to leave there?”

A grin spreads over his face (which is strikingly handsome). He clasps his hands like a child in a Christmas Wonderland. “Now that is a story no one ever has told. I only know it from the snips I have heard and tacked together. And now, my Mistress Inspiration, in saying it I am, at last, to create!”

Dannyn, I’ve noticed, is extremely excitable, perhaps the effect of living alone in this ‘Eblan Woodland’. But it’s a welcome contrast to ‘wind-up’ Dave and ‘laid-back’ Ken. So, I sit back and wait.

“No,” he says. “Before I tell this, we retreat to my roof. The gnats soon shall be biting, and you are not Brictan to brave them.”

I agree about gnats, though I don’t know about Brictans, and I’m happy to retreat to his cosy dwelling. But then, of course, we must rearrange his bed (mine for the night). We move it to the left of the door. There I sit, appreciative of sitting ‘up’, while he sits ‘down’, cross-legged at my feet on a padded sack (like the pouffé my mother has). He calls it ‘the story-teller’s sack’.

He resumes his story. The holy-women of Brega were supposed not to bed, but his mother Luänha succumbed to the wiles of a Saëntoish trader. He up-slaps his head. “Ah! I have not yet said of Hegrea.”

“Isn’t that the name you used for Durrington Walls? Hegrea’s Isle?”

He waves a hand absently, which I take to mean yes. “But how shall I ever be a creator the equal of Hegrea and Murdan? Am I always to live in his shadow? But, no! I shall not be defeated; I shall perfect this. It shall be my greatest—most perfect—inspired creation. And though it is you who inspires it, I shall give it to the Eblan Mistress. We shall see then who dwells in deep shadows.” Thus determined, he holds his head high.

I lean forward, as if then to see inside his head. What’s all his talk of ‘inspiration’ and ‘living in shadows’? Though I suppose living here beneath the trees . . .

“So, Hegrea—though hers is not my tale to tell. You understand this?” Rhetorical, he doesn’t wait for an answer. “Though, thanks to Eblan Burnisen, I do know all but its smallest turnings.”

I wonder how small the smallest turnings for he seems not to omit much—for which I’m thankful for it contains so much of professional interest to me. To summarise, apparently Arith (no explanation given) had entrusted Hegrea (of Hegrea’s Isle, but that was later) to the care of the Saëntoish traders, Jarmel and Linl, with instructions to see her safely back to her home. Hegrea, it seems, had been abandoned in a very far place (again, no explanation given). It was close to winter and the traders should have known better than to brave the Pass. It was the Mother, conniving. The Mother stranded them (with her blankets of snow) at the Old Man’s high mountain village where Luänha’s brother ‘ravished’ Hegrea. At least that’s how Hegrea told it. But the Old Man’s sister, catching the couple in flagrante delicto (oops!) accused Hegrea of ‘egging the young smith to it’. She turned everyone in that high mountain village against her. United in outrage, they stoned Hegrea—supposedly unto her death but somehow Hegrea, beneath that hail, managed an escape.

“Arith was on his way to meet with others of the Immortals when he found Hegrea in the snow, her life-light dimming. He was near to the Ormalish village where my mother, Luänha, now a healer, was living, so he took her to there. Then, despite Arith already was much delayed, he went in search of Jarmel and Linl, that they would deliver her safely the rest of the way.”

I want to stop his story there. Arith was on his way to meet with others of the Immortals. Were these Immortals also master-smiths? I’m beginning to doubt that gloss. Moreover, what kind of an idiot is this Arith to entrust Hegrea to these traders for a second time. But Dannyn now is in steady flow, explaining that Jarmel was some time in the village while Hegrea was healing enough to travel. I realise what’s coming before he says it.

The snows thaw, Hegrea recovers, Jarmel and Linl take her away—leaving something growing in Luänha’s belly. Yea, this Saëntoish trader, Jarmel, was Dannyn’s father. While yet unborn he had come a long way. And again Dannyn up-slaps his head.

“I forget to say of my uncle—my mother’s brother—of Luin. He, the Old Man had thrown down a deep pit inside a dark cave. He should have been dead. Yet a moon had not passed before he, too, called on Luänha, his sister, my mother, the healer. He was brought there—helped there—by his . . . I would say milk-brother, but you do not.” He looks at me, prompting for help.

“Same mother, different father? That’s a half-brother.”

He nods effusively, and continues his tale, his ‘inspired creation’ that will earn him the much-desired Eblan-credit and bring him out of the shadows (if I’ve understood that correctly).

Dannyn’s uncle, Luänha’s brother (ravisher of the stranded Hegrea) has survived his ordeal in the pit. His half-brother Meksuin (half-brother to Luänha as well, as if that’s not obvious) brings him to Luänha in her Ormalish village, helped by a half-sister’s trader-husband, Bulapon.

The brother (Luin) isn’t dead (yea, Dannyn, I figured that) but he is in a terrible state. It takes him longer to heal than it had taken Hegrea—by a good two months. By then Luänha knows that she’s pregnant—or, as Dannyn puts it, she knows ‘what the Mother has done’ and it’s the worst of all possible fates. The holy women of Brega are supposed to be virgins—or again as Dannyn puts it, their Entrance of Life is supposed to be closed. What’s she to do? Next time they need a voice to take their pleas to Brega, she’ll be the one they kill. Naturally, Luin’s not about to let that happen.

Coincidentally, it’s now that Meksuin’s absence is noticed. Moreover, there’s no broken body down in the pit. Also they’ve probably noticed Bulapon missing but he’s irrelevant, he’s only a trader. ‘A noise is heard descending the Old Man’s Mountain.’ Oops, time for Luin and Meksuin to move—which solves Luänha’s problem too: they take her with them.

Dannyn reaches out for a leather flask that hangs on the wall beside me. He unplugs it and, tipping it, tests the drink within before passing it to me.

“It is still drinkable,” he says. “It is apple-juice, fermented. It is sharp, I warn.”

He’s right. It is sharp. It’s also alcoholic; it burns on the way down. I return the flask to him. “So, what happens next in your mother’s story?” Though, because of her association with Durrington Walls, I’d rather know of Hegrea.

Luin—his mother’s brother (yea, Dannyn, I’ve got that)—wants to find Hegrea. It’s the old story: he denies the rape, she was willing. Being Luänha’s brother we know who Luänha believes. So, off they set to find Hegrea—who, in the company of Dannyn’s father Jarmel, and co-trader Linl, is on her way to . . . where? I’m assuming to here, to Britain.

Dannyn sighs. “And now I forget to say who is the father of my mother and her brother.”

“Is it important?” I mean, isn’t that taking the story too far back?

He waves his hand and tuts, like I don’t understand. (I don’t.) “It is Markreken. I know that name is nothing to you; it is nothing to me either, for I never have met him. But he is brother to old Mandatn, who is grandfather to Alsvregn, the old trader at Hegrea’s Isle. But as yet Alsvregn wasn’t here in Albinnis, not here in the Alisime isle-land. He and his grandfather were way over-sea, way across the land beyond. I had six winters-seen before we reached here. But I skip in my tale and this is to be perfect.”

I want to suggest that perhaps a few airings might help to knock out the knobbly bits, but I’m not sure how he’ll take it. Besides, what with his frequent meanderings, this has already taken us way into the night.

“Markreken, like Mandatn and Alsvregn, was of the Ulishvregan people—the Ulvregan, you’ll meet them when I take you to Hegrea’s Isle, tomorrow. So my mother’s brother was certain the Ulvregan would welcome him too, and his sister, open-armed, and happy. But first to find them.”

The Ulvregan are the people at Hegrea’s Isle? Then they are the matries, with houses similar to those that Ken has found. He’ll be interested to know they exist south of the Vale. And the indies, it seems, are these Alisime that Dannyn’s just mentioned—‘Here in the Alisime isle-land.’ This is a major discovery, well-worth listening to his tales.

And now Dannyn launches into the Ulvregan’s story. Fascinated, I don’t mind at all.

The Ulvregan once had their own land, now long ago. There they hunted and fished and lived the life of the Ancients. Until, from the East, arrived a grain-growing people. At first they co-existed as neighbours, each minding their noses. Then some amongst the Ulvregan saw what their neighbours were doing and thought to try it as well. But they grew their grain on Ulishvregan land and that caused dissent within their own borders. Then again, others amongst the Ulvregan thought to try with the goats. But they didn’t know to pen them, and the goats soon were eating the grain. In the end, it was more peaceful to take the goats and move on—and to let the grain-growers have the land.

To survive, the Ulvregan became porters and traders, moving what one people have in abundance, to another people who lack. In such a way, still, they wander the lands between ocean and sea, ever driving their goats before them. Though they have no land of their own, yet they have five secret places, hidden deep in the untilled woodlands. Here they come together to spend the winter. One such place is the ‘Seat of Fire’.

Before he died, Markreken told his son Luin how to find this place, this ‘Seat of Fire’. And that’s where Luin took Luänha, her belly hard-swollen with the trader’s son, Dannyn.

“And now I can tell my own story.”

My jaw drops. Is that it? Luänha’s story, done? But what happens next? How came she to here? I am enormously dissatisfied. So much for liking this man. I bet were we to make love he’d leave me hanging in high frustration. I’ve met his sort before. And now I realise I’m alone here with him, tucked up for the night. And I’m beginning to feel less than totally safe.

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Son Of Gimmerin

In the first episode of Feast Fables (Bk 3), A Glut of Dead Fathers, Kerrid is led by Ribad, she knows not where.

Now she discovers . . . Under-Land, next episode, now ready.

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