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.
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.