With no time wasted Julia has headed straight for Alsaldhelm Tumun, her directive from Fliss, to explore its internals (as if she needs pushing). But just as she’s about to enter . . .
Episode 36 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
“Bershem!” calls a voice behind me. Male. Loud. And far too close.
I stop, and turn, my back now to the tumun with its trilithon-framed entrance and Breton-styled rock-art, all nested arcs and chevrons. And with the shock I forget to switch off the torch.
Truly, were it Fliss standing there I’d be no more surprised. As for the psychotic Eblan Murdan, I’m prepared for that encounter, endlessly rehearsing my Alisime phrase: Eblanheshed-Jallisha Alsimeëlmen Ersvraden (I am Eblan Jallisha—Bright Sky—of the East Alsime.) But, it’s not him standing in front of me, less than two strides away.
“Dannyn?”—oblivious of where the torch is now pointing. Right into his eyes.
He falls to the ground, arms over his head, rapidly muttering indistinguishable words—which provides an excellent opportunity to access the physical attributes of this younger version (he’s now aged around twenty). He hasn’t his later width of shoulder, though he’s equally tall. And, though I’ve only a glimpse of it before he hides it, his face seems no younger (except he hasn’t much of a beard—or maybe with being blond I just didn’t see it). But internal confusions: the conflict of shock—he oughtn’t to be here—and a vivid remembrance of our last encounter. The latter wins out. Though his present ‘prone-at-my-feet’ position isn’t exactly a guaranteed turn-on.
When finally he looks up I receive another shock. I have never, ever, seen such an expression of rapture, especially not one directed at me. It’s the countenance of a saint gazing upon his Lord.
“Ledhe Shakreshulm,” he says—or rather, he breathes. I’ve heard him say it so many times I know what it means. Ledhe Shakreshulm, Mistress Inspiration.
Thoughts flash through my head. The bizarre situation of our previous encounter now is reversed. While I’ve already met him, and know much about him, he has yet to learn about me. And I can see the advantage. The Dannyn who knows me hadn’t allowed me to enter the tumun. But what of this Dannyn who believes me to be his Mistress Inspiration? Surely he won’t block me, stand in the entrance and refuse me? I thank the fall of the dice for bringing about this situation. Now how churlish of me if I turn it away. Which isn’t to say I’m not itching to know what the bo-diddly he’s doing here.
“Urhizt vrebibzem—ern,” I say—which should parse as ‘Come with me inside’, meaning inside the tumun. But Siobhan’s the linguist, not me. Apparently, instead, I’ve requested he leads me inside. The result is the same, it’s just that he stays stubbornly ahead of me.
I sweep the torchlight across the massive slabs that, interspersed with dry-stone panels, line the low passage. Held at the right angle it brings the pecked and gouged motifs into sharp relief. I must have photos of this, there’s no two ways. I gesture for Dannyn to take the torch and to hold it just so. His gentian blue eyes, already wide with his wonderment, look at me now in puzzlement. I smile and nod and do my best to silently reassure him. I don’t think of it, it’s instinct, but I lay my hand upon his shoulder. And there it stays.
It’s like throwing a switch. He suddenly kisses me, right unexpected. It’s not a fevered eating of faces, no pressing of bodies, no urgency to be naked and zetim (just one of the several words I learned that last night together). Rather, it’s more a schoolboy’s kiss—which doesn’t bode well for the night to come. I have to remember, as yet he’s but twenty, and a virgin. He also thinks me his most adored Eblan Mistress Inspiration, so I don’t suppose he’s rabid to be at me. Still, the kiss marks something. I’m just not sure what.
He holds the torch, directed exactly as I want it. I pat my pockets in search of the camera. I thought it safe to bring it this time, the Dictaphone having survived the ‘pod transition. I’ve loaded it with photos of my C21st home—how better to show Dannyn my world, and easier than hardcopies. The camera is sliver-slim, ultra-portable, with a memory that stretches twice round the world. Besides, I can now take photos; if I want to I can even take movies. Of course, I could do ditto with my phone, expect Fliss won’t allow phones into the ‘pod room. So, I’m now carrying pics of the Lazy Lady, and the town, with cars and everything I could think of as ‘modern’ (though the more extreme stuff I’ve deleted, not wanting to blow his mind with too many novelties).
Camera in hand, I begin snapping. Poor Dannyn, bewildered, not knowing yet what I’m doing. I’ll show him later. Content with the photo-shoot, I allow him to lead me deeper into the tumun.
Just at the point where passage and inner sanctum meet we suddenly have headroom. It’s like the roof has been lifted off! A quick up-flick of the torch shows the ceiling rises by at least three feet. And there, across from me, is Alsalda, deity of the tumun.
She looks decidedly human rather than ursine. A massive dressed and smoothed monolith, complete with eyes, necklace and breasts. Her hands—at approximate hip-level—are five fingered. And resting alongside her undefined leg, carved in low-relief from the rock, is what I swear is a hockey stick.
These ‘shepherds’ crooks’ as they’re usually termed, are a favoured Breton motif, and much speculation has revolved around them. Well, clearly the Ancestors didn’t play hockey. So perhaps they were ardent keepers of sheep? But I doubt the crook-image is associated with anything quite so mundane. I want to ask Dannyn, but Dannyn doesn’t yet have use of my C21st lingo. And neither do I want him to have it. Not yet. He’d then be hurrying me out of this place.
I retrieve the torch from him, and use it to sweep light through this inner sanctum. It’s of the typical cruciform construction (though trefoil better describes it), with side-chambers (or rather alcoves) opening off the three walls (the entrance wall counting a fourth). Each of these alcoves hold a stone basin, deep, wide, easily the size of a Welsh coracle. I need to be further into the shrine to properly confirm it but it looks horribly like the defleshed bones of a newly killed deer are piled into the basin that sits in the alcove to my left.
“Eblan Murdan?” I ask Dannyn. He nods.
The bones aren’t the only offering. The lingering aroma of mould and decay clearly advertises previous deposits. It’s just this one to the left brims the fullest. Left, the southwest, the place of the midwinter sunset. But it’s also, in the Neolithic house, the woman’s place. I’m wondering if there’s relevant here.
Again, Dannyn obliges with the torch while I busily click. I must record this inner sanctum rock-art. It’s more chaotically intense than that on the trilithon-mock-portals outside. Moreover, the motifs are different. At the same time, I’m becoming urgently aware that the psychotic Murdan could put in an appearance at any moment and I’m not sure if Dannyn could protect me. Neither would I trust Murdan to mistake me for an inspiring spirit.
“Lead me out,” I tell Dannyn, a swift exchange of ‘ern’ to ‘orn’.
It seems we’re both keen to be away , neither of us speaking. I turn to take one last shot of the tumun, white and wide as it squats atop Bear Hill.
The mutual silence holds while we thud downhill, alongside the south-flowing stream. I can’t help it, my hand keeps flapping close to Dannyn’s. I’m missing his warmth, a constant presence on my previous visit. Then, it seemed at every possible chance he held my hand. I want him to do that again. I keep looking up at him. He really is tall for a Neolithic. Hells, he’d even be tall in our 21st century.
We abandon the stream, picking up, instead, a narrow track that heads eastward across the Plain where, ultimately, sits Dannyn’s winter-roof. Is that where he’s taking me? But this isn’t the story he told at Hegrea’s Isle. It’s then that the oddest thing happens. I start thinking of words. Just words, and I can’t stop. Which might not seem odd but . . .
It begins with a Freudian string of associations. Slow at first, with the words full-formed in my mind, as if I’m recalling them. But the pace swiftly increases, each word blurring into the next. Then it stops. Instead I’m seeing pictures, one after the other, fast replacing, and each accompanied by confusing feelings. Memories long ago stored suddenly flare, with smells and colours—fluorescent oranges, spices, deep purples. I don’t know what’s happening but it’s not nice and I’m beginning to frighten. Then the noises.
Assorted. Random. They fill my head. Rasps, scuffs, thumps and bangs, crunches, glugs, cackles and swishes, all wrapped in rapidly changing kaleidoscope of colours. A motorbike roars. A steam train hisses and clangs. It’s too bizarre. I no longer can walk, dizzy, confused.
Then, without warning, the noises and colours and smells are gone. Instead is a memory. A rainy day when I was a child. A warm day, with the smell of flowers sweet in the air. I sit in a chair by the window, tapping my foot to Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cake-walk.
“Hello, Julia Cannings,” Dannyn says.
My mouth drops. Then I realise what he’s done. He told me last time of his ESP, that he’d taken my English language direct from my head.
He smiles. Dannyn-the-man already has captured me. Now Dannyn-the-young virgin becharms me again.
He says, “You come from a place I do not know.”
“From the twenty-first century,” say I.
He says, “This Twenty First Century is a far distant land.”
If he’d said that on my previous visit, I’d have answered that the twenty-first century isn’t a place but a time. I’d have told him I came from here, from Salisbury Plain that he knows as the Highlands of the Sun. But I know now time isn’t the only difference. I’ve realised it; I’ve accepted it. I come to him from another world. Hell, I come from an entirely different universe—though that doesn’t parse logically: if it’s a Multiverse it can’t also be a Universe.
“There is a formula we use to greet a visitor—even when that visitor isn’t a stranger,” he says, and oh, his face does look worried. “But I don’t know if I can fit it to you.”
I quote it for him. “The summer-half is not a good time to visit. You should be away in the hills with your children, your herd and your man. Yet here you are: your need must be great.”
“Have you a man?” he asks and I can hear he holds his breath on the answer.
I watch his tongue sweep over his lip. I try not to remember where else it has swept—but fail. Now it’s me breathless. And this won’t do. I’m supposedly here as part of a serious research project, not a Club 18-30’s Ibiza holiday,
“No,” I say, “I have no man. Except the man I’m looking at now.”
He nods, though he doesn’t grin as he ought to have done. But at least now he takes my hand. He hurries me along.
“I am eblan,” he says.
“Yes, I know.”
My, but he’s breathing heavy, and it’s not from the strain of the climb—though there is a steep hill ahead of us. I doubt it has sexual cause, either. He’s suffering shock that’s all; trying to accommodate what he’s just learned. His world has just been turned upside down. I imagine the situation reversed. Someone from an entirely different world comes strutting along the High Street. And then to cap it, claims me as his mate.
But it’s worse for him on several counts. He’s eblan, and this is Eblan Freeland, and I’ve not revealed myself as eblan. Thus, here I am trespassing, and he ought to kill me. But then again, the attraction between us isn’t one way and I’ve more or less said that I’m here and available. But, again, he is eblan, and eblann generally keep to celibate lives. Okay, so Eblan Hegrea got away with shacking up with Arith, though no children were born to them. But Eblan Hegrea was more inspired than even her psychotic son Murdan, while Dannyn isn’t—or at least not at this point in his life. So I’ve no doubt Dannyn’s head is currently a scene of conflicting emotions. Should he kill me: should he not? Should he take me home, get naked and zetim? He is, after all, a twenty year old youth.
I know how he answers the conflicts. He doesn’t kill me, that’s for certain, since I live to return here twenty-six years later. More, I know he won’t lend me his bed this time, as he did that first night of my previous visit, while he, like a gentleman, slept on the floor. I know, because that last night together he told me everything (which wasn’t needed since he’d alluded to it several times the past days). But what stories must he now tell to himself, silently in the secret coves of his head, to square these conflicts? Those he hasn’t shared with me.
He says, “I am not alone in the Freeland.”
“There is Eblan Murdan,” I say. “And possibly other eblann, too.”
“So I cannot be seen to . . .” He stops. Then, “Julia Cannings, visitor from the far distant land of Twenty First Century, you are a most extraordinary woman. I wish to learn every thing of you. It is the duty of eblann—Yes, that will answer.”
“If it helps, then you can say I’m eblan too.”
He stops. Smiles. Looks long at me. “Are you eblan?—in your far distant world.”
I can’t exactly say yes—he could pull the truth from my head. “Not eblan,” I say. “Scholar. I am here to learn every thing of your world.”
“Scholar,” he says and wobbles his head. “Scholar, eblan. Eblan, scholar. But you do not entrance to other worlds?”
He grins. Then nods again. “Scholar. I shall say scholar if he finds you and asks me. He shall not have you. Not have your bones for his . . . No, he shall not give them to her.”
“Give me to whom?” I ask. “To Alsalda?”
He shakes his head. “Not you, your bones. To Judlamhe Upsulm, to the Dark Mother of the Underworld.”
Hmm. I don’t like the sound of that. That sounds nasty.