Under A Blighted Sky

Dannyn is to take Julia to His Indwelling—which is amazing considering that’s exactly what she was thinking before she slipped into the ‘pod. But they’ve a way to walk to reach his river-craft. Time for a story, and it’s one that she wants, of how Hegrea established a Krediche granary on Alisime land.

Episode 42 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy

“When Murdan returned from the slaughter of his Kerdolak Trap he was keen—ought that be manic?—for an immediate return. He wanted to rid His Indwelling of the Kredese and Kerdolan who remained at the granary. They were filth, he said, they offended the Ancients. But Hegrea begged him no, to wait till there was no grain left in their granary. How he scorned her for that! Yet she would not be moved from it. It would happen, she said. And so it did, that very next summer. “

Dannyn’s arm snakes around my waist—which maybe slows our walking yet perhaps enables him better to download his memories.

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Despite the worst winter-half in living memory, heavy rains that drenched the lands, wild winds that ripped across the Highlands, it is with cloudless blue skies and whispering winds that the summer-half is ushered-in. The lands are green again with life returning. Flowers bloom, birds sing.

“No one suspects this summer-half will be different from any other. Yet it was to be,” says Dannyn as an aside.

The first summer moon passes without any rain. The women look skyward. They whisper of the Father’s lack of affection for the Mother. Alone amongst the Alsime, Aldliks Hegrea rubs her hands. Dannyn notices.

“I wondered of that at the time. After, I realised: Hegrea was hoping this would be the summer she long had awaited.”

Another ten-day, and still the Father ignores the Mother. The eblann, under the direction of the new Eblan Head Man Murdan, gather at Hegrea’s Isle. They talk of killing birds to take their pleas up to the Father. They talk of making dramas to show the Father what is wanted. They talk of setting charms to attract the Father and to persuade him to visit the Mother again. They talk of offerings. Their discussions are long on what ought to be offered. Eyes seek out Eblan Hegrea. A woman, they say, she alone of the eblann surely must know how to attract the Father.

“But you eblann are men,” she says. “You ought know what the Father likes best.”

Meanwhile, though Eblan Head Man, her son Murdan sits back and says nothing.

After this wind-storm of breath has been wasted in talking, finally they agree to offer honey. More breath is expended: where’s best to place it? Dannyn suggests the honey needs be secreted deep into the Mother, in a pit, to entice the Father to enter her.

Dannyn squeezes me close. I understand what he’s silently saying. Not long returned from the Wilds, the memory of our night together is still strong with him.

But there’s much shaking of heads. Is the honey enough?

“Not one pot,” he explains. “And not in one place. All pots, in all places. The springs—every spring—along the Highlands and the neighbouring lands. It’s those most in need of the Father’s replenishment.”

The talk wears on, with sleep forgotten. Not all agree to Dannyn’s suggestion—and who is he? still remembered as an outlander. Besides, there’s reluctance by some to interfere between the Mother and the Father. Eblan Murdan is prime amongst them.

“The rain will come soon enough,” he says.

Dannyn inserts another aside: “Later, when they saw how Hegrea’s granary blossomed in this drought, there was talk of collusion. Yet Eblan Hegrea hadn’t supported her son.”

“So, I agree, there might yet be rain,” she says. “But how much, and for how long? With the earth now so dry, a brief shower offers no remedy.”

“When has the Father ever withheld his clouds for longer?” asks Eblan Hegnath, renowned for his understanding of the Father’s ways. “I tell you, for certain, before a four-night has passed there’ll be rain. Elsewise there’ll be big troubles between him and the Mother. He dares not to stay away for more than the moon.”

But it seems the Father has turned his back on the Mother. Has he found another lover?

“I felt my face burn, my guilt over you shared with the Father. Yet, despite my mistress is his daughter, I was sure he’d understand.”

Two days after the meeting, with plans made for the collection of honey, sufficient to bait the Father, a gathering wind rounds up every sparsely-formed cloud. Watching the clouds amass above Bear Hill Eblan Hegnath preens—while many an eblan grunts: the man is again proven right. As soon as the Father has sufficient reserves, he blows a wind that carries the clouds across the Highlands. And even as they sweep the plain those clouds are darkening. Joined now together, a crows’ feather-cloak, they cover the sun. The wind gusts cold, tasting unseasonably icy.

Dannyn breathes in deep of the air, exhilarating in the Father’s passion. “There’s to be a storm!” he declares.

The clouds darken further as if now it’s nightfall. Rapidly those still in the open seek some shelter. Hailstones fall, each the size of a grown man’s fist. Those not yet under a roof dive beneath whatever cover no matter how flimsy.

The hailstorm abates. But fast upon it comes the Father’s fire-snakes. They crackle and light up the black-clouded sky. They drive with a passion into the Mother.

“I was jealous of the Father that day,” Dannyn says, again squeezing me close.

The Mother’s thunderous murmurs roll down from the hills and across the plain. She trembles. The Alisime women rejoice; they laugh and clap. Many shed clothes, dancing then naked in the downpour that follows. But that dance doesn’t last long.

The rain falls as a deluge. It forces the women back into their ‘roofs. It digs gaping holes into the Mother. It washes away any loose earth. It lashes at trees, it tears at the leaves, it bends the branches and even the trunks till their high tops are touching the ground.

“The clamour, cacophony, ferocity—so hard, so much—the Father that day showed his passion.” Dannyn is joyous again at the memory. He kisses me, hard. “And he never let up with his fiery snakes, hissing through the rain-darkened sky, bright as they drove into the Mother! And she never stopped, not for a breath, with her roaring and bellowing, her rumbling and deep-earth moaning. The Mother’s pleasure, the Father’s satisfaction, it could have been the Day of Creation enacted again.”

The storm started around midday. By the time it passes, and the sky again seen behind the now-ragged clouds, it’s already night—and this the season of longest days. But now is much groaning. Who has a dry bed for their sleeping? None. And many a roof has collapsed.

Next morning, early, while the men check their herds, the women stride off to their fields. Their gardens, hidden away in the hedge-ringed isles, have come to no harm. But the fields . . .

“It was heartbreaking to see the damage,” Dannyn says, and shows me.

In the more sheltered fields the plants have survived—though now their roots are swimming in water. In soils other than that of the Highlands those roots would rot. But not here on their chalky bed. The fields soon will dry. And now they’re well-watered, the plants will grow tall; they’ll be green again soon.

Ah, but those fields where the rain and wind has found its way in . . . here there’s scarcely a plant left standing. The women use sticks to try righting the plants, shaking off the excess water. But there’s much shaking of heads.

If the Father now will hold off his passion those battered plants might yet have a chance to strengthen their grip. And so, contrary, for the next few days everyone’s eyes are again on the sky and the horizon. A collective breath is held. And it seems the Father’s force is spent for though his clouds again tour the Highlands they don’t loose their rains. The sky remains a promising-blue between the clouds. The sun, in glimpses, is seen to shine. Slowly, the collective breath is released. Shoulders tensed begin to loosen. All will be well.

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“So thought the women.,” Dannyn says. “Yet every day Aldliks Hegrea looked at the sky. I saw her. Had she foreseen what soon was to follow?”

It isn’t a grey sky, and neither a cloud. This is uniform white. But that’s not a rare sky, it’s just out of season: more typical of early winter. Yet fears are voiced—though quietly lest by their saying they make it happen—that there’ll be no summer, that the sun has gone away, vexed with the Mother over some ill-taken slight.

I glance up at Dannyn. Isn’t the sun his eblan-mistress? Has she taken offence at his infidelity? But Dannyn shakes his head. “This had happened before. The older women, raking through their stories, found sufficient to tell their daughters and their daughters’ daughters of a time their own grandmothers scarcely remembered.”

Though the sky is white, the days aren’t cold. Yet neither are they properly hot. Still, no cloak need be worn—as well, since a cloak will only make the clothes stick the more. There isn’t one body, no matter the work, that isn’t glossed with their sweat so damp is the air. The elderly gasp to catch a breath, babies cry in irritation.

And there is no remission.

Yet there is hope—as in the occasional day when, just as night is approaching it seems the Father is sending in storm-clouds as well. But the clouds pass over along with the night, and no rain falls.

Thus do the summer days pass. Soon it’s time to harvest the grain. Now daily the women go to their fields. And how they shale their heads. There’s scarcely a wheat-plant that bears a head worth the cutting. The barley, refusing to ripen fully, threatens to lay black in the fields.

“They had decisions to make,” Dannyn says. “To cut the stalks now before the heads spoiled more, or else to wait? Maybe the sun would finally return, and dry it all out.”

“And Hegrea’s fields?” Am I thinking she has some kind of pact with the powers of nature? Perhaps I’m allowing too much power to the Brictans.

“Aldliks Hegrea’s fields were as affected as others,” says Dannyn. “It was in sadness she cut her grain that summer. The yields were no more than a third their usual. None was of a quality to trade. Instead, she set it aside to be used for the family—it helped fill my belly. But much of it couldn’t be immediately used, so thickly infested with bugs. She and her women took it down to the river and there let the river wash it. They then had to hang it on racks above fires to dry it and to fully de-infest it. Yet for all that, her harvest was the best of the River Alsime. Some families had no grain at all to show for the season.”

I can’t help but to think of Africa (Band Aid et al)—as if Europe has never been hit by the same. Famine following failed harvests were common enough in the Middle Ages. I could cynically say it’s a check on our ever-swelling numbers, preferable (though maybe not) to the sweeping savagery of the bubonic plague.

But what Dannyn next shows me has me swallowing my thoughts.

« »

Though a sadness and disappointment, the ruined harvest at first seems to be no great disaster. They’ve still the wild-foods to gather. Their nut-and-seed cakes will see them through winter. Though even here the harvests aren’t good. Fruits rotted before they can pick them, nuts riddled with tunnelling grubs. Yet they gather sufficient to support growling bellies through the void of winter—providing none is wasted. Besides, the pastures are green, the cattle fattened upon the sweet grasses.

So it’s not till the new sowing season that the lack truly bites—not that the River Alisime women are waiting for that.

A steady stream of women call upon Hegrea’s trader Alsvregn, not even allowing a moon to pass beyond their failed harvest. They need grain, they tell him; what can they give him? But the grain belongs to Hegrea’s granary; Alsvregn can’t trade it without her saying. Hegrea takes post beside him. “How many bellies have your family?” she asks each one.

Dannyn relinquishes his hold of me, but only while he mimics Hegrea, tapping rapidly at his fingers. I’m puzzled. He laughs.

“I know, I haven’t it right. I’m not granary-trained—I’m not a woman. Yet somehow from the number of bellies Hegrea could calculate the volume of seed-grain each would need come the new season. But, too, she knew her stores and she knew she hadn’t the grain to supply everyone, no matter what they offer in trade. She told them they could have only half-ration.”

“Take the grain now,” Hegrea tells them, “and you risk that it spoils before the sowing. Or you’ll be tempted to eat it. Best to return when it’s time to sow. I promise it won’t spoil in my granary.”

Time and again she repeats this over with each new woman. And time and again the women ask her, “Will you still have enough when I return?”

« »

“They feared she’d go trading it all and leave none for them,” Dannyn explains now his download is done. “And whatever the Alsime thought of Hegrea’s granary before their failed harvest, when time came to sow the seed-grain there wasn’t one River Alsime family who didn’t praise the Granary-Keeper of Hegrea’s Isle. All knew the value of her granary. And everyone used it, not only her River Alsime. The North Alsime, too, they came to her granary. The Krediche-granary at His Indwelling had turned them away. I remember one woman, she’d been savaged by the granary-trader’s dogs. The Krediche granary had grain only for the Krediche families—that’s what they said—and the North Alsime women couldn’t understand it. Hadn’t they traded their hard-grown grain at that granary, too.

“And that’s how Hegrea established her granary?” I say, content with the story. “And I take it Murdan then chased off the Kerdolan and Kredese from the granary at His Indwelling. But I’m not sure I want to know how he did it.”

“Snake-filled corpses,” Dannyn says. “Suspended upside-down in the trees around the granary-keepers’ court. Scared the wits out of them.”

“I can imagine. And please don’t tell me whence the corpses.” My stomach is heaving at the thought, and he just laughs. Sometimes I do not like this man.

“Mayhap I’ll leave that story for another telling. It’ll ensure you return to me.”

“To hear about snakes and corpses? I wouldn’t count on it.” He might just have overplayed his hand.

But I allow my thoughts to dwell on Murdan. It was around this time that he moved the Kerdolak Stones from His Indwelling and had them set in a double arc at the Old Isle of the Dead—inspired, so he said, by the Eblan-Mistress—to show how he’d broken the Kerdolak grip on His Indwelling.

It’s tempting to see those stones as the double arc setting of bluestones that feature in Stonehenge Stage 2, especially since they’re dated to between 2620 and 2480 BCE. But those bluestones weren’t new to the site. And neither were they newly-brought from Marlborough Downs, nor from Preseli in Wales. It seems they had lain around, redundant, since being yanked out of the Aubrey Holes where, circa 3,000 BCE, they had been set in a circle.

So many things tally, yet so many more jar. And now I’m on my way to His Indwelling—to Marlborough Downs. I wonder what anomalies are waiting there.

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About crimsonprose

After years as a multi-colour octopus in entertainment, now chilling and writing
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9 Responses to Under A Blighted Sky

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    It is sometimes disorienting, to see the same person turning up in more than one of your stories, often doing radically different things. Now, understood, that’s as must be, and it would be foolish to think people don’t change over ages. In effect, your Asars are walking chronologies, walking tales, each of a potpourri of history.

    • crimsonprose says:

      These stories are, in part, intended as that. Kerrid gets bad press in PP; our view of her channelled through Hegrea. And it’s true, it would seem that Kerrid has treated Hegrea badly. Yet looked at from Kerrid’s angle: while Hegrea is distant descendant of Kerrid (the maternal line), she is also the child of the hated Eld Freilsen. All Kerrid did was to send Hegrea to her father. We don’t know exactly what happened there, except on learning the truth Hegrea wanted to return to confront Kerrid.
      Hegrea also appears different here from the much (chronologically) later Neve where she has somewhat matured. Plus we’re given a glimpse of Amblushe and Chadtamen which might seem at odds with their first appearance in FF. Yet Chadtamen is still determinedly following his metallurgical calling, and Amblushe still running her hands over all and any broad chest. Again, we only see them through the biased eyes of Hegrea, who quite rightly feels badly treated.
      BTW Alsalda the last part of the Asars’ story (unless I decide to write more) feature in addition to Hegrea, and mainly as incidental characters, Ardhea and Raesan, Urinod, Kerrid and Jiar.

  2. Judy says:

    Even in the context of the whole of your beautiful writing, this chapter with the descriptions of the interactions of the Father and the Mother, the sheer passion that is the weather…her thunderous murmurs etc……this chapter is beyond lovely. The mythology is captivating. I loved it!

    • crimsonprose says:

      It could be that, being rural-reared, I share the Alisime reverence for the powers of nature. Life (capital ‘L’) for me is the only religion.

      • Judy says:

        I can understand that. One of the things that I always liked about Ursula LeGuin’s writing besides the story was the prettiness of it, you have that here…I love it when the writer lets you experience it in its beauty with words that are just perfect…..Just really great!

      • crimsonprose says:

        Gosh, to be likened to LeGuin, that’s praise indeed. I often feel that my writing doesn’t carry the punch expected/required these days. Oh, it does in the end, but it’s not exactly Jim Butcher’s standard of jeopardy from beginning to end. I just can’t write in that way. As a genre it’s milieu, and like Tolkien, that’s best achieved at a slower, almost meandering pace–till the climax is reached and all hell let loose.

      • Judy says:

        Priory strikes me as being a tighter story even though still far flung in time line/space.

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