Arriving at Sapapsan’s Isle, at His Indwelling, Julia assumes the greetings and questions will repeat as before. And what if Aldliks Sapapsan is as hostile as her opposite number at Hegrea’s Isle? Suddenly she’s not looking forward to it.
Episode 46 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
A girl, age best described as ‘nubile teen’, comes flying at us as we enter the high double gates of the isle. With a bounding leap she’s into Dannyn’s arms, her legs wrapped around him. I bite my lip and try very hard to swallow my feelings. I confess, I am jealous. Why does he hug her with such affection? Why does she hug him? I try to explain it. She could be his daughter. If I remember, he said something about fixing fertility problems within his birth-family. The word ‘incest’ screeches at me. I shudder.
“My sister’s daughter, Aplan,” he says over the head of the tenacious teenager. He literally has to pry her hands off him. “She seems to have adopted me since her father departed.”
Ah. Foolish woman to have such suspicions.
Pried from Dannyn, she turns on me. “Are you that stranger that’s got everyone talking?” She juts her chin. But it’s not a jibe, it’s only to beckon us in. “Aldliks Sapapsan is waiting. She says if you’re to eat then you’d best get your bodies around her hearth, for she’ll not keep it warm any longer.”
“We’ve been told,” Markreën says, flashing a copy of Dannyn’s own smile.
Though it’s hardly needed, I allow Dannyn to guide me, his physical closeness appreciated after witnessing that extremely nubile Aplan’s greeting. She—Aplan—skips back to Sapapsan’s thatched ‘roof (not that that’s any great distance) and holds open the door for us to enter, counting us in and shouting our names to whoever, apart from Sapapsan, is waiting within.
It occurs to me that Sapapsan must have known we were on our way. Two extra mouths to feed means more preparation. And to have it ready just as we arrive? There has clearly been some communication between Dannyn and . . . but not Sapapsan, surely. As far as I know she isn’t Brictan. Markreën, then. Or maybe even the lively Aplan, Jitjana’s daughter?
As Dannyn has said, though styled the same as Hegrea’s Roof, Sapapsan’s in comparison is tiny—only six chambers set around the central yard instead of Hegrea’s twelve. I try to figure who belongs where, though the introductions are yet to begin, and which chamber, if any, will be free for Dannyn and me.
Obviously Sapapsan and her trader Ardeld will occupy one—probably the one to left of the long entrance tunnel. Or will it be the one to the right? If the chamber is nominally Sapapsan’s then it ought to be to the left. I know such privacy and space isn’t the norm, witness how all-jammed-together it was at Bisaplan’s Isle. Yet if you have the space then I suppose you use it.
In addition to Sapapsan and Ardeld, there are also their daughters. The eldest looks about thirty yet by my calculations can’t be much more than twenty. The other is barely into her teens. Together with Aplan, they all wear the granary-uniform—ankle-length shifts in yellow-red gingham with deep sashes swathing their hips. So I figure while Aplan probably has her parents’ old chamber, Sapapsan’s two daughters will share another. That’s three chambers accounted. So what of the other three? (I really do want us to have our own chamber.) If the aldliks has the one to the left, the eldliks will have the one to the right. But who is the eldliks here? Perhaps it’s Markreën. He lodges here, as Dannyn did before his return to the Wilds, so that makes him as much the ‘man of the ‘roof’ as any eldliks elsewhere. Yet there’s a withered-looking chap—probably more weathered than aged—beside the hearth, a weathered woman close beside him.
And finally, lo, the introductions. They begin with him.
“Our eldliks,” Markreën says.
The man stands and yanks on his woman’s hand to do same. “Greetings and welcome, Dannyn’s woman, Julia Cannings. Excuse that I repeat no visiting formula. Our aldliks assures me it won’t be needed.”
I smile and nod to assure him it isn’t. It doesn’t escape me that Dannyn again is translating—i.e. he’d prefers me not to try my hesitant Alisime on Sapapsan’s family.
“I trust you won’t lose it if I give you my name?” the weathered chap say with a grin. “I am Eldliks Hameldn, son of my father Bukplugn and his woman Hamvala. Ah! I see you have heard the name of Bukplugn? He was first of the Ulvregan to walk on this land.”
It’s true, I have heard the name. But scramble around in my memory as I may I cannot find it. Maybe he’s just assuming, his father so famous.
“And here my woman, bringer of my several sons.” He doesn’t say how many, and none are here with him, probably off wandering.“She bears the name of Hadalta. She’s sister to our Trader Ardeld.”
Again I smile, though this time as much to acknowledge the unspoken. So Sapapsan took Ardeld’s brother-in-law as her eldliks (keeping it in the family). But it does seem strange to have Ulvregan beneath an Alisime granary-‘roof. Yet (I kick myself) what is Alsvregn if not Ulishvregan, and for year he was Hegrea’s granary-trader.
My thoughts return to our sleeping arrangement. There now are two chambers left. One will certainly be the stores. The other . . . reserved for the eblann? Silently I curse. That leaves Dannyn and I to share with Markreën. How restricting is that to nocturnal activities.
But Dannyn squeezes my hand and whispers close in my ear. “You do not listen to what I say. Ardeld has Markreën instead of a dog.”
“You mean . . . he sleeps there, in the trader’s store?” Now I have to hold back on my grin. A familiar twinkle lights Dannyn’s eyes. A swift tingle sweeps me.
The introductions continue.
Sapapsan, I find, is one of those women who are born to be mothers—and if they’ve no children then they mother all others. Though she tries to be stern, yet she spreads wide her arms to embrace all the world. And she cooks up a mean stew. I’ve never had tastier.
“Goat-meat,” she tells me.
Its flavour-rich gravy has dumplings bobbing—yet dumplings require a glutinous dough. Yea, and Hegrea introduced that very same bread-wheat. Plus, if Sapapsan also is brewing, then she also has yeast (though perhaps not in a form I would recognise). They’re ‘speckled’ dumplings, flavoured with indigenous herbs and spices. Suddenly my thoughts go to Dave; how he would like to know of them. If only I could stay in one place for more than a day I then could persuade one of the women—or maybe one of the girls—to take me out to harvest the plants. Then I might learn what’s producing these flavours. Now wouldn’t that be something, to return home with a recipe for Neolithic stew! That beckons another thought. The museum could include that in its exhibits.
Finally the daughters are introduced to me. And oops, major error!
The youngest’s name is Bridata, not Bisdata. But, hey, it’s an easy mistake, the names so close. And yet they are not. Bridata, ‘do-talker’, i.e. ‘the one who commands’. Compared with Bisdata ‘quiet talker’? No wonder Sapapsan shoots sudden bristles. Plus, of course, Bisdata is the hostile granary-keeper at Hegrea’s Isle. The eldest sister is Ablabran.
Dannyn drains the last drop of juice from his dish and wraps his arm around me. Doubly appreciative, I snuggle against him. It’s then it hits me. Aplan apart, no one here shows any affection.
“They all are too old,” Dannyn says close to my ear. “But I lodged here when Ardeld and Sapapsan were always pawing. I was jealous, then, remembering you—wanting you. But now you are here—if for a few days only. Anyway,” he says, speaking up, “our aldliks has a story to tell you.”
Yea? And will she tell it through to the end, or leave it half-told to ensure my return?
“You want to know this man you are with?” Sapapsan asks, a glance at Dannyn, and back to me. “I tell you something of him he never tells you.”
I grin. And what’s she about to dish that I might later use to tease him?
“He has told you, I know, how the Krediche families and the North Alsime here asked Hegrea to keep this granary at His Indwelling. He has told you, too, how Hegrea refused it and so gave it to me. And I know he has said of her rebuilding the granary to make it fit, and the same with the Krediche cotts to make them this ‘roof.
“Well, all this work kept Bukfesen busy—and he, too, was fetching the Kerdolak stones for Eblan Murdan. Bukfesen was busy-busy for several long seasons, and Jitjana and I grew impatient to be here. Yet it was as it should be, and so in time all was done. It was then that our Eblan Dannyn announced his intention to live with us here at His Indwelling.”
“But what else could I do?” Dannyn puts in. “You know Murdan was dulling my light. And there was me enthused and inspired by—” he looks and grins at me “–by this spirit of Dreld. I had to get away from him. Though I never thought they’d create me the Head Man.”
Sapapsan tushes, “But you deserved it—you, always hiding your light. Those who acclaimed Murdan, they were blinded to the truth of him. Even after what he did to Hegrea. But that’s not what I’m to tell your woman, this Julia Cannings.”
The day has finally has come. Sapapsan and Jitjana, with their Ulvregan traders, are leaving Hegrea’s Isle, to make the long journey to His Indwelling. Dannyn has already moved his few items the day before, making the journey by river-craft. But Ulvregan traders aren’t river-walkers; they’ve no choice but to haul their sledges across the Highlands.
So much to take, and such a long haul, the day grows old, the air turns chill, before they’ve yet sight of their destination. Sapapsan particularly is tired and aching—unlike Jitjana, she isn’t Brictan. She so had hoped to enjoy that first night away from Hegrea. But no. Now all she wants is to sleep.
Almost there—at least having crested the ridge—she sees Dannyn coming to meet them.
She rejoices. “Oh good! He’s come to help us.”
But Dannyn holds up his hands in refusal. “I come only to say that you have visitors.”
“No! Dear Father and Mother,” Sapapsan rolls her eyes skywards, “how drastically inconsiderate of them. I suppose it is someone wanting grain? Can they not come back the morrow? I’m thinking sleep, not of being polite to Krediche visitors.”
“These are not Kredese,” says Dannyn, his tone alerting her. “And it’s unlikely they’ll leave till we chase them away.”
That to Ardeld is the starter’s flag at the Feast Games. Already he’s searching through the wares piled on his sledge. “Somewhere, I know, I’ve a spear.”
“You too,” Dannyn tells Dalkude. “You’d best arm yourself.” Yet Dannyn has only his eblan-rod.
All this talk of weapons, Sapapsan’s now worried. “So who are these visitors?”
“Kerdolan.” Though Dannyn says it lightly, yet she can hear his dislike of them.
Sapapsan grinds her teeth. “By the High Father, will these Kerdolan never be gone from here?”
“How many?” Ardeld asks. He now has found the spears, buried deep beneath his wares. Sapapsan looks askance at the weapons. Never had she expected her Ulvregan trader to have a use of them.
Ardeld tosses a spear at Dannyn. But Dannyn tosses it to Dalkude instead. He spreads his hands. “If I haven’t a weapon, I’m not a threat.”
Dalkude groans, “But woe-woe-woeful, we’re hardly fresh enough to fight.”
“But at least if we have spears at the ready . . .” Ardeld says, and turns back to Dannyn. “How many did you say?”
“Likely ten though I didn’t count them. There’s a woman with them.”
“The Head of Kared,” Sapapsan and Jitjana both say together.
“No,” Dannyn says. “It’s not her. The Head’s an Immortal while this woman is not. She’s merely Brictan.”
“One of the Anas?” Jitjana’s breath catches with awe.
Sapapsan sighs, “Well that is something. At least it’s not the Head of Kared come to visit, just one of her daughters. What does she want?”
“To speak with Hegrea.”
Sapapsan laughs. “Witless woman, she’s at the wrong isle!”
But Dannyn shakes his head. “I told her that. She says she’ll wait here till Hegrea is fetched.”
“Fetched?” Sapapsan echoes. “Fetched!” she repeats with anger growing. She is hot, and tired, and all she wants is to lie down and to sleep. She does not need this wretched visitor, not this day. She doesn’t want to talk to a Kerdolan of any sort, Ana or not. She sighs, dismayed. “Why come here, when the Kerdolan know full-well how to find Hegrea? Dannyn, you’ll just have to tell her to scram. Tell her she’s at the wrong isle; tell her again. Tell her to hare off down river.”
“I have told her,” he says, calm as can be, never mind he’s talking of one of the Anas.
Sapapsan lumps down on the unpacked part of Ardeld’s sledge. “So what do we do?”
“Pretend,” Dannyn says.
Sapapsan blinks at him.
“Let Jitjana pretend that she’s Hegrea. She has the same colour,” Dannyn says. “But it’s best that she doesn’t see these sledges.”
“I like that idea,” Ardeld says. “But where do we hide them? We’ve five seasons of trade wares here.”
Dannyn knows a place at the back of the springs, in the same coppiced wood. “They’ll be safe there for a while. And they’ll be away from Kerdolak sight.”
“You sure they’ll be safe?” Dalkude’s not happy. “It’s not only trade wares on these, you know. Some of those packages are food.”
“Do stop fussing,” Sapapsan tells him, losing patience. “The food is wrapped, isn’t it. And it won’t be here long enough for four-footed thieves to raid it.”
“It won’t be there long—if we can be rid of these Kerdolak pests,” Dalkude says.
“Do you think I look enough like Hegrea?” Jitjana asks. “But, no! I don’t have the Kerdolak speech. Has any here the use of that tongue-tangler?”
“Dannyn has, I’m sure,” Sapapsan offers. “How else did he speak with her?”
“No, they used the Krediche speech,” he says. “Or, rather, the Ana used Krediche. It’s only the men used Kerdolak.”
“But you understood them?” Sapapsan presses.
Dannyn shrugs. “I am Brictan, I take speech.”
“Jitjana’s Brictan too,” Sapapsan says with an eye turned to her.
“It’s not my skill. We each are different.”
“Fine, so can Dannyn relay it to you?”
“Yea, sure, it’s easy,” Dannyn agrees.
The Kerdolan surround the newly-built granary, spears held out against the small Alisime party. Of the woman there is no sign.
“It’s been like this since they arrived,” says Dannyn.
“So where’s the Ana?” asks Jitjana.
“What! No!” Sapapsan has barely cooled down from the hike and again she’s boiling. How dare the woman! What’s she doing? If she should as much as lay one little finger on the new baskets waiting to be filled this summer-half . . . Sapapsan’s not sure what she’ll do but it’ll be much the worse for the woman. “I want her out of there. Now!”
But when Dannyn and the two traders make for the gate, even though casually done, the Kerdolan raise their spears as if to throw them. At such a distance there could be no missing. Wisely Dannyn and the traders step back.
“Now believe me?” Dannyn taunts and Sapapsan blushes. True, she hadn’t entirely believed him.
But being taunted, on top of those Kerdolak spears—How dare they to keep her out of her granary! Yet the situation isn’t hers to resolve. Dannyn has to hold her back to allow Jitjana now to step forward and play her part.
And off Jitjana strides—towards the gate—head held high, in total disregard of the Kerdolak men. And again they raise their spears as if to throw. And Jitjana gives the Kerdolak mariners such a look they know not to stop her. She walks on, without hesitation, a glare at those who’d bar her way. Sapapsan wants to look away, ashamed she hasn’t her friend’s control and audacity.
“That wouldn’t work,” Dannyn whispers close to Sapapsan, “if those mariners were as high a Brictan as Jitjana. Even so, I’m having to help her.”
Jitjana reaches the gate. The two Kerdolan there cross their spears to block her. But she pushes them aside. Sapapsan’s jaw drops.
“Brictish stuff, hey,” Dannyn grins. “A shame Eblan Murdan isn’t there to see it.”
Beyond the granary’s gate Sapapsan can’t see. And she’s itching to know what’s happening there. Yet suddenly she has vision. She looks at Dannyn; he grins.
“Eblan Hegrea?” the Ana greets Jitjana. “I thank you for coming here to speak with me.” She uses the Krediche, and it’s obvious it isn’t her natural speech. Her Kerdolak tongue can’t chase round the Krediche ‘ouses’ and ‘esses’.
“I don’t know who you think you are to come here, and to summon me,” Jitjana says cutting across all pleasantries. “But you can get out of my granary. You can get back to Liënershi, where you belong. And you can take your laplings with you.”
Outside, though they can’t see her they can certainly hear—even if they don’t understand her words.
“That’s my woman,” Dalkude grins fit to catch robins.
But the Ana isn’t so easily cowed. “I am Ana-Uadnis. Kared’s own daughter, as well you know.”
“I care not if you are Kared herself. This is my granary, and you are trespassing, and you can get out.”
Outside, Dannyn grins. He translates into the Alisime tongue the Kerdolak words he has given to her.
“Do not be so angry, Eblan Hegrea,” Ana-Uadnis says in a snakish-insidious voice. “I come only to give you news. You will be pleased at it.”
Sapapsan can’t encumber Ardeld—he needs his spear-arm free—yet she needs to clutch someone. She clutches at Dannyn; he offers his hand. She can’t believe it, this supposedly all-knowing Ana has fallen for it. Yet surely she knew Hegrea when Hegrea was at Liënershi? And Brictan, too: able to delve into Jitjana’s head. Then why hasn’t she realised?
“Despite we’re two generations off the Immortal Amblushe, Jitjana and I together are easily the equal of this Ana-Uadnis—even though she’s but the one generation off the Immortal Kared.”
“Hush!” Dalkude shushes him. “I want to hear this.”
“But you can’t hear it,” Sapapsan says. ”Not without Dannyn here to re-say it.”
Dannyn translates: “Report your news,” Jitjana says (they all hear her hard tone). “Then go.”
Sapapsan’s beginning to feel uneasy. Queasy, in fact, at seeing two separate views with her one set of eyes. She sees the Ana’s careless shrug, as if Jitjana’s brusqueness means nothing to her.
“There are few Krediche families left at His Indwelling,” says Ana-Uadnis. “Too few to need our granary. My mother has therefore decided to withdraw her support. If these Krediche families want a granary then they must now use yours. If they want to trade . . . These Kredese have nothing we want, she says for others to have it.”
Sapapsan waits for Jitjana’s response. But Jitjana says nothing.
“Why doesn’t she answer?”
“Stunned,” Dannyn says. “As am I. It is . . . unexpected. Neither Jitjana nor I know how to respond. How would you do?”
Sapapsan shakes her head. She admits to not knowing.
Aching silence seeps from the granary. Not even a movement’s rustle.
“Why doesn’t the Ana go, now she’s told Jitjana the news?” Ardeld asks Sapapsan—as if she’s the fount of all answers! Today is being a most unexpected trying day. Her hand slips to her belly. Her first child’s first kick. But it shouldn’t be like this.
“You’ve built a good granary here,” says the Ana. “I admire your skills and your knowledge. I see that we have taught you well.”
“It’s not believable, the fool woman,” Dalkude says, tiring now of the charade. “To mistake Jitjana—Luänha’s daughter!—for Aldliks Hegrea.”
“Yet thanks to Dannyn that’s exactly what happened,” Aldliks Sapapsan concludes with a sheepish smile I can’t quite translate. “The Kerdolak mariners, the Ana, all left. Apparently they’d left their long-boats moored in the valley, below the granary. We laughed as they left. Such a long journey from Liënershi, just to tell us this thing. But it couldn’t have been done without your Dannyn. That day he was our hero. Oh?” she says as if taken full by surprise. “And what’s that word, hero, and why on my lips?”
I can’t help but look at Dannyn.