L.M. Brickwood

L.M. Brickwood is the critically acclaimed South African author of the youth novel 'Children of the Moon.' The book relates the fascinating journey taken by three gifted teens, who use their knowledge of quantum physics to travel 12 000 years back in time. They arrive in Cydonia, the capital of a country called Alesia, and venture into a fantastic world. People, animals and plants in this advanced civilization are not at all what they expected. Here they also encounter technology without electricity, strange-looking cave dwellers and a very different justice system. Cydonians fly around in vimaans and use an astonishing substance called têrakhon. Soon they wonder if it isn't too dangerous to keep exploring.

The novel, from which two chapters are published as an excerpt here, is the first in a series of five books that will detail the adventures of the three characters as they explore more surprisingly advanced prehistoric civilizations.

The idea behind the series was to breathe life into a long forgotten world and give teens and adults, who would not normally read serious non-fiction, access to an epoch long before recorded history.

Born in Karlsruhe Germany, L.M. Brickwood has a strong background in cultural sciences and is a skilled linguist. She worked in Botswana for development agencies, before relocating to South Africa, where she studied to become an I.T. consultant. Brickwood served as an active member on various business committees, before embarking on her successful writing career.

She is now a member of PEN, a well-known international association for published authors, and lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two children.

'Children of the Moon' was received with enthusiasm by the South African press. Great interest was registered from overseas and the book is now also available in the USA. Other countries are set to follow. A German publisher is currently considering 'Children of the Moon' for their list.

L.M. Brickwood's profiles can be viewed on Facebook and MySpace.

'Children of the Moon'

http://www.amazon.com/Children-Moon-L-M-Brickwood/dp/1920153039/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196086546&sr=1-1

http://www.kalahari.net/bk/product.asp?sku=30305228

The links above are provided in association with Amazon.com for book sales in the USA and in association with kalahari.net for book sales in Southern Africa.


Chapter 6

Portal into Time

Holly Benson saw the three children disappear between the rocks lower down, away from the footpath. Suspecting some planned wrongdoing by her rivals, she pretended to have a weak bladder. Then she followed them off the path to the platform. Always keeping a save distance. She didn't want to tip them off. Natasha knew of course, what she was planning to do. Holly was pleased to see that Chryseis and her friends broke the rule laid down by Dr. Broadbent. It was easier than she thought. Sally would fill in the gaps later.

Hah gotcha! One to nil for Holly.

She was about to turn around and alert one of the teachers, when something uncanny happened. Something really weird. She ducked, because Trevor now faced her direction holding something in his hand. She hid behind the large boulder. Holly was so close she could have touched Katherine's arm had she wanted to.

Holly couldn't believe her eyes.

Trevor jumped first. Into the boulder in front of him!

"Oh no, no please!"

Katherine grew rigid with fear and was pulled into the portal by Chryseis. She wanted to tell her friend that they needed to stay together. But as soon as they had entered the vortex, she couldn't utter a sound. Everything happened so fast. Then…the three children were gone. They had disappeared into the rock!

*

Seized by a circling motion, drawing them deeper into the portal, they spun round and round. There was a high-pitched rushing sound. Then suddenly the timeportal spewed them out again. It had lasted not even half a minute.

Nothing had changed.

Trevor sat stunned on the ground before the portal. Staring at the electromagnetic curtain on the boulder before him. He still held the timeportal finder in his hand. The waves oscillated further apart and grew faint. Then the waves were gone.

Nothing about the rock gave away, that moments before there had been a timeportal. Spinning them around in a vortex right here. Now it was just another inconspicuous piece of grey rock. This was unexpected.

Chryseis and Katherine sat next to him. Why were they all sitting on the ground?

"I wonder, if we made a mistake, we should have travelled."

But they had made no mistake.

The rocky ledge behind them had moved further out, extending the platform. A clump of cedar trees and undergrowth blocked the direct view into the valley. It took the children a few minutes to collect themselves. They had definitely arrived at a different point in time. But at which point?

"Wow, that was awesome!"

"I can't believe that we did it. We actually did it!"

"And no monsters either."

Chryseis looked at her watch. Only seven minutes since they had jumped.

Katherine's face looked pale.


"Let's go back please!" she pleaded with her friends. "Please!" She was trembling.

"We did it, we can't just leave without at least looking around a bit, Katie." Chryseis stood up energetically "We'd be some scientists, if we left now."

"We just proved something incredible. You should be proud of your work." Trevor looked at Katherine. She covered her eyes with her hand. It was getting really warm now and her dark hair stuck to her face, but she felt cold.

"Are you okay, Katie?" Trevor began to get worried about his friend "I'm sure we will be fine."

He knelt down beside her and put his hand on Katherine's shoulder.

"There." He wiped her hair back in an unexpected brotherly gesture "We'll be fine." he repeated, although he wasn't exactly sure about it himself.

"It's awful, we are so far away. What if we can never go back?"

"Of course, we can and we are not that far away, we landed in the same spot. Up to now it's working quite perfectly. The reference point in the future is memorized. You know that…"

"Nobody and nothing we are familiar with is here now." She interrupted him "Not even close. I'm scared."

"Katherine MacDougal, pull yourself together" Chryseis began to feel hot and bothered. Why was Katherine putting on such an act?

"This was the whole idea from the beginning."

"Yes, I know, but I never thought it would work like that, in reality I mean."

"Well, it did work. And this is not the time to panic or chicken out."

Then realizing that she had been a bit harsh with her best friend, Chryseis took out her water bottle and held it in front of Katherine's lips.

"Here Katie, drink slowly. That's it." Katherine drank thirstily and colour returned to her face.

"Are you feeling better?" Trevor was still wondering if she was in shock. Who knows what this time travelling could do to you. "Perhaps we should take our jackets off, I'm hot." He said and struggled to get his left arm out of the sleeve.

Katherine obediently took her jacket off as well. Chryseis put her jacket on top of her backpack and jumped on her feet.

"I want to see what's behind those trees over there." She decided.

Trevor and Chryseis walked towards the trees and stared into Carter Valley in disbelief. They didn't notice the fat brightly coloured lizard, which sat motionless on the bark of the cedar tree closest to them, basking in the warm midday sun.

"No, come on now. That's impossible. I must be dreaming." Chryseis laugheduneasily.

Katherine followed the others reluctantly to get a look of the valley. She pushed aside a few prickly twigs.

"What, what is it?"

Trevor did not say a word. He just kept staring mouth open at the unexpected scenery. The lizard was startled out of its nap by the sudden disturbance. It slithered up the tree and hid on a higher branch. Ogling a juicy green fly, the lizard made its move quickly.

"Wow", Trevor seemed to have regained his composure "Check that out! No, that's unbelievable!"

The valley had changed. Dramatically. Were they still in the same place?

"There are streets down there…and houses. It's a proper town. Not a nature reserve anymore." He exclaimed.

"Oh m y s t a r s!" Chryseis seemed just as stunned by what she saw.

"Stop kidding around, that's not funny at all. Let me see!" Katherine moved between her friends – and was as startled as they were by the view.

"Maybe it's a dream!" she said in awe.

For some reason she couldn't close her mouth.

"What, all three of us dreaming the same dream at the same time?" Chryseis asked


Chapter 7

The Valley of Cydonia

Surrounded by the gently rolling hills they remembered, the lowland resembled now more a Mediterranean town! The pristine landscape of Carter Valley, the nature park they had visited for years, was no more. Or not yet, depending how you looked at it.

Where the marshland and the bird sanctuary had been, the familiar country road and sign posts to the inn. There were now sprawling white and ochre painted villas.

Amid lush lawns and beautiful gardens abounding with trees and flowering shrubs. The town was arranged along broad avenues. Stretching the length and breadth of the valley as far as they could see. The paved main road dipped somewhat to the right. Towards what they knew was the rough direction of the seashore and then the road disappeared from view.

A handful of iridescent blue roller birds played a game of catch, chasing each other playfully around a marble fountain. Much like sparrows would have done. Trying to escape the watery spray in the slight breeze. Everything had a subtropical feel to it.

"No, please, that can't be. A city in Carter Valley!" Chryseis felt like laughing hysterically, but she managed to control the urge.

"Trevor pinch me! This can't be!" She repeated "Ouch, not so hard. Thanks a lot!" Chryseis glared at Trevor and rubbed a reddening spot on her forearm.

"Sorry, you said I should pinch you." Trevor said absent-mindedly. He scanned the hills for any familiar landmarks. There were none. But the hills themselves looked more or less the same. Just greener somehow.

"Look at that large building against the hill over there." Trevor pointed to a miniature version of the Greek Acropolis forming a large courtyard with other longish buildings. A huge water-filled basin and fountain gleamed in the middle of the yard. The basin could pass for an Olympic-sized swimming pool – it was so large. A construction to the right of the buildings appeared to be an amphitheatre. Two sports fields were right next to it. Then a few smaller buildings to the right.

"Perhaps a temple…" Katherine offered, "but that's impossible! We are in the New World – in America. Discovered by Columbus." She sighed. 'I'm confused."

"The people in this place, whoever they are, sure seem to like water." Trevor had discovered more fountains and artificial waterfalls everywhere. Not even Pemberton could compete with that.

"Are there any people in this place?" he wondered.

"Yeah, you're right, that's odd. So many houses and nobody in the streets. I wonder if this town is for real." Chryseis stared at the mysterious town.

At that moment, they saw something move in the road below.

A young woman in a long mauve-coloured dress with a toddler in tow walked through one of the gates. She picked the child up. Then carried her towards the entrance of a yellow double story building between plant-covered walls. The little girl tried to wriggle free and the woman put her down. Then the woman started talking to somebody to her left. The other person was hidden from view by a blue-flowering tree. They seemed to laugh about something the woman said.

The three time travellers stared in fascination.

"Real enough for me!" Trevor said.

The woman turned around to look in the general direction of their hill. They instinctively ducked behind the trees. She laughed again and turned towards the other person.

"Look, these houses come almost all the way up to the rocks just below us." Katherine had discovered houses close by.

They shrank further back into the cover of the trees. Peeping cautiously onto steep rocky gardens, separating their ledge by a few meters from tiled roofs.

"Phew, I need a moment to get used to this." Katherine sat down on a half-rotten tree stump and slid her backpack onto her feet. She rummaged around the bag and found her water bottle and took a long swig. That felt better. At least they sat in the shade now.

"You may want to go easy on the provisions, Katie. We don't know yet how long it will take to find new ones." It was good to see that Chryseis was still her practical self. Trevor squatted on the ground next to Katherine and wiped his forehead with a paper tissue.


"Oh dear me, what are we going to do now?" Katherine tied her hair back into a ponytail. "We can't just openly promenade into suburbia… And ask for the way to the nearest youth hostel."

"Hah, just imagine that." Trevor grinned, "Everybody will surely speak English, give us directions and not notice our clothes and all."

"Yeah right, very funny." Chryseis didn't think this was amusing.

"Have you lost your sense of humour, Chris?" Trevor was puzzled. What was going on with everyone? He thought it was marvelous to be in the past.

"I wonder what people here are like. Do you think they might be Native Americans?"

"Didn't look like it to me. They seem more like ancient Greeks or something." Katherine thought for a moment "Where are ancient Greeks supposed to come from? Perhaps we ended up in a different country…"

"The buildings are not exactly adobe either, if I'm not mistaken. In any case, we are on the East Coast not in the Far West." Trevor thought aloud "But I wouldn't be surprised. We know so little about this era. Or time travel in general for that matter."

"We can't be sure about anything right now. Perhaps they are Spanish, or Greek or whatever they were called back then."

"Katie, we are definitely not in Europe. I mean, the hills and the rocks, where we discovered the timeportal. They haven't changed much, so we must still be in the same place! Well, sort of."

They discussed the facts for a while.

"Atlantis? No way, Trevor. The existence of Atlantis has not even been proven yet. Never mind here on our good old solid American mainland. No, I don't believe that."

"This place must have been colonized a very long time ago. There are no traces left in our time, that's for sure."

"No kidding! Imagine the headlines: Greek settlement discovered in Carter Valley from…"

"How long ago exactly, Chris?" Trevor asked anxiously. They hadn't thought of checking the time reference display.

"Let me see, I activated only the first harmonics level, so we should have arrived between 10,000 and 13,000 before the present, or B.P. The display shows precisely 11,752 years B.P. Welcome to the past ladies and gentlemen!" She changed her voice in a bad copy of Dr. Broadbent's usual introductions. It was actually a bit silly, but they broke up laughing anyway.

Imagine Dr. Broadbent making such a stern announcement on a daytrip to the past! It seemed unreal, so far in the future now. Then the friends grew serious. They had arrived a long time ago. Almost 12,000 years back in time. The fact had to sink in.

"So, we are roughly 12,000 years before our modern time. No chance of seeing dinosaurs then. Perhaps some attractive cavemen?"

"Isn't this the period when extensive flooding was supposed to have occurred worldwide? The end of the Pleistocene. Seawater swallowed up major stretches of coastland everywhere. Due to the melting of the ice caps in the Polar Regions, I think."

"You're right, Katie. Some even say that meteorites hit the earth, and caused the flooding and shifts in the earth surface. Remember the research on the Blue Hole of Belize?"

Chryseis thought of the gripping documentary film, they had watched on the Adventure Channel a few weeks ago. An enormous ancient cave, stalactites and all, sunk beneath South American coastal waters. Presumably in prehistoric times.

"It is rather warm here, that's for sure." Katherine tied her jacket to the straps of her backpack.

"Then let's wait for the big event."

"Chris, don't joke about stuff like that! It's scary."

Trevor suddenly grew quiet "Do you realize that we practically know nothing about this place or time. Only vague theories we learned back home. All sorts of things could happen."

"And so they could in our own time! These things are almost impossible to predict."


Katherine felt still a bit shaky "Are we in danger? Do you think?"

"Does look pretty quiet to me. We are probably not more or less at risk, had we stayed at Pemberton."

"Actually, I believe we still have a few hundred years of peace and quiet. I'm pretty sure that the floods started somewhere between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago. I mean…you know what I mean. So much closer to our time."

"Alright, having sorted this out, let's plan our approach." Chryseis thought it best to be more pragmatic now. To have some kind of a strategy.

"What do you suggest, Chris?"

"I say we check this town out. Make sure it's not a fata morgana. If we meet somebody, we'll…try and look as normal as possible. We might even understand the language to an extent."

"Okay, Chris, you are the expert. It's your job then to figure out the language."

"Yes, I can do that." Chryseis agreed "Perhaps it's best, if Trevor talks at first. I believe that in many prehistoric societies females weren't so much in the foreground. In case these people are ancient Greeks."

"Right. Then let's get our story right. In case we can communicate. Kids might not just travel all by themselves around here. It's possible that we'll draw attention to us." Trevor threw in.

"No problem. We'll say that we lost our way and… that we are visiting with our parents. We could be staying with friends… and we don't remember where." Chris liked the mind game. "Let them figure out what and who and where."

"Before they are any wiser for it, we'll be gone again." Trevor concluded.

"What, …what if they are hostile. I mean, even if we can communicate?" Katherine was not so hopeful. This wasn't exactly familiar territory.

"Well, then we use our virtual invisibility capes. That's what we brought them for. We make our way back up here as quickly as possible and travel back. Let's keep these thingies handy."

They made sure their headgear was in place. The devices tested perfectly.

Chryseis took out her digital camera "Wait, I want to take a photograph of this place before we go. Do you mind Katie?"

Katherine took a photograph of Chris before the valley next to the pine trees. The temple was visible in the background. Although not very sharp.

"Now you two. Lean against that cedar tree over there. Yeah like that. Smile." Chryseis said with a wry mouth, squinting through the autofocus. Click.

"Good, we should document this trip as much as we can." Trevor was in his element. This was research at its best.

"What for? Nobody is going to believe us back home anyway." Katherine said.

"Who knows, it might come in handy one day. And if not, we will have something for memory's sake." Nothing could shake Trevor's enthusiasm now.

"Or we could write a book about it." Chryseis offered, cheeks glowing.

"Right!"

"In any case, keeping some kind of a journal does make scientific sense." Katherine agreed at last.

"Yes, and we should take turns in recording what we experience. At the very least, it'll keep us in touch with reality. We might face rather unusual things." Chryseis answered. The thought of 'rather unusual things' was slightly unsettling for Katherine. Best not think about it too much.

"Can we go now?" Trevor couldn't wait to see more of this place.

"I pray that we will be safe." Katherine murmured in a low voice.

Then they started down the rocky footpath.


Chapter 8

First Encounter

They did not have to walk far, before a boy, perhaps thirteen or older came into view. He carried a wicker basket and collected pine nuts from cones under some trees. Deeply in thought, he jumped to his feet, dropping the basket as the three children approached.

Should they turn around and make a run for it? Or activate the virtual invisibility capes?

"Shelanti, Greetings, good people, you startled me!" The prehistoric boy said.

It was too late to turn invisible.

The boy gestured a graceful greeting with his right hand, touching his heart and then his forehead. 'Shelanti' they learned later, meant 'I wish you everything I wish for myself'. A formal greeting used throughout the Known World.

His hair was of an unusual light brown colour and he was quite tanned, which made his grey eyes appear very bright. He wore a pastel blue tunic with side slits and pockets over long trousers in the same colour. A turquoise line along the hems was the only bright colour. They noticed that he was tall for his age.

What were these children doing on the hill in broad daylight? Alun thought. Weren't they supposed to be at school? Alun himself had been excused from the usual lessons, to help with his brother's wedding preparation. The wedding was in three days' time.

Trevor gaped at the boy "What did he say?" he whispered.

"I don't know, I guess hello or something." Chryseis replied in the same voice.

Katherine stabbed an annoying finger into Trevor's back.

"Close your mouth!" She hissed.

"Let's greet him back, then" Chryseis suggested.

They copied the gesture they had seen the boy make, smiled and said hello.

"Elloh? Where are you from, children? Are you currently visiting the citadel school? Have you met the Lady?"

Chryseis thought she heard something like the Latin word for school and started nodding. She hoped she didn't agree to marry him or something like that.

"He wants to know, if we are going to school – I think." She took a shot at translating courageously, what she thought the boy had said. They were all nodding now, not knowing what else to do.

"You seem not familiar with our language, dear visitors. You are not from Alesia then, I take it?" The boy said. Trevor grimaced and signaled in what he reckoned was a universally understandable language. He said in slow English that they did not know where they were. It was the best he could do.

"Oh, you lost your way?" the boy seemed to understand some of the gestures. A good sign. They nodded again, just in case he had understood Trevor's little charade.

"Mirá, Vallé Cydonia!" The boy said proudly and swept his arm in the general direction of the valley "…Southern suburb of the great city of Cydonia. Capital in the country of Alesia. Welcome." He bowed slightly.

"Is that right. Alesia?" Trevor repeated. What on earth did 'Alesia' mean?

They all nodded again, and felt silly for it.

"I think the name of this place is Valley Cydonia." Katherine's head hurt with all the concentration. "The rest I did not understand."

What if she made a mistake?

"Valley Cydonia?" She asked the boy, waving an arm at the valley.

He nodded delightedly. So these children did speak a language of the Known World. Very remotely, obviously. This struck him as being odd.

Chryseis tried to analyze the pronunciation, but it sounded really strange. Sometimes it was easier to understand than other times. If you could call it understanding. This Cydonian boy thankfully wasn't hostile and didn't mind speaking to females. Another good sign.


"I offer my help to you then good people. Kindly accept." Alesians were a cultured and hospitable people, always prepared to help out. The boy looked at the ground in a non-threatening gesture. They had no idea what the meaning of his words was. And what's with the staring at the ground?

He then pointed to his chest "Alun." he said, "Alun of Cydonia." It was customary to add the location of birth to one's name, when conversing with foreigners. The children understood this age-old way of introduction. Trevor followed suit and introduced himself as 'Trevor of Chicago', Katherine was 'Katherine of Oxford' and Chryseis called herself 'Chryseis of Etheridgeville'.

Alun slowly repeated all the names gesturing the proper greeting each time.

He struggled with the pronunciation of Katherine, Oxford and Etheridgeville, which sounded more like Kathín, Oxfol and Ethigevee. They nodded anyway.

It was cool that somebody who lived such a long time ago actually tried to say their names.

The three of them repeated Alun's name and made the greeting gesture.

"Shelanti."

Hopefully this was the right thing to do. The boy called 'Alun of Cydonia' seemed satisfied with this display of civilized behaviour.

Alesians took hospitality seriously. Alun was obliged to offer these three lost children the comforts of his family's home. It was just one block away from the bottom of Shepherd's Hill.

Alun had set out for Shepherd's Hill this morning to gather pine nuts for the roasted ptarmigan stuffing, herbs for his mother's famous green sauce and raspberries for pie. He gestured that he would continue picking some fruit, which he ostensibly placed in his basket. The time travellers understood. They all started picking raspberries, quickly filling the basket and eating even more of them. Juicy fruit peeked out shining red between the thicket. Raspberry brambles! Katherine picked one good-sized dark red raspberry to put it in her mouth. It was sweet and aromatic and delicious. Definitely not supermarket stuff.

They tasted divine. This place was obviously very fertile. But this heat….

*

Alun began to notice the odd clothes of his new acquaintances. These two were undoubtedly girls, to judge by their hairstyle and comportment, but all three of them were wearing breeches and shirts too warm for an Alesian spring – jackets they had wisely taken off.

So, they looked foreign all right, and their rucksacks seemed full. Perhaps they were runaways. But runaways from what? In Alesian society, unhappy children were rarely to be found. And they were certainly not Gabari from the uncivilized areas, Alun thought, for they were too small for that. He wondered how these three foreign children had ended up on Shepherd's Hill. Was it possible that their parents stayed somewhere in the vicinity? In a guesthouse perhaps, or with friends. If someone from foreign quarters had taken lodging in Alesia, they would find them, no doubt. In the meantime, good manners demanded that his hospitality be offered to the children. His elder brother Kheton worked on citadel hill and would report the incident soon. They would find the parents for sure.

Eventually, Alun decided that they had picked enough berries and told them, pointing downhill, that it was time to go. The three friends followed him down a slightly different path to the one they had taken on the way up. They noticed that the features of the landscape looked rather unfamiliar now. There was, of course, no longer an inn. At the bottom of the hill, they walked onto the road, paved with sizeable flagstones. The colour of the stone was almost white in the glaring sunlight. They passed a small park with a few trees, where four roads met. Like a type of traffic circle, Chryseis thought. She imagined carriages drawn by horses driving around the circle. Could have been like that in Greece…, she dreamed. But this wasn't ancient Greece. In fact, she realized that this Cydonia was so ancient, that these people might not even know horses.

The park exhibited a curious water feature. A block of dark rock shaped like a seashell was set snuggly into a half-moon shaped boulder. Oblong right-angled water conduits made of stone, aimed at the shell from different heights. Water splashed and dripped down into a reservoir. Quite modern actually. Exotic plants grew in the boulder's crevices and all around the water feature was emerald lawn. There was other lawn too, except, it was not green, but more of a burgundy colour. The two colours created simple patterns on the lawn. Interesting.

Alun was proud of this water feature. His father had it made for the park in honour of the Nereids, the water fairies. Daughters of Nereus, the 'Old Man of the Sea'. They were especially revered by seafaring peoples in the Known World.

Only a few Cydonians walked about in the streets. During the lunchtime siesta, most people preferred to remain indoors. They were dressed in a similar fashion. No extravagant styles. Soft-flowing pastel coloured garments, their feet shod in strappy sandals. There were long tunics, which closed with buttons down the front. Some Cydonians preferred the same type of short trouser suit Alun was wearing. A couple of women wore long dresses, like the lady they had watched from the hill.


Alesians had an olive complexion. Their features looked a bit exotic with high cheekbones. Their hair mostly in shades of blond and brown. The children also saw a rather dark-skinned mother with a sleeping baby on her back. Curious glances shot at the three friends from under lowered eyelashes. But, nobody stared openly or stopped to question them.

Chryseis noted these details and was determined to write them down later, as soon as she got a chance.

Alun led the little group past the park, and walked straight ahead on the paved avenue towards a walled corner property painted in a warm terracotta orange. The walls were lined with rows of blue ball-shaped flowers on long elegant stems, interspersed with red cannas. The stonewall they approached was covered in a bougainvillea plant, densely dotted with masses of reddish flowers, growing vigorously into a nearby tree. Some of the shady trees along the road were not in bloom, others flowered blue and orange.

Katherine had seen similar towns in northern Italy when holidaying with her family last year. But the flowers here were so large and vibrantly coloured. Longish cypress and broad cedar trees of different heights and shapes grew in groups and rows between the houses.

A large walnut tree spread its canopy over an inviting courtyard in front of a double story house. Lending its cool shade to two older women and a mother dog suckling her two pups. The women sat on facing benches, chatting and preparing vegetables for cooking. Red and blue striped baskets were placed on the ground, with heaps of grain and vegetables on mats spread around them. A few geese were clucking and pecking at morsels here and there. The paved ground was sparsely covered with green walnut buds. They cracked softly under their feet as they walked towards the house.

"It is my elder brother's wedding ceremony soon…" Alun explained.

The colourful decorations already covered branches of shrubs and trees, and were hung around windows. The children did not understand what he said, but gathered from the bright red and turquoise embellishments around the yard that some festivity was planned or had been held recently. They smiled politely and marveled at everything they saw. Houses, plants, people and all.

The two women continued with their busy activities as they watched the children walk up to the benches. Then they returned their greeting.

"Shelanti!"

Like Alun's, their complexion was olive with strong features and grey eyes. The women were dressed in pastel coloured tunics with a bright red stripe along the hem. Polite words were exchanged. The three visitors smiled and were completely clueless as to what was being said. The two matrons didn't seem to notice. They seemed kindly and patiently listened with knitted brows to Alun's story of how he had found the threesome wandering by themselves on Shepherd's Hill. They nodded consent as he suggested that his father's home be offered to the children, until the elusive parents could be located. Their hearts went out to the poor children.

Nodding was good!

Alun's 'aunts' were ostensibly pleased with the boy's handling of the situation. They smiled approvingly, while their hands never stood still for a moment.