Neria - Chapter 1


The Hot Springs

I live miles from anywhere, at the end of a long forest track leading to the valley where our farm is. It takes nearly an hour to get from my home to school but these days, now the schools are all closed for the summer, I only see my friends on Zoom. The rest of the time I'm a farmer. Dad says that in the olden days someone who was ten would be out working on the farm all day and I had better get used to living in the olden days now I wasn't at school.

Most days my work is just to climb up the path towards the mountains and check that all our sheep are OK and still in the fields where they are supposed to be. There's never been any problem with the sheep and so I have plenty of time to enjoy myself alone in the hills and what I enjoy most is swimming in the hot springs.

There's a little stream that runs down the valley from our sheep fields and even in winter the water is quite warm near where it bubbles up at the base of a cliff. It runs into a big pond before starting off down our stream on its way to the river. The pond is like an outdoor heated swimming pool and we try to keep it a secret, so that lots of tourists don't find it. But now there aren't any tourists anyway.

Today, like most days when I had finished checking the sheep, I took my clothes off and had a lovely swim. Then I lay in the sun to get dry.

Suddenly, before I was ready to get dressed again, a girl appeared from behind a bush: she must have been hiding in the entrance of the cave that is just next to where the hot spring bubbles up. She had undressed too, so I expect she wanted to swim. She looked at me, smiled and said something but I couldn't understand a word she said. I can only speak French but the people on the other side of the mountain speak Spanish. I can't speak Spanish but I know what it sounds like and some words sound the same as French. It wasn't Spanish she was speaking. Mum and Dad had told me that, further along the mountains, towards the Atlantic Ocean, people speak a language called Basque that is different from all other languages. Maybe she was speaking Basque.

Even though neither of us could understand the other, we started to try. She pointed to herself and said “Neria” and then pointed at me. I pointed at myself and said “Édouard”. So then we knew each other's names. Then it turned into a game – we took turns to point at a bit of each other and saying the name, which the other would then say in their own language. I soon knew the words for head, nose, ears, arm, leg, foot, belly button, willy and quite a lot more.

Then we had a swim. “Swimming” I said and Neria's reply taught me another word. Next we started doing things we could describe: stand-up, sit-down, run, walk and lots more.

When it was nearly tea-time, and I needed to go home, we had just started to be able to understand each other's language a bit. She signalled by putting her head on one side, resting it on her hands and closing her eyes. Either she was tired or she was saying she wanted to go home or maybe she was asking where I would go to sleep. I pointed to my house way off down the valley and signed that I eat my food and sleep there. She pointed into the cave and made the same signs.

I got my clothes and started to get dressed. Neria went into the cave and came out again with her clothes. They were really weird: some pants and a vest made of fur and on top some floppy trousers and a kind of pull-over jerkin, both made with animal skins that were still a bit hairy. Her boots were made from thicker leather without fur. I thought her clothes were rather ugly.

Neria was making a last attempt at language learning – she pointed at the sun and I told her its name. Then she said “sun” in her language and pointed to show it going right across the sky to set in the west, then rising again in the east. I made the sun-setting sign. Then the going-to-sleep sign. Then the sun-rising sign. Then pointed at her and me. I said “Neria and Édouard?” and she said the same and disappeared into her cave.

I think she means we can meet tomorrow. I'm already looking forward to seeing her again but I don't think I'll tell Mum and Dad about her yet. They would only think I was making up stories.

Things to think about

  • Do you think Édouard is imagining Neria or is she real?
  • If she is real, where might she live?
  • Why does she wear funny clothes?
  • If you met someone who couldn't speak your language, how could you learn to talk with them?
  • What will Édouard and Neria do tomorrow?


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Read the other chapters

For Mums and Dads

Chapter 1 - The Hot Springs

Chapter 2 - Cow's Milk and Reindeer Meat

Chapter 3 - A Mammoth Feast?

Chapter 4 - The Mammoth Hunt

Chapter 5 -Milking Cows and Meeting Parents

Chapter 6 -Feeding Babies

Chapter 7 - Electricity - wild and tamed

Chapter 8 - Shopping and Hunting

Chapter 9 - Becoming a Goat and the Beginning of the World

Chapter 10 - A Painted Party

Chapter 11 - A Bath and a Book and a Dog

Chapter 12 - Reading a Story