Tegfa chapter 5

Chapter 5

Hywel Morgan crouched as still as a stone on the dew soaked turf. All around him smoky tendrils of mist swirled and flickered as the spring morning was born. Inside his head as always, he could hear the sound of the sun as it crept over the horizon. An ethereal unearthly choir filled his mind coaxing tears from his spellbound eyes as he watched the colours spill over the Tegfa hills.

He had always possessed the gift even as a small child. Countless times he would struggle to explain to his mystified mother how birds, cats and dogs spoke to him; of how the breeze would paint pictures in the sky for him and how the strong steady heartbeat of the earth itself would pulse through his young body whenever he threw himself, exhausted and laughing from play, onto her soft yielding surface.

At first Aoifie Morgan would smile and ruffle his sun bright hair with casual affection and tell her mother not to fill the boy’s head with such nonsense but later, when they had made the bad bargain of exchanging the wild green hills for the dirty living coffin of the city, she would shush him and tell him to keep such madness to himself.

Hywel would be dragged protesting to the dark unsmiling crow of a man who presided over the cold mausoleum of a church at the end of the road. He would be forced to kneel before the twisted weeping man nailed high up on the colourless wall and instructed to beg for forgiveness and salvation. When those tactics failed Aoifie Morgan had resorted to stinging slaps which she had hoped would beat the sin out of the boy but such things could not be beaten out, Hywel knew, they could only be driven deeper under the skin.

His first clear memory had been the day his grandmother had found them. There had been a knock at the door of the box-like house which stood amongst the endless regiments of other sad little boxes on the sprawling estate. Aoifie’s thin weary lips had tightened and she had eventually given in to her mother’s shouts and demands for entry.

Fay Morgan had shouldered her way past Aoifie’s ineffectual protests and her wise old eyes had seen at once the way of things. Throwing his meagre belongings in a backpack the same colour as his bruises she had hustled Hywel away from the house. Aoifie Morgan’s eyes held nothing but relief as they left and Hywel thought that perhaps her twelve years of punishment were at an end. Certainly he had felt no more than a momentary pang of loss as the scabbed brown door had shut behind them.

He had come home to the wild green hills of Tegfa and slowly the bruises had begun to fade. Far from denying his gift, his grandmother actively encouraged him to use it. She nurtured him and listened carefully to everything he told her and never once did she tell him that he was strange or crazy. Under her love he had blossomed, gaining strength and confidence as time went by. He became his grandmother’s chief protector defending her as fiercely as any knight whenever the local people cast slurs or aspersions because he knew that she would do the same for him should the need arise but also because he realised very quickly that she possessed none of his natural abilities.

Her vast knowledge of Tegfa and its flora and fauna was unrivalled however and she passed all of it on to Hywel without restraint except for one thing; she refused to reveal to him the location of her strongest ally-the root necessary to walk in the place between the worlds. The gap in his knowledge frustrated Hywel almost beyond endurance. His fascination with Terfyl Rock dominated his life and without ever being told, he somehow knew that it was the keystone to his existence.

On nights when the moon hung like a pearl in the sky he would take himself out onto the charcoal hills with only his hound for company. He would settle himself beneath the small wind blasted crab apple tree and stare at the dark silhouette of the towering rock.

After a while its outline would begin to curl and smoke smudging the edges of reality. The sinuous spirals on its surface would begin to glow and dance like flame lit silver and soon images would begin to appear beneath its pitted surface. Faces and forms would plead and beg with him to open the gate and set them free. They would call to Hywel with voices of every colour, a rainbow of sound which seduced him almost beyond endurance. But without his grandmother’s vital piece of the puzzle he could not answer their call.

He had understood quickly that others did not hear or see things as he did much of the time and he had become a solitary being with ease. He did not pine for the shallow games and posturing of his peers in the noisy claustrophobic school in the next town nor did he miss the clamouring noise of their minds assaulting his. He spent his days alone on the hills with his hound and tolerated formal education until the day he was old enough to flee its gates forever and, if he was not entirely happy then he was at least, content.

The pup had been his grandmother’s first gift upon his arrival in Tegfa. She had presented him with the small wriggling bundle and shed tears of joy as the two small creatures recognised each other’s souls and bonded completely. They were inseparable and despite its advancing years the dog appeared as young and vital as when it had first reached maturity. Hywel regarded the animal as his only true friend not just because of their uncomplicated love for each other but also because, unlike people, its mind could be still.

 When Hywel held the hound close he could borrow the animal’s perceptions glorying in the multi-coloured trails of scent which made up the hound’s world. He could smell the heady richness of the nearby woodland; see the zigzag paths of perfume that danced over the sheep cropped turf and he could smell the slightly menacing salt of the roaring sea. Sometimes he heard the whispered warnings of the trees in Draenog Wood whenever his thoughts took him too close to their dark perimeter.

His grandmother loved the wood; she spent hours there gathering various herbs and fungi necessary to her visions and cures but Hywel rarely ventured within its boundaries unless she was with him. His power lay out on the hills in the sun warmed rocks which hummed with latent power. She and Hywel were of different elements she had told him once and it was not wise to mix the powers of one with another. Only a few could ever hope to achieve such a thing and neither she nor Hywel were amongst them.

But he hungered for the last absent piece of the puzzle which he felt would make him complete and he had taken to spying on the old woman, watching and waiting as she went about her business hoping against hope that she might unwittingly reveal the whereabouts of her most powerful root.

All his life Hywel had felt the sleeping power inside him. His grandmother called it Old Blood as if such mysteries could be explained by science; blood types and breeding and DNA. He knew better. He still tingled at the memory of what had surged through his body during that Winter Solstice rut. He had watched the hazel eyed woman intently as she clung to him and had seen himself mirrored in her eyes as he had spilled into her. The time was coming; he could feel his fey blood stirring in his veins.

Before she had fallen under the spell of the cold hearted god in the city Aoifie Morgan had shared with Hywel the story of his conception. After her sister Mabh had run away she had stepped into the breach and taken her place in the Beltane rite. She had lain, maiden pure, on the hillside between two raging roaring fires and she had taken to her the tall broad shouldered god who had fathered her son.

“He had horns my lovely boy,” she would croon in a breathless bright eyed whisper. “Like the antlers of a stag.” Then later when her diamond bright love for him had burned itself to cinders she would scream at him instead and tell him that the horns had not been those of a stag but of a devil which had been sent to tempt her and punished her for her weakness by sending her a demon son.

A quiet whine brought Hywel’s mind back to the present and he looked with disoriented eyes at his hound. The animal’s gaze shone bright with love and he gathered it close to him. The hills were clear now and Tegfa’s toy bright buildings were visible scattered below at the edge of the water.

A detached part of Hywel’s mind wondered whether to go down there and breathe in the throat catching saltiness of the sea. He would be certain of female company if he did but somehow the pale ordinary girls of the town did not seem to be the answer to his needs today. Rising unhurriedly he scanned the hills all around him then with a cluck of his tongue he called the hound to heel and struck out determinedly towards the dark crouching bulk of Draenog Wood.

He could hear the trees whispering long before he reached the tree line and the normally fearless hound cowered behind his legs and laid his brindled ears flat to his skull. Eyes bright with danger Hywel knelt at the foot of a half grown beech and pulling the keen bladed knife from his hip he began to dig in the rich dark soil. In his head he could hear the furious protests of the object he sought. As his questing fingers scrabbled closer its chattering babble grew louder and more piercing until with a final unearthly shriek the root was torn from its resting place.

Holding it before him the young man studied his prize. It seemed to twitch and wriggle in his grasp as clouds came scudding across the cold sun behind him. An odd slightly bitter smell began to fill his nostrils and Hywel Morgan felt his heart begin to race as the understanding of what he had truly done began to wash over him like a wave.

A high pitched yelp from the hound broke his spell making Hywel jump. Getting clumsily to his feet he began to run the hound loping easily by his side and he did not stop until they were once more out on the open hills well away from the simmering fury of the King Oak and his court.

Flopping into the sheltered lee of Terfyl Rock the young man stretched his legs out and drew in gulp after gulp of air until his pulse slowed and he was able to block out the pounding thump in his head. His grandmother would be angry when she found out what he had done. The mandrake was one of her treasures and she had been nurturing it for a long time but, for once, even the old woman’s feelings were not enough to sway him. His patience had been exhausted and now, with the assistance of the root, he would be able to realise his destiny and take his proper place in the great plan of things. In his lap the mandrake was already beginning to shrivel. It looked inconsequential now; ordinary. Hywel wondered if he had diminished its power by omitting to follow the necessary rituals of its gathering.

An uncomfortable mixture of anticipation and fear tumbled in his gut. Hywel called the hound to him and clutched the animal to his chest allowing his mind to be soothed by its presence. He must not let his grandmother know his intentions. She would stop him; or at least she would try and he was afraid of what that might do to her increasingly frail spirit.

Some evenings when it was quiet in the cottage he would hear the faltering rhythm inside her pigeon frail ribs and he had noticed that the previously bright rainbow of colours around her had begun to dim. Her body was wearing thin like a blanket put too many times through a wringer. One day soon the fabric would tear and Hywel would be left alone. It was the only thought in the world that frightened him.

A wet nose pressed against his cheek followed by the abrasive warmth of the hound’s tongue. With a yip of exuberance the animal leaped up with a scrabble of claws to plunge after the bobbing flash of puffball white which had flushed from the undergrowth and was running across the moor.

Hywel did not bother to go after them. With a smile he banished the shadowy spectres of his mind and pulled himself slowly to his feet. He stowed the mandrake root safely at the base of Terfyl Rock covering it with some stones and clods of turf before heading home. He was less than halfway there when the hound caught up with him and laid the still warm corpse at his feet. Gathering up the rabbit tenderly Hywel gave a caress to both creatures, the living and the dead. He made a silent offering of thanks before continuing on his way.

Fay Morgan was delighted and set about skinning and gutting the rabbit for their evening meal. Leaning against the heavy stone edge of the sink she bore down on the fragile bones of the creature’s legs steeling herself for the sickening snap which would allow her to finish dressing the meat for the pot. After she had peeled off the glove of its fur she put the rabbit to soak and settled herself beside the fire with her tobacco and some sewing.

Driven partly by duty but more so by guilt Hywel left his grandmother and wandered out to spend the remaining hours of daylight splitting and stacking logs. He took comfort in the unthinking rhythm of the task and allowed the heady pungent scent of the unseasoned logs to fill his mind. The smell transported him back to a day when he had been taken with the rest of his class, to an art exhibition in the big national gallery.

As his comrades had stumbled herd-like behind the droning teacher, Hywel had felt himself drawn to another part of the great hall. The tired dusty paintings on display held no interest for his young mind and following the invisible thread which drew him on, the boy had found himself before an ornately painted sign bearing the legend ‘Sacred Wood’.

Pushing open the heavy door he had discovered the true meaning of natural artistry. Open mouthed he had wandered amongst ‘Green Men’ peering through leaves of holly and oak; past ‘Sheila-na-Gigs’ with open yawning caves of dark smooth wood and dryads and nymphs crouching malevolent and barely seen amongst the rich foliage of painted woodland until finally, he come to the central piece.

Carved form oak to follow the natural contours of the wood lay a woman, on her back her hips raised to the sky as if reaching for some unimaginable ecstasy. Around the curves of her body twined a pale sinuous twist of an ash wood snake. Without quite understanding why, Hywel had found himself staring open mouthed at the passion and grace of the piece. His mind buzzed with the vibration of the wood itself and the artist’s intent. He had been on the point of stretching out one trembling hand to touch the sleek inviting surfaces when the staccato scream of his teacher had shattered the spell and left him reeling with the pain of his re-entry to reality. He had cried out as the jolt in his stomach left him gasping for breath.

With thinly veiled anger the teacher had gripped his arm hard enough to bruise the skin and dragged him away uttering threats of retribution once they were safely out of the public eye. The memory splintered and fled once more as his axe crashed down on a knot of log and stuck fast jarring his arms and shoulders. Straightening Hywel surveyed the now respectable wood pile and flung the axe, log and all, down next to it. His shirt was fragrant with sweat and he made his way down to the stream so that he could wash before dinner.

The icy bite of the water made him gasp as he sluiced away the labour from his body and the bitter thoughts from his mind. The sing song chatter of the water echoed his own shivering teeth and as soon as he felt cleansed he scrambled back up onto the bank, pulling on his jeans and using his discarded shirt to dry himself. Lips blue with cold he tolerated his grandmother’s fussing with good humour back inside the cottage as she hustled him into a dry shirt and ladled a generous portion of steaming rabbit stew into his dish on the table.

They spoke little as they ate and Hywel saw again how transparent his grandmother was becoming. Despite the brightness of her eyes there was heaviness about her which he did not recall ever being aware of before. He started when she laid her thin twisted fingers on his and asked gravely,

“Is something troubling you Hywel?”

“No!” He answered too quickly and could tell by her eyes she knew he was lying. He looked out of the small heavy paned window and said,” The moon is high already; I have to go.”

He did not let himself look back as he pulled the door closed behind him. At his feet looking up the brindle hound stared at him with eyes which perfectly reflected the full moon above them. It seemed almost as if the animal were grinning at him, slyly questioning his courage for the coming night. Looking away Hywel suppressed the shiver running down his spine and clicked his fingers to call the animal to heel. Without looking down at it he strode out determinedly for Terfyl Rock, the dog trotting at his heels.

The silence, when he got there, was profound. His ears sang with the absence of sound as it washed over him. Hywel Morgan rarely experienced complete peace and when he did, it was Terfyl Rock which provided the sanctuary. Retrieving the mandrake from its hiding place he settled himself back against the tall dark bulk unmindful of the red smudges he had made on his clean shirt. Pushing his legs straight out before him Hywel pressed his shoulders as hard as he could against the unyielding surface. A gentle vibration thrummed through his body and the young man’s lips curved into a lazy half smile.

In his lap he felt a twitch as if the mandrake was stirring. Lifting his fingers to his mouth he tasted the rich iron tang of gritty soil, sticky and bitter with the blood of the mandrake, as it rolled across his tongue. The hum at his back intensified and a an almost magnetic force clamped him to the monolith. Hywel relaxed his body and allowed his eyes to flutter closed.

For seconds of eternity the world around him seemed to pause. The sharp contours of reality began to slide and his mind’s eye he watched the curling smoke like tendrils of mist begin to rise around him. Whispering voices began to insinuate themselves into his mind; tantalising sounds skipping through his brain just a little too quickly for him grasp. Slowing his breathing even more he waited to see if this would be the night he achieved his potential and succeeded in his quest to draw aside the veil. With barely controlled impatience he waited for his senses to offer themselves up to the greater force. Slowly, slowly, he began to feel himself slip free of the fleshy sheath which held him to the everyday world. His lungs expanded with a newfound freedom and a dizzying wave of colour and sound swamped his senses making his mind reel.

Beneath his shadowy fingers the mandrake began to move again; a fretful dance that tried to break free of his hold. Small cries of anguish began to emanate from it, angry bleats of a child held against its will. Glancing down Hywel saw that the mandrake had formed a crude little mouth and two bead black eyes on its surface. With a start he held the thing at arm’s length and studied it like some poisonous snake or spider. In the moon’s quivering light it appeared ore alive than ever and began writhing and pushing against his fingers. He squeezed the root tighter wringing from it a cry of pain sharp enough to pierce the heart of any guardian.

A shadow fell across Hywel from the side and he jumped in surprise. Looking up he felt his blood grow cold in his veins and his heart began to race as he took in the sight before him. Eyes of startling green stared from beneath the heavily ridged brow of King Oak. Leaves and tendrils of ivy fell across the razor sharp gaze and were shaken angrily aside as the lumbering figure advanced. Great branch arms were held open before it as if to embrace and he trod slowly but surely across the undulating turf, each footfall shaking the ground like thunder.

Hywel scrambled to his feet grazing his hand on the surface of Terfyl Rock as he did so. With a reflex too quick to stop he hissed with pain and raised his bloodied knuckles to his mouth, sucking at the sharp metallic taste of himself.

A shriek that almost split his skull tore open the night and the young man fell to his knees clutching his head in agony. The mandrake leapt away and landed at the earth caked feet of the Oak King. Paralysed with fear Hywel could only stare with bulging eyes as the apparition leaned towards him and wrapped sharp spiked fingers of twig around his throat. As they tightened he fought to pull air into his lungs but found himself raised aloft and studied just as he had held the mandrake moments earlier.

Uselessly he tried to pry apart his attackers grip but he could not. Hovering clouds of darkness began to form at the edges of his vision and from somewhere inside his mind a low throbbing hum began to build in volume. He heard his own heart begin to falter as his oxygen starved blood grew sluggish in his veins and as his eyes began to slide closed Hywel wished he had told his grandmother one last time how much he loved her.

He was dropped suddenly, the impact of the earth like the blow of an axe against his body. Dimly he was aware of voices; a female cold and commanding and the low growling of a dog holding its quarry at bay. Struggling he shifted and made out the tiny blurred figure of Fay Morgan as she spat commands to the hound which was feinting and nipping at the great arboreal king’s legs.

The Oak King delt the dog a sickening blow lifting it clear off its feet and flinging it so that it hit Terfyl Rock with a force too great to be reckoned with. The broken brindle body slithered to the ground and Hywel felt a pain so sharp cut through him that he could no longer hold back the tears which left dirk caked streaks on his face.

Fay Morgan spoke again, her voice unfamiliar and harsh. For the first time Hywel saw the figure fighting under her command; tall and gracile he moved as easily as the days of time. His long limbs were clad in curious dusty grey armour and in his hands flashed a blade which hacked and cut at the Oak King too quickly for the older slower god to avoid.

“You will not have him!” fay Morgan roared. “For all he has wronged you, the fault was mine. I will pay.”

“No,” the word was torn from Hywel’s bruised throat as no more than a whisper yet all three of the figures stopped and turned as one to stare at him. The eyes of the knight were the same dusty grey of his armour and Hywel realised with astonishment, that the man was blind. His finely sculpted features were those of a manikin and without fay Morgan’s commands he was helpless. Her face was soft with love and sorrow. Not trusting herself to speak the old woman raised one arm in a gesture of affection and it was echoed eerily by the tall clay knight next to her. The great tree god who towered over both of them let out a roar of fury and took a step towards Hywel.

“No!” This time the voice came from Terfyl Rock itself. A woman too lovely for this world stood beside its night black bulk. Her gown was as soft and delicate as moonlight and it moved around her form in an unfelt breeze. Her long midnight hair reflected every star in the clear sky and Hywel felt his heart twist within his chest as he stared spellbound.

Directly behind her stood the baleful figure of her consort, his antlers an eerie echo of the Oak King’s form. He watched impassively as his queen knelt slowly and tenderly fondled the head of the broken hound. An expression of overwhelming grief took her features for a moment but when she looked up again it had been banished and fury twisted every line of her face.

“Go,” She told the Oak King. “You have taken your price.”

“Is not equal.” The Oak King’s voice was the desiccated whisper of age and his limbs shook their leaves rustling with outrage.

“All of my creatures are equal to yours!” her voice was ferocious with quiet anger and for a moment it seemed the entire Vale of Cerridwen trembled beneath her fury. For long moments nobody moved then Fay Morgan knelt as if to pick up the fallen mandrake but it was the knight mimicking her movements who scooped up the now still root and laid it in the hands of the Oak King.

“Is not equal,” He said again his voice as bereft as the wind through the treetops. Turning slowly the figure began to retrace its steps to Draenog Wood, its head bent in mourning for the broken little figure it cradled.

Hywel felt himself being lifted from the ground although his body seemed separated from him somehow. The knight’s eyes of clay stared at him unseeing through fronds of snow white hair. Bewildered the young man looked from his grandmother to the beautiful woman beside Terfyl rock and back again.

“Who is she?” He asked in a shaky voice. “What have I done?”

“You have achieved that which you hungered for.” The woman’s voice was full and seductive, the silky sweetness of ripe summer plums.

“But my grandmother should not be held accountable for my actions.”

“We must all pay for what we do,” she replied. The horned man stepped forward into the moon’s light and Hywel saw, with a shock of recognition, his own eyes staring back at him. “To some the price of their action may seem too high, but it must still be paid.”

“Who are you?” The words were like rocks in his throat but Hywel could not have stopped himself from asking any more than he could have held back time.

She drew in a long slow breath before speaking again and when she did so her voice had become an echoing whisper which penetrated the very bones of those who listened.

“I am everything to all things. To the Gypsies I am Ana, spirit of these hills; to the people of this valley I am Cerridwen, Morrigan, Rhiannon and Mab.” Her eyes glittered like ice and she took a step towards Hywel stopping when the knight shifted the young man in his arms. “To you I am mother, daughter, sister and lover. All the things you have ever ached for; all the yearnings your soul has ever known or ever will know. You are mine young stag and one, had the fates been kinder, I would have been yours.”

Misery swelled in Hywel’s chest like a boulder and his tears flowed again.

“Don’t deny me,” he sobbed. The woman’s only reply was a kiss blown across the space between them which landed as soft as a spider web on Hywel’s cheek. Stepping back she allowed the horned man to rest a n arm across her shoulders, then both of them seemed to melt away into the darkness of Terfyl Rock until all that was left was the cold bare light of the sinking full moon on the barren turf of the Tegfa hills.

Weakness washed over Hywel and he slumped as the knight carried him following his grandmother back to Piodden Ty. Once there he was laid on his bed where he stared unseeing at the mosaic cracks in the ceiling. A strange lethargy was creeping into his bones and he could find no strength to fight it.

As if in a dream he watched Fay Morgan gently bathe and tend him as the smoke blackened hands of the old mantle clock ticked inexorably around. He saw, without seeing, how she kept vigil over him as his body began to slowly shut itself down. He heard, without hearing, how she wept softly and gripped his fingers within her own as if to fight what they both knew could not be fought. And he saw, with perfect clarity, the winking out of the old woman’s aura just as his own eyes slid closed and gave him up to a greater force.

Piodden Ty slumbered, its ancient stones settling as the flames in the grate grew sluggish and died for the first time in many centuries. The water in the blackened kettle grew cool and stilled. Only the relentless ticking of the mantle clock moved on as the moon gave way to the sun and another day was born. A shaft of brilliant sunlight fell in through the small paned window and as it struck the form of the knight seated stiffly at the kitchen table the clay from which he was formed began to dry and crumble until there was no trace of him save for the dancing motes that rode the glittering sunbeam.

In a still dark corner of the room Fay Morgan’s form sat slumped and cold in her chair which had proved to be her last resting place. On her face lay an expression of love and grief combined. Her long wispy hair fell loose about het shoulders and her shawl fell cold and unheeded around her slender arms. Clasped in her fingers lay the cold stiff hand of her grandson who lay stretched out and unmoving beside her.

The sunbeam crept across the silent room and climbed playfully over the frozen tableau. The old woman held little interest; her cold was too deep and dark for it to warm but the young man on the bed was a different matter. The glimmering reflections of the copper pans on the wall bounced bolt after bolt of dancing light across Hywel Morgan’s features and the motes of dust and clay whirled and swept around him as if searching for a place to settle. At last when the fiery ball of the sun stood at its peak the sunbeam was rewarded with a flicker from the young man’s eyelids.

Slowly, stiffly as if unaccustomed to such movement, he pulled himself upright shaking his hand free of Fay Morgan’s grip. Without a glance at her he set his feet cautiously on the floor. Standing he swayed drunkenly for a moment or two then stepped hesitantly to the cloudy mirror above the mantle. Grey eyes stared back from its surface through a tangle of snow white hair. A face almost sculpted in its beauty looked around with emotion at the cluttered room. When they reached the old woman they faltered for a moment. A frown creased Kai Starke’s forehead as he struggled to recall some long buried memory. She had bargained with him, he recalled, but her grandson had paid. Lifting a hand before him he studied the fingers of flash and bone as a slow smile of understanding spread across his face.

Flinging open the door he breathed in the warm softness of the summer day and opened his arms to embrace the torrent of colour and sound that washed over him. Somewhere down below he knew Zillah was waiting for him with their child; a child he had never seen, never met.

He gave one final backward glance to the cottage and said quietly,

“Thank you. I served my sentence and now it’s done but I promise you I will keep my word.”

Leaving the door ajar he stepped out onto the turf and began to walk down the narrow track. By the time he had reached the open moor he was jogging and by the time his feet found the tarmac of the run he was running flat out savouring the feel of the wind against his body and whooping for joy as birds and rabbits scattered before him.

By the time the sun sank again for the night he was less than a memory for the cottage and the hills of Tegfa. All endings were beginnings and the moon smiled down as she peeped through the dusk and waited for night to fall.

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Through Rose Coloured Glasses…

Funny how the mind works isn’t it? Ask me what I did two days ago or where I left the very important piece of paper I had in my hand an hour ago and chances are you’ll receive not much more than a blank look in reply. Usually quickly followed by panic and an irritation of ‘oh-no-not-again’ type of expression. My short term memory has deteriorated shockingly yet when I clicked onto Google and saw the decorative logo telling me it was St George’s day my first thought was of David Larner.

Who, you may ask, was David Larner and what does he have to do with St George? Well, he was the first boy I ever kissed and his birthday was/is April 23rd: St George’s day. 38 years ago we went to see Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales; a film which, to this day,I have never actually ever seen through to the end. The cinema is no longer a cinema; in fact it was a religious meeting place last time I went back to the town and I can even remember what I was wearing ( believe me I wish I didn’t! My only defense is that it was 1976 and french cut, high waist trousers were THE thing. I was also much thinner back then!). I really truly liked this boy; he had gorgeous blue eyes and the kind of generous nose I’ve always found attractive since. He made me literally weak at the knees and I’m pretty sure he liked me too yet just weeks later I behaved with the appalling cruelty of inexperience and youth and walked away from him, blinded by the invitation of an older male who had not only a job but also a car. True, I did eventually marry that male; I also divorced him years later. Isn’t it ironic I’d spent years waiting for my first romantic encounter then received four invitations all at once and being typically greedy imagined the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence. Well, romantic relationships have come and gone and are now of no importance to me, yet every so often David’s name will pop into my head.

It is, of course, the rose tinted spectacles of what might have been. Chances are we wouldn’t have lasted long as a couple but the problem with not knowing for sure is…the not knowing for sure! As a race we torment ourselves with might have beens and what ifs and, I have to be honest, good old fashioned curiosity. I’ve noticed people (myself included at times) have a tendency to imagine others do not exist unless they are making an appearance in our own lives. Like actors who spend time away from television or cinema we imagine in our self-centered way they are struggling when in fact, they are happily working away in alternative projects and getting on with their own lives too.

I do not know what became of Mr Larner nor do I have any desire to track him down(what an awful phrase!) but, if he’s out there anywhere I would like to wish him a very Happy Birthday and tell him he’s still the best kisser I ever experienced!

Happy Birthday David xxx

😀

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Tegfa chapter 4

Chapter 4

 

The King Oak was the heart of Draenog Wood. It stood serene, older than the town of Tegfa but younger by far than the hills that formed Cerridwens Vale. It dreamed away season after season, year after year and deep within the crenelated folds and whirls of its trunk were stored the tales and secrets of the centuries passed. To the King Oak, all things changed yet all things remained the same and always, through the passing of time, it had provided shelter and protection for those in need of it. Today beneath its budding canopy, sat Sally Winslow, her plump figure curled into the seat-like depression of King Oak’s mighty body.

She was lost in the words on the pages before her, legs curled tight beneath her as she sucked on the ends of her bottle black braids. Behind the heavy lenses of her spectacles, her eyes raced along the lines of print, her breath quickening and slowing as if she had never read the tales before and did not know the fate of the characters before her. The book itself was worn, its spine cracked, its cover creased but to Sally it was still a magical thing. A gateway to adventure to be devoured and enjoyed until dull reality once again stormed the castle walls of her imagination to claim her, inevitably, for its own. Sighing and straightening at last she allowed the book to fall limp onto her knees. She would have to go back soon. The Oyster Shell would be opening its heavy doors for the evening and she would have to change out of the stained jeans and top she had worn to clean the place earlier and into fresh clothes that would transform her from scullion to barmaid.

A scowl settled on her face. Her features where considered by some to be too severe for true prettiness, yet there was a softness, a longing which could transform her anger to passion at times and throw a glamour over her features that would grow in power as the years passed. She wished as always, that she did not have to go back. The smoke and the noise made her head reel and her clothes stink and the very smell of beer could now turn her stomach. She wished as always, she had been permitted to continue her education, to attend the nearby college with her former schoolmates, but her father had been adamant in his refusal.

“Why waste your time and that of the college?” He had asked rhetorically. “You’ll only marry and have children as soon as you can.” He had taken it upon himself instead to find his daughter employment. With work being scarce and limited in such a small town this had taken the course of calling in a favour from his brother-in-law who happened to be the owner, and landlord, of The Oyster Shell pub.

Her father’s mind was in the Dark Ages, Sally thought furiously, and her mother was no better: All she ever did was agree with the man as if she had no thoughts of her own in her addled blonde head. Neither of them ever gave a thought to what she, Sally, might actually want! With a final martyred sigh she stretched and slid stiffly to her feet. There was still a real nip to the air especially now that the sun was going down. She hugged her voluminous cardigan tighter around herself, stowed King Arthur and His Noble Knights safely in the sagging depths of a pocket, and began her journey back to town. As usual she made for the perimeter of the Wood rather than the more direct route, following its edge around to the road; this, as she had hoped, bought her a glimpse of the man who lived in the old lighthouse across the common.

Michael Kernow appeared to spend a great deal of time simply wandering around the grassy area between the wood and the lighthouse. She could see him clearly whilst remaining hidden herself by the trees and dappling shadows. He was an odd man, she thought, prone to talking to himself. He was too old to be of interest romantically although several of the girls in school had swooned and giggled whenever they passed him in the street and said he was fascinating.

No; he was too angry looking for her romantic tastes but she did find him fascinating in other ways. Often when she spied on him, he would be sitting strumming his guitar by a crackling camp fire on the open turf, even in the coldest weather. And sometimes, when she could decipher his mumblings, it would sound as though he was answering someone that no-one else could see. Sally’s mind conjured scenarios of doomed romance and broken hearts somewhere in the past which had obviously robbed the poor man of his sanity leaving him crazy with grief. She had been careless enough to mention the idea once over dinner with her parents, only to have her idealistic notions dashed on the concrete severity of her father’s thinking.

“More likely it’s all those bloody drugs he took back in the days have addled his mind,” George Winslow had barked contemptuously. “Bloody hippy! Don’t know what the council were thinking when they gave planning permission for that place?”

“They were probably thinking how much they enjoyed the holidays they bought with the money he gave them,” Sally’s mother had said vaguely. She had been picking around in the remains of her meal, so completely engrossed in her search for a final edible morsel that she had been oblivious of the furious glare from her husband. For Sally’s part she had wondered, for the thousandth time, how anyone so utterly unfiltered could survive the everyday world. It compounded the anger she felt when they treated her like a child; she knew as well as anyone how the world worked. She certainly knew how business in Tegfa was conducted for the most part – she worked in the pub for heaven’s sake – yet they persisted in treating her as if she was still a child!

In an absolute fury now, she stamped across the narrow curving road to cut across the car park above the beach. Already there were a handful of vehicles scattered on the cracked tarmac; early birds too poor or too desperate to care about the unpredictability of early spring weather.

John Keane had mentioned earlier that the first of The Oyster’s rooms had been booked for the following week. It would add to her workload Sally thought sourly, but it would also mean a boost to her meagre wages.

“I shouldn’t have to work!” She thought, tears of self-pity springing to her eyes. Her father was wealthy, richer than those of many of her former friends and not one of them had been forced to get jobs. She had reached the front door of the rambling Edwardian villa that was home and in the flawlessly polished glass panels of the front door Sally saw herself reflected; pale faced, shapeless in the oversized clothes which gave her the dimensions of a cube, her hair too dark for the lightness of her eyes.

Because of George Winslow’s profession as the town butcher, the family ate a good deal of farm reared meat; his mother had been widowed, left to raise her son alone like so many others after the war. Always a reserved taciturn woman she had shown her love in the only tangible way she knew how; through food and lots of it. The end result had been a great slab of a boy as solid and florid as the lumps of flesh on the marble slabs of the family shop. Marion, her mother, also came from a line of hearty eaters; a farmer’s daughter who believed in good honest butter and full rich milk to nourish the body as opposed to artificial coloured muck that masqueraded as food. It was even their fault she was fat, thought Sally furiously! In a gesture of pettiness she placed her grubby palms flat on the mirror like glass leaving two perfect oily prints on the surface.

“There,” she thought meanly. “That will spoil your nice shiny house for five minutes.” But it was a hollow gesture for it would not be her mother who had to clean the smudges away, but Zillah Lovell the fox-eyed woman who came down from the council estate twice a week to scrub and polish the Winslow home.

Sally ignored her mother’s shouted query from the living room and barged noisily up the stairs making as much noise as possible. After slamming her bedroom door pointedly she shrugged off her cardigan and studied herself critically in the full length mirror of the wardrobe.

What she wanted, more than anything, was to look like Morgan le Fay in the Waterhouse painting above her bed; instead she looked like a witch in some child’s fairy tale. Her hair did not cascade gently down her shoulders in glistening waves; it lay lank and damaged from the harsh chemicals of the dye she used to darken it. She looked ruefully at its central parting; it was pale and sandy coloured, getting wider by the day. Since she could not always afford to buy black dye she wondered if perhaps she should consider a lighter colour that wouldn’t show so much between treatments. She hadn’t been able to help admiring the honey dark hair of the woman who had stayed at the pub over Christmas. A wicked smile transformed her face. John Keane had been very taken with her too; he had hardly left the woman’s side and had hung on every crumb of attention she had dropped for him. Linda Keane had been angry, like a bear with a sore head until the woman had left. Sally’s musings were cut short by her mother calling plaintively from the landing.

“What?” She shouted back irritably.

“I was just saying hello cariad.”

Tutting Sally turned back to the mirror ignoring the interruption. She began to pull on the clothes she had laid out the night before. She had no patience left anymore for her mother; even now she could picture the trembling lower lip and heavily made-up eyes brimming with tears as the woman lolled on the banister begging like a dog for attention. Her clothes would be too bright and too tight and she would almost certainly be plastered.

Screwing up her face in concentration Sally manoeuvred her contact lenses into her eyes and began her make-up for the evening. Her fingers trembled involuntarily as she considered her mother’s condition. They actually believed that she didn’t know; as if there could be any doubt. They actually believed the old wives tale about vodka having no smell.

Pulling on her jacket Sally pushed past her mother as she made her way downstairs.

“Are you going out again?” Marion Winslow murmured pathetically. “I thought we might have a girls evening – your father is at a meeting.”

“I’m late for work,” Sally replied shortly. “The job you and father were so keen to set up for me; remember?” She knew her tone was cruel but she could not stop herself. She wanted her mother to show some pride, to pull herself together for god’s sake. It wasn’t as if she had any excuse after all; they were one of the most affluent families in the vale and as far as she could tell her father kept Marion short of nothing. She slammed the door behind her and hurried across The Green to the pub.

Business was already brisk as she sauntered through the bar to the staff door. Linda made a caustic remark about her tardiness and Sally pulled a face at her broad back as she hung up her coat and took up her place behind the bar. She hated her job, the leering looks and comments that always greeted her arrival. The men were her father’s contemporaries and she did not try too hard to hide her revulsion at their clumsy entendres. Up until her eighteenth birthday she had been able to hide in the kitchen emerging only to wipe down tables or deliver meals but now she spent almost all of her time in the bar hating every minute. Her complaints at home fell on deaf ears, her mother had apparently once filled the same position and what had been good enough for her was considered good enough for Sally.

A sudden silence descended over the pub and Sally paused in her pretence of polishing glasses to look up. The heavy wooden door of The Oyster had swung open and framed within it stood two men, one slightly taller than the other, but both lean yet well built. Curiously she glanced around, expressions of dismay sat on most of the faces around her. Jaws hung loose and glasses were frozen halfway in their journey to eager lips. Even the normally unshakeable John Keane stood withth a frozen expression on his face.

The strangers both wore dark clothes; charcoal jackets from what must once have been good quality suits and jeans scuffed and worn but clean. The taller and older of the two stopped at the bar and laid his hands flat on the polished wood. Up close Sally could see that his shoulder length tangled brown hair was shot through with random streaks of grey. His hard eyes reflected the golden colour of the earring in his left ear and his narrow high bridged nose gave him an almost predatory look.

The youth beside him was staring openly at her she realised. Suddenly self-conscious sally rested an arm across her chest and blushed deeply.

“What the hell are you doing here?” John Keane had found his tingue and broke the weighty silence.

“Long time,” the man replied softly ignoring the question. “I was Jake’s age when I last saw this place.” He gestured to the young man standing beside him and Sally did not miss the fleeting glimmer of pride it awoke in him.

“We were all young then,” Keane replied. “Now, I’ll ask again; what do you want here?”

“A pint.” The stranger paused to light up a skinny home rolled cigarette then seeing that the publican had not moved, stared hard at the man and added, “A half for him.”

Foe one long second it seemed as if John Keane might send the two packing. Sally felt her heart begin to hammer in the hollow of the throat then, her employer pressed his lips into a tight hard line, picked up a glass and began to pull the drinks.

A quiet ripple of conversation began to spread slowly around the bar Sally picked up another glass to polish and felt the stranger’s eyes on her. Not the younger one this time but the older one who was obviously his father. He studied her openly without embarrassment until her skin began to prickle. Finally he said in a voice so soft she could barely make out the words,

“You’re Marion Davies’s girl aren’t you?”

“Winslow,” John Keane slammed down the glasses between them. “Her name is Winslow not Davies.” This appeared to amuse the man.

“So he took on then; kept his word.” He gave the younger man, Jake, a glance but he was standing with his back against the bar so that he could watch the crowd. “Just goes to show every man has his price I suppose.” Jake gave a grunt and lifted his chin in vague acknowledgement of the remark.

“Old Mother Holt is gone Jem; been gone a while. Things are different around here now.” There was a challenge in the landlord’s voice but the stranger simply picked up his glass and swallowed half of his beer in one gulp.

“I know about Kitty, the crows told me when it happened but you’re wrong about things being different.” He put down his glass and fixed John Keane with a strare. “Nothing ever really changes in this place does it?”

“Who are you?” Sally blurted out suddenly. The man’s brows arched with surprise and he smiled briefly at his companion.

“I’m Jem Starke,” He said abruptly. “Give my regards to your Ma.” He set down his empty glass and gestured with his chin to Jake. Both men nodded curtly to their host then walked unhurriedly to the door. Sally could almost hear the sigh of relief as it closed behind them.

“Who are they?” She repeated her earlier question.

“Gypsies.” Linda was standing behind them her hands gripping the posts of the door so tightly that her knuckles were white. Her face looked drawn as sally said,

“How come I’ve never seen them before?”

“Because they’ve not been here in nigh on twenty year!” She snapped.

“Call George,” her husband said brusquely. “Tell him they’re here.”

“You mean Marion don’t you?”

Keane turned and gave his wife a look that made her shrink back. “Tell George,” he repeated slowly then turning to Sally finished, “And you get in the kitchen. You can work out back for the rest of the night.”

“But there’s nothing to do out there…”

“Find something!”

For two mind-numbing hours Sally wiped already clean plates and pans until eventually Linda Keane came through and told her she could go. She looked as if she had been crying, her eyes red and swollen.

“Go home,” she told Sally without looking at her. “There’s no point in keeping you here.” She watched as Sally tidied everything away and pulled on her coat. As she was headed for the door Linda said,” Don’t tell your Mam what happened here tonight.”

Sally turned and gave a sneering half smile. “I didn’t know anything had happened but then no-one ever tells me anything anyway. I’m just the hired help.”

The woman breathed in slowly and deeply wrestling with her temper. Finally she said, “Just go and if you’re late again tomorrow I’ll take it your of your wages.”

“In that case I’d be paying you,” Sally said rudely. She let the door swing back behind her with a satisfying crash. She did not feel like going straight home so she cut through the narrow alley and headed for The Promenade. She drew in a great breath of fresh salty air coughing slightly as she expelled the stale beer and second hand smoke from her lungs. It was a beautiful night, crisp and clear with the makings of a new moon and she was reluctant to go back. She allowed her thoughts to drift to the gypsy boy, Jake. He had been so handsome in an ethereal new romantic way, she thought dreamily, like Parsifal or Galahad. His hazel eyes were haunting her, hypnotising her from afar. As if it were the most unplanned of moves Sally began to stroll up the hill out of Tegfa towards the road that led to Draenog Wood.

At the edge of the tree line she stopped and stared out over the common. Right in the centre crouched a shadowy group of vans and vehicles. At the heart of the rough circle flickered a fire above which hung a pot black with charring but releasing a heady fragrance of herbs and game into the night. Snatches of song and fiddle music could be heard now and then over the shushing of the sea. Closing her eyes Sally leaned back against the nearest tree and tried to imagine being held by Jake’s strong arms. A rush of longing flooded through her and Sally’s eyes popped back open her cheeks scarlet with embarrassment. Hurrying away from the camp she began to follow the narrow path that would lead her towards the centre of the wood.

The pungent scents of the night washed over her as her feet crushed the forest floor; humus rich as fruit cake melded with early blossoms and the smell of the rich red earth itself. She could almost taste it on her tongue and the more she tried to control the urges growing inside her the stronger they became. She found herself beneath the canopy of the mighty King Oak and with a sob of confusion flung her arms around the gnarled trunk of the great tree. Opening her eyes she allowed them to adjust to the dark and as they did so Sally made out a figure on the far side of the clearing. Silently whoever it was uncoiled their body like a rope until she could see who was standing before her.

“What are you doing out here gaujo girl; why aren’t you locked up safe in your big brick house?”

Sally let her arms drop and turned to face him. “I prefer out here.”

The remark seemed to amuse him. “Blood will out,” he said at last.

“What does that mean?”

Ask your Ma.” There was a flash of white as he smiled then his body tensed listening. It took several seconds for Sally to hear the approaching footsteps. Heart pounding she waited to see who or what might appear through the trees and let loose a sigh of relief as Fay Morgan made her way into the clearing followed by her grandson Hywel.

His hair looks silver in the darkness and his eyes lit up like those of a fox. He and Jake eyed each other warily; young bucks sizing up their opposition. They did not break eye contact until the old woman stepped between them.

“Jake Starke, where is your father?” She said to the gypsy boy.

“Back at camp where he belongs,” Came the insolent treply.

“Don’t you speak to Old Mother Morgan like that!” Hywel made to step forward but was held back by Fay’s arm across his chest.

“Hush!” Both men moved back. The old woman looked at Sally her eyes sharp with interest. “Talking with your old friend King Oak?”

Sally did not reply, she shrugged and moved her arms so that she was half embracing the tree again.

“She’s one of the goat god’s chosen ones.” Fay was speaking to Jake Starke. “You be sure and tell him that.”

“He already knows.” The boy seemed scornful, dismissive of anything Fay Morgan had to say. “He could tell as soon as he saw her. Blood will out.”

Hywel stepped deliberately between Jake Starke and his grandmother to reach Sally. A half smile turned the edges of his mouth up and standing too close to her he ran his fingers softly down Sally’s face. Her heart began to race again as her body betrayed her common sense. There wasn’t a girl in Tegfa who didn’t lust after Fay Morgan’s golden haired grandson but he had never afforded Sally so much as a glance before tonight.

He was overwhelming close to; almost frightening. Sally’s legs began to tremble and she shrank away from his touch pushing herself hrd against the oak tree. Unbelievably Hywel leaned forward and brushed his lips across her own so lightly that it caused a sensation more irritating than pleasant. She understood in that instant that he was doing it to anger Jake Starke rather anything to do with her.

“Leave her,” the gypsy boy growled warningly.

“Boy come away,” Fay Morgan barked and Hywel stepped aside with a grin. “You should go home now maid,” she said directly to Sally. “These hills aren’t safe right now.”

“Because of the gypsies?” The words blurted before she could stop them and Sally flushed with shame as Jake Starke glared at her.

“No, not the Rom,” fay chuckled. “They are solid enough. What brought you here tonight wasn’t though. The goat god may not have harmed you this time but he’s a trickster; he can’t always be trusted.”

“Don’t fill her head with stuff like that old woman; she don’t need it!”

“Show some respect,” Hywel Morgan’s lips drew back in a snarl and his fists clenched.

“Hist!” Fay Morgan hissed at them both like a cat. “You will both have your time; no need to go looking for it.”

“And when will that be?” Jake demanded petulantly.

“When it’s right.” Jem Starke’s deep voice cut through the darkness making Sally jump. She had not heard him approach.

“Sarshin Sherrengo,” Fay’s face lit with a beaming smile of genuine affection and she dipped her head in a respectful nod. “It’s been too long since our paths crossed.”

Jem chuckled humourlessly then responded,

“Sarshin Puri Dai but I think around here you may be the only one who feels that way.” 

Fay made an impatient gesture. “Try and forgive them Jem, their memories are short, they forget like children.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” The gypsy said quietly. “It’s us; me who paid the price to keep them safe. My happiness and a man’s life: Too high a cost.”

“It’s not for them,” Fay said her eyes filling. “It’s for this place; this valley. It’s for Cerridwen.”

Sally who had watching wide eyed saw Jem’s gaze come to rest on her.

“You look like your Ma,” he said finally.

“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

Jem shrugged and turned away to stare at Hywel. The young man took a step back but did not look away, in fact he lifted his jaw slightly in mute challenge. With a sigh Jem told Jake,

“See her home safe.”

“I don’t want…”

Go!” Something in the man’s voice told her not to argue. Without another word Sally huffed away from the group leaving her escort to catch up with her as she reached the road. She turned to tell him he could go to hell but could not get the words out. He was the most stunning man she had ever been close to; not scary like Hywel but perfect, almost beautiful. She heard herself ask instead,

“What was that name Fay Morgan called your Da?”

Jake glanced at her his face unreadable then he said begrudgingly,” It’s a Rom word. Sherrengo, it means chieftain.”

“And Puri Dai?”

“You got a good ear on you don’t you?” he seemed surprised and Sally felt herself begin to glow. “It means Old Mother.”

“Wish I could talk Rom,” Sally sighed. “It sounds romantic. Will you teach me?”

“You want to learn your own tongue first.”

Sally stopped stung. Jake walked a few steps before turning back to see what was keeping her.

“For your information,” she said haughtily, “No-one round here talks welsh. We’re part of little England beyond wales.”

“And you’re proud of that are you?” Jake began to walk again and Sally, seeing that he was not going to wait, began to trail behind. She did not catch him until the lights of Tegfa were shining down on them as they made their way through the winding streets.

“Will you be staying here long?” She asked to break the silence between them. Jake shrugged without answering. They walked a little further then just as they were in sight of The Terrace he said,

“Do you go up onto the hills?”

“Sometimes,” Sally replied.

“You shouldn’t. There’s a rakerimasko bara up there.”

“A what?” Sally laughed.

“It’s a spirit, a stone,” jake seemed to be searching for the right words. “A talking stone.”

“Do you mean Terfyl Rock?”

“Hush!” Jake looked around wild eyed as if expecting something to leap from the shadows and attack them. “Don’t say names out loud,” he scolded. “There’s a power in names like you wouldn’t believe.” He gripped Sally’s arms as he spoke and she felt a tingle of excitement race through her. “Promise me you will stay away from it.”

Before she could answer they heard her father calling her name as he came hurrying across The Green. She turned back to Jake but the boy was gone, melted into the night like a shadow.

“Where have you been?” he was angry. “Keane phoned to say you left the pub two hours ago.

“I went for a walk,” Sally said sullenly shaking off her father’s hand.

“At this hour? There are gypsies on that common!”

She shrugged and began to walk away from him. “So? They seem OK to me. One of them walked me home.”

George Winslow’s face paled. For a second or two he swayed and looked as if he might pass out then he regained his self-control.

“You don’t know what you’re playing with cariad.”

 

Startled by his change of tone and the unfamiliar endearment Sally stopped and stared back at her father. She did not resist as he reached for her again and began to gently steer her towards the house. At the doorway she said in a voice choked with frustration,

“Why did everyone act that way when Jake and Jem came to the pub? Why won’t anyone tell me what’s happening?”

“You saw Jem?” her mother’s voice made them both start.

“Marion,” George Winslow’s voice took on a warning tone.

“Is he still handsome?” Marion Davies was crying, her make up sliding down her face. She was also very drunk. “Did he remember me; did he ask after me?”

“Marion go back to bed to now, Sally is home safe.”

But it was very obvious to Sally that her Mother was barely aware of her presence. She looked on with a mixture of revulsion and pity as her the woman collapsed in a heap in the hallway, her skirt rucking awkwardly across her heavy thighs. She was sobbing as if her heart was broken keening Jem Starke’s name over and over in a broken voice.

Shocked Sally watched as her father gathered Marion up with unusual tenderness and half led, half carried her up to their bedroom. When she followed a few minutes later she paused to listen to the crooning endearments through the door which had been pulled tightly closed. She could scarcely believe her own ears; George Winslow was a hard man; a shouter and a bully both in business and his home life. He had no time for sentimental notions, as he put it, and public displays of affection. Tentatively she raised one hand intending to tap on the smooth polished surface but let it fall again without doing so before going into her own room.

Through the large picture which framed the shore she gazed out over clustered rooftops to where the horizon glittered in the weak moonlight. She listened to the ceaseless push and pull of the ocean and imagined running down to the shoreline to wiggle her toes in the sand amongst the playful baby waves. She could picture herself wading deeper, out towards Lookout Point where she could scream her questions to the sky.

In the pocket of her coat her fingers found the papery remains of a small twig it’s leaves desiccated and frail. As she tore the dry material between her fingers she found her thoughts taking a darker turn. Instead of warm welcoming wavelets she imagined roaring angry breakers; cold angry waves that sucked her very soul to the depths of the raging hungry currents. She felt the air being sucked from her lungs by deadly frozen kiss and her body being tossed and broken in the rocks then being left to float restless and broken for the hungry nibbling lips of the fish to feed on.

A shuddering breath as her body reclaimed its natural defences broke the black trance and she stood gasping, her fingers tightening around the sharp points of the twigs in her pocket, the pain anchoring her and holding her safely in the sanctuary of the room. Her eyes fell back into focus and she saw herself staring back into her own eyes of amber and the high thin bridge of her nose.

“Go to bed Sally.”

An actual squeal of alarm tore from her chest as her father looked around the bedroom door.

“Don’t worry about your Mam; she’s…”

“Drunk.”

“Not well,” he finished coolly. He pulled the door closed as he left and Sally listened to his footsteps retreating along the landing. She pulled off her clothes and fell, suddenly exhausted, into bed where to her surprise, she slept.

It was gone noon when she awoke and a sullen drizzle was coating everything giving Tegfa a grey washed out look. But Sally would not be put off; pulling on a sweater and jeans she raced out of the house and up the hill towards The Lighthouse and the gypsy encampment. At the fork in the road however she hesitated and took a moment to look around and catch her breath.

In the distance, over Porth Carreg, brighter weather was already heading in. It was typical of the unpredictable conditions of the area and at the top of the highest hill swathes of cloud-like mist were already burning away to reveal Terfyl Rock standing like a great tusk against the skyline.

A sudden curiosity came over her as she remembered Jake Starke’s warning of the night before. He had given Terfyl some outlandish name that was practically unpronounceable. Sally rarely ventured up onto the open moorland, she preferred the closeness of the trees but she was suddenly overcome with a burning curiosity. She had grown up hearing the half whispered tales of Terfyl Rock and what went on in the hills at certain times of the year but she had always dismissed them as idle gossip; entertainment for the grockles who came to stay each summer and line the pockets of Tegfa’s permanent inhabitants.

One of the tales had said that Terfyl could grant your dearest desire if asked properly. An embarrassed half smile played on her lips. Her dearest desire right now concerned the very person she was hoping to bump into. Glancing over at Draenog Wood she saw the tree canopy still topped with wreaths of fog and drizzle. Changing direction she headed towards the hills and the burgeoning sunshine.

She was sweating heavily by the time she had negotiated the winding path and panted heavily as a cooler breeze finally found her but its relief was short-lived; as she began to pick her way across the turf her shoes sank and squelched in the rust coloured juices of the hills. Twice she turned her ankle painfully and had almost decided to turn back and go to the wood after all when a figure appeared from behind the rock.

Shading her eyes Sally tried to identify the person. She cursed the haste that had caused her to leave her spectacles behind but whoever it was appeared to be dressed in black. She decided that it was more than likely to be Jake and covered the remaining distance quickly. But when she got to Terfyl Rock there was nobody there. Puzzled Sally walked around the monolith trailing her fingers across its weather worn surface. She had not realised that there were spiral carvings on it. Peering closely she picked out serpentine coils beneath the lichen.

Curiosity piqued Sally made a second circuit of the rock all the while humming to herslf and scratching gently at it’s surface. She was about to go around a third time when she heard her name being screamed across the oddly dead still air of the hills.

“Sally no!” Jake Starke was running swift as a deer across the uneven turf jumping with goat-like agility over the hummocks and rabbit holes. “What are you doing?” He gasped angrily as he stopped in front of her. “Didn’t you listen to what I told you?”

Looking down Sally felt an angry flush stain her cheeks. “Of course I listened.” Resentment flared inside her but when she looked back up she saw that his eyes were full of concern. A crease of worry marred his forehead beneath a tangle of dark hair and he looked so handsome that Sally felt she could barely breathe. They were, she realised, almost close enough to kiss. One step allowed her to press her mouth firmly to Jake Starke’s lips. She was horrified when he not only pushed roughly away but spat on the ground and scrubbed his mouth for good measure.

“What do you think you are doing?” he shouted.

Appalled Sally pressed the back of her hand to her mouth and struggled to stem her tears. “It was just a kiss.”

“But it isn’t right; not between us.” Jake sounded revolted and a flood of shame filled Sally’s throat. Her stomach heaved and she turned away fearing she might be sick.

“I’m not some kind of monster you know,” she managed to sob.

“Of course you aren’t.” Jake’s anger was now becoming discomfort. The gypsy boy looked around him anxiously as if he might draw salvation from the rocks and heather of the moor.

“Then why did you spit like that?” She was crying openly now.

“Because it was mochardi; unclean,” he said awkwardly.

Scrubbing at her eyes sally turned back to face him. “Why because I’m a, what did you call me last night, a gaujo?”

“No, not that.” Jake looked agonised and as he struggled silently Hywel Morgan’s voice said,

“He can’t tell you.” There was a mocking note to the statement and as they turned around in surprise Sally saw his eyes taunting them. “You’ve been forbidden to tell her haven’t you chavvie?”

“I’m no child,” Jake said coldly. “Don’t pretend you speak Rom because I know you don’t.”

“Maybe not,” the blonde man admitted. “But I know your laws and if your Sherrengo says you can’t speak about something then I know you have to obey no matter what.”

“Alright then,” Sally spoke up anger and humiliation making her voice shake. “You tell me then.”

Hywel smiled without warmth. He came closer and leaned into Sally breathing in the scent of her hair and skin. “Should I tell her chavvie?” he said softly.

Knocking Sally aside Jake put his hands around Hywel’s throat and drove him back hard against the upright rock. A spurt of scarlet burst from the blonde mans lips as his teeth snapped together and the impact of his skull against the stone made his eyes glaze dizzily for a second or two.

“Jake no!” Sally pulled at the gypsy boy’s sleeve but succeeded only in distracting sufficiently for Hywel to break free and deliver a punch that sent him sprawling to the ground. Both young bucks now wore trails of red on their chins and Sally could do nothing but watch helplessly as they began to fight and tear at each other like animals. She tried to step forward to part them but was driven back by Hywel’s brindle hound which feinted at her with drawn lips and a menacing snarl. It wasn’t until Jem Starke was heard shouting furiously as he raced across the hill that either of them looked up.

A glare from the gypsy chieftain was enough to send the hound scuttling away and grabbed the collars of the two young men dragging them apart. Sally saw a flicker of apprehension on both faces.

A torrent of Romane spilled from Jem’s lips and with a final cuff Jake was sent on his way. The boy began to run and did not look back. Jem turned back to Hywel and pulled him close by grabbing the front of his shirt.

“Get yourself back to Old Mother Morgan and tell her what you done here today.”

“I did nothing!” Hywel wrestled himself free and spat at Jem’s feet. “Ask her; she’ll tell you your boy struck the first blow.”

Sally had never seem rage like that which filled Jem Starke’s eyes. She feared he might actually kill Hywel or do him harm but eventually the older man unclenched his fists and breathed heavily for several moments. When he finally spoke it was in a voice that sent shivers of dread down Sally’s spine.

“I curse you. I gift you to the Kashali; may you get exactly what you want.” He made a sign in the air with his fingers and Hywel staggered back a few steps, his face pale. The air was still as if in shock at what had just been done until Hywel called weakly to his hound which came warily back to join him. With the barest trace of a contemptuous smile the young man left them picking his way carefully along the path that would take him back to hid grandmother’s cottage.

Alone with Jem sally could only stare bug eyed at the man who was still trembling with barely restrained fury. When she spoke, trying to make a garbled defence for Jake he simply put one finger against his thin lips and shook his head. Then he pointed to Terfyl Rock and shook his head again.

“You shouldn’t come up here,” he said at last. “Jake was trying to warn you.”

“I know, please don’t punish him. It’s all my fault.”

Jem’s lips loosened. He rested his hands on his hip and looked around him. An expression of weariness and deep pain had etched itself onto his features and as he turned his face up to gaze at the once more sullen sky Sally thought she saw a glint of moisture at the corner of his eye. For several ong moments he fought silently with himself then, glancing across at Draenog Wood, he gestured for Sally to follow him.

Once safe in its forested embrace Sally began to tremble with delayed shock. A dreadful cold seemed to have seeped into her bones and she bit her lip hard so as not to cry again. They were standing beneath King Oak and between chattering teeth Sally asked,

“Can I ask a question?”

“There’s not a man born who can stop a maid asking questions,” Jem replied dryly.

“Why is everyone in this town afraid of you?”

He stared at her until she felt herself begin to burn under the force of him but she did not blink or look away.

“A lot of the story isn’t mine to tell,” he said at last with a sigh. “But what I will tell again is stay away from there.” He nodded in the direction of the hills. “There’s power in that place that would finish us all if the gate were to be opened and the Kashali were to come through.”

“Kashali? Is that like in the legends and fairy tales; like The Twyleth Teg?”

Jem clucked his tongue crossly and shushed her. “Legends are fact put into a form we can remember, don’t you forget that and names are some of the most powerful magic there is.”

“Magic,” Sally could not stop the grin.

“Aye, magic: Just because folk forget don’t mean something isn’t still there.”

“Did you really curse him?”

Tenderness softened the tall Rom’s face. “Yes but I can protect them too if I know their name.”

“It’s easy to find out someone’s name. There’s no power in that.”

“Not your ordinary name,” he said softly. “Your real name that only you and your mother know. The name she whispered as you fell asleep each night.”

“My mother names me Sally, will you protect me?”

“Always,” he told her with a smile. “But not with magic.” Taking one hand from his pocket he gently traced the line of Sally’s jaw and a flash of vulnerability raced across his face. “Take your head out of those books of yours and talk to your Ma. Real magic is all around you, not on paper.”

Sally looked doubtful. “We don’t have much in common.”

Jem put his hand back into his pocket and stared up at the canopy of budding leaves above them.

“I never used to think much of George Winslow’s views on life,” he said quietly, “But he’s proved himself a man of his word. He made me a promise and he kept it. That makes him an honourable man in my book.”

Sally spluttered. “You obviously don’t know him very well! My father; honourable?”

“Where it counts.” Jem looked back down at Sally. “Go home,” he said gently. “Talk to them both.” He began to walk away and Sally felt a wave of desolation sweep over her.

“Don’t leave me behind,” she said piteously. “I want to be with you and Jake.”

“Me and Jake are always with you; blood can never be parted by distance.” He did stop, he did not even turn around and then he gone; lost in the weaving trunks of the wood.

It was getting dark and Sally realised she should have been at work an hour ago. A flash of spirit leaped into heart as she thought about Jem’s words. Sod the pub! She would not be going in there again. It was time to take a stand and fight for what she wanted to be.

As she made her way back to town Sally rehearsed how she would explain to her parents that she wanted to go back to college. There was more to life than Tegfa and The Oyster Shell and by god, she wanted to experience some of it!

As she pushed open the gate the front door of the house flew open and her Mother ran sobbing down the path. She enveloped Sally in a hug that almost squashed the breath from her ribs. Instinctively Sally made to push her away then heard Jem’s words echoing in her head. She looked hard at Marion and saw. To her astonishment, that her Mother must have been quite beautiful once. Beneath the ruined make up and alcohol bloated features still lurked the laughing fresh faced beauty who must have been able to have her pick of the young men of Tegfa; perhaps even a wild eyed young gypsy.

Understanding dawned like a spring morning and as sally pulled her sobbing Mother towards her she looked at the man who had chosen to bring her up as his own so many years ago.

He looked suddenly old; broken and she thought for the first time how much he must love them both. How frightened he must have been at the prospect of her finding the truth.

“You came back cariad, you came back.”

“Of course I did,” she whispered in her Mother’s ear. “You’re my Mam and Da; who else would put up with me?”

Her mother’s voice creased with uncertain joy and her Father stepped forward uncertainly.

“Things will be different cariad I swear,” he whispered as she grasped his hand.

“They will,” Sally nodded. “Things need to change, you have to understand I’m not a your little girl anymore. I’m a grown up; a person.”

George Winslow’s voice was hoarse with unshed tears. “You will always be my little girl,” he told her. She squeezed his fingers tightly.

“And you will always be my Da.”

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Tegfa chapter 3

Chapter 3

            On the cliff overlooking Tegfa stood the blind sentinel of The Old Lighthouse. Relieved of its former duties it no longer watched over the maritime traffic that once graced the shores of the surrounding coastline, instead it had become a haven; a hideaway for the man who had stumbled across it one day by chance and decided to spin out his remaining days in its quiet solitude and safety. It had been the view from the cliff that had convinced Michael Kernow he had found the sanctuary he had been searching for.

He had been driving for most of the night, intent somewhere in his drug drenched mind that the time had come to end his life. There had been a vague intent to drive his car off a cliff, if he could find one, but as luck, or fate, might have it he had run out of petrol literally yards from the edge of the land. He had fallen from the vehicle door in a stupor of drugs and drink and slept on the dew soaked turf. When the cold and the light dragged him back to unwilling consciousness he had prised open his eyes and wept at the sight before them.

On the horizon, resting on the oceans’ edge he saw the sun rise flooding the bay and the deserted structure of the lighthouse with gold and apricot and rose pink as deep as the heart of a blossom. It had touched something deep inside that he had long thought dead and, in that moment, he decided he would make his home in the disused lighthouse.

As if endorsing his decision he encountered few setbacks to his plan. Trinity House, having installed electronic alternatives up and down the coastline was glad to be rid of their white elephant and permission to make it his home had been achieved in the time honoured tradition of provincial towns. A few gifts, a little money and a word or two in the right ears ensured that in less than a year he had moved into his ivory castle. It had taken virtually all of his remaining capitol to restore and convert the old building and, since royalties were no longer impressive enough to live on, Michael had also taken tenancy of a small shop in Tegfa. He sold records, sheet music, sometimes CDs and second hand musical instruments picked up on his travels. He did not keep regular shop hours and often did not open for days at a time whenever he went on his stock hunting forays, yet somehow the business ticked over and made enough for him to cover his needs.

These were few and Kernow was also careful to cultivate a barrier of privacy with regard to the quizzical locals. Despite their best efforts not one of the  females of the town made it beyond a casual drink in the bar of The Oyster Shell and, apart from the fact that he lived alone and had once been a famous musician, his five years in the community had yielded little information for them to chew over.

He was seldom seen out or about in Tegfa other than in his role as a shopkeeper and he rarely exchanged more than a word or two of greeting with anyone, but he had a few scrupulously selected acquaintances, one of whom was Ally Smart the small weathered individual who walked with a pronounced limp and depended on his trio of small welsh ponies for a living in the summer and a surprisingly profitable relationship with Gwyn Williams, the town bookie, during the winter. During the winter months Ally would bring his ponies to graze on the common land around the lighthouse. It served as both exercise and a cheap healthy supplement to the animals’ diet. Slowly the ever cheerful little pony handler and the tall quiet man had struck up a friendship of sorts.

Michael would sit, in the evening, on the dilapidated wooden bench beside the sheep track that passed the door of his home, apparently unconcerned as to whether Ally and his ponies would appear or not. Some evenings they would exchange little more than a perfunctory greeting but on others Michael might talk, letting slip some snippet of humour or even occasionally a particle of information regarding his former life. Ally would squirrel these away like gems to be dropped casually into conversation, say, when Michael was the subject of debate in The Oyster Shell or when an erroneous opinion might be corrected. It depended entirely on Michael’s mercurial moods. Michael knew that Ally thought of him as a person of secrets and surprises and he did nothing to disabuse him of that. The truth was, he looked forward to their encounters and chats a great deal more than he would ever admit.

The grass was unseasonably lush for the early spring and Ally’s ponies, already as fat as butter, were content to graze and dream as the day faded. Michael had returned home earlier, pleased with the items he had found for the shop and he had surprised Ally by producing two bottles of ale soon after his arrival. For almost half an hour the two man had been content to simply sit and gaze and savour the taste of the rich dark beer then, out of nowhere, Michael had heard himself ask,

“Do you miss it?”

Ally had set his bottle down with exaggerated care and wiped his lips on the cotton handkerchief he always kept about him. “Come again Michael?” He had said with laboured calm.

Michael had drawn on his rolled cigarette and said in his deep rumbling voice,” Your old life: Do you ever miss it?”

“Not sure I get your drift,” The older man had laughed nervously.

“Do you miss the excitement; the noise?” He nodded towards the shadowy shapes of the dreaming ponies. “The power and speed of full size horses.” He saw a familiar wariness crowd into the pony man’s eyes. It was the same look he imagined he got when someone tried to go into his past. Ally frowned but did not speak. For the space of several breaths Michael watched him squint through the twilight. He did not hurry him, pushing aside the tangled fall of his still thick fair hair he looked at Ally through the coiling wreaths of tobacco smoke and studied him placidly with his dark brown eyes.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Ally said at last but the pulsing of the vein in his neck gave away his discomfort.

A chuckle began deep in Michael’s chest but became a hacking cough as the smoke from his cigarette sneaked down into his lungs. Covering his mouth with a long fingered, large knuckled hand, he coughed until his lungs cleared then took a final drag and allowed the smoke to trickle out through flared nostrils.

“Come on Ally, this is me; who the hell am I going to tell?” Good naturedly he added, “I may not have much but I can afford a pint in the pub if I want one without having to barter information.”

Ally’s cheeks flushed but he held his silence so Michael spoke again in a dreamy distant voice of remembering.

“Cheltenham; don’t ask me what year because I hardly knew one day of the week from another back then. I don’t recall dates but I do remember things, faces, places. I remember a big black mare with a white chest. She almost fell at the first fence then picked herself up and, thanks to the jockey, went on to win at 20 to 1.” The silence grew, stretched, Michael leaned forward to drop the stub of his cigarette on the ground and grind it carefully beneath his heel.

“How long have you known.” Ally’s voice was a whisper sharp with unshed emotion.

“A while.” Michael grinned then added, “I won a packet on that mare. She paid for a second hand Gibson as black and beautiful as herself.” He felt his face cloud as the memory of the guitar’s fate came back to him but Ally spoke quickly bringing him back to the present.

“You were there?” The disbelief in his voice was almost childlike and Michael let slip another of his rare laughs.

“I was,” he agreed, “she was a beauty. What the hell was her name again?”

“GalwayBay,” Ally smiled fondly. “By god but she was a hellion to ride; mouth like a boot but a heart like a Ferrari. Mother of all bitches to ride, she was, but by god she could run.”

“What happened to her?”

The light went out of Ally’s eyes. He shrugged, picked up his ale and took a swallow. “Dog meat probably, unless they could breed from her. Even then she’d end up the same way eventually. It’s a tough old game.” He glanced down at the leg stretched stiffly in front of him. “Once you’ve outlived your usefulness nobody wants to know.” The first barks of the foxes and the early insects, fooled by the evening’s warmth, filled the lull between the two men then Ally said,

“What about you?”

“What about me?” Michael felt the guards’ spring back into place.”

“Fair’s fair, a secret for a secret, tell me something about your past.”

Michael thought for a while. “When I was 10 one of the girls in my school kicked my arse and called me a pansy because I was in the choir. It was because of her I took up the guitar instead.”

Ally stared not knowing for a moment if he was serious or not then his face crumpled and peals of laughter echoed in the evening air as he slapped his thigh in appreciation of his companion’s deadpan humour. “Ah, you’re a caution, Kernow,” he said wiping his eyes.

“A laugh a minute,” Michael agreed dryly.

Getting stiffly to his feet Ally stretched and rubbed his leg before thanking Michael for his company and the beer. Turning, he called to his ponies gently as if speaking to children and three muzzles, two pink, one brown lifted from the grass and the three little beasts ambled towards him.

Half envious Michael watched Nan, Romany and Velvet nuzzle Ally’s chest and pockets. “Fat as butter,” he heard the old man murmur lovingly,” my angels, my babies.”

Michael shook his head in mock disapproval, “you spoil them Ally.”

“I know,” he agreed cheerfully. “You take care now Michael; I’ll maybe see you tomorrow?”

“Perhaps.” He watched in silence as the silhouettes of the former jockey and his ponies receded into the evening twilight. It was almost dark now and Michael stretched spreading himself comfortably across the bench. All around the night was settling in and the barn owl had taken up its usual perch on the fence post of the garden. Wildlife snuffled and stirred in the grassland and hedgerows and although there were no trees in the immediate vicinity of the lighthouse Michael was certain he could hear the sound of the rustling branches and buds of nearby Draenog Wood less than half a mile away providing a counterpoint melody to the whispering waves below.

For a while he sat; the sun was completely gone now and in its place a tiny fingernail moon rested on the waves. The growing breeze began to tousle his hair and he digested the town news Ally had imparted. The Finch boy was finally home from hospital pale, almost mute and wheelchair bound but at least he had Molly Lovell to love and care for him. Every day, Ally had told him, she wheeled the boy up and down The Promenade so that he could be near the water. He was apparently only at peace if he could see the sea. As a magpie of gossip Ally had heard rumours that the boys mother had taken to drink. She no longer seemed to care about her husband or son and was spending a scandalous amount of time with the local Master of Hounds in the next valley. She no longer cared whether her son spent time with Molly, in fact, she seemed happy to relinquish his care to the girl and Ally speculated, with a broad wink, that wedding bells might sound before too much longer.

Michael’s thoughts were broken by a feather gentle touch; lips on his own; fingers in his hair. “You came,” he grunted softly. “I wasn’t sure that you would.”

“Why aren’t you sure?” The woman stepped around in front of him. Urchin curls of raven black hair as tossed and tumbled as the sea whipped around her face and large dark eyes regarded him solemnly but her wide full lipped mouth was no more than a twitch away from laughter.

“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “Sometimes you don’t and in the daylight it’s sometimes hard to remember the promises of the night before.”

She sighed stretching out her arms, baring herself to the burgeoning stars. The night’s breath moulded her light cotton gown to her body and Michael heard her whisper, “do you remember the first time we met here?”

“Of course I don’t,” he said gruffly. “Or do you mean the first time I actually saw you?” Her laughter lingered to taunt him as she darted away, her feet skimming the turf. He watched as she twirled and spun with wild abandon. The pale grey linen of her dress moved like mist around her and he felt his heart quicken, as always, at the thought of the hours they had to come through the night.

Grace had come into his life just a few months after he had moved into the newly refurbished lighthouse. She had stolen her way into his existence, penetrating a heart he had considered too scarred and broken ever to feel love again. The first time he had laid eyes on her then – as now- she had been wearing the gauzy grey dress and he had seen her dancing out on the grass as he gazed through the window of his new home at the gathering dusk.

She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life and he had been undecided, at first, whether he should rush out and speak to her or flee to his bedroom and lock the door behind him. Eventually he had gone out treading as softly as a cat and he had made his way over to the dancing girl watching in mute wonder as she laughed at his moonstruck face.

“You came back!” These were the first words she ever said to him when she finally stopped dancing. “I knew that you would.”

For a moment Michael had been too mesmerised for her words to sink in. When they did however he started and said,” I’ve never seen you before in my life and believe me I’d remember.”

Her face had fallen, lips pulled down at the corners, doe eyes shiny and wet. “You have forgotten me, so soon,” she had whispered.

“I would remember meeting someone like you,” Michael had repeated but the girl had interrupted him.

“It’s me, Grace, have I changed so much?” Before he could speak she had gone on,” you haven’t changed at all.” She had skipped closer, a teasing smile on her face. “You are still as handsome as you always were although your face looks…” She hesitated as if searching for just the right word. “Older,” she had said softly, at last. “More careworn than you used to be.”

Michael had begun to sift back through his mind. So many things had become muddled during his quest for self destruction in the long dark past. She was far too young to have been one of the groupies or hangers on from his days with the band and yet there was something familiar about her close to. His stomach gave a lurch.

“Dear gods, you’re not the result of a one night stand are you? I don’t have any money left!”

“Oh, Harry!” She had laughed then, so hard that she had pressed her pale fingers against her mouth in an effort to stop the whoops of merriment. “Harry, you are funny,” she hiccupped at last.

“My name isn’t Harry, its Michael.”

“Did you change it while you were across the sea in Nova Scotia?”

“No,” Michael frowned. “I don’t think I’ve ever been there, besides why would I do something like that?”

Grace had shrugged her eyes wide and slightly fearful. “The police were chasing you for running away.”

“The police?” Michael took a step towards her. “Just who do you think I am?”

Her face had hardened with consternation. “Don’t play such cruel games with me Harry. How dare you pretend not to know me, I see no reason to stay so I will take my leave of you!” She had stamped her foot and turned to go. As she did so Michael had stretched out his arm to stop her.

“Wait, please,” he had begun but as he stepped forward his foot had caught on a tangled bramble root and he had stumbled, falling heavily to his knees. When he had looked up again Grace had gone. Only the barn owl perched on the fence post was there to witness his confusion.

                                       …………………………………………….

“You look far away my love,” Grace’s gentle voice pulled Michael back to the present.

“I was remembering the first time we met,” he said with a sheepish smile.

“At the fairground,” she beamed,” in my sprigged muslin dress with ribbons in my hair.”

“No,” Michael corrected her gently. “Here in the moonlight, when you called me Harry.” His words seemed to distress her. Sitting down heavily on the grass she put her hands to her cheeks and murmured, “I get so confused when you say such things Harry.”

“But Harry is dead. He died a very long time ago,” Michael thought silently,

”as did you my darling.”

                              ………………………………………………….

Michael had not become aware of Grace’s identity or state of being straight away. It had taken some very patient digging. There were precious few documents to be found regarding the history of Tegfa, the town had simply existed it seemed for the most part, without being documented almost outside of time itself. Trinity House had been able to tell him nothing more than the fact that there had been a beacon of some description on the present site since before any records began until its decommission in the mid 1980s. It wasn’t until he had ducked into the second hand bookshop one day that he had encountered his first real break. Desperate to avoid John Keane and another impassioned entreaty that he come and sing in The Oyster Shell, Michael had dived into the first shop he came to which happened to be Minty’s.

Meggy Lewis, the owner, had stood up behind the counter the instant he had walked in. Small, blonde, pepper pot plump, she possessed the china doll prettiness so common to the mining valleys to the east of Tegfa. She was also one of Michael’s most ardent admirers and the expression on her face suggested that a moment of triumph might well be at hand.

“Michael,” she beamed with delight. “There’s lovely to see you, what a nice surprise!”

“Oh, hi Maggie.” It occurred to him far too late that he had possibly jumped from the frying pan to the fire.

“Meggy,” she corrected with a smile.

“Meggy,” Michael glanced over his shoulder. John Keane was not only still out there but was now preparing to have a chat with someone directly outside the window of the bookshop. It was face him or go deeper into the semi gloom of the bookshelves. Michael made his choice. Attempting to be nonchalant he stepped between the nearest shelves as if to browse but, no sooner had he done so, than Meggy was beside him, her eyes level with his shoulder.

“Were you after anything in particular?” She batted her lashes at him coquettishly and squeezed just a little closer than was necessary.

“No,” he blurted instinctively,” yes, actually, do you have stuff to do with the lighthouse?”

“What, your lighthouse?” Her welsh valleys lilt became more pronounced as she thought deeply and frowned. “No, I don’t think so. Nobody has ever been interested as far as I know.”

“Oh that’s a pity. I would have liked to have read up on a bit of its background.” Michael was manoeuvring himself backwards. John Keane appeared to have gone and he was hoping the coast was now clear to leave.

“In that case you should go and see Old Mother Morgan up in the hills.”

“Who?” Michael stopped suddenly and was treated to the softness of Meggy’s breasts against his body.

“Old Fay; She knows all there is to know round here.” Meggy smiled archly,” apparently, she used to be quite a girl in the old days. The women drove her out of Tegfa just after the war when all their men came back home.” She gave a slow wink and Michael, despite himself, grinned. On the vague half promise of a drink sometime, he managed to extract himself from the shop. He knew where the old woman lived, her cottage was visible across the valley but he had never had any reason to walk in its direction. Crossing to The Promenade he leaned on the rails and drew in deep lungfuls of the clean salty air until his head had cleared of Meggy’s cloying perfume.

The cottage was situated way up in the hills surrounding the town but even in the autumn cool it was a pleasant walk. Everything was preparing for hibernation but there was still a stark beauty to the place which made Michael’s heart swell with pleasure. Soft greens and golds of summer had given way to mauves and browns reminding him a lot of his native Dartmoor. Patches of dark bedrock could be glimpsed here and there through the turf and, in the distance he could make out the tall pillar of Terfyl Rock. A shiver ran through him as he paused to stare at it. During his time here he had heard some very strange tales about the menhir. Most of the local people avoided it and he had heard them advising summer visitors to do the same. Mostly they gave hidden bogs as the reason but now and again when he’d listened in on conversations in the pub he’d heard darker tales.

Pushing on he eventually reached the isolated cottage at the steep end of a sheep track. Nestled in a hollow near the peak of one of the highest hills its view was spectacular, better even than that from the lighthouse. From the lip of the overhang which fronted the property the whole of Tegfa tumbled like toys at the foot of the hills. Beyond the town lay the strip of sand hemmed in by the grey green water of PedolBay. In the clear crisp air it was even possible to make out the watercolour bulk of the neighbouring headland far across the water. Raising a hand to shield his eyes Michael drank in the view, lost in its beauty, until a voice behind him caused him to start and almost stumble over the edge of the overhang.

Spinning round he saw a young man, blonde haired and lean but with the most chilling pair of blue eyes he had ever seen.

“I said, what do you want?” The man repeated. Around his legs curled a brindled lurcher, its tongue lolling like a slice of ham. Beneath the drab brown poachers vest that he wore Michael was certain he could make out the sheath of a knife.

“I wanted to talk to Fay Morgan.”

“What business do you have with Old Mother Morgan?”

“Is this where she lives?” Michael deliberately ignored the question.

“That depends.” The young man’s hand strayed down to the hounds head and it did not escape Michael’s notice that this brought the rust stained fingers very close to the half hidden knife.

Raising his hands slightly before him he said,” I’m not looking for trouble. I just want to speak to Fay Morgan.”

“And what might a minstrel want with Old Mother Morgan?” The voice came from the doorway of the cottage and belonged to a woman no taller than a child. Raven streaked hair was pulled back into a knot and her slight body was swathed in layers of clothing against the chill air. She clucked her tongue causing both the young man and the dog to turn and face her. “Come away Hywel, Cousin Jack means me no harm.”

Michael laughed with appreciation. “That’s a term I’ve not heard in a very long time.” The woman returned his smile revealing not only a twinkle in her green eyes but also a set of enviably white teeth.

“The Cornish have always been known as cousin jack, have they not? Come away in,” she beckoned for Michael to approach and he did so cautiously. Hywel and his hound made no move other than to follow his progress with gimlet sharp eyes.

Inside the cottage was dark, smoky, and hung with herb bundles. It seemed to consist mostly of one large room dominated by a good log fire. On its heat sputtered an old iron kettle such as Michael’s grandmother had used back when he was a child in Falmouth and an immediate feeling of calm settled over him.

“Don’t pay too much heed to Hywel,” Fay Morgan said over her shoulder. “He’s my grandson, lives here with me now though. His mother never could understand the boy.”

“Understand?”

The old woman smiled grimly. “He’s a throwback – the old blood is strong in him.” Michael’s face must have looked confused because she went on,” he doesn’t always see the world as others do; especially when the seasons turn or the moon is high.”

Michael debated silently with himself; should he simply get up and walk out or should he humour the dotty old bitch in the hope of learning something useful about Grace? A cackle of laughter displayed Old Mother Morgan’s excellent teeth yet again and she slapped her knee with delight.

“If everyone in the world wore their thoughts as clearly as you do, there would be understanding for everyone! How do you take your tea?”

“Milk, two sugars,” Michael blurted trying to keep up with the change of subject matter.

“Hmph, thought as much,” she scowled. “Well I don’t keep sugar in the house generally so you can have honey but the goat is dry right now so it’ll have to be black.” She busied herself filling a great brown teapot with bubbling water and did not speak again until she was handing her visitor a brimming cup of tar dark tea. “Now, what is it you want to know about Grace Morgan?”

The tea that splashed onto Michael’s thigh was hot enough to make him bite back a hiss of pain. Through clenched teeth he managed to ask,” how would you know it was Grace I wanted to ask you about?”

“You live at the lighthouse,” the old woman shrugged. “My grandfather’s brother was its’ keeper at the turn of the century.”

“But I never mentioned Grace, I haven’t told anyone about her.”

Fay Morgan regarded him keenly. “You didn’t have to. The minute I laid eyes on you I thought, hello, here’s Harry Chappel back from the grave and still as handsome.”

Michael could feel every drop of blood in his body pooling into his feet. Afraid that he might drop his cup and saucer he put them, with much rattling, on the hearthstone by his feet.

“You can’t know,” his voice was a disbelieving rasp. “Nobody knows.”

“Oh,” Fay Morgan flapped her hand dismissively. “There isn’t much goes on her I don’t know about.”

Curiosity overcoming disbelief Michael managed to ask,” will you tell me about them; Harry and Grace?”

“If you are certain you want to know.”

“I am.”

Fay Morgan let out a long sigh. “Very well then. This is family history for me so I can only tell it as I heard it.” Michael nodded. “Try not to interrupt too much and remember, this was a long time ago by most people’s reckoning. Reality wasn’t as stubborn as it is now and even then, at the birth of a new century, the Old Ways still meant something.”

Michael nodded mutely and picked up his tea. Fay Morgan settled back in her chair, closed her eyes and began to speak.

“Grace was my mother’s cousin; young and wild the pair of them. More like sisters really up until the time my Mam was wed and had to settle down to keeping a home and raising a family with my Da.

“He was a trawler man, strong and handsome; first mate on The Seren. They lived down in the town, my parents, but by all accounts they saw a lot of Grace.” One eye cocked open to ensure that Michael was still paying attention. Satisfied, she went on. “Harry Chappel was a Cousin Jack – we’ve a lot in common, the Cornish and the Welsh. Taffs and Jacks both governed by mines and tides.

“Anyway, he came looking for work and got taken on with the crew of The Seren. He lodged with my parents, times being hard, and it was there that poor little Grace first saw him and fell heart over heels in love.

“He wasn’t nearly so smitten with her of course, scrawny little thing that she was with her hair all chopped and her bony little body. No, Harry’s tastes ran to something more buxom and willing.”

Michael gave a snort of derision but stayed silent as Fay stared him down before continuing with her story.

“Esme Drake, the publican’s daughter was more to his liking but Grace refused to give up. Whenever The Seren left port she was there to wave him off; whenever he came back she was there on the dock to meet him. In the end, I suppose, she just wore him down. He mayhap felt sorry for the maid. Whatever his reasons, he bought her a posy at the Summer Solstice fire and they began walking out together.

“It wasn’t long before Harry had sampled more than kisses from Grace. She gave herself up to him on the hills next to the big old rock that used to be called Carreg Clwyd, they call it Terfyl now. What was worse though was that Esme had started to look a bit big in the belly and she wasted no time letting her Da know who was responsible.”

“Harry,” the name broke free of Michael’s lips before he could stop himself but the look he received this time was one of sympathy, not reproach.

“You might wear his face. Chances are you carry his blood in your veins but you are not him. Remember that.”

As if he had not heard Michael mumbled, “What happened to Grace?”

“She stuck by him,” the old woman sniffed. “Believed him when he said the child wasn’t his and believed him when he said he would send for her from Nova Scotia to be his wife.”

“What the hell did he go there for?”

“Partly to escape what the men would have done to him; partly because times were hard and work was scarce. He would not have found any work anywhere local and people then were sailing in droves to seek a new life in the new world.”

“I’m guessing he never came back or sent for her.”

An eloquent shrug from the old woman. “Five years she waited. She watched Esme’s child grow and in the end even she couldn’t deny that the girl had been telling the truth. The child was Harry’s image.”

“What happened to her?” The question was like a stone in Michael’s chest.

“One day she went down to the bay and just walked into the sea. When she could no longer walk she began to swim. Some of the men saw her, from the shore as she was losing her strength, but by the time they reached her it was too late. They never found her body although, over the years, people – usually young men, claimed to have seen her struggling in the bay. They never find her and more than one has lost his life trying.” An expression of deep sadness lay on Fay Morgan’s face. Michael guessed it was a reflection of his own. “It was a bad business,” she finished softly.

“She killed herself over a worthless bastard like that!” The anger in his voice was enough to make Fay look up sharply.

“She killed herself for love, don’t you forget that.”

“Love didn’t do her much good.”

“Didn’t it? It brought her back to you; it’s given you a chance to reconcile yourself to her maybe even put her soul to rest. People think the past is done and forgotten but it never goes away, not really. It’s all around us; we just have to find the courage to face it. That’s when it loses its power to hurt us.”

“What should I do?” The desolation in his voice made Fay lean forward to lay a wrinkled calloused hand over his own.

“Be happy; welcome her when she comes to you.” She leaned back in her chair. “You might sing to her? Harry Chappel had a fine voice and Grace loved nothing better than to have him sing to her.”

Michael gave a sharp shake of his head. “I don’t sing anymore.” He looked over towards the old woman and, in the short silence that followed, watched her as she carefully rolled two cigarettes. She passed one over to him, went through the ritual of lighting it with a taper from the fire and took an appreciative lungful of smoke letting it trickle gently back through her nostrils. She nodded slightly.

“Music can be as hard a mistress as the sea.”

“Music ruined my life,” Michael said flatly. The old woman chuckled.

“Music just is. It’s like the sea; it can only be what you make of it.”

Michael gave her a questioning glance.

“The sea didn’t kill Grace, she chose to do that and love didn’t break her heart; she did that to herself too.”

Michael could not think of a reply so the two smoked in companiable silence. When he finally rose to leave Fay said, “I have something for you. It belonged to Grace.” Disappearing into one of the adjoining rooms Fay searched through various clutter. Michael listened as she did so and when she returned she was holding a small package wrapped in faded rose coloured silk. “Don’t look at it now.” She folded her hands over his as she gave it to him then she said, “Now go, I’ve other things to be doing today besides wasting my breath spinning tales to a minstrel.”

Outside the daylight was dazzling after the gloom of the cottage. Michael stood and blinked until his eyes adjusted. Hywel was seated on the ledge where Michael had stood looking out over the valley earlier. His legs dangled into space and his hound was stretched out beside him in the lowering golden sun. Neither moved nor looked in his direction but, as he turned for one final glance, Michael saw the cold empty eyes watching him keenly. He raised a hand in farewell and was rewarded with a single tilt of the young man’s chin.

The walk back had been demanding but enjoyable giving Michael a chance to mull over all he had been told. Despite Fay Morgan’s words he could not help but feel responsible for what had happened to Grace. He owed her something, he was sure, but did not know how to go about making amends.

As he toiled up the final stretch of the hill which skirted around Draenog Wood the lighthouse leapt into view. It struck him that it was almost a counterbalance to the forbidding Terfyl Rock with Fay Morgan’s cottage as the centre point between them. One radiated shadow and latent power whilst the other, in its day, had offered nothing but guidance and light. The notion made him shake his head and grin. He hadn’t indulged in such far flung flights of fancy since his song writing days.

By the time he reached home the sun had almost gone and a palette of colours had painted a gorgeous turmoil across the sky. For a moment he thought perhaps he could understand the addiction some people must feel to travel the world, always seeking, always searching. His fingers encountered Fay Morgan’s gift in his pocket. Pulling it out he tenderly unwrapped the crumbling silk.

Inside was a wooden frame its edges fastened with a tarnished brass clasp. Releasing it carefully he opened the two halves to reveal two sepia photographs; fragments of time forever trapped in amber.

On the left was the face of a fragile young woman fine boned with short dark waves of hair that looked as tossed and tumbled as the sea. Her dark eyes regarded him solemnly but her full wide mouth was no more than a twitch away from a smile. Opposite her, his features stern was his own face, slightly buried beneath a bush of whiskers and the cap pulled down over dark hooded eyes it was his face never the less.

She had come to him then her touch feather light on his shoulder. “Why Harry, that’s the photographic print that was made of us at the Summer Solstice fire. Do you remember?”

Turning his head slightly Michael had smiled tenderly at her. “Of course I remember, how could I forget?”

                                        …………………………………………………..

“You are so far away from me my love,” Grace’s voice broke through the memories and pulled Michael back to the present. She looked lovely, pale and beautiful and he decided the time had come to tell her how things really were. He would gather some wood and make them a campfire and he would tell her how many years had passed since she had passed. He would explain how much he loved her yet why they could never be together. It would be painful, he knew, but she deserved the honesty his ancestor had been unable to give her.

“Will you sing for me Harry?” she asked dreamily. “I love when you sing for me.”

“Of course I will. We’ll make a fire and sing under the stars.” As Grace ran with the happy abandonment of a child to search for twigs Michael collected his guitar from its resting place and followed her. Tonight might possibly be their last night together but he would spend it singing to Grace with the chorus of the sea behind them both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tegfa chapter 2

2

            It was almost midnight and the small main street of Tegfa twinkled like a Dickensian fantasy. With Christmas only days away the windows of the huddled little shops were decorated with swags of holly and mistletoe, real and artificial, and entwined with ivy and scarlet ribbon. They looked so beautiful that even Annie, huddled in the depths of her bulky parka jacket, could not stop the corners of her mouth turning up in appreciation. It was delicious: A feast of olde worlde glamour; as if time itself had stopped in the little valley one hundred years ago and refused to move on.

            Huffing out a plume of dragon’s breath from the fur lined cave of her hood Annie wondered, for the thousandth time, if she had done the right thing? What should you do when your life disintegrates around you, where do you go? Staring up she saw the magnificent almost full moon staring implacably back at her and she released a sigh of defeat. You go home of course. Even if home lies on the far side of the world to the life you have built, and is the one place you have spent most of your existence trying to escape. Stamping her feet in an effort to dispel the creeping numbness overtaking her Annie realised that she had actually forgotten how beautiful Tegfa could be during the winter months. She had always preferred the calm empty part of the year to the hustle and bustle of summer crowds even though that was how she and Karl had first met.

            She caught herself quickly; she must not think of Karl: Or Toronto: Or the business – her old life. That was all in the past now; gone, finished. Or at least it would be once all the paperwork was underway.

            Her nose was beginning to sting with angry unshed tears and she silently cursed her insomnia and jetlag. She wanted desperately to sleep, just a little respite from the heartache of having to exist from hour to hour. She craved oblivion and release so badly that her thoughts strayed to the bottle on her bedside cabinet back at the pub. It was tempting, so very tempting, and it would only be this once. Would it be so very terrible if she relaxed her iron self control just once and drank herself to sleep? Another bout of shivering warned Annie she would have to go back indoors soon anyway. Punch drunk with exhaustion she could no longer think straight and, despite her jacket supposedly being designed to withstand the bitter temperatures of Canadian winter, it seemed unable to protect her from the aching cold filtering into her bones.

            With a final glance at the moon she began to make her way back to The Oyster Shell pub. As she walked she watched her own reflection flit from window to window. None of the shops here succumbed to the glitter or gaudiness so usually prevalent at this time of year. Their decorations were those of time and tradition rather than crass commercialism. Into her mind popped Karl’s voice, his scathing comments regarding people’s gullibility to be taken in by a piece of tinsel or two echoing around inside her skull. Bitterly she found herself thinking that he was more than happy to profit from such gullibility.

            Annie stopped walking and shook her head angrily, “Godammit to hell!” she cursed out loud. How would she ever forget the worthless bastard if she couldn’t stop thinking about him? She was going to cry for certain this time. Sniffing furiously she hurried up the narrow wooden steps to the door of her rented room and let herself into its luxurious warmth.

            The apartment had changed very little in the years Annie had been away and memories of her days as a chambermaid cleaning this very room came crowding back. The block of rooms had been built onto the pub by John Keane’s father in the days when aesthetics were not terribly important. But what the extension lacked in style it made up for in solidity and simplicity, both of which were echoed by the furnishings.

            The huge oak bedstead with its time worn posts took up most of one wall and the only other pieces in the room were the age polished narrow wardrobe and its’ small matching dressing table. She did not count the cheap chain store cupboard crouched beside the bed. It had not existed in her day and was useful for nothing other than holding her now useless mobile ‘phone and her meagre jewellery while she slept. But amongst the jumble on its chipboard surface sat the half bottle of whisky which had been unpacked along with the rest of Annie’s former life.

            Craving the warmth and oblivion promised by the rich amber liquid Annie stretched out her hand for the bottle, but even as she did so, she could see in her minds eye the alcohol ravaged features of her father. She could hear the vitriol and spite he had spewed when he was in his cups and she could remember far too well the stinging slaps and sobs as he had vented his frustration on her mother and herself.

            Pressing her lips into a tight line Annie pulled back her hand and hugged herself tightly. Growing up in such an atmosphere had given her a distaste for alcohol which bordered on the fanatical. Her fear that its addiction might be hereditary had sharpened it. She did not even quite understand why she constantly taunted herself with its presence but she did know that she was not yet ready to succumb to its short term solution just yet.

            Pushing the bottle into the drawer she saw that the glowing face of the clock on the cabinet read almost one in the morning but her body was still running on Toronto time. Lying down on the bed she picked up the chunky paperback she had snatched up during her hurried flight through the airport but she could not concentrate to read. Her first real tear slid slowly down the tender skin of her cheek. Turning her face into her pillow Annie began to sob and did not stop until she eventually slept.

            She awoke early to an overcast sky, duller but warmer than the previous night. Uncertain what to do with herself she went out onto the small balcony and breathed in the salt fresh air of the tide. Lowering clouds on the horizon of the bay advised that it might not be wise to venture too far but Annie felt trapped and restless. It had taken only one bout of sleep to allow all her old antagonisms toward Tegfa to come hurrying back. Her youth had been bad enough – nowhere to go and nothing to do but now she felt dislocated; an interloper who no longer belonged properly but had nowhere else to go. She should not have come back. Life was about moving forward not back.

            Three teenage girls emerged from the post office and took up a position at the bus stop. Despite the early hour they were in full gothic make up and long black clothes. Doc Martin boots and bottle black hair completed their image and Annie felt a sympathetic smile tug at her lips. She and Mabh Morgan had gone through the same phase although their look had been more gypsy bohemian. It had occurred just after horses and just before leaving school at which point the brutal reality of having to earn a living had relegated their false eyelashes and scarlet lips back into their pots on the dressing table; it had been fun while it lasted.

            The bus arrived then pulled away taking the girls, she supposed, to Porth Carreg or Cardiff where they would no doubt indulge in some last minute Christmas shopping. She would have no-one to shop for this Christmas Annie thought with a stab of self pity. She felt suddenly feeble; pathetic, but before she could embark on a maudlin mood she heard John Keane, the publican, calling to her from the car park below.

            “Want some breakfast Annalise?”

            “No,” she shook her head and forced a smile.

            “Oh go on, nice bacon butty would do you the world of good.” The smile on John Keane’s face took years from him and Annie wondered briefly how different her life might have been had she stayed here with him as he’d asked instead of following Karl halfway around the world?

            Damn! She had let him into her thoughts again! Breakfast might be a good idea after all, she decided. She told John to throw a couple of extra rashers on the grill and made her way down to the pub to eat. Stepping through the scarred oak door Annie found herself recoiling from the smell of stale smoke and beer. In one corner the plump sullen daughter of George Winslow, the local butcher, was wiping down tables half heartedly. She glanced up as Annie hurried past, allowing her to see the startling resemblance in the girl to a face from the past, but she did not speak or smile.

            In the bright airy dining room at the far side of the bar Annie sat down at the only table with cutlery. She was not at all certain she would be able to eat but when it arrived, the bacon was crisp and succulent; the bread warm and moist. Annie found herself gorging two of the doorstep sandwiches and washing them down with copious amounts of strong tea. The publican came to sit with her as she lingered over a final cup and with forced brightness she said, “Long time, no see John.”

            “Long enough,” he agreed. “Are you going to have a look around the old place today?”

            “Maybe,” She finished her tea. “I expected to see more people around what with the new estate and all; don’t they come into town?”

            John shrugged. “They’ll probably come down for the bonfire tomorrow. I’ll get a bit of business out of them.” Annie frowned. “You can’t have forgotten the Solstice Fire?” He laughed disbelievingly. “It’s just about the only tradition this place could ever lay claim to!”

            “Of course not,” she replied. “Do they still have one for the Summer Solstice too?”

            John’s face sobered and he shook his head. “Bloody insurance kept getting higher and higher for it so now they have a fair instead; goes down well with the holidaymakers.”

            “I suppose you get good business out of them too?” Her voice was sharper than she had intended.

            “Nothing wrong with free enterprise Annalise, I mean Annie.” She waved away her remark and stared down into her teacup. “So did you and that yank of yours ever have any kids?”

            “No,” Annie grinned. “And you know damn well he’s not a yank.”

            “America, Canada, what’s the difference?” John shrugged. “They still come over here stealing all the best birds.”

            “Don’t let any Canadians hear you saying that.”

            “Am I likely to be seeing any?”

            “No,” Annie looked away. “I doubt it.”

            John nodded silently his hands wrapped tightly around his mug of tea. “You know where I am Annie, if you need me.”

            Annie pushed back her hair and looked him squarely in the eye. “I know where you both are John; you and Linda. Thanks.”

            With a heavy sigh her host stared back down into his own cup then, with a half smile, he glanced up through his bull’s forelock of curls. “All this could have been yours you know.”

            “Mmm,” Annie made a show of looking around carefully. “I had a lucky escape didn’t I?”

            John gave a final laugh and shake of his head. “You haven’t changed.”

            “No,” Annie murmured. “That’s what frightens me.”

            The clouds looked darker than ever so Annie elected to walk around the town for a while rather than venture up onto the hills or the old lighthouse. Not that she could have visited the latter. She had already been told by Betty Gossip at the Post Office that the lighthouse had been bought by a former rock star. The tone of hushed excitement in the woman’s voice had amused Annie greatly especially when it was revealed who the rock star actually was.

            She remembered Michael King or Kernow as he was now calling himself, and his partner Oliver Fisher. She and Mabh Morgan had swooned over The Fisher Kings although she had personally always preferred dark handsome Oliver to Michael – he had been Mabh’s heart throb but by no stretch of the imagination could they be called rock stars. Their music had been more folky and mellow, almost traditional. She and Mabh had risked their families rage by running off to a folk festival once to see them. They had been fortunate, or unfortunate enough, to stumble across their private tent. She, Annie, with her long honey coloured hair had been invited in and her friendship with Mabh from that day on had never been quite the same.

            She sniggered to herself. Tegfa folk rarely let the truth spoil a good tale. What they did not know for certain they were only too quick to make up. She wondered what tales were flying around about her already?

            Her feet had taken her to The Green. A rather grand title for a patch of grass struggling to grow in the area behind The Oyster Shell and in front of the grand old houses of The Terrace which had once been the status symbols of Tegfa’s founding community. At its centre stood the mound of wood and cardboard and general detritus which made up the Winter Solstice fire. On its peak perched a roughly man shaped figure to represent The Holly King.

            Annie had always found it rather brutal that, in legend, an old king should have to die so that a young sun king could commence his reign. Once she had asked Kitty Holt, the old woman Mabh and her mother and sister lived with, why he could not simply step down to make way for the new monarch. Kitty had snorted,

            “Country bred maid like you asking such nonsense? It’s not nature’s way to let those who have outlived their time survive.”

            Squinting up Annie could see that someone had daubed a crude set of features on the effigy’s face. It gave the figure a sad pathetic look and in a rush of sentiment she heard herself whispering,” You poor thing. You should at least have a crown to wear when you die.” She glanced around but The Green was devoid of any foliage whatsoever. “I’ll go up into the hills tomorrow,” she promised. “I’ll find you holly and ivy and I will make you a crown fit for a king.”

            The first fat drops of rain splashed down her collar and by the time a handful of local men had rushed with a tarpaulin to cover the bonfire Annie had gone back to her room at the rear of the pub. Inside, the bags of clothes bought in such haste on her arrival in Porth Carreg, stared accusingly from the corner where they still lay in a heap. She should have taken the stuff out at least and hung it up but she could not seem to find the will to do anything at all. Yawning she lay down on the bed. She had not felt sleepy, properly sleepy, in a very long time. Her eyes began to droop closed and she told herself that a nap could be just what she needed.

            Annie did not wake until the morning of the following day. Befuddled with sleep she stumbled out of bed and peered through the window. Diamond bright sunshine sent her scuttling back into the darkness of the room. Catching sight of herself in the mirror on the dressing table she was mortified to see that her make up had smudged over most of her face giving her the look of a scream queen in a cheap horror film. She would have to bathe now, she decided, then she could put away her new clothes and walk up to the hills as she had promised herself and the Holly King yesterday.

            Showered and dressed in fresh clothes Annie felt like a different person. Her expensively tailored slacks and shirt had been replaced with jeans (the first she had ever owned!) and a sweatshirt. Her heavy parka was gone and in its place a ski jacket in bright colours. She looked again in the mirror and saw a much younger happier face staring back at her. Only her eyes had really changed during the passing of the years; they were sadder, wiser perhaps than they had been. She thought she had buried herself so deeply that no-one would ever be able to hurt her again. But Karl had done so. She felt so badly broken by his betrayals that she was not certain she would ever feel whole again. As if in a dream she pressed her fingers to the silver surface of the glass and watched herself disappear in the mist which radiated from the tips. Being back here was doing strange things to her mind, she thought then almost jumped out of her skin as someone knocked loudly on the door.

            “If you want breakfast you need to come down now.” Linda, John’s wife. She had not been happy to see Annie turn up like the ghost of Christmas past. She had been in the process of turning her away when John had walked in and rented her the room on the spot at a reduced rate for as long as she needed it.

            “I’ll be right there,” she said. Heavy clumping marked Linda Keane’s awkward progress down the narrow steps. Annie could picture the scowl that would be sitting on her hard featured face. She did not really want to go down to eat with that woman’s eyes watching her constantly but she was hungry and the hills were a long walk on an empty stomach. Squaring her shoulders she drew in a long slow breath, gave a last look at the woman in the looking glass and went down to breakfast.

            Three hours later Annie was up on the hills, her hands already filled with several lengths of ivy. Up ahead she could see the looming shape of Terfel Rock and had a vague recollection of holly growing not too far from it. Huffing with the effort of tramping over the uneven ground she pulled some stems carefully from the squat little bush of evergreen prickles and decided to sit down in the shallow basin of earth at the foot of the monolith.

            Humming happily to herself she began to fashion the bright red berries and waxy foliage into shape. Her fingers were deft from years of practice and although she pricked herself more than once she hardly noticed the stinging little wounds. It felt good to be doing this for herself instead of the irritating self absorbed customers who would normally be making demands of her at this time of year. She wondered fleetingly, how the shop was managing without her but banished the thought immediately as a shadow fell across her work.

            Shading her eyes from the low winter sun Annie made out a young man standing before her. Glacial eyes stared from a face that could have graced a marble god. A thatch of wheat blonde hair fell across his forehead and a barely discernable crop of pale stubble graced his chin and upper lip. Hiding her surprise Annie stood up noticing as she did so a brindle lurcher sitting quietly beside the young man.

            “What a lovely dog,” she said with a smile. “What’s his name?”

            The young man glanced down at the hound then back up at Annie. “I don’t know,” he said in husky slightly bemused voice. “He’s never told me.”

            Annie gave a small laugh. “So what do you call him?”

            “Dog,” came the reply. He seemed puzzled by her question.

            “Dog,” Annie repeated with a nod. “So, what’s your name or don’t you have one either?”

            The blue eyes studied Annie intently for several moments. “I didn’t say he hadn’t got a name, I only said I didn’t know what it was. My name is Hywel.”

            “Hello Hywel,” Annie was grateful that her hands were full so she didn’t have to offer a shake. “Do you live locally?” He gestured upwards with his chin toward the blue and grey peaks of the hills.

 “With Kitty?” She was startled. Annie did not believe the woman could possibly still be alive – she had been old she and Mabh Morgan were friends almost twenty years ago.

            “Kitty was the old woman before my grandmother was called.” Hywel said gravely. Puzzled Annie asked,

            “Do you spend a lot of your time up here then?”

            “I spend all of my time up here.”

            “Doing what?”

            “Hunting, waiting.”

            “Waiting for what?” Despite her initial discomfort Annie felt herself being drawn into the young man’s dreamy gaze as a half smile formed on his angelic face.

            “My time,” he said softly.

            Before she could speak again Hywel’s hand shot out to grip her wrist. A half hearted attempt to pull back told her that the young man’s strength far outweighed her own. Breathing slowly in an effort to calm them both Annie forced herself to relax.

            “You are bleeding.” The scarlet drops on her fingers appeared to fascinate Hywel but without waiting for a reply he reached forward again and pulled the holly circlet from Annie’s grasp. Holding it up in front of him he asked in an odd voice,

            “What is this?”

            Annie laughed, embarrassed by her silly notion of the day before. “It’s a circlet, a head dress.”

            “Did you make it for me?”

            Annie felt her face colour. “Actually I made it for the Holly King.”

            “Thank you,” Hywel whispered softly. Uncertain how to respond Annie shrugged and mumbled,

            “You’re welcome. I can always make another.” Seeing that his attention was away from her she began to sidle past Hywel but he caught her wrist again gently and asked,

            “Will I see you at The Solstice?”

            “I’m sure you will,” Annie said with forced gaiety. “Most of the town turns out for the celebration don’t they?”

            A look of scorn settled on his handsome features as he glanced down towards Tegfa. “I mean the real Solstice. The joining of the Goddess and God.” Stepping closer the young man placed his face close to her own, burying his nose in the thick heavy waves of her hair as he breathed deeply. “You smell of the greenwood,” he whispered and Annie felt a thrill of desire race through her body as the warm moistness of his breath caressed her ear.

            Panicked and more than a little embarrassed she pulled her arm free meeting no resistance from her captor. His eyes were hypnotic and she felt the pulse in her throat begin to pound so that her mouth felt swollen and her breathing raced. She had not desired a man in this way for as long as she could remember.

            “I’ll see you round,” she said abruptly and began to hurry back down the hill. She began to run properly as soon as her feet found the road and she did not stop until she was limping along Tegfa’s main street. There was an acute pain in her side and she was panting like a hard used horse. Leaning on the rail of The Promenade Annie rested her head on her forearms and drew in gulp after gulp of cool clean air.

            Slowly her head stopped pounding and she found herself beginning to giggle uncontrollably. Wasn’t this just typical of this place, she thought, to finally find a stunning young man who made her blood race then to discover he was as mad as a March hare! The laughter took an even stronger hold until she was on the edge of hysteria and crossing her legs to control her bladder. Then she froze as an all too familiar voice drawled,

            “Where would a guy take a beautiful woman to have a drink in this town?” The voice was warm, deep, rich and very obviously Canadian.

            “Karl,” she said amazed by how level her voice sounded. She pushed her hair back and said,” I didn’t expect to see you here.”

            “Why not?” His dark eyes were alight with amusement and Annie felt her heart twist inside her chest. “Did you think I would let you just walk out of my life and not try to find you?”

            Annie shrugged registering the fact that he had said his life as opposed to theirs. “I’m just surprised you bothered.”

            “I would do anything for you Annie, you know that.”

            Unable to trust herself she turned away from her husband. The icy coolness she had felt was now being replaced by a volcanic rage building somewhere inside of her. “You couldn’t manage to keep your pants zipped.”

            “Jesus Annie,” Karl rolled his eyes. “How many times do we have to go through all this? You know they mean nothing. You’re the one I married, they are just nobodies.” He reached out to caress her cheek. Jerking her head away Annie said through bloodless lips,

            “I’ve never understood why you think saying that would make me feel better.” She turned to look at him. “If I were ever to cheat, to gamble a marriage away, it would have to be for something or someone I believed in a lot.” She began to walk away back towards the pub but she heard Karl’s footsteps following her.

            “We belong together honey, you know that. We’re soul mates.”

            Spinning round abruptly Annie snarled,” Just fuck off Karl! It’s over this time. That sad old line isn’t going to fix it!”

            “It’s never going to be over between us honey.” The apparent tenderness of Karl’s voice was her undoing. All her self doubt came flooding back. If he had raged or yelled or threatened she could have walked away but, as usual, she was so desperate that a little display of tenderness was all it took to weaken her resolve. She quashed the instinct to flinch as he caressed her cheek gently smudging away the rebellious tears that had broken free.

            “Can we at least go somewhere and talk?” His breath hot on her ear reminded her for a second of a different man. For a second she thought she might break away from him and slam the door in his face but her own self contempt won through and she allowed him instead to follow her silently to the door of her room. On the small balcony the heady familiarity of his cologne washed over her and she allowed him to open the door and usher her inside.

            Almost at once he saw the half bottle of whiskey and he raised a dark eyebrow in mild surprise. “Did I drive you to drink this time?”

            “Don’t,” She said shortly. “Don’t joke about…that.”

            Sobering his tone he said quietly,” I’m truly sorry Annie. I know I’m an asshole and I’m not very good at this.”

            “At what?”

            “Apologising, admitting I was wrong.” Annie suddenly realised that her husband was rattled. This scenario was not playing out as it had done in the past. She watched with detached interest as he arranged his features in a semblance of contrition and asked softly, “Forgive me?”

            “I’m not sure I can.” Annie could hear the weariness in her own voice. Pulling off her jacket she sat down on the bed and did not object when Karl sat next to her. This close she could smell the warmth of his bronzed skin. He leaned closer and the dark softness of his hair on her face made her draw in a slow shaky breath. “I’ve tried Karl,” her voice cracked. “I’ve tried too many times.”

            His lips found hers and she did not resist. She allowed their firm warmth to press against her own iciness but her body would not respond. Mechanically she raised her arms to encircle Karl’s neck, she closed her eyes tightly but it was Hywel’s face that flashed across her mind. Startled she opened them Karl’s dark liquid gaze met her own and she realised that she could not make love to him.

            His hand slid beneath her sweater reaching and teasing with delicate fingers yet it took every ounce of self control to stop herself recoiling from him. Gritting her teeth she let him push her back onto the bed as he began to strip away her garments one by one. His warm nakedness pressed against her but instead of desire she felt only revulsion. Thoughts of other female bodies moaning and writhing beneath the same hands crowded into her head. Annie felt nausea rising in her throat. Pushing Karl away roughly she choked, “I can’t! I just can’t!”

            With a sigh of martyred frustration her husband flopped back on the bed. “It’s not going to be alright this time is it Annie?”

            “No. I don’t think it is.”

            “But we can’t just throw away half of our lives.”

            “It wasn’t me who threw it away.” Annie bent to button the shirt she had pulled on avoiding Karl’s eyes.

            “Jesus Annie, we’ve been through this and through this…”

            “No!” She snapped turning to face him. “You decided it wasn’t cheating as long as you told me.”

            “You’re saying I shouldn’t have told you?”

            “I’m saying you shouldn’t have cheated!” Tears of frustrated rage were leaking from her eyes. “Why did you do it Karl? Why?”

            “Because,” he gave an exasperated huff. “Because they were there and you weren’t.”

            “I was working!” Annie screamed. “Building up a business, working every hour I could because one of us had to.”

            “There are more important things in life than money and fancy houses.”

            “Easy to say when you have them,” Annie retorted bitterly. “I didn’t notice you trading in your Porche for a cheaper model!”

            With an air of superiority Karl said, “I wanted things to be the way they used to be.”

            “So you slept with bimbos half your age?”

            “They reminded me of you. The way you used to be.”

            The slap resounded like a gunshot in the small room its volume startling Annie even more than the fact that she had hit Karl. He appeared frozen unable to do anything other than stare at her as the scarlet imprint of her hand began to form across his cheek. Scrambling from the bed Annie pulled on her remaining clothes. Seeing him move she said loudly,

            “No, leave me!” Snatching up the whiskey she fled for the door.

            “Wait,” she heard Karl’s voice behind her but she was already half stumbling down the steps and out into the car park. In the darkness the sea sounded like a whispering choir and through the gap next to the pub Annie could see the hungry flickering flames of the Solstice Fire lighting up the night.

            “I never made the king his crown,” she thought wildly as she watched the sparkling embers float up in a futile attempt to join the moon and her attendant stars above. A thumping rhythm of music filled the air along with the crackling snap of twigs; the barbeque was under way. Glancing up Annie saw Karl appear on the balcony and she darted through the narrow alley to join the throng of festive townsfolk.

            Dimly she was aware of John Keane swinging her gaily around him before planting a warm wet kiss on her cheek. A throbbing air of primal excitement seemed to fill the night and as she pulled free of John’s embrace Annie was vaguely conscious of other arms hugging her, welcoming her, endorsing her return.

            Mindful of Karl she began to work her way quickly through the crowd. An odd notion had come into her head that she wished to finally drink the whiskey that had haunted her for so long. Pulling free of the last revellers she found herself on the road out of Tegfa and heading for the hills.

            Disoriented in the darkness Annie missed her turn but did not realise it until she saw the ghostly pale pillar of the old lighthouse rise before her. A shadow moved behind one of the lit windows and with a muttered curse she turned right and began to run across the springy turf toward Draenog Wood.

            Once inside the canopy of the trees she slowed her pace and began to walk rather than run. In the silvery moonlight the trees themselves appeared to be dancing along with the townsfolk clustered around the fire far below; a surreal pavane for their sacrificed kin hissing in the solstice flames. The moon bobbed and weaved through the knotted branches and it occurred to her how similar it looked to the pearl painted on the sign of John Keane’s pub. An intensely erotic image; a voluptuous lustrous pearl enveloped in the pale pink folds of a coy partially opened oyster shell.

            From nowhere a wave of sexual desire swamped her body making even the friction of her clothes a delicious torment. Heavy sensuous musk seemed to fill the air and Annie felt her head begin to spin as the liquor in her hand was already racing through her.

            As she surged free of the wood Annie saw the dark thrusting upright of Terfel Rock to her left. A last burst of adrenalin carried her to its base and she leaned heavily against it breathing hard.

            Her hair was tangled and her hazel eyes wild as she pressed herself to its stony surface. Her fingers traced spirals etched into its skin so long ago they were all but gone. Her breathing was ragged and she was so aroused that she was almost sobbing with frustration. Pulling the bottle from her pocket Annie unscrewed the top with shaking fingers and tilted it to her lips. She almost gagged at the harsh acrid taste and turned to heave as the rest of the bottle spilled onto the ground where it was sucked greedily into the earth.

            “I knew you would come to me.” Hywel’s voice made her look up and a low humming vibration seemed to resound through Terfel Rock. Leaning back against it Annie felt a slow spread of warmth cover her.

            Holding out her arms she beckoned Hywel silently to her and as his body met hers a jolt of electricity bound them together like magnets. Their mouths crushed against each other and Annie’s nostrils were filled with the scent of him; wood smoke, earth and fresh male sweat poured over her in a dizzying intoxicating wave. She wanted him desperately and as his mouth kissed her neck and shoulders she heard herself whimpering with anguish. Feverishly she began to pull at his clothes and her own. Her whimpers became moans as she writhed against him and was rewarded with soft hot skin against her own.

            The first thrust of his body inside her jolted a gasp of dismay from her lips. Opening her eyes wide Annie saw that Hywel was wearing the holly crown she had made and by some trick of the moonlight it seemed there were horns growing from either side of his skull. Not the breathtaking full rack of a grown mature stag but the velvet covered beginnings of a young buck still waiting to achieve his full potential.

            Dazed by the brutal intensity of their rutting she turned her gaze to the moon staring down upon their twisting bodies. She felt herself being drawn up into the milky depths of its soft light and the velvet black sky with its pinprick stars began to spin and collide with the orange hot sparks in her belly.

            A scream pierced the frosty air as an owl brought small death to the hillsides and it was echoed seconds later by Annie as Hywel blotted out the moons face, his final urgent thrust telling her that his climax matched her own. Like shipwrecked souls they clung together as their blood cooled and their bodies began to shiver in the night air. Without a word Hywel pulled himself away from Annie and began to gather up his clothes. Wincing she realised that her back was bleeding. It had been abraded against the rock’s surface during their lovemaking but it felt good somehow; vital and real. She felt that nothing could spoil this moment. It had been special – outside of time and reality. Even as he kissed her softly she knew she would probably never see Hywel again but still she smiled and touched his bristled jaw softly with her fingers.

            With a click of his tongue the young man summoned the lurcher which had been skulking somewhere nearby and without another glance he was gone.

            Naked and shivering Annie leaned back against Terfel Rock and began to dress. Tears streamed down her face. Not bad tears though, good ones – tears of release.  She had faced demons and like the young king she had survived.

            The broken shards of the whiskey bottle sparkled like empty diamonds, crouching down she gathered them up carefully and put them in her pocket. She was not afraid of alcohol anymore. She was not afraid of anything anymore.

            As she made her way slowly back down towards the town she resolved to sell her shop in Toronto and start anew. She would not stay in Tegfa; that was her past and whilst it was a reasonable place to visit she had no wish to live there.

            The house in Rosevale would have to be shared with Karl but the shop was hers outright. Its sale would provide enough money to buy somewhere here in her home country. She would be free to do as she pleased. Deep within her Annie felt a spark of life stir faintly and as she placed her hands disbelievingly over her stomach she let out a whoop of exhilarating laughter. She began to run her hair streaming behind her like a banner. She could not believe that just hours ago the world had been such a dark and frightening place. The world was now her oyster and she was the perfectly formed new pearl at its centre.

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Tegfa chapter 1

Tegfa

 

            She was losing him.

            He was slipping away as surely as the seasons, and there was nothing she could do. In the cold October wind Molly Lovell shivered and shrugged her coat closer. In its day it had been a good coat, excellent quality, and she could still remember clearly her mothers glowing face the day she had discovered it in the charity shop.

            “Now let them crow,” Zillah Lovell had said triumphantly. “Let them say my daughter ain’t dressed as well as them.” She had not the slightest understanding that clothes were the least of Molly’s problems where school was concerned.

 Sighing heavily she dug her hands deeper into its capacious pockets and walked a little closer to the promenade rail. Out of season Tegfa’s small bay looked naked. There were no children squealing as they dodged waves and wasps; no umbrellas or striped deck chairs: No ice cream or kites or candy floss, no noise at all save the seductive whisper of the waves as they kissed the sand. It was a sound Molly had come to despise.

Leaning against rail she scanned the shoreline out towards the rocks that bathed in shallow water even when the tides were out. He was there. Hunched like a crow on Lookout Point. Molly felt her heart leap into her throat as it always did when her mind pictured Lucas Finch. He had befriended her in junior school back when the local girls had made her days unendingly miserable. Their initial fragile connection had blossomed to become a friendship and, in time, what Molly believed to be love. Despite their very different backgrounds she and Lucas had become sweethearts sharing stolen kisses in the shade of the standing stone, Terfel Rock, up on the surrounding hills of Cerridwen Vale. Molly had believed their love would last forever; in fact she had planned to give herself to Lucas completely before the end of the year. But now she was losing him. He was slipping away and there was nothing she could do.

            Swallowing back the tears she stepped carefully down the concrete slip and began to pick her way across the sand. Her feet sank slightly with each step until she came to the damp firmness of the tide line, at which point she slipped off her shoes and began to run lightly, ignoring the icy coldness of the shallow water.

            As she drew closer Molly could see clearly the wild tangle of dark curls pulling free of Lucas’s collar in the wind. No coat of his ever came from a charity shop; his mother would have had a fit at the thought. As the only son of the only accountant in the Vale of Cerridwen Deidre Finch felt that her son had a certain obligation to live up to his father’s profession even though Marcus Finch earned only marginally more than the farmers who still struggled to carve out a living in the small valley.

            Lucas turned and for a moment the grey glaciers of his eyes did not soften but then he grinned and offered up their usual private greeting.

            “Hey Molly May, what’s up?”

            “Not much,” she answered in kind.

            “As usual,”

Too late Molly realised she should have said something else; anything else. The scowl that had come to stay on his formerly happy features settled in and glared at her.

            “Can I come up?” she asked timidly.

            “Since when do you need my permission?” His voice was moody now, petulant in a way she had come to recognise all to well. Her self conscious shrug however brought back the softness to his eyes and he held out a hand to her which she grasped as she scrambled up to sit beside him.

            “What are doing out here?” Molly asked cautiously after a while.

            “Thinking,” was the terse reply.

            “I just thought you might be up at Terfel Rock.” The great stone had become their secret rendezvous, their haven in the days when his mother had had the power to try and keep them apart. Lucas shrugged.

            “I prefer to think down here, it’s quieter. Gentler.”

            “You never used to think that.”

            “Christ, I never used to know how to wipe my own arse either Molly but things change!”

            She looked away quickly before he could see the tears threatening to spill over from her pale eyes and allowed the shock of unruly red hair which refused to be tamed to blow across her face. Over the shushing of the waves she heard Lucas sigh heavily.

            “I’m sorry Molly, really I am.” She could hardly stop herself from crying at the tenderness in his voice. “This is just a really strange time for me right now.” She nodded mutely, her traitorous eyes downcast as she picked at the loose thread trailing from the hem of her coat. “Christ, don’t do that,” he covered her cold hand with the warmth of his own, “your mum will kill you.”

            Molly laughed then. A muffled gulp somewhere between a guffaw and a sob; Lucas was the only other person in the world who knew the significance of her quality coat. She leaned into him batting him playfully on the shoulder and allowing him to put his arm around her and pull her close.

            “Don’t cry Moll please,” he whispered into her hair. “I can’t bear it when you cry.”

            Her reply was to sniff back the mucous dribbling from her nose and wipe the cuff of her coat over her face. For a long while the two sat silently on the rock sharing their warmth until Molly felt brave enough to speak again.

            “Did you hear about The Oyster Shell? John Keane has applied for a licence so he can put on live music.”

            “Doubt he’ll get permission for that.”

            “He might. He knows all the right people and he gave that idiot Sally Winslow a job in the bar, her father’s on the council.”

            “Sally isn’t an idiot,” Lucas said mildly. “You just don’t like her because she likes me.”

            “You are so full of yourself Finch!” Molly’s cheeks lit up with a neon red glow as the remark hit home then, remembering quickly that she did not wish to upset Lucas again, she said,” anyway, it means there would be somewhere to go on a Friday and Saturday. He might even get someone good like Show of Hands to come and play there.” 

            “Fat chance!” Lucas snorted loosening his hold on her and sitting up straighter. “No-one that good would waste their time coming to a shithole like this. I know I wouldn’t!”

            “They might,” panic made Molly careless. “They came to Cardiff and played St. Davis’s Hall.”

            “That’s the problem with you Molly. Your idea of the big world is a trip up the motorway to fucking Cardiff to look at the big shops!”

            “And what’s so wrong with that?” she demanded, her voice rising to meet his.

            “If you don’t know,” he began then stopped himself as he caught sight of her stricken face. “Look Moll,” he said gently, “I just need a bit of time to myself OK? I’ll see you later.”

            “No wait,” she began but he was already walking across the sand, his footsteps being washed away almost as soon as they formed.

            Alone, she allowed her tears to finally come pressing her eyes hard against the bony angles of her knees and when she finally looked up her face was bruised and angry as she screamed at the water,” I hate you, you bitch! I fucking hate you!”

            The sea lapped placidly at the base of the rock now that the wind had dropped and was seemingly unmoved by the hatred of the girl perched mermaid like in its waters.

Two summers ago she and Lucas had been inseparable. They had run like hares across the hills cupping Tegfa and they had kissed in the moon shadow of Terfel Rock. Their only interest in the beach had been reserved for the rare occasions when Ally Smart had allowed them a blood quickening gallop on his ponies across the sand in the warm summer evenings when the crowds had cleared and the no riding ban was relaxed. They had spent their days and long into the night in the dark quiet fragrance of the hills listening to the sounds of the owls and rabbits and foxes and their own ever quickening heartbeats.

            And then Deidre had intervened. Lucas’s mother did not approve of their friendship and had reasoned that a job would be the perfect way to curtail their time together. But it could not be just any job; as the son of the town’s only accountant Lucas could not be seen behind the counter of any of the small stuffy tourist shops or sweating in the beery summer heat of The Oyster Shell pub. So she had pulled strings and, despite his tender years, Lucas had found himself accompanying Davey Pierce as he ferried tourists around Pedol Bay in his small asthmatic boat so that they could dive and explore the wrecks which lurked beneath the silken surface of the sea.

            To begin with Lucas had not changed. He still hurried to meet Molly on the green hills when his working day was done but then, at Deidre’s urging, Davey had begun to hint that he might be willing to allow Lucas to dive himself if he, in his turn, was willing to put in the work and study necessary to learn.

            Intrigued by his employer’s description of the bay beneath the waves Lucas had begun to read and become absorbed by the thought of spending time underwater. His conversations with Molly gradually changed from where they would live and what they would do when they were old enough and free enough, to those of cylinder capacities and the relative merits of wetsuits until, at last, Davey had fulfilled his promise and Lucas had lowered himself into the dark mysterious depths of the bay.

            From that time on Molly had seen less and less of him during the summer months. She had spent her days alone in the shadow of Terfel Rock with only the sheep and buzzards for company while Lucas lost himself in the wet enveloping embrace of his new love.

            When they did meet he seemed changed. His joy in the peaceful unspoiled beauty of the countryside had been replaced by an angry dissatisfaction at the lack of opportunity or entertainment living in Tegfa entailed. He began to talk about leaving; of visiting places like Australia and Africa where the dives were exciting and undertaken in water the colour of turquoise and glass. He spoke about the ocean as if it was a woman; Molly could feel him slipping away and there was nothing she could do.

            Then he began to mention the Navy. Molly’s heart had trembled as he spoke of travelling whilst receiving the kind of training that would one day enable him to find a job diving anywhere in the world that he wanted. She had felt her blood freeze in her veins as he talked excitedly of the interview which his mother had managed to set up with one of the local landowners who had once served on the navy selection board and was still very well in with most of his old chums who were still in service on the selection committee.

            “I could even go in on a commission,” he had whooped one day then, seeing her face he had stopped and said uncertainly,” what’s wrong Moll? I thought you would be happy for me.”

            He had been genuinely puzzled. “Well I would, if it were you in my place.”

            “But its not is it? And it never will be. I’m just some dirty little gyppo who was good enough to be with ‘til something better came along.”

            “Don’t say that.” He looked stung.

            “Why not, it’s true isn’t it?”

            “No it’s not.”

            “Well I didn’t hear you offering to take me with you.”

            Lucas’s face had flushed crimson. “I can’t, not while I’m training anyway.” His voice had faltered and Molly had turned her back on him as he said quietly,  if we both feel the same way after I graduate…”

            “If?” She had screamed angrily. “IF?”

            The argument had driven a wedge between them which many of the local girls had tried to exploit and Molly’s only cold comfort was that Lucas remained faithful entirely to his new love. Free to do so now, he had spent almost every day out on the waters of Pedol Bay in the boat given to him by his parents as a gift for good exam results and they had not really spoken properly together until today.

            Shivering Molly realised that the daylight was almost gone. The sea looked sullen now, dark and oily beneath the lowering leaden sky. She was going to get a great deal wetter making her way back to the sand than she had coming out to Lookout Point. As she trudged soggily back up the hill towards the lights of the council estate, where her mother was no doubt preparing tea, Molly brooded on the change in Lucas. How could he not see the glorious beauty of the hills that stretched up all around the town? How could he forget so easily the promises they had made in the hollow at the foot of Terfel Rock?

            For the first time in a long time Molly wished her mother had not chosen to leave their own people and make her home here amongst the small minded town dwellers. She wished she could still lean into the smoky warmth of the woman she barely remembered as her grandmother. Queenie Lovell would have known what to do. She would have given Molly a spell or a potion to bind Lucas to her and then Molly would have been happy for the rest of her days.

            At the fork in the road she hesitated. To the right lay the warmth and familiarity of home. To the left lay the winding road leading up to the hills and Terfel Rock. A shudder of cold raced through her as the wind returned pushed lazily through Molly instead of going around. Above her the stars were disappearing behind scudding grey clouds and rain was lying heavy in her nostrils. Her mother would be waiting but she would not worry unduly if Molly did not come home. She did not approve of her daughter giving in to the wild Romany blood of her long dead father but she did understand. It might grieve her but she would not reprimand Molly; there were plenty of others willing to run them down without them doing it to each other. With a defiant shake of her wild red hair Molly chose the left hand road and began the long steady climb up into the hills.

            By the time the shadow of the ancient menhir loomed above her she was panting and a sheen of sweat made her face glisten in the rare shafts of moonlight that pierced the gathering clouds. The local people told all sorts of tales about Terfel Rock and most of them avoided it which was mainly why Molly and Lucas had claimed it for their own. According to the tales, the rock had powers and sometimes tingled to the touch. It had never been Terfel Rock’s touch that had made Molly tingle but tonight she was desperate and more than ready to believe.

            She dredged her memories for any shred of lore which might help her but she had been so young when her Granny had tried to pass on her wisdom and Zillah had worked so hard over the years to eradicate all traces of their Rom blood. A hammering pain began to pulse behind Molly’s eyes telling her that thunder was on its way. The biting edge of the wind turned abruptly to ominous warmth and as she squinted up the first distant flashes of lightening began to cut across the horizon.

            Molly remembered being cuddled, held close whilst her Granny’s soft toothless mouth had mumbled into her ear. But what had she mumbled? Molly screwed her eyes tight in an effort to recall but all that came was a word whispered and broken as the gathering wind tried to snatch it away.

            Believe. Believe little one and the world will be yours for the asking. Startled she opened her eyes fully expecting to see the old woman standing there before her but all she saw was the outline of Terfel Rock against the slightly lighter sky, its edges smudging now in the falling rain.

            Was belief really all it took? She shook her hair, sodden now and dark, and leaned her head back to catch the raindrops in her mouth. The storm was established, its force building with each passing minute and as if whipped by its fury Molly let forth a shriek of agonised pain and screamed her anguish to the hills.

            “I love him! I love Lucas Finch and I want him to stay here with me forever.” Then, suddenly mindful of the old warnings in fairy tales she added,” I don’t want him to die. I want him here with me, alive, in Tegfa.”

            A fork of lightening erupted from the ground directly in front of Terfel Rock making Molly stumble and fall back. In the afterburn her eyes were dazzled but through the yellow haze she saw a figure appear at the side of the towering stone. Tall and lean it stood swathed only in some kind of cloak leaving most of the torso bare. The banded muscles of his chest flexed and shone as the strikes lit up the sky. The figures manhood was erect, pulsing and surging with the rage of the elements around him but it was his face that made Molly whimper with fear as she stared with mixed hope and disbelief. Harsh and angular, his features seemed to move and change as the sky roiled and swirled. Above his head rose a rack of antlers magnificent and full, the branching tines a flashing blur as he threw back his head and roared a defiant answer to the storm.

            Her tongue was so frozen Molly could not even cry out as the figure moved towards her. Catching her foot she fell back her breath leaving her body in a clout and as she lay there the figure stood over her his rank feral scent washing over her and filling her nose as she struggled to breathe. Slowly the figure raised one arm and Molly realised he was waiting.

            “Are you the price?” She whispered her voice quivering.

            A lowering of the chiselled chin was her reply, the antlers dripping like branches as forest dark eyes bored into her. Trembling she lifted her own arm in acceptance and as the long hard body covered her she felt her coat tear and give on the rocky ground beneath her back.

            She woke the following morning shivering in the new minted brightness of the autumn morning. The turf of the hills glowed sated and soft from the night’s rain and, not two feet from where she huddled in the lee of Terfel Rock, sat a hare its nose questing and finding as it paused, then bolted when Molly tried to move her aching limbs. There were wheals and scratches on every part of her body and an aching heaviness down below her stomach. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her fine quality coat finally done for and defeated. As she rose to limp down towards the town Molly saw her shoes scattered on the path. She pulled them on as best she could. She saw no-one, the earliness of the hour working in her favour and finally crept soundlessly up to her room as her mother snored gently in her own bed.

            Molly did not tell anyone about her encounter on the hills; who would have believed it anyway? She simply waited with growing impatience as the days slipped by and Lucas’s interview drew nearer. She could perceive no change in his attitude and ached anew each time they talked and argued and parted in pain, only to seek each other out again and again in a futile effort to find some compromise which might spare both their hearts.

            She was watching the day his parents drove him away to decide his future. Perched on the bank beside the road Molly saw their car make its way along the road that led out of the town. A treacherous sun made the sea glisten and shine with a beauty too great to ignore and she bit her lip hard as the scarlet BMW drew level. Lucas was in the back his face pale with the gravity of the day and for a moment Molly thought her heart would break, she loved him so much. At the very last moment he turned and in the second their eyes met, despite his mother’s stiff backed disapproval, he puckered his lips and blew her a kiss. Blinded by tears Molly caught it and pressed it to her trembling lips.

            When the car was completely gone she made her way down to the town and picked her way across the empty beach. She ignored the strutting gulls that marched up and down its golden width scavenging for scraps and did not stop until the tiny waves of the tide line were lapping at her feet. Pulling off her shoes she strode to Lookout Point and scrambled up its craggy surface. Standing up straight she stared out into the bay and raised her fists in front of her.

            “You won’t beat me you bitch; I’ll have him from you yet!” An insolent swell of water lapped up over the rock to soak Molly’s foot. She stared down her lip curling with contempt. “You think you’re a match for the Dark Lord?” she muttered. “Huh, we’ll beat you. We’ll have him back and there’s nothing you can do.” The wave rose again splashing harder this time, curling and twisting up Molly’s leg like a cat. She shivered suddenly in the empty sun. Slipping back down into the water she waded back to the sand.

            With shredded nerves she waited for Lucas to call her. She would not let her mother use the telephone and refused to have the television above a whisper in case she missed the doorbell but it was the morning of the next day before she saw or heard from him. He was down on the beach getting the boat ready to go out on the bay. With a jumping heart Molly ran across the sand calling his name and could not believe her eyes as he turned to her his face filled with joy. Her footsteps slowed.

            “You got in,” she said numbly.

            “Yes!” Even for her Lucas could not keep the elation from his voice. “I leave at the end of the month.”

            “That’s only two weeks away, when were you going to tell me?”

            Lucas’s face coloured. “I’m sorry, my mum…she arranged a small surprise party.”

            “You never said.”

            “I didn’t know,” he said awkwardly. “I told you, it was a surprise.”

            “I suppose Sally Winslow and all that lot were there though.” It was a statement rather than a question but the way Lucas turned away angrily was confirmation enough to dispel any doubt.

            “Don’t ruin this for me Moll please. For Christ’s sake could you try, just for once, not to be such a selfish cow?”

            She did not move as he began to push the little craft down the slip to the water. Beneath the material of his wetsuit Molly could see his muscles coiled with tension and she felt something break inside her.

            “Congratulations,” she said hollowly as she walked away. She did not look left or right and she did not change her pace when Lucas called her back. Not until she reached the road did Molly start to run. She ran until her lungs screamed and she thought they might burst and then she ran some more.

            Eventually, panting, she crashed against Terfel Rock pounding it with her fists until they bled leaving rusty streaks on the grey blue surface and staining the delicate pale lichen maps etched there.

            “Why?” She sobbed, “Why did you let him go? Didn’t I pay you enough, what more did you want?” A great weariness filled her body and she sank to the ground shaking and sobbing as she repeated Lucas’s name over and over. He was going. She was losing him and there was nothing she could do.

            Hours later she pulled herself to her feet and stumbled down the path. Unheeding of anything around her she stared grimly at her scuffed shoes as they scarped over the road surface. All she could hear was the pounding of her own pulse in her ears swishing and scudding until she glanced up and realised that what she could hear was, in fact, the blades of the great yellow helicopter cutting through the bright hard sky above.

            The choppers were only scrambled from RAF Chivenor in emergencies, when an accident occurred either at sea or on the sometimes treacherous coastal path. Sudden panic gripped her heart as the ungainly craft began to lower itself gently onto The Green behind the pub. Molly began to run. As she approached the beach she saw Ally Smart who turned, at her shout, and ran to her. The truth of the moment began to sink in.

            “No!” She could not breathe. She had been careful; she had explicitly asked that Lucas not die. From somewhere she found the strength to pull free of Ally and run but she was in time only to see the chopper lift away in a swooping rush of air; the crowd huddling beneath it like rabbits in a storm.

            “He’s alive Moll, they got him out.” Ally had caught up with her, his weathered face creased with concern as he struggled to raise his voice above the noise of the blades. “You can see for yourself, maid, they don’t do this for goners.”

            Molly looked into his sharp grey eyes and hoped with all her heart he was right. “What happened?” She could hardly force out the words.

            Ally shrugged. “No-one is sure. Davey Pierce found him by sheer luck. He’d got caught up in the old trawler wreck and somehow his air pipes got snagged.” Ally hesitated his face full of pity. “He was down too long then tried to come up too fast. We can’t be sure yet what the damage will be. What we don’t understand, is why he went down alone. He knew he was supposed to wait for Davey.”

                                    ……………………………………………………………..

            Lucas was in a coma. They would not let her see him but after a month Deirdre Finch appeared on the doorstep of the small council house Molly and her mother shared throwing Zillah Lovell into such a spin that she actually pulled out the good china so that Mrs Finch could have a cup of tea.

            Deidre looked old Molly thought; even her expensive cosmetic veneer could not cover the anguished lines of heartbreak on her face.

            “I was wondering if you might wish to visit Lucas.” Her voice was as brittle as glass and Molly felt a spiteful satisfaction wash through her bones.

            “I did try to see him,” she replied. “All the way down to Plymouth on the train I went, to that place with the compression chamber and they wouldn’t let me see him.”

            Deidre Finch coloured slightly. “The doctors felt…”

            “It wasn’t the doctors, it was you.”

            The woman’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish but no sound came out. “Try to understand,” she whispered brokenly but there was no pity in Molly’s eyes and Deirdre Finch shuddered.

            “I’ll go tomorrow,” Molly said abruptly. “Now, get out before my mother makes an even bigger fool of herself on your account.”

            Without another word the woman rose and walked to the door where she turned and said quietly,” perhaps I was wrong to keep you and Lucas apart but I wanted what was best for him. Perhaps one day you will realise that if you love somebody you will do anything to make sure they are happy.”

            Molly did not reply, she closed the door in Deirdre Finch’s face and went back inside to tell her mother not to bother with the tea.

            At the hospital the following afternoon she found Lucas pale and fragile in a private room. Needles and tubes protruded from his body and a machine pumped noisily in the corner. Just audible on the bedside cabinet was a CD player. Stepping closer Molly turned up the volume and a lilting song filled the room. One of the nurses came in.

            “Hello, you must be Molly.” The girl nodded wordlessly. “Mrs Finch told us to expect you.” The nurse nodded towards the CD player. “That’s lovely,” she said, “What is it?”

            “It’s our song,” Molly replied.

The nurse bustled about checking various charts and pieces of equipment then just before she was about to leave them alone she said, “It’s a really beautiful song. It sounds as if he’s singing about the sea.”

            “No,” Molly replied stiffly. “It’s not about the sea, it’s about us.”

            Leaning down she breathed gently against Lucas’s ear and echoed the songs final lyric, “Now I’m caught in the nets, you’re in the tide and the lines entwined because I’m yours and you’re mine.”

            Amongst the thick dark lashes of Lucas’s closed eyes a single drop of brine welled up to spill over and roll down the pale waxiness of his cheek; by the time it touched Molly’s lips it was as cold and as bitter as the sea itself.

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A Spectacle of Hope

It’s been a while; ill health reared its scabrous head recently but as with all clouds, there was a silver lining. One of the things I love most in the world is reading. No-one can criticize you for reading when you’re ill. Like a miner, one approaches each new book with the delicious thrill of possibility. This could be one of those missives which changes you forever; touches you deeply or makes you look at life in a different light. Sadly, like the diamonds one metaphorically searches for, these things are rare.

Biographies in particular tend to disappoint and are not favourite fare. Usually they are sycophantic and about as truthful as a government manifesto. Autobiographies can be worse; a vehicle for sly self-aggrandisement or even worse, dishonest humility. But now and again, very very rarely, you come across the real thing. And you know it’s real because nothing that touching or brutally honest could be fake.

A Spectacle of Dust is the autobiography of an actor named Pete Postlethwaite. Not a huge Hollywood name but a working actor who has been in and around films and television for as long as I can remember; one of those actors who was always simply ‘there’. Published posthumously his story is one of simple facts; someone who found something he loved and followed it wholeheartedly. As well as chronicling his life within the theatre he is also refreshingly honest about his political views, apologising for nothing and defiantly outspoken in his beliefs.

I can remember being quite frightened of him as a small child-too young too understand that a person’s face does not represent who lives behind it. As I got older I have a vivid memory of him standing out in the cast of ‘A Private Function’ a film I found otherwise stupefyingly boring not to mention twee. But it was as Mr Kobyashi in ‘The Usual Suspects’ that I finally realised what an absolute genius this understated man was in front of a camera. Being squeamish by nature a lot of his work is too gory and violent for me to sit through comfortably but reading his book and hearing his explanation as to why he chose the roles he did makes feel I should steel myself and try them again. More than his talent though is the humanity that comes across on the pages. This was a human being who, through nothing more than integrity and his own self honesty provides a speck of hope for the future.

I belong to a species whose reprehensible behaviour and lack of moral awareness sickens me daily. Those who need help the most are kicked to the side (unless they are fabulously wealthy of course) and I don’t mean just humans. Ask most people in the world if they are afraid of the future and they will say yes. A small greedy grabbing minority are destroying us and our habitat; wiping out whole species of creatures who were here long before us and it’s usually done for the sake of money. Turn it upside down, inside out and back to front but when you blow away the smoke and smash the mirrors all theses greedy grabbing monsters want is more and more and more. And we give them the power. That, I think, is what hurts the most. 

So when you stumble across that rarity of things-an honest soul- it is like a small pure light in the dark. I never knew Mr Postlethwaite personally but his words touched me today; touched me deeply and gave me hope that although the world is now a darker place for his passing, it is an infinitely better one for his having been here. Good souls may be an almost extinct breed but he is proof that they do still occasionally exist.

If you haven’t read his autobiography I urge you to do so. Read his words, hear what he’s trying to say. His family must miss him terribly; my heart goes out to them along with humble thanks for sharing him while he was here.

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