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.”
“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.”
“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.