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.”
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.”
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.