All the good will that we’d earned that morning was whisked away without a second glance, when we returned home long after the sun had set. Nainy’s rage was a terribly awful thing that I hoped never again to witness. The quiet horror with which she whipped open the door and silently stood back as she allowed us to make our way into the parlour was mighty and fearsome. She said nothing, just watched us through in a veil of fury.
“We got caught up, is all,” Genny began. We’d agreed not to share the stories we’d heard. They’d only bring back the reminder of sorrow. That also, unfortunately meant we wouldn’t be revealing our reason for coming to terms with our parents’ abandonment of Anglesy. But no matter how we spun it, Nainy was not swayed. Only our sudden dismissal, that let us flee to our room, contained any hint of respite. Be that as it may, I was sure that any future punishment would be worth it.
I wasn’t so sure the next morning. Awakened at dawn by the curtains being wrenched aside, we trudged downstairs to find a list of chores that had both of us wincing. Genny’s complaint about not having breakfast was answered with a cool glare and we both quickly began. Before a breakfast of plain porridge was set before us (devoid of the usual brilliant bursts of sultanas, wisps of cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh berries topped with fresh cream), we had already washed all of the main floor windows, inside and out; swept and scrubbed the garden flagstones, and cleaned out the chicken coop. Our tasks did not ebb in strenuousness or multitude until dinner.
As we sat down, bone-weary and sore, Nainy calmly cast us each a stern look. “I shan’t be seeing you come home after dark again without permission, unless one of you is missing a limb. Am I understood?”
We both nodded. Genny patted my shoulder, “Bad luck, Viv. You’ll have to very carefully consider if you’d rather miss an arm or a leg, next time. I can’t be losing any of my limbs. I’m hopelessly attached to them.”
Nainy’s scowl quirked upward on the sides, as we all fought to suppress our laughter, in an effort to give the consequence the seriousness it was due.
One of the best things about Nainy though, was her willingness to move on. She let go of her anger after that dinner and things settled into the way they had been before. However, with the history revealed to me, it was like some one had lifted a shade from my eyes.
Nainy’s daily visits to the shore or the countless moments of silence that she bore, as she gazed toward the waxing tide were now full of meaning. The only thing that puzzled me was the iron cockle shell she wore. The intentional reminder must be painful. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why she might remind herself of a mistake as detrimental as that last striking, with a bar of iron. It was Genny though, not I, that finally summoned the courage to ask her.
“Who gave you your iron cockle shell, Nainy?”
A slightly raised brow was followed by a suspicious look but we must have maintained our prepared look of innocence well enough.
“It was your grandfather that gave this to me,” she finally answered. “A watch to remember that sometimes, time is fleeting, a shell to remember the sea shall always live in my heart, and iron to remind me that, sometimes things are not as they appear.”
There was new meaning when Genny and I now left our tributes at the shrine. We were honouring Manawydan and our family history. We both felt a stronger connection to everything around us, like we were actually a part of this community steeped in tradition and loyalty, that gave it a magical life of its own. Whether it was our new found knowledge or our participation in the recalling of the boats, it felt as though now we belonged. All the inhabitants nodded in our direction or said hello. It wasn’t that anyone had been unfriendly before, just that now we were apart of it all. And though Genny had been partly there already, now we were both firmly entrenched.
Bryn was the only one we shared our new stories with. One morning, whilst Mr. Lewis was on an errand and Bryn managed the counter, we took turns relaying our tales. He alternated between nodding along and staring at us in wide-eyed astonishment.
“You went to visit Mr. Sarffer on the hill?” Bryn asked in equal parts awe and horror. “My older brother picked up an order from him last year and had nightmares after for a week. I try not to mess with him.”
Genny didn’t even try to stifle her pride, “Well, I’ll grant you he is unsettling…” I snorted and gave her an disbelieving look. “Ok, unnerving… Fine, he’s creepy. But he’s not that bad. The key is to bring tribute.”
It was Bryn’s turn to shake his head, “We don’t all make bara brith like Mrs. Morgan.” He peered out the front window keeping an eye out for Mr. Lewis, like we were doing something illicit, rather than swapping stories. “I knew the shrines were for Manawydan and I knew something happened to Mrs. Morgan’s husband years back but people just say he was lost to the sea. Thought he drown.”
“Well, that’s probably what really happened.” As I said it, I glanced sideways at Bryn. I wanted to believe that the story was true, word for word. The weight of the want was somewhat overwhelming. But the weight of potential disappointment was greater still.
“Well, you would think that, but folk here. We know how true the fairy stories are.”
Genny squinted at him, “You really think our grandfather is the king of the sea and our however many greats grandmother was a sea fairy?”
“I’m not trying to pull one over on you, if that’s what you’re really asking,” he stated belligerently. “Everyone knows Mrs. Morgan’s got a touch of the sea folk. That’s why we listen when she hears a warning on the wind. I don’t see the harm in believing. There’s things all around I don’t understand, right? That’s what Father always talks about anyway. Faith, right?”
“If you could stay awake for more than ten minutes on Sunday morning, you’d know he’s talking about Jesus.” Genny responded snidely.
“Don’t know why it has to apply to one and not the other,” Bryn muttered sullenly. His eyes suddenly brightened, “Yeah, because if God can make anything why not magic too? Why not fairies? Seems a bit restricting to say he can’t. Isn’t he supposed to be able to do anything?”
I watched Genny’s eyes roll in defeat and laughed, “I think the round goes to Bryn.”
Bryn accepted his triumph by jumping out from behind the counter and parading around the shop, hands raised with success. Genny and I laughed and cheered. Mr. Lewis’s return was expertly timed and he stopped up short.
“What’s happening here?” he inquired dryly.
“We were just talking about God.” I responded seriously.
Whatever Mr. Lewis was expecting, it wasn’t that. But he recovered quickly, “Your grandmother wanted to let you girls know that it’ll be time to call your folks in an hour or so.” He pulled out his pocket watch to double check and nodded with satisfaction. “More so, fifty minutes now. She wants you there a bit ahead of time. I’d start on over. The tide’s out though, so you should be fine cutting across the bay.” His gaze landed on Bryn, “Shouldn’t you be stocking the shelves?”
“Oh he finished that ages ago, Mr. Lewis.”Genny called as we left the shop, “We wouldn’t let him mess about if there was work to be done.”
We very rarely crossed the bay, much rather preferring to pass by the fairy tree and the shrines. I did love it though, running across the water-soaked sand that only seemed to dry for a moment, with the socks and shoes clenched in my hand. It was it’s own magic. Magic I could make by merely pressing on the sand with my toes and sending the water just a few inches outward.
Genny squealed ahead of me as she ran across a particularly slimy puddle. “Eww!”
We both laughed and slowed to a spirited walk.
“The water should draw back from my hand since we’re both descended of water fairies and the king of the sea,” she laughed, regally waving at a length of seaweed that had been dragged on to the shore.
“That means the water loves you and wants to be closer to you!” I giggled using my free hand to trace spider fingers up her arm. “I get you a crown of sand and a cloak of seaweed.”
She screeched and sprinted away faster, flailing her arms and yelling, “I’m adopted!”
I paused, laughing to catch my breath a moment and squinted out at the seabed. There was something standing black against the dark beige of the sand that I hadn’t seen before.
“Genny!’” I glanced toward her retreating form but she didn’t seem to hear me. I hesitated, whatever it was though, was only a little ways off. I knew we had to get going. I knew that it was probably only a net or something the sea’d drug in. But I was pulled by a curiosity that wouldn’t let go, I began to make my way toward it.
There was a stillness in the air now, as though the world was watching too. The gulls had stopped cawing and the ever present sea breeze died. I glanced back over my shoulder and was surprised to find that the previously clear day now held small clouds that were peering up, curiously over the hills. Whatever it was though, did not seem to be getting any closer. And I began to strain my eyes to make out a shape from the shapeless dots.
Then suddenly, everything seemed gain momentum and finally something began to form. I realised that not far in front of me was a dark wooden post, rising no more than three feet high from the sand. The post was not alone though and about ten feet away on either side was an identical wooden beam. More continued outward. I tracked them with my eyes and was surprised to note that they formed a wide circle. In the midst of it was the strangest thing of all. A mound of sand stood at the centre. I gazed outward at the ever present flatness that the bay emulated. The curiosity that had seized me previously, now came back in full force and I moved toward the mound. The still air whipped into a frenzy, pulling at my hair and clothes. Then a hand materialized and grabbed my arm, pulling me around.
Genny stood breathless with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. “What are you doing? I kept calling to you.”
I blinked twice and cleared my thoughts. What was I doing? I looked around and saw the posts. “Ah, these posts I’ve never seen them before and the mound there.” I gestured hoping that whatever I was saying would make sense.
Genny looked over at it and the posts and linked her arm with mine, pulling me back towards the Bay Cottage, “Um, yeah, real enthralling. We can’t explore now. We have to get back to Nainy. I know Nainy says she’s not still mad but she’s harbouring a little animosity about that whole coming back late thing. We need to tread lightly my friend…”
I found I wasn’t listening to her chatter and instead glanced back over my shoulder at my footprints standing outside the edge the posts created. A chill went through me but it wasn’t the wind. I swore inside the circle, I could see another set of prints, mirroring my own.