When I finally dared to peek, only the first rays of dawn were lifting above the horizon and we all were back in the shallows of the bay. I looked about wildly trying to locate everyone. Nainy was fighting her way through the calf-deep water in our direction, as my father scrambled towards us from only a short distance away. Their movements were identical and they swept us both up in embraces that left us breathless. My father pulled my face away from him for only a moment before kissing my forehead and pressing me again to his breast.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” a terrified breath was followed by another squeeze.
“I have no desire to ever see another sea dragon, as long as I live,” Genny said from Nainy’s arms. “Or even after I die, for that matter. Just never again, really.”
“Than you’re in luck, Gwyn, for Orme was one of the last of his kin.” Our grandfather stood in the shallows, his hands clasped behind his back. My father stilled and loosened his hold on me. “Dylan, it’s good to see you, fy ngwas.”
My father nodded but didn’t move towards him, “Tad.”
“Rhiannon, fy enaid.” Manawydan reached his hand out. Nainy went to him and wrapped her arms around him, as if he was the very breath she craved.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again, Dan.” She scolded as she embraced him. “If you’re allowed to sacrifice yourself, I should be able to do the same.”
“We shall always fight to protect those we love,” He smiled down at her and kissed the top of her head before turning his gaze to Genny and I. “Ah, my girls.”
He squatted down and held out a hand to us. We approached with caution. It was different this time, knowing who he was. Not only to us but to the entirety of the village, the sea even. “You did well. You thought, you survived. I am sorry that circumstances have not allowed us to meet until now but I’m very proud of you both.” He reached into his pocket and opened his hand to reveal our shells. We snatched them up again. I held mine cupped in my hand and looked at the small innocent thing that had saved our lives.
“Will mine allow me to breathe under water as well?” Genny asked eyeing it with renewed interest.
“No, Gwyn bach. Your shell is something else.” He didn’t elaborate but just watched. He watched as he always did, allowing others to make the connection, to find their own strength.
Genny looked down at her shell and then smiled up at him, nodding.
“Can you come upon land, now?” my voice sounded timid but I rolled my shoulders back to try and instil some strength in myself, when really I was just so weary from the events.
“Ni allaf aros, Vivea. My curse still stands.” He smiled grimly up at Nainy. “I feel it weaken now and then and may press against its constraints. But it is fleeting and truly the sea needs its constraints, for what are we without rules but wild daring things that act now and think of consequences later. You’ll remember that storm that blew up when I met you by the hut? I wasn’t aware it would crash ashore like that. I’d hate to cause it again.” He stood and kissed Nainy’s cheek, smiling. “Next year, fy enaid. Next year, shall be my day upon the earth.” The waves began increasing in their strength and the water began to darken.
“My time is now short.” He embraced Genny and I and kissed Nainy’s cheek one more time, pressing his hand against her cheek and murmuring to her in Welsh. Then he turned to my father. “Dylan, walk me out, fy ngwas.”
My father nodded and squeezed my shoulder as he passed to wade deeper into the slowly receding water.
“Come girls,” Nainy gently led us away, with a warm strength that enveloped us. “You both need something to eat and a lie down.”
When I woke the next morning, I heard soft voices downstairs. Genny was still asleep, dead to the world and so I crept quietly past the threshold and down the creaking stairs. My father and Nainy sat at the table, talking. It was odd; not only to see my father here, a place that he had abandoned decades ago but to see him so at ease. It was as if a peace had descended upon him, something I hadn’t seen in years and definitely never when Nainy was near.
They both turned towards me as I entered the room. Nainy was instantly up, finding a warm cup for me and a hearty breakfast.
My father smiled but kept his seat, gripping his cup of tea in restraint, “We wondered when you’d be up.” He reached across and squeezed my hand. “How are you feeling?”
I smiled tightly, “Tired. A bit odd, as I’ve slept so long.”
He tried to keep his smile, “Well nearly drowning will do that to you.” He waited for me to finish my breakfast but when my plate was clean he refilled my cup and settled in across the table. “We’ve been patient, Vivian. Now, perhaps you’d care to share how you came to be in such a situation.”
I sighed and took a restoring drink before glancing up at them both, hesitant. Nainy stood and opened a window, instantly a soft breeze slipped into the room and brushed my cheek. It was the small strength I needed. The story poured out. Starting from when Genny and I had first discovered the fairy shells and ending when they had found us the night before.
There were no interruptions. I spoke mostly to my mug, glancing up more frequently as the tale progressed. They both sat and allowed me to speak until our cups were all cold. When I was done, I sat back and waited, unsure of what reaction I’d receive. My father sat looking out the window and Nainy said nothing, just watched him quietly.
Finally, he sighed, “Not walk knowingly into trouble, isn’t that what you said Mam?”
“Dylan, there was a lure. You know yourself how powerful that can be.” Nainy leveled her gaze at me. “I think Vivea has learned her lesson about messing with things she doesn’t fully understand.”
My father shook his head again and then looked me in the eye, “You should have known.” I began to protest but he held up his hand rejecting any protest, “I should have told you. The loss is something I hoped to spare you from. Something I hoped you wouldn’t connect with if you didn’t understand.” He stopped and looked up at the walls, supports of his childhood. “The magic of this place, it seeps into your very soul. I ripped it out long ago, Vivian. I couldn’t feel anything without the pain, everything was tainted. But the thought of losing you. The pain is small in comparison.” He sat thinking and looking for an answer in his cup, “I didn’t know about the shrines. I felt so alone, after he left. No one else could have possibly understood but they all did. They all remembered. As I should have. ‘It’s a community that makes us strong. We all need our inner strength but leaning on those around us, when we need it isn’t weakness.’ Your grandfather has wisdom for the ages.” My father just shook his head and glanced out the window. I stood and wrapped my arms around him. He squeezed my arm, as I hugged him. “We’re going to be ok,” he told me.
“I know,” I said simply. And I did.
When I returned on the train the week after, it was without my father. Nainy had sent us off without a tear in her eye. “I’ll see you sooner than you think,” she smiled and brushed some dust off my shoulder. “Anyway, you shall always carry a piece of me with you, Vivea.” I didn’t like to leave her alone at Bay Cottage but she only touched her time piece and assured me that she was never alone. “Besides, we live in a modern age. If you miss me, you need only phone me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Nainy.” Genny had said kissing her cheek. “We’d never contact you in such a mundane fashion. Butterflies. Butterflies are the way of the future.”
Genny and I had parted ways in Chester amid a flurry of tears. I dreaded seeing her off. Off to another lonely year. But Genny told me: “No need to worry. I carry Wales in my soul, Viv. That’s my armour.” She coated herself with its strength and mystery and in doing so became the glamorous and confident person that could deal easily with the challenges flung her way.
She pulled out her shell, “Other people can make me strong too though. That’s what the shrines were. Strength of everyone together, everyone supporting each other, working towards something good.” She tilted her head to the side. “I shall see you next summer. Your father’s promised to try and get my mother to come for a visit. We’ll see.”
She began to start for her train but turned back and threw her arms around me, “You make me stronger too, Viv.” she whispered as she hugged me.
“You make everyone stronger, Genny.” I said hugging her back.
“That’s my magic darling,” she laughed as she hurried towards her train, clasping her hat to her head and dashing across the platform.
I gazed out the window the rest of the way home, turning the bell glass over in my hands, running my fingers over the weather worn surface. It wouldn’t be entirely different when I returned. We all had to work towards regaining a bit of our happiness back, of moving past the pain. But knowing that we’d all be doing it together made it easier. A union in hope. It wasn’t just Wales, I supposed, that had that primitive power capable of making connections long since buried. Others must find it elsewhere. Places where the balance between reality and necessity is based on need. I smiled at that. The idea that throughout our lives and the world there are places that are just waiting to help us right wrongs and discover hidden depths.