My heart leapt in my chest as I spun round. An old man was leaning against the railing watching me with intense eyes. His wrinkled features were obscured by a gruff and bushy beard that faded into his cropped hair. Both were unkempt but cleaner than I expected of a sailor.
“My apologies, sir. I didn’t know anyone was home.”
“And if I weren’t, you’d go poking ’bout anyways?”
I swallowed, “No, sir. I just heard the bells, the glass, I mean. I didn’t know where it came from and…” I floundered as I tried to find the words that would help remove me from this situation.
“The bells?” he glanced past me and his expression softened. Slowly, and with awkward grace he unfolded himself from the railing. I hadn’t realised how tall he was. At least as tall as my own father, who certainly would have needed to duck under most of the doorways in Nainy’s home. He didn’t seem tall in an overbearing sense that made you think of a giant, he just was and the acceptance and disregard for it as a fact, made him seem to grow and then return to a more comforting size. He moved past me and waved his hand through the sea glass. The tinkling returned. I imagined fairy wings must make the same noise.
“I suppose like bells,” he said softly and then turned and walked into the hut without another word. I stood at the entrance unsure of what to do. Had I been dismissed?
He returned a moment later with another breeze and holding a bucket. The brownish red rust stains ran down from the sides of the handles and joined with the stains around the base. They would have been more apparent if not for the overall filth that covered its entire surface. The man sat on the edge of the walkway, he legs dangling into the air and his head almost scraping the bottom of the railing. The pail was plunked, unceremoniously, beside him. I shuffled my feet uncertainly and clasped my hands behind me.
I was of no consequence it seemed. All he did was search through the contents of the pail, quietly muttering to himself. I had just begun to slink away, quietly turning to go, when he stopped, “Here.”
I glanced back over my shoulder and saw he was holding something out to me. Without thought my hand reached out and clasped the offering. The glass was heavy and smooth and as I opened my fingers to reveal what lay inside, my breath caught in my throat. The largest piece of sea glass I’d found had been the size of a fifty pence but this was at least double the size and surprisingly round. The teal green was so frosted that I was tempted to dust off snowflakes and inside there seemed to be a shape that was obscured by the wear of time. I found myself sitting down and running my fingers over the shape.
“It’s a bell,” he said softly rotating the glass with his gnarled fingers. He watched my hands for a moment and then returned his gaze to the ocean and the gathering grey clouds.
“It’s beautiful. Did you carve it in there?” I wasn’t sure why I was whispering but it seemed appropriate.
“Don’t need to mess with somethings,” he nodded at the bucket. “Some just come special.”
I peered over the rust-ridden edge and felt my eyes widen at the amount of treasures inside. “Where did you find all of these?”
He laughed then, “You spend enough time looking anywhere, you can find beauty. These just happen to be portable.”
I nodded, still looking at my piece.
“What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I heard the bells…”
“No,” his gruff voice gave way to a quick cough. After he cleared his throat, he waved me onward with his hand. “You’re not from Anglesey.”
“I’m visiting my grandmother at Bay Cottage.”
“Ahh, Mrs. Morgan is it?” he glanced at me sideways from underneath his cap.
“Yes.” He must know Nainy. Everyone seemed to. I ran my hands round the edges of my glass, enjoying the way the coolness seemed to quiet my thoughts.
“She’s a good one to have as a grandmother, I’d imagine.”
I shrugged and searched through the bucket. Sifting through the greens, blues, and whites seemed to encourage the feelings I’d felt before to come pouring forth. “She said she would tell me anything but then I asked about fairies and she said she couldn’t tell me. She made a promise to my father and wouldn’t break it.”
“I suppose. She made a promise to me too though.”
“Hard to keep all our promises sometimes. Here this one’s a nice colour.”
I paused to take the piece he handed me and pondered his words for a moment, “Well, then, she shouldn’t tell me that she knows what I want to know. Then it just makes me want to know it more.”
“Sounds like it’s already a bit complicated. Not sure lying would help any.”
I shrugged. “I’ll find out anyway. Do you know any stories about fairies?”
A smile stubbornly tugged at his lips. “I might…”
“Tell me? Please?”
“I don’t know, seeing as your Nainy isn’t wanting it.”
“But she said she just couldn’t tell me. You haven’t made a promise to my father and you could tell me.”
The smile won and broke into a low chuckle. “You’re just like him, I imagine.”
My own smile faltered, “Do you know him? That is, did you know him when he lived here?”
“I was just thinking that your Nainy’s stubborn and persuasive and you seemed to have inherited it. It must have been through your father. Suppose it could skip a generation though.”
My hands relaxed a little. I didn’t know why I felt more comfortable with this man not knowing my father, but some small fear that another avenue of inquiry was closed to me was put to rest. “I’ve been speaking with you for quite awhile but I don’t even know your name.”
The man looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “You can call me Dan.”
“Would you tell me the fairy stories you know, Mr. Dan?”
“Just Dan, girl. I shall tell you one story. I’m not a library of knowledge.”
I bit my lip and turned the bell glass in my hand. “I find I’m not sure what to ask for. You see I’ve not heard a great many fairy stories or really any, truth be told.”
That earned me a chuckle. “I’ll give you choice than shall I? I can tell you about a sea fairy so beautiful she broke a man’s heart or about the sea god, a man of passing import.”
“I should like to hear about the sea fairy, if you please.”
“Sea fairy, is it? Well, beauty is a good topic for a young one. Hmmm.” He pulled the pail onto his lap and handed me a small metal fish. “This’ll be good for the topic at hand. Now…”
You may be thinking that fairies are all these flying butterflies who’ve nothing to do with human folk but causing small mischief. But they come in all sizes and it was one day that Ilar Morgan was walking the bay bed when he heard a sound that nearly melted his heart. As he rounded the bend, he saw a sea maiden laughing combing her hair. Her skin was so dewy and clear, her hair shone like the darkest drop of the night, and her eyes sparkled as if two stars had been plucked just for her. Well, poor Ilar was just a man and was promptly struck dumb by the site. However, he had the misfortune of overturning a stone which alerted the beautiful fairy to his presence. Quick as a wink she dove back into the sea but she’d left behind her comb. Ilar wasn’t that much of a fool and he knew if he wanted to see her again he best pick it up.
The next tide he went to the same spot and found the fairy searching for her comb. He returned it to her and she stayed to speak with him awhile. The next day and the next, and the next they met and spent time together but each time the tide turned she fled and dove back into the sea. Now on the seventh day, she was not there and poor Ilar was fair mad with fear. He waited on the shore through that tide and the next, until the fairy finally appeared. She had been crying and told Ilar that she could no longer see him. Her father, a very important fairy lord of the sea, had promised her in marriage to a horrible sea dragon and she was due to be married that next day.
Ilar, was heartbroken, he’d been fair in love with her from the moment they’d met but now his heart barely even beat in his own chest when she wasn’t near and he walked as though half asleep. He spoke to Seren, for that was the fairy’s name, of how they could run to the hills and make a home for themselves there, away from the sea. But Seren had an idea and gave Ilar a shell which allowed him to breathe under the waves. She took him to her home and told her father that she would gladly marry the sea dragon if Ilar could not tell her apart from her sisters. But if he could, then she would marry Ilar.
The sea dragon laughed for he knew he could not lose and he would much rather have a willing bride than one racked with grief. The lord agreed as well and Seren’s three sisters were brought forth. Now Ilar knew the face of his love well, for when he closed his eyes it was all he saw but when he saw Seren with her sisters he could not, for the life of him, tell them apart. It was is they were each a sparkling drop of the ocean for not a single thing could be distinguished between them. Ilar knew all was lost and that his heart would be broken but then asked if the sisters might each be put in a different corner of the room. With his love so far removed Ilar’s heartbeat slowed and he was able to find Seren among her siblings. The sea dragon boiled with rage and in a moment was gone.
Seren and Ilar married and lived in a sea town. They were very much in love and Seren soon gave birth to a child, with four more to follow. They all lived happily, until one day as the night tide turned and a full moon rose, the eldest son, Tegid heard a voice calling to him. He followed the voice and came upon a circle in the sand. Tegid assumed that the sea had revealed it in its most recent turn and was about to go home when something shining from the centre caught his eye. In the middle of the circle, half covered in sand, was a golden plate. Tegid went to inspect it further but as he brushed the sand away, found his hand stuck fast. He called out in horror but none were with him.
It was his mother that was alerted to his misfortune, for a small sea bird had seen Tegid with the water rising round him and flown to her with the news. Ilar and the rest of the children had gone into town and it was only Seren that set out to save poor Tegid. When she got there, Tegid was struggling to keep his head above the surface, his hands still held fast to the plate. Seren threw her great cloak made of fairy thread over the both of them and it held air for Tegid to breathe but in her attempt to save him, Seren was also trapped by the plate. As they lay under the crush of the sea, the sea dragon came. It was he who had set the trap and he sped them both to his castle where they were trapped in his dungeon.
Ilar and his children returned to find nothing of Tegid and only Seren’s footsteps leading to the sea. whilst the rest of village went into mourning (for Seren and Tegid were much beloved), Ilar and the children would not believe that Seren and Tegid would leave in such a manner but they still did not know what had become of them.
Ilar began to have bad luck at sea and each time he threw his nets into the ocean, fish would swarm and eat through them. After a time, he caught one of the fish that had been eating his nets, slower than the rest, in its attempt to escape after reeking its damage. He placed it in a bucket and put it out on the jetty for the gulls to eat. When another fisherman came to speak to him about purchasing the fish, Ilar declared no, he’d rather watch the gulls rip it apart. Next a cook came and asked to purchase the fish but Ilar again said no. Finally, a lord rode by and asked how much Ilar would like for the fish but Ilar stood firm. All three began to argue and shout. In their anger they began to merge and transformed into the sea dragon. He explained that he’d been sending his people to torment Ilar and the fish in the bucket was none other than his transformed sister. Ilar knew at once that the sea dragon was behind the disappearance of his wife and son. He threatened to toss the fish to the gulls if the sea dragon did not return his loved ones and promise not to harm the family in the future. The dragon reluctantly agreed.
And so Seren and Tegid were released from their prison and reunited with their loved ones. There was much joy, many tears, and many kisses. The family lived well after that. The children all grew and enjoyed much happiness but always descendants of the sea have lived here on Anglesey.
As he finished, I rubbed the small metal fish once more. Its slippery scales seemed wet with the sea water. It was only then, that I realised the coming storm was beginning to break, and raindrops were falling. “Oh the storm, Nainy said it would come.”
Dan stretched himself upwards and climbed to his feet. “She’s usually right about those things. Has an unnatural gift for it.”
I stopped, straightening my skirt and looked up into his twinkling blue-grey eyes. Something was dancing in my mind, it was just out of reach and I felt that if I could make it sit still for just a moment I would find a key. “Everyone says so,” I started slowly, tilting my head slightly, hoping to knock it free. “In your story, where did Ilar and Seren live?”
Dan puffed up his checks and blew the air out slowly as he reached for the bucket. He seemed to be trying to remember but when he looked up his eyes were teasing again. “Oh, not quite sure. Depends on who’s telling the story, I suppose.”
“And when you’re telling the story?” I asked.
He chuckled, “I like to think they lived right next to the sea, in a stone cottage with a small garden that looked like it was about to dip its toes in the sand.”
I took a step back, his description reminded me so much of something I’d seen recently and it was slightly unnerving. “Cottages don’t have toes.” I said hurriedly to cover up my unease.
“My mistake then.” He doffed his cap and glared at the sky, his nose wrinkling in disapproval. “You best get going, don’t want to be caught in this mess when it hits.”
“I’ll tell Nainy that you say hello, Mr…uh, Dan.”
“You can tell her hello from Dan Llyr, Miss…”
“Viv…Vieva.” I wasn’t sure what prompted me to give him my grandmother’s version of my name but as it slid off my tongue, it felt right.
Dan raised an eyebrow but said nothing at my hesitation. “Nice to see your father hasn’t forgotten where he comes from,” he said. “Take that nice piece of glass with you. It’ll remind you to listen for the music that’s hiding in the world. Now off you go, Miss Vieva Morgan.”
I waved goodbye and began to make my way up the path when the dancing in my head came to a crashing halt. I spun round to ask Dan one more question about the fairy story but he was no longer leaning against the rail or anywhere in sight. The raindrops and wind quickened, hurrying me away but as I ran back up the path and onto the lane I couldn’t stop thinking about how it was Ilar Morgan who’d fallen in love with the fairy from the sea.