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Cephalopods & Caffeine

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The Treahchto Coffee Hut (est. 2017)- Treahchto nr. Tingtagel.

4.9 stars (1138 reviews) - ££

Smaller than Mousehole or Boscastle and far and a way less famous than nearby Tintagel, Treahchto, is little more than a single building; all that remains of tiny fishing village that had long ago been claimed by the sea under possibly mysterious circumstances. It could be the poster child for ‘off the beaten track’. But beat their track to it many do because that little house, situated not too far from the popular South West Coast Path, happens to serve the best coffee in Cornwall. Some would even argue that you won’t find better in the whole of the South West.

  • The coffee is fantastic. The owner’s husband is something else. 
  • Great views, great coffee. Also bought some gorgeous artwork.
  • HANDS DOWN THE BEST flat white in Cornwall. The four cheese toastie was divine.

 


Letter D initial

Derelicts and Desires

 

Summer 2017

For the last two years, Rey had poured her heart and soul and savings into the ramshackle cottage that she had unaccountably decided to turn in to a coffee shop after escaping the rat race in London. Her friends had thought her mad until they saw the small cove and tasted the coffee, upon which they changed their initial estimation to eccentric. Then they met her husband and all became clear. Who could blame her for leaving civilisation and all its stressors behind to spend her life with a man with those eyes...and that voice.

 

March 6th & 7th 2015

 

Rey made very good money as a software developer at a consultancy based in Canary Wharf, but it was sucking the life out of her.  One day while testing a Google Maps integration she discovered the little cove and cottage nestled in the shelter of high cliffs. It called to her with a siren song she simply could not resist.

For once she did not work late that evening. That night Rey dreamt of the ocean. She wasn't sure if she was tossing in her sleep or being buffeted by waves. 

The next day was a Friday but she could not shake the image of the cove from her head. She sent her line manager a terse email informing him that she had 24 hour tummy bug, made a stack of cheese sandwiches, packed up her car and just drove - apart from the twenty minutes spent stuck on the M25. She headed west, past Stonehenge - disappointingly small. Past Bath - too full of tourists who had read one paragraph of Austen and fancied themselves Elizabeth Bennet. Into Devon and out again and then finally into Cornwall following the A39 inexorably south.

 

She ignored the signs trying to convince her to divert her journey to the Eden Project and pressed on. She turned north off the A39 towards Tintagel, where she barely managed to avoid plowing into some gawking tourists despite their very best efforts. She carried on into Bossiney and then turned left onto Back Lane and headed towards the coast. The lane narrowed and the faint line down the middle of the road predictably gave way to scrubby grass.

 

It was only when she pulled out of the narrow, winding high hedge-lined road she been bumping down for the least 20 minutes - and it had been a very interesting twenty minutes, far better than her last boyfriend who could barely last two - that she realised she’d not had her sat nav on for the last hour.

The road dipped steeply and the whole world seemed to fall away before her. She pulled up at the side of a ramshackle house. Ramshackle was being generous; house was being just hopeful to the point of delusion. She  found herself in a little cove cupped by sheer cliffs that drove up into the sky.

A blue-green expanse greeted her. Waves gently lapped at the shingles a few metres from the cottage’s garden wall, or what remained of it. The call of the gulls that had plagued Tintagel was eerily damped. She took a long deep breath, pulling in all the goodness of fresh sea air, and breathed out steadily, expelling the dark knot of stress that had balled up in her over the last few months of working far too late into the evenings and weekends.

Rey reached into the back of car and grabbed the bag she had hastily packed the day before. She’d attempted cycle camping once with an old boyfriend and though the trip had been rained off she had come away from the experience with a tent, sleeping bag and various bits and pieces needed for cooking en plein air...

And the resolve to never again go on a relationship-saving trip that showed any signs of ending in an attempt to comfort a grown man who was sobbing and coming out to her in the driving rain on an August Bank holiday Monday. In Swindon of all places. Poor Finn, it had been a tough thing for him to admit but in the long run it had been for the best. He was happily married now and he and his husband had just adopted two little boys.

 

Rey made her way into the cottage. It was a fairly decent size - larger than she had expected. To be fair it had more hole than roof. But as far as she could tell the structure was sound enough and it was unlikely to fall on her in the middle of the night; and if it looked like rain she could always sleep in the car. 

She had spent all day driving and dusk was now rapidly gathering.  This meant a proper investigation of the house and environs would have to wait until the morning.

 

Rey boiled some of the bottled water she had brought with her and, because she didn’t believe in slumming it completely, made a mug of coffee using the AeroPress that lived in her bag.  

She wandered around to the front of the house and sat with her back against the low wall watching the sun set and the moon rise while she drank. 

Rey made a point of buying decent beans and grinding them herself but something about drinking outside in the gathering dusk made it the best coffee she had ever made. The slightly salty flavour of this particular batch of beens pairing perfectly with the biting aroma of sea water. She sipped slowly, savouring it and the sense of calm and belonging she felt in this place.

 

All too soon, though, the mug was drained and with a sigh she clambered up and busied herself tidying up. She rinsed out her mug before stowing it back in the car with the camping stove. She then realised that in her haste packing food and coffee making supplies she had totally forgotten to bring her washbag. She shrugged, it wasn’t like there was anyone around to complain about her coffee breath. 

She checked the car once more before returning to the small section of slate titled floor that remained in the house where she had deposited her sleeping bag and pillow - the one spot that had a roof over it of course was the one that looked like an explosion of rock. She shimmied and wriggled herself into the sleeping bag, car keys warming, clasped in her hand. It was early spring and she had on about three layers of clothes so it was a tight fit but it wouldn’t do to die of exposure out here. Her body would probably not be found until the summer when hikers or dog walkers stumbled upon her, as was the way of these things.

 

A rainy Sunday afternoon double bill of the Little Mermaid, followed by the Pirates of Penzance starring Kevin Kline, and a plate of cheese at an impressionable age had led to some very strange dreams in which the dashing pirate king swung around buckling swashes on an octet of tentacles. For some, Labyrinth and David Bowie promising eternal devotion and a baby-brother-free-life heralded their sexual awakenings; but for Rey it was this strange hybrid and no man on earth could possibly live up to that ideal.

Even now, years later she couldn’t eat a ham and cheese toastie too close to bedtime without having some very strange dreams. Often, usually after a particularly stressful day at work, she would do so with just that effect in mind.

 

As she lay looking up at the stars through the hole in the roof Rey found her mind drifting. She fancied she heard a splash - probably a seabird - and then the crunch of gravel. She rolled over. Go to sleep, Rey, she told herself. There was no Piratical Octopus King coming to ravish her, more’s the pity. As it was Penzance was hundreds of miles away and on the far coast.

 

There it was again, that gravelly sound. Even a city girl like herself knew that that was definitely no seabird. As she sat bolt upright, the moon (which was full) chose that exact moment to hide itself behind a cloud and she had a hard time making out anything on the beach. What might have been a crouching figure could just as easily simply be the remains of the cottage’s garden wall. Could have been, until it and the cloud moved just enough to illuminate a face as pale as milk.

Rey gasped and felt something ignite inside her that she’d last had suggestions of while bouncing down that narrow lane.

She squeezed her eyes shut. There must have been far too much cheese in those sandwiches she’d packed for her lunch. She never could help herself though.

Her curiosity got the better of her and she opened her eyes again. Her heart leapt; the face was still there, with dark soulful eyes that bore into hers. Rey shifted in her sleeping bag. It was not a nice face. Nice was nowhere near the right word to describe it. 

Why was she thinking in lines from Gilbert and Sullivan? What was her ridiculous brain doing? Was she finally having that nervous breakdown Finn had predicted she was heading towards thanks to her workaholic nature?

 

She returned to contemplating the face. It was an interesting face. Unconventionally handsome would have been the conventional way of putting it.

Dark hair undulated about his face, skimming his jaw line, and a long thin scar ran down his face and neck. Now her stupid musically transfixed brain moved - maintaining the nautical theme - from Pirates to Pinafore and screamed Dick Dead Eye! at her.

 

‘Shut up!’ She muttered. Then Yum Yum’s aria from the opening of the second act of the Mikado was all she could think of.

‘We’re very wide awake, the Moon and I’, she sang softly to herself, though she was certain that had to be very far from the truth. This had to be a dream, a thick slab of Double Gloucester was making her warm and wet and achy. 

The figure must have taken it as an invitation to come closer. Two muscular arms reached forward, gripping on to the walls and the figure rose revealing a wide bare chest, and below that… tentacles.

“Strephon” she murmured as he glid almost soundlessly through the wall, and then the ersatz doorway, towards her. She fell back on her pillow, her mind well and truly gone.

 

“Who is Strephon?” He whispered. His voice was the most wonderful sound she had ever heard and if she could listen to it while driving up and down that road…well.

“You are a cheese sandwich.” Rey muttered staring straight up at the stars.

The face appeared over hers, blocking out the moon and stars. He smirked at her.

“I thought I was a Strephon.”

Rather than be drawn into looking him in the eye, Rey tried focusing on one of his beauty marks, but it was far too near those lips for comfort.

“It’s from an operetta. Strephon was a half fairy. Fairy down to the waist but his legs were mortal.” She babbled.

“I haven’t got legs.” He replied. As if in demonstration one of his not-legs worked its way across her sleeping bag just above her waist. 

“I’m aware of that…” she stuttered, slightly annoyed that he hadn’t placed its weight slightly lower down.

“My name is Kylo.”

“Aren’t you going to ask what a cheese sandwich is?” Rey blurted out.

 

Stupid, stupid.

 

Kylo laughed, it was a glorious sound, rich and dark and bubbly like... coffee. “I may be a monster, but I do know what a cheese sandwich is.”

“I don’t think you are a monster.” 

There was a pregnant pause as Kylo considered this, his jaw working slightly.

“Ah...you don’t? Why not?”

 

After hearing him laugh Rey felt like baring herself body and soul to him.

“Because I’ve dreamt of someone like you almost my whole life...” she whispered.

Suddenly she felt the tentacle arm that had been slowly working its way around her waist tighten. Her mind went blank and her insides abruptly flared red hot as she was pulled upright.  His hands cupped her face and he kissed her like she had wanted to be kissed ever since that rainy Sunday afternoon when she was 14.

 

Chapter Text

Lamentations and Longing

 

Thursday, March 5th 2015

 

Every month, when the moon was at its fullest, Kylo found himself compelled to return to the cove. It was a desolate place that held nothing but confusion and heartache for him; but to resist meant risking a more exquisite punishment.

 

The sight of the solitary, ruined house sitting expectant, illuminated by milky moonlight, filled him with such strong, conflicting emotions that he feared his mind and soul were being wrenched apart.

 

He loathed the place; but he had no choice but go where he was bidden, and this evening the pull to the cove was stronger than it had been in years.

 

If he could, he would have split his skull open to get at whatever memory he was certain lay buried there just out of reach; then perhaps he might understand why he continued to be drawn to this desolate place. Perhaps then the pain might cease.

 

Eventually the torment became too much to bear. He rose up out of the water, hands clenched in his hair, in the vain hope that he could distract himself with physical pain.

 

“Why do you want me here? What do you want of me? How can I ever be free of this?” Kylo cried out in misery, but neither the watching moon nor waiting house were either willing, or able, to grant him any answers or respite.

 

His anguish dissipated, leaving only antipathy in its wake. He collapsed back into the water allowing himself to drift at the whim of the gently undulating waves until, just as the moon dipped below the horizon and the first light of dawn began to bleed into the sky, he felt the spectral grip on him loosen at last. He gave the house one last, pleading look before he retreated to the nearby cave that had been sanctuary and prison for as long as he could remember.

 

Friday, March 6th 2015

 

The following day, as the sun dropped below the horizon, Kylo was bidden to the cove once more.

 

But this time it wasn’t harsh the call he had come to expect; rather than commanded he felt as if his presence was being requested . Absent was the usual wrench that left his mind reeling as he was driven to return to that forsaken place; in its stead was a pleasant sensation, akin to being drawn into a warm, loving, embrace. Kylo was almost eager as he made his pilgrimage, even going so far as to venture closer to the shore than he had in years.

 

Everything seemed very much as it had been when he had fled earlier that morning; the house was still waiting for him, its dark, empty windows and sagging frontage presenting as mournful an expression as ever.

 

As he drew closer to the the water’s edge, his breath hitched,  his heart seemed to become a rapidly hammering weight in his chest when he saw the small green car parked by the house.

 

He was all at once insatiably curious and apprehensive. There had never been any sign of people there before. A light gust of wind came down from the cliff like a sigh of contentment; it ruffled his hair and brought with it the pungent smell of soil and trampled grass, and something else.

 

It was a faint aroma, rich with a bitter tinge, that tugged at him with more insistence than the full moon ever had. His breathing suddenly became rapid as he was assailed by images - memories perhaps - that to his frustration dissolved into nothing before he had a chance to comprehend them. Just one lingered long enough; a woman, with dark hair, and eyes that spoke of deep sorrow and anxiety.

 

Tentatively he unfurled one tentacle and laid it on the shingle beach beyond the water’s edge. Emboldened, he continued onwards, pebbles giving way slightly as his full weight was brought to bear on them.

 

He stilled for a moment, unaccustomed to moving on land, and regained his balance before creeping closer, moving low both to avoid detection and to steady himself. He had reached the broken wall that bounded the house when there was the barest hint of movement within the remains of the ruined structure. Before he could get a good look, the moon was obscured by a cloud.

 

Kylo paused, concentrating on savouring and locating the scent, the anticipation paining him almost as much as the unfathomable torment of previous visits. The enticing fragrance was stronger now, its source lay somewhere close by within the stony carcass of the cottage..

 

The oblivious cloud abruptly completed its transit, and Kylo found his eyes locked with those of a girl. She was wearing a grey knit hat and was nestled in a bulky sleeping bag. The moonlight set the contours of her face in sharp relief, giving her an ethereal look completely at odds with her apparel and surroundings.

 

Seeing him, the girl, rather than screaming blue murder as he expected, gave a low, slow gasp in surprise and squeezed her eyes shut.

 

Kylo was torn between shame and pride at the effect he had on her. When she opened her eyes again it was pride that won the day. He had no idea how long they remained there transfixed, gazing at each other. A multitude of thoughts flew through his mind. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to retreat from her, while he still could, or move closer.

 

She then muttered something incomprehensible before singing softly to herself, in a voice that seemed to him like an angel’s:

 

“We’re very wide awake, the Moon and I...”

 

The words were familiar to him but he was unable to place them. She had likened herself to the moon, a constant that ruled his life. A flame of courage flared up in his breast and throwing caution to the wind, he pulled himself through the gap in the wall and pressed on into the cottage.

 

As he closed the distance between them, the girl murmured “Strephon,” before falling back on her pillow and Kylo felt the familiar icy grip of fear once more. But he had come this far, and he was certain that this time retreating would be far more painful than staying.

 

Steeling himself once more, he moved closer, so that his face was near hers. It was unmistakable now; she was the source of the beguiling aroma.

 

“Who is Strephon?”, he asked, afraid to learn what the answer might be. Were they someone important to her? He hardly knew her; and yet he felt keenly that she was vitally important to him and he couldn’t bear to think of her with anyone else.

 

“You are a cheese sandwich.” The girl finally replied to his astonishment. He had fully expected her to either call him a creature or monster, or at the very least to recoil from him. But to his growing delight it seemed as if she was surprised by,  yet, almost welcomed, his presence.

 

Amused, he shifted position so he could look directly down at her; anything to lose himself in those eyes, which he could now see were a dark green flecked with gold.

 

“I thought I was a Strephon,” he quipped, flashing her a grin.

 

His proximity seemed to be affecting her a great deal; she was studiously avoiding his gaze yet he could see her pupils growing wider and the pulse point at her neck throbbing rapidly. His own heart sped up in unison, in joyful anticipation.

 

“It’s from an operetta.” She said her tone somewhat mechanical and detached, a slight frown of concentration creasing her brow as she tried to remain steadfast in her efforts to avoid making direct eye contact with him. “Strephon was a half fairy. Fairy down to the waist but his legs were mortal,” she continued.

 

This simply would not do. She was clearly frustrated by her desire to look at him, and he was likewise growing frustrated by her denial of her feelings...or at least his interpretation of them. There was something about this girl - and it was not just the perfume around her - that had awakened something in him. He couldn’t explain it, he just knew it deep in his bones. Being close to her both calmed and excited him; and he couldn’t bear to leave her without discovering whether she reciprocated these feelings, or might ever be able to do so. He struggled to curb the rapidity of his breathing. It was a strange reaction he’d never before experienced.

 

“I haven’t got legs,” he replied at last, as with a rush of audacity, he snaked one of his tentacles across her stomach to demonstrate. Had he been bolder he might have aimed it lower; but it didn’t feel right somehow.

 

The girl’s look of annoyance grew more marked and Kylo winced in anticipation of her violent recoiling from him when she haltingly answering: “I’m aware of that.”

 

The adage ‘Faint heart never won fair lady’ suddenly presented itself to the forefront of his mind and he duly plunged onwards.

 

“My name is Kylo,” he blurted out.

 

Her reply was not at all what he had expected.

 

“Aren’t you going to ask what a cheese sandwich is?”

 

A burst of laughter erupted from his lips. She was enchanting and disarming. But he still feared her; and even more, feared what her true, ultimate feelings toward him might be.

 

“I may be a monster, but I do know what a cheese sandwich is,” he replied, attempting to match her levity while at the same time gauging her opinion of him.

 

Her eyes which finally, finally met his were now almost as black as jet.

 

“I don’t think you’re a monster”, she said softly.

 

On hearing those words Kylo was certain that it was hope that she had awakened in him. Though he dared not put too much faith in her, not yet. He gritted his teeth as he considered how to best tease the truth from her.

 

“Ah.. you don’t? Why not?”

 

The next words from her mouth sealed their fates.

 

“Because I’ve dreamt of someone like you almost my whole life...”, she whispered.

 

The tiny flame of hope roared to life, and Kylo wound the tentacle that still lay across the girl around her chest and back and drew her up to meet him.

 

Nothing venture, nothing win , he thought, as he reached out to take her delicate face in his hands and kissed her as if his very soul depended on it.

 

When he broke off the kiss mere seconds later, the girl let out a small moan of irritation before wrenching him back to her with hands that had, unbeknownst to him, slid around his neck.

 

Stunned by her brazen response, his hands fell from her face. Feeling himself in imminent danger of toppling backwards from her onslaught, he wrapped his arms around her cocooned form to steady them both.

 

She kissed him hungrily, nipping at his lower lip. Her hands had moved from his neck and were now in his hair; her nails furrowing his scalp. He shuddered with longing and held her even tighter as her tongue probed at the edge of his mouth and then slipped inside when he sighed with contentment.

 

In that kiss, time lost all meaning; Kylo felt as if he existed in one instant and for all eternity at once. But time had never been his friend, and eventually the girl’s grip on him slackened and reality rushed back in to crowd out their perfect moment. Reluctantly he pulled away, shifting slightly to cradle her sleeping form against his chest. This time she merely whimpered softly at the break in contact; as if she were adequately sated for the time being.

 

For his part Kylo longed for more.

 

But she had given him enough - more than he ever expected to receive from another soul: hope. She stirred slightly, as he gingerly laid her back down; he made sure that her head was on the pillow before carefully tucking her arms back into the sleeping bag.

 

His pulse continued to race as he wondered if this slumbering girl was somehow the answer to the previous night’s appeals.

 

The longer Kylo remained by her side gazing at her, the harder it became to even contemplate leaving. But he was not the master of his own fate. This was the last night he could be on dry land for a month. He was a slave, bound in invisible chains that demanded his compliance. But he needed to do something; leave her some sign that he and what had passed between them hadn’t been a figment of her imagination.

 

Tearing himself from her, he moved over to her car; was it too much to hope that she had a pen and paper in there? He tried the door handle and found it locked. He cast about himself and, spying her bag, rummaged around in it until he fished out the keys.  He never once stopped to consider why he even knew about things like cars, locks or keys.

 

Kylo found what he was looking for in the glove compartment. He paused for a moment as the shameful realisation dawned on him that he didn’t even know her name.

 

He quickly wrote a simple message; the only thing he could think of at that moment, though it barely captured the breadth of his feelings. Even if he had all eternity he would never be able to adequately express it. He tore the page out and replaced the notebook and pen.

 

Kylo set the note down beside her and placed a piece of sea glass on it to keep it from blowing away. It was dark green, like her eyes, he thought with a smile.

 

He stayed to watch over her for as long as he could - though he spent more time staring off out to sea than at the form that filled him with such longing - until the moon inevitably deserted him and he was compelled to return to the sea. It was with a far lighter heart that he swam back to his cave that morning.



Chapter Text

Our very first visit to the West Country and we were so lucky to have discovered this hidden gem. The homemade salt and honey ice-cream was divine.  - A Holdo. Visited July 2018

 

We stumbled upon the place while walking from Tintagel to Boscastle. Well worth the slight detour. Though we never made it to Boscastle. Instead spent the afternoon drinking coffee and watching the sunset. It’s a magical place that seems out of time. - Jacen S. Visited August 2018

 


Hunger and Hormones

 

Hormone from the Greek “ὁρμῶ”, "to set in motion, urge on"

 

Saturday, March 7th 2015

 

Rey was ravenous when she woke the next morning; her stomach growling like a bear roused far too early from its hibernation. She smiled drowsily as she blinked grains of sleep from her eyes and licked her lips. They tasted like sea salt. It wasn’t the most unpleasant taste. But it did made her only hungrier.  Visions of bacon and sausages, hash browns and toast danced before her eyes. With luck the pub back in Tintagel would open early enough to serve breakfast, though since it was out of season there was no telling.

 

It was a bright crisp day and as she stretched, she marvelled at how well she had slept. Ordinarily she had a dreadful time trying to get to sleep. She was plagued by what she called Noisy Brain; her mind would keep her awake as it unhelpfully churned over her day’s work and reminded her of tasks left undone that really needed immediate attention. She usually found that visualising an ocean, populating it with a craggy island inhabited by ridiculous birds often helped her relax enough to drift off - as well keep at bay more painful thoughts that were lurking just beyond her mental to do list.  But it had nothing on the real thing for ensuring a restful night.

 

Her stomach’s protests became too much to ignore and Rey wriggled out of her sleeping bag and pulled on her boots. As she stood and picked up the sleeping bag her eye was caught by a fluttering piece of paper.

 

She frowned, certain she had tidied away all her litter the evening before, bundling the sleeping bag under one arm she crouched down to examine it.

 

The scrap was weighted down by a piece of deep green sea glass. It fit perfectly in the palm of her hand with a gently curved indentation that her thumb instinctively slid into, sending a shiver up her spine. She took a deep breath and turned her attention to the paper. It looked ordinary enough, like it had been torn from a notebook. On it, in the most exquisite hand she had ever seen, was written just two words:

 

Thank You

 

That was a new one. Thanks to her cheese addiction she was used to intense dreams, but they never had the courtesy to thank her afterwards. No one had ever thanked her afterwards, at least not properly; maybe a perfunctory ‘Cheers babe’, if she was lucky.

 

She pocketed the paper and glass and bundled the sleeping bag in the back seat of the car. As she dropped into the car seat and checked her mirrors she caught sight of her face; her lips were bruised and full. Not a dream after all…

 

She hurriedly pulled open the glove compartment. There it was, the notebook and pen she kept for when she was stuck in traffic and an idea for solving a tricky problem presented itself to her. She grabbed the notebook and flicked through it until she found the tell-tale gap. Pensively she chewed her bottom lip. If not a dream… then what?

 

Still, while her stomach was complaining loudly, other bodily needs were going to have to take a back seat. Slowly she manoeuvred the car around and set off back up the long winding road in search of breakfast.

 

And an estate agent.

 

Rey was in a buoyant mood as she drove towards Tintagel. The radio was blaring a particularly cheerful rendition of Blue Moon. The station’s programmers seemed have a direct line to her emotional state this morning.

As it was March and very much out of season she was able to find parking easily enough. She rolled her eyes slightly at the name though: The Sword in the Stone Car park… really? Her impression from the Disney movie was that said sword and stone had been in London. She parked and rooted in her tote bag for her purse, discovering then that not only had she left her wash bag back in London, but also her phone.

 

That was just... brilliant. She managed to scrabble together enough change in her purse and the bottom of her bag to cover a few hours’ parking.

 

She then made a beeline for the cosy-looking pub she’d spied while dodging pedestrians the day before.  

 

She pushed open the door and found herself in a small lounge bar. Directly ahead of her there was a small bar and to her right a nook with an old table and antique settle and empty fireplace. She went straight to the bar and looked to see if there was anyone about.

 

Off to the left there was a large, florid man in a tweed suit busying himself with a large meal, a pint glass paired with a mug of coffee stood before him.

 

“Can I help you?”

 

Rey turned and took a moment to take in the person in front of her. It was a small woman, wearing very thick round glasses. She had a colourful scarf wrapped around her head, every inch the hippy. But what disconcerted Rey was that she couldn’t quite pin her down. Was she really old, or surprisingly young. Her voice sounded like it had the weight and weariness of years behind it, but was clear and crisp as any teenager’s - when they weren’t mumbling. Aware that an answer was expected, she shook her head and smiled.

 

“Oh, sorry yes! I was wondering if you were still serving breakfast?”

 

“Yes, what would you like?”

 

“Full English please.”

 

Somewhere to one side she thought she heard someone mumble bloody emmetts . The woman made a slight face. “Ignore him. I’ll have it out for you shortly. Where will you be sitting?”

 

“Oh, just there” Rey replied, jerking her thumb back towards the little table with the settle.

 

A shadow seemed to pass over the older woman’s face.

 

“I er.. need to freshen up a bit…” Rey trailed off, unsure what she’d said or done wrong.

 

Her hostess smiled warmly.

 

“The ladies is that way, dear,” she said indicating a door just beyond the bar.

 

Rey made her way down the side of the bar, which turned out to be larger than she expected. She did a double take as she passed an older man in patched tweeds sitting at the bar, with a rabbit sitting up beside him daintily nibbling on a piece of lettuce. He was idly stroking its fur.  The place really was quite something, she thought to herself as pushed open the door into the ladies room.

 

She stood for a moment and looked at herself in the ancient mirror. Her cheeks were bright pink and her lips still quite red. She pulled off her grey knit hat to survey the bird’s nest underneath. Yup, all she needed was some birds and she’d be giving Radagast a run for his money.

 

She did the best she could with her fingers to work out the worst of the tangles, and pulled her hair back up into a bun before replacing her hat. At least it was still cold enough that no one would be surprised at her continuing to wear it indoors.

 

She then washed her hands and face and felt far more human when she emerged. She slid past the old gentleman with the rabbit just as the day drinker started to have a go at him about having the animal in the pub.

 

“The only place that creature should be in here, is in the kitchen, in a pot!” he slurred.

 

The other man was clearly familiar with this particular diatribe and ignored him, advising his companion ‘Trudy’ to do so as well.

 

Eager to avoid being called out for being an incomer again, Rey hurried to her table where a plate laden with her dream breakfast sat along with a large mug of coffee. She was just about to move over to the settle when her foot dug into something unexpectedly immovable.

 

“Oh! Shii-” she gasped as she pitched forwards over a large shaggy brown dog that looked like a red setter had collided at speed with the Dulux dog towards the settle, narrowly missing the table which wobbled precariously as she sought to steady herself on it.

 

If her cheeks hadn’t been red before they certainly were now. Rey pulled herself up from on top of the dog, who just lifted his head to give her a sleepy look. Clambering to her feet she carefully stepped over the unfazed creature to sit on the settle. She slid herself along until she was face to face with the delicious looking meal. She reached for the mug of coffee and as she picked it up the table shifted once again.

 

Oh Hells , she thought to herself, ducking under the table to see what was going on. The dog looked at her again.

 

“Well?” She enquired. Nothing…

 

One leg of the table had a wedge of folded paper jammed under it, but it wasn’t quite thick enough to make up for the disparity in length. Rey reached down and pulled it out, causing the table to shift yet again; this time enough that her cutlery jangled in alarm.

 

She sat back in the settle and unfolded the paper. It looked like a homemade booklet; besides being quite creased and dusty, it had coffee or tea stains around the edge.

 

“A Guide to the Flora, Fauna and Folklore of the South West”

 

L. Skywalker

 

Lacking her phone, and being someone who couldn’t help but read or otherwise consume sort of media while eating, Rey shoved one foot under the table to steady it and began reading.

 

It was a strange thing, to be sure. It started off quite reasonable; giving a brief overview of the landscape, plants and animals as advertised but the author evidently had a serious bee in his bonnet as regards the folklore aspect. Having tackled pixies and fairies the author then took a sharp and dark turn into the discussion of  sea creatures.

 

The majority of the booklet seemed to be a tract on the Morgawr sea serpent. Supposedly first sighted in 1976, the author’s very strongly held opinion was that it wasn’t a hoax but the physical manifestation of a malevolent spirit dating from around a century earlier that had been banished from the northern part of Cornwall to the southern.

 

Skywalker… More like high- walker, she thought to herself, though she was immediately ashamed by her flippancy. The author was clearly deeply disturbed; there were more pages on the same theme and it was rapidly becoming rather uncomfortable reading.

 

Rey suddenly became aware of a weight on her lap. She looked down to see that the furry carpet-dog had finally roused himself and was sitting beside her with his head in her lap. His eyes darted from her to her plate where a sausage lay forgotten, so engrossed she had become in the absurd ‘guide’.

 

“I suppose you’d like to have that?”

 

The dog gave a muffled whumph.

 

“Because no one ever feeds you?”

 

Another whumph and a whine.

 

“Fine, but next time try to not get between me and my breakfast.” Rey suggested as she held the sausage out and in a matter of seconds it was gone, replaced by a handful of drool.

 

“Ugh! Thanks, just what I always wanted.” She grimaced as she wiped her hand on the napkin on the table.

 

She returned to the booklet while she finished her coffee. She skimmed over the part about malign spirits enslaving sea-green incorruptibles until she spotted a name she recognised.

 

 

The village of Treahchto situated just north of Trevena was noted for its prosperity. The fishermen that put forth from its small harbour were said to have the blessing of the sea. It was believed that the village had an ancient covenant with the sea that protected, not just Treahchto, but other villages in the vicinity from the worst of the storms coming off the Atlantic.

The village was washed away in the great storm of 1863 and since then the area has suffered greatly from storms.

 

Rey shuddered. The little cove did have an otherworldly feel to it, but not one that she would have associated with a drowned village. Still, that had happened well over a century and a half before; and the house, or what was left of it, seemed not to be that old. But the best place to find answers to that question would be the estate agent’s. Which she would find, as soon as her new best friend would to allow her to leave.

 

“Hey, fuzz-ball!”, she said, shifting her knees to get his attention; or better yet, to dislodge him. The dog gave her a sad look; and huffing, backed up before padding off towards the bar. Rey tossed the booklet into her bag and shouldered it before picking up her plate and mug.

She placed the dishes on the bar and waited for the strange landlady to reappear. The rabbit man had left at some point but the disagreeable man was still at his table; though he had finished eating and was now slumped back in his chair, snoring.

 

“Was it all ok?”

 

Again the small woman appeared from nowhere, taking her by surprise.

 

“Yes, thanks. It was great. I was wondering if you you might be able to tell me if there is an estate agent in the town?”

 

The old woman glanced quickly at the slumbering man before replying.

 

“Certainly. Yes, it’s next to the fudge shop, on the way towards the castle. You can’t miss it. The fudge shop, that is.”

 

“That’s great, thanks so much.”

 

“You are more than welcome Rey.”

 

 

Rey was more than half way down the street before she realised that she hadn’t told the woman her name.

 

 

There really was no way one could miss a fudge shop called Granny Wobbly’s Fudge Pantry; certainly not when it was painted a shade of pink usually associated with heartburn medication.

 

The estate agents’ had a far more staid shop front. Its large glass window was filled with pictures of near-identical holiday cottages that looked like they dated from the mid to late 70s. They had beautiful, warm pine interiors but probably with wiring and plumbing in dire need of renovation. Rey took a deep breath and, girding herself for what was in all likelihood going to be a fruitless endeavour, pushed the door open and strode in.

 

The place was deserted. Well that was a waste of a bold entrance she thought to herself. She waited a few more minutes before calling out to the empty room.

 

“Hello? Anyone home?”

 

“Er! Yes, just a moment!” called back a frazzled voice. There was the faint rustle of papers being shifted around, and then the clang of a filing drawer sliding home.

 

A few moments later the voice’s owner appeared. He was a pale young man with dark hair and a harassed air.

 

“Sorry about that…”

 

“Not a problem. Mister, er Canady?”

 

“Oh no, no! I’m Mitaka. Dopheld Mitaka.” he replied almost apologetically. Rey couldn’t help but like him, she too having been saddled with somewhat esoteric name. “Mr Canady is out at lunch.”

 

Rey glanced over Mitaka’s shoulder, it was barely a quarter to twelve. She wondered if Mr Canady was the objectionable man now snoring away in the snug back at the pub. If he was this Mitaka was tactful at least.

 

“Ok, well I’m sure you’ll be able to help. I was wondering if you knew anything about the house down in Treahchto cove.”

 

The young man gave her a blank look.

 

“Just north of here.”

 

“Oh I know it, but what about it?” he asked incredulously.

 

“Well this is an estate agent’s, isn’t it? I was wondering if it was for sale. Or is another agency handling it?”

 

“How did you know it was for sale?”, the young man asked with eyebrows raised.

 

“I didn’t. I just thought I’d pop in on the off chance that it was.”

 

“And you want to buy it?” His eyebrows were in danger of flying off his face now.

 

“Yes. How long have you been doing this, may I ask?” Rey was frowning at him now. She was under the impression that estate agents were like limpets once they’d found a potential buyer.

 

“Sorry, it’s just no one has ever enquired about it. It’s been on our books for nearly 40 years.”

 

“Oh…”

 

“Let me see if I can find the information sheet. You’ll have to bear with me; it will be somewhere in the paper files.”

 

Rey sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk and puffed out her cheeks while looking up at the ceiling tiles. She could hear the sound of a large metal filing cabinet drawer being pulled open and the rapid thflip-thflip , of files being flicked through. Mitaka might look easily flustered, but he sounded efficient.

 

“Where are you from, originally?” he called out from the back room.

 

“London”, she replied shortly, wondering how many little holes were in each of the foam tiles.

 

“Looking to escape the rat race?”

 

“Something like that... I think.”

 

“Ah ha! Here it is”, he said triumphantly. He returned brandishing a piece of yellowing paper as though it were the Holy Grail, and sat down at the desk.

 

“Right then, let’s have a look”, he said as he carefully smoothed out the paper. It looked ancient; like it belonged in the British Library, preserved as an example of the very worst in late 1970s graphic design.

 

“Chandrila...” he read.

 

Chandrila ?”

 

“It’s a variation on Shangri-la. You’ll find a lot of places around here called that. Especially the holiday homes. The area was crawling with hippies in the 60s and 70s, when a lot of the newer properties around here were built.”

 

“Fair enough,” Rey conceded.

 

“There was quite a building boom in those years. They all seem to be called that, or Gull Cottage. Makes my job a nightmare. Still, it could be worse. It could be Dun Roamin’ ”,  the young man added with a slight shudder.

 

Rey barked out a laugh. Mitaka looked at her, affronted.

 

“Oh come on, that’s funny. Like Dun Manifestin’ .”  Nothing. Not a Pratchett fan then, Rey noted.

 

“Right… So yes, Chandrila... Let’s see. House, cove, jetty; well what remains of it... The South West Path is the property boundary to the south.”

 

Rey winced; the listing was for the entire cove?

 

Mitaka droned on about fishing rights, but Rey wasn’t listening; instead her thoughts were consumed with the feasibility of her mad plan. There was no way in hell she was going to be able to afford that. Assuming she could convince a bank to even consider giving her a mortgage; she would probably be laughed out of the place.

 

Mitaka, still in mid-sentence, nearly jumped out of his chair.

 

“Wow!” He yelped as if he’d been stung. “That can’t be right. I’ll have to check with Mr. Canady about this. Could you give me just one moment?”

 

He dropped the sheet on the desk and started to dial his phone. Rey idly cast a glance at the listing. The photograph was faded and the paper very dog-eared. It looked like the price had been altered a number of times over the years, in the same hand. She couldn’t see what the original price was but a 25K stood out in red circled many times.

 

“Maz? Is Canady there? Is he…” Mitaka turned away slightly and dropped his voice. “Is he awake?”

 

There was a pause. “Oh. Ok when he’s free could you ask him to phone back? I’ve got a lady in the shop enquiring about the Solo place.” There was a long pause before he continued. “Yes, she is. Thanks.”

 

Mitaka replaced the handset and flashed Rey a smile. “Mr. Canady should be in touch shortly.”

 

Rey wasn’t sure how to respond. Less than five minutes later, though, the door banged open and the large man from the pub barrelled in puffing and panting and extremely red in the face.

 

“Oh good, she’s still here. Up you hop, Mitaka, go and finish that paperwork.” He said, shooing the younger man towards the back office. Canady then settled himself into the chair, which creaked under his weight.

 

“Now then, young lady, I understand you are interested in purchasing the Chandrila property.”

 

“Yes… but...”

 

“Now I know it may seem like a rather unusual listing, but we are very keen to see it occupied again. The present owner would be willing to go as low as seventeen thousand.”

 

“Seventeen thousand? They must really be desperate!”

 

Canady laughed nervously. In Rey’s experience, limited as it was to London estate agents, buyers were always encouraged to put in bids higher than the asking price.

 

“Only desperate to see the house restored. And occupied.”

 

“Oh, that wouldn’t be a problem.”

 

“All year round.”

 

“Again, not a problem.” Rey added, shaking her head.

 

“Well, that’s that then.” Canady leaned back in his chair.

 

‘Oh… ok. Do you have a card? I’ll need to head back to London tomorrow to...er… set things in motion. But I’ll be in touch.”

 

“Of course, of course. Here you are, my dear.” he said holding out a card between two thick fingers.

 

Rey stepped out in the street. To say she felt somewhat overwhelmed was a massive understatement. For the ridiculous sum of seventeen thousand pounds she could be the owner of a fucking cove! And a beach-front property, which at the moment was the very definition of airy . There had to be a catch, beyond having to relocate. But for the life of her she couldn’t figure out what that might possibly be.

 

She was still rooted the spot when Mitaka emerged a few minutes later.

 

He was poking a card into her hand. “Here are the details of some friends of mine who specialise in renovations.”

 

Rey looked down at it.

P&R Tico

Design and Restoration services

23a Hayes Lane

Trevena

 

“They’re really good. Canady would probably recommend some old guy he drinks with, but Rose and Paige really know their stuff and actually keep to deadlines”, he added in hushed tones before hurrying back inside.

 

Armed with two business cards and a strange sense of euphoria, Rey headed back to the pub. She wasn’t sure if she was dreaming, and she needed another cup of coffee just to make sure she was really awake.

 

“I hear you had a successful morning!” The landlady greeted her with a smile, placing a large mug of coffee on the table in front in her. Rey noticed that the table was no longer wobbling.

 

“I guess you could say that. It certainly was a strange one.” She said as she breathed in the grounding aroma.

 

“It will be nice to have the place lived in again. It’s just what the area needs. New life, new beginnings.”

 

“Yes, I think it’s just what I need as well.” Rey found the landlady very easy to talk to. She needed to mind herself or else all her bottled up worries would come spilling out. And that would send her running for the hills.

 

“Busy toiling away in London?”

 

“Very much so, toiling with precious little to show for it. Well, I mean I have my own flat . It’s small and I don’t own it outright but at least I’m not renting. But it’s not exactly a home you know...And I work all the hours of the day.”

 

“You need your own hive.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Those folks in London, in their little boxy offices, like bees but not. Not really making or contributing. So many talented minds wasted making meaningless numbers tick up on a screen.”

 

“I suppose so.”  Rey thought back to her last few projects; they had been for banks; and yes, they seemed to just be about displaying numbers for the ultimate purpose of making intangible quantities increase. She wasn’t sure where the benefit lay. But she had little say in the projects they were given.

 

She wasn’t sure what she’d do for a living if, no when, she relocated. Perhaps she could pick up some freelance work working on projects that she didn’t find morally objectionable, or, god forbid, teach programming. Still, that was a problem for another day. Getting a mortgage was going to be the first hurdle.

 

“Don’t worry, these things have a way or working themselves out.” Maz said as she retreated behind the bar, leaving Rey to ruminate on her current position. How did one live off the land when the land was a sheer cliff and a pebbly beach?

 

There was a clink of a plate and Rey found Maz had returned and placed a toasted cheese sandwich in front of her.

 

“Eat that up now.” she said kindly. “Then why don’t you take Chewie here out for a walk, he’ll show you the sights and you can get some sense of your new kingdom.”

 

Rey had discovered that it was becoming impossible for her say no to Maz, and certainly not when the request was accompanied by what smelled like the best cheese toastie of her acquaintance.

 

Chewie took up his former post, head in her lap, ever hopeful and opportunistic.

 

“Not a chance, buddy,” Rey said between heavenly bites. “This is mine. All mine.”

 

 

For a dog that she had originally taken as little more than an old, lumpy carpet with legs, whose only interest lay in the charming of young ladies out of their meals, Chewie was remarkably energetic once he was outside. Rey found herself dragged along at a breakneck pace towards the coast. He seemed to have no interest in showing her the castle. Instead he led her a little way to the east of it; back towards Treahchto. Then he seemed to decide that she needed to see a particularly forbidding sea cave.

 

He sat down and began barking furiously before taking a few tentative steps towards it. Which would have taken them right over the edge of the cliff had Rey not held on to his lead with all her might.

 

Chewie began to whine piteously, while straining against her. Whatever it was that was hidden away in the cave the dog felt it was vitally important that they risk life and limb getting down there.

 

“Come on fuzzball, be reasonable. There’s no safe way down there and all you’ll find anyway will be annoyed crabs who’ll nip your nose.”

 

“Ugh! Ok I’ll share my next cheese sandwich with you. Deal?”

 

Clearly it was; and he was up like a shot dragging her along the coastal path yet again.   Before long she was doubled up panting, looking over the patch of land that might yet be hers.

 

It was a stunning view. The house wasn’t visible from this angle; but she was able to get a better sense of the shape of the cove and how the upland curved gently around it, like hands around a warm mug, or arms held ready to envelop one in gentle embrace.

 

An easy swim’s distance out from the shore, a smooth platform of rock jutted out of the water at an angle that looked like it would be the ideal place to sunbathe on a summer’s day. If it had been June or July rather than early March, Rey would not have hesitated to swim out to it. The very place for mermaids, she smiled to herself.

 

She had a good feeling about this. Even her brain seemed to agree with her for a change, or at the least didn’t seem to have a pressing need to interrupt with unhelpful remarks about the practicalities of this particular madcap venture, as it had earlier. A breeze picked up, insistently tugging her back towards the house.

 

“Later,” she murmured, though she wasn’t sure if she was making a promise to herself or whomever the wind might bear her message.

 

It was beginning to drizzle, though it was still reasonably sunny; and Rey fancied that if she squinted she could just about make out a double rainbow. It made an already breathtaking sight awe-inspiring, and she felt more than ever that she had finally found a place where she truly belonged.

 

Chewie decided it was high time she ceased her wool-gathering and head back and Rey found herself, having first been dragged hither, now being dragged thither; back towards town.

 

As they jogged along she became aware of a low thrumming around her, as if the earth was waking up beneath her feet. Moments later she was surrounded by a strange, swirling, black cloud and the deafening sound of buzzing. It sounded like bees - nothing like the irritating whine of wasps - but they looked nothing like any she’d seen before, almost completely black.

 

They traced circles around her, as if they were taking stock of her; until without warning the cloud dissipated and the buzzing returned to a low-level ambient hum of contentment. Their humming was strangely soothing, and she found she missed it when it was gone.

 

Rey barely had time to digest this strange occurrence before they were off again, the promise of cheese no doubt at the forefront of her guide’s mind.

 

“Always thinking with your stomach? Eh, buddy?”

 

 

Hard on the heels of their curious encounter with the bees, they crossed paths with a young woman pushing an older lady in a wheelchair.

 

They appeared to be in the midst of a conversation as well worn as the path they toiled along.

 

The older of the pair made Rey uneasy; she had piercing brown eyes that seemed very familiar to her, as if she’d seen those eyes before. But in a different face. She was as neat as a pin, her steel grey hair fashioned into a simple yet elegant updo, and her dress was a beautiful shade of midnight blue. She somehow managed to make a wheelchair appear like a throne.

 

As they neared Rey overheard her complaining to her companion about wanting to go and see her son today.

 

“Now you know that’s not possible today, Mrs S. He’s still away,” came the younger woman’s weary reply.

 

“I want him home, Kay.”

 

As Rey came abreast of them the woman fixed her with those unsettling dark eyes.

 

She knows,” she insisted, as her hand shot out and grasped at Rey’s.

The woman tugged on her hand sharply, pulling her closer.

 

“You make sure he does. Make sure he knows he can always come back.”

 

“Ok…” Rey’s pulse was running a mile a minute; the display of maternal affection was almost too much for her to bear.

 

“Good girl. You, the house; it will be everything you need to begin to make things better.” she said, releasing her,  apparently satisfied.

 

The young woman threw Rey an apologetic look.

 

“Sorry,” she mouthed as she pushed onwards.

 

 

The rest of the return journey passed off without interruption, aside from Chewie insisting on barking at the cave again. It was beginning to drizzle and Rey managed to drag him away with promises of cheese.

 

 

As it always did, the insistent dog’s barking roused Kylo from a fitful sleep; the sound wormed its way in through the cave’s entrance and echoed around as it sought him out. For one terrible moment, he thought he was back on that shingle beach again, surrounded by wreckage and red-stained foam.

 

He groaned and pulled himself up from the dark pool where he slept, and for the first time did not the curse the beast.

 

Kylo moved over to the makeshift table where he kept the trinkets the sea brought him. As if tumbled nuggets of glass and interesting rocks and shells were enough to make up for what had happened to him. The thought was bitter…

 

He clambered over slick dark rocks and reached up in to a nook that stayed dry, even during the highest tides and most furious storms. From it he pulled down a scrap of paper; litter from holiday makers that had been blown in on the breeze. It was salt- and water-stained, but  perfect for his needs.

 

With a homemade quill fashioned from a gull feather he scratched out a few lines before they completely  abandoned him.

 

She stands upon the single shore

A girl in naught but moonlight dress'd

She sheds her fears and rushes down

To claim her lover from the yielding sea

 

The words flowed from his pen, captured forever in his own ink.

 

The sun was growing low now, and he was free for another month of the relentless pull he had endured for the previous three nights. But still, something within him was urging him to return to the cove. Perhaps she was still there. Maybe she was even waiting for him.

 

He shook his head. It was futile. The note had probably been borne away by the morning breeze and the girl would have woken and returned to her life, and he would be little more than a half remembered dream, soon forgotten. And even if it hadn’t… Who would want to stay in such a place… For such a... monster.

 

She was probably little more than another conjuring; an illusion designed only to serve as a reminder of what he was and what he wasn’t. Yet another perfect torture designed to rile him into a mindless torrent of rage, to be set loose at his master’s whim.

 

He crumpled the paper in his hand, tossed it toward the back of the cave, and sank back down in his pool to wallow in his misery.

 

 

The pub was much more lively when Rey returned just before five. Chewie barrelled in while she stood and stompinged her feet at the door sill, clearing her boots of the grass and mud she had collected, and settled down in the same spot where she had first encountered the dog. A cheerful fire was now lit, the small grate giving off a warm cosy glow.

 

“Ah, there she is!”  Maz called out to her from behind the bar.

 

Rey flushed as the occupants of the pub turned, to a man, to glance at her before returning their attention to their drinks and conversation.

 

“Sit yourself down there and warm up. I’ll bring you a menu.”

 

Doing as she was bid, Rey settled down in what was fast becoming her spot. A moment later Maz was at her side, a piece of laminated paper in her hand.

 

“What can I get you to drink? A beer? Glass of wine?”

 

Rey shook her head, “ I’ll just have a glass of water and some coffee, thanks.”

 

“No problem. Today’s special is locally caught calamari.”

 

“No!” Rey surprised herself with her vehement rejection of what was otherwise her go-to dish.

 

Maz didn’t seem at all shocked; in fact, her smile seemed oddly knowing..

 

“Fish and chips, then?”

 

Somewhat sheepishly, Rey replied.  “Er… Yes please.”.

 

It was by far the best fish and chips Rey had had in years, if not in her life. It was nothing like the sad, flavourless fillets and alternatively soggy or charred oven chips (sometimes she even managed both, at the same time) she made at home. Her plate well and truly cleaned to sparkling, she sat slumped in the corner of the settle basking in the firelight. Chewie had his head in her lap again and she was idly scratching the hard to reach spot between his ears. Even if she wasn’t able to muster the funds to buy the house, at least she had this evening of perfect contentment to remember when she was stuck working into the small hours in a soulless office high up in the air.

 

She looked at her watch; it was just after six. She grimaced as she tried to wrack her brains and remember how long she’d paid for parking.

 

Reluctantly she sat up and fished for her purse. She then carefully coaxed Chewie off her lap before heading over to the bar to pay for her lunch and dinner.

 

“Oh you’re fine dear.” Maz called from the other end of the bar.

 

“What?”

 

“The bill’s already been settled.”

 

“By who?” Rey was baffled, she seemed to be collecting mystery suitors and benefactors.

 

“Now that, would be telling,” Maz said with a wink. “Run along with you now!”

 

 

Rey emerged into the gathering dusk and headed back to the car park. She was undecided as to whether she should sleep in her car or not; if she’d had any sense, she would have asked if there was a hotel or B&B near here. But she didn’t really want to be anywhere other than the cove that evening. It might be the last time, if fate played out as it generally seemed to where her desires were concerned.

 

She drove carefully back to the cottage. Her heart was banging like a drum, speeding up the nearer she got to her destination. Once she was back, parked up beside the broken house, she closed her eyes and took a moment to calm down. She dug around in her bag for the travel alarm clock and batteries she had picked up on her way back to the pub after being dragged about by Chewie. She slid the batteries home and set the time, then an alarm for early the next morning. She had a long drive ahead and she needed to be back at a reasonable hour.

 

Rey adjusted her seat and leaned over to pull the sleeping bag off the back seat. When she turned back, she caught sight of a figure in the water, casting a long shadow in the moonlight.

 

Was it him? Kylo?

 

She grappled with the door handle, and in her haste almost tumbled headlong out of the car, the sleeping bag tangling about her legs. It was colder now than when she had set off from the town and the warmth from the fire had long since dissipated; she slipped her hands deep into her pockets, one hand encountering again the note and sensuous glass nugget he had left her.

 

Rey carefully made her way to the water’s edge, her eyes never leaving the solitary figure ahead of her for fear that if she looked away, even for a moment, he might disappear back into her imagination. The water lapped at the toes of her boots, leaving salt stains in its wake.

 

“So you are real then; I didn’t dream you,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. But it seemed to carry nonetheless.

 

“Very real,” he replied.

 

“Prove it!” She challenged him, still in disbelief.

 

“I can’t come any closer. You must come to me.” Kylo called back. His voice seemed taut, as if he already expected her to refuse and was holding back tears.

 

Rey shook her head, and laughed.

 

“I didn’t bring my bathing costume. I wasn’t exactly expecting to go swimming in the sea in March.”

 

Twinned with the pained look on his pale, moonlight face was another that filled her with a heat that would have kept her warm on an iceberg. She knew what she had to do.

 

Wordlessly, her eyes fixed on his, she pulled off her bobble hat and unzipped her thick jacket. Gloves and a sweater were quickly added to the growing collection of clothing.

 

It seemed like it took an eternity to divest herself of all her layers.  Kylo stayed where he was the entire time, unmoving, watching intently. Finally she shimmied out of her underwear and threw it on to the pile. She stood stock still for moment, feet shifting for purchase on the slick pebbles, stark naked.

 

She heard him heave a deep breath and swallowed deeply herself.  

 

Rey began to shiver. She took a deep breath of her own and then two steps backwards. Kylo’s expression changed from dejection to one of elation as she sprinted into the water and his waiting arms. As she ran her hair worked its way loose from its bun, streaming out behind her.

 

She gasped sharply as her feet hit the water, sending freezing spray flying against her stomach and thighs. But she was undeterred. More than anything she wanted this place, and him. Kylo caught her up in his arms and spun her in a half circle before pulling her tight against his broad chest.

 

“You did it,” he murmured in disbelief as he stroked her hair with one hand and splayed the other against the small of her back, holding her close. Tentacles wound around her legs, massaging the warmth back into them.

 

“You really did it!” His voice was deep, like the ocean; but so full of heat. It sent vibrations to the very core of her being.

 

Like some sort of sexy sonar, her stupid, flippant brain suggested. But it was right. She would happily listen to him read the shipping forecast, or and whatever else  he fancied.

 

“You’d better believe it,” sShe laughed in to his chest. Under her hands, she could feel his heart was beating wildly in time with her own. She pulled back slightly to look up at him. His expression was a curious mixture of surprise, relief, and joy. Tears or sea water,; she couldn’t tell, lay glistening on his cheeks.

 

Rey smiled shyly and tilted her face upwards. He lowered his own to meet her halfway.

 

“I’m Rey,” she breathed softly in to his lips before they crashed into her own.

Chapter Text

 

How blest am I in this discovering thee!

To enter in these bonds, is to be free;

Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

John Donne

 

Dessert & Desolation

 

Kylo rested against the rock platform, his lower half submerged, observing Rey as she languidly stretched out her legs and leant back on her elbows. Her eyes were closed and her lips slightly parted in a small smile as she seemed to recite something to herself. She was so effortlessly entrancing; and he was supposed to be the supernatural being. He wondered if it would it be too much to think of her as his Rey?

 

Never in his wildest dreams had he expected things to go the way they had that evening.

 

When he had emerged from his cave just after sunset, he’d set course for the cove; not in the hope that she might still be there, but as an act of self-flagellation. He’d wanted to prove to his weaker self that she would not be, hat the previous evening was a cruel aberration;  a new and additional torment, to make each subsequent visit there all the more painful.

 

But she had been there.  She’d tumbled out of her car, eager and graceless, onto the shingle and taken the steps that he was unable. And when she had had answered his summons, not by removing her shoes and socks and wading in a little as he had hoped she might, but by revealing herself to be…that girl...even now it took his breath away as he replayed it again in his mind’s eye; how she had shed everything, to be with him, here and now under the moon.

 

After that every expectation was turned on its head. She had not withdrawn from him, citing the cold and a need to return to the shore. Instead she had given him her name, without prompting, though he could sense it was not her true name. No, that must never be divulged to him, not while it could still be used against them. But it was a name that suited her. He who had shunned the sunlight for so long had been claimed by a Rey of light.

 

It was she who had suggested coming to this outcropping. She was a strong, but inelegant swimmer, and he was more than a little disappointed when she pulled herself up on to the rock rather than looking to him to deposit her there.

 

“So do you bring many girls here?”

 

“Just you…”

 

“Not even a mermaid girlfriend?”

 

He laughed. “Mermaids are made up.”

 

“You, a man who is half octopus, expect me to believe that mermaids are fictional.”

 

“I don’t make the rules.”

 

“Hmmm… We’ll see about that,” she smirked as she settled down and stretched out on the stone.

 

He made no move to join her on the small space, content to just gaze at her. He was slightly less afraid of scaring her off now, but more than anything he wanted to memorize everything about her so that he would be able to better remember her.

 

Even if they only had a few hours, at least he had been granted the opportunity to worship her under the moon; she was his goddess and he a supplicant at her feet. She was the embodiment of all that was good about the world and he would far rather serve her .

 

He observed the perfect shell of her ear and how one damp tendril of hair curled just so below it  and he picked out shapes in the constellation of freckles on her shoulder and arm.

 

“I feel like Andromeda,” she observed, a note of puckish mirth in her voice.

 

Kylo finally let his eyes pass over the rest of her, over the swell of her breast, hurriedly down past the core of her as it made him blush. He cast his gaze along her slim toned legs to her toes. Those toes were wriggling wantonly in the water, which was scaling the rock with far more boldness than he had been able to muster. Never had he been so jealous of the sea before.

As Rey reclined on the smooth rock, she stole a glance at Kylo from under half closed lashes and found her mind drifting back to a long forgotten Andrew Marvell poem she’d studied for her English GCSE.

 

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lord - she added in deference to her companion - , were no crime…

 

How long would she be expected to endure just his eyes on her? He seemed to be studying, memorising her. She had always been more of a tactile, active learner; doing and writing helped facts take root. He appeared to be more the passive sort. She could imagine him as a quiet, studious boy, embarrassed by his large frame, who folded himself into small chairs and hid away in books; eyes hungry for more text, more input. More...

 

She heard him take a deep shuddering breath and she trembled in response, but not from the cold. She looked over at him.  He was intently looking at her shoulder with very hungry eyes…

 

That look coupled with the feeling of gentle waves breaking on the rock was giving her such ideas that she wished Kylo could read her mind. She had been lying there for a while concentrating on the sensation of the water crashing and then running back down the slope for so long that she was certain that some of herself, at the core of her, was mingling with the seawater as it returned.. Mingling… As pleasant and as relaxing as it was, it was him she’d rather be mingling with. But just how did one proposition a man who was… so very shy? She was worried that her intense attraction to him would only scare him off.

 

“I feel like Andromeda.” She finally said.

 

“On the rock.” She added when no reply was forthcoming.

 

“Waiting to be rescued from Cetus?” Kylo asked, his eyes now fixed on her toes.

 

“Ooh, someone must have had the benefit of a classical education, because I thought it was a kraken.. maybe that was just the movies.”

 

“The former… I think.” He frowned, as if the recollection pained him.

Kylo squeezed his eyes shut for a moment; trying to remember things that didn’t want to be remembered was too much. Thankfully Rey seemed content to let his lapse slide and continued on in her enviably bold way.

 

“But back to the matter at hand, I’m not waiting to be rescued by that opportunistic Gorgon murderer. Poor Medusa; she was so very hard done by in that tale.”

She paused for a moment.

“More... waiting to be devoured… by my lover.”

 

As Rey entoned devoured, she canted her hips up slightly and gave them a little shake before settling back down with a laugh. Kylo felt his world drop away from him and he almost lost his grip on the rock.

 

Rey had turned to look directly at him and he could see that her eyes were almost fully black.

 

He felt a wave of panic wash over him. He wasn’t exactly sure what to do. He knew what he would have done if he were somewhat more of a man.

 

He was torn; what did she want from him, and what could he possibly give her? Himself? He was an abomination; physically half man, half octopus…a creature - and in his mind, entirely a monster. He had allowed himself to become an agent of evil. For as long as he could remember, he had done nothing but bring destruction and heartache.

 

Yet here she was, literally offering herself to him.

 

And then just to make sure there was no mistaking her desire, she dropped her hand down and pulled up a piece of seaweed and dropped it with aplomb on her midsection.

 

“Look! I’ve even supplied my own garnish!”

 

 

Kylo fell backwards into the water with a deep laugh. For a moment Rey was worried that her sense of humour was going to be more of a deal breaker than her brashness. It certainly had been in the past before she’d even had the opportunity to be brash.

 

When after a few minutes there was still no sign of him re-emerging, she began to feel a little afraid. Was she going to end up spending all night on this rock?  Then the water began to churn and froth around her, and she heard a deep voice behind her that seemed to resonate within both her and her resting place.

 

“Is this what you wanted?”

 

A small smile played across her lips. So he had some sense of playfulness then.

 

“Left out all alone…Exposed...”

 

Rey lay flat down on the rock, gasping as her back hit the cooler part of the stone. She closed her eyes and  hummed with contentment.

 

“A tasty morsel for a hungry monster…”

 

“You’re not a mon-” her lips were stilled by the light touch of something slick and damp.

 

“For the purposes of this I think I ought to be. Humour me... please.” he whispered ever so softly in her ear.

 

“I’m making this up as I go and I’m really not sure if it’s going to work,” he said apologetically in a much gentler tone of voice, the voice that Rey associated with the shy school boy of her imaginings.

 

“I’m sorry, please continue,” she said as she nipped at the appendage resting on her lip.

 

She heard him take a sharp intake of breath.

 

“Sorry… but Andromeda is a little peckish too,” she grinned toothily, “But… yes... it started working about ten minutes ago…”

 

“I know,” he said darkly. “I can taste you in the water.”

 

Oh my god… Rey thought to herself. At this rate with that voice of his, pitched just so, he might not even need to lay a finger or tentacle on her. Even just the thought of the latter filled her with a delicious throbbing ache and she wasn’t even a little bit ashamed. Not one bit.

 

She could feel and hear him as he intoned, “I can smell you in the air.”

 

Rey began to shift uneasily, drawing her legs up only to have her feet slide back down on the damp stone. One leg slid to one side and was now dangling off the side, it hurt, but she found she liked it and if it was grazed then that mark would serve as a reminder of what she was hoping would come next.

 

At first all she could hear was the sound of gentle splashes; and then suddenly he was there, on her. Hands warm and firm, pressing against her inner thighs; while tentacles, cooler and with more give, wound around her ankles and held her fast.

 

He leant down over her, nose to her belly button,  grasped the piece of seaweed in his teeth and tossed it away.

 

“You really ought to eat your greens,” she laughed nervously, amused at her own private joke.

 

“I feel like skipping to dessert,” he shot back before licking his lips lasciviously.

 

“Be my gues….ah” she replied squirming beneath him as he suddenly ducked down, licked up the inside of one thigh and then the other, and reappeared with a look on his face that made her both love and hate him at the same time.

 

“Do you always play with your food?”

 

“Usually it doesn’t talk back…” He was back between her legs again, his voice now a low growl.

 

Rey was about to shoot back a retort when she found she was no longer able to speak, or indeed articulate in any fashion other than a whimper. His tongue began to probe the very centre of her being. She felt him open her legs further; as if she were a freshly plucked oyster ripe for consuming and he was going to find a pearl, hidden in that fine and private place of hers.

“Soft-core pornography is not suitable for O-Level English essays, Ben!”

 

“What’s this all about?” His father called out from the front door, his sleeves rolled up, sawdust in his hair.  His mother spun around, arms raised in exasperation.

 

Your son…” She trailed off, temporarily speechless.

 

I think he makes a very interesting point,” his uncle said softly with a shrug.

 

“What point? What’s going on now?” His father was wearing his trademarked expression of bafflement. He had banked on a peaceful Friday afternoon planing doors, and could have really used Ben’s help, but instead Leia had a bee in her bonnet about his homework.

 

“Most critics agree that Marvell is warning his lover about the perils of hesitation - that in death they cannot embrace as they might at that present moment. However, it could be argued that when speaking of ‘The Grave’s a fine and private place’ he is alluding to her vagina and thus the culmination of the act of copulation, the ‘petit mort’ or little death.”

 

Ben felt his ears beginning to catch fire. He had been rather pleased with himself when he had written the essay; but to have his mother quoting it back at him… It made him blush even more when he remembered what he had been thinking about at the time. A girl… but not just any girl. Not one of the ones at school. Heavens no. This girl of his daydreams was something else.

 

He glanced at his uncle, who just sat there tugging at the tip of his neat beard, impassive as always; Or perhaps showing a very slight smile of agreement with Ben’s thesis. He never quite knew what was going on inside his uncle’s head.

 

“It’s an astute observation. And it was clearly lost on that idiot Ozzel, who only knows how to teach to the marking scheme,” he finally said after some thought.

 

"I'm not even sure Ken would know what to do with a "fine and private place’,” Han replied with a smirk. As he headed towards the kitchen to check the percolator sitting on the Aga stove, he gave Ben a slap on the back.

 

“Good work though, kid. You are going to make some girl very happy one day!”

 

Yeah, like any girl was going to listen to him wax lyrical on Marvell or metaphysical poets in general…

 

“Han!”

 

“Oh come on, sweetheart! Remember the first time we visited your fine and private place? I know the circumstances weren’t exactly fine or private.”

 

His mother was now laughing as she  playfully slapped his father’s arm.

 

“Oh my god,” Ben muttered, burying his entire face, now burning with embarrassment, in his hands.

“OH MY GOD!”

 

So he had made some girl very happy after all. And not just any girl, but her . Though he had absolutely no idea how.

 

Her body was arched and tensed, as if held in the air by some invisible force. She cried out again, in pleasure or pain or a combination of the two before collapsing back down on the rock, sliding down a little way, flushed and trembling, gasping like a landed fish.

 

“I...” He started, but she held out one hand to silence him.

 

“No… don’t speak. Please… I can’t bear it… your voice… it does things….” she babbled.

 

I’m sorry, Rey’s not here at present please leave a message after the next moan…

 

Though the way he was looking at her, he might need him to look away as well. His eyes were so large and dark, under brows that were ever so slightly raised in bafflement. He really had no idea. Rey felt like she was in danger of turning into seafoam and just sliding off in to the water. That would be fine by her, then she’d be with him always. He’d be moving around in her… always.

They lay for a while on the rock watching the stars. The moon continued to trace its path, paying little heed to them. It was an awesome sight. She’d never realised the true extent of the light pollution in London.

 

“They are beautiful,” she breathed.

 

“Just like you.”

 

“I’m nothing special,” she said shaking her head, her long-time companion low self-esteem rearing its unwelcome head.

 

“You are to me.”

 

“I cannot make our Moon stand still…” Kylo murmured into her hair a little while later.

 

She wondered if he had read her mind or if somehow Marvell had come into his orbit. She nestled closer to him, hoping that he might recall more.

 

“I’ll have to go soon… and you need to sleep.” He added, she could feel him swallowing the bitter truth of the current predicament. He was strangely tethered to the moon, and hid from sunlight; she was certain of it.

 

“I can sleep here…”

 

“That would end up being a very long and cold sleep.”


Rey didn’t remember much of the return journey. She stumbled ashore in a trance like state while Kylo again watched from a safe distance. She was so divorced from reality she didn’t notice that her clothes were not where she had left them, but were neatly folded on the car’s bonnet. She dressed herself once more, climbed into the car, and wrapped the sleeping bag around herself. It just wasn’t the same. She was about to get out of the car and run back to him, begging to be allowed to live in his cave,. But he suddenly turned and dove into the water, and Rey was claimed by long overdue sleep.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 8th 2015

 

When Rey woke it was still quite dark, with only the vaguest hints of the coming dawn stealing above the horizon. She glanced at the travel clock on the dashboard. It was five to five; nearly a good half hour before her intended alarm. But she was awake now, and she might as well make a start; she had a long drive ahead.

 

She was just clearing up after a mug of coffee when she heard him call to her. She turned with a smile on her face, glad to see him again so soon; but as soon as she saw the look on his face she regretted that he had come after all.

 

He looked so hurt and his fists were clenched tight. “You are leaving?”

 

“For now.”  She replied, trying to keep her tone light in the vain hope that he might take some solace from it.

 

“But, I thought… after everything… you’d stay.”

 

Rey sighed. This was not the way she’d hoped this would go. No, certainly it wasn’t a one night stand kind of deal. Far from it. But she couldn’t live the rest of her life here, at least not like this; camping out in ruins. She had a plan in mind, but she didn’t want to divulge it to Kylo and get his hopes up only to break his heart if it all fell through.

 

“I have things I need to do back in London,” she simply said as she closed the boot.

 

“Please, promise you’ll come back to me.” He sounded more like a scared boy than the self-assured man he had been earlier. It was as if a mask had fallen away.

 

“I’ll try.”

 

It clearly was not the answer he was looking for. Something gleamed in a stray beam of sunlight as it fell from his hand and without another word he turned sharply, dove into the water and was gone from sight.

 

“God damn it!” She muttered to herself.

 

“I promise!” She yelled the words out into the sea, but there was no sign that he was even there to hear her. The clouds began to gather apace and it started to rain as she slipped into the driver’s seat and with a heavy heart began the long journey back that place that would never been home to her again.

Merging with the equally incessant sound of the rain drumming on the sea, Kylo could hear the dog barking again.

 

I am awake, leave me be, you menace! He thought to himself as he huddled at the very back of his cave, hugging the cool stone wall, the discarded note clasped in one hand in desperation.

 

The voice was back and had found him again, as it did every single month. It snaked its way back into his brain, coiling, tightening, squeezing; relentless and unforgiving.

 

You see, she just used you to sate her own base desires, she will never return.

Your memory will be little more to her than a plaything, to be used as she sees fit; eventually you will be  forgotten when she finds someone less a child, less pathetic.

 

Kylo clasped his head, fingers knotting in his now matted hair and pulling, in the vain hope that the pain would distract him from the insidious entity.

 

“Get out!” he howled, like an animal in pain.

 

You cannot hide from me. I know your mind, your every intent. You are alone; and someday you will come to appreciate what I can offer you.

 

Come out from there and unleash your anger; it is the only way to block out the pain.

 

Kylo felt an extra twist around his mind and he threw himself from the cave into the gathering storm clouds, where he could let loose the pent-up rage.

A small part of him tried to remind himself that it wasn’t Rey he was angry with, but himself and the horrifying result of a single misspoken word that never ceased to haunt him. But reason was snuffed out as Kylo became one with the storm, directing the waves and winds; an extension of his frustration and fury.

 

 

The storm had finally exhausted itself not long after midday. Over the course of the afternoon assorted debris had been washed up on the beach: bits of old nets, seaweed, and a small sea-tumbled glass ring that glowed in the last pinkish-orange rays of the setting sun, which looked like it might have originally been the top of a bottle. A lined and tanned hand reached down and plucked it from its cushion of kelp to bear away for safekeeping.

 

Chapter Text

I taste the salt upon my tongue

As sweet as sweet can be.

Tell me, my dear, whose voice you hear?

It is the sea, the sea.

- Charles Causley


Realisation and Resolve



Sunday March 7th 2015

 

“Ah, leave me not to pine alone and desolate...”

Rey reached out and angrily switched off the radio. “ That was a cheap move, she muttered at the offending piece of equipment, her face set. She too was filled with despair, and not a little irritation. He had over reacted, and hadn’t even bothered to wait to for her explanation, or at the least her reassurance.

Surely he had to understand that she had certain obligations: that she couldn’t just transplant herself without some preparation. Lying on that rock, a jelly-like mess after he had lavished and ravished her with such care and attention, she had wanted to pour out to him all her hopes and dreams: down to the very minute details of the number of children they would have and the exact shade of sea-green of the throw cushions that would every night end up in an obscene heap in front of the wood-burner that would warm their home…things that would have frightened off any other man. Things that had comforted her to dream of the night before. Things she wished she had the courage to share with him. Things that were possibly impossible because he wasn’t quite human… and she was too human and so had dreamt of them all the same.

But most of all she wanted to spare him, at least , the pain of broken promises.

She’d make it up to him… Somehow… Next time. Whenever that might be.

 

The rain that had just started to fall as she pulled away from the house seemed to have followed her; trailing after her like a stray puppy. At first it was just a few light drops, eventually coming to a head as a furious torrent that threatened to obscured her view. The wind had picked up as well, sometimes sounding like sobs as it was caught up in trees and reverberated off motorway signs. The sound of each and every car that sped past her on the opposite carriageway was a howled ‘Rey’ that battered her nerves.

She drove in relative silence for a while, until she wavered and flicked the radio on again to try and drown out the plaintive ‘ Please’ that even now, hours later, was still echoing around in her skull; echoing and never dying.

Today the radio was very much not on her side. Every single song was a mocking reminder of him, of what they had had and admonishing her at how she had left things.

‘Unbreak My Heart’ was the breaking point. Rey rapidly crossed two lanes of traffic to pull into the rapidly approaching motorway services. It was very much out of character for her, she was not noted for being a terribly aggressive driver but at the moment she was not herself at all.

 

The only parking spot was a good few rows back from the entrance and she was in a sorry bedraggled state when she made it inside, to stand dripping in a far less enjoyable puddle and wait for a ham and cheese toastie to be heated up.

Everything about her surroundings felt like an assault; from the smell of anemic Burger King coffee to the grating laughter of the other patrons.

And as for the the cheese toastie, it was not a patch on the homemade delicacy Maz had set before her some twenty four hours earlier; the flavourless molten mass seemed to turn to ashes in her mouth.

 

She sniffed, and looking up, became aware of people staring at her. She fumbled in her pocket to find a tissue, instead finding the crisp note and the smooth curved piece of sea-glass. Rey let the latter nestle in her hand and she took a moment to just sit, and reflect, her thumb again stroking the calming groove.

 

The swell and dip in the glass was intoxicating, just like last night’s moonlight had been. Had that been the reason for her actions; had she been drunk on moonlight? Was that what had led her to abandoning every inhibition along with her clothes. Or was it that she had finally felt comfortable and confident and free; free to really be herself, because she was with someone who was so receptive to her as she truly was? Someone who just seemed to revel in being with her, talking with her, even just breathing the same air as they sat together contemplating everything and nothing.

Kylo, by his very nature, did seem constrained by human notions of how a girl ought to comport themselves. But at the same time seemed to be shy and hesitant, endearingly so, until he was absolutely certain and then…well, then he was quite enthusiastic. Rey smiled privately to herself, but the smile evaporated when the bustle around her reminded her of where she was now.

She had never missed someone like she missed him now. She never had allowed herself the luxury of considering a future with someone, like she had as she drifted off to sleep in her cramped car.

But now...

Now she came to the realisation that these last few days had ruined everything for her: food, men, and her life as it was now in general. Anywhere that he wasn’t, simply wasn’t worth being. She had to get back as soon as possible. As the steely sense of resolve which had seen her through so much in the past returned, she began to feel better. Come hell or high water, she would go back.

Lacking a tissue, she blew her nose on a stack of paper napkins. She tossed them and the remains of her meal in the bin and ventured outside. The rain had finally stopped, and she could spy some hints of blue through the cracks in the oppressive, low-hanging grey clouds.



The rest of the journey home wasn’t anywhere as fraught as the first stage; the radio minded its own business and churned out a steady stream of bland hits that didn’t seem to hit the mark as keenly as before; and it was not long after four in the afternoon when Rey let herself into the pokey one-bedroom, terraced house she called home.

She tossed the sleeping bag and box of camping gear down on the small sofa and trudged up the narrow steep stairs (that she was certain would be the death of her one day) to her  bedroom, to discover that she had a dozen or so messages and missed calls on her phone; all of which were from Finn.

 

Oh… Damn...

 

She remembered then that she had promised to go over on Saturday afternoon and sort out their wi-fi. It had gone completely out of her head on Thursday and was very much the furthest thing from her mind on the day in question.

She sat down on her unmade bed, moved the battered copy of M. R. James ghost stories that was tangled up in the duvet, and began to scroll through the messages.

She winced as she read; they had started out calmly enough, then became annoyed and finally frantic.

Shit .

 

She typed and sent a quick reply.

 

Rey:

Sorry. something came up at the last minute. I’m back now and can come over now if that’s ok?

 

Rey chewed one thumb nail pensively while she waited for Finn’s response. Hopefully he wouldn’t be too cross; she wasn’t sure if she could handle that on top over everything else.

 

Finn:

Oh good. I was about to phone the police but Poe said I was overreacting. Are you ok?

 

Rey:

I’m fine.  I’ll tell you about it when I get there.

 

Finn:

Cool, please hurry. Lack of wifi is making everyone cranky. You are our only hope!

 

Rey snorted, the shot of levity through his last message was encouraging, she pocketed her phone before heading back out again.

 

 

For the first time in well over a day, once he’d sent Rey the plea for help, Finn finally allowed himself to relax. He had spent most of the weekend a wound-up mass of nerves, and the lack of internet access coupled with the effect that had had on the boys had not helped. But knowing she was on her way over helped allay his fears, and he’d be able to judge for himself when he saw her if she really was as all right as she claimed.

When they had first met, Finn had imprinted on her, like a newly hatched duckling on its mother; initially seeing in her a very put together person, where he was still floundering. They had fallen, not so much in love, but into the roles of girlfriend and boyfriend Their relationship, while comforting and caring, lacked that spark.What they did have was more a sibling-like bond that only strengthened over time.

Rey had been the one to push him to go on the gay singles trip where he had met Poe. She had been the one to reassure him when he had freaked out after Poe had proposed. She had pretty much frog-marched him back to Poe’s house: depositing him on the doorstep and ringing the bell, before hiding behind a hedge to give him a goofy grin and a thumbs-up of encouragement, then dashing off as the door opened.

He had eventually came to realise that the put-together version of Rey he had relied on during their time together was very far from the truth. She masked her low self-esteem with a stoic and sometimes bubbly exterior, but avoided most social engagements by working every hour she could. She suffered greatly from impostor syndrome, even though she was very good at her job, because she hadn’t gone to university like the others on her team; instead she had worked her way up from a criminally low-paid entry level support role having taught herself to programme.

And she only ever had been outside of London once as long as he’d known her. On that point she was strangely intractable. She always claimed that ‘work’ or ‘someone’ might need to contact her. There was no use in pointing out the existence of mobile phones; she just would not budge. He knew that like himself, she had no family to speak of; they just had  each other.

Finn worried for Rey. He had felt bad when their relationship didn’t work out; because while he didn’t love her in that way, he still cared a great deal about her happiness. And he felt particularly guilty when he had returned from that trip away with a boyfriend, who within a year became his husband.

Rey deserved to be just as happy, and the trouble was that as far as Finn was concerned no one was going to be good enough for her: not him, not any other person he knew. Poe told him that was just his big brother instinct kicking in; and, in a seemingly rare moment of insight - for Poe - pointed out that all that mattered was whether Rey thought the Mysterious Mr X (as they had come to term him) was the right for her.  They’d just have to respect her decision and be ready to help bury a body if it all went south.

 



Finn must have been hovering at the door waiting for her to arrive; Rey had barely rung the bell before the front door was wrenched open to reveal her closest friend, and the nearest thing to family she had, looking extremely harassed.

“Well, well, well, look who the cat dragged in!” Poe drawled from the door to the kitchen, a tea towel slung over one shoulder.

“Where were you?” Finn asked as he pulled Rey in for an all-enveloping hug.

“I’m so sorry, Finn! I got sidetracked.” Rey apologised into his shoulder.

He held her away from him and gave her his best ‘stern fatherly look’. Rey tried very hard not to laugh, she doubted very much that it worked on the boys either. “Kid, you have got to stop working so much; you are going to kill yourself. I swear you live on nothing but coffee and stress.”

“No, I wasn’t working… I had a stomach bug.”

“Oh? Maybe you shouldn’t be here then, we don’t need the kids catching it and missing school.” Poe said, retreating back into the kitchen.

“Sorry. I told them at work I had a stomach bug.  I was actually in Cornwall.” She explained as she dropped her bag and started to take off her coat.

“Cornwall? Really? Trying to get you to even set foot outside Zone 6 is nigh on impossible!” Finn exclaimed as he ushered Rey in, shutting the door behind her and taking her coat.

“So, why on earth did you go down there ?  And more importantly, did you get laid over the weekend?” Rey rolled her eyes. So very typical Poe.  He always asked her that if she looked in any way upset. She could never decide whether he was asking if she were upset at the post-sex letdown or upset because she hadn’t had any at all; and really, she wasn’t sure why he needed to know either of those. He seemed to be of the opinion that one had to kiss as many frogs as possible in order to find a prince.

“For god’s sake, Poe!” Finn muttered through gritted teeth.

To Rey’s great relief, the conversation was mercifully interrupted by two small hurricanes masquerading as boys, who came pouring out of the living room. Questions and exclamations peppered her like hailstones.

 

“Rey!”

     “Rey’s here!”

“Where were you?”

     “We missed you!”

 

“Don’t believe them. They missed being able to watch cartoons and ‘let’s play’ videos.” Finn said over the heads of his two sons, who were dragging Rey with surprising strength further into the house.

We missed being able to ‘Netflix and Chill...’” Poe interjected, adding, “...but all will be forgiven if you could please just get the wifi working again so we can have a moment’s peace.”  He gave her sad puppy-dog eyes. He was very good at them.

Tim, the younger of the two, was now tugging at her hand with quite some violence. “Come and see BB, Rey! He’s got big! REALLY BIG!” Clearly the restoration of the wifi was not as pressing a matter for the boys as their parents. Owen, ever the stoic seven year old, said nothing; instead he was giving Finn a sidelong look.

Rey made her way up the boys’ bedroom, knowing from experience to prepare herself; she’d need to tread carefully and avoid various Lego-based death traps. She allowed herself to be maneuvered in front of the large wire hutch, which contained the strangest hamster she’d ever seen, Tim eagerly looked to her for her opinion. Owen just raised one eyebrow, quizzically; and it was all she could do to not burst out laughing.

They seemed to have ridiculously bad luck with hamsters; the last time she was there, only a little over a fortnight earlier, she’d been introduced to what Poe had later admitted was the sixth or maybe seventh of that name - he had lost track. It certainly was bigger than before; significantly so in fact. Rather than the small white hamster with orange ears she had last seen, she was now looking at something more like a big ball of white fluff with vibrant splashes of orange and grey on his coat. It whuffled and squeaked as it nosed around in search of food, putting her in mind of a Tribble; albeit one who was just getting bigger rather than splitting in two or whatever Tribbles did...

“He… certainly looks like he’s been eating well,” she offered diplomatically to Tim, while sharing a conspiratorial wink with Owen.

 

A little while later, after she had sorted out their wifi for the umpteenth time and jotted down some instructions and the password, and the boys had watched as many loud and bright cartoons as the grownups could stand (which for Rey had been about two minutes into the first episode), the small people were put to bed. And the interrogation began in earnest.

“So, what were you doing down in Cornwall? As far as I know, you’ve only ever left London once and that was Swindon,” Poe asked, handing her a glass of water while Finn googled the menu for their local chinese takeaway.

Rey gratefully accepted the drink and took a sip before putting it down on the coffee table. “Hey!” Poe threw a coaster at her and she picked up the glass and slid the coaster under it. Why he tried to maintain the illusion that no food or drink was ever consumed in that room she would never understand. To Rey ‘living’ implied eating so why no eat in a living room?

“I can’t explain it. I was sitting there at my desk and it was like…” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just had to get out of there.”

Words just weren’t enough to explain it; how it had been more than a pull, more an instinctual, visceral need to leave, and go there in particular. She knew, given her history, that she’d sound mad saying any that out loud though.

“Well I can understand that - that place is the worst and you really give them far more time and energy than they deserve,” Poe said, meditatively swirling the wine in his glass..

Rey took a deep breath; given what she ultimately hoped to do, it was probably for the best to get as much of it all out in the open now, as soon as she could.

“It was more than just needing to get out of the office. It was as if something inside me, something that had always been there, just... switched on, or woke up all of a sudden. I took one look at that crappy satellite photo and somehow I just knew the place for me was down there.”

“And was it what you hoped for?” Finn asked.

“I don’t know what I hoped for… but I feel like I might belong there. I know it sounds mad.”

There really was no might about it.

 

"Wait, where in Cornwall did you say you were?" Finn turned the laptop so she could see it. "Are you sure wherever you were staying is still even there? Look at this footage from around Tintagel! They just had some really nasty storms; you didn't get any of that?"

“It wasn’t so bad when I was there - quite nice in fact.” Though now that she gave it some serious thought, it had started raining just as she was leaving… after he left. And the storm she had driven through… could it have followed her?

Given everything, was it really so surprising that the sea and weather and Kylo had some strange symbiotic relationship - was that him weeping and storming? Perhaps the wails she had put down to a trick of the wind were really him, calling to her. She shuddered. He had been so gentle with her, but then so could a summer’s breeze be gentle, until it was a hurricane. What was it they said about March; in like a lion and out like a lamb? It was the start of March and there was certainly something of the primeval about it, and about him. But not evil. Of that she was certain.

“Hey, Rey! Are you listening?” Finn’s voice dragged her back to the here and now.

“What?”

“Food order, what do you want? Your usual?” Finn asked, frowning slightly.

“No!” She said, finding she’d actually put up her hands to ward off the thought.

“What? You love crispy fried squid.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll have the Kung Pao Prawns instead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Just order the damn food already!” Rey snapped, with a little more force than she’d intended, Finn just raised one eyebrow and shook his head with a wry smile. With luck he’d just write it off as her being hangry; it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence after all. The order place he put away his laptop and retreated to the kitchen to get things ready for their meal.

 

Rey followed him and began extracting cutlery from a drawer.

“So… since when did your hamster learn how to turn into a Guinea Pig? That’s an impressive trick!” Finn was pulling clean plates from the dishwasher.

“It was all they had in the shop with even remotely the right colours. I think Owen suspects,”  Finn replied as he frowned at a plate that had something still stuck on it and put it to one side.

“Oh I think he does more than that. He told me he’s called BB8!” Rey laughed.

“I can’t believe they let us care for children, Rey!” Finn exclaimed, Rey wasn’t sure if it was in horror or humour. Children weren’t exactly on a par with small rodents and they’d been far more successful with the boys.

She dropped the knives and forks on the stack of plates and gave Finn in a side long hug. “They let you because you are damn good at it. You have done wonders for those boys. And they’ve done wonders for you as well. I’m so glad you’re happy.”

“I just want you to be as well.”

“With babies and hamster/guinea pig hybrids?” Rey laughed.

The look in his eyes was more serious.  “With whatever, whoever brings you joy.”

She smiled weakly, he might regret the ‘whatever’.  Finn squeezed her shoulders.

“I mean it, Rey.”





Barely an hour later they were sitting comfortably in the living room, plates perched on laps, watching Some Like it Hot, laughing like drains at Jack Lemmon’s attempts to deflect any notion that he/she would be ‘caught dead with a man’:

Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands!

And they just want one thing from a girl!

“I’m moving to Cornwall,” Rey suddenly blurted out.

“What?!” Finn yelled, jumping up. His Singapore noodles flew up with him, arcing gracefully in the air. It was a beautiful balletic vision right up until the point when gravity butted in and it all fell in a wet mass.

“Fucking hell, Finn!” Poe yelled. He dropped to his knees muttering, “this is why we can’t have nice things,” as he began to furiously scoop noodles and sauce off of the living room rug.

“How will we maintain our rule about the boys eating in here, now that you’ve clearly spilt sauce on the rug?! It will be obvious that we’ve been eating in here!”

Finn did not take this at all well.

“Piss off, Poe! I know that you turned the rug last month so I wouldn’t notice the red wine stain!”

Rey just leaned back in the sofa, biting her upper lip trying to retain her composure. She also surreptitiously checked that the small, Tim-sized chocolate handprint she had tried to clean off one of Poe’s prized handmade South-American cushions the last time she had babysat was not visible. She quickly flipped it over, reasonably sure her expression was normal as Finn turned back to her.

“Now what’s this about you moving to Cornwall? What will you do down there? It’s not like there are many...or any , tech jobs down there.”

“Come on Finn, I’m a software developer. I can pick up freelancing work, work remotely. I’ll find something to do even if it’s washing dish in the local pub.”

“Sounds like you have it all thought out,” Finn said quietly.

She hadn’t really given it too much thought. She just seemed to have a ready answer for any obstacles they might throw at her, deftly tossing them from her path. She was determined. Whether or not Kylo was real or a product of a breakdown induced by overwork was neither here nor there. She had to get back there. Everything she had done since that Thursday night had been driven by that instinct, that need.

“Sounds to me like she did get laid,” Poe pronounced, leaning back on his heels. “So you’ve got a potential cute boyfriend lined up back there, then?”

Rey sighed. “Yeah maybe, perhaps. We’ll see.”

And for once, Poe mercifully left it at that.

Rey stole a look at Finn, he was chewing the inside of his cheek and staring straight ahead, but when he saw her looking at him he gave her a small smile that seemed to say, 'Ok, I trust you.' She leant over and gave his hand a small squeeze of thanks.

You are alone...

The taunt echoed in his skull. He let loose his pain in the only way he knew how; the sea and sky almost becoming one. But it brought him little comfort. It never did. It only served to deepen the well of despair within him even more.

You will be forgotten...

He didn’t know how to feel. He certainly knew he didn’t want to feel. She had left, and she would probably never return. He would be forgotten; and even worse he feared that he might  forget her, in time, as he suspected he had forgotten other things.

As if in sympathy with him, or in fear for what was to come next, the sky seemed to weep as well; it began to drop slow tears as he turned away from the shore. Now at his lowest ebb, he was in no position to offer any meaningful resistance to the Voice.

He had no idea how long he’d thrashed around within the storm when it happened. Where there had only been cold fury and despair there was suddenly warmth, small and concentrated like the brush of warm soft lips and then a thought. Not his own, and certainly not the Voice’s.  This thought came from behind a pair of eyes green as sea-glass.

It was as if a life line had been tossed to him, and he grabbed at it with both hands. She had not cast him adrift. That flicker of hope returned, as he suddenly knew she meant it to do; and he clasped it close to his heart like the precious, delicate thing it was.  

The Voice shrieked at Kyo’s defiance, but for once the words went, if not unheard, then unheeded.

 

 

As he finally calmed, so did she; and she was grateful for the respite. Every word The Voice spoke seared through her, using her as an unwilling conduit to inflict pain on Kylo that he would then in turn be compelled to return to her. She could never discern its source but she knew it was within her somewhere; wisely keeping itself hidden from her, because once she found it her wrath would know no bounds. Kylo’s storms would pale in comparison.

Like all other mothers, The Sea remembered. She knew every tear, every laugh, every step of those who belonged to her. But none so clearly as his.

They had been bound together since before his birth; a bond that had been usurped, twisted and used against them both. She lamented that she’d been powerless in the face of that malign force, that thing of  cloud and smoke. Against her will she been made party to violent tempests, one that had destroyed her beloved village, another that had resulted in his current predicament and countless others. The ancient covenant had been perverted, tangling them together even tighter than before, twin agents of despair and destruction. And worse, so much worse than all those things, it had made her responsible for a despicable, unspeakable act that she would never be able to rectify.

For so long she had tried without success to console Kylo, to reassure him; but without arms or a voice she could not do either in any meaningful way; such snippets of memories as she tried to impart only seemed to add to his torment.

She recalled him as a child; so small and soft. His round face framed by unruly dark curls,  he’d gazed at her with dark eyes that seemed impossibly old. “Pretty flowers!” he had exclaimed as he reached out for the seafoam scattered on her surface. He had tumbled headlong into her cold embrace, and she had tenderly returned him to the shore. He’d immediately got back to his feet and headed into the house, emerging a few moments later with something clutched in his small fist.

He’d been running, excited and she’d tried to warn him about the slick stones beneath his bare feet and how they were wont to shift unexpectedly. But she’d been voiceless and he’d fallen, inevitably, as she watched… the green orb dropping from his hand and breaking. He, too, had hit the ground and then the blood had begun to flow towards her, the first binding between them.

He had cried out and his father had been there in an instant, scooping him up in his arms, one hand tightly holding the wrist that had been sliced by the wicked green shard. His voice had been soothing and kind. As he’d carried his son away, the remains of the green glass orb had rolled towards the water’s edge; she would cherish the intended gift until such time as it was needed, when it would be passed on to another.

Bound first by blood, and later by tears, their fates were now irrevocably linked.

Together she and her sister had tried to help him, to make him remember; but Selene’s touch was ill-suited to humans and he was very much still human, no matter what he may have been led to think.

To no avail, and with less a gentle tug than a dragging of chains, she had compelled him to return to his home in the hopes that it might coax some memory from his mind, which would help drive out the infiltrating thoughts planted there in a haze of smoke.

But everything was about to change. Now there was someone who could help, not with old nightmares, but with new dreams. Someone who was now bound just as permanently to them both, whether she realized it or not; bound to him with a strength that malign one would never be able to break.

When he abruptly ceased the storm, the buzzing taunts of The Voice seemed to be dampened as well; whatever had caused the change had given him the strength and resolve to deny its entry.

Exhaustion had stilled him; his chest no longer heaved in time with the choppy, wind-tossed waves. It rose and fell slowly now along with her own finally calm surface. She closed herself around him, a shield and shelter, as much to keep the hurts of the world from him as to hide him from prying eyes. She would let him rest, safe in the cave, out of reach of any heart but hers, until that new, bright hope was ready to return.

 

The Sea remembered and felt hope again while she rocked him in his first calm sleep.

 

The Sea no longer mourned for what might have been, what should have been.

 

The Sea rejoiced for what now would surely be.




Chapter Text

‘God help me! save I take my part
   Of danger on the roaring sea,
A devil rises in my heart,
   Far worse than any death to me.’

 

from The Sailor Boy by Alfred, Lord Tennyson



Pizza and Pledges

 

Friday, March 13th 2015



Rey curbed the very strong desire to tap her foot in irritation as she checked the time on her phone for the fifth time. She had little more than half an hour of her lunch hour remaining and she’d already spent just over ten minutes waiting for the estate agent with whom she had made an appointment first thing on Monday morning. She’d managed to kill the first two minutes filling out a form detailing her name, contact details and the address of her current property. The timid man with thinning hair at the desk in the corner gave her a wan smile from behind the large stack of leaflets he was folding and stuffing in envelopes.

 

“I’m terribly sorry, he should be back any minute.”

 

This was the third variation on this pronouncement she’d heard so far. Initially he had been sorry , then very sorry . Any minute had been soon and then shortly . Rey wondered what might be next; her money was on: d esperately sorry and back before she knew it

 

She looked up sharply at the sound of raised voices directly outside. Her view of the speakers was obscured by the backside of images of immaculate houses for sale and to let in the area.

 

“... But why did you have to put your head through the wall you bloody idiot?”

 

“It’s not like I did it on purpose Rick! That place is a fucking death trap. Who puts up a crappy stud wall barely a foot from the bottom of a flight of stairs?”

 

The door swung open and two men entered. First through the door was a neat man in his mid fifties wearing an immaculately tailored grey suit. He looked pained as he set about brushing white flecks of plaster from his shoulders.

 

“Wotcha Neil! Pop the kettle on!” the second, slightly wilder looking man of a similar age, called out as he bounded in and dropped heavily down on to the chair at the adjacent desk. He spun around once before coming to an abrupt stop and then began typing furiously, a mad gleam in his eyes.

 

“Oh yes, of course. Er,  Mr. Peavey, Ms. Greene is here ,” Mr Pye said distractedly  as he hurried off, presumably towards the kitchenette in the back.

 

Mr. Peavey pivoted on his heel and gave Rey an appraising look before smiling widely and holding out a hand. She shook it but still felt rather uneasy, as if she was under a microscope.

 

“Ms. Greene! Of course! How delightful! I understand you spoke with my dear friend Mo Canady last week. How is he? Still working out of the pub?” He chuckled to himself. Rey was taken aback, how on earth did he know that she’d been in Cornwall not to mention with whom she had been speaking?

 

“Or was he not really working, but at the pub nonetheless. We did have some jolly times there.” He expounded as he ushered her over to a seat by his desk.

 

“I didn’t realise you knew him…” Rey replied lamely.

 

“Oh yes! I grew up down there. Went to school with old Canady. But you know... The lure of the bright lights. I came up to London for uni, met these two in student digs…” He waved a hand in the general direction the other two desks where his colleague now had headphones on singing quietly along to what sounded like a Cliff Richard song, “And the rest is history.”

 

Mr Pye returned, and a mug of coffee of rather dubious quality appeared on the desk in front of Rey.

 

“You don’t have to drink that. It’s instant and it’s vile; he’s far better with fruit teas.” Mr. Peavey said quietly, in a louder voice he added, “now you expressed an interest in having your property valued with a view to putting it on the market?”

 

“Yes. I’m… I’m hoping to relocate to Cornwall and well.. I want to sell up here so I can buy a property down there. It needs a lot of work and well, I need to know if I can affor-”

 

Mr. Peavey was practically bouncing in his chair in excitement. Completely at odds with his appearance and initial manner towards her.

 

“Yes! Treahchto Cove. A real bargain and so much… potential. It’s a very special place, as you have no doubt realised. With some TLC and the right owner it could make a lovely home again.” He seemed to get a dreamy, far away look in his eyes.

 

Mr. Peavey shook himself sadly as if he were reluctantly returning to the reality to a small office on a slightly dingy south London street.

 

“Besides, it doesn’t do for a house like that to remain derelict; it could attract… undesirables. I should be very happy to drop by tomorrow around eleven to carry out the valuation if that suits? You’ve given Mr. Pye all the details?”

 

Rey nodded wordlessly; it most certainly did suit but it felt a little disconcerting to be dealing yet again with someone who seemed to almost have a vested interest in ensuring that the house in Treahchto was rebuilt and occupied. She wondered why the the house had never been fully demolished if they were so worried about vandalism and things of that nature.

 

“I do hope we can assist you Ms. Greene. That house was meant to be lived in.” He said as he rose, as if he had read her thoughts.

 

“I hope so too,” Rey concurred as she shook his hand before turning to leave. As she let the door close behind her she could hear Peavey complaining loudly to Rick about his questionable taste in music.


 

Rey was heading back to towards the tube station when her phone alerted her to a text from Finn; a recording of Tim and Owen giggling and shrieking ‘Reeeeead Meeeee!’

 

Finn:

How did the meeting with the estate agent go?

 

Rey:

It was strange. They were strange...

 

Her phone almost immediately started ringing: more giggles and ‘Answer Meeeeee!’ she was certain she would eventually rue the day she introduced the boys to the concept of making ringtones but this would not be that day. If things went to plan, she would no longer see them as often as she did and that one thought cut her to the quick.

 

“Good strange? Bad Strange?” Finn said as soon as she answered.

 

“Hello to you too… Good strange. Do you ever feel like there’s, I don’t know, some sort of weird mystical force nudging you towards something?” Rey replied.

 

“Like destiny or fate?”

 

“Perhaps, though that would suggest nothing is my choice, like I was being controlled; and it was my choice to move.”

 

Rey wasn’t sure if she should mention to Finn that the estate agent Poe had recommended not only was from the area in question but apparently also knew the property, rather intimately it seemed.

 

“I mean more a sense that the path has been unexpectedly smoothed out ahead of you.” She elaborated.

 

“Ok… that is a bit odd I suppose. But it is a seller’s market at the moment.”

 

“You keep saying that. Well, we shall see. They are coming over to do an evaluation of the house tomorrow morning. I wonder if I could hand in my notice today. Or would that be a bit too beforehand... oooh.”

 

Rey had come to a halt in front of the charity shop where she tended to pick up fantasy novels, old, musty books with titles that piqued her interest, and replacement dishes. She felt a pang; there would be no more Pratchett novels to buy anymore.

 

In the window was the usual assortment of seasons-old fashions, tiny Wedgewood dishes, and the occasional guitar; but something else had caught her eye. She stepped closer for a better look. Standing in a chipped vase with a horrid pearlescent glaze, was a trio of thick tapering brushes with black lacquered handles and delicate geometric mother of pearl inlay. They were calligraphy brushes, by the look of it, if she wasn’t mistaken. She wasn’t certain if Kylo had ever worked with brushes before but if his skill with her crappy biro was anything to go by she suspected he’d pick it up in no time. She’d order a waterproof cover for her phone and find some youtube videos to show him or something… and as for ink he probably didn’t want for any… a not unpleasant shiver ran up her spine at the thought of something so visceral and intimate.  

 

“Rey? Rey? Are you still there? Is something wrong?” Finn’s voice pulled her back to reality.

 

“Yeah, sorry. I just saw something that would make a nice gift.”

 

“Oh, for the cute boyfriend?” Was that a teasing note she detected? If so that was a promising sign.

 

“He is not cute. ” She said automatically.

 

“Aha! So you admit, then, that there is a boyfriend.”

 

Rey rolled her eyes, as she pushed open the door to the shop. She didn’t care now whether she was going to be late back to work. Plutt could fuss all he liked. She was past caring now.

 

“There is a friend. But he is not cute. Ok maybe he is. I don’t know! He’s striking and… it’s”

 

“Complicated?”

 

“That’s one way of putting it.” Rey sighed as she navigated a maze of clothes rails.

 

“But not bad complicated? Because I don’t want you getting hurt.”

 

“No it’s more a will be worth it in the long run complicated… He’s... I don’t know...deep...ugh, no, I don’t know! Let’s just leave it at that.”

 

“Oh god Rey, that sounds like he is a bit flakey, writes bad poetry and takes moonlit walks. Are you sure about this?”

 

She wouldn’t call Kylo flakey, maybe a bit highly strung perhaps. And clearly there was something going on with him, he was half octopus after all. But she had plenty of baggage of her own. Everyone did, you couldn’t go through life without acquiring any. And as for poetry, who cared whether it was bad or good, he had the kind of voice that could read a telephone directory and make it sound good, and if he wrote his own then he had to have those brushes.

 

“Yes. Besides he’s more a moonlit swim type…” Her brain helpfully supplying her with the memory of one such instance, causing her to blush and lose all sense of her surroundings, earning her a grumble from a harassed woman trying to maneuver a buggy past her.

 

“I’m not certain that that is any better…”

 

“It’s fine, honest. I’ll see you later, usual time?”

 

“Yeah, our reservations are for seven so see you at six?”

 

“Sure thing.” Rey said before she hung up, and approached the little old lady at the till.




Just as she had expected, Plutt was not best pleased about her turning up fifteen minutes late. He was standing, filling the doorway of his private space at the end of the open plan office when she came in and with an annoyed wheeze, turned and shut the door with a loud bang as she neared her desk.

 

All around her was a sea of flimsy, ratty dividers and desks, the quintessential cube farm. Most of the other departments had done away with that depressing relict of the 90s but Plutt insisted. Open plan meant open communication and he didn’t like to encourage his staff to get too… chatty and chummy.

 

It made the office in the Matrix feel positively bucolic. The lack of air, the little cells, the thrum of fluorescent lighting and syncopated clack of keys reminded Rey of Maz’s likening them to bees, but corrupted. Everything about the place was unnatural and she couldn’t wait to get out.

 

A bump on the back of her legs reminded her that she was still standing by her personal cube-cell and she turned to see the mute, elderly woman with the leathery lined face who kept the stationary cupboard stocked,  with a tea trolley silently waiting for her to move.

 

Plutt was so lazy he wouldn’t even go to the terrible drinks dispenser barely ten feet from his office, instead preferring to be waited on. Rey ducked in to her cube and the trolley rumbled on.

 

She unlocked her machine, took a deep breath and sent the email that had been sitting in her drafts all week to that despised line manager, before turning her attention to some code that a colleague needed her to peer review. She logged on to Github, the cheerful Octocat logo warming her heart, and settled down to work.

 

Fifteen minutes later and a couple hundred lines of code scanned, her email pinged at her. A reply from Plutt. Her heart was pounding as she opened it. Her dread turning to righteous indignation.

 

‘That slippery FUCK!’

 

She had delivered every project on time and under budget for this man, in part because she didn’t grouse about not being paid over time or working late and now he was pulling a stunt like this...

.

“Rey?”

 

Rey looked up at the achingly elegant, towering figure beside her. The tall blonde dipped down to read the email, one hand placed firmly, but kindly on Rey’s shoulder.

 

“I know I always preach the need for restraint, darling. But... in this instance I fully support you marching straight into that bastard’s office and giving him a piece of your mind. In fact I think this would be the perfect opportunity to use that bit of leverage you have.”

 

Rey gaped at Gwen, her favourite project manager and the only other close friend she had. She was everything Rey wished she could be, namely confident and outgoing; she had grabbed life by the balls and made a good life for herself from next to nothing. Rey came from a similar background but perhaps she didn’t have quite as much fire in her belly, or doubted herself too much.

 

“What are you waiting around for, do I need to give you a direct order?” she said with a laugh as she straightened up. “Go! Unleash that famous fury you usually save for those moronic MRAs at paintball.”

 

“But!”

 

“Scavenger…” Gwen said, a note of warning in her voice, but her blue eyes sparkling with mischief.

 

“If you insist Chrome-Dome!”

 

“I do, you are far too good for this place. Besides I’m leaving myself in a month and I don’t like leaving a good woman behind.”

 

Gwen hoisted Rey up and set her on her way.

 

Rey gave the door a cursory knock before walking straight in. Plutt was sitting at his desk, hunched over his laptop, wheezing slightly. Rey suppressed a shudder.

 

“What is it girl?”

 

“That email you sent me.”

 

“What about it?”

 

“It’s…” Rey glanced towards the frosted glass window where she could see a blurry Gwen giving her a thumbs up.

 

“It’s completely unacceptable. My contract states that I am only required to give three months notice. Your demand for six months is uncalled for.”

 

“You’ve got projects to finish up.”

 

“That may be so but, as you so often point out I’m nothing special. Any monkey with a keyboard could do my job, I believe is what you said at my last pay review.”

 

“Oh very well then, three months it is. You do reasonably good work but you girls, you just can’t stick it.”

 

Rey saw red, she lent over the desk enduring the stench of old sweat and the view of his thinning comb-over. He really was every bad cliche rolled into one doughy mass.

 

“I want my accrued holiday leave, which I believe comes to two weeks. Three if you count the five days I carried over from last year. And I think that should cover the three week notice  that should be plenty for someone you considered to be barely competent and completely dispensable when I applied for a the team lead position last summer.”

 

Plutt pushed his chair back from the desk and lent back in it, looking smug.

 

“Oh do you now?”

 

Rey smiled dangerously and went in for the kill.

 

“Yes, or I will be forwarding on some emails that the support desk sent me about browsing habits in the office. You wouldn’t like it to be known who was responsible for that virus that led to us the losing those backups and customer details last year. We both know it wasn’t ‘teenage hackers’ don’t we?”

 

Rey turned on her heel, leaving a spluttering Plutt to stew.




Gwen was leaning against the window beside the door when Rey came out. Rey shrugged and  moved to head back to her desk and begin to clear out her drawers. On second thought screw it she didn’t need any of it. She just grabbed her bag and phone and let Gwen take her by the arm.

 

Her friend gave her a wide grin, “Right! Pub?”

 

“You know I don’t drink. And I need to be at Finn’s by six.”

 

“That’s not a problem, and we have plenty of time. I can still toast you and you can tell me what it was that finally made you see the light about this place.”






Rey had just pressed Finn and Poe’s doorbell when her phone rang. She fumbled in her bag, confused as to who might be phoning her, not to mention at this time in the evening. The number wasn’t familiar and she hesitated before answering.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Ms. Greene! Mr. Peavey here!”

 

“Oh!” Her heart sank. Here it was; the other shoe dropping. No doubt Peavey was phoning to cancel tomorrow’s valuation. He’d probably googled the house and decided it was not in an up and coming neighbourhood and she’d be stuck there forever.

 

“Hey there!”

The front door swung open to reveal Finn and Rey became aware of her surroundings again.

 

“... offering cash!” Came the exuberant voice of Mr. Peavey.

 

Rey frowned, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that, please?”

 

“I said, we had someone come in this afternoon enquiring about properties in your area and they are very interested in your house and are offering cash.”

 

“How much?”  Rey blurted out.

 

“Two hundred and fifty thousand.”

 

“WHAT?!” she yelled. Finn winced and started to drag her in the house before the neighbours started wondering about the young woman shrieking on the doorstep.

 

“I’m sure they’d go as high as two seventy five if you aren’t happy with their initial offer.”

 

Rey was doing some quick calculations in her head. Even after her mortgage was paid off she’d have a hundred thousand left. And then there were her savings… More than enough, she hoped.

 

“No! No! That’s fine… I’m happy to accept the offer.”

 

“Wonderful, if you could drop in tomorrow we can get started on the necessary paperwork. Have a good evening.”

 

Rey’s arm fell limply to her side, her grip loosening on the phone. Finn swooped and caught it before it hit the terracotta tile floor.

 

“What in god’s name was that about?” Finn asked, shutting the door behind her and handing her back the phone.

 

“Someone has put in an offer on my house. A cash offer.”

 

“That was fast. I guess it’s even more a seller’s market than I thought.”

 

“I don’t think that’s quite how a seller’s market works Finn.”

 

“Maybe not but it’s still good! Anyway, the boys weren’t very hungry this evening so there’s leftover lasagna in the fridge if you want it.”

 

“Ok.” Rey said rather listlessly; she was still in shock.

“We’ll be back around eleven thirty.”

 

“Where’s Poe?” Rey asked, looking around.

 

“He’s meeting me there, he had to do some PR thing out at City today.”

 

“Ah, so will he be in his uniform then?”

 

Finn grinned, “probably.”

 

“Have a lovely evening with your flyboy.”

 

“I will,” Finn grinned.

 

“Goodnight boys!” He called upstairs. There was a faint mumbled farewell from the boys’ room.

 

Finn gave Rey a quick peck on the check and headed out.

 

“Good luck, you’re gonna need it!”

 

Once the door was closed Rey took a moment to gather her thoughts before heading  towards the foot of the stairs and calling out, “Ok he’s gone. Who wants pizza?”


 

Contrary to Finn and Poe’s assertion that the boy’s bedtime was akin to negotiating an armistice between two ancient enemies, Rey never had any trouble getting the boys into bed. She suspected they were always on their best behaviour for her; though to what end she had not yet fathomed.

 

She would miss their fortnightly sessions of illicit takeaway pizza and bedtime stories. They had been steadily working their way through the Chronicles of Narnia . The Horse and His Boy had been a big hit with them though they did fight over which of them was Cor and which was Corin which had led to her putting her foot down in a rare display of anger and threatening an end to their ritual and it would be just plain old bed bedtime, no secret supper and no story. She was currently reading them The Silver Chair which was a particular favourite of hers.

 

Over a large pepperoni pizza eaten at the kitchen table, the boys gave her a run down of their exploits at school that week and their plans for the upcoming Easter break.

 

While Rey removed and washed away all evidence of their meal, the boys washed their hands and brushed their teeth and were settled in bed, ears at the ready when she finally came upstairs with the well loved and much thumbed paperback.

 

Rey turned off the main light and settled down at the end of Tim’s bed. She opened the book where they had left off, taking a moment to replace a page which had come loose.

 

“Do you remember where we had got up to?” She asked.

 

“They are underground?” Suggested Tim.

 

Rey nodded.

 

“The knight is tied up. I think he’s Rillian!” Owen added.

 

“Spoilers sweetie!” Rey grinned, “let’s see if you are right.”

 

“I bet I am,” Owen mumbled as he made himself comfortable.




“The knight was moaning. His face was as pale as putty, and he writhed in his bonds.” Rey read, trying as hard she could to not make the scene sound utterly debauched; but it was difficult as she now pictured Rillian in her mind with Kylo’s pearl-white, sun-starved face and deep voice.

 

Tim was peeking out from under his blanket while Owen was trying to not make it obvious that he was hugging his teddy bear very tightly. Rey paused, uncertain if this passage was best saved for daylight hours, or for when she was safely alone in her own bed.

 

“Go on,” prompted Owen.

 

“Alright,” Rey conceded before taking a clearing her throat.

 

“And whether because she was sorry for him, or for some other reason, Jill thought that he looked a nicer sort of man than he looked before.”

 

Poor Jill; she would have made an excellent Queen of Narnia. Rey thought some harsh thoughts about the treatment and handling of post-pubescent female characters in the series and then carried on.

 

“ ‘Ah,’ he groaned. ‘Enchantments, enchantments...the heavy tangled, cold, clammy web of evil magic. Buried alive. Dragged down under the earth, down into the sooty blackness...how many years is it?... Have I lived ten years, or a thousand years, in the pit?’ ” Rey’s voice was being to crack and her throat was now very dry. She swallowed and continued.

 

“ ‘Maggot-men all around me. Oh, have mercy. Let me out, let me go back. Let me feel the wind and see the sky...There used to be a little pool.’ ”

 

She could feel a lump forming in her throat. It felt like everything around her was conspiring to remind her of him. Not that that bothered her; she thought about him a good deal - but it was the way in which external things did, songs on the radio for the most part and now this book; driving home the pain and anguish of their parting and how his predicament worried her, though he had never mentioned it. She looked up to see the boys intently watching her.  She gave them a weak smile before carrying on.

 

“ ‘When you… when you looked down into it you could see all the trees growing upside down in the water, all green, and below them, deep, very deep, the blue sky.’ ”

Rey took a deep, steadying breath.

 

“He had been speaking in a low voice; now he looked up , fixed his eyes upon them, and said loud and clear: ‘Quick! I am sane now. Every night I am sane. If only I could get out of this enchanted chair, it would last. I should be a man again.’ ” Rey felt tears welling in her eyes. This book had always affected her but never to this extent. She closed the book slowly.

 

“Are you ok, Rey?” Tim asked, his head popping up from under the covers.

 

“Yes sweetie, just my throat is a bit sore. I’m sorry, I think I’m going to have to leave it there for tonight. Besides it’s getting late.”

 

“Ok”, they drawled in unison before  they wriggling down under the covers.

 

Rey set the book down on top of the small bookcase and dropped a kiss on each boy’s forehead before she switched off the bedside lamp and retired from the room.

 

“Sleep well, little ones.”

 

“Rey?” came a small, hesitant voice from under Owen’s duvet.

 

Rey turned in the doorway, “Yes? Is there anything wrong?”

 

“Do you think you’ll ever have children?” he whispered.

Rey took a deep breath, glad that the landing light behind her masked her face and the myriad of emotions that were no doubt crossing it at that moment.

 

If Owen had asked her that question a fortnight earlier she would have laughly dismissed it: why did she need children of her own when she had them? Not to mention her own deep seated issues surrounding motherhood, maternal bonds and the mother she had never known. But now… Now she found that she sincerely hoped she might one day, or at any event be in the position where it was a possibility. Even if now, in her mind’s eye, that child potentially looked like the cute baby squid from Men in Black.

 

“I honestly don’t know,” she said finally giving her head a small shake.

 

“I think you’d be a very good mum. And... if you have a girl in the next...er, three years… a ten year age gap isn’t too much. Even if I’d be really old by the time she’s old enough.” The words tumbled in a rush from Owen’s mouth. He had clearly given this matter some thought and had girded himself for this conversation come hell or high water.

 

Rey stifled a shocked laugh.

 

“Owen are you saying you’d like me for a mother-in-law.”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“Well if I ever do have a daughter, I’ll make sure I put in a good word for you, assuming you grow up to be the kind of young man one looks for in a son-in-law.”

 

“I’ll try.” Owen mumbled sleepily.

 

“Good boy!  Now go to sleep or else your dad and and pop will never let me babysit again!”




Rey retreated down stairs and sank into the deep armchair in the dark living room, pinching her nose in an effort to try and stave off a looming headache. In spite of everything going her way, it was still so much to have happened in just one day. There so much to process; from the rapidly solidifying reality of the move to Owen’s strange but sweet request. It been the oddest day, and that was saying something given that less than a week earlier she had been camping out on a frigid beach and embracing the strangest and most fascinating of people.

 

Rey closed her eyes and let her mind focus on the sound of cars passing on the road outside. She dearly wished that it was sound of waves gently breaking on a pebbled beach instead.

 

She fumbled in her pocket and withdrew the sea glass that had been her constant companion this last week. She turned it over in her hand. She knew its shape and weight so well now. What could it have been, in a former life? It was altogether too large to be a bit of broken bottle. Perhaps it had indeed been some sort of paperweight. That was the only thing she could think of that would have had such a reassuring heft to it.

 

Soon her eyelids grew heavy and she felt herself sinking into sleep; she gave a small sigh and gratefully allowed herself to drift off.

For a while everything was dark and she had no sense of time though she knew she was asleep and dreaming. First she could make out the sound of waves. Then, gradually the scene lightened around her, almost imperceptibly at first, until she was able to make out the outline of a cliff edge and the sea beyond it. She could smell salt and something else, familiar thought she couldn’t quite place it, in the air.  

 

There was a figure standing on the cliff edge a few feet from her.

 

His back was to her, legs slightly apart to steady himself against the buffeting breeze that tugged him towards the cliff edge. Gloved hands held behind his back. His dark hair fell in waves to just above his shoulder. A slightly stronger gust of wind briefly revealed an ear, large and to Rey’s eyes perfect. These were listening ears.

 

As she approached him the figure began to turn towards her, she caught a glimpse of a large, pale nose and full lips before she felt herself being shaken violently.

 

“Rey!” Poe’s voice bludgeoned its way through her mind, tearing the vision to shreds.

 

“Rey?” The figure asked, voice low and tinged with disappointment.

 

“No!” she whined as she tried to fight against the hand at her shoulder that was pulling her back, to take just one more step forward to close the distance between them. Her hand reached out... and touched nothing.






Rey dropped her face into her hands. It was damp with salty tears she didn’t remember crying. Poe’s hand was clasping her shoulder. His stupid hand… Why did he have to wake her?

 

“Are you ok?”

 

“No! Yes… what time is it ?” She asked, still hiding her face.

 

“It’s after midnight. I’m sorry, we were later than expected, I’ll make up the sofa bed for you.”

 

While Poe fussed with the sofa, Rey remained seated in the armchair. She still felt groggy and annoyed and upset. She never reacted well to being unexpectedly woken and the circumstances on this occasion were far from ideal.

 

“You know it’s odd that you are planning to move down near Tintagel,” Poe said as he tucked a sheet around the mattress. “Finn had a strange experience there when he was young. He’d completely forgotten about it until last week.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“He slipped and lost his footing while climbing down to investigate a cave by the castle. Broke his wrist in fact. That’s where that nasty scar on his back is from, he scraped it falling down the cliff.”

 

“He was lucky he didn’t break his neck,” Rey replied, thinking of the treacherous route Chewie had wanted to take.

 

“You’re telling me. The really weird thing about is that they found him high up on the beach. Nowhere near where he had fallen.”

 

“Yeah.. weird,” Rey murmured.




Rey lay down on the thin, yet at the same time lumpy mattress. She really should have gone home or slept on the sofa as it was. Even the chair was preferable. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, the green stone still clasped in one hand.

 

Desperate to sleep and equally desperate to return to the cliff; Rey squeezed her eyes shut, calling to mind the spot on the coastal path, painting it with moonlight. She clung to the hope that he might somehow be enticed back but he didn’t reappear.

 

He was standing on the path looking out to sea. It was somehow a familiar vantage point. He was sure he’d stopped on this path before returning from...somewhere warm heading towards…somewhere else. He wanted to say home?

 

The moon was not full, but still cast an eerie glow. There was a gentle breeze. He wasn’t sure why he had stopped, but he  knew he was waiting, like always.

 

There was a faint thrumming, and the gentle sound of waves crashing on the rocks below him was suddenly muted. Without turning he could feel a familiar presence nearby. His heart pounded in his ears. Dare he look?  Would it be who he hoped it would be?

 

The sea’s vigil was taking its toll; Kylo stirred in his sleep, much to her consternation. A frown passed like a spectre across his previously relaxed features. She had held him in a dreamless sleep for nearly a week, but she was weakening and he couldn’t sleep forever.






Friday, April 3rd 2015

 

A shaft of milky light pierced the cave’s entrance, bearing with it the stern voice that only the sea could hear. She turned her attention away from his slumbering form, steeling herself for the conversation;while expected, it was one she would rather avoid.

 

He has slept long enough, sister. We’re running out of time.

 

Will you not grant him this one respite.

 

He needs to remember. You can’t keep him to yourself. He is not for you and you are no Circe. I know you blame yourself for what happened; but detaining him like this, unchanging, will not absolve you of your sins against him or his mother.

 

I know he is destined for another but he needs his rest. It pains him so much to be there; to feel the memories he can’t grasp. He needs to regain his strength.

 

Life is pain, Thalassa! You know this, more than any other. You were not always so merciful. How many kingdoms have you consumed without a second thought? Did you heed their warning bells? How many of your children have perished, and so many of them at your own hand?

 

All of them.

 

And look at you, all those wept tears. You know you can’t escape it, any more than they could. And what of our siblings, our peers? They are likewise no more; forgotten... or worse. It’s just us now. He has to remember and he must atone for what he has done and restore the balance.

 

And the girl?

 

She is his motivator.

 

Is that all? They care for each other. Love each other.

 

I am aware of that; I was there as much as you were and I’m not blind. She is ,ultimately, equally as important as he is. But we have more pressing matters before we can look to repairing that rift. One that is more your concern than mine. For your sake I hope that that love of theirs is as strong and enduring as our bond.

 

Does she wait for him there?

 

Not this time.

 

His heart longs for her. To make him go there, hopeful and to find it was for naught?

 

It won’t be much for longer; she will be back soon.

 

The Sea sighed. Selene was right, there was an order to these things. The first and most pressing thing was the expulsion and hopefully the destruction of that festering evil.

Whence it had originated, she knew not. It was possibly as old as she was, emerging as she was young and carefree; too distracted by life to care about whatever evil might be brewing in the world beyond her shores. A master of cunning and deceit, it had changed forms over the ages, infiltrating the good, corrupting the pure, and disrupting delicate balances that had been long taken for granted. It was probably too much to hope for its total destruction. Maybe they might be able to weaken it enough so that its next attempt was met with a stronger resistance, until eventually it diminished to no more than a mild irritation; the voice reduced to nothing more than the buzzing of flies. While it was trapped and confined, there was still a chance for victory. 

Selene probably suspected her ultimate hopes for her two favourites; that they might somehow become avatars of sorts for their lost kin, taking on some of their gifts and roles. It was far-fetched indeed, but even elementals had their dreams. Otherwise what was the point of lingering? She could have lost herself in the ether long ago; leaving the waters a mindless thing, with never a care given for those on or in it. Maybe that would have been a kinder fate for herself; it would have spared her so much pain. But giving up because of a little discomfort was never her way.

She gently and reluctantly roused Kylo from his slumber. His features, that forever to her always seemed to be those of a much younger boy, twisted into a scowl, his age briefly catching up with him. The sea sighed, and flowed out of the cave; signalling for him to follow and place himself at her sister’s not so tender mercies.




Chapter Text

when I have nowhere to hide

then I think of the words that you told me

when I said I was a boy


not a man
who knows what he can
and what he cannot do
'cause I don't even know who I am

when I don't know who I am
then I think of the words that you told me
when I stepped out of the boat

tried to walk on the waves
but I sank
Oh I sank
deeper into the grave of my thought

When I am deep in the grave of my thought
I try to think of the words that you told me
that day in my kitchen

Eveningsong - Hymns from Nineveh


VII

Rift and Recollection

 

Please , promise you’ll come back to me.”

Pathetic…

 

“I’ll try.”

LIAR!

 

Kylo woke with a start; the single word screamed with such venom that it jerked him from his deep sleep. He clasped his head in his hands as he was wont to do, though this time it was not to try to hold on to rapidly evaporating memories but to bolster himself against ones that just wouldn’t leave him. He thudded his hand covered face on to the edge of deep rock pool. He would rather not relive their parting. Why did he persist in doing this to himself?

 

His mind was a maelstrom. Their last exchange was punctuated by his own worst self’s remarks. Replayed now in his mind, he could hear it was a duel between the two parts of him that had been wrenched apart.

 

He felt trapped, caught between the boy and the monster. The monster blamed the boy for his existence and lashed out, determined to prove his strength by being as dreadful as possible, rightfully angry with he who had left him for dead on the shore. Usually something strove to keep the anger at bay to allow the boy to rise to the surface, to keep the monster subdued. But it was awake now, aware and at work.

 

It wasn’t you she cared for and wanted, it was the boy. The boy who was weak and foolish and doesn’t deserve her. The boy, who, when push came to shove, wouldn’t protect those he loved the most. He thought of himself first.

 

You don’t deserve her either. It was futile though, this battling with himself. No part of him deserved her. He wanted her though, with such a strong sense of possessiveness that it surprised and even scared himself.

 

I was the one who took action when the boy hesitated. It was that part of you that is me.

 

Was he really both of them? Would she, could she love both of him? Maybe he wasn’t trapped with the two disparate entities after all. Just the one soul tormented by a past and present that were so at odds with each other.

 

He’d told himself he had been making it up as he went along, when he had been with her; but really was he tapping into that darker, more knowing part of himself? A well of desire  had always been there even before he had changed. She had responded to those darker impulses. Oh, how she had responded to it. Just thinking of it made his pulse race; he swallowed deeply and licked his lips, to no avail.  All traces of her had long since been washed away and taken from him.

 

He tried to calm himself, to simply breathe, to not think. He strove not to allow himself to be ruled by the angry, frustrated part of him, the part The Voice whipped up to serve as its emissary when its direct influence was diminished.

 

His mind drifted back to the dream his mind had brought to him after their parting.

 

He had been standing in his favourite spot above the house, where he would come and sit and read, or just watch and listen to the sea when his mind was churning over things. She had been there, he was certain of it, standing on the cliff with him. Close enough that he could smell her, could feel how the air moved around her, gently caressing the loose strands of hair around her ear and cheek. But as he had turned to face her he had heard another man’s voice calling to her and she… she had gone, to that voice.

 

But it had not been willingly , a softer presence reminded him, seeking to reassure him.

 

As he had turned towards her, he too had spoken.

 

Again just her name but loaded with so much more.

“Is it really you?”

“Are you coming back?”

“Do you still want me?”

 

And out of the corner of his eye he had for the briefest of moments only seen her hand, fingers outstretched grasping for purchase as she had struggled and had said: “No.”

 

She did not want to leave

 

But she did leave. This isn’t over yet, it’s just us now. His retreating anger shot back.

 

Stop twisting things!

 

Then there were her actual parting words. Not a cruel barb; a Parthian shot designed to drive home his isolation. Though it still struck true; and it hurt, possibly the more, because it showed him that he had been too hasty.

 

“I promise!”

 

Her anger and frustration with him had spurred him on, perhaps more than The Voice ever had; in a twisted way he was determined to prove to her that he wasn’t worth the effort she was clearly willing to invest in him, if she felt that upset. If only he had kept himself in check for a moment longer, had waited, had considered the effect of his words before speaking. If only he had given it to her.

 

Oh gods, the ring… he had dropped it. It was a foolish thing. Some fragment of that previous life. One exchanged tokens, didn’t they? He had felt an intense need to give her something tangible; to demonstrate that no matter what happened or where either of them were, even if he finally succumbed to The Voice and his darker nature… he still… he would always… NO. Even in the confines of his own skull, he still daren’t think it. The Voice would get in there eventually, and It would punish him for presuming so much.

 

The fact that it wasn’t already there, snaking around, rifling though his desires, was a surprise. Perhaps it was content to leave him with his own personal demons and let them  do its dirty work.




The moon was drawing him out again, like a reluctant mongrel on a leash; how long had he slept? It was just as well really if he was subdued, he couldn’t lash out and harm anyone.

 

Resigned to his fate, he made the journey back; he almost didn’t notice the lack of pain, until he felt the pang on seeing that she was not there.

 

Why would she be?

 

But even if she was not there, there was something else.

 

There had been many changes in the weeks since he had last been there. Spotlit in moonlight, the house had been cleared of the choking shrubs and rubble. The broken window was partially covered. The sagging, impotent roof was gone.

 

To one side, the top covered in a heavy tarp was a large, neat stack of bricks. The whole cove looked expectant, like a flowerbud on the verge of bursting open with life, full of promise for the future, her promise.

 

He quickly moved up the beach, retracing his steps from a month earlier.  Entering, this time, via the front door, he was assailed by images.

 

To the left was a large open living space with an old battered sofa facing the wood burner and piles of books on everything from naval history and archaeology to feminist theory. Heavy patchwork curtains were moving gently in the breeze.

 

His mother had read him a book as a child, when he had been bedridden for a while with some childhood ailment, about an old house where all the curtains were patchwork and she had taken the idea and run with it. As he had recovered they had sat piecing together squares  of his father’s old shirts and her old dresses and like in the book she had told him stories about when she was younger. Not young, because she was always young to him, but younger. And her madcap schemes that seemed to land her in some sort of trouble with ‘The Man’. He wasn’t sure who ‘The Man’ was. She always very vague on that point. It wasn’t his father that was for sure because he too had been in trouble with ‘The Man’; that was how they had met.

 

Sometimes he wondered if ‘The Man’ was anything like the raspy voice  that was carried on the wind on stormy nights, when something rattled the windows like fingers scraping for purchase. And he would burrow deep under his blankets in the vain hope that they might protect him. 

 

It smelled like her in the house; like freshly ground and brewed coffee. She had tasted bitter and tart, rich and warm when they had kissed. It had been the perfect introduction to her, in a way more so than their interlude out at sea. The memory made him agitated, his darker side’s possessive streak flaring up.

 

She is yours now and she should be here, you should not have let her leave.

 

He closed his eyes for a moment to still himself; there were other memories associated with that aroma, ones that caused him to be drawn to the house and her in the first place.

 

He looked to his right and saw the coffee pot on the aga stove merrily percolating away, a happy gurgle of coffee bouncing in the glass top. Any moment now his father would appear; he always had a sixth sense about when the coffee was ready. That or he’d positioned his work bench outside the kitchen window where he had a good view of it.

 

He’d come in shortly, smelling of sweat and pine sap, the scent of honest toil. His father would clap him on the back, or give him a quick sidelong hug about the shoulders, before moving off to the stove and filling his mug. Kylo both longed and dreaded to see him again.

 

He looked away from the stove, to focus on other, less painful objects.

 

The boy’s books covered the oak table. He was always studying, or doodling, or daydreaming. Until his father would drag him out for some fresh air and they would spend time in comfortable silence, either helping brace a door his father was planing, or out in the boat that his father had made long before he was born. The boat his mother called barely seaworthy.

 

His mother didn’t want them to go out that last time. That much he did remember in heart-wrenching detail.


 

Saturday, March 5th, 1977

 

“I have a bad feeling about this,” his mother intoned, her voice catching slightly on the last word. Ben found his eyes drawn to her hands. She was fidgeting with them in a way that was most unusual for her. She was always so poised. But now she was digging the nails of one hand into the flesh of the palm of the other, hard enough to make Ben wince. It was as if she was trying to use the pain to distract herself.



“You know, the weather doesn’t look too good, Dad,” Ben suggested. It wasn’t a lie to appease his mother. There really were threatening clouds hovering thick,  low, and unmoving on the horizon. They were curiously untouched by the breeze around them, and the stronger gusts that were chopping the grey-green surface further out to sea.

 

As he studied them, the clouds began to look less like an amalgam of  water vapour and more like the great bulk of some ancient malevolent leviathan; biding its time, muscles coiling as it readied itself to pounce on any unsuspecting prey that strayed too close.  Almost like the descriptions of the sea serpent, Morgawr that had been reportedly sighted around Falmouth two years previously. The other side of the county or not, hoax or not, his uncle’s words from their conversation earlier echoed in his brain, filling him with dread; “He is coming.”

 

However, Ben knew his father was itching to get out on the water again; the threat of a little, or even a lot, of rain and wind weren’t going to stop him. According to him he’d sailed through hurricanes and thunderstorms in his youth.

 

But he’d not had much of a chance of late, what with work being so busy, made more so without Ben’s help; and then there was Luke’s… episode.

 

From the radio in the kitchen the strange whispered chorus of Chanson D’Amour took on a bone chilling quality, worthy of M.R. James:

Here in my heart, ra da da da da, more and more.

 

Ra da da da!

Ra da da da!


He is coming soon! His uncle’s strangled whisper had cautioned.

 

Ben shuddered; he really had read those stories at a far too impressionable age. His mind was now swimming with visions of waxy, skeletal thin hands, with razor like nails; reaching for him, clawing at his shirt.

 

He looked to his father to see those reassuringly warm and alive eyes. His mother worried that they didn’t talk enough, father to son. But they did communicate, in their own way, with looks and gestures. His father’s trademark in-motion, sidelong hug, the slap on the back that seemed to help reset everything when he was hunched over the table ruminating on a tricky passage; they were all little reminders of his father’s presence and, by extension, his love.

 

Seeing the determined set of his father’s jaw and the pleading look he was giving, and eager to move out of hearing distance of the radio, Ben gave a him a weak grin and went to make the little boat ready. Who knew when they’d next have the time or opportunity. He already had two summer jobs lined up in Cambridge, teaching English and helping catalogue archives in one of the smaller libraries. He probably wouldn’t be back home for a while, possibly not until Christmas. Spending a hour or two tacking up and down the coast with his father was the least he could do.  Chewie, fur flying about him, bounded along by his side and jumped into the boat, just as excited as his father, it would seen.

 

“It’ll be fine,” Han assured Leia, as he bent down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Seeing that she was crying, he checked and drew back, brows knit with worry. This was not like her. She was always so strong, she had weathered so much, borne so much heartache and loss seemingly without a second thought. Had he been blind to the toll it had all taken on her?

 

“Hey! What is it?”

 

“I… I just…I feel like there’s something out there… waiting.” She dropped her voice to a whisper so no one else could hear. “Just like the last time.”

 

She took a deep breath and then drew herself up to her full five feet, two inches; the worry seemed to drop away as she did.

 

“But go. You two need this time together. Just take care of him, and yourself.”

 


Kylo shuddered.

“Just like the last time…”

 

The scene dissolved like ink in water before his eyes. Gone was the warm, welcoming kitchen; replaced by the dark, empty husk of the house. Gone was the boy; replaced by a monster. And gone were his parents; replaced by… nothing, he had seen to that well enough.

 

He looked around once more. There was the spot where she had lain that night. Roughly where the table had been, where the boy had spent many hours with his head bent low over books, deep in concentration.

 

The volume of memory fragments began threatening to overwhelm him. It was like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture, or even all the pieces, in the dark. All he had to go by was the feel of the edges; that,  and trial and error.

 

He’d much rather dwell on his own, solid, certain memories of this place. Not the ephemeral things that by turns teased and tormented him with hints of another life. He’d rather remember Rey in her ridiculous cocoon, and how she had emerged, resplendent, from all those layers on the beach…

 

But even that was more a punishment than a solace. He now ached for her, for her presence, her touch, her taste, for a release he knew he couldn’t have.

 

Still, all this had to be a sign, some message to him. If the house was being rebuilt - remade - then perhaps he could be as well. If she was willing to do this for him; could he not somehow do the same for her?

 

Assuming she is even doing it for you. You wait and see. She will return with that other man. He will fill her belly and your house with his children and you will become little more than a scary bedtime story used to keep them in line. A cautionary tale.

 

His better nature parried the cruel conjecture with a stone, cold truth, straight from her own, warm lips.

 

“I’ve been dreaming of someone like you nearly my whole life.”

 

So raw, open and honest; and then she had kissed him back on that very spot where the boy had sat, chewing on a pen while he dreamt of a girl like her . The girl who had inspired those thoughts that shocked his mother. The kind of girl he’d be willing to die for. In all the little ways, if she so allowed; and in that one more permanent way, if only it meant keeping her safe.

 

And if they had indeed been dreaming of each other, all this time, perhaps there was still some hope: for dreams, for them.

 

If he could somehow reconcile those parts of him; the storm and the calm, the protector and the protected, the possessor and the possessed, the giver and the taker, the boy and the monster… would that do? Would it be enough? Would he be strong enough?

 

He honestly didn’t know; but he was nonetheless resolved to try. In his heart he knew he could not deny what he was now; nor could be deny what he had once been, as much as he might like to pretend. He was that weak and foolish boy. Those were the foundations on which the tormented creature he now was had been built; the clay from which he had been formed. He would have to be prepared to fight, against his own worst self, if need be; he would fight for her.

 

But fighting what he had hated had not served him well for many years, it had merely left him vulnerable. He would, instead, fight for what he loved; he would keep her in his heart as he wrestled with himself and resisted The Voice’s taunts and commands; and this time, this time he would remake himself into something balanced. He wouldn’t be able to rely on external forces for ever; this was something he would have to do alone.

 

Chapter Text

Doom is dark and deeper than any sea—dingle.

The Wanderer - W.H. Auden

 

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

Sonnet 116 - William Shakespeare

 

 

Solicitation and Secrets

 

Thursday, March 5th 1863

 

It was a bitterly cold evening and Mab’s spectacles steamed up as soon as she crossed the threshold into the warm pub. She removed them and wiped the condensation from them on her apron as she moved towards the bar.

 

“What’s all this about? I’ve got a baby due in Treahchto I’ve got to get to.” She demanded. Mab was more than a little annoyed; really, Raymus knew better than to summon her with such a vague and possibly frivolous message of being ‘needed at the pub’, especially in the evening, and on this evening in particular to boot. The child she was to deliver had been long awaited, and by more than just its parents.

 

Mab replaced her thick spectacles and noticed to her bemusement that all the patrons were concentrated at the far end of the pub. Granted the fireplace down that end was larger but at least a few might be found propping up the bar near the admittedly smaller fire by the door.

 

Warmer now, she loosened the thick woollen shawl she had drawn tightly about herself. In her irritated state of mind, she had not immediately perceived the distinct edge to the atmosphere when she had first entered; everything was subdued and muffled, her ears felt strangely water logged. The men clustered around the fire at the back were hunched over their tankards, a few had looked up when they heard the door open and then hurriedly averted their gaze. Two of them; young Biggs, a newly minted officer, home on leave from the Navy, who would ordinarily have bounded over to greet her with a bear-like hug and Laze, the slightly older blacksmith who was also usually good for a warm greeting, appeared to curl in on themselves like beaten dogs.

 

Mab’s feet, whose dancing days were long over, were beginning to tingle in warning, gooseflesh rose on her well covered arms, and she was on the verge of turning on her heel and heading straight back out the door into the night when the barman moved down the bar towards her, hesitantly and looking apologetic. As he drew close she saw that he looked drawn and ill. Mab wondered if she had in fact been called to deal with some sickness.

 

“I’m sorry Mab, a gentleman was asking to see you. Insisted really.” He said shaking his head in sorrow before he jerked his chin up, indicating the settle in the nook beside the door.

 

He lowered his voice, “he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

 

Mab craned forward, eyes narrowing as she met his; she’d never seen the man look so terrified in all his life, and he was a big, burly, tree of a man, as solid and unwavering as an oak, who saw off excise men without so much as batting an eyelid.

 

“What’s the matter Raymus?”

 

She drew back sharply, “What did you tell him?” she whispered.

 

There was a polite cough behind her and Raymus’s eyes widened in alarm, sweat beading on his brow as he began to back away murmuring “Bucca Dhu”, while Mab slowly turned to see who had requested her presence.

 

He was leaning back in the high backed settle; all she could see of the stranger were the long, thin fingers that drummed on the edge of the table. They looked and sounded less like fingers than aged vellum wrapped around sticks. He wore a heavy gold ring on one hand, set with a rough stone that was as dark as pitch.

 

It was usually a cosy nook where she was wont to sit herself; holding court, Raymus would joke, when she had a moment to spare from her myriad of tasks and roles in the area. But now it had been polluted by this...personage. It seemed as if even the light of the fire was loath to come too close, or was somehow being absorbed by the unusual gemstone.

 

“You asked to speak with me, Sir?” she said, tamping down the sense of dread that was rising like bile in her throat.

 

The gentleman leant forward. She felt her breath catch and she barely managed to suppress a shudder. There was nothing gentle about the figure before her. To look at him, she would have easily believed him to be even older than her. He was almost completely bald, A few straggling hairs were deliberately laid over the top of his dome-like head in some perverse affectation of vanity. His skin was paper-thin, with a jaundiced, waxy tinge; and he had slightly bloodshot eyes that bored into hers. His suit was black, but he sported a patterned gold neckcloth even more opulent than the archbishop’s Easter Day stole. It struck her as almost obscene.

 

“Ah yes, the local wise woman.” He intoned. She wasn’t sure if he was insulting her or praising her; most probably he intended the latter but meant the former.

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Sir,” she replied with as much deference as she could muster. She wanted to be as far from this... creature as she could be, as quickly as she could be. He wasn’t a man, of that she was certain, and whether he had ever been one was open to debate. He felt like evil incarnate; ancient and twisted. The longer she spent in his presence the more unnerved she became. The longer he remained here, in the village or indeed the world at large, the more his corrupting influence would surely take root. She felt a prickly chill run over her.

 

“No? I hear you are the one who can enlighten me as to all your...quaint local ways.” His tone was sickly sweet and cloying.

 

She bristled. Quaint indeed, to one like him who no doubt lived a soft life in the city. Their ways meant the difference between life and death. Clever, though, to make her angry and cloud her mind, distracting her from discerning what he really was. If she could get a good look at him, his eyes, perhaps she could.

 

Sensing her growing irritation he raised one sepulchral hand. “My apologies. My name is Professor Noakes. Here is my card.”

 

She adjusted her thick spectacles and squinted at the thick gold-edged card he was holding out to her. She took it carefully, every atom of her being screaming at her to avoid touching him.

 

Prof. Albert Noakes

Kings College, Cambridge

 

“I’m a fellow there,” he added by way of explanation. “I am lately returned from a tour of Europe; doing research on folklore.”

 

That didn’t impress her, much to his apparent chagrin; his indulgent smile twisting almost imperceptibly. She remembered another visitor from Cambridge; Baring-Gould, who had been to the area on a similar mission not so long ago. He not been a bad sort. Everyone who had spoken with him had thought well of him. No one had reacted to him like this; farmers and sailors alike had happily shared tales of pixies and bogeys with that other scholar over copious flagons. To see even those whose sense about such things had been watered down through the generations restive, and huddled in the far corners, worried her no end.  She should have known better.

 

She suspected that this Noakes - and she would swear on her grave and on all the holy places that that was not at his true name, close but not quite - wanted more, far more, than she was willing to give him. As she handed the card back, he waved it away.

 

“No, keep it. I insist.”

 

Mab schooled her features into the barest hint of a show of gratitude, her teeth grinding behind her pursed lips. Damnation. Now she would be honour bound to accept it and give something in return.

 

She longed to toss the foul thing in the fire but she didn’t and instead she shoved the card into her apron pocket. As she did so  she caught the flash of intense satisfaction in his eyes. He knew .

 

Noakes slowly leaned back in the settle, steepling his fingers. He held her gaze in a icy vice-like grip for an interminable length that seemed to stretch both back and forth through time.

 

Mab found herself unable to blink and the heat from the fire began to make her eyes itch and prickle. At the back of her mind, unheard by any living ears, a shrill cacophony of desolate, tormented voices implored her to run, but she couldn’t. She was bound by some strange force that felt sickeningly familiar. In spite of the warmth from the blaze behind her and her heavy shawl she felt the blood in her veins turn to ice, and her bones grow steadily heavier.

 

“And now, my dear lady I would like you to tell me everything about your local customs and practices...”

“Quick! Get her a brandy!”

 

Mab felt her vision swimming back into focus; the strong, warm, arms of the living were helping her up. Someone put a glass to her lips.

 

“Mab! Mabel! Are you ok?” Raymus was patting her hand.

 

“What happened?” She croaked. She felt dreadful; like her mind had been extracted, spread out and then hastily and carelessly stuffed back into her head.

 

“You collapsed. Fainted.” replied another.


“Nonsense, I never faint! Where is he?” Mab retorted, her voice trembling. A heavy knot began to form in the pit of her stomach, dreading the inevitable response.

 

Raymus and the others looked around. The settle was empty; in the commotion or perhaps beforehand, the repellent visitor had contrived to slip out of the pub.

 

Cold dread washed like a wave over her, and she dropped back down on the flagstones. The knot in her stomach clenched in realisation. She couldn’t remember what she had said exactly, but she suspected what his goal might be.

 

“How long has he been gone? Oh gods, what have I done? Quick! someone has to warn them!” She exclaimed as she attempted to scramble back to her feet.

 

“Warn who?” Raymus and the others looked to each other in confusion and discomfort; they had never in their lives seen Mab upset, let alone hysterical. She was a calming constant in their lives, having been the one to usher every single one of them into this world, as well as having seen more than her fair share out of it.

 

It was unflappable Mab they all looked to in times of distress. And now, to their consternation and mounting concern, she was the one blanching and wringing her apron in uncharacteristic agitation.

 

“Treahchto!” She managed to croak as her legs gave way under her again, her voice breaking as the tears and realisation overcame her.



 

Chapter Text

I remember visiting this hidden cove on holiday as a child and finding it so beautiful but so sad that the house there was in ruins. I was overjoyed when returning this summer with my own family to find that not only has it been renovated but is now a charming little coffee kiosk. It’s the ideal place to stop for a rest while on the coastal walk.

It was so lovely to relax with a warm drink and watch the sea while our kids played with the owners’ own three children.

___

 

"Journeys end in lovers meeting,

Every wise man's son doth know."

 

Twelfth Night - William Shakespeare

 

--

Art thou dreaming of me?

For sleeping or waking,

Sweet love, I am coming to thee!

 

The Sailor’s Return - Sydney Thompson Dobell

__

 

Restoration and Reminiscence 

 

Saturday, May 23rd 2015

Rey was leaning against her car in the Sword in the Stone car park, waiting for Finn and Poe and the boys to arrive. Lunchtime and the hastily eaten sandwich were both far too long ago and she was beginning to feel slightly cranky. The drive had been long and tedious. It had seemed like everyone, their grandmother, as well as ‘their sisters and their cousins and their aunts’ were also bound and determined to head to the southwest for half term. Didn’t they realise that she had a very real and pressing need to get where she was going?

This time, so she was not at the mercy of the whims of the traitorous radio, she had come prepared with a curated playlist, on shuffle. Though it still managed to play nothing but Queen songs for the entire duration of her time on the M25; much of it spent in stopped traffic making a second breakfast of her emergency cheese sandwiches.

She had bounced merrily along in her seat along to ‘Fat-bottomed girls’ and then ‘Flash Gordon’ until the next song caused her to pause.

Can anybody find me somebody to love

Ooh, each morning I get up I die a little

Can barely stand on my feet

Rey sucked a deep breath through her teeth and was about to move the playlist along when the traffic started moving again and she was subjected to repeated entreaties for ‘someone to love’.

“Bloody hell! I’m on my way!” she grumbled to no one in particular and the universe at large.

Then, as if to rub it in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ played next and she found herself gripping the steering wheel as she found herself for the first time ever, really listening to the lyrics rather than waiting for her cue to vigorously nod her head like an idiot, which she didn’t do because she was driving and trying very hard to concentrate on the road rather than the obvious message and any subtext, she was beginning to suspect the car’s entertainment system was trying to impart.

After a while, once she was well out of London’s orbit and the universe seemed satisfied with her course, the tracks were innocent enough. She’d even thrown some Rachmaninov into the mix for good measure. Of course it would be the music made famous by Somewhere In Time

Great work, Rey she thought to herself.

 

As she had pulled into the carpark ‘Poor Wand’ring One’ was about half way through and Mabel Stanley was in the middle of her rather over-blown aria; offering herself as a potential bride for lovesick-for-anything-around-the-age-of-17-but-not-over (and certainly not 47) Frederick. If she hadn’t wasted all that time they could have left before the pirates’ arrival; then again, Rey thought, where was the fun in that? Frederick was rather dull; the Pirate King was much more her style.

 

 

When she had broken the news to the boys that she was not going to be living with them forever and ever as they had initially hoped and assumed, she had the face the painful task of explaining  that she was moving to Cornwall, and then showing them where it was exactly on the map. They had balked at the distance but perked up at the mention of the sea-side. Poe had joked that she was joining the Pirates of Penzance. This pronouncement was met by blank looks form the boys.

Finn giggled and made a reference to Danger Mouse that only he and Rey understood. Rey managed to stop him, just as he continued on the theme of cartoon pirates, from making a highly innuendo laden reference to Captain Pugwash.

“Master B-”

“Stop it! Right now Finn!” Rey’s eyes flashed, as she furiously and silently attempted to remind him of their mixed company and tried very hard not to double up in laughter. There were aspects of living in this busy, noisy house she was going to miss very much.

Meanwhile, shocked at the egregious gap in his sons’ musical knowledge and muttering, “what do they teach them at these schools,” Poe began googling for clips to show them. He found a YouTube clip of a very young and energetic Tim Curry as the Pirate King which they all enjoyed a great deal, and Rey suspected that her younger self would have been cruelly torn in her devotion between him and Kevin Kline.

Older Rey figured Tim Curry’s Pirate King probably - no definitely - would have made a sexy Kyloctoptus for himself, selfish bastard.

 

 

She’d eaten a third of a block of Red Leicester that evening sitting up in bed while reading  ‘ The Devil’s Cub ’. It was a regency romance with no absolutely no hints of magic or mythical sea creatures but it did feature a dark and highly dangerous ‘hero’ who seemed to be mostly made of scowls and growls. She could almost imagine Kylo being like him in another life; a commanding presence, prone to seemingly irrational outbursts of anger and a penchant for abduction, but at his core, and ultimately, a somewhat honourable scoundrel - if such a thing was even possible.  

That night, she found herself once again on the cliff top path, the long sought-after figure was finally back; waiting, or watching, it was hard to tell. Her heart soared until she found herself strangely rooted to the spot and unable to utter a single sound no matter how hard she tried. As her calls turned to exhausted, silent sobs, he remained there, beyond her reach, unmoving. Eventually the scene melted away as she drifted into a deeper sleep and the next thing she knew it was morning and her eyes were puffy and itchy.

 

 

 

Rey allowed the song to play to its conclusion before switching off the music and getting out of the car to stretch cramped muscles.

When she had set off, early that morning, the others were also ready to go; Poe had been sitting in the driver’s seat, rolling his eyes dramatically at her and impatiently tapping the steering wheel, while Finn dashed back into the house to fetch some last item or other the boys couldn’t bear to be without for even a long weekend. She figured they couldn’t have been more than five minutes behind her.

Given that Poe drove as if his car had a supercharged turbo engine hidden in it somewhere, she was certain, even with extra breaks for the boys, that they should turn up soon. She had only accepted a lift from Poe once, and what a journey it had been; she could have sworn that they had actually started pulling Gs each and every time he pulled away from a fresh green light.

Rey lifted one hand to shield her eyes against the mid afternoon sun as she scanned the road. It was noticeably warmer today than back in early March; even with the cool breeze coming in off the coast. And unlike then, she was armed with significantly more than an aeropress, some camping gear and a half empty tote bag.

Her car was packed to the brim with boxes of books, clothes, bedding and coffee making paraphernalia; approximately half her worldly possessions. The rest, yet more books, pots and pans, dishes, linens and assorted bric-a-brac, as well as her laptop, were all in the back of Finn and Poe’s far more spacious family car.

Rey had laughed when they had traded in Poe’s flashy little sports car for a people carrier with room enough for seven when they had adopted the boys eighteen months earlier, but she was more than grateful for it now.

If she thought it was strange what had happened to them over the last year or so, it felt like it was nothing compared to the changes the last eight weeks had had in store for her; and in the back of her mind, what was to follow.

Within a fortnight of her initial meeting with the slight perplexing Mr. Peavey, she had signed the paperwork instructing them to handle the sale; and in a rare display of organisation and haste otherwise unknown among solicitors, the contracts had been exchanged. She found herself all at once in a sea of boxes madly packing up her thankfully meagre belongings; which would be stored in Finn and Poe’s loft, where she was staying until she was able to move down to Cornwall.

She had then spent a few weeks emailing, then skyping with Rose Tico as work on the house got underway. The ever resourceful Mitaka had managed to track down the floor plans from when the previous owners had bought the house in the early 1950s, more for the amusement value than anything else. But she had fallen in love with the open layout of the downstairs and decided to stay as faithful to the original plans as possible. Dopheld had even found an old photo of the interior, showing a sun-filled, spacious kitchen.

It transpired that the previous owner’s husband had been a master carpenter and cabinet maker. The local newspaper had done a feature on his work, which included a large image of a beautiful oak dining table. Cearly the photographer was an aficionado of capturing real life with all its mess, rather than the hyper-curated images one saw on Pinterest or Instagram; the table had obviously just been vacated; with a pile of open textbooks, a notebook and some pens hastily pushed to one side.

The snapshot of domesticity had affected her so much that it had ignited a desire to recreate it for herself; to the point where she had Rose on the lookout for a vintage aga stove to match the one in the picture. Bookish clutter she could supply herself. All she needed to complete the cosy image she had forming in her mind, of life in the house, was an old-fashioned, stove top percolator and a dark haired... man who would never be able to enter the house without pausing to pour himself a mug from it, and of course checking if she needed a top up; she did have a shocking tendency to let perfectly good coffee go cold when she was deep in the guts of some code.

The house’s footprint was also far larger than she had realised; so much of it had been choked with brambles and shrubs. There was also a photo showing the house’s exterior; a surprisingly long, low building with bright white-washed walls contrasting with the dark, grey slate-tile roof from which poked two pairs of dormer windows, nestled at the foot of the cliff. Behind it she could make out what looked like tall buddleia plants; presumably the progenitors of the ones that had, over the intervening years invaded the remains of the house.

It turned out that what she had supposed, that night in the milky moonlight, to be the remains of the far wall beside the the front door sill, had in fact been the tumbled remains of a short section of internal wall between the large kitchen and the living room. To her disappointment, there were no other photos of the interior.

The only major change Rose’s sister, Paige, had to make, in order to comply with twenty first century building regulations, was to raise the walls of the second storey so that the upstairs now had a bit more height to it. The bedrooms up there may have fine for children or short adults; but Rey was on the tall side and didn’t fancy braining herself on a regular basis.

The house was still far from ready; the rubble and detritus had been cleared from the site, and new support beams for the second storey had just gone in a week earlier when she had, completely out of the blue, received a phone call from Maz offering her the spare bedroom at the pub until the house was ready, in exchange for no more than occasional help around the place.

Rey didn’t hesitate to accept Maz’s invitation, though the announcement that she was leaving sooner than expected did not go down at all well with Tim and Owen. They had revelled in nightly bedtime stories with her as well having her around all the time; she had also taken over the school run for Finn who was easing back into working full time again. The boys hadn’t fully grasped implication of her selling her house, hoping, it seemed, that she would be living with them for a lot longer than a couple of weeks, if not forever.

Gwen had been as good as her slightly slurred word in the pub the afternoon Rey had unceremoniously quit her job. She had started work with a new software consultancy firm a fortnight later; and had already hired Rey for some coding work at a daily rate that had eased Rey’s money worries considerably, especially after the nasty surprise she had had seeing how much the rewiring and plumbing was going to cost. With one project under her belt and another due to start in a few weeks’ time, she was feeling much more confident about that aspect of the future. There was still one unknown though; but she was hopefully that that might, to some degree, be resolved--sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

Rey leant against her car, distractedly tapping one foot. It seemed as if she had been standing there for hours, but a quick glance at her watch annoyingly showed that barely ten minutes had passed.

She was itching to take Finn, Poe and the boys for a walk along the coastal path, to see the breathtaking view and the cove again; and to see their reaction on seeing it. Plus she was dying to see for herself how the building work was coming along.

The photos and videos Rose had been sending her were all very well and good, but it wasn’t the same. Her body ached for all the sensations of being back in the cove; she wanted nothing more than to feel and hear the shingle shift below her feet, the gentle tug of the  breeze in her hair and smell and taste of the salt in the air. All the while, she waited for some manifestation of his presence, no matter how minor; a shadow cast on the water or a change in the sound of the waves. As close as she was now, somehow she felt as if she’d never been further away; the gulf between them still seemed impossibly vast. She would not be fully satisfied until she was able to touch him and hold him again. In the back of her mind an annoying voice buzzed and taunted; reminding her that she was being foolish, that she was pinning all her hopes on someone who couldn’t possibly exist. And even if they did, she was no one; and so could never figure in such a fantastical story.

Rey sighed deeply in resignation and, shoving her hands shoved deep into her coat pockets, began to pace around her car to break the monotony. She frowned when her fingers found the right hand pocket empty of the sea-glass that never failed to banish such thoughts. She must have forgotten to put it in her pocket that morning.

She halted her circuit and, gripped in a mounting wave of panic, wracked her brain as to where it could be. Every night she clasped it tightly as she drifted off to sleep and each morning before turning the bed back into a sofa she would put it… she shook her head. The drive had left her feeling dull and sluggish. Where had she put it?

All she could could feel was the ache from the deep furrow her brow had settled into, and the pain of her heart flinging itself against her chest in spiraling distress. The inexplicably comforting sea-glass and the note were the only reassurances she had that that life changing encounter had been real.

Her attention was  unexpectedly recalled by a familiar voice hailing her.

“Ms. Greene!”

Rey glanced around to see Mr. Canady on the footpath, on the opposite side of the road. At least she thought it was him, he certainly looked far... healthier than the last time she had seen him. The familiar, tell-tale ruddiness across his nose and cheeks was gone and he looked like he’d even lost some weight.

The jovial greeting and the unexpected change in Canady’s appearance and demeanour took her by surprise; her face untwisted itself, and Rey felt the cloud of worry lift and ebb away.

Canady jogged across the road and taking her hand, warmly shook it.

“I’m so glad to see you! I understand from Maz that you’ll be staying with her for the duration of the restoration works on the house.”

“Yes indeed. It was a bit of a surprise to get her call, but a pleasant one.”

“Well, I may have had a hand in that,” he admitted with a slightly mischievous look. “Peavey contacted me to let me know that things progressed rather rapidly with your sale and he thought you might prefer to  be down here. To keep oversee things.”

“Oh!” Rey was taken aback. While she had enjoyed staying with Finn and Poe and the boys, it had been rather jarring to go from living alone to living with four rather loud boys and men. Living out of a suitcase, working at their dining room table while they were at work and school, respectively, and sleeping on the sofa afforded her little opportunity for any meaningful time to herself. 

Rey had found that the longer she was away the more irritable she had been growing; she had overheard Finn and Poe one night, putting it down to female hormones, for lack of any other plausible explanation. Rey knew it was far more akin to the constantly on edge mood of a smoker who had quit, cold-turkey; and was suffering from nicotine withdrawal.

Then there had been a couple of occasions, in the late evening, when she felt such a compelling, visceral need to return to Cornwall that she would abruptly find herself standing at the open front door with her car keys in her hand; and Finn and Poe would be looking to one another in confusion. She’d managed to pass it off by claiming that she was just checking that the resident parking permit was visible on her car’s dashboard. But it was becoming a more and more frequent occurrence. All in all, Maz’s phone call couldn’t have come at a better time.

“That was most kind of you.” Rey said, and she really meant it; anything to speed her return was greatly appreciated.

“Nothing to it! You’re a breath of much needed fresh air, blowing out all the cobwebs in this place, if you don’t mind me saying. Well, I must dash! Mitaka’s been devising a new filing system and I’m to be inducted in to its arcane secrets this afternoon! In fact, I should have been back five minutes ago!” He chuckled before striding off towards the castle.

 

Rey found herself frowning slightly as she gazed after the retreating figure, pondering again how things seemed to be conspiring to ease, and now hasten, her return to the area; when a large VW people carrier swept around the corner into the carpark. Her brow lifted at the sight of the two small faces plastered against the back window and she smiled widely at the muffled whoops of joy.

The boys jumped eagerly from the car, while Finn and Poe emerged a tad more slowly; older backs and knees were creaky and stiff after the long journey.

“Rey!” Owen and Tim yelled with joy as they barrelled into her, both hugging her tightly; as if they hadn’t seen her in over six years when in reality it was only a little over six hours. As was their way they almost immediately they began bombarding her with questions and entreaties.

“Were you waiting long?”

“Where’s the castle?”

“I want to see Merlin’s cave and the dragon!” Tim exclaimed, grabbing her hand.

Once they had completed the Chronicles of Narnia, Rey had started looking for books set in Cornwall, ideally in the vicinity of Tintagel, in an effort to soften the blow of her moving away. It felt cruel, when they were so delighted at having her there for every bedtime, to have to tell them that it was a temporary thing and that she was going to be moving quite far away.

So she had read them Rosemary Manning’s Green Smoke. It was a charming story about a dragon who lived in Constantine Bay just south of Tintagel. The boys - Tim in particular - were now convinced that there had to be a dragon living in the cave near the castle and nothing would dissuade them from this. Tim had even once voiced his belief that Rey was only moving to Cornwall so she could look after the dragon, it being so very lonely after all.

Ordinarily, Owen would have been quite vocal in his derision of such childish notions; being so very old and staring down eight meant that one had a certain image to uphold. But Rey had observed that he had been very mindful lately, about not upsetting or otherwise winding Tim up since the news of her impending departure; and so he was kindly indulging his brother in his fantasy as a result. She felt a sharp pang at this example of familial closeness, and a recurrence of her slight jealousy of these two boys, who had found a family to look after them where she had known no such stability growing up.

That lack of stability had left her torn; reluctant to form deep attachments for fear of the abandonment her inner voice, and to some extent experience, would tell her was inevitable, and yet craving the opportunity to find that person who would understand that fear and would stick by her through thick and thin while she unlearnt that particularly unhealthy defence mechanism.  She needed to be in control, to protect herself; but she wanted to be in the position where she could happily and almost unconsciously cede that power to someone who had her back. She wanted a fairy-tale, she knew. Life didn’t work out like that. If it did, the girl who had been found, ironically, abandoned at the foot of a well known statue in a west London Park would have been immediately adopted into a loving family. Or perhaps her story was one of those where the prize came a little later, if one came at all, and only after much turmoil and heartache.

Perhaps she was chasing a foolish dream, made all the more fantastical by the presence of a Cecaelia, which sometimes she wondered was really a product of her fevered imagination. She was barely back an hour, and already she was second guessing herself. It will be fine , she remonstrated with herself, at the very least she was out of London, embarking on a fresh start in a place that, usually, soothed her. The cove, remember how happy you were in the cove , she reminded herself, once you get back there you will feel better .

 

“Rey? Can we go? Please?” Tim repeated, as he began to tug insistently on her arm.

“Sorry, where did you want to go?” Rey asked, her head foggy with swirling doubts and worries.

“The cave ,” Tim reminded her with no little exasperation.

Remembering Finn’s accident as a child, and knowing how much he worried about the boys, Rey denied their request; quickly, yet as gently as possible. “We may pass near it, but it’s next to impossible to get down to it safely.”  

Tim looked downcast. She crouched down and gave him a conspiratorial wink, “besides, he may be sleeping and not want to be disturbed.”

His face immediately brightened at this suggestion.“So there is a dragon? Have you been in the cave?” he asked, his eyes as wide as saucers.

Rey shook her head.  “No, but I’ve seen it, the cave’s entrance that is. It’s a deep, dark hole in the cliff.”

“That’s what she said,” Poe muttered in Rey’s ear as she straightened up, causing her to violently snort with laughter as Tim and Owen look on, confused. She gave him a playful slap on the chest with the back of her hand. “You really are the worst,” she gasped.

“Guilty as charged.” He responded, flashing her a grin. “Shall we get the car unloaded then? Where is this pub? Not too far I hope.”

Rey managed to recompose herself enough to point at the building across the road. “It’s right over there. The Castle .”

“Thank God for that. Right then, everyone grab something! Let’s try and get this done in a few trips as possible.”

 

They lumbered across the road, each of the adults carrying a heavy box. Just as Poe was about to push into the pub, the door opened without warning; and an older man, who Rey recognised as the ‘Rabbit-man’ from her previous visit, emerged, hastily dodging Poe and his burden as he did so. He cast them a silent, dour look, shaking his head in apparent annoyance; and then he stomped off around the side of the building. Poe just shrugged and carried on into the building; the rest hard on his heels.

Despite the warm day a small fire was blazing merrily in the grate; from time to time it fizzled and popped. There was a warm, spicy smell in the air; a faint aroma of cinnamon and cloves as if Maz was baking gingerbread though it was altogether the wrong time of year.

The boys, who were half-carrying, half-dragging one of Rey’s holdalls between them, unceremoniously dumped it on the ground nearly as soon as they entered the pub had smelt it as well and as one exclaimed. “Cookies!” Then they caught sight of Chewie dozing, unsuspecting, in front of the fire. Animals trumped treats in their book and all at once they were on top of him, subjecting him to hugs and pets. He lifted his head and gave Rey a baleful look.

Rey put down her burden with a little more care and looked about for Maz. “I don’t see her,” she said, half to herself. “Wait here, while I find Maz,” she said a little louder as she moved deeper into the pub.

Finn likewise laid down the box he had been carrying and was looking about the pub, with a expression of bewilderment that caused his husband to give him an enquiring look.

“Oh it’s nothing, just a sense of deja vu” Finn said with a dismissive shrug and shake of his head.

The door behind them pushed open, and the tweedy man leaned in and tapped Poe on the shoulder.

“Thought this might help,” he said, gruffly but not unkindly, indicating a metal trolley he had set down just outside the door.

“You, my friend, are a lifesaver!” Poe exclaimed. “I’ll be back in a moment,” he said to Finn, giving his hand a quick, reassuring squeeze before he ducked outside to make a start on bringing in the rest of the boxes.

Finn looked around; the pub felt strangely familiar. He closed his eyes, better to take in the smells and sounds he was certain he had experienced before. Maybe he had; maybe a part of that ill fated visit when he was younger, that he’d blocked out due to the trauma of the fall. He remembered there had been hushed whispers, about the potential severity of his injuries and his seemingly miraculous survival.

So much of his parenting style - the constant worries about the boys and dangerous mishaps - had been informed by that narrow escape. He had never told anyone all of what he remembered about that day; about the fall and the moments just before and after it. He hadn’t mentioned the figure he had seen, or the arms he had felt catching him; nor the deep voice reassuring him that it - that he - was going to be fine.

He hadn’t been fine; he had been terrified and it had taken a long time before he was fine again. The mysterious rescuer had been right, it was just that it had taken time. But it was still far better than the alternative that had been talked over in hushed tones while...someone manipulated his wrist; they’d all thought he was still unconscious but he had heard every word from broken backs to necks.

 

Rey had returned, a small, wizened woman by her side, whose demeanour belied her appearance; her head was thrown back in laughter at something Rey had just said, in a manner that reminded him strongly of the boys’ youthful exuberance over zany cartoons.

“Maz, this is my friend…”

The old woman raised a hand to silence her and advanced on him while Rey hung back watching the strange scene unfold.

“Finn...broken wrist, wasn’t it?”

Finn’s left hand automatically went to clasp his right wrist as he nearly stumbled back into the boxes in shock “Y-yes… how?” he stammered.

Maz adjusted her glasses and gave him a slight, knowing smile.  “Who do you think set it?”

She leant forward and grasped his hand to steady him. He squeezed it back, and she gave a satisfied smile and nod as if she had been assessing how well it had healed.

“I was the district nurse at the time,” she said matter of factly, turning it over before letting it drop. Rey got the distinct impression that Maz had held a variety of roles in the area over the years. Landlady seemed to be a logical progression from district nurse.

“Come with me I’ll show you where you can stow Rey’s things.” She bent down and picked up  Rey’s holdall.

 

 

With the trolley they made short work of unloading the two cars and within half an hour the boxes were stored away in a small store room next to the kitchen while Rey tossed the bags she had an immediate need for up in the spare bedroom. She returned to find Finn sitting on a chair with Chewie slobbering into his lap while Tim hung off him arms thrown around the poor beast’s neck. She paused to give him a scratch in that difficult to reach spot at the back of his head.

Poe was standing off to one side, slowly nodding his head from side to side, working out the kink in his neck while he perused the noticeboard near the door.

“Can we get some fudge at the shop Rey told us about?” Owen asked his father.

“No, you don’t need any more sugar. You drank I don’t know how many Capri-Suns in the car on the drive.” Poe replied automatically, his eyes still trained on what was he was reading.

“Hey!” He called out to Rey, “there’s a local Am Dram group. That should keep you busy. It looks like they are planning to stage some Gilbert and Sullivan; Ruddigore. Don’t know that one.” He frowned.

“Oh, that one fell afoul of coming after the Mikado.” Rey supplied as she came up beside him.

“Ah, well yes, that’s a tough act to follow.”

“So, do you want to go for a walk and see the cove?”

“Yes!” cried the boys as one. “Can we bring Chewie as well?”

Rey smiled, reaching for the lead hanging by the door. “sure, why not?”

 

A little while later they set out; Tim and Owen had both attempted to hold Chewie’s leash at the same time, until Finn intervened and it was reluctantly agreed that they should take turns. Then it was the simple, yet fraught matter of deciding who went first. Poe and Finn deferred to Rey to decide, knowing the boys would be less likely to find fault with her choice. While she made a show of her method of choosing she noticed Maz picking up the boys’ discarded coats, and slipping something into the pockets. She wondered if it was some illicit fudge; Maz was just the type, she suspected. Rey finally chose Owen, arguing that Tim had been hugging him so much that it was Owen’s turn with him.

Tim opened his mouth to refute this logic to find Maz popping a piece of fudge in it before helping him into his coat, and he quickly abandoned his objection. Maz then handed Owen his coat and a sweet of his own before bidding them farewell.

Poe was about to voice his own objection about the sweets, but a stern look silenced him. “It’s not a short walk, they’ll need the energy,” Maz explained.

“Oh! Alright. Where’s our candy, then?” He asked, subjecting her to the full radiance of the famous Poe Dameron smile.

“Such a rogue,” Maz laughed, offering the brown paper bag to each of the adults in turn, “you must have your hands full with this one,” she chuckled, elbowing Finn.

Finn just nodded, unable to answer with a full mouth.

“Well then off you go, I can’t stand here gabbing all afternoon. Go! Shoo!”

 

 

For the boys’ benefit they paused briefly near the cave. As per usual Chewie briefly barked at it, while Owen reluctantly agreed that “yes it does look very dangerous.” Tim voiced his opinion that there had to be a way up and down; he lingered a little longer while the others carried on, until a sharp rebuke from Finn caused him to run to catch up with them. Then he and Owen, partially fueled by the heady hit of  sugar, and partially dragged by Chewie, surged ahead of the adults, whooping and laughing.

A few hundred metres along from the cave they encountered the older woman and her companion again.

The woman looked as regal as ever, and to Rey’s relief seemed far less agitated than on their previous encounter. In fact she seemed to barely notice them at all, she was so deep in conversation with her escort.

“The work is coming along nicely, I told you my daughter-in-law had good taste. The house will be perfect when my son returns.”

Rey raised an eyebrow; by the sound of it, hers was not the only property undergoing work at the moment. She wondered if Rose and her sister were involved or one of Canady’s less reliable associates.

They pressed on; but the woman hailed Rey as they passed. She was reluctant to pause too long; Chewie was leading the the boys further out of sight. And she could sense Finn fretting about rabbit holes and cliff edges; no one flinched as loudly as he did.

“Ah, there she is! I’m delighted to see you again. And what a fine entourage you have with you today!” She added giving both Finn and Poe an appraising look.

“Thank you,” Rey responded weakly. She felt a little sorry for her daughter-in-law; for all her frailty, the older woman was clearly a force of nature. The description ‘though she be but little, she is fierce’ popped into Rey’s head. But she seemed, at least, to not fit the stereotype of mothers-in-law who actively disapproved of their daughters-in-law, making their lives a misery; an overabundance of  support and affection was not the worst thing ever.

The younger woman, who Rey remembered as being called Kay, just shrugged and gave her a wan smile as she pushed the wheelchair onwards.

Such a handsome couple. I do hope he doesn’t get the wrong impression. For such a studious boy he could leap to such spectacularly wrong conclusions.”

“Yes Mrs. S., I’m sure he will understand.” came the girl’s kind, yet bored reply.

 

Within few more minutes they caught up with the boys and Chewie. Tim looked distraught as Owen was about to put some piece of brightly coloured plastic he had found to put it to his lips. Finn lurched forward and dashed it from his hand.

“Don’t! You don’t know where it’s been.”

Owen turned to his father with an an affronted look, his eyes flashing momentarily.

Fine turned the object over with his foot, a look of disgust on his face. He then picked it up and flung as far out to sea as he could. As it flew the wind caught it and it made an eerie flute-like sound.

“Owen, You should know better than to do something like that.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled, his chin hanging low against his chest.

“There it is!” Rey suddenly interjected. In all the commotion she had lost track of how close they had come to the cove. She placed her hands on Owen’s shoulders and gently maneuvered him so he could see the curve of the shingle peeking out from under the cliff.

“Where’s the house?” he asked.

“You can’t see it from here, but it’s very close, just down a little narrow road. Tell you what,” she said, as she released him, “let’s see who gets there first.”

With that she darted away, Tim and Chewie hard on her heels. Owen grinned and followed suit while Finn and Poe just shrugged and maintained their sedate pace.

 

 

Rey was sitting, hunched, on a tarp covered pile of two by fours when they emerged from the narrow lane, clasping her side and groaning theatrically; not all of it was a put on, she had pulled something while trying and failing to not be overtaken by the boys.

They, of course, were no worse for wear and had immediately gravitated to one corner of the cove where there was a short natural wall of rocks and already a base had been established for the game they were now playing. Chewie had wrested himself free from the boys and was pacing the water’s edge whining softly as if he was missing something.

As the pain in her side subsided she looked around and took in the changes that had taken place. The buddleia bushes had been ruthlessly cut back during the initial clearance work but they were hardy plants and they were already bouncing back; hints of the cones of bright colours to come already showing. One in particular stood out, its few open flowers a dark, velvety purple.

“Oh wow! Black Knight!” exclaimed Finn, as he reached out to touch it.

He turned to Poe, who was looking somewhat askance at the scene before him, “that’s the one I wanted for the garden.”

“The one we couldn’t find in three garden centres,” Finn continued, this time to Rey who had recovered enough to wander over to them.

“I’ll try and take a cutting for you,” she smiled, “so you can have a little bit of Cornwall.”

“So, this is it.” Poe finally said, his voice flat and lifeless. Rey followed his gaze. To be fair it wasn’t looking its best; the house was a cavernous hollow; just walls, with gaps yet to be filled with window frames, and structural beams ready for the next stage of building. It was surrounded by random piles of wood and pipes and things covered in tarps.

But it wasn’t looking its worst either. Though did lack that certain something that it had in the moonlight. Then again moonlight made everything look so much better. For one dreadful moment she wondered what Kylo would think of her in the bright, harsh sunlight, rather than the forgiving glow of the moon. Would she be very ordinary to him? Too ordinary?

The house as it was now had, if not the mystery and romance of its ruined state, embodied the promise of stability, of a future. Mystery and romance might come later but weren’t really associated with piles of building supplies.

Beside her she heard Poe make a strangled sound. She turned to see him wipe his eyes. “It’s beautiful Rey, I know it’s not finished but…How you’ve sounded when talking about it all these weeks; the enthusiasm and how much happier you’ve been… I know it’s going to be perfect. I can see now what you see.  I’m so happy for you. I know I’m a flippant dick most of the time but I hope this mystery sea...man of yours- ”

Rey gave him a swat.

“Sorry, old habits. I just hope he realises and appreciates what you’ve done. Our loss truly is his gain. And if he doesn’t…”

His melancholy expression turned steely, “I’ll kill him myself.”

 

A cry of “en garde!” followed by a thud cause the adults to turn as one towards the boys and where Owen was swinging what looked old poker about.

“What are you doing?” Finn called out.

“Defending ourselves against the monster,” Owen replied in an exasperated tone.

“What monster?” Poe laughed. Rey stood up a bit straighter, scanning the waters beyond the cove; perhaps the boys had seen Kylo.

“What does it look like?” Rey asked.

The boys seemed to consider this for a moment.

“Kind of like a crocodile,” Tim finally said his voice small and tight, Owen nodded in agreement.

Rey relaxed; Kylo looked nothing like that.

“It hides in the clouds,” Tim elaborated.

“There are barely any clouds today, Tim-tim.” Poe replied, as his younger son retreated back behind some rocks.

“No, but it might still come, so we have to be ready to fight!” Owen said, making a few stabbing motions with the poker.

Poe looked down at his watch, and grimaced. “Oh crap, we need to be getting a move on so we aren't too late checking in at the cottage.” he said apologetically to Rey.

“Don’t worry about it! It’s not like there is anything more to see here.” She replied. “This is it for now.”

“Come on you two, it’s time to head back.” Rey called out as she made her way towards the boy’s den. As she approached she saw that it looked like there was some drift wood wedged between the rocks and the cliff face. Owen was standing guard outside the makeshift structure. She ducked down to where Tim was crouched underneath it, looking worried and pinched. In his hands he was clasping some short twigs bound in a cross with some red thread. She reached out one hand and he clasped it tightly, allowing her to draw him out and into a hug.

“Are you okay, Tim?”

“I don’t like that crocodile monster and I’m worried about you with it around,” he answered in a small voice.

“I’ll be okay, sweetheart, I promise. I can be pretty scary myself, you know.”

“What have you got there? She added, indicating the twigs.

“I don’t know I found it in my pocket. I like it though.”

“I have one too,” Owen said.

“Can I see it?” Rey asked, curious to see what it was Maz had put in their pockets. The twigs were slender and smooth and tipped with silvery buds. A passage from that pamphlet she had read on her first visit sprang to mind:

Rowan crosses bound with red thread were often put in pockets or sewn into coat linings to offer protection against malign spirits.

So Maz felt there was something around here that the boys needed protection against. She dearly hoped it wasn’t Kylo. That might prove somewhat... awkward, to say the least, if people discovered she was consorting with the local boogey monster. Or maybe it was the Morgawr-esque creature the boys had described.

Owen handed Rey the poker. “I think you should have this. To keep. You know, just in case you need it, later.”

He looked so very serious as he did so with a degree of ceremony he had no doubt picked up in the course of their bedtime stories. As her hand closed around the handle of the poker she felt a shiver run up her arm, even though the metal was warm from where he had been holding it. For a brief, fleeting moment she saw herself jabbing it into something dark and leathery.

 

 

Rey stood in the door of the pub, waving them off as the large car pulled out the car park and headed out towards their rented cottage near the Eden project. She gave Owen a rough approximation of a fencer’s salute with the poker. The boys’ waves were considerably less energetic than on their arrival; the walk had finally exhausted them to the point where Poe ended up carrying Tim for the last couple of hundred metres back to the car. Rey had felt a jolt as she watched the small boy’s tawny mop brushing against Poe’s ear as he curled up in to his father; a heavy yet desired burden, while she walked alongside them, her free hand clutched in Tim’s smaller grip. She masked her sorrow at their departure by babbling at length about her crazy idea of running a coffee kiosk out of the kitchen during the tourist season. Finn had laughed and dubbed her the Caffeine Siren of the Southwest; luring unsuspecting walkers to their doom.

“It’s not doom if it’s good coffee,” Rey argued.

“Ah but it is, a sweeter, sharper doom if yours is the best they will ever have.” He insisted in a mock-maudlin tone.

“I seriously doubt that, just a decent cup of coffee to perk them up,” Rey blushed.

“Nonsense, your coffee is the best. I’m pretty sure you probably snared your mystery man with your potent brew!” Poe interjected.

 

Rey wisely or unwisely said nothing at that; she hoped the rising flush in her cheek, at her private recollection of a furtive, hungry kiss and coffee breath, could be attributed to the cool, early-evening breeze. Poe, noticing her colour, tactfully did not tease her further and instead shared a knowing look with Finn.

It had been a wrench to hug the boys goodbye, knowing that it might be some time before she saw them again. They had both clung to her a little longer and tighter than usual and she blinked back tears as she watched them leave. At least they had had one last afternoon of fun together.  One that would hopefully sustain them, and her, for a few months, until the summer holidays when, she promised them, the house would be finished and they would be able to visit the castle and have picnics and play in the sea.

“And eat so much fudge,” she added in a whisper.

 

 

Maz was unloading a tray on the table in the little fireside nook as Rey stepped back inside. Stepping back and moving forward, she thought to herself as she stowed the poker in the corner with the other fire irons. It looked rather out of place, hanging with the shiney, modern stainless steel set; which itself seemed incongruous in a building that looked like it hadn’t changed much in the last two hundred years. Her hand still felt odd where she had been holding the poker; it was both faintly numb and tingling, like it had been burnt and then held under the cold tap.

“Thanks, Maz.” Rey said as she carefully stepped over Chewie, who was back to doing his very best carpet impression. She smiled widely as she settled down in front of one of Maz’s wonderful toasted cheese sandwiches, a mug of coffee and glass of water set in place to one side. The cheese looked almost honey-gold in the fire light.

“Don’t mention it,” Maz replied kindly. She looked as if  she was about to say more but at a hail from the bar, snapped her mouth shut and with a satisfied nod went to deal with her customer.

Today had been a strange, difficult day of saying farewell to what she had known, everything familiar. Possibly too familiar; her years old routine of working, reading, sleeping had become something of a crutch. Later it had been mercifully punctuated by babysitting, and Gwen’s determination that she let go and find some outlet for the resentment that was threatening to overtake her.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to be angry, darling. It’s what you do with it rather than what you let it do to you, that is the key,” Gwen had said one day.  She’d walked in on Rey throwing a plastic cup at the wall of the grimey kitchenette, after yet another unsatisfying meeting with Plutt regarding her often-promised yet never-materialising promotion prospects. Rey had been taken aback: no one ever really talked to each other at the firm, communicating via terse emails or passive aggressive comments on GitHub was the norm. Though at that point she hadn’t worked on a project with her, Rey, of course, knew of Gwen; one couldn’t not know of her. She was a six foot tall goddess in Rey’s eyes; like the beautiful carving on the prow of a battleship. In her mind she was Lady Sybil Vimes, subtly bending everyone to her will with her good humor and sense.

Gwen had enveloped a shocked Rey in a tight hug and then whispered into her ear, “let’s go shoot some jerks later. It will make you feel so much better.”

No, Gwen was more like a valkyrie, Rey had decided in that instant; swooping down to pluck up her battered and broken body and spirit from the worn, carpet-tiled battlefield and bearing her off to the Valhalla of central London. She was content to let Rey open up at her own pace and was happy to sit in companionable silence through most of their meal; food and good company was Gwen’s solution to many of life’s problems; not to mention LaserTag and kickboxing, conversation could come later.

As they later sat panting in a dark corner of a LaserTag in Piccadilly, listening to the whines of indignation from the cadre of City Boy stockbrokers they had just tagged, Rey had never felt so invigorated in all her life. Until a few months ago, that is. The memories of two very different forms of companionship bolstered Rey’s resolve; tomorrow was a complete unknown, but it meant a truly fresh start,  full of promise. Rey would have been more excited were it not for the growing knot of hunger and the exhaustion that was threatening to overcome her as well; however she had no one but herself to carry her off to her rest.

 

It was busy in the pub, with a vibrant hum of voices and cutlery that reminded her of the bees that had swarmed around her on the cliff, every now and again there was a loud shout and a clamour of laughter. It was a pleasant atmosphere but one into which  she wasn’t yet ready to immerse herself; the small corner, her corner, promised comfortable solitude. The fire’s lively pops and crackles sounded like the laughter of a mischievous imp.

Rey breathed in the warm, spicy aroma, it smelt like Christmas and it made her feel cosy and safe. It reminded of her of Christmases with her first foster family, The Larssons. They were an older couple whom she had, for years, assumed were her grandparents; until they had passed away, and their own grown up children arrived to take possession of the rambling house and disabuse a five-year-old Rey of that presumption.

For years, she was convinced it was all a mistake; that the couple had to have had a nicer son or daughter to whom she had belonged, and their siblings were just playing a cruel joke on her due to jealousy. Uncles and aunts in all the stories she had been read were always doing unnecessarily mean things like that.

She had never bonded in the same way with any of her later carers, who were all kind enough, but hadn’t the time or energy to heal the wounds unknowingly inflicted on an vulnerable child. As she grew older, pragmatism set in and she realised the couple’s son and daughter hadn’t meant to be cruel.

It turned out that the couple had set up a savings account in her name, starting when she was a baby; their children had respected their wishes and had continued to pay into it each month. It had been waiting for her when she turned eighteen, along with a box of old Gilbert and Sullivan CDs and LPs and various old books, including her foster mother’s beloved Georgette Heyer novels, that had set aside for her, once she was settled in place of her own. It had been a kind gesture, and had gone some way toward restoring Rey’s faith in humanity.   

Rey found herself dawdling over the light meal. Her mind, which had been darting around  pondering the various memories the day had dredged up, eventually drifted to nothing in particular; the fatigue from the driving and the afternoon’s walking were finally catching up with her. The fire’s warm glow and spicy aroma was making her feel rather tired. She yawned and scrubbed at her face. Chewie lifted his head and bumped her leg with his muzzle.

“Yeah, I’m sleepy but not so sleepy that I can’t defend my supper.”

 

 

She finished up her meal and dropped her dishes off in the kitchen, fully intent doing her own dishes. Maz had other ideas and shooed her out insisting that she should go and rest after such a long day. Rey pushed open the little door that blended in with the wooden wall panels, and made her way upstairs.

 

Her bedroom was a small, cozy room under the eaves; there was one small dormer window opposite the bed that looked out over the countryside towards the sea. Though the casement had been opened to air the room, the faint, astringent aroma of cloves seemed to linger in the air. A dog-eared book sat half off the bedside table, its spine well worn and lined. And there, sitting on top of it, was her errant sea-glass, looking as innocent as an inanimate object possibly could. She grabbed for it, knocking the book to the floor in her haste. As she bent to pick it up, two pieces of paper fluttered out from between its pages.

Both sheets of paper looked like they had been torn out of an exercise book; they were yellow with age, contrasting sharply with the dark blue ink that had bled into the cheap paper.

On the first, written in a slightly rushed hand, was:

Be mindful from who you accept gifts, especially food. Always get their (real?) name first?

The always had been heavily underlined a number of times to the extent that the paper had torn.

The second piece which Rey had to retrieve from under the bed was longer and the writing was far neater and somehow familiar, the ‘o’s in particular.

And so the fairy midwife

Bore away the chosen child

To a fortress haven, grim and distant

Where she laid the babe at the foot

Of one who might look o’er her

Until bees and moon once more

Recall her

 

It was probably a piece of  old homework. Her own GCSE English teacher, fresh from teacher training, had, in his youthful enthusiasm set similar work; fruitlessly getting bored students who couldn’t wait to drop English, to write answering sonnets to demonstrate their understanding of the original. It had been painful to watch his face drop as he realised the extent of the disinterestedness of the class. Rey had enjoyed the exercise but had been reluctant to admit as much.

She placed the piece of paper in the back of the book and placed it on the bed before continuing her short tour of the room.

On the window sill was a neat array of curly seashells; perfectly formed pearlescent examples of Fibonacci in action. She picked one up and held it to her ear. She smiled to herself as the blood that pulsed in her ear was made to sound like waves. As she stood, one hand absent-mindedly caressing the sea-glass and the other holding the shell to her ear, she fancied the sound was changing; the faint sound of waves crashing against an imagined shore became more like the muffled whispering of a multitude of voices, layered and interweaving, until they coalesced into a single, clear word: ‘Strife’ .

Rey slammed the shell back down on the sill, a piece chipped off  and skittered under the bed.

As she reached over to grasp the handle to close the window, she heard footsteps approach outside; the voices of two men filtered up to her. She wasn’t sure why she listened.  Too many novels, she suspected, and now she was stuck; if she closed the window at this point she might draw attention to herself.

“She’s your sister ! You have to tell her.” The first speaker seemed calm, yet gruffly weary; as if he had said this to the other many times.

“I don’t want to get her hopes up!” Came the harsh, rasping reply.

“You mean he’s still alive? If that’s the case- ”

“If you can call it living...” The other cut him off.

 

“And what of this girl?”

“What girl?” Something about the way he said ‘girl’ made Rey very frightened, it was almost a snarl.

“She might restore things there; or better yet, change them.”

There was a dismissive grunt. “She can try. It won’t make any difference.”

Rey then heard one set of footsteps moving away.

“Are you really willing to give up so easily?” The first called after their presumably retreating companion, before following them; maybe to continue the argument somewhere else.

Rey waited a moment or two more before pulling the window firmly shut. She gathered her wash-bag, towel and night things; and hurried off towards the bathroom, her cheeks burning and her heart pounding.

 

 

The wooden floors were warm and deliciously uneven as she padded back in her thick slipper socks from the bathroom, where she’d had a surprisingly good shower. Her mood was much improved now that the unsettling experiences of earlier had washed away in a torrent of soap and hot water. Clearly Maz felt that, while retaining as many original features as possible was admirable, this should not necessarily extend to the plumbing.

Rey gave her hair a quick toweling before piling it up on her head in a messy bun. She reached for the book that the sea-glass had been resting on, and leafed through it. It appeared to have been someone’s school book; she recognised many of the poems from her GSCE English course. She smiled as the book fell open on that particular Andrew Marvell poem. Clearly it had either been a favourite of the previous owner, or one they had closely studied; there were copious notes in the margin and passages had been underlined. A box had been drawn around ‘A fine and private place’ and as she squinted she could make out the words vagina and orgasm scribbled above it. Rey snorted with laughter. “Of course!” she said to no one in particular, “petit mort!”

Still smiling to herself, she quickly flipped to the front of the book to see if a name was written on it anywhere. To her annoyance the spot where name might have been looked like it had been removed by someone’s thumbnail. She held the book up to the light to see if any impression remained on the following page. If she angled it a certain way it looked like it might have been an ‘R’ or a ‘B’ followed by an ‘S’.

The book had been published in the early 70s, so the previous owner was probably in their fifties or sixties by now; maybe they had been one of Peavey’s or Canady’s schoolmates - though she couldn’t see either of them making such an inference, they didn’t seem the type, a tad too bullish and in the moment. She shrugged, and chuckled again. Whoever they were, they had, in their youth at least, a certain take on things, a witty flippancy of a sort she found she liked a great deal. The entire poem was so sexually charged it seemed, to her at least, in retrospect to be an obvious reading. She suspected though, that the mysterious R. or B. S. might have fallen afoul of the marking scheme if they’d raised that particular opinion in an exam.

She jumped into the bed, and placed the sea-glass under her pillow before snuggled down under the quilt to read the poem in its entirety once more; the irony was not lost on her that it was the same one that had sprung to mind that evening with Kylo. Her eyes were growing heavy and she wasn’t really taking the words in as she neared the end.

Let us roll all our strength and all

Our sweetness up into one ball,

‘That could be a call to arms.’ Rey murmured sleepily to her imagined companion in study, ‘with which to defeat that strife.’ As her brain slowly succumbed to sleep the next lines,

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Through the iron gates of life:

Rearranged themselves to become:

 

And tear our strife through with iron,

pleasures rough the gates of life

 

Which seemed at once to make no sense at all, and yet be perfectly reasonable.

There was a soft thud as the book slipped from her fingers and tumbled to the floor. Then there was silence apart from slow steady breathing and the occasional soft snore.

The dream began as all her dreams for the last few months had. She was back on the coastal path that ran along the cliff. The sky was an inky blue-black, save for shafts of  moonlight working their way through cracks in the heavy clouds. And there was the figure, with his back to her.

He turned ever so slightly and to her joy and mounting excitement he didn’t fade from sight as he had every other time. Their eyes locked but he didn’t move to face her; instead he began to walk, not to the cove but back towards Tintagel, the castle and the cave. Even if she hadn’t been drawn along with him, as if tethered by some invisible thread, she would still have followed him. Rey resisted the urge to reach out for him in case it might disrupt the dream.

 

 

Kylo found himself standing at the cliff edge again. The dream had been recurring to the point of becoming a nightmare, and he was almost certain it was some new form of punishment devised by his tormentor for his presumption of ever thinking to be free.

Night after night he had stood there, incapable of moving; only able to look out over the sea watching for hints of those roiling clouds that presaged certain doom, while waiting, hoping, for that tantalising feeling of her nearby. Sometimes he felt her near; yet he never heard her voice nor felt her touch. It was such sweet agony that he both craved and hated it in equal measure. As he was unable to turn, he had no idea whether this was deliberate on her part; or if it was intended to increase his distress.

He could sense her again, her presence always manifested itself as a feeling of warmth like the sun beating down on this back; it filled him with renewed hope. Already resigned to its failure, he nevertheless attempted to turn, even just slightly to steal a glance behind him.

She was there, her mouth an ‘o’ of surprise that transformed into a smile as their eyes lingered on each other. Rather than approach her--and he very much wanted to rush to her and hold her and never, ever, let go--he instead set off along the path, heading back towards Tintagel. He had had a thought; that perhaps if he showed her the way, she might, sometime in the near future, find him.

 

 

Even in the milky half light, Rey was able to make out the path Kylo took; down towards the small area of shingle and the mouth of dark cave that thrust deep into the base of the cliff. She took note of which stones his large, pale hands grasped; while she seemed to just drift along in his wake.

He paused at the dark opening, his shoulders squaring; and he swiveled towards her, still not fully, but enough that she could see a small, hopeful smile play across his face.  His dark brows rose, and his eyes widened slightly in hopeful supplication.

Unable to contain herself any longer, she lurched forward, hand outstretched. There was the merest sensation brushing the tips of her fingers before everything around her melted away into darkness; a darkness as warm and comforting as those piercing eyes.

 

Chapter Text

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end;

Each changing place with that which goes before,

In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

William Shakespeare - Sonnet 60

 

Magics and Machinations

 

Thursday, March 5th 1863



The wraithlike figure stood surveying the village laid out below him, idly twisting the heavy ring on his left index finger. He ignored the wind that tugged insistently at his coattails. It may have been chilly, but he was immune to such human vulnerabilities. The full moon hung in the sky above, heavy and expectant; illuminating the sea, the cluster of slate roofs and the curls of wood smoke from warm hearths. He drew an ornate watch on a heavy gold chain from his waistcoat pocket and consulted it before replacing it once more.

 

He smiled thinly; it was nearly time. He moved with long, spidery strides down the narrow winding road towards the unsuspecting huddle of houses. He always savoured this moment; as much as he enjoyed the feast it, sadly, never quite compared to the anticipation.

 

Slowly and deliberately, he swept his left hand in a wide arc, and, as bid, heavy, thick clouds drew themselves across the moon; he could be merciful and would spare her the sight at least.

Her sister would not be so fortunate.  

 

He drew close to the settlement’s boundary and paused, sensing the low vibrations of the ancient charms and magic that bound the soil and sea. So much like the irritating sound of bees;  creatures that he held in particular disdain - gossiping and interfering busy-bodies - yet the prize to be had here was as sweet to him if not sweeter than their honey.

 

He extended his left hand, fingers splayed testing the barrier in front of him. It may have once proved an insurmountable impediment to him before; but not now. He withdrew his hand, clenched it in a tight fist before angling it slightly and with edge of the stone on his finger made a swift, horizontal slash in the air. The sound wavered, dipped and then fell away and he carried on, unchecked, and unseen.

 

As he stalked, relentless, though the village, en route to the sea, he heard a woman’s anguished cries of pain drifting from the house that sat long and low at the foot of the cliff. Her fear was pungent, overwhelming the less that palatable low-level contentment of the place.

 

“Where is Mab?” she sobbed; the gasping wails were like music to his ears. “I’m so sorry my dear but she has been momentarily incapacitated. But fret not, it will all be over. Presently.” He thought to himself with a sneer.   In the blink of an eye, this insignifiant place would be as good as wiped from the face of the earth, he would be sated and far more his old self again; and more.

 

He was at the water’s edge now, the waves that lapped the shingle halting inches from his feet. So, it knew him. The water had such admirable constancy; even if the guardians and inhabitants he had encountered were for the most part, fickle and vain creatures. Not to mention weak, and now… vanquished.  Slowly, and then with gathering speed, the water began to recoil from him, and out of the shallow inlet.

 

She was magnificent as she reared up before him; Thalassa in all her glory. He almost admired her futile show of strength. Her face held a mixture of shock and awe; she had clearly never expected to encounter one like him again.  As he moved his hands once more, this time tracing out ancient complex forms, her eyes flicked to the village behind him and her expression changed to one of abject sorrow and resignation.

 

He readied himself for the influx of power; hers, and the warm energy that permeated the village. He closed his eyes and opened himself up to it, ready to consume; oblivious as the look she gave him became one of defiance.

 

 

No one in the village noticed the wall of water, looming high, poised to strike.  The primal roar it had made as it rose up was low, and deep far beyond the range of human ears. Without the moon’s light, anyone looking out would just see inky darkness.

 

There was no warning. Like a hand swatting an insect, one moment the village was there, the next it was gone; removed without a trace.  All that was left was a great gouge cut into the shallow inlet, deepening it; leaving just the broken shell of one long low house at the base of the cliff.

 

 

It pained her to do it, to allow it. But the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. She had to make this one sacrifice, that went so against the ancient covenant with Treahchto, to ensure this creature never achieved his ultimate goal. He had to be resisted at every turn.

 

It was still now, deathly so. Even the waves had momentarily ceased their timeless sway. Up on the cliff, a low buzzing could be heard; rising and swelling with indignation. Selene’s blindfold had been torn away the instant Thalassa had made her move. Now the moon cast a baleful light on the scene of desolation. Thalassa buried her face and wept. She heard the light footsteps, moving through the shallows and then on the stones, tracing a path that mirrored that of the usurper and defiler. She kept her face buried in shame as she listened, hope swelling painfully in her breast. There was a pause and a small whimper before the steps retreated once more towards the sea, and along the moon’s reflection in the still waters.

 

Don’t count on my assistance again, sister.

 

 

Everything was dark; he was disconnected from himself. While he didn’t feel the physical world like humans did, he was always keenly aware of the ground beneath his feet and the irritating sensation of living, growing things around him. But now, something was very wrong.

 

He thrashed and flailed to no avail. He was as inconsequential as smoke. But he still had his mind and his knowledge and as he gradually discovered… some power. A little, but enough.

 

He would wait. He had waited before. And the next time he would neither be so unwise, nor so merciful.




For nearly a century he had bided his time. Eventually he had regained some more of his hard won power. He had more control over himself and his environment. Slowly he had made his way back to the scene of his latest, greatest failure. It had been utterly abandoned by locals. The one remaining building was an empty hollow, choked with weeds and shrubs. All round it was barren, a sea of pebbles and larger stones. All traces of a once lively, thriving village had been washed away, scoured clean. He could feel, smell, taste the power that Thalassa had wrenched from him; it was still here, just beyond his reach, permeating the stones and the water and the air. He would reclaim it even if it took him another five centuries to do it.

 

A strange shift in the air caused him to revisit the forgotten cove. The house had been rebuilt and was once more occupied. A couple, a slip of a girl and her slightly older husband. Disgustingly in love, if the sickly cloying stench in the air that surrounded the place and the swell of her belly were any indication.

 

The seed of an idea planted itself in his dark recesses of his mind. Still, the timing wasn’t quite right. Something would have to be done about that.

 

Spring, 1956

 

It was like a magnet, a siren call, the power. His power, now all bound up in the tiny, frail body of the dark haired infant the girl clasped to her. As he hovered overhead, cloaked in cloud, the girl  shivered; she pulled the child closer to her and called out to her husband, who was in the midst of pushing a small wooden boat of dubious quality out into the choppy waves.

 

She cast a glance up to the heavens, her dark eyes boring through his coverings. She had an innate gift of her own, yet was unaware of it, and so was untrained. So few now were, it seemed, such things having fallen out of vogue, or favour. Had she been properly schooled, she would have surely seen him, and removed herself and her child; but fortune favoured him in this instance.

 

“It looks like it’s about to storm, Han. I’m going to go back inside with Ben. Don’t be too long. Please!” Her voice was thick with apprehension; she did not like watching her husband leave. Had he lips still, he would have licked them, savouring the exquisite flavour of her fear. It was rich and heady, and tinged with peppery annoyance. Her feelings for her husband were strong and multi-layered; love, lust and a measure of exasperation hung around her small form.

 

“Okay, sweetheart. Chewie and I will be back before you know it.” Her husband pursed his lips and gave a long whistle; a hairy dog came barrelling out of the house and jumped into the boat, his owner giving him a vigorous scratch behind his long ears.

 

Once her husband was out on the water, he dipped and reached towards the house; he turned his focus towards the interior, where the woman lay on the sofa. She was lightly dozing while the infant fed, one small hand holding him in place. The other had dropped to her side. He was precious to her, this child, the sickeningly pure love she had for him was rolling off her in constant waves, replacing the delicious concern for her husband’s wellbeing.

 

The child was precious to him too, a precious vessel. One, that when the time was right, he would smash open to reclaim what was his.

 

Spring 1973

 

It was almost too easy. The man reeked of desperation and despondency; thick and darkly rich, even more so than fear. Every now and again he would bend down and pick up a pebble and cast it far out to sea, as if he hoped some of his pain would be borne away with it. As he moved to pluck another stone his eye was caught by something glinting in the sunlight. It was a gold ring. Its thick band, and the setting for the rough gem set in it, were etched with strange rune-like markings.

As the hand, warm, and pulsing with life, closed around the ring, he felt his power grow immeasurably greater. This troubled, susceptible man, another with untapped potential, would more than adequately sustain him over the coming years.



Saturday March 5th, 1977

 

The time was drawing near and the thing had to be done with care. For all his likening the boy to a vessel to be broken open, the deed required finesse. As the waves grew in strength, so did their fear; the air was thick with the rich aroma. He was almost giddy with it now, not unlike the effect of a fine red wine he had once had. But now was not the time to let himself be distracted.

 

He had made a grave error. The power he had been drawn to consume from the place was far more complex than he had anticipated. The act that should have torn the boy’s heart asunder, releasing his power, had failed. He was as stymied as ever.

 

 

She seemed doomed to hurt the ones she loved most.

She loved his mother and she had hurt her; irreparably, irredeemably. She adored this dark-eyed, solemn boy who wanted to do nothing but understand and create, weaving beautiful things with words and ink; he had such a deep capacity for love. And yet she had done something possibly far worse to him, in the name of protection. But she would make it up to him. It might take years, but she would. She would shield him when and as much as she could from that wretched creature and she would too, wait.

 

She gathered him up in her arms, and drew him away from the beach, away from prying eyes; and carried him away to some place where she could keep him safely hidden away. Then she would embark on the difficult task of imploring her sister for her aid once again.



July 1997

 

Twice now he had failed to dispatch that meddlesome boy, who was surrounded by such a palpable, painful aura of goodness and light that there was no mistaking him. And if he had returned, then the third couldn’t be far behind; she was the most dangerous one of all.

 

And, to make things worse, Kylo, who had pledged himself, had sworn to be his good, and faithful servant had been the one to frustrate his plan to eliminate the boy before he could oppose him again. After all this time, for all his lessons, Kylo still had too much compassion. Rather than allowing  him to be dashed upon the cruel rocks at the foot of the cliffs, he had caught the child in his arms; and had carefully, almost tenderly, borne him to an accessible spot where he was quickly found. He would have been be punished, severely, for his transgression.

 

March 2015

 

Nearly twenty years had passed with no sign of the girl. Now, it was simply a matter of time. All of Thalassa’s efforts would be for naught. Soon, very soon, he would possess the boy, body and soul; and that which was his, that Kylo unwittingly possessed, would be his once more, and then… then he would be invincible. And her existence would be inconsequential.

 

 

The stench of joy on Kylo was unmistakable, it made it almost unbearable for him to be near him. It could mean only one thing; she had returned, and their connection had been established far more rapidly than ever. And yet, there was potential in this.  When she left, Kylo had been in turmoil and far more malleable than he had been in years. The interfering Sisters’ protections hadn’t been quite enough to keep him at bay. Kylo’s anger and despair at being used and abandoned were a pleasant change from the bland frustration, it had a certain crispness, tang and bite to it that he sought to stoke.

 

Saturday, May 23rd 2015

 

On consideration, the girl herself could be of some use to him after all. For all the furious outbursts he could elicit from Kylo, this needed a light touch.

 

That half-woman, under whose auspices the charms had been woven in and around the now vanished village, had managed to muster enough resilience against his probings to omit some key point on which it all hinged; and given his nature, he was in no position to break it fully. And he, at the time, had been too focused on his task to see it. Those very emotions that repelled him, that he could not fathom, would have be harnessed; twisted. It was not a task for him, however.

 

The boy was an innocent; his lack of wisdom and experience made him excellent bait. The girl was strangely unreadable to him, though, and it infuriated him. All he could determine about her was what he could access through the feelings she espoused in Kylo. She would be the means of breaking Kylo, and his own bonds. He would take his revenge and ensure his resurgence all in one perfect, masterful stroke. And the ultimate heartbreak and betrayal would make a perfect celebratory feast.





Chapter Text

All days are nights to see till I see thee

And nights bright days when dreams do show me thee.

William Shakespeare - Sonnet 45

 

The other two, slight air and purging fire,

Are both with thee, wherever I abide;

The first my thought, the other my desire,

These present-absent with swift motion slide.

William Shakespeare - Sonnet 45


 

 

Kiss and Kin

 

Sunday, May 24th 2015


Rey was awake early again. A beam of sunlight, refracting through the thick glass of the old leaded window panes, painted a rainbow on her cheek. One corner of her mouth twitched slightly at the gathering warmth that had roused her, like warm finger tip nudging her awake.

At some point during the night in her sleep she had maneuvered the pillow so that it was now angled just right to provide a semblance of that broad, pale chest she longed curl up on and hug as she slumbered. With his sea-glass gift in her hand, she could almost convince herself that it was real.

Rey shifted, attempting to burrow deeper into the soft mattress, pulling the pillow closer to herself. The harsh, guttural sound of hungry gulls wheeling overheard in the sky outside finally broke through the protective fuzzy shell of sleep, and the pillow was just a pillow.

She lay there momentarily, blinking the sleep out of her eyes, watching the dust motes’ lazy dance in the sunlight.

Then it hit her. She was back, finally, after nearly eight weeks, so what on earth was she waiting for?

Rey jumped out of bed, sure of he promise of a wonderful day ahead with al the certainty of a small child on Christmas morning. She picked up the poetry book and placed it back on the nightstand. Her hands trembled with excitement as she drew up and straightened first the sheet and then the patchwork quilt and plumped the pillow. She stood back and admired her work.

Her old bed at home was usually left in a tangled mess, abandoned in her haste to get to work, and because it really just didn’t seem worth the bother, she’d be falling back in to again in sixteen hours’ time. This place, and this quilt in particular deserved better.

She hadn’t paid the quilt much attention the evening before, a combination of exhaustion and discomfiture from the overheard conversation, had distracted her. But it really was exquisite. She wondered if Maz had made it.

The centre featured nine large panels edged by small stars, five of which contained intricate piecework suns, each different one from the other; ranging from silvery white, blazing crimson to blood red. The border was consisted of smaller panels depicting the phases of the moon. Four in total with either the new or the full moon at the corners, she wasn’t certain. As she ran her hand over it, tracing the path of the running stitch as it followed the point of one of the central motifs she felt her skin contract and tingle as goosebumps coursed up her arm. Remembering snippets of stories she’d been read when she was very small by Mrs Larsson, she fancied this was no ordinary quilt; it was as if magic had stitched into it and it was being discharged into her.

 

Well that’s what five year old Rey would have liked to have thought. Twenty-five year old Rey suspected it was more a case of longing, sexual desire, frustration and anticipation at seeing, properly seeing, with the promise of physical contact, the one person with whom she truly felt that ineffable connection that people called love. Yes, she had been pining. More than anything at this moment, though, she just wanted to reassure herself that he was real, to hear his voice and  even just touch his hand would be enough to sate her need on that point... for a while, at least.

Rey ducked down and pulled out the bag she’d kicked under the bed the night before. She dug around in it for a few minutes, every now and again pausing to deposit some fresh underwear, socks and other clothing on the bed, before finally withdrawing the small paper bag that held the carefully wrapped calligraphy brushes.

She dressed in a rush, grabbed the paper bag, wrapped it in to a parcel and stuffed it into her jacket’s inside pocket, and crept down the stairs as quietly as possible, making only a few muffled creaks as she went. It was still very early and she didn’t particularly fancy having to explain where she was going. Nor, for once, were breakfast or coffee her first thought of the day.

Downstairs the pub was deserted. All that remained of the previous day’s fire was a small heap of ashes in the grate; a mix of small, round black pieces of charcoal interspersed with curling grey flakes and white powder. There was the faintest lingering fragrance of spices still in the air.

Chewie was not in his usual spot; that at least was one less impediment for her to navigate. Rey wondered if he slept elsewhere at night. Probably on Maz’s bed, she supposed.

As she paused to adjust her bra strap, which had twisted in her haste to dress and was beginning to chafe, the sickening realisation dawned on her that the door was quite probably still locked, possibly deadbolted, from last night. Still it didn’t hurt to check.

Biting her lower lip in concentration Rey slowly and carefully turned the handle, until to her delight and relief she heard the catch pull back and the door swung open against her. She let out a sigh of relief as she pulled the door fully open and slipped outside into the fresh sea air.

She turned and pulled the door closed behind her, bracing it with one hand to dampen the sound. Letting out a long breath of relief, she set off.

 

 

She was barely past the pub when she encountered the old man. His head was down and his back was bowed somewhat from the shoulders; it was a familiar hunch, that of someone who lived at their desk.  Going by his age she judged that it was more likely due to pouring over paperwork rather than a badly arranged computer workstation. He wore a long dark wax coat, that hung from him like tattered bat wings. Rey had been inclined to feel somewhat sorry for him, until he seemed to deliberately crowd her on the narrow footpath in a way that made her feel intensely uncomfortable.

“You just watch yourself,” he growled as she inadvertently brushed against his shoulder in her ultimately futile attempt to maneuver past him.

“Sorry,” she muttered, her own head now bent low; she was keen not to get drawn into a confrontation, not now, not when she just wanted to find Kylo as soon as possible. She had gone a few more metres when she heard him again. His voice was stronger, and pointed, like a thrusting blade.

“It’s you ! The girl from London.”

Shit! She kept her head down continued walking, but behind her she heard the approaching footsteps.

Great, now he was following her.

 

There was a pause before he added, as an almost mournful afterthought, “You look just like her.”  Those words seemed to land deeper than his shouts.

Now feeling extremely agitated, Rey picked up her pace, rather regretting her decision to venture out so early when there where so few people around.

“She shouldn’t have sold the house! Not to you , not to anyone !” He rallied again, hurling the words at her as if they were rocks. Rey steadfastly ignored him and hurried onwards.

Clearly he did not give up easily; he was like Chewie downwind of a cheese toastie.

“Don’t go in there! It’s a domain of evil.”

 

She wheeled around, flashing hazel eyes meeting weary, knowing sky-blue ones, like blades clashing. She was momentarily taken aback; they had a piercing energy that seemed to bore right into the back of her skull, that belied the careworn face of their owner.

“Oh really?” she scoffed, with far more bravado than she actually felt while she was subject to that acrimonious gaze.

“And just what exactly will I find in there?”

“Darkness. Whatever you take with you,” the rancor in his voice died away leaving just a pleading edge.

 

Rey shook her head. Brushes and hope, that’s all she had. Neither of which seemed to her like  potential tools for ill; it wasn’t like she was going into the cave looking for a fight. She defiantly matched his stare for a moment longer; daring him to come up with something more solid than gnomic utterances. Finally he backed down, the cold edge finally gone from his eyes. He visibly sagged as if that last outburst had sapped all his energy. He shook his head in resignation as he retreated from her

“Whatever...” she added under her breath as she turned on her heel, hardly a Parthian shot in the great tradition, but he had set her back up and she never did react with grace to such provocations.



Rey made her way through the village without further incident. After that confrontation it seemed strangely still; expectant, even, as if a reprise was expected. There were some signs of life.  A dog barked in the distance and somewhere she could smell frying bacon; but they seemed detached, as if the universe where all that was happening was just slightly offset from the one she was in, as if she were in a bubble?

As she quickly walked along Castle Road, she cast a glance at the map on her phone.  It seemed she had been operating under a misapprehension; the cave Chewie had barked at and where she was heading was not Merlin’s cave after all, as she had supposed. Her cave--Kylo’s rather--was further along from the castle, under a small piece of headland that jutted out towards the larger promontory where the castle stood.

Not that it mattered much.  So it wasn’t the famous cave; it was a bit more out of the way and  that suited her just fine. She wandered past the Beach Cafe and followed the coastal path, seeking the place from which she should start her descent. A few steps further and she spied the remains of a squat, grey stone wall, dotted with unmissable, vibrant yellow splotches of lichen. Sections of the wall still remained, skimming along the slope for a short way.

 

She sat down heavily near the wall which, now more than ever, seemed to act as a marker  delineating the shift from the everyday to the fantastical; it set the boundary between what went before and what might happen next.

The grass was ankle high, springy and verdant. As the summer wore on, it would slowly turn golden and scratchy. Nearby her eye was caught by clump of early blooming foxgloves, their purple, bell-shaped flowers swaying in the gentle breeze as though ringing out silent peals.

She scanned her surroundings. To her right where the coast curved out, she could see the entrance to the cave. It was quite striking, really, looking as if it had been formed by some large beast settling down to sleep, pulling the land around itself like a blanket.

Rey leaned forward slightly, her head tilted up to give her a better view of how the earth fell away at her feet. It wasn’t a completely sheer drop to the rocks below, currently laid bare by the receded tide. She sat back and scrunched her face up as she considered her next move; it wasn’t exactly a gentle slope, either.

She closed her eyes, recalling, from her strange shifting vantage point, the route Kylo had taken last night in her dream. It had been liberally peppered with small rocks and boulders embedded in the soil; some of which, like natural crampons, would hopefully provide hand- and footholds for her, as they had for him.

A bit more certain now in her own mind as to where to start, Rey made her way to the far side of the low wall, where the ground dipped down more gently; and after carefully lowering herself onto her hands and knees, she slowly began to descend.

 

For such a relatively short distance, it was slow work. The uneven swell of the ground beneath her made it difficult to see where she was going; and on occasion Rey had to feel around with her feet to find a reliable foothold.  

Twice she placed too much weight on a stone that wasn’t adequately anchored. The first time, it came loose at the merest brush of her toe, her breath catching as the stone flipped out and fell with a clatter. She quickly shifted her weight on to her arms, her fingers digging into the soil and roots, as deep as they would go. She remained there for a few moments, embracing the earth until her racing pulse had settled.

The second time it happened, she was completely taken by surprise; the rock, which had seemed perfectly secure, gave out just as she changed hand holds.  She found herself uncontrollably sliding down the last few metres before dropping down on a large flat boulder, which tipped with a jerk to one side as she landed squarely on both feet.

Shaking with a combination of shock and anticipation, Rey brushed the dirt and crushed leaves off of herself and checked on the state of the parcel; thankfully it was still in once piece. The knees and calves of her jeans were stained green and purple from the grass and foxgloves that had been ground into them as she had climbed, and her nails were cracked and caked with soil.

It wasn’t exactly the way one usually presented oneself for an assignation, but it would have to do. She was here, and that was the main point. Kylo would just have to wait a bit longer to meet clean and coiffed Rey.

 

She hopped lightly from boulder to boulder; some were stable, others wobbled precariously as she crossed them, heading towards the faintly forbidding, almost perfect circle of pitch before her.

Rey paused for a moment at the threshold to pull out her phone and switch on its rather anemic torch. She bit her lip; was the cave really as dangerous as the old man had claimed?  She resorted to humming a song in her head to distract herself. It was a silly thing, and she hadn’t done it for years. Mrs. Larsson would sing it to her, as she clasped Rey’s small hand tightly in hers, when they embarked on things that were terrifying to a small child, such as crossing the busy road to go to the library.

She hadn’t thought about the Larssons for ages; she’d spent so long trying to forget those first few perfect years.  But now that she was beginning to feel more optimistic for the future, she found herself circling back to how she had felt then; what had it had felt like to not have to constantly worry about what the next morning would bring. That was before she’d lain awake at night, long past midnight, running through contingency plans in case today was the day she’d be sent away; something that had continued well past an age where legally she was the master of her own fate.

It was difficult to bond with people if you were always expecting to be separated; you kept yourself apart in order to make the break less painful when it inevitably happened.   This time, though, she would be brave, fearless, and perhaps a bit reckless.

She remembered how the older woman would squeeze her hand when it was time to cross, and she closed her own empty fist in answer. The library, with its myriad of  treasures, had always been worth that moment when fear had to be not so much set aside but ploughed through; and so would this.

 

If you go in

On In she stepped forward; she could feel the shadows closing about her, enveloping, and drawing her in.

You're sure to win –

Yours will be the charming maidie:

Be your law

The ancient saw,

"Faint heart never won fair lady!"

 

The entrance gave onto a passageway, a dozen metres long at most. As she carefully picked her way over small, sharp rocks and broken shells, Rey continued to sing to herself.

Every journey has an end –

When at the worst affairs will mend –

Dark the dawn when day is nigh –

Hustle your horse and don't say die!

 

The path curved to the right before opening out into a much larger space.  But strangely there was no hint of an echo, from either her footsteps, the faint sound of dripping water from the far wall, or her gasp of wonderment at the vaulted ceiling above her. As she moved her phone in a wide arc to get a sense of her surroundings the flecks of quartz in the granite glistened like stars in the night sky.

At the far end of the cave was a natural stone formation that resembled a work top or desk. The light glinted off a mismatched array of jars and bottles that stood on it, as it swept past.

 

The old man had a point, while not what Rey would consider overtly evil, there was an oppressiveness to the place; the air pressure wasn’t quite right and her ears kept popping. She also had the oddest notion that something was drawing all the light to itself. Even outside, in the morning sunlight, the cave’s entrance had been strangely lacking in shadows.  Beyond the threshold there had been the interplay of light and shade thrown up by various obstacles, but the cave’s mouth was black; it lacked texture. Other than the suggestion of its craggy walls in shadow, it was just a matte, velvet black; like an Acme-Brand Hole had been thrown up on the cliff face.

She reversed her sweep of the light and wandered over to the makeshift shelf. Old jars of various sizes were neatly arranged, each one apparently filled with a liquid. She picked one up and gave it a sniff, it didn’t smell of anything.  She held it up to the light. it was a dark brown, almost black. She looked at the others; some were lighter, almost red. Rey carefully placed the jar back in its place. Beyond it she spied a haphazard pile of paper scraps and some gulls’ feathers.

She pursed her lips and took a deep breath, willing the lump that was forming in her throat to abate before she started to cry. It was a heartbreaking collection that suggested some attempt at a normal life, past times, the things that made one human. At least she’d apparently chosen her gift well. All that was missing… was him.

Rey turned and looked around again.  The other walls were bare, no sign of an outcropping or alcove that might serve as a bed or… nest. She took a few steps forward and heard a splash underfoot. She crouched down; before her was another almost perfectly round opening, This time in the ground; about two metres across, a perfectly still pool of water.  She turned and placed the parcel and her phone safely out of the way on the rocky shelf. The phone she angled so it threw its paltry light towards the pool.

 

It was mirrorlike in its stillness.  As Rey bent down to look in it, she could see herself reflected back; her face was muddy and her hair was tousled. Ignoring her damp knees, and common sense, she leant further forward until she was face to face with it.

It was cold in the cave, not that she noticed it; but she could see the trails of her warm breath as it escaped from her parted lips, gently curling and dancing across the surface of the water. As the disturbance settled, she fancied she saw another face; not her own, it was  too pale and clean for a start. It was a face so peaceful and beautiful that she would have, without a second thought, let herself tumble headlong into the unknown depths, just for one touch of those full, crimson lips.

Instead, she hurriedly removed her jacket and tossed it to one side before carefully lowering herself so that she was laying flat on her stomach on the cold, damp, uneven surface. She then took a deep breath before slowly lowering her face into the pool.

 

 

She had followed him all the way.  Part of him wondered if it was such a good idea, leading her to the cave. What was supposed to be a refuge had long been a place of torment; the voice always seemed strongest there. But the promise of seeing her had pushed that concern to the furthest corner of his mind. He cast one last look at her before stepping back into the dark, consuming mouth of the cave. She had been so restrained, all the time of their journey, not once reaching out to him; and he had wondered if she ever would.  Or like him, was she worried about disturbing the tenuous link they seemed to share? He didn’t dare speak, for fear that even that would be enough to break the connection; instead, he tried to convey with his eyes alone that which, for all his reading and studying, he would never be able to put into words.

Rey seemed to understand, however, at least on some level. Then she suddenly sprang forward, one hand stretched out towards him. He felt a jolt as their fingertips brushed. He was resigned to that being the last touch for some time, when he suddenly felt something warm touching his lips.

Heat coursed through him from that single point, like a lit match held to a candle’s wick; and  Kylo was now the flame surging upwards, seeking oxygen to consume to sustain himself, as he was drawn up and out of his dream and in to a warm and very real embrace.

 

 

The force of Kylo rising from the pool took Rey by surprise, but she managed to throw her arms around his neck as she was pulled upright. She was soaked through by the wave of sea water that came with him, but she didn’t care. Nothing mattered now; this was perfect. She would proudly walk back into the village looking like a drowned cat a thousand times over in exchange for this moment and this kiss.

“Am I still dreaming?” he murmured, when they finally broke apart;not too far though, as his lips tickled hers as he spoke, sending tiny, tingling electric shocks darting around the corner of her mouth.

“No, you’re very wide awake.”

 

“You keep coming for me.”  Kylo felt his face catch fire; he hadn’t meant for it to sound like that . But judging by the look of amusement on her face she didn’t mind.

“Always.  You showed me the way... so…here I am.” He felt her shifting in his arms as she moved closer, if that even possible. As she relaxed into his embrace her fingers began working some sort of calming magic at the nape of his neck; first massaging at the base of his skull then running through his hair. She had settled her cheek into the hollow where his neck and shoulder met. Her breath was warm and tickled his ear. It was perfect… but...

Something wasn’t right; he was overjoyed to see her, but at the same time his head was heavy and ached. It felt like a battering ram was assaulting mind. What he usually put down to his own self-loathing manifesting itself was now something external.

He tried to push the feeling of dread away from him and instead pull her closer, clasping her as if she were a life-buoy thrown to a drowning man in storm tossed waters.

“I didn’t expect you so soon,” he murmured.

At that he suddenly realised that he’d let his guard down in his excitement at seeing her, at her remaining with him for the duration of their walk. She shouldn’t be here; at the cove they were safe. Something had shielded her; them, when they were there. But here, in the cave, that protection wavered and waned.

“It’s too soon,” he suddenly said, pushing her away from him. The look of shock on her face almost broke his heart. He wanted to pull her to him again, and never, ever, let go; but he couldn’t. She couldn’t be here.

“I’m sorry… I…” He shook his head, tears or salt water from the pool running down his cheek.

“What is it? What’s the matter? I thought you wanted me to come here.”

“I did, but...” That was the problem; it was what he wanted, and he had learnt from bitter experience that his wants or desires could be used as a weapon against him. They already had been, once. He wanted her so badly that he had unwittingly lured her here. How long had she been here before…

“It’s not safe…” he said lamely.

“Safe? Okay,  I know the climb is a bit tricky, not exactly perilous. But here.. It’s just a cave! There’s just us here…. It is just us, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if it’s me, if it’s all in my head; or if it’s something else.”

He swallowed thickly before he could continue, “Rey, believe me, please! I do want you. Here with me, I mean; but more than that, I want you to be safe. The cove is better; meet me there, like before, after sundown, in… I have no idea when it is? When is the next full moon?”

Rey grabbed her phone and jabbed at it a few times; a look of disappointment settled on her face.  “Tuesday the 2nd of June. That’s over a week away, Kylo,” there was a hint of a whine in her tone; from annoyance, desperation or something else?

“You can’t wait for me for that long.” He chanced a small smirk.

“Of course I can; but it will be hard,” she said softly, snaking her free arm around his neck and pulling him back towards her again.  He felt his pulse quicken; one more, one last kiss couldn’t hurt.

She drew closer, “I promise, I will be there,” she breathed as she closed the last, vast, few inches between them, saying the words he had longed to hear her say back in March.

 

Why wait, Look at her! She will willingly grant you her time, herself.

Beseech her to stay; this may be all the time you have.

If you send her away you risk her regretting coming here at all.

This kind of encouragement was unheard of from the voice; it immediately put Kylo on his guard.

“Get out! ” In an instant, she was gone. The warmth was torn from him,like having his heart ripped out; it was that same pain he had felt on the boat, so many days, weeks, months or was it even longer ago now?  She was recoiling from him, trembling, her eyes wide not in desire as they had been a moment before, but in horror, fear.

 

 

Rey stumbled away from him. When he had snarled those words, they didn’t sound like they could have come from the human part of him. His eyes, though, when they flew open to meet hers, were still as warm as ever; and no more so than when he quietly pleaded, “Please!”

She understood; or thought she might, that it wasn’t her or him, but something else. There was something about this place that weighed on him, preyed on him. Maybe what the old man had said was true, from a certain point of view. Maybe Kylo wasn’t the evil of which he spoke.

Now that she had stilled, and had some idea of what she was feeling for, she could sense it too. There was a strange presence that shifted as her gaze darted about the cave, keeping to the dark and the periphery, as it if were deliberately avoiding her. No, that wasn’t it; rather it was observing her from a safe distance, measuring her. She suspected, going by Kylo’s look of apprehension, that it could lash out at any moment, and take  advantage of his precarious state of mind, when it was emboldened; but for now it was hanging back.

 

For the second time that morning, a swell of indignation rose in her breast; this time it was  joined by a strong primal need to hold fast to and protect that which she had decided was hers. The house was rightfully hers now, bought and paid for, contracts had been signed and exchanged. And Kylo, well, he was his own person of course; but at the back of her head something  was telling her that he could be hers in the same way. What would she be willing to exchange for him, it asked. Whatever it was, it sorely underestimated her and her stubbornness.

Her phone clattered to the ground. Rey clasped her head in her hands as her mind began to fill with the clamour of voices, shouting wordlessly yet still urging her to unleash her anger. To avenge... something. But whom, or what, remained out of reach.

Rey dropped her hands from her temples and sought out his, grasping his large pale hands in her much smaller ones. She turned them over, palms up and rubbed her thumbs along his palms and up and over his wrist, and finally settling on the throbbing pulse points. On one wrist she felt the line of an old scar, a long, thin, thickening of the skin. She frowned and, drawing up it towards her, dropped a light kiss on it. He gasped, almost imperceptibly, at the sensation; and she felt a warm bloom of satisfaction at his reaction.

“I’ll be waiting. I promise,” she reiterated. “And this time, I’ll provide a… proper meal,” she added with a smile.

“Thank you,” he replied, his voice thick with emotion.

Rey held on to his hands for as long as possible, as she got to her feet and fumbled for her coat and phone. She made no attempt at a final kiss or embrace, as to do so would only prolong the agony of parting further. Plus she needed to get out of that place as soon as possible, so she could think; somewhere away from that malign presence that hung like a shadow over them, dark and suffocating, like thick smoke.

She was stepping back over the threshold of the cave, out in to the sunlight and the realm of the ordinary when she heard him call out to her; his voice was warm and rich again and she could swear she could hear him smirk.

“Who’s bringing dessert?”

 


“Oh...  fuck ,” Rey muttered as she came into the view of the pub. That coated figure, all too familiar now, was pacing by the door. Had he been hanging around waiting for her to come back? She was not in the mood to deal with this. The ascent had been difficult and her sodden jeans chaffed her as she walked, only adding to her mounting frustration. Any other time she might have welcomed the sensation, and hurried off to her room for a few moments of release and calm. Now she couldn’t. Kylo had inadvertently destroyed that particular avenue of solace. Nothing could come close to what he had achieved with his hands, and lips and tongue… and voice. Ah, that voice.

She wasn’t settling for second best again, as much as it pained and vexed her. And now, to top off a supremely crappy morning, this… again.

“You went in there, didn’t you? All for a pair of pretty eyes! You opened yourself up to the darkness!” he suddenly began ranting as he advanced on her, flecks of spittle landing on his beard.

He was right up in her face now; she winced at the overpowering smell that emanated from him; he reeked of fish and curdled milk. Up close, she could now see he was much older than she had initially supposed; his face was weather beaten, and his hair wild. Under the grimy, ripped, long waxed coat she spied what was once a rather natty three piece suit, now patched and worn.

Rey took a step back, squaring her jaw, fists curling in her pockets. She was tired. Tired of old men telling her what she could and couldn’t do. It was long overdue; and this old man, who was clearly disturbed, was going to be the unfortunate recipient of a torrent of years of pent up anger. If he thought her last outburst was something, he had no idea what was coming next.

“Listen, you know nothing about me, about where I come from or the SHIT I’ve had to put up with in my life. But I’ve bought the house. It’s mine now, and how I choose to spend my free time is, frankly, none of your goddamn business!”

 

Her cheeks aflame and her heart pounding even harder than it had been earlier, Rey dove into the pub and walked as quickly as she could without drawing too much attention to herself to the staircase at the far end. She dashed, two shallow steps at a time, up to her room. Not caring she slammed the door behind her and angrily kicked off her shoes. She winced as she peeled off the cold, wet jeans that seemed determined to cling to her before finally throwing herself on the bed.

Today hadn’t been meant to go like this. It was supposed to have been a better day, perfect even; not one where she had one brief, almost stolen kiss before being sent away, and twice hassled by some grim-faced, sour-smelling old… ARGH!

She rolled over onto her back and looked at the ceiling.

Why did things have to be so… complicated? She knew how she felt about him. She knew it was ridiculous given the manner of their meeting, and how little time they had actually spent together so far. But she also knew that she, against what she would have once called her better judgement, loved him. And she had done, from the very moment their eyes met. Something had passed between them in that moment that she knew she’d never quite understand; but regardless of them meeting as they had, on the beach under the moon, or by reaching for the same book in a charity shop, the result would have been the same.

She closed her eyes, trying to recapture that rapt look of unfettered joy in Kylo’s eyes before he had pulled away and they had been clouded by fear. They were such beautiful eyes, like twin galaxies… such a pair of...

“Pair of pretty eyes…” What in the hell… Rey sat bolt upright, the beds springs a Greek chorus of twangs and groans, only matched by her own groan of realisation.

 

The old man’s ravings weren’t the product of an addled, elderly mind. He knew. She could sense it, as clear as anything. He had known exactly what was in that cave, or rather who .

She was certain now that it was him she had overheard the evening before. What was it he had said?

Something about her; and fixing things, or restoring them. No that was the other man, the one who, like Kay, seemed weary and resigned to things. Besides, he seemed to be referring to the house. It was what he had said before; something that the other man, the one who had accosted her, hadn’t told his sister or had but had lied about.

“If you call it living…”

What if Kylo hadn’t always been like that? Which was the more fantastical premise? A mythical sea creature living off the coast of Cornwall, or that an ordinary man had somehow been cursed, stripped of his memories, his mind, and his humanity, and transformed into mythical sea creature?



High Magic Patchwork - Lucy M. Boston

Lucy M. Boston was the author of the Green Knowe books which  set in a Norman Manor House based on her own home in Hemingford Grey  built c. 1130. She lived there from the late 1930s until her death in 1990. 

Chapter Text

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow —

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Edgar Allen Poe - A Dream Within a Dream


Leads and Leporidae

Sunday, May 24th 2015


 

Rey curled up, strained and exhausted after everything, as soon as she reached her bed. Within moments she was drifting back into the past, her past, even before she was really asleep...

Rey had been listless all week. She had dragged herself out of bed every day and mindlessly stumbled through it. But yesterday she had started feeling really unwell; even the thought of food had turned her stomach. Bee had suspected it was the ‘flu that had been working its way around the neighbourhood, and had kept her home from school that day to keep an eye on her. She’d sat with Rey and read to her for a few hours in the early afternoon.

 

Rey woke with a start; she didn’t remember falling asleep. The last thing she remembered was Bee reading a story about a boy with dark hair and eyes who read to the sea. She had thought that she’d like to see the sea; and to know a boy like that, who was kind and liked to read.

She had only started school a few weeks before and it had been a bit of a shock. It was not calm like at home. Most of the boys in her class were very loud and tended to throw books at each other rather than attempt to look at them, let alone read them.

Rey felt uneasy, it was very dark; there were no lights on in her room or the upstairs landing. The only light was the  streetlights’ eerie sodium orange glow that seemed to ooze through the bedroom window.

The house was deathly still, and quiet; as if every breath was being held. She looked around in confusion; Bee was still sitting in the old easy chair she had pulled up beside the bed. She seemed to be asleep. Rey frowned.

Bee usually snored like a jackhammer, as Pop would describe it; usually he got a playful prod for his trouble. She was slumped awkwardly to one side and the book she had been reading from had fallen on the floor. Ignoring the strange fuzzy feeling in her head Rey leaned over and placed on small hand on her knee and shook her.

“Bee?”

There was no response. Rey’s heart began to race. She clambered out from under the covers and kneeling up on Bee’s lap, began to shake her by the shoulders.

“Mama Bee! Wake up. Please!”

Her cries became choked sobs.  She had no idea how long she sat there, alternating between hugging and shaking her beloved Bee, now as cool and unmoving as a marble statue as she clung on to some childish notion that somehow her own warmth be enough to bring her back to her.

 

Rey sat bolt upright, tears streaming down her face. Why had that particular evening come back to torment her? It was a memory she had kept buried for a very long time, and she was at a loss as to why it would resurface now. Nothing that had happened today, as stressful, and frustrating as it had been should have triggered the recollection of the moment when everything began to crumble around her. She had thought that being found curled up in a corpse’s lap was the worst thing that could happen to her. But it was only the beginning. Mr Larsson had been found too, not dead… Not yet. But within a week he was taken from her as well, and she was on her own again but this time no long in blissful ignorance of her true situation.

A carbon monoxide leak from the water heater in the bathroom, silent and unseen had changed her life forever.

Rey’s suspected ‘flu had been the only noticeable signs of the family’s monoxide poisoning. But she was of an age where children would catch anything going, and school was rife with germs.

Then the Larsson’s own children had arrived, she heard them from her hospital bed where she was pretending to be asleep her head turned to the wall and eyes squeezed shut. She couldn’t face seeing anyone who might look like Bee and Pops.

 

“How could they not notice?”

“Someone should have checked”

“I blame myself.”

“And the girl?”

 

Rey, still suffering from the poison’s malign effects, had taken those words, muffled and disjointed, to mean that she was to blame for what had happened. She had as good as killed them, or they thought she had.

Her first proper meeting with the Larsson’s biological children, as her case worker had called them, had not gone well. She had acted towards them with such a coldness verging on antagonism that they seemingly washed their hands of her. She had recoiled from their daughter’s attempt to hug her and they had no experience with children and were so wrapped up in their own grief that they made no further overtures.

 

It was only years later on discussing the matter with Finn, who as a social worker understood the system, she realised and accepted that the Larsson’s children had probably been advised to not make further contact with her. They were not approved foster parents so would not have been able to take over her care. Had she behaved with a bit more grace perhaps they would have considered it, although the chances of her being placed with them was slim.

 

Rey rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hands. It was all in the past now. She was only partly to blame for what had happened afterwards, but she knew from experience that mulling over what might have been was fruitless. She had potentially wasted her chance for some kind of a family back then, because she hadn’t known better. Now she had a second chance, even though she felt it would be an uphill battle. Her ultimate aim was to belong somewhere, somewhere with him.

Rey decided she was going to make a real fresh start. Simply moving to the other side of the country wasn’t enough. She would make a conscious effort to take actions with a positive outcome in mind. No more assuming the worst without question. It would be hard, and she’d probably fall back into old habits but it didn’t hurt to at least try.

Tomorrow she would find a nice postcard and send it to the Larsson’s children. She had their addresses; they still without fail sent her cards at Christmas every year though she had never once replied. Initially she had been too annoyed with them for their perceived slight, and then she felt she had left it too late.

But really, it was never too late. She would try and make her peace with them; and then she would attempt to do the same with that old man. Her animosity had shifted subtly into a lingering curiosity; she wanted to understand what bothered him so much. Maybe she could convince him to help her, and in so doing, ease his own clearly guilty conscience. She was nothing if not determined; she was going to get to the bottom of this.

Rey heaved a deep sigh; she had most definitely gotten more, far more, than she bargained for when she had bought that house.

 

“Rey? Are you alright child?”

Maz was knocking on her door.

“Yeah! Sure. Just a moment!” Rey blew her nose. She must look a sight; grubby face, hair a mess, half dressed. She pulled on her pyjama bottoms and grabbed her still damp jeans off the floor before opening the door.

Maz entered bearing a tray with a Ploughman’s lunch on it and a glass of water. She seemed intent on ignoring Rey’s red rimmed eyes, nor her dishevelled appearance.

“Did you have a nice walk earlier?” Maz asked conversationally as she placed the tray down on the bed.

“Oh! Um, yes, it was fine.” Rey fought to keep the tightness from her voice and though she was certain Maz had picked up on it, she had the tact to not mention it.

“Good! I left the door unlocked when I went out to to walk Chewie this morning in case you woke up early and needed some fresh air as well. I suspect that it tired you out, though, after all that driving yesterday.”

She paused for a moment before digging in her pocket and withdrawing a small object and holding it out to her.

“It’s a spare key. For you.”

Rey just stared at it, “are you sure?”

“Quite! Can’t have you stuck in here if you have a sudden urge to, oh I don’t know, go for a moonlit walk.” Maz winked conspiratorially.

Rey wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that. Well not in any way that didn’t sound insane. How did one casually ask about enchanted people?

“Well eat up, can’t have you missing meals. You need to keep your strength up.”

Rey hoped that Maz knew how grateful she was for that lunch, for the simple thought behind it. She wondered if she should or could ask about the old man. She’d known, surely; Maz seemed to know everything and everyone.

 

“Hey Maz!”  A voice called up from the pub. Maz picked up her hand and placed the key in her palm.

“Take it,” she said closing Rey’s hand around the key and giving it a quick squeeze of reassurance before heading down the stairs calling out, “Just a moment, Wedge!”

Rey looked at the key; it was such a simple gesture but suggested Maz had some inkling of what was going on with her Well, so be it then, Rey shrugged, before tucking in to her meal.

It had been rather drizzly when Rey ventured forth again to go and have a better look at the progress being made on the house. It wasn’t so bad that she felt compelled to drive rather than walk, though. She found she liked the walk; it felt natural to step out of the door of the pub and just keep going, as if she was on auto-pilot. The sun had broken through the lackluster cloud cover and all signs pointed to a warm afternoon.

It was strange to be standing inside the house again; but this time, with solid walls rising up around her, she found she delighted in the feeling.

Rey ran one hand along the exposed stonework of the chimney breast. She loved it; it was rough, and real.  It reminded her of when the house was a ruin and this crazy adventure had started; and yet it was still a place where she, also a broken thing in her own way, could rebuild herself.

She leant into the wall, one ear turned towards it as if waiting for the stones themselves to whisper some secret truth to her. Maybe she just wanted to embrace the building, as it had her, when it was little more than rubble and yet a haven for her. There wasn’t much more to see; the rest of the walls were yet to be plastered, the flooring had yet to be settled on, and the upstairs was inaccessible. It still looked far from complete; but Rose had assured her that there was a strong possibility that she’d be able to move in in six weeks’ time.

Rey stood for a moment in the doorway looking out at the the sea; she smiled to herself, reassured that this would be the first of many times she’d stand here drinking in this view. In time, perhaps she wouldn’t be alone.

 

She was about to head back up the lane and into town when she noticed the boy’s den out of the corner of her eye. They really had come up with quite an imaginative game the day before;  perhaps a bit too imaginative, given how the cloud monster had affected Tim. The top had appeared to be some pieces of driftwood wedged between some boulders and the cliff face. Something at the back of her head made her to investigate it further.

Rey pulled away the rubbish that had collected over the makeshift roof - tattered old fishing nets, plastic sheeting of unknown provence and slimy seaweed - revealing not the irregular, rough planks she had expected but instead a large expanse of planed, silvery wood.

Could it be? Rey wondered as her pulse quickened in excitement. It was a table; would it be too much to hope that it was the table from the photograph? She pulled herself up on one of the stones the table was wedged against to give her some height; and, leaning across, she sought out the corners, uncovering them with shaking hands. Hopping back down, she worked her way down the nearest one, removing scraps of rope and plastic that had wrapped themselves around the thick leg. It was beautifully carved all around to look as if oak leaves had settled on its lower third. She moved across to the other leg on the same side; and discovered that, rather than a repetition of the oak leaf motif, it had bees settled on it.

The other two legs were too difficult to reach. She’d need to ask Rose if it would be possible to somehow free the table from between the rocks, where it had been jammed for god knows how long. She was at a loss as to how it could have ended up there in the first place.

Rey cleared the last of the debris from the table top and ran a hand along it. Even after all these years, exposed to the elements, it was still silky smooth. A sound like rushing water filled her ears; the roar grew so loud that the ground beneath her seemed to shake. Rey closed her eyes to brace herself against the coming onslaught, but nothing happened other than the sensation of a gentle nudge at the small of her back.

When she opened her eyes, she found herself standing in the doorway of the house again, but this time looking in rather than out toward the sea. Behind her the warm marmalade light of a late afternoon sun, suggestive of that golden hour on a Sunday when time seemed to stretch on forever, was casting long low shadows. To her left, the table was placed roughly where it had been in the photograph. A boy was sitting at the table, surrounded by books. He was hunched over, engrossed in his work, his dark hair falling over his face revealing a large pale ear. Rey took a few soundless steps forward and, as if on automatic pilot, placed one hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Taken unawares, his head snapped up and he turned to face her; a shy smile on his face that only widened further the longer he looked at her, though their eyes met for barely a heartbeat. Rey felt something tug at her and she stumbled backwards.

She landed with a bump on the stony ground, slightly winded, but grinning like an idiot. The boy had looked very like Kylo, but much younger. If she had to guess, about fourteen or fifteen, with facial features he still had yet to grow into; not that she could now recall much about him other than his warm, coffee coloured eyes, and the smudge of dark ink on one cheek.

Was this a hint of what was to come? A home, with a family… a dark-haired child of her own? If that was the case, then she really hadn’t a moment to lose; she needed to find that old man again and beg, demand, do whatever she could to find out what he knew. That child, not to mention she, needed his father needed the hesitant smiles; she was smiling herself, as her own moment slid back into place.

 

The bees were bustling about the headland above the cove, diving in and out of yellow gorse flowers, their energy matched by Rey’s purposeful stride along the path. She paused for a moment to breathe in the wonderful coconut scent from the sun-warmed flowers. This was the spot that had haunted her dreams for weeks. In them, she had felt like she was straining to grasp at a dangled prize, just out of reach and insubstantial. Now, in the daytime, with the smells and sounds of life all around her, and bolstered by her vision, it seemed anything was possible; that she could reach out for what she wanted without the risk of it turning to dust in her hands.

When thou wakest,

Thou takest

True delight

In the sight

Of thy former lady’s-

 

“Rey?” A dark head popped up from behind a clump of gorse. She recognised that voice, and the open, round, friendly face it came from. Rey hadn’t realised she’d actually spoken the words aloud.

“Rose?”

“Rey!” The young woman exclaimed, jumping up. There was a slightly deeper grumble from the vicinity of the gorse bush from which Rose had appeared; but Rey had little time to consider it, as Rose was now eveloping her in an embrace. Taken by surprise, Rey stiffened.

“Sorry,” Rose apologised, pulling back; “I tend to hug first and ask permission after!”

“No, no! It’s ok. It was a great hug.” Rey chuckled.

“Well, I learnt from the best,” Rose smiled before adding over her shoulder, “come on out and be sociable!”

 

There was a grunt and a groan; and a tall, lithe young man with striking blue eyes and chiseled cheekbones awkwardly got to his feet. Rey stifled a giggle; she really had chosen her quote rather well. His tousled hair reminded her of the flames in the small grate in the pub. He gave Rey a sheepish grin, as he made a lame attempt at smoothing down his hair, before lightly stepping over the prickly bush between them to shake her hand.

“I’m Armitage, Rose’s fiance.”

“We were just… what were we out here doing, I forgot,” Rose giggled.

“We had come out here so I could do some sketching,” Armitage said with mock exasperation indicating their bags and a discarded drawing pad. “But someone one got distracted by the clouds… and....” He said giving Rose a pointed look.

Rose just bit her lip. It was obvious to Rey that these two were very much in love; and well matched, in their apparently mismatched way. Where he was tall she was short, where she was outgoing, he appeared reserved. He had a line in mock-pessimistic snark that dovetailed neatly with her bubbly enthusiasm.

Besides, she herself had quite wantonly encouraged a rather shy Kylo to ravish her on a rock, so who was she to judge Rose and her fiance having a fumble behind a gorse bush.?  She and Rose exchanged a knowing look that doubled as a massive thumbs up and exuberant high five, all in one.

Armitage let his stern look linger a moment longer before breaking out into the wide grin that had been waiting just beneath the surface.

“What were you going to sketch?” Rey asked, changing the subject from the one now at the forefront of her mind.   It’s only nine days, you have waited longer, you can wait nine days.

“It’s a beautiful spot, I’d be at a loss to choose a subject.”

“It’s favourite of mine as well. I am rather partial to the aforementioned clouds; we get so many weird and wonderful examples around here.” Armitage’s face was bright with enthusiasm and he was smiling broadly now.  

 

“He has stacks of notebooks devoted to just cloud formations,” Rose chimed in.

“But in this instance, I was going to try for a view of the house - your house that is - from up here, that gives some sense of its placement within the cove.”  He turned and squinted off in the direction from which Rey had come. “But... it seems the best vantage point is about halfway down the cliff, and somewhere out there,” he indicated a spot in mid-air about two metres away.

“Armitage does all the artist’s impression artwork for our projects,” Rose explained. “Paige is rather old fashioned, no digital renderings for her!”

“Just as well, really,” he added, “Photoshop hates me - it always crashes. Then again, the feeling is mutual. And it’s nice to have a chance to get out and spend some time with my best Rose-bud!” He wound one long arm around Rose’s shoulder and pulled her close.  “I spend so much of my working life in front of a computer screen; it’s nice to… disconnect, you know.”

Rey nodded.  “Oh I know, all right. I’m a software developer, so I can’t really get away from them. What do you do?”

A shadow seemed to pass over his face. “Insurance.  I hate it, but my father insisted I needed a stable job…” That was not what she had expected him to say, and she felt uncomfortable for bringing up the topic. Especially when it was apparent that his relationship with his father was less than ideal.  He must have noticed her discomfiture adding, “but it pays well and does for the time being.”

“I guess you’re coming from the house?” Rose added.

“Yes, it’s looking amazing. Oh, and that reminds me. This is going to sound crazy, but I found an old table. It’s kind of wedged, between some rocks. Would it be possible to have some of the work men unstick it?”

“What kind of table?” Rose looked incredulous.  Rey wondered if she thought she was talking about some formica-topped monstrocity.

Rey shrugged, “an old, solid wood one; quite large, with carvings on the legs. It might be oak.”

Rose’s eyes went rounder than Rey would have thought was physically possible. She clung on to Hux’s arm as she started bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet.

“Wow? Really? The famous Solo table survived?”

“Famous? What do you mean?” Rey looked from Rose to Armitage, who was also looking rather excited in his own restrained way.

“It won a prize or something, about 40 years ago.” He explained.

“For a table?”

Rose waved her hands excitedly in the air.  “Well, it was the carvings on the legs that clinched it, really. It’s the one that’s in that picture I sent you. Our old woodworking teacher was OBSESSED with it, but I think part of that was because Mr. Solo had been his woodworking teacher; and everyone liked him. God, do you remember, Arm?”

“I remember bringing it up was always a surefire way to kill about fifteen minutes of class,” Hux noted dryly. “But wasn’t it presumed lost when the house was destroyed?”

Destroyed ? I thought it had just fallen into disrepair.”

“Oh yes, a massive wave…”

Rey chewed her cheek pensively; neither Dopheld nor the survey reports had mentioned the possibility of waves that strong.

“... really sad… his body was washed up down on the beach near town; and they never found his son…”

In spite of the warm sun, Rey shivered; the skin on her cheeks and back momentarily feeling frozen and tight.

Rose continued “... it was like a once in a hundred years kind of wave. ”

 

Okay, great; well, that gave her sixty years grace then. Rey shuddered to think what effect it would have on her insurance premium; perhaps Hux could be convinced to give her a friends and family rate. She glanced over at him, he had gone very quiet; and, if possible, even paler, and was staring at her in a way that made her very uncomfortable.

“Is there something wrong?”

Hux just pointed at her shoulder.

“Oh…”

what more was there to say, when one saw that the bees that had previously been bustling about the gorse flowers were now settling on her shoulders and wandering up and down her upper arms, their hum now more like the purring of contented cats.

“Okay, this is a bit strange...”

Rose squeezed Hux’s arm, drawing him back to where their discarded bags and easel lay.

“It’s okay, I’ve got your epi-pen here just in case. Let’s just… head home and... are you okay, Rey?”

Rey blinked and looked up; she hadn’t been aware of Rose and Hux’s retreat, she’d been so fixated on the bees.  Their hum was making her feel calm and drowsy. “What? Oh, yeah, sure. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Rey wondered how to best convince the bees to leave her; she took a few tentative steps following in Rose and Hux’s wake, but the bees seemed determined to stay with her. She was loathe to start running about flapping her arms like an idiot; that wasn’t going to do anyone any good. She mentally shrugged, and decided to just take the most direct course of action and ask them to leave.

Pitching her voice low to match their soporific hum, she murmured, “You know, I need to get going as well…” The pitch of their buzzing dipped as if they were deep in conversation. A bee committee meeting, Rey mused. Then, as one, they lifted away from her like a dark cloak of sound. Just the simple, strange thing made Rey feel immensely powerful; not to mention majestic, like a queen or sorceress. She laughed out loud at herself for her her silly notion before nodding, “thank you,” and setting off.

 

She was in sight of the town when something caught her eye in the path ahead. Things really do come in threes, Rey thought to herself.  She moved closer to see a large rabbit on the path in front of her, nibbling at the sweet grass tips. Around its neck was a blue ribbon. “You must be Trudy,” Rey said, softly, so as not to startle the rabbit. “Shouldn’t you be at home?” She leant down to pick it up, and was just about to close her hands around its soft midsection, when it hopped away and scampered a bit further down the path. It then stopped and turned,rearing up on its haunches to fix her with a look.

This really is too much. Visions from tables, cloaks of bees, whatever next? Falling down a rabbit hole?

She shrugged and headed after the rabbit, who would stop every now and again; apparently to make sure she was still following. Rey found herself led into a small cemetery. It looked like it didn’t get many visitors; most of the graves were overgrown. She looked around, spotting the tell-tale blue ribbon moving between the stones a little to one side. She worked her way along the row, keeping an eye on the rabbit.

Some of the headstones were so weather-beaten that it was hard to make out the names and dates on them. She spotted one for a Brenda Eleanor Darklighter, dated 1975, which piqued her curiosity; not least because Darklighter sounded like such an awesome name but also because it was odd to find they shared a middle name.  

Rey finally found the errant rabbit nibbling at the grass by one of the more recent gravestones nearby. It made no attempt to flee, so this must have been its goal.

“So then, what was it you wanted me to...” Rey felt her blood turn to ice water when she read the names on it.

 

Han Solo

Beloved Husband

13/7/1924 - 5/3/1977

 

Benjamin Matthew Solo

Adored Son

29/2/1956-5/3/1977

 

Rey turned her head as she heard a step and a breath; a slim tall, elegant woman, whose silver hair had a hint of mauve to it, was standing just behind her. The large bouquet of flowers she held in her hand was the oddest Rey had ever seen. It was mostly daisies and chamomile interspersed with what looked like dill, surrounded by big curly ferns and a couple sprigs of fragrant thyme.

It reminded Rey more of a garnish than a floral arrangement. Perhaps they had some significance. She’d never herself paid particular attention to the meaning of flowers. Flowers were flowers.  She wasn’t a fan of cut flowers herself; she couldn’t bear to have them in her house, dying.

The woman, seemingly unfazed by her presence, laid the bouquet down, brushing aside some of the longer grass that had been obscuring the bottom of the stone.

1955

Two lost souls waiting in slumber

Rey bit her lip.

“It was dreadful. Leia never recovered from it; she never recovered from losing the twins either, and for it to happen when it did, when her brother was in the throes of a nervous breakdown.”

Rey was surprised by the woman’s forthrightness; telling her all this unbidden.

“What happened?” Rey ventured.

“Sudden storm. Freak wave. Or so I’m told. Enveloped the boat while Han and Ben were out in it, and the house. Everything was just smashed to smithereens. ” She said simply, shaking her head, as if still in disbelief after all that time.

“They found Han’s body, later, down by Merlin’s cave. Not a scratch on him apart from where a spar had run him through the heart.”

“And their son? Ben?”

The woman took a deep breath and sadly shook her head. “Her brother, Luke, when he was in a fit state - which I don’t think he ever was, ever again -  claimed he saw him washed up on the cove later that evening. He said he went to get help, but Ben was gone when he got back there. Never said if he was living or dead at the time.”

If you call it living.

“Leia never recovered. She was in hospital for months, unconscious for weeks. I came down and stayed as long as I could. But… she gets better care at the nursing home than I could offer her. And then the recent fall...”

“Oh?”

“Yes.  She has, or rather had, a tendency to go wandering at night. Once a month like clockwork, at the full moon, she was convinced she had to get out, get back to the cove. Most of the time they’d be able to calm her down, slip her a sleeping pill I suspect.”

But someone hadn’t properly locked a side door.  She managed to get out, and she fell in the dark and broke her hip. Poor Kay has to push her up and down that cliff path most days, to keep her calm. Checking on the house. But she’s been far less agitated now that it’s been sold. I think that was a great weight off her mind.”

There was a rueful smile.  “She was in great form when I saw her today; she’s been able to spin some comforting fairy tale in her head; hat the house is being restored, and so therefore her son is coming home.  I don’t know whether it’s for the best, or not.”

The woman, who had been staring at the headstone during this long and, from Rey’s perspective, heartbreaking and illuminating, narrative, turned to look at her. Her eyes narrowed in faint suspicion.

“What brings you here?”

“I bought the house.” Rey replied simply.

“I know that, but what brings you here ?”

Rey wondered which answer would be the more believable that she had questions about what could only be described as the next level shit that seemed to be going on or that a rabbit had led her. She shrugged and took a chance on the former.

“I’m not sure, questions…?”

The woman moved off, “The questions were always here, so are some of the answers. I suspect you are here to provide solutions.”

With that she walked off, leaving Rey to contemplate her parting words. Why was everyone she met here so cryptic? How could she provide answers to questions she didn’t know or solutions to problems that defied explanation?

Then again, was it possible that the answers to at least some of her questions were, quite literally, staring her in the face? Well then if that was the case, then, who was Kylo? Ben Solo? A man, presumed to have been lost at sea, who if he was alive today would be pushing sixty?

What had happened to him? Caught up in a devastating freak wave and turned into an unaging mythical creature. Why had he been changed? Well... she simply couldn’t come up with an  answer for that one; short of divine inspiration, she was drawing a blank.  She looked down at the rabbit, who was was still at her feet, now patiently nibbling on some of the dill. Rey picked up the rabbit and carried it back with her to the village.

It was next level shit. The pieces were arranging themselves into answers, and if those answers seemed out of the everyday world, so was he; so were those eyes, and both were very real.

The rabbit squirmed its way out of Rey’s arms before she entered the village proper, wriggling under the side gate into the back garden of an end of terrace house.

“You’re welcome!” Rey called after it, as she brushed copious amounts of rabbit hair from herself. She looked up from her clothes, and a few doors down caught sight of her quarry, unlocking a door and apparently having some trouble opening it.

She called out to him.  “Who are you?”

“I might ask you the same thing,” he said wearily, face trained forward, all his focus on shouldering open the door.

“I overheard your conversation the other evening. I’m sorry, it wasn’t intentional.”

He turned and looked her up and down, “I can see why she likes you. You aren’t easily put off and you get straight to the point. He would have liked you, too.” His tone was a marked contrast from earlier that day; it was softer, more measured.

“Who?” Rey asked.

“My sister, her husband. He’s dead, she’s... as good as, her mind… gone. Grief and shock will do that. And it’s my fault.” He gave the door an underscoring thump, and it finally swung open.

“In the end, when it comes down to it, it’s all my fault,” he repeated again as he moved into the narrow hallway.

Without thinking Rey followed him inside.

“And what about the cave?”

“It’s a domain of evil!” he said; turning on her, his eyes flashing.

“It isn’t. He isn’t.” Rey protested.

“You’ve been seduced, my dear, just like we all have been, by hollow promises, of what you most desire in all the world.” He sneered. “Fortune, glory, love , safety! People are so easily led. They will blindly do anything so long as they believe there is something in it to their benefit. And in the end you are left with nothing but regrets. Shame. And consequences.”  

 

She followed him down the hallway and into the dimly lit room; it seemed to serve as sitting room, study and bedroom. One wall was taken up by double-stacked, overflowing bookcases, shelves bowing slightly under the weight. 

He shrugged off his long dark coat and threw it over the arm of a battered armchair, then shuffled over to sit down on the narrow, rusted metal bed that was pushed up against the wall opposite the bookcases.

Rey drew her mouth into a tight line. Here was a bitter, bitterly sad old man. Was it really her place to admonish him for something thing he had clearly been castigating himself over for years?  

“Listen. I’m sorry about earlier.”

“I’m not,” he said shortly.

 

Rey gave him a-what-the-hell look, and he threw up his hands to ward off her growing anger.

“I mean, I deserved it. You were right. You are right. I’m just old, tired. Set in my ways. Set on this path, that has only turned darker as time marched on; and by the time I realised it, it was too late to turn back.”

“It’s never too late.” Rey said, advancing, shaking her head.

“It is for me.” His voice suggested only resignation; he had truly lost all hope.

“Can I get you something, a cup of tea?” He looked like he could use one. Not to mention a decent meal.

 

He didn’t answer, but he didn’t say no either; so Rey went off in search of a kitchen, or something approaching one.  Behind her there was a heavy curtain, which she speculatively pulled to one side. It revealed a smaller room, more of a lean-to really, with a kettle, travel hot-plate and a chipped sink with a single tap. She found the tea caddy easily enough.

 

There was a carton of soy milk on the wobbly formica table by the sink. She made a face as she opened it to sniff it, the smell already escaping as soon as the cap was loosened. She tipped the carton to look inside, the contents making a worrying slosh, shlunk noise as she did so. Looking  was a mistake; the smell should have been indication enough. The semi-liquid lurking at the bottom had a faint bluish-green tinge to it. Her stomach turned over like a grumpy teenager on a school morning, and she closed her eyes as she head the carton away from herself and quickly screwed the cap back on. “Ugh, and I thought it smelt bad… when it was fresh!”  She spied a black refuse sack slumped in a corner, trying to touch it as little as possible she threw the carton into it and pushed it away with one foot.

 

“I’m going to get you some fresh milk, Okay? I’ll be back in a moment,” she said as she re-entered the larger room, wiping her hands on her trousers, ‘another pair for the laundry’, she thought to herself.  

There was no answer. Rey crept forward to check that he had hadn’t gone the way of the milk. She let out a sigh of relief as she neared him; he had rolled over on the bed, pulling a ratty old tartan travelling rug around himself and was snoring softly.

Rey crept out, leaving the door on the latch.

When she returned there was no sign of him; the bed was empty, and there were no signs of life from any other part of the small building. She waited for about ten minutes but when he still didn’t appear she decided there was no point in hanging around any longer. He didn’t have a fridge so she filled a saucepan with some cold water and placed the carton in it.

 

She went over to the desk to look for a piece of paper so she could leave him a note. It was awash with books, notebooks; finding paper wouldn’t be a problem, it was finding a blank piece that was the issue.  

 

To one side, standing in a relative oasis of calm amidst the maelstrom of a desk, was a carved jade figurine of a woman in what appeared to be traditional Chinese dress. One arm was outstretched,  tracing an arc, fluttering sleeves frozen in the air. The jade’s soft, milky green stood out in a room that was otherwise a drab palette of browns. Rey reached out and touched the tiny hand with the tip of her finger.  She remembered reading that jade was supposed to bring harmony and luck, it didn’t look like it was working so far The thought cut her to the quick.

Her hand dropped and lighted on a list just under the statue.

It was some seemingly unrelated words headed by the word ‘Mara’: garden, sea, plague, woman.

Rey shrugged and, finally spying a blank piece of notepaper, pulled it towards her and reached for the fountain pen laying nearby on the desktop.

 

The vision this time was very different from the one she had experienced after touching the table. She felt the room rotate around her and she was back at the cove again. All she could see was debris and crimson stained water and… she snatched her hand back as if it had been burnt, before she could see well enough to know for certain what she thought she had seen. A body. Face down. Dark hair caught up in the ebb and flow of the shallow water. She didn’t want to see that, she never wanted to see that.

Rey grabbed for the slightly chewed red pencil beside the pen, and scribbled a note to the effect of: there’s fresh milk in the back . She was too shaken to muster up any other sentiments along the lines of ‘please take care of yourself’, she couldn’t even manage ‘goodbye’. She left the house as quickly as she could, and hurried back to the familiar and comforting surroundings of the pub.

Chapter Text

I dream of you, to wake: would that I might

Dream of you and not wake but slumber on;

Nor find with dreams the dear companion gone,

As, Summer ended, Summer birds take flight.

In happy dreams I hold you full in night.

I blush again who waking look so wan;

Brighter than sunniest day that ever shone,

In happy dreams your smile makes day of night.

Thus only in a dream we are at one,

Thus only in a dream we give and take

The faith that maketh rich who take or give;

If thus to sleep is sweeter than to wake,

To die were surely sweeter than to live,

Though there be nothing new beneath the sun.

Christina Rossetti


Notes and Names

Sunday, May 24th 2015

 

When she finally flopped down on her bed later that evening, Rey’s mind was a whirlpool of thoughts, conjectures and theories, roiling, forming tangled eddies. It had been an inordinately long day, and so much had happened that there was almost too much to process.

Luckily she had been required to do little more than scrape plates and fill the dishwasher; straightforward, repetitive work that didn’t suffer if she got caught up in her thoughts and happened to end up attempting to  remove non-existent food scraps from a plate for five minutes.

Part of her, most of her, wanted to believe that Kylo was in fact Ben Solo, that he had once been a human, and that there was the possibility that he might be again. Of course that just led to a host of questions that made Rey’s head ache.

How had he become Kylo? Where did the name Kylo from from? What would happen when he returned to human form, assuming he could? Would he, like Oisin, return to his true age?

That one she wasn’t so bothered by. With his bone structure, she could imagine he’d still be very attractive at sixty.

 

At this point though, she had nothing to go on other than the fact that she couldn’t bear to be apart from him longer than she had to be. That simple point would inform her next course of action, once she was in a fit state to formulate one. But right now all she wanted to do was to sleep; and maybe her subconscious, or whichever part of the brain it was, would come up with some ideas while sifting through the revelations of the day. The more she thought about it, the more she felt she was floundering; caught up in what seemed to be one of two things: either a fairy tale with a guaranteed happily ever after, or a hopelessly oppressive, Lovecraftian, M.R. James-esque cautionary tale that would only end in misery, or a psychotic episode, or both.

She hoped it was the former, even though all signs seemed to point to the latter.

When she made it to her room a little later, she found that the poetry book had been joined by a slim, black, leather-bound notebook. It looked like it had spent most of its life shoved in a pocket, or kept in the bottom of a bag; the leather was scuffed in places, and the rubbery part of the elasticated ribbon that held it close had long along perished and hung slack.



Rey needed no further invitation; it might has well have had Read Me embossed front and centre on the cover, rather than the blink and you’d miss it small initials A.S. on the lower right hand corner. The silver that had filled the letters had dissipated with age.

She had come to the conclusion, earlier that day, that Maz knew far more that she was telling both about Rey’s activities and the general… hinkiness at large. And yet she seemed to be content, if not to act as a guide in this strange investigation that Rey seemed to have embarked upon, to leave out breadcrumbs for her.

It struck Rey that the notebook’s appearance was essentially the the answer to her unasked question from earlier. She was at a loss as to why Maz was taking such a light handed approach. Perhaps it was for the same reason Rey had not come out and asked her; it just seemed too fantastical to find a way to broach the subject in a normal, everyday conversation.

Rey took a breath and opened the book, unsure of what she would find within, and how it would enlighten her. Written on the first page in large, round letters were the words:

Ben Solo

 

There then followed a brief attempt at diary entries; just the two, about six weeks apart:

 

30/7/66

England won the World Cup. Dad said he wasn’t sure about that third goal.

10/9/66

Mum and Dad finally let me watch Doctor Who this evening. One of the companions is called Ben and the story is set in Cornwall. I thought the show was supposed to be about robots but this one seemed to be about pirates or smugglers or something. I’ll have to ask Gavin in school on Monday, he’s seen all of it.

 

The episode in question didn’t ring any bells, and Rey had seen her fair share of old episodes; Finn had always been a huge fan. Though to be fair, any of the old ones she had seen recently were mostly while mildly tipsy with Finn and Poe, giggling over the rough and ready production values and wonky monsters.

“Everytime the set wobbles you must drink!” Poe would exclaim. Thankfully for the sake of all their livers the practice didn’t last long. Finn and Poe became parents and decided to be more responsible. One attempt at substituting candy for drinks had ended so badly, with stomach-aches all round, that they decided to institute the more sedate and successful chinese and classic movie night.

 

Rey suspected that the episode Ben had watched was one of the show’s many lost episodes.

The next few pages were blank. Rey carried on flipping through until she reached a page containing carefully copied out runes that Rey recognised very well. Of course before the internet he would have done what he did. It was what  she herself had done; figured out the moon runes on Thorin’s map by carefully comparing them with the translated text in the novel.

On another page some Elvish script had been painstakingly if a little jerkily copied out.

‘Oh, Ben… you dear, sweet nerd.’ Rey smiled to herself.  

A few pages later and there really was no doubt left in her mind; the handwriting was clearly the same as the that in the poetry book, and Kylo’s thank you note. There were snippets of poems, written out in a more mature and practised hand; now deft and smooth in its execution. Rey closed her eyes for a moment, thinking of the precious note that was currently marking her place in the dog-eared Georgette Heyer novel that was still in her bag; Mary had just fled from Dominic and was about to meet his even more imposing father - things were looking bleak but would soon be back on track. The book had so much unresolved sexual tension and was  a bit too close to bone for her to read for the foreseeable future.

 

Instead she pictured him, Ben, with a pen - no, one of the brushes she had bought for him - in his large, moon-pale hand, smoothly drawing out a dark, inky O. Other letters followed, languid and sensual. An involuntary shiver travelled up and down the length of her spine, landing as a heavy humming that permeated her very being; never before had she considered that imagining someone writing would turn her on quite so much.  She wondered how it might feel for him to trace the tip of one callused index finger over her skin like that. A curling, swooping ‘R’ on on her shoulder, or better yet the small of her back, followed by a coiling ‘e’ on her collarbone. And then a looping, diving ‘y’ just below her navel…

Rey took a deep stuttering breath, she was so close, in all senses of the word, and yet…As much as she wished he was here with her, as much as she wanted to talk with him to confirm her theories, not to mention all the things she wanted to do before all that, he wasn’t; and it would have to wait. Shifting slightly to sit back up straight against the pillows, she tried to rein in her wandering thoughts and concentrate on what was written.

Turning the page, her eyes fell on a passage that made her heart skip a beat. To anyone else it might read like the fanciful poetry of a kid who had watched far too much Doctor Who. But to her it meant something; it was as if her unspoken words were being answered.  

 

I wish I could speak to you.

You are are not here and yet I know you are listening:

Your eyes can cross all barriers time and space might throw up against us.

 

All I can do is put my words to paper,

Like the Cumean Sybil committing her visions to the leaves, and scattering them to the four winds.

 

Rey bit her lip. How old was he when he had written this? His mid to late teens? She would have fallen in love with time any time, her fourteen year old self would have watched him across rooms, across the street, longing for him to look up, or look over at her. How long had he expected to wait for an answer? The next page was more of the same:

 

I don’t know you you are,

Or where you are,

And I often am not sure when you are.

You only seem to exist in that realm between sleep and waking.

I hope to waken one day and find you with me.

 

There are echoes of you everywhere,

You are hidden in plain sight.

You peer at me through others’ eyes,

You appear in decorative initials.




Rey quickly skimmed the next few pages, not all of it was stream of conscious free-verse that made her heart ache for him.  A score of them were just filled with calligraphic drills; row upon row of linked Us and Cs. Pages of the same swirl repeated over and over that were almost mesmerising to look at. There were doodles of bees and waves, snippets of poems and phrases.

 

The sea gave me life,

The moon gave me dreams,

I pray they give me hope

That they give you me.

 

Three lives hath one life—

Iron, honey, gold.

 

Ben had made some rough notes below the quote:

Iron -  to repel malevolent supernatural creatures.

Honey -  curative properties. Melissa - goddess of bees

Gold - greek myths power of immortality/resurrection, associated with constancy, truth.

 

She wasn’t entirely sure what their significance was, but it struck her that she’d recently had very curious experiences with the first two items; within the last thirty six hours, in fact. She remembered reading once about how bees attacked and dispatched attacking insects like hornets; using vibrations to essentially cook them on the wing from the inside out; she wondered if that fact would interest him.

As Rey turned the page, a piece of folded paper slipped out; the tape that had held in place was yellow and brittle with age and had lost its stick long ago. She carefully unfolded it to reveal a painstakingly recreated ornate initial ‘R’ that looked like it had been copied from an old manuscript. There seemed to be the image of a girl or an angel with in it, wielding what looked like a shaft of light, or very shiny spear.  It was a perfect copy apart from a slight pooling of ink near the page’s edge that had been smudged by a finger. Something about it made her feel elated and also a little uncomfortable. She refolded it, slipped it back in the notebook, flipped towards the back, past more drills and snippets in array of different shades of ink.

A large block of text arrested her; this time it wasn’t poem, but a stark outpouring of concern.

 

I’m worried about Luke. When I saw him last, he was uncharacteristically excited. I don’t mean to say he doesn’t get excited about things, but he generally doesn’t do loud and animated. He kept saying he’d found it, and that he’d made a major breakthrough. I couldn’t really follow what he was saying, other than that it was something about a forgotten or lost M.R. James story set in Cornwall. To be honest I was so wrapped in my own work that I didn’t pay too much attention. He went back down to Treahchto; but from what I understand, he didn’t visit my parents. And lately, since he returned, he has been growing increasingly withdrawn. Prof. Takka has asked me to come see him tomorrow.

 

I feel foolish unburdening myself like this. When I was younger, I seemed to think someone was listening, or going to read this; and it gave me comfort. I suppose I just want to feel that sense of reassurance again. Though I just can’t shake the feeling that something dark is closing in around me, when really I should be concerned about Luke. He is the one who needs help.

 

Rey’s hand trembled; she could feel it too, and it frightened her. She could barely bring herself to look at what might be written on the other side. The next entry seemed to be after Ben’s meeting with the concerned professor.

I had no idea how bad things had gotten with Luke. It seems he’s been missing tutorials; and the lectures he has turned up to have been disjointed and rambling. And now it seems he’s gone off back home.

Professor. T has asked me to head down and bring him back. He said he’d clear me leaving before term ends. I have to admit I’m not looking forward to it at all.

Rey’s heart dropped like a stone when she read the first line on the facing side.

 

5/3/1977

 

No other entry bar the first two had been dated, but this one, for some reason had been and even knowing some of what ultimately followed made her feel sick with dread. Why had he had to date that entry? Why had he had to write anything at all that day? She was torn, but she had to read on, she owed him that at least; and maybe there would be some hint, even a word, that might hold the key of what had happened.

 

I’ve just spoken with Luke. I’ve never seen him like this. He is like a man possessed. He is utterly obsessed with the Great Wave of 1863. Certain that it is linked to a story that, while not written about anywhere, inspired M.R. James’ own stories. I feel like I’m stuck in one of those stories right now. But now he wishes he had never begun his research. He says something is coming. If I heard him right, he thinks it is something he has inadvertently awoken, and something about the clouds. I feel like I’m stuck in one of those stories right now; that sensation of being smothered just seemed to increase as I sat with him. I’m going to go and see my parents. I don’t know what I am going to say to my mother. Oh god, how I wish you were here. I haven’t seen you in what feels like a long time. It seems I am completely alone. Maybe I always was and you are just a figment of my imagination, nothing more than an imaginary friend.   

 

Rey slowly closed the notebook. She had a pretty good idea of how Ben must have felt as he had written those words; like his world was slipping away from underneath him as he saw someone he cared about, and perhaps looked up to, change so drastically. It was second only to losing them outright. She dearly wished she could have been there for him then; the least she could do was to be here for him now. She also felt a great deal more sympathy for his uncle, though she still harboured some animosity towards him. If he was such a professed expert of M.R. James then surely he would have taken to heart the central tenet of the vast majority of the stories; do not meddle, ever;  never will things go the way you expect.

 

Rey exchanged Ben’s notebook for the reassuring sea-glass ,which had been sitting on the nightstand, and switched off the light before burrowing under the quilt. She tossed and turned on the pillow, trying to get comfortable. Something at the back of her mind was niggling at her like a piece of grit stuck in an oyster.  

Something… Something was there. Her mind was chasing after that pearl of wisdom to find the grit at its core, like a dragon through the clouds, but not a dragon, so some other monster.

Rey’s mind snapped back to the previous day, and Tim and Owen’s game. At the time it had seemed relatively harmless; but Tim’s fear had been palpable, not at all his usual put on act with poorly contained giggles. And then there were the protective crosses of rowan which Maz had  tucked into their pockets - a protection against malign spirits.

 

“We’re defending ourselves against the monster,”

 

“It hides in the clouds.”

 

Rey flipped over and buried her face in the pillow, angling it slightly so she could wrap her arms around it; she was desperate to sleep and reclaim some part of the dream she had woken from what now seemed a lifetime ago. She embraced the pillow closely, squeezing her eyes shut, thinking of something far more solid than clouds; that warm chest in which beat her heart’s twin. 

 

 

The grin that Kylo had allowed himself faded as quickly as her footsteps; and his mood, which for one moment had been buoyant and hopeful, began to sag. Without her presence, the cave was dark again. Both she and her little torch had lit it up and given him hope; but with her gone it was hard to hold fast to it.

Reluctantly he sank back down into the pool, concentrating on the slow flow of water over his face, trying to clear his mind.

He remained like that for a while, his mind devoid of any thoughts that might later be used against him; instead, he just visualized the repetitive calligraphy drills that had always calmed him, until he felt a prickly constriction around his chest. Panic seized him, and he scrambled to gain purchase on the pool’s edge; but something had him in a powerful grip, and he felt himself pulled downwards, far deeper than the pool’s actual depth.

Just as quickly he was released. His eyes flew open; and he found himself back in the warm, welcoming kitchen of his childhood. It was a memory he had denied himself for so long, and he just allowed the sights and smells to flood over him.

He could smell freshly brewed coffee; and from outside he could here a regular thunk-crack sound that had  been a constant feature of early autumn afternoons. It meant his father was just outside, chopping kindling.

 

He was sitting at his father’s prize oak table; it was one of his favourite places to be. When he was little he would camp out under it.  He would spend hours moving from corner to corner running small hands over the cunningly carved oak leaves, bees and scallop shells. He tended to avoid the last leg, with its coiling octopus; when he was younger, it had scared him; now it just made him uncomfortable, with its odd expression of confusion. His mother had once said that it looked slightly surprised.

Now he did his homework at the table. When it was pointed out that he had a perfectly good desk in his room he would counter that it gave him room to spread things out; and his mother never challenged him on that point, just reminded him that he would need to tidy away his books and drawing things when it was time to eat.

But in truth it was because it kept him in the centre of things; he had never liked being too far from his parents, if he could help it, especially as it grew dark.  Once night had fallen with no mishaps, he was happy enough.

He looked about; on the table one of the volumes of the battered old encyclopedia his father had found few weeks earlier was lying open. It was no Britannica, and woefully out of date; but it contained a wealth of poems and folktales and articles on interesting things like steam trains.

In his hand he held a scratchy plastic fountain pen, the hated one he had to use for school. He loathed that pen. But he also remembered how at the time he had loved it; he’d felt so grown up when he was finally allowed to use it rather than a pencil. He appeared to have been in the middle of copying out an example of a manuscript illumination. The outline of a large R was taking shape on the page.

 

On another scrap of paper nearby he had some scribbled notes. He had always done that; writing down things down as he studied, questions for later, one half of what might otherwise be a conversation with a silent yet ever present listener; he’d found it had helped him order his thoughts.

Ray of Light - a play on words? Is it referring to someone called Eleanor? - from the greek meaning shining light.

Rey/Ray Why an e rather than an a or is it just the picture?

Fey/Rey - No it is definitely an R not and F

 

A drop of black ink that had been clinging to the end of the pen nib, poised barely above the paper, finally dropped; ink pooled and spread on the edge.

“Oh...damn,” he muttered, and he quickly made to wipe it away; great, now it was on his fingers.

There was a warm pressure on his shoulder and he looked up sharply in surprise as he turned and caught his cheek with the ink stained finger, to see his father smiling warmly down at him.

 

He had had no doubt been drawn like a magnet to the coffee pot, that was now merrily gurgling away on the stove top. It was reassuring how predictable he was. He was a constant presence, solid, smelling of sweet sawdust mingled with musky sweat and bitter coffee. But there was never seemed to be anything bitter about his father, he always had a ready wit, whether poised to poke fun at his wife and begin a sparring match that always ended the same way, or to gently test the barriers Ben was wont to built up around himself when he was withdrawn, deep in some personal project.

“Hey, Kid!” he rumbled warmly, giving Ben’s shoulder a gentle shake of affection before making a beeline to the stove and pouring himself out a steaming mug of coffee.

“Whatcha doing there?” he asked, after he had taken a restorative drink.

Ben folded in on himself, hunkering down, embarrassed. Though, of course it was no use; he could feel the tips of his ears aflame, red flags, obvious to anyone and everyone. As soon as he could, he was going to grow his hair.

A second mug of coffee was placed down on the table before him and nudged across to him, just close enough to be visible;  His mother always claimed it would stunt his growth, but at nearly fourteen he was as tall as his father.

“Hey, it’s me! You don’t need to hide anything from me.”

He came back to the table and gently prised Ben away from the work spread out across it.

The silence hung between them, like a glass in mid-flight; and Ben braced himself for the worst. His father, the most masculine person he knows, had found him drawing, doodling…

“Wow,” his father said, more a gasp really.

“Sorry…” Ben whispered.

“Sorry?” Now there was an edge in his father’s voice. “For what? This is really good!”

Ben shook his head, grabbling for some explanation of his shame, “it’s not exactly a… I dunno, proper, manly pursuit.”

“Proper?” His father echoed in disbelief. “Manly? You think that to take the time and care to  make something so… beautiful is somehow…” He trailed off before shaking his own head. “What ever gave you such a notion?”

Ben just shrugged, barely able to make eye contact and his father paled.

“Not me I hope. I mean, I know how it looks. All I do now are ‘traditional male pursuits’,” he said, crooking  his fingers for emphasis.

“But seriously, the most manly thing I ever did resulted in producing something beautiful…”

“What?” Ben fully expected his father to wave his hand at the table. But instead he nudged his elbow with a conspiratorial grin.

“You, kid!” Ben coloured afresh. And there it was, the teasing. His father’s expression softened into a warmer smile, that was only emphasised by the look in his eyes.

“You have a beautiful soul, Ben. You are kind and thoughtful. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.”  Ben felt like his heart might explode at that moment.

 

 

Han waited a moment for Ben’s ears to return to their usual colour before speaking further. His darling boy, he thought; he couldn’t wait to see the kind of man he would grow up to be. He decided to forego his usual teasing; the last thing the kid needed to know was the, ins and outs of that evening in the boat with his mother. He smiled to himself in recollection. Leia regularly, laughingly, called it a hunk of junk, and worse; but that evening, with a bottle of wine, a full moon and a gentle breeze, anchored just off their favourite diving rock, she didn’t care about its seaworthiness at all. It had taken her mind off the pain and sorrow that had been eating away at her; and a few months later they were overjoyed to learn she was pregnant again.

“Drawing like this was never my forte. Technical drawing, yes. Give me a ruler and a sharp pencil, sure; I can get by. And, well, you’ve seen the state of my handwriting. But this, this is something else, Ben. You have a real gift for it.”

Han pulled up a chair and watched as Ben showed him how he was copying out a large letter R. The text under the picture said that it was a fragment of a manuscript thought to have been written at the Abbey of St. Augustine in Canterbury, and now held in Cambridge. It struck him as curious, since that was where Luke was now teaching. He wondered if that was reason Ben had chosen to copy it over the larger, better known image from the Book of Kells on the facing page.

“What does the text say?” he asked.

“I’m not entirely sure…” Ben said slowly, as he attempted to get his old school fountain pen to draw a long smooth line; the nib had a tendency to catch. Han made a note to himself; that pen really wasn’t going to do in the long run.

“It’s called marginalia. They are notes, annotations in the…” he paused, and shrugged, “margin of the text. It’s Middle English. I think it says Ray of Light. But... it’s hard to tell. The ‘a’ could be an ‘e’ in which case I’m not sure at all what it could be.” He sat back, allowing  Han a clearer view of the image.

“I’m making up some of the embellishments as I go, since this photograph is so small, and the contrast is off. I think the figure is probably supposed to be a man… a saint or something.”

Ben paused, before continuing “But... I think it looks better as a girl and the spear looks like a shaft of light, which I why I thought it might be  ‘ray’ like a pun.”

Han lent back in his chair and pondered for a moment, rubbing a hand over his chin in thought, “maybe it’s an abbreviation, you know like short for something like Regina, Queen.”

 

Ben shot him a look of surprise. Han just grinned.  “Hey, you know us Solos, more than just good looking guys!”

Ben said nothing, biting his lip and looking away. Han rested one hand his back, giving it a quick rub, “Don’t hunch, your mother will fuss.”

He cast a glance at the clock; there was still plenty of time before Leia would get home from her WI meeting and he’d need to make a start on dinner. He gave Ben’s shoulder a quick squeeze before heading outside and making his way towards the shed where he kept his woodworking tools. He searched for a few moments, trying to locate the basket where he kept interesting  pieces of wood; these were too small for any of his usual work, but he never had the heart to throw them away. He was certain he had some burred walnut and at least one piece of mahogany. The latter would be an utter pain to work with, so he decided he’d start on the walnut. He pulled the cover off the lathe and began to work.

 

 

Ben exploded from the pool; his mind was crammed with words, clamouring to be written. Night had fallen and all around him were shades of velvety black; but over the years he had grown accustomed to the darkness. He knew every inch of the cave, and its recesses, by touch alone.

In a haze, trying to keep his focus on the thoughts gathered at the forefront of his mind, he made his way over to the ledge where he kept his meagre belongings. He reached high up to find the candle stub, fumbling slightly over the flint and steel in his haste. It took three attempts before the spark hit true and the candle’s small flame trembled to life. It gutted and popped as the salt water dripped from his hair.

He held the candle aloft on its makeshift scallop shell holder, away from him; castingits light, and his glance, over his meagre collection of belongings. How long had she been here and what must she have thought? Had she pitied him? All he could call his own were cast-offs; little more than litter left by holiday-makers, things washed in by the tide, paper blown in by the wind, scraps that could be used, repurposed. There were a few glass jars where he stored ink and some coconut halves that had somehow made their way to his cave, which he used as bowls in a vain attempt to not totally give himself over to living like an animal.

She must have seen all this, and yet she hadn’t left; instead she’d stayed and literally pulled him from his pit of despair.

 

As he set the candle down, his hand brushed against something unexpected; a small parcel. Curious, he unrolled the paper bag and a long, narrow rectangular parcel of bubble wrap fell free.

With his frustration mounting, he tried in vain to gain purchase on the tape that she had wound around the plastic, but his fingers were still damp with water. Finally his patience gave way and with a grunt he tore at one end with his teeth. His heart was hammering in his chest as three smooth, slender objects slid out  on to his waiting hand.

Ben gasped in astonishment as he turned them over. The smooth black-lacquered shafts of the brushes were studded with a delicate mother-of-pearl inlay that glinted in the warm light. They were exquisite, the hair was soft and pliant and only had slight staining on the tips. Where ever had she managed to find them? Brushes like this, he knew, ran into the thousands at auction. But there they were…

 

He selected one of the brushes, carefully gauging its weight. He found one of the better sheets of paper, one of a few pieces of letterhead from the local hotel that had blown over the cliff one day and into his cave.  He dipped the brush into one of the jars of dark ink, letting the fine hairs soak up as much of his ink as they could, until they were utterly saturated; he marvelled at how much it could take, far more than a pen’s nib.

The ink dripped as he lifted it out, one, two, three drops. Ben then gently touched the tip to the paper and watched as the stark surface began to pull the ink from the brush. Slowly, at first, and careful to exert the right amount of pressure, he began to write her name.

 

It felt indescribably good, the way the ink and brush travelled over the paper; almost like a caress on smooth skin. On her skin.

Ben pulled the brush toward himself before gaining confidence; then, using a firmer touch, moved up and around and down, with a bit more flourish than his ersatz pen would have allowed. But her gift deserved nothing less than his very best effort.

He paused to examine his handiwork, the curving swoop of the R’s flourish looked curiously familiar, as though he had recreated something he had felt under his own hands; muscle memory clearly had dictated his movement.

He continued with a smaller, coiling, tease of an ‘e’ before ending with a ‘y’. As its obscenely long descender dove, he swore he could hear her telltale gasp; and he stuttered to a halt, his hand trembling. The brush was pressed hard against the paper, ink pooling. With a sudden jerk the paper gave way and the brush touched the surface beneath. Taking a deep breath he recalled himself and the task that had roused him from his sleep.

 

After thoroughly cleaning the brush, Ben carefully placed it back with its siblings in their protective wrapping before gathering his usual writing materials. The phrases that had floated to the top of his conscious mind as he awoke were in danger of slipping away from him. Paying no mind to presentation, nor how the nib scratched and caught in the uneven paper, he gave himself over to the action of allowing the couplets their freedom; only to capture them again as ink infused wood-pulp.

 

Three weapons by three warriors wielded

As one, by one who holds and gives three gifts.

 

Fertile Rhea returns his gleaming weapon

So he might reclaim his birthright.

 

Iron willed Eleanor, straight and true

Strikes and breaks the cloud apart.

 

Sweet Melissa’s army rises with her ire

Reducing the enemy to naught but smoke.

 

The rose thorn delivers the final blow,

Love stings and burns but grows stronger after the cut

 

Ben took a moment to ponder what he had written before he would need extinguish his light, to save it. The first four couplets reminded him of snatches of writings he’d collected before, in what had once seemed like another life. now, not so much. He smiled to himself, recalling the heady rush he felt when he had tracked another elusive fragment, and would commit it to his notebook for safe keeping. He felt more like his old self again, analysing, teasing out the hints that had been hidden by the authors; it sometimes almost felt like they were trying to tell him about something besides their adventure. There seemed to be recurring motifs, gold, iron and honey, along with the usual smoke. Smoke and flames had been a constant.

The rose was new, as was this variation on the triple aspect goddess. In the few fragments he had managed to track down, the text had appeared to have been about three men; well, at least that was the commonly accepted opinion, but not his. He had hoped to make a case for the manuscript having been written by and about two men and a young woman. Of course, he had needed more than just a few pages found in different collections, and a robust method of proving they had all been originally part of the same manuscript, before he could even attempt to make his case. And in the end, he had never got the chance.

Ben frowned; the flame was wavering, weakening, he didn’t have much time left if he wanted to be able to use it again. The names had to have some significance, beyond the hints hidden in their etymology. He was sure he had made an annotation once about the name Melissa but it was in his notebook, which had been lost; he suspected to the sea, as he had been. He reached out and crushed the candle’s wick between his thumb and forefinger before returning once again to his pool to wait. And wonder.



Chapter Text

Fair moon, to thee I sing,

Bright regent of the heavens,

Say, why is everything

Either at sixes or at sevens?

Say, why is everything

Either at sixes or at sevens?

 

H.M.S. Pinafore - W.S. Gilbert

 

Stars and Stories

 

Thursday 28th May, 2015



Rey had put off reading any more of Ben’s notebook/journal for a few days. Even if she had wanted to continue, she found she had a lot of calls on her time. Rose had phoned her early on Monday morning, sounding disgustingly awake and cheerful, to let her know that they’d be attempting to get the table out after lunch and did she want to be there for it.

It had taken much hemming and hawing and sharp breaths on the part of the workmen before the table was finally extricated. Rey allowed herself a little squeak of delight as it was lifted clear and placed properly on the ground. Rose was a bit more apprehensive.

“Are you sure about this? It’s very weathered.”

“It’s perfect. The colour doesn’t matter, it’s the table itself. Oh wow!” Rey ducked down to run her hands over the carvings. Wrapped around one of the legs was a carving of a very surprised looking octopus who seemed to be trying to juggle a strawberry.

 

The next few days were a whirl of activity; driving, seemingly for hours, to visit tile and flooring showrooms to look at endless rows of dull samples. Bored silly, she phoned Rose from the third one and wailed, “Is it possible to just have slate on the floor?”

“Of course! It will be prone to scratching so you’ll need to be careful when moving heavy furniture.”

“Brilliant. I want slate! Slate floors and slate tiles in the bathroom and kitchen as well.”

“That will make the bathroom very dark and well… cave like.”

Rey paused, dark and cave like… it sounded…

“Perfect.”

“What?”

“It’s perfect. Its, err.. my aesthetic.”

Rose chuckled in her ear. “Well, you know with some strategic placement of candles it would be quite cozy.”

“My thoughts exactly; everyone needs a cave to relax in.”

Rose laughed again. “Well, that’s settled then; I’ll put in an order. Oh, and the plasterer is available so we can start on the walls sooner than we thought.”

“That’s great. I’m going to head back now, I’ll see you later?”

“Armie and I are set painting this evening; you are welcome to join us.”

“Ok, where will I meet you?”

“We’ll come and fetch you from the pub. Wear old clothes; the older the better.”

Rey was glad of Rose’s warning. She had no idea how she’d managed to get paint on the back of her neck. It had been an exceptionally pleasant evening. In the end it was just the four of them, later joined by Mitaka, in the old coach yard attached to the pub which her bedroom looked down on. The local amateur drama group they belonged to stored their sets in two large former horse stalls.  Armitage and another man were already there when Rose return with Rey, battling with a large sheet of heavy fabric that they were trying to stretch out along two large wooden backdrops.

 

“Snap, this is Rey! Rey, this is Snap; fastest plaster in the southwest.” Rose grinned.

Snap, a stocky man with a friendly, open face, about Hux’s age or perhaps a little older, gave her a wave with a hand that held one corner of the backdrop.

“Watch it, Wexley!” grumbled Hux, as his efforts to hang the fabric straight were frustrated by Snap’s naturally friendly disposition.

“So… what are we doing?” Rey asked.

“The tricky, yet boring job that everyone says they’ll help with but when the day comes they all have other more pressing things to do,” grumbled Hux, as he hopped down off of the step ladder.

“A night sky backdrop,” Rose explained, “for Ruddigore.”

“I don’t think this is going to work,” Snap observed, taking a step back looking at the sagging cloth.

“No shit, Snap!”

“Could we lay it flat on one of the backdrops and do it in sections?” suggested Rey.

The two men looked at each other.

“Worth a shot,” shrugged Hux.

It was a warm evening and it didn’t take long for the paint to dry. They rigged an impromptu washing-line of sorts across the yard from which to hang the backcloth. They all stared at it. It was blackish, greyish blue and looked rather underwhelming.

Rose nudged Hux, “Now what?”

Hux crouched down and opened up another tin of paint and gave it a stir with a piece of wood. He picked up some smaller paint brushes and handed one to each of them.

“Okay troops, take your weapon.”

Rey giggled as they each took a chunky round tipped brush from him.

“Dip your brushes!”

Snap snorted loudly; louder than Rey, who was blushing furiously and had no desire to explain why.

“Keep it clean!” Hux admonished.

“Yessir,” mumbled Snap.

They all lined up, giddy with anticipation before the cloth.

 

“Sorry I’m... late guys!” Mitaka came running into the yard, his usually pale face was bright red. He skidded to a halt, bent over and panting, clasping his sides. “Argh! Stitch!”

“Sorry! Got held up with a client…Then... stuck behind a tractor… and then... Trudy was in the road… again.” He gasped.

“That’s fine, here take a brush.” Hux said, helping Mitaka to his feet, “good man. Ok are we all ready?”

“Speech!” shouted Rose, her eyes twinkling with mirth.

 

Hux turned to her with a wide grin, before his expression turned stern; and, to Rey, a little scary. “This evening, at this very moment, those slackers who saw fit to leave us in the lurch are missing out on the best bit of set painting! Fie to their treachery! This backdrop, which we have painted and in front of which we now stand, will be the crowning glory of our production! Fire!”

Amidst whoops of laughter, vollies of white paint flew towards the black drop covering it with a galaxy of stars.

“And stop!” Hux ordered just before some paint hit in him the face.

“Sorry, Armie…”  Rose’s impish grin made that hard to believe.

 

And that’s how it had started; and the paint fight had continued for a good ten minutes, so really it wasn’t surprising that Rey had paint down her neck. Maz had to come out and break it up, pointing out that the paint was supposed to be on the backdrop and not the walls of her listed pub. Cowed they mumbled their apologies, before following her inside. Snap made his excuses and headed back home to his heavily pregnant wife.

The remainder of them formed a small but raucous group in the main part of the pub, sharing a large portion of chips and regaling Rey with tales of previous exploits in their drama group.

“Do you only do Gilbert and Sullivan?”

“Yeah, not sure why, but it’s fun.”

“Wish we could do Pirates though. I’m fed up of mostly playing a sister or a cousin.” Mitaka muttered into his drink.

“Never mind, you might graduate to an aunt next time” Hux grinned.

“You’ve never performed Pirates? Why?”

“I’m not sure, we haven’t, well it was before our time, the group hasn’t since, er 1970 something.”

“1974.”

“Why?”

“No idea.”

“Solo.” Mitaka muttered again. It seemed as though he was looking right at Rey as if to gauge her reaction.

“No,” Rose shook her head, “I don’t think that’s it. If we can find someone to sing YumYum’s aria we can find someone to sing Mabel’s. After all, they were pretty much originally written for the same singer.”

 

Dopheld made a small face and then heaved a large photo album onto the table.

“Oh, good! You brought it!” Rose exclaimed, clapping her hands with glee.

“This is the group’s photo album, pictures and playbills from all our previous shows. Let’s start at the back. Last year we did Patience.” She explained to Rey.

“The year before it was the Mikado; Hux played Pooh Bah. He was excellent.”

“Well, howdydoo, little girl,” Hux entoned at Rose, low and seductive. Rose giggled and gave him a quick kiss. Rey stifled a snort.

Mitaka leaned over to Rey, “Rose played Pitti Sing, that production was when they finally got together. It was disgusting…”

“Finally?” Rey asked.

“Oh yes,” Mitaka nodded, “they’ve been circling each other since primary school. She bit him on their first day over who got to play with some toy and it’s been downhill from there ever since. So. Much. Bickering...”

 

“We got very good reviews.” Rose pointed out.

“For highlighting the often overlooked romance and sexual tension between Pooh Bah and Pitti Sing.” Hux quoted.

Mitaka rolled his eyes and turned back to Rey.

“I played Koko and Rose’s sister Paige played YumYum. Jess, Snap’s wife, who you haven’t met yet, played Peep Bo.”

“Who played Katisha?” Rey asked.

“Maz. The one time I get a male part…” he rolled his eyes and smiled wanly.

 

The group spent a good fifteen minutes travelling back in time through the album. Rey watched as her new friends became progressively younger in the photos, moving from leading and supporting roles to the chorus.

Rose flipped another page, “there’s a bit of a gap in the 80s and the late 1970s, where they didn’t put on any productions. Ok here we are 1976. That’s Canady in H.M.S. Pinafore playing the Captain. He has an amazing voice. He played him again later, but by all accounts his heart wasn’t in it.”

“Everyone was glum in the 80s.” Hux interjected.

Rey halted them for a moment, “Who’s that? Playing the Lord High Admiral; he looks familiar.”

“Oh, god, him!” Hux let out a bark of laughter. “He was brilliant! My dad hated him so much! P-something.”

“Peavey?” Rey suggested.

“Yes! He and Canady were at school together, with my dad as well. They got up to all sorts of hijinks. Dad didn’t approve. Peavey moved to London. But he’d come back every now and again and he and Canady would go on a total bender. They’d get wasted and sing With Cat Like Tread , very loudly through town after the pub closed.”

Hux flipped back a couple of pages. “Here they are together in Pirates.”

Rey stared at the photo, not at the very young looking Canady and Peavy who were over egging their piratical grimaces but at the figure brandishing a cutlass who looked like he had swung in from one of her teenaged daydreams.

It was him, looking younger, a bit slighter and far more clothed. But it was him.

Poor wand’ring one…

 

A voice behind them broke the silence. “Ben Solo.” They turned as one to see Canady hovering over them. “He was supposed to play Frederic. We all thought it was hilarious because he was born on the twenty ninth of February. But his voice broke…”

Mitaka’s eyebrows nearly shot up into his hair as his boss pulled up a chair and sat down with them. There was a cacophony of scrapes as they all shifted their chairs to make room for him. He put down his glass, which Rey noted contained orange juice, and helped himself to a couple of chips. They waited with bated breath while he ate them before finally continuing.

 

“Okay, that’s not quite true; his voice had broken way before then. But it became obvious in rehearsals there was no way he could hit those high notes. Besides he made a far better Pirate King. For someone so quiet, who spent most of his time hidden away reading, he had a fantastic stage presence and was surprisingly athletic.” Canady said matter of factly while he wiped his hands on a napkin.

“So Gavin there,” he pointed to a figure off to one side who was looking fraught while a small woman, who was facing away from the camera hung off him, “played Frederic. That’s Maz there playing Ruth. Maz always played the roles where babies got mixed up, muddled, or misplaced. It was a bit of a village in joke since she was the local midwife and I think delivered most of the cast.”

How old is Maz? Rey wanted to ask. But no one else at the table seemed phased by this revelation, so she decided to say nothing.

 

Hux, who had been staring at the photo, gave Rose a nudge. Rose looked down and where he was pointing and then up at Rey catching her eye.

“That is uncanny.” Rose breathed and Rey looked down where Hux was indicating, and yes; from a certain angle, the face in faded, yellowy brown photograph did look a bit like her. But she just happened to have one of those faces. On a few occasions back in London she had been stopped by tourists who had mistaken her for a makeup-free, dishevelled Emma Watson or Keira Knightley.

“Mr Canady...”

“Mo, please, Rose.”

“Er...OKay... Mo, who is that there?”

She pointed again at the figure in forefront of the huddle of Major Stanley’s daughters. A cloud passed over Canady’s face. It was a moment before he spoke.

“That’s Ellie.”

“Did she play Mabel?” Rose asked.

“She did.” He confirmed with a sad smile. Almost as an afterthought, he continued. “And she married Gavin; about ten years later though.”

“Awh, that’s rather sweet.” Rose said.

“It was…” Canady said softly, his eyes flicking up very briefly to meet Rey’s.

 

“Gavin was devastated by Ben’s death. I mean we all were, to some degree. They had been good friends in school; but had grown apart, as you do, when Ben went off to Cambridge. Gavin stayed here, doing various things; he worked as a blacksmith did some carpentry, helped Ellie’s father with his beekeeping business. He was good with his hands; good at fixing things.”

The floodgates were now well and truly open and Canady continued, while his audience just sat in stunned silence.

“Ellie worked at the local library, she just adored books. But she was never very strong, physically; a weak heart or something. You’d never have known it. Very strong personality, she knew her mind and damn anyone else. She practically dragged Gavin off to the Register Office because he kept dithering. ‘It’s now or never, Gavin Darklighter! Time and tide wait for no man!’”

He looked off into the middle distance as he laughed.  “She dragged us both . By the ears! I was his best man. But then, no one was safe once Eleanor Antilles had a plan. She’d see it through, no matter what… to the bitter end.”

Rey found herself leaning forward, waiting on tenterhooks for  Canady to say more; but it appeared he had divulged all he could bring himself to share. He stood abruptly and reached for his drink. In spite of his sad, wistful expression, he seemed to Rey to stand a little taller; as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Well, I’ll leave you young people to your evening, then.”

 

For a few moments Rey and the others just looked at each other, dumbfounded.

“Well…” said Rose, finally, “that was bizarre.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t dragged me off to the Register Office.” Hux grinned.

“Well, I for one am not being led around like a naughty school boy,” Mitaka interjected, “that was not what I signed up for when I agreed to be best man.”

“Have you not set a date?” Rey asked.

“No, not yet,” Rose mumbled.

Rey grinned, “Time and Tide, Rose!” In response, a balled up napkin was sent with remarkable force at her.

“Will they be ok?” Rey asked Maz a little while later, as she helped unload the dishwasher. “The walls I mean?”

Maz chuckled, “Of course. It happens every single year. They get paint on the walls, they wash it off, and the yard gets a good cleaning. It’s most convenient; saves me the hassle.”

After a long hot shower spent scouring herself from top to toe of paint Rey settled down on her bed, tired, yet invigorated. She had enjoyed herself immensely with Rose, Armitage and Snap, and was in a good mood. She finally felt able to face reading more of Ben’s notes; plus she also had the beginnings of a theory, which had come to her while driving around in pursuit of tiles.

She wanted to know more of what had happened to Ben’s uncle. Well, that wasn’t quite true; she didn’t want to know, but she needed to go digging. Without that knowledge, it felt as if she was debugging an application without access to all of its code. She had been back to his home a couple of times, but the door had been locked - so he must have returned - and no one had answered the door.

Rey wasn’t about to give up; she would go back again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, until she caught him and got him to tell her;  But in the meantime, she had enough to be getting on with.

The thought had struck her earlier, as she had driven home; that perhaps, unbeknownst to himself, Ben was leading her on some sort of scavenger hunt.

She remembered one story she’d read, ages back, where a man  had been enchanted by the Queen of the Fairies; he had set the protagonist specific books to read to hint at his predicament and how it might be resolved. Maybe Ben had done the same thing, albeit unconsciously, before his enchantment.

She let his journal fall open on her lap. Before her were a few lines that read like the clues for a cryptic crossword puzzle. It was probably a long shot, but better than no shot. Besides, she’d never cared much about the odds.

Press your shell to mine
For words soft and hard

Rey pinched her nose, the annoying thing was these things were that the answer was always so obvious once you knew the answer; speak friend and enter , and so forth …

She looked around the room for inspiration, her gaze falling on the shells on the window sill. She unfolded herself and went over to the window. Well, the literal approach often worked.

 

She picked one up and held it close to her ear. Nothing…. Just the whooshing sound of her blood circulating around her ear.

Shh….shh...shh..ss.ss.ss..safe..safe..safe

You promised me she’d be safe.

 

Well that wasn’t much help. She thought as she placed it down and picked up another one. She waited for the swirling sounds to form into something coherent; for awhile all she could hear was her own heart beating loudly.

Ssss.s Ssss.s Ssss.s Sssssssssmash it!

Grind it into the dust!

 

Rey’s hands were now shaking as she returned it to its place and reached for the last one. Slowly she raised it to her ear.

Suddenly there was a loud bang on the door and she dropped the shell in surprise.

“Oh shit!” she muttered.

“Rey! I’ve got something for you.”

Rey scooped the shell up off the floor and hurriedly tossed it onto the bed on her way to open the door. Maz was holding out a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied up with a faded blue ribbon.

 

Rey’s hands were still shaking as she reached out for it. She was about to ask Maz who it was from, but she was already gone. Rey shut the door behind her and began pulling the ribbon off as she went to sit on the bed, narrowly avoided sitting on the shell. She placed the shell safely on the nightstand beside the sea glass and returned to investigating the mysterious packet. A faint, familiar smell assailed her as she unwrapped it...Sour milk…

Before her was a dark blue notebook, larger and thicker than Ben’s, and three envelopes. The first was unsealed and looked about a century old; it was addressed to what looked like M. Kanata, Tintagel in a loose elongated, barely legible hand.

The other two were sealed and addressed, in the same hand.  On one was her name, as Miss Greene; the other was addressed to Ben Solo.

Rey placed the envelope addressed to Ben to one side, and slid her finger under the flap of the letter addressed to her to open it.

 

 

Miss Greene,

I’m sorry for my abrupt departure the other day. I am afraid I couldn’t bring myself to tell you what you probably wanted to ask me in person.

As outlandish as it seems, and I will forgive you for writing this off as nothing more than the ravings of a crazy old hermit; one of the the beings who resides in the cave, I believe, is what remains of my unfortunate nephew, Ben Solo.

The other, who I unwittingly revived, the one who has ensnared him, who preys and feeds on his weakness, as it did mine; is not to be underestimated. If you are determined in this, as I suspect you are, after all it’s in your blood, then you will need to be certain in your course of action; one false move and you could be lost, just as he was, or worse.

Maybe what remains of my research will help you. But if you truly feel as strongly as you do for him, then you may already have what you need. Remember that your focus should be on saving what you love, not fighting what you hate.

Thank you for your kindness and patience

L. Skywalker.

 

Rey let the paper drop. Uncle Luke, Luke Skywalker, author of the crazy pamphlet it made perfect sense. The supposed sea-monster hoax in 1975… the monster in the clouds…

What had it promised him?

 

“You’ve been seduced, my dear, just like we all have been, by hollow promises, of what you most desire in all the world.” He sneered. “Fortune, glory, love, safety! People are so easily led. They will blindly do anything so long as they believe there is something in it to their benefit. And in the end you are left with nothing but regrets. Shame. And consequences.”  

 

Had he done something, perhaps unwittingly, that had led to Ben’s predicament? That was certainly the impression she had; but the details of what, and why, he was apparently unwilling to divulge. Maybe it didn’t really matter.

Rey picked up the notebook and flicked through it, halting at the detailed drawings of an extraordinarily ugly ring. It had a large, irregularly faceted dark stone, set in a thick, rough-looking band; the bezel was remarkably large. Luke had copied out the strange engravings that were on it and had grouped them under four headings: Runes, Cuneiform, Ogham and Linear A.

Below this was a list of words, presumably the meanings of the markings. They made  for uncomfortable reading: Consume, Absorb, Bind, Life, Power, Soul, Guardian, Extinguish, Corrupt, Light, Hope.

So a ring of power then, Rey thought as she heaved a deep sigh. Such things were notoriously difficult to destroy; and she wasn’t sure where the ring was, or where the nearest volcano might be. She flipped back to the start of the notebook and began to read.

It was very late, or very early, depending on how you looked at it, when she had to stop reading. Her head and eyes ached. Luke’s notes had started off neat and coherent, but as time wore on they had become messy and disjointed, and it was hard to make sense of it all towards the end.  The wave, no; there were two waves: one in 1863, which had destroyed a whole village as mentioned in his pamphlet, and the later one in 1977. Those, and the sea monster, were common themes; but their connection wasn’t completely clear. But then again, Rey thought, it could just be her brain was too tired to see what was laid out before her. She would need to reread it again, in daylight, with a strong coffee in hand.

Shehe understood Luke a little better now, but she was still upset with him. Ben had been correct in his assessment of his uncle; he had been obsessed with this unwritten story. To the point where it seemed he had unintentionally created an M.R. James-style story of his own. The old envelope contained the linchpin for his obsession; an actual letter from M.R. James himself.  Rey eagerly reached for it, and carefully withdrew the folded sheet of paper.

To her disappointment the handwriting was utterly appalling. She could just about make out the date as sometime in  March 1901.

As she smoothed it out, she felt that tell tale sensation again; a push, a nudge and then everything seemed to shift sideways and inside out.

This time it was both like and unlike the previous dreams and visions. It was twilight, and she was back at that spot again; where the bees converged on her just above the cove. There were two figures nearby; a girl, and a young man. But this time her point of view was constantly shifting; sometimes it seemed as if she were the girl. She could feel the girl’s emotions as if they were her own, and she could sense his as well.  It was very disconcerting, so Rey tried to let herself relax and see what transpired.

The girl was dancing, clapping her hands, but they made a metallic sound when they came together. The young man was amused, likening her to some Greek Goddess, or her acolyte, with her brass cymbals.

The girl sighed.  “I’m trying to raise the Bees.” It seemed her efforts were in vain, and she sank  down onto the ground, her shoulders slumped.

“Why?”  He seemed to care less about the answer than he did about how she felt.

She shrugged, “to carry a message?” she replied, unsure.

“To whom?” the young man asked, as he settled down beside her. He picked something up from the grass. He turned it over in his hand under her watchful gaze; it was small and wooden. The girl suddenly plucked it from his hand and tossed it away. He looked up at her, shocked.

“You’re a curious one, aren’t you? Didn’t your mother ever warn you?”  Her brows drew together as she admonished him.

“I suppose I’m just attracted to mystery.”  He gazed admiringly at her, making it plain what he meant.

The girl laughed again, it was not a particularly nice sound.

“I’m not mysterious, I’m just a simple West Country girl.”

That netted her a skeptical smile.  “Out at twilight, trying to rally bees to her?”

She looked at him, her eyes narrowing.

“Why are you here?”

“No reason, just on holiday,” he replied breezily, though he found himself beginning to squirm under her flinty gaze.

“A holiday that brings you out at twilight, to a desolate coastal path, far from the warmth of the hearth where they gather round and tell stories?”  It was her turn to level a skeptical look.

“Am I missing out on something by not being there to hear them?  His tone, slightly mocking, indicated that he doubted this was possible.

She, however, was completely serious.  “It depends on how many stories you’ve heard where farmers are waylaid by pixies, fairies and bucca dhu.”

“Oh, folktales ,” he said, somewhat dismissively. “Not exactly spine-chilling.”

“Perhaps; but I can tell you a story, if you like, the one they won’t.”  Her voice held teasing, and warning, all at once.

The young man nodded, and the girl settled herself more comfortably on the turf, fixing her bustle and skirts. She sat bolt upright, like a forbidding Sybil ready to impart her words, for good or for ill. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as the ancient oracles would have done, drawing the bay leaf smoke deep into themselves to aid them in untangling their spirits from the present.

When she opened her mouth to speak, her voice had an extra layer to it; a timbre that seemed to make bones and earth vibrate with her words.

“Imagine, if you will a creature of smoke, as insubstantial and strong as rumour and lies. A wraith, ever hungry; always consuming, never sated. It thirsts for power, for knowledge; but never wisdom, mind you. For all it eats, it never… digests…

It is an ancient thing, that stirs up strife and quarrels where ever it goes. See it savouring the result, as you might a rich and hearty broth.”

Her eyes met his to gauge his reaction; he was rapt. She gave him a smile; it was warm, but then turned icy cold.

“It travels, like a plague, and as it feeds it gains form; long limbed and cadaverous, a mockery of the human form it so despises.

“It creeps into homes, sows discord, steals joy and harmony, and devours the guardians that would stand against it, leaving only desolation in its wake. Dishes of milk left out for the helpers remain undrunk, because there are none left to do so; the benevolent spirits are powerless before it’s onslaught.”

She paused, and wiped a sparkling tear from her cheek.

 

“Now; imagine a small fishing village in Cornwall. They have had a comfortable arrangement with the wild Atlantic that buffets their shore;.a mutually beneficial pact, a sacrifice of the living. They’ve made commitment to live, to love. For love is a powerful magic. Tricky to balance as well. It can easily turn people dark and do terrible, wicked things. It can be a light too bright, and it can blind.

“But! When a balance is struck, it is a wonderful thing.” The girl was wistful now.  “And between the land and the sea that forever caresses it, a balance and bargain was struck in that village.  When a child is born of that balance…”

The girl trailed off. The young man wasn’t sure if he should say anything, it didn’t feel like her story was done.

“Of course, power that strong is like a siren’s call to a creature like the being of smoke, and it found its way here. It plundered the mind of the covenant-broker and descended on the village, eager to feast, on the very same night that the child was born.”

“It tried, and failed, to consume the power; the sea struck back at the cost of her beloved village. Every soul but one was gathered away, to the sea’s eternal embrace. Every soul but the newest one. The one who is now imparting the tale to you.”

“You can write it down if you like; I will never tell it again. It feels good to have finally said it all out loud.”

The girl’s posture relaxed, and she gave a hearty laugh at the young man’s expression of shock.

Rey wasn’t sure if she had imagined the laugh, or if it was her laughing out of sheer exhaustion. The letter in her hands imparted none of what she had just seen.

She cast her eye over it again; his handwriting really was dreadful

 

Mabel,

I was sorry to hear of Eleanor’s passing, and particularly the circumstances. What should have been a time of joy turned bittersweet.

 

This was followed by a number of short paragraphs, which Rey could not make out at all.

 

 

I knew she had ended her tale on a deliberately flippant note. But her eyes, creased with laughter, snapped open; and I saw the darkness within them, the pain, anguish and something else. I knew her tale was no mere fancy, designed to toy with the callow young man who had descended upon a small village, with a know-it-all attitude and lofty detachment. It was true, all of it.

There was something in the manner of her telling; so fantastical yet matter of fact, about the village and the spidery creature that stalked from house to house stealing away all joy and happiness, that never left me. She warned me about being curious, but I am afraid I will ever be so.

She said I could write her story, if I felt so inclined; but I never could, not this one. Never will I be able to capture her telling of it. Instead I content myself to relate other tales, in my own poor way; but this one I will not tell. It was never mine to recount.

Please extend my regards and sympathies to Biggs,

 

Yours etc.

Montague Rhodes James


Rey folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope; she gathered up Luke’s papers and dropped them on the floor by the bed. She felt conflicted.  On one hand, she was elated that she had been privy to something no one else had been, which seemed to explain everything; on the other hand, she had a better idea of what she was up against, and it was up to her to resolve matters. She finally dozed off, and woke a few hours later; it wasn’t the best sleep, but it was enough. She left her room and wandered along the hall, pausing for a moment before rapping on the door.

There was a flurry of barks. Rey grinned; well, that explained where Chewie went at night.  

After a moment, her knock was answered.  “Come in. Rey.”

Rey peered around the door, “Maz? Can we talk?”


Chapter Text

A woman wise holdeth him in her love:

if by her rede to the Rhine's fair daughters,

who in wat'ry deeps my wisdom bewitched,

his hand should give back the ring, forever

lost were the gold,

and no wiles could win it again.

What demon's evil craft here lieth hidden?

What wizard's hateful spell stirred up this storm?

This knot to unravel where is my wisdom?

Where shall I discover runes for this riddle?

Oh sorrow! Sorrow! Woe's me! Woe's me!

 

Götterdämmerung - Richard Wagner


 



XV

 

 

Friday, 29th May 2015

 

Maz had sat up most of the night waiting for the knock at her door, her mood wavering somewhere between dread and hope, as she had been for the last week and more.  Luke’s notes, delivered yesterday evening, had to be the tipping point. And she was certain she didn’t have much longer to wait until Rey finally confronted her outright. Eventually, just after five, she decided to get dressed; if Rey didn’t come soon, she would still need to get up soon anyway and take Chewie for his morning walk.

She had just settled back down on top of the covers, with Chewie lying over her knees like the constant lap rug he aspired to be. She must have been dozing, since she didn’t hear the creak of the floorboards outside her door; but she did feel Chewie stiffen, his ears pricked up, just before the knock finally came.  It was hesitant at first but then sure.

Time and tide, Maz, a familiar voice echoed in her head.

There was never going to be any way of getting away from this moment; it might not be easy, but it had to be done. Like setting a broken wrist, the initial pain was far outweighed by the long term good.

Chewie began to bark; and Maz struggled to rein in his exuberance, so that she herself might be audible.

“Come, in Rey,”

The door slowly opened a crack, and Rey’s face appeared; she was still in her night clothes, her  hair was a Medusa-like tangle and she looked like she had barely slept, and yet… the look in her eyes was unmistakable.

Maz had seen that look before; the same iron-willed determination.

It was either a curse or a blessing of her longevity, that over time she would invariably see the same eyes in different faces; but in this case both the eyes and the face were the same.

She had seen that look before well over a century before.

The girl was purposely striding towards her along the path, back in the direction of Tintagel. There was a faint, regular chink of metal against metal as she walked. It was well and truly twilight now; the sky was an eerie shade of pale blue visible between indigo clouds, like so many shards of homely Blue Willow, with its own tale of love, sacrifice and transformation.

“Isn’t it a bit late for you to be out walking alone Eleanor Loneozner?”

Eleanor arched one quizzical eyebrow, “what’s the worst thing I could run into Mab? That I haven’t already? You?”

Mab snorted; typical Eleanor, always so flippant and fearless. Her mother had been just the same; a sweet woman, but with a core of iron.  One underestimated her at their peril.

“Besides,” she continued, “you will be happy to hear that I shan’t be walking out alone of an evening anymore - scaring the emmets. I’ve made my decision.”

“Indeed?” Maz was doubly curious,;firstly, as to who had been at the receiving end of Eleanor’s latest macabre display - though she had her suspicions - and secondly, what had transpired that had resulted in Eleanor finally making up her mind.

“I’m going to go see Biggs right now and tell him ‘yes’. I’ve put it off long enough; made him wait long enough.”

Eleanor briefly looked back in the direction from which she had come and sighed, “and, you know…Time and tide wait for no man.”

But perhaps for the right woman, Mab thought, just had Biggs had done. It was a good match, to be sure, but not without its critics. Mostly from younger men who decried the twenty year age difference and to whom Eleanor wouldn’t so much as give the time of day. They then, behind her back of course, called her stuck up; with mighty fine delusions of grandeur for a mere blacksmith’s daughter, and an adopted foundling no less. Just who were her people anyway?

For the most part, their elders knew to keep their opinions to themselves. Most of them had decided that the least said about the whole matter, the better. Things had been calm for nigh on twenty years, and there was no sense in stirring up a hornets’ nest unnecessarily.

As far as Maz was concerned, the most important thing was that Biggs quietly adored Eleanor; while Eleanor loved him back in her own fierce, challenging way. And at this point, her old role seemingly in abeyance, what Maz wanted most of all for them was happiness.

Eleanor wore an expression of melancholy as she turned back, her eyes meeting Maz’s. In that fleeting moment Maz understood; Eleanor had been looking back at where she had come from, a place that no longer existed, a place from which all life save hers alone had been swept away, leaving a barren hollow. She could read in Eleanor’s eyes that she knew that it wouldn’t be in her lifetime that anyone or anything would return to live there; and she had come to terms with that. But life would come back; and love, too, tenacious and insistent. But for that to happen, she had to move on; move forward.

She gazed straight ahead for a moment, then she brightened; her smile this time was far warmer and brighter than Maz had ever seen. The cool aloofness she had wrapped around herself for so long seemed to fall away, like a discarded cloak, as she took her first steps towards the future, sure and steady.

Maz watched Eleanor as she continued back into the village; whatever had transpired this evening, she was no longer anchored to her past. Where before she had sensed conflict from Eleanor, now there was only resolve. Resolve, love and hope. It washed over Maz like a gentle wave. She basked in its warm glow; and, for the first time in nearly twenty years, she allowed herself the indulgence of a genuine smile.

What Rey had read in Ben and Luke’s journals would once have been utterly impossible to believe. But here in Cornwall, in this village, in that small cove, it was very real and unspeakably tragic. She knew that if she didn’t make a decision, if she could not find a way, then tragedy would continue; and she could see her life over time descending into something like Ben’s Uncle’s; forever wracked with guilt over actions not taken. That thought, more than anything, spurred her. Rey couldn’t let him down; she had no idea how she could live with herself if she did.

“Maz, please, tell me. How did it all begin? With Luke and the Solos? How did they get caught up in something like this?

“When I gave Luke that letter, I really had no idea what would happen. I was grasping at straws. I thought perhaps he’d go back to Cambridge and fruitlessly dig around for a year, until something else piqued his interest. But I was wrong. Somehow, he had got a hold of that damnable ring; or, really the ring had got a hold on him. And that year, more innocent people paid the price for my folly.”

Rey sat down on the side of the bed and scratched Chewie behind his ears.  “I am sorry for making you go over all this again. You knew them well?”

“Very well. I saw to Leia when she lost the twins, delivered Ben. Gave Han god knows how many tetanus shots. They were good people, dear friends; and they did not deserve what happened to them... none of them did.”

“Luke seems to blame himself for…” Rey scrunched her face, steeling herself before uttering something completely outlandish, “reviving some ancient evil.”

“And so he did; but it may have been fated.” Maz was pleased her confirmation didn’t appear to faze Rey in the slightest.

“Fated? How so?” Maz sensed the  need to tread very carefully here. She leant forward.

“This is something that was set in motion many, many years before.”

“Do you mean the Great Wave of 1863?”

“Well that’s part of it, but no. Rey, this is an ancient evil, in the very truest sense of the word. One that originated long before recorded history. One that was thought to have been defeated some five centuries ago. But, it seems as long as there is discord… and strife in the world, I fear it will never fully be vanquished. We may be destined to just keep fighting it back.”

“And Ben’s notes; you left them out for me, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I had been so distracted by Luke, I hadn’t realised just how close Ben had come to grasping the situation; until I found his journal. He must have lost it in the scuffle while I was trying to sedate Luke.”

Rey arched one eyebrow in surprise.

“Luke had suddenly become violent, so…” Maz trailed off.

~oOo~

Ben had been sitting with his uncle in the nook by the door, it had been the most private place for them to have a difficult conversation. No one could say for certain what happened. Wedge said that it sounded like Ben said he was going to see his parents, and he’d collect his uncle the following morning in time to drive to the train station. All pretty innocuous stuff; but suddenly Luke had lunged for Ben, demanding that he return something. Wedge and Gavin had held on to Luke while Moden was dispatched to fetch her.

~oOo~

 

“Somehow it ended up in my bag and I only found it much later that evening, at which point…”

Maz couldn’t bring herself to recount the events of that day, suspecting that Rey herself had a fair idea of what had happened; and if not she would probably find out for herself soon enough.

Feeling buoyed by how circumspect Rey had been, and a little less old and tired, Maz swung her legs over the edge of the bed, to Chewie’s immense displeasure, and hopped off onto the floor.

“Let’s go downstairs. I have some things you might want, or need. Also, I don’t know about you, but I could use some coffee.”

A short time later, Rey found herself crouched on the cold stone floor by the unlit fireplace, sipping on a mug of coffee. Maz had lifted the seat of the settle to reveal a cache of what, at first glance, seemed to be little more than junk. One by one Maz lifted out the items, laying them out on the floor between them.

“What is all this?”

“Mementos; things that belonged to them that I managed to salvage. Things that had, or rather have, meaning or significance.”

First, there was a battered old fashioned metal stove top percolator which was missing its glass knob. It looked like it might be still serviceable, after a very thorough scrubbing and a replacement knob was found.

There followed a small stack of water-damaged books, a mix of novels and textbooks. Maz then placed a long, narrow leather pouch on the floor. Rey placed her mug on the ground and picked up the pouch. Inside was a dip pen. Its nib was a bright gold; and the body was a beautifully turned and polished walnut, that felt… Rey took a deep breath, well it felt very nice to hold indeed.

“May I have this?” She asked hesitantly.

“You are more than welcome to any of this.” Maz replied kindly as she placed one final object on the floor. Rey eyed it. It looked like a ring, but unlike any she had ever seen before. It wasn’t metal, but glass; a snowy, matte white. She carefully sheathed the pen back in its holder, and picked up the ring. Like the piece of sea-glass, its sharp edges had been caressed to a pleasing smoothness by the constant action of the sea.

It struck her as the kind of thing any child who grew up by the sea might find while beachcombing, and give to their mother or sweetheart. On the outer edge of the wide band, she could feel the echoes of threading. Frowning she held it against the hole on the top of the coffee-pot’s lid, an exact fit.

Maz was holding up a piece of what looked like tattered lace, which she began to refold prior to placing it back in the settle.  “Well, that’s pretty much it, to be honest. I thought there might be more, but then I already gave you the two most interesting books.”

“So you did it on purpose?”

“Yes.”

“But why? How did you know I would...need them?”

Maz paused before replying.  “Because when you came in here that morning, back in March, you looked like someone who had fallen in love. And then you decided on the spur of the moment to move here; and it just seemed like the obvious thing to do.”

Rey suspected there was more to it than that. But it was true, and she could finally, readily, admit it to herself. It wasn’t lust; she loved him. She had fallen in love with him that first evening; it was huge and scary and defied explanation, just like the man she had fallen in love with. She decided not to press Maz further; she could wait for the full explanation, it wasn’t important right now. She looked down at her hand; at some point she had unconsciously slipped the ring on to ring finger of her left hand, it looked and felt... right .

“And besides, no body was ever found; and Chewie always barks at that cave. I never lost hope; I can’t say the same for others around here, but I think they are beginning to again.”

Rey laughed, “No, that is very true.”

Maz grasped her hands, her large eyes pleading for forgiveness while offering reassurance. “Dear child, I am sorry that you have been burdened with this. But I know you will find a way; to bring him back, and find that belonging you seek.”

Rey fumbled for words but failed, instead making do with giving Maz a half-hearted, watery smile. It seemed to satisfy her nonetheless, she gave Rey’s hands a quick squeeze.

“Right, let’s get this lot tidied up so I can open up and you can get dressed.” Rey nodded and began to help place things back in the settle; she was about to put the pen back as well until something in the back of her mind told her to hold onto it.  Instead, she took it up to her room and laid it on the nightstand, alongside the sea-glass.

Maz permitted herself to feel rather pleased about how the morning had gone. She had been expecting a confrontation of sorts, but Rey seemed to be remarkably pragmatic. She pointedly had not brought any one item to Rey’s attention, instead curious to see what she had been naturally drawn to touch. That it should have been the pen Han had made for Ben, and the simple ring she had no doubt Ben had meant as a humble token of affection, made her ancient heart swell.

A little after eleven, just like clockwork, Wedge came in and sat down at his usual spot at the bar. He was carrying a small pile of well loved paperbacks that he set down on the bar beside him. Wordlessly, Maz set out a mug, and poured out some coffee for him. She looked from Wedge to the books; he gave a small shrug, and she decided to say nothing. It seemed he was planning to take a leaf from Moden’s book today, although in a far more subtle manner.

A short time later, Canady entered; and instead of sitting by the window, drew up a stool beside Wedge and sat down. Maz braced herself for a continuation of an argument that had been at a stalemate for the better part of twenty years.

But instead of badgering Wedge, it was Maz herself Canady addressed.

“Have you told her yet?” It was less a demand and more a plea, but still delivered with a certain amount of force. Maz took a moment before answering, she knew he would not be pleased with the response.

“I don’t think she’s ready for that burden.”

She hated to lie; and it was technically true, from a certain point of view. These two, probably more than anyone (well, apart from one), had some right to worry about Rey’s wellbeing. But they had trusted her twenty five years ago; so, as far as she was concerned, they should trust her now. Nor did she particularly feel like explaining herself at the moment. There had been a time when no one would have dared question her authority; but that time, like so many others, was long past. She was really feeling her age today. Yes, they had been waiting a long time; and yes, they were understandably impatient. But she too had been waiting, and for far longer than they had.

“Really? You’ve had no problem burdening her with everything else. How is the truth a burden?” Canady was growing belligerent; again, an understandably human reaction.

Maz sighed, and leaned across the bar.  “It is while it could be used against her. She is strong, and resilient, to be sure; but she has her weaknesses, as we all do, Moden.” She turned her back on him, and busied herself rolling sets of cutlery in crisp white linen napkins, ready for lunch time.

Canady glanced over to the older man beside him. Wedge was immobile, his hands still and cupped around his drink, staring off into the distance.

“And you are happy to go along with this?” Canady demanded.

Trudy, her nose twitching, nudged her owner to rouse him.

“I am,” Wedge replied, his voice cracking; his gaze never wavered from a point about a metre in front of him. He abruptly cleared his throat, and reached down to stroke the rabbit’s long, soft ears. The action seemed to revive him; and he straightened, and added, “she’ll do fine.” His eyes met Maz’s, as if seeking reassurance that this was indeed the case; she returned his look with a small nod and smile.

Canady, however, was not so easily placated.

“She’s a clever girl, aren’t you worried she’ll figure it out on her own, just like everything else?”

“Look,” Wedge turned to face Canady, “I don’t like it any more than you do. But I trust Maz’s judgement. You’ve stuck your oar in, as we all have to some degree; so let’s just give her the space she needs, and trust her to do what she feels ought to be done. She can handle herself.”

Rey uncrossed her legs and stood up; her knees and lower back were creaking and groaning in protest. She surveyed the fruits of her labours of the last few hours. The manic burst of energy that had hit her when she’d realised that her feelings for him were...what they were...had been channelled into a furious bout of reading and note taking. Far more useful than breaking out in song though part of her did want to spin around going ‘I’m in love!’.

The floor was a sea of papers, pages torn from her emergency idea notebook. She felt like she maybe, finally, had a plan. Or the start of a plan; or maybe the beginnings of a start of a plan. At this point it was hard to tell. One thing she did know for certain was that she was in dire need of more caffeine, in industrial quantities.

“You alright there, Rey?” Maz called out to her as she stepped down off the stairs into the pub. Canady and the Rabbit-man, whose name she had finally learnt was Antilles, were both sitting at the bar; they seemed rather tense.

“Yeah! Just wondering if I could grab a mug of coffee. Morning Mr. Antilles, Mr. Canady.” She gave them a bright smile.

“Certainly!” replied Maz, as she busied herself with the coffee machine. Rey hopped up on the stool beside Mr. Antilles. The rabbit, who was sitting on his lap with her head draped over his elbow, wuffled her nose at Rey, and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“Oh, so now you’re the picture of innocence?”

“Has Trudy here been leading you on a merry dance as well?” He half-turned towards her as he asked.

“You might say that, yes,” Rey smiled; between luring her into graveyards and playing chicken with Mitaka’s VW Golf, it appeared that Trudy was a bit of a menace.

“Not entirely unlike her namesake,” Canady muttered. The tension between the two men was almost palpable. Rey, recalling Canady’s attitude towards the rabbit the first time she had been in the pub, winced. But Wedge just chuckled, and a small smile played across his lips.  “That’s true enough.”

Maz placed a large mug of coffee before Rey; and she sat for a few moments in silence, waiting for it to cool. As she did so, her gaze fell on the stack of books on the bar. She recognised some of the titles, if not the authors. She picked up the topmost book, a collection of Joan Aiken short stories; it looked very familiar but she couldn’t quite place why.

“I thought you might like them. Maz mentioned you were a great reader, and since your own books are all boxed up I thought you might like to have them.”

Rey was touched.  It didn’t hurt to have something diverting to read, especially since she had finished her Heyer novel; and everything else was indeed in boxes.

“That’s very kind of you,” she murmured as she opened the Joan Aiken collection.  It was inscribed on the title page:

To Eleanor on her 10th birthday with lots of love from Dad

 

“They belonged to my daughter,” Wedge said softly.

Rey almost didn’t catch what he said.  She was thinking back to what Canady had said yesterday about her doppelganger: no one was safe once Eleanor Antilles had a plan. She’d see it through, no matter what… to the bitter end.

Well, she might never have met Eleanor, but Rey hoped she could emulate her in that one thing at least.  No matter what, she was determined to see this through to the end; even if at the back of her mind she feared the outcome would ultimately be the one she dreaded most.

“Oh,” she replied somewhat listlessly “thank you, that’s very kind of you,” she repeated.

She stood, tucked the books under one arm, and picked up her now-cooler coffee.  “Well, I better get back to work. Thank you, again.”

Earlier, in fits and bursts, as she dressed, Rey had jotted down as much as she could remember from her strange vision. At one point she had considered looking for her own, extremely battered, copy of M. R. James stories, in case there might be some clues in there; but if it was an unpublished, not to mention unwritten, story then it probably wasn’t worth the hassle. Though it was evident to her that some aspects of that evening, and the girl’s story, had eventually worked their way into his writings. The Mezzotint, in particular, stood out in Rey’s mind as reminiscent of the girl’s description of the malign spirit’s form and activities. And also Lost Hearts, though she wasn’t entirely sure why.

It wasn’t at all surprising to Rey that Luke had been excited at the prospect of discovering, if not the text of a lost James story, then the basis in reality of one. Unfortunately, for all concerned, it seemed that source material was far more terrible than he had supposed; and understandably one James had chosen not to recount; not because of its outlandishnes but because he believed, he knew , that it was literally true. The story was no simulacrum of the truth, like the stories he would come to write, but a biography of evil; an evil that would feed on a reader’s fear.  He had made the decision to warn the reader rather than to feed the evil.

But this one...It was no mere fanciful tale conjured up to explain again a freak accident, or scare a slightly pompous student.  It was true, all of it. And Maz had as good as confirmed that it was so.

As she sat sipping her coffee, grateful for the warmth when everything else seemed cold and dire, she cast her eye over the rather flippant notes she had made. She couldn’t help it; it was the only thing preventing her from spiralling into a pit of horror and depression. They resembled more the plot of a bad Lord of the Rings rip off, or questionable D and D campaign, than a coherent plan. She sat on the floor, placed the mug down beside her, and took up the notepad; and, running through it again, she added some additional thoughts.

 

Ancient Evil - location clouds?

Coalesces in the clouds? She added after a moment’s consideration.

 

Tacky Ring of Power - location unknown - presumably Luke knows?

Must finish reading Luke’s journal.

 

Cheese and Caffeine addicted homebody,

Check

 

Enchanted uber-nerd sex god - location cave

...

 

Rey blew out her burning cheeks, and slid completely down on the floor; she didn’t even remember writing that last part.… ok… she clearly had needed that break, if that was where her mind automatically went when she thought of him.  She gazed up at the ceiling before closing her eyes; it was more than just a fling, he was well and truly grafted onto her soul. She didn’t want to think of what it would like without him; without seeing those eyes or hearing that voice. But it might be that to save him… she would have to give that up, all of it.

What would happen to Ben when the ring was destroyed? Would he turn human again? Would his years… accrue? She couldn’t bring herself to consider that aspect too closely. At the very least, he would no longer be at the mercy of that malevolent... creature...

Did it matter? Fight the evil in the day you were given, fight, what did Galadriel call it? ‘the long defeat’ but damn it to hell, fight. And! Assuming it was even possible, would destroying the ring be enough? Would the evil be sucked away like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders, conveniently cleaning up after itself? Or would it just… linger, like a bad smell, until it found somewhere else to go?

She jumped up and began pacing the room; for her own part, and a little selfishly, Rey really didn’t care whether he remained as he was.  They’d make it work, somehow. She’d already opted for the largest possible bathtub to be installed. It was more for his own sake that she hoped he might become human again.

As she crossed back towards the head of the bed, she spied the shell sitting on the nightstand. The one she’d never listened to the evening before. For the sake of completeness, she supposed she might as well now.

Rey sat on the edge of the bed with it cupped in her hand against her head. For what seemed like an age, all she could hear was the low rumble of her own blood on its constant circuit; and she began to feel a bit foolish. Slowly, though, as she closed her eyes, let herself relax and not try to overthink the ridiculousness of her situation and tune out the sounds from outside, she was able to discern a faint encouraging whisper.

Share and share alike

 

She frowned; at least the messages were all consistent in terms of their vagueness.  She just hoped, when the time came, she’d make the right choices.

She picked up Luke’s notebook and quickly turned to the page she had marked as the start of the notes on the ring. Besides the detailed diagram, he had also made some observations.

As a piece of jewellery the ring is somewhat overwrought; one might go so far as describe it as ‘tacky’.

One might indeed, Rey seconded.

However, beyond the visual, its very presence in a room is almost tangible. All light seems drawn, albeit unwillingly, towards it. I am not certain if this is a feature peculiar to the stone or something to do with the inscriptions.

The next paragraph was in a shakier hand; as if the writer had been wrenching his hand around with some force, while another tried to prevent him.

 

I wake in the night, in a cold sweat, to whispers. I can not make out the words, but the meaning is clear. I must get rid of it somehow. I would destroy it, but I can not bring myself to do the act. I should never have put it on.

 

I should have cast myself from the cliff and not the ring. My family is dead and I alone am to blame. In my cowardice I left him there, mutilated, to die alone on the beach.

 

But he was not dead; and he may not have been dying. Something has stolen his form, or what  remains of it. I can only presume it is the original possessor of the ring, whom I unwittingly gave succor.  And now, for my folly, I am tormented by the sound of his cries whenever there is a storm.

 

I can hear the whispering from the cave. I know the ring must be there. Somehow it has worked its way in there, no doubt carried in by some unsuspecting creature. Maybe someone stronger than me will succeed where I failed.



It made for intensely uncomfortable reading, very much an M. R. James story come to life. In need of a change she swapped Luke's journal for Ben's and began reading more closely some of the longer passages.  They seemed to be part of a longer narrative, rather than the disjointed shorter lines that read like clues.

The passages appeared to be out of order, and there seemed to be gaps.  She went through his notes, pulling together a rough outline of a story set in the 14th or 15th century.

She wasn’t sure if any of what she was reading necessarily applied to the current situation, though the general gist of it seemed familiar; and the overall story, one of three souls, finding each other against all the odds and coming together with a common purpose to rescue one of them from a malign influence that manifested itself as smoke, made her feel… uneasy, and yet hopeful.

There was one passage, which Ben had clearly taken great pains in copying out, even including nine bees; which struck a chord with her, a fellowship of bees. It reminded her of the other afternoon, when the bees and been diving in and out of the gorse flowers.

 

Look to the bees if you would lessons find

Inbringing golden goodness from each flower

Lock'd virtue in the products of their time

And in themselves; their works divine and sweet.

They shelter and protect, serve and defend;

Invaders who would seek to harm the hive

Find ir'n-willed war; yet if their own should be lost

A gentle hum of voices calls them home.

 

As she read, she felt transported to another place. She closed her eyes to hold on to it as long as she could. For one brief moment she imagined she was sitting not in an attic bedroom by the sea, but under a tree, just one of many in an ancient wood. Above her she could hear the leaves shift as they were lightly teased by a summer breeze. Surrounding her were lulling hum of bees; low and soothing, like his voice. She thought she heard him too, that sharp intake of breath of his that usually was accompanied by lifted brows and a searching look.

Her eyes snapped open and she was back, but she had remembered something from her first night, as she had dozily read that Marvell poem; their poem. She grabbed her pen and scribbled:

 

Tear our strife through with iron

 

She underlined iron a half dozen times. There was a pattern emerging, and she liked patterns.

Iron, Honey/Bees and not as obvious… Gold. Three things. Threes.

Rey leaned back on her heels, and prodded her cheek with her pen; a plan had begun to take shape in her mind. At first it was nebulous and vague; but the more she thought about it, the more solid and clear it became. Slowly, she broke into a wide grin. It was bold, and crazy, and it might just work; but it all hinged on finding that damnable ring. If she had read Luke’s fraught notes right, it was somewhere in Kylo’s cave. If it was what she thought it might be, removing it prematurely might not be such a good idea. The timing had to be just right. She downed the remains of her now tepid coffee in one messy gulp, and reached for her laptop. It was time to Google the shit out of some stuff.



Chapter Text

Well shone, Moon!—Truly, the moon shines with a good grace.

William Shakespeare  - A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

Dreams and Deeds




Tuesday, 2nd June 2015



The sky and sea were aflame as the sun slowly slid towards the horizon. Rey paused in her preparations to marvel at the clouds framed by the headland that curved around the cove; they resembled more a great golden feathered wing opened to its fullest to catch the thermals than a chance arrangement of water molecules in the atmosphere. It was exactly how she imagined a phoenix’s wing might look, fiery and wild. She idly wondered if Rose and Armitage were up cloudspotting among the gorse, it was just the kind of formation about which he had been enthusing. On second thoughts she hoped they were cloudspotting elsewhere that evening, it might be somewhat awkward if they were around.

For a few moments the cove was bathed in an unearthly glow, as if the sun’s light was cast through a jar of dark, rich honey. A warm, gentle breeze, the very archetype of a zephyr, swirled about her, playing with the hem of her dress. She had briefly stopped at the pub on her way back from the the grocery store to gather a few last things and had changed into a cotton tea dress and cardigan that she had bought when Finn and Poe hosted a 1950s themed party the year before. It was by far the nicest thing she owned, even if Poe had said the ensemble was more Manic Pixie Dream Girl, than vintage Debbie Reynolds. She also went as far as giving her hair a really thorough brushing before putting it up in a slightly messy bun.

The sea was calm and the cove was was silent apart from the gentle pulse of the waves against the shingles, the soft buzzing of some bees that had recently discovered the now blooming buddleias behind the house, and Rey’s stomach, which had been set rumbling at the thought of honey. Everything seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation, Rey included. She let out the breath she hadn’t realised she had been holding, and turned back to swiftly rearrange a few plates and pop a square of sunset coloured cheese in her mouth. It was pure busy work, really, to keep her occupied until he arrived; and to distract her from certain, unwanted, thoughts that had been bubbling to the surface in recent days.

For the most part it had been a fairly run of the mill day; taking Chewie out for a walk, or rather Chewie taking her out for a drag, up and down the coast; and helping Maz with various small jobs around the pub. Other than that, she had spent the day lying on her bed, reading some of the books Wedge had given her.  It was lazy and decadent and she had loved every minute of it.

 

Later in the afternoon she had found herself drawn back into reading his journal. She wasn’t certain if it was in anticipation or preparation for meeting him again. Not for the first time did she wish he was there with her, so she could talk to him directly, ask him to expand on a note he’d made; anything just to hear the sound of his voice.

She had discovered that a number of pages were stuck together and after carefully teasing them apart found a slew of further notes and observations on the manuscript fragments he had been tracking down.

Once she had finished reading the new passages, time really was marching on; and she still had to get washed and dressed and buy food for the promised meal. She stared incredulously at the clock; how on earth was it half past seven already? Sunset was a little after twenty past nine  and she was nowhere near ready. She had tempted fate and switched on the car radio again, something she had avoided for some time. It had responded with a melancholy Ella Fitzgerald song which seemed apt and not totally without hope.

I'm feeling mighty lonesome

Haven't slept a wink

I walk the floor and watch the door

And in between I drink

Black coffee

That was her all over really, she thought as she pulled into the Sainsbury’s in Bude;  lonely, sleep deprived and running on caffeine fumes. But hopefully not for too much longer.

 

 

Rey stood and smoothed down her dress, casting an eye over her efforts. It wasn’t half bad. She had laid three travel blankets, and finally the quilt from her bed, down on the ground, she wasn’t sure why she had brought the latter; but when she had gone to unpack the car, there it was, all folded and looking as innocent as the day was long.  She just shrugged, and added it to the pile.

The meal itself was mostly finger food: cheese, a cooked honey roast ham which she had sliced down, a tray of strawberries, a bottle of water and a large thermos of coffee. She was amazed, and pleased, at her restraint; ordinarily strawberries didn’t last long in her presence. She’d even managed to snag a crusty loaf from the last batch in the supermarket’s in-store bakery in Bude; and it was still warm, even now, a little over an hour later.

But, in spite of her best efforts at giving herself something else to think about, gnawing away at the back of Rey’s mind was the thought that this first meal together of theirs might also be their last; his last. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was laying out all this for a condemned man; and not only that, but that she had been, or rather would be, the one to condemn him through what she intended to do. It was such an extreme course of action, one without any precedent that she could discover; and it could potentially all end in tears.

Rey took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, pushing that insidious notion as far away from her as possible. All she wanted to do was to enjoy this evening, and all the more so if there was any chance it might be their last.

Her back was still turned when she noted the shift in the force and frequency of the water lapping at the shore line, followed by a small series of splashes. The worries she been trying to shove away evaporated in an instant, burnt away to nothing by the overwhelming heat that immediately bloomed on her cheeks.

 

“You’re late.” Rey announced, without turning around. She struggled to remain composed; but she knew the tremor in her voice betrayed her, as certainly as the strawberry-red flush of her face.

“I’m never late, I arrive precisely when I mean to,” came the reply; low, with a warm humour that made her heart flip to imagine. He had to know the provenance of that line. Could he be any more perfect? Rey squeezed her eyes shut in order to see it in her mind’s eye; a twitching smirk at one corner of his mouth, that would cause an otherwise hidden dimple to make its presence known, his eyes creasing with barely contained mirth. She was so caught up in the moment that didn’t hear him as he moved closer and she gasped in surprise when she felt his reassuringly large arms swiftly enclose her waist and pull her back a step towards him. She bumped up against his chest, and sagged contentedly into him. In response he dipped his head down between her neck and shoulder; and all Rey could think of was how they fit together perfectly, like an Escher tessellation.

“I missed you,” he whispered huskily as he tenderly nuzzled her cheek.

The very faint hint of a growl, not unlike the increasingly insistent rumbling of her stomach, in his declaration sent the sparks that were dancing up and down the length of Rey’s spine into overdrive, igniting something very primal within her.

He missed you, her lizard brain was helpfully telling her, because he wants you.

Thank you… thank you very much, her exasperated and slightly more evolved brain replied.

 

At the same time, her heart was still pounding so hard she wouldn’t be surprised if she woke the next morning to bruised ribs; all she could hear was the dull thud of her own pulse in her head, fueled by the warm breath tickling her ear.  It wasn’t just in anticipation of this evening, but another one; not long in the future, when their fates would well and truly hang in the balance and in her hands and oh god, she couldn’t mess this up.... But that was a care for another time. This evening was about them, and food, and trying to keep her hands to herself long enough that they could have a proper conversation.

Rey gently wriggled to loosen his grip on her and pivoted in his arms to face him. The smile, the twinkle, even the dimple were there; and she smiled in return.

“Ben…” she breathed as he drew her close once again.

His eyes, once more that same dark honey colour, grew large and searching; and he pulled away from her again. Rey mentally kicked herself; not for doing it, but the clumsy manner in which she had done it.  She was so caught up in the moment, in his arms, his eyes, in the potential of what she had seen; as far as she was concerned, he was Ben. He might be inclined to deny it, but she was fully committed to reminding him of the fact; continuously, if that was what it would take.

 

~oOo~

 

He had longed to hear his name, his real name on her lips but hadn’t expected to so soon. And when he did, so softly and so earnestly and yet with a touch of sadness, he reeled, as he was hit by the full force of the implications of her knowledge. How had she discovered it? What had she been told? What else had she uncovered? Who had she spoken to?

He braced himself for the worst; resigned once more to his fate.

“So, you know?”

He felt as if he was about to be cast adrift; that this was all her way of trying to let him down easy, to soften the blow of never wanting to see him again, or never being able to.

But Rey did not budge an inch. The gold flecks in her hazel eyes flashed at him as they locked with his; willing him, daring him to stand fast.  When she spoke again her voice was still soft, but it had an edge to it; not unkind, but firm.

“I know enough. I know you don’t have to hide behind ‘Kylo’ anymore. I’ll help you...”

She paused for a moment, as she considered something.

“I am going to help you, us.”

Us... what had his father once said? You and me kid, against the world.

But that hadn’t exactly worked out… had it?

He shook his head, his thoughts consumed with the last time he’d been in a desperate situation and the way things had turned out. He couldn’t be trusted. “Are you sure about this, Rey?”

“More sure that I have ever been about anything in my life.”

Once more he tried to give her that escape route, a chance to save herself; to run away, far away from him, where she would be safe, “I don’t deserve this… I’m not wor-”

 

~oOo~

 

A flame of annoyance roared to life within her; she loved him, why couldn’t he see it? And loving someone meant accepting them, faults and all; perhaps even more so because of them. It took all herself control not to scream this at him. Why did he persist in doing this, drawing her in and then pushing her away? Logically she knew where it came from, what he feared. But it was the very reason she wasn’t going anywhere; she was not going to abandon him to his fate, she’d rather throw herself from the cliff than do that.

Instead she steeled herself to throw herself off another kind of cliff, bringing herself so close to the edge of uttering those three words that ought to dispel and uncertainty on his part.

“Don’t you dare say it!” The words tumbled out in a rush and with far more force than she intended. “Don’t ever say you are not worth it or worthy or anything like that… Please,” her voice faltered, “you are worth it, to me…” I have nothing but you and this house and… without either I am nothing.

“I..”

“I am not a good person, Rey.” He pleaded as he drew himself up to his full, imposing height and held his arms out to his sides, gesturing weakly.  “Hell, look at me; I am barely a person at all! I’ve done terrible things. Do you know how much I’ve destroyed? Homes? Livelihoods? Those storms, they were all me.”

Rey had done her research; she wasn’t ignorant or lacking in imagination. She knew all about the sudden uptick in violent storms, the flooding up and down the coast over the last thirty eight years. No wonder Hux’s father had pressured him into a job in insurance; in his own way Ben had been keeping him in a job he too hated. But she knew, from her strange firsthand experience, that it wasn’t all him. The anger was his, rightfully or no, and she couldn’t say she wouldn’t have lashed out in the same way had she found herself in his position; but she knew that behind it all was something that had deliberately pushed, and twisted, and fed on the fear and self-loathing it stoked. And someone like the sensitive boy, and man, she knew from his journal was just ripe for the picking.

“Under duress-” she countered.

“But I still allowed it to happen; I should have been stronger.” He sank back on his cephalopod arms, as he might have done had they been knees, his head hanging low against his chest, his hair falling over his face. A heartbeat later, he raised his eyes and looked at her through dark waves. As if waiting for that blow, the strike of a blade; clean and swift and inevitable to deliver him.

Rey took a deep breath; she wondered if convincing him that he wasn’t a monster was going to be the hardest part of all of this after all. Would he always make things this difficult? Maybe not; but she was willing to chance it. She closed the distance between them once again.

“Listen to me. Ben. Someone very dear to me told me that while it’s reasonable to be angry, it’s important to do something constructive with it, not destructive. You have every right to be angry. Everything you had was taken away from you. No, you don’t have to tell me the details of that day; I really don’t care. I mean, I do; but it would make no difference to how I feel about you, and you are welcome to tell me if and when you feel ready. I can tell you blame yourself for what happened; but people do things, terrible things when they are mad... or scared or stressed….”

Oh my god am I actually doing this? Quoting Frozen at him… Oh well, I may as well lean into it.

“But love's a force, and it’s strange, and powerful; and I love you! And I am going to do everything in my power to help you, and it wouldn’t be possible without what you’ve done already.”

There, she had done it. She'd  said it and was now just as terrified as he must have been, but she felt emboldened as well. She held her hand out to him, and couldn’t help but grin.

 

~oOo~

Even as he sank to to the ground, having pleaded for her to give him up, he bitterly regretted doing it and wished he could somehow take it back. But that seemed to be his fate; acting rashly, and then spending a lifetime wishing for a second chance.  Just now he had been handed one and had as good as thrown it back in her face. But apparently she wasn’t so easily dissuaded, which wasn’t really all that surprising. She had come back every other time, after that first night and stolen kiss. After that tortuous parting. And again a week prior.

Three times he had pushed her away, and as far as he could tell had given her no particular reason to return; and yet every single time she had. Like magnets, they were inevitably drawn back together. He peered at her through his straggly hair; what a pathetic sight he must make.  Her eyes were softer again as she stepped closer and spoke to him. All he could think of was that she was magnificent, and he didn’t deserve her; but it wasn’t really his place to tell her her own mind. Her determination really shouldn’t have been a surprise to him; after all, she had bared herself to him without a moment’s hesitation and plunged headlong into the sea.  She’d embraced him, claimed him and in turn motivated him to reclaim himself.

Rebelling against his mind, his heart soared at her words; they were calming and reassuring. Even before she stopped speaking, he knew they’d never be apart again; not like they had been before. And then she said it and he was stunned. When she said that she loved him he felt like a reset button had been flipped. It was a chance to start over afresh; and everything was going to be fine.

“Now come on, it’s time to eat. And I’ve gone to rather a lot of trouble.”

Ben took her hand without a moment’s hesitation, and with surprising strength she yanked him towards herself and gave him a quick kiss.

“There! First course. Oh!”

He had always had a big appetite; so this nouvelle cuisine kind of a kiss was simply not enough for him. He had just woken from a dreadful nightmare; and wasn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day? He wanted to feast! Once more he wrapped his arms around her.  Her head tilted to one side, one eyebrow cocked inquiringly; and it was all Ben could do not to laugh at the sight. He gave her slight nod of confirmation before tipping his head close to hers. In spite of his urgency to kiss her once more, he found him lost in savouring the moment before the act; the sensation of her warm breath, shallow, rapid and expectant, the strange tingle as it dried his lips. The feeling of her heartbeat, and how his own seemed to slip into rhythm with hers. Unconsciously, he licked his now-parched lips before seconds later hers collided  against them, sending a jolt of electricity through him.

Her hands worked their way from their confinement in his near vice-like embrace; they were clasping the side of his head, combing through his hair, exploring the shape and contours of the ears he had for so long hated. Now he hated them for another reason; they were getting the attention other parts of him craved. The scrape of her nails against his salt encrusted scalp was exquisite; just the right mixture of pain and pleasure, and he found himself unable to contain a low moan of euphoria. That just seemed to give her the opening she had been seeking; the dainty tongue that had been darting around, teasing and probing at the corners of his mouth between kisses that attacked his lower lip, took advantage of the opportunity and thrust inside.

Ben unabashedly followed her lead; and for a moment, he wasn’t entirely sure where he ended and she began, or if they’d ever really been two separate people. As much as he was relishing this kiss, which was giving him quite an appetite, a low growl from somewhere below suggested that this activity really needed to be postponed for a little while; at least while other appetites were sated.

Reluctantly, he raised his hands to cover hers; and maintaining a firm hold, gently lowered them as he attempted break their kiss.

Rey gave a delicious whimper of annoyance, which caused him to snort in amusement. “You really are determined, aren’t you?”

Rey pulled back, blinking slightly, before giving him a crooked half smile.

“I’m quite used to everything I want being an uphill struggle; so yes, once I’ve set my mind to something I’m not easily deterred. It may be a personality flaw, and on occasion it may have led to me putting in far too much effort towards a lost cause.”

“How do you know I’m not a lost cause?” He teased, it was hard to break a habit in an instant; and he couldn’t help but test her resolve just once more, to check that this was all real. It would be the last time, really it would.

“I just do.”

Ben was fast recognising that tone of her voice and set of her jaw; he dearly hoped he’d experience it for many years to come, even if it would herald the point at which the discussion was over and she had had the final say. He would gladly capitulate to her demands.

He had raised her hands to his lips to kiss them when he caught sight of her left hand, and the glass ring she was wearing on her ring finger.

More than her declaration of love, seeing the ring on her hand in a silent affirmation swept away any lingering concerns he might have had.

“Where - ” he trailed off, unable to articulate his question, his mind still reeling at the implication.

“Maz had it,” Rey said, turning the hand still firmly clasped in his, slightly, to look at it with admiration. She lifted her eyes to meet his and added, “It turns out she has quite the cache of your personal effects.” She then gave him what could only be described as a very saucy look; and he felt himself grow hot, wondering what Maz could have found that could inspire such an expression. He hurriedly returned to the subject of the ring.

“I had meant to give it to you that day, before you left.  Before I went and made an utter ass of myself demanding promises from you.”

Rey chuckled, and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “A supreme ass, to be sure; but it was understandable. I should have told you I was planning to come back, but I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case I couldn’t afford to buy the house. I didn’t want to make a promise I wasn’t certain I could keep. But I would have moved heaven and earth to be with you.”

“Really?” He didn’t dare say it, but he really didn’t deserve her; he’d try to, but he never really would.

A hint of exasperation crept into her voice again.  “Of course; always. Now come on, let’s eat; I’m starving!”

 

~oOo~

Rey sat down on the travelling blankets, topped with the moon and star quilt off of her bed and patted a space beside her to indicate that he should  join her.

Ben smiled warmly as he settled down next to  her, arranging his additional arms as best he could so he didn’t sprawl too much, and took it all in. “This all looks… amazing,” he murmured.

“Well, I thought you might like a change, from… well, seafood.” She shrugged, waving towards the mismatched plates of food.

“It’s perfect. If I never eat another crab, raw or otherwise, again, I will die happy.” He said without a shred of irony.

“I wouldn’t get too excited. This, bread made in a bread-maker, and slightly burnt bacon are pretty much the extent of my cooking skills.”

Ben reached for a piece of bread and took a wild bite of it, all while fixing her with a look that made her want to throw herself at him. “ Now who’s being defeatist?”

Rey rolled her eyes; snarky too? Well, she had made her bed, hadn’t she? She hit back with a retort of her own.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full!”

 

~oOo~

Despite Rey’s protestations, it was the best meal he’d had in decades; although anything was an improvement on his usual fare. His table manners probably left a lot to be desired and as he stole glances at her he saw that she wasn’t eating that much herself, but was instead staring at him with an expression of… was it horror? Or shock? He tried to slow down, savouring each piece of cheese and oh god there were strawberries; he grabbed for them. She shifted uneasily as he popped one, whole, into his mouth.

“So… what else did Maz have then?” he asked, partially out of genuine curiosity and also to distract Rey from his clearly dreadful table manners.

“Random things, some text books, your journal.”

“You have my journal? I thought I’d lost it when...”

Rey knew exactly when and she didn’t much want to let him linger on those memories.

“Yes, it’s been very illuminating.

Ben shot her a quizzical look. “Right…”

She gave him a significant look as she repeated herself.  “The drawings… your illuminations... ”

He fixed her with a stern gaze, “I know what you meant. Tell me, will there be any more puns in future?”

Her eyes twinkled mischievously, “If you are lucky… yes.”

He grinned back at her and took another bite of bread.

“I can’t believe it was safe all this time…I was wondering what had happened to it. After the last time we met I… was reminded of it.”

“You seemed to have been collecting bits of a story, it was fascinating, but it didn’t seem complete.  Can you tell me some more about it?”

He sighed, and ran his hand through his hair. No, it wasn’t complete, the manuscript or his research; and it looked like the latter never would be. He wouldn’t be surprised if someone else had worked on it in his absence.

“I first came across it in an image in an old encyclopedia. It was a terrible reproduction but something about it just called out to me. I was utterly transfixed and it just drew me in. I suppose I became obsessed with it. Or rather the subject. It also got me hooked on calligraphy.”

He remembered fondly the following morning; how he woke up to find the turned wood pen handle on his nightstand, with a hastily scribbled note from his father:

I’ll see you later kid I’m off to Newquay, got to get you some proper nibs and ink. No more of that rubbishy plastic thing. Remember, good tools make a good job and the pen is mightier than the sword.

 

“The subject was the girl?” Rey suggested hesitantly, and Ben found himself blushing.

“Yes, the girl was part of it. I know it seems silly to say that I fell in love with an image from a 15th century manuscript, with a girl who is probably the figment of someone else’s imagination; but I did. Even though I had no idea if it was a girl, or what she really looked like. It just seemed to me that it was... ”

He felt rather foolish, it was a tricky subject to navigate without coming across like a creep or worse. He had fallen hopelessly in love; and now to find all the attributes he had imbued this image with based on snippets of text and his own personal desires present in the very real young woman sitting with him...

And he shall see the Angel's eyes, and know...

“As he was known in turn, and long before.” Rey replied shyly. Oh lord, he thought he had said that to himself, but no… She was smiling and nodded for him to continue. Never since his father or Professor San Tekka had someone really indulged him like this, and listened to his pet project, with genuine interest.

“I eventually managed to track down more pieces of the original manuscript and was able to determine it wasn’t bible or gospel, though there were fleeting mentions of one. To be honest, it read more like an adventure story or fairy tale. Which may have been why no one paid any attention to it. It was about a monk working at Canterbury who had been plagued with visions. That felt a bit close to the bone, since I had suffered badly from nightmares as a child. But I just struggled on. I needed to know what happened to the three of them.”

Rey was leaning forward now, her chin cupped n her hand, elbow resting on one knee, watching him keenly, “three of them?”

“Yes, there was the tortured soul, the Poet, the Warrior, and The Angel; who was very much a warrior in her own right. I’ll never forget when I found the first image showing all three of them, battling some sort of monster of flame and smoke. It was just so unsettling; I had this strange feeling like I was looking at both my past and future. Like a very strange case of deja vu.  I couldn’t sleep that night. It was exciting, to have found another part of it, but it terrified me. Reminded me too much of Luke’s research for some reason.”

He glanced up at her; in her eyes there was what looked like a light of recognition, and something else. Whatever he had said interested her immensely; but she seemed reluctant to divulge why.

“And then? Your notes were rather all over the place.”

“Those ones, yes, I had more organised ones back in Cambridge; I had been putting together a proposal to work on it as a PhD.”

“So? What happened to them? Did they win?”

“Well, I don’t know. I didn’t have all the manuscript; and I was hoping if I could get it approved, I’d be in a better position to find the rest of it, and discover what had happened. The British Library could be very snotty about undergrads demanding to see stuff in stacks. This I know from experience. You need, or rather needed, letters of accreditation; and sometimes even that wouldn’t be enough. I have no idea what it’s like now...”

Rey collapsed back on the quilt and heaved a sigh. “Ugh! Frustrating.”

Ben observed her, as transfixed by how her chest expanded and contracted as it rose and fell as he had been by the curves in the decorative initial that had started him on his lifelong passion and hobby. Her skirt was hitched up on one side over her raised knee, displaying the back of her thigh… He may have identified to some degree with The Poet, but he had absolutely no taste for a monkish life… Very frustrating indeed.

 

Rey sat up suddenly and he quickly averted his gaze.

“I also spoke with your uncle… and I have a plan, Ben…I - ” She said with a rush.

He hurriedly placed his plate down and moved towards her. “No, wait please. Don’t tell me.”

Ben knew he was compromised, she couldn’t let him into her confidence without potentially revealing it to that… Well the least said, and thought, about that the better. Also, he wasn’t ready to deal with anything related to his uncle; someone else he had failed, and who had...

Rey fixed him with an incredulous look, her brows drawing together. “What?”

“The plan, it’s best if you don’t tell me, in case…”

Her expression softened as she comprehended his meaning; she smiled weakly and nodded.

He reached out and grasped her hand. “I trust you, Rey.”

 

~oOo~

They took their time eating. In the end, Rey had hardly touched her food; she found she was far too distracted watching Ben talk and eat, since both involved his mouth and his lips were just so…kissable and nibble-able - was that a word?  If not, it ought to be.

When he popped the strawberry in his mouth she thought she was going to die, and she nearly spilt coffee down herself gaping like an idiot.

At some point Rey gave up on eating altogether, and patted her lap for Ben lay his head down on it. It was cosy; and he playfully nipped at her fingers as she fed him the last few strawberries.

“You’ve barely eaten anything,” he pointed out,  cocking his head towards her half-full plate.

Rey shrugged, “I’m not that hungry, I guess…”

Liar! You are hungry...

 

“Earlier you were complaining about being starving…”

Ben let out an annoyed grunt, leaned over, and reached for the jar of Nutella; he unscrewed the lid and dipped his finger into the soft dark hazelnut and cocoa spread. Rey was certain he must have heard her traitorous body’s reaction when he popped his finger into her gaping mouth. Overcoming her momentary shock, she narrowed her eyes and swiftly sucked the finger clean. The resounding pop as she released him very definitely signalled the end of the meal; or at the very least, that course.

 

Ben sat up abruptly. Their eyes locked; and Rey felt her emotions careening all over the place. His eyes, which were usually a warm, rich, dark honey,  were now almost completely black; as she was certain her own must be. The moment, which seemed both impossibly long and short, came to an end when he reached out one large hand to cup the back of her head; and gently yet quickly he drew her close.

 

There was barely room for a breath of air between their lips; and yet he hesitated.

Why! Why do you always do this? Rey’s brain screamed out. You can take anything you want!

Rey could feel his grip loosening on the back of her head, and the sharp intake of breath that she knew was the prelude to him losing his nerve and drawing away.

Fine, if that was how it was going to be, then she’d be the one to take the first step.

She lunged forward, her hands snaking up around his neck to finish what he had started. His hold on her tightened once more; and she moaned into his lips at the feeling of his fingers flexing at the nape of her neck.  She felt a low rumbling that sent tremors through him; and she realised he was laughing, he had been toying with her. It had all been a feint to make her throw herself at him. Well she knew just how to deal with that; she’d give him what he wanted and then he’d be sorry. She let herself go limp; and to his credit, Ben followed her lead.  They slowly sank onto the quilt; there was the slight clatter of dishes, but one of Ben’s many arms set about moving them to one side, leaving his human ones free to pursue more enjoyable tasks.

 

She could feel his other arms slowly moving over her ankles. One bold one was edging up the back of her calf, with a cool, firm pressure she longed to feel applied much higher up; but it didn’t, wouldn’t. She instead had to angle herself against his hip to find any kind of release. To his credit, though, he moved one hand down and began to slowly, painstakingly work his way up her thigh, making decadent loops with one finger.

“I never thanked you for the brushes,” he murmured.

“I hope you had a chance to use them…” Rey replied breathlessly, recalling how she had imagined him using them on her.

As he moved higher the loops began tighten, just as her own muscles were; tensing, readying themselves.

“I did...”

“Show me...how,” Rey babbled, eager for a reprise and a demonstration in the flesh.

“I’ll need some ink…” His voice was dangerously low, and he must have remembered the effect his voice had on her before. The teasing coiling stopped; and there was a tentative testing with one finger tip, before dipping inside and drawing out again, slowly. Twice more he repeated the action, each time her hips following him as he withdrew.

Then she felt him writing on her inner thigh, or at least trying; she was shuddering at this point with unfulfilled release. He gave it his best shot, but abandoned it in favour of assisting her. There would be time to hone that particular skill later.

 

Eventually they parted; and Ben sat back up and wordlessly pulled Rey onto his lap. One arm was draped over her shoulder, his index finger idly running up and down the curve of her chest as if he was again practicing his calligraphy drills. No wonder he is so good at what he does, she sighed. Things were still complicated; there was a line they were silently skirting that she knew he would never cross until he could do so on two legs. But regardless of how frustrated they must both be, she was happy to enjoy these quiet, enduring, moments that lingered long after lust had guttered out. And, after all, there was no telling when it might suddenly roar to life again after being carefully nurtured...

She found her mind drifting back to that strange dream or vision of them sitting under a tree. The landscape had been very different; and she wondered if it was a spectre of the past or a vision of the future.

 

She quietly asked him.  “What’s the earliest thing you remember?”

She felt him stiffen and she immediately regretted the question.



~oOo~

He remembered the storm. His remembered the look on his father’s face, his eyes wide in shock and horror; and then the look of calm and resignation as he reached out for Ben. He remembered the mingled scent of metallic blood and salt water; and the foam of a sea whipped into frenzy, stained red by blood that was not his own. The limb- and gut-wrenching sensation as his father was ripped from his arms, or vice versa.

But he also remembered watching, with shocked fascination, his own blood in the water.  How the first few dark drops blossomed, beautifully, as they hit the sea water before becoming a flow; and crying out in fear. The flow was stemmed by his father, who held him in his arms, and rocked him and sang to him in a low voice that cracked and strained with worry and love all the while; until the small woman he was convinced was a fairy came to heal and bandage him. And then he was was crying; not because of the wound, but because he’d broken his father’s paperweight.  

But somehow he couldn’t tell her all this; he didn’t dare. Part of him longed to do it, thought that she would understand, that she would forgive him. But he didn’t feel ready to be forgiven yet.

“It’s... complicated.” Ben said finally. Rey’s small hand tightened about his own, her thumb unconsciously tracing the scar. He closed his eyes. Her touch felt so good and so warm; it reaffirmed that she was indeed real, and not a figment of his overactive imagination, as he’d once believed she might have been.

 

“I have two memories that could be considered the earliest. They are so alike, and are both painful to recall. They both involve this place. And bloodshed.” And my father.

This time it was Rey’s turn to stiffen.

“A bit like nostalgia.” She  murmured, it seemed on the face of it a non sequitur but he sensed what she was driving at.

 

“Yes, exactly! Exactly. That kind of pain. The kind you miss when it is gone, because to have felt it means that it meant something. This place that I loved so much... but I was drawn to it, or rather dragged here against my will, for so long that I began to hate it. Because…” He gave a brief shrug and tiny shake of his head. Rey’s grip on his hand tightened momentarily before relaxing again. Without recourse to difficult words, she seemed to instinctively know what he needed to reassure him. I know, she seemed to say through that one quick flex of muscle.

A heartbeat later she spoke again.

“I think I understand. As silly as it sounds, I get that way about stories; well, one story in particular, because it’s so tied up in the worst thing that happened,  yet it was my favourite story as a child. And the irony is that this place, and you, remind me of it so much; and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps I’m just assuming you were the kind of child to sit and read to the sea,” she said with a self-deprecating laugh.

 

That was exactly who I was. Ben thought to himself.

 

~oOo~

Rey would have happily sat in Ben’s arms forever. She could have cried with joy to know that as much passed between them with words as without them. That niggle of doubt had raised its head briefly again at Ben’s confession of his painful memories of the cove. She feared she was in the process of bringing about a third memory of bloodshed. Twice he had survived, but the rule of three worried her. The hours slid past as silently as the moon travelled overhead, and she knew that  their time together now was ebbing.

“What are we going to do?” He suddenly asked.

“What do you want to do?”

“Be with you…. Forever.”

Rey let out a soft laugh, “well let’s start with now and go from there…”

“Sounds reasonable,” he replied, as he pulled her a little closer to give her ear a kiss and a nip before settling his chin on her shoulder. Rey was certain it couldn’t be a terribly comfortable position; but she liked how they seemed to just slot together so perfectly, so didn’t raise the subject.

A few more moments passed. “The stars are really amazing. In London you could just about make out Orion’s belt on a good night.”

 

“If I had a universe of galaxies to offer you

they would never be prize enough.”

 

His words, uttered low and deep, flowed in through her ears; coiling, freeing her mind, letting it drift untethered. She could see those far away galaxies he offered, inexorably drawn to each other by gravity, colliding with fascinating slowness, sending out bright flashes against a velvety blackness.

 

She had shed all pretense of a body now; the warmth left in the wake of his hands as they skimmed along her arms  had seeped into her skin, burning it away.

She felt like nothing, and yet everything.

She came from nothing and yet everything.

She was nothing, just a small mote adrift in time and space … but to him and with him she felt like everything.

And like those galaxies, she was hurtling towards something.

 

Rey held her breath in anticipation for the next lines, this was so much better than having him read to her.

“Eternity could never encompass my feelings

They are as boundless as…”

 

But he stopped, and just as it was getting good. Her breath hitched and she twisted slightly to look up at him when no more was forthcoming.

“As boundless as what?” she finally managed to say.

“A boundless thing...” he suggested lamely, his expression adorably apologetic.

Rey held his gaze for a moment before bursting out laughing, followed by Ben; whose laugh was so rich and deep, she wanted to just submerge herself in it.

“A boundless thing…” She repeated once she got her breath back, and collapsed back against against him.

“I was doing so well and it just… went away, or rather got away from me.”

“It was beautiful, in any case. Tell me do you often repurpose Marvell?”

Leaning down he whispered, “only for you,” before pulling her close and kissing her.

 

Everything was bathed in the moon’s strange silvery glow; the clouds of twilight had drifted away, leaving only delicate ribbony wisps that idled across the sky. She couldn’t rightly say when; but Ben had dozed off, and was snoring slightly as he slept. It was a surprisingly gentle sound, not the deep rumble it might have been; maybe volume was inversely proportional to nose size after all. She hugged her knees to her chest, thinking how she would be happy to just sit and  watch him sleep, but it struck her that that could be construed as a little creepy; and besides, this was probably a good time to clear up the plates and wash them. She carefully got to her feet, mindful of splayed arms that twitched and shuddered as he dreamt, and slid her shoes back on before gathering up the plates and taking them into the house.

She was at the sink in the half finished kitchen, softly singing the final verse of the song that had been on in the car earlier; yesterday really:

Feeling low as the ground

It's driving me crazy

This waiting for my baby

To maybe come around

 

And musing on how such a simple and domestic thing could give her such joy, when she heard the telltale crunch of footsteps approaching the house. She dared not move, nor breathe, for fear of breaking whatever spell had provided the last piece, completing the perfect yet prosaic scene she had been conjuring in her mind.

This home by the sea would never be complete without someone who would come through that door, bringing with him the promise of laughter, frustration, companionship, empathy and love; everything she had sought. She needed her other, missing hal; a piece that fit just right with her imperfect edges, perhaps leaving a space for those other, smaller pieces they could fill in together.

There, now, was the sound of the plastic sheeting on the door being drawn to one side. With each nearing step, slow and deliberate, closing the distance between the door and the sink, she felt her chest tighten further. While her brain was clamouring for answers:  Is it him? What happens next? Her body seemed to know exactly what was going to happen, or what it wanted to happen, and was gleefully preparing itself.

He was right behind her now; she could feel the tips of large toes playfully wiggling, teasing up and down against the back of one ankle. She slowly stepped back, into something solid and real and warm behind her. She looked down; on either side of her smaller shod feet were large, but not as large as she might have expected, pale, bare feet. His toes drummed the floor expectantly next to her own.

Rey could feel his breath, like a warm breeze; and his hands, hovering over her shoulders before finally, slowly and gently running down her arms and cupping her elbows. She hummed appreciatively. Every breath and every movement was tentative. Without warning, he released her and stepped back. She gave a small sigh of resignation, left the mug in the sink, and let her  hands fall to her sides, preparing for the inevitability of turning to an face an empty room. It had been a nice daydream, or whatever the night time equivalent could be called, but reality...

Before she had a chance to move, let alone finish her thought, he was back; he scooped her up in his arms as if she were nothing at all, and held her close as if she was everything in the universe. She sighed again, but this time in contentment - finally - and wrapped her arms around his neck before she buried her face in his bare chest, letting him carry her off back outside; a trail of suds dripped in their wake.

 

He laid her gently down on the blankets. She could feel the pebbles at her back; but frankly she didn’t care. He was with her now, and how that made her feel was all she cared about, or registered.

As she lay prone, her legs drawn slightly up and parted, she gazed up at the dark expanse that was the sky, dotted with stars; and then to him, his face and chest, dotted with beauty marks like the sky in negative, as he hovered to one side waiting for her.

Ben, she mouthed; and he bent down and kissed the name from her lips, claiming both it and her for his own.

But she wanted more; and she reached for him, pulling him to herself like the moon pulls the tides. There was no more need for words, and she was incapable of speaking; she wasn’t even human any more. She could no longer could feel the hard curves at her back; she was now the ground on which they lay, her bones were the rocks and the stones.

 

Her legs seemed to sink and merge into the ground, out into the sea.  The cove was the apex of her thighs; they were one, and interchangeable. She was dimly aware of what must be a wave buffeting around her, lifting her skirt, pulling and  pooling it around her waist. Briefly, she was herself again; and she was tugging at the irritating article of clothing that ensnared her and that she was determined she would never wear again if she was wearing a skirt around him. She gave a snort of displeasure and flung it away. She settled back down ,and drew him back between her parted legs; and she merged with her surroundings once more.

If she was to be the land then Ben must the sea, forever loving her.

At first he was a gentle wave, caressing the shore, lapping; sensuously running back between curved pebbles before rushing back again.

She knew it might never exactly be like this again; but that was more than all right by her, the next time might be even slower and more deliberate and just as perfect. This time was born out of an ineffable need and hunger; time and tide demanded it. And if this was to be the last and only time... No; it wouldn’t be. He trusted her, and she loved him; and it would be fine.

Gradually, spurred on by her responsive, encouraging movements, he grew more forceful. She ran her hands over his broad back, marveling at the ripple and roll of his muscles. He was a spring storm now, waves surging and plunging against the shore. But not one of wanton destruction; this was the kind that cleared away old things, a storm of renewal.

She welcomed each thrust as she edged closer and closer.  If she really was one with the land, she was certain an earthquake was inevitable. It was becoming such sweet agony, she was so close; and yet... Her fingers scrambled for purchase on his back, gripping him tightly as she pushed back against him and shifted under him. He suddenly rose up; and their eyes met for an instant before he dropped low again, raining hungry kisses along her neck as she sought to match his momentum before skimming her hands over his hips and gently guiding him.

A more than able student, he immediately shifted his angle of attack; and then, caught unawares, she cried out as every cell of her body exploded in a supernova, leaving behind just a bright pulsating centre. Her wordless exclamation of surprise was met with a unchecked guttural moan of his own, before a last mighty wave crashed over her, flooding and reigniting her all over again.

She felt him collapse on her, exhausted and spent, but solid and real. They were just Ben and Rey again, storm-tossed, breathless, sated, happy. This was possibly even better, his weight on her, the rise and fall of his chest, his heartbeat at first racing but gradually slowing, while her own body was pinging and popping with aftershocks.

Without notice, the comforting weight was lifted from her chest.  She felt a drop of water fall on to her cheek; but it was warm - tears. She gazed into his dark eyes, blown wide like twin pairs of that dark pool where he had slept.

She opened her mouth to speak; but no words were enough.

I know, I feel it too.

 

The first pearlescent hints of dawn were teasing their way through the sky when Ben woke with a start, a cry of joy or frustration on his lips. Had it been a dream?  He looked down; he was back to… what passed for normal. If it had been a dream, then he couldn’t decide if it was a cruel one or not. Regardless, awakening to Rey curled up in his arms, her hair a tangled mess, her lips bruised crimson as his own must be, drooling slightly... was perfect and more than made up for any torment his unconscious mind might conjure for him..

After some careful maneuvering, he managed to free himself and drew the blanket over her, eliciting a sigh of contentment. He hated this part now, being released at dawn. He was reluctant to leave her; but hopefully it would be for the last time. He wouldn’t see her again until… until it was time; and then he would never leave her.

He bent low over her, “Rey?”

“Mmmmm?”

“It’s nearly dawn; I need to go.”

She gave a little whimper of protest, and her nose scrunched in displeasure.

“I’ll see you again. Soon,” he assured her before kissing her on the temple.

 

~oOo~

Still half-asleep, Rey rolled over; she felt him pull his arm out from under her and cover her with a patchwork quilt. It was warm from where they had been lying on it. In her still dream-like state, she imagined he was drawing the night sky over her, dark and warm and embroidered with stars. She felt him drop a kiss on her temple before withdrawing and returning to the sea. She frowned in annoyance when she heard him enter the water. She was almost a little jealous of the sea, and she hated that he had to leave; but she knew that it meant she would see him return again.  In the meantime, she had that lovely dream on which to ponder as she drifted off once more.

 

I thought you were no longer getting involved.

 

I meant what I said. This was not of my doing.

 

Then whose?

 

Never underestimate the strength of a human heart, and with the power bound up in her; it isn’t surprising that she managed to wrench him free of your magics, even if for a short time. Long enough to do what needed to be done. All I did was couch the memory as a dream, to soften the blow.

 

Will she be able to do it again?

 

That remains to be seen; like you, the future is always in motion.  Who knows what changes they will both undergo in their time.

Rey woke properly shortly after Ben had departed, to the worrying sensation of water tickling her toes. Realisation dawned; and she leapt up, the quilt flapping about her shoulders like a cape. She stumbled and reached for her shoes, hopping from one to another as she slipped them  on.

Argh wrong feet, never mind, no time to lose, incoming tide.

Rey hastily bundled up the blankets. She looked around in confusion; where were the plates? The last thing she remembered was thinking she really ought to clean up, but they were too comfortable; he was too comfortable, far better than any pillow, not to mention warm. She hobbled up the shore, wrenched the car door open, and tossed the blankets on to the back seat. She slammed the door shut and leaned against it before bending down to sort out her shoes.

Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that the plastic sheeting that had been acting as an impromptu front door was hanging loose, and flapping noisily in the unseasonably cool morning breeze.

Hugging herself to stay warm, she wandered over to pin it back into place. She stopped dead in her tracks at the threshold. From the door she could just make out the pile of dishes sitting in the sink.  Tracing a path from the door to the sink and back again, in the newly screeded yet not quite fully dry floor, were two sets of footprints; one set matched her ballet flats, the other were larger and barefoot.



Chapter Text

Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever gonna make it home again

It's so far and out of sight

I really need someone to talk to, and nobody else

Knows how to comfort me tonight

 

Snow is cold, rain is wet

Chills my soul right to the marrow

I won't be happy till I see you alone again

Till I'm home again and feeling right

 

Home Again - Carol King

Memories and Messages

 

Thursday, 3rd June 2015




Rey had just finished packing the still dripping dishes into the car, because of course - as she had admonished herself - it had never occurred to her to bring a tea towel, when she heard the unmistakable sound of approaching vehicles echoing down the narrow high-hedged lane. There was the momentary stuttering, grinding of gears, suggesting someone unfamiliar with the lane’s twists and turns. No doubt it was probably Rose, who was always up with the lark, and Snap, who was due to start plastering the walls today.

Rey cast a frantic last look around; everything was packed up and in the car, so maybe, just maybe she could get away with nonchalantly leaning against it and pretending she’d arrived just before they had…even though it was barely six in the morning.

As she peered at her reflection in the car window, and attempted in vain to make herself look vaguely presentable and not at all like she had been utterly debauched on the beach a few hours earlier it dawned on her; if last night had in fact unfolded as it apparently had - and she still wasn’t certain how it had,  but that was something for her to think about later - then… Oh god, that meant a pair of her very sensible knickers were out there on the beach somewhere.

Rey immediately set off towards the water in search of them; her initial sprint becoming within a few strides an ungraceful scramble with flailing limbs as she half-tripped, half-slipped on the damp stones. Sure enough, there they were; lazily floating in the shallows. She quickly kicked off her shoes and hitched up her skirt, clasping the voluminous fabric in a bunch around herself in one hand, before wading out to grab her wayward clothing with the other. If they hadn’t been wet before - and oh, god they had ever been... A sudden spray of salt water, presumably ricocheting off the rocky outcropping that jutted into the cove hit her full in the face and brought her back to her senses and she promptly began to ring out the sodden fabric.

Rose’s cheerful voice came rolling down towards her.  “Hey! Rey! Good morning!”

Rey spun around, and was on the verge of waving back before realising what she was about to do.

Oh shit! Stop waving your knickers about like a demented Jenny Agutter . She mentally facepalmed; today was clearly going to be one of those days.  At a loss as to what else to do with her underwear, she hastily stuffed the still damp article of clothing up her cardigan sleeve.

“Rose! Snap!  Helloooo!” Rey practically yodelled back - yup very smooth - before she made her way back up the shore to join them.

“Hi! Good morning. Hi,” she babbled once she joined them, shifting slightly to hide her arm with the slowly growing damp patch from view.

Rose looked her up and down, but mercifully refrained from commenting. It wasn’t necessary. It was painfully obvious that Rose had a very clear, and possibly correct, idea about what had transpired;  she was, after all, clearly choking back a laugh.

Rey felt it was best to come clean, besides if anyone would understand she suspected it would Rose; and she didn’t strike her as the sort to tease. Had it been Poe, on the other hand, she would have never heard the end of it.   

“This…” Rey let out a deep sigh. “Is exactly what it looks like,” she admitted with a shrug and a small shake of of her head.  Snap looked from Rey to Rose in bafflement.

Rose momentarily fixed her with a semi-stern look before giving up and finally bursting out laughing, her eyes sparkling with mirth, “good for you! Hopefully we will get to meet them at some point.”

 

Snap looked from Rey to Rose, his expression remained confused, “Okaaaaay… I’m just going to get started then…” He headed back over to his van, and began pulling out tools, buckets and bags of dry plaster mix.

Rose gave her arm a squeeze. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell; and Snap is so oblivious it’s a wonder he’s got three children.

“Besides,” she added conspiratorially, “at least here you are safe from such hazards as gorse bushes. And trust me, it’s no fun having to go to the GP to get a tetanus shot because you rolled in to one.”

“Oh no, were you okay?”

“Wasn’t me…” Rose smiled mischievously, one eyebrow twitching upwards.

“Oh Rose!” Rey bit her lip in a poor attempt to contain her own laughter.

Rose threw her hands up. “What?! I couldn’t help it, he started tickling me and my gut reaction was to push him off.”

Rey drew her brows together in bafflement, “surely his trousers would have been enough protection…” Almost as soon as the words had innocently tumbled from her mouth Rey found herself regretting them, as realisation and an unlooked for image followed a step behind.

Rey turned bright red as Rose gave her a significant look; “Okay, seriously there is something in the air, or the water around here,” she sighed.

Rose laughed and shrugged, “We are all bewitched. It’s the only logical explanation. That, or our parents were all hippies and way too much into free love and it was bound to rub off somehow. Well, apart from Armie’s. I don’t think love was ever in that family’s vocabulary, it’s a wonder he is as well adjusted as he is. Anyway, the less said about them the better. Come on. I’ve got some tile samples in the van for you to have a look at. Oh and a hair brush, you are looking a little… disheveled.”

 

~oOo~

 

Hair brushed and tiles selected, Rey settled into the driver’s seat and checked her mirrors before pulling away. It was promising to be a lovely day and she was eager to get back to the pub and continue with her work. She wished she could have confided in Ben more; had been able to pick his brains it were. But he had made a valid point; her vision and Luke’s notes pointed at a parasitic entity and Ben had already been through so much she didn’t want to put undue stress on him. Not to mention his memories were still very tangled and it may have done more harm than good trying to rifle through them. Still, she was undaunted, she had made it this far based on little more than her own sheer stubbornness, hope and then his journal, in which she was certain there was more to find. She wished she could read his more recent writings he had mentioned in passing but they, too, would have to wait.

Rey reached over and flicked on the radio:

 

I feel the earth move under my feet

I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down

I feel the earth move under my feet

 

It was all she could do not to swerve the car into Snap’s van.

‘You are exceptionally cheeky, do you know that?’ she muttered after breaking sharply.

 

I just lose control

Down to my very soul

I get a hot and cold all over

 

Rey exhaled, she was indeed feeling flushed and shivering at the all thought of the event she was trying not to dwell on given the implications of some half washed dishes; in fact she wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to wash dishes again without thinking of… No. She was not going to thinking about that… right now… now she had got get back to the pub and have a shower and freshen up and  do those last bits of research.

She switched the radio off, it was safer that way.

~oOo~

Maz set the two cooked breakfasts down before Wedge and Canady, and switched on the radio, before returning to pottering around behind the bar.

“...The British Geological Survey reported that a weak tremor and  number of small aftershocks were detected off the west coast of Cornwall in the early hours of the morning. No damage has been reported...”

“Good Morning Maz! Good Morning gentlemen!” Rey called out cheerfully out as she walked purposefully through the bar. As she sprinted up stairs, Maz, Wedge, and Canady exchanged glances.

“Well isn’t someone a bright ray of sunshine this morning!” Canady observed.

“Wasn’t that what she was wearing yesterday when she went out?” Wedge wondered aloud.

Maz opted to say nothing at all, choosing instead  to bend low over a non-existent spot on the bar that needed urgent polishing in order hide her wide grin.

 

 

Ben was still preoccupied by the dream when he returned to the cave; turning it over and over in his mind like a fragment of glass in the waves. It had seemed so real, as they often were.  He had dreamt before of returning home, but the visions had always revealed themselves as nightmares. The apparition of his mother, waiting at the door, who he had long sought to embrace, would dissolve in to sea foam that slipped through his fingers before the house itself would crumble away around him; pulled to pieces by invading, serpentine vines that slithered and coiled. Once their job was complete, they would whip around seeking fresh prey, and advance on him; pulling and choking. A pitiless reminder of what he had become, and what he was certain he had done to her.

But this time, when as before he had found himself on the beach and whole again, he had been able to freely enter the house with no ill effects and not only that, he had embraced the girl he loved; and more. It had been a wordless act; but could any words really ever encompass how he felt?  He gave a short laugh, the sound of which surprised him… it was a boundless thing, after all, just like her tenacity and her love for him. He doubted he’d ever be able to tell her; it was something that could only be communicated by a mixture of actions and words, and it would take a lifetime at the very least to do so.

As he approached the inlet by the castle, he heard voices from above, and froze; slowly, soundlessly he submerged himself in the water. A group of tourists were already making the walk along the cliff towards the castle ruins. His heart was pounding at how close he had come to being seen. Ben watched them intently until they passed out of sight. Once they were gone he swiftly clambered through the shallows and ducked into the cave. Safe inside, a burst of laughter escaped his lips; but it wasn’t nervous, it was something else… giddiness? Happiness? Was this what happy felt like? It had seemed so long since he was.

He felt rather like Bottom, waking up after his tryst with Titania; yet in his case he had been returned to a foul, beastlike form after the deed. A dream it might have been.  But assuming it was designed to be a torment, he decided to take it as consolation, or comfort; born out of his own, or maybe their own, desires. And if it was the latter, he wondered, like with their other dreams, if Rey had shared it.

There was a strange, faint buzzing noise in the cave, like a trapped, angry hornet, somewhere nearby; but it was easy to ignore when he had other things, positive and productive, to occupy his mind. Rather than immediately retreating to the pool and the quasi-insulating mindless oblivion it brought, as he usually did on returning to the cave, he instead busied himself tidying his various belongings, some of which had been tossed about in previous fits of frustration. Others he didn’t recall moving, and yet they had been knocked asunder. A few jars of ink had been dislodged, the contents of those without lids had left a thick dark stained river across some paper - thankfully not ones he had previously written on - and was still dripping obscenely on to the floor into a crack he had never seen before. He righted the rest of the jars with a frown and set a smaller, wide necked one on on the floor to catch any remaining ink. Each drop was precious.  He hadn’t been enough frightened to ink in quite some time, and he certainly didn’t want to find himself in the position where he might be able to again.

Ben then gathered together all the pieces of paper on which he had written down snatches of verse; or perhaps they were pieces of guidance that had come to him in his otherwise dreamless slumbers. As he did so he came across the one he’d written just after they had first met.  He’d tossed it away in frustration, believing himself beyond any kind of redemption or regard: Who would want to stay in such a place… For such a... monster.

The buzzing sound briefly increased in volume, only to be drowned out by Rey’s words echoing in his mind:

 

“Don’t ever say you are not worth it or worthy or anything like that… Please.”

 

He had his answer now, it was her, it had always been her. A face half-seen, half-imagined, a lifetime ago; and her voice now the one he would always hear at the back of his mind urging him to pick himself up when despair threatened to overcome him.

He carefully smoothed out the sheet. The water had gotten to it, and the ink had run, staining the paper with a rust-like wash; but the words were still legible.

She stands upon the shingle shore

A girl in naught but moonlight dress'd

She sheds her fears and rushes down

To claim her lover from the yielding sea

Ben felt his chest tighten, recalling how she had, the very next evening, done all of that.

Frowning, he sifted through his other writings. If this one had been prescient, then perhaps the other ones had been also; though, as was the way of these things, it probably wouldn’t become apparent until after the fact.

Ben remembered what Rey had told him about Maz saving things. His journal, which he had given up hope of ever seeing again, had been kept safe all this time. Even though Rey hadn’t specifically said so, he had the impression that Maz had, all this time, been aiding them in her own inexplicable way. Though exactly why, and to what end, was unclear. Had she held out hope for him after all this time? Or was there something deeper going on? Something that went beyond his own sorry circumstances. He certainly would not have put it past her.

He had known Maz fairly well, or at least as well as anyone could know her. She had been a constant in the village for as long as he could remember and had been fairly old when he had first met her. That she was still alive, even now, and very much active, might once have surprised him a great deal; but now, given his own circumstances, nothing could be discounted. When he was much, much younger he had for years referred to her the fairy lady.  Ben wasn’t sure why he had done so, initially, but it was cemented in his mind by a picture he had seen in one of his storybooks. A habit and notion he had grown out of but which now he was rapidly reassessing.

 

~oOo~

 

A few days after the mishap with the paperweight, his father had left suddenly, and Ben was afraid it was because of what he had done. His mother had heaved an exasperated sigh and shaken her head, before adding no; someone else had gotten themselves into a scrape and needed his father’s assistance. She then went back to noisily washing up pots and pans, muttering something about Lando - or was it London - and Bail.

Ben had thought that very odd; Old Bail Antilles was the local beekeeper, and didn’t strike him as at all the sort of person to go all the way to London, and then get themselves into trouble. He considered Devon foreign parts; and he didn’t even like cars, let alone trains.  He travelled around with his gear in an old cart pulled by a stocky grey pony called Tantive, who Ben loved feeding sugar lumps.

His father had returned home late in the evening a few days later, with presents for them both and in good spirits. For Ben there was a storybook he had found in one of the many little secondhand shops in an alley near Leicester Square; and for his mother, a large ring with two vibrant blue Lapis stones set in it. His mother had made a funny face when she saw it, and then dashed off sniffing to their room, clutching it in her small hand.

Ben’s instinct was to follow her, and give her a hug; but his father held him back.

“Give her a minute, kid; let’s have a look at what I brought for you.” His father lifted him high up in the air and swung him around before depositing him on the old sofa. He sat down beside him, leant over, and pulled the red covered book out of the old leather satchel he took everywhere with him. He then pulled Ben on to his knee and showed him the book. On the cover, embossed in faded gold, was a small naked child riding on the back of a goat with very curved horns. Ben giggled at the sight.

“Now; this is a First Edition , Ben, which means it’s very valuable; so you must be very careful with it.” Ben had nodded eagerly. He hadn’t really understood, but he was content to just sit on his father’s lap, feeling him close; with his strong arms on either side as he held both him and the book. His father started to read the story to him. It was about a boy who was part bird, and lived in Kensington Gardens with the fairies; but Ben was far more interested in the pictures.

“It’s the fairy lady!” Ben called out, slapping his small hand down on the page to prevent his father from turning to the next.

“Careful, Ben,” Han admonished as he gently lifted Ben’s hand. He leaned forward and peered at the picture and the facing text. “It’s Queen Mab, who rules the gardens.”

“It looks like the fairy lady who helped me. After I fell.”

“That’s Maz . This is Mab. One is real, all too real,” he said, with a small sound halfway between a sigh and a chuckle, “the other is made up.”

Ben wasn’t so easily dissuaded. He was certain he knew better; it was, as later he was able to describe, the enigmatic, knowing smile. Maz always seemed to be wearing the same smile whenever they met.

 

~oOo~

 

And now… Yes, now he was definitely revisiting that long-ago, childish idea. The more he thought about it, and in consideration of the events of the intervening years, the less outlandish it seemed.  

With that memory sliding home, another bobbed to the surface; from a good fifteen years later, but related. He remembered writing something once, as he’d been sitting in the pub one evening after a rehearsal for Pirates. He had retired to the settle in the little nook by the smaller fire to do some English revision.  While everyone else was loudly joking and chatting, something vague he hadn’t quite been able to put his finger on, but which had been gnawing at him for some time, suddenly seemed to jump out at him.

The others were making a big deal about Maz playing the former nursemaid; and how one year she had played Buttercup, who had muddled up the two babies. Maz had been the local midwife, and as far he knew still was; she seemed to be a nurse of all work.

He glanced down at the text he was reading, they were studying Romeo and Juliet and he had just been re-reading Mercutio’s speech:

 

She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes … night by night

Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;

 

For his part he rather tended to hope that Romeo’s contention was right; that dreams could be real or true, because they reflected reality.

But Moden’s joke about Maz the midwife had caused that childhood memory to resurface. Mab… Maz the two names were very similar and he had always suspected there was something otherworldly about her; a certain prescience, and something else he could never quite put his finger on.

Unbidden the words had popped into his head and he quickly pulled out his journal and jotted them down. That must have been over forty years ago now.

Ben frowned. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember exactly what he had written; but the gist of it had been about a baby being sent away with the expectation of returning. He knew in his bones that it was important, and that it had something to do with Rey.

When Rey had asked him about his earliest memory, he had been inclined to ask her the same thing. But what she had said about best and worst memories suggested that she was intent on a fresh start, and still feeling an old wound that pained her. So rather than ask about London and her life there, he decided he would wait until she felt ready to open up about the past. And when she was, he would be there for her.

When he had been hunting for writing materials in her car, he had abruptly been assailed by images; flashes, really, which he had originally thought were just another form of torment.  So he had buried them: a child curled up on an unmoving lap, sobbing; and then a baby wailing in some damp leaves by a wall or a pedestal, its blanket kicked off.

Ben felt uncomfortable about possibly knowing more about Rey than she did, and had wanted to confide in her; but it hadn’t been the time for it.  Yesterday had been about the present and the future, not the past. But perhaps that unexpected insight was not an intrusion, but a blessing. Perhaps something intended, even needed him to know.

And now he wouldn’t see her again until she gave him a sign. He still had no idea what it would be, but she had intimated that there would be no way to miss it. It was a case of waiting; something he had never been good at, at least not unless he had something else to occupy his time. But reading matter, beyond his own ramblings, was rather sparse; instead he would have to do something he had been avoiding for weeks.

Ben spent the next few hours in the pool, leaning against the side, forcing himself to remember. He sought out old memories, some deliberately buried, to fill in the gaps  and further reclaim his former self. The ones regarding his parents were particularly difficult; but after the initial pain he found them comforting, even reassuring. It meant that some part of them would never really be gone, so long as he remembered.

 

~oOo~

 

His mind drifted back to the day he had shown his father his attempts at recreating the large initial.

“You know your father has a PhD.” His mother told him out of the blue later that evening as they did the washing and drying up together; his father usually helped, but he had bowed out after dinner, muttering something about some last minute project that needing finishing.

This, more than the apropos-of-nothing, matter-of-fact delivery, surprised Ben to the point of nearly dropping a mug. His father had never struck him as the sort to barricade himself in a library behind a stack of books; he was a man of action, always on the move, doing, making.  

“What? He never once mentioned it,” he stammered as he fumbled with the damp article and placed it back on the drainer.

“He kind of… drew a line under his past at some point. It was before he went into the merchant marines. History, specifically naval archaeology. There wasn’t much call for it, still isn’t. He just loves wood and boats.”

She paused, her small hands diving into the suds to give an emphatic scrub to a stubborn piece of baked-on food in the dish his father had used to make that evening’s meal.

“He is convinced the Mary Rose is preserved in the Solent. The chemical composition of the silt is just right to prevent the wood from rotting...something like that. I kind of zoned out at that point; and, well, I had other things on my mind...” Ben snuck a look at the dreamy look on his mother’s face.

“Oh my, we were so drunk that night…” She giggled and for a moment she looked so young.

Ben swallowed and bit his lip… he often forgot that his parents weren’t just his parents, but also people in their own right; two people who were still as in love, or even more so, than the day they met - which according to what he was able to learn from Luke was less like sparks flying and more like a nuclear explosion - and who probably felt no different than they had some twenty years ago. Though his father complained about random aches every now and again.

 

‘It’s not the years it’s the mileage,” he’d say giving Leia a sidelong glance.

“Maybe you need to be scrapped,” she’d shoot back.

“Maybe a good 10,000 mile service,” he’d suggest; and about this time, when his mother was ready to throw another quip or a tea towel or book at his father, was when Ben knew it was the point where it was best to make himself scarce. It amused him, but still… they were his parents, after all. He’d grab a notebook and pen, head off to the cliff, and wait until the coast was clear; or until, if inspiration struck or he got caught up in thinking, his father would come and remind him that he couldn’t wait up there forever and there was a dinner to eat.

Ben hoped for that some day; for someone who would tolerate his quiet, introspective periods and not baulk when that trademark Solo snark, or was it Organa snark - or worse the hybrid of the two - would suddenly manifest itself. His other half, someone whose own rough edges would align with his own; if not perfectly, then just enough not to slip.

“Oh I know you can’t imagine him as as the studious type… but when he, and you, get a notion in your head, you give it your all.” His mother’s voice came again, cutting through his thoughts.

 

~oOo~

 

Ben had a notion now. Single-minded, he heaved himself out of the pool. A roguish smirk twitched at the corner of his mouth as he gathered up some jars, paper and one of the brushes. He had no idea whether this would work again - he might have completely misunderstood Rey’s semi-coherent ramblings regarding brushes - but there was no harm in trying. Hopefully, Rey would be somewhere private if it did.

He selected a small jar of ink and gave it a quick shake, not quite enough. He opened another and poured it to the first filling it about half way and gave it a gentle swirl to mix it, the ink was thick and clung to the glass, using the now empty jar he added a few drops of sea water to extend it and make it less viscous;  the brushes were lovely to work with but were greedy and needed far more ink than the pen.

Ben paused, the brush hovering over the jar, his pulse was beginning to race in anticipation as he imagined what her reaction might be, before he plunged the brush in to the mixture and let it drink its fill. He slowly withdrew it and allowed the excess to run back into the jar before quickly executing a slightly curving upwards stroke.

“Oh!” Rey jumped up from her seat, almost sending the table flying. She reached out and managed to grab her glass of water before it spilt all over the remains of her late lunch and the laptop in front of her. She had been minding her own business, quietly reading Ben’s journal and making notes; when a sensation, somewhere between the stroke of a brush and a tickle had run up her thigh starting from from the back just above her knee, curving around to the side. A flush of heat, starting from where the feeling had stopped, continued upwards; causing her cheeks to flare up like hot coals.

Maz shot her a look of concern from behind the bar, “are you ok, Rey?”

A few patrons who were unknown to Rey turned to stare at her. Emmets , she thought harshly. Oh great, now I’m turning into Canady.

“Yes! Er, just a sudden foot cramp. I think I’ll... go lie down…until it... works itself out...” She gasped, probably over exaggerating what she hoped was a pained grimace.

The research could wait, she was nearly finished anyway. Rey slammed down the lid of the laptop and placed Ben’s journal on top of it. She scrambled to her feet, trying not to jiggle as she was subjected to more of Ben’s idea of… well she had no idea what he was trying to do, other than what he was obviously trying to do.

Does he know? Or is it just a happy acci-DENT! , she wondered as she half ran, half hopped, through the pub like a woman possessed. At this point she didn’t much care that everyone was staring at her, she probably already had a reputation as the mad woman from London who had bought a ruin; this would only add an extra veneer of eccentricity.

He has to know, she thought as she stumbled towards the stairs, hadn’t she as good as told him yesterday evening?

Oh for god’s sake stop doing that… but also please don’t stop… or at least wait until I’m alone...

I am going to kill him for this… or not… No probably not , she thought as she placed her burden down on the floor and collapsed onto the bed, the springs quivering in protest, and began to shimmy out of her jeans.  

 

A little while later, as tiny muscles pinged and popped and her vision slowly swam back into focus all she could think was: Definitely not !

 

~oOo~

 

Ben leaned back, his chest heaving and a sheen of perspiration on his brow, he was no marine biologist and so really had no idea about cephalopod physiology; but had he been fully human, he would have had no doubt as to his current state. On the paper before him, flowing letters, over-wrought to the point of being illegible, spelled out his message for Rey, and illustrated his frustration. They were the words he had wished he had uttered the evening before but had been so caught up in the moment that he never did. Three words that never would be enough.

 

 

I LOVE YOU - TEXT

 



Chapter Text

Come, tell me why

When hope is gone

Dost thou stay on?

Why linger here

Where all is drear?

 

Alone, and Yet Alive, The Mikado   - W.S. Gilbert

 



Bees and Blessings

Saturday, June 20th 2015

 

The next two weeks passed in a whirl of productive activity as work on the house neared completion. At the same time, to Rey’s delight, the connection between herself and Ben steadily strengthened. What started out as a vague sense of a comforting  presence nearby, as if he was just in the next room, grew to the point where she was certain he was just behind her. No sea breeze ever felt so warm as it tickled the back of her neck, nor could so carefully and gently tuck a stray strand of hair behind one ear, while she sat hunched over the laptop reading about the local traditions surrounding Midsummer. Neither could the distant cries of sea birds possibly be mistaken for his low, velvet tones, uttering the words in his journal as she read them again at night for the umpteenth time.

It was a wonderful fortnight; providing her with much needed comfort and companionship, a hint of the future she was hoping for and working towards, nothing too over the top or showy - there was no repetition of the more physical interaction following their assignation. Just reassuring, prosaic demonstrations of affection that were in their way far more enduring and intimate. To her, it was perfect; and everything she had ever hoped to have. Until, one morning, it was abruptly gone.

Rey had woken feeling strangely cold and her mood plummeted as soon as her feet hit the floor. It took her a few moments, blinking in the harsh sunlight, her ears assaulted by the screech of gulls squabbling in the yard outside her window, before she realised that his warm presence was conspicuous by its absence and she was keenly aware of the lack.

From then on nothing seemed to go right. She lost two days of work when her laptop crashed and only thanks to back ups was she able to claw back the majority of it.

She found herself constantly tired and irritable. There was plenty she could have done; the beautiful bedstead she and Rose had found a week earlier at a salvage place, that she had to be dragged out of before she purchased more than she could fit in the house, was still in pieces in the bedroom. The mattress was due to arrive in a weeks time; she could have been productive and put the bed together, but she just couldn’t muster the physical strength nor the mental energy to do it, or much of anything else.

The days seemed endless, dragging their feet through interminable hours, pulling her nerves taut along with them until she threw herself in to bed at the end of the day. Then they would snap, and she would cry herself to sleep.

Rey had been content before with being alone and only really herself to rely on, but now she found she couldn’t bear it any more.  She had spent the better part of an hour the day before staring at paint samples - a dove grey that made her think of an angels wing; actually no, there was a rich cream next to it that better suited the plumage of a divine agent, that pale blue suggested a carpet of fragrant bluebells, a soft green that spoke of springy moss under an ancient tree, a sandy gold that reminded her of sunsets and anticipation, hell even that muddy blue grey colour had its charms - hoping against hope that he would whisper a suggestion in her ear. But there was deafening silence, nothing. She ended up sweeping an armful of sample pots into her basket in exasperation.

She’d taken Chewie out for multiple walks up and down the coast, but they had done little to clear her head. More than once she had found herself tempted to clamber down to the cave; but for a change it was Chewie who dragged her away.

Gwen was due to arrive within the hour, something she had looked forward to a few days before; but now was dreading. She desperately hoped that the visit would either perk her up or she’d be able to continue hide how she was really feeling. To all outward appearances she seemed her usual, mostly happy self but inside she felt as if the ground was crumbling beneath her, and she was merely killing time, hopping from one rapidly disintegrating piece to another, on the verge of plummeting further down to someplace dark and cold.

Rey made yet another minute adjustment to the placement of the table which had returned that morning from the furniture restorer - the one recent bright spot - when she heard the now very familiar sound of wheels on gravel.

With boxes dumped with no real care or order, random pieces of furniture, some in pieces, it was not lost on her that the state of the house perfectly captured how she was feeling at the moment. Everything was there, but not in its right place; the house was nearly ready, but the home was not yet complete.

Rey looked out of the kitchen window to see Gwen’s sleek silver Audi pull up alongside her own car, which was spattered with dried mud and generally in need of a good clean, both inside and out. She took a minute and forced herself to smile before, hurrying out side to greet her.

~oOo~

“Well, I must say Rey, the change of scenery has done you a world of good!” Gwen exclaimed, as she held  her at arms length after first enveloping her in a hug. “You are positively glowing! Colour in your cheeks, a twinkle in your eye... You’ve met someone! Don’t even try to deny it! I hope they know how lucky they are. And the Breton stripes, very fetching.”

Overwhelmed, Rey looked down at herself. She’d never been particularly fashion conscious - she still owned only the one dress - but she had liked the striped top she’d spotted in a shop window she had passed one day while out visiting Padstow and had ended up buying four of them they were simple, smart and looked good with jeans and was one less thing to thing to think about in the morning, especially lately. And as for a twinkle in her eye… she was certain it was more likely due to the fact that she felt she had spent the majority of last few days on the verge of bursting into tears.

“I do feel better for being down here,” Rey made herself respond, “and as for the rest, well…”

Gwen cocked one eyebrow and let out throaty laugh, “keep your secrets then. But… you aren’t overdoing it are you? I know what you are like, you need to learn to pace yourself. ”

Rey gave a listless laugh, it was impossible to hide anything from Gwen; it was what made her such a good manager, “guilty as charged. Come on inside. I’ve got a bit of a buffet lunch for us and afterwards I’ll give you the tour, such as it is.”

Gwen paused at the low stone wall, letting her hands drift over the blooms of one the newly planted lavender bushes, releasing a burst of the clean, fresh scent.

“Sounds wonderful. Lead on!”

~oOo~

Gwen’s sharp blue eyes roamed around the house’s interior. “Exposed beams, slate floor, very nice. Interesting Tracey Emin inspired placement of boxes. Oh! Hello!”

Rose had suddenly popped up from behind one of the larger boxes near the wall where she had been wiring plug sockets.

“Oh crumbs, Rose I totally forgot you were there!” Rey blurted out. Had she really been that mired in her own miasma of dark thoughts? Rose had, after all, helped her get the the table into the house when the delivery men, not overly endowed with the ability to think three dimensionally, had balked at getting it through the front door. It had been a easy job, turning it on its side and angling it in. Nothing bumped or scratched. But she had slipped further into that dark place when no amount of stroking or otherwise fondling of carvings, carried out under the guise of admiration had elicited any visions or feelings.

Rose laughed, “That’s not surprising since I wasn’t swearing a blue streak at substandard wiring for a change.”

“All up to spec then?” Gwen laughed.

“Well I should hope so, since I wired the place. So would only have myself to blame.” Rose grinned as she stood up and threaded her way out of the maze of boxes and joined them at the table.

“It’s nice to finally meet you Gwen,” she added.

“You too.” Gwen replied with a smile, as she sat down. She turned to Rey. “I must say I did think you were perhaps going through some odd phase back in March. I’d put it primarily down to burnout. Which was understandable. The place we worked at was beyond dreadful, Rose. But I get it now. That view, the little bay and the sea beyond… it’s something else.”

It is something else, something else entirely , Rey thought as she set out plates on the table and started to cut some slices of bread from the loaf she had picked up that morning.

Rose plucked an olive from the dish Rey had just set out, “It’s nice, but I prefer the view from the cliff.”

“Does that view include gorse thorns or not?” Rey enquired.

Gwen looked first at Rose and then Rey. “I feel I’m missing something here.”

The next hour passed in a convivial blur, punctuated by laughter and lewd remarks, some, not unkindly at the expense of Armitage Hux and others, most; former boyfriends of Gwen’s. Rey sat back, content to eat and let the friendly atmosphere wash over her, while inwardly resolving to never share her intimate moments with Ben with anyone.  True, there was something privately amusing about her turn on the rock, but it was just that; a private thing between the two them. The kind of girl talk Gwen and Rose had naturally slipped into had never been her strong suit, and never would be.

“Oh my god, you must marry your painter sooner rather than later, poor man, has he not suffered enough?” Gwen managed to gasp, after Rose had regaled them with the full, unexpurgated  tale of the thorns and the tetanus shot.

“I should, I’m not sure what we are waiting for. But.. as for communing with nature…” Rose’s eyes flicked to Rey’s and Rey had a suspicion as to what she was about to mention when the timely slam of a car door caused her to break off and Rey let out a sigh of relief.

“Oh, it’s probably just Dopheld,” Rey said offhandedly as she took a sip of her coffee.  He had phoned earlier that morning to arrange a meeting so she could sign some paperwork.

Just Dopheld? Is this the mysterious man?” Gwen asked, one eyebrow raised inquisitively.

“What? No!”  Rey spluttered in shock. “Dopheld Mitaka is the local estate agent , and solicitor. Be nice though, please, he’s a bit…” Rey trailed off, uncertain of how to best describe him. Dopheld was sweet and kind but not her type, and she was certain, not at all Gwen’s.

Gwen, however, wasn’t listening. She was looking past Rose, out the window towards the parked car and the dark haired figure emerging from it, blissfully unaware of the predatory gaze that was settling on him. Her eyes flashed and she abruptly set down her mug of coffee. Rey quickly moved the coaster under it to protect the table.

Gwen stood up abruptly. “A bit of alright… let me go greet your guest Rey.”

Rey was struck dumb. Did she really just hear Gwen mutter ‘Me like-a Mitaka’?

Rey looked on in bafflement as Gwen made her way out of the house to advance upon the unsuspecting Mitaka. What was it about this place? Rey asked herself as she hurried out as far as the wall. Rose finished of her drink and gathered her tools before heading upstairs to carry on with last bits of  her work for the day.

The unsuspecting Dopheld was as busy getting something out of the car as Gwen stalked over and waylaid him. To his credit he did not immediately dive back into the car and flee, as many probably should when Gwen had that look in her eye - if they knew what was good for them, that was.

Rey was rooted to the spot as she watched Gwen lean towards him, and how he, completely unphased by her height and proximity, stood his ground and admirably maintained eye contact with her the entire time.

Unable to make out what they were saying she had only had Dopheld’s warm smile and Gwen’s posture to judge how their encounter was progressing. Gwen suddenly grasped Dopheld’s upper arm and started laughing in response and before Rey knew it the two of them were getting into his car.

“We’re just going to go grab a spot of lunch,” Gwen called out to her with a languid wave of a hand.

“But you’ve just eaten!” Rey yelled after her but to no avail, they were gone in a trice leaving nothing but a spray of gravel in their wake.

Rey shook her head as she went back inside, she wasn’t sure if she was upset with Gwen for bailing on her, or amused at the wholly unexpected turn of events. She finished her now lukewarm coffee and had just started clearing the table when a rather perplexed Rose came hurrying down the stairs.

“We, er, have a bit of  problem.”

“You’re telling me…” Rey muttered, “she is going to eat that poor man alive.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Mitaka and Gwen, they’ve gone off together and she had a look that does not bode well. I’ve got enough on my plate with this place, without the prospect of having to console some poor besotted sod. Why, what are you talking about?” Rey enquired.

Rose waved a dismissive hand, “Oh, he’ll be fine. But I think you better come upstairs and have a look for yourself.”

~oOo~

“Well... that was not what I expected,” Rey finally said. “But I suppose they can’t really stay there can they?” She added with a note of resignation.

“It might get a bit distracting. Not to mention sticky...”

The two of them stood in Rey’s bedroom looking up at far wall and the point where the pitched ceiling met and the three gently curved panels of honeycomb nestling below it. They were about six inches long and almost completely covered in a constantly undulating fuzzy black mass.

Rose’s eyes narrowed in her customary fashion when something disrupted her carefully prepared plans, it was usually only a momentary thing, her brain always seeking ways around an obstacle. In that she and Rey were alike; they appreciated order but a spanner in the works was less an hindrance than a challenge; an opportunity really to shine and potentially have some fun problem solving. But this was neither an unexpected wiring issue nor a previously omitted requirement; these were living creatures with minds, or possibly shared mind of their own.

“How did they manage to build it so quickly?” Rey wondered aloud as she gazed at the prime example of teamwork. The longer she looked at it, in awe at their single minded dedication to their task, the calmer she felt; mesmerised by the low, contented hum that filled the room and her head - and she was certain she felt the vibration within very the marrow of her bones - as the bees maintained their perpetual flow; entering and exiting through one of the open dormer windows that faced the cliff and the abundance of prolific Buddleias that had thrived after their hard pruning a few scant months earlier. Already it seemed that some of the apian interlopers seemed to recognise her and had broken off from the stream from the window to the new hive and were hovering nearby as if awaiting instructions.

“It almost seems a shame to move them, they seem so…. happy and settled,” she murmured dreamily. The sound of their toil was acting like a balm on her exhausted and jangled nerves; calming, soporific. She felt her eyes growing heavy as if she was being lulled to sleep.

“It’s probably not a good idea for them to stay here. I’m sure Wedge will help, he might have a hive to spare so you can move them nearby.” Rose’s voice broke in.

Rey wasn’t sure if it was her imagination but it seemed as if the pitch rose sharply at any  suggestion that they be removed by force.

She heaved a sigh. “I suppose.”

 


 

To her relief Wedge had seemed far from phased by her phone call, or he did a damn fine job of masking it.

“I have a bee problem,” she had blurted out.

There was the faint suggestion of a noncommittal noise from the otherwise silent line, so she followed it up with, “they seem to have decided to make a hive or otherwise take up residence in my bedroom.”

There was a sharp inhalation, “I’ll be along in about half an hour, maybe forty five minutes,” he had finally replied before hanging up.

Rey slumped down into a kneeling position in the middle of the room, her grip loosened on her phone and it clattered to the floor. After a few moments of listening only to the soothing sounds of the bees hard at work, and trying to ignore her aching brain’s unhelpful chatter that she was about ruin all that work, she dropped further and rolled over into the fetal position as she surrendered herself to calming pulse of the bees’ buzzing she could almost imagine herself as a little larva happily ensconced in her confining waxy pod, cosseted, fed; cared for.

She wasn’t certain if she had drifted off, and had dreamed that the bees’ hum sounded like a soft voice exhorting her to rest. But it comforted her to imagine that she had heard a voice, and a soft touch like a hand ghosting over her head brushing away the cares and worries she had stored up, but that was probably just the bees hovering over her like a protective blanket.

Hush, little one. It isn’t forever. It’s for the best.

Slowly she felt herself relax, muscles she hadn’t realised had been tensed for the last few days began to ease. She breathed in deeply and slowly exhaled and rolled over on to her back, the mid afternoon sunlight was warm on her body and there was nothing to do but wait and watch. As she focused solely on the predictable passage of the bees she felt far less agitated than she had in days. She closed her eyes again and listened.

This time the words that bubbled to the surface were not intrusive and undermining but comforting.

Honey is well known for its curative properties, but don’t discount the curative properties of their voices, balm for the agitated soul and mind, they are messengers between the living and those who have passed on.

She found her thoughts drifting to Ben’s found treatise on Bees, but the words shifted as she tried to recall them, choosing to fit themselves instead to her current situation:

 

Look to the bees if you would comfort need

They will sing those who listen to calm

And anointing with golden balm,

A gift  from the Dark Knight

To his Bright Lady,

Bless the renewed hearth and bower

 

Rey gave a short soundless, mirthless laugh, and cast a look at the bed leaning in pieces against the wall. Her imagination was really too much at times. At this rate her ‘bower’s’ blessing would be pointless with an unmade bed and bewitched and bewitching absent lover…

A sudden, tentative knock on the door, roused her and Rey quickly rolled to her feet, thundered down the bare pine stairs and wrenched the door open. Wedge stood on the threshold looking strangely apprehensive. Rey flashed him a smile.

“Oh great, come on up.” She hurried back up stairs, eager to return to the bees, behind her she was dimly aware of the front door closing and his footsteps, slow and measured.

“I don’t want to move them unless it can be done without harming them.” She explained once he joined her. He pulled off his cap and scratched his head, while he bit the inside of his lip in a way that struck Rey as familiar. He replaced his cap and moved closer to the wall, examining the structure from all possible angles.

“These are wild bees, it may be a case of letting them winter here. They’ll move on in the spring.”

Rey sighed, “if only they had chosen any place but my bedroom.”

“I could try smoking them and then transferring the comb into a hive, but there’s no telling how successful that would be.” He offered.

“I suppose it’s worth a shot.” It sounded rather extreme, but she was at a loss as to what to do and Wedge’s lack of enthusiasm didn’t fill her with much hope.

Rey followed him outside to his pick up truck where he pulled out a strange looking canister and a wide brimmed hat.

“Is that a hive?” she asked, pointing at the slightly battered wooden box in the back of the truck.

Wedge looked up from where he was fiddling with the canister, and moved around the to the rear of the truck. “It is indeed.” He released the back and pulled the hive out; carefully placed it on the ground, as he moved it a dull thunk-thunk noise sounded from inside. Its faded paint work reminded her of the stylized Scandinavian floral patterns Bee used to embroider on cushions. “It’s so pretty,” she breathed.

“My daughter painted it. She loved bees… she used to sit and read to them while I was working. Said they preferred it to the smoker.”

“Thank you for the books by the way, it was very kind of you.”

“Well, there seemed little point in my keeping them. Besides she’d have wanted, I mean, liked you… someone to have had them.” He added hesitantly before hurried back to the cab prepare the smoker.

Intrigued, Rey investigated the hive, lifting the lid to peer inside. There were some empty frames, and two small round objects, the source of the noise as it was moved she supposed as she  reached inside for them. They were little brass cymbals with leather loops. She instinctively slipped them on to the thumb and middle finger of her right hand and gave them and gave them experimental ‘cling’.

Even though the thin sound they made didn’t last very long it seemed to Rey that the vibrations seemed to carry on in a lower register - felt rather than heard. After a moment a thin thrumming black thread of bees emerged from the side of the house advancing towards Rey, in harmony with the strangely inaudible note.

Wedge swore under his breath or otherwise said something but Rey, her attention focused solely on the bees, couldn’t tell. He abandoned the smoker and picking up the hive, hurried away with it, placing it behind the house underneath the Black Knight’s lazily nodding cones. The bees continued on their course, winding around Rey at arm’s length, waiting.

Rey gave the cymbals another minute clash and the bees’ hum rose and dipped in inquiry, asking as one: What is thy bidding, my mistress?

Once she may have felt foolish doing what she was about to do, or it might never had have even occurred to her an a viable option, but now it seemed completely natural; why shouldn’t one talk or read to bees?

“I think this might make a better home, as much as I enjoy your company,” she said softly as she led the bees over to the hive.

She sounded the cymbals a third and final time and the bees rapidly unspooled from around her, peeling off and heading towards the hive as Wedge looked on. What did surprise Rey was his expression, it wasn’t one of incredulity but in fact very much opposite, he was nodding slightly as if this strange event was one that he had hoped for and the outcome pleased him no end.


 

Rey winced as she entered the bustling pub; the calming influence of the bees was in danger of being undone by the discordant clattering of glasses and metal cutlery. Everything was too loud and too bright and… too much.

She heard a loud hoot of laughter that was unmistakably Gwen’s. She looked around to see her sitting with Dopheld, Rose and Hux. They had their heads together deep in conversation like a quartet of conspirators. The remains of a meal and partially drunk glasses of wine before them.  

Traitor, Rey thought to herself as she surveyed the group; everyone was all neatly paired off and enjoying themselves while she had spent the remainder of the afternoon alone, building a bed might never get any proper use because things always went wrong at the last moment, just when she was getting comfortable, her hopes up and complacent.

“Rey!” Gwen called out to her as she attempted to hurry past them unnoticed so she could go and wallow in her room. But she had timed it poorly, passing them just as Mitaka stood up to go to the bar.  Gwen, clearly the besotted one for once, was trailing him with her eyes and so had spotted Rey unsuccessfully slinking back to her room; her long arm shot out and grasped Rey by the wrist.

In her ear the buzzing voice that had comforted before Wedge arrived and had remained with her after he had left kindly chided her:

Go to them, they are your friends and they do care. You aren’t helping anyone least of all yourself with this enforced solitude.

Rey halted and allowed herself be drawn into their warm bubble of camaraderie she found she really was happier to be with them, and slowly her dour mood began to fall away and she began to feel more herself again.

She lent over Gwen’s shoulder, “I can’t believe you solicited my solicitor,” she hissed under her breath in mock shocked tones. Gwen bit her lip and the two of them shared a look before they both erupted into the giggles.

“Oh scavenger, I’m glad you’re back. I was worried about you and I feel terrible about leaving earlier.” Gwen said as she pulled her into an awkward hug.

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

“Rey! I’m glad I caught you,” Mitaka said returning and placing a glass of wine in front of Gwen, who looked up and gave him a wide smile, the warmth of which made Rey unaccountably pleased.

“I need to get your signature on that easement document for the the lane to the property. Gives the council the right to fix potholes and the like.” Mitaka explained as he reached into his suitcase for some papers.

“Oh yes, of course.” Rey replied.

“Great,” he flipped to the end of the document and indicated a section towards the bottom of the page. “If you could just sign there after you’ve read through it.”

Rey sat down on the empty seat Rose had pulled up beside her and read through the page and a half of deliberately unpunctuated legalise. It seemed straightforward; she still had access to her property and the council had the right to allow utilities to rip up the road for power, water and broadband.

Oh crap was there even broadband at the house? Or rather the possibility of it. What with everything else she hadn’t really looked into that. And she was supposed to be working remotely. That probably meant she would be working from the pub until she got that sorted out, yet another thing that had slipped her mind.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked.

“Oh, sorry! Yes,” he said distractedly while patting his jacket pockets. Gwen gave Rey a saucy wink as she dove one hand to in his trousers pocket and withdrew a ballpoint pen, which she handed to Dopheld, who in turn handed it to Rey.

“Thanks,” Rey muttered while her eyes interrogated Gwen. What are you doing?

Nothing… Gwen’s wide eyes responded.

Nothing? Rey’s eyebrows demanded as she attempted to keep her countenance from betraying how amused she was.

Gwen gave a shy smile. Ok, something. I have a very good feeling about this one. Sign the papers.

Rey’s brow furrowed as she uncapped the pen. She’d never seen Gwen like this before, usually it was the men who fawned over her while she kept them at arms length. She was happy for her and a little jealous; not of Dopheld specifically, but his non cursed state, and more than a little convinced of the strange matchmaking aura in the local area.

With a small sigh, she signed and then printed her rarely used, legal given names, all three of them; four, including her surname. Dopheld, gave the page a cursory once over before he too signed and dated it.

“And I thought my first name was unusual,” he chuckled as he put his pen away and slipped the paperwork back into his bag.

“Oh?” enquired Rose, “I didn’t think that was possible. What is it, Rey? If you don’t mind me asking.”

Rey made a self deprecating show of drawing and exhaling a deep breath; priming her audience and herself for their inevitable reaction. She had taken to going by ‘Rey’ because it was how most people mispronounced her actual name, and it just seemed easier than to be continually correcting them.

“it’s Rhea,” she said, slightly over-enunciating the second syllable, bracing herself for usual puzzled look and pained silence before a lame response along the lines of ‘Oh, that’s so strange, what does it mean? What’s that from then?’ and even worse ‘What were your parents thinking?’

She was surprised, and more than a little pleased, when Rose’s eyes grew large not in confusion but recognition: “Like the Titaness! That’s awesome! No wonder the bees like you!”

Rey blinked, more than a little shocked that that link hadn’t occurred to her, it had been staring her right in the face for weeks. She ransacked her brain to recall what she had a read as a child, when on a vain hunt for clues as to her origin thinking that her name perhaps held some clues as to what her parents had been thinking.

Rose was at the same time giving voice to her recollections; explaining the curious significance to the others who were wearing the customary confused expressions: “Rhea was the mother of  Zeus, and the others, like Hades. Cronos, her husband kept eating their children so she hid the youngest, Zeus in a cave populated by sacred bees…”

“Didn’t Zeus also eat some of his children?” Armitage asked.

Rose tilted her head to one side as she considered this, “Just Athena… I think.”

“Back up a minute, what is this about bees?” Mitaka intejected.

Rose gave a short chuckle, “Some of them have taken up residence in Rey’s bedroom .”

Armitage blanched and shuddered. Rose leant towards him to give him a small, sympathetic peck on the check and he jolted upright, whether from her prodding him somewhere under the table or softly going ‘buzz’ in his ear, Rey could not rightly say.

“Well, they’ve been relocated.” Rey assured him.

“Today? It usually takes hours and I saw Wedge in town earlier, not long after I got home.”

Rey shook her head and shrugged, “Yeah, it only took a few minutes in the end.”

“A few minutes? What did you do?” Rose exclaimed.

“I asked them.”

Rose gave her a look, “you asked them? ”

“Politely.”

“Definitely well named, then,” Gwen observed as she took a sip of her drink..

~oOo~


They managed to prevail upon her to stay with them a little longer and when Gwen found out she she hadn’t eaten since lunch she went and ordered more food for them but Rey found herself unable to muster much enthusiasm for eating. She picked at the sharing platter of chicken but nothing seemed to taste quite right.

Talk of Greek mythology had given way to local folklore and traditions, in particular the annual  Tansys Golowan Midsummer Eve bonfire at Castle an Dinas.

“Sounds similar to St. Han’s Eve,” Rey mused. “My first foster parents were Norwegian,” she added by way of explanation, “I remember us once having a little bonfire in the garden and eating hot dogs. It struck me as odd since everyone else would have their bonfires in November for Guy Faulk’s. It was fun though.”

“Why don’t we all go?” Suggested Dopheld.

"Oh yes!" Gwen nodded enthusiastically, “sounds like a great idea. Rey?”

“I’d love to… But, I have a prior engagement…”

Gwen gave her a wink, “next time then, and hopefully... we shall be six.”

Rey stood up, smiling through an overwhelming yawn, “I’m certain of it.”

 


 

Rey shivered as she slipped between the cool sheets. She pulled the quilt up under her chin and she vigorously rubbed her feet on the sheet to warm it up. She then settled down and closed her eyes and drowsily listened to the various sounds as the pub’s patrons happily filed out into the night, each returning to their own homes and beds. As she drifted off  to sleep she thought she heard Gwen’s lilting alto voice singing:

 

To the matter that you mention

I have given some attention,

And I think I am sufficiently decayed.

 

Followed by a low laugh and then Dopheld joining her - a rather fine voice, wasted on a mere patter role...

 

If that is so,

Sing derry down derry!

It's evident, very,

Our tastes are one.

Away we'll go,

And merrily marry,

Nor tardily tarry

Till day is done!

 

Rey smiled sleepily; Dopheld had found his Katisha after all. They made a charming pair, and if they could do it then why not her? It was an affirmation that there was someone for everyone no matter what might appear to separate them. She noticed a bee that she supposed  must have followed her from the house, bobbing around at the foot of the bed tracing out a complicated pattern, before it headed out the window towards the retreating sound of merriment.

Remember, with our hive, we thrive… sleep well my dearest one.


Ben stirred in his sleep. Once he had carefully arranged and folded up his papers and left them in a spot where they might be easily found by Rey should she decide to return, he had retired to the pool to rest, and recuperate. Bitter experience had taught him that remaining out of the water for an extended length of time wreaked havoc on his lower half; prolonged exposure to the air led to excruciating pain as the thin inhuman skin dried and began to crack, as well as a lightheadedness. He winced as he lowered himself into the frigid, salty water. Tightly closing his eyes against the pain he let himself sink into the dark depths.

He dreamt, not of the cliff, but of somewhere else - he wasn’t certain where, not that it mattered because Rey was there too. It was a curiously long dream in which his consciousness, if it could be called that, seemed to ebb and flow and cover the course of more days than he cared to count. He could never see her surroundings, just her, sometimes and his journal and the star and moon quilt she would sometimes curl up under. At first she didn’t seem to be aware of him as he  hovered around her like a hungry bee orbiting a nectar rich flower. But as time wore on she gave little indications that she did indeed sense him, and smile as he nestled behind her as she read, later nodding in apparent agreement and pleasure as he read to her, as if she could actually hear him. Sometimes he would catch her hunched over, her fingers moving rapidly in such a way to suggest she was typing, so lost in concentration that she barely reacted when he would move a stray strand of hair out of her eyes.

There seemed to be a pattern, or rhythm to the dream. There were snatches of mundane, everyday tasks and then she would settle down to rest and he would join her, lying down beside her on a bed he could never see nor feel. With each passing iteration, she seemed to gain solidity. He shifted slightly trying to get comfortable and turned on to his side, curling around her slumbering form, her bare shoulder with its familiar constellation of freckles; if he looked at it a certain way they did resemble Andromeda, or at least his hazy recollection of it. He could be wrong, it could just be a fanciful notion; but he choose to believe it. He leant forward and dropped a kiss on the two freckles he had decided were the binary stars of Alpha Andromeda. Rey stirred and murmured in response. Ben felt his eyes growing unaccountably heavy, momentarily bemused that one could feel tired while asleep. He closed his eyes and slipped into a deeper dreamless sleep.

 

Do I detect your hand at work?

There was an nearly imperceptible sigh of a breeze across the surface of the water.

Not for your benefit.

The waves grew choppy; the gulls who were hovering just above the surface, readying themselves to strike at unwary fish wheeled away in fright at the sudden, unexpected swell.

Then for whom?

Those who I have always cared for. Was I not once called all-wise and a foe of strife. All will be well my sister. A new moon heralds a new beginning. She has chosen her course of action wisely as befits one of her line.

And yet she suffers.

Such is a mother’s lot.

The waves settled down once more as last lazy rays of the setting sun slid away and the almost still surface briefly resembled the burnished bronze mirrors of their halcyon days. A tiny shard of light could be seen reflected; a curve that resembled a thin, knowing smile on a face tilted to one side in contemplation. The connection between the two was strong, far stronger than she had ever encountered before. It boded well for the future but for the present it was a liability and needed to be - not severed, she would never do that - but for a time obstructed. And afterall,  trials were traditional.



Chapter Text

“I think that love is stronger than habits or circumstances. I think it is possible to keep yourself for someone for a long time, and still remember why you were waiting when she comes at last.... I would enter your sleep if I could, and guard you there, and slay the thing that hounds you, as I would if it had the courage to face me in fair daylight. But I cannot come in unless you dream of me.”

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle

 

I idly cut a parsley stalk,

And blew therein towards the moon;

I had not thought what ghosts would walk

With shivering footsteps to my tune.

 

I went, and knelt, and scooped my hand

As if to drink, into the brook,

And a faint figure seemed to stand

Above me, with the bygone look.

 

I lipped rough rhymes of chance, not choice,

I thought not what my words might be;

There came into my ear a voice

That turned a tenderer verse for me.

 

On A Midsummer Eve - Thomas Hardy

 

Evil and Erinaceinae

 

Tuesday, 23rd June 2015



The teasing, appealing aroma of trepidation was his first indication of her approach. It coiled out before her, little swirling eddies he eagerly savoured, finding in it the sustaining nourishment he had been denied for the last few weeks. The foul stench of Kylo’s joy and renewed hope, as well as his new-found resistance had been a source of irritation that had wounded his pride and fueled his anger, but he had weathered worse.

As the girl entered the cave and moved deeper into its shadowy recesses, he could detect the traces of primitive protective magic around her, it was strong and well wrought, shielding her intent from him, but the girl’s fears were stronger; apprehension dripped from her - not for herself but for another. Sticky and sweet, it was all too familiar, reminding him of that fateful night.

He stopped short, there something else about her. Something had changed in her since her last visit, a power that had lain dormant had now been roused and was eager for an outlet. It radiated from her, and no amount of paltry twig lore would ever be able mask it.

It was rightfully his - insofar as he had collected it - but it was no wonder that Kylo was so disappointing and weak; the majority of the strength and power he had lost was, somehow, all bound up in this  mere girl. At least she seemed to be ignorant of what she had at her disposal, meaning he might have an opportunity to reclaim it.

His feast was forgotten as fury and curiosity welled up within him. How could this have possibly happened? He had orchestrated everything so carefully to ensure that Kylo would be the vessel for all that Thalassa and Selene had ripped from him. Their meddling would be of little use though, merely a minor setback; he would have his revenge and it would be as sweet as ever it could be.

It was early evening by the time Rey eventually set off towards the coast and the cave. The sky overhead was still a vibrant blue, but at the horizon it seeped to green and orange.  She had originally planned to make the trip far earlier in the day; in the morning before the area was crawling with tourists making the climb to the castle, but she had ended up oversleeping after rather raucous evening spent in the pub chaperoning a very giddy Gwen.

“Please stay and stop me from making a fool of myself! I just want to ruffle his hair! It’s too neat!” she had implored her, so like a good friend she had stayed until Maz packed her off to bed and kicked the others out, to sort out their own sleeping arrangements as they saw fit.

“Dopheld has booked us rooms at a B&B but we should be back around noon tomorrow or a bit after.  We could all go and get lunch.” Gwen was saying as they hefted another box of books up the stairs between them.

“What have you packed in here? Rocks? The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?” She gasped, collapsing over the box once they had slid it in to place in a far neater stack in one of the smaller bedrooms.

“I don’t remember the last time I got such a good work out… Oh wait, I do!” She looked up with a wicked glint in her eye.

Rey waved the errant spatula she had found tucked in a box of towels, attempting to ward off such shockingly lustful sentiments. “Not. Another. Word!”

Gwen threw her a grin and pulled the top of the box open.

“Ah, vintage Georgette Heyer Regency novels. That explains it; must have been the weight of all that pining and yearning,” she laughed.

So much yearning…” Rey responded, falling into a faux faint over another box, while fanning herself vigorously with the spatula, “Oh woe is me for my love is so tall and dark and brooding!”

“So he’s tall is he?”

“Maybe…” Rey entoned, with a grin.

Gwen  turned her attention back to the open box of books.

“‘The Talisman Ring , now that is a promising title. I’d consider read that one.”

“You should, it’s lots of fun. And not at all a Jane Austen-esque primarily set in drawing rooms, type of story that seems to be such an anathema to you.”

Gwen leaned on the box and wagged one long finger to make her oft-argued point.

“Look, as soon as I discovered that the pond diving scene wasn’t in the book, Austen was dead to me. But go on… you may yet convert me to the ways of Heyer.” She lent her chin on her hand and waited for Rey to make her case.

Rey thought for a moment, for some reason she kept getting the plot confused with another book; both featured a villainous cousin, but in one of them he was not exactly as he appeared.

“Well, there is a ring - ” she began.

Gwen pulled a face, “I rather guessed that much what with the title being The Talisman Ring !”

Rey rolled her eyes, “It all hinges on the the ring. Ok, fine, there is a character who has possibly been framed for murder and has run off to be a smuggler. He has a chance of coming back and reclaiming his birthright...but the ring...  Argh! just read it! If I say any more it will ruin the story.” Rey made an exasperated noise halfway between a laugh and a shout as she grabbed and tossed the book at Gwen. As it flew through the air, its cover flapping wildly, a piece of card that had been slipped inside fell out, the sunlight glinting off the patchy gold edging as it fluttered to the ground.

Gwen caught the book in her arms and chuckled, “All right, all right! You’ve convinced me.”

They wandered back downstairs.  Rey cast an appraising glance around the living room, looking much better now that the majority of it wasn’t taken up by cardboard boxes.

“So that’s it for books.  All that’s left are the ones with my clothes in them, but I can manage those. What time are you meeting the others in town?”

Right on cue Gwen’s phone began to buzz insistently. She pulled it out and made a face.

“Oh damn, in about five minutes,” she grimaced and slid her phone back in her pocket before giving Rey an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry I have to bail on you, yet again.”

“It’s fine! Go! Have a lovely time. Try to behave yourself. I can’t wait to hear all about it when you get back.”

~oOo~

Rey returned upstairs, assuring Gwen a further three times that she was fine on her own, before almost frog marching her to her car and waving her goodbye. She spent a few moments considering the card. There was absolutely no doubt in her mind as to who had placed it in the book. Maz’s choice of book, too, had to be a clue of some kind.

Rey crouched down and reached out for it. As her hand hovered over the card, she wondered if she might have another flash of a vision on touching it...

 

 

The card was being held out by long thin fingers that seemed more like a corruption of the form.  A woman’s smaller hand, a hearty pink and calloused by honest toil, reached for it, hesitated, and then quickly snatched it away.

A voice spoke next, that seemed to shred the air passing through it. To Rey’s ears it sounded both honeyed and rasping, with a dissonance to it that compelled one to answer it; if for no other reason than to avoid hearing it again.

“And now, my dear lady, I would like you to tell me everything about your local customs and practices...”

Thus bidden, the woman began to speak, albeit with great reluctance; slowly at first, but gradually with increasing speed, all without drawing a single breath. She was clearly in a great deal of pain as the words were wrenched from her, and her voice started to crack.

Rey shared in her excruciating torment. It was like all her worst headaches had been rolled into one; the ones where she felt like her temples were trapped in a vice, the others brought on by stress that featured a pointed stabbing pain centred in the back of her head, as well as the feeling that her nose had been hit with a brick that was a hallmark of a sinusitis. She was horribly overwhelmed and beginning to panic as she found that she too was unable to breathe, that she only caught a few words of what was said: ‘Treahchto, covenant, sea, land, protection.’

The woman collapsed to the ground and the agony was over as abruptly as it had begun. Doubled over, Rey sucked in a deep, ragged breath; her head was still swimming, and a wave of nausea briefly threatened to overcome her. She sat down with a bump and waited for it to pass before picking up the card.

 

The gold finish rubbed off on her fingers as she handled it. It might have looked impressive once, but now, spent, it was just a battered piece of mildew-stained card. She turned it over.



Prof. Albert Noakes

 

Kings College, Cambridge



“Noakes.” Saying it aloud, it felt fake and flimsy; Rey sensed that the name was close to but not his, or rather its , true name. She had read enough to know that names were important, and suspected that insufferable pride probably made it choose the name.

Her curiosity piqued, she pulled out her phone and typed the name into Google. Her hands were still trembling though, and between mis-spelling it and autocorrect swooping into to try and save the day the search engine instead brought up results for Neikos . She was about to hit on the back button when the first entry caught her eye.

Neikos (Νεῖκος) Personification of hate and strife

Rey chewed the inside of her cheek as she mulled over this interesting tidbit. The shell had whispered ‘strife’. It certainly made sense given everything she’d read, both  in Luke’s and Ben’s notes, not to mention Maz’s assertion that it was a very ancient entity they were dealing with.

And then there was the strange cliff top vision she’d had. That it fed, as the girl had suggested, leech-like, on negative emotions such as fear and anger was not at all surprising.  The next stepping stone was inevitably hatred which in turn led to strife; it was a pretty clear path. And it made her task all the more difficult.

She was fearful and angry. She was only human, after all, and they were the most readily and easily felt emotions when placed in a difficult situation. She hated it for what it had done, to so many people, not just Ben. How she was to tamp all that down when potentially facing such a creature was as yet beyond her. But she would have to somehow empty her mind of all those thoughts and focus solely on her ultimate goal; saving what, and who, she loved. If there was ever a time for one of those mindfulness apps she kept seeing ads for online, it was probably now.

 

 

Rey gritted her teeth as she sloshed through the shallows at the base of the cliff. The climb down had been substantially less fraught than on the previous occasion, but that fact had done little to reassure her. It might be late June, but the water was still chilly; and she was now soaked up to her mid calf. At least she had thought to wear an old pair of trainers; unfortunately, they were also her only pair of trainers, so she was doomed to walk around in squelching shoes for a while until they dried out.

 

The sun was casting long shadows; and with little over an hour before the tide was too high for safety, she knew she was cutting it very fine. She didn’t relish the prospect of venturing into the cave as the daylight ebbed away, though it ultimately made little difference on the light levels within the cave itself; that was besides the point.  She fumbled with her phone, trying to switch on its little light; instead, Blondie issued forth from its tiny speakers:

 

The tide is high but I’m holding on,

I’m gonna be your number one.

I’m not the kind of girl who gives up just like that…

Oh no!

 

‘Seriously, Et tu, phone?’ She gave a chuckle; at least her phone was somewhat more upbeat about the whole thing. She hurriedly turned off the song and switched on the torch.

 

~oOo~

 

Rey shoved her free hand in her pocket and clasped at pair of crosses she had fashioned that morning, from rowan twigs from the tree at the top of the lane and some red thread. She had ruined both a pair of scissors and a red sock in the process, but hoped it would be worth it. Her thumb idly ran over the bud at one end of one of the twigs as she tried to make herself focus on safe thoughts, like the need to buy a pair of secateurs and new scissors at the earliest opportunity, as she held her phone up and began her search.

Rey cast the beam around slowly, keeping an eye out for a tell tale glint of light on metal or a faceted edge.

...its very presence in a room is almost tangible. All light seems drawn, albeit unwillingly, towards it. I am not certain if this is a feature peculiar to the stone or something to do with the inscriptions…

Rey stilled.  Everything seemed muffled, as if a heavy blanket had been cast over her; the sound of the incoming tide swirling about the mouth of the cave, even her own damp footsteps and shallow breathing. But whether it was a product of the adrenaline spike that was causing her heart to beat a million miles an hour, or the little charm she now so tightly held in her hand that it was making indentations, she couldn’t rightly say. She couldn’t feel or otherwise detect anything that could be described as a presence, at least not the way she had sensed Ben’s.

She slowed down her sweeping arc of light even further, and moved deeper towards  the forbidding alcoves at the back of the cave. As she moved, the small rocks on the floor cast unsettling shadows. More than once they gave her the impression that  imps or hobgoblins were creeping alongside her.

It was the same effect Luke had recorded in his notes that drew her attention; she had noticed it before, but had paid little attention to it since her goal then had been seeking out Ben. She shone the light again over the small area, even more slowly this time. It was pronounced and disconcerting once identified.  

The light seemed to be drawn towards a crack in the floor, and yet recoiling in equal measure. Rey’s mind wandered back to the way that unfortunate woman had been interrogated by Noakes, and she shuddered at the similarity.  She trained the light on the spot and moved closer. There was no mistaking it; wedged in a crack in the floor was the ring.

It really was exceptionally ugly. The thick gold band looked like it had been cast in sand; its surface had a rough, grainy quality. The stone wasn’t a symmetrical cut; it looked more like a piece of an uncut stone had been hastily shoved in the setting.

As Rey’s hand drew closer, she could feel something; a strange dulling of the nerves, almost like pins and needles, but finer, as if the points were much smaller. It begin as a disconcerting tingling in the tips of her fingers, as if the blood was retreating as her hand drew closer. She looked down to see that the tips of the fingers of her right hand were now a worrying shade of white.

Rey snatched back her hand, the warmth and blood rushing back as she did so. The physical reaction shocked her; Luke’s notes had mentioned nothing at all like it so it was quite possible that  it was unique to her. She decided she would avoid any physical contact with it.

Rey dug around in her pockets, but came up short, no gloves, it was late June after all, and she’d worn her jacket more with an eye to protecting her clothes than for warmth. She looked around the cave to see if there was anything she could use as rudimentary barrier; perhaps some detritus left by tourists swept in by a previous tide, but it was as neat as a pin. Whatever else one might say about him, Ben was cave-proud.

Feeling a little guilty, she made her way over to investigate his workspace. Neatly arranged on Ben’s makeshift table was a stack of papers. Above it, tucked up high, presumably where it would stay dry, were some blank sheets of paper. She took one, and used it to cover her hand as she pulled the ring free. It took a little work, having managed to get itself wedged in the space. The gem’s sharp corner made a shallow gouge in the side of the crack as she jiggled the ring loose. It felt surprisingly heavy for its size.

Rey carefully wrapped the ring in the paper, taking pains to not touch it, before slipping it in her pocket. She turned to leave, pausing for a moment by Ben’s papers. She quickly took them and folded them up so they would fit in the inside pocket of her jacket before laying one of the Rowan crosses in their place.

 

Rey shivered. It was late; and she was still cold, even sitting in front of the fire and wearing gloves. The living room was in disarray, with boxes of clothes pulled open in her frantic search for gloves.

As soon as she had returned to the cottage she had pulled off her water-logged shoes and set about lighting a fire in the fireplace. Now, two hours later, it was merrily blazing away. One of the larger logs was sitting rather precariously and looked like it might topple out of the grate at any moment. She took the poker that Owen had found and gave it a sharp prod, pushing it back into the flames so it couldn’t do any damage.

On the floor beside her was the ring in its screw of paper, a jar of cloves, and a jar of ground cinnamon.

There was no point in putting off the inevitable, she thought, as she unfolded the paper and uncovered the ring.

At first, all the colours in the room slowly seeped away, followed by the glow from the light fitting overhead.  Rey was left in only a cramped pool of light from the fire, surrounded by encroaching shadows.

As Rey turned the ring over in her gloved hand, a dry, papery, whispering sound had her looking sharply around herself; it proved to be the wind scraping branches across windows, like thin fingers.

She shuddered as the shadows in one corner seemed to become darker and more solid. A coiling dark miasma seemed to have settled in the old wingback chair. She was frightened, there was no denying it - not so much for herself but for the punishment this creature might inflict on Ben.

“Ah, young Rey…The girl who believes she has captured Kylo’s heart. Mistakenly, I might add. His heart, his mind, indeed his very soul belong to me.”

As it spoke, she could see glimpses of what must have once been its ersatz human form; thin, sharp features forming one side of a ruined, collapsed face. It might have been striking once, had it ever been young and whole. But she got the impression it had always been fractured; it had thrived on what it could scavenge, pieces that were never meant to be brought together.

Rey struggled to keep the revulsion and anger from her voice.  “That remains to be seen.”

It was smiling at her.  “You intrigue me.  For one with such high moral tone, you seem strangely content, eager even to overlook the damage he has done, the lives he has ruined, or taken?”

Rey bit the inside of her cheek so hard she could taste blood.  “For the sake of inconveniencing you, I can.”

“You have great potential.  In another time and another place, you would have made an excellent acolyte; but such times are over, and you have something that belongs to me.”

Rey’s eyes flicked to the ring but somehow sensed that that wasn’t what he meant.

~oOo~

He decided to let her stew.  There were always other avenues to explore. He detected a fragrant wave of sadness from her.  Perhaps there was another, more subtle, way to achieve his goal.

“Perhaps… we could strike a deal. I know your heart, child; it screams of your loneliness,  your desire for...belonging.” There was a spike of hope, she was tempted. It was a bitter taste, when he would have much rather continued savouring her fear and despondency.

“I will give you Kylo, and you will allow me to take back what is mine.”

~oOo~

Rey hesitated; his offer was very… convenient. She could feel him attempting to worm his way into her head, testing her defenses. It was a trap. Deal making was the only thing it really had left, and the wording was paramount; she, instead, focused on his exact words.

Allow me to take back what is mine.

How like a vampire, seeking permission to destroy her. She rather suspected he needed her to drop her guard to allow him free access to whatever he thought she had. And that she would never do, aid him in rifling around in her mind; that was an invasion she never wanted to experience again, and definitely not first hand.

“I’m not giving you anything.  Kylo is not, and never was yours, to give nor to keep. There will be no bargain. ”

“No? When time is running out for him? If you make him wait, despair will overwhelm him.  He has waited so long. Do you truly care for him at all, that you can’t spare a speck of pity for him? Are you so callous and obdurate? He will surely perish, or rather the echo of the weak boy you clearly only lust after will. Already his spirit dwindles; your arrival has only hastened his downfall.”

Rey squeezed her fists into a tight ball, her short nails digging into her palms. She needed to remain resolute. Fear and anger were initially easy; but so much energy was expended in sustaining them that it left one empty and exhausted. She knew what he was doing; playing on her deepest fears and long-held worries about relationships in general; all designed to make her lose control and lash out, so he could gain strength and the upper hand. Her fears and her regrets and worries…

Before she could stop herself, Bee’s placid, unmoving face came to mind. She had looked so peaceful, and happy…

“How many others must suffer because of you? Lying awake at night, wondering if that switch you’d been playing with was important. We are not so different, you and I. All you’ve ever brought is death and destruction.”

That is enough,” her voice filtered to her ears, almost lifeless in its flatness.

She was tired, so tired of listening to him. Nothing he could say to her would ever, could ever match the things she had told herself in the past; things she always tried to remember were not true. Assuming guilt over something that had been an accident had been her way of trying to feign a modicum of control, at a time when she had so little.

But now she had control. Control over her own destiny, and her feelings.

She felt neither anger nor fear, only peace and purpose; she knew exactly what she had to do, as clear as if she had seen herself do it a million times before. Unhurriedly, and deliberately she pulled off her gloves, and picked up the ring. It was heavy; and as cold as ice, if not colder. She ignored the throbbing pain in her hand, as the cold seeped into to her joints, and turned the ring slightly, as if admiring it.

Slowly she lifted her left hand, her fingers splayed out. The shadowy finger’s spike of anticipation as she moved the ring towards her left ring finger was palpable.

There was another voice, this one seemed to vibrate in her bones, radiating out from the hand that held the ring, urging her.

Yes, put it on. All the power contained within could be yours. All you’ve ever wanted will be yours for the taking.

Rey looked down at the simple band of glass she had worn for the last few weeks. There was only ever one ring she wanted; and it signified the only thing she had ever really desired, something this creature would never be able to comprehend.

She looked up and directed a small smile at the shadowy corner before flinging his ring into the grate.

A low, cruel, taunting laugh echoed around the room and her skull.

“Foolish child...Flames are nothing to it. Just as are you are nothing to me or to him.”

Rey’s hand dropped to her side, her fingers brushed the relatively warmer metal of the poker that lay beside her. It was reassuringly solid and real as she forced her aching hand to curl around its handle. Human hands had worked it and now hers would use it.

Smash it! A torrent of voices seemed to cry out.

Rey raised the poker high and brought it down with as much force as she could muster.  She had fully expected it to take much more effort but as soon as the iron tip touched the stone, the dark gem shattered; collapsing unnaturally in on itself.

“This is only the beginning...” The voice rasped triumphantly as it faded away.

Rey ignored the words as they dwindled away, promising her no mercy; only death by the cruelest stroke. Touching the ring probably had been foolish, but she couldn’t help but allow herself a little touch of flamboyance, not to mention a test of sorts. It was done; and she couldn’t take it back.

 

She busied herself pushing the remains of the ring deeper into the fire. She then proceeded to tip the contents of the spice jars over them; cinnamon for protection, cloves for purification and healing. She had no idea if it would work, or if it was bunk, but it made her feel better to do it. The flames leapt high, greedy for fresh fuel; they fizzed and popped, belching out plumes of pungent smoke that made her cough and stung her eyes.

Rey blinked the tears away.  When her sight returned the room was bright and colourful again, and smelt glorious; fresh and new. She had no idea when to expect the retribution for her defiance, but for now she would wait; she was certain it wouldn’t be long .  

The evening before, Dopheld had eagerly explained to them about the three fires that were lit on Midsummer’s eve: the bonnefyre of clean bones, the wakefyre of clean wood and St. John’s fire, a mix of clean wood and bones. Rey leant against a box and watched the flames dance in her own wakefyre, determined to stay awake by it through what remained of the night.  

After a few moments she clambered to her feet and fetched her jacket, pulling out the carefully folded papers she had taken from the cave. She settled back down, laid the jacket open over her knees and began to read.

 

 

Maz sat up with a start. She could have sworn she’d just heard the short, sharp sound of a door banging in a strong breeze. She waited to see if she heard it again; but there was no hint of even a gentle wind outside. It was eerily silent; even the building itself was oddly devoid of its usual late night sounds, as boards and joists settled. Chewie shifted in his sleep, his jaw was working and he was drooling slightly; no doubt dreaming of an encounter with a nice juicy bone. Maz leaned down and gave his belly a fond rub as she looked over at the clock; it had just gone three and there were only a few hours before dawn.

She was certain something had happened; there was a perceptible shift in the air. She suspected it had to do with Rey. She got up and went down stairs. As she passed Rey’s room she could sense she was not there. The place felt very empty without her. She had a way of filling a place with light and promise, even when she was at her lowest ebb. Maz dearly hoped that there would be far fewer of those times ahead of her.

When she had gone to bed the previous evening Maz had been very much feeling her age. Time was when she would have spent Midsummer’s Eve out dancing with the rest of them, with an energy that would rival the flames’. But now, her joints tended to complain vehemently, and they had done so at length as she had mounted the stairs just a few hours earlier. To her surprise she found herself swinging off the last step as if the bannister was a Maypole, propelling herself towards the kitchen on feet as light as air.

A faint bumping sound at the base of the backdoor dragged her out of her reverie.

She drew back the bolt on the door and opened it, looking out and then down to where a  familiar prickly mass was snuffling around the threshold.

“Oh! It’s you.”

The hedgehog tipped its russet and white face upwards, an expression of relief and expectation in its bead-like jet eyes.

“Well, don’t stand on ceremony, in you come,” she added gruffly, jerking her head towards the warm inviting kitchen while holding open the door. She was feeling far happier, and more relieved, than she cared to let on. Relief was momentarily trumped by annoyance with her for having disappeared, when Maz had believed a far worse fate had befallen her.

Perhaps it had, but it had turned out to be only temporary. If she had gone underground - and hadn’t Maz done so herself, after a fashion? -  it was an understandable act of self-preservation. If only Maz had taken the time to warn her in advance, maybe certain events could have been avoided. Or maybe not. But that was in the past, and there was no sense dwelling on it.

The small creature scurried inside, accompanied by the sound of tiny claws against the flagstone floor. It was a sound Maz had forgotten but hearing it again, it reminded her of the ache she had felt for decades when it wasn’t there.

Maz went over to the tall cupboard, pulled out a bag of Chewie’s dry dog food, emptied a few spoonfuls into a saucer, and set it down on the kitchen floor. The hedgehog shuffled over to it and gave it an exploratory sniff before looking up and fixing her with a somewhat affronted look.

“No, you can’t have cream; it isn’t good for you.”

The hedgehog let out an affronted squeak.

“Yes, yes. I know you used to have it, but times have changed.”

Besides, sloping back after buggering off for over 150 years doesn’t mean you deserve a treat, and certainly not one that will give you the runs.

With a hint of something approaching a shrug, the small creature began to eat; at first taking tentative bites, and then with wild abandon.

Maz crouched down and gave it a kindly scratch at the nape of its neck.

“It’s good to have you back, Sort. I have missed you, you ridiculous creature.”

Maz straightened up and started making herself some coffee; out of consideration for Sort, she did not add cream to it as she was wont to do. As she waited for the coffee to brew, she leaned back against the counter and observed her former companion. Maz considered the timing of her return. It was certainly a favourable sign; the powers of good were always at their peak at this time of year, and the long sunny days seemed to buoy the soul. Maz knew that Rey’s task was by no means complete; that would be heralded by more than the return of one slightly put out hedgehog who remembered the good old days, when saucers filled to the brim with  rich cream were left at the back door.

Chapter Text

The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.

Karen Blixen



 

Heartbreak and Hope

 

Thursday, March 5th 1863

 

 

“Someone has to warn them!”

Mab’s words rang in his ears, drowning out the sounds of the horse’s hooves and his own ragged breathing and pounding heart.

Biggs had jumped to his feet with the rest of them to rush to Mab’s aide. At her mention of his home village his blood had run cold. Laze grasped him by the arm and propelled him out of the building while everyone else stood around looking helpless and together they half-ran, half-stumbled across the road to the smithy. The last vestiges of the cosy haze of alcohol from an evening renewing an old friendship was finally shocked out of his system by the night chill and he was fully sober again.

Without a second thought, Biggs threw himself on to the horse Laze had shod that afternoon. Something had spooked it badly, its eyes were rolling wildly and there were flecks of foam around its muzzle. Laze held the agitated creature as still as he could, careful to avoid it stepping on him as it fidgeted. Zephyr was a fine animal, a thorough-bred which probably accounted for its fanciful name and how highly strung it was; but its owner, the insufferable Motti, was forever boasting about how fast it was, and right now speed was of the essence.

Biggs pushed the horse hard; heart and hooves thundering along the cliff-top path, clumps of earth were thrown up it its wake as its new shoes cut into the soil. He hadn’t intended to be heading home so soon. He had planned to return tomorrow after sleeping off a convivial evening in one of Raymus’ comfortable rooms. Then he’d surprise his family with his unexpected return and tales and trinkets from far flung places.

~oOo~

The wind was steadily picking up; as it whistled past and around him he thought he could hear bells ringing, wild and discordant. Many years later, he would remark on this fact to his wife - the only other person who could possibly understand or appreciate what had happened that night - pointing out Treahchto’s small chapel had only had the one bell.

Dark, heavy clouds were forming overhead, converging, oppressively low, on his goal. Without warning, just in sight of the little bay, the horse skidded to a halt and there was a noise unlike any he had ever heard; not the roar of cannon, or the dangerous creaking and shuddering of a ship caught up in a hurricane, neither of which he had ever fully become accustomed to even after four years. Its pitch was incredibly deep and loud. The horse wheeled and shrieked, and it took all Bigg’s strength and focus to rein him in, and keep his seat. It was as if the earth was being cracked open and then, just as abruptly it was gone. Its sudden absence almost as painful as the sound itself, leaving him dazed and his vision swimming.

 

Eventually the ringing in his ears subsided and, with the horse now marginally calmer, Biggs scanned ahead of him, expecting to see the village a little ways away. His jaw dropping in shock as he beheld the sight that lay before him; it was as if a great bite had been taken out of the land.

He shook his head in disbelief, surely no mere wave could have wrought such destruction. Where he expected to see the rooftops of houses nestled together he saw nothing but churning water and foamy peaks, dotted here and there with debris.

And it was so quiet. At this time of night it was always quiet, but it was the comforting contented silence of slumber, this had a very different quality to it. This silence spoke of nothing but death.

Biggs leaned forward until his cheek rested against neck of the sweating and panting beast, closing his eyes in a futile attempt to not see the scene of destruction that had been burnt into his brain.

He was never certain what happened next that make him lift his head, if it was a sound, the horse growing restless and shifting. But he opened his eyes and glimpsed what appeared to be a woman bathed in moonlight, walking along, or through, the gradually calming water, heading towards the base of the cliff. She seemed to be holding a bundle of some kind close to her chest.

A survivor!

He sat bolt upright and with a wordless shout, spurred the reluctant horse onwards, along the rest of the exposed path and down towards the spinny and the narrow curving lane that cut through it down towards…the shore

The horse halted before the end of the lane, refusing to go any further. Loath to waste valuable time trying to coax it further, Biggs quickly dismounted and tethered the reins to the young rowan tree at the end of the lane.

The lane now led to to a shallow shingle beach that opened out on to a wide expanse of water, the edge of which was now only a few feet away. Save the remains of the house closest to the cliff, there was no indication that there had ever been a lively, thriving village there.

Biggs stood in shock for a moment looking at the sea, trying to remember what it had looked like before, when he had last been there over a year ago. But already the memory was slipping from him. A small whimper brought him back to the present, and he whipped around to find the source. There was no sign of the woman he had seen from the cliff, but the bundle was there, laying on the threshold of the ruined house. It was squirming, kicking off its coverings.

Biggs crouched down and picked up the baby. There wasn’t a mark on the child apart from a small nick on her upper right arm, but that would heal in time. Biggs rearranged the swaddling as best he could and pulled off his jacket, bundling her up in it to protect her from the chilly night air. Dark blue eyes met his, and something seemed to pass between them; the last remaining, now former, inhabitats of Treahchto.

“It’s ok,” he soothed. “I’ve got you.”

The baby had been taken from him.    He had been loath to let her go, he felt he had been entrusted with her. She was his… responsibility, or destiny; it was all so muddled now as grief and exhaustion took him over. He managed to slide down from the horse and take a few steps, before his legs gave way under him and he stumbled to the ground. Arms wrapped around him, hoisted him up and manoeuvred him to somewhere where he might properly sit. A moment later a glass of brandy was being held to his lips, but he refused it. He’d never drink again.

Biggs shoved a hand into his pocket to find his handkerchief and mop his brow, finding tangled in it the parcel that had been intended for his sister. It contained two small brass cymbals, that were worn on the fingers and struck together while dancing. Not that that style of dancing was one that his mother would have approved of, but they had made a delightful sound that had reminded him of Melissa’s laughter. He was about to toss the package away, their intended recipient was gone so what was the point in keeping them, when Mab dropped one of her hands on to his, squeezing it tightly as she spoke.

“Keep them.”

He glanced up and her eyes met his, he nodded dumbly and slipped the package back in his pocket. Mab withdrew her hand and resettled the squirming baby.

“Now we just need to decide what to do about this child.”

“We’ll take her.”

Pushing through the small, tight knot that had formed around Mab and Biggs, came a small figure with dark hair, and eyes puffy from crying. Mab knew her well; Camilla, Fixer’s young wife who had lost another child just a few months earlier.  As she approached her hands reached out for the infant as if no one else in the world or universe existed.

Mab loosened her grip on the squirming bundle and watched as Camilla pulled the child close to her and soothed and rocked her. One small hand worked its way loose from the swaddling and tightly clasped a dark strand of hair.

The others looked to Mab. She felt a stab of guilt; still they relied on her even though she had failed them dreadfully. Either they didn’t realise, or they didn’t care.

“I’m going to call you Eleanor, my bright light amidst all this darkness,” the younger woman murmured to the baby.

Laze rolled his eyes, “My wife and her fancies,” he muttered, feigning an attitude Mab knew full well he didn’t share. His face dropped though as Mab caught his eye, her expression stern.

“She is very well named I should say. A good name to pass on.” Mab declared. She had a good feeling about this outcome. Camilla was a sensible young woman and had a kind heart.

“And what for a middle name, Camie?” Her husband asked softly as he moved closer and put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close so he could too could look down into the face that had claimed his wife’s attention, and had seemingly brought her back from the brink on which she had teetered for so long.

“I like Rhea, but…” she let out a small defeated sigh, “Gertrude, after your mother.”

Mab nodded. Laze’s mother always had much to say concerning Camie and Laze’s marriage; that a girl with all that learning would never make a good wife. Expounding at length that filling her head with Latin and Greek was the reason she’d never brought a child to term. Since her last miscarriage wasn’t common knowledge, and was known only to herself, Camie and Laze, Mab thought she might, with a judicious application of gin, be able to convince the old harridan that the child was theirs, granting the poor girl some much needed respite.

Mab adjusted her shawl and clapped her hands together, assuming an air of calm and purpose that she did not feel at all, but would need to feign until she was able to determine the full extent of what had happened and how best to proceed.

“Well that’s all settled then.”

Mab gently laid a hand on the child’s head. Based on Biggs’ disjointed description of what had become of the village, it was plain to Mab that the  Sisters had intervened; with Thalassa taking the strongest course of action in order to do what Mab had been powerless to. But yet, they had seen fit to spare the child.

That anyone had survived was a miracle, but that it was that child in particular, troubled her greatly. That, and the lack of information as to the whereabouts of Noakes’ ring. She felt certain it harboured a great deal of power as well as being a powerful instrument. If it was undamaged, then there was always the chance that the enemy might return.



Chapter Text

That stadium of roaring stones,

The suffering. O they are not dumb things,

Though bleached and worn, when water

Strikes at them. Stones will be the last ones;

They are the earth’s bones, no easy prey

For Breakers. And they are not broken

But diminish only, under the pestle,

Under protest. They shift through centuries,

Grinding their way towards silence.

 

A Beach of Stones - Kevin Crossley-Holland

 

Faith and Fate

 

Wednesday, June 24th 2015

 

Rey’s eyelids were growing heavy and her back was growing stiff from sitting on the floor. In the distance she could hear what sounded rather like bells ringing, but muffled as if underwater. At first the peals were out of step with each other but after a few moments they were briefly in sync only to separate out again. Rey allowed her eyes to fall close and focus on listening for the bells to fall back in step again.

“Where is she?”

Rey’s eyes snapped open. Somewhere a woman was crying out, in pain and fear. Ignoring her protesting muscles, Rey jumped to her feet.  It sounded like it came from nearby, upstairs. Rey thundered up the wooden staircase.

“Where is Mab?” the plea ended with a violent, gasping sob of pain and distress.

Rey wrenched open the door to the master bedroom and found herself barrelling in to her room at the pub. She came to a sudden halt just inside the door. At first glance it seemed like sitting up in the bed, face and hair drenched in sweat was her mirror image. But, no, she was older, with shorter hair shot through with strands of silver that glinted in the sunlight. Maz was standing towards the foot of the bed, with her back to the door.

The younger woman was utterly distraught, frantically twisting the bed clothes she had clenched in her hands.

“First Gavin and now this! Why did it have to be her? Why can’t we have any peace?” She paused and her wringing of the patchwork quilt was slowly replaced by picking at a trailing thread. It seemed to Rey like she was turning things over in her mind; she had a similar habit herself; fingering and folding the hem of one sleeve as she mulled over coding problems. When the woman spoke again the hysteric note had dissipated, giving way to a more forceful tone. She drew herself up and was decidedly determined set to her jaw.

“You promise she’ll be safe?” The woman demanded, “and they will love her. She deserves so much love.”

Maz moved to tightly grasp her hand to underscore her words of reassurance. “I promise you Eleanor. She will be safe and loved.”

Eleanor nodded as she smoothed the quilt over her lap, before holding her arms out to receive the small wriggling bundle Maz handed her.

“Good, because if what you say is true, then she needs to know that she is. I just hope you are right and that this will be an end to the whole sorry business. I’ve... we’ve given everything we have. I know it won’t be forever; she’ll be back.. one day…” she intoned softly, as she brushed a tuft  hair from the child’s forehead and dropped a kiss on it.

“She’ll know.” Maz replied shooting a look over her shoulder, locking eyes with Rey who started back in shock as a myriad of pieces suddenly fell in to place.

 

Eleanor… Gavin. Wedge’s daughter… the girl in the photograph who looked like her… this had to be some sort of trick. Playing on her desire for a sense of belonging, and a past. This had to be Noakes at work stirring up her emotions in an effort to distract her… mess with her… to make her feel worthless and powerless.

 

The bells’ tolling which had initially been soft and warm, all of a sudden, grew in volume and harshness becoming too much to bear. Rey squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears trying to block out the insistent shrill tone. She stepped backwards and caught her foot on something and began to tumble.

Rey jolted awake, swiftly falling first forward and the back, knocking the box she had been leaning against. The fire was long since extinguished, nothing remained in the grate but a heap of  ashes. A strong, crisp, salty breeze blew in from the window which she had opened to clear the air the night before, scattering Ben’s papers. They tumbled about the room like dried leaves. Her phone, laying on the table in the kitchen abruptly ceased its frantic buzzing. She swiftly gathered up the displaced sheets and placed them on the table before glancing down at her phone. A missed call from Finn, and then a notification of a voicemail appeared on the screen.

Rey dialed into her voicemail and, cradling her phone between her ear and shoulder, listened as she moved about the kitchen, filling the coffee pot with water and  the top of the percolator with some pre-ground coffee. Far from ideal but the grinder was still in a box… somewhere. She frowned as the message replayed; Finn sounded more than usually tired and harrassed. In the background she could just make out Tim, his small voice choked with tears as he implored his father remind her about something.

“Hi, Rey… Sorry to bother you… She’s not answering so I’m leaving a message. Tim, calm down. As you can probably gather Tim has asked me to give you a call to see how you are… Why does she need the poker Tim, it’s the middle of the summer?” His voice dropped lower and there was no mistaking the worried tone, “Look, Rey, if you could give me a call back when you get a chance, that would be great, just to set Tim’s mind at ease, you know how he can be sometimes.”

Rey knew very well how prone to night terrors Tim had been. They had been a regular occurance for the first six months that he and Owen had been with Finn and Poe, with Finn having to resort to sleeping the floor by his bed, but they had steadily decreased until the point where it had been well over a year since he had experienced one.

Rey was about to return his call, if anything to reassure Tim that everything was fine, when her attention was arrested by a rumble of thunder in the distance. The sunlight began to dim as sickly grey-green hued clouds closed in, low and oppressive.

‘It hides in the clouds.’

No, everything was far from fine. But it would be… very soon. Even if it was the last thing she ever did.

‘She’d see it through, no matter what… to the bitter end.’

The coffee making preparations were abandoned as Rey tossed her phone on to the stack of the papers on the table. She pulled on her jacket and reclaimed the poker from where it lay by the fire.

As she pulled open the door the wind picked up strength, pushing her stumbling back into the house. A piercing howl of anguish broke through the harsh, annoyed cries of the gulls who found themselves swept along by the winds of the oncoming storm, their hunting disrupted. There was only one explanation for that sound. It was was Ben, her Ben, in unimaginable pain.

Rey tightened her grip on the poker, trying her best not to dwell on what he must have endured over the last few hours. How he must have been worked upon to get into such a state - no doubt as punishment for her obstinance - to do so would playing in to their enemy’s hands. It, Noakes, Neikos, whatever that shriveled facsimile of a person called itself, wanted her, needed her to be angry and had absolutely no qualms about using Ben to achieve his goal.

Rey took a deep, intended to be steadying, centering breath but spluttered and choked, as she inhaled not a lungful of fresh sea air but one that was acrid and smoke filled. The grey clouds that were now blanketing the small cove were laden with ash and soot.

Ben pressed on towards the cove, it was time to end this.

She’ll never leave you but she will never be safe here. If you truly love her you will make it impossible for her to stay.

The words twisted in his mind as pointed as any dagger to the gut. He knew what he had to do. He hoped she would understand and would forgive him in time.

 



Rey noted with a sinking feeling that the water that swirled around her feet was tinged brown, the colour of dried blood or ink. He was frightened, a fact didn’t surprise her, she was too; of losing him, failing him.

It was a squally morning, and he waves were high and choppy. Stray strands of hair whipped her face as she scanned the dark water looking for some sign of him. A chorus of shrieks from overhead heralded some sort of arrival.  The sea pulled back forming a grey wall that loomed over her. He was out there somewhere, she knew. With a howl she knew to be his, mingled with the wind the wave rushed towards her but Rey made no attempt to move as it came crashing down around her

It was not at all what she had expected. The impact was negligible, more a light kiss than the cold slap of water she had expected. She was underwater, or should be and really ought to be panicking and gasping for breath and yet she just felt wonderment at her featureless glass like surroundings. As if the wave had been halted with her at the centre of it.

She reached out with one hand, her fingers touching what she supposed to be the edge of the water, the surface but from the other side.

There was a figure approaching her, at first steadily and but as it drew closer  and the form sharpened it hesitated.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Rey breathed.

The woman bowed her head slightly.

“You know me?”

“Yes… and no. It’s just you look just like a... like a figurine I saw.”

“Happier days,” the woman sighed.

“I am sorry my child, for all I have done. Can you forgive me?”

“What have you done?” 

“You’ll learn in time. But know this. Your feelings, instincts are right, follow your heart. All wounds heal in time.”

The woman reached out one delicate hand and cupped Rey’s cheek, her trailing sleeves caught up in the current sweeping an arc reminiscent of Luke’s Jade figurine.

“My gift to you is peace.”

Rey closed her eyes, she felt herself calming, and a gentle wave buffeting her. There more too, fleeting images, explanations, entreaties. She opened her eyes, the wave was receding, a few feet away she could see Ben, his face one of awe.

For the first time in his existence he knew the taste of his own fear. He had briefly sensed Thalassa’s presence uncomfortably near but there had been no intervention. The girl was utterly impassive, the fear and dread that had clung to her as she had exited the house was gone, washed away by the wave that had overtaken her but had done precious little damage. He had intended for Kylo’s wave, bolstered by his fear and desire to save her,  to destroy the house and break her spirit and irreparably damage their bond. But it had dissipated until it was lacklustre effort that had done little more than paw at the house’s threshold.

The girl could be warm and loving, that much he knew from Kylo, but at her core, there was a streak of cold iron. She had proven far stronger than the imp, Mab; strange, and annoying how that trait seemed to only grow with the generations.  She was now passive and unreadable and that bothered him greatly.

“So what it is to be, girl? You have controlled your fear admirably. But your anger, now that is a powerful weapon… maybe even enough to destroy me.”

 

~oOo~

 

Yes, that would be the easiest way, Rey thought as she gazed off into the middle distance, drawing on that wellspring of pain and guilt she had carried with her for the last two decades. Years of feeling unwanted and unnecessary. And if she destroyed herself in the process, at least it would be gone and Ben could be free and could rejoin his family.

She could sense its glee at her thoughts, in her mind’s eye a tongue flicked greedily between thin lips, its eagerness to feast was palpable.

But it was wrong, in this instance she hadn’t been thrown away like garbage it had been very much the opposite. Tears welled in her eyes, as her heart swelled with the knowledge of how very loved she had been and still was. She brought her gaze to bear on the hazy form within the swirling clouds.

Rey gave a small, sad smile and shrugged, “fine, you win. Have it.”

Her expression hardened, “have it all!”

~oOo~

It was exhilarating to have the power back, but overwhelming; it had been far too long. The girl thrust all his power towards him and he absorbed it readily; his body rapidly gaining substance once again.

But it didn’t stop. He panicked as he realised he had no control, no way to halt the torrent of energy she directed towards him. It was changing as well, this wasn’t his, or the kind he sought out. It burned and itched. Too late he realised she had seen through his request the previous evening; this was very much on her terms, not his.

It was a sweet relief when it ceased and he landed heavily in the water, a writhing, bulky mass not unlike the appearance he had taken some forty years previously, albeit one made of shadow and cloud.

She had tricked him, but her victory would be short lived. All she had done was delay the inevitable. Furious, he steadied himself in the shallows on four thick legs ready to deal with them once and for all.

The last thing he saw was not the face of his father or his mother but hers. It was the face that had always been there, staring back at him. A fleeting image that he could never see clearing but that belonged to the girl he directed his thoughts to when he needed someone to talk to. But now it was burned in his memory, in his very soul and if she was the last thing he’d ever see then so be it. It had been worth it.

She had looked so calm as she called out his name, pulling him back from the brink, while around her pandemonium reigned. The waves pounding against the shore, sending up spray and foam. Her hair whipping around her while she remained passive as if she was experiencing and inhabiting a totally different scene. She was totally serene, apart from her eyes which flashed with something verging on satisfaction as she withdrew her hand from her pocket before hurling what was in it towards him.

Her aim had been true and he had caught what she had thrown to him. For a moment time seemed come to a standstill as he looked down a the object in his hand It was the walnut pen his father had made for him, its golden nib glinted in the sunlight that had made it through a crack in the clouds. He remembered the swell of joy he had felt he had awoken to find it and the note left by his father, who had loved him and had understood him and who had pushed him out of the way as the broken spar had come flying towards him.

‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’

He lunged forward, the voice in his head, rasped, goading him to finish it. And so he would, or die trying.

Even now, at the end, at least he had done this one thing when she’d asked it of him. He had struck back at the source of his family’s misery; the vile being who had robbed his mother of her children, his uncle of his peace of mind, his father of his life and him of all hope. But not her.

The hideous creature thrashed wildly, his attack seemed to have done little more than irritate it. But what good was a pen against such a thing? It rounded on him, fixing him with its great sickly yellow eyes. As it turned its great tail swung, knocking Rey, her footing already precarious, backwards into the churning water and she dropped out of sight. Ben surged forwards to try and reach her but the creature was closer and faster, its jaws opening to reveal a maw as dark as pitch.

 

 

Rey scrambled back to her feet, coughing up salt water. The beast’s bulk was between her and Ben. With eyes streaming with tears, and stung by the salt water she drove forward and further into the water. Its attention had been fully focused on Ben but it must have sensed her approach and made to turn back towards her. She braced herself for the coming onslaught when out of the water first one then, two and three dark arms, thick and sinuous, burst forth from the turbulent waves, seeking and grasping. Rey choked back a cry on seeing the deep, ragged gash that ran down the length of one arm.

Muscles pulsed and strained as the hideous creature struggled and twisted against the mock embrace until it was on its back, and its pale belly was exposed to her. It attempted to snap at her but another pair of arms appeared out of the rough surf and wrapped around the jaws pinning them shut but not before it managed to take a bite out of the end of one arm. The other arms jerked and before it was too late Rey raised the poker in both hands and plunged it with all her strength into its chest.

The creature howled in pain as it shook itself loose from its slackening bonds in what Rey dearly hoped where its death throes. It dragged itself forward, the handle of the poker snagging on the stones. Rey managed to roll out of its path, on to all fours.

It made it a few metres away from the water’s edge before it collapsed with a wet gasp.

Rey turned her attention back to the water.

“Ben!” she cried out as best she could with a voice hoarse and sore from the salt water. She waded further out, ignoring the various stinging wounds she had received in the fray. She spread her arms out feeling as she moved, ready to grasp a hand or limb. Her fingers encountered something cool and smooth and moving around felt the small round intents of suckers, she grasped at the arm and pulled it towards her. It gave way too easily and for a second time Rey found herself sitting in the surf, this time in shock as she gazed at the disembodied oversized octopus arm in her lap. She would have remained there had not a large wave pushed her back up to the shore.

Rey was about to make a second foray into the water when her attention was claimed by a sucking rattling sound from the creature. Following its last gasp the now bloated bulk seemed to deflate. She watched in fascinated horror as the muddy green skin gave way to a dark viscous substance and the large bubble that began to form on its surface. The bubble expanded and as it did there rose a droning sound. The bubble burst and a large hornet emerged and rose into the air.

It hovered for a moment over the black, tar like mass before darting towards house and the lane.

Rey had absolutely no idea how she might deal with it, she had no weapons left at her disposal, but nonetheless she followed in its wake, riding the crest of a wave of adrenaline.

As she ran the bees began to pour out of the hive. The tiny host forming a clamouring, thin dark thread that trailed behind her.

Beyond her, she could her cheerful voices raised in song on the cliff path.

The singing turned to shouting. She arrived just in time to see a swarm of bees rising out from their nests among the gorse, along with the bees who had followed her they formed a dark sphere around the hornet, hemming it in. Beyond it she could see Rose and Armitage. The latter paler than usual. Flanking them were Gwen and Dopheld.

They were all rooted to the spot as the bees steadily converged, their gentle, but relentless hum drowning out the hornet’s whine. The pitch of their hum grew as they pressed inwards their wings beating faster and faster. Then they drew back, the  hornet hung in the air for a moment before it’s droning ceased, abruptly and a thin trail of smoke rose from it as it plummeted to the ground.

The smoke drifted on the breeze towards Armitage who took a deep breath of relief, and shook his head in disbelief.

“My god…” he muttered before he blanched and began coughing. The bees who had been hanging back suddenly as one dove on him.

“Stop it! Go home!” Rey screamed as Rose dove into her bag searching for something. Swiftly she pulled out a small cylindrical object. She grappled Armitage to the ground and pulled one end off the epipen before quickly pushing it against his thigh. Rey, likewise collapsed to the ground, paying little mind as to whether she ended up in a gorse bush or not.

It seemed like Rose held the epipen in place for hours when in reality it was only seconds.

Gwen, who seemed incapable of losing her head, was already on the phone calling for an ambulance.

Rey remained on her knees with her head bowed. She felt utterly spent and for what. Gwen finished up on the phone, “they’ll be here as soon as possible,” she said as she crouched down beside Rey, her hand lightly resting on her shoulder.

“Your arm! are you ok? What happened darling?”

How on earth was she going to explain it all? What state must the house be in? Let alone the beach…”

“What? oh that, Rey craned her head to look at the mark on the top of her right upper arm. Oh it’s just a birthmark.”

“No, your other arm…”

Rey grimaced, in all the commotion she hadn’t noticed the long jagged cut. But now it ached. Everything ached.

Beside her, Rose sat cradling Hux’s head in her lap as he lay stretched out on the path. He was still deathly pale, his eyes were red rimmed but their warmth had returned. An angry welt was developing on his jaw where the bees had managed to sting him.

Dopheld paced up and down the cliff path, clearly agitated as if expecting something else dreadful to happen, and why not Rey through grimly to herself, these things always seemed to happen in threes, and so far - well she had almost certainly caused the death of one man, and very nearly that of another.

Hux was stirring and Rose’s head dipped low to his to listen to him murmuring something. He followed it up with a short, feeble laugh. Rose looked up with a small smile.

“What did he say?” Gwen asked.

“He says my bite was still more painful.”

Rey gave a weak smile, at least he was able to joke about it. Dopheld came sprinting back to them calling out as he ran.

“There is someone on the beach. Washed up… I don’t...”

Rey jerked her head up, Rose looked to her, her eyes at first enquiring and then full of understanding, “Go! We’ll be fine.”

 

Rey stumbled down the narrow lane. It never felt this steep before. Her sodden shoes were an impediment, if not an outright hazard. She caught her toe on the edge of a pothole and tripped and fell hitting the ground hard, scratching her palms and forearms in the process. She winced in pain as she brushed away the small loose shards of stone, but kept going. The sea was calmer now, almost mirror like. The edge of the incoming tide was pooling around a figure lying prone on the beach.

Rey’s heart was in her mouth as she approached. It was a man, tall and with the broad, powerful shoulders of a swimmer.  His long, bedraggled dark hair was tangled with strands of seaweed and spread out covering his face. His skin was pale and dusted with a fine layer of salt. Rey tentatively reached out one hand to touch his shoulder, he was cold to the touch, but, thank god not too cold. She knelt down and took a deep breath before turning him over.

 

 

Saturday, March 5th, 1977

 

At first, all Ben was aware of was the pounding in his ears, both felt and heard and a painful reminder that his plea had been answered; he was still alive. Gradually the sound of his racing heartbeat faded into the background, though the throbbing ache remained, and other sounds rose to take its place; timber splintering as the remains of the old boat were dashed repeated against the rocky outcroppings that lined the cove until no recognisable parts remained, the screeches of opportunistic gulls, and the gentler sound of water lapping against the shingle

He was so cold and his legs felt strange and numb; like an agonising dead weight. Broken he suspected. His face was stung by the salt water in which he lay. He was faintly aware of curve of solid stones beneath him as he lay prone on on the shore, unable to do much more than turn his head to one side.

There were flowers in the water again… but this time they were a vivid crimson, not white.

From his position he had a limited field of view but he could make out a halo of debris spread around him; splinters of wood, scraps of fabric and paper, and red-stained flecks of foam. Far more wreckage than there could possibly be from one small boat. Wincing in pain, he dragged his arms up to brace himself as he lifted his head higher, and where he expected to see the only home he’d ever known, there was nothing but ruins. The house had been thoroughly gutted by the waves that were now rushing back out to sea, dragging with it cushions, books, his mother’s shoe.

Unable to bear the implication Ben collapsed back down, ignoring the pain of the impact and screamed into the stones until exhaustion overtook him.

Time passed. It might have been minutes but it felt like hours as he lay there, not one single part of him feeling like it hadn’t been ripped apart.

He was roused by a soft, high-pitched whine and familiar damp nose nudging at his shoulder. He looked up to see Chewie withdrawing and bounding back towards the lane, barking insistently. In the gathering twilight he could just about make out a figure approaching. But they only advanced so far. There was a sharp gasp before the figure turned, and tripped before headed back at speed the way they had come.

The sea came for him then. The tide rolling in by degrees, caressing and soothing. A gentle wave tenderly enveloped him and drew him away. As he was borne further out to sea and he rolled on to his back he saw what had become of him and his anguish knew no bounds.