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Third Time Lucky

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There is peculiar, it is. I admit it. In the valley, where I used to live, a very long time ago—longer than you will think—the men to whom my husband sold the mine took little care of it, or the land itself. The houses, no matter how much love and sorrow they had seen, were buried under heaps of slag. That, you will say, is the way of the world.

But that was not all that came out of the disturbances. There were gnomes, you see, or kobolds, call them what you like. When their homes were destroyed, they came up out of the rock.

And a fool I was, and I admit that too. I was so miserable in my marriage, that bad bargain that I struck, that when one of them wandered to my fine, lonely house, Twyn y Coed, all I said was to get me away and out of there. From one bad bargain to another. I didn’t think of all the fine print and the like. Nowadays there are girls that are solicitors and even judges but then there was none, even though the good queen was on the throne, her that shook my brother’s hand. And now there is a girl is Supreme Commander of Space Command, and nowhere near as good as Victoria is she.

So I was gone from my home—no, from that place, though it looked it like a palace, it was no home to me--and no one knew where. It was said that I went to South Africa to be with my husband. As if I would walk a step for Iestyn Evans far less take the seas to the other side of the world. That was when all we knew was the one world, and when you said “ship” you meant one that went on water.

What happened is that I got well away from Iestyn, all right, and lived long, but not as a woman at all for most of the time but merely as a thing. At first I was a book of music, but then I changed into a black thing, round and flat as they used to say the Earth was. And then I was not on Earth any more, but part of a rich man’s collection of pretty things. So it seemed I could not shun the company of disagreeable rich men, no matter how I tried.

To be old is for the days to fly by, for even a year is but a small part of your history. To be centuries old is hardly to notice another century here, and one there.

So I was not discontent, but then one day a man came, righteous in his anger against a foolish man, the impresario of this collection of gold-plated trifles. They argued. If the man had been a stranger to me, I might have doubted which one was the wiser. But there was no doubt in my mind for I knew this man. The last time I saw him, he wore a shabby black coat, a hundred times mended and badly at that, not beautifully as I would have done. This time his coat was short, shiny, with lighter facings, fastening down the front, and his trousers were light. They tucked into his high boots, when, for years of my life, I had seen the same pair of worn-down, short black boots.

And you will say, that words should be enough to settle any dispute, particularly when one has a golden tongue that could coax birds out of the trees. But did not Our Lord Himself strike out in anger? So, this man that I knew so well took up a thing that the other man cared for more than its worth. And he broke it. And that thing was me, so handy-dandy, I was a woman once again. I thought I would have had my work cut out for me explaining how a woman appeared so suddenly out of nothing, but it seems that this is a world where people do that all the time.

Any road, no one noticed that I—well, what is the opposite of vanished?—for the man I longed to see had rushed out of the room, and the foolish man followed him. By the time I realized I was back in my body, and could make my legs work without my feet cold and clumsy as lumps of coal, my man had vanished and I didn’t know where he had gone.

My new body coughed a bit, and I was thirsty, and hungry, and now that I had a head once again I hadn’t a place to lay it when it was time to sleep. I found a stream, and drank water, and found some berries, and crept into a barn to sleep. In the morning, the girl came to milk the cow, and she was kind and gave me some milk and bread. I finished up the milking for her, and washed up the pans in the scullery to thank her, but she told me she was the daughter of the house and there was no money to pay a servant.

So, what was I to do, to support myself? You will say, there is always *that* but I hope you will know that I was brought up to know better. But where there are working men with a thirst, there is always a pub. Where there is a pub, there must be a barmaid, and if there is one already, perhaps another will be wanted on market day or on Saturday night. So the girl told me where it was, and I walked there in my scandalous clothes and impractical boots. It seems that when you stop being a gramophone record, you do not catch up to your old clothes again. At least it was an unholy magic not so unholy that I was left there naked as a needle.

And there, sitting at the bar with a half-drunk pint and a half-eaten pie on his plate, was a man who made my heart stop. He was big, with curly hair, wearing a jacket like the one that my man wore the last time I saw him in this very new place. But the man at the bar turned around, and I saw he was someone else entirely.

“Begging your pardon,” I said. “Yesterday, in the house with the round tower and all the old things in it, I saw a man who wore a short coat like yours. He had a bit of the same look about him, tall and strong, and with a fine head of hair like a dandelion, but much handsomer. Do you know who I mean? I must speak with him.”

He looked me up and down, appraising. But it was not like a man who has a mind full of sinful thoughts, but like a judge high up on his bench, in his white wig, who must decide who is the liar and who tells the truth.

“I know I shouldn’t trust you, but somehow I do,” he said, in a big hearty voice. “I’ll talk to…the man you asked me about. Come outside with me, we don’t want to be observed. Who should I say is looking for him?”
“Angharad Evans,” I told him. “Angharad Morgan that was. You see, a long time ago, I was in love with him.”

The man’s eyebrows rose. “My name’s Olag Gan,” he said. “I didn’t know that…ah, the man in question—had any, well, entanglements of that kind.”

“You will ask me, why didn’t I just take him up the mountain, and then he would have to marry me, if he had any honor at all,” I said. “But that I could not, not with my Mam and Dada being good people, chapel twice on Sunday. And, of course, he was no light o’love, being a preacher of the Gospel.”

“Really?” he said, his eyebrows startled up near to the top of his hair. “I thought he was an engineer.”

“He would not marry me, because of our ages, and because to be a minister’s wife is a dog’s life even if he is not so poor that he must raise his family in a kennel. That was the worst of it, that he was so poor. Only twenty-five pounds a year the congregation gave him, less than the pit boys.”

“Now, that is a surprise,” Olag said. “Bl…well, you know who…is an Alpha, I always thought he was quite well off.”
“No, no, that my Merddyn Gryffud was not.”

“Ah! That must have been a name he took during his Freedom Party days.”

Olag pushed back his sleeve. He wore a bracelet around his wrist. He pressed a bit of stone and began to talk. “Gan here,” he said. “No, don’t worry, no trouble. And I don’t think I should come up just yet. In fact, you might want to send someone with an extra bracelet. You see, there’s a woman here, a Miss Ann Herod…”

“Angharad!” I said. “If the lives of all the babies were in my hands I would not have them murdered! Tell him, Angharad Morgan!”

And, the wonder of it, I could hear voices coming out of the bracelet too, a whole clatter of voices, although not enough for a choir even if there had been a bit of harmony there. Someone said “Do you recognize the name?” and another voice cut like a knife “Blake, surely you can’t be foolish enough…” and then at last the voice I had waited so long to hear again and would know anywhere. “Is she affiliated with the rebel group?”

“How do you talk into this thing?” I asked Olag, and he showed me.

“Merddyn,” I said. “It’s Angharad, and what a tale I have to tell you about how I got here. And you must have a tale of how you are still here. And why Mr. Sarkoff would not do what you told him to do.”
“I’ll bring you back up, Gan, and come myself,” he said, and the babble bubbled up again. “Well, if it is a trap, then I’d best be the only one at risk.”

“You talk into a bit of jewelry with a man who is in the habit of vanishing into thin air,” I pointed out. “From a glass house, do not throw stones.”

A line of white appeared in the air, it could have been drawn by God’s own finger Himself. And There he was. It was him. Although last when I saw him, I was twenty-one years old and him forty-two, and now he is only thirty-four (and I, I suppose, more than a thousand years old). I didn’t mind, it made the difference in our ages that bit the less scandalous, when it is less than twice the number of years.

He didn’t really recognize me, at first. He put out his hand, like to shake a stranger’s, and said, “Hullo, Miss Morgan, I’m Roj Blake.”

“You can call me Angharad, for what we have been to one another, in that other place. For all we loved each other, we could not be together. And take no care of my husband, he has been dead and dust for a thousand years, it is no adultery now that I am free.”

I couldn’t wait to hear about what his chapel is like, and who is the choirmaster and suchlike. I thought that he would still be a minister of the Gospel, because that was so much the heart of him. But this is a godless world. Later I learned that Roj had scarcely even heard the name of the Man Himself—and that only because he is interested in history and quaint old things as a pastime.

“Angharad…” he began.

“Now, you see, you have pronounced it correctly, which not everyone can do!” I said. “That argues for your being Welsh, does it not?”

“I’m not thoroughly satisfied with that logic!” he said, with a smile like the sun coming behind the clouds when the fields have had a good drench that they needed. “But what I meant to say, is that I don’t think I am the man you think I am. And it wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of that, to impersonate the man you want, the man in your heart.”

“Well!” I said, hands on my hips, knowing what the answer would be. “Am I such a bad bargain, then, even for someone you have just met?”

I knew it would not last long, these things of the uncanny do not, but there are some boons for which it is worth to pay any price. And, although I would not throw it in his face, the life he led was such that he might be killed at any time, so he had a reason not to shilly-shally about.

We couldn’t stand there all day and blather about, so he gave me another of those bracelets for the talk (and oh, how good it felt, for him to stand near me, and the touch of his big hand on my wrist) and we vanished but I didn’t know that until, in the blink of an eye later, we were in his spaceship. And it must have been all very wonderful and I should have written it all down to write a story for the newspaper, if it was still there to write for, but really, I had no eyes for anything but Merddyn.

And there was a girl there, was not from Earth, and with all the time in the world I would have liked to ask her what it is like, and are they a person there or what are they? And a pretty girl who was from Earth but I could see right away she and Merddyn were nothing to each other for me to worry about, though I did feel a fool, to think he would be worried about my being married back in our other life but not give a thought that he might be in this one.

The Liberator was so big, and for only a handful of people. Before I made a fool of myself with my marriage, I thought Twyn y Coed was big enough in all conscience for one brother and sister, but there were all the servants, a layer of them like the unseen ice that is the biggest part of an iceberg. And, could you credit it, a ship that size, and nothing to make music with? Not so much as a cottage piano.

Olag I had met already, and there were two other men. Singing puts heart into men, but so does laughing, so whenever there is a group there will be one who need not buy his own pint or stand a round for he will keep them cheerful. And here it was a fellow called Vila. And the last one was named Keir Afon, or near enough, and I thought that he was a Welshman, but that he was not. He reminded me a bit of one of my brothers, all of whom would have been dead in the natural way of things even if they had not died young or gone from the valley. His body narrowly made, dark in his hair and in his heart. His hands always making things, but himself bitter from the love he lost by not speaking out. I blinked a bit, but then why shouldn’t one man love another and that man one who drew all eyes and hearts? In my old home there were Dai Bando and Cyfartha and didn’t they always save each other, even that time when my father couldn’t be saved?

They gave me a drink, green it was like my Mam’s spring tonic and tasted even worse, and I made signals with my eyes until finally Roj took me to his room—cabin, they call it—where we could have a bit of privacy. And I don’t know if he came to recognize me, or simply he was lonely and enjoyed seeing someone who gave him credit in eyes not his own. He had not known my body in his other life, so I could not charge him with forgetting. We had to learn together, and that was our privilege
.
I was no girl and no virgin, but a blessing it was to lie with a man who did not hate me for being a woman, and who did not hate himself for marrying instead of giving himself to harlots who could be discarded in a moment. And even if the two men had been alike good, and not one fine and brave and the other nothing but an empty suit of fine clothing, then still I would have preferred the warm ample body to the brittle bundle of sticks that could not strike a spark.

So there was beautiful, it was, me and my Roj who was and wasn’t my Merddyn. And if the Federation could get into his head and do things so he nearly forgot me—when I remember so much from so much longer ago—then terrible must that Federation be and of course he must fight it.

Only a few days we had together, before they packed up and went to Lindor for more of their fancy politics. And now I am a picture, hanging in the Lindor Gallery of Arts and Sciences. Portrait of an Unknown Lady. As I should have known, when you deal with a gnome, there is always a string attached.

But if I have lived twice, and lost my man once and gained him again—after a fashion—I believe that I will live a third time yet again, and find him again, and this time nothing will part us. Somewhere, although likely not on Earth but on some other planet, there will be a valley. Not rotted away under heaps of slag, not poisoned all but a bit under a Dome, but a good place where a man and a woman can live.
And perhaps, one day, when you are well sick of the snow and being cold, when the warmth has come, all the more precious for what went before it, you will look across and see us. We will be hand in hand, walking among the daffodils like those that he carried my brother Huw on his back to see, and perhaps he will have a child on his shoulders again, but it will be ours, and the others walking along or waddling like ducklings and goslings.