Evergreen Memories – long version

In “What Pegman Saw” last Saturday, I wrote a 150 word story “Evergreen Memories”. Several friends were kind enough to say they wanted to read more about the young couple in the story, so I’ve written a continuation that fills in their past, and hints at their future. It’s about 600 words long.

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Evergreen memories

College Green was our special place, wasn’t it, Peter? We often met here between morning lectures and afternoon practical classes. We sat on the grass and watched the gulls hover, soar, dive, brilliant white against the blue sky. We shared our lunch, our stories, our laughter; especially our laughter. We laughed a lot, at people, at things that happened, but mostly simply for joy at being alive and together.

Then one day you weren’t there. Nor the next day, nor the one after. You weren’t in classes either. You’d never told me your home address or phone number. I asked the University what had happened. “He left us voluntarily,” was all they would tell me. No address, no phone number; I wasn’t part of your family.

I still come and sit here occasionally, and remember, quietly.

A shadow falls on me.

“Annie?” The old man’s voice is tentative, disbelieving.

“Peter!”

We stare at each other, then I laugh and pat the bench beside me. Peter smiles and sits down.

“You can’t imagine how flattered I feel that you recognised me, Peter!”

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw you sitting there. I go this way every few months and I’ve always looked out for you – just in case.”

“How very romantic!”

The young Peter would have recognised my teasing; this Peter looks hurt. I take hold of his hand.

“I don’t live very far away, Peter, and I think of you every time I cross College Green. I like to remember the fun we had together.”

“You wear a ring,” he observes.

“I’m a widow.” A little bit of the sunshine dies; I’d been so happy with Frank.

“I’m sorry. Tactless of me.”

“Would I be equally tactless if I were to ask what happened to you all those years ago?”

“All those years ago. 1972. I had a phone call from my Mum; Dad was seriously ill in hospital. I raced back to London just in time to be with him as he died. He was only young, only thirty-nine. He’d never thought about dying, and he wasn’t insured. Mum had a breakdown.”

He paused. He looked away from me, his face full of pain. I pressed his hand gently.

“I tried to care for her, and find work to pay the bills, but all I could get were menial jobs that wouldn’t even pay the rent. Luckily for us, family stepped in.”

“I understand, Peter. It must have been awful for you. I’m not surprised you didn’t have time to make contact.”

“Well it was very difficult, but the real difficulty was that all my family are South African; Mum only came over to England because she married an Englishman. Before I knew where I was, I was on the plane to Jo’burg. I tried so hard to contact you before I left.”

He shook his head – and then he smiled.

“And before you ask, I’m divorced.”

“So lunch wouldn’t be out of the question then?”

He chuckled.

“I’d forgotten how impulsive you were. It was one of the things I loved about you.”

“Did you love me then, Peter? Did you?”

“Oh, Annie, how can you ask? I doted on you; I adored you; I worshipped the ground under your feet. Here, look – I wasn’t going to show you this, but…”

It was a rich man’s wallet that he pulled out, fine leather holding platinum credit cards – and there, protected by a transparent plastic cover, was a photograph of me, aged twenty, laughing.

“I remember you taking that photograph!” I exclaim with delight.

Peter rises, and, still holding his hand, I rise too.

“Where’s the best place for lunch?” he says.

 

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What Pegman Saw – Evergreen Memories

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Bristol in the UK.

 WPS - Evergreen Memories 180127

Evergreen memories

College Green was our special place, wasn’t it, Peter? We often met here between morning lectures and afternoon practical classes. We sat on the grass and watched the gulls hover, soar, dive, brilliant white against the blue sky. We shared our lunch, our stories, our laughter; especially our laughter. We laughed a lot, at people, at things that happened, but mostly simply for joy at being alive and together.

Then one day you weren’t there. Nor the next day, nor the one after. You weren’t in classes either. You’d never told me your home address or phone number. I asked the University what had happened. “He left us voluntarily,” was all they would tell me. No address, no phone number; I wasn’t part of your family.

I still come and sit here occasionally, and remember, quietly.

A shadow falls on me.

“Annie?” The old man’s voice is tentative, disbelieving.

“Peter!”

What Pegman Saw – Most Precious

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic.

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Genre: Historical Fiction, c.1505 A.D.

Word count: 150

What Pegman Saw – Most Precious

I went by night to our chieftain. Like the Spaniards, his house was stone. It smelt odd.

“Sir, must you send Agueybana to work in the goldmine?”

I gave him my sweetest caresses, an evening of delights.

“I will speak to Don Ortiz. Agueybana will be fine. He’ll be back in a few weeks.”

Months passed. The King of Spain commanded that the best miners, Agueybana among them, were to work in the royal mine.

“Agueybana will be rewarded when his service is complete,” promised our chieftain.

I could bear our separation no longer. I set off by night, through trees. Creatures barked and howled and slithered in the darkness. I walked for seven days and nights, eating only fruit and drinking water from streams.

At last, scrambling over shattered rocks, I saw my beloved gazing out over the valley.

“Anacaona?” he gasped, and held me tightly in his arms.

What Pegman Saw – Proposal

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Fiji. My story features Adrian and Sue who were introduced in my Friday Fictioneers story “Close to the Wind”

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Paradise Tavenuni Resort © Kathy Barrett, Google Maps

Proposal

Adrian swaggered up to Sue.

“Do you fancy crewing for me?” he asked.

“In your dreams!”

“It’s in Fiji. Flights and accommodation paid; work trip.”

Sue goggled at him. “That’s work?”

He grinned. “How about it?”

Adrian bagged the window seat on the plane.

Sue smiled at the man in the aisle seat.

“Would you mind swapping seats?” The passenger obligingly moved next to Adrian.

But Sue couldn’t escape Adrian’s invitation to dinner on the evening after their arrival. In truth she enjoyed the meal, their table under sparkling stars and overlooking rippling water that reflected the gentle moon.

Adrian looked nervous.

“Actually, I really want to do the Oyster World Rally.”

Sue gasped “That’s round the world! Two years!” Then she said firmly, “Only if I skipper.”

“Every other day?” suggested Adrian

There was a long pause.

“OK. Deal.”

Adrian kissed her.

“Bastard,” she murmured – and kissed back passionately.

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

Here is Part 5 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you are new to this story, you can find the earlier parts here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

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The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

The sky became gradually lighter at the horizon, and I guessed that I was close to the sea. A longing surged through me for the sound of the swell breaking on the shore. Until my bridefaring, the song of the sea had been my constant companion. It had whispered while my mother nursed me; it had stirred my soul as I learned my trade as a boy; it had screamed and shrilled in my ears as my father and I struggled to wrest a living from the ocean. Not a day, not an hour had passed when I hadn’t been within earshot of its music.

Perhaps Mavra could already hear it, for her ears pricked up. She needed no urging to trot briskly up the hill.

It was the time of evening when the sun, low in the sky, gives a light that burnishes everything it touches. The tiny flowers at the cliff-top glowed scarlet and golden against the vibrant green of the grass. The silver studs of Mavra’s harness were transformed into amber jewels. And yet I barely had eyes for this richness as I gazed on the tranquil ocean, feeling its peaceful strength cleanse my heart from the striving of my bridefaring.

As the little waves gurgled against the shingle, my thoughts turned to home. I wished with all my heart to be back there. I wished to be only a short walk from my mother’s table, and my own comfortable bed. I wished Mairin were beside me.

She was a beautiful woman, no denying it. I recalled the look on her face last summer on her nineteenth birthday, when I had kissed her, once, twice, and then many times. Why did I want more than that? What riches could a queen offer that would be more satisfying than taking Mairin to my bed? I was going home.

“Well, girl, back to Red Bay,” I said to Mavra. She whinnied in approval and moved to turn round.

But what was that on the beach? I had been staring so intently at the sea that I hadn’t noticed the figure until it started to move towards the water.

The sun, low in the sky, dazzled me, but it seemed to me that the figure moved gracefully. The thought came that it might be a selkie, a maiden of the sea, carrying her seal skin down to the waves. I shuddered; such creatures bore an ill fate for those who met them.

As the figure moved out of the direct line of the sun, my fears were allayed. It seemed more likely to be somebody in strange attire that covered the hair and most of the body. What were they doing, wading out to sea? I feared that whoever it was would drown in the deep water. Swiftly, I tethered Mavra to a tree, and ran down the cliff path. By the time I reached the shore, the person was waist deep.

Even as I threw off my cloak, I saw that the figure was swimming, kicking its legs, and undulating its body in the water. I sat down on a rock and watched in fascination. Hardly anybody in the six villages could swim – I certainly couldn’t – and I was intrigued at how fast this stranger could move through the waves.

Back and forth he went, now nearer the shore, now further away. Then, when the sun’s disc just touched the horizon, he let the waves carry him towards the shingle. I stood up and walked towards him.

The person gasped, and clasped their arms across their chest. Why, it was a young woman! I approached slowly. She raised a hand.

“Go!”

I halted.

“I mean you no harm. I come in courtesy.”

She looked at me, and raised her arms as though to push me away, although I was at least twenty feet from her.

Water was running from the strange, enveloping garment that she wore, which hid her hair but not her face. She was fair and stern, and she used her eyes like swords.

“Go!” she repeated.

“I leave you with goodwill.”

I turned, donned my cloak, and returned to Mavra without looking back.

I no longer thought of home, or Mairin, but only of my quest.

I walked Mavra up the next hill; the light was fading and the way was rough. At the summit, the path went between cairns, just as Cieran had described, and we emerged above the village.

Village! It was a sizeable town, with stone walls and stout wooden gates. It well deserved its name; Fasthaven. Torches in sconces burned on either side of the gates, which were shut.

I dismounted some fifty yards short of the gate, and led Mavra forward. To my surprise, the gates opened as I approached. I halted at the threshold. There seemed to be no-one there.

“I come in peace,” I ventured.

“Then you are welcome.”

A man of medium height emerged from behind one of the gates. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword. He looked to be a fighter through and through.

He gazed up at me.

“Welcome, Diarmid MacDiarmid. I am Donal. You are to come with me to Oldest Caitrin. Malcolm here will take care of your fine mare.”

Another tough-looking man came silently from behind me. He took Mavra’s bridle, and walked off with her without a word. I looked at her receding back with regret; my sword was in her pack.

The doors were closed and barred behind me.

“Come,” beckoned Donal, lifting a torch from the wall of the gatehouse.

I followed him down the main street. The street and the houses seemed in good repair although the guttering torch showed little.

We turned left. It was even darker, the houses close together squeezing out the light of the moon. At the end of the road was the stone wall of the town, and pressed against it was a cottage. Donal rapped at the door.

The sudden light as the door opened dazzled me, and I blinked.

“Well met, Diarmid MacDiarmid. Enter, be seated and be welcome.”

“Reverence, Oldest One. I come in courtesy and peace.”

“Leave us now, Donal.”

Her voice was sharp.

“Yes, Oldest.”

The fire blazed. The room, set with lamps, was almost as bright as day. Oldest Caitrin led me to a chair by the fire.

“So…” she said, and looked me over, from feet to head.

She wasn’t, in fact, particularly old, possibly forty-five, no older than fifty.

She met my eyes with hers. They were the colour of treacle. I couldn’t look away. I became more and more uncomfortable, as she probed with her gaze. I could hear her voice, questioning. I could hear my own voice answering. The fire beside me seemed to swell and shrink, swell and shrink, rhythmically. I thought of the ocean, I thought of my family, I thought of Mairin.

It was as if I had slept. I forced open heavy eyelids. The fire had died down, leaving glowing embers. Oldest Caitrin was placing new logs on them, neatly, systematically. I mumbled an apology, but she waved it away.

“It is I who should perhaps apologise to you, for questioning you,” she said, “but I needed to be sure you were who you appeared to be. Our enemy is both cunning and treacherous.”

Not without apprehension, I looked her directly in the eyes once again. She smiled faintly but whether with amusement, or encouragement I could not tell. She gestured to a door at the back of the room.

“Diarmid MacDiarmid, behold your bride.”

As I gazed, the door slowly opened. There was the whisper of silk brushing skin. I rose from my seat and she entered the room.

She was beautiful. Her hair was red-gold like the setting sun in October; her eyes were blue-grey like the ocean after a storm; and she used them like swords.

 

Friday Fictioneers – A Winter Romance

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Björn Rudberg

A Winter Romance

“Father. I’ve fallen in love.”

Prince Brodigen looked apprehensively at his father, King Blacktooth the Ferocious, who grunted, “You would.”

“The thing is, I don’t know her name. I met her skiing. She’s beautiful!”

“That’s what your cousin thought about Cinderella, and look how that turned out. In-laws were a nightmare.”

The young prince took his courage in both hands.

“I’m glad you mentioned Cinderella…”

“Oh, for goodness sake don’t tell me you’ve got her glass slipper.”

“Why would she need a glass slipper on the ski slope?”

With a flourish, Prince Brodigen displayed a lurid, knitted woollen hat.

“Tada!”

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

Here is Episode 4 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you missed any of the previous episodes, you can find them here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

 

The story is proving longer than I expected. I will publish successive episodes every Monday (except for next Monday, of course, which is Christmas Day).

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The bridefarer's choice - part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

I wondered who was tolling the church bell, and who had died.

I wondered who was sitting so heavily on my chest, until I could hardly breathe.

I wondered why I felt so cold, so icy cold, as cold as death, and yet my right arm burned as though in fire.

I forced open my eyes to the sight of mud. I was lying in it. The tolling of the bell became quieter as I realised that it was my pounding head. There was nobody sitting on me, but my ribs ached all round.

Carefully – very carefully – I raised myself so that I was propped on my left arm. The pain made my eyes water.

Wait! What’s this?

There was a note tucked into my belt. Slowly I edged around until I could lean against the wall, freeing my left hand to hold the note. My right hand was useless; just too painful to move.

“Dear Bumpkin,

In a fight, a good man with a quarterstaff will beat a master swordsman every day of the year. There is no charge for this lesson.

However, you know what to do. I suggest you’re quick about it.”

With the note to remind me…

I cringed with embarrassment. I hadn’t come anywhere near him, and he had toyed with me. He hadn’t even bothered to disarm me, simply used the staff to – hell, yes, there’s no other word for it – he’d used the staff to chastise me. And when he grew bored, he lured me into a rush and clipped me behind the ear as I lunged. No wonder my head was throbbing!

My pride suggested I shouldn’t allow the beating to drive me out of Merrydown. Groaning, I forced myself to stand. ‘Which is worse,’ I asked myself. ‘Limp out of town in humiliation, leading my horse because it’s too painful to ride, or stay here and take another beating with perhaps an even worse ending.’ Put like that, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.

I didn’t cover many miles that day, or the next, but the pain in my right arm was gradually easing. When I came across an inn on the second evening, I started to hope that my luck had changed.

It was pleasant to eat hot food after a diet of bread and cold meats. A glass of wine eased the discomfort of my bruises. There were a few sidelong looks from men at the bar, and I wondered whether word had reached them of my business.

A small, wiry man with grey hair approached my table, and asked if he might join me.

“Be my guest.”

“Perhaps you will instead be my guest? I hope so anyway. Let me buy you another beaker of wine.” He gestured to the serving man at the bar, who brought two beakers.

“Sláinte mhaith”

“Sláinte agad-sa”

The wine was good, much better than I’d received with my meal. What would this stranger want in exchange?

“You go bridefaring I hear?”

“What is that to you?”

“Ho! I rush in too quickly. My wife always says so. My name is Cieran.”

“And mine is Diarmid.” I took the hand that he extended and shook it, trying not to let him see how painful the action was. “Yes, I’m bridefaring. I ask you again; what is that to you?”

“Let me tell you a story,” countered Cieran. “There was once a man, a poor man, who came into possession of a magnificent jewel, worth ten thousand times the value of the whole village in which he lived. A lucky man, yes?”

“Most certainly.”

Cieran nodded approval of my answer.

“That was what he thought too. He hid it somewhere very secret and very safe. He told nobody, not even his wife. He was a patient man, and for several years he gloated over his great good fortune but did nothing.

Then, one day, a nobleman came to the village with a dozen soldiers. He asked questions, many questions. With a shrinking heart, the peasant realised that the nobleman was trying to find the jewel. He thought, ‘I shall take it to the town and sell it.’ And then he thought, ‘But which town? Who will buy such a gem? How could I spend the money, even if I could sell the stone?’ He shuddered with terror, hid the jewel even more secretly, and cursed his evil fortune.

The nobleman toured all the villages, and, not finding the jewel, came back to the village where the peasant lived. He took five elders of the village, and announced “Tomorrow I shall flog these curs until they are half dead, unless whoever holds the jewel brings it to me before midnight tonight.”

The peasant dug up the box holding the jewel, opened it, and gazed at it for a long time. It was so beautiful. He wanted it more than anything in the world. But it wasn’t worth the torture of his friends. At last, he wrapped it in a kerchief and took it to the nobleman.

The nobleman took it, examined it and declared himself satisfied. He gave orders for the release of the elders. Then he drew his sword, and lopped off the peasant’s head, as casually as a young boy knocking conkers from a tree.”

I looked at him, trying to understand what he was telling me.

“Some more wine?” he asked.

I held out my beaker and he filled it.

“You see,” he said, “in our village we have the priceless jewel, and already the nobleman is searching.

Ten years ago, in the dead of night, a woman all clad in silk and velvet came to the Oldest in our village. She brought her daughter, nine years old, a beautiful child with hair the colour of the morning sun, and eyes that changed like the northern sea. The daughter of the King of Denmark, she told us, who had been driven out of his kingdom by his brother. She begged that we would look after the girl, keep her safe and keep her hidden.

For ten years, Freya – for that is her name – has been cared for by our Oldest as though she were her own flesh and blood. She has guarded her, and taught her the virtue of purity. But now the young men are watching her, courting her.”

He shook his head.

“A Danish thane and his warriors came to our village two weeks ago, asking questions. We kept Freya hidden, for the thane owed fealty to the old king’s brother; he meant nothing good to Freya, we felt certain.”

He looked at me, with a wry smile. “You begin to see my problem, I hope?”

Indeed I did. If Freya married within the village, either she would draw the Danes like hawks to a lure, or she would have to take her husband into exile with her.

“You come from over the mountains,” said Cieran. “That is far from our village, far from the danger of the Danes. You could safely take her home and make her your wife.”

“If she’ll have me,” I laughed. “I’ve not been lucky in love so far.”

Even as I said the words, I thought of Mairin. Had I really not been lucky, or had I made a poor choice when I passed by her dwelling on my bridefaring?

“Oh, she’ll have you. Our Oldest has the Sight, and she told me where to meet you, what you looked like and what your name is. She says that Freya will go with you out of love and bear your child.”

A rage of ambition boiled up within me. A king’s daughter, beautiful, more beautiful than I could imagine! Why, if I could offer my sword to her father, who knows what I could win?

“Where is your village, Cieran?” I demanded.

*       *       *       *