Here be Dragons
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 Andrew Lee Hart
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 Andrew Lee Hart
Here be Dragons
by Andrew Lee Hart  FollowFollow
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I was born in Yorkshire, England but now live in Cheshire where I write stories and work as a support worker
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Here be Dragons
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Here be Dragons

 

Prelude

“We have reached the world’s edge and now where do we go? Where else is left to explore? Are we to sail forever until we die of cold or starvation?”

The sailor stood with his companion astern of the ship, watching the trail that the large wooden craft left behind in its wake; the broken ice, the waste that was regularly deposited overboard and the seabirds that hovered ready to gather scraps.

“It is as Allah wills” murmured his companion, mindful of listening ears and the various punishments for disloyalty.

“We are beyond even Allah’s protection in this wild place. Who can save us from dragons and sea monsters? Who can save us from creatures who sing with unearthly sounds and who drive our captain insane?

 

El Capitan walked up and down the quarterdeck immersed in thought, his deep blue cloak wrapped around him against the cold. The ship travelled on through the ice, fortunately they were out of the worst of it now, but things changed quickly at the sea, especially in the hellish north. And he had seen such strange things, unholy and evil things, so all that he wanted was to escape to warmth, to the people he knew and to a land which knew Allah.

 

There was a growl from below decks.

“The creature isn’t happy.”

“Nobody is. We should eat it, it devours more food than the rest of us put together, and the stink…. If only El Capitan showed as much concern for the rest of us.” he pursed his lips expressively, looking all the while at the leader of their ship.

“He has led us this far” said his friend, “have some faith.”

“This is a godless ship with a godless captain. There is no faith. Ever since we reached the ice; the edge of the world, we have been beset by daemons. This is a land before any religion; Islam, Christianity, the Jews, this is a land of darkness and evil.”

 

El Capitan knew that there were muttering, had they forgotten the jewels and wealth in the ship, safe below in boxes? But a cold wind and stale rations could swiftly make the bravest of sailors forget. He hugged his cloak more tightly around him. He could hear women chattering below and the roar of his beast; all under his care. The responsibility for the ship and its crew had come upon him, he had not chosen it, but if there was a mutiny he would be executed and thrown overboard for the sea creatures to feed upon.

 

He remembered reaching the ice stretching out in front of them, seeming to be never-ending. As the ship had pushed through he had pretended to be calm and in command, but he knew that one crack beneath the sea line could send them to the bottom or leave them stranded which would just be a slower death. So many of his men and the women had died nonetheless as they made their way through the cold, some of wounds received earlier in the voyage and others just sank into a torpor and died in their bunks. And some just disappeared without a sound.

 

And then there was the strange sounds that drifted over the ice; was he the only one who heard this weird music? A harmony so beautiful that was like nothing he had ever heard before, but it reminded him of when he was a child and he had been very ill, his life despaired of.  In his delirium he had heard such music surrounding him, seducing him, later his mother said it must have been her singing to him, but it was not human music.  And again the sounds that came from above were not those of human voices nor was it any instrument that he had ever heard; it sounded angelic as if from another realm, coming down on all side of him. Nobody else mentioned it, well not to him, but then he was the captain, but they must have heard it too.  It was like a multitude of colours coming over his head, guiding him, loving him, taking him forward to the end of the world, and then leaving him adrift.

 

“Land” a voice shouted from high up in the shrouds, “land ahead.”

Soon it came into view, an island seemingly not very large and likely to be uninhabited, but it was green and surely there would be water and food. The skies grew dark as night set in, but they headed straight for this land which offered them a sanctuary, at least for now.

 

 

The Silkie

He swam towards me, pushing effortlessly through the sea, a Silkie, half man, half seal. And for awhile he lived amongst us on our island, away from his natural element. He called himself El Capitan but he was The Silkie from our legends, come from faraway, come to our godforsaken island of Cagair.

 

The ship had been out there for three days, stuck on the rock, waiting. It had arrived during the night so that Brayan our chieftain and priest saw it as he went out to do the morning ritual, and he called out to us, forgetting his religious duties in his excitement. A large wooden ship so close but with a wild sea between us and it.  Over the waves we could hear what sounded like the growls of a monster. It was the largest boat I had ever seen, far larger than the boats we used for fishing and for visiting other islands. Its mast rose far up into the sky and occasionally we could see figures walking about and looking over at us, just staring but then they would disappear back into the ship.  They wore brightly coloured clothes, like people from a different world, unlike the grey of our island.

 

Soon after it had arrived Brayan told us to stay indoors; he was getting old and scared, and presumably he hoped that the ship would disappear and leave us to get on with our dull lives.  We did what he said as we were wont to do, although muttering about him, but we could not stay hidden for long however, we had cattle to feed and fish to capture, and aside from Brayan we are not a timid people, and so we came out of our huts and stood and watched and in the end Brayan came out and joined us, trying to regain his lost authority.

 

The Silkie appeared swimming through the sea, strong and powerful, like a seal, and he came out of the sea naked and dark with a sword tied around his waist. Brayan came up to him, old and white, with his large bronze bracelet on his arm, but the Silkie ignored him at first and turned to look at his ship and waved. He then turned to Brayan and said something in a strange tongue and our leader answered in our language. They seemed to communicate a little, I heard the word “Cagair” and “Hebrides”, then the Silkie walked around our settlement a little; not the whole island it would have taken two days to do so, but he got an idea where he had landed. And then he swam back to the ship.

 

And that night, when the wind was soft like a breath, he returned and so did the other men and women from the ship, swimming and some pushing boxes. They were so different from us, they were tall and dark with silver on their arms and legs, and so graceful in their movements.  And whilst we stared at these people, over the sound of the waves and the shouts of our visitors we could hear the roaring of animals from the ship wanting to come to our island and devour us.

 

As the night grew darker we watched one man trying to swim over to us, he was pushing a large box in front of him which must have been bound to one of his wrists. He struggled against the sea which was becoming stronger and more violent; at times he was making good progress but then a wave would push him further back and away towards the rocks. The sea was getting up now and we knew it was dangerous, but he was so strong it seemed impossible that he would not reach us. And then a large wave came and submerged him, he and the box were turned over, and it smashed. We saw an arm, or maybe it was a leg, but then nothing. The strangers stood and watched until it got dark, but their comrade did not appear, and they returned to the camp that they had made.

 

They ignored us for the most part; there were about twenty of them; mostly men but some four women as well. They built huts on the large field, away from us, but not far enough that we could not hear their hammering and talking in their barbarous tongue. The Silkie was their leader; tall and thin, he wore a cloak, a sort of blue, like the sky when it is sunniest, and he was beautiful. Oftentimes as I wandered near their camp or he came to ours, he looked at me, his eyes appraising as he looked at my face and my body. I blushed; I knew what that look meant.

 

There were only a couple of young men on the island who were unmarried, and I knew that one day soon I would have to marry one of them, that is the way of things. But this Silkie who had come out of the sea from foreign lands made my heart quiver. He had grace and strength and power; his people obeyed him without question, unlike Brayan who we ignored more and more and who stayed in his hut with Aela his wife and only came out to go fishing on the other side of the island, almost as if he were keeping out of our way.

 

“El Capitan” they called him, and whilst they laughed with him, they did what he told them to do. Even their smell was exotic, how was it so? They had come through the sea, but they smelt of elsewhere. And the colours of their skin; the Silkie was dark as were the women but the other men were every shade between them and us. Their clothes were bright and they wore them wrapped around their bodies with golden pins to hold them in place.

 

And then one evening they gathered on the beach and stripped off their cloaks, even the women; the sea was quiet, and I realised that they had been waiting for that. The Silkie smiled at me, as he stood naked in front of me, he was so close, almost touching me, and then he joined the others as they plunged into the sea. They worked all evening and night and the next morning; to and fro from the ship, boxes came over pulled by ropes surrounded by the men and women. They did not ask any of our people to help them, perhaps they thought that if we could swim we would not be here. Above it all was the sound of the wild creature or creatures, echoing over the island, calling to the animal god for rescue.

 

Boxes were dragged up on shore and left, and ropes and bits of wood. What could be in the boxes? Treasure, exotic food or more of their beautiful cloaks? None of us dare go over and investigate.  I looked over at the ship and realised that it had moved; it was stuck to a rock, but the sea was having an affect and it was moving. Soon it would be no more. Were they trapped here, or would they move on? I yearned beyond all yearning for the Silkie to take me with him away from this land, the sheep and the people all the same.

 

And then they all appeared from the ship pulling a large box. Even Brayan stood with us, his hand fiddling with his bracelet, and watched. They slowly made their way through the sea, the Silkie straining along with the men and women. But they were strong, all of them, so that even the sea obeyed them. As they neared the beach our men, all except Brayan, ran out to help them and drag the box ashore. And it was from the box that the roaring came. But there was also a smell, a smell of rawness, of meat and death.

 

We watched the snarling thing in the box; wet and angry. And then I felt the Silkie by me.

“Snow Leopard” he told me and I gazed into its eyes; scared and a long way from home. It was a large cat, spotted with black over its yellow and white fur, which for the moment was soaking wet. And the teeth, large and white, ready to devour and fight.  And it was so beautiful, I had never seen anything so graceful and compelling, even more than the Silkie who stood by my side as if he owned me.

 

The ship was destroyed one night soon after. I lay in the arms of my Silkie in his hut, feeling his strength around me, and I heard the wind and sea crashing all around us. Brayan had shouted at me when I left my parents’ hut, but nobody cared what he said, least of all me.

“You are a whore” he told me, “in the arms of that Arab”.

The wind howled as it so often did although usually later in the year, but he did not stir, sleeping soundly. I got up as soon as it was light and looked out to sea and the ship was gone. The sea was calm now, but the rock was empty as if the ship had never been. Planks of wood washed up on the shore over the next few days to remind us what had been there.

 

Ever practical the pirates used the wood to make an enclosure with wooden pillars and a roof for the creature and he walked about there. The brave ones of us would stand by the gate watching this creature prowling about. Sometimes it would snarl at us, especially when the pirates teased it, but it was trapped and those jeering figures were the only people that he knew, and he seemed cowed by us and by the island.

 

My countrymen started to work with the pirates, at first they used me as a go-between but soon they did not need me and they all worked together fishing and farming the cattle, and even sharing food and drink. Only Brayan remained apart. Before the pirates arrived he had appeared our only authority, but now he was a joke; even the women mocked him. His wife, Aela, laughed in his face, and his two young children looked embarrassed that he was their father.

 

One of the young pirates, Francois, made mock-love to Aela; bowing to her and kissing her hand. Brayan stood and watched, his face revealing nothing. At first it was only in jest; the pirate was young and handsome whereas Aela was the chieftain’s wife, and older. But one morning I realised she was beautiful, more beautiful than anybody on the island, except perhaps the creature. I was at the beach thinking my thoughts and I watched her walk up from the sea having bathed, at first there was just her head and then the rest of her white body, and she was glorious like a goddess; her hair red, her thighs pale and strong. A powerful being, far mightier than her husband.

 

She nodded to me and went to pick up her cloak, and then she realised, as I did that the young pirate Francois was watching her. He strode past me as if I was not there and stood and watched her, admiringly, and she stood, her rough cloak in her hand, letting him enjoy her beauty. And then slowly she covered herself and walked back to our village, whilst Francois and I were, for a moment united in homage to this woman.

 

And then Brayan was gone. I was not surprised, he was nothing now, had lost his power and was just a rather weak man who was just in the way, I am not even sure when he disappeared, I just became aware that he was not with us anymore. When our people asked about him to Aela who shrugged and after a few days she moved her possessions into Francois’s hut. At night as I lay with the Silkie covered in silk and cotton, I heard her cries and his, reaching out into the darkness.

 

I had learned their language; the words to say to my love at night, and questions to ask and to answer, common words, and by their expressions and gestures I knew what he and the others required of me. However, I did not understand everything, and at times their laughter scared me, and then I realised that I did not know anything of these people; their language, their life, their god.

 

Brayan did not return and it was as if he had never been. His children moved to the hut with my parents and even they did not mention their father, or their mother.  Often I spent my time when not cooking and looking after cattle watching the snow leopard. It looked older now and wearier. I watched it munching on the remains of a sheep, the noise and smell I was used to by now, and I did not blanch. In the corner were bones and flesh and there was something that shone dully, a bracelet that I seen so many times on the wrist of Brayan, left in the corner of the cage amidst flesh and bones.

 

 

Aela

She stood on the mound dressed in white, Aela, who was no longer Bayan’s wife, but the high priestess of our island, powerful and strong so that even the pirates stood back in awe. She spoke the ancient language which the men from the east had brought with them many years ago, long before any of us had been born, but when the sea was ice and dragons lived and roamed over Cagair. The language had been passed down from chieftain to chieftain, and now Aela spoke it as she performed the ancient ceremony.

 

When my father and mother were young, priests had come from the mainland and Father Boniface had stayed amongst us, and had married my parents in the church he built, but then he had had to return and he was not replaced and whilst we still prayed to the holy mother and occasionally knelt in the church, we also worshipped what was around us; the sea, the sky, the grass under our feet and the stones that littered our island.

 

In the past Brayan had led the people in worship, but now that the snow leopard had devoured him Aela had taken his place. She looked like a goddess as she had when I saw her naked emerging from the sea.  In her hands she held a silver goblet, in it was water from the sea and she drank from it and then she chanted the song from long ago.  And then a sheep was brought up by two of our people, it bleated and fought but it was helpless; the rest of the water from the goblet was poured over it and then Aela raised her hands said a blessing and for a moment all was still. We listened to the wind and to the sea, and above it all I heard something musical and angelic, something from the skies above which disappeared almost as soon as I became aware of it. 

 

And then Aela kicked the creature and we chased it with shouts and more kicks, herding it towards the cliff which lay at the north end of the island. It tried to break out, to reach her sisters, but it was surrounded, and we hit out at it when it started to stray. As it got nearer the cliff edge the sheep started to panic, but inexorably we pushed it on, Aela still chanting as we did so.

 

As it reached the cliff, exhausted and defeated it turned to look at us; this group of such disparate people, defying us or perhaps mocking us. But we needed to do this and as it rushed at us in a last desperate bid to escape, Aela and her lover thrust it back and over the cliff, and with a woeful cry it fell and crashed to the sea below, visible for only a moment before disappearing into the waves.  We then turned back, our duty being done, and we walked back to the camp feeling cleansed and that evening we feasted on another sheep, talking and feeling happy, a people united. This ceremony happened every month and it kept us safe and the island fertile so that our cattle throve.

 

The snow leopard however did not thrive. We tried to feed it, but it refused food and lay in a corner as far from the gate as possible and growled at anybody who came in, even El Capitan who it had seemed to love, but clearly thought was its betrayer, bringing it to this strange and unpleasant land.

“It is dying” he said.

“Where did he come from?” I asked him. We were stood at the gate, his arm loosely around me.

“He was a gift from a king. We were in a barren place where few people live. The king gave him to me as I helped him defeat his enemies. He has travelled with us, been with us during our battles and troubles, but now he is old and weary, and it is time for him to die.”

 

Later in bed, his warmth still deep inside me, my hand on his chest, I questioned him.

“Where are you from?”

“The Western Kingdom in Africa, so many leagues from here. It is much hotter there, the sun burns down on us. We have sand and trees, dates and sherbet. It is a beautiful place, and warm.” He shivered beside me.

“Then why did you leave?”

“My uncle owned a ship and I went with him, to sell the goods from our land. He died after a few months out at sea and then I took over. I thought that I would arrive home, but it was not to be, we traded and ended up fighting with other ships, became pirates rather than merchants. We lost men in battles and gained new ones. I lost my religion and my people, some chopped in pieces in front of me. We travelled all over and now we are here.”

He kissed me and touched me and soon he was inside me again. It was only later that I realised that I could not remember what language we had been speaking in, his or mine, or perhaps it was another language, the language of lovers.

 

Later, as we rested, he told me of strange voices that he had heard, a melody that he could not get out of his head.

“Sing it” I commanded him, and he tried, the sounds he produced sounded like the song that Aela sang when she was being the priestess, but then he stopped.

“I cannot get it right. It was like something from heaven, something that an angel might sing.” He shrugged as if embarrassed, or just unsure what to say or do.

“Sometimes I hear those same noises” I told him, “my mother hears them too but nobody else. This is a mysterious place, close to God.”

 

The next morning I went to see the snow leopard who staggered up and walked towards me before falling down again, the smell was stronger now, but I was not affected by it as I was so overcome with pity for this poor creature. I walked to him and stroked him, ignoring his snarls, I knew that he was beyond hurting me or anybody else. I sang the song of The Silkie to him.

“An earthly nourris sits and sings

And aye she sings, Ba lily wain

And little ken I my bairn’s bather

Far less the land that he dwells in.”

 

 

I felt him tremble and then there was no sound or movement. I wept a bit for this creature who had died so far from home.

 

They buried him near the camp on a hill overlooking us all. And over the grave one of the islanders put up a stone and carved a likeness the creature on it. The enclosure was knocked down and slowly the smell of this creature dissipated throughout the island, never quite leaving; appearing at the strangest moments.

 

Aela spoke to me as we walked away from the pirates’ camp.

“Are you happy?” she asked, her question seemed false, as if she wanted to trick me into saying something, but I was not sure what she wanted me to say.

“I am happy.”

“But El Capitan, do you want him to rule this island?” She asked.

“Do we have a choice?” I asked. He killed Brayan and now he is our chieftain.”

She looked at me, with contempt in her eyes.

“He did not kill Brayan, he wanted him to live. I killed him and scattered his remains for the beast to eat.”

She walked on ahead of me, stride after stride.

 

She and Francois her lover left the other pirates and lived in the hut where she had lived with Brayan. She talked with our people, but not with me.

“Is Aela plotting?” El Capitan asked me.

I shrugged and did not know what to say. Soon after the four women in the pirates’ camp left their own hut, and became part of the Cagair people. After a while it was only El Capitan and me, and four of his men, the rest having deserted him. Suddenly we were shunned and El Capitan and his men walked with swords by their sides and they talked of building a boat.

“There is land to the south” one of them said, “we can make a boat. This is a Godforsaken place, even our women have left us.”

I sat with them knowing that I did not belong to either. But El Capitan did not do anything, did not appear to be listening, he reminded me of the snow leopard in his last days, pacing about, frustrated and scared. So one morning I left him sleeping and walked back to my people and slept in the hut with my parents.

 

Aela stood on the mound once again chanting ancient words, but instead of the sheep being held it was the Silkie, El Capitan, bound tightly but making no movement. He had been taken in the night and was being held by four men when the rest of us awoke. There was no sign of his loyal men, I learned later that three had been killed as they slept whilst the other who was keeping watch had fled to the other side of the island where he lived the remainder of his days.

 

The words droned on, and the Silkie seemed to be listening, almost as if he understood what was being said. I then became aware that there was another sound, that the Silkie was humming the tune that we both knew, and it grew louder and seemed to echo and become a chorus, but nobody else seemed to notice. He continued to hum as he was pushed forward by the men who surrounded him. He looked so graceful as he walked forward and up to the high priestess who waited for him. She poured water over him and looked directly at him, the only one of us who dared to do so.

 

And then we herded him as if he was a sheep, a circle around pushing him forward. At first he went with us, meek and obliging but then he tried to break free, but his hands were bound and Francois tripped him and he fell helpless. He was lifted to his feet and once more was pushed forward. He reached the cliff and stood facing us, the sea crashing behind him. His eyes met mine, and it was as if he we were asking me to join him, and part of me wished to go, to jump in the sea and escape to a land where there was sun and sand, dates and all the people were as beautiful as my love.

 

After a moment he turned around to face the sea and then he stepped back and with a powerful leaped he jumped high into the cold sky. We saw him enter the sea, his body straight like the seal that he was. I continued to watch, and in the distance I saw him dark against the sea pushing out to new lands leaving me here amongst barbarians on this cold rock in the middle of nowhere.

 

 

Cagair

“Cagair, my home.”

Jenny’s husband John sniffed beside her, the boat ride over to this remote island had left him out of humour and cold. Before they had set off she had told him to dress up warmly.

“I am from Yorkshire,” he had replied, still abed in the Inverness hotel, “I can handle a bit of cold.”

But as they stepped over the beach, the fisherman who had dropped them off promising to return the same time tomorrow, she could tell he was regretting his army coat, still hung up in The Glen Mhor Hotel.

 

She remembered the last time she had been here, June 1935 the island was being abandoned and she watched her mother and father pack up their few things. There was an Englishman there with a camera, a film director recording it all. He had become famous since then, but she did not know what had become of the film.

 

To the north were the cliffs with sharp rocks at the bottom, there were legends of animals being thrown over as a sacrifice to some Gaelic god and even people being thrown over who had committed some crime. John had laughed when told of this. His humour was bleaker since the war, a cynicism about the future, about everything including her. She wanted children, she was getting older and she wanted a house, but he was happy in rented rooms in one of the less salubrious parts of Leeds and playing in dance orchestras whilst she typed letters for Hogg and Sons, one of the city’s oldest solicitors.

 

He was not the man she had met just before the war. Brother of her friend Megan who was studying with her at the commercial college in Glasgow, and who she had visited in Leeds the summer of the phoney war. He had a lightness of spirit even though he knew he would be fighting soon. They had kissed passionately, and walked hand in hand through the streets of Leeds.

“Wait for me” he had told her, “wait for me, I don’t want to lose you.”

And she waited for him, and when he came back they got married and moved to Leeds to be near his mother. Her parents having died before the war’s end, unable to cope with the mainland air.

 

And yet he had not come back, not totally. He was so withdrawn, only when he played the piano or the clarinet did he seem alive, all there. Even when making love, deep inside her he seemed somewhere else as she clutched at him wanting him with her, to be aware of her and her body.

 

The wind blew on them and she instinctively reached for his hand, it felt surprisingly warm as they walked up into the island. He seemed happier now that they were out of the boat and the fisherman had gone. He hummed something as he walked along, a hymn it sounded like. She often forgot how important religion was to him, he had confided to her that at one time he had thought he would become a clergyman, but was losing that inclination when he met her, and now he did not mention it at all.

 

The house where she had lived with her parents was still there, empty and beaten by the wind but still a house. They sat on the stone floor, he laying down his coat for her to sit on, and they ate the sandwiches the hotel had prepared for them. The house smelt of the countryside outside, it was as if it had never been inhabited and she could not imagine that she had lived there with her mother and father, that this was her home for almost fifteen years.

 

They walked around the island until they came to the stone memorial.

“This is the beast” she told him. He looked blankly. She then took his hand and helped him trace the engraving on the grey stone.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Some kind of creature is supposed to be buried underneath, nobody knows what. It looks like a leopard or an ocelot, although I have no idea what it would be doing such a long way from home, it is a mystery. The stone has been there for hundreds of years apparently. It is so faded it is probably something different, a chieftain’s symbol or something.”

They sat with their backs resting on it.

“Cagair was very pagan” she explained, “even in the mid-twentieth century there was a Celtic tinge to everything. We were so far away from anything.”

“Here be dragons.”

“Indeed.” And then she kissed him hard, willing him to kiss her back, to hold her and make her feel loved, and eventually he did. And as he slid inside her, she knew that she would have a child, that life had started inside of her.

 

He must have carried Jenny back to the hut because she awoke there naked and alone with her coat over her. It must have been morning as the light was grey which came into the house through the empty doorway.  As she lay there Jenny heard a noise, the strange music that came when she was not concentrating on it, nobody else ever had heard it and soon she had learnt to stop mentioning it as she did not want her family to think that she was insane. But the music was real, and as she heard it again she realised how much she had missed it, this sound that was so unearthly and beautiful, a sound from the edge of the world.

 

After awhile Jenny got up and headed out to look for John. She put the coat on and then otherwise naked walked out in the cold dawn. Ahead towards the cliff was the mound where she had been told religious services used to be held before the church had been built.  Perhaps a residual whiff of holiness had attracted John to it because he was there facing out to sea.

 

She stood beside him and put her hand on his shoulder. As so often she felt apart from him, whereas for a few moments yesterday she had felt that it would be okay.

“So you found our holy hill.” she said. “The time that I ever kissed somebody it was on here.”

“Oh so it wasn’t me. I didn’t think there were many young men here.”

“A couple about my age, they left when I did. I was only twelve, just experimenting. “

He sighed. “What time is the boat coming?”

“At three, same time as he picked us up.”

 

“Let’s walk” Jenny suggested.

“Do you miss here?” he asked as they walked together.

“I miss you more.”

“I miss me too.”

“Did you hear the music?” she asked.

“Yes” he responded, “I thought it was in my head.”

“No it is real. It comes when I least expect it. I am glad that you hear it too.”

 

They looked out at the sea; there were seals swimming and frolicking far below us. They were on the edge of everything. Far to the north was the edge of the world where strange creatures lived, close to God and to heavenly things, and where heavenly music came from, heard by those who were restless and yearned for something more.

“Let us go and look at the church,” he suggested.

“How do you know about the church?”

“I saw it when you were sleeping.”

They walked towards it, hand in hand.

“I don’t remember people using it much. We were a pagan people. But we were buried there, and sometimes a vicar came over and preached.”

There was a graveyard around it, the stones worn by wind and rain. The church seemed cold, she remembered a bishop coming to deconsecrate it before the island had been abandoned. The windows were plain and the pews looked hard and cold.

 

They walked to the altar.

“Someone has left flowers” John noticed, they were withered but lay on the altar.

“Perhaps we are not the only ones to visit” Jenny suggested, she sat in the pew whilst he wandered around the tiny church and then softly she sang a song she remembered from her youth, a song about a Silkie coming out of the sea; a seal who became a man. She watched the man that she loved pottering about, setting the church to rights, tidying it up. And then he stood at the lectern and quoted from the Psalms, to a congregation, a congregation who had left long ago, to the mainland, to lands of spices and desert, to cities and to towns, away from the mighty sea.

 

We met the fisherman as arranged and we sailed through the sea towards our home, John’s arm around my waist as we kept each other warm.  I turned back and watched the island disappear in the mist, Cagair, my home, my love.

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