“Spooky, isn’t she,” the voice said. Gerraint spun around and found Arawn. The man looked haggard, like a man who had not eaten or slept in a week.
“Urien here?” he asked. He guessed that something like a storm happened to them as well, and Urien might have been driven to these same rocks. He guessed Manannan for sure. The circumstantial evidence looked strong.
Arawn did not answer Gerraint’s question. He would not take his eyes off the girl. “She just sits and stares at the sea, like a ghost. But she isn’t a ghost, is she?” Arawn laughed in a way that sent shivers, like little needles through Gerraint’s mind. “She had a brother once, she did.” Arawn said and he backed toward the jetty, fretted his filthy hands as if trying to wipe something clean.
Gerraint looked again at the girl. His immediate question concerning Urien was not answered, but he still needed information if he could get it. He felt reluctant to ask Margueritte for help since she was so young herself, but Margueritte seemed more than willing and begged for the chance. Gerraint reached out in time and they traded places, Margueritte appeared in her fairy clothes and added a shawl to it as help against the cold wind.
Margueritte looked back first, concerned about Arawn’s reaction, but the man had already gone, somewhere unreachable. Without a word, she walked deliberately toward the other girl. The girl stood and stared in Margueritte’s direction. Seeing Margueritte, a young girl like herself, the green-haired, big eyed child no longer looked afraid. When Margueritte got close enough, she stopped, still a good distance away, not wanting to press the point. The girl’s eyes were definitely too round and fully brown with hardly any white at all. Her hair looked too thick, green and brown streaked, and she had little dots, like freckles, on her upper lip and cheeks where a cat might have had whiskers.
“Can you help?” Margueritte asked at last in her best Welsh as Gerraint spoke it. “I have no idea where I am. The storm, you know. I am lost.”
The girl looked up from staring at Margueritte’s shoes. “Brother lost, too,” the girl said. She lifted her chin to the sky and screamed, “Forever!”
Margueritte winced. The girl began to bark like a seal pup, and a female seal transformed into a woman, dressed minimally in a dress that looked made out of seaweed.
“Forever,” the seal woman echoed. “You are here forever.” She stepped up beside her daughter, sniffed Margueritte’s fairy clothing with some appreciation for what she sensed. “Lord keeps you. Treasure for you is sea and stone. No treasure, only here, forever.” She took her daughter’s hand and turned toward the far rocks. The other seals nearby also took that moment to transform into women and young boys and girls. They climbed together over the rocks to get to the main herd without having to make the shark infested swim around the point.
Margueritte hesitated until the last of the pups disappeared over to the other side, then she ran to the rocks, but once she climbed up, all she could see was perhaps a mile of beach covered wall to wall with seals, big males, females, and young everywhere. Those who had been temporarily women and children were indistinguishable from the rest. Who knew? Perhaps they were all seal people.
Margueritte went back to her own time and Gerraint returned in order to climb down from the slippery rocks. His walk back to camp remained slow, despite his hunger. “No treasure, only here forever,” he repeated. Evidentially, Manannan drove them to wreck in this place and intended to keep them here, having judged them as would be thieves.
“Gerraint!” “My Lord!” The others called to him from the cooking fire.
“Trevor’s not a bad cook,” Uwaine said, in an unusual word of praise. That meant the fish was probably excellent, but Gerraint no longer felt hungry.
“The ship is in good shape,” Gwillim reported. “At least the piece of it that is left. There’s rope I left down by the cliffs, and some tools too heavy for even the waves to drag to sea, but that is about it.”
“There’s land in that direction.” Uwaine pointed.
“I was thinking a raft,” Gwillim continued.
“Here.” Trevor handed Gerraint half a fish with something on it that Gerraint did not recognize. Certainly, some sort of spice, he imagined.
“Manannan drove us here.” Gerraint said in a flat voice that got their attention. “The seals suggest he intends to keep us here forever, because we dared to try and steal the treasures of Britain.”
“The seals?” Gwillim laughed. He thought of it as a joke. Trevor looked horrified, but Uwaine knew better on both counts.
“So how do we get off this rock?” he asked.
Gerraint sighed and tasted the fish. It was very good and hardly tasted like fish. Gwillim knew what he was doing setting Trevor to cook. “The gods make the rules to try and test men’s souls, not to defeat men. There is always a way left for men who are willing to try. A little intelligence, some courage and determination are needed. Good men get knocked down, but they get up again. I vote for the raft.”
Uwaine merely nodded and went back to eating. Gwillim let go of the thought of talking seals and appreciated the support for his idea. Trevor went back to cooking, but his expression showed he had been at sea long enough to hear stories.
“How long do you figure the raft will take?” Uwaine asked at last.
“Well.” Gwillim sat up. “We’ll have to work fast and hope against another September storm. It won’t do to have the ship break loose. We should be able to break free enough lumber in a week or so, and then drag it across the island to assemble. I would say two weeks, three tops.”
“So, by October, give or take,” Gerraint concluded. “I would like to get home before the snows. I suspect we are a long way north.”
“We would all like to beat the snow,” Gwillim said.
Uwaine and Gerraint jumped. Gwillim and Trevor were just a little slower. They heard rustling in the trees before Urien stepped out.
“Well, I’ll be,” Gwillim said. “The Raven got grounded on these same cruddy rocks.”
“That smells very good,” Urien said. “You gentlemen mind if I join you?”
“I don’t know.” Gerraint eyed Urien closely. “Are you as insane as your friend?”
“Oh, you’ve seen him.” Urien stepped up for some of the fish without waiting for the formal invitation. “Mad as an Irish hermit.”
“Arawn.” Gerraint answered the questioning looks around him.
“What do you mean?” Trevor asked.
“What happened?” Gwillim wondered.
“A storm as like to yesterday’s storm as can be,” Urien answered while delighting in the fish. “Arawn and I alone escaped with our lives by being foolishly washed overboard. Or rather, Arawn got washed over and dragged me after him. We came up on this place and fared well enough the first week. We have a shelter of sorts across the island, facing what I believe is the mainland of Caledonia. Arawn got tired of fish, though. There are sharks out in the deep. We could not exactly swim to the mainland, though it looks deceptively close. While I studied the problem, he began to explore. He thought where there were sharks, there had to be seals, and he was right. Apparently, he clubbed a young pup and hid it from me, cooked it and ate it on the sly. I found out when he woke me one morning. He had already gone, you know, in the mind. He babbled about eating a young boy. He said the seals were haunting him. They would not let him sleep. They kept accusing him. He ran off, screaming. I have only seen him a couple of times since, and only from a distance.” Urien finished his fish with the story, and everyone nodded except Gwillim.
“Don’t be daft yourself,” Gwillim said. “Talking seals? Accusing him? What are they doing, pointing fingers at him? They must be pointing flippers.” He tried to make light of it all but stopped when he saw that the others took it dead serious.
“It is true, then,” Trevor said. “There are people who live in the form of seals. They say to see one in human form is an ill omen. They say if by chance one should speak to you, you will lose your mind, altogether.”
“Old wives’ tales.” Gerraint thought of Margueritte. “Sailors imagine lots of things and stretch many stories when they are too long at sea.”
“This is true enough.” Gwillim tried to get in with the tone, even if he still did not believe a word of the tale.
“Don’t worry Trevor. I’ll protect you,” Gerraint said.
“Better protection than you know,” Uwaine spoke up.
Trevor smiled, grimly, but seemed willing to give it his best shot.
“But say,” Gwillim spoke up. “We’ve got a part of our ship, grounded on the rocks, and rope and some tools. What say you to a raft?”
“That would work.” Urien did not hesitate to get excited by the idea. “When do we start?”
“No.” Gerraint stood. “We have to get something straight first.” He looked directly at Urien. “You were after the Treasures of Britain, weren’t you? You were hoping the old isle of Manannan would give you the key to finding Avalon.”
“Annwan?” Urien said. “Certainly. We are after the Cauldron of inspiration, which is life. We all saw it, didn’t we?”
“We all saw something,” Uwaine said softly.
“Yes, well, aboard your ship,” Gerraint continued. “Who knew about your quest?”
“Just me and Arawn.” Urien said in an offended voice. “I paid the Captain for passage to the Isle of Man. That’s all he needed to know.”
“And for us, it was myself, Uwaine and Gwillim,” Gerraint said.
“I told my mate,” Gwillim interrupted. “He had to know something. I did not imagine it was a secret, but he didn’t tell anyone, did you?” Trevor shook his head.
“So everyone who knew is here, on the island, and we don’t know where the innocent might be,” Gerraint concluded. The men all nodded. “So you need to pledge that you will give up any quest for the treasures or no work we do will bear fruit. Manannan will keep us here forever if we don’t.”
“But.” Urien started to say something, but then thought better of it.
“It seems my own crew was not exactly pure in thought concerning the treasure.” Gerraint continued, and the three men bowed their heads.
“The tales say after the people came up into the land some of the gods went underground while some went to Avalon,” Trevor said. “I would have liked to have seen it is all.”
“Well, I never thought it was likely to be found,” Gwillim admitted. “But I did hear once that the very streets of Avalon are paved with golden cobblestones.”
“In my heart I knew better,” Uwaine said in his soft voice. “I am ashamed.”
“Don’t be,” Gerraint assured him. “If you did not think about it, you would not be human. But let us pledge not to pursue the treasure anymore.” The three did. “Urien?”
“That is a hard thing you are asking,” he said.
“That, or you will have no part in our raft.” Gerraint responded.
“Damn.” Urien swore, but he pledged to give up his quest. “But what about Arawn?”
“Yes,” Gerraint said. “I think Trevor better stay armed while fishing and cooking, and we had better carry the lumber across the island in pairs, just to be safe.”
Gerraint and his shipwrecked company try to get to the mainland, but it is a long way through hostile territory to get back to Cornwall. Happy Reading