I write romantic fantasy. Such stories require a suspension of disbelief, as do so many Christmas tales. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy my humble offering.
This is the fogou in Cornwall that inspired this tale. I do love an ancient mystery. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!
Chapter 2 (excerpt)
Meg went back to the windswept cliffs, back to where she now knew the ancient fogou lay silently concealed in the peaceful countryside, back to where her adventure began. There was no storm today, no need for rescue. There were only her, her tortuous memories and the cliffs that offered their different kind of escape.
When horse and rider surprised her this time, they came without a whisper. She jumped at the warm hand on her shoulder and spun around to find him standing there, head still concealed under the black hood, leading the now serene white horse by reins he scarcely held. Her soul thrilled, but she couldn’t tell if it was excitement or terror that set her heart pounding. He reached up slowly to push back the hood, and her breath caught, waiting, wondering what was hidden underneath.
He was not a decaying, skeletal Ghost of Christmas Future. Waves of gold-streaked brown hair were a halo around his strikingly handsome face. His green eyes were at once merry and sad, as though he was glad to see her but knew the burdens of her heart. She could not tell his age, because he seemed to simultaneously have the enthusiasm and wonder of youth and the wisdom and serenity of maturity.
He reached silently for her hand and led her away from the edge. They walked slowly, the horse obediently following behind until distracted by a tasty clump of clover. She wanted desperately to hear him speak, but he remained silent and thoughtful. They walked across the moors, the setting sun lighting the landscape in purples and pinks.
She found that as they walked the tumult in her mind quieted. She knew she should hold on to the guilt that she deserved, but it would not stick. It was as if peace radiated from his warm hand up her arm and into her troubled heart.
Still he did not speak.
Could a ghost have warm hands? Could a phantom soothe her troubled soul? Could a handsome face mask the horrible countenance of the Devil himself? “Please,” she pleaded, “please speak to me. Please let me hear your voice.”
He didn’t speak, didn’t even look at her, but finally, it didn’t matter. Let him be a vengeful specter. Let him be a homicidal ghoul. Let him be an apparition of Death. For the first time in weeks, she was at peace.
They came to the fogou, and she had the sense of standing at the door after a date. She looked up into his warm eyes and wondered if he would try to kiss her. He did not. Instead he handed her a flower. A purple hyacinth.
She lifted it to her nose, closed her eyes, and inhaled deeply. She knew this sweet fragrance. It filled her mind with spring.
When she opened her eyes, man and horse were gone.
It was fully dark by the time she arrived at the bed and breakfast. Mrs. Bennett greeted her at the door. “Dear, if you’re going to keep disappearing, I’m going to turn to drink.”
“It’s none of my business where you go or what you do, but when you take off like that, well, anything could happen to a woman alone.”
“You’re right, of course.”
“Wherever did you get a hyacinth this time of year?” she asked looking at the flower in Meg’s hand.
“Out by the sea,” Meg replied her head bowed to hide the lie.
“Not in October. ’Twas our ghost, wasn’t it?”
“What if I told you I got it at a florist in the village?”
“I’d say you’re not a very good liar.”
She was caught. “I guess not. Yes, I saw the rider out by the cliffs, and yes, he gave me this flower.”
“You’ve done something you feel sorry for.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because the purple hyacinth is the flower of forgiveness. Whatever it is you feel bad for doing, he wants you to know you are forgiven.”
“Why should he forgive me? I don’t even know him.”
“He’s a ghost, dear. He doesn’t have to make sense.”
“Maybe not,” Meg shook her head, “but I don’t believe he is a ghost. His hand is warm to the touch. He feels solid enough, like a real man.”
Her hostess pulled her apron over her mouth. “You let him touch you? Are you crazy? Some say he is Death itself. Don’t let him touch you. He’ll take you.”
“I don’t think he is Death, Mrs. Bennett. I saw his face today. He was young and handsome. I’ve never felt anything but kindness from him.”
“If not Death then who?” Mrs. Bennett asked as though Meg was a foolish little girl.
“I don’t know.” She was getting annoyed. This nosy woman had no invitation to ruin her fantasy with reason.
The change in Meg’s demeanor was not lost on Mrs. Bennett, who decided she had pushed the topic far enough. She dropped her apron, “As long as you are safe. “
“Thank you.” Meg relaxed, knowing her hostess meant well.
“I’ve left a plate for you on the stove. I didn’t want you to miss my best roast beef and potatoes.”
“You’re kinder than I deserve, Mrs. Bennett. Thank you.”
“I doubt that, dear. You’re harder on yourself than you should be.”
Harder than I should be? Meg thought as she sat down with her plate. There was no ‘hard enough.’ She looked at her gift from the mystery man. Surely he of the kind eyes did not realize the magnitude of her crime. She was completely undeserving of forgiveness.
She pushed the plate away and dropped her head on her hands. The faces returned, faces at first mocking, then horrified, then full of rage and, finally, distraught. All because of her. She could never run, she could never hide. Everywhere she went they followed her. She should trash the flower that offered an absolution that she would never know.
She couldn’t will her hand to drop it in the waste bin. Instead she took a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water. It would be the last thing she saw before sleep and the first when she woke up. Forgiveness. Did he know what the flower meant? Was that the intention of his choice? How could he know she needed to be pardoned? If he knew her crime then he must also know that there was no pardon to be had.