Excerpt from my latest!

Priddy 2There’s just no way at all that I’m going to hit my Sunday blog-question target. So sorry, all. As you know, I’m just back from Cornwall, and struggling to restore order from the post-holiday tangle.

However, I did not spend all my time down there sitting on a rock and singing whilst combing my hair. It is my greatest hope and intention that I will get my latest FoxTales novella, Priddy’s Tale, finished by the end of this month and published in early June, and I made great progress in between cream teas and meadery visits. 🙂 So, instead of my regular blog, here is an excerpt.

(Jem Priddy is a lost soul on his native Cornish shore. A drifter and a dreamer, he’s fallen into bad ways and worse company, and is struggling to cope after a near-lethal encounter with legal high. His best friend Kit has found him a job in his granddad’s remote lighthouse, where even Priddy ought to be able to stay out of trouble. One stormy night, he rescues a mysterious stranger from the sea…)

Excerpt

In the top room of the tower, a grizzled search-and-rescue flight lieutenant ran his hand over his hair. His mate was still out in the chopper, keeping her engines warm in the clifftop field where she’d landed. Priddy, having been helped back into his own lighthouse and courteously aided up the stairs – an endless process, it had felt like, and utterly surreal, Merouac no more concerned by his nakedness indoors than out – had decided to keep a low profile. The officer was fully occupied with Merouac, looking him over in some disbelief while he filled out the form on a tough-packed iPad. “So, Mr… Merouac, is it?”

“Oh, just Merouac. Please.”

The kettle finished its boil. Priddy took mugs out of the cupboard and spooned instant coffee into them, one for his guest and one for Flight Lieutenant Trewin, who looked puzzled as well as exhausted, oilskins dripping onto the lino. Merouac had turned one of Priddy’s kitchen chairs into a throne simply by sitting down in it. Thankfully he’d accepted a blanket, and turned that into a princely robe by wrapping it round his shoulders. He’d sat patiently through Trewin’s checks on his pulse, temperature, blood pressure. Covertly Priddy admired the beautiful set of his shoulders. The guy had to be a model, or an actor of some kind, or… Well, Priddy was as interested as Trewin in finding out what.

At present the flight lieutenant was stalled on line one of the form. “No first name, Mr Merouac?”

“First name? Oh, to distinguish an individual from his lineage? Yes, I suppose I should have one of those.” He stole a glance at Priddy, making him spill the sugar. “Let’s call me Jack.”

“Jack… Merouac?”

Priddy dropped a spoon. This was mortifying. He’d called out SAR for a man who no more needed rescuing than a dolphin from the deep blue sea, and now the bastard was winding the officer up. Priddy’s connections with Hawke Lake were tenuous – he was just the winter temp, the bulb-changer on a fully automated lighthouse – but he liked and admired the brave souls who launched themselves off into roaring Atlantic storms in the Sea Kings. This callout was his responsibility.

But Merouac was leaning in to glance at the form. He’d dropped his haughty demeanour, and Trewin was smiling reluctantly, shaking his head. “Oh, the French spelling of Jack, is it? Sure your last name’s not Cousteau?”

“No, but oddly enough he’s a friend of mine. A friend of my father’s, anyway. Lovely gentleman, and certainly knew how to keep a secret.”

“All right. Jacques. What about an address?”

“It’s a little embarrassing. I ran into some financial trouble, and to tell you the truth, I was living on the boat.”

“The yacht Lyonesse, you said.”

“That’s right. My pride and joy, she was.”

“You’re the registered keeper of the vessel, which ran into foul weather off Hagerawl Point tonight?”

“Correct, sir.”

“With only you on board.”

“Yes. I was quite alone, and would certainly have drowned had it not been for the courage and prompt action of that young man over there, whose name I haven’t yet had the chance to find out.”

Trewin squinted. “Why, that’s Jem Priddy, isn’t it? Don’t I know your dad?”

Priddy flinched in the act of handing him his coffee. If a Hawke Lake man knew Vigo, it was probably because a dodgy fix on a boat had gone wrong and landed some poor mariner in the drink. “I don’t know. Er – yes, I’m Jem Priddy.”

“Right. Jem Priddy, meet Jacques Merouac.” Trewin tapped at his screen. “I’ll have to verify your boat’s registration, Mr Merouac, as well as the details of your identity. I’d do it now, but the network for this bloody thing seems to be down.”

Merouac nodded. “I quite understand that, sir.”

“And as for you, Priddy-boy, you might want to think twice about calling out the chopper when you’ve plainly got the situation in hand yourself. Just as well we don’t take the launch cost out of your pocket money, because it’s eight grand a throw these days, more or less.” Trewin got to his feet, took his coffee and downed it in one. “Having said all that, well done for making the rescue. Not everyone would have had a go, not on a night like this. Good lad.”

Priddy nodded: cleared his throat, choked on thin air and tried to melt into the background. The circular room allowed no cover. No separate kitchen or bedroom, so unless he wanted to make a dash for the bathroom on the half-floor below, he’d have to cope with his reactions right here. Not easy. He’d had plenty of practice at swallowing tears of shame, but never shame’s opposite. He turned away and busied himself with the kettle. “Would you like another cup?” he managed. “One for your mate in the chopper?”

“Oh, right, because I’m going to carry it down all those stairs and up the cliff to him.” Trewin put his pad away, shouldered his kit and gave Priddy a jovial crack on the back as he headed for the door. “No, Dave’ll have guzzled his way through our whole flask by the time I get back to him. Mr Merouac, you don’t seem any the worse for your dip, but you should look after yourself tonight. Do you want me to put a call through to one of our tame B&B ladies in Penzance, get her to put you up until you can contact your friends or family to bail you out?”

“You’re very kind. No, Mr Priddy here’s kindly offered to let me stay the night.”

Had he? Priddy propped himself up by the sink. He couldn’t remember. But Merouac had spoken up for him. Good lad, the flight lieutenant had said. “Yes, that’s right. He can stay here.”

Trewin glanced at Priddy’s unmade bed. “What, in your bottom bunk? Rather him than me.”

“Oh, no,” Merouac said innocently. “Top, I think, Priddy. Don’t you?”

Priddy lost a breath. A blush tore through him, a heatwave that began in his toes and spread like a flash-fire in summer-dried gorse. If his hair could have changed colour, he’d have turned bright ginger on the spot. “Yes,” he croaked. “That’s the most comfortable one.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Trewin looked from one to the other of them, eyebrows on the rise. “I don’t doubt your word, Mr Merouac, but I do have to make those checks. Don’t leave the area for a couple of days – or, if you need to, report to the Hawke Lake admin offices first.”

He stamped out, leaving a trail of wet bootprints on the lino behind him. “Shit,” Priddy whispered, closing the door behind him. “You are very welcome to stay, mate. But what the bloody hell was all that about the bunks?”

Merouac’s chair was empty. Priddy glanced around the room with its complete lack of hiding places, and saw with a faint shock that Merouac had gone to bed. He hadn’t made a sound, and was curled up in the bunk – the bottom one after all – as if he’d been there for hours.

He was shivering. Priddy went to crouch by the side of the bed. “Are you all right? Do you want me to run after Trewin and tell him to airlift you out to hospital?”

“No, no. I’m just suddenly so tired, and – it aches, doesn’t it?”

“What does?”

“The gravity. Dragging all the time on your poor, forky little stick-legs. I’d forgotten.”

Priddy released a breath, blowing his cheeks out thoughtfully. “Wow. That was a good act, pretending to be sane for the nice pilot.”

“What would he have done if I’d told him the truth? What will you do?”

“I’m not sure. Depends what it is, I suppose. Meantime I’ll fix you some coffee and soup, if you like.”

“Ugh, no.” Merouac shuddered, curled up tighter. “What I’d like now is the sweet clean inside of a fresh-caught herring, but that’ll wear off soon. I’m so, so tired.”

“Well – get some kip, then. You can tell me the truth in the morning.”

Merouac was two-thirds out already. His hand was trailing on the lino. “In the morning. Yes.”

“Look, are you sure there’s nothing wrong with you?” Priddy picked up the cold hand and tried to tuck it back under the sheet, then let it go, jolting back a step. “Jesus. I think there is. Your… Your fingers.”

“What’s wrong with them?”

“You’ve got some kind of skin growing between them. And – God, what is going on with your eyes?”

Merouac blinked hard. The silvery film that had hidden the irises and pupils disappeared. “Sorry,” he murmured. “Didn’t you ever have a cat?”

“Several. What has that got to do with it?”

“Did you never see their eyes, when they were out of sorts?”

“Yes, but you’re not a cat.”

“Nor yet a catfish. And not yet quite a man.” Merouac spread his hand in front of his eyes. “Glad the good lieutenant didn’t spot the webbing.”

“Why didn’t he?”

“He wasn’t looking. And if he had been, he wouldn’t have believed. You won’t believe it yourself in the morning, when I’m all dried off and finished and just like you.” With that, Merouac rolled himself up in the bedclothes and turned away.

Priddy crouched by the bunk. “Wait a moment. Are you really called Jacques?”

“Of course not. But I really did meet Jacques Cousteau.”

“I thought you said your father did.”

“Well, Trewin was trying to fill in his form. And he didn’t have a box for the year I was born, so… Do you always cross-question your guests like this, Priddy-boy?”

“Don’t call me that.” Priddy didn’t know why he suddenly minded. He’d had it all his life, from family and mates, until he’d stopped caring, but he’d never really liked it, not even from Kit. “Priddy will do.”

“I’m sure he will.” Merouac twisted back far enough to present a smiling, unreadable profile. “It’s a shame. If you didn’t live in Cornwall, and you steered clear of the States and anywhere else they don’t pronounce their Ts properly, you’d be all right, wouldn’t you? But you don’t want to live your whole life as nothing but the Rosewarne Bay pretty boy.”

Priddy sat back on his heels. He felt as if Merouac had hit him, or sent through him a sudden electric shock, shaking up the dust and sorrows of the years. It was true. There he’d been, pretty-boy since earliest childhood, with his blond curls and blue eyes, his inability to grow a beard or grasp enough of life’s realities to counteract his downward spiral into the Rosewarne sink. His sister had once crisply informed him that she was twice the man he’d ever be. The trivial outside edge of these realities snagged in his mind, and he asked, unsteadily, “How do you know where I come from?”

“Lucky guess. There’s always been a cluster of you lot at Rosewarne.” Merouac pushed up onto one elbow and looked at him directly. “Let me tell you something about your name. You’re either the pride of the waters – prid-eaux, like the French, the ones who came over with the Normans, right royal haughty bastards. Or – more likely for you, with that set of face and those eyes – you’re a branch of ap-Ridih, the kings of the mountain.”

Priddy swallowed. “There aren’t any mountains in Cornwall.”

“No, but there are in Wales, and greatly did Arthur, our undying king, value the ap-Ridih clans who rode by his side to the battle of Mynydd Baedan.”

“Mate, I haven’t got the least idea what you’re talking about.”

“Never mind. I won’t call you Priddy-boy, and you won’t call me Jacques. In fact, Merouac’s a mouthful for a landling. You can call me Merou.”

“Merry?”

Merouac chuckled. “If you like. Pretty and merry – won’t we make a pair?” Closing his eyes, he pulled the bedclothes up to his chest, and Priddy must have imagined the webs between his fingers – there was nothing there now but a glimmer, like fine-ground fish-scale dust.

 

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