by Janet Arnot, from The Wirral
To borrow a title from a certain English playwrite, our inaugural short story could almost be described as a winter’s tale. No pressure, then, on its author Janet Arnot, a former NHS worker who started writing years ago to entertain her daughter.
"I enjoy creating characters and weaving a story around them," says Janet. "Once I’ve had an idea and created a character, the stories seem to write themselves." And that includes Moonlight Magic...
It’s nigh-on five years since sheep farmer Griffith Llewellyn split with his spirited former girlfriend Rosalyn. Now, stood adrift on the indomitable Hafod Hill, and with Ros back in town, all that’s standing between Griff and true love is the enveloping snow…
We’ll be posting more of your submissions on these pages in the coming weeks. But if you’ve written or are writing a short story - or even a novel we could publish an extract from - and would like to share it with our readers, do get in touch by emailing email@example.com
by Janet Arnot
ALONE ON HAFOD HILL, Griffith Llewellyn shielded his eyes and searched for his sheep, remembering the last time he’d seen Rosalyn Morgan. Almost five years had passed but he could picture her clearly - dark eyes flashing, glossy mane blowing - and he could hear her angry voice, too, from that day she’d dropped the bombshell that ended their youthful romance.
“You surely knew I wouldn’t stay here forever,” she’d declared.
“I knew you were ambitious,” he’d replied, “even when we were at the village school you wanted to come top, leaving us all behind. Your Mam and Da will miss you.”
“I haven’t worked on the farm for ages.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Griff impatiently.
“They’ve got the twins, Rhiannon and Rhodri are quite happy never going further than Machynlleth or Aber. Neither of them have any ambition.”
“I wouldn’t say that. They’re younger, they haven’t decided what they want yet.”
“Believe me, they’ll both stay put; they don’t want anything better.”
“Better? What could be better? Anyway, I thought you enjoyed your job in Regional T.V.”
“That was just a stepping stone,” said Ros. “I’ve been working toward moving to London for ages. It's a brilliant opportunity, even you must see that!”
“Oh yes, I can see alright. Pity you never thought to tell me.”
“You could come to London too.”
“I'm a hill farmer; I doubt there’s much call for them in London. That mightn’t mean much to you, you’ve never been keen on farming. But it does to me, you’ve always known that.”
“That’s the trouble; you're content to moulder away here with your daft sheep.”
“There’ve been Llewellyn’s farming Hafod for generations. It’s in my blood and it’s a good life.”
“For you maybe!”
Griff changed the conversation. “When d’you have to decide?” he asked.
“I’ve already accepted!”
“Without talking to anyone?”
“I didn’t need to, I've worked hard for this. If you think I'm going to waste my education baking and scrubbing and mucking out stables like your poor Mam and mine you can think again Griffith Llewellyn I’m entitled to it, I’m not missing out. There’s no money in farming anyway.”
“That’s not why you’re going.”
“No, it’s not. I’m suffocating here. If I stay I’ll waste my education, get trapped and end up marrying a farmer. I’d go crazy.”
Griff's plea for her to stay froze on his lips.
“I didn’t know anyone had asked you.”
Ros ignored that. “Nothing ever changes here. I won’t drudge along until my mind rots and I’m dull and boring like all the rest, desperate for the annual village festival ‘cos nothing else ever happens. I want some fun, something different.”
“Every season’s different if you’ll only look.”
“Oh Griff! Get real!”
“This is real! Our valley, the river and hills, the people with all their foibles, and I love it all. Especially Hafod, even though it’s draughty and the barns always need repairing. I belong here. I’ll never leave.”
“That’s it then!”
Rosalyn stormed off leaving Griff alone on Hafod Hill.
THE LOCALS FOLLOWED ROSALYN'S blossoming career avidly. Outwardly proud, they whispered behind their hands how she’d forgotten her roots and never visited. She prospered, married, divorced and married again. Meanwhile, as she’d predicted, the twins remained happily at home.
Rhiannon acted as bridesmaid at Rosalyn's first wedding, which had been quite a simple occasion. The second was a glossy affair, with the family kept firmly in the background. Rodri said her new husband Justin was an arrogant creep and Rhiannon, despite her love for her sister, couldn't disagree.
Having always felt overshadowed by her extrovert sibling, Rhiannon often wondered whether Griff still cared for Ros. Growing up together they’d been inseparable. Consequently Rhiannon had mixed feelings about the forthcoming party, arranged so the entire family could finally meet Justin.
"Do you think we'll have enough food for tonight?" Rhiannon asked her mother.
"We can never have enough,” came the reply. “Everyone will turn up, even if they have to crawl from their sick beds. No one will miss this party unless they're actually at death's door. Set the kettle to boil, cariad. I think we've earned a rest. We'll take it easy this afternoon; we’ve a late night ahead.”
“Da won’t like that.”
Wind howled in the chimney. Crossing the flagged kitchen Meg peered into the gloom, shivering.
“I'm that glad your father and Rhodri brought the beasts down to the low pasture yesterday. It’s getting colder by the minute. I believe we’ll have snow much sooner than they’re forecasting.”
“Mrs Llewellyn said Griff’s bringing their flock down today.”
“He's a good lad,” Meg sighed. She’d have liked Griffith Llewellyn for a son-in-law.
“How is poor Dai today? Did Anwen say?”
“No better. She’s afraid if he doesn't improve soon Doctor Jones will have him off to Aberystwyth.”
“No! Not hospital! Poor Anwen. How can she run backwards and forwards by there and still help Griff?”
“We'll help out Mam.”
“Indeed, we will cariad.”
HIGH ON HAFOD HILL, Griff sensed something unusual brewing as the weather closed in. With the failing light, he whistled up Bess and Gyp.
Griff fondled the silky heads as they reached his side.
“Let's get on then, we’ve work to do. With luck we'll have these beasts safe down in the valley before the snow comes. That’ll please Da; stop him fretting and making his chest worse.”
Griff chattered on, unsure whether it was the dogs or himself he was comforting. He missed his father’s companionship and experience sorely on these lonely peaks. Life here had always been difficult but conditions were becoming harsher with winter encroaching, though the weather didn’t entirely account for Griff's agitation. Today’s visit had caused him to review his situation.
Face raw, fingers stiffening, Griff battled the storm, struggling to keep the beasts together as they descended. The scenery was rapidly transformed; familiar landmarks disappeared fast under the crisp coating. It was hard to make any progress against the force of the wind but they struggled on.
Dai had often warned his son against getting lost on the hill and Griff remembered other storms, when he’d helped dig the animals out of drifts. But he couldn't recall one as sudden or fierce as this.
The blizzard had blown up from nowhere, scattering the frightened sheep and giving man and dogs an unenviable task. Realising he’d missed the path, Griff stopped suddenly. With such poor visibility it was practically impossible to find the way. Knowing he was late, that his parents would worry and that the newly-weds’ party would be well under way, all fuelled his growing anxiety. Fighting the elements had occupied his conscious mind, leaving his subconscious free to deal with the question of how deeply his heart was engaged. Now he was overwhelmed, the need to declare his love had surfaced through the anxiety for the flock. But was it too late?
Suddenly a shaft of moonlight pierced the gloom. That brief glimpse was enough for Griff to get his bearings. Making headway remained difficult, but now sure of his ground he carefully shepherded the animals toward the valley and safety.
AT TY UCHAF, the party was in full swing, the honoured guests lapping up the acclaim.
“I'm surprised the Llewellyns aren't here.” Ros remarked.
“Dai’s ill and Anwen wouldn’t leave him,” Meg replied.
“What about Griffith? I thought you were thick as thieves these days, what with the farmers’ union and all, Rhiannon.”
Cheeks burning; Rhiannon strove to keep her voice steady.
“Griff will be here when he can, he's a working farmer Rosalyn. They don't work nine to five like city folk. I would’ve thought you’d remember that at least.”
“Hoity-toity. He never liked socialising; he’d rather mope about the hills.”
“You’ve never appreciated Griff. He’s thoughtful and kind; he’d help anyone. And he’s fun! You shouldn’t be nasty when he’s not here to defend himself.”
“It doesn't look as though he needs to defend himself,” Ros retorted mischievously. “He’s got a fan-club to do it for him. I do believe you've got a crush on him. Be warned little sister: he’s boring. He’ll never amount to much. When he's an old man he'll still be tramping about on that hillside just like his father.”
“And what's wrong with that my lady?” their mother intervened. “Griffith Llewellyn is a fine, steady lad. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining family traditions. It's what your own father and brother are doing and God willing it’ll continue for generations to come. It's not to be sneered at because it doesn't suit you.”
“I'm sorry Mam, I didn't mean it like that. I love knowing that this is all still here. I just don’t want Rhiannon to make a fool of herself.”
“What makes you so sure I would? I suppose you think he's nursing a broken heart over you.”
“Well, he hasn't married has he? Or even had a serious girlfriend. But then there isn’t much choice around here I suppose.”
“I'll take those sandwiches round Mam.”
Rhiannon seized the plate from her mother's hand and escaped hurriedly.
“Much as I love you Rosalyn, sometimes I could quite cheerfully slap you,” Mrs Morgan glared. “For a supposedly sophisticated, intelligent young woman you have about as much delicacy as an elephant.”
“What have I said now?”
Retreating to the kitchen to refill the plates, Rhiannon answered the ringing telephone.
“Mrs Llewellyn, whatever’s wrong?”
“Griff still isn't down from the tops dear. I'm that worried and Dai is beside himself because he can’t go looking for him.”
“Hold on, I'll get Da. He’ll know what to do.”
Moments later Alun Morgan, Rhodri and some friends were headed for Hafod Hill. Rhiannon followed, driving the four-by-four crammed with equipment, blankets, ropes and flasks of hot soup.
Left behind Meg recalled many occasions when others - including members of her own family - had been caught in snowstorms on the hilltops. Some had even perished, so the conversation she now overheard at first dismayed her, and then gave her a warm glow.
“This would make a wonderful human interest item,” Justin remarked.
“Yes, pity we haven’t got a camera crew with us.”
“The whole place is like a living museum really. Absolutely fascinating!”
The cheek! A museum indeed!
Though furious, Meg held her tongue. Moments later she was glad she had.
“Life seems grounded here. Marvellous for children too I should imagine,” said Justin.
“Children?” Ros murmured.
“Well, I thought, eventually… unless you… I mean, if you hate the idea then… of course not. But it needn’t spoil your career. We could get a nanny to help out. A small edition of you would be perfect.”
Ros stared astonished. Then suddenly smiled. “Or of you. But you’re right, the valley is a marvellous place for children. Perhaps ours could come to Ty Uchaf for the summer when they’re old enough.”
MEG CONSIDERED THE FUTURE. Perhaps Justin wasn’t quite what he’d seemed. Time would tell, and hopefully the gulf separating Rosalyn from them wasn’t as wide as she’d feared. But what about Griff? And Rhiannon? Her feelings had become apparent to her mother long ago. Would the searchers find him? Was Rhiannon facing heartbreak either way? Anxiety marred the festivities among those left at Ty Uchaf, while at Hafod, Griff’s fearful parents waited.
Parked in the lea of the hill, cocooned from the raging blizzard, Rhiannon’s jumbled thoughts matched the chaos outside. Griff had never seemed heartbroken, but the thought that Ros might be right - that Griff wasn’t over her - was a thorn in Rhiannon’s heart.
Rhiannon knew she loved him. They’d become good friends as she’d grown up, enjoying the same things and each other’s company. They went out together increasingly often and Griff was extremely attentive, kind and considerate. But he never spoke of love. His feelings remained a mystery.
Through the swirling snow the search party slogged up the well-trodden path, brandishing torches, peering through the gloom, calling their missing friend. They heard sheep long before they emerged from the shrouding snow, Bess and Gyp guiding them. And a victorious cheer echoed through the hills as Griff answered their calls.
Singing, interspersed with bleating, broke the heavy silence that had shredded Rhiannon’s nerves. Relief made her light-headed as she glimpsed the jubilant group of men materialising before her, their pathway illuminated by the headlights, with the shepherd in their midst.
“Griff!” she breathed.
Leaping from the vehicle Rhiannon ran straight into his open arms, oblivious of the others marshalling the flock homeward.
“Oh Griff,” she sobbed, beyond caring about her pride. “I was so afraid I’d lost you.”
“Never. I’ll always come back to you my lovely,” he whispered, holding her close in a rib-crushing embrace.
Rhiannon searched his face.
“Really, truly Rhiannon. If you'll have me.”
“What about Ros?”
“Ros?” Griff was bemused.
“Are you really over her?”
“Over her? We were just kids. Ros and I drifted into dating because we were the same age and together all the time. It seemed expected somehow but we were never suited. We wanted different things. I never loved Ros; we were sparring partners.”
He wanted Rhiannon to know that.
“What I feel for you is different. Stronger. Deep at the core of me. You’re the only one I’ve ever loved Rhiannon. Will you marry me?”
“Yes! Oh yes, I will!
“I love you my beautiful queen of the moonlight. It was moonlight brought me safe off Hafod Hill tonight, lighting my way back to you cariad!”
In that moment, as moonbeams transformed snowflakes into sparkling diamonds, the lovers kissed and Griff Llewellyn, safely home from Hafod Hill, knew he’d never be alone again.