The Sonne in Hir Splendoure - James Prescott


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The Sonne in Hir Splendoure

Copyright © 1996 James Prescott


A faint white chip of wood lying as at the end of a tunnel, on a heaving black foam-stranded and rain-curtained surface. It disappears, and reappears, though whether it is because it dives down the other side of a wave, or because he loses consciousness, he cannot tell. Yet still it is there in front of him, never constant, but never gone forever.


That chip, and time, are a blur that has incidents but no duration or structure. Have ten minutes grown to seem like days? Or have days run all together as in a fevered ten minutes?


The dark, the wind, the rain, the sea, his pain, all pull a soft wet hood forward over his head, the chip surging into or out of the opening, so that he doesn't see the dark day come, and another dark night, and a second dark day, nor feel the steeping of the seas, nor hear the crash of breakers on the bar, nor smell th'invisible land.


All at once the fevered dark circle of sea and chip is shattered into a white foam that slaps him into a cartwheel through a chaos of water and wind and wood, beats his body onto hard unyielding sand beneath the waves, rolls him tumbling into the stream's mouth, fills his hair with rank slime, breaks his ribs on the planks of a small jetty, and tangles him in the remnants of a fishing net hung between the piles of the jetty. It saves his life, though he has not been conscious since being slammed down onto the bar.


Thirst. The call of a bird. The slap of wavelets. Pain between the shoulders. A suggestion of light. The smell of a mudflat. Gradually sensation intrudes, most of it painful. One eye doesn't open when he tries, and he has to close the other at once against the glare.


He is hanging sideways by his right arm, tangled in the netting, head forwards, his knees resting on the planks of the jetty, his left arm hanging free and trailing in cold water.


The wind, though cold, carries no rain, and the clouds, though grey, are not continuous. He passes out several times before he manages to get his right arm untangled, and lies at last face downwards on the jetty. After some time he begins to crawl on three limbs up the planks to the land. At the top of the bank, behind a screen of bushes, is a small lean-to. There's a chopping block, and in the top of that stump is a small depression with rainwater and more than a hint of salt.


He drinks, and crawls under the roof of the lean-to, burrows into the reeds that he finds there, and is asleep.


When he awakens at last there is a spider weaving a web between his hair and the roof of the lean-to. Behind him, outside the lean-to, the sun is shining. He finishes off the gently-steaming water in the stump.


There is no boat, and the water around the jetty is brackish. There is a faint trail leading through the trees up along the bank of the stream. He follows it, and within a short time notices brambles to the inland side of the trail. He begins to eat, and after some time an awareness of his broken arm begins to intrude. There is some climbing white flower wrapped around the trees nearby, and gathering a number of the vines he makes a sling, and works it around his head, and works his broken arm into it. It hurts to breathe, it hurts to move, but he carries on.


Another distance upstream, the trail passes through a meadow close to the stream, and he does his best to wash the stench of the mud flats from his face, his hair, and his clothes. There are more brambles to eat berries from, and at length a field with a burnt cottage and several fruit trees. He eats his fill, and searching the ruins finds a knife, and a torn tunic that he can fill with apples and damsons and tie into a bundle for his good shoulder.


He checks under the hearthstone, but someone has already emptied the pots of corn, smashing one pot, and leaving but a few grains. He shifts the fruit to the good pot, and uses the tunic to sling the pot from his shoulder. When he probes the earth beneath the pots with the knife, he finds two silver pennies.


Continuing upstream, the trail is clearer now. Another couple of hours, and he comes to signs of current habitation. Two pigs that have been eating acorns under the oaks snuffle off as he approaches. He slows, and approaches the edge of the woods cautiously. There is a small cluster of cottages in the distance, away from the stream. Smoke is rising from roofs into the early evening air.


He withdraws back into the woods. A mile or so back downstream there is a snug hollow under a fallen tree, and he breaks bracken to make a bed. A meal of fruit, and a torn tunic for warmth.


The next morning he skirts warily through the edge of the woods, keeping his distance from the cottages, until he gets within sight of a track. In one direction the cottages. In the other direction, unknown. Lying down within some bushes within eyeshot and earshot of the track, he watches and listens as people occasionally pass to or fro along the muddy track. Some walking in single file with goods or farm implements. The occasional pony, or several ponies, laden with merchandise. A horse and rider or two.


By eventide, he has learned that four hours walk away is a small town, and that opinions of this town are surprisingly favourable.


Another night in the bracken under the fallen tree, the last of the fruit, and then he cautiously makes his way through the woods parallel to the track. It takes him until late afternoon to reach the town.


There are two inns, and he selects the one that appears the better. The landlady is for having him thrown out, until he has produced a silver penny, and she has bitten it, and she has agreed to call the wise woman to see to his arm and ribs, and he has agreed to be washed, body and clothes, before being allowed to eat supper with the others, though she has granted him a bowl of stew till that the wise woman comes, if he eats it in the stable, and he has thanked her with words of graciousness that startle her into a closer look at his face and body.


That night he sleeps in the loft that his penny has bought, all dead to the world. As she goes back downstairs with a candle and the empty bowl that held the infusion that the wise woman has told her to prepare him morning, noon, and night, she is minded of all the defects of her widowed state.


And the sign at the door of the inn is The Sonne in Hir Splendoure.



[ For a bit about the writing process for this story check here. ]




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