Xan coughed, his chest heaving against the sand. No, not sand. He knew sand. He knew the grittiness of the dry grains against his skin. This was something else… something smooth and cool. He couldn’t feel the water pressing against him from all sides. No more shifting forces upon him. Not even the push and pull of waves or wind. Xan coughed again.
He opened his eyes and found his eyelids dry and crusted with salt. Rubbing at them fumblingly, he blinked until the world came into finer focus. Everything was bright and blinding, even the red glow of the sun shining through his eyelids when he blinked. But suddenly that changed, and he was cast in shadow. He looked up to find the thin, spindly figure of a man standing over him, examining him closely. Xan tried to lick his lips to say something. No words came.
“What is your name?” asked the cyfarwydd, his voice smooth yet rough, like linen cloth.
Xan gazed up at him, entranced. “Xan,” he exhaled, barely louder than the creak of the cyfarwydd’s trees.
The cyfarwydd clasped his hands behind his back and bent closer to Xan’s prone form. He considered him for a moment then asked, “What is your dream?”
The breeze rippled past, whispering to the trees and teasing Xan’s hair like a gentle reminder. Xan trembled. “I don’t know.”
A/N Continue reading →
The cyfarwydd was still telling his story. He told of wind and rain. He told ocean’s devotion to land. He told of sounds, the smallest sounds he almost missed in the endless murmur of the waves against the sand.
He knew all the sounds. He knew the wind in his trees, the spreading of leaves, the birds far away, the insects beneath the sand, the water seeping deep into the beach. So when he heard the ocean keen a new song, he chose the end of his story and spoke the final words. The trees leaned in closer to hear the finale. Then they sighed and settled back as the cyfarwydd’s voice faded and left only the droning of the earth’s whispers.
But the cyfarwydd looked out from his grove, out across the twenty paces to where the ocean had deposited its gift. The tide had turned back, leaving the body of a young man awash at the high tide line. He lay there motionless with his cheek against the sand, his skin tan against the whiteness.
The cyfarwydd stood, shifting his weight onto his feet for the first time in years. He stood because his waiting was done. Gingerly, he walked the twenty paces to his gift.
When the dunes slid downward into flatness, the wind turned. Xan followed. It took him into the waves, where the cold water soothed his aching feet and chilled the sunburn on his cheeks and neck and arms. He could no longer feel the wind, and for a moment he panicked, floundering desperately as he turned, searching. But the wind kissed his hair one last time and slipped away, leaving him to the water.
Xan’s feet slipped in the sand as the water swirled around his legs. He froze for a moment, trying to remember why the sensation was so familiar. But the waves pushed him forward, then pulled him back, forward and back until he couldn’t touch the sand beneath the water with his toes. The water dragged at his shirt, spreading it out behind him in the salt water as he pulled his arms to swim. He felt water filling his pants pockets and felt the weight of the sand caught in the cuffs. Frantically, he kicked out, struggling to keep his head above the surface as the ocean dragged him along.
It took him a long time to stop struggling, and cost him many mouthfuls of sea brine to keep from going under. But eventually he surrendered control and let the currents take him where they wished. Mercifully, they pushed him afloat, his still body riding the waves.
Pennies. He could only think of pennies, and he didn’t know why. Seventeen pennies, and only seventeen.
For the first time since he’d turned to follow the wind, Xan turned into it. Behind him, his steps had disappeared already, the winds shuffling the sands into new ribs along the dune. His eyes stung as air rushed past him in currents of hot and cool, his vision blurring until the world turned to azure and flax.
He dropped to his knees. The sand fought its way into the folds of his pant cuffs, rolled to mid-calf. His hair flashed gold in the sunlight as the wind threw the locks back from his forehead.
Slowly he brought his hands to his face. They were dry from the sun and sand that beat persistently against him. Vaguely, somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he ought to be doing something to avoid it all. Why couldn’t he remember?
Then he felt a cold wetness on his neck. Turning his face upwards, he faced the light spray of coastal rain. It gathered in his hair and dribbled down his cheeks. How long he stayed there staring at the sky, he did not know.
At last, he stumbled to his feet again and asked the wind for direction. And it led him forward.
At high tide, the place where he sat was exactly twenty steps from the water. He never had to measure the distance. He just knew. And at low tide he would stare out at the endless stretch of sand, made wider by the ocean’s retreat and always infinite beyond his left and right hands. But he cared less about its foreverness and more about the sparkle of fine silica that glared in his eyes.
He only ever moved when he spoke. Only his words deserved his attention, and if not words, then his stories. So he sat motionless for hours on end, still as the trees above him, still as the cloudless sky, and still as the sand beneath him. Then when he chose to speak, he went on like the ocean crashing on the beach and nothing could stop him.
Today, like all other days, the cyfarwydd witnessed the rising of the sun. His mind rolled the words into strips of memory, sentences like ribbons in wind. Then low tide leaned forward to consume the now-dry sand, and the cyfarwydd bore witness to this, too. And the words for this, too, looped together like clouds meeting in the sky. Then the revelation of rain misted over the beach. Without pause, the cyfarwydd took the words for this and began to speak, setting out his spoken prose the way the waves set out its seaweed on the sands to dry.
And since he had begun, he would not cease for anything until his story was done.