The next morning, I came down for breakfast at 8 am sharp. The same, older barman was sitting behind his desk, reading the paper, but obviously expecting me as he quickly put it down and gave a paternal smile.
“Good night sleep?”
I shook my head in amazement, letting my hair fall around my face.
“Absolutely, I was just so wiped out from traveling yesterday, I slept for nearly ten hours.” He gave another smile and before he could ask anything else,
“Can I get an English breakfast, then?”
He closed his half formed mouth and nodded again, moving to the back to get it started himself.
Sitting down at the same table as the night before, I watched the fishing boats across the street unload for the morning. The men from the boat would throw a large fish to the men on the pier and the line of throwing fish would continue until it was eventually thrown onto a truck on the road. It was mesmerizing, a fish line. After watching the brawny fishermen for a few minutes, the older barman came out with my breakfast and set it down. He went to move away, but I lightly reached my hand out to his arm to still him.
“Excuse me, before you go, can I get your help finding something?”
He turned back, with the same helpful smile.
“Sure, dahl, what are you looking for?”
Swiping my phone awake and pulling up a note.
“Can you tell me where…..Llll-ea-de...Manor is?”
The barkeep frowned at me again. I wasn’t saying it right, I knew that. Instead, I just held the note up to him.
“Where is this?” He squinted at the phone before saying.
“Slay-aud Manor, huh?” I quickly changed my phone to the map feature and put it between us for him to reference.
He squinted at it again before pointing to a place on the south end of the town, farther inland and away from the main roads.
“There is no official tar road that leads to the house, but there is a tight packed dirt one that will take you out there.”
I nodded, looking at the place he pointed out.
“About a half hour walk, huh?”
He nodded again, this time deep in thought.
“What do you want at …”
A loud bellowing voice broke through his question.
A group of men, looking like they were from the boats, entered into the foyer behind the barkeep and he turned to greet them. Apparently the pub was the place for breakfast as five or so more fishermen came in behind the first group and settled into tables in the main bar.
Turning back to my own, I began eating, looking over the route to the Manor house and glancing outside. Semi pregnant clouds hung over the sky, interspersed with rays of sunshine, saying it might or might not rain soon. But then again, it probably always looked like it would rain in Wales in April. For a half hour walk, I should be fine with just my long sleeve tee and khakis with the denim jacket. I had left my baseball cap upstairs, it would be best to let my hair down while I walked through the town.
Heavy footsteps entered the dining room and some of the fishermen sat at the larger table behind me, suddenly quiet for all the exuberance they entered with. I slightly stiffened.
It was the smell. It wasn’t the fish smell I was expecting. It was one of wolves.
Since I hadn’t taken the leap yet and avoided transforming, I still was fuddling through my new senses, most of them only half formed. But every now and then, I could smell something faint, or hear something far away that I wouldn’t expect. These guys sitting behind me were wolves, I would bet my considerable bank balance on it, they were too close to avoid their smell. The musty smell, like an animal that had been rolling around in hay.
From their silence, they knew me too or were at least suspicious. I smiled into the cup of coffee, they were probably so goddamn confused. They knew something was different about me, I wasn’t totally human, but not fully Were. Added that my lavender perfume was everywhere, I didn’t doubt that they were having a serious WTF moment.
Keeping my eyes on the window and the passers-by outside, I finished up my toast, downed the coffee, and cleared the table up for ‘Mikey’ to pick up the plate. Standing and acting totally oblivious to the men, I left the room passing the barkeep on the way out, his arms full of English Breakfast plates.
“Thanks for the directions to the Manor, I’ve just left my plate there,” motioning back into the room. He nodded in acknowledgment and watched me leave, as did the other men.
The walk to Lleaud Manor wound through the south of the town and out through a road which wasn’t the main thoroughfare, but would still take you out to the main highway eventually.
Men and women were leaving their homes for work, a few of them eyeing me curiously as they passed on the street. They knew. Or more likely, they didn’t, but they suspected something was off.
Jolene has said the town was full of Weres, more than what one would expect. I wasn’t yet able to tell the difference unless, like the dining room, I was in close vicinity to another of them. It didn’t matter though that there were so many here, it was to my benefit if they were curious and started to ask questions, started to remember their past.
Like walking into town yesterday, the cobbled streets eventually gave way to wider roads and cottages with yards, then farmhouses with fences holding horses and sheep. ‘Mikey’ had pointed to a road that didn’t seem to have any houses near it, but sure enough, it was hard packed dirt that seemed well used. There were no signs indicating anything was down there, the road eventually turning a corner and being lost out of sight behind low hanging trees. I looked up and down the main tar road for any signs of life. Nothing
Clouds above started to crowd and whatever sunshine and warmth the day started off with was lost. A few times I thought I felt the rain on my face, only to have it disappear just as quick.
A few more minutes of walking and I was around the corner, eyeing the sporadic patches of forest that littered the hills. Anything could be lurking in these rolling green waves with their patches of dense woods. It was a perfect place for anyone with something to hide.
The road flattened and straightened out, the woods falling behind and a medium sized farmhouse came into view on the left. Not far from the road, but still a good amount of yard in between, I eyed it speculatively. That was most certainly not a Manor, nor was it more than a few years old with its bright white stucco. There was a little red hatchback and a large black truck sitting out the front that was clearly used for farm work.
This was not the house I was looking for, but the road continued on, so the Manor house must be up the very end. I had just walked past the driveway for the farmhouse when I then had to stop.
There was a fork in the road. Dammit. Mike didn’t say anything about a fork did he? They both looked the same, the roads eventually turning around clusters of tall thick woods. Shit.
The right one seemed more promising, it was flatter, and the road looked more used, mud tracks leading down it.
Behind me, loud voices suddenly sounded, and the farmhouse door opened up. My head whipped around at the sudden discord of noise on the quiet country road. A man and a woman were loudly arguing in Welsh. The woman, a tall brunette, had a duffel bag slung over her shoulder and stormed out of the door to the little hatchback. A man, equally as tall with dark features, followed her, gesticulating to her car.
Oh god, this was awkward. This looked like a breakup and I had an unwanted front row seat. They hadn’t seen me yet, and I slowly turned away to go down the right side of the fork.
Abruptly, the two voices stopped their exchange and something was shouted in my direction. Another Welsh word was shouted and then,
Turning on my boot, I looked back to the farmhouse, now a hundred or so feet away. The man was now leaning over the fence by the road, while the brunette was hanging by the open door of her car, a look of confusion on her face.
“Ya lost?” He shouted over to me, looking me up and down. I had nothing but my small purse strapped around my shoulders. The wind swept my hair in front of my face and I pulled it to the side to answer him.
“Nope. Not lost.” I swung my thumb over behind me to the road. “Just taking a walk down this road. Please go back to...whatever this is.” I waved my hands between the couple and turned on the pair and back to the road. From behind, the woman’s voice started up again, this time more agitated and the man responded in kind. After another minute of walking, I was around the bend and hidden by the little clump of forest.
Jesus, what a perfect storm for embarrassment.
Walking down the road for a few minutes, I stopped short when it suddenly ended in a farm gate, the other side holding a pasture. I walked to it and climbed up the gate to look around. Nothing but cows, sheep, and rolling green hills. Dammit.
Turning around, I started the trudge back up to the fork, hoping to hell the break up had moved inside or was finished. When I eventually made it back up the little red hatchback was no longer in the front yard, but the man was still hanging over the fence obviously waiting for me to return.
This jerk, he knew that was a dead end and was just waiting for me to walk back up. I approached him with a reluctant smile and he mirrored me. I looked him up and down, swathed in work jeans, with patches of mud here and there, he wore a plaid shirt covered by a fleece vest. This guy was definitely a farmer judging by the clothes and the thick mud on his boots. A dark beard, matching the brown wavy hair shooting out from under a wide brimmed hat, covered his face and his bright blue eyes looked me up and down again as I approached. A noticeable scar upon his left cheek dominated and seared his face from his ear down to his chin, the beard covering most of it but leaving a clear line of demarcation. I stopped on the road, about thirty feet between us and he shook his head in reproach at me.
“I thought you might be back. Not often someone walks up this road and down to my sheep paddock.”
I gave a rueful smile and tucked my long hair behind my ear, noticing his voice was deep and extremely masculine.
“Forks in the road were never my forte, but there is a metaphor about the road less traveled somewhere in there.” I casually replied, shrugging my shoulders. His eyes glanced down to my breasts in an obvious movement before asking with some heat behind that smile.
“Make a lot of bad choices, huh?”
I smiled down to my feet, guys were incredible sometimes. I literally just saw him break up with his girlfriend twenty minutes ago, and here he was flirting.
“Ohhh, I wouldn’t say a lot, but when I do..” I looked up all of his six foot four frame, “...they certainly are big mistakes,” and ended on his face with a knowing look. The farmer gave me a curious smile and then seemed to remember himself, glancing back up to the lane.
“Uh, look, the bed and breakfast is back up on the main road, another five minutes on your left.”
I made a mischievous expression, teasing him.
“That’s good to know.” I hooked my thumb down and back to the left side of the fork we were standing at, “but Lleaud Manor is down this way, right?”
His face puzzled and then slightly hardened,
“What ye be wanting at the Manor?”
I ignored his question and started to back away and make my way down the correct road.
“Thank you, and sorry again for interrupting your... domestic ... thing.” His face frowned at me again at my lack of answers, but I was too far away now for him to interject again. After a few more steps, I turned my back on him and continued down the road. It eventually turned and I looked back to now see the farmhouse was out of view. Holy shit, that was a farmer? He looked average with the hat and covered in swathes of mud, but there was no doubt with that height and blue eyes he would scrub up nice.
A few more minutes walking down the lane, and a large, three story stone house came into view behind a hillock. It was half covered in vines that were being pushed around in the slight wind, and large windows that were stained glass. Two large stone columns were either side the front entryway which was two thick wooden doors and looked like it would require effort to open. It was certainly different from the other houses in town or the farmhouses in the surrounding areas. This was built a long time ago, and whoever did it had money.
Despite the ominous look of the house, it had a charming white picket fence surrounding with a vibrant and well maintained garden in the front yard. Whoever lived in the house or took care of the garden loved flowers, and it made my heart a little lighter to see it. There were no cars or a driveway to speak of that I could see as I walked up to the front gate. Taking some deep breaths, I opened up the gate and walked through, straight up to the intimidating doors.
An old knocker in the shape of a lion holding a ring in his mouth was on the right sided door and I clanged it loudly three times. After a few silent moments, there was movement behind the door and it opened. A tall man of Arabic descent appearing and looking at me strangely.
He asked me something in Welsh, and I shook my head at him.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh.”
He then replied in a perfect Oxford accent.
“Are you lost, young lady?”
Again, I shook my head at him and gave him a large nervous smile and fidgeted with the bottom of my jean jacket.
“No, I don’t believe so. Is...Does Iona still live here?”
His face perked in surprise.
“Yes, she does. But I’m afraid she does not see visitors with her state of health. What can I help you with?”
I whooshed out a breath of relief that she was still in the house, still alive. The man himself looked a little perplexed at my reaction and I took all of him in again. He was wearing an older person’s clothes of a collared long sleeve shirt, paired with brown slacks and sneakers. Yet somehow the garb seemed like a uniform, like he worked at the house, rather than lived here. After fidgeting with my fingers for a moment, I gave him my father’s smile.
“Umm, I’m Kelly Jones, I believe she would want to see me.”
The man straightened up to his full height of six foot. Despite being older, maybe around fifty, he looked formidable. Like he was once a fighter, and although time had passed and taken its toll, he could still dish it out if he wanted or needed.
He looked over my face and hair and took a deep breath, a new expression coming over his face, almost in wonder.
“Yes, I believe she would. Please come in.”
He opened the door wider and motioned for me to enter. Dutifully wiping my feet on the mat, we entered and he proceeded out of the foyer and into an adjoining side room that looked like it was once used as a ‘greeting room’ for guests. Moving through it, I looked over the rich furnishings. Leather and mahogany everywhere, a few bar carts next to the fireplace, sets of leather books on the shelves either side. This house once held some parties, for sure. But now it seemed unused and ignored.
I followed the man through the room and into the next, which was brighter and more modern. A fireplace to the side was surrounded by large picture windows looking out onto the verdant garden. The furniture here was modernly upholstered and there were creams and eggshells tones everywhere. A small, diminutive back of a woman was towards the doorway, and the Arab walked around to face her. I hung back, almost afraid to breathe.
“Ma’am, you have a visitor.”
A rich Welsh accent answered in surprise,
“A visitor? Well, that’s new. Show them in.”
His eyes met mine and motioned for me to come into the room. Obeying, I walked to him and stood in front of the woman and looked her over. She was petite with grey hair in a small bun around her nape, maybe around 80 years old, with a kind heart shaped face and soft blue eyes. She was wearing a pink toned fleece sweater and easy to pull on khaki pants. On her lap was a book and by her side was some kind of aspirator with a mask to breath from.
She herself was giving me a once over, moving up from my feet to my face. Once our eyes locked, I gave a big smile filled with relief and joy. The older lady then sat back as if she had the air pushed out of her, tears forming in her eyes at the sight.
“Hi,” I weakly said, emotion cloying my own voice.
“Kelly Devon Jones, Ewan Jones’ daughter.”
A tear fell from onto her wrinkled cheek as she heard my name, her eyes glued to my smile and face.
“Granddaughter, yes…. I am your granddaughter.”