Saturday Salon – Pirates, rain & sheep, not necessarily in that order (Ballroom Choose Your Own Adventure Month, Post 4)
White seems to be the color of the sennight. First snow and ghosts and bed sheets and togas, and now this. For — as I lean my aching head upon my palm and stroke Monty’s brow with my other hand (he has a wretched megrim, and who am I to deny comfort to a suffering lord? Hm?) while we all nurse the worst sort of post-toga party hangovers — I notice that the carriage is now winding its way between fabulously steep hills of verdant green speckled with sheep.
It’s raining — buckets. Here and there heavy grey clouds give way to taupe mists, but mostly the rain is pouring down. The sheep don’t seem to mind it, but honestly it’s a mess of a day weatherwise and . . . awfully familiar.
Wait. Can we . . . ? Is it possible that we’ve . . . ? Have we somehow driven into Wales?
Wales! My favorite place in the world!!
I shove Monty’s battered head aside (he got into trouble when the highwayman claimed that since he won the game of quarters we were playing with shots of Irish whiskey, he could choose whichever one of us he wished to carry away into the night, for which we all professed our undying gratitude to Monty while gnashing our teeth and rending our garments, figuratively speaking). I leap up from the recliner squabs and energetically rap on the coach’s ceiling.
“What on earth are you doing, Miss Ashe?” Lady B studies me through her lorgnette. The others are all asleep or in various stages of head-holding misery, except Miranda who apparently responded better to whiskey shots than the rest of us.
“Rapping on the coach ceiling so I can ask the coachman where we are.” Duh.
“You might ask me instead.”
“Oh. Well, I’ve seen loads of heroes do it in movies and I wanted to try it. So are we in Wales?”
(I hear “Home, home on the range!” warbled from the opposite seat. Perhaps Miranda wasn’t as tolerant of the whiskey as I thought.)
“We are,” Lady B confirms.
“We are! We are!” I rap harder on the ceiling. “We’ve got to stop!”
“Miss Ashe, control yourself.”
The coach is drawing to a halt and I open the door and throw down the steps before it even stops. The others are all gaping at me from inside (although in Monty’s case it might just be his split lip that’s giving him the appearance of gaping), but I don’t care. I’m here! In Wales!
I run out onto the muddy road and through a knee-high thatch of grass to the nearest stone fence. It stretches acres up a steep, emerald hill into the clouds.
“Um, Katharine?” Gaelen pokes her head out of the carriage. “Would you like an umbrella?”
“No, I’m fine!” Better than fine. I’m already soaked to the skin and my ankles are three inches deep in mud and I’ll never get the sheep poop out of the hem of my favorite rose-colored muslin, but I don’t care. I am in Wales again, the place I fell in love with three years ago and that inspired me to write How a Lady Weds a Rogue. Of the occasions I’ve been deliriously happy in my life, I count the two trips I’ve taken to Wales among the top.
On my first journey there in 2009 my sister and I explored the north-western coast. A magical place of salty ocean breezes and towering medieval castles, of hidden moss-covered groves and picturesque villages, Gwynedd was heaven. I dreamed of writing a book set in the misty ruins of a castle there, and so I did. (In fact, more info to come on that book in a few weeks!)
But after that trip I wasn’t by any means finished with Wales. I longed to explore the south as well, to wend my way through the mountains and to travel the course of the River Wye, the most fashionable scenic jaunt for ladies and gentlemen taking a holiday from London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In fact I sometimes wonder why there aren’t more Regencies featuring jaunts off to the pretty Wye — flanked by the austere ruins of medieval abbeys and intensely gorgeous green hills — when there are plenty of books set in Bath and Brighton. It’s a truly romantic setting.
But I’m a big hypocrite because my hero and heroine don’t travel the Wye River either. Their journey winds farther north, through the hills of Powys along the borders of Shropshire and Herefordshire, nearly all the way to Monmouthshire at the feet of the gloriously old and dark Brecon Beacons. It was there that I saw my first Mail Coach schedule affixed to a pub wall, giving me the idea for Diantha’s attempted escape in the middle of the night that lands her in a dark stable with an equally dark man. And it was there that I discovered a narrow valley so green and lush, so peaceful with its grazing sheep and fields of yellow wildflowers, that I–
I drag my attention away from the rain drenched hills. “Huh?”
Sabrina’s standing on the road next to the carriage, Lauren is descending the steps, umbrella in hand, and Kate’s head is now in the carriage doorway.
“Do you hear a strange noise?” Sabrina asks. “Like singing, maybe? Or chanting?”
I cock my ear into the downpour and then I hear it too. Rough male voices singing . . . ”Turkish Revelry”??? Naahh.
Then I hear it again.
. . . sailed upon the lonely, lonesome waters. Yes, he sailed upon the lonesome sea . . .
And I remember. It’s not yet September 25 and Diantha and Wyn aren’t yet technically on the road in Wales in this downpour. In fact it’s still Choose Your Own Adventure month at The Ballrom and on Thursday our readers chose . . . PIRATES!
“Everybody back in the carriage!” I shout, bounding toward them. “Now!”
It doesn’t make any sense, I know. Pirates don’t belong on the road in the middle of Wales (or really anywhere else on this journey). But if there’s one thing I know after writing four — count them, four — seafaring heroes, it’s that pirates in Regency historical romances never, ever do what you expect.
“What’s going on?” Sarah rubs the hangover out of her eyes.
“Pirates,” I mumble. “Of course.”
“I’ll thrash the blackguards!” Monty springs up. It takes four of us to push him back onto his seat.
I pound on the carriage ceiling. ”Go, please! Fast!”
The coachman is as good as guineas and the carriage jolts into action, throwing us all into a sorry heap.
“Monty, get your boot out of my underarm,” someone mutters as I untangle my limbs and skirts from authoresses and Lady B’s ostrich feathers. But we’re flying along the rainswept road already and I breathe a sigh of relief. I would have liked to hang around long enough to catch a glimpse of Diantha riding Wyn’s beautiful black thoroughbred, Wyn walking alongside, leading her through the downpour, through his homeland, taking her hand to hold when she offers it to him and . . .
But I’ll have to wait a few weeks for that, two weeks and a bit, during which anything, anything could happen on this wild trip back to London.
Where is your heaven-on-earth? What is the place you’ve been in the whole world that made you the happiest?