28 September 2014

Valley of the Rocks - Exmoor

We had an outing to Lynmouth and Exmoor - The Valley of the Rocks










and here is a short excerpt from On The Account, the fifth Sea Witch Voyage - set in this very spot:
(note excerpt is unedited)

Chapter One
Exmoor March 1719

An hour after dusk had settled into the darkness of night, Tiola fed another stick into her meagre fire. The wood was damp and it gave off more smoke than heat, but it was better than nothing up here on the windswept openness of Exmoor’s exposed coast. She was sheltered in the hollow behind the magnificent tor of rocks that separated the valley from the sea, three hundred feet below, a place steeped in myth, legend, and mystery. There was nothing left, now, of the wooden and stone circles, or the monument standing stones erected by the people who had lived here long ago in the shadows of Holden Hill. It was said that the devil had resided here in a castle of rock with his many wives, but angered at their infidelity he had blasted the eyrie to pieces. All that remained were the bare, jagged bones, the skeleton rocks piled stone upon stone. Nothing but a story, an old tale to explain the strangeness of a natural formation - the devil did not exist, but Tiola was aware that something was lurking out there in the darkness, watching her.
The stick flared into flame and the light caught the glint of an eye a few yards off. Tucking a loose strand of her black hair behind her ear, Tiola calmly added more wood to the fire and smiled to herself. This was the Valley of Rocks known also for the herds of feral goats that thrived on the coarse sea-salt grass. A huffed snort and a stream of misted breath evaporated into the cold air. A pony then, not a goat; one of the distinctive two-thousand year old Exmoor breed with their shaggy coats and light-coloured muzzles. Had she borrowed such a pony from the stables at Tawford Barton she would be at her destination by now, but her mission was secret and she wanted to know who had been following her these past seven days. Had she asked for a mount they would have insisted on a servant to accompany her – for young ladies were not supposed to wander the lonely moors on their own, but then, her strange shadow would not reveal himself.
The pony moved away, uncomfortable at the smell of fire; she heard his hard little hooves clatter on some rocks, then the sound of him cantering away, the drumming thudding as if the very ground was hollow.
She fed the flames with yet another stick. “You are welcome to share my warmth and light,” she said as she moved her hand slightly in a figure of eight motion and the sulky fire leapt into vigorous life.
A shape approached from the opposite direction to where the pony had disappeared. Tall, lean and lithe of figure, he was dressed immaculately in knee-high leather boots and black breeches; a sumptuous green-velvet longcoat and an exquisitely embroidered waistcoat covered a linen shirt with the froth of a French Lace cravat beneath his chin. At his left hip, a rapier scabbard delicately engraved and inlaid with silver and lapis-lazuli enamel: a gentleman’s slender weapon sheathed inside. Over it all, a hooded, ankle-length sable-lined cloak fastened across his chest with a gold chain looped to two diamond-encrusted clasps that glistened in the star-light - an elegant man, his fastidious apparel incongruous out here on the open moors.
He pressed his slender-fingered, manicured hands together as if in prayer and bowed, his bright, sapphire-blue eyes gazing at her from beneath lustrous, raven’s-wing black hair.
Namaste, señora preciosa.”
She returned the greeting, but did not rise from her seated position on the damp grass. “Namaste. Well met, Mahadun of the Night-Walkers. Are you alone, or does a companion accompany you?”
Mahadun bowed again, smiled. “I am alone.”
Tiola was certain this was untrue, but the Night-Walkers did not lie. Mahadun, however, was adept at skilfully circumnavigating the truth. He had answered correctly, no Night-Walker accompanied him, but she could sense a second presence lingering out there somewhere in the darkness. Was Mahadun unaware that he, in turn, was being followed? Unlikely, for the Night-Walkers’ senses, as with her own, were highly sensitive. His answer had been literal; perhaps she should re-phrase the question to be as precise? Leaving the matter for now she said instead, “I would know why you have followed me so closely these last seven days. What is it you want?”
Smiling, showing perfect white teeth, he indicated the fire seeking permission to sit.

When Tiola nodded, he sank elegantly down to sit cross-legged opposite her. “Am I not old friends with Tiola of the White Craft? Do I need a reason to be in her company?”