“Hang on, we’ll get there soon.” She said, changing gear as the car struggled up the road.
The incline was harsh, and the trees that surrounded them hid the true dominance of the hills in this area. They had been travelling for nearly three hours and they were all tired, having gotten up so early for the journey. This part of the country was new to them all, and as the car snaked its way up through the trees, they were eager to see the open hills and valleys that they’d been told to expect.
Jessica rolled down the window in the backseat, letting the cool air and murky smell of the woods flood the car. She’d told nearly everyone at school she was going away for a few days, off to Wales and to hopefully see a dragon. They’d laughed and joked with her, taking the real reason for the trip away from her mind where it had only rested gently and fleetingly. She promised to bring them back something Welsh, though she didn’t know what that could be.
“Don’t get too cold back there.” Rachel said, shivering herself, changing gear once more. Their little car struggled against the demands of the road, but it had not failed them yet. Rachel had only been here once, back when she was a very small child, and she remembered nothing of it. Her grandmother had always visited them. It seemed selfish of her now, in all those years she’d never visited her in return here. Now, with her body about to be placed into the ground, she’d set forth to the soil that Amelia called home.
They suddenly burst through the trees as the car rounded a bend, a huge drop on one side bedded a stream nestled at the bottom, all grey and motionless. The brightness dazed her momentarily, and she blinked repeatedly as she drove on, the white and grey sky sprawling out over the huge expanse before them.
Richard tucked the map back into the glove compartment. He’d dug it out from an old box they’d kept in the spare room, the room where most things got dumped in their house. They’d found it useful, but they were nearly there now, and a signpost showed that in 14 miles they would make it to their destination. He’d also found the map made him feel useful, reading it as they had travelled, pointing out the sites along the way to Jessica. Not being able to drive made him feel a bit useless from time to time, even though Rachel enjoyed it. He reached down the side and retrieved the bag of sherbet lemons and offered the bag back to Jessica, who took one out and popped it into her mouth. He took one too, offering it to Rachel who said no thanks, so he ate it himself and ruffled the white bag closed and placed it back down the side, licking off the powder from his fingers.
“No dragons yet.” He said, aiming the words back at Jessica. She kicked his chair playfully.
“Nanna Amy once told us about one which slept in the mine near the village. She said the workmen had to send a sheep into the cave to distract it while they worked.” Rachel said, catching Jessica in her rear-view mirror.
“What happened to the sheep?” She asked, somewhat alarmed.
“Well, it usually came ambling out at the end of the day, I think it just used to get chased around the caves.” Rachel said, grinning.
“Must be a playful dragon, or not interested in eating sheep!” She said, looking out the window now as they began to head down into the valley.
Jessica watched as the green and grey flashed before her, she could see huge hills off in the distance. The trees seemed sparce, but little fluffs of them peppered the area, much like green sheep caught up high.
“What time is the service again?” Richard asked, turning to look at Rachel just as a light rain began to splatter the window.
“Oh no, not rain.” She said, turning on the wipers.
“It’s Wales, what did you expect?” He said, and she smiled.
“I was hoping to get there before we got caught in any rain, these roads might be tricky in wet weather. Urm, 3 o’clock is the service but they want us there at 2.30. I know aunty Glad wants to get us settled, and to show us off no doubt before.” She said, the wipers increasing now as the light rain had turned suddenly heavy.
Jessica watched as a huge bank of dark clouds rolled in above them. A car passed them on the other side, the first one they’d seen in a while, it’s headlights on now in the rain. She looked out across the valley once more, following the line of the hills with her finger on the windowpane, breathing on it to mark her way.
“Hey, what’s that?” She said, tapping the glass.
They all looked to the left, though Rachel only for a moment before returning her eyes back to the road.
“I’m not sure, why would….” Richard began, and Jessica added.
“There’s someone at the top of the hill, they have a fire.” She said, squinting to make them out in the rain and the distance.
“Why would someone be out in this weather on the top of a hill?” Rachel asked, noting the sign whizz by. Nearly there.
“Well, they are it seems. The flame is struggling in the wind though.” Richard said, and as he did the little flame seemed to burst a bit brighter for a moment, a beacon atop the hill.
“That’s really weird.” Jessica said, her window now rolled up as the rain had come in too heavy.
They carried on, leaving the hill behind them until Rachel made a left, turning off towards the village. Richard could still see the hill with the person on it as the car trundled down a rough road, skimming over the stream they had followed along. Soon enough they had arrived, the stone cottages and buildings littered their way as if giant rocks had been dropped from the sky, and the people below had carved houses out of them.
They all sat inside Pen-y-Waun, Aunt Gladys’s little cottage which looked out to the moor. Jessica munched on the custard creams that Gladys had placed on a very delicate little plate, while her mum sipped her tea.
“You call that heavy, nothing but a little spit of rain.” Gladys said, dunking a biscuit herself into her bone China cup. Jessica noticed the pattern, a little brown dragon curving around the side with trees and flowers decorating the edges.
“Well, it was hard to drive the last few miles. It was fine most of the way.” Rachel said, nestling her cup on her knee.
“Weather for a funeral, tears from God. Amy would’ve hated a clear day. Still, at least you made it safe. Remember any of it?” She said, asking Rachel.
Rachel shook her head.
“You were young, surprised if you could remember, though not much to remember really. But you were happy, always a smiling child. And your brother, good kids.” She said, but at the mention of her brother Rachel slunk down in her seat a little. “So, you’re here until next week then?”
“Oh, no just a couple of days. Don’t want to impose.” Richard said.
“You’re family, there’s no imposing. Stay as long as you like, be nice to have a few more faces around here to be honest. They all seem to be dropping off. God rest ‘em.” Gladys said, reaching for another biscuit.
“Are there many in the village then?” Richard asked.
Gladys pushed her horn-rimmed glasses up her nose, licking the crumbs of the biscuit away before speaking.
“When the mines were working, loads of us here. Now, most of the cottages are empty half the time. They rent them out for holidayers now, getting them all up from Bristol and the like. Come here for the quietness. Hmph!” she said.
“Is it not so quiet then?” Jessica asked, and Gladys cast her a curious smile.
“Jessica has heard about the Welsh dragons.” Rachel said, smiling.
“Dragons eh, I could tell you some tales. But that’s not what makes this place what it is.”
“Is it the person on the hill, with the flame? Is it for the dragons?” Jessica said, sitting forward in her chair.
Gladys put her cup down.
“It’s nearly quarter too, we best be getting a move on.” She said, hauling her large frame up out of her chair. Jessica knew when grown ups didn’t want to talk about something, but she felt suddenly invisible there in that little cottage.
The wind had picked up as they walked across to the small church. Most were already inside, but a few were making their way down the road towards the little building which stuck up on a ridge at the top of the village. Richard and Rachel walked slowly up towards the building, following Gladys who waved solemnly to the others as they came.
She suddenly put her arm around Jessica and pulled her in close, almost swaddling her in her black jacket.
“You saw the girl then?” She asked her, almost in a whisper. Jessica’s eyes lit up.
“A girl was it, a girl then?” She asked.
“Yes, she’s a girl alright. The girl of the mountain. You are lucky to see her.” She said, slowing her pace as they got closer to the church.
“What’s she doing, who is she?” Jessica asked.
“That is a hard thing to answer. No one knows who she is, but we know why she is there. Not many outsiders see her, course she usually isn’t there in the day. You must be more connected to this land then you realise.” She touched the girl’s chin kindly, flicking it with her crinkled thumb.
“Why is she there with a fire, is it to do with dragons?” She asked. Gladys shook her head.
“No, nothing to do with dragons. She is there to light the way; she is a beacon when there is sorrow in the village. Amy, your great grandmother was much loved here, she was a spark of joy and happiness in this little corner of the world, this grey world which can feel quite foreboding. The girl of the mountain is there to remind us that everything will be okay, that there is light even in the darkness.” She said, profoundly.
“But who is she, is she a ghost? Jessica asked, curious.
“She is something that perhaps doesn’t need explaining, she is there to remind us to spark our own light in the rain and fog of life.” She replied.
“So, everything will be good again, after the loss and the pain?” Jessica asked. Gladys looked down at her.
“You are beyond your years aren’t you. You’ll have to visit more often; I like company that has its head screwed on right. But yes, things will be good again, this will pass.” She said, and they made their way into the small church with Rachel and Richard following up behind.
“It’s cold isn’t it, shame about the rain.” Rachel said, stepping up the steps.
“It is, but the organ music is somewhat cheerful considering. Nothing sombre which is nice.” He took her hand, and for some reason they stopped and looked around them. Through the rain and the clouds, they could see a little smudge of yellow, dancing off in the distance. They did not know it, but the girl on the mountain was singing as her flame burned on through the weather. Sweet words of redemption and hope.
Wind is strong, but don’t you sway.
The pain is heavy but will give way.
This light I bare will warm your heart.
All’ll be right, begin from the start.