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THE CLIFFS OF CORNWALL

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Welsh Wench:
THE CLIFFS OF CORNWALL


© 2008 by the respective author.  All Rights Reserved.


 
"Megaera! Megaera Stafford, you come back here this instant!"
Megaera turned to her father. He stood there with his hands on his hips. "Just where do you think you are going?"
Megaera tightened her shawl around her. "To the cliffs, Father. I love it up there and it's not so very cold."
Lord Timothy Stafford shook his head. Again with the cliffs! He watched as his eldest daughter went down the path with her sheepdog Sheba.

Megaera spread her blanket down and gazed over the cliffs to the sea beyond. Her long dark hair whipped in the winds. Let's see...what shall I write today?
A shadow fell over the paper she was writing on. She looked up quickly. A man stood over her. He had on a white flowing shirt and tan breeches. Boots that came up to his knees and folded over. His light brown hair was tied back.
" 'allo, missy! " He said. Megaera took it all in...including the scabbarded sword by his side. PIRATE!! She jumped up and started to back up. "PLEASE! Please don't hurt me..I swear, I never saw you..."
She stumbled and started backwards. A hand quickly reached out and grabbed her. "Are you all right, Missy? Please! I shan't harm you."
Megaera tried to put pressure on her foot. "Ow! Ow!"
The man looked at her and sat her down. "Your ankle appears to be sprained. Let me look at it."
Megaera blushed at having a perfect stranger lift her skirt and examine her ankle.
"Twisted, she is." He rubbed it. "Here. Let me fetch some cool water."
He dipped his cup in and drew water out. He dipped the cloth he had in it and then wrapped it around Megaera's ankle. He grinned. "So...I think you are my captive audience for the next hour!"

Megaera sat there in quiet fear. What next? Shall I be...despoiled by this knave?
The pirate sat down and opened his box. Megaera's heart stopped. What is in there? Instruments of torture?
But the man took out paper and charcoal. Megaera looked questioningly at him. He laughed. "What did you think I had in here, pistols? Ropes? Nay, I like to sketch in my spare time."
He extended his hand to her. "My name is Rhys Morgan. And what might your name be, pretty missy?"
Megaera hesitantly took his hand. "My name is Megaera Stafford."
Rhys raised his eyebrow. "Stafford? Child of Lord Stafford?"
Megaera nodded wordlessly. Rhys smiled a little. "Well, welll! Pleased to meet you, Miss Stafford!"

"Megaera! Where are you off to now?"
Megaera put on her woolen coat and grabbed a muff. "Father, I am just walking on the cliffs. I just need some fresh air. I'll be back in a couple hours."
Lord Stafford just grunted his displeasure.
Soon Megaera was running down the path. Instead of heading to the cliffs, she walked down below them to the cove. Under the jutting rocks was a cave. She walked in. He was waiting for her and she flung herself into his arms.

Afterward, they lay there in the warmth of each other under the wool blankets that Rhys had brought. He held her in his arms.
"Megaera?
" "Hmmm?" she smiled contentedly.
"Megaera, I have to go away for a bit. The Renegade is ready to sail. I have to make one more run but I shall be back for you."
Megaera lifted her head up. "Take me with you, Rhys! Please! I can't bear to be apart from you another day! I am so afraid my father is starting to suspect things are not as they should be."
He kissed her shoulder. "Now, how would that be, a fine upstanding lass as yourself running off with a pirate? Nay, I will quit this life and come back respectable and shall ask for your hand proper."
Megaera looked deeply into his eyes. "He will never---NEVER give his consent, Rhys. You are a pirate! Your kind has left their booty in his caves and used them for smuggling. He tries to ignore it because he fears repercussions. But he hates you all the same."
Rhys looked off in the distance. "I wasn't always a pirate, you know. My family is very prominent in Wales. My father is Sir Owain Morgan." Megaera rolled over and propped herself on her elbow. Her fingers trailed down his chest and over his arm. "You never told me."
Rhys shrugged. "Maybe someday, Megaera my love. Someday."

Welsh Wench:
Megaera slipped outside in the early morning. Her father was sitting in the House of Lords for the past fortnight and was not around to keep a close eye on his daughter.
Megaera had taken a bottle of Lord Stafford's best claret and two goblets. She wrapped her cloak around her and hid the bottle underneath. As always, she hurried down the path. Rhys was waiting for her in the cave. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. He had a candle lit and stuck in an upturned shell. She laughed and produced the claret. Rhys poured them each a glass. He lifted it and said, "To my Megaera. I swear, my bonny lass, I shall come back for you on pain of death in two months' time. Wait for me."

Megaera and Rhys lay snuggled up in their secret cave for the last time until Rhys would return. He stroked the hair back from her face and told her, "Close your eyes, love." She did and Rhys slipped a ring on her finger. He said, "It has been in my family for generations. Solid gold. Supposedly belonged to Owain Gruffydd. KIng of Wales in the time of Henry the Second. Of whom I am descended."
Megaera's eyes shone as he slipped it on to her finger. She kissed him gently. "I shall wear it forever."
Rhys laughed, "It is what I call a promise ring. Look inside. What does it say?"
Megaera took it off her finger and said, "The writing is so tiny.. it says, 'wa--wait--wait for me"
Rhys said, "I had it inscribed. It is a symbol that I will come back to you. I promise, Megaera, I will come back for you."
Megaera took the ring off her finger. "This was my mother's. She died in childbirth with my brother Charles. I want you to carry it with you, Rhys. To let you know that I will wait for you."
Rhys said, "I shall put my note for you in this little crevice. Like we have been doing all the time. It will tell you where to meet me so we can leave Penzance together. Oh, Meggie! The places we will see! Venezia! Firenza! Paris! Just be ready to leave as soon as you hear the Renegade has returned. Make haste, darling. And we will sail away together and start a new life somewhere."
Megaera whispered, "Somewhere no one has heard of you."
Rhys laughed. "Then the Caribbean is out!"

It was growing late in the day. Rhys stood up and reached for his breeches. Megaera tried to be brave. She said, "This is it, isn't it Rhys?" He said, "Yes. I am leaving at daybreak. I have to check the supplies. I swear, I shall be back no later than the end of February." Tears were beginning to spill down Megaera's cheeks. Rhys reached into his sketch box and pulled out a paper. He handed it to Megaera. "Here. I sketched you when you weren't looking, Meg. And here is one of Sheba."
Megaera looked at it through her tears. "Oh, Rhys! Look at the details! You are a world class artist!"
Rhys said modestly, 'It wasn't hard. The subjects were fascinating!"
He put his shirt on and reached for his boots. Megaera turned her head so he wouldn't see the misery on her face.
He sat next to her and cupped her face in his hands. "Don't cry, my love. I shall be back. And we have a wonderful life ahead of us! Be brave. And keep this close to your heart. The knowledge that I love you."
Rhys walked to the entrance of the cave and looked back just once at her with a face that reflected his love for her. He couldn't bear it any longer and squared his shoulders and walked out of the cave.
Megaera pressed her face into the blankets and cried as if her heart were breaking in two.

"Megaera, will you stop moping around? It's spring! Spring! And you are pale and peaked and losing weight. You had better watch it, you will die of consumption!" Megaera looked at Lydia with lusterless eyes. She shrugged. "Ok, so it's spring. Then comes summer and then autumn..."
Lydia said, "Father has been busy. He said he is going to get rid of those caves. Block them up somehow. He said someone had been...trysting? I think that was the word, whatever it means...in the caves. He found several wool blankets and a candle melted down. And a bottle of claret, empty. Meg..Meggie? What is wrong? You can tell me. Please! You were vivacious and fun-loving up until four months ago. Right around the new year. What has happened to change you? OH HO! Meggie's in love! Meggie's in love!"
Lydia pranced around in a sing-song.
Megaera locked her hand on her sister's arm. "Lydia, I need to talk to someone. I have no one else. But you must promise on pain of death you will tell no one..NO ONE!"
Lydia's eyes grew wide. "Of course, Meggie! What? Who is he? Oh, I know! It's that Sir James Gwinnett that has cast his eye on you! I saw the way he looked at you at the April feast! I think he was quite taken with you!"
Megaera fastened her hand tighter on her sister.
"Ow, Meggie! You are hurting me!"
Megaera tried to keep her voice low. "Lydia..I missed. I'm late."
"So what? Nothing unusual with that. Just the change in the weather..what do you.. oh, Meg! MEGAERA! NO! NO!" Megaera nodded miserably.
Lydia's mouth was a perfect 'O' until she asked, "It is Giles, the stable boy, isn't it? Father will pitch a fit.."
Megaera shook her head no. Lydia said, "It's certainly not the esteemable Sir James Gwinnett, is it? He looks too proper to entertain any lustful thoughts.."
Megaera shook her head again, unable to find the words. Finally she whispered, "It's worse, Lydia...much worse. He's--he's a...pirate!"

Megaera sat there picking at her food. Lord Stafford said exasperatedly, "Lord, Megaera, don't keep picking at your food! Eat it before it gets cold! Think of the starving children in Yorkshire!"
Lydia kept glancing covertly from Megaera to their father. Megaera took a deep breath and said, "Father, I need to speak to you privately."
Lord Stafford said gruffly, "After dinner, in my quarters."

Megaera knocked on her father's door. "Enter!"
Megaera cautiously opened the door and said, "It's me, Father."
Lord Stafford gestured to a chair. "What's on your mind, girl?"
Megaera could not look at her father. "I'm with child, " she whispered.
"What? What was that, Missy? I didn't hear you. Come, come! Speak up!"
Megaera looked up. Her face reflected her fear and anxiety. "Father--I am with child."

Welsh Wench:
Lord Stafford sat down in his chair with a thud. He stared at his eldest daughter. "With child. You are with child. For certes?"
Megaera nodded. "For certes."
Lord Stafford scowled, "If you have been consorting with the help, I shall..shall..."
He didn't finish because he didn't know WHAT he would do. He sat down and took a deep breath. Lord, Megaera always was a handful. If only Margaret had not died...
He tried to remain calm. "Alright, Megaera, we shall deal with it. Who is the scoundrel who seduced you? Was it Giles?"
Megaera said, "Why does everyone think it is Giles?"
"Because Giles is the groom I made you take when you went riding. I swear, if he has seduced a member of this household...."
Megaera whispered, "It is not Giles."
Lord Stafford said, "Then who is it?"
Megaera just shrugged.
Lord Staffords exploded, "Don't tell me you don't KNOW??!!"
Megaera blurted out, "His name is Rhys Morgan, Father." Lord Stafford sputtered, "The captain of the ship the Renegade? The one that was drydocked here in the winter? The...the...." Megaera said, "The pirate? Yes, Father. Him. He is the father of my unborn child."
Lord Stafford raised his hand as if to strike Megaera and caught himself just in time. He sat down, his face purple with rage. "A pirate. My daughter is with child by a...a.... plunderer! A vagabond! A scalawag!"
Megaera sat there with her head down, unable to look him in the eye.
He said quietly and fiercely, "Go to your room, Megaera, and don't come out until I call for you. This takes some doing."
Megaera raised her head, "Father, he..."
Lord Stafford thundered, "Go!" and then he muttered, "Pirate blood. In THIS family? I think not..."

Megaera sat in her room looking out the window and praying, Please, Rhys! Where are you? Why haven't you come for me?
Lydia came into Megaera's room and took one look at her face. She crossed the room and hugged her sister tightly. Megaera sobbed like her heart was breaking. Which it was. Lydia held her and let her cry it out. She asked, "What happened, Meggie?"
Megaera broke away. "How do you THINK it went? Father told me to go to my room until I am called for. I don't know what he has planned."
Megaera reached under her bed for a small cedar chest. "Lydia, I don't know what is going to happen. But I would like to leave this chest in your safekeeping. There are some sketches in it."
She reached in and showed them to Lydia. Lydia exclaimed, "What fine work! Look at the picture of Sheba! Such detail...and OH, Megaera! A portrait of you! It looks just like you."
Lydia looked in the box. "What is this?"
Megaera through her tears picked up the ring. "Rhys promised he would come back for me. He gave me this ring. Oh, Lydia! Why didn't he come for me? He promised!"
But Lydia had no answers.

Welsh Wench:
The next morning, there was a knock on Megaera's door. Emma, the maid, came in with a concerned look on her face. "Beggin' yer pardon, Miss Megaera, but I was sent to fetch you. Your father requests your presence in his quarters in half an hour."
Megaera turned to Lydia, " 'Requests my presence.' When did Father ever show us any love or affection?"
Lydia frowned. "He must have something worked out. Do you want me to go with you?"
Megaera shook her head. "What can he do? If Rhys never comes back, I will at least have his child. Father certainily can't do anything about it."
Lydia tried to give her a smile of encouragement but it was shallow.
Megaera walked down to Lord Stafford's quarters. "Megaera. Sit down." he said coldly. "You have brought disgrace and dishonor on this family. I will not---I repeat NOT---have it known all over Cornwall that my daughter was whoring around with a pirate. So I have had to clean up this moral mess you have made, Megaera."
Megaera looked at him wordlessly.
He continued. "Sir James Gwinnett--a fine man--has requested your hand in marriage previously to this. I hesitated because I knew not of what you wanted. Now it is clear to me that there is no answer but this. I met last night with James and told him you were with child. He is willing to marry you and make the child his own. I am giving him a substantial dowry and land that I own in Somersetshire. You are to be married tomorrow."
"T-tomorrow? Married?" Megaera flung herself at her father's feet, begging him. "Please, Father! NO! Don't sell me away like this!"
Her father, hard-hearted bastard that he was, looked at her without compassion. "I could accept it if you were with child by a man of our station. Even the stablehands would have been more acceptible than that...that..bootlegger. You have no choice, Megaera. You will be married tomorrow."
Megaera stood up furious. "And if I refuse?"
Lord Stafford sat down. "Oh, I expected you would not go peacefully. So I am giving you an option. You don't have to marry Sir James Gwinnett."
Megaera wiped the tears off her face. "Thank you, Father."
Lord Stafford reached over and grabbed her wrist. He held it tight. "Nay, you may refuse. But here is what happens. You will give birth to your child. In an obscure village up North. Your child will then be given to a childless couple. I know a squire whose wife is barren. They long for a child. You will then be set up with a small allowance in London. For two years. If you have not made a match by then, your allowance will be cut off and you will be left to fend for yourself. I am sure you know what that means."
Megaera looked at him incredulously. "A-all because of a pirate?"
Lord Stafford looked at her. "All because of a pirate, Megaera. I lost a lot of things to those raiders. Looks like I lost my daughter to them, also. All because of a pirate. You made that choice when you let him..touch you. Now you have to pay the consequences. Where is he, Megaera? Is he here with you? Nay, he took what he wanted and left. Now go. You have an appointment with the seamstress for your wedding dress."

The entire day was a blur for Megaera. Lydia walked around in a daze, too.
She tried to be upbeat for Megaera's sake. "Meggie, he IS a good-looking man with wealth. He is willing to accept your child. He's a good man."
Megaera said defeatedly,"Yes, he is a good man. But he's not Rhys."
Lydia touched her sister's arm. "I think you had best forget about Rhys Morgan, Meg. He's not coming back."
Megaera hung her head in defeat. "Something must have happened. He said he would be here no later than the end of February. And now I am to be Lady Julia Gwinnett. I was informed I was to go by my first name now. Father told me after I marry James he didn't want to hear from me again. I am being banished to Somersetshire."

That evening, Sir James Gwinnett came to dinner. He was a tall man, about 30, with blond hair and blue eyes. Dinner was a quiet affair. Megaera sat there eating sparsely, looking down at her plate and hardly talking. Not a happy picture of a blushing bride.
After dinner, James asked her, "Julia, would you like to walk in the garden with me?"

Megaera got up listlessly and followed him into the garden. He offered his arm to her which she took. "Julia, I know there are..complications...in this match. I wanted you to know that I love you and I have respect for you..in spite of what happened." He took Megaera's hands in his. "I will be a good husband to you and a good father to your child. As I know you will be a fine mother to Charles. He's only two years old. But there is one thing I must ask of you. We will never mention the name of Rhys Morgan. Not to each other or others. The babe you are carrying will be my child and I will accept and love the babe as if it were my own. That is all I ask, Julia. And no one in Somerset shall ever know that the child is not mine. Do we have an accord?"
Megaera managed a small smile. "Yes, James. We have an accord." But inside her heart was breaking.

The next day Julia Megaera Stafford and Sir James Henry Gwinnett were joined in holy matrimony. It was a simple affair. Bans were posted at the church in Someset and it was a quiet ceremony in the Stafford parlor. Only family was present.
Lord Stafford did not kiss his daughter.

Julia Megaera gazed at the cliffs of Cornwall until she could see them no more.
 

Welsh Wench:
Rhys looked back one more time before they set sail. He saw the Stafford estates and their lands and kept imagining Megaera as a reluctant prisoner in that mansion of no love. From what she said and from what I have heard, her father is one mean bastard.
"Weigh anchor!" he yelled to the crew. Molly came over and stood by his side. She put her arm through his. "Rhys? A shilling for your thoughts?"
Rhys said, "Kind of hate to leave Cornwall, that's all."
"WHAT??" Molly said. "You? Hate to leave land? That's rich! I thought you'd be jumping out of your skin to leave that place! You hate to stay more than 3 days on land. What is our next venture..or should I say 'victim'?"
Rhys looked towards the horizon and pointed. "I heard the Isabella is due to come back within the week. She'll be following the trade routes and laden with gold and riches from the New World. It's our aim to make this our big score."
Molly jumped around and clapped her hands in glee. "A genius maneuver, as ever, Rhys!"
Rhys looked at her and said, "Aye. And we need to talk about our future tonight, Molly. Future plans."
Molly kissed him on the cheek. "Sounds like a plan to me!" She started below deck.
"Future plans, future plunders, future adventures! You and me, Rhys! As always!"
Rhys watched her go below and then he took a deep breath of sea air. That always calmed him down. I'll give Molly a good share--an extra share--of the booty. That may sweeten the pot. Lord knows she will be upset a bit after I tell her the plans..which don't include her. He stood on deck at the captain's wheel and watched as Cornwall got smaller and smaller in the distance.

"Molly? We need to talk. Now."
Molly was sittiing at the table in the captain's quarters."Rhys, you should try these oranges! In Cornwall, the trees ripen this time of year. Since it is on the water it has a temperate climate..you just pick them right off the trees! I snagged these from the old Stafford estate...heard he's a nasty piece of work. Rules his household with an iron fist. Two daughters...bet they are the spoiled little princesses of the manor. Here! Try one!"
She held an orange out to him. Rhys shook his head. Molly leaned back on the bed and smiled at him. "You want to talk. So...start talking. This sea air does wonders for my appetite and my.."
Rhys turned around and said, "Would you for once just shut up and listen to me? You are always going on and on about this and that. What I have to say is important and changes things. For both of us."
Molly put her hand out in front of her like she was admiring an imaginary ring on her finger. "So talk, darlin' Rhys. Tell me what is in store for us."
Rhys took a deep breath and just plunged right in. "It's over, Molly."
"Over? What is over, love?"
"Us. The plundering, the pillaging..I want to quit and become a respectable citizen again."
Molly burst out laughing. "Oh, that's rich! Rhys, you have such a delightful sense of humour! I love it! I always loved that about you!" She jumped up and threw her arms around him. She kissed him soundly on the lips.
"Alright, Rhys, seriously. What are the plans? Something bigger than the Isabella? The whole Spanish Main? Wonderful! We'll take them all, Rhys! You and me! We will be legendary! Children hundreds of years from now will whisper our names in the dark and cry for their mommies and daddies because we shall be the most fearsome pirates that ever sailed the Caribbean! NO! The entire oceans of the world!"
Rhys looked at her and exploded. "WOULD YOU FOR ONCE SHUT UP, MOLLY? DAMN! That is what is so irritating about you! You can't shut up and you can't tell the forest for the trees. The fact is that I want to quit pirating all together. I want to settle down in Cornwall."
Molly frowned. "Cornwall? But there is nothing there. I would be bored out of my mind. Why not Barbados or Jamaica? Even Tortuga would be more fun."
Rhys said. "You hate Tortuga. Tortuga hates you. Nay, Molly. I am quitting pirating. And I am quitting you."
Molly looked at him unbelievingly. "Quitting pirating..QUITTING ME?? I think not, Rhys Morgan!"
Rhys sat down on the bed next to her. "You deserve to know the truth, Molly. When we were in Cornwall, I fell in love. I plan to go back and ask for her hand in marriage. I will sell the Renegade and split the profits with you. Equal share. Fifty-fifty. But I want out."

Molly's mouth was working but the words didn't come out. Finally she found her voice and said with deadly calm, "And who is this strumpet you are leaving me for?"
Rhys said, "It doesn't matter."
Molly jumped up. "Doesn't matter? DOESN'T MATTER? Like HELL it doesn't matter! Oh, I know! One of those doxies trolling the wharfs! How could you be so stupid, Rhys? You know you are just one of..."
Rhys closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "You don't understand, Molly. She's not that kind of girl."
Molly's eyes were blazing. "A SHOP girl? You fell in love with a dressmaker? Or..heaven forbid!..a milliner?"
Rhys said softly, "No. None of those."
Molly said nastily, "Well, the only ones left are that mean bloke Staffords precious daughters and I can't see THEM giving you the time of.. oh no! NO!!"
Rhys sat there in silence.
Molly flared. "You are dumping me and your life for the high mucky-muck life for 'to the manor born', is that it? IS THAT IT?"
Rhys nodded. This is not going well, he thought.
"Yes, Molly. I'll be honest with you. I am going back and asking Julia Megaera Stafford for her hand in marriage."
Molly yelled, "JUST THE HAND?? You'd better hope you get the rest to go with it, Rhys!"
She raised her hand to slap Rhys in the face. He caught her hand before it made contact. She looked at his hand and said quietly, "Your ring. Your family ring. It is gone."
Rhys said nothing.
Molly railed, "YOU GAVE IT TO THAT STRUMPET!! That strumpet with all the fancy manners and the fine clothes and the money and the name! All of that will not turn you into a gentleman, Rhys Morgan! Once a pirate, always a pirate!"
Rhys said softly, "I am sorry I hurt you, Molly."
Molly swiftly broke his grasp from her hand and fled out of the room. Her parting words to Rhys were, "NOT HALF AS SORRY AS YOU ARE GOING TO BE, RHYS!"

Rhys did not see Molly the rest of the day. She was holed up in the captain's quarters. He had no idea what she was up to. And at that point he didn't even want to know. He just wanted out. Of the whole pirate's life. All he wanted was a normal life. All he wanted was Megaera.

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