– Chamber of the Dead –
Cornwall, England. December 1979
Kerensa stood, shivering, on a glistening ledge of granite, staring down one hundred feet at the foaming breakers that smashed against the base of the cliff, their power reverberating through the rock, salty spray rising up to greet her in a clammy embrace.
“Why would dying be easier?” was her thought, as she shuffled involuntarily closer and closer to the drop. The sudden screech of a gull rising as if in alarm from the cliff below snapped her from her trance and she reeled back in horror, as if surprised by the terrifying abyss that beckoned her but a few inches away. Angry that such a thought had dared to enter her head, a wave of nausea and disgust swept over her, laced with a sense of confusion and despair.
It was as if all free will had been snatched away and she was being controlled remotely by some entity bent on destroying the last remnants of the dignity and self-esteem she had fought so hard to rebuild over the last three years. And now “he” was back and she resented the intrusion with a passion that bordered on hostility. In this moment, she hated Jon so much, and couldn’t equate this sensation with the surge of passion she’d felt when he’d faced her at the museum just a few days ago. What on earth was happening?
Pulling back from certain oblivion had created an unsettling clarity, but the thoughts that swirled around her head posed yet more questions and challenges.
‘What am I thinking?’ she said out loud, sudden realization of the terrible pain she would experience as her body smashed into the jagged rocks below causing her to shudder and gasp.
She could hardly breathe, the constriction causing her to panic and grasp for something to hold on to, her head spinning wildly. Nothing but cold air greeted her clutching fingers and she slumped to the ground, the smooth wetness of the rock offering stability at least, a chance to regroup, to confront the hideous thoughts that flooded through her mind.
‘Would death be kinder than this continuous darkness?
Why is everything so hard?
Why am I allowing fear and dread to rule my life?
Why did he have to come back?
Is it fair to blame him?
He’s nothing to me, part of a past I’ve left behind.’
She cried, cold tears streaming down her cheeks, frustration and anger washing over her in equal measure.
Music had always been her one true escape route. It enabled her to negotiate the labyrinth of teeming thoughts, where everything was chaos, life ever on the edge of disaster. Yet, at this moment, even music wasn’t up to the challenge, and life felt a complete mess of confused emotions.
But something, perhaps the reawakening she’d felt when Jon had appeared at the museum, pulled her back from the brink. Opening her eyes, she rose slowly, turned and staggered back, shaking violently. Her head was still spinning, the short journey from the hard rock ledge to a carpet of soft grass a tortuous one. Slumping down wearily, disregarding the wetness that was seeping into her entire body, she took a deep breath, followed by another, the madness fall away … for now.
Despite her derisive thoughts, a vivid picture of Jon drifted into her mind but, after a brief surge of longing, a tidal wave of resentment, anger and hate pounded into her head once more, the vision obliterated. Why was that? The emotion was vivid, the feeling so strong. She could actually hear his voice, as if he were standing right in front of her.
Surely this ought to be reassuring, and yet it was not. Why were destructive thoughts uppermost in her mind? Had she grown into this mind-set, allowing it to take root with no resistance? Had it always been there? Perhaps it had.
The sense of panic and dread had fallen away a little, the thoughts, however confused, diverting her mind sufficiently to allow a modicum of sanity to prevail. She was still shaking both with emotion and cold, the salty mist enveloping her. Even so, something made her stand involuntarily and gaze defiantly over the vast expanse of a grey Atlantic stretching away to a dark misty distance. The savage wave-scape seemed to echo the conflict and turbulence in her mind.
Once more Jon’s voice … God, how she wished he would go away … filtered through the chaos, the words of “You got a friend” outrageously coming to mind. Why was she having so much trouble believing that he could brighten up even her darkest night. Did she even want him to try?
Barely an hour before, Jon had been approaching his own breaking point, waiting anxiously beneath the cave arch on Tremerryn Beach, willing Kerensa to join him there. Despite Tegan’s misgivings, he was excited about seeing her again. Their previous stormy meetings had been rather more public but here, on familiar territory, surely they could make sense of what was, or was not, happening between them. A loud voice in his head told him not to resurrect the past, to simply let go. It was, surely the past for a very good reason.
And yet destiny had dictated that he should return to Cornwall and that same kismet had caused their paths to cross again. How deep had their ‘so-called’ love all that time ago really been? Three years … it seemed longer on the one hand, and like yesterday on the other.
All indications were that she was a lost cause, the coolness of her response on each occasion they’d met since his return making that patently clear, something that he had never considered a possibility. Like a form of blind faith, he’d just assumed they would get back together and pick up where they’d left off.
She hadn’t responded to his letters or calls, but now he knew that Francis and Elsie had not passed his messages on. She’d made no attempt to get in touch, but had asked his mother where she could find him in London. Had she only agreed to meet him today to keep him quiet? After all, he had rather press-ganged her into it.
The muted roar of waves echoed around the cave, like the sound of a disturbed and disgruntled bear. He remembered the same rumbling crash when they’d spent time here together as being playful, uplifting and challenging, but never aggressive. Was the ocean passing judgement on his handling of affairs? He silently cursed his impetuous nature. It had been too soon to push Kerensa, if she should be pushed at all.
He was trying too hard perhaps but then, that had always been his way. No wonder she was wary. He hadn’t thought it through and now faced a situation that could easily make things worse … for both of them. It had felt clever and inventive to suggest they met on the beach but now, it didn’t seem such a good idea and, in some ways, he was hoping she wouldn’t show. It might be kinder for both of them.
Almost in response to his thought, a car pulled up by the harbor, about a hundred yards distant, all logical thought evaporating in a split second. It had to be her, the synchronicity was undeniable. Would three years of agony and wondering be wiped away, or turn out to be the complete disaster he fully anticipated?
The tide was low, and a lush carpet of golden sand interspersed with stark rocks and deep, crystal clear pools lay between where he was standing and the harbor. It seemed an age, although probably less than a minute, before the car door was opened and someone stepped out. Pausing, surely agonizing over what to do next, they walked slowly to the bottom of the slipway and stood looking along the beach, up at the sky and then back down to the sand. One last look, directly at where he was standing, and the figure retreated hurriedly.
Jon was rooted to the spot as the car disappeared up the lane and out of sight, rather quicker than it had arrived. Resisting an urge to dash back over the beach, his thoughts came together in a surprising sequence, the immediate sensation being an overwhelming feeling of relief. It had been a stupid idea in the first place.
‘Wouldn’t it be best just to let go? I’ve no idea what’s happened in her life since I’ve been away. If it wasn’t for the baby we lost, it would be so much easier. I just want to know she’s okay. She seems unhappy and on edge, but then I can see why that might be. It’s no good, I need to make sure she’s safe at least. Why do I think she may not be?’
These anxious thoughts prompted him to head for the jetty, following the trail of footsteps he’d made in the sand barely an hour before. Back at the harbor, the only indication that a car had been ever been there was evidenced by deep gouges in the gravel left behind as the car sped away .
Hurrying along the steep path through the scrubby dampness of the lower valley, he arrived at the medieval buildings at the bottom of the grounds, now challenged by time and the elements, the worst of the decay being, mercifully, shrouded in the remains of the heavy snow which had transformed Kevrinek into an Arctic wilderness. A further short climb took him to the rear of the house, his hope being that she’d gone there instead. Why had he rashly suggested they met at the beach … of all places?
‘Is Kerensa here?’ gasped Jon, bursting through the door, his sister’s startled face answering the question before she spoke.
‘Should she be?’ asked Tegan, looking anxiously at her brother, and then around the room in case she’d missed something.
‘Kerensa didn’t turn up then?’ she asked, avoiding the more obvious “don’t say I didn’t warn you” intimation.
Jon exhaled in frustration. ‘Someone arrived and I’m sure it was her. She must have lost her nerve at the last moment. Okay, you were right’ he said, looking at his sister ‘but then I wondered if she’d come here. Clearly not.’ His shoulders sank in exasperation, but he quickly shook himself into frenzied activity, disappointment now tempered by concern for Kerensa’s safety.
Tegan had noticed his confidence had taken a hit since she’d last seen him, but the desperate look on his face … this was something new altogether.
She’d always been the outgoing one when they were growing up. Jon was more reserved, apart from when singing and playing, when his personality shone through. Chatter between songs and the way he directed other musicians, making an audience feel at ease, was in total contrast to his introversion in most social situations.
The relationship between him and Kerensa had always puzzled her. It had been largely free from drama, but she’d known there was something wrong long before the eventual breakup. Kerensa never appeared as committed as Jon. It felt as though he was being used as a diversion to mask other underlying issues, although he’d seemed oblivious to it at the time. To Tegan, it stood out like a sore thumb.
She was sure that Kerensa was biding her time, ready to jump when it suited her, which was exactly what had happened. Jon’s latest attempt to resurrect what might have been after three years apart was, as far as she was concerned, doomed to failure and she wasn’t at all surprised when Kerensa had reacted so violently.
Everything was so raw, hardly a good starting point, the biggest issue being that Jon naturally felt guilty about the baby they’d lost and wanted just to talk it through. It would surely have been a traumatic time for her.
But, as justification for starting a full-blown relationship again, it hardly stacked up, recent events confirming that emphatically. Besides which, Kerensa had shown nothing that would suggest she agreed with his strategy, quite the opposite in fact. Tegan knew that logic and willpower were way hardly Jon’s strongest attributes and feared she would have her work cut out to convince him that he was chasing a lost cause.
‘I’ve got to find her,’ gasped Jon in desperation. The sense of urgency in his voice excluded rational thought. ‘I’m afraid she might do something silly,’ he added, striding to the front door.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Tegan, knowing that Jon was probably right, but could easily make the situation worse. Tegan would have to mediate, almost like a referee in a sparring contest. Grabbing a coat and dashing outside, she caught up with him at the car, turned him forcibly to face her, ignored the protests and spoke as if to a small child.
‘Jon.’ She shook him gently, daring him to interrupt at his peril. ‘Don’t go rushing off, guns blazing and try to make things happen. Think it through. There’s something we don’t know about, something significant, and it’s affected her deeply. It’s not just you coming back or this business with the baby. Don’t assume it’s all your fault. There’s more to it, and we need to find that out before we can get anywhere.’
Barely a week before, Jon had battled his way from London, through almost impenetrable snow, in response to a message from Tegan, saying that their father had died in an accident. He had no choice but to return immediately and, although he knew nothing of how things would stand after three years away, Kerensa naturally became part of the homecoming equation whether he wished it or not.
His return proved to be just as uncomfortable as he’d anticipated. Attacked by Francis Martyn as soon as he arrived, the emotional rollercoaster gathered pace as the circumstances of his father’s death led him along a trail of intrigue, deep into the medieval world embodied in his ancestral home, Chy Nans, entombed in snow above Kevrinek. His father was dead, his mother unwell, Tegan in Rome and Chy Nans uninhabitable.
In an attempt to get his head around what was happening, he’d called on his trusted, long-standing mentor, Branock Bray at the museum in Truro. But this had complicated matters further, in that Branock had been working on a project with Jon’s father, which raised questions about a mysterious monastic connection to his home, going back centuries, ironically something Jon was also looking into.
The seemingly preposterous notion that medieval treasure was hidden somewhere at Chy Nans had resulted in the death of first his father and then, just a couple of weeks later, of Branock himself. All Jon and Tegan had to go on were a few scraps of information to help them make sense of what had happened.
This unlikely scenario had very little going for it in terms of actual proof but, much as Jon poured scorn on any hint of intrigue, the same inexplicable madness now gripped him, his agile mind looking for clues that would somehow justify what had happened. The opportunity to dismiss the idea as fanciful was not one he wanted to consider.
The house had never, as far as anyone knew, been thoroughly explored but now, that’s exactly what he intended to do. Secrets were there to be uncovered, he could feel it. Whether whatever came to light manifested as treasure remained to be seen but, if there was anything to be found, Jon was determined that he would be the one to find it.