Boatman's dream 4
By Parson Thru
The Ship had seen better days. Live music at the weekend and quiz nights mid-week kept it going. I walked in with Arthur. It was empty, except for two old regulars reading newspapers in the window and the slot machine flashing silently by the toilet door. The only sound was some kitchen noise and the hum of chillers under the bar.
The two regulars looked up briefly and went back to their papers. Costume and fancy-dress are nothing unusual on a Saturday afternoon with Brean and Weston on the doorstep. I looked at Arthur. He was watching the lights of the slot machine.
“Gents!” “What can I get you?”
“Pint of cider for me, please, Taff.”
Arthur was still watching the lights. Taff poured and looked up.
“He doesn’t speak English, Taff.”
“No? Where’s he from?”
“We think Wales.”
Taff asked in Welsh. Arthur turned and said something back. Taff looked flummoxed.
“Not any Welsh that I know, old son.”
“It sounded the same to me.” I grinned.
Arthur was looking at the glass of cider dripping on the bar towel. I put it in front of him. He stroked the condensation.
“Pour me another, Taff.”
When Taff settled the second pint on the bar, I picked it up and sipped it, licking the drops from my beard.
Arthur picked the first one up and did the same.
I handed Taff the money.
One of the old boys by the window called something in Welsh. Arthur looked up.
Taff looked across and said something back.
“I didn’t even know he spoke Welsh.” He said to me. “I didn’t understand any of that, though.”
The old boy put his paper down and came over.
“I’ve been here fifty years, Taff. Why would I speak Welsh?” He nodded to Arthur. “I think he’s speaking a dialect. My grandfather spoke something similar. He was a hill farmer. I know a few words, but it’s a dead language.”
Taff shook his head. “We learned Welsh as kids, but not any of that.”
The old boy spoke to Arthur again.
I caught “Arthur” in the reply.
“Ask him where he’s from, Rhys.” suggested the other old boy from the window.
Rhys translated the question.
Arthur looked uncertain.
“I don’t really know enough. Hang on.”
He tried again.
Arthur took a mouthful of cider and thought, then nodded. He pointed at the ground, then spoke what sounded like place names, finishing with “Usk”.
“My sister lives in Usk.” Taff said. “Married to a right bastard.” “I wonder if he knows them?”
“Maybe.” Rhys offered. “That’s too complicated for me though. Merlin’s your best bet. He’s into all that: old Celtic and Gaelic dialects. Right up his street.”
“They’re all away in Milford Haven this weekend.” I put in.
Rhys offered his hand to Arthur. They shook. “Go and see Merlin.” He went back over to the window and picked up his paper.
“How do you know him?” asked Taff.
“He was picked up drifting in the Channel this morning. I took him off another boat.”
“Someone must be looking for him.”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t have anything on him. No ID. Nothing.”
“Lost memory? Maybe pop into the police station in Weston.”
“I never thought of that. Good idea.”
"Merlin." Arthur repeated to himself.