The Dark is Rising Sequence is by Susan Cooper and the characters used in this story belong to her. No money is being made from this story.

The Changes of the Sea

I am the bell. I am the tongue of the bell, gold and green, far under the swinging water.
'(Kevin Crossley-Holland,
Sea Tongue)

"If you look carefully, you can see people's bones sticking out of the cliff!" Bran was lying on his chest in the tough, sandy grass, his head as white as a cloud against the blue sky.

"They're not bones, they're just bits of flint." Will forced his hands deeper into the pockets of his anorak. "They found all the bones ages ago. Do you really have to get so close to the edge?"

Bran rolled over and sat up, grinning. "Wouldn't have seen the bones otherwise, would I? Why, you scared?"

"There is a reason," said Will patiently, "the bones were sticking out of the cliff in the first place. It's called erosion. You may have heard of it. It means bits of it keep breaking off."

Bran looked down at the ground beneath his feet. "Looks pretty solid to me." He poked at a tuft of grass experimentally with one toe. "Yeah, that's all right. Just a bit springy. Bet I could jump up and down on it if I wanted to." His grin widened.

"Bran. Don't jump up and down on it."

"Only a little bit. Don't worry, it's fine." He bounced gently on the balls of his feet. "See?"


Will hadn't moved from where he was, his hands still in his pockets, but there was a sharpness in his voice he hadn't quite intended. "Just ... come on. I'm hungry."

Bran shrugged, and moved away from the edge slightly. "All right." He turned and looked back again at the view, shading his eyes from the sun. "Nice, though, isn't it? I mean, you can see why they call it an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty." The capital letters came across quite clearly through the sharp edges of his accent. Somehow, Bran always seemed slightly more Welsh when he was not in Wales. Will suspected he did it on purpose.

"Yep. Lovely." Will turned and started back down the narrow track that led to the car park. A feathery heathland spread out on either side of the path, dotted here and there with splashes of purple heather and yellow-starred gorse, cut off abruptly by the ragged scar of the cliff-edge.

"In a mood now, are we?" Bran had caught up, and Will didn't have to turn and see his small, semi-private smile to know it was there.

"Course not." He stopped walking and looked around him, at the notice-boards describing local wildlife and popular walks, families of tourists sitting at picnic tables with their packed lunches, and the bright orange flags that served as warnings, arranged in a line along the edge of the cliff. Danger.

"It's just..." he said. "This place. Just gives me a weird feeling, that's all. Silly. Ignore me."

But Bran had stopped, too. His eyes, shaded now behind dark glasses, were fixed on the fake horizon-line formed by the uneven cliff-edge against the empty sky. His white sweater billowed, flag-like, in the breeze. Down below them, the sea crashed and hissed against the beach.

"Reminds me of something, this place. I don't know..." He looked over at Will briefly and smiled. "Funny, I can't remember now whether I ever took you there, when you were in Wales, I mean." He shook his head, as though to clear it, and the wind whipped his pale hair in rat-tails around his face. "Just an old story," he said. "An ancient land drowned under the sea ... I suppose you get these same old tales all over, don't you? Church bells ringing under the waves, all that."

"Yes," said Will. "I suppose you do." He put his hands in his pockets again, and looked away from the cliff. The sun was in his eyes.

"Must have been awful," said Bran softly, "watching the sea come rushing in like that. And there's nothing you can do..."

Will cleared his throat. "It wasn't like that here," he said. "Not all at once. The sea battered away at the cliff until the village fell in, bit by bit, cottage by cottage. Then there was nothing left except the old church, and the graveyard tilted up and broke away, and everything went down into the sea. All the stones, and the earth, and the old bones. Under the sea. And the bones of the fishermen who died in the storms..."

His voice died away to nothing, and he looked cautiously at Bran, but Bran gave no sign of having heard him. He was still gazing out at the bright sky. The frames of his sunglasses glinted and flashed in the sun.

"They must have been afraid," he said slowly. He sounded like someone talking in his sleep, like someone speaking through a dream. "Must have... But they lit fireworks, and they rang the bells. They knew what was going to happen. They knew."

"It's the sea," said Will. He shrugged helplessly. "People who live with the sea ... they know they can't really control it. Can't tame it. It's just too wild."

They stood still for a moment, listening to the gentle crash of the waves far below their feet, drawing and sucking at the dark, peaty sand, retreating and rushing forward again. Will held his breath. If he could just listen a little bit harder, he was sure ... he was sure there was something there to be heard. Deep and low: a ringing, a calling. If he could only hear...

But then a harsh cry ripped a hole in the stillness, startling them both, and they looked up. A small flock of gulls wheeled over their heads in a sudden skirl of white wings, tail feathers fanned out bright and stiff in the sun. Bran and Will watched the birds as they flew out of sight, gliding and turning effortlessly in the blue sky.

Bran whistled. "That was close," he said. "Thought they were going to come and land on us then. Very Hitchcock." He grinned.

"They'll come back later," said Will. "Probably after people's leftover sandwiches."

"Speaking of which -- I'm bloody starving! What are we waiting around here for?" He bounded ahead of Will and stood facing him on the path. He seemed to spark with suppressed energy, the dreaminess of a minute ago entirely gone, smoothed away like sand washed clean by the tide.

"No reason," said Will.

"Come on then!" Bran walked back to where Will stood, unmoving, in the middle of the sandy track. He was smiling, his owl's eyes lit bright with amusement, and Will smiled back at him. "Or do you want me to die of starvation?"

He reached forward and delved into Will's anorak pocket, his hand closing over Will's hand, and it felt to Will like something that had always been there, for as long as he could remember. He realised that his fingers were balled tightly into a fist, and uncurled them. They slid and interlaced with Bran's as he did so, and the feeling was feather-light and warm, strange and yet familiar.

"Lunch," said Bran, pulling his hand from the pocket and tugging gently, so that Will was forced to take a step towards him, or fall. Bran nodded his head very slightly, as though they'd reached an important decision, smiled and turned, but he kept Will's hand folded lightly in his own.

"Lunch," agreed Will, and followed Bran as he led the way back along the path. High above their heads, the sun shone midday-bright and sparkled on the white spray from the waves, and the sharp flints gleamed light and dark together out of the crumbling yellow face of the cliff.