It was probably one of the best and worst nights of Lia’s life. After about the age of 13, maybe 15, you don’t expect to giggle through an uncomfortable night of sleeping on the floor, but there she was: snorting with laughter every time she thought too hard about where they were and what they were doing. She would settle down and think she was drifting off and then feel the shaking of Harry’s silent laughter next to her and it would set her off again.
They tried their best to keep Florence tucked between them so her poor joints would be as warm and dry as possible but she clearly got annoyed with the squirming and noise coming from Lia and Harry and so squirmed away to lie down near their feet.
The cold burrowed deep into the muscles around Lia’s back and shoulders and she felt all night as if she were at least partially awake. The rain thrummed and tinked off the camper van and while she stayed dry she felt achingly stiff and cold. Despite this though, every time she thought she was so cold and tired she might be about to get grumpy and sad, she refelt the ridiculousness of it all sink back in and she began to laugh again. And the laughter seemed to let the tight muscles of her cold spine relax. Morning would come. She held Harry’s hand and tried to see the entire night as an anecdote that they would interrupt each other in the telling of.
At first she wasn’t sure if the sun was coming up, but then the greyness of the light creeping in turned into colour and they emerged from under the camper van.
“That,” Harry said, rubbing his face vigorously, “was awful.” And Lia laughed all over again.
“Yes, yes it was. Right let’s look for those keys shall we?”
They retraced their steps back towards the pub, eyes fixed on the ground, combing the grass for a glint of silver.
“It was roughly here wasn’t it?” Lia said, feeling hope draining from her that they were going to find the keys and avoid an expensive locksmiths call.
“I think so. Do some sniffing!” Harry said, huffing great lungfuls of air in and making Lia laugh again. She’d missed laughing at him. Her heart twanged again at the realisation he’d stopped playing and she’d failed to notice.
“What are you doing?”
“Well, we only lost the keys because we were poop collecting,” Harry explained, sniffing in again, “Maybe there’s a remnant that can lead us there?”
Lia belly laughed, “What a disgusting trail of breadcrumbs!” They moved slowly through the dewy grass hoping the grumpy landlord wouldn’t see them and think they were totally mad. “Wait, what’s that!” Something glistened in the shiny beads of water on the grass and Lia pounced. “Aha!”
But when she lifted the shining object out of the long grass, being careful to look out for stray swipes of dog excrement, it wasn’t a key at all but a locket on a long chain.
“Key?” Harry said excitedly, stepping closer to where she was inspecting her find.
“No!” Lia held it out to show him, “it’s a necklace.”
“Oh wow, that’s really lovely.” Harry tried to flick the locket open with his thumb but it was stuck fast.
“It is,” Lia agreed, “but I don’t think it’s going to help us get to clean clothes and a toothbrush. My mouth feels like it’s full of moss.”
“I’d love a shower that wasn’t just Florence’s tongue.”
Lia pocketed the necklace and they continued their search - necks aching from craning down. Lia’s boot stepped down and she felt something hard under it. “Oh!” She jerked her knee up quick and there, lying innocently beneath her foot was the key. “Harry! I’ve got it!”
“Oh Lia yes! Oh thank god!” They raced back to the van, with Florence loping excitedly next to them, probably wondering what these bizarre humans were up to. They immediately put some water on to boil for some much needed caffeine and then took in turns to shower and clean the night off themselves.
They persuaded the grill to produce some seriously uneven toast and settled into the squashy seats of the van to eat breakfast.
“Well,” Lia said, chewing her toast and already dreaming of the next slice, “The night time was a bit of a disaster but this morning bit is good! Maybe if we’re a bit more careful we can complete an entire nice day on this trip of a lifetime?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, adding more jam to his toast, “Speaking of which, what do you want to do today? Tired? Want to stay here? It’s very quiet isn’t it?”
“Dude I work in a library, I’m ok with quiet.” Lia said, standing up to offer more innocent bread to the whims of the grill. “I actually fancy exploring though - what do you reckon?”
“Yeah, me too! I’m glad you said that. Shall we see what’s in the area we could do? I think my battery should have some charge in it by now.” He leaned across to where his phone was creeping back to life and then began scooping through his browser looking for local excitements.
They finished up breakfast, even enjoying doing the washing up due to the novelty of the camper van. Harry offered up options for their day inbetween drying plates and knives and they eventually settled on a local folklore museum that seemed like it would either be very interesting, so underfunded it was actually quite funny or, both. They unhitched the camper van from the electricity post and Lia let Harry negotiate back across the grass and out onto the road. The landlord was stood, silently, in the car park as they pulled away. They waved to one another but did not say hello.
From the outside of the museum, it seemed like their second guess about the funding of the museum might just be accurate. It was tiny looking. Barely more than an extended shed really but the sign outside it looked so lovingly made that they decided to go in and enjoy.
A friendly woman on the door welcomed them and exchanged their cash for two raffle tickets to prove entry paid. Lia wanted to giggle at the unnecessary admin, but received her raffle ticket with glee and slipped it into her coat pocket. They followed the instructional arrows to the start of the displays and began to look at the artefacts and plaques that were laid out across the shelves and tables around the edge of the room.
The first table was filled with pottery and other finds from archaeological digs that had taken place in the region over the last decades. There were pots that indicated Roman invasions, various weapons and building tools and bits and pieces of pottery and jewellery.
“If you could live in any time from history, which would it be?” Harry asked, musing past some spear shafts.
“Am I a woman still?” Lia asked, following him slowly.
“Yes, why?” Harry frowned at her.
“Well, it makes a huge difference doesn’t it? I’m not going to go back to most times as a woman because it’s basically signing up to torture until I die. Maybe romans? If you could social climb or manipulate well enough you could be pretty powerful as a woman then.”
“Yeah ok. What about as a man?”
“Probably still Roman. They had good food and wine.” They both laughed, “How about you?”
“I know it sounds weird, but I’d be interested to go and be some sort of pre-Roman Celtic tribe maybe? Maybe I’m just still bored and frustrated with life, but I could go for some hunting and gathering. Some rugged living!”
“One night under a camper van wasn’t enough for you?” Lia laughed, massaging the spot where she could still feel the ghost of a stone lodged in her shoulder blade.
“Good point. Can I be a hunter gatherer with a pillow?”
“I think that depends how good a hunter you are.”
They continued moving round the displays and finally came to the end of the museum.
“Ah, the Grasping At Straws section.” Harry muttered quietly so none of the staff would hear. It was a collection of local tall tales and myths of different sprites and spirits that supposedly haunted and protected the area. “I like this guy.” He said, and read Lia the story of a spirit that haunted local waterways spooking fish into hiding if fishermen didn’t offer up at least half of their sandwiches.
“What about life pre-sandwiches?” Lia whispered, and Harry muffled a giggle. “How about this one?” Lia read Harry the details of what to do if you encountered a pixie who wanted to read you a riddle.
“I’m surprised she didn’t stick her head under that van last night. A good riddle would have been the icing on the bloody cake!” Harry whispered.
“I could have done with a little heat from this dragon.” Lia said, pointing to a medieval sketch of a dragon who had apparently been seen nearby. “Then my back wouldn’t be so stiff right now.”
“Speaking of stiff…” Harry started and Lia raised her eyebrows at him. He grinned and looked at the floor, swatting her arm, “Filth young lady. No, I mean we should get back to Florence.”
“Yep,” Lia agreed, and she was just turning to leave the display when a drawing caught her eye. It was right down in the bottom corner of the display, faded a little and partially hidden by a book leaning against the display board. She moved the book and looked closer at the sketch. It was a necklace. A very familiar looking necklace with a long chain and a dark green gem on the front of it. “Harry look.” She said, directing his attention to the drawing, and pulling the necklace they had found that morning from her pocket.
“The Lost Locket of The Lake Lady,” Harry read out, “God that’s a tongue twister isn’t it. The Lost Locket of the… yep, we get it, The Lost Locket is said to have been stolen from the Lake Lady during her hundred years of weeping. She took to a cave in a nearby lake to mourn the death of her one true love and as she wept, an unknown thief snuck in and stole the locket from her. The locket was said to contain the final piece of her heart and without it she is unable to ever rest. Whenever there are floods nearby it is said that the Lake Lady, whose name was Ceridwen, is weeping again and may continue to weep until she is reunited with the missing piece of her heart and allowed to die. Crikey. That’s some rough bloody luck for Ceridwen.”
“Harry look, though… look at the necklace I found this morning?” She shoved the necklace towards him and pointed again at the drawing, “they look exactly the same!”
“Oh wow, yeah that is weird…” said Harry and glanced up to look around the room.
Is there a gift shop?