A small fishing village, a shunned healer, her daughter, tradition, superstition and a world set to change.
Kerensa lives with her mother, the healer Meliora, on the edge of a small fishing community on the Cornish Coast.
The townsfolk, who work the fish runs of pilchard and mackerel that make their way up the Atlantic coast, call on her mother for help with their ailments, but never for her company.
Kerensa does not know why.
Curses and superstitions whisper around her as she grows into a competent young woman, fighting for her place amongst the people of Porth Gwynn.
But what has caused the rift between her and the town?
And can their traditional way of life survive in the face of changing winds?
Where the Gulls Fall Silent is an historical fiction that explores the lives of the fishermen and women who made their living from the rough Atlantic Ocean; the hardship they faced; the se-crets that divided them; and the community spirit that pulled them through.
Vinegar and Lemon Verbana
Well past the setting of the sun, Rewan walked Kerensa up to her hut.
“It’s all right, Rewan,” she tried, “I walk home late often.” She glanced down at the basket in her hands that would usually be filled with herbs, empty tonight but for her fish stained dress.
“And you are capable I know,” he agreed. “But it has been a long night, much ale has been consumed. I want to know you are safe.”
A red ribbon in the icy mud flashed through Kerensa’s memory. Subconsciously patting the cramp that formed in her tummy, Kerensa nodded. They continued up the hill.
“Father is right you know,” Rewan said, “with the new nets we can catch much more fish. We will be able to regain our reputation for the finest pilchards on the coast.”
“The finest?” Kerensa raised a teasing eyebrow at her beau.
“The finest,” Rewan insisted. “We’ve lost a lot of men to the mines.” A shadow crossed his face, Kerensa lowered her head. She knew what this town, this livelihood meant to him, to her, to everyone in Porth Gwynn. It meant everything.
“But not anymore. We will rebuild this town, back to the success of my father’s youth. It’s our turn now!”
Kerensa laughed happily, captured by his enthusiasm and belief.
“It’s true,” he continued, mistaking her mirth for doubt. “And once we get the sails we can go even further!”
“Sails?” Kerensa frowned, “Like the trade ships?”
“Yes exactly, but on our smaller vessels. With the wind at our backs we can journey even further for the pilchards and bring in even more with each catch. We’ll be even more successful than ever before. The whole ocean is ours to take.” He stretched his arms out wide as if gathering the world to his chest.
Kerensa nodded, lips curved. It was a beautiful dream. Sometimes as they worked the herbs, Meliora had told Kerensa of the fish runs of her own youth, when she first moved to the Port with her husband Cubert. She spoke of months of work, long hours in the sun, streets streaked with fish blood, the harbour filled with trade ships come to take the hauls away to sell across the world. A version of that life was still true. But the seasons had grown shorter and more sporadic across Kerensa’s short life, the winters leaner, the springs quieter as more men went away to work the fields to supplement their income, and young men took up a pick, to work the mines further south at the end of the horn of Cornwall. They’d all felt the absence of the fish loom up from the waters casting an unseasonal shadow; hollow, empty. Even Kerensa had heard the talk: of folk facing ruin, unable to pay debts; of the extra tax expected by their benefactor.
But Rewan, walking beside her, had found the solution. Their own nets. Drifters. Not bought for them by Mr Symond’s of Waybridge, but bought by the folk of the town. Nets they could use out past the bay’s edge, bringing the sea to them.
She hadn’t realised the fear she’d borne for the people of her town, for their dwindling way of life, until now. In the face of the hope of rejuvenation, she felt the unacknowledged tension slip away.
They came to her door. “Thank you Rewan, I had a wonderful time tonight.”
“And I… me too,” Rewan looked suddenly awkward and unsure. Where moments before there had been only confidence and passion, now he seemed, worried.
Kerensa cocked her head at him.
“Rewan? Is something wrong?”
“What? No, I just.” He looked up at her and her breath caught in her throat.
It was not worry that shone in his eyes, but naked desire, burning bright. She swallowed, remembering the moment between them that morning on the beach. So much had happened since then it seemed a lifetime ago. Like that final symbol of their intensions towards each other was no longer necessary, as though it had already happened.
But it had not. He had not yet kissed her.
Her breathing grew short, her dress suddenly too tight, too hot.
Rewan stepped forward, closing the space between them. He lifted a hand and cupped her cheek. Then… the door to her mother’s hut swung open.
Backlit by candlelight Meliora stood in the doorway, Eia curled under her arm.
“Welcome home daughter,” she nodded to Kerensa.
What on earth was her mother still doing up? Kerensa often came home late from foraging, so the time was not unusual.
“Thank you for walking her home, Rewan.”
Suddenly sheepish, Rewan looked everywhere but at Meliora, “Of course, not a problem Mrs. Williams.”
“Safe return home then,” Meliora said. “Give your mother my regards. Good night.”
“Good night Mrs. Williams. Kerensa.”
His eyes lingered on hers, a question and a promise shining in their dark pools. She knew hers answered.
His lips quirked into a grin as he turned and began the walk back down into town.
Kerensa walked through the house into the yard and filled a bucket with water. Meliora took a seat at the table and watched in silence as her daughter began to scrub at her blood stained dress.
“Try a mix of vinegar and lemon verbena,” Meliora said, “I’ve always found that works best for fish blood.”
Kerensa looked up at her mother in silence, then collected the herb and vinegar and mixed them through the water. Pressing the dress into the bucket to soak overnight, she placed it by the back door and took a seat opposite her mother.
The two women eyed each other in silence.
Meliora spoke first. “You worked the fish run.”
“Did you forage too?”
“And you spent the night in town.”
“At the troyls, with Derwa and Gerens and everyone else. I wasn’t alone with…”
Meliora held up a hand. “You are a woman Kerensa. Your decisions are your own. But, remember, the word of a man is just that. A word.”
“Rewan has promised me nothing.”
An eyebrow quirked up Meliora’s forehead, “Hasn’t he?” She smirked, “Promises are not only made in words.”
Kerensa looked away in silence, unsure how to respond.
Meliora set a wiggling Eia down on the table top. The chicken clucked softly and pecked at a few nobs in the table top before settling on the end nearest the open backdoor, savouring the cool breeze.
Eyeing her daughter Meliora sighed, “Work the fish, my child. If that is your wish. But, daughter, look at me.” She paused and reaching across the table took Kerensa’s hands in hers. “Never give up your independence. You don’t need a man…”
Kerensa snatched back her hands. Her eyes lit with flame as she stared at her mother in shock
“What would you have me do? Live here with you forever? Eia is not long for this earth. And I shall likely outlive you also. What happens after you are gone? Who will I have then if I don’t take a husband?”
Nonplussed by Kerensa’s uncharacteristic outburst, Meliora shrugged, “I didn’t say that. If the boy calls to your loins become a fishwife. Bare his children. Surround yourself with the town that shuns me,” she paused, “The town I shun too. But always, always keep something for yourself. A man will not always protect you. Even if he wants to.”
Kerensa regarded her mother guardedly, understanding. Marriage, no matter how much she trusted in it, could not ensure her future forever. Even if she made a good match, like Rewan, one day she may find herself alone, as her mother had, regardless of her husband’s intentions. The fishing life was a tough one. And it could be dangerous.
“You work herbs and healing to feed us. This I have always known. I thought you taught me so I could be like you but… you want me to have something that is just mine. So I can always feed myself. With or without a man. As you have.”
Meliora met her daughter’s seeking eyes and smiled sadly. “It was not my plan, not when I first married, but, things change.”
“Mother,” Kerensa shifted uncomfortably in her seat, working up the courage to ask, “where is my father?”
Her eyes closed slowly, a single tear tracking down her cheek. “I honestly don’t know my child,” Meliora replied. “I have never lied to you, when you ask.”
“But you never explain either. What happened? Where did my father go? Braneh said tonight our families were friends once, but now you stay away. Why mother? What happened?”
“It was a long time ago…”
The old fear of rejection swelled up inside Kerensa, forcing the words from her mouth, “He left because of me, didn’t he? Because of my foot. He believed it was a sign, an ill-omen. That’s why he left. And why you were shunned.”
Meliora closed her eyes and looked away, features going blank.
“That’s not the whole truth, my child.”
Kerensa waited, eyes fixed on her mother.
“One day I will tell you. One day. But now it’s late and we must rest. The sun waits for no man.”
Thank you, Lelita Baldock and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
Lelita Baldock is an author of historical fiction and crime fiction.
She has a passion for dark stories, with an unexpected twist.
It was during her years studying English Literature at University that Lelita discovered her love of all things reading and writing. But it would be another 15 years before she would take up the challenge and write her own novel.
Her debut novel, the historical fiction Widow’s Lace, is an Amazon best-seller.
Her follow up, The Unsound Sister, saw her take a different direction in her writing, trying her hand at crime fiction and has been warmly received globally.
Her third novel, Where the Gulls Fall Silent, a traditional historical fiction set in mid-1800s Cornwall, is out now.
Lelita also runs a blog and newsletter featuring fellow authors and other creatives.
Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/lelita-baldock
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lelita-Baldock/e/B086L53M1G
Available on #KindleUnlimited
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09HJH1TG6
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HJH1TG6
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09HJH1TG6
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09HJH1TG6
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The Coffee Pot Book Club
A pleasure 🙂