dangerous surf

The Shepherd’s Crown Extract from The Times


A Crown in the Chalk

It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide. It grew a shell, but in its rolling, tumbling world there were huge creatures which could have cracked it open in an instant. Nevertheless, it survived. Its little life might have gone on like this for ever until the dangers of the surf and other floating things brought an end, were it not for the pool.

It was a warm pool, high on a beach replenished by occasional storms blown in from the Hub, and there the creature lived on things even smaller than itself and grew until it became a king. It would have got bigger if it were not for the hot summer when the water evaporated under the glare of the sun.

And so the little creature died, but its carapace remained, carrying within itself the seed of something sharp. On the next stormy tide it was washed away onto the littoral, where it lodged, rolling back and forth with the pebbles and other detritus of the storms.

The sea rolled down the ages until it dried and withdrew from the land, and the spiky shell of the long-dead creature sank beneath layers of the shells of other small creatures which had not survived. And there it lay, with the sharp core growing slowing inside, until the day when it was found by a shepherd minding his flock on the hills that had become known as the Chalk.

He picked up the strange object which had caught his eye, held it in his hand and turned it over and over. Lumpy, but not lumpy, and it fitted in the palm of his hand. Too regular a shape to be a flint, and yet it had flint in its heart. The surface was grey, like stone but with a hint of gold beneath the grey. There were five distinct ridges spaced evenly,  almost like stripes, rising from a flattish base to its top. He had seen things like this before. But this one seemed different - it had almost jumped into his hand.

The little piece tumbled as he turned it around and about, and he had a feeling that it was trying to tell him something. It was silly, he knew, and he hadn’t had a beer yet, but the strange object seemed to fill his world. Then he cursed himself as an idiot but nevertheless kept it and took it to show his mates in the pub.

“Look,” he said, “it looks like a crown.”

Of course, one of his mates laughed and said, “A crown? What would you want with one of the them? You’re no king, Daniel Aching.”

But the shepherd took his find home and placed it carefully on the shelf in his kitchen where he kept the things he liked. 

And there, eventually, it was forgotten and was lost to history.

But not to the Achings, who handed it down, generation to generation…