I don’t know how long I was up the tree. It felt like centuries. Slowly, the floodwaters stopped their roiling and boiling and fell to lapping gently at the trunk of the tree. Betsi shuffled in my arms. The sun sank into the sea to the west, and everything became very quiet and very cold. The church bells had long since stopped chiming. Slowly, every part of me froze. My fingers, clinging to the bark of the tree, became claws. The back of my neck shuddered, like Betsi’s when she was very cold and ruffling up her feathers. With no one there to see, I thought perhaps I was becoming my namesake, turning into a chicken, perched up there in those branches.
Night fell. It was so, so cold. I did not dare climb back down, because I had no idea if the water was still there. So I stayed up in the tree. Perhaps I slept, because I remember the strangest things. It was as if Mam’s stories were all coming back to me, one after the other, to play out in my head. First came a big red-bearded giant who fought an ancient king, and laid his body down to make a mountain when the fight was done. He offered me his hand and promised to carry me to safety.
“Come with me, Chicken,” he said, but I told him no, I had to wait right there.
Then I thought I looked over at the church tower and it was lit with some sort of magical light and there standing above the water was a witch, a real witch, but so beautiful and so powerful and suddenly she leapt up in the air and dived down into the floodwater and as she did she turned into an otter and I looked down from my tree and saw her swimming past in the dark water, lit with a strange light of her own, on the tail of some sparkling little fish. And as she swam past she called to me, “Chicken! Jump down! I’ll give you a tail and scales and you can become a fish too!”
But I clung onto the tree and refused.
And finally I dreamed that I was clinging to a tree, exactly like this one, but this time in the ancient flooded kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod, and all about the church bells were ringing. Mam used to tell me that story all the time. How a King entrusted his soldier to close the gates of the sea wall when the tide was coming in, but the soldier got drunk and instead slept with his back against the wall and the sea crept in, inch by inch, to swallow the land.
And I woke with a start to see the morning light creeping from the east and Betsi pecking at my cheek. There was no water lapping at the trunk of the apple tree any more. The debris from the storm – tree branches, people’s furniture – was piled about. The ground was sodden. But the water had gone back to where it had come from.