Of the Ninth Verse: Excerpt from the Novel by A. L. Reynolds

The following is an excerpt from A. L. Reynolds’ second novel, Of the Ninth Verse, recently published by Cockatrice Books and nominated for the Novel London Award. Set in the Conwy Valley which has inspired much of her work it explores, with remarkable delicacy and compassion, the growing feelings of sexual love between a brother and sister raised on a farm, and the tragic consequences of their passion. This scene, taken from approximately one third of the way through the book, describes the death of their father in a farming accident, a pivotal event in the development of their relationship:

It was a silent day – a day when the only sounds were the whirring of grasshoppers invisible in the grass and the occasional bleat of a sheep – and far off she could hear the sound of the tractor, the engine revving and pulling, and the metallic scrape of a rock entangled in a chain being dragged across the ground. Idwal was up there, she knew – and Robert and Ieuan too, helping with crowbarring the rocks up and forcing the chain underneath. It was too hot to move fast – it was almost too hot to think of manual labour – but she had promised her help, and every moment helping on the farm now felt like a last moment, like something to be savoured before she was taken away from it forever.

The sound of a raven calling caught her attention, and she tipped her head back, watching as it glided over the larches and then out into free air, lazily spanning the valley from side to side with barely a twitch of its great black wings. It was a day for lying back on the grass and watching the wisps of clouds in the sky as they drifted…

And then a grinding scrape and the noise of men shouting caught her attention – and then the tractor revving, pulling again – and she turned to look up the field, wondering what had happened. A rock, perhaps, had slipped from the chain and rolled… It was no use looking because the larch grove was in her way, and even beyond that the rise in the land and the stands of rowan trees and bracken would hide the men from view. She carried on walking, lazily, winding her way up through the larch trees and over the wall, and up the next slope before she could turn right into the field where they were working.

The shouting was continuing, and the tractor revving again. Idwal’s voice caught her ears, high and strange – and she picked up her pace.

The heat was invasive now, slowing her down and making her pulse thump through her veins as she half-ran up the hill. And then she could see the tractor, still on the slope, and the men huddled around something nearby that was on the ground, and she wondered if it was a sheep – and then she realised that she could not see her father, and she ran – and then – and then –

They moved like the sea parting. They moved away like actors in a drama, revealing something to the camera – revealing it to her as she plunged towards them, her breath rasping in her throat. They turned to her and seemed to be in slow motion, their mouths half open as they began to speak – but Idwal was kneeling still, on the ground still, his hand on something limp, on –

Someone put out their hand to stop her, but she pushed it away with more strength than she knew she had, and she stood behind Idwal, and stared down…

The tractor rolled, someone said. And he was against the wall…

How strange… How strange…

Her mind repeated the phrase, over and over, as she stood staring at what had been her father, at what was now a shell made of bones and slack skin and soft insides and limp clothing, and a curious – dent – yes, it was a dent, where his ribs should have arched, but like the hull of a boat it was stove in. The scene was unreal. There was no blood – not a speck of blood… The tractor looked spectacularly guiltless – just a tractor, spattered with mud, its impossibly large tyres solid and immovable, the paint rusted through with the years. No reciprocal dent – not even a scratch…

It had been quick… Someone muttered that to her, but she didn’t see who. He hadn’t suffered…

How ridiculous. How overwhelmingly stupid to think that the mass of a tractor destroying your chest would mercifully spare you from suffering, no matter how swift the time between the first contact and the end of life. How stupidly

She turned and, as if it was a completely unconnected line of events, vomited quietly into the long grass.

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