London, England, April 2021
Three days ago, he and Anne had stepped off the Heathrow Shuttle at Paddington station to take one of the ubiquitous boxy black taxis to their hotel. But what I want to do starts now, Derek thought as he clicked to open the rear hatch of their rental, a ruby Vauxhall Grandland X. The SUV’s red color had given him a momentary pang. An older writer friend swore Red SUVs were fated to have accidents that totaled them. It had happened to his friend twice—while his daughters drove his red SUVs—and he vowed never to buy another red car.
“I love this color…. and I’ve never seen a Vauxhall!” Anne wanted to spend more time in London but had embraced the plan for the road trip.
Derek smiled at her as she leaned down to study the grill emblem, “It keeps calm and carries on.”
“What?” Her eyes—long dark lashes and brows framing them—glittered as she raised her head over the crimson gleam of the hood.
“That’s their—Vauxhall’s—slogan for this model… keeps calm and carries on,” Derek lifted their bags to put in back.
“Oh… I get it.” Anne’s smile reached its crest and could not grow any bigger, he thought as she asked: “Do you want me to drive?”
“Let’s get out of London first.” Derek opened her door and went around to the driver’s side on the right. Sliding in, he started the car and studied the center screen to find the navigation control to enter their waypoints and destination. He peered at the Google maps directions he had printed out: 294 miles, 6 hours, and 14 minutes to Llandudno and the SUVs navigation closely matched. But in reality, likely longer for their cautious driving on narrow streets and to get used to right-side driving on left-side roads.
* * *
On the Road
Anne had the logbook open on her lap. He had told her some of the story, but she’d never read his grandfather’s written version. “It’s different from hearing you tell me. Your grandfather believed what he wrote was true… he thought it happened and convinced himself.”
Derek didn’t challenge her opinion; he couldn’t expect her to believe when no one else did. His grandfather—without bluster and argument—had always said it was an accurate account, and this trip would be an opportunity to see if he could find anything to substantiate it.
Anne turned to a page with an old photo of a boy sitting at a small table next to a large, thick-chested roughhewn man. The hanging overhead light tilted at an angle and cast slanting shadows. “Who’s this?”
Derek glanced from the road. “The Maureen’s—the trawler’s—captain… and my grandfather the day he was picked up.”
Anne flipped to the following page to a taped-at-the-corners torn out newspaper photo and article with a masthead date of June 12, 1952. A brawny, heavyset man squinted at the camera. Next to him stood an almost-as-tall lean youth wearing ill-fitting clothes. She went back and forth between the two pages and pictures. “This man—”
“Is the Maureen’s captain.”
“Who’s with him in this picture?” she pointed at the newspaper photo.
“My grandfather… the day after the Maureen picked him up.”
Anne darted a doubtful peek at him, “He looks—”
“Seven years older… he was 19 years old when the Maureen brought him into Llandudno.”
“Then, the other photo can’t be right.”
“The captain—Brádach Dewley—swore to the authorities they had picked up a young boy… and overnight he grew older. His screams woke the crew. By the next morning, he became the age he should be. The captain had them develop his first mate’s roll of film with the photo taken the evening of the day they picked him up.”
“Didn’t someone question him again later after they checked into the Grania’s sinking… I mean, they had to investigate where your grandfather had been for seven years, right?”
“They couldn’t. The Maureen left port… and was never seen again. The worst storm in a decade swept the coast, and the trawler was believed sunk with all hands. And it was a time in the post-war world with a lot going on, authorities there didn’t think it worth it.”
* * *
Anne adjusted the seat and angle of the steering wheel, pressed the D button, and pulled onto the highway. “So, we’re going to search for the place your grandfather was never able to find again.
“Yes, but later—in America—he came to think he just didn’t have the timing right.”
“The timing?” Anne shook her head at what that meant. But asked what puzzled her—and made her doubt what she’d read—the most. “And something or someone held him in this place that can’t be found… and once he escaped, he aged seven years.
“You saw the two photos; those aren’t faked. And Bamps found and verified a historical record of a man—Llwyd ap Cil Coed—believed at the time to be a necromancer who lived on the Great Orme centuries ago. His family built there in 1082 in a secluded spot within a cleft that led down to a cove known by sailors along the coast as marked by a tall rocky spire jutting from the sea.’’
“A necromancer… is that a wizard or warlock?”
“Something like that. According to the record, his family was famous throughout Wales and the English border as medical practitioners, clever surgeons, and skillful astrologers. The oldest male member in each generation—to use a phrase in the record to describe them—‘shone.’ They excelled at predicting the future and invoking spirits. But with each generation—the locals believed—they delved deeper into the blackest of arts. The oldest male in the family was said to be the keeper of a book—a thick volume of spells, bound with an iron chain and sealed with three locks—that he opened only once a year. Within the dense forest around their small castle, perched on the edge of a cliff over the sea, he invoked various incantations to summon spirits to gain knowledge from them. Once opened, the book was said to create terrible storms, and the wielder could control the weather. The locals all believed the family—the oldest male—derived their power from that book.
“So, what happened to this Lloyd ap whatever… and his family?”
“The locals feared and shunned them, and the family died off or disappeared. Once the last male—Llwyd ap Cil Coed was gone, centuries ago—their castle fell into ruin. Now no one knows its exact location.”
“Other than it’s where the rock your grandfather also said marked the spot he washed up after his ship sank?”
“Yes… I hope we can find it, or at least the ruins on the coast.”
“The story with that 1952 newspaper photo said no such place exists and the young man must be ‘addled.’”
Anne’s wistful tone told Derek London suited her more than a fairy-tale chase to prove his grandfather told the truth, and he understood that. But he had to do this. “I know, and the locals treated him that way, with scorn, until he left.”
“But he stuck around to try to prove he wasn’t.”
“Until he finally gave up–”
A lilting, soft British contralto interrupted: “At Junction 7, take the M6 exit toward Birmingham,” the Vauxhall navigation AI announced.
“Birmingham… Peaky Blinders… love that show!” Anne seemed relieved to talk about something else. “You know in the pictures of your grandfather when he was young… he looks like Cillian Murphy,” she laughed, “I mean he looks like your grandfather.”
“That actor’s Irish… not Welsh.”
“Still, his eyes. And you look just like him.”
“No, your grandfather.”
“Speaking of beautiful eyes, keep them on the road,” he paused to admire her profile against the landscape flying by her window, “but you… you don’t look like anyone else. There’s no other woman like you.” Derek almost asked her to marry him right then, while speeding down M6, but decided… miles to go and better to wait. He checked his phone, “We’re about 50 miles from Welshpool. Let’s stop there for lunch, and I’ll drive the rest of the way.”
* * *
Anne had the logbook on her lap open at where she had stopped earlier and glanced at the navigation display. Welshpool was five miles behind them, and the display highlighted the next waypoint. “What’s Bron-Yr-Aur?”
Derek settled the seatbelt more comfortably across his chest, tugging at his Black Dog t-shirt. “Led Zeppelin… have to stop there and see it.”
“Bron-Yr-Aur’s a cottage used on holidays by Robert Plant’s family back in the 1950s. In 1970, he and Jimmy Page stayed there and came up with their first shaping of Stairway to Heaven, the Immigrant Song, and several others.” Derek gripped something in his left hand and slipped onto a finger on his right as his forearms steadied the steering wheel. A sunbeam caught the carved metal of the wide band now on the third finger of his right hand.
Anne leaned toward him and reached to tap his knuckle, “That’s your grandfather’s ring. I thought it was too old and valuable to wear.” She brushed the line of his jaw with the back of her hand and sat back.
“Ancient. My grandfather had it tested… it’s over 900 years old. He turned down thousands of dollars from collectors who contacted him with offers.”
The sunlight turned the ring a reddish-gold that—or an inner glow—suffused the length of Derek’s finger to where it joined and—unnoticed—radiated through his hand and faded.
“Why wear it now?”
Derek shrugged, “I remember when Bamps first showed me the ring—only once—and told me it should never be worn again. I asked him why, but he wouldn’t reply. But under his breath, he said, ‘Tis safe only in Cymru.’ That’s what the Welsh call Wales. I was young, ten or eleven, but still remember how deadly serious he looked.”
“Where did he get it?”
“I never thought about the ring again until finding out it was the single thing Bamps named in his will specifically for me other than the logbook. And didn’t know any details until after he died, and Dad brought it to me.” He gestured at her lap, “It’s—where he found the ring and what he found about it later when he researched—in there. But it’s incomplete.”
Anne shifted the logbook, her finger hooked in to mark the spot to begin reading. “Are you sure you should wear it?”
“It’s okay… we just crossed the border from England. We’re in Wales now.”
NOTE FROM DENNIS
What you just read is a draft–not edited beyond my self-edit–so bear in mind it’s not had that final polish. But please do share your thoughts about this piece. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
I’m the older writer Derek mentions. My two—red—SUVs were both totaled, years apart, by two of my high-school-age-driver daughters. Now we have a 2020 Lagoon-silver Hyundai Palisade (my high-school senior daughters—Alpha and Beta—do not get to drive. We bought them their own SUV, a blue Hyundai Santa Fe). 😊 The bit about the necromancer and his family is based on the Harries family. John Harries’ (Shon Harri Shon, c.1785–1839) Book of Incantations (NLW MS 11117B) was donated to the National Library of Wales in 1935 as part of an extensive collection of manuscripts and papers (NLW MSS 11701-11718) from the library of John and Henry Harries. It showed how the ‘cunning man’ could cause spirits to appear. Listed the attributes of each spirit, with diagrams that represented the named spirit to be conjured, astrological signs and calculations, bills, and leaves from ledgers used by him in calling in accounts. But now–according to my reading and research–it cannot be found at the Library, someone has taken it. Derek’s (grandfather’s) ring is made of Orichalcum.