(© Aliaksandr Zabudzko Fotolia)
Llew – mysterious warrior from ‘down under’.
Here’s the first instalment of a series of chapters from the third draft. The prologue, where you’ll be introduced to the origins of the story and the mysterious ‘Llew’ (comment and feedback gratefully received!):
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
© 2012 OWEN LAW
The athletic man took a deep breath and prepared himself mentally. Sunrise was already upon the ancient mountains, illuminating the heavens with a bright yellow glare that contrasted sharply with a jagged cobalt-grey outline of encircling peaks.
It was glorious.
For a place often shrouded in thick cloud and leaden sky, mornings such as this were truly magical. He’d been here for a few years, having come to seek solace and refuge. It’d been a natural choice, given the similarity to his homeland: the place where he’d learned many of the skills he put to such effective use in his somewhat murky past.
Sitting on an outcrop stone blistering from a grassy bank below the summit of the craggy, forested hillock to which he’d been brought, he adopted a ‘Buddha’ pose. A rapid expulsion of air, stretching out muscular arms as far as his tendons would allow. The view down into the valley over which the hillock commanded was breath-taking. Above and behind towered the impressive peak that gave its name to the park in which it was located, the highest mountain in the upland of this tiny but magnificent country. To the left stretched clear and cool waters of a large, bluish lake next to lusciously-tainted purple and green foot hills. Further south, more magnificent mountains were emblazoned against the deep blue sky, including one shaped like a knight’s helmet.
The athlete released a deep breath once more and brought his hands back in front of his chest until they met. Thumbs pointing backwards, he let out a slight hum as he released another out-breath. Blinking deep blue eyes, he dropped his hands before raising them to rub thick palms over a handsomely-rugged face. Strong fingers ran through a mane of black hair leading down to the collar of an open-neck white linen Polo shirt.
Birds chirped busily from the nearby trees adorning the hillock. No sound came from the road below. No early morning traffic, no tourists. Nothing. Well, that wasn’t such a bad thing! The world might be going to ‘hell in a hand-cart’, but at least the fuel shortages afforded him some respite on this important day. Ironic really, given that this ancient fortress harked back to a time of simpler living, long before the complexities of modern life had even been vaguely conceived.
Blinking eyes at the early morning sun, the athlete reflected on a quaint little story he’d heard about this place when first arriving here his ‘retirement’. Two worms that became Dragons were found in a reservoir below the tower King Vortigern had tried to build on the summit: one red, one white. They’d begun fighting. At first, the White Dragon gained the upper hand but then the Red Dragon found its fighting spirit again and fought back valiantly, hurling the White Dragon away across the reservoir. A broad smile broke as he recalled the tale. The part he liked was how Ambrosius Merlin, himself merely a boy, had interpreted the story to the King. In return, Vortigern had given the child the fortress as a gift which he’d then made his own. From this came its name. ‘Dinas Emrys’ – ‘the fortress of Ambrosius’.
The sound of someone clearing their throat from behind was distracting. He took another deep breath before shifting around to observe who’d hailed him.
A short, stocky middle-aged man dressed in curious attire stared solemnly and respectfully, supporting himself with a six foot long rod made of ash, the top affixed with a brass ornament fashioned into two scaley serpents. A brilliant white robe disclosed a priestly rank: elaborately decorated, tied by a golden sash and supporting a small golden sickle. Most inspiring was the feathered cloak and a golden braid surrounding his forehead.
A while earlier, the man had been in ordinary, everyday clothes along with more of his compatriots. Now, he was something else – seemingly more ancient and wise. Others might have smiled inanely at the absurd quaintness, but the athlete merely bowed his head reverentially. The priest responded in kind.
‘We are ready for you!’ he whispered in a thick North Wales accent.
‘Thank you. I’m ready too!’
The voice belayed dulcet tones revealing antipodean origins. Indeed a stranger, but one who’d been welcomed, nay revered. Leaping purposefully from the outcrop, he proceeded to follow the priest into the cover of the trees behind.
The Lieutenant-Colonel stared contemptuously across the Cabinet Office and towards the doorway to the Prime Minister’s private office. He’d just had the dubious pleasure of being present in a COBRA meeting. A rising star with a background in Special Forces, one of the youngest to be promoted to that rank, he’d been attached to Whitehall for a while now. He hated every minute of it, much preferring frontline command. But career progression dictated otherwise so there’d been little choice.
Gripping an attaché case firmly whilst irritably rubbing his right hand against the back of a close-cropped head, a scowl persisted on his stony face as he waited for the Prime Minister to emerge.
God, he hated politicians! He’d ended up with the thankless task of being the military liaison for the evacuation of Number 10, delegated as part of the standard operational procedure implemented following the convening of the meeting. In other words, nurse-maiding a clunking idiot and his sycophants. Another useless premier, thrown up by yet another coalition that had emerged in the political chaos of hung parliaments and national government.
From inside, the PM fussed and ranted at his aides obtusely. Much better to be waiting outside then! All he had to do was take the PM to the Whitehall helicopter pad to be whisked away before escaping this nuthouse himself! And not before time…
The magnificently decorated Georgian interior of the cabinet office, supported by its famous classical columns, had the feeling of a condemned man on death-row. In a matter of hours, the whole area would be flooded and Number Ten was to be confined to the garbage tip. Heritage going back to the times of Oliver Cromwell and Charles the Second, all of it would soon be submerged. Pursing his lips, the Colonel adjusted the collar of a shirt forming part of a smart, olive green dress uniform whilst seething inside. It was nauseating. Centuries of history down the toilet and here was this buffoon fussing and aggravating with his staff. Concerned only with saving his own scrawny skin, caring nothing about the country’s needs.
The doors to the private office suddenly swung open as the Home Secretary came bounding out. Looking the Colonel up and down like a dismissive School Marm, as if he was a school prefect who’d turned up for duty late, the buxom woman spoke sternly.
‘Colonel? What’re you doing?’
‘Awaiting the PM, Minister’ he replied nonchalantly, grey-blue eyes unswervably stoical . ‘I’m to escort him to the helicopter. Do you know how long he’ll be?’
‘God knows!’ she replied with a shrug of irritation and resignation.
Behind her, the PM was still remonstrating with his aides through the open doorway.
‘For God’s sake! Where is that briefing file?! I thought you said you’d got it out of the filing cabinet?!’
The Home Secretary raised her eyebrows to the ceiling with a sigh. Pushing open one of two double exit doors she bustled out hurriedly, leaving the officer to endure the PM’s ramblings.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of ten minutes, the thick-set PM barged out of the office followed by fraught looking male and female aides, one of whom held the door open for him nervously. Making no effort to acknowledge her, the PM hammered rudely onwards, constantly talking backwards as he made for the double-doors.
‘Have we got everything we need?’
‘Yes, Prime Minister!’ replied one grey-suited aide nervously. ‘I think so.’
‘Oh, you think so, Kenneth? Well, I hope so too! And we need to make sure everybody and everything is cleared out of here in the next hour, or I’m holding you personally responsible!’
The PM briefly stopped by the Colonel, scowling at his escort with furrowed eyebrows under wavy, jet-black hair.
‘Well, are we ready Colonel?’
‘Yes, Sir! We have been for the past twenty minutes or so.’
‘You implying something, Colonel?’
‘No, Sir! I’m just telling you that we’ve been ready for the past twenty minutes.’
The PM looked back with obvious contempt, clearly taking exception to the officer’s tone.
‘Good! We best get going then!’
He pushed open the double-doors and disappeared into the corridor, followed by his entourage of lackeys.
The Colonel stepped aside to let him go, holding the door open as the party left. Briefly, he looked round at the Cabinet Office one last time, before turning to step outside into the corridor through which the PM’s group was now making its way in haste. He followed resentfully.
Same old establishment. A state misgoverned and misruled through a combination of incompetence and corruption. Expenses scandals, a catestrophic defeat in war, wasteful public expenditure. Bailing out banks, chronic under-investment in the infrastructure, failing to address the nation’s energy needs. Head-burying ostrich style…and so it went on! Not to mention neglecting to strengthen the capital’s flood barrier! What really enraged the Colonel was that this latest incumbent had dithered over dealing with the energy crisis, hesitated over implementing full emergency powers and allowed the Monarchy to leave in ignominious circumstances. And his response to the latest? The impending inundation of a London on the back of ‘Grid Collapse’? A half-baked plan of evacuation that was too little, too late! So here he was now, acting like a child that’d thrown its dummy in the corner then blaming someone else! People were going to be dying out there soon, and all he could care about was whether they’d got all the documents they needed! Decisive leadership? Not much chance of that!
This would be the day that Britain would die. And Colonel Masters was wondering what the hell would come afterwards…
A slow hum from the surrounding circle turned into a rapid hand-clap, accompanied by the sound of a beating drum similar in style to an Irish ‘bodhran’ – known in Welsh as a ‘Tabwrdd’. Sitting in a small hollow of oak trees hidden below the foundations of an ancient tower on the summit, the athletic New Zealander again found himself perched on a small outcrop. The circle of men, similarly attired to the priest, all focussed attention on him as they rhythmically chanted in unison. Again cross-legged, but now with an eclectic composition of brown, black, grey, white and blue plumage draped around his shoulders, he gazed to his immediate front with a slight feeling of trepidation.
There had been numerous times in his life when he’d felt petrified, but he’d been trained to deal with it all. But this apprehension was different, languishing in the pit of his stomach like some leaden weight. Already having struggled with vanquishing the inner demons that still haunted him, he’d hopefully managed to tame the darker side. But there was still the uncertainty of this new journey along the path to enlightenment. Fear not, they’d told him, it was only natural to be afraid!
The priest who’d collected him stood before the outcrop, next to what had once probably been a pool but was now filled with marram grass; reputedly, the very place where the duelling dragons had been found. Raising his arms to the sides of his head and closing his eyes, he recanted an ancient verse in Welsh against the backdrop of the incessant, rhythmic sounds. Transfixed, the New Zealander became more immersed, the leaden feeling increasingly slipping away as his focus shifted from his lower chakras to the frontal lobe. Still reciting the prose, the priest opened his eyes and lowered his arms, pacing slowly towards his subject before resting both hands on the New Zealander’s broad shoulders. As he did, the chanting and the drum ceased abruptly.
‘<Llew, mighty Llew, companion to the birds and spirit of the air, Llew Embrais!>’ canted the Priest with shrill intonation.
‘<You are surely mighty. Mightier than the mountains, the sea, the sun and the moon combined! Llew, leader of the Cymru and valiant bard of ancient Ynys Prydein! You have returned to us again in a time of darkness, to lead the way to salvation! See! See your destiny unfold before you, mighty Llew, Llew Embrais!>’
The Priest drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes once more, keeping his hands in place on his subject’s shoulders.
The New Zealander, who’d learnt and now fluently spoke the native language, was fully aware that this was his new name. Llew. It meant ‘Lion’.
The chanting and the sound of the drum recommenced. Llew took this as his cue. Closing his eyes to drift off into an altered state, the noise reverberated in his eardrums. It was psychosomatic, the equivalent of being placed into a hypnotic trance. No, not the equivalent. It was the same thing! As he began to drift away, the sounds of the priest’s voice repeated in his mind, guiding him into visualisation.
‘<See! See your destiny! See the truth within you!>’
It was in his mind that he saw himself transform. His own body – or at least his astral one – changing and morphing into something else. Shrinking and reforming, twisting and turning until muscle and sinew was replaced with feathers and a broad wingspan. His face formed a sharp, yellow beak with piercing black eyes embedded in the head of a bird, placed upon a body of golden-brown plumage. Llew stretched out his wings, a screeching noise emanating from his mouth as he suddenly took to the air with a swoop, wing-span outstretched and flapping to take control of the thermals in the air that would assist him in his assent into the deep blue firmament.
Upwards and upwards, the characteristic screech of a Golden Eagle emanating across deep valleys and gorges furrowed amongst the Snowdonia range. Ever higher, above the small fortress outcrop and towards the inspiring peak of Snowdon – or ‘Y Wyddfa’ as it was known in Welsh. Soaring and flying at great height, up and away. Over the land of Eryri, the ‘place of Eagles’. Over mountain ranges, further and further away.
This was no ordinary flight. At almost supersonic speed he travelled, over more mountains and valleys that soon became green hills and gentler reliefs. Faster and faster, heading further and further inland. More so until he had by-passed great hills that marked a border and gave way to a plain. A more panoramic stretch of land characterised by arable and pastoral farms and villages.
Before him lay two mounds next to a deep, black-looking pool surrounded by a ring of trees. Still soaring and swooping in the air, he lowered his feathered head and, with beady black eyes, spied the kettle-hole languishing next to the earth-works. A breaking of the surface of the dank waters caught his attention further. Something began to rise from the depths. The glint of some golden object surfacing, the hilt of a sword shining in the early morning sun. It raised itself further, a sleek blade attached to the hilt. Shining white metal emerging from the depths and then hovering above the surface of the waters as though transfixed in space.
Folding his wings inward, he dived towards the sword. Downwards, further and further. Closer and closer, until he was but a mere few inches away and drawing ever closer to the surface of the pool. Skimming close to the pommel, talons outstretched, he grabbed the hilt – engraved in the likeness of two serpents – and took hold with a strong grip. Yanking the sword away from its hovering position, Llew furiously flapped his wingspan once more with a swoosh and sped upwards into the sky, lifting the treasure with him as he went. Upwards and upwards he travelled, away from the pool. Further and further, the kettle-hole beneath gradually melting away into the land below as he headed upwards then westerly, away from the early morning sun. Back towards the place from whence he’d just came.
His eyes opened and he blinked furiously at the sudden influx of light piercing through the canopy of trees surrounding him. He was back in the present, on the summit of Dinas Emrys. Fully formed and human again. It only seemed like a brief instant. Then again, it could have been an eternity! The host had ceased its chanting and stood silently, awaiting further utterances from the priest. Removing his hands from Llew’s shoulders, the priest relaxed and smiled.
‘<You are prepared now Llew! Now, you must learn your true name!>’
The priest beckoned, another shamanic figure bringing over a staff. The same type as the one the priest himself had carried and also affixed with a dual serpent symbol. Except this one was made from gold. Welsh gold, Llew suspected. The priest took it respectfully and presented it to Llew. The New Zealander took the staff gingerly in his right hand, placing the other end on the ground to support it next to him. The priest then took a pendant, handed to him by another assistant.
Forged from the same precious metal in a zoomorphic pattern, it depicted a strong-looking ox at the bottom from which stemmed twin serpents twisted into each other in the centre who in turn supported the image of an eagle in flight. Wing-span outstretched in the manner in which Llew had just seen himself transform into. The priest held the pendant by its leather thong and placed it around Llew’s neck. Finally, he was given a golden-braided head-band, which was then ceremoniously placed around Llew’s forehead with great care. His work finished, the priest stepped backwards and bowed respectfully.
‘<Welcome, Llew, great warrior and bard!>’ he declared. ‘<Our order has anticipated this day for many a year. It has been my sacred task to initiate you today, so that you may become one of us. But you are more than one of our brethren. You hold the position of one who guides and nurtures us, your people, and the one you have been sent here to assist! The one who will be ‘Y Mab Darogan’. Our national saviour!>’
The priest paused and drew a deep breath before continuing.
‘<We accept you as our brother! You are known as ‘Llew’ from this time forth, but it still falls upon me to tell you your secret name. The one that must remain hidden until the right time is reached! The one that denotes who you truly are, and shall forever be!>’
Llew drew in a deep breath and bowed his head as the priest moved close up and whispered in his right ear. Listening carefully, Llew nodded once to show that he understood as the jubilant priest pulled back and patted him on the shoulder, smiling broadly. Llew knew the name, he knew it very well. One day, it would be revealed but not by his own mouth. People would see it for themselves eventually…