The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym
RHAN WYTH (PART 8)
April 9th, 11pm.
The ripples are fast disappearing on the surface of the lake. Donovan starts forward, wishing he'd thought to dive straight in the moment he saw Teggie. Even now he is too late. A quick flash of brown legs and Heather is past him, striking out into deeper water even as he is yelling that it is dangerous to swim at night. Especially with Godzilla's mothers lurking somewhere out of sight. Picking up her discarded combat trousers and boots he stares out at the slowly spreading ripples and walks forward until his feet are almost in the water. He gouges a number of arrows in the soft ground and stands up satisfied. Teggie might have given him the slip today, but he knows where she went, and tomorrow...
"Tomorrow is another day," he quotes to himself and smiles.
Dexter is not so happy. "You're telling me that a monster came out of the lake and everyone saw it except me?" he demands, incredulous. The boy's head bobs and Dexter frowns at him hard. "Lying is a serious matter," he says.
"I ain't lying. That's what did happen. Ask anyone."
He does. By the time Heather wades ashore, dripping and shivering, he has spoken to a dozen or more people and they all say the same thing. Something black came out of the water, there was a blast of hot air and it vanished again. Everyone saw it: no one saw it for long enough to be sure it wasn't just a shadow. As for Hywel Owen and Bryn Morgan, as far as any knows, neither of them were there. "Strange," comments one man, scratching his head. "They don't usually miss a single minute of this. S'pose they're still out looking for the lass."
Dexter hands Heather his Elvis sweatshirt and she grins her thanks before beginning to towel her hair on it. "I didn't see anything," she says, slipping her glasses back on. "That is, I didn't see Teggie. But I know a bit about diving now, and the water looked the same as when a lot of us dived under together - only more so."
Dexter looks at her doubtfully. "So you think there was something there."
She hesitates and considers a moment before nodding once. "I'm sure of it," she states.
"You think this will help us?" Ian Rees asks.
Sean grins. "I'm sure of it." He waves to the barmaid for another round of drinks. "This is about politics, right, and if you're getting into politics you need the backing of the locals. Get people on the council, link up with other groups, build yourself a power base. Unless all you're really interested in around here is pissing people off," he adds pointedly.
Rees swallows and nods. "No. We're serious."
"Then why do you pull stupid stunts like burning down people's barns?" Sean asks outright. "You attack the community here, they're never going to back you."
Rees looks uncomfortable. "How d'you find out about that?"
"We have our means," Sean replies calmly, tapping ash directly onto the table. "Twice it's happened now, hasn't it? And their son's car has been stolen - a white mini. I hope you lot aren't getting carried away."
A couple of the men murmur angrily. Rees shoots them a look that silences them. "We don't know nothing about the car, or the barn this time round. I've already sorted out them that did it before and I know it's not them again. We don't go after our own people, I told them that."
Sean raises an eyebrow. "Really? Then why did they do it in the first place?"
"God knows. They said it was a dare or something." His words are beginning to slur.
"I heard a girl went missing recently," Sean says casually. "One of the reasons I'm here. I heard there was some stuff going on and I'm checking it out. It's too easy for the wrong people to get blamed, if you catch my meaning -and other groups want to keep well away from any bad publicity." He pauses to finish his drink. "On the other hand," he adds brightly, "if you were to clear up this mess you could well find yourself a bit of a local hero. Who knows where that could lead." He stands up. "Think about it. If I find out anything I'll let you know and you can get your boys to play at heroes."
Staring at the weakly flapping owl, Nate instinctively puts his hand out, expecting Lady Judith to faint. Instead she utters a low cry of dismay and starts forward. "Nathan! The poor thing. We've got to do something."
Nate catches her hand just before she reaches the door. "Easy," he warns her. "First thing first, we'll call Mike down here, then we'll see about getting those nails out."
Even working together, it takes Nathan and Mike Gaskin almost half an hour to free the bird. By then the police have arrived, and the local RSPB man who identifies the bird as a common barn owl, wild, most probably. "People don't tend to keep these things as pets." Whether it will survive or not he can't tell. Nate hands it over reluctantly, only letting the man go when he's promised to send regular updates to the hotel.
Coldly sober now, Judith sips a glass of hotel brandy and watches Nate supervise the police dusting for fingerprints. He hovers close, a camera in his hands, offering advice and generally getting in the way until the police officer tires of it and orders him inside.
"Don't forget to check the car, too," he calls as a parting shot. He walks Judith to her room and kisses her gently on the cheek. "You look stunning in that dress," he says softly. He leaves her at her door, feeling her gaze on him as he walks back down the stairs to the bar.
That is where the rest of the group find him.
Sean is outlining a plan to hang Heather over the lake as bait for Teggie, making a grab for her hair. "Maybe whatever you use as dye will work on her." He sees Nate and stops. "What's up? Your plans to pork her ladyship didn't work?"
He becomes completely serious when Nathan explains what has happened.
"An owl?" Heather asks, incredulous? Who put it there?"
"If we knew that," he says sarcastically, "we could all go home now, couldn't we?"
The group sit up exchanging news for the next hour or so. The more drunk Donovan gets, the louder he insists he saw Teggie. "She was big, all black. Like this." He grabs a pencil and a beer mat and begins to draw.
Dexter leaves him to it. "So, Sean, did you tell Plaid Cymru to slaughter more innocent people to further their aims?"
Sean scowls. "Least I wasn't so busy massaging my own ego that I failed to spot a monster the size of a truck coming out of the lake." He snatches Donovan's drawing. "Leave that alone. You really expect me to believe that you of all people saw the monster?"
"Yeah, sure." He stands up and stretches. "I've got a long night planned. I'll talk to you all tomorrow - especially you, tankgirlie."
Heather watches him go. "I'm looking forward to it already," she murmurs. She gets up to go, too, leaving the others to argue over Donovan's sketch.
A large pile of ash and fag ends have grown at Sean's feet by morning. He stubs out a last one and throws it aside. Time to go visit the ladies, he thinks.
"...I've got an idea," Judith is saying. "We should kidnap Mair Owen, it might make her a bit less shaky."
"How?" Heather asks. "I'd have thought it would... oh, come on in Sean. Don't bother to knock or anything."
"What the hell do you think you were doing yesterday?" he growls at them. He slams the door behind him. "I told you to stay away from the Owens but you wouldn't listen, would you?"
Judith flushes. "Now listen..."
"No, you listen. Judith, you really can't be as stupid as you make out! If you ever pull that crap again I'll be very unpleasant to you!" He swings round on Heather. "And as for you! I'll put you across my knee and spank you to within an inch of your life." He slides his fingers around her thigh. "Not that I think it'd do any good but I'd enjoy it!"
"Try it," Heather suggests pleasantly. She saunters closer to him and smiles right into his face. "Who knows - we might both enjoy it." Before he can move his hand to do it himself, she raises a forefinger and jabs her glasses further up her nose. Her smile turns aggressive and she feels a quick thrill of pleasure when she sees the American hesitate. All talk after all, she thinks.
He backs off a step, fumbling in his pocket for another pack of cigarettes. His hands don't look quite steady as he lights one and draws the smoke into his mouth. "Here." He offers it to her. "Not one of your girlie cigarettes. A guy has been known to go without food but not without..."
She whisks the cigarette out of his hand, takes a single drag and hands it back. He snatches it angrily. "I've got better things to do. Just don't go talking to the Owens unless I say so, understand." He turns around quickly and walks out.
Judith's voice follows him. "I swear, when that man has outlived his usefulness on this investigation, I'm going to have him committed!"
The lakeside is crowded with the eisteddfod-goers, and more tourists than usual, all taking photographs of the lake. Dexter pushes through them all, looking for Donovan's marking arrows. They are still there. He bends down to examine the ground more carefully. Monsters indeed! Still, he thinks, frowning, the drawing Donovan made did look a bit like some of those photographs in the hotel bar. He straightens up and carries on walking, scanning the ground carefully.
A strange green line at the edge of the lake could be algae or something else. Dexter photographs it and scrapes up a sample. A piece of wood catches his eye and he picks it up. It is curved, splintered at both ends, and on one end is a part of a number. Thirty-three or thirty-eight. Something like that.
Donovan leaves Heather searching through the English-language books in the red literature pavilion and makes his way off across the eisteddfod grounds. The smell of sausages hangs in the air making him jump before he realises he's standing next to a hot-dog stall.
"Hey, man, where's the boss's tent?" he asks.
The 'tent' turns out to be a huge caravan painted in a particularly tasteless shade of yellow. Donovan strides up to it confidently. The door is wedged open so he goes straight in. A middle-aged woman is sitting there behind a portable computer. There is a television monitor in the corner, Donovan notices, showing part of the lakeside. He turns to the woman, smiling brightly.
"I'm looking for Mr Owen. Is he here?"
"Not today, love." She glances up from the computer and does a double take when she sees him. "What's it about?"
Donovan hesitates. "It's personal," he says at last. "Where is he - looking for his daughter still?"
She nods, her attention half on the monitor. "That's right. He's heading the search himself, you know. The visitor's pavilion is just opposite here. Best to go there if you need anything."
Donovan gazes around again. He can't see anything suspicious, but, he reminds himself, you never know... The woman is watching him impatiently and he shrugs and goes out to find Heather.
"...Listen, mate." Sean's voice has taken on a menacing tone. "I don't know what your business is here, and I don't care, but I'm telling you to stay away from my friends - especially the ladies. If I hear you've been creeping round them again I'll come looking for you and I promise you it won't be pleasant."
Paul swallows convulsively. "But... but I've only been teaching her diving."
"So she says. And I don't believe her either. So stay away from her." Sean pats him on the cheek and walks out, whistling softly to himself.
"Is this part of one of your boats?" Dexter asks.
The girl looks up and takes the piece of wood he offers, running her hands over it. "Yes, it is. Number thirty-eight. Where did you find it? We lost it weeks ago."
Heather is coming out of the literature pavilion, a book clutched under one arm and a pile of papers in the other. "I've got a full copy of the Mabinogion," she tells Donovan brightly. "And loads of stuff about Huw Lloyd. It seems that in some stories he's the hero, in others he's the villain. Here..." She off-loads most of the papers. "In this one it says his stone is where he stood to do most of his magic. The power of the earth flowed up through it into him or something. There's nothing about changing people into flowers, though. The only place I could find that was in the Mabinogion itself, and then Blodeuwydd was made out of flowers; she didn't turn into flowers."
"Nothing to say why the American was shooting arrows all over the place?" Donovan asks.
Heather shakes her head. "No. Maybe he just enjoyed archery. You know, even though he wasn't any good at it."
"I wouldn't enjoy anything I wasn't good at," Donovan asserts. He looks at her sideways. "Then, I haven't found anything I'm not good at yet..."
Judith and Nate come out of the Porthmadog records office together. Judith is smiling brightly. "There we are," she says, "I knew we'd find something. Now, shall we go to the newspaper office?"
"...Hywel's family are related to Bryn Morgan's," she tells the others triumphantly over lunch. "His great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather married Bryn's great-great... six great's aunt. Or something. Both families have always lived in this area as far as we could tell."
Sean stubs out a cigarette, smiling thinly when Nate frowns. An hour of searching for the same information on the internet had turned up nothing at all.
"The records don't go back as far as Huw Lloyd," Nate continues, "but we did managed to unearth a picture of him in the library and guess what..." He lays down two sheets of paper side by side. One is a photocopy of a drawing of the druid. The other is a picture of Hywel Owen taken from the local newspaper.
Heather leans over them. "It's the same person," she says at last.
Nate makes an effort to be chatty as he drives Sean to the farm that afternoon. "You know, you take me to the next anti-English meeting. I could be your Scottish contact - the strong silent type." Judith smothers a giggle in the back and he glares at her, then winks. "Here we are."
In the farmhouse kitchen, Sean plays the tape of Bryn Morgan's telephone conversations first. Seren and Dafydd listen carefully, Seren shaking her head from time to time.
"How did you get this?" she asks. "Roughly translated he's saying there's trouble. 'They're onto us, we've got to do something. If they find time before us...' Then his father cuts him off and tells him not to be stupid. He says he'll take care of everything, that there are lots of factors to consider and outsiders aren't going to make any difference now." She shrugs, apologetic. "That's about all."
"It'll do," Sean says. "What about Gwyneth's letters? Do you have them?"
"No. She took them with her when she and Anthony ran. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Nate tells her. "But it is important you tell us everything you know now. Listen, we found an owl pinned to our hotel door last night. You made a comment about them turning a girl into an owl when we spoke last. I find it difficult to believe but I can't rule the possibility out."
Seren turns pale at the mention of the owl. "Pinned to the door? That's terrible! Who could have done it?"
Nate touches her hand reassuringly. "We're working on that now. But we need more information. Please, we know you want to help Anthony and Gwyneth and the best way to do that is to tell us everything you know."
She puts a hand to her throat and glances at Dafydd before answering. "They didn't turn anyone into an owl, if that's what you're thinking. It's a story. But..." Another long pause. "But there are people who think it's possible to do... things. Magic like. Making folk do things they don't want to, or see things that aren't really there."
"And Gwyneth was in on this?" Sean asks, sitting forward.
"Not Gwyneth. She knew about it and it terrified her. She wouldn't have anything to do with it. She... she said it was her father as done it, and her husband. And she hated them both."
"I don't see anything," Donovan complains, lowering his binoculars with a theatrical sigh. Dexter and Heather exchange glances.
The three of them are positioned on the hillside overlooking the Owen's house. So far, the afternoon has been quiet, no one entering or leaving the house in any direction.
Dexter yawns and nods and fishes through his pockets, pulling out an assortment of knives, CDs and finally a mobile phone that looks suspiciously like Nate's. "Keep watching," he instructs. "I'm going to call Richardson." He walks away a short distance and sits down with his back to a tree where the other two can't hear him.
Donovan turns his attention back to the house.
"Here's my theory," Heather says. "Gwydion reincarnated as Hywel Owen, Llew Llaw Gyffes reincarnated as Bryn Morgan, Blodeuwydd reincarnated as Gwyneth, Gronw reincarnated as Anthony Barnard. How does that sound?"
She sighs. Could Barnard really have taken the stone and used it to turn Gwyneth into flowers to hide her, she wonders. Sitting out in the sunlight with the whole day as peaceful as a old-fashioned Sunday the idea is sounding more and more ridiculous. But if Barnard didn't take the stone, who did? She turns her gaze in the direction of the lake. The blue water reflects the hills back at her, and a flat patch of ground that somebody said was used for the eisteddfod crowning ceremony. Slowly, she starts to stand up.
"I can see someone!" Donovan bursts out.
"Where?" She grabs the binoculars off him. Swinging them round quickly she is in time to recognise the face of Mair Owen as she leaves the house below. The woman looks pale, drawn, and as Heather watches, she puts a handkerchief to her eyes.
"Wait here," Heather instructs. "I'm going to follow her."
"What I want to know is why did Anthony and Gwyneth try to run off at this point in time?" Sean says.
Seren shrugs unhappily. "Because it was when he could come. And she wanted to get away before the crowning ceremony, poor love. I think she felt that if she was crowned bard she'd be tied here forever. It's a local thing, you see. The bards are expected to stay around here."
"So there'd be a lot of ex-bards around the place," Nate guesses.
"I suppose so." She is trembling again.
Judith sets a cup of tea in front of her and slides away from Sean quickly, frowning. He looks at her innocently. Changing the subject she asks, "Seren, our best chance might be to find the car Gwyneth and Anthony left in."
She nods, pulling a pieces of paper towards her and fumbling for a pen. "Here's the registration number. We didn't report it missing - we didn't want people getting the idea they might have gone off in it."
Judith takes the paper and hands it to Nate. "You did the right thing," she says. "We can check this out privately." She smiles. "Don't worry. We'll find them. Now, another thing we wanted to ask about was this Welsh Liberation Army. Your son's a member, isn't he? What can you tell us about them?"
Seren looks up at her with empty eyes. "The first thing is it isn't an army. Just a bunch of hooligans..."
"Dexter!" Richardson's voice sounds muffled. "Good news for you. Teggie put in an appearance yesterday while some fat git was singing Elvis. And I've got another idea. It's Hywel Owen who's behind all this, right? So I thought, what if we do a quick bit of burglary and see what we can find in his house? The girl might even be hidden there and then we can rescue her. What do you say?"
"I say you're mad, that's what." Frankly, Dexter is surprised the reporter is still alive after the trouble he's been causing. "It's illegal for a start, and anyway..."
"Chicken," Richardson taunts. "You're not frightened of him, are you? I'm going to go in with or without you. You can call me back once you've decided." The phone goes dead.
Mair Owen walks along the street quickly, not stopping to look back. And, about twenty steps behind, Heather follows. She strolls along casually, keeping pace with the older woman, occasionally stopping to glance into a shop window or read a notice. Baskets of flowers seem to have appeared everywhere. Heather passes a girl who's curled up next to one.
"I'm pretending to be Blodeuwydd," she explains. Heather nods and smiles before walking on, a frown creasing the corners of her eyes.
It soon becomes clear where Mair is heading. Heather crosses the road and watches her from the other side then, when the road narrows into a lane, she falls back again, putting the curve of the hedge in front of her.
When Mair reaches the Llyn-y-Ddraig hotel, Heather stops. She waits for a moment, making sure the woman isn't coming out again and then she takes a deep breath and follows her up the path to the door.
Mair is hovering just inside.
"What are you doing here?" Heather asks outright.
Mair jumps and turns. "I needed to see you," she blurts out. "I have to talk to all of you. It's gone too far this time." She sinks down onto the nearest chair. "Daeth y nos yn gyflym," she whispers.
"I beg your pardon?"
She smiles, wan. "The night came fast."
"Where now?" Nate asks cheerfully. "Back to the vicar?"
Judith slides into the car next to him. "I want to go horse-riding and see whether there's anywhere around here they might be hiding kidnapped people."
Sean scowls. "Too dangerous."
"No it's not. I -"
Dafydd interrupts what she was going to say next, running out of the farmhouse toward the car. "You just had a phone call," he says. "Your friend, Heather. She said you should forget everything else and get back to the hotel right away."
Dexter's phone rings again.
"Nate?" says Heather.
"No, Dexter. You ran off quick. Where are you?"
"Back at the hotel. Listen, Mair Owen is here and she says she needs to talk to us right now. How quickly can you get back?"