A science fiction adventure set in Afghanistan in 2005. Major Tom Mason is seriously injured by an explosion in Badakhshan, close to the Afghan/Pakistan border. He is put back together in a top secret wing of the Plymouth Special Naval Hospital, Derriford . He is upgraded and enhanced ready for some very special assignments back in Afghanistan after all UK troops were supposed to have left.
This is a tense thriller as well as science fiction with some gripping, nail-biting moments and a climatic ending.
Available (hopefully) autumn/fall 2023. I’ll keep you all posted.
Thomas was thirteen. He didn’t believe in magic; he thought that dragons were only in fairy tales, and he didn’t believe in wizards either, it was the 21st century after all. His father had left when he was only two weeks old and taken his two-year-old brother Jonathan with him, so he had never met his father or seen his brother except through baby eyes. Now Thomas was a typical thirteen-year-old, full of angst, rebellion, defiance, and a mistrust of adults, especially men.
However, in the space of a few hours one weekend, he went into a cave which was not there, met a sixty-foot Purple Dragon called Howel, who spoke with a very posh full-on Oxford accent, met a wizard called Flintock, the son of a tribal chief of the Yoruba peoples from Benin, in West Africa, a hideous beast called a trygall, with scales like a fish, flaming red hair and terrible looking teeth, and he had seen real magic performed before his eyes. Apart from all that, it was a normal weekend.
He had arrived in the land of Trymyll, a mythical and magical land in a slightly different dimension to planet Earth as we know it.
A few weeks on and he had been reunited with his father and brother. His father, Llewellyn the Brave, was an immensely powerful wizard, his brother, who despite being an acolyte for over ten years, was not. However, together, Tom and his brother Jonathan soon became very accomplished wizards, and now have their very own dragons, Bevon, a fine Red Dragon who was partnered with Jonathan and Ren, a magnificent Golden Dragon partnered with Thomas. And, just in case you didn’t know, Golden Dragons are the most magical creatures that ever existed and Red Dragons are very magical, fiercely loyal, and formidable warrior dragons.
Jon is feisty and always up for a fight, so his Red Dragon Bevon suited him well. By contrast, Tom is a healer and restorer and always tries to find a non-violent way out of trouble, both he and Ren have amazing and powerful mind-bending powers, they can see into the depths of most people’s minds and subtly bend them to do their will when required. Working as a team, Tom and Jon are nigh on invincible, working on their own inevitably led to trouble or disaster. But they are young, only thirteen and fifteen, so they are bound to get into trouble sometimes.
They have just battled with an unknown and enormously powerful dark wizard who calls himself ‘The Master’. He has been defeated but not eliminated. After the battle, in which three high elders were lost, it is revealed that Flintock the Elder has a deep secret. He divulged this to Llewellyn, but not to the boys. He thinks they are too young and immature to handle the truth.
We left the last book, Thomas, Wizard’s Son, with the news that Llewellyn and the boys are going back to Wales to visit their home and the boys’ mother.
If you are new to the Tales of Trymyll series, then there is a use full extra chapter at the end of the book which is worth reading now, The Land of Trymyll will give you an insightful overview of Trymyll and some of the main characters. It is worth reading before you start on the main story, but not compulsory!
Chapter 1 – Home again.
Four people stepped out of a cave halfway up the mountain at the back of a village in Wales. No one else could see the cave, mainly because it wasn’t there. They were dressed in the clothes of the twenty first century, jeans and tee-shirts, boots and jackets, their ‘wizard clothes’ had been magically transformed at the cave entrance in Trymyll ready for their return.
There were Llewellyn, Flintock, Jonathan, Thomas and a small Jack Russel dog called Howl. Howl was really a sixty-foot Purple Dragon called Howel, but he appeared as a dog so as not to draw attention to himself. He did, however, consider this to be a most demeaning and incongruous guise, and was always in a particularly bad mood when in doggy mode. Jonathan carried a cockerel, the alternate metamorphosis of a Red Dragon and Tom had a sparrow hawk sitting on his shoulder, who was, of course, Ren, his magnificent Golden Dragon. Jonathan slightly resented the others, a dog easily merges into the reality of normal, a sparrow hawk, whilst not a common bird to have as a pet, still looked a whole lot cooler than a cockerel, not an easy pet to wander around with in rural Wales.
For those who have not studied dragons, they are in the main very magical, intelligent, and wise. All dragons have an alternative shape which they can change into when required. For Purple Dragons, this is a small dog, not unlike a Jack Russel, for Red Dragons, it is a hen or cockerel, according to their gender, and for Golden Dragons; the most magical of all dragons, it is normally a sparrow hawk. However, being so magical, they can take on whatever shape they wish, even appear as a human if they so desire.
They stopped at the cave entrance and looked across at the valley and the mountain beyond. The air was different here, it had an industrial smell, a mix of rusty iron, diesel fumes and coal. The mines closed years ago, but still, the stench hung in the air. To all except Flintock, it still smelt like home, so they breathed it in like it was a new rose on a summer’s day.
Yes, they were now ‘home’. This is where Llewellyn’s wife Gwen lived, in a small looking miner’s cottage at the end of a terrace of cottages on the edge of the village. The boys were excited. The last time Tom had seen his mum, she was in a wheelchair, ‘crippled by life’ she used to say, with an oxygen bottle fastened to the frame to help her breathe.
Tom ran on ahead into the house, and fell into his mothers’ arms, tears running down his face, he hadn’t seen her for eight months and had missed her terribly.
“Ma, ma, we’re home!” he sobbed, “all of us, dad, Jon and Flintock as well.”
His mum hugged him and kissed him dearly on the top of his head. Next, it was Jon’s turn, he was not as sentimental as Tom, so his greeting was a little more restrained but no less warm. Finally, their dad arrived. He flung his arms around Gwen, lifted her clear off the ground and spun her round in a deep embrace.
“Sorry it’s been so long; we have had big problems in Trymyll so we couldn’t get away. All sorted now, a lot of it by the boys, they’ve made me immensely proud.”
After a decent interval of a few minutes, Flintock came in, he also embraced Gwen, “Well, look at you Gwen, you’re looking so well now. No wheelchair, no oxygen.”
“Well, a miraculous cure came over me as soon as young Tom was gone, must have been him that brought me down!”
They all laughed. They all knew it was part of what Howel called, ‘the deception’.
“Oh, and thanks for your deposits, I found them in the garden. You know I don’t need any more gold, I have more than a lifetimes supply, several times over,” Gwen said addressing Llewellyn.
“That wasn’t me,” said Llewellyn, “We’ll tell you all about it later, but the gold came from Jon and Tom’s dragons, allow me to introduce them.”
Ren apparated to Tom’s shoulder, “This is Ren,” said Tom, “he’s a magnificent Golden Dragon, the most magical of all dragons.”
“And this is Bevon,” said Jon, “an equally awesome Red Dragon, a proper battle dragon.”
“Oh dear, where can we keep them? They can’t stay in that form for long, they’ll get a cramp,” Gwen laughed.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Howel, “they have been like that for about twenty minutes, I had to stay in this shameful guise for two whole months.”
“Oh! Hello Howel, come and cuddle mummy then.”
“No,” was the prompt and bad-tempered reply from the small white, black, and tan Jack Russel dog, who, to demonstrate his foul mood, cocked his rear leg up and peed on the table leg.
Llewellyn stepped in, “Don’t worry, Ren will apparate all three away to the mountains where they can’t be seen, they’ll be fine.”
“Right, in that case, I’ll get the kettle on, you must all be thirsty. And I’ve baked a batch of crystallised ginger rock cakes as well because I know how much you like them. But make it soon, I don’t want the other two pooping on my carpet!”
“But how did you know we were coming?” inquired Tom.
Gwen just tapped the side of her nose as if to say, “that’s for me to know.”
“I sent a message last night so your mum would know we were coming,” Llewellyn said by way of explanation, but without explaining how you get a message from Trymyll to Wales.
Ren spoke directly into Tom’s mind. “If you need us, just call me in the normal way and we three will return in an instant.”
“Thanks, Ren,” thought Tom, “but we should be okay here, after all, this is my home, or at least it used to be, I’m not quite sure where home is nowadays.”
Bevon also said his telepathic goodbyes to Jonathan and the three dragons then disappeared, reappearing in a well forested part of the mountains a couple of valleys away.
The others then sat in the cottage talking for a while. Once Flintock had had his tea and cake he announced, “I’ll be off then; I’m going to visit my people to see what’s happening with them. I’ve heard some bad reports. I’ll see you all in about a week.”
“Stay safe my friend,” Llewellyn said.
They said their goodbyes, Flintock gave Llewellyn a hug, and then Gwen, Jon, and Tom, then he disappeared as well.
Flintock was the son of a tribal chief of the Yoruba peoples from Benin in West Africa. His tribal name was Funsan Njau Osei, he was taken to Trymyll as a boy because his natural and latent magic powers frightened his people. He was brought there by his great-uncle, Faraji Mwita Osei, a hidden wizard.
Now Gwen, of course, knew all about wizards, you can’t be married to one for nearly twenty years without finding out about them, so the three dragons and Flintock all vanishing did not phase her at all.
Chapter 2 – Bunter the Bully.
“Well Jon, you got your Wizard’s Robes yet?” his mum asked.
“Oh yes, and Tom as well, we’re both quite good at magic now,” he said as modestly as he could.
“Tom as well? But he’s only been gone a few months.”
Llewellyn intervened, “They are both powerful, talented, and gifted wizards now. They were made wizards by the Elder following some very impressive adventures which I’m sure they will tell you all about over supper. Now, you two, why don’t you go down to the village? School finishes in a few minutes, Tom, you could go and make your peace with Mrs Glyn. Jon, you tag along, and we can all catch up later. And no magic!”
“We know that da,” they replied, “I’ll catch up with me mates as well and I’ll introduce Jon to chocolate,” Tom answered, and with that, Llewellyn and Gwen were left alone.
They arrived at the school, a grey, uninteresting building, designed by the uninspired, built by the indifferent and finished to unimpress. Unopenable double glazing set in dark concrete slabs with spray paint graffiti as far as an arm could reach. A coal black flat roof sat upon the building, this piled high with snow in the winter, leaked whenever it thawed or rained, making the top floor classrooms incredibly cold in winter, and heated them to an unbearable and stifling heat in the summer.
It was a few minutes before school ended for the half-term week. Tom and Jon arrived at Mrs Glyn’s class just as the bell rang. There then followed a tsunami of teenagers out from every classroom, all hastening for the exit and freedom from the tyrannical overlords they called teachers. The smell of body odour, sweat, and hormonal teenagers lingered long after they had left the building.
“Hello Mrs Glyn, can we come in?”
“My word, young Tom, how are you? How’s life in Cardiff? Which school are you at there? How’s your dad?” The questions flowed out so quickly; Tom didn’t have time to say a word.
“Well, I’m good thanks, this is my brother Jon.”
“Oh my, he looks just like you! But taller.”
“Cardiff’s great,” he lied, “but we don’t go to a school there, we are privately tutored,” he said, almost telling the truth.
“Well, I hope your maths is a lot better now, you missed a very important test the day after you left.”
“Oh, it’s much better now thank you.”
“Well, quickly tell me what’s the square root of 169?”
“Thirteen” he replied without thinking, “and 169 squared is 28,561, and while we’re on the subject, the square root of 13 is 3.606,” using, of course, the wisdom of the wand, not his brain.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed, quite shocked, “You have improved. But what about your Welsh? You could hardly speak a word last time we met.”
“Mae fy iaith Gymraeg yn dod ymlaen yn eithaf da mewn gwirionedd, diolch.” Tom replied with his best Welsh accent. (My Welsh language is coming on quite well actually, thank you.)
Again, he didn’t actually know the language, but the wand had fed him the correct words, intonation, and accent.
“Oh my, oh my!” Mrs Glyn exclaimed.
“That’s partly why I’m here,” he said sheepishly, “I want to apologise for my rebellious attitude and behaviour when I was in your class, I know now, that although you were hard on me, it was because you really cared, and wanted me to do well. I’m sorry I didn’t realise it at the time. So, I want to both apologise and say thank you.”
“Well, well,” she said, a little tear in her eye, “thirty-seven years in teaching and no one has ever come back and said that to me, I’m quite overwhelmed, thank you very much. How have you had this most pleasant change of attitude if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Well, I’ve had a bit of counselling, and that made me understand a lot about myself and my psychological makeup,” he fibbed, not even knowing what he even meant. He could hardly tell her that a Golden Dragon told him. She would think he found out at the local Chinese takeaway.
Tom surprised himself by moving forward and giving her a hug, which she accepted graciously. She smelled quite pleasant compared to the kids in school, she was wearing a sweet cologne and did not smell of lavender water like most old ladies!
“And no one’s ever done that before either, so thank you very much again,” tears now flowing readily down her plump rosy cheeks.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“Tears of happiness, tears of joy,” she said.
“Well, thanks again for all you did, and sorry again,” Tom repeated, he then touched her hand tenderly and left.
They were almost out of the building when Jon said….
“What was that all about? Yuk!”
“Ren showed me things I never imagined when we had our meeting of minds, he took me right through my childhood back to when I was just born. But also, he made me see things from a different perspective, including Mrs Glyn, who I always thought hated all kids and especially me, but Ren made me see that she loves kids, she’s dedicated her life to improving them and making them better. That’s why I had to go and see her.”
“Well, perhaps you should have taken her a dozen red roses or a crock of your gold as well.” Jon teased.
“Come on, let’s go down the town.”
The school was set at the top of the slope, behind it were great slag heaps of unwanted earth and coal, now well planted with trees and shrubs to avoid any landslips. They walked down towards the town. On the way down, they came across Bunter and his little gang of bullies. He was called Bunter, though not to his face, because he was, as they say, quite heavy for his height.
“Well, look at what the cats dragged back into town? If it’s not Jones the ginger wimp and, by the looks of it, his equally wimpy and long-lost brother.”
Tom and Jon stopped dead. At first, they didn’t quite know what to do or say. They could hardly run away, that would look bad, but they couldn’t fight them either, there were too many of them.
They both had their wands, they never left them. Tom made his wand appear, but up his coat sleeve so the little gang could not see it. He held his crystal and stared at the boys. He sent out an aura of fear into Bunter, so powerful was the fear and trepidation that Bunter burst into tears and messed his pants all at the same time. His little gang just roared with laughter at the bully as he ran away, red-faced and sobbing, a smelly brown mess running from his trouser legs and plopping on the pavement.
Jon and Tom then just walked away. Smiling.
“What did you do then?” asked Jon.
“Just filled him with fear and dread so powerful that he messed his pants.”
“He won’t like it; he won’t let us get away with it. I know all about bullies, he’ll try to get us back.”
“Get away with what? We didn’t do anything that anyone would know about. He just pooped himself, hardly our fault. Nothing to do with me I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Tom said laughing, they both laughed.
Then Tom stopped. They were outside ‘The Tuck Shop’. The village’s little sweet shop newsagents and general store.
“Come on, I’ll buy you some chocolate, it’s a taste so good, you may just die of pleasure!”
“Afternoon Mr Evans,” said Tom, “can we have a couple of bars of your finest milk chocolate please?”
“Hello young Thomas, glad to see you’re back, this must be your big brother, my mind’s gone blank, what’s your name?”
“Oh yes, I remember now, not that we ever met, but your mum spoke of you often. You two back to stay?”
“No,” said Jon taking over the conversation, “Just here for a week or so and then back to Cardiff again.”
“Your mum misses you two, can’t be easy for her not seeing her boys for so long.”
The boys didn’t want to pursue the conversation, so Jon finished with, “Well we’re here now, mum wants us both to have a better education than the local school can provide, so she sent us to Cardiff to be with our dad. But we promise to visit a lot more often now.”
Mr Evans was nice, but nosey, always wanting to know other people’s business, the village didn’t need a local newspaper, not with Mr Evans in the shop.
“Shame about your mum and dad splitting up, such a pity,” Mr Evans said, trying to dig for gossip.
“They never split up, dad works away and gets back when he can, he’s got a very important job, so it’s not easy to get back all the time, they never have split up and never will,” Tom said with some force and anger. Mr Evans decided it was time to stop digging.
They removed themselves to the park. Jon had never seen a park before as such things do not exist in Trymyll. So, he’d never sat on a swing, been down a slide or on a round-about, “Oh, so this is the famous park, where the Saturday night ritual of chips and a burger happens.”
“The very one,” Tom said, almost with pride, “we’ll come down here tomorrow night and get some chips. You’ll see, it’s life itself, it’s an event.”
“And, if I remember correctly, chocolate is better than life.”
“Yup, sure thing, here, try some.”
Jon carefully unwrapped the blue paper from the bar and then gently took off the silver foil from around the chocolate bar.
“So, according to the wrapper, there’s a glass and a half of milk in every bar. How’d they do that then?”
“No idea, just take a bite and let it melt on your tongue.”
Jon took two squares of chocolate and popped them into his mouth. The chocolate slowly melted sending a rush of extreme pleasure through his entire body, every hair stood on end and every nerve in his body tingled with pleasure, he had goosebumps on his goosebumps.
“Mmmmmm, Mmmmm. Oh, my goodness, that is so good, I’ve never tasted anything like it. Mmmmm.”
Chocolate ran down his chin and onto his tee-shirt. He pushed it back up his chin and back into his mouth, not wishing to miss even a fraction and then tucked into the rest of the bar.
“Well, chips had better be good, because that was indescribable!”
“It’s not the chips, it’s the ritual.”
Once they had eaten the chocolate, they headed back to the cottage. It was a small cottage on the outside, officially it had two bedrooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs, just a front room and a kitchen with an outside toilet in the garden. To the passer by, that’s exactly how it looked, but on the inside, it looked slightly larger, upstairs there were four bedrooms and two bathrooms, one en-suite, downstairs there was a good-sized lounge, a dining room, study, kitchen come breakfast room, utility room and a toilet on the inside; produced using hammerspace a magic non-reality where something is bigger on the inside than on the outside.
Jon excitedly told his parents about his chocolate experience, telling it as if they had never heard of chocolate before.
“Oh, and sorry about the chocolate stains on my tee-shirt.”
“No worry, I’ll soon get that stain out. Anything else you want to tell us about?” mum asked.
“No,” they both said cautiously.
“Well,” said Llewellyn, “it’s just that we have heard reports of a confrontation in the village between two ginger-haired boys and a gang of youths which ended in their leader, Bunter, I believe he is called, crying like a baby, and pooping his pants. Do either of you know anything about that?”
“Well,” said Tom, “we only talked, no one saw us doing anything, my wand was up my sleeve and out of sight.”
“I thought I told you no magic.”
“Anyway, how did you find out?”
“Your mother has a fire in the grate, so I was watching you two to make sure you came to no harm. Nice trick though. Very discrete, no harm was done and no one any the wiser. So, well done boys. I don’t like bullies, never have, never will. Now, no more magic! Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes da,” the boys said in a resigned sort of voice.
“Well boys, it’s nearly supper time, I hope you still have appetites after your chocolate fest,” mum said with a smile, “I know it’s Friday, but I’ve done a full Sunday roast for us all. So, let’s go eat.”
Tom had missed his mums’ roast dinners, so this was special. A nice leg of Welsh lamb, crispy, crunchy roast potatoes, roast parsnip, carrots, and peas. This was followed by spotted dick and custard, Toms’ favourite.
Over dinner, the boys spoke excitedly about their adventures in Trymyll, missing out on all the bits which put them in any danger. They talked about dragons, some of the troubles they had with Llewel the Loser. Arvel Mordecai and the Golden Dragons he had captured and some of the story of how they released them, missing out the bit about there being three dangerous Blue Dragons involved. They told of their dragons, how Jon and Bevan had got to know each other and the fun they had in the quarries, the fight they had had with twenty, no, at least thirty of the fiercest Blue Dragons you ever did see, but Bevon had seen them all off. Tom told of his encounter with Ren, how there had been a meeting of minds and how he saw right back to when he first opened his eyes and saw his father cut the cord, and how he even saw Ren breaking out of his egg through Ren’s eyes. He even told of how he saw his dad and brother leave when he was a few days old, choking up a bit as he told it. They both told of the battle with the Master, how their dragons had been so brave in the fight but missing exactly how they were involved so as not to frighten their mother. They talked well into the evening until it was eventually time to turn in for the night.
“Right, cocoa all round, then it’s off to bed. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve put you two in the back bedroom with twin beds, but please don’t sit up there talking all night, we want to have a full day tomorrow,” Gwen said.
The next morning, they were all up and down for breakfast before seven o’clock. Over breakfast, dad had a few things to say.
“Right, listen up. As you know, I was the Health and Safety Manager at the mine for many years. In case anyone asks what I do now, tell them I am now working for the ministry, Department of the Environment that is, I’m a consultant in Health and Safety. You told me yesterday that Mrs Glyn thinks you have home tutors coming in, having such a good job will explain how we can afford it. Now some good news, your mum and I spoke about it at length after you went up last night, when we return to Trymyll next week, your mum is coming with us. Her funds, as we call them, are being professionally managed, and will continue to supply those in need in her absence. Any questions? No? Great. Now let’s get on with Saturday. What do you boys want to do?”
“What?” Tom said excitedly, “You’re coming with us? That will be fantastic. Will you be okay though? Trymyll is a magical world, you will be what they call a phobl, you’ll have no magic.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about me, I have three strapping wizards to look after me, and Flinty as well most of the time, I’ll be fine,” his mum replied.
“You sure?” Tom added.
“Of course, I am. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” she added.
“So, where are we going?” Llewellyn asked again.
“What about the zoo? Jon’s never been to a zoo. How about a day at Folly Farm?” Tom suggested.
“Okay, all agreed, we’ll go to Folly Farm. But we must get the bus there, and again, no apparating and no magic please!”
“But that will take ages,” whined Tom.
“I know it will, but we can apparate back if we are sure no one’s watching,” his dad said, “Check the bus timetable on the interweb thingy.” Llewellyn hadn’t quite got the language of computers yet; he was a bit of a Luddite and didn’t understand them.
Five minutes later Tom was back, “It’s a seven-hour journey, five of which we will be walking!”
“Okay, plan B, we’ll get a taxi.”
“But that will be expensive!” their mum interjected.
“I think we have enough, you are after all the richest women in Wales.”
“Well, I won’t be for long if you keep getting us taxis everywhere.”
In the village where Tom lived, not much happened, in the county where Tom lived, not much more happened. In fact, in the whole of the country of Wales, in Tom’s eyes at least, nothing ever happened. As he walked out towards the small mountain at the back of his village, he pondered the fact, in his world, nothing happened, nothing ever had happened, never did and never would. Life was dull. But that was about to change. Tom was thirteen. He came from a small ex-mining village in Wales, it doesn’t matter which one, for that is neither important nor relevant. For those who do not know, Wales is a principality of the United Kingdom. Now Wales is actually a great place to be. But in Tom’s eyes, as a country, it stank, but as somewhere to be, it wowed. It had mountains, forests, rapid streams, gold, caves, and caverns to explore and snow in winter. It was a land of magic and mystery, dragons and wizardry, adventure, and even great danger; at least it was like that in the eyes of the storyteller. However, Tom lived in an ex-mining village, “ex” because the coal mine closed in 1985 after the miners’ strike. Now, many very odd years later I would like to say what a prosperous area it now is with industry all around and everyone happy in their jobs. But of course, that’s not true, only four out of ten adults had proper jobs, the rest had very little. Somehow, despite having so little to live on, most of the adults still smoked and the men still went to the so-called “Working Men’s Club” and got drunk on a Friday night, got even worse on a Saturday night…..and then went to chapel on Sunday, for the forgiveness of their sins! ‘Working Men’s Club,’ thought Tom as he strode by, more like a dosser’s paradise! Even at his age, he could not understand why they had the money for beer and cigarettes but not for food for their families or rent for the landlord. Not his thoughts, of course, he had heard his foster parents, the Hadley-Smythes, say it many times before. The Hadley-Smythes had moved to South Wales from Oxfordshire a couple of years ago to retire ‘near their roots’ with some vague claim on Welshness. Apart from the fact that neither of them was Welsh, had no relatives in Wales, neither had a Welsh name nor could they speak a word of the Welsh language, they were indeed very Welsh, well at least they lived there anyway. In reality, Tom didn’t know anyone who spoke Welsh in South Wales, but that was not the point. They had both been university professors at one of the universities in Oxford. They were never clear about which one nor did they ever manage to say what they lectured on. All Tom knew was that they spoke in a very funny manner, pronouncing every letter and syllable. They couldn’t pronounce some simple words, to them a house was ‘a hise’, they would never say bike, always bicycle. The drunk only the best red wine, or red wane as they called it and referred to fizzy wine as champers, always followed by a haw, haw, haw, which was their version of a laugh. Anyway, Tom was stuck with them, despite what he thought about them and adults in general, they had always been kind to him and only lived a few doors down from his mum’s house in an end-terrace with quite a nice garden. Why people so grand lived in a small miners cottage was a mystery to Tom, but somehow their cottage seemed much bigger on the inside, they had a grand piano in the front room and a huge candelabra hung in the centre of the room. They had always welcomed his friends and seemed to be able to produce fantastic cakes and sweets for him and his mates out of thin air. He had been with them for a couple of years, they arrived just after Howl, a small Jack Russel terrier which had sort of adopted Tom but then moved into his mother’s house. Tom went to the local comprehensive school; it was a small affair with less than four hundred pupils. Every few years, the council would try to close it and merge with a couple of other schools in neighbouring villages, but they all kept protesting and marching on the council offices, so the council would back down and let it lie for another couple of years. Tom didn’t really like school, not helped by Mrs Glynn, his form tutor, who was, in Tom’s eyes, a tyrant and a bully. Tom could not see that she was hard on some of them because she cared for them and wanted them to succeed. In many ways, Tom could only see the worst in grown-ups, he judged them all the same as his father who had left him, deserted him, and didn’t care at all. The only good thing about school was his mates and rugby. He loved rugby, he didn’t exactly have the build of a prop forward, but Tom was a good scrum half, he was quick and almost seemed to run between the legs of the opposition. His slightly too long red hair looking like a human torch as he ran, his bright blue eyes flashing left and right, always looking for an opening. Tom was a popular lad and was always picked for the school under fifteens rugby team. Tom and his mates used to love the countryside, and at weekends they would explore the small mountains that surrounded the village. They would pretend to be spies, sent to find out about a secret hideout somewhere in the village, they would run across the fields, hide behind the dry-stone walls shooting pretend rifles, build bases inside the mouths of the many caves, watching the village below through old loo rolls which they pretended were binoculars. However, some days he preferred his own company, sometimes he liked to walk out onto the mountain at the back of the village to a cave about halfway up, sit in the entrance and look out over the valley to the village below with its tiny little people all rushing about their dull lives, rushing about despite the fact most had nothing to do and nowhere to go. Tom was no worse off than some but far worse off than many. In fact, Tom was very close to the bottom of the heap. He only had a Mum and didn’t know where his dad was; he had left when Tom was a week old and took his only brother with him. His brother Jon would be about fifteen now; he had never seen him, if he had, he couldn’t remember him, and his mother never spoke much of either of them. So, neither did he. All he knew was that his brother had the same flame-red hair that he did. All he had to remember his dad by was a small gold signet ring. The ring was made of pure Welsh gold with a black onyx stone with the emblem of a dragon carved into the face. It just fitted onto his right-hand ring finger, he had never thought much about it, he had always worn it for as long as he could remember. It was small and difficult to come over his knuckle, otherwise, he was sure his mum would have taken it away and pawned it by now. His mum was ill, in a wheelchair, crippled by life she used to say, she had trouble breathing and had an oxygen bottle strapped to the wheelchair. The only visitor his mum ever had was Father Seamus O’Reilly, a Catholic priest, strange that, they weren’t even catholic. Anyway, to summarise Tom was fostered by these English people who thought they were Welsh, and Tom had very little in life he could call his own except his dreams, his happiness and his dad’s ring. Why he was happy no one knew, but still, he was uncharacteristically happy with his lot. Tom believed in his own mind that he was the only person who knew of the cave, none of his friends ever mentioned it, he never saw anyone else near it and there were none of the normal signs of human activity, cigarette ends, empty beer cans, discarded empty bottles of cheap cider, and discarded instant bar-b-ques. There were several caves around here; all had the signs of humanity and waste, but not this one. It was named Dragon’s Hole, Tom didn’t know why; no one believed in dragons, this was the 21st century after all. But Dragons Hole it was, always had been and probably always would be. The fact it had a name meant that others knew it was there, it was on the maps and everything, you could even see the entrance on Google Earth, but no one ever came up here except Tom. Tom had now reached the edge of the village and proceeded up the road to the style which bridged the dry-stone wall. He crossed the field of sheep climbed another wall and started up the steep path to the cave. He never wondered why, if no one ever came here, why was there was a path? He never worked out the reason why none of the local youth came here for their illicit smoking, underage drinking and stuff…. He had come up the rough path to the cave many times and sat at the cave entrance to look and think but had never ventured any further in than the few feet or so that the entrance light allowed. Inside it was dark, very dark, very, very dark! Today he felt adventurous and had brought a torch. He thought about this very hard, did he want to go further in than the light allowed? What if there was someone in there? A mass murder escaped from prison hiding there? Bats? A huge snake? But no, he was Tom, he feared nothing and did not believe in ghosts or witches or anything scary, in Britain we did not have poisonous cave snakes. Bats could do you no harm at all and if there was a mass murderer on the loose, he would have seen it on the tele. He gingerly ventured in, scrambling across rocks until the light was just behind him. He could hear dripping water as it seeped through the rocks and from the ceiling. He could feel his heart pounding inside his chest. Torch time he thought, the light penetrated the darkness so quickly it seemed the darkness retreated into the rocks. Tom climbed across a couple more boulders and to his surprise found that, once he was a few feet in, the scattered rocks were behind him and there was quite a flat path ahead. The small torch threw up huge shadows as he moved, shapes formed and dissolved on the walls of the cave like ever changing fast moving clouds. He could make out a huge spire in the distance, but soon realised it was the shadow of a rather small stalagmite or was it a stalactite? Never could remember which was up and which was down. “Now, what was the memory jogger?” He said to himself. “stalactites have to hold on tight!” So, he was right. He saw the shapes of monsters, dinosaurs, trees, all for a fleeting moment before their form dissolved to another shape. Tom ventured on, deep into the cave. Then he saw two green things floating just in front of him a good eighteen inches apart, it gave him quite a start and he stopped in his tracks. For some reason, he did not turn and run, for an even less explicable reason he was not even scared. As his eyes focused, he could see they were eyes, big eyes, several inches across, pearlescent green with long vertical slits to let the light in. In front of them, he could make out a couple of nostrils at the end of a very long nose. What on earth was a cow doing this far back in the cave he thought, albeit a big cow he thought, he even verbalised his thought. “What are you doing here then cow?” Tom said in his best Welsh accent. “Cow?” a voice came back, but this time with a perfect, crisp and clipped Oxford accent. “Who in the Makers name are you referring to as a cow?” beads of sweat instantly formed on Tom’s brow and the blood drained from his face. Tom dropped the torch, which of course went out…… “Hadley-Smiff! What are you doing here?” “Hadley-Smythe is the correct pronunciation, however, I am not he.” “Mass murderer then?” “No, No my dear boy, it is I Howel” the voice replied. “Howel the talking cow?” “NO! Not Howel the talking cow for crying out loud! Oh alright,” there was a small ‘pop’ and the eyes and nose joined up to what appeared to be an enormous purple dragon. He must have been forty, fifty, maybe sixty feet long, scales, long neck and huge teeth, in fact, all the normal mythical creature features! But purple? He just looked so the wrong colour! More caricature than reality. “Don’t be stupid!” Tom said. “Dragons don’t exist, especially purple ones.” “Well,” said the dragon. “If I had a penny for every time someone said that to me, I’d have enough money now for a cup of tea and a small Welsh cake.” “How can I see you in the dark?” Tom said. “Simple, dragon light,” the dragon said in a matter of fact sort of way. “Not going to eat me, are you?” Tom didn’t quite know where that question came from but was somehow glad he had got it in early. “No dear boy, I am not going to eat you………unless of course….. no, no, dragon humour, take no notice.” “Are you magic then?” Tom asked. “Of course I am,” Howel said. “otherwise you would not see me.” “Don’t believe in magic,” Tom said. “Oh great, now I have enough money for a cucumber sandwich as well,” he replied irritably “I’ve got a dog at home; his name is Howl. We call him that because that’s what he does when we don’t take notice of him. He howls.” “Enchanting, and what sort of dog is this Howl? “He’s a Jack Russell we think. We’ve had him a couple of years. But he’s quite cute, though rather bad-tempered though. Dunno where he came from, just turned up and stayed one day. Anyway, how come you speak English then?” Tom didn’t know why he was telling a dragon about his dog, nerves he suspected. “Because dear boy, if I spoke Welsh you wouldn’t understand a word I said!” There was now an even bigger hint of irritation in his voice. “So, you can speak Welsh then?” “I can, I speak over one hundred languages, fluently!” “Latin?” Tom asked. “Yes, Latin as well, we speak it more and more nowadays to sound authentic,” he lied, with more than a hint of sarcasm. ” Okay,” Tom replied, “and there’s no need for sarcasm.” “Whatever!” said the dragon with a wearisome sigh, sounding more like a post-pubescent teenager than a sixty-foot dragon. “So then, why are you here? In this cave like?” Tom said, again in his best Welsh accent. “I am the keeper of the gate to the Land of Trymyll,” the dragon replied with a certain amount of pride. “So, you have to stay in this old cave all the time then?” asked Tom. “No, every Tuesday, Thursday and alternate Saturdays,” he replied, again sarcastically. “of course I don’t, but it is a full-time job,” Howel said, “have you never seen the advert in the corner shop ‘part time keeper of the gate required, enquire within’?” The dragon calmed, “Sorry about that, life can be a little tiresome, I have been the gatekeeper for a little under five hundred years and you are only the thirteenth person who has come through the gate.” “Five hundred years don’t be daft, no one lives that long,” Tom said. Howel ignored the interruption and continued. “I am the gatekeeper, but the cave is locked to all unless I or my master opens the cloaking spell, only then do I need to be here in this horrid, damp little hole.” Then in reply to Tom’s earlier statement, Howel continued without drawing breath… “Maybe humans do not live for five hundred years but dragons do, anything up to two or three thousand years for most of us, some, red dragons, even longer. Anyway,” he continued, “My time here is almost ended, I will be gone quite soon.” “You going to die or something then?” “No dear boy, contract runs out in five years, then I’m off to the Himalayas for a holiday before returning to Trymyll,” he then said as an afterthought, “are you saying I look old? I’ll have you know I am barely six hundred years old and in my prime, at least another millennium and a half left in me if not two millennia! Even more if I eat well!” “Sorry,” Tom said semi-apologetically, “lights not too good in here.” “Anyway,” Howel continued, “Tom?” Almost as a question. “Well yes,” Tom replied warily. “How do you know my name? “Because, my dear boy, I have been watching you since the day of your birth and calling you for the last two months.” “Calling me?” “Yes, calling you. How else do you think you are here?” “But I am always here, I come here all the time” “In reality, you have only been coming here for the last eight weeks, you only think you have been coming here forever. Have you never wondered why you always come here alone?” Howel did not wait for an answer but continued. “It is because this place only exists for you. No one else can see it or find it.” “But I can see it on maps and Google Earth and stuff.” “Yes, I know you can, but no one else can.” “But I’ve shown it to my mates on the computer.” “Yes, I know that as well, but as soon as they turn away, they forget what they have seen, children have such short spans of concentration.” “What about the path?” “Only you.” “The sty?” “Only you.” “The mountain?” “Now we are being silly. Of course, the mountain is there. But people can only see what I let them see. Now we must get on, there is much to do.” “Sorry mate, you might have lots to do, but I have to get back for my tea.” “Oh contraire,” Howel replied. “we have lots to do and you dear boy are going nowhere.” “But the Hadley-Smiffs are expecting me.” “No we’re not, not tonight anyway,” Howel replied. “What do you mean by that?” “Oops, slip of the tongue dear boy, forgot to mention, the Hadley-Smythes are just a figment of our imaginations and other people’s imagination. Now they are as if they never existed, which of course they didn’t. So, as I said, we must push on.” “Hang on, hang on, you don’t get away with it that easily, I’ve been stuck with those two phony Welsh people for two years, I get one sentence of bad explanation and you say, we must push on?” “Well,” Howel said, “there’s not that much to say, they did exist, sort of, but they were sort of magicked up by Llewellyn the Brave and me in the imaginations of all who met them. Oh, and you only think you’ve been with them for two years, it was actually only two months, it just seemed longer,” he paused, “for both of us.” “But they were real, solid, there,” Tom said frustrated, “I saw them with my own eyes, not with my imagination,” He stopped short. “what do you mean only two months? I was with them for two long years!” His voice lifting to a slight screech. “It is so difficult to explain to a non-magical person, yes they were there, without a doubt, but then again, they weren’t there at all. If that makes sense. Anyway, they’re gone now and no one in the village will remember them.” They started to go along the cave’s path further and further from the entrance, further and further into the darkness. “I still remember them.” “Well of course you do,” Howel continued, “that is because without knowing, you helped form both the illusion and the reality, their images were woven into your thought patterns in a far more intricate way which one day soon you will hopefully understand.” “What about my mum?” “She remains on the other side. She knows you are here; she knows you are in safe hands.” “I wish I did.” “Oh! Dear boy. You can be so hurtful, of course you are in safe hands, if you were not, I would have probably eaten you by now,” he said with a chuckle. “and not only are children are so tasty, they add years to one’s existence.” “Why am I here? Cos I’m not going nowhere till I know,” Tom said while still walking. “My dear boy, you really are in the safest of hands,” Howel said again, but this time in a concerned almost warm voice. “The reason for your being here is simple, it is, in fact, the reason for your very being, it is your destiny dear boy, your raison-d’ être.” “Is that Latin?” “No, …..French.” “Meaning what?” “All will be revealed in good time. My job is just to get you over the threshold and one day’s journey in, and then you will be met by Llewel the Elder who will take you on from there.” “What if I don’t want to go, what if I decide to turn back and run back to the village?” “You can’t, and you know it. You are so like your brother; he is petulant as well.” “You know my brother?” “Yes, and your father too, both have trod this path before you. Many, many times.” “But Jon was only two when he and my dad disappeared.” “Maybe, but he and your father came this way and have been back and forth many times.” Tom continued in silence, he might meet his dad and brother; that was a good enough reason to go on if he ever needed one. But what if he did? What would he say? How would he feel? How would they feel? They deserted him after all. Would he love them? Should he love them? Could he love them? “Painful thoughts,” said Howel, “and ones I cannot answer, questions only you can sort out if and when you meet them. Oh, excuse me! Did I mention dragons can pick up thoughts.” “So, you can read my mind?” “No, your thoughts, not your mind. There is a difference, a thought is just a suggestion of what is going on in your mind, I can only get the thought.” If and when? thought Tom. Forget the ‘if’ word. He continued to walk silently. Just think about ‘when’. Now, of course, Tom had never met a dragon before, he had much to learn about them. He never imagined them to be purple, did not know they could talk and did not realise they were so pompous! “…and I heard that thought! I am not pompous……and I still might eat you” he added as an afterthought to make himself sound harder.” “And I don’t believe you will eat me because……” He was interrupted by Howel mid-sentence. “And what brings you to that epic conclusion?” “……because if you have been watching me since I was a baby and have gone to all the effort with the Hadley-Smythes and the cave and all that, you would have wasted a lot of time and trouble for such a small snack. Especially if you have a close look at me, I’m just skin and bone, there’s more meat on a butcher’s apron!” “Oh, brother! Another one of those clichés that you humans use to try and buy time before my dinner. Don’t eat me, I have a fat friend. They all whine the same pathetic line or a variation of it!” “What! You do eat people then?” “Well yes,” the dragon replied with a slight awkwardness, “but not all the time and always with good reason.” “Good reason?” “Yes, good reason,” Howel replied. “you see, some consider it a sport to hunt and kill dragons, and it can be done if you know what you are doing, the only way is with an enchanted sword, spear or arrow of cold iron. Oh, and you have to know where to stab me.” “Where’s that then?” “That dear boy is very privileged information. Anyway,” he continued. “it inevitably ends in them being eaten. Now, this is the interesting bit, every time a dragon eats a human, four things happen. As I am sure you know a humans life is three score years and ten. When you eat one, every year they are under the age of seventy is then added to the dragon’s life and every year older is deducted by the same amount. Fortunately, all these knights are young and foolish, so we often put on a few dozen years every time. Plus, when you eat them you gain all their knowledge plus their language, and if from a wizard family, their magic powers as well. So, it’s win, win, win, win, win!” “That’s five wins and only four points,” Tom said. “Oh yes, the fifth win is, they do taste so good!” Howel said this with a definite smile and a wink. He and Tom continued their walk through the cave, it seemed like miles to Tom, the fact was, it was linking his world to a parallel world on the other side of the universe, so miles didn’t come into it, it was light years! Howel started to talk…… “There are things you need to know, and I will teach you some as we walk. First, as we have already started, let us continue to talk of dragons, obviously my most expert subject, but I excel in so many. Dragons come in many shapes and sizes, but what matters is their colour. Golden dragons are the most magically powerful, and if you can align yourself with a Golden Dragon, you will share their powers. Golden Dragons are always for good and never evil. They can change their size and shape, their normal ‘disguise’ is a sparrow-hawk, but they can metamorphose to any shape they wish, even take on the form of a human if desired. Queen of the Golden Dragons is a graceful female called Máthair. I doubt that you would ever meet HRH Máthair, Queen of the Golden Dragons, but if you do, always best behaviour and watch your manners. Red dragons are to be sought after as a companion; they are very magical, faithful, trustworthy and have longer lives than any other dragons. Unfortunately, their metamorphic other is a hen or cockerel according to their gender. They are also, in many ways, quite mad. Their queen, Aelwyd, Queen of the Red Dragons, is actually, completely bonkers. But please don’t tell her I said that should you ever meet her. Unlikely as that is. Purple dragons are of course the most cultured, intelligent, good looking and modest of all dragons and grossly underrated in my opinion. Our alternative shape is a most undignified and unhappy affair, that of a small dog of an indeterminate breed but akin to a Jack Russel. Oh why, oh why could it have not been something more magnificent, a golden eagle, or at least a beautiful pure-bred dog. A proud Weimaraner, a noble Doberman or even a loving Labrador?” His voice trailing off whimsically at the end. “You mean you’re a mongrel then.” Howel ignored the remark and continued…. “Black dragons are the most dangerous, they have no scruples and will eat you as soon as look at you. They normally disguise as black cats, so never trust a black dragon and never trust a black cat. They are not very magical and can only hold their alter-ego shapes for a few minutes before reverting to a dragon again, the little magic they have is dark, very dark. They also tend to be very stupid. Above all, treat all dragons with suspicion, as many are both able to change their shapes and some their colour if they have the right magic. So, before you approach any dragon, make sure you know their true colours.” By the time Howel had finished his long instruction, and there was much, much more which was not recorded here, they had reached the end of the tunnel, the exit was tiny, just big enough for Tom’s skinny little thirteen-year-old body to squeeze through. “Well, I suppose this is goodbye for now,” Tom said. “And why do you say that my young child?” “Well, for a start, you are about 20 foot too fat for a hole that’s about one-foot across,” Tom said rudely. “I’m so glad you listened to my lesson on dragons,” Howel said wearily. There was an audible ‘pop’ and when the smoke cleared the 60-foot dragon reappeared about the size of a small dog. In fact, he was a small dog, a very small dog, albeit a purple one. Tom laughed at such a sight but tried to hide it as a cough, Howel looked as scornfully as he could at Tom, (being a purple dog did not help him look angry at all). Tom laughed even more at the scowl and headed for the open air. Howel shook and settled into a white, black and tan patched Jack Russell. “Quickly though the hole. Thankfully, I can hold this shape for a quite a while, long periods if I must, but it is so undignified.” They scurried through into the light and emerged atop a huge wooded valley. “What! You look just like Howl!” Another ‘pop’ and the dragon was back. “Of course I do, that is because, I am he.”
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