‘THE NIGHT BEFORE SHREWSBURY’

Fwynedd strode over the threshold into the cavern and I thought ‘from storm to warm‘, smiling to myself inwardly at such poetic humour. Even the idea of this cave raised my spirit. Once inside nature’s shelter with the rain behind me, calmness entered my every pore. Turning around, scanning the cave floor for wood to burn, I saw that Fwynedd had already gathered a bundle of twigs and branches in his strong arms. I watched and within the time it took me to consider where we may be, Fwynedd had piled twigs, then betwixt flint and blade drawn from the leather pouch hanging at his belt, sparked and blew a flame. A small flicker of orange danced as he gently blew and the fire caught. Twigs, dry from the shelter of the cave, lit with ease as Fwynedd snapped branches into smaller chunks, placing one or two on the fire. A warm yellow glow reflected across the cave walls, giving light to our sanctuary. I took the wet cloak from my shoulders and undid the thongs that held my jerkin together. I hung the sodden cloak from a branch extending from a gnarled old tree stump that had somehow ended up here in this cave. Perhaps the old stories were true about lost trees seeking refuge in caves when death approached. True or not, it was proving very useful. Taking off my wet jerkin, I felt a pang of relief, it must be either I have grown or it has shrunk! I laid it next to the fire and sat down. I could not help but almost stick my feet into the burning logs, I was so desirous of warmth. Casting temptation of pain to the back of my mind, I satisfied myself with a quiet smouldering, wet feet steaming whilst flickering shadows danced across the cave walls.

  

 Quietly and with industry, Fwynedd was boiling water in a small pot, adding chopped herbs and roots, stirring all slowly with a knife blade. He looked up at me smiling. Now that I was considerably drier, warmer and brighter, I also smiled. Fwynedd the Shepherd spoke again.

 “We will drink and rest!” his words still a whisper, gravelly and hoarse.

 He certainly was, as my Master had said, ‘a man of few words‘. He continued to stir the pot, now bubbling furiously. Ushering steam wound its way aimlessly to the cave roof, sucked into oblivion, becoming invisible. A pleasant aroma filled the cave as unseen wisps of our earth’s grace filled my nose. Fwynedd covered his hand with a blanket to protect vulnerable skin, as skilfully he removed a steaming pot from the fire, placing it gently on the ground. He then took the blanket from around his hand and sprawled it across the cave floor. Sitting cross-legged atop the blanket, a long strong-arm reached for the hat on his head. As Fwynedd became hatless, thick dark hair, almost as long as his beard which was still tucked in by the belt, cascaded over broad shoulders and down his back. He moved his hair from craggy worn features, securing its wildness behind his ears. Smiling, he said.

 “It is dry in this cave and we have made good time and pace, Crach.” His croaky voice, rasping silent whispers, continued. “You do not realise how long we have walked for, do you?” He smiled again.

 I thought to myself before answering him. ‘A day at most’. Confidently, I replied to this simple question from my guide.

 “A whole day’s marching, I would say!”

 Upon hearing my answer, Fwynedd the Shepherd, my guide and my Master’s old friend, exploded into laughter, almost seeming to burst. His eyes bulged, expelling tears which dripped down his weather-battered cheeks, now rosy from the heat of the fire. In my embarrassment at his reaction and not wishing to seem like a fool, I casually placed some wood on the fire. I looked up at him, still taller than me sitting down, and said.

 “Surely it has only been one day!”

 He laughed again, only this time a little less raucously and with slightly more control. ‘What had I said that is so funny?’ I wondered. Gathering his wits, Fwynedd spoke quietly.

 “So, your Master did not teach you how nature will warp our time, change our space, to arrive before we realise we have left?”

 “Of course!” I replied defensively. Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd had taught me everything he knew and I knew all about ‘warping ways’. I gasped a sigh of surprise.

 “You mean we have been walking for longer than one day?”

 Before he even began to answer, I remembered that the whole essence of ‘warping ways’ related to not knowing a ‘warp’ had occurred until it had. ‘Like time stands still!’ I thought.

 “Exactly, like time standing still. Exactly!” Fwynedd smiled as he repeated my thoughts, whispering in that gravelly voice again. So he too could read my thoughts, just like my Master! My thoughts are not my own!

 Fwynedd began to snigger again, lips and forehead twitching, before bursting into laughter. This time I joined him, it was funny and the joke was on me.

  “So how far have we come, Fwynedd?”

I had a feeling I knew, of course, but confirmation was something I now needed. Perhaps this journey was going to be easier than my fears and jittery self-foretold.

“Six days and nights, Crach. Six days and nights!” Fwynedd smiled knowingly. “When all is meant to be, we know all is in harmony. Nature is the only truth in all things.” 

 I knew this and now realised that indeed a ‘warp-way’ had opened in the universe. This truly was as Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd, my Master, had said. ‘A very great pilgrimage!’

  “We have journeyed far and yet no distance at all in the scheme of things.” Fwynedd scratched his forehead. “From the mountains of Gwynedd, across ridges and along valleys, day and night, our pace sure. Through mists, from dawn to dusk, into Powys and over the mountains to the Welsh Marches, Crach. Over this ridge, my little dwarf friend, lays Shrewsbury, your destination and our parting!” He smiled.  ‘Yes’ I thought, ‘warp-way indeed!’ I turned to look towards Fwynedd who was now relaxing against the cave wall, his long legs stretched out in front of the fire, twiddling his beard betwixt intertwining fingers, he was smiling quietly. Such a journey in real-time would take seven days. Through the ‘warp-way’, we had done it in less than two. Magic in the universe was at hand and true destiny at my feet. Fwynedd, eyes closed, drifted sleepily within the warmth and shelter of our refuge. My eyes, now heavy and tired, lost focus in the firelight as I fell into caverns of sleep. Tomorrow, I would be saying farewell to Fwynedd and be arriving in Shrewsbury with the next part of my adventure in readiness to unfurl before me.Ch 2 Vol I

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