CRACH FFINNANT – VOLUME ONE
CRACH FFINNANT – VOLUME TWO
RISE OF THE DRAGON
THE BALLAD OF PENYGRAIG
2018 has been a roller-coaster of a year in so many different ways, memorable highs with the occasional blip. But what a year! It all started off with amazing news received in late January. My book, ‘Crach Ffinnant – The Prophecy’ was a winner in a holiday book competition organised by Words Matter Publishing in America.
You can imagine the feelings created by this, when considering I had received over 30 rejections on the manuscript before entering the competition on a whim. My prize was a full publishing contract and by April, following the release of a promotional video by WMP, the book was launched and appeared on all major on-line platforms. WMP kind of finished off the year for me too, as in late November, my second book in the Crach Ffinnant series, Rise of the Dragon was published.
So in 2018 I published two books, which are tales of wonderment and magic, in the Celtic tradition from Wales in the Middle Ages. Debbie Eve (Illustrator) and I have both enjoyed this journey and it continues as we enter 2019, preparing the third book in the series, ‘Crach Ffinnant – Ravens and Dragons’. We both created web-sites to promote our work, me as an author and Debbie Eve, as an illustrator, in turn bringing new experiences and enhancing horizons not before considered. As a result of this good fortune, invitations to book fayre’s throughout the year evolved following an appearance and interview on Showboat TV programme hosted by Welsh Author, Judith Barrow.
Attending the book fayres enabled us to meet other authors in Wales and pick their ‘brains’, as well as begin networking. I have thrived in taking on ‘readings’ during the year which stimulated me to begin recording audio books of my work.
Of course we attended various musical festivals throughout the year and I performed in a few folk clubs. I must say there are three highlights shining from the year. Appearing at Lampeter Folk Club reminded me so much of ‘old school clubs’, packed by an attentive audience. Great reviews and a splendid memory. Tafarn Bach Music Festival was a super weekend where not only did I enjoy performing, we also made really good new friends and I was able to book some acts for Lazzmatazz. Lazzmatazz in 2018 changed venues from Penlan Village, Cenarth, to the Castle Hotel in Llandovery. We will be there again in 2019 with a bigger and better programme but 2018, memorable in so many ways, not least of which, over 4,000 hits on-line of the live streaming of our song writing competition. Playing at Dennis Robinson’s 70th birthday three day bash was a hoot, loads of new friends and a super weekend.
Some nice weekends away in our clapped out camper van, but not as many as we would have liked as Dippy as the name suggests, was indeed so. The final highlights are managing to replace our camper van with one that works, and the adoption of Minnie. So we enter the New Year in grand spirits, looking forward to writing more, Lazzmatazz 2019, Book Fayres, Readings, Performing and enjoying our creative lives with so many others, spending quality time with each other and the dogs, Noodle and Minnie, as we journey through the universe, its wonder thereof never-ceasing to amaze.
Thank you everybody who we have worked with through 2018 and in particular, Tammy Koelling, CEO of WMP, Judith Barrow (Showboat TV), Cheryl Beer, Sarada Thompson, Paul Nicholas, Castle Hotel, Llandovery, Dennis Robinson, Tim Greenwood & Sarah Howdle (Tafarn Bach), and West Wales Poundies.
‘CRACH FFINNANT – RAVENS & DRAGONS’ VOLUME THREE… a snippet….
‘Our journey from Syncharth was swift and there was no doubt Tan-y-Mynedd achieved the great distance in record time despite changing winds hampering our flight on occasions, and also me hanging on for my life. A bright moon illuminated our passage but the great dragon frequently used clouds to conceal us from prying eyes; old habits die hard and in these perilous times were perhaps essential for our survival. Tan-y-Mynedd the Fire-Dragon soared skilfully ever onwards. The ground below rose and then dipped away again into a deep valley, shrouded by mountains on all sides. The darkness of night began to fade and dawn lingered in wait upon the horizon. The great dragon pulled back both wings, thrust out a proud armoured chest, extended four thick, muscular, scaled legs, flexed talons and swished his tail high. Expelling hot air from both nostrils in clouds of steam, he landed rather less than gracefully on the scree-covered mountainside. Scrambling down from between the safety of Tan-y-Mynedd’s huge armoured shoulders, legs shaking like jelly clothing brawn, my feet touched solid ground again. We had arrived once more at the Great Council of Blue Stone.
I sat with my old reptilian friend, Tan-y-Mynedd, at the long oak table surrounded by ancient members and old friends of the Council. All were familiar to me from the last time I was summoned here, but some were absent. Only Tan-y-Mynedd represented the dragons today. Graig-y-Graig, who was the eldest of all the reptiles, had been ill for some time due to his increasing years. The old dragon dropped off to sleep a few months ago deep in the caverns of Dan-yr-Ogof, never to wake up again. One dragon was still missing, a continued source of great concern for all, whilst the other protected the young dragons, ably assisted by Crow and Faerydae. Fwynedd the Shepherd sat opposite me, having returned from his village which was now prepared for protection against the English soldiers who were roaming the countryside. Carron perched on my shoulder, playfully pecking at my earring as usual.’
A fire blazed across the enormous ornate hearthstone. Above a great fireplace on the smoke-worn and stained granite wall, hung the standards of England and Ireland, wafting to and fro a little in the breeze of hot air rising invisibly from the flames. Honed fat logs of beech, fractured by heat, spluttered towards imminent flaming destruction, coughing as sparks flew here and there, abandoning all sense of ignition. Tapestries of battle scenes hung from the walls, splendid in their horror, depicting shadows of spectres long passed, dancing in half-light. Beeswax candles dripped from a candelabra, pungency filling the air, already heavy with smoke from the fire, mingled with incense and overladen by the stale aroma of roast venison. Empty platters adorned the great table. Crumbs of bread and ribs of a deer picked clean, lay discarded among the elbows resting thereon, full bellies digesting in silence. Several well-fed men with splatter of food and wine staining their fine clothes sat slumped around the table. At the head, in a great chair, sat the newly crowned King Henry of England and Ireland. Several paces behind him, two armed soldiers sporting the Royal Crest across their chests, stood motionless with eyes staring blankly into a space only they could know.
The King seemed greatly troubled, his features strewn with deep lines of worry, creating the appearance of a spider’s web, etched upon a tanned face, almost the colour of a blacksmith’s apron. He portrayed a tiredness through lack of sleep, together with wine, rather than blood, running through his veins. He stared silently up into the rafters with eyes as black as Whitby Jet, no doubt reflecting upon some aspect of his obsession with power. His face, scarred and pock-marked by disease, made him look much older than his years. He raised his hand and with a grubby nail perched on the end of a chunky finger, he picked and scratched at a spot on his cheek until it bled. Then wiping the bloody finger across his chest, he left a trail across his blouse, as would a leech questing succour. Henry coughed and grabbed his stomach, moaning under bated breath, causing the digesting silence to come to an abrupt end.
“You are unwell, My Lord?” Edmund Holland, Earl of Kent, who was seated to his left, enquired. “Perhaps a drink of water may assist?” Edmund beckoned the King’s glance towards the flagon on the table.
“Blast you, Edmund! For an educated man, you are a dullard, sir. A buffoon!” Henry berated the Earl of Kent, spitting contempt at the mere idea of such a thing. Drink water, indeed! “Fish urinate in water, Edmund, and I will not touch as much as a drop.” He spat on the floor to add theatricals to his disgust. “I will have wine. Bring me wine!” Henry called for service. “Water indeed!” He laughed and sniggered at his own joke.
Thank you for dropping by……………………….
So excited … two books out in less than a year! Thanks to Words Matter Publishing for believing in Crach, Debbie Eve for illustrations and putting up with my obsession. The follow-up to Volume One, Crach Ffinnant – The Prophecy is here! Volume Two, Crach Ffinnant – Rise of the Dragon is now available on Amazon as an eBook and will be in paperback shortly. This is a series with some way to go yet, but join us in Crach’s new adventures with Owain Glyndwr and the evil Henry IV in CRACH FFINNANT – RISE OF THE DRAGON
Back in February of this year…….
I am throughly enjoying narrating my creation, Crach Ffinnant – The Prophecy. An authors imagination in writing comes alive on paper bringing the reader into the writers world. Narrating one’s own story is an exciting adventure as I once again enter the realms of 1375, telling the tale in my own voice. I am not including an audio sample here as I do not want to spoil the upcoming audio book, but I have reproduced the chapter for folks delectation. The reason I am sharing the script is I was very moved emotionally whilst narrating. I wonder if anybody might know why?
The hour was late this morning when my weary eyes slowly opened to the warmth and safety of Master Healan’s home. Stretching my still sleeping legs as far as it was possible anatomically, I yawned and sat bolt upright, taking in my new surroundings. Master Healan’s cot was empty, his sheepskin folded tidily in preparation for the next night. The fire still burned with a cooking pot steaming over it, suspended by a chain secured to the wall above the hearth. Master Healan was nowhere to be seen so I decided to return to the warmth of my bed to snuggle beneath the sheepskins a while longer. My thoughts wandered to the mountains and valleys of my home, to the green pastures and impenetrable forests, vision after vision before my eyes. In no time at all, I was asleep again. I was awoken by a gentle tap on my forehead and to the sound of a very quiet voice speaking my name. I opened my eyes slowly to see the face of Master Healan smiling down at me.
“If your eyes are awake, then the rest of you will follow!”
He laughed and I grinned at his humour. Throwing back the sheepskin, I hopped off the makeshift cot. My bare feet struck the cold floor and I hopped back up again, seemingly much quicker than was my descent. Once back on the cot, I quickly put on my boots, not wanting to repeat such an uncomfortable experience! Master Healan laughed again, inviting me to join him for breakfast. As I sat down to the table, he ladled steaming broth from the cauldron into a bowl, passing it over to me. I nodded my gratitude. Crusty bread helped soak up this delicious meal of broth made from herbs and vegetables. Not only was it tasty and filling but each mouthful seemed to invigorate every cell in my small body.
The supping of the broth brought back memories of how both Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd and Fwynedd the Shepherd had secretly fed me wormwood. I especially remembered Fwynedd and his manic hilarity when I realised how our journey had seemingly been shortened. That was, of course, after he had shared the secret with me.
Not a word passed between us whilst we ate heartily, washing our repast to digestion with a jug of small ale. There was the occasional slurp, gulp, and burp, but words had no place at a table when a man was at food.
“I have some work to do later, Crach, but I would like to carry on from where we left off last evening, if that would sit well with you?”
I nodded my agreement.
Later that day at evening-time, it was my turn to listen to his story. Sitting on the chair, tilted back towards the table, I straddled my legs against the hearth and waited to listen. Master Healan began his story
“First of all I will tell you of my friendship with your Master, my friend of many decades, Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd.”
He scratched his forehead with a long fingernail sprouting from a spindly finger which was ingrained with the soil of his work. He then continued his tale.
“My name in Welsh is Myrddin Goch ap Cwnwrig. Many years ago, far too many for the counting but much in the remembering, Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd and I were both apprentices to our Master, Gruffyd ap Morgan Gruffyd. From around our tenth year, we grew together. Although I had been an apprentice for some nine months before Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd, we were equals in so many ways and mastered our crafts quickly and naturally.” He glanced over at me, raising his eyebrows and said. “Mind you, we did not have the natural earth magic that flows through the veins of a dwarf!” Smiling, he continued.
“When our apprenticeships concluded, your Master was sent into the mountains of Gwynedd to further his knowledge and hone his skills in earth magic and healing, whereas I went to Bala and learned much of what I practice now, the making of potions to heal the sick. We both carried on with our work for a few years but in March of 1349, a great plague swept across England and also penetrated every corner of Wales. Within a year, one in four people had died. Every family in Wales lost somebody to this Black Death.”
I saw tears in his eyes, one rolled down his cheek. He rubbed it away with the back of his hand and continued his story.
“It was a time of great sadness and a time that proved futile as we all tried in vain to find a cure. Welsh villages and towns rang with tolls of sadness from the rumble of the cart of death. Funeral pyres burned from one end of the land to the other, their dark smoke billowing skywards, darkening the light of day and choking our breath. If ever there was a time for magic that was it. The need for a cure was so great but all efforts to discover one had failed. From all over Wales came the healers, magicians, prophets and seers to gather together at Bala Lake in March of 1350, exactly a year after the Black Death had arrived.”
He leaned forward and asked me to pour him a bowl of water from the barrel in the corner. I passed it to him and he reached out, took the bowl and drank thirstily. He wiped his mouth, using the back of his hand, and then sneezed very loudly before saying softly.
“I hope this story does not bore the heart of a young dwarf.”
“On the contrary.” I replied, motioning with my hand for him to carry on. “Please continue, Master Healan.”
“Thank you, Crach.” He settled back into his chair and taking a deep breath carried on speaking.
“Well, we all met as the moon was full. I remember the reflections on the lake as if it were yesterday. It was stunning in its natural beauty. A number of very important things happened over the following few days and nights. We shared our knowledge and ideas with each other while sitting around an enormous bonfire. Whilst we did not find a cure for the plague, we did discover various herbs that would slow down the infection and give some relief to the sufferer on their journey. A cure has never been found and, as you know, although it is not as prevalent, the disease is still with us today. There was also a most interesting phenomena that occurred on our second night together. In the very early hours as we meditated, several of us saw the same visions.”
He began to perspire, small beads of sweat forming across a wrinkled forehead. Adjusting his position and sweeping his hanging, long, grey hair behind both ears, he again continued.
“We saw great visions foretold across the sky in the shapes of many horsemen carrying English flags, galloping and splashing in foamy white waves, through the valleys and over the mountains of our country. It was as if the heavens had spilt wide open to reveal these visions. The wind began to pick up and the clouds flew faster over our heads. Our feet felt stuck to the earth, we were unable to move or even able to close our eyes. We had no option but to watch and see what the heavens insisted be revealed.”
Master Healan coughed and looked up at the ceiling, his eyes remembering.
“Castles, huge and built of stone, drifted across the sky. We recognised most of them, a ring of impregnable castles from Builth in mid-Wales, to Caernarvon in the north-west and to Flint in the north-east. These ten castles were built one hundred years previously by the long-dead English King Edward and were the physical embodiment of the power of the English rule, designed to intimidate and subjugate our people of Wales. The visions of the night ended as the castles disappeared amongst the clouds and the dawn started to break over the horizon. We all fasted during our time together in order to focus our attentions on meditation. On the second night, more visions were revealed when the skies and heavens opened again.” He stood up from his chair and leaned against the table, staring into my face with a look of concern and compassion etched across his features. Speaking quietly he said.
“We all agreed that the first night of visions were almost a historic reminder of the chains that bound our country in submission to the English Lords. On the second night, the heavens revealed the arrival of a man who would lead us all to freedom, a man now already born in this year of 1349, and twelve months on from the plague’s arrival. Clouds turned dark and light sped across the skies, thunder echoed in the distance as lightning bolts flashing earthward, illuminating the mountains surrounding the lake. One bolt lit up the skies above our heads, like a tree with roots spread. One shot into the centre of the lake, urging geysers of water towards the heavens. As the water fell back to the lake in a spray that completely filled our vision, golden crowns began to fall, one after the other appeared and disappeared. Then, emerging through the mist, came a knight on a white charger, clad in full armour. He bore the insignia of our ancient royal heritage on his shield. As his mount reared with steam emanating from flared nostrils, he held a huge battle sword above his head and then the vision was gone.”
I watched him closely and could feel a great sense of sadness as the story further unfurled. He sat down again, leaning both elbows on the table while he cradled his chin on interlocked fingers.
“On the third and final night of our gathering, again the heavens opened. At first it seemed as if the visions of the first night were reappearing. The skies above our heads were embraced by galloping horsemen in full armour but this time it was not English flags fluttering above their heads but those of the Welsh Princes. Castles reappeared but no longer did the insignia of the English rule fly upon the turrets, it was the flag of the Welsh Princes. It became clear to us that a war with the English haunted the future. We did not know when but as the prophesied leader of our revolt was still a child, whatever was predicted lay in our distant future.”
Master Healan leaned back from the table and folded his arms across his chest, tapping on his shoulder with gnarled fingers.
“The final part of my story ends with all the prophets, healers, seers and magicians returning to their homes across Wales, but not before it had been decided that we needed to know more and particularly the precise time when these events may take place. As you know, you’re Master and my friend, Llwyd ap Crachan Llwyd, is skilled at reading the stars and back then our gathering relied upon him to define the events and their approximate moment of arrival in our future. That was twenty-five years ago and it is only he and I that still live, the remainder of our number are long gone. Thus it is only he and I who remember these nights of discovery and we have been bound by the heavens to keep this knowledge sacred until the time the prophecy would come into being. Your Master recorded all the events on one of the scrolls you brought here to me. The contents of this are, of course, well-known to me because I was there. The contents of the other two scrolls, I am not familiar with.”
He scratched his bearded chin and wound loose wisps of long white hair behind his ears. He then smiled at me from across the table.
“There is one more thing I will tell you now, Crach, but I will reveal all to you soon that is when I think you are ready. Your visit was foretold in my dreams on a number of occasions when your Master came to me, but he also told me that you would ride at the side of our new Prince.”
I gasped in astonishment at what he just said and interjected.
“Me! A dwarf! Ride alongside a Prince!” I sarcastically summarised his words.
“Yes, Crach!” He looked straight into my eyes repeating his words and telling me that perhaps my destiny would soon become clearer.
I stood up from my chair feeling rather confused, if not a little frightened, by his story. I nervously fiddled with a log stacked on the pile leaning against the wall before placing it in the grate, stepping back as sparks flew from the embers beneath. Master Healan raised himself from the chair and slowly stepped across to me, placing a warm aged arm around my shoulders. Squeezing me gently, he pulled me into his hold and said.
“You see, I told you I was expecting a dwarf, and it is you. Your path is decided by the heavens, Crach. All that remains now is for you to fulfil your part in that which is foretold. Will you do that, Crach?”
He examined my face quizzically while waiting for a response. I smiled at him, knowing my answer, as did he.
All through my life, and before, burdened with onerous taxation and restrictive land policies, the Welsh people, my people, were, and still are, chaffed under English domination. Our Welsh myths and legends, as sung and related by bards and minstrels, foretold of a ‘national redeemer’. We had all prayed for a man who would rise up and now it appeared, according to prophecy, I was to ride at his side! This was a bit much for a simple dwarf such as myself to believe, but believe it I must. There was no choice. My destiny had seemingly been written before my birth into this world.