Sacred Wind — Chapters 1-5 (of 48)

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A tale set in an alternative reality, featuring conscious curries, headbanging sheep, telepathic cats, magic cheese, an evil Baron, some very sexy faeries and a Welsh Viking Flatulence Rock band. 'Sometimes there are tales that must be told, songs that must be sung and farts that must be farted'.

Chapter 1 – There’s something in the air

Baron Bartholomew Vincent Blacktie sat slumped on his sizeable gold and marble throne, scratching his chin. His bejewelled coronet lay slightly to one side on his head and he nonchalantly stroked his pet ferret, Velvet, who was sat on his knee. Looking out at the opulent great hall in front of him, he sighed.

He had been the Supreme Ruler of Chester and the surrounding areas of North Wales and the Wirral for a little over five years, and things had never been better. Tax revenues were high, the people were obedient, cheese production was under strict control, and instances of unauthorised flatulence were at an all-time low. But, irrespective of all this, he was troubled.

‘Pimple,’ he said to his Chief Courtier, who was standing in one of the decorative stone arches that surrounded the throne room, ‘am I a benign and noble leader?’

‘Only on Thursday’s, my Lord,  after you’ve had a good helping of Ma Chesterton’s dumplings, a piece of Cheshire Blue and a goblet or two of port.’

The Baron shook his head, disconsolately. ‘Really, Pimple? Oh, I must make more of an effort. For I wish the people to love me, to be inspired by me, and to think of me as someone who has their best interests tattooed indelibly on his benevolent and egalitarian heart.’

‘I thought you simply wanted power and wealth beyond all imagination, my Lord?’

‘Oh, how little you know me, Pimple,’ the Baron sighed again. ‘Although my actions make it appear that I seek only omnipotence, subjugation of all beings before me and wealth beyond measure, do you not realise that I also long to be loved?’

‘Er, it hadn’t really crossed my mind, my Lord.’

‘Nevertheless, it is true, Pimple. I desire to exude bonhomie and joy, so that the people will wish to cling to my metaphoric breasts like suckling kittens.’

Pimple raised a solitary eyebrow and continued to listen attentively.

‘And, to be frank, I also want to exhibit a more positive image in the run up to the next election.’

‘But the next election is forty-five years away, my Lord, based upon the amendments you made last year regarding tenure.’

‘Ah, true, but I do so hate leaving things to the last minute. Time waits for no man, Pimple. You should remember that.’

‘I will, my Lord.’

‘And I need to ensure that all of the electorate are completely behind me. Do you remember what percentage of the vote I received last time?’

‘99% my Lord.’

‘And who received the other 1%? Was it not Lord “Goody-two-shoes” Nobleheart?’

 ‘It was my Lord.’

‘And have you seen him recently?’

‘Yes, my Lord.’

‘And…?’

‘He’s in the canal where you left him, my Lord.’

‘Ah, how fares he?’

‘Well, he’s lost a lot of weight, my Lord… and some life.’

The Baron looked forlorn, raised a weary hand to his forehead and continued to stroke Velvet. ‘Nevertheless, Pimple, I feel an obligation to convince this 1% of my subjects that, at the next election, they should allay their fears and cast their votes for me. I wish them to see that I am truly their humble servant and offer them succour in their time of need, and protection from our enemies.’

‘I’m not sure you’ll be able to achieve that, my Lord,’ Pimple said, taking a tentative step forward.

‘And why, pray, do you think that will be?’ the indignant Baron asked.

‘Because they’re in the canal with Lord Nobleheart, my Lord.’

The ceremonial fanfare of trumpets blared out and the ostentatious doors to the throne room opened inwards. A troop of armoured men, in full military regalia, entered and saluted en masse, the clang of steel arms on steel breastplates reverberating around the room.

‘My Lord,’ a weasel-faced steward shouted with an air of self-importance, ‘I announce General Ramases Darkblast, who seeks audience to inform you of progress regarding the Scouseland Crusades.’

General Ramases Darkblast, the Supreme Commander of the Knights of Flatulence, the Baron’s Imperial Guard, was an imposing man and a lifelong soldier. Although he was dour and serious, to the point where any sense of humour he had possessed had long since headed off to seek a more fulfilling life elsewhere, he was loyal to the point of stupidity. It was this quality, plus his considerable prowess on the battlefield, that endeared him greatly to the Baron.

‘General Darkblast, your presence is most welcome,’ the Baron said, rising from his throne and depositing Velvet on the floor. ‘Pray, how did you find Scouseland?’

‘Still heavily populated by chip shops, my Lord.’

‘And the local populace, did they show any form of resistance to your incursion?’

‘Someone threw a kebab at us on one occasion, my Lord.’

‘And was your response measured and appropriate?’

‘Yes, my Lord, we threw it back.’

‘A wise move General,’ the Baron commented, ‘there’s no need for unnecessary violence at this stage of the diplomatic procedure. Tell me, though, did you attempt to converse with the indigenous people?’

‘We did, my Lord. At first we tried to parley with them in their own tongue, but we were met with blank stares. Our interpretation of their dialect still needs work, I’m afraid. So we tried an alternative approach.’

‘And this was?’

‘We sang them a medley of songs by The Bertles.’*

‘And was this demonstration of musical affinity well received?’

‘Not really, my Lord, that’s when they threw the kebab at us.’

‘However,’ the General added quickly, sensing the Baron’s growing unrest, ‘we did succeed in obtaining a few volunteers to join the palace guard. A sort of exchange deal, if you will.’

‘Excellent,’ the Baron responded, ‘and perhaps when we have instructed them in our ways they can be sent back as emissaries, to spread words of enlightenment to the masses.’

‘Indeed, my Lord.’

‘Or, of course, we could torture them, brainwash them and send them back as spies.’

‘Well, yes, there is that option, my Lord.’

The Baron walked clockwise around General Darkblast, in a manner similar to a cat circling an injured bird. ‘But enough of business in uncharted lands, my good General, I have needs of a more local nature that require urgent attention. Tell me do you know the whereabouts of Hob and Nob?’

‘Yes, my Lord, they were last spotted in Mold, disguised as Vagabond Acupuncturists.’

The Baron turned and walked slowly over to the large bookcase that stood against the wall to the right of the throne. He pulled out one of the great tomes from the middle shelf and gently stroked its dusty, leather cover. His eyes sparkled and a smile that contained no joy appeared on his lips. ‘Despatch some of your men to bring them to me,’ he ordered. ‘I have a task for them.’

 

*The Bertles, or Bert, Saul, Marge and Gringo as they were affectionately known, were the most successful musical band to come out of Scouseland. At one time they topped the charts simultaneously in twenty eight countries. In fact, the ruler of Latvargravia-Crustia, the Grand Emperor Igor Rocakovich, was such a fan that he passed a law forcing citizens to buy a copy of their most famous song, ‘She Loves Me All Night Like A Walrus’, every week to ensure its continuing  position at the top of the Latvargravia-Crustia charts. He was eventually overthrown in a bloodless coup that actually involved quite a lot of blood.

***

The ancient stones in the Circle of Wind stood firm against the elements, as they had for millennia. A fierce wind cut through the icy air, while above spears of lightning cracked the sky; vast tendrils of light acting as the harbinger for the thunder that was to follow.

In the distance the sound of hooves grew ever closer, their pounding rhythm providing a rumbling counterpoint to the storm overhead. Then, as sheet lightning turned night into day, they appeared over the nearby hill; four giant horses, and on their backs four mighty warriors, their weapons drawn, challenging the elements to meet them in battle.

One held a giant broadsword, its steel blade shimmering as it reflected the storm’s light. One held a mighty axe, its worn edges bearing the hallmark of many battles. The third whirled a spiked ball and chain above his head which, if he wasn’t careful with it, could take somebody’s eye out. And the last wielded a huge war hammer… which he nearly dropped as the spiked ball and chain nearly took his eye out.

‘Will you please watch what you’re doing with that thing, Agnar,’ Grundi the Windy screamed.

‘Sorry,’ shouted Agnar the Hammered, ‘the old spiked club was much easier to handle.’

‘Perhaps it was,’ Smid the Merciless (né Pig Herder) yelled, ‘but this looks so much better, you just need to keep practicing. You’ll soon get the hang of it.’

‘That’s easy for you to say,’ Grundi shouted, ‘you’re not riding next to him in constant fear of accidental decapitation.’

‘Look, if it’s causing that many problems why don’t you swap with him, Grundi,’ Olaf the Berserker interjected.

‘You mean I can have the hammer? Aw, that’d be great!’ Agnar said. ‘Please, Grundi, I’d love the hammer.’

‘Oh, go on, then,’ Grundi said, ‘You can have the hammer, for health and safety as much as anything else.’

‘Aw, thanks Grundi!’ Agnar shouted. ‘I’ll take good care of it.’

As they entered the stone circle, the four warriors reared their horses and clashed their weapons together, sending sparks fleeing into the darkness. They swiftly dismounted, each of them taking a ceremonial position in front of one of the large, moss-dappled stones. And then, in silent salute to the gods, they raised their weapons skyward once more.

‘Smid, would you do us the honour of saying the words?’ Olaf said.

‘I would be honoured indeed, Olaf.’

 

‘Odin I beseech thee, accept my gift of wind,

It’s from the heart of my bottom,

It’s a gift I won’t rescind,

I fart for all your glory; I fart for all your might,

Give me the strength to not follow through,

And I’ll fart for you; I’ll fart for you all night.’

 

‘Well said, Smid,’ Olaf observed, nodding appreciatively.

The four warriors pulled their pants down, pointed their bottoms to the sky and methane mingled with the cold night air. ‘Someone’s a bit fragrant tonight,’ Agnar said.

‘Ah, that’ll be me,’ admitted Grundi. ‘I ate the Curry of Worry at the Diner earlier and I’ve felt something nasty brewing for a while.’

‘Right, let’s head off to rehearsal,’ said Olaf. ‘We need to work on the set list for tomorrow night, and sort out the timing to the new ending of “My Sword is my Sword”. It isn’t quite there yet.’

‘Agreed,’ said Smid.

And so, they pulled their pants up, mounted their steeds and rode off into the night. Overhead, the storm began to recede, either of its own volition or perhaps propelled by Viking flatulence.

Meanwhile, less than a hundred yards from the Circle of Wind lay the boarded-up entrance to the ancient cheese mine of Hairy Growler. Hardly anyone had ventured inside its dark tunnels and stalactite-encrusted caves for many years; that, however, was soon to change.

*** 

The hour was late and Merlin Crackfoot yawned, as he began clearing up the cutlery, crockery and glasses that littered the tables in Cracky’s Diner. Outside all was now still, and in an inky, star-speckled sky a baleful full moon illuminated the street, casting shadows where you’d expect shadows to be cast and not doing anything un-moon like.

All in all the first ‘Cuisine de la Terreur’ night had been a resounding success. The Beefburger of Dismay and The Fish of Fright went down extremely well with his clientele (and thankfully stayed down). True, sales of the Pork Sausages of Panic and the Beans of Apprehension weren’t quite what he’d hoped for, but he could live with that. And a minor complaint about the Pasta of Disaster was simply down to his exuberance with the garlic and pineapple sauce. But, overall, people had left with full tummies and happy hearts. And so, it was with a deep feeling of satisfaction that he began the washing-up.

However, as the fruity aroma of bubbling washing-up liquid wafted up his nostrils, his contented scrubbing was interrupted by a knock on the front door. ‘Who is it?’ he shouted, without lifting his head up from the sink.

 ‘Cracky, it’s me, Taff; Taff Thomas. We need to talk,’ the voice from behind the door replied, barely above a whisper.

‘Wait one minute, I’ll just leave these to soak,’ Cracky said, removing his rubber gloves.

The glass front door of the diner was now resplendent with its new logo of a wizard clutching a frying pan. Cracky opened it and Taff Thomas rushed in. ‘What’s spooked you?’ Cracky said, quickly closing the door behind Taff.

‘I’ve heard a rumour that Blacktie’s going to be clamping down on cheese smuggling,’ Taff said. ‘I thought you should know that next week’s delivery may be the last for a while, so if you want to add anything to your regular order now’s the time to do it.’

‘Ah, yes, I had heard the rumours. In which case, can you please add a couple of pounds of Purple Caerphilly; only the good stuff, mind, not that rubbish that causes your bowels to move in a rhythmical fashion. And I’ll take a pound of Spitchcock’s Tintern.’

‘That Tintern could be very, very difficult to obtain at such short notice,’ Taff said.

‘Go on, then, how much?’ Cracky said, with a sigh.

‘Well an extra £20 should cover the sundry expenses.’

‘£20! That’s extortion. I’ll not pay more than an extra ten.’

‘I couldn’t possibly do it for £10, Cracky, what with all the bribery, back scratching and philandering that’s involved.’

‘Philandering?’

‘Oh, yes. Old Gwyneth Evans strikes a pretty hard bargain you know.’

‘Well, £15 and I can’t go a penny more.’

‘Call it £16.50 and I’ll throw in a nice piece of Wolfman’s Acorn.’

‘Deal,’ Cracky said. ‘Next Wednesday as usual?’

‘Aye, no problem,’ Taff said, opening the front door and stepping out into the cobbled street.

‘You know, Taff, there’s something in the air,’ Cracky said, as he stood in the doorway, bathed in the full moon’s light.

‘Yeah, I can smell it! Have those bloody Vikings been in tonight? I hope your farting license is up-to-date, otherwise Blacktie’ll shut you down… and more! Remember what happened to Owen Jones, the confectioner. He’s a shadow of the man he once was, and his cola balls have never been the same since.’

‘No, Taff, I mean I can sense change coming. Can’t you feel it? ’ Cracky said, looking up into the sky and sniffing the air. ‘Mark my words, Taff, change is coming. And nothing and no-one will be able to stop it.’

‘Well,’ Taff said, as he skulked off down the street, ‘the only way we’ll get change around here is if someone gets rid of bloody Blacktie. And who’s mad enough to try that?’

 

Chapter 2 – The Cheese of Pleasant Dreams

The alarm clock jingled and danced its merry morning dance, before being silenced by a well-aimed slap from Aiden Peersey’s left hand. He sat up, yawned and rubbed his bleary eyes, trying to accept the banishment of sleep and the onset of another day. It had been a particularly late night and he was feeling the effects of a lack of sleep, a tad too much to drink and an overindulgence in pizza. Humphrey stood at the side of the bed looking at him disapprovingly.

‘Okay, I’m sorry I got back so late. But if it’s any consolation I’m suffering for it now,’ Aiden said.

Humphrey said nothing and continued to gaze straight at him, his brown eyes meeting Aiden’s with a stony stare, conveying both his lack of sympathy and his obvious disgruntlement.

‘Look, I’ll make it up to you. We can go out tonight, take a walk down to the canal.’

Humphrey continued to stare in silence. ‘And we could get something to eat on the way back, from the chip shop?’

More silence, although accompanied by a raised eyebrow. ‘And I’ll let you have a swim in the canal?’ Aiden said, raising his eyebrows quizzically.

‘Woof,’ said Humphrey, jumping onto the bed.

‘Good boy, now go and get your lead and we’ll have a quick walk around the block.’

‘Woof,’ said Humphrey again, grabbing the lead off a nearby chair and throwing it unceremoniously on the floor.

Outside, Aiden was greeted by blinding early morning sunlight and a garden that needed mowing. ‘A lovely morning isn’t it, Mrs Perriwinkle,’ he called over to his elderly neighbour, as he and Humphrey made their way down the short, gravel path to the gate. ‘How are you today?’

‘I’d be feeling much better if I hadn’t have been woken up in the middle of the night by your noisy friends dropping you off,’ answered Mrs Perriwinkle, waving her garden rake in his direction.

‘Oh, I am sorry, Mrs Perriwinkle. I’ll make sure they’re quiet in future. We’d all had a bit too much to drink, I’m afraid. It was a very good gig, you see.’

‘Well, I know it doesn’t happen very often,’ Mrs Perriwinkle said, lowering the rake, ‘and I know you young people love your “gigs”. And, since you’re such a polite young man, I’ll forgive you on this occasion.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Perriwinkle.’

‘I used to love a good gig when I was younger, you know,’ she went on. ‘Mr Perriwinkle was very good at it. In fact, we’d often be at it for several hours at a time without a break. We’d be covered in sweat by the time we finished.’

‘Really,’ Aiden said.

‘Oh, yes. People would stand around watching and applauding. We’d often have a big crowd around us while we were doing it. And then, after about ten minutes, a lot of them would join in and we’d all swap partners for a bit.’

‘And that was quite common when you were younger?’ Aiden said, shifting his stance uncomfortably.

‘Very much so; I often had over ten partners a night. It was quite tiring and you get a bit sore after a while, but it was very satisfying. We were the Flintshire Foxtrot Champions five years in a row, you know.’

‘Well I never knew that,’ Aiden said, somewhat relieved.

 ‘Oh, Mrs Perriwinkle,’ he added as he opened the gate, ‘I’m going to be out for most of the day, so are you still okay to nip in and check on Humphrey later?’

‘Of course, not a problem; he’s a lovely little dog, aren’t you Humphrey?’ Mrs Perriwinkle said, smiling at Humphrey and adopting a particularly silly face. ‘What kind of dog is he, again?’

‘He’s an English Cocker Spaniel,’ Aiden replied, patting him on the back.

‘Oh, we’ll have a great time later, won’t we Humphrey,’ she said, her voice rising in pitch. ‘I’ll bring some sticks from the garden and you can fetch them for me. And then we’ll play ball.’

Humphrey gave Aiden a withering look but remained quiet. ‘Thanks very much. I’ll see you later, then,’ Aiden said.

Aiden and Humphrey went for a walk every morning and every evening. Humphrey loved his walks and was fascinated by the conversations of people they’d pass on their way. ‘They lead such simple lives,’ he’d think to himself, interrupting his general thoughts on metaphysics and chasing cats. Today, Aiden had decided they’d only have a quick stroll down Watery Road and across the bridge towards the hospital, before retracing their steps back to number 22 Bright Street, their home.

This area of Wrexham was generally tranquil, and the rows of semi-detached or detached houses had neat gardens and an interesting mixture of trees. Humphrey liked trees, and actually thought they made better conversationalists than humans; at least they could understand him. The old elm on Watery Road just before the bridge was his favourite. He was an absolute hoot and told some splendid stories. Humphrey invariably cocked his leg and watered him by way of thanks every day. This morning, however, there was only time for a brief ‘hello, how are you’ and a very quick leg-cock before they had to head back home. Aiden had plans for today.

For the last ten of his thirty-five years, Aiden Peersey had worked for Parmesan Systems, an IT company that specialised in innovative telecommunications products. After a series of promotions, he now found himself with the title ‘Head of Design’, a role he thoroughly enjoyed. He was also popular for a geek, mainly because he was affable, performed almost legendary vocal impressions of celebrities and didn’t really show off his intellect too much in social circles. The girls in HR also liked him quite a bit too. ‘Woo hoo, Aiden!’ they’d shout as he walked past their office in the morning, usually followed by something like ‘Oh, isn’t he adorable. He’s so handsome and clever.’ He liked that.

His house phone rang. It was Bob. ‘Hey, lanky, how’s your head this morning?’ Bob said, his voice bristling with far more energy than it had any right to have after last night.

‘I think it’s still on my neck, but it’s difficult to tell at the moment.’

‘Hah! Have you had a chance to listen to the tape from the gig yet?’

‘No, but I’m going out later, so I’ll stick it on in the car. Then when I get back I’ll digitise it, look at the equalization, stick some limiters on it, add some suitable compression and then normalise it before transfer.’

‘You lost me after “car”,’ Bob said.

‘I mean I’ll put it on a CD for you.’

‘Thanks mate, catch you later then. Let’s hear it for the Swingers, yee hah!’

His other passion was music. Not that he could play any instruments or sing, but he listened avidly and found himself ineluctably drawn to music technology. His ambition was to eventually own his own recording studio, but in the interim he had amassed a reasonable collection of music-related equipment in his house which he enjoyed playing with. He liked mixing live music too.

‘The Hefty Swingers’ were a good-time rock band, and although they hadn’t made it past the first rung on the ladder of stardom yet, they had a strong local following and were very entertaining to watch. Aiden’s friend, Bob, was the lead singer and Aiden was in command of the sound system and the mixing desk. Last night’s gig at the ‘Randy Parrot’ nightclub had been one of their best; three encores and they actually got paid.

Aiden gulped down a glass of water and grabbed the tape. He needed to clear his head this morning, and fortunately he felt somewhat more human after his walk with Humphrey. Today was the day he’d decided to operationally test his new innovation, which was based on an idea that had sprung into his mind last year.

He’d always been fascinated by quantum physics, so when the first forays into the exploration of quantum computing* became public knowledge he saw the potential immediately. His own investigations to harness this new technology had resulted in the design and production of the ‘QC Operating System’ for Smart Phones and Tablets, the first of its kind. The simulated tests all appeared successful, with startling increases in processor speed and memory capacity. But it had now reached the stage where he needed to try out the system practically.

Humphrey looked at him intently, his tongue lolling about in his mouth, and offered Aiden his paw. ‘Ha, good boy,’ Aiden said, patting him affectionately on the head. ‘Now, I’m going to be popping out for a while. I’m having a drive to Llangollen, not been there for ages. And this little baby,’ he said pointing to his new phone, ‘is going to do the navigation for me. Isn’t that cool?’

‘Woof, woof, woof… woof, grrr, woof,’ said Humphrey.

And it was a real pity Aiden couldn’t understand him, otherwise he’d have known that ‘Woof, woof, woof… woof, grrr, woof,’ when translated, means ‘I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.’

*See appendix 1

***

‘My Lord, Hob and Nob are here, as you requested yesterday,’ Pimple announced, as he walked into the throne room.

‘Ah, very good, Pimple; bring them in and leave us. I wish to speak to these gentlemen in private,’ Baron Blacktie said, rising from his throne.

Hob and Nob had been spies for as long as anyone could remember. No-one knew where they originated from, nor indeed where they lived; they were an unusual looking pair and people tended to keep out of their way. There always seemed to be an atmosphere of malevolence and subterfuge around them, which was only amplified by their regular apparel of matching wide-brimmed black hats and knee-length brown leather coats. The fact they were so recognisable could be considered a serious disadvantage, given their profession, except they were both masters of disguise. Hob was the taller of the cadaverous pair by several inches, and he carried a black briefcase with him at all times.

‘Good day, Baron. I hope we find you in high spirits,’ Hob said, his dark eyes barely visible under the rim of his hat.

‘You do indeed, my dear Hob. I am feeling most exhilarated about some forthcoming events that you, my friends, will play a part in. But, firstly, pray tell me what have you learned from your little trip to Mold?’

‘There are murmurings within the curry community, my Lord,’ Hob replied, putting his briefcase on the floor. ‘There is talk of revolution in the air.’

‘Well, as long as it stays in the air and doesn’t make it onto the ground that should be fine,’ the Baron said, chuckling.

‘This is a serious matter, Baron,’ said Nob. ‘They are talking about an alliance with the Wrexham Curries.’

‘Hmm, that could indeed be a problem we could do without,’ said the Baron, twiddling his moustache. ‘A mixture of Mold and Wrexham curry is potentially a recipe for disaster.’

‘Indeed, my Lord,’ said Nob.

The Baron continued his twiddling and threw in a touch of musing for good measure. ‘This is something that does need addressing, gentlemen,’ he eventually said, ‘but for the moment it will have to wait. There are more pressing matters at hand, not least the task I have for you now.’

‘More pressing than quashing a curry rebellion? I am intrigued, Baron,’ Hob said, loftily. ‘Your ruthless reputation for nipping these things in the bud before they bloom would appear to be somewhat awry at present.’

The Baron walked purposively over to Hob and stood face to face with him, their noses almost touching. Hob shuffled backwards, recognising and regretting the impertinence of his last statement. ‘Never, EVER, question my decisions,’ the Baron whispered, in a way that sent a chill down Hob’s back, ‘else you will feel, and smell, the power of my wind, which given what I had for breakfast will be most potent. Now, we will deal with the curries when the time is right, but that time is not yet at hand. Do I make myself clear?’

‘Absolutely my Lord,’ Hob said, the deference and fear in his voice tangible.

‘Good. I’m glad that’s settled,’ the Baron said, walking back towards his throne. ‘Now, what know you of cheese lore?’

‘I would consider myself well-versed in that area,’ Nob answered.

‘Excellent. Then what can you tell me about Ceridwen’s Cheese?’

‘Why it is a myth, my Lord. It was known as “The Cheese of Pleasant Dreams”, for it was reputedly not only the finest-tasting cheese ever mined, with the most exquisite texture, but was also said to give one a sense of great serenity.’

The Baron sauntered over to the bookshelf and affectionately stroked the spine of the large book he’d been reading during General Darkblast’s visit. ‘Oh, it is no myth, my friends. Your famous omniscience is perhaps wanting here, as it would appear there are things that even the great Hob and Nob do not know.’

‘Last year,’ the Baron continued, ‘a man was found wandering the streets of Chester in a sorry, yet very happy, state. My guards noted that he was raving about “the lost cheese of the ancient’s” being found and how its discovery would lead to the deliverance of the people. Naturally, most took him for a simple drunken fool, but my curiosity was piqued and I bade my guards to bring him to me for an audience.’

The Baron picked up a large scroll from the bookshelf and unrolled it onto the impressive marble table, to the left of the throne. The parchment sparkled as the light hit it, creating an eerie glow on the face of the Baron as he examined its contents. ‘He had this map with him. It is an old map; a very old map.’

Hob and Nob sidled over to the table and stood either side of the Baron. ‘Do you recognise the map?’ the Baron said.

‘It cannot be,’ Hob said in disbelief. ‘Surely, this is a fake.’

‘It’s no fake, I can assure you. It is the only one of its kind.’

Nob was visibly trembling as he looked at the map. ‘This is treasure beyond all treasure, Baron. Do you really know what you have here?’

‘Oh, I do, my good Nob. This is indeed the ancient map of Scratchy Crotch.’

The Baron walked over to the bookcase again and removed one of the smaller books from the third shelf. There was an ornate leather and gold bookmark placed inside it. He opened the book and began to read.

‘“Let it be known that Scratchy Crotch was the first of the Evil Wizards of Bala. His power transcended all and he was thought to be invincible. His beard was black and his codpiece firm. No-one knew how he acquired such might and he did not reveal his secret. It was rumoured that all creatures of evil bowed before him, both in this world and in the dark realms; for he regularly communicated with unearthly beings and people from Prestatyn. He lived to be 534 years old and had 77 wives, 43 concubines and 12 barmaids during this period. He fathered only one son, to his 76th wife, the Lady Clarissa of Rhyl; a witch of high repute, great beauty and extraordinarily malodorous armpits. The child mysteriously disappeared before his second birthday, along with Clarissa, and this broke his nefarious heart. Subsequently, he became a recluse, shunning contact with all, until his marriage to Buxom Betty of Betws-y-Coed, the daughter of a local cobbler with plaited nostril hair. During his life, Scratchy Crotch maintained the largest collection of cheese in the land. He would relax by feasting on suckling pig, drinking malt whisky, singing sea shanties and playing the bongos.’’’

The Baron licked his index finger and turned the page. ‘There’s a lot more here, including his battle with the Dragons of Denbigh, the destruction of the Parsimonious Wizards of St. Asaph, his fear of embroidery and his obsession with esoteric hair brushes, but I’ll skip to the bit about the map.’

‘“He amassed many powerful mystical treasures during his time, and shortly before his death he told his servants to bury each of these in secret places. When they returned from their task and told him where each of the items were buried he had them all killed, meaning only he knew of their whereabouts. This knowledge he allegedly put into a map, written on sacred parchment and inked with the timeless ink of Gringlegore. However, the map has never been discovered and the veracity of this particular tale is thus questionable.”’

The Baron closed the book with aplomb. ‘Questionable until now, my friends; for as you can see the map does indeed exist and is in my possession.’

Hob turned to look at the Baron, shaking his head. ‘Unbelievable, my Lord. Yet, if it is written that he was invincible how did he meet his demise?’

The Baron flicked past a couple of pages before locating the necessary passage. ‘The book says the townsfolk, at the end of their tether with his wicked ways and harsh rule, confronted him at his castle. They carried flaming torches and were protected by a variety of cross-stitch shawls, wrapped around their shoulders. The sight of so much embroidery caused him to convulse uncontrollably and he summoned a dark spirit to repel the people. But, in his weakened state, he had not the strength to control the demon and he was devoured entirely, apart from his left foot which was hurled skywards and remains lost to this day. He was never seen again by mortal man; which is a great pity as he sounded like an absolutely splendid chap.’

‘My Lord, this map details the whereabouts of the greatest and most powerful artefacts known to the black arts,’ said Nob. ‘Whoever could manage to bring these treasures together would surely be able to rule the world. If this is the task you would have us complete, simply say the word and we will get you the Aphrodisiac Dragon Horn of Jiggery, the Fragrant Sword of Pokery,  the Magical Preserved Left Buttock of King Peculiar-Uliar and even the Mysterious Unknown Book of  Ambiguous and Seemingly Useless but Actually Very Dangerous Evil Spells.’

‘All in good time, all in good time,’ the Baron said, waving his hand in a calming motion. ‘Firstly I would draw your attention to this section of the map here, do you recognise it?’

‘Yes, it is just south-east of Llangollen, near the Circle of Wind. There is nothing of interest there, Baron,’ Hob replied.

‘Look closer, my dear Hob, what do you see?’

‘It is a representation of a cheese mine, my Lord. But the only recognisable structure in that vicinity is the disused mine of the dead eccentric Hairy Growler. It used to contain a rich vein of Red Cheekfizzler, but that has long been exhausted.’

‘Indeed, but that was only on the upper levels,’ the Baron said. ‘The lower levels, I am very reliably informed, contain possibly the richest vein of Ceridwen’s Cheese ever to be discovered. It is also where the Ancient Map of Scratchy Crotch has been hidden for the past several centuries, until its timely unearthing last year.’

‘With all due respect, Baron, why this interest in a simple cheese?’ said Nob. ‘There are things of value beyond wealth that can be regained here.’

‘Accepted, my good Nob. Nevertheless, I wish you to infiltrate Llangollen and find out who owns this mine. I can find no record of ownership since the passing of Hairy Growler some twenty years ago. Although I could simply claim the mine as my own, I wish to be circumspect here. There may be other powers at large and I will not take risks unduly. As part of this mission, I also wish you to secretly break into the mine and search for the green and gold cheese of Ceridwen in the lower levels. I have no doubt you will find this, and then you must obtain a small sample.’

‘But beware,’ the Baron continued, ‘I hear rumours there are things that dwell in the mine that are so terrible even Trolls avoid them. Ensure you are appropriately armed, my friends, for I would not wish you ill… at least not until you have completed your task.’

Hob and Nob exchanged glances and nodded to each other. ‘If this is what you desire, my Lord, then we will fulfil your request… for the usual fee… plus 50%,’ said Hob.

‘You drive a hard bargain, gentlemen,’ the Baron replied, smiling, ‘but I agree. You will be paid when I have the sample in my hands. Now, I will despatch some of my men to meet with you in three days to ascertain your progress. Have you a place earmarked as your base for this endeavour?’

‘I think it prudent if we mingle as much as we can with the locals, my Lord, so we will seek residence at a place called “The Sheep’s Stirrup”. It is a harmless and nondescript tavern,’ replied Nob.

‘Good. Now, I’m assuming you will be transforming yourselves into something less conspicuous during your quest, so how will my men recognise you?’

Nob reached into his pocket and produced a small, leather-bound book. He flipped through the pages, with Hob looking over his shoulder. After a few seconds he stopped and pointed at a particular page. A short whispered conversation between the pair ensued before they raised their heads.

‘We will be disguised as Vagrant Vacuum Cleaner Exorcists, My Lord.’

‘And you deem this disguise appropriate?’ the Baron said.

‘Yes, my Lord. By all accounts vacuum cleaner possession is rife in the area.’

‘Very well, good luck to you. The rewards for success will be great, gentlemen. And failure, as you well know, is not an option.’

Hob picked up his briefcase and they bowed to the Baron, before heading off to encounter some experiences they were definitely not prepared for.

 

Chapter 3 – Be good for Mrs Perriwinkle

The little, red MG sports car had been Aiden’s vehicle of choice for five years. He loved the old styling and liked nothing better than driving with the top down, when the often precarious North Wales weather allowed. Humphrey watched out of the window as Aiden got in and fired the engine up. ‘See you later boy, I’ll be back in a few hours.’

‘Woof, woof, wuf-wuf,’ said Humphrey, which translated meant ‘I very much doubt it’.

‘Be good for Mrs Perriwinkle.’

The Nova QC phone was a very chic device; ultra-slim, with an extra-long-life battery, touch screen control and Aiden’s new ‘Voiceotronic’ guidance system. He pressed the little ‘on’ button and the screen instantly fizzed into life, playing a classic eighties guitar riff in the process. ‘Navigation,’ Aiden said, which immediately initialised the navigation app.

‘Llangollen, North Wales,’ he added, somewhat over dramatically, but it was that sort of day and he had that sort of feeling.

‘In one hundred yards, turn left into Llys David Lord, you sexy beast,’ the phone said in the sultry female voice Aiden had programmed in.

‘Oh, you flirt, Natasha,’ he replied, using the name he’d given to the phone.

‘You better believe it, now just drive, darling,’ Natasha said.

He cruised up Bright Street feeling in high spirits, his hangover now easing but with pizza occasionally repeating on him. The wind coursed through his hair and his sunglasses became a graveyard for flies.

‘In two hundred yards, at the roundabout, take the second exit onto the A483… and then head over to my place big boy,’ Natasha said, followed by a ‘grrr’.

It was after about five miles of smooth travelling that the car began juddering every so often. ‘Bloody tracking again,’ Aiden thought to himself, as he’d had the same problem before. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he noticed the Nova QC phone. The Navigation app map had disappeared and the whole screen was pulsating with a powerful white light. He moved into the inside lane of the dual carriageway and was just about to pull over when there was a blinding flash… and he found himself heading straight for a traffic jam; which was odd, as several seconds earlier there had hardly been a car on the road.

‘You better put that top up, mate,’ a man in a modern-looking blue car shouted out of the window, ‘the traffic wardens will be along any second now.’

‘Pardon, did you say traffic wardens?’ Aiden said. ‘I wouldn’t think we need to worry, we’re on a dual carriageway in a traffic jam; I hardly think that’s classed as a parking offence.’

‘Don’t make any difference to those beggars,’ the man said, ‘since the deregulation of 2024 they don’t care. My old mum was driving in her little hoverchair last week and stopped to exchange pleasantries with a friend. In a second they were all over her like flies. Twenty two tickets they gave her. Terrible, it was.’

‘But that’s ridiculous, can’t she complain, or simply refuse to pay,’ Aiden said, before adding ‘hang on, did you say hoverchair?’

‘What, and get shot?’ the man said, startled. ‘You mean you’ve never seen one of their firing squads in action? Where’ve you been, mate, Scotland?’

It started as a low rumble, just behind a hill to the left of the carriageway. Aiden strained his ears trying to identify the source of the noise, which was steadily increasing in volume. The other drivers started to panic, seeming to know the fate that was about to befall them; many were crying and some were praying. As the noise drew closer, Aiden turned his eyes towards the hill. He had no idea what to expect, but it’s safe to say he wasn’t expecting five hundred heavily-armed traffic wardens to appear, their faces resplendent with yellow and black war paint.

‘Hells bells,’ shouted the man in the blue car, ‘it’s the Wrexham Posse! We better run for it, they don’t take prisoners.’

The Wrexham Posse charged down the hill towards the congested highway, roaring and holding their weapons aloft. By now many of the drivers and passengers had left their vehicles, running in blind panic in search of an escape. But it was too late, and the Posse poured over the two lanes of traffic like a monstrous tidal wave of yellow and black.

Screams began, followed by gunshots and the sound of tickets being indiscriminately slapped onto glass. ‘Have mercy, have mercy!’ someone shouted from nearby, only to be met with maniacal laughter and the blood-curdling cry of ‘You’re illegally parked, say your prayers.’

One of the more vicious-looking members of the Posse closed in on Aiden’s car, ticket in one hand and Kalashnikov rifle in the other. He was a tall, burly man, probably somewhere in his forties, although with his face painted it was difficult to tell. Thankfully, Aiden managed to get the roof and windows up just before the traffic warden slammed into his car. He pressed his face against the passenger side front window, salivating and staring at Aiden with bloodshot eyes. His identity badge said his name was Mr Peter Twatt.

‘Get out of the car, now. You’re illegally parked and you’re going to get a ticket, you bastard,’ Mr Twatt spat, the saliva running down the window like little rivulets.

‘Now, look, er, Mr Twatt,’ Aiden said, noting the name on the badge, ‘I’m sure that being in a traffic jam doesn’t actually count as illegal parking, you know.’

Mr Twatt’s eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a sneer. ‘Don’t you “Mr Twatt” me, nobody calls me that anymore, and if I say you’re illegally parked you’re bloody well illegally parked, you toe rag.’

‘Well what should I call you?’ said Aiden, hoping the small talk might buy him some time.

‘Spine-splitter,’ spat Mr Twatt.

‘Ah, yes, a splendid name,’ Aiden said, in a conciliatory tone, ‘and why have you adopted that particular moniker?’

 ‘On accounts of me record of breaking the backs of people that won’t pay,’ replied Mr Twatt.

‘And just how many would that be?’

‘One hundred and six, at the last count,’ Mr Twatt/Spine-splitter said, proudly. ‘I’m looking to make it one hundred and seven today, maybe more.’

Another tortured scream attacked his ears and Aiden jumped out of his seat, as a second face pressed against the driver side window, yellow teeth grinning maliciously. ‘This one’s mine, Bogpaddler. I saw him first,’ Mr Twatt/Spine-splitter shouted to the second traffic warden, whose badge identified him as Mr Frank Todger.

‘Now, there’s nothing wrong with sharing, Spine-splitter. Let’s just cut him straight down the middle,’ Mr Todger/Bogpaddler said, producing a large, blood-stained cleaver from beneath his jacket.

‘Bugger off and get your own. I ain’t sharing with nobody, not least a toilet-breathed, wee-wee panted fart like you.’

For a few seconds an uneasy silence fell, as both men stared at each other over the top of Aiden’s car. ‘Wee-wee panted?’ said Mr Todger/Bogpaddler.

‘Yes, wee-wee-panted,’ replied Mr Twatt/Spine-splitter.

‘Toilet-breathed?!’

‘Yes, toilet-breathed.’

‘Fart?!!’

‘Yes, fart.’

‘Wee-wee-panted?!!’

‘Yes, wee-wee-panted… with stains!’ shouted Mr Twatt/Spine-splitter.

‘With stains?!!!’ Mr Todger/Bogpaddler yelled.

‘Yes, with stains!!’

‘Nobody calls me ‘wee-wee panted with stains’ and lives!!!’ screamed Bogpaddler, vaulting over the bonnet of the car.

Aiden watched dumbstruck as the two men grappled, hands around each other’s throats, whilst all around was chaos, blood and an exorbitant amount of parking tickets. A scream came from the side of the car and Spine-splitter stood up, bits of flesh dripping off his blood-stained teeth. ‘Your turn,’ he said to Aiden, banging on the window with his gun.

Aiden had never thought about meeting his maker before, but at this moment in time he began to give serious consideration as to what he would say. However, even before he could decide on the proper form of address, the QC Nova phone sent out another blinding flash of light and he found himself on a clear road, driving at about sixty miles per hour. ‘In one hundred yards take the slip road to the A539, you naughty boy,’ purred Natasha.

Had he momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel? That had to be it; there was no other logical explanation. He laughed out loud and shook his head. A dream, and how ridiculous; traffic wardens with painted faces acting like merciless, roving criminals, gunning people down for not paying. It was preposterous. Although he did admit he could see them going in that direction in the future, if left to their own devices.

As he approached the slip road he recognised the turn off for the A539, and could see the sign that read ‘Llangollen’. ‘At the roundabout take the second exit and I’ll tell you what I’m wearing,’ Natasha said.

Aiden had driven down this road many times and had a reasonable memory of the region. Landmarks were thankfully familiar and he recognised the old pub coming into view. ‘Stay on the A539 for five miles,’ Natasha said as the Nova phone began to glow once more. ‘I’m wearing stockings but I’m not wearing any…’ and then she went silent for a second. ‘Data connection lost. See you later darling,’ she said, as the phone flashed and the road turned from smooth tarmac into a narrow dirt track.

The car bumped and shuddered over the rough terrain. Aiden grasped the steering wheel tightly and hit the brake, narrowly avoiding one of the larger water-filled pot holes that were scattered about. The car scraped along the hedge on the right hand side of the road, scattering little twigs and leaves into the air. Applying the brake even firmer he stopped the car, turned off the engine and breathed a very long sigh of relief.

There was a bottle of water in the glove compartment and he drank deeply as his mind continued to race. He checked the Nova phone. No signal, no GPS. Outside it was peaceful. The narrow lane was flanked by high hedges on both sides, regularly interspersed with tall oak trees. A rabbit scuttled across the road, giving him only a passing look before diving through the hedge. He got out of the car and looked around. There was no sign of any traffic at all. Behind him the lane stretched for at least a mile, its contours and scenery consistent with what lay in front of him. ‘But that’s impossible,’ he thought.

He couldn’t have driven more than a hundred yards since the road changed dramatically, and that meant he should easily have been able to see the A539 from where he was standing. Yet the only visible roadway was the narrow, hedge-flanked lane stretching off into the distance. There was also no sign of the old pub.

Perhaps he’d underestimated the distance he’d actually covered? That could have been a possibility, so he locked the car and began to walk back to where the A539 should have been. After about half a mile he stopped. ‘There’s no way I could possibly have covered this distance,’ he said aloud, as the peaceful lane continued to wend its way into the bright countryside.

Back at the car, the little rabbit had reappeared through the hedge with one of his friends. Both were sat upright, looking at Aiden as he opened the car door. Then, without any warning, they both scuttled away again, followed by a large congregation of sparrows who had been perched in the nearby trees. That’s when Aiden heard the roar and looked up into the sky.

He estimated it must have been at least fifty feet long, its wing span perhaps half as much again. Enormous flames poured from its nostrils, its red, scaly skin looked thick enough to withstand bullets, and its talons appeared sharp enough to cut through anything in their way. And in their way currently were Aiden and his car.

‘What the bloody hell is that!’ he shouted, as the huge beast sailed overhead, missing him by no more than a few feet (and ironically those were the exact words that Dave the Dragon was thinking as he soared by). Aiden started the motor and drove as fast as the road surface and pot holes would allow. He didn’t look back.

Now, interestingly, Aiden wasn’t the only person whose morning wasn’t quite going as planned. Half-blind Ron was having a bad day. His attempts to steal a chicken from Farmer Pigwhistle’s coop had been thwarted by the farmer’s fat, but persistent, Labrador dog, which had chased him all the way to the edge of Flopmarsh Lane. Fortunately, the dog refused to cross the boundaries of the farmer’s land, which allowed Half-blind Ron to nip through the hedge and fire off some choice insults at his potential assailant. ‘Fat git! I’ll have your bloody ears off next time, you flea-ridden, mush-for-brains, lardy mutt!’

So, with fresh chicken off the menu, a new strategy was required to ensure lunch would be obtained with minimum fuss and minimum danger. However, as he wandered down the lane, a variety of cunning plots forming in his head, his train of thought was rudely interrupted by a noise from behind.

Aiden spotted him at the last minute, as the car hurtled round a bend. He slammed on the brakes, skidded and stopped with little room to spare between the car’s front bumper and Half-blind Ron’s backside.

‘Oh, you’re alright, puss. Thank god for that,’ Aiden said, as he watched the scruffy grey and black tabby scamper off to the side of the road.

‘Yeah, I’m bleedin’ alright, you flippin’ idiot. Watch where you’re going with that thing, you almost had me tail off!’

Aiden heard the words as clear as day in his head and looked at Half-blind Ron with disbelief, noticing the cat’s eye patch for the first time. ‘Pardon?’

‘Pardon?!’ screamed Half-blind Ron. ‘You nearly squash me old nuts and chop me bloody tail off, and all you can say is “Pardon”!’

‘Er, I’m very sorry.’ Aiden said, contritely.

‘Oh save it, you prat,’ Half-blind Ron said, his thoughts reaching angrily into Aiden’s mind. ‘I suppose you haven’t got any chicken have you?’

‘No, sorry again,’ Aiden replied.

‘Well bugger off then, you scruffy-haired, monkey-brained, lanky git. I’m off to find me some lunch, and me day’ll be all the brighter for not seeing you again.’

And with that, Half-blind Ron darted off down the lane in search of lunch.


Chapter 4 – That explains everything…

As Aiden continued to drive, the lane eventually widened and the surface became more conventional. Feeling slightly more relaxed, he tried to assess his recent experiences logically.

Maybe he was still groggy after falling asleep and had accidentally missed his original turning? That made perfect sense. The dragon was probably part of some air display, a customised aircraft of some description. And as for the telepathic cat with the eye patch? Well, the trauma of thinking he’d hit the poor creature must have been playing on his mind, and his overactive imagination must have kicked in. Up ahead he saw a sign that said ‘Welcome to Llangollen’.

The place was as picturesque as he remembered, but it seemed unusually quiet. There were no other cars on the roads, although the occasional horse and cart could be seen, which he thought was quaint. As he drove down the main street towards the bridge that crossed the River Dee, he passed the rows of pretty little shops displaying their wares. It was like a throwback to the days before supermarkets and multi-national stores dominated the high streets of most towns. Simpler times, he thought.

For all his love of modern technology, he was invariably happy in places where time had not moved on as much as it could have. He was attracted to historical documentaries and secretly longed to own a broadsword. As a child, and to this day if truth be told, his favourite films involved ancient soldiers, monsters, mysterious creatures, magic and, importantly, scantily clad ladies. Basically, anything that allowed him to escape to a world that was more exciting and with a greater sense of nobility at its heart.

He turned left just before the bridge and parked his car, stepping out and breathing deep from the clean air. On the other side of the road was a lady with two small sheep dressed in children’s clothing. They had pirate hats on their heads and were waving little plastic swords.

‘Come on children, we don’t want to be late,’ the lady said to the sheep, looking over and smiling at Aiden.

‘Great costumes,’ Aiden said. ‘Very unusual.’

‘Thanks! They love dressing-up, and they’ve been excited about the festival for the past week. I had no trouble getting them out of the barn this morning,’ the lady said, laughing.

‘Well, I hope they have a good time,’ Aiden replied.

‘We will! Goodbye, sir,’ one of the sheep said. And off they walked towards the park by the river.

At the end of the bridge, Aiden spotted a charming old pub. He remembered he’d been there once before and had found it to be a particularly friendly place, filled with a potpourri of slightly eccentric locals, unusually normal locals and a smattering of tourists. He couldn’t remember the pub’s name, but as he got closer the letters on the sign outside came into focus. They read ‘The Sheep’s Stirrup’, and in smaller letters underneath, ‘Proprietor: M Fluffywool’.

He turned the handle of the weatherworn, oak door and was met by the musty aroma of beer. The sun was streaming through a far window, creating an atmospheric haze above the rustic, wooden tables and chairs dotted about the room.  On the whole it looked pretty much as he remembered… apart from the short man standing behind the bar in a sheep costume.

‘Good afternoon, sir. It is a pleasant day, is it not?’ the man in the sheep costume said.

‘Hi, yes, a lovely day,’ Aiden replied. ‘Is there some kind of festival going in the town?’

‘Indeed there is, did you not see the signs on the way in?’

‘No, it looks like I came via an alternative route today,’ Aiden replied, honestly.

‘Oh, it’s the “Grand Carnival of Shearing and Hoof Waxing”, so most folks are in the park. There’s a fair and all kinds of stalls and amusements. It’s the most important sheep-sponsored event of the year; you should have a look later.’

‘I will,’ Aiden said.

‘By the way, the name’s Maurice, Maurice Fluffywool,’ the man in the sheep costume said, extending a hoof over the bar. ‘I’m the landlord of this fine establishment.’

‘Aiden Peersey,’ Aiden replied, shaking Maurice’s hoof. That explains the costumes, he thought.

‘Can I offer you a drink?’ Maurice said.

‘Yes, thanks, just a half of lager please,’ Aiden replied, putting his hand in his pocket to take out some money.

‘No, no, put your money away. The first one’s on the house.’

‘Thanks. That’s very kind of you.’

‘Think nothing of it; it’s a courtesy I like to extend to new customers. Mind you, the place will be full tonight, so I’ll turn in a tidy profit.’

Maurice pulled on one of the brass pump handles behind the bar and waited until the frothy, amber liquid filled the glass. Then he picked it up with both hooves and placed it on a fresh beer mat on the bar.

‘So, whereabouts do you hail from, Aiden?’

‘Not too far away, Wrexham,’ Aiden said, taking a sip from the glass.

 ‘Ah, my good friend, Bill Plumprump runs one of the most popular pubs in Wrexham, “The Flopsy Fleece”. You must know it?’

‘Can’t say I do, actually,’ Aiden answered.

‘Oh, well, that is a surprise. What about “The Lamb and Saddle”?’

‘Er, no.’

‘“The Frisky Flock”?’

‘Afraid not.’

‘“The Black-faced Ram”?’

‘Not come across it.’

‘“The Frolicking Ewe”?’

‘Nope.’

‘Well surely you must know the “Mutton Dressed as Lamb” nightclub, it’s the hottest club in the area?’

‘Sorry, never seen it.’

‘Are you sure you’re from Wrexham?’ Maurice quizzed, with a look of suspicion.

‘Not as sure as I was about five minutes ago,’ Aiden said.

As he looked more intently at Maurice, the sun of understanding seemed to rise in his mind, its glorious rays firing little beams of comprehension in all directions. ‘You’re a sheep!’ he exclaimed, his eyebrows doing their utmost to make contact with his hairline.

‘Well, you may not be sure where you’re from, young man, but there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight, I see,’ Maurice replied.

‘Sorry, it’s just that I’m from the real outskirts of Wrexham and we don’t get many sheep running pubs in that area,’ Aiden said, thinking on his feet.

‘Ah, still a bit sheepist there, are they? Well we’re a lot more liberal here, if you don’t mind, we’ve fully embraced the Ovine Equality Act of 1952.’

‘Oh, so around here sheep have been running pubs since 1952?’ Aiden said casually, as he leant on the bar.

‘No, no, don’t be daft,’ Maurice replied. ‘A lot of us started out as glass collectors and worked our way up’.

Aiden swiftly finished his drink and put the empty glass on the bar. ‘Well, thanks very much for the conversation and the drink,’ he said, moving slowly to the door, ‘but I think I’ll go for a little walk now, while it’s so nice outside. One last question, though, well two questions really. Am I actually in Llangollen and what year is this, please?’

‘My lad, are you sure you’ve not been on the old Cheshire Black or something. Yes, this is Llangollen, and it’s 1987 of course’.

Was he hallucinating? Was he dreaming again? Had he wandered into some bizarre genetic experiment? Was it an invasion of alien sheep landlords? Or was he simply cracking up? Two sheep on the opposite side of the road, carrying balloons, shouted ‘hello’ and waved. Aiden slowly raised his hand and politely waved back.

‘It’s a lovely day for it, isn’t it?’ said one of the sheep.

‘Yes, it is indeed,’ replied Aiden, still waving. And then his phone rang.

The ringtone blared out ‘What’s New Pussycat’ and the name on the screen said ‘Tom’. Aiden didn’t know anyone called ‘Tom’… and he hadn’t actually programmed any numbers into the phone. ‘Hello,’ he said, clicking the ‘Receive Call’ button and tentatively putting the phone to his ear.

‘Oh, hi, I thought I’d better give you a quick call as you’re probably a bit disorientated right now. And you’d probably like an explanation of what’s going down, so to speak,’ a voice in a comforting Welsh brogue said.

‘Yes, thank you, that would be great,’ Aiden said, as he watched the sheep with balloons skipping down the road. ‘And you are?’

‘Well, I’m Tom. I think you’ll find it said that on the phone.’

‘And have we met before? I don’t recall programming your number into my phone?’

‘Well, we’ve never actually spoken, as such. But I’ve sort of been keeping an eye on you for all of your life.’

‘Well, “Tom”, I’m not sure how you got hold of this number, but I’m having a pretty strange day here. I’ve had a dream where I’m being attacked by traffic wardens carrying Kalashnikovs, I’ve been strafed by what appeared to be a large red dragon, I’ve been insulted telepathically by a cat, and to top it all I’ve been served rather good lager by a talking sheep. So, “Tom”, I’d appreciate it if you’d just bugger off and leave me alone.’

‘Look, now, there’s no reason to be like that, is there,’ said Tom. ‘Would you like me to shed some light on the events of the day?’

Aiden removed the phone from his ear and took a sharp intake of breath. He looked at the phone’s screen and realised there was no network coverage. So how was he receiving this call? His natural curiosity knocked on the door of his conscious mind… so he let it in and offered it a biscuit.

‘Very well, “Tom”. If you have any information as to what is causing my apparent mental implosion will you please let me know, because it’s reaching the point where I’d just like to go and sit under a tree for a while.’

‘Well, okay,’ Tom said. ‘I’m actually your higher self, or your intuition, if you like. Normally, I can only communicate with you via thoughts or feelings, helping you on your way, so to speak. But, since you’ve managed to cross a dimensional barrier and have now physically manifested in an alternative reality, I can speak to you on the phone now. How cool is that?!’

Aiden took the phone away from his ear again and looked at it for a few seconds. He went to press the ‘End Call’ button and hesitated. Then he slowly put the phone back against his ear. ‘Ah, yes, that explains everything, thank you.’

 

Chapter 5 – It may be linked to The Prophecy

Prince Theo of Corwen was sat on the bed in his royal chambers, licking his private parts, when Captain Marmaduke entered. ‘Sorry, Your Highness, have I come at an inconvenient time?’ the Captain said, removing his helmet.

‘No, I’m just finishing off,’ Prince Theo replied, licking his paw and wiping it over his face. ‘What’s up?’

‘We have just received word that an unusual event has occurred close to Llangollen, on Flopmarsh Lane. I suspect Your Highness will wish to hear more detail.’

‘Sounds interesting, Captain. Where does your information come from?’

The Captain coughed uncomfortably. ‘From Half-blind Ron, Your Highness.’

‘Oh, not that mad old moggy again,’ the Prince said. ‘Let me guess, he’s been drinking Meow’s Extra Strong Catnip and he claims we’re being invaded by singing pink goblins.’

‘If that were simply the case I would not be attempting to grant him audience with Your Highness,’ the Captain replied.

‘What, you’ve brought him here? Captain, you are one of my most trusted advisors, and also one of my closest friends. I respect your judgement ordinarily, but I’m at a loss as to why you feel I should devote some time listening to a semi-ratted old puss like Half-blind Ron. You must admit that the dear old cat is slightly puddled.’

‘Agreed, Your Highness, but in this instance he assures me he was a model of sobriety, on account of the fact that he needed to have his wits about him for chicken hunting at Farmer Pigwhistle’s. Also, the encounter he claims he had does not appear to be one of his fanciful, catnip induced stories. It may be linked to The Prophecy.’

Prince Theo sat bolt upright. ‘Go on.’

‘It would be better for you to hear it from Half-blind Ron himself, Your Highness.’

‘Alright, Captain, my interest is sufficiently aroused. Show him in.’

The Captain opened the door, made a beckoning gesture and Half-blind Ron ran in. ‘Your Gracious Majesty, Royal Highness, Princeness, I am ever your humble servant and am honoured to be in your divine presence,’ he said, supplicating himself on the floor.

‘Please, stand and face me,’ Theo said, waving his paw upwards. ‘My Captain tells me you have a tale to tell.’

‘Oh, I does, your Princeness. Just this morning I was minding my own business walking down Flopmarsh Lane—,’

‘— Er, my Captain says you were attempting to steal chickens, from Farmer Pigwhistle,’ Theo interrupted.

‘A minor misunderstanding, Your Majesty, Highness, I was merely looking to borrow one for educational purposes.’

‘Anyway,’ Half-blind Ron continued, ‘I was walking down Flopmarsh Lane when all of a sudden this big, red horseless carriage appears behind me, almost flying it was. It headed straight at me and I thought I was goner, Your Princeness. It stopped just before it crashed into me back end. I thought me old jewels were gonna be history.’

‘And who was in charge of this “horseless carriage”?’ Theo asked, his eyes narrowing.

‘Some lanky, human git, Your Majesty, Highness. A right weirdo if ever I met one. I reckon he was a wizard or a musician or sumfin.’

‘Why say you so?’ Theo asked again.

‘He had strange clothes, Your Princeness, and very scruffy hair, and he was carrying this little box which lit up. If you don’t believe me have a word with Fiery Dave from Denbigh, he saw him too.’

‘Is this true, Captain, is there corroboration to his story?’

‘We have sent word to Denbigh to request this information,’ the Captain answered. ‘We hope to hear back from them shortly.’

Theo jumped off the bed and placed a paw on Half-blind Ron’s shoulder. ‘Thank you for informing us of this. You can trust that we will seek to track this stranger down. We will be in touch shortly.’

‘You mean I may get to meet Your Majesty, Highness, Princeness again?’ Half-blind Ron said, with wide-eyed wonderment.

‘Indeed, for we may wish to speak further when we have ascertained some more of the facts. Your testimony today has been very valuable.’

‘Thank you, thank you, Your Gracious, Magnificent Princeness. Will you perhaps have a bit of chicken on hand next time?’

‘We’ll see what we can do.’

Captain Marmaduke led Half-blind Ron through the door and turned back to Theo. ‘Can you see why I thought you should see him now?’

‘I can indeed Captain. Once again you serve me well, my friend. Do you recall the exact words of The Prophecy?’

‘Not quite, Your Highness, but from my recollection of the text there undoubtedly appears to be a connection.’

‘Yes, it would seem so. The actual passage reads thus,’ Theo said, staring out of the window. ‘“One day a stranger will arrive from a land beyond distance and beyond time. He will bring with him strange gadgets and strange ideas. He will tell tales of his home and people will gain strength from his words and his strange ways, although no-one will copy his hair style. He will join a group of heroes and set off on a quest that will deliver the people from fear and suppression. Evil will be vanquished and peace among the lands will follow.”’

There was a knock on the door.

‘Captain, we have word from Denbigh,’ said one of the guards.

‘Go on, man. What do they say?’

‘Fiery Dave reported seeing a red, horseless carriage being piloted by a scruffy-haired human this morning, sir. It was heading towards Llangollen.’

‘Well, Captain,’ Theo said, ‘it would appear that a trip to Llangollen needs to be added to my itinerary.’

***

‘So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight,’ Aiden said to Tom. ‘Because the QC operating system on the phone works on the uncertainty principle related to quantum mechanics, it does all its computations in parallel universes. So, instead of the Navigation app navigating me to Llangollen in my reality, it navigated me to another Llangollen in an alternative reality, where cats are telepathic and sheep serve rather good lager.’

‘You’re getting there now,’ said Tom.

‘And all this happened because the app selected the most appropriate Llangollen in the Multiverse for me by analysing my subconscious, which, like everything else in the Multiverse, is intrinsically connected consciously on a quantum level. So, to allow me to be navigated to this other Llangollen, the energy frequencies of my physical body and car were readjusted and aligned to this reality.’

‘Yep, that’s about the top and bottom of it.’

‘And you seriously expect me to believe you?’

‘Why would I lie to you? I’m not some smartarse, little demonic prankster, infiltrating your mind and tempting you to stuff your face with another slice of pizza. I’m your higher self for god’s sake.’

‘Demonic possession, oh come on, I suppose that happens a lot does it?’ Aiden scoffed.

‘All the bloody time, to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s murder chasing the little monsters off; your drunken visit to the Pizza Plaza last night being a good example. How many slices did you have in the end?’

‘Well, I was only going to have one, but… I felt tempted to have more… so I ended up having three. And I was going to go for a fourth but then changed my mind.’

‘That was me after I smacked the little sod’s metaphorical butt!’ exclaimed Tom. ‘Pesky little blighter.’

‘You make it sound like I’m not in control of my own mind!’

‘Well, there’s a good element of truth in that. You have to understand that the human mind is a big mish-mash of things. There’s you, that’s your conscious mind, and then there’s a whole host of other elements and hangers on, all vying for control at certain points in time, dependent upon the circumstances. Like your emotions, for example. They’re a right bunch of whining beggars, I can tell you.’

‘But,’ Tom continued, ‘and this is the key, you’re living in a free will universe; so the choices you make are still down to you, your conscious self. The other elements of your mind and the infiltrators can only influence, although sometimes those influences can be pretty potent. It’s my job to guide you and try to ensure that you do what’s best. So, whenever you’ve followed your gut feeling or instinct, that’s generally me nudging you to take the best path at that time. Remember, always listen to me.’

‘Right,’ Aiden said, scratching his chin. ‘So when I felt the urge to chat up Rebecca Clark at the work’s party, as I really felt she fancied me, that was you pointing me in the right direction?’

 ‘No, that was your ego, Roger. He’s a complete prat. You should never trust that pillock. Now me, I was screaming at you not to go anywhere near her because I knew she was a bloody fruit loop. Do you remember what happened the following week?’

 ‘Er, yes, she chained herself to the old elm tree in my garden and claimed that she’d been sent by the wood nymphs to save it from satanic hair conditioner and inappropriate hieroglyphics. I had to get the police to move her after a couple of days.’

‘See, there you go,’ replied Tom.

‘Excuse me my good man, but do you happen to have the time, please?’

Aiden pulled the phone from his ear and turned to look at a well-dressed sheep, wearing small, rounded spectacles and carrying a trumpet. ‘Pardon,’ he replied.

‘Do you happen to have the time? I fear I may be late for the concert. I get a bit absent-minded these days, and I was so engrossed in a conversation about waistcoats with Mr Ruffle, the sheep tailor, that I’ve lost track of time completely.’

‘Oh, it’s half past two,’ Aiden said, looking at his watch.

‘Thank goodness and bless my clacky hooves,’ the sheep said. ‘The concert doesn’t begin until three, so I have plenty of time. Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome.’

‘Oh, I’m forgetting my manners. I’m Charles Corriedale, trumpet player with the Oswestry Sheep Orchestra,’ Charles said, extending a hoof.

‘Aiden Peersey,’ Aiden said, swapping the phone to his other hand and shaking the extended hoof.

‘Have you ever seen the OSO play?’ Charles asked.

‘No, I don’t believe so.’

‘Well, if you have time, why not pop along to the park by the river later. We’re playing a sterling set today, including one of my favourites, “Where Sheep Safely Graze” by Baach. That always gets a great reception, and it’s a really lovely tune.’

‘I’ll try my best to,’ Aiden said, politely.

‘Please do,’ an enthusiastic Charles said. ‘Anyhow, I must be on my way. It was very nice to meet you, Aiden, but I’ll bid you adieu, good sir.’

‘Nice to meet you too, Charles.’

And with that Charles Corriedale turned and headed over the bridge, trumpet in hand and with a spring in his stride. Aiden swapped the phone back to his right hand and placed it against his ear. ‘So this isn’t simply a bizarre dream?’ he said to Tom.

‘No.’

‘And I’m not hallucinating because I’m having a reaction to something Stoner Steve from the Hefty Swingers may have put into my drink last night?’

‘No.’

‘And it’s not some genetic experiment?’

‘No.’

‘And we’ve not been invaded by alien sheep landlords?’

‘No.’

‘And I’m not having a breakdown.’

‘No’

‘And in this reality, the composer Bach is actually Baach and is a sheep?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you really are my intuition/higher self?’

‘Yes.’

‘So, Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation of the universe, which states that every choice that is made creates a copy of the universe where the actions resulting from that choice are then perpetuated, is actually correct?’

‘Pretty much, yes.’

‘I think I need to sit down.’

‘You do that, then.’

Aiden grabbed one of the solid, wooden chairs at the front of the pub and slowly eased himself into it, keeping the phone pressed against his ear. He gazed blankly over the bridge into Llangollen town centre. ‘How do I get back?’ he said.

‘I’m not sure, yet. This is a very unusual event, you know, not everyone goes dimension hopping. You’re going to have to hold up for a time while I do a bit of investigative work. Look, I’ve got a conference call in a couple of days with the Higher Self Union, so I’ll have a chat with a few well-versed souls and see what I can find out.’

‘A couple of days! But what am I supposed to do? Where the hell am I going to stay? Can I drive back to my house?’ Aiden asked, slightly exasperated.

‘Well, you could. But I’m afraid it’s not quite as you remember it.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Well, the building is there… but it’s used as a nursing home for senile bingo callers.’

‘Great. Do you have any suggestions, then?’

‘Why not get a room in the pub here. It looks quite nice.’

‘Well, for a start I haven’t got any money on me and I doubt very much that they’ll accept my credit card.’

‘But you do have your wallet and bank card, don’t you?’

‘Yes, but how on earth is that going to help me here. Do you suggest I just wander to the nearest ATM and make a withdrawal?’ Aiden said, with a touch of sarcasm.

‘Actually, yes,’ Tom replied. ‘Look, you know the theory that the force of gravity is much weaker than it should be because it permeates all dimensions?’

‘Yes…’

‘Well, believe it or not, it’s the same with banks. Trust me on this. Find a bank, use your normal pin number and you’ll be fine.’

‘That’s scary,’ Aiden said. ‘But somehow I’m not that surprised.’

 

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