Last Days of the Golden Dragon
It is the year 1415 AD and war has been raging between Wales and England for over a decade – the war for Welsh independence led by Owain Glyn Dŵr. Despite early military successes the power and resources of England eventually began to tell and Welsh resistance began to crumble; the leader taking to living off the countryside, and the continuing generosity of supporters, whilst he and his men conducted hit-and-run raids against the enemy. But in September 1415, a chronicler records, Owain disappeared and was never heard from again, the leadership of what remained of the revolt handed over to his son, Maredudd.
No-one knows for certain where Owain went, where he stayed, how long he lived for, where he died or where he was buried: he became a legend, instantly. However, one persistant piece of folklore has him seeking a refuge in a Marcher lordship in the south-east of the country and in an area that was later (in the Act of Union of 1536) to become part of Herefordshire – border country, in other words, and hostile territory at that.
This then, The Last Days of the Golden Dragon, is a thoroughly researched imagining of what became of this ultimately tragic man but Wales’s great hero, nevertheless.
Hero for A Dark Age: Arthur
Prydain (post-Roman Britannia) is hard-pressed. The Sacson-kind have secured a foothold in the south-eastern corner of the country and are consolidating their gains along the south coast and up in what was to become East Anglia. And the valley of the Afon Tafwys (Tamesis Fluminis) points like a spear inland threatening to split the Brythons in two.
It is a perilous time indeed and Emrys Wledig (or ‘Ambrosius Aurelianus’), leader of the Brythons, puts out an urgent call for help – an enemy war-host is operating in the lower reaches of the Afon Tafwys, but is threatening to break out at any time.
A Romano-British youth, nephew to the town Magistrate of Venta, one Artorius Hispanicus (though he’s more commonly and simply known as ‘Yr Arth’), is without a care in the world – until, that is, he is summoned urgently to a meeting with his uncle.
He is to journey into the ‘back country’ with a sole companion – Bedwyr ap Bedrawd – taking one of his uncle’s seals of office with him, recruiting men wherever he can, and aiming - eventually - for Brithdir in the north, home now to his re-married mother who abandoned him when he was a very small child.
In his quest for men and material support (for Ambrosius) Yr Arth and Bedwyr are beset by many adventures and some danger. But - slowly and surely - a young man from the kingdom of Gwent, one destined for greatness in the ‘Matter of Prydain’, gradually emerges – in this, the first volume of Hero for a Dark Age.
Hero for A Dark Age: Baddon
Arthur ap Macsen has found favour with Ambrosius Aurelianus, leader of the Brythons, and is sent by him to Caer Lindes to help fight against the Eingls.
And so begins a decade-long military campaign against the incursions of the Eingls and the Sacsons in the east, south and north of Prydain as recorded a few hundred years later by the monk, Nennius, but from fragments of historical records much closer to the events.
These campaigns consolidate Arthur’s growing reputation as a military leader and also contribute toward his growing popularity among the Brythons, at all levels of society, as a semi-legendary figure – even in is own lifetime. The number of his closest companions starts to grow and the nucleus of an exceptional body of men – some of whom would also assume legendary status in time – is brought into being through these wars.
Between the campaigns, Arthur is gifted the old fortress town of Caerllion as his base by his king, Caradog Freichfras, and he builds a military academy there, all the while guided by his mentor – the mysterious man called Emrys Myrddin. But his personal life does not match the success of his public one and Arthur is a much troubled man, privately.
Then, up in the north, having just fought a major battle, Arthur gets an urgent summons from Ambrosius: the latter’s forces are trapped in an old hill-fort by two enemy armies and facing imminent defeat – Arthur is to come at once! The name of the unprepossessing and seemingly insignificant place is Mynydd Baddon.
Hero for A Dark Age: Camlan
Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus, the last of the Romans) is dead and Arthur ap Macsen is the Dux Bellorum, the leader in battles. He is well-established in his Gwentian base in Caerllion and his reputation is equally well-founded – the victor, in all but name, of the great and decisive battle of Mynydd Baddon. For a generation following that cataclysmic event there will be peace of a kind between Sacsons and Brythons, though the leader of a comparatively new set of incomers, the Gewisse (already styling themselves the ‘West Seaxe’), is making a thorough nuisance of himself down on the southern coast of Lloegr. However, Arthur’s preoccupations are now - in the main - more personal and parochial.
Improbably, Arthur’s mentor, Emrys Myrddin, finds him a beautiful and clever wife and for a time Arthur experiences the happiest period of his life. His ‘court’ of Ehangwen and his ‘military academy’ attract all sorts of people and talents to Caerllion. It is a blissful time though, sadly, not one blessed by any children.
But all sorts of things start to go wrong – Gwenhwyfar is abducted and Arthur fears for her life, a young man and his mother appear at court and wreak all kinds of havoc, Myrddin disappears and Arthur turns on one of his champions, fatally. In short, all kinds of issues and controversies in Arthur’s past start to reappear and haunt him and sadly he begins to lose some of his closest friends and companions, one by one.
Then the south of the country – the kingdoms of Gwent and Glywysing – are subjected to major raids by men from the north: Maelgwn of Gwynedd and, later, his son, Rhun. And Medrawd, one of Arthur’s men though utterly in thrall to the poisonous Gwenhwyfach, sister to Arthur’s wife, begins to sow the seeds of betrayal. All paths and trackways then point northwards as a vengeful Arthur leads an army straight to bloody Camlan: a battle that sets the seal on the fate of the Brythons for a long time to come.
A great grandfather and great granddaughter are engaged in a series of recorded reminiscences about the discovery and colonisation of their planet: Tellus. The grandsire is the very 'last of the first' colonists and he is keen (given his age and increasing intimations of mortality) to set the record straight - or fill it out a bit more, as he would have it. Necessarily, this involves explaining the increasingly desperate situation on the original and doomed home-world and the highly secretive measures needed to affect an escape: for some!
Ea, the grandsire, was the main architect of the escape plan and Siduri, his great granddaughter, is his interlocutor. They have an excellent and trusting relationship, but in the course of these 'dialogues' Siduri suspects that she is not being told absolutey everything, especially in respect of what happened in the latter stages of the voyage. Ea, in cryogenic suspension throughout the endless journey, until the sighting of what was to become their new home-world of Tellus, is either understandably vague or is being deliberately evasive on certain matters… until Gamesh, Siduri's boyfriend, begins to get nearer the truth through researching the several ships' records.
Tellus is a peaceful and quasi-isocratic society (for which, read on), but its foundation story, it turns out, may be based upon a lie or an omission of an uncomfortable truth at the very least. But, then, to 'err is human' (as the poet said); 'to forgive, divine.' And the people inhabiting Tellus are, substantially, no different, no better and no worse, than you, dear reader, or I - however far off it may be in the future. And just like us, they need to know their history very well or at least be reminded of it very forcefully, from time to time.
Tellus, an Earth colony - somewhere in outer space and at some point in the distant future - is facing imminent collapse; its population already far exceeds the planet’s ‘carrying capacity’ and a catastrophe is approaching, fast.
Orrery is a jaded scientist living in the western part of the contiguous urban mass that is Megadomus – Tellus’s only city. One day he is peremptorily ordered away, in great secrecy, to an unknown destination and - until he gets there - for a completely unstated and highly secretive purpose.
In the company of many of the world’s leading scientists, Orrery is instructed – in no uncertain terms – by a mystery man and organization, to find a solution to Tellus’s problems, and quickly. The work is exceedingly stressful and morally repugnant, to say the least, and Orrery’s only consolation is the company of his fellow scientist, the enigmatic Shapash.
But what exactly is The Quietus - their collective conclusion to the ‘Matter of Tellus’ - and how and why was it arrived at? Furthermore, and pressingly, what will become of all the scientists - Orrery and Shapash included – once their work has been done?
The Master Scribe on Tellus is somewhat unsettled and out of sorts, but he doesn’t know why exactly. He takes himself off to a Regenesis Resort for a bit of a break – though whilst there he’s not entirely sure whether he’s trying to escape a knotty problem or resolve one.
In short, he knows that his tenure is coming to an end and that he needs to appoint a successor from among his Acolytes, but therein lies the problem, possibly; he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable about the leading candidate’s… well, type of people.
For some time now, scientists on Tellus have been tinkering with the human germ line among a select group of humans – trying to eliminate hereditary diseases primarily and enhancing the intellectual capacities of these longer lived and fitter humans at the same time. But this programme, which followed on from Namtar’s chance re-discovery of the technology in the main Musaeum at Ki, has not been without its problems nevertheless. And, then, Grand Master Belit is secretly tipped-off about an even more adventurous and potentially alarming development in human engineering.
As this conspiracy unfolds and, eventually, is (almost) fully exposed, peaceable Tellus is faced with its first major crisis since colonisation, a crisis which threatens its very foundation – and, even more profoundly, the very future of the human race itself.
Lost for Words
John Hedley wakes up one morning to discover that he simply cannot talk; he’s lost the power of speech!
But, then, talk radio is off-air and so, too, are the morning’s TV chat-shows and speech-based news programmes – only recorded music and images are playing. Hedley’s problem isn’t just a personal one, it seems! So begins a story about an Earth-wide phenomenon - rapidly dubbed the Mute Event - whose origins and properties are never entirely clear, but whose effects are potentially catastrophic for the whole human race.
Hedley happens to be a very senior Metropolitan policeman whose main responsibilities, inter alia, are the national co-ordination of Emergency Plans and the maintenance of good order in London. And, once he manages to get into work through the mounting chaos, the story takes off in several fast-paced and different directions… involving several sets of characters and separate plot lines but which all converge, ultimately, on a secret hospital deep underground in the centre of London and a particularly violent denouement.
Unsurprisingly, the acute problem of communication in a world without speech runs as a major theme throughout it all and the various characters in the story have to be quite inventive and improvisational in order to make sense and be understood. But the difficulties are enormous, particularly after the various social media crash or are closed down to stop the spread of panic, and on more than one occasion John Hedley ruminates on the possible implications for humankind of a totally silent future world – a world where everyone is utterly and completely lost for words!
Nothing but Males
A man ‘comes to’ - at the very edge of a great forest - having passed out through sheer exhaustion and dehydration.
He is discovered by a party of men who take it in turns to carry him back to ‘civilisation’. His accent is a little strange as are his clothes, but other than that the only remarkable thing about the stranger is that he has totally forgotten who he is or where he is from!
He is temporarily lodged and cared for in the first village the party comes to and his initial concerns are simply recovery and recuperation, but a growing sense of being somewhere strange - of not being from or belonging to this society - begins to overtake him. Something is not right, all is not as it should be and, then, it comes to him all of a sudden – ‘where are all the women?’
Despite his amnesia he does remember women apparently, though only as a kind of being; he cannot recall any one woman in particular. And thus begins a series of incidents and escapades in which the stranger discovers he is on a planet – known as Andros – that is populated by nothing but males.
But how can this be so? When and why did it happen? How does it survive and what is it like to live there? How did he get here, come to that? And, more to the point, will he ever be allowed to leave?
Our Second Selves
The year is 2359 and international capitalism has reached its apogee, but so, too – in a manner of speaking – has science…
All over GlobeSoc (a technologically and materially advanced vision of Earth) the molecular biologists, the gene-splicers, the eugenicists and demographers are in total control. In their research institutes and laboratories these specialists long ago took over the business of determining all the numbers and types of people, plants and animals that there should be in the different parts of the world and everything – including the economy – is subordinated to the imperatives of genetic modification, engineering and control.
In a world of material plenty and the instant gratification of all desires everyone is encouraged to look to themselves and ‘Be Happy’ – only Benjamin Ruskin (a high grade geneticist) isn’t quite and he doesn’t know why. Very soon his general unease with the certainty and blandness of life in GlobeSoc is compounded by a chance meeting with an extraordinary woman who will turn his world upside down.
The Extraordinary Dr Kerfuffle!
Meet Joshua Rees in this the first book of a wonderful, fantastical children's trilogy.
A chance encounter with a new neighbour, Dr Kerffufelschtumpf from Old Bavaria transforms Joshua’s regular life in a small English market town.
Joshua is welcomed into the Dr’s incredible house in which floors move, animatronic figures talk and lifts assume the characteristics of space vehicles or helter skelters.
His life will never be the same again after extraordinary experiences in the Dr's magical ‘Wunder Kasten’.Follow Joshua and Dr Kerffufelschtumpf on this incredible journey, but will it all be ruined by the Dr’s arch enemy the evil Hexenmeister?
The Return of Dr Kerfuffle
The second book in the Dr K Trilogy: Joshua Rees is in his mid-teens when this story commences – facing-up to the twin distractions of adolescence and the long preparation for his first set of public examinations.
The state of the world, in particular climate change and the increasingly erratic weather, preoccupies Josh to a considerable extent. Joshua sorely misses his good friend and mentor with his contagious enthusiasm for argument and discovery and that truly wonderful invention of his: the Wunder Kasten. If only the good doctor would return; if only…
Funnily enough, considering the danger he posed to Joshua and his family, our hero rarely gives a second thought to the fate of the doctor’s arch rival – the Hexenmeister and his over-sized, talking cat - Palug. But perhaps he should… perhaps he should. Before long Josh is caught-up in another adventure; another ‘rites de passage’ on the road to maturity and an altogether darker tale.
A thought-provoking book; a magical book that is able to transport its reader to real and exotic locations, and an old-fashioned thriller with plenty of characters - some old some new, some minor some more so – and some enjoyable nonsense and riddle-me-re thrown-in for good measure.
The Triumph of Dr Kerfuffle?
Third in the DrK Trilogy: Joshua Rees has finished his schooling and has left with three excellent ‘Advanced Level’ subjects and grades. At the commencement of this story we find him at home having decided to take a year off (a ‘gap year’) before going up to university – but he’s bored; worse still, he’s brooding.
He’s brooding - like many a teenager on the threshold of adult life - about the general state of the world and the seeming lack of serious intention by the ‘powers that be’ to do anything about it, especially the environment.
But Josh’s life, generally so ordered, so peaceful, so comfortable and so safe, is about to be rudely disturbed again - for the third time of asking in his relatively short life - and in next to no time he will be drawn into a drama of global dimensions and potentially earth-shattering significance.
The book opens with Joshua about to retire to bed one night when he espies a mouse - out of the corner of his eye - run under his wardrobe, so he gets down on the floor with a torch to investigate. The little mouse, with his back against the skirting board, freezes stock still in Josh’s torchlight, but before Joshua can do anything else the nervy little mouse addresses him - and uses his personal name as well, what’s more!
Tales from Old Treharne
Treharris, Treherbert and Trehopcyn are real enough and so is Treharne, though it does not exist as such – there is nowhere in south Wales with that name. However, it did exist at one time, under another guise, and not all that long ago really. It was the industrial township of my father’s family and for the 1950s and 60s it was my surrogate home too. I was forever in the place, and I loved it.
These collected stories, then, are my tribute to a set of people, a time and a place, that have either gone now or changed out of all recognition – almost. And I wanted to save something of that… for myself, for my own family and, without sounding too pompous, for posterity too.
‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’ runs the old saying, it’s usually gilded and viewed through proverbially tinted glasses, and I freely acknowledge that Treharne was written through the prism of first a child and then an adolescent’s memory and perspective, but I make no apology for that. If you are looking for pain and suffering, sturm und drang, dear reader, you won’t find it here - though it was all there right enough, as I appreciated later on.
No, my Treharne was full of laughter, tall stories, nick-names, ridiculous escapades, home-made fun and music as my extended family lived life to the full, in spite of experiencing as much pain and suffering as the next man and woman. And that is how I want them remembered: exaggeratedly sometimes, embellished even (to some extent) but above all affectionately and as accurately as I can reasonably recall.
Lionel Cartwright has a problem – cats! They never used to bother him particularly, indeed he even liked the odd individual feline that came his way, but his attempt to turn his garden into a bird-friendly haven ends in bloody ruin and Lionel changes his mind.
His several attempts to deter the local cats from soiling his garden and predating on its birds might be considered funny from a certain angle, but not for Lionel since it all means so very much to him.
However, his problems with local felines are as nought compared to a disturbing chance discovery he makes about them in an on-line newspaper: a discovery about feline health that is to turn into something of an obsession with him, almost blighting his life.
And then - for reasons unknown, though Lionel now thinks he understands why - cats begin to alter their behaviour, and for the worse!
Very soon British society (the global point of origin for this worrying development) is plunged into a major crisis: millions of felines are shunned and run wild; peoples’ social lives are severely curtailed; lives are even endangered, and – unsurprisingly – hasty counter-measures are sought. And it all gets very personal and frightening for Lionel Cartwright too; in effect, the prism through which this developing crisis is viewed. But how will it all end and what happens to society before the problem is resolved or it runs its course?
An horrific and dystopian prospect indeed – a work of science fiction, after a fashion – but one, nevertheless, based upon the slenderest of plausible possibilities.
The Ignorant Mountaineers of South Wales
On the night of the 3-4th November 1839, in south Wales, several thousand armed and angry men from the coalfield and iron districts - the so-called ‘Black Domain’ - set out to march upon and seize the town of Newport. In the violent clash between these Chartist-led marchers and soldiers positioned in Newport’s Westgate Hotel over twenty workers were shot dead and dozens more wounded. The attempted rebellion and hoped for ‘Silurian Republic’ - the signal for a countrywide uprising to establish the People’s Charter - was killed at birth.
In the aftermath, (at the last mass treason trial in Britain) the alleged ringleaders were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered – the last people in England and Wales to be sentenced to this medieval death sentence, though this was later commuted to transportation to Australia. And scores of other men were either fined or imprisoned. But what could have brought these men, and in such numbers, to such a pitch? Why did they resort to violence? What were they attempting to achieve and why did they fail?
Up in the ‘Black Domain’, the valley of Ebwy Fach - site of Nant-y-glo, Coalbrookvale and Blaina townships and their associated ironworks - was a centre of worker militancy and one of the columns that converged on Newport came from there. Two brothers, Rhys and Gwilym Howell - originally from West Wales - lived here with their families and were, like everyone else, unavoidably caught up in these momentous events, but on opposite sides: one for ‘moral force’ Chartism, the other – reluctantly – for ‘physical force’. This, then, is the story of those crucial few days in November 1839 as viewed from the perspective of Rhys and Gwilym, their families, comrades and friends.