Authors: Paul Binding
Steve and Ljuba Morris
Seren is the book imprint of
Poetry Wales Press Ltd.
57 Nolton Street, Bridgend, Wales, CF31 3AE
Â© Paul Binding 2012
The right of Paul Binding to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
A CIP record for this title is available from the British Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted at any time or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the copyright holder.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters and incidents portrayed are the work of the author's imagination. Any other resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Front cover by Â© John Lavrin, âThe Boy from the Mill' â oil on canvasÂ
Typesetting by Elaine Sharples
Ebook conversion by Flo Reynolds
Printed by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon
The publisher works with the financial assistance of The Welsh Books Council
The great waterfall gleamed white through the darkness, and he felt himself compelled to climb, to see where it began.
He craned his neck. The edge of the plateau from which the water tumbled down so fast, long and loud, was hidden from him, at least two hundred feet above.
What, right up there? It'd be like scaling a fucking wall.
He had no torch, it was past midnight, cloud covered the sky, and there was a night dew underfoot which would later turn to frost. He was alone, a stranger, without any mountaineering experience. As well as this he was a mass of cuts and bruises after the attack in which he'd lost the one friend he cared about. He knew his mistakes now for what they were, and those faults of his that were responsible.
He was dead tired and so very cold.
Â Â Â
Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Where had he heard that before? It was a command that was also a promise. And he wouldn't disobey. Up, up he went, in his jersey, jeans and sneakers, hardly appropriate for this place. Scaling a wall was about right, too. In front of him was a long vertical faceÂ of moss-covered stones and boulders with narrow slithers of soil between them. Bare, bent birch trees had their roots in some of these. Higher up, stark rock face confronted him. But he would surely find enough footholds to edge his way to where pine trees reared sombre forms against the night sky.
During his slow ascent, that sky often got blocked by birch or boulder or by flashes of the torrent itself, always audible, and always calling him on. Often he was on the point of slipping; the soil between stones was principally mud.
But his limbs had determination of their own. An hour's stren-uous, patient, sometimes scary endeavour, and there he was. At the very top.
* * *
This waterfall is Pistyll Rhaeadr, at 240 feet the longest single drop waterfall in England and Wales. It lies in the Berwyn Mountains, north of Welshpool, east of Bala, south of Llangollen and west of Oswestry, on the Welsh side of the Wales-England border. Twenty-four of the Berwyn peaks are more than 2,000Â feet high, Cadair Berwyn itself rising to 2,700. They contain Wales' largest stretch of moorland, many hectares of heather, cotton grass, bracken and peat bog, home to the famously elusive polecat, to foxes, squirrels, pine martens, otters and badgers. For birds, there are curlews, merlins, red kites, hen harriers, dippers, peregrine falcons and both red and black grouse; by streams you can see kingfishers.
It is in the Berwyns that tradition sites Annwn, that Celtic Otherworld with geographically traceable entrances in this one.Â The ruler of Annwn is Gwyn ap Nudd, head of the Tylwyth Teg, the âgood' or âfairy' folk, elusive as any polecat, and his is a peaceful yet merry land. In the early seventh century Gwyn ap Nudd invited Collen onto his stretch of Berwyn moor. Collen was a devout local ascetic, later commemorated in the name of the nearest town, Llangollen (St Collen). The meeting of the two âÂ as set down in Buchedd Collen (Book of Collen 1536) â ended ambiguously. For if Collen was never bothered again by Gwyn or the Tylwyth Teg and went on to sainthood, Gwyn himself continued his sway over his happy realm.
Â Â Â
In September 2009, an eighteen-year-old boy disappeared into the Berwyn Mountains for more than five days. Then on the sixth day the headlines brought relief:
Â Â Â
Missing Berwyn Boy Alive
Helicopter Rescue Drama
We Didn't Dare Hope â Dad
Â Â Â
But by the Tuesday of the next week, the story was changing:Â
Â Â Â
Berwyn Boy Mystery
Was Nat Kempsey Really Lost?
Doubts Grow Over Berwyn Story
Â Â Â
Nat's Dad's Secret Past
And, still more attention-grabbing:
What is the truth of Dad's UFO Encounter?
Pete Kempsey was eighteen when he climbed to the top of Pistyll Rhaeadr at night, hoping to find a new beginning for himself.Â His son, Nat, was the same age when he vanished into the Berwyn terrain.
* * *
For a moment Nat's back there, bouncy, fragrant heather for pillow and mattress, and near his head a spring bubbling out of the ground. And far above him a lark singing to start the day.Â Then he hears his dad clumping up the stairs two at a time, breathing heavily â he's become so out of condition these last two years â and Nat knows exactly where he is. In his room above High Flyers, his dad's kite shop in the little Shropshire town of Lydcastle. And in bed, under doctor's orders. And with a hard-on. Up there waking with one would be something to celebrate in a poem or song. But this wouldn't do for down here.Â Down here nature is something to disguise by rearranging the duvet. He has, he must remember, to be a paragon of virtue; that's how the kinder papers and programmes are presenting him, and he must live up to this image. Dad has now arrived in the bedroom doorway, with his most serious face on.
Pete Kempsey is thinking: âI know even less how to talk to Nat now than before he disappeared, and I wasn't much good at it then.' And somehow things aren't helped by the boy looking so unlike Pete at that age: thin like a character in some cartoon, grey eyes and greyish hair that single him out from any known relative, and irregular teeth not really righted by that hospital operation.Â And every sentence he speaks bringing South London closer.
âNat,' he says, âanother reporter's turned up. This one's from
The Marches Now
. Came here last week. Before we knew where you were.'
On perhaps the blackest of all those mornings, he nearly adds, when I was pretty much certain I'd never see you again.
âHis piece came out on Saturday; I read it before joining the rescue operation.' How long ago that feels! âHe did a fair-enough job, all things considered, even thoughâ¦' It'd be egocentric to quote that smart-arse phrase which so got to him, âHigh Flyers is one of those New Age enterprises which still flourish in rural Britain, even though the Age has largely turned its back on what it once pronounced New.' Shameful enough to have even remembered this with so much else to think about.
âEven though?' persists Nat.
âEven though he did go off at a tangent,' says Pete, âafter all yesterday's hoo-ha, I was beginning to think the press would draw a line under your case today.'
I wasn't beginning to think any such thing, he admits silently, so why say it? It'll only give the lad a false picture of what to expect.
âBut this bloke downstairs,' he continues, âis sure there's more media mileage in you, and he says it'd be better for you to talk to
than to the rest of them. But then he would say that, wouldn't he?'
Nat thinks: But I don't want a line drawn under my case. Has Dad really not worked that out? Maybe it's not only physically he's out-of-condition, what with living and working so much by himself. Aloud: âBad publicity's better than no publicity, Dad. All they print about me â about us,' for his father hasn't been spared,Â âdoes High Flyers no harm. Quite the opposite.'
Pete Kempsey suppresses a wish to snap back at this crass observation. After an ordeal as gruelling as his you couldn't expect the lad to be himself, whatever that might be. Pete's all too aware that in the six years since he left London and Izzie, Nat's mum, for the Welsh Marches, he's failed to keep up con-scientiously with the successive stages of his son's development.Â And by nowâ¦ well, he's developed! Pete doesn't know what to make of how Nat's turned out, let alone of this big vanishing act gaining him so much attention.
âNat, I can't keep this guy waiting much longer. I could tell him it's far too early for you to see him, if you like. Serve him right for barging in before I've opened the shop. I could even tell him that you're just not up to talking to anybody at the moment.'
Too early; not talkingâ¦ shit, thinks Nat, what a strange life I'm living. Far stranger than life âup there'. He mustn't, of course, downplay the health side of things; Dr Warne has told pretty well the whole reading, listening and watching world how Nathaniel Kempsey must rest and take a course of strong medication. In truth, Nat suspects, these later, slower starts to the morning quite suit his dad, for all his grumbing about the journo downstairs.Â But then, he thinks, I've fallen back to sleep twice since Dad brought me that mug of tea, and that's not normal.
âI've always said I'm available to the media, haven't I?' he doesn't mind sounding pompous, âit won't look good if you say I won't see people after what they put yesterday.'
What he also wants to say is, âAnd, you never know, this guy might actually talk money. At last!' Then a bitter little rÃ©sumÃ© flashes in his head, like an ad on the computer screen. âCash tally so far. BBC
who have had two whole,
, interviews with me: zero. BBC
Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser,
âÂ well, they've gone so far as to say they're thinking of a feature;Â “We'll be coming back to you,” But they've made it clear they won't be giving me a thing. And they haven't come back either.Â
â mega-huge circulation! But all it managed was two miserable paragraphs talking about “the Herne Hill boy lost in Welsh desert” when everyone knows the Desert of Wales lies between Rhayader and Tregaron. You'd think they could get people to check that sort of thing, wouldn't you? Anyway, money from that quarter â once again, zilch!'