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Beyond the Dreaming (part 2)
Pushing his chair back from the table, Bran picked up his plate, guiltily glancing at his mother as he did so.
'Not hungry cariad?' she questioned, sympathy evident in her tone.
Bran shook his head wordlessly, and headed to the sink to wash his plate and mug. Fly heaved herself up from her place in front of the fire and padded across to him, tail waving gently. She sat at his feet, waiting for the scraps she knew would be hers to appear in her bowl.
'Spoilt that dog is,' Bryn muttered gruffly, 'only dog in the valley to sleep in the house and eat bacon and sausage for breakfast.'
Fly trotted across to Bryn, where he still sat at the table with a last mug of tea. Resting her head on his knee, she whined enquiringly, as if to say 'But I'm worth it aren't I?' The big man laughed and stroked her soft head, then, standing abruptly, he stretched and said 'Right, there's work to be done boy, let's get to it!'
With that, the kitchen door opened letting in a blast of arctic air, and Dai Williams, the farm's foreman, walked in brushing snow from his greying hair. Mair raised an arched brow at him.
'Where is your sense, Dai Williams, not to be wearing a hat in this weather, and wetting my floor because of it!'
Dai muttered an apology, and moved towards the fire to warm himself.
'It's getting bad out there Bryn, roads will be impassable before long I reckon. The lane was tricky and the main road worse, and not a sign of a snow plow or gritter anywhere.'
Bryn glanced at Mair,
'Are you sure you want to come to the village cariad? I'm sure I could pick up the things you need without too much trouble.'
Mair shook her head firmly.
'No Bryn, I'd rather see to things myself, then if I forget something I've only myself to blame. You know your memory isn't the best these days.' she said dryly.
Bryn chuckled. 'Well the sooner we go, the sooner we'll be back, get your coat now and let's be off.'
Soon Bran was left with the silent kitchen and the echoes of his parents laughter. Gathering the rest of the dishes together, he slowly and methodically cleared away the breakfast things, washed up and made sure everything was in its place. His Mam was very particular about such things.
Moving to the coat rail, he lifted his warm jacket down from the peg and began to bundle himself up ready for the wintry weather outside. Fly, sensing that it was time to go to work, began to dance around his feet. Pulling on his still sodden boots in the porch, Bran looked once more at the door, but it just looked as it always had, thick and solid, made to keep out the cold winter winds that were so common in the valley, made to keep the people inside safe, and the bad things out..
Pushing such thoughts firmly to the back of his mind, Bran headed out into the farmyard and stumped across the thickening snow to meet Dai in the barn, Fly frisking at his heels. The snow fell steadily, the skies above leaden and heavy, promising much more to come, and an icy wind sprang up, eager to nip at any exposed skin it could find.
Bran found Dai in the barn, rearrranging the stack of fragrant hay that kept the animals fed through the Winter months. His thin, wiry build disguised a strength only equalled by Bryn.
'Ah, good timing Bran, I'm just about done here,' Dai said pleasantly, 'let's get a move on and get these silly animals sorted out. Are you ready?'
Bran nodded and picked up his crook which was leaning against the barn wall.
Dai headed out into the whirling whiteness, followed closely by Bran and Fly. Together the three of them began the steady slog up the mountainside to the pasture where the ewes were grazing.
Within a short time, Bran was sweating with the effort of forging through the lying snow and steady rise of the hillside. Fly bounded ahead, looking comically like a spring lamb, ice balls clinging to her underbelly and the feathery fur on her legs.
At last, the incline became less pronounced as they reached the flatter mountaintop. Bran and Dai stopped to take a rest, breath short and faces flushed, both from the exhertion and the freezing air. Looking around, Bran tried to spot the sheep that he knew should be there, but with the wind whipping the snow up, and drifts beginning to form against the drystone walls, it was impossible to see anything clearly.
'Damn animals,' Dai growled, 'never where you expect them to be. I'll go and look towards the stream, you take Fly up to the stone circle and see if they've taken shelter there. Any problems, whistle.'
With that, he turned and stumped off into the wall of whiteness which was beginning to fall with increasing intensity. By the time Bran counted to three, he had disappeared completely. Heading towards the standing stones, Bran gave Fly a command that sent her running ahead. He was hopeful Dai was right and the sheep had taken shelter within the circle. The huge slabs of grey granite would act as a windbreak somewhat, and the snow wouldn't be as thick there. If the sheep were there, Fly would begin to round them up making Bran's job a lot easier.
The stones suddenly loomed out of the whiteness, their dark bulk striking in their contrast. The wind had reached a new peak, and shrieked and howled like a banshee, battering at Bran's ears as he entered the sheltering circle of stones. The sheep were nowhere to be seen. Then, there was silence. The wind died as if it had never existed, as if someone had flicked a switch and turned it off. The circle stood as hushed as a church, the silence almost as deafening as the wind had been. In the centre of the circle stood Fly, stiff legged, with the fur on the back of her neck raised into prickling hackles. From deep within her chest a low rumbling growl broke the unearthly quiet, and in response, the hairs on the back of Bran's neck rose also. Walking across to his dog, Bran reached down to stroke her.
'What is it girl?'
The dog did not respond. Her gaze was fixed on the far side of the circle. Bran shifted uneasily, his eyes moving around looking for some sign of danger.
'I see you, Bran Evans.'
Looking quickly to the direction the vibrant voice had come from, Bran saw a figure which appeared to coalesce from the whirling snow storm. Standing in the circle was a girl. She appeared to be no more than ten or eleven years old, and was dressed in a simple white shift that exposed her bare arms to the bitter chill. Her feet were bare and her skin was as pale as marble. Hair as white as the snow on the ground, cascaded down her back in loose curls, and her eyes were pale blue chips of ice, as hard and cold as the lake in Winter.
'Who are you?' Bran whispered hoarsely, fear catching the words in his throat.
'Never mind who I am, Bran Evans, the question is, who are you?'
She giggled, but the sound held no joy, instead it dripped venom, freezing the blood in Bran's veins. Her tiny pearl like teeth glistened, and Bran shivered as the evil in her gaze wrapped around him, squeezing the breath from his chest.
'I come to give a warning you would do well to heed, Bran Evans.' she stated coldly, 'Do not think you can meddle in my affairs for you shall never succeed. I shall rule this mortal realm, and I shall revel in mankind's demise. You and your kind are no threat to me.'
Her voice held an imperious ring, arrogance and self confidence visible in the haughty tilt of her head.
She laughed again, the sound dreadful in Bran's ears, it rose to a crescendo, and he clapped his hands over his ears in an attempt to block out the sound, but it was inside his head, piercing and painful. He began to feel light headed and swayed where he stood, on the brink of unconsciousness, when Fly suddenly came to life. Moving towards the girl, she appeared to grow in size, a golden glow surrounded her, and Bran no longer saw his beloved Welsh Collie, but a silvery grey wolf, huge and dreadful. She opened her jaws as if to attack, but instead, the bell like sound Bran had heard that morning in the farmyard, rang out, sweet and beautiful, drowning out the dread laughter of the girl. With a shriek of anger, she disappeared, merging once more into the whirl of drifting snowflakes, and the circle stood silent.
Bran sank to his knees and buried his head in his hands, breathing heavily. A warm tongue licked his face and Bran looked up to see Fly sat gazing at him placidly. She whined and placed a paw on his knee and he reached out and hugged her to him fiercely.
'Bran?' Dai's voice called.
Getting shakily to his feet, Bran walked slowly towards Dai who was coming towards him across the stone circle.
'Good Lord, are you alright boy? You look as if you've seen Dera herself!'
'I just felt a bit faint for a moment Dai, I didn't have much breakfast this morning, I expect that's what caused it.'
Dai grunted in agreement. Slipping his arm around Bran's shoulders, he helped him to a rock, onto which Bran sank gratefully. Squinting up through the falling snow, Bran looked at Dai's concerned face and said, 'Dera? Who would that be Dai?'
Dai chuckled. 'Surely you've heard the story of Dera, Bran? Old as these hills it is, used to frighten children into behaving themselves by mothers at the end of their tethers! This circle was supposed to be a doorway into her realm, or so the story goes.. but that's all it is boy, just a story. Come on now, I've found those blasted sheep, let's get them down the hill, and you into the warmth. You need something hot in your belly, that will soon sort you out.'
Half an hour later, the sheep were munching contentedly on the hay Dai and Bran had hefted into the walled paddock next to the farm.
'I think I'll be getting off now Bran, before I'm stranded here for the night.' Dai said worriedly, 'Will you be alright now? Your Mam and Da should be home before much longer.'
'I'll be fine Dai, I'll warm some of Mam's soup up, she made a big pot yesterday. I'm sure they'll be hungry and cold when they get home, and you're right, I need to eat something too.'
Bran prayed silently that Dai would leave, he needed to be alone for a while to think about the strange event at the stone circle. Had it really happened? Had he encountered Dera herself? And had Fly really transformed into a large wolf? Could this frightening experience be connected in some way to the dream..? He was beginning to believe he was going mad. Weeks of poor sleep and little food were beginning to take its toll, things like that just didn't happen.. Did they?