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They had such strange flowers here, ‘Arthur-lies-sleeping’, what sort of name was that for a flower? And ‘Cadbury bells’ and, he sneezed past his streaming eyes, something in the hedgerows that was giving him hay fever. He never got hay fever … That must have been what made him miss the rock: He stumbled, rolling down, down into the gully into a surprisingly deep, almost little valley, hitting his head on something as he landed. Hey, who turned out the lights?
By the time he woke up, it was getting dark. He was miles from anywhere; though for some reason, he couldn’t actually remember where or even who he was, which was just stupid. Ahead of him, was a rough doorway in the side of the hill. Which was even sillier, you didn’t get doorways in the sides of hills. There was a light coming from somewhere inside this one, though, and a subtle ringing note that seemed to echo inside his head. Or maybe that was just his skull. Here went nothing …
He found himself in a stone chamber with smooth sides and, here and there in the dimness, a few crude carvings.
‘Can I help you?’ said a voice. He spun round to face a young woman in a long blue dress, with long golden-brown hair. She had a candle held out in front of her.
‘I — er …’ he gargled articulately.
‘Or perhaps I can?’ said another voice, full of promise. He spun around again. This one belonged to a lady all in black, her dark hair spilling down around her. ‘You can call me Morgan,’ she added with a little smile as she took his arm. ‘You look like you could do with a drink,’ she said.
He was surprisingly thirsty, actually.
‘And something to eat,’ said the lady in the blue dress, taking his other arm. ‘I’m Gwen, by the way.’
That really was very kind, he thought, as they led him away.
They seemed to be going down into the hillside. Down spiral stairs, down passageways, down deeper and deeper. It was nice and cool here – outside it had been miserable and humid. But there was something else. Even the air seemed strangely refreshing. Or maybe it was just something about the two ladies with him. He didn’t make friends easily, so it was always a nice surprise to meet such friendly people.
They were in a big chamber now, dimly lit at the sides by the light of flaming torches. In front of him over a sort of stone well was what looked to be a bell, big and golden and a bit tarnished. There was a rope hanging down from it. Morgan and Gwen seemed keen for him to go that way. Leaning against it was what looked like an enormous muffled drumstick.
‘Would you mind doing the honours?’ asked Gwen, smiling sweetly.
‘It’s our … dinner bell,’ added Morgan, looking up into his eyes.
He started reaching for the stick.
‘Leave that alone!’ called a voice from the darkness. It was old and crotchety and said that its owner was having a very bad century. He looked around. The girls had suddenly vanished, somehow. Or he couldn’t see them anymore, anyway.
Hobbling out of the darkness came a man with a long, long beard and the bushiest eyebrows he had ever seen. He introduced himself as ‘Merwyn, look-you’ and he sounded vaguely Welsh. He picked up the stick and pushed the round cloth ball of its knobbled end. ‘Been looking for this for I can’t tell you how long,’ he explained.
‘Out with it, boy. State your business. Whatchou looking for down ‘ere, eh? Should be outside, enjoyin’ the sunshine.’
‘—they were here just a moment ago—’
“Merwyn” grew strangely interested when he explained about Morgan and Gwen.
‘Meddlesome strumpets,’ he muttered. ‘Stories, boyo! The valley’s lousy with ‘em. Manifestin’ again, look-you. You’d think they’d be done manfestin’, after all this time. Here, boy, watch what yer doin’ — and mind that bell! Can’t tell you the trouble we ‘ad last time some idiot managed to ring it. Everyone had just got settled down, too … Some nonsense about the Germanians invading again, I ask you … Or was it Franks? Or possibly the Danes? Anyway, no matter, no matter … Just you come along o’ old Merywn, eh, and he’ll show you the way ou—’ BOOOONGGGG …
‘Oh, no, not again …’
‘Sorry — I just tripped …’
In the deep and formless darkness beyond the bell, a light seemed to shine as from above. There was a pedestal, and what looked like an upside-down sword … It was funny, but from the way Merwyn was looking at it, he could have sworn it hadn’t been there just a moment ago.
‘Well, I’ll be,’ muttered Merwyn. ‘After all this time … I’ll give you this, boyo – you certainly don’t look it … Per’aps you’d best come with me …’
Merwyn clamped a companionable arm around him and led him away. From what he was saying, he thought he was being offered a job …