“You will have no need.”
Other than the two on the ground, we all spun round as one. How long the smith had been there I don’t know, but standing there he was. Why the boys never heard or sensed his approach is also a mystery, although I suppose they were too busy concentrating their powers on the victim and his assailant. The man looked at us, his face as ghastly white as the youth’s, the boy who, we now knew, he had been bedding since childhood.
“You will not need to look after him any more. He will come with me. I will clothe him and give him money enough to start on the mainland. What he does then is his decision. I know that he must never return here, and so does he…” The man’s voice choked up, and I knew in that moment that despite his awfulness, his overbearing appearance and attitude, and his cruelty, there was an emotional side to him too. He had a love for this boy, and had done for many, many years. Whether Steve had any for him I have no idea to this day. Although now I know more of people, and of love, I think that he had been bullied into the man’s bed whilst still a child, and love in return had never blossomed. Rather it must have been a resentful acceptance, one that affected his idea of love and made it into a matter of domination rather than mutual respect; a quality that he chose to inflict on the first unattached, good looking boy he saw. Unattached to the Village, that is. That’s Ben’s and my opinion, anyway.
Morning saw seven small sons still asleep in their beds. It saw their parents asleep in theirs too. Carl woke when Jim dragged himself awake and went to teach, then he returned to sleep like the rest. We never witnessed smith’s farewell to Steve, but knew later that it happened, that Steve would be no longer in the Village. Andrew woke even after we did, felt weak and thought that he was starting flu. His father never told him any different.
Gradually life returned to normal. Two weeks later, to their absolute delight, the boys reported that Andrew had started at the Village school. This was news to us, as we hadn’t seen Mr Burton since we had left him that night. We all felt that any move was best made first by him, if for no other reason than Andrew’s wellbeing. But this seemed to mean something else; why would Andrew join the school unless he and his father were planning on staying?
That week, news came through that there was to be a village meeting, the first since the fateful one that launched me into fatherhood. I didn’t want to go. Memories of my own previous appearance in front of the whole Village were still too raw and I was horrified at the thought of facing all those people. It even occurred to me that it would somehow involve me again, and that, six months on.
The smith came to call on the day of the meeting.
“The meeting starts at 6.30 sharp,” he said with no introduction whatsoever. “You’ll be there.”
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“You’ll find out there.”
He turned round to go. Remembering Steve, I was bolder than usual. “Is it about me?”
“Why should it be?”
“I remember last time,” I responded grimly.
He looked at me and gave a short laugh. “No. We shan’t have the delights of seeing you take off your clothes again, unfortunately. “This is something different.”
I sighed with relief as he walked off.
Anywhere we went, the boys had to go. It was even more important that they were there; they were more the Village’s future than most of the local five-year-olds. We told Jim he should go too, but he said he wasn’t enough a part of the Village yet, and hated meetings. Carl wanted to stay with him at home, but knew he had to attend.
In a nutshell, Mr Burton wanted to establish a small weaving business with us. He insisted it was going to be on a small scale, would pay well, and would be run and staffed by local people. He believed that the plaid it made — and that was all it would make — could be sold at a handsome profit on the mainland, giving the Village the chance to improve its living standard by ensuring a fund against drought or flood years. Questioned, he said that he felt a large-scale business was out of keeping with the Village, that making too much would somehow make the plaid less sought after and would devalue it. Asked why he wanted to do this when it was plain he had many other, bigger, business interests he gave a simple reply: “People here have welcomed me, treated me like a normal person again. They have given me hope that not everyone is a cynical grabber, and that there are genuinely nice people in the world. You have also helped me in a time of great personal… er… difficulty. Part of this, I suppose, is to say thank you. Some of you know that my son now goes to school here, and I want your permission to build a house here, if I may.”
That’s good, I said to Ben.
Why? Because Andrew will be around?
I looked at him sharply. There was an amused look in his eyes. I smiled back.
Well, he is good looking…
He poked my thigh. I looked at him, and past him, and met with a row of seven grinning five-year-old faces. Damn. I’d forgotten they could “hear” what we said to each other.
But they agreed with us that it was good news.
The meeting dragged on. There were those who wanted nothing to change in the Village. There were those who could see that, more and more, we had to rely on goods and help for some of the more modern things from the mainland. And so it went on. At last the fidgeting beside us grew to a peak — then as suddenly stopped. I looked at them, anxiously.
The speaker of the moment was one of the Village’s most died-in-the-wool old women, except it was a man. He had come to the end of a sentence and now just stood there, openmouthed.
Apparently just about to speak, but silent.
I looked sharply back at the boys. Yes, their eyes were fixed on him, boring into him. I cleared my throat in their direction, and one by one they turned to look at me, a look of pure innocence. In fact, just the sort of innocence I used to use at home when I’d done something wrong.
They grinned. And the man started speaking again:
“Of course, I could be wrong about it, and this could be just the thing for the Village, as others have said.”
My eyebrows lifted in resignation. It was obvious what the boys thought.
Mr Burton got the go-ahead to build both a mill and a house for himself and his family. Odd: I’d ever thought about there being a mother. There were conditions, of course, to ensure it was built with Village labour, of local materials and to a suitable design so it was in keeping with the other houses in the Village. Similarly with the house.
The most suitable place seemed to be on the site of the houses which had burnt down, where Carl had lived. He was asked for his view on that, and after some thought said it was about time the ghosts were exorcised. The meeting was about to continue when his hand went up again.
“Could there be… would it be possible…” He gulped, as if afraid to go on. “Could there be some sort of memorial to my parents left there?”
A silence. Then from Mr Burton: “If you would allow it, I would like there to be a garden there, maintained by money from the weaving, and worked on by you when you wanted to. And yes, it would be for quiet relaxation, and for children to play in, There would be a memorial which we could talk about too. Would you allow that?”
And Carl nodded, and I knew there were tears in his eyes.
The start of building work on the mill and the house came at just the right time, when the harvest was in and there was less work in the fields. Good progress was made. The weather seemed kind. Ben, the boys and I knew why that was: we had given the news to an ecstatic Angharad and a silently approving Gwaed when we went to visit them in the Glade the weekend after the meeting.
It was interesting seeing the gradual growth of the new mill from the dereliction of the burnt out houses which up to that point no one had had the heart — or the stomach — to demolish or to renew. Carl was both upset and pleased by the whole thing. Upset because the reminders of both happiness and horror were being removed; pleased, though, because it was being removed and would no longer cause him pain to visit or even to pass it, and was going to be used for a good purpose. And, of course, there would be a place there which, whilst open to all, would be his alone to visit, to spend time in, and to deal with as he pleased.
Everyone was busy building, watching, learning, teaching, farming, weaving that autumn. It seemed no time at all before the boys’ first Christmas, and Ben and my first Christmas together. It seemed to me that, with the last of September and the beginning of October, the boys had grown a little taller, more so than I’d expect, but I put it down to my imagination.
“It’ll be Christmas soon,” I remember musing one day.
“What’s a Christmas?” said Padraig. “Do we all get one?”
Twelve more ears pricked up.
“Christmas is a special time of year,” I said, remembering that their “religion” was not actually religion; it was fact. “Christmas celebrates Christ’s birthday.”
“You mean Jesus who started the church?”
“Because he’s special.”
“Because he’s another one who was the son of The Spirit. But people got it wrong about him for ages.” That wasn’t me speaking, but Padraig. I looked at him.
“We learnt about it at school. Remember? People did horrible things to him although all he wanted to do was make things better. Then they killed him and some of his friends. Then there was a lot of trouble about what it all meant and it ended up with people killing other people in his name, and getting killed or tortured themselves. And all the time everyone was forgetting that he wanted to make people’s lives better, not worse or shorter.”
“Did he make the trouble, then?” asked Hamish.
“No. He told people the truth about themselves and what they were doing to each other. Some got better, and others ignored him and went on being bad. And it went on like that for years.”
I didn’t know what to say. Everything he’d said was true. Simple, but true. And people were still confused. And the church just talked about the mystery of faith when really it was so simple.
“He must have been good if people still remember him,” said Aidan, my namesake.
“Shall we have a Christmas, then?” asked Ruadridh.
“Christmas is wonderful!” I said. “Yes, we’ll all share one, and all my brothers and my Dad will come, And Ben’s, and it’ll be great.”
My mind felt a sudden pain, a Carl type pain, and I looked at him hurriedly. He was, well, if not stony faced then less than happy looking.
What’s up with Carl?
I think it’s just that his parents can’t come.
I crossed to Carl and hugged him, much to his and Jim’s surprise. I’d forgotten. Christmases must have been like birthdays, not just tinged with sadness but full of unfulfillable might-have-beens. Christmas could actually be something he hated. But now we had the boys…
“I’m sorry, Carl. I never thought. What do you want us to do?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know, that’s the trouble. Perhaps we could ask the Woods. After all, they looked after me for years, until I got too big for them to cope with. And they’ve got nobody. In fact…” He swallowed. “…I’ve never even been to see them since the boys arrived.”
I looked surprised. “You’d better go and make peace with them, then, and invite them too.”
I looked at Ben. “The more the merrier.”
It was a memorable Christmas, the first of many. With Ben and his parents, Carl and the Woods, my father and six brothers, the seven boys and Jim, who had decided to stay with us and take Carl to see his parents for the new year celebrations, there were no fewer than twenty-one of us. Cooking was a logistical nightmare, and we were delighted when Carl’s parents, the Woods and Jim decided to take over in the kitchen and released the rest of us to play silly games. The chaos caused by sixteen boys between the ages of five and twenty-two had to be seen to be believed. And yes, I include the two of my brothers who were over twenty at the time. The term ‘boy’ was appropriate for each of them because that’s how they behaved. Normally they were quite quiet and sensible, but the presence of so many, some of whom were uninhibited five-year-olds, made normal behaviour impossible. Until the Christmas meal was ready, of course. At the start of it we were all told by my father in no uncertain terms to clear up, act like adults, and go and wash our hands. He said it with a twinkle in his eye, though, and my brothers and I could tell he was trying not to laugh. Such is the power of the five-year-old; we older ones would hardly have got away with it for so long. At the end of the meal we were all so replete that the only thing to do was to sit down and talk, or to go to sleep.
And during the tiredness of full stomachs we talked, and there came words which showed that the older ones there still cared for, and cared deeply about, those for whom they had once been responsible.
At last, Ben and I excused ourselves, and took the boys with us, saying that we should return in a few hours. He and I had felt a pressing need to visit the Dell on this of all days, despite the cold of winter. There was a quiet understanding from Ben’s and my family, though puzzlement from the Woods.
We kept clothed until we reached the entrance to the tunnel. At least there we were sheltered from the wind, and the chill seemed to be less. As we made our way, shivering, through into the grove, the air calmed and grew warmer. Through to the Dell we went, and found it welcoming as always. We sat on the soft grass which, despite winter, was still whole and clean, free of dirt.
The boys knew that this could be a place of play, or a place of quiet, or a place of love, although it was early for them to understand the physical needs and delights that Ben and I enjoyed. For that reason we two never allowed full reign to our feelings when they were there, not because we thought it was wrong, but because we didn’t want fourteen eyes and seven voices penetrating our emotions. Tonight was a time of quiet, with the boys and us sitting in a circle, and thinking. And of course, with neither play nor lovemaking taking place, Angharad and Gwaed visited us. She looked radiant and young and loveable, and so in fact did he. They each looked healthy and happy, and had become bigger than the passage of time would have you think. They said nothing, but room was made for them in the circle so the girl could sit and the fawn could stand quietly. Our minds were filled with the beauty of the birth of things and of their growing, and of the natural imperatives that govern the world: the need to eat, to make love, to seek peace, to have leisure, to feed the spirit… and the need for each of us to look to the needs of the others.
It was the gift of the Sprit. Simply. It was also the message of Christmas. In that short spell it seemed that everything we felt and experienced could dovetail with everything else in our minds that so that we became aware of there being a great truth near to us, a great and obvious truth whose presence we could feel but whose fashion we could not see.
At last the spell passed, yet a measure of its magic remains with us.
Angharad and Gwaed hugged or nuzzled each of us in turn and then silently vanished. We stretched, stood, bowed toward the trees where they had disappeared and turned for the tunnel, for our clothes, and for our home and our other family.
It was the first of many happy Christmases. Seasons where bonds were renewed between parents and children, carers and cared, brothers and sister, physical and spiritual. A combination of our youth, youth which sees magic in that season over all others, and the meaning of Christmas to the Christian community in the Village which, of course involved us too, has always been particularly strong with us. Easter, and birthdays — especially the boys’ — mean a lot too, but it was only at Christmas, at that age, time and place, that a special magic filled us all.
The boys developed at a more sensible rate over the next seven years. The frenzy of their making up for five years of mental development to suit their five year old bodies was now over. Maturity seeped into them as gradually and as reluctantly as it does us all. One thing we all noticed after a while, though. They seemed to do most of their growing in late April and May, then at a slower pace through the heat of the summer. By the start of September they usually gained no height at all and just as we were beginning to get worried they’d put on half an inch. When we first started, as new parents, to measure such things we did get worried, especially when their height remained stationary from October to the next spring. And it was that word, of course, that brought home to us once again that these were drakes: children of ours and of our seed sown in love they may be, but they were also children of the earth. As all fruits of the earth have a time to grow and a time to mature, so did they, in sympathy with the Spirit of natural things.
In only one thing did they refuse to grow old. The love of playing, in the summer, in hot weather and not so hot, unclothed. Toward the end of that period, as they passed eleven and headed for twelve years of age we noticed that most of the girls they would play with, and some of the boys, stayed away from their games. I learnt later that some had grown too mentally old and were embarrassed, whilst others were influenced by parents who thought it unacceptable that older girls should mix with older boys, or who thought that mischief could result.
But still there were about two teams worth who could play five-a-side football happily naked. And Carl. Ben and I would sit and watch to ensure that the larger bodies now hurtling around didn’t get so boisterous that they could harm each other. Jim… poor old Jim was torn, because he felt that as the teacher — or past teacher, as he stuck to the real juniors still — should have no part in it; yet he wanted so much to be with Carl. The two had mended all differences over the months and years, particularly over Christmases, and were now as much of an item as Ben and me. Ben and me! I look at his body now I’m twenty and wonder what would I have thought of bringing to an orgasm the twenty-two year old Ben all those years ago in the office at the back of the village hall. He’s taller, and a lot broader, and has more hair… but then not too much on his chest and so on, so he doesn’t appear to be the bear that some older men are. The smith, for example. Ugh!… yet he had become more mellow since the boy Steve had been banished. Me? My thirteen-year-old self seemed to have got taller suddenly, so that at fifteen I had probably looked like a beanpole with extra bulges here and there. And of course it was those bulges that Ben used to love, and which more and more I loved him to play with. Used to? What am I saying? We are still very much in love and that’s the way it will stay. He still says that because I’m so thin it makes it look bigger than it really is. I do hit him occasionally.
The new mill was doing well. Neil Burton had impressed us with his humanity and the way he was operating the business. He’d appointed a manager, though it was understood that when that man reached retirement Andrew would take over. But what impressed us was that he resisted all attempts to increase the output over a certain amount. “No,” he would say, “I’m not going to make it grow. At the moment it’s a good, friendly place to work where people look after each other in so many ways, it’s happy, it’s effective, and it’s profitable for the Village and…” a pause and an honest grin “… for me.” Another, longer pause, and a wider grin. “And not having more of the Island’s cloth on a market that’s crying out for it keeps it in fashion and the price nice and high. And that’s good for us all.”
We could see the logic. Both Ben and I had done a bit of economics at school. Besides, there was never any shortage of plaid for Village inhabitants. Many houses still wove their own, and there was always some available at what both Neil and the mill manager described as cost price. We had started to get onto the tourist track too, and some of the old shops in the Village started to open at odd times to cater for them. Not too many came as far as our cottage, though, which was probably as well if they were liable to be put off by ten or so naked twelve year olds playing football. It was only when he was about fifteen that Andrew stopped coming up to the games regularly. He was concerned what his girlfriend might think, and wasn’t too keen on the prospect of her and her friends seeing him naked in public. But we had watched him play with them in summer, unashamed, from the age of twelve when we first knew him. It was at that age that I had been deemed ready to start our Family, and although his body was behind mine in the growth of the bits that made it possible for me to be a father, there were times particularly after play when it was very obvious that manhood was flowing in his veins and that he would soon be catching me up. Through the magic ages of thirteen and fourteen we had been privileged to watch him grow, and he me from time to time when I too threw caution to the winds and joined in. I had few of his worries. My love knew what I looked like — but then, so did most of the Village. It worried me more as I got older, but common sense overcame the worries. So what? Nobody was criticising or laughing at me. And I’d got bigger since then, too.
Over the years the newly mellowed smith became more approachable, less gruff, more accepting that we were doing a good job as parents. At first his smile was greeted with cynicism and suspicion, but he never was again the insulting, domineering bully that the whole Village had secretly hated. We had no idea what it was about Steve that had made him like that, but the latter’s departure was always cited as the man’s turning point. Once again, when the boys were physically twelve, at Christmas when we had returned from the Grove, he appeared. He’d visited on a few occasions before, but had never given cause for concern, and this one seemed to be no different.
“I won’t stop,” he started by saying. “It’s just that I’ve — well — come to a decision.” I had answered the door, and Ben appeared behind me. We were still not absolutely sure of him, so didn’t automatically invite him in. “I’m getting old, Aidan. It’s plain to me that because of what’s happened in the past…” A shadow passed across his face, but he continued a little grimly, I thought. “…I’m not a part of the Spirit world any more. My times at the Glade have passed. It must be you now, you and Ben, who do what is needed, and after you, the boys.” He paused, and smiled; even now a quite rare event in itself.
“We’ve got the Village going again,” he went on, “and you are the natural heirs to the duty I did for so many years. I’m sad to let go, but feel it’s the right thing to do.” He stopped, and was obviously waiting for something to be said.
“We will…” I started. “But won’t you come in? It’s cold out there.”
He smiled again. “No, thank you. I’m not good in large crowds, and you have a good gathering in there. Just promise me you’ll do what is needed, and that if you need help or advice you’ll come and see me.”
“I can promise you that,” I said, feeling elated for us and also sad for him to be giving up something that was so important to all of us and which had been part of his life for so long. And after some more pleasantries, that was that. He went on his way, and left us happier than we had been for some time, but slightly bemused about why he’d chosen that particular point to tell us the decision.
The spring of that year seemed to burst around us. Usually, spring creeps in so slowly that it’s only when it’s well under way that people start noticing — unless, of course, they work on the land in some way on a daily basis. That year it was almost as if one day it was winter, and the next the grass was growing greener, the trees were in bud and birds were returning in flocks from their winter migration. The effect on everyone was electric. People, too, seemed to cast off their winter quietness and worries like blankets on a hot night. To meet someone was to experience happiness, their happiness at the obvious change in the season and the growing and the warmth which had all so suddenly happened. Even those whose opinion of our special family was still a little uncertain — and after all that time there were some — welcomed the sight of us in the street. The smith even asked us all if we would join him in his garden, just for the sake of it, and not without some misgivings we agreed. It was well that we did, because he was in as good a mood as we’d almost come to expect in these later days, and he reflected the general euphoria of the Island’s inhabitants. We talked about the early days of his stewardship of the Glade, and the quiet magic that he, too, had found there, though in retrospect I doubted it was as deep a communion with the earth Spirits that we were enjoying. He had, after all, never sired the Island’s future hopes as we had. We were tactful, so was he. The two separate and potentially unpleasant subjects of Steve and of the events following my years of examination by the Elders never came up.
The boys were settling into a strange state so far as relationships with the Village were concerned. Increasingly we had been encountering visitors to the house at times when people thought they would be there, and at times when if the visitor had thought at all it would have been obvious that they weren’t. They were at school. Most frequently it was someone who was anxious about their own or someone else’s health, someone asking to see Efan.
The first few times he helped them or the affected person without thinking, and always with a positive outcome. But there came a terrible day, when he was still mentally and physically just twelve, when he found that nothing he could do for his bedridden, gasping patient would save him, that all he could do was lift the burden of pain so that the death was quiet and serene. Along with the man’s family he was in tears when he felt the death, the sudden absence in the room of a Being. Having never experienced death before he was at a loss to understand why, why it had to happen, why nothing he could do brought the man back to health again. Before the family could say or do anything he had slipped from the room, naked as he was, and, naked, ran back to his home, sobbing and distraught. We — Ben, Carl and I, had to explain that sometimes a part of the body was so badly damaged by injury, by disease, even just by old age, that nothing could repair it. We drew parallels with the plants and trees that he understood best, and asked if he would be able to save a tree on which ivy had been flourishing for so long that it had strangled growth to the branches for years. Sadly he shook his head.
“It’s like that with humans,” explained Carl. “Perhaps if whatever is wrong is found in time you can help. But if not, the part itself withers and the body can’t do without it. And you can’t build another part.”
He understood, at least a little, and became calmer though no less sad. The family understood his sudden departure when we explained it all to them when on the visit to retrieve his clothes.
After that we discovered he had seen the doctor — the same one who had examined my physical progress all those years previously — and had told him what he was able to do and had been doing. Unsurprisingly, the man knew. He had heard too many tales from his patients. He tried to discover Efan’s methods, but all the boy could tell him was that ‘I know what to do.’
After several such talks, Efan started talking to the doctor about different people who had come to him, and before long the talks became regular case conferences. The two started working together, something almost unbelievable when one of the participants is formally untrained, being twelve, and the other fully experienced and fifty. For anyone who called him who didn’t object to their ‘doctor’ being young and naked when treating them, he was the answer to their prayers.
The other person who was called on was, in a way, even more unlikely. Hamish. The boy who had started off by solving playground disputes had been asked by his peers to get involved in some of the occasional disputes that arose between neighbours. Previously they had always been taken to Village meetings, usually at the smith’s insistence. But the quiet boy, listening to arguments from one side or the other, always seemed to ask questions in a way that made the protagonists stop and think. He seemed able to pour oil onto trouble waters in such a way that the two sides would not only talk and shake hands on a solution, but would bear no grudge. Indeed, they usually believed it had been their own political efforts that had brokered the agreement. Hamish’s part in it was forgotten — but not by the onlookers.
For his part, Ifor, who had proved that he could work with stone and metal — albeit destructively to start with — was often called to the new mill because he could understand the machines and ‘see’ what was wearing or had broken. And he found he could similarly ‘see’ the cause of breakdowns in other machinery. Even the Village’s increasingly ancient bus, by the time he had worked with the mechanic, had got that man’s astonished respect and the bus itself sounding healthier than it had for years.
The others have their own specialities too, and are known, liked and respected increasingly. The one thing they have in common is that they tell the truth even when it hurts, yet at need are gentle and kind and mature beyond their years.
The boys were now, both mentally and physically, approaching thirteen. Never identical in looks or character — or spiritual speciality — their bodies were nevertheless developing apace. When playing football in summer I could see that, were they to be called on to do as I had done all those years ago, they would have the potency to be successful. Oh, they were still as slim and as hairless as children, yet the semen was very obviously being stored in each low-hanging, delicate scrotum. At times their antics at football that required them to dodge their bodies with such abandon and grace worried me unless it went wrong, when those areas particularly could so easily be damaged. The same antics must surely have resulted in discomfort to the gradually thickening, lengthening penises that at times in the game appeared to be twirling around like so many pieces of string. Or rather, and increasingly, rope. It was spring, and their growth spurt was on them.
And they, of course, had no Elders or Father to tell them that they must never bring themselves to an orgasm in their night time explorations. It was fortunate that we were blessed with a good supply of bedlinen and capacious washing lines.
Every year as the anniversary of the first sowing of our seed in the Glade drew near I wondered if we should somehow celebrate it. Apart from taking the boys up there to the scene of their painful and dangerous births, we had done nothing. This year, though, seemed special. They had reached the same age as we had been when we had sired them, discounting the first six years of growth that had happened in so few months. Once again I felt hot at the humiliation I had endured, for although it had turned out not to have been wasted it had still been mighty embarrassing.
On one of our family wanders we encountered the smith, still happy, still placid, and full of bonhomie that would have been unheard of only a few years previously. He stopped us, as he always did.
“You’ll know, of course, that it’s their birthday soon?”
I admitted that there was little else on our mind.
“I realise you’ll want to celebrate as a family and in your own way, but I’d really like it if you could come and have a meal with me. All of you, that is. I’ve worked it out that I have just enough room for the seven and you two, and me. I feel I owe you an apology for the way I started off, and along with the rest of the Village I owe you respect for what you’ve done and are continuing to do, and really something else for the way it all started.”
Well, that last was certainly true. As to the rest, well, it was nice to have his recognition. I felt that we should go. The smith’s attitude had improved beyond recognition over the last years since Steve had been banished that it would have been wrong to have refused him. Ben silently agreed. Carl and Jim could not come because, as the man apologetically pointed out, there would not have been enough room for them. So the date was set.
It turned out to be a lively affair. The boys had all but forgotten their mistrust of the man. His change from a surly bully into a quite pleasant, even rather shy seeming man had been gradual but seemed genuine. As soon as we had drunk our first, the natural family teasing and laughter had started and even eventually even involved the smith. Bonhomie went from good to better. The laughter was frequent and genuine. The food was simple yet well prepared and plentiful and we ate our fill. At last we were invited to sit comfortably and relax. Conversation continued, all subjects were explored. A feeling of wellbeing and warmth surrounded us and we were as relaxed as we ever had been, something of a miracle when you remember who we were with. At last conversation flagged and I could tell that, special or not, the boys had hit the tiredness barrier. Regretfully, I made to look at my watch.
And found that I couldn’t move.
Nothing had happened. I was not being restrained by an physical thing. Nevertheless all I found I could do was breathe and move my eyes. Talk was beyond my ability. I found it impossible to make the words to say I was unwell or even call for help. I could hear, but there was nothing to hear apart from the smith’s voice. But even that was making no sense. Of Ben and the boys there was no sound. Bu swivveling my eyes to the right I could just see three of them. None was moving. Their eyes seemed wide and horrified.
I felt my own eyes widen as they looked up — not that their doing so was the result of my effort or will. My mind felt like lead and I knew that I would be unconscious in a few moments. Just as the darkness took me I heard the smith call: “All right, Steve. Bring them in. We can start.”