“Llanfair.” The driver read out the battered sign beside the road. “I thought this might be a good place to start.” He changed down a gear and the Jag slowed with a discontented growl. A village appeared ahead—a mere cluster of cottages, nestled under the steep, green walls of the mountain pass.
The woman in the passenger seat leaned forward to peer through the windscreen. It was hard to tell her exact age—the long straight hair and lack of makeup, coupled with the jeans and T-shirt, made her look, at first glance, like a teenager, but a closer inspection put her in her thirties. She studied the gray stone cottages, the sheep on the high hillsides, the mountain stream dancing over rocks as it passed under the old stone bridge. “It’s worth a try,” she said. “Certainly remote enough. No supermarket, no video store, and no satellite dishes on the roofs. And it’s got the proverbial pub where jolly locals meet.”
The Jag slowed to a crawl as they approached the square black-and-white-timbered building. A swinging pub sign outside announced it to be the Red Dragon. “I don’t see too many jolly locals around right now,” he said. “The place looks deserted. Where is everybody?”
“Perhaps it’s the Welsh version of
They only come out once every hundred years.” She laughed. “Oh, wait a second.
Here’s somebody.” A young girl with wild blond curls had come out of the pub. She began hopefully wiping off the outdoor tables, although the sky was heavy with the promise of rain. A loud yell from across the street made her look up. There was a row of shops directly opposite the pub. G. Evans, Cyggyd (with the word “Butcher” underneath in very small letters), R. Evans, Dairy Products, and then, preventing an Evans monopoly, T. Harris, General Store (and Sub Post Office).
A large, florid man in a blood-spattered apron had come out of the butcher’s shop, and was now shouting and waving a cleaver. The two occupants of the car looked at each other uncertainly as the cleaver-waving and shouting continued.
“Jolly locals?” He gave a nervous chuckle.
The young girl appeared to be unfazed by the tirade. She tossed her mane of blond hair and yelled something back and the butcher burst out laughing. He waved the cleaver good-naturedly and went back into his shop. The young girl glanced at the Jag, then gave the last table a half-hearted wipe before going back into the pub.
“What the hell was that all about?” The woman in the car asked. “Was that Welsh they were speaking?”
“I don’t suppose it was Russian, honey. We are in the middle of Wales.”
“But I didn’t realize people actually spoke Welsh! I thought it was one of those ancient languages you study at Berkeley. You might have warned me. I could have taken a crash language course. It’s going to make things more difficult.”
He put out his hand and patted her knee. “It will be fine. They all speak English too, you know. Now why don’t you hop out and test the waters, huh?”
“You want me to get hacked to death by a cleaver? Do you suppose they’re all violent up here in the mountains? I’d imagine there’s a lot of inbreeding.”
“There’s only one way to find out.” He grinned as he gave her a gentle nudge. “And this was your idea, remember.”
“Our idea. We planned it together.”
He looked at her for a long moment. “I have missed you, Emmy.”
“Me too. I didn’t think it would take so long. I’m damned jealous, you know.”
“You don’t have to be.”
An elderly man in a cloth cap and tweed jacket came down the street at a fast pace and disappeared into the pub. A couple of women walked past, deep in conversation, with shopping baskets on their arms. They wore the British uniform for uncertain weather—plastic macks and head scarves over gray permed hair. They paused to give the car an interested glance before settling at the bus stop.
“I should get out of here,” the man said. “I shouldn’t be noticed. There’s a big hotel higher up the pass—you can’t miss it. It looks like a damned great Swiss chalet—ugly as hell. I’ll wait for you up there, okay?”
“All right. Give me about an hour.” She opened the door and was met by a fresh, stiff breeze. “Gee, it’s freezing up here. I’ll need to buy thermal underwear if we decide that this place will do.”
“Start at the pub,” he suggested. “At least we know somebody’s there.”
She nodded. “Good idea. I could use a drink.” Her thin, serious face broke into a smile. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” he said. “This is a crazy idea, Emmy. It damned well better work.”
The big car moved up the street. Emmy pushed her long dark hair out of her face as she opened the heavy oak door and went into the Red Dragon pub.
She stepped into a warm and inviting room. A long, polished oak bar ran almost the whole length of one wall, and the matching beam above it was decorated with horse brasses. A fire was burning in a huge fireplace at the far end. The girl with the wild blond hair was standing behind the bar, talking to the old man and a couple of young men in mud-spattered work overalls. The low murmur of conversation in Welsh ceased the moment the stranger was noticed.
“Can I help you, miss?” the girl asked in lilting English.
Emmy joined the men at the bar. “Sure. What beer do folks drink around here?”
“That would be Robinson’s,” the girl answered. “Although some like their Guinness or a Brains, even though it comes from South Wales. I don’t know why we stock it, personally.”
“Weak as water,” the old man muttered.
“Okay. I’ll take a half-pint of Robinson’s then.”
The barmaid glanced at the men. She was looking distinctly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, but ladies usually drink in the lounge, if you don’t mind. Why don’t you go through and I’ll take your order.”
“Okay.” Emmy managed a smile. This wasn’t an occasion for making waves. “Would you mind directing me to the lounge?”
“It’s through that doorway.”
Emmy went through the open archway and found herself in a much colder room dotted with several polished wood tables and leather-upholstered chairs. There was a fireplace in this room too, but the fire wasn’t alight. Along one wall there was a long oak bar. Emmy was amused to realize it was the back of the same bar where the men were standing. The girl with the hair had turned to face her.
“Found it all right, did you then?”
“Is this some sort of law in Wales?” Emmy asked. “The women in one bar and the men in the other, I mean.”
“Oh, no,” the barmaid said. “Not the law exactly. It’s just the way it’s always been, isn’t it? And the men don’t feel they can chat properly when there are ladies present. They might use bad language or want to tell a joke.”
Emmy smiled at the quaintness. “So the ladies sit alone in here and discuss knitting patterns?”
“To tell you the truth, the ladies don’t come to the pub very often on their own. And if they’re with their man, why then they all sit together in the lounge.” She turned back to the elderly man leaning on the bar. “Isn’t that right, Charlie? I was saying that women don’t come to the pub much on their own.”
“They don’t come much at all,” Charlie replied, “seeing as we’re usually here around the time when they have to be home, cooking our dinners. Besides, most women don’t like the taste of beer. My Mair says she’d rather drink medicine.”
The barmaid had finished drawing the half-pint and put it in front of Emmy. “That will be one pound, miss, if you don’t mind.”
Emmy got out the coin and put it on the counter. “Thanks. Well, cheers then. How do you say ‘cheers’ in Welsh?”
“Iyched da,” Charlie and the other men said in chorus.
“Yacky dah?” Emmy tried it, stumbling over the pronunciation, and making them all laugh.
“We shouldn’t leave her all alone in that cold old lounge,” one
of the young men suggested. “It wouldn’t do any harm to have her come and drink with us.”
Emmy noted the muscles bulging through the threadbare T-shirt and the unruly dark hair.
, she decided.
This assignment may have hidden perks
“Harry wouldn’t like it,” the barmaid said firmly. “Besides, she wouldn’t want to hear the kind of language you use sometimes, Barry-the-Bucket—it would make her blush, the kind of things you say.”
“Me? When do I ever say something that makes you blush, Betsy
“Well, I’m used to it, aren’t I? I have to put up with you all the time.”
She turned back to Emmy with an apologetic smile. “Don’t mind him, miss.”
“What did you call him?” Emmy asked, fascinated.
“Barry-the-Bucket, on account of he drives the bulldozer with that big scooper thing in the front.”
“Barry-the-Bucket. I like that.”
The men were now all leaning on the bar, watching Emmy with interest as she took a long swig of her beer. She was tempted to drain the glass in one go, as she had learned to do in college, but it was important that she create the right image. She took one swig, put the glass down, and smiled at them. “It’s good,” she said. “Nice and full-bodied.”
“You like beer, then, do you?” Barry asked her. “Do they drink beer in America? It is America you come from, isn’t it?”
“That’s right. Pennsylvania. And we drink quite a bit of beer, although you’d probably find it too weak and cold.”
“That very pale stuff, fizzy like lemonade. I had some once. Bud—wasn’t it?”
Barry turned to his mate, who nodded agreement.
“Here on holiday, are you, miss?” Charlie asked.
Emmy noted with amusement that apparently it was okay if the men talked to her through the bar—rather like a convent with a grille, she decided. “Actually, I’m here to do research,” she said.
“I’m a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, doing a Ph.D. in psychology, and my thesis is on psychic ability.”
“Fancy!” The barmaid gave the men an impressed glance.
Emmy had worked on the speech long enough and now the words flowed out easily. He’d be pleased with how it was going so far. “I’m over here because Celts were famous for their psychic abilities. If there are any pure-blooded Celts left, it would have to be in an area like this. So I’m here to look for anyone with psychic power.”
“Like reading the tea leaves, that kind of thing, you mean?” The barmaid leaned forward, eagerly.
“Yeah, that kind of thing. Seeing the future, having prophetic dreams, sensing danger—the ancient Druids supposedly possessed all of those abilities.”
“Pity my old
passed away a couple of years ago,” the barmaid said.
“Nine what?” Emmy was puzzled. She knew that nine was a significant number in Celtic mythology, but …
—oh sorry, I mean my grandmother.
’s how we say it in Welsh. I get mixed up sometimes.”
“So your grandma was psychic?”
“Oh, indeed she was, wasn’t she, Charlie?” Betsy turned to the older man. “She even saw the Derin Corff a couple of times, or was it the Cannwyll Corff?”
“What are they?” Emmy got out her notebook and started scribbling.
“Well, the Derin Corff is the bird of death and the Cannwyll Corff is the candle of death. They’re the same really—you see them when somebody’s about to die.”
“Fascinating,” Emmy said. “And your grandma saw them?”
“Oh, she did. I remember she came home late one night and she said to us, ‘Huw Lloyd won’t last the night. There was the Derin Corff perched on his shed roof.’”
“That was probably only the Lloyd’s old rooster,” Barry-the-Bucket commented, chuckling.
“You be quiet, Barry,” Betsy said and slapped his hand. “Whatever
it was, she was right. Huw was gone by morning. And so was the thing she saw on the rooftop.” She shuddered. “It still gives me goose bumps to think of it. And she was a dab hand at reading the tea leaves too, was my
“Did she ever tell you that you’d go out with a good-looking bloke from the village this Saturday night?” Barry asked, leaning across the counter until his face was close to hers.
“Yes, but Constable Evans hasn’t asked me yet,” Betsy replied smoothly. “Even though I’ve given him enough hints.”
The older man chuckled. “She’s the match of you, boyo.”
“And she’s wasting her time mooning over Evan Evans,” Barry replied with a sniff.
“I don’t see why.” Betsy’s gaze was challenging.
“You know very well why. You let Bronwen Price get a hold on him, didn’t you? You’ll not shake him loose from her now.”
“We’ll have to see about that, won’t we?” Betsy smoothed down her tight sweater. “I’m going to get my chance someday, and then I’ll show him what he’s been missing—even if I do have to push Bronwen-Bloody-Price off a mountain first!”
The men laughed and so did Betsy. Then she seemed to remember Emmy standing alone at the other bar and turned back to her. “Sorry, miss. Don’t mind them. Always teasing me, they are, because I’ve got my heart set on our local policeman.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Emmy said. “So tell me about your grandma seeing the future, Betsy. That is your name, isn’t it?”
“That’s right, miss. Betsy Edwards.”
“Hi, Betsy, I’m Emmy.” She held out her hand and Betsy took it awkwardly. “So go on about your grandma.”
“Well, she was well known in the village for having the sight, wasn’t she, Charlie?”
“She was,” Charlie agreed. “If she dreamed something was going to happen, then it did.”
“Wonderful.” Emmy beamed at them. “You haven’t inherited her talent by any chance?”
“Me?” Betsy blushed. “Oh no, I don’t think so. Although …”
“I do sometimes know the phone’s about to ring just before it does. Stuff like that.”
“There you are. You probably have the psychic ability but you’ve never tried to use your powers yet.”
“Her ‘powers.’” Barry-the-Bucket nudged his mate.
“You be quiet, Barry,” Betsy said. “We’re having a serious conversation here. So you think I might have inherited my granny’s gift of the sight, do you?”
“It often goes in families,” Emmy said. “Through the female line. You’re not a seventh child, by any chance, are you?”
“No, I’m an only child. And my mother was an only child too.”
“Perfect,” Emmy said. “That’s the strongest connection of all. Only daughter to only daughter. Couldn’t be better.”
“You really think?” Betsy stammered. “My, but that would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Imagine if I could really see the future!”
“You could let your dad know what horse was going to win in the two-thirty at Doncaster.” Barry dug his silent mate in the side again.
“If you have powers like that, you have to use them for good,” Betsy said solemnly. “Not for winning horse races.”
Emmy was flicking the pages of her notebook. “Look, let me take your name and phone number, okay? I’d like to get together with you and do some testing, if you’re willing.”
“Testing?” Betsy looked at Charlie uneasily.
“We have to test psychic ability in a controlled environment … .”
“I wouldn’t want to go to any hospital,” Betsy said.
“Oh, nothing like that.” Emmy smiled. “I’m going to be working at a place called the Sacred Grove. Do you know it?”
“I can’t say that I do,” Betsy said. “Is it in Wales?”
“That big place on the coast near Porthmadog, isn’t it?” Charlie interrupted.
“Used to be a private estate, built by that crazy English lord. Tiggy, or something, isn’t that the name?” Barry asked.
“It’s Bland-Tyghe,” Charlie said, “and it’s pronounced ‘tie,’ you ignorant burke.”
Barry grinned. “They’re all round the bend, aren’t they? Didn’t the old man used to walk through the village in his pajamas, spouting poetry?”
“Didn’t I read that his daughter has turned it into some kind of hospital or sanitarium?” Charlie said.
“Loony bin, more likely,” Barry commented. “You want to watch out, Betsy. If they take you in there, they might never let you out again.”
“I’m not going to any loony bin,” Betsy said anxiously.
“No, you’ve got it all wrong,” Emmy interrupted hastily. “It’s a New Age center.”
“New age center?” Charlie asked. “Like an old folks home, you mean?”