The True Prince of Wales
Those summers meant coming down from uni, back to mum’s, no money, a job in the Brit or the Bridge, and hanging out with Milo, Fitz and Gruff. Everyone from Brecon to Abergavenny knew Milo and Fitz. When they got their car, ‘the General’, they became
notorious throughout most of Powys. Some sort of Fiesta, ‘pimped to the max’, as they put it, bright orange with ’01’ on the doors and a Confederate flag on the roof. It cost them a fortune, which I believe they earned through dealing low quality hash and Gruff’s online betting system, which actually worked. They loved it so much that when they put it through a hedge and turned it over they spent about six months sticking it back together. Gruf was the quiet one of the three, thick dark hair, the looks of a boy angel and eyes concealing schemes. The brothers called him the Crimelord because when we were children and there was still a garage in Cwmdu Gruff had
masterminded a raid which netted them a carton of chocolate, which Gruff had insisted they sell to kids on the school bus, rather than eat. In those days we spent a lot of time in the barns of his parent’s farm, and when we almost weren’t quite kids anymore I spent some time in those barns making them practise their snogging. They gave up too fast: “You’re like our sister, Dixie D,” Fitz explained, “It doesn’t feel right.” Around that time I developed a crush on Gruff which has never gone away, but there you are. “Why can’t I be Daisy Duke?” I asked all those years ago. “I don’t want to be called after her jeep!”
“Because you’re always whistling Dixie,” Gruff said. “On about going to uni and moving to London.” “Ambition is critical,” I told him. And now I was half way there. Bangor wasn’t London, but when I’d got my degree I was going to London, to Paris, to New York and Berlin and anywhere as long as the lights never dimmed and you could get a haircut after nine in the evening and go to a restaurant after that.
The summer it happened
The summer it happened they picked me up at Abergavenny station in the General and Milo got it going about a hundred miles an hour along the bypass, classic Fleetwood Mac on the stereo and all of us howling “Loving you –isn’t the right thing to do..”, Fitz sat in the passenger seat and Gruff reclined like a cramped rock God in his shades next to me. God he was beautiful.
“So how’s it going Dix? Got a boyfriend yet?”
“Two, but they’re both too rich and too thick. You?”
“The Crimelord has no time for women,” Fitz shouted, “He’s taking over the internet.”
“He’s fighting extradition to the United States,” said Milo.
“He’s perfecting the mind control of greyhounds by remote viewing,” Fitz said.
“I’m doing a bit of programming for a Dutch company,” Gruff said. “Might be moving to Amsterdam in October.”
“You want to marry him quick Dix, Dutch girls,” Milo said, helpfully.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Up the Orinoco on the Titanic,” shouted Fitz, and cackled.
“Mystery tour, Dix.”
“It’ll be A and E if you don’t slow down.”
“The General doesn’t have brakes.”
“It does, you just don’t know where they are.”
Oh, Wales on a summer day!
Oh, Wales on a summer day! The hills like great hymns against the sky, the white sheep dots on the ridges, the buzzards and ravens high up and turning. We’d gone half crazy in those valleys while we were growing up but sometimes there was nowhere in the world more beautiful, and you knew it. We went through Govilon, Crick and Bwlch as if the police were after us, then Milo took
a right and tried to make the General ‘get air’ over the humps. He played the horn as we passed the Red Lion and he took us up the hill, round the corner and left down to the water.
“Welcome to the Orinoco.”
“It’s Llangorse Lake, Fitz.”
“Eye of the beholder,” he said, handing me his smoke.
“Now behold, the Titanic!”
“But at least we’ll drown drunk.”
Milo loaded a crate of beer into the Canadian canoe, just room for the four of us with it. It was a hot day and I’m a good swimmer and it didn’t seem to matter that our weight sunk it very low in the water. We set out, the brothers sprawling and drinking in the middle, Gruff paddling at the back and me at the front.
“Full ahead north!” cried Milo, pointing south.
We moved slowly across the water
We moved slowly across the water, perfectly happy. At one strange point we were caught in a current in the middle of the lake. It took us towards the far side, where there was a boat moored on the elbow where a little arm of the lake goes off into reed beds.
“Would you say there was an unusual woman in that boat up to something?” Fitz asked his brother.
There was. Tall and red-haired, with a big sunhat, binoculars and notebook.
“Bet she hasn’t got beer. Take us alongside,” Milo ordered.
“Oh no, leave her be,” I said, but Gruff, who was steering, shrugged and grinned and splashed the water with his paddle. “This weird current,” he said.
Fitz gave a sort of shriek.
“Something touched my hand - look!”
He had been trailing it in the water and we looked: there was a huge half fish floating down the side of the canoe.
“So how big was the one that ate it?”
We came up to the woman in her boat. She looked younger from a distance.
“What’re you, the CIA?” was Milo’s opening.
“If you’re after the Crimelord you can have him, for the reward,” said Fitz.
She laughed. She was doing a bird survey, she said, in a rich voice, looking for bittern and reed buntings. “But you have to be very quiet,” she said, “So it must be break time.”
“Beer?” said Gruff.
She thanked him and Milo handed one over, introduced himself as Crockett, Fitz as Tubbs, Gruff as Capone and me as Dixie, as usual. She was a posh sort of woman, hard to age, with a strong face and big slow eyes that really looked at you.
“Are there pikes in here the size of cars?” Milo asked.
“They say,” Julia said. “One ate a bit of a waterskier a few years ago.”
“What’s with the current?”
“What’s with the current?”
“It’s an old legend: it won’t mingle its waters with the lake because the lake is cursed. It drowned a city of sinners.”
“Sounds nice,” remarked Fitz. “The Prince probably has relatives down there, don’t you
“The Prince of Crimelords. Gruff.”
“Well, you know about the true prince of Wales and this lake?”
“If the true prince of Wales comes down to this lake and commands the birds to sing, they will.”
“That’s me!” Fitz said. He turned round in the boat, knelt up and hollered across the water,
“Sing peasants, I command you!”
There were a lot of ducks about and not one quacked.
“Seeing as how I’m your older brother it couldn’t really be you could it?” Milo said. Now he went up on his knees, cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled, “Now hear this, birds! This is Milo, Lord of this land, and he says sing - so SING!”
A buzzard mewed somewhere, fields away.
“Your turn, Gruff,” I said.
“I don’t believe in royalty,” he said, “Up the republic. Anyway, it’s you. I know it is”
I stood up, the canoe wobbling, and called out. The words came to me as if I had planned them, though I hadn’t. “If I am descended from the great and true princes of Wales then I ask these birds to now declare it! There, proves it’s nonsense…”
And right then every single duck, goose and grebe on the lake began to cry out and beat the water with their wings. The noise was unbelievable! Suddenly just this wild commotion!
Herons, buzzards, stuff in the reeds, swallows in the air, crows in the fields and the waterfowl most of all went absolutely ballistic. We were just looking each other, gaping, like is this the maddest thing ever, or are we tripping? Milo clutched his hair. Fitz was turning his head like a loony, as if he was trying to see every bird making a racket. It must have lasted thirty seconds - which is a long time for outright insanity to take hold of about a thousand birds all at once. Only Julia and Gruff were cool. Julia raised one eyebrow. Gruff kept very still, a faint smile on his face. It was a real hullaballoo, and then it stopped.
They all looked at me.
“Dixie, what just happened?” Milo looked dazed.
“Told you she was.”
We all looked at Gruff.
Gruff took off his shades.
“Whoops. Bit of a cheat there. Your mum told me you come from royalty,” he said.
Horatio Clare 2016