Dylan’s car was packed and ready to go. All that remained was for Branwen to prepare food for the journey. She insisted on doing this by herself, sending Carys and Dylan out to play, as if they were still her little children.
They wandered over to the old apple tree that stood near the farmyard’s boundary wall. It was all that remained of an orchard that used to occupy a large area next to the farmhouse. Carys loved to watch from her bedroom window as the tree’s appearance changed from season to season. Sadly, it hadn’t produced a good crop in a while. When Carys was little, one of its bright green cookers, with the core replaced by raisins and cinnamon, used to provide a delicious pudding for the whole family. The smell of baked apples was an enduring memory of her childhood.
The tree was gnarled but strong. Bryn had fixed a small swing to one of the overhanging branches, but the children had long since grown too big for it. Bryn had always meant to make the swing larger as the children grew, but it was one of those jobs he’d never got round to. So Carys now idly pushed the tiny swing back and forth and remembered the fun times she and her brother had enjoyed up and around that old tree.
Dylan leant on the wall and looked past the farm’s dried up well, into the valley beyond. He began tossing small stones, trying to hit the well.
‘Did you ever forgive me for throwing your doll down the well?’ he asked.
‘I can’t remember,’ Carys answered. ‘I was very young.’
‘I suppose I was old enough to know better, but it was a hot day and I thought she’d enjoy a cool dip,’ said Dylan, laughing. ‘I never thought about how I’d get her back – typical!’ he added with a grin.
Carys joined him in throwing stones but she couldn’t reach the well.
Dylan continued, ‘When the well ran dry, I wanted to climb down and look for the doll, but Dad wouldn’t let me.’
‘Really? I never knew that.’
‘He said it was too dangerous. He said there’d be rats down there as big as cats.’
Dylan found his range and began peppering the well with stones. ‘You don’t have to go, you know.’
‘Yes I do. Mum thinks I’m in danger here from the great evil that’s coming.’
‘You don’t believe that do you, sis?’
‘No, of course I don’t. But if I stayed here and Dr Williams had Mum taken away, even for a short time … well, you know how things work.’
Dylan didn’t know how things worked. In fact, he didn’t know much about anything. For a few years now, Dylan had been known as ‘the brother of the clever one’. He hoisted Carys up so she was sitting on the wall.
‘Is Ma really that bad?’ he asked.
‘You should have seen her this morning.’
‘The kestrel, you mean?’
‘She sees everything as a sign now,’ said Carys.
‘I’m not with her enough to judge, I suppose, but she seems okay to me.’
‘That’s because you’re good for her, Dyl. You make her laugh. In fact, you make everybody laugh.’
‘What you mean is, I’m a simple clod!’ he said, with exaggerated indignation.
Carys laughed and chewed on some strands of hair. ‘If Mum gave her clients their potions and crystals and left it at that, she’d be fine. But she gets carried away talking about angels and demons –’
‘And the coming of a great eeevil!’ interrupted Dylan, in ghoulish tones. He lifted Carys from the wall, threw her over his shoulder and ran round the tree making monster noises. Carys screamed and laughed and beat his back with her fists.
They both stopped when they heard a car door slam.
Branwen was standing by Dylan’s car, which was parked near the farm gate. It was starting to rain. ‘Get off with you now!’ she shouted. ‘And mind how you go!’
Then Branwen ran into the house. Carys understood that her mother wasn’t simply getting out of the rain.