Here we are again, back with Dadi’s Little Helper. It’s been hella-fun writing a serial, seeing the story twist as it grows, and I see some things far clearer now as I enter the final stretch. I’m aiming to land things satisfactorily in next week’s concluding part – of course I am – but the manner in which Dadi’s Little Helper has emerged will naturally necessitate some structural as well as copy-editing to lend it the proper weight once it’s complete. Will anybody want to publish something that began online and free of charge, even if it’s morphed and been polished since? Who knows. But if they do, I’ll be sure to let you know all about it so you can read the final version. This story has truly devoured me over the past month. I hope it has had a similar draw for you. Enjoy!
Dadi’s Little Helper pt 4
It was all a little confusing for Iolo, but this wasn’t the first time he’d blanked. One minute he’d been looking at the wonderful statue, then Meical had appeared, though he’d been asleep just now—and then the next thing he knew Dadi was leading him out of the house and Meical was already outside waiting for them. Meical was acting a little bit funny too, but his father’s hand was warm and confident as it tugged him along, and he promised him a wonderful surprise if he was a good boy and picked up his feet. Iolo would try his best, of course, and he trusted his Dadi to help him remember later. He was always kind like that. They were walking really fast though! Iolo was struggling to keep up, so he asked if he could get his bicycle instead. It was just by the house! Dadi grumbled but agreed, so long as Iolo came straight back again. He’d be timing, mind you… Ten minutes would be easy, so let’s see if he could fetch it in eight. Go!
Meical watched him haring off, and a pain squeezed his heart. He was such a sweet little boy. It would tear him apart to discover the truth, but Dad was right: this was important. They’d been lied to their whole lives, in ways he could barely begin to understand. It was time to uncover it all, to get at the truth. So as they walked on, he started to dig.
‘How did it happen, then? Practically. (Iolo, I mean.) I know about sex and stuff, but… you had to make him, right. How did—? Like, did you have to cut Mam open to put him inside, or what?’
His dad shook his head. ‘God, no! Nothing like that. I just brought him home one night. Told your mam I found him in a box on the doorstep. It’s not unheard of, you know. Some village girl gets pregnant and then she gets scared—too scared to tell anyone. She don’t show too much at first round the belly, but that changes soon enough. When she can’t hide it anymore she just runs, hides out away from home for a bit until the babi’s born. And if she gets desperate enough; if her parents aren’t what you’d call the supportive type… well, maybe she doesn’t see a way out. She don’t want it dead or nothing, but hopes someone will take care of it, you know. If she leaves it somewhere safe to be found.’
‘That’s nuts. She’d want to find its real mam, surely! She’d want to help them. You can’t just take someone else’s baby. Why would she?’
‘Meical, I want to answer all your questions, but some things aren’t mine to say. Let’s leave it at this, eh? I brought Iolo to your mam, and I told her that I found him. We had a conversation—a long conversation, mind. There was nothing easy about any of this. And at the end of it we decided that that was exactly what we were going to do. Iolo was her son as far as she was concerned, and we’d make sure the rest of the world believed it. Your mam stopped going into town for a few months, long enough that when she turned up with the babi she could pass him off as hers – after another difficult pregnancy. It didn’t matter where he actually came from, only that he needed to be loved.’
It was a lot to take in. Meical’s head was spinning, and he had to remind himself that this scared village girl was a fiction – or mostly fiction. The truth here was stranger and far more difficult to grasp.
‘But… how do you even do it? Make clay come to life? And why are you keeping it secret? You don’t have to be a farmer anymore; you could be famous! Rich even. Just imagine…’
His dad smiled and patted him on the shoulder. ‘There’s more to life than getting rich and famous, Meic, but I think you know that. And I know it’s not for you, but like being a farmer thank you very much. I think we’d better wait until Iolo gets back though before we talk about the How. He has a decision to make, and he needs to know the truth about himself first. Why don’t you ask me about something else, eh? What about the eye?’
‘What about the eye? Is it real? It’s disgusting.’
‘I think it’s beautiful. Not my finest work, of course, but I’m rather proud of it. Well, haven’t you guessed? It’s Iolo’s! The first one I made: my giant. This was when I was worried about the farm, see. Pretty desperate I was, but I thought if I went big with him, he’d be a real help. Ah, Meic.’ He squeezed his shoulder affectionately. ‘I always did love the old stories of giants, so I made one of my own! Why not, eh? He was a bit rough, like. I wasn’t the craftsman I’ve become, that’s for sure, but he was a real godsend.’
Dad went on at length, describing the miracle of clay-become-flesh in his hands. Meical could just see them in those early days, ranging the woods together. His little brother huge, Dad sat on his shoulder, and the thought brought a smile. Iolo would have loved to be big—but hang on, there was more to this, wasn’t there? What happened to change this giant into the little foundling mam took in? His father blanched as if in pain. The giant had saved the farm, he said – saved them all really – but they’d had some close calls with the neighbours. He was already having second thoughts when a family of ‘wild campers’ saw a silhouette they couldn’t explain. Their tall tales made the rounds and Channel 5 wanted to make one of their bloody documentaries. Mam was on the mend again, so in a panic he tried to undo it all, to return his giant to clay, only it wouldn’t change back! Oh, the life left it alright – instantly, painlessly, like Iolo in the workshop – but the remains…? Well, they remained.
‘Iolo found him, God knows how,’ Dafydd said. ‘Dug the bloody eye out for proof, I suppose. I haven’t had his side of the story yet.’
It had been years. Years! Would he never be rid of the guilt? The pain of burying his son? He didn’t think so. He could see the dell now as he’d found it this morning: the giant all-but uncovered. It had broken his heart to see him again, so huge and yet so vulnerable. Innocence personified. He’d covered him up again gently, sent a prayer up with apologies, and then returned to the house. Part of him wished he’d just gone, left all this behind… but no. He owed them this. Meical and Iolo. Mair most of all. Meical was crouched over now, pale and sweating, trying not to be sick. Reality hit hard, but he hadn’t got it all. Not yet. Well, he’d catch up soon enough.
A bell dinged behind them, and Dafydd turned to watch the boy racing towards them. The shovel, he noted, was strapped to his back. Hm. He checked his watch and tapped it, then signed [Not bad! Not bad at all.] Iolo pulled up in a skid, dumped his bicycle and leapt into a hug, laughing silently. Then he stepped back.
[Can we go to my burger bar, Dadi? It’s not far. Please!]
[Have you been reading my mind? That’s just where we’re going.]
And Iolo clapped with glee. Meical stood up, his breathing more or less normal once more.
‘You okay, boy? Come on then, let’s get going.’
The dell stood as it had always done, slightly apart from the world. It was a holy place. Anyone who happened near it could tell you that, though they would not be able to tell you why, nor how they knew. There was a stillness, a reverence to the air, caught between the breaths of a prayer to some ancient spirit. It was ever thus, even in the time of Taliesin the bard, but his mother had made it her own when she wed Tegid Foel. Their story was one well known to the boys, but Iolo still thrilled to hear it. There were new details Dadi brought in now, though, weaving in the world about them like it had all happened right here, in this very place. That lent a new excitement to the tale and left him certain that it was Tegid’s giant body he’d discovered.
Dadi’s voice and expressive hand gestures drew him on through the creation of Ceridwen’s magic potion, her servant boy’s clumsiness, their shape-changing chase, and the peculiar pregnancy that resulted. But instead of following Taliesin’s glorious life from abandonment to grace, his father lingered on Ceridwen and her grief. (It wasn’t right. Iolo wanted to hear the real story! But Dadi wouldn’t be swayed; this was important, he said.) He spoke of her guilt after she sent the babe downriver; of Morfran, her hideous firstborn son who remained, for whom the potion had been intended; of his burning resentment at the cuckoo boy who’d stolen his hope and his future. Iolo didn’t like that way of looking at things—and neither did Meical by the looks of it. He got so angry he was crying! Why was Dadi spoiling it all?
Iolo’s dismay distracted him for a short time, and when he came back to the words he found himself lost, in entirely new territory. It was years later and Ceridwen was still trying to help Morfran, but now she was trying something new: a clay body. This was to be his – perfect in form and rendering him invulnerable, immortal. In this way could his heart and his body be healed, his surpasser surpassed, his soul saved from infamy. Iolo quite liked this part but it all went wrong again. The clay hardened before the ritual was complete, and instead of animating his new body, Morfran’s spirit got trapped, frozen in perfection, unable to move or to speak.
[This is her place, Iolo. I know it because this is where I found Morfran’s statue.]
Iolo reeled, looking about him for this wonder, but all he saw was the big stone and the woods around them. His father continued.
[And when I was in pain, I prayed to Ceridwen, and do you know what? She spoke to me through the ages, whispering her tale through the trees and the leaves and the dreams of my bone-weary body. And Ceridwen promised to help me if I helped her first.]
He snapped his fingers to catch Iolo’s gaze once more.
[You don’t need to look for it. I smashed up the statue to set his spirit free, and in return Ceridwen taught me her secrets. I learned how to make a new body for you. I brought you back, my boy. You remember now, don’t you. I brought you back.]