Um. So this was going to be the last part (I know, I know) but it seems there’s one more twist in the tale that needed to be told before I could finish. It’s a dark and painful secret that Dafydd and Mair had held close to their hearts for as long as they’ve existed. Breaths of it slipped onto the page between my thoughts and intentions, so some of you may have already have twigged it, but the centrality of this secret – to the marriage, to the creation of Iolo, to Meical’s pain and rage – cannot be overstated. I hope you can forgive the extra time and space I’ve given Dafydd to unburden himself. The story will come to a close next week, I assure you.
Dadi’s Little Helper pt 5
And Iolo did remember, as instructed. Images flickered through his mind, awakenings from blankness whenever his father made adjustments or shifted him from one body to the next. He felt the words bring him up from darkness into light, heard Dadi whispering in his mind as new truths became real and knowledge blossomed or died at need. Oddly, the order of events was not chronological. The general flow went from present to past, but there was a stuttering too. Time and again he woke in the body of a babe, clutched in his Dadi’s arms, hot tears spattering his skin. His father’s age and clothing varied in these memories, and all but the last occurred in the workroom – a place he would not have recognised before today. Another figure haunted these visions, strangely familiar, standing still with his back to them, the top of his head flipped up like a lid.
He wondered at that: at the sight of his father beside of the vast corpse; at his grief and heartbreak, obvious now through the glass of years.
[I remember now. I saw Tegid Foel as a baby—and you were there too, Dadi! You buried him, and you kept him a secret. Did you kill him?]
His father gaped like a fresh-caught fish, but Iolo had no point to press. He wasn’t angry or sad, bitter or betrayed. He had just been surprised by the memory. Without further thought, he turned to his brother.
[Have you seen my giant, Meical? Has mami?]
Meical shook himself. [I haven’t, no, but I’ve seen the eyeball.] He gave Iolo a thoughtful look [Iolo… doesn’t it make you feel weird?]
[Why should it make me feel weird? It’s just a big eye.]
[Yeah, but a big eye that dad made for you. That was part of you.]
Iolo looked perplexed. [Don’t be stupid – it’s Tegid Foel’s eye, and he was already dead, so he won’t mind. Let me show you. Come on!]
Meical was still shaken, but his grief and self-pity were shifting now, uncoiling in his belly like a snake, kindling into the old, familiar rage. The strange talk of Ceridwen and Morfran had thrown him, but one image remained in his mind: the child and the cuckoo. Their circumstances were different for sure, but wasn’t this the key? Wasn’t this what it was all about, really? The elder child a bitter disappointment to his parents, displaced by the new golden boy. Replaced – quite deliberately – by his own fucking father.
‘Dad? You okay?’ A low query, restrained. Then snapped. ‘Dad?!’
There was so much he needed to know, so much he wanted to say, but the man was a mess. He’d fallen to his knees now, head shaking in…what? Disbelief? No. There something else. But Iolo was already racing away, crashing through the foliage and out of sight. Whatever shit his father was going through, he’d have to work it out on his own.
‘I’ll keep an eye on him, alright? Just… stay here if you need to. He’s taking me to see the giant. Okay? Dad?’
He sighed, turned and ran after the boy.
Iolo seemed to sag as they entered the dell. From his description, Meical expected to see the giant laid out, half buried in mud, half drowned in water but, boggy as it was, no sign of it remained. Well, Dad did say he’d dealt with it. He must be pretty good at covering things up by now. The cinder of rage flickered and glowed for a moment in the breeze of the secrets and lies, but he dowsed it swiftly. This wasn’t the time. Iolo was pacing to and fro, a dog in search of old bones. He wasn’t sniffing exactly, but there seemed to be some sense at work beyond sight. He settled at last, unstrapped the shovel and began to dig. Meical looked around, but Dad hadn’t followed them. Hm. This could take a while, and Iolo’s efforts were inexpert at best – the shovel half full, the dirt half-flung. If you wanted something done right… Meic patted him on the shoulder.
[It’s alright, I’ll dig. Go check on dad, will you? He seemed pretty upset.]
Iolo passed it over without complaint, happy perhaps to avoid the boring bit. Or just following instructions like a good little golem. God. It was so weird to think like that, having grown up with him: this funny little brother. Recollections bobbed up as he dug – oddities passed off as ignorance or innocence. From time to time he’d wondered if Iolo had been dropped on his head as a baby, or if he were on the spectrum perhaps, but his differences were slight enough. It had never really mattered to them. He was just Iolo. Now, though… How was he supposed to think of him? Like some kind of robot? He had a personality, a life, a sense of being. Was it all just fake?
A splash of color caught his eye as the shovel rose. Cloth. Pale blue. Huh. It was funny. Despite all he had seen and heard, he hadn’t quite believed the giant was down here; it was all just an elaborate prank, his instincts told him. Nevertheless, he got down to his knees and scraped away at the mud with his fingers, feeling the cloth. Denim. Nothing remarkable in itself, but the image of a giant in a pair of Levi’s made him snort. It couldn’t be. He dug more carefully now, working around the figure with a growing sense of unease. The truth, inescapable, set a moan loose, powerless and low. He sat back, sickened and horrified. Two eyes stared blankly up at him from the mire. Two eyes— and this was no giant.
Dafydd was in a daze. He expected Iolo to remember, of course he did – Iolo was incapable of disobedience – but a fundamental part of him had cracked at the question. It wasn’t what he said so much as the implication. Iolo still saw the giant as Tegid Foel, the mythological giant. There was no sense of connection there, no memory of inhabiting that body. Why not? How could he not remember? Dafydd’s thoughts shot ahead while his children talked, weaving tenuous webs of possibility into terrible emotional certainty. He fell to his knees, unable to breathe, let alone give the commands that would unlock the truth. Think, Dafydd, think! What did you say, now? The precise words?
[You remember now, don’t you. I brought you back.]
From heaven, he meant in his heart. From the realm of the spirit at least. Ceridwen had vowed to restore his son, but if the first time Iolo ‘came back’ was as the baby, that meant— Well, it meant Ceridwen had lied. Dafydd crawled over to the big rocks he thought of as her shrine, and began to pray, cursing and beseeching all in the same breaths, searching for answers, for vengeance, for hope. But when Iolo returned and Dafydd put him to the question, his whole world crumbled.
Because, whilst the giant was his first creation, it was not the first Iolo. There was another, long before Meical came along. Their baby – his and Mair’s. When she returned to the village, shaking, terrified, traumatised, she told him what she’d done: the reason she’d fled; where she’d gone for so long; the place she’d left little Iolo in desperation and hope. They were both so young and so stupid, but their love was real. It pierced them even as it bound them together, and although her trust had faltered in fear of his rejection – and of her parents’ denouncement – it surged back now with waves of regret. Could there be hope for the three of them? If they went back now and asked for the baby back, could they be a family together? Dafydd had embraced her and blessed her, shed every tear of love and forgiveness, of gratitude and joy, and told her of course they could be a family. He’d move heaven and earth to make sure of it, whatever the village might say. And so she led him to the little hamlet not so many miles away where Iolo had been born, where she’d watched the young couple, so sweet and so kind; where in the light of the dawn she had tucked their baby in the coal shed by the front door with a note, begging them to look after her child.
But in the dust and the darkness, in the cold of the season, and with the delicacy of his little lungs, a pitiful death had claimed him. And there Iolo lay, silent and undiscovered until their return.
Dafydd had buried him here in the woods, and years later, when he encountered Ceridwen, he prayed they might be reunited. That the goddess would find his spirit and bring their boy home. But whatever force animated his carven bodies – from the giant to his own eye-gouging heir – it wasn’t the soul of his son. It wasn’t their baby. There was nothing human in the clay, nothing at all but the words of the spell in his head. As it had parsed each new instruction, observed and adapted to mirror and mimic their family, the thing had taken on the appearance of a child but that growth of personality, that change was just an illusion. A masquerade! He was an automaton, an android, the foolish dream of a future that died long ago. It didn’t understand any of this. How could it?
Iolo hugged him, nevertheless; told him he was loved; asked what he could do to make Dadi feel better again. They wept together – the father and the son, the monster and its reflection – but no words could breach the glass.
Meical staggered into the clearing a while later, caked in mud, and he threw down the shovel.
‘I’ve found them. I’ve found them all, you sick bastard. What have you done?’
You can allow yourself to feel a little smug if you’re ahead of Meical here. The last revelations will surely pale before that of Iolo’s true life and tragic death. However, it is important to bring it all to light, to let the family understand the depths and the breadths of their trauma before healing – true healing – can begin. I hope you’ll join me next week for the final burial and the end of this story.