My eyesight is, according to the optician, 40% worse now than it was when I last had them tested… Right. That was five years ago but one of the biggest causes of that decline is the computer screen. Staring at one, every day, writing, is not good for my eyesight so for one day a week it now remains off, unpluged and in a place where I won’t be tempted to use it. But that means, that on this day, I need to find something to do with my time and one of the things I’ve started doing is handwriting a book… I’ll go more into the actual writing of it some other time but for now I want to share an extract with you. The year is 1880 and the ruling family of Ardeluta, a small kingdom in Romania, have been ousted by a populist uprising. Max Morfasson has been assigned, by her father, to protect the princess Anna. Although he does his best she is continually resisting his attempts to disguise her place in society due to a snobbish prejudice against the working class. This is from chapter 4 and both Max and Anna are heading for Max’s home in North Wales- But Anna has upgraded their train tickets from third class to first, much to Max’s despair….
It was to be a sleepless night. I paid the conductor for our upgraded ticket, which resulted in a higher price than that which I would normally pay owing to the fact that I was upgrading after we had set foot aboard the train and a considerable way into the journey. It left me seething but that was not to be the reason I was to have a sleepless night. Anna’s snobbery regarding the lower classes meant that she was now in a position where she might easily be discovered by the revolutionaries. She had set my plans awry and now I was required to compensate. I had to keep a watchful eye for the revolutionaries, for if they were to strike they would strike in the dead of night when we were most likely to be off our guard. Therefore I absolutely could not sleep. I had to be as the guardian angel, watching over Anna in her slumber.
Once or twice in the night I prowled out into the corridor to check if anyone were lurking, if anyone suspicious were searching the compartments for signs of the princess. In each of these investigations I found no one nor saw any signs of lurkers but that wasn’t to say I couldn’t let my guard down. I had to be alert at all times. The revolutionaries could have struck at any time and I had to be prepared to defend Anna at all costs, to give my life for hers if it came down to it.
The previous day I had sent a telegraph to Cythry and ordered Belvedere, the butler, to greet us at Aber station with three horses the next morning and at around half past eight we arrived. Earlier, feeling grouchy from my lack of sleep, I awoke Anna and told her once more dress in the steamer captain’s clothes. Once this was done I escorted her back to third class where I found a compartment, empty, from which we could depart the train. Despite Anna being insistent on exposing herself to the revolutionaries I could still take steps, such as this, in order to confound them. They would expect someone of her stature to leave from a first class carriage and so we would depart from a third. If on the small chance they knew we were aboard and in first class then they might, with luck, assume we had not yet alighted.
We were the only pair to leave at Aber station and so hurried away before any of the other passengers could take notice of us. The sun was shining that day, a blessed day as we call it in Wales, and although Belvedere had not yet arrived it was a pleasure to wait for him. Anna wanted to wait on the sea shore and so we did. I pointed her to the various sights that could be seen about Bae Conwy. To the east, Pen Y Gogarth and to the west Ynys Seirol and Mon. Immediately across the water I picked out Beaumaris and the castle, to which Anna laughed.
“You call that a castle? It is quaint and teensy. A true castle is big and imposing. A true castle is grand.” I said nothing on the matter, again hoping to surprise her once we reached Cythry.
In due course arrived Belvedere, strolling down the road with three horses in tow, an open necked shirt on his back and a straw boater upon his head. He looked ridiculous.
“You are the butler?” Anna questioned him right off.
“I am indeed. And you must be Miss Anna.” He bowed, ever so lightly and delicately. “I can tell that you are wondering why I am dressed in such a fashion. It is not my usual attire. I merely considered that it might serve to confound the revolutionaries in a manner similar to your own dress.” Ah, such was Belvedere. He was always considering but never thinking and as a result he was usually getting things in a terrible muddle. This was not his absolute worst faux-pas, not by a long chalk, but it was still highly off the tracks.
“Belvedere,” I told him, “you are well known in these parts. Dressed in that fashion people will start talking and gossiping, wondering why you are wearing such a get up. Now imagine if the revolutionaries got wind of that gossip. They may well become suspicious. Why, they will ask, is the butler to the most famous family hereabouts dressed in such a common fashion? They will start to think and they may come to the not so wild conclusion that the reason involves a certain princess.” Belvedere looked agape as he realized his folly and began to make profuse apologies. “Save it Belvedere.” I ordered. “What is done is done. We should proceed to Cythry as planned.”
Belvedere held out one of the horses for Anna, a chestnut colt who was always friendly to strangers and without any fiery kind of temperament of any sort. She climbed onto his back with skill and dexterity, precisely as one who has been riding horses all her life. I was then handed one of the remaining horses, the same as I usually rode. Like the other he was a chestnut colt but he could not have been more different in temperament from his fellow equine. I was the only person he would allow to ride him and even then he showed signs of resenting it. My orders were obeyed with a slow, lingering hesitation and more often than not I had to tell him twice before he would even start to think about what I wanted him to do. Secretly, however, I think he enjoyed our rides together. His eyes would always light up as I saddled him and his tail would begin to swish as that of a dog. His gait became visibly more jolly too and his head always rose that little bit higher, as though he were proud to carry me. I loved that horse more than I have loved any before or since. No longer do I own any horse owing to the advent of the motor car but even if I did none could replace that chestnut colt in my affections.
The three of us aboard our steeds, Belvedere turned to me.
“By which route shall we ride to the castle sir?”
“Which way did you come from?”
“Through the Eigiau pass sir, then along the Roman road that runs besides the mountain of Drum.”
“Then we shall return by the more direct route across the high plains. And perhaps, Miss Anna, you would like to see the magnificent Aber falls along the way?”
“Yes indeed. I would like that a great deal,” she responded.
And so we set off at a brisk trot back towards the station and then down the secluded, leafy lanes of Aber village that would eventually lead us to the falls. I hear rumour that once there was a palace here, belonging to the house of Aberffraw, though where it actually was I could not tell you for the life of me. It was also somewhere in these parts that Prince Daffyd, the last true prince of Wales, was captured by the forces of Edward Longshanks and so ended the last days of an independent Wales. By the way he was attempting to flee, into the mountains, he was perhaps attempting to reach Cythry. Had he reached there and not been captured on the slopes of Bera Mawr his fate would have likely been a similar one. My ancestors had played the war for both sides, on the sly, and as a result were allowed to keep all their lands and titles, unlike many other members of the Welsh aristocracy of the time. These facts I told to Anna as passed through the village on our way to the falls. The part she seemed most interested in was about my ancestors being ‘Welsh aristocracy.’
“So you are Lord Morfasson, yes?” she beamed.
“Not exactly. By the time the Glyndwr rebellion happened in fourteen hundred it was well known that my ancestors had played both sides during the conquest. Glyndwr, when he was crowned, stripped us of our titles as punishment and King Henry did the same, as well as confiscating our lands, in order to make sure that we wouldn’t be able to side with Glyndwr.”
“Who did your family side with?”
“Both sides. We were split. Some supported Henry, others Glyndwr. The ones who supported Glyndwr were executed and Henry gave back the lands to the ones who had supported his cause as payment for loyalty but not the titles. After that we learned to steer well clear of internal political conflicts. By the time of the civil war in the seventeenth century we were just content to cash in. Us and the Blackadders.”
“These lands you talk of, you still retain them?”
“Some. They are not so large as they once were. We retain the ancestral seat and the nearby village. That is about all.”
“Would your Queen Victoria give you a title?”
“Not bloody likely. My father insulted the memory of her ‘beloved Albert.’ It was not I who insulted him but she still holds me to what my father did.”
“Then my father shall give you a title for protecting me. You shall be Lord Morfasson of Ardeluta!”
“If it is all the same Miss Anna, I would rather be paid with money than with a title.”
It was not long before we left the village and were passing along the tree lined avenue that lead to the falls. We caught no glimpse of them until, in a moment, we rounded a small kink in the road and there they were before us. They were just the same as they ever were and just the same as they ever will be. They thunder down in a long ribbon from the high plains, a great rush of water that pounds down a rugged cliff face and returns to the earth with a sound so loud that one can barely hear oneself speak above it, even from a fair distance. I could therefore not ask Anna her opinion of the fall for this reason, although I saw that her face was a picture of indifference.
“It is quaint,” she would tell me later on. “Much like the castle across the sea.” When I told her that it was the largest natural waterfall in Wales she laughed and said that if that were the largest then the others could hardly be considered waterfalls at all.
We pressed on, having observed the falls, up into the mountains by way of a track that is used by tourists to reach the top. And there, after scaling a further small rise, we found ourselves on the high plains of the Carneddau mountains, the craggy grey of Bera Mawr looming before us and the rounded gnoll of Llwytmor towering to our left. Our pace quickened, the wind almost blowing our hats from off our heads, and we raced towards Bera Mawr, rounding it to the right so that we might eventually come to the peak of Bera Bach and then again turning left so that we would have rounded Bera Mawr across three sides. As we reached Bera Bach we stopped and looked out towards Bethesda. The nearest mountain across the valley was blackened and cut open, belching ugly clouds of smoke into the sky. It looked like the entrance into hell.
“Who would dare do such a terrible thing?” Anna asked me, horrified.
“The Barons Penrhyn,” I sneered before turning my back to that heinous monstrosity.
It was soon forgotten as we set our horses cantering southwards across the plain, towards Yr Aryg and Garnedd Uchaf. In places the ground was rough and rocky and here we had to proceed slowly but far more was open grassland, especially in the dips between the high gnolls. In between Uchaf and Foel Grach Anna decided that she would throw caution to the wind and as she rode undid her bonnet from about her head and allowed it to fly away to somewhere it might never be found. The look of ecstasy upon her face said more than words ever could. She was happy, glad to be alive and have the wind in her face and the mountains about her.
She came to a stop on the far side of Foel Grach, seeing a group of wild ponies stampeding across the valley before her. Again, the look of joy upon her face said more than words ever could.
“Mr Max, you never told me that you had horses near to your home!”
“Aye… But they aren’t the best bit,” I laughed.
“Oh? And what is the best bit?”
“Follow me and I will show you!”
I began to trot away across the valley before breaking into a sprint, Anna coming close behind and Belvedere a distant third. I lost my hat as I hit the slopes of Llewellyn but hang it, I had plenty more. The going became rocky here so I had to slow a little but not by much. I turned east before I reached the peak, heading downwards and eventually finding myself on a sharp and narrow track. Then it was just around one more bend and home was in sight. I stopped, as surely I knew Anna would when she rounded the bend behind me.
True to form this is precisely what occurred. She came to a halt in a clattering of hooves and whinnies and nearly fell from her horse in astonishment. Father always said that the single best way to impress any woman, be she princess or commoner, was to show them Cythry. His words never rang truer than on that day as Anna looked down for the first time in awestruck admiration at the many turreted, sweeping and enormous castle before her. It took her breath away, and no wonder. No other castle in all the world comes as close to majesty and beauty as Cythry does. Anna said but four words in all the time we stared at it.
“I am in love!”
-John Belvedere, born in Nasareth, near Caernarfon, was butler to the Morfasson family for forty five years, from 1853 to his death in 1888.
-‘Aber Station’ refers to the station at Abergwyngregyn, which locals often shorten to ‘Aber.’ It closed in 1960.
-Max first bought an automobile in 1899, a Peugeot type 16, and bought two more cars (An Oldsmobile ‘Curved Dash’ and a Corbin) before he sold the last horse owned by the Morfasson family in 1905. Over the century that followed the family car collection grew at an astonishing rate and today includes some two hundred of the best and worst examples of automotive history.
-Although spelt ‘DRUM’ the name of the mountain is actually pronounced as ‘DRIM.’
-The location of the palace at Aber is a matter of some debate. Some suggest it was in the centre of the village where the remains of a high status building have been discovered, resembling a winged medieval hall. Others, meanwhile, suggest that it is in fact the manor house of Pen-Y Bryn, to the east of the village.
-Max’s father was also called Albert and point blank refused to donate money towards a local memorial to Prince Albert upon his death in 1861. His reasons for this are not known.
-The mountain upon which the Penrhyn slate quarry lies, and to this day it is still a working quarry, is Carnedd Y Filiast.
– Garnedd Uchaf was renamed ‘Carnedd Gwenlian’ in 2009, though it is still sometimes referred to by its old name.