The Men in the Cave
I was the youngest
I was the youngest and to be honest my uncle is a pretty intimidating guy, so I used to stand at the back. I didn’t listen sometimes, just copied what everyone else did. They’re decisive people, the other guys. My uncle lays out the plan, quick chat with the guys, and off they go. Someone would tell me what to do. I guess I used to miss the significance of some of the briefings. And I skipped a few. Like the ones that went on forever about the you-know-what. Suddenly - action! Everyone comes crashing out, they’re like, hey
Gaheris, you were in there, right? You heard all that?
I’m like, Yeah?
So they’re like Well come on then! Saddle up, best horse, best armour, best swords, let us pray and let’s get going.
Whenever I was stuck I asked Bors. Bors is brilliant. You know the one about him and the twelve virgin witches or whatever? He rescued them, killed the guy who was torturing them or whatever, and then they said he had to sleep with them. He’s like I don’t think so, I’m a knight, not into that, and so they go If you don’t make love with us we’re going to jump off this tower and he says Don’t threaten me, and by the way don’t jump off anything, but they insist if he doesn’t do the deed with all twelve of them, or one of them at least, they are definitely going to jump. And so Bors says Well that’s up to you. So they did. All twelve of them jumped! They were virgin witches but really. So everyone was just running around looking for their best shields and praying like it was Christmas and I found Bors and asked him - what’s up man? And Bors was like Jesus, Gaheris, we’re going to find the cup of Christ!
“We’ve got to take a break”
We’ve got to take a break.
How long for?
And he said No one knows, could be a thousand years. I said Great! We’re retiring? We’re done, no more fighting? No quests?
And he said Not quite. We’ve got to wait, all of us together, until great danger threatens the isles of Britain, and then we’ll awake.
We’re going to sleep? And he says yes and I said Where? And he says Well there’s this cave. In Wales…
It was the strangest journey. Word had got out. Everywhere we went, the whole way, everyone came out to see us - food, presents, blessings, it was amazing. Women, kids, really old people, all the men from farmers to barons, they came out and the bowed or knelt for the big man, and they prayed for us and cheered. They say a lot of stuff about the big man but when you look what he did, and what we did I guess - it was something. The Isles of Britain united and peaceful, under a great leader. Sounds simple. By the end it was. You foreswore greed and lies, devoted yourself to service, did the job with a smile.
Everybody was fine. Easy.
We discussed it and we reckoned that if we had to sleep in a cave for the rest of time, if that was the last mission, it was worth it for the people of the British Isles. Anyhow I like sleeping. I have great dreams.
Bors was a bit depressed. That guy lives for action. I tried to cheer him up. I said Bors, we’re going to have the best sleep ever. And with the stuff you’ve done you’re going to have the best dreams. Do you a deal - when we wake up I’ll tell you all of them, all the weird stuff, and you have to tell me yours. He laughed.
He said Garry, if we get out of this one we’ll be going into the biggest fight in history, but I’ll be sure to tell you the best bits if there’s time.
So it was a great trip but by the time we got within sight of Craig y Dinas, at the head of the Vale of Neath, everyone was very quiet. Just the horses stamping in the frost and shaking their manes. And there’s the Number One Hippy, Old Merlo, and there’s the cave. Merlo said he would look after the horses.
You deserve a rest
You deserve a rest. You’re the best ever. The stuff you’ve done they’ll still be talking about a thousand years from now. And if we have to get up and sort things out again - well, I hope we don’t, but if we do it will be worth it to ride out with you again. God rest you, and may flights of angels watch over you in your peace.
Some of us were pretty emotional then. And then we picked our spots and lay down. It was weird. I was frightened. I thought wait, this is like - dying or something, and I have this sort of twitch? I go for my sword when I get scared, it’s automatic, but Bors was right there and he put his hand on my arm and he smiled at me and he said, Don’t worry, Gaheris. We can do this, right?
I don’t know what I’d have done if it hadn’t been for Bors. And then Merlo stepped up and said Look, don’t anyone worry about this, it’s the sweetest sleep, the Sleep of the Just. You just think calm thoughts, I’ll chant a bit and you’re dreaming. OK? And if - when - great danger comes, you’ll all wake up, you’ll feel great, I’ll be here, tell you what’s going on and we’ll take it from there. OK? Alright. Calm thoughts now. Good night everyone, and God bless you.
Merlo looked a bit worried when he saw me
Merlo looked a bit worried, and he had to do the spell again, and that was it, everyone must have fallen asleep, and I was out of it too.
Next thing I know I’m wide awake. And there’s this guy, this weird, tall, skinny guy in bizarre clothes, and he’s got a pot of gold - we always take plenty of cash on campaigns, so there was loads of it lying about. He looked terrified. I could see straight away this was nothing to do with the great danger - everyone else was still asleep and this guy was obviously a thief. So I drew my sword and I was about to spit his gizzard when he took off. No way could I catch him without a horse. You ever tried running in armour? Not easy. Didn’t know what to do then. Couldn’t leave the guys. Didn’t want to go wondering about without them. Really, really wanted to have a look around though. It must have been a long time since we dropped off, judging by the thief. A whole mad different world out there! Imagine! People in bizarre clothes. What would the women and maidens look like?
So I crept up to the mouth of the cave and there was the stone the Number One Hippy had rolled across it and there was a gap where the thief had got in and out and I edged through, just my head and shoulders.
First damn thing I saw was a dragon
First damn thing I saw was a dragon. Way high up, flying over dead straight, rumbling, leaving two streaks of smoke behind him in a line. There were other streaks up there too - must be a lot of dragons. But they were very high so I guess there was some agreement, dragons stick to the sky. Because the farms looked fine, none of them pillaged or on fire, and the fields had got big - huge - so they must be doing well. A lot of the forest had gone. That was weird. Chopped down a long time ago by the look of it and the stumps dug out. The farms were like small castles, all in stone, and the tracks between them wide, and there were roads which had been paved black, and poles with ropes on top of them linking the farms like rigging on a ship, and lots of cattle and some horses, and loads of sheep. And I looked at it all and thought, yeah, it is a peaceful land, prosperous and quiet. It all came true. He did it! We did it. There is peace and no great danger, and so I went back in and rolled the stone back into place. It took me ages to get back to sleep.
Horatio Clare 2016
How to experience this legend:
Walk to Dinas Rock.
This mildly energetic but highly scenic walk is based from PENDERYN, on the A4059 between Hirwaun and Brecon.
DISTANCE: Standard route = 10kms return. Waterfall route = 11kms.
HEIGHT GAIN: Standard route = 350metres. Waterfall route = 400metres.
STARTING POINT = SN944090 on OS Explorer OL12 or Landranger 160.
A mixture of good tracks and muddy paths, with some significant ascents.
Some sections can become somewhat overgrown in summer. Allow 3½ hours (standard) or 4 hours (waterfall).
Cars should be parked on the side of the lane that leaves the main A4059 at the northern edge of Penderyn. If travelling from Brecon and the north, this is the first turning right after the Penderyn sign; if travelling from Hirwaun and the south, this is the first turning left (sudden and hidden) after the 40mph limit sign at the far end of the village, about 250 metres beyond the Lamb Inn on the left. There is usually ample parking just before the 30mph limit sign.