Alun was the first to reach the top of the ridge. He stood for a moment and looked at the wide, breathtakingly lovely valley below and the saddle of another mountain that rose up across the horizon. That would be tomorrow’s target, of course. This afternoon, it would be enough to get down into the valley and follow the river upstream until it was time to make camp.
“What’s this one called?” Ianto asked as he reached his side and pulled the map folder from his pocket. “Llan… fan… fy….fryn…du… cym…coch…”
Alun laughed softly. They were both Welshmen, fluent in the Welsh language, fiercely proud of their nationality and the heritage that came with that nationality. But even they were starting to feel overwhelmed by the number of long, evocative names given to every dip and rise in the topography they were hiking across.
“Does it matter what it’s called?” Alun asked. “It’s beautiful, and it’s virtually empty. You and me are kings of our own world out here.”
He shrugged off his backpack and sat down on the grass. Ianto did the same. They broke out some of their rations. After they had eaten they lay back on the grass and looked at the clear blue sky for a while.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Ianto said. “We do have to get a few more miles done before nightfall.”
“No we don’t,” Alun replied. “We’re on a hiking holiday, not a route march. We can do as much or as little as we like. Could set up camp right here and watch the sun go down while I shag you into next week.”
“Nice idea,” Ianto agreed. “But maybe we should just have a cuddle for now. Leave the shagging till later.”
That was nice, too, lying on the grass, reaching for each other, kissing, holding each other close, knowing they had all the time in the world, was good.
“Never really had a holiday since I joined Torchwood,” Ianto said. “I’m still not quite used to the concept.”
“Maybe we should have gone somewhere more exotic than Brecon, then,” Alun answered him.
“No, this is good enough for me. I like Wales. It has everything I ever wanted in it.”
“It’s got you in it,” Alun said to his lover. “That’s enough.” Ianto laughed at the blatantly romantic notion. “It’s true,” he insisted. “I don’t want to be anywhere you’re not. Anyway, a holiday from the Rift is good enough. Being outside its field of weirdness for a while.”
“Hate to break it to you, cariad,” Ianto replied. “But the Rift isn’t the only source of weirdness in South Wales. There was no Rift involved with the cannibal village twenty miles thataway that Torchwood ran into a couple of years ago. I nearly got tenderised for the oven by those nutters and they had no alien influences as an excuse. Then there was Llanfairfach. Remember we passed through there two days ago… There’s a file an inch thick about the goings on there in the 1970s.”
“That just looked like another sad remnant of Thatcherism with a closed down pit and the old miner’s cottages turned into rural weekend homes for executives.”
“It does now, but there are secrets in that valley. There’s probably a secret in every one of these valleys. Some dark strangeness.”
“Well, they can keep them,” Alun told him. “I just want a nice, quiet walking holiday, out of reach of mobile phone reception, where Torchwood can’t spoil it for us.”
“Are you tired of Torchwood?” Ianto asked.
“No. I can’t imagine working anywhere else. But it IS nice to have a holiday.”
“It’s absolute bliss,” he answered. “But come on. Let’s get those extra miles in before sundown.”
Alun consulted the map and took a bearing on the compass and suggested they walk along the backbone of the ridge. The view would be spectacular with the sun going down.
They did just that, and it was a pleasant couple of hours. The view changed minute by minute as the sun dropped lower. What had seemed like soft, undulating hillside came into sharp relief as the shadows lengthened and it seemed a completely different landscape.
They came down off the ridge as the sun began to set and chose a sheltered leeside spot to pitch their two man tent. The job was achieved swiftly. Both were accomplished campers. Ianto told Alun about the many times he had pitched a tent with his father in his childhood. Alun, of course, learnt the skills in the army. They both had a gentle laugh about Owen, who had several times demonstrated his utter incompetence and lack of patience with things like guy ropes and tent poles.
“It’s getting colder,” Ianto pointed out as they finished the job in twilight. “Let’s get inside and keep warm.”
Keeping warm was easily achieved. First by reconstituted chilli and hot cocoa cooked over the camping stove and then, after their supper, with a thermal lined double sleeping bag. They slid into it together, in shorts and t-shirts after pulling off their sweaters and jeans and setting them aside to wear again in the morning. Neither liked the feeling of walking in clothes they had slept in and it was two days hiking to the next designated camp site with shower facilities.
“We’re in a terrible place for radio reception,” Ianto said as he gave up trying to get a signal on the compact DAB receiver and set it aside. “The only thing that picks up clearly is the shipping forecast and a pirate station from Cork. And that must be a complete fluke. I guess we’d better just go to sleep. It’s only eight o’clock, but…”
“The way of the countryside,” Alun commented as he reached to kiss his lover and stroke his shoulders and arms - deliberately non-erogenous zones that were the preliminary to more intense intimacies to come. The slow build up helped them both relax muscles that ached from the day’s exertions. “Early to bed… early to rise.”
Ianto giggled. Alun laughed softly.
“You’re blushing, aren’t you?” he said, caressing his lover’s cheek. “It’s nearly a year since we were married. We were having regular sex for near enough a year before then. And a cheap pun about ‘rising’ makes you blush. I love you, Ianto Llewellyn Jones. I really do.”
It was considerably later by the time they actually settled down to sleep. But when they did it was a sound sleep, despite the fact that they had nothing but pressed foam bedrolls underneath them. They were oblivious to everything but their own contented dreams through the night.
Ianto woke and noticed that it was near dawn and the tent flap was open, letting in a sharp coldness. Alun was already up. He slipped into his clothes and pulled on his boots before going outside to join him.
He was surprised to see that he couldn’t see very much at all. There was a thick white mist filling the valley they were in. Alun was standing just outside the tent. He was frowning. Ianto stepped closer and saw that he had their compass in his hand. He noticed that it was broken.
“It’s my fault,” Alun said. “I didn’t put it away properly. I think… we must have rolled on it last night…when we were too busy to worry about anything else but each other.”
“We’re in trouble?”
Alun gave a soft laugh and looked at his watch. The time was 05.23. His watch was digital. Ianto’s was, too.
“Next time we camp in the middle of nowhere, one of us has to wear an analogue watch. Using the position of the sun with a properly functioning watch is a tried and trusted way to find north without a compass.”
“There is no sun,” Ianto pointed out as he looked up at the grey-white diffused light above them.
“It might have dissipated by the time we’ve had some breakfast and struck camp,” Alun said. “If not we head up to the top of the ridge. That should bring us above the mist. Even without a compass or a watch we can work out the general direction from the sun’s position and move on. It might be a bit of a mystery tour, coming out in strange valleys starting with Llan where everyone’s surname is either Jones or Thomas, but I don’t mind being off the map for a bit, do you?”
“Not a bit,” Ianto replied. “As long as we’re lost together, I’m happy. Just don’t lose me.”
“As if I would,” Alun answered him.
They grinned happily at each other as they packed up the camp and set off up the slope to the top of the long ridge of mountain. It was breathtakingly lovely when they emerged from the low-lying valley mist to see the newly risen sun’s slanting rays glancing off what looked like a sea of white for as far as they could see. If they had felt before they were alone in the emptiness of the Black Hills, they felt it even more so now.
“It’s like an alien world,” Ianto commented as they took an approximate bearing from the position of the sun and set off along in a northwesterly direction.
“You’ve never been to an alien world,” Alun told him. “The aliens come to us.”
“Jack has,” Ianto answered. “When… he and I… it wasn’t all about shagging, despite what most people think. Sometimes, afterwards, he’d hold me in his arms and he’d talk. He never really gave away his whole story. But there would be little anecdotes. Places he’d been when he was younger or… when he travelled with The Doctor. He’d describe fantastic places he’d seen. Ice worlds, and desert worlds, mountains of pure diamond… I wasn’t quite sure if that one was real. But some of them…” He smiled at his own lover. “Don’t be jealous. Even if you’re not a space traveller from the fifty-first century I still love you.”
“I’m not jealous,” he answered. “Jack is… one hell of a man. But you chose to marry me.”
“Yes, I did,” Ianto said. He smiled happily as they walked along the ridge, feeling the morning sunlight growing hotter and warmer on the back of their necks. They talked a lot. They always did when they were together, whether it was deep in the bowels of the Torchwood archives or driving home at the end of the day, at home in their flat, they always talked. They never tired of hearing each other’s voices.
But it wasn’t because they were talking and not paying attention that both fell on a rough section of the ridge and slithered painfully down the mountainside, scrabbling for purchase on the loose rocky surface. Alun managed to stop himself by jamming his booted foot against a large rock and grabbing the exposed root of a straggly tree. He heard Ianto still falling but he couldn’t see him. Such was the extent of the mist, still.
“Ianto!” he called out as he pulled himself upright on the steep mountainside and began to pick his way downhill. “Ianto, where are you?”
He was relieved when he heard him calling back, though Ianto’s voice had a distressed tone to it. He got his bearings and followed the sound of his lover’s voice.
He found him lying in an awkward, twisted way, struggling to lift himself up with the heavy backpack pulling him down. Alun pulled the backpack off him then managed to lift him. He groaned in agony as he tried to put his weight onto his left foot. Alun sat him down on the backpack containing the tent and sleeping bag and set about pulling off his boot.
“I think it’s just a bad sprain,” he said as he rummaged in his own backpack for their first aid kit. “Not broken. But that’s bad enough, considering we’re miles from anywhere. I can put a support bandage on it. But you’re going to have to walk on it, cariad, at least until we can find somewhere to get help.”
“I can manage,” Ianto answered. Alun looked at his face and wasn’t so sure about that. He looked pale. He was shaking slightly. But he tried to be cheerful as his ankle was bandaged and he tried to put it back into the boot. Alun loosened the laces and then fastened them as tight as he could to give the injured foot maximum support. He helped Ianto to stand up and shoulder his backpack again. But he wasn’t going to be able to walk without help.
“Downhill,” Alun said. “Very carefully. If there’s a house or a farm near here it’ll be in the valley.”
That was logical enough. And it didn’t really matter that they couldn’t see anything in the mist. If they kept going downhill, sooner or later they would reach a stream or something at the bottom of the valley and that would lead somewhere.
It was a painful trek for Ianto, and a difficult one. Alun helped him as much as he could, but he was in agony with every step, and the fact that they were walking almost blindly in the mist, not knowing if they were getting closer to help or further away from it, added to his distress.
“What if we’re going nowhere?” he asked. “Maybe this mist isn’t natural. Maybe… it’s something alien… and it’s snatched us away from Earth…”
“Hey!” Alun stopped walking and held onto him for a minute. “The pain is sending you doolally. You’re letting your imagination run away.”
“We work for Torchwood. We know anything’s just about possible. Alien mist…”
“It’s just Wales. When the rest of the world is a desert because of global warming, it will still be pissing down in the valleys. Shitty weather is our national birthright. And soggy mists hanging around in the valley have nothing to do with aliens. I remember coming up to the army training camp at Brecon once… a UNIT group, Parachute Regiment and the SAS as well. We all set out and in a half hour all three of the supposedly elite forces of Great Britain had got themselves lost in something like this. Looked a right bunch of amateur twats by the time it was all sorted out.”
Ianto laughed, as Alun intended him to do and managed to walk another quarter mile without giving in to the pain that overwhelmed his senses. It seemed to be levelling out a bit, anyway. They had reached the bottom of the valley. But that meant that the mist was thickest there. There was no sun to make even a guess at direction. Consulting the map was useless without a recognisable landmark. He made a guess and reassured Ianto that there had to be a farm somewhere near.
“Even if it’s a bit off the beaten track there’ll be a phone. Nobody is totally cut off from civilisation these days. They’ll send the air ambulance. Fly you into Cardiff in style, cariad. Of course, you’re never going to live it down back at work. Owen will take the piss out of you forever.”
“I’d… be glad to see Owen right now,” Ianto answered him. “As long as he brings a shot of alien strength painkillers he can take the piss out of me any way he wants.”
“Yeah,” Alun agreed. Then he shouted in surprise. He had bumped into something, and it wasn’t a tree. He gripped the fence post with one hand and held Ianto up with his other arm as he moved along the fence looking for a gate. The fence looked strong and well maintained. Somebody lived here. They would be all right, soon.
There was a gate. It was latched simply with a loop of rope. He opened it and helped Ianto through before closing and latching it again. Even in desperation he obeyed the countryside code. There was a rough path through a copse of trees, and Alun could have cried for joy when they emerged into a paved farm yard. Through the still thick mist he could make out a barn and a dwelling house in an L shape. He heard a strange sound and thought he could see movement. He headed towards the sound and was surprised to see a young woman pumping the handle of an old fashioned water pump. She didn’t seem to have noticed them approaching.
“Hello,” he said. “Can you... can you help us?”
The woman looked up at him with a shocked expression on her face, but said nothing. Alun repeated his request in Welsh. It was just possible, in a remote valley, to meet somebody who only spoke Welsh. Certainly she seemed to understand him that time. But her reaction was the complete opposite to anything he had hoped for. She screamed and ran, knocking her water bucket over in her panic. Alun watched her run into the house, then turned his attention to Ianto. He had fainted, slumping against him as dead weight. He pulled his backpack off him and gently let him down onto the flagstones as an older woman and a man ran from the house to help him.
Ianto woke from his faint to find himself in a soft, warm bed, a feather pillow under his head. His ankle was properly bandaged and although it still hurt a lot, it was better now he wasn’t walking on it. He was surprised when a female voice spoke to him – in Welsh - and held a cup to his lips. The liquid in it seemed to be some kind of herbal brew. It tasted vile, and he really didn’t want to drink it.
“It’s ok,” Alun said to him in English. “It’s just a natural analgesic. It will help the pain.”
Ianto drank the stuff. The woman told him she would bring him some food and left the room. Alun stepped nearer the bed and bent to kiss him quickly. Ianto noticed that he was wearing some sort of cotton nightshirt.
“Tell me she didn’t undress me,” Ianto said as he pulled himself into a sitting position, wincing slightly at the pain in his foot. Alun fixed the pillows behind his back and sat on the edge of the bed.
“No,” he assured him. “That was me. She bandaged your ankle up, though. There’s a herbal poultice on it. Should be helping a bit.”
“That was kind of her,” Ianto replied. “How come I’m in a bed, though… I thought you were going to call the air ambulance. I should be halfway to Cardiff…”
“There’s something wrong here,” he said. “Something really odd. There isn’t a phone for a start. Or a TV or computer… Or running water inside the house. You saw the girl with the pump. Look around this room…”
Ianto looked. It had an old-fashioned and distinctly homespun look to it. The curtains and the patchwork quilt on the bed were hand made. The floor was covered with rugs made from cut up rags. If he was feeling talkative, Ianto could have said that his grandmother used to make them with cut up pieces of blanket. The walls were whitewashed and there was no decoration other than a few simple frames containing biblical quotes in neat calligraphy. The one above his head contained all of the ten commandments with the first letter in bold red ink. The others all seemed to be concerned with rejecting satan and his works.
“Ianto, I think we’ve passed through a time rift. We’re in… I don’t know, the 1950s or something.”
“No!” Ianto opened his eyes wide. “Oh, God, no. Not again.”
“Yeah, that was my thought, too,” Alun answered him. “Thing is, we’d better be careful what we say to these people. For a start… I told them we’re brothers. Apart from anything else… they seem to be quite religious people. Every room I’ve seen so far has these bible quotes on the wall. They’re not going to be philosophical about us.”
Ianto nodded. That was sensible.
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Stay here a day or two until you feel up to walking and… I don’t know… try to walk back out of the rift… if it’s stable, we might be able to just retrace our steps. But if not… we could get back to Cardiff and contact Torchwood. They might be able to help us, somehow. ”
“That’s a plan,” he answered. “Maybe not the best plan. But we don’t have a lot of choice, do we?”
“You’re not going anywhere for a while, anyway,” Alun said. “A 1950s valley farm isn’t the worst place we could end up, I suppose. A bit of home cooking and TLC will see you right. And we can both brush up on our conversational Welsh. You notice none of them speak English. Those were the days! Before television eroded the language.”
He was putting a positive spin on it, Ianto thought. Home cooked food and practicing Welsh were hardly compensations for being lost in time. But they really didn’t have any other choices.
“Come here and give me a kiss while we’re alone,” he said, reaching out to his lover. “I’m older than you, of course. That makes me your big brother.”
“Fine by me,” Alun answered, kissing him fondly. Then he quickly leaned back. There were footsteps on the stairs and presently the door opened. He stood up as the woman who had been in the room before brought a tray with porridge, scrambled eggs and barley bread as well as a pot of aromatic herbal tea.
“Will you join us at the table below?” the woman asked Alun. “Your brother will be all right now he’s recovered from the shock of his injury.”
“I will,” he answered in Welsh. Ianto took the tray of food and began to eat hungrily. Alun went with their hostess down the uncarpeted wooden stairs to the big kitchen that was obviously the heart of the house. There was an old fashioned kitchen range providing heat and cooking facilities and a long scrubbed wooden table around which places were set for the breakfast. It was nearly eight o’clock now, Alun noted on the wall clock set above another of those biblical texts about sin and ungodliness. The woman told Alun to sit at a place by the range. She herself set about putting porridge into the bowls set around the table. As she did the rest of the family came into the kitchen. The young woman who had been so startled earlier was among them. There were five youngsters aged between five and ten and a small baby held by another young woman of maybe twenty years old. There was a woman in her late fifties or sixties who sat near the head of the table and four of them in their mid forties, including the woman who had attended to Ianto.
The last to arrive in the room was a man in his late seventies or possibly older. The word ‘leathery’ best described the lined, weather beaten face. His eyes were bright blue and alert as he looked around the breakfast table. Everyone waited until he called them to prayer. Alun joined in. Ianto’s mother always said Grace before meals and they were both used to that when they visited. He had no objection to giving thanks for his food.
“I… am very grateful,” Alun said to the old man. “For the help your family have given me and my brother. We would not have imposed upon you if we were not in need…”
“It is nothing more than our Christian duty,” the old man answered. “You were lucky to find us, Mr….”
“Llewellyn,” Alun said. “Alun Llewellyn. My brother is Ianto… Ianto Llewellyn.”
“Have you been travelling long, Mr Llewellyn,” asked the woman who had attended to Ianto. “It’s been a long time since any others came to our valley. We had begun to suppose we were alone.”
“Any… others…” Alun was puzzled. But the old man spoke again.
“Don’t keep asking questions, Branwen. Remember your place. I am Carwyn Ap Hugh. These are my daughters, and my wife, Angwen…” he waved at the older woman who nodded cautiously to him. “We have lived here in peace since the tribulation. We have food for the table and shelter from the elements. You and your brother are welcome to share in both. There is work a healthy man could do to pay for his keep.”
“Yes, of course,” Alun said. “But… the tribulation…”
“You and your brother are so young…” Angwen, wife of Carwyn Ap Hugh said. “You must be at least the third generation to be born since. But surely your parents taught you about the Tribulation? Why else are there so few people left when once we were a numberless multitude. Of course, you must have survived in another valley, like this one, passed over when the plague that swept through the cities and towns, even the rural villages ravaged the world and wiped out the iniquitous and the heathen.”
“Of course, we never saw any of it,” said the woman called Branwen. “We were born afterwards. Father and mother are the only ones among us who witnessed the tribulation. But father has told us all about it, lest we forget God’s punishment of the iniquitous.”
Alun said nothing in response to that. He was puzzled and he had a lot of questions he wanted to ask. He asked them carefully, so as not to either frighten anyone or appear to intimidate. But he learnt enough to understand something about their situation.
Something that worried him deeply.
As soon as he could, he excused himself from the table saying that he wanted to make sure his brother was all right.
“Don’t be long,” said one of the young women who had introduced herself to him earlier as Caryn. “You can help me milk the cows. And then there’s some other jobs that you could do. It’s been some time since we had a strong man in the house. Father is old now, and can’t manage as he used to.”
“I’ll give you any help I can,” Alun promised. “It’s the least I can do while we’re imposing on you in this way.”
He ran up the stairs to the guest bedroom. He noticed bright sunlight outside the window. The mist had finally lifted. But there wasn’t a single landmark in the immediate view that he could have pinpointed on a map. He had no idea where they were, still.
Ianto had finished his breakfast and the tray was set aside. He was lying down, trying to sleep, but he sat up when Alun came to him. They kissed quickly, while they were alone. Then Alun told him what he had found out.
“We haven’t gone through a time rift,” he said. “I think we’ve gone through a dimension rift. It’s not the 1950s. It’s 2010 like it should be. But this isn’t our world. I think we’re in some kind of alternative Earth where… Ianto, there was a disaster, fifty years ago – 1960. I’m guessing it was something like smallpox accidentally released from a laboratory. Or anthrax, something of that sort. Anyway, it killed almost the whole population of the world in a matter of weeks. Only small pockets of humans survived. Mostly people living in remote places like this. Carwyn… the farm owner… he survived…”
Ianto looked at his lover in astonishment as he explained the story of the ‘Tribulation’ to him.
“Then… if this isn’t our world, what do we do?” he asked.
“Same plan as before,” he answered. “When you’re well, we try to walk out of it, retracing our steps. If that doesn’t work we make for Cardiff. If anyone survived this ‘Tribulation’ it would be Torchwood. They had their nuclear bunkers in the 1950s, their survival stores…. They’ll have waited it out. We can talk to them. It’s 2010. They must have managed to research the rift. They might be able to get us home. And… if not… we can be useful to them. We’re experienced field agents. They can use us.”
“But we’d never get home…” Ianto bit his lip anxiously. “We wouldn’t get home to our Torchwood, to the people we love… my mam… none of them will know what happened to us.”
“I know,” Alun said. “But believe me, I’d rather try to get to Cardiff, even if it’s a ghost town, than stay here. Because… there’s something more. Something nasty about this family.”
“What I’ve seen so far, they seem kind enough,” Ianto said. “That woman… Branwen… she seemed nice.”
“I’m sure they’re all very nice women,” Alun said. “But Carwyn… he’s… a dirty, disgusting bastard. I’ve been doing the maths. The disaster happened in 1960. that’s exactly fifty years ago. His ‘wife’ Angwen is sixty. So she was ten when the tribulation happened. I don’t think she was his wife. I think she was his daughter. Maybe his real wife died in the Tribulation, or maybe she was already dead. The next eldest in the house is Branwen. She’s forty five. She was born in 1965. So if Angwen is her mother, then she gave birth when she was fifteen… so she conceived at fourteen…”
Ianto gave a disgusted exclamation and proved that his conversational Welsh was well up to scratch by calling Carwyn Ap Hugh something much worse than ‘dirty disgusting bastard’ in his native tongue.
“It gets worse,” Alun continued. “There are three more women in their forties, Dylis, Gladys and Heledd, all born within a year of each other. So the bastard, having made his daughter give birth to one child, made her have three more one after the other. Four children before she was nineteen.”
Ianto swore again in beautifully enunciated Welsh.
“There’s more,” Alun said. Ianto’s eyes widened in surprise. “There are no other men in the place, understand. Now we come to the two young women. Caryn and her sister, Carys. They’re twins. Caryn is the one who was scared to death in the yard when we turned up. Carys has a six month old baby. Who do you reckon is the father of the child?”
Ianto didn’t say anything. His vocabulary in English and Welsh was used up.
“And that’s not counting the other kids. Five of them aged ten down to five. Remember, Angwen is sixty. I doubt any of them are hers. He must have had his way with all of his daughters… or granddaughters we should say since Angwen was his daughter to begin with. Which makes the little ones his GREAT granddaughters and his daughters at the same time.”
“When you made that joke earlier about valleys full of people called Jones or Thomas!” Ianto commented. “I mean… we’ve all told jokes about inbreeding in the valleys. But… I mean… no, even if he thought there was nobody else left alive on the planet, it doesn’t excuse it. It’s vile. The man is… ughh.”
“That’s why I don’t want to stay here a moment longer than we have to. I feel sorry for the women and the kids. But he makes my skin crawl. I mean… people call us abominations for being gay. But… this is just…”
Words failed him, too. He shook his head. What kind of a world were they in? What kind of desperation drove people to do such a thing? Was it happening everywhere among the survivors of this disaster? Were they all trying to re-establish the Human race through multiple incest?
There was a knock at the door. Alun stood and opened it. Caryn was there, ready for him to go milking with her. He told Ianto he would see him later and went with her.
The milking parlour was a very old fashioned affair, even compared to his own family farm where his father had never invested much in new equipment. Even so, Alun knew what he was doing.
“They’re good stock,” he commented about the cows as he transferred the milk into the clean metal churns. “I’m surprised at that. I mean… you’ve all been in this valley since 1960… including the herd? They ought to be weak stock by now from inbreeding… you need each generation to be sired by a new bull at least. Fresh blood…”
“Oh, they are,” Caryn told him. “Father does that.”
For a brief moment, Alun thought she meant that her father was personally inseminating the cows as well as his daughters, but that was obviously ridiculous, even in Brecon.
“You see, there are cattle running wild beyond our valley, of course. From the farms where the iniquitous were caught out by the Tribulation. Father is the only one who has ever been out of the valley. He goes when we need a bull… or a ram for the sheep, of course. Brings back a beast to do the work… and then lets it go afterwards to return where it came from.”
“I see,” Alun said. It made a sort of sense. If the disease that killed the population only affected humans, there would be cattle, sheep, all sorts of domestic animals returned to the wild, fending for themselves. If he could drive one of them to his cow herd, it would ‘service’ them all right.
“And… when he’s outside the valley… does he never meet any other people?” Alun asked. “Is there no news from anywhere else?”
“No,” Caryn replied. “But sometimes, there have been people, like yourself and your brother, who find us. Men… the last time… nearly eighteen months ago… a man came here… Father gave him to Carys for a husband. That’s how she has little Nerys… her baby.”
“Oh!” Alun tried to hide his surprise. So Carwyn wasn’t the one, after all. At least not in that case. “But… what happened to him… her… husband.”
“Oh… he died,” she said. “My husband died, too. So did all my babies. All four of them… all boys… they died… in their sleep.”
“Oh… I am so sorry,” Alun said. He was so shocked by the thought of her giving birth to four children, one after the other, and seeing them die, that the rest of what she was saying went over his head at first. Then he thought about it. “Both your husbands died? You and your sister.”
“Men… always die,” Caryn answered. “Father said it’s part of the Tribulation, still. Men… they just die… I was sad. I was very fond of my husband. He was sweet, and gentle. He didn’t mind staying here. A lot of them want to leave. Carys’s husband left after she conceived. Mine stayed a long time… he died the same day my last baby died.”
“But…” Alun began. Then she turned and grasped him by the arm. She reached and touched his face.
“You’re strong. Your brother looks strong, too, except for his wound. Father will give you both to me and Carys. We can have more babies. Maybe we’ll have girls, and they’ll be strong. I hope so. I couldn’t bear to lose any more boy babies. And… maybe… maybe you won’t die for a long time. You’re both strong. It would be good to have husbands with good, strong blood. We need that.”
Alun looked around at the cows, sired by bulls driven into the valley by Carwyn to service them. He suddenly realised that the same principle was being used to sire the children of the Ap Hugh clan.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think that will happen. We can’t stay. When Ianto is recovered, we’ll be moving on again. Besides I don’t… I can’t…”
There were many theories, in his world at least, about why some men are attracted only to other men. There was an argument that they were born that way, and one that they were ‘turned’ by their environment in some way. Alun had never asked Ianto what he thought, since he knew his husband had once had female lovers who seemed satisfied with him. But he was pretty sure he, himself, was a born homosexual. He had never found women stimulating – well, except that one time in Jack’s office with Gwen, when they were all acting under the influence of the alien mood pebbles. If Carwyn wanted a pair of young bulls to service his daughters, then he was going to be very disappointed and so were the daughters.
“I can’t,” he repeated. “Caryn, I’m sorry. I am very sorry for everything that has happened to you and your sisters and your mother… whichever one of the women she is… but what is happening here isn’t right. Your father… Carwyn… you know that he’s… your mother is his daughter… and so is her mother… it’s…”
“It’s in the bible,” Caryn told him. “Lot’s daughters laid with him and conceived of his seed so that their line would be assured…”
“Yeah!” Alun swore under his breath. “Of course it is.” He thought of all those injunctions against sin all over the house. Carwyn obviously believed in the bible. He took it to heart. So having sex with his daughters to preserve his line was permitted. But he would no doubt be able to quote chapter and verse to say why he and Ianto were sinners of the worst kind for their kind of love. He’d come across plenty of that sort of hypocrisy before. But he had never seen it so practically expressed as here in this valley of iniquity.
“Look, show me the other jobs that have to be done,” he said. “I’ll do what I can. Your family have been kind to me and Ianto. The least I can do is a bit of manual labour about the place. But I’ll be having a talk with your father, later. He has to see that the other thing just isn’t on. And I really am sorry about that. You seem like a nice woman. So is your sister. But we’re not going to be your husbands.”
She was nice. He genuinely thought she was. But also just a little bit insane. The whole family were if they went along with this madness. And he still wanted to get away from there as soon as humanly possible. But until then, making himself seem useful in ways other than as a sperm bank would help pass the time and stop him becoming as insane as the rest.
He worked hard all morning, stopping to eat a lunch of cheese and bread that was brought out to him by Carys, the twin with the baby. Caryn stayed with him showing him the broken fencing that needed repair and the chicken run that was damaged by wind, lots of small things that the Ap Hugh women, strong and capable as they looked, could probably manage for themselves, but having a man around was a novelty they would make the most of.
After lunch, Caryn brought him to the barn. It was in pretty good repair apart from some rips in the felt under the slate roof. Since it was obviously important for the barn to stay dry, he got a ladder and climbed up to see what he could do. Caryn sat on a bale of hay and watched him. He carefully worked his way along the rafters of the sturdily built structure tacking the felt back in place. As he did, he noticed something curious. He steadied himself and looked around carefully. He was right. The rafters continued on beyond what he thought was the back wall. There was a false wall with a space behind that had not only been walled off but covered with boards at the top, too. A closed off room.
“What’s in there?” he asked Caryn when he climbed down again. He pointed to the false wall. “A hidden room?”
“It’s…” Caryn bit her lip. Tears pricked her eyes. “It’s… where the babies are,” she said. “Father put them there. And… and…”
“The babies?” Alun thought the horrors of this house couldn’t get any worse. “What do you mean?”
Caryn walked towards the wall. There was an almost concealed door there, that was obvious once you were close to it. The key was hung next to it. She unlocked the door and opened it.
Alun gagged at the smell. He knew what it was and the last thing he wanted to do was step inside. But he felt he had to. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around his mouth and nose. Caryn seemed oblivious of the stench as she followed him into what was best described as a charnel house.
There were babies there – bodies of babies, anyway. They were tightly wrapped in blankets. The oldest were desiccated, mummified almost. The dry cool air in this room would do that, he guessed. The newest was maybe a month old. Alun carefully unwrapped it. It was a boy. He looked at it carefully in the light of the oil lamp Caryn brought in with her. He was no expert. Owen was the man for this job. But he had an idea that Owen, if he looked at this poor scrap of new born life, the remnant of the umbilical cord still knotted on its stomach, would have said it was suffocated.
There were other bodies. Some of them were merely skeletal remains. The dessicated flesh had dropped off them. Others were still in the same partially mummified state as the babies. They were all men. Those he could identify as either sex, anyway.
Two looked fairly recent. One was maybe a year old, the flesh waxen and grey-blue. The other was very recent, put there about the same time as the baby.
“Oh, Christ!” Alun looked a Caryn. “This is… that’s your baby… and… this is your husband who died the same day.” He examined the body. Again, Owen would have no trouble identifying a cause of death. There was bruising around his face. Somebody had pressed down on his mouth and nose and suffocated him.
He looked at the body further and shuddered as he saw a tattoo on his arm. A pair of stylised wings. He had once been a soldier, in the Parachute Regiment. Alun recalled the anecdote he had told Ianto only a few hours ago about the joint forces getting lost in the valleys in the mist. All of the men on that occasion had been accounted for, eventually. But was it possible that one went missing some time, his body never recovered?
No, wait. That wasn’t possible. Unless…
Alun turned and ran. He ran out of the barn and across the yard. He crashed open the kitchen door and ran past the startled women working there. He charged up the stairs into the guest bedroom. He slammed the door shut and stood for a moment leaning against it, gasping for breath.
Ianto looked at him for a moment, then reached under his pillow.
“Alun,” he said. “I found out something. I don’t think…” He pulled out the DAB radio and turned it on. The DJ on the pirate radio station from Cork was counting down the top ten.
“Yeah, I just worked it out, too… We’ve been down in the Hub too long. Our theories were all too sophisticated. A rift in time… a rift into a parallel Earth… it never occurred to either of us that Carwyn Ap Hugh was just stark raving fucking mad.”
“What are we going to do?” Ianto asked.
“We’re… we’re getting out of here right this minute,” Alun answered as he pulled clothes from Ianto’s rucksack. “If I have to carry you on my back, we’re getting out of this madhouse. We’re going to find civilisation… and we’re going to get the police to come back here and take this place to pieces.”
“I don’t think so!” Alun turned around to see Carwyn Ap Hugh at the bedroom door, a double barrelled shotgun pointed at Ianto’s head. “You’re going nowhere, either of you. You belong to me. you’re going to marry my girls and sire strong-blooded children. And if you disappoint me… like the one I put down a month ago…”
Alun stood between Ianto and the shotgun. It was the only thing he could do. If he tried to disarm Carwyn the gun could go off.
“You’re staying right here,” Carwyn repeated. “Just sit down there alongside your brother and be quiet. You’ll stay here in this room, with no food or water. It won’t be long before you co-operate.”
“You’re insane,” Ianto said. “Completely insane.”
Carwyn said nothing. He just kept the shotgun pointed at them both. He stuck it out for two hours. Alun started to wonder if the old man might get tired. If he did, if he faltered, there was a chance he could disarm him.
But Carwyn had obviously expected a long haul. His daughter, Branwen, came and took the gun and sat on a chair by the door, watching the two men carefully. Alun contemplated jumping her but it would only take a moment for her to pull the trigger and his head or stomach would be soup. And she would still have another barrel to shoot Ianto with.
The sun was starting to set when another of the family relieved her. It was Caryn. She looked worried about being asked to do this. Alun still wasn't sure he wanted to risk anything physical. But she might be easier to persuade than one of the older women.
“Caryn,” he said. “You have to help us. You know your father is mad. You know he has to be stopped.”
“I’m sorry,” she answered him. “I can’t. You have to stay here. You have to…”
“Caryn…” Alun was surprised when Ianto spoke to her. She seemed surprised, too. “Caryn, I know what your father wants from us. And… if you let Alun go, let him leave… I’ll stay. I’ll let you have what you want. I’ll be your husband. You and your sister. But let Alun get away from here. Let him have a chance.”
“Ianto!” Alun protested. “No. You can’t…”
“Yes, I can,” he answered. “Alun… get away from here. You can run. You can make it. I can’t.”
“Every man who has come to this house ended up dead,” Alun told him. “I’ve seen the bodies. Her father suffocated the father of her babies. He killed the babies because they were male… Christ only knows why. Maybe he thought they’d grow up to challenge him or something. I can’t leave you.”
“They won’t kill me,” Ianto answered. “I’m a healthy, fertile male. They have two women of child-bearing age. They need me alive. Alun… please. Just run.”
Alun looked at Caryn. She was still holding the shotgun, but she was pointing it away from them. She was wavering. He made a decision. He turned and reached out to Ianto. He held him briefly and kissed him on the lips, surprising Caryn who had obviously never seen the book of Leviticus visually demonstrated before. Then he moved to the window. He looked back and saw the woman put down the gun and approach the bed. He turned away. He didn’t want to see any more. He opened the window. He clung to the windowsill and hung briefly before dropping. He twisted as he fell through the air and landed a little awkwardly, but with a forward roll to come up running. He didn’t hear anyone call out. He must have got away with it. He kept on running until he reached the piece of fence he had been repairing earlier in the afternoon. He knew it would break apart again easily and he squeezed through and began running again. The ground began to rise almost immediately. He was running uphill, out of the valley. He kept going. He wasn't carrying anything on his back. He was running and he wasn’t out of breath yet. He could keep going until…
He reached the top of the ridge. He paused for breath and looked down into the valley on the other side. And he almost sobbed with relief. He began to run again, more carefully. It was far harder to run downhill than up. The last thing he wanted to do was to fall and sprain something. But he was running as fast as he could, because he knew that at the bottom of this hill the nightmare would be over.
All the time, he thought as he sprinted across fields and jumped a drainage ditch and wasted a few precious seconds disentangling himself from a barbed wire fence, all the time, they were just one ridge of Welsh mountain away from a dual carriageway, from tarmac and cats eyes and road signs that said Cardiff was twenty-six miles away in Welsh and English.
And part of the dual carriageway was illuminated by portable lights. Television cameras were running along guide rails. A bunch of actors Alun vaguely recognised from a popular drama were in mid-scene. A row of vans with BBC across the side in big letters were parked on the side of the road.
Alun ran right up to the film crew and grabbed the nearest man – he seemed to be a lighting director or something. He looked startled to be accosted by a wild eyed looking man with sweat rolling down his face and his breath coming in deep whooping gasps.
“I… need… to… borrow… your phone…” he managed to say. “I need… to call… 999.”
When he thought about it later, he was surprised they didn’t just call their own security to move him on. Instead, they got him a phone and a cup of coffee and a warm coat to stop him shivering as he cooled down. They let him sit in one of the prop cars and he watched as they retook the scene he had interrupted. They had completed the scene and were setting up for the next one when they had to stop and clear the road for the police cars that could be seen and heard approaching fast. Alun stood up and waved as the Torchwood SUV with its blue strobe lights slowed down at the head of the convoy. He jumped into the back seat and Jack put his foot down again.
Less than half an hour later, Ianto was sitting in the back of the SUV with him. Alun clung to his hand as if he never meant to let it go again. Owen was in the barn along with a police forensic unit, confirming Alun’s guesses about cause of death. Jack was talking to the DCI as two uniformed officers brought Carwyn Ap Hugh out of the house in handcuffs. The women were treated a little more kindly, but they were all put into police cars, too. The children were herded into a people carrier from social services.
“I… feel a little bad for them,” Ianto admitted. “They were a family. A weird, dysfunctional family. But… now the kids are going into care, the women into psychiatric assessment…. It’s rough on them.”
“Carwyn murdered newborn babies and innocent men who just happened to accidentally stumble into that valley,” Alun said. “And they all knew about it. They knew where the bodies were. They’re all nuts.” He looked at Ianto and touched his cheek. “I don’t want to ask… you don’t have to answer… When I left… Caryn was… getting into bed with you…”
“Nothing happened,” he said. “I couldn’t even… you know… nothing was happening. I told her my foot was hurting and putting me off. I promised her I’d do the business when I’d had a bit of sleep. She was disappointed. I just hoped you’d be back before morning. I might have run out of excuses.”
Alun tightened his hold on his hand. He said nothing. He had made up his mind that he wouldn’t be hurt if Ianto had gone ahead and had sex with Caryn to buy him time. But his relief when he knew he hadn’t proved he had been lying to himself.
Jack came back to the SUV. He stood by the back door and looked at them.
“All this time… fifty years… they BUILT a fucking dual carriageway on the other side of the mountain while that old man kept a secret this big.” Jack shook his head in disbelief. In all his years of experience he had seen nothing like this. Even the cannibal village somewhere a few miles away from here wasn’t as insane as this. “Sometimes Humans are harder to stomach than the sickest alien bastard out there.” He shook his head again. “Owen just keeps saying ‘only in the fucking countryside’. I’m inclined to agree. Tell you what, next time you two have some time off, go to your own flat, order take out, watch DVDs and shag each other’s brains out. It’s a lot less trouble than letting you go on holiday.”