OSWESTRY market day in December 1176 is the starting point for Avery, a bard with a haunting voice from York and Dog, A Welsh harpist who both find themselves joining together on their way to Cardigan to compete in what was effectively the first Welsh Eisteddfod, writes Barry Jones.

Rhys ap Gruffydd Lord of Deheubarth issued the challenge for this first royal command performance and bards and musicians came from Ireland, France and even Persia to compete and all have adventures along the way as well as at the festival itself taking place over Christmas and the New Year as the little town expands to accommodate the incoming performers.

But they bring with them prejudices, mysteries, intrigues, political manoeuvrings and even violence before the contests end.

For Avery and Dog, their violent encounter at Oswestry ends up with them being joined by the giantess known as The Healer as they journey across the Berwyns and discover a hermit and his women to add to the mass of colourful characters author Luke Waterson assembles for his book ‘Song Castle’ inspired by a scant paragraph from Welsh history chronicles which refers to the 1176 proclamation of Lord Rhys for this first great event.

Such was the impressive scale of the event that it helped bring Wales out of the Dark Ages and onto the world stage of poetry, music and song and maybe even created the eisteddfod tradition.

Luke Waterson has been writing for more than a decade largely for the Lonely Planet travel guides.

His travels inspired his debut novel ‘Roebuck’ which he now follows up with this captivating and beautifully crafted second novel and medieval mystery with its cast of colourful characters all with their own stories almost in the tradition of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ pilgrims, on an epic scale that is a delight to read.