Monday, January 31, 2011

Second Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Silhouetted in the doorway was the dark shape of a woman with her head on fire!
        Bleddyn’s breath came back to him in painful gasps. He rolled over onto his knees, his breath forcing its way back into his lungs in loud frog croaks. Head swimming, he crawled back up the dirt pile to find his father. His father had been low down in the middle of the tower and, as he climbed, he saw that the entire tower was collapsed and screams of agony were bleeding out of it. Bleddyn saw the priest organizing the uninjured men to get the wounded ones out of the pile.
        “How many men are down there?” demanded the priest of each new man and finally an old, grizzled veteran answered him. “Ten men were shoring up t’foundations while Tarrant and t’Saxon were placing t’cross-brace. Looks like all of t’boys placing t’new logs are here. Pray for t’others Father Drew, they mon be dead.”
        Father Drew set the men up in a chain gang and led them in removing the logs, one by one. Periodically he shouted down into the pile, calling for any survivors. Bleddyn stood frozen, still holding his puzzles and scarcely breathing. His father was huge and the strongest man he had ever seen but these logs were enormous. How could he have survived? He took heart in the memory of his father telling him, long ago, “Never count me out son, I’m a survivor.”
        During one of the breaks a thin cry emerged from the pile. “Help us!” This re-invigorated the men and even the wounded men rushed to help remove the logs. Finally, the entire log pile raised by a foot and the head and shoulders of a man squeezed his way through a small opening and out came the man who had been arguing with Gwilym. After him followed one, then another, then more and more men until ten men had emerged. The last one asked for a brace. “Fred is helping the Saxon hold up the last log. If he lets it go, the whole thing will collapse!”
        On his way back down with a couple of iron bars, he was stopped by another man who squeezed out and declared, “He can’t hold it any longer, he said run for it!” Both men leaped up for the waiting arms of their comrades who pulled them to safety just as the logs groaned once more and settled down even lower.
Sobered by this second collapse, the men removed the logs from the pit. Word passed from man to man how Gwilym had jumped down off the diagonal beam during the first collapse and had used his own huge body as a brace to provide a space for the ten men below to survive. They spoke in awed terms of the man’s muscles, his giant’s strength,
their own weak efforts to move a single log compared to Gwilym’s ability to lift the whole pile and give them a way out. "He were holding the log in a death-grip, like he were choking the life out of a great beast!"
        Two hours of hard work brought them near to the bottom of the pile and they saw the blonde hair of the Saxon between two logs. Re-energized, the men focuses on this portion of the log pile and began to stack the logs to one side to free the man. “He’s still breathing!” one exclaimed as they pulled him out. One foot was twisted the wrong way and his leg was soaked in blood. Bleddyn followed, silently murmuring all the prayers he knew as they carried him to the church.
        Inside the small wattle and daub church, wounded men lay moaning on the ground surrounding the simple wooden altar. Nuns were milling about, washing wounds and murmuring quietly to sooth the men. Father Drew directed that one man with a gash in his arm be moved aside so that Gwilym could be laid directly in front of the altar, the place of honor and most likely to receive the healing gifts of the church. The Mother Superior offered Gwilym some of the soothing tea she had been distributing to the others but he was unconscious and the liquid spilled down the outside of his throat.
        Father Drew stripped off Gwilym’s clothes to assess the damage. He had to cut away what remained of his breeches to prevent any more harm to his leg. Father Drew shuddered when he looked at the twisted shin with its backwards foot, and bones penetrating out of the flesh. The Mother Superior handed him some clean bandages and he used them to staunch the flow of blood from his leg. Gwilym’s head, when washed clean of the blood looked untouched. There was a dark purple bruise growing on the left side of his chest. Other than a myriad of scratches, the leg appeared to be the only other wound.
        Father Drew remembered the year he had spent with the troops in the North Country. He had seen many wounds like this and had prayed over the victims as the King’s surgeon cut away the damaged body part and stitched up the wound with dried cat intestines. He knew this would have to be done and better now while the man was still unconscious so he asked his acolyte to bring him some clean knives and a cleaver from the kitchen.
        Ten minutes later the acolyte returned with the wrapped bundle which Father Drew opened next to the twisted leg. It looked as though if he were to hack straight down through the broken bone with the cleaver he should remove the foot in one stroke. He placed clean cloths under the leg and then lined up the cleaver directly with the break. Bleddyn started to whimper as Father Drew raised the cleaver and braced himself for the blow.
        A shadow fell over the body forcing him to hesitated and turn to the front door of the church. Silhouetted in the doorway was the dark shape of a woman with her head on fire! Father Drew gasped and froze in place. The woman strode straight up to Father Drew and he saw, as she moved from the sun into the dark interior, that the fire was merely the sun shining through her wild mane of thick, red hair. Her white dress, visible now that the sun didn’t silhouette it, revealed the voluptuous curves of a full-grown woman. Her green eyes flashed but she asked in a calm voice, “Can I try to heal that first, Father, before you cut it off?” Her voice had a sing-song quality to it that brought no offence so the priest slid over to give her access.
“You don’t need that cleaver, Father, I assure you.”
        Father Drew looked up and saw that he still held the cleaver poised for the downward stroke, high in the air. He giggled nervously and laid it back on the cloth with the other knives. The woman probed the wounded man’s body from head to toe, making the priest blush when she examined his loins. Finally she made her pronouncement.
        “I think I can fix the leg but I’ll need two strong men.”
        Instantly, two of the men who had been saved by Gwilym were there and Father Drew noticed for the first time that the entire room was looking on this tableau with great interest. As the woman placed the men into position, one on the knee and the other at the foot, she heard them mumble about this man saving their lives and them doing anything to help him.
        “My name is Grainne.” she stately plainly as she felt around the back of the wound, working her fingers to and fro and tracing something from the back of the knee, past the wound and to the ankle.
The priest, always looking for an opportunity to learn something, asked her, “How do you spell ‘Grunya’ and what does it mean?”
        She replied, without looking up from her work, “G R A I N N E. It means: Goddess of the Beltane fires.”
        Father Drew blushed deep red at this and focused on the work at hand.
        “The foot will have to be turned in this direction.” she instructed the man at the foot, demonstrating three times which way the man should turn.
        “When I say go, you must each pull with all your strength away from each other. And you,” she looked at the man with the foot, “turn in the direction I showed when I say so. When I tell you both, you may slowly let the leg come back together. Father, please keep the blood from flowing too hard.”
        “Ready? Now pull!” The men pulled hard and the wound gaped open, blood pouring from the newly stretched tissues. Grainne asked the man with the foot to turn it as she plunged her fingers into the opening and moved things here and there; at one stage stretching an artery out of the wound and easing it back in a different place. Bleddyn felt queasy and had to turn away. She yelled at the men to pull harder and they groaned with effort. She reached in again and Father Drew blanched at hearing bones scraping against each other and clicking into place. He was busy staunching the various bleeding places which kept his mind somewhat off the activities going on with the bones. She then washed the wound with a whole bucket of clean water.
        “Now slowly let the leg go and we’ll see if it holds.” Grainne held the wound in the right place and Father Drew looked on anxiously as the wound partially closed and the leg remained straight with the foot facing forwards again. Grainne sprinkled some herbs in the wound, then borrowed some of the cat-gut the nuns were using and stitched up the wound. Then she took some splints and cloth to bind the leg up.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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