Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fifth Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

“Help me! Tirion calls for Grainne! My wife needs help in her birthing!”
Every day Gwilym was carried out to the job site in his chair and supervised the men removing the logs and sorting them into four piles of even lengths. While they worked, Gwilym carved twenty wooden templates, each with the same angle.
While some of the crew started work on the foundations, angling them 45 degrees off the North-South axis, the rest used the templates Gwilym had created to cut the ends of each log into the precise shape needed for his design. The men were working cheerily, especially after being shown the beautiful scale models.
After laying down the foundation logs, the men started laying down the side logs, marveling how each fit neatly into place on top of the one below and to right angles with it. With each additional log, the structure pulled tighter together.

Once the men seemed comfortable with the design, Gwilym left Fred in charge and rode his horse and cart to the quarry to see about some new stone to dress the tower’s outside. Some stones had been salvaged from the old tower, but much more needed to be added. The quarry was only around the other side of the hill, but given his painful leg, it still took Gwilym two hours of careful riding to reach there. As usual, he struggled to get the horse to follow his commands. At every turn, the horse tried to go the opposite way Gwilym requested. When being asked to trot, it either stopped or galloped, sending pain searing through Gwilym’s leg. On arriving, he asked to sit down and put his leg up.
The quarryman was a short, barrel-chested old man with sinewy arms and a grizzled beard. “I thought it about time you came to me for stone. How much will ye be wanting?”
“I need a hundred tons for now, cut square about two feet to a side. When can you deliver that much?”
“I can start delivering two tons at a time as soon as I get gold for first shipment.”
Gwilym looked confused and said, “But Father Drew said that the quarry belongs to the church and it is his to use.”
“Aye, church owns it but tower is being built for defense of city. So money must come from king.”
“But Father Drew appointed me the Project Manager. He is the one in charge of the tower. And he is of the church.”
“Father Drew is priest of village church. Quarry belongs to whole church.
And for that, you either pay me gold or get permission from bishop.”
“Start cutting now, quarryman. I’ll get the permission in time to take shipment.” Gwilym limped off to his cart and rode back to the village.
Returning home he found it in an uproar. Bleddyn ran to him and shouted, “It’s Ma! She’s in awful pain and says it’s the baby!”

Gwilym gave his son the horse’s reins and hobbled quickly to his bedroom. The midwife was at his wife’s bedside, pressing a damp cloth on Kaitlyn’s forehead. Kaitlyn was writhing in pain and, catching sight of Gwilym, called to him desperately. He rushed to the other side of the bed and caught up her hand.
“What can I do, my love?” Gwilym’s voice choked with emotion.
“Stay with me! I need your strength!” was her weak cry.
Gwilym nodded and looked inquiringly at the midwife. “Tirion, how goes this birth?”
Tirion had the lines of a woman who had seen much sadness and happiness in her many years, but the wrinkles that lined her face today were those of deep concern. “I need help, Gwilym,” she responded. “I’ve sent for Grainne or any of her sisters. But if she doesn’t come soon I’ll need to get some help from the convent. The first baby lies sideways and is blocking the other’s way out. The time is right but only the second baby knows it. I have given her herbs to wake up the first one but now the second one wants to come out even faster and the first one is still asleep.”
“Is it….Is he…?” Gwilym couldn’t form the words.
“Nae! He’s quite alive. Just asleep or lazy or he likes it too well in there or any other reason. This is only dangerous in twins and it’s dangerous now. It’s too tight in there with the second one pushing so I can’t turn the first one the right way. Stay by your wife. Keep her breathing easy and stop her from wanting to push. The time is not right.”
For ten hours Gwilym stayed by his wife’s side, talking with her gently, distracting her when Kaitlyn struggled to push. He talked of their early years, their courtship, the birth and early years of Bleddyn, names they might call these two. And every five minutes Kaitlyn tensed and sometimes cried out with the pain of the contractions.
Kaitlyn was so tired she started to sleep between the pains and still Tirion could not make any progress with the first baby. “Wake up ye great lump of a baby!” she cried in frustration. Then she met Gwilym’s eyes and he could see the fear there.
“Gwilym. Listen to me carefully,” she whispered while Kaitlyn was having one of her two-minute naps. “We need Grainne. Go to the lake of Avalon. To the left of the road there stands an old Willow with one huge dead branch that stretches over the lake. Climb that branch. Be sure your whole body is over the water. Then call with all your might for Grainne. Wait there, calling for two hours. If no-one answers by then, come back.”
“But Kaitlyn told me not to leave.”
“Get Grainne or she will die!”
As Gwilym headed to the door she begged of him one last favor. “Gwilym, if you see any traces of my girl…I sent her there twelve hours ago. She should be back.”
Gwilym hobbled outside to find Bleddyn standing there with his horse and cart, all ready. “I’ll go Da! Your leg will slow you down and you don’t know how to handle the horse.”
“No son, this is my task. I can’t feel my leg pain anyway, and if this horse knows what’s good for it, it will obey me today. Stay close to the room and do whatever Tirion says.” Gwilym climbed up on the cart and whipped the horse to gallop away. As he rode he could think only of his wife’s drawn face, the pain she must be feeling. He yelled in frustration and spurred his horse on harder.
Two hours later he was at the banks of the lake and saw where the ferry pulled to the shore to bring people to the island. Off to his left, just becoming visible through the thinning mists, stood an ancient willow. He approached it and tied his reins to one of the smaller branches. This knotted old tree had enormous roots that curled up and around each other on their way to the waters of the lake. Most of the branches were heavy with leaves that left the roots in almost complete shadow, but there was daylight visible through one dead branch that stretched far out over the lake. It had lost most of the twigs and all of the leaves that weighed down the other branches, so it was easy to climb far out onto the branch, even with his useless leg.
As soon as Gwilym was sure that he was sitting over only water, he raised his voice and boomed over the waters of the lake, “Help me! Tirion calls for Grainne! My wife needs help in her birthing!” He waited a few minutes for any sign of an answer and repeated his call. And again, and again for an hour. His voice never lost its strength or gave a sign of the frustration that was knotting his insides.
Then a barge appeared. Gwilym had been staring fixedly in that direction so it hadn’t emerged over the horizon or through the mists; it had appeared in an instant. Gwilym experienced again that uneasy feeling that magic gave him, but he was so happy for the help. The barge seemed to move of its own accord, and standing on it was the red-haired Grainne along with an old man, holding a staff. Behind them was a horse.
As the barge drew near, Gwilym told Grainne the status and she asked if Merlin could ride in his cart to the village. “I’ll take my horse; she is well rested and can get us there before the birthing starts.” Grainne said. When the barge landed, Grainne jumped easily into the saddle and galloped off.
Merlin climbed into the cart, helped Gwilym in, and off they set at a trot.

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

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