Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sixth Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym knelt down on the wet ground and added his tears to his son’s.

“How goes the tower, Gwilym?” were Merlin’s first words.
Gwilym was intimidated by this old man of whom he had heard many stories. His bright eyes sparkled under his bushy eyebrows. His long, grey hair made him seem much older than he was. His hands were strong and showing no signs of age and his well muscled arms handled the reins expertly.
“It goes well, Sir. The wooden structure is almost finished and we now need to face it with stone.” Gwilym remembered yesterday’s confrontation at the quarry and his mind switched to this other problem in his life. “But now the quarryman wants to charge us for stone, even though the quarry belongs to the church.”
“And what will you do to solve this?”
“I’ll get an order from the bishop to make him give up the stone.”
“And will that be your answer to the next problem that arises?”
“What’s that, Sir?”
“What will you do the next time you run into a problem like this with your tower?”
Gwilym felt like a fool. What was he missing? “I can’t guess all the problems that will arise; I just have to deal with them as they come up.”
“What will you do if the men decide to stop working? Or if the priest says he wants the tower to be taller, or if some knight asks that it be made round?”
Gwilym thought about this question. “I need a letter that says what the tower should be and who is to pay for it. And I need it signed by someone everybody respects. Like the king! Even the bishop has to listen to the king. Is that what I need, Merlin?”
Merlin’s eyes twinkled but he said nothing. Gwilym looked at him curiously and said, “You know a lot more about building towers than you let on. Can I ask you other questions later on when I hit new problems?”
“Did I answer your first one?”
“Not with an answer; that’s true; but you asked the questions that let me come up with the right answer. When I run into more problems, shall I shout at the old Willow tree for you?”
“Do I look like a man who comes when shouted at across a lake?”
“No, I suppose not. But I feel I will need your help. I can read, you know. Can you recommend a book that I can use for advice?”
Merlin looked seriously at Gwilym and put one hand on his shoulder. “When you need help, I will be there. I ask for one thing in return. You will do what is asked of you, by Grainne or myself, without question.”
Gwilym felt his eyes held by Merlin’s, and it took him what felt like minutes to break off the stare. “I don’t suppose you’ll be asking me to do anything evil. I’m not superstitious like most of the village folk and I don’t believe it’s witch-craft you’ll be doing. So the answer is yes. I’ll do what’s asked of me and trust you’ll be there when I need help.”
“Now, concerning your wife’s birth; I thought you were going to send for Grainne at first signs. Why did you wait so long?”
Gwilym shook his head, wondering what type of magic or hypnotism had caused him to calmly discuss his tower before speaking of his pressing concerns for Kaitlyn. “Tirion sent her daughter for Grainne right away. Must have been almost a day ago. She asked me to look for any signs of her.”
Merlin looked sharply at Gwilym and then studied the road. “Why don’t we look for those signs as we ride back?”
With added anxiety, Gwilym scanned the road on his side of the cart, and they finished the drive in silence.
On arrival back in the village they met Bleddyn, who led them to the gate of the convent. “They took her in there. Grainne was allowed in an hour ago. I’m scared, Da. Ma looked frightened and she was crying so sadly. She was asking for you.”
Merlin led Gwilym through the gate but they were stopped at the door by the Mother Superior. “No men
allowed inside, Sir,” she said sharply to Merlin. Then she looked sympathetically at Gwilym and touched his arm. “Kaitlyn is with Jesus now, Gwilym.”
All other sound ceased for Gwilym as he tried to process this last sentence. “Is she in the church?” he asked, knowing it was a stupid question. He couldn’t grasp the concept of his wife being dead. “Is she sleeping? I want to see her!”
“In a little while we’ll bring her body to the church. You can see her then. She’s in a better place now Gwilym.”
“Her place is with me and her family! That is the best place!” Gwilym was shouting now that the news was sinking in. He felt the familiar arms of his son around him and he clung fiercely to Bleddyn, lifting him off his feet, feeling his shuddering body, knowing that he must concentrate on this motherless child, not his anger at the nun. Bleddyn wailed out loud, repeating, “Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma!” Gwilym knelt down on the wet ground and added his tears to his son’s.
Time passed, though he was unaware of it. He opened his eyes to see the red hair and concerned face of Grainne looking at him. She was kneeling next to him. Bleddyn had cried himself to sleep. “Come with me, Gwilym.”
She led them to his house where they laid Bleddyn on his pallet to sleep. Gwilym sat on the kitchen stool while Grainne rebuilt the fire and cooked up bacon and cut some bread. She poured some ale from the jug into his drinking cup. She laid the food and the knife in front of him and told him to eat. He followed her commands dumbly; glad there was someone to tell him what to do.
After he ate, she led him through the village to the smithy. She knocked on the door and was greeted by Endewyn, the smithy’s wife, who led them in. She was fat and red-faced, like her whole family, and she smiled kindly at Gwilym and whispered to him, “I’m so sorry for your troubles. We’ll be happy to take care of the wains for as long as you need.”
Gwilym was confused at this, and even more so at the sight that greeted him. The smithy, Haearn, was standing, leaning on his staff and looking contentedly at his twin daughters, Heilin and Heulwen. They were sitting on the bed, both holding a baby on each breast, one baby larger than the other. All four babies were sucking contentedly. He remembered that the girls had each given birth, days apart, a couple of months ago. But he could only recall it being to one baby each. He stared at Grainne, looking for an explanation.
Grainne understood the loss that takes away your senses for a time and patiently explained to Gwilym that these were his twin boys, who survived after Kaitlyn’s death, and that they would need to eat and that Heilin and Heulwen would be their wet-nurses. Gwilym looked for and received confirmation from the broad, smiling faces of the smithy’s daughters.
At this, everything became real for him and he collapsed onto his knees. “My Kaitlyn is gone! My three boys have no mother! What am I to do?”
Once again, Grainne knelt by him and brought her face close to his. She laid an arm softly on his shoulder and met his eyes. They were the eyes of deep wisdom and age; the eyes of his grandmother. “You can do this Gwilym. You are the foreman of the tower project. You will pay these girls to wet-nurse your sons and look after Bleddyn during the days. You will build your tower. It will be a great success. And others will ask you to build their towers and castles and houses and churches. And you will raise your sons to be strong men just like you. Now, let’s go and see to your wife.”
She held out her hand and Gwilym touched it and raised himself off the floor. He looked again at the babies and saw Heulwen take the little one off one breast and hold it to him. “Say hello to one of your sons, Gwilym. What will you name him?”
Gwilym looked at the yawning, red-faced little baby, wrapped in clean cloths with his eyes shut tightly. He smiled and held out his hands for the infant. He placed the boy on his chest and patted him lightly to elicit the burp. “He’s a fine, strong lad to make it through that birth. I’ll name him Jac.”
“And what about the other one, Gwilym?” said Heilin, holding up another boy for him to burp. Gwilym curled Jac in the crook of one arm and placed the other boy on his chest and gently burped him too. He looked into his face and smiled. The baby smiled broadly back and Gwilym exclaimed, “Llawen, for the joy on his face. Thank you ladies! I’ll return later to set up our contract.”

Three days later, everything had settled into a routine. Kaitlyn was buried in the churchyard, the whole village and many others from surrounding villages in attendance. Gwilym had contracted for the twins to be nursed by the smithy’s girls and for Bleddyn to spend his days helping the priest. That would allow Bleddyn time to read the scrolls in the priest’s library, his great passion. At night, they all ate and slept in Gwilym’s home, interrupted at night by a visit to the smithy when the boys woke up hungry. Heilin and Heulwen protested this but Gwilym insisted. “Sorry for the inconvenience but it’s important. I grew up without my mother and I was raised by my father. I’ll not have my boys miss out on me.”
One unsettling episode that left a black cloud over the village was the disappearance of Tirion’s daughter, Lowri. She had not made it to Avalon on the day of Kaitlyn’s birthing and had not returned to the village either. After two days, a group of men organized by Tirion set forth to follow her trail. Gwilym asked to go but was refused because of his duties to the village and his newborns. The group returned in two days with a sobering tale. Lowri’s tracks mixed with those of a man that had come from the forest where she was dragged off. A scrap of clothing that Tirion recognized was found. The tracks of the man were followed as far as a rocky hill but were lost there.

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

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