Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tenth Excerpt of "Twelve Towers"

So this had been an old rune-stone? He wondered what the signs meant.
Two months later, Gwilym was escorting Merlin down this same road and they saw the tower rising above the trees, this time dressed in stone with a crenellated top. “You have done well, Gwilym to finish on schedule. How did you manage this?”
“The charter you suggested helped a lot, Merlin. But there were still many problems. I had to do a lot of rework and changes of plans. I had to do a lot of the work myself. And there is still a major problem. The charter calls for a stone roof and you saw the quarryman yourself. He can’t make it.”
“How will you solve these problems next time you build a tower, Gwilym?”
“The biggest problems came from not knowing exactly what we were supposed to build. I’ll have to write it all down next time and make sure we all agree. But right now I want to finish this tower and for that I need a roof. Have you any ideas, Merlin?”
Merlin looked thoughtful and started to sing. He had a fine voice and the words were from long ago: some kind of Druid tongue that Gwilym could not speak. He could make out occasional words and there was some kind of a feeling in there of stone and rock. Gwilym said nothing to interrupt and struggled to understand. He felt sleepy and rested his eyes, letting the words take him on a journey. He left the horse and the road and flew across the sea to the green land beyond. There he saw a ring of giant stones, raised high on a hill.
He felt a sharp slap and scrape on his face and found that he had fallen asleep in the cart and had failed to duck at a low-hanging branch. Merlin was still singing and they were in the tree-lined path that wended through the forest just outside Huish. He must have slept for an hour! But the last month of this project had taken him through many sleepless nights and exhausting days so it was only natural for him to sleep in a cart during this late spring day.
On arrival at the building site, Merlin finished his song and looked pleased with himself. The tower rose majestically out of the ground, close-fitting rocks faced the now-hidden wooden structure and it presented a smooth face to all sides. There were horizontal arrow-slits spread throughout and a strong door one floor above the bottom. A wooden staircase rose from the ground to this door, designed to be destroyed during an attack so that the attackers would be one level below the entrance. The ground surrounding it was now flat since the foundations had been completed and a flagstone path wound from the village to this door. At the very top, stones crenellated the top-most layer. This caused Gwilym to frown.
“Sir Kay comes in two days to inspect the tower. It would have been complete if I could have gotten the roof stone. Damn that useless quarryman! I should have found a more skilled one.”
“Are you perhaps reaching the wrong conclusion?” inquired Merlin. “Perhaps the gods have decided that the roof stone should come from other hands than this quarryman. And they forbid him to complete the job.”
“Then the gods could have been kind enough to provide me with a substitute.” replied Gwilym.
Merlin looked closely at the stone walls, now that they had reached them. “Why have you placed wooden wedges between the stones? They look as though they would meet up perfectly but you have shimmed them away from each other.”
“The wooden structure was built to tighten up to itself as the wood dries out over time and shrinks. If I built the stones on top of each other, the wood would separate from the stone and leave the structure unstable. This way, as the wood inside shrinks, so do these shims and the structure tightens in on itself and becomes one.”
Gwilym spent the rest of the day dealing with a thousand little details in finishing off the inside of the tower. He retired late and forced himself to wake before light to supervise the last day’s work. He was still breaking his fast when Fred came bursting through his doorway with a big smile on his face.
“How did tha do it then Gwilym? It be the perfect capstone for t'tower. Where did tha find it?”
Gwilym followed the man to the tower and stood in bewilderment looking at a large rock, leaning against the tower wall. It was mossy and the edges were rounded, as if it had been dug from the earth. Yet it looked as though the dimensions were perfect to cap off the tower. It was no thicker than a foot and, as Gwilym measured it with his yardstick, was within an inch of what was needed at the top. An eerie chill ran through his spine as he saw that no tracks or drag marks led to this stone which must have weighed several tons.
“Let’s not question good luck the way we question bad. It never helps either way. Get the men together and we’ll lift this to the top.”
The hoisting mechanism was re-assembled and, with all the workers helping, the stone was placed on top of the crenellations, fitting the space perfectly. Gwilym gathered his tools and made his way on top of this and started to clear off all the moss and dirt. Although this rock would never be seen from above, he wanted it to sparkle the way the rest of his tower sparkled for the arrival of Kay.
As he scraped the moss and dirt clean, he noticed deep scratches in the surface of the rock, marking out ancient designs. So this had been an old rune-stone? He wondered what the signs meant. The day grew hot and he removed his tunic to sweat freely and catch some of the ocean breezes in an attempt to cool off.
After cleaning off the stone, he started hammering in his wedges. His calculations fresh in his head, he knew what to add to each connection. Here, the stone underneath would move inwards and down, but the down didn’t matter since the capstone had nothing above it. He just had to ensure that the rock would slide easily over the stones underneath as they each moved a few inches toward the center of the tower. That required something that wouldn’t rot but kept its smoothness over the years. So, after wedging up the rock at a crenellation, he slipped in between the wedges a smooth, thin piece of river jade that Merlin had provided. This semi-precious stone was impossible for the rock or the water to destroy and would allow the rock above to slip freely when time decreed. Then he removed the wedges and moved to the next crenellation. It was a painstaking and meticulous chore but Gwilym reveled in the fact that by tomorrow morning the structure would be absolutely complete.

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

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