Monday, August 1, 2011

Fifteenth excerpt of 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym pushed his way between the combatants and asked for peace
Rumors of raids were making the townsfolk nervous. The new tower was manned by a contingent of the king’s soldiers who told stories of such raids that they had pushed back elsewhere. One day an alarm bell was rung from the tower and the entire village gathered at its foot. The signal fire was blazing in the cauldron on the tower’s roof. Swords and shields were distributed amongst the men, from boys of twelve to men of under fifty while the priest and older men took the women and children deep into the forest for safe-keeping.
The day was spent in suspenseful waiting, punctuated by nervous training exercises conducted by the soldiers. The boys found this great fun, but the men, knowing the fear and danger of earlier battles, trained grimly and hoped for the best.
Gwilym conducted the exercises diligently, impressing the soldiers with his skill and earning him a promotion to captain of the villagers. He remembered previous battles, the death screams of friend and foe. He knew the randomness of death and hoped that this battle would pass them by. He knew that this time he had three boys to protect, so he would be extra careful, but he also knew that he would allow no foes past him to threaten his boys. He had also grown to love the people of Huish and would die to protect them.
After a long day of waiting and training, a mounted soldier came to the village on his way to Brycgstow. “The raiders were driven back to their ships. They are sailing south from here. Stand down but keep a watch on the tower.”
All the villagers breathed a sigh of relief and joked now that the tension was broken. A messenger was sent into the forest and a tearful reunion with wives and children followed.
After that, the captain of the guards insisted on regular drills with the villagers to keep them in fighting trim. The farmers were annoyed by this due to their farms’ needs but the captain insisted. Animosity started to develop, culminating in an angry confrontation outside the village tavern. Words became barbs and some shoving threatened to turn into punches until Gwilym pushed his way between the combatants and asked for peace.
“Captain! The men have to tend their farms or there’ll be no food for anyone, including you, right?”
“Right” admitted the captain.
“And Lloyd,” Gwilym addressed the farmers’ chief combatant. “You need to know how to fight to protect your field, your stock and your family, right?”
“Right,” the farmer reluctantly agreed. “But what about harvest? It comes in t’next few weeks and we cannot be wasting time prancing about with spears or our food spoils in t’field.”
“And Captain,” Gwilym seemed to ignore the farmer. “Do your men not get a little bored watching and waiting all day? And spend too much time and money in this tavern”
“True enough,” agreed the captain.
“Then why not send your men into the fields when they are not on duty? Have them help the farmers in their chores. Allow them to taste some fresh country meals and feel the dirt they are protecting under their fingernails. Let the farmers get to know the soldiers and the soldiers know the farmers. And all of you help during the harvest with a minimal watch on the tower to call for help. That way, you all get what you want and we become a unified fighting force. A well-fed one, too.”
The captain smiled and looked at Lloyd. In turn, Lloyd pictured the captain milking his cow and burst out laughing. The men shook hands and the tension was released. The soldiers did as Gwilym suggested and bonds between farmers and soldiers were formed. Practices were more unified, fields and flock were well-tended and chickens stopped disappearing.

There were a few more scares that summer when the village waited, armed and ready for the foe that never came too close. The raiding ships always landed elsewhere and conducted their plunders on other people. But the system of temporary warning towers always brought help in a few hours so the raiders were driven off before they could establish a foothold in this part of the land.
Harvest became a wonderful celebration with soldiers and villagers working side by side with the farmers, bringing in record crops and hosting feasts for each other.
After the harvest celebrations, Gwilym took stock of his situation and visited the smithy. Haearn limped over to Gwilym and shook his hand. “Your leg is all healed I see, Gwilym. Lucky you’re not a smith.” He glanced down sadly at his twisted leg, one foot turned at right angles to the other.
“I’ve come to talk to your daughters, Haearn.”
“Which one?” inquired the smith.
“Both. It’s about my sons.”
The two girls came in from tending the garden and wiped their hands on their aprons. They stood side-by-side, waiting for Gwilym to speak first.
“Jac and Llawen are weaned now, it seems. You’ve both done a fine job. My boys will never forget you.”
“Well of course they won’t, Gwilym. They’ll still see us every day,” said Heulwen. “Just because our job is done, doesn’t mean we don’t still want to mother them.”
“Aye,” said Gwilym sadly. “Only, I have to leave the village to find more work. I’ve come back from Caerleon with a commission. I’m crossing the country to help build a tower there. I’m taking my family with me. We’ll come back to visit some day but it may be years.”
Both girls burst our crying, holding on to each other in their sorrow. Gwilym reached into his money-pouch and pulled out some silver. “I wanted to give you a bonus for your wonderful job with my boys. You raised them strong and healthy. You gave them a great start in life.”
The girls looked at him with tear-stained eyes and smiled sadly up at him. “Please bring them back one day to see their foster mothers. And let us say goodbye first,” choked out Heilin.

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

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