Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eighteenth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym shifted his gaze to the pile of building materials stacked behind him and turned back. “I have a solution.”
They traveled for nine days without incident, up the Roman roads, through the cities of Bath and Cirencester, and the ruins of Leicester and Lindum, finally arriving on the south bank of the Humber, where the road plunged down to the ferry. There were small settlements on either side of the river. Fred took the cart across on the ferry to the settlement of North Ferriby, where they spent the night.
The next day they followed the road along the river to the west until they reached the smaller ferry that crossed the Ouse. Once on the far side, they easily found the building site. There were logs and stone aplenty lying in neat stacks on the banks of the river, with a man guarding them. The man was tall and fair haired just like the ferryman and, as Gwilym looked around the town, he realized that this area was entirely occupied by Saxons! Now that he thought of it, so had Ferriby. Had he crossed the enemy lines by mistake and entered an occupied city?
Gwilym hailed the man and introduced himself. The man replied in heavily accented English. “Ya. I ben Wulf. I guard de supplies until Project Manager comes.”
The supplies looked as though they had been there for a long time with no signs of any work in progress. “Where are the workers, Wulf? I am the Project Manager.”
“Dere is no more money to pay dem so dey go avay. I vait only for Project Manager to come so I get paid and go home.”
“Show me the books please, Wulf.”
Gwilym looked through the scroll with all the annotations showing purchases and budget and realized what had happened. The person in charge of all these projects had purchased supplies for far more than they were worth and had not left any money for the construction of the actual tower. He counted up the supplies and found that they tallied exactly with what was shown on the scroll. He could calculate how much he owed the guard and realized that, after paying the man his wages, he would have enough left to pay Fred's and his expenses but none remaining with which to build the tower.
Gwilym counted out the right amount of silver, then added enough for another week, and asked Wulf to stay on guard while he rounded up the workers. Wulf seemed quite relieved at receiving this money and smiled broadly at Gwilym. He recommended a clean and quiet rooming house for Gwilym’s family and Fred. They drove off, Gwilym feeling quite disturbed.
They spent the remainder of that day finding a woman to take care of the babies during the day and a series of activities to keep Bleddyn occupied. Gwilym gave him a quest. “We were told that the Saxons were cleaned out of this area. Yet here they are. Find out how and why, where they come from, how many remain in Saxony, are more coming, why or why not. Find it all out slowly and carefully and tell me. Don’t let them know what you are doing. Oh, and learn their language while you’re at it.”
After settling his family and Fred in the rooming house and paying for the next month’s lodgings, Gwilym showed Fred the scroll Wulf had given him. “Do you recognize this scratching, Fred?” He pointed out a series of signatures next to the purchases of supplies.
“Why that be the sign of Tarrant!” Fred exclaimed. “What be that old devil doing here?”

The following morning, Gwilym and Fred surveyed the job site and asked Wulf to gather the laborers for a lunch meeting. Meanwhile,
they looked over the charter Kay had provided and calculated that the materials provided should be plenty to build the tower with the height and width specified. There was even a capstone provided this time, lying underneath the neat pile of timbers. But how were they going to pay the laborers?
When all the men had arrived, they seemed to be in good spirits. Wulf must have told them of the silver he had received. Gwilym welcomed them all warmly, asked them to join the feast and talked to them of their homes and families, their farms and stores, their children and parents, the recent wars, everything, it seemed to Fred, other than the tower.
“So you’ve had war here for many years? English and Saxon waves passing through? That must have caused a lot of damage to your farms, your town buildings?”
“Ja!” they all agreed.
“A lot of profitable work for you builders, though?”
“No,” replied one with pretty good English. “Dere is little money here any more. People pay viz grain. All de livestock is gone in de vars. Ve are owed a lot of grain already.”
“And where will you sell that grain so you can survive?”
“Ve are arranging a boat to take it Londinium.”
“And where do the farmers keep their grain when they harvest?”
“Dat’s anozer problem. A lot of de farm buildings vere burnt. Dey are trying to rebuild. Grain is being eaten by animals and vill be spoilt ven de rains start again.”
“So,” concluded Gwilym, “you builders are rich in grain that is owed to you but it currently lies ready to rot in the farmer’s fields. The farmers need storage for the rich harvest they just had or their own food spoils. They could pay you in grain to build them barns, but then where would you store it? Eventually you will need to send it to Londinum on boats, so you’d like storage near the river?”
“Ja!” agreed the men, looking down and scratching their beards at their strange fortune.
“In my travels I once came across a grain cooperative that became quite rich when faced with a problem like yours.” The men looked up at Gwilym in hope.
“They built a tall building near the water. Farmers brought grain to the building and poured it in at the top. They were paid for what they delivered. Then they emptied it out of the bottom onto ships when the prices were right for selling. The building was called a silo. It was tall and narrow so that the newer grain was always on top. It was watertight and free from animals. Why not build something like this?”
The men nodded and looked hopeful. The spokesman asked, “But vere vould ve get de money to buy de stone? First ve haf to sell de grain.”
Gwilym shifted his gaze to the pile of building materials stacked behind him and turned back. “I have a solution.”
His proposition was simple. They would build the tower, adding an interior wall that divided it vertically down the middle. Half would become a grain silo, on which they would receive a 100 year lease. The other half would serve as spacious quarters for the few men Kay expected to be housed there. They would have the farmers deliver all their grain to this silo as it started to rise so that they could protect it from the elements on the job site. If farmers wanted to use the silo for their own purposes, they would sell the grain to the builder’s co-op for current prices and the co-op would store it and sell it at better prices in the future. Because they had no money for this part of the operation yet, they would simply charge a percentage for storage fees until their first few shipments sold in Londinium.
The builders listened grimly to this solution. They had hoped to receive silver from Gwilym as Wulf had, and they already had their own plans on how to profit from this and the previous building that they had done. A grain co-op was very different from what they had planned. They promised Gwilym that they would think about it and return the following day.

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

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