Sunday, October 23, 2011

Twenty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

A page held his banner aloft as he began to speak.
Four weeks after the last of the snows had melted and the roads had been passable for two weeks, Gwilym spied a royal party crossing the river on the ferry. Bleddyn was reading nearby and Gwilym asked him, “What crest is on that banner, son?”
“Two golden keys on a blue field, Da!” shouted Bleddyn from below.
‘Kay,’ muttered Gwilym to himself. He was nervous about the deals he had made with the Saxons to get the tower built. He knew that he had overstepped his authority, and he hoped that Kay would acknowledge his brilliant plan, but he still had misgivings. He also knew that the tower was way behind schedule, partially due to his silo complications. Climbing down the tower to greet his sponsor, he wiped his hands and rehearsed his speech. He was still nervous when Sir Kay addressed him.
“When you didn’t come to Caerleon before the winter, Gwilym, I guessed you were just staying to finish up the last few parts of the tower. I was surprised when I took the ferry to see the tower still not even fully clad in stone. What’s the delay?”
Gwilym explained that he had been given only so much money to complete the tower and that a lot more should have been at the site to pay the workers. He had been forced to make a deal with the workers to get them to work for free. Unfortunately that cost some time as well.
Kay asked to see all the documents, and he spent the next two hours laboriously going over the materials accounts, the two contracts, and the charter and touring the job site. All the while, his face was impassive, and Gwilym was torn with suspense as to what Kay would say.
Finally Kay stood in front of Gwilym and surveyed him from head to toe. “You showed brilliance in the last tower you built for the kingdom, that’s why I gave you this job. And you repay me by turning into a little Duke. Making all the decisions in your dukedom with no regard to the king who sent you forth. Who do you think you are, Gwilym?”
Gwilym sputtered and tried to explain. “But all the money was stolen by Tarrant. How else could I have built the tower?”
“Look at the charter,” demanded Kay. “It tells you exactly what to build, when to finish it and for how much money. When you saw that the money was gone, you should have returned to Caerleon and asked for more money. You don’t have the authority to change the schedule of the project or the...the thing you are doing the…scope.”
“If I had returned to Caerleon the project would have been even more behind schedule.”
“That’s not true,” replied Kay. “You could have kept someone supervising the men with promises to pay and returned for the money. You made a decision that schedule and scope didn’t matter and that budget was all-important. That’s not your decision to make. I make that decision and I can tell you that schedule was most important, scope after that and cost least! Understand
the limits of your authority. I give you three things: Cost, Schedule and Scope. You operate within those constraints. If something goes out of those boundaries, your fault or not, you come to me to solve it.”
“I’ve been told, ‘Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.’ I was going to show you a fait accompli and expected you to be happy with it.”
“Well, it’s not accomplished, is it? And even if it were, I’ve got farmers traipsing in and out of my tower for the next 100 years because of what you did. But a bigger question is the money. What happened?”
Gwilym went over the figures again with Kay. “Tarrant purchased his materials at higher than normal prices and then claimed that they were even higher. I’ve visited each of the suppliers and got them to return the extra they took to allow Tarrant to claim the exorbitant prices and I show those next to the price he claimed. Tarrant skimmed thousands of silver off the top of this tower and disappeared. Is there any word of him?”
“No. And it gets worse. He was in charge of ten towers in this district. I’ve passed two and they are just piles of building materials right now, mostly looted. I can only imagine that the rest are the same. Yours is the only one that even resembles a tower.”
Gwilym brightened at this but Kay scowled. “Before you think too highly of yourself, remember that if you’d told me the problem last autumn, I could have sent men to complete all the towers, or at least protect the materials.”
“This tower will be finished before the summer. The rains and snow delayed us longer than usual this year but we are making great progress now.”
“Find a place where I can spend the night. Then assemble the town for a speech.”

Gwilym set Kay up in the best tavern, then asked the men to assemble the various quarters of the town for a speech from the High King’s Seneschal. The news passed swiftly, and men, women and children quickly began to arrive from both sides of the river, assembling at the foot of the tower. When they had all arrived, Sir Kay passed through them all, wearing clean clothes and a washed face, and climbed to the tower’s highest point. A page held his banner aloft as he began to speak.
“Not long ago, this district was at war with the rest of Britain. Armies and fires swept the land. Fields were destroyed and livestock stolen. Those who didn’t die in battle starved from lack of food or froze from want of shelter.” There was nodding in the audience as people remembered the last few years. Some murmuring continued after Kay’s words ended as those who understood translated for those who didn’t.
“But you have sought peace from the High King. Arthur, my king, acknowledges you as his subjects and accepts your treaty gifts. And he seeks to seal this treaty with bonds that tie us together closer. Bonds that make you British, concerned with the welfare of all British. Bonds that tie us to you and make all of Britain concerned with your welfare. I come to help tie those bonds.”
More murmuring, some appreciative looks, some concern.
“What better symbol of these bonds, that move us from war to peace, from swords to plowshares, than this tower? This tower that watches for our common enemies while it keeps safe the grain of this district. When you look up at this tower you will see protection from our enemies and food for your stomachs!”
Smiles, pride and hope in the eyes of the crowd.
“My good project manager, Gwilym, has used his authority well and has made a contract between the army and this town to share the tower. But he mistakenly gave out a lease for 100 years. I want to add my signature to this contract but I cannot agree to one hundred years of friendship with this district.”
A collective breath held in nervous anticipation.
“For one hundred years is not enough time to stay friends and allies with this region. Gwilym should have given the lease for one thousand, one hundred years. And so I modify this contract.” Sir Kay held up the contract and added the letter ‘M’ in front of DCIII and then signed his name with a flourish at the bottom of the contract.
The crowd erupted in cheers and there were hugs all round. Gwilym smiled to himself and shook his head in amazement at what a skilled politician could do with ‘bad’ news.
As Sir Kay left town the next day to continue his inspection tour he told Gwilym, “Have the tower ready for a special dedication at Beltane.”

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

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