Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twenty-seventh excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym looked deeply into his son’s eyes. “Is that why you thought I didn’t let you come until you were three?”
Gwilym and his family settled into a comfortable routine in town. He and Bleddyn woke to the church bells and, leaving the younger boys sleeping, washed their faces and hands and walked a short distance to attend morning Mass. On the way there and back, father and son discussed the morning’s readings and Gwilym put them in context within the whole Bible. Bleddyn’s Latin was still growing and he often had to rely on his father’s translation to understand some of the prayers. Gwilym, as ever, used this as another way to improve his son’s learning. Bleddyn knew by heart all the words intoned by the priest and his expected responses, as he had done since the age of five.
On returning, Gwilym prepared their simple breakfast while Bleddyn woke his brothers and took them to empty their bladders. Breakfast was always the same except for Sundays. Gwilym and Bleddyn ate a boiled egg, some carrots, a bowl with yoghurt and a cup of water. The twins had the same except Gwilym had crushed the carrots in a mortar and pestle and cut up the egg. The boys also drank milk instead of water. On Sundays their breakfast was hotcakes with honey.
After breakfast, Bleddyn would set to work on the reading his father had assigned him. Their library of books and scrolls was growing rapidly in Londinium. Bleddyn had found some people who were only too happy to swap scrolls with Gwilym and they could each copy the others’ onto a new scroll. Gwilym’s scrolls were mostly from his travels to the Holy Land and were rare in these parts. In exchange, Gwilym received scrolls of epic battles, love tales, some bad poetry and some interesting stories. Bleddyn’s work was to read these scrolls and transcribe them onto the new books that his father provided. 
A woman who lived nearby with her small brood of children looked after Jac and Llawen during the day. Gwilym would usually gather his children up for dinner and ask them what they had learned so far. Then he would ask them in turn his usual question: “Did you ask any great questions today?” Dinner was bread and cheese and more carrots. The afternoon went on like the morning for the younger ones but Bleddyn would spend it with his father, learning the business and doing some physical labor. “Healthy body, healthy mind, son,” was Gwilym’s mantra if Bleddyn complained about being tired.
After work, Gwilym would gather his boys and troop outside the city walls to wash in the river. Depending on the tides they would go to the east or west side of town to avoid washing in the filth of the city. They received a lot of jeering for this fastidiousness and Bleddyn, starting to feel self-conscious amongst boys of his age, asked to be freed from this chore. “We’re not in the Holy Land, Da. Why do we need to wash every day?”
“Have you smelled these townsfolk who wash only once a year, lad? Have you seen the lice in their hair and the dirt and shit caked on their skin? It’s not healthy and I won’t have you be one of them.”
The younger boys were washed in the shallows and seemed to enjoy the warm water. But as the days grew colder they complained more until Gwilym started washing them in the yard of their lodgings with some warm water.
They would end their evening over a meal of some kind of stew with bread provided by their landlord. Gwilym always asked his boys the same two questions. “What was the worst part of your day? What was the best part of your day?” The answers to these questions always elicited great conversation and the family talked until late in the evening. Then Gwilym would read a story to the boys from one of his many books and scrolls until they fell asleep. He would stay awake another few hours, catching up on his project records and planning what tasks needed to be worked on tomorrow. Finally he would read for an hour for his own pleasure before falling asleep.
Often Fred would come over to visit and Bleddyn would sit with
him working on his writing after dinner. Gwilym would look up from his own scrolls with amusement as Bleddyn taught his diligent foreman. Fred had learned the writing of the letters while painting the stones of the tower and arch and was showing curiosity in how these were used. At first he cared only which letter started each word. He marveled that all the words he had been using his whole life were started by one of these 26 letters. “But why does the C sometimes make a sound like a K and sometimes like an S?” was one of his complaints. Being a man of numbers, it was difficult for Fred to deal with the inconsistencies of the British tongue. But Fred showed a remarkable memory and was soon reciting correctly which letter started each word.

One day, on the way to church, Bleddyn asked his father, “When can Jac and Llawen come with us, Da?
“When they’re three and can sit still for an hour.”
“So they don’t embarrass you?”
Gwilym looked deeply into his son’s eyes. “Is that why you thought I didn’t let you come until you were three?”
“It’s because I want you to understand what is going on and not be bored. There are a lot of interesting stories told there and the most important stories are about Christ. What He did, where He was born, where He went, what He said, what happened to Him and why He died. When you’re a little older we can start talking about some of the inconsistencies in the stories. It’s really interesting. That’s what my father and I used to talk about. That’s why we went to the Holy Land.” He stopped suddenly and turned his head away.
Bleddyn looked up inquiringly at his father. “I never knew you went to the Holy Land with your father. I thought you went alone. Those stories you told through the years. They only had you in them.”
“I went there with my father. But he died there. And I came back alone.”
“What happened to him, Da?”
“When you’re older I’ll tell you. It’s complicated and you need to know more about the Bible first. Study for another three years and I’ll tell you the story.”

The tower was progressing well and the men were getting along. They all knew more about each other’s jobs because they had seen what was required while constructing the Work Breakdown Structure. They tried to keep out of each other’s way as much as possible. As usual, things arose that were unexpected and needed to be taken care of. One of the ships had to get past the arch supports to the river and Gwilym had his crew lift it and carry it around and over the bridge to accomplish this. More stones than expected needed to be replaced, which cost more money, though it made the road that they were building with the scraps a little better.

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