Saturday, February 4, 2012

Twenty-eighth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Just before it fell off the side, a rock hit it and stopped its motion.
Fred and Gwilym were working with the men to remove the stones of the tower in numerical order and had set up a chain gang to transport them to their places. As Fred removed one particular stone, a small rockslide emerged from the space behind and a highly decorated urn rolled out. Before Fred or Gwilym could catch it, it fell onto the arch. It didn’t break, and the men all breathed a sigh of relief as the beautiful picture of a swift deer was revealed. But then it fell onto its side and started rolling toward the edge of the arch to fall into the river. George made a dive at it but couldn’t reach it in time. Fred ran down the tower but even he knew he wouldn’t make it in time. The men were all cringing at this loss, most knew that this urn contained the ashes of Belinus. Just before it fell off the side, a rock hit it and stopped its motion.  The rock cracked the picture of the deer. Fred finally grabbed the urn before it rolled off the other way. The men looked back to where the rock came from and saw Gwilym lowering his arm from the throw.
Looking inside this urn they found ashes of a long-ago cremated body. “The ashes of your forefather, Belinus,” said Gwilym.

One afternoon, Fred asked Gwilym to come up to the top of the arch to see something interesting. The man had removed all but the last layer of tower stones that, in turn, sat on the top of the arch. They were able to see now that the cornerstone of the tower was hollow and contained an earthenware jar. Gwilym looked inquiringly at the men and asked, “What is it?”
Fred replied for the men, “In owlden days, it were t’custom to put important documents about t’buildin’ in t’cornerstone. They mun be inside t’jar.”
“Just like it says in ‘Gilgamesh’!” remarked Gwilym and removed the jar from the stone.
While the men continued with their stone-by-stone demolition, Gwilym carefully carried the earthenware jar into his lodgings and examined it. The stopper was also made of earthenware and it looked as though it had been fired at the same time as the jar. Gwilym wondered if it would be possible to open the jar without breaking it. But the jar couldn’t all have been made at the same time or it would have to be empty.
Gwilym tapped the sides of the lid and tried to gently lift it off. It moved slightly, then stopped. He worked the other side a little up, then proceeded around the lid, moving it a millimeter at a time. After 15 minutes of careful work, he was able to prise the lid off the jar, revealing a layer of wax that had sealed it. He removed this and revealed an ancient scroll.
Gwilym washed and dried his hands before he reached in and withdrew the scroll. He opened it and eagerly scanned the document. It was written in a much older form of British. The words were separated from each other by tiny dots, which meant that the scroll must have been written many hundreds of years ago.
He started at the beginning and worked his way painstakingly through the scroll. While he could not work out every word, he understood that this scroll discussed
the life and death of Brute, the founder and namesake of Britain, grandson of Aeneas who had fled Troy. According to the scroll, Brute had founded this city and called it New Troy and was the first British king.
Gwilym spent most of his evenings over the next four weeks carefully transcribing the scroll into a blank book. He smiled to himself at the story, wondering how much was true and how much was the simple British longing for a link to the greatness of Troy. Either way, the story was good and he would enjoy sharing it with his sons.

Every Monday this winter, Gwilym had noticed that his men were surlier than usual. They came to work with downcast faces, argued more, and occasionally fought. They brought their own food rather than eating in the tavern and their clothing was shabbier than before. At first Gwilym attributed this to Monday and winter blues and he organized a Mid-Winter feast to get them through this. The men were happy at this event, but came back on the following Monday madder than ever.
Later that same day he heard an almighty uproar and climbed to the top of the arch to see what was happening. The men were all gathered on the bridge, yelling abuse at a boat that was passing by. Gwilym was dumbfounded. ‘Had the boat done something to the bridge?’ It was almost in the middle of the river and the wake pattern showed that it had been sailing along the middle the whole time. ‘Was there someone on the boat who offended his men? Yes, they appeared to be yelling abuse at one man in the middle, someone they called Ranta.’ The man turned to Gwilym’s crew and made a gesture that said, ‘What can I do?’ and turned his face from the men back toward the boat’s direction. As he did so he met Gwilym’s eye and the recognition was immediate and mutual. Tarrant!
“Time to take a break and join me in the tavern, men,” Gwilym said.
When everyone had assembled Gwilym asked, “What was that all about?”
When no-one replied he said, “Look fellows, whatever is going on is affecting your work. You’re getting lazy, making mistakes, getting mad at each other. George, you hit Charlie so hard he missed work for a week. Tell me what’s going on. I can probably help.”
Finally, George spoke up, looking ashamed. “We take our wages every Saturday to the Grey Goose tavern and enjoy a little drinkin’ and some doice. Sometimes oy would win a little, sometimes others but it were pretty even. A few months ago, this Ranta shows up and ’e’s got a lot of money and ’e loses some so we koinda like ’im. Then ’e gambles some more and loses even more. Then ’e risks a lot on one throw of the doice and ’e wins it. Well, fair enough we say, but then ’e does it again the next week, and the next until ’e’s taking all our wages every week. Every toime we think we’re going to get it back, ’e gets a lucky throw roight when ’e needs one.”
“Will he be there on Saturday?” Gwilym asked. 
“Yeah. ’E don’t moind the abuse. ’E keeps sayin’ that lady luck will get back at ’im one day.”
“Would you like to get all your money back on Saturday?”
 “Yeah!” was the general assent of the team.
“Then borrow some from your friends and bring everything you have. You gamble in the back room, right?”
“Fred and I will be in the corner of the tavern staying in the shadows. When you are about to place the big bet that Ranta always wins, come out and get me and we’ll settle this.”
The men went back to work cheerfully and happily collected their wages on Saturday with a wink and a ‘See you at the Grey Goose.’

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

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