Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thirty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

She unwrapped a harp. As Gwilym walked out the tavern door, she started up a song. Her voice was clear and sharp.
The tower seemed as though it would be finished quite a bit early, because of this excellent team that had been forged through careful planning and serendipitous events. But the various problems that always plague a project reared their ugly heads. One was that a boat owner insisted on removing his boat from the stream to the river after the arch supports were in his way. Gwilym argued with the captain but to no avail. The captain insisted that he must deliver his cargo that week and could not wait until the arch supports were removed. He was not one of the boat-owners originally told about the bridge plans so he escalated his argument to the mayor of the town who forced Gwilym to help the man. Gwilym was forced to divert his men for two days to haul the boat out of the stream and over the arch, lowering it back down to the river on the other side.
As a result of these problems, Gwilym was struggling to place the capstone the day before Beltane. The runes on this stone seemed to match those on the previous two, even though this stone was original to the tower. He didn’t have the river jade to place under it and was about to use some granite when Merlin entered the jobsite with Grainne in tow. He bowed to them both, shook Merlin’s hand and kissed Grainne’s.
Merlin addressed him. “Another wonderful job, Gwilym and finished right on time. Almost as though the Goddess decreed that you place the final stones on Beltane.”
“Yes,” agreed Gwilym. “It’s quite the coincidence. Do you have any more of that river jade, Merlin? It worked well on the last two towers and I was hoping for some more on this one.”
Merlin nodded to a box behind him in the cart.
“Where did you get them, Merlin? They are quite fine and smooth and so strong. They can’t have been cheap.”
“Have you ever seen me use money, Gwilym?” was Merlin’s reply and this stopped Gwilym while he recollected all his memories of Merlin. No. He’d never seen the man even appear to hold money. ‘Strange indeed,’ he thought.
“I’d like to arrange a private audience with the lady Grainne when you can spare her, sir.”
Merlin replied, “When she is through with her duties, I’m sure she’ll find you.”
“No, sir,” Gwilym said. I’d like to speak with her sometime today, not tonight. And I’d like to talk with her over a meal, rather than on the job-site if possible.” He blushed, remembering his previous two encounters and wondering how much about them was known to Merlin.
“The lady speaks for herself, Gwilym” said Merlin.
Gwilym turned to meet Grainne’s frank look and asked her, “Could we have dinner in the tavern together? I have some questions for you.”
Grainne paused for a moment, considering, then said, “Yes. I’ll meet you there at Midday.”
Gwilym took the river jade and set about placing them under his capstone. The men were cleaning up the job-site for tomorrow’s ceremony with Sir Kay and were almost finished. He would send them home after dinner he decided. Let them celebrate as a team for a while.

Gwilym washed up and entered the tavern, finding Grainne already seated at a table. All the men in the tavern were staring at her hungrily. He sat down and ordered food to be brought. Bread, cheese and mushrooms plus some carrots and milk. They both ate heartily.
“Should I expect you at the top of the tower again tonight?” he asked.
“Of course you should, Gwilym. I want you as my Beltane lover again,” she replied.
“This is getting to be quite a pattern. Would you tell me what it’s all about. These capstones have some power and meaning and we seem to be consecrating them each Beltane. Add to that the river-jade that must separate them from the rest of the tower. There is certainly some old magic being done here.”
“All will be explained in good time, Gwilym. Are you not enjoying yourself?”
“I’ll not deny that I am enjoying myself. You felt my enjoyment as well as I. But there are consequences of these acts. Was it my child you were suckling last year?”
Grainne looked down and replied, “The Goddess gives children
to women as is her will.”
“And yet the Goddess needs a man to help the woman get with child. So I repeat: Am I the father of this child you suckle?”
She looked up at this and responded, “Yes. He is being raised in Avalon, as a boy of the royal blood should be. When he is old enough he will be fostered out.”
“Foster him with his father,” Gwilym said.
“Do you still attend daily Mass?” she asked, meeting his eye.
“I do, as does my oldest son and my others will as they reach age.”
“Why Gwilym? You are an educated man; you know some of the mysteries we teach at Avalon, yet you follow these prattling priests and their ‘One God.’ Why?”
“I do my own research and I learn a lot by attending the services. And I teach my sons the way my father taught me.”
“Then you are not a true believer? You don’t worship this Christ as the only God?”
“I hold neither the Christian’s prejudice against your religion nor the Druid’s prejudice against Christianity. There is an older truth that I am trying to discover and there is a link between the two. I struggle to find this link. I also listen to the Druids when I can and attend ceremonies in the sacred groves. At least the Christians write down their beliefs and stories where they can be examined. Why don’t the Druids?”
“The beliefs of the Druids cannot be trusted to ink on paper. It must be learned from a master and accompanied by years of training. It is not something that can be picked up and misused by any fool who knows his letters.”
“Long ago the Druids welcomed the first priests into Avalon and helped them build the church at Glastonbury. I’d like to see those years return.”
Grainne’s eyes flashed. “Avalon used to sway with our Druids, performing a chant that had been sung continuously for over 400 years. And then the priests drowned it out with the clanging of their bells. You want those years returned?”
“I want the first years returned, when the Christian priests chanted along with your Druids. Do you even know what that chant was about? It sang of a time of peace and unity and a warning against an enemy to come.”
“And the enemy was within their walls.” Grainne was angry now. “The enemy was the treacherous priests who drowned out their chants.”
“No Grainne,” insisted Gwilym, “That enemy is yet to come. I have been to the Holy Land. It will come from there. The prophecies are clear about that. It will come from the east and will lay claim to Jerusalem and then spread out from there. It will come one day, even to here. And it will destroy us all, Druid and Christian. It will be a jealous religion and tolerate nothing.”
“You’re talking of what has already happened. Christianity spread from Jerusalem and is now spreading intolerance. These Christians cut down the sacred groves. They ban the Beltane fires. Already some of the kings are converted and deny the people their worship. Arthur is sworn to Avalon but he may be the last. The tide is drowning us all.” Grainne was wiping away angry tears that sprang unwanted from the corners of her eyes.
“I believe you’re wrong. That’s why I’m helping you. I know you’re using me as part of a spell. I’m happy to help. You don’t need to use your priestess powers on the tower. I’d much rather come together as Beltane man and maiden. And I’d like to talk afterwards. Let yourself go with me, Grainne. You might even enjoy it.”
Grainne blushed at this, knowing that she had enjoyed the previous love-making sessions but had withheld her whole self from him intentionally, using her powers to keep him under her control and to force him to sleep while she slipped off. She remembered fondling him lovingly while he slept, cursing the requirements placed on her by the Lady of the Lake who ordered her to perform this duty.
“Tell me about my son, Grainne.”
Grainne’s face lit up for the first time since he’d met her. “He’s a grand boy, big and red-headed, with a face as full of freckles as the night is with stars. I’ve named him Madoc, and he’s living up to his name. He takes after you, running all around the island and getting into scrapes, and he’s really smart. He always shares his toys and looks after younger children.”
“Foster him with me when you are finished with his training.”
Grainne looked closely at Gwilym and seemed to momentarily drift off into a trance. Her lips pursed as she struggled for words. Then she focused her eyes and looked sharply at him. “Of course. Yes, I’ll give him to his father for fostering.”
Gwilym got up to go. “I’ll see you tonight then? Shall I bring some cloaks to make it more comfortable?”
“No Gwilym! There must be nothing between us and the stone. That’s very important.”
“It’s uncomfortable. But if that is the way the spell works, who am I to argue?” He leaned over to her as he stood. “But how about if we try it once in a bed some other time. It can be quite nice.”
Grainne smiled broadly, winked at him and said, “Until tonight then, Gwilym.” She unwrapped a harp. As Gwilym walked out the tavern door, she started up a song. Her voice was clear and sharp. She hit every note perfectly. Gwilym paused for a few minutes before returning to his job and heard a few verses of the song. Some of the men joined in and the rest cackled at the bawdier lines.

His hands were long, his face was fair
The girls would vie to stroke his hair
But he would smile and walk from there
The Student of the Master

He caught our lovely lady's eye
And caused her on Beltane to try
To lead him o’er the cattle sty
The Student of the Master

She showed him mother, maid and crone
To try and win him for her own
He left her by the lake alone
The Student of the Master

While he unmeaning broke our hearts
He studied all our healing arts
And fixed the people's broken parts
The Student of the Master

He cut the petals, peeled the bark
And plucked the flowers of the dark
He dug the roots from under park
The Student of the Master

He mixed the potions, brewed the tea
And crushed the powders carefully
Prepared the poultice for the knee
The Student of the Master

The Merlin taught him all he knew
And showed where Mistletoe grew
In oaken groves near birds of blue
The Student of the Master

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

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