Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thirty-ninth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym’s legs were turning to lead from the long run and the lack of oxygen. Again he was forced to rest, holding his exhausted hands behind his head to pull air into his lungs. He knew that Palomides must have reached the village by now and he was miles away, unable to protect his sons. He stumbled to his knees crying, “God help me! Somebody help me! Protect my boys!”
He struggled back to his feet, tears streaming and ran on through the pain, remembering.

Four years after he escaped Mecca, Gwilym snuck back in to retrieve his father’s book. At sixteen he was taller than most adults and his years of hard work had made him a strong and independent man. He watched the sheik’s family compound until it appeared safe and then broke in. Sneaking through the house, he made his way to the room he had shared with his father four years prior.
He moved to the fireplace and shoved the wood to one corner, then brushed away the ashes. With his knife, he worked at the dust between one stone and the others until he had pried it up. Still hidden underneath was his father’s book, wrapped in protective leather. Gwilym filled the hole with ashes and replaced the stone, covering it up again with ashes, then the firewood, just the way his father had taught him. As he walked out of the room he bumped into Palomides.
Palomides was now a twelve year old young man, well through puberty. “Welcome back, my old friend. Have you come to see me?” asked Palomides. His eyes swept up and down over Gwilym, making him uncomfortable. As a lone boy in Jerusalem, Gwilym had been forced to fend off sexual predators and recognized the lustful look on Palomides’ face. His mind raced. The outside door was twenty feet away and he could force his way past Palomides and escape, but he may not be so lucky escaping Mecca this time as last. The family who had harbored him last time had moved to Jerusalem. Better to bargain with Palomides and escape using words rather than force.
“Yes,” replied Gwilym. “Your father still wants me dead so I can’t stay long but I wanted to say hello to you while I was visiting your town.”
“Well, give me a kiss then, Gwilym.”
Gwilym clapped his arm around the younger boy’s shoulders and kissed his cheek twice, in the Arab style. Palomides grasped Gwilym’s face and kissed his lips, hard. The almond smell gave way to an unpleasant clove taste on his lips. Gwilym pulled away, wiped his mouth and protested, “Not like that, Palomides!”
A cruel smile crossed Palomides’ face and he replied, “You sneak into my house, assuredly to steal our gold and you have the nerve to refuse my kisses. Perhaps I should shout for my father instead.”
Gwilym’s mind raced through his options. Force past the boy, kill the boy, kiss the boy. None of these options seemed palatable. The last one was nauseating, seeing the look of triumph in Palomides face as he sensed that Gwilym was in his power. But there was something in the words of Palomides that gave him a hint. ‘Perhaps.’ Why hadn’t Palomides called his father immediately? Because he wanted to force himself on Gwilym while he held the power. But if his father were here, Gwilym would be killed. And yet…
“Yes. Let’s call your father and tell him how would like to kiss me.”
Fear replaced triumph on Palomides’ face.
“Or should we keep that kiss of yours our little secret?” said Gwilym and he shouldered past the scared boy and walked out into the street. He left town on a caravan to Damascus.

Racing through the outskirts of Huish, Gwilym grew fearful. Townsfolk were wandering around in a daze. A villager saw him and told him to hide, “There is an angry knight looking for tha, Gwilym!”
“Where are my boys?” Gwilym demanded of the townsfolk as he ran to the beach. He ran past a knot of villagers gathered around a decapitated old man. Reaching the sand, he soon saw the tracks of Palomides’ warhorse making their way along the beach to where he had left his children. He saw the tracks mixing with the destroyed sand-castles and tracks of the bare feet of his boys and another set. Tegid’s? Running in the sand was laborious; he felt like he was being dragged down into it.
Sick with fear, he followed the tracks into the woods south of town. In the distance he could hear a horse stomping around. At each glade he was gratified at not seeing the bodies of his sons. After entering one thicket and making his way around the trunk of a huge oak, he was shocked out of his skin by having his arm grabbed.
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