Sunday, September 9, 2012

Forty-third excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

King Arthur broke the silence. “Three more towers and we’ll let you work on something more to your tastes, all right?”
As Gwilym turned to meet the king’s gaze he caught a glimpse of Kay giving a slight shake of his head at the king.
“Have you a charter for the new tower, Sir Kay?”
“I’ll bring it to you in a moment. Why don’t you join your sons eating? These chairs over here will be unoccupied today.”
The family moved with Fred to the empty chairs and sat down. The boys were wolfing down a plate of sweetmeats which they had been given by the large servant. Llawen turned to the man and said, “Thank you very much, Beaumains.” This comment elicited raucous laughter from the surrounding knights.
Gwilym whispered to Fred. “If you want to work on the royal castle I think I can get you appointed to the work.”
“No Gwilym! I stay with tha. Tha are my teacher and my job is to pr…to learn from tha.”
Gwilym was about to ask what Fred was first going to say but the man looked up as a servant brought them steaming plates of food. As the men tucked into their food, King Arthur asked for an accounting of Tarrant. Gwilym told him all he knew.
“I knew not to trust that man when I first met him two years ago. My seneschal didn’t believe me and allowed him to steal from the kingdom.” Kay looked abashed. 
Launcelot spoke up. “This knight, Palomides sounds like an untrue knight. Did he indeed lance an unarmed knight standing on the ground? That is not at all chivalrous!”
“He did sir. And he threatened a girl in town, beheaded an old man and chased my children into the woods. I think he would have killed them if they had not escaped.”
King Arthur looked concerned. “What did you do to displease this knight? It is unusual for them to bother with yeomen.”
“His father killed my father to steal his treasure. I escaped with it and now Palomides wants to steal it from me.”
“Most unusual. What is this treasure?”
“It is a religious book that my father created. Palomides wants to put it to evil purposes.”
“I will speak to this knight and teach him British manners. Lance, can you bring him to me?”
“That would be my pleasure, my lord,” replied Launcelot. He kissed the queen’s hand, looked long into her eyes and took his leave from the room. 
Sir Kay arrived with the charter for the new tower. It was to be built at Caernarfon northwest of Caerleon to watch the Irish Sea. “It must be complete by Beltane so stay on top of the schedule. I know we are starting late but I believe you can catch up. You are building the tower on the grounds of the local king, Arthfael. He will provide you with the laborers. All the materials should be on site.”
At the name of Arthfael, Gwenevere looked up and met Gwilym’s eye. When Kay was finished showing Gwilym the charter, he looked back at the queen who raised her cup to him and wished him Godspeed. “Have you any advice for me on this quest, my queen?”
“Take care around Arthfael, Gwilym. His son is even more of a pig than his name Arthog would suggest. Perhaps it should be pronounced Art Hog instead.”
King Arthur looked both amused and curious. “Have you had dealings with this family, my love?”
“My father once considered a match for me there. They trade in horses also. The son is a swine.”
“I take fair warning from you, my lady. Thank you.”
At this point servants approached the king and queen with packages that they inspected. King Arthur stood and walked around to the family who stood at
his approach. The king opened a cloth and placed the wooden puzzle on the table that Bleddyn had given the king on his last visit here. He asked Bleddyn and his brothers to count while he built it. With dexterous fingers, the king built the log tower. The boys had reached 65 by the time he had finished.
“This has become one of my finer possessions. I thank you for it. I have a gift for you to repay your kindness.” He hefted a large cloth-covered object on the table. Bleddyn unwrapped the cloth. Inside he found an intricately inlaid wooden box with a swinging lid and drawers with brass knobs. On opening the lid and the drawers he found a complete set of files, chisels, planes, drills, hammers, screwdrivers and clamps, all with their own place in the box.
Bleddyn’s mouth dropped open on examining these fine tools. Then he took a step forward and hugged the surprised king. “You’re welcome, son. Enjoy them.”
Gwenevere was standing next to the king at this point, her eyes misting up. She held two cloth-wrapped packages in her hands and gave one each to Llawen and Jac. The wide-eyed boys thanked her and opened the packages.
Inside Jac’s package he found a tin set of knight’s armor that matched Sir Launcelot’s suit. The metal was thin so it didn’t weigh much. There was even a tin sword with scabbard. He threw the armor on and buckled his sword. Then, much to the delight of the knights spread around the room, he challenged them, one at a time, to fight with him.
Llawen, meanwhile, had opened his package to reveal a miniature set of bishop’s regalia with an alb, cassock, stole, miter, rosary beads, crozier and a bible. Llawen pulled on the alb and belt, placed the beads within the belt, donned the finely embroidered cassock, stole, and miter, picked up the crozier and walked around the room blessing the knights being challenged by Jac. The room erupted into laughter.
“Thank you my lord and lady! You are too generous,” said Gwilym to Arthur and Gwenevere.
The king smiled and replied that it was nothing.
After making their circuit of the room, the boys showed their treasures to their father and Fred. They were all well-made and must be worth a great deal of money. Gwilym was confused by the generosity. The king already had the children’s and his undying loyalty through his attention. Why provide expensive gifts? He shrugged, figuring that this too would become known at the right time.
All in the room had finished eating and the servants were removing the plates. Gwilym took the opportunity to say his farewells to the royal couple and Sir Kay, promising them that the next watchtower would be a great success.
On leaving the castle, Bleddyn struggled under the weight of his gift but would not allow anyone to help him. Fred was ebullient. “We have a great king! What a nice man and so generous! And the queen is so beautiful. Have tha ever seen a woman that looks so much like a swan. So regal and fragile and white!”
Gwilym smiled. “She is beautiful. And he is all that you describe. I wish I had the ability to inspire my men the way he does. It would make my life a lot easier.”
They spent the rest of the day in Caerleon, showing Fred and the twins the royal stables and the jousting grounds where some knights were practicing.

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

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