Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fiftieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym updated the calendar almost daily as events changed, sequences were altered, activities finished earlier or later than expected. But having the network diagram and calendar handy allowed him to ensure that no-one was standing around waiting for work. He could see where the skills of that idle man could be best used next to speed up some future activity or have him work outside his skill-set and help on a present activity. Some men grumbled at working on things ‘below their station’ but, with encouragement from Gwilym and Fred, they ended up enjoying themselves and learning new skills.

Jac and Llawen were learning their native language after growing up in a Saxon land and then Londinium. They fell easily into the Cambrian speech and were enjoying hearing about the foods and customs of their mother’s native land. One warm late summer day, the landlady tried to take the boys to the beach but Jac screamed in terror at the idea. Gwilym heard the outcry and approached. “What’s the matter son?” he asked. “You love digging in the sand!”
Jac was hysterical and it took Gwilym a long time to calm him down to explain his fear. “The mean knight who likes to hurt little boys will get me and Llawen!” he sobbed.
Gwilym was surprised to realize how much the boy had overheard of his conversation about Palomides with Grainne, let alone understood. “That knight can’t find you any easier on the beach than right here.”
As soon as these words passed his lips he regretted them. The terror that Jac faced going to the beach was now extended to being right here with his father. “What can we do, Da? We have to keep running away!”
“It’s all right Jac,” he consoled. “He can’t see you on the beach just like he can’t see you here. Miss Grainne cast a spell on that knight. You are invisible to him for five years. You’ve nothing to fear today.”
As Jac calmed down, Gwilym felt guilty for lying to his son. But the fact remained that there was nothing Gwilym could do other than keep his eyes and ears open about Palomides’ whereabouts. And lying to his son allowed the boy to enjoy his youth. But why had he said five years? Why not forever? The words had slipped out.

By Christmas, the tower was ahead of schedule. The short, wet days were making the men
grumpy so Gwilym allowed many of them to take a week off except those who were crucial to the ongoing work. Those took off Christmas and the day after as holidays. Fred jumped at the opportunity to visit Huish. On his return he had news.
“That knight, Palomides, he came back to Huish after five days. He was starvin’ and his clothin’ was all stained and torn. He had the cheek to demand food off the people who he had threatened before. They gave it to him all right but I can tell tha that there was a lot of piss and snot in that stew they fed him. Reese had gone to th’lord after th’first time and told him about th’knight and when he returned she went again. Th’lord arrived and had a dreadful row with that knight. There was a lot of shoutin’ and threatenin’. Th’knight gave 50 gold to the girl whose father he had killed. Then th’lord watched until th’knight left Huish. He were grand, our lord. Until now, all he did were take our crops but he sure showed that knight that he was there to protect us.”
“That’s good, Fred. Any other news?”
“Oh, let’s see. Everyone was curious about tha. They don’t blame tha for the trouble. They seem happy to be bound up in thy troubles and want to protect tha. They never asked where we were workin’ so I never had to tell them. I acted as though we were in Londinium. I visited me Mom and Da in t’marshes and they’re doing fine.”
“Nothing else.”
“Fred. I know your face. Tell me what happened with Heilin.”
“Oh. Well, let’s see. We’re to be married a week after Beltane. Looks like th’tower is on track to finish then and –”
Gwilym interrupted his speech by wrapping him in a bear-hug and shouting his congratulations.
“Well done, Fred! I’m sure you’ll both be very happy!”
Fred blushed and thanked Gwilym.
“I want tha there as my best man, and th’boys as well. Can tha risk it?”
“I don’t want to put the town in peril by staying there long. If you can tell me the exact day, we’ll be there for that day and then continue on to our next job.” Gwilym struggled for the next words. “Will you stay in Huish, after the wedding?”
Fred paused. “Maybe for a couple of days. But then Heilin will stay and I’ll come with tha for more work. There’s not much work in Huish and I’m learning a lot by being thy right-hand man.”
Gwilym broke into a wide smile, hugged his friend again and told him he was welcome to work with him as long as he liked. 

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

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