Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fifty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Spring this year was mild with light rain falling most days but warm enough weather to keep the progress going. The tower was completed on the outside except for the cap-stone. Gwilym and some of his crew were retrieving from the top of the hill. The walls had been repaired, completing the castle’s defenses. On the way back with the cap-stone, one of the horses threw a shoe and Fred and Gwilym took him to a smith who assisted the horse-breeders in these hills.
Padarn was a short, barrel-chested man with long, muscular arms and short legs. Gwilym caught glimpses of a young wife with a baby on her hip through the open door of the house. The man rushed about preparing and then hammering in the new horseshoe. It was rare to see a smith who didn’t walk with a limp. Bleddyn asked him about it.
“I’m not a town smith. I’m free to move where I like.”
Bleddyn looked confused.
“Don’t you know that town smiths are intentionally crippled by the lord to make them stay in that town? That’s the price they pay for their training from the old smith and that keeps them from leaving town when they get skilled.”
Mouth wide open, Bleddyn looked at his father for confirmation and received a grim nod.

Two days later, horns were blowing from the older, shorter tower in the castle. Gwilym climbed to the top of his tower and saw two boats approaching from the west. He ran to the Weary Pilgrim and brought Jac and Llawen, along with the other people in the tavern back to the castle gates. Bleddyn had insisted they carry their gifts from King Arthur with them. Gwilym carried Bleddyn’s heavy tool chest while Bleddyn brought his own scroll box plus his father’s books and scrolls. A throng of villagers was pushing though the gates to reach the safety of the castle walls. The town militia was passing out bows and arrows to those who could shoot and buckets to those who couldn’t. “Fill them with rocks and bring them to the top of the walls!” they shouted to the townsfolk.
Gwilym saw a faster way to accomplish this so he gathered his crew and sent the weaker half of them up to the top of the walls while the stronger half threw rocks up to them to catch and stack. Meanwhile watchmen on top of both towers were giving out reports.
“They’re landing!”
“They’re armed and looking for battle!”
“Close the gates! They’re here!”
The townsfolk were all safe within the castle walls by this time; only the farmers in outlying areas were in immediate danger. Gwilym hoped they had their own hiding places in the hills.
The marauders, armed with swords, hammers, and pikes, stormed the castle gates. Soldiers and townsfolk fired arrows and threw rocks down upon them, thinning their ranks. The raiders broke away and ran into the town. About ten of them lay dead or dying outside the castle walls. Two soldiers took careful aim and finished off the dying with well-placed arrows. Gwilym felt sick at watching these men die, even though they would have killed his own children moments earlier had there been no castle walls before them.
The marauders could be heard looting the town. Gwilym wasn’t worried about his own possessions. All that remained were some clothes and eating implements; unlikely to be taken and easily replaced. From the castle walls facing the town, the townsfolk saw the raiders moving from buildings to their ships carrying goods. Cries of dismay greeted each new recognized item. The people inside became more and more indignant with the king’s soldiers as more of them saw their own goods being taken away.
“You are armed soldiers! They are untrained pirates! Go get them!”
The captain of the guards refused to abandon his defensive position. “If we’re killed out there, who will remain to protect you?”
One of the more belligerent women stepped up. “You’re not protecting us now!”
“I’m protecting you very well right now. I’m just not protecting your ale. Would you rather I only protect your ale?”
They stopped bickering when a cry arose from the townsfolk. All eyes focused on a group of marauders running down the main street in a tight group. “Bring them down!” cried the captain.

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

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