Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fifty-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

All arrows homed in on these men. As they approached, it became clear that they were carrying a large wooden beam from one of the buildings. One, then two of the men fell from the group but that seemed to increase the speed at which the battering ram was being brought to bear. Gwilym hurled a huge rock as the ten remaining raiders passed under the wall and crashed into the gate. The rock crushed the heads of two of the foremost men near the front, causing those behind to trip over their bodies. The ram did crash against the gates but with much less speed. Under the gates the men were drenched with boiling water from the murder holes above, then riddled with arrows. Gwilym tried to lean over the parapet to throw more rocks at them but found the angle too difficult. He realized that moving the tower to project beyond the walls was a good idea. It needed to be done with all the towers. Unfortunately, his new tower looked over the river, not the town, so it couldn’t be used. Gwilym raced down to the courtyard to face the raiders. The ram battered three more times on the gates, each time with less power. The gates gave a little each time but held firm and finally the noise stopped and a cheer arose from the townsfolk.
All was quiet for a few hours as more goods were transferred from the town to the boats. Then a group was seen shuffling towards the gates. When they approached it was seen to be a group of eight residents of the surrounding areas, prodded along by spears from the twenty marauders intermingled with them. Their hands were bound and feet were hobbled. Gwilym’s stomach turned over on recognizing the smith and his young family among the captives. The smith’s face bled from a deep gash.
“Hold your fire or we kill them before your eyes!” warned the man who appeared to be in the lead. “Looks like your folk didn’t all escape! How much ransom will you pay for the life of this old woman?”
He held his knife to the throat of an old lady and the smith’s wife shrieked in terror. “We’re already dead dear, just remember that,” said the old lady to her daughter.
The leader flicked his wrist and, blood spurting from her throat, the woman fell to the ground. “You were right there, you old witch! But you, my dear, are not dead yet.” He pulled the smith’s wife from the crowd and showed her to the stunned townsfolk. The woman couldn’t take her eyes off her dying mother.
“The hag was right. She was dead already. But this girl is not. I’ve taken a fancy to her and I think I’ll use her on the long journey home.”
At these words the smith struggled and was bashed to the ground by the marauders behind him.
“So I have a proposal for you. I’m sure you have a lot of gold and silver hidden in that castle. And since you won’t let us come in and take it, I’ll sell you these people in exchange. The old woman wasn’t going to bring much of a price. But what about this baby?”
He snatched the child out of the hands of the smith’s wife who screamed as he held it by the ankle. The baby, shocked awake by this treatment, set up a loud wail.
“We’ll pay a lot less for it if it’s maltreated!” Gwilym was as surprised as anyone around him as he shouted out these words.
“Ahh!” said the leader, righting the baby and curling it
in his arms. “Is this better? Now how much will you pay?” The woman kneeled down in front of the leader, whispering fervent words to him.
“Mayor!” shouted Gwilym. “These are your people, negotiate for their release!”
The mayor looked impassively at Gwilym. “These people don’t live in town, they are not under my protection. I can’t pay for the lives of every man, woman and child who lives nearby.”
“I’m not asking you to pay for everyone, I’m asking for the lives of these six people. I’ll help pay the ransom.”
The mayor spoke with his people and asked what they would be willing to pay for the smith’s family’s lives. The answers surprised Gwilym.
“I don’t even know them.”
“They’re not our relations.”
“We pay for the protection of living in town, they don’t.”
“Why should we pay after they already looted all our goods?”
The mayor shrugged and turned to Gwilym. “You have your answer. Do you want to tell him or should I?”
Gwilym looked at the townsfolk in horror. “What if it were you down there? Your child, your wife, your mother? What would you think of people who said, ‘We pay for the protection of living in town, they don’t.’ Those are good people who need our help. Will you not pay something each so they can live? I’ll pay all I have!”
Fred stood next to him, “So will I!”
The townsfolk remained unmoved.
“What is your price?” asked the leader.
“One hundred and thirty gold pieces for the child and the mother!”
The leader laughed. “I can get twice that for them as slaves back home.”
“Then I offer you a better price. Your life for the release of those two!”
Another laugh from the leader. “How do you intend to do that?”
Gwilym stood up to his full height, with a drawn bow and notched arrow, pointed straight at the head of the leader. “I am the best shot of this village. Notice that every arrow in the body of your men matches mine. I never miss at this range. I won’t be able to kill your whole group before they make it to the cover of the houses, but I’ll kill you first and then that smiling man next to you.”
The other man stopped his smirking and looked at the arrows sticking out of the dead men all around him. They were, indeed, all the same color feathers. Little did he know that this was the feather color of the town or that Gwilym hadn’t even fired any arrows. The other man whispered something urgent to his leader.
Gwilym continued. “I know that if you want to, you can kill all of these hostages on your way out of here. But in the process, you and your henchman will be dead. So I ask you; will it be worth it? When the remainder of your group returns to Eireland and the weeping widows include your wife, will the men say it was worth it? When your children grow up missing their father, will they think it was worth it?”
Gwilym held the bow taut and steady, the arrow pointed straight at the leader’s head. There were no smiles anymore among the marauders. Fear and doubt was on their faces.
“Put the baby down and leave its mother where she kneels. Walk away from here with the booty you have!”
The leader hesitated. Gwilym shifted the arrow slightly. “I see you prefer the use of your left eye. I’ll let the arrow enter your skull from there so you can watch it the whole way.”
He gave an involuntary shudder and returned the baby to its mother and backed himself behind the smith. The rest of the marauders moved behind the hostages and shuffled back to the cover of the town buildings. Gwilym released the tension on the bow and put the arrow back into its quiver. The gates were opened and the smith’s wife and child were ushered in. The townsfolk looked in awe at Gwilym. The last they saw of the remaining hostages was them being bundled up onto the boats along with the rest of the stolen booty.

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

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