Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fifty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers.'

          Before the wedding feast was over, Gwilym and his family said their good-byes and traveled back down the road to Londinium. They spent the next few days camping or staying at hermitages or taverns but always making their way north and east. They spent an entire day passing through a deep forest, arriving at a crossroads tavern just before evening. Both these roads were solid, Roman construction. The tavern was well appointed with a large stable and several outbuildings. Asking the tavern-keeper about it after his rushing about during supper, he found that this was the only settlement in this vast forest, where the North-South road met the East-West road. It was a day’s ride from either edge of the forest to this point making this a prosperous and expensive establishment.
          Gwilym fell into conversation with a contingent of King Arthur’s soldiers who were stationed here to patrol the forest. They remarked on his claims of extortion. “Sure it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than exposing yourself to the bandits in those woods. Money well spent.”

          A day’s journey east of this forest, Gwilym noticed something and remarked upon it to his sons. “Remember how in Huish and Caernarfon the men were all short with dark hair and brown eyes? Look at the people here.”
          The boys looked around and noticed that there was a mixture of types. There were people that had Gwilym’s Saxon look mingled in with Cambrian looking people. The further east they traveled, the more Saxon types they found. Once, in a tavern, they asked a Cambrian-looking man about it. “It wasn’t like they came in battle. One day we were walking in the woods and there was this Saxon family, cutting down trees and making a farm. The land didn’t belong to anyone so we left them alone. Others came and we started trading with them. They’re peculiar folk but they don’t bother us.”
          Bleddyn asked his father later as they all slept in the common hall. “I thought the Saxons came with armies and killed the locals and took over their land. Then the British kicked them out and took their farms back.”
          “Life is always a little more complicated than it’s made out to be. Remember when we were at Airmyn? I think there was war at first but now they are living in a kind of truce. Maybe people left that area and moved here, knowing the land wasn’t owned and just wanting peace. Most people just want that. What did you find out about them while you were there? Why did they leave Saxony?”
          “They were being pushed out by invaders from their east called Huns. Some say they were invited by the king to come and defeat the Caledonians. And they’re not only Saxons. Some get upset by that. They call themselves Angles. They are a different tribe.”
          “When will we see Fred again, Da?” asked Jac.
          “He wants to spend a few days with his new wife. But he’ll travel fast without us so he should join us soon after we arrive in Salthouse.”
          “That’s a funny name, Da. Do they store salt there?” asked Llawen.

          Climbing the last hill before their destination, they came upon the remains of an old Roman settlement overlooking the ocean. There was a large palace flanked by several manor houses and many outbuildings. Most were in good condition. Some of the roof tiles were missing or broken but the stone walls appeared in good repair.
          They had been traveling along a Roman road and noticed a working aqueduct approaching the settlement from the west. This was made of clay half pipes, each about four feet in diameter, supported by thick log posts. As the wind shifted in their faces, they caught the strong stench of cow dung. Gwilym followed his nose to a large herd of cattle being led into the largest building of the settlement. So they are using the old palace as a stable? Interesting.
          They bypassed the settlement and descended the hill to the village. There they found the inn. The village was not on the waterfront but on a river that bordered a marsh extending for about a quarter mile before the beach. The buildings here were all built in the longhouse style of Angles and Saxons. Logs formed the walls and a high peak topped by an ornately carved ridgepole anchored the thatched roof. The inn had a porch that extended over the southern windows at an angle that shaded the windows in summer when the sun was high, but allowed it in during the low sun winters.
          Gwilym requested food and lodging. The inn-keeper asked to see his money. Gwilym showed the man his silver which he examined minutely. He weighed ten pieces on a scale and cut one in half and squinted at the cut edge. Finally he nodded and told Gwilym, “Four of dese silver per veek for your room and board, plus anoder five silver for meals for de zree boys.”
          Gwilym said, “The two little ones together eat less than the big one does. Better make it three silver for their meals.”
          “Vy don’t ve see how much dey eat?” and he motioned them to sit.
Bleddyn took the board from the wall and the family sat on two benches facing each other with the board resting on their knees. The inn-keeper served them a stew, a slice of hard black bread and some ale. After eating, the children went exploring while Gwilym settled up with the inn-keeper. They agreed on eight silver pieces a week. Gwilym spoke with the locals who were arriving to see the newcomers.
          “I come with a commission from the High King to build a watchtower up on the hill,” he announced. “I will be hiring many workers over the next ten months to complete this tower. I will give you time off to harvest your crops. Tomorrow, come to me and tell me your skills and I will try to find work for you.”
          The men murmured amongst themselves, Gwilym overheard the complaint, “Not like there’s ever much to harvest.” Some stepped forward, offering their services as masons, sawyers, laborers, etc. “Where is the tower to be built?”
          “It is to be built at the corner of the old palace. On land owned by Anian. Is Anian present?”
          At this, the men burst out laughing, confusing Gwilym. “What? Why do you laugh?”
          One of the larger men approached Gwilym. “Dat old fool vill never sell you his palace. It is full of his shit.”
          At this word, the men burst out laughing, even louder than before, holding on to each other, weeping with mirth. Gwilym waited and drank his ale until they had calmed down again.
          “If Anian won’t sell, I’ll be on my way. Sorry about the offer of work.”
          This wiped the smiles off the men’s faces. “Vait, vait!” said the tall man. “Does de king say he must haf de palace?”
          “Vell, den Anian must sell. But de palace is full of shit. Cow-shit, bull-shit. He has been using it as a barn for his cows for tventy years and has never cleaned it out. Dat’s de horrible smell of dis town.”
          “Sounds like the first job we’ll have to do is clean out the stables.”
          Grins appeared on the men’s faces. “Do you haf any idea how much shit a thousand cows make in tventy years? That will take all of us two years to shovel out. I’ll take you to Anian tomorrow and you can see for yourself.”

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

No comments:

Post a Comment