Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fifty-seventh excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

     The next morning, Tollemache, the man who did most of the talking last night, took Gwilym to the palace. The cows had been led forth to feed in the hills. From this vantage point, Gwilym could see that the pasture land was on the hills further inland. The fields that led down to the shore looked sparse and poorly farmed.
     The stench from the old palace made Gwilym’s eyes water. The two men passed the palace, walked uphill to a smaller manor house, and knocked on an ornate door made of two contrasting woods, bound with brass. The door was opened by a shriveled old man. His bald and bulbous head was somehow supported by his thin smoked-beef neck. His clothes and skin looked as though he had never washed and the smell of him even overcame the strong smell of the yard. Gwilym blinked and introduced himself and his project.
Anian looked over the contract, examined the gold pieces and agreed to the price offered. “I’ll move my cows to other buildings. Have you seen the palace?”
     “Only from the outside.”
     “Then let me show you. You’re using the stone from the palace to build the tower. Make sure you don’t use any other stones of mine. I need them all.”
     As they entered the palace, Gwilym was stopped by a wall of smell. He had to hold his nose shut to walk in. The palace was a large, high-ceilinged room supported by pillars. On walking in they were soon climbing a ramp of what could only be trodden down cow-dung. The floor was raised at least four feet high with the waste. On top of the compressed dung were mounds of fresher dung, waist high in places, where the herds must push through to find places to lay down.
     Gwilym fought his way back to the entrance and took in a deep breath of the somewhat fresher air outside. “I think it will be easier to see things from out here!” he shouted back to Anian and Tollemache.         
     When they emerged, Tollemache also breathed easier but Anian seemed not to notice the stench. They toured the outside of the palace, Gwilym claiming stones for the tower and the two men agreeing on the best corner. A thick stone wall connected the palace walls to the other buildings in the settlement.From the constraints of the property and the sun’s position, Gwilym noted that the tower must be turned to face off the compass point, with one of the faces pointing straight back to Huish. Curious, indeed. Now he was second-guessing himself on which direction he would want to place the rune-stone cap. How did I decide the direction in the past? I don’t remember making a conscious decision. They just seemed right when I lowered them into position.
     Their tour completed and the money paid for the land, Anian asked when they would begin working. “I’ll be sending men up in two days to clear the palace,” he replied.
They went back to the village, breathing easier with each step away from the old palace. “You weren’t kidding about it being full of shit,” he remarked to Tollemache.

     Tollemache told him about the town. Salthouse had been an old Roman settlement that had been mostly abandoned when the Romans left. The name of the town came from the salt marshes that lay between the town and the sea. The original, British, land-owners farmed the rich fields uphill and inland from the sea. That left the Angles owning the poor sea-side lands with low yields due to the salty ocean spray. They made more money from fishing than farming. They were trying to fertilize their fields with fish bones but it was going to take a long time to make them productive. Some still boiled the marsh water to create salt bricks but these were only sold locally and in nearby Northwic. Whiter, continental salt was more in demand elsewhere. There was a strong bond between the British and Angles lately because men from both sides fought off the last Saxon invasion four years ago.

     Fred was in the tavern when they returned. Gwilym introduced him around. Then the two of them returned to the job site, discussing the problem. Gwilym followed the aqueduct upstream to the river that fed it, finding it swollen with late spring rains, roaring down the hill to empty into the marshes. The wooden sluice to the aqueduct was almost closed off, allowing a trickle in to water the cows back at the palace.
Gwilym turned to Fred and said, “I’m going to bet those men I can clear the stables of shit in one day!” He looked in triumph at Fred who was staring off into the distance, his thoughts on something else. “Thinking about Heilin, Fred?”
     “Yes I am. Can I have my wages for this job in advance please, Gwilym?”
     Gwilym was shocked at this unusual request but, trusting his friend, assented.
     “Please don’t tell anyone of thy aqueduct plan until tomorrow.”
As they walked back to the town, Gwilym’s mind went back to the problems he had ahead of him and started working out his project plan. This left Fred with his own thoughts. On arrival, Fred received his advance wages and walked off.
     The Angle villagers came to the tavern to sign up for work on the tower. Gwilym soon gathered his crew, telling them that he would need them at certain times and not others so they should be prepared to work on and off for the duration of the project, being paid a daily rate.
     “Ve are farmers! Ve cannot be called from our fields on a moment’s notice. Ve must haf some varning,” one protested.
     “That’s correct,” replied Gwilym. “Tomorrow we will plan out this whole project and learn when you will all be needed. I will keep this plan updated and you can come to the tavern any time to see when I will need you.”
     The men walked away, grumbling about the new ways of this foreigner. Bleddyn came in with his brothers and greeted his father, asking about the men’s complaints he had overheard.
     Gwilym smiled at his son and told him not to worry. “Men always distrust what is new. You have to prove to them that it will work better than their old ways and they’ll fight you while you do. But, once you’ve proven it, most will go to the new way. This has been a truth since Adam’s day.”
Llawen saw Fred’s pack in the corner of the tavern. “Where’s Fred, Da? I want to show him this big shell I found.”
     “He’s touring the town, Llawen. He’ll be back for supper, I’m sure.”
     Gwilym spent the rest of the afternoon preparing his papers for the planning session on the morrow. Fred did not return until well after dark. 

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

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