Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sixty-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          The days grew warmer as summer advanced and Bleddyn, Jac and Llawen spent a lot of time on the beach, playing in the coarse, pebbly sand and shallows. One day there were hundreds of small, hard crescent-shaped jellyfish washed up on shore. Bleddyn experimented with the back of his hand to ensure that they did not sting then they all started throwing these at each other. They each built a deep hole in the sand that they called forts and stockpiled scores of jellyfish in each and fought a war.
          Their shrieks brought out some of the neighborhood children who joined the battle, jumping in the holes and forming three warring armies. After they tired themselves out, they gathered wood and built a bonfire on the beach. They sat around it telling stories. Bleddyn related some of the adventures he had transcribed. The girl sitting next to him was excited with his tale, huddling against him at the scary parts, laughing out loud at the funny parts and crying when the story became tragic.
          After supper, they all agreed to return here for more of Bleddyn’s stories. When Bleddyn asked his father for permission he was given a grilling. “Who are these children? How do you know them? Who are their parents?” He threatened to come with Bleddyn, but the boy begged his father and Gwilym, remembering his own youth, decided not to embarrass the child. “But come back home before 11. You know enough about the stars to know when that it, right?”
          “Yes, Da. The moon should be up for an hour by then tonight.”
          “Good! If you’re any later, I’ll come and get you.”
          “What about us, Da?” asked the twins.
          “Sorry lads, but you’re not old enough to be invited. When you’re older you can have gatherings like that.”
          Bleddyn returned right after his supper. He crossed the river and then walked on the raised track to the dunes. Finding he was the first one there, he built up the fire and gathered wood for burning and logs for sitting on. Others joined him in this strenuous task. As night fell, Bleddyn started to relate the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. He held them all in thrall. He was thrilled whenever the girl at his side, Sunngifu, brushed against him, clutched his arm and once, rubbed against his side with her clothed breast.
Bleddyn finished his story and told the rest that he had to go. They laughed at him and called him a baby. He was embarrassed but covered his anxiety by saying, “Have you seen the size of my father? Would you want to go against his will?”
          The boys all shuddered and acted scared. Bleddyn felt sick inside about this because his father had never threatened him, let alone hit him. He felt that he was giving the village children the wrong impression about his father. But it got him out of this situation so he let it go. Sunngifu said she should go too, so they walked together from the beach. Once out of the firelight, she reached for his hand.
          “I like you, Bleddyn” she said. “You tell good stories and you are handsome. Will you kiss me?”
Bleddyn was mortified. She was a pretty girl but must have been at least 16. Bleddyn had never kissed a girl and had no idea how to go about it. He had seen his father and mother kiss before and had watched other children experiment but he was scared. Sunngifu was almost his height so he stopped and put his hands around her waist. He felt, for the first time,
the way a girl’s sides narrow to the waist, then swell to her hips. He was fascinated by this and caressed her up and down a few times. She watched him for a few moments, then smiled and leaned her head close to his.
          He looked up at her and saw the way she closed her eyes and was puckering her lips. He took a deep breath and, puckering his lips the way he would when kissing his mother, met her lips. The sensation was different from his mother’s kisses. His lips experienced a shock as if energy was shooting from her into him. He felt a stirring in his loins that made him want to run away and hide. But the pleasure he received from the kiss made him want more. He leaned back in for another kiss. He watched her eyes close and met her lips again. This time he was expecting the shock and reveled in it. He sucked her lips gently, but recoiled in fear as she opened her lips and touched his with her tongue. She laughed at him and asked, “How old are you, Bleddyn?”
          “Thirteen,” he replied.
          “Ach! I’m sorry. You’re so tall I thought you were old enough. Goodnight!” She laughed and ran off toward her home.
          Bleddyn stood there with confused emotions. Living with his father and mother in large halls, he had seen lovemaking by the little light emanating from fires or moonlight. His body was reacting in such a way that he knew what he wanted to do with this girl. But he felt too young. He was tall and smart and often fooled people into thinking he was older than his years. Yet he knew that sex was something you did after you went through puberty and he was not there yet. On bathing with his father he had noted the hair Gwilym had in places he didn’t, showing his immaturity in exactly the place that was swollen with lust from touching the girl. As he walked home along the marsh track, he heard his father speaking in the near distance. “Is that you, son?”
          “Aye, Da. Sorry I’m a little late.”
          Gwilym had seen his son with the girl in the moonlight. The few shrubs in the marsh were low enough to allow an unobstructed view. At first he had wanted to rush in and interrupt but he hadn’t wished to embarrass the boy. It was difficult for Bleddyn, moving every year, being without a mother. So he watched and felt his son’s pain when the girl laughed and ran away. It’s time I had a talk with my son.
          “Let’s take a walk, Bleddyn.”
          Bleddyn broke into a cold sweat. Gwilym led his son along the river road.
          “You’re growing tall, lad. How many feet high are you now?”
          “Almost six.”
          “That’s tall for a 13 year old. And by far the handsomest boy in this village.”
          Bleddyn made a crooked smile.
          “The girls, they mature earlier and start to notice you before you even start to think about these things.”
          “What things, Da?”
          “To be honest, Da. I’ve been thinking about mating for a while now.”
          Gwilym turned his head to hide his smile, then grew serious.
          “That’s natural, son. All living creatures think about mating. Sometimes it is the only thing their brain can do. Stags go wild in the spring to mate with deer. Horses mate in farms. Fish spread their eggs in the stream and wait for the males to spread their seed on top. Trees drop seeds from on high. The thing in life we have in common with every creature is the meaning of life.”
          “What’s that, Da? What’s the meaning of life?”
          “Reproduction. That’s all life comes down to in the end. For lots of creatures that can mean dropping seeds or spreading seed in the rivers and hoping that one of the thousands of little offspring makes it to adulthood. We humans are more complicated. We take years of nurturing to fill our brains with knowledge, to fill out our bodies with muscles and skills. Then we take on the world and command it. We have one baby at a time, sometimes two, and we spend fifteen years or more bringing that child to maturity before we let them fly the nest. There is so much to teach them. But it comes down to the same thing: Reproduction. We want to have children who have their own children and so on. ‘Go forth and multiply!’ as God said.”
          “So I should mate?”
          “No, son. Children should not mate. I am still raising you to be an adult. You still have things to learn. Rabbits might mate a few months after being born but humans take longer to mature. While you may be physically able to mate and your body is telling you that the time is right, there are still things you have to learn. Are you ready to raise a child?”
          “No, Da!”
          “What do you think comes of mating?”
          “But it doesn’t happen every time. You and Ma did it every night and you only had Jac and Llawen.”
          It was now Gwilym’s time to get embarrassed. Sleeping in the same hall with the children exposed them to this, but he had always assumed Bleddyn was asleep when he and Kaitlyn made love.
          “That’s right, son. But you never know when God decides to gift you with a child. And the younger you are, the more likely it is that he gives that gift. The question is: What would you do if you and that girl mated and she became heavy with child?”
          Bleddyn nodded. “How do you do it, Da? I’ve seen dogs and horses and cows and all, but they have four legs. You and Ma were always under the blanket. And you and Grainne–”
          “What about me and Grainne?”
          “I saw you, Da. At Beltane. On the tower.”
          “Shit!” exclaimed Gwilym. He thought back to the scene, the almost full moon, her standing naked while he caressed her and ministered to her. They were in the center of the capstone so it would have been hard to see much from the ground. The copulation had taken place lying down. What had Bleddyn seen?
          “Where were you son? I thought you were watching your brothers.”
          “I was bored, and I went for a walk on the walls. I saw her out of the corner of my eye, flipping onto the roof. I didn’t mean to spy, but I couldn’t help it. The way she leapt out of the window and onto the roof. Better than even Jac could do it. And then I saw you take off her shift and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I’m sorry Da.”
          “People need their privacy at times like that son. We don’t have our own rooms so you need to turn the other way.”
          “I know, Da. I was wondering about you. What you were thinking. Ma has been dead almost four years. You must be getting lonely. And Miss Grainne, she saved our lives. And the twins want a mother. And I need a…” He broke down.
          Gwilym hugged his son tight to him and let the boy cry his tears into his chest.
          “Aye, son, aye.”

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

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