In the middle of the summer, Fred sold his land to one of the wealthy British land owners who farmed on the inland side of the hills. He received triple what he had paid for it and he showed his profit to Gwilym. “Tha have had time to think on it. Will tha take half th’profit?”
“No Fred. The idea, the risk, the initiative and the money were all yours. You deserve the profit. I hope you make Heilin very happy in her new house.”
The tower was proceeding ahead of schedule so Gwilym decided to award the crew a two-week Christmas furlough. Fred took the opportunity to go home and visit his new wife. The boys looked up at their father at this news, but he shook his head. “No boys. It’s too dangerous for us to go there. But we don’t want to stay in this little village all Christmas do we?”
“No!” they all shouted.
“So we’re going south to visit Northwic, where we’ll be able to look over the old Roman settlement of Venta Icenorum. It’s a big town with lots to do.” He looked at Bleddyn, “Lots of scrolls to find.” Then at Llawen, “A big church.” Then at Jac, “Maybe even some knights.”
The boys all brightened up and prepared for the day next week when they would leave. Fred fussed over them traveling without him to manage the horses. “Now, if tha are going to Northwic, I can ride th’horses there and continue on to Huish th’next day. It’s on th’road. And I can pick tha up on my way back here.”
“Fred. There’s no need to be worried about us. Bleddyn can handle the horses.”
“Aye, but I’d feel better if I were with tha. I worry about tha.”
Gwilym smiled at his friend. “We’d love the company, Fred.”
Gwilym packed up some examples of the tile mosaic from the old palace to see if he could raise some extra money for the tower. The whole family was excited to see something new after almost seven months in this small village.
After a day’s riding, they crossed the river into the walled city. Northwic was built entirely in the Saxon style. Bleddyn was accustomed to the rectangular buildings by now and remarked to his father how well they fit together in this densely built town. Some of the buildings shared side walls and were able to lean their front walls precariously out into the street due to their stability on the sides.
The day after they arrived in Northwic, Fred trotted off to Huish, promising to return in 12 days and leave from this inn in the morning. Gwilym and his sons explored the city. They visited the stores, buying treats they couldn’t find in Salthouse.
People in Northwic ranged in look from Roman to British to Saxon but the latter predominated. These townsfolk, like those in Salthouse, were used to bartering goods so it took some time to establish the worth of the silver pieces King Arthur had provided.
There were two purveyors of luxury items and Gwilym visited these to see who might be interested in the mosaic. The second place he went into was operated by a tall, skinny man with a receding hairline. He appraised Gwilym and asked to see what the man had to sell or trade. Gwilym showed the man the tile and gave its provenance. The man was interested.
“I can’t buy it outright, because I used the last of my gold to buy some valuable jewelry. I would be interested in trading with you for jewelry.”
Gwilym was dubious and started to walk out, but the man stopped him. “You have to see this stuff. It’s remarkable. And since you like old things, you might be interested.” He went into the back store-room and returned with a heavy box. He opened the lid and showed off what was displayed on the black cloth inside.
Gwilym whistled. “That’s an old torc. Where did you get it?”
The man was excited. “Two days past a man came into town selling these. They’re pure gold and he was willing to sell them at the price of the gold. He didn’t realize that these are not only worth jewelry prices but that they are a thousand years old and made for Celtic royalty. I wish I had more money or I would have bought the whole lot. He had many more!” He was rubbing his hands together in excitement.
Gwilym frowned. “Where did the man get them?”
“He said that the frost had pushed them up out of his fields. Like stones that always come to the surface during the winter as if they had been planted there.”
“I’m guessing he didn’t look much like a farmer, though.”
The man thought for a second and then returned with, “No. Come to think of it, he looked more like a trader, or a craftsman.” The man’s face grew pale and he inspected the torc. “No. It’s genuine. Pure gold, ancient design, you can even see the axe mark here where it was intentionally damaged.”
“What’s that?” asked Gwilym.
“Here. See this wedge-shaped nick on the surface. At first I was upset that someone had damaged it retrieving it, maybe the farmer shoveling it up out of his dirt. But I’ve been reading some old scrolls about the Celts and it says they did it on purpose. When they buried the gold with their dead king to ensure a good harvest, they hit the torcs first with axes as part of the ceremony.”
“So you’ve been dealing with a grave-robber?”
“Profitably I can tell you. This torc is worth at least 100 times what I paid for it. I need to take it to Londinium or Caerleon to find the right buyer.”
Gwilym had a sudden thought and turned back to the man. “Did the man who sold you the torc come from the West country?” On receiving a nod in reply he went on. “Was he short, with bandy legs? Did he have dark hair and beady eyes?” Each time he received a nod in reply. The owner was getting nervous. “What did he say his name was?”
The owner avoided Gwilym’s eyes and said, “Ratna. But I don’t think that was his real name. He took too long to say it.”
Gwilym sighed. “I fear you’ve made a bad trade. This Ratna is not an honest man. I know him as Tarrant and Ranta. Everywhere I’ve run across him he has stolen and murdered and cheated people. He is headed for the gallows if I or any of the king’s men catch him.”
The man grew fearful again and examined his torc again, scratching at the nick with is fingernail.
“The torc is genuine,” said Gwilym. “I’ve no doubt of that. But it was stolen out of the grave of a Celtic King. It was buried with great ceremony and magic. They did that to ensure good harvests for the future. Grave-robbers were severely punished, because their greed resulted in tribe starvation.”
“Well that’s just superstitious nonsense.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of magic. I’ve seen some things in my time that cannot be explained by anything but magic. If the robbery of this gold causes bad harvests in this town, you’ve made a poor bargain. Your gain in gold will be nothing compared to the loss in life caused by years of bad harvests in this region. You will be affected if your customers are all dead or broke. Those Celts knew what they were doing. They valued gold but the investment it represented in terms of bountiful harvests was a good one. You know the story about the goose who laid the golden eggs? You just killed the goose to get that last egg out.”
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