Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sixty-eighth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          Stupid am I? Tarrant had fallen for the bait Gwilym gave him by looking at the one part of his body that was practically immune to pain. Since his leg had healed he had found that he had almost no feeling below where the bone had protruded. This had caused him a lot of problems in the past like stumbling from having no feeling in his foot or coming home with blood streaming down his leg from an injury at work he hadn’t felt at the time. But it had helped him now. He had seen torture and knew how to react. The hard part was behaving like the pain had caused him to pass out. Fortunately his acting had been good enough to fool Tarrant. He had bought himself some time.
          He heard the men come back. One at a time, they passed by him grunting with exertion as they passed through the burial chamber and down the tunnel. Then they returned, moving easier. They must be emptying containers of dirt from the other passage. Is there another chamber?
          Gwilym slouched, held up by the ropes, drooling saliva down his chin and breathing as shallow as possible. Every so often, one of the men, probably Tarrant, opened one of his eyes so he kept them staring straight up under his lids. The digging went on. Gwilym relied on his sense of hearing to determine what was happening. Two men were carrying the dirt away while one dug at the end of the other passage. After what must have been hours, Gwilym heard a commotion and the men all converged at the end of the new passage. He couldn’t make out their words but he knew something interesting had occurred.
          About quarter of an hour later, one of the henchmen, Gwilym could recognize their footsteps by now, walked past Gwilym and crawled down the tunnel with a load of dirt. He didn’t return in the usual amount of time. Why? The same thought must have occurred to Tarrant and the other man, because they came into the chamber and called down the tunnel to Brendan.
          “Comin’!” they heard, but Gwilym knew it wasn’t Brendan’s voice. Not that he knew Brendan’s voice. But he did know Fred’s voice, even when disguised.
          Tarrant was not fooled. He and the other henchman snatched up the crossbows from the wagon and backed up to the entrance of the passage. Gwilym slowly opened his eyes to a small slit. He could see down the tunnel, the hair of a man lurching forward. Cutting his eyes to the passage he could see that both men were aiming their crossbows directly at this head. Fred was doomed.
          “They have crossbows!” yelled Gwilym, in an attempt to save his friend. One crossbow twanged and the bolt flew forward, sticking directly into the top of the skull. One more time the head moved forward, into the light of the chamber, blood leaking out of the downward facing mouth. The other crossbow twanged and the second bolt imbedded itself next to the first.
          The man fell flat on the ground of the chamber. The face turned sideways and relief rushed through Gwilym as he saw the face of Brendan, not Fred at all. The man was missing an arm.
          Then Gwilym saw Fred rushing out of the tunnel over the dead man, wielding an axe. Tarrant pushed his other henchman in front of him as he scooted down the other passage. The henchman dropped his crossbow, useless now that the bolt had been fired and picked up a shovel to defend himself. The two men grappled and swung short strokes in these tight quarters, neither getting any advantage over the other. Then Gwilym saw Bleddyn pushing past the dead body and stepping over to him. “Da!” he cried. He pulled a knife from his belt and started working on Gwilym’s knots. “Hurry!” yelled Gwilym, helpless as Fred fought for his life.
          As Bleddyn cut the ropes away, Gwilym saw that the henchman’s fighting experience was winning over Fred’s better strength and weapon. Fred was wearing down from hard strokes with the handle of the spade, undefended when Fred concentrated on the sharp metal end.
Gwilym’s head and feet were loose so he stood up to try and help Fred in the fight. Bleddyn was still cutting away the ropes binding his hands when, seeing an opening, Gwilym kicked out at the henchman’s knee and crumpled it backwards. The man screamed and reached down for his knee as it bent the wrong way, and he fell to the side. Fred swung the axe, cutting through the man’s neck and deep into his spine. Blood spurted all over the chamber.
          Bleddyn cut the last of the cords binding Gwilym’s hands. As blood rushed into the tissues, incredible pain accompanied it, and Gwilym had to sit down. “Wait for me Fred and we’ll get Tarrant together. He’s gone into the other chamber.”
          “No Gwilym! He’s gone out th’other way. There’s another hole in this hill. I saw it open as I came near. Light came out of th’hill. We’ve got to go after him!”

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

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