Saturday, November 30, 2013

Seventy-fourth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          Gwilym’s heart leapt at this. I have two more sons. What are they like? Grainne held his hand in hers as they walked to the pavilion. She opened the flap and Gwilym saw a straw pallet on the ground next to a pair of saddle bags and a small harp. The boys were sitting on the pallet playing some quiet game when they entered.
          “Madoc, Brice, I want you to meet your father.”
          They both looked up at Gwilym with puzzled expressions. Madoc was just over three; Gwilym calculated that Brice must be about 15 months.
          “We don’t have fathers in Avalon,” said Madoc.
Grainne stepped over to the pallet and sat next to them, Brice crawling into her lap. She stroked Madoc’s hair. “Every living thing has a father. Some father’s stay with their children like robins, some go away like deer. In Avalon, we are like the deer. The mother stays with the children, the fathers go away.”
          “Why Ma? In the villages, the fathers stay with the children. I like that better.”
          “Avalon is a special place. Men can’t live there.”
          “Meagan says that boys have to leave Avalon when they are three. Am I ever going back?”
Grainne’s face crumpled in on itself like an empty falling sack. Tears started to flow from Madoc’s eyes. Brice stroked his mother’s cheeks. Gwilym was frozen by Madoc’s words and the raw emotions in the pavilion. Grainne was the first to speak. “Madoc. You are my most precious thing. I won’t let you go. I will fight for you. If you have to leave Avalon, Brice and I will come with you.”
          “Thanks, Ma.” Both boys clung to her. She looked at Gwilym with tear-filled eyes.
          Gwilym squatted on his haunches in front of the group. He held out his hand to each boy in turn. “It’s very nice to meet you. My name is Gwilym. I am a builder of towers.” With wide eyes they shook his hand in turn.
          “You must be Madoc and you turned three a few months ago.” Madoc nodded.
          “And you must be Brice and you had your first birthday around the same time.”
          “The same day!” shouted Madoc. “We share the same birthday.”
          “How curious,” said Gwilym meeting Grainne’s eyes. Her tears dried up as she sensed what he hinted at. A wry smile crossed her face.
          “I have an idea,” he said. “I’ll tell you three interesting things about myself. Two will be the truth and one will be a lie. You have to judge which one is the lie. Then it will be your mother’s turn, then Madoc’s, then Madoc can tell us two truths and a lie about Brice. Fair?”
          They all nodded, Brice because he saw his brother’s interest.
          “All right then. I am six and a half feet tall. I can read five languages and I have traveled all the way to China.”
          The boys stared at him with open mouths. “Remember, one of those stories is a lie.”
          “Ma says we should never lie,” said Madoc.
          “A lie is all right if it is a story and we tell the truth right after,” said Grainne. “I know you are six and a half feet tall and I know you have traveled so I guess that you cannot read all those languages.”
          “Me too!” shouted Madoc. Brice nodded.
          “No,” said Gwilym. “I do read those languages. British, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Aramaic. Also some Saxon and Angle. I have traveled, but never further east than Mecca. I thought about joining a caravan once but decided against it. Your turn, Grainne.”
          Grainne pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “I can sing a thousand songs, I am very good at Mathematics and I have a pet dog called Tessa.”
          “I know!” shouted Madoc. Grainne smiled and told him, “Guests first.”
          Gwilym looked around the pavilion. “I can see the harp and I’ve heard your singing. I hope you’ll share more of your thousand songs with me soon. Both your sons’ eyes opened when you said Tessa so I’m sure that’s true. I guess you’re not good with Mathematics.”
          “Ha!” exclaimed Madoc and Brice clapped his hands.
          Grainne smiled. “Just like a man to assume I’m no good at Mathematics. As it happens, I’m excellent at the subject. You, on the other hand, are lacking. Does it make sense that I would know one thousand songs at my age? At any age?”
          Gwilym shook his head and smiled to himself. “You got me there. What about you Madoc? What can you tell me about yourself?”
          Madoc was ready and the words burst forth from him. “I love my dog. I love cake. I can climb the tallest trees.” Then he rolled back on the pallet and laughed out loud.
          Gwilym looked impressed. “Such a brave boy, climbing the tallest trees at 3 years old.”
          Madoc stopped laughing and looked at Gwilym with open mouth. “How did you know?”
          “But which one is the lie? I saw your eyes widen when your mother talked of Tessa so I can’t believe you don’t love your dog. That means you must be just like your Dad. You don’t like cake but you love pie.”
          “Yes!” he yelled. Then he jumped off the pallet and ran to Gwilym, giving him a fierce hug. Gwilym was shocked, then returned the hug with his powerful arms. My son!
          “What about Brice? Can you tell us two truths and a lie about him, Madoc?” asked Gwilym.
Madoc held Brice’s face, stared at him and thought for a long time. Grainne met Gwilym’s eye and they both smiled at this tableau. Such cute boys! Then Madoc announced he was ready.
          “Brice poops in his clothes. He loves green vegetables. He is always nice to Tessa.” He sat back and rubbed his hands together with delight. Grainne looked on him with evident pride.
          Gwilym answered. “I think I can smell from here that he still poops in his clothes. So did I at his age.” Madoc burst out laughing.
          “No boy likes green vegetables at his age.” Madoc jumped up and down but held his hand over his mouth to keep from speaking.
          “And I know he loves his dog so he always is nice to Tessa. So the story about the vegetables must be the lie.”
          Madoc let go of the hand and shouted in delight, “No! He loves vegetables. He’s so weird! More than pie even. Yuck! But sometimes he pulls Tessa’s tail and Tessa doesn’t like that. I tricked you! I tricked you!” He came back over and hugged Gwilym and then snuggled in again with his mother.
          Gwilym was shaking his head slowly back and forth. The emotions within him were so strong that tears started to fall down his cheeks. Pride in his sons. Learning about them. Seeing how Grainne acted with them. The knowledge that they had to leave Avalon. Curiosity if they would be fostered with him. Lust over Grainne. Wonder about Grainne’s statement that she would never leave her children even if ordered to by Avalon. Love for Grainne. Love for Grainne? Yes.
          His vision blurred as the tears fell. He felt a boy’s arms around his neck and he hugged the boy back. From the size of him, he realized with surprise that it was Brice, not Madoc who was hugging him. Then he felt another set of arms around him from behind and he reached an arm around to pat Madoc. Then Grainne wrapped them all up with her arms.
          Madoc said. “It’s all right, Father. You only got two wrong. I’m sorry I made Brice’s questions so hard.”
          Gwilym laughed then and told the boy, “I’m crying because I’m happy. I’m so happy to meet you. My boys!”
          “Come Madoc, help me gather some mistletoe,” announced Grainne, standing up. Madoc and Brice followed her to the base of an old oak tree where she looked up and pointed to the parasite in the high branches. She asked Gwilym to help her to the lowest branches. From there, she scrambled nimbly up from branch to branch until she reached the mistletoe. Gwilym watched her reach under her shift and pull out a silver sickle. With the inside edge of this, she sliced the mistletoe from the tree and dropped them down into Madoc’s waiting arms. Holding the sickle in her teeth, she clambered down and dropped to her feet right in front of Gwilym.
          “That’s a nice trick,” declared Gwilym, as Madoc and Brice carried the mistletoe back to her pavilion.
Holding his gaze, she shrugged her shift off her shoulders and slipped the sickle into a silver sheath on a chain around her waist. Gwilym was inflamed with lust at her naked breasts but she lifted her shift back up and turned to follow her sons. He followed her back to the pavilion and she climbed in, picking up a harp.
          Grainne started playing. The boys sat down on the pallet. Madoc patted the space between them and asked Gwilym to sit. When he did so, Brice crawled into his lap and Madoc curled against his side.
          After a pause in playing, Grainne started up a new tune and started singing. Her voice broke out clear and perfect with no warming up. Her notes were like bells on a clear winter day. They filled the tent and clutched at his heart. He stared at her, surprised that her husky talking voice could be transformed into this set of perfect bells ringing out this song. Never missing a note, no sliding up and down to reach the highs or lows.
          The song was a happy one about the fairies living in Britain before the arrival of the big folk. It told of feasts and festivals, kings and queens, the love of the princess for a handsome commoner.
          When the song ended the boys all called for another and she indulged them for two more. Madoc demanded a song called ‘Student of the Master’ which was about a young Druidic apprentice who outsmarts his teacher. She sang a few verses of this, then said it was time for Gwilym to go. “We’ll see him tomorrow when he brings his men here for the capstone.” The boys whined but Gwilym noticed, on leaving the pavilion, that it was almost sunset and his other sons would be wondering where he was.
          Gwilym kissed Grainne then, in front of their sons, and told them all he would return right after sunrise. He hugged the boys in turn and told them, “How would you like to meet your other three brothers?”
          Madoc looked shocked and Brice copied his mood. Gwilym hastened to console them. “I’m sure you’ll love them. Their names are Bleddyn, Jac and Llawen. Bleddyn is 12 and Jac and Llawen are about a year and a half older than you, Madoc.”
          Madoc burst out crying. “Is that why you took me here, Ma? Do you give all your boys to him when they are three?”
          Gwilym was mortified that he had given the boy the wrong impression. Grainne knelt down, pursed her lips and took him in her arms. “No Madoc. Gwilym’s other sons were by a different mother. I don’t want to give you up. I’m sure you’ll be with me until you are grown men: 15 or 16. Don’t cry, son. I have met your brothers and they are nice boys.”

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

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