Saturday, November 2, 2013

Seventy-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          January snows and spring thaws caused a lot of delays to the tower building and Gwilym became concerned that he had given the men so much good building time off around Christmas. The men were in high spirits, however, and they pushed through each delay. Gwilym was able to use the extra money earned from selling the mosaic to buy the supplies and extra manpower he needed to push through the delays. Fred left two weeks before his child was due.
          As Beltane approached, Gwilym spent some of his spare time scouring the countryside for the capstone for this tower. He knew that it would be placed so that the design pointed back to Huish. But where was it? In Huish it had appeared next to the tower through the use of some magic. He suspected Merlin. At Airmyn it was lying under all the supplies as if it had been purchased for the job. In Londinium, the capstone was already in place and just had to be removed and replaced on the rebuilt tower. And in Caernarfon he had sat on it after capturing the prince. What was the pattern?
          He knew there was magic involved. His hair had stood on end at the appearance of the first stone. He recognized that he needed to leave this activity to Merlin and Grainne to accomplish, even though he had taken responsibility for it on the Network Diagram.
          Two days before Beltane and all was ready but the cap-stone. The crew all gathered around Gwilym looking expectant. They had cleaned every last part of the tower and grounds, built the road and tidied up the remains of the palace. Gwilym could think of nothing else to keep them busy. Tollemache asked the obvious question. “Vere is de capstone, Gvilym?”
          “The capstone is being delivered by two friends of mine who will arrive in the next two days. When it comes, we will gather together, pull it into place and the tower will be finished. Until then, you are all on Holiday!”
          The men cheered and ran to the tavern. “But stay close so I can call you when the stone arrives!” Gwilym shouted.

          Gwilym found himself walking down the road heading to the south, the direction from which he expected Merlin and Grainne to come. He was surprised to find his excitement rising. He tried to tell himself it was because he was nervous about the stone but he knew, deep in his heart, that he missed Grainne. She had infuriated him at their last meeting, calling on the Goddess to make him venerate her. Yet he missed her and found he could forgive her this act.
          He felt a strange aching on the inside of his arms. The last time he had felt this was when he had realized he had fallen in love with Kaitlyn. The only thing that removed that ache was to hold her in his arms, her body fitting against that place in his arms. This time he felt it in his chest also, an emptiness where Grainne belonged.
          But how can that be? I hardly know her. This relationship was completely upside down. Their meetings had been all in the wrong order. The first time she was the mother, had nursed me back to health while I lay unconscious. The second time she was the death-crone, telling me about my dead wife. Then she was the maiden, seducing me on the rune capstone of the first tower. The same thing happened again at Airmyn and Londinium although I managed to snatch a brief conversation with her: a conversation that turned into a serious religious argument. Then she had saved my children’s lives when I needed her the most. Then another sexual encounter on a capstone. What kind of a basis was this for love?
          He compared this to his first love, Kaitlyn. He had seen her first walking through the warrens of Jerusalem in a group of foreigners. He had been captured by her dark looks, her haunted eyes and then, that smile. All the people surrounding her reacted to her smile. Gwilym saw that they all loved her. They were old and young, man and woman, but they all were drawn to her like bees to the honey cakes in the market. Gwilym followed the group, tying to see more of her.
          Following close enough to hear their words, he recognized some Cambrian words his father had taught him when he was a boy. Gwilym’s mother was Cambrian. Short and dark, with milky white skin and full red lips. Gwilym had asked his father why he had left his mother. And one night, Willem had told his son everything he would ever say about her. “I met her in Glastonbury, on my search for Joseph’s Gospel. You were a child of the Beltane fires. While she loved you, her duties meant that she had to foster you out. She sent you to me.”
          Gwilym had imagined his mother since then but this was the first time he had seen someone whose looks fit his image. Of course, this girl was too young, younger than Gwilym, even. But she had captured his heart in an instant with that smile and he had to talk with her.
          He offered his assistance to the group, telling them he spoke their language and knew all the Holy Sites. He was careful to address the oldest man in the group but he watched Kaitlyn out of the corner of his eye. On seeing him, she shrunk back and covered her mouth, not quickly enough to stifle the slight scream. Gwilym was astonished and looked back at the leader of this group for an explanation.
          “It’s not your fault, son,” he said in the lilting style of the Cambrian. “She fears you because you look like the men who plundered her town and murdered her family.”
          Gwilym’s heart had sunk at this, seeing the fear he had caused and regretting the consternation he had put on her face. He regretted most of all the loss of that smile. He pointed the leader in the direction of the Temple wall, bowed his head and walked off. But he could not forget her so he followed the group at a discrete distance.
          He made a fool of himself for the next three days, walking past the group for a brief glimpse of her, then circling through the back streets at a run to walk past them again. He would wander past them as they toured the mount of Calvary, the Garden of Gethsemene, Herod’s palace. Each time he would try to see her without her seeing him. The other members of the group figured out what he was doing and would laugh amongst themselves whenever he made an appearance. He overheard one say to the girl, “Kaitlyn, that Saxon has fallen for you.” So her name was Kaitlyn; lovely.
          On the third day a miracle happened. They were walking by the tomb from which Jesus had been raised and he was making his third pass by the group. Kaitlyn reached out her hand and stopped him. “I’m not scared of you anymore. You can stop running past me. Tell me your name.”
          They talked then, and Gwilym showed the group around the city, to the places he loved, the honest traders, the secret pools and gardens, the tall towers and cool churches. He used the knowledge his father had given him to have them walk in Jesus’ footsteps, from His teaching in the temple to His triumphant entrance to His crucifixion. He knew his craft well, having done it many times in the past for money. This time he refused all payment.
          They told him that they were going from here to see the rest of the Holy Sites and Gwilym offered to accompany them as their guide. They agreed and he toured with them for three months, from the Cedars of Lebanon to the Pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he learned all about the beautiful Kaitlyn’s tragic story.
She had been hiding in the forest with the children, old men and women when Saxon warriors had attacked their village. She had climbed a tree and watched as they defeated the men and looted the town. Then a group had charged the forest and overtook the frightened villagers. She had watched from above in mute terror as her mother and sister were raped and carried off. Her brother was slain before her eyes. She thanked God that they hadn’t looked up and she vowed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to pray for her family and villager’s souls and to thank Him for her safety. She had joined this group of pilgrims and had walked here the whole way from Cambria.
          She was 16 and not romantically attached to any of the men in her party. It was clear to Gwilym that they were all in love with her. While they were happy with his guidance through the Holy Land, once they realized that he was making progress with Kaitlyn, they tried to get rid of him. But Gwilym was resourceful and used his connections to remain valuable to the group and his charm to cause Kaitlyn to beg the others that he remain their guide.
          When the pilgrims had seen everything, they made plans to return to Cambria. On the night before they were all to leave Gwilym expressed his love to Kaitlyn and received a short laugh in reply. This broke his heart but she had squeezed his arm and told him, “I’m laughing because I’m nervous. I think you are wonderful but I don’t love you. You barely know me and I don’t know you. You say you love me. Men say that to me all the time. Is it because they all want to get under my skirts?”
          “Kaitlyn, believe me, when men say that to you, it’s true. I’ve never seen a woman who inspires so much good in the men who meet her. Plenty of women inspire men to want to get inside their skirts; that’s no great talent. You inspire them to want to marry you, to be with them until they’re old, to bear children for them. You have something special, Kaitlyn, something the Visigoths call ‘Gracia,’ something I’ve read about, but never seen. I love you, and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to protect you from all harm, to have children with you and raise them well, to grow old with you, and to protect you from the fears of old age. I want to build you a strong house that will keep you warm and comfortable. I want to read to you and play with you and travel with you.”
          “Gwilym.” Kaitlyn wept softly and pointed at the statues surrounding them. “You have me up on a pedestal like one of these statues. What will happen if you marry me and find out that I am a mere mortal who cannot live up to your ideal image of me? What will happen when I fart in your hearing?”
          Gwilym burst out laughing at this unexpected comment, the gas that he had been holding in during this long day with her releasing with a loud BRAPP! She looked at him with wide eyes and open mouth and laughed too. Looking at each other, they lost all control and their laughter increased. Then Gwilym thought he heard a little fart from her and he stopped in surprise. She blushed red and held her breath, waiting for Gwilym’s reaction. He hugged her then for the first time and lifted her off her feet. This contact was new and unexpected and combined with the release of tension and the tight squeeze she received released another, louder, fart and they both burst out laughing again. “Well, I guess now you know how I’ll react. I love you Kaitlyn.”
          On telling this story to his sons he had gotten different reactions. Llawen had laughed at the image but Jac had seemed confused at the laughter. He held an idealized image of his mother in his mind and couldn’t understand why Llawen and his father found it so funny that: “All you two did was laugh and fart.”
          What Jac missed was that it was a tender moment, when barriers broke down and they saw the humanity in each other and decided that they would get to know each other better. Kaitlyn stayed behind, much to the consternation of the rest of the group. She had money and was able to stay in a pilgrim’s inn so they needn’t worry about her chastity. The two spent the next few months learning all about each other. The romance blossomed. Gwilym worked as a tour guide for different groups of pilgrims, amazing her with his grasp of different tongues and his in-depth knowledge of the life of Jesus and the prophets.
          On agreeing to marry, he asked her where, expecting that she wanted to return home. But she had no family there so they married in Cana for the sake of the name. They toured Constantinople for their honeymoon and she soon became pregnant with Bleddyn. Then she wanted to return to Cambria so they continued back along the pilgrim trail, arriving a couple of months before the birth.

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

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