Sunday, May 18, 2014

Eighty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers"

          After a few minutes of argument, the leader said, “We’ll see what’s cookin’ at t’crossroads first and come back to t’deer path after dinner if we get nothin’ there.” They walked south out of sight. Again, Grainne worked her head out of the bush and then stepped onto the road.
          Gwilym followed her, stepping first onto the gravel drainage ditch, then over the short stone wall and onto the paved road itself. The roughly pentagonal paving stones were in good repair here. After crossing the 23 feet of road, he stepped over the short retaining wall. He smiled to himself, remembering when Jac had asked him about the short walls that bordered the Roman roads. “That wall is only a few inches high, Da? Are they to keep ants off the roads?”
          Gwilym had laughed when he replied, “That’s just the top of a three-foot high wall, son. It keeps all the gravel and stone in that makes the foundation for the road you see.”
          They walked over the other drainage ditch and found the deer path again on the other side of the road and saw where it wound into the woods. They returned to the road.
          They were crossing the Roman road near the top of a rise. The roadway was visible for about 200 yards on either side of the deer path before it dropped out of sight. The two made a hasty plan. They would go to the last place visible from this point on each side to look for any traffic. When both sides were clear, they would signal each other and then Grainne would whistle to Bleddyn who would drive the first cart over the road and into the woods beyond. Then he would return and do the same with the second cart and the younger boys. Then the adults would return.
          Everything worked well for the first transfer and Bleddyn was back with his brothers in the second cart waiting for the next whistle. Gwilym looked down the northern part of the road and saw nothing. He signaled to Grainne who, instead of giving the all-clear signal and whistling, gave him the signal to find cover, and then she dove into the undergrowth.
          Gwilym looked around. The undergrowth here was tall but only extended a foot off the road. He couldn’t hide within it and would be seen by a mounted man if he hid behind it. The trees were short here and he couldn’t hide behind any of their trunks.
          He heard the hooves coming now, fast, from below the dip in the road that Grainne had been watching. Gwilym ran into the woods and grasped a low-hanging branch to swing himself up. Then he scrambled from branch to branch, getting into the leaves. He noticed that his weight had started the tree swaying. With a quick shift of his weight, he opposed the motion of the tree and brought it nearly to a standstill. He held his breath and listened to the horse approaching. It was a heavy horse, like the warhorses ridden by knights. He prayed for the safety of his children, sitting unprotected in the cart. The horse galloped by.
          Gwilym descended and approached the road again. He saw that Grainne was already out there, giving him the all-clear sign. He looked north and saw nothing approaching. He also signaled all was clear and Grainne whistled. He watched north and saw nothing. He looked back at the deer path, seeing the cart crossing the road. He glanced back north. Another horse was approaching. He looked back at the cart and saw it just crossing the road. He thought of signaling to Bleddyn to hurry but realized that any signal could be misinterpreted and could cause delay. There was nothing for it but to hope Bleddyn made it. Bleddyn was already told to hurry so he had to trust him.
          When Bleddyn was out of his sight but still not safe within the woods, he signaled to Grainne that someone was approaching. He looked back and saw the horseman drawing near. He had to make a decision. Hide himself and hope that Bleddyn had gotten the carts to safety by the time the man reached the deer path, or slow down the horseman to protect them. His mind raced through the probabilities. He saw that this wasn’t a knight so he could take him by surprise. Yet he didn’t look like an outlaw either and Gwilym didn’t want to hurt a civilian. As someone unthreatening, he might think nothing of seeing a cart on the deer path, though he might make mention of it at the crossroads. He might not see the cart at all. He couldn’t just hail and delay him since Gwilym was the one who was supposed to be hiding from sight.
          The time to make the decision had arrived. Gwilym silently pleaded for Bleddyn to hurry to safety and he ran to his tree again. This time he took his time climbing up to avoid it swinging. He figured that this horseman was minding his own business, not looking for them. He shouldn’t be looking to the sides for anything but his eye was more likely to be caught by a swaying tree than by a man’s unmoving body halfway up one.

          As the rider passed by, not noticing Gwilym, he saw it was a cleric. He held his breath as the cleric passed the deer path. The man turned his head to the right, looking right where Bleddyn would be if he wasn’t hidden yet. But he didn’t slow down and continued riding towards the crossroads. 

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

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