Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chapter One - Huish

Merlin stepped off the barge and was escorted by the young priestess into the presence of the Lady of the Lake. She grasped both his hands and sat down opposite him by the fire.
“Arthur is now High King?” she asked. 
“I have returned from the ceremony. Most of the lesser kings have accepted him, the rest will rebel.”
“But still I worry about the new religion. They have no respect for the Goddess. They call us witches and demons. Will Arthur put an end to it?”
“Arthur has publicly pledged his allegiance to Avalon. Yet he is pledged also to protect all of Britain, Christians as well as Druids.”
“So the old fight continues.”
“We have a common enemy in the Saxons. They cut down the sacred groves and demolish the ring stones.”
She looked thoughtful. “What can we do to bind the High King closer to Avalon?”
“We must prove valuable to Arthur. We can add a layer of protection to Britain. There is an old enchantment that might work. It is complicated and will take time but, if it is done properly, the spell will bind all of Britain to Avalon.”
“I can help.”
“We need six towers to be bound together and bound in turn to Avalon. The builder of these towers must be of the old royal blood and the towers must be sanctified with the blood of Avalon. The first tower is being built now. You have a priestess who can perform her part of the spell. Let us look into the well and find our builder.”
Merlin and the Lady of the Lake walked to the sacred well. Viviane waited until the wind rippled the surface of the water and then cast her spell. The view was of a patch of British countryside from above, as a bird would see when flying over it. The view swooped down to see a construction site in progress. Men were swarming all over a large hole in the ground, inside of which log walls were being placed on top of each other. At first the view zoomed in on a young boy sitting just outside the site, on the hill caused by the dug foundations, playing around with a pile of small sticks. “Too young!” cried Viviane.
The view panned out again and then zoomed in on a large, blonde man, deep in the center of the works, arguing with a smaller dark-haired man. The view shifted as the bird flew around the site. The man’s face was obscured by his depth within the site. Finally Viviane uttered a high-pitched scream and both men looked up, straight at her. The blonde man’s strong face and blue eyes focused straight into Viviane’s. Viviane was shocked and stepped back.
“You’ve tricked me, Merlin!” she cursed. “How did he get there?”
“Fate is sometimes a cruel master.”
“But he is not even in charge. And he looks like a Saxon. How will he be the one?”
“Fate,” he replied. “Let us watch.”

Bleddyn smiled to himself and looked up from his two completed wooden puzzles. His father had told him that these would keep him busy until he returned with their lunches but Bleddyn could hear the shouting and hammering of men still hard at work on the other side of the hill. He hesitated, remembering his father’s words of warning: not to approach the works, but his eagerness to show his skill to his father won out. As a hawk screeched above, Bleddyn stood and stretched, brushed his long blonde hair away from his brow and started climbing up the dirt pile leading to the work pit. He was tall and fit from the exercises his father gave him. The loose dirt made it difficult to get to the top of the pile but eventually he was able to look over the lip into the works.
The men had been building swiftly this morning. Logs had been stacked on top of each other to make a square tower that now rose twenty-five feet above the lip of the dirt pile. Bleddyn knew that two days ago the tower had started ten feet below the lip. He frowned when he saw that the men were using the log pattern from the first puzzle his father gave him: the unstable one. Why did these men never listen to his father? He looked at the second puzzle that lay snug in his right hand, growing tighter with each passing minute.
Bleddyn strained to see his father amongst all the men in the works. There must have been thirty of them struggling with the huge logs, cutting the notches, hauling them into place, hammering pegs from one into the next. Looking between the logs, Bleddyn saw his father in the middle of the tower arguing with another man. They were standing on a log that stretched across the tower from corner to corner. That was a feature that was in neither of the puzzles and Bleddyn could see no reason for it.
The other man, red-faced with anger, stood with his head at the height of Gwilym’s chest, staring up past Gwilym’s crossed arms, yelling at his impassive face. Bleddyn finally made out the words, “Because I say so!” Gwilym shrugged, shook his head and with quick, confident steps, walked along the diagonal log and called up to the waiting men. Bleddyn was proud of his dad, the tallest man in the works by at least a head. From behind, his massive legs looked like tree-trunks, his back spread out like the bottom of a wine cask and his massive shoulders and neck looked like the roots of an ancient oak. He, too, had the long blonde hair of a Saxon; perhaps that was why they yelled at him?
They always seemed to yell at his father. Bleddyn and his parents would wander from town to village, his Dad asking for work and usually getting turned down. The locals could see at an instant he was strong enough for the work but they called him a Saxon and preferred to keep their friends and family working over him. They would use him when there was a lot of work but he would be the first one let go when the work was finishing up. The family must have been getting low on stores and money because he saw that his father was eating less than usual until he got this job. His mother was careful with the little money they had but his father wouldn’t allow her to skimp on her own food because she was expecting his baby brother or sister. She did turn the little food they had tasty with the spices she carried with her from village to village.
Bleddyn looked up to the top of the works. A new log, longer and thicker than all the rest, was being lowered into the tower by the men, one sharp end held by Gwilym, who wedged it carefully into the corner made by the diagonal cross-brace. The other end was being slowly lowered to the opposite corner, ten feet above the level at which Bleddyn stood. Bleddyn looked into his father’s face and saw sadness and resignation in his grey-blue eyes. Because both of their sightlines were along the new log, neither of them saw the disaster as it started to occur.
A young, neatly dressed and shaven priest was also standing on the lip of the dirt pile but perpendicular to the new log and he saw at once what must happen. As the weight of the log began to be felt, the corner where the top end of it rested bowed out dangerously. The first thing Bleddyn noticed was the snapping sound as the pegs holding the logs together on his corner gave way. He looked up to see the huge logs leaning over, then tumbling down straight towards him. Bleddyn turned to run, his feet scrabbling in the loose dirt like those in a nightmare, and he knew that he was lost. Why hadn’t he listened to his father? Just then he felt a hard, heavy blow in his chest and he was flying off the dirt pile and out of danger. He lost his breath, recalling the time he had strayed into his neighbor’s field and had been bowled over by a young bull.
The sound of the falling logs died away to the cries of agony as the men in the pit started to assess their injuries. Bleddyn opened his eyes to see himself wrapped up by the young priest. This man had run headlong into his chest and thrown both of them off the pile towards the corner of the tower. All the falling logs had dropped away from this corner, leaving them breathless and scratched but otherwise unscathed. The priest looked Bleddyn over quickly, then climbed back up the pile to help the men.

 Bleddyn’s breath came back to him in painful gasps. He rolled over onto his knees, his breath forcing its way back into his lungs in loud frog croaks. Head swimming, he crawled back up the dirt pile to find his father, who had been low down in the middle of the tower. As he climbed, he saw that the entire tower was collapsed and screams of agony were bleeding out of it. Bleddyn saw the priest organizing the uninjured men to get the wounded ones out of the pile.
“How many men are down there?” demanded the priest of each new man until finally an old, grizzled veteran answered him. “Ten men were shoring up t’foundations while Tarrant and t’Saxon were placing t’cross-brace. Looks like all of t’boys placing t’new logs are here. Pray for t’others Father Drew, they mon be dead.”
Father Drew set the men up in a chain gang and led them in removing the logs, one by one. Periodically he shouted down into the pile, calling for any survivors. Bleddyn stood frozen, still holding his puzzles and scarcely breathing. His father was huge and the strongest man he had ever seen but these logs were enormous. How could he have survived? He took heart in the memory of his father telling him, long ago, “Never count me out son, I’m a survivor.”
During one of the breaks a thin cry emerged from the pile, “Help us!” This re-invigorated the men and even the wounded men rushed to help remove the logs. Finally, the entire log pile rose by a foot and the head and shoulders of a man squeezed through a small opening and out came the man who had been arguing with Gwilym. After him followed one, then another, then more and more men until ten men had emerged. The last one asked for a brace. “Fred is helping the Saxon hold up the last log. If he lets it go, the whole thing will collapse!”
On his way back down with a couple of iron bars, he was stopped by another man, who squeezed out and declared, “He can’t hold it any longer, he said run for it!” Both men leaped up for the waiting arms of their comrades, who pulled them to safety just as the logs groaned once more and settled down even lower.
Sobered by this second collapse, the men removed the logs from the pit. Word passed from man to man how Gwilym had jumped down off the diagonal beam during the first collapse and had used his own huge body as a brace to provide a space for the ten men below to survive. They spoke in awed terms of the man’s muscles, his giant’s strength, their own weak efforts to move a single log compared to Gwilym’s ability to lift the whole pile and give them a way out. "He were holding the log in a death-grip, like he were choking t’life out of a great beast!"
Two hours of hard work brought them near to the bottom of the pile, where they saw the blonde hair of the Saxon between two logs. Re-energized, the men focused on this portion of the log pile and began to stack the logs to one side to free the man. “He’s still breathing!” one exclaimed as they pulled him out. One foot was twisted the wrong way and his leg was soaked in blood. Bleddyn followed, silently murmuring all the prayers he knew as they carried him to the church.
Inside the small wattle and daub church, wounded men lay moaning on the ground surrounding the simple wooden altar. Nuns were milling about, washing wounds and murmuring quietly to sooth the men. Father Drew directed that one man with a gash in his arm be moved aside so that Gwilym could be laid directly in front of the altar, the place of honor and most likely to receive the healing gifts of the church. The Mother Superior offered Gwilym some of the soothing tea she had been distributing to the others but he was unconscious and the liquid spilled down the outside of his throat.
Father Drew stripped off Gwilym’s clothes to assess the damage. He had to cut away what remained of his breeches to prevent any more harm to his leg. Father Drew shuddered when he looked at the twisted shin with its backwards foot and bones penetrating out of the flesh. The Mother Superior handed him some clean bandages, which he used to staunch the flow of blood from his leg. Gwilym’s head, when washed clean of the blood, looked untouched. There was a dark purple bruise growing on the left side of his chest. Other than a myriad of scratches, the leg appeared to be the only other wound.

Father Drew remembered the year he had spent with the troops in the North Country. He had seen many wounds like this and had prayed over the victims as the King’s surgeon cut away the damaged body part and stitched up the wound with dried cat intestines. He knew this would have to be done and better now while the man was still unconscious so he asked his acolyte to bring him some clean knives and a cleaver from the kitchen.
Ten minutes later the acolyte returned with the wrapped bundle, which Father Drew opened next to the twisted leg. It looked as though if he were to hack straight down through the broken bone with the cleaver he should remove the foot in one stroke. He placed clean cloths under the leg and then lined up the cleaver directly with the break. Bleddyn started to whimper as Father Drew raised the cleaver and braced himself for the blow.

 A shadow fell over the body, forcing him to hesitate and turn to the front door of the church. Silhouetted in the doorway was the dark shape of a woman with her head on fire! Father Drew gasped and froze in place. The woman strode straight up to Father Drew and he saw, as she moved from the sun into the dark interior, that the fire was merely the sun shining through her wild mane of thick, red hair. Her white dress, visible now that it wasn't silhouetted by the sun, revealed the voluptuous curves of a full-grown woman. Her green eyes flashed but she asked in a calm voice, “May I try to heal that first, Father, before you cut it off?” Her voice had a sing-song quality to it that brought no offence, so the priest slid over to give her access.
“You won’t need that cleaver, Father, I assure you.”
Father Drew looked up and saw that he still held the cleaver high in the air, poised for the downward stroke. He giggled nervously and laid it back on the cloth with the other knives. The woman probed the wounded man’s body from head to toe, making the priest blush when she examined his loins. Finally she made her pronouncement.
“I can fix the leg, but I’ll need two strong men to help me.”
Instantly, two of the men who had been saved by Gwilym were there, and Father Drew noticed for the first time that the entire room was looking on this tableau with great interest. As the woman placed the men into position, one on the knee and the other at the foot, she heard them mumble about this man saving their lives and them doing anything to help him.
“I am Grainne” she stately plainly as she felt around the back of the wound, working her fingers to and fro and tracing something from the back of the knee, past the wound and to the ankle.
The priest, always looking for an opportunity to learn something, asked her, “How do you spell ‘Grunya’ and what does it mean?”
She replied, without looking up from her work, “G R A I N N E. It means: Goddess of the Beltane fires.”
Father Drew blushed deep red at this and focused on the work at hand.
“Turn the foot this way” she instructed the man at the foot, demonstrating three times which way the man should turn.
“When I say go, you must each pull with all your strength away from each other. And you,” she looked at the man with the foot, “when I say so, turn in the direction I showed you. Then, when I tell you two to do so, slowly let the leg come back together. Father, please keep the blood from flowing too hard.”
“Ready? Now pull!” The men pulled hard and the wound gaped open, blood pouring from the newly stretched tissues. Grainne asked the man with the foot to turn it as she plunged her fingers into the opening and moved things here and there; at one stage stretching an artery out of the wound and easing it back in a different place. Bleddyn felt queasy and had to turn away.  She yelled at the men to pull harder and they groaned with effort. She reached in again and Father Drew blanched at hearing bones scraping against each other and clicking into place. He was busy staunching the various bleeding places, which kept his mind somewhat off the activities going on with the bones. She then washed the wound with a whole bucket of clean water.
“Now slowly let the leg go and we’ll see if it holds.” Grainne held the wound in the right place and Father Drew looked on anxiously as the wound partially closed and the leg remained straight with the foot facing forwards again. Grainne sprinkled some herbs in the wound, then borrowed some of the cat-gut the nuns were using and stitched up the wound. Then she took some splints and cloth to bind up the leg.  
Father Drew watched her skill with admiration and, after she tied up the last two lengths of cloth, they both looked up at the surrounding crowd. Standing in front, with his arms crossed and a sour look on his beetled brow, stood Tarrant, the supervisor of the works. Next to him stood the Mother Superior, looking aghast. Tarrant spoke while the nun nodded her head in agreement, “I know you like to try new things, Father, but practicing witchcraft at the foot of the altar is going too far.”
Father Drew stood up. “Can you not see the difference between healing and witchcraft, son?”
“I’d say any craft done by a witch is witchcraft, Father. And this one has been a thorn in the side of our fine nuns since she was an infant, isn’t that right, Mother Superior?”
The nuns all nodded this time. Mother Superior added, “Witchcraft was the reason for this tower falling in the first place. This tower was haunted even in Uther’s time. Merlin removed two dragon eggs from a lake below it when I was a child and the new tower lasted for some years but again it falls.”
“It looked to me,” said Father Drew, staring at Tarrant, “that the cross-brace you forced into the tower pushed out the sides and caused the collapse. What were you and Gwilym arguing about before you placed it?”
“The Saxon didn’t want to put it there so he must have sabotaged it. I bet he caused it to slip and that made the tower collapse.”
“No! If his end had slipped, the whole log would have fallen into the pit. Because his end held, the top of the log pushed out the tower. Is that what he predicted, Tarrant?”
Tarrant, his eyes shifting left and right, scratched his pockmarked cheek and denied this. He was a medium height man with thick, dark hair and two thick eyebrows that almost met above his hooked nose. His lips were thin and his chin was weak.
Fred came forth and stated to the priest, “That’s a damn lie! I were right under them and I heard it all. If we’d listened to Gwilym we’d all be fine right now. This man,” he pointed to Tarrant, “will kill us all with his foolishness!”
“You’re fired!” screamed Tarrant at Fred, who gasped and looked at his priest.
“No Tarrant,” sighed Father Drew, “it is you that must go. Take your wages for the week and be on your way. This work is not for you.”
“You’ll regret this!” he screamed at the priest. Then he scanned the room and addressed them all, “You’ll all regret this! I promise you!”
As Tarrant left the church, he shoved his way through a throng of women who were flooding into the church from the village. They all spread out, weeping over the men's wounds or crying in relief at finding their men untouched. Bleddyn stood and ran to his mother, heavily pregnant and panting. He hugged her fiercely and led her to his father. She knelt awkwardly and stroked her husband’s face while Bleddyn told the story of the collapse and the healing. When the story was over she asked Bleddyn to show her the healer.
Bleddyn ran to Grainne and brought her over to his mother. “Miss Grainne, this is my mother, Kaitlyn.”
“Thank you so much for saving my husband’s leg. He’d make a lousy beggar.”
“He’s not safe yet. He’ll have to stay off that leg for at least month, and then should only use it sparingly if he wants those bones to heal. I see you are heavy with child. Come here, my dear, and let me look at you.”
A collective gasp was heard from the surrounding nuns at this request and the Mother Superior bustled up and ordered Grainne from the church. “How dare you defile this place with your baby-stealing witchcraft?”
As the priest took a deep breath to intervene, Grainne waved her hand and said, “It’s all right, I’ll go. I’ll see you in the village...” As she walked through the doorway, every man in the church watched her silhouette through the thin, white dress with appreciation.

Father Drew called the men to the church the next day to find out what happened in the collapse. Fred was the main spokesman.
“I were down in t’bottom of t’pit with nine others, shorin’ up t’foundations and listenin’ to Gwilym arguin’ with Tarrant. Gwilym were tellin’ Tarrant that t’cross-brace would make t’tower unstable, Tarrant were arguin’ t’other way. When t’last log started to break t’tower, I didn’t know what was happenin’ but Gwilym did. He pushed Tarrant down, then jumped down himself and pushed and dragged us all into one corner. Before we knew what were happenin’ we were all in a corner and he were holdin’ t’horizontal cross-brace above us on his shoulder and t’whole structure collapsed. There were barely enough room to breathe. If we’d stayed where we were, we’d have all been crushed.”

 “He were holdin’ t’cross-brace with his hands and shoulders so I stood to try and help him, but he’s so tall I could barely reach t’log, leave alone tryin’ to lift it. We tried usin’ tools but nothin’ we did seemed to help. Sweat were coverin’ Gwilym and his legs were shakin’ but he wouldn’t let go. It were like he had a death-grip on it and were determined to choke t’log before it killed us.”
“We heard you removin’ t’logs above us and before too long Gwilym must have felt t’weight on his shoulders get less because, just when we were sure he was goin’ to collapse from t’weight, he bent his knees and straightened his arms and then, with a choke-hold on t’log, straightened his legs by tremendous effort and lifted t’whole pile enough so that we could all escape.”
“Tarrant were first to push his way out and t’others followed but I wanted to help Gwilym so I held t’log at a lower point while others went up for braces so that Gwilym could escape. I pushed with all my might but I don’t think I really made a difference; Gwilym were doin’ all t’work. Then he looked at me and, with legs shakin’, told me to run for it. I argued but then I looked in his eyes and saw he were done so I took his advice. I barely made it out. That man is a hero. He saved us all.”
Fred blushed from his long speech and others took their turns to agree with Fred’s story of what happened. Tarrant had left town right after being paid his wages so there was no opposing view.
Father Drew asked the men to appoint a new foreman to the job. The unanimous choice was Gwilym. “But he is a freeman and a Saxon,” said the priest. “Do you not want one of your own to lead you?”
“He saved our lives and we trust him,” was the general reply.

A few days later, Father Drew was visiting Gwilym in his home and saw his son sitting by the bedside, talking with his father and playing with the two puzzles he was holding on the day of the collapse. “What are these two wooden toys you play with, son?” he inquired.
“They’re two different ways to build a tower. My father made them. Look how they work.”
Bleddyn soaked them in water and pulled them apart. They were miniature logs with notches cut out; very well fashioned.
“Now this first one is like the way the tower was being built,” Bleddyn explained while his father looked on indulgently. “Watch what happens when we put it together and the wood shrinks. All wood will shrink over time.”
Bleddyn expertly stacked the logs on top of each other, the notches just providing enough room for the logs above and below to snugly fit. He placed this in the doorway where the sun could dry it.
“And while that dries, we’ll build the other one.”
In this model notches were angled in both logs so that the building was a little more complex. Once again it came together snugly and Bleddyn placed it next to the other in the doorway.
“They’ll be dry in an hour and you’ll see why my father is so smart.”
Father Drew smiled and turned to Gwilym. “How are you today, son? Is the pain any better?”
“Grainne gave Kaitlyn some tea for me that eases the pain a little. She also says that we are to have twin sons! How do you like that?”
“She is wise in the healing arts but I believe that only God knows what kind of children you are to have. But I think she can tell if you are to have two. That’s dangerous for Kaitlyn. Will you bring her to the convent for the birth? A midwife may not be enough.”
Gwilym hesitated and stammered out a response, “Well, I have high respect for your nuns and all, but I heard what Grainne did for my leg and I’d like to have her at the birthing. Didn’t you say she is a skilled healer?”
“I did say so, and from what I saw her do, she is skilled. But I have asked about her and she is unreliable, coming and going at her whim. Are you sure she will be in the village when you need her?”
“The village midwife said she will send for her when the time is right. Tirion says she always comes when called.”
Father Drew smiled kindly on the man. “Be it as you wish. I have another matter to discuss with you Gwilym. The tower must be built before the summer and I need a new foreman. All the men say they will follow you. I can double your wages and pay you for the time you will lie in bed. What do you say to that?”
Gwilym grimaced as he twisted in bed and looked with interest into the face of the priest. “The people of this village think there is a curse on the tower. It has been rebuilt many times.”
Father Drew met Gwilym’s gaze and replied, “Yet, you do not believe in the superstitions. Why has it fallen so many times?”
“The tower was built in Vortigern’s time and fell many times during its raising. If you go down in the pit you can see why. Look at the sides of the hole and you can see evidence of an underground lake. Just as the stories tell, there was a pool of water under the foundations that had to be drained away first. That would have made all earlier structures unstable until it was drained.”
“The stories tell that Merlin, when he was a young boy, saw the pool in a dream and two dragon eggs in the pool. I think that last part is just fancy. After they drained the pool and diverted the spring, they built the tower. But the structure of a tower is the wooden supports. And those supports cannot last forever as the wood shrinks and grows old. The wind here blows almost always from the west and the old tower fell to the east.”
“How can we build it stronger, Gwilym?”
“Bring the models, son,” Gwilym said quietly to Bleddyn.

Bleddyn brought the two puzzles that had been drying in the doorway. Gwilym held one up before the eyes of the priest and explained, “Look first at the way the corners on this model are built. Each log has its underside notched out to fit the curve of the log below it. Then a pin is placed to hold it there. As the wood shrinks over time, the logs want to ride up this curve, opening up the structure. The only things trying to hold them in place are the little pins. Look carefully.”
Father Drew looked over the skillfully built model, a perfect miniature of the tower being built up to yesterday, and saw that indeed the little sticks were pulling up at the corners. In one case he could see a pin bending under the strain. “Very well made, Gwilym! But what makes it shrink?”

Father Drew looked over the skillfully built model, a perfect miniature of the tower being built
“Have you ever moved freshly cut wood to a woodshed, Father? And then, a few years later, moved those same pieces of wood to the fireplace? It’s a lot lighter the second time you move it. Wood is made up mostly of water. That’s why it doesn’t burn so well right after cutting. It shrinks a lot in those first two years. Now, we use seasoned wood for building but it still shrinks some more after this. My models show the shrinking process speeded up. This type of wood very easily sucks up water and dries quickly too. So in a couple of hours you can see what ten years of drying does to a real tower.”
“You say that this model shows the tower we just built. But where are the logs that you added diagonally?”
“Bah!” Gwilym replied with a disgusted look on his face. “That was Tarrant’s idea. He thought that the tower would stand better if cross-braced. Not such a terrible idea on the horizontal, but when he wanted to add them leaning against the top corners he couldn’t understand how they would cause the structure to be unbalanced. He had to see for himself. I tried to argue with him but that man can see no reason. And now I paid for it with my leg and many others with cuts and breaks. Watch this.” Gwilym laid another miniature log in the fashion that the one that caused the collapse was placed and Father Drew could see it pushing apart the top corner.
“Show me your solution, Gwilym.”
Gwilym showed the other model and Father Drew gasped at its intricacy. The corners were all squared off and the end of each log was cut in precise angles in three dimensions that matched the cuts on the log above and below it. At first glance the corner looked symmetrical but, as Father Drew looked closer at each log, he saw that each was cut at an angle on the underside that was horizontal to the ground and on the top side angled relative to the ground, with the next log’s underside then being parallel to the ground since they came in at right angles.

“They call it a dovetail, since it looks just like the tail-feathers of a dove. Now when these logs shrink, they simply pull each log closer together and make the whole tower tighter. No pins are needed. You’ll see in another hour or so the difference between the two. Put them back in the sun, Bleddyn.”
“Where did you learn this work?” Father Drew asked.
“I traveled a lot in my youth and saw many building solutions.”
“Will this work for my tower?”
“Mostly,” Gwilym replied. “Also, we will need to turn the tower so that it faces the wind at an angle. No sense fighting the wind the whole time. Let it pass by you, I always say.”
“I would like you to manage this project, Gwilym. I see you are the man for the job.”
“I’ll do it, Father.”
They continued talking for another hour about their mutual love of reading, especially reading of the gospels.
“Then, you know your Latin, Gwilym?” asked Father Drew.
“Aye. My father also taught me Greek and Aramaic.”
Father Drew raised his eyes in surprise. “You are more of a scholar than I. Did you ever consider the priesthood before you married?”
“No father. I always preferred to find the inconsistencies in the gospels rather than preach the truth that lies within.”
“Yes. Like the place of Jesus’s birth for instance. Matthew and Luke place it in Bethlehem, Mark and John say He is from Galilee. Why would they tell different stories?”
“Mark and John do not say where He was born, they merely mention where He grew up. We can assume that they simply left out where He was actually born.”
Gwilym frowned. “The only reason the later Gospels mention Bethlehem at all is to ‘fulfill’ earlier prophesies that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. And that census ruse that appears in Luke. Can anyone actually believe that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Can anyone believe that everybody in the entire Roman Empire had to travel to the birthplace of his ancestor to be counted? What if one were not entirely inbred and had more than one ancestral line? Where would one go? And even if that wasn’t the case, can you imagine the upheaval of people, the looting of abandoned properties, the sheer discomfort? And I have never heard of any other mention of this great census in any other work. It is my belief that the author of Luke made this up as a ruse to explain why a Galilean came to be born in Bethlehem.”
Father Drew looked hurt, then thoughtful and said, “It seems that more study is in order.”
Gwilym blushed, then looked up in pleasure at the sound of his approaching wife, Kaitlyn. As she entered the room, she stumbled over something and there was a sound of sticks scattering. Gwilym tried to rise but winced in pain. Father Drew rushed to the doorway to support Kaitlyn, who had caught herself and was breathing fast.
“That Bleddyn,” she said. “I’ve asked him to keep these puzzles out of the way. I cannot even see my feet, leave alone anything under them. Now then, how are you Father?”
Father Drew helped her to the chair, where she turned her radiant smile upon him. Now it was his turn to blush and, to cover his embarrassment, he turned and recovered the wooden models. The first one was reduced to a pile of individual sticks; the second one had been kicked to the opposite wall of the house, still intact.
Every day Gwilym was carried out to the job site in his chair and supervised the men removing the logs and sorting them into four piles of even lengths. While they worked, Gwilym carved twenty wooden templates, each with the same angle.
While some of the crew started work on the foundations, angling them 45 degrees off the North-South axis, the rest used the templates Gwilym had created to cut the ends of each log into the precise shape needed for his design. The men were working cheerily, especially after being shown the beautiful scale models.
After laying down the foundation logs, the men started laying down the side logs, marveling how each fit neatly into place on top of the one below and to right angles with it. With each additional log, the structure pulled tighter together.

Once the men seemed comfortable with the design, Gwilym left Fred in charge and rode his horse and cart to the quarry to see about some new stone to dress the tower’s outside. Some stones had been salvaged from the old tower, but much more needed to be added. The quarry was only around the other side of the hill, but given his painful leg, it still took Gwilym two hours of careful riding to reach there. As usual, he struggled to get the horse to follow his commands. At every turn, the horse tried to go the opposite way Gwilym requested. When being asked to trot, it either stopped or galloped, sending pain searing through Gwilym’s leg. On arriving, he asked to sit down and put his leg up.
The quarryman was a short, barrel-chested old man with sinewy arms and a grizzled beard. “I thought it about time you came to me for stone. How much will ye be wanting?”
“I need a hundred tons for now, cut square about two feet to a side. When can you deliver that much?”
“I can start delivering two tons at a time as soon as I get gold for first shipment.”
Gwilym looked confused and said, “But Father Drew said that the quarry belongs to the church and it is his to use.”
“Aye, church owns it but tower is being built for defense of city. So money must come from king.”
“But Father Drew appointed me the Project Manager. He is the one in charge of the tower. And he is of the church.”
“Father Drew is priest of village church. Quarry belongs to whole church. And for that, you either pay me gold or get permission from bishop.”
“Start cutting now, quarryman. I’ll get the permission in time to take shipment.” Gwilym limped off to his cart and rode back to the village.
Returning home he found it in an uproar. Bleddyn ran to him and shouted, “It’s Ma! She’s in awful pain and says it’s the baby!”

Gwilym gave his son the horse’s reins and hobbled quickly to his bedroom. The midwife was at his wife’s bedside, pressing a damp cloth on Kaitlyn’s forehead. Kaitlyn was writhing in pain and, catching sight of Gwilym, called to him desperately. He rushed to the other side of the bed and caught up her hand.
“What can I do, my love?” Gwilym’s voice choked with emotion.
“Stay with me! I need your strength!” was her weak cry.
Gwilym nodded and looked inquiringly at the midwife. “Tirion, how goes this birth?”
Tirion had the lines of a woman who had seen much sadness and happiness in her many years, but the wrinkles that lined her face today were those of deep concern. “I need help, Gwilym,” she responded. “I’ve sent for Grainne or any of her sisters. But if she doesn’t come soon I’ll need to get some help from the convent. The first baby lies sideways and is blocking the other’s way out. The time is right but only the second baby knows it. I have given her herbs to wake up the first one but now the second one wants to come out even faster and the first one is still asleep.”
“Is it….Is he…?” Gwilym couldn’t form the words.
“Nae! He’s quite alive. Just asleep or lazy or he likes it too well in there or any other reason. This is only dangerous in twins and it’s dangerous now. It’s too tight in there with the second one pushing so I can’t turn the first one the right way. Stay by your wife. Keep her breathing easy and stop her from wanting to push. The time is not right.”
For ten hours Gwilym stayed by his wife’s side, talking with her gently, distracting her when Kaitlyn struggled to push. He talked of their early years, their courtship, the birth and early years of Bleddyn, names they might call these two. And every five minutes Kaitlyn tensed and sometimes cried out with the pain of the contractions.
Kaitlyn was so tired she started to sleep between the pains and still Tirion could not make any progress with the first baby. “Wake up ye great lump of a baby!” she cried in frustration. Then she met Gwilym’s eyes and he could see the fear there.
“Gwilym. Listen to me carefully,” she whispered while Kaitlyn was having one of her two-minute naps. “We need Grainne. Go to the lake of Avalon. To the left of the road there stands an old Willow with one huge dead branch that stretches over the lake. Climb that branch. Be sure your whole body is over the water. Then call with all your might for Grainne. Wait there, calling for two hours. If no-one answers by then, come back.”
“But Kaitlyn told me not to leave.”
“Get Grainne or she will die!”
As Gwilym headed to the door she begged of him one last favor. “Gwilym, if you see any traces of my girl…I sent her there twelve hours ago. She should be back.”
Gwilym hobbled outside to find Bleddyn standing there with his horse and cart, all ready. “I’ll go Da! Your leg will slow you down and you don’t know how to handle the horse.”
“No son, this is my task. I can’t feel my leg pain anyway, and if this horse knows what’s good for it, it will obey me today. Stay close to the room and do whatever Tirion says.” Gwilym climbed up on the cart and whipped the horse to gallop away. As he rode he could think only of his wife’s drawn face, the pain she must be feeling. He yelled in frustration and spurred his horse on harder.
Two hours later he was at the edge of the lake and saw where the ferry pulled to the shore to bring people to the island. Off to his left, just becoming visible through the thinning mists, stood an ancient willow. He approached it and tied his reins to one of the smaller branches. This knotted old tree had enormous roots that curled up and around each other on their way to the waters of the lake. Most of the branches were heavy with leaves that left the roots in almost complete shadow, but there was daylight visible through one dead branch that stretched far out over the lake. It had lost most of the twigs and all of the leaves that weighed down the other branches, so it was easy to climb far out onto the branch, even with his useless leg.
As soon as Gwilym was sure that he was sitting over only water, he raised his voice and boomed over the waters of the lake, “Help me! Tirion calls for Grainne! My wife needs help in her birthing!” He waited a few minutes for any sign of an answer and repeated his call. And again, and again for an hour. His voice never lost its strength or gave a sign of the frustration that was knotting his insides.

Then a barge appeared. Gwilym had been staring fixedly in that direction so it hadn’t emerged over the horizon or through the mists; it had appeared in an instant. Gwilym experienced again that uneasy feeling that magic gave him, but he was relieved for the help. The barge seemed to move of its own accord, and standing on it was the red-haired Grainne along with an old man, holding a staff. Behind them was a horse.
As the barge drew near, Gwilym told Grainne the status and she asked if Merlin could ride in his cart to the village. “I’ll take my horse; she is well rested and can get us there before the birthing starts.” Grainne said. When the barge landed, Grainne jumped easily into the saddle and galloped off.
Merlin climbed into the cart, helped Gwilym in, and off they set at a trot.

 “How goes the tower, Gwilym?” were Merlin’s first words.
Gwilym was intimidated by this old man of whom he had heard many stories. His bright eyes sparkled under his bushy eyebrows. His long, grey hair made him seem much older than he was. His hands were strong and showing no signs of age and his well-muscled arms handled the reins expertly.
“It goes well, Sir. The wooden structure is almost finished and we now need to face it with stone.” Gwilym remembered yesterday’s confrontation at the quarry and his mind switched to this other problem in his life. “But now the quarryman wants to charge us for stone, even though the quarry belongs to the church.”
“And what will you do to solve this?”
“I’ll get an order from the bishop to make him give up the stone.”
“And will that be your answer to the next problem that arises?”
“What’s that, Sir?”
“What will you do the next time you run into a problem like this with your tower?”
Gwilym felt like a fool. What was he missing? “I can’t guess all the problems that will arise; I just have to deal with them as they come up.”
“What will you do if the men decide to stop working? Or if the priest says he wants the tower to be taller, or if some knight asks that it be made round?”
Gwilym thought about this question. “I need a letter that says what the tower should be and who is to pay for it. And I need it signed by someone everybody respects. Like the king! Even the bishop has to listen to the king. Is that what I need, Merlin?”
Merlin’s eyes twinkled but he said nothing. Gwilym looked at him curiously and said, “You know a lot more about building towers than you let on. Can I ask you other questions later on when I hit new problems?”
“Did I answer your first one?”
“Not with an answer; that’s true; but you asked the questions that let me come up with the right answer. When I run into more problems, shall I shout at the old Willow tree for you?”
“Do I look like a man who comes when shouted at across a lake?”
“No, I suppose not. But I feel I will need your help. I can read, you know. Can you recommend a book that I can use for advice?”
Merlin looked seriously at Gwilym and put one hand on his shoulder. “When you need help, I will be there. I ask for one thing in return. You will do what is asked of you, by Grainne or myself, without question.”
Gwilym felt his eyes held by Merlin’s, and it took him what felt like minutes to break off the stare. “I don’t suppose you’ll be asking me to do anything evil. I’m not superstitious like most of the village folk and I don’t believe it’s witch-craft you’ll be doing. So the answer is yes. I’ll do what’s asked of me and trust you’ll be there when I need help.”
“Now, concerning your wife’s birth; I thought you were going to send for Grainne at first signs. Why did you wait so long?”
Gwilym shook his head, wondering what type of magic or hypnotism had caused him to calmly discuss his tower before speaking of his pressing concerns for Kaitlyn. “Tirion sent her daughter for Grainne right away. Must have been almost a day ago. She asked me to look for any signs of her.”
Merlin looked sharply at Gwilym and then studied the road. “Why don’t we look for those signs as we ride back?”
With added anxiety, Gwilym scanned the road on his side of the cart, and they finished the drive in silence.
On arrival back in the village they met Bleddyn, who led them to the gate of the convent. “They took her in there. Grainne was allowed in an hour ago. I’m scared, Da. Ma looked frightened and she was crying so sadly. She was asking for you.”
Merlin led Gwilym through the gate but they were stopped at the door by the Mother Superior. “No men allowed inside, sir,” she said sharply to Merlin. Then she looked sympathetically at Gwilym and touched his arm. “Kaitlyn is with Jesus now, Gwilym.”
All other sound ceased for Gwilym as he tried to process this last sentence. “Is she in the church?” he asked, knowing it was a stupid question. He couldn’t grasp the concept of his wife being dead. “Is she sleeping? I want to see her!”
“In a little while we’ll bring her body to the church. You can see her then. She’s in a better place now, Gwilym.”
“Her place is with me and her family! That is the best place!” Gwilym was shouting now that the news was sinking in. He felt the familiar arms of his son around him and he clung fiercely to Bleddyn, lifting him off his feet, feeling his shuddering body, knowing that he must concentrate on this motherless child, not his anger at the nun. Bleddyn wailed out loud, repeating, “Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma!” Gwilym knelt down on the wet ground and added his tears to his son’s.

Time passed, though he was unaware of it. He opened his eyes to see the red hair and concerned face of Grainne looking at him. She was kneeling next to him. Bleddyn had cried himself to sleep. “Come with me, Gwilym.”
She led them to his house where they laid Bleddyn on his pallet to sleep. Gwilym sat on the kitchen stool while Grainne rebuilt the fire and cooked up bacon and cut some bread. She poured some ale from the jug into his drinking cup. She laid the food and the knife in front of him and told him to eat. He followed her commands dumbly; glad there was someone to tell him what to do.
After he ate, she led him through the village to the smithy. She knocked on the door and was greeted by Endewyn, the smithy’s wife, who led them in. She was fat and red-faced, like her whole family, and she smiled kindly at Gwilym and whispered to him, “I’m so sorry for your troubles. We’ll be happy to take care of the wains for as long as you need.”
Gwilym was confused at this, and even more so at the sight that greeted him. The smithy, Haearn, was standing, leaning on his staff and looking contentedly at his twin daughters, Heilin and Heulwen. They were sitting on the bed, both holding a baby on each breast, one baby larger than the other. All four babies were sucking contentedly. He remembered that the girls had each given birth, days apart, a couple of months ago. But he could only recall it being to one baby each. He stared at Grainne, looking for an explanation.
Grainne understood the loss that takes away your senses for a time and patiently explained to Gwilym that these were his twin boys, who survived after Kaitlyn’s death, and that they would need to eat and that Heilin and Heulwen would be their wet-nurses. Gwilym looked for and received confirmation from the broad, smiling faces of the smithy’s daughters.
At this, everything became real for him and he collapsed onto his knees. “My Kaitlyn is gone! My three boys have no mother! What am I to do?”
Once again, Grainne knelt by him and brought her face close to his. She laid an arm softly on his shoulder and met his eyes. They were the eyes of deep wisdom and age; the eyes of his grandmother. “You can do this Gwilym. You are the foreman of the tower project. You will pay these girls to wet-nurse your sons and look after Bleddyn during the days. You will build your tower. It will be a great success. And others will ask you to build their towers and castles and houses and churches. And you will raise your sons to be strong men just like you. Now, let’s go and see to your wife.”
She held out her hand and Gwilym touched it and raised himself off the floor. He looked again at the babies and saw Heulwen take the little one off one breast and hold it to him. “Say hello to one of your sons, Gwilym. What will you name him?”
Gwilym looked at the yawning, red-faced little baby, wrapped in clean cloths with his eyes shut tightly. He smiled and held out his hands for the infant. He placed the boy on his chest and patted him lightly to elicit the burp. “He’s a fine, strong lad to make it through that birth. I’ll name him Jac.”
“And what about the other one, Gwilym?” said Heilin, holding up another boy for him to burp. Gwilym curled Jac in the crook of one arm and placed the other boy on his chest and gently burped him too. He looked into his face and smiled. The baby smiled broadly back and Gwilym exclaimed, “Llawen, for the joy on his face. Thank you ladies! I’ll return later to set up our contract.”

Three days later, everything had settled into a routine. Kaitlyn was buried in the churchyard, the whole village and many others from surrounding villages in attendance. Gwilym had contracted for the twins to be nursed by the smithy’s girls and for Bleddyn to spend his days helping the priest. That would allow Bleddyn time to read the scrolls in the priest’s library, his great passion. At night, they all ate and slept in Gwilym’s home, interrupted at night by a visit to the smithy when the boys woke up hungry. Heilin and Heulwen protested this but Gwilym insisted. “Sorry for the inconvenience but it’s important. I grew up without my mother and I was raised by my father. I’ll not have my boys miss out on me.”
One unsettling episode that left a black cloud over the village was the disappearance of Tirion’s daughter, Lowri. She had not made it to Avalon on the day of Kaitlyn’s birthing and had not returned to the village either. After two days, a group of men organized by Tirion set forth to follow her trail. Gwilym asked to go but was refused because of his duties to the village and his newborns. The group returned in two days with a sobering tale. Lowri’s tracks mixed with those of a man that had come from the forest where she was dragged off. A scrap of clothing that Tirion recognized was found. The tracks of the man were followed as far as a rocky hill but were lost there.

One morning Bleddyn woke up to see his father writing on a new sheet of sheepskin. He loved to see his father’s neat script so he looked over his shoulder to see what he was writing. The sheepskin gave many details about the tower, why it was being built, who had to do the work, who was in charge of what, where the materials would come from. “What are you writing, Da?”
“It’s a letter that I’ll get the king’s signature on so that no-one argues with me any more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
“Ooh! Like a royal charter?”
“Aye. That’s what it is, son.” Gwilym wrote carefully at the top of the skin: Royal Charter for the Huish Tower. “Will you come with me to Caerleon?” he asked casually, knowing full well the prospect of this adventure would have on his son.
Bleddyn was overjoyed and started packing immediately. He was full of questions: “How many days travel? Where will we sleep? How should we dress? Will we meet the king? Will we meet Sir Launcelot? How do you bow to a Knight? to a King?”
Gwilym smiled at the boy and did his best to indulge his questions. He organized the tower workers to continue the project in his absence and made sure his newborns would be taken care of at the smith’s. Bleddyn and he rode off together in the cart, Bleddyn handling the reins.
They followed the banks of the Siger to the salt water and then followed this northeast toward Brycgstow, keeping the water on their left. Bleddyn was curious about the land they could see across the water. “That, son, is not the sea, merely the mouth of a great river, the Severn, which feeds the sea from the inland of this country. Across there you see where we are going. Cardiff is the large settlement. Caerleon is further Northeast and on higher land. We follow the river to where it narrows. We’ll take a ferry at Brycgstow tomorrow morning.”
They arrived at the outskirts of Brycgstow around supper-time. Bleddyn was goggling in every direction, seeing sights for the first time. They ate a hearty meal at a tavern where they stabled their horse and Gwilym negotiated a place for them to sleep. He was tired from the painful journey but Bleddyn wanted to explore. Gwilym indulged the boy, taking up his crutch and hobbling down the street to show his son parts of the town. They went in and out of a few buildings, some selling stuff for sailing, some food, some clothing. One was a store that sold pretty trinkets for women. Gwilym was heading out when he stopped in his tracks. He asked the proprietor about a particular brooch. It was in the shape of a circle, flanked by two crescent moons.

“Aah, that’s a beautiful piece isn’t it? Just came in from France, it did. I paid a pretty penny for it and I’m thinking about keeping it for my wife. But I might part with it for 15 silver.”
Gwilym looked furious and, keeping his voice steady, asked the man, “Do you buy a lot of stolen goods here? Is that the place you are running?”
The man sputtered his innocence but Gwilym pressed on. “I know the owner of that piece and she’d never sell it. We haven’t seen her for two weeks now. Tell me who sold it to you and what he looked like!”
“It was only two days before. He was my height, dark hair, beady eyes. I didn’t catch a name. He said he’d bought it in France but lost his sweetheart to another man.”
Gwilym took the piece and declared, “I’ll take this back to the poor girl’s mother. We think she might have been killed by this man. And you’d better be more careful about who you buy from.”
“I may not be able to prove the stories about my merchandise, son, but I can prove it is mine now. And if you steal it, I can have you imprisoned for a thief. So don’t go running off with my jewelry without buying it.”
“Prove it, then!” challenged Gwilym.
The shop-owner turned and pulled a sheet of vellum from the shelf behind him and unrolled it. He pointed to a line two from the bottom that described the piece and the 4 silver he’d paid for it.
“Here’s your money back, then, and be glad I’ve not the time to send you to prison for buying stolen goods.” He took the man’s quill, dipped it in ink and quickly wrote under the last line: ‘Sold to Gwilym of Huish for 4 silver to be returned to its rightful owner’.
The man whined but shut up when Gwilym rose to his full height and crutched his way out of the door. They returned to the tavern and drank a cup of ale in the common room before heading to the sleeping room to rest. “Is that Lowri’s brooch, Da?” Bleddyn inquired.
“I’m pretty sure it is, son. This is the brooch of a priestess of Avalon. It shows the three phases of the goddess. You see,” he pointed out the features of the brooch, “the first crescent moon is waxing, showing the maiden just entering womanhood; the circle represents the mother, in full bloom; the third is a waning moon, representing the death-crone. No priestess would ever allow this to be sold. It is a sacred relic. I’ll return it to Tirion. I’m afraid this means that Lowri did not meet a good end. She may be dead.”
“Why did you threaten to steal the brooch?”
“So the fool would show me what he paid. That’s a pretty good bargaining position don’t you think, lad?”

The next morning they rode down to the waterfront and Gwilym purchased a ferry ride for them and their horse and cart across the river. All was a-bustle as the tides were slack and everyone wanted to ride at this time. The horse was nervous but the experienced ferry-men calmed it with a few oats and low voices. An hour later they were safe on the further bank and riding up the hills towards their destination.
They met no further adventures on their way other than seeing the bustle of men and knights passing to and from the royal castle of Caerleon. As they approached the gates, Gwilym was shocked at seeing the smirking face of Tarrant, his old supervisor, on his way out of the castle. Neither said a word to the other but Gwilym was clearly unsettled by the man.
Gwilym showed his letter of introduction from Father Drew to a succession of guards, finally being led to the Seneschal of the castle, Sir Kay. He read the letter laboriously and told them, “The king is out hunting right now but will return in a few hours. Come back here after we eat and I’ll introduce you to him.”
Gwilym found a tavern near the entrance and settled himself painfully on a bench. Bleddyn looked solicitously at his father. “You’re in a lot of pain, father. Why don’t you rest here while I look around on my own?” Gwilym hobbled to the window and told his son that he could look around but stay in sight of the window and return when he called. Bleddyn happily ran outside and ran around the bustle of the courtyard, feasting his eyes on the knights, the horses, the men and women working for the castle, coming in and out. Gwilym was surprised at the lack of upkeep here in the king’s castle. Horse dung lay in piles in the courtyard along with every kind of household refuse. Beggars and pick-pockets plied their trade amongst the merchants. Bleddyn wandered around, looking at everything and watching everyone, feasting on the experience.
Eventually the hunting party returned, led by the young King Arthur, surrounded by his favorite knights and followed by the squires and masters of the hunt, bearing two field-dressed stags. Neither Bleddyn nor Gwilym knew which knight was which, except for the famous Sir Launcelot, sitting high in the saddle with his dark, good looks and shaven face.
Bleddyn ran to his father after the party had passed and said breathlessly, “Did you see them, Da? The king’s knights! And the king himself! Will we really go and talk to them?”
“Yes son. In about an hour we’ll go again to Sir Kay and ask leave to visit.”

When Sir Kay escorted Gwilym and his son, Bleddyn, into the great hall at Caerleon, the place was in an uproar. Hunting dogs ranged around, some were resting in a pile of rags near the fire, some were snapping up food from the table, others fighting for dominance. King Arthur sat at the center of a group of unruly, feasting men, all of whom showed their devotion to the young king by their attentions. They shouted their hunting exploits over one another, wrestled for sport, yelled insults to each other and crowded as close to the king as they could. 
One of them spotted Gwilym and yelled out, “Watch out fellows, here comes a Saxon giant!” The rest looked Gwilym’s way and they all seemed compelled to make sport of him.
“Where did you get your leg wound Saxon, did I leave one of you alive in my wake?”
“Have you come to beg peace of us at last, Saxon king?” 
The entire company burst into laughter at this last jest. Kay walked Gwilym and Bleddyn close to the king’s side. The men quieted one by one with Gwilym’s approach until Arthur stopped his conversation with Launcelot and looked up expectantly.
“How came you by that wound, Saxon?” Launcelot inquired?
“I’m no Saxon warrior, Sir Launcelot.” replied Gwilym. “I am in charge of rebuilding the battle tower at Huish and come to ask help of the king.”
“Ask away,” said the king. Gwilym was shocked at the king’s youth. He was just starting his first beard and his skin had the rosy hue of a boy. Yet he appeared comfortable in his role and wasn’t constantly looking for the approval of his elders in the way of other young leaders Gwilym had encountered before.
“My lord,” said Gwilym, relating his much-practiced speech. “The battle-tower at Huish is an essential part of your country’s defenses as it watches one of the major invasion routes of the Saxons. It provides early warning of their approach and serves also as a signal tower to the rest of England. The completion of this tower cannot be delayed.”
“And yet is has been delayed, some say deliberately!” interrupted one of the knights. “The old master builder has informed us that someone deliberately sabotaged the tower, causing it to collapse and getting himself appointed to the rebuilding. What say you to this charge?”
“I say that this Tarrant says many things when witnesses are not around and little when there are people to dispute him. Think you Father Drew a fool that he fire Tarrant and put me in his place? If you wish to see why his tower fell and my design will not, my nine-year-old son will demonstrate while I continue.” This drew the eyes of the curious knights as Bleddyn soaked the small sticks in water and began assembling the two towers, explaining the differences as he went.
“Do you agree, my lord, that this tower cannot be delayed?” He received King Arthur’s assent with a firm nod of the head.
“And do you agree that there are many things that could delay its construction: supplies of logs, stone, men and masons?” Once again he received a nod.
“And if my lord were with me at all times when I struggled to obtain these items and continue with the building, no delays would ever appear due to your presence?”
At this, Arthur looked disturbed and argued, “I’ve no plans to stay by your side during a tower construction, my good man. While it is important, there are many other things I need to do during this time.”
“Quite true, my lord. But what if I carried with me a royal charter, spelling out what I was charged with building, how much wood, stone and skilled men I needed, where I was to obtain these, how much I were to pay for these, where the tower should stand and how high? What if this charter could say your words for you, while you continued with your other leadership duties in peace?”
“I would ask to see this charter.”
Gwilym pulled the scroll from his bag and unrolled it in front of the king. Arthur, Launcelot, Kay and a couple of the other knights read it with interest. The others feigned indifference, probably to disguise their illiteracy, and paid closer attention to the models being built by Bleddyn.
“You would like me to affix my signature to this, ahh…Gwilym?” said King Arthur, scanning the charter again for his name.
“Plus the royal seal in the space at the bottom if you would, my lord. I want it to be an impressive document, even for those who cannot read it.”
“What say you, Launcelot?” he asked of the handsome knight to his right who was studying Gwilym with interest.
Launcelot paused and looked deep into Gwilym’s eyes. Gwilym felt uncomfortable but met his stare. “And what does Merlin say of this charter?”
“It was Merlin’s idea.”
“Merlin never tells anyone what to do. What do you mean it was his idea?”
“Merlin asked me questions that made me think of this solution.”
“Ha!” Launcelot barked out a quick laugh. “That’s Merlin alright.” He turned to King Arthur and said, “I think you should sign this charter and watch this Saxon to see how well it works. My kinsman has good ideas, even if he never says them out loud.”
King Arthur called for quill, ink and wax and was pleased to see that Kay had them all ready. He signed the charter with a flourish, attached a red ribbon to the bottom with some drips of red wax, then pressed his ring into the cooling wax to leave an imprint of the dragon seal. He handed this back to Gwilym and asked to see the models.

Bleddyn stepped forward and stammered out a description of the two designs. Arthur paid close attention and played with both models and set them carefully by the fire to dry. Bleddyn blushed happily from the attention. Arthur placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “May I keep these fine models, son?” Bleddyn was torn inside and looked aghast at his father.
Gwilym nodded to his son and told him he’d build him another set. Bleddyn said, “Yes, my king. It would be my pleasure to give them to you. Just soak them in water for ten minutes to take them apart.”
King Arthur stood, gravely shook Bleddyn’s hand, then Gwilym’s and told them he would be keeping a close eye on this tower and on them. “And there is no need to worry about Tarrant. I didn’t trust those beady eyes when he came here. You, I trust.”

Gwilym and Bleddyn were asked to join in the feast in exchange for a tale to add to the merriment. He told a story of his travels as a young man. “I was in a bazaar in an Arab town near the Holy Land.” This caught all the knights’ attention. “The men there sold their wares to all comers and it was to their advantage to guess the language of their customers as they walked by and to speak to them in that language with what little they could pick up. I passed a seller of brass-works in a street full of brass. He looked at me, smiled and shouted, in highly accented English, ‘Just looking! Just looking!’ He must have heard these words so many times from other Englishmen he became sure this was a greeting of some kind.”
The knights roared in laughter and toasted Gwilym, begging for more stories. He obliged them once, then turned the conversation back to them and listened to their stories until he saw his son stifling his third yawn. “I must return early on the morrow, gentlemen. Thank you so much for your hospitality. My king; thank you for the royal charter. I shall not disappoint you.”
Bleddyn walked by his father’s side on their way to the tavern, looking up at him with a new respect. “Did you really have those adventures, Da? I never knew you had traveled so far. Was I with you?”
“No lad. That was during my misspent youth. I did many dangerous and fool-hardy things at that age that I don’t want you to try. Please forget the stories.”
“But Da, what did your father say about the things you did while you were traveling?”
“My Mother and Father were dead when I was quite young. I did no-one else’s bidding at that age.”

At the second cock crow, they left Caerleon, arriving at the ferry dock in time to see the boat approaching from Brycgstow. While they waited, Bleddyn asked his father about the charter.
“It’s a document that describes the project to everyone who cares about it. That way there can be no arguments about what to do. It’s also a contract between all the people who work on the project and King Arthur. And that includes me. I have to make sure I build it for the amount of silver I promised and as quickly as I promised.”
“Who are all these people who care about the project?”
“The quarryman is one. He’s the one who started this whole thing and caused me to make up the charter. I’ll be looking forward to showing him King Arthur’s signature. But there will be others who argue in the future and I can show them the charter at that time.”
“Why not show them the charter first, Da, before they make any trouble?” Bleddyn questioned. “That might save some time.”
“That’s a grand idea, son! Let’s make a list of everyone we should show it to while we wait. There are all the builders on the site, Father Drew, the quarryman, the bishop, the forester, the masons, the carter, the village chief, the inn-keeper who brings food to the site. Who else?”
“What about Tarrant?”
“Now that’s an interesting point. I should also be thinking of people who want the project to fail. I’ll have to keep them in mind for this list of people who care. Though I may not go out of my way to find him, I’ll keep the charter safe so I can show him if he argues again. It clearly says who’s in charge.”
“What do you call this list of people, Da?”
“They are all people who have a stake in this project, one way or another. I’ll call it a list of ‘stakeholders’ then.”
The ferry arrived and they made their way back to Brycgstow and spent the rest of the day and night there. Gwilym hobbled from square to square, sitting down in each and allowing Bleddyn to explore each place. He was exhausted when they returned to the tavern and immediately fell to sleep. Bleddyn, his mind racing from all he’d seen, lay awake for another hour, and then fell into a contented sleep.
They arose early again and rode as fast as Gwilym was able to the quarry near Huish, finding the quarryman hard at work in the pit. Gwilym hailed him and the man worked his way back up to the road.
“I have a royal charter signed by the High King that authorizes me to use your stone to build the tower.” Gwilym carefully unrolled the charter. He knew instinctively that the man was illiterate but, like most of his kind, held written words in awe akin to magic.
“Where says it how much stone you may take?” he inquired, his eyes scanning the document and lingering long on the seal and red ribbon.
Gwilym showed the man the passage about the stone and circled the amount with his fingers, knowing that the man knew his numbers. “I see you’ve been careful to cut the stone, knowing that this misunderstanding would be resolved soon. I commend you for your foresight, brother.”
The quarryman swelled with pride, forgetting that he had been ordered to cut the stone by Gwilym days ago.
Gwilym showed him another section of the charter. “Notice here that we call for a large, square stone, big enough to cover the whole top of the tower but no more than a foot thick so that it can be hauled to the top and placed there without collapsing the tower. It’s designed to protect it from flaming arrows and thrown rocks. Can you make that?”
“I cannae cut stone that big and thin. But I’ll try.”
“Good! Can you start carting what you’ve made to the site tomorrow?”
The quarryman agreed and Gwilym and Bleddyn rode back to Huish.

“Have you had a good adventure, Bleddyn?” asked Gwilym after a long silence. He looked over to his son and was surprised to see tears of genuine sadness flowing over his son’s cheeks. “What’s wrong, son?”
It took a while for Bleddyn to compose himself enough to speak. “I was thinking of all the adventures I had and was bursting to tell them all to…to Ma.”
“Aye son, aye. I miss her too. And I talk to her all the time…in my head. It helps me. She was my friend and help-mate for ten years. I loved her so much. Sometimes I think I cannot go on, but I talk to her and we talk about you, and Jac and Llawen, and the tower. Then I get the strength to go on. We live for you. I’ll always be here to protect you and help to make you a strong man.”
“But you’ve changed since she died, Da. You used to let me do anything. Now you’re more careful with me. Are you now scared I’ll die too?”
“No son. When your mother was alive we worked together to raise you. I encouraged you to spread your wings, she made sure you were careful. Now she’s gone, I have to play both roles. I can’t just let you run wild. You need a mother and a father.”
“Will you marry again, Da?”
“I don’t think so, Bleddyn. I loved your mother so much, and I love you and your brothers; I don’t think there is love enough left in me for another woman.”
“What about Heilin or Heulwen? They are mothering Jac and Llawen. Could you marry one of them?”
Gwilym burst out laughing. “They’re good girls and they are excellent wet-nurses for your brothers. But they are simple and like simple things. Going to the Beltane fires and getting big with child for one. They’d not be the kind of mother you need. Remember how your Ma would help you with your writing and figuring? How she told you stories from long ago? The songs she sang you and the meals she cooked? Could you be satisfied with Heilin or Heulwen after a mother like yours?”
“No, Da.” Bleddyn admitted and they rode on again in thoughtful silence.
“What’s that, Da?” Bleddyn pointed ahead of them to something looming over the trees.
It took Gwilym a few moments to realize that the wooden tower was at its full height and could be visible now from the road. “That’s my tower, son!” he said proudly. “That’s my tower!”

Two months later, Gwilym was escorting Merlin down this same road and they saw the tower rising above the trees, this time dressed in stone with a crenellated top. “You have done well, Gwilym to finish on schedule. How did you manage this?”
“The charter you suggested helped a lot, Merlin. But there were still many problems. I had to do a lot of rework and changes of plans. I had to do a lot of the work myself. And there is still a major problem. The charter calls for a stone roof and you saw the quarryman yourself. He can’t make it.”
“How will you solve these problems next time you build a tower, Gwilym?”
“The biggest problems came from not knowing exactly what we were supposed to build. I’ll have to write it all down next time and make sure we all agree. But right now I want to finish this tower and for that I need a roof. Have you any ideas, Merlin?”
Merlin looked thoughtful and started to sing. He had a fine voice and the words were from long ago: some kind of Druid tongue that Gwilym could not speak. He could make out occasional words and there was some kind of a feeling in there of stone and rock. Gwilym said nothing to interrupt and struggled to understand. He felt sleepy and rested his eyes, letting the words take him on a journey. He left the horse and the road and flew across the sea to the green land beyond. There he saw a ring of giant stones, raised high on a hill.
He felt a sharp slap and scrape on his face and found that he had fallen asleep in the cart and had failed to duck at a low-hanging branch. Merlin was still singing and they were in the tree-lined path that wended through the forest just outside Huish. He must have slept for an hour! But the last month of this project had taken him through many sleepless nights and exhausting days so it was only natural for him to sleep in a cart during this late spring day.
On arrival at the building site, Merlin finished his song and looked pleased with himself. The tower rose majestically out of the ground, close-fitting rocks faced the now-hidden wooden structure and it presented a smooth face to all sides. There were horizontal arrow-slits spread throughout and a strong door one floor above the bottom. A wooden staircase rose from the ground to this door, designed to be destroyed during an attack so that the attackers would be one level below the entrance. The ground surrounding it was now flat since the foundations had been completed and a flagstone path wound from the village to this door. At the very top, stones crenellated the top-most layer. This caused Gwilym to frown.
“Sir Kay comes in two days to inspect the tower. It would have been complete if I could have gotten the roof stone. Damn that useless quarryman! I should have found a more skilled one.”
“Are you perhaps reaching the wrong conclusion?” inquired Merlin. “Perhaps the gods have decided that the roof stone should come from other hands than this quarryman. And they forbid him to complete the job.”
“Then the gods could have been kind enough to provide me with a substitute.” replied Gwilym.
Merlin looked closely at the stone walls, now that they had reached them. “Why have you placed wooden wedges between the stones? They look as though they would meet up perfectly but you have shimmed them away from each other.”
“The wooden structure was built to tighten up to itself as the wood dries out over time and shrinks. If I built the stones on top of each other, the wood would separate from the stone and leave the structure unstable. This way, as the wood inside shrinks, so do these shims and the structure tightens in on itself and becomes one.”
Gwilym spent the rest of the day dealing with a thousand little details in finishing off the inside of the tower. He retired late and forced himself to wake before light to supervise the last day’s work. He was still breaking his fast when Fred came bursting through his doorway with a big smile on his face.
“How did tha do it then Gwilym? It be the perfect capstone for t'tower. Where did tha find it?”
Gwilym followed the man to the tower and stood in bewilderment looking at a large rock, leaning against the tower wall. It was mossy and the edges were rounded, as if it had been dug from the earth. Yet it looked as though the dimensions were perfect to cap off the tower. It was no thicker than a foot and, as Gwilym measured it with his yardstick, was within an inch of what was needed at the top. An eerie chill ran through his spine as he saw that no tracks or drag marks led to this stone which must have weighed several tons.
“Let’s not question good luck the way we question bad. It never helps either way. Get the men together and we’ll lift this to the top.”

 The hoisting mechanism was re-assembled and, with all the workers helping, the stone was placed on top of the crenellations, fitting the space perfectly. Gwilym gathered his tools and made his way on top of this and started to clear off all the moss and dirt. Although this rock would never be seen from above, he wanted it to sparkle the way the rest of his tower sparkled for the arrival of Kay.
As he scraped the moss and dirt clean, he noticed deep scratches in the surface of the rock, marking out ancient designs. So this had been an old rune-stone? He wondered what the signs meant. The day grew hot and he removed his tunic to sweat freely and catch some of the ocean breezes in an attempt to cool off.

After cleaning off the stone, he started hammering in his wedges. His calculations fresh in his head, he knew what to add to each connection. Here, the stone underneath would move inwards and down, but the down didn’t matter since the capstone had nothing above it. He just had to ensure that the rock would slide easily over the stones underneath as they each moved a few inches toward the center of the tower. That required something that wouldn’t rot but kept its smoothness over the years. So, after wedging up the rock at a crenellation, he slipped in between the wedges a smooth, thin piece of river jade that Merlin had provided. This semi-precious stone was impossible for the rock or the water to destroy and would allow the rock above to slip freely when time decreed. Then he removed the wedges and moved to the next crenellation. It was a painstaking and meticulous chore but Gwilym reveled in the fact that by tomorrow morning the structure would be absolutely complete.
Bleddyn brought him his dinner but Gwilym forbade him climbing onto the roof. Gwilym sent him home after requesting Bleddyn to ask the girls if he and his brothers could stay there tonight.
From the roof he could see the farmers lighting the twin bonfires and driving the livestock between them, ensuring their fertility for the coming year. ‘Ah yes,’ he murmured to himself, ‘Beltane is here again.’
As night fell and his work continued, the villagers built up the fires and Gwilym saw the flames flickering as painted villagers danced around them and adventurous men leapt over them. The villagers were in various states of drunkenness and undress, and every so often would pair off and walk to the outskirts of the fields to couple. Gwilym smiled to himself, remembering his youth and the fun times he had spent at long-ago Beltane fires. He wondered if his boy’s foster mothers were there again this year. They were reputed to be great favorites at the feast. Both had come away from last year’s fires with a baby. All these thoughts were bringing his wife, Kaitlyn, to mind and he shifted uncomfortably from his lying position to relieve the pressure on his loins. He finished hammering in the last piece of river jade.
“Nice work Gwilym!” came the throaty voice of a maiden from the other side of the tower. “You’ve built a fine tower. And the capstone is beautiful
Gwilym rolled onto his back and saw the form of a maiden, silhouetted by the moon. Moonlight shone through her long, curly hair and revealed the hour-glass shape of her body through the simple shift she wore. As she walked towards him, the moon shining through her shift made her appear naked. Her large, firm breasts bounced and her thigh muscles contracted and relaxed with each step of her bare feet. She stopped just above him and he could make out her profile in the moonlight. It was Grainne. She held out her hand to him, staring unabashedly as the swelling of his crotch.
He took her hand, stood and turned to stand at her side, looking out at the Beltane fires.
“The villagers are celebrating their fertility with gusto this year,” remarked Grainne.
“A lot of them have extra seed money because of the tower. They have a good chance of a fertile year coming up.”
“A tower such as this is a great fertility symbol itself. I was drawn to it by its shape,” Grainne said throatily. “And on top of this tower, who should I find but a towering man, full of life? The moon flows through me tonight, Gwilym.”
He turned away from her and stared out at the countryside. He thought of Kaitlyn and his boys. He had never strayed from Kaitlyn and he couldn’t sully the memory of the boys’ mother with a cheap encounter with a priestess of Avalon. No matter how tempting she was.

He felt her move behind him and her hands caressed his sides and then up his taut belly to his large chest. As her hands met in the middle, he felt her body press against him from behind, her large breasts squeezing against the small of his back, her knees against his calves. “It is Beltane, Gwilym, and I choose you as my lover tonight.”
She lowered her hands and he stood, accepting his fate but refusing to take an active part in it. She untied the drawstring of his breeches and drew them down his legs.
Gwilym turned to her then, no longer self-conscious of his swelling, and was surprised to see that she had taken off her shift and stood naked in the moonlight. She knelt then, and performed one of the priestess rites for which Avalon was famous. He moaned aloud in the remembered pleasure; how long had it been? Kaitlyn was dead these three months but she had been uncomfortable with the twins for two months before the birth also. Kaitlyn had been an adventurous lover, had readily accepted all of his suggestions and they had enjoyed a rich and varied love life. But this woman was trained in pleasuring a man and the skill she showed was making him lose his self-control.
He tried to concentrate on something else and noticed now that the moon was lighting up the rune marks on the stone, making the patterns glow in the shape of a lion. Then his eyes shut in a particularly pleasurable move from her.
Grainne lay down in the center of the rune, and Gwilym took hold of his fate and mounted her with passion. She gasped in pleasure as they coupled, long and hard in the light of the full moon. He used all the skills he had developed over the years of his travels to bring her to a long-lasting climax, and then he followed her shortly after with his own. As he looked up during his climax, he noticed that the area around the tower was obscured by a thin mist. ‘A little early for that’ he thought to himself as he felt himself fall asleep.

Gwilym awoke from his exhaustion to find the morning sun shining in his eyes. His skin was warm and he heard the chirping of birds accompanied by the murmuring of the early risers. The smell of cooking meat awoke his hunger. He glanced around the tower in astonishment until he remembered last night’s love-making session. Grainne was gone. He thought about how he should feel about her. ‘Did she take advantage of me? Maybe at first, but it was I who consummated the evening. Was there a spell involved? No, just the lust of two adults. Would Kaitlyn have approved? No. His sons? No. The villagers? Probably half would approve, the other half would be scandalized. Well, no use thinking about it any longer. Beltane was over and Kay would arrive today to inspect the tower. Better check it out one last time.’ He pulled on his breeches and tunic and climbed back down the tower.

Kay thundered in on his charger, accompanied by three other men. Along with Fred, they inspected the tower from foundations to roof stone, asking many questions of Gwilym and seeming satisfied with all the answers. One was especially interested in the capstone and questioned him long on its origin. He actually seemed happy with the mystery of its appearance on the worksite. Another was fascinated with the building techniques Gwilym had used and spent time making intricate sketches of the tower details. Finally Kay sat with Gwilym and the third man to go over the expenses.
“You stayed on budget, then?” inquired Kay. Gwilym ran through all the figures and showed Kay that he was actually owed three days work from the men and he had 200 silver left that was to have paid the quarryman for the capstone.
“But you needed that extra somewhere else, right?” sneered Kay cynically.
Gwilym handed Kay a pouch full of silver. “This is all the extra silver, Sir Kay. It can be used on the next tower.”
Kay looked at Gwilym in astonishment. “You’re the first man who ever returned money to me. I usually get asked for a little more to finish off something they had to ‘pay out of pocket’. Are you honest, or a good money manager or both?”
“I try to be both, Sir. It’s the King’s money. I already took my wages.”
Kay opened the pouch and counted out 50 silver. “Here’s a bonus for your honesty. Now let’s talk of the next job. We’re building towers like this one all around the coasts. I’d like you to supervise. We start right away on the east coast since that is where we expect the Norsemen to attack next year. The pay will be the same with the chance of a much bigger bonus if you can do as well there as here. Will you take the job?”
“Is there no work closer to Huish, Sir Kay? My boys are barely two months old and cannot leave their wet-nurses.”
“They’re not needed on the job-sites. You’ll be traveling most of the time anyway so you might as well leave them here. Come back and see them next year when they are no longer squalling babes.”
Gwilym struggled for the right words. “It is important for me to be with them now. I can be free to help you in the autumn. But for the summer, I will stay in the village. Thank you very much for the offer, and for the compliment. I hope I can assist you some other way in the autumn.”
Kay looked incredulous. “You’re passing up a grand job. It won’t wait for you. I need to find another man to take the reins. Can you recommend your second to me?”
“Fred is a good man. He can be trusted to treat the men well and take care of the money. He will build you strong towers.”
Kay read between the lines and put in, “But he is no leader of men. They’ll walk all over him.”
“He needs some more seasoning. Take him with you and use him for some of the work. He’ll be ready for leadership in a year or two.”
“Come to Caerleon when you are ready, Gwilym. There will always be work for you somewhere in this kingdom.”

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