Gwilym and his boys left two days after Fred, timing their arrival in Huish for the morning of the wedding. The twins were full of questions.
“Can I dress in my bishop’s clothes?”
“And me as a knight?”
“Will we see Heulwen there, too?”
“Which was my milk mother? Heilin or Heulwen?”
“What’s the name of my milk sister?”
“Will we marry our milk sisters one day?”
Gwilym laughed and hugged his boys tight against him.
Then Jac asked, “Why can’t we stay in Huish?”
Gwilym’s smile faded, replaced with a frown of concern. “We need to stay out of sight of that knight, Palomides.”
“But Da,” asked Jac. “I thought you said he couldn’t see us for five years?”
“Only if we stay out of his way. He has spies in Huish, looking for us.”
They spent the evening before the wedding in Brycgstow and left before dawn. They arrived at Fred’s family home in the lake country east of Huish two hours before the wedding was scheduled to begin. Descending to the shores of the lake, they saw thatch roofs scattered randomly round below them, some on the water, others a distance from the shore. Jac and Llawen looked at their father with questioning faces. He told them to be patient and they’d see for themselves how this worked.
As they drew closer to the level of the lake, they saw that the houses were all round wicker-walled homes raised high on stilts. Those whose roofs were above the water had wooden ramps leading to the shore. Stone paths led between the homes. Jac walked deliberately underneath one to inspect its underside. It was woven wicker like the underside of a chair.
“What do they do here, Da?” asked Llawen. “They can’t farm the marsh.”
“I expect they fish the lake,” he replied. “There’s plenty of food in the water.”
“Why are their houses up on poles, Da?” asked Jac.
“This lake rises and falls depending on the rain and sun. The stilts let the houses stay dry.”
Gwilym led them to one house standing above the dry land. One of the poles had curved rungs nailed to it made of antlers. The pole looked like the backbone of a fish. Fred scrambled down this ladder, wearing a new set of clothes. He greeted them with smiles and hugs “We will ride to th’church in a few minutes. Tha will stay by my side, right, Gwilym?”
“We’ll be with you the whole time.”
“You’re marrying my milk mother, Fred,” said Llawen with a serious expression. “Are you Iola’s father now?”
Fred kneeled down to meet Llawen’s eye. “In a couple of hours, lad. And I will take very good care of your sister.”
“Can we dress up in the clothes given us by the king for your wedding, Fred?” asked Llawen.
Fred put his arm around the boy. “I’d love to see you all dressed up, lad. But maybe only wear th’robe and not all th’fancy stuff like th’hat and stole and staff. Th’priest might get confused and expect you to perform th’wedding.”
“I could do it! I know the prayers and everything.”
Fred gave Llawen a serious look. “I’m sure you would do a great job, Llawen. But Heilin wants a legal marriage. For that we need a priest who has taken his vows.”
A few of the lake folk and most of the town attended the wedding. Gwilym stood up front with Fred, facing people Gwilym assumed must be Fred’s family. They were short and dark like him.
Haern brought Heilin up the aisle to Fred and the ceremony began. She was wearing a new dress and her hair was newly washed and decorated with flowers. The smile she wore today showed a level of deep contentment on top of her usual good humor.
Few of the lake people participated in the Mass and even fewer took communion. After the priest pronounced Fred and Heilin man and wife, Fred presented her with a shiny new short-sword. Heilin took a cup of mead from her mother and said, “Fred, take this cup.” Fred looked deep into his new wife’s eyes as he drank from the cup, the villagers cheered and they all went outside where the feast was spread. Gwilym noticed the look of disapproval on the priest’s face at this use of old customs and was happy he said nothing, probably because he was still new to this parish. Too bad Father Drew was gone. He had been inclusive of the old ways.
The feast was held outside Haern’s smithy where boards set up on trestles groaned with a quantity of food and drink. Fred introduced Gwilym to his father, who looked just like an older version of Fred. There was no mention of his mother and Gwilym didn’t like to pry so he continued meeting the rest of his relatives and neighbors from the marshlands. There were ten times as many lake people at the celebration than had attended the ceremony. What religion do they practice on the lake?
Bleddyn presented the couple with a wedding gift that he had carved. It was a perfect miniature rendition of the Huish tower. Fred was speechless and tears came to his eyes. Jac spoke up. “We carved our names in the sides, see?” Fred looked over the sides, seeing a name carved in each of three sides. In the fourth side were carved Fred’s and Heilin’s names with the wedding date and place. Heilin oohed and aahed over it and pronounced it the best piece of carpentry she had ever seen. Fred found his voice. “Tha have a talent, Bleddyn. A God-given talent! Use it well. I love th’gift. I will treasure it always.” He hugged all three boys.
Gwilym stepped up with his gift: A bound book with a set of fine quills and ink. Fred’s eyes grew wide and he opened the book. He looked up in surprise when he found it empty. “To write down your song, or practice your writing, or keep a journal, or whatever you want. Your life now is an open book, Fred. Fill it up for your children.”
Before the wedding feast was over, Gwilym and his family said their good-byes and traveled back down the road to Londinium. They spent the next few days camping or staying at hermitages or taverns but always making their way north and east. They spent an entire day passing through a deep forest, arriving at a crossroads tavern just before evening. Both these roads were solid, Roman construction. The tavern was well appointed with a large stable and several outbuildings. Asking the tavern-keeper about it after his rushing about during supper, he found that this was the only settlement in this vast forest, where the North-South road met the East-West road. It was a day’s ride from either edge of the forest to this point making this a prosperous and expensive establishment.
Gwilym fell into conversation with a contingent of King Arthur’s soldiers who were stationed here to patrol the forest. They remarked on his claims of extortion. “Sure it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than exposing yourself to the bandits in those woods. Money well spent.”
A day’s journey east of this forest, Gwilym noticed something and remarked upon it to his sons. “Remember how in Huish and Caernarfon the men were all short with dark hair and brown eyes? Look at the people here.”
The boys looked around and noticed that there was a mixture of types. There were people that had Gwilym’s Saxon look mingled in with Cambrian looking people. The further east they traveled, the more Saxon types they found. Once, in a tavern, they asked a Cambrian-looking man about it. “It wasn’t like they came in battle. One day we were walking in the woods and there was this Saxon family, cutting down trees and making a farm. The land didn’t belong to anyone so we left them alone. Others came and we started trading with them. They’re peculiar folk but they don’t bother us.”
Bleddyn asked his father later as they all slept in the common hall. “I thought the Saxons came with armies and killed the locals and took over their land. Then the British kicked them out and took their farms back.”
“Life is always a little more complicated than it’s made out to be. Remember when we were at Airmyn? I think there was war at first but now they are living in a kind of truce. Maybe people left that area and moved here, knowing the land wasn’t owned and just wanting peace. Most people just want that. What did you find out about them while you were there? Why did they leave
“They were being pushed out by invaders from their east called Huns. Some say they were invited by the king to come and defeat the Caledonians. And they’re not only Saxons. Some get upset by that. They call themselves Angles. They are a different tribe.”
“When will we see Fred again, Da?” asked Jac.
“He wants to spend a few days with his new wife. But he’ll travel fast without us so he should join us soon after we arrive in Salthouse.”
“That’s a funny name, Da. Do they store salt there?” asked Llawen.
Climbing the last hill before their destination, they came upon the remains of an old Roman settlement overlooking the ocean. There was a large palace flanked by several manor houses and many outbuildings. Most were in good condition. Some of the roof tiles were missing or broken but the stone walls appeared in good repair.
They had been traveling along a Roman road and noticed a working aqueduct approaching the settlement from the west. This was made of clay half pipes, each about four feet in diameter, supported by thick log posts. As the wind shifted in their faces, they caught the strong stench of cow dung. Gwilym followed his nose to a large herd of cattle being led into the largest building of the settlement. So they are using the old palace as a stable? Interesting.
They bypassed the settlement and descended the hill to the village. There they found the inn. The village was not on the waterfront but on a river that bordered a marsh extending for about a quarter mile before the beach. The buildings here were all built in the longhouse style of Angles and Saxons. Logs formed the walls and a high peak topped by an ornately carved ridgepole anchored the thatched roof. The inn had a porch that extended over the southern windows at an angle that shaded the windows in summer when the sun was high, but allowed it in during the low sun winters.
Gwilym requested food and lodging. The inn-keeper asked to see his money. Gwilym showed the man his silver which he examined minutely. He weighed ten pieces on a scale and cut one in half and squinted at the cut edge. Finally he nodded and told Gwilym, “Four of dese silver per veek for your room and board, plus anoder five silver for meals for de zree boys.”
Gwilym said, “The two little ones together eat less than the big one does. Better make it three silver for their meals.”
“Vy don’t ve see how much dey eat?” and he motioned them to sit.
Bleddyn took the board from the wall and the family sat on two benches facing each other with the board resting on their knees. The inn-keeper served them a stew, a slice of hard black bread and some ale. After eating, the children went exploring while Gwilym settled up with the inn-keeper. They agreed on eight silver pieces a week. Gwilym spoke with the locals who were arriving to see the newcomers.
“I come with a commission from the High King to build a watchtower up on the hill,” he announced. “I will be hiring many workers over the next ten months to complete this tower. I will give you time off to harvest your crops. Tomorrow, come to me and tell me your skills and I will try to find work for you.”
The men murmured amongst themselves, Gwilym overheard the complaint, “Not like there’s ever much to harvest.” Some stepped forward, offering their services as masons, sawyers, laborers, etc. “Where is the tower to be built?”
“It is to be built at the corner of the old palace. On land owned by Anian. Is Anian present?”
At this, the men burst out laughing, confusing Gwilym. “What? Why do you laugh?”
One of the larger men approached Gwilym. “Dat old fool vill never sell you his palace. It is full of his shit.”
At this word, the men burst out laughing, even louder than before, holding on to each other, weeping with mirth. Gwilym waited and drank his ale until they had calmed down again.
“If Anian won’t sell, I’ll be on my way. Sorry about the offer of work.”
This wiped the smiles off the men’s faces. “Vait, vait!” said the tall man. “Does de king say he must haf de palace?”
“Vell, den Anian must sell. But de palace is full of shit. Cow-shit, bull-shit. He has been using it as a barn for his cows for tventy years and has never cleaned it out. Dat’s de horrible smell of dis town.”
“Sounds like the first job we’ll have to do is clean out the stables.”
Grins appeared on the men’s faces. “Do you haf any idea how much shit a thousand cows make in tventy years? That will take all of us two years to shovel out. I’ll take you to Anian tomorrow and you can see for yourself.”
The next morning, Tollemache, the man who did most of the talking last night, took Gwilym to the palace. The cows had been led forth to feed in the hills. From this vantage point, Gwilym could see that the pasture land was on the hills further inland. The fields that led down to the shore looked sparse and poorly farmed.
The stench from the old palace made Gwilym’s eyes water. The two men passed the palace, walked uphill to a smaller manor house, and knocked on an ornate door made of two contrasting woods, bound with brass. The door was opened by a shriveled old man. His bald and bulbous head was somehow supported by his thin smoked-beef neck. His clothes and skin looked as though he had never washed and the smell of him even overcame the strong smell of the yard. Gwilym blinked and introduced himself and his project.
Anian looked over the contract, examined the gold pieces and agreed to the price offered. “I’ll move my cows to other buildings. Have you seen the palace?”
“Only from the outside.”
“Then let me show you. You’re using the stone from the palace to build the tower. Make sure you don’t use any other stones of mine. I need them all.”
As they entered the palace, Gwilym was stopped by a wall of smell. He had to hold his nose shut to walk in. The palace was a large, high-ceilinged room supported by pillars. On walking in they were soon climbing a ramp of what could only be trodden down cow-dung. The floor was raised at least four feet high with the waste. On top of the compressed dung were mounds of fresher dung, waist high in places, where the herds must push through to find places to lay down.
Gwilym fought his way back to the entrance and took in a deep breath of the somewhat fresher air outside. “I think it will be easier to see things from out here!” he shouted back to Anian and Tollemache.
When they emerged, Tollemache also breathed easier but Anian seemed not to notice the stench. They toured the outside of the palace, Gwilym claiming stones for the tower and the two men agreeing on the best corner. A thick stone wall connected the palace walls to the other buildings in the settlement.From the constraints of the property and the sun’s position, Gwilym noted that the tower must be turned to face off the compass point, with one of the faces pointing straight back to Huish. Curious, indeed. Now he was second-guessing himself on which direction he would want to place the rune-stone cap. How did I decide the direction in the past? I don’t remember making a conscious decision. They just seemed right when I lowered them into position.
Their tour completed and the money paid for the land, Anian asked when they would begin working. “I’ll be sending men up in two days to clear the palace,” he replied.
They went back to the village, breathing easier with each step away from the old palace. “You weren’t kidding about it being full of shit,” he remarked to Tollemache.
Tollemache told him about the town. Salthouse had been an old Roman settlement that had been mostly abandoned when the Romans left. The name of the town came from the salt marshes that lay between the town and the sea. The original, British, land-owners farmed the rich fields uphill and inland from the sea. That left the Angles owning the poor sea-side lands with low yields due to the salty ocean spray. They made more money from fishing than farming. They were trying to fertilize their fields with fish bones but it was going to take a long time to make them productive. Some still boiled the marsh water to create salt bricks but these were only sold locally and in nearby Northwic. Whiter, continental salt was more in demand elsewhere. There was a strong bond between the British and Angles lately because men from both sides fought off the last Saxon invasion four years ago.
Fred was in the tavern when they returned. Gwilym introduced him around. Then the two of them returned to the job site, discussing the problem. Gwilym followed the aqueduct upstream to the river that fed it, finding it swollen with late spring rains, roaring down the hill to empty into the marshes. The wooden sluice to the aqueduct was almost closed off, allowing a trickle in to water the cows back at the palace.
Gwilym turned to Fred and said, “I’m going to bet those men I can clear the stables of shit in one day!” He looked in triumph at Fred who was staring off into the distance, his thoughts on something else. “Thinking about Heilin, Fred?”
“Yes I am. Can I have my wages for this job in advance please, Gwilym?”
Gwilym was shocked at this unusual request but, trusting his friend, assented.
“Please don’t tell anyone of thy aqueduct plan until tomorrow.”
As they walked back to the town, Gwilym’s mind went back to the problems he had ahead of him and started working out his project plan. This left Fred with his own thoughts. On arrival, Fred received his advance wages and walked off.
The Angle villagers came to the tavern to sign up for work on the tower. Gwilym soon gathered his crew, telling them that he would need them at certain times and not others so they should be prepared to work on and off for the duration of the project, being paid a daily rate.
“Ve are farmers! Ve cannot be called from our fields on a moment’s notice. Ve must haf some varning,” one protested.
“That’s correct,” replied Gwilym. “Tomorrow we will plan out this whole project and learn when you will all be needed. I will keep this plan updated and you can come to the tavern any time to see when I will need you.”
The men walked away, grumbling about the new ways of this foreigner. Bleddyn came in with his brothers and greeted his father, asking about the men’s complaints he had overheard.
Gwilym smiled at his son and told him not to worry. “Men always distrust what is new. You have to prove to them that it will work better than their old ways and they’ll fight you while you do. But, once you’ve proven it, most will go to the new way. This has been a truth since Adam’s day.”
Llawen saw Fred’s pack in the corner of the tavern. “Where’s Fred, Da? I want to show him this big shell I found.”
“He’s touring the town, Llawen. He’ll be back for supper, I’m sure.”
Gwilym spent the rest of the afternoon preparing his papers for the planning session on the morrow. Fred did not return until well after dark.
The boys had a happy reunion with Fred when they awoke and questioned him all about his new life with Heilin. After they had broken their fast, Gwilym prepared the room for his planning session. He and Fred laid out all the sheets, quills, ink and pieces of leather. He posted the charter on one of the walls and prepared scrolls titled Scope and Requirements.
The crew entered and Gwilym had them all introduce themselves to everyone with their name and the role they would play on the project. Gwilym introduced Fred to the crew. He was surprised to find that many had met him already.
Gwilym led the team through the planning steps that were becoming familiar to him by now. He read them the charter and asked about any stakeholders he didn’t know about yet. He led the team through a session where they determined the requirements of the tower. Then he led them through the scoping session, documenting everything on the appropriate scrolls and posting them on the walls when completed.
Then he led them through the Work Breakdown Structure and Activity Definition sessions, obtaining all the leather pieces containing the drawings of the activities to be completed. The ‘Remove shit from palace’ piece received much laughter along with some concern about the immensity of it. When the activities were doled out, no-one wanted to volunteer for this job so Gwilym took it himself.
When they were sure that all the activities had been documented, they laid them out on the large bull-hide in the order that made the most sense. While some work could continue while the palace was being mucked out, it became clear that this activity would have to be completed before early activities like digging the foundation hole could be started. The men became dejected on reflecting that the real work wouldn’t even start this year.
Gwilym then asked the people who had volunteered to lead each activity to estimate its duration. He left the cleaning the palace activities until last. All the men looked at him to see when the real tower building activities would start.
“All right. Let’s see. The duration of this activity will be one day. Now, what does–”
He was interrupted by the cries of incredulity from his team.
“How can you–”
“That’s not poss–”
“Are you kidd–”
He held up his hands and the shouting stopped. He had everyone’s attention now. “Let’s make a deal. I promise to complete my activity on time if you promise to meet the duration of yours. Is that fair?”
They all laughed at this and swaggered about, sure that they didn’t need to try too hard to finish their activities on time.
They all broke for dinner at this point, some of them questioning Gwilym on how he intended to clean it out in one day by himself. He gave nothing away.
After dinner, Gwilym worked with the men to determine the cost of the project. Each activity now had a responsible man, the other resources needed to complete it and the duration. This allowed Gwilym to assign a cost in man days to it. Some had material costs involved so Gwilym asked the locals the price of timbers, etc. and added that to the labor hours. Then Gwilym aggregated these costs to each deliverable and then to the overall project. Due to the low daily rate of the men, he saw that he would complete the project under budget. Of course, that assumed nothing went wrong. Something always did, so Gwilym had a reserve in hand.
The men were dismissed and Gwilym transcribed the schedule onto the calendar. Fred asked to be dismissed. “What are you up to, man?” Gwilym asked.
“All will be clear tomorrow, Gwilym.” Fred touched his nose and walked out. He returned after dark again.
Before daybreak, Gwilym climbed the hill to the palace. He brought a rag to cover his nose and carried a few tools with him: a sledge hammer, a chisel, a shovel and a stiff broom. On reaching the palace at daybreak, he walked to the outside of the palace wall on the slope leading to the fields above town. He took the chisel and sledge hammer and broke holes in the wall. As the rocks fell out, so did some of the cow dung and a lot of the smell. He tied the rag over his mouth and nose.
After making three holes in the wall, he was surprised to see Fred approaching from the fields below him bearing a shovel. Fred looked at the holes Gwilym made and started digging trenches from each to trenches he had already dug in the fields below. Looking further down at the fields Gwilym saw workers and a team of oxen digging ditches and dikes. Gwilym was starting to understand what Fred was up to but he was too busy to stop and verify. If he wanted to impress these men and get them to live up to their commitments, he must finish his job today.
Gwilym moved around to the entrance of the palace and opened the end of the aqueduct there. Water rushed out and filled the courtyard in front of the palace. Some entered the palace but was stopped by the mounds of manure inside. The palace overlooked the sea and was positioned at the lowest point in the courtyard. Walls connected the palace to the other buildings so the water pooled up in front of the doorway and could not escape elsewhere.
He jogged upstream along the aqueduct and reached the swollen river. Here he completely opened the sluice to the aqueduct. He ran back to the palace, watching in satisfaction as the water rushed by him in a torrent. On arrival he saw that the level of water in the courtyard was rising and was pouring in through the doors of the palace. He ran around to the back where he had opened the holes and saw some seeping out full of manure. He attacked these holes with his shovel. As he pulled hardened manure out, watery poop took its place and started gushing through. He attacked each hole in turn, freeing blockages as they came. When all were running freely, he opened two more holes and spent the next three hours keeping the watery manure flowing out of these holes. Fred dug trenches leading from the new holes. Gwilym shook his head in amazement at his foreman and they both smiled.
Gwilym broke for dinner, washed his hands in the aqueduct and ate the bread and cheese the tavern-keeper had given him last night. After dinner he walked back around to the front of the palace and entered. Water was flowing through the palace in wide rivers, clearing off a beautiful mosaic that lay under all this. He toiled hard now, pushing manure into these piles with his shovel and watching it flow out of the holes. The water was doing most of the work, all Gwilym had to do was keep feeding the flow with fresh manure.
After several hours, however, the water was going straight out the holes and Gwilym was expending all his strength chopping away at the old, compressed manure to knock chunks into the flow. He knew he had to soften it up. So he moved large sections of dried manure to cover the five exit holes and stepped out while the palace filled with manure. This gave him a chance to rest outside for an hour, wash his hands and have a snack. He then re-entered, moved the blocks and worked again with softened manure. He repeated this sequence several times.
By an hour before nightfall he was pretty sure he could finish it all before tomorrow morning but realized it would be difficult in the dark. He would have to go back to the village and gather some brushes to light. He blocked up the exits again so that the manure would have a chance to soften again while he was gone.
Walking out into the courtyard, he was surprised to see many villagers gathered watching his efforts. They broke into wild applause and clapped him on the shoulder when he approached. Tollemache said, “Ve knew you couldn’t do it viz just your strength. But you’ll need your strength as vell as your brains to finish dis today. Can ve help?”
Gwilym shook his head. “I want to live up to my end of the bargain. I just need some lights so that I can continue.”
“Not if ve help you finish ze job before dark.”
The men went inside and wielded the shovels and brooms they were carrying and started breaking up the compressed manure.
“Wait!” yelled Gwilym. “We have a bargain!”
“You already von de bet!” yelled back Tollemache as the rest of the crew nodded in agreement. “I’m sure you vill help us finish our activities if you are not busy.”
With the whole crew feeding the streams, the men cleaned out the last of the manure in an hour, then walked back to the tavern for drinks on Gwilym. He shouted for the tavern-keeper to ply the men with drinks, then went back outside to wash himself clean before re-entering. The men cheered him on arrival and Gwilym toasted them with ale.
“Tomorrow we start laying out the tower!”
Another cheer from the men and then Tollemache stood up to speak. “You and Fred vill make a lot of money from your plan. Ve congratulate you on outsmarting us.”
“What did Fred do, hire some people to fertilize your fields and use the free manure to do it?”
Tollemache roared. “No Gvilym! He is smarter zan zat! He bought ze fields below ze palace for almost nozing, and has been digging trenches all yesterday and today to spread out all ze free manure all over zem. He even has a holding pond up top so he can add manure later. He owns ze best fertilized fields in Salthouse right now. And a fertilizer farm.”
A smile of realization had been spreading over Gwilym’s face during this speech and, seeing this, the men laughed even louder, seeing how their boss had been outsmarted by his foreman.
“Good for Fred! Let’s have a toast for Fred and his new wife. May they live in prosperity!”
“Prost!” cheered the men.
Just then the men cheered even louder and Gwilym noticed that Fred had entered. The men all shook his hand and slapped his back and offered him drinks. Fred gave a shy smile and made his way to Gwilym.
“Are tha mad at me, Gwilym? For taking advantage of tha. I were thinkin’ today, I should split the profits with tha. I couldn’t have done it without tha.”
“Not at all Fred! My idea solved my problem. You took my waste and made something else for yourself. May you and Heilin be prosperous farmers here.”
“Oh, no Gwilym! I’ve no wish to be a farmer. I’ll let the villagers get jealous of that good land and someone will offer to buy th’fields back from me at a good profit. My dream is to be a Project Manager like you. I just wanted th’profits to buy my Heilin a fine house to live in.”
Both men were bone-tired from all the digging they had done that day and so they prepared their beds in the hall and were ready to sleep at the same time as the twins. Before closing his eyes Gwilym asked Fred, “What do you think of adding something to the project plan about gathering the team? Some kind of plan for getting the right kind of people at the right time to do the things we need. If we do that right, we can make sure that we don’t waste money having the wrong people on activities or sitting around when there is no work for them or have the project wait until we get those right people on the project.”
“Sounds good, Gwilym. Let’s talk about it more on the morrow.”
The next day the team assembled and men started to demolish the corner of the palace where the tower was to be situated while others pulled down the rest of the palace and stacked up the stones for later use. Daylight revealed the beauty of the mosaic. Gwilym made a decision to try and rescue as much of this as possible for later use on the tower or for sale to other people. “We may need the extra money for unforeseen circumstances on this tower build.”
Gwilym walked around with the calendar, checking off who was working and who was due to come tomorrow for laying out the foundations. He checked the way the crew were doing their jobs and made judgments on their level of various skills. Then he and Fred sat down at an easel with a blank sheet of paper and the network diagram showing all the activities and who was responsible for each and created a new document. “Let’s call this our ‘Human Resource Plan,’ Fred.”
“We’ll list all the roles we have to fill for doing this project: Project Manager, Foreman, Sawyer, Mason, Foundation Man, Laborer, Carpenter, Quarryman, Road-builder. Then we list the names of all the men who fill those roles for us. Some can be used in two or more roles.”
After they had done that, Gwilym took out another sheet of paper. “Some of the men were too happy day before yesterday volunteering for activities. We need to show this in a better way than just their names on activities in the network diagram. I think we’ll get some warning of their overuse if we plot the activities against the people.”
Fred took a large sheet of paper, and wrote the names of the crew on the vertical axis. On the x axis he wrote the names of all the activities. Where they intersected he placed a letter R next to the person who volunteered to take responsibility for that activity. He placed a letter I if the person was involved with the activity. With Gwilym calling out the activities and Fred writing, they were soon finished.
“Let’s add the role of the crew below their names so we can see which roles are overloaded,” said Gwilym. On doing so they saw that the foundation men seemed overloaded at first, then the masons, then the carpenters. That made some sense based on the nature of the work.
“Aye, son, aye.”
“We need to see when we need how many people,” said Fred.
“I agree. Let’s display how many we need based on the network diagram. Now we need lots of laborers for the demolition. Tomorrow we can still use some laborers to demolish the rest of the palace but we need foundation men to start digging out the foundation hole. Also we need Sawyers to be getting the right amount of wood for the tower and a Quarryman to decide how much extra stone we need and obtain that for us.”
Fred had created a chart that was titled, ‘Laborers,’ and had written ‘Number’ on the y axis and ‘Day’ on the x axis. He placed marks indicating 1 through 12 on the y axis and was filling in ten units for how many men they were using on the first day. “How many laborers will we need tomorrow?”
“I think some of the men acting as laborers today are really sawyers and foundation men so they will be coming off to do their jobs. But we could use as many as we could get to tear down the palace.”
“But demolishin’ th’rest of th’palace is not on th’critical path, Gwilym.” Fred pointed this out on the network diagram.
“You’re right, Fred! Why don’t we leave that work for filler work when our men are waiting around for something to do? That way they can focus on the critical path. What are you doing?”
“I’m seeing how many we need of each type of people each day so tha can see when tha need to send extras home and when tha need to bring more on board.”
“I like it!” exclaimed Gwilym. “Let’s fill it out.” They each took sheets of paper, titled with the various skill-sets and, using the network diagram and the calendar as a guide, filled out the resource requirements in what Gwilym called the resource histograms.
They noticed two things:
First, there were times that there was a greater need for a particular resource than they had. They indicated this by drawing a horizontal capacity line at the number of men they had on their crew with a particular skill. They chose not to do this on the laborer skill-set since they could add people there from other skills when they were not working.
Second, there were occasions when the need for a particular skill was far lower than the number of people they had with that skill. “These will be times of furlough,” said Gwilym. “The men wanted warnings of when they would be furloughed so that they can tend to their farms. This will work for that.”
“But what about times like these,” pointed out Fred, “when we have not enough carpenters?”
“First we have to see which activities put that demand on. If they are on the critical path, we can’t delay them but there may be some demand coming from activities off the critical path. If that is the cause, we can delay those activities and see what that does to the schedule.”
The two of them worked through that example and were able to put off some work which delayed another path of the plan and solved the carpenter resource problem. But now limited mason time caused another resource constraint. Plus it caused them to have to redo all the resource histograms; a lengthy and complicated process.
“Let’s see how the men are doing while we think about a better way to handle this problem,” suggested Gwilym.
The days grew warmer as summer advanced and Bleddyn, Jac and Llawen spent a lot of time on the beach, playing in the coarse, pebbly sand and shallows. One day there were hundreds of small, hard crescent-shaped jellyfish washed up on shore. Bleddyn experimented with the back of his hand to ensure that they did not sting then they all started throwing these at each other. They each built a deep hole in the sand that they called forts and stockpiled scores of jellyfish in each and fought a war.
Their shrieks brought out some of the neighborhood children who joined the battle, jumping in the holes and forming three warring armies. After they tired themselves out, they gathered wood and built a bonfire on the beach. They sat around it telling stories. Bleddyn related some of the adventures he had transcribed. The girl sitting next to him was excited with his tale, huddling against him at the scary parts, laughing out loud at the funny parts and crying when the story became tragic.
After supper, they all agreed to return here for more of Bleddyn’s stories. When Bleddyn asked his father for permission he was given a grilling. “Who are these children? How do you know them? Who are their parents?” He threatened to come with Bleddyn, but the boy begged his father and Gwilym, remembering his own youth, decided not to embarrass the child. “But come back home before 11. You know enough about the stars to know when that it, right?”
“Yes, Da. The moon should be up for an hour by then tonight.”
“Good! If you’re any later, I’ll come and get you.”
“What about us, Da?” asked the twins.
“Sorry lads, but you’re not old enough to be invited. When you’re older you can have gatherings like that.”
Bleddyn returned right after his supper. He crossed the river and then walked on the raised track to the dunes. Finding he was the first one there, he built up the fire and gathered wood for burning and logs for sitting on. Others joined him in this strenuous task. As night fell, Bleddyn started to relate the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. He held them all in thrall. He was thrilled whenever the girl at his side, Sunngifu, brushed against him, clutched his arm and once, rubbed against his side with her clothed breast.
Bleddyn finished his story and told the rest that he had to go. They laughed at him and called him a baby. He was embarrassed but covered his anxiety by saying, “Have you seen the size of my father? Would you want to go against his will?”
The boys all shuddered and acted scared. Bleddyn felt sick inside about this because his father had never threatened him, let alone hit him. He felt that he was giving the village children the wrong impression about his father. But it got him out of this situation so he let it go. Sunngifu said she should go too, so they walked together from the beach. Once out of the firelight, she reached for his hand.
“I like you, Bleddyn” she said. “You tell good stories and you are handsome. Will you kiss me?”
Bleddyn was mortified. She was a pretty girl but must have been at least 16. Bleddyn had never kissed a girl and had no idea how to go about it. He had seen his father and mother kiss before and had watched other children experiment but he was scared. Sunngifu was almost his height so he stopped and put his hands around her waist. He felt, for the first time, the way a girl’s sides narrow to the waist, then swell to her hips. He was fascinated by this and caressed her up and down a few times. She watched him for a few moments, then smiled and leaned her head close to his.
He looked up at her and saw the way she closed her eyes and was puckering her lips. He took a deep breath and, puckering his lips the way he would when kissing his mother, met her lips. The sensation was different from his mother’s kisses. His lips experienced a shock as if energy was shooting from her into him. He felt a stirring in his loins that made him want to run away and hide. But the pleasure he received from the kiss made him want more. He leaned back in for another kiss. He watched her eyes close and met her lips again. This time he was expecting the shock and reveled in it. He sucked her lips gently, but recoiled in fear as she opened her lips and touched his with her tongue. She laughed at him and asked, “How old are you, Bleddyn?”
“Thirteen,” he replied.
“Ach! I’m sorry. You’re so tall I thought you were old enough. Goodnight!” She laughed and ran off toward her home.
Bleddyn stood there with confused emotions. Living with his father and mother in large halls, he had seen lovemaking by the little light emanating from fires or moonlight. His body was reacting in such a way that he knew what he wanted to do with this girl. But he felt too young. He was tall and smart and often fooled people into thinking he was older than his years. Yet he knew that sex was something you did after you went through puberty and he was not there yet. On bathing with his father he had noted the hair Gwilym had in places he didn’t, showing his immaturity in exactly the place that was swollen with lust from touching the girl. As he walked home along the marsh track, he heard his father speaking in the near distance. “Is that you, son?”
“Aye, Da. Sorry I’m a little late.”
Gwilym had seen his son with the girl in the moonlight. The few shrubs in the marsh were low enough to allow an unobstructed view. At first he had wanted to rush in and interrupt but he hadn’t wished to embarrass the boy. It was difficult for Bleddyn, moving every year, being without a mother. So he watched and felt his son’s pain when the girl laughed and ran away. It’s time I had a talk with my son.
“Let’s take a walk, Bleddyn.”
Bleddyn broke into a cold sweat. Gwilym led his son along the river road.
“You’re growing tall, lad. How many feet high are you now?”
“That’s tall for a 13 year old. And by far the handsomest boy in this village.”
Bleddyn made a crooked smile.
“The girls, they mature earlier and start to notice you before you even start to think about these things.”
“What things, Da?”
“To be honest, Da. I’ve been thinking about mating for a while now.”
Gwilym turned his head to hide his smile, then grew serious.
“That’s natural, son. All living creatures think about mating. Sometimes it is the only thing their brain can do. Stags go wild in the spring to mate with deer. Horses mate in farms. Fish spread their eggs in the stream and wait for the males to spread their seed on top. Trees drop seeds from on high. The thing in life we have in common with every creature is the meaning of life.”
“What’s that, Da? What’s the meaning of life?”
“Reproduction. That’s all life comes down to in the end. For lots of creatures that can mean dropping seeds or spreading seed in the rivers and hoping that one of the thousands of little offspring makes it to adulthood. We humans are more complicated. We take years of nurturing to fill our brains with knowledge, to fill out our bodies with muscles and skills. Then we take on the world and command it. We have one baby at a time, sometimes two, and we spend fifteen years or more bringing that child to maturity before we let them fly the nest. There is so much to teach them. But it comes down to the same thing: Reproduction. We want to have children who have their own children and so on. ‘Go forth and multiply!’ as God said.”
“So I should mate?”
“No, son. Children should not mate. I am still raising you to be an adult. You still have things to learn. Rabbits might mate a few months after being born but humans take longer to mature. While you may be physically able to mate and your body is telling you that the time is right, there are still things you have to learn. Are you ready to raise a child?”
“What do you think comes of mating?”
“But it doesn’t happen every time. You and Ma did it every night and you only had Jac and Llawen.”
It was now Gwilym’s time to get embarrassed. Sleeping in the same hall with the children exposed them to this, but he had always assumed Bleddyn was asleep when he and Kaitlyn made love.
“That’s right, son. But you never know when God decides to gift you with a child. And the younger you are, the more likely it is that he gives that gift. The question is: What would you do if you and that girl mated and she became heavy with child?”
Bleddyn nodded. “How do you do it, Da? I’ve seen dogs and horses and cows and all, but they have four legs. You and Ma were always under the blanket. And you and Grainne–”
“What about me and Grainne?”
“I saw you, Da. At Beltane. On the tower.”
“Shit!” exclaimed Gwilym. He thought back to the scene, the almost full moon, her standing naked while he caressed her and ministered to her. They were in the center of the capstone so it would have been hard to see much from the ground. The copulation had taken place lying down. What had Bleddyn seen?
“Where were you son? I thought you were watching your brothers.”
“I was bored, and I went for a walk on the walls. I saw her out of the corner of my eye, flipping onto the roof. I didn’t mean to spy, but I couldn’t help it. The way she leapt out of the window and onto the roof. Better than even Jac could do it. And then I saw you take off her shift and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I’m sorry Da.”
“People need their privacy at times like that son. We don’t have our own rooms so you need to turn the other way.”
“I know, Da. I was wondering about you. What you were thinking. Ma has been dead almost four years. You must be getting lonely. And Miss Grainne, she saved our lives. And the twins want a mother. And I need a…” He broke down.
Gwilym hugged his son tight to him and let the boy cry his tears into his chest.
That night, Gwilym had an epiphany for his human resource problem. The next day, once the crew was working hard, he went back into the village and purchased some cheap, colored cloth and a pair of spring scissors.
He set about cutting this cloth into many small squares, each about an inch square. Then he took some paper and lined it like they had yesterday with axes showing dates on the x axis and number of people on the y axis. Each week on the x-axis and each half person on the y axis was one inch long. He made one for each skill. Then he called Fred in.
Gwilym explained his idea to Fred. “Each one of these colored squares indicates half a person of a particular skill working for a week.” He placed two on top of each other. “This represents a whole person working for a week. We place this on the chart and we can see what we need given the current schedule. Then, when we change the schedule, we move the pieces of cloth around to make sure we don’t overload our people.”
Fred’s eyes grew wide as he understood, and the two men worked together, placing squares, adjusting the schedule, moving squares, sometimes cutting them further down to indicate a quarter person on even vertically to indicate someone working for a day or two rather than for a week. Within a few hours they were done. They had reached a point where the schedule could be met without stretching resources anywhere. There were a few occasions when they would have to bring on some extra laborers and other occasions when work off the critical path would have to sit until there was a lull in other activities. But their schedule was doable now and the men would have plenty of warning when they could take time off the project and work their fields.
During dinner they stitched the cloth pieces to the paper. Then Fred redid the calendar and placed it on the wall where every member of the team could see it. As the crew left the job-site at the end of the day, Gwilym showed it to them. Each crew member followed their plan on the calendar and took note of the days they would be expected to leave the project.
“How good are you at predicting de future, Gwilym?” asked Tollemache.
“The schedule should be pretty accurate for the next few weeks. Then things will happen that will change the predictions but I will keep this calendar up-to-date. Keep checking back to see how things will change. If you have plans that cannot be changed due to your farm, it becomes my problem.”
The men nodded and walked off home. “What do tha call this tool, Gwilym?”
“Resource planning. No. There will be other plans we need for resources like stone and wood. How about Human Resource Plan? Yes. I like that. Are you putting it in your book?”
“Aye, Gwilym. The song was getting too hard to rhyme. Would you like to see it?”
Gwilym nodded and Fred showed him the book. He had a page in the front that titled all the tools and each page that followed described the tools in detail. So far, the title page had the following entries:
Project Management Plan
Work Breakdown Structure
Human Resource Plan
Gwilym smiled and shook his head. “Fourteen elements to planning a project! And I still think we’re missing some things. What else can you think of, Fred?”
“It would be nice to plan th’bad things that seem to happen on every project, th’things that always seem to go wrong.”
“I’m not sure if that’s possible, but it bears thinking about. What about the stakeholders? We identified them early and came up with a list of them. What are we going to do about them? How are we going to tell them about the project?”
“I like these matrixes. Why don’t I create one for this, too.”
Fred listed the stakeholders of this project on the x axis and the different communications on the y axis. Project plan, Calendar, Schedule, Budget. “What else, Gwilym?”
“We should have regular meetings with the team to see how things are going. Call them Status Meetings. We should put out Progress Reports for people like Sir Kay to see. He’ll also want reporting on budget.”
Fred’s Project Notebook
Status Meeting Minutes
Fred and Gwilym decided how often people would get information and placed notes at the intersection in the matrix. I for as issued, W for weekly, M for monthly, Q for Quarterly.
Fred added the Communications Plan to his Project Management Plan book and Gwilym followed the plan for all their project information.
In the middle of the summer, Fred sold his land to one of the wealthy British land owners who farmed on the inland side of the hills. He received triple what he had paid for it and he showed his profit to Gwilym. “Tha have had time to think on it. Will tha take half th’profit?”
“No Fred. The idea, the risk, the initiative and the money were all yours. You deserve the profit. I hope you make Heilin very happy in her new house.”
The tower was proceeding ahead of schedule so Gwilym decided to award the crew a two-week Christmas furlough. Fred took the opportunity to go home and visit his new wife. The boys looked up at their father at this news, but he shook his head. “No boys. It’s too dangerous for us to go there. But we don’t want to stay in this little village all Christmas do we?”
“No!” they all shouted.
“So we’re going south to visit Northwic, where we’ll be able to look over the old Roman settlement of Venta Icenorum. It’s a big town with lots to do.” He looked at Bleddyn, “Lots of scrolls to find.” Then at Llawen, “A big church.” Then at Jac, “Maybe even some knights.”
The boys all brightened up and prepared for the day next week when they would leave. Fred fussed over them traveling without him to manage the horses. “Now, if tha are going to Northwic, I can ride th’horses there and continue on to Huish th’next day. It’s on th’road. And I can pick tha up on my way back here.”
“Fred. There’s no need to be worried about us. Bleddyn can handle the horses.”
“Aye, but I’d feel better if I were with tha. I worry about tha.”
Gwilym smiled at his friend. “We’d love the company, Fred.”
Gwilym packed up some examples of the tile mosaic from the old palace to see if he could raise some extra money for the tower. The whole family was excited to see something new after almost seven months in this small village.
After a day’s riding, they crossed the river into the walled city. Northwic was built entirely in the Saxon style. Bleddyn was accustomed to the rectangular buildings by now and remarked to his father how well they fit together in this densely built town. Some of the buildings shared side walls and were able to lean their front walls precariously out into the street due to their stability on the sides.
The day after they arrived in Northwic, Fred trotted off to Huish, promising to return in 12 days and leave from this inn in the morning. Gwilym and his sons explored the city. They visited the stores, buying treats they couldn’t find in Salthouse.
People in Northwic ranged in look from Roman to British to Saxon but the latter predominated. These townsfolk, like those in Salthouse, were used to bartering goods so it took some time to establish the worth of the silver pieces King Arthur had provided.
There were two purveyors of luxury items and Gwilym visited these to see who might be interested in the mosaic. The second place he went into was operated by a tall, skinny man with a receding hairline. He appraised Gwilym and asked to see what the man had to sell or trade. Gwilym showed the man the tile and gave its provenance. The man was interested.
“I can’t buy it outright, because I used the last of my gold to buy some valuable jewelry. I would be interested in trading with you for jewelry.”
Gwilym was dubious and started to walk out, but the man stopped him. “You have to see this stuff. It’s remarkable. And since you like old things, you might be interested.” He went into the back store-room and returned with a heavy box. He opened the lid and showed off what was displayed on the black cloth inside.
Gwilym whistled. “That’s an old torc. Where did you get it?”
The man was excited. “Two days past a man came into town selling these. They’re pure gold and he was willing to sell them at the price of the gold. He didn’t realize that these are not only worth jewelry prices but that they are a thousand years old and made for Celtic royalty. I wish I had more money or I would have bought the whole lot. He had many more!” He was rubbing his hands together in excitement.
Gwilym frowned. “Where did the man get them?”
“He said that the frost had pushed them up out of his fields. Like stones that always come to the surface during the winter as if they had been planted there.”
“I’m guessing he didn’t look much like a farmer, though.”
The man thought for a second and then returned with, “No. Come to think of it, he looked more like a trader, or a craftsman.” The man’s face grew pale and he inspected the torc. “No. It’s genuine. Pure gold, ancient design, you can even see the axe mark here where it was intentionally damaged.”
“What’s that?” asked Gwilym.
“Here. See this wedge-shaped nick on the surface. At first I was upset that someone had damaged it retrieving it, maybe the farmer shoveling it up out of his dirt. But I’ve been reading some old scrolls about the Celts and it says they did it on purpose. When they buried the gold with their dead king to ensure a good harvest, they hit the torcs first with axes as part of the ceremony.”
“So you’ve been dealing with a grave-robber?”
“Profitably I can tell you. This torc is worth at least 100 times what I paid for it. I need to take it to Londinium or Caerleon to find the right buyer.”
Gwilym had a sudden thought and turned back to the man. “Did the man who sold you the torc come from the West country?” On receiving a nod in reply he went on. “Was he short, with bandy legs? Did he have dark hair and beady eyes?” Each time he received a nod in reply. The owner was getting nervous. “What did he say his name was?”
The owner avoided Gwilym’s eyes and said, “Ratna. But I don’t think that was his real name. He took too long to say it.”
Gwilym sighed. “I fear you’ve made a bad trade. This Ratna is not an honest man. I know him as Tarrant and Ranta. Everywhere I’ve run across him he has stolen and murdered and cheated people. He is headed for the gallows if I or any of the king’s men catch him.”
The man grew fearful again and examined his torc again, scratching at the nick with is fingernail.
“The torc is genuine,” said Gwilym. “I’ve no doubt of that. But it was stolen out of the grave of a Celtic King. It was buried with great ceremony and magic. They did that to ensure good harvests for the future. Grave-robbers were severely punished, because their greed resulted in tribe starvation.”
“Well that’s just superstitious nonsense.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of magic. I’ve seen some things in my time that cannot be explained by anything but magic. If the robbery of this gold causes bad harvests in this town, you’ve made a poor bargain. Your gain in gold will be nothing compared to the loss in life caused by years of bad harvests in this region. You will be affected if your customers are all dead or broke. Those Celts knew what they were doing. They valued gold but the investment it represented in terms of bountiful harvests was a good one. You know the story about the goose who laid the golden eggs? You just killed the goose to get that last egg out.”
Gwilym took his boys out to the remains of the Roman settlement. Jac and Llawen were content to jump from one rock to another or to walk along the walls, trying to maintain their balance. Gwilym showed Bleddyn what the town would have looked like 100 years ago. The palace, barracks, baths, marketplace, and temples. Under the palace, they saw evidence of recent digging which brought Gwilym’s mind back to what Tarrant had been doing in Northwic. Inspecting this, they saw that the diggings went down a few feet and stopped. It was unlikely anything had been taken from here.
They spent the next week enjoying the town. They visited the church and found the singing was almost as good as that of the Cambrian churches they had enjoyed in previous years. The Mass was said in Latin so the whole family could enjoy it.
When the weather was clear, they took long walks into the countryside. There were some old Roman villas in this area that were occupied by prosperous merchants or landowners. The family would visit and Gwilym would show off the mosaic. They found a buyer who was willing to give them gold for the mosaic, allowing Gwilym to pay off any debts he might incur for the tower overruns.
As they left this villa, Gwilym noticed something unusual in their surroundings. This area was almost completely flat but, in the fields surrounding this villa rose a symmetrical, dome-shaped hill.
He set off across the harvested fields to the hill, finding it abutting the surrounding forest. The boys were excited by the prospect of climbing something so they ran ahead. Gwilym and Bleddyn walked behind until, sensing some danger, Gwilym urged Bleddyn on and raced to the hill, arriving at the top just as Jac and Llawen did. He asked them to be quiet as he explored the hill. It was about 200 feet across and 20 feet high. Looking around at the surrounding countryside he could see nothing like it. There were a few hills around but they looked natural. The dimensions of this hill were too perfect to be made by nature. On top, the boys were climbing up and jumping off a large stone that looked like a fallen, square pillar. Gwilym saw that at one end of the pillar, in the exact center of the hill was a large flat stone. Gwilym surmised that the pillar used to sit on the flat stone.
Gwilym walked around the lower parts of the hill and noticed something out of the ordinary. While the hill appeared unbreached, there was a worn path leading from a lower section into the woods. Following this path, Gwilym found a huge pile of dirt and rocks that had been recently deposited here. Kicking the top of the pile, Gwilym saw that dust filtered through the rough pile of stones, indicating that it hadn’t rained since the last deposit. He remembered rain five days ago.
He followed the path back to the hill and saw where it ended. The hill was covered in rough grass, trimmed by the farmer’s sheep in the summer. Feeling around, he discovered a rope hidden in the grass. He pulled on the rope and a 3 foot-wide square of sod lifted up. The sod was supported by a board that fit over a tunnel leading into the hill. Gwilym carefully returned this to its original state, and then went back up to the top of the hill to talk to his boys. Bleddyn gave him a curious look but asked nothing.
“Let’s go back to town, lads. We’ve got to get ready for Fred. He comes tomorrow night and we’ll leave with him the next day. Any last shopping we need to do before we return to Salthouse?”
“Yes, Da! We need more taffy!” shouted Llawen, always the one with a sweet tooth.
There was a series of lions running around the edge of the urn. The couch was heavy and had intricate Celtic designs carved into the back. He sat down on it. Gwilym started at a slight scrape from the other entrance to this room. A man came into the light of Gwilym’s torch. Tarrant was pointing a crossbow right at him. Gwilym’s eyes went immediately to the torch he had wedged into the wheels of the wagon. With the light out, Tarrant would lose his advantage with the crossbow, and he could take him in the dark. But Tarrant saw the look and moved next to the torch.
After dinner, Gwilym handed Bleddyn some silver and gave the boys a series of errands to run that would keep them busy. “I’ll see you back here for supper,” he said as he left, armed with rope, torches and a long dagger. “Where are you going, Da?” asked Jac.
“I have to talk with that man who owns the villa we visited this morning,” he replied on his way out. The mound looked much as he’d left it. He lit a torch and stuck the unlit end in the ground at his feet. He found the rope again and pulled the piece of sod out of the ground. No light emanated from the hole.
Thrusting his torch inside, he saw a rough-hewn tunnel, about 3 feet tall, leading into the hill. He looked around one last time, and then crawled in. The tunnel was cut out of dirt and rock, and looked unsafe. But he was too curious to stop exploring. Was this the source of the golden torc I saw earlier this week?
After crawling for about 60 feet, the tunnel opened up into a wide space. The last few feet of the tunnel walls were made up of large rocks. He was happy to enter this open area and stretch his limbs.
The room was about ten foot square, lined with rocks and with wide wooden planks holding up the ceiling. Placed against the far wall was a long bronze couch. Next to that, a large bronze urn, about three feet tall, with some design running around the top edge. Along the wall next to him was a bronze wagon, about five feet long, with a flat wooden top. There was another tunnel opening in the far wall next to the couch.
The ceiling was a few inches over his head but, as he looked closer, he noted that this was not the original ceiling of the room. Planks had been roughly sawn away to remove the original ceiling, which lay only a foot above the top of the couch. Another ceiling about two feet above this had also been sawn away. Between each ceiling was a layer of large rocks. Gwilym entered the room and examined the objects.
“Well, well. If it isn’t my old friend Gwilym. Don’t think about the torch, you’ll be dead before you reach it.”
“Do you think one crossbow bolt will stop me? It will hurt but then you’ll be dead. I’ll squeeze the life out of you with one hand.”
“Gwilym! Always the brute. You’ve never had a brain to use so you always have to rely on your giant strength. But I have a plan. I use my brain. I’m not stupid. Come in boys!”
Two other men entered the room, each with a loaded crossbow. The room was crowded now.
“You brought a rope! How convenient. Tie him up to that couch, Brendan. And don’t spare him any pain. He’s strong, you see. Strong, but stupid.”
One of Tarrant’s henchmen tied Gwilym’s hands together behind him and then around the back and under the couch and around his ankles. He secured both his hands and ankles to the couch, then looped the remainder around his neck and back to the couch. Gwilym’s hands were losing their feeling. He had tried to keep them clenched so that he would be able to slip them out when the man was done tying him but Brendan had responded to that by tying them tighter, then looping rope around the initial loops between his hands, cutting off his circulation.
The whole time, Tarrant and the other man were pointing their loaded crossbows at Gwilym’s head and chest, precluding any escape attempts. When Brendan stepped away, Gwilym tried to flex his muscles to rid himself of the knots but he soon discovered there was no hope.
“What now, boss?” asked the other man.
“Go back to your job. I think we’re almost through to the next chamber.” The men walked back through the other entrance. After a few minutes, Gwilym heard them digging. The whole time, Tarrant stared at Gwilym. Gwilym’s mind was working fast. He was completely under Tarrant’s power. He had been in situations before that looked bleak and he had always found that time helped the person who was in the worst situation. Things rarely became worse. He had to buy as much time as possible.
“So, dummy. Have you figured out yet why you’re not dead?”
That was the third time Tarrant had said he was smart and I’m dumb. Why is that so important to him? He must have some deep-seated fears about his own intelligence to keep bringing it up. I must use that.
He knew why he was being kept alive and helpless by Tarrant. Tarrant worked for Palomides. Palomides wanted his book and so he wanted Gwilym alive. If Tarrant could torture the information out of him, then Gwilym could be killed. He needed to be prepared to tell Tarrant a lie that would lead him to be caught by someone. For that he needed time. Let’s live up to Tarrant’s wishes and act dumb.
“Because you want to make me die slowly. You like causing pain.” Gwilym glanced down at his injured leg.
“Ha!” said Tarrant. “Such an idiot! I will cause you pain, but I’ll do it for a reason. I’ll do it until you tell me what I want to know. Do you understand?”
Again Gwilym glanced down at his injured leg, lingering on the lower part, below the old break, before looking up again to meet Tarrant’s eye.
Tarrant’s smile grew from his sneer and he asked Gwilym, “What is the most sensitive part of your body?”
Gwilym’s eyes flicked to his lower leg and then back to Tarrant’s eyes. “My back, Tarrant. I was whipped in
Lebanon once and my back is the most painful.”
“Really?” Tarrant stepped forward, standing in front of Gwilym. “More painful than your leg?” As he said the last word, Gwilym watched him poke his boot into the bone of his calf. As soon as contact was made, Gwilym flinched, contracted all his muscles and let out an unearthly scream. He shuddered and gasped breath back into his lungs.
“I have a hard time believing your back is that painful. I would think you would have flinched from being tied to the couch.” Again he poked Gwilym’s leg with the same result. “I remember this leg. Last time I saw it, a bone was sticking out of it. That must have hurt, huh? Wasn’t that bone sticking out right about here?” He gave Gwilym a vicious kick right where the skin had been broken through and Gwilym almost lifted the couch in his muscle flinch, his screams filling the small chamber. The digging sounds had stopped. Tarrant yelled for them to continue working.
“What…do…you…want?” choked out Gwilym. Tears forced out of his eyes.
“What do I want? Revenge for one thing. You’ve cost me so much. First my job!” At that word he kicked Gwilym hard in the shin, resulting in the flinch, the muscle clench, the scream, and the sweat to stand out on Gwilym’s face. “Then my little scam!” Another kick, another scream. “Then my gambling winnings!” Same thing. “Then my lucky dice!” Again. “And now I’m a wanted man, hiding from the king’s men.” When Gwilym was kicked this time, he made a choking sound, his eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped against his ropes.
Tarrant stopped, then kicked him again. This time there was no response. He pulled an eyelid open and saw the whites of Gwilym’s eyes. He put his hand on Gwilym’s chest and felt his victim’s shallow breathing. “Damn!” he muttered. He checked Gwilym’s knots and then moved down the passage to join his men.
Stupid am I? Tarrant had fallen for the bait Gwilym gave him by looking at the one part of his body that was practically immune to pain. Since his leg had healed he had found that he had almost no feeling below where the bone had protruded. This had caused him a lot of problems in the past like stumbling from having no feeling in his foot or coming home with blood streaming down his leg from an injury at work he hadn’t felt at the time. But it had helped him now. He had seen torture and knew how to react. The hard part was behaving like the pain had caused him to pass out. Fortunately his acting had been good enough to fool Tarrant. He had bought himself some time.
He heard the men come back. One at a time, they passed by him grunting with exertion as they passed through the burial chamber and down the tunnel. Then they returned, moving easier. They must be emptying containers of dirt from the other passage. Is there another chamber?
Gwilym slouched, held up by the ropes, drooling saliva down his chin and breathing as shallow as possible. Every so often, one of the men, probably Tarrant, opened one of his eyes so he kept them staring straight up under his lids. The digging went on. Gwilym relied on his sense of hearing to determine what was happening. Two men were carrying the dirt away while one dug at the end of the other passage. After what must have been hours, Gwilym heard a commotion and the men all converged at the end of the new passage. He couldn’t make out their words but he knew something interesting had occurred.
About quarter of an hour later, one of the henchmen, Gwilym could recognize their footsteps by now, walked past Gwilym and crawled down the tunnel with a load of dirt. He didn’t return in the usual amount of time. Why? The same thought must have occurred to Tarrant and the other man, because they came into the chamber and called down the tunnel to Brendan.
“Comin’!” they heard, but Gwilym knew it wasn’t Brendan’s voice. Not that he knew Brendan’s voice. But he did know Fred’s voice, even when disguised.
Tarrant was not fooled. He and the other henchman snatched up the crossbows from the wagon and backed up to the entrance of the passage. Gwilym slowly opened his eyes to a small slit. He could see down the tunnel, the hair of a man lurching forward. Cutting his eyes to the passage he could see that both men were aiming their crossbows directly at this head. Fred was doomed.
“They have crossbows!” yelled Gwilym, in an attempt to save his friend. One crossbow twanged and the bolt flew forward, sticking directly into the top of the skull. One more time the head moved forward, into the light of the chamber, blood leaking out of the downward facing mouth. The other crossbow twanged and the second bolt imbedded itself next to the first.
The man fell flat on the ground of the chamber. The face turned sideways and relief rushed through Gwilym as he saw the face of Brendan, not Fred at all. The man was missing an arm.
Then Gwilym saw Fred rushing out of the tunnel over the dead man, wielding an axe. Tarrant pushed his other henchman in front of him as he scooted down the other passage. The henchman dropped his crossbow, useless now that the bolt had been fired and picked up a shovel to defend himself. The two men grappled and swung short strokes in these tight quarters, neither getting any advantage over the other. Then Gwilym saw Bleddyn pushing past the dead body and stepping over to him. “Da!” he cried. He pulled a knife from his belt and started working on Gwilym’s knots. “Hurry!” yelled Gwilym, helpless as Fred fought for his life.
As Bleddyn cut the ropes away, Gwilym saw that the henchman’s fighting experience was winning over Fred’s better strength and weapon. Fred was wearing down from hard strokes with the handle of the spade, undefended when Fred concentrated on the sharp metal end.
Gwilym’s head and feet were loose so he stood up to try and help Fred in the fight. Bleddyn was still cutting away the ropes binding his hands when, seeing an opening, Gwilym kicked out at the henchman’s knee and crumpled it backwards. The man screamed and reached down for his knee as it bent the wrong way, and he fell to the side. Fred swung the axe, cutting through the man’s neck and deep into his spine. Blood spurted all over the chamber.
Bleddyn cut the last of the cords binding Gwilym’s hands. As blood rushed into the tissues, incredible pain accompanied it, and Gwilym had to sit down. “Wait for me Fred and we’ll get Tarrant together. He’s gone into the other chamber.”“No Gwilym! He’s gone out th’other way. There’s another hole in this hill. I saw it open as I came near. Light came out of th’hill. We’ve got to go after him!”
“Shit!” exclaimed Gwilym and he crawled after Fred down the passage. It ran straight for about a hundred feet, and then opened into a hole that led outside. The two men squeezed through this hole and heard the sounds of hoof-beats in the distance. “Did you bring your horse, Fred?”
Fred looked downcast. “I brought Bleddyn. I didn’t think about th’horse. I’m sorry, Gwilym!”
“It’s all right, man. You saved my life. You’re back early. What happened? And you, son. How did you know where I was? And how did you make Brendan crawl down the tunnel?”
“I’ll tell you all about it as we walk back to town. Your sons are worried about you.”
They walked back, Gwilym rubbing his wrists and hands, getting his circulation back.
“I came back because I have news about Palomides. I’ll tell tha about that later. Bleddyn told me tha would be back for supper, but tha didn’t return and we grew worried. He told me what he thought tha were doing so we came to see. When we came close to th’mound we saw a light appear on th’side. That mun have been them breakin’ through. We saw th’men working in th’passage. So we went around to where Bleddyn said he saw th’openin’ of a hole into th’hill. There we saw another light and a man comin’ through. I tried to ask him where you were but he fought me. Bleddyn threw a rock that stunned him and I took off his arm. He bled a lot and died trying to get back in to th’tunnel. I didn’t like walkin’ through that tunnel into th’unknown so I pushed him in front of me. Turned out to be a good idea.”
Gwilym turned toward the villa. “Where are you going, Da?” asked Bleddyn
“We should let the owner know what rests on his land.”
They woke the man and told him all about the grave, the robbery, and the dead men. The owner seemed excited. “Is there more treasure there?”
“The gold has all been removed, along with the skeleton of the man buried there. But there is a thousand year old bronze couch and wagon. Also a bronze urn.”
The man’s face dropped in disappointment. “Bronze,” he sighed.
Gwilym touched the man’s arm and looked met his gaze. “This grave robbery is a serious offense to you. You own a lot of farms, right?”
The man nodded agreement.
“Disturbing the final resting place of these old chieftains is bad for crops. It would be a prudent investment to get back the treasures, especially the body, and return them to the grave.”
“I’ll put the body back if I can find it but if you think I’m going to invest my gold by burying it in the earth, you’re a mad fool!”
Gwilym shrugged, wished the man luck and took his leave. Fred and Bleddyn were silent on the way out. Bleddyn asked his father, “Do you really believe that disturbing an old British burial place will cause bad crops, Da?”
Gwilym brightened. “So you recognized it was old British?”
“Sure, Da. All the decorations on the couch had old British designs. Plus you’ve taught me about their burial mounds. But what about the crops?”
“I don’t know, son. I’ve seen a lot of things I can’t explain, including you and your brothers disappearing and reappearing in a forest because of some spell. These old British have powers. If it were me who owned all that land, I’d make the investment. Maybe I’m just superstitious.”
They walked on for a while until Gwilym remembered something, “Why did you return early Fred? What did you say about Palomides?”
Fred slapped his forehead. “He came to Huish, he gave us all these coins.” Fred fished around in his belt as he continued. “They have thy face on th’one side and thy tools and name on th’other. They’re made of bronze, but he told us that he would give us a gold one if we led him to tha. Here it is.”
Fred handed Gwilym a large coin. It was bigger and heavier than any in circulation. Gwilym held it up to see it, but the new moon made it difficult. Gwilym lit a torch and stared at it. There was a remarkable likeness of himself on the head side. On the back were the hammer and trowel of a mason plus the saw and square of a carpenter. Printed on the bottom was the name ‘Gwilym’.
“Well! Now he’s resorted to bribing the countryside to find me. I think it’s time I took up the scimitar again. I had hoped those days were behind me. What else have you heard about him?”
“He’s a knight errant. He’s not a member of King Arthur’s companions although they talk of him. He is well respected because he does well at jousts but he makes some un-knightly moves. Avoiding th’lance at a joust and beheadin’ those who ask mercy. The other knights think it’s just because he is unchristened and they offer to baptize him.”
“And how does he respond?”
“He says that he has to win seven jousts before he considers himself worthy to be baptized. He did pretty well at the joust of Mary, two days ago. But he was bested by Tristam and he was so angry. It was funny to watch his temper tantrum.”
“That’s a new name, Tristam. Who is he?”
“A new knight and a favorite of th’ladies. Very handsome. Comes from Cornwall. Nephew of King Mark who rules down there.”
The trio arrived back at the inn and settled in for a night’s sleep.
The next morning they set out for Salthouse, arriving a day ahead of schedule. On settling back into their lodgings, Gwilym stopped Fred for a minute. “I’ve been so concerned about myself I forgot to ask about you. How is Heilin?”
Fred gave a broad smile. “Pregnant. Huge with child. I’m to be a father in th’spring!”
“That’s wonderful, Fred! Congratulations! This will be a new life for you! You are going to be the greatest father! I’ve seen you with my boys. Let me buy you a drink to celebrate.”
They walked into the inn where half the crew was assembled. “Join me for a drink to the newest father on our crew! Fred will have a child in the spring!”
The men cheered and took turns slapping his back, shaking his hand and telling various funny and scary stories about being a father.
When the men had settled down, Gwilym asked Fred for details. “Did you buy a farm with your money?”
“Aye. I bought old Fane’s land now that his mind is gone and he’s livin’ with his daughter. Got a fair price for it too. We’re using some of th’money to fix up th’old farmhouse. It needs a new thatch and another layer of mud on th’walls. Heilin loves it. She’s fixing it up now for th’wain.”
“That’s great Fred. You’ll make a success of it I’m sure. What will you plant this spring?”
“I’m plantin’ wheat. But I’ll get some cows and sheep too, for milk and wool. Heilin’s always busy so I’ll dig her a vegetable garden to tend. Umm… Gwilym…I’ve been meanin’ to ask you…”
“If you can go home in time for the baby, and to plant your crops?”
Fred’s face dropped. “All right.”
Gwilym smiled and waited for Fred to raise his eyes to look at him. “Why are tha smilin’, Gwilym?” His expression was that of a beaten cur.
“Can you not think of why you’re obligated to stay until the end of the project?”
“No. I thought it were goin’ pretty well. We are ahead of schedule. You got money for th’mosaic so we’re under budget. Everythin’ is bein’ built just th’way we planned. Tha don’t need me anymore.”
“Did you forget what you asked me on the day you arrived in Salthouse?”
Fred’s brow furrowed. Then his face cleared and a smile broke out to match Gwilym’s. “I owe you some of my pay! I took out th’whole season’s pay to buy th’fields. Aye! Here you go, Gwilym.”
Fred fished out a pouch and counted out a large sum of money. He handed this to Gwilym. “That’s too much, Fred. You only owe me wages from March to May. You’ve given me six month’s salary.”
“Aye. But I tripled my money so it’s only fair you get back triple.”
“No, Fred. The books won’t work out if you do that. I’ll take back only two months of your pay. Use the rest to buy something nice for your baby.”
Two weeks later, when the crew had departed and the family was getting ready for supper, Gwilym went to his scroll case and pressed something on the inside, releasing a flap on the bottom. Gwilym turned the box on its side so that the flap was facing up. The boys gathered around. The secret compartment was filled with a lustrous, black cloth. Gwilym removed the cloth and unwrapped the object covered by it. Inside was a long scimitar. The handle was gold coated and inscribed with Arabic script. The blade was curved silver with lettering running along the center.
“Wow!” breathed Jac.
“Can I touch it?” asked Llawen.
Gwilym lifted it by the hilt and, moving outside the circle of boys, swung it around a few times to test the weight. His muscle memory returned and he practiced a few strokes. Then he returned it to the cloth.
“This is a dangerous weapon, boys. The blade is sharp. It will take a man’s head off with a single stroke.”
Jac reached out and touched the concave edge of the blade. Gwilym was prepared to stop him if he got too close to the sharp edge but withheld his hand when he saw the target of the boy’s touch. “It’s not sharp at all, Da.”
“This isn’t a sickle, son. The sharp edge is the other side and I’ll ask you to keep your fingers far from there.”
Bleddyn looked curious. “But why is that the sharp edge, Da? Wouldn’t it just slip off a man if you were trying to cut him? It would be better if you sharpened the other side so it worked like a sickle. Or made it straight like a sword and had both sides sharp.”
Gwilym wrapped the scimitar back up and placed it back in the box. “I’ll show you why at supper, son.”
Later, as they ate at the tavern, Gwilym took a piece of meat from the stew and placed it on the board resting between their knees. “Bleddyn. How would you cut this meat?”
Bleddyn held the meat with his fingers and sliced through it with his knife. He looked up at his dad.
“Now cut at it as if your knife was a sword and that was the neck of your enemy.” Bleddyn looked confused. Gwilym picked up his knife and swung it in arcs at the piece of meat, pushing straight down each time with the sharp edge, rather than slicing. Bleddyn and his brothers all swung their knives at the meat, damaging it but not cutting straight through it. Often it stuck to the knife and had to be knocked back off.
“Do you see now why the scimitar is shaped that way? When you swing it at your foe, and it hits him, the continuation of your swing will pull the weapon along the wound, slicing it rather than trying to dig straight into the body. That’s the advantage of the scimitar. And it never,” he held Llawen’s wrist with his knife stuck in the piece of meat, “sticks in the body of your opponent. That leaves you helpless to a counterattack.”
“If the sharp edge were on the inside curve, like a sickle, it would be even worse. The blade would never slice, and you would always stick to the wound.”
Bleddyn asked, “But your scimitar has only one sharp edge. So you can’t strike both ways. Isn’t that a disadvantage?”
“Aye, somewhat. But you learn different moves and use your wrists and elbows more than a British swordsman does. I’ll show you after we eat.”
He took his boys out to the beach. The moon was full. The night was clear, though cold. The boys were bundled in clothes and blankets, but Gwilym was wearing little. He directed them to stay behind a line he scraped in the sand with his heel. He held the scimitar, and then started making moves with his feet, hips, and arms. He seemed to be tracing slow, deliberate dance steps, each one ending with a swing or two from his scimitar. His moves became more and more complex, until he seemed to be swinging at four imaginary opponents surrounding him.
He took a deep breath then erupted into a whirl of legs and arms. After about twenty seconds of this, Bleddyn could make out the patterns his father was making to be the patterns he was doing earlier, but now at a speed that seemed ten times as fast.
Gwilym stopped and raised his scimitar over his head, stretching his chest and rasping air into his lungs. His chest was heaving and his boys saw the muscles on his arms and legs twitching on their own. After about five minutes Gwilym’s breathing returned to normal. He went through the set of rapid motions two more times, stopping for breath each time.
Then, covered in sweat, he handed his scimitar to Bleddyn, took his younger boys’ hands in his and walked back to the village. The boys were full of questions and they talked over each other, not waiting for the answers.
“Where did you get the scimitar?”
“Were you ever in a war?”
“How did you learn those moves?”
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
“Did you take the scimitar from a fallen enemy?”
When the questioning stopped and the boys paused to get answers, Gwilym sat down on one of the dunes and gathered his boys around him. “Boys, I want you to listen to me. War is a horrible thing. Killing a man takes something from you. The only thing worse than killing a man, is seeing that man kill your friends. There is nothing honorable about a battle. While a war may have honorable intentions, like protecting your family from invaders, battles are a terrible thing to behold. With arrows and rocks raining down on you it is a random mess. Your friends are killed right next to you and you don’t know who did it.”
“Then one of the enemies comes close. At first you hate him because he killed your friend. But he wasn’t the one. And you see his face and he is human, just like you. And he’s scared. But then he tries to kill you, and you realize that you can’t act human. It’s kill or be killed and keep doing that until you win the field or run from the field or die or get injured and dragged from the field or be left there moaning in agony until someone comes to rescue you or finish you off. There’s no humanity on the field of battle.”
“I was in the
Holy Land during times of war. I was pulled into the army and taught the ways of war. I was given weapons and armor and joined in battles. I was on the winning side and the losing side. I was injured. I killed men. I saw many good friends die or become horribly wounded. I took this scimitar off an enemy chieftain that I had just killed. His scimitar was better than mine and I needed it. Mine had a big nick in it from his spine as I beheaded him. I was soaked in his blood and had to wipe my eyes clear of it to find his weapon. I needed it to protect me from his men. It is made of better iron and showed no damage as I killed three more men with it. We won the field that day and gathered much loot. But I also lost my best friend in that battle, and I gave all but the scimitar to his widow.”
“I will be practicing with this scimitar because I fear that Palomides will come again and I need to be ready for him. I’ll tell you no more about war until you are about to enter one so please don’t ask me any more questions. Can you abide by that?”
The boys all nodded and they walked together back to their lodgings. Every night, after supper, Gwilym practiced with his scimitar. Before long he had attracted the notice of the villagers and many started to line the dunes to watch his performance.
January snows and spring thaws caused a lot of delays to the tower building and Gwilym became concerned that he had given the men so much good building time off around Christmas. The men were in high spirits, however, and they pushed through each delay. Gwilym was able to use the extra money earned from selling the mosaic to buy the supplies and extra manpower he needed to push through the delays. Fred left two weeks before his child was due.
As Beltane approached, Gwilym spent some of his spare time scouring the countryside for the capstone for this tower. He knew that it would be placed so that the design pointed back to Huish. But where was it? In Huish it had appeared next to the tower through the use of some magic. He suspected Merlin. At Airmyn it was lying under all the supplies as if it had been purchased for the job. In Londinium, the capstone was already in place and just had to be removed and replaced on the rebuilt tower. And in Caernarfon he had sat on it after capturing the prince. What was the pattern?
He knew there was magic involved. His hair had stood on end at the appearance of the first stone. He recognized that he needed to leave this activity to Merlin and Grainne to accomplish, even though he had taken responsibility for it on the Network Diagram.
Two days before Beltane and all was ready but the cap-stone. The crew all gathered around Gwilym looking expectant. They had cleaned every last part of the tower and grounds, built the road and tidied up the remains of the palace. Gwilym could think of nothing else to keep them busy. Tollemache asked the obvious question. “Vere is de capstone, Gvilym?”
“The capstone is being delivered by two friends of mine who will arrive in the next two days. When it comes, we will gather together, pull it into place and the tower will be finished. Until then, you are all on
The men cheered and ran to the tavern. “But stay close so I can call you when the stone arrives!” Gwilym shouted.
Gwilym found himself walking down the road heading to the south, the direction from which he expected Merlin and Grainne to come. He was surprised to find his excitement rising. He tried to tell himself it was because he was nervous about the stone but he knew, deep in his heart, that he missed Grainne. She had infuriated him at their last meeting, calling on the Goddess to make him venerate her. Yet he missed her and found he could forgive her this act.
He felt a strange aching on the inside of his arms. The last time he had felt this was when he had realized he had fallen in love with Kaitlyn. The only thing that removed that ache was to hold her in his arms, her body fitting against that place in his arms. This time he felt it in his chest also, an emptiness where Grainne belonged.
But how can that be? I hardly know her. This relationship was completely upside down. Their meetings had been all in the wrong order. The first time she was the mother, had nursed me back to health while I lay unconscious. The second time she was the death-crone, telling me about my dead wife. Then she was the maiden, seducing me on the rune capstone of the first tower. The same thing happened again at Airmyn and Londinium although I managed to snatch a brief conversation with her: a conversation that turned into a serious religious argument. Then she had saved my children’s lives when I needed her the most. Then another sexual encounter on a capstone. What kind of a basis was this for love?
He compared this to his first love, Kaitlyn. He had seen her first walking through the warrens of
Jerusalem in a group of foreigners. He had been captured by her dark looks, her haunted eyes and then, that smile. All the people surrounding her reacted to her smile. Gwilym saw that they all loved her. They were old and young, man and woman, but they all were drawn to her like bees to the honey cakes in the market. Gwilym followed the group, tying to see more of her.
Following close enough to hear their words, he recognized some Cambrian words his father had taught him when he was a boy. Gwilym’s mother was Cambrian. Short and dark, with milky white skin and full red lips. Gwilym had asked his father why he had left his mother. And one night, Willem had told his son everything he would ever say about her. “I met her in
Glastonbury, on my search for Joseph’s Gospel. You were a child of the Beltane fires. While she loved you, her duties meant that she had to foster you out. She sent you to me.”
Gwilym had imagined his mother since then but this was the first time he had seen someone whose looks fit his image. Of course, this girl was too young, younger than Gwilym, even. But she had captured his heart in an instant with that smile and he had to talk with her.
He offered his assistance to the group, telling them he spoke their language and knew all the Holy Sites. He was careful to address the oldest man in the group but he watched Kaitlyn out of the corner of his eye. On seeing him, she shrunk back and covered her mouth, not quickly enough to stifle the slight scream. Gwilym was astonished and looked back at the leader of this group for an explanation.
“It’s not your fault, son,” he said in the lilting style of the Cambrian. “She fears you because you look like the men who plundered her town and murdered her family.”
Gwilym’s heart had sunk at this, seeing the fear he had caused and regretting the consternation he had put on her face. He regretted most of all the loss of that smile. He pointed the leader in the direction of the Temple wall, bowed his head and walked off. But he could not forget her so he followed the group at a discrete distance.
He made a fool of himself for the next three days, walking past the group for a brief glimpse of her, then circling through the back streets at a run to walk past them again. He would wander past them as they toured the mount of Calvary, the
, Herod’s palace. Each time he would try to see her without her seeing him. The other members of the group figured out what he was doing and would laugh amongst themselves whenever he made an appearance. He overheard one say to the girl, “Kaitlyn, that Saxon has fallen for you.” So her name was Kaitlyn; lovely. Garden of Gethsemene
On the third day a miracle happened. They were walking by the tomb from which Jesus had been raised and he was making his third pass by the group. Kaitlyn reached out her hand and stopped him. “I’m not scared of you anymore. You can stop running past me. Tell me your name.”
They talked then, and Gwilym showed the group around the city, to the places he loved, the honest traders, the secret pools and gardens, the tall towers and cool churches. He used the knowledge his father had given him to have them walk in Jesus’ footsteps, from His teaching in the temple to His triumphant entrance to His crucifixion. He knew his craft well, having done it many times in the past for money. This time he refused all payment.
They told him that they were going from here to see the rest of the Holy Sites and Gwilym offered to accompany them as their guide. They agreed and he toured with them for three months, from the Cedars of Lebanon to the Pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he learned all about the beautiful Kaitlyn’s tragic story.
She had been hiding in the forest with the children, old men and women when Saxon warriors had attacked their village. She had climbed a tree and watched as they defeated the men and looted the town. Then a group had charged the forest and overtook the frightened villagers. She had watched from above in mute terror as her mother and sister were raped and carried off. Her brother was slain before her eyes. She thanked God that they hadn’t looked up and she vowed a pilgrimage to the
Holy Land to pray for her family and villager’s souls and to thank Him for her safety. She had joined this group of pilgrims and had walked here the whole way from Cambria.
She was 16 and not romantically attached to any of the men in her party. It was clear to Gwilym that they were all in love with her. While they were happy with his guidance through the Holy Land, once they realized that he was making progress with Kaitlyn, they tried to get rid of him. But Gwilym was resourceful and used his connections to remain valuable to the group and his charm to cause Kaitlyn to beg the others that he remain their guide.
When the pilgrims had seen everything, they made plans to return to Cambria. On the night before they were all to leave Gwilym expressed his love to Kaitlyn and received a short laugh in reply. This broke his heart but she had squeezed his arm and told him, “I’m laughing because I’m nervous. I think you are wonderful but I don’t love you. You barely know me and I don’t know you. You say you love me. Men say that to me all the time. Is it because they all want to get under my skirts?”
“Kaitlyn, believe me, when men say that to you, it’s true. I’ve never seen a woman who inspires so much good in the men who meet her. Plenty of women inspire men to want to get inside their skirts; that’s no great talent. You inspire them to want to marry you, to be with them until they’re old, to bear children for them. You have something special, Kaitlyn, something the Visigoths call ‘Gracia,’ something I’ve read about, but never seen. I love you, and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to protect you from all harm, to have children with you and raise them well, to grow old with you, and to protect you from the fears of old age. I want to build you a strong house that will keep you warm and comfortable. I want to read to you and play with you and travel with you.”
“Gwilym.” Kaitlyn wept softly and pointed at the statues surrounding them. “You have me up on a pedestal like one of these statues. What will happen if you marry me and find out that I am a mere mortal who cannot live up to your ideal image of me? What will happen when I fart in your hearing?”
Gwilym burst out laughing at this unexpected comment, the gas that he had been holding in during this long day with her releasing with a loud BRAPP! She looked at him with wide eyes and open mouth and laughed too. Looking at each other, they lost all control and their laughter increased. Then Gwilym thought he heard a little fart from her and he stopped in surprise. She blushed red and held her breath, waiting for Gwilym’s reaction. He hugged her then for the first time and lifted her off her feet. This contact was new and unexpected and combined with the release of tension and the tight squeeze she received released another, louder, fart and they both burst out laughing again. “Well, I guess now you know how I’ll react. I love you Kaitlyn.”
On telling this story to his sons he had gotten different reactions. Llawen had laughed at the image but Jac had seemed confused at the laughter. He held an idealized image of his mother in his mind and couldn’t understand why Llawen and his father found it so funny that: “All you two did was laugh and fart.”
What Jac missed was that it was a tender moment, when barriers broke down and they saw the humanity in each other and decided that they would get to know each other better. Kaitlyn stayed behind, much to the consternation of the rest of the group. She had money and was able to stay in a pilgrim’s inn so they needn’t worry about her chastity. The two spent the next few months learning all about each other. The romance blossomed. Gwilym worked as a tour guide for different groups of pilgrims, amazing her with his grasp of different tongues and his in-depth knowledge of the life of Jesus and the prophets.
On agreeing to marry, he asked her where, expecting that she wanted to return home. But she had no family there so they married in
Cana for the sake of the name. They toured Constantinople for their honeymoon and she soon became pregnant with Bleddyn. Then she wanted to return to Cambria so they continued back along the pilgrim trail, arriving a couple of months before the birth.
After losing Kaitlyn, he thought this romantic life was over. Even after laying with Grainne four times, he still held his love for Kaitlyn deep in his heart. Grainne had been all about sex and magic and lust and Beltane. Everything but romantic love. Yet she had saved his boys’ lives and here was this familiar ache in his arms and chest, an ache he hadn’t felt since he was courting Kaitlyn.
Was it possible he was in love with this infuriating Beltane priestess, this sorceress? They didn’t even share a religion. Although Gwilym was respectful of her religion, she often expressed her disdain for Christianity.
Then there was the way she had treated him last time they had met. Using her priestess powers to force him to venerate her! Infuriating! Yet somewhat exciting. But not at all fair. He was already attracted to her; she didn’t need to use those powers. She was impatient. He’d had questions. He felt emasculated by the process. Or did he? In fact, remembering the scene, he grew hard, his manhood insisting on attention. He looked around, wondering if he should relieve himself here.
He stepped into a forest clearing and was bumped into by a little, toddling, tow-headed boy being chased by a taller red-haired boy. They looked up at him in astonishment. Gwilym dropped his jaw as he stared at what could only be Jac at age one. The red-head looked a little like Llawen but with red hair and freckles. “Sorry sir,” said the older boy taking the younger by the hand and leading him away. There was a pavilion set up on the far side of the clearing. The boys walked that way, the younger one looking back over his shoulder at Gwilym. “Come Brice,” said the older boy, pulling gently on his arm. “Let’s go to mother.”
Gwilym had a sudden idea. “Madoc!” he shouted. Both boys turned around. He walked towards them and knelt down. “Are you Madoc?” he asked the older boy. He nodded with wide eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, Gwilym saw the flap in the pavilion open and a woman appear. He knew who it was before he looked there.
“Madoc, Brice, come here!” she said, looking straight at Gwilym. They scampered to her and Gwilym followed the boys at a distance. She swept them into their arms and ushered them inside the pavilion, closing the flap as Gwilym approached. He stopped in front of her and declared, “Two beautiful boys.”
Grainne smiled broadly, her pride evident. “Yes they are. So you came, Gwilym.”
“I’ve been thinking about you for a long time. I miss you, Grainne.”
She smirked and walked away. “Are you sure it’s not this you’re missing, this you’ve been thinking about for a long time?” He followed her, watching her hips swinging, her buttocks bunching up and relaxing as she walked and thinking to himself, Well, that’s certainly part of it. He held vivid memories of their lovemaking sessions and the pleasure he had gained from that beautiful ass.
Grainne stopped in front of a partially buried stone and he realized that this was what she had been referring to. The capstone lay right there on the edge of the clearing. She turned in triumph and he could tell from her impish smile that she had meant the double-entendre. He laughed at the way she had done this and remembered the times in the past when she had used this technique. You’ve built a fine tower. Another wonderful erection.
She stared without shame at the swelling in his loins, stirring back to life at the sight and memories of her. She stepped up to close the space between them. She placed one hand around his neck, lowering his head and kissing him deeply. She placed her other hand on his swelling crotch, squeezing the shaft rhythmically. “It’s been too long Gwilym, take me here and now.”
“The boys–” he began.
“–will stay in the pavilion.” She removed her shift with one shrug and kissed him again, hard on the lips, her tongue probing. Her hand loosened his clothing and released his sex. She pumped it to a steely hardness. She turned from him and leaned over, holding onto a tree trunk and arching her back to thrust her buttocks towards him. Gwilym didn’t hesitate. He grasped her by the narrow waist, his thumb and forefingers meeting each other while the palms of his hands spread along the swelling of her buttocks. He marveled at the softness of her, the white skin decorated by occasional freckles. He entered her warm wetness, eliciting a moan of pleasure. He withdrew slowly, and then thrust in hard, each time receiving verbal confirmation that this was just how she wanted it. Her moans built to a crescendo and he timed his climax to match hers. Her legs quivered in excitement, she lost muscle control and he had to hold her weight by the waist to keep her from collapsing.
He withdrew and redressed, thankful that her boys had obeyed her and stayed in the pavilion. His boys. Their boys! Grainne dressed herself and then hugged him, hanging from his shoulders. “That was wonderful, Gwilym. I can wait until Beltane now that you’ve tempered the fire in me a little. Where did you learn how to make love to a woman?”
“I was a married man for ten years.”
“That’s not where you learned how to make love. Who was she? How old were you? How old was she? Give me details.”
“The name she used was
Fatima. She never told anyone her real name. She was a Jerusalem prostitute who took a fancy to me. I was fifteen. She must have been about 35. She taught me what women like. She showed me everything. Literally. I was so embarrassed when she opened herself up to me but she wanted me to know what a woman looks like inside. She showed me where to touch, what to do, when to be gentle, when to be harsh. She taught me how to read a woman’s signs and how to follow them.”
“How long were you with her?”
“At first for six months. Then off and on until I married Kaitlyn 12 years later”
“And she never charged you, all those times?”
“She charged me a few times.”
Grainne’s eyebrows arched. “A few times. Why?”
Gwilym gave a rueful smile. “She charged me whenever she felt I took from her. If the lovemaking was respectful and giving and her needs were attended to, she never charged me. I was a poor child so I learned quickly.”
Grainne’s face broke into a wide smile. “I think I’ll start that policy myself. There have been a few times that I felt I should have been paid for what some lover did to me. Not you, though. That’s why I wondered who taught you. Now, let’s meet your sons."
Gwilym’s heart leapt at this. I have two more sons. What are they like? Grainne held his hand in hers as they walked to the pavilion. She opened the flap and Gwilym saw a straw pallet on the ground next to a pair of saddle bags and a small harp. The boys were sitting on the pallet playing some quiet game when they entered.
“Madoc, Brice, I want you to meet your father.”
They both looked up at Gwilym with puzzled expressions. Madoc was just over three; Gwilym calculated that Brice must be about 15 months.
“We don’t have fathers in Avalon,” said Madoc.
Grainne stepped over to the pallet and sat next to them, Brice crawling into her lap. She stroked Madoc’s hair. “Every living thing has a father. Some father’s stay with their children like robins, some go away like deer. In Avalon, we are like the deer. The mother stays with the children, the fathers go away.”
“Why Ma? In the villages, the fathers stay with the children. I like that better.”
“Avalon is a special place. Men can’t live there.”
“Meagan says that boys have to leave Avalon when they are three. Am I ever going back?”
Grainne’s face crumpled in on itself like an empty falling sack. Tears started to flow from Madoc’s eyes. Brice stroked his mother’s cheeks. Gwilym was frozen by Madoc’s words and the raw emotions in the pavilion. Grainne was the first to speak. “Madoc. You are my most precious thing. I won’t let you go. I will fight for you. If you have to leave Avalon, Brice and I will come with you.”
“Thanks, Ma.” Both boys clung to her. She looked at Gwilym with tear-filled eyes.
Gwilym squatted on his haunches in front of the group. He held out his hand to each boy in turn. “It’s very nice to meet you. My name is Gwilym. I am a builder of towers.” With wide eyes they shook his hand in turn.
“You must be Madoc and you turned three a few months ago.” Madoc nodded.
“And you must be Brice and you had your first birthday around the same time.”
“The same day!” shouted Madoc. “We share the same birthday.”
“How curious,” said Gwilym meeting Grainne’s eyes. Her tears dried up as she sensed what he hinted at. A wry smile crossed her face.
“I have an idea,” he said. “I’ll tell you three interesting things about myself. Two will be the truth and one will be a lie. You have to judge which one is the lie. Then it will be your mother’s turn, then Madoc’s, then Madoc can tell us two truths and a lie about Brice. Fair?”
They all nodded, Brice because he saw his brother’s interest.
“All right then. I am six and a half feet tall. I can read five languages and I have traveled all the way to
The boys stared at him with open mouths. “Remember, one of those stories is a lie.”
“Ma says we should never lie,” said Madoc.
“A lie is all right if it is a story and we tell the truth right after,” said Grainne. “I know you are six and a half feet tall and I know you have traveled so I guess that you cannot read all those languages.”
“Me too!” shouted Madoc. Brice nodded.
“No,” said Gwilym. “I do read those languages. British, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Aramaic. Also some Saxon and Angle. I have traveled, but never further east than
Mecca. I thought about joining a caravan once but decided against it. Your turn, Grainne.”
Grainne pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “I can sing a thousand songs, I am very good at Mathematics and I have a pet dog called Tessa.”
“I know!” shouted Madoc. Grainne smiled and told him, “Guests first.”
Gwilym looked around the pavilion. “I can see the harp and I’ve heard your singing. I hope you’ll share more of your thousand songs with me soon. Both your sons’ eyes opened when you said Tessa so I’m sure that’s true. I guess you’re not good with Mathematics.”
“Ha!” exclaimed Madoc and Brice clapped his hands.
Grainne smiled. “Just like a man to assume I’m no good at Mathematics. As it happens, I’m excellent at the subject. You, on the other hand, are lacking. Does it make sense that I would know one thousand songs at my age? At any age?”
Gwilym shook his head and smiled to himself. “You got me there. What about you Madoc? What can you tell me about yourself?”
Madoc was ready and the words burst forth from him. “I love my dog. I love cake. I can climb the tallest trees.” Then he rolled back on the pallet and laughed out loud.
Gwilym looked impressed. “Such a brave boy, climbing the tallest trees at 3 years old.”
Madoc stopped laughing and looked at Gwilym with open mouth. “How did you know?”
“But which one is the lie? I saw your eyes widen when your mother talked of Tessa so I can’t believe you don’t love your dog. That means you must be just like your Dad. You don’t like cake but you love pie.”
“Yes!” he yelled. Then he jumped off the pallet and ran to Gwilym, giving him a fierce hug. Gwilym was shocked, then returned the hug with his powerful arms. My son!
“What about Brice? Can you tell us two truths and a lie about him, Madoc?” asked Gwilym.
Madoc held Brice’s face, stared at him and thought for a long time. Grainne met Gwilym’s eye and they both smiled at this tableau. Such cute boys! Then Madoc announced he was ready.
“Brice poops in his clothes. He loves green vegetables. He is always nice to Tessa.” He sat back and rubbed his hands together with delight. Grainne looked on him with evident pride.
Gwilym answered. “I think I can smell from here that he still poops in his clothes. So did I at his age.” Madoc burst out laughing.
“No boy likes green vegetables at his age.” Madoc jumped up and down but held his hand over his mouth to keep from speaking.
“And I know he loves his dog so he always is nice to Tessa. So the story about the vegetables must be the lie.”
Madoc let go of the hand and shouted in delight, “No! He loves vegetables. He’s so weird! More than pie even. Yuck! But sometimes he pulls Tessa’s tail and Tessa doesn’t like that. I tricked you! I tricked you!” He came back over and hugged Gwilym and then snuggled in again with his mother.
Gwilym was shaking his head slowly back and forth. The emotions within him were so strong that tears started to fall down his cheeks. Pride in his sons. Learning about them. Seeing how Grainne acted with them. The knowledge that they had to leave Avalon. Curiosity if they would be fostered with him. Lust over Grainne. Wonder about Grainne’s statement that she would never leave her children even if ordered to by Avalon. Love for Grainne. Love for Grainne? Yes.
His vision blurred as the tears fell. He felt a boy’s arms around his neck and he hugged the boy back. From the size of him, he realized with surprise that it was Brice, not Madoc who was hugging him. Then he felt another set of arms around him from behind and he reached an arm around to pat Madoc. Then Grainne wrapped them all up with her arms.
Madoc said. “It’s all right, Father. You only got two wrong. I’m sorry I made Brice’s questions so hard.”
Gwilym laughed then and told the boy, “I’m crying because I’m happy. I’m so happy to meet you. My boys!”
“Come Madoc, help me gather some mistletoe,” announced Grainne, standing up. Madoc and Brice followed her to the base of an old oak tree where she looked up and pointed to the parasite in the high branches. She asked Gwilym to help her to the lowest branches. From there, she scrambled nimbly up from branch to branch until she reached the mistletoe. Gwilym watched her reach under her shift and pull out a silver sickle. With the inside edge of this, she sliced the mistletoe from the tree and dropped them down into Madoc’s waiting arms. Holding the sickle in her teeth, she clambered down and dropped to her feet right in front of Gwilym.
“That’s a nice trick,” declared Gwilym, as Madoc and Brice carried the mistletoe back to her pavilion.
Holding his gaze, she shrugged her shift off her shoulders and slipped the sickle into a silver sheath on a chain around her waist. Gwilym was inflamed with lust at her naked breasts but she lifted her shift back up and turned to follow her sons. He followed her back to the pavilion and she climbed in, picking up a harp.
Grainne started playing. The boys sat down on the pallet. Madoc patted the space between them and asked Gwilym to sit. When he did so, Brice crawled into his lap and Madoc curled against his side.
After a pause in playing, Grainne started up a new tune and started singing. Her voice broke out clear and perfect with no warming up. Her notes were like bells on a clear winter day. They filled the tent and clutched at his heart. He stared at her, surprised that her husky talking voice could be transformed into this set of perfect bells ringing out this song. Never missing a note, no sliding up and down to reach the highs or lows.
The song was a happy one about the fairies living in
Britain before the arrival of the big folk. It told of feasts and festivals, kings and queens, the love of the princess for a handsome commoner.
When the song ended the boys all called for another and she indulged them for two more. Madoc demanded a song called ‘Student of the Master’ which was about a young Druidic apprentice who outsmarts his teacher. She sang a few verses of this, then said it was time for Gwilym to go. “We’ll see him tomorrow when he brings his men here for the capstone.” The boys whined but Gwilym noticed, on leaving the pavilion, that it was almost sunset and his other sons would be wondering where he was.
Gwilym kissed Grainne then, in front of their sons, and told them all he would return right after sunrise. He hugged the boys in turn and told them, “How would you like to meet your other three brothers?”
Madoc looked shocked and Brice copied his mood. Gwilym hastened to console them. “I’m sure you’ll love them. Their names are Bleddyn, Jac and Llawen. Bleddyn is 12 and Jac and Llawen are about a year and a half older than you, Madoc.”
Madoc burst out crying. “Is that why you took me here, Ma? Do you give all your boys to him when they are three?”Gwilym was mortified that he had given the boy the wrong impression. Grainne knelt down, pursed her lips and took him in her arms. “No Madoc. Gwilym’s other sons were by a different mother. I don’t want to give you up. I’m sure you’ll be with me until you are grown men: 15 or 16. Don’t cry, son. I have met your brothers and they are nice boys.”
The next day, as he rode in a heavy cart back to the clearing to recover the capstone, he struggled broaching the subject about his son’s half-brothers. He knew that Bleddyn knew about Grainne but he was unsure how the little ones would react.
“Remember last year, as we drove to Huish and we talked about me getting you a new mother?” The boys all looked at him with serious expressions. “And Jac and Llawen wanted me to marry again but Bleddyn didn’t?” They all nodded. “How do you feel about it now?”
The twins looked at Bleddyn who arced his head back in forth in a mixture of a yes and no. Jac and Llawen looked at their Dad and nodded yes.
“Remember Grainne, the woman who saved you from the evil knight?” They all nodded. “I’m thinking of marrying her some day.”
With wide open eyes they questioned their father. “What is she like? How old is she? Do you love her? Will she bring a dowry? Is she a princess? A witch?” Plus a hundred other questions that Bleddyn tried his best to answer.
“She hasn’t told me she’ll marry me yet but while we’ve been thinking about it, we’ve created two brothers for you.”
The boys stared at him. “Brothers?” asked Bleddyn.
“Aye. Their names are Madoc and Brice. Madoc is about three and Brice is just one. They’re fine boys and you’ll meet them when we get to the clearing.”
Jac and Llawen were jumping up and down with excitement. Jac tried to do a cartwheel and Bleddyn had to grab him before he fell out of the cart. Bleddyn looked at his father with a serious expression. He whispered to him, “Two years younger than the twins. You didn’t wait long after mother died.”
“It’s complicated son. It’s not what you think. Can I explain it all to you tonight?”
“When will you marry her, Da?” asked Jac.
“Now that’s a serious question you need to leave between me and her. Please don’t mention marriage until I tell you it’s all right.”
Bleddyn stepped down off the cart and walked alongside it in silence. Jac and Llawen continued peppering their father with questions about their brothers.
When the group arrived at the clearing, Gwilym set the crew to retrieving the rune-stone. When they saw that it was partially buried, they questioned him about its suitability to meet the purpose. He reassured them and they set to work. All this time, the flaps of the pavilion had stayed down. While the crew was working to dig out the stone, Gwilym took his sons to the pavilion.
He coughed and asked, “Grainne, are you awake?”
The flap opened down near the bottom and Brice’s face peered out at them. He took in the family and then disappeared. Jac and Llawen laughed at this. Llawen hugged Jac and said, “He looks just like you!” Gwilym looked at Bleddyn out of the corner of his eyes and saw a suppressed grin on his face.
The flap moved again and this time Madoc’s face appeared. He examined all three boys, then glanced up at Gwilym and whispered, “Ma’s not awake yet. Come back later.” Then his head disappeared into the pavilion again.
Gwilym nodded his head and said to his disappointed boys. “This clearing looks like a good place for some cartwheels. Why don’t you have some fun here while I check on my crew?”
He walked back to the crew, looking with guilty pleasure at the tree Grainne had held as they made love yesterday. He watched the crew with one eye while he kept his attention on the boys outside the pavilion. Jac and Llawen did some cartwheels and somersaults. Bleddyn wrestled with them and played wheelbarrow with them. Within five minutes Madoc and Brice came out and played along. Before long, Madoc was on Bleddyn’s shoulders and Brice on Jac’s and they were racing. Then Bleddyn was holding Llawen by an arm and a leg and swinging him around while Madoc did the same with Brice. All the boys were shrieking with pleasure.
Gwilym stepped inside the pavilion. When his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he saw a pile of blankets on the pallet and a tangle of red hair peeking out from underneath. The blankets rose and fell with her breathing. He felt an intense tenderness towards this woman with whom he had just now decided to spend his life. Really? Spend my life? But how else could he raise all those boys together while Grainne spent all her time with them?
He sat down on the pallet and removed his boots. He took off his cloak and crawled under the covers with her. She fussed a little in her sleep and he took the opportunity to work one arm under her neck and drape the other over her waist. He watched her as she slowly awoke. Her face was wrinkled from the bed covers. Her expression was unlike any he had seen her wear. There was no guard on it; she seemed content for the first time. Then she opened her eyes.
“What are you doing in my bed!” she shouted. She pushed him hard in the chest and he rolled out. She glanced around the pavilion. “Where are my boys?”
“They’re outside, playing with mine. I’m sorry. You looked so comfortable and warm and I wanted to be with you. I’ve never woken up with you before. I wanted to see how it felt.”
“Don’t take liberties with me! My bed is not yours to share!”
“I thought...after yesterday… we were something more than just Beltane lovers.”
“There is something more. Sometimes I just want to fuck! You’re good for that. Don’t think you own me and can come into my bed in the middle of the night.”
All the thoughts Gwilym had of them becoming one big family were dashed by her tirade. He put on his boots and cloak and walked back out into the clearing. The boys were still playing noisily and the crew was still working. He hoped no-one had heard Grainne’s outburst. Bleddyn met Gwilym’s eye and turned away. He moved towards his boys and watched them play for a while.
Madoc ran to him. “Are you going to marry my Ma?” Gwilym looked at his boys and Llawen blushed and covered his mouth.
“If she’ll have me. But I haven’t asked her yet. You know, son, asking a woman to marry you is one of the greatest moments of your life. It is wonderful to see the surprise in her face. Do you want your Ma to see that surprise when I ask her?”
“Then, can I ask you to keep that secret for a while. Just until I ask her. Then you can tell her that you already knew. Is that fair?”
Madoc nodded again with a serious expression on his face. “But I don’t think she can marry you. She’s a priestess of Avalon and they’re not allowed to marry. I think she’ll say no. Do you want me to ask her for you?”
“No Madoc. I’d rather it be me.”
Gwilym left to supervise the men as they ramped the stone into the cart, Gwilym saw that the design on this rune was of a stable. He kept glancing at the pavilion but Grainne never appeared. Soon the crew was ready to depart so he called his boys to him, said goodbye to Madoc and Brice and the family followed the cart back to the job site.
It took the rest of that day to bring the capstone to the site and hoist it into place. The natural placement was with the rune pointing back towards Huish. While doing so, Gwilym thought about how all the other runes pointed directly at the next tower he was to build. He constructed a map in his head of
Britain and the towers he had built since the first one. Huish, then north by northeast to Airmyn, south by southeast to Londinium, northwest to Caernarfon, east to Salthouse and southwest to Huish. The lines between each tower created a star! Not just any star but a pentagram. At least the star had a point facing north. That supposedly represented a good spell, not an evil one.
How interesting! He hadn’t noticed it before. This was a serious spell they were casting. He must talk more with Grainne to find out what was happening. Grainne. Have I blown it? He missed her even more now. The ache in his arms and chest spread to his belly and his cheek. Why only my right cheek? Because that was the cheek she had stroked yesterday after they had made love.
Why was she so angry with me? Because I presumed I had a right to share her bed? Probably. That was obnoxious of me. She likes to call the shots during the love-making sessions. And they weren’t love-making sessions, they were a ritual part of a spell. She cared nothing for me. Even yesterday’s session, when she had moved so languidly afterwards and had been in so much evident pleasure was just a casual fling for her. Much the way I made love casually before I married. And those women had loved me too. Had they felt like this?
One of the crew woke him out of his reverie. “Do you need us any more, Gwilym?”
He shook his head and realized that they needed their final payment. Gwilym walked around the job-site, happy with the way everything looked. These Angles like to keep things tidy. He lined them all up and gave out the last of their silver, thanking each member of the crew for their time. He missed having Fred with him at this ritual. In two days they would go back to Huish to see him. Or would they? There was a price on his head and a lot of people looking for him now. Should he risk his son’s lives for a glimpse of Fred’s child?
Tomorrow was Beltane. Merlin would appear and give him more river jade. Grainne and he would make love on the capstone. And the next day they would go…where? Wherever Sir Kay ordered them. Kay was involved in the enchantment, deciding where the towers would go or being told by Merlin. And a representative of the Druids checked to see if the rune was placed correctly. That would be Mostyn with whom he’d chatted last year. What was Mostyn doing? Tracing the drawing on the rune? That could have been done before it was placed. Unless he hadn’t seen them before. Making sure they were ‘sanctified’? What did that mean? Was he looking for remnants of his and Grainne’s lovemaking? Disgusting! But stranger things had happened. Gwilym determined to watch the enchantment closer this time. When did the mists appear? They seemed to be growing stronger. He shook his head as he neared the tavern and readied himself to face the scrutiny of his sons, especially Bleddyn.
Entering the tavern he found his twins sitting down with a board between them, eating the stew provided by the landlord. Gwilym took his bowl and spoon and squatted next to the boys. “Where’s Bleddyn?” he asked.
Entering the tavern he found his twins sitting down with a board between them, eating the stew provided by the landlord. Gwilym took his bowl and spoon and squatted next to the boys. “Where’s Bleddyn?” he asked.
“He went for a walk,” said Llawen. “He didn’t want his supper tonight.”
Jac looked concerned. “I don’t like it when the family is not together for supper. Could you get him? We can wait.”
Gwilym smiled. Jac always wanted the family to be together. When they walked in the woods, he always placed himself in the middle and looked back at the ones lagging. He either held up the ones in front or called for the laggards to speed up. During a rare argument, he was the one who sought compromise to stop the bickering. “Sometimes a boy of Bleddyn’s age needs to spend some time alone. I’ll go and get him after supper.”
“Sorry I told about you marrying Miss Grainne, Da.” said Llawen. “I didn’t mean to but we were talking and it slipped out. Are you mad at me?”
Gwilym tousled his son’s hair. “No son. It’s all right if the boys know. But it’s better if Grainne hears it first from me. What if she says no? Won’t that be a disappointment for you and the other boys?”
Jac’s eyes teared up. “Why would she say no, Da? And how do you make babies anyway if you’re not married already?”
“That’s a quick question with a long answer, Jac. Can I save that one for when you are older? The important thing is that Madoc and Brice are my sons and Grainne’s. I’d like us to be together as a family. But Grainne needs to believe that also. She has to make the choice.”
“I’d like that. Those two are fun. And everyone says Brice looks like me when I was one. So maybe he’ll be just like me. And I always wanted a younger brother. And Da?” He looked up with shining eyes “I do want a mother.”
Gwilym’s heart broke. He took his son into his arms, almost upsetting the board, and let him cry on his shoulder. Llawen cleaned off the board and put it away so that Jac could crawl onto his father’s lap and let loose his tears. Gwilym just held him and stroked his back until he fell asleep out of exhaustion. It had been a long, emotional day for the boy. Gwilym took him to bed, and then read to Llawen until he too fell asleep. Then he set out to look for Bleddyn.
He found him on the beach, looking out across the water. He moved to his son’s side and put an arm on his shoulder. “Thinking about your mother, son?”
Bleddyn twisted out of his father’s grasped and looked at Gwilym with fury in his eyes. “A lot more than you were. Was Ma’s body even cold in the grave before you fucked Grainne? Or were you two lovers before she died? I saw her strip you when you were injured. I also saw her walking you around on the day Ma died. When did it start, Father?”
Gwilym took his time to gather his thoughts before replying. “Almost a year later. My Kaitlyn, the love of my life was dead. It was Beltane. I was aroused. Grainne came to the top of the tower. She seduced me. I can’t blame her alone. I could have refused. But I was aroused and she was beautiful and it was Beltane and... We made love and then she disappeared. The next year she came again to the top of the Airmyn tower at Beltane. Grainne and I are part of some great spell being weaved across Britain. I don’t know the details but it involves Sir Kay, Merlin and perhaps even the high king. We are pawns in this game. Well, maybe not pawns, maybe knights, or bishops…”
“Rooks,” interrupted Bleddyn and Gwilym smiled at the appropriateness of this image.
“Yes. Rooks we are; castles. And the enchantment must be completed. Grainne says that there is one more tower after this one. The spell will be complete and we can live a normal life.”
“She’s going to join you on the tower again tomorrow night, isn’t she?”
“Da. You know this is wrong! You are a Christian and you are meddling with a spell. What would Father Drew say? What does the Bible say about meddling in witchcraft?”
“Don’t be too quick to call witchcraft anything that is not Christian orthodoxy. There were a lot of similarities between the early Christians and the Druids. They worshipped together. It wasn’t until
Rome came to this land that the religions clashed. Remember that the church started in Jerusalem, not Rome. And it came to Glastonbury before Rome brought its own version here. It was corrupted by Rome just like so many other things were.”
“What does the Bible say about worshipping Ashtoreth poles? And would Jesus approve of you fucking some woman once a year during a pagan festival?”
Gwilym hung his head. “I want more than that, Bleddyn. I want a woman with me every night. I want help to raise you boys with a woman’s compassion. I want a woman who can be my partner, who I can talk to about my day, about your boys growing up, about our futures. I want a woman to grow old with. That was supposed to be your mother but she’s gone now. I can never get her back.”
Bleddyn was crying. “You can’t just replace her with the first woman that comes along, Da.”
“She isn’t. I’ve been approached by many other women. But there is something special about Grainne. It’s not just this enchantment either. Or the sex. She protected you when I couldn’t. She has a spark about her that I’ve seen in no-one else since your mother. I think I love her.”
“You think you love her? Like you loved Ma?”
“It’s different. Nobody can replace your mother. My love for Kaitlyn will never diminish. But the feelings of emptiness I get are filled by Grainne.”
“And Bleddyn, your brothers need a mother. You’ve seen them with their milk mothers and the women who watch over them in the villages we stay in. You’ve heard them ask for a mother. It’s different when you’re thirteen. You’re starting to feel like you can make it on your own. But remember what you felt like when she died. Jac and Llawen are only five. They need that love and tenderness and caring that I cannot provide.”
Bleddyn searched his father’s face. He said nothing and walked back to their lodgings.
During dinner the next day, Merlin rode into the village in a cart, accompanied by Grainne and her two boys. They entered the tavern and asked for some food. Grainne insisted that there be no meat in her stew and the landlord was happy to oblige. Usually he received the opposite request. The boys sat with Gwilym’s other sons.
Merlin approached Gwilym with a heavy box that Gwilym knew contained the river jade he needed to finish the tower. Gwilym thanked him. “Do you have enough for the next tower as well?”
“Do I seem like a man who doesn’t plan for the future?”
Gwilym smiled. “No you don’t, sir. Will I get the next set right before Beltane again?”
Merlin’s eyes twinkled. “I understand you had a nice conversation with Grainne yesterday. Did you enjoy meeting your boys?”
“I did sir,” Gwilym replied, uncertain of any irony in Merlin’s voice about the ‘conversation’.
“And what are your intentions with her?”
Gwilym was confused now. Should he approach Merlin with his wish to marry Grainne? Was he being warned away from her by an emissary of Avalon? Or was he Grainne’s protector? He looked at Grainne for assistance but she was busy with the landlord.
He realized that it didn’t matter. His answer would be the same no matter what Merlin’s role in Grainne’s life was. “I intend to ask her to marry me, sir.”
Merlin’s tangled bird’s nests of eyebrows shot up and his grey-blue eyes bored into Gwilym’s. “Do you indeed?” he asked.
When he broke off contact with Merlin’s eyes, he noticed Grainne was watching him. She looked delicious in a light green frock. Her feet were bare and her hair was held back with a string of thin leather. She lit up the room with a broad smile and turned back to the landlord.
“What will you do with her as your wife, assuming she even agrees?”
“Live with her, travel from place to place for work, raise our children together. The same thing any man does with a wife.”
“Grainne is a priestess of Avalon. The Lady of the
Lake has plans for her. Marriage is not one of them. How will you overcome her objections?”
“From what I’ve seen of Grainne, she follows her own will.”
“Then I suggest you ask her and see what she has to say. But, for what it’s worth, you have my blessing.”
“Are you her guardian?”
“Male guardians mean little to a girl raised on Avalon.”
“Well I thank you anyway, Merlin.”
Grainne joined them with a bowl of stew for each. “Try this, Gwilym. You might like something without meat in it for a change.” She watched him as he ate spoonful after spoonful.
After he had finished the bowl, he said to the landlord, “Excellent, sir. But I like your Thursday vegetable stew better than this Wednesday one.”
Merlin and Grainne exchanged a glance. She asked Gwilym, “Are you not a carnivore?”
He replied, “I eat meat on special occasions and Sundays. I have no preference. Anything else you’d like to know about me?”
She nodded to the boys, laughing while playing some game with their fingers on the board. “They seem to get along well. You’ve raised three fine sons.”
“Thank you, Grainne. You’ve done well by yours also.”
Her eyes shone then clouded over as she glanced at Merlin. “Gwilym…” she began but then stopped.
“What?” he inquired.
She wet her lips, started to speak several times but seemed to be incapable of forming the words. She sighed and said, “Never mind.”
They had all finished their stew. “Will you walk with me, Grainne?” asked Gwilym.
She got up and they walked through the marsh to the beach.
“I was thrilled to see you in that clearing two days ago, Grainne. I had been thinking about you a lot.”
She smiled at him and glanced down at his crotch. “I could tell that right away.”
“No, Grainne. I mean that I was thinking about my feelings towards you and what future we might have together. I think I might…love you.”
She stopped and looked hard at him. “That’s a strong word to use with a woman you’ve seen half a dozen times in your whole life. A woman you’ve had two complete conversations with. Are you sure you don’t just want to couple with me more often?”
He looked down at his feet, then back into her eyes. “I’m not sure how I feel about you. There is that. But I want to know you more and I want to help you with our children. If they must leave Avalon, perhaps you could come with them and live with me. Our boys could all be together, I could see all five of my sons, you would have a protector and we could be man and wife. There are a lot of advantages.”
“Advantages for you, maybe. But what’s the incentive for me? Waking up next to a boar like you every morning? Losing my place at Avalon? Following you around from shitty village to stinky town as you ply your trade? That’s not a life for me.”
“Will you foster out Madoc? Is that why he came with you this time?”
She bit her lips until they showed as two thin lines. “What I do with my son is no concern of yours.”
She smoothed out her dress and said, “I’ll see you on top of the tower tonight. We have work to do.” Then she left.Gwilym sat for another five minutes, and then walked back to the tavern. He picked up the box of jade and his hammer and wedges and walked up to the tower.
This time, when he removed the last wedge, leaving the tower supported by the river jade, he did it without looking at his last few hammer blows. He did it by feel, watching the capstone behind him for Grainne’s appearance. First he saw her fingers grip the stone’s edge. Then he saw her feet swinging up, then her legs and the rest of her body as she flipped herself through the air, landing nimbly on her feet. It was a dangerous move but accomplished with the perfection of one of the King’s acrobats. Her arrival coincided with the last tap of his hammer. There was no magic involved. Just perfect timing and an athletic leap.
He welcomed her with a warm hug. She was wearing the same clothes as this afternoon. A slight breeze pressed the loose cloth against her body, revealing the curves beneath. “I’m glad to see you, Grainne.”
She gave him a wry smile and glanced up at the quarter moon. “Gwilym. If I promise you we’ll talk after the lovemaking is over, will you not ask me any questions until then?”
He took her chin in his hand and looked deep into her eyes. Then he slipped his hand around her neck, luxuriating in the thick hair. He bent and kissed her softly, then harder and deeper, slipping his tongue between her lips and meeting hers. His other hand dropped to her full breasts and caressed them through the cloth of her dress. She reached up and pushed her hands under his shirt, running her fingers over his chest and squeezing the muscles of his shoulders. He parted from her long enough to remove his shirt and then took her back in his arms.
She loosened the drawstring on his pants and peeled them over his hips and off. She grasped his shaft in one hand, marveling that her fingers couldn’t meet around it. “By the Goddess, Gwilym, you are a man! Make love to me hard, now. I want to feel this for the rest of the year.”
She led him to the rune and coaxed him into lying down. Then she stripped off her dress and stood above him, straddling his hips. He marveled at her rounded perfection, her muscular calves and thighs, her tight belly that belied the two babies she’d hosted. Her large, firm breasts with their small, pink nipples. She lowered herself further and further down onto him, guiding him deep within her. Then she raised herself with exquisite slowness, him bemoaning the loss of her warmth with every inch of extra exposed flesh. When he was almost completely out of her, she lowered herself again, warming his body and making him shudder in ecstasy.
She repeated this pattern again and again, each time increasing the pace a little, each time lowering herself more and more onto him until her pelvis was grinding against his. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she stayed there, quivering with the thrill of her climax.
Gwilym gave her time to recover, and then her rolled her over onto her back in the center of the rune. He mounted her and made love to her hard and strong, each stroke eliciting a small moan of pleasure. He sensed her coming orgasm and timed his own to coincide. A groan emerged from deep in his chest.
He opened his eyes to see when the fog arrived. Not here yet. But as he pulled out of her and their mingled juices touched the rune, the fog appeared around the top of the tower. It was the thick fog of a spring morning that obscured their view of the village.
He reached for their discarded garments and used them to make pillows for their heads. “I’d like to marry you, Grainne. What do you need to know about me to make you feel comfortable that it’s the right thing to do?”
“I need to know that you won’t try to foster your religion on me or my sons. I’d like to know what you think of the Goddess.
“I am still questioning all that myself. I’ve no plans to push my religion on anyone since I don’t know what I believe yet. I’ve seen the magic that Celts can perform. I have also seen miracles that Christians perform. I believe both preach respect for others and the Druids emphasize respect for natural things. These are all good virtues. Was Jesus the Son of God? So far, I believe it.”
Her face darkened at this but he didn’t pause to allow her to argue.
“Is God a father or is she the great goddess? I think it is what you feel comfortable imagining. I picture a large, fierce, white-haired, bearded old man. You may picture a woman.”
“A dark woman,” added Grainne. “What do you think about the afterlife? Do good people go to ‘heaven’ and bad people to ‘hell’ or are we reincarnated into different bodies?” she asked.
Gwilym shook his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “The priests of both of our religions differ there but they agree on the only thing that matters. What we do in this life determines the quality of the life that follows. Therefore, let’s each do the right thing here on earth and we should end up in whatever we consider heaven. Perhaps they’re both right. Christians will end up in the presence of the Father and Celts will end up in the body of a righteous person of the future. That way, they both feel that their religion was correct and the other wrong.”They talked on, long into the night. As Grainne learned of Gwilym’s own search for religion and he learned of her doubts about her own, her attitude towards him seemed to lighten. They made love twice more, Gwilym falling asleep soon after the last time, her lying snug in his arms.
When the sun’s early rays woke him and he flexed his sore back from lying on the rune all night, he was happy to find that Grainne’s face was still snuggled in the crook of his arm. His heart swelled with love at finding this woman still with him. Did this signal a change in our relationship?
They made love again, long and languorous, and Gwilym noticed that for the first time, Grainne let herself go. This time was wonderful because it felt like there was real love being expressed on both sides for the first time. It reminded him of more the comfort he had found in Kaitlyn’s body than the excitement he had found in Fatima’s.
They lay together, kissing, not speaking, caressing, stroking until they heard someone walking up the stairs of the tower. They rose and dressed. They heard Jac’s voice below them. “Da, will you come to break fast with us?”
Gwilym looked at Grainne with a question. She nodded and they both went down and walked together toward the tavern. He greeted his Dad with the usual morning kiss and hug, and then held out his hand to Grainne. “Good morning Miss Grainne. Did you sleep well?”
“No I did not, Jac.” He looked shocked. “Your father and I have been up talking most of the night, and I have decided to join you boys on your travels to the next tower. It is near my home so I’ll let you escort me there. Then, while your Da is building the next tower, you can play with Madoc and Brice. Will that be fun?”
Jac’s eyes widened at this and he looked at his father. Gwilym was staring in disbelief at Grainne who looked with a placid expression at Jac. Gwilym was first to break the silence. “That’s wonderful, Grainne. I’m looking forward to the travels. And where is this next tower?”
“I should let Sir Kay tell you. He will arrive by dinner. Now, I’m famished, Jac. What will they serve us in the tavern?”
“Eggs and turnip mash. But you can sometimes ask the man to cook eggs the way you like it.”
“And what is your favorite way?” she asked.
“I like it fried soft so I can mix it with my turnips. I don’t like the taste of turnips. Llawen likes his boiled hard. Bleddyn likes to scramble his when he fries it.”
“What does your father like?”
“Oh, he’s nice. He will take it any way we like it so that we get turns getting it made our way. But he puts hot spices on his eggs, not salt.”
“Is that so?” she asked, looking at Gwilym with new eyes. “And does he spice a lot of food?”
“Aye. Sometimes too much for me but other people like it. Father Drew liked it a lot. Are you going to marry my Da?” He stopped and looked stricken at his father.
Grainne reached out and held Gwilym’s hand with one of hers and patted Jac on the head with the other. “Perhaps so. But he hasn’t asked me yet so I’ll wait until then.”
“Sorry, Da,” whispered Jac to his father as they entered the tavern.
After Sir Kay and his three men had inspected the tower and were satisfied, he told Gwilym of his new assignment while handing him the new charter. “The steeple of the Abbey of Glastonbury has become damaged and must be rebuilt. We also would like to make it taller and add a capstone to the top. Go there now. We are finishing the King’s new castle nearby in Camelot. You can come to us for regular reports and get a monthly budget allowance. We cannot give you all the gold up front since we are preparing for a major war with the Saxons this year or next.”
The next morning, both families packed up. Grainne drove Gwilym in the first cart. Bleddyn drove the second cart with his four brothers inside.
None of them were prepared for the ordeal that faced them in their travels to Glastonbury.
“That was better; it looks like the threat worked.”
“Was that the threat or was it genuine? And is she breeding again?” asked Merlin.
“Yes, the man is potent and her timing is perfect. All those lovers she’s had, yet only Gwilym can quicken her with children.”
“What will you do with her oldest? He is too old for Avalon.”
“Foster him out,” replied Viviane
“What about letting her leave? She seems to like this Gwilym.”
“That will never work, there are too many differences.”
“Either way, the boy cannot return to live in Avalon.”
“Have you given up on her, Viviane? Who will follow you?”