Friday, June 1, 2007

Excerpt of Storyteller by G. R. Grove

If you have been following this blog, you know that we recently posted about featuring sample chapters from the works that have been reviewed in this blog. The first author to send us an excerpt from his book is G. R. Grove. Hopefully others will be encouraged to participate in this new feature of the blog and avail themselves the opportunity to provide samples of their work.

GOLD. It is a word that catches everyone’s attention, is it not? Certainly it caught mine that morning at Aberteifi, near the end of the feast which Ieuan and I had hastened so hard to attend, and which had proved so unprofitable to us after all.

Not because the lord of Aberteifi had been niggardly in his rewards, mind you, but because of Ieuan’s weakness for gaming. I woke on the last morning of the feast to find myself a beggar, who had been feeling rich enough the night before. And all because Ieuan – who had been holding my purse while I performed, and kept it while I slept – was unable to resist the lure of a game of dice. It was no comfort that he had beggared himself along with me. All I had left was the clothes I stood up in, and my red-enameled brooch from Caer Dydd. It was little enough profit for two months’ wandering.

There I was, rather disconsolately eating bread and cheese in the lord’s hall, while Ieuan babbled on beside me, trying to excuse himself, when the word gold caught my attention. “What is that you say?” I asked. “Gold? We could certainly use some!”

“Have not I been telling you, then?” Ieuan sounded sullen, for which, in my opinion, there was no excuse. “It is a place where the old Romans used to mine, up in the hills to the east of here somewhere. Caradog knows where, he told me about it last night. He will let us go in with him for shares.”

“Was that before or after he won all our money at dice?” I asked sourly.

Ieuan brushed it off. “Never mind that, that was nothing. This is our big chance. It will make our fortunes for sure.”

“Something had better.” I crammed the last of the bread in my mouth and stood up, wiping my hands on my tunic. “Right then, let us go and talk to Caradog.”

Caradog turned out to be a foxy-looking fellow with a thin beard and a lot of pointed yellow teeth, which he exposed frequently in what was supposed to be a smile. I took an instant dislike to him which further acquaintance did nothing to amend, but beggars, as they say, cannot be choosers, and it was beggared that we were now. After a certain amount of secretive behavior, casting suspicious glances at all about us in a manner calculated, I would have thought, to arouse curiosity where none existed, he was persuaded to part with the details of his plan – or should I say, his generous offer?

We would all contribute equally, he said, to the venture. His contribution would be the specialized knowledge necessary to find the gold and recover it, using techniques he had learnt while mining tin in Dumnonia. Ours would be enough money or other valuables to feed us all for a month. We would all do equal amounts of the work, and share out the proceeds equally among us.

At this point I interrupted him to point out the obvious. “We have not got any money or other valuables. You won them all from Ieuan here last night.” With that I cast a look at Ieuan that should have withered him where he sat, but he remained defiantly unwithered. His mind was on gold.

“Ah!” said Caradog, scratching his scraggly beard. “Well, and it is because of that, see you, that I am for giving you this chance. Do you not worry about your stake, I will loan it to you, and you can pay me back out of your share of the gold.”

“Thereby wiping out all of our profits. I do not see the point.”

“Gwernin!” said Ieuan in distress, and at the same time Caradog said, “Na, na! Nowhere near that. I tell you, as rich as this thing is, you will get back ten times your stake, and that easy.”

“If it is a good as that,” I said, kicking Ieuan under the table before he could interrupt again, “why should you want to share it with us?”

“Ah!” said Caradog again, and paused, looking around suspiciously. No one, so far as I could see, was paying us any attention; they were all going about their morning business in the hall. Nevertheless, Caradog bent forward and continued in a hoarse whisper. “It is that I need someone I can trust, see you, and I like the look of you two. But if you do not fancy it, youngster, why, just you say so, and no hard feelings. There are plenty more would jump at the chance.”

“Gwernin!” said Ieuan in smothered anguish. I sighed and kicked him again. “All right,” I said. “We will join you. Why not?”

“Ah!” said Caradog. “You will not regret this, lad.” Reaching for a pitcher of left-over breakfast ale, he filled our cups and raised his in a toast. “To success!” Ieuan drank eagerly, and I reluctantly. I would have been happier if I could have been sure to whose success I was drinking.

Shortly after that the feasting party broke up, and we shouldered our severely lightened packs and started off with Caradog. The Romans, as he explained while we walked, when they first came into Britain, had cast about for the source of British gold, in order to take it over and mine it themselves for their own treasury. Some of it they had found in the North, and some in Gwynedd and Meirionydd, but the best gold mine in all of Britain, it seemed, had proved to be right here in the mountains of Ceredigion, at Dolaucothi.

The Romans, said Caradog, had conquered the Silures of south Wales just to get Dolaucothi, and once they got it, had set themselves up in business there with all their slaves and overseers and so forth, with a little fort stuffed full of soldiers as well, just to protect the mine. They had kept on mining for years and years, and then for some reason the soldiers had to leave – it might have been when Macsen Wledig marched on Rome. And then all the overseers and slaves and such had felt uneasy, and left as well, and never came back, leaving a great heap of ore behind them, rich as rich, and all ready to process, which nobody but himself knew anything about... That, at any rate, was Caradog’s story, or at least the gist of it. I found myself talking like him sometimes, after a while. It was catching.

So off we went, as I said, to Dolaucothi, and gods! If I thought I had seen hard marching before, I knew nothing about it! Two days up the Afon Teifi, falling in and out of swamps and fords and thickets, until even I was sick of the sight of alder, which is saying a lot! (For Gwernin, O my children, means Alder-Tree, as you should know.) Then east, on stretches of road that were sometimes straight enough to suggest the Romans’ handiwork, but naked of any suggestion of paving. These led us for three more days over what seemed the backbone of the world, seeing few people, living on cheese and stale oat cakes and cold spring water, and sleeping rough. I wondered more than once why Caradog had not recruited his workforce closer to the mine, but something held me back from asking. By the time we came dropping down into the valley of the little Afon Cothi on the evening of the fifth day, I was ready for a rest. I did not get it.

1 comment:

brittenadm said...

The stlye seems a little bit forced to me. Dialogue and prose lack a natural feel. Caradog made me laugh. I like the way he inserts the occasional, 'see you', just to make sure we know he's Welsh. All this piece was lacking was a 'boyo' and a leek and it would have been the perfect Welsh stereotype. Does Max Boyce make an appearance later on? Oggy, oggy, oggy....