R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 1 of 3

It sometimes felt hard to realize the days of peace far outnumbered the days of war.  The Calendar turned to 518 and marked twenty-five years since Arthur pulled the sword from the stone.  Gerraint turned thirty-nine, becoming one of the elder statesmen, but one who felt like he spent the last twenty-five years at war.  To be sure, not counting the rebellion at the very beginning, Gerraint counted ten major battles and campaigns in those twenty-five years. And he had all the scars and aches of age to prove it.

“What are you thinking?”  Enid took Gerraint’s arm and nestled her head in his shoulder. They were walking in the garden.  He thought only of her.  She turned thirty-four and looked more beautiful than ever.  He only had one serious thought, but that was not what he talked about.

“Peter,” He pointed at the sound of his eldest playing in the courtyard beyond the garden gate.  “He is nearly eleven.  It won’t be long before he will be a squire.”

“Have you found one to take him?”

“No,” Gerraint admitted.  “I haven’t started looking.”

“Typical,” Enid said, as she stood up straight but did not let go of his arm.  “You can’t wait until the last minute if you expect to get someone good.”

“There is always Uwaine.”

“He is a bit of a loner.”

Gerraint nodded.  “He needs a good wife.”

They stopped in the gate and watched as Cordella’s eldest, thirteen-year-old Bedivere, went roaring by with a stick in his hand in place of a sword.  “Cordella’s son is old enough to squire,” Enid said, before she raised her voice. “Careful.  You can poke an eye out with a stick.”

“Lucky man,” Gerraint said, without explanation.

“How does it work?”  Enid seemed to be searching for something, and maybe thinking about losing her sons at what seemed to her a very young age.

“Well,” Gerraint took a breath.  “The first four years, say fourteen to seventeen are spent in school.  A good squire need to learn reading and writing and arithmetic.  Many men contract that part out to a local Priest who will give the young men a grip on Latin and maybe even a smattering of Greek. Then they need good time in the wilderness where they learn to hunt and fish, cook and clean, and build a fire that won’t burn down the forest.  They learn to appreciate the natural world, what the priest would call, God’s creation. They learn what the plants are good for, the many uses, and which they can eat and which they must not eat.  And about rocks and metals, how to build traps, and many such things.

“Like the proper use of a rock for taking dents out of helmets,” Enid grinned.

“Exactly,” Gerraint said, and started her toward the porch, walking in the shade along the edge of the courtyard to keep out of the play area.  “And horses,” he continued with his thoughts.  “A man’s best companion is his horse.  A squire must learn how to care for and keep his horse in good shape, and then about his equipment too, how to care for all of it.”

“Weapons,” Enid said gruffly.

“Yes.”  Gerraint did not back down from the subject.  “He learns how to care for and use weapons properly.”  He stopped walking, so she stopped.

“It sounds like a lot,” Enid said.

“It is,” Gerraint admitted.  “but then he gets another four years, like eighteen to twenty-one to practice it all.  That is when he will learn larger things, as Percival calls them, like how to relate to people as an adult, and relate to all the many lords and chiefs in the land. He will learn something about history and what you might call geopolitics.  He will learn how and when to negotiate, and when to take up that sword. And he will learn tactics and strategy, though hopefully not on the battlefield.  And, by God’s grace, he will find a wife by the time he is fully grown at twenty-one.”

“You didn’t.”

“I was waiting for you.”

Enid pulled in to give him a hug.  He said the right thing, but she had another thought. “But what about Uwaine?”

“Being my squire, I am afraid I made things too strange and difficult for him.  He should be married.”  Gerraint looked up to the porch where Melwas, Uwaine, Percival and Gawain sat quietly in the shade while Percival and Gawain’s wives had a running conversation with Cordella, Cordella leading the pack, of course.

“Morgana has two daughters, you know.”  Enid spoke from his embrace and did not want to let him go.

“Morgaine and Morgause,” Gerraint knew them.

“Morgana and Uwaine’s mother both think one of them would make him a good wife.”

Gerraint thought, and have a real witch for a mother-in-law, but he did not say that.  “Morgana,” he said, and he did not say it in an unkind tone of voice.  “She is the only one I know who has the courage to stand up to Meryddin’s face on behalf of her brother, Arthur.”

“Other than you,” Enid said.

Gerraint backed her up a bit to see her smile. “Are you kidding?  Merlin scares my socks off.”  Enid scoffed and pulled herself back into his arms for more hugging. “But what I really want to know is who decided sisters have to have such similar names, like Morgaine and Morgause?”

“It’s a Welsh thing, like Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach,” Enid said and sighed.  “Mother had the name Edna picked out if I ever had a sister.”

Gerraint recognized the sigh.  He knew Enid would love a baby girl, but that was one place he would not go, not that he had much to say about it.  “We should join the others.”

Enid sighed again and they began to climb the steps. “Anyway,” she said.  “Mab says Uwaine is a perfect gentleman and deserves a good wife.”

“Mab.  You are hanging out with that fairy Princess too much lately.  But see?  I have ruined you, too.”  Enid touched his shoulder like a pretend slap before she retook his arm.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 3 of 3

Percival thought out loud.  “But if accepting Christ is one of the requirements for land, there will be no problem with foreign gods or foreign rituals.” Meryddin did not answer, but from his look it seemed obvious he thought dropping that requirement was the way to liberalize the conditions.

Arthur spoke and everyone turned to listen.  “As I understand it, the Roman way was to use innuendo and rumor, the appearance of betrayal and double-cross to turn just such potential allies into enemies.  Maybe if we apply some Roman thinking, we can get the Scots and Norwegians to fight each other and leave us alone.”

Meryddin came flat out against that idea, and to be fair, Gerraint pointed out that the Romans did that in order to come in later and conquer both decimated and worn out groups.  It was not something the Romans did to foster peace.

“Claudus’ mistake,” Arthur said.  “He should have gotten Amorica and the Franks to fight each other and come in later to pick up the pieces.”

“Exactly,” Percival and several of the others agreed. No one knew what Meryddin thought about it.

Meryddin proved right in one way.  The Scots and Danes were the first to make a move. Arthur said he would hate himself one day, but he sent word to Kai to secretly tell the Scots he was making a deal with the Norwegians, offering land for their support and betrayal of the Scots. Then he sent word to the Danes through Captain Croydon that he was secretly negotiating with the Scots in a land for peace deal if they betrayed the Danes.  Finally, he sent word to Loth to approach both the Scots and Norwegians, if possible, and tell them that Arthur was willing to negotiate, whatever might avoid a war, but he would not be willing to swap land for peace.  This last got written in an official way, and sealed with Arthur’s seal under the assumption that Loth would show it around. But then, it was true.  Arthur had no intention of swapping land with anyone for the sake of peace.   Kai and Captain Croyden knew the truth, but Loth did not.  Gerraint called it “plausible deniability.”

From late winter and all through the spring, Arthur sent soldiers in small family groups to bolster Kai up by the wall and Croydon in York.  These were the bulk of the people that Arthur hoped would eventually repopulate the northern lands.  By the time early summer rolled around and Arthur gathered his army to move north, he already had over a thousand men stationed there, ready and waiting. Twenty-five hundred moving out of Caerleon might have looked relatively few in numbers to any spies the Scots or Danes sent out, but it was a deceptive number.

When Arthur arrived at the River Tweed, the Scots had drawn up some two thousand men and the Norwegians roughly the same number. Both sides should have had more, but there were men on both sides who refused to come, convinced that their so-called allies were not to be trusted and would betray them.  Arthur did his best to further that impression.

When he arrived, he immediately sent out two delegations.  Each delegation had one person who were known sympathizers with that particular enemy. Arthur instructed the two delegations separately so that neither group heard the instructions to the other.  He told the Scottish group that they were to offer the standard belligerences, as was common, and offer the Scots the chance to lay down their weapons and return home in peace.  Then he admitted, secretly, that he would be settling with the Danes the details of the land for peace deal and exactly at what point in the battle they were to betray their allies.  He told the Norwegian group much the same thing and knew the Scottish and Danish sympathizers would find a way to tell the Scottish and Danish leadership that they were being betrayed.

When the dawn came, Arthur marched his men forward, slowly.  Gerraint always suspected someone like Pinewood or Deerrunner, but he never probed, so it remained a mystery; but someone in the Scottish lines sent an arrow at the Danes.  That was all it took.  Arthur halted and watched two armies destroy each other.  In the evening, with fairy help, he sent troops to gather up the Danish and Scottish survivors and escort them back to their respective homes. Then Arthur went home.

“You realize, the Danes and Scots will hate and mistrust each other for centuries,” Gerraint said, one evening in camp.

“I am sure,” Arthur said.  “And I am sure I will hate myself for what I did, someday.”

“You further realize the Danes and Scots will pull back and leave open ground between them, and the Saxons will move up from the swamps of Mercia and take the land between.”

“That I did not know,” Arthur said, quietly.

“I’ll take a victory like that any day,” Bedwyr burst out with it.  “Even Meryddin can’t be too upset since his precious Scotsmen suffered fewer casualties than they might have.”

“I am sure,” Arthur said again, but he felt concerned about Meryddin.  For the first time, he deliberately kept Meryddin in the dark, and now Meryddin would know it.

“I think we may actually have peace in the north for a time,” Percival said.  He had been thinking hard about it.  “Now, if either the Scots or Danes move into the land, the other side may fight against them.  That may not be like fighting on our side, exactly, but it would be the next best thing.”

“At least Loth survived his Danish knife,” Gawain pointed out.

“Loth is a survivor,” Gerraint said.  “He is in it for Loth.”

“Things did get pretty hot for him both with the Scots and with the Danes,” Arthur agreed. “That is the part I may hate myself for.”

“He was lucky to get away with only one Danish knife wound,” Gawain concluded.

“Loth is a talker,” Bedwyr added.  “He could talk his way out of a lion’s jaw.”

“Slick as a used car salesman,” Gerraint called him

“What’s a car?” Uwaine asked softly.  “And why would someone buy it used?”  Gerraint only shrugged.

************************

MONDAY

To Kent.  With Uwaine grown and knighted, Gerraint gets a new squire, Bedivere, son of his little sister, Cordella.  Gerraint feels like he is getting too old for this.  Fortunately, the King of Kent is making noise and Arthur wants to be sure he stays in his place.  Until Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday) Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 2 of 3

Arthur called for the immediate surrender of the Saxons and declared himself unwilling to shed blood unless necessary. He promised safe escort back to Wessex for whomever might wish it.  His words must have had an effect, because those Saxons who fought on the next day in an effort to break out of their predicament did not seem fully committed.  Many abandoned their leaders and ran back to their camps.

One thing, Arthur took note that the Saxons started making lances of their own and training horsemen how to use them.  But then, Arthur’s men had been training in lance against lance combat since the Irish invasion got repelled.  The Saxon lancers still had a lot to learn.

Heingest got killed in one of the small battles or skirmishes that took place on that day.  With his voice silenced, the Saxons accepted Arthur’s offer and went home. The remaining Saxon warships already headed out of the channel and toward home, not pursued, but followed by Thomas’ merchant fleet.

When it was all settled, Gerraint found Arthur and they hugged and Gerraint said, “You know, if this was a thousand years from now I would call it a good time to go in for a cup of tea.”  They had to settle for Ale.

There were two years of peace after the siege of Caerleon, barely a breather.  Gerraint’s mother died at the ripe old age of sixty-six.  Gerraint figured she lived so long because she had servants and never took responsibility for anything, and thus had low stress.  Most of the common people did not live that long. Fifty-something might have been average for those not taken by accident, war, or disease.  Seventy would have been venerable.

Gerraint settled down in those two years to raise his sons.  Sadly, Arthur began to get letters, and he called together some of the Round Table to discuss matters.

Loth wrote from the north that the Scots started making noises again, and what was more, they appeared to be building a relationship with the Danes along the Norwegian shore.  This sounded bad, and Loth could not exert enough influence to stop it.  In fact, he moved his family to York for their safety.

Bedwyr wrote from Oxford that the Saxons in Essex and Mercia and the Angles in East Anglia seemed altogether too quiet, but Octa, son of Heingest, son of Hueil the pirate, who also happened to be the son of an Angle Princess, began to style himself as a king of the angles in Kent, and those long quiet Germans were making far too much noise.  He feared the worst if Octa, or his angle princess mother, should succeed in their ambitions.

Gwillim wrote from Dorset with confirmation from his brother Thomas that the Saxons in Sussex and Wessex were gathering together on a much too regular basis.  He said the word “coward” seemed to be the main word tossed around.  It got aimed at the men who surrendered with such relative ease at Caerleon.  And as you know, he said, the word coward for a Saxon is a fighting word.

“We can’t go chasing after every rumor and innuendo,” Arthur said.

“On the other hand,” Gerraint responded.  “None of these men is inclined to be a letter writer. If they put it in writing, they must think the threat credible.”

“True,” Percival agreed.  “After Bedwyr, I cannot think of another man less likely to sit down and write a letter.”

“Pelenor,” Gerraint said without hesitation.

Percival grinned. “That would be a sign of the end times, do you think?”

Arthur laughed, but Meryddin interrupted with his thoughts.  “Saxons and Angles we know, and they cannot seem to do anything without casting their seed everywhere.  If the Saxons or Angles begin to gather an army from among their many petty chieftains, we will know it and have time to gather ours.  As long as they continue to talk, they pose no threat.  You know they can’t talk and fight at the same time.”

“Walk and chew bubblegum,” Gerraint mumbled to no one’s understanding.

Meryddin ignored the interruption.  “I believe the greater threat is the alliance between the Scots and the Norwegians.   Our knowledge of events in the north is no better than it has ever been.  Loth does his best, but his spies are not that good. The Norwegians keep to their own, and the Scots are a constantly changing mess.  One thing we do know is both peoples have increased their numbers from immigration in the last few years.  The Ulsterites have flocked to the north in numbers greater than ever before. Their home is still overcrowded and the Irish are stubborn and relentless in trying to take the land right out from beneath them.”

“Like that will ever change,” Gerraint mumbled again. Meryddin stopped this time and stared. Gerraint sat up straight. “Illegal aliens.  Go on,” he said.

Meryddin continued.  “We know from recent experience most of the Scots, lured by the promise of land, are inclined to head north and further reduce the Pictish population.  But we also know the still relatively depopulated north of Britain is tempting. The newly arrived Danes must certainly be eyeing that fertile land, and the Scots no less.  That they should make an alliance smells of trouble to come.”

“What do you recommend?” Gawain asked.

“A word from the young?”  Gerraint seemed to be in a mood.

“Only because Uwaine would never say it,” Gawain whispered, and they turned to see Meryddin staring at them both.  Meryddin gave Gerraint another mean look before he continued.

“We must focus our attention on finding a way to break the Scottish-Norwegian alliance.  No good for us can come from such a partnership.  I recommend riding to the north and meeting with the Scottish leaders.  Three years ago, we found Scots on our land and allowed them to stay if they met certain conditions.  Perhaps if we liberalize the requirements, we might entice the Scots to our side to hold the line against the Danes.”

“Why don’t we invite the Danes to our side with an offer of land?” Tristam asked.

“Bah!”  Meryddin would not hear it.  “The Scots are good Celtic people who think like us and act like us and believe about life the way we do.  Even their tongue shares some words with ours.  The Norwegians are foreign and strange.  They worship strange Gods and practice strange rituals and have nothing in common with our own people.”

“Foreign devils,” Gerraint mumbled, but he had to admit it was a good argument for picking one side over the other.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 1 of 3

Arthur wintered at York, but not happily.  He missed Gwynyvar and felt especially unhappy when he considered her protector, Lancelot.  He trusted her, and he trusted Lancelot, but he felt unhappy all the same.

Gerraint made the trip when there came a break in the weather.  His men were tired and deserved the chance to go home.  Melwas and Cordella deserved their men back, and he took most of the men from Devon as well.  Tristam stayed in York with Arthur, though Arthur had plenty of RDF men who were pledged to stay with him, and all the more after Guinnon.

Gerraint arrived home at winter’s end, and he never felt so warm and comfortable as he did when he curled up in the night with Enid. He rested well, not that she often let him rest.  Together, Gerraint and Enid got in the habit of wandering down to the docks in the early morning to take in the sunrise and watch the fishermen and the occasional merchant ship that pulled in on the morning tide.  Sometimes, they heard the news of the wider world.  One morning, the news sounded especially bad.

The ship, one that belonged to Thomas of Dorset, and the Captain reported a fleet of Saxon warships out in the channel headed for the tip of Lyoness.  Gerraint hated to bother Pinewood and his fairy friends, but Enid insisted, despite her misgivings that it would mean losing Gerraint again for a time.  They needed to know where the Saxons were headed, and some estimate as to when they might arrive.

Word went out to Lyoness, Cornwall and all across Devon to be prepared to gather.  Messages went to the north coast, across the north channel to Caerdyf, and as far away as Clausentum, which was Southampton, to be prepared with whatever ships they could muster.  A week went by before Gerraint heard definitive news.

Heingest, son of Hueil was gathering an army on the border of Wessex.  Cadbury and Oxford appeared the obvious targets, but they were not accessible by sea. Caerleon became the clear target the minute Heingest moved to bypass Cadbury.  Gerraint’s only question was whether Heingest knew Arthur was absent from Caerleon or not.  He might have wanted to catch Arthur at a point unprepared, having just come back from a campaign and sent his troops home.  Then, he might have decided to destroy Arthur’s home while Arthur stayed occupied elsewhere.

Arthur and a thousand men still in the northern army left York as soon as Gerraint sent him word of his suspicions.  Gwyr, Arthur’s court judge sent couriers to all the British Lords, and especially to the Welsh Lords whose own lands were now threatened.  This time, it was not a distant British problem.  The Saxons headed for Wales.

Gerraint gathered a full thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon and crossed over to Caerdyf.  A second thousand gathered in the Caerdyf streets and camped on the fields, coming from all over south and central Wales leaving only the forts of the Irish watch manned.

At the same time, the Saxon fleet off-loaded their troops in a secluded bay half-way between Caerdyf and Caerleon.  The estimate there was about two thousand. Heingest appeared to be bringing closer to twenty-five hundred overland.  No deliberate attempt got made to stop him.  The troops at Cadbury tried to appear like they were cowering behind their defenses, when in fact they were waiting for Arthur to return south so they could join him.  The little man of Mount Badon organized a wonderful campaign of harassment, one that the Saxons would not soon forget, but Heingest suffered no serious delay or blockage between Wessex and Caerleon.

The city itself and fort at Caerleon spent the month redoubling their defenses.  All of the surrounding towns and villages were abandoned.  Most of the men, the women and children made for Leogria in the east and for north and central Wales in the west.  They were refugees who set up big camps by the border, but they brought their own livestock with them and as much grain as they could carry by mule and in their ox drawn wagons.  A number of the men went to fight, and doubled the number of defenders on the city walls and in the fort.

The Saxons felt somewhat surprised at the empty villages after Mount Badon, but it was common for villagers to flee at the approach of an army.  What seemed uncommon was the slim pickings they found—little food and not so much as a mule left to transport the food and maybe have for supper.  Heingest planned well.  His troops and the men from the ships arrived at about the same time to surround the city and fort, but the men in the west, who imagined their arrival would be a great secret, did not fare any better with goods and food in the empty villages they found on the route to Caerleon.

Heingest tried the city first, and found it much more strongly defended than he anticipated.  The Saxon Captains who were there to storm the port, hesitated.  Arthur’s half-dozen warships set out from the docks like a second wall.  Arthur’s Captains were confident, perhaps overconfident, that they could beat back any Saxon warships that might try them.  The hesitation of the Saxons suggested that the Germans were not prepared to test that theory.

Thomas of Dorset gathered as many ships from the south coast as he could.  They were essentially fat merchant ships who stood little chance against Saxon warships at sea, but they had great hope that they could catch the majority of the Saxon ships on the shore, or even pulled up on land and with only light crews left to defend them.  This they did, in that supposedly secret bay on the north shore of the channel.  The result was given.  The Saxons were going to have to walk home.  The merchants then mostly refused to continue on to Caerleon where the real battle would take place, but Thomas was able to get enough ships to join him to at least assist Arthur’s ships in the port defense.

After the initial test of the city and the fort, and the discovery that both were strong and this would not be so easy, the Saxons went into conference.  Without a quick and easy victory, some were determined to go home.  Heingest had his hands full with internal struggles.

Arthur and Gerraint, with fairy go-betweens, timed things about as well as such things could be timed in that age, arriving on the same day, if not in the same hour.  Arthur, having picked up a second thousand men as he came through Britain, camped in the east.  Gerraint camped in the West, and in the morning, Ogryvan arrived with a thousand men from the north of Wales, and they completed the encirclement.  The Saxons had the city and fort of Caerleon surrounded, but Arthur had the Saxons surrounded by a bigger circle with more men.

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 3 of 3

The Scots had plenty of archers to fire cover as men dragged up a great battering ram.  They tried to use their shields to protect themselves from overhead, but had limited success.  Arthur’s men wasted some arrows and soon turned to rocks.  They had some success with rocks.  Mostly, the fairy archers who crowded at the corners of the fort where they would not violate the orders to stay at the sides of the fighting, found a very easy shot into the side of the men on the ram.  It took some time and a hundred or more dead Scots before someone figured out to bring in a line of men with their shields held out to protect the sides.  They, of course, were then vulnerable from overhead, so it did not make the perfect solution.

The bang inside the fort sounded horrendous.  Men had to be forced to stay at their posts at the rear of the fort, because that was where the real action was going to take place.

The men at the back had three more catapults, and these dispensed with the pine and went straight to stone.  Every time a great stone hit the wall, some of the trees or a tree would chip away and that whole section of wall would shake, but the fort had been well built and would take some serious pounding.

The men at the back also had a battering ram, but the men there had much more trouble than they did out front, just getting it to the door.  Pinewood got his people to strike from the sides as soon as it rolled within range, and the men on the wall learned from the front and had big stones stockpiled by the time they arrived.

The difference between the front assault and the assault at the back seemed the numbers of men involved, and the ladders. The three towers got brought up on sleds over the mud and thin snow that covered the ground.  Pelenor confessed he had not thought of that.  And the men charged, and they had twenty-foot tall ladders, easily tall enough to reach the top.

Arthur’s men became hard pressed to keep the men and their ladders off the wall.  Some Scots broke through in a couple of places, at least temporarily.  Some made it down into the fort, but they did not last long.  Arthur had the men from the town, mostly farmers, merchants and craftsmen standing in reserve to defend their own women and children who were cowering in the Great Hall, the barn and barracks.  Kai’s young wife, Lisel, showed great courage in keeping up everyone’s spirits.  They sang hymns and spiritual songs and prayed.

Pinewood finally could not help himself.  He gathered his people on the back wall, facing the three towers.  As soon as they came within range, Pinewood sent barrage after barrage of flaming arrows into the green wood structures.  One burned and collapsed before it reached the wall. Men jumped for their lives.  One reached the wall, but it became a burning, unusable husk.  All it did was set that portion of the wall on fire.  The third reached the wall and spewed out some men, but it had also been set on fire and would not last long.  Some brave Scots climbed up the ladders and followed the first out of the tower door, but soon enough, that became impossible.  Pinewood and his fairies got small and zoomed back to their posts on the side, at the corners, only now they had to fire sometimes down into the fort itself, when they found a good target.

Gerraint waited until the main force of Scots charged. He had eight hundred men on horseback, ready.  Pelenor swore, ready to attack the Scots from the rear, but Peredur and Tristam kept him in check.  Gerraint took the three hundred footmen in their group and charged the catapults. It did not take long to end the resistance, and then he turned the Scottish catapults against their own men who got all bunched up beneath the wall, trying to scale ladders and get up the towers.

Boulder after boulder smashed into the Scotts while the majority of Gerraint’s footmen erected some quick entrenchments against footmen and possible cavalry, as the Scottish horsemen finally figured it out. They were holding back, ready to rush the gate once the gate got broken, so they had a more objective look at the whole battle.  They turned as a group, about five hundred, and prepared to rush the catapults.  They only had a second thought when they heard a resounding shout, “For Arthur!” and eight hundred lancers came pouring out of the woods.

Up front, the wood walls of the fort were in flames everywhere, and despite the years of weathering and flame retardant stains, the flames looked to be spreading.  The front wall had to be abandoned in most places.  With that, it looked certain that the Scots would break down the gate.  Kai got his men ready for the inrush of the enemy, and he rounded up as many horses as he could, not an easy task.  The horses were in a panic over the flames and smoke.  The great stables were untouched, but the barn was burning and there looked to be holes in the roof of the Great Hall where the fires got put out. When Arthur met Kai at the stables, he looked excited.

“Tristam is out back with maybe a thousand riders.”

“But I fear they may break in the front door,” Kai countered even as a fairy zoomed up to their faces with a message.

“Percival is out front.”

Kai danced for a moment before he gathered what horsemen he could.  Arthur did not dance, but he gathered his own.

Percival, having seen the smoke, charged from nearly two miles down the road.  He never stopped, sliced through the line of Scotts waiting to charge the fort once the front gate opened, trampled the Scottish archers who were drawn up originally to keep Arthur’s men pinned down on the wall but who were being picked off one by one by the fairy archers in the corners, and stopped, temporarily, when he sent the men on the battering ram running off in panic.  In fact, the whole thousand Scotsmen in the frontal attack decided that escape would be preferable to death, and ran.  Death looked certain with Percival’s arrival and no one stopped to count and see that they outnumbered the lancers three to one.

The front and back gates opened at once. Arthur and Kai rode out with more than a hundred each at their backs.  While a band of RDF rode to shut down the catapults out front and accept the surrender of whatever remained of the Scottish command group after the Elves finished with them, Kai and the rest joined Percival in driving the Scots back toward the wall, and they showed no mercy to any Scots who were slow.

Out back. the Scottish army started to withdraw, but it became a route when they saw their horsemen downed everywhere they looked.  They lost their towers, made little progress with the ladders, the gate held up to their pounding, while they were being pounded from above.  Now, with their cavalry destroyed, and Arthur and more enemies pouring out of the fort, they gave up.  Out back, it became nearly a thousand men on horseback chasing almost three thousand on foot, and they also showed no mercy on the slow.

Gerraint, meanwhile, had figured out where the Scottish commanders were.  They were on horse, at the back of their cavalry where they could keep an eye on the progress of the battle.  When Deerrunner got contacted by the fairy scout Gerraint had assigned to Percival’s traveling troop, he sent word to Bogus, lest the dwarf be upset at being left out of the fun.  Deerrunner and his elves knew it was not fun.  It was serious business, but dwarfs were strange ones.

Once Gerraint ascertained where the commanders were, he set Bogus and his dwarfs to encircle them, using whatever glamours and disguises they needed to get in close.  He did not want the Scots to get away, and became willing to use the phrase, dead or alive.  When the Scots began the withdrawal that became a route, the commanders were the first who tried to ride off and escape.  Bogus sprang into action.  Dwarf axes chopped off most of the horses at the knees, which Gerraint later called a great waste of horse flesh.  He felt less concerned about the twenty men who died to those same dwarf axes, and actually felt pleased with the five that the dwarfs let surrender.  He never knew how dead or alive might be interpreted, but he suspected goblins and ogres and trolls would rather interpret that as dead.

When Ederyn and his foot soldiers showed up around four that afternoon, he set his men immediately to help put out any remaining fires, check on the survivors, and in small groups, scour the immediate countryside for any lingering Scots.  Arthur, Kai, Percival, Tristam, Bedwyr, Pelenor and Peredur would not return until the following evening.  When they did, they found everything in as good an order as possible, and Gerraint and Ederyn had almost a hundred prisoners, including the leaders of the Scots. Fort Guinnon had sufficiently burned to where Arthur suggested tearing it down and starting over.  Kai agreed, and then he found Lisel among the dead. Three Scots broke into the Great Hall, and she stood in the way so the women and children behind her could escape into the back rooms and out the back door.

Arthur considered several ways of dealing with the prisoners, but in the end, he left that decision in Kai’s hands, knowing full well what Kai would do.  Kai had them hung and left on the one standing wall of the fort, the wall that faced north, and the Scots stayed there for weeks for any Scots who might be tempted to know what happened to their commanders.  Then he said he was going to build a true Caer, like Caerleon, big enough to hold a whole legion.  And he was going to build it out of stone, not like the wooden disaster the Saxon pirate Hueil built at Cambuslang.  He went to a growing port on the bay made by the Clyde river, and he thought he might name the Caer after his wife.  That building would take him the rest of his life.

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MONDAY

A misunderstanding with the Saxons need to be settled before the challenge of meeting the Scots and Danes, who appear to be working together.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 2 of 3

Things were going along so well by the late fall, when the first snows fell, Arthur thought to take a trip out of York.  He went guarded by five hundred men, so the journey moved rather slow, but he needed to get out, not the least from under Meryddin’s gaze.  Curiously, it was Meryddin who suggested the visits.

Arthur visited Loth first, and Loth made a grand show of welcoming him.  Loth declared how pleased he felt that things with the Scots appeared to be settling peacefully, and without bloodshed—though there were a few minor incidents.  Arthur accepted Loth’s praise, but he did not stay long.  Seeing Gwenhwyfach and Medrawt made him uncomfortable.

He brought his five hundred along the wall itself until he reached Kai’s home in the Fort called Guinnon.  Kai said he felt uncertain about what might really be happening among the Scots.  He said there seemed to be something else going on besides the families peacefully emigrating into Britain.  Arthur did not want to hear that, but Kai’s worry proved valid when they awoke one morning to find the fort surrounded by several thousand Scottish warriors. Arthur had telegraphed where he headed by moving along the wall, and the Scots concluded if they could get rid of Arthur, Britain, or at least north Britain might be theirs for the taking.

Kai had three hundred men stationed regularly at the fort, and with Arthur’s five hundred, that made a considerable force. But eight hundred men was not exactly a fair match against several thousand, even if the eight hundred had fort walls to hide behind.  Arthur knew he got in a bind.  His army remained scattered all over the countryside in small groups.  There were an additional eight hundred foot soldiers at York he could call on, but he had no way of sending them word of his predicament.

The assault on the fort that first day was not serious.  The Scottish commander tested their defenses, and the Scots were soundly beaten back. After that, it looked like the Scots appeared in no hurry.  They must have figured they had a couple of weeks before word of what was happening reached York, and probably a couple of weeks after that before all of Arthur’s men could be gathered.

As it turned out, on that first morning, Lord Pinewood found Gerraint with his troops traveling slowly up a back road. Gerraint immediately sent fairy messengers to all the other troop commanders and to Captain Croydon in York. He made a command decision not to gather all the troops back at York and then make a long march to Fort Guinnon. He told everyone to ride to Arthur’s relief as soon as possible.  He feared the time might be short.

Peredur and his troops were the first to arrive, and they made a dash for the front gate.  They found too many Scots outside the gate.  Peredur got part way to his goal and stalled.  It would have been worse if Arthur had not seen.  He hobbled together two hundred men and made a dash out of the gate to come to Peredur’s relief.  It became enough to break the hold around Peredur’s men, but the sheer numbers of Scots soon began to tell, even if they were initially caught by surprise. Peredur and his men were able to make a break for the open countryside and escape.  Arthur had to withdraw again behind the strong fort walls.  But Peredur lost nearly a quarter of his men, and they accomplished nothing.

The Scots did not chase Peredur out into the wilderness.  The Scottish commander may have concluded that one of Arthur’s wandering groups got closer than his scouts reported, but the numbers of any given group would be small. They would watch, but not worry about it.

Pelenor arrived and found Peredur licking his wounds. “We need to wait for one or two others,” Pelenor concluded.  “Let’s watch first and see what their plans are, and then see if we can disrupt them.” So, they set in to watch while the Scots felled lumber and built great siege towers they could push up to the wall.

The towers were built in the woods where they could remain hidden from the fort, but Peredur and Pelenor watched closely. Peredur argued for a quick strike to set the towers on fire before they could be used.  Pelenor insisted in this late fall mud the contraptions would never reach the walls before they bogged down or fell apart.  They were still watching when Tristam arrived and almost rode to the relief of the fort before they could stop him.  Since Peredur’s attack on the front gate, the Scots had entrenched their position and would have shredded Tristam’s men.

Tristam also argued in favor of destroying the towers before they could be completed, and Pelenor conceded to being out voted. They were just in the process of drawing up plans when Gerraint arrived and changed the plans again.

“You are focused on the wrong thing,” he said.  “We need to strike at the workers and drive them off, but leave the towers standing as a temptation for more men to come and continue the work.  Then we hit them again.  They suffer enough casualties and they won’t be able to convince enough men to finish the job.”

“I see that working twice, maybe.” Tristam said. “Then they will post a large guard on the work.”

“So we burn the towers on the second strike,” Pelenor said.

“Yes,” Peredur agreed.  “But Gerraint has a point.  Our effort needs to be focused on disrupting the army, not their building project.”

They argued for a time before they were set, and in the process, they realized that the main force of the enemy collected outside the small, back gate rather than the front.  Gerraint offered the obvious conclusion.

“They strike the front gate at dawn with enough men to draw the fort defenders to the front.  When the fighting gets fierce, they bring up their main force with the towers to the back and break in against light resistance.”

“Like a fox,” Pelenor said.  “But considering where they are building the towers, I have no doubt what you say is true.”

Arthur was not about to be fooled, especially after word arrived via fairy messenger.  He could see the Scots gathering by the front gate, but he could not really tell what might be happening out back.  He might have been taken in by the ruse if Gerraint had not warned him.  Even so, he realistically had to split his forces, with half up front to repel the attack there.  He felt sure, given the overwhelming numbers of Scots, all eight hundred might not be enough to repel the frontal assault, much less the bigger assault on his rear.

Lord Pinewood came to the fort with his fairy archers, flying over the wall in the dark, and that became some relief for Arthur.  But Pinewood told Arthur he had been commanded only to watch the walls on the sides, the one overlooking the farm fields and the one overlooking the village, long since burned to the ground.  He was not allowed to participate in the fight at the front and back gates, and had strict instructions to leave if the Scots broke in.

“I’m grateful for whatever you do,” Arthur said. He understood.  He did not want to see the fairies killed any more than Gerraint.

Pinewood had not finished.  “Of course, a square has a front side and a back side too, you know.”  Arthur wisely said nothing.

When the expected dawn came, and it felt hard to tell because the sky turned so grey and overcast, the attack got delayed.  Out back, the Scots managed to save three of the seven towers they were building and decided that was enough.  Three thousand men were chomping at the bit, wondering what might be wrong up front.

Up front, the commanders of the attack were being pinned down by elf archers.  Percival had prevailed on Gerraint’s fairy messenger to seek out Deerrunner and his troop to meet them at the fort.  He picked up Bedwyr on the way, and with Ederyn only a half day behind, he only hoped to arrive in time.  The only trouble was two of every three men were foot soldiers.  When Ederyn caught up with a forced march, that gave Percival three hundred on horseback.  The six hundred foot soldiers would need rest, even those not on the forced march, but Percival became determined to waste no more time.  He and Bedwyr rode off into the night.  They imagined the footmen might arrive sometime late the next day.

Deerrunner managed to pin down the commanders for the frontal assault.  No amount of circling around was able to fool the elves, though the Scots did not know who they were.  The Scots imagined they were some of the men who harassed the tower construction and sent a troop of horse men to roust them out.  But the horsemen were slain with inhuman skill, the elves rarely needing more than one arrow to finish the job, and the Scots still could not move.

Somehow, word went out to the line officers, and the attack began, but things did not go as well for the Scots at the front gate as they might have gone.  The fort, built like many forts in the day, had stone six feet high and whole logs rising another ten feet above that with a walkway on the back, also wood, four feet from the top.

The Scots had three catapults, not the small, portable ones Arthur and Gerraint so cleverly devised, but good old fashioned clunkers.  They might have done some real damage heaving stones into the fort.  They might have been a real problem heaving stones against the wooden part of the wall.  But the Scots were so impressed with the damage and terror caused by Arthur’s pitch and tar mix, they tried to do the same.  They did not have Arthur’s formula for the oil and grease mess that spattered fire and could not be put out with water, but they did their best with pine branches full of tars and resins.  Most shots hit the wall, whether intended or not, and they did set sections of the wall aflame.

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 1 of 3

Arthur caught up with Gerraint while he healed from his wounds.  Percival, Uwaine, and a whole troop from Caerleon came with him, and they escorted Gerraint to Cornwall where they saw him vested as high chief of the land. All of the lords of Cornwall declared their allegiance, along with the lords of the northern province of Devon; but then, like Tristam at Tintangle, they were mostly cousins of one sort or another. More telling were the towns, ports, and small cities like Exeter who did not hesitate to declare Gerraint their protector.

Gerraint moved things in a medieval direction by requiring men at arms from all the lords, towns and cities when the need arose to defend the land.  He levied a small tax, most of which got used to maintain the forts against pirates and keep the roads passable.  In this way, Cornwall became something of an independent kingdom, a condition that would remain for several centuries.

When Marat, the Irish prince, moved a force into the land and laid siege to Tintangle, Gerraint gladly accepted help from Arthur in a large contingent of the RDF, but he told Arthur not to mobilize. Gerraint raised the troops from his own people, a kind of test, and they broke the siege, and Tristam killed Marat, and that was it.  Arthur felt pleased that it did not cost him.  The people of Cornwall felt pleased and proud to accomplish the defense of the land, as Gerraint told them.  Everyone seemed winners, but from that day on, Cornwall began to move in its own direction.

Marcus died early in those days.  Cordella and Melwas came up from Lyoness and all but pledged their loyalty to Gerraint’s leadership.  Melwas was not the strongest leader.  In fact, Cordella ran their lands, as far as Gerraint could tell. And though this happened a good ten years before the disaster that hit Lyoness and sank most of the land into the ocean, from that point, Lyoness became like a third province in the Cornish kingdom.

Gerraint’s mother held on, but contented herself with her grandsons and avoided all the politics.  Gerraint found that despite his mixed feelings about his stepfather, the man had been an excellent and well organized high chief.  That made Gerraint’s job easy, and left him little to do. Those few years were good years overall. And Gerraint and Enid became like new, young lovers, and were very happy.  They had a third son giving them Peter, James and John, all named by Gerraint. Enid insisted she be allowed to name their daughter, if they had one.  But she did not feel disappointed with another boy.

Love, in those days was never so sweet, but of course, it did not last.

In the late spring of 512, word came that the Scots had broken the line of Hadrian’s wall.  Most of the Ulsterites moved into the north country, but those Picts that remained banded together to defend the eastern coast and the high country.  The north became a struggle, and while Gerraint wondered why any Scots would think British soil would be easier, he finally decided the rich land and warmer climate would be enough for some.

Loth sent no word.  His lands included the fort at Edinburgh, technically in Scottish territory.  Kai claimed Loth encouraged the Scots, but Arthur did not believe him.  What Arthur did believe was he would have to call in some men and head north.  He did not send out the general alarm because Croydon at York reported no army.  Some were raiders, after a fashion, but many came as migrants with women and children.

Gerraint called only the three hundred, which got back up to full strength.  Melwas sent a hundred and Tristam raised twice that in Devon.  Together, they rode for Cadbury, where Arthur called the men to gather.

In Cadbury, Gerraint first saw the attention Lancelot paid to Gwynyvar, and the affection she so evidently returned.  He never thought they had anything like a love affair.  Gwynyvar loved Arthur and was one who took that vow seriously, and Lancelot, the younger man, was all about honor and devotion to one’s duty; but they were very familiar with each other, or one might say, very close friends.  Arthur never said anything.  He let it slide, and once again Gerraint imagined guilt. Medrawt was a growing boy.

“The Welsh are an independent minded lot,” Arthur said in council.  There were hardly six hundred men to match Gerraint’s offering where they could have supplied two or three times the men.  There were a hundred from Caerdyf, another hundred from Morgana and her immediate neighbors, a third hundred from Ogryvan, Gwynyvar’s brother who was well aware that his other sister, Gwenhwyfach, lived in the north of Britain and thus presumably in danger.  That meant only three hundred men came from all the rest of Wales.

“Still tied too much to the old ways,” Percival suggested.

“Listening to Meryddin,” Gwillim translated.  “Not inclined to make war on the Scots and their druids whom they think of as cousins.  It would be a different response if we were after Angles or Saxons.”

“Maybe.”  Gerraint did not commit.  He knew that some were talking about Amorica where the old ways still held strong and the church was small.  The church started growing in Wales, like in Ireland, and that made some uncomfortable. Indeed, the church started making headway everywhere in Britain, Wales and Cornwall, but some were resistant.

“Well, good old Bedwyr sent a healthy group from Oxford even if only a handful from Londugnum,” Arthur said.

“I’m not sure there are more than a handful left in Londugnum,” Gerraint spoke up.  “Most of the trade between there and the continent is now run through Saxon and Angle hands, like it or not.”

“I can vouch for that,” Gwillim said.  “Brother Thomas says it is hardly worth running ships from the Thames the way the Angles tax everything.  He constantly reminds me that most of the Angle-Saxon people are just ordinary merchants and farmers, like us.”

“Anglo-Saxon,” Gerraint interrupted.

“Anglo-Saxon,” Gwillim tried the word.  “But he says their tax on the transportation of goods is too high.”

“I am inclined to agree with Bedwyr.  It isn’t the common people, it is the lords and warriors among the Germans who want to expand their lands,” Percival said.

“Anglo-Saxons,” Gwillim and Uwaine corrected him in unison.

“That makes sense to me, too.”  Someone spoke from the doorway.  Arthur’s old master Peredur came in, and Ederyn and Pelenor were with him. Peredur and Ederyn smiled and looked glad to see everyone.  Pelenor remained stoic.

“Seems to me, we have the Scots to worry about right now,” Pelenor said.

“Our men are gathering on the road to the north,” Peredur said.  “We should be able to pick them up on the way.”

“On the way,” Arthur mumbled, as Meryddin came in. Arthur called for Gwyr to give his report on the numbers.  There were eighteen hundred Britains gathered by the time they reached York, and with the twelve hundred from Cornwall and Wales, it was a pretty sizeable force for a limited call.  It was far more than a young and inexperienced Arthur could raise, but since then, Arthur had proved himself a winner.  People were more inclined to come out and support a winner.

###

Arthur formed seven groups of roughly three hundred men each.  Gerraint took two hundred of his own and the hundred from Lyoness.  Tristam took his two hundred and a hundred from Cornwall. The other five groups were more mixed, but Arthur made sure each of the other groups had at least one hundred trained RDF men.  Routes were devised, and all summer and well into the fall, the Scottish immigrants got tracked down.  North Britain had become fairly depopulated after the sons of Caw ravaged the land. Many Scots were found rebuilding abandoned villages and sewing abandoned fields.

All that time, Meryddin stayed in York, to advise Arthur and keep contact with the groups in the field.  He wrote regular letters, and while later, many suspected he wrote to the Scots and passed along information, nothing could ever be proved.

All of the Scots found in northern Britain were given a choice.  First, the leadership had to confess Christ, build a church, and bring in a priest. Second, they needed to submit to the laws levied by whatever British lord in whose territory they lived, and become good British citizens.  Third, they had to acknowledge Arthur, son of Uther as their high chief and war chief and submit to his judgment on all matters pertaining to the common defense of the land.  If these three conditions were willing to be met, the Scots could stay and rebuild the land. Rejecting any one of these conditions meant safe escort back north of Hadrian’s Wall.

The Scots were not unfamiliar with Christianity even if they were not sure exactly what it was all about, but many were willing, and the church quickly found volunteers who would be glad to instruct them. In the north, Kai and Loth more or less split the land between them, but there were many lesser chiefs who answered to them and helped in the defense of the wall.  The Scots had to find out whose land they were actually on and make peace with their lord, but again, most were willing.  As for Arthur, most of the Scots were glad enough to have him on their side.  So most stayed, though some did take the escort back across the wall.

R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 3 of 3

Gerraint awoke in a tent, or maybe a pavilion, it seemed hard to tell, lying on his stomach the way he was.  He knew it was red, but he imagined some rather odd things for Britain in that age—namely silk.  He wondered very briefly if maybe he died and this was his next life, but he really only had one thought.  “Enid?” He could not speak loud.  “Enid?”

“I am here.”

Gerraint heard, but could not see her.  He tried to turn his head, but his shoulder felt immobilized.  His leg also seemed to be in some kind of traction.  And every part of his body hurt, except his little toe on his right foot, he decided.  “I’ve been having bad dreams, really nightmares.”  He tried to turn his head a little more, but she stood out of sight. “Really, I would be ashamed to tell you what I dreamed.  I was awful. I doubted you.  I’m sorry.” He began to cry softly.  “I love you, and I will never doubt you.  Not for real.”  He began to weep and found his head cradled by Enid who also wept.  She kissed his head and then very gently moved to an angle where she could touch her lips to his.

“And I will never doubt you,” she said, and they cried together until exhaustion took Gerraint back into a deep sleep.

“Mother.”  A woman stood in the doorway.  Enid stayed seated in a high-backed chair at the woman’s insistence.  Lord Pinewood stood beside the woman dressed in his hunter’s green.  “Mother.” the woman called again, and Gerraint woke up just enough to offer no objections.  Danna came, and the goddess slipped out of the braces that had Gerraint immobilized. She stood and acknowledged Rhiannon and commanded one thing.

“Explain.”

Rhiannon stood with something in her arms that looked like a giant, translucent caterpillar.  She petted the beast like one might pet a kitten, and she talked.  “It was Meryddin.  He told me about a good young couple he was very concerned about. He said the man was upright, but the wife had a wandering eye for the men.  He asked to borrow the incubus for only a short while and convinced me if the woman could only see herself and the harm she was doing she might be cured and become faithful and they might be a happy couple.  I knew the incubus was a danger.  Given time, it will drive a person to madness, insanity and death, but Meryddin was persuasive, and I thought if only for a short time it might do what he proposed.”

Danna interrupted.  “But he lied to you, and you believed him.  He meant it for Goreu all along.  Goreu came to believe Enid was the one who had the wandering eye and the wandering hands and that she was betraying her wedding vows and betraying him in the worst sort of way.  Yet he still loved her and would not give up on her though he was conflicted about what to do.  He considered locking her away, and at the same time he threw himself into combat, thinking if he was killed, Enid might be happy.”

“After months alone and then months keeping innocent Enid prisoner, with no one the wiser, Lord Pinewood found him on the first day of their journey.  He flew without rest to Lake Vivane to plead with me, saying Gerraint had something on his back.  I thought it nothing, but his pleading was so earnest, at last I thought to see for myself. Thus I found him, the incubus on his back.”

“Merlin.” Danna spat the word and turned to Enid.  “A djin is a creature that delights in torturing and tormenting humans.  They feed off the fear and pain and in the end consume the poor human soul. Meryddin is one quarter djin.  The chance to ruin Gerraint’s happiness in just this sort of demented way says to me that he has made peace with that quarter of himself.”

“I helped,” Rhiannon admitted in a moment of full confession.  “He came to me in agony, and I helped him see that he was not to blame for his birth and he need not give in to the evil.  He is gifted, and can use those gifts for good.”

“Oh, Rhiannon.  When will you stop falling prey to every sad face with big puppy-dog eyes?”

“But we got it in time,” Rhiannon said.  “Gerraint held out for a long time.  I am sure he had help through time, and he loves Enid so very much.”

“Not the point.  The point is what to do about Meryddin, and I think for now we do nothing. We watch him, but don’t let on that he is being watched.  If he learned and does good, we leave him alone.  Goreu may have been an isolated case.  He does not know who Goreu is, but he has an instinctive fear of him.  For now, we wait and see.”

“I made all that happened seem like a bad dream, a nightmare for him,” Rhiannon said.  “I had to do it while the incubus was still attached.  You know even a goddess cannot touch the mind of the Kairos in that way.  But hopefully the bad dream will fade in time.”

“I, on the other hand, will not be able to hide the truth of what happened forever.  He will remember sooner or later, and then I suspect there will be some decisions to make.  Rhiannon, you understand some of it will fall on your head.”

“I will accept my punishment, only don’t be mad at me.”

Danna stepped forward and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek.  “Just stay away from the wrong sorts of men.”  She turned to Enid.  “Did you understand all this?”

Enid nodded.  “It was not Gerraint.  It was that incubus telling him stories that were not true and making him believe the stories.  But now I have him back to me and he thinks it was all just a bad dream.  Yes?”

“Yes, and Meryddin?”

“He has always scared me.”  Enid shivered.  “As long as I don’t have to watch him.”

Danna was glad to hear no desire for revenge.  “You need not watch him.  Pinewood?”

“Day and night,” Pinewood said, with a slight bow.

Danna nodded and got back into the harness and braces. She went away and Gerraint came back to mumble that he felt thirsty.  Enid gladly rushed to bring him some water.

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MONDAY

Arthur, Percival, terrain and Uwaine are called to the north.  The Scots are acting like maybe they overcame the Picts and are now looking south.  They want control of Hadrian’s wall, and maybe a good slice of fertile, sparsely populated British soil as well.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 2 of 3

They traveled through occasional woods that punctuated the meadow grass at this altitude.  Enid concluded this poor excuse for a road Gerraint had chosen led them high through the hills.  She imagined, in better days, this could have been a pleasant ride, out among the wildflowers.  But she did not let her imagination take her from reality.  The sky turned gray and overcast, and so did she.  She had long since given up wondering what she could have done.  She concluded that all she had done was love him, and that was all she was going to do.

At noon, she stopped because a tree crossed the road as an effective roadblock.  She felt uncertain what to do, to speak or not.  Gerraint came up and she held her tongue.  He got a bit of rope he carried with him, tied it to the small end of the tree and to his saddle and his horse pulled until the tree got moved enough to make a path at the side of the road.  He waved at Enid to go around and continue to ride out front while he retrieved his rope. but she did not go far before she called out.

“Gerraint.”

Gerraint hurried, and he got surprised when he saw a man in the middle of the road.  Enid stood on her feet and to the side of the road, worrying her horse’s nose.  He wondered why Enid did not just ride off with the man, but then he saw that this man appeared richly armored in fine chain mail, and sported a long spear such as the Romans used to carry.  Another attempt to see him killed?  He wondered.

“This is my road,” the man said from beneath his helmet. “You cannot pass unless you pay the toll.  I must see all that you have to determine how much you should pay, so please be good enough to empty your bags on the road.”

Gerraint said nothing.  He put on his own helmet, mounted and grabbed his lance.  Then he spoke.  “This is Arthur’s road.  Toll tax is forbidden.”  He charged. The man started a little behind, like this was not the usual response, but he did not start far behind.

They crashed.  Gerraint did not get the best hit on his opponent.  The man was much smaller than he first appeared in the saddle. The man did get a good hit on Gerraint, but his spear splintered on Gerraint’s shield and those two hits combined were enough to unseat the little man.  Gerraint’s shoulder got bruised from the blow, but he appeared to have the upper hand until he looked and saw his lance had cracked.  He threw it to the ground and pulled his sword as he leapt to his feet.

The little man got to his feet and began to bob and weave around the road, sometimes ducking under Gerraint’s sword hand. He got a couple of good blows into Gerraint’s side, not enough to break the chain, but sure enough to leave a mark. Then he ducked under Gerraint’s backswing, and Gerraint put out his gloved hand.  He hit the little men right in the face hard enough to knock him to the ground and bloody his nose.  He tried to rise, but Gerraint brought the pommel of his sword down on the man’s helmet. He left a big dent and left the little man on his knees.  Before Gerraint could do anything else, the little man pulled a knife and stabbed Gerraint in the thigh.  Gerraint howled but used that leg to kick the little man in the chest.  He flew several feet before he landed hard and he lost hold of his sword.  Gerraint stepped up to finish things when the little man cried out.

“Mercy Lord.  Mercy, please.”

Gerraint paused while he pulled the knife out of his own leg with a tremendous cry.  He turned the blade so the point would be in the little man’s face, but the man had his eyes closed like he might be praying.

“On condition,” Gerraint said.  “Henceforth the road is free.  No more travel tax, and you respect the travelers who come through here.”  He stepped over to take the little man’s sword.  “And don’t make me come back here to enforce the rules.”  When he looked up, he saw Enid crying again.  She looked overjoyed at his victory, but terribly worried about the wound in his leg.  She looked to be suffering from holding her tongue.  Gerraint thought she was play acting, and might have said something except he heard something else.  It sounded like twelve or fifteen horses riding hard across the fields, skirting the woods.

When the little man heard, he grinned ferociously. Gerraint figured the man’s gang rode to finish the job.  Enid heard and covered her eyes in her fear, but then Gerraint heard something else. It sounded like bowshot followed by men shrieking and screaming.  Then the sound of the horses stopped, and Gerraint had a comment.

“Probably Deerrunner and a pocket of elves, or maybe Pinewood and his fairies.  In either case, do I need to ask some of them to stick around and make sure you keep the conditions?”

“No, Lord.”  The little man looked horrified by the thought, and twice terrified by the fact that his men were likely all dead.

Gerraint said no more to the little man.  He turned to Enid with the word, “Ride.”

Enid rode, but looked back.  Gerraint strapped up his cracked lance and got on his horse, but it looked hard.  He felt pretty banged up from three would-be rapists and now the little man.  What was more, he did nothing for the wound in his thigh.  He did not even wash it, and that would be a sure risk for infection.

All afternoon they rode.  When the rain finally came mid-afternoon, their pace hardly slackened.  Enid felt sure they had traveled over the heights by then and were headed down toward some distant valley.  She desperately wanted to stop and be allowed to tend his wounds, but he would not stop. After sundown, they entered a village and procured a room.

This time, Gerraint made Enid stay with him while he tended the horses.  Then he took her upstairs and told her to stay in the room.  He would have locked her in if the door had a lock.  He went downstairs and had a very plain supper of bread and meat.  He tried not to drip too much blood on the furniture.  When he felt satisfied, he took a chunk of bread and a jug of water for Enid.  He found her already on the floor and the fire well lit.  They did not need it.  The weather had warmed, but they were still rather high in the hills.

“Here.”  Gerraint gave her the bread and water and went immediately to lie down on his back. His leg throbbed, but all the same, he did not stay awake long.  He awoke when she ripped his pants leg and began to wash his wound.  She had a strip of cloth from the bottom of her own dress to use as a bandage.  Maybe he lost too much blood so he did not have the energy, or maybe he just felt too tired, but he made no move to stop her.  He imagined she might be cleaning his wound with poison.  At the moment, he did not care and went back to sleep.

###

In the morning, they began their journey again, now clearly down the hill that Gerraint guessed was Mount Badon.  They were not far from Bath.  Gerraint ached for the first two hours before his muscles worked out the kinks.  He thought when they arrived in Cornwall in two or three weeks, he would kill the first man that talked to her.  It had been a long time since his childhood days of exploring the fort in every nook and cranny, but he remembered a dungeon cell that might be cleaned up and fixed up with furniture.  That seemed like the only place he could think to keep her where she would not have a chance to get her hands on another man.  He meant her no harm, but she should take her vows more seriously, instead of being such a harlot, which by then he felt convinced she was.

By mid-morning, Gerraint’s ears picked up a call for help. Though Enid rode up front, he galloped right passed her and she had to catch up.  No doubt the sound of horses scared off the robbers.  They found a young woman in the woods by a gentle stream, just off the road, and a young man on the ground, not moving.

“Three giants,” the woman said, and pointed in the direction they fled into the woods.  “They killed him.”  She appeared hysterical.  “They killed him.”

“Stay with her,” Gerraint told Enid, and he rode straight into the woods after what seemed an easy trail to follow.  Apparently, the so-called giants were not worried about being followed.

Gerraint unstrapped his lance and yelled, “For Arthur,” but it became the only warning he would give.  They were not giants, but they were as big as Gerraint, and one looked bigger.  They turned around at Gerraint’s shout, and good thing because he was not one to stab people in the back.  The lance stayed together well enough to run through the first, but then it became so many splinters.

The biggest man appeared lightly armored, and Gerraint thought that broad chest would be a good target for his long knife, Defender. The man yelled and fell off his horse when Defender penetrated several inches.  That left the third man alone, but that man had a spear, so Gerraint leapt out of his horse and tackled the man.  The spear fell out of reach.

They wrestled for a moment and shared their fists before swords came out.  The man knew his business with a sword, but it had been learned.  Gerraint had all the experience in the arena of kill or be killed and soon enough he crippled the man in the legs and followed through with a clean cut across the man’s middle.  Then his shoulder caught fire with pain as the big man brought his big sword down on Gerraint from behind.  He may have been aiming at Gerraint’s head, but he caught the shoulder with a powerful blow.  It broke through the chain mail, broke several bones and cut a big, gaping wound.

Gerraint called for Defender, and his knife, of its own volition, vacated the big man’s chest and flew to Gerraint’s hand.  The man howled and lost the grip on his sword. The sword fell out of Gerraint’s shoulder as he turned, and in one powerful backswing, sliced through most of the man’s neck so the head lolled back and dragged the rest of the body with it.

Gerraint managed to wipe and sheath his blades, though it felt like agony to do it.  He dragged his broken body up into the saddle, his arm hanging all but useless at his side.  The wound in his leg broke wide open again and he had a struggle holding on to his horse. But he became concerned about the women being left alone beside the road with only a dead body to protect them. When he found them well, he slipped off his saddle and fell to the ground.

R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 1 of 3

Gerraint felt reluctant to go home.  He kept thinking how beautiful Enid was, and how much he loved her, but he feared that maybe she turned from him when he went away. She certainly had the young men interested wherever she went, and Gerraint feared that one of those men might have turned her head during his long absence. It ate at him, and at times he became enraged, even at simple things.

Enid spent most of her lonely days at Caerleon in the company of Gwynyvar, but that summer she received word that Marcus Adronicus became ill.  He sent word searching for Gerraint, because Gerraint would need to be chieftain for Cornwall as Marcus became convinced he was dying.  Gerraint’s mother, who had grown close to Enid and her children, pleaded for her to return home, saying Cornwall would be her home as Queen for the people.  Enid came, but they still heard no word from Gerraint.

That fall, Gerraint returned to Caerleon and took his anger out on the practice fields.  By then, he felt sure Enid did not return his love and only coveted his position.  He felt certain she had a secret lover, and maybe more than one.  And as he knocked man after man from their horses in the practice field, he began to wonder if even his sons where his.

Enid found him in Caerleon, and she sent for him, but he did not come.  Word came from Gwynyvar that said Gerraint was fighting some kind of madness and neither Arthur, nor Percival, nor Uwaine, nor any of the others were able to reach him in is fevered state.  She suggested that maybe Enid could reach him and bring him back to sanity, not knowing Enid as the source of his madness.  Enid needed no other invitation.  She left her boys in their grandmother’s good hands and crossed the channel to Caerleon.

When she arrived, Gerraint took her to his home in town and locked her in.  He stayed in the home, often sitting alone in the front kitchen, and fretted and stewed in his anger.  She cried every day, not knowing how to reach him.  Every night they lay there, side by side, but he would not so much as touch her or let her touch him.

Gerraint hired an old woman to cook and clean.  At first, he let Gwynyvar and some of the ladies visit, but he soon got the notion that they were carrying messages from Enid’s secret lover, so he ended those days.  Arthur came once with Gwynyvar to try and reason with him, but he would not let them in the front door.  He almost said something about Arthur’s infidelity with Gwenhwyfach, but by some internal grace, he managed to close his mouth as he closed the door.

He sat for months, until he finally got the notion that even the old cook might be acting as a go between for Enid’s lover, and he let her go.

###

Word came in the late spring that his step-father was indeed dying and Gerraint would be expected to take on the responsibilities of Cornwall.  He said nothing.  He saddled two horses, made Enid ride on one while he followed behind.

“Ride out front, far enough away from me where I don’t have to hear your weeping.  Those tears aren’t going to work on me.  And don’t talk to me unless I talk to you first.”

Enid rode, but slowly, and all she could think was this was not her husband and she wanted her husband back.

From the beginning, Gerraint turned them off the main road and on to some back trails and farm paths that hardly qualified for roads. He did not want to be followed out of Caerleon, and in the back of his mind he thought he might run into some thieves who might kill him and then Enid would get what she wanted.

When he got to the top of a hill, he saw Enid talking to a hunter on horseback who had just come out from the woods ahead.  Enid made the hunter wait there while she rode back to tell Gerraint.

“The kind gentleman has invited us to sup with him,” Enid reported.

Gerraint’s anger flared and he lowered his lance and charged.  The hunter turned and rode quickly back into the woods where he would not be caught, and Gerraint stopped and turned back.  “I told you not to talk to me,” he yelled at her.  “Ride out front.”  Enid turned, did as asked, and wept some more.

They were still among the trees when it got dark. Gerraint pulled them off the road and told Enid to watch the horses.  He went to lie down, and slept.  At dawn, Enid still dutifully watched the horses.

Around noon, they came out of the woods and into some fields where people were working, tending the crops.  A fine-looking village lay nestled on the hillside far in the distance, and a young woman with a large basket came up the road.  Enid passed pleasantries until Gerraint caught up. She turned and told him this young woman was bringing supper to the men in the fields and would be glad to share what she had.

Gerraint acted gracious to the young woman and gladly received what she offered in the way of bread and meat.  He asked about the village, still some distance ahead, and learned that there was indeed an inn, though there were not many travelers on this road.  Gerraint said thank you, and as the young woman walked toward the field and the workers, he said to Enid, “You just can’t shut-up, can you?”

Enid wanted to say something more, but held her tongue when he said, “Ride.”  She continued out front but felt for the moment devoid of tears.

Gerraint got a room at the inn.  There were a few other guests despite the word to the contrary. He saw the horses taken care of, and entered the downstairs room in time to see Enid sitting quietly by the fire and a big, ugly man walk away from her to sit with two other men.  He almost hit her for entertaining the man, but instead they ate and went to the room where he knocked her to the floor.

“You sleep on the floor and tend the fire,” he growled and took himself to the bed to sleep.  Enid fretted for a time.  She dared not speak to him.  She felt afraid, but in the end, she became more afraid for him than of him.  If need be, she would die for him, but she was not prepared to watch him die.  She woke him and spoke.

“That man by the fire said if I would not go with him, he would come in the night and take me by force.”  Gerraint made no answer, but rose and dressed.  He dragged Enid down to the horses which he saddled. He gathered his equipment and told her only one thing

“Ride.”

She rode out front, far enough to not be able to speak to him.  She prayed as she rode, a bit faster than before, and she kept looking back to be sure he kept up.  Fortunately, the moon came up and the stars were bright, and they rode between the fields so there were no long shadows to interfere with her sight.

Gerraint heard the horses long before they became visible.  He knew it was his elf ears.  Then he saw the three riders long before they could see him.  That was his dark elf eyes.  He put on his helmet and pulled his lance to be ready before they were on him. He charged, and that took the riders by surprise.  He ran the big old man straight through the middle, and the man made a sound of death, but he grabbed the lance as he fell from the horse so Gerraint had to let it go and pull his sword, Wyrd.

The man who ended up beside Gerraint had his sword out as well, but looked confused.  He swung wildly in the dark and struck Gerraint’s side below his arm, but Gerraint’s chain armor stopped the weapon, making only a bruise. Gerraint’s swing was more accurate. He sliced above the man’s chain, easily slicing through the man’s neck.

The third man kept trying to get around the big man’s horse, and cursing, but when he saw his comrade fall, he looked ready to bolt.  Gerraint got his horse in the way.  They traded sword swipes several times before the seasoned soldier in Gerraint took over and he cut the man’s arm before he cut his neck as well.  This man fell to the ground.  The other still pranced around, a dead body on horseback.

Gerraint got down, cleaned his sword and returned it to his back.  He pulled out his lance, noted that it had not cracked or broken and strapped it again to his saddle.  Enid came running up.  She threw her arms around him and cried.

“Gerraint.  I was so worried about you.”

Gerraint stepped back.  “You are not to speak to me unless I speak to you first.  Your job is to ride.”  He shoved her toward her horse and got up on his own.  He had wondered why Enid did not offer herself to those men at the inn, since she could not keep her hands off other men. He decided it had been a ploy to entice the men to kill him.  Her life would be easier without a husband.

They left the dead where they lay and rode well into the night.  Enid began to weave in the saddle.  This had now been two nights when she had not slept, and Gerraint had not become completely heartless.  Indeed, that seemed the trouble.  He loved her, and he could not be a monster.  He would never hit her or harm her, or see her harmed no matter how much he might feel like it.  He caught up to her and took the reins of her horse.  He lifted her sleeping body out of the saddle and laid her in a field. He watched over her and the horses, and sat to contemplate just how cruelly his life had turned.

By dawn, he imagined she had slept four hours. The sky threatened a late spring rain, and he felt anxious to get going.  He woke her and made her get back in the saddle while he spoke one word to her.

“Ride.”

This time she said nothing.  She merely lifted her chin and rode out front, alone.