M3 Gerraint: Glastonbury Tor, part 3 of 3

Macreedy led them along in a zigzag pattern, but always stayed within the bounds of the path.   They could see the lightning crashing across the sky and charging into the tree tops as if trying to get at them.  It became slow going for this short leg of the journey, but they could not go faster as the elements all seemed arrayed against them.  No one spoke, though they could hardly hear each other above the thunder.  Then again, by that point no one seemed in the mood to speak.

There were no mishaps.  After the mud, everyone felt perfectly willing to follow Macreedy’s path; but then just before the seventh and last turn, when the rain slackened to a drizzle, the bugs, dust and mud had become only nominally annoying, and the wind dropped to tolerable levels, Macreedy himself got surprised.

“You shall not pass.”

It looked like a man, armored, sword drawn; except that he stood a good seven feet tall and skinny as a pole.  He looked almost like bones to which a small bit of flesh barely clung.  Every man there got ready to draw sword against the enemy.  Gerraint had to yell fast.

“Hold to your charges!  Do not let go, no matter what!”

Everyone stopped.  They could hardly fight and still hold on to an elf maiden.  Macreedy, at the same time, kept Arthur’s sword arm pinned.

“Damn it, man,” Arthur swore, but Macreedy would not let go.

“What right have you to keep me from my home?”  Gerraint spoke boldly as he drew Wyrd, the sword of fate.

“Your home?”  The tall man laughed.  The swords rang once against each other and the men began to circle to gauge their opponent and look for a weak point to attack.  Clearly, both knew the craft, and well.

“Of course it is my home.  I took it.  I built it,” Gerraint said.  The swords rang again, and the circling continued. “I cleaned out the Formor vermin.”

The circling stopped.  The giant roared and advanced suddenly.  Gerraint got caught by surprise, but he was too much of a seasoned soldier to go down to a berserker.  Anger is generally not a good tactic.  Gerraint parried, side stepped and ran his sword along the man’s stomach and arm.  He did not make a deep wound, hardly life threatening, but it was first blood.

The giant stopped, hand on stomach.  It lifted its’ hand as if utterly surprised by the blood.  It looked at the drips with incomprehension in its eyes, and spoke at last.  “I’m bleeding,” the giant said.  “In twice times two thousand years I have never been bled.”  It spun to face Gerraint.  “Who are you?”

Gerraint now looked puzzled.  “Who are you?”

“I am Damien.  Last of the Formor.  But I’m bleeding.”  Damien could just not grasp the concept.

“But you should not be here,” Gerraint said, quickly.  “Why haven’t you passed over to the other side?  The time for dissolution is near five hundred years gone.  Why are you still here?”

Damien had to struggle a minute to answer.  “To protect the beauty of loveliness,” Damien said.

“What?”

“Who.”  Damien started coming to his senses.  “She who remains of Tara.”

“Rhiannon?”  Gerraint guessed, but the Formor shook his head.  “You mean there is another one?  God preserve me from all my disobedient children!”

“Your children?”  The Formor stared at him, and it was not a kindly look.  The stomach still dripped, but the arm already started crusting over.

“I am the Kairos,” Gerraint said, with a glimpse at his companions.  “That is all you need to know, but maybe you can figure out the rest for yourself.”

The Formor opened his mouth and shut it almost as quickly, finally lowered his eyes.  Gerraint wiped and sheathed his sword.  The Formor lunged, but found Gerraint’s long knife planted deep in the giant’s chest.

“She will not be far behind you,” Gerraint said, as the giant’s eyes rolled up and the Formor collapsed to the ground.  The flesh and blood and bone that had been, decayed rapidly and became dust to be carried off on the wind.  Gerraint retrieved his blade.

“Treachery of the highest order,” Macreedy said.

“Unknowing and innocent, perhaps,” Gerraint felt gracious.  “But now we must hurry.”

“Clearly,” Arthur agreed.  No one wanted to say outright that she who was left at Tara, whoever the beauty of loveliness was, might very well have helped the others find their way to Avalon.

They turned the seventh turn, and all went calm, but it became like the stillness before the tornado.  “Get down.” Several voices rang at once, but they were hardly heard above the din.  It sounded to Gerraint like the train had leapt from the tracks.

“Hold on!  Before and behind!”  People linked up like their own little train and inched forward.

“Damn, disobedient, teen-aged, doofuses, dipsticks.”  Gerraint moved forward with each word, dragged Macreedy along as Macreedy had hold of Gerraint’s ankle with his free hand.  His other hand was still clamped around Arthur’s arm while Arthur got preoccupied holding on to his boot where Mesalwig seemed to have a death grip.

“Dern, indifferent, indescribable, daughter!”

The wind began to whip Gwynyvar’s dress into her legs and cause sharp pain, and once it appeared to grab her and tried to lift her from the ground altogether.  Luckless and Lancelot both had to grab her to keep her grounded, and Lancelot’s elf maiden had to wrap her arms around Lancelot’s neck to ride on his back.

“There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home,” Gerraint shouted.

“You’re weird,” Arthur shouted back.

“Thank you,” Gerraint said, and he almost lost his grip on the dirt.  “Stop it!”  He began to shout.  “Stop it!”  The force of the wind arrayed against them became unbearable.  He yelled a third time, “Stop it!”  And the wind stopped, suddenly and absolutely, and everyone fell forward into a hole and landed in the dirt with a thump.

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

MONDAY

Everyone lands in Tara only to be confronted by the guardian goddess, and she is not happy with having intruders in her home.  Monday: Tara to Avalon.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Gerraint: Glastonbury Tor, part 2 of 3

“Mmm.”  Gerraint nodded before Luckless said too much about the Lady’s virtues to trigger a jealous spell in Lolly.  “We don’t know what we will find on the other side.  This whole thing smells of intrigue and powers at work.”

“Yes, I heard that Abraxas fellow has been poking around this area.”  Luckless pulled his beard.  “I hope we don’t have to tangle with him again.”

“I think Talesin may be tangled up here as well.”  Gerraint finally admitted what he felt way back in Arthur’s court when those ghostly hands carried the ghostly cauldron across the room.

“That breed child of the Danna-Fee has been no end of trouble.”  Luckless shook his head to give Gerraint all his sympathy.

“Yes, you would think after four thousand years he would grow out of that teenage rebellious stage,” Gerraint said.  “But the point is, I don’t know what we will find in Tara when we arrive, or on Avalon of the Apples if we must go there.  Your job is to stay with the Lady, no matter what, and be sure no harm comes to her.”

“Yes.”  Luckless thought about it.  “I see what you mean by hard duty.”

“You understand?”  Gerraint asked.

Luckless nodded and they were introduced and paired up, ready at last for the journey.

“Bear to the left,” Macreedy said at the stone of starting, and they began the seven-fold path to the top.

Gerraint had to concentrate a little to make the magic work.  It was magic given to him; not natural like for the others.  Then again, the others had to concentrate a little as well to bring their charges along with them.  The result was most of the conversation ran between the humans, and little else got said.

The morning began spring beautiful, but after the first turn, it felt like they walked into an oven.  Everyone began to sweat, except the elf maidens, and the people began to think that perhaps they should have packed less thoroughly.  They told a few jokes about what they did not need to bring, but no one complained, yet.

After the second turn, the wind picked up.  Not far along, the dust began to blow up in their faces.

“Can’t hardly see where we’re going,” Gwillim said.

“Yes, you would think after all the rain we had it would be too muddy to blow dust,” Mesalwig responded.

“I’ve a feeling things are just beginning,” Uwaine said, softly.

“Don’t look at me,” Bedivere said.  “I’m practicing keeping my mouth shut this time.”

“Ours is not to reason why,” Lancelot started again.

“Knock it off,” Gerraint interrupted.

“Ooo, the bugs!”  Gwynyvar objected for everyone.  As they made the third turn, the bugs came with the dust and heat.  They flew up in their faces, like the people were race cars and the bugs were trying to splatter against the windshields, though they had no windshields.

“What do you mean you have a recipe for spite bugs?”  Everyone heard Trevor’s objection, and it did sound rather awful.  Everyone tried to keep their mouths closed, and as far as possible, their eyes as well.  Some of the flies were rather large, and some were rather bloody when they splattered against the arms and legs.

“Now, it is a pleasant journey,” Peredur said, held tight to his elf maiden, and smiled as much as he could.  No one could tell if he was serious or not, so no one responded.

“I must say, this never happened when we were working on the fort,” Mesalwig added, but by then they reached the fourth turn.

They all heard a loud crack of thunder. No one saw the lightning, but at once the sky opened up in torrents of rain.  The sky had been virtually clear of clouds only moments earlier.  No one could see but a few feet ahead, and they had to shout to be heard above the crash of the water.

Macreedy tried to pick up the pace as much as possible, but they were slow going against the squall.

“At least it might lessen the damn heat,” Lancelot yelled.

“God willing.”  Gwillim puffed a little from the climb.

They began to feel the water at their feet.  It cascaded down the path, and the water started rising.  “It will only get worse if we don’t hurry,” Macreedy spoke at last.

It got ankle deep at the half-way point, and at their knees by the time they neared the turn.  No flash flood ever bore such strength as it seemed to want to push them from the path and keep them from completing the journey.

“Ah!”  Gwynyvar shrieked and would have been washed away if Luckless had not held tight to her hand.  Lancelot grabbed her other hand, and they pulled her ahead, and lifted her at the last and pushed through the water by sheer determination.  Neither the elf maidens nor Luckless let go that whole time.  They did not seem as effected by the flood as the others.  Then they rounded turn five, and the rain stopped as suddenly as it started.

“Beware the quick mud,” Macreedy warned.  “Once it grips you, it won’t let go as easily as quicksand.”

Everyone paused.  Without a word, they all felt it prudent to let Gerraint, Arthur and Macreedy pick out the safe way, and they followed in their steps.  Without the heat, the dust, the bugs and the rain, this leg did not seem so bad, provided they were careful.  The elf maidens guided their charges well, and only Trevor became temporarily stuck when his foot slipped on a wet rock and landed in the mud.

“Help.”  He yelled briefly before he thought to pull his foot from his boot.  They watched the boot get sucked under in only a few seconds and it made all sorts of disgusting gurgling sounds in the process.

They were nearing the top when they made turn six.  It looked from the turn like a pleasant walk.  They even found some trees at this level, and with the shade they felt that at last the heat might not be too oppressive; but then everything returned with a vengeance—the wind, the dust, the bugs and the rain, and this time the lightning came with it.

M3 Gerraint: Glastonbury Tor, part 1 of 3

They did not leave as early in the morning as Gerraint would have liked.  Despite Rhiannon’s claim of protection, he started getting very worried.  All the same, they arrived at Glastonbury before nightfall, and Mesalwig made them a great feast.  No telling exactly what the old man thought of Arthur and his companions at that point, or how he might respond to the presence of Gwynyvar, whom he once held captive for nearly a year, but there was no doubt of his interest in adventuring on the quest, once the details had been explained to him.

“The old fort at the top has been torn down,” Mesalwig explained.  “I must tell you, after a series of terrible dreams I took great pains not to ruin the spirals.  Apparently, it worked the same for my father when he built the fort after the Romans left.  I had no idea the paths went anywhere, though.  But say, how can we climb a hill in the marshes and end up in Ireland?  It makes no sense to me.”

“Me, either,” Gwillim admitted.

“Ours is not to reason why.”  Lancelot started, having heard Gerraint use the expression often enough; but this time Gerraint interrupted him.

“It is part of the old ways itself,” he said.  “I am still reluctant to travel that way, but there appears to be no other choice.”

“But will they be there?”  Arthur generally questioned everything.  It was one of his talents, to help men find the way for themselves and take their own ownership of the results.

Gerraint nodded slowly.  “We should arrive just before or just after them if I calculated correctly.”

“After?”  Arthur wondered.

“The way to Avalon from Tara is hidden and difficult.  Even after should be sufficient to catch them.  I can’t imagine they can get the kind of help that would move them along quickly from Tara,” Gerraint said.

“That would be a betrayal of the first order,” Macreedy agreed.  He looked at Gerraint.  Both knew it was possible, but neither was willing to speculate further on the matter.

“So, will you be building a new fort at the top?”  Lancelot got curious and always thought in military terms.

Mesalwig shook his head.  “Not with the Saxons cowed.  All I see is peace.  Maybe I’ll give it to the church.”

“Not a bad choice,” Peredur said.

“What a waste,” Macreedy mumbled at about the same time.

Mesalwig looked at his ale and then smiled.  “As for me, I would like to know about these maids you have taken for you hand.”  He turned the conversation in Gwynyvar’s direction.

“Not mine,” Gwynyvar said, though the maids sat around her and to some extent behind her, depending on the Lady’s protection in this strange land.  “These are Macreedy’s daughters, if the report is true.”  She did not doubt Macreedy, exactly, but like Arthur, she knew enough to know the little ones sometimes played loose with relationships and were not inclined to complete truthfulness in any case.

“True enough,” Macreedy said and looked at Gerraint again.  He wrinkled his face where Mesalwig could not see, took a deep breath and another swig of Mesalwig’s home brew.  Gerraint caught the thought from Macreedy who wondered how humans could survive on such bile.  Macreedy imagined it was one reason why humans lived such a short lifetime.  In this case, though, the rest of the crew had an equally hard time swallowing the stuff, except for Peredur, who seemed to have had his taste buds blunted with age, and Gwillim, who seemed a man who could wring pleasure out of almost anything he could get past his lips.  Finally, Gerraint’s answer to the problem was a simple one.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to bed down,” he said.  “I would appreciate an early start in the morning.”  He started off, but Gwynyvar reached for his hand.

“I am sure they are all right,” she said.  “I am believing and praying with all of my heart.”

“Here, here.”  Several agreed.

Gerraint just smiled and went to bed.

After a nearly sleepless night, Gerraint woke everyone at dawn.  They made him wait for a good breakfast, and then wait again while they packed such supplies as they imagined they might need.  The elf maidens packed nothing, of course, and looked as fresh as the springtime they inhabited.  Macreedy waited patiently and only Gerraint understood how difficult that was for him.  Bedivere got impatient for the both of them.  Uwaine learned to be more sensible about such matters.

At last they traveled the short way to the hill.  The marshes seemed especially soggy from all of the spring rains and winter melt, but they walked a wood plank path that led to the base of the oval hill.

“The stone of starting is just a little way up,” Macreedy said.  He held Arthur’s arm.  Arthur joked that he wasn’t that old yet, but he understood.  Besides, it seemed Macreedy had things he wanted to discuss with the Christian Lord, and Arthur knew any conversation would be better than none on a long, dreary climb.

The six elf maidens had others by the hand.  They were Uwaine, Bedivere, Peredur, Gwillim, Mesalwig and Lancelot.  Gerraint looked around for his other escorts, but did not have to look hard.

“Well met,” Macreedy called out as they climbed.  His sharp elf eyes saw the hidden couple well in advance of the others.  Luckless and Lolly waited by the stone of starting.  Gerraint immediately took them aside.

“Lolly, I apologize, but you will have to escort Trevor.  He is a would-be sailor, but in truth he is a cook, and a rather good one as far as humans go.”

Lolly’s eyes brightened.  She wondered how this man knew her so well, Kairos though he might be.  “Maybe we could share some recipes along the way,” she thought out loud.

“I knew I could count on you,” Gerraint said, with a smile, and he turned to Luckless.

“True to your name, you will have the hard duty,” he said.

“Wouldn’t expect less.”  Luckless sighed.  “It is my lot in life, you know.”

“Yes, well, you will have to escort the Lady Gwynyvar,” Gerraint said.

“I am honored,” Luckless said, and he looked genuinely pleased, almost too pleased for Lolly.  “But I thought you said hard duty.”  He knew the Kairos well enough to squint and wait for the other shoe to drop.

M3 Gerraint: Kidnapped, part 3 of 3

“Eh?”  Several people wondered what Gerraint had in mind.

“I say,” Gwillim spoke up.  “But I doubt the holy men, respected as they are, could write a safe passage for men across Ireland.  I mean, the Irish and British churches have not been on the best of terms since Arthur, er, we began courting Rome.”

“I meant the Tor,” Gerraint said.

“The mountain in the marshland?”  Trevor named the place, but it came out as a question, and Gerraint nodded.

“Might old Chief Mesalwig interfere?”  Lancelot asked.

“That’s right.”  Gwillim remembered.  “You have not exactly been on best of terms since the day he borrowed your Gwynyvar.”

“Impetuous, hot-headed youth,” Arthur responded.  “A simple misunderstanding at the time.”

Bedivere looked confused.  Uwaine explained.  “Every one of us was a hot-headed youth at one time or another.  Even Arthur, Gerraint and even Peredur, I assume.”  Bedivere looked like he hardly believed it.

Peredur nodded.  “Ambosius’ right arm against Vortigen and his Saxons.”  Peredur said and held up his right arm to bulge his muscle, but he had an old arm that looked rather frail.

“No, gentlemen,” Gerraint said.  “This is one journey I will have to take alone.”

“What?  No.”  The others objected.  Arthur was the only one to ask.

“Why?”

“And what is the point of the Tor, if the Glastonbury monks are not the answer?”  Gwillim wondered.

Gerraint paused, as he often did to think through his words before saying too much.  He finally shrugged.  He thought he might not survive this one; but he would rescue Enid, and Guimier would have a full life with at least her mother there to watch her grow.  He confessed to Arthur, first.  “Back in the day when you received Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, the little ones were prepared to join us in the war against Claudus.  I would not let them.”

Arthur looked surprised, and rubbed his chin.  He about said they could have used the help, but held his tongue.

Gerraint waved his hands. “They ignored me and helped anyway.”

“I know the feeling,” Arthur said quietly.

Gerraint continued.  “There were some, though, who were determined.  As I slept, they endowed me with such powers as the little ones have.  I got pretty mad when I first found out.  They said they just wanted to do all they could, and I could not stay mad at them.  It was a lovely gift.  I have not depended on such, but I have found some things useful now and then.”

They all listened patiently.  Most nodded.  Some were more than curious.  Gerraint turned to Gwillim.  “The Labyrinth of the Tor,” Gerraint explained.  “It is a road, like all labyrinths.  It is a way the little ones can use to get from here to there in a hurry.  The one on the Tor links to the home of the old gods at Tara.  Unfortunately, I haven’t the strength to take you with me.”

“But the little people have great magic,” Trevor objected.  “Why should they need roads?”

“They aren’t particularly little people,” Lancelot said.  “Most are human enough in size.”

“Some are bigger,” Arthur got to thinking.  “Much bigger than you want.”

“But they are not gods or greater spirits, or even lesser spirits to journey by magic just anywhere,” Gerraint said.  “I call them little ones, not because of their size, but because they are the little spirits of the Earth.”

Trevor still did not understand, and Bedivere looked confused again as well.  Uwaine took up the explanation as Gerraint turned back to the window.

“They generally need some physical point, some focal point to make the magic work.  They need pixie dust, wands, potions and the like.  They need something tangible.”

“Like a road,” Gwillim said, putting the thoughts together.

“I don’t like you going it alone,” Arthur said.  “You may well need us.”

“I don’t like going alone, either,” Gerraint admitted.

“Nor do I.”  The men stood.  Gwynyvar was in the doorway and a man stood beside her.

“Macreedy!”  Gwillim shouted and stepped up to shake the man’s hand.  Trevor smiled.  Uwaine looked at Gerraint, but Gerraint also smiled.  The little ones could generally be counted on for uncanny timing.

“I heard of the trouble,” Macreedy said.  “I hastened on with the ladies to be of assistance.”

“Come in.  Come in.”  Gwillim insisted

Macreedy hesitated.  “I heard only Christians were welcome at the table of Arthur.”  He looked at Gerraint.  Arthur also looked up at Gerraint.

“I can see in your heart to whom you belong,” Gerraint said.  “I knew it when you forgave me concerning your sister.  You may come with Arthur’s permission.”

“Can you take us by the labyrinth of the Tor?”  Arthur asked.

“I, and my six maidens,” Macreedy answered.

“Come and sit,” Arthur said.  “We have much to plan.”

Meanwhile, Uwaine started counting.  There was himself, Bedivere, Arthur, Peredur, Gwillim and Trevor, which took care of the six maidens.  Macreedy could take Lancelot.  He felt astounded, but not surprised at the way things worked out, until Gwynyvar spoke up.

“I’m coming,” she said.  “Enid needs a woman.  And the baby!  I never imagined Pelenor for a cruel man.”  Gwynyvar sat, so the men sat with Lancelot and Gwynyvar only stole a glance.

“Not cruel.  Just an old fool,” Peredur said.

“Not a fool,” Uwaine repeated himself.

The others were still staring at Gwynyvar, none daring to argue with her, when Gwillim spoke up.  “But, say.  How will Macreedy and his daughters be able to help?”

“I’ll bet Mesalwig will want to go as well, once the adventure is known,” Lancelot spoke at last.

“Luckless and Lolly.”  Gerraint spoke as he finally sat.  It became a message in his mind to the two to prepare themselves for the journey and meet them in Glastonbury.  They had to see to their own little ones, but he got the distinct impression that they would be there.  It almost seemed like a return message.

With that, they planned and ate, told stories and just talked, but Gerraint got anxious to leave in the morning.

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

MONDAY

The tale continues with a visit to Glastonbury Tor, and the road to Tara…Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Gerraint: Kidnapped, part 2 of 3

A few days later, Uwaine found Gerraint on the southern wall, watching the snow flurries.  Winter’s last gasp blustered before the spring, the mud, and the rains came that would keep things muddy for a long time.

“I am sure she is thinking of you, too,” Uwaine said.

“Eh?”  Gerraint did not really listen.

“Enid,” Uwaine said.  “I am sure she is missing you, too.”

“Eh?  Yes, yes.”  Gerraint looked up.  “But I was thinking, Urien is going to try again, only I can’t imagine when or how.”

“Oh,” Uwaine said no more and raised his gloved hand to catch a flake or two.  He understood.  Gerraint did not want to have to kill the man.

“But now, the Lady of the Lake has closed down that path.  And Manannan has made his position clear, where else has he to go?”  Gerraint wondered out loud.

“He went to Iona,” Uwaine reminded him.

“No real help there,” Gerraint told him.  “The druids have the reputation, but Avalon and the treasures are just as cut off from them as they are from any mortal men.”

“Surry?”  Uwaine tried again.

Gerraint shook his head.  “He doesn’t have the key, and no little one will ever help him.”

Uwaine nodded.  “I understand, but you said there are other forces at work here, far more powerful and dangerous than your little ones.”

“Yes.”  Gerraint spoke softly.  “And that is what has me worried.”

After that, Gerraint began to push until they left that place and headed south.  With every mile, he pushed them harder.  They spent the night with any number of Lords and Chiefs in the North, the Midlands and Leogria, though they found neither sign nor word of Urien in his home.  Pelenor also appeared mysteriously absent from his home, and Gerraint’s worry began to turn serious.  He pushed everyone after that so they rode like they were trying to catch Kai’s courier.

They turned, neither South to Gwillim’s brother Thomas, nor West to Arthur and Caerleon.  Something seemed dreadfully wrong and Gerraint could feel it in his gut.  They were still three days out, in the Summer Country, when Bedivere found them.  The Lady Rhiannon came with him.

“They’ve taken Enid and Guimier!”  Bedivere shouted, though he was right with them.  “I failed you.”  He dropped to his knees and put his face in his hands.

The Lady put a gentle hand on his head.  “Courage,” she said.  “The story is not ended.”  She looked at Gerraint.  “I failed also,” she said.  “I placed my protection around them which was not my place to do.  The old man and his companion would never hurt them, but the Raven is no gentleman.”  She paused before she finished.  “Do not make me fail twice by telling you where they have gone.”

“Tara,” Gerraint said.  He did not guess.  The Lady said nothing, but looked to the ground and faded from sight until she was no longer there.

“Where did she go?”  Gwillim asked and looked around the trees.

“Tara?”  Uwaine asked.

“Ireland,” Gerraint said.  “The old, now deserted home of the Gods.”

“I would not give us a sneeze of a chance of crossing that island,” Trevor said.

“No, but Urien has likely worked things out with the druids.  They will probably have no trouble.”

“But, hey,” Gwillim objected.  “What can the druids do?  The Irish may be pirates and scoundrels, but at least they are Christian scoundrels since Patrick.”

“Not entirely,” Gerraint said.  “Like here, the old ways are just a scratch beneath the surface.”  And he remembered the book about how Celtic Christianity and the Irish in particular saved civilization, and he became more determined than ever to make sure the old ways did not reassert themselves.  “Damn Merlin,” he added, under his breath.

“How long?”  Uwaine asked.

“They’ve been gone a week,” Bedivere said.  “I would have been after them, with troops, but they took to the water and would have been too hard to track at sea.  I thought it best to wait for your return since word came that you had survived your trials in the North.”

“Good choice,” Gerraint said.  He paced, thinking hard.  He was with Trevor as far as it went.  He could not imagine crossing all of those miles to the heart of Ireland in one piece.

“Surry?”  Uwaine tried once again like he read Gerraint’s mind; but that door led through Avalon to the continent.  He needed to catch them at Tara before they crossed over, if possible, and as soon as possible.

“Where’s Arthur?” he asked.

“Cadbury,” Bedivere answered.

“Lady Gwynyvar’s penchant is to visit that fort in the spring.”  Gwillim said off-handedly.

Gerraint merely nodded and mounted.  The others followed as he set the course for Cadbury, and rode at a terrific pace.

“No.”  Arthur was not being negative.  But he was the Pendragon and they had to respect his decision in such matters.  Arthur could not imagine any way to Tara other than fighting their way in, and that would have required a full-scale invasion of Ireland.  “The Irish have been quelled and relatively quiet for many years now.  The chiefs on the Welsh coast have taken their places there to maintain the shaky peace.  I’ll not ask them to break their oaths now by invading the island, even if we had hope of victory, which is hardly guaranteed.”

Gerraint stood by the window.  Lancelot argued for the fight.  He threw his glove to the table, but he had finished arguing.

“I cannot believe my old friend has become such a doddering fool,” Peredur said for about the tenth time.

“No fool,” Uwaine interjected.  He understood the treasures were real and that there was real power in those artifacts, and now he felt he understood some of Gerraint’s fanaticism about making sure they stayed buried.  Even if he did not understand all of the ramifications Gerraint spoke about, he could see that no good would come from bringing such things back into the world of men.

“Glastonbury,” Gerraint said at last.

M3 Gerraint: Kidnapped, part 1 of 3

Gerraint was the first to wake, just as the days turned and the snow began to melt.  Macreedy and the elf maidens were all prepared for the awakening.  Gerraint could even smell the bacon frying.

“The Lady Rhiannon moved up to the British highlands while you slept,” Macreedy reported.  “She brought four horses as a gift, but she would not let us wake you early.”

Gerraint stretched.  “And I thank the lady most heartily,” he said, and yawned.  He felt wonderfully well rested, but not diminished by his sleep of several months.  This was not like the more or less normal sleep Margueritte had slept under the enchantment of dragon song.  Gerraint felt normally hungry, but not famished and weak.  He paused to think.  He imagined it worked more like the Agdaline in their suspension chambers aboard their sub-light sleepers.  “No dragons around I suppose,” he said.

Macreedy raised a brow.  “An odd question, but none near.  The lady did say she is keeping an eye on a couple, though.  Odd you should bring it up.”

Gerraint smiled and stood.  “Ladies.  I think you had better wake the others.”  The elf maidens bowed, slightly, and giggled.  One headed for Gwillim, one for Uwaine and four fought over being the one to wake Trevor.  “Any idea how we might explain all this, the long sleep and all?” he asked.

“Already taken care of.”  Macreedy grinned a true elfish grin.  “Such dreams they had.”

“Ah.”  Gerraint did not understand exactly, but he understood well enough.  They probably dreamed of fox hunts and rabbit hunts, telling stories around the great fire and board games and contests and on, with such things as men entertain themselves through the dreary months of winter.  He looked at Macreedy and paused as something came to mind.  “And your sister.  Are you angry with me?”

“Not you, Lord,” Macreedy said, quickly.  “But with your former life, I was for a time.  I came to this place in the wilderness for seclusion, to ponder.  I think I understand better now.  Apart from the child, I know you did all you could to give her what her heart desired.  How could I stay angry at the one who made my sister so happy?  I miss her, though.”  Macreedy added.

“I miss her, too,” Gerraint nodded.

“I know,” Macreedy nodded as well.  “And that also helped heal my heart at her loss.”

“Gerraint,” Gwillim called.  “Is today the day?”  He meant the day that they left.

“Not before breakfast,” Gerraint said.

“A man after my own heart,” Gwillim responded.

“I’ll never remember all of those recipes,” Trevor said, as he came into the room.  “I hope I can at least remember the best.”

“Me, too,” Gwillim encouraged him.

Uwaine came last, yawning and stretching.  “So how long did we sleep?”  He asked as Gwillim and Trevor went to the table.

“Two or three months,” Gerraint said quietly to Macreedy’s surprise.

“As I thought.”  Uwaine nodded with one last yawn.

“He is rather hard to enchant.”  Gerraint felt he needed to explain to the elf Lord.

“So I see.”  Macreedy wrinkled his brow.

“Comes from hanging out with me so long, I suppose,” Gerraint said, and he added a last yawn of his own.

“They were some lovely dreams, though,” Uwaine said quickly, to praise his host.

The elf maidens came then and dragged them to their chairs.  Macreedy let it go and proposed a toast.  “To friends well met.  Eat hearty, it is a long way to Caerlisle.”

Actually, they were not that far away from Hadrian’s wall, a meaningless boundary line since the Romans left, and really since the Ulsterite Gaels began the massive migration into Caledonia above the old Antonine Wall.  The Picts, decimated by centuries of struggle against Romans, Danes, Irish, and finally after Arthur invaded the north, had no way to stop it.  They fought back, encouraged now by the British, but they became so outnumbered, their only recourse was retreat to the highlands and the far Northern islands.  Gerraint knew that in time they would be swallowed up altogether. Only a reminder of their underground culture would sneak into the future. The greatest being their system of tribes and nations, now clans, which would be sufficiently corrupted by the so-called Scots to where certain English kings—Plantagenets—would be able to take advantage of their divisions.

“The road,” Uwaine pointed, but Gerraint shook his head.

“Parallel, but not on,” he insisted.  He knew the borderland on both sides of the wall for many miles currently made a no man’s land, and safe haven for all the brigands, thieves and petty chiefs and warlords the island had to offer.  “And Robin Hood has not even been born yet,” Gerraint smiled as he pulled into the woods.

This made their journey a couple of days longer, but it did not take that long before the old town of Guinnon and the fort of Caerlisle were spotted.  The walls of the fort were part stone and part wood, and well kept, since Kai had been on the Northern watch.  Kai got surprised by their arrival, but made them most welcome and kept them there for nearly a week.  He sent word south by the swiftest courier, but then he had to hear all about their adventures.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 3 of 3

Gerraint went back to the warming fire while Gwillim looked around the room.  Gerraint felt sure that Gwillim had been completely taken in by the glamour that surrounded him, making the cave appear like the most lavish of manor houses, with great tapestries lining jewel encrusted walls, and even glass in the windows.

“A mighty fine home you have, my Lord, for one so deep in the wilderness and in the wilds of the North.”  Gwillim also saw Macreedy as a plain noble chief rather than the elf he was.  For that matter, Gerraint looked over and noted that Trevor’s discomfort came from being attended to by a half dozen most beautiful young women, and Trevor did not see them as elves at all.  “Are you sure the Scots won’t find us here?”  Gwillim finished on the practical note.

“The Scots won’t come here,” Macreedy reassured him.  “In fact, would you like me to call the Slaugh to visit them in the night?”  That question got directed to Gerraint.

“Heaven forbid,” Gerraint responded.  “They have two deaths now to mourn and were just trying to defend themselves, even if they don’t know that revenge is never an answer.  Let them be.”

“Very gracious of you, my Lord,” Macreedy said.

“Yes,” Gwillim added.  “Especially since we just avoided being whipped half to death and thrust naked into the frozen wastes.”

Gerraint simply coughed, and there followed a moment of silence.

Macreedy stood and walked down to them.  He slipped his arm around Uwaine’s shoulder and turned him toward another part of the cave.  “You seem a man of wisdom.  You hold your tongue well,” Macreedy said.  Gerraint was simply not sure how far Uwaine got taken in by the glamour.  “I suspect, though, you may just be hungry.  What do you say we repair to the dining room?  The feast is all prepared.”

“Food,” Gwillim shouted, but then remembered his manners.  “With the lord of the house’s permission, of course.”

Macreedy stared hard at Gwillim for a moment.  Some little ones could be sticklers for the most miniscule bits of propriety, but then he laughed.  “Permission granted,” he said, and he waved to the ladies to make sure they did not let Trevor leave the fire.  Instead, two of the women pushed passed the men and came back with a plate full of delights.  They appeared to be thrilled with cutting and spoon feeding Trevor, and then wiping his chin with the softest elf cloth.  They laughed merrily most of the while, and Trevor did not mind that at all.

“For you, my Lord, we killed the fatted calf,” Macreedy told Gerraint.  Uwaine, who had glanced at Gerraint once or twice, looked fully at his lord when they came to their seats.  Gerraint explained.

“The food of the light elves is normally very light and delicate, like gourmet food.  Not much substance for flesh and blood.  Macreedy is saying they cooked up some real food for us, and don’t worry, I have decided the food of the little ones will not affect you, Gwillim or Trevor to any harm.  So, eat and enjoy.”  That was all Uwaine needed to hear.

“Pork loins!”  Gwillim shouted again in his excitement.

Gerraint certainly ate his fair share, but by then, his mind had turned once again to Cornwall, his home.  He imagined poor Enid fretting away, with no word from him to hold on to, and sweet Guimier sleeping in his place beside her mother until he again could be with them.  He stood, let the others remain seated, and stepped to the door.  It opened without his thinking about it, though an invisible barrier remained in place so neither the wind nor cold could penetrate the cave.  Outside, it started snowing again, completely obliterating their tracks.

As Gerraint looked out on the beauty of the white upon the northern forest, his heart began to sing, and his mouth whispered at first.

What child is this who laid to rest,

on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet;

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the king

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The babe, the son of Mary.

He let his voice trail off as he found the others gathered around his back.  The elf maidens were all on their knees.  Gwillim smiled with a serious smile.  Even Trevor stood, staring at the beauty of the world outdoors.

“Must be Christmas,” Gerraint said, and turned to Macreedy, who had a tear in his eye, which would have aroused his great anger with anyone but Gerraint, his Lord.  “Remember this word.”  Gerraint told the elf, as he put his hand gently on the little one’s shoulder.  “That the whole world might be saved through him.”  Gerraint felt better and a little less alone.  “Remind Manannan of this, will you, when his time of sorrow and dejection comes on him because of the monks.  I worry about that boy.  And as for us, I suppose a bit of sleep would not hurt.”

Having eaten, now exhaustion overtook the men.  Gerraint could see it in Uwaine’s eyes.

“My Great Lord.”  Macreedy nodded his head.  He clapped and the elf maids lead each to a bed where they helped them in and covered them well.  “They will sleep until spring with so many of the little ones,” Macreedy said.  “But we cannot do the same for you unless you let us.”

Gerraint nodded and gave himself over to the glamour.  “Just make sure I am first awake,” he said, and he closed his eyes.  He knew he was safe under the protection of his little ones, but in the spring, there would be far to go.  He would have to stop to visit Kai at Caerlisle, and then Old Pelenor in the Midlands, Arthur in Caerleon, and Tristam in Devon on the south watch.  At that, he might not get home until June, but he imagined Enid running to him in joy, and he felt the joy also deeply in his own soul, and with that he fell asleep for a long winter’s nap.

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

MONDAY

The trip home is long, but something itches in the back of Gerraint’s mind.  Somehow, Enid and Guimier do not feel safe.  Monday.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

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M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 2 of 3

Hunting and tracking were her strongest abilities, thanks to her friend.  She knew she would have no trouble catching up with the others.  That did not prevent her from grousing, however.  “Gerraint obviously wants to freeze me to death,” she said.  She shortened her cape again to climb, but she kept it white, and that made her nearly invisible in the snow.

At the top of the hill, the Princess paused.  She found a rock face cliff on the other side.  The trail petered out.  She did not like the look of that cliff, even if it stood only about three stories tall.  “Diogenes,” she said his name.  Many of the lives of the Kairos were not enamored with heights, but the Macedonian had mastered his feelings more than some others.  She went home, and Diogenes stood there looking for the best way down.

He appeared to be the perfect reflection of the Princess, a male match to her female self.  The lives of the Kairos always came in pairs, no matter how far apart in time they might be separated.  As the Princess’ genetic reflection, Diogenes also shared, in a lesser degree, her gift of the Spirit of Artemis.  He, too, could find the others even in the storm; but first he needed off the cliff.  And he could hear the Scots behind, which meant they arrived at the base of the hill.

Diogenes shrugged and sat.  He slid himself slowly off the edge and held as tight as he could to the rocks that presented themselves.  Step by step, he carefully made his way down.  It was inevitable that he slip.  The fall to the ground was only about eight feet, and he was able to land easily in the snow, and without injury.

Diogenes did not pause.  He turned his white back to the cliff and began to run.  It was not far before he found his friends, only he forgot to change back to Gerraint before they saw him.

“My Lord.”  Uwaine knew him by his clothes right off.  He had his arms around Trevor who limped.  Gwillim fell into a panic, not thinking too clearly.  There were shouts behind and a temporary lull in the falling snow.  The Scots reached the top of the hill, and they got spotted before they could push into the woods.

“Damn it!  Damn it!”  Gwillim continued to swear.

“Q-q-quiet.”  Diogenes said, not from the cold but because he had a stutter which never really left him.  “Th-this way.”  He led them into the woods as the Scots began to navigate down the rocks behind.

Gerraint came back, even as Gwillim nudged him and pointed.  He saw a face in the distance that stuck out from behind a tree, and it beckoned them.  “A Scot.”  Gwillim sounded afraid.

“No.  A friend,” Gerraint said, and Uwaine saw it, too.  They hurried as well as they could and practically carried poor Trevor between them.  The face appeared again, just as far away as the first time, but in a slightly different direction.  They changed course, and again, a third time.  At last, they came to a place where the whole world changed.  The shouts behind them got cut off suddenly, as if someone closed a door.  They stood still, and listened, and took in the vision.  Even Trevor stood up, carefully.

They heard no sound and felt no wind in that part of the forest.  Curiously, it also stopped snowing in that place, though the ground appeared covered in a white blanket, and more.  A mist rose from the surface of the snow suggesting the ground beneath might be warm enough to cause some melt.  The mist obscured their sight, but it did not entirely blind them.

“A man could get lost in here and never find his way out,” Gwillim said.  His voice sounded strange as it broke the quiet.

“This way.”  A man’s voice echoed amongst the trees.  It felt hard to tell which way he meant, but Gerraint started out and the others were obliged to follow.  They saw lights of a sort to their left and right which appeared to flutter about, almost like floating light bugs only much bigger, and their makers always remained shrouded in the mist so they could not see exactly what they were.

“A little further.”  The man’s voice spoke.  After a moment, it spoke again.  “Just a little more.”

They came to see a light in front of them, much stronger than the lights that danced through the trees.  The ones around them were pale, nearly white as snowflakes.  The one before them looked warm amber, the light of a warming fire well lit.  Gwillim pushed ahead, and even Trevor tried to hurry up, though he could only go as fast as Uwaine on whom he leaned.

It indeed proved to be a fire, deep inside a cave, and it felt warm and so home like in their hearts, it seemed all anyone could see at first.  Gerraint alone, noted that the door closed behind them and shut them in as they gathered around to warm themselves.

“Ought to find some tepid water for Trevor,” Gwillim said.  “He looks frostbitten.”

“Already taken care of.”  The voice came from above them, but only Gerraint and Gwillim looked up.  Uwaine watched the elf maidens who brought shallow bowls of water to soak Trevor’s extremities.  Though Trevor looked frightened at their appearance, he did not resist them.

“Macreedy.”  Gerraint named the elf lord who looked at him with curiosity.  “Thank you, and be sure and thank Lord Evergreen, Queen Holly, Princess Ivy and their clan for guiding us to your safe haven as well.”

“So, it is true.  You are the one.”  Lord Macreedy needed no other evidence.  He started to rise, but Gerraint waved him back to his chair.

“Right now, I am simply a man, half frozen and starving,” he said.  “But tell me.  How did you know to look for us?”

He could see Macreedy wanted to tell some lie about the magic and mysteries of the spirits of the world, but that would not have impressed Gerraint at all.  And Macreedy knew it.  Instead, he looked aside and looked a little embarrassed.  “Runabout does tend to talk,” he said.

“Quite all right,” Gerraint assured him.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 1 of 3

Once up, he almost slipped right down a side of the roof, but caught himself in time, and then drew Gerraint’s long knife.

“Please don’t go home until I am done,” Trevor begged the knife in his hand, and he fell on the lone guard outside the door.  It was over in a second, and the door unlocked.  Gerraint and the others were right there, waiting.  Gwillim stripped the guard of his cloak and sword while Gerraint gave his long knife to Uwaine.  Trevor had to content himself with the guard’s cutting knife, but then he was a cook, not a soldier.

“Which way?”  Uwaine asked.  Gerraint pointed and started out.  The others followed as quietly as they could.  The village seemed all put up for the night.  No telling how late it was, until they reached the edge of the village and Trevor judged the night sky and the rise of the moon to suggest it might be about one in the morning.

“Late as that?”  Gwillim sounded surprised.

“Pray the moon stays with us until morning,” Gerraint said, and they started down a well-worn path in the snow, not knowing exactly where it would take them.

After two hours, when they still heard no sounds of pursuit, they found a hollow where they had protection from the wind and a touch of warmth.  They rested there and took turns on watch.  Exhaustion, which had caught up with them, became their worst enemy at that point.  A couple of hours of rest, if not sleep, would be needed the next day when the pursuit started in earnest.  The clouds came up, but the moon still shone through, giving them enough light to see, though it was their ears they depended on.

Near sunrise, they set out again and this time turned off the path and moved in a more certain southerly direction.  “But how did you know which way to go in the dark?”  Trevor asked.  Gerraint did not answer as Gwillim spoke in his place.

“The North Star,” he said.  “You know it isn’t just for sailors at sea.”

“Duh!”  Trevor slapped his own forehead.

By sunrise, the clouds had come fully into the sky and it started to snow.  When it began to snow with some strength, Gerraint took them deliberately through some rough, overgrown patches, and finally up a stream where they had to balance carefully on the rocks to keep from soaking their boots.  Then he turned their direction from south to southwest, hoping to confuse anyone trying to catch them.

About then, they heard a sound they had hoped to never hear.  The Scots were on their trail, well enough, and they had dogs, likely bloodhounds, with which to track them.

“Damn!”  Gwillim swore.  All the turning of direction, pushing through inhospitable bushes and tracking through the stream would likely do them no good at all.  They pushed on, as fast as they could, but they were very tired and hungry, and the wind picked up, blew the snow in their faces, and threatened them all with frostbite.

At the bottom of the next hill, Gerraint made them pause where the hill ahead and the bushes and trees behind gave them a touch of shelter from the wind.  Gerraint surveyed the spot.  They essentially had one way up the hillside, a deer path, and the rest of the hill looked covered in impassible brambles and briars.  They had good cover for one dressed in the white cloak of Athena, and there were several trees nearby that could be scrambled up in a pinch.

“You three go on.”  Gerraint had to raise his voice a bit in the wind.  They were all stomping and blowing hard on their hands to keep their toes and fingers working.  “I’ll lay in a little surprise for our pursuers and maybe slow them down a bit.”

“My Lord!”  Gwillim started to protest, but Uwaine grabbed him by the arm and pointed him toward the path.  Uwaine nodded.  He knew better.  He pushed the still plump captain up the path while poor, half-frozen, skinny, blue faced Trevor followed.  Gerraint watched for a minute until they disappeared in the falling snow.  He listened.  The dogs started closing in.  He guessed there might be three of them.

Diogenes, the Macedonian came to mind, but he opted for the Greek Princess from about two hundred BC.  She had been endowed with the spirit of Artemis, and as such, was about as good as an archer could get.  The Princess only hesitated because of the cold, but she knew Gerraint was freezing and in need, and that became enough to move her hand.  Gerraint went into the time stream, and the Princess stood in his place.  His armor, boots and all adjusted automatically from his shape and size to hers.  She wore the same chain armor, of course, in her day, and for much of her life, so she was quite used to the way it felt and moved.

The first thing she did was stretch Athena’s cape nearly to the ground to maximize her warmth.  The cape of Athena and the Armor of Hephaestos were proof against almost everything, including the cold.  She looked briefly up the hill and worried that her friends had no such help.  She felt when she caught up with them, she would lend the cloak to Trevor.  He did not look good.

The baying of the hounds brought her attention back to task.  Beyond the bushes stood a little clearing which the dogs, if right on their trail, would have to cross.  She reached into the inner pocket hidden in her cloak, and like Mary Poppins pulling a full length lamp out of an empty carpet bag, she pulled out her bow and a full quiver of arrows.  The arrows were elf made, of course, except for the few silver tipped arrows which Artemis herself had given her long ago.  She paused to remember her very best friend in the whole world, and then pulled three finely made steel pointed hunting arrows. She fitted the first loosely to the string, and waited.

The Princess did not have to wait long.  She heard the howl and saw two dogs as they bounded straight toward her in great leaps across the snow.  They were close, and they knew it.  The Princess took aim.  There was a hard wind and the snow itself to compensate for, but she did so almost automatically.  Two arrows took down two dogs.  But where was the third?

At once, the third dog, which had circled around, came rushing up beside her.  She had no time for the bow.  She reached for her Long Knife, but remembered that Uwaine had it.  “Stop,” she yelled.  “No.”

The dog stopped short.  The spirit of Artemis echoed strong in the Princess, and certainly hunting dogs were included in the mix, but this one had its’ lips drawn and kept growling, snarling, and drooling.

“Rabbit.”  The Princess said as she reached slowly for her sword.  “Go hunt a rabbit.”  The dog did not listen, being too filled with blood lust.  Her sword came out as the dog leapt and an arrow came from some quarter.  It struck the dog perfectly and dropped the beast just inches away.  The Princess whirled, but she saw no sign of an archer.  Then she whirled back as she heard shouts from across the clearing.  An arrow got loosed from that direction, but it fell woefully short, not even reaching the dogs, dead in the reddening snow.

“Go,” the Princess told herself, and she turned one final time and began to climb the hill.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Bound, part 3 of 3

“Gerraint of Cornwall,” the druid named him, not questioning the weapons, but identifying him by the same.  He looked hard at the others.

“Uwaine, son of Llewyl.”  Gerraint introduced him

“Urien of Laodegan.”  Urien stepped up and identified himself.  “And a great supporter of Iona.”  In the last couple of centuries of Roman occupation, the druids became terribly persecuted.  They sought and found refuge on the island of Iona, and though Arthur had pledged peace with the druids, they still kept Iona as a primary base and center of the cult.

The druid smiled.  “The Raven, of course.”

“Gwillim, Captain of the Sea Moss and Trevor, my mate,” Gwillim said, proudly. “Partner in the trading firm of Gwillim and Barrows of Totnes in Southampton, and I would be pleased to speak with whoever is in charge.  Always looking for new markets, you know.”  It felt like a long shot, and judging from the faces around them, the Scots looked to have had their fill of trade with the British.

“A long way from the sea,” the druid said.

“Yes, well.”  Gwillim looked aside.  “Sudden storms at sea do remain a problem.”

“We were shipwrecked in the North.”  Trevor spoke up.

“Indeed,” the druid said.  “And are there any more in your party?”  They all looked at one another.  Gerraint was about to say not any longer, but Urien spoke first.

“No,” he said, flatly.

“Indeed?”  The druid repeated himself and parted the crowd.  Arawn knelt there, tied fast and held by two Scots.  It became Gerraint’s turn to be surprised.  “An interesting case,” the druid said.  “He was found eating a squirrel, raw, and talking to the squirrel as well.  I’ve been studying him for the past three days.”

Arawn looked haggard and much too thin.  He looked like a man half-dead except for the wild light in his eyes.

“A word, druid,” Urien spoke.  “In private if we may.”

The druid pointed down the opening in the crowd right past where Arawn got held.  “Sir Raven,” he said, and they started out, but when Arawn recognized his friend, he shouted.

“Urien.  You’ve come for me.  I did not do it.  I did not mean to hide it from you. Oh Urien, help me.”  Arawn reached out with his head, the only thing free, and licked at Urien’s hand like a faithful dog.  The Scots quieted the man and hauled him off, while Urien and the druid disappeared into the crowd.

The others were taken to a strong house and pushed inside.  Men there tied them to the back wall and one man stayed inside by the door, to watch them.

“What of a bite to eat?”  Gwillim asked out loud.  The man stirred the fire in the center of the room which let the smoke out by way of a hole in the roof.  It started getting chilly.  He looked up as Gwillim spoke, but said nothing.

“You can be sure he understands British,” Gerraint said in his Cornish tongue.  Uwaine understood, and Gwillim and Trevor got the gist of it.  Dorset and Cornwall were neighbors, after all.  “I would not expect to be fed, and would recommend appearing to sleep.  Let us see if we can convince our watcher to do the same.”

“Agreed, and God help us,” Gwillim said, reverting to the Latin.

“Margueritte?”  Uwaine asked.  The little girl had easily slipped out of the bonds in Amorica.

“We’ll see,” Gerraint said, and after that, they were quiet.

The watcher hardly batted an eye, until well past dark, and only got up now and then to tend the fire.  Finally, the door opened.  Urien came in with the druid and two other men.  Urien spoke for the lot.

“The whole thing seems a great misunderstanding.  Even the Chief here knows better, but the people blame Kai’s men for the death of a young boy and…” Urien shrugged.

“So what of us?”  Gwillim asked.

“I did my best for you,” Urien said.  “The talk at first was just for killing you outright and sending your bodies to Kai, but I was at least able to dissuade them from that.  Instead, you are to be flogged in a public spectacle and then driven naked from the village.”

“We’ll die in the cold.”  Trevor stated the obvious.

“Killing us outright would have been kinder,” Gwillim said.

Urien still shrugged when Gerraint asked.  “And what of you?”

“I will be accompanying the priest to Iona to winter.  Arawn will go with us.  The druid says he is a most interesting case for study.  But don’t worry.  When I return to Britain in the spring, I will convey my sympathies to your families.”

“As long as you don’t forget your pledge not to seek the treasures of the Celts,” Gerraint said.  “I would hate to have your blood on my hands.”

“Ah, yes.  Your promise to the sea god.  My druid friend does not doubt that some peace had to be made with the god in order for him to let us go, but then, it was not you who finally promised, was it?  What was her name, by the way?  It was not Greta, I am fairly sure.”

“Danna,” Gerraint said, calmly.

“Named for the Mother of the Gods?” the druid asked.

“No,” Gerraint responded.  “The one who calls Manannan son.”

Urien’s eyes widened a little, but the druid laughed, and did not believe a word of that end of the tale.  The chief gave Gerraint a second look as they exited the building, and they took their watcher with them.

“Elvis has left the building,” Gerraint said, and he pulled his hands free from what proved not a very good tying job.  He called his weapons back to his hands from his home in the second heavens.  With his long knife, he quickly had the others free, and then they took a moment to plan.

Uwaine and Gwillim nudged the fire to one side of the hearth while Trevor got up on Gerraint’s shoulders.  Gerraint stood six feet tall, and Trevor, though much lighter, stood nearly as tall.  With Uwaine and Gwillim to steady Gerraint, Trevor stretched and barely reached the hole in the ceiling.

“Come right back if there are too many of them,” Gerraint reminded him.  Trevor nodded, but he got too busy trying not to cough because of the smoke.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint and his men need to escape, but then they have a long way to go though the snow, cold, and ice to get to a safe haven.  Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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