M4 Margueritte: Prisoners, part 3 of 3

When the army reached the place Charles designated, they found Ragenfrid already there with the expected twice their number.  King Chilperic II was also there as the symbol of Ragenfrid’s right to command the army.  And there was a surprise.  There were half again as many Frisians under King Radbod, and that meant Charles would be outnumbered three to one.  

Charles found his route to the best position cut off.  He had to settle for his second choice, and his men sloppily settled in for the night.  Margueritte got kept back with the other women and the train of wagons, but fortunately she ended up on a hill where she could look down and watch the action as it unfolded.  Ragenfrid made no move in the late afternoon and appeared to consider Charles’ army an inconvenience he would deal with in the morning.  Charles raged a bit before bed, that nothing was to his liking.  Margueritte wisely kept her mouth shut.

Charles’ wife, Rotrude, came up in the winter.  She and Margueritte talked about how frustrated the men seemed to be.  Margueritte suggested she knew a way to help relieve Roland’s tension, and Rotrude covered her mouth and felt embarrassed for her, but Margueritte figured if she was not yet pregnant, she better work on getting there.

 At dawn, the battle lines got drawn up.  Charles made his men get into box formation.  Margueritte could not call it a phalanx.  And he yelled at them to stay in formation no matter what.  She could practically hear him all the way up on her hillside.  Margueritte paced and fretted as the sun came up, and she was not the only one, but Rotrude knew better than to watch.

Ragenfrid had more than a thousand men on horseback, but the trees and terrain made a charge difficult.  They could get at Charles from the hillside, but any such move to the side would be detected, and they gave Charles enough credit, so they did not try something so obvious.  Ragenfrid, uncertain about the Frisians, put them in the center, probably the last place they belonged given the uncertainty.  He marched about ten thousand, including seven thousand Neustrian Franks to face the Austrasian Franks, their cousins.  They charged the last hundred yards and the noise of men at arms rose in the air and echoed off the distant hills.

Margueritte imagined Charles, Roland and others likely got hoarse yelling “Hold your position.  Stay in formation.  Fill in.  Step up.  Don’t break the line.”  Finally, the Neustrians on the right began to waver.  It looked like a wave breaking on the shore where at once the enemy line flattened out and began to pull back.  Charles and his army let out a cheer, and then disaster.  Whoever commanded the right side of the line where the Neustrians first gave way, charged.  Maybe he smelled a rout, but more likely the blood lust was so strong in him he could not stop himself.  Charles could only watch as his men ran into the four thousand men Ragenfrid kept in reserve.  His men got slaughtered when the ten thousand withdrawing troops turned like a wolf on a hapless hare.

Charles and Roland salvaged all they could.  They set a rear guard so any men who came to their senses and ran to escape might actually escape, but Charles told his captain not to expect much and not to endanger his company.  

Margueritte found herself a third of the way down the hill where she raced when that commander first disobeyed orders.  She stopped herself when she realized there was not anything she could do to save those poor men.  She started to climb back up, but suddenly there were horses and men and she became surrounded.  They were Neustrians, not Frisians, thank God, but they bound her hands and when she would not stop screaming, they gagged her mouth as well.

Roland and Charles got back up the hill in time to protect the camp, though they had to abandon some of their wagons.  They took what they could and left the field.  No one remained, now, to defend Cologne.  Plectrude, the real wife of Charles’ father and her legitimate son, his eight-year-old half-brother Theudoald who claimed at least Austrasia, would have to defend themselves in whatever way they could.  Charles, the bastard son of Pepin could only weep and watch his people begin a civil war, with Franks killing Franks.

“And I have no love for the Frisians sticking their nose in.  When we get our footing, and overcome our obstacles, Radbod needs a visit,” Charles said.

“Ratbot.  That is what Margueritte calls the man.  Apparently, rat is the word for rodent in some unknown tongue.”

Charles let out a little smile for the first time all afternoon.  “With those whiskers, he does look a bit like a rodent.”

After a while, Charles spoke again.  “We were not prepared, even as Margueritte warned.  The men were not trained to follow orders, we moved too fast, did not pick our choice of battlefield.  The whole thing was a disaster from the start, and all mistakes I do not plan to ever make again.”

“My wife sometimes knows things her father never taught her,” Roland admitted.  “It can be spooky.”

“Yes, where is your wife?  I thought she would be up here in front trying to keep her mouth from saying I told you so.” 

That was when they discovered Margueritte and several others were missing.

###

Margueritte got hauled roughly out of the tent along with the servants taken by the stream.  Ragenfrid stood there but did not seem inclined to pay attention.  Chilperic, the king, not undisputed king, stood there as well, with Radbod, and they at least paused to view the women.  With them were three strangers.  The Frisian looked like a pagan priest as the Roman appeared a Catholic priest, probably a Bishop, Margueritte guessed.  The third, an odd-looking man in strange silk dress, picked her out of the line despite all of Margueritte’s best efforts to dirty her appearance and blend in with the servants.  He offered a strange bow along with his name.

“Abd al-Makti.”  He turned to the others.  “This one is no servant.  Clearly she is a lady of fine breeding who deserves better than servitude.”  This caused all of the men to look, and Margueritte felt trapped.  She tried her only out.

“I am Margueritte, daughter of Count Bartholomew, Marquise of the Breton Mark, and I was on pilgrimage home from St. Martin’s in Tours when I got caught up in this ill-conceived rebellion.  I got dragged the opposite direction I wanted to go, and against my will, because the men said it was not safe to let me continue on my way without protection.”  She gave the word men just the right sour emphasis and waited.

Chilperic reacted first.  “I know who you are.”  He showed some fear.  “You are the Breton witch.”

“I heard she consorts with demons.”  Radbod twirled his mustache.

“Witchery is not condoned by the church,” the bishop said, sternly.

“Nor by the Holy Prophet,” Abd al-Makti added.

“Hold.”  Ragenfrid stepped up.  “Chilperic, sit down and shut up.  All of this is irrelevant.  I know you are wife to Roland, Charles’ right hand.  You may prove of some value in that.”

“Lord Ragenfrid.  I am a good and faithful Christian woman who is with child.”  Margueritte put her hand on her belly as if she was already showing.  “I expect to be treated well, in accordance with my station.”  Margueritte got bold. “Furthermore, these women are my servants.  I am sure you have cut off the heads of any of the men who protected me on my pilgrimage, but at least with the women I may know some comfort.  It would be a kindness to me to let them stay with me and it would cost you nothing to see to my needs.”

Ragenfrid paused before he laughed, loud.  “The Lady lies with charm.  I will think on it.”

“If she is with child.”  The bishop heard the part about her being a Christian woman.

“A hostage is only good in one piece,” Radbod said, and it sounded like experience talking.

“I would like to question this one to see if she is of witchery or falsely accused,” Abd al-Makti said.

“She may be a source of information,” the pagan priest suggested doing more to her than just talking.

“I doubt that.” Ragenfrid laughed again.  “Very well.  You may keep your servants, but understand, if one tries to escape to go to Charles, I will kill them all and the Lady will be left to her own devices.”

“Understood.  But you think Charles will not quit now that he has been so soundly defeated?” Margueritte asked.

“I expect he will quit when I see his dead body,” Ragenfrid said, and they were dismissed and escorted back to their tent.

Once in the tent, the two older of the four women began to weep.  They had been that afraid for their lives.  Margueritte spoke first to the younger two.  “In the days, weeks, and maybe months ahead, we must show the utmost in Christian piety.  If you two cannot keep your hands off the soldiers or stay out of their beds, tell me now.  I can probably have you assigned to the camp where you can play with the soldiers as you please.  If I catch you later, I may ask Lord Ragenfrid to remove you from my presence, and I cannot say what he may do with you.”

“We will be good,” the blond said, and added, “Sigisurd”

“Relii,” the dark haired one said.  “I’m thinking about it.”

“Bless you, Lady,” the gray hairs worked through their fear and tears.  “We all owe you our lives.  How can we ever repay you?”

“Serve well,” Margueritte said, and leaned in for a name.

“Mary.”

“And Rotunda.”  And she was round, which made Margueritte smile, but not laugh.

“Sigisurd, Relii, Mary and Rotunda,” Margueritte tried the names.  “So now we know the rules.  Either all five of us escape or none of us escape.  Meanwhile, which one of you can cook something worth eating?”

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

MONDAY

Margueritte has to adjust to being a prisoner as she waits for Charles to strike back. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Prisoners, part 2 of 3

They rode all day, came to a mountain, and rode up the side to a large meadow that Roland had scouted out ages ago, never dreaming it might prove useful.  The meadow could only be approached from the front, and at the back, after a hundred yards of forest, another bit of grass grew before cliffs and some caves.  

Roland had his camp set up around the big cave.  He had tables and maps and plenty of food and equipment for a small party.  He had also gathered about a hundred men on short notice, and they wanted only their general, Charles, to set things in motion.  Lord Birch reported before Roland calmed down enough to talk civilly.

“No sign of pursuit.  Larchmont has men out.  Grimly and his gnomes are watching the ways to the meadow.  At least we should not be surprised.”

“Thank you.”  Margueritte got that out before Roland grabbed her by the elbow and took her off to a corner for some privacy.

“I am so angry with you right now I hardly know what to say.  We had plans to get Lord Charles out.  That was not your job.  You could have gotten yourself killed.  How dare you take that kind of risk.”

“But maybe it was my job,” Margueritte said in her most humble manner.  “I’ve told you, Charles has serious work in the future.  I don’t know exactly what, but I feel it for sure.  They had him chained in a dungeon.  Look at his hands and feet.  I could not risk losing him in this struggle.”

“No one planned to lose him, but we had plans to get him out.”

“What?  A hundred men against a fortress?”  That comment did not come out quite so humble.

“No, but sort of.”

Margueritte looked up at Roland, looked in his eyes, ready to quiver her lip, and it was not all acting.

“I was so scared.  Hold me,” she said, and he did, and said no more about it.

###

The god of light and dark brooded over a map of the known world.  He spoke to himself as much as to his guest, imagining his guest would only understand half of what he said, at best.  “Timing is everything.  The Sassanids in the east were in serious decline and collapse when the Caliphate poured out of Arabia.  It was easy to overwhelm Persia, I understand.  Rome in the west was equally in the throes of decline and collapse, but the Kairos, in Constantinople, produced that fire, and Constantinople stood.  Now, the eastern Romans have a chance to beat back the Caliph and that will make my work harder.  Here, in western Rome, all the petty tribes and would-be kings have beaten each other raw for some control and for land.  North Africa fell easily enough, and Iberia is coming apart as anticipated.  All that is needed is enough courage to go over the mountains and the infernal religion can rule Gaul and easily move down into Rome itself.”

“Lord.  Why do you speak so against the faith of the Prophet?”  Abd al-Makti shook his head.

“Because most of the people of Islam do not know what they believe.  Most are new converts.  It is not two hundred years, and even the people of Arabia have not yet plumbed the depths of what that man taught.  All that most men understand is Jihad, a supreme excuse, a holy excuse to conquer and control the world.  Most men see Islam as a means to power and wealth, and the power to dictate and control every aspect of other men’s lives.  Men treat women like cattle to keep them oppressed, while they enslave or kill the so-called unbelievers, but to be honest, it is not Allah that men strive for, it is land and gold that men want, and power.  See how the so-called believers compete with each other and act as rivals for the crumbs of power they can wrest from one another.”

Abd al-Makti did not know what to say.  As a teacher of the faith, he knew this to be true of many.

“You have shown some small talent in sorcery, Abd al-Makti.  You should be put to death.”

Abd al-Makti stood in silence.  He knew the passages.  He had studied them ever since he discovered what he could do, but he also knew the penalty for sorcery, and he could not deny that he had a talent.

“Teacher Sahm al-Muhamed Ibn Caddifi, do not fret.  I do not condemn the power you hold.  Indeed, I will strengthen the power within you.  I will give you such power as you have never dreamed of, and in the fullness of time, I will reveal myself to you.  Then worship of the one true god will sweep back across all the lands of uncertainty, for what the Caliph builds for the pretender is in truth being built for me.  Then men will at last understand what it was all about, for the one true god speaks to men of power and riches beyond dreams.”  He laid hands on Abd al-Makti and the Teacher reeled with the power.  He saw the stars twirling in the sky for him and the sun and the moon proceeding at his command.  He saw the smallness of man against the vastness of the universe, and then the universe receded, and he felt his own limitations as never before, but in those limited ways he found some ability to control the outcome and bend the limits to his will, and it felt glorious.

“Abd al-Makti, I have a task for you.”

The man held his breath.

“The Kairos has come into the land of the Franks and remains as unpredictable as ever.”

“Shall I deal with him?  Shall I kill him?”  Abd al-Makti presently felt that it would be an easy thing to do.

“No!”  The god of light and dark paused to consider.  “The Kairos in this lifetime is a woman, and must be handled delicately.  It may come to killing, but that would best be done by others of their own free will where no taint of arranged circumstances or compulsion may fall on us.  For now, it would be best if she were put out of action, tied up as it were, where she cannot affect the events that swirl around her.  This young lady will not be intimidated or controlled like your Muslim women.  She must be moved gently, subtly manipulated into a place of ineffectiveness, and then we can proceed.”  

The god of light and dark waved his hand and Abd al-Makti found himself in his own rooms.  He felt startled by the sudden transition in space, but he hardly had time to think about it.  All he could think of was what came into his mind, the picture of a young woman, unveiled, a woman of the Frankish barbarians.  She had long dark hair, a pretty round face, and might have modeled for an Arabian Princess but for her strange green eyes.

“Marco!”  Abd al-Makti called his servant, and the Romanized Visigoth came straight to the door.  “Fetch the Basque, Catalan, and pack three bags.  We have a long journey ahead of us.”

“My master, are we headed to sea, to Africa or further?”

“North,” Abd al-Makti said.  “Over the mountains to the land of the Christians.  I have much work to do to make straight the paths for our god.”

“With winter approaching?”  Marco wondered out loud, but when he saw the look on his Master’s face, he thought to say, “Very good,” and he left. 

Abd al-Makti walked to his desk where his precious copy of the Holy Koran rested open.  He read the verse from Surah V.  “And when I inspired the disciples (saying): Believe in Me and My messenger, they said: We believe.  Bear witness that we have surrendered (unto thee).”  He closed the book.  Surely the people will turn from a nebulous sky god to a god that is present, in our midst, and full of power and glory.  If the seeds of doubt are so easily sewn in the teacher’s heart, how much more easily will the students be swayed.  Indeed, what the Caliph builds for the one god will be owned by the other, and all the world will bow to the one true god.

Abd al-Makti confessed himself.  “I am no Muslim.  I am a sorcerer and a secret servant of the one true god.  Islam is just my cover by which I will penetrate the land of the Franks.”

###

Margueritte rode beside Roland and protested the whole way.  “The troops are not ready.  They have not been properly trained.”

“But we have been collecting men all winter, and as soon as the spring fields got planted, we doubled our number.  We have five thousand men willing to fight for Charles, and it would be a shame to hold them back.”  Roland tried to sound reasonable.

“Barely three hundred light horses and the rest on foot.  And we are jumping at an opportunity which may not pan out.”

“Charles has experience fighting against the Burgundians, the Saxons and the Alemani, all successful campaigns.  I trust he knows what he is doing.”

“He is leaping off the cliff.”  Margueritte did not feel like sounding reasonable.  “They have more than twice our numbers and no doubt twice our horses.  Even if Charles picks the advantageous position on the field, he will have to fight a defensive battle.  Offense would be suicide, and his only hope is to somehow maneuver between Ragenfrid and Cologne, so Ragenfrid has to fight through him to get to the city.”

“That is the plan.”

“But the troops are not ready to fight a defensive struggle.  They haven’t been properly trained.”

“I think this is where we started.”

Margueritte shut up.  She did not feel like talking anyway, until she said, “I threw up this morning.”

Roland pulled up.  “What is it?  Are you all right?  Can I get you anything?  Do you need to lie down?”

Margueritte responded when he took a breath.  “I may be pregnant.”

Roland stared and then whooped!  He pulled his horse out of line to give it a good run.  He yelled the news to Charles who yelled at him to get back in line.  He rode up and down the line shouting the news, and the men who knew him shouted back, congratulations.  When he came back to his place in line, all Margueritte could do was grin.  She did not dare point out that she said maybe.

M4 Margueritte: Prisoners, part 1 of 3

Margueritte:  The New Way Has Come

After 697 AD: Francia

“Shut-up.  Shut-up,” Margueritte whispered with as much strength as she could and still keep quiet.  “If you two don’t shut-up we will be discovered.”

“He started it,” Grimly pointed.

“You made a crack about my mother,” Pipes came right back.

“Catspaw,” Margueritte whispered.  Catspaw put her hands over the mouths of the boys and she looked at them like two birds she would have for supper if they protested.  Margueritte ignored the three gnomes that should have been named Moe, Larry and Curly and peeked out from behind the big tapestry.  They found no one in the hall two hours before sunrise.  She knew it would get busy soon enough.

“Is this the right vent?” she asked.

Grimly said, “Mumphs mus mumph mum.”

“He says yes,” Catspaw whispered.

“Get it open.  Pipes, the rope.”

Grimly got out a fold of fairy weave cloth and covered the pegs which he then popped out without a sound.  Pipes tied one end of the rope securely to the fixture that held up the heavy tapestry and Catspaw let it down into the dark as soon as Grimly and Margueritte moved the vent enough to squeeze through.

“Now, Catspaw.  You know what to do,” Margueritte said, as Grimly shimmied down to where he could light a small light and check the room to be sure it was empty.  Margueritte followed carefully, hand under hand, until her feet touched down.  The room was small, but a crossroads of a sort.  They saw two open corridors, a staircase, and two big wooden doors.

“Which room?” Grimly asked.  He pointed to the big doors.  All he knew for certain was the prisoner was in this general location.

Margueritte pressed her dress down with her hands, wiped off some dust and dirt, and shrugged.  “The locked one,” she suggested, and reached for the door on her left.  It popped open and three soldiers jumped.  “Oops,” Margueritte said quietly, before she thought fast.  “Why isn’t one of you out in the hall?” she yelled.  “This prisoner is to be guarded at all times.  I hope for your sakes you weren’t sleeping on the job.”

Two of the soldiers straightened up and made military type excuse noises, but the third wasn’t so easily taken.  “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“Countess DeWinter, here from Cologne to question the prisoner, on the authority of the church and my good friend, your mayor’s mother.  It is only an hour before sunrise, and I can’t sleep so I see no reason why the prisoner should sleep.”

“You have papers?”

Margueritte stepped up and slapped the man.  “Your lord got my papers when I arrived last night.  Can you even read?  Now, come along and open-up.  I need to make the man miserable.”

One man got some keys from a hook on the wall, picked up and lit a torch out of a brazier, and nodded toward one of the others.  One of the men mumbled that she was obviously talented at making people miserable.  Margueritte knew the third man would go upstairs to check on her authorization, and she could only hope it took time to wake the old lord of the fortress.  Even so, she would have to be quick.

After the man lit the two torches in the small central room, he unlocked and opened the other door.  He stepped in first with the torch still in his hand while his fellow soldier stayed outside in case there was trouble.

“Charles,” Margueritte yelled.  “I come with greetings from the outside world.”

The short but broad-shouldered man, under thirty, though with the bearing of one much older, sat on a rough-hewn slat bed that only had straw for a mattress and no covers.  The way he had been chained around his wrists and ankles suggested he had a hard time lying down, so the uncomfortable bed hardly mattered.  He looked up at his name, but his eyes seemed to be having a hard time adjusting to the light.

“Come.  Let me look at you so I can see who it is that is speaking.”

“Now Charles, are your ears bound as well so you do not know my voice?”

Charles shook his head.  “Who would have thought you would be here for me rather than the other way around? Last I saw you, what? you turned sixteen, still a child and tied up to be burned at the stake?”

“Seventeen and just married, and now I am eighteen and in some circles that makes me a full-grown woman.”  She turned to the guard and smiled.  “What do you think?”

He returned the smile as he looked her once over.  “That was never a question.”

“Charles, I brought some friends who want to hear what tales you have to tell.”

“Not the big fellow, I hope.”

Margueritte knew the big fellow was Hammerhead the ogre that Charles met once and said that was enough.  “No, but I can call him if you like.”

“All clear,” Grimly spoke from the hall.  The guard inside the room turned, but Margueritte raised her hands.  An electrical charge flowed out of her fingers and struck the guard.  He jiggled and jiggled before he dropped the torch and collapsed to the floor.  Margueritte called to Grimly and bent down to move the torch before it set the straw on fire, and then searched through the pile of keys.

“Never mind,” Grimly said.  He applied a little gnome magic and popped the wrist and ankle chains open.

“I hope you’re not too stiff.”  Margueritte helped Charles stand.  “We have some climbing to do, up and down.”  They went into the hall and stepped over the unconscious guard that Grimly took care of.  Grimly called to Catspaw to let the rope back down.  When the rope hit the floor, he shimmied up and gave the all clear.

“Ladies first,” Charles said, always the gentleman.

“No way,” she nudged him.  “If I get caught, I have friends who can help, but this may be the only chance to get you out.  Climb, mister.”  He did, but it looked painful and slow.  By the time Margueritte grabbed the rope, she heard noises down the hall.  While she climbed, she called her armor out of Avalon in the Second Heavens.  It replaced her dress in an instant.  The chain mail, made by the god Hephaestus in the ancient days, would repel about any weapon, and the knee boots with the hard soles would protect her feet at a dead run equally through gravel and briars.  The fingerless gloves helped her grip the rope better, and her cloak, woven by Athena and turned black side out, would make her all but invisible in the night and in the shadows.  Sadly, at present she felt all too visible.

Margueritte got half-way out of the vent when a man reached the rope beneath her feet.  That man yelled and yanked on the rope to shake her loose, but Charles grabbed Margueritte’s hand and pulled her the rest of the way out.  Margueritte breathed her thank you before she said flatly, “Now we run.”  True, her hard-soled boots made a clop-clop sound in the hall, but that hardly mattered with all the yelling.

At the end of the hall, Catspaw urged them on.  Pipes stood at the top of the stairs and indicated the all clear.  They stopped short of the very top when they reached a watch room with slit windows for bowmen.  Grimly opened the door and he yelled, “Keep your heads down.”  They burst through the door and ran down the wall of the fortress.

“How about a little fire, Scarecrow,” Margueritte quipped.

A big rope had been tied fast to the top of the wall, and again Margueritte insisted Charles go first.  “Lord Birch, stay with him.  He may need the Peter Pan treatment if his hands give way.”

“Right,” Birch, the old fairy lord responded even as Lord Yellow Leaf let out a Cherokee war cry and let loose another arrow.  Margueritte saw several dead guardsmen littered about, barely discernible in the torch light.  It was hard to tell how many, but there were plenty more soldiers where the first ones came from, and they would all arrive soon enough.  Margueritte felt an arrow strike her back.  It bounced off the armor, did not even penetrate the cloak of Athena, but it proved time was short.  Margueritte did not wait for Charles to reach the bottom.  She scrambled over the top of the wall and grabbed the rope while Grimly, Catspaw and Pipes jumped over the side and floated down.  The gnomes could not exactly fly, but they could float pretty well.  Last of all, the fairy lords Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got small, their normal fairy size, and exited the wall.  They had horses down below, and Charles did not have to ask what they were for.

A hundred yards out from the fortress, and they ran into Roland with a party of thirty men.  Roland yelled as loud as he could, much louder than all the yelling so far, and Margueritte wilted a bit, but they did not stop.  They had a hard ride ahead of them.

M4 Gerraint: The Final Battle, part 3 of 3

Coppertone changed.  She became two feet tall, with great leathery wings, two little horns, pointed teeth and claws in place of her hands and feet.  But when she lifted from the ground to fly over the top of the house, she sounded like a fairy.  “Children, he said okay.  He said okay,” she repeated, and they heard Dyfyr’s daughters congratulate her like she just won the first prize in a contest.

“The other?”  Dyfyr nodded toward Belle.

“I’m a house elf.  An elf maiden just three hundred years old.  I don’t know why my Lady should want someone so young.”

“It keeps me young,” Enid said, as Gwynyvar stepped up beside Enid and took her arm.

“I was wondering what your secret was,” Gwynyvar made her first conversational statement of the day.  They watched as Gwynyvar’s handmaids got wide eyed took a step back from Belle.  But then one stepped up and gave Belle a hug and a word.

“I thought you were much too beautiful to be an ordinary woman.”  Then the other followed suit.

“Ready?” Gerraint asked Dyfyr.  On that word, Enid dropped Gwynyvar’s arm and leapt up on the horses’ back, which caused the horse to jump and need calming down.

“I am not giving you a chance to ride off and join the fighting without me,” Enid said.

“Darn,” Gerraint responded with a slight smile.  “She saw through my clever plan.”

Enid stuck her tongue out at him while Dyfyr helped Gwynyvar up on Uwaine’s horse.  Gerraint and Dyfyr walked the horses.  The handmaids followed behind.  They went out the back road, the farm road that Dyfyr’s boys had ridden in such a hurry.  It swung around to link up with the great north-south road that came up from the coast and continued to Bath and parts north.  They were well away from the battle, but they were able to get to a small rise and see some.  Gerraint, with his fairy enhanced eyes saw the most.

They saw very little movement on the battlefield, apart from some stray, rider-less horses.  Gerraint assumed there had to be survivors, but he saw none.  With his elf enhanced ears, he heard the moans and groans of the men who would not live long.  With his dwarf nose he sniffed and looked where his son James lay face down in the dirt.  He located Uwaine, missing an arm where his life bled away, surrounded by several Saxons who did not escape his steel.  He found Percival propped up by several spikes set to fortify the camp, a long spear in his chest.  He found Arthur, back against a tree, gone.  But Bedivere lived, still with a sword in his hand, searching among the bodies near Arthur.

Gerraint fell to his knees and began to weep.  Dyfyr heard horses, hard ridden, and thought to lead the women off the road and into the woods.  The riders came to where Gerraint knelt in the road, and Gerraint did not even look up.  He kept weeping, but he could not help hearing.

“I said it was the Lion,” Lancelot spoke.

“Looks like we are too late.” That was Lionel.

“Lancelot!” Gwynyvar called from the woods and kicked Uwaine’s stubborn horse to get back up to the road.

“Gwynyvar!” Lancelot saw her and got down from his horse.  Gwynyvar also dismounted and ran to the man, as much as her old legs could run, and she hugged him and cried into his chest, even as Gerraint wiped his eyes.

Enid also got down and came to hug Gerraint which almost started him crying again, but he heard another horse approaching and he needed to stand.

Bedivere rode up with the sword in his hand.  He got down and walked straight to Gerraint.  Poor Bedivere looked covered in blood, his white cloak turned red, soaked in blood, and no telling how much of it was his own. 

“Excalibur,” he said.  “Arthur made me promise to return it to the Lady of the Lake.  I had to extract it from Medrawt’s chest.  I’m sorry, I can’t find the sheath.”

“Arthur said that?” Lionel dared to hope.

“They were his last words.”  Bedivere killed that hope.

“Rhiannon!”  Gerraint simply raised his head and called.

“No need to shout,” Rhiannon said, as she appeared on a great white steed.  She got down and gave both Gerraint and Enid a kiss on the cheek, like a daughter might kiss her beloved parents.  She stepped up to Lancelot and he put Gwynyvar in Lionel’s hands and got to one knee.

“Lady Nimue.”

Rhiannon raised her hand and Lancelot stood, whether he meant to or not.  “We have a long road to travel, I think.  It would be best to dispense with the formalities for the trip.”  Rhiannon stepped up to kiss Gwynyvar on the cheek.  “I am so sorry for your loss.”  Gwynyvar started to cry again, but quietly.

“Mother?”  Rhiannon turned.

“Just me,” Gerraint said.  He held up Excalibur and it disappeared, and a long, empty box appeared in its place. “Now, Caliburn if you please.”  Rhiannon held out her hands and the sword in its sheath appeared and fit exactly in the box.  Gerraint handed her the box.

“Take this to St. Catherine-de-Fierbois church, somewhere down in the Loire direction.”

“Church?”  Rhiannon did not like that idea.

“Must I remind you that you don’t belong here?  Have you spoken to Bridged lately?”

“Why must I do penance?  You are picking on the girls.  What about Manannan or Gwyr?”

“All in good time.”  Gerraint waited until Rhiannon dropped her head and spoke again.

“Yes mother.”

“St. Catherine de Fierbois church, behind the altar.  Bury the sword beneath the stone and carve five crosses on the stone.  There is a Frank who must carry it before it ends up in the hands of another woman.”

“Once again, the sword in the stone,” Rhiannon sounded grumpy.

“Under the stone.  Five crosses.  Talk to the nuns when you get there.  They will help you and guide you to the right place.”

“There is a nunnery there?” Gwynyvar interrupted.

“Nearby,” Gerraint said.  “A monastery with a branch for women.”

Gwynyvar took a deep breath against her tears.  She looked at Lancelot and her friend, Enid.  “I may stay there.”

“Gwynyvar!”  Enid caught her words.  She was not going to talk her friend out of it.  She looked at Gerraint who looked very old and tired and imagined she might join her friend in a few years. 

“St. Catherine’s.  Five crosses on the stone behind the altar.  Take Arthur.”  People looked up at that last word, and Gerraint explained.  “It is better if people do not know where he is buried,” he told Gwynyvar.  “Maybe you and Rhiannon will sail with him beyond the sea.  Maybe to Avalon.  You remember Avalon.”  Gwynyvar and Lancelot both nodded, and Enid took Gerraint’s arm.  “Now, all that remains is, who will bury the dead?”  He turned Enid, and Bedivere stepped up beside him.  He intended to collect what special things he could to take home, to Percival’s family, to Uwaine’s wife, to Cornwall in memory of James.  Enid began to cry.

END

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MONDAY

The second Story of the adventures of Margueritte in France during the dark ages (after 697 AD) begins. Margueritte and Roland are married and hoping for a peaceful life together, but Roland is needed by Charles, not yet called Charles Martel. The Frankish kingdom is falling into a civil war, the German nations around the edges are taking advantage of that, and there is a new threat brewing in the south where the Muslims have overrun the Visigoth kingdoms in Iberia. Peace and togetherness may be hard to come by. Starting Monday. Until then, as always, Happy Reading.

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M4 Gerraint: The Final Battle, part 2 of 3

Gwynyvar got lost in her own thoughts and took a moment to realize Gerraint spoke to her and then figure out what he said.  She handed him her scarf, and he examined it.  He saw nothing to identify it as Gwynyvar’s, but Gerraint pretended there was.  He gave it to the eldest.  “Tell Lancelot this is Gwynyvar’s scarf, and please hurry.”

“All of us?”  One of the boys asked.

Gerraint nodded.  “There may be enemies on the road.  Your father will have to stay here with me.  A couple of old men will be the only ones left to protect the ladies until you get back.  So, hurry.”

“Right,” the eldest said and stuffed the scarf beneath his belt.  They gathered their horses and rode out with all speed.  Dyfyr watched them go before he spoke.

“I was going to be angry that you denied my sons a chance to fight, but my heart only says thank you.”

Morwen saw what happened and came up to ask if he could help.  “No,” Gerraint said.  “You and your few soldiers will have to lead the men from the town.  Get them all white cloaks if there are enough.  A couple of old men will be all that is left to guard the ladies.”  He repeated himself, and like an old man with a heavy heart, turned and stepped back into the house.

“You could have sent a fairy, you know.  Lancelot would believe that,” Enid whispered.

“I already did,” Gerraint returned her whisper, and Enid kissed his cheek.

Back inside, he saw four of Dyfyr’s daughters or daughters-in-law with their hands on Gwenhwyfach and her elderly handmaid.  “They tried to escape out the back,” one of the daughters spoke.

“Coppertone and I were distracted with the cooking,” Belle excused herself.

Gerraint extracted his arm from his wife’s grasp.  He stepped up and punched the elderly handmaid with the fist and adrenaline of a heavyweight boxer.  He felt frustrated, and wanted to be out there fighting beside Arthur, where he belonged.  The old woman went down, unconscious.  She was lucky that punch did not break her neck.

Gerraint turned to Gwenhwyfach.  “I remember this.  Your son will go down in history as the evil murderer who killed Arthur, the greatest King ever to grace this land.”

Gwenhwyfach drew up her haughty self.  “The battle is not over.  When my son rides in victorious, I will decide what history remembers.  I will not be forgotten.”

“Sorry,” Gerraint said.  “History will get some things muddled.  Most will never know that Gwynyvar had a sister.  Morgana, the witch will get the credit and the blame.  Usually, she will be Loth’s wife, and mostly Mordred’s mother.”

“Medrawt,” Enid corrected.  “But that would be wrong.  That would be incest.”

Gerraint shrugged and took Enid to sit at the table.  “A teaching tool for the church, all about the evils of incest and witchery.”

“You don’t like the church rewriting history, do you?”

“I despise it, and anyone who rewrites history,” Gerraint said, and he finally looked over at Gwynyvar.  She started crying softly, and her two ladies comforted her and said things like, the battle isn’t over yet.  He looked at Gwenhwyfach.  She said “Mmmph,” and looked like she could not get her feet off the ground.  Coppertone had restored the muzzle to the mouth and glued Gwenhwyfach’s feet to the floor.  Gerraint smiled.  Gwenhwyfach would go nowhere, and she would not even be able to complain about it.

Belle came to cry with Gwynyvar for a while, and she cried so sweetly, Gwynyvar hugged her and did not let go, like Belle became both her child and her rock.  Enid also went over to comfort her friend, and Dyfyr and Gerraint simply sat and worried.  They had food.  The women kept the table loaded with plenty of food and drink.  The children played mostly outside, since it was not raining, but sometimes they came in to pick from the table.  Enid tried to get Gwynyvar to eat, but she said she was not hungry.  She stopped crying after a while and kept fingering the small cross she wore around her neck and stayed silent.  

The people in the house could not hear what happened in the distance.  Gerraint strained and heard the general movement.  He guessed.  Medrawt attacked with his footmen, at least some of them, but he moved too soon, and they were not really ready.  They were driven back, likely when Uwaine charged from the fort, and the two sides took time to breathe.  Medrawt then attacked with his horsemen and followed them with his Welshmen or Scots or Saxons, but not his whole army.  They were driven off, maybe by the attack from the town, but Gerraint imagined Arthur’s horsemen, so many from Cornwall, were likely victorious, but devastated.  They probably abandoned the horses at that point to join the fight on foot behind the meager fortifications.  Again, the armies took time to breathe.  Finally, now in the early afternoon, Gerraint knew it would be the last attack.  No one would be spared.  Now was the time, if Lancelot was ever going to show up.

“I can’t do it.”  Gerraint stood and rushed outside to his horse.  Enid caught him.

“Not without me.”

Dyfyr followed and set about quietly saddling Uwaine’s horse.

Gwynyvar followed with her handmaids and Belle and Coppertone in her wake.

“No,” Gerraint said, and everyone paused not knowing who he was talking to.  “Coppertone,” he clarified.  “You must stay here to set Gwenhwyfach free in case we don’t return.”

“Can I get little?” she asked.

“Don’t scare the children,” he said, then he paused.  He knew she had already shown the children.  She showed Dyfyr’s wife and daughters.  In fact, Gwenhwyfach and her maid and Dyfyr himself were the only ones she had not shown.  “Well, don’t scare Gwenhwyfach and her maid too badly.”

Coppertone’s face darkened.  She knew that he knew.

“Another fairy?”  Dyfyr asked.

“Pixie,” Gerraint said.  He knew Pixies were not viewed favorably in some circles.  They were seen as akin to goblins since they lived in caves and deep underground tunnels, but Dyfyr merely shrugged.  He had not seen anything himself up to that point, other than a glimpse of Dumfries hidden beneath his cloak, but obviously, he heard all about it.

M4 Gerraint: The Final Battle, part 1 of 3

Gerraint lead the group back to the very back room where the hole was located.  He went through first, and the others followed him into the dark.  Day or night did not matter in what Enid later described as something like a grave. Fortunately, the so-called natural lighting of the dark elves helped.  When they arrived at the turnoff for the barn, they found two soldiers who gave the all clear.  When they arrived at the stables, Dyfyr stood there with two others.

“Dyfyr, old man.”  Gerraint grabbed the man.  “You need to come with us.  We are going to visit your wife.”

“She will be pleased, totally nervous, but pleased.”  Gerraint understood, but he knew Dyfyr’s house and table were big enough.  They had to be to fit all those children and grandchildren.  “I need to go now.  I have to help with the horses.”

“No.”  Gerraint did not let Dyfyr go.  “You, and maybe your sons need to help set the town defense.”

Dyfyr looked up into Gerraint’s eyes.  “Is it as bad as that?”  Medrawt had ignored the town because it seemed big enough to be a pain to take, but not big enough to pose a threat.

Gerraint nodded.  “It will be, and there is no telling who will come out on top, but if Medrawt succeeds, you need to set a defense against rampaging Saxons and Scots.”

Dyfyr joined in the nod and turned to the man next to him.  “Tell my sons they can help their father or follow the Knight into battle, their choice.  When the horses are all taken, tell any leftover able-bodied men who are not needed at the barracks to come and see me.”   He turned to Gerraint.  “Lead on.”

By the time Gerraint got the women settled in Dyfyr’s house, he could hear the sounds of battle beginning.  He got up to get to his horse, but Enid blocked his way.  “It is your Christian duty to stay and keep us safe.”

“Dyfyr and his sons are more than capable.”

“No,” Gwynyvar got up to join Enid in a sign of support.

“But I can’t protect Arthur if I stay here.”

Gwynyvar hesitated before she said, “No.  If we need to flee, you are the only one who can get us to safety.”

“You are the only one who can call on Pinewood and Deerrunner and whoever else might be needed to get us out safely,” Enid added.  “Besides, you have the Danna, and Nameless in you.”

“You know it doesn’t work that way,” Gerraint protested, but he did not explain if he protested about the use of the little ones, or the use of Danna, or simply the idea that Danna was somehow in him—she lived in the past, in her own time and place, not in him like next to his liver.  The women would not move, and Gwynyvar’s handmaids brought two chairs so Enid and Gwynyvar could sit in the doorway.  Then the handmaids went to stand in front of the two windows in case Gerraint decided to get clever.

Gerraint looked at Coppertone, who cut things up to go on the cooking fire.  Her eyes got big, too big for human eyes despite the glamour of humanity, but she said nothing.  Belle caught his eye and spoke.  “You are the only one.”

Gerraint threw his gloves to the table and grumbled.  “There can be more than one.”  They heard a flurry of activity out in the yard, and Gerraint thought of Lancelot, still a day away as far as he knew.  “Damn bitches,” he called them, hoping to shock them, but Enid and Gwynyvar just shook their heads and refused to move.  “At least let me help see to the defense of the town.”  He got frustrated.

Enid and Gwynyvar looked at each other, and without a word they stood and pushed their chairs back from the door.  They still blocked the door and Enid spoke.  “Only if you take us with you.  You decide how much danger you want to put us in.”

Gerraint did not argue.  He stepped to the door and Enid grabbed his arm.  Gwynyvar walked on his other side to box him in.  “Dyfyr,” Gerraint called.  There were men bringing in weapons and saddling horses all up and down the street.  Dyfyr was not far, and he came up with information.

“We decided the only way to defend the town is to help Arthur win the battle.”

Gerraint saw Morwen down the way, barking orders to several soldiers from the fort.  He saw a man bringing up two mules.  They would be hard to ride into battle.  He saw another man with an armful of spears, and what was likely his son behind him carrying farm implements, hoes and the like.  Probably the blacksmith. He turned to Dyfyr

“Your sons.  How many are here.  Where are they?”

“Five sons and sons-in-law,” Dyfyr said, and turned to call.  “Brenden.  Fetch the boys and bring them here.”  The young man ran off while Gerraint looked to the side of Dyfyr’s home.  His and Uwaine’s horses stood quietly grazing on the little grass that grew there and ignored the mad activity going on around them.  They were soldier’s horses, used to the clank of weapons and men running wildly and shouting at each other.  It would not disturb their breakfast.  Gerraint saw his and Uwaine’s equipment also untouched, under the small awning where it would be protected from the rain.

“Forget it,” Enid said and tugged on his arm.  Gerraint looked once at Gwynyvar and wondered what she would think when he told her about Lancelot.

“Here we are,” Dyfyr said.

“Two things,” Gerraint got right to it, as was his way.  “I need you five for a special assignment.”  He looked again at Gwynyvar but spoke to the boys.  “I need you to ride to Christchurch, the port next to Bournmouth.  Lancelot and two thousand men from Amorica are coming to Arthur’s aid, but I don’t know when they may arrive.”  Gwynyvar put her hands to her lips in surprise.  This became hope and help, if Lancelot could get here in time.  “Your scarf,” Gerraint asked Gwynyvar and held out his hand.

 

 

M4 Gerraint: Cadbury, part 3 of 3

The three guards from the guardroom and two more from upstairs, one of whom looked badly wounded were brought in to join the four surviving guards and the Saxon in the Great Hall.  When the guards sat willingly on the floor, Gerraint sent half of the twenty-four men remaining to him back into the rooms to bring in the bodies of the dead.

“Lay the good men out here in honor,” he said.  “You can pile the traitors in the corner for all I care.”  He stepped up to the Saxon.  “Red Ulf.”  Gerraint once again practiced his Nameless given grasp of the Saxon language.    “Ethelgard has really overstepped his bounds this time.  Does he not know that fate will have its way with him?”

Red Ulf raised his brows on being spoken to by a man without a funny British accent.  He looked closely, and after a moment he appeared to remember their previous encounter.  Then he responded with treachery.  “Too bad you won’t be there to see it.”  He pulled out a knife that was hidden in his cloak, but he was the one who did not get a chance to use it as Defender got thrust right through the man’s chain and deep into his chest.  The women, and some of the men present gasped.

“George said you were not a believer.”  Gerraint spoke in a clam and steady voice.  “I recommend you pray now as fast as you can.”  Red Ulf collapsed and his blood spilled out on the floor.

“Murderer.”  The old woman who was there to serve Gwenhwyfach accused Gerraint with her mouth and eyes.  She went to her seated mistress who seemed to be shrieking, but all anyone heard was “Mmumph. Mmumph.”  Coppertone had magically sealed the woman’s mouth closed and looked pleased with her work.  Belle rolled her eyes and helped Enid to a chair a couple of seats away.  

“No, it’s called war, not murder,” Gerraint responded to the old woman.  “And it’s called self-defense.  Defender,” he called, and his long knife vacated Red Ulf’s chest, shook itself free of any blood, and flew back to Gerraint’s hand.  He was at an age where he did not care if people saw certain things.  Gerraint caught the old woman’s eye.  “If you pull a knife on me, you will receive the same.  Enid?”  Enid had her hand to her head, like this was something she knew, but tried not to think about, and certainly did not want to see.  Gwynyvar sat beside her and took her hand to comfort her.

“Do what you must do,” Enid said.  “I trust you, and I love you.”  Her voice did not exactly sound steady.

“You are my heart,” Gerraint said.  Belle looked up and smiled at that use of the fairy expression; an expression of total love and devotion that Enid knew, too.

Gerraint spoke again as the men from the back rooms returned with more bodies.  “I know some of you are anxious to join the battle for the fort, but we have prisoners to attend and women to get safely away first.  Where is the prison in this fort?”

Morwen, the sergeant of the little group of soldiers spoke.  “There is the old dungeon beneath us, and in this expanded fort, there is also a separate bailiff’s tower.”

“Very good.  There is too much fighting and uncertainty out there.  Please take these men to the lock-up beneath us and post several guards.  Hopefully they will be joined by other prisoners Uwaine brings in.  Something will be decided later, but I will remind you men, in a Christian world there remains a chance for mercy and forgiveness, so be good.”

Gerraint went again to the front door.  He did not see nearly as much fighting going on as before, and he saw white shirts still armed, so he assumed his men had not lost, but he caught no sign of Uwaine, or Dyfyr or Twech for that matter.  He closed the door.  He decided he needed to get the women out, and that would have to be by the tunnel.  He just wondered if the women might go quietly if he blindfolded them when Uwaine, Twech and a dozen men in white burst in the door behind him.  

“All good,” Uwaine reported.  “There are fifty barricaded in the barracks and we are negotiating.  There are some singles here and there, but the fort is ours.”

“Saxon singles?” Gerraint asked.

Uwaine nodded and shrugged at the same time.  “And maybe Scots, but there aren’t that many places to hide around here.”

“One man with a bow can still pick out targets.” Gerraint shook his head.  “Medrawt?”

Uwaine shrugged, but Twech stepped up and looked over to be sure Uwaine was not about to say something before he spoke.  “Just as the sun touched the horizon, I saw a dozen men escape out the front gate.  They were on foot, but the enemy army is not so far.  They may be there by now.”

“Damn.”  Gerraint swore.  “Pinewood,” he called, and he did not have to call twice, like the fairy waited up in the rafters or something.  “Go tell Arthur that Gwynyvar is safe and to prepare for an attack.  And tell James and Bedivere they are in trouble for not telling me their mother was here.”  Enid was Bedivere’s aunt, not his mother of course, but she was as close as he had to a mother since that fateful day when Lyoness sank.

Pinewood grinned, though it was hard to see on that little fairy face.  “Very good, Lord,” he said and scooted out the window.  Gerraint did not bother to look around at the astonished faces.  He just continued with the orders.

“Uwaine, collect as many soldiers as we have and men from the town who have some military experience.  Get to the stables and tell Dyfyr to take six men and make sure the tunnel from the stables is still secure and empty.  Then saddle as many horses as you can.  You will need to ride out and support Arthur with as strong a force as you can muster.  Use your judgment.  Leave the elderly and too young to watch the men in the barracks.  I have a feeling something will be decided today.”

“Twech.  If you wouldn’t mind, take six men or so and make sure the tunnel in the barn is still clear.  We don’t want to run into any men in hiding, especially Scots or Saxons who might have found their way into the tunnels.”

“Very good, Lord,” Twech imitated the fairy.

“Morwen.  Get the men you have here ready to escort the ladies.  You better put a few more on guard duty downstairs so they can fetch food and relieve the guards later on.  The rest need to be divided in two groups with the bulk out front, and a few bringing up the rear.  Belle, you need to lead the ladies with a fairy light, and Coppertone, you need to bring up the rear and keep your ears and dark eyes open for trouble.  And whatever you do, don’t tell the ladies about the rats and spiders.”  Of course, Gerraint told the ladies as he spoke, and he grinned at them.

“That was mean,” Enid said, but she looked at him and returned the grin.

“You three,” Gerraint pointed to three of the men, soldiers who came running in with Uwaine.  “I need to go to the wall to look at what is happening, if anything.  I’ll be right back.”

Uwaine nodded and left.  He had a big assignment and was not inclined to speak in any case.  Twech also nodded and left, but Gerraint could have sworn the man saluted.  “We’ll be ready,” Morwen said, and he began to shout orders while Gerraint went out.

From the top of the wall, Gerraint could look down on the two camps.    With his fairy enhanced eyes, he spied Medrawt right away.  Medrawt had gotten himself a horse and looked to be riding around doling out commands.  Clearly, Medrawt wanted an immediate attack, but armies did not work that way.  The attack would come when the army got ready.

Gerraint called once again to Pinewood. He asked the fairy to please send someone to Christchurch, “Where Lancelot’s ships will be coming in.  As soon as he arrives, tell him Gwynyvar had been held prisoner by Medrawt, but she is now safe.  Arthur’s troops, though, are badly outnumbered and he could use as much help as possible, as soon as possible.  Then it would be good if a couple of little ones could lead Lancelot here by the secret ways unknown to men so he can arrive as soon as possible.”

“It will be done,” Pinewood responded.  “Arthur will need the help, but I cannot say if it will be in time.”

“Nor can I,” Gerraint admitted.  “Just do your best to hurry him, please, and thank you.”  Pinewood flew off, and one of the men with Gerraint whispered.

“Second time.  Still unnerving.”

Gerraint ignored the man and looked at Arthur’s considerably smaller camp.  It appeared like they spent their time yesterday, and in the night, fortifying their position.  There were trees and sharpened spikes in front of their camp, and a shallow trench dug against a cavalry attack.  He could see the trench from above, but it might not be noticeable from ground level.  A horse could break a leg in such a trench.  A man might only fall down if he wasn’t watching, but enough falling down would certainly slow a charge.  Arthur’s men looked to be getting ready to defend themselves.  Being so badly outnumbered, for the first time in history, Arthur appeared in no position to attack.

Gerraint looked over the inside of the wall, down on the barracks.  “You there,” He got the attention of one of the men now manning the wall.  “Keep an eye on the roof of the barracks.  They might try to sneak out the back end of the roof, if they think of it.”

“Right,” the man said and went to fetch a few more men to help with that duty.

Gerraint went back down to the Great Hall.  Morwen reported that they were ready.  Gerraint complained about the crick in his neck.  He stood too tall for most of the tunnel and had to travel with his head bent.  First, though, he had something to say to Gwenhwyfach and her maid.  “One warning so you better listen,” he said.  “Any treachery, attempt to injure anyone or bring harm to anyone will be returned to you double.”  He reached out and undid the clamp on Gwenhwyfach’s mouth.  He knew he could undo the magic of the little ones, even if he had not been gifted by them.  “And any noise, and I will have the clamp returned to your mouth, permanently, and you can eat through your nose.”  They understood.

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MONDAY

The end of the saga of Gerraint in the days of Arthur, Pendragon. The Final Battle Don’t miss it. Until Monday, Happy Reading

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M4 Gerraint: Cadbury, part 2 of 3

Arthur frowned at being reminded of Lancelot’s absence.  “Gerraint.  You and Uwaine go with this gentleman.  Take the hundred loyal men who escaped the fort when Medrawt came.  I can’t spare any more in case it comes to fighting.  Percival, you see to the distribution of the cloaks.”  He pointed.  He did not know what to call them because no one ever wore such things before, at least not since the days of the first Pendragon.  “I am going to sit here and stew about what to say to Medrawt.  I will tell him I need a day to think about it.”

“Two days would be better,” Gerraint said.

“One day,” Arthur insisted and then he showed that he had stopped listening

“Father?”  James and Bedivere were still outside the tent.  They were unloading the wagon, helping the elves who were disguised as men.

Gerraint looked carefully at his boys.  They were men in their early thirties and had grown into fine leaders.  Bedivere had an estate on the bit of land that remained to Lyoness.  James had his home on the Channel that separated Cornwall from Wales, where he could keep a sharp watch for pirates.  It was only Gerraint’s fatherly eyes that still saw them as boys.  That was what he called them.

“Boys.  You have many fine men from Cornwall that you need to lead into battle, if it should come to that.  Uwaine and I have another task to deal with, and don’t ask.  Meanwhile, get the hundred men from the fort ready to move out and fetch me Morgan and his pirates.  I have a job for him.”  And Gerraint sent Morgan and his dozen men back to Christchurch with a message for Lancelot as soon as he arrived.

Uwaine and Gerraint followed Dyfyr, son of Peryf the Bowman through a shallow ravine.  There were trees grown up there all the way to the edge of town.  Dyfyr talked.  “I told Captain Gweir all those years ago he needed to cut the trees here.  A whole army could sneak up to the edge of town without ever being seen from the fort.  He said the Lady Gwynyvar would prefer to see the green and was not concerned about armies.”  Dyfyr shrugged as they entered the town.

Most of the time got spent meeting Dyfyr’s wife and sons and their wives, and grandsons, but they found the shed soon enough.  It had been pushed up to the steep hillside beneath the fort wall.  The man who lived there had no idea the back of his shed could be torn out and reveal a hole in the hill.  Dyfyr assured them the man was on their side.  In fact, he said he had several hundred men, most of the men in the town, who were prepared to follow the soldiers and retake the fort.”

Gerraint looked into the dark hole and smelled the odor of mold.  “After you,” Gerraint said.

“By no means.  After you,” Uwaine responded.

“Please be my guest.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Dyfyr and the man Twech came back with two lit torches, and Dyfyr stepped right in.  “Careful, it may be wet in places.”

“Whisper,” Gerraint said.  “We don’t want to give ourselves away.”  He followed Dyfyr.  Twech and Uwaine brought up the rear.

They went up a ramp at first, one that looked like a shaft from an old mine.  They turned back and forth a couple of times before they came to the wall above.  There, they had to climb a dozen stairs, which were wood, but in surprisingly good shape after all the years.  The rest of the tunnel went through the wall itself, on ground level where the building stones were braced against collapse.  They found a couple of places where they had to bend under bowed braces or step over a fallen brace, but for the most part, the tunnel appeared in good shape.  Dyfyr pointed out the three small side tunnels that went to the stables, the barn and the Great Hall.  When they climbed back down and got back outside, Gerraint had to seriously stretch his back.  He had his head ducked most of the time; the tunnel through the wall not being as tall as his six feet.

“I’ll take the Great Hall with the objective of securing Gwynyvar, and after that, grabbing Medrawt if possible.  Uwaine, you take the Barn with the bulk of the men.  That tunnel seems to be in the best shape.  Dyfyr, if you are up for it, you might take the stables with a few men to prevent Medrawt or his men from escaping on horseback.”

“I can do that,” Dyfyr said.  “Good plan.”

“Fine.  Uwaine can go fetch the soldiers, and I’ll relax and see if Dyfyr’s wife is a good cook.”

“I can do that,” Uwaine said, and without too much sarcasm, added, “Good plan.”

At sundown, Gerraint asked Dumfries, the dark elf King, if his people could set some imitation of natural lights in the tunnels for the poor humans who couldn’t see past their noses in the dark.  Dumfries nodded and laughed and also checked the tunnel to make sure it would not collapse somewhere along the line.  Finally, he checked the ends of the tunnels and made sure they would collapse when struck with the hammer.

“A bit of cheating,” Dumfries said.

“I know, but around the edges.”  Gerraint thanked the dark elf. “Like these white cloaks, it should keep things straight, and help, but the men will still have to do their own fighting.”

Dumfries understood.  He waited quietly in his long dark cloak and oversized hood, which made it very hard to see what this presumed man looked like, especially in the dim light beside the thin wall that stood between the men and the Great Hall.

Beginning about two hours before sunup, white cloaked men in twos and threes made their way to the workman’s shed where they worked their way up the hill and down the tunnel to their station.  Gerraint gave strict instructions to ignore the rats and spiders, and above all go quietly because too much noise, like talking, or a sudden noise like a shout, might bring the roof down.  The men were exceptionally quiet and watched where they put their feet and hands.

  Gerraint had thirty men with him, including some soldiers from the fort, who knew the inside layout of the Great Hall.  They waited at the long end of the tunnel where it snaked around the east wall and into the north wall.  Dyfyr had about as many, mostly men who knew horses.  They got ready to break out into the stables.  The bulk of the men, including most of the soldiers went with Uwaine.  When they came out of the barn, he had some assigned to go straight up to the walls of the fort.  The rest of the men were to head for the barracks where they hoped the enemy would still be asleep.

“Now,” Dumfries said as he put his back to the wall to keep out of the way.  Goblins had an unerring sense of timing, which kept them from being caught out in the sun.  Gerraint knew they were about thirty minutes from sunup, and he tapped the two big fellows with the sledgehammers on the shoulders.  It took only three strikes for the wall to tumble down, but each hit echoed horrendously.

“At least the others will hear,” Gerraint mumbled, and just before he stepped through the hole, he heard the sound of hammers echo back to him.

They stepped out into a windowless dressing room at the back of the ground floor, where the building butted up to the wall.  Ten men were assigned to head for the stairs and the second floor where they were to clean out any guards and find Gwynyvar.  Ten men took the ground floor rooms, while ten followed Gerraint to the Great Hall itself.  Gerraint reasoned Medrawt and his commanders might be breaking their fast and preparing for a new day of jerkiness.

“Never underestimate the cleverness of a power-hungry jerk,” he told his men.  “Holding women hostage might just be the beginning.”  Several men growled.  That rankled against their every Christian nerve.  What kind of a Pendragon would Medrawt be when he showed himself willing to go against everything Arthur fought for—every ideal of the Round Table?

Gerraint moved quickly through the rooms deemed least likely to be occupied.  They picked up three prisoners in the guard room, soldiers from the fort known to the men who were with Gerraint.  They had just come off their shift and were groggy with sleep.  “Medrawt is a loser,” Gerraint told them.  “Think carefully which side you really want to be on.”  The men gave them no trouble.

They briefly heard a scuffle upstairs, and some shouts, as Gerraint and six men burst into the Great Hall.  Medrawt was there as expected, but he ran to the front door and did not pause to give any orders.  Three of Medrawt’s commanders followed the coward, but the other three drew their swords against the intruders, and there were six guards in the big room as well.  Nine on seven were not the worst odds when there were tables and chairs and other furniture to get in the way. In a moment, though, seven more of Gerraint’s men came from the downstairs door on the other side of the dais, and nine on fourteen made much better odds.  The guards and one surviving commander, a big, red-headed Saxon surrendered.

Gerraint wanted to follow Medrawt, but his first duty was to Gwynyvar.  Besides, when he looked out the front door of the Great Hall, he saw men running everywhere in a kind of mad dance and fighting in pockets here and there that threatened to overtake the whole courtyard.  He went back in and said only, “Gwynyvar?”

Eight women came into the Great Hall, escorted by a half-dozen of Gerraint’s men.  Gerraint got surprised when one of the women ran to him and threw her arms around him.  “I was hoping it was you,” she said.

Gerraint backed her up. “Enid, what are you doing here?”  He looked at the five ladies in waiting.  Two were with Gwynyvar, but two of them were Belle and Coppertone, disguised with glamours to appear human.  The other one was an old woman who was no doubt there for Gwenhwyfach.  Gerraint looked at Gwenhwyfach who had an angry, disappointed and somewhat defeated look in her face.  Enid talked.

“I came up to be with Gwynyvar and wait for your return.  You know how lovely Cadbury is in the Spring.  We were having a wonderful time until Gwenhwyfach showed up and ruined everything.  But Goreu, where is Arthur?”

“Busy,” Gerraint said, and turned her to his side after a peck on her lips.  He stepped to Gwenhwyfach.  “What did you think you were doing?  Don’t you know this will not end well?”

“For you, perhaps.”  Gwenhwyfach drew herself up and found some haughtiness to cover her face.  “Meryddin made everything clear to me.  Arthur’s son will be a great man, remembered by all of history.”

“He will,” Gerraint agreed.  “As a murdering, power hungry, kidnapping fool,” and he thought Merlin had one last card to play after all.

“What?” Gwenhwyfach arched her back.

“Sit down and shut up,” Gerraint said.

“What?” Gwenhwyfach wasn’t moving.

“SIT,” Gerraint commanded, and Enid and Gwynyvar stepped up and grabbed Gwenhwyfach’s arms.  They dragged her to a chair at the table and threw her into it.  

“You will suffer,” Gwenhwyfach threatened.

“Coppertone, please make her shut up,” Gerraint said, as he stepped up to the prisoners. 

M4 Gerraint: Cadbury, part 1 of 3

When they arrived at Cadbury, late in the afternoon, they found an opposing force, some six thousand strong spread across the plains, about half of which were Scots and Saxons.  The other half, Percival had no hesitation calling traitors.  Beyond that, the fort at Cadbury sat in Medrawt’s hands, and that meant Gwynyvar was his prisoner.  Arthur held his tongue as they made camp.

“Suggestions?” Uwaine asked.

“We talk,” Gerraint responded.

“About what?” Percival asked.  He got mad.

“About Gwynyvar,” Arthur said flatly and added, “Damn that boy.”

Bedivere went on patrol and found his cousin, Gerraint’s middle son, James, in the woods with a host of men.  It got near sundown when they talked.  Peter, the eldest brother, sent James up with three hundred horsemen culled from the outlying places.  With him were another three hundred out from Wales.  It was still only a handful of what Wales could send, but Arthur was not in a position to quibble.  There were also a hundred men who made it out of the fort at Cadbury when Medrawt moved in.  When he brought them to Arthur’s camp, Uwaine summed things up nicely.

“Now they only outnumber us two to one.”

Gerraint got serious about talking, more than he had ever been before.  He convinced Percival that they had just talked peace between the Franks and Amorica, “So how hard could it be to make peace between Arthur and Medrawt?”  The problem being Arthur, who was not convinced peace was possible.  Gerraint had to wrack his brain to figure out how to delay things another two days.

He confided to Uwaine first thing in the morning while he dressed.  “I talked to Lancelot before we left.  He said he talked to Bohort and got permission to follow us with a full two thousand men.  They contracted with the same ships we took.  As soon as we unloaded, those ships headed right back to pick up the Amoricans.  The thing is, he said don’t tell Arthur, because they have no intention of staying in Britain.  He said they would help calm the situation and if necessary, fight Medrawt, but then they would go home.”

“So, Arthur doesn’t know,” Uwaine said.

“And I can’t tell him.  And you can’t tell him either.  I’m not sure if I broke trust even telling you.”

“But why keep it a secret?”

Gerraint shook his head and felt very old.  “I think Lancelot did not want to get in an argument with the one man he truly respects.  That, and I think he wants to remain an independent, autonomous army and not see his men integrated back into Arthur’s army.  And I think Bohort and Lionel may have added some reasons of their own.  All I know is Lancelot is roughly three days behind us and if we can just hold off Arthur, he will catch up.”

Uwaine stepped to the tent door.  “For the first time in my life I am going to say, I wish you didn’t tell me that.”

“Come along.”  Gerraint stepped up beside Uwaine and patted him on the shoulder.  “I need your younger, vibrant brain to think of something.  Let’s get to the meeting.”  He started to walk out but Uwaine shook his head before he followed.

“Even my brain is too old for this.”

They walked slowly to the tent and Gerraint calmed his spirit and prayed before his son James interrupted him.  “Father, I told them it was not a good idea.”

“You’re not going to like this,” Bedivere pointed at the tent before he got in front of Uwaine.  Uwaine paused before he went ahead anyway.  He heard Gerraint’s first words.

“What is this?”  The words were rather loud.

Uwaine saw Arthur seated and Percival beside him.  He expected to see some of the other older ones, like maybe Agravain or maybe Nanters out of Wales, but what he saw startled him.  Pinewood, the King of the Fairies of Britain stood there along with the two elf Lords, the brothers Deerrunner and Dayrunner, the dwarf King Bogus, two fellows he could not name but who were no doubt representatives of their kind, and an actual goblin out in daylight, though he stayed protected by the tent and stayed well under his cloak and hood so he was hard to see.

Uwaine spoke before Gerraint moved.  “I thought dark elves could not go out in the daytime.”  He had learned the term dark elf was polite in mixed company, better than the word goblin.

“I saw him come right up out of the ground,” Arthur said.  “It was the most remarkable thing.”

“No hole.  I checked,” Percival added.

“What is this?” Gerraint repeated himself, though he knew exactly what it was.  “I admit you all have been a great help to us in the past, and I am grateful, but it has always been on the fringes and in the background.  Pinewood, you followed me all my life, and saved me more than once when I was young and vulnerable.  I am grateful.  And you all have spied out enemy locations, harassed and spooked them, contained some fields like Badon, where you forced the Saxons to face us rather than escape to the woods.  For all of that I am grateful.  You even guarded prisoners for us, but I never asked you to be in the direct line of fire, and I am not asking now.  The answer is no.  Old Bishop Dubricius once charged two young boys to fight their own battles and apart from some help around the fringes, Arthur and I have done that.  The answer is no.”  Gerraint stopped suddenly, like he ran out of steam.

“I had forgotten that.”  Arthur looked thoughtful as he remembered a long time ago.

“Lord.”  The little ones acknowledged Gerraint and knew better than to argue.  They left, each in his own way.  The fairy, Pinewood got small and flew off faster than the eye could follow.  The elves walked off disguised like men. Others disguised themselves like animals, like a cat, or simply went invisible to human eyes.  Dumfries, the goblin, sank back down into the earth, and that was the end of it.  No human present questioned Gerraint’s decision either, or argued with him, least of all Arthur, though they had no doubt the little ones proposed to double the number of swords on Arthur’s side.

“Now we talk.” Gerraint changed the subject.  “Any word from the fort?”  He felt reluctant to mention Medrawt by name.

“Yes.”  Arthur and Percival spoke at the same time.  Percival deferred to Arthur.

“Medrawt sent a messenger in the night.  He will be outside the main gate of the fort at noon to present his conditions for peace.  He said I can bring two people with me, but that is all.

“So, we go with a dozen,” Gerraint said, like a given.  “I doubt he will be presenting things to negotiate, though.  More likely a list of demands we are to accept, like it or not.”

Arthur nodded, but pointed at Percival.  “But you have something?”

Percival stood and stepped to the door.  He waved, and an old man shuffled his way into the tent.  “My Lords,” the old man nodded his head in a way that had been common among the RDF.  Quick and to the point.  “My name is Dyfyr, son of Peryf the Bowman.  I turned sixteen, and the first man from all of Dyfed to sign up for the RDF.  It has been a long and exciting life, and to this day I can’t seem to keep still, as my wife, my children and grandchildren will tell you.”  The old men in that room smiled for the old man.  They understood well enough.  “I was with Captain Gweir, son of Gwestel when he came to Cadbury to rebuild and strengthen the fort.  My wife is from the little village here beneath the hill.  We have a small home in the town and are comfortable enough.”

Arthur smiled, but interrupted.  “This is good, and I thank you for your years of service and loyalty, but I assume there is a point in all this.”

Gerraint jumped in.  “He is concerned about the Lady Gwynyvar.”

“Your wife.  Of course,” Dyfyr said.  “The point.”  He paused.  “The point is I know the fort from the inside to the outside, and there are ways, ways the workmen used, now boarded up.  Ways to get into the fort from the town that maybe I am the only person left alive who knows.”

“Ways soldiers can go?”

“Yes, certainly.  I was thinking if we came out from the stables and beneath the barn and at the back of the Great Hall all at once, we might secure the lady’s safety and capture the rebel without having to fight a battle.”

Arthur grinned.  Percival nodded.  Gerraint stood, because his expected delivery arrived.  “Gentlemen,” he said.  “I also have something to offer.”  Pinewood and Deerrunner had returned, and they had a cart outside the tent filled with boxes.  “Pinewood.  Please explain.”  Two men brought in one of the boxes and set it on the ground.

“As we saw events turning in the human world, it came to us that brother might well be fighting brother.  Men on both sides might end up killing their own men by accident, not knowing which is which.  That would be a needless waste.  I understand that even human eyes can tell the difference between the British, Scots and Saxons, but who can say which Welshman is fighting on which side?  We offer this solution.”  Pinewood opened a box and pulled out a pure white pullover poncho.  It had been sewn only at the waist so it would restrict neither the arms nor the legs, but it would be easy to identify.  “In our history, we have used similar devices to tell the good guys from the bad guys.”  Pinewood grinned at Gerraint.

“Like the Princess used outside of Athens,” Gerraint said.

“Something like that,” Deerrunner agreed with an elfish grin to more than match the fairy.

Percival felt the material.  “What is this made out of?”

“Fairy weave,” Gerraint said.  “That just means one size fits all.”

“But do you have enough?” Arthur asked.

“Three thousand for your men and more for those who attack the fort.”

“Wait a minute,” Arthur looked at Gerraint, who shrugged.  “We just heard about the fort.  We haven’t decided what to do about that yet.”

Dyfyr interrupted with Lancelot’s favorite expression stolen from Gerraint.  “Ours in not to reason why.  Ours is but to do or die.”

 M4 Gerraint: Little Britain, part 2 of 2

Gerraint tried to be more practical in his thinking.  “He will get men from the north, and maybe from the Scots, but I cannot imagine Gawain or Gwalchemi will support him.  They might not be able to aid us, but they might convince men to stay out of it.”

“York through the Midlands, and even through Leogria will not help him,” Percival added his perspective.  “So many places were all but deserted when Lancelot took men for Amorica, there is no longer much to draw on for either side.”  

“It was never my intention to strip Britain.”  Lancelot took a turn looking away from the others.

“But, all the same,” Gerraint said.  “Oxford is in the hands of Medrawt’s brother, Garth.  Plus, many Saxons have moved up into Britain to fill the empty spaces.  I hate to think he will appeal to them.”

“Medrawt with an army of Scots and Saxons.”  Arthur sounded morose. 

“But that is why he must be stopped,” Percival repeated.  “We need a war chief to keep the Saxons and Scots from taking over, not make the Roman mistake and invite them into our army.”

Arthur agreed.  “Medrawt will not be content with being a War Chief.  He will turn himself into a King, like Chlothar, and be just as ruthless and self-serving.  He doesn’t care about defending the land.  He will make wars of conquest, to subjugate people and make them serve his will.”  They became silent for a time until Gerraint spoke what sat heavily on their minds.  

“Maybe we were the ones who were too soft,” he said.  “Maybe the best defense is a good offence.”

“The Roman way was conquest,” Lancelot added.

Percival spoke.  “Maybe we should have followed up our victories on the battlefield, like we did with Kent, and forced terms on our enemies.”

“No.”  Arthur slammed his hand on the table.  “I refuse to believe that people cannot live side by side as good neighbors in peace.  We just now proved that is possible with Bohort.  We have been told to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies.  I don’t want to hear otherwise.”

People nodded, slowly, but Gerraint added a thought.  “Meryddin failed with you when you turned the nation to the church.  I believe Caledonia was more than just protecting his druids.  I believe he wanted you dead and planned to try again with Medrawt, your son.”

“Medrawt must be stopped,” Percival repeated. 

After that, people had six weeks to write letters and prepare themselves for crossing as soon as the weather broke.  Lancelot integrated the Alans with the Bretons as well as he could during that time.  There were indeed some incidents, but they were minor and could be dealt with.  He said nothing about any return to Britain, and in fact avoided Arthur after the time at the inn.

Gerraint wrote to Gwynyvar to explain things, and three days before they sailed, the Captain of one of the ships sent to retrieve Arthur’s army brought a new letter from Gwynyvar to Arthur.  It said she understood, that he was completely forgiven, that she missed him and please come home safe.  Arthur spent part of that day in tears.  He carried that burden a long time before the sins of his past caught up with him.

When they arrived in Britain, they landed at Bournmouth, the place Arthur christened Christchurch.  Southampton, always on the edge of Wessex, finally succumbed to Saxon control and would no longer be available to a British army.  Arthur felt more concerned about Wales than Southampton.  Medrawt spent years there, encouraging the Lords of Wales to enrich themselves by taking over the lands left behind by those who went to Amorica.  The Welsh spent the last ten years in a land grab.  The ones who came out on top were not slow to credit Medrawt with his foresight and ingenuity.  Arthur feared the payback would be supporting Medrawt’s rebellion.  He had no doubt that Medrawt told those Lords that if Arthur came out victorious, he would force them to give the land back.

Arthur’s contingent of Welshmen seemed meager compared to what it should have been.  He wrote to Ogryvan, Gwynyvar’s brother in the north and Morgana’s girls in the Welsh Midlands.  Gerraint wrote to Enid’s family in Caerdyf, and Uwaine wrote to his wife and his retainer, though he took forever to find enough of the right words to do it.  Still, Arthur expected too little response.  He decided his optimism died with his youth.

It took a week for all of the army to arrive at Christchurch.  They would march to Cadbury where Gwynyvar would be waiting, and from there, they planned out routes for what Gerraint called a show of force, provided enough additional men showed up to make the show worthwhile.  

Percival would take the British and march them to Oxford, north to York, and back through the Midlands and Leogria.  He had the longest route, but he hoped the show would encourage the British people and remind the Saxons who had moved in that this land was not New Saxony.  He would not be going into the north, but Arthur had received assurances from Gawain and Gwalchemi that the north remained secure.

Arthur would take his RDF and whatever Welsh he had and visit Ogryvan in the north of Wales.  Then he would visit any number of thieving Lords as he moved down the land, and assure them that if it ever came up, he would adjudicate the land situation fairly.  He hoped to undercut whatever promises Medrawt might have made to the various Welshmen.  He planned to end at Caerdyf and take the coastal road back to Caerleon.  

Gerraint would head down into the Summer country and weave around Somerset, Dorset and his own Devon, visiting friends and having a good time, he said.  When he sent his men back home, it would be with strict instructions to come on short notice if called.  They all figured that would be important because they had no idea when Medrawt might show up with whatever forces he might muster.

That was the plan, and given a chance, it might have staved off collapse, at least long enough for Arthur to die comfortably in his own bed.  But plans have a way of going awry, and some of the best plans never get off the ground.

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MONDAY

Things back home are not going well. Cadbury castle is already in enemy hands. Until next time, Happy Reading.

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