In the morning, Gerraint, Pelenor, Peredur and Meryddin accompanied Arthur to a parlay with Bearclaw and his lieutenants. Arthur spoke quietly as they rode out.
“Meryddin said you could come because you are an imposing sight.”
“What?” Gerraint joked. “I’m now the big, dumb guy there to intimidate the enemy by my mean stare and bulging muscles?”
“Mostly, yeah,” Arthur went along with the idea. “Percival’s going to be upset at being left out, you know.”
Gerraint nodded, but said no more.
Once there, Arthur suggested the Saxons leave Britain and return to their own land in Essex. “You’ve been sitting against this river for more than a month when you could have moved north. Now that the army has arrived, moving north is not an option.”
Bearclaw laughed. “You see, Goatlib, my son. This British boy thinks he has us surrounded.” He laughed again and his lieutenants laughed with him. “The army I see is not nearly as big as the force mustered in the old days by Uther. I heard some of your Lords were not happy with you and you wasted all your men fighting among yourselves.”
“Bah!” Bearclaw spat. “We don’t waste good men on arguments. Brecca wanted to move to the shore and crawl up the coast like a coward. Edgard wanted to slink away, back the way we came. But we settled things and only two men died.”
“Who died?” Arthur had to ask.
“Brecca and Edgard,” Bearclaw gave the obvious answer and looked very pleased with himself. “Now, you go away. Have your partridge and mush and we will fight in the morning. We have twice your number and good German steel. The fight should not take long.”
Both sides went back to their lines, and Arthur laid out the battle plan in less time than it took to parlay. Gerraint had a thought.
“You know, partridge and mush sounds pretty good.”
The Saxons came out from the river’s edge in the morning. They had camped on the open field where they expected to do battle. In those days, battles were always fought in the open air, where it was said, real men of fortitude could stand face to face. The truth was, fighting over hills and especially in the woods, it became too easy for men to get lost and turned around, and maybe even cut or skewer their own. Certainly, every group Bearclaw sent into the woods never came back.
Arthur dressed up his foot soldiers first thing, and made sure they understood their part in the drama. Kai and Loth had both sent contingents from the north that arrived in the night. That gave Arthur fifteen hundred regular men or about half the estimated number of Germans. He let the Celts and the Germans yell at each other for a time before he moved the horsemen to the front.
Arthur had four hundred and ninety-seven horsemen, all well armored and outfitted with lances. More than half were trained members of the RDF, but behind them were the Lords and their squires. Pelenor, Gerraint, Peredur, Arthur and Meryddin rode to the front. When they stopped, they gave the horses a chance to settle down. The Germans stopped yelling their war cries and watched. When Arthur yelled “Lances,” they came to point at the enemy with far better unity than the first time. The RDF let out one big “Ha!” and then fell silent.
Percival came riding up to stop beside Meryddin, and Ederyn, who failed to keep the young man at the back, came up beside him. Pelenor kept mumbling “relax, twist and yank,” over and over. He got very good at hitting the targets dead center, but he sometimes forgot the follow up, in particular the relax part. More than once, he found himself shoved off the back end of his galloping horse and deposited roughly on his rump.
“Drive them into the river,” Arthur yelled. He got ready to call the charge when Percival and Gerraint interrupted, in unison.
The RDF, the squires, and those Lords who were not caught off guard echoed, “For Arthur!” And this time when Arthur yelled charge, it was barely heard as the horses went rumbling forward. The foot soldiers did their best, but they would be a few minutes extra before they reached the enemy lines.
To their credit, about a third of the Saxons, or about a thousand, tried to hold their ground. They got skewered, and those who were not killed outright, were finished as soon as the footmen arrived. The rest of the Saxons did flee to the river and most of them swam for their lives.
Arthur stopped at the river’s edge where the trees lined the water. He signaled, and Captain Croyden lead his RDF a half-mile up river to a point where they could ford across. The good Captain had been charged to make sure the Germans went back to where they came from. He later reported that a number of them hit the Essex border and still did not stop running. That was a few days on foot, so there is no telling what could be believed.
“It won’t always be this easy,” Peredur told Arthur. “They will find a way to counter the lances.”
Arthur nodded, but he had three things to keep him busy. First, he needed to find Bearclaw, which was not hard. The man lay among the dead in a large pocket of men that tried to stand up to the charge. Unfortunately, Goatlib was not there, and Arthur imagined Bearclaw’s son might be one to watch.
Second, Arthur needed to choose a number of men for inclusion in the Round Table. He started with Peredur and Ederyn, who were happy to be included, and Pelenor, who did not go in for those sorts of emotional moments, but also felt secretly happy to be included. Captain Croyden and three members of the RDF that he singled out for extraordinary acts of bravery in defense of the locals against the Saxon raiders were given the title, “Sir,” along with several of the older Lords who were known to be stout believers and defenders of the church.
Mesalwig of Glastonbury appealed for inclusion, but he only turned twenty, and Arthur decided that a man needed to be twenty-one and fully grown to be joined to the table. Mesalwig went away angry, but it could not be helped because he was still technically a squire. Besides, his master, Badgemagus the Welshman, still held to many of the old ways and had no desire to be included.
Melwas got included, though Arthur said it was mostly for Gerraint’s sake. “But hereafter,” Arthur made it clear. “Just being in battle and fighting for the realm is not enough.” Melwas fought bravely and did his duty, but no more than the rest on that day. “We are looking for extraordinary men who perform as Gerraint has said, above and beyond the call of duty.”
“Still, it was good to include some of the most important Lords in Britain and Wales. There are almost twenty now, and that should make the table attractive to any young men coming up in the ranks,” Percival thought out loud.
“What do you mean, knighted?” Arthur asked.
Gerraint put his hand to his mouth and spoke through his fingers. “What is the third thing we have to do.”
“My turn,” Arthur said. “Last time you dragged us off to Cornwall. This time I am dragging you off to York. We will take the younger members of the RDF with us, not to threaten Colgrin but simply to say we are watching.”
“I think I will bring Sergeant Paul and the men from Cornwall if you don’t mind,” Gerraint said.
“I could bring the contingent from Lyoness,” Melwas offered.
“No,” Arthur turned him down. “We don’t want to look like an army. We just want enough to guard against possible treachery, not that I distrust the Jute.”
“Besides, Sir Melwas” Gerraint grinned. “You have to visit Thomas of Dorset. Gwillim told me Thomas is joining his uncle and will Captain one of the family’s seven merchant ships out of Southampton. Tell him I sent you and he will give you a special deal on something nice for Cordella. Then you can perform that act of valor and charity and tell her that you love her.”
Melwas returned Gerraint’s grin. “I can do that.”
Colgrin the Jute, Lord of York, is charged to keep an eye on the Norwegian shore. Instead, he makes a treaty with the Picts in the north. He intends to take north Britain for himself, and Loth and Kai alone are not able to stop Him. Monday, trouble with the Picts. Until then, Happy Reading.