They crossed the Thames at the ford of the ox where a fort first got constructed by Constans, son of Constantine, the first Pendragon. Ambrosius, son of Constans was the one who defeated the usurper Vortigen and got proclaimed Pendragon before he got poisoned, and his brother Uther took the reins of the War Chief. The fort had been built to protect the easy ford across the Thames and keep the road to Londugnum open, but in recent years they were doing well to keep themselves from being overrun. The fort got burned once by Saxon raiders since Uther passed away in battle. The local Lords made a temporary alliance to drive the Saxons back and rebuild the fort, but it became then more of a British outpost than a real line of defense.
The river crossing at Oxford was as easy as reported, and they spent the night feeling secure behind strong walls. The Bishop visited the local Monastery, and stayed with the monks with strict instructions that the group not leave without him. In the fort, the squires had little time for pleasantries. They had to care for all the horses and equipment and only finished in time to eat and pass out from exhaustion, while their Lords stayed up drinking and talking about nothing important.
In the morning, Gerraint felt surprised that along with two guards, which was all the fort commander said he could spare, they picked up three new young Lords. Kai and Bedwyr were the youngest at twenty-one and twenty-two. Loth seemed the old man of twenty-five. By contrast, Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn were in their thirties and fought for Uther when they were squires and young Lords. Of the three, Ederyn was perhaps the youngest at about thirty.
First thing, Pelenor, flanked by Peredur and Ederyn, strictly charged the three young squires to guard the Bishop at all costs. Arthur asked about Meryddin, but got assured the Druid was more than capable of taking care of himself. Gerraint looked at young Arthur and wondered what exactly the relationship might be between him and the Druid, but he held his tongue.
The group stopped for lunch before noon, and used some of Percival’s pots and pans. Even so prepared, it became a three or four-hour ordeal, with the squires doing the lion’s share of the work. Gerraint had something to say, but quietly to Arthur so as to not insult his masters.
We have been moving this slow since Caerleon. I don’t know how we can be expected to hold our lands against encroachment at this pace. If the Romans moved this slow, Boadicea would have kicked them right off the island.”
Arthur looked like he had not thought of that. “We have been on the road from Leogria for three weeks, a distance people might have walked in six days.”
“We have been a whole month,” Gerraint agreed. “I could move a whole army in less time.”
“I could join your army,” Percival said, and Gerraint paused to lay a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“For better or worse, you are part of Arthur’s army, and I have a feeling I may be too, someday.” Gerraint paused then as he caught a brief and unusual glimpse of things to come. “This land needs a friendly dragon,” he concluded.
“And the lion,” Arthur said, kindly.
“I’m going to paint a cross on my arms,” Percival said. “You can forget the lemming. I don’t even know what one looks like.”
“A good choice,” the Bishop said softly. As usual, he had been listening in and keeping his own counsel.
At that awkward point, when lunch started being packed and people started preparing to move out, a dozen horsemen appeared on the road ahead. They charged the group, but then, whether they thought better of it or decided the odds were too even, they turned and rode off.
Pelenor said, “Mount up,” and all the men hurried.
Ederyn alone thought to remind the squires to protect the Bishop, and then the men rode away in pursuit of the enemy.
Gerraint immediately grabbed the Bishop’s hand and started to drag him into the woods. “Get under cover,” he yelled. Percival, who was still young enough to trust his elders, grabbed his pot-helmet and followed. Gerraint found a sword in his hand and gave his long knife to Percival.
“What are you doing?” Arthur yelled at them and scoffed. “We have to clean up.”
“It is obviously a trap,” Gerraint yelled back, and eight or nine Saxons took that moment to come out of the woods. Arthur ran and pulled his own knife, which might have been a pretty good hunting knife, but not much against a sword.
The boys and the bishop backed up while most of the Saxons went for their supplies to see if they might find anything of value or at least useful. Two of them went to take care of the boys and the cleric.
Gerraint looked big for fourteen, being five and a half feet tall, which made him as big as any number of men in those days. He held his sword with two hands, at the ready, so at least it appeared as if he knew how to use it, even if he did not have much practice with it yet.
“A good-looking weapon.” The Saxon who faced him grinned and showed only a couple of missing teeth. “I’ll just have that.” He drew a weapon that also took both of his hands, but only because it looked huge. He grinned again and swung straight for Gerraint’s legs. Gerraint parried and barely held it off, but they heard a loud crack and the Saxon said, “Maybe not such a good weapon after all.”
“It is Salvation.” Gerraint named his sword as he took a step back. It was one sword which was not too heavy for him. The Saxon grinned again and swung at his legs from the other side, the Gerraint parried easily with a strong backswing and the crack sounded louder than before.
“One more swing and you will be disarmed,” the Saxon said, and he lifted his broadsword to prepare a swing at Gerraint’s head, but as he lifted his heavy steel, the top half of his sword fell away. Salvation had shattered the Saxon’s more primitive steel
The Saxon looked dumbly at his useless weapon, and Gerraint did not hesitate. He thrust the point of his sword through the Saxon’s neck, just above the armor, and it stuck out a little from the back. Gerraint yanked on his sword with all his strength, and it came out as the surprised Saxon’s head lolled forward and his body collapsed to the dirt.