Gerraint turned. The Bishop had a small cut in his arm where his robe had been torn. He held Percival in front of him, his hands tight across the boy’s chest. Percival had a big dent in his pot-helmet, and he had his eyes closed. Arthur had his own knife and Gerraint’s long knife and faced a man who appeared to be toying with him. He swung slowly with his sword and Arthur desperately tried to parry. It looked like a lesson for a schoolboy, and the Saxon laughed. Gerraint stood behind the Saxon, and again he did not hesitate. He brought Salvation down on the back of the man’s head even as Arthur realized his advantage would be in getting close. The man howled and reached for his head as Arthur stepped in and thrust up under the man’s breastplate. The man cried out again and fell to join his companion in the dirt.
“Ugurt?” One of the Saxons in the camp yelled in response and then rattled off a whole string of words in a language the boys did not know. Suddenly, a half-dozen Saxons stood at the forest edge, growling, with their weapons ready.
Arthur backed up, horrified by the knowledge that he killed a man. Gerraint would have felt the same way, now that he had a chance to think about what he did, except he no longer stood there. Instead, a man, with golden brown hair, hair which appeared nearly blond in the sun, looked at the Saxons through sparkling blue eyes under strong brows. He wore a formidable suit of leather and chainmail that reached to below his knees. He wore tall boots that disappeared into the skirt of the armor, and studded gloves that came up to his elbow. He had a helmet which looked ancient, like something Greek, where only the eyes and mouth remained uncovered. He put it on and reached out his free hand and called. “Defender.” Gerraint’s knife wriggled free of Arthur’s hand and jumped to the hand of the man. The man still held salvation in his other hand, and he raised it for battle.
The Saxons hardly hesitated, but as they charged, there came a sudden whizzing sound in the air. All six Saxons became target practice for some unseen archers, the last of whom fell a scant two feet from the man. The man spoke in a strange tongue which only the Bishop understood. “Th – thank you,” he said in his native Greek, and went away, taking his armor and the sword called Salvation with him. Gerraint returned holding only Defender which he returned to the sheath he wore strapped to his thigh. Arthur looked shocked. Percival still had his eyes closed.
Three men came out from the deeper woods and went straight to Gerraint. They might have been hunters, but there had a hint of the lion on their tunics. They all went to one knee before Gerraint and the eldest spoke. “Your Highness.”
“You are a long way from home,” Gerraint said. “Don’t tell me, you have been secretly following since Caerleon.”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“Wait a minute.” Gerraint got some insight from somewhere. “You’ve been following me since my stepfather threw me out.” The hunters chose not to answer that accusation. “Well, what Diogenes said, thank you, but now you better disappear before Lord Pelenor and the others return.”
“As you wish,” the elder said, and the three, without a look at the other people present, got up and disappeared among the trees.
Arthur held a stiff upper lip. “Nice to have some extra friends.”
Gerraint nodded and thought, stiff upper lip, how British. Then he spoke. “I have wings to fly that you know nothing of, eyes that see farther, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.” Arthur could only nod as Gerraint disappeared again and a young woman came to stand in his place. She came dressed in a long dress with long sleeves and had a red cloak with a red hood over all. Her hair was blond, her eyes were soft, rich brown, her skin looked milky white, and she had more than enough freckles.
“Your grace,” she said to the Bishop, and curtsied, which showed the silver cross that hung from a chain and swung with her movements. “I am a healer, now let me see that cut.”
Many men would run at seeing her appear out of nowhere, and would be wary of such an offer, but the Bishop just smiled. Percival fetched water and cloth with which she could clean and bandage the wound. Arthur just looked over her shoulder and pretended to admire her work.
When she was done, she stood and faced Arthur. “Greta. I am a Dacian, which is Germanic, so not a good choice. I am also older than you.” She reached out and kissed Arthur’s cheek. “You did your duty. You must always do what is right and good and true.” She vanished and Gerraint returned. “And for the record, neither Greta nor Diogenes were here, and we were helped by simple hunters.”
Percival had retrieved and cleaned Arthur’s knife, and he used it to prick his finger. Gerraint borrowed it, pricked his finger, and handed Arthur back his weapon. Arthur paused only a second before he pricked his finger and agreed. The boys touched, and were surprised to find the Bishop’s finger over them all. He had touched the bit of blood from his wound. He looked at their surprised faces and laughed.
“I was a boy once,” he said. “I know about blood oaths, and I agree. What happened here is not for tale telling.”
Arthur nodded, but as he put his knife away, he began to cry. Gerraint joined him, and he never did look at the man he killed. The Bishop put an arm over their shoulders, carefully in Arthur’s case because of his wound on that side, but then he walked them back to the roadway. There they heard all about forgiveness and mercy, and received absolution in the Roman way. Arthur said he understood something then that he never understood before. Gerraint simply said, “Thanks.”
The last thing that got said before Pelenor and the troop returned was a question by Arthur. “I saw the lion on their tunics, but if they were not hunters, who were those men?”
“Fairies,” Gerraint answered. Arthur laughed, but he was not sure what to believe. The Bishop merely nodded before Percival got them all to laugh when he grabbed a rock and tried to take the dent out of his pot-helmet.
Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone. If you read the story of Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome, you know he put it there. Now, Gerraint needs to make sure the right hands pull it out again.
Until Monday, Happy Reading.