The company trooped into Londugnum just after noon on the third day. That seemed about as fast as they could hurry things up. There were signs of decay everywhere, with plenty of buildings that had been abandoned. Trade with the continent was not what it used to be. Outside the city walls, there sat a large Saxon settlement that Pelenor called Londugwic.
“This is one of the only places where Britons and Saxons can trade peacefully,” Pelenor explained. “As long as they keep the wall between them, and as long as one side or the other does not feel cheated, which always happens.” He laughed, but Gerraint imagined not many British goods were coming into town in his day, and most of what came got floated down the Thames, outside the wall, the road being as unsafe as it was.
They made for the church and monastery that had been dedicated to Saint Paul, where they found a great number of men, Lords and squires, who all but displaced the monks for the time being. People slept on the floor, everywhere, but then many more took rooms in neighboring houses for the season so it was not as bad as it might have been. Gerraint found Tristam early on. Tristam turned thirteen last winter, and being from Tintangle in Cornwall, he helped Gerraint feel closer to home. Sadly, Tristam started hanging out with Urien, a twelve-year-old from the British Midlands, who had a big raven emblazoned across his tunic and who seemed to share the same attitude and manners of the carrion eater. The eldest squire among the monastery dwellers was Mesalwig, a stuck-up sixteen-year-old from Glastonbury who fortunately, wanted to hang out with the young lords. Kai and Bedwyr ignored the fellow, so he attached himself to Loth. Thomas of Dorset was the next eldest at sixteen, and he stayed with the squires and kids, and seemed the nicest fellow. He was so nice, in fact, he had no martial instincts at all, unlike his younger brother Gwillim, who made a chubby ten, and a handful.
There were many Lords, young and old in attendance. Melwas, who just turned twenty-one, came all the way from Lyoness. Badgemagus, near fifty, hailed from Northern Wales. Kai and Loth were from way up north where the Scots and Picts were always a worry, and now where they faced a new intrusion of Danes, though they were more often called Jutes, a name the people knew, or Norwegians, which meant nothing but sounded foreign and strange. There were also Lords who brought their sons, even if the sons were too young to become squires. Along with ten-year-old Gwillim, there was Gwyr from the Midlands at eleven, Arawn at nine, attached to the Raven’s elbow, and there were three Welsh troublemakers of Menw at ten, Kvendelig at nine and Gwarhyr at seven. Gerraint made a point of getting to know them all, and as many others as he could, and so Arthur and tag-along Percival did the same.
“These will be the men we will have to deal with on a regular basis, ten and twenty years from now,” Gerraint said. Arthur saw the wisdom in making their acquaintance, and from the start showed great insight on the kind of men they might become.
“So, why are we all meeting in Londugnum?” Urien asked one afternoon. He disguised none of his contempt. He thought this a poor excuse for a town. Percival and Tristam both thought the Raven had no business complaining, but they were wondering the same thing.
“Good question,” Thomas of Dorset, the eldest spoke, but then he looked away because he had no answer. Gwillim’s young friend Gwyr, who at all of eleven spoke up.
“Because this is the place the Roman punched his sword into the stone and said the true war chief for the people will be the one who can pull it out. I think the Lords are just going to choose someone and ignore the stone, because they have all tried it and none of them could pull it out.”
“That is almost right.” They heard a voice and all looked up at the Bishop, who smiled for them. He came into the room, pulled up a chair, and invited the squires to sit at his feet while he explained.
“It was ninety or nearly a hundred years ago when the Romans left the land.” Some looked surprised because the way that Rome and the Romans were spoken of, they thought the leaving was much more recent. “In those days, the people were all left to fend for themselves. Soon enough, all the petty Lords and chiefs began to squabble and fight. It became like the days of chaos before the Romans ever came. The Germans the Romans had contracted to guard the shore from invasion, became the invaders. The Scots they invited to fill the land between the walls as a human wall against the wild Picts, began to join the Picts in raiding the lush southlands. Everything started falling apart, rapidly.
“Then what happened?” Thomas of Dorset asked, like he was the youngest instead of the eldest.
“After about thirty years, now some sixty years ago, a Roman Senator came to see how the free province was doing. He saw the chaos, so he called all of the chiefs of the Britons, Welsh, Cornish, Saxons and Angles to Lundinium, which is what the city was called in those days. He selected and anointed the first Pendragon, a man named Owen who went by the Roman name of Constantine. The Germans did not acknowledge his overlord status, but understood what a war chief would be and pledged peace. With that, Owen became able to satisfy the Scots with land and drive the Picts back to the Celidon forest. Then, when the Germans broke the promised peace, he also became able to drive them back to their shores. A good time of peace followed, and though Owen got old, he had a good son whom he called Constans.” The Bishop paused for a moment to think things through, and the boys waited, as patiently as they could.
“Owen died, and Constans became Pendragon, but then he died by poison and his friend and counselor, Vortigen took over. The sons of Constans, Ambrosius the elder and Uther the younger, fled to Amorica and the court of King Budic who granted them sanctuary where Vortigen could not reach them. Vortigen contented himself with rule, but it came in the most terrible way. His rule caused trouble rather than resolving things. Vortigen hurt rather than helped, and no one liked the man. After five years, Ambrosius and Uther returned, and all the Britons, Welsh and Cornish flocked to them. Vortigen looked finished, but he had secretly made a pact with the Saxons and he brought them into a great battle by Badon Hill. Ambrosius won that battle, Vortigen got overcome, the Saxons decimated, but Ambrosius Pendragon got mortally wounded. He lingered for almost three years, and in that time, Uther became the one who led the people against the Picts, the Angles, and the new threat of the Danes.