Arthur spent the next couple of years finally making that grand tour. He hardly got everywhere. North Wales and the south Welsh coast did not get much attention, but only because they did not have enough time before the trouble started.
In those days, Ederyn said Percival got to that vulnerable age, so he took him off on a number of independent adventures, including a six-month trip to the Highlands in the British northwest where there were reports of dragons. Sometimes, it became just Arthur, Peredur and Meryddin on the road, but most of the time Pelenor and Gerraint joined them.
Both Arthur and Gerraint were coming of age. Arthur quickly developed the habit that, as soon as he stepped into a Lord’s manor house or fort or home, he said, “I am not here to get married. I am not looking for a wife, so please don’t suggest such a thing or I will be very cross.” Gerraint, who finally started to become that imposing figure at a touch over six feet tall, with impressive muscles and in excellent shape, simply could not master being the strong, silent type. He routinely mumbled, “If I knew you were coming I would have baked a cake.”
They all gathered for Cordella’s wedding to Sir Melwas, High Chief of Lyoness. Melwas noted how much Percival had grown, which made Percival growl. Gerraint had to put up with Cordella telling him a thousand times how much she hated him before she hugged him and told him she loved him and flitted off happily to find her new husband.
They went to Somerset and Glastonbury to visit Mesalwig who stayed home, tending his ailing father. Arthur finally knighted him, which is what he had been calling it ever since Gerraint’s slip of the tongue. It did not mean much to Mesalwig at that point. The old man appeared to be dying, and all the others could do was give their condolences.
“That flu, as you call it, is pretty widespread among the people. Most don’t die, but some do,” Peredur mused aloud.
“Mostly the old and the very young,” Meryddin added, and there were a few towns the group was not allowed to enter because the epidemic was severe.
Overall, they did a pretty good job of covering Britain, including a trip all the way up to Edinburgh to visit Loth. This became Arthur’s first time above Hadrian’s wall, and his first view of the Scots. He said the Scots did not look or sound much different from the British, and even some of the words were the same. He also got his first look at some Picts, though they had to be pointed out to him because they also dressed and acted like the Scotts and only their language gave them away, it being significantly different. Arthur confided to Gerraint privately that he felt surprised by the Picts. He heard they had blue skin.
“Blue face paint, but only when they go to war,” Gerraint said. He knew that much.
From Edinburgh, they traveled down the whole of Hadrian’s wall to the west side where Kai made his home at Fort Guinnon. That stood as the western anchor to the wall; the farthest south the Picts, or Scotts for that matter, were permitted to go. Of course, Scotts and even some Picts regularly traveled past the wall, but they were mostly traders and merchants who not only had a bustling trade with Loth and Kai, but with the people of the north, all the way down to York. It was not like the old Roman days. They had peace in the north and Arthur, for one, hoped it stayed that way. Sadly, that dream got shattered in the year 500 when Kai and Loth both sent word that an army of Picts and some Scotts started gathering just north of the Antonine wall under a war chief named Caw. The Norwegian shore stayed quiet for the last ten years, so Colgrin of York got the idea the time was ripe. He made a pact between his Jutes and Saxons and the Picts and Scotts to capture the whole northland for himself.
“Damn!” This time Arthur did not look happy, but he had five hundred men trained in the RDF, so he was not unprepared. He sent a hundred each to support Kai and Loth, and a third hundred to keep an eye out for the Picts and keep an eye on Hadrian’s wall. A fourth hundred he sent to link up with Sir Bedwyr at Oxford. They were to keep their eyes on Essex and see if the Saxons should decide to move north. He hoped the beating they took at the River Glen might discourage that idea. The last hundred, mostly the young and unseasoned stayed at Caerleon and helped gather supplies and settle men as the Lords brought their troops in over the next three months.
While they waited, Gerraint turned twenty-one and Arthur immediately knighted him.
“Well, son, now that you are a young lord, got any plans?” Pelenor asked.
Gerraint just threw his arms around the man and hugged him. He whispered, “Thank you.”
Pelenor hugged him back and whispered, “You’re welcome,” in response. Then they separated because Pelenor got particularly uncomfortable with those sorts of shows of affection.
“Yes, actually,” Gerraint said. “A friend of Morgana prevailed on her, so she prevailed on Arthur, who prevailed on me. Allow me to introduce a squire of my own. Uwaine is thirteen.” He stepped aside and showed a young lad who looked nervous in the presence of such preeminent men and Knights of the Round Table besides, as everyone started calling them.
“Yes you were,” Peredur agreed. “Almost as bad as Arthur.”
“Congratulations,” Ederyn said.
“Son,” Percival, who turned nineteen, stepped up to the boy. “Don’t be scared of him. If he gives you any trouble, you just let me know.”
“Hey Goreu,” Arthur shouted. “Try not to get weird on him until he is older.”
Poor Uwaine did not know what to say.