After retaking York, Gerraint found Arthur and Meryddin in a heated argument. When he entered the room, Meryddin suddenly stopped talking and sniffed. He turned his eyes on Gerraint and sniffed again.
“I need a bath?” Gerraint asked.
Meryddin showed contempt in his eyes and went back to yelling. “Who were those men? I saw you with them and I say they were not men. Who were they? Why were they helping you? I smelled them all over the battlefield by the river, but I could not pin them down. They seemed across the river, and in the woods everywhere. Why should these glorious creatures have anything to do with the likes of you, especially you and your Christ. Tell me. What were those men?”
Arthur just shook his head, glanced at Gerraint and finally said, “I will not lie to you.” He respected Meryddin too much to ever lie to him, so the alternative became to say nothing. Meryddin turned again to face Gerraint. Gerraint put his hands up in surrender.
Meryddin sniffed again and said, “You know.”
Gerraint shook his head. “I’m the one who needs a bath, remember?”
Meryddin stomped out to vent his anger on someone else for a time.
Arthur called Gerraint to come close. “I just got a report this morning that there is movement on the Norwegian shore. Gerraint, I don’t know if this army can take on another foe, at least not so soon.”
“I imagine the Danes have been waiting for just this moment,” Gerraint said. “You have fought two battles and they must figure you are pretty banged up. But the battle on the Ure was a giant ambush and we did not suffer much. And the taking of York proved even simpler.”
“But this is three battles with no time to breathe.”
“What do you mean? We have been resting and enjoying the hospitality of York for a whole day. Men have had time enough to get drunk. You have Croyden installed to run the fort and Loth to look over his shoulder. Loth expressed surprise, but gratitude, by the way.”
“But will they do it?” Arthur got serious. Gerraint never saw Arthur with so little confidence and he wondered what Meryddin might be doing to his head. In the end, there seemed only one thing to say.
“Ask them. Ask the men.”
The next morning, Arthur’s army marched out to meet the Danes on the battlefield.
The Danes stretched out in an open field, slightly uphill. There were woods to the left and right of the Danish line. Percival said it looked like the British rebels all over again. Arthur agreed, “But I am sure they had spies at the Glen River and saw what we did to the Saxons and Angles there. I would guess they spent the time since devising a plan to counter the lancers.”
“If they didn’t, they would be fools,” Pelenor said.
Arthur rubbed his hands. “I propose we bring up every nag and plow horse we can find and let them stand at the front with riders, like men with lances would stand. Then have our real lancers ride around and fill the woods on the Dane’s left. I have it on good authority that certain hunters from Cornwall guarantee that none of the Danish horsemen in those woods will escape to warn the others.”
“They will try,” Gerraint said and threw his gauntlet to the ground. He was not happy with the plan, even if his little ones were. Arthur nodded that he understood. They would try but nothing was promised.
“Then I have a second troop out of these northmen joined to some that have come all the way up from Londugnum. They will take care of the horsemen in the other wood.”
“Northman?” Loth asked.
“Mine or with Loth?” Kai asked.
“In between. Not counted or sided, but loyal to their Pendragon.”
“Criminals and hermits.” That was how Loth interpreted it.
“And Londugnum?” Bedwyr got curious.
“Not from your district,” Arthur assured him.
“At that distance, they will not suspect the ruse,” Meryddin said. He actually appeared to like this idea. “I have found no great eyes in their ranks.”
“At the last minute, the footmen will march out,” Arthur said. And they will stop on level ground just out of bowshot. This is crucial. They must not charge uphill, and God willing, the Danes will charge them instead.”
“And immediately get within bowshot,” Pelenor got it.
Arthur nodded again. “And that will be the signal for our lancers to ride straight into their side.”
“They should crush up like an accordion,” Gerraint said, but since no one knew what an accordion was, he added, “And any who try to escape to the woods will be cut down.”
“This could work,” Pelenor seemed all smiles.
“I see no great problems if everybody does their jobs,” Bedwyr tried to sum things up. “If the lancers do meet resistance, they have the force to overcome. And if they jump too late, though that would not be good, it could still work. And if they jump too soon, that should not hurt our overall chances.”
“The men from Cornwall and Lyoness have formed a small troop of horsemen in case any Danish horsemen manage to find their way out of the other wood. And if the two lines of footmen meet, they can swing a short around and hit the Danes on the other flank.”
The men left all smiles and prepared for a great victory. Gerraint stuck around. “No battle ever goes exactly to plan, isn’t that right Meryddin?”
“What? Yes.” But Meryddin did not really pay attention. He had something else on his mind.