Meryddin specially selected the group of men to accompany Arthur to Wales. He called them volunteers and he made sure they volunteered. To be fair, he only selected men from the RDF who had no wives or children to go home to. Most of those were young, but not all. Most of the old Lords he sent home with their squires, but some of the young Lords and their squires came along. Bedwyr, Kai and Loth joined them, and willingly, but only after they all made it clear that they should be home checking on the disposition of the enemy.
The fort of Leodegan looked impressive. It sat on the top of a hill above a village. The deserted village streamed down the hillside and nestled in the valley below. The fort itself, made mostly stone and in the Roman style, had a large, empty front court where troops could gather, and several smaller courtyards around the buildings, the Great Hall, and the main tower connected to the Great Hall where Leodegan and his family lived.
Kai remarked that the Irish would have a hard time breaking into such a solid looking structure. Bedwyr responded with a laugh. “All the Welsh have are hills and stone.”
“And Pig-headedness,” Loth added.
Meryddin turned in the saddle to talk to the whole group. “Leodegan is a firm believer in the old ways. His son, Ogryvan is a good son, but his daughters, Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach have followed after their mother in the ways of the church. Their mother died a few years back from the flu. It does not make for a peaceful household, but Leodegan allows for the church as long as it is only the women. I think, if we would help this man in his struggle, it might be wise for you to disguise your faith and who you are. You can be plain Britons who heard of the trouble and have come to help.”
“I am not ashamed of my faith.” Nineteen-year-old Percival spoke right up, and twenty-year-old Tristam stood right there with him, though by rights, the squires should have remained silent. “I will not pretend to be a pagan to satisfy an old man.”
“Son. No one said pretend to be pagan,” Ederyn interjected. “But maybe we can keep our faith under wraps for the time being and not be so obvious about it.”
“I like the idea of not telling them who we are,” Gerraint took the interruption to add his thoughts. “I nominate Arthur for the name Bumrats.” A few of the men snickered.
“And we should call Goreu, Mister Weird,” Arthur said, and smiled a little.
“Now listen.” Meryddin had not finished. “Leodegan was not part of the rebellion, but he supported it. Since then, he sent a token of men to fight at the River Glen, but this time he sent nothing.”
“I can see why,” Bedwyr said. “Must be the whole Irish army.”
“I can see a hole at the head of the road,” Arthur said. “Lances,” and he started down the hill before anyone else, but the others caught up soon enough.
Meryddin shouted, “Remember the pretense,” but it became impossible for anyone to hear him.
When Arthur’s troop hit the road, Gerraint caught a glimpse of what the Irish were seeing. Somehow, Meryddin made fifty men look like three hundred. The Irish scattered to get out of the way and they did not have the sense or the time to so much as grab a bow and arrows. Several were run through, but most went to ground so the fifty passed through the blockade of the road with little trouble. At the gate, at the top of the hill, the guards on the wall watched the action. More than one recognized Meryddin as well, so the gate opened to let them in before it got slammed shut once again.
They found tents and lean-tos all over the main courtyard of the fort. The village people who could not escape into the wilderness, and who were still alive, had set up homes behind the stout fort walls. Meryddin guided Arthur’s group to a separate court by the sea gate—the one that pointed in the direction of the sea, though it was too far away to actually see, being hidden by the distant hills. Meryddin unkindly threw the people out who huddled there and said, “Set camp here where we can keep a good eye on the Irish hordes.”
Most of the men were unhappy with the unchristian treatment of the poor locals, but only Arthur dared speak. “That was unnecessary and unacceptable. These poor people are the ones we have come to defend and protect.” The men were already making camp, but they looked as Meryddin shrugged off the scolding. The deed was done.
Gerraint nudged Arthur and pointed. They saw two young female faces at the nearby window in the tower beside the Great Hall. They appeared to smile before they vanished into the inside.
“So?” Arthur said, but quickly looked away. Gerraint noticed.
Meryddin returned from fetching Loth, Kai and Bedwyr. They expected men to come and fetch Meryddin and the leaders of this new group of fighters any minute, so Meryddin spoke fast. “Percival, Ederyn and the squires need to stay here. Bedwyr too, since your face may be known.”
“Don’t worry,” Bedwyr said. “I’ll keep Gawain and Uwaine at their tasks.” Gawain, Loth’s son by his deceased wife, a thirteen-year-old squired to Bedwyr.
“They remind me of two young scamps that used to follow me around,” Ederyn said with a nudge in Percival’s arm.
Percival smiled at Gerraint and Arthur. “Don’t worry,” he said.
“Loth, Kai, Arthur and Gerraint are not known by these Lords, only Gerraint, try to look big and mean and keep your mouth shut,” Meryddin mused. “You are much too bright for these people.”
“A compliment?” Arthur looked shocked.
“What?” Gerraint said. “Did Christ return and nobody told me?”
Meryddin frowned, but the others grinned when they got interrupted by a man in a long tunic with a hill painted on the front.
“Mesalwig,” Arthur recognized the man. “Is Badgemagus here?” Mesalwig, from Glastonbury, squired to Badgemagus in his youth.
“He is,” Mesalwig said before Meryddin grabbed him and guided him off for a private conference. Meryddin came back alone just when the escort of guards arrived from the great hall.
“They will say nothing,” Meryddin reported. “Mesalwig is here wooing Gwynyvar, Leodegan’s elder daughter.”
“Good luck with that,” Gerraint mumbled, before they walked in silence.
The great hall had a large dais raised a good two feet above the rest of the floor, but Leodegan sat at the end of the center table down below. Arthur and Gerraint stopped at the other end of the long table and Loth and Kai stopped a few steps behind. Loth and Kai looked at the poor decor, though they may have been counting the guards stationed here and there around the room. Gerraint counted the four doors. Besides the main doors, there was a postern door close, but to the side, that probably also lead outside. The one in the back on his right likely lead to back rooms in the Great Hall, and to the kitchens. The one to his left had to be connected to the tower.
Arthur kept his eyes on the old man the whole time.
“Meryddin, my old friend.” Leodegan sounded gracious. “You have come and brought help in my time of need. All thanks to the Mother Danna.”
“Indeed,” Meryddin said. “Allow me to introduce the leader of this band, Lord Bassmas and his shield and strong right arm Lord Goreu of Cornwall. Most call him Wyrd.” Merlin mispronounced the word. “These others are Lords of the north who have come to fight the Irish menace.”
“Lord Lot,” Loth interrupted, so Kai had to think fast.
“Lord Cecil,” he said, and regretted it as soon as it escaped his lips.
“My Captain Cleodalis and my Druid Julius,” Leodegan quickly introduced the men to his left and right, as his eyes seemed glued to Arthur. Gerraint noticed the druid bowed to Meryddin. He remained seated, but it was a bow all the same. “Tell me,” Leodegan sounded suspicious. “You wear the dragon on your tunic.”
“In honor of my father who fought as Uther’s right arm during the great wars. Like Uther, he got poisoned in the end by Saxon treachery.”
Leodegan nodded, like he accepted that explanation, but then he turned on Gerraint. “And Lord Goreu, I see you wear the lion of Cornwall.” Meryddin stepped up, but Arthur spoke first.
“He says it is his right, but since Erbin died, he will not serve Marcus Adronicus, the Roman usurper, especially since Marcus is such a devout catholic.”
Leodegan nodded again and turned to the third man at the table, a young man beside Captain Cleodalis who Leodegan did not bother to introduce. “What do you think, Ogryvan. The big brute looks like a shield well made.”
Ogryvan, Leodegan’s son, stood and faced Gerraint. The young man stood about five-ten and had broad shoulders besides, which made him a bit of a clunk. Gerraint appeared slimmer, no doubt in better shape, and that suggested speed and grace, plus he stood two inches taller. Gerraint exaggerated the notion of looking down on Ogryvan, and he growled, pleased that he practiced that. Ogryvan’s face did not change, but the man did shuffle back a half-step and Gerraint barely kept himself from bursting out laughing.