Meryddin was not on board with this plan. As much as Meryddin knew the Picts and Scots needed to be kept in their place, he preferred action against the Saxons, or the Irish. The Scots, and for the most part the Picts still held to the old ways. They had and respected the druids, and they respected Meryddin as a master druid. Meryddin often argued that as long as the Scots and Picts stayed above the wall, they should be left alone. And if they should come down below the wall, they should be subject to mercy and forgiveness. Gerraint thought the argument a curious one coming from Meryddin, since the druids thought of forgiveness as weakness, and they did not believe in mercy.
Thomas moved his fat and slow merchant ships into the mouth of the Clyde and lashed them together to form a wall. Gerraint called it a blockade. Thomas, who walked with a slight limp ever since the battle of the rebellion, had plenty of stout men and plenty of catapults that could heave stones or burning pitch and tar at any ship that tried to come downriver. He kept Arthur’s swifter, more warship design out from the wall to pursue anyone who broke through and tried to run for it.
Arthur came up on the fort in the night and settled in quietly while he moved some men around to the back of the fort to attack the Saxon and Pictish ships in the dark. There were eight Saxon long boats and more than twenty Pictish coastal ships anchored in the river or pulled partly up on the bank. He knew ships could be rebuilt, that it was the men he had to worry about, but he also knew ships could carry men to safety and he needed to take away that option.
The guards on the river were few and not very alert. Still, it took time avoiding them. Confrontation risked one of them crying out and waking the fort. Men swam out and crawled up on to the ships anchored in the river. Others hid behind the boats on the bank, and waited. When Arthur’s patience ran out, he signaled the three men in the trees. They lit their torches and waved them back and forth. Moments later, the sound of chopping echoed up and down the river, and one by one, the ships became ablaze with fire. The guards on the river were taken out, mostly with arrows, but the men in the fort came awake and began shouting, everywhere.
On the land side of the fort, Gerraint let loose the dozen specially constructed catapults. They fired a great metal clamp attached to a long, knotted rope. Two fell short. One made it over the wall but did not catch on anything, so it pulled away. Two made it and caught. After a quick tug, men began to climb the ropes. The sixth stuck fast to the lumber that made the walls, the whole fort being made of logs. The men who tugged on the rope to be sure the hook would hold them heard the sound of ripping wood. Gerraint quickly grabbed a dozen men to help, and they all pulled, and pulled with all their might. That log, and the three to either side of it began to pull away from the rest of the wall.
“Altogether!” Gerraint yelled, and one big final yank and the logs broke free and crashed to the ground. The logs were pushed into a bog on that end and rotted. Men still had to climb over the lower parts, but soon enough they flooded into the fort. The Picts and Saxons put up a good fight, but they were not prepared and got killed at the rate of about three to one. When the men came pouring in from the riverside, the fighting did not last long. Arthur lost some hundred and fifty men in the end; all the dead and dying. The enemy lost closer to four hundred and only about two hundred finally surrendered and begged for mercy.
Arthur did not show mercy. He made sure Caw, the Pictish leader and Hueil, the Saxon pirate were dead. Then he hung every last man in that fort, letting only the old Scottish woman who did the cooking go home. He sent her off with the three babies he found. Anyone twelve and over got hung, and so did the women who were not there to cook, the ones he imagined were the mothers of those children.
Last of all, Arthur left a note nailed to the main door of the fort’s version of a Great Hall, and a second copy nailed to the front gate. It said, “Stay out of Britain, Wales and Cornwall. No more warnings.” He signed it and brought his men back south.
Thomas met him at fort Guinnon. “Uncle Durwood is going to be upset at the loss of three of his best ships.” A Saxon long boat and some six Pictish coastal craft broke through the blockade and headed for the sea. Thomas damaged them all and sank three of the Pictish craft, and without losing one of Arthur’s ships, but the long boat and three of the Pictish ships managed to limp away.
“Maybe we can work something out,” Arthur said in a sour voice. He had not been in a good mood since the battle. The decision to hang all of those men, pirates though they were, came hard for him. It was not like battle. He found no glory in condemning prisoners.
“I have been thinking about that,” Thomas said with a bit of a grin. “I got a good look at those Saxon long boats and I believe I can greatly improve the design of your warships. As they become available, Uncle Durwood might be willing to take some of your older ones in exchange for his loses. That way you can spend your money on new and better ships rather than compensating my Uncle.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Kai said brightly.
Arthur said nothing. That was what they did, but Arthur became convinced that now all he did was tempt the Picts to mount a real war. When he sent his men home, he told them all, personally, to be prepared for a quick recall.
“Surely, they have learned their lesson,” the men said, but Arthur could only shake his head, sadly.
Meryddn is revealed, just what part of him is not human, and Arthur leads his men north into the wild Pictish wilderness in Cat Coit Celidon. Until Monday,