Gerraint growled. “Take care. I have no compunction against killing men and you are a man, little though you be.”
The little man quieted. The woman on horseback waved and the soldiers went to their own waiting horses. She had a final word. “We shall see what makes you afraid. Come to Caerdyf, tomorrow, and my champion will cut your heart out.” She turned her horse and started off at a brisk trot. The little man and soldiers were obliged to follow. Only then did Gerraint realize he still held the young woman’s hand. She grinned up at him and did not seem to mind in the least. Gerraint thought she was lovely and did not mind either…so he immediately let go.
“I thank you for your kindness,” the old man said. “But it will do no good in the end.”
“How so?” Uwaine became the one who asked while he smiled at Gerraint’s unease next to the beauty.
“My nephew,” he said. “But it is a bit of a story. My name is Ynywl, my wife Guinevak and my daughter Enid.”
“I am Goreu, and my young friend is Uwaine”
Uwaine held his tongue. In those days, they were calling Gerraint the Lion of Cornwall.
“Yes,” Gerraint said. “But my friend is from here, in South Wales, and I promised to take him home before I crossed the channel.”
“From this area?” Ynywl looked hopeful. “I may know your parents?”
“Yes,” Uwaine started, but Gerraint interrupted.
“Probably not. Simple farmers. But tell me about this nephew.”
“It is a story. Come inside. Enid is a fine cook and we can put you up for the night, as you wish.”
Uwaine came in after caring for the horses, and sat to hear the story while Enid served boiled beef and bread. She sat by her mother and looked suddenly shy. Gerraint tried not to stare, but he felt smitten by her looks and surprised that she seemed to have a brain inside that head. Instead, Gerraint stared around the house. It looked sturdy, but filled with furniture and decorations which were probably very fine twenty or thirty years ago. At this point, it all looked rundown and used.
“My great-grandfather,” Ynywl began. “He was a Roman, a centurion who came here with a company of men to build a fort to watch the coast. Caerdyf became the result, and the town grew around it. My Grandfather began the city wall and my father finished it. The plague of piracy that Wales has suffered in these last fifty years did not get far here. My forefathers kept a strong watch on the coast.
“My own father had two sons. My brother Dyfuss, the eldest, lived as a weak and sickly child. He married and had a son, but he was never strong. So, my father left him the main part of the land, but he left me Caerdyf and some land surrounding it to support it and much on the coast. Dyfuss felt happy with that arrangement, but he died young, and in time his son Megalis got greedy.
“Megalis heard the rumor of pirates, that I had a fortune in gold, secreted away and buried somewhere. He wanted it, and if I had such a fortune, I would have given it to him. But he did not believe me when I said it did not exist. He raised what men he had and depended heavily on Irish mercenaries and prates. Megalis is not what one would call a smart man. The Irish controlled him through the rumor and the woman you saw, and in this way finally succeeded where the pirates always failed before in Caerdyf.”
“But how did they take the fort?” Gerraint asked. “It looks strong from this distance and surely you had loyal men.”
“I did. But I surrendered the fort rather than see my own people killing each other and brother fighting against brother. Now Megalis has abandoned his fine home and moved into the fort. He has dug up most of the fort and large portions of the town and countryside looking for the treasure which I am convinced the Irish know is fake. But they keep the thought alive because it maintains their power. The woman, Erin, has come to believe their own lie.”
“Always a problem when you begin to lie, that in time you may begin to believe it,” Gerraint said plainly to Uwaine, who simply nodded and enjoyed the food.
Megalis has given us this place and kept us alive up to this point because we supposedly know where the treasure is. But after seven long years his patience is wearing thin. I fear he will eventually be done with us.”
“And leave the Irish in control of Caerdyf? Does Arthur know about this?”
Guinevak looked at the big soldier and spoke her mind. “You speak of the Pendragon with easy familiarity.”
“It is hard to keep formalities on the battlefield,” Gerraint gave the obvious answer.
“No,” Ynywl answered Gerraint’s question. “Why should I appeal to Arthur and his fine men of the Round Table. Caerdyf is my nephew’s, by rights as son of the eldest son.”
“Only about twenty under Fenn, but they make the rules and the people have suffered.”
“Fenn is the Lady’s champion?” Uwaine asked, his appetite temporarily satisfied.
“Yes,” Enid said, and looked only once at Gerraint before she looked down.
“Yes,” Ynywl said at the same time. “He is as big as Goreu here, but mean and cruel. I heard before he came to Caerdyf, he trafficked in slaves to Ireland. He is an excellent fighter. No one has beaten him, and that is why I recommend you leave first thing in the morning. You should not risk your own injury and death on our account.”