Gerraint came into the great hall at Caerleon wondering what was up. Enid stayed in the nice home they bought in town, feeding one-year-old Peter and having all the fun. Worse. She started making sweet little noises in the night and getting very touchy-feely, which suggested she might be pregnant again. Gerraint did not want to miss that. He hoped whatever this was, it would not be something that would send him far away from home.
“Gerraint!” Several men hollered as he came in and he mumbled something about “Norm!” He glanced at the door that lead to the back rooms and the now greatly enlarged room that held the Round Table. Gerraint guessed this would not be Round Table business, which meant an appeal from someone not part of the club. He could not imagine. The world had been at relative peace for the last five years.
“What’s up?” Gerraint got to ask his question.
“Sit. Sit.” Arthur said. “Hush.”
“Gwyr is about to read the letter,” Tristam said.
Gerraint looked at the table. His old master Pelenor looked ready to nod off. Peredur and Ederyn looked sprightly enough. Percival, seated beside them looked so serious. Kai looked pensive. Bedwyr grinned. Gerraint sat next to Gwillim and Gwillim’s brother, Thomas the Sailor, but as he thought about it, he would have guessed Kai would be the grinning one. Kai came all the way down to Caerleon from the north to show off his new, young bride, Lisel. She was much younger than Kai and blonde in the worst cliché sort of way. Enid and Gwynyvar said spending time with the girl felt like going into battle. Constance, Bedwyr’s wife, and a proper woman of grace who had eight years on Enid, said Lisel did not have enough brains to be stupid. Gwynyvar and Enid professed they were shocked to hear their thoughts expressed aloud.
Gerraint looked again at Kai. He definitely looked pensive, but then Gwyr started reading.
“You may not yet be aware of Claudus, a cruel and wicked man who is the latest to dream of reviving the glory of Rome. This one, unlike the host of others, may have both the military skill and cleverness to succeed. Beginning in Provence, he has taken Septimania and Vasconia, carved out a chunk of Aquitaine including Bordeaux, and taken all of the Atlantique coast for his kingdom. He has halted the Franks in their inevitable advance, and beat the Visigoths back over the mountains. Now he has trained his eye on Amorica. I believe it is his plan to swallow up our pleasant land before turning against the Franks in Paris.
“It was some years back when my father Budic gave sanctuary and comfort to your father Uther in the days of Vortigen the Usurper. What is more, he gave Uther the means and support to raise an army to return to Britain and remove the plague from your land. Now, we are the ones in need, and I have sent my son Howel to you in the hope that you will remember the kindness my father showed to your father. Furthermore, I request that you may seek out those men who fought for your father and stayed in your good land, and that you may tell them of our need and ask if they may be willing to come home to aid us in our fight. We are hard pressed, and I appreciate whatever help you may deem right and proper.” Gwyr looked up from the paper before he finished. “He signed it, your faithful friend and ally, Hoel.”
“Is Howel outside?” Kai asked straight out.
“He is,” Arthur said. “But I would hear your opinion first.” Arthur looked around the table and no one especially had an opinion. His eyes ended on Gerraint, and the other eyes at the table looked as well. Gerraint stood and threw his gloves to the tabletop. He paced for a moment and made noises like a man in pain. Everyone stared at him when he yelled.
“All right!” He lowered his voice and leaned on the table. “Okay.” He calmed himself. “So, when do we sail for Amorica.” All the men present tried talking at once, but Arthur just grinned like maybe he became the man with a trophy wife. Kai looked distraught.
Things did not take long to straighten out. But Kai mentioned that the Scots were getting above themselves, like maybe they defeated the Picts. And worse, Loth in some ways appeared to be encouraging them. He thought he better stay at Guinnon. Bedwyr got prevailed upon to stay at Oxford as well. Arthur told Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn that they would have to keep vigilant while he was away. Then Arthur decided to take only volunteers with Gerraint being the first lest he decide to stay home with that lovely wife of his. Finally, Arthur instructed Gwyr to put something in the letter encouraging those who came from Amorica and fought for Uther, or their descendants, to consider returning to Amorica to fight for Hoel.
Once that got settled, Arthur called in their visitors. There were many details to work out, not the least procuring the ships and supplies they would need, but the basics were done and he was able to greet the men as honored guests.
Howel, at eighteen or nineteen, got escorted by a mere six soldiers, one of whom at least appeared to be a well-seasoned sergeant named Grist. Howel came accompanied by two brothers, both Chiefs in Amorica, called Bohort and Lionel. Lionel was Howel’s age, or maybe twenty. Bohort, the elder at twenty-three or four, did most of the talking. Gerraint felt suddenly old at twenty-seven. Then he thought of being home with Enid and the baby. Then he thought of Enid being all touchy-feely. And then he thought he better pay attention.
“It is worse than you may have heard,” Bohort said. “The Romans of Claudus are playing with us like a cat with a mouse. They strike here, but by the time we arrive they have vanished to strike there. They will not give pitched battle, but once. They are softening us up and wearing us out. They have overrun two thirds of the land this way, by nibbling us to death.
“On the plains near the mysterious Lake Vivane, he tested our strength in battle. That happened four years ago. We won the battle and won the test, but I figure he just sent some expendable troops and did not really care who won, though I am sure he would have been happier with a victory. I lost my father and his brother in that battle. My young cousin, just sixteen got lost in the woods around the lake.” Bohort took a moment to shake his head before he continued. “That was when Claudus hit on the strategy of eating us alive, piece by piece. I don’t know how much longer Hoel may hold out.”
“It is settled,” Arthur announced, and that was that.
Gerraint stepped outside and Uwaine met him on the steps. “About time,” Uwaine said. “I was really going mad this time. When do we go?”
“Preparations.” Gerraint shrugged. “Then I go, but where you go will be up to you.” Uwaine raised an eyebrow, so Gerraint answered his question. “I have prevailed on Arthur to knight you and Gawain before we sail.”
“So? That changes nothing. If you have taught me one thing, it is the safest place in battle is right next to you.” Gerraint made no answer.
Six months later, Thomas of Dorset contracted a hundred ships for a minimal fee to deliver a cargo of two thousand men and horses to Amorica. Roughly a quarter of those ships would continue in the months ahead to supply the troops.
“We don’t want to beggar our hosts,” Gwillim said.
Gerraint stayed in Cornwall where he moved his wife so she could be around his mother, her own mother having died a year earlier. Marcus Adronicus started making noises like he had become an old man and Gerraint needed to be prepared to take over. Gerraint could not worry about that. All he wanted was a safe delivery of his second son, James, and the knowledge that Enid was in good hands. With that assured, he took three hundred of Cornwall’s finest, a good Festuscato number. They were men all trained to the horse and the lance, and he sailed them out of Plymouth to catch up with Arthur.
Arthur was in the field, in a big tent with Hoel, and discussed things. Percival sat out front, and his take was, “Don’t go in there.” Uwaine also sat up front, but he only shook his head.
Gerraint took a deep breath. “Wish me uck-lay.” He explained before anyone asked. “I’m practicing my Pig Latin for use on the revived Romans,” not that anyone understood what he was talking about. He went in.
There were greetings and pleasantries before Arthur explained the situation. “We are having limited success in driving the forces of Claudus back. We have almost doubled Hoel’s numbers, and with the RDF, trained to move quickly and quietly, we have routed out a number of pockets of the enemy. They have come up and overrun village after village, but then remain hidden in the wilderness. They require the poor, decimated villagers to supply them with food, sending men from their hidden camp to collect it. We have had some success in following those men back to their base and then we have gone in and finished the job. But the men of Claudus, like Saxon raiders, are in many small groups and scattered all over the countryside. Mostly, they simply hide whenever we come near with a large force and reappear after we have gone.”
“But we are succeeding, slowly, but succeeding,” Hoel said.
“Yes, but at this rate we may be bogged down here for two or three years. Now, my plan is to take a third of our force and invade the Atlantique. In that way, Claudus will be forced to call out his army, and we can finish this much more quickly.”
“But if you take so many, our efforts here will be badly hampered and we may soon be back to stabbing at ghosts,” Hoel objected.
“So, I have come up with three hundred fresh troops, the veterans being mostly RDF trained and able to bring along the young ones. My men, one way or the other, will not be significant here, but I see no reason why Cornwall cannot turn the tactics of Claudus against him in the Atlantique. I have people who know something of the province, and while it would not be an invasion, it may be enough to force Claudus’ hand.”
“How can you know the province?” Hoel asked. Gerraint saw that Arthur understood, but he had to give Hoel his best, human answer.
“Cornish sailors have been trading all along the coast for generations. Amorica has been our chief trading partner after Wales and Britain, but many have also traded down the Atlantique and learned the area.”
“Not much portage there,” Hoel said.
“But some,” Gerraint answered and quickly changed the subject before Hoel thought too long about it. “I said turn the tactics of Claudus against him, but I don’t plan to leave small groups hidden in the woods to keep the people oppressed. More like true Saxon raiders, I plan to burn the villages and their crops and food supplies and drive the people south as refugees. Hundreds, hopefully thousands of refugees fleeing south out of the Atlantique province should force the hand of Claudus well enough.”
“A good plan,” Arthur agreed. Hoel looked like he might object. Gerraint could read the man’s mind, thinking that the addition of Gerraint’s men could speed up the success they were having in Amorica, but Gerraint got up to leave before Hoel could fully frame his thoughts. Gerraint knew his three hundred would not hold the pass for long, but they might wreak havoc in Persia.