R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 2 of 3

Two weeks later, Gerraint, Uwaine and old Sergeant Paul dismounted at the command tent which had been set up at the southern edge of the Amorican forest of Bringloren.  Bringloren was an ancient and more pristine wilderness than the northern forest of Vivane.  In Vivane, many apple trees had been seeded and large sections had been cut to build villages and for planting.  Uwaine wondered how the people could grow anything in that rocky, sandy soil, but the people managed.  The Vivane seemed user friendly, as long as one stayed away from the mysterious Lake Vivane.

The Bringloren got avoided.  They named it as the place where the old Celtic gods and ancient kings were buried, and said their ghosts still haunted the woods. They said there were wraiths and spirits who delighted in getting people hopelessly lost and then sucked out their souls.  The discarded bodies were left where the ogres and goblins could eat them and the trolls could suck the marrow out of their bones.  Gerraint did get wind of some ghouls and a few other nasty things in the woods, but they avoided the large, armed party.  He also found any number of little ones, and spent the last two days in negotiations.

He found a tree village of Kobold who came west with the Franks from the forests along the Rhine.  Heurst was the chief and happy to help.  They were also friends with a troop of brownies that migrated to the continent from the swampland of Somerset when the Romans pulled out of Britain. Their chief was Ringwald and he thought his troop might lend a hand.  The trouble was, neither Heurst nor Ringwald knew the Atlantique coast.  For that, they had to visit the fairies in the Glen of the Banner.

The fairy King, Lupen, proved old and grumpy. “Those humans can kill each other off as far as I am concerned,” he said.  But Queen LeFleur, and many of the young fairies knew the territory well, and not unlike some young humans back home, they were anxious to take on the adventure.  LeFleur herself, seated on Gerraint’s shoulder for safety, took him into the caves and burial mounds of the kings.  Gerraint left Uwaine and Sergeant Paul on the surface with Heurst, Ringwald, a middle-aged, sensible fairy male named Birch and a young one named Larchmont to watch over them.  He went to visit the goblins.

They met some Pixies in the caves along the way. They seemed nice enough to Gerraint, but LeFleur buried her face in Gerraint’s long hair and called them “batwings and corruptibles.”  Down in the deeps, the dark elves were the worst sort of goblins, having little to do other than steal sheep and scare any humans foolish enough to wander into the forest.  The land, not exactly being rich in minerals or metals, made the dwarfs move north long ago, though Gerraint did hear the sound of a distant hammer the whole time he was there.

The goblin chief, Manskin, said no way he had any interest in what the up-world people were doing.  “But, we will do one thing for you.  Any humans who try to run north won’t get very far.”  He grinned a grin full of teeth and bits of last night’s supper, but Gerraint stared hard in the goblin’s beady eyes until the goblin chief got very uncomfortable.  “We will turn them back south,” he added in a shaky voice.  “Just like you want.”

“You better,” Gerraint said, not that he expected any of Claudus’ people would escape to the north or dare the forest, and not that he expected the goblin chief to keep his word once Gerraint moved on. “You know my rule about eating people.”

“Yes Lord,” the goblins all said.  “Yes lord.”  Hats finally got removed and several goblins bowed.  “We’ll be sure to tell the trolls down the way as well,” Manskin added, as Gerraint left.

Gerraint whispered to LeFleur when they got near the surface.  “You can uncover your eyes now.”

When he picked up Uwaine and Sergeant Paul, they were more than ready and rode more swiftly than necessary back to the camp where Bohort waited.

“We will have help scouting the land ahead and guarding our flanks as we move,” Gerraint said, as he went into the tent.  Bohort looked at him and then looked at Uwaine because Sergeant Paul started laughing again.  He spent the last two days laughing.

Uwaine simply said, “Don’t ask.  You don’t want to know.”  As he spoke a bright spark of light zoomed past their faces and went into the tent.  “Trust me,” Uwaine added, and he went off to check on the disposition of the troops.

The troops entered the first three villages from the north, gathered the villagers and told them to flee south while the troop burned their homes.  “Tell Claudus he is not welcome in Amorica.”  That became the only message.  Since it turned mid-May, they could hardly burn the crops, but they could trample them.  They found the warehouses for the grain and barns for the sheep and cattle, and after taking what they wanted for their own needs, they slaughtered and burned the rest.

The fourth village brought them a distance inland, and it looked like the villagers were armed and guarding the north end of town. Gerraint brought his troop by secret elf paths so he could enter the village from the south.  Resistance did not last long.  One young man named Alden became the first casualty among Gerraint’s troops, and he was remembered.

Coming from the south worked well on villages five and six, but when they came to the seventh village, one not far from the sea, the found the ways north and south both blocked.  It turned to mid-summer by then and they had heard nothing from Amorica. Bohort worried a little, but Gerraint kept telling him that no news was good news.

In this armed village, Gerraint came up with Uwaine, Sergeant Paul, Bohort and Lord Birch, all on horseback.  They had discussed it.  When they stopped just outside of bowshot, Gerraint took hold of Lord Birch’s reigns.  The fairy got small and fluttered up to the north barricade.  He raised his voice for the gawkers.

“You have until tomorrow sunrise to be gone or die.” Gerraint felt no point in mincing words, and Birch flew back to his horse, returned to his big size which made him look like an ordinary enough man, and they rode back to the camp. Gerraint thought no telling how many of his soldiers caught a glimpse of Birch in his true fairy form, but no one ever said anything.

By dawn, the village had emptied.  That felt fine.  Gerraint did not like the killing part.

Things continued into the fall where they came upon the first true town complete with a city wall.  The architecture looked purely Roman, and though most of the people were Gaelic, they thought of themselves as Romans and that was what counted. The townspeople and soldiers that manned the walls wore Roman armor and carried Roman spears and bows and characteristic short swords, which were really only good in close combat in phalanx formation.  But this seemed where many of the people who fled south ended up, so the streets of the town were overflowing with refugees who had nowhere else to go.

Gerraint was not about to see his men killed trying to take the town.  He called for the six, an affectation from the Pictish campaign.  Six mules carried the halves of three small catapults.  Twelve other mules had been overloaded with the round balls of flammable pitch and tar tied up with strong twine. The catapults could only throw the balls about twice bowshot, but fortunately this city wall only stood about ten feet high.

Most of the town had been made of wood.  They had limited stone, some cobblestones, stone courts and columns, and even a bit of Roman concrete, but most of it had been made of wood, and even if it got covered in plaster, it would still burn. Gerraint thought it only fair to give warning.

“I feel it is my Christian duty and an act of charity to give warning to the innocents.  Move south before dawn, and you will live.  If you go west or east or north, you will be shot and killed.  Move south while you can.  In fact, I recommend you run.”  He went back to his camp and ordered the men to rest.  The kobold had the west and the brownies had the east, and Larchmont and his fairy volunteers, invaluable in scouting ahead and scouting the land, stood between Gerraint’s men and the town and would not let anyone pass.

By dawn, they saw a regular stream of people pouring out of the south gate and on to the main north-south road.  There were two main Roman roads in the Atlantique province and both were north-south.  The coastal road ended in the north at the southern edge of the Bringloren forest where it met up with the southern road through Amorica.  The main road went all the way from the Aquitaine up along the edge of the Vivane, near the lake, and to the north coast of the Channel.  There was a third road, an inland road, but it had not been well kept since Roman days.  It marked the boundary between the lands of Claudus and Frankish lands.  The poor villages along the inland side did not run at Gerraint’s approach.  They went straight to surrender, watched their homes burn, and set about rebuilding after Gerraint left.  Gerraint decided that at least it would keep them too busy to think about joining Claudus’ army.

The townsmen and soldiers in this particular town still stood on the walls when Gerraint started the bombardment. Flaming balls got lofted over the wall and splattered flame wherever they hit, and it made a grease fire, hard to extinguish.  The small catapults got moved regularly to be sure they hit every part of town they could reach.  Gerraint and Uwaine sat on a grassy knoll and watched.  Lord Birch, and eventually Bohort and Sergeant Paul came to join them

Uwaine sipped from a water skin before he asked his question.  “So, how do you tell the difference between a kobold and a brownie, or one of Deerrunner’s elves for that matter?”

Gerraint sat up a bit.  “It’s an art, not a science,” he said.  “But basically, the kobold are more rugged and the brownies more plain folk, if you follow me.”

“A fair description,” Lord Birch said.

“Deerrunner’s people are elves from the Long March out from Elfenheim.  They are generally a little taller than the others, the brownies being maybe the shortest on average, but in a real sense they are all elves.  None of them would get mad at you for calling them elves.”  Uwaine shook his head.  He still didn’t get it.  Sergeant Paul merely laughed.  Bohort had a different thought.

“Lord Birch.  What does the schedule look like?”

Lord Birch pulled out a small piece of velum to check.  “The inland road and then back to the coast.”

Bohort nodded.  “I wish Claudus would get his act together, as you Brits say.”

“Only Gerraint says that,” Uwaine said.  “But I agree.  This is getting boring.”

Sergeant Paul stood and yelled at the nearest catapult crew.  “A little more to the right.”

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