They traveled through occasional woods that punctuated the meadow grass at this altitude. Enid concluded this poor excuse for a road Gerraint had chosen led them high through the hills. She imagined, in better days, this could have been a pleasant ride, out among the wildflowers. But she did not let her imagination take her from reality. The sky turned gray and overcast, and so did she. She had long since given up wondering what she could have done. She concluded that all she had done was love him, and that was all she was going to do.
At noon, she stopped because a tree crossed the road as an effective roadblock. She felt uncertain what to do, to speak or not. Gerraint came up and she held her tongue. He got a bit of rope he carried with him, tied it to the small end of the tree and to his saddle and his horse pulled until the tree got moved enough to make a path at the side of the road. He waved at Enid to go around and continue to ride out front while he retrieved his rope. but she did not go far before she called out.
Gerraint hurried, and he got surprised when he saw a man in the middle of the road. Enid stood on her feet and to the side of the road, worrying her horse’s nose. He wondered why Enid did not just ride off with the man, but then he saw that this man appeared richly armored in fine chain mail, and sported a long spear such as the Romans used to carry. Another attempt to see him killed? He wondered.
“This is my road,” the man said from beneath his helmet. “You cannot pass unless you pay the toll. I must see all that you have to determine how much you should pay, so please be good enough to empty your bags on the road.”
Gerraint said nothing. He put on his own helmet, mounted and grabbed his lance. Then he spoke. “This is Arthur’s road. Toll tax is forbidden.” He charged. The man started a little behind, like this was not the usual response, but he did not start far behind.
They crashed. Gerraint did not get the best hit on his opponent. The man was much smaller than he first appeared in the saddle. The man did get a good hit on Gerraint, but his spear splintered on Gerraint’s shield and those two hits combined were enough to unseat the little man. Gerraint’s shoulder got bruised from the blow, but he appeared to have the upper hand until he looked and saw his lance had cracked. He threw it to the ground and pulled his sword as he leapt to his feet.
The little man got to his feet and began to bob and weave around the road, sometimes ducking under Gerraint’s sword hand. He got a couple of good blows into Gerraint’s side, not enough to break the chain, but sure enough to leave a mark. Then he ducked under Gerraint’s backswing, and Gerraint put out his gloved hand. He hit the little men right in the face hard enough to knock him to the ground and bloody his nose. He tried to rise, but Gerraint brought the pommel of his sword down on the man’s helmet. He left a big dent and left the little man on his knees. Before Gerraint could do anything else, the little man pulled a knife and stabbed Gerraint in the thigh. Gerraint howled but used that leg to kick the little man in the chest. He flew several feet before he landed hard and he lost hold of his sword. Gerraint stepped up to finish things when the little man cried out.
“Mercy Lord. Mercy, please.”
Gerraint paused while he pulled the knife out of his own leg with a tremendous cry. He turned the blade so the point would be in the little man’s face, but the man had his eyes closed like he might be praying.
“On condition,” Gerraint said. “Henceforth the road is free. No more travel tax, and you respect the travelers who come through here.” He stepped over to take the little man’s sword. “And don’t make me come back here to enforce the rules.” When he looked up, he saw Enid crying again. She looked overjoyed at his victory, but terribly worried about the wound in his leg. She looked to be suffering from holding her tongue. Gerraint thought she was play acting, and might have said something except he heard something else. It sounded like twelve or fifteen horses riding hard across the fields, skirting the woods.
When the little man heard, he grinned ferociously. Gerraint figured the man’s gang rode to finish the job. Enid heard and covered her eyes in her fear, but then Gerraint heard something else. It sounded like bowshot followed by men shrieking and screaming. Then the sound of the horses stopped, and Gerraint had a comment.
“Probably Deerrunner and a pocket of elves, or maybe Pinewood and his fairies. In either case, do I need to ask some of them to stick around and make sure you keep the conditions?”
“No, Lord.” The little man looked horrified by the thought, and twice terrified by the fact that his men were likely all dead.
Gerraint said no more to the little man. He turned to Enid with the word, “Ride.”
Enid rode, but looked back. Gerraint strapped up his cracked lance and got on his horse, but it looked hard. He felt pretty banged up from three would-be rapists and now the little man. What was more, he did nothing for the wound in his thigh. He did not even wash it, and that would be a sure risk for infection.
All afternoon they rode. When the rain finally came mid-afternoon, their pace hardly slackened. Enid felt sure they had traveled over the heights by then and were headed down toward some distant valley. She desperately wanted to stop and be allowed to tend his wounds, but he would not stop. After sundown, they entered a village and procured a room.
This time, Gerraint made Enid stay with him while he tended the horses. Then he took her upstairs and told her to stay in the room. He would have locked her in if the door had a lock. He went downstairs and had a very plain supper of bread and meat. He tried not to drip too much blood on the furniture. When he felt satisfied, he took a chunk of bread and a jug of water for Enid. He found her already on the floor and the fire well lit. They did not need it. The weather had warmed, but they were still rather high in the hills.
“Here.” Gerraint gave her the bread and water and went immediately to lie down on his back. His leg throbbed, but all the same, he did not stay awake long. He awoke when she ripped his pants leg and began to wash his wound. She had a strip of cloth from the bottom of her own dress to use as a bandage. Maybe he lost too much blood so he did not have the energy, or maybe he just felt too tired, but he made no move to stop her. He imagined she might be cleaning his wound with poison. At the moment, he did not care and went back to sleep.
In the morning, they began their journey again, now clearly down the hill that Gerraint guessed was Mount Badon. They were not far from Bath. Gerraint ached for the first two hours before his muscles worked out the kinks. He thought when they arrived in Cornwall in two or three weeks, he would kill the first man that talked to her. It had been a long time since his childhood days of exploring the fort in every nook and cranny, but he remembered a dungeon cell that might be cleaned up and fixed up with furniture. That seemed like the only place he could think to keep her where she would not have a chance to get her hands on another man. He meant her no harm, but she should take her vows more seriously, instead of being such a harlot, which by then he felt convinced she was.
By mid-morning, Gerraint’s ears picked up a call for help. Though Enid rode up front, he galloped right passed her and she had to catch up. No doubt the sound of horses scared off the robbers. They found a young woman in the woods by a gentle stream, just off the road, and a young man on the ground, not moving.
“Three giants,” the woman said, and pointed in the direction they fled into the woods. “They killed him.” She appeared hysterical. “They killed him.”
“Stay with her,” Gerraint told Enid, and he rode straight into the woods after what seemed an easy trail to follow. Apparently, the so-called giants were not worried about being followed.
Gerraint unstrapped his lance and yelled, “For Arthur,” but it became the only warning he would give. They were not giants, but they were as big as Gerraint, and one looked bigger. They turned around at Gerraint’s shout, and good thing because he was not one to stab people in the back. The lance stayed together well enough to run through the first, but then it became so many splinters.
The biggest man appeared lightly armored, and Gerraint thought that broad chest would be a good target for his long knife, Defender. The man yelled and fell off his horse when Defender penetrated several inches. That left the third man alone, but that man had a spear, so Gerraint leapt out of his horse and tackled the man. The spear fell out of reach.
They wrestled for a moment and shared their fists before swords came out. The man knew his business with a sword, but it had been learned. Gerraint had all the experience in the arena of kill or be killed and soon enough he crippled the man in the legs and followed through with a clean cut across the man’s middle. Then his shoulder caught fire with pain as the big man brought his big sword down on Gerraint from behind. He may have been aiming at Gerraint’s head, but he caught the shoulder with a powerful blow. It broke through the chain mail, broke several bones and cut a big, gaping wound.
Gerraint called for Defender, and his knife, of its own volition, vacated the big man’s chest and flew to Gerraint’s hand. The man howled and lost the grip on his sword. The sword fell out of Gerraint’s shoulder as he turned, and in one powerful backswing, sliced through most of the man’s neck so the head lolled back and dragged the rest of the body with it.
Gerraint managed to wipe and sheath his blades, though it felt like agony to do it. He dragged his broken body up into the saddle, his arm hanging all but useless at his side. The wound in his leg broke wide open again and he had a struggle holding on to his horse. But he became concerned about the women being left alone beside the road with only a dead body to protect them. When he found them well, he slipped off his saddle and fell to the ground.