Arthur wintered at York, but not happily. He missed Gwynyvar and felt especially unhappy when he considered her protector, Lancelot. He trusted her, and he trusted Lancelot, but he felt unhappy all the same.
Gerraint made the trip when there came a break in the weather. His men were tired and deserved the chance to go home. Melwas and Cordella deserved their men back, and he took most of the men from Devon as well. Tristam stayed in York with Arthur, though Arthur had plenty of RDF men who were pledged to stay with him, and all the more after Guinnon.
Gerraint arrived home at winter’s end, and he never felt so warm and comfortable as he did when he curled up in the night with Enid. He rested well, not that she often let him rest. Together, Gerraint and Enid got in the habit of wandering down to the docks in the early morning to take in the sunrise and watch the fishermen and the occasional merchant ship that pulled in on the morning tide. Sometimes, they heard the news of the wider world. One morning, the news sounded especially bad.
The ship, one that belonged to Thomas of Dorset, and the Captain reported a fleet of Saxon warships out in the channel headed for the tip of Lyoness. Gerraint hated to bother Pinewood and his fairy friends, but Enid insisted, despite her misgivings that it would mean losing Gerraint again for a time. They needed to know where the Saxons were headed, and some estimate as to when they might arrive.
Word went out to Lyoness, Cornwall and all across Devon to be prepared to gather. Messages went to the north coast, across the north channel to Caerdyf, and as far away as Clausentum, which was Southampton, to be prepared with whatever ships they could muster. A week went by before Gerraint heard definitive news.
Heingest, son of Hueil was gathering an army on the border of Wessex. Cadbury and Oxford appeared the obvious targets, but they were not accessible by sea. Caerleon became the clear target the minute Heingest moved to bypass Cadbury. Gerraint’s only question was whether Heingest knew Arthur was absent from Caerleon or not. He might have wanted to catch Arthur at a point unprepared, having just come back from a campaign and sent his troops home. Then, he might have decided to destroy Arthur’s home while Arthur stayed occupied elsewhere.
Arthur and a thousand men still in the northern army left York as soon as Gerraint sent him word of his suspicions. Gwyr, Arthur’s court judge sent couriers to all the British Lords, and especially to the Welsh Lords whose own lands were now threatened. This time, it was not a distant British problem. The Saxons headed for Wales.
Gerraint gathered a full thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon and crossed over to Caerdyf. A second thousand gathered in the Caerdyf streets and camped on the fields, coming from all over south and central Wales leaving only the forts of the Irish watch manned.
At the same time, the Saxon fleet off-loaded their troops in a secluded bay half-way between Caerdyf and Caerleon. The estimate there was about two thousand. Heingest appeared to be bringing closer to twenty-five hundred overland. No deliberate attempt got made to stop him. The troops at Cadbury tried to appear like they were cowering behind their defenses, when in fact they were waiting for Arthur to return south so they could join him. The little man of Mount Badon organized a wonderful campaign of harassment, one that the Saxons would not soon forget, but Heingest suffered no serious delay or blockage between Wessex and Caerleon.
The city itself and fort at Caerleon spent the month redoubling their defenses. All of the surrounding towns and villages were abandoned. Most of the men, the women and children made for Leogria in the east and for north and central Wales in the west. They were refugees who set up big camps by the border, but they brought their own livestock with them and as much grain as they could carry by mule and in their ox drawn wagons. A number of the men went to fight, and doubled the number of defenders on the city walls and in the fort.
The Saxons felt somewhat surprised at the empty villages after Mount Badon, but it was common for villagers to flee at the approach of an army. What seemed uncommon was the slim pickings they found—little food and not so much as a mule left to transport the food and maybe have for supper. Heingest planned well. His troops and the men from the ships arrived at about the same time to surround the city and fort, but the men in the west, who imagined their arrival would be a great secret, did not fare any better with goods and food in the empty villages they found on the route to Caerleon.
Heingest tried the city first, and found it much more strongly defended than he anticipated. The Saxon Captains who were there to storm the port, hesitated. Arthur’s half-dozen warships set out from the docks like a second wall. Arthur’s Captains were confident, perhaps overconfident, that they could beat back any Saxon warships that might try them. The hesitation of the Saxons suggested that the Germans were not prepared to test that theory.
Thomas of Dorset gathered as many ships from the south coast as he could. They were essentially fat merchant ships who stood little chance against Saxon warships at sea, but they had great hope that they could catch the majority of the Saxon ships on the shore, or even pulled up on land and with only light crews left to defend them. This they did, in that supposedly secret bay on the north shore of the channel. The result was given. The Saxons were going to have to walk home. The merchants then mostly refused to continue on to Caerleon where the real battle would take place, but Thomas was able to get enough ships to join him to at least assist Arthur’s ships in the port defense.
After the initial test of the city and the fort, and the discovery that both were strong and this would not be so easy, the Saxons went into conference. Without a quick and easy victory, some were determined to go home. Heingest had his hands full with internal struggles.
Arthur and Gerraint, with fairy go-betweens, timed things about as well as such things could be timed in that age, arriving on the same day, if not in the same hour. Arthur, having picked up a second thousand men as he came through Britain, camped in the east. Gerraint camped in the West, and in the morning, Ogryvan arrived with a thousand men from the north of Wales, and they completed the encirclement. The Saxons had the city and fort of Caerleon surrounded, but Arthur had the Saxons surrounded by a bigger circle with more men.