Percival thought out loud. “But if accepting Christ is one of the requirements for land, there will be no problem with foreign gods or foreign rituals.” Meryddin did not answer, but from his look it seemed obvious he thought dropping that requirement was the way to liberalize the conditions.
Arthur spoke and everyone turned to listen. “As I understand it, the Roman way was to use innuendo and rumor, the appearance of betrayal and double-cross to turn just such potential allies into enemies. Maybe if we apply some Roman thinking, we can get the Scots and Norwegians to fight each other and leave us alone.”
Meryddin came flat out against that idea, and to be fair, Gerraint pointed out that the Romans did that in order to come in later and conquer both decimated and worn out groups. It was not something the Romans did to foster peace.
“Claudus’ mistake,” Arthur said. “He should have gotten Amorica and the Franks to fight each other and come in later to pick up the pieces.”
“Exactly,” Percival and several of the others agreed. No one knew what Meryddin thought about it.
Meryddin proved right in one way. The Scots and Danes were the first to make a move. Arthur said he would hate himself one day, but he sent word to Kai to secretly tell the Scots he was making a deal with the Norwegians, offering land for their support and betrayal of the Scots. Then he sent word to the Danes through Captain Croydon that he was secretly negotiating with the Scots in a land for peace deal if they betrayed the Danes. Finally, he sent word to Loth to approach both the Scots and Norwegians, if possible, and tell them that Arthur was willing to negotiate, whatever might avoid a war, but he would not be willing to swap land for peace. This last got written in an official way, and sealed with Arthur’s seal under the assumption that Loth would show it around. But then, it was true. Arthur had no intention of swapping land with anyone for the sake of peace. Kai and Captain Croyden knew the truth, but Loth did not. Gerraint called it “plausible deniability.”
From late winter and all through the spring, Arthur sent soldiers in small family groups to bolster Kai up by the wall and Croydon in York. These were the bulk of the people that Arthur hoped would eventually repopulate the northern lands. By the time early summer rolled around and Arthur gathered his army to move north, he already had over a thousand men stationed there, ready and waiting. Twenty-five hundred moving out of Caerleon might have looked relatively few in numbers to any spies the Scots or Danes sent out, but it was a deceptive number.
When Arthur arrived at the River Tweed, the Scots had drawn up some two thousand men and the Norwegians roughly the same number. Both sides should have had more, but there were men on both sides who refused to come, convinced that their so-called allies were not to be trusted and would betray them. Arthur did his best to further that impression.
When he arrived, he immediately sent out two delegations. Each delegation had one person who were known sympathizers with that particular enemy. Arthur instructed the two delegations separately so that neither group heard the instructions to the other. He told the Scottish group that they were to offer the standard belligerences, as was common, and offer the Scots the chance to lay down their weapons and return home in peace. Then he admitted, secretly, that he would be settling with the Danes the details of the land for peace deal and exactly at what point in the battle they were to betray their allies. He told the Norwegian group much the same thing and knew the Scottish and Danish sympathizers would find a way to tell the Scottish and Danish leadership that they were being betrayed.
When the dawn came, Arthur marched his men forward, slowly. Gerraint always suspected someone like Pinewood or Deerrunner, but he never probed, so it remained a mystery; but someone in the Scottish lines sent an arrow at the Danes. That was all it took. Arthur halted and watched two armies destroy each other. In the evening, with fairy help, he sent troops to gather up the Danish and Scottish survivors and escort them back to their respective homes. Then Arthur went home.
“You realize, the Danes and Scots will hate and mistrust each other for centuries,” Gerraint said, one evening in camp.
“I am sure,” Arthur said. “And I am sure I will hate myself for what I did, someday.”
“You further realize the Danes and Scots will pull back and leave open ground between them, and the Saxons will move up from the swamps of Mercia and take the land between.”
“That I did not know,” Arthur said, quietly.
“I’ll take a victory like that any day,” Bedwyr burst out with it. “Even Meryddin can’t be too upset since his precious Scotsmen suffered fewer casualties than they might have.”
“I am sure,” Arthur said again, but he felt concerned about Meryddin. For the first time, he deliberately kept Meryddin in the dark, and now Meryddin would know it.
“I think we may actually have peace in the north for a time,” Percival said. He had been thinking hard about it. “Now, if either the Scots or Danes move into the land, the other side may fight against them. That may not be like fighting on our side, exactly, but it would be the next best thing.”
“At least Loth survived his Danish knife,” Gawain pointed out.
“Loth is a survivor,” Gerraint said. “He is in it for Loth.”
“Things did get pretty hot for him both with the Scots and with the Danes,” Arthur agreed. “That is the part I may hate myself for.”
“He was lucky to get away with only one Danish knife wound,” Gawain concluded.
“Loth is a talker,” Bedwyr added. “He could talk his way out of a lion’s jaw.”
“Slick as a used car salesman,” Gerraint called him
“What’s a car?” Uwaine asked softly. “And why would someone buy it used?” Gerraint only shrugged.
To Kent. With Uwaine grown and knighted, Gerraint gets a new squire, Bedivere, son of his little sister, Cordella. Gerraint feels like he is getting too old for this. Fortunately, the King of Kent is making noise and Arthur wants to be sure he stays in his place. Until Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday) Happy Reading.