“Goreu.” Cordella most often called him by his Cornish, given name. “We were just discussing Bedivere becoming your squire. Uwaine has given his highest recommendation.”
“Wait a minute,” Gerraint protested, but apparently, it had already been decided. “Uwaine is the younger man, much more suited to take on a squire.”
“Now, don’t disappoint your sister,” Melwas said.
“I thought it was all settled,” Percival said.
“It is,” Enid said, with a look up into Gerraint’s face.
“Congratulations,” Gawain grinned.
Uwaine matched the grin. “Now some other young man can have the privilege of keeping you out of trouble.”
Gerraint felt trapped, because he was.
In the morning, Gerraint turned the young man over to the Priest with strict instructions concerning reading, writing and arithmetic. “You will stay with Enid for now, and when I get back I expect you to be reading the Latin.” He stopped. He sounded like Pelenor in his own ears. “Do your best son,” he said more softly. “Hopefully it is nothing and we won’t be gone long.” Then Gerraint, Percival, Gawain, Uwaine, and Melwas rode off toward the north. They were to meet up with Tristam, Mesalwig, Gwillim and several others in the port where they could take ship to Caerleon. Arthur called in the council of the Round Table. Octa, the Angle would-be king was beginning to make some moves.
Arthur waited until everyone got seated, but that added up to about fifty men. There were thirty at the actual table, but the others, the younger ones, brought their chairs in close to make a kind of second row. He began, by simply saying, “Gwyr.”
Gwyr stood and looked at the scroll while he talked. “Octa and the Angles have overrun Londugnum.”
“What?” A number of men stood, but one man said what many thought. “I understood Octa was fighting other Angles, and I thought that was a good thing.”
“Octa recently overcame his opposition,” Arthur said. “Go on.” He pointed to Gwyr.
“As far as reported, the citizens of Londugnum are not being harmed. Octa has actually encouraged the merchants, but he has doubled the taxes, and with that money he has hired Saxon mercenaries from the swamps of Mercia and soldiers from East Anglia to bolster his army. Officially, Mercia and Anglia are taking a wait and see approach, and Essex is telling Octa to keep his hands off their land, but if Octa shows some real success, they may all go over to him.”
“What does that mean?” people asked.
Meryddin stood and people quieted. “It means we may finally be facing the Saxon invasion we have all feared for years. As long as the Saxons were divided, we could keep them in their place, one by one. But if they ever unite, we risk being overrun with Angles and Saxons. Right now, Octa has taken rule of Kent, but he has eyes on expanding his territory. We must meet him and drive him back to Kent before others are tempted to join him.” Meryddin sat. He spoke to the point. Meryddin understood that there would one day be a place for the church under Saxon rule, but there would be no place for the druids. For Meryddin, this became a matter of survival.
By the time Arthur marched his army east, word came from Bedwyr that Oxford had fallen. He got most of his men across the ford and into a safe camp on the hill called Bregus, but Octa now controlled the ford and it might be hard to get it back. The whole Londugnum corridor below Essex fell into Angle hands.
Britain claimed both sides of the Thames all the way to the sea, but on a practical level, the few miles between the south bank of the River and the north border claimed by Sussex became a no-man’s land. Arthur traveled down the north bank so as not to arouse the Saxons. Between the north bank and Essex stood a good piece of land defended by Bedwyr and his local lords. But Essex crowded the north bank below Oxford, so the situation reversed. It was the south bank of the river that got defended between Oxford and Londugnum.
Arthur stopped over three thousand men roughly ten miles from Oxford. He sent Gerraint, his three hundred and the RDF to relieve Bedwyr and run a guerilla campaign designed to make sure any scouts or small groups that crossed the ford never made it back. After a month, the Angles had a hard time getting volunteers to scout out the enemy position.
Gerraint made sure the Angles did get word when Loth, Kai and Captain Croyden arrived from the north with two thousand men. Octa imagined this was what Arthur had waited for, and he further fortified his side of the ford, above and beyond the fort and waited for the assault. In fact, Arthur spent that month building boats and rafts which he used to cross three thousand men and equipment over the river in a night. The march down the river’s south bank brought them to a place where they could rest just two miles short of Octa’s army. The next morning, the Angles were seriously surprised to find Arthur already crossed over the river and behind them.
Loth, Kai and Gerraint with his eight hundred lances attacked the ford. Arthur Attacked from behind and Angle resistance quickly crumbled. Some escaped into the fort, which stuffed about eight hundred overcrowded men in that old structure. The Saxon mercenaries sought sanctuary in Essex, at least those that were not found and killed. The British mounted over a hundred dead mercenaries to cross-braced lumber and trees, like men crucified by the Romans, and they left them there on the riverbank above the tidal line, facing the Essex border across the water.
Most of the Angles fled toward Kent, thinking they were home free. But Arthur did something then he never did before. He pursued the Angles, and all that he caught, he killed. He had left the fort untouched. Bedwyr’s four hundred with the help of a couple hundred of the RDF, kept the men in the fort and hungry. They could wait. Arthur would be back.
Then Arthur did not stop at the traditional line, which was Londugnum. In fact, he bypassed the city altogether and continued into Kent where he killed every armed Angle he found and burned the villages in his path. He met and crushed an organized resistance at Rochester, and continued to burn all the dwellings that were within British claimed territory, which reached inland, several miles from the banks of the Thames. Arthur did not stop until he reached Canterbury where Octa had cobbled together a last stand.
Arthur went out to meet the man. Octa’s mother stood there, and it looked like she was going to say something, but Arthur spoke first. It was a command. “Sit.” The woman sat and Arthur spoke his peace.