Gerraint did not get much sleep that day. He took Lancelot, Lionel and five hundred horsemen of the RDF up the mountain road first thing that afternoon. They planned to meet Arthur on the other side of the mountain where the roads rejoined, and Gerraint hoped to find Percival and at least the majority of the men under his command still alive and ready to fight. Percival had three thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall, Devon, Southampton, Dorset and Somerset. It added up to a whole army in the old days. Arthur was bringing four thousand more from the British Midlands and Wales. When they got word that the Saxons were moving, they could not wait for whatever men Kai and Loth might be bringing from the north.
Arthur stuck to the main Roman road that skirted the rougher Highlands. They figured if the Saxons got past Percival, that seemed the mostly likely route they would take. Gerraint and his five hundred were designed to stop the Saxons from using the mountain road in a flanking maneuver. They were to meet in five days where the two roads rejoined. Arthur wanted to take a week and Gerraint argued for three days, so they compromised.
Gerraint got a fresh horse, a sturdy mount trained to the lance, and he started right out, flanked by Lancelot and Lionel. Lancelot seemed a lot like Uwaine. He did not say much. Lionel seemed more like Bedivere. He asked questions, which Gerraint honestly did not mind.
When they arrived at the village on the up-side, as Gerraint called it, they found the people in mad preparations. There were people streaming in from all the outlying farms and the streets were jammed with carts and mules. Gerraint chose to skirt the town and camp the five hundred in the fields on the far side. He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but he had to wait for the expected delegation of village elders.
“We have it on firm authority that the Saxons are coming here,” one elder reported.
“How many?” Lionel asked.
“We don’t know. A lot. Plenty. A whole army.” Every elder had a different thought in mind, but no one had any numbers.
They argued with Lionel for a time. Sergeant Brian, who corralled two dozen men and took it upon himself to act as aid-de-camp for the three Lords, scoffed now and then, but said nothing. Lancelot said nothing, but watched Gerraint closely. The villagers wanted the five hundred to fortify the town and begin construction of a real fort to protect the village. Lionel said they were not sent to garrison one village with five hundred valuable men, especially since they could give them no definite information as to how many Saxons, where they were or how far away, or anything. Lionel concluded they were acting on ghosts of rumors, and the village elders felt insulted. Then Gerraint spoke up.
“There were a half-dozen Saxons seen four days ago near the mountain village, but the Little King caught them and killed them all. The woman in the woods and her two sons confirmed this,” he said. The elders grew quiet because Gerraint obviously knew the neighborhood and what he was talking about. “We are traveling this road to be sure the Saxons have not come this way. Do you know the three graves of the thieves by the side of the road, up from here?”
Yes, they all knew the graves. “We found them one morning. It was all very mysterious. They were well known thieves and cutthroats who had their way in this village, but one morning they were all three slaughtered, and in a very gruesome way. Some say it was ogres or goblins or trolls, or something worse, but most people don’t know what to think.”
“It was worse,” Gerraint said. “That was my handiwork.” The elders gasped, though a few did not know whether or not to believe him. “I say, don’t worry. If we meet some Saxons up the road, Maybe I will send them back to you so you can make a real cemetery. Meanwhile, if you have any brave young men, Arthur can use all the help he can get when we arrive at the real battle. I will tell you what I told the village on the other side of the mountain. If Arthur wins, no Saxons will come here. But if Arthur loses, no fortifications or garrison will be able to prevent the Saxon army from doing as they please. So how about it? Does your village have any young men who are brave enough?”
The elders were not sure. They would mention it in the village meeting, but Gerraint should not count on any help. Gerraint dismissed them, and then Lancelot spoke his peace.
“They are afraid. They will keep all the young men they can close to home, and we won’t get any help.”
“Not a good recruitment speech?”
Even Sergeant Brian shook his head, no.
“But I was not recruiting. One coward affects all those around him. We don’t need that, so I told them straight that only the brave need apply. Then I turned them off on purpose, because it will do no good having a brave young man whose mind is filled with worry about what is happening back home. That is a way to get bravely killed. If any men in the village understand enough to realize it is better to fight the Saxons in someone else’s front yard rather than wait until they come to your front yard, that might be a man we could use.”
The others would have to think about it.
In the morning, a dozen ill armed men showed up, and Gerraint took the time to pair them with a veteran.
Just before lunch, they reached the place on the road where he could ride to the house in the woods. He took Brian and six men with him. He made Lancelot and Lionel stay with the troop and made them break for lunch.
When he arrived at the house, he found more of a reception than he bargained for. Flora knew he was coming, of course, but she somehow got word to her elf grandfather. Dayrunner stood there with a hand-full of elf warriors, all properly disguised to look like ordinary men. Bowen and Damon were also saddled up and ready to ride. Gerraint swore.
“I was going to make sure you stayed here to protect your mother. You won’t make good husbands if you get killed.”
Bowen looked at his brother Damon and spoke for the boys. “We won’t make good husbands if we won’t fight for our wives. We have to earn our way. Arthur would expect no less.”
“Don’t ask me.” Dayrunner caught Gerraint’s look. “I will not bind my grandsons nor keep them here. They must earn their way, as they said.”
Gerraint knew they were right. In the end, he could not protect them. They needed to fight their own battles, just like him and Arthur, and just like anyone else.
“These are fine looking lads,” Brian said. “Fine looking armor and weapons too for back-woods boys.”
“Only the best for my grandsons,” Dayrunner said.
“But you, sir. Where did you find so many willing men in the wilderness?”
Gerraint interrupted. “Hunters. Don’t ask. Get the boys mounted and ready to ride. I need to talk to the hunters for a minute.” He waited while Brian and the boys mounted, then he spoke softly. “Dayrunner, what news?”
“As we speak, the Little King is besieged in his cliff caves by three hundred Saxon horse. The village beyond is playing host to seven hundred more Saxons with horse. The word is they failed to engage young Percival’s trap and instead headed straight for the mountain road, an unexpected move. There are a second thousand Saxon horse circling around Bath. When you reach the meeting of the roads, you will face eight thousand Saxons afoot and two thousand horse there in reserve.”
Gerraint nodded. “Very thorough. Pinewood here?” He was, of course, having anticipated Gerraint’s arrival. He came dressed, as expected, in his hunter green with the faded lion on his tunic. He also spoke right up.
“My men and Deerrunner’s troop have harassed the Saxon cavalry from the start. We have picked off many on the road around Bath. Bogus and his, with Dumfries in the night, have moved to block the road from Bath with only one complaint, that there will not be any Saxons left by the time they reach that point.” Pinewood and Dayrunner both grinned.
“Dayrunner,” Gerraint fretted. “I would appreciate if you deployed your men on the far side of the mountain village to be sure none of the Saxons escape to warn the seven hundred down the way. With only five hundred men to their seven hundred, we are outnumbered. Surprise will even things a bit, if we are not given away.”
“Lord.” Dayrunner and Pinewood each gave a brief bow, which seemed perfectly reasonable from Sergeant Brian’s perspective.