They slept in the wilderness, and in the morning, headed straight for the North road. “The main way down the center is just as quick and probably easier traveling,” Gerraint explained. “But this way will take us by the old Cairns, the burial places of the kings.”
“You think the Welshmen came this way?” Bedivere asked.
“No.” Gerraint spoke plainly. “I think they must already be at the Lake, or near enough. But we are less likely to be pursued in this direction. I doubt any trouble would guess we even know about this road.”
“Trouble?” Bedivere asked. “I thought last night you said that was all cleared up.”
“Odyar,” Uwaine said. Gerraint liked his old squire. He had a gift in the judgment of character.
They stayed at a coastal inn that next night, and again, on the night after that. The following evening, they had hopes of reaching the lake, but they were surprised around midday by the last thing Gerraint expected. Instead of swords from behind, they ran smack into swords ahead. Even as they turned to the Southeast and toward the actual lake, they were surrounded by about thirty swords of the Romans coming up from the south. Gerraint knew the lake area was like a kind of no man’s land that separated the Romanish lands from Amorica. He felt distressed to see the revived Romans making incursions across the border and again, he did not doubt Howel’s concerns about a possible war in the near future.
Gerraint would not let Uwaine draw his sword against such odds. They surrendered quietly.
Ondyaw was the Captain of the Romans, despite his obvious Gallic name. Gerraint looked at him closely and immediately saw the family resemblance. “Odyar’s brother?” He asked. Ondyaw confirmed as much with a slap across Gerraint’s face. Bedivere struggled against the ropes, but Uwaine knew better and kept still. Bedivere only hurt his own wrists.
“And where are you headed?” he asked. “My brother’s message was rather vague on the details and said only that I should stop you.”
“To the Lake of the Vivane,” Gerraint said. He saw no reason to hide it.
“That accursed place. I should take you there and dump you. I doubt you would last the night.”
“Fluff and mirrors,” Gerraint said. “Rhiannon just likes her privacy is all.”
Ondyaw slapped him again. “That great Lady’s name should never touch your lips.” Gerraint felt it in his jaw, and for a moment, he was sorry his hands were tied so he could not put his hand up to help wiggle his jaw back into place.
“Sorry,” he said. “But I thought you were Roman. Shouldn’t you be defending Diana and Venus instead?
Ondyaw struck him one more time just for that, or perhaps just for fun, because he could. Gerraint decided silence was called for. He had to pause in any case until the dizziness passed.
“Tell my brother all is well.” Ondyaw spoke to the man who was waiting. “The men are still watching the lake and I will send more when I know more.” The man left and Ondyaw turned as if he had something else to say, but then decided against it. He left and the three were alone in the tent.
“Are you all right?” Bedivere asked while Uwaine spoke at the same time.
“Now what?” Uwaine asked.
“Now we leave.” Gerraint showed anger. They had freely surrendered and honorably submitted to being captive. They did not need to be tied. They certainly did not deserve to be beaten, not by any standard of civilized behavior. “More like barbarians than Romans,” Gerraint said and spat out a tooth. “Damn. Now I’m really mad.” He had to calm down and think for a minute.
Margueritte came immediately to mind and when he traded places with her once more, her feminine, eleven-year-old hands and feet slipped right out of the ropes. She had on her red dress, of course, and would from then on until she changed it.
“Let me see your wrists,” she said to Bedivere. They were chaffed raw from his attempts to tug himself free. “Now you were so smart with the horses,” Margueritte scolded him. “How could you be so stupid now? How are you going to hold your sword with your wrists hurting so?” She shook her finger at him and frowned. Bedivere melted.
“But she’s so cute,” he said to Uwaine.
“Yes, and dangerous I’ll warrant.” Uwaine responded.
“Not.” Margueritte insisted, but she was getting nowhere with her young hands and fingers against the knots. She felt obliged to trade once again with Ali. He still wore the Armor, and though his nimble thief’s fingers would soon have them free, he pulled his long knife, not wanting to take forever.
Once Bedivere and Uwaine were up, and Ali had to say hush three or four times, they got their weapons back as they had simply been dumped in a corner of the tent. Ali then cut a small slit in the back of the tent which grew bigger as he looked and saw no one back there. “Allow me to steal our horses,” he said. “Must keep in practice, you know. Be right back.”
Ali slipped from the tent and, quiet as a snake in the grass, he wound his way around the camp to where their horses were tied but unguarded. He considered the problem, and then went back for his companions, believing the men might move more quietly than the beasts. Perhaps they did, but they were still too loud. The Romans would have got them but for the noise from above and the shadow that crossed over their heads. As soon as the beast landed, the tent they had just vacated went up in flames and a roar and fire shot up into the sky.
Uwaine stared. Bedivere screamed, though not nearly as loud as some of the Romans. The camp turned into chaos while the dragon nosed through the burning tent. On finding nothing edible, the dragon set its’ sights on the scattering men.
“You!” Ondyaw saw them and pointed. “Cursed.” He shouted and he and three other Romans attacked. Gerraint came back, of course, Ali having returned to his own place in time at the first sign of trouble; and none too soon as far as Ali was concerned. Gerraint drew his sword and the long knife he had sheathed and he and his friends went at the Romans, even as the dragon contentedly swallowed a piece of charcoal which only vaguely retained the shape of a man.