M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 1 of 3

Gerraint looked back until his family fell out of sight.  He told Guimier to watch after her mother and be a good girl.  It felt like a harder parting than before.  He was forty-seven, after all.  His wars were behind him.  He woke in the dawn with aches and pains and should not have to be forced into adventures at his age.  He wanted Enid.  That was all he ever wanted since the first time he saw her in the court of Ynwyl, her father.  He fought for her then.  He would fight for her a thousand times, and never look back.

“Your thoughts?”  Uwaine asked.  Uwaine had reached that delicate point where his stomach and the sea had a temporary truce, and Gerraint knew talking helped distract his mind.  Uwaine never talked much, except at sea.  That was one thing Gerraint liked about the man.

“Guimier.”  Gerraint said.  “I think she will be a real beauty, that is, if she continues to take after her mother.”

“Yes,” Uwaine said.  “I can see you will have your hands full with her.”

“And Enid,” Gerraint added.  Uwaine said nothing, but he knew.  He nodded.

“Poor Bedivere got upset at being left behind this time.”  Uwaine pointed out the obvious.

“Yes, but he needs to heal,” Gerraint said.  “And I have a bad feeling about things right now.  I wanted a good sword in the house, a watch dog if you will.  I don’t know.”

Uwaine nodded again.  He did not feel good, either, but he could not put it into words.  He also did not feel good in his stomach and needed to sit down.  Gerraint sat with him.

“I was wondering one thing,” Uwaine said.  “Lionel was wondering the same thing.”  Gerraint waited.  From the way Uwaine started, he could tell this would be a good one.  “What’s it like to be a woman?” he said at last.  Gerraint frowned.

“I’m sure I would not know,” he said.  “I have never been able to figure out women myself.”  He shrugged.

“But you’ve lived as a woman,” Uwaine said.  “Lionel swears he saw you become one and set his leg.  And I have seen, myself.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Gerraint said.  “I may have some practical knowledge, some things I can describe as an outside observer, but what’s it like?”  Gerraint shrugged.  “It is like memory, sort of.  I was four years old, once.  I vaguely recall things when I play with Guimier, but I hardly remember what it was like being a four-year-old.”  He shrugged again.

“But what is it like, having lived more than once?”  Uwaine asked.

“Boring, mostly,” Gerraint said.  “Its’ plain life, not always adventure, you know.  The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the chance to live it with someone as wonderful as Enid.”  He sounded matter of fact about that, and Uwaine well understood.

“No, I meant you must know things, lots of things about which most people have no idea,” Uwaine said.

Gerraint shook his head.  “I said, it is like memory.  You know, things only come to mind where there is something, circumstances or whatever that triggers the memory.  It is not something I am normally even aware of.  Not something I spend time thinking about.”

“But, then you go away,” Uwaine continued his own thoughts.  “Where do you go?  And someone, some other life of yours shows up.  How do you do that?  And how do you decide who will take your place?”

Gerraint looked long at Uwaine.  The man was not normally this verbal.  He must be really sea sick.  “I don’t know how it works, exactly,” Gerraint admitted.  “I don’t know exactly where I go, or how some past or future life is able to take my place.  I suppose time and space are not entirely inflexible, maybe like a good sword.  I guess being the same person exchanging the same basic flesh and blood between one life and the next is not enough to throw time and space out of whack.”

“No, I mean—” Uwaine started, but Gerraint cut him off.

“As for the other life that comes in to temporarily fill my space, I suppose that too is like memory.  It depends on who is accessible, who comes bubbling up to the surface, so to speak.  It is generally triggered by the circumstances and it is someone who has some skill, talent, or power that can speak to the situation.  I suppose at this age I have some say in the matter.  I know a little about some of the lives I have lived.  But at first, when I was young, as a teenager, I was not always exactly aware of what was happening.  A couple of times, anyway.  Am I making sense?”

Uwaine nodded, but his hand went over his mouth.  That ended that conversation.

Gerraint sat and listened to the sound of the waves lap up against the hull.  The sky looked clear, and the day warm.  He wondered if they would have time to catch up with the Raven.  Urien had about two week’s head start, if Gerraint’s calculations were right.  If Urien and Arawn found a boat before the end of the week, they might already be at the Isle of Man.  It might already be too late.

He tried not to think that way.  They were ready to pull into the docks at Caerleon.  After a brief acknowledgement to Arthur and an updating on Urien’s progress, if any was available, they would ride hard across the roads that wound through the hills of Wales.  At least Uwaine should hold down his lunch.  They would deal with the next sea voyage when they got there, or as Bedwyr used to say, “We’ll build that bridge when we come to it.”

“Arthur got quiet,” Uwaine said, when they started to ride the next day.

“He’s concerned,” Gerraint explained.  “I’m not sure he quite realized how strongly the old ways and the old thinking are still holding on to people.  Right now, Christianity is like a warm coat, but there are layers underneath, and those are the ones closer to the heart.”

Uwaine nodded that he understood, but he was back on land and thus back to being a man of few words.

It seemed a long, hard ride to the northwest coast, but actually, as long as the Roman roads were kept up, it was quicker than sailing around.  When they arrived at the Port known as Branwen’s Cove, they would have to depend on luck and a little insider information to catch a willing ship for the Isle of Man.  Sure enough, Gerraint sighed in relief on their arrival.  He saw the British merchant in the bay, and now all Gerraint had to do was see if it was the one for which he had hoped.

He got his answer at the inn.  “Gwillim!”  He shouted for the Captain’s attention.

“My Lord!”  Gwillim recognized him right away, and nodded to Uwaine.  They had fought any number of battles together.  Gwillim even rode among Meryddin’s select crew that went with Arthur to fetch Gwynyvar from her father’s court, twenty-five years earlier.  That was back when the Irish had a great king and a backbone, Gerraint thought.

“Is that your ship in the bay?”  Gerraint got straight to the point as he sat at the table.

“It is,” Gwillim admitted, reluctantly.  “Family business.”

Gerraint nodded.  Quite a few men of war had found other things to fill their days since the peace.  The mercantile business seemed as good as any.  Some hardly knew what to do with themselves, and that started to be a problem in some places.  This whole quest for the Graal had been intended to fill the gap for many but it was a distraction.  Gerraint knew it would not sustain things for long.

“Let me buy you an ale,” Gerraint suggested, and he did just that.  “Though I see you have added a stone or two in these past three years.”

“Not much to do at sea,” Gwillim said.  “I read the charts, follow the shoreline, and eat.”  He shrugged.

“Your ship fast?”  Uwaine asked, conversationally.

“Fastest ship afloat,” Gwillim said with a Captain’s pride, but then he screwed up his brows.  “Why?”

Gerraint told him.  “Your brother, Thomas was in Cornwall when we left.  He thought you might be here about the time we arrived.”

“Leave it to Thomas,” Gwillim said.  “Anything to avoid an adventure.  I’m not surprised he did not offer to take you himself.”

“But?”  Uwaine wanted an answer.

“Of course I’ll take you,” Gwillim said.  “For old time’s if nothing else.”  He downed the last of his drink and stood.  “You rest up.  I’ll get my crew to unload.  Give us more speed.  Can’t leave until the tide, anyway.”  He left and Uwaine breathed a sigh of relief.

“No point in filling myself full of food,” Uwaine said, and he went immediately to find a bed.  Gerraint stayed up for a bit.  The time was getting on.  They were headed for September.  He could smell it in the noontime air.

Uwaine sat in the back as they rode the small boat to the ship.  The water came up, but the bay stayed calm and there would be enough sunlight left to get a good start.  Gerraint stood up front humming some tune about the mate being a mighty sailor man.  Somehow, though, he thought the mate’s name ought to be Gwillim.

“Realistically.”  Gwillim asked as they climbed aboard.  “What do you think your chances are of catching them?”

“None.”  Gerraint answered honestly.  “With two-weeks head start, I could have the whole island surveyed by this time.”

“So why the rush?”  Gwillim asked.

“Because they haven’t found the door to Avalon yet,” Gerraint answered.

Gwillim shouted the orders to get under way before turning back to his passenger.  “Annwn,” Gwillim said, giving another name for the fabled land.  “You seem very sure about that.”

“El Dorado,” Gerraint gave a name Gwillim did not know.  “I am certain.”  Gerraint did not explain.  “And I am also certain that they need to be stopped.  The old ways are gone.  The new ways have come and no good will come from dredging up the ancient Celtic treasures.  Arthur can only see civil war as a result, and to some extent, I agree with him.”

Gwillim nodded.  “I can see Arthur’s point.  The old ways do die hard.”  Then Gwillim had to get busy with running the ship, and that was the end of it until the following morning.

The anchor came up before the sun.  By daylight; they were headed into the Irish Sea and left the coast of Wales behind them.  Uwaine seemed to do very well and even commented once or twice that perhaps he was finally adjusting to the sea.  They were not far out of sight of the coast, however, before they spotted a sail in their line of passage.

“What do you make of it?”  Gwillim called to the man he sent up the mast.

“Not Scott or Pictish,” Trevor, the first mate shouted down.

“Thank God for that,” one sailor mumbled.

“Two, three sails,” Trevor yelled.

“Irish pirates?” one man asked.  The Irish might not have a strong king at present, but they remained notorious as thieves and pirates, quick to plunder at the first opportunity.

“Not Irish,” Trevor shouted to the relief of everyone.  “Six, seven sails.  Full out against the wind?”

“Prepare to come about,” Captain Gwillim shouted.  Men began to scurry.

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