M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 3 of 3

The morning proved bright and warm and they even had a little breeze that blew straight on toward the mainland.  Gerraint had little hope that their bit of salvaged canvass would do much good.  He imagined they would have to paddle the canoe most of the way, which was one more reason for the design.  It felt good to see the craft did not sink on entry into the water, but their boots got wet almost immediately.

“No sign of Arawn.”  Urien said and took one last long look up and down the shore and back up the hillside.

“Can’t be helped,” Gwillim said.  “Sad to say.  Raise the sail, Trevor.”

“Sir.”  Trevor responded, and Gerraint felt pleased to see the sail did better than he imagined, that is, if they were not getting secret help.

The opposite shore proved full of big rocks.  They had to lower the sail and paddle for a mile along the coast before the found a pebble beach where they could safely pull up.  When they did so, their craft collapsed.

“Three stooges,” Gerraint announced.

“Who?”  Gwillim asked.

“Three Stoojus,” Uwaine said.  “It was perfectly clear to me.”

“Urien!”  The call came from some distance inland.  “Urien!  Please.  Help!”  It did not take long to find the source.  Arawn was tied with his wrists behind his back and a long end of the rope wrapped around a tree and around him, effectively tying him to the tree.

“Urien, my friend,” Arawn said when he saw the man.  They let him loose of the tree but kept his hands tied securely behind his back and held the long end of the rope that bound him.

“Manannan doesn’t want him,” Uwaine announced.

“We’ll have to take him along,” Gwillim said.

Arawn smiled at everyone and did not worry his hands at the moment, though his wrists were severely chaffed and burned.  He came to look at Gerraint and his eyes went wide.  He took a big step away and a touch of the insanity crossed his face, but he said nothing.  Gerraint also said nothing.  He preferred to turn and set off toward the inland in a roughly southerly direction.  If they had been wrecked in the Hebrides as all suspected, it might take them two months to walk home.  At least they could try to cross the highlands before they got snowed in.

Two days later, they untied Arawn.  It was a risk, but he seemed to be behaving and more his old self, as Urien said.  As a precaution, they gave him no weapon and he took no turn watching in the night, but it was becoming impossible to continue with him tied and continually watched.  That very night he ran off into the woods.  Urien shrugged.

“There is no more we can do for him,” Urien announced.

“It does feel a little like leaving a wounded man behind on the battlefield,” Gerraint said.

“It does,” Gwillim confirmed.  “But we cannot help him.  He will come to his senses someday, or not.  We have no power to heal a man’s mind.”

“The night watch will have to keep an eye out for him as well as Picts and Scotts,” Uwaine said.  They all understood.

There were miles of sparsely inhabited wilderness to pass through.  They hunted when they could and ate any number of plants and roots to keep up their strength.  Fortunately, the hunting was easy enough at first.  It was pristine wilderness where the animals were shy of men but not deathly afraid.  A well thrown stone could do wonders.

After a week, they came to a great inlet of the sea.  They had to turn west-southwest down the shore.  Though it slowed them, Gerraint insisted they travel just inside the tree lined edge, and move even further inland where there were open fields to cross.  He did not want to run into a Pictish or Scottish village by surprise, and they went around several small villages of fishermen.  He also did not want to be seen by the Pictish coastal watch whose ships were fast and well-armed with men.

Another week and they were nearly frozen and famished.  There was a town just over the ridge so they dared not light a fire without shelter.  They found little roughage with the fall well along, and less in the way of berries than they had been finding, at least less berries that were not poison.  They had a pheasant, however, already plucked by Trevor, but without a fire, they were helpless.

“My Lord.”  Gwillim had gone back to calling Gerraint by that title nearly from the beginning of their time on the mainland.

“Can’t be helped,” Gerraint said.  “Not unless we can find a good hollow on the ridge to hide the fire light.  A cave would be better.”

“Besides, you could still lose a few pounds,” Uwaine teased Gwillim.

“More than a few,” Urien insisted.

“But look at Trevor.”  Gwillim was not for giving up.  “He is nothing but skin and bones.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Gerraint said.  “He looked skin and bones the first time I met him.”

“Over here!”  Trevor shouted too loud for Gerraint’s nerves.  They went quickly so he would not shout again.  They saw a small cliff face in the ridge, with a rock overhang.  Hopefully, that would keep the firelight from reflecting off the clouds.  A fire could be as bad as a searchlight in the wild.

They started the fire quickly.  They were all starving.  Trevor insisted on rubbing the bird in some greens and such that he had collected along the way, but the others did not care about that.  When it was minimally done, they would eat too fast to taste it anyway.  It was not a very big bird, and each of the five men had only a couple of bites before it was gone.

After that, it was get as warm as they could to try and sleep before it was their turn to watch.  Trevor had the first watch that night, but unfortunately, he did not know exactly what that meant.  He was a cook, in truth, and hardly a sailor, much less a soldier. After all too little sleep, Gerraint awoke to see a blue painted face, and the man held a knife to Trevor’s unmoving throat.

************************

MONDAY

Gerraint and company are taken captive by blue painted Picts, and to what end?  Come back Monday, and in the meanwhile,

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