Gerraint: The Last Days of Arthur
After 479 A. D., Britannia
Gerraint watched Belle tug open the heavy drapes that covered the window. They were almost too heavy for her, but Coppertone helped, and between them both, the girls managed. The sun would be up soon. Normally elves and pixies did not get along well, but these two at least made some sort of peace between them. Gerraint felt glad for that. The older he got, the more he appreciated peace.
“Your thoughts?” Enid turned to him and snuggled for a minute into his shoulder. He looked at her and loved her as much as he did the first time he saw her. He kissed the top of her head before he answered.
“I was thinking what it would be like to grow up a young girl.”
“Not much different than a young boy.” Enid smiled up at him. “Why?”
“A stray memory,” Gerraint said. “A life I won’t live for two hundred years. And my best friends will be my older brother and my little sister, even though my little sister will be much prettier than I will be.”
“Every girl thinks that of her sister,” Enid said. “Otherwise, they would have no reason to fight.”
Gerraint raised his brows. “Fighting is something I try to avoid these days.”
“I bet you will be plenty cute,” Enid said. “I am just sorry I won’t be around to see.”
“You, my dear, will be in such heavenly bliss I doubt you will even remember. I am the one who will have to continue to toil in this hard and cruel country,” he said.
“So you say,” she answered. “But I am still sorry.” She pulled herself up for a proper kiss and Gerraint paused before he swung his legs to the side of the bed and sat up. A slight moan escaped his lips. He rubbed his shoulder where he once took a wicked wound.
“And to think, I have to get old like this over and over again,” he said, before he stood. His knees creaked a little, but he knew they would unstiffen soon enough. He threw on his doublet, tightened his belt and stepped barefoot to the door. “Get big,” he said. The Pixie, Coppertone did so with a nod. The elf maiden, Belle looked for all the world like a beautiful young woman, early to mid-twenties, though she was three hundred years old. The Pixie became only four feet tall, not inhumanly short, and looked more like a mature middle-aged woman, though she was also three hundred years old. Her green and copper skin color faded when she got big. “Help your mistress dress,” Gerraint said, and pointed to Enid who already started pulling back her long silver hair. How black it had once been!
“I’ll get her shoes.” Coppertone cried and skipped happily to the closet to retrieve them. She did not act much like a matron, but Gerraint supposed he could not really do anything about that.
Gerraint headed toward breakfast where he got waylaid by his daughter of age, Guimier. She was born the day after Gerraint turned forty-three, a month after the battle at Badon finally brought peace to the Saxon Shores. Gerraint wondered briefly if Margueritte bothered her father when she fell in love with Roland. He thought, Well, at least Guimier was not locked in a tower with her memory wiped, and no one tried to feed her to a dragon, or burn her at the stake for being a witch.
“Father,” she said. “Caradoc is still not found and Cador is searching everywhere for him.”
“No.” Gerraint said the word before he heard any more. Guimier, sixteen, going on seventeen, looked beautiful, like her mother. Gerraint, nearly sixty, found he had even less patience than when he was young and brash. Besides, they already had this conversation several times.
“But I don’t understand,” she whined. “It would be so easy for you to ask your little ones to look.”
“No, that is not their job,” Gerraint said.
“But if you ask them.”
“No,” he repeated. He really wanted breakfast, not an argument.
“It’s not fair.” Guimier stomped her feet and pouted.
“Look.” Gerraint spoke more sweetly to his daughter whom he hardly had the will to resist. “Caradoc’s father knows full well where his son is, and Caradoc will be found if and when he wants to be found. He is his own man and will be twice as unhappy as you if I interfere with his own decisions about his own life.”
“Guimier.” Gerraint put his arm around his daughter and gently guided her toward the breakfast table. “If he loves you, he will be found by you when he is ready, and not before. Now, let this be the end of it.”
Guimier found a tear but said no more. She quietly accepted the plate her father fixed for her and ate in silence. Gerraint felt glad this so-called great love of hers had not had an ill effect on her appetite.
After breakfast, Gerraint dressed and found his horse already properly saddled and his bags properly packed. Gerraint checked everything anyway. Arthur’s summons had said nothing of urgency, and Gerraint was not of the age to hurry in any case.
“Must you go?” sweet Enid asked, already knowing the answer.
“The Pendragon has called,” Gerraint said. “Cornwall is secure. Peter has it all in hand, and he has James and John and a good mother to keep him straight. But this kingdom has known peace these last seventeen years because of Arthur. He calls now. I must go. I will take my nephew, Bedivere”
“But what of Arthur’s nephew?” She avoided calling the man Arthur’s bastard son. “Men are clamoring for Medrawt to take over.”
“The north, mostly. Some Welsh.” Gerraint said. “But I have a suspicion that old Arthur may have one more great deed in him before that day. Who knows how it will turn?”
“Memory?” Enid asked, wondering if he might have had a glimpse of the future.
“No, my dear,” Gerraint said. “You know tomorrow and the next hundred years are always a blur. I do not know what will happen tomorrow.”
“Because tomorrow has not been written.” Enid interrupted him with the words he had spoken so many times before. He kissed her forehead before he reached out with his heart to Avalon, the island of the Kairos. He called to his armor. He became clothed instantly in his chain and leather, his long boots, fingerless gloves, and the cloak of Athena which covered over all. He left his helmet on Avalon, but brought his sword to him, the sword he called Wyrd, the Sword of Fate. It fit across his back, and Defender, his long knife, stayed across the small of his back where it could come quickly to hand.
“Surely you won’t need these.” Enid touched the weapons.
“Not likely,” Gerraint responded, but he could hardly ride without them. He would have felt naked. “God keep you,” he said, and turned to her and kissed her properly. She began to cry and spoke softly.
“I feel as if I will never see you again.”
“You will,” he assured her. “No matter what happens, as long as there is breath in me.”
“Daddy.” Guimier cried with her mother and hugged him, all quarrels forgotten.
Gerraint climbed quickly on his steed. Many of the men wanted to go with him, but he would have none of it and only allowed young Bedivere to tag along. Young! Gerraint thought to himself with a chuckle. Bedivere was married and in his thirties. All the young ones were at or over thirty, including his own sons. Soon enough, they would become the old men, and Arthur and Gerraint and Percival would be gone.
Kai had already gone. But Gwalchemi had Caerlisle well in hand. Sadly, he became the kind of man who would seek peace through compromise rather than through strength. Looking at the horizon, maybe that was wise. Gawain had Edinburgh and rumor had it that he married his daughter to a Scottish Prince. What could be more compromise than that?
Bedwyr remained ancient and bed ridden. He had moved his family some years ago to Swindon and left Oxford in capable hands, but it probably would not last after Arthur. Already, there were Saxon families moving into the empty and deserted lands in the Midlands. They did not come as an invading army, though it became an invasion in a sense. But the men, mostly farmers, came with women and children, and how does one fight that? As long as they settled down and became good neighbors, what was there to complain about? Gerraint knew it would not be long before the Saxons finally overran the country. Once Arthur had gone, only the old men could stop them.
Gerraint rode out of the main gate with his head up.
Perhaps the northerners were right, Gerraint thought. Medrawt seemed a relatively young thirty-five or so. He might make a difference if invested now. But then he shook his head. The Angles and Saxons would find only old men in the north standing between them and York. Cornwall would stand, but for how long? Medrawt might be able to hold on to Wales, but that seemed about it. Things were even worse, now, than in the days when Ambrosius and Uther had to wrench the leadership from Vortigen’s hands.
There were great men in those days, like Budic of Amorica and his son Hoel, Evrawk and Nudd, Laodegan, Gwynyvar’s father, and Ynywl, Enid’s father. And then Arthur had his peers. A whole host of names and faces came to Gerraint’s mind, though most were now gone. Then Gerraint’s sons followed in the generation that included Lancelot. But who follows Lancelot? Galahad was already gone. Caradoc was missing. Gerraint could only name a few, most of whom he only heard of from Guimier and her friends. There had been seventeen years of peace, and the young men were not turned to war as they had once been, and those who were had gone with Lancelot to fight in Amorica against the Sons of Claudus and the Franks. Then again, perhaps Gerraint simply got old and out of touch with the younger generation.