M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 2 of 4

The pace felt leisurely and Bedivere stayed quiet most of the time, fighting his allergies.  That seemed one reason Gerraint allowed him to tag along.  His first squire, Uwaine, finally taught the young Bedivere to keep his mouth closed unless there was something worth saying.  Mostly Bedivere stayed good, so in all, it became a pleasant journey, apart from the occasional sneezing.  The days were warm, but not too hot.  The spring rains were mostly over.  The evenings were still cool through the hundred and fifties of the Julian calendar which made it roughly the end of May or early June.

They traveled across the south road along the coast for most of the way, only turning inland at the last as they came to the edge of the Shores of Wessex.  The nights also felt pleasant, devoid of rain, and the air, full of the fragrance of blooms.  Gerraint was glad not to have any allergies.

“Apples.”  Bedivere named the culprit.  “I would die in Little Britain.”

“Amorica.”  Gerraint insisted on the older name.  Bedivere nodded and sneezed.

After a time, they came into woods and immediately heard the sound of clashing weapons and men, shouting.  Bedivere hesitated and attended to his Lord.  “Aw, hell.”  Gerraint swore and nudged his horse forward.

A young man of about fourteen or fifteen, in armor too big for him, stood with his back to a tree.  A dozen men, Saxons, had him hemmed in, but one man looked cut and another appeared dead beside the body of a woman.  They were wary of the boy, though he hardly knew how to hold his weapon.

Gerraint did not hesitate.  He drove his charger through the Saxons, knocked several aside and several to the ground.  Bedivere came up behind with his lance and drove through one so deeply it wrenched the spear from his hand when the man fell.  Gerraint turned around by then and charged again, but a Saxon stabbed at his horse and Gerraint lost his grip.  Bedivere got pulled from his horse when he sneezed.

Gerraint got up, but he had no time to pull his sword as two of the Saxons grabbed him and held him.  Bedivere got a sword in his shoulder for his trouble and collapsed.  In the confusion, though, the boy tried to run.  He got caught and held for the chief of the Saxons, an ugly red headed man.

“You have caused us enough trouble,” the chief said.  He tore the helmet off the boy’s head and gave the boy a slap across his face.  “You and your mother.”  He stepped back and pointed.  The two men holding the boy shoved him to his knees and a third exposed the boy’s neck while everyone stood in silence and watched.

“No!”  Gerraint yelled and suddenly paused the action as he struggled to get free.  Then the Nameless one welled up inside him.  Gerraint did not resist the god he had once been, and in an instant, Gerraint no longer stood in the arms of the Saxons.   Nameless stood in Gerraint’s place, and he looked ticked.  He hated the cowardice of beheading.

He waved, and the Saxons found themselves huddled in a group twenty yards away from Bedivere and the boy.  The god of old took one step toward them and the earth shook beneath their feet.  “Tell Ethelgard, your Lord, that I have chosen the boy.  He is under my hand, and Ethelgard will be happy one day when the grown boy saves him from the fire.  Now, Go!  And do not look back.”  Nameless let out a small touch of his awesome nature and the Saxons trembled.  They did not dare stand but were afraid to fall to their knees and not obey the god.  The chief only got out one word.

“But the boy is a Christian.” 

Nameless smiled.  “And so should you be,” he responded.  “Go!”  He gave them a head start.  He sent them and their horses, save two horses, a mile from that location.  He sighed as he made three holes in the earth, three plain crosses, and then he left the Saxon language of the boy behind as he traded places in time with Greta, the Dacian Woman of the Ways.  Her healing hands were needed, and Nameless felt sorry he was not allowed to heal by divine fiat.  Greta’s armor adjusted automatically to her new height and shape.  She knelt beside Bedivere who knew the armor well even if he did not recognize her, exactly.

“That was stupid of me,” he said.  “I should learn to time my sneezes better.”

“Ha!”  Greta humored him while she loosened his hauberic.  The wound appeared not too deep, and well away from the heart, but she imagined some blockage needed to be cleaned out.  Bedivere would live, but he would need a month or so to heal properly.  “Boy.”  The Saxon, the Nameless’ gift, came to her tongue.  “Get me a cloth of some kind.  Clean as possible, and water.”  The boy stared at her.  “Hurry, hurry, hurry.”  Greta said and shooed the boy toward the horses.  He went but paused a long time near the bodies of the dead Saxons and the woman.  In that time, Greta found the sliver of metal she looked for.  It made the wound bleed all the more, however.  “Hurry,” she repeated, and the boy brought what she needed.

“Hold it here.”  She showed the boy and gathered the moss she needed which would act as an antiseptic cover for the wound.  When Bedivere got bandaged, Greta asked about the woman.

“My mother.”  The boy confirmed, and she held the boy and let him cry on her breast for the longest time.

“Water.”  Bedivere interrupted at last.  He struggled to his feet, but Greta had the skin handy and got up to give it to him.  The boy went to his mother’s side, his eyes were very red, but his tears were dry for the moment.  The three graves sat nearby.  Greta took another look at Bedivere’s shoulder, removed the bloody cloth, rinsed it and wrung it out, and tied it tight with the cleanest part she could find against the wound.

“What is your name?” she asked the boy as she came up beside him and hugged him again.  She gave him every ounce of maternal love and care in her.

“George,” the boy said.  He stayed on his knees.  He looked up.  “But I thought you were different.” 

Greta nodded.  “I am.  I’m just visiting here.  These are Gerraint’s days.”  She did not explain any further than that.  “I will not be far away,” she said, and stepped back before she left and brought Gerraint back into his own place.  Gerraint moaned a little and rubbed his arms.  Those Saxons had not been gentle on his old bones.

“Sixty equals eighty,” he told Bedivere.  “Three years in this world is like four in the Storyteller’s day.”

George looked up.  He understood the Cornish dialect and also the common Gallic of Arthur’s court.  Gerraint felt glad he thought of that, too, or rather, Nameless thought of that.

“I understand,” George said with sheer amazement.

“I don’t,” Bedivere confessed.  “But Lord Gerraint talks like that sometimes.  You get used to it.”

“No, I mean the words, the very words I am speaking.”  George touched his lips as if searching for the magic.

“A gift,” Gerraint said and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Praise the angel of Saint Michael,” George said.  Gerraint raised his eyebrows.  The Nameless god was neither angel nor saint, but he said nothing.

“Better take care of business and move on,” Bedivere suggested, as he walked to the first body.  Gerraint nodded, but he had the boy help and made Bedivere stand aside.  

“Yes.”  George understood perfectly well.  “Red Ulf is no believer in the Lord.  I doubt he will be frightened by the angel.  He may come back.”

Gerraint shook his head as they lowered the Saxons in their graves.  The dirt automatically came back, pressed down tight, and the crosses set themselves in place, dug deep and immovable in the ground.  “I doubt he will be back today,” Gerraint said.  “But all the same we should move on.”

They lowered George’s mother last of all.  “But why did the angel make three crosses?” he asked.

“Mustn’t assume,” Gerraint said.  “No telling how deep the word has gone across the Saxon Shore.”

“Oh, very much,” George confirmed.  “And into Anglia and even Kent, but the chiefs are still mostly pagan and want to keep to the old ways.”

“So, why were they after you?” Bedivere asked the obvious question.

George looked away.  A long silence stretched out before he answered.  “My father was a chief who spoke for the Lord.  Ethelgard killed him, at least Mother thought so.  He was afraid, I think, that we might expose his murder.  The people would kill him.  My father was well loved.”  George got down by his mother’s grave to pray, but Bedivere had another question.

“But what brought you into Britain?  Were you running away?”  Gerraint took Bedivere aside to give the boy some space.  He checked Bedivere’s shoulder to be sure it had not started bleeding again and then they rounded up the horses.  Gerraint’s horse had escaped the sword thrust but became hobbled, having torn a hoof in flight.  Bedivere’s horse seemed fine, and with the two Saxon horses, they would do well.

George got up after a while, but he had not forgotten the question.  “I was on my way to the court of King Arthur to see if I could train to be a Knight of his Round Table.  It was not safe to stay among the pagans.”

Gerraint nodded.

“What will Arthur say of a Saxon?”  Bedivere whispered.

“Not unprecedented.”  Gerraint responded.  “Consider Uwaine’s wife and the love Gwynyvar and Enid have lavished on her.”  He turned to George and smiled for the boy.  “You may as well ride with us.  That is where we are headed.”

The boy looked hopeful.  “But what happened to the Lady?” he asked.  He looked around and seemed to miss her for the first time.

“Greta?”  Gerraint knew to whom he referred.  “She’s gone home,” he said, as he helped Bedivere mount.

“Does she live around here?” the boy asked.

“No.”  Gerraint shook his head.  He stepped over to help the boy up.  “Dacia, just north of the Danube.  But the important question is when, and the answer is roughly four hundred years ago.”

George swallowed.

“Not a ghost,” Bedivere said, quickly.  “She was really here in flesh and blood.”

“But?”  George got confused.  He looked at Gerraint, at Bedivere, and back to Gerraint before he finally settled on Bedivere.  “I see what you mean about the way he talks, but I can’t imagine getting used to it.”

Bedivere merely shrugged, and it hurt, so he started out at a leisurely pace and hoped he did not run into too many painful dips and bumps in the road.  At least his sneezing temporarily stopped.

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