M4 Gerraint 3: The Frankish Peace, part 1 of 4

Gerraint went reluctantly to Amorica.  Arthur had gathered roughly twenty-five hundred men willing to make the trip, a far cry from the thousands that used to gather.  Six hundred were from Cornwall, and most of the rest were from Wales.  Not many came from Oxford or Leogria or the Midlands.  A few traveled from York, but none at all from the north.  Some came from the Summer Country and Southampton, but it was not like it used to be.

If Arthur was unhappy, he did not show it.  His face showed a hardness that he never had in his youth.  Gerraint chalked it up to age, but he suspected it had to do with the house tumbling down.  Britain turned out to be a house of cards.  Arthur kept it as long as he could, but one strong wind and it would all collapse.

Enid, on the other hand, became very unhappy, and she had no qualms about expressing her unhappiness.  They had children and grandchildren to care for, and Guimier, who kept busy ignoring all of the boys who were interested in her, pining away for a boy who did not seem to care about her one bit.  Gerraint had done his time.  It should be time for the younger men to take over.  Gerraint deserved to live the rest of his days in comfortable surroundings and should not have to gallivant all over the world.  It was not right, and it was not fair.

All Gerraint could say was, “I have to go because Arthur says Lancelot won’t listen to anyone else.  Sadly, I think that may be true.”

“But what if I lose you?”  Her lovely old eyes became moist, but she did not cry.  “We have come this far together, I want to finish the journey, together.”

“As do I,” Gerraint said, but he left anyway.

The crossing in late September went surprisingly well.  Later in the fall and winter could be rough in the Channel.  Gerraint hoped they could wrap things up quickly so they could get back home before the winter storms settled in.

Uwaine leaned over the railing for most of the voyage.  It comforted Gerraint to see it.  It seemed like old times, even if it did not do Uwaine any good.  Bedivere spent the day making friends with the crew, and only once remarked how he hoped they did not get squid-stopped this time.  Gerraint had to take a moment to remember.

Gerraint spent the time pondering the future.  He caught a glimpse of jungle, but he had no idea where in the world that might be.  He also tried to imagine a woman, because he had been male, with Festuscato, twice in a row, and whoever controlled his rebirths had figured out, early on, that three times in a row as the same sex made things too complicated.  So Gerraint thought of Margueritte and of women in general, caught a glimpse of skin a bit darker than his own, and tried to imagine what it might be like to be a woman.  It eluded him.  It all eluded him, but he figured he would get there soon enough.

Gerraint had turned sixty.  Historically, that seemed about the longest he lived.  For millennia, if he didn’t die young for one reason or another, he died at fifty-eight to sixty, which was actually longer than most people lived on average.  It presently seemed about as long as a man tended to live in Western Europe, provided he did not die in childhood, or get killed in some conflict, or have some sort of accident while hunting, or simply while toiling away at his regular job, invariably his farm, or die from some disease.  Geraint thought they had too much toil in his day and age.  But barring some early death, for all of those who died of natural causes, as they called it, sixty seemed about it.  Seventy would be a venerable old age.  And if, by reason of strength, one should live four score years, Gerraint thought, that would have to be an act of God’s grace.  Gerraint shifted in his seat because he stiffened up and thought further that maybe 80 would be a sign of God’s displeasure.

Theirs had been the first ship from Cornwall, by design.  They docked in the port they visited years ago, the one just up the road from the Lake of Vivane, inside the old border of Amorica.  Arthur chose it because it was familiar.  He used that port to bring his army back to Britain after the defeat of Claudus.

Percival had already arrived with men from the Midlands.  The son of Urien, the Raven, arrived there as well, the one whose name Gerraint could never remember.  There were men there from Somerset, Dorset and the south coast of Britain, with sons and a couple of grandsons of Gwillim and Thomas, brought by ships from Southampton.  All of that only added up to about six hundred men, a pittance, a token of days gone by.  Gerraint thought when his men arrived from Cornwall and Devon, they would at least double their numbers.  Arthur would be a few more days to arrive.  He had the farthest to go.

“Cousin,” Percival called.  They weren’t really cousins, but it seemed an easy term.  “Lionel is here, around somewhere.”

“I suppose he has come to ask our help somewhere,” Gerraint guessed.  After ten or twelve years of skirmishes, tit-for-tat, what Gerraint called guerilla warfare, the sons of Claudus were finished, and Lancelot had just about pushed the Franks back to the original border line.  Gerraint felt glad to hear that Lancelot, or rather Bohort who had been proclaimed King when Howel died, did not have any ambitions beyond a secure border.  Keeping it secure, though, would be tricky, at least until certain ambitious Franks dropped out of the picture.

“I don’t know where he could have gotten to.”  Percival craned his neck to give a good look around, over and through all the boxes, bags and whole wagons being unloaded.

“Have you set up a watch on the perimeter of the town?”  Gerraint changed the subject.

“Surely not.  We are in friendly territory.”

“Surely so,” Gerraint said, feeling a bit like Kai in the face of Bedwyr. “We are too close to the border to be truly safe, and the way Lancelot and the Franks have been playing cat and dog these twelve years.”  He shook his head.  “If Lionel knew we were coming and to what port, you can be sure the Franks know.  Such secrets are hard to keep, and I would not be surprised if the Franks tried to stop us before we start.”

Percival needed no other encouragement.  He started yelling.  “Get those boxes open.  I want everyone armed.  Owen, get your men out to the perimeter of the town and keep your eyes sharp.

“My lord?”  Uwaine stepped up.  Gerraint pointed.  “Get two watchmen up in the old church tower.  I remember there being a bell up there that can give warning but be careful.  It looks burned and ready to fall.  Let me know if it is untenable.”  Uwaine moved like he already had a couple of men in mind.

“Uncle?”  Bedivere stood right there.

“You just need to get our ships and men unloaded and ready.  I can see three more ships on the horizon.”

Bedivere gawked a moment.  “You have the eyes of a hawk.  You complain about losing your vision, but you can still see further than anyone alive.”

“And ears.”  Gerraint looked up.  “I hear horses, maybe a hundred, coming on strong.”  Gerraint stuffed the port papers back into the hands of the bureaucrat and yelled.  “Bows and arrows.  Now.  Get under cover.”

Lionel chose that moment to ride up with some twenty men.  “Franks!”  His word got the townspeople to scatter for cover.  Then the church bell began to ring.

Even with the bell, men yelling, people running like mad people, some still got caught and speared, and some died.  Gerraint stood, defiant in the open.  Bedivere grabbed him to drag him behind some crates, but he raised his sword and shouted, “Now.”  It seemed a pitiful few arrows, maybe forty altogether, but about twenty of the hundred or so Franks went down.  “At will.”  He shouted and finally allowed himself to be dragged to cover.  Perhaps ten more Franks hit the cobblestones before they turned and rode out as fast as they came in.  Uwaine later reported that a half-dozen more were taken out on the way out of town by the men setting up the perimeter watch.  All told, that became some thirty-five out of a hundred, and if the ones down on the ground and left behind were not yet dead, they did not last long.  Nearly a dozen townspeople got speared, including several women, and most of them died.

Gerraint’s, or rather Percival’s losses were less than a handful.  Bedivere said he would take thirty-five to five any day.  Gerraint pointed out it was more like twenty than five.  And defenseless people should count double.

Gerraint did manage to save two Franks from the slaughter, and he questioned them at length.  Lionel filled in the gaps of information until Gerraint had a good picture of events.  Lancelot had some thirty-five hundred men, but they were spread out from the lake to the Atlantic.  Lionel had some two hundred and fifty men camped in the woods by the lake.  He was afraid the Franks might march down the coast road in an effort to get behind Lancelot.  His fears proved true.

One Frankish Lord by the name of deGuise brought a thousand men down the road.  There were five thousand more Franks ready to burst through the center of Lancelot’s spread out position, but it would come when the signal was given—the signal that deGuise and his thousand were ready to pounce on Lancelot’s rear.

Lionel could not imagine how deGuise learned Arthur was coming, but from the attack, he obviously knew something.  Lionel felt relieved to see eight hundred men in the port town, with more on the way.  He knew his troop alone did not have the strength to hold back a thousand Franks.

“We don’t want to hold them back,” Gerraint said.  “We want them to give the signal, and then drive them from behind right into their own oncoming troops.  If nothing else, it should confuse the Franks long enough to fall on them and drive them right back to Paris.  That is where there is peace to be brokered.  As long as you stick to the border, the Franks will never stop knocking on your door, and it is too early in history for trench warfare.”

“I was with you until the last part,” Lionel said.

“It was clear to me,” Uwaine responded.  “Schrench warfare.”

“I thought it was wrench warfare,” Bedivere said, as an aside.

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