Someone, not Charles because he died in the first strike, got to his horse and decided the battle had been lost. He rode off, and near two thousand Franks followed him. Arthur and Bohort met in the center, and Arthur said something that raised Bohort’s eyebrows.
“Now we chase them.”
“What? For how long?”
“All the way to Paris if necessary,” Arthur said.
“They will never stop unless they are forced to sit and make peace,” Gerraint added. He and Arthur discussed it. Arthur had been against it at first until Percival pointed out that if Amorica had a guarantee of peace, Lancelot might be willing to lead some of his men back to Britain.
“But who will hold the land and defend the border?” Bohort asked. He felt trapped in the idea of defending the land and could not see alternatives.
“The best defense is a good offense,” Gerraint said.
“Can I quote you on that?” Bedivere asked. He and Uwaine had come up to join the conference.
“The Franks have two armies on the German border, north and south, in Swabia” Arthur said, having already talked to Lord Birch. “They have more men in the Atlantique province and an army down in Aquataine, by the Burgundian border. It made good sense for the Franks to let the sons of Claudus do the hard work against Amorica.”
Gerraint looked at Bohort, his friend. “My scouts tell me the road to Paris is wide open and undefended.”
“Your scouts?” Bohort asked, and then remembered. “Oh.”
“We go,” Arthur said, and he started out at a trot. His men turned with him. Only Gerraint, Uwaine and Bedivere waited on Bohort to make a decision. They listened to the man swear, before he shouted.
“Bedwin. You and your men bring the prisoners up to Lionel and then you can follow. Tell Lionel to hold the line and kill any Franks who try to escape. We will be a week.” He saw Gerraint shake his head and hold up two fingers. “Make that two weeks.” He turned to Gerraint and could not help the sarcasm. “After you, your majesty.”
“Thank you, your majesty.” Gerraint returned the compliment, and the sarcasm, but with a smile.
Lancelot was not content with holding the line with the foot soldiers. They had plenty of serviceable horses taken from Charles and deGuise. He found seven hundred men who were reasonably good on horseback, and that gave him and Bedwin a thousand to follow Arthur.
Lionel spent the time grousing. He did not want to have to guard three thousand Franks for the next two weeks. Arthur’s men had no interest in doing that, either. Lionel spent a week carting all the Frankish leaders and chiefs to the nearest jails and prisons. The rest of the Franks he kept there, on the fields, in the open. He let them build fires, put up tents and gave them blankets. He also gave them food to cook, once a day at noon. But that was it.
The elves Ringwald and Heurst found Lionel early on and offered to hold the line at the trees in case any Franks got the idea that sneaking off into the woods as a way of escape. Lionel was grateful, but he had to ask, “Does Gerraint know you are volunteering?”
“We don’t have to ask permission,” Lupen, the grumpy old fairy King said. “We might get in trouble if we overstep our bounds, but I have met you, and you seem a reasonable man for one so very young. I am sure you can keep this between you and me. I mean, he can hardly complain. He has Birch and young Larchmont flying all over the countryside.”
Lady LeFleur stepped up and spoke more to the point. “Manskin, the King of the dark elves will watch the Frankish perimeter between sundown and sunrise. Best you keep your men back in the night. Ringwald and Heurst will stay in the trees during the day. I understand your orders are to kill any who try to escape.” Lionel nodded. “I can assure you; none will escape by the forest or in the night. Come along, Lupen.”
“Dear.” The fairies left, and Lionel got down to planning.
Arthur’s foot soldiers pushed as far into Frankish lands as was reasonable, about half a day’s march. They found a place where they could ambush the enemy on the road, and they waited in case Arthur reached a point where he had to make a hasty retreat.
Lionel kept the men in the center, to guard the prisoners, certainly, but also to guard the border. He sent five hundred men to the lake, with orders to secure the road that lead to the port town, and also to patrol the coastal road. DeGuise found a way down that coastal road with a thousand horsemen. Lionel did not want any repeats. Lionel also sent five hundred to the base of the Bringloren, the forest of the Banner Bain, to keep an eye on the Atlantique province and to hold the southern coastal road. The Franks in the Atlantique were still an occupation force and that meant they pretty much had to stay where they were, but Lionel imagined they might try an end run in the south the way deGuise did in the north. Then all of those men waited for Bohort, their King to return.
Gerraint lead the way down the Paris road, having done something similar back when they faced Claudus. He drove the Franks ahead of him as refugees and burned the villages. He only killed a few of the men who resisted. Most of them he disarmed and drove off with a warning that they should be grateful being let go this one and only time. The few he killed made the point.
There were two towns with walls on the route, but he bypassed them, not wanting to slow things down. He gave warning that if they did not get satisfaction from the Frankish Kings, they would be back to burn the town and kill any who resisted. He left them alone, but he set Larchmont as rear guard to watch for any enterprising young Lord or townspeople who might be tempted to come out and follow them. At the same time, Gerraint hoped word that they wanted to talk with the king went ahead of him.
The two thousand Franks who escaped and rode away from the battle, and sometimes some locals with them, set numerous traps and ambushes along their route. Lord Birch did not get fooled. Those traps and ambushes were invariably turned on the Franks with dire consequences for the Franks. Gerraint hoped that word went out front as well, and apparently, some information went ahead of them, because as they approached Paris, they found the villages deserted by the time they arrived.
While Gerraint watched over their progress, Bohort and Arthur argued until they hammered out an acceptable peace. Arthur insisted they have some negotiable points where they could be seen giving the Franks some of what they wanted.
“The object here, as I see it,” Lancelot mused out loud. “Is to get a peace agreement that both sides will keep, not to make a stone around the neck where one side has all the advantage over the other.”
“Border watch is sensible,” Arthur insisted. “Representatives of the Franks that regularly renew the pledge of peace. I would not suggest it, but I imagine they will insist on something.”
“I’m not sure I can be comfortable having Frankish Lords on my border, looking over my shoulder,” Bohort said.
“We have to be honest about this,” Lancelot continued. “The Franks would leave their other borders at risk, but they could call up twice what the Saxons brought to Badon if they wanted.”
“There are ways to work things out, especially if there are men committed to peace on both sides of the border,” Arthur said.
“Marriage is a classic way to peace,” Uwaine said, and all eyes turned to him. “Or so Gerraint tells me.”
“Saxon wife,” Percival pointed at Uwaine.
“Oh?” Bohort was interested. “Does she?”
“Yes,” Uwaine said.
“Two sons and two daughters,” Percival added, and then Bohort had to think through some options.
“Gentlemen.” Gerraint stuck his head into the big tent. “We have news from Lord Birch.” He got followed by a man dressed in plain hunter’s fare, but everyone knew he was not a plain hunter.
“Childebert, King in Paris has appealed to his brother Chlothar in Soissons for help. The army in Austrasia is on the Frisian border, but Chlothar has some five thousand men at his call, mostly antrustiones with their pueri and they will be at Paris in about a week.”
“He has what?” Bohort did not understand the terms
“Aristocrats, lords and rich men, often on horseback, with their peasant soldiers.” Percival explained. He had taken the time to discuss thing with Gerraint who understood these things.
“The trustees are the king’s personal bodyguards. They don’t have near the training, but you might think of them as Frankish RDF,” Uwaine added. He listened when Gerraint talked.
“I don’t know,” Arthur said. “Childebert already has a reported four thousand men and another two thousand on the walls of the city. That is already a match for our numbers.”
“By himself, Childebert might be able to turn us away from Paris,” Lancelot concurred.
“No. You are missing the point,” Gerraint said. “Chlothar is the brother you want to make peace with. Theudebert, his son. rules Austrasia with Chlothar’s blessing. Chlothar has already taken Orleans, since the death of his brother, Choldomer. Childebert rules Paris and the immediate area, but he is surrounded by land ruled by Chlothar, and he knows it.”
“But with five thousand men added to what Childebert already has and we don’t stand much of a chance,” Bohort sounded calm about it.
“If we turn back now, the Franks will see that as weakness,” Lancelot countered.
“We have made our point, that we can hurt them,” Arthur said.
“You are still missing the point,” Gerraint interrupted. “We talk to Chlothar. Tell him we only want to make an acceptable peace. As long as the Franks leave us alone, we will leave them alone. Look at the advantages for him. He will have one border he won’t have to waste men defending. In fact, as a friend, Amorica can open up trade for the Franks with Cornwall, Wales, Britain, even Ireland. That can bring riches to his lands. Amorica still has a fine fleet. It can help guard the Atlantique against Visigoths and Vandals, and the Channel against Saxons, Frisians, and Picts. Look, with Amorica as a friend, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose. You just need to explain that in a way he will understand.”
“But so many men,” Bohort did not sound convinced.
First, they have to make peace with the Franks. Then Arthur and his men are stuck in Little Britain for the winter, and find no help for the home-front. Until then, Happy Reading