“Lord Birch.” Gerraint turned to the fairy.
Lord Birch made a short bow. “I have people ready to move as soon as they get the word. When Chlothar leaves Soissons, they will bring him and his select retinue here in a day.”
“That is five or six days before his army gets here,” Gerraint pointed out.
“Well, that should shake him up, anyway,” Percival said.
“And there is this,” Gerraint smiled. “I hesitated to say this, because I don’t want him to get a swelled head, but I have talked to quite a few Franks in the past weeks, antrustiones and pueri, and I would not underestimate the name of Arthur. Saxons talk, you know. And here, the Franks thought they had you with a two to one advantage and an easy road to victory, but Arthur shows up and the Franks end up running for their lives.”
“Uh, Lord Birch. Any chance you can get us back to Amorica in a day should that become necessary?” Bohort had to ask.
Gerraint looked at Percival and they shouted together, “For Arthur!” All the men in that tent echoed the shout, and Arthur gave Lancelot and Bohort a strange look. Lancelot answered the look.
“Old habits are hard to break.”
The Bretons arrived at the gates of Paris on the next day. Childebert made a show of drawing his horsemen up in front of the gate, but then he waited. He was not going to start anything, at least not until Chlothar came to back him up. He expected that would be a few days.
Chlothar himself arrived the next mid-afternoon at about three o’clock. He just appeared suddenly in front of Gerraint’s tent with twenty men on horseback who looked very confused. Gerraint sat, relaxing on a chair, waiting. Gerraint’s men were all around, watchful, but he told them to make no hostile moves. He hoped Chlothar’s men reciprocated.
“Chlothar,” Gerraint stood up and smiled. “I’ll be with you in a minute.” He practiced his Saxon as he imagined it was a language Chlothar would know. He knew, the gifts his little one’s gave him so long ago included the gift to understand and be understood, no matter the language, but like the little ones themselves, he refused to depend on those gifts, though he was grateful at times when the little ones were willing to help.
Gerraint shook his head and said, “Please stand. I want to thank you for this special work in bringing our guests here safely. Now, I know it goes against etiquette, but please get small and return to Lord Birch for whatever other instructions he may have.
“Lord,” they repeated the phrase, and got small and fluttered off. Some of Gerraint’s own men raised an eyebrow at that. Chlothar’s men became more confused than ever, but Chlothar, and a few merely nodded. Chlothar dismounted, so the rest followed.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Gerraint, son of Erbin.” He reached out and Chlothar reluctantly shook Gerraint’s hand as a man behind whispered in Chlothar’s ear. Chlothar gripped a little harder before he let go and spoke.
“I have heard of you.”
“Only good, I hope.” Gerraint smiled. “But come, I have others I want you to meet.” He began to walk while the man at Chlothar’s ear continued to whisper. The Franks led their horses, as long as no one came to take them. Gerraint hated himself for doing it, but he listened in to what the man was whispering. The man was a Gallo-Roman and filling Chlothar in on his estimation of the disposition of Gerraint’s troops.
“We are your prisoners?” Chlothar brushed the man from his ear.
“You are our guests. Your brother Childebert is lounging around in front of the gate to Paris with about two thousand horsemen. I imagine he is waiting for your army to show up. He doesn’t have much initiative, I would guess.”
“No,” Chlothar admitted. “But tell me, if we are your guests, what if we decide to ride out and visit my brother?”
Gerraint stopped and faced the man. “No one will stop you. We can fight, if you want to waste your men and ours. But at least come and listen first to what my friends have to say. I think you will find it worth your while.”
“And what do you have to say?” Chlothar looked hard at Gerraint, no doubt a practiced look, but it did not faze Gerraint.
“Larchmont!” Gerraint called. The fairy appeared, full sized, but Gerraint tapped his shoulder. “Come and sit. I have to ask you some questions.”
“Lord.” Larchmont, a good looking, blond headed young man got small and took a seat on Gerraint’s shoulder. Chlothar and the others looked surprised again, as if they had forgotten.
“Right now, I am just an observer,” Gerraint told Chlothar. “The two you need to talk to are in here.” He pointed to the tent as Uwaine and Bedivere stepped up and opened the tent doors. “Only four, please. The tent is not too big.”
Chlothar stopped and pointed to four men, one of which was the Gallo-Roman. They entered and Gerraint introduced the others. Bohort, King of Amorica and Lancelot, his right hand. Arthur, Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall, and Percival, his brother.
The eyes of the Franks got as big on the word Arthur as they did on seeing the fairies. Chlothar stuck out his hand. “It is an honor.” After that, the ideas were presented in short order, and as Gerraint had suggested, every advantage of a friendly neighbor got underlined while the disadvantages of conquest were plainly stated.
Gerraint stood up and went to the door and Chlothar stood as well. “You must wait,” Chlothar said. “My brother must hear this. You talk to my men.” He followed Gerraint outside and gave a command. “Conrad. Take three men and fetch Childebert, alone. No, he can bring that dotty old priest with him, but no more.” He paused.
A jousting pole had been set up not far away. Chlothar’s men were fascinated. The Cornish were using the lances with the cushioned ends, since they did not want men injured who might need to go into battle, but it made a rough sport all the same.
“Two coppers on Marcus,” Uwaine said.
“Taken,” Bedivere answered. He pulled out two coins and groused when Marcus unseated his opponent. A couple of Chlothar’s men saw and laughed. Chlothar, being of a military mind, instinctively saw the benefit of such training.
“You have well trained men,” he commented.
“Yes,” Gerraint agreed. “But I am more interested in the women. I was just about to ask Larchmont what the women were like in Paris.” Chlothar looked, like he had forgotten Gerraint had a fairy on his shoulder.
“Dull and mindless,” Larchmont said. “They spend all of their time in fancy dress and parties, like the world is no bigger than their boudoir. I think there is only one female brain in all of the city and the women take turns using it.”
Chlothar laughed. “Exactly my thinking.”
Gerraint laughed as well, but then said, “I think you better go see what Birch is up to, and tell Galoren, Baran and Gemstone to stand down for now. I hope these men will be able to work things out for everyone’s benefit.
“Very good, Lord.” Larchmont sped off.
“Elf King, dwarf King and goblin King.”
“How is it that you…”
“They are friends. Sometimes I have an opportunity to ask them for help, and they are good enough to oblige. But I have a feeling you really want to ask me something else.”
Chlothar looked up. “The Lion of Cornwall. I should have guessed from your height, you know.”
“I am, but I have gotten old now. It is something we all do, even kings.”
“Yes, but Arthur?”
“He brought just a few men to help a friend. That is something you must also consider, but if you decide on peace and friendship, it is Bohort with whom you must speak.”
“I understand. But I will say this. Arthur is the only man on earth I would not like to fight.”
Gerraint smiled. “I think you will find friendship with Great Britain and Little Britain is much better.”
Chlothar nodded and remained silent for a minute. Then he turned and pointed at the joust. “Tell me about this game your men are playing.”