M4 Gerraint: Cadbury, part 2 of 3

Arthur frowned at being reminded of Lancelot’s absence.  “Gerraint.  You and Uwaine go with this gentleman.  Take the hundred loyal men who escaped the fort when Medrawt came.  I can’t spare any more in case it comes to fighting.  Percival, you see to the distribution of the cloaks.”  He pointed.  He did not know what to call them because no one ever wore such things before, at least not since the days of the first Pendragon.  “I am going to sit here and stew about what to say to Medrawt.  I will tell him I need a day to think about it.”

“Two days would be better,” Gerraint said.

“One day,” Arthur insisted and then he showed that he had stopped listening

“Father?”  James and Bedivere were still outside the tent.  They were unloading the wagon, helping the elves who were disguised as men.

Gerraint looked carefully at his boys.  They were men in their early thirties and had grown into fine leaders.  Bedivere had an estate on the bit of land that remained to Lyoness.  James had his home on the Channel that separated Cornwall from Wales, where he could keep a sharp watch for pirates.  It was only Gerraint’s fatherly eyes that still saw them as boys.  That was what he called them.

“Boys.  You have many fine men from Cornwall that you need to lead into battle, if it should come to that.  Uwaine and I have another task to deal with, and don’t ask.  Meanwhile, get the hundred men from the fort ready to move out and fetch me Morgan and his pirates.  I have a job for him.”  And Gerraint sent Morgan and his dozen men back to Christchurch with a message for Lancelot as soon as he arrived.

Uwaine and Gerraint followed Dyfyr, son of Peryf the Bowman through a shallow ravine.  There were trees grown up there all the way to the edge of town.  Dyfyr talked.  “I told Captain Gweir all those years ago he needed to cut the trees here.  A whole army could sneak up to the edge of town without ever being seen from the fort.  He said the Lady Gwynyvar would prefer to see the green and was not concerned about armies.”  Dyfyr shrugged as they entered the town.

Most of the time got spent meeting Dyfyr’s wife and sons and their wives, and grandsons, but they found the shed soon enough.  It had been pushed up to the steep hillside beneath the fort wall.  The man who lived there had no idea the back of his shed could be torn out and reveal a hole in the hill.  Dyfyr assured them the man was on their side.  In fact, he said he had several hundred men, most of the men in the town, who were prepared to follow the soldiers and retake the fort.”

Gerraint looked into the dark hole and smelled the odor of mold.  “After you,” Gerraint said.

“By no means.  After you,” Uwaine responded.

“Please be my guest.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Dyfyr and the man Twech came back with two lit torches, and Dyfyr stepped right in.  “Careful, it may be wet in places.”

“Whisper,” Gerraint said.  “We don’t want to give ourselves away.”  He followed Dyfyr.  Twech and Uwaine brought up the rear.

They went up a ramp at first, one that looked like a shaft from an old mine.  They turned back and forth a couple of times before they came to the wall above.  There, they had to climb a dozen stairs, which were wood, but in surprisingly good shape after all the years.  The rest of the tunnel went through the wall itself, on ground level where the building stones were braced against collapse.  They found a couple of places where they had to bend under bowed braces or step over a fallen brace, but for the most part, the tunnel appeared in good shape.  Dyfyr pointed out the three small side tunnels that went to the stables, the barn and the Great Hall.  When they climbed back down and got back outside, Gerraint had to seriously stretch his back.  He had his head ducked most of the time; the tunnel through the wall not being as tall as his six feet.

“I’ll take the Great Hall with the objective of securing Gwynyvar, and after that, grabbing Medrawt if possible.  Uwaine, you take the Barn with the bulk of the men.  That tunnel seems to be in the best shape.  Dyfyr, if you are up for it, you might take the stables with a few men to prevent Medrawt or his men from escaping on horseback.”

“I can do that,” Dyfyr said.  “Good plan.”

“Fine.  Uwaine can go fetch the soldiers, and I’ll relax and see if Dyfyr’s wife is a good cook.”

“I can do that,” Uwaine said, and without too much sarcasm, added, “Good plan.”

At sundown, Gerraint asked Dumfries, the dark elf King, if his people could set some imitation of natural lights in the tunnels for the poor humans who couldn’t see past their noses in the dark.  Dumfries nodded and laughed and also checked the tunnel to make sure it would not collapse somewhere along the line.  Finally, he checked the ends of the tunnels and made sure they would collapse when struck with the hammer.

“A bit of cheating,” Dumfries said.

“I know, but around the edges.”  Gerraint thanked the dark elf. “Like these white cloaks, it should keep things straight, and help, but the men will still have to do their own fighting.”

Dumfries understood.  He waited quietly in his long dark cloak and oversized hood, which made it very hard to see what this presumed man looked like, especially in the dim light beside the thin wall that stood between the men and the Great Hall.

Beginning about two hours before sunup, white cloaked men in twos and threes made their way to the workman’s shed where they worked their way up the hill and down the tunnel to their station.  Gerraint gave strict instructions to ignore the rats and spiders, and above all go quietly because too much noise, like talking, or a sudden noise like a shout, might bring the roof down.  The men were exceptionally quiet and watched where they put their feet and hands.

  Gerraint had thirty men with him, including some soldiers from the fort, who knew the inside layout of the Great Hall.  They waited at the long end of the tunnel where it snaked around the east wall and into the north wall.  Dyfyr had about as many, mostly men who knew horses.  They got ready to break out into the stables.  The bulk of the men, including most of the soldiers went with Uwaine.  When they came out of the barn, he had some assigned to go straight up to the walls of the fort.  The rest of the men were to head for the barracks where they hoped the enemy would still be asleep.

“Now,” Dumfries said as he put his back to the wall to keep out of the way.  Goblins had an unerring sense of timing, which kept them from being caught out in the sun.  Gerraint knew they were about thirty minutes from sunup, and he tapped the two big fellows with the sledgehammers on the shoulders.  It took only three strikes for the wall to tumble down, but each hit echoed horrendously.

“At least the others will hear,” Gerraint mumbled, and just before he stepped through the hole, he heard the sound of hammers echo back to him.

They stepped out into a windowless dressing room at the back of the ground floor, where the building butted up to the wall.  Ten men were assigned to head for the stairs and the second floor where they were to clean out any guards and find Gwynyvar.  Ten men took the ground floor rooms, while ten followed Gerraint to the Great Hall itself.  Gerraint reasoned Medrawt and his commanders might be breaking their fast and preparing for a new day of jerkiness.

“Never underestimate the cleverness of a power-hungry jerk,” he told his men.  “Holding women hostage might just be the beginning.”  Several men growled.  That rankled against their every Christian nerve.  What kind of a Pendragon would Medrawt be when he showed himself willing to go against everything Arthur fought for—every ideal of the Round Table?

Gerraint moved quickly through the rooms deemed least likely to be occupied.  They picked up three prisoners in the guard room, soldiers from the fort known to the men who were with Gerraint.  They had just come off their shift and were groggy with sleep.  “Medrawt is a loser,” Gerraint told them.  “Think carefully which side you really want to be on.”  The men gave them no trouble.

They briefly heard a scuffle upstairs, and some shouts, as Gerraint and six men burst into the Great Hall.  Medrawt was there as expected, but he ran to the front door and did not pause to give any orders.  Three of Medrawt’s commanders followed the coward, but the other three drew their swords against the intruders, and there were six guards in the big room as well.  Nine on seven were not the worst odds when there were tables and chairs and other furniture to get in the way. In a moment, though, seven more of Gerraint’s men came from the downstairs door on the other side of the dais, and nine on fourteen made much better odds.  The guards and one surviving commander, a big, red-headed Saxon surrendered.

Gerraint wanted to follow Medrawt, but his first duty was to Gwynyvar.  Besides, when he looked out the front door of the Great Hall, he saw men running everywhere in a kind of mad dance and fighting in pockets here and there that threatened to overtake the whole courtyard.  He went back in and said only, “Gwynyvar?”

Eight women came into the Great Hall, escorted by a half-dozen of Gerraint’s men.  Gerraint got surprised when one of the women ran to him and threw her arms around him.  “I was hoping it was you,” she said.

Gerraint backed her up. “Enid, what are you doing here?”  He looked at the five ladies in waiting.  Two were with Gwynyvar, but two of them were Belle and Coppertone, disguised with glamours to appear human.  The other one was an old woman who was no doubt there for Gwenhwyfach.  Gerraint looked at Gwenhwyfach who had an angry, disappointed and somewhat defeated look in her face.  Enid talked.

“I came up to be with Gwynyvar and wait for your return.  You know how lovely Cadbury is in the Spring.  We were having a wonderful time until Gwenhwyfach showed up and ruined everything.  But Goreu, where is Arthur?”

“Busy,” Gerraint said, and turned her to his side after a peck on her lips.  He stepped to Gwenhwyfach.  “What did you think you were doing?  Don’t you know this will not end well?”

“For you, perhaps.”  Gwenhwyfach drew herself up and found some haughtiness to cover her face.  “Meryddin made everything clear to me.  Arthur’s son will be a great man, remembered by all of history.”

“He will,” Gerraint agreed.  “As a murdering, power hungry, kidnapping fool,” and he thought Merlin had one last card to play after all.

“What?” Gwenhwyfach arched her back.

“Sit down and shut up,” Gerraint said.

“What?” Gwenhwyfach wasn’t moving.

“SIT,” Gerraint commanded, and Enid and Gwynyvar stepped up and grabbed Gwenhwyfach’s arms.  They dragged her to a chair at the table and threw her into it.  

“You will suffer,” Gwenhwyfach threatened.

“Coppertone, please make her shut up,” Gerraint said, as he stepped up to the prisoners. 

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