R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 3 of 3

“Listen,” Gerraint said.  “All of the little ones who haunt your home and fields, do so out of love for you, not just out of love for your grandfather.  Now, your good sons need wives.  There are many strong women, some widows in the village of the little man and they would love a good husband.  I will think on who may be good wives.  And you need to prepare many cures, for the battle to come may be the final gasp of the last Pendragon.  Who can say? I do not know the future.”

The woman reached over and hugged Gerraint, and cried on him for a while.  He comforted her as well as he could and said someday, her grandfather might visit her again. He was not far.  But then he needed to lie down before the sun came up

Gerraint tossed and turned for four hours.  He dreamed about fighting everyone that crossed his path.  When he found Enid, he locked her away in a prison and allowed her no visitors.  Then he drove Enid in front of him, mercilessly, and would not hear her pleading that she was innocent, and she loved him. It killed Gerraint every step of the way, but he could not help himself.  There was something drove him.  He had something on his back.

Gerraint awoke, trembling, wide awake.  He felt the wound and scars in his shoulder more than usual.  He looked at the woman, at Flora, and her sons Bowen and Damen, who stared at him with frightened eyes.  Flora had a bowl of water and a cloth to wipe the sweat from his eyes.  Gerraint said nothing.  He called for the armor of the Kairos, and dressed in nothing else.

“There was something on your back,” Flora said. “You had something on your back.”

Gerraint made no answer as he found his horse saddled and waiting outside the door.  He mounted and raced off to the main road.  Arthur needed to know and Merlin needed to be stopped.

###

Gerraint barely noticed the three graves beside the road.  They had three crosses, but only the middle one had any writing.  All it said was “Thieves.”  Gerraint did not stop at the inn in the night, but rode on, even through the darkness of the woods.  He found the leading edge of Arthur’s army as he came to the Roman road at the foot of the hill.  He raced passed Bedwyn and Urien who were near the front.  He ignored the calls of Pelenor when he rode on.  He saw the Welshmen, Kvendelig the hunter, Menw the fake wizard, and Gwarhyr the poet, but they were some distance away.  Ogryvan, Gwynyvar’s brother, rode beside Nanters deep in conversation, but all Gerraint thought was all present and accounted for except for the far north.  He did not stop until he came to Arthur’s tent, which was about to be packed up.

Gerraint’s poor horse looked finished, but Gerraint jumped off and went into the tent before the horse stopped running.  Arthur sat there, with Bohort and Meryddin. Morgana also stood there, which came as a bit of a surprise, but she seemed to be in Meryddin’s face, accusing him of treason, though she had no proof.

“Gerraint.”  Arthur spoke right up.  “Didn’t you get my message?”

“I did.  Percival’s in charge.  I have a most urgent message in return, for your eyes only.”

“Give it here,” Meryddin said when he saw the parchment.

“Definitely not for your eyes.”  Gerraint snatched the paper back so Meryddin could not grab it. Arthur came out from behind his small travel desk and took the message to the tent door for the light.  Gerraint occupied Meryddin’s attention.  “So, sucker punch any more innocent people lately?”

Meryddin’s gray eyebrows went straight up, but he understood as soon as he translated the gist of what Gerraint said.

“Only you, whoever or whatever you are.  I must say, I don’t know how you managed to escape the incubus, but even if you did, I assumed destroying your happy marriage was worth it.”

“Sorry to disappoint.  Enid and my relationship is stronger than ever.  In fact, she is pregnant.”  Gerraint practically spat the words.  Bohort stood back and tried to follow the conversation.  Morgana merely got quiet and her expression became unreadable. Arthur, who finished reading the note to Meryddin from the Saxons, stayed in the doorway and understood too well.

“Danna willing, she may miscarry at her age.”

Gerraint reached for Defender, but stayed his hand. He had something else in mind. “So, three-quarters human, do you want to know how I escaped from the incubus?  I’ll give you a hint.  When I was young, and Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, I heard you ask what the Roman knew that you did not know.”  Gerraint let Meryddin remember the moment.  “Here is your hint.  I was the Roman.”  Gerraint went away and Festuscato stood in his place.  Bohort sat down.  Morgana drew in a sharp breath.  Meryddin’s eyes got big, evil djin big, like that part of his blood was stepping to the front and taking over.  Arthur simply nodded, like he already figured it out.  After all, Caliburn was Gerraint’s sword, as was Excalibur, for that matter.

“Kairos.”  Meryddin at least knew the name, but he probably did not know the most of it.

“But for you, it gets worse,” Festuscato said, and he went away and let Danna stand in his place.  She kept the weapons and armor of the Kairos which adjusted instantly to her shape and size.  Her appearance caused Arthur to gasp at the memory of her.  Bohort covered his eyes for her beauty.  Morgana sank to her knees, not the least confused about who she was seeing.  Meryddin, while not unaffected by the vision of her, he took it all wrong.

“A woman?”  In Meryddin’s mouth, that sounded like a great insult.  “Danna curse you.”

Danna ignored the man.  She raised her voice and called.  “Rhiannon.”  The ground trembled and the tent flapped, like in a great wind.  The whole army of Arthur paused in what they were saying and doing and looked up.  The oncoming army of the Saxons looked to the sky and wondered if maybe the signs were against them after all.  The waves in the English Channel picked up in size and speed, and inside a castle on an island in a lake on the border of Amorica, the very walls shook and trembled from the call.  Rhiannon had to come.

She appeared and Meryddin went to one knee

“Goddess,” he said.

“The Lady of the Lake,” Arthur breathed.

Bohort kept his tongue, but Meryddin had not finished digging himself deeper.

“Great goddess.  This woman is standing between your humble servant and his duty for Arthur, Pendragon.  I would be most grateful if you would remove this woman so that the men of Arthur may continue with the great work, even as we have discussed.”

Rhiannon looked at Meryddin before she turned to Danna and asked a question that was everything contained in one word. “Mother?”

“Time to pay, sweetheart.”  Danna stepped forward and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek. Rhiannon, who had been expecting this and waiting with trembling anticipation, scrunched up her face.

“Is it going to hurt?”

Meryddin’s jaw dropped as it slowly dawned on him just who this woman was.

“Here is your charge,” Danna said.  “You are to take this three-quarters man to your castle and lock him in your deepest dungeon cell.  Neither you, nor anyone else is allowed to talk to him.  Neither you, nor anyone else is allowed to listen to him.  So if you feed him, and that will be your choice, you better choose someone who is deaf and dumb, and with enough strength to not be overpowered by the one-quarter djin.  Then you will keep him there, in that cell, alone for the rest of his days.  When he has passed over to the other side, you have my permission to bury him.  Is that clear?”

“Yes mother, and it is much harder than I thought it would be.”

“Consequences are never easy,” Danna said.  She waved her hand and Rhiannon and Meryddin vanished. She turned to Morgana and brought her to tears with a question.  “And how are your daughters?”  Danna did not wait for her to answer.  “I know two boys who should be married.  Bowen and Damon by name.  They live on the mountain, next to the woods, in a farm hidden by the trees.  It is rocky, hard, unyielding mountain land, but the farm is good having been worked for many years.  Their mother is a seer and healer, so the girls can learn from her, and if your girls will work hard and be loving and faithful wives, I know the boys will be faithful husbands.”  She knew Morgana’s heart, but let the woman speak.

“Yes, please.  You are so kind.”

“Okay, one free trip, but that is it.”  Danna waved her hand and Morgana and all of her things vanished and reappeared by her home.  Danna took a second to tweak the ideal in two boys and two girls in their various minds and then she went away with a sigh so Gerraint could come back.

“Got any food.  I’m starving.  I would be asleep but the hunger would just wake me up.”

Arthur shared the letter with Bohort while he got Gwyr to fetch some food.  Arthur was back by the time Bohort finished reading.  Bohort only had one thing to say.  “You should have cut the old man’s head off.”

************************

MONDAY

Mount Badon.  Gerraint goes back over the mountain, this time with a company of RDF.  Percival is fighting a delaying action, but that doesn’t mean Saxons can’t find their way up the mountain road.   Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 2 of 3

Gerraint got a fine room and an excellent supper. He was glad the village elders waited until he finished eating before they invaded his space.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.  “If Arthur does not send men down the mountain road, I will bring men this way.  You might fortify your village as well as you can and be vigilant in your watch for any stray Saxons or scouts that come this way.  But when Arthur’s men get here, I say let the brave among you go with Arthur to the battlefield.”

“Shouldn’t we ask for a garrison of men to help us defend our homes?” one of the elders asked, one who was obviously not one of the brave.

“No,” Gerraint shook his head.  “Arthur needs all the good men he can get on the battlefield. If Arthur wins the battle, your homes will be safe.  But if Arthur loses, no garrison will stop the Saxon army from doing as they please.”

The elders made no commitment, and Gerraint moved on in the morning.  Festuscato had shared the night’s sleep, since both he and Gerraint spent about half the day each, present and awake.  The Roman only needed breakfast, but Gerraint secured some foodstuffs for the journey, and it proved sufficient.

###

Gerraint traded places again with Festuscato as soon as he got out of town, and this time he sent his lance to Avalon with Gerraint’s armor.  That way, he looked more like an ordinary traveler on the road and less like a knight of the Round Table.

By late in the afternoon, Festuscato came upon a tree across the road.  He had been following some tracks, a half-dozen horses with the characteristic Saxon horse-boot print. Festuscato traded places with the princess, and she confirmed the half-dozen horsemen, their recent passage and their direction, but she said she could not confirm the Saxon boot.  She was familiar with the Roman hippo-sandal the men of Arthur put on their horses and she said these prints were made by a different boot, but she could not confirm Saxon.  Festuscato said that would be fine.  He recognized the Saxon print and appreciated her confirmation.  He slowed down until he stopped and faced the fallen tree.

He imagined something familiar about the tree, but somehow, it had to do with Gerraint.  Gerraint came home to his own time, took his own armor in place of the armor of the Kairos to complete the transformation, and then looked hard at the tree.  Of course, it was not the same one as before, he thought, but he did not exactly remember the one before.

Gerraint got out his rope and tied it to the tree and to his saddle.  He lugged the tree far enough to make an open way on the road.  He returned his rope to its bag and then avoided walking his horse as something in the back of his mind said, be prepared.  When he rode around the edge of the tree, he became confronted with a dozen large and well-armed men.  Gerraint paused before he called to Avalon for his lance.  It appeared in his hand, and he imagined that bit of magic might not be something the opposing horsemen wanted to see.

“I know you,” the man out front spoke up in a voice Gerraint recognized.  The man dismounted and Gerraint exclaimed.

“Little man.”  He also got down from his horse.  “I see you are up to your same tricks.  Must we fight to teach you better manners?”

“No, no,” the little man said.  “I have kept your pledge.  We have kept the road safe for travelers.  Not two weeks after we met, Arthur himself came with many men. We hosted him in our village on the mountainside and he confirmed the words you spoke.  On my honor, we have kept the road safe.”

“So why then the tree?”

“Not two days ago, we found six Saxons, poorly disguised.  We slew them, but not before we discovered they were scouts sent out by the army. We sent a rider to Caerleon to give warning.  The Saxons are coming.”

“This I know.  I carry a message for Arthur’s eyes only.”

“Lord, let me prevail upon you to share our hospitality.  My men would be pleased to host so noble a night in their midst.”

Gerraint shook his head.  “As you said, the Saxons are coming.  Time is short.  But Arthur will send men this way, or I may bring them myself.  When we come, I invite you and your men to join us.  We can use good men in the coming battle. Just make sure the men are brave enough. We need no cowards on the battlefield.” Gerraint mounted and had another thought, but waited.

“Do not doubt. My men are brave enough.  We will be ready.”  As Gerraint started to walk off, the little man said one more thing. “But Lord, Arthur was vague in the telling.  Do tell us who you are.”

“The Lion of Cornwall,” Gerraint owned the name and rode out of sight.  When he was far enough away, he called.  “Pinewood.” He knew no one followed him or watched because Pinewood and two others appeared in fairy form.  “Is what the little man reported accurate?” he asked.

“Mostly,” Pinewood said.  “He extracts a contribution from grateful travelers and merchants to continue his work of keeping the road safe, a contribution which is not always graciously given.  But he has stopped the killing and he does not beggar them.”

Gerraint nodded before he turned in his thoughts. “I traveled this road before, the other way, with Enid.”  Pinewood said nothing, because Gerraint did not ask a question.  “Find me a place where I can camp tonight and not be disturbed,” Gerraint said.  “If you would be so kind.”

“It would be our pleasure,” Pinewood said, and he guided Gerraint to a small house and farm off the road and well hidden by the woods.  An old woman lived there with two strapping sons.  The farm looked well enough tended for an impossible, rocky side of a hill, but Gerraint almost turned down the offer, not wanting to impose on a poor widow.

“Lord,” Pinewood encouraged him.  “She is a seer.  She may help you find what you are searching for”

Gerraint nodded and rode up to the house where the two sons waited.  “Lord,” they said.  “Please come in and refresh yourself.  Let us tend your equipment, and the children of the grass have come to tend to your steed.”

“Thank you,” Gerraint said.  He felt tired, though Festuscato spent most of the day in his place.  He entered the home and the woman already had a meal set out for him.

“Lord,” the woman said, and she took his cloak with hands trembling from fear, not from age.  “Please be welcomed in my house.  You are a man of great power, not of this world.  All are welcomed here.  The bed is prepared.”  She stepped back to watch, and Gerraint did not disappoint her.  He went away so Festuscato could come and enjoy the food.

“Well spoken,” Festuscato told the woman, and when he finished eating, he added, “Now I must rest.”  The bed felt comfortable, and Festuscato fell asleep in no time. Some seven hours later, just a couple of hours after midnight, Festuscato woke and washed.  Then Gerraint returned to speak to the woman who appeared still up, puttering about.

“The boys feel it,” the woman said.  “But not as strongly as I.”

Gerraint nibbled on the bread and slurped some of the remaining stew.  “And what do they feel?”

“That you have the answers to my life and to their life.  We have walked a strange road, in the dark of knowledge, yet in the light of knowing things in and around this place that other people cannot imagine.  The children of the grass have come to tend your horse.  The whispers in the wind fly from tree to tree and watch over you in the night. The children of the earth make your armor shine beneath the moon, and the horrors of the night fill your pouch with gold and precious jewels.  Who are you to command such honor from the spirits of life?”

I am an ordinary man as you can see.  I am forty-three, and yet I have lived for thousands of years in one way or another.”  Gerraint stuck out his hand toward the woman because he sensed something in her he could not define.  She misunderstood and took his hand to kiss with her lips and her tears, like a supplicant might kiss the hand of the pope in Rome.  Gerraint meant to shrug her off, but when she touched him, a clear vision came to his mind.  He knew who she was, and by extension, her sons.  He took back his hand gently, and wondered if Pinewood brought him here because she was a seer or because she was in need of a seer.

“I understand,” he said.  “Please sit.”

The woman sat at the table, but her hands continued to tremble.  “Your father built this place to get away from the world, but the world caught up with him and he died young.  Your husband was pleased to marry a wise woman.  The people all around here depend on your wisdom and your cures.  The Little King in his mountainside village hears you when you speak, though he hears no one else.  But for all your cures, you could not save the Little King’s wife when she was waylaid by three robbers on the road, or your own husband when he was taken by the flu.  Still, your boys keep the farm and you hear the little spirits in the night, like they come to you, unbidden, only you do not understand.”

“All that you say is true, though not many know these things and I have told you none of it.”

“This much I know,” Gerraint said.  “Your grandfather, your father’s father was an elf of the light, Dayrunner, brother of Deerrunner, the elf king.  Your father’s mother was a lovely woman who ran to the woods to escape from soldiers and became lost.  Dayrunner saved her and made her his wife for as long as she lived, and they had a son, your father.  He built this place away from other people and by the woods to be near his mother and father.  But the soldiers came again.  He and your mother were killed when you were a child, and your grandfather kept you safe, and raised you as a foster father, though you thought he was just a woodsman. In time, you found a husband of your own, and had a fine family.  Only now the soldiers are coming again.”  Gerraint paused.  The poor woman started to weep.

R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 1 of 3

Come the spring, Gerraint gathered the troops without waiting for word from Arthur.  Melwas brought up three hundred from Lyoness, as strong a commitment as that little kingdom ever made.  Gerraint gathered eight hundred in Cornwall, but that really amounted to five hundred with his personal three hundred men that had been with him on many campaigns. When they arrived in Devon, they found five hundred more with Tristam.  That seemed about as large a force as ever came out of Cornwall, and half of it was on horseback, but Gerraint feared it might not be enough.

Gwillim joined them in their march with six hundred men from the ports along the English Channel.  Apparently, the men there knew what a Saxon world would do to business.  The taxes would become impossible and business would all but halt.  They met another five hundred men under Mesalwig of Glastonbury who waited patiently at Bath.

“Enjoying the medicinal waters, I see,” Gerraint teased when he found Mesalwig floundering in the steamy water.

“Absolutely,” Mesalwig responded.  “It’s good for my complexion.”  He patted his jowls and grinned.

“Sorry.  It doesn’t reduce the fat cells,” Gerraint returned the grin.

“Gerraint!”  Gwillim ran in, yelling.  “You have to come.  Percival has brought word from Arthur.”

“Can’t be that important,” Gerraint said, and waved, as Mesalwig settled back down into the steamy water with a sigh.  He walked out with Gwillim, young Bedivere on his feet, and located Percival at the local inn.

“Gerraint,” Percival waved him over to a table in the back. Gwillim came with him, and Tristam found them there.  Uwaine came in and took Bedivere to the bar to give the older men some privacy. “Arthur has gotten word that the Saxons are preparing to move out of Wessex.  Men gathered there all winter and did not wait until spring like we supposed. He needs you to take up a position at the foot of Mount Badon where the old road over the hills meets the Roman road that goes around the hills.”

“The old road?”  Gerraint did not sound sure.

“You know, the one you traveled when you went home to take up the responsibility of being high chief of Cornwall.”  Percival read Gerraint’s face.  “The one you and Enid traveled,” he added, but Gerraint still was not sure.

“I’ll find it,” Gerraint said.  “If we are delaying the Saxons until Arthur gets here, we will probably move around a bit, anyway.”

Percival said nothing as he fiddled with something in his pouch.  “That’s not all.”  From the way Percival looked, Gerraint knew this would be the important thing.  “I came here over the mountain road, as Arthur instructed, to see if it might be suitable for the army, or part of the army while the main part came down the Roman road.  I stopped in a tavern in a village near the top, one day up from where the road first went its separate way.  There were Saxons there, four of them.  They were disguised, but their accent could not be disguised.  A druid met them.  They said they had a letter for Meryddin.”

“Let me see it.”  Gerraint put his hand out for the letter before Percival finished his tale.

“The druid attacked me rather than surrender the letter. I had to kill him.”  Percival looked down at the table and looked ashamed, like maybe he murdered someone.  “I hid the body.  I had to.”

Gerraint read quickly.  He did not believe it, so he went back and read more slowly. “Uwaine!”  He shouted, but Uwaine never stood far away.  He left the bar and joined them at the table, and brought Melwas and Bedivere with him.

“Percival is in command,” Gerraint said without preliminaries.  He looked squarely at Percival as he spoke.  “You are not to face the enemy in battle.  You must set traps on the road, fallen logs, covered pits if there is time. I expect, moving so many men, they will use the road and not travel across country.  Set up some quick in and out strikes in the night with your horsemen. You are to slow them, not face them.”

“I understand,” Percival said.

“Bedivere, you stick with Uwaine.  Uwaine, you take my place among my people.  Captain Kernow knows you, and Tristam and Melwas will back you.  Gwillim, you get yours and Mesalwig’s men in line.  Percival is in charge.”

“What about you?” Gwillim asked.

“I need to go over the mountain and bring this to Arthur, and I need to do it in disguise in case there are Saxons on the road.” He looked again at Percival and Uwaine. “I can wear a better disguise than the rest of you.”  Uwaine smiled at his own thoughts.  Percival responded.

“I understand.”

“What do you mean?”  Gwillim did not get it.

Gerraint said his lines.  “I have wings to fly that you know nothing of.  Eyes that see further, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Gerraint did not wait.  He mounted his horse and headed up the road, looking for the cut-off road that went up the mountain.

###

Once he got out of sight, he traded places with Festuscato and considered that this was the first time he had been back in Britain since he left on that ill-fated expedition to the Danish shores. Festuscato called to the armor of the Kairos, because it felt comfortable and Gerraint’s armor frankly felt too big and too easy to identify.  He wore the cape of Athena over all because his bow stayed in the cape’s secret pocket, not that it interfered with the free-flowing nature of an ordinary looking cape.  He left the helmet home in Avalon.  He wasn’t facing an enemy.  He was taking in the scenery.  Besides, if need be, he had Wyrd at his back and Defender across the small of his back, and he knew how to use them.

Festuscato found the road easily enough.  He had a touch of Diana, the huntress in his spirit and he could usually find whatever or whomever he went looking for.  The road wound up the steep side of the hill and his horse began to plod.  When he got high enough, he looked back at the land he covered.  The land flattened out where the roads met, and appeared filled with farms and fields ready to plant.  There were only occasional clumps of trees left on the landscape, and he imagined most of the old lumber they cut from the fields got used to build the village well off to his left, oddly away from the road.  He decided it must have been built along a small river of fresh water. He could see the steeple of the church before anything else.

Festuscato turned his thoughts over in his mind. Along with a touch of the goddess of the hunt, he also bore a touch of Justinia, the blind goddess of justice. Merlin would be a problem.  The letter he carried all but proved he prepared to betray Arthur.  The Saxons promised, in return for Meryddin’s help, that with victory, that they would drive out the church and burn every church building they found.  Maybe Meryddin just hedged his bet so he could survive no matter who won the battle, but it did not look good, and it would not sit well with Arthur and the others.  Some would call for Meryddin’s head.  These were hard times.

The land above flattened out after a while and gave way to more rocky and lumpy farm fields than found down below.  But people carved out what they could, and up here, they seemed more inclined to sheep and cattle than fields of grain.  There were also forests up here, more than the mere clumps of trees down below.

Around sundown, Festuscato came to an upland village. The village appeared to be full of activity, with men and women running every which way.  Wagons were being loaded and clogged the streets.  Horses were being fed and rubbed and readied for some great work ahead.  And men were gathering weapons, bows, swords, knives and spears.  Festuscato did not have to check with Gerraint to know that these people were preparing for war.

He rode to the inn, not expecting to find a room without paying the price, and he thought long about camping outside of town. He feared the locals might take his horse in the night for the war effort.  He got ready to ride on when he saw a familiar face, and he thought he might ask.  Festuscato left that time and Gerraint came back.  He kept the armor where it was, as it adjusted to his shape and size and did feel very comfortable.  He leaned down toward the young woman as he spoke.

“Face any giants lately?”

The woman stopped and lifted her hand to shade her eyes against the setting sun as she looked up.  “Sir?  What a curious question.  My husband and I faced three giants when we were young, not far from here.  I was just thinking of that very time because I fear for him again in this coming war.”

“The young man survived?”  Gerraint remembered something and tried to grasp for answers.

The woman cocked her head to try and get a better look.  “Yes sir. His arm was broken and he received a terrible blow to the head which caused him to faint.  I thought he was surely dead, but a brave Knight and his Lady came to our rescue.  She restored my love to me while her Knight chased those giants and slew all three of them; but when he returned he came so grievously wounded I thought he must surely die.”

“Then what happened?”  Gerraint loved a good story.

The woman shook her head.  “It is like a dream.  I do not remember clearly.  But I remember the men of Arthur the Pendragon came and brought me and my husband here, to my father’s inn.  They set his arm and gave him tonics so in time he was right again.  But they left soon.”  She shook her head again. “My father may remember better than I.”

Gerraint dismounted.  “Well, I am glad your young man survived.”

The woman’s eyes got big before she lowered her head.  She recognized him right away, now that she could see him clearly.  “My Lord, I did not know it was you.”

“Your father’s inn?”  Gerraint pointed.  “I am in need of a room.”

“Of course.”  The woman stepped to the door to hold it open.  “But my Lord never told me his name that I may tell my father.”

Gerraint felt tempted to use the name Goreu and without any other explanations, he would be a relative stranger.  But in this case, he felt the woman should know, and he hoped the truth might preserve his horse and equipment.  “Arthur and the others call me Sir Gerraint, son of Erbin.”

The woman gasped.  “The Lion of Cornwall,” and she scurried inside without remembering to hold the door.

R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 3 of 3

“The river is not yours.  Londugnum is not yours.  Stay off the road to Oxford, and Oxford is not yours.  You can have Kent.  You can be King of Kent for as long as you keep your Angle chiefs in line.  But you and your descendants need to stay in Kent, or I will throw you off my island and drive the lot of you back to the Germanys you came from.”  Arthur spun around and his men followed before Octa could answer.

Arthur packed up his army and left.

They stopped at Londugnum and Arthur spoke with the city elders.  They were British, Angle and Saxon and all of them were relieved to know they no longer owed Octa his tax money.  Arthur collected the money they had thus far raised to pay for damages, he said, but then he declared Londugnum a free city, open to all good and honest folk, and he moved on.

In Oxford, he gave the men still holding the fort an offer.  March back to Kent and vow to never return, and you will live.  They took him up on his offer.  After that, Bedwyr took back his fort and some of the money Arthur collected which he was to use strengthening the position.  Arthur also went home.  So did Gerraint.

Gerraint found Bedivere struggling with his Latin, but working hard.  After only a few days home, he took the young man out into the countryside for a week, and they went fishing.  Bedivere only cried once about not being allowed to go to Oxford.

“Don’t worry son,” Gerraint assured him.  “The way things seem to be going for me in this lifetime, I am sure you will have plenty of adventures.”  Bedivere did not understand or know how to respond to that.

When Gerraint went home to Edith, he found Uwaine had come to visit.  He immediately told Uwaine to take the young man out and show him which end of a sword to hold.  Then he kissed his wife.

###

Some believe expecting the worst invites it to happen, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is like saying things can’t get any worse, because they always can, and often do as soon as the words are spoken.  They say expecting the worst dooms one to an inevitable fate that lives down to those expectations.  Uwaine said he expected the worst because sometimes he got to be pleasantly surprised. Gerraint preferred a more Boy Scout kind of approach.  He said expecting the worst felt like being prepared.  Young Bedivere was no fun.  He was an optimist.

In the winter of 521, as the year wound to a close, the skies remained overcast for days and people prayed for the sun to break through the dreariness.  Gerraint stepped out where the wind blew icy-snow in his face like so many stinging insects, and turned his cheeks and nose red with cold.  He looked to the east where he knew there was great activity and preparations were being made for the great battle.  It felt like the fires of Mordor were lit and come the spring of 522, the flames would burst forth to wreak havoc in the civilized world.

On another day, in another year, Gerraint would have looked north.  That was the direction of Caerleon and Arthur.  A bit to the northwest sat Wales, where independent minded souls lived in seclusion, not being especially neighborly, and many still openly practicing the old ways, sometimes under the nose of the church.  A bit to the northeast sat Leogria and the British Midlands where the people wore their Christianity like a warm coat on a blustery cold day.  The British were inclined to keep the old ways in secret and behind closed doors, like the clothes beneath the coat that were closer to the heart.  Still further north, the land of trouble, where Picts, Scots, Saxons and Danes all coveted the fertile land of Britain.  The British, like the Scottish immigrants, were Christian in name, but the veneer seemed thin and God alone knew what those many people actually believed and practiced.

“Christendom,” Gerraint said to himself.  “But the Anglo-Saxons remain pagan and many are hostile to the faith.”  Gerraint knew those pagans would eventually overrun the land, but not yet.  It couldn’t be yet.  Britain needed another generation, a generation of peace to get the faith deep in the soul of the people.  He feared what the future might look like if Meryddin had his way and Celtic Christianity got wiped out.

Gerraint looked again to the east.  There were fires burning in Wessex, Sussex, Essex, and all the way to East Anglia and the fens of Mercia.  Arthur thought to make Kent a lesson for the Anglo-Saxons, but they took it as a challenge, and now the storm was coming.  Men who were called cowards were now being challenged to prove they were not cowards, and they intended to do that very thing.

Gerraint looked up.  It began to rain.  It felt like an icy rain, but rain all the same.  Gerraint frowned at the sky.  There were not as many people as there should be, no doubt less than when the Romans left. This miniature ice age, with the shortened growing season, and the flu, as he called it, that killed some and never went away, together with the never-ending wars brought the population into real decline.  He looked again at the ground.  What remained of the snow would be slush soon enough, then endless rivers of mud before spring.  Spring would bring the flowers, and it would bring another war, this time, the big one.

Enid called, and his thoughts turned.  She turned thirty-eight, going to be thirty-nine in a couple of months, but she seemed very frisky for such an old woman. Gerraint wondered if she started thinking about trying one more time for a girl.  Gerraint certainly did not mind, and vowed to do whatever it took to make that happen.  He wondered if she might already be pregnant.  He decided that must be so.  He wondered if her woman’s intuition had an inkling of what loomed on the horizon and it told her now or never.  He decided he could not know what she might be thinking, but he knew what he thought. She called again, and he went inside with a grin in his heart.

************************

MONDAY

To Arthur.  The spring arrives with thousands of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes anxious to invade.  There is not much time. The battle they all feared has come.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 2 of 3

“Goreu.”  Cordella most often called him by his Cornish, given name.  “We were just discussing Bedivere becoming your squire. Uwaine has given his highest recommendation.”

“Wait a minute,” Gerraint protested, but apparently, it had already been decided.  “Uwaine is the younger man, much more suited to take on a squire.”

“Now, don’t disappoint your sister,” Melwas said.

“I thought it was all settled,” Percival said.

“It is,” Enid said, with a look up into Gerraint’s face.

“Congratulations,” Gawain grinned.

Uwaine matched the grin.  “Now some other young man can have the privilege of keeping you out of trouble.”

Gerraint felt trapped, because he was.

In the morning, Gerraint turned the young man over to the Priest with strict instructions concerning reading, writing and arithmetic.  “You will stay with Enid for now, and when I get back I expect you to be reading the Latin.” He stopped.  He sounded like Pelenor in his own ears.  “Do your best son,” he said more softly.  “Hopefully it is nothing and we won’t be gone long.” Then Gerraint, Percival, Gawain, Uwaine, and Melwas rode off toward the north.  They were to meet up with Tristam, Mesalwig, Gwillim and several others in the port where they could take ship to Caerleon.  Arthur called in the council of the Round Table.  Octa, the Angle would-be king was beginning to make some moves.

###

Arthur waited until everyone got seated, but that added up to about fifty men.  There were thirty at the actual table, but the others, the younger ones, brought their chairs in close to make a kind of second row.  He began, by simply saying, “Gwyr.”

Gwyr stood and looked at the scroll while he talked. “Octa and the Angles have overrun Londugnum.”

“What?”  A number of men stood, but one man said what many thought.  “I understood Octa was fighting other Angles, and I thought that was a good thing.”

“Octa recently overcame his opposition,” Arthur said. “Go on.”  He pointed to Gwyr.

“As far as reported, the citizens of Londugnum are not being harmed.  Octa has actually encouraged the merchants, but he has doubled the taxes, and with that money he has hired Saxon mercenaries from the swamps of Mercia and soldiers from East Anglia to bolster his army.  Officially, Mercia and Anglia are taking a wait and see approach, and Essex is telling Octa to keep his hands off their land, but if Octa shows some real success, they may all go over to him.”

“What does that mean?” people asked.

Meryddin stood and people quieted.  “It means we may finally be facing the Saxon invasion we have all feared for years.  As long as the Saxons were divided, we could keep them in their place, one by one. But if they ever unite, we risk being overrun with Angles and Saxons.  Right now, Octa has taken rule of Kent, but he has eyes on expanding his territory. We must meet him and drive him back to Kent before others are tempted to join him.”  Meryddin sat.  He spoke to the point.  Meryddin understood that there would one day be a place for the church under Saxon rule, but there would be no place for the druids.  For Meryddin, this became a matter of survival.

By the time Arthur marched his army east, word came from Bedwyr that Oxford had fallen.  He got most of his men across the ford and into a safe camp on the hill called Bregus, but Octa now controlled the ford and it might be hard to get it back.  The whole Londugnum corridor below Essex fell into Angle hands.

Britain claimed both sides of the Thames all the way to the sea, but on a practical level, the few miles between the south bank of the River and the north border claimed by Sussex became a no-man’s land. Arthur traveled down the north bank so as not to arouse the Saxons.  Between the north bank and Essex stood a good piece of land defended by Bedwyr and his local lords.  But Essex crowded the north bank below Oxford, so the situation reversed.  It was the south bank of the river that got defended between Oxford and Londugnum.

Arthur stopped over three thousand men roughly ten miles from Oxford.  He sent Gerraint, his three hundred and the RDF to relieve Bedwyr and run a guerilla campaign designed to make sure any scouts or small groups that crossed the ford never made it back.  After a month, the Angles had a hard time getting volunteers to scout out the enemy position.

Gerraint made sure the Angles did get word when Loth, Kai and Captain Croyden arrived from the north with two thousand men. Octa imagined this was what Arthur had waited for, and he further fortified his side of the ford, above and beyond the fort and waited for the assault.  In fact, Arthur spent that month building boats and rafts which he used to cross three thousand men and equipment over the river in a night.  The march down the river’s south bank brought them to a place where they could rest just two miles short of Octa’s army.  The next morning, the Angles were seriously surprised to find Arthur already crossed over the river and behind them.

Loth, Kai and Gerraint with his eight hundred lances attacked the ford.  Arthur Attacked from behind and Angle resistance quickly crumbled.  Some escaped into the fort, which stuffed about eight hundred overcrowded men in that old structure.  The Saxon mercenaries sought sanctuary in Essex, at least those that were not found and killed.  The British mounted over a hundred dead mercenaries to cross-braced lumber and trees, like men crucified by the Romans, and they left them there on the riverbank above the tidal line, facing the Essex border across the water.

Most of the Angles fled toward Kent, thinking they were home free.  But Arthur did something then he never did before.  He pursued the Angles, and all that he caught, he killed.  He had left the fort untouched.  Bedwyr’s four hundred with the help of a couple hundred of the RDF, kept the men in the fort and hungry.  They could wait.  Arthur would be back.

Then Arthur did not stop at the traditional line, which was Londugnum.  In fact, he bypassed the city altogether and continued into Kent where he killed every armed Angle he found and burned the villages in his path.  He met and crushed an organized resistance at Rochester, and continued to burn all the dwellings that were within British claimed territory, which reached inland, several miles from the banks of the Thames.  Arthur did not stop until he reached Canterbury where Octa had cobbled together a last stand.

Arthur went out to meet the man.  Octa’s mother stood there, and it looked like she was going to say something, but Arthur spoke first.  It was a command.  “Sit.” The woman sat and Arthur spoke his peace.

R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 1 of 3

It sometimes felt hard to realize the days of peace far outnumbered the days of war.  The Calendar turned to 518 and marked twenty-five years since Arthur pulled the sword from the stone.  Gerraint turned thirty-nine, becoming one of the elder statesmen, but one who felt like he spent the last twenty-five years at war.  To be sure, not counting the rebellion at the very beginning, Gerraint counted ten major battles and campaigns in those twenty-five years. And he had all the scars and aches of age to prove it.

“What are you thinking?”  Enid took Gerraint’s arm and nestled her head in his shoulder. They were walking in the garden.  He thought only of her.  She turned thirty-four and looked more beautiful than ever.  He only had one serious thought, but that was not what he talked about.

“Peter,” He pointed at the sound of his eldest playing in the courtyard beyond the garden gate.  “He is nearly eleven.  It won’t be long before he will be a squire.”

“Have you found one to take him?”

“No,” Gerraint admitted.  “I haven’t started looking.”

“Typical,” Enid said, as she stood up straight but did not let go of his arm.  “You can’t wait until the last minute if you expect to get someone good.”

“There is always Uwaine.”

“He is a bit of a loner.”

Gerraint nodded.  “He needs a good wife.”

They stopped in the gate and watched as Cordella’s eldest, thirteen-year-old Bedivere, went roaring by with a stick in his hand in place of a sword.  “Cordella’s son is old enough to squire,” Enid said, before she raised her voice. “Careful.  You can poke an eye out with a stick.”

“Lucky man,” Gerraint said, without explanation.

“How does it work?”  Enid seemed to be searching for something, and maybe thinking about losing her sons at what seemed to her a very young age.

“Well,” Gerraint took a breath.  “The first four years, say fourteen to seventeen are spent in school.  A good squire need to learn reading and writing and arithmetic.  Many men contract that part out to a local Priest who will give the young men a grip on Latin and maybe even a smattering of Greek. Then they need good time in the wilderness where they learn to hunt and fish, cook and clean, and build a fire that won’t burn down the forest.  They learn to appreciate the natural world, what the priest would call, God’s creation. They learn what the plants are good for, the many uses, and which they can eat and which they must not eat.  And about rocks and metals, how to build traps, and many such things.

“Like the proper use of a rock for taking dents out of helmets,” Enid grinned.

“Exactly,” Gerraint said, and started her toward the porch, walking in the shade along the edge of the courtyard to keep out of the play area.  “And horses,” he continued with his thoughts.  “A man’s best companion is his horse.  A squire must learn how to care for and keep his horse in good shape, and then about his equipment too, how to care for all of it.”

“Weapons,” Enid said gruffly.

“Yes.”  Gerraint did not back down from the subject.  “He learns how to care for and use weapons properly.”  He stopped walking, so she stopped.

“It sounds like a lot,” Enid said.

“It is,” Gerraint admitted.  “but then he gets another four years, like eighteen to twenty-one to practice it all.  That is when he will learn larger things, as Percival calls them, like how to relate to people as an adult, and relate to all the many lords and chiefs in the land. He will learn something about history and what you might call geopolitics.  He will learn how and when to negotiate, and when to take up that sword. And he will learn tactics and strategy, though hopefully not on the battlefield.  And, by God’s grace, he will find a wife by the time he is fully grown at twenty-one.”

“You didn’t.”

“I was waiting for you.”

Enid pulled in to give him a hug.  He said the right thing, but she had another thought. “But what about Uwaine?”

“Being my squire, I am afraid I made things too strange and difficult for him.  He should be married.”  Gerraint looked up to the porch where Melwas, Uwaine, Percival and Gawain sat quietly in the shade while Percival and Gawain’s wives had a running conversation with Cordella, Cordella leading the pack, of course.

“Morgana has two daughters, you know.”  Enid spoke from his embrace and did not want to let him go.

“Morgaine and Morgause,” Gerraint knew them.

“Morgana and Uwaine’s mother both think one of them would make him a good wife.”

Gerraint thought, and have a real witch for a mother-in-law, but he did not say that.  “Morgana,” he said, and he did not say it in an unkind tone of voice.  “She is the only one I know who has the courage to stand up to Meryddin’s face on behalf of her brother, Arthur.”

“Other than you,” Enid said.

Gerraint backed her up a bit to see her smile. “Are you kidding?  Merlin scares my socks off.”  Enid scoffed and pulled herself back into his arms for more hugging. “But what I really want to know is who decided sisters have to have such similar names, like Morgaine and Morgause?”

“It’s a Welsh thing, like Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach,” Enid said and sighed.  “Mother had the name Edna picked out if I ever had a sister.”

Gerraint recognized the sigh.  He knew Enid would love a baby girl, but that was one place he would not go, not that he had much to say about it.  “We should join the others.”

Enid sighed again and they began to climb the steps. “Anyway,” she said.  “Mab says Uwaine is a perfect gentleman and deserves a good wife.”

“Mab.  You are hanging out with that fairy Princess too much lately.  But see?  I have ruined you, too.”  Enid touched his shoulder like a pretend slap before she retook his arm.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 3 of 3

Percival thought out loud.  “But if accepting Christ is one of the requirements for land, there will be no problem with foreign gods or foreign rituals.” Meryddin did not answer, but from his look it seemed obvious he thought dropping that requirement was the way to liberalize the conditions.

Arthur spoke and everyone turned to listen.  “As I understand it, the Roman way was to use innuendo and rumor, the appearance of betrayal and double-cross to turn just such potential allies into enemies.  Maybe if we apply some Roman thinking, we can get the Scots and Norwegians to fight each other and leave us alone.”

Meryddin came flat out against that idea, and to be fair, Gerraint pointed out that the Romans did that in order to come in later and conquer both decimated and worn out groups.  It was not something the Romans did to foster peace.

“Claudus’ mistake,” Arthur said.  “He should have gotten Amorica and the Franks to fight each other and come in later to pick up the pieces.”

“Exactly,” Percival and several of the others agreed. No one knew what Meryddin thought about it.

Meryddin proved right in one way.  The Scots and Danes were the first to make a move. Arthur said he would hate himself one day, but he sent word to Kai to secretly tell the Scots he was making a deal with the Norwegians, offering land for their support and betrayal of the Scots. Then he sent word to the Danes through Captain Croydon that he was secretly negotiating with the Scots in a land for peace deal if they betrayed the Danes.  Finally, he sent word to Loth to approach both the Scots and Norwegians, if possible, and tell them that Arthur was willing to negotiate, whatever might avoid a war, but he would not be willing to swap land for peace.  This last got written in an official way, and sealed with Arthur’s seal under the assumption that Loth would show it around. But then, it was true.  Arthur had no intention of swapping land with anyone for the sake of peace.   Kai and Captain Croyden knew the truth, but Loth did not.  Gerraint called it “plausible deniability.”

From late winter and all through the spring, Arthur sent soldiers in small family groups to bolster Kai up by the wall and Croydon in York.  These were the bulk of the people that Arthur hoped would eventually repopulate the northern lands.  By the time early summer rolled around and Arthur gathered his army to move north, he already had over a thousand men stationed there, ready and waiting. Twenty-five hundred moving out of Caerleon might have looked relatively few in numbers to any spies the Scots or Danes sent out, but it was a deceptive number.

When Arthur arrived at the River Tweed, the Scots had drawn up some two thousand men and the Norwegians roughly the same number. Both sides should have had more, but there were men on both sides who refused to come, convinced that their so-called allies were not to be trusted and would betray them.  Arthur did his best to further that impression.

When he arrived, he immediately sent out two delegations.  Each delegation had one person who were known sympathizers with that particular enemy. Arthur instructed the two delegations separately so that neither group heard the instructions to the other.  He told the Scottish group that they were to offer the standard belligerences, as was common, and offer the Scots the chance to lay down their weapons and return home in peace.  Then he admitted, secretly, that he would be settling with the Danes the details of the land for peace deal and exactly at what point in the battle they were to betray their allies.  He told the Norwegian group much the same thing and knew the Scottish and Danish sympathizers would find a way to tell the Scottish and Danish leadership that they were being betrayed.

When the dawn came, Arthur marched his men forward, slowly.  Gerraint always suspected someone like Pinewood or Deerrunner, but he never probed, so it remained a mystery; but someone in the Scottish lines sent an arrow at the Danes.  That was all it took.  Arthur halted and watched two armies destroy each other.  In the evening, with fairy help, he sent troops to gather up the Danish and Scottish survivors and escort them back to their respective homes. Then Arthur went home.

“You realize, the Danes and Scots will hate and mistrust each other for centuries,” Gerraint said, one evening in camp.

“I am sure,” Arthur said.  “And I am sure I will hate myself for what I did, someday.”

“You further realize the Danes and Scots will pull back and leave open ground between them, and the Saxons will move up from the swamps of Mercia and take the land between.”

“That I did not know,” Arthur said, quietly.

“I’ll take a victory like that any day,” Bedwyr burst out with it.  “Even Meryddin can’t be too upset since his precious Scotsmen suffered fewer casualties than they might have.”

“I am sure,” Arthur said again, but he felt concerned about Meryddin.  For the first time, he deliberately kept Meryddin in the dark, and now Meryddin would know it.

“I think we may actually have peace in the north for a time,” Percival said.  He had been thinking hard about it.  “Now, if either the Scots or Danes move into the land, the other side may fight against them.  That may not be like fighting on our side, exactly, but it would be the next best thing.”

“At least Loth survived his Danish knife,” Gawain pointed out.

“Loth is a survivor,” Gerraint said.  “He is in it for Loth.”

“Things did get pretty hot for him both with the Scots and with the Danes,” Arthur agreed. “That is the part I may hate myself for.”

“He was lucky to get away with only one Danish knife wound,” Gawain concluded.

“Loth is a talker,” Bedwyr added.  “He could talk his way out of a lion’s jaw.”

“Slick as a used car salesman,” Gerraint called him

“What’s a car?” Uwaine asked softly.  “And why would someone buy it used?”  Gerraint only shrugged.

************************

MONDAY

To Kent.  With Uwaine grown and knighted, Gerraint gets a new squire, Bedivere, son of his little sister, Cordella.  Gerraint feels like he is getting too old for this.  Fortunately, the King of Kent is making noise and Arthur wants to be sure he stays in his place.  Until Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday) Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 2 of 3

Arthur called for the immediate surrender of the Saxons and declared himself unwilling to shed blood unless necessary. He promised safe escort back to Wessex for whomever might wish it.  His words must have had an effect, because those Saxons who fought on the next day in an effort to break out of their predicament did not seem fully committed.  Many abandoned their leaders and ran back to their camps.

One thing, Arthur took note that the Saxons started making lances of their own and training horsemen how to use them.  But then, Arthur’s men had been training in lance against lance combat since the Irish invasion got repelled.  The Saxon lancers still had a lot to learn.

Heingest got killed in one of the small battles or skirmishes that took place on that day.  With his voice silenced, the Saxons accepted Arthur’s offer and went home. The remaining Saxon warships already headed out of the channel and toward home, not pursued, but followed by Thomas’ merchant fleet.

When it was all settled, Gerraint found Arthur and they hugged and Gerraint said, “You know, if this was a thousand years from now I would call it a good time to go in for a cup of tea.”  They had to settle for Ale.

There were two years of peace after the siege of Caerleon, barely a breather.  Gerraint’s mother died at the ripe old age of sixty-six.  Gerraint figured she lived so long because she had servants and never took responsibility for anything, and thus had low stress.  Most of the common people did not live that long. Fifty-something might have been average for those not taken by accident, war, or disease.  Seventy would have been venerable.

Gerraint settled down in those two years to raise his sons.  Sadly, Arthur began to get letters, and he called together some of the Round Table to discuss matters.

Loth wrote from the north that the Scots started making noises again, and what was more, they appeared to be building a relationship with the Danes along the Norwegian shore.  This sounded bad, and Loth could not exert enough influence to stop it.  In fact, he moved his family to York for their safety.

Bedwyr wrote from Oxford that the Saxons in Essex and Mercia and the Angles in East Anglia seemed altogether too quiet, but Octa, son of Heingest, son of Hueil the pirate, who also happened to be the son of an Angle Princess, began to style himself as a king of the angles in Kent, and those long quiet Germans were making far too much noise.  He feared the worst if Octa, or his angle princess mother, should succeed in their ambitions.

Gwillim wrote from Dorset with confirmation from his brother Thomas that the Saxons in Sussex and Wessex were gathering together on a much too regular basis.  He said the word “coward” seemed to be the main word tossed around.  It got aimed at the men who surrendered with such relative ease at Caerleon.  And as you know, he said, the word coward for a Saxon is a fighting word.

“We can’t go chasing after every rumor and innuendo,” Arthur said.

“On the other hand,” Gerraint responded.  “None of these men is inclined to be a letter writer. If they put it in writing, they must think the threat credible.”

“True,” Percival agreed.  “After Bedwyr, I cannot think of another man less likely to sit down and write a letter.”

“Pelenor,” Gerraint said without hesitation.

Percival grinned. “That would be a sign of the end times, do you think?”

Arthur laughed, but Meryddin interrupted with his thoughts.  “Saxons and Angles we know, and they cannot seem to do anything without casting their seed everywhere.  If the Saxons or Angles begin to gather an army from among their many petty chieftains, we will know it and have time to gather ours.  As long as they continue to talk, they pose no threat.  You know they can’t talk and fight at the same time.”

“Walk and chew bubblegum,” Gerraint mumbled to no one’s understanding.

Meryddin ignored the interruption.  “I believe the greater threat is the alliance between the Scots and the Norwegians.   Our knowledge of events in the north is no better than it has ever been.  Loth does his best, but his spies are not that good. The Norwegians keep to their own, and the Scots are a constantly changing mess.  One thing we do know is both peoples have increased their numbers from immigration in the last few years.  The Ulsterites have flocked to the north in numbers greater than ever before. Their home is still overcrowded and the Irish are stubborn and relentless in trying to take the land right out from beneath them.”

“Like that will ever change,” Gerraint mumbled again. Meryddin stopped this time and stared. Gerraint sat up straight. “Illegal aliens.  Go on,” he said.

Meryddin continued.  “We know from recent experience most of the Scots, lured by the promise of land, are inclined to head north and further reduce the Pictish population.  But we also know the still relatively depopulated north of Britain is tempting. The newly arrived Danes must certainly be eyeing that fertile land, and the Scots no less.  That they should make an alliance smells of trouble to come.”

“What do you recommend?” Gawain asked.

“A word from the young?”  Gerraint seemed to be in a mood.

“Only because Uwaine would never say it,” Gawain whispered, and they turned to see Meryddin staring at them both.  Meryddin gave Gerraint another mean look before he continued.

“We must focus our attention on finding a way to break the Scottish-Norwegian alliance.  No good for us can come from such a partnership.  I recommend riding to the north and meeting with the Scottish leaders.  Three years ago, we found Scots on our land and allowed them to stay if they met certain conditions.  Perhaps if we liberalize the requirements, we might entice the Scots to our side to hold the line against the Danes.”

“Why don’t we invite the Danes to our side with an offer of land?” Tristam asked.

“Bah!”  Meryddin would not hear it.  “The Scots are good Celtic people who think like us and act like us and believe about life the way we do.  Even their tongue shares some words with ours.  The Norwegians are foreign and strange.  They worship strange Gods and practice strange rituals and have nothing in common with our own people.”

“Foreign devils,” Gerraint mumbled, but he had to admit it was a good argument for picking one side over the other.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 1 of 3

Arthur wintered at York, but not happily.  He missed Gwynyvar and felt especially unhappy when he considered her protector, Lancelot.  He trusted her, and he trusted Lancelot, but he felt unhappy all the same.

Gerraint made the trip when there came a break in the weather.  His men were tired and deserved the chance to go home.  Melwas and Cordella deserved their men back, and he took most of the men from Devon as well.  Tristam stayed in York with Arthur, though Arthur had plenty of RDF men who were pledged to stay with him, and all the more after Guinnon.

Gerraint arrived home at winter’s end, and he never felt so warm and comfortable as he did when he curled up in the night with Enid. He rested well, not that she often let him rest.  Together, Gerraint and Enid got in the habit of wandering down to the docks in the early morning to take in the sunrise and watch the fishermen and the occasional merchant ship that pulled in on the morning tide.  Sometimes, they heard the news of the wider world.  One morning, the news sounded especially bad.

The ship, one that belonged to Thomas of Dorset, and the Captain reported a fleet of Saxon warships out in the channel headed for the tip of Lyoness.  Gerraint hated to bother Pinewood and his fairy friends, but Enid insisted, despite her misgivings that it would mean losing Gerraint again for a time.  They needed to know where the Saxons were headed, and some estimate as to when they might arrive.

Word went out to Lyoness, Cornwall and all across Devon to be prepared to gather.  Messages went to the north coast, across the north channel to Caerdyf, and as far away as Clausentum, which was Southampton, to be prepared with whatever ships they could muster.  A week went by before Gerraint heard definitive news.

Heingest, son of Hueil was gathering an army on the border of Wessex.  Cadbury and Oxford appeared the obvious targets, but they were not accessible by sea. Caerleon became the clear target the minute Heingest moved to bypass Cadbury.  Gerraint’s only question was whether Heingest knew Arthur was absent from Caerleon or not.  He might have wanted to catch Arthur at a point unprepared, having just come back from a campaign and sent his troops home.  Then, he might have decided to destroy Arthur’s home while Arthur stayed occupied elsewhere.

Arthur and a thousand men still in the northern army left York as soon as Gerraint sent him word of his suspicions.  Gwyr, Arthur’s court judge sent couriers to all the British Lords, and especially to the Welsh Lords whose own lands were now threatened.  This time, it was not a distant British problem.  The Saxons headed for Wales.

Gerraint gathered a full thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon and crossed over to Caerdyf.  A second thousand gathered in the Caerdyf streets and camped on the fields, coming from all over south and central Wales leaving only the forts of the Irish watch manned.

At the same time, the Saxon fleet off-loaded their troops in a secluded bay half-way between Caerdyf and Caerleon.  The estimate there was about two thousand. Heingest appeared to be bringing closer to twenty-five hundred overland.  No deliberate attempt got made to stop him.  The troops at Cadbury tried to appear like they were cowering behind their defenses, when in fact they were waiting for Arthur to return south so they could join him.  The little man of Mount Badon organized a wonderful campaign of harassment, one that the Saxons would not soon forget, but Heingest suffered no serious delay or blockage between Wessex and Caerleon.

The city itself and fort at Caerleon spent the month redoubling their defenses.  All of the surrounding towns and villages were abandoned.  Most of the men, the women and children made for Leogria in the east and for north and central Wales in the west.  They were refugees who set up big camps by the border, but they brought their own livestock with them and as much grain as they could carry by mule and in their ox drawn wagons.  A number of the men went to fight, and doubled the number of defenders on the city walls and in the fort.

The Saxons felt somewhat surprised at the empty villages after Mount Badon, but it was common for villagers to flee at the approach of an army.  What seemed uncommon was the slim pickings they found—little food and not so much as a mule left to transport the food and maybe have for supper.  Heingest planned well.  His troops and the men from the ships arrived at about the same time to surround the city and fort, but the men in the west, who imagined their arrival would be a great secret, did not fare any better with goods and food in the empty villages they found on the route to Caerleon.

Heingest tried the city first, and found it much more strongly defended than he anticipated.  The Saxon Captains who were there to storm the port, hesitated.  Arthur’s half-dozen warships set out from the docks like a second wall.  Arthur’s Captains were confident, perhaps overconfident, that they could beat back any Saxon warships that might try them.  The hesitation of the Saxons suggested that the Germans were not prepared to test that theory.

Thomas of Dorset gathered as many ships from the south coast as he could.  They were essentially fat merchant ships who stood little chance against Saxon warships at sea, but they had great hope that they could catch the majority of the Saxon ships on the shore, or even pulled up on land and with only light crews left to defend them.  This they did, in that supposedly secret bay on the north shore of the channel.  The result was given.  The Saxons were going to have to walk home.  The merchants then mostly refused to continue on to Caerleon where the real battle would take place, but Thomas was able to get enough ships to join him to at least assist Arthur’s ships in the port defense.

After the initial test of the city and the fort, and the discovery that both were strong and this would not be so easy, the Saxons went into conference.  Without a quick and easy victory, some were determined to go home.  Heingest had his hands full with internal struggles.

Arthur and Gerraint, with fairy go-betweens, timed things about as well as such things could be timed in that age, arriving on the same day, if not in the same hour.  Arthur, having picked up a second thousand men as he came through Britain, camped in the east.  Gerraint camped in the West, and in the morning, Ogryvan arrived with a thousand men from the north of Wales, and they completed the encirclement.  The Saxons had the city and fort of Caerleon surrounded, but Arthur had the Saxons surrounded by a bigger circle with more men.

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 3 of 3

The Scots had plenty of archers to fire cover as men dragged up a great battering ram.  They tried to use their shields to protect themselves from overhead, but had limited success.  Arthur’s men wasted some arrows and soon turned to rocks.  They had some success with rocks.  Mostly, the fairy archers who crowded at the corners of the fort where they would not violate the orders to stay at the sides of the fighting, found a very easy shot into the side of the men on the ram.  It took some time and a hundred or more dead Scots before someone figured out to bring in a line of men with their shields held out to protect the sides.  They, of course, were then vulnerable from overhead, so it did not make the perfect solution.

The bang inside the fort sounded horrendous.  Men had to be forced to stay at their posts at the rear of the fort, because that was where the real action was going to take place.

The men at the back had three more catapults, and these dispensed with the pine and went straight to stone.  Every time a great stone hit the wall, some of the trees or a tree would chip away and that whole section of wall would shake, but the fort had been well built and would take some serious pounding.

The men at the back also had a battering ram, but the men there had much more trouble than they did out front, just getting it to the door.  Pinewood got his people to strike from the sides as soon as it rolled within range, and the men on the wall learned from the front and had big stones stockpiled by the time they arrived.

The difference between the front assault and the assault at the back seemed the numbers of men involved, and the ladders. The three towers got brought up on sleds over the mud and thin snow that covered the ground.  Pelenor confessed he had not thought of that.  And the men charged, and they had twenty-foot tall ladders, easily tall enough to reach the top.

Arthur’s men became hard pressed to keep the men and their ladders off the wall.  Some Scots broke through in a couple of places, at least temporarily.  Some made it down into the fort, but they did not last long.  Arthur had the men from the town, mostly farmers, merchants and craftsmen standing in reserve to defend their own women and children who were cowering in the Great Hall, the barn and barracks.  Kai’s young wife, Lisel, showed great courage in keeping up everyone’s spirits.  They sang hymns and spiritual songs and prayed.

Pinewood finally could not help himself.  He gathered his people on the back wall, facing the three towers.  As soon as they came within range, Pinewood sent barrage after barrage of flaming arrows into the green wood structures.  One burned and collapsed before it reached the wall. Men jumped for their lives.  One reached the wall, but it became a burning, unusable husk.  All it did was set that portion of the wall on fire.  The third reached the wall and spewed out some men, but it had also been set on fire and would not last long.  Some brave Scots climbed up the ladders and followed the first out of the tower door, but soon enough, that became impossible.  Pinewood and his fairies got small and zoomed back to their posts on the side, at the corners, only now they had to fire sometimes down into the fort itself, when they found a good target.

Gerraint waited until the main force of Scots charged. He had eight hundred men on horseback, ready.  Pelenor swore, ready to attack the Scots from the rear, but Peredur and Tristam kept him in check.  Gerraint took the three hundred footmen in their group and charged the catapults. It did not take long to end the resistance, and then he turned the Scottish catapults against their own men who got all bunched up beneath the wall, trying to scale ladders and get up the towers.

Boulder after boulder smashed into the Scotts while the majority of Gerraint’s footmen erected some quick entrenchments against footmen and possible cavalry, as the Scottish horsemen finally figured it out. They were holding back, ready to rush the gate once the gate got broken, so they had a more objective look at the whole battle.  They turned as a group, about five hundred, and prepared to rush the catapults.  They only had a second thought when they heard a resounding shout, “For Arthur!” and eight hundred lancers came pouring out of the woods.

Up front, the wood walls of the fort were in flames everywhere, and despite the years of weathering and flame retardant stains, the flames looked to be spreading.  The front wall had to be abandoned in most places.  With that, it looked certain that the Scots would break down the gate.  Kai got his men ready for the inrush of the enemy, and he rounded up as many horses as he could, not an easy task.  The horses were in a panic over the flames and smoke.  The great stables were untouched, but the barn was burning and there looked to be holes in the roof of the Great Hall where the fires got put out. When Arthur met Kai at the stables, he looked excited.

“Tristam is out back with maybe a thousand riders.”

“But I fear they may break in the front door,” Kai countered even as a fairy zoomed up to their faces with a message.

“Percival is out front.”

Kai danced for a moment before he gathered what horsemen he could.  Arthur did not dance, but he gathered his own.

Percival, having seen the smoke, charged from nearly two miles down the road.  He never stopped, sliced through the line of Scotts waiting to charge the fort once the front gate opened, trampled the Scottish archers who were drawn up originally to keep Arthur’s men pinned down on the wall but who were being picked off one by one by the fairy archers in the corners, and stopped, temporarily, when he sent the men on the battering ram running off in panic.  In fact, the whole thousand Scotsmen in the frontal attack decided that escape would be preferable to death, and ran.  Death looked certain with Percival’s arrival and no one stopped to count and see that they outnumbered the lancers three to one.

The front and back gates opened at once. Arthur and Kai rode out with more than a hundred each at their backs.  While a band of RDF rode to shut down the catapults out front and accept the surrender of whatever remained of the Scottish command group after the Elves finished with them, Kai and the rest joined Percival in driving the Scots back toward the wall, and they showed no mercy to any Scots who were slow.

Out back. the Scottish army started to withdraw, but it became a route when they saw their horsemen downed everywhere they looked.  They lost their towers, made little progress with the ladders, the gate held up to their pounding, while they were being pounded from above.  Now, with their cavalry destroyed, and Arthur and more enemies pouring out of the fort, they gave up.  Out back, it became nearly a thousand men on horseback chasing almost three thousand on foot, and they also showed no mercy on the slow.

Gerraint, meanwhile, had figured out where the Scottish commanders were.  They were on horse, at the back of their cavalry where they could keep an eye on the progress of the battle.  When Deerrunner got contacted by the fairy scout Gerraint had assigned to Percival’s traveling troop, he sent word to Bogus, lest the dwarf be upset at being left out of the fun.  Deerrunner and his elves knew it was not fun.  It was serious business, but dwarfs were strange ones.

Once Gerraint ascertained where the commanders were, he set Bogus and his dwarfs to encircle them, using whatever glamours and disguises they needed to get in close.  He did not want the Scots to get away, and became willing to use the phrase, dead or alive.  When the Scots began the withdrawal that became a route, the commanders were the first who tried to ride off and escape.  Bogus sprang into action.  Dwarf axes chopped off most of the horses at the knees, which Gerraint later called a great waste of horse flesh.  He felt less concerned about the twenty men who died to those same dwarf axes, and actually felt pleased with the five that the dwarfs let surrender.  He never knew how dead or alive might be interpreted, but he suspected goblins and ogres and trolls would rather interpret that as dead.

When Ederyn and his foot soldiers showed up around four that afternoon, he set his men immediately to help put out any remaining fires, check on the survivors, and in small groups, scour the immediate countryside for any lingering Scots.  Arthur, Kai, Percival, Tristam, Bedwyr, Pelenor and Peredur would not return until the following evening.  When they did, they found everything in as good an order as possible, and Gerraint and Ederyn had almost a hundred prisoners, including the leaders of the Scots. Fort Guinnon had sufficiently burned to where Arthur suggested tearing it down and starting over.  Kai agreed, and then he found Lisel among the dead. Three Scots broke into the Great Hall, and she stood in the way so the women and children behind her could escape into the back rooms and out the back door.

Arthur considered several ways of dealing with the prisoners, but in the end, he left that decision in Kai’s hands, knowing full well what Kai would do.  Kai had them hung and left on the one standing wall of the fort, the wall that faced north, and the Scots stayed there for weeks for any Scots who might be tempted to know what happened to their commanders.  Then he said he was going to build a true Caer, like Caerleon, big enough to hold a whole legion.  And he was going to build it out of stone, not like the wooden disaster the Saxon pirate Hueil built at Cambuslang.  He went to a growing port on the bay made by the Clyde river, and he thought he might name the Caer after his wife.  That building would take him the rest of his life.

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MONDAY

A misunderstanding with the Saxons need to be settled before the challenge of meeting the Scots and Danes, who appear to be working together.  Until then, Happy Reading

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