M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 3 of 3

The morning proved bright and warm and they even had a little breeze that blew straight on toward the mainland.  Gerraint had little hope that their bit of salvaged canvass would do much good.  He imagined they would have to paddle the canoe most of the way, which was one more reason for the design.  It felt good to see the craft did not sink on entry into the water, but their boots got wet almost immediately.

“No sign of Arawn.”  Urien said and took one last long look up and down the shore and back up the hillside.

“Can’t be helped,” Gwillim said.  “Sad to say.  Raise the sail, Trevor.”

“Sir.”  Trevor responded, and Gerraint felt pleased to see the sail did better than he imagined, that is, if they were not getting secret help.

The opposite shore proved full of big rocks.  They had to lower the sail and paddle for a mile along the coast before the found a pebble beach where they could safely pull up.  When they did so, their craft collapsed.

“Three stooges,” Gerraint announced.

“Who?”  Gwillim asked.

“Three Stoojus,” Uwaine said.  “It was perfectly clear to me.”

“Urien!”  The call came from some distance inland.  “Urien!  Please.  Help!”  It did not take long to find the source.  Arawn was tied with his wrists behind his back and a long end of the rope wrapped around a tree and around him, effectively tying him to the tree.

“Urien, my friend,” Arawn said when he saw the man.  They let him loose of the tree but kept his hands tied securely behind his back and held the long end of the rope that bound him.

“Manannan doesn’t want him,” Uwaine announced.

“We’ll have to take him along,” Gwillim said.

Arawn smiled at everyone and did not worry his hands at the moment, though his wrists were severely chaffed and burned.  He came to look at Gerraint and his eyes went wide.  He took a big step away and a touch of the insanity crossed his face, but he said nothing.  Gerraint also said nothing.  He preferred to turn and set off toward the inland in a roughly southerly direction.  If they had been wrecked in the Hebrides as all suspected, it might take them two months to walk home.  At least they could try to cross the highlands before they got snowed in.

Two days later, they untied Arawn.  It was a risk, but he seemed to be behaving and more his old self, as Urien said.  As a precaution, they gave him no weapon and he took no turn watching in the night, but it was becoming impossible to continue with him tied and continually watched.  That very night he ran off into the woods.  Urien shrugged.

“There is no more we can do for him,” Urien announced.

“It does feel a little like leaving a wounded man behind on the battlefield,” Gerraint said.

“It does,” Gwillim confirmed.  “But we cannot help him.  He will come to his senses someday, or not.  We have no power to heal a man’s mind.”

“The night watch will have to keep an eye out for him as well as Picts and Scotts,” Uwaine said.  They all understood.

There were miles of sparsely inhabited wilderness to pass through.  They hunted when they could and ate any number of plants and roots to keep up their strength.  Fortunately, the hunting was easy enough at first.  It was pristine wilderness where the animals were shy of men but not deathly afraid.  A well thrown stone could do wonders.

After a week, they came to a great inlet of the sea.  They had to turn west-southwest down the shore.  Though it slowed them, Gerraint insisted they travel just inside the tree lined edge, and move even further inland where there were open fields to cross.  He did not want to run into a Pictish or Scottish village by surprise, and they went around several small villages of fishermen.  He also did not want to be seen by the Pictish coastal watch whose ships were fast and well-armed with men.

Another week and they were nearly frozen and famished.  There was a town just over the ridge so they dared not light a fire without shelter.  They found little roughage with the fall well along, and less in the way of berries than they had been finding, at least less berries that were not poison.  They had a pheasant, however, already plucked by Trevor, but without a fire, they were helpless.

“My Lord.”  Gwillim had gone back to calling Gerraint by that title nearly from the beginning of their time on the mainland.

“Can’t be helped,” Gerraint said.  “Not unless we can find a good hollow on the ridge to hide the fire light.  A cave would be better.”

“Besides, you could still lose a few pounds,” Uwaine teased Gwillim.

“More than a few,” Urien insisted.

“But look at Trevor.”  Gwillim was not for giving up.  “He is nothing but skin and bones.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Gerraint said.  “He looked skin and bones the first time I met him.”

“Over here!”  Trevor shouted too loud for Gerraint’s nerves.  They went quickly so he would not shout again.  They saw a small cliff face in the ridge, with a rock overhang.  Hopefully, that would keep the firelight from reflecting off the clouds.  A fire could be as bad as a searchlight in the wild.

They started the fire quickly.  They were all starving.  Trevor insisted on rubbing the bird in some greens and such that he had collected along the way, but the others did not care about that.  When it was minimally done, they would eat too fast to taste it anyway.  It was not a very big bird, and each of the five men had only a couple of bites before it was gone.

After that, it was get as warm as they could to try and sleep before it was their turn to watch.  Trevor had the first watch that night, but unfortunately, he did not know exactly what that meant.  He was a cook, in truth, and hardly a sailor, much less a soldier. After all too little sleep, Gerraint awoke to see a blue painted face, and the man held a knife to Trevor’s unmoving throat.

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MONDAY

Gerraint and company are taken captive by blue painted Picts, and to what end?  Come back Monday, and in the meanwhile,

*

M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 2 of 3

Gwillim whispered.  “I am so ashamed and embarrassed.”

“You should be,” Urien said.  “If you were in my brigade I would have you whipped.”

“Easy.” Uwaine said.

“No need to be so harsh,” Gerraint said.  “We are all exhausted and on edge.  There is nothing here that cannot be fixed.”

“It’s a nice day,” Trevor added.  “Maybe the weather is turning in our favor.”  Urien said no more.

The next morning, however, though the craft got repaired, the rain and wind returned just as before.  Gwillim, not especially a religious soul, nevertheless spent the day in prayer.  He said it couldn’t hurt.  Trevor, once again had his hands full with the fire and trying to keep them fed.  Urien walked off to sit beneath a tree and sulk. Gerraint nearly had enough, but Uwaine calmed him with his words.

“He can’t make it rain forever,” he said.  “I’m thirty-four, and God willing, I will live another thirty-four years.  At some point in those years, it will have to stop raining.”

Gerraint nodded.  “When it starts snowing,” he said, but he kept his seat.

The rain fell away again when it became too late to attempt the crossing.  That evening over supper only Urien spoke, and only one sentence.  “Obviously, the god has not accepted our pledge to give up seeking the cauldron.”

Gerraint did not respond, but he did think, that depends on how sincere the pledge was.  The gods read men deeper than men suppose.

Gerraint went on watch when he noticed the sea shifting.  It appeared a clear, cloudless night.  The stars shone bright since the moon set, but Gerraint had no illusions.  By morning, he knew the clouds could easily return with the rains and wind, and this might indeed go on until the snows came.

The sea began to billow then, like a cauldron beginning to boil.  The foam beat up even though the wind died down.  A figure rose slowly out of the deep.  It appeared to be the figure of a man, who glowed with moon glow and walked toward Gerraint, directly across the water.  The man looked to be a giant at first, but as he came to shore he slowly shrank until he stood no taller than Gerraint himself.  Gerraint stood, out of respect, but he had a thing or two to say.

“Why are you picking on these good men?” he asked.

“They would-be thieves,” the glowing man answered plainly.  He stared at Gerraint and Gerraint stared back at a man who had brown hair and green eyes and skin a bit too much on the pink side, like a half-cooked lobster.  The man appeared clothed in seaweed and there seemed an ominous sense about him.

“Thank you for guarding the Celtic Treasures, but all here have pledged not to pursue them any longer,” Gerraint said.  “With your leave, we will go now and not come back.”

The man from the sea squinted.  “Mother?”

“Of course, Manannan.  Didn’t you wonder?”

Manannan changed with that realization.  His frightening presence became tempered with the depths of love and hope.  “I knew I could not read your mind and heart like these others.”

“Guilty by association.”  Gerraint shook his head.  “All the same, we have pledged in the witness of each other not to pursue the treasures.”

“You never pledged.”  Gerraint heard Urien’s voice behind him.  They were all awake by then, watching.

“The treasures belong to her, or him, most of all,” Manannan said with a scowl returned to his lips.  “This quiet one I don’t mind.  He is loyal to you,” Manannan went on and talked to Gerraint as if the others were not even there.  “And these two fools I do not doubt.  The one is a soldier gone fat, thinking himself a ship’s captain as almost a joke.  The other is a cook who fancies a desire for the sea.  Let the first go back to soldiering and the second go to cooking or neither will ever be happy.  But as for this one.”  Manannan growled.  The men behind Gerraint trembled.  The growl of an angry god is the second most frightful thing in all creation.  “This Raven is a liar, simple.  He will try again.  His pledge is not worth the air with which it was spoken.  But the way to Avalon is denied to him and to seek it will be to seek his own death.”

“Then let me pledge to you, if Urien tries again to pursue the treasures, I will kill him myself.  Will this satisfy you?”  Gerraint spoke perfectly serious and Manannan gave it serious thought.

“Gerraint!”  Gwillim sounded shocked by the turn of events.

“Still the word of a mortal of uncertain future,” Manannan concluded.

Gerraint had no option, and Danna felt very anxious in his heart.  Gerraint sighed as he went away and Danna traveled over 3700 years to stand in his place.  She took two quick steps forward and laid her hand gently against Manannan’s cheek.  He lowered his head and eyes.

“I will make the pledge,” she said.  “Only let these men go.”  She stroked his cheek for a minute.  “I worry about you.  You and Rhiannon.  You should not be here.  Why have you not gone over to the other side?”

“I don’t know, Mother,” he said quietly.  “But I am not the only one.”

“I have already spoken to Rhiannon,” Danna said.  “But the time for us is past.”

She reached out and hugged the God.  “Iona will soon turn to the way and you will not receive the answer there you seek.  Only do not put your hopes against the words of one man.”  Danna backed up.  She felt a tear in her eye.  She left, and Gerraint came home.

“Well, son?”  Forty-seven-year-old Gerraint spoke as he might to Bedivere, his twenty-year-old squire.  “Can we have safe passage in the morning?”

Manannan no longer stood there.

Gerraint turned around.  “My watch,” Uwaine said as he got up to stand by the boat.  Gerraint stepped over to lie down and Urien and Trevor both made an effort to move away.

“We will see what tomorrow is like,” Gerraint said.

“Yes,” Gwillim said.  “We will see if a whole day in prayer has any effect.  What was that, anyway, some sort of mass vision?”  Gerraint did not hear what else Gwillim had to say as he went to sleep.

M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 1 of 3

It took five days to tear apart the hulk of the ship.  Everyone worked on that vital, primary task, except Trevor who greatly expanded Urien’s shelter and kept the cooking fire going.  There were precious few nails in the tool bag.  They were used for repairs at sea, but now they were needed to build and there were not enough.  Every board as well as every nail that could be salvaged became important to their survival.  Thus it took a long, slow five days, and always one eye stayed turned to the sky.  Another storm would have been a disaster, and in fact it did rain on the second and third days.  Fortunately, it only made a misty, annoying drizzle, and while it did not threaten their work, it did affect their mood.

On the fifth night, the skeleton of the ship finally broke apart and got carried out to sea on the tide.  Good riddance was about all anyone could say, but it appeared as if they had enough materials for their project.  Gwillim and Gerraint took the first turn lugging the lumber across the face of the island.  Uwaine insisted on partnering with Urien.  He said he wanted to keep an eye on the Raven, even if Urien’s survival depended on the raft.  They never left the lumber and nails unguarded, however, for fear of Arawn.  Madmen were known for perpetuating the hell in which they found themselves.  Any chance of escape might have been seen by Arawn as a threat to his penitent state.

It took four days, working in teams, to get everything over to the shore that faced the mainland, and then a fifth day got spent arguing about the design.  Gerraint won out in the end when Trevor switched his vote.  That made it three to one to one, because, of course, Urien and Gwillim were at opposite ends on everything.

The design itself was that of a simple outrigger canoe such as one might find in the south pacific, though only Gerraint knew that.  Certainly, canoes were known, though none in Gerraint’s world would dream of taking one to sea.  What was not known was the extension off one side of the canoe and the long pole attached in parallel with the canoe, all of which could be lashed with rope and needed none of their precious nails, both increased the surface tension of the craft against the water, which made it far more stable in swells than a plain flat-bottom raft, and it allowed them to make a larger craft for seafaring than any other design.  The wood already had some natural warp which they were able to use for the sides of the canoe, however uneven in the final look, and this also took advantage of what they had.  It did not require them to cut and shape any of the lumber.  Gerraint imagined it might help protect them from the frigid water, though that last seemed unlikely since they had no good pitch to fill the gaps.  They used the natural heather they found in the woods, but they did not expect much help from that.

This work actually took another four days, to get the craft as good as they could get it.  More importantly, it took four days before they were all willing to try sailing the contraption.  They needed courage to even try.

“I believe it is going to work,” Gwillim said.  He had become convinced of the design on the third day.

“It should get us across this straight, do you think?”  Trevor said.

“I would settle for getting us near enough to swim,” Urien said, grumpily.  He seemed always to be in a foul mood.

“Not a good idea,” Gerraint said.  “You would not live long enough to swim, even from close.”

“What?  Drown?”  Urien sounded offended as if they should not doubt that he knew perfectly well how to swim.

“Freeze,” Gerraint said, and Gwillim spoke at the same time.

“Freeze to death.”

Gerraint thought to explain, but Trevor spoke up.  “It is nearly October now, we’ve been at this building.”

“Is October,” Gwillim interrupted, referring to his own internal calendar.

“It doesn’t take long after summer in these northern climes for the water temperature to return to its’ natural, half frozen state.  I would be surprised if you lasted a whole minute.”

“If the sharks did not get you first,” Uwaine added in such a soft voice the others had to strain to hear him.

After that, everyone looked alternately at the sea, each other, and their supper without another word.  It got late, and Uwaine became the first to lie down.

Rain came in the morning.  It poured, a hard driving rain with a strong wind that blew straight at them from the mainland.  There would be no attempt that morning, and though the rain slackened by mid-afternoon, by then it felt too late to try the crossing.  The next morning the same conditions prevailed, and again, by mid-afternoon, the hard rain died down.  Everyone and everything got soaked and cold by then.  The men started lashing out rather than talking, and Trevor could barely keep the fire going.  On that evening, however, the rain stopped altogether, and then they felt some hope for the following day.

It got late when they went to bed in a little better cheer.  Still later, Uwaine awoke to the sound of knocking.  He got up.  Gerraint woke with Uwaine’s movement.  They rushed to the canoe and heard an insane giggle in the dark. Gwillim had fallen asleep on his watch.  Arawn had damaged their work.  Luckily, nothing irreparable, but it would take all that next day to fix things.

Gwillim could not have been more apologetic.  Everyone was inclined to forgive him, except Urien.  “I’ve been a soldier all my life,” Gwillim said.  “I never even went to sea until three years ago.  I never fell asleep on watch.”

M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 3 of 3

“Spooky, isn’t she,” the voice said.  Gerraint spun around and found Arawn.  The man looked haggard, like a man who had not eaten or slept in a week.

“Urien here?” he asked.  He guessed that something like a storm happened to them as well, and Urien might have been driven to these same rocks.  He guessed Manannan for sure.  The circumstantial evidence looked strong.

Arawn did not answer Gerraint’s question.  He would not take his eyes off the girl.  “She just sits and stares at the sea, like a ghost.  But she isn’t a ghost, is she?”  Arawn laughed in a way that sent shivers, like little needles through Gerraint’s mind.  “She had a brother once, she did.”  Arawn said and he backed toward the jetty, fretted his filthy hands as if trying to wipe something clean.

Gerraint looked again at the girl.  His immediate question concerning Urien was not answered, but he still needed information if he could get it.  He felt reluctant to ask Margueritte for help since she was so young herself, but Margueritte seemed more than willing and begged for the chance.  Gerraint reached out in time and they traded places, Margueritte appeared in her fairy clothes and added a shawl to it as help against the cold wind.

Margueritte looked back first, concerned about Arawn’s reaction, but the man had already gone, somewhere unreachable.  Without a word, she walked deliberately toward the other girl.  The girl stood and stared in Margueritte’s direction.  Seeing Margueritte, a young girl like herself, the green-haired, big eyed child no longer looked afraid.  When Margueritte got close enough, she stopped, still a good distance away, not wanting to press the point.  The girl’s   eyes were definitely too round and fully brown with hardly any white at all.  Her hair looked too thick, green and brown streaked, and she had little dots, like freckles, on her upper lip and cheeks where a cat might have had whiskers.

“Can you help?”  Margueritte asked at last in her best Welsh as Gerraint spoke it.  “I have no idea where I am.  The storm, you know.  I am lost.”

The girl looked up from staring at Margueritte’s shoes.  “Brother lost, too,” the girl said.  She lifted her chin to the sky and screamed, “Forever!”

Margueritte winced.  The girl began to bark like a seal pup, and a female seal transformed into a woman, dressed minimally in a dress that looked made out of seaweed.

“Forever,” the seal woman echoed.  “You are here forever.”  She stepped up beside her daughter, sniffed Margueritte’s fairy clothing with some appreciation for what she sensed.  “Lord keeps you.  Treasure for you is sea and stone.  No treasure, only here, forever.”  She took her daughter’s hand and turned toward the far rocks.  The other seals nearby also took that moment to transform into women and young boys and girls.  They climbed together over the rocks to get to the main herd without having to make the shark infested swim around the point.

Margueritte hesitated until the last of the pups disappeared over to the other side, then she ran to the rocks, but once she climbed up, all she could see was perhaps a mile of beach covered wall to wall with seals, big males, females, and young everywhere.  Those who had been temporarily women and children were indistinguishable from the rest.  Who knew?  Perhaps they were all seal people.

Margueritte went back to her own time and Gerraint returned in order to climb down from the slippery rocks.  His walk back to camp remained slow, despite his hunger.  “No treasure, only here forever,” he repeated.  Evidentially, Manannan drove them to wreck in this place and intended to keep them here, having judged them as would be thieves.

“Gerraint!”  “My Lord!”  The others called to him from the cooking fire.

“Trevor’s not a bad cook,” Uwaine said, in an unusual word of praise. That meant the fish was probably excellent, but Gerraint no longer felt hungry.

“The ship is in good shape,” Gwillim reported.  “At least the piece of it that is left.  There’s rope I left down by the cliffs, and some tools too heavy for even the waves to drag to sea, but that is about it.”

“There’s land in that direction.”  Uwaine pointed.

“I was thinking a raft,” Gwillim continued.

“Here.”  Trevor handed Gerraint half a fish with something on it that Gerraint did not recognize. Certainly, some sort of spice, he imagined.

“Manannan drove us here.”  Gerraint said in a flat voice that got their attention.  “The seals suggest he intends to keep us here forever, because we dared to try and steal the treasures of Britain.”

“The seals?”  Gwillim laughed.  He thought of it as a joke.  Trevor looked horrified, but Uwaine knew better on both counts.

“So how do we get off this rock?” he asked.

Gerraint sighed and tasted the fish.  It was very good and hardly tasted like fish.  Gwillim knew what he was doing setting Trevor to cook.  “The gods make the rules to try and test men’s souls, not to defeat men.  There is always a way left for men who are willing to try.  A little intelligence, some courage and determination are needed.  Good men get knocked down, but they get up again.  I vote for the raft.”

Uwaine merely nodded and went back to eating.  Gwillim let go of the thought of talking seals and appreciated the support for his idea.  Trevor went back to cooking, but his expression showed he had been at sea long enough to hear stories.

“How long do you figure the raft will take?” Uwaine asked at last.

“Well.”  Gwillim sat up.  “We’ll have to work fast and hope against another September storm.  It won’t do to have the ship break loose.  We should be able to break free enough lumber in a week or so, and then drag it across the island to assemble.  I would say two weeks, three tops.”

“So, by October, give or take,” Gerraint concluded.  “I would like to get home before the snows.  I suspect we are a long way north.”

“We would all like to beat the snow,” Gwillim said.

Uwaine and Gerraint jumped.  Gwillim and Trevor were just a little slower.  They heard rustling in the trees before Urien stepped out.

“Well, I’ll be,” Gwillim said.  “The Raven got grounded on these same cruddy rocks.”

“That smells very good,” Urien said.  “You gentlemen mind if I join you?”

“I don’t know.”  Gerraint eyed Urien closely.  “Are you as insane as your friend?”

“Oh, you’ve seen him.”  Urien stepped up for some of the fish without waiting for the formal invitation.  “Mad as an Irish hermit.”

“Arawn.”  Gerraint answered the questioning looks around him.

“What do you mean?”  Trevor asked.

“What happened?”  Gwillim wondered.

“A storm as like to yesterday’s storm as can be,” Urien answered while delighting in the fish.  “Arawn and I alone escaped with our lives by being foolishly washed overboard.  Or rather, Arawn got washed over and dragged me after him.  We came up on this place and fared well enough the first week.  We have a shelter of sorts across the island, facing what I believe is the mainland of Caledonia.  Arawn got tired of fish, though.  There are sharks out in the deep.  We could not exactly swim to the mainland, though it looks deceptively close.  While I studied the problem, he began to explore.  He thought where there were sharks, there had to be seals, and he was right.  Apparently, he clubbed a young pup and hid it from me, cooked it and ate it on the sly.  I found out when he woke me one morning.  He had already gone, you know, in the mind.  He babbled about eating a young boy.  He said the seals were haunting him.  They would not let him sleep.  They kept accusing him.  He ran off, screaming.  I have only seen him a couple of times since, and only from a distance.”  Urien finished his fish with the story, and everyone nodded except Gwillim.

“Don’t be daft yourself,” Gwillim said.  “Talking seals?  Accusing him?  What are they doing, pointing fingers at him?  They must be pointing flippers.”  He tried to make light of it all but stopped when he saw that the others took it dead serious.

“It is true, then,” Trevor said.  “There are people who live in the form of seals.  They say to see one in human form is an ill omen.  They say if by chance one should speak to you, you will lose your mind, altogether.”

“Old wives’ tales.”  Gerraint thought of Margueritte.  “Sailors imagine lots of things and stretch many stories when they are too long at sea.”

“This is true enough.”  Gwillim tried to get in with the tone, even if he still did not believe a word of the tale.

“Don’t worry Trevor.  I’ll protect you,” Gerraint said.

“Better protection than you know,” Uwaine spoke up.

Trevor smiled, grimly, but seemed willing to give it his best shot.

“But say,” Gwillim spoke up.  “We’ve got a part of our ship, grounded on the rocks, and rope and some tools.  What say you to a raft?”

“That would work.”  Urien did not hesitate to get excited by the idea.  “When do we start?”

“Now.”

“No.”  Gerraint stood.  “We have to get something straight first.”  He looked directly at Urien.  “You were after the Treasures of Britain, weren’t you?  You were hoping the old isle of Manannan would give you the key to finding Avalon.”

“Annwan?”  Urien said.  “Certainly.  We are after the Cauldron of inspiration, which is life.  We all saw it, didn’t we?”

“We all saw something,” Uwaine said softly.

“Yes, well, aboard your ship,” Gerraint continued.  “Who knew about your quest?”

“Just me and Arawn.”  Urien said in an offended voice.  “I paid the Captain for passage to the Isle of Man.  That’s all he needed to know.”

“And for us, it was myself, Uwaine and Gwillim,” Gerraint said.

“I told my mate,” Gwillim interrupted.  “He had to know something.  I did not imagine it was a secret, but he didn’t tell anyone, did you?”  Trevor shook his head.

“So everyone who knew is here, on the island, and we don’t know where the innocent might be,” Gerraint concluded.  The men all nodded.  “So you need to pledge that you will give up any quest for the treasures or no work we do will bear fruit.  Manannan will keep us here forever if we don’t.”

“But.”  Urien started to say something, but then thought better of it.

“It seems my own crew was not exactly pure in thought concerning the treasure.” Gerraint continued, and the three men bowed their heads.

“The tales say after the people came up into the land some of the gods went underground while some went to Avalon,” Trevor said.   “I would have liked to have seen it is all.”

“Well, I never thought it was likely to be found,” Gwillim admitted.  “But I did hear once that the very streets of Avalon are paved with golden cobblestones.”

“In my heart I knew better,” Uwaine said in his soft voice.  “I am ashamed.”

“Don’t be,” Gerraint assured him.  “If you did not think about it, you would not be human.  But let us pledge not to pursue the treasure anymore.”  The three did.  “Urien?”

“That is a hard thing you are asking,” he said.

“That, or you will have no part in our raft.”  Gerraint responded.

“Damn.”  Urien swore, but he pledged to give up his quest.  “But what about Arawn?”

“Yes,” Gerraint said.  “I think Trevor better stay armed while fishing and cooking, and we had better carry the lumber across the island in pairs, just to be safe.”

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MONDAY

Gerraint and his shipwrecked company try to get to the mainland, but it is a long way through hostile territory to get back to Cornwall.  Happy Reading

*

M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 2 of 3

“Oars, too.  Ten to a side, maybe.”

Gerraint grabbed Gwillim by the arm.  Something itched in the back of his mind.  “Sails full against the wind?”  He noticed that their sail looked full because they were with the wind.

“Yes,” Gwillim said, and then he paused as he thought about it.

“British?  Amorican?  Welsh?”  He asked the man up the mast.

“No,” the answer came back.  “Never seen the like.  Long boats, like old Roman ships, but shallow draft.  No rams.  No height fore or aft either.  No upper deck.”

“Norwegian?”  Gerraint asked.  The word Viking was not yet common, but Norwegian ships were not unknown.  Thus far, however, they had been confined to the North Sea and the people who colonized the East coast of Britain around the Humber River had been brought to submission under Loth and Arthur’s sister-in-law, Gwenhwyfach, and their sons, Gawain, Medrawt, and his cousins.

“Could be Norwegian,” Trevor said.  “I wouldn’t know.”

“Ready to come about.”  The crew looked impatient, but Gwillim and Gerraint were eye to eye in thought.

“Hold to your course,” Gerraint said at last.  Their ship was virtually round with a single main sail.  It had been built to crawl along the coast, not for speed, but the sail stayed taught.  The wind blew from their rear.  The sails of the oncoming ships ought to be useless.

“Their sails are full?”  Gwillim confirmed.

“Tight as a drum and coming on fast,” Trevor shouted down.

Gwillim nodded.  “Hold to course,” he commanded.

“Captain!”  The steersman wanted to protest.  The only normal recourse for a merchant ship in the face of pirates was to make for the nearest coast, to a safe haven if possible, but at least to drop anchor, run for their lives and leave the ship to be plundered.

“You heard the order,” Gwillim said, and they watched as the ships began to draw near.

“Put up your sword,” Gerraint told Uwaine.  Uwaine leaned on the railing, sword in hand.  He expected to be caught and boarded at any minute.

As the ships drew closer, they could see the oarsmen and make out faces that were both grim and bloodthirsty.  “Don’t look at them,” Gwillim ordered.  “Keep your eyes to your tasks.”

Gwillim himself looked away, but Gerraint and Uwaine could not help staring.

“Our death, no doubt,” Uwaine whispered.  Gerraint felt the same, but he gambled and his face was not going to show it.  Right before the lead Viking ship reached them, right when they began to hear the screams and shouts of men ready for the slaughter, it was over.  The ships vanished all at once, and several planks of some old merchant wreck floated by.  Uwaine looked up in wonder.

“Manannan.”  Gerraint named the god responsible for the illusion.  “It’s an old trick.”

“If I didn’t know you, it would have worked, too,” Gwillim said, as he came up beside them.  “But I’ve learned one thing.  The sea can play mighty tricks on the mind.”

Gerraint ignored the comment from his friend and pointed to the sky.  The clouds started coming up and darkening faster than possible.  “You better batten down the hatches or whatever you do,” he said.  “That’s no trick.”

Gwillim’s jaw dropped.  “Come about!”  He panicked.  “To shore.  Tie down the rails.”  He ran off, and Gerraint’s advice to Uwaine was to hold on.  They barely got the sail down before the storm hit them with hurricane force.  The sun immediately got blotted out and their vision cut to half the distance of the ship.  They got lifted on a monstrous wave and spun around so fast and so many times, no man could tell which direction was the shore and which was the deeper sea.  Gerraint and Uwaine tied themselves to the ship in the stern, on the port side.  Gwillim and his mate, Trevor, were tied to the starboard side.  The rest of the crew tied themselves to the bow, except for the two men who were too slow and had already gone overboard.

It might have been half an hour.  It might have been half a day.  It felt impossible to tell how long it lasted.  Their only saving grace was the oak and hardwood construction of the vessel made it nearly impossible to sink, and the round design made it equally impossible to swamp or turn over.  They rode the waves like men on a roller coaster, lifted on mountains of water and sliding into impossibly deep valleys with mountains all around.  Surely, Uwaine would have gotten sick if he had not been so petrified.

Nothing they could do but stay tied, pray and ride out the storm.  They had no way to drive or direct the boat, and no one knew which way to go in any case.

“Rocks!”  One of the crew shouted back from the bow.  He saw the foam of the crashing waves and knew what to look for.

“Hold on!”  Gwillim and Gerraint shouted at the same time.  They slammed sideways into a boulder just beneath the surface.  The sea drew them back and they slammed again and again into the same spot.  They heard a terrible crushing sound which made several men scream.  The mast fell toward the bow, crushed a man and knocked another over the side.

Men screamed in earnest, now, and Gerraint was about to agree with them as a sharp pillar of stone rose right up in the center of the ship where the mast had been.  The waves began to crash down on them, and Gerraint felt sure they would all be drowned in a moment, but then the tearing of the ship ended.  The stern and bow became completely separated, and the stern was pushed by a giant wave to crash against a rocky shore while the bow got pushed to sea. Neither the bow, nor the crew tied to it were ever seen again.

“You all right?”

“Get free.”

“Inland.”

“Shelter of the rocks.”

“Hold on.”

Gerraint, Uwaine, Gwillim and Trevor all shouted at once.  Miraculously, none seemed terribly hurt and in a moment, they scrambled over the slippery rocks and held on to stone and each other for dear life.

“Incoming.”  Gerraint and the others yelled more than once as a giant wave came and tried to crush them against the stone or drag them back out to sea.  Gerraint lost his grip on the rocks once, and lost hold of Uwaine twice.  The second time he saved him by grabbing the Mate’s hand who grabbed Uwaine’s cloak.

There were taller rocks, deeper in, with coves in the rocks that offered some shelter against wind and wave, long ago carved out by just such storms on the relentless sea.  They huddled for a moment before Uwaine found a hole he could slither through.  It put the main part of the rocks between them and the sea, not that the waves were not crashing over the rocks, but at least they were no longer in danger of being carried back out into the deep.  Trevor, the mate wiggled right behind him, and Gerraint navigated the hole well enough.  Poor Gwillim got stuck around his middle, and he might have stayed there if a sudden burst of water had not pushed him through with a pop!  Gerraint and Uwaine, who each had one of Gwillim’s hands, fell on their backs, and Gwillim fell on top of them.  They got up quickly and put their backs to the rocks and shouted.

“Further in?”  Uwaine asked.  “Higher ground?”

“No,” Gwillim became adamant.  “Too risky.  Just hold to the shelter of the stone.”  Trevor shivered and stood wide eyed.  He was going nowhere.

The storm did not last much longer.  Those four had clearly escaped the storm’s wrath, so it seemed the storm decided to give up.  In a matter of minutes, almost as fast as the storm came up, it magically went away and left only a drizzle of rain against the night sky.

“Hours.”  The mate spoke at last.  They saw a three-quarter moon risen somewhere behind the clouds.

“Fire.”  Gwillim suggested the more practical matter, and they let go of their shelter and stepped inland in search of wood.  It seemed a difficult task, but the storm, for all of its violence, was quick enough to come and go.  It had not stayed around long enough to really soak the woods.  With the fire, Uwaine suggested they ought to reconnoiter, to see if they could find out where they were.  The other three stared at him, blankly, until Trevor began to snore.

Hunger came with the sunrise.  A cold wind swept along the beach in front of the edge of the forest in which they settled.  Gwillim immediately took charge, as a captain will.  He sent Trevor to search the shore and pools around the rocks for any fish which the water might have left behind while everyone else built up the fire.  Once they had food cooking, it was Gerraint who really pulled things together.

“Uwaine.” He pointed up the hill out of which the great rocks, near cliffs along the beach, had been carved.  Uwaine understood that he could get a good look at the lay of the land from there.  “I’ll head up the beach and around the rocks at that hedge.  Gwillim?”

“I think I’ll just see if there is anything salvageable from our half of the ship.”  He said.  Everyone said be careful, but then they started out because the smell of the fish cooking started driving them crazy with hunger.

Uwaine found the top of the hill cleared of trees.  From there, he easily saw that they were on an island, but in the dim light of dawn, he was just able to make out the glimmer of another land to the south.  Whether it was the mainland or another island, he could not say.

Gwillim found the ship caught handily on the rocks.  He did not find much inside to salvage, most having been gutted by the waves, but the lumber looked strong, and he already had in mind the idea of a raft, should it be needed.

Gerraint, by far, took the longest time.  Around the natural jetty of rocks, he found a seal colony.  He saw another jetty a hundred yards up the beach and most of the noise came from there, but on his side of the far rocks, he saw several females and their pups, and one little girl with long brown and greenish hair.  Even from that distance, Gerraint could see from her hair and her enormously round brownish-black eyes that she was not human.

“Hello,” he called.  Several of the females began to bark, and the girl looked startled, but she did not move. Gerraint walked up the beach.  He stopped when the girl appeared frightened and looked ready to run.  He had to think about this for a minute.  He heard a voice behind him.

M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 1 of 3

Gerraint looked back until his family fell out of sight.  He told Guimier to watch after her mother and be a good girl.  It felt like a harder parting than before.  He was forty-seven, after all.  His wars were behind him.  He woke in the dawn with aches and pains and should not have to be forced into adventures at his age.  He wanted Enid.  That was all he ever wanted since the first time he saw her in the court of Ynwyl, her father.  He fought for her then.  He would fight for her a thousand times, and never look back.

“Your thoughts?”  Uwaine asked.  Uwaine had reached that delicate point where his stomach and the sea had a temporary truce, and Gerraint knew talking helped distract his mind.  Uwaine never talked much, except at sea.  That was one thing Gerraint liked about the man.

“Guimier.”  Gerraint said.  “I think she will be a real beauty, that is, if she continues to take after her mother.”

“Yes,” Uwaine said.  “I can see you will have your hands full with her.”

“And Enid,” Gerraint added.  Uwaine said nothing, but he knew.  He nodded.

“Poor Bedivere got upset at being left behind this time.”  Uwaine pointed out the obvious.

“Yes, but he needs to heal,” Gerraint said.  “And I have a bad feeling about things right now.  I wanted a good sword in the house, a watch dog if you will.  I don’t know.”

Uwaine nodded again.  He did not feel good, either, but he could not put it into words.  He also did not feel good in his stomach and needed to sit down.  Gerraint sat with him.

“I was wondering one thing,” Uwaine said.  “Lionel was wondering the same thing.”  Gerraint waited.  From the way Uwaine started, he could tell this would be a good one.  “What’s it like to be a woman?” he said at last.  Gerraint frowned.

“I’m sure I would not know,” he said.  “I have never been able to figure out women myself.”  He shrugged.

“But you’ve lived as a woman,” Uwaine said.  “Lionel swears he saw you become one and set his leg.  And I have seen, myself.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Gerraint said.  “I may have some practical knowledge, some things I can describe as an outside observer, but what’s it like?”  Gerraint shrugged.  “It is like memory, sort of.  I was four years old, once.  I vaguely recall things when I play with Guimier, but I hardly remember what it was like being a four-year-old.”  He shrugged again.

“But what is it like, having lived more than once?”  Uwaine asked.

“Boring, mostly,” Gerraint said.  “Its’ plain life, not always adventure, you know.  The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the chance to live it with someone as wonderful as Enid.”  He sounded matter of fact about that, and Uwaine well understood.

“No, I meant you must know things, lots of things about which most people have no idea,” Uwaine said.

Gerraint shook his head.  “I said, it is like memory.  You know, things only come to mind where there is something, circumstances or whatever that triggers the memory.  It is not something I am normally even aware of.  Not something I spend time thinking about.”

“But, then you go away,” Uwaine continued his own thoughts.  “Where do you go?  And someone, some other life of yours shows up.  How do you do that?  And how do you decide who will take your place?”

Gerraint looked long at Uwaine.  The man was not normally this verbal.  He must be really sea sick.  “I don’t know how it works, exactly,” Gerraint admitted.  “I don’t know exactly where I go, or how some past or future life is able to take my place.  I suppose time and space are not entirely inflexible, maybe like a good sword.  I guess being the same person exchanging the same basic flesh and blood between one life and the next is not enough to throw time and space out of whack.”

“No, I mean—” Uwaine started, but Gerraint cut him off.

“As for the other life that comes in to temporarily fill my space, I suppose that too is like memory.  It depends on who is accessible, who comes bubbling up to the surface, so to speak.  It is generally triggered by the circumstances and it is someone who has some skill, talent, or power that can speak to the situation.  I suppose at this age I have some say in the matter.  I know a little about some of the lives I have lived.  But at first, when I was young, as a teenager, I was not always exactly aware of what was happening.  A couple of times, anyway.  Am I making sense?”

Uwaine nodded, but his hand went over his mouth.  That ended that conversation.

Gerraint sat and listened to the sound of the waves lap up against the hull.  The sky looked clear, and the day warm.  He wondered if they would have time to catch up with the Raven.  Urien had about two week’s head start, if Gerraint’s calculations were right.  If Urien and Arawn found a boat before the end of the week, they might already be at the Isle of Man.  It might already be too late.

He tried not to think that way.  They were ready to pull into the docks at Caerleon.  After a brief acknowledgement to Arthur and an updating on Urien’s progress, if any was available, they would ride hard across the roads that wound through the hills of Wales.  At least Uwaine should hold down his lunch.  They would deal with the next sea voyage when they got there, or as Bedwyr used to say, “We’ll build that bridge when we come to it.”

“Arthur got quiet,” Uwaine said, when they started to ride the next day.

“He’s concerned,” Gerraint explained.  “I’m not sure he quite realized how strongly the old ways and the old thinking are still holding on to people.  Right now, Christianity is like a warm coat, but there are layers underneath, and those are the ones closer to the heart.”

Uwaine nodded that he understood, but he was back on land and thus back to being a man of few words.

It seemed a long, hard ride to the northwest coast, but actually, as long as the Roman roads were kept up, it was quicker than sailing around.  When they arrived at the Port known as Branwen’s Cove, they would have to depend on luck and a little insider information to catch a willing ship for the Isle of Man.  Sure enough, Gerraint sighed in relief on their arrival.  He saw the British merchant in the bay, and now all Gerraint had to do was see if it was the one for which he had hoped.

He got his answer at the inn.  “Gwillim!”  He shouted for the Captain’s attention.

“My Lord!”  Gwillim recognized him right away, and nodded to Uwaine.  They had fought any number of battles together.  Gwillim even rode among Meryddin’s select crew that went with Arthur to fetch Gwynyvar from her father’s court, twenty-five years earlier.  That was back when the Irish had a great king and a backbone, Gerraint thought.

“Is that your ship in the bay?”  Gerraint got straight to the point as he sat at the table.

“It is,” Gwillim admitted, reluctantly.  “Family business.”

Gerraint nodded.  Quite a few men of war had found other things to fill their days since the peace.  The mercantile business seemed as good as any.  Some hardly knew what to do with themselves, and that started to be a problem in some places.  This whole quest for the Graal had been intended to fill the gap for many but it was a distraction.  Gerraint knew it would not sustain things for long.

“Let me buy you an ale,” Gerraint suggested, and he did just that.  “Though I see you have added a stone or two in these past three years.”

“Not much to do at sea,” Gwillim said.  “I read the charts, follow the shoreline, and eat.”  He shrugged.

“Your ship fast?”  Uwaine asked, conversationally.

“Fastest ship afloat,” Gwillim said with a Captain’s pride, but then he screwed up his brows.  “Why?”

Gerraint told him.  “Your brother, Thomas was in Cornwall when we left.  He thought you might be here about the time we arrived.”

“Leave it to Thomas,” Gwillim said.  “Anything to avoid an adventure.  I’m not surprised he did not offer to take you himself.”

“But?”  Uwaine wanted an answer.

“Of course I’ll take you,” Gwillim said.  “For old time’s if nothing else.”  He downed the last of his drink and stood.  “You rest up.  I’ll get my crew to unload.  Give us more speed.  Can’t leave until the tide, anyway.”  He left and Uwaine breathed a sigh of relief.

“No point in filling myself full of food,” Uwaine said, and he went immediately to find a bed.  Gerraint stayed up for a bit.  The time was getting on.  They were headed for September.  He could smell it in the noontime air.

Uwaine sat in the back as they rode the small boat to the ship.  The water came up, but the bay stayed calm and there would be enough sunlight left to get a good start.  Gerraint stood up front humming some tune about the mate being a mighty sailor man.  Somehow, though, he thought the mate’s name ought to be Gwillim.

“Realistically.”  Gwillim asked as they climbed aboard.  “What do you think your chances are of catching them?”

“None.”  Gerraint answered honestly.  “With two-weeks head start, I could have the whole island surveyed by this time.”

“So why the rush?”  Gwillim asked.

“Because they haven’t found the door to Avalon yet,” Gerraint answered.

Gwillim shouted the orders to get under way before turning back to his passenger.  “Annwn,” Gwillim said, giving another name for the fabled land.  “You seem very sure about that.”

“El Dorado,” Gerraint gave a name Gwillim did not know.  “I am certain.”  Gerraint did not explain.  “And I am also certain that they need to be stopped.  The old ways are gone.  The new ways have come and no good will come from dredging up the ancient Celtic treasures.  Arthur can only see civil war as a result, and to some extent, I agree with him.”

Gwillim nodded.  “I can see Arthur’s point.  The old ways do die hard.”  Then Gwillim had to get busy with running the ship, and that was the end of it until the following morning.

The anchor came up before the sun.  By daylight; they were headed into the Irish Sea and left the coast of Wales behind them.  Uwaine seemed to do very well and even commented once or twice that perhaps he was finally adjusting to the sea.  They were not far out of sight of the coast, however, before they spotted a sail in their line of passage.

“What do you make of it?”  Gwillim called to the man he sent up the mast.

“Not Scott or Pictish,” Trevor, the first mate shouted down.

“Thank God for that,” one sailor mumbled.

“Two, three sails,” Trevor yelled.

“Irish pirates?” one man asked.  The Irish might not have a strong king at present, but they remained notorious as thieves and pirates, quick to plunder at the first opportunity.

“Not Irish,” Trevor shouted to the relief of everyone.  “Six, seven sails.  Full out against the wind?”

“Prepare to come about,” Captain Gwillim shouted.  Men began to scurry.

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 3 of 3

They found plenty of lumber around the edge of the woods.  It proved easy to find some good pieces for a splint.  On finding some rope in his things, Gerraint remarked that Luckless had a way of thinking of everything.  He tore up Menw’s cloak to tie the splint.  Menw just stared and made no objection.  With the rope, he made a travois and carried the still dazed Lionel to where he could tie down both the man and the leg.

“Bedivere.”  Gerraint called out.  The young man came, his arm in a sling.  “You ride this horse.”  Gerraint said.  “You feel the bump in your arm, slow down or go around because Lionel will feel it ten times worse.

“Yes, majesty, and I really am sorry to have taken that blade,” Bedivere said.

“Howel,” Gerraint called.  “Will you tell this puppy he has done nothing to be ashamed of.”

“First time you’ve been bloodied?”  Howel asked.  Bedivere nodded.  “Well, don’t worry about it.  It happens to everyone.  In fact, I would tell you about my first time, but it was too embarrassing to speak of.”

“Thanks a lot,” Gerraint said.  That was hardly what Bedivere needed to hear.

Once they were set, they did not linger in that area.  They took their own dead, of course, and all of the horses that had not run off, but they left the Romans in the field.  Howel said they were headed to meet a larger force just south of the Lake and if they did not show up soon, there would certainly be scouts.

“But what can I do?”  Howel asked Gerraint.  “Much of our strength was spent in Britain over the past years.  Now that we are facing our own crisis, I do not know if we have the strength to meet it.”

“The Sons of Claudus do seem to be intruding,” Gerraint said.  “But I thought their hands were being tied up by the Franks in the East.”

“I am afraid they may make a treaty with the Franks, and then we would really have to struggle,” Howel said.

“Well then.  I guess you will just have to get there first.”  It seemed a common enough expression.

“I’m sorry?”  Howel did not quite grasp the idea offered.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you make a treaty with the Sons of Claudus first and offer your help against the Franks.  That way, they will be in your debt, and more importantly, their army will be in debt to your army and, if you play it right, they may even respect your army.”

Howel shook his head.

“Now, think.  It is very hard to get men to invade a land whose army they have come to respect.  Help is the best way to peace.  If your father’s father had not come to Uther’s aid, he might not have stayed long on the throne of the War Chief.  In return, Arthur came out against Claudus.”

“Yes, I suppose that is a point.  Way back then, Claudus was a real threat, and my father did have a fight on his hands.”

“Are you kidding?”  Gerraint said.  “We kicked Claudus so bad it took his sons twenty years just to climb out of the hole.  And for your information, it was not way back then.  I was there, too, and I’m only forty-seven, not an eighty-year-old dotard.”

Howel smiled before he turned serious again.  “But it still would not work.  There is too much bad blood between our families, and maybe because we beat Claudus so badly.  And, don’t forget, both Lancelot’s and Lionel’s fathers lost their lives in those battles.”

Gerraint shrugged and offered another cliché.  “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said, then he made a sour face.  “And I hate clichés.”

Back at Howel’s castle, Gerraint let his armor go home and returned to wearing his comfortable clothes.  He spent a week being sure he did not miss one opportunity to soak in a hot, indoor tub.  It did his muscles wonders and he thanked the Romans, privately, for instituting the idea.

“We send Kvendelig, Gwarhyr and Menw home and see what has turned up in our absence,” Gerraint said, plainly enough.  Besides, he was missing Enid, and little Guimier, too.  He just wondered what it might be like to have a good, Cuban cigar to smoke, not that he ever smoked, or even knew exactly what tobacco was, when Uwaine summed it up in his way of few words.

“One down, one to go,” he said.  And so it appeared.

This time, the Channel crossing went uneventful.  Gerraint got promises from the three Welsh Lords that they would give up their quest and stop threatening the future by dredging up the past.  He did not feel entirely satisfied with their pledges, but they were men of the Round Table, and as such, he accepted that their word could be trusted.

Once home, Gerraint felt delighted to find that Enid missed him too, and so did Guimier.  Indeed, it was hard for him to decide which one hugged him longer and harder. Sadly, he also found a messenger waiting for him, even as he pulled into the docks.  Urien, the Raven and his sidekick Arawn had been seen and traced.  Weldig, Nanters, and Ogryvan had all noted their passage.  Only old Pelenor seemed to have missed them on this trip.  Perhaps their lack of a warm reception the last time around, when Peredur was there, made them avoid those lands.  Perhaps Pelenor was just getting old and just missed them, Gerraint thought.  In any case, they appeared headed for the North coast of Wales, and from there, Gerraint guessed they would head for the Isle of Man.

In the evening, while Enid lay peacefully beside him, Gerraint knew Manannon, the old son of Lyr, God of the Sea, still roamed around.  Rhiannon remained.  Manannon had been reported by sailors and fishermen from time to time.  He guessed Urien went on those rumors.  He imagined they headed for the Isle of Man on the strength of such gossip.  It made sense.  Surely a god would know the way to Avalon, or Annwn, as Urien of Leogria would call it.

Enid pulled up and laid her arm across Gerraint’s chest.  She threw her leg around his and he pushed the hair from her back to see her face.  Enid was not able to sleep, either.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint is needed again.  Urien, the Raven is headed for the Isle of Man and Gerraint will have to stop him.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

 

 

 

*

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 2 of 3

Gerraint returned to his horse and mounted, unstrapped his lance at the same time, turned the point to the front and tucked it securely in place.

“What are you doing?”  Kvendelig asked, as if he did not know.

“For Arthur!”  Gerraint shouted and he shot out of the woods at full charge.  The men behind him were a little slower, but Uwaine and Bedivere were quick enough to almost catch up.  Menw and Gwarhyr were a little quicker than Kvendelig, who swore first before he added his voice to the charge.  “For Arthur!”

The Romans still had twice the men, but Howel now had six mounted warriors on his side.  They rode through the Romans first of all, evening the odds a little as they did.  As they turned, Gerraint saw Howel and Lionel arm themselves in the confusion.  The fight was on again, but several of the Romans had quickly mounted and found spears of their own.

This was no joust such as became almost a sport in the late Middle Ages.  This was ancient men with spears, lances, clubs, swords, whatever they could find with which to kill.  This was war, and Gerraint knew the business well.  He put down the first man he faced without the other’s spear even touching him.  The second, however, grabbed the shaft of Gerraint’s lance as he fell, effectively ripping it from Gerraint’s hands.  Indeed, Gerraint knew well enough to let it go and pull his sword.

Unfortunately, with Gerraint’s progress slowed, a Roman became able to grab him by the leg.  Gerraint let go of the reins, directed the horse with his knees alone, and pulled his long knife across the face of his attacker.  The man cried out and fell away, but Gerraint got poked from the other side by another Roman with a spear.  The spear head was not strong enough to penetrate Gerraint’s armor, but the strike landed hard enough to shove Gerraint right out of the saddle.  He hit the ground, hard, and nearly got caught in his exposed face by that same spear.  He ducked in time and swung up and out with Wyrd.  The Roman spear got cut in two at the shaft.

The Roman then arched his back and his eyes glazed.  They heard the sound of whizzing and buzzing all around, as the air filled with arrows.   After barely a minute, the sounds of battle ended.

Three men, dressed in hunter green and carrying bows stepped from the trees on the other side of the clearing.  Two were rather old and grubby looking.  The third, a youngster, looked about Bedivere’s age, but clearly not one to be overawed by the men of armor he faced.  They came up to Gerraint, and the eldest bowed slightly.

“My Lord,” he said.  Gerraint pointed at Howel.

“Not me.  There’s your king.”

The man looked at Gerraint briefly and whispered for his ears only.  “The lady thought we might be better help than the dragon.”  Then he turned to the king and bowed more regally, but very much like a real, old hunter in the woods might bow to his king.

“More of yours?”  Kvendelig distracted Gerraint with the question.

“You never know,” Gerraint said, but he knew the young one was young Larchmont.  One thing seemed certain.  No three pairs of human hands wiped out twelve or fifteen Romans in the span of sixty seconds; and nearly every arrow a perfect shot.

“Odyar?”  Gerraint asked Uwaine when he came up.  Uwaine pointed at the body.

“But Bedivere is hurt, and Lionel,” Uwaine said.

Gerraint looked at Kvendelig who stood at his shoulder and shook his head.  It would not be prudent to bring a more experienced healer into the present.  At least Gerraint needed to examine the patients first.

“Master.  I am so ashamed,” Bedivere said.

“No need.”  Gerraint smiled.  The wound was not bad. “You won’t have nearly the scar I have in my shoulder.”  The bleeding got staunched.  Uwaine could see to Bedivere.

Lionel’s problem looked a little more difficult.  His leg broke and Gerraint did not imagine he had the skill to set it.  So much of that sort of thing was by feel, and he was not sure what he was feeling for.

“Will I lose it?”  Lionel asked.  Howel looked worried as well.

“Afraid not,” Gerraint said.  “Rather, it is whether you will run or limp.”  He looked around.  The hunters were still there.  The eldest caught the gist of what was needed.

“My king,” he called, and Howel stepped over reluctantly to speak with the hunter, and his guards accompanied him.  Gerraint did not wait.  He let himself slip away and Greta came to take his place.  Gerraint knew he lived as a real surgeon in the early Twentieth Century and probably set more broken legs than could be counted, but the Good Doctor felt too distant in his mind at present.  Greta, the Woman of the Ways among the Dacians, felt much closer in time and in his memory.  She also served as a healer, and a good one.

While Lionel gasped and Greta told him quietly over and over to hold his tongue, she quickly made sure her golden hair got securely hidden by her helmet.  She fluffed out her cape with the hope that from the rear no one would suspect she was not Gerraint.  Then she took Lionel’s leg, carefully, and examined it.  “A clean break,” she said.  It should heal completely if you stay off of it for a while.”

“But.”  Lionel wanted to protest at her presence, but he did not have the strength.  He struggled too hard against the pain and against passing out.

“You can talk to Bohort about it when you are better, and Lancelot if you need to, but no one else.  Do I make myself clear?”  She shot a thought to the hunters.  They instantly reverted to fairy form and flew off even as she snapped Lionel’s leg in place.  Lionel stayed busy saying yes to her question about it being clear, so that delayed his scream.  By the time he let out the sound, and Howel and the others shook themselves free from the wonder of the fairies, and came running, Greta had gone and Gerraint was home.

“Keep still,” Gerraint ordered Lionel, though Lionel had passed out at that moment.  “Have to immobilize it.”  Gerraint stood and swung his fist into the image which Greta, with her own gifts of sight, had seen.  Gerraint’s fist landed square in Menw’s invisible face.  As the man fell to the ground, dazed, he lost his concentration and became visible.  Gerraint picked him up, right off his feet, and stepped him back a couple of steps.  The others laughed, not sure what they were laughing at, when Gerraint whispered straight into Menw’s ear.  “If I catch you trying to look down my dress again,” he said.  “I’ll make you a eunuch.”  He tossed Menw about five feet to where the man fell on his rear and yelped.

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 1 of 3

Gerraint awoke to the smell of fried eggs, biscuits and plenty of bacon.  They slept on the grass not far from the lake, but it felt quite comfortable, all things considered.  He opened his eyes, slowly.  Uwaine and Kvendelig were already up and by the fire.

“Lolly!”  Gerraint shouted and woke the rest of the crew.

“Lord.”  Lolly said without looking.  Her eyes were focused hard on the pair trying to snitch bits of breakfast before it was ready.  Kvendelig, the less experienced of the two, had already felt the rap of her cooking spoon on his knuckles more than once.

“Here.  Gerraint.”  Kvendelig protested.  “Uwaine says this dwarf female is one of yours, whatever that means.”

“And if I am?”  Lolly was also not one to take back talk or be maligned in any way.

Kvendelig drew his hand up and away from the spoon.  “I was just going to ask his majesty if perhaps he could convince you to let me have my breakfast now.  A man could starve to death waiting to be fed around here.”

“Chief Kvendelig!”  Gerraint pretended offence but he clearly smiled on the inside.  “I would not dream of asking the good woman for such a thing.  She will feed you when it is good and ready, and not one moment sooner.”

“Trouble is,” Uwaine pointed out.  “You haven’t eaten anything in four days.”

Lolly’s spoon snapped out and everyone heard Menw yelp.  “Give it up,” Gerraint said.  He imagined he could just make out the outline of the man, but then it might have been a trick of the rising sun.  Menw became visible.

“But I’m with Kvendelig,” Menw complained, as he became visible in a place Gerraint had not guessed.  “I’m starving.”  Menw sucked his wrist.

Gerraint smiled but while the others laughed his eyes snapped back to the place where he had imagined the outline of a man.  It appeared gone, but Gerraint wondered.  He might be a little slower and less agile than in his youth, but his senses were not diminished.  In some ways, they were sharper.  He had felt someone there, looking at him.  But then, he could not be sure if perhaps it was not the light after all.  He said nothing about it.

“No nun ever snapped a better ruler,” Gerraint said instead, to everyone’s incomprehension, but by then, Lolly started serving up, and in typical dwarf fashion, they had twice as much as they could possibly eat, even with three of them half starved.

“I don’t understand,” Menw said.  “My legs are like rubber, and I’m so tired.”

“I have a terrible headache,” Gwarhyr admitted.

“I remember,” Kvendelig said, plainly, and it became clear in that moment that all three remembered all at once, and they were embarrassed beyond words.

Gerraint stared them down, one by one.  “There is no way to Melwas through the lake.”

“Gwynwas,” Gwarhyr said.  “In the Welsh, its’ Gwynwas for Gwyn who guards the gate to the island.”

“It has many names,” Uwaine suggested.

“But is that certain?” Bedivere said his first words of the morning.  He still seemed a little uncomfortable, being so near the dwarf.

“Does any doubt the word of Rhiannon?”  Gerraint asked.

“The Lady Nimue?”  Kvendelig asked and Gerraint nodded.  They had imagined she was a spirit or a fairy of sorts.  They did not know going in that it was the goddess, herself.  Slowly, Kvendelig nodded, and Gwarhyr and Menw nodded with him.  “No point in arguing with a goddess once she has her mind set,” Kvendelig said, and that seemed to settle the matter.

“Now we seem to be missing someone.”  Gerraint looked around.

“No sir.”  Bedivere counted.  “All present and accounted for.”

“Ah, Luckless!”  Gerraint shouted.

“My Lord,” Luckless said as he brought in their horses, saddled and loaded with precious gifts, blankets of elfin weave, small saddlebags of silver and gold, and not a few jewels, and the weapons of the three Welsh Lords all made like new, if not replaced by better.

Luckless cleared his throat.  “The Lady of the Lake says let this be a gift for your trouble and the fine entertainment you provided for the court.  Do not return, however, or the fine things will all turn to dust.”  The dwarf did not like speeches, and immediately turned to his dwarf wife.  “Got any seconds?  Leftovers?”  He looked famished, but Gerraint felt sure he had eaten his fill before the men awoke.

“Always for you, my sweet.”  Lolly handed him the most enormous plate of all.

“Young love?”  Uwaine asked.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Quite young.  She’s only about two hundred years old.  Luckless is about three hundred.”  Bedivere swallowed on their ages and nearly choked in the process.  A sharp slap on the back by Gwarhyr was needed.

“Perhaps they are yours after all,” Kvendelig concluded.  “Always thought there was something odd about you.”

“And vice versa,” Gerraint said, but he did not explain as he got up and turned toward Luckless and Lolly.  “Many thanks,” he said.  “Will you be traveling with us?”  He asked and found himself a little disappointed when they declined.

“Little ones,” Lolly said, a little embarrassed, and Luckless puffed out his chest.

“I got me a young one to hand down the family treasure,” Luckless said, proudly.

Gerraint quickly turned to the Welshmen.  “He means iron tools, like a blacksmith or tinsmith might use, not real dragon-type treasure.”  The three Welsh faces drooped, but they understood and did not doubt.

Soon enough, the six men were off on the road, headed toward Howel’s castle and the coast.

“That was easy enough.”  Bedivere whispered when he had the chance.

“Not home yet.”  Uwaine pointed out.

That afternoon, they crossed a trail which Kvendelig said was freshly made by troops of some sort.

“Romans?”  Uwaine wondered.

“In search of what?”  Gwarhyr asked.

Gerraint looked around at those with him and shrugged.  He turned to the trail and put Kvendelig in front.  Despite his enchantment at the Lake, Kvendelig really was a first-rate hunter and tracker.

Not much further along, Kvendelig signaled them to be quiet.  He and Gerraint pushed up ahead to look and dismounted just before they came to the edge of the trees.  Howel stood there, with Lionel and three guards of Amorica.  Two other guards appeared to be dead along with three Romans, but twenty more Romans had them prisoner.  Odyar had led the king and Lionel into a trap and Odyar clearly commanded the Romans.  Neither Gerraint nor Kvendelig could hear what they were saying.  A shallow hill covered with meadow grass stood before the clearing in which the men stood.  But then, Gerraint did not need to hear what they were saying.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 3 of 3

“The lake?”  Bedivere barely got it out when they were there, in the courtyard of a great castle such as would not be seen in that part of the world for another three to five hundred years or more.  The horses were all there too, and looked to have been just groomed.  And their own clothes were also fresh, as if they had not just ridden for several days, and sweated as prisoners or been in a fight.

“Nice trick Goreu,” Uwaine said.

“Thank the Lady,” Gerraint said, and then everyone came out of the palace to greet them.  Many looked like great men and women apart from the fact that they were nearly all young and beautiful.  These were the fairy lords and ladies and certain kings and queens among the elves.  Some looked less and less like men and women, such as the dwarf lords and gnomes, hobgoblins and the like.  These were the subjects of Gerraint in his guise as the Kairos, but there were also many present who were not his.  Many were sprites, of the water, the air, the earth and from under the earth.  Some were little spirits and lesser spirits and even a couple of lesser Gods.  The Naiad of the lake herself was there, but she looked old and said she was ready to go over to the other side.

Bedivere kept passing back and forth between utter delight and abject fear.  He nearly ran at the sight of the ogre, but Uwaine, who had some experience, steadied him.  Uwaine got frightened, himself, by some of the people, and for that matter, Gerraint did not exactly feel comfortable even though he knew that all present were subject to Rhiannon.

Shortly, they were escorted inside where, like it or not, a great feast had been prepared for them.  Gerraint quietly made sure the fairy food would not have an ill effect on his friends.  When a normal mortal eats fairy food, they become subject to the fairies, like men and women who no longer have a will of their own.

Bedivere fell to the feast like a starving man.  His every favorite dish sat in front of his place and that did away with his fears once and for all.

“But where are the Welshmen?”  Uwaine whispered to Bedivere after a few minutes.

“A fair question,” Rhiannon said from half the distance of the enormous hall away.  Through all the talk and noise in the hall, Rhiannon knew everything, every word and virtually every thought that passed by.

“Ears like Math,” Gerraint quipped while a holograph-like image appeared in the center of the hall.  Somehow, everyone could see.

The first picture was Kvendelig the hunter.  He appeared to be tracking something around a rock.  It looked like a big rock and the anticipation grew as he came all the way around and stopped.  He looked up and around and then knelt down to examine the dirt.  “Good Lord!”  Kvendelig expostulated.  “Now there are two of them.”  He started out again to uproarious laughter.

“Round and round,” Gerraint said.  “I saw that one in Winnie the Pooh.”

Rhiannon smirked and changed the picture.  This time they saw Gwarhyr, the linguist.  He sat beside a different boulder where a branch, beyond his sight, periodically scraped up against the rock and another tree every time the wind blew.  “Say that again?”  Gwarhyr was saying.  “I did not quite catch it.”  The wind blew.  The branch scraped, and Gwarhyr tried to imitate the sounds.  “I’m going to learn the language of the little people if it takes all night.”  He looked determined.

“How long has all night been so far?” Gerraint asked.

“Four days,” she answered.

“Boring!”  The noise from the crowd rose.  Rhiannon waved again and the room filled with the lively sound of music.

This was true fairy music, highly contagious to anything mortal, and Rhiannon had to immunize Uwaine and Bedivere, quickly, before they started dancing, uncontrollably.  Once they were safe, Gerraint looked and saw Menw, trapped in a stone circle, dancing up a storm.  He kept smiling, but it was clear to see he danced utterly under the spell of the music.  Suddenly, he went invisible and all they could see was the footprints and dust being kicked up.

“He has the power of invisibility, you know,” Rhiannon said.

“Ah, yes.  Quite an accomplishment for a normal mortal,” Gerraint agreed.

“Yes, he thought to sneak up on us without our knowing it,” Rhiannon said seriously, and then she laughed, deeply.

Various groups in the room began to join in the dance as Menw once again became visible.  Some placed bets on the side, and Gerraint could hardly imagine what they were betting on.  Then Menw’s head went invisible and some of the gold got picked up.  Once, Menw was visible, except in the middle, like head and shoulders hovering over a set of legs.  The dwarfs in the room especially liked when he got down to nothing showing but feet.

“Shoes!  Shoes!”  The dwarfs shouted, and a great deal of gold exchanged hands.

“Good enough.”  Rhiannon stood and clapped her hands and all the noise, the pictures, the whole crowd and the banquet disappeared altogether.  Bedivere, Uwaine, Gerraint and Rhiannon seemed the only persons in a big, empty hall.

“When can we have them back?” Gerraint asked.

“Surely not before morning,” Rhiannon said and took Gerraint by the arm and lead the three men out through a door at the back of the hall.  There were stairs, and fairy lights spaced every third step or so.  At the top, they found rooms with big featherbeds, clean sheets and plenty of blankets to crawl under.

“Is it safe?”  Bedivere wondered out loud.

“It is not safe to question the hospitality of the lady,” Uwaine responded, wisely.  “Any lady.”  He added for good measure.

“See you in the morning.”  Gerraint noticed the fairies fluttering about, beginning to dim the lights.  Rhiannon kissed his cheek with a word of love for dear Enid, and he slept well that night.

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MONDAY

The Welshmen  may have been stopped, but that does not mean Gerraint, Uwaine, and Bedivere are home free  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

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