“So, what do you think of our new tag-along?” Festuscato spoke softly to Mirowen before he turned his head to eye the stranger. Bran had yet to say two words over two days. He just fingered his sword now and then as he rode.
“Big,” Mirowen said, without looking. Festuscato figured he, himself stood about five foot, nine inches tall, and that seemed big enough for fifth century Britain. Bran had to be over six feet tall.
“Gerraint size,” Festuscato mused.
“As you say,” Mirowen responded before she added a thought. “Not really a substitute for the four horsemen.”
“Constantine insisted,” Festuscato said. “He was not going to let me go off to the wilds of Ireland without protection.”
“Dibs seems to be enjoying himself,” Mirowen pointed out. Dibs rode beside the man and babbled away in his gregarious nature.
“But I bet he would be twice as interesting if he had someone to talk to.” Festuscato turned his eyes to the front and spoke with a straight face. “I’ve known husbands who have given more response than that.” Mirowen almost smiled.
“Fudge. Well, there goes the surprise of riding above them and dropping down on their flank.”
“What’s up?” Dibs pushed forward.
“Dibs. Keep your men here and guard the priests. Mirowen, stay.” He pointed his finger between her eyes, but she just returned a pouting face. “Bran, do you take orders?”
“Sometimes,” Bran admitted, noting Mirowen’s face.
“Well, you should come anyway. You might as well learn now how all this works, assuming it works.” Festuscato kicked his horse to get to the front of the column. Julius and Hywel of Caerleon had dismounted, and hidden by the trees, eyed the enemy.
“A cavalry charge in their rear?” Julius asked as soon as Festuscato arrived. Festuscato shook his head. He noticed the Saxons had some ladders to put up on the wall, but they were not ready to make a serious charge.
“Set your scouts by the open break in the forest and keep them hidden. With luck, the Saxons will retreat in that direction and your scouts can follow them to the main body of the enemy. Take two hundred men around to the distant hill, there. When the Saxons get serious about using their ladders, I’ll take fifty men and sweep them off the wall. We won’t be stopping to engage, but hopefully we will make them mad enough to mount up and chase us. We will sweep and run to the hill where the bulk of your men will be ready to counterattack. Then again, if they don’t chase us, we will be in a position to come crashing down on their flank.”
“The third hundred need to have horses at hand, but be dismounted, bows ready, here to the rocks at the edge of the trees. If we have to charge down on their flank, or if there are any Saxons who are too slow to mount and follow us, or if there are any who might be tempted to escape under the shelter of the trees, they need to be turned back, and preferably dropped.” Festuscato turned to Bran. “Meet with your approval?”
Bran grinned slightly. “Thorough,” he said.
All the same, things never work the way they are imagined. It proved very difficult to get fifty horsemen, without being seen, to a place where they could ride along the castle wall and sweep away the Saxon ladders. When they executed the move, though they were determined to ride through without stopping, many got stuck in traffic, so to speak, and had to fight their way to the open field. Then, while a majority of Saxons grabbed their horses and gave chase, when the men from the wall got to the hill, the two hundred were not yet on the hill. The two hundred did top the hill before the Saxons caught the fifty, but it seemed close. To their credit, most of the Saxons recognized the trap and turned around to flee as quickly as they could. The Saxons left by the wall also abandoned the siege and many made for the woods, which made the archers happy. In the end, the majority of the Saxons imagined they no longer had the advantage and made it out by way of the gap in the woods where the scouts were waiting to follow them.
Festuscato, Bran and Julius met Hywel and Mirowen just out from the castle gate. Mirowen led her horse and had her bow in her hand. “Good target practice,” she said, as she mounted. Gildas, Lord of Tintangle, came riding out from the castle all smiles.
“Gildas, my friend. How about a nice supper?”
“I knew it was you,” Gildas said, when he got close enough. “Even before I saw the dragon emblem. I knew it when I saw how you killed the bastards.”
Festuscato sighed. It was Gildas’ favorite expression. Some things never changed.
“Now we will see how those scouts of yours do in locating the main body of Saxons.” Hywel spoke to Julius and looked around at the dead and dying.
“Hopefully when we find the main body, they will realize they are surrounded and surrender without further bloodshed,” Julius responded. He did not object to the bloodshed. He was a soldier, but one that knew peace was always better.
Constantine brought fifteen hundred British and Welsh men from the east. Exeter sent out a thousand from the west. Cador, Dux of Cornwall brought another five hundred up from Portsmouth, and Julius with his three hundred and Gildas with another hundred came down on the enemy from Tintangle in the north. The Saxons resisted briefly. There were casualties, but the end became inevitable. In fact, it felt a bit like overkill for a little over a thousand Saxon raiders; but the point was made, and would be told throughout the Saxon claimed lands.
Greta came in the afternoon, and Dibs and Mirowen followed her, to protect her, while she tended to the wounded. Cador took a bad cut in his shoulder, but Greta told him if he kept it clean and left it alone, he should make a full recovery. Constantine took one Saxon head in ten of the survivors, and stressed the message that next time he would not be so merciful. Festuscato spared the Saxon Chief Gorund, so he could underline, “There better not be a next time.”
After that, Festuscato and the others said good-bye to their friends and followed Cador to the south coast where they planned a short visit.
“So, what is with the Priests?” Cador asked, casually on the first evening while they relaxed and sampled the Cornish ale.
“I promised to make a delivery,” Festuscato confessed. “It’s my own fault.”
“True,” Mirowen said. “The gods don’t make promises.”
Festuscato could not be sure what Cador heard, or how he took that statement, so he quickly covered the thought. “The Archbishop of Londugnum, Guithelm asked so nicely, how could I refuse?”
“I’m taking Patrick to Ireland,” Festuscato said, and Cador jumped.
“What are you mad?” Then Cador realized that he was talking to Festuscato and had a second thought. “Strike that. That is a daft question to ask you.”
“Of course he is mad. Has been for years.” Mirowen could not resist clarifying the matter. Festuscato just looked back and forth between the two before he spoke.
“I need a new shtick.”