R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 2 of 3

They traveled through occasional woods that punctuated the meadow grass at this altitude.  Enid concluded this poor excuse for a road Gerraint had chosen led them high through the hills.  She imagined, in better days, this could have been a pleasant ride, out among the wildflowers.  But she did not let her imagination take her from reality.  The sky turned gray and overcast, and so did she.  She had long since given up wondering what she could have done.  She concluded that all she had done was love him, and that was all she was going to do.

At noon, she stopped because a tree crossed the road as an effective roadblock.  She felt uncertain what to do, to speak or not.  Gerraint came up and she held her tongue.  He got a bit of rope he carried with him, tied it to the small end of the tree and to his saddle and his horse pulled until the tree got moved enough to make a path at the side of the road.  He waved at Enid to go around and continue to ride out front while he retrieved his rope. but she did not go far before she called out.

“Gerraint.”

Gerraint hurried, and he got surprised when he saw a man in the middle of the road.  Enid stood on her feet and to the side of the road, worrying her horse’s nose.  He wondered why Enid did not just ride off with the man, but then he saw that this man appeared richly armored in fine chain mail, and sported a long spear such as the Romans used to carry.  Another attempt to see him killed?  He wondered.

“This is my road,” the man said from beneath his helmet. “You cannot pass unless you pay the toll.  I must see all that you have to determine how much you should pay, so please be good enough to empty your bags on the road.”

Gerraint said nothing.  He put on his own helmet, mounted and grabbed his lance.  Then he spoke.  “This is Arthur’s road.  Toll tax is forbidden.”  He charged. The man started a little behind, like this was not the usual response, but he did not start far behind.

They crashed.  Gerraint did not get the best hit on his opponent.  The man was much smaller than he first appeared in the saddle. The man did get a good hit on Gerraint, but his spear splintered on Gerraint’s shield and those two hits combined were enough to unseat the little man.  Gerraint’s shoulder got bruised from the blow, but he appeared to have the upper hand until he looked and saw his lance had cracked.  He threw it to the ground and pulled his sword as he leapt to his feet.

The little man got to his feet and began to bob and weave around the road, sometimes ducking under Gerraint’s sword hand. He got a couple of good blows into Gerraint’s side, not enough to break the chain, but sure enough to leave a mark. Then he ducked under Gerraint’s backswing, and Gerraint put out his gloved hand.  He hit the little men right in the face hard enough to knock him to the ground and bloody his nose.  He tried to rise, but Gerraint brought the pommel of his sword down on the man’s helmet. He left a big dent and left the little man on his knees.  Before Gerraint could do anything else, the little man pulled a knife and stabbed Gerraint in the thigh.  Gerraint howled but used that leg to kick the little man in the chest.  He flew several feet before he landed hard and he lost hold of his sword.  Gerraint stepped up to finish things when the little man cried out.

“Mercy Lord.  Mercy, please.”

Gerraint paused while he pulled the knife out of his own leg with a tremendous cry.  He turned the blade so the point would be in the little man’s face, but the man had his eyes closed like he might be praying.

“On condition,” Gerraint said.  “Henceforth the road is free.  No more travel tax, and you respect the travelers who come through here.”  He stepped over to take the little man’s sword.  “And don’t make me come back here to enforce the rules.”  When he looked up, he saw Enid crying again.  She looked overjoyed at his victory, but terribly worried about the wound in his leg.  She looked to be suffering from holding her tongue.  Gerraint thought she was play acting, and might have said something except he heard something else.  It sounded like twelve or fifteen horses riding hard across the fields, skirting the woods.

When the little man heard, he grinned ferociously. Gerraint figured the man’s gang rode to finish the job.  Enid heard and covered her eyes in her fear, but then Gerraint heard something else. It sounded like bowshot followed by men shrieking and screaming.  Then the sound of the horses stopped, and Gerraint had a comment.

“Probably Deerrunner and a pocket of elves, or maybe Pinewood and his fairies.  In either case, do I need to ask some of them to stick around and make sure you keep the conditions?”

“No, Lord.”  The little man looked horrified by the thought, and twice terrified by the fact that his men were likely all dead.

Gerraint said no more to the little man.  He turned to Enid with the word, “Ride.”

Enid rode, but looked back.  Gerraint strapped up his cracked lance and got on his horse, but it looked hard.  He felt pretty banged up from three would-be rapists and now the little man.  What was more, he did nothing for the wound in his thigh.  He did not even wash it, and that would be a sure risk for infection.

All afternoon they rode.  When the rain finally came mid-afternoon, their pace hardly slackened.  Enid felt sure they had traveled over the heights by then and were headed down toward some distant valley.  She desperately wanted to stop and be allowed to tend his wounds, but he would not stop. After sundown, they entered a village and procured a room.

This time, Gerraint made Enid stay with him while he tended the horses.  Then he took her upstairs and told her to stay in the room.  He would have locked her in if the door had a lock.  He went downstairs and had a very plain supper of bread and meat.  He tried not to drip too much blood on the furniture.  When he felt satisfied, he took a chunk of bread and a jug of water for Enid.  He found her already on the floor and the fire well lit.  They did not need it.  The weather had warmed, but they were still rather high in the hills.

“Here.”  Gerraint gave her the bread and water and went immediately to lie down on his back. His leg throbbed, but all the same, he did not stay awake long.  He awoke when she ripped his pants leg and began to wash his wound.  She had a strip of cloth from the bottom of her own dress to use as a bandage.  Maybe he lost too much blood so he did not have the energy, or maybe he just felt too tired, but he made no move to stop her.  He imagined she might be cleaning his wound with poison.  At the moment, he did not care and went back to sleep.

###

In the morning, they began their journey again, now clearly down the hill that Gerraint guessed was Mount Badon.  They were not far from Bath.  Gerraint ached for the first two hours before his muscles worked out the kinks.  He thought when they arrived in Cornwall in two or three weeks, he would kill the first man that talked to her.  It had been a long time since his childhood days of exploring the fort in every nook and cranny, but he remembered a dungeon cell that might be cleaned up and fixed up with furniture.  That seemed like the only place he could think to keep her where she would not have a chance to get her hands on another man.  He meant her no harm, but she should take her vows more seriously, instead of being such a harlot, which by then he felt convinced she was.

By mid-morning, Gerraint’s ears picked up a call for help. Though Enid rode up front, he galloped right passed her and she had to catch up.  No doubt the sound of horses scared off the robbers.  They found a young woman in the woods by a gentle stream, just off the road, and a young man on the ground, not moving.

“Three giants,” the woman said, and pointed in the direction they fled into the woods.  “They killed him.”  She appeared hysterical.  “They killed him.”

“Stay with her,” Gerraint told Enid, and he rode straight into the woods after what seemed an easy trail to follow.  Apparently, the so-called giants were not worried about being followed.

Gerraint unstrapped his lance and yelled, “For Arthur,” but it became the only warning he would give.  They were not giants, but they were as big as Gerraint, and one looked bigger.  They turned around at Gerraint’s shout, and good thing because he was not one to stab people in the back.  The lance stayed together well enough to run through the first, but then it became so many splinters.

The biggest man appeared lightly armored, and Gerraint thought that broad chest would be a good target for his long knife, Defender. The man yelled and fell off his horse when Defender penetrated several inches.  That left the third man alone, but that man had a spear, so Gerraint leapt out of his horse and tackled the man.  The spear fell out of reach.

They wrestled for a moment and shared their fists before swords came out.  The man knew his business with a sword, but it had been learned.  Gerraint had all the experience in the arena of kill or be killed and soon enough he crippled the man in the legs and followed through with a clean cut across the man’s middle.  Then his shoulder caught fire with pain as the big man brought his big sword down on Gerraint from behind.  He may have been aiming at Gerraint’s head, but he caught the shoulder with a powerful blow.  It broke through the chain mail, broke several bones and cut a big, gaping wound.

Gerraint called for Defender, and his knife, of its own volition, vacated the big man’s chest and flew to Gerraint’s hand.  The man howled and lost the grip on his sword. The sword fell out of Gerraint’s shoulder as he turned, and in one powerful backswing, sliced through most of the man’s neck so the head lolled back and dragged the rest of the body with it.

Gerraint managed to wipe and sheath his blades, though it felt like agony to do it.  He dragged his broken body up into the saddle, his arm hanging all but useless at his side.  The wound in his leg broke wide open again and he had a struggle holding on to his horse. But he became concerned about the women being left alone beside the road with only a dead body to protect them. When he found them well, he slipped off his saddle and fell to the ground.

R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 1 of 3

Gerraint felt reluctant to go home.  He kept thinking how beautiful Enid was, and how much he loved her, but he feared that maybe she turned from him when he went away. She certainly had the young men interested wherever she went, and Gerraint feared that one of those men might have turned her head during his long absence. It ate at him, and at times he became enraged, even at simple things.

Enid spent most of her lonely days at Caerleon in the company of Gwynyvar, but that summer she received word that Marcus Adronicus became ill.  He sent word searching for Gerraint, because Gerraint would need to be chieftain for Cornwall as Marcus became convinced he was dying.  Gerraint’s mother, who had grown close to Enid and her children, pleaded for her to return home, saying Cornwall would be her home as Queen for the people.  Enid came, but they still heard no word from Gerraint.

That fall, Gerraint returned to Caerleon and took his anger out on the practice fields.  By then, he felt sure Enid did not return his love and only coveted his position.  He felt certain she had a secret lover, and maybe more than one.  And as he knocked man after man from their horses in the practice field, he began to wonder if even his sons where his.

Enid found him in Caerleon, and she sent for him, but he did not come.  Word came from Gwynyvar that said Gerraint was fighting some kind of madness and neither Arthur, nor Percival, nor Uwaine, nor any of the others were able to reach him in is fevered state.  She suggested that maybe Enid could reach him and bring him back to sanity, not knowing Enid as the source of his madness.  Enid needed no other invitation.  She left her boys in their grandmother’s good hands and crossed the channel to Caerleon.

When she arrived, Gerraint took her to his home in town and locked her in.  He stayed in the home, often sitting alone in the front kitchen, and fretted and stewed in his anger.  She cried every day, not knowing how to reach him.  Every night they lay there, side by side, but he would not so much as touch her or let her touch him.

Gerraint hired an old woman to cook and clean.  At first, he let Gwynyvar and some of the ladies visit, but he soon got the notion that they were carrying messages from Enid’s secret lover, so he ended those days.  Arthur came once with Gwynyvar to try and reason with him, but he would not let them in the front door.  He almost said something about Arthur’s infidelity with Gwenhwyfach, but by some internal grace, he managed to close his mouth as he closed the door.

He sat for months, until he finally got the notion that even the old cook might be acting as a go between for Enid’s lover, and he let her go.

###

Word came in the late spring that his step-father was indeed dying and Gerraint would be expected to take on the responsibilities of Cornwall.  He said nothing.  He saddled two horses, made Enid ride on one while he followed behind.

“Ride out front, far enough away from me where I don’t have to hear your weeping.  Those tears aren’t going to work on me.  And don’t talk to me unless I talk to you first.”

Enid rode, but slowly, and all she could think was this was not her husband and she wanted her husband back.

From the beginning, Gerraint turned them off the main road and on to some back trails and farm paths that hardly qualified for roads. He did not want to be followed out of Caerleon, and in the back of his mind he thought he might run into some thieves who might kill him and then Enid would get what she wanted.

When he got to the top of a hill, he saw Enid talking to a hunter on horseback who had just come out from the woods ahead.  Enid made the hunter wait there while she rode back to tell Gerraint.

“The kind gentleman has invited us to sup with him,” Enid reported.

Gerraint’s anger flared and he lowered his lance and charged.  The hunter turned and rode quickly back into the woods where he would not be caught, and Gerraint stopped and turned back.  “I told you not to talk to me,” he yelled at her.  “Ride out front.”  Enid turned, did as asked, and wept some more.

They were still among the trees when it got dark. Gerraint pulled them off the road and told Enid to watch the horses.  He went to lie down, and slept.  At dawn, Enid still dutifully watched the horses.

Around noon, they came out of the woods and into some fields where people were working, tending the crops.  A fine-looking village lay nestled on the hillside far in the distance, and a young woman with a large basket came up the road.  Enid passed pleasantries until Gerraint caught up. She turned and told him this young woman was bringing supper to the men in the fields and would be glad to share what she had.

Gerraint acted gracious to the young woman and gladly received what she offered in the way of bread and meat.  He asked about the village, still some distance ahead, and learned that there was indeed an inn, though there were not many travelers on this road.  Gerraint said thank you, and as the young woman walked toward the field and the workers, he said to Enid, “You just can’t shut-up, can you?”

Enid wanted to say something more, but held her tongue when he said, “Ride.”  She continued out front but felt for the moment devoid of tears.

Gerraint got a room at the inn.  There were a few other guests despite the word to the contrary. He saw the horses taken care of, and entered the downstairs room in time to see Enid sitting quietly by the fire and a big, ugly man walk away from her to sit with two other men.  He almost hit her for entertaining the man, but instead they ate and went to the room where he knocked her to the floor.

“You sleep on the floor and tend the fire,” he growled and took himself to the bed to sleep.  Enid fretted for a time.  She dared not speak to him.  She felt afraid, but in the end, she became more afraid for him than of him.  If need be, she would die for him, but she was not prepared to watch him die.  She woke him and spoke.

“That man by the fire said if I would not go with him, he would come in the night and take me by force.”  Gerraint made no answer, but rose and dressed.  He dragged Enid down to the horses which he saddled. He gathered his equipment and told her only one thing

“Ride.”

She rode out front, far enough to not be able to speak to him.  She prayed as she rode, a bit faster than before, and she kept looking back to be sure he kept up.  Fortunately, the moon came up and the stars were bright, and they rode between the fields so there were no long shadows to interfere with her sight.

Gerraint heard the horses long before they became visible.  He knew it was his elf ears.  Then he saw the three riders long before they could see him.  That was his dark elf eyes.  He put on his helmet and pulled his lance to be ready before they were on him. He charged, and that took the riders by surprise.  He ran the big old man straight through the middle, and the man made a sound of death, but he grabbed the lance as he fell from the horse so Gerraint had to let it go and pull his sword, Wyrd.

The man who ended up beside Gerraint had his sword out as well, but looked confused.  He swung wildly in the dark and struck Gerraint’s side below his arm, but Gerraint’s chain armor stopped the weapon, making only a bruise. Gerraint’s swing was more accurate. He sliced above the man’s chain, easily slicing through the man’s neck.

The third man kept trying to get around the big man’s horse, and cursing, but when he saw his comrade fall, he looked ready to bolt.  Gerraint got his horse in the way.  They traded sword swipes several times before the seasoned soldier in Gerraint took over and he cut the man’s arm before he cut his neck as well.  This man fell to the ground.  The other still pranced around, a dead body on horseback.

Gerraint got down, cleaned his sword and returned it to his back.  He pulled out his lance, noted that it had not cracked or broken and strapped it again to his saddle.  Enid came running up.  She threw her arms around him and cried.

“Gerraint.  I was so worried about you.”

Gerraint stepped back.  “You are not to speak to me unless I speak to you first.  Your job is to ride.”  He shoved her toward her horse and got up on his own.  He had wondered why Enid did not offer herself to those men at the inn, since she could not keep her hands off other men. He decided it had been a ploy to entice the men to kill him.  Her life would be easier without a husband.

They left the dead where they lay and rode well into the night.  Enid began to weave in the saddle.  This had now been two nights when she had not slept, and Gerraint had not become completely heartless.  Indeed, that seemed the trouble.  He loved her, and he could not be a monster.  He would never hit her or harm her, or see her harmed no matter how much he might feel like it.  He caught up to her and took the reins of her horse.  He lifted her sleeping body out of the saddle and laid her in a field. He watched over her and the horses, and sat to contemplate just how cruelly his life had turned.

By dawn, he imagined she had slept four hours. The sky threatened a late spring rain, and he felt anxious to get going.  He woke her and made her get back in the saddle while he spoke one word to her.

“Ride.”

This time she said nothing.  She merely lifted her chin and rode out front, alone.

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 3 of 3

They had serious casualties on both sides, but by far the Romans took the worst of it.  Among the footmen, the Roman short sword, while good in phalanx formation, proved no match for the Celtic early broadsword in one on one combat.  The Celts took a toll of almost three to one. The horsemen did even better, likely topping four to one, and the archers better still.  Barely one in ten made it to the top of the rise, thanks in no small part to the elves.  At the top, the Romans either surrendered or quickly fell prey to a dwarf ax or some other hobgoblin sword.

Uwaine, who got lost in the confusion of battle, found Gerraint again even as Lord Birch gave the score.

Gerraint lost a few little ones and he wept.  He lost some brave men from Cornwall, and he doubly wept.  But it was not long, and he looked at Lord Birch, he realized he saw things on the battlefield he had no business seeing—things that were much too far away for normal eyes, like seeing Claudus in his chariot.  He got angry before he put Fairy eyes on the list with his dwarf nose and elf ears, and eyes that could probably see even if he had no light at all. He sighed and sniffed, and quickly took Uwaine to find Arthur among the troops.

“Nothing ever goes to plan,” Arthur said, as he walked among his own men cut down in battle.

“No, but sometimes it works well enough,” Gerraint agreed.  He dismounted to walk and Uwaine held the reigns of all three horses.

“Your knights gone?”

“Yes, and most of the little ones back to the Lady of the Lake’s castle or the Bringloren forest.”

Arthur merely nodded.  After a minute he said, “Excalibur is an excellent sword.  It sliced a Roman sword in two.  A bit heavier than Caliburn though.”

“Diogenes always liked it.”  Gerraint paused to picture one of those short swords cut in two. Couldn’t have been much left.

Arthur and Gerraint halted when Percival and Hoel rode up.  Hoel smiled, and while not unaware of the serious nature of the moment, he just could not help himself.  “Remind me to stay on your good side,” Hoel said, as he got down from his horse to join them.  Arthur did something unexpected.  He hugged the man, and suddenly there were a few tears in the old man’s eyes.

Lionel came up next, and he came in a hurry.  “Howel is wounded,” he shouted, and they made him calm down enough to tell what happened.  A Roman planted his spear in the dirt and struck Howel in his shield. He knocked him back, right off his horse.  The spear nicked his shoulder, no big deal, but he fell on a sharp rock and bruised and cut his bum.  He is lying on his stomach on a stretcher and the only thing he keeps saying is “I am so embarrassed,” and, “How embarrassing.”

“He said nothing else?” Percival asked.

“Ouch?” Gerraint suggested.

Lionel grinned sheepishly and whispered.  “He said don’t tell anyone.”  He raised his voice.  “But I said I would tell his father.”  He returned to a whisper. “But I can’t help it if other people overheard.” He tried not to laugh.  Hoel tried to look stern, but he couldn’t.

“Better go comfort the boy,” he said.  They heard the laugh as he rode off.

“Before I go,” Gerraint took Arthur’s attention. “When my small troop went after the auxiliaries, Lancelot saw and sounded the horn.  Bohort saw and lead some five hundred to join us.  Two-fifty on three thousand would have been rough. They are good men here in this country.”

Arthur agreed but asked, “Where are you going?”

“Greta can help a small number of those good men,” he said.  “I’m sorry there is only one of me.  Percival and Uwaine.”  They were ready to protect her with their lives.

Greta sewed up Howel’s butt and kept telling him to shut-up.  She imagined he never got a good look at her, being on his stomach and all.  Urien, the Raven, had a cut in his arm, but not a bad one. Gwillim took an arrow in his shoulder, and that proved a bit tricky.  Both of them were drunk when she found them, so she felt certain their eyes could not have been in focus.  “Old Celtic cure,” Uwaine called it.  Greta felt the fewer of Arthur’s men who got a good look at her, the better.  Not that they would ever put her together with Gerraint, but on principle it felt better not to give such big hints.

By far, the wounded she treated were cut in their legs, the only place a foot soldier could reach a man on horseback.  Some might lose their legs, some might never walk well again, or run or ride well, but some would heal.  There was only so much she could do, and at last she got worn to a frazzle.  “I am done,” she said.  She pushed the hair and sweat from her eyes, splashed cold water on her face, took off her red cloak and opened the top button of her dress to fan herself.  Her breasts became only slightly exposed, but Percival stared and Uwaine turned away.  She thought they were being silly, but when she came to the tent door, she said, wait here a minute, sweetly.  She went in and hardly a second later, Gerraint came out.  “She only said wait a minute,” he said and walked off.  They caught up.

There were five thousand not only beaten, but broken Romans who walked back to Provence.  Arthur buried his dead by the fort, and stayed to finish the building. Hoel sent most of his dead home for burial and then took Arthur on a tour of the land.  Hoel still felt concerned about the Franks, even if Claudus was history.  Hoel found excuses.

Meryddin showed up shortly after the battle, and he seemed his old affable, nasty, and overprotective of Arthur self.  He may have been part of the reason Arthur got delayed.  Amorica still overflowed with believers in the old ways.  The church made few inroads in the land, and it seemed to Gerraint that Meryddin kept looking for ways to drive the church out altogether. Gerraint thought that Meryddin worked on Arthur to show him the value of keeping to the old traditions, but he felt confident Meryddin would not get far with that.  It never occurred to Gerraint that Meryddin might be working on him as well.

Arthur stayed all spring, even after most of his men went home.  Bohort, Lionel and Howel stayed busy taking Lancelot to the port to see the British off.  They delighted in getting Lancelot drunk and introducing him to what they called a nice young woman.  Lancelot accepted the challenge, as he accepted all challenges, but then he stayed with that nice young woman for several months and did not play the field, and he respected the young woman who did not know how to take that. When that young woman became pregnant, she refused to burden Lancelot with that knowledge.

Arthur stayed all summer, but come the fall he convinced Hoel to let him take some of the young men including Bohort, Howel, Lionel and Lancelot and train them to the lance and in the way of Rapid Deployment. Hoel agreed, and they set sail on a blustery day for Caerleon and home.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint returns home after months away.  He loves Enid, but he wonders how she managed to keep those months.  He begins to doubt.  Don’t miss next week’s chapter, Over the Mountain.  Until then, Happy Reading

 

*

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 2 of 3

Gerraint found he could see better than he used to in the dark.  He imagined it like the dwarf nose and the elf ears.  He tried not to let the thought bother him, and turned to Manskin who stood beside him in the dark.  He had come up from Bringloren with the complaint that he did not know Gerraint planned to have so much fun toying with the humans.  His goblins and the few trolls they brought with them wanted in on the action.  Gerraint allowed it on the condition that they be gone by dawn.  He let them haunt the Roman line and keep them awake, especially at the end of the lines where the attacks would come.  He knew the Romans would be half broken by the time the attack came, and Manskin just kept grinning like the cat who caught the mouse.

Numbknuckles, the dwarf chief, Ringwald and Heurst came up to report that the elves and dwarfs were ready.  Gerraint already knew that Lord Birch and young Larchmont had the fee in the trees on the edge of the Vivane, ready to fly to whatever point on the line they might be needed.  More effective than reserve cavalry, he thought, and suddenly doubled over from guilt. He despised putting his little ones at risk, even if they were happy to do it.  Percival came over when Gerraint moaned.  The little ones vanished as Percival expressed his concern.

I’m all right,” Gerraint responded.  “I just don’t like the killing part.”  He tried to smile.  “Twelve thousand years, past and future, and I pray I never get used to it. Now I have a special task to discuss with my two-fifty.”  He mounted his horse and rode to his men.

When the sun began to rise, the horsemen came out from behind the line of archers and bunched up a little on the edge of the plains. Clearly, the Romans expected an infantry charge and set themselves to defend the field.  Also, clearly, they expected the Celts to be tired after charging across that long field, thus adding to their advantage.  A cavalry charge appeared unexpected and the Romans did not know what to make of it.

The knights of the lance came last to the field and formed a perfect arrow head shape.  They appeared an incredibly imposing sight, reflecting back the sunrise into the eyes of the Romans.  Each Knight sported a symbol on the small flag at the top of their lance, on their shield and on their tunic.  Every knight sported a different symbol—no two alike, and Gerraint surmised it would be the only way to tell one from another.  The Knights did not wait for the horsemen to fill the space.  Gerraint and Percival barely got to shout. “For Arthur!” and hear it echoed by Arthur’s men before they started at a brisk walk.

A third of the way across the field, and the knights stepped it up to a brisk trot.  Two thirds of the way across, they began the charge and every lance came down in unison.  The Romans did not like it one bit, disciplined or not, and the whole center of the Roman lines on both sides broke and ran.  The knights and their fifteen hundred followers did not make nearly the noise at impact Gerraint expected.  He looked for a thunderclap, but the sound did not overwhelm the sound of running, screaming Romans.

When the horsemen broke through, they divided well enough.  The RDF set ahead of time which men would go which way, and they divided fairly evenly, taking their lances as close to the front as they could.  Arthur’s men went left to support Arthur.  Hoel’s men went right for Hoel.  Both Arthur’s and Hoel’s foot men charged the flanks.  It came late according to the plan, but Gerraint imagined they were in awe of the cavalry charge and probably did not think to move sooner.  It hardly mattered.  The flanks quickly fell apart, especially when the horsemen charged from their rear, and that left only one way for the Romans to run, across the field and up the rise toward the waiting bowmen.

Some of those Romans did make it to the line of archers, but they were so beaten and tired, they put up little fight, all except one man and his followers.  The man had to be seven feet tall and looked broad in the shoulders besides.  He swept Arthur’s and Hoel’s men aside with a sword altogether too big.  It looked like he and his followers might make it to the shelter of the forest and escape, but an eight-foot ogre came bounding out of the trees.  He tore the man’s sword out of his hand, along with his hand, and hit the big man on the head with his fist, crumpling the man’s helmet and the top of his skull as well.  Then he knocked the man down and stomped on him until he became mush.  A number of Arthur’s and Hoel’s men ran on sight of the beast, but some had the good sense to cheer and renew their efforts.  At that same time, young Larchmont and his fairy troop arrived, assumed their big forms, and shot every Roman in the area, so in the end, none escaped.

Gerraint knew none of this.  He held his two-fifty back from the fray and watched the knights of the lance.  The Roman cavalry had not moved, like men stunned to stillness, and the knights of the lance took advantage of the moment to form four long lines.  They charged the Romans, and Gerraint caught a whiff of divine wrath in their charge.  The Romans fled with all speed, and did not stop at the Frankish border.  Gerraint noticed the Franks brought up a small army, no doubt to watch and critique the battle, and he knew the Roman cavalry would not last long.

Gerraint turned his eyes to the camp and auxiliaries. Claudus was there in his chariot, a fine Roman affectation, but useless on the modern battlefield.  He looked busy arming and rallying his auxiliaries to charge the back of Hoel’s horsemen.  All those cooks and teamsters were slow to get organized, but Claudus had some Visigoths in his auxiliaries, and it began to look like Claudus might bring a credible force to bear.  Claudus watched his army be destroyed.  For him, it seemed an unparalleled disaster.

Gerraint turned and got his two hundred and fifty lancers ready to charge, but the knights of the lance got there first. They slammed into the auxiliaries, cracked shields, knocked men down made men run in absolute panic.  They tore up tents, knocked over wagons and threw everything into such disarray and confusion it would be impossible for Claudus to mount a charge.  Gerraint watched the knights pop out the other side of the camp and disappear, going back to Avalon from whence they came.  Gerraint also noticed that the knights killed no one.  They had not killed the Roman cavalry.  They just drove the enemy into waiting Frankish hands. In fact, Gerraint doubted they killed anyone in the initial charge.  They likely went through them like ghosts, the way they stood on men and tents that the men never noticed the afternoon before.

Gerraint turned to his men and said, “We must fight our own battles.”  Then he turned toward the Roman camp and yelled, “For Arthur!”  They charged on the echo from the men.

Two hundred and fifty men against roughly three thousand auxiliaries did not make good odds, even if the auxiliaries were not the best soldiers.  Fortunately, Lancelot saw and pulled a great horn from his belt.  He let out a blast which got Bohort’s attention, and he charged, Bohort and roughly three hundred men and half of the RDF on his heels.

They fought, faced plenty of resistance, but soon enough the auxiliaries surrendered in droves.  It may be because many of them saw Claudus’ chariot dancing around the battlefield with Claudus shot full of arrows.  Surrender was accepted.  And in fact, by then, Romans were surrendering and pleading for mercy all over the field.

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 1 of 3

Gerraint got an arrow and set it down on the table that held the chess pieces they were using to represent the enemy formation. He set the point right at the space between the two legions.  “Greta says we need a flying wedge.  Look at the shape of the arrowhead.  The knights of the lance can hold that shape.  All we have to do is stay between the lines.  We will break through and divide and circle back to hit the Romans from the rear.  Even the vaunted Roman phalanx cannot stand up to heavy cavalry, especially when attacked from the rear.

“Claudus has kindly left us this rise and these woods. He expects a dawn attack, but we should have no trouble rearranging our men under cover of darkness.  Hoel’s footmen will move here, to strike the Roman left flank.  Arthur’s footmen will move here, by the lake to strike the Roman’s right flank.  With attacks on their sides and rear, the Romans will crumble, but they will have only one place to run.”

“Yes,” Hoel said with a slight touch of worry.  “Right up this rise to where we are presently standing.”

“That is why we leave a thousand of our men, all our best archers, hunters here between the two groups of foot soldiers.  I have a thousand more, excellent archers, with axe men and men good with a blade to back them up.  Do not ask where they come from.  Do not ask about the knights of the lance.  Just trust they are on our side.”  Gerraint took a breath.  “I want this over.  I miss my family and I want to go home.”

“Where are these men of yours?” Grummon immediately asked.

“Trust me.  I have wings to fly that you know nothing of.  Eyes that see further, ears that hear better,” Arthur and Percival joined him at the last.  “And a reach longer than ordinary men.”

“Aha,” Feswich imagined the flaw.  “But you have forgotten the Roman cavalry.  As we fall on the backs of the Roman foot soldiers, they will fall on our backs to great harm.”

“You let the knights of the lance take care of the Roman cavalry.  When we divide to attack the Romans from behind, the knights will continue straight at the Roman horses.  I expect that struggle will not take long.”

“I have seen three of your knights,” Hoel said.  “Show me what you are talking about.”

Gerraint nodded toward the tent door and Arthur said, “Come.”  They stepped out and found two hundred horses standing in perfect rows and so perfectly still and quiet, everyone gasped, audibly, except Gerraint, and maybe Arthur. The Knights dipped their lances to the ground as the one knight had to Gerraint, Arthur and Lancelot in the forest. Then, without a word, they dismounted and fell in unison to one knee, holding tight to their shields, and their huge horses did not budge one inch.

“They will hold the formation,” Gerraint said. “All we need to do is ride between the lines.”  Gerraint smiled before he jumped.  Feswich started to reach for a Knight’s visor to see what lived inside all that metal. “No!  Don’t do that.  You don’t ever want to do that.  It is a great sin, and certain death to look upon a knight.”

Feswich paused.  The church presently only had a foothold in Amorica so the concept of sin was not widely understood, but the words certain death sounded plain enough. He wanted to say something, but Gerraint spoke over him.

“Please go prepare for the dawn attack, and ask Yin Mo to meet us in Arthur’s tent.  We will be there as soon as we can, and thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Arthur echoed.

The knights said nothing.  They mounted again in unison, peeled off row by row and headed back into the woods.  Only Gerraint seemed to notice, but it appeared that the knights had been standing on top of some other soldiers and tents with no affect and without those soldiers seeming to have noticed.  But by then Arthur began to lead the others back into Hoel’s tent to finish the conversation and finalize their plans.  Gerraint said nothing.

Two hours later, Gerraint, Percival and Arthur returned to Arthur’s tent and Arthur said it was a good thing they had the fort as a fallback position, if needed.  Percival started on an entirely different track.

“You know, now having seen real knights, every young man in Britain, Wales and Cornwall will aspire to be knighted. Probably everyone in Amorica, too.”

“I assume that was where the word knight came from,” Arthur picked up the thought and directed his non-question to Gerraint.”

“Yes,” he said.  “And history.  Soon enough every young man in Europe will want to be knighted.”  And he entered the tent and yelled.  “I said a hundred, like in Greta’s day.”

Yin Mo, now an elderly elf with a long white beard and hair reminiscent of Meryddin, looked unfazed.  “You said no more than Greta’s day, and there will be no more.”

Gerraint frowned.  He remembered Greta in the Temple when the battle took place, so she was not in a position to complain about there being more than a hundred. Gerraint wanted to yell again, but he figured he got committed, and Yin Mo was the expert on the Knights and their capabilities.  Gerraint decided not to pry.  He said simply, “Thank you,” and the elderly elf gave a small bow and faded slowly from sight until he disappeared.  Percival spent the rest of the evening squinting.  He did not mean anything bad by it.  He just tried to understand, but Gerraint had forgotten Yin Mo had such oriental features, and that was a very strange sight in Arthur’s part of the world.

Arthur’s men and Hoel’s men moved like union garbage men at four in the morning.  Bing, bang, crash.  Surely, they were telegraphing their plans, Gerraint thought. The archers had all been selected and they took up their position.  The horsemen saddled up and stood around, Hoel’s men in particular talking in uncertainty.  Many said this would not work.

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 3 of 3

The horse looked bigger than any horse they had ever seen, its nostrils flared, and its breath came in great puffs like mist in the dawn of early spring.  The horse looked covered in a blanket that sported great crosses embroidered in the fabric.  The rider appeared covered head to toe in plate armor so that no part of his flesh could be seen.  He sat on a saddle with a high front and back, and stirrups for his armored feet. And he sported the biggest, longest lance they could imagine, with a simple flag tied to the lance that showed a figure eight on its side, the symbol for infinity.

“About eight hundred years ahead of yourself, wouldn’t you say?”  Gerraint was the first to speak.  The Knight lowered his lance and touched the ground in Gerraint’s direction.

“Who is this magnificent looking warrior?” Lancelot seemed enthralled.

“One of the knights of the lance from Avalon, the same place Excalibur came from,” Gerraint answered.

“Good sir knight,” Arthur started but Gerraint interrupted.

“No.  They don’t talk.  A vow of silence.”  He added that for Lancelot and took a step forward.  “And the answer is no.  No way. Tell Yin Mo no way.”

“No way what?” Lancelot asked.

“Is he volunteering to help?” Arthur, who had been around Gerraint for some time and knew better how to read his shorthand speech, guessed.”

“Yes,” Gerraint answered roughly.  “And a thousand more just like him if I let him.”

“But that would be perfect.”

“No.  It was bad enough endangering the kobold, brownies and fee under Lord Birch, but they were just scouts and kept their bows in the background.  They didn’t attack the enemy directly.”

“But.”

“No.”  Gerraint hesitated.  “Tell Yin Mo I will think about it.  Now please, if you don’t mind.”  He waved off the Knight who raised his lance, turned his horse, and in a few paces disappeared into the trees and the mist.  Even the sound of the horse crunching through the leaves vanished.

###

When Percival and his crew returned in the afternoon, there were six riders instead of five.  Bohort and Lionel went straight to Lancelot.  They had a lot to catch up on.  Gawain and Uwaine still talked about something.  Gerraint did not pry.  The sixth horse took his attention.  It was Meryddin, but he looked old and drained.  Gerraint greeted him normally, and he returned the greeting, but Meryddin made no indication that he thought Gerraint might be anything other than the fourteen-year-old boy he first met outside of Londugnum.  Arthur would barely talk to the man, and when he did it came out in cold, short words.

Percival, not really knowing why Arthur would not be overjoyed to see the old man, sought to reassure Meryddin.  “Be patient,” he said.  “Arthur will come around.”

Meryddin sighed and said he had an appointment. He took the big staff he sometimes carried and stepped into the woods of the lake.

“I wonder how the Lady of the Lake will find him,” Arthur whispered.

“Maybe she will keep him out of our hair for a while,” Gerraint whispered back and said no more about it.

Two days later, the horsemen of Claudus and his advance troops arrived.  It took all that day and all the next for the rest of the legions to catch up.  They immediately took up a defensive position across the open fields, dug trenches and built fortifications around their camp and auxiliaries, but left the field free so the legions could form up and move freely in phalanx formation.  Looking at the way they camped, it became clear they would form up in a kind of upside-down “V” shape, one legion to either side, like the open jaws of a great lion, one man called it.

“More like the paws of a great bear,” Hoel said, when they went into conference.  “The weak point is at the top of the formation where the majority of their troops angle away from each other.  That is the temptation, to attack the center only to have the paws of the great bear close and crush us.”  Hoel had two old men with him, Lord Feswich and Lord Grummon.  Both were in their late forties, Hoel early fifties, and they spoke like they were old and wise and well-seasoned warriors.  Arthur, by contrast, had not yet turned thirty. Gerraint, a year younger, and Percival three years younger at just twenty-five.

“This time, when we hit the enemy from the side and rear we will only drive them to cut deeper into our own men,” Lord Grummon added.

“Excuse me,” Gerraint said.  “But as I understand it, last time you abandoned the plan and went chasing after pockets of Roman Cavalry.”

“That was important,” Lord Grummon defended himself. “We had to make sure the Romans did not regroup,” he said, but then fell silent.

“Maybe we could have the men attack only one legion head on,” Feswich tried thinking.

“And leave the other legion at our backs?” Hoel rejected that idea.

“Well, at least this time we have the advantage in horses,” Feswich said with a nod to Arthur.  “We should be able to deal with the Roman cavalry well enough.”

“That is not what the horsemen must do,” Arthur finally spoke.  “And the foot soldiers need to do something different as well.”

“What?” Feswich shook his head.  “Footmen fight footmen and horse men fight horse men. You are young, but I tell you that is the way it is done.  The stronger arm gains the victory.”

Arthur ignored him and looked at Hoel who looked willing to listen.  “Chieftain, you invited me to your company to take advantage of my experience.  You know we have fought Saxons, Angles, Picts, Scots and the Irish, and we have never lost a battle.  That is because we have not followed the old way of doing things. Listen, and I will tell you how we must fight this battle.”  Arthur paused.  Hoel nodded and kept his men quiet.  Arthur returned the nod and turned to Gerraint.  They had discussed it, but Gerraint could best explain it.  Besides, it would be his knights of the lance out front, and Arthur could step in if needed to negotiate any objections.

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

MONDAY

Claudus:  Arthur and Gerraint order the battle formation.  The Knights of the Lance are ready.  Claudus and his revived Romans await the attack.  The fighting will be fierce.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 2 of 3

“But wait,” Gerraint frowned once again before he shouted, “Arthur!”  Then he leaned down, took Lancelot’s arm, and lifted him from his knees.  “Come along, Lancelot,” he said.  Lancelot stood, but looked like a man in a daze.

“But Sir, you know my name, but who are you that I may address you properly.”

“My name is Goreu, but Arthur and the others all call me by the British version, Gerraint.”  He lifted his voice again.  “Arthur.” Then he paused and sniffed, and he knew exactly which direction Arthur would be found.  Like a dwarf’s nose, he thought, good for finding your way underground amidst all those mines and tunnels, and he wondered what else he had been gifted with.

“Who is this Arthur?”  Lancelot asked.  “I have heard of an Arthur called the Pendragon, a war chief across the sea who is unequalled in battle…”

“That’s him,” Gerraint interrupted.  “Hush.  Come on.” Gerraint led Lancelot through the trees until they came to a place where they could watch.  Rhiannon, in all her splendor, stood on top of the waters of the lake and held out a sword.  She walked across the water and Arthur looked too stunned to move.  When she arrived, Arthur went to his knees.  He handed her Caliburn.  She handed him Excalibur.  “The big brother sword,” Gerraint whispered to himself.  Lancelot nudged him to say he should be quiet and more respectful.

When the exchange got made, a few words also got exchanged before Rhiannon stepped back.  Gerraint heard, though he tried to not listen since it seemed private.  He thought, elf ears to go with the dwarf nose.  He only hoped his actual facial features were not changed.

Rhiannon slowly became translucent, then transparent, until she vanished altogether.  “And she took my sword with her,” Gerraint mumbled before he waved.  “Arthur!”  Lancelot looked oddly at Gerraint, like he felt confused about how he should take this strange man.  Arthur did not help when he waved back and waved Excalibur.

“Big brother sword,” he shouted.  “Who is your friend?”

“Lancelot.”

”Hey.  I know a couple of cousins of yours that will be happy to see you.”

“I’m sorry?”  Lancelot shook his head against the confusion.

“Bohort and Lionel,” Arthur said, and Lancelot jumped, and for the first time he smiled.

“They’re alive?  I thought everyone got killed on that day.  How can they still be alive?”  He stopped walking so the others stopped.

“That happened almost five years ago,” Gerraint said. “You were much younger.  Do you remember that day?”

“I remember the battle,” Lancelot said firmly. “I remember the Romans in their phalanxes stretched across the plains from horizon to horizon, and our more ragged line of foot soldiers stretching out to be able to face the Romans one to one. I sat on horse beside my father, and Bohort and Lionel beside theirs, and all the Lords of Amorica sat on horse, the sons beside their fathers

“The foot soldiers charged the phalanxes, but they held firm.  We charged the Roman cavalry and great blood was spilled that day.  It all felt so confusing.  I didn’t know what was happening, when my father took an arrow and fell from his horse.  I raced to him and got him up on a stray.  I pulled him back to the edge of the forest where he collapsed and lay dying in my arms.  Then three Romans rode up, and I ran into these woods by the lake.  They dismounted and followed me in, but I had my knife and my father’s old sword.  I caught them, one by one.  I—I—I am not sure what happened after that.

“I awoke in the Lady’s castle.  Lady Nimue is the bravest soul I know.  She healed my wounds and tended my heart, and taught me how to fight.  Every Sunday at dawn we rode to a nearby village where the parish priest schooled me in my letters and in the faith.  I learned as well as my mind and arms could learn.  The Great Lady told me I had to prepare for the last battle, the Armageddon for Arthur.  For a long time, I did not know what she meant.”

“Armageddon,” Arthur looked up at Gerraint.  “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Rhiannon, the one he calls Lady Nimue.  All Celtic goddesses are a bit prophetic.  It comes from having a mother who is plugged into the future the way she is.”

Arthur pointed at Gerraint with a question written across his face.  Gerraint merely nodded an affirmative answer.

“But her name is Nimue, the Lady of Lake Vivane,” Lancelot insisted.  “She would never lie about such a thing.”

“How about we call her the Lady of the Lake?” Gerraint suggested.

“The Lady of the Lake.”  Both Arthur and Lancelot agreed.

“But Bohort and Lionel survived the battle? And what of Howel?”  Lancelot became eager for news.

“Alive and well,” Gerraint said.

“Let me see,” Arthur said.  He had spent the time they were standing attaching Excalibur to his belt.  He wanted to ask Gerraint if it had any magical properties, and looked a bit disappointed later when Gerraint told him that it was only as magical as the arm that wielded it, but for the moment he had to catch up Lancelot with five years of history, the first and main thing being the last time the people of Amorica faced the Romans.  He started them walking again as he spoke.

“As Hoel tells it, in the end, the Roman cavalry did not have the fight in them nor the numbers to sustain the battle.  They splintered and began to run, and many of the Amorican nobles and their retinue of horsemen were well suited to hunt them down. I assume the three that found Lancelot were like the others, trying to get away from the battle.  Anyway, it was Howel, Bohort and Lionel that rallied a large portion of the men to stick to the original plan.  They struck the flank and the back of the nearest Phalanx and slowly but inevitably, the Roman line crumbled.  The Romans who ran caused the other formations to come into disarray, and Hoel’s people were able to take the day.”

“Magnificent.  I am so glad, and my people are free.”

“It’s not that simple,” Gerraint said.  “Claudus waged a guerilla campaign these last four or five years, and just about overran the country.  Hoel appealed to Arthur, and here we are.  But Claudus is bringing up two full legions from Aquitaine, and I suspect these will be veterans of the Frankish and Visigoth campaigns.  These will not be so easy to turn.”

“The great battle,” Lancelot said with a faraway look in his eyes.

“I beg your pardon,” Arthur said.  “I am not ready for Armageddon just yet, if you don’t mind.”

They stopped at the sound of a horse.

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 1 of 3

After lunch on a Thursday, Percival took Uwaine, Gawain, Bohort and his brother Lionel up the road to the port to check on the little fleet Thomas had assembled in case things went badly and Arthur needed a quick getaway.  They would spend the night in an inn and probably talk into the wee hours since they had a lot of stories and catching up to do.

Arthur took Gerraint across the road just before dark and dragged him into the woods.  Gerraint felt obliged to say he did not think it a good idea, but then he closed his mouth; because like Arthur, he had been anxious to see this mysterious lake ever since he first heard about it.  Neither felt the need for troops, because like the forest of Bringloren, the land around the lake had a reputation for ghosts and other bump-in-the-night things.  People avoided the lake, but for Arthur and Gerraint, that only made the pull that much stronger.

With the sun set, the moon came out and so did the owls. The forest did have a haunted feel to it, especially with the mist from the snow that looked to be finally giving up to the spring rains and warmer weather.  Neither talked, because the forest seemed to require silence and who knew what might be attracted by the sound?  When they saw the lake, it appeared shimmering, calm and crystal clear under the moon and stars.  The waters looked perfectly tranquil and serene, but somewhere out in the middle of all that splendor, there appeared to be an island, and on top of the island, they saw the first genuine stone castle in Europe.  The stones themselves glistened like the water in the moonlight and spoke of great mysteries beyond the gate.

Arthur and Gerraint found an enormous oak standing between them and a full view of the lake.  Arthur stepped around one side.  Gerraint stepped around the other, and he immediately noticed Arthur vanished. He called softly, “Arthur.”  He heard no response.  He turned toward the big, old oak, except it vanished.  Only a few saplings stood where the old tree should have been.  Gerraint raised his voice a little.  “Arthur.” No response.  He imagined that he must have been transported, somehow, away from the big tree, but when he checked his view of the lake, and especially his view of the distant castle, everything seemed the same.   He yelled, “Arthur!” and startled several things in the upper branches of the trees, birds and small animals, he hoped.  He took a couple of steps in the soft leaves and found himself getting dizzy.  Swamp gas, he thought, as he fell to the leaves, fast asleep.  His last thought was to wonder if Enid would have to come and find him and kiss him to wake him up.

A woman appeared and bent down to touch Gerraint’s cheek.  A host of little ones and lesser spirits along with the Naiad of the lake and the Dryad of the oak appeared with her.  “If he is the man of honor you say, he is not going to like this,” the woman said, but she duplicated some of the things the little ones willingly gave her and placed them gently in Gerraint’s heart.  Then the host vanished, all but one young man, and the woman stood back while Gerraint woke.

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

“Hush,” the woman said.  “Let the sleeper sleep.”

Gerraint stood up to get a good look at his visitors. The young man looked like a big one, about Gerraint’s size, and looked strong and well made.  He appeared dressed in armor that could only have been crafted by dwarfs, and the sword at his side had something of the dark elves about it.  All of this got taken in with one glance, since the woman took all of his attention. She looked far too beautiful for an ordinary mortal, and what is more, he saw something very familiar about her. It came to Gerraint after a moment, and what came out of his mouth even startled him.

“Rhiannon, what are you doing here?  You naughty girl.”

The young man reached for his sword.  “How dare you speak to the Lady Nimue in such a manner.  Apologize, or I will make you apologize.”

“Wait,” the Lady said.  “I think I may be in trouble.”  Gerraint had his hands to his hips and frowned.  The Lady Nimue was in fact the goddess Rhiannon, one of the multitude of ancient gods of the Celts.  “Mother?” she said.  And Gerraint indeed went away so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts, could come to stand in his place.  Her hands were still on her hips and the frown still on her face.

The young man fell to his knees and looked down as Danna scolded her many times great-granddaughter.  “The time of dissolution came and went centuries ago. You should be over on the other side with your brothers and sisters.  What are you doing here?”

Rhiannon looked down humbly at her feet.  “I did not realize it was you, but Mother, I still have work to do.  I still have this young man, Lancelot, whom I have raised, and I am certain there will be another in a breath of years from now.  I feel there may even be one more after, and I have a part to play in the days of Arthur the King, though it is not fully known to me yet.”

Danna tapped her foot and paused before she reached out to hug her daughter.  “If you still have work to do, I will not interfere.  But Rhiannon, all of the others have gone.  I will worry about you being so alone.”

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

“Yes, I know the stubborn offspring of Lyr and Pendaron is around.  He keeps telling me soon, but his is not an example to follow.”  Rhiannon shut her mouth.  “What?” Danna wondered as she took a step back.  “But Talesin does not count,” Danna said.  “That unfortunate offspring of a fee may be immortal, but he is mostly fairy by blood.”  She interpreted Rhiannon’s silence correctly, but could think of no others, and Rhiannon would not say.  Instead, she changed the subject.

“Oh, but Mother.  Your fee and dwarfs and elves dark and light prevailed on me to gift your young man.  They said like Althea of old watched over Herakles, so the Lion of Cornwall would have to watch over Arthur.  I should have guessed it was you.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

Danna went back to frowning and tapping her foot gently.  “What did you give him?”

“Only things your little ones freely offered. They said he was one human worthy of such gifts.  They said they were afraid for him because a terrible man with great power had evil plans for the future.  I’m sorry. I didn’t know.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Rhiannon, Rhiannon,” Danna said, and she left so Gerraint could return and finish the sentence.  “What am I going to do with you, you naughty girl?”  He stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek before she could stop him, and then spoke to her again.  “Please try to be more careful in the future.  You need to not be such a patsy for every sad and pleading face.”

Rhiannon dropped her eyes again.  “I know.  I will do better.”

“I know you will do better,” Gerraint said, and he added, “Soon,” with a smile. Rhiannon returned the smile before she vanished.

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

By mid-afternoon, the town looked totally in flames, and even the wall in some sections looked on fire.  The stream of refugees which became a river when the bombardment began, dried up around noon.  The brave men manning the walls kept waiting for the assault, but it would not come.  Gerraint packed up his catapults and lead his men east.  He left strong groups of little ones behind, the kobold, the brownies and Larchmont with his fairy troop.  They would be sure no soldiers or otherwise would attempt to follow, or go in any direction other than south.  After two days and several attempts, the defenders of the town went south by horse and by foot to catch up with the refugees and left the smoldering wreck behind them.

When Gerraint’s men reached the village on the inland road, they found a surprise.  A Frankish troop of about a hundred had moved in and they were enjoying the local ale and entertainment.  Gerraint and Lord Birch went alone to confront them.  There were arguments, not the least from Bohort and Uwaine.  Sergeant Paul wanted to send a troop of escorts, but in the end, Gerraint prevailed.

No one stopped them at the village edge.  The villagers were too busy cowering in their homes.  The Franks watched them, but did not interfere as they rode to the one inn in that village and dismounted.  Several Frankish soldiers greeted them there, or rather greeted their horses and began to discuss what fine specimens they were.  Gerraint ignored them and entered, then took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his nose to adjust to the abundance of alcohol.

“Who is in charge of these soldiers?” Gerraint asked. Lord Birch repeated the question in the Frankish tongue.

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

Gerraint went through the litany.  “I am Gerraint, son of Erbin, High Prince of Cornwall, Knight of the Round Table, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall, and in the name of Arthur Pendragon of all Britain, Cornwall and Wales I ask again, who is in charge of these soldiers.”

The man stood, but Gerraint made an imposing figure and this man did not look nearly as impressive.  “I am,” the man said without giving his name.  “I have heard of this Arthur.”  Gerraint waited for no more information.

“You should not be here.  I am working here right now and I don’t appreciate the interruption.  You need to stay on Frankish lands.”

“This is Frankish land.”

“Not until I am finished.  Listen, and tell your king.  Arthur and Hoel have no designs on the Atlantique.  When we have forced Claudus to bring up his army and we destroy his army, you can play with the Atlantique province all you want, but not before.  You are just getting in the way.  You can kill any Romans who enter fully into your territory, or do what you like with them, but not here on the border.  Right now, you need to go away.  Am I clear?”

A man grabbed Lord Birch, but Gerraint raised his hand and an electrical charge sprang from his hand like lightning and threw the man hard against the men at the side table. The two who had gotten around Gerraint and were about to grab him hesitated, but then Gerraint went away and the Nameless god came to fill his boots.

“Lord Birch.”  Nameless tapped his shoulder and Birch reverted instantly to his true fairy form and took a seat on that shoulder.  “Let me repeat,” Nameless said, as if he was the one who did all of the talking, which in a sense he did.  “Go away until I am finished here.”  Nameless did not wave his hand like Danna or wiggle his fingers like Amphitrite.  He did nothing overt, but a hundred Frankish soldiers, their horses and equipment instantly found themselves deposited a thousand yards into Frankish territory outside of the village.  They rode off in panic, but the commander of the Franks had a thought.

“He did say we could kill any Romans who came on to Frankish lands, didn’t he?”  He heard an answer, out loud and in his face.

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

Gerraint returned with Lord Birch to the camp.  He did not say much as he turned his men to head back to the coast.  After that, he did not bother with the inland road.

Gerraint gave his men a week around Samhain.  It remained time in the wilderness, but the men started getting tired.  They took a village around the winter solstice, and Gerraint stayed for what he called Christmas week.  The only grumbling he got from his troops came because he made them all go to church on Sunday.

Things continued then until late January.  Long range reports said men started marching out of Vascon lands.  Close by, five hundred Roman cavalry got sent to find the Lion and his men.  It did not turn out fair, in a way.  The Romans camped in a large clearing not far from the main road.  It had snowed in the night and threatened more snow all day, so the Romans were not going anywhere for the moment.  Of course, Gerraint knew exactly where they were thanks to his fairy spies, and they had no idea where he might be.  So, it was not really fair, and in some sense too easy.

Gerraint mapped out where the lancers would reenter the forest on the far side.  Then he lined up two hundred of his men and they rode straight through the enemy camp at dawn.  Tents got burned, horses run off and men got run through the middle.  Some lances were lost and some got shattered, but Gerraint did not stop to fight.  He rode his men out the other side of the camp and back into the woods to be swallowed up by the deep shadows under the deep gray sky and the light fog that filtered through the trees.  Then he let his remaining men, all his best hunters, join with the elves in target practice.  As long as they kept to the woods and moved around so as not to be caught, they could shoot as many as they could reach.

One group of twenty Romans on horseback charged a section of the woods where the kobold stood.  One horse, devoid of rider, made it to the tree line.

At noon, the Romans abandoned their tents and equipment and rode hard for the main road.  Gerraint had his eyes watching, but on reaching the road, the Romans went south so Gerraint let them go.  He returned to the abandoned camp to count one hundred and thirteen Roman bodies. Gerraint had some wounded and lost three men in the charge.  They were the last casualties Gerraint suffered in the campaign, and they were remembered.

Uwaine had a comment as they sent out men to round up as many locals as they could find.  “Next time we need to bring more arrows.”  They put the locals to work digging a great trench beside the road. The Romans got buried there, laid out, but in a mass grave.  When they got covered, they made a nice little mound.  Gerraint had simple wooden crosses planted, one hundred and thirteen to mark the graves, and then he left the Roman armor and equipment laid out like it was ready to be worn by the dead.

“You are too kind,” Bohort said.  “You should have left the men hanging from the trees.  That would have sent a much stronger message.” Gerraint sighed.  Bohort was not particularly bloodthirsty, it was the age they lived in.  They had a chance to do that very thing when they caught several groups of advanced scouts from Claudus’ army.

Gerraint affected an orderly withdraw, giving up ground only as fast as the army approached.  He sent fifty men with Sergeant Paul to the inland road and sent Larchmont and his troop with him.  They had to watch ahead and behind, and also be sure the Franks stayed away. He had no trouble, but Gerraint wanted to be sure Claudus did not get the idea of sneaking up the back road in order to get behind him.

Gerraint sent a hundred men with Uwaine to the coastal road.  They found a few places where the locals snuck back to rebuild, but he left them alone. His job was simply to make sure Claudus did not send any more cavalry units in an attempt to get on their flank.

Gerraint kept the last hundred and fifty with him on the main road, though by then it had become more like a hundred.  They had taken some casualties over the year.  He backed up slowly.  Bohort called it terminally slow.  Gerraint understood that the army of Claudus did not feel motivated.

The Romans built the roads so they could move men and equipment quickly.  The men of Claudus were clearly not Romans, despite the publicity, and they despised the road because they did not want to move quickly.  They counted two full legions coming, roughly ten thousand men, though only about six thousand were actual fighters, the others being supply and auxiliary troops.  They were being led by Claudus himself, but even with all that preparation and leadership, they moved like snails.  Gerraint got to calling it the escargot army, though no one knew what that was.

Gerraint sent messages to Hoel and Arthur as soon as things were confirmed.  Apparently, Claudus also managed some messages to his men that were still in Amorica. Gerraint could not imagine how, except maybe by boat.  Arthur and Hoel had been having slow success all year and just about had the land cleared, but whatever Romans remained at that point withdrew and went beyond the Vivane forest to hide in the hills and knolls of the open land, as close to the Frankish border as they dared.  There, they no doubt planned to await the army of Claudus.  Gerraint wrote that they should be taken out, but Arthur and Hoel decided that would take more time and effort, and risk more lives than it would be worth.  So, the allies settled in on the edge of the Vivane forest and waited in the snow.

Hoel lost most of his army when the Romans vacated the land.  The men went home for the winter, but they would be back in the spring or when called. Arthur’s men did not have the luxury. They camped on the cutoff that came down from the north-coast road and skirted just below the mysterious Lake Vivane. That road met the north coast at a very good port where Thomas of Dorset was able to supply the men with many of the comforts of home in lieu of their actual homes.  Arthur kept the men busy with a building project they started in January.  He wanted a fort literally on the other side of the road from the lake to take advantage of the lake to help keep out any invading force.  They just about got the fort finished when Gerraint arrived.  Claudus came a week behind, and Hoel’s men still straggled in.  Gerraint guessed it would be another week to ten days before the deadbeats all caught up and the two armies settled in to face each other. In that time, Arthur had a notion, and he would not be talked out of it.

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

Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

Lake Vivane, is not haunted, as the locals claim, but it does have its secrets, and Arthur and Gerraint can’t resist a look.  They recover a young man that everyone thought was dead, and Arthur sees his first real medieval castle as well as his first real knight.  MONDAY.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 2 of 3

Two weeks later, Gerraint, Uwaine and old Sergeant Paul dismounted at the command tent which had been set up at the southern edge of the Amorican forest of Bringloren.  Bringloren was an ancient and more pristine wilderness than the northern forest of Vivane.  In Vivane, many apple trees had been seeded and large sections had been cut to build villages and for planting.  Uwaine wondered how the people could grow anything in that rocky, sandy soil, but the people managed.  The Vivane seemed user friendly, as long as one stayed away from the mysterious Lake Vivane.

The Bringloren got avoided.  They named it as the place where the old Celtic gods and ancient kings were buried, and said their ghosts still haunted the woods. They said there were wraiths and spirits who delighted in getting people hopelessly lost and then sucked out their souls.  The discarded bodies were left where the ogres and goblins could eat them and the trolls could suck the marrow out of their bones.  Gerraint did get wind of some ghouls and a few other nasty things in the woods, but they avoided the large, armed party.  He also found any number of little ones, and spent the last two days in negotiations.

He found a tree village of Kobold who came west with the Franks from the forests along the Rhine.  Heurst was the chief and happy to help.  They were also friends with a troop of brownies that migrated to the continent from the swampland of Somerset when the Romans pulled out of Britain. Their chief was Ringwald and he thought his troop might lend a hand.  The trouble was, neither Heurst nor Ringwald knew the Atlantique coast.  For that, they had to visit the fairies in the Glen of the Banner.

The fairy King, Lupen, proved old and grumpy. “Those humans can kill each other off as far as I am concerned,” he said.  But Queen LeFleur, and many of the young fairies knew the territory well, and not unlike some young humans back home, they were anxious to take on the adventure.  LeFleur herself, seated on Gerraint’s shoulder for safety, took him into the caves and burial mounds of the kings.  Gerraint left Uwaine and Sergeant Paul on the surface with Heurst, Ringwald, a middle-aged, sensible fairy male named Birch and a young one named Larchmont to watch over them.  He went to visit the goblins.

They met some Pixies in the caves along the way. They seemed nice enough to Gerraint, but LeFleur buried her face in Gerraint’s long hair and called them “batwings and corruptibles.”  Down in the deeps, the dark elves were the worst sort of goblins, having little to do other than steal sheep and scare any humans foolish enough to wander into the forest.  The land, not exactly being rich in minerals or metals, made the dwarfs move north long ago, though Gerraint did hear the sound of a distant hammer the whole time he was there.

The goblin chief, Manskin, said no way he had any interest in what the up-world people were doing.  “But, we will do one thing for you.  Any humans who try to run north won’t get very far.”  He grinned a grin full of teeth and bits of last night’s supper, but Gerraint stared hard in the goblin’s beady eyes until the goblin chief got very uncomfortable.  “We will turn them back south,” he added in a shaky voice.  “Just like you want.”

“You better,” Gerraint said, not that he expected any of Claudus’ people would escape to the north or dare the forest, and not that he expected the goblin chief to keep his word once Gerraint moved on. “You know my rule about eating people.”

“Yes Lord,” the goblins all said.  “Yes lord.”  Hats finally got removed and several goblins bowed.  “We’ll be sure to tell the trolls down the way as well,” Manskin added, as Gerraint left.

Gerraint whispered to LeFleur when they got near the surface.  “You can uncover your eyes now.”

When he picked up Uwaine and Sergeant Paul, they were more than ready and rode more swiftly than necessary back to the camp where Bohort waited.

“We will have help scouting the land ahead and guarding our flanks as we move,” Gerraint said, as he went into the tent.  Bohort looked at him and then looked at Uwaine because Sergeant Paul started laughing again.  He spent the last two days laughing.

Uwaine simply said, “Don’t ask.  You don’t want to know.”  As he spoke a bright spark of light zoomed past their faces and went into the tent.  “Trust me,” Uwaine added, and he went off to check on the disposition of the troops.

The troops entered the first three villages from the north, gathered the villagers and told them to flee south while the troop burned their homes.  “Tell Claudus he is not welcome in Amorica.”  That became the only message.  Since it turned mid-May, they could hardly burn the crops, but they could trample them.  They found the warehouses for the grain and barns for the sheep and cattle, and after taking what they wanted for their own needs, they slaughtered and burned the rest.

The fourth village brought them a distance inland, and it looked like the villagers were armed and guarding the north end of town. Gerraint brought his troop by secret elf paths so he could enter the village from the south.  Resistance did not last long.  One young man named Alden became the first casualty among Gerraint’s troops, and he was remembered.

Coming from the south worked well on villages five and six, but when they came to the seventh village, one not far from the sea, the found the ways north and south both blocked.  It turned to mid-summer by then and they had heard nothing from Amorica. Bohort worried a little, but Gerraint kept telling him that no news was good news.

In this armed village, Gerraint came up with Uwaine, Sergeant Paul, Bohort and Lord Birch, all on horseback.  They had discussed it.  When they stopped just outside of bowshot, Gerraint took hold of Lord Birch’s reigns.  The fairy got small and fluttered up to the north barricade.  He raised his voice for the gawkers.

“You have until tomorrow sunrise to be gone or die.” Gerraint felt no point in mincing words, and Birch flew back to his horse, returned to his big size which made him look like an ordinary enough man, and they rode back to the camp. Gerraint thought no telling how many of his soldiers caught a glimpse of Birch in his true fairy form, but no one ever said anything.

By dawn, the village had emptied.  That felt fine.  Gerraint did not like the killing part.

Things continued into the fall where they came upon the first true town complete with a city wall.  The architecture looked purely Roman, and though most of the people were Gaelic, they thought of themselves as Romans and that was what counted. The townspeople and soldiers that manned the walls wore Roman armor and carried Roman spears and bows and characteristic short swords, which were really only good in close combat in phalanx formation.  But this seemed where many of the people who fled south ended up, so the streets of the town were overflowing with refugees who had nowhere else to go.

Gerraint was not about to see his men killed trying to take the town.  He called for the six, an affectation from the Pictish campaign.  Six mules carried the halves of three small catapults.  Twelve other mules had been overloaded with the round balls of flammable pitch and tar tied up with strong twine. The catapults could only throw the balls about twice bowshot, but fortunately this city wall only stood about ten feet high.

Most of the town had been made of wood.  They had limited stone, some cobblestones, stone courts and columns, and even a bit of Roman concrete, but most of it had been made of wood, and even if it got covered in plaster, it would still burn. Gerraint thought it only fair to give warning.

“I feel it is my Christian duty and an act of charity to give warning to the innocents.  Move south before dawn, and you will live.  If you go west or east or north, you will be shot and killed.  Move south while you can.  In fact, I recommend you run.”  He went back to his camp and ordered the men to rest.  The kobold had the west and the brownies had the east, and Larchmont and his fairy volunteers, invaluable in scouting ahead and scouting the land, stood between Gerraint’s men and the town and would not let anyone pass.

By dawn, they saw a regular stream of people pouring out of the south gate and on to the main north-south road.  There were two main Roman roads in the Atlantique province and both were north-south.  The coastal road ended in the north at the southern edge of the Bringloren forest where it met up with the southern road through Amorica.  The main road went all the way from the Aquitaine up along the edge of the Vivane, near the lake, and to the north coast of the Channel.  There was a third road, an inland road, but it had not been well kept since Roman days.  It marked the boundary between the lands of Claudus and Frankish lands.  The poor villages along the inland side did not run at Gerraint’s approach.  They went straight to surrender, watched their homes burn, and set about rebuilding after Gerraint left.  Gerraint decided that at least it would keep them too busy to think about joining Claudus’ army.

The townsmen and soldiers in this particular town still stood on the walls when Gerraint started the bombardment. Flaming balls got lofted over the wall and splattered flame wherever they hit, and it made a grease fire, hard to extinguish.  The small catapults got moved regularly to be sure they hit every part of town they could reach.  Gerraint and Uwaine sat on a grassy knoll and watched.  Lord Birch, and eventually Bohort and Sergeant Paul came to join them

Uwaine sipped from a water skin before he asked his question.  “So, how do you tell the difference between a kobold and a brownie, or one of Deerrunner’s elves for that matter?”

Gerraint sat up a bit.  “It’s an art, not a science,” he said.  “But basically, the kobold are more rugged and the brownies more plain folk, if you follow me.”

“A fair description,” Lord Birch said.

“Deerrunner’s people are elves from the Long March out from Elfenheim.  They are generally a little taller than the others, the brownies being maybe the shortest on average, but in a real sense they are all elves.  None of them would get mad at you for calling them elves.”  Uwaine shook his head.  He still didn’t get it.  Sergeant Paul merely laughed.  Bohort had a different thought.

“Lord Birch.  What does the schedule look like?”

Lord Birch pulled out a small piece of velum to check.  “The inland road and then back to the coast.”

Bohort nodded.  “I wish Claudus would get his act together, as you Brits say.”

“Only Gerraint says that,” Uwaine said.  “But I agree.  This is getting boring.”

Sergeant Paul stood and yelled at the nearest catapult crew.  “A little more to the right.”