M4 Gerraint: Cadbury, part 1 of 3

When they arrived at Cadbury, late in the afternoon, they found an opposing force, some six thousand strong spread across the plains, about half of which were Scots and Saxons.  The other half, Percival had no hesitation calling traitors.  Beyond that, the fort at Cadbury sat in Medrawt’s hands, and that meant Gwynyvar was his prisoner.  Arthur held his tongue as they made camp.

“Suggestions?” Uwaine asked.

“We talk,” Gerraint responded.

“About what?” Percival asked.  He got mad.

“About Gwynyvar,” Arthur said flatly and added, “Damn that boy.”

Bedivere went on patrol and found his cousin, Gerraint’s middle son, James, in the woods with a host of men.  It got near sundown when they talked.  Peter, the eldest brother, sent James up with three hundred horsemen culled from the outlying places.  With him were another three hundred out from Wales.  It was still only a handful of what Wales could send, but Arthur was not in a position to quibble.  There were also a hundred men who made it out of the fort at Cadbury when Medrawt moved in.  When he brought them to Arthur’s camp, Uwaine summed things up nicely.

“Now they only outnumber us two to one.”

Gerraint got serious about talking, more than he had ever been before.  He convinced Percival that they had just talked peace between the Franks and Amorica, “So how hard could it be to make peace between Arthur and Medrawt?”  The problem being Arthur, who was not convinced peace was possible.  Gerraint had to wrack his brain to figure out how to delay things another two days.

He confided to Uwaine first thing in the morning while he dressed.  “I talked to Lancelot before we left.  He said he talked to Bohort and got permission to follow us with a full two thousand men.  They contracted with the same ships we took.  As soon as we unloaded, those ships headed right back to pick up the Amoricans.  The thing is, he said don’t tell Arthur, because they have no intention of staying in Britain.  He said they would help calm the situation and if necessary, fight Medrawt, but then they would go home.”

“So, Arthur doesn’t know,” Uwaine said.

“And I can’t tell him.  And you can’t tell him either.  I’m not sure if I broke trust even telling you.”

“But why keep it a secret?”

Gerraint shook his head and felt very old.  “I think Lancelot did not want to get in an argument with the one man he truly respects.  That, and I think he wants to remain an independent, autonomous army and not see his men integrated back into Arthur’s army.  And I think Bohort and Lionel may have added some reasons of their own.  All I know is Lancelot is roughly three days behind us and if we can just hold off Arthur, he will catch up.”

Uwaine stepped to the tent door.  “For the first time in my life I am going to say, I wish you didn’t tell me that.”

“Come along.”  Gerraint stepped up beside Uwaine and patted him on the shoulder.  “I need your younger, vibrant brain to think of something.  Let’s get to the meeting.”  He started to walk out but Uwaine shook his head before he followed.

“Even my brain is too old for this.”

They walked slowly to the tent and Gerraint calmed his spirit and prayed before his son James interrupted him.  “Father, I told them it was not a good idea.”

“You’re not going to like this,” Bedivere pointed at the tent before he got in front of Uwaine.  Uwaine paused before he went ahead anyway.  He heard Gerraint’s first words.

“What is this?”  The words were rather loud.

Uwaine saw Arthur seated and Percival beside him.  He expected to see some of the other older ones, like maybe Agravain or maybe Nanters out of Wales, but what he saw startled him.  Pinewood, the King of the Fairies of Britain stood there along with the two elf Lords, the brothers Deerrunner and Dayrunner, the dwarf King Bogus, two fellows he could not name but who were no doubt representatives of their kind, and an actual goblin out in daylight, though he stayed protected by the tent and stayed well under his cloak and hood so he was hard to see.

Uwaine spoke before Gerraint moved.  “I thought dark elves could not go out in the daytime.”  He had learned the term dark elf was polite in mixed company, better than the word goblin.

“I saw him come right up out of the ground,” Arthur said.  “It was the most remarkable thing.”

“No hole.  I checked,” Percival added.

“What is this?” Gerraint repeated himself, though he knew exactly what it was.  “I admit you all have been a great help to us in the past, and I am grateful, but it has always been on the fringes and in the background.  Pinewood, you followed me all my life, and saved me more than once when I was young and vulnerable.  I am grateful.  And you all have spied out enemy locations, harassed and spooked them, contained some fields like Badon, where you forced the Saxons to face us rather than escape to the woods.  For all of that I am grateful.  You even guarded prisoners for us, but I never asked you to be in the direct line of fire, and I am not asking now.  The answer is no.  Old Bishop Dubricius once charged two young boys to fight their own battles and apart from some help around the fringes, Arthur and I have done that.  The answer is no.”  Gerraint stopped suddenly, like he ran out of steam.

“I had forgotten that.”  Arthur looked thoughtful as he remembered a long time ago.

“Lord.”  The little ones acknowledged Gerraint and knew better than to argue.  They left, each in his own way.  The fairy, Pinewood got small and flew off faster than the eye could follow.  The elves walked off disguised like men. Others disguised themselves like animals, like a cat, or simply went invisible to human eyes.  Dumfries, the goblin, sank back down into the earth, and that was the end of it.  No human present questioned Gerraint’s decision either, or argued with him, least of all Arthur, though they had no doubt the little ones proposed to double the number of swords on Arthur’s side.

“Now we talk.” Gerraint changed the subject.  “Any word from the fort?”  He felt reluctant to mention Medrawt by name.

“Yes.”  Arthur and Percival spoke at the same time.  Percival deferred to Arthur.

“Medrawt sent a messenger in the night.  He will be outside the main gate of the fort at noon to present his conditions for peace.  He said I can bring two people with me, but that is all.

“So, we go with a dozen,” Gerraint said, like a given.  “I doubt he will be presenting things to negotiate, though.  More likely a list of demands we are to accept, like it or not.”

Arthur nodded, but pointed at Percival.  “But you have something?”

Percival stood and stepped to the door.  He waved, and an old man shuffled his way into the tent.  “My Lords,” the old man nodded his head in a way that had been common among the RDF.  Quick and to the point.  “My name is Dyfyr, son of Peryf the Bowman.  I turned sixteen, and the first man from all of Dyfed to sign up for the RDF.  It has been a long and exciting life, and to this day I can’t seem to keep still, as my wife, my children and grandchildren will tell you.”  The old men in that room smiled for the old man.  They understood well enough.  “I was with Captain Gweir, son of Gwestel when he came to Cadbury to rebuild and strengthen the fort.  My wife is from the little village here beneath the hill.  We have a small home in the town and are comfortable enough.”

Arthur smiled, but interrupted.  “This is good, and I thank you for your years of service and loyalty, but I assume there is a point in all this.”

Gerraint jumped in.  “He is concerned about the Lady Gwynyvar.”

“Your wife.  Of course,” Dyfyr said.  “The point.”  He paused.  “The point is I know the fort from the inside to the outside, and there are ways, ways the workmen used, now boarded up.  Ways to get into the fort from the town that maybe I am the only person left alive who knows.”

“Ways soldiers can go?”

“Yes, certainly.  I was thinking if we came out from the stables and beneath the barn and at the back of the Great Hall all at once, we might secure the lady’s safety and capture the rebel without having to fight a battle.”

Arthur grinned.  Percival nodded.  Gerraint stood, because his expected delivery arrived.  “Gentlemen,” he said.  “I also have something to offer.”  Pinewood and Deerrunner had returned, and they had a cart outside the tent filled with boxes.  “Pinewood.  Please explain.”  Two men brought in one of the boxes and set it on the ground.

“As we saw events turning in the human world, it came to us that brother might well be fighting brother.  Men on both sides might end up killing their own men by accident, not knowing which is which.  That would be a needless waste.  I understand that even human eyes can tell the difference between the British, Scots and Saxons, but who can say which Welshman is fighting on which side?  We offer this solution.”  Pinewood opened a box and pulled out a pure white pullover poncho.  It had been sewn only at the waist so it would restrict neither the arms nor the legs, but it would be easy to identify.  “In our history, we have used similar devices to tell the good guys from the bad guys.”  Pinewood grinned at Gerraint.

“Like the Princess used outside of Athens,” Gerraint said.

“Something like that,” Deerrunner agreed with an elfish grin to more than match the fairy.

Percival felt the material.  “What is this made out of?”

“Fairy weave,” Gerraint said.  “That just means one size fits all.”

“But do you have enough?” Arthur asked.

“Three thousand for your men and more for those who attack the fort.”

“Wait a minute,” Arthur looked at Gerraint, who shrugged.  “We just heard about the fort.  We haven’t decided what to do about that yet.”

Dyfyr interrupted with Lancelot’s favorite expression stolen from Gerraint.  “Ours in not to reason why.  Ours is but to do or die.”

 M4 Gerraint: Little Britain, part 2 of 2

Gerraint tried to be more practical in his thinking.  “He will get men from the north, and maybe from the Scots, but I cannot imagine Gawain or Gwalchemi will support him.  They might not be able to aid us, but they might convince men to stay out of it.”

“York through the Midlands, and even through Leogria will not help him,” Percival added his perspective.  “So many places were all but deserted when Lancelot took men for Amorica, there is no longer much to draw on for either side.”  

“It was never my intention to strip Britain.”  Lancelot took a turn looking away from the others.

“But, all the same,” Gerraint said.  “Oxford is in the hands of Medrawt’s brother, Garth.  Plus, many Saxons have moved up into Britain to fill the empty spaces.  I hate to think he will appeal to them.”

“Medrawt with an army of Scots and Saxons.”  Arthur sounded morose. 

“But that is why he must be stopped,” Percival repeated.  “We need a war chief to keep the Saxons and Scots from taking over, not make the Roman mistake and invite them into our army.”

Arthur agreed.  “Medrawt will not be content with being a War Chief.  He will turn himself into a King, like Chlothar, and be just as ruthless and self-serving.  He doesn’t care about defending the land.  He will make wars of conquest, to subjugate people and make them serve his will.”  They became silent for a time until Gerraint spoke what sat heavily on their minds.  

“Maybe we were the ones who were too soft,” he said.  “Maybe the best defense is a good offence.”

“The Roman way was conquest,” Lancelot added.

Percival spoke.  “Maybe we should have followed up our victories on the battlefield, like we did with Kent, and forced terms on our enemies.”

“No.”  Arthur slammed his hand on the table.  “I refuse to believe that people cannot live side by side as good neighbors in peace.  We just now proved that is possible with Bohort.  We have been told to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies.  I don’t want to hear otherwise.”

People nodded, slowly, but Gerraint added a thought.  “Meryddin failed with you when you turned the nation to the church.  I believe Caledonia was more than just protecting his druids.  I believe he wanted you dead and planned to try again with Medrawt, your son.”

“Medrawt must be stopped,” Percival repeated. 

After that, people had six weeks to write letters and prepare themselves for crossing as soon as the weather broke.  Lancelot integrated the Alans with the Bretons as well as he could during that time.  There were indeed some incidents, but they were minor and could be dealt with.  He said nothing about any return to Britain, and in fact avoided Arthur after the time at the inn.

Gerraint wrote to Gwynyvar to explain things, and three days before they sailed, the Captain of one of the ships sent to retrieve Arthur’s army brought a new letter from Gwynyvar to Arthur.  It said she understood, that he was completely forgiven, that she missed him and please come home safe.  Arthur spent part of that day in tears.  He carried that burden a long time before the sins of his past caught up with him.

When they arrived in Britain, they landed at Bournmouth, the place Arthur christened Christchurch.  Southampton, always on the edge of Wessex, finally succumbed to Saxon control and would no longer be available to a British army.  Arthur felt more concerned about Wales than Southampton.  Medrawt spent years there, encouraging the Lords of Wales to enrich themselves by taking over the lands left behind by those who went to Amorica.  The Welsh spent the last ten years in a land grab.  The ones who came out on top were not slow to credit Medrawt with his foresight and ingenuity.  Arthur feared the payback would be supporting Medrawt’s rebellion.  He had no doubt that Medrawt told those Lords that if Arthur came out victorious, he would force them to give the land back.

Arthur’s contingent of Welshmen seemed meager compared to what it should have been.  He wrote to Ogryvan, Gwynyvar’s brother in the north and Morgana’s girls in the Welsh Midlands.  Gerraint wrote to Enid’s family in Caerdyf, and Uwaine wrote to his wife and his retainer, though he took forever to find enough of the right words to do it.  Still, Arthur expected too little response.  He decided his optimism died with his youth.

It took a week for all of the army to arrive at Christchurch.  They would march to Cadbury where Gwynyvar would be waiting, and from there, they planned out routes for what Gerraint called a show of force, provided enough additional men showed up to make the show worthwhile.  

Percival would take the British and march them to Oxford, north to York, and back through the Midlands and Leogria.  He had the longest route, but he hoped the show would encourage the British people and remind the Saxons who had moved in that this land was not New Saxony.  He would not be going into the north, but Arthur had received assurances from Gawain and Gwalchemi that the north remained secure.

Arthur would take his RDF and whatever Welsh he had and visit Ogryvan in the north of Wales.  Then he would visit any number of thieving Lords as he moved down the land, and assure them that if it ever came up, he would adjudicate the land situation fairly.  He hoped to undercut whatever promises Medrawt might have made to the various Welshmen.  He planned to end at Caerdyf and take the coastal road back to Caerleon.  

Gerraint would head down into the Summer country and weave around Somerset, Dorset and his own Devon, visiting friends and having a good time, he said.  When he sent his men back home, it would be with strict instructions to come on short notice if called.  They all figured that would be important because they had no idea when Medrawt might show up with whatever forces he might muster.

That was the plan, and given a chance, it might have staved off collapse, at least long enough for Arthur to die comfortably in his own bed.  But plans have a way of going awry, and some of the best plans never get off the ground.

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

MONDAY

Things back home are not going well. Cadbury castle is already in enemy hands. Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Gerraint: Little Britain, part 1 of 2

They had a week of feasting, along with negotiating, before a final peace got concluded.  It took another week to return to the Amorican border where Lionel looked ready to pitch a fit.  Bohort brought along the three Frankish “leudes,” trusted older gentlemen who were willing to do their duty away from court.  He escorted them to their new homes, and he found local Bretons who were willing to help with the construction.  One settled just below the lake along the road to the port town.  One took the land by the main road at the edge of the Vivane forest.  The third built at the base of the Banner Bain where the old south coastal road headed toward the Atlantique province.  All the main ways in or out of Amorica were covered, and those men with their Frankish followers and soldier and the Breton locals began first to build the great towers, and then the manor homes, and then the great barns since the Frankish Lords all expected to take the Bretons as tenants to farm the land.

Bohort went home happy.  Arthur, not so happy, because the bulk of his army got trapped because of the winter storms.  It was not that a channel crossing became impossible.  Trade continued in the winter.  But the channel tended toward rough seas even in good weather.  There were more wrecks in winter than other times of the year, and it just did not seem smart to try to move a whole army across the channel in November.

Most of the men did not mind.  Percival summed things up when he said he expected all along that they would stay until spring.  They came over in September, after all, and he did not expect them to conclude their business before the weather.  Age taught him that things always take longer than you expect.  Arthur and Gerraint razzed him, because Percival was the youngest.

Arthur felt more than unhappy when the Alans showed up.  As part of the package, Chlothar convinced Bohort to take a few Alan horsemen who were making themselves a nuisance in the Burgundian province.  Those few turned out to be a whole tribe, a thousand men on horse with their wives and children.  Lancelot and Lionel did their best to break up the group and spread them around liberally though the countryside on the principle that no single place could sustain more than three thousand people.  They helped them build or rebuild certain villages.  They found Bretons among the older, Amorican population who claimed Alan blood from an earlier settlement—from the day when Attila the Hun got overthrown.  These men and women were glad to help their new kinsmen work the farms and generally made sure they understood they were citizens, not fedoratti.  For their part, Lancelot and Lionel were amazed at what the Alans could do with a simple spear from horseback.  They looked forward to training them to the lance.

Lionel feared there would be problems with the majority British population, not to mention the older Amorican population, the Alans not being able to speak the same language and all.  Gerraint wondered how many words and phrases from the old German would sneak into the vocabulary over time and subtly change the language into a primarily Celtic but subtly influenced tongue.  Lancelot feared they might insist on power sharing, or local autonomy.  Arthur feared they would make it impossible for his people and Lancelot to go home.

In mid-January, Arthur, Lancelot, Gerraint and Percival met together in a port town inn.  Arthur felt frustrated and itched to go.  He tried one last time to convince Lancelot to join them, but Lancelot explained his position.  He said his first duty was to his family, and Bohort and Lionel were as close to family as he got.  Even if he wanted to return to Britain, most of the men who came over with him twelve years earlier brought or fetched their families and were now settled and invested in this new land.  This was where family members died, fathers and brothers, in defense of the land.  He doubted many of them would want to go back.

“And I asked nicely and everything,” Gerraint complained.  Everyone ignored him.  Arthur had some communication in his hand and pondered over what it might mean and looked worried.  Percival finally asked.

“Is it bad news?”

Arthur let the velum roll up before he looked up at Gerraint.  “It is from Gwynyvar.  She says she heard from Gwenhwyfach.  She says Gwenhwyfach is claiming that Medrawt is my son.”  He looked at Percival.  “She doesn’t say, of course that is preposterous, or obviously it can’t be true.  She asks, is it true?”  He paused and looked back at Gerraint, and then at Lancelot.  “What can I tell her?”

“Of course, it can’t be true,” Percival said.

“Just tell her it isn’t true,” Lancelot agreed.

“But it is true,” Arthur admitted and looked again at Gerraint.  “You tell them.”

Gerraint did not mind.  Arthur turned his face away from the others.

“We were up by the wall, that night before we invaded Caledonia.  Arthur got up in the middle of the night.  I don’t remember why.  I don’t know if you ever told me why.”  He looked at Arthur, but Arthur added nothing and would not even look at them, so he continued.  

“Anyway, that doesn’t matter.  I heard the rustling in the wind.  Maybe it was a little one that woke me.  I don’t know.  But I woke up and found a great mist had covered the whole area, and it sounded like something was out there.  I needed to see, so Danna, the goddess herself volunteered to step into my shoes.  Maybe she sensed something I could not sense.  Of course, the mist was no deterrent to her eyes.  Arthur and Gwenhwyfach were on the ground, naked, having just made love, and they were both utterly blinded by enchantment.  I imagined neither one of them could help themselves and maybe did not even know what they were doing.”

“Who?”  Lancelot wanted to know who enchanted them.  He started getting angry, but he did not get angry at Arthur.  He got angry for Arthur.

“Meryddin.  Anyway, I sent Gwenhwyfach home, or rather Danna did, and she also sent home the half-dozen assassins Meryddin had hired for after the act.  I think he wanted to save his precious Scots and Picts from Arthur’s invasion.  It took almost two months before we heard Gwenhwyfach got pregnant.  There is no proof that he is Arthur’s son, but given Medrawt’s birthday and counting the months, it does coincide pretty well.

“Meryddin ran off the next day and disappeared for a long time,” Percival said.  “Maybe he knew he got caught and feared what might happen.”

“No.  He got to see himself in a mirror, to see what he really looked like and what was inside of him.  He was one quarter djin.  That is an evil creature that lives by torturing people in their minds and hearts and consuming their tormented souls.  Let us say he scared himself and probably went half-mad for a time.  It was the Lady of the Lake that healed him as much as he was healed.”

“So, Arthur and Gwenhwyfach were enchanted and not in control of what they were doing,” Lancelot said.

“Essentially,” Gerraint confirmed.  “Arthur.”

Arthur sighed.  “I can’t tell Gwynyvar I was not in control of myself and could not help what I did.”

“No need,” Gerraint told him.  “I will tell her, and also that Medrawt might be yours, but he might not.”  He paused while Arthur crunched the communication in his hand.  “But somehow I don’t think that is all you have to tell us.”

“It seems Gwenhwyfach is telling everyone that Medrawt is my son, and he is using that to raise an army to take over the realm.  Now we have a rebellion on our hands, and frankly, I am old.  I would just give it to him, but Medrawt only cares about Medrawt, and he would ruin everything.”

“He has to be stopped,” Percival said.  Lancelot said nothing. 

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 4 of 4

“Lord Birch.” Gerraint turned to the fairy.

Lord Birch made a short bow.  “I have people ready to move as soon as they get the word.  When Chlothar leaves Soissons, they will bring him and his select retinue here in a day.”

“That is five or six days before his army gets here,” Gerraint pointed out.

“Well, that should shake him up, anyway,” Percival said.

“And there is this,” Gerraint smiled.  “I hesitated to say this, because I don’t want him to get a swelled head, but I have talked to quite a few Franks in the past weeks, antrustiones and pueri, and I would not underestimate the name of Arthur.  Saxons talk, you know.  And here, the Franks thought they had you with a two to one advantage and an easy road to victory, but Arthur shows up and the Franks end up running for their lives.”

“Uh, Lord Birch.  Any chance you can get us back to Amorica in a day should that become necessary?” Bohort had to ask.

Gerraint looked at Percival and they shouted together, “For Arthur!”  All the men in that tent echoed the shout, and Arthur gave Lancelot and Bohort a strange look.  Lancelot answered the look.

“Old habits are hard to break.”

The Bretons arrived at the gates of Paris on the next day.  Childebert made a show of drawing his horsemen up in front of the gate, but then he waited.  He was not going to start anything, at least not until Chlothar came to back him up. He expected that would be a few days.

Chlothar himself arrived the next mid-afternoon at about three o’clock.  He just appeared suddenly in front of Gerraint’s tent with twenty men on horseback who looked very confused.  Gerraint sat, relaxing on a chair, waiting.  Gerraint’s men were all around, watchful, but he told them to make no hostile moves.  He hoped Chlothar’s men reciprocated.

“Chlothar,” Gerraint stood up and smiled.  “I’ll be with you in a minute.”  He practiced his Saxon as he imagined it was a language Chlothar would know.  He knew, the gifts his little one’s gave him so long ago included the gift to understand and be understood, no matter the language, but like the little ones themselves, he refused to depend on those gifts, though he was grateful at times when the little ones were willing to help.

Lord Birch’s seven fee came in their hunter’s outfits and knelt to Gerraint.  “Lord,” they called him.

Gerraint shook his head and said, “Please stand.  I want to thank you for this special work in bringing our guests here safely.  Now, I know it goes against etiquette, but please get small and return to Lord Birch for whatever other instructions he may have.

“Lord,” they repeated the phrase, and got small and fluttered off.  Some of Gerraint’s own men raised an eyebrow at that.  Chlothar’s men became more confused than ever, but Chlothar, and a few merely nodded.  Chlothar dismounted, so the rest followed.

“Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Gerraint, son of Erbin.”  He reached out and Chlothar reluctantly shook Gerraint’s hand as a man behind whispered in Chlothar’s ear.  Chlothar gripped a little harder before he let go and spoke.

“I have heard of you.”

“Only good, I hope.”  Gerraint smiled.  “But come, I have others I want you to meet.”  He began to walk while the man at Chlothar’s ear continued to whisper.  The Franks led their horses, as long as no one came to take them.  Gerraint hated himself for doing it, but he listened in to what the man was whispering.  The man was a Gallo-Roman and filling Chlothar in on his estimation of the disposition of Gerraint’s troops.

“We are your prisoners?”  Chlothar brushed the man from his ear.

“You are our guests.  Your brother Childebert is lounging around in front of the gate to Paris with about two thousand horsemen.  I imagine he is waiting for your army to show up.  He doesn’t have much initiative, I would guess.”

“No,” Chlothar admitted.  “But tell me, if we are your guests, what if we decide to ride out and visit my brother?”

Gerraint stopped and faced the man. “No one will stop you.  We can fight, if you want to waste your men and ours.  But at least come and listen first to what my friends have to say.  I think you will find it worth your while.”

“And what do you have to say?” Chlothar looked hard at Gerraint, no doubt a practiced look, but it did not faze Gerraint.

“Larchmont!” Gerraint called.  The fairy appeared, full sized, but Gerraint tapped his shoulder.  “Come and sit.  I have to ask you some questions.”

“Lord.”  Larchmont, a good looking, blond headed young man got small and took a seat on Gerraint’s shoulder.  Chlothar and the others looked surprised again, as if they had forgotten.

“Right now, I am just an observer,” Gerraint told Chlothar.  “The two you need to talk to are in here.”  He pointed to the tent as Uwaine and Bedivere stepped up and opened the tent doors.  “Only four, please.  The tent is not too big.”

Chlothar stopped and pointed to four men, one of which was the Gallo-Roman.  They entered and Gerraint introduced the others.  Bohort, King of Amorica and Lancelot, his right hand.  Arthur, Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall, and Percival, his brother.

The eyes of the Franks got as big on the word Arthur as they did on seeing the fairies.  Chlothar stuck out his hand.  “It is an honor.”  After that, the ideas were presented in short order, and as Gerraint had suggested, every advantage of a friendly neighbor got underlined while the disadvantages of conquest were plainly stated.

Gerraint stood up and went to the door and Chlothar stood as well.  “You must wait,” Chlothar said.  “My brother must hear this.  You talk to my men.”  He followed Gerraint outside and gave a command.  “Conrad.  Take three men and fetch Childebert, alone.  No, he can bring that dotty old priest with him, but no more.”  He paused.

A jousting pole had been set up not far away.  Chlothar’s men were fascinated.  The Cornish were using the lances with the cushioned ends, since they did not want men injured who might need to go into battle, but it made a rough sport all the same.

“Two coppers on Marcus,” Uwaine said.

“Taken,” Bedivere answered.  He pulled out two coins and groused when Marcus unseated his opponent.  A couple of Chlothar’s men saw and laughed.  Chlothar, being of a military mind, instinctively saw the benefit of such training.

“You have well trained men,” he commented.

“Yes,” Gerraint agreed.  “But I am more interested in the women.  I was just about to ask Larchmont what the women were like in Paris.”  Chlothar looked, like he had forgotten Gerraint had a fairy on his shoulder.

“Dull and mindless,” Larchmont said.  “They spend all of their time in fancy dress and parties, like the world is no bigger than their boudoir.  I think there is only one female brain in all of the city and the women take turns using it.”

Chlothar laughed.  “Exactly my thinking.”

Gerraint laughed as well, but then said, “I think you better go see what Birch is up to, and tell Galoren, Baran and Gemstone to stand down for now.  I hope these men will be able to work things out for everyone’s benefit.

“Very good, Lord.”  Larchmont sped off.

“These others?” Chlothar asked.

“Elf King, dwarf King and goblin King.”

“How is it that you…”

“They are friends.  Sometimes I have an opportunity to ask them for help, and they are good enough to oblige.  But I have a feeling you really want to ask me something else.”

Chlothar looked up.  “The Lion of Cornwall.  I should have guessed from your height, you know.”

“I am, but I have gotten old now.  It is something we all do, even kings.”

“Yes, but Arthur?”

“He brought just a few men to help a friend.  That is something you must also consider, but if you decide on peace and friendship, it is Bohort with whom you must speak.”

“I understand.  But I will say this.  Arthur is the only man on earth I would not like to fight.”

Gerraint smiled.  “I think you will find friendship with Great Britain and Little Britain is much better.”

Chlothar nodded and remained silent for a minute.  Then he turned and pointed at the joust.  “Tell me about this game your men are playing.”

 

 

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 3 of 4

Someone, not Charles because he died in the first strike, got to his horse and decided the battle had been lost.  He rode off, and near two thousand Franks followed him. Arthur and Bohort met in the center, and Arthur said something that raised Bohort’s eyebrows.

“Now we chase them.”

“What?  For how long?”

“All the way to Paris if necessary,” Arthur said.

“They will never stop unless they are forced to sit and make peace,” Gerraint added.  He and Arthur discussed it.  Arthur had been against it at first until Percival pointed out that if Amorica had a guarantee of peace, Lancelot might be willing to lead some of his men back to Britain.

“But who will hold the land and defend the border?” Bohort asked.  He felt trapped in the idea of defending the land and could not see alternatives.

“The best defense is a good offense,” Gerraint said.

“Can I quote you on that?”  Bedivere asked.  He and Uwaine had come up to join the conference.

“The Franks have two armies on the German border, north and south, in Swabia” Arthur said, having already talked to Lord Birch.  “They have more men in the Atlantique province and an army down in Aquataine, by the Burgundian border.  It made good sense for the Franks to let the sons of Claudus do the hard work against Amorica.”

Gerraint looked at Bohort, his friend.  “My scouts tell me the road to Paris is wide open and undefended.”

“Your scouts?” Bohort asked, and then remembered.  “Oh.”

“We go,” Arthur said, and he started out at a trot.  His men turned with him.  Only Gerraint, Uwaine and Bedivere waited on Bohort to make a decision.  They listened to the man swear, before he shouted.

“Bedwin.  You and your men bring the prisoners up to Lionel and then you can follow.  Tell Lionel to hold the line and kill any Franks who try to escape.  We will be a week.”  He saw Gerraint shake his head and hold up two fingers.  “Make that two weeks.”  He turned to Gerraint and could not help the sarcasm.  “After you, your majesty.”

“Thank you, your majesty.”  Gerraint returned the compliment, and the sarcasm, but with a smile.

Lancelot was not content with holding the line with the foot soldiers.  They had plenty of serviceable horses taken from Charles and deGuise.  He found seven hundred men who were reasonably good on horseback, and that gave him and Bedwin a thousand to follow Arthur.

Lionel spent the time grousing.  He did not want to have to guard three thousand Franks for the next two weeks. Arthur’s men had no interest in doing that, either.  Lionel spent a week carting all the Frankish leaders and chiefs to the nearest jails and prisons.  The rest of the Franks he kept there, on the fields, in the open.  He let them build fires, put up tents and gave them blankets.  He also gave them food to cook, once a day at noon.  But that was it.

The elves Ringwald and Heurst found Lionel early on and offered to hold the line at the trees in case any Franks got the idea that sneaking off into the woods as a way of escape.  Lionel was grateful, but he had to ask, “Does Gerraint know you are volunteering?”

“We don’t have to ask permission,” Lupen, the grumpy old fairy King said.  “We might get in trouble if we overstep our bounds, but I have met you, and you seem a reasonable man for one so very young.  I am sure you can keep this between you and me.  I mean, he can hardly complain.  He has Birch and young Larchmont flying all over the countryside.”

Lady LeFleur stepped up and spoke more to the point.  “Manskin, the King of the dark elves will watch the Frankish perimeter between sundown and sunrise.  Best you keep your men back in the night.  Ringwald and Heurst will stay in the trees during the day.  I understand your orders are to kill any who try to escape.”  Lionel nodded.  “I can assure you; none will escape by the forest or in the night.  Come along, Lupen.”

“Dear.”  The fairies left, and Lionel got down to planning.

Arthur’s foot soldiers pushed as far into Frankish lands as was reasonable, about half a day’s march.  They found a place where they could ambush the enemy on the road, and they waited in case Arthur reached a point where he had to make a hasty retreat.

Lionel kept the men in the center, to guard the prisoners, certainly, but also to guard the border.  He sent five hundred men to the lake, with orders to secure the road that lead to the port town, and also to patrol the coastal road.  DeGuise found a way down that coastal road with a thousand horsemen.  Lionel did not want any repeats.  Lionel also sent five hundred to the base of the Bringloren, the forest of the Banner Bain, to keep an eye on the Atlantique province and to hold the southern coastal road.  The Franks in the Atlantique were still an occupation force and that meant they pretty much had to stay where they were, but Lionel imagined they might try an end run in the south the way deGuise did in the north.  Then all of those men waited for Bohort, their King to return.

Gerraint lead the way down the Paris road, having done something similar back when they faced Claudus.  He drove the Franks ahead of him as refugees and burned the villages.  He only killed a few of the men who resisted.  Most of them he disarmed and drove off with a warning that they should be grateful being let go this one and only time.  The few he killed made the point.

There were two towns with walls on the route, but he bypassed them, not wanting to slow things down.   He gave warning that if they did not get satisfaction from the Frankish Kings, they would be back to burn the town and kill any who resisted.  He left them alone, but he set Larchmont as rear guard to watch for any enterprising young Lord or townspeople who might be tempted to come out and follow them.  At the same time, Gerraint hoped word that they wanted to talk with the king went ahead of him.

The two thousand Franks who escaped and rode away from the battle, and sometimes some locals with them, set numerous traps and ambushes along their route.  Lord Birch did not get fooled.  Those traps and ambushes were invariably turned on the Franks with dire consequences for the Franks.  Gerraint hoped that word went out front as well, and apparently, some information went ahead of them, because as they approached Paris, they found the villages deserted by the time they arrived.

While Gerraint watched over their progress, Bohort and Arthur argued until they hammered out an acceptable peace.  Arthur insisted they have some negotiable points where they could be seen giving the Franks some of what they wanted.

“The object here, as I see it,” Lancelot mused out loud.  “Is to get a peace agreement that both sides will keep, not to make a stone around the neck where one side has all the advantage over the other.”

“Border watch is sensible,” Arthur insisted.  “Representatives of the Franks that regularly renew the pledge of peace.  I would not suggest it, but I imagine they will insist on something.”

“I’m not sure I can be comfortable having Frankish Lords on my border, looking over my shoulder,” Bohort said.

“We have to be honest about this,” Lancelot continued.  “The Franks would leave their other borders at risk, but they could call up twice what the Saxons brought to Badon if they wanted.”

“There are ways to work things out, especially if there are men committed to peace on both sides of the border,” Arthur said.

“Marriage is a classic way to peace,” Uwaine said, and all eyes turned to him.  “Or so Gerraint tells me.”

“Saxon wife,” Percival pointed at Uwaine.

“Oh?” Bohort was interested.  “Does she?”

“Yes,” Uwaine said.

“Two sons and two daughters,” Percival added, and then Bohort had to think through some options.

“Gentlemen.”  Gerraint stuck his head into the big tent.  “We have news from Lord Birch.”  He got followed by a man dressed in plain hunter’s fare, but everyone knew he was not a plain hunter.

“Childebert, King in Paris has appealed to his brother Chlothar in Soissons for help.  The army in Austrasia is on the Frisian border, but Chlothar has some five thousand men at his call, mostly antrustiones with their pueri and they will be at Paris in about a week.”

“He has what?”  Bohort did not understand the terms

“Aristocrats, lords and rich men, often on horseback, with their peasant soldiers.” Percival explained.  He had taken the time to discuss thing with Gerraint who understood these things.

“The trustees are the king’s personal bodyguards.  They don’t have near the training, but you might think of them as Frankish RDF,” Uwaine added.  He listened when Gerraint talked.

“I don’t know,” Arthur said. “Childebert already has a reported four thousand men and another two thousand on the walls of the city.  That is already a match for our numbers.”

“By himself, Childebert might be able to turn us away from Paris,” Lancelot concurred.

“No.  You are missing the point,” Gerraint said.  “Chlothar is the brother you want to make peace with.  Theudebert, his son. rules Austrasia with Chlothar’s blessing.  Chlothar has already taken Orleans, since the death of his brother, Choldomer.  Childebert rules Paris and the immediate area, but he is surrounded by land ruled by Chlothar, and he knows it.”

“But with five thousand men added to what Childebert already has and we don’t stand much of a chance,” Bohort sounded calm about it.

“If we turn back now, the Franks will see that as weakness,” Lancelot countered.

“We have made our point, that we can hurt them,” Arthur said.

“You are still missing the point,” Gerraint interrupted.  “We talk to Chlothar.  Tell him we only want to make an acceptable peace.  As long as the Franks leave us alone, we will leave them alone.  Look at the advantages for him.  He will have one border he won’t have to waste men defending.  In fact, as a friend, Amorica can open up trade for the Franks with Cornwall, Wales, Britain, even Ireland.  That can bring riches to his lands.  Amorica still has a fine fleet.  It can help guard the Atlantique against Visigoths and Vandals, and the Channel against Saxons, Frisians, and Picts.  Look, with Amorica as a friend, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  You just need to explain that in a way he will understand.”

“But so many men,” Bohort did not sound convinced.

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

MONDAY

First, they have to make peace with the Franks.  Then Arthur and his men are stuck in Little Britain for the winter, and find no help for the home-front.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 2 of 4

“Larchmont!”  Gerraint called.  “Birch!”  The two fairy Lords appeared, because they had to, but they came disguised as hunters so the other men present might not flinch too badly.  “What resources do we have?”

“The usual,” Birch said.  “Not too many spooks, the soil being what it is.”  By spooks, Birch meant goblins, trolls and the like who lived underground and avoided the sun.  The granite and thick, sandy soil of Amorica did not lend itself to underground living.

“How about in the Banner, er, the Bringloren?”

“There are some.  What do you have in mind?”

Gerraint outlined his ideas and ended with, “Of course, Arthur may adjust things when he gets here, but this is the plan for now.  As for me, I am going to spend the next three days in prayer that this plan might actually work.”

It took a week to get everything set, but that was because the signal stayed in the hands of the Franks.  DeGuise got his men to the hill called Bain Rock.  When ready, he was supposed to light a smudge fire on the rock, one with lots of smoke that could be seen for miles.  That would be the signal for the Franks, and also for the British and Amorican soldiers.  But then it rained for three days and remained overcast on the fourth day.  Gerraint spent the time wondering how badly deGuise cursed the initiative of the young Lord who attacked the port.  If he tried to do an end run and surprise the Amorican army, that move ruined that option.  DeGuise, no doubt, feared that enough delay would allow Arthur to unpack and join the fray.  Gerraint wondered how badly deGuise cursed the weather over those four days.

Gerraint also wondered how much those days put deGuise’s men on edge.  They were behind enemy lines and every day increased the danger of being found.   Plus, Gerraint had some special things he activated just for the Franks.  There were bumps in the night, strange noises, lights, always in the distance, and men who ventured too far from the camp always disappeared.  DeGuise shortly stopped sending out scouts.

Meanwhile, Lancelot’s men abandoned the center without making it a show.  Gerraint had goblins with fires in the night and elves in the day, so from a distance it would look like the army still camped there.  In fact, while the northern half gathered by the lake and the old burned down fort that Arthur built, the southern half gathered just above an old, Roman style house where the occupants still spoke Latin and went daily to mass.

The battle would be on Margueritte’s farmland, a mere hundred and fifty-eight years before Margueritte got born.  In that place, the old Roman improved road came from Paris and cut through the Vivane forest on its way to the point end of the peninsula where Bohort had his residence.

Bohort came out from his capital and brought an additional five hundred horsemen, his version of the RDF, which Gerraint saw as his personal guard.  He kept them, and Lancelot’s horsemen, about fifteen hundred altogether, up the road, ready to ride to battle on the signal.  Lancelot himself had the fifteen hundred-foot soldiers north of the Roman house, about an hour’s march below the expected battle.  Lionel had the other fifteen hundred Bretons, as they called themselves, up by the lake, well hidden in the woods.  Arthur’s footmen, a final fifteen hundred, settled in behind deGuise and prepared to follow them through the woods to the battle.  Arthur himself, with Gerraint had the rest of Arthur’s men, about twelve hundred horsemen, by Arthur’s fort, on the road that came down from the port town.

The trap was set, now all they needed was clear weather.  It came, by Gerraint’s count, on the fifth day.  The sun topped the eastern horizon and there did not appear to be a cloud left in the sky.  The heavy smoke that went into the sky from Bain Rock became easily visible from the field.

The Frankish commander, a man named Charles, moved his men sooner than Gerraint expected.  He imagined the man would wait a couple of hours to be sure deGuise got in position, but he did not.  He had three thousand men on horse and two thousand on foot, which Arthur pointed out was a great investment in horse flesh for the Franks.  The time was coming when the only men who could afford to fight from horseback would be the Knights and Lords who had the means to keep riding horses.  Soon enough, armies would again be a preponderance of foot soldiers.  But these Franks were still coming out of their Hun influenced Germanic roots where tribes bred horses and some young men were raised on them.  They were only, slowly becoming a nation of farmers and Lords.

Charles brought his men up the road and spread them out to charge.  The horses thundered, right up to the edge of the forest, but they found campfires burning, tents set in order, all the signs of a military camp except men or weapons.  Arrows came from the woods, shot with deadly accuracy, but only one or two hundred.  Charles quickly backed his horsemen out of range.

“Bring up the footmen,” he yelled, and he sent them into the forest, knowing horses were no advantage among the trees.  Then Charles and his sub commanders conferred about what to do.  Some probably wanted to go ahead and invade down the Roman road as planned, but Charles likely felt concerned about leaving the bulk of the Amorican army at his back.  No doubt, many said wait until deGuise arrived, and in typical German manner, like the Saxons and Angles in Britain, the argument went on for some time.

Gerraint, of course, knew none of this.  All he could do was speculate, worry and pray.  They never had a plan where everyone got so spread out and where a timely arrival felt so crucial.  Even with the smoke fire to start the action, it would be hard to get so many men coming from so many directions, coordinated.

“We need some radios,” Gerraint mumbled.

“This will work.”  Percival leaned over Arthur’s horse to reassure Gerraint.

The look on Arthur’s face said, “Maybe.”

They found Lionel and his footmen moving into place.  Arthur and his men also moved up to be ready to charge, but they had to wait for Bohort to be in position to charge from the other angle.  Their twelve hundred horse against three thousand would not end up pretty.

“Lancelot will be there,” Percival said.  “He is probably already there if I know Lancelot.”

Gerraint nodded, but he became worried about the woods.  The elves and fairy Lords whose arrow fire drew half of the Frankish foot soldiers into the woods worked well enough, but then they were supposed to get out of the way and let Arthur’s men deal with the rest.  Fifteen hundred was probably not enough against deGuise’s thousand horsemen and the thousand footmen in their path.  the other half of the Frankish foot soldiers stayed in the fake British camp and kept low in case there were more arrows from the trees.

What Gerraint did not know was his little ones overstepped their orders, not that he got surprised.  A great mist—a thick fog came up in the woods and confused the Franks on foot as well as deGuise and his men who were leading their horses through the trees, coming from the other direction.  They dared not ride in the fog, and the horses by then were just as spooked as the riders by the noises and lights around them, and occasional animal roars that did not really sound quiet like animals.

When the line of horsemen and footmen met in the fog, there were several incidents and several killed before they figured it out.  DeGuise knew they had to get out of the fog and into the open.  He turned the footmen and they began to hurry.  That was a good thing, because, Arthur’s men were keeping back about twenty or thirty feet from the shrinking line of fog.

The instant the Franks began to come from the woods, Lancelot charged from one direction and Lionel charged from the other.  Some Franks tried to stay behind the trees, but they were easily taken by Arthur’s men coming through the woods.  Plenty of Franks died that day, but the most, by far, surrendered, including deGuise.  They no longer had the nerve.

One enterprising young Lord under deGuise managed to gather a hundred horsemen and rode off to help the Frankish cavalry who were being pummeled.  It didn’t help.

As soon as Lancelot’s men crossed the road, Bohort decided he could not wait for the Franks to get organized and up on horseback.  He charged, but since his men were in a line and strung out down the road through the forest, he was slow to impact the Franks.  Arthur, on the other hand, looked only once at Gerraint.  Percival lowered his lance and the men behind them followed suit.  Then Percival and Gerraint shouted, “For Arthur!”

The men responded with a deafening shout, “For Arthur!” and they charged, led by three old men, Arthur at sixty-one, Gerraint at sixty, and Percival, the youngster, at fifty-eight.  Their troops poured from the northwest and hit the Franks when many of the Franks were still on their feet.  They made a crushing blow that busted open the Frankish ranks and made a hole straight through to the other side.  And then, Bohort got at them from the southwest.  His strike, not quite as telling, but by the time he bogged down as the Franks got to horseback, Arthur had turned and came in this time from the southeast.

M4 Gerraint 3: The Frankish Peace, part 1 of 4

Gerraint went reluctantly to Amorica.  Arthur had gathered roughly twenty-five hundred men willing to make the trip, a far cry from the thousands that used to gather.  Six hundred were from Cornwall, and most of the rest were from Wales.  Not many came from Oxford or Leogria or the Midlands.  A few traveled from York, but none at all from the north.  Some came from the Summer Country and Southampton, but it was not like it used to be.

If Arthur was unhappy, he did not show it.  His face showed a hardness that he never had in his youth.  Gerraint chalked it up to age, but he suspected it had to do with the house tumbling down.  Britain turned out to be a house of cards.  Arthur kept it as long as he could, but one strong wind and it would all collapse.

Enid, on the other hand, became very unhappy, and she had no qualms about expressing her unhappiness.  They had children and grandchildren to care for, and Guimier, who kept busy ignoring all of the boys who were interested in her, pining away for a boy who did not seem to care about her one bit.  Gerraint had done his time.  It should be time for the younger men to take over.  Gerraint deserved to live the rest of his days in comfortable surroundings and should not have to gallivant all over the world.  It was not right, and it was not fair.

All Gerraint could say was, “I have to go because Arthur says Lancelot won’t listen to anyone else.  Sadly, I think that may be true.”

“But what if I lose you?”  Her lovely old eyes became moist, but she did not cry.  “We have come this far together, I want to finish the journey, together.”

“As do I,” Gerraint said, but he left anyway.

The crossing in late September went surprisingly well.  Later in the fall and winter could be rough in the Channel.  Gerraint hoped they could wrap things up quickly so they could get back home before the winter storms settled in.

Uwaine leaned over the railing for most of the voyage.  It comforted Gerraint to see it.  It seemed like old times, even if it did not do Uwaine any good.  Bedivere spent the day making friends with the crew, and only once remarked how he hoped they did not get squid-stopped this time.  Gerraint had to take a moment to remember.

Gerraint spent the time pondering the future.  He caught a glimpse of jungle, but he had no idea where in the world that might be.  He also tried to imagine a woman, because he had been male, with Festuscato, twice in a row, and whoever controlled his rebirths had figured out, early on, that three times in a row as the same sex made things too complicated.  So Gerraint thought of Margueritte and of women in general, caught a glimpse of skin a bit darker than his own, and tried to imagine what it might be like to be a woman.  It eluded him.  It all eluded him, but he figured he would get there soon enough.

Gerraint had turned sixty.  Historically, that seemed about the longest he lived.  For millennia, if he didn’t die young for one reason or another, he died at fifty-eight to sixty, which was actually longer than most people lived on average.  It presently seemed about as long as a man tended to live in Western Europe, provided he did not die in childhood, or get killed in some conflict, or have some sort of accident while hunting, or simply while toiling away at his regular job, invariably his farm, or die from some disease.  Geraint thought they had too much toil in his day and age.  But barring some early death, for all of those who died of natural causes, as they called it, sixty seemed about it.  Seventy would be a venerable old age.  And if, by reason of strength, one should live four score years, Gerraint thought, that would have to be an act of God’s grace.  Gerraint shifted in his seat because he stiffened up and thought further that maybe 80 would be a sign of God’s displeasure.

Theirs had been the first ship from Cornwall, by design.  They docked in the port they visited years ago, the one just up the road from the Lake of Vivane, inside the old border of Amorica.  Arthur chose it because it was familiar.  He used that port to bring his army back to Britain after the defeat of Claudus.

Percival had already arrived with men from the Midlands.  The son of Urien, the Raven, arrived there as well, the one whose name Gerraint could never remember.  There were men there from Somerset, Dorset and the south coast of Britain, with sons and a couple of grandsons of Gwillim and Thomas, brought by ships from Southampton.  All of that only added up to about six hundred men, a pittance, a token of days gone by.  Gerraint thought when his men arrived from Cornwall and Devon, they would at least double their numbers.  Arthur would be a few more days to arrive.  He had the farthest to go.

“Cousin,” Percival called.  They weren’t really cousins, but it seemed an easy term.  “Lionel is here, around somewhere.”

“I suppose he has come to ask our help somewhere,” Gerraint guessed.  After ten or twelve years of skirmishes, tit-for-tat, what Gerraint called guerilla warfare, the sons of Claudus were finished, and Lancelot had just about pushed the Franks back to the original border line.  Gerraint felt glad to hear that Lancelot, or rather Bohort who had been proclaimed King when Howel died, did not have any ambitions beyond a secure border.  Keeping it secure, though, would be tricky, at least until certain ambitious Franks dropped out of the picture.

“I don’t know where he could have gotten to.”  Percival craned his neck to give a good look around, over and through all the boxes, bags and whole wagons being unloaded.

“Have you set up a watch on the perimeter of the town?”  Gerraint changed the subject.

“Surely not.  We are in friendly territory.”

“Surely so,” Gerraint said, feeling a bit like Kai in the face of Bedwyr. “We are too close to the border to be truly safe, and the way Lancelot and the Franks have been playing cat and dog these twelve years.”  He shook his head.  “If Lionel knew we were coming and to what port, you can be sure the Franks know.  Such secrets are hard to keep, and I would not be surprised if the Franks tried to stop us before we start.”

Percival needed no other encouragement.  He started yelling.  “Get those boxes open.  I want everyone armed.  Owen, get your men out to the perimeter of the town and keep your eyes sharp.

“My lord?”  Uwaine stepped up.  Gerraint pointed.  “Get two watchmen up in the old church tower.  I remember there being a bell up there that can give warning but be careful.  It looks burned and ready to fall.  Let me know if it is untenable.”  Uwaine moved like he already had a couple of men in mind.

“Uncle?”  Bedivere stood right there.

“You just need to get our ships and men unloaded and ready.  I can see three more ships on the horizon.”

Bedivere gawked a moment.  “You have the eyes of a hawk.  You complain about losing your vision, but you can still see further than anyone alive.”

“And ears.”  Gerraint looked up.  “I hear horses, maybe a hundred, coming on strong.”  Gerraint stuffed the port papers back into the hands of the bureaucrat and yelled.  “Bows and arrows.  Now.  Get under cover.”

Lionel chose that moment to ride up with some twenty men.  “Franks!”  His word got the townspeople to scatter for cover.  Then the church bell began to ring.

Even with the bell, men yelling, people running like mad people, some still got caught and speared, and some died.  Gerraint stood, defiant in the open.  Bedivere grabbed him to drag him behind some crates, but he raised his sword and shouted, “Now.”  It seemed a pitiful few arrows, maybe forty altogether, but about twenty of the hundred or so Franks went down.  “At will.”  He shouted and finally allowed himself to be dragged to cover.  Perhaps ten more Franks hit the cobblestones before they turned and rode out as fast as they came in.  Uwaine later reported that a half-dozen more were taken out on the way out of town by the men setting up the perimeter watch.  All told, that became some thirty-five out of a hundred, and if the ones down on the ground and left behind were not yet dead, they did not last long.  Nearly a dozen townspeople got speared, including several women, and most of them died.

Gerraint’s, or rather Percival’s losses were less than a handful.  Bedivere said he would take thirty-five to five any day.  Gerraint pointed out it was more like twenty than five.  And defenseless people should count double.

Gerraint did manage to save two Franks from the slaughter, and he questioned them at length.  Lionel filled in the gaps of information until Gerraint had a good picture of events.  Lancelot had some thirty-five hundred men, but they were spread out from the lake to the Atlantic.  Lionel had some two hundred and fifty men camped in the woods by the lake.  He was afraid the Franks might march down the coast road in an effort to get behind Lancelot.  His fears proved true.

One Frankish Lord by the name of deGuise brought a thousand men down the road.  There were five thousand more Franks ready to burst through the center of Lancelot’s spread out position, but it would come when the signal was given—the signal that deGuise and his thousand were ready to pounce on Lancelot’s rear.

Lionel could not imagine how deGuise learned Arthur was coming, but from the attack, he obviously knew something.  Lionel felt relieved to see eight hundred men in the port town, with more on the way.  He knew his troop alone did not have the strength to hold back a thousand Franks.

“We don’t want to hold them back,” Gerraint said.  “We want them to give the signal, and then drive them from behind right into their own oncoming troops.  If nothing else, it should confuse the Franks long enough to fall on them and drive them right back to Paris.  That is where there is peace to be brokered.  As long as you stick to the border, the Franks will never stop knocking on your door, and it is too early in history for trench warfare.”

“I was with you until the last part,” Lionel said.

“It was clear to me,” Uwaine responded.  “Schrench warfare.”

“I thought it was wrench warfare,” Bedivere said, as an aside.

M4 Gerraint 2: The Dragon Slayer, part 2 of 2

They ran out in time to see the dragon land in the village square.  It looked like a big, old worm, and looked mean.  Gerraint found the horses where they left them, no doubt waiting for a decision to be made concerning the strangers.  Gerraint knew better than to get up on a horse liable to panic any second.  Bedivere figured as much, but George did not know better.  He mounted and then struggled to get his horse under control.

The dragon flamed a house and then tore at the wood until it collapsed, no doubt looking for something edible. Gerraint ran out, Bedivere on his heels, though Gerraint doubted his words would have an effect on such a mature beast.  “No fire,” he shouted all the same.  “Do no harm.”  The dragon certainly heard.  It turned, and its tail struck Gerraint and Bedivere and knocked them some distance where they crashed into the side of a house and slipped down, badly shaken.

George saw, pulled up the lance he had been given in Caerleon, and let his horse have the reigns.  The horse, in a panic, actually ran straight at the beast as animals sometimes will.  George lowered his lance, aimed for the dragon’s mid-section, but the dragon saw and began to lower its head with the intention of plucking the rider right off the beast, and no doubt going back for the beast after.  George raised his lance without realizing it.  He simply wanted to ward off that head and those terrible teeth.  The lance entered the dragon’s head in a soft spot just below the jaw where the impenetrable scales were more flexible to allow the worm to swallow.  It broke out the top of the dragon head, and the worm immediately began to thrash about.  The horse threw George, and he barely avoided being crushed by the worm as it finally collapsed to the ground.

Gerraint got up and arrived at George’s side just after Heingurt.  Heingurt picked up the boy to take him inside, thinking the boy might be unconscious.  George opened his eyes and spoke.  “Not bad for a dragon that doesn’t exist.”  Gerraint said nothing.  He let Bedivere give the boy his verbal lashing.  Everyone started laughing, a release of tension, when the same man came again to the door and yelled.  “Another one.”

This time, they got outside to see it circling.  As it came down, Gerraint noticed it still had some feathers that clung to its head and around the front and back claws, which were not fully grown.  “This one is young, a female.  I may be able to talk to this one.”  Gerraint grew his cloak to cover himself completely if necessary.  Athena called it fireproof when she gave it to him.  “Bedivere, stay here with George,” Gerraint commanded, and he stepped out to where the dragon, clearly smaller than the first one, set down beside the great worm.

“No fire.  Do no harm.”  Gerraint repeated the Agdaline phrases over and over.  The Agdaline bred the beasts to respond to verbal commands, and the dragons usually listened when they were young enough.  “No harm. Friend.”

The dragon turned its big head without turning the rest of its body, as only a serpent can do.  “No fire,” it repeated, and Gerraint got a look at the particular coloring and pattern of scales on the beast.  All at once, Gerraint no longer stood there.  Margueritte stood in his place and smiled.  She knew this beast.

“Mother,” Margueritte called.

“Mother,” the dragon repeated in a forlorn wail that could not help but let out a touch of fire.  It went over Margueritte’s head.  The dragon turned its head back to look at the dead monster and might have let out a tear.

“No.”  Margueritte was firm.  “You are mother.  I am baby.”  She repeated, “I am baby.”

“Mother?”  The dragon looked again and then turned enough to comfortably face Margueritte.  

“You are mother.  I am baby,” Margueritte said, not quite certain how much verbal information the beast could actually grasp, but they were clever when they were young.

The dragon put its nose to the ground and came right up to Margueritte.  It sniffed, and the wind almost knocked Margueritte off her feet.  “Baby?”  It sniffed again, and whether it smelled hints of the gods, or the fairy weave of the little ones, or simply Margueritte, it suddenly became excited.  “Baby.”  If dragons could smile, this one did.  “Mother.  Baby.”

“Mother, fly.  Fly south.”  Margueritte knew compass points were part of the programming, but she could not be sure if that would translate to Earth directions.  Earth was definitely not the Agdaline home world where dragons were first born and bred.  “Fly south,” she repeated.  “Over the great water.  New home.  New nest.  Mate.  Male is south.  Over great water.  Mate.  Make babies.  Fly mother.  Fly.”

“South.  Over water.  Mate, make babies.”  The dragon appeared to be getting it, but there was no telling what the dragon honestly understood.

“Fly south.  Over water.  Mate.  Make babies.”  Margueritte repeated once more, and the dragon also repeated.

“South.  Make babies.”  Then it stuck its head down to sniff Margueritte once more before it spoke again.  “Baby, come.  Fly south.”

“Mother.”  Margueritte dared to reach out and touch the dragon’s nose.  The dragon purred, a sound much deeper and stronger than any cat could ever hope to make.  “South.  Make babies. I will find you.”  Margueritte was not sure if the dragon understood that last phrase.  She was also not sure if she could extract herself from this awkward position, but then she found herself fading from sight until she became invisible.  She shouted once more.  “Mother.  Fly south.  Make babies.”

“Baby.”  There was a moment of panic on the part of the dragon, but dragons routinely deal with the loss of babies.  Sometimes, if the mother does not play black widow and eat the father after mating, the father will certainly eat the babies.  Margueritte imagined it was part of their breeding. As big as the Agdaline spaceships were, there was only so much room on a ship flying a thousand years through the void.  She imagined papa dragon made good eating.

“Fly south.  Over water.”  The dragon said and lifted its head.  Flame shot out into the sky and the dragon lifted from the ground and circled several times to gain some height before it headed off in a southerly direction.

Margueritte turned.  Rhiannon stood there, grinning.  “So now you are getting yourself adopted by dragons?  That is new even for you.”

“Thanks,” Margueritte responded happily.  “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of that one.”

“Yes.  I could just picture baby you in a claw being carted off by mother, south over the big water.”

“Not a pretty sight,” Margueritte laughed and Rhiannon agreed.  “Wait.”  Margueritte stopped so Rhiannon stopped.  Rhiannon looked curious, because even the gods could not read the mind of the Kairos, even when she was someone as plainly mortal as Margueritte.  Margueritte surprised her as she bent over and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek.  Then Gerraint came back and as he did, he became visible.  The Lady became visible with him.

“How sweet,” Rhiannon responded to the kiss.

“From Margueritte,” Gerraint said.  “Not from me, you naughty girl.”

Rhiannon made a face at him, and they stopped at the front of the house.  Bedivere and Hans Bad-Hand were the only ones still standing.  Everyone else was down on at least one knee.  “Good to see you again,” Rhiannon acknowledged Bedivere.

“My pleasure,” he responded.

“And Hans Bad-Hand.  Do not be afraid.  I am only here for George.”  Rhiannon stepped up and put her finger under the boy’s chin to make him stand.  Then she walked around him and examined him like one might examine a horse.  She even spoke that way.  “He is rough clay, but of good stock.  I think I can train this one to good purpose.  George, the dragon-slayer.”  She smiled at the nickname.  “I think I can teach you so next time, you do it right and don’t get yelled at by your Master.”

“Next time?”  Gerraint caught it, and so did Hans by the look on his face.

Rhiannon nodded.  “There are two more, male and female, moving down into the Midlands.  They are, what do you call it, a different species?”

“Same species.  Different breed,” Gerraint said.  “Like dogs.”

“Yes, breed.  They have more leg and fat middles.  More like lizards, I suppose, even if they are still essentially worms.”

“Male and female?” Gerraint did not really ask

“Yes, I’m afraid the land will be dragon infested for some years to come.  A few hundred years, at least.”

 Gerraint sighed.  “Okay.”  There was no helping it, so he stepped up to George and shook his finger.  “Now son.”  He got in the boy’s face.  “You listen to the Lady and do what she says.  I don’t want any teenage backtalk.  Mind your manners and be gracious with please and thank you.  Now, remember the ideals of the Round Table.  Defend the weak, the fatherless, the widows and orphans.  Do good and live an honorable life, and you will be fine.  Oh, and Rhiannon is not an angel, but she is near enough, sometimes.  Is that clear?”

George said nothing.  He simply threw his arms around Gerraint for a big hug.

“Uh.  Bedivere.”  Gerraint called him over, and he took over giving the boy a hug.

“Near an angel?” Rhiannon said.

“I said sometimes, maybe.  But why should I tell you?  It will just swell your head.”

Rhiannon leaned over and this time she kissed Gerraint on the cheek.  “You are the mother.  I am the baby,” she whispered.  He said nothing, but she reached for George’s hand.  “Are we ready?”  George nodded.  “Then let us begin.”  Rhiannon and George and George’s horse and all his equipment vanished with a snap of Rhiannon’s finger.

Gerraint looked up at the clear sky.  The sun would set in an hour or two.  “I wouldn’t cut up that beast until morning,” Gerraint said.  “They have a bladder that runs the whole length of the body and collects gas.  Foul smelling.  And no torches because it will explode if you are not careful.”

Hans Bad-Hand looked up at Gerraint as most men did.  “These are good things to know.  I believe I may have a few more questions for you.”

“I thought you might.”

Heingurt looked at Bedivere with an amazed, slightly dumbfounded look.  Bedivere waited until Heingurt spit it out.  “All on one day.  A real, actual dragon.  Two of them.  And the Lady of the Lake.  And she knew you.  And your Lord, it was like the Lady was bowing to him the whole time.”

“It is like that sometimes with Gerraint,” Bedivere said.  “These kinds of things do tend to follow him around.  Why do you think I travel with him?”

“It must keep life interesting.”  Heingurt grinned at the thought.

“No, it is to keep the old man out of trouble,” Bedivere said, and Heingurt laughed, some genuine and only some nervous laughter.  “Come along, Brennan.”  Bedivere picked the man up off the ground.  He spent that whole time, prostrate, with his hands over his eyes and ears.

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

MONDAY

Arthur and Gerraint take what men they have to Brittany to fetch Lancelot, only to find they have to deal first with the Franks. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Gerraint 2: The Dragon Slayer, part 1 of 2

 

Gerraint, Bedivere and young George looked down on the village in the next valley.  It looked remarkably like the village in the last valley, but appearances can deceive.  The former was pure British.  This one was a Saxon transplant.  Arthur was not going to like Gerraint’s report.  

Fifty years of shortened growing seasons left the nation starving and weak, and the flu that never seemed to go away took too many of the young.  Twelve years of infighting coupled with Pict, Norwegian and German raids further reduced the population.  It became a mix of many things, but if Arthur had not pulled the sword when he did, there might not have been a Britain left to defend.  Cornwall still had some strength, but the loss of Lyoness proved devastating, and Devon east of Exeter seemed questionable.  Wales still held fast.  Arthur held the eastern line at Caerleon, and the Welsh coastal watch drove off Saxon settlers as easily as Irish pirates.  But Britain had all but gone already.

They stopped in the Midlands to visit Percival.  His position remained strong because many British flocked to his land as a safe haven.  But Pelenor’s family had accommodated to the Saxons so there were as many Saxons on the land as British.  Ederyn’s old place had been completely taken over by a Saxon Chief who now declared himself Lord of that land, and the British did not have the strength to throw him out.

Even up here, in the wilds of the British Highlands, the Germans were moving in.  A couple of generations and inter-marriages and an outside observer won’t be able to tell which is which.  Gerraint did not want to be the one who told Arthur that thirty years of war defending the land actually killed the land.  The seventeen years of peace that followed might have helped if Bohort and Lancelot had not stripped the land of her youth for war on the continent.  Then to see those youth bring their families to Amorica seemed too much.  Little Britain might be repopulated, but big Britain got depopulated to do it.  Britain, as far as Gerraint could tell, had already been lost.  It already became an Anglo-Saxon world.

They were seen coming down the hill.  Several men on horseback came to either welcome them or challenge them.  One never knew.

“Heingurt is the one to speak to,” their British guide from the last village spoke up.  “Though Hans Bad-Hand is the village chief.  The Saxons do things differently, you know.”

 

“I understand,” Bedivere responded.  He took it upon himself to make nice with the various guides they got to help them at one point or another through the Highlands, which suited Gerraint just fine.  He kept back, next to George.

“Of course, you have to expect them to be a little jumpy, what with the dragons about.  I heard one of the outland farms got attacked a month back.  Heingurt wanted to blame us.  He doesn’t believe there are real dragons about, but enough of his own people saw it to make him quiet, for now.”

“Thank you.  That is good to know.”  Bedivere sounded too smooth.

“Do you think we will ever see the dragon?” George asked.  Gerraint stayed lost in his own thoughts so George had to ask twice and had learned to raise his voice a little on the second asking.

“I hope not,” Gerraint said.  “They are like me.  When they get old, they don’t always hear when you talk to them.”

“You talk to them?”

“Sure.  Dragon speak, a strange and mysterious tongue.”

“Now, Lord.”  The British guide leaned back.  “I have never heard anyone say they heard a dragon speak.”

“Doesn’t mean they didn’t,” Gerraint said with a grin.  “Maybe they heard the word lunch right before they were swallowed.”

The guide stared, slack jawed.  Bedivere covered his grin, but he knew the truth.  He heard Gerraint speak some sort of words to the dragon all those years ago when they were on the continent and headed for the lake.  The guide looked at Bedivere and saw the grin beneath his hand and threw his own hand out.  

“Daft,” he said.

There were five Saxons on horseback, but they looked like ordinary enough farmers, not much different from their guide, apart from the one that Gerraint took to be Heingurt.  Heingurt had some semblance of armor underneath his coat.

“Heingurt.”  The guide gave a friendly wave before the riders arrived.

“Brennan, with what have you come to burden us with this time?”  Heingurt eyed the strangers to judge if they might pose a threat.  They all knew the look well by then.

Brennan introduced them.  “Bedivere of Lyoness is a Knight of the Round Table.”  The men looked impressed.  “The Lord is Gerraint, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall.”  Two of the men backed up, but Gerraint spoke up.

“Please.  At my age I am more like the house cat of Cornwall.”  Heingurt grinned at that image.

“And the squire?” Heingurt asked.

“George,” Gerraint practiced his Saxon.  “Son of Elrod, Chief of Wessex, and Prince among the Saxons.”  Gerraint did not get surprised.  They all seemed to know who Elrod of Wessex was.  This was not the first time it came up.

“And you travel with these men of Britain.”

“I am squired to Lord Bedivere until we reach the Lake of the Moon,” George said.

Heingurt shook his head.  “A daft quest,” he used the British word.  “The lake is full of strange people and nightmare creatures.  They say men who have gone there go mad or never come back.”

“The Lord is my shield and strength.”

“Ugh.”  Heingurt made a sound of disinterest before he confessed.  “We have some Christians in the village.  Come.”  They turned and rode into the village, Brennan with them.

“It would not be neighborly to come this far without paying my respects to Hans Bad-Hand.”

“My Lord once told me it is always wise to pay respects to the king when you come into a new country,” Bedivere said.

“Did I say that?” Gerraint joked.  “I must have had a daft day.”

Heingurt took them straight to Hans Bad-Hand.  It was obvious where the name came from.  The old man’s left hand looked shriveled, like a birth defect.  His right hand looked strong enough, and no doubt in his youth it more than made up for the deformity.  In his age, though, he looked like he had arthritis in his knuckles and at least one knee, and the belly suggested serious stress and possibly some lower back problems.  Gerraint well understood.

“So, you are the Lion of Cornwall.  Tell me why I should not take your head?  My brother fought among those you slaughtered that day by the hill called Badon.”

“Because it was a fair fight, and your brother lost.  I can tell you this; the men I faced on that day fought bravely and well.  But here, you are no fool.  You lead your people all the way up to this fertile valley and settle in peace.  You make friends with your neighbors where you can trade and receive help when the winter grows long.  You built this village up from nothing and you have seen it prosper.  Your women grow fat and your children grow strong.  Why, in the name of God, would you be willing to throw that all away?”  Without anything even approximating a threat, Hans Bad-Hand understood that the price for harming Gerraint would be terminal, for him and for his people.

 Gerraint fidgeted.  “Do you mind if I sit?  This old body cannot stand like it used to.”  He began to sit even as Hans waved at the chair.  “I make poor Bedivere listen all day to my aches and pains.   My knees don’t like to bend.  My back doesn’t like to turn, especially down low.  My hands stiffen if I grip something for too long.  I am sure you understand.”

Hans glanced at Heingurt.  “My right hand and right arm are still plenty strong.”

Gerraint caught the idea.  If Hans showed weakness, he would be challenged for his leadership.  He sighed.  “Let me tell you, it is like this in Cornwall.  I worked hard all my life, building, weeding, making things work, and why?  So, my sons and grandsons can reap all the benefits.  It hardly seems fair, don’t you think?”  Hans nodded.  “But the thing is, my sons won’t let me step down.  They say there is more to be done, and they trust me to do it right.  So, they guard me and watch over the workers to make sure it gets done the way I say.  I suppose after I am gone, they will have their turn, but between you and me, I am half tempted to go home and retire.  I should force Peter to be king so I can go fishing.”

“That is for some thought.  Don’t you think, Heingurt?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “I think Hans is a smart man who has made smart decisions and brought prosperity to the people.  As I said, why, in the name of God, would you risk that?”

“It is true, what you say about the knees and the back,” Hans smiled as he whispered, but there was no telling if Heingurt honestly got the message or not.  “But here, you say this is George, son of Elrod, Chief of Wessex.  I knew your father well.  In truth, when he was killed, I brought my people here.  Did they catch the killer?”

“Mother thought it was Ethelgard himself.”

“Stabbed in the back,” Hans told Gerraint.

“By a coward,” Gerraint understood.

“And how is your mother?”

“Dead,” George said, and pushed his chin up.  “Dead at the hand of Red Ulf.”

“That is where we found him,” Gerraint said.

George was not slow to praise Gerraint and Bedivere in his rescue, but he insisted it was the angel of Saint Michael that drove off the murderers.  

“That Red Ulf is a bad one,” Heingurt interrupted.

Hans nodded and then smiled.  “Stay the night.  You should have at least one good meal before you ride off on your fool’s quest.”

Gerraint got ready to say yes when a man ran into the house, yelling.  “Dragon.”

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 4 of 4

“And how is Gwynyvar?” Gerraint asked.

“Good.  Fine.  Gray and inclined to spend most of her time in prayer these days,” Arthur said.

Gerraint nodded.  “Enid much the same.  But she rides and gets about better than I do, truth be told.”  Arthur looked long at his friend.  In many ways Gerraint was like his first real friend, after Percival who was something like a younger brother.  He turned, then, and looked at his own hands, as if seeking some insight into his future.

“I used to have a grip,” he said.  “With Excalibur in my hands I used to think I was invincible.  Now, I imagine I can barely lift Caliburn, the sword I used as a squire and young man, like that George of yours.”  Arthur more or less pointed to the door.  “And that would probably come loose in my hand soon enough.”

“With me, it’s my eyes.”  Gerraint admitted.  “I used to be able to count the feathers on an eagle’s wings and now I am doing good to know who the person is across the room.  And my hair, quite obviously.”

Arthur grinned.  “And what are we old men supposed to do now?”

“About what?”  Gerraint wondered.

“About Lancelot, damn him.”  Arthur said, a touch of the old fire in his voice.  “He and Bohort and Lionel have taken the flower of our youth and squandered it across the sea in Amorica.  They say the sons of Claudus made peace with the Franks and the Franks promptly swallowed them and then pushed them until King Howel was backed up to one city and a small strip of coast.  They slaughtered whole villages; I am told.  The natives, the survivors, were reduced to refugees before Lancelot came.”

“I understand why Lancelot and the others would want to help.  It was the land where they were born,” Gerraint said.

“Yes, damn it, but he did not have to take half the kingdom to do it!”  Arthur clearly sounded upset.  “Worse, they repopulated the land with Britons loyal to the old ways.  They took advantage of the churches being burned, not that the church made much headway in Amorica.”  Arthur punched the table.   “I should be grateful they took so many druids from our shores, but Bohort, Lionel and Lancelot were good Christian men, especially Lancelot.”

Gerraint chose to change the tone a little.  “I still remember when old King Hoel, Howel’s father asked for our help against Claudus.  Claudus and his Romans had already killed Bran and Bohort the elder by then.”

“Yes, but we got there in time to stop Claudus in his tracks,” Arthur said.

“Yes, and you killed Claudus himself, or Bedwyr did.”

“I thought it was you.”  Arthur looked up.  “Or Pelenor.  I’m not sure.”

Gerraint shrugged.  “Even so, I can understand why Lancelot would not be fond of the sons of Claudus, and the Franks.  Claudus killed his mother and father Bran, and now the Franks are pushing Claudus’ sons to finish the job.”

“Oh, I understand,” Arthur said.  “And now that Howel has died without an heir I understand all the more.  Bohort has been proclaimed king, and out of deference to the people, he has decided they don’t want anything to do with Rome, or even anything associated with Rome”

“I thought Howel had a daughter,” Gerraint said.

“Belinda.”  Arthur nodded.  “But that unhappy affair with Tristam.”

“Oh, yes.  I had forgotten.”

“The point is, I did not expect Lancelot to take the flower of Britain with him, and he has decimated Wales as well.”  Arthur said.  “Many have even taken their families and peasants with them.  Whole villages have crossed the channel to help repopulate Amorica.

“You know they are calling it Little Britain now.”  Gerraint interrupted.

Arthur nodded.  “And I understand that after twelve years you can hardly get along in the countryside there unless you speak Welsh, or British.”  Arthur added, then he looked cross.  “But you are getting off the point.”

Gerraint was not yet sure what the point was.  “But look,” he said.  “I thought Medrawt was at least working on holding Wales together.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and let out a few soft invectives.  “Medrawt has kept some of the Lords in Wales by granting them the land of those who left.  He has no authority to grant land and I see civil war if those Lords ever do decide to come home.”  Arthur grew in steam again.  “The land was not his to give!  Those chiefs who are with Lancelot are losing their land without knowing it.”  Arthur stood and turned to the wall where Excalibur hung for seventeen years, since Badon.

Gerraint also stood because his knees needed it.  “Surely it can’t be as bad as all that.”  Gerraint spoke hopefully.

“It is,” Arthur said calmly.  “We have been at peace too long.  A whole generation, the young generation has abandoned Britain and the half of Wales to fight across the sea and search for adventures.  Meanwhile, there is blond hair as high as York.  Gerraint.”  Arthur whipped around, grabbed his friend by the wrist and looked up into his eyes.  “When I die, what will stop the Saxons from overrunning the whole of it?  There is nothing left but old men and defenseless villages.”

“If Britain falls, Cornwall might not be far behind.”  Gerraint confirmed.  “But Wales, too?”

“Oh, Medrawt may hold Wales for a time,” Arthur said in echo of Gerraint’s own thoughts.  “He can have the Welsh, but the rest cannot stand.”

“But still.”  Gerraint held back just a little.  “Can it be that bad?”  He wondered.  He knew he stayed out of touch, in his own little realm on the edge of the world, but still.

It is!”  Arthur fairly shouted.  “Gwalchemi says the Scotts have concluded a peace and you know they will be looking south.  Gawain says there have been renewed landings along the Norwegian shore, hard against the Midlands.  And in the south, in East Anglia there is much stirring, and the Saxon Shore is even worse.  Don’t you understand?  Don’t you see?  It might have been different if my son, if Gwynyvar’s and my son, Llacheu had lived, but Kai lost him for me so long ago.  Now, when I die, there will be no one to fill the gap.  What good is life if on my death everything unravels?  I will have wasted my days.  Everything will have been for nothing.”  Arthur had to pause then to catch his breath.  Gerraint thought Arthur’s grip seemed just fine, and he extracted his wrist carefully from Arthur’s clutches.  Arthur went on more softly.

“We have been at peace too long.  Lancelot must come home.  I will make him Pendragon before I go and he will hold the realm together.”

Gerraint thought long about that.  Lancelot was not young, himself.  He turned maybe fifty-two or fifty-three.  Gerraint guessed.  But the people would listen to him.  They had already.  And they would accept him in the role.  And he would have the strength to tell Medrawt and his Welsh supporters to stick it.  It might work.  Still, he had to ask.

“What of your nephews?”

Arthur’s look turned sour and then softened.  “My sister Morgana’s sons have little in the way of leadership skills.  Gawain does well watching the Norwegian Shore, but that is about his limit.  The only other choice there is Garth, and I will have to ask him to take over for Bedwyr.  Gwalchemi, in the North has no leadership skills to speak of.  And Medrawt.”  Arthur paused for a few chosen words before he explained.  “Medrawt is only interested in Medrawt.  He says what he thinks people want to hear, and makes a great show, but his only real interest is to steal from people to benefit himself.  He would be the death of the realm, that devil’s son.”  Arthur shook his head and once more reached for Gerraint’s hand.  “Lancelot must come home.”  He emphasized his words with his touch.

“But why me?”  Gerraint got short with his words, but Arthur understood what he asked.

“Because he respects you.  He may come home if you ask him,” Arthur said.

“And you haven’t asked?”  Gerraint was just getting things straight.

“Of course,” Arthur said, once more getting hot.  “I’ve told.  I’ve ordered.  I’ve asked.  Gerraint, I’ve done everything except beg.”

“And so?”

“And so, I intend to bring together what loyal men are left to me and go and, by God, make him come back,” he said.  Gerraint felt dubious, but he held his tongue.  “You have some time,” Arthur explained.  “I don’t plan to sail until August.  I will be counting heavily on the men of Cornwall.”

Gerraint nodded.  “Uwaine will raise the men,” he said.  “And I will write letters to Gwillim and some others.  What of Ogryvan and the north of Wales?”

“Can’t be counted on,” Arthur admitted.  “But Uwaine?”

“He will do it,” Gerraint assured Arthur.  “I have another duty to attend.”

“August, no later.”  Arthur became adamant.  “My friend.  I won’t live forever.”

“Is my husband being morbid?”  A woman’s voice came from the doorway.

“Gwynyvar,” Gerraint responded.

“My dear.”  Arthur acknowledged his wife.

“Pay him no mind, Gerraint dear.”  She stepped up and they kissed cheeks.  “He speaks of dying all too often these days.”

“Don’t we all?” Gerraint asked.