R5 Gerraint: Gwynyvar, part 1 of 3

Meryddin specially selected the group of men to accompany Arthur to Wales.  He called them volunteers and he made sure they volunteered.  To be fair, he only selected men from the RDF who had no wives or children to go home to.  Most of those were young, but not all.  Most of the old Lords he sent home with their squires, but some of the young Lords and their squires came along.  Bedwyr, Kai and Loth joined them, and willingly, but only after they all made it clear that they should be home checking on the disposition of the enemy.

The fort of Leodegan looked impressive.  It sat on the top of a hill above a village.  The deserted village streamed down the hillside and nestled in the valley below.  The fort itself, made mostly stone and in the Roman style, had a large, empty front court where troops could gather, and several smaller courtyards around the buildings, the Great Hall, and the main tower connected to the Great Hall where Leodegan and his family lived.

Kai remarked that the Irish would have a hard time breaking into such a solid looking structure.  Bedwyr responded with a laugh.  “All the Welsh have are hills and stone.”

“And Pig-headedness,” Loth added.

Meryddin turned in the saddle to talk to the whole group.  “Leodegan is a firm believer in the old ways.  His son, Ogryvan is a good son, but his daughters, Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach have followed after their mother in the ways of the church.  Their mother died a few years back from the flu.  It does not make for a peaceful household, but Leodegan allows for the church as long as it is only the women.  I think, if we would help this man in his struggle, it might be wise for you to disguise your faith and who you are.  You can be plain Britons who heard of the trouble and have come to help.”

“I am not ashamed of my faith.” Nineteen-year-old Percival spoke right up, and twenty-year-old Tristam stood right there with him, though by rights, the squires should have remained silent.  “I will not pretend to be a pagan to satisfy an old man.”

“Son.  No one said pretend to be pagan,” Ederyn interjected.  “But maybe we can keep our faith under wraps for the time being and not be so obvious about it.”

“I like the idea of not telling them who we are,” Gerraint took the interruption to add his thoughts.  “I nominate Arthur for the name Bumrats.”  A few of the men snickered.

“And we should call Goreu, Mister Weird,” Arthur said, and smiled a little.

“Now listen.”  Meryddin had not finished.  “Leodegan was not part of the rebellion, but he supported it.  Since then, he sent a token of men to fight at the River Glen, but this time he sent nothing.”

“I can see why,” Bedwyr said.  “Must be the whole Irish army.”

“I can see a hole at the head of the road,” Arthur said.  “Lances,” and he started down the hill before anyone else, but the others caught up soon enough.

Meryddin shouted, “Remember the pretense,” but it became impossible for anyone to hear him.

When Arthur’s troop hit the road, Gerraint caught a glimpse of what the Irish were seeing.  Somehow, Meryddin made fifty men look like three hundred.  The Irish scattered to get out of the way and they did not have the sense or the time to so much as grab a bow and arrows. Several were run through, but most went to ground so the fifty passed through the blockade of the road with little trouble.  At the gate, at the top of the hill, the guards on the wall watched the action.  More than one recognized Meryddin as well, so the gate opened to let them in before it got slammed shut once again.

They found tents and lean-tos all over the main courtyard of the fort.  The village people who could not escape into the wilderness, and who were still alive, had set up homes behind the stout fort walls.  Meryddin guided Arthur’s group to a separate court by the sea gate—the one that pointed in the direction of the sea, though it was too far away to actually see, being hidden by the distant hills.  Meryddin unkindly threw the people out who huddled there and said, “Set camp here where we can keep a good eye on the Irish hordes.”

Most of the men were unhappy with the unchristian treatment of the poor locals, but only Arthur dared speak.  “That was unnecessary and unacceptable. These poor people are the ones we have come to defend and protect.”  The men were already making camp, but they looked as Meryddin shrugged off the scolding.  The deed was done.

Gerraint nudged Arthur and pointed.  They saw two young female faces at the nearby window in the tower beside the Great Hall.  They appeared to smile before they vanished into the inside.

“So?” Arthur said, but quickly looked away. Gerraint noticed.

Meryddin returned from fetching Loth, Kai and Bedwyr. They expected men to come and fetch Meryddin and the leaders of this new group of fighters any minute, so Meryddin spoke fast.  “Percival, Ederyn and the squires need to stay here.  Bedwyr too, since your face may be known.”

“Don’t worry,” Bedwyr said.  “I’ll keep Gawain and Uwaine at their tasks.”  Gawain, Loth’s son by his deceased wife, a thirteen-year-old squired to Bedwyr.

“They remind me of two young scamps that used to follow me around,” Ederyn said with a nudge in Percival’s arm.

Percival smiled at Gerraint and Arthur.  “Don’t worry,” he said.

“Loth, Kai, Arthur and Gerraint are not known by these Lords, only Gerraint, try to look big and mean and keep your mouth shut,” Meryddin mused.  “You are much too bright for these people.”

“A compliment?”  Arthur looked shocked.

“What?” Gerraint said.  “Did Christ return and nobody told me?”

Meryddin frowned, but the others grinned when they got interrupted by a man in a long tunic with a hill painted on the front.

“Mesalwig,” Arthur recognized the man.  “Is Badgemagus here?”  Mesalwig, from Glastonbury, squired to Badgemagus in his youth.

“He is,” Mesalwig said before Meryddin grabbed him and guided him off for a private conference.  Meryddin came back alone just when the escort of guards arrived from the great hall.

“They will say nothing,” Meryddin reported. “Mesalwig is here wooing Gwynyvar, Leodegan’s elder daughter.”

“Good luck with that,” Gerraint mumbled, before they walked in silence.

The great hall had a large dais raised a good two feet above the rest of the floor, but Leodegan sat at the end of the center table down below.  Arthur and Gerraint stopped at the other end of the long table and Loth and Kai stopped a few steps behind.  Loth and Kai looked at the poor decor, though they may have been counting the guards stationed here and there around the room.  Gerraint counted the four doors.  Besides the main doors, there was a postern door close, but to the side, that probably also lead outside.  The one in the back on his right likely lead to back rooms in the Great Hall, and to the kitchens.  The one to his left had to be connected to the tower.

Arthur kept his eyes on the old man the whole time.

“Meryddin, my old friend.” Leodegan sounded gracious. “You have come and brought help in my time of need.  All thanks to the Mother Danna.”

“Indeed,” Meryddin said.  “Allow me to introduce the leader of this band, Lord Bassmas and his shield and strong right arm Lord Goreu of Cornwall.  Most call him Wyrd.”  Merlin mispronounced the word.  “These others are Lords of the north who have come to fight the Irish menace.”

“Lord Lot,” Loth interrupted, so Kai had to think fast.

“Lord Cecil,” he said, and regretted it as soon as it escaped his lips.

“My Captain Cleodalis and my Druid Julius,” Leodegan quickly introduced the men to his left and right, as his eyes seemed glued to Arthur.  Gerraint noticed the druid bowed to Meryddin.  He remained seated, but it was a bow all the same. “Tell me,” Leodegan sounded suspicious. “You wear the dragon on your tunic.”

“In honor of my father who fought as Uther’s right arm during the great wars.  Like Uther, he got poisoned in the end by Saxon treachery.”

Leodegan nodded, like he accepted that explanation, but then he turned on Gerraint.  “And Lord Goreu, I see you wear the lion of Cornwall.”  Meryddin stepped up, but Arthur spoke first.

“He says it is his right, but since Erbin died, he will not serve Marcus Adronicus, the Roman usurper, especially since Marcus is such a devout catholic.”

Leodegan nodded again and turned to the third man at the table, a young man beside Captain Cleodalis who Leodegan did not bother to introduce.  “What do you think, Ogryvan.  The big brute looks like a shield well made.”

Ogryvan, Leodegan’s son, stood and faced Gerraint. The young man stood about five-ten and had broad shoulders besides, which made him a bit of a clunk. Gerraint appeared slimmer, no doubt in better shape, and that suggested speed and grace, plus he stood two inches taller.  Gerraint exaggerated the notion of looking down on Ogryvan, and he growled, pleased that he practiced that.  Ogryvan’s face did not change, but the man did shuffle back a half-step and Gerraint barely kept himself from bursting out laughing.

R5 Gerraint: Danes

“Heilbraun seems a good man,” Gerraint mentioned to Arthur as the two rode side by side in the evening.  One flaw in the plan was the lancers, which included the knights, their squires and the RDF, had to swing around in the dark and be in position by dawn.

“He is, and not terribly old yet,” Arthur agreed. “But he must have some persuasive counselors to push him into war.”  The leading lights, the fairy lights Pinewood provided, curved in to enter the back of the forest.  Come dawn, they would charge out the other side.  Arthur turned to the men behind him.  “Keep your eyes on the horse in front of you.  Pass it down the line.”

“What you are saying,” Gerraint continued.  “He must have his own version of Meryddin pushing and tugging him against his common sense.”

Arthur huffed.  He did not like that comparison, so they rode in silence through the trees.

At last, the fairy lights vanished and Arthur halted the column of riders.  Two of the lights then reappeared and came right up to face Gerraint and Arthur. They were two lovely women who Gerraint named as Rose and Mistletoe, and they had a report.

“The Norwegians in the woods are all dead. They got shotted full of arrows and moved away.”  Mistletoe covered her eyes like she did not want to remember.

“But the horses were all taken by the gnomes and given to Deerrunner,” Rose finished the thought.

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

“The elf King,” Gerraint answered softly.  “Go on”

“Bogus said to tell you the way is clear on the other side,” Rose went on.

“But now there are scardy dark elves keeping their strange eyes on the enemies,” Mistletoe said.

“Goblins,” Gerraint said, before Arthur could ask. “Thank you Missus Rose and Miss Mistletoe.  Now we have work to do, but not until morning.”  The fairies vanished, even as a rider came up dangerously fast in the dark.

“Where did they go?”  It was Meryddin.  He was supposed to be back helping to get the nags and riders ready, but obviously he snuck along.

“Where did who go?” Gerraint asked as Arthur dismounted and sent word down the line to keep quiet and move up into position.

Meryddin yanked his horse around and rode off at not quite so dangerous a speed.

Meryddin did not catch a little one during the engagement, but there were some close calls.  Poor Gerraint felt more worried about his charges than he felt about charging the enemy.  When it got to actually moving out of the woods, though, his mind focused on the task. He drew Salvation when he lost his lance in the back of a fat, fleeing Dane.  He watched as the Danish and British foot soldiers clashed, and the Danish line crumbled.  Too much of the line was moving sideways and getting in the way, and soon too much of it started fleeing over the little rise in the ground.  Sergeant Paul and his thirty riders from Cornwall with Melwas with his twenty from Lyoness hit the other side and Gerraint felt Bogus’ frustration because few men would flee to those woods as a chance to escape. Gerraint stopped and looked up the little rise.  He had mayhem all around him, but he stood still for a whole second which felt like an hour.  Then he started up the hill.  Men ran before him and dove to the side to get out of his way.  Gerraint got there in time to see three men cut down with arrows, each one a perfect shot.

“Deerrunner!  Cut it out!” The arrows instantly stopped, but then the elves charged, about a thousand of them, and if Gerraint did not have to defend himself, he would have put his face in his hand

In short order, the Danes realized they were surrounded and began to surrender.  Even as Arthur accepted the sword of Heilbraun, Gerraint yelled go home to whatever fairies, dwarfs, elves, or whoever might be listening.  “No next time,” he added.  “That’s cheating.”

Arthur had seven hundred dead and wounded, and such were wounds in those days they often referred to them as the dead and dying. Heilbraun and the Danes lost over three thousand men, an astounding number, but Gerraint knew at least half of those casualties were due to the little ones.  The elves alone may have accounted for a thousand, a number equal to their own, and without losing a single man, or rather, elf.

Heilbraun’s forces were crushed beyond reason and he pledged that there would be peace as long as he was alive and remained King of the Danes.  Of course, in Gerraint’s mind, he imagined the Danes could send for more ships and more young warriors at any time.  By contrast, the loss of seven hundred Britons and Welsh felt irreplaceable. After two days, Arthur found Percival protecting Greta as she tried to bandage a leg wound that she feared would get infected.

“Goreu,” he started, but Greta growled at him.

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

Arthur started over.  “Greta.  I just got word from an RDF courier.  The Irish have come up against north Wales and they have poor Leodegan under siege.”

“Pirates, a band of brigands, or the whole Irish army? Gerraint is asking,” Greta said.

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

“We need better information before we drag the whole army across the whole island,” Greta said, and stood.  “Percival, please escort me to Gerraint’s tent.”

“My lady,” Percival responded and put his arm out for her to hold.  Arthur watched and after a moment, closed his mouth.  Then he made a decision even as Meryddin found him.

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

“Greta.  A healer,” Arthur said, and walked off so Meryddin had to follow.

Arthur let the army go home.  He said they needed time to bury their dead and grieve for their losses.  “Three victories in three weeks,” seemed about the only thing he said the whole way across the island, but he understood, as they all did, that the last victory became one to cry about, not one to rejoice over.  Gerraint said nothing at all.  And poor Uwaine also remained silent because he did not know what to say.

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Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY, again

Skipping over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the story will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week.  Arthur meets Gwynyvar.  You won’t want to miss that.   Until then:

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R5 Gerraint: York, part 2 of 2

After retaking York, Gerraint found Arthur and Meryddin in a heated argument.  When he entered the room, Meryddin suddenly stopped talking and sniffed.  He turned his eyes on Gerraint and sniffed again.

“I need a bath?” Gerraint asked.

Meryddin showed contempt in his eyes and went back to yelling.  “Who were those men?  I saw you with them and I say they were not men.  Who were they?  Why were they helping you?  I smelled them all over the battlefield by the river, but I could not pin them down. They seemed across the river, and in the woods everywhere.  Why should these glorious creatures have anything to do with the likes of you, especially you and your Christ.  Tell me. What were those men?”

Arthur just shook his head, glanced at Gerraint and finally said, “I will not lie to you.”  He respected Meryddin too much to ever lie to him, so the alternative became to say nothing.  Meryddin turned again to face Gerraint.  Gerraint put his hands up in surrender.

“Hey, I arrived in the middle of this conversation. If I am lucky, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Meryddin sniffed again and said, “You know.”

Gerraint shook his head.  “I’m the one who needs a bath, remember?”

Meryddin stomped out to vent his anger on someone else for a time.

Arthur called Gerraint to come close.  “I just got a report this morning that there is movement on the Norwegian shore.  Gerraint, I don’t know if this army can take on another foe, at least not so soon.”

“I imagine the Danes have been waiting for just this moment,” Gerraint said.  “You have fought two battles and they must figure you are pretty banged up.  But the battle on the Ure was a giant ambush and we did not suffer much.  And the taking of York proved even simpler.”

“But this is three battles with no time to breathe.”

“What do you mean?  We have been resting and enjoying the hospitality of York for a whole day.  Men have had time enough to get drunk.  You have Croyden installed to run the fort and Loth to look over his shoulder.  Loth expressed surprise, but gratitude, by the way.”

“But will they do it?” Arthur got serious. Gerraint never saw Arthur with so little confidence and he wondered what Meryddin might be doing to his head.  In the end, there seemed only one thing to say.

“Ask them.  Ask the men.”

The next morning, Arthur’s army marched out to meet the Danes on the battlefield.

The Danes stretched out in an open field, slightly uphill.  There were woods to the left and right of the Danish line.  Percival said it looked like the British rebels all over again. Arthur agreed, “But I am sure they had spies at the Glen River and saw what we did to the Saxons and Angles there. I would guess they spent the time since devising a plan to counter the lancers.”

“If they didn’t, they would be fools,” Pelenor said.

Arthur rubbed his hands.  “I propose we bring up every nag and plow horse we can find and let them stand at the front with riders, like men with lances would stand. Then have our real lancers ride around and fill the woods on the Dane’s left.  I have it on good authority that certain hunters from Cornwall guarantee that none of the Danish horsemen in those woods will escape to warn the others.”

“They will try,” Gerraint said and threw his gauntlet to the ground.  He was not happy with the plan, even if his little ones were.  Arthur nodded that he understood.  They would try but nothing was promised.

“Then I have a second troop out of these northmen joined to some that have come all the way up from Londugnum.  They will take care of the horsemen in the other wood.”

“Northman?” Loth asked.

“Mine or with Loth?” Kai asked.

“In between.  Not counted or sided, but loyal to their Pendragon.”

“Criminals and hermits.”  That was how Loth interpreted it.

“And Londugnum?”  Bedwyr got curious.

“Not from your district,” Arthur assured him.

“So, we bring the fake horsemen to the front and make it look like we are going to repeat the tactic of the River Glen,” Gerraint moved the conversation along.

“At that distance, they will not suspect the ruse,” Meryddin said.  He actually appeared to like this idea.  “I have found no great eyes in their ranks.”

“At the last minute, the footmen will march out,” Arthur said.  And they will stop on level ground just out of bowshot.  This is crucial.  They must not charge uphill, and God willing, the Danes will charge them instead.”

“And immediately get within bowshot,” Pelenor got it.

Arthur nodded again.  “And that will be the signal for our lancers to ride straight into their side.”

“They should crush up like an accordion,” Gerraint said, but since no one knew what an accordion was, he added, “And any who try to escape to the woods will be cut down.”

“This could work,” Pelenor seemed all smiles.

“I see no great problems if everybody does their jobs,” Bedwyr tried to sum things up.  “If the lancers do meet resistance, they have the force to overcome.  And if they jump too late, though that would not be good, it could still work.  And if they jump too soon, that should not hurt our overall chances.”

“The men from Cornwall and Lyoness have formed a small troop of horsemen in case any Danish horsemen manage to find their way out of the other wood.  And if the two lines of footmen meet, they can swing a short around and hit the Danes on the other flank.”

The men left all smiles and prepared for a great victory.  Gerraint stuck around.  “No battle ever goes exactly to plan, isn’t that right Meryddin?”

“What?  Yes.” But Meryddin did not really pay attention.  He had something else on his mind.

R5 Gerraint: York, part 1 of 2

“So, who is this sudden friend of yours?” Arthur asked.

“Lord Pinewood.” Gerraint said as he tried out the poor mattress on one of the slat beds originally made for legionnaires. The bed creaked, like one ready to fall apart any minute.

“We have met,” Pinewood said.

“I have that feeling,” Arthur looked at the man. “But I also feel a sudden chill on the back of my neck.  Goreu, please explain.”

“He goes hunting in his spare time,” Gerraint said, as he took the straw mattress and laid it on the floor.  Arthur’s eyes got big.

“I thought that was you,” Percival said brightly. “How are you?”

“It won’t be easy breaking out of here,” Captain Croyden interrupted, as he stepped away from the door.  “It has a deadbolt and probably guards.”

“I don’t think breaking out will be much of a problem,” Arthur said, and he decided to lie down as well so he could have the excuse to close his eyes.

The sun went down and Gerraint popped up from his nap.  Arthur and the RDF were discussing possible ways of escape from their prison room. They had to capture the gatehouse to open the gate, but they wanted to do so without being found out, if at all possible.

“What room is beneath us?” Gerraint asked first thing.

“A storage room for hay and straw for the horses,” Pinewood said from the corner where he and Percival appeared to be doing something.

“Like a barn,” Percival added.

“We can’t tear up the floorboards,” Croyden objected.  “This floor is solid.  Even if we had the equipment it would bring every guard in the fort down on our heads.”

“Then we use the escape hatch,” Gerraint suggested.

“Over here, Lord,” Pinewood called.  He and Percival struggled to remove a six by six trap door that had no lock or hinges but looked to fit perfectly into the floor.

“I think I don’t want to ask,” Arthur said, while Gerraint lowered himself into the dark space below.

“Alleluia,” Gerraint breathed as he let himself drop. He whispered back up, but it sounded sharp and plenty loud.  “Pile of hay. Soft landing.  Come on down.”  They came, one by one, and Pinewood came last of all so he could, somehow, close the flooring above them.

The room had only a small touch of light around the door, unlocked, of course, because no one would steal hay.  It let out on to the small courtyard by the back of the great hall.  “You know, the Romans built the same thing over and over.  Once they found a good design, they tended to stick with it.”

Arthur nodded.  “This way.”

Pinewood tapped Gerraint on the shoulder and kept back to be last.  “Get your men and meet us in the gatehouse.  Cornwall hunters,” Gerraint said, and caught up to Arthur.

The going got slow.  The moon had risen three-quarters full in a cloudless sky, so they had to avoid the open spaces.  They inched along the wall and Gerraint could not help himself thinking, “Louie.  I said the coppers would never hold me in Alcatraz.”  Fortunately, he held his tongue.

When they arrived at the gatehouse, the guards were all sleeping except one.  Word had evidently gone around not to expect any activity until morning.  Arthur insisted on taking out that one guard by himself, and he almost succeeded.  The man cried out, but in surprise, not in fear or death.  It sounded as if one of his fellow guards snuck up behind him and said, “Boo!” Even so, it got enough to rouse two sleepy men.  They barely got out the door to yawn before they were riddled with arrows.

Pinewood, and his half-dozen hunters came forward with a jar of anti-blue gel and different clothes.  “I stepped out and picked these up,” he said.  “We don’t want your own men mistaking you for the enemy.”

“Quite right,” Arthur said, and he dressed to receive the army.  Percival got the torches as soon as he changed, and he and the three men from the RDF climbed to the top of the wall.  Two of Pinewood’s men climbed with them, just to watch, they said, but everyone understood that meant watching up and down the wall to stop any unwanted intruders.  Arthur, Gerraint and Captain Croyden took care of the rest of the sleepers and then went to open the gate.  The rest of Pinewood’s men had their back.

Meryddin, the first one in, got loud.  Gerraint took a great risk when he wrapped his hand over Meryddin’s mouth.  “You will probably bite my hand off,” he said.  “But if you don’t be quiet you will get a lot of people killed.” Gerraint slowly removed his hand and then swore he could see the steam coming out of Meryddin’s ears.

The first third of Arthur’s army came in quietly, but then the impatient idiots in the back third began to shout war cries, which quickly ended the silent surprise.  Even so, many of the Saxons were caught in their sleep, and many others got killed or taken when they were still half-asleep.  Some fighting broke out on the main courtyard and in taking the Great Hall, but the defenders soon got overwhelmed with numbers and knew their cause had been lost.

Colgrin lost his head, though no one confessed. They assumed he lost it to a Saxon blade because someone thought Colgrin betrayed them.  When it was over, they brought up the Pictish prisoners and they and the Saxons were offered their lives.

“Hear me,” Arthur yelled at the Lords of the Saxons and the Chief men of the Picts.  “I destroyed two armies in two days, and you had no strength to stand against me and no way of stopping me.  You dared to set foot on British soil.  I should hang every one of you.  But I can be gracious.  Pledge, by your strongest pledge, that you will go home and never again set foot on British soil, because understand this.  If you come again to British soil to attack and do harm to the British people, I will set foot on your land and destroy your people.  You have failed.  But I will not fail.  I will so destroy your homes, not a child will be left to cry and your land and inheritance will be given to others.  So take heed and go, and do not come back.”

The enemy left, and Gerraint asked his little ones to please watch to be sure they went home.  He asked them just to watch, but he knew the Germans as well as the Picts and Scots would be harassed the whole way as incentive to keep their pledge.

R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 2 of 2

Gerraint explained things minimally to Arthur who promptly moved the RDF to close off the southern area of the woods.  They still had to wait, but the Picts and Scots finally straggled in just after lunch on the third day.  They looked pretty ragged.

Arthur was not for waiting lest their camp be discovered.  He gave the order, and the enemy became covered in a virtual rain of arrows. Some tried to head south, but found the way blocked, and by a force they quickly realized would not break.  Some headed back the way they came, but Pinewood timed his charges the way the little ones often do.  Kai and Loth arrived perfectly on time to cut off that escape route.  In all, the battle might have been more of an even match, but Arthur’s men had time to get well dug in and had the advantage of some height.  Some small groups of Picts and Scots made the attempt to attack uphill, but those attempts never amounted to much.

Arthur’s men took casualties, but by far the damage came on the other side.  At the last, though the river ran swift and deep, those who escaped, and there were quite a few, did so by swimming the river.  Gerraint saw some of them climb the far riverbank only to be shot down by unseen archers.  Gerraint felt like cursing, but the only thing he said was, “As long as they go back north.”

Arthur’s men took nearly a thousand prisoners, and that took as many of Arthur’s three thousand men to guard them.  The Picts and Scots sat and faced the river. Gerraint rather hoped they would try to escape by swimming across.  He knew his little ones would finish the job, or drive them back north to where they came from.

“So how did it go?” Arthur asked when Gerraint got to the command tent.

“I spent the whole time trying to teach Uwaine how to properly aim and fire his arrow,” Gerraint said, since the boy was outside tending to Gerraint’s weapons.  “He finally got off a good shot and hit a horse in the neck, and then I had to hug him and tell him it would be all right.”  Even Meryddin softened a bit on hearing that.  “I shot the Pictish rider when the horse fell out from under him, but otherwise, I don’t think I fired another arrow the whole time.”

Gwillim came up to the tent in a short while. “Look what I found.”

“Leave it to the little merchant to go through the enemy’s things,” Gerraint said.

“No!  That is my uncle and my brother Thomas’ job.”

“What?”  Arthur asked. Gwillim smiled broadly and held out several tins of blue goop and several more tins of clear stuff which they realized was the stuff to remove the blue.  “Brilliant!”  Arthur said, but he did not explain whatever his brilliant idea was until Meryddin left to see about supper for the prisoners.

Mid-afternoon on the next day, Arthur, Gerraint, Captain Croyden, Percival and three other prime members of the RDF showed up at the gate of York with Blue faces and beards, dressed in Pictish garb and carrying Pictish weapons.  They heard the call to stop and an eighth man appeared in their midst.

“You need an interpreter,” the man said.  “You would be in trouble if they started to speak to you in Pictish and you did not understand what they were saying.” Arthur and several of the men turned white beneath the blue.  They had not considered that.  Gerraint leaned forward and whispered in Pinewood’s ear.  Pinewood shouted the words.

“The youngest son of Caw here with a message for Colgrin.”  They had to wait at the gate for a long time before someone came to fetch them and bring them inside.

Meryddin, meanwhile, drove the army with every whip he could think of, and all but cursing Arthur for his stupidity. Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn, and Kai and Loth once they got let in on it, kept slowing things down.  Their orders were to arrive under the cover of darkness and wait for the signal.

Colgrin sat in his version of a great hall preparing for an early supper.  He spoke in Saxon to the men around him, all Germans of some sort.  “The youngest son of Caw, the Pict.  The man apparently has a bunch of sons.  He must be part rabbit.”  the Saxons laughed as Colgrin switched to British.  He assumed none of the Picts spoke Saxon, but the fairy Lord understood it perfectly, and because he stood near the fairy or because of some magic the fairy affected on the men, they all understood it as well.

“What news?” Colgrin came right out with it.

Gerraint whispered in Pinewood’s ear and Pinewood repeated it.  “The men of Arthur tried to trap us by the river, but they took one look at our strength and numbers and withdrew.  The Son of Caw says the men of Arthur are puny things.”  Colgrin and the Saxons laughed, but not too much.  Gerraint appeared an imposing sight, half naked as he was.  “The Son of Caw says his father will be here in the morning with three thousand men of Celidon.  He wants to know if everything is ready.”

“Ready?  What do you mean ready?” Colgrin asked sharply.

“This is war.  We must be ready.”  Pinewood dutifully repeated.

“What?  Yes, of course.”  He said to his Saxons, “Are we ready?”

“Ya!”  Two said, while the others just shouted and growled.

Gerraint looked thoughtful and nodded his head. Then he said in British, in his deepest voice, with a strange fake accent, “We wait.”

“Of course,” Colgrin said.  “You must be tired and hungry after your long journey. Hegel!  Several men came in from a small side door.  “Show our guests to the long room in the beach barracks and get them something to eat.”  Hegel bowed. They were dismissed and escorted to a big common room on the second floor of a building where the only windows were arrow slits on the outside wall of the fort.  They were locked in, and Gerraint could not help his mouth.

“And I bet they won’t even feed us.”

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

Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY

In light of the holiday, there will be no posts on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.  Instead, the weekly chapter will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  So…………

WEDNESDAY

R5 Gerraint.  Arthur and a few select men have a plan to deal with the traitor in York.  Don’t miss it.

*

R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 1 of 2

Arthur moved the army by the obvious route toward York.  He figured if Colgrin had any sense, he had scouts out spying Arthur’s progress, and a whole army would be kind of hard to hide.  Gerraint, Arthur, Meryddin and the old men went over the map again and again, looking for some way to limit their exposure, but it seemed impossible until Arthur pointed to the open hill beside the Ure River.

“We can turn aside here in the forest of Bedegraine and come out here on the hilltop.  As long as we set our camp within the trees, we might stay hidden a few days anyway.”

“Might.  Maybe. Could be,” Meryddin did not actually object.

“Slim chance,” Peredur said.

“But still a chance,” Pelenor sounded optimistic, which surprised the group.  “You have men keeping an eye on the Picts and Kai and Loth have joined to chase them from behind.  No reason they can’t chase Caw toward the Ure.”

“This will, by necessity, be a different kind of battle,” Gerraint mused out loud.  “Lancers are not effective in the woods.”

“A company of stout hunters would certainly help our cause,” Arthur said, with a long look at Gerraint.

“But most of our men are hunters,” Pelenor said. “Have to be these days since it got colder.  The growing season has gotten short and the snows of winter have gotten deep.”

“This will be bows and arrows,” Meryddin agreed with a sharp look at Gerraint.  It was not the first such look Gerraint got from the man.

“It would be good if we could catch them between us and the river,” Peredur seemed in general agreement.  “They will have nowhere to run with their backs to the water, and we will have the high ground.”

Gerraint answered Arthur and avoided Meryddin’s eyes. “I’ll need to think about it.”

Two days later, Gerraint went into the woods, Uwaine, his faithful squire behind him.  “Now, don’t be scared,” Gerraint said.  “No matter what happens, they won’t hurt you.  You have to trust me.  You always have to trust me and this is a good time to start.  Do you understand?”

Uwaine nodded.  “Should I shut my eyes?”

“No, Percival,” Gerraint called him.  “You must always keep your eyes open so no enemy can sneak up on you.”  He turned to the woods and hollered.  “Pinewood!” and a man dressed like a hunter, but with a tunic that showed the lion of Cornwall stepped from the trees.

“My Lord.  So you know, I have a rather large company of hunters anxious to help.”

Gerraint shook his head.  He would not put them at risk for a transient human event.  “Got any dwarfs and dark elves on tap?”

“Right here,” a dwarf with a long black beard that covered his face and chest apart from his bulbous nose and two bright eyes, and dressed in chain armor that fell to the ground, and hefting an oversized ax for his height, stepped out beside Pinewood.  Gerraint knew him immediately, though they had never met.

“Bogus.”

Uwaine shrieked and stepped more behind Gerraint, but kept his eyes wide open.  At least Pinewood appeared human.

“My squire, Uwaine,” Gerraint made the quick introduction.  “Lord Pinewood and Lord Bogus.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the little ones said, and Uwaine tried to smile for them but his tongue appeared to be tied.

“Now, to business.  I know that you and Dumfries’ people have all sorts of enchantments to scare the poor humans and keep them out of certain places, particularly in the woods.  What I am asking is for a hedge on either side of the Picts and Scots that will guide their forward motion toward the Ure.  In a perfect world, they should end up by the river right below our current position, with Kai and Loth right behind them.  Pinewood, I need you to visit Kai and Loth and direct them to the battle point.  You can take a few hunters with you as long as they wear the lion of Cornwall.  But that means you have to remove all your tricks and traps after the Picts have moved in the correct direction and before Kai and Loth arrive.  We don’t want poor Kai scared witless.  Now, can you do this?”

“Easy,” Bogus said.  “Especially since they are headed in that direction anyway.  But where then do you want us in the battle formation.  On the south end opposite Kai and Loth so we can close the trap?”

“Nowhere,” Gerraint said.  “The lancers and RDF will dismount and take the south end.  I do not want you to expose yourselves.  You are not allowed any casualties; do you understand?”  Pinewood and Bogus nodded, but looked terribly disappointed.

Uwaine tugged on Gerraint’s tunic.  He looked down at that face which said, “What if the Picts swim the river?”  Gerraint smiled.  He thought much the same thing.

“Okay.  You can take up positions across the river, and any Picts or Scots smart enough to escape that way, you have my permission to chase them all the way back up to the wall. I would think a couple of ogres, some goblins and maybe a troll should do the trick.  Meanwhile, when the battle starts, Bogus, I want your people to set a circle around York.  I want no one to get in or out of that place until we get there, so Colgrin has no way of knowing what is happening.”

“You are confident of victory?” Pinewood asked.

Gerraint nodded.  “But only because you folk have never been much for following orders.” Bogus and Pinewood both grinned, slightly.  “But Bogus, especially if we are victorious as I hope, Colgrin better not find out. That is one order you better pay attention to.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes lord.”  Bogus and Pinewood bowed, and Bogus vanished back into the woods in only a few steps, while Pinewood got fairy small, much to Uwaine’s delight, and flew off at top speed.

“Son,” Gerraint said, sounding very much like master Pelenor.  “This is one thing you are not allowed to talk about.  You must never mention dwarfs or fairies or anything of the kind to anyone.  Okay?”

“Don’t worry.  If I told my mother she would think I lost my mind.  But…”

“But what?”

“Can we do that again sometime?”

R5 Gerraint: Trouble

Arthur spent the next couple of years finally making that grand tour.  He hardly got everywhere.  North Wales and the south Welsh coast did not get much attention, but only because they did not have enough time before the trouble started.

In those days, Ederyn said Percival got to that vulnerable age, so he took him off on a number of independent adventures, including a six-month trip to the Highlands in the British northwest where there were reports of dragons.  Sometimes, it became just Arthur, Peredur and Meryddin on the road, but most of the time Pelenor and Gerraint joined them.

Both Arthur and Gerraint were coming of age. Arthur quickly developed the habit that, as soon as he stepped into a Lord’s manor house or fort or home, he said, “I am not here to get married.  I am not looking for a wife, so please don’t suggest such a thing or I will be very cross.” Gerraint, who finally started to become that imposing figure at a touch over six feet tall, with impressive muscles and in excellent shape, simply could not master being the strong, silent type. He routinely mumbled, “If I knew you were coming I would have baked a cake.”

They all gathered for Cordella’s wedding to Sir Melwas, High Chief of Lyoness.  Melwas noted how much Percival had grown, which made Percival growl.  Gerraint had to put up with Cordella telling him a thousand times how much she hated him before she hugged him and told him she loved him and flitted off happily to find her new husband.

They went to Somerset and Glastonbury to visit Mesalwig who stayed home, tending his ailing father.  Arthur finally knighted him, which is what he had been calling it ever since Gerraint’s slip of the tongue.  It did not mean much to Mesalwig at that point.  The old man appeared to be dying, and all the others could do was give their condolences.

“That flu, as you call it, is pretty widespread among the people.  Most don’t die, but some do,” Peredur mused aloud.

“Mostly the old and the very young,” Meryddin added, and there were a few towns the group was not allowed to enter because the epidemic was severe.

Overall, they did a pretty good job of covering Britain, including a trip all the way up to Edinburgh to visit Loth.  This became Arthur’s first time above Hadrian’s wall, and his first view of the Scots.  He said the Scots did not look or sound much different from the British, and even some of the words were the same.  He also got his first look at some Picts, though they had to be pointed out to him because they also dressed and acted like the Scotts and only their language gave them away, it being significantly different.  Arthur confided to Gerraint privately that he felt surprised by the Picts. He heard they had blue skin.

“Blue face paint, but only when they go to war,” Gerraint said.  He knew that much.

From Edinburgh, they traveled down the whole of Hadrian’s wall to the west side where Kai made his home at Fort Guinnon. That stood as the western anchor to the wall; the farthest south the Picts, or Scotts for that matter, were permitted to go.  Of course, Scotts and even some Picts regularly traveled past the wall, but they were mostly traders and merchants who not only had a bustling trade with Loth and Kai, but with the people of the north, all the way down to York.  It was not like the old Roman days.  They had peace in the north and Arthur, for one, hoped it stayed that way.  Sadly, that dream got shattered in the year 500 when Kai and Loth both sent word that an army of Picts and some Scotts started gathering just north of the Antonine wall under a war chief named Caw.  The Norwegian shore stayed quiet for the last ten years, so Colgrin of York got the idea the time was ripe.  He made a pact between his Jutes and Saxons and the Picts and Scotts to capture the whole northland for himself.

“Damn!” This time Arthur did not look happy, but he had five hundred men trained in the RDF, so he was not unprepared.  He sent a hundred each to support Kai and Loth, and a third hundred to keep an eye out for the Picts and keep an eye on Hadrian’s wall. A fourth hundred he sent to link up with Sir Bedwyr at Oxford.  They were to keep their eyes on Essex and see if the Saxons should decide to move north.  He hoped the beating they took at the River Glen might discourage that idea.  The last hundred, mostly the young and unseasoned stayed at Caerleon and helped gather supplies and settle men as the Lords brought their troops in over the next three months.

While they waited, Gerraint turned twenty-one and Arthur immediately knighted him.

“Well, son, now that you are a young lord, got any plans?” Pelenor asked.

Gerraint just threw his arms around the man and hugged him.  He whispered, “Thank you.”

Pelenor hugged him back and whispered, “You’re welcome,” in response.  Then they separated because Pelenor got particularly uncomfortable with those sorts of shows of affection.

“Yes, actually,” Gerraint said.  “A friend of Morgana prevailed on her, so she prevailed on Arthur, who prevailed on me.  Allow me to introduce a squire of my own.  Uwaine is thirteen.”  He stepped aside and showed a young lad who looked nervous in the presence of such preeminent men and Knights of the Round Table besides, as everyone started calling them.

“Lord!  You were a brat at that age,” Pelenor said.

“Yes you were,” Peredur agreed.  “Almost as bad as Arthur.”

“Congratulations,” Ederyn said.

“Son,” Percival, who turned nineteen, stepped up to the boy.  “Don’t be scared of him.  If he gives you any trouble, you just let me know.”

“Hey Goreu,” Arthur shouted.  “Try not to get weird on him until he is older.”

Poor Uwaine did not know what to say.

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 3 of 3

In the morning, Gerraint, Pelenor, Peredur and Meryddin accompanied Arthur to a parlay with Bearclaw and his lieutenants. Arthur spoke quietly as they rode out.

“Meryddin said you could come because you are an imposing sight.”

“What?” Gerraint joked.  “I’m now the big, dumb guy there to intimidate the enemy by my mean stare and bulging muscles?”

“Mostly, yeah,” Arthur went along with the idea. “Percival’s going to be upset at being left out, you know.”

Gerraint nodded, but said no more.

Once there, Arthur suggested the Saxons leave Britain and return to their own land in Essex.  “You’ve been sitting against this river for more than a month when you could have moved north.  Now that the army has arrived, moving north is not an option.”

Bearclaw laughed.  “You see, Goatlib, my son.  This British boy thinks he has us surrounded.”  He laughed again and his lieutenants laughed with him.  “The army I see is not nearly as big as the force mustered in the old days by Uther.  I heard some of your Lords were not happy with you and you wasted all your men fighting among yourselves.”

“And so you sat here for a month waiting to find out how strong my arm is?”

“Bah!”  Bearclaw spat.  “We don’t waste good men on arguments.  Brecca wanted to move to the shore and crawl up the coast like a coward.  Edgard wanted to slink away, back the way we came. But we settled things and only two men died.”

“Who died?”  Arthur had to ask.

“Brecca and Edgard,” Bearclaw gave the obvious answer and looked very pleased with himself.  “Now, you go away.  Have your partridge and mush and we will fight in the morning.  We have twice your number and good German steel.  The fight should not take long.”

Both sides went back to their lines, and Arthur laid out the battle plan in less time than it took to parlay.  Gerraint had a thought.

“You know, partridge and mush sounds pretty good.”

The Saxons came out from the river’s edge in the morning.  They had camped on the open field where they expected to do battle.  In those days, battles were always fought in the open air, where it was said, real men of fortitude could stand face to face.  The truth was, fighting over hills and especially in the woods, it became too easy for men to get lost and turned around, and maybe even cut or skewer their own.  Certainly, every group Bearclaw sent into the woods never came back.

Arthur dressed up his foot soldiers first thing, and made sure they understood their part in the drama.  Kai and Loth had both sent contingents from the north that arrived in the night.  That gave Arthur fifteen hundred regular men or about half the estimated number of Germans. He let the Celts and the Germans yell at each other for a time before he moved the horsemen to the front.

Arthur had four hundred and ninety-seven horsemen, all well armored and outfitted with lances.  More than half were trained members of the RDF, but behind them were the Lords and their squires.  Pelenor, Gerraint, Peredur, Arthur and Meryddin rode to the front.  When they stopped, they gave the horses a chance to settle down.  The Germans stopped yelling their war cries and watched.  When Arthur yelled “Lances,” they came to point at the enemy with far better unity than the first time.  The RDF let out one big “Ha!” and then fell silent.

Percival came riding up to stop beside Meryddin, and Ederyn, who failed to keep the young man at the back, came up beside him. Pelenor kept mumbling “relax, twist and yank,” over and over.  He got very good at hitting the targets dead center, but he sometimes forgot the follow up, in particular the relax part.  More than once, he found himself shoved off the back end of his galloping horse and deposited roughly on his rump.

“Drive them into the river,” Arthur yelled.  He got ready to call the charge when Percival and Gerraint interrupted, in unison.

“For Arthur!”

The RDF, the squires, and those Lords who were not caught off guard echoed, “For Arthur!”  And this time when Arthur yelled charge, it was barely heard as the horses went rumbling forward.  The foot soldiers did their best, but they would be a few minutes extra before they reached the enemy lines.

To their credit, about a third of the Saxons, or about a thousand, tried to hold their ground.  They got skewered, and those who were not killed outright, were finished as soon as the footmen arrived.  The rest of the Saxons did flee to the river and most of them swam for their lives.

Arthur stopped at the river’s edge where the trees lined the water.  He signaled, and Captain Croyden lead his RDF a half-mile up river to a point where they could ford across.  The good Captain had been charged to make sure the Germans went back to where they came from.  He later reported that a number of them hit the Essex border and still did not stop running.  That was a few days on foot, so there is no telling what could be believed.

“It won’t always be this easy,” Peredur told Arthur.  “They will find a way to counter the lances.”

Arthur nodded, but he had three things to keep him busy.  First, he needed to find Bearclaw, which was not hard.  The man lay among the dead in a large pocket of men that tried to stand up to the charge.  Unfortunately, Goatlib was not there, and Arthur imagined Bearclaw’s son might be one to watch.

Second, Arthur needed to choose a number of men for inclusion in the Round Table.  He started with Peredur and Ederyn, who were happy to be included, and Pelenor, who did not go in for those sorts of emotional moments, but also felt secretly happy to be included.  Captain Croyden and three members of the RDF that he singled out for extraordinary acts of bravery in defense of the locals against the Saxon raiders were given the title, “Sir,” along with several of the older Lords who were known to be stout believers and defenders of the church.

Mesalwig of Glastonbury appealed for inclusion, but he only turned twenty, and Arthur decided that a man needed to be twenty-one and fully grown to be joined to the table.  Mesalwig went away angry, but it could not be helped because he was still technically a squire.  Besides, his master, Badgemagus the Welshman, still held to many of the old ways and had no desire to be included.

Melwas got included, though Arthur said it was mostly for Gerraint’s sake.  “But hereafter,” Arthur made it clear.  “Just being in battle and fighting for the realm is not enough.”  Melwas fought bravely and did his duty, but no more than the rest on that day.  “We are looking for extraordinary men who perform as Gerraint has said, above and beyond the call of duty.”

“Still, it was good to include some of the most important Lords in Britain and Wales.  There are almost twenty now, and that should make the table attractive to any young men coming up in the ranks,” Percival thought out loud.

“And you knighted two second sons and a commoner among the RDF, and that will give your army something special,” Gerraint added. “Extraordinary valor will be honored, even among the common people.”

“What do you mean, knighted?” Arthur asked.

Gerraint put his hand to his mouth and spoke through his fingers.  “What is the third thing we have to do.”

“My turn,” Arthur said.  “Last time you dragged us off to Cornwall.  This time I am dragging you off to York.  We will take the younger members of the RDF with us, not to threaten Colgrin but simply to say we are watching.”

“I think I will bring Sergeant Paul and the men from Cornwall if you don’t mind,” Gerraint said.

“I could bring the contingent from Lyoness,” Melwas offered.

“No,” Arthur turned him down.  “We don’t want to look like an army.  We just want enough to guard against possible treachery, not that I distrust the Jute.”

“Besides, Sir Melwas” Gerraint grinned.  “You have to visit Thomas of Dorset.  Gwillim told me Thomas is joining his uncle and will Captain one of the family’s seven merchant ships out of Southampton.  Tell him I sent you and he will give you a special deal on something nice for Cordella.  Then you can perform that act of valor and charity and tell her that you love her.”

Melwas returned Gerraint’s grin.  “I can do that.”

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

MONDAY

Colgrin the Jute, Lord of York, is charged to keep an eye on the Norwegian shore.  Instead, he makes a treaty with the Picts in the north.  He intends to take north Britain for himself, and Loth and Kai alone are not able to stop Him.  Monday, trouble with the Picts.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 2 of 3

Soon enough, Arthur found a number of young Lords who became interested in joining the RDF.  It often turned out to be the second and third sons, as Gerraint had originally suggested, and they came with their own horses and some equipment. That was a great help to the treasury, even if they had to be fed.   Gerraint also pointed out, “if one of these should prove themselves worthy of admission to the Round Table, granting them the title “Sir” should cause less consternation among the Lords than granting title to a bunch of commoners.”  Arthur nodded, but he clearly did not feel too concerned about that.

Arthur had plenty of lances made, though not nearly as long and heavy as they would be in the centuries to come.  This time he had the hand-guard built right into the lance and put no barbs on the point.  The straight point would be something that could put a hole in an enemy, be pulled out with a relaxed hand, a twist and a yank, and used again on the next enemy.  He also had armor made, strong chain on leather, and helmets all modeled after his memory of the armor and helmet of the Kairos.  Gerraint imagined it as the first military uniform in history, but deep inside he knew it wasn’t.

All of the Lords and their squires came to Caerleon now and then.  Pelenor thought it would make things easier when Arthur got old enough to take what he started calling the grand tour of the land.  The squires, of course, went straight for the lances and the practice grounds, and this time their lords were not slow to join them.  Arthur began to think that these men would form the backbone of his army, and he was not wrong.  Indeed, heavy cavalry would rule the battlefield until the invention of gunpowder.  But Ederyn always reminded Arthur that in war, the footmen would still be the vast majority of his soldiers—and the enemy soldiers, too.  There were not enough horses for everybody, and even if they had the horses, most men did not know how to ride.

In the spring of 497, Storyteller’s estimate, Arthur turned nineteen and got ready to be certified for claustrophobia if he didn’t get out in the countryside for some fresh air.  Gerraint, now eighteen, sat at the chessboard across the table and concentrated, because he thought he might be winning.  Pelenor and Peredur sat at the other end of the long table quietly catching up over a bit of beef and a tankard of ale.  Meryddin also sat quietly, mumbling to himself now and then, and staring out a window in the Great Hall.  He had been saying for some time that they had trouble in the East, and it appeared to be pointed north, but he could not pinpoint it exactly.  No one else presently disturbed the tranquility of the moment until Percival burst in the doors and yelled, his sixteen-year-old voice still cracking on the high notes.

“The Saxons are coming out of Essex.  They have their eyes on York and on cutting off the whole coast.”  Everyone jumped and said “What?” except Meryddin who said something like “I knew it,” and Arthur who said something completely different.

“Salvation!”  He threw the chess board up in the air and scattered the pieces everywhere, mostly because he was losing.  Ederyn arrived a moment later to explain.

That very evening, Arthur sent out the call.  The Lords prevailed on him this time to allow a whole three months for the force to gather.  Arthur was willing, but only because he had two hundred fully trained men in the RDF, and another hundred in various stages of the training program.  True, most of the trained men were home, working their farms, or in the towns and cities, but they were sworn to be in Caerleon within a week once the call went out.

In truth, it took three weeks to gather and supply the two hundred, but that still felt remarkable, considering.  After another week, they were in a position to harass and slow the enemy, and that happened a full two months before the rest of the army was due to gather.  When Arthur finally arrived with the army, now four whole months gone by, because it took an extra month just to get across the width of Britain, Captain Croydon had a most interesting report.

“We arrived in time to drive a raiding party from one village, only to find they were spread all over the countryside, looting and burning villages, towns and farms as they went.  They were not much of an army.  More like a loose collection of Saxon raiders.  We set patrols and a strategy of picking off the small groups one by one.  Soon enough, they began to run on sight of us, and like cattle, we were able to herd them together.  They united at last under the banner of a man named Bearclaw, a Saxon with a nasty disposition, and they are bunched up along the banks of the Glen River, here.”  He pointed to the crude map his men made of the area.  “Since that time, for the past month, or almost six weeks, they have been arguing. Any small groups sent out to get food and supplies have been dealt with, but for the last few weeks they haven’t even dared to do that.  They seem stuck, living off weeds and river fish, I guess, and the occasional horse meat which won’t do their cavalry any good.”

“Casualties?”  Arthur asked.

“We lost two-dozen, very fine and very brave men. Another dozen are out of action, being wounded, but we hope they may recover.”

“We must visit them,” Percival said to Arthur, but he looked at Gerraint, and wondered if there might be anything he could do, like let Greta the healer help.

“Before that,” Gerraint spoke up to avoid Percival’s eyes.  “What news of York?”

Captain Croyden had prepared for the question. “We have a squad of men, in rotation, that have kept a close watch on the fort there.  So far, Colgrin the Jute has made no move to link up with Bearclaw. He is pledged to you, so he may be loyal, but then he has made no move to stop Bearclaw either.”

“He has a good and large contingent of soldiers there watching the Norwegian shore, but he doesn’t have nearly enough to face down an army,” Pelenor said.  “Maybe he felt it best to watch the Danes and deal with Bearclaw if he had to from behind his stout walls.”

“Maybe.”  Arthur studied the map.  “Too bad we have no way into the Saxon camp and no way of knowing what has them bogged down for a month.”  He also looked at Gerraint, but it was only a glance before he turned back to the map with a shake of his head.

Arthur made his camp on top of a rise where he could look down on the Saxons and the river.  He had seventeen hundred men, which proved better than during the rebellion, but still not near the estimated potential.  The Saxons and Angles combined, even after their losses over two months, had closer to three thousand.  “As Melwas says, it is a challenge.”  Arthur spoke long with Meryddin, and for the first time, Gerraint heard them arguing.  He thought it a good sign that Arthur started gaining his own mind, but he supposed that depended on what the argument was about.

Gerraint felt tempted to get off his seat, enter the tent and interrupt, but he got distracted by the approach of Melwas. Melwas became the chief of Lyoness, now that his father had passed away.  He came prepared for this war with fifty good men who he said were all volunteers. Gerraint’s stepfather, by contrast, sent twenty under a grizzled old sergeant who had taken the Christian name of Paul.   It seemed a pittance, a token compared to what Cornwall could provide, but Gerraint satisfied himself by saying at least it was not nothing.

“Can I talk to you?”  Melwas looked uncomfortable.  Gerraint felt tempted to say something outlandish, something very Festuscato to lighten the moment, but he knew this would be serious.

“Of course,” he said.  “What about?”

“It is about your sister.”  Gerraint just listened.  Melwas took a moment to come out with it.  “She will be sixteen shortly,” he said.  “Your mother said I needed to talk to you, and not just her and Lord Marcus, you being her only sibling and all.”

Gerraint knew where this was going, but he needed to hear it out loud.

“You know, sixteen is considered an acceptable age to marry.”  Gerraint frowned ever so slightly, but Melwas felt sensitive.  “What?”

“A man is considered fully grown when he turns twenty-one.  You are what, Twenty-five?”

“Twenty-four.”

Gerraint nodded.  “A woman, on the other hand, is considered mature when she turns eighteen.”

“Cordella is very mature for her age.”

“So, you are asking me because I am eighteen? Do I look like a woman to you?” Gerraint stood six feet tall, more than big in a five-and-a-half-foot world.

“No,” Melwas admitted.  “But your mother seemed unwilling to make a decision.”

“Cordella is her baby.  Mothers cling to their babies.”  Gerraint stopped talking and waited, but Melwas did not appear to have anything to add.  “My opinion, but mother and Marcus have to decide, but my opinion is she should wait until she is eighteen.  She will hate me for saying that, but you are a mature man.  She should be fully grown as well.  Just my opinion.”

Melwas nodded slowly.  “I can understand your thinking.”

“Good,” Gerraint said and grabbed the man’s arm gently. “Maybe you can explain it to me. Oh, and just one more thing.”

Melwas smiled a little.  “Yes?”

“Tell me, does marrying my sister count as an act of valor or an act of charity or both?”

Melwas’ smile got big just before Meryddin came stomping out of the tent and tromped off to be lost among all the tents.  He looked red angry.  Arthur followed with a word.

“I told him I was leading the charge and nothing he could say would talk me out of it.”

Gerraint shaded his eyes against the sun as he looked up.  “So, we are charging?”

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 1 of 3

Gerraint got no satisfaction at home.  His mother loved him and his sister missed him, but his stepfather Marcus, who styled himself the High Chief of Cornwall, though the title was not his to take, tolerated Gerraint at best.  He showed grace to the older men, Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn, and he acknowledged Arthur and pledged to send help the next time the call came; but even Percival noticed the man said nothing about what kind of help or how much.

About the only interesting thing during the visit became the arrival of Melwas the younger.  Melwas, the elder, high chief of Lyoness, was an old man and unable to travel.  He designated his eldest son, fully grown at twenty-one, to represent him at every opportunity.  Melwas the younger seemed eager to send troops to the call.

“I wanted to,” he said.  “But Father and Lord Marcus said we needed to wait and see what happened.  I am sorry I missed it all.”

“Don’t worry son,” Peredur spoke kindly.  “Given the turn of things, with enemies on all sides, I cannot imagine the next call will be very far away.”

Melwas said he heard about the Round Table and asked what he needed to do to become a member.  No one asked him how he knew about the club, but they understood he must have had some source at the battle who told him about Sir Kai and Sir Bedwyr.

“It is a Christian table,” Gerraint explained, and Arthur listened.  “As long as you confess your faith, you want only two things to prove you are worthy. One is an act of valor or courage which may occur in battle, but does not need to.  The other is evidence of keeping the ideals of Christ through an act of charity or piety or in defending the poor, the weak and defenseless. These two things may be shown in a single act, but usually are not.”  Gerraint paused and looked at Arthur, but Arthur nodded, so he continued.  “These two things show that a man is worthy of the Round Table, because they show the strength of a man’s arm, but more importantly, they show the strength of a man’s character.”

Melwas frowned a bit and rubbed the stubble on his chin.  “What you ask is hard.”

“It is,” Gerraint agreed.  “But the table will seat only the best, and I don’t think you would want it any other way.”

Melwas made a decision.  “I accept the challenge.”  Then he smiled and so did Peredur and Ederyn who listened in.

“Tell me true,” Peredur said to Gerraint and Arthur. “How did you two become so wise?”

“Almighty God,” Percival suggested.

“Him.”  Arthur pointed at Gerraint.

“Reading the backs of cereal boxes,” Gerraint said, and Arthur and Percival glanced at each other before they spoke in perfect unison.

“You’re weird.”

They traveled from Plymouth to Exeter, a nicely walled town, about as far as Rome ever penetrated into Cornwall.  Rome referred to the area as Devon, but it stayed under the Cornish King.  In Exeter, the city fathers, and especially the city mothers, gushed over the three young boys.  Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn conferred for a long time in that place, but whatever it was, it seemed something they hoped they would not have to worry about for a couple of years yet.

Percival and Arthur, though mostly Arthur, spent their time teasing Gerraint about how much his sister, Cordella, seemed taken with young Melwas.

“Good grief.  She’s only twelve.  He has to be twice her age,” Gerraint complained.

“Nine years,” Arthur counted, but still the boys had no idea what the Lords were on about.

From Exeter, the group made for Tintangle where Arthur got to meet his distant cousins, Tristam’s mom and dad.  “This is good,” Pelenor announced.  “We should travel the whole land this way.  He can meet the Lords of the land, and they can all meet Arthur.  That should make the ties stronger should a need arise.”  Peredur and Ederyn agreed, but they prevailed on Pelenor to wait until Arthur put some age on and made a better appearance.

“More man-like and less boy-like” Ederyn put it.

With that in mind. the group crossed the channel to Caerleon, where Arthur became terribly bored for the next three years. Gerraint and Percival were taken out all the time by Pelenor and Ederyn for some reason or another, or even for no particular reason at all.  Peredur took his squire out twice, once to show Arthur the homes of Pelenor and Ederyn, which Arthur already knew.  Arthur felt glad to see his adopted mother.  Meryddin forced them to take a dozen guards from the fort for that trip.  The other time was a quick trip to his older, half-sister’s house.  She lived in southern Wales, a day’s journey, which Peredur turned into three.

Poor Arthur felt like he was in prison, and to some extent, he was.  Gerraint called it protective custody.  Meryddin did not want Arthur out of his sight, and maybe more important, he did not want him out of his influence.  Peredur at least insisted on taking the young Pendragon to church every Sunday, and Arthur felt grateful for the chance to breathe.

Morgana came to visit Arthur at Caerleon several times. She spent most of the time arguing with Meryddin, and sometimes in rather rude and crude ways.  It was not until that one time when Meryddin got called away on Druid business up to Iona for a month, that Arthur became able to take a quick trip to visit Morgana in her own home.  He realized then that she had fully accepted that they were brother and sister, and she imagined, as his only true family, that she was going to defend him from the corrupting influence of that half man, which is what she called Meryddin.

“Too late for that,” Gerraint said later, and he wondered what the other half of Meryddin might be.  He did suspect that it was more like a quarter something, but he had no idea what that quarter might be.

One thing Arthur accomplished in those days was the selection and training of his RDF.  He brought in the best hunters, and taught the young men about the land, and how to move swiftly and unseen.  He brought in masters of various weapons, including a few Germans, and taught them how to fight and defend themselves regardless of what might be arrayed against them.  He taught them how to read, write and count, at least well enough to pass messages and estimate an enemy’s strength.  He also taught them to look for an enemy’s weaknesses.  Gerraint kept his mouth closed.  He dared not tell Arthur that normally teenagers and school did not mix.

Meryddin let Arthur play at soldier, since after all, that would be his purpose.  He claimed Arthur was to defend the land and bring peace and prosperity, but it seemed a thin disguise.  Clearly, Meryddin expected Arthur to reduce the people around the Gaelic lands to servitude and slavery.  Then, within the Celtic lands, Meryddin worked hard to restore the preeminence of the old ways.  He had some success among the Welsh, and in the North where the Scots had contact with the locals.  He proved less successful in Cornwall and Britain, especially the Midlands, Leogria and Somerset where the church remained strong.  He despised Arthur’s Christian Round Table, and in the years to come, he regularly attended the meetings to make his views known, though he certainly never confessed faith in the Christ.  Arthur allowed Meryddin as the one exception, he said, and the Lords understood it as a gracious act toward the old man, whom they respected, but often ignored.