R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 3 of 3

“The river is not yours.  Londugnum is not yours.  Stay off the road to Oxford, and Oxford is not yours.  You can have Kent.  You can be King of Kent for as long as you keep your Angle chiefs in line.  But you and your descendants need to stay in Kent, or I will throw you off my island and drive the lot of you back to the Germanys you came from.”  Arthur spun around and his men followed before Octa could answer.

Arthur packed up his army and left.

They stopped at Londugnum and Arthur spoke with the city elders.  They were British, Angle and Saxon and all of them were relieved to know they no longer owed Octa his tax money.  Arthur collected the money they had thus far raised to pay for damages, he said, but then he declared Londugnum a free city, open to all good and honest folk, and he moved on.

In Oxford, he gave the men still holding the fort an offer.  March back to Kent and vow to never return, and you will live.  They took him up on his offer.  After that, Bedwyr took back his fort and some of the money Arthur collected which he was to use strengthening the position.  Arthur also went home.  So did Gerraint.

Gerraint found Bedivere struggling with his Latin, but working hard.  After only a few days home, he took the young man out into the countryside for a week, and they went fishing.  Bedivere only cried once about not being allowed to go to Oxford.

“Don’t worry son,” Gerraint assured him.  “The way things seem to be going for me in this lifetime, I am sure you will have plenty of adventures.”  Bedivere did not understand or know how to respond to that.

When Gerraint went home to Edith, he found Uwaine had come to visit.  He immediately told Uwaine to take the young man out and show him which end of a sword to hold.  Then he kissed his wife.

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Some believe expecting the worst invites it to happen, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is like saying things can’t get any worse, because they always can, and often do as soon as the words are spoken.  They say expecting the worst dooms one to an inevitable fate that lives down to those expectations.  Uwaine said he expected the worst because sometimes he got to be pleasantly surprised. Gerraint preferred a more Boy Scout kind of approach.  He said expecting the worst felt like being prepared.  Young Bedivere was no fun.  He was an optimist.

In the winter of 521, as the year wound to a close, the skies remained overcast for days and people prayed for the sun to break through the dreariness.  Gerraint stepped out where the wind blew icy-snow in his face like so many stinging insects, and turned his cheeks and nose red with cold.  He looked to the east where he knew there was great activity and preparations were being made for the great battle.  It felt like the fires of Mordor were lit and come the spring of 522, the flames would burst forth to wreak havoc in the civilized world.

On another day, in another year, Gerraint would have looked north.  That was the direction of Caerleon and Arthur.  A bit to the northwest sat Wales, where independent minded souls lived in seclusion, not being especially neighborly, and many still openly practicing the old ways, sometimes under the nose of the church.  A bit to the northeast sat Leogria and the British Midlands where the people wore their Christianity like a warm coat on a blustery cold day.  The British were inclined to keep the old ways in secret and behind closed doors, like the clothes beneath the coat that were closer to the heart.  Still further north, the land of trouble, where Picts, Scots, Saxons and Danes all coveted the fertile land of Britain.  The British, like the Scottish immigrants, were Christian in name, but the veneer seemed thin and God alone knew what those many people actually believed and practiced.

“Christendom,” Gerraint said to himself.  “But the Anglo-Saxons remain pagan and many are hostile to the faith.”  Gerraint knew those pagans would eventually overrun the land, but not yet.  It couldn’t be yet.  Britain needed another generation, a generation of peace to get the faith deep in the soul of the people.  He feared what the future might look like if Meryddin had his way and Celtic Christianity got wiped out.

Gerraint looked again to the east.  There were fires burning in Wessex, Sussex, Essex, and all the way to East Anglia and the fens of Mercia.  Arthur thought to make Kent a lesson for the Anglo-Saxons, but they took it as a challenge, and now the storm was coming.  Men who were called cowards were now being challenged to prove they were not cowards, and they intended to do that very thing.

Gerraint looked up.  It began to rain.  It felt like an icy rain, but rain all the same.  Gerraint frowned at the sky.  There were not as many people as there should be, no doubt less than when the Romans left. This miniature ice age, with the shortened growing season, and the flu, as he called it, that killed some and never went away, together with the never-ending wars brought the population into real decline.  He looked again at the ground.  What remained of the snow would be slush soon enough, then endless rivers of mud before spring.  Spring would bring the flowers, and it would bring another war, this time, the big one.

Enid called, and his thoughts turned.  She turned thirty-eight, going to be thirty-nine in a couple of months, but she seemed very frisky for such an old woman. Gerraint wondered if she started thinking about trying one more time for a girl.  Gerraint certainly did not mind, and vowed to do whatever it took to make that happen.  He wondered if she might already be pregnant.  He decided that must be so.  He wondered if her woman’s intuition had an inkling of what loomed on the horizon and it told her now or never.  He decided he could not know what she might be thinking, but he knew what he thought. She called again, and he went inside with a grin in his heart.

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MONDAY

To Arthur.  The spring arrives with thousands of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes anxious to invade.  There is not much time. The battle they all feared has come.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 2 of 3

“Goreu.”  Cordella most often called him by his Cornish, given name.  “We were just discussing Bedivere becoming your squire. Uwaine has given his highest recommendation.”

“Wait a minute,” Gerraint protested, but apparently, it had already been decided.  “Uwaine is the younger man, much more suited to take on a squire.”

“Now, don’t disappoint your sister,” Melwas said.

“I thought it was all settled,” Percival said.

“It is,” Enid said, with a look up into Gerraint’s face.

“Congratulations,” Gawain grinned.

Uwaine matched the grin.  “Now some other young man can have the privilege of keeping you out of trouble.”

Gerraint felt trapped, because he was.

In the morning, Gerraint turned the young man over to the Priest with strict instructions concerning reading, writing and arithmetic.  “You will stay with Enid for now, and when I get back I expect you to be reading the Latin.” He stopped.  He sounded like Pelenor in his own ears.  “Do your best son,” he said more softly.  “Hopefully it is nothing and we won’t be gone long.” Then Gerraint, Percival, Gawain, Uwaine, and Melwas rode off toward the north.  They were to meet up with Tristam, Mesalwig, Gwillim and several others in the port where they could take ship to Caerleon.  Arthur called in the council of the Round Table.  Octa, the Angle would-be king was beginning to make some moves.

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Arthur waited until everyone got seated, but that added up to about fifty men.  There were thirty at the actual table, but the others, the younger ones, brought their chairs in close to make a kind of second row.  He began, by simply saying, “Gwyr.”

Gwyr stood and looked at the scroll while he talked. “Octa and the Angles have overrun Londugnum.”

“What?”  A number of men stood, but one man said what many thought.  “I understood Octa was fighting other Angles, and I thought that was a good thing.”

“Octa recently overcame his opposition,” Arthur said. “Go on.”  He pointed to Gwyr.

“As far as reported, the citizens of Londugnum are not being harmed.  Octa has actually encouraged the merchants, but he has doubled the taxes, and with that money he has hired Saxon mercenaries from the swamps of Mercia and soldiers from East Anglia to bolster his army.  Officially, Mercia and Anglia are taking a wait and see approach, and Essex is telling Octa to keep his hands off their land, but if Octa shows some real success, they may all go over to him.”

“What does that mean?” people asked.

Meryddin stood and people quieted.  “It means we may finally be facing the Saxon invasion we have all feared for years.  As long as the Saxons were divided, we could keep them in their place, one by one. But if they ever unite, we risk being overrun with Angles and Saxons.  Right now, Octa has taken rule of Kent, but he has eyes on expanding his territory. We must meet him and drive him back to Kent before others are tempted to join him.”  Meryddin sat.  He spoke to the point.  Meryddin understood that there would one day be a place for the church under Saxon rule, but there would be no place for the druids.  For Meryddin, this became a matter of survival.

By the time Arthur marched his army east, word came from Bedwyr that Oxford had fallen.  He got most of his men across the ford and into a safe camp on the hill called Bregus, but Octa now controlled the ford and it might be hard to get it back.  The whole Londugnum corridor below Essex fell into Angle hands.

Britain claimed both sides of the Thames all the way to the sea, but on a practical level, the few miles between the south bank of the River and the north border claimed by Sussex became a no-man’s land. Arthur traveled down the north bank so as not to arouse the Saxons.  Between the north bank and Essex stood a good piece of land defended by Bedwyr and his local lords.  But Essex crowded the north bank below Oxford, so the situation reversed.  It was the south bank of the river that got defended between Oxford and Londugnum.

Arthur stopped over three thousand men roughly ten miles from Oxford.  He sent Gerraint, his three hundred and the RDF to relieve Bedwyr and run a guerilla campaign designed to make sure any scouts or small groups that crossed the ford never made it back.  After a month, the Angles had a hard time getting volunteers to scout out the enemy position.

Gerraint made sure the Angles did get word when Loth, Kai and Captain Croyden arrived from the north with two thousand men. Octa imagined this was what Arthur had waited for, and he further fortified his side of the ford, above and beyond the fort and waited for the assault.  In fact, Arthur spent that month building boats and rafts which he used to cross three thousand men and equipment over the river in a night.  The march down the river’s south bank brought them to a place where they could rest just two miles short of Octa’s army.  The next morning, the Angles were seriously surprised to find Arthur already crossed over the river and behind them.

Loth, Kai and Gerraint with his eight hundred lances attacked the ford.  Arthur Attacked from behind and Angle resistance quickly crumbled.  Some escaped into the fort, which stuffed about eight hundred overcrowded men in that old structure.  The Saxon mercenaries sought sanctuary in Essex, at least those that were not found and killed.  The British mounted over a hundred dead mercenaries to cross-braced lumber and trees, like men crucified by the Romans, and they left them there on the riverbank above the tidal line, facing the Essex border across the water.

Most of the Angles fled toward Kent, thinking they were home free.  But Arthur did something then he never did before.  He pursued the Angles, and all that he caught, he killed.  He had left the fort untouched.  Bedwyr’s four hundred with the help of a couple hundred of the RDF, kept the men in the fort and hungry.  They could wait.  Arthur would be back.

Then Arthur did not stop at the traditional line, which was Londugnum.  In fact, he bypassed the city altogether and continued into Kent where he killed every armed Angle he found and burned the villages in his path.  He met and crushed an organized resistance at Rochester, and continued to burn all the dwellings that were within British claimed territory, which reached inland, several miles from the banks of the Thames.  Arthur did not stop until he reached Canterbury where Octa had cobbled together a last stand.

Arthur went out to meet the man.  Octa’s mother stood there, and it looked like she was going to say something, but Arthur spoke first.  It was a command.  “Sit.” The woman sat and Arthur spoke his peace.