R5 Gerraint: Cat Coit Celidon

Caledonia proved a different world, haunting, foreboding, demanding of respect and reverence.  The forest grew full of strange trees and the hills got covered in rocky places where nothing seemed to grow but that strange purple heather.  They found acres of wide open meadows covered in wildflowers, just waiting for a plow; but no sign of human life intruded, like a land forbidden to the human animal.  They found bogs that came up from nowhere and sucked at a man’s soul, and lakes, long and lean, that hinted of monsters in their icy depths. Gerraint felt glad that he was the only one to dream of being hunted by a T-Rex.

After two days, Pinewood brought word that a large force waited in the next valley.  The narrow valley had a stream running through it, and few trees, like it had been stripped of lumber some time back.  The forest took up on the hillside above.  The Picts were all up on the side of that hill, about two thousand men, and they waited for Arthur to arrive before springing the trap. Clearly, they wanted to pay Arthur back for the beating they took against the River Ure when Arthur had the trees and high ground above the river.

Arthur had six hundred horsemen, almost all trained lancers and veterans.  He had six hundred footmen, mostly men from the north hardened by generations of Pictish, Danish and Saxon raids.  These men would give no quarter now that the raiding was going in the other direction. Arthur knew he would have to watch them to keep the murder of women and children to a minimum.

They stopped shy of the valley, tempting as it was to have some open space with fresh water running through it, but he wanted the Picts to suffer a cold and quiet night with no campfires and no conversation.  He knew some men, left to their own thoughts, would worry and fill their minds with fear about the coming battle.  Others would have to be content with cold meat and bread in the morning, lest they give away their position and what they imagined was their surprise.  Arthur’s men, by contrast, lit great fires and sang songs into the night, like they were out on a lovely stroll through the woods in springtime.  He knew that would grate on the nerves of the enemy.

In the morning, before dawn, Arthur’s footmen climbed the rise in secret, by scouted paths, in order to get above and behind the enemy.  The horsemen made plenty of noise, both to distract the enemy and to make it appear like the full compliment was still in the camp, and packing slowly.  Arthur had three hundred mules, heavily burdened with all the supplies they thought to bring on the campaign.  He had no wagons because mules could go where wagons could not follow, and in the worst case, they could simply be abandoned, or served for lunch.  The mules meant a hundred-horse had to be kept back when the action started, but five hundred got ready to ride out into the valley just as soon as the Picts abandoned the heights.

Deerrunner brought two hundred elf bowmen, all deadly shots, who disguised themselves with powerful glamours so they appeared human. They wore the plain green and brown capes of hunters, and a few wore the lion and pretended to be from Cornwall. They blended in with the Brits who hardly knew every man there from every village in the north, and were glad to see men from as far away as Cornwall on their side.  Besides that, the forest to the left and right of the Picts got filled with traps set by Dumfries and his goblins, and filed with dwarfs, axes ready.  They knew the plan was to drive the Picts down into the valley where Arthur’s cavalry could get at them, and they were going to do their part to make sure none of the Picts escaped through the trees and back into the wilderness.

Gerraint knew all of this went on, and while he did not approve, he kept his mouth shut.  The only idea he flat turned down was the idea of the ogres.  They said more than a dozen ogres bearing down on the Picts from above would inspire the Picts to run as fast as their feet could run, but Gerraint knew that fear did not discriminate.  He did not want the Brits in a footrace with the Picts, trying to be the first to escape.

The action started at high noon, and it took less time than they thought for the Picts to abandon their position.  There were also considerably less Picts that poured out of the trees and on to the open valley than he expected. Fortunately, his men were ready, and the cavalry charge finished the job.  There were hardly more than five hundred blue painted Picts who made it out of the far end of the valley and headed toward the sea.  Arthur deliberately followed and at more leisurely pace.

The first village they came to on the coast had been abandoned.  Arthur burned it along with every boat in the bay.  They turned north at that point and headed toward the chief city of the Picts which sat near where Aberdeen would one day be located.  They burned every village they came to, finding them mostly deserted, and burned and sank every boat they captured.  They killed the men they found and drove the women and children into the wilderness.  There, the elves and dwarfs turned the women and children north until they joined the great march of refugees headed for the safety of the city walls.

Arthur kept slowing down his men.  Even after witnessing the horrors visited on the people in North Britain, he felt reluctant to make war directly on women and children, but he knew many of his men had no such reluctance.  He did not approve of the slaughter of the innocents, but like Gerraint with his little ones, Arthur said nothing about it. Slowing down became his concession that allowed the refugees to stay ahead of the army to swell the streets and lanes of the city, and put a strain on the city’s resources.  He said he wanted the Picts falling all over themselves by the time he arrived.

Pinewood kept Arthur from falling into whatever traps or ambushes the Picts set, and otherwise the journey seemed a pleasant one by the sea.  By the time they arrived at the city, the men were well rested and ready for action, though for Arthur, his anger had been somewhat sated.  Arthur knew what he had planned, and with a bit of help from Gerraint, he only hoped the men were not too disappointed.  He called for the twenty-six.

The twenty-six were the mules that carried, in two parts, the pieces for small catapults—the same that Arthur used to shoot hooks and ropes to the top of the wall of Fort Cambuslang—the same that he mounted on the fat merchant ships that got strung together to blockade the River Clyde.  They could hardly throw anything further than about twice bowshot, but they were just the thing for travel through the wilderness.

While they were being set up, Deerrunner and his two hundred inched closer to the wall.  From the back they wore the familiar green and brown hunter’s garb, but from the city walls the elves used an extra bit of magic that made them invisible. They crawled up to whatever bits of cover remained outside the walls in order to make the illusion more believable, but from there they could easily fire their arrows and pick off any Pict foolish enough to stick his head up.  With no return fire, the catapults could be brought up close.

The city wall had ten feet of thick stone at the bottom.  Another ten feet of lumber rose above that.  It looked formidable enough but the city behind it was all wood, and the houses, side by side, had the same dry thatched roofs that they found in the villages. It would burn dangerously fast, and Arthur had several thousand globes of pitch and tar that could be lit and heaved by the catapults.

The bombardment began roughly an hour before dawn. By the time the sun rose, half the city looked to be in flames and they heard the sounds of screaming and panic. About an hour after the sun rose, three hundred brave souls tried to ride out of a gate to attack the catapults. Lord Pinewood and thirty of his finest were able to fly there, fairy fast, and began firing their arrows before the first ten got all the way out.  Also, Arthur had his men concentrated around the six gates of the city, so the battle did not last long.  Maybe fifty men abandoned their dead and wounded and fled back into the city without coming near a catapult.

Another hour later and people tried to escape the horror on slow, terribly overcrowded ships.  But Arthur had stationed three of his thirteen catapults as near to the port as he could, and manned them with sailors who knew how to hit a moving ship. To be sure, most of the ships made it to deep water, though few without injury.  Some of the ships were set aflame and eventually sank, with people diving overboard, desperately trying to swim back to the docks.

By noon, the city became mostly a pile of smoking embers and Arthur packed up his catapults and his men and headed inland. Gerraint told Deerrunner and Bogus they were to continue to watch the gates and try to prevent anyone from leaving the city for three days.  He did not want to see any little ones hurt, but he imagined it might be possible there were enough men left who might be stupid enough to pursue Arthur.  In response, Gerraint caught the image of ogres in the daylight and trolls and goblins in the night, but he did not want to look any closer.

Arthur set a zigzag course through the inland. Like on the coast, most of the villages he came to were deserted, but a few resisted, briefly.  With Pinewood’s warning, the Picts were incapable of pulling off a trap or ambush, and this time Arthur allowed his northern Brits their way, as long as it was swift.

By the time they got back to the Antonine Wall, The British had slated their thirst for revenge and brought back plenty of loot besides.  Once again, the Scots stepped aside, most because Arthur returned with so few casualties, but some because they were beginning to get reports on what happened in the north.  Arthur imagined some of the Scottish “Lairds” might already be drawing up plans to move north into the Highlands and take over.  Arthur would not stop them.

Arthur and Gerraint stood side by side watching the army march, and watched Percival come up beside them, a hard look on the younger man’s face.  “This isn’t fun anymore,” he said.

“At least we should have peace for a time,” Arthur responded.

Gerraint answered Percival more directly.  “We aren’t children anymore.”

Percival nodded.  “In that case, I think I’ll find a wife.”  He looked at Gerraint and Arthur joined in that look.  Gerraint grinned, but said nothing.

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Thus ends the tale of Gerraint, Percival, and Arthur, Pendragon in the days of their youth.

MONDAY

The story of Gerraint, Percival, and Arthur continues through their middle ages (pun intended), with: The Kairos and Rome, Book 6 (R6) Gerraint’s story: How Gerraint finds a wife.  How Arthur is taken off to the continent.  How Gerraint is tormented for a time.  And how the Scots and Danes, the Jutes, and finally the Angles and Saxons just won’t keep still and silent.

You might call it Gerraint’s story, part 2.  I was asked if it is important to read part one first?  No.  Part 2, if you want to call it that, is a story, or more like a series of episodes unto themselves.  Most people already know many of the characters: King Arthur, Gwynyvar, Lancelot, Bedwyr and Bedivere, Uwaine and Gawaine, Bohort, Lionel, Howel, Pelenor and Percival.  So, please step right in and enjoy the story.  See you MONDAY.

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R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 1 of 2

It almost took less time than Arthur thought before the sons of Caw came charging out of the north.  The Scots made no effort to stop them.  They dared not.  Loth and Kai were hard pressed to keep a safe zone for twenty miles around their forts and hundreds of people flocked there while thousands fled South, to York. Outside of those forts, the Picts had free reign, and they slaughtered whole villages and burned farms to the ground with the people inside the farmhouses.

Things balanced a little when the RDF arrived after the first month.  The RDF, particularly out of York, saved hundreds of people, and fought the Picts about even, with losses at first on both sides.  By the time Arthur got on the way, the RDF started gaining at Pict expense, particularly the men from York who had spent much of their time surveying the land to become familiar with the terrain.

With Arthur’s arrival, the Picts went back above the wall and took all the loot they collected up until then.  There were oxen, wagons, horses, sheep and cattle, and there were tons of farm implements, hoes and plows, and even some gold and silver. All Arthur had to see was the burned remains of one family, burned alive in their own home, and he became uncontrollable.  It took until the end of the day before he was able to talk.

“We are going to Caledonia,” he said softly. Everyone hushed to hear him.  “We are going above the Antonine wall.  If no one wants to go with me, I will go alone.” He walked off.

“Even the Romans never dared enter the Celidon Forest.  There are ghosts and terrible monsters up there.”  Bedwyr summed up what everyone thought.

“There are,” Gerraint agreed, his eyes fastened on Arthur’s receding back.  “But this time the ghosts and terrible monsters will be fighting on our side.”  People looked at him like he might be as mad as Arthur, but at least Percival and Uwaine smiled.

Twelve hundred men were brave enough to follow Arthur into the wild north.  Mostly, they were RDF and members of the Round Table, but some were men who lost homes and loved ones.  Arthur left the rest of the army at Edinburgh, Guinnon, and York in case some Picts circled around and tried to come back, “Or if the Scots get restless,” Loth said.

Then it became a simple matter to march north. The Scots stepped aside.  The Picts had been wild and angry, but these men showed something on their faces and in their silence that felt far more frightening.

In the afternoon, the army reached the northern wall. The men and squires set camp while Arthur, Gerraint and Percival climbed that portion of the Antonine wall where the stones still stood.  The forest that started some distance away looked shrouded in a strange mist, more like a cloud that had fallen to the ground than an ordinary fog.  The sky seemed otherwise cloudless.  The stars would be out in the night, and the moon that looked nearly full would shine down on the world and light the way for weary travelers.

“This has gotten serious,” Gerraint said. Arthur nodded and looked to the northeast so the sun set at his back.

“They are mostly in the east,” Arthur said. “The city of the high chief is on the east coast.  The islands and western wilds have begun to fill up with Ulsterites.”

“Where did you hear that?” Percival asked.

“They made a mistake attacking the Norwegians along with the Britons south of here,” Gerraint explained.  “If it was not for the coastal watch, the Danes would have swallowed up Caledonia long ago.”

“Now they are inspired,” Arthur said.

Gerraint took a good look all the way around. Meryddin, defender of the Scots and Picts went missing, and that bothered him.  His little ones were anxious to help, but he was not convinced he would let them beyond guiding lights and bumps in the Pictish night. He felt afraid to let them get too close.  He feared what Meryddin would do if he captured one.

Percival said nothing.  He simply looked around with Gerraint before he got down and went to his tent.  After a moment, Arthur and Gerraint got down and went their ways.  The morning sun would dawn on a different world.

Deep in the night, Arthur heard a cry.  He thought at first that it might be a sheep or goat trapped in a twist of briars. He heard it again and thought it might be a songbird disturbed in the night.  On the third call, he sprang out of bed.  It might have been Picts sneaking up on the camp, but this sounded like a woman in distress.  He snuck out to the wall where the mist had fallen over all the open ground and slowly crept over the wall.  Arthur hesitated, but then he heard the woman again and he understood the word, “Help.”

Once over the wall and covered in the thick fog, he had only his hearing and internal sense of direction to guide him. “Hello?”  He spoke softly in the hope of eliciting a response.  He shook his head several times.  The fog seemed to be penetrating his brain.  “Hello?”

“Arthur?”  The word struck him like a hammer and he lost all sense for a minute.  He knew the voice.  “Arthur?”

“Gwynyvar.”  He raised his voice, but in a moment, she fell into his arms and he held her tight. “How did you get here?  What are you doing here?”  He asked, but found his voice again in a whisper.  The fog seemed to require silence.

“Just hold me,” she said, and then she reached up and kissed him.  “The fog,” she tried to explain something, but he got busy kissing her and his mind was not right.  He couldn’t think straight.  Her nightgown fell away and she tore at his clothes until they were naked in the mist beneath the moon.  They made love in silence and not a thought between them until something clinked nearby.

Arthur sat straight up.  “What is it?  Who is there?’  He saw a blue hand and then a blue face in the mist and he jumped back, reached for his sword, which he had abandoned on the ground, and he pulled Gwynyvar behind him. The face grinned a grin of stark yellow teeth, and the eyes were wide to show plenty of bloodshot white, but the man did not move.  Gerraint called out into the dark.  “Arthur, stay where you are.”