M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 1 of 3

In the fall, right before Samhain in the same year that Elsbeth danced, not being the year to go to Vergenville, King Urbon, Duredain the druid and Finnian McVey paid their own visit to the triangle along with Chief Brian, his druid Canto, and a very wary Roan and Morgan.  They brought a dozen men at arms, three strong hunters, and plenty of hounds.

Lady Brianna welcomed them most regally and apologized that her small manor home hardly had the room or the facilities to entertain royalty.

“Never mind,” the king said, as he pointed his men toward a newly mowed field.  “I’ve brought our hunting tents.  We will be quite comfortable in the field.”

Sir Bartholomew rode up, having gotten the word from Little White Flower.  Tomberlain rode beside him as did several peasant Franks, but Grimly was nowhere to be seen.  Luckless the dwarf also absented himself from the forges, and, in fact, Margueritte went down into the lair of the little ones in the side of the hill beneath the barn to make it very clear to all of them that they were neither to be seen nor heard during that whole visit.  Fortunately, Hammerhead the ogre had been given two cows which he took off as a present for his family in Banner Bein.

“He certainly earned them.”  Bartholomew remarked to his wife’s question.  Hammerhead was one little one who did not mind working.  In fact, he rather enjoyed it, and he certainly did enough around the farm that spring and summer to earn a great deal.

“Lord Urbon,” Bartholomew said.  “Your majesty graces our poor home with your presence.”

“Yes, yes.”  Urbon waved off the formalities.  “Bartholomew, we have to talk.”  They went inside with Finnian and Duredain, even as Margueritte came out from the barn, having climbed up the underground stairs to the secret door.  Urbon’s men were already half-way down the hill.  Chief Brian appeared to want to speak with her first, privately, but Canto held his arm and led him also into the house.  Roan and Morgan dared not look at her and they quickly hustled their few servants down the hill to set up Chief Brian’s tents.

Elsbeth squirted out the front door, looking for Little White Flower.  “psst.”  The word came from the mistletoe oak and both girls looked up.  Little White Flower risked coming down to kiss Elsbeth on the cheek and added a bit of motherly advice.  “Be good now,” she said and wagged her tiny finger in Elsbeth’s face.  She curtsied to Margueritte and sped off to the fairy glen—a good ten miles into the Vergen forest.  Margueritte knew it would take Little White Flower almost a minute to get there.  Margueritte faced her sister who wore a devilish grin.  It was not the first time Margueritte wondered exactly what the relationship was between her sister and the fairy, but that thought got interrupted when Elsbeth spoke.

“You forgot Lolly,” she said.

Margueritte put her hand to her mouth before she said something rude.  She feared what might happen, but inside she laughed.  They ran to the side of the house, to where the kitchens were out back, and saw that Chief Brian had already walked out the back door for a little repast, as he called it, after his long, long journey.  Lolly had already slapped his hand once with her cooking spoon, and Marguerite, herself, knew how that would sting.

“Wait ‘till it’s ready, you big fat slobber, or next knock will be on your noggin,” Lolly said.

Brian was taken aback for a moment, not the least to nurse his hand, but then he laughed out loud.  “I didn’t know Bartholomew had a little person about.  I love you midgets. You always make me laugh.”

“Little people hitting each other,” Margueritte said quickly, not knowing what else to say.  She wanted to get Chief Brian’s attention before he looked at Lolly too closely.  “That’s what Napoleon liked, too.”

“Huh?”  Brian asked.  “Who’s that?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “You wanted to ask me some questions?”  She reminded him while Elsbeth hustled Lolly toward the barn, and not without some argument.

“Huh?  Yes,” Brian said.  “But I’ve quite forgotten what it was, exactly.  Anyway, I do hope all my questions will be answered tomorrow after you girls are dropped off in Banner Bein.”  He went inside.  Margueritte followed, shocked by what she heard.

Inside, the subject had already been breached, and Sir Barth stood red with anger and only refused to do anything foolish in his own home.

“Come now.”  Duredain spoke up.  “You Christians are always claiming Christ as your true protector.  You should not fear for your girls.”

“Besides,” Finnian added in his Irish drawl.  “The unicorn is reparted to be a most gentle and loving crature who is most kind to young innocent garls.”

“No.”  Bartholomew repeated himself for the hundredth time.  “You’ll not use my children as bait.  And besides, I am not a Christian.”

Poor Lady Brianna did not know what to say.  She was moved to speechlessness by the whole suggestion.

“Then by your own pagan Gods.”  Duredain looked ready to spit.

“I’m not exactly asking,” Urbon said, mostly to Lady Brianna who remained a native of Amorica.  “But it would be greatly of value to the whole kingdom and a benefit to all the people.”  He knew he had little or no say over the Franks.  In fact, having three Frankish Lords on his border watching over him rather spoke for the opposite.  Still, he hoped to appeal to the Lady as one of his own, whose daughters were at least half his.

Lady Brianna shook her head when Margueritte stepped up and Elsbeth came in the front door.

“What?”  Elsbeth asked straight out.

“Baby,” Brianna explained.  “The king and his men propose to try and catch the unicorn, if they can, and save it for all the people, for the purity and health it will bring.”

“But what?”  Elsbeth spoke again.  Apparently, she heard enough before coming inside to ask.  Margueritte stood quietly at her mother’s shoulder looked up and down the row of faces seated at the table and did not like any of them very much.

“Baby.  They propose to take you and Margueritte to the woods, alone, in the hope that the unicorn will return to you.”

“Bait,” Elsbeth said what her father said, and she turned her eyes on the men at the table.

“To Banner Bein?” Margueritte confirmed.  At least Chief Brian nodded.

“Think on it.”  The king rose so everyone rose with him.

“You will come for supper,” Brianna said.  It was a statement of invitation, not a question.

“Of course,” the king answered.  He planned to settle the matter that evening.  He stepped out, Duredain on his heels, and Finnian who sauntered a bit.  Chief Brian sent Canto on ahead but tarried until it became safe to speak.

“Care, Sir Barth.  There is much talk about you Franks being responsible for this Christian business and the dissolution of the old ways.”

“What?  Get out!”  Lord Bartholomew roared.  Chief Brain shrugged, but Brianna walked him to the door and thanked him.

“It was only a fair warning.  He risked telling you,” she said.  “It was not a threat, veiled or otherwise.”

“Oh.”  Bartholomew got it, but his ire was so engaged, he could hardly hear anything unthreatening.

“Father.”  Margueritte spoke as Tomberlain came in from caring for the horses.  “Isn’t Hammerhead in Banner Bein visiting his family?”

Bartholomew looked at her and Lady Brianna was not sure what she might be suggesting, but Elsbeth seemed to understand.  “Oh, yes.”  She clapped her hands together.

“And I don’t see why, with a little help, if you know what I mean, we might not be safe enough.  Far be it from Elsbeth and me to break the peace between the Franks and the Breton.”

“Margueritte!”  Brianna’s voice scolded, but Lord Bartholomew clearly thought about it.  If the girls could pull it off, whether they got their unicorn or not, it would give him certain leverage on the king.

“What’s it all about?”  Tomberlain asked, and Margueritte explained her plan more fully, accepting the ways in which her father amended those plans, and Brianna, though not believing her ears, nevertheless did not object.

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 3 of 3

In the morning, there were jugglers and acrobats, men on stilts, little people, and people who told fortunes for a price.  The cloth got a really good going over, and some actually got bought.  The highlight of the day, however, came before the noonday dinner.  It was a horse race that Constantus always won and in which Bartholomew always came in second.  The thing seemed so sure the rest argued about who would be third.  That year, however, there were some new entrants, and the one true unknown factor was how the Spaniard’s so-called Arabian might perform.

The course looked simple enough.  First came a short stretch to judge speed, but then the real test began.  Second came a field, newly flattened, as well as the people could get it, where a spear had to be put through each banner in the field.  They were spaced like chutes on a ski slope and each miss deducted points.  Third, one entered the obstacle course which involved jumps over various heights and widths with carefully measured distances between.  Last came the endurance test and it involved a real race down a long stretch of road, around the distant post and back to the finish.

Sir Barth came in fifth in the speed portion, but that was normal since his charger had not been bred for speed alone.  By the time he finished stabbing the banners, he stood in third place, but there he stayed.  The Arabian surprised everyone and kept up with Constantus’ courser the whole way.  There even came one point at the end, when they rounded the endurance pole, that it looked as if the Arabian might actually win.  Constantus eked it out by a nose, and later, the king’s men discovered that the Arabian was in bad shape after the race, as if the rider pushed it almost beyond endurance.  Some suggested it may have been drugged beforehand to perform.  That did not mollify Lord Bartholomew however, who finished a whole length behind the other two.

“I would not have minded third,” he said after.  “If it did not give that Ahlmored fellow something to brag about.”

“Come now.”  The baron whose eldest son came in seventh consoled his friend.  “I don’t think that will even register on his scale of brags.  Didn’t you know everything among the Arabs is bigger and better than anything we poor backwards People of the Book have?”

Barth laughed.  He had heard the man speak.

“But what I want to know.”  Constantus smiled.  “Is when will you give up this foolishness?  You will never beat the Gray Ghost.”

“The man names his horses?”  Lord Bartholomew made it a joke.  “He names his horses,” he repeated for a passing stranger.

Back at the inn, they found Thomas of Evandell, king Urbon’s bard, entertaining the children during their noon meal with tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.  Margueritte especially loved the story of Gerraint, son of Erbin, and how he won the hand of the beautiful Enid.

Sir Barth noticed that the bard carefully covered the fact that Arthur and his knights were decidedly Christian, but he did not cover it too well.  Actually, it was masterfully done so no Christian would doubt, but no druid would have reason to suspect, or if they suspected, they would have no grounds with which to accuse.

Even Elsbeth, in her way, appeared fascinated by the stories, as was her brother Tomberlain, though he spent much of the mealtime holding his head and grimacing.  After the meal, they had free time among the booths and plays.  There were puppets in the afternoon while the men and boys were off in sport, having combats, or playing games which were very much like combats.

Finally, evening began to approach.  Food got hastily prepared so the fires could all be put out.  The adults were with the king, and Father Aden of Iona, known locally as Aden the Convert, came to the inn.

“No,” he explained to Maven, along with a great deal of the Christian religion, he was not welcome at the pagan festival.  “The king hears many of my words and I like to think I am gaining some ground, but Duredain the druid still has the king’s true ear and Brian, the village chief here is a strong believer in the old ways.”

“Get up and help,” Marta yelled, but it did no good.  Maven appeared glued to Aden’s every word.  Margueritte imagined that as soon as the lights went out, Maven would find a corner for a quick nap.  Meanwhile, she kept Aden busy with her questions, and would continue rather than work for as long as she could think of questions to ask.

“So, tell me, little one,” Aden said at last when Maven needed a breath.  He turned to Margueritte, much to her surprise.  “Why has your father not been baptized?”

“Because.”  Tomberlain spoke up for his sister’s shyness.  “Father says that Mother is a Christian and that is about as much religion as any given family can stand.”

Aden nodded, but his eyes stayed on Margueritte.  “You have the Celtic look about you with your round face, big features, long, dark hair and sparkling green eyes.  You are much like your mother, but I suspect Elsbeth will favor her father and bear the more sharp and angular features of the true Franks, and with plain brown hair and plain brown eyes as well.”

“And what am I?”  Tomberlain asked.

“The perfect blend of two worlds,” Aden responded without hesitation, but then he verbalized the thought that rested in the back of his mind.  “Curious.  Of the three Frankish lords given Breton borderland, two chose to marry among the very people they were sent to guard against.”

Margueritte temporarily got over her shyness to speak.  “Mother says, the better to tie two people together in peace and mutual succor, whatever that means.”

“Well said.”  Aden the Convert laughed.  “And a very diplomatic answer.  Peace is always the hope of every right-thinking man and woman.  Still, that other Breton wife, that Curdwallah woman, she even scares me a little.  In Christ, I should have no fear of anything in this life, but there is something unearthly strange about her that clings to her like a demon.”  He shook his head.  “But this is not the time to speak of it.  Cheer up, children.  The fire will only be out for a little while and then soon enough it will be full day again.”

The fire got put out and the cold seeped slowly into the room.  Margueritte and Elsbeth huddled.  Maven snorted a little in her sleep.  Marta sat as close to Aden as she dared, and everyone looked at the door and hoped the ceremony would not be too long.  Only a deep glow of moonlight came in from the outside through the holes in the wood-board window.  A cat cried and everyone jumped.  Then the door crashed open and Margueritte and Elsbeth screamed; and Marta joined them.  They knew who it was though her image appeared just discernible in the moonlight against the dark sky.  Curdwallah paused in the doorway, with her eyes all aglow in the dark.

“What do you want here?”  Father Aden spoke loud and clear.  If the woman frightened him, he did not show it.

“What do you think?  I have come to steal the children, to eat them,” she said, and the renewed screams of Margueritte and Elsbeth made Curdwallah laugh.

“In Christ, Jesus, you will not have them,” Aden said, not knowing exactly if she might be serious.

Curdwallah laughed again.  “I live here, you dolt.”  She pushed passed to the stairs, but not without one more look at the children with her glaring, glowing eyes.  She went up, presumably to her room, and everyone breathed.

“Did I miss it?”  Maven mumbled in her half-asleep state.

“I think not,” Marta answered just before a man with a torch could be seen through the open door going from house to house relighting the home fires.

Several hours later, Margueritte got awakened by the sounds of arguing.  “The man was rude beyond words,” her father said.  “Ahlmored.”  He spat.  “The man makes me want to become a Christian like you and my mother just so I can wish him into Hell.”

“Bartholomew!”  Lady Brianna scolded with her voice, but her hands never stopped packing.

Sir Barth kicked the chair and Margueritte was fairly sure Tomberlain woke up.  She was not so sure about Elsbeth.

“Shh!”  Brianna tried to quell the volcano.

“No man should make suggestions to another man’s wife.  And he touched you!  He brought three wives of his own.  Let him touch them, abomination though they may be.  God knows how many wives he left home.”

“He comes from another world,” Brianna said, in her most reasonable voice.  “Maybe they just do things differently where he comes from.  He might not understand.”

“Understand?!”  Her reasonableness only fueled his fire.  “What is there to understand?  He is a man.  You are a woman.  I had a good knife for the meat.  The way he was looking at you, I should have cut his eyes out.”

“King Urbon will not be happy at our leaving,” she pointed out.

“The baron can speak for the Franks,” he countered.  “And if his majesty is displeased with our leaving, then perhaps he should think twice before inviting a lecher into his court.  Now pack.  We leave at first light.”  He stormed out of the room and Brianna sat down for a moment to collect herself.  Elsbeth crawled up into her lap.  Margueritte and Tomberlain stayed quietly in bed, but their eyes were wide open.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte faces trouble in the Banner Bein, the wild haunted woods south of her home where the Amorican kings of old were buried.

*

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 1 of 3

Margueritte was born in the year of our Lord, 697, on the Amorican Mark—the border land that divided Brittany, sometimes still called the kingdom of Amorica, from the Frankish domains around Paris.  Her father, Sir Bartholomew, the Count of the Central March had come some years earlier to join two older gentlemen who guarded the March in the North and South.  Together, the three were assigned to watch the Breton border and, if possible, keep the peace.  Bartholomew married a Breton Lady, Brianna, who was a very distant cousin of King Alain II of Amorica, and together they settled down to his long duty to the Merovingian king, having been granted sufficient land by treaty to support a reasonable number of men and their families.  They had a son, Tomberlain, born just after Samhain, and three years later, on a fine spring day, Margueritte came along.  In 701, a second daughter, Elsbeth completed the family.  And thus, they lived in peace with a small number of Breton serfs to keep the fields and flocks, and an equally small number of free peasants, mostly Franks, who contracted for land for a percent of their produce and for the promise to fight for the Lord of the manor whenever such need might arise.

The manor house itself was roughly the size of a modern Cape Cod, with a thatched roof and glass in the upper windows.  A bowshot away so as not to be a hazard should one or the other building catch fire, sat a strong, stone tower, ten years in the building.  The blacksmith workshop was there, though outside of the tower itself, as the kitchens were out behind the manor house.  Redux was the blacksmith.  Marta and Maven were the cooks and housekeepers.  Everyone else worked out of the third building in the triangle of buildings—the barn.  By far the biggest building, the barn looked the size of the manor house and tower put together; but that was the world they lived in.  It was an agrarian world.

The barn was home to the horses, nearly two dozen.  Outside, but attached, a shelter had been put up for the milk cows as well as a pen for the sheep.  The hogs and chickens also had their own houses outside the barn, proper.  There were bins in the barn for every kind of grain, potatoes and vegetables, and a great hay loft from which the beasts were fed.  They also had stacks of tools for the labor-intensive form of agriculture practiced.  The serfs lived in their small houses just down the little hill from the barn, out of sight from the Manor House, but alongside the fields where they worked.  Every morning at dawn they came up the hill, collected their tools, and drove the various animals out to pasture.  Those animals came home around sundown, and the tools got put back at dark. It was also a hard life.

The dogs in the kennels were old when Margueritte was born.  Lord Barth was not much of a hunter, but Margueritte loved those dogs, and they loved her.  She spent most of her time near the kennels, with Tomberlain, whom she loved dearly and looked up to about everything, and later she played with Elsbeth when Elsbeth grew old enough.  When they weren’t playing by the kennels, they were in the center of the triangle by the great old oak which their mother, Brianna, insisted stay up.  The oak had mistletoe on it, a rare thing, and sacred to the druids and to the people, though whether the lady still felt the same since her conversion to the Christ seemed a question.

All around the triangle of buildings there were trees which helped block the view of the houses of the serfs, but if one looked from the upstairs windows of the manor house, one could see, far out across the cleared land, the misty edge of the forest of Vergen through which one had to travel to reach the Amorican village of the same name.  The road to that village skirted the edge of the triangle and came from the east where Lord Barth often pointed and told young Tomberlain, “There is Paris.  There is the heart of civilization where ladies of distinction and men of war and great valor live.  There, son, is the real world to which you belong, and if you ever despair, remember that we live on the edge of it.  Turn your back on the superstitions of the Bretons and look to the golden city, only keep your ears open.  You never know when someone might be sneaking up behind you.”

In the year of our Lord, 704, the household packed three ox-drawn wagons and saddled nine horses for the trip to Vergenville, as the Franks called it.  Every fourth year the Amorican king, now Alain’s son, Urbon, came to Vergen during the days of Samhain—at the end of October.  It was the great fall festival and all sorts of craftsmen and entertainers came to town, many following the royal court.  Lady Brianna always insisted on going shopping.  They had to go in any case.  It had been arranged in treaty that the three Lords of the Frankish Mark would meet with the king during those days and talk trade, review and resolve any complaints, and reaffirm the peace.

Along with Lord Bartholomew, the peace in the south was kept by the eldest of the three lords, Baron Bernard and his Frankish Lady Jessica, while in the north the March was kept by the Count DuBriss and his Amorican wife, Curdwallah, who lived in the Tower DuLac, which is to say, by the lake.  Baron Bernard always came in the fourth year with a dozen or more men at arms, believing that arms always spoke louder than words.  His lands were the best, being free of the rocks and hillocks that made parts of Amorica so hard to farm, and so his free Frankish population grew larger than the others.  Count DuBriss, on the other hand, passed away rather mysteriously some years earlier, along with his two sons.  The Lady Curdwallah, a native Breton, now lived alone at DuLac.  Sir Barth had written to the king of the Franks several times suggesting the Lady be given a small, comfortable place and the north March be given to another man, but thus far, the king had failed to move.  Clearly, Amorica no longer posed the threat it once did. 

Brianna and the children rode in the first of the three ox carts guided by Redux the blacksmith.  Elsbeth, at three years of age, spent most of the morning journey in her mother’s arms.  Margueritte, seven, held tight to her doll.  Tomberlain, being ten, felt he should be going on horseback with the men, but Sir Barth would not have it.  They argued for days, and it only ended when they agreed to make Tomberlain a page on their return, though he was honestly too young.

The second cart, driven by a man named Andrew—the Christian name he took for himself at his baptism—carried Marta and Maven and all the things Lady Brianna imagined she might need over the next few days.  The cart was full, but Maven managed a soft place to sleep while Marta fretted the whole way about thieves and monsters in the dark woods.

The third cart, as was custom, carried grain and gifts for the king, his court, and the people of Vergenville.  Both Sir Barth and Lady Brianna had a soft spot for the poor and helpless.  They always made sure they had enough to share, and they left that cart in the capable hands of a man named Ky; though lately he had taken to calling himself John.  He was not sure, but his Christian name was definitely going to be John—or James.

Sir Barth rode his charger, of course, and a half-dozen men at arms rode with him. The other two horses trailed behind as spares.  “Spare tires,” Margueritte called them, though she could hardly explain what she meant.

They left the manor early in the morning, but the sun was well up when they entered the proper forest.  Not far along, they came to the point where they crossed the road that came up from the south.  Happily, they only had to stop twice to clear fallen branches and a fallen tree from the path, as Margueritte called it.  She could hardly call it a road.

“I’ll be black and blue by the time we arrive,” she complained and took every bump, root and rock, personally.

“Why do you think I wanted to ride on horseback?”  Tomberlain told her.

“Mama, hold me,” Elsbeth said, and she got to ride in a soft lap.

“Ouch.”  Margueritte bumped her knee.  “It isn’t fair,” she said generally to the wind.

“Maybe you can hit your head next time and be knocked out,” Tomberlain suggested.  “Then at least you won’t know any better.”

“Ha, ha!”  Margueritte responded without really laughing, and while she rubbed her knee, she thought a good set of shock absorbers would help.

Their way improved after they crossed the road that came up from the coast.  More traffic, Margueritte assumed.  They had not gone far, however, and they were still a good hour from the village, when a man in very strange dress caught up with them.  He spoke with a heavy accent and with some condescension once he determined that Sir Barth was the one to whom he had to speak.

*

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 1 of 3

Gerraint awoke to the smell of fried eggs, biscuits and plenty of bacon.  They slept on the grass not far from the lake, but it felt quite comfortable, all things considered.  He opened his eyes, slowly.  Uwaine and Kvendelig were already up and by the fire.

“Lolly!”  Gerraint shouted and woke the rest of the crew.

“Lord.”  Lolly said without looking.  Her eyes were focused hard on the pair trying to snitch bits of breakfast before it was ready.  Kvendelig, the less experienced of the two, had already felt the rap of her cooking spoon on his knuckles more than once.

“Here.  Gerraint.”  Kvendelig protested.  “Uwaine says this dwarf female is one of yours, whatever that means.”

“And if I am?”  Lolly was also not one to take back talk or be maligned in any way.

Kvendelig drew his hand up and away from the spoon.  “I was just going to ask his majesty if perhaps he could convince you to let me have my breakfast now.  A man could starve to death waiting to be fed around here.”

“Chief Kvendelig!”  Gerraint pretended offence but he clearly smiled on the inside.  “I would not dream of asking the good woman for such a thing.  She will feed you when it is good and ready, and not one moment sooner.”

“Trouble is,” Uwaine pointed out.  “You haven’t eaten anything in four days.”

Lolly’s spoon snapped out and everyone heard Menw yelp.  “Give it up,” Gerraint said.  He imagined he could just make out the outline of the man, but then it might have been a trick of the rising sun.  Menw became visible.

“But I’m with Kvendelig,” Menw complained, as he became visible in a place Gerraint had not guessed.  “I’m starving.”  Menw sucked his wrist.

Gerraint smiled but while the others laughed his eyes snapped back to the place where he had imagined the outline of a man.  It appeared gone, but Gerraint wondered.  He might be a little slower and less agile than in his youth, but his senses were not diminished.  In some ways, they were sharper.  He had felt someone there, looking at him.  But then, he could not be sure if perhaps it was not the light after all.  He said nothing about it.

“No nun ever snapped a better ruler,” Gerraint said instead, to everyone’s incomprehension, but by then, Lolly started serving up, and in typical dwarf fashion, they had twice as much as they could possibly eat, even with three of them half starved.

“I don’t understand,” Menw said.  “My legs are like rubber, and I’m so tired.”

“I have a terrible headache,” Gwarhyr admitted.

“I remember,” Kvendelig said, plainly, and it became clear in that moment that all three remembered all at once, and they were embarrassed beyond words.

Gerraint stared them down, one by one.  “There is no way to Melwas through the lake.”

“Gwynwas,” Gwarhyr said.  “In the Welsh, its’ Gwynwas for Gwyn who guards the gate to the island.”

“It has many names,” Uwaine suggested.

“But is that certain?” Bedivere said his first words of the morning.  He still seemed a little uncomfortable, being so near the dwarf.

“Does any doubt the word of Rhiannon?”  Gerraint asked.

“The Lady Nimue?”  Kvendelig asked and Gerraint nodded.  They had imagined she was a spirit or a fairy of sorts.  They did not know going in that it was the goddess, herself.  Slowly, Kvendelig nodded, and Gwarhyr and Menw nodded with him.  “No point in arguing with a goddess once she has her mind set,” Kvendelig said, and that seemed to settle the matter.

“Now we seem to be missing someone.”  Gerraint looked around.

“No sir.”  Bedivere counted.  “All present and accounted for.”

“Ah, Luckless!”  Gerraint shouted.

“My Lord,” Luckless said as he brought in their horses, saddled and loaded with precious gifts, blankets of elfin weave, small saddlebags of silver and gold, and not a few jewels, and the weapons of the three Welsh Lords all made like new, if not replaced by better.

Luckless cleared his throat.  “The Lady of the Lake says let this be a gift for your trouble and the fine entertainment you provided for the court.  Do not return, however, or the fine things will all turn to dust.”  The dwarf did not like speeches, and immediately turned to his dwarf wife.  “Got any seconds?  Leftovers?”  He looked famished, but Gerraint felt sure he had eaten his fill before the men awoke.

“Always for you, my sweet.”  Lolly handed him the most enormous plate of all.

“Young love?”  Uwaine asked.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Quite young.  She’s only about two hundred years old.  Luckless is about three hundred.”  Bedivere swallowed on their ages and nearly choked in the process.  A sharp slap on the back by Gwarhyr was needed.

“Perhaps they are yours after all,” Kvendelig concluded.  “Always thought there was something odd about you.”

“And vice versa,” Gerraint said, but he did not explain as he got up and turned toward Luckless and Lolly.  “Many thanks,” he said.  “Will you be traveling with us?”  He asked and found himself a little disappointed when they declined.

“Little ones,” Lolly said, a little embarrassed, and Luckless puffed out his chest.

“I got me a young one to hand down the family treasure,” Luckless said, proudly.

Gerraint quickly turned to the Welshmen.  “He means iron tools, like a blacksmith or tinsmith might use, not real dragon-type treasure.”  The three Welsh faces drooped, but they understood and did not doubt.

Soon enough, the six men were off on the road, headed toward Howel’s castle and the coast.

“That was easy enough.”  Bedivere whispered when he had the chance.

“Not home yet.”  Uwaine pointed out.

That afternoon, they crossed a trail which Kvendelig said was freshly made by troops of some sort.

“Romans?”  Uwaine wondered.

“In search of what?”  Gwarhyr asked.

Gerraint looked around at those with him and shrugged.  He turned to the trail and put Kvendelig in front.  Despite his enchantment at the Lake, Kvendelig really was a first-rate hunter and tracker.

Not much further along, Kvendelig signaled them to be quiet.  He and Gerraint pushed up ahead to look and dismounted just before they came to the edge of the trees.  Howel stood there, with Lionel and three guards of Amorica.  Two other guards appeared to be dead along with three Romans, but twenty more Romans had them prisoner.  Odyar had led the king and Lionel into a trap and Odyar clearly commanded the Romans.  Neither Gerraint nor Kvendelig could hear what they were saying.  A shallow hill covered with meadow grass stood before the clearing in which the men stood.  But then, Gerraint did not need to hear what they were saying.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 1 of 3

They slept in the wilderness, and in the morning, headed straight for the North road.  “The main way down the center is just as quick and probably easier traveling,” Gerraint explained.  “But this way will take us by the old Cairns, the burial places of the kings.”

“You think the Welshmen came this way?” Bedivere asked.

“No.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “I think they must already be at the Lake, or near enough.  But we are less likely to be pursued in this direction.  I doubt any trouble would guess we even know about this road.”

“Trouble?”  Bedivere asked.  “I thought last night you said that was all cleared up.”

“Odyar,” Uwaine said.  Gerraint liked his old squire.  He had a gift in the judgment of character.

They stayed at a coastal inn that next night, and again, on the night after that.  The following evening, they had hopes of reaching the lake, but they were surprised around midday by the last thing Gerraint expected.  Instead of swords from behind, they ran smack into swords ahead.  Even as they turned to the Southeast and toward the actual lake, they were surrounded by about thirty swords of the Romans coming up from the south.  Gerraint knew the lake area was like a kind of no man’s land that separated the Romanish lands from Amorica.  He felt distressed to see the revived Romans making incursions across the border and again, he did not doubt Howel’s concerns about a possible war in the near future.

Gerraint would not let Uwaine draw his sword against such odds.  They surrendered quietly.

Ondyaw was the Captain of the Romans, despite his obvious Gallic name.  Gerraint looked at him closely and immediately saw the family resemblance.  “Odyar’s brother?”  He asked.  Ondyaw confirmed as much with a slap across Gerraint’s face.  Bedivere struggled against the ropes, but Uwaine knew better and kept still.  Bedivere only hurt his own wrists.

“And where are you headed?” he asked.  “My brother’s message was rather vague on the details and said only that I should stop you.”

“To the Lake of the Vivane,” Gerraint said.  He saw no reason to hide it.

“That accursed place.  I should take you there and dump you.  I doubt you would last the night.”

“Fluff and mirrors,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon just likes her privacy is all.”

Ondyaw slapped him again.  “That great Lady’s name should never touch your lips.”  Gerraint felt it in his jaw, and for a moment, he was sorry his hands were tied so he could not put his hand up to help wiggle his jaw back into place.

“Sorry,” he said.  “But I thought you were Roman.  Shouldn’t you be defending Diana and Venus instead?

Ondyaw struck him one more time just for that, or perhaps just for fun, because he could.  Gerraint decided silence was called for.  He had to pause in any case until the dizziness passed.

“Tell my brother all is well.”  Ondyaw spoke to the man who was waiting.  “The men are still watching the lake and I will send more when I know more.”  The man left and Ondyaw turned as if he had something else to say, but then decided against it.  He left and the three were alone in the tent.

“Are you all right?”  Bedivere asked while Uwaine spoke at the same time.

“Now what?”  Uwaine asked.

“Now we leave.”  Gerraint showed anger.  They had freely surrendered and honorably submitted to being captive.  They did not need to be tied.  They certainly did not deserve to be beaten, not by any standard of civilized behavior. “More like barbarians than Romans,” Gerraint said and spat out a tooth.  “Damn.  Now I’m really mad.”  He had to calm down and think for a minute.

Margueritte came immediately to mind and when he traded places with her once more, her feminine, eleven-year-old hands and feet slipped right out of the ropes.  She had on her red dress, of course, and would from then on until she changed it.

“Let me see your wrists,” she said to Bedivere.  They were chaffed raw from his attempts to tug himself free.  “Now you were so smart with the horses,” Margueritte scolded him.  “How could you be so stupid now?  How are you going to hold your sword with your wrists hurting so?”  She shook her finger at him and frowned.  Bedivere melted.

“But she’s so cute,” he said to Uwaine.

“Yes, and dangerous I’ll warrant.”  Uwaine responded.

“Not.”  Margueritte insisted, but she was getting nowhere with her young hands and fingers against the knots.  She felt obliged to trade once again with Ali.  He still wore the Armor, and though his nimble thief’s fingers would soon have them free, he pulled his long knife, not wanting to take forever.

Once Bedivere and Uwaine were up, and Ali had to say hush three or four times, they got their weapons back as they had simply been dumped in a corner of the tent. Ali then cut a small slit in the back of the tent which grew bigger as he looked and saw no one back there.  “Allow me to steal our horses,” he said.  “Must keep in practice, you know.  Be right back.”

Ali slipped from the tent and, quiet as a snake in the grass, he wound his way around the camp to where their horses were tied but unguarded.  He considered the problem, and then went back for his companions, believing the men might move more quietly than the beasts.  Perhaps they did, but they were still too loud.  The Romans would have got them but for the noise from above and the shadow that crossed over their heads.  As soon as the beast landed, the tent they had just vacated went up in flames and a roar and fire shot up into the sky.

Uwaine stared.  Bedivere screamed, though not nearly as loud as some of the Romans.  The camp turned into chaos while the dragon nosed through the burning tent.  On finding nothing edible, the dragon set its’ sights on the scattering men.

“You!”  Ondyaw saw them and pointed.  “Cursed.”  He shouted and he and three other Romans attacked.  Gerraint came back, of course, Ali having returned to his own place in time at the first sign of trouble; and none too soon as far as Ali was concerned.  Gerraint drew his sword and the long knife he had sheathed and he and his friends went at the Romans, even as the dragon contentedly swallowed a piece of charcoal which only vaguely retained the shape of a man.

M3 Gerraint: Amorica and the Suckers, part 3 of 3

Gerraint had an idea where Howel might be, but he imagined it was late enough that Howel would likely be alone, unless the taking of Gerraint and his company prisoners had him all up and worried.  Margueritte walked the halls like a child with purpose, and almost arrived at the king’s chambers before she was stopped.  A guard wanted to know her reason for being there.  She stared at him, dumbly.

Gerraint had chosen her because she was a child and less likely to be noticed, but also because she spoke Amorican like a native.  Oddly, Margueritte came to understand that last was a mistake.  The Amorican she spoke was more like Welsh than true Amorican of the older days.  Something must have happened between Gerraint’s day and her day, two hundred years later that dramatically changed the language of the people.  It was like Amorica went away and Brittany, or Little Britain took its’ place.

Margueritte curtsied again.  She did not know what else to do.  Fortunately, king Bodanagus, of whom she had just been thinking, filled her mind with the words she needed.  Even so, Margueritte spoke haltingly to get the pronunciation just right.

“A message for his majesty from the men locked in the room below.”  She whipped up as many frightened tears as she could.  It was not hard.  This was a frightening moment.  “Please.”  She reached out to touch the guard’s wrist.  “I must tell the king personally or my father will be very angry.”

“Aw, there, little one.”  The guard grinned, few teeth as he had.  “We’ll see the king all right, and then I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  He took her hand and she did not refuse.  “Got a little girl myself, much like you, but only eight.  You twelve?  Thirteen?”

“Eleven,” Margueritte said sweetly.

“Young as that?  You look about all grown up to me.  A real lady.”  The Guard said as they came to the door.  Margueritte blushed a little and smiled.  She was actually most pleased to hear that.  It was what eleventeen-year-old girls wanted most of all, to be seen as all grown up.

The guard knocked on the king’s door, and “Come,” was the immediate response.  The door creaked open, and Lionel sat there with another man.  This was not good, but then, Howel looked worried and the curtains were drawn to block off the evening sky.

Margueritte did a quick inventory.  Arthur, Gwynyvar, Percival, Enid of course, and Uwaine, his former squire, oh, and Morgana and Bohort knew something about Gerraint and his access to other lives and times.  They called him Goreu, sometimes, as a distinction from just plain old Gerraint.  Pelenor, his old Master knew, and Meryddin figured something out quickly enough, but as far as Gerraint was aware, that was about it, unless someone talked.  Bedwyr, Kai and some of the other older ones knew something and others might have guessed something, but they hardly knew the whole truth.

Margueritte curtsied one last time while she made sure her fairy clothes would change when she did.  “A message for the king,” she said, and went home, two hundred years into the future.  She got replaced by Bodanagus, king of Amorica long ago, and he glowed, like a ghost or a Spirit of the night.

Howel jumped up and knocked over the table in front of him.  Lionel gasped, and the third man reached for a weapon, but for some reason, he did not draw it.  The guard that had been holding Margueritte’s hand jumped back and let out a brief yell.

“I am Bodanagus,” he introduced himself.  “King of Amorica and your father.”  He looked at both Howel and Lionel because the chances were reasonably good that they were his descendants.  The guard by the door wiped his hands.  He had been holding the hand of a ghost without knowing it.

“Kvendelig, Gwarhyr and Menw are meddling in something which is beyond their understanding.  Would you have them open the wrong door?  Would you have them open the door to Hell?” he asked.

“I knew it!”  Howel shouted.

“The treasures of the Celts have been shut away on Avalon and are not to be returned to this world,” Bodanagus said.  “Even in my day, I had to face Caesar on my own two feet.  I fought the Great Julius Caesar to a standstill.  Shall my descendants fight the Sons of Claudus and their shallow Romanism with dependence on magic and trickery?  For shame!”

Lionel dropped his head.  He honestly felt that shame.  He was a good Knight of the Round Table and a veteran of battles under Arthur.  Howel felt the shame, also.  The third man, however, looked angry.

“Times are different, now,” he shouted.  “We haven’t the strength of old.  We need.”

“You need nothing!”  Bodanagus cut him off.  “You have Arthur for a friend and through the Son of God, you have access to the Almighty, the Source of all things.  You need faith and a strong right arm.  You need to set free the one prisoner you have who can stop the Welsh in their madness before they bring the whole world to ruin.”  Bodanagus raised the wind in the room to blow on the fire and the torches, to whip the flames and scatter the light in every direction.  He, himself, glowed brighter and brighter in place until the men had to cover their eyes.  He raised the sound of thunder in the room, and he vanished.  He knew how to be invisible.

Curiously, Gerraint did not remember, exactly, that Bodanagus could do all of those things until he actually became Bodanagus.  His Spirit knew, though, and guided his changes from life to life.  It happened like that, sometimes.

Bodanagus opened the door of the prison room and Uwaine and Bedivere stepped back and stared, seeing no one present.  Bodanagus traded places once more with Gerraint and instantly becoming visible as he did.  Gerraint had no ability to stay invisible.

“Ready to Go?”  Gerraint asked as he returned the fairy clothes to the other world and retrieved his armor.  He called to his weapons, and they vanished from wherever they were being held and reattached themselves to his armor where they belonged.  Then the men stepped out into the other room, Bedivere’s legs being a little shaky, even as Howel and Lionel burst in, with the third man lagging behind.

“Gerraint.  Majesty.”  Howel was all apologetic.

Gerraint waved off their concerns.  “Think nothing of it,” he said.  “But I assume they have headed for the Lake?”

Howel nodded.  Lionel spoke.  “But I cannot imagine the Lady will give them what they want.”   He, with his brother Bohort knew something about Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and his cousin, Lancelot, had been under the tutelage of the Lady and her Court when he was young.

“Of course,” Gerraint said.  “She doesn’t have what they want.”

“The ghost of King Bodanagus said the treasures were hidden on Avalon.”  Howel pointed out.  There was a practical thinking man.  Gerraint smiled.

“But she might be persuaded to open a door to Avalon,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon has always had a mind of her own.”

“We must go,” Uwaine said wisely.  “Too much time has passed already.”  Howel moved.  Gerraint stepped forward and looked the third man in the eye.

“Odyar.”  The man gave his name.  Gerraint nodded and they left.  They all walked together to the inn where Lionel slapped his forehead when he saw their horses, ready to travel.

“Who would have thought,” he said.  “I searched every inch of the woods.”

Gerraint laughed and slapped Bedivere on the back, but not too hard, and then Gerraint, Uwaine and Bedivere rode off while there was still some light from the moon.

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

MONDAY

To the Lake.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

*

M3 Gerraint: Amorica and the Suckers, part 2 of 3

Amphitrite flashed back to shore and watched as they unloaded the ship.  She found the same fingerprint all over the vessel, but again, she had no idea whose fingerprint that might be.  Finally, she let it go for the present, and well under the cover of the trees where no one was watching, she changed back to Gerraint, and he thought hard about what just happened.  The fairy clothes Amphitrite had called for herself, adjusted to a look similar to the clothes Gerraint had been wearing.  In fact, he did not bother calling his own clothes back to him, he just stepped out from the trees.

Bedivere was frantic, looking for him.  Uwaine knew better, though even he looked a little worried.  “Here I am.”  Gerraint waved to get their attention.  Bedivere immediately dropped what he was carrying and came running up, breathless to make his report.

“We’ve got all of the horses out.”  He announced.

“Probably couldn’t keep them in.”  Gerraint responded as the last of the sailors came to shore.  The minute all were safely out, they heard a terrible, final cracking sound in the hull, and the ship sank quickly, and with barely a gurgle. Uwaine came up before Bedivere had finished staring.

“Welcome to the world of Goreu,” Uwaine said to the young man and patted him once or twice on the shoulder to be sure he had Bedivere’s attention.  “You might as well understand at the beginning of this journey, you will see and hear things in the next year or two that will haunt your dreams for the rest of your life.”

###

Howel seemed gracious and Lionel, with him at court.  Two things bothered Gerraint, however.  The first was that Howel said the three Welsh Lords had indeed visited, but after a few days, they sailed again for Wales, and Gerraint knew that was not true.  Gerraint and his party were not more than a week behind the Welshmen, and he felt certain they had not come to Amorica on a whim.  Whatever their business, it would undoubtedly take more than a few days.  He concluded that they were around, only where?  Either Howel had been duped, or Howel was lying to him.

The second thing that bothered Gerraint was the way Howel and Lionel kept coming up with reasons to delay Gerraint’s progress.  Bedivere pointed that out.

“I didn’t get to finish my thought aboard ship,” Bedivere said.

“Your thought?” Gerraint asked.

“Yes, the squid interrupted,” Bedivere reminded him.

“Yes, yes.  But what was your thought?”

“Oh, you said there were thirteen treasures of the ancients.  I assume they are reported to be magical in some fashion or another.  I was guessing if Howel thought Lord Kvendelig and his companions had a lead on the Cauldron, they might know where some of the other treasures are.”

“Promises are cheap,” Uwaine said.

“So, you think they may have promised Howel one of the other treasures?” Gerraint asked.

“Almost certain,” Bedivere said.

“He is facing a resurgence of Romanism under the sons of Claudus, and the Franks are barbaric, and crowding in from the East,” Uwaine pointed out.  “The Sword, or the Lance of Lugh would be a nice prize to have handy, don’t you think?”

“Unridden horses don’t take stones in the hoof unless there are stones in the barn,” Bedivere added.

Gerraint nodded.  He thought much the same thing.  “I will talk to Howel,” he said.  “Uwaine, you must convince your friend Lionel at least to stay out of it.  Bedivere, you make sure we are ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

“What about the horse?” he asked.

“See if the hoof is really stone damaged.  If it is, saddle one of Howel’s horses.  We’ll call it a fair trade.”  Gerraint stood.  No time like the present.

The conversation with Howel did not go as expected.  Gerraint’s weapons were taken from him and he found himself tossed into a room and the door locked.  Uwaine did not take long to join him.  Bedivere got sneakier, but by evening, he landed in the room as well and they only had supper for two.

“Magic is never the answer,” Gerraint said.  “Arthur has the treasure sword, or at least its descendant.  Excalibur is an excellent sword, too, but not especially magical.”

“The treasure sword?”  Bedivere asked.

“Of course,” Gerraint answered.  Rhiannon handed it to him, personally.  “Of course, Caliburn was also made by the same crew, and in some ways, it is a better sword, but it was made for a woman, a Greek Princess, actually.”

“Arthur’s first sword.  The one from his youth.”  Uwaine both explained for Bedivere and asked Gerraint for confirmation.  Gerraint nodded.

“The one from the stone,” he said.  He then thought of his own sword, Fate.  It was the last one Hephaestus made and the best of the lot, but it was not exactly magical.  Even it would only prove as good as the one who carried it.  “But, now that we are all here,” he changed the subject.  “Bedivere, report.”

“Yes.”  Bedivere understood.  “The horse had no stone, and it was a simple thing to saddle our horses and load our things for travel.  Then I had a notion that things might not be going well.  I began to hear some commotion.  I thought it best to lead the horses into the woods, you know, to hide them until we were ready to go, but as I walked and came into the town, I decided it would be better to stable them at the inn on the other side of town.  They might have found horses in the woods, you know.  But unless the innkeeper says something, and no reason he should but by accident, I imagine they will still be munching away in the morning.”

Uwaine smiled.  “I do believe you are growing a brain after all.”

Gerraint had something else on his mind.  “I have an errand first, before we go.”

“Go?”  Bedivere questioned.  “We’re locked in.  I don’t suppose we will be going anywhere fast.”  Uwaine just held Bedivere to his chair and quieted him.  Gerraint stood and thought through all of the other lives to which he currently had access.  His first and most natural choice for the job was Ali, the thief.  He traded places through the time stream.

“Hush,” Ali said to his friends before Bedivere could so much as squeak.  A quick look around the room put a pin and a comb in Ali’s hands.  He began to speak as he picked the lock, though his words were heavily accented.

“I once picked the lock in Trajan’s dungeon.  ‘Course, I had forty friends with me at the time.  We got out just fine with a little trick or two.”  The lock clicked.  “There.  You did not think Howel’s bedroom lock would prove a problem, did you?”

“But who are you?”  Bedivere could not contain himself.  “And what happened to my Master, my Uncle?”

“Hush,” Ali said again.  He needed another change to walk the halls unnoticed.  He thought long and hard, but finally decided there was no other good choice.  Ali went back to his own time and place, and Margueritte came there out of the future.  She was only eleven years old, just as Gerraint remembered her, and the armor adjusted to fit her exactly.  She knew, though, because Gerraint knew that there were other options of fairy clothing in the home of the Kairos.  She called to a plain smock dress and sent the armor home for the present.  She adjusted the color of the dress to a plain red and the shape to one more suitable to the day, all of which she could do easily, working on the fairy weave with her thoughts and simple words.  That was one of the properties of fairy clothing.  It could be shaped and colored at will.  She even added tatting around the edges to something near the dresses Gerraint had seen, but she did not add much because Gerraint was not sure.

“Boys don’t notice anything,” she complained with a little stomp of her foot.  Then she was as ready as ever.  “Stay here until I get back.”  The eleven-year-old girl spoke to Uwaine and Bedivere like she was their king.  “And close your mouth,” she added for Bedivere’s sake.  Uwaine admired her.

“You’re a new one,” he said.

“Margueritte.”  She introduced herself.   She felt she ought to curtsey.  She needed the practice, so she did.  “My Lords,” she added.  “Now, hush.”  She commanded like Gerraint.  She could not help it.  This was Gerraint’s life and so his perceptions and attitudes ruled the day. She stepped into the other room, then, and closed the door behind her as quietly as she could.

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A fair description,” Lord Birch said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 1 of 3

Gerraint came into the great hall at Caerleon wondering what was up.  Enid stayed in the nice home they bought in town, feeding one-year-old Peter and having all the fun.  Worse. She started making sweet little noises in the night and getting very touchy-feely, which suggested she might be pregnant again.  Gerraint did not want to miss that.  He hoped whatever this was, it would not be something that would send him far away from home.

“Gerraint!”  Several men hollered as he came in and he mumbled something about “Norm!”  He glanced at the door that lead to the back rooms and the now greatly enlarged room that held the Round Table.  Gerraint guessed this would not be Round Table business, which meant an appeal from someone not part of the club.  He could not imagine.  The world had been at relative peace for the last five years.

“What’s up?”  Gerraint got to ask his question.

“Sit.  Sit.” Arthur said.  “Hush.”

“Gwyr is about to read the letter,” Tristam said.

Gerraint looked at the table.  His old master Pelenor looked ready to nod off.  Peredur and Ederyn looked sprightly enough. Percival, seated beside them looked so serious.  Kai looked pensive.  Bedwyr grinned.  Gerraint sat next to Gwillim and Gwillim’s brother, Thomas the Sailor, but as he thought about it, he would have guessed Kai would be the grinning one.  Kai came all the way down to Caerleon from the north to show off his new, young bride, Lisel.  She was much younger than Kai and blonde in the worst cliché sort of way. Enid and Gwynyvar said spending time with the girl felt like going into battle.  Constance, Bedwyr’s wife, and a proper woman of grace who had eight years on Enid, said Lisel did not have enough brains to be stupid.  Gwynyvar and Enid professed they were shocked to hear their thoughts expressed aloud.

Gerraint looked again at Kai.  He definitely looked pensive, but then Gwyr started reading.

“You may not yet be aware of Claudus, a cruel and wicked man who is the latest to dream of reviving the glory of Rome. This one, unlike the host of others, may have both the military skill and cleverness to succeed.  Beginning in Provence, he has taken Septimania and Vasconia, carved out a chunk of Aquitaine including Bordeaux, and taken all of the Atlantique coast for his kingdom.  He has halted the Franks in their inevitable advance, and beat the Visigoths back over the mountains.  Now he has trained his eye on Amorica.  I believe it is his plan to swallow up our pleasant land before turning against the Franks in Paris.

“It was some years back when my father Budic gave sanctuary and comfort to your father Uther in the days of Vortigen the Usurper. What is more, he gave Uther the means and support to raise an army to return to Britain and remove the plague from your land.  Now, we are the ones in need, and I have sent my son Howel to you in the hope that you will remember the kindness my father showed to your father.  Furthermore, I request that you may seek out those men who fought for your father and stayed in your good land, and that you may tell them of our need and ask if they may be willing to come home to aid us in our fight. We are hard pressed, and I appreciate whatever help you may deem right and proper.”  Gwyr looked up from the paper before he finished.  “He signed it, your faithful friend and ally, Hoel.”

“Is Howel outside?”  Kai asked straight out.

“He is,” Arthur said.  “But I would hear your opinion first.”  Arthur looked around the table and no one especially had an opinion. His eyes ended on Gerraint, and the other eyes at the table looked as well.  Gerraint stood and threw his gloves to the tabletop.  He paced for a moment and made noises like a man in pain. Everyone stared at him when he yelled.

“All right!”  He lowered his voice and leaned on the table.  “Okay.”  He calmed himself.  “So, when do we sail for Amorica.”  All the men present tried talking at once, but Arthur just grinned like maybe he became the man with a trophy wife.  Kai looked distraught.

Things did not take long to straighten out.  But Kai mentioned that the Scots were getting above themselves, like maybe they defeated the Picts.  And worse, Loth in some ways appeared to be encouraging them. He thought he better stay at Guinnon. Bedwyr got prevailed upon to stay at Oxford as well.  Arthur told Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn that they would have to keep vigilant while he was away.  Then Arthur decided to take only volunteers with Gerraint being the first lest he decide to stay home with that lovely wife of his.  Finally, Arthur instructed Gwyr to put something in the letter encouraging those who came from Amorica and fought for Uther, or their descendants, to consider returning to Amorica to fight for Hoel.

Once that got settled, Arthur called in their visitors.  There were many details to work out, not the least procuring the ships and supplies they would need, but the basics were done and he was able to greet the men as honored guests.

Howel, at eighteen or nineteen, got escorted by a mere six soldiers, one of whom at least appeared to be a well-seasoned sergeant named Grist.  Howel came accompanied by two brothers, both Chiefs in Amorica, called Bohort and Lionel. Lionel was Howel’s age, or maybe twenty.  Bohort, the elder at twenty-three or four, did most of the talking.  Gerraint felt suddenly old at twenty-seven.  Then he thought of being home with Enid and the baby. Then he thought of Enid being all touchy-feely.  And then he thought he better pay attention.

“It is worse than you may have heard,” Bohort said. “The Romans of Claudus are playing with us like a cat with a mouse.  They strike here, but by the time we arrive they have vanished to strike there.  They will not give pitched battle, but once. They are softening us up and wearing us out.  They have overrun two thirds of the land this way, by nibbling us to death.

“One battle?”  Percival asked.

“On the plains near the mysterious Lake Vivane, he tested our strength in battle.  That happened four years ago.  We won the battle and won the test, but I figure he just sent some expendable troops and did not really care who won, though I am sure he would have been happier with a victory.  I lost my father and his brother in that battle.  My young cousin, just sixteen got lost in the woods around the lake.” Bohort took a moment to shake his head before he continued.  “That was when Claudus hit on the strategy of eating us alive, piece by piece.  I don’t know how much longer Hoel may hold out.”

“It is settled,” Arthur announced, and that was that.

Gerraint stepped outside and Uwaine met him on the steps.  “About time,” Uwaine said.  “I was really going mad this time.  When do we go?”

“Preparations.”  Gerraint shrugged.  “Then I go, but where you go will be up to you.”  Uwaine raised an eyebrow, so Gerraint answered his question.  “I have prevailed on Arthur to knight you and Gawain before we sail.”

“So?  That changes nothing.  If you have taught me one thing, it is the safest place in battle is right next to you.” Gerraint made no answer.

###

Six months later, Thomas of Dorset contracted a hundred ships for a minimal fee to deliver a cargo of two thousand men and horses to Amorica.  Roughly a quarter of those ships would continue in the months ahead to supply the troops.

“We don’t want to beggar our hosts,” Gwillim said.

Gerraint stayed in Cornwall where he moved his wife so she could be around his mother, her own mother having died a year earlier. Marcus Adronicus started making noises like he had become an old man and Gerraint needed to be prepared to take over. Gerraint could not worry about that. All he wanted was a safe delivery of his second son, James, and the knowledge that Enid was in good hands. With that assured, he took three hundred of Cornwall’s finest, a good Festuscato number.  They were men all trained to the horse and the lance, and he sailed them out of Plymouth to catch up with Arthur.

Arthur was in the field, in a big tent with Hoel, and discussed things.  Percival sat out front, and his take was, “Don’t go in there.”  Uwaine also sat up front, but he only shook his head.

Gerraint took a deep breath.  “Wish me uck-lay.”  He explained before anyone asked.  “I’m practicing my Pig Latin for use on the revived Romans,” not that anyone understood what he was talking about.  He went in.

There were greetings and pleasantries before Arthur explained the situation.  “We are having limited success in driving the forces of Claudus back.  We have almost doubled Hoel’s numbers, and with the RDF, trained to move quickly and quietly, we have routed out a number of pockets of the enemy.  They have come up and overrun village after village, but then remain hidden in the wilderness.  They require the poor, decimated villagers to supply them with food, sending men from their hidden camp to collect it.  We have had some success in following those men back to their base and then we have gone in and finished the job.  But the men of Claudus, like Saxon raiders, are in many small groups and scattered all over the countryside.  Mostly, they simply hide whenever we come near with a large force and reappear after we have gone.”

“But we are succeeding, slowly, but succeeding,” Hoel said.

“Yes, but at this rate we may be bogged down here for two or three years.  Now, my plan is to take a third of our force and invade the Atlantique.  In that way, Claudus will be forced to call out his army, and we can finish this much more quickly.”

“But if you take so many, our efforts here will be badly hampered and we may soon be back to stabbing at ghosts,” Hoel objected.

Arthur looked at Gerraint and knew to wait while Gerraint thought.  Hoel fidgeted.  At last, Gerraint spoke as plainly as he could.

“So, I have come up with three hundred fresh troops, the veterans being mostly RDF trained and able to bring along the young ones. My men, one way or the other, will not be significant here, but I see no reason why Cornwall cannot turn the tactics of Claudus against him in the Atlantique.  I have people who know something of the province, and while it would not be an invasion, it may be enough to force Claudus’ hand.”

“How can you know the province?” Hoel asked. Gerraint saw that Arthur understood, but he had to give Hoel his best, human answer.

“Cornish sailors have been trading all along the coast for generations.  Amorica has been our chief trading partner after Wales and Britain, but many have also traded down the Atlantique and learned the area.”

“Not much portage there,” Hoel said.

“But some,” Gerraint answered and quickly changed the subject before Hoel thought too long about it.  “I said turn the tactics of Claudus against him, but I don’t plan to leave small groups hidden in the woods to keep the people oppressed. More like true Saxon raiders, I plan to burn the villages and their crops and food supplies and drive the people south as refugees.  Hundreds, hopefully thousands of refugees fleeing south out of the Atlantique province should force the hand of Claudus well enough.”

“A good plan,” Arthur agreed.  Hoel looked like he might object.  Gerraint could read the man’s mind, thinking that the addition of Gerraint’s men could speed up the success they were having in Amorica, but Gerraint got up to leave before Hoel could fully frame his thoughts.  Gerraint knew his three hundred would not hold the pass for long, but they might wreak havoc in Persia.