M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 4 of 4

“Lord Birch.” Gerraint turned to the fairy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Old habits are hard to break.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have heard of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two coppers on Marcus,” Uwaine said.

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

“You have well trained men,” he commented.

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

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

Chlothar laughed.  “Exactly my thinking.”

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

“Very good, Lord.”  Larchmont sped off.

“These others?” Chlothar asked.

“Elf King, dwarf King and goblin King.”

“How is it that you…”

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

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

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

“Yes, but Arthur?”

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

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

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

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

 

 

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 3 of 4

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

“Now we chase them.”

“What?  For how long?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Saxon wife,” Percival pointed at Uwaine.

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

“Yes,” Uwaine said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surely not.  We are in friendly territory.”

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

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

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

“Uncle?”  Bedivere stood right there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.