R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 1 of 3

The travelers spent the next three days moving through the woods that Greta called the Brugh.  They were mixed fir and pine at the higher elevations, but deciduous further down the slopes.  It did not look like a forest of fire to anyone, especially when it rained on the second day.  Much less did they expect to find a lake of gold.

“Believe me,” Bogus declared.  “If there was a lake of gold, the dwarves would be mining it right now.”

On that first night, Greta finally sat down with Bogus and let him speak what stayed on his mind and in his heart.  “I dearly love my granddaughter, Berry,” he said. “When she was just a baby, three-quarters human and all, so many of us worked so hard and with every ounce of magic we could muster to release the fairy within her.  And we succeeded.  She found her wings, and though she could not fly as fast or as far, or reach as high as a real fairy, like my mother could, and though she had no magic of her own to speak of, I loved her dearly and took the very best care of her I could.  I did.”

“I know you did.”

Mavis and Nudd finished caring for Stinky and came to sit and listen while Vedix and Hermes tried to put together something edible without a fire.

“And her twin sister, Fae, though she found a small bit of magic in her one-quarter spirit blood and despite her three-quarters human blood, I kept the agreement and never sought her out, and never knew her at all.  Berry was given to us and Fae was given to the humans, and I left Fae to her own people, though it broke my heart every day to know she was out there, but I would never know her”

“I know that is true.”

Lucius came in from the south and sat.  He picked at a bit of dried beef that they brought from the village of the Dragon Clan and had left over from their time in Movan Mountain.

“But then, Lady, when you came along after seventy years, and Berry as a fairy was just a teenager of maybe thirteen or twelve human years in looks, and Fae as a human was a poor, old woman of the full seventy years, I thought something might be done, even if I could only have both of my granddaughters together for a short time.  I was determined to be content to love them for however brief a time I had, but then you made a miracle, you did.  Poor Fae, when she was struck by that arrow in the battle, she was sure to die, being as old and frail as she was.  But you took all of Berry’s fairy blood and gave it to Fae, and filled Berry with Fae’s human blood, so Berry became a one hundred percent human, poor child, and Fae became half-fee, like her father.  And then, as easy as a blink of your eye, you healed Fae and brought the fullness of her spirit blood out, so seventy was suddenly not so old, and Fae was a happy dwarf.”

“I know that she is happy.”

Alesander and Briana came in together from the north where they scouted out the land and saw no sign of the Wolv.  They were not holding hands, but they might as well have been.

Bogus took off his hat and laid it gently in his lap before he continued.  “I’ve never been so honest and straight-forward in all my whole life. Normally, for spirit folk it goes against every fiber to be pure honest, but I honestly don’t mind telling all of this to you.  It is like a confession those humans talk about, and a great, life-long burden lifted from my heart.”

“Go on.”

Vedix and Hermes joined them so everyone began to listen, and everyone had the good sense not to interrupt.

“Well, I can’t say I am happy that Fae has taken up with that old curmudgeon, Hobknot the Hobgoblin of the Hardwood, but Berry being married to your own brother I don’t mind at all.  He is a fine young man, human though he is, and I will tell anyone the same.”  Bogus paused and looked down at his hat.  “It is not my place to question the way of the gods, but I don’t know what might have possessed you to let those four go off on such a daft errand.”

“They wanted to find their father,” Greta said quietly.  “It is not my place to say what my little ones do.  I can encourage, inspire, enthuse and ask, but I will not control. Ultimately, what you decide to do will be up to you.  You make your own choices, and have to live with them.”

Bogus nodded slowly.  “It was still daft,” he said.

“But you have not spoken of their father, your son.”

Bogus nodded again and began to worry his hat. “Damn stubborn and stupid boy.  He went off in search of his grandmother, my mother, and got himself trapped in the Land of the Lost.  And now Berry and Fae have followed him into the same stupid place.”

“Softly,” Greta said, and she touched Bogus and calmed the hands on his poor imp hat.

“I loved her, you know.  Sweet Clarissa.  She was so young and vulnerable when the Romans came stomping into the forest. She was hurt and cried so softly, like a bird with a hurt wing.  I hid her and cared for her as well as anyone could.”

“And you fell in love with her.”

Bogus paused at that stark statement.  He stared at Greta before he looked down and began to worry his hat again.  “I would have kept her, enchanted, you know, but she was so sweet and fragile I knew keeping her in a cage would kill her, so I let her go, knowing I could not go with her.  She ran, I tell you.  She ran into the arms of that man from the Eagle Clan, but she was with child, and the son she had was mine as he proved many times.  Oren was a beautiful child.  When he was older, he began to spend some time with me and some of the others, which I felt was only fair, him being half mine. He found out his grandfather was an old imp who ran off at the ripe old age of eight hundred and fifty-two, about the time Oren was born, and he cried for his grandfather, though he never met the old bastard.  But when he found out his grandmother, my mother Willow, was the sweetest fairy of light this world has ever known, he became obsessed.  There was no living with him.  He began to range far and wide through the land, calling her name, even though he knew, some two hundred years earlier, her troop had migrated into the north and would not likely be found by any means.”

“I tried to stop him,” Bogus’ words burst out.  “I tried to tell him not to go, but his younger brother, my Clarissa’s human son was old enough to help keep and raise the family, and he said he was free to go.  Stupid and stubborn, I tell you.”  Bogus let his words trail off and thought the rest quietly to himself. Greta felt glad for that.  He did not need to say some of those words out loud.

“Fae and Berry found their father,” Greta took up the telling.  “But they are all prisoners in the Land of the Lost.  We have to go and set them free.”  With that, she laid down, turned her back on them all and pulled her blanket up to her shoulder.  She feigned sleep until sleep finally came for her, and she would not answer any questions, though she did hear some of the conversation.  Lucius, of all people, got it right.  They were headed right into the jaws of the Wolv and the home of the goddess.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 2 of 3

“Hobknot.”  Greta called him and gently compelled him to come to be sure he did not run away and hide for the next fifty years.  “You are also the eldest,” she said.  “And a little one with a good, sensible brain.  Use it.  I expect you to think clearly if the way gets muddled, and speak sense, even if the way appears nonsense.”  Greta took off the ring of Avalon.  It had the seal of the Kairos.  She put it on Hobknot’s thumb and it fitted itself snugly there so it would not come off. “I am trusting you to speak in my name. Just make sure it would be words I would actually say.  I want you helped, not hindered along the way.”

“Hear that, all of you?” Hobknot said, proudly. “My lady says you got to listen now when I talk sense.  I speak for the lady.”

“Fae.”  She called her over.  “Don’t let it go to his head.”

“Never worry,” Fae said.  “If his head swells up, I’ll just knock him down and sit on him until the swelling goes away, I will.”

“Listen everyone,” Greta said.  “Don’t forget Fae knows truth from lies.  Listen to her carefully, especially when she warns that someone is lying.”

“I wish I was there when the messenger came,” Fae said. Greta agreed.

“Fae, dear.  I made a small bag for you.  It has salves, physics, bandages and potions in it.  Everything is labeled, and since you served your people for seventy years as their druid, I know that you know the good they may do.”

“Thanks, my lady,” Fae said, as Greta fitted the bag over her shoulder.

“I do not know your future,” she told her.  “I don’t know what all you will face.  I had to guess what you might need.  There are no miracles in the bag.”  Greta felt very inadequate.

“Quite all right, Lady.”  Fae answered graciously.  “You would think after all of those years I would have thought of this for myself, but I didn’t.  So, you see? I had nothing, but now I have everything.”

“Hans.”  She made him repeat his three words again.

“But what do they mean?”  Hans asked.

“Stop.  Do no harm. Friend.”  Greta told him.  “They are Agdaline words.  Very hard for the human tongue.”  Greta paused to look at the fading stars above.  She supposed they did not need to know who the Agdaline were, nor that those strange people never expected their little pets to get loose, get big, and go wild. She spoke again.  “They are Dragon-speak,” she said.  “They are in the ancient tongue to which all dragons are bound to obey,” she said, hopefully.  Sometimes when dragons went wild, they got mighty slow in the obedience department. Still, it had been bred into the beasts. It was genetic, and even if they only paused on hearing the words, it might be enough time to let the quest get to safety.

Hans said the words once more and Greta felt satisfied that he said them well enough.  Agdaline was not easy.  Then she gave Hans a gift.

“Here,” she said.  “Take good care of it.  It is the sword of Avalon.”

“You have more than one sword?”  Hans looked surprised, though when he thought about it, he decided he should not have been surprised.

“I have had several,” Greta said.  “My very first got broken when Sekhmet took it and started to wipe out every living thing in Egypt.  Then I lost one up the nose of the wolf.”

“The wolf?” Berry asked.  She slid closer to Hans.

“Fenrus.”  Greta nodded like no big deal.  “Loki’s son. Then there is Wyrd, and Salvation, swords that you know.  This one is special.  It usually hangs over the fireplace at home and has not been used very much since the days of Alexander the Great.”

“Why is it special?”  Fae asked.

“It was made by little ones, not actually by the gods, but under contract, if you know what I mean.  The same crew that made Thor’s hammer.”

“Does it have a name?” Hans asked.

Greta nodded again.  “Excalibur,” she named it.

Hans drew it out and even in the dim light of the dawn, it glowed and glistened, almost as if it had a fire of its’ own.  “Wow.”

“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.

“We must go,” Berry said, stepped up and took Greta’s hands.  Berry had become a strikingly beautiful human woman.

“You are very young,” Greta said.  “As is Hans.”

“Older than you when you stepped into the haunted forest,” Berry reminded her.

“Yes, but I had encouragement and help that you do not have.  I am only twenty-two even now, but in a special way, I may be the oldest person presently on this earth.  You, on the other hand, have only your hope, faith, and wits to guide you.”

“We will find him,” Berry said and squeezed Greta’s hands.  She firmly believed what she said.

“And I believe you too.”  Greta smiled for her.  “But here, let me give you my heart.”  Greta wore a small, Celtic cross on a simple gold chain.  She had two made four years earlier in anticipation. Vasen, the old priest of Odin never took his off, and now she gave hers to Berry.  “Let my God be your God.  Look to the source to guide you and be your shield.  He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.”  Berry placed it around her own neck and then hugged Greta.

“I love you Mother,” Berry said.

“Oh look,” Greta interrupted and placed Berry’s hand on her tummy.  “Little Marta is saying good luck.”

“I feel her moving,” Berry said with delight. Her eyes went straight to Hans. He did not catch it, but then everyone crowded in close.

“Tight in there,” Greta said.  “Not much room to move around.”  Greta looked once more at the four.  “Go on,” she said, “before I change my mind.”  She turned without looking again and went into the inn to rest. Alesander sat waiting for her there, and Darius sat with him.  She had not told Darius, but somehow, he found out.  He always did.

“Will Berry be all right?” he asked.  He had become like a father to her, and Greta smiled because she knew he would be a good father to all of their children.

“I pray that she will,” Greta said.  “But who can know the future.  It isn’t written yet, more or less.”

Darius hugged her and they kissed and hugged some more while Greta’s eyes caught sight of a Celt who walked straight up to the Dacian innkeeper.  The Celt held out his hand and the innkeeper grasped it in a strange handshake while the Celt said, “Pater.”  Greta knew they were Mithraites, members of that ultra-secretive cult, and something in her heart turned cold, but then Darius finished with his hug.

“And you.”  He stared into her eyes and his eyes were dancing with joy.  “You should not be running off this close to delivery. I worry about our son.”

“Daughter,” Greta said, and tried to shake the image of coldness from her heart.  “And there is another month yet, at least.”

“And how is my son today.’  Darius spoke to the baby.

“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.

“Son, Marcus,” Darius said, and Greta let him have the last word because she knew a month or so later she would have a little girl, and she did.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 1 of 3

Only four years married, and Greta already started sneaking away from the house in the dark.  Her husband Darius, the roman governor of the province of Dacia would go looking for her, but by the time he found her, she should be finished with her task and on the road home.  Greta pulled the hood of her cloak over her face.  She was the woman of the ways for the Dacians, called a druid among the Celts, and the wise woman of Dacia for the Romans as declared by Marcus Aurelius himself. It was a triple whammy which meant she could not hide in a crowd, any crowd.  But this task felt important, so she covered herself as well as she could with her red cloak and hood, and tried to go unseen through the early hours before dawn.  She feared Darius might try to stop the others if he found out what they were planning. He would certainly try to stop Greta if she had any thoughts about going with them.

Greta had no such thoughts.  She just entered her eighth month with child number two.  A daughter to go with her son.  She smiled about that the whole way, and to her credit, she only once thought the others could have timed things better.  She also tried concentrating on what was to come as her faithful Centurion Alesander led the ox cart along the new forest road. He would follow her to hell if that was where she was going.

They arrived late in the afternoon at the Celtic village of the Bear Clan.  Greta rested at Mayor Baran’s house, as was her custom.  Several men came to pay their respects, but Baran’s wife turned the rest away.  The woman knew full well what the eighth month could be like.

In the wee hours before dawn, Greta got up and went out to the new stables beside the new inn.  The Dacian who ran the place made a home brewed ale which seemed very popular with his Gaelic patrons.  This was a good thing, Greta thought.  Dacians, Celts, and Romans needed to mingle and not be so divided.

She made herself as comfortable as she could on a small stool.  She waited, but she did not have to wait long.  She heard a bang.

“Shhh! Quiet.”  She heard a woman’s voice, one that Greta knew very well.

“Oh shush yourself, you old biddy,” the response came out of the dark.

“Old goat,” the woman came right back.  “I hope that was your head and it knocked some sense into you.”

“It was my toe,” the man responded.  “And if it wasn’t hurting I would use it to kick your butt.”

“Quiet, both of you,” a young woman spoke.  “If you two don’t stop making love we’ll never get anywhere.”  She called it right, and Greta heard a young man laugh.

“Ahem!”  Greta cleared her throat.  “Over here,” she said.  She just turned twenty-two, a young mother in her prime.  She could have easily gone to them, eighth month or not, but why?  Let them find her.  “Over here,” she repeated.  They knew her voice, too.

Berry and Fae were the first to come out of the shadows.  They came timidly, holding hands as sisters should.  The odd thing was no one looking at them would imagine they were sisters, much less twins.  Berry looked to be seventeen, and though fully human, she still reflected the beauty of the fairy blood she once bore.  Fae now had all of the fairy blood, the inheritance of their half-blood father, which made her much smaller, but a fine-looking dwarf woman in her way, and a bit of an imp besides, a match for Hobknot, the grumpy old hobgoblin of the hardwood.  She was seventy years old.  They both were, but that is a very long story.

Hans and Hobknot came behind with Hobknot’s mouth running.  “I told you it was no good sneaking off.”

“And I told you I was not going without saying goodbye to my sister,” Hans said.  “But I was not worried.  I knew I would see her.”

“Oh, you did?”  Greta got up slowly.  “Hansel.” She reached out and Hans came quickly to help her to her feet.  She hugged him and whispered three words in his ear.  She made him repeat the words over and over until he could say them perfectly.  Meanwhile, she hugged all of the others, including Hobknot who turned a perfect red and covered his face with his hands in case she thought of giving him a kiss.

“So, where is your father?” Greta asked Fae and Berry.

“She knows,” Berry said with surprise.

“Of course she knows,” Fae said with certainty.

“From the dragon village we go north.”  Berry spoke as if repeating a lesson.  “We must go over the Toothless Mountain and beyond the Way of the Winds.  Through the pass called the Ogre’s Jaw which is the only way through the Rumbling Ridge. Down the other side, we go through the Forest of Fire and pass the Lake of Gold which must be on our left hand. We must go through the Swamp of Sorrows until we reach the river called Heartbreak.  From there we travel down the river beyond the Giant Rock and the Troll’s Eyes until we see the Mouth of the Dragon.  The Mouth will take us under the Heart of the Goddess by the Road of Dreams and at last, at the end of the road, we will find the Broken Dome of the Ancient Master.  It is there that a secret door leads to the Land of the Lost, and our father is there, still living among the lost.

“North over the Transylvanian Alps and plateau to the Ukraine.  How far, then?  To Kiev? All the way to Moscva?” Greta translated.  “Sounds exciting, and complicated,” she said.  “You will remember all that?”

“Oh, yes, Mother Greta.  I will not forget,” Berry said.

“We will remember,” Fae insisted.  “We seek our father’s blessing on our marriages.”

“You and Hobknot,” Greta teased, and Hobknot spun around several times in embarrassment before he settled on a spot with his back to them all.  He turned scarlet.

“You didn’t have to tell her that part,” Hobknot protested.  “Make me sound like a love-sick puppy.”

“But you are.”  Fae, Berry and Hans all said more or less the same thing in near unison and then laughed.

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 1 of 3

Gerraint did not get much sleep that day.  He took Lancelot, Lionel and five hundred horsemen of the RDF up the mountain road first thing that afternoon.  They planned to meet Arthur on the other side of the mountain where the roads rejoined, and Gerraint hoped to find Percival and at least the majority of the men under his command still alive and ready to fight. Percival had three thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall, Devon, Southampton, Dorset and Somerset.  It added up to a whole army in the old days.  Arthur was bringing four thousand more from the British Midlands and Wales.  When they got word that the Saxons were moving, they could not wait for whatever men Kai and Loth might be bringing from the north.

Arthur stuck to the main Roman road that skirted the rougher Highlands.  They figured if the Saxons got past Percival, that seemed the mostly likely route they would take.  Gerraint and his five hundred were designed to stop the Saxons from using the mountain road in a flanking maneuver. They were to meet in five days where the two roads rejoined.  Arthur wanted to take a week and Gerraint argued for three days, so they compromised.

Gerraint got a fresh horse, a sturdy mount trained to the lance, and he started right out, flanked by Lancelot and Lionel. Lancelot seemed a lot like Uwaine. He did not say much.  Lionel seemed more like Bedivere.  He asked questions, which Gerraint honestly did not mind.

When they arrived at the village on the up-side, as Gerraint called it, they found the people in mad preparations.  There were people streaming in from all the outlying farms and the streets were jammed with carts and mules.  Gerraint chose to skirt the town and camp the five hundred in the fields on the far side.  He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but he had to wait for the expected delegation of village elders.

“We have it on firm authority that the Saxons are coming here,” one elder reported.

“How many?” Lionel asked.

“We don’t know.  A lot.  Plenty. A whole army.”  Every elder had a different thought in mind, but no one had any numbers.

They argued with Lionel for a time.  Sergeant Brian, who corralled two dozen men and took it upon himself to act as aid-de-camp for the three Lords, scoffed now and then, but said nothing.  Lancelot said nothing, but watched Gerraint closely.  The villagers wanted the five hundred to fortify the town and begin construction of a real fort to protect the village.  Lionel said they were not sent to garrison one village with five hundred valuable men, especially since they could give them no definite information as to how many Saxons, where they were or how far away, or anything. Lionel concluded they were acting on ghosts of rumors, and the village elders felt insulted.  Then Gerraint spoke up.

“There were a half-dozen Saxons seen four days ago near the mountain village, but the Little King caught them and killed them all. The woman in the woods and her two sons confirmed this,” he said.  The elders grew quiet because Gerraint obviously knew the neighborhood and what he was talking about.  “We are traveling this road to be sure the Saxons have not come this way.  Do you know the three graves of the thieves by the side of the road, up from here?”

Yes, they all knew the graves.  “We found them one morning.  It was all very mysterious.  They were well known thieves and cutthroats who had their way in this village, but one morning they were all three slaughtered, and in a very gruesome way. Some say it was ogres or goblins or trolls, or something worse, but most people don’t know what to think.”

“It was worse,” Gerraint said.  “That was my handiwork.”  The elders gasped, though a few did not know whether or not to believe him. “I say, don’t worry.  If we meet some Saxons up the road, Maybe I will send them back to you so you can make a real cemetery.  Meanwhile, if you have any brave young men, Arthur can use all the help he can get when we arrive at the real battle.  I will tell you what I told the village on the other side of the mountain.  If Arthur wins, no Saxons will come here.  But if Arthur loses, no fortifications or garrison will be able to prevent the Saxon army from doing as they please.  So how about it?  Does your village have any young men who are brave enough?”

The elders were not sure.  They would mention it in the village meeting, but Gerraint should not count on any help.  Gerraint dismissed them, and then Lancelot spoke his peace.

“They are afraid.  They will keep all the young men they can close to home, and we won’t get any help.”

“Not a good recruitment speech?”

Even Sergeant Brian shook his head, no.

“But I was not recruiting.  One coward affects all those around him.  We don’t need that, so I told them straight that only the brave need apply.  Then I turned them off on purpose, because it will do no good having a brave young man whose mind is filled with worry about what is happening back home.  That is a way to get bravely killed.  If any men in the village understand enough to realize it is better to fight the Saxons in someone else’s front yard rather than wait until they come to your front yard, that might be a man we could use.”

The others would have to think about it.

###

In the morning, a dozen ill armed men showed up, and Gerraint took the time to pair them with a veteran.

Just before lunch, they reached the place on the road where he could ride to the house in the woods.  He took Brian and six men with him.  He made Lancelot and Lionel stay with the troop and made them break for lunch.

When he arrived at the house, he found more of a reception than he bargained for.  Flora knew he was coming, of course, but she somehow got word to her elf grandfather. Dayrunner stood there with a hand-full of elf warriors, all properly disguised to look like ordinary men. Bowen and Damon were also saddled up and ready to ride.  Gerraint swore.

“I was going to make sure you stayed here to protect your mother.  You won’t make good husbands if you get killed.”

Bowen looked at his brother Damon and spoke for the boys.  “We won’t make good husbands if we won’t fight for our wives.  We have to earn our way.  Arthur would expect no less.”

“Don’t ask me.”  Dayrunner caught Gerraint’s look.  “I will not bind my grandsons nor keep them here.  They must earn their way, as they said.”

Gerraint knew they were right.  In the end, he could not protect them.  They needed to fight their own battles, just like him and Arthur, and just like anyone else.

“These are fine looking lads,” Brian said. “Fine looking armor and weapons too for back-woods boys.”

“Only the best for my grandsons,” Dayrunner said.

“But you, sir.  Where did you find so many willing men in the wilderness?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “Hunters.  Don’t ask. Get the boys mounted and ready to ride. I need to talk to the hunters for a minute.”  He waited while Brian and the boys mounted, then he spoke softly.   “Dayrunner, what news?”

“As we speak, the Little King is besieged in his cliff caves by three hundred Saxon horse.  The village beyond is playing host to seven hundred more Saxons with horse. The word is they failed to engage young Percival’s trap and instead headed straight for the mountain road, an unexpected move.  There are a second thousand Saxon horse circling around Bath.  When you reach the meeting of the roads, you will face eight thousand Saxons afoot and two thousand horse there in reserve.”

Gerraint nodded.  “Very thorough.  Pinewood here?”  He was, of course, having anticipated Gerraint’s arrival.  He came dressed, as expected, in his hunter green with the faded lion on his tunic.  He also spoke right up.

“My men and Deerrunner’s troop have harassed the Saxon cavalry from the start.  We have picked off many on the road around Bath.  Bogus and his, with Dumfries in the night, have moved to block the road from Bath with only one complaint, that there will not be any Saxons left by the time they reach that point.”  Pinewood and Dayrunner both grinned.

“Dayrunner,” Gerraint fretted.  “I would appreciate if you deployed your men on the far side of the mountain village to be sure none of the Saxons escape to warn the seven hundred down the way.  With only five hundred men to their seven hundred, we are outnumbered.  Surprise will even things a bit, if we are not given away.”

“Lord.”  Dayrunner and Pinewood each gave a brief bow, which seemed perfectly reasonable from Sergeant Brian’s perspective.

R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 2 of 3

Gerraint got a fine room and an excellent supper. He was glad the village elders waited until he finished eating before they invaded his space.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.  “If Arthur does not send men down the mountain road, I will bring men this way.  You might fortify your village as well as you can and be vigilant in your watch for any stray Saxons or scouts that come this way.  But when Arthur’s men get here, I say let the brave among you go with Arthur to the battlefield.”

“Shouldn’t we ask for a garrison of men to help us defend our homes?” one of the elders asked, one who was obviously not one of the brave.

“No,” Gerraint shook his head.  “Arthur needs all the good men he can get on the battlefield. If Arthur wins the battle, your homes will be safe.  But if Arthur loses, no garrison will stop the Saxon army from doing as they please.”

The elders made no commitment, and Gerraint moved on in the morning.  Festuscato had shared the night’s sleep, since both he and Gerraint spent about half the day each, present and awake.  The Roman only needed breakfast, but Gerraint secured some foodstuffs for the journey, and it proved sufficient.

###

Gerraint traded places again with Festuscato as soon as he got out of town, and this time he sent his lance to Avalon with Gerraint’s armor.  That way, he looked more like an ordinary traveler on the road and less like a knight of the Round Table.

By late in the afternoon, Festuscato came upon a tree across the road.  He had been following some tracks, a half-dozen horses with the characteristic Saxon horse-boot print. Festuscato traded places with the princess, and she confirmed the half-dozen horsemen, their recent passage and their direction, but she said she could not confirm the Saxon boot.  She was familiar with the Roman hippo-sandal the men of Arthur put on their horses and she said these prints were made by a different boot, but she could not confirm Saxon.  Festuscato said that would be fine.  He recognized the Saxon print and appreciated her confirmation.  He slowed down until he stopped and faced the fallen tree.

He imagined something familiar about the tree, but somehow, it had to do with Gerraint.  Gerraint came home to his own time, took his own armor in place of the armor of the Kairos to complete the transformation, and then looked hard at the tree.  Of course, it was not the same one as before, he thought, but he did not exactly remember the one before.

Gerraint got out his rope and tied it to the tree and to his saddle.  He lugged the tree far enough to make an open way on the road.  He returned his rope to its bag and then avoided walking his horse as something in the back of his mind said, be prepared.  When he rode around the edge of the tree, he became confronted with a dozen large and well-armed men.  Gerraint paused before he called to Avalon for his lance.  It appeared in his hand, and he imagined that bit of magic might not be something the opposing horsemen wanted to see.

“I know you,” the man out front spoke up in a voice Gerraint recognized.  The man dismounted and Gerraint exclaimed.

“Little man.”  He also got down from his horse.  “I see you are up to your same tricks.  Must we fight to teach you better manners?”

“No, no,” the little man said.  “I have kept your pledge.  We have kept the road safe for travelers.  Not two weeks after we met, Arthur himself came with many men. We hosted him in our village on the mountainside and he confirmed the words you spoke.  On my honor, we have kept the road safe.”

“So why then the tree?”

“Not two days ago, we found six Saxons, poorly disguised.  We slew them, but not before we discovered they were scouts sent out by the army. We sent a rider to Caerleon to give warning.  The Saxons are coming.”

“This I know.  I carry a message for Arthur’s eyes only.”

“Lord, let me prevail upon you to share our hospitality.  My men would be pleased to host so noble a night in their midst.”

Gerraint shook his head.  “As you said, the Saxons are coming.  Time is short.  But Arthur will send men this way, or I may bring them myself.  When we come, I invite you and your men to join us.  We can use good men in the coming battle. Just make sure the men are brave enough. We need no cowards on the battlefield.” Gerraint mounted and had another thought, but waited.

“Do not doubt. My men are brave enough.  We will be ready.”  As Gerraint started to walk off, the little man said one more thing. “But Lord, Arthur was vague in the telling.  Do tell us who you are.”

“The Lion of Cornwall,” Gerraint owned the name and rode out of sight.  When he was far enough away, he called.  “Pinewood.” He knew no one followed him or watched because Pinewood and two others appeared in fairy form.  “Is what the little man reported accurate?” he asked.

“Mostly,” Pinewood said.  “He extracts a contribution from grateful travelers and merchants to continue his work of keeping the road safe, a contribution which is not always graciously given.  But he has stopped the killing and he does not beggar them.”

Gerraint nodded before he turned in his thoughts. “I traveled this road before, the other way, with Enid.”  Pinewood said nothing, because Gerraint did not ask a question.  “Find me a place where I can camp tonight and not be disturbed,” Gerraint said.  “If you would be so kind.”

“It would be our pleasure,” Pinewood said, and he guided Gerraint to a small house and farm off the road and well hidden by the woods.  An old woman lived there with two strapping sons.  The farm looked well enough tended for an impossible, rocky side of a hill, but Gerraint almost turned down the offer, not wanting to impose on a poor widow.

“Lord,” Pinewood encouraged him.  “She is a seer.  She may help you find what you are searching for”

Gerraint nodded and rode up to the house where the two sons waited.  “Lord,” they said.  “Please come in and refresh yourself.  Let us tend your equipment, and the children of the grass have come to tend to your steed.”

“Thank you,” Gerraint said.  He felt tired, though Festuscato spent most of the day in his place.  He entered the home and the woman already had a meal set out for him.

“Lord,” the woman said, and she took his cloak with hands trembling from fear, not from age.  “Please be welcomed in my house.  You are a man of great power, not of this world.  All are welcomed here.  The bed is prepared.”  She stepped back to watch, and Gerraint did not disappoint her.  He went away so Festuscato could come and enjoy the food.

“Well spoken,” Festuscato told the woman, and when he finished eating, he added, “Now I must rest.”  The bed felt comfortable, and Festuscato fell asleep in no time. Some seven hours later, just a couple of hours after midnight, Festuscato woke and washed.  Then Gerraint returned to speak to the woman who appeared still up, puttering about.

“The boys feel it,” the woman said.  “But not as strongly as I.”

Gerraint nibbled on the bread and slurped some of the remaining stew.  “And what do they feel?”

“That you have the answers to my life and to their life.  We have walked a strange road, in the dark of knowledge, yet in the light of knowing things in and around this place that other people cannot imagine.  The children of the grass have come to tend your horse.  The whispers in the wind fly from tree to tree and watch over you in the night. The children of the earth make your armor shine beneath the moon, and the horrors of the night fill your pouch with gold and precious jewels.  Who are you to command such honor from the spirits of life?”

I am an ordinary man as you can see.  I am forty-three, and yet I have lived for thousands of years in one way or another.”  Gerraint stuck out his hand toward the woman because he sensed something in her he could not define.  She misunderstood and took his hand to kiss with her lips and her tears, like a supplicant might kiss the hand of the pope in Rome.  Gerraint meant to shrug her off, but when she touched him, a clear vision came to his mind.  He knew who she was, and by extension, her sons.  He took back his hand gently, and wondered if Pinewood brought him here because she was a seer or because she was in need of a seer.

“I understand,” he said.  “Please sit.”

The woman sat at the table, but her hands continued to tremble.  “Your father built this place to get away from the world, but the world caught up with him and he died young.  Your husband was pleased to marry a wise woman.  The people all around here depend on your wisdom and your cures.  The Little King in his mountainside village hears you when you speak, though he hears no one else.  But for all your cures, you could not save the Little King’s wife when she was waylaid by three robbers on the road, or your own husband when he was taken by the flu.  Still, your boys keep the farm and you hear the little spirits in the night, like they come to you, unbidden, only you do not understand.”

“All that you say is true, though not many know these things and I have told you none of it.”

“This much I know,” Gerraint said.  “Your grandfather, your father’s father was an elf of the light, Dayrunner, brother of Deerrunner, the elf king.  Your father’s mother was a lovely woman who ran to the woods to escape from soldiers and became lost.  Dayrunner saved her and made her his wife for as long as she lived, and they had a son, your father.  He built this place away from other people and by the woods to be near his mother and father.  But the soldiers came again.  He and your mother were killed when you were a child, and your grandfather kept you safe, and raised you as a foster father, though you thought he was just a woodsman. In time, you found a husband of your own, and had a fine family.  Only now the soldiers are coming again.”  Gerraint paused.  The poor woman started to weep.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 1 of 3

Arthur wintered at York, but not happily.  He missed Gwynyvar and felt especially unhappy when he considered her protector, Lancelot.  He trusted her, and he trusted Lancelot, but he felt unhappy all the same.

Gerraint made the trip when there came a break in the weather.  His men were tired and deserved the chance to go home.  Melwas and Cordella deserved their men back, and he took most of the men from Devon as well.  Tristam stayed in York with Arthur, though Arthur had plenty of RDF men who were pledged to stay with him, and all the more after Guinnon.

Gerraint arrived home at winter’s end, and he never felt so warm and comfortable as he did when he curled up in the night with Enid. He rested well, not that she often let him rest.  Together, Gerraint and Enid got in the habit of wandering down to the docks in the early morning to take in the sunrise and watch the fishermen and the occasional merchant ship that pulled in on the morning tide.  Sometimes, they heard the news of the wider world.  One morning, the news sounded especially bad.

The ship, one that belonged to Thomas of Dorset, and the Captain reported a fleet of Saxon warships out in the channel headed for the tip of Lyoness.  Gerraint hated to bother Pinewood and his fairy friends, but Enid insisted, despite her misgivings that it would mean losing Gerraint again for a time.  They needed to know where the Saxons were headed, and some estimate as to when they might arrive.

Word went out to Lyoness, Cornwall and all across Devon to be prepared to gather.  Messages went to the north coast, across the north channel to Caerdyf, and as far away as Clausentum, which was Southampton, to be prepared with whatever ships they could muster.  A week went by before Gerraint heard definitive news.

Heingest, son of Hueil was gathering an army on the border of Wessex.  Cadbury and Oxford appeared the obvious targets, but they were not accessible by sea. Caerleon became the clear target the minute Heingest moved to bypass Cadbury.  Gerraint’s only question was whether Heingest knew Arthur was absent from Caerleon or not.  He might have wanted to catch Arthur at a point unprepared, having just come back from a campaign and sent his troops home.  Then, he might have decided to destroy Arthur’s home while Arthur stayed occupied elsewhere.

Arthur and a thousand men still in the northern army left York as soon as Gerraint sent him word of his suspicions.  Gwyr, Arthur’s court judge sent couriers to all the British Lords, and especially to the Welsh Lords whose own lands were now threatened.  This time, it was not a distant British problem.  The Saxons headed for Wales.

Gerraint gathered a full thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon and crossed over to Caerdyf.  A second thousand gathered in the Caerdyf streets and camped on the fields, coming from all over south and central Wales leaving only the forts of the Irish watch manned.

At the same time, the Saxon fleet off-loaded their troops in a secluded bay half-way between Caerdyf and Caerleon.  The estimate there was about two thousand. Heingest appeared to be bringing closer to twenty-five hundred overland.  No deliberate attempt got made to stop him.  The troops at Cadbury tried to appear like they were cowering behind their defenses, when in fact they were waiting for Arthur to return south so they could join him.  The little man of Mount Badon organized a wonderful campaign of harassment, one that the Saxons would not soon forget, but Heingest suffered no serious delay or blockage between Wessex and Caerleon.

The city itself and fort at Caerleon spent the month redoubling their defenses.  All of the surrounding towns and villages were abandoned.  Most of the men, the women and children made for Leogria in the east and for north and central Wales in the west.  They were refugees who set up big camps by the border, but they brought their own livestock with them and as much grain as they could carry by mule and in their ox drawn wagons.  A number of the men went to fight, and doubled the number of defenders on the city walls and in the fort.

The Saxons felt somewhat surprised at the empty villages after Mount Badon, but it was common for villagers to flee at the approach of an army.  What seemed uncommon was the slim pickings they found—little food and not so much as a mule left to transport the food and maybe have for supper.  Heingest planned well.  His troops and the men from the ships arrived at about the same time to surround the city and fort, but the men in the west, who imagined their arrival would be a great secret, did not fare any better with goods and food in the empty villages they found on the route to Caerleon.

Heingest tried the city first, and found it much more strongly defended than he anticipated.  The Saxon Captains who were there to storm the port, hesitated.  Arthur’s half-dozen warships set out from the docks like a second wall.  Arthur’s Captains were confident, perhaps overconfident, that they could beat back any Saxon warships that might try them.  The hesitation of the Saxons suggested that the Germans were not prepared to test that theory.

Thomas of Dorset gathered as many ships from the south coast as he could.  They were essentially fat merchant ships who stood little chance against Saxon warships at sea, but they had great hope that they could catch the majority of the Saxon ships on the shore, or even pulled up on land and with only light crews left to defend them.  This they did, in that supposedly secret bay on the north shore of the channel.  The result was given.  The Saxons were going to have to walk home.  The merchants then mostly refused to continue on to Caerleon where the real battle would take place, but Thomas was able to get enough ships to join him to at least assist Arthur’s ships in the port defense.

After the initial test of the city and the fort, and the discovery that both were strong and this would not be so easy, the Saxons went into conference.  Without a quick and easy victory, some were determined to go home.  Heingest had his hands full with internal struggles.

Arthur and Gerraint, with fairy go-betweens, timed things about as well as such things could be timed in that age, arriving on the same day, if not in the same hour.  Arthur, having picked up a second thousand men as he came through Britain, camped in the east.  Gerraint camped in the West, and in the morning, Ogryvan arrived with a thousand men from the north of Wales, and they completed the encirclement.  The Saxons had the city and fort of Caerleon surrounded, but Arthur had the Saxons surrounded by a bigger circle with more men.

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 3 of 3

The Scots had plenty of archers to fire cover as men dragged up a great battering ram.  They tried to use their shields to protect themselves from overhead, but had limited success.  Arthur’s men wasted some arrows and soon turned to rocks.  They had some success with rocks.  Mostly, the fairy archers who crowded at the corners of the fort where they would not violate the orders to stay at the sides of the fighting, found a very easy shot into the side of the men on the ram.  It took some time and a hundred or more dead Scots before someone figured out to bring in a line of men with their shields held out to protect the sides.  They, of course, were then vulnerable from overhead, so it did not make the perfect solution.

The bang inside the fort sounded horrendous.  Men had to be forced to stay at their posts at the rear of the fort, because that was where the real action was going to take place.

The men at the back had three more catapults, and these dispensed with the pine and went straight to stone.  Every time a great stone hit the wall, some of the trees or a tree would chip away and that whole section of wall would shake, but the fort had been well built and would take some serious pounding.

The men at the back also had a battering ram, but the men there had much more trouble than they did out front, just getting it to the door.  Pinewood got his people to strike from the sides as soon as it rolled within range, and the men on the wall learned from the front and had big stones stockpiled by the time they arrived.

The difference between the front assault and the assault at the back seemed the numbers of men involved, and the ladders. The three towers got brought up on sleds over the mud and thin snow that covered the ground.  Pelenor confessed he had not thought of that.  And the men charged, and they had twenty-foot tall ladders, easily tall enough to reach the top.

Arthur’s men became hard pressed to keep the men and their ladders off the wall.  Some Scots broke through in a couple of places, at least temporarily.  Some made it down into the fort, but they did not last long.  Arthur had the men from the town, mostly farmers, merchants and craftsmen standing in reserve to defend their own women and children who were cowering in the Great Hall, the barn and barracks.  Kai’s young wife, Lisel, showed great courage in keeping up everyone’s spirits.  They sang hymns and spiritual songs and prayed.

Pinewood finally could not help himself.  He gathered his people on the back wall, facing the three towers.  As soon as they came within range, Pinewood sent barrage after barrage of flaming arrows into the green wood structures.  One burned and collapsed before it reached the wall. Men jumped for their lives.  One reached the wall, but it became a burning, unusable husk.  All it did was set that portion of the wall on fire.  The third reached the wall and spewed out some men, but it had also been set on fire and would not last long.  Some brave Scots climbed up the ladders and followed the first out of the tower door, but soon enough, that became impossible.  Pinewood and his fairies got small and zoomed back to their posts on the side, at the corners, only now they had to fire sometimes down into the fort itself, when they found a good target.

Gerraint waited until the main force of Scots charged. He had eight hundred men on horseback, ready.  Pelenor swore, ready to attack the Scots from the rear, but Peredur and Tristam kept him in check.  Gerraint took the three hundred footmen in their group and charged the catapults. It did not take long to end the resistance, and then he turned the Scottish catapults against their own men who got all bunched up beneath the wall, trying to scale ladders and get up the towers.

Boulder after boulder smashed into the Scotts while the majority of Gerraint’s footmen erected some quick entrenchments against footmen and possible cavalry, as the Scottish horsemen finally figured it out. They were holding back, ready to rush the gate once the gate got broken, so they had a more objective look at the whole battle.  They turned as a group, about five hundred, and prepared to rush the catapults.  They only had a second thought when they heard a resounding shout, “For Arthur!” and eight hundred lancers came pouring out of the woods.

Up front, the wood walls of the fort were in flames everywhere, and despite the years of weathering and flame retardant stains, the flames looked to be spreading.  The front wall had to be abandoned in most places.  With that, it looked certain that the Scots would break down the gate.  Kai got his men ready for the inrush of the enemy, and he rounded up as many horses as he could, not an easy task.  The horses were in a panic over the flames and smoke.  The great stables were untouched, but the barn was burning and there looked to be holes in the roof of the Great Hall where the fires got put out. When Arthur met Kai at the stables, he looked excited.

“Tristam is out back with maybe a thousand riders.”

“But I fear they may break in the front door,” Kai countered even as a fairy zoomed up to their faces with a message.

“Percival is out front.”

Kai danced for a moment before he gathered what horsemen he could.  Arthur did not dance, but he gathered his own.

Percival, having seen the smoke, charged from nearly two miles down the road.  He never stopped, sliced through the line of Scotts waiting to charge the fort once the front gate opened, trampled the Scottish archers who were drawn up originally to keep Arthur’s men pinned down on the wall but who were being picked off one by one by the fairy archers in the corners, and stopped, temporarily, when he sent the men on the battering ram running off in panic.  In fact, the whole thousand Scotsmen in the frontal attack decided that escape would be preferable to death, and ran.  Death looked certain with Percival’s arrival and no one stopped to count and see that they outnumbered the lancers three to one.

The front and back gates opened at once. Arthur and Kai rode out with more than a hundred each at their backs.  While a band of RDF rode to shut down the catapults out front and accept the surrender of whatever remained of the Scottish command group after the Elves finished with them, Kai and the rest joined Percival in driving the Scots back toward the wall, and they showed no mercy to any Scots who were slow.

Out back. the Scottish army started to withdraw, but it became a route when they saw their horsemen downed everywhere they looked.  They lost their towers, made little progress with the ladders, the gate held up to their pounding, while they were being pounded from above.  Now, with their cavalry destroyed, and Arthur and more enemies pouring out of the fort, they gave up.  Out back, it became nearly a thousand men on horseback chasing almost three thousand on foot, and they also showed no mercy on the slow.

Gerraint, meanwhile, had figured out where the Scottish commanders were.  They were on horse, at the back of their cavalry where they could keep an eye on the progress of the battle.  When Deerrunner got contacted by the fairy scout Gerraint had assigned to Percival’s traveling troop, he sent word to Bogus, lest the dwarf be upset at being left out of the fun.  Deerrunner and his elves knew it was not fun.  It was serious business, but dwarfs were strange ones.

Once Gerraint ascertained where the commanders were, he set Bogus and his dwarfs to encircle them, using whatever glamours and disguises they needed to get in close.  He did not want the Scots to get away, and became willing to use the phrase, dead or alive.  When the Scots began the withdrawal that became a route, the commanders were the first who tried to ride off and escape.  Bogus sprang into action.  Dwarf axes chopped off most of the horses at the knees, which Gerraint later called a great waste of horse flesh.  He felt less concerned about the twenty men who died to those same dwarf axes, and actually felt pleased with the five that the dwarfs let surrender.  He never knew how dead or alive might be interpreted, but he suspected goblins and ogres and trolls would rather interpret that as dead.

When Ederyn and his foot soldiers showed up around four that afternoon, he set his men immediately to help put out any remaining fires, check on the survivors, and in small groups, scour the immediate countryside for any lingering Scots.  Arthur, Kai, Percival, Tristam, Bedwyr, Pelenor and Peredur would not return until the following evening.  When they did, they found everything in as good an order as possible, and Gerraint and Ederyn had almost a hundred prisoners, including the leaders of the Scots. Fort Guinnon had sufficiently burned to where Arthur suggested tearing it down and starting over.  Kai agreed, and then he found Lisel among the dead. Three Scots broke into the Great Hall, and she stood in the way so the women and children behind her could escape into the back rooms and out the back door.

Arthur considered several ways of dealing with the prisoners, but in the end, he left that decision in Kai’s hands, knowing full well what Kai would do.  Kai had them hung and left on the one standing wall of the fort, the wall that faced north, and the Scots stayed there for weeks for any Scots who might be tempted to know what happened to their commanders.  Then he said he was going to build a true Caer, like Caerleon, big enough to hold a whole legion.  And he was going to build it out of stone, not like the wooden disaster the Saxon pirate Hueil built at Cambuslang.  He went to a growing port on the bay made by the Clyde river, and he thought he might name the Caer after his wife.  That building would take him the rest of his life.

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

MONDAY

A misunderstanding with the Saxons need to be settled before the challenge of meeting the Scots and Danes, who appear to be working together.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 2 of 3

Things were going along so well by the late fall, when the first snows fell, Arthur thought to take a trip out of York.  He went guarded by five hundred men, so the journey moved rather slow, but he needed to get out, not the least from under Meryddin’s gaze.  Curiously, it was Meryddin who suggested the visits.

Arthur visited Loth first, and Loth made a grand show of welcoming him.  Loth declared how pleased he felt that things with the Scots appeared to be settling peacefully, and without bloodshed—though there were a few minor incidents.  Arthur accepted Loth’s praise, but he did not stay long.  Seeing Gwenhwyfach and Medrawt made him uncomfortable.

He brought his five hundred along the wall itself until he reached Kai’s home in the Fort called Guinnon.  Kai said he felt uncertain about what might really be happening among the Scots.  He said there seemed to be something else going on besides the families peacefully emigrating into Britain.  Arthur did not want to hear that, but Kai’s worry proved valid when they awoke one morning to find the fort surrounded by several thousand Scottish warriors. Arthur had telegraphed where he headed by moving along the wall, and the Scots concluded if they could get rid of Arthur, Britain, or at least north Britain might be theirs for the taking.

Kai had three hundred men stationed regularly at the fort, and with Arthur’s five hundred, that made a considerable force. But eight hundred men was not exactly a fair match against several thousand, even if the eight hundred had fort walls to hide behind.  Arthur knew he got in a bind.  His army remained scattered all over the countryside in small groups.  There were an additional eight hundred foot soldiers at York he could call on, but he had no way of sending them word of his predicament.

The assault on the fort that first day was not serious.  The Scottish commander tested their defenses, and the Scots were soundly beaten back. After that, it looked like the Scots appeared in no hurry.  They must have figured they had a couple of weeks before word of what was happening reached York, and probably a couple of weeks after that before all of Arthur’s men could be gathered.

As it turned out, on that first morning, Lord Pinewood found Gerraint with his troops traveling slowly up a back road. Gerraint immediately sent fairy messengers to all the other troop commanders and to Captain Croydon in York. He made a command decision not to gather all the troops back at York and then make a long march to Fort Guinnon. He told everyone to ride to Arthur’s relief as soon as possible.  He feared the time might be short.

Peredur and his troops were the first to arrive, and they made a dash for the front gate.  They found too many Scots outside the gate.  Peredur got part way to his goal and stalled.  It would have been worse if Arthur had not seen.  He hobbled together two hundred men and made a dash out of the gate to come to Peredur’s relief.  It became enough to break the hold around Peredur’s men, but the sheer numbers of Scots soon began to tell, even if they were initially caught by surprise. Peredur and his men were able to make a break for the open countryside and escape.  Arthur had to withdraw again behind the strong fort walls.  But Peredur lost nearly a quarter of his men, and they accomplished nothing.

The Scots did not chase Peredur out into the wilderness.  The Scottish commander may have concluded that one of Arthur’s wandering groups got closer than his scouts reported, but the numbers of any given group would be small. They would watch, but not worry about it.

Pelenor arrived and found Peredur licking his wounds. “We need to wait for one or two others,” Pelenor concluded.  “Let’s watch first and see what their plans are, and then see if we can disrupt them.” So, they set in to watch while the Scots felled lumber and built great siege towers they could push up to the wall.

The towers were built in the woods where they could remain hidden from the fort, but Peredur and Pelenor watched closely. Peredur argued for a quick strike to set the towers on fire before they could be used.  Pelenor insisted in this late fall mud the contraptions would never reach the walls before they bogged down or fell apart.  They were still watching when Tristam arrived and almost rode to the relief of the fort before they could stop him.  Since Peredur’s attack on the front gate, the Scots had entrenched their position and would have shredded Tristam’s men.

Tristam also argued in favor of destroying the towers before they could be completed, and Pelenor conceded to being out voted. They were just in the process of drawing up plans when Gerraint arrived and changed the plans again.

“You are focused on the wrong thing,” he said.  “We need to strike at the workers and drive them off, but leave the towers standing as a temptation for more men to come and continue the work.  Then we hit them again.  They suffer enough casualties and they won’t be able to convince enough men to finish the job.”

“I see that working twice, maybe.” Tristam said. “Then they will post a large guard on the work.”

“So we burn the towers on the second strike,” Pelenor said.

“Yes,” Peredur agreed.  “But Gerraint has a point.  Our effort needs to be focused on disrupting the army, not their building project.”

They argued for a time before they were set, and in the process, they realized that the main force of the enemy collected outside the small, back gate rather than the front.  Gerraint offered the obvious conclusion.

“They strike the front gate at dawn with enough men to draw the fort defenders to the front.  When the fighting gets fierce, they bring up their main force with the towers to the back and break in against light resistance.”

“Like a fox,” Pelenor said.  “But considering where they are building the towers, I have no doubt what you say is true.”

Arthur was not about to be fooled, especially after word arrived via fairy messenger.  He could see the Scots gathering by the front gate, but he could not really tell what might be happening out back.  He might have been taken in by the ruse if Gerraint had not warned him.  Even so, he realistically had to split his forces, with half up front to repel the attack there.  He felt sure, given the overwhelming numbers of Scots, all eight hundred might not be enough to repel the frontal assault, much less the bigger assault on his rear.

Lord Pinewood came to the fort with his fairy archers, flying over the wall in the dark, and that became some relief for Arthur.  But Pinewood told Arthur he had been commanded only to watch the walls on the sides, the one overlooking the farm fields and the one overlooking the village, long since burned to the ground.  He was not allowed to participate in the fight at the front and back gates, and had strict instructions to leave if the Scots broke in.

“I’m grateful for whatever you do,” Arthur said. He understood.  He did not want to see the fairies killed any more than Gerraint.

Pinewood had not finished.  “Of course, a square has a front side and a back side too, you know.”  Arthur wisely said nothing.

When the expected dawn came, and it felt hard to tell because the sky turned so grey and overcast, the attack got delayed.  Out back, the Scots managed to save three of the seven towers they were building and decided that was enough.  Three thousand men were chomping at the bit, wondering what might be wrong up front.

Up front, the commanders of the attack were being pinned down by elf archers.  Percival had prevailed on Gerraint’s fairy messenger to seek out Deerrunner and his troop to meet them at the fort.  He picked up Bedwyr on the way, and with Ederyn only a half day behind, he only hoped to arrive in time.  The only trouble was two of every three men were foot soldiers.  When Ederyn caught up with a forced march, that gave Percival three hundred on horseback.  The six hundred foot soldiers would need rest, even those not on the forced march, but Percival became determined to waste no more time.  He and Bedwyr rode off into the night.  They imagined the footmen might arrive sometime late the next day.

Deerrunner managed to pin down the commanders for the frontal assault.  No amount of circling around was able to fool the elves, though the Scots did not know who they were.  The Scots imagined they were some of the men who harassed the tower construction and sent a troop of horse men to roust them out.  But the horsemen were slain with inhuman skill, the elves rarely needing more than one arrow to finish the job, and the Scots still could not move.

Somehow, word went out to the line officers, and the attack began, but things did not go as well for the Scots at the front gate as they might have gone.  The fort, built like many forts in the day, had stone six feet high and whole logs rising another ten feet above that with a walkway on the back, also wood, four feet from the top.

The Scots had three catapults, not the small, portable ones Arthur and Gerraint so cleverly devised, but good old fashioned clunkers.  They might have done some real damage heaving stones into the fort.  They might have been a real problem heaving stones against the wooden part of the wall.  But the Scots were so impressed with the damage and terror caused by Arthur’s pitch and tar mix, they tried to do the same.  They did not have Arthur’s formula for the oil and grease mess that spattered fire and could not be put out with water, but they did their best with pine branches full of tars and resins.  Most shots hit the wall, whether intended or not, and they did set sections of the wall aflame.

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 1 of 3

After lunch on a Thursday, Percival took Uwaine, Gawain, Bohort and his brother Lionel up the road to the port to check on the little fleet Thomas had assembled in case things went badly and Arthur needed a quick getaway.  They would spend the night in an inn and probably talk into the wee hours since they had a lot of stories and catching up to do.

Arthur took Gerraint across the road just before dark and dragged him into the woods.  Gerraint felt obliged to say he did not think it a good idea, but then he closed his mouth; because like Arthur, he had been anxious to see this mysterious lake ever since he first heard about it.  Neither felt the need for troops, because like the forest of Bringloren, the land around the lake had a reputation for ghosts and other bump-in-the-night things.  People avoided the lake, but for Arthur and Gerraint, that only made the pull that much stronger.

With the sun set, the moon came out and so did the owls. The forest did have a haunted feel to it, especially with the mist from the snow that looked to be finally giving up to the spring rains and warmer weather.  Neither talked, because the forest seemed to require silence and who knew what might be attracted by the sound?  When they saw the lake, it appeared shimmering, calm and crystal clear under the moon and stars.  The waters looked perfectly tranquil and serene, but somewhere out in the middle of all that splendor, there appeared to be an island, and on top of the island, they saw the first genuine stone castle in Europe.  The stones themselves glistened like the water in the moonlight and spoke of great mysteries beyond the gate.

Arthur and Gerraint found an enormous oak standing between them and a full view of the lake.  Arthur stepped around one side.  Gerraint stepped around the other, and he immediately noticed Arthur vanished. He called softly, “Arthur.”  He heard no response.  He turned toward the big, old oak, except it vanished.  Only a few saplings stood where the old tree should have been.  Gerraint raised his voice a little.  “Arthur.” No response.  He imagined that he must have been transported, somehow, away from the big tree, but when he checked his view of the lake, and especially his view of the distant castle, everything seemed the same.   He yelled, “Arthur!” and startled several things in the upper branches of the trees, birds and small animals, he hoped.  He took a couple of steps in the soft leaves and found himself getting dizzy.  Swamp gas, he thought, as he fell to the leaves, fast asleep.  His last thought was to wonder if Enid would have to come and find him and kiss him to wake him up.

A woman appeared and bent down to touch Gerraint’s cheek.  A host of little ones and lesser spirits along with the Naiad of the lake and the Dryad of the oak appeared with her.  “If he is the man of honor you say, he is not going to like this,” the woman said, but she duplicated some of the things the little ones willingly gave her and placed them gently in Gerraint’s heart.  Then the host vanished, all but one young man, and the woman stood back while Gerraint woke.

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

“Hush,” the woman said.  “Let the sleeper sleep.”

Gerraint stood up to get a good look at his visitors. The young man looked like a big one, about Gerraint’s size, and looked strong and well made.  He appeared dressed in armor that could only have been crafted by dwarfs, and the sword at his side had something of the dark elves about it.  All of this got taken in with one glance, since the woman took all of his attention. She looked far too beautiful for an ordinary mortal, and what is more, he saw something very familiar about her. It came to Gerraint after a moment, and what came out of his mouth even startled him.

“Rhiannon, what are you doing here?  You naughty girl.”

The young man reached for his sword.  “How dare you speak to the Lady Nimue in such a manner.  Apologize, or I will make you apologize.”

“Wait,” the Lady said.  “I think I may be in trouble.”  Gerraint had his hands to his hips and frowned.  The Lady Nimue was in fact the goddess Rhiannon, one of the multitude of ancient gods of the Celts.  “Mother?” she said.  And Gerraint indeed went away so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts, could come to stand in his place.  Her hands were still on her hips and the frown still on her face.

The young man fell to his knees and looked down as Danna scolded her many times great-granddaughter.  “The time of dissolution came and went centuries ago. You should be over on the other side with your brothers and sisters.  What are you doing here?”

Rhiannon looked down humbly at her feet.  “I did not realize it was you, but Mother, I still have work to do.  I still have this young man, Lancelot, whom I have raised, and I am certain there will be another in a breath of years from now.  I feel there may even be one more after, and I have a part to play in the days of Arthur the King, though it is not fully known to me yet.”

Danna tapped her foot and paused before she reached out to hug her daughter.  “If you still have work to do, I will not interfere.  But Rhiannon, all of the others have gone.  I will worry about you being so alone.”

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

“Yes, I know the stubborn offspring of Lyr and Pendaron is around.  He keeps telling me soon, but his is not an example to follow.”  Rhiannon shut her mouth.  “What?” Danna wondered as she took a step back.  “But Talesin does not count,” Danna said.  “That unfortunate offspring of a fee may be immortal, but he is mostly fairy by blood.”  She interpreted Rhiannon’s silence correctly, but could think of no others, and Rhiannon would not say.  Instead, she changed the subject.

“Oh, but Mother.  Your fee and dwarfs and elves dark and light prevailed on me to gift your young man.  They said like Althea of old watched over Herakles, so the Lion of Cornwall would have to watch over Arthur.  I should have guessed it was you.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

Danna went back to frowning and tapping her foot gently.  “What did you give him?”

“Only things your little ones freely offered. They said he was one human worthy of such gifts.  They said they were afraid for him because a terrible man with great power had evil plans for the future.  I’m sorry. I didn’t know.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Rhiannon, Rhiannon,” Danna said, and she left so Gerraint could return and finish the sentence.  “What am I going to do with you, you naughty girl?”  He stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek before she could stop him, and then spoke to her again.  “Please try to be more careful in the future.  You need to not be such a patsy for every sad and pleading face.”

Rhiannon dropped her eyes again.  “I know.  I will do better.”

“I know you will do better,” Gerraint said, and he added, “Soon,” with a smile. Rhiannon returned the smile before she vanished.

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

By mid-afternoon, the town looked totally in flames, and even the wall in some sections looked on fire.  The stream of refugees which became a river when the bombardment began, dried up around noon.  The brave men manning the walls kept waiting for the assault, but it would not come.  Gerraint packed up his catapults and lead his men east.  He left strong groups of little ones behind, the kobold, the brownies and Larchmont with his fairy troop.  They would be sure no soldiers or otherwise would attempt to follow, or go in any direction other than south.  After two days and several attempts, the defenders of the town went south by horse and by foot to catch up with the refugees and left the smoldering wreck behind them.

When Gerraint’s men reached the village on the inland road, they found a surprise.  A Frankish troop of about a hundred had moved in and they were enjoying the local ale and entertainment.  Gerraint and Lord Birch went alone to confront them.  There were arguments, not the least from Bohort and Uwaine.  Sergeant Paul wanted to send a troop of escorts, but in the end, Gerraint prevailed.

No one stopped them at the village edge.  The villagers were too busy cowering in their homes.  The Franks watched them, but did not interfere as they rode to the one inn in that village and dismounted.  Several Frankish soldiers greeted them there, or rather greeted their horses and began to discuss what fine specimens they were.  Gerraint ignored them and entered, then took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his nose to adjust to the abundance of alcohol.

“Who is in charge of these soldiers?” Gerraint asked. Lord Birch repeated the question in the Frankish tongue.

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

Gerraint went through the litany.  “I am Gerraint, son of Erbin, High Prince of Cornwall, Knight of the Round Table, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall, and in the name of Arthur Pendragon of all Britain, Cornwall and Wales I ask again, who is in charge of these soldiers.”

The man stood, but Gerraint made an imposing figure and this man did not look nearly as impressive.  “I am,” the man said without giving his name.  “I have heard of this Arthur.”  Gerraint waited for no more information.

“You should not be here.  I am working here right now and I don’t appreciate the interruption.  You need to stay on Frankish lands.”

“This is Frankish land.”

“Not until I am finished.  Listen, and tell your king.  Arthur and Hoel have no designs on the Atlantique.  When we have forced Claudus to bring up his army and we destroy his army, you can play with the Atlantique province all you want, but not before.  You are just getting in the way.  You can kill any Romans who enter fully into your territory, or do what you like with them, but not here on the border.  Right now, you need to go away.  Am I clear?”

A man grabbed Lord Birch, but Gerraint raised his hand and an electrical charge sprang from his hand like lightning and threw the man hard against the men at the side table. The two who had gotten around Gerraint and were about to grab him hesitated, but then Gerraint went away and the Nameless god came to fill his boots.

“Lord Birch.”  Nameless tapped his shoulder and Birch reverted instantly to his true fairy form and took a seat on that shoulder.  “Let me repeat,” Nameless said, as if he was the one who did all of the talking, which in a sense he did.  “Go away until I am finished here.”  Nameless did not wave his hand like Danna or wiggle his fingers like Amphitrite.  He did nothing overt, but a hundred Frankish soldiers, their horses and equipment instantly found themselves deposited a thousand yards into Frankish territory outside of the village.  They rode off in panic, but the commander of the Franks had a thought.

“He did say we could kill any Romans who came on to Frankish lands, didn’t he?”  He heard an answer, out loud and in his face.

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

Gerraint returned with Lord Birch to the camp.  He did not say much as he turned his men to head back to the coast.  After that, he did not bother with the inland road.

Gerraint gave his men a week around Samhain.  It remained time in the wilderness, but the men started getting tired.  They took a village around the winter solstice, and Gerraint stayed for what he called Christmas week.  The only grumbling he got from his troops came because he made them all go to church on Sunday.

Things continued then until late January.  Long range reports said men started marching out of Vascon lands.  Close by, five hundred Roman cavalry got sent to find the Lion and his men.  It did not turn out fair, in a way.  The Romans camped in a large clearing not far from the main road.  It had snowed in the night and threatened more snow all day, so the Romans were not going anywhere for the moment.  Of course, Gerraint knew exactly where they were thanks to his fairy spies, and they had no idea where he might be.  So, it was not really fair, and in some sense too easy.

Gerraint mapped out where the lancers would reenter the forest on the far side.  Then he lined up two hundred of his men and they rode straight through the enemy camp at dawn.  Tents got burned, horses run off and men got run through the middle.  Some lances were lost and some got shattered, but Gerraint did not stop to fight.  He rode his men out the other side of the camp and back into the woods to be swallowed up by the deep shadows under the deep gray sky and the light fog that filtered through the trees.  Then he let his remaining men, all his best hunters, join with the elves in target practice.  As long as they kept to the woods and moved around so as not to be caught, they could shoot as many as they could reach.

One group of twenty Romans on horseback charged a section of the woods where the kobold stood.  One horse, devoid of rider, made it to the tree line.

At noon, the Romans abandoned their tents and equipment and rode hard for the main road.  Gerraint had his eyes watching, but on reaching the road, the Romans went south so Gerraint let them go.  He returned to the abandoned camp to count one hundred and thirteen Roman bodies. Gerraint had some wounded and lost three men in the charge.  They were the last casualties Gerraint suffered in the campaign, and they were remembered.

Uwaine had a comment as they sent out men to round up as many locals as they could find.  “Next time we need to bring more arrows.”  They put the locals to work digging a great trench beside the road. The Romans got buried there, laid out, but in a mass grave.  When they got covered, they made a nice little mound.  Gerraint had simple wooden crosses planted, one hundred and thirteen to mark the graves, and then he left the Roman armor and equipment laid out like it was ready to be worn by the dead.

“You are too kind,” Bohort said.  “You should have left the men hanging from the trees.  That would have sent a much stronger message.” Gerraint sighed.  Bohort was not particularly bloodthirsty, it was the age they lived in.  They had a chance to do that very thing when they caught several groups of advanced scouts from Claudus’ army.

Gerraint affected an orderly withdraw, giving up ground only as fast as the army approached.  He sent fifty men with Sergeant Paul to the inland road and sent Larchmont and his troop with him.  They had to watch ahead and behind, and also be sure the Franks stayed away. He had no trouble, but Gerraint wanted to be sure Claudus did not get the idea of sneaking up the back road in order to get behind him.

Gerraint sent a hundred men with Uwaine to the coastal road.  They found a few places where the locals snuck back to rebuild, but he left them alone. His job was simply to make sure Claudus did not send any more cavalry units in an attempt to get on their flank.

Gerraint kept the last hundred and fifty with him on the main road, though by then it had become more like a hundred.  They had taken some casualties over the year.  He backed up slowly.  Bohort called it terminally slow.  Gerraint understood that the army of Claudus did not feel motivated.

The Romans built the roads so they could move men and equipment quickly.  The men of Claudus were clearly not Romans, despite the publicity, and they despised the road because they did not want to move quickly.  They counted two full legions coming, roughly ten thousand men, though only about six thousand were actual fighters, the others being supply and auxiliary troops.  They were being led by Claudus himself, but even with all that preparation and leadership, they moved like snails.  Gerraint got to calling it the escargot army, though no one knew what that was.

Gerraint sent messages to Hoel and Arthur as soon as things were confirmed.  Apparently, Claudus also managed some messages to his men that were still in Amorica. Gerraint could not imagine how, except maybe by boat.  Arthur and Hoel had been having slow success all year and just about had the land cleared, but whatever Romans remained at that point withdrew and went beyond the Vivane forest to hide in the hills and knolls of the open land, as close to the Frankish border as they dared.  There, they no doubt planned to await the army of Claudus.  Gerraint wrote that they should be taken out, but Arthur and Hoel decided that would take more time and effort, and risk more lives than it would be worth.  So, the allies settled in on the edge of the Vivane forest and waited in the snow.

Hoel lost most of his army when the Romans vacated the land.  The men went home for the winter, but they would be back in the spring or when called. Arthur’s men did not have the luxury. They camped on the cutoff that came down from the north-coast road and skirted just below the mysterious Lake Vivane. That road met the north coast at a very good port where Thomas of Dorset was able to supply the men with many of the comforts of home in lieu of their actual homes.  Arthur kept the men busy with a building project they started in January.  He wanted a fort literally on the other side of the road from the lake to take advantage of the lake to help keep out any invading force.  They just about got the fort finished when Gerraint arrived.  Claudus came a week behind, and Hoel’s men still straggled in.  Gerraint guessed it would be another week to ten days before the deadbeats all caught up and the two armies settled in to face each other. In that time, Arthur had a notion, and he would not be talked out of it.

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Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

Lake Vivane, is not haunted, as the locals claim, but it does have its secrets, and Arthur and Gerraint can’t resist a look.  They recover a young man that everyone thought was dead, and Arthur sees his first real medieval castle as well as his first real knight.  MONDAY.

Until then, Happy Reading.

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