R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 3 of 3

Gerraint awoke in a tent, or maybe a pavilion, it seemed hard to tell, lying on his stomach the way he was.  He knew it was red, but he imagined some rather odd things for Britain in that age—namely silk.  He wondered very briefly if maybe he died and this was his next life, but he really only had one thought.  “Enid?” He could not speak loud.  “Enid?”

“I am here.”

Gerraint heard, but could not see her.  He tried to turn his head, but his shoulder felt immobilized.  His leg also seemed to be in some kind of traction.  And every part of his body hurt, except his little toe on his right foot, he decided.  “I’ve been having bad dreams, really nightmares.”  He tried to turn his head a little more, but she stood out of sight. “Really, I would be ashamed to tell you what I dreamed.  I was awful. I doubted you.  I’m sorry.” He began to cry softly.  “I love you, and I will never doubt you.  Not for real.”  He began to weep and found his head cradled by Enid who also wept.  She kissed his head and then very gently moved to an angle where she could touch her lips to his.

“And I will never doubt you,” she said, and they cried together until exhaustion took Gerraint back into a deep sleep.

“Mother.”  A woman stood in the doorway.  Enid stayed seated in a high-backed chair at the woman’s insistence.  Lord Pinewood stood beside the woman dressed in his hunter’s green.  “Mother.” the woman called again, and Gerraint woke up just enough to offer no objections.  Danna came, and the goddess slipped out of the braces that had Gerraint immobilized. She stood and acknowledged Rhiannon and commanded one thing.

“Explain.”

Rhiannon stood with something in her arms that looked like a giant, translucent caterpillar.  She petted the beast like one might pet a kitten, and she talked.  “It was Meryddin.  He told me about a good young couple he was very concerned about. He said the man was upright, but the wife had a wandering eye for the men.  He asked to borrow the incubus for only a short while and convinced me if the woman could only see herself and the harm she was doing she might be cured and become faithful and they might be a happy couple.  I knew the incubus was a danger.  Given time, it will drive a person to madness, insanity and death, but Meryddin was persuasive, and I thought if only for a short time it might do what he proposed.”

Danna interrupted.  “But he lied to you, and you believed him.  He meant it for Goreu all along.  Goreu came to believe Enid was the one who had the wandering eye and the wandering hands and that she was betraying her wedding vows and betraying him in the worst sort of way.  Yet he still loved her and would not give up on her though he was conflicted about what to do.  He considered locking her away, and at the same time he threw himself into combat, thinking if he was killed, Enid might be happy.”

“After months alone and then months keeping innocent Enid prisoner, with no one the wiser, Lord Pinewood found him on the first day of their journey.  He flew without rest to Lake Vivane to plead with me, saying Gerraint had something on his back.  I thought it nothing, but his pleading was so earnest, at last I thought to see for myself. Thus I found him, the incubus on his back.”

“Merlin.” Danna spat the word and turned to Enid.  “A djin is a creature that delights in torturing and tormenting humans.  They feed off the fear and pain and in the end consume the poor human soul. Meryddin is one quarter djin.  The chance to ruin Gerraint’s happiness in just this sort of demented way says to me that he has made peace with that quarter of himself.”

“I helped,” Rhiannon admitted in a moment of full confession.  “He came to me in agony, and I helped him see that he was not to blame for his birth and he need not give in to the evil.  He is gifted, and can use those gifts for good.”

“Oh, Rhiannon.  When will you stop falling prey to every sad face with big puppy-dog eyes?”

“But we got it in time,” Rhiannon said.  “Gerraint held out for a long time.  I am sure he had help through time, and he loves Enid so very much.”

“Not the point.  The point is what to do about Meryddin, and I think for now we do nothing. We watch him, but don’t let on that he is being watched.  If he learned and does good, we leave him alone.  Goreu may have been an isolated case.  He does not know who Goreu is, but he has an instinctive fear of him.  For now, we wait and see.”

“I made all that happened seem like a bad dream, a nightmare for him,” Rhiannon said.  “I had to do it while the incubus was still attached.  You know even a goddess cannot touch the mind of the Kairos in that way.  But hopefully the bad dream will fade in time.”

“I, on the other hand, will not be able to hide the truth of what happened forever.  He will remember sooner or later, and then I suspect there will be some decisions to make.  Rhiannon, you understand some of it will fall on your head.”

“I will accept my punishment, only don’t be mad at me.”

Danna stepped forward and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek.  “Just stay away from the wrong sorts of men.”  She turned to Enid.  “Did you understand all this?”

Enid nodded.  “It was not Gerraint.  It was that incubus telling him stories that were not true and making him believe the stories.  But now I have him back to me and he thinks it was all just a bad dream.  Yes?”

“Yes, and Meryddin?”

“He has always scared me.”  Enid shivered.  “As long as I don’t have to watch him.”

Danna was glad to hear no desire for revenge.  “You need not watch him.  Pinewood?”

“Day and night,” Pinewood said, with a slight bow.

Danna nodded and got back into the harness and braces. She went away and Gerraint came back to mumble that he felt thirsty.  Enid gladly rushed to bring him some water.

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

MONDAY

Arthur, Percival, terrain and Uwaine are called to the north.  The Scots are acting like maybe they overcame the Picts and are now looking south.  They want control of Hadrian’s wall, and maybe a good slice of fertile, sparsely populated British soil as well.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 2 of 3

They traveled through occasional woods that punctuated the meadow grass at this altitude.  Enid concluded this poor excuse for a road Gerraint had chosen led them high through the hills.  She imagined, in better days, this could have been a pleasant ride, out among the wildflowers.  But she did not let her imagination take her from reality.  The sky turned gray and overcast, and so did she.  She had long since given up wondering what she could have done.  She concluded that all she had done was love him, and that was all she was going to do.

At noon, she stopped because a tree crossed the road as an effective roadblock.  She felt uncertain what to do, to speak or not.  Gerraint came up and she held her tongue.  He got a bit of rope he carried with him, tied it to the small end of the tree and to his saddle and his horse pulled until the tree got moved enough to make a path at the side of the road.  He waved at Enid to go around and continue to ride out front while he retrieved his rope. but she did not go far before she called out.

“Gerraint.”

Gerraint hurried, and he got surprised when he saw a man in the middle of the road.  Enid stood on her feet and to the side of the road, worrying her horse’s nose.  He wondered why Enid did not just ride off with the man, but then he saw that this man appeared richly armored in fine chain mail, and sported a long spear such as the Romans used to carry.  Another attempt to see him killed?  He wondered.

“This is my road,” the man said from beneath his helmet. “You cannot pass unless you pay the toll.  I must see all that you have to determine how much you should pay, so please be good enough to empty your bags on the road.”

Gerraint said nothing.  He put on his own helmet, mounted and grabbed his lance.  Then he spoke.  “This is Arthur’s road.  Toll tax is forbidden.”  He charged. The man started a little behind, like this was not the usual response, but he did not start far behind.

They crashed.  Gerraint did not get the best hit on his opponent.  The man was much smaller than he first appeared in the saddle. The man did get a good hit on Gerraint, but his spear splintered on Gerraint’s shield and those two hits combined were enough to unseat the little man.  Gerraint’s shoulder got bruised from the blow, but he appeared to have the upper hand until he looked and saw his lance had cracked.  He threw it to the ground and pulled his sword as he leapt to his feet.

The little man got to his feet and began to bob and weave around the road, sometimes ducking under Gerraint’s sword hand. He got a couple of good blows into Gerraint’s side, not enough to break the chain, but sure enough to leave a mark. Then he ducked under Gerraint’s backswing, and Gerraint put out his gloved hand.  He hit the little men right in the face hard enough to knock him to the ground and bloody his nose.  He tried to rise, but Gerraint brought the pommel of his sword down on the man’s helmet. He left a big dent and left the little man on his knees.  Before Gerraint could do anything else, the little man pulled a knife and stabbed Gerraint in the thigh.  Gerraint howled but used that leg to kick the little man in the chest.  He flew several feet before he landed hard and he lost hold of his sword.  Gerraint stepped up to finish things when the little man cried out.

“Mercy Lord.  Mercy, please.”

Gerraint paused while he pulled the knife out of his own leg with a tremendous cry.  He turned the blade so the point would be in the little man’s face, but the man had his eyes closed like he might be praying.

“On condition,” Gerraint said.  “Henceforth the road is free.  No more travel tax, and you respect the travelers who come through here.”  He stepped over to take the little man’s sword.  “And don’t make me come back here to enforce the rules.”  When he looked up, he saw Enid crying again.  She looked overjoyed at his victory, but terribly worried about the wound in his leg.  She looked to be suffering from holding her tongue.  Gerraint thought she was play acting, and might have said something except he heard something else.  It sounded like twelve or fifteen horses riding hard across the fields, skirting the woods.

When the little man heard, he grinned ferociously. Gerraint figured the man’s gang rode to finish the job.  Enid heard and covered her eyes in her fear, but then Gerraint heard something else. It sounded like bowshot followed by men shrieking and screaming.  Then the sound of the horses stopped, and Gerraint had a comment.

“Probably Deerrunner and a pocket of elves, or maybe Pinewood and his fairies.  In either case, do I need to ask some of them to stick around and make sure you keep the conditions?”

“No, Lord.”  The little man looked horrified by the thought, and twice terrified by the fact that his men were likely all dead.

Gerraint said no more to the little man.  He turned to Enid with the word, “Ride.”

Enid rode, but looked back.  Gerraint strapped up his cracked lance and got on his horse, but it looked hard.  He felt pretty banged up from three would-be rapists and now the little man.  What was more, he did nothing for the wound in his thigh.  He did not even wash it, and that would be a sure risk for infection.

All afternoon they rode.  When the rain finally came mid-afternoon, their pace hardly slackened.  Enid felt sure they had traveled over the heights by then and were headed down toward some distant valley.  She desperately wanted to stop and be allowed to tend his wounds, but he would not stop. After sundown, they entered a village and procured a room.

This time, Gerraint made Enid stay with him while he tended the horses.  Then he took her upstairs and told her to stay in the room.  He would have locked her in if the door had a lock.  He went downstairs and had a very plain supper of bread and meat.  He tried not to drip too much blood on the furniture.  When he felt satisfied, he took a chunk of bread and a jug of water for Enid.  He found her already on the floor and the fire well lit.  They did not need it.  The weather had warmed, but they were still rather high in the hills.

“Here.”  Gerraint gave her the bread and water and went immediately to lie down on his back. His leg throbbed, but all the same, he did not stay awake long.  He awoke when she ripped his pants leg and began to wash his wound.  She had a strip of cloth from the bottom of her own dress to use as a bandage.  Maybe he lost too much blood so he did not have the energy, or maybe he just felt too tired, but he made no move to stop her.  He imagined she might be cleaning his wound with poison.  At the moment, he did not care and went back to sleep.

###

In the morning, they began their journey again, now clearly down the hill that Gerraint guessed was Mount Badon.  They were not far from Bath.  Gerraint ached for the first two hours before his muscles worked out the kinks.  He thought when they arrived in Cornwall in two or three weeks, he would kill the first man that talked to her.  It had been a long time since his childhood days of exploring the fort in every nook and cranny, but he remembered a dungeon cell that might be cleaned up and fixed up with furniture.  That seemed like the only place he could think to keep her where she would not have a chance to get her hands on another man.  He meant her no harm, but she should take her vows more seriously, instead of being such a harlot, which by then he felt convinced she was.

By mid-morning, Gerraint’s ears picked up a call for help. Though Enid rode up front, he galloped right passed her and she had to catch up.  No doubt the sound of horses scared off the robbers.  They found a young woman in the woods by a gentle stream, just off the road, and a young man on the ground, not moving.

“Three giants,” the woman said, and pointed in the direction they fled into the woods.  “They killed him.”  She appeared hysterical.  “They killed him.”

“Stay with her,” Gerraint told Enid, and he rode straight into the woods after what seemed an easy trail to follow.  Apparently, the so-called giants were not worried about being followed.

Gerraint unstrapped his lance and yelled, “For Arthur,” but it became the only warning he would give.  They were not giants, but they were as big as Gerraint, and one looked bigger.  They turned around at Gerraint’s shout, and good thing because he was not one to stab people in the back.  The lance stayed together well enough to run through the first, but then it became so many splinters.

The biggest man appeared lightly armored, and Gerraint thought that broad chest would be a good target for his long knife, Defender. The man yelled and fell off his horse when Defender penetrated several inches.  That left the third man alone, but that man had a spear, so Gerraint leapt out of his horse and tackled the man.  The spear fell out of reach.

They wrestled for a moment and shared their fists before swords came out.  The man knew his business with a sword, but it had been learned.  Gerraint had all the experience in the arena of kill or be killed and soon enough he crippled the man in the legs and followed through with a clean cut across the man’s middle.  Then his shoulder caught fire with pain as the big man brought his big sword down on Gerraint from behind.  He may have been aiming at Gerraint’s head, but he caught the shoulder with a powerful blow.  It broke through the chain mail, broke several bones and cut a big, gaping wound.

Gerraint called for Defender, and his knife, of its own volition, vacated the big man’s chest and flew to Gerraint’s hand.  The man howled and lost the grip on his sword. The sword fell out of Gerraint’s shoulder as he turned, and in one powerful backswing, sliced through most of the man’s neck so the head lolled back and dragged the rest of the body with it.

Gerraint managed to wipe and sheath his blades, though it felt like agony to do it.  He dragged his broken body up into the saddle, his arm hanging all but useless at his side.  The wound in his leg broke wide open again and he had a struggle holding on to his horse. But he became concerned about the women being left alone beside the road with only a dead body to protect them. When he found them well, he slipped off his saddle and fell to the ground.

R6 Gerraint: Over the Mountain, part 1 of 3

Gerraint felt reluctant to go home.  He kept thinking how beautiful Enid was, and how much he loved her, but he feared that maybe she turned from him when he went away. She certainly had the young men interested wherever she went, and Gerraint feared that one of those men might have turned her head during his long absence. It ate at him, and at times he became enraged, even at simple things.

Enid spent most of her lonely days at Caerleon in the company of Gwynyvar, but that summer she received word that Marcus Adronicus became ill.  He sent word searching for Gerraint, because Gerraint would need to be chieftain for Cornwall as Marcus became convinced he was dying.  Gerraint’s mother, who had grown close to Enid and her children, pleaded for her to return home, saying Cornwall would be her home as Queen for the people.  Enid came, but they still heard no word from Gerraint.

That fall, Gerraint returned to Caerleon and took his anger out on the practice fields.  By then, he felt sure Enid did not return his love and only coveted his position.  He felt certain she had a secret lover, and maybe more than one.  And as he knocked man after man from their horses in the practice field, he began to wonder if even his sons where his.

Enid found him in Caerleon, and she sent for him, but he did not come.  Word came from Gwynyvar that said Gerraint was fighting some kind of madness and neither Arthur, nor Percival, nor Uwaine, nor any of the others were able to reach him in is fevered state.  She suggested that maybe Enid could reach him and bring him back to sanity, not knowing Enid as the source of his madness.  Enid needed no other invitation.  She left her boys in their grandmother’s good hands and crossed the channel to Caerleon.

When she arrived, Gerraint took her to his home in town and locked her in.  He stayed in the home, often sitting alone in the front kitchen, and fretted and stewed in his anger.  She cried every day, not knowing how to reach him.  Every night they lay there, side by side, but he would not so much as touch her or let her touch him.

Gerraint hired an old woman to cook and clean.  At first, he let Gwynyvar and some of the ladies visit, but he soon got the notion that they were carrying messages from Enid’s secret lover, so he ended those days.  Arthur came once with Gwynyvar to try and reason with him, but he would not let them in the front door.  He almost said something about Arthur’s infidelity with Gwenhwyfach, but by some internal grace, he managed to close his mouth as he closed the door.

He sat for months, until he finally got the notion that even the old cook might be acting as a go between for Enid’s lover, and he let her go.

###

Word came in the late spring that his step-father was indeed dying and Gerraint would be expected to take on the responsibilities of Cornwall.  He said nothing.  He saddled two horses, made Enid ride on one while he followed behind.

“Ride out front, far enough away from me where I don’t have to hear your weeping.  Those tears aren’t going to work on me.  And don’t talk to me unless I talk to you first.”

Enid rode, but slowly, and all she could think was this was not her husband and she wanted her husband back.

From the beginning, Gerraint turned them off the main road and on to some back trails and farm paths that hardly qualified for roads. He did not want to be followed out of Caerleon, and in the back of his mind he thought he might run into some thieves who might kill him and then Enid would get what she wanted.

When he got to the top of a hill, he saw Enid talking to a hunter on horseback who had just come out from the woods ahead.  Enid made the hunter wait there while she rode back to tell Gerraint.

“The kind gentleman has invited us to sup with him,” Enid reported.

Gerraint’s anger flared and he lowered his lance and charged.  The hunter turned and rode quickly back into the woods where he would not be caught, and Gerraint stopped and turned back.  “I told you not to talk to me,” he yelled at her.  “Ride out front.”  Enid turned, did as asked, and wept some more.

They were still among the trees when it got dark. Gerraint pulled them off the road and told Enid to watch the horses.  He went to lie down, and slept.  At dawn, Enid still dutifully watched the horses.

Around noon, they came out of the woods and into some fields where people were working, tending the crops.  A fine-looking village lay nestled on the hillside far in the distance, and a young woman with a large basket came up the road.  Enid passed pleasantries until Gerraint caught up. She turned and told him this young woman was bringing supper to the men in the fields and would be glad to share what she had.

Gerraint acted gracious to the young woman and gladly received what she offered in the way of bread and meat.  He asked about the village, still some distance ahead, and learned that there was indeed an inn, though there were not many travelers on this road.  Gerraint said thank you, and as the young woman walked toward the field and the workers, he said to Enid, “You just can’t shut-up, can you?”

Enid wanted to say something more, but held her tongue when he said, “Ride.”  She continued out front but felt for the moment devoid of tears.

Gerraint got a room at the inn.  There were a few other guests despite the word to the contrary. He saw the horses taken care of, and entered the downstairs room in time to see Enid sitting quietly by the fire and a big, ugly man walk away from her to sit with two other men.  He almost hit her for entertaining the man, but instead they ate and went to the room where he knocked her to the floor.

“You sleep on the floor and tend the fire,” he growled and took himself to the bed to sleep.  Enid fretted for a time.  She dared not speak to him.  She felt afraid, but in the end, she became more afraid for him than of him.  If need be, she would die for him, but she was not prepared to watch him die.  She woke him and spoke.

“That man by the fire said if I would not go with him, he would come in the night and take me by force.”  Gerraint made no answer, but rose and dressed.  He dragged Enid down to the horses which he saddled. He gathered his equipment and told her only one thing

“Ride.”

She rode out front, far enough to not be able to speak to him.  She prayed as she rode, a bit faster than before, and she kept looking back to be sure he kept up.  Fortunately, the moon came up and the stars were bright, and they rode between the fields so there were no long shadows to interfere with her sight.

Gerraint heard the horses long before they became visible.  He knew it was his elf ears.  Then he saw the three riders long before they could see him.  That was his dark elf eyes.  He put on his helmet and pulled his lance to be ready before they were on him. He charged, and that took the riders by surprise.  He ran the big old man straight through the middle, and the man made a sound of death, but he grabbed the lance as he fell from the horse so Gerraint had to let it go and pull his sword, Wyrd.

The man who ended up beside Gerraint had his sword out as well, but looked confused.  He swung wildly in the dark and struck Gerraint’s side below his arm, but Gerraint’s chain armor stopped the weapon, making only a bruise. Gerraint’s swing was more accurate. He sliced above the man’s chain, easily slicing through the man’s neck.

The third man kept trying to get around the big man’s horse, and cursing, but when he saw his comrade fall, he looked ready to bolt.  Gerraint got his horse in the way.  They traded sword swipes several times before the seasoned soldier in Gerraint took over and he cut the man’s arm before he cut his neck as well.  This man fell to the ground.  The other still pranced around, a dead body on horseback.

Gerraint got down, cleaned his sword and returned it to his back.  He pulled out his lance, noted that it had not cracked or broken and strapped it again to his saddle.  Enid came running up.  She threw her arms around him and cried.

“Gerraint.  I was so worried about you.”

Gerraint stepped back.  “You are not to speak to me unless I speak to you first.  Your job is to ride.”  He shoved her toward her horse and got up on his own.  He had wondered why Enid did not offer herself to those men at the inn, since she could not keep her hands off other men. He decided it had been a ploy to entice the men to kill him.  Her life would be easier without a husband.

They left the dead where they lay and rode well into the night.  Enid began to weave in the saddle.  This had now been two nights when she had not slept, and Gerraint had not become completely heartless.  Indeed, that seemed the trouble.  He loved her, and he could not be a monster.  He would never hit her or harm her, or see her harmed no matter how much he might feel like it.  He caught up to her and took the reins of her horse.  He lifted her sleeping body out of the saddle and laid her in a field. He watched over her and the horses, and sat to contemplate just how cruelly his life had turned.

By dawn, he imagined she had slept four hours. The sky threatened a late spring rain, and he felt anxious to get going.  He woke her and made her get back in the saddle while he spoke one word to her.

“Ride.”

This time she said nothing.  She merely lifted her chin and rode out front, alone.

R5 Gerraint: Cat Coit Celidon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

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