M3 Gerraint: Kidnapped, part 1 of 3

Gerraint was the first to wake, just as the days turned and the snow began to melt.  Macreedy and the elf maidens were all prepared for the awakening.  Gerraint could even smell the bacon frying.

“The Lady Rhiannon moved up to the British highlands while you slept,” Macreedy reported.  “She brought four horses as a gift, but she would not let us wake you early.”

Gerraint stretched.  “And I thank the lady most heartily,” he said, and yawned.  He felt wonderfully well rested, but not diminished by his sleep of several months.  This was not like the more or less normal sleep Margueritte had slept under the enchantment of dragon song.  Gerraint felt normally hungry, but not famished and weak.  He paused to think.  He imagined it worked more like the Agdaline in their suspension chambers aboard their sub-light sleepers.  “No dragons around I suppose,” he said.

Macreedy raised a brow.  “An odd question, but none near.  The lady did say she is keeping an eye on a couple, though.  Odd you should bring it up.”

Gerraint smiled and stood.  “Ladies.  I think you had better wake the others.”  The elf maidens bowed, slightly, and giggled.  One headed for Gwillim, one for Uwaine and four fought over being the one to wake Trevor.  “Any idea how we might explain all this, the long sleep and all?” he asked.

“Already taken care of.”  Macreedy grinned a true elfish grin.  “Such dreams they had.”

“Ah.”  Gerraint did not understand exactly, but he understood well enough.  They probably dreamed of fox hunts and rabbit hunts, telling stories around the great fire and board games and contests and on, with such things as men entertain themselves through the dreary months of winter.  He looked at Macreedy and paused as something came to mind.  “And your sister.  Are you angry with me?”

“Not you, Lord,” Macreedy said, quickly.  “But with your former life, I was for a time.  I came to this place in the wilderness for seclusion, to ponder.  I think I understand better now.  Apart from the child, I know you did all you could to give her what her heart desired.  How could I stay angry at the one who made my sister so happy?  I miss her, though.”  Macreedy added.

“I miss her, too,” Gerraint nodded.

“I know,” Macreedy nodded as well.  “And that also helped heal my heart at her loss.”

“Gerraint,” Gwillim called.  “Is today the day?”  He meant the day that they left.

“Not before breakfast,” Gerraint said.

“A man after my own heart,” Gwillim responded.

“I’ll never remember all of those recipes,” Trevor said, as he came into the room.  “I hope I can at least remember the best.”

“Me, too,” Gwillim encouraged him.

Uwaine came last, yawning and stretching.  “So how long did we sleep?”  He asked as Gwillim and Trevor went to the table.

“Two or three months,” Gerraint said quietly to Macreedy’s surprise.

“As I thought.”  Uwaine nodded with one last yawn.

“He is rather hard to enchant.”  Gerraint felt he needed to explain to the elf Lord.

“So I see.”  Macreedy wrinkled his brow.

“Comes from hanging out with me so long, I suppose,” Gerraint said, and he added a last yawn of his own.

“They were some lovely dreams, though,” Uwaine said quickly, to praise his host.

The elf maidens came then and dragged them to their chairs.  Macreedy let it go and proposed a toast.  “To friends well met.  Eat hearty, it is a long way to Caerlisle.”

Actually, they were not that far away from Hadrian’s wall, a meaningless boundary line since the Romans left, and really since the Ulsterite Gaels began the massive migration into Caledonia above the old Antonine Wall.  The Picts, decimated by centuries of struggle against Romans, Danes, Irish, and finally after Arthur invaded the north, had no way to stop it.  They fought back, encouraged now by the British, but they became so outnumbered, their only recourse was retreat to the highlands and the far Northern islands.  Gerraint knew that in time they would be swallowed up altogether. Only a reminder of their underground culture would sneak into the future. The greatest being their system of tribes and nations, now clans, which would be sufficiently corrupted by the so-called Scots to where certain English kings—Plantagenets—would be able to take advantage of their divisions.

“The road,” Uwaine pointed, but Gerraint shook his head.

“Parallel, but not on,” he insisted.  He knew the borderland on both sides of the wall for many miles currently made a no man’s land, and safe haven for all the brigands, thieves and petty chiefs and warlords the island had to offer.  “And Robin Hood has not even been born yet,” Gerraint smiled as he pulled into the woods.

This made their journey a couple of days longer, but it did not take that long before the old town of Guinnon and the fort of Caerlisle were spotted.  The walls of the fort were part stone and part wood, and well kept, since Kai had been on the Northern watch.  Kai got surprised by their arrival, but made them most welcome and kept them there for nearly a week.  He sent word south by the swiftest courier, but then he had to hear all about their adventures.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 3 of 3

Gerraint went back to the warming fire while Gwillim looked around the room.  Gerraint felt sure that Gwillim had been completely taken in by the glamour that surrounded him, making the cave appear like the most lavish of manor houses, with great tapestries lining jewel encrusted walls, and even glass in the windows.

“A mighty fine home you have, my Lord, for one so deep in the wilderness and in the wilds of the North.”  Gwillim also saw Macreedy as a plain noble chief rather than the elf he was.  For that matter, Gerraint looked over and noted that Trevor’s discomfort came from being attended to by a half dozen most beautiful young women, and Trevor did not see them as elves at all.  “Are you sure the Scots won’t find us here?”  Gwillim finished on the practical note.

“The Scots won’t come here,” Macreedy reassured him.  “In fact, would you like me to call the Slaugh to visit them in the night?”  That question got directed to Gerraint.

“Heaven forbid,” Gerraint responded.  “They have two deaths now to mourn and were just trying to defend themselves, even if they don’t know that revenge is never an answer.  Let them be.”

“Very gracious of you, my Lord,” Macreedy said.

“Yes,” Gwillim added.  “Especially since we just avoided being whipped half to death and thrust naked into the frozen wastes.”

Gerraint simply coughed, and there followed a moment of silence.

Macreedy stood and walked down to them.  He slipped his arm around Uwaine’s shoulder and turned him toward another part of the cave.  “You seem a man of wisdom.  You hold your tongue well,” Macreedy said.  Gerraint was simply not sure how far Uwaine got taken in by the glamour.  “I suspect, though, you may just be hungry.  What do you say we repair to the dining room?  The feast is all prepared.”

“Food,” Gwillim shouted, but then remembered his manners.  “With the lord of the house’s permission, of course.”

Macreedy stared hard at Gwillim for a moment.  Some little ones could be sticklers for the most miniscule bits of propriety, but then he laughed.  “Permission granted,” he said, and he waved to the ladies to make sure they did not let Trevor leave the fire.  Instead, two of the women pushed passed the men and came back with a plate full of delights.  They appeared to be thrilled with cutting and spoon feeding Trevor, and then wiping his chin with the softest elf cloth.  They laughed merrily most of the while, and Trevor did not mind that at all.

“For you, my Lord, we killed the fatted calf,” Macreedy told Gerraint.  Uwaine, who had glanced at Gerraint once or twice, looked fully at his lord when they came to their seats.  Gerraint explained.

“The food of the light elves is normally very light and delicate, like gourmet food.  Not much substance for flesh and blood.  Macreedy is saying they cooked up some real food for us, and don’t worry, I have decided the food of the little ones will not affect you, Gwillim or Trevor to any harm.  So, eat and enjoy.”  That was all Uwaine needed to hear.

“Pork loins!”  Gwillim shouted again in his excitement.

Gerraint certainly ate his fair share, but by then, his mind had turned once again to Cornwall, his home.  He imagined poor Enid fretting away, with no word from him to hold on to, and sweet Guimier sleeping in his place beside her mother until he again could be with them.  He stood, let the others remain seated, and stepped to the door.  It opened without his thinking about it, though an invisible barrier remained in place so neither the wind nor cold could penetrate the cave.  Outside, it started snowing again, completely obliterating their tracks.

As Gerraint looked out on the beauty of the white upon the northern forest, his heart began to sing, and his mouth whispered at first.

What child is this who laid to rest,

on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet;

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the king

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The babe, the son of Mary.

He let his voice trail off as he found the others gathered around his back.  The elf maidens were all on their knees.  Gwillim smiled with a serious smile.  Even Trevor stood, staring at the beauty of the world outdoors.

“Must be Christmas,” Gerraint said, and turned to Macreedy, who had a tear in his eye, which would have aroused his great anger with anyone but Gerraint, his Lord.  “Remember this word.”  Gerraint told the elf, as he put his hand gently on the little one’s shoulder.  “That the whole world might be saved through him.”  Gerraint felt better and a little less alone.  “Remind Manannan of this, will you, when his time of sorrow and dejection comes on him because of the monks.  I worry about that boy.  And as for us, I suppose a bit of sleep would not hurt.”

Having eaten, now exhaustion overtook the men.  Gerraint could see it in Uwaine’s eyes.

“My Great Lord.”  Macreedy nodded his head.  He clapped and the elf maids lead each to a bed where they helped them in and covered them well.  “They will sleep until spring with so many of the little ones,” Macreedy said.  “But we cannot do the same for you unless you let us.”

Gerraint nodded and gave himself over to the glamour.  “Just make sure I am first awake,” he said, and he closed his eyes.  He knew he was safe under the protection of his little ones, but in the spring, there would be far to go.  He would have to stop to visit Kai at Caerlisle, and then Old Pelenor in the Midlands, Arthur in Caerleon, and Tristam in Devon on the south watch.  At that, he might not get home until June, but he imagined Enid running to him in joy, and he felt the joy also deeply in his own soul, and with that he fell asleep for a long winter’s nap.

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

MONDAY

The trip home is long, but something itches in the back of Gerraint’s mind.  Somehow, Enid and Guimier do not feel safe.  Monday.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

*

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 2 of 3

Hunting and tracking were her strongest abilities, thanks to her friend.  She knew she would have no trouble catching up with the others.  That did not prevent her from grousing, however.  “Gerraint obviously wants to freeze me to death,” she said.  She shortened her cape again to climb, but she kept it white, and that made her nearly invisible in the snow.

At the top of the hill, the Princess paused.  She found a rock face cliff on the other side.  The trail petered out.  She did not like the look of that cliff, even if it stood only about three stories tall.  “Diogenes,” she said his name.  Many of the lives of the Kairos were not enamored with heights, but the Macedonian had mastered his feelings more than some others.  She went home, and Diogenes stood there looking for the best way down.

He appeared to be the perfect reflection of the Princess, a male match to her female self.  The lives of the Kairos always came in pairs, no matter how far apart in time they might be separated.  As the Princess’ genetic reflection, Diogenes also shared, in a lesser degree, her gift of the Spirit of Artemis.  He, too, could find the others even in the storm; but first he needed off the cliff.  And he could hear the Scots behind, which meant they arrived at the base of the hill.

Diogenes shrugged and sat.  He slid himself slowly off the edge and held as tight as he could to the rocks that presented themselves.  Step by step, he carefully made his way down.  It was inevitable that he slip.  The fall to the ground was only about eight feet, and he was able to land easily in the snow, and without injury.

Diogenes did not pause.  He turned his white back to the cliff and began to run.  It was not far before he found his friends, only he forgot to change back to Gerraint before they saw him.

“My Lord.”  Uwaine knew him by his clothes right off.  He had his arms around Trevor who limped.  Gwillim fell into a panic, not thinking too clearly.  There were shouts behind and a temporary lull in the falling snow.  The Scots reached the top of the hill, and they got spotted before they could push into the woods.

“Damn it!  Damn it!”  Gwillim continued to swear.

“Q-q-quiet.”  Diogenes said, not from the cold but because he had a stutter which never really left him.  “Th-this way.”  He led them into the woods as the Scots began to navigate down the rocks behind.

Gerraint came back, even as Gwillim nudged him and pointed.  He saw a face in the distance that stuck out from behind a tree, and it beckoned them.  “A Scot.”  Gwillim sounded afraid.

“No.  A friend,” Gerraint said, and Uwaine saw it, too.  They hurried as well as they could and practically carried poor Trevor between them.  The face appeared again, just as far away as the first time, but in a slightly different direction.  They changed course, and again, a third time.  At last, they came to a place where the whole world changed.  The shouts behind them got cut off suddenly, as if someone closed a door.  They stood still, and listened, and took in the vision.  Even Trevor stood up, carefully.

They heard no sound and felt no wind in that part of the forest.  Curiously, it also stopped snowing in that place, though the ground appeared covered in a white blanket, and more.  A mist rose from the surface of the snow suggesting the ground beneath might be warm enough to cause some melt.  The mist obscured their sight, but it did not entirely blind them.

“A man could get lost in here and never find his way out,” Gwillim said.  His voice sounded strange as it broke the quiet.

“This way.”  A man’s voice echoed amongst the trees.  It felt hard to tell which way he meant, but Gerraint started out and the others were obliged to follow.  They saw lights of a sort to their left and right which appeared to flutter about, almost like floating light bugs only much bigger, and their makers always remained shrouded in the mist so they could not see exactly what they were.

“A little further.”  The man’s voice spoke.  After a moment, it spoke again.  “Just a little more.”

They came to see a light in front of them, much stronger than the lights that danced through the trees.  The ones around them were pale, nearly white as snowflakes.  The one before them looked warm amber, the light of a warming fire well lit.  Gwillim pushed ahead, and even Trevor tried to hurry up, though he could only go as fast as Uwaine on whom he leaned.

It indeed proved to be a fire, deep inside a cave, and it felt warm and so home like in their hearts, it seemed all anyone could see at first.  Gerraint alone, noted that the door closed behind them and shut them in as they gathered around to warm themselves.

“Ought to find some tepid water for Trevor,” Gwillim said.  “He looks frostbitten.”

“Already taken care of.”  The voice came from above them, but only Gerraint and Gwillim looked up.  Uwaine watched the elf maidens who brought shallow bowls of water to soak Trevor’s extremities.  Though Trevor looked frightened at their appearance, he did not resist them.

“Macreedy.”  Gerraint named the elf lord who looked at him with curiosity.  “Thank you, and be sure and thank Lord Evergreen, Queen Holly, Princess Ivy and their clan for guiding us to your safe haven as well.”

“So, it is true.  You are the one.”  Lord Macreedy needed no other evidence.  He started to rise, but Gerraint waved him back to his chair.

“Right now, I am simply a man, half frozen and starving,” he said.  “But tell me.  How did you know to look for us?”

He could see Macreedy wanted to tell some lie about the magic and mysteries of the spirits of the world, but that would not have impressed Gerraint at all.  And Macreedy knew it.  Instead, he looked aside and looked a little embarrassed.  “Runabout does tend to talk,” he said.

“Quite all right,” Gerraint assured him.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 1 of 3

Once up, he almost slipped right down a side of the roof, but caught himself in time, and then drew Gerraint’s long knife.

“Please don’t go home until I am done,” Trevor begged the knife in his hand, and he fell on the lone guard outside the door.  It was over in a second, and the door unlocked.  Gerraint and the others were right there, waiting.  Gwillim stripped the guard of his cloak and sword while Gerraint gave his long knife to Uwaine.  Trevor had to content himself with the guard’s cutting knife, but then he was a cook, not a soldier.

“Which way?”  Uwaine asked.  Gerraint pointed and started out.  The others followed as quietly as they could.  The village seemed all put up for the night.  No telling how late it was, until they reached the edge of the village and Trevor judged the night sky and the rise of the moon to suggest it might be about one in the morning.

“Late as that?”  Gwillim sounded surprised.

“Pray the moon stays with us until morning,” Gerraint said, and they started down a well-worn path in the snow, not knowing exactly where it would take them.

After two hours, when they still heard no sounds of pursuit, they found a hollow where they had protection from the wind and a touch of warmth.  They rested there and took turns on watch.  Exhaustion, which had caught up with them, became their worst enemy at that point.  A couple of hours of rest, if not sleep, would be needed the next day when the pursuit started in earnest.  The clouds came up, but the moon still shone through, giving them enough light to see, though it was their ears they depended on.

Near sunrise, they set out again and this time turned off the path and moved in a more certain southerly direction.  “But how did you know which way to go in the dark?”  Trevor asked.  Gerraint did not answer as Gwillim spoke in his place.

“The North Star,” he said.  “You know it isn’t just for sailors at sea.”

“Duh!”  Trevor slapped his own forehead.

By sunrise, the clouds had come fully into the sky and it started to snow.  When it began to snow with some strength, Gerraint took them deliberately through some rough, overgrown patches, and finally up a stream where they had to balance carefully on the rocks to keep from soaking their boots.  Then he turned their direction from south to southwest, hoping to confuse anyone trying to catch them.

About then, they heard a sound they had hoped to never hear.  The Scots were on their trail, well enough, and they had dogs, likely bloodhounds, with which to track them.

“Damn!”  Gwillim swore.  All the turning of direction, pushing through inhospitable bushes and tracking through the stream would likely do them no good at all.  They pushed on, as fast as they could, but they were very tired and hungry, and the wind picked up, blew the snow in their faces, and threatened them all with frostbite.

At the bottom of the next hill, Gerraint made them pause where the hill ahead and the bushes and trees behind gave them a touch of shelter from the wind.  Gerraint surveyed the spot.  They essentially had one way up the hillside, a deer path, and the rest of the hill looked covered in impassible brambles and briars.  They had good cover for one dressed in the white cloak of Athena, and there were several trees nearby that could be scrambled up in a pinch.

“You three go on.”  Gerraint had to raise his voice a bit in the wind.  They were all stomping and blowing hard on their hands to keep their toes and fingers working.  “I’ll lay in a little surprise for our pursuers and maybe slow them down a bit.”

“My Lord!”  Gwillim started to protest, but Uwaine grabbed him by the arm and pointed him toward the path.  Uwaine nodded.  He knew better.  He pushed the still plump captain up the path while poor, half-frozen, skinny, blue faced Trevor followed.  Gerraint watched for a minute until they disappeared in the falling snow.  He listened.  The dogs started closing in.  He guessed there might be three of them.

Diogenes, the Macedonian came to mind, but he opted for the Greek Princess from about two hundred BC.  She had been endowed with the spirit of Artemis, and as such, was about as good as an archer could get.  The Princess only hesitated because of the cold, but she knew Gerraint was freezing and in need, and that became enough to move her hand.  Gerraint went into the time stream, and the Princess stood in his place.  His armor, boots and all adjusted automatically from his shape and size to hers.  She wore the same chain armor, of course, in her day, and for much of her life, so she was quite used to the way it felt and moved.

The first thing she did was stretch Athena’s cape nearly to the ground to maximize her warmth.  The cape of Athena and the Armor of Hephaestos were proof against almost everything, including the cold.  She looked briefly up the hill and worried that her friends had no such help.  She felt when she caught up with them, she would lend the cloak to Trevor.  He did not look good.

The baying of the hounds brought her attention back to task.  Beyond the bushes stood a little clearing which the dogs, if right on their trail, would have to cross.  She reached into the inner pocket hidden in her cloak, and like Mary Poppins pulling a full length lamp out of an empty carpet bag, she pulled out her bow and a full quiver of arrows.  The arrows were elf made, of course, except for the few silver tipped arrows which Artemis herself had given her long ago.  She paused to remember her very best friend in the whole world, and then pulled three finely made steel pointed hunting arrows. She fitted the first loosely to the string, and waited.

The Princess did not have to wait long.  She heard the howl and saw two dogs as they bounded straight toward her in great leaps across the snow.  They were close, and they knew it.  The Princess took aim.  There was a hard wind and the snow itself to compensate for, but she did so almost automatically.  Two arrows took down two dogs.  But where was the third?

At once, the third dog, which had circled around, came rushing up beside her.  She had no time for the bow.  She reached for her Long Knife, but remembered that Uwaine had it.  “Stop,” she yelled.  “No.”

The dog stopped short.  The spirit of Artemis echoed strong in the Princess, and certainly hunting dogs were included in the mix, but this one had its’ lips drawn and kept growling, snarling, and drooling.

“Rabbit.”  The Princess said as she reached slowly for her sword.  “Go hunt a rabbit.”  The dog did not listen, being too filled with blood lust.  Her sword came out as the dog leapt and an arrow came from some quarter.  It struck the dog perfectly and dropped the beast just inches away.  The Princess whirled, but she saw no sign of an archer.  Then she whirled back as she heard shouts from across the clearing.  An arrow got loosed from that direction, but it fell woefully short, not even reaching the dogs, dead in the reddening snow.

“Go,” the Princess told herself, and she turned one final time and began to climb the hill.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Bound, part 3 of 3

“Gerraint of Cornwall,” the druid named him, not questioning the weapons, but identifying him by the same.  He looked hard at the others.

“Uwaine, son of Llewyl.”  Gerraint introduced him

“Urien of Laodegan.”  Urien stepped up and identified himself.  “And a great supporter of Iona.”  In the last couple of centuries of Roman occupation, the druids became terribly persecuted.  They sought and found refuge on the island of Iona, and though Arthur had pledged peace with the druids, they still kept Iona as a primary base and center of the cult.

The druid smiled.  “The Raven, of course.”

“Gwillim, Captain of the Sea Moss and Trevor, my mate,” Gwillim said, proudly. “Partner in the trading firm of Gwillim and Barrows of Totnes in Southampton, and I would be pleased to speak with whoever is in charge.  Always looking for new markets, you know.”  It felt like a long shot, and judging from the faces around them, the Scots looked to have had their fill of trade with the British.

“A long way from the sea,” the druid said.

“Yes, well.”  Gwillim looked aside.  “Sudden storms at sea do remain a problem.”

“We were shipwrecked in the North.”  Trevor spoke up.

“Indeed,” the druid said.  “And are there any more in your party?”  They all looked at one another.  Gerraint was about to say not any longer, but Urien spoke first.

“No,” he said, flatly.

“Indeed?”  The druid repeated himself and parted the crowd.  Arawn knelt there, tied fast and held by two Scots.  It became Gerraint’s turn to be surprised.  “An interesting case,” the druid said.  “He was found eating a squirrel, raw, and talking to the squirrel as well.  I’ve been studying him for the past three days.”

Arawn looked haggard and much too thin.  He looked like a man half-dead except for the wild light in his eyes.

“A word, druid,” Urien spoke.  “In private if we may.”

The druid pointed down the opening in the crowd right past where Arawn got held.  “Sir Raven,” he said, and they started out, but when Arawn recognized his friend, he shouted.

“Urien.  You’ve come for me.  I did not do it.  I did not mean to hide it from you. Oh Urien, help me.”  Arawn reached out with his head, the only thing free, and licked at Urien’s hand like a faithful dog.  The Scots quieted the man and hauled him off, while Urien and the druid disappeared into the crowd.

The others were taken to a strong house and pushed inside.  Men there tied them to the back wall and one man stayed inside by the door, to watch them.

“What of a bite to eat?”  Gwillim asked out loud.  The man stirred the fire in the center of the room which let the smoke out by way of a hole in the roof.  It started getting chilly.  He looked up as Gwillim spoke, but said nothing.

“You can be sure he understands British,” Gerraint said in his Cornish tongue.  Uwaine understood, and Gwillim and Trevor got the gist of it.  Dorset and Cornwall were neighbors, after all.  “I would not expect to be fed, and would recommend appearing to sleep.  Let us see if we can convince our watcher to do the same.”

“Agreed, and God help us,” Gwillim said, reverting to the Latin.

“Margueritte?”  Uwaine asked.  The little girl had easily slipped out of the bonds in Amorica.

“We’ll see,” Gerraint said, and after that, they were quiet.

The watcher hardly batted an eye, until well past dark, and only got up now and then to tend the fire.  Finally, the door opened.  Urien came in with the druid and two other men.  Urien spoke for the lot.

“The whole thing seems a great misunderstanding.  Even the Chief here knows better, but the people blame Kai’s men for the death of a young boy and…” Urien shrugged.

“So what of us?”  Gwillim asked.

“I did my best for you,” Urien said.  “The talk at first was just for killing you outright and sending your bodies to Kai, but I was at least able to dissuade them from that.  Instead, you are to be flogged in a public spectacle and then driven naked from the village.”

“We’ll die in the cold.”  Trevor stated the obvious.

“Killing us outright would have been kinder,” Gwillim said.

Urien still shrugged when Gerraint asked.  “And what of you?”

“I will be accompanying the priest to Iona to winter.  Arawn will go with us.  The druid says he is a most interesting case for study.  But don’t worry.  When I return to Britain in the spring, I will convey my sympathies to your families.”

“As long as you don’t forget your pledge not to seek the treasures of the Celts,” Gerraint said.  “I would hate to have your blood on my hands.”

“Ah, yes.  Your promise to the sea god.  My druid friend does not doubt that some peace had to be made with the god in order for him to let us go, but then, it was not you who finally promised, was it?  What was her name, by the way?  It was not Greta, I am fairly sure.”

“Danna,” Gerraint said, calmly.

“Named for the Mother of the Gods?” the druid asked.

“No,” Gerraint responded.  “The one who calls Manannan son.”

Urien’s eyes widened a little, but the druid laughed, and did not believe a word of that end of the tale.  The chief gave Gerraint a second look as they exited the building, and they took their watcher with them.

“Elvis has left the building,” Gerraint said, and he pulled his hands free from what proved not a very good tying job.  He called his weapons back to his hands from his home in the second heavens.  With his long knife, he quickly had the others free, and then they took a moment to plan.

Uwaine and Gwillim nudged the fire to one side of the hearth while Trevor got up on Gerraint’s shoulders.  Gerraint stood six feet tall, and Trevor, though much lighter, stood nearly as tall.  With Uwaine and Gwillim to steady Gerraint, Trevor stretched and barely reached the hole in the ceiling.

“Come right back if there are too many of them,” Gerraint reminded him.  Trevor nodded, but he got too busy trying not to cough because of the smoke.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint and his men need to escape, but then they have a long way to go though the snow, cold, and ice to get to a safe haven.  Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Gerraint: Winter Bound, part 1 of 3

When those days were over at last, the winter bloomed.  Urien said they might as well winter in the village and Gwillim and Trevor agreed with him; but Gerraint knew how short the memory could be.  A few months merely gave time for some unfortunate misunderstanding to occur and they would be right back in hot soup.  Besides, he longed to see Enid and tell her how much he loved her.

“We see if we can make it over the highlands before the snows come upon us.  Then we cross the lowlands which even in winter is not an impossible thing, and we will find both warmth and welcome with Kai in Caerlisle,” Gerraint insisted.

Even Uwaine seemed reluctant, but everyone agreed when Gerraint secured Dayclimber to be their guide through Pictish lands.  Gerraint hugged Lucan good-bye, and only then realized that she was Chief Moonshadow’s wife.  They otherwise had no ceremony as the village quickly fell out of sight.  It was not that the people were ungrateful, but it was hard to let go of centuries of fighting against the British who came up regularly under Roman commanders.  The enmity felt too strong for gratitude to be shown.

Dayclimber traveled with blue streaks painted across his face and hands.  They would be watched most of the way, and might well stumble across a hunting party.  Dayclimber’s presence, and the blue which appeared identifiable, marked the party as under safe escort.

“It won’t come off until I grease it off,” Dayclimber explained.

While they traveled, Uwaine surprisingly picked up his questions, and Gerraint tried to explain a bit more than he had aboard the ship.

“I suppose there was a little more of me in her when she came here because this is my time and my life.  But honestly you might just as well ask what it is like for Greta to inhabit a man’s body.  You see, it doesn’t work that way. Deep inside, in my spirit, my soul if you wish, I am only one person, but everything else, my mind and heart as well as my body is different every lifetime.  I don’t generally even know there are other lives I have lived until puberty, or later, and by then, even my personality is fairly well set.  So you see, I have not only lived a number of lifetimes, but I have lived as different persons each time.  Greta and I are one being, you might say, but she is her own person, with her own feelings, her own mind and way of looking at things, and her own skills I might add.  It was important that she come here to diagnose and treat the sickness.  Even with her instructing me in my mind every step of the way, if she could, I still would have flubbed it badly.  I am no healer.”

Uwaine nodded and thought about that for a moment before he had another question.  “So how is it that you don’t always look the same, if you are the same being as you say.  You are quite tall and dark haired and blue eyed, and she is much shorter, though not so short for a woman, but she has yellow hair and brown eyes, and very fair skin, and those little freckles.  Her lips are full, and,” he wanted to say more but he let it go.

Gerraint laughed.  He heard more than mere curiosity in that question.  “You forget.  I was designed by God, or by the gods, to be twins, one male and one female.  And that was back on the plains of Shinar where I got first born, one person in two bodies, under the shadow of that accursed tower. That was before the people were scattered and the races came into being.  My genetic code, so-called, carries the seeds of it all, and besides, outward appearance is not as important as you think.”

“Babel?”  Trevor listened in and tried to figure out which tower Gerraint referred to.  When Gerraint nodded, Gwillim, who walked right beside Trevor, whistled.

“As long ago as that,” Gwillim said.

“Yes, but it is not like I can tell you anything about those days,” Gerraint said.  “Memory is tricky enough in one lifetime.  It is all the more difficult going from person to person, especially when the winds of time are blowing contrary.”

Dayclimber lead them through the wilderness without hesitation.  “In my youth I traded beyond the wall,” he said.  “That was where I learned your tongue.  I made this journey many times.”  It proved slow progress, but fast enough to suit Gerraint, anxious as he was to get home to Enid.  “Sorry we can’t go any faster,” Dayclimber apologized.

“Don’t want to go any faster,” Gwillim said.  “Not at my age.”

“And weight,” Urien added, though Gwillim had slimmed considerably in the last couple of months.

The days kept getting colder, especially as they climbed to higher elevations.  The men often drew their cloaks tight around them against the wind.  The cloaks as well as skin blankets were a gift of the Picts for which all became very grateful when it began to snow.  There were flurries at first.  The brown ground they walked on turned white with frost in the night, and then the snow began in earnest.  Gerraint kept his eyes on the evergreens as they soon became the only color in a very black and white world.

One evening, some local men came to the camp.  They looked potentially hostile, but Dayclimber talked to them, only raised his voice once or twice, and they went away. Urien then asked the pertinent question which no one answered.  “And how do we think we will be able to cross the Scottish lands unscathed?”

The very next morning they came to the top of a mountain pass.  The south, what could be seen, stretched out for miles.  The morning sun rose to their left and somewhat ahead of them, and it made them squint, but it did not obscure the sight.  Gwillim whistled again. Even Urien looked impressed by the beauty of the white and brown, rolling hills ahead which appeared endless.

M3 Gerraint: Captives, part 1 of 3

“Weapons.”  The man spoke in an imitation of upland British.  He kicked the dirt in front of him.  All complied and set their sheathed weapons on the dirt while two more blue painted men came from the brush to collect them.

“Maybe if there are only a few,” Urien said in his own halting Welsh.  He made an open suggestion which everyone caught, but there were more than a few, being fifteen of them.

“Walk.”  The chief gave the order, but the trip seemed less like walking and more like climbing over to the other side of the ridge.  An elderly man met them at the very edge of town. His British sounded much better than the chief of the hunting party and he slid right up to Gerraint with a few questions.

“Dayclimber.”  The man introduced himself as they walked to a central building.  “Where are you from?”

“Britain.”  “Britain.”  Gwillim and Trevor spoke as one.

“Urien of Leodegan,” Urien groused.

“South Wales.”  Uwaine spoke.

“Cornwall.”  Gerraint spoke last.

“King in Cornwall,” Uwaine explained for some reason.

“You are Arthur’s men?  Learned men?”  Dayclimber asked.

They nodded before they entered the roundhouse.  They expected to be set in a kind of preliminary trial with the Elders of the Picts standing around them to pass judgment.  What they found surprised them.  There were tables in the roundhouse set out with a rich variety of food.  There were women to serve, but little evidence of men apart from the hunters who brought them in, and Dayclimber.

Gerraint and his crew stood respectfully and tried to keep from drooling while the hunting chief had their weapons piled in a corner.  Then he and his hunters fell to the food and Dayclimber led the captives to a separate table.

“Sit.  Eat,” Dayclimber said.  They could not believe their ears, but even while Trevor suggested that their food might be poisoned, Urien and Gwillim started eating with the comment, “Who cares if it is.”

Dayclimber sat beside Gerraint.  “You are learned men?” he asked again.  “You have skills in healing?”  Gerraint looked up.  Ever quiet and observant Uwaine spoke up.

“There were maybe a dozen fresh graves near the place where we entered in.”

“Plague?”  Trevor was quick to ask, and his voice did not sound too steady in asking.

Dayclimber nodded.  “We have no way to combat it.  Our healer was one of the first to die and no other village will send help for fear of catching the disease.  You were spotted some ten days ago coming from the north.  It was decided if you came near to us, we would seek your help.”

Gerraint looked at his companions.

“What you call out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Uwaine said.

“Yes,” Gerraint confirmed.  “And I hate clichés.”

The chief spoke from the other table and asked how it was that they came to be in the land of the Picts.  Gerraint told the whole story, honestly, Dayclimber translating, and only left out his trading places through the time stream with Margueritte, and especially his brief time as the Danna.  The men quickly became engrossed in the tale, and the women stopped serving to listen as well.  Curiously, they had no trouble believing that Manannan had made them prisoners and seemed only surprised that Manannan had relented and set them free.

The chief of the Picts told them that they were aware of the madman in the wilderness.  “Now I understand,” the chief said.  “The spirit of the seal boy has taken the man’s mind, but it is madness for the boy neither to be able to return to the sea nor to live with his seal people.”

“You’ve said we are what we eat,” Uwaine whispered in Gerraint’s ear.  It was not funny.

“But you were not the one who convinced Manannan to let us go,” Trevor interjected in all innocence.  “That was the lady.”

Dayclimber translated for his fellows and then asked with eyebrows raised.

“Danna,” Gerraint said.  The Picts stood at the mention of her and there was mention of having seen her in the land some seventy-five years ago.

“But how is it that she would appear to the likes of you?  And intercede for you?” The Chief demanded an answer.

Gerraint did not feel shaken by their hovering over him.  He took a long moment of thought before he answered.  “When you see her, you will have to ask her,” he said at last. “I am a chieftain and a soldier.  Mine is not the mind to know the way of the gods.”  Curiously, that seemed to satisfy the Picts who resumed their seats, but slowly and with great questions still burning in the air.

Dayclimber spoke into the silence because there was another part of the story which did not satisfy him.  “And how is it this young seal girl was willing to speak to you, a warrior, when one of your kind just killed her brother, besides?”  The Picts, on hearing this question, looked up at Gerraint who sighed.  There was no avoiding it, in any case.  Besides, he had determined that the gods he had been were inaccessible at the moment, but Greta the Dacian Woman of the Ways and healer would be willing to look into this plague.  Someone had to do something, or their welcome would soon enough turn sour.

“Will the goddess come?”  Uwaine asked having read the resignation on Gerraint’s face.

“Not one of them,” Gerraint answered.  “But Greta may help, if you don’t mind.”  He knew Uwaine did not mind.  Uwaine was long in love with Greta.

“Dayclimber.”  Gerraint got the man ready to translate, and he told the rest of the story, about Margueritte and speaking as a young girl to a young girl.  The Picts said nothing at first.  Gerraint’s own crew stayed equally silent as Gerraint stood.  “And now, let the healer from the east and from long ago see if perhaps there is something that can be done for your people.”  He took Uwaine’s hand and one hand of Dayclimber’s in an age-old tradition.  “Do not let go, no matter what,” he said, and the dark haired, blue eyed, six foot tall Gerraint was not there anymore.  In his place stood a five foot, four-inch blonde with light brown eyes that sparkled with life.

Dayclimber shrieked and yanked back his hand.  Both Picts and Gerraint’s crew stood and stepped from the table with the shuffling and scraping of chairs and not a few gasps.  One Pictish woman screamed and dropped the clay pot she held.  It shattered on the ground and spilled milk everywhere.  Uwaine, alone, stayed unmoved.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” Uwaine said to her in Latin.

“But you have matured well,” she responded in the same tongue.

“That was you in Amorica,” he confirmed.

She nodded.  “Briefly.  But I suspect I may be here a while longer.”

“As always, I am your devoted servant,” Uwaine confessed, knowing better than to say more.  But she was a wise woman of the Dacians and Romans.  She could read his heart and mind no matter how deeply he tried to hide his feelings.  She saw his love and could not help the smile in return for the depths of her own feelings.  The lives of the Kairos could sometimes be very complicated.

“Hush, lest you make my husband jealous.”  She turned to Dayclimber as she let go of Uwaine’s hand and spoke in Gerraint’s British tongue.  “We have the sick to attend to,” she said.  “Tell your chief I will do what I can but I make no promises.”  Dayclimber said nothing until Greta stomped on his foot.  Then he blurted it out all at once.  The chief of the Picts slowly nodded.  He understood.  The gods never made promises.

As they walked, Greta checked her clothes.  The fairy clothes that had come to her had shaped themselves in the Dacian style of her home.  That only made her three hundred and fifty years out of date.  Still, she had sent her armor away with Gerraint.  She came as a healer, not a woman warrior of the Dacians.  Of course, her weapons also disappeared from the pile of weapons at the same time, but she supposed no one would really notice that except perhaps Uwaine.  In their stead, she called from her own island in the heavenly sea, her bag with everything she was used to carrying on just such errands of mercy.  With that on her arm like a woman’s purse, she was well supplied with the drugs, herbs and medicines she might need, that is, if this disease was anything familiar.

Dayclimber said nothing the whole way.  He kept staring back at her as she followed one step behind.  He nearly tripped several times before they reached the door of the first hut.  “Is your nose filled?” she asked him.  He did not understand, so she set her hand against his chin.  “Close your mouth,” she said.  He did as he opened the door.

M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 3 of 3

The morning proved bright and warm and they even had a little breeze that blew straight on toward the mainland.  Gerraint had little hope that their bit of salvaged canvass would do much good.  He imagined they would have to paddle the canoe most of the way, which was one more reason for the design.  It felt good to see the craft did not sink on entry into the water, but their boots got wet almost immediately.

“No sign of Arawn.”  Urien said and took one last long look up and down the shore and back up the hillside.

“Can’t be helped,” Gwillim said.  “Sad to say.  Raise the sail, Trevor.”

“Sir.”  Trevor responded, and Gerraint felt pleased to see the sail did better than he imagined, that is, if they were not getting secret help.

The opposite shore proved full of big rocks.  They had to lower the sail and paddle for a mile along the coast before the found a pebble beach where they could safely pull up.  When they did so, their craft collapsed.

“Three stooges,” Gerraint announced.

“Who?”  Gwillim asked.

“Three Stoojus,” Uwaine said.  “It was perfectly clear to me.”

“Urien!”  The call came from some distance inland.  “Urien!  Please.  Help!”  It did not take long to find the source.  Arawn was tied with his wrists behind his back and a long end of the rope wrapped around a tree and around him, effectively tying him to the tree.

“Urien, my friend,” Arawn said when he saw the man.  They let him loose of the tree but kept his hands tied securely behind his back and held the long end of the rope that bound him.

“Manannan doesn’t want him,” Uwaine announced.

“We’ll have to take him along,” Gwillim said.

Arawn smiled at everyone and did not worry his hands at the moment, though his wrists were severely chaffed and burned.  He came to look at Gerraint and his eyes went wide.  He took a big step away and a touch of the insanity crossed his face, but he said nothing.  Gerraint also said nothing.  He preferred to turn and set off toward the inland in a roughly southerly direction.  If they had been wrecked in the Hebrides as all suspected, it might take them two months to walk home.  At least they could try to cross the highlands before they got snowed in.

Two days later, they untied Arawn.  It was a risk, but he seemed to be behaving and more his old self, as Urien said.  As a precaution, they gave him no weapon and he took no turn watching in the night, but it was becoming impossible to continue with him tied and continually watched.  That very night he ran off into the woods.  Urien shrugged.

“There is no more we can do for him,” Urien announced.

“It does feel a little like leaving a wounded man behind on the battlefield,” Gerraint said.

“It does,” Gwillim confirmed.  “But we cannot help him.  He will come to his senses someday, or not.  We have no power to heal a man’s mind.”

“The night watch will have to keep an eye out for him as well as Picts and Scotts,” Uwaine said.  They all understood.

There were miles of sparsely inhabited wilderness to pass through.  They hunted when they could and ate any number of plants and roots to keep up their strength.  Fortunately, the hunting was easy enough at first.  It was pristine wilderness where the animals were shy of men but not deathly afraid.  A well thrown stone could do wonders.

After a week, they came to a great inlet of the sea.  They had to turn west-southwest down the shore.  Though it slowed them, Gerraint insisted they travel just inside the tree lined edge, and move even further inland where there were open fields to cross.  He did not want to run into a Pictish or Scottish village by surprise, and they went around several small villages of fishermen.  He also did not want to be seen by the Pictish coastal watch whose ships were fast and well-armed with men.

Another week and they were nearly frozen and famished.  There was a town just over the ridge so they dared not light a fire without shelter.  They found little roughage with the fall well along, and less in the way of berries than they had been finding, at least less berries that were not poison.  They had a pheasant, however, already plucked by Trevor, but without a fire, they were helpless.

“My Lord.”  Gwillim had gone back to calling Gerraint by that title nearly from the beginning of their time on the mainland.

“Can’t be helped,” Gerraint said.  “Not unless we can find a good hollow on the ridge to hide the fire light.  A cave would be better.”

“Besides, you could still lose a few pounds,” Uwaine teased Gwillim.

“More than a few,” Urien insisted.

“But look at Trevor.”  Gwillim was not for giving up.  “He is nothing but skin and bones.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Gerraint said.  “He looked skin and bones the first time I met him.”

“Over here!”  Trevor shouted too loud for Gerraint’s nerves.  They went quickly so he would not shout again.  They saw a small cliff face in the ridge, with a rock overhang.  Hopefully, that would keep the firelight from reflecting off the clouds.  A fire could be as bad as a searchlight in the wild.

They started the fire quickly.  They were all starving.  Trevor insisted on rubbing the bird in some greens and such that he had collected along the way, but the others did not care about that.  When it was minimally done, they would eat too fast to taste it anyway.  It was not a very big bird, and each of the five men had only a couple of bites before it was gone.

After that, it was get as warm as they could to try and sleep before it was their turn to watch.  Trevor had the first watch that night, but unfortunately, he did not know exactly what that meant.  He was a cook, in truth, and hardly a sailor, much less a soldier. After all too little sleep, Gerraint awoke to see a blue painted face, and the man held a knife to Trevor’s unmoving throat.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint and company are taken captive by blue painted Picts, and to what end?  Come back Monday, and in the meanwhile,

*

M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 2 of 3

Gwillim whispered.  “I am so ashamed and embarrassed.”

“You should be,” Urien said.  “If you were in my brigade I would have you whipped.”

“Easy.” Uwaine said.

“No need to be so harsh,” Gerraint said.  “We are all exhausted and on edge.  There is nothing here that cannot be fixed.”

“It’s a nice day,” Trevor added.  “Maybe the weather is turning in our favor.”  Urien said no more.

The next morning, however, though the craft got repaired, the rain and wind returned just as before.  Gwillim, not especially a religious soul, nevertheless spent the day in prayer.  He said it couldn’t hurt.  Trevor, once again had his hands full with the fire and trying to keep them fed.  Urien walked off to sit beneath a tree and sulk. Gerraint nearly had enough, but Uwaine calmed him with his words.

“He can’t make it rain forever,” he said.  “I’m thirty-four, and God willing, I will live another thirty-four years.  At some point in those years, it will have to stop raining.”

Gerraint nodded.  “When it starts snowing,” he said, but he kept his seat.

The rain fell away again when it became too late to attempt the crossing.  That evening over supper only Urien spoke, and only one sentence.  “Obviously, the god has not accepted our pledge to give up seeking the cauldron.”

Gerraint did not respond, but he did think, that depends on how sincere the pledge was.  The gods read men deeper than men suppose.

Gerraint went on watch when he noticed the sea shifting.  It appeared a clear, cloudless night.  The stars shone bright since the moon set, but Gerraint had no illusions.  By morning, he knew the clouds could easily return with the rains and wind, and this might indeed go on until the snows came.

The sea began to billow then, like a cauldron beginning to boil.  The foam beat up even though the wind died down.  A figure rose slowly out of the deep.  It appeared to be the figure of a man, who glowed with moon glow and walked toward Gerraint, directly across the water.  The man looked to be a giant at first, but as he came to shore he slowly shrank until he stood no taller than Gerraint himself.  Gerraint stood, out of respect, but he had a thing or two to say.

“Why are you picking on these good men?” he asked.

“They would-be thieves,” the glowing man answered plainly.  He stared at Gerraint and Gerraint stared back at a man who had brown hair and green eyes and skin a bit too much on the pink side, like a half-cooked lobster.  The man appeared clothed in seaweed and there seemed an ominous sense about him.

“Thank you for guarding the Celtic Treasures, but all here have pledged not to pursue them any longer,” Gerraint said.  “With your leave, we will go now and not come back.”

The man from the sea squinted.  “Mother?”

“Of course, Manannan.  Didn’t you wonder?”

Manannan changed with that realization.  His frightening presence became tempered with the depths of love and hope.  “I knew I could not read your mind and heart like these others.”

“Guilty by association.”  Gerraint shook his head.  “All the same, we have pledged in the witness of each other not to pursue the treasures.”

“You never pledged.”  Gerraint heard Urien’s voice behind him.  They were all awake by then, watching.

“The treasures belong to her, or him, most of all,” Manannan said with a scowl returned to his lips.  “This quiet one I don’t mind.  He is loyal to you,” Manannan went on and talked to Gerraint as if the others were not even there.  “And these two fools I do not doubt.  The one is a soldier gone fat, thinking himself a ship’s captain as almost a joke.  The other is a cook who fancies a desire for the sea.  Let the first go back to soldiering and the second go to cooking or neither will ever be happy.  But as for this one.”  Manannan growled.  The men behind Gerraint trembled.  The growl of an angry god is the second most frightful thing in all creation.  “This Raven is a liar, simple.  He will try again.  His pledge is not worth the air with which it was spoken.  But the way to Avalon is denied to him and to seek it will be to seek his own death.”

“Then let me pledge to you, if Urien tries again to pursue the treasures, I will kill him myself.  Will this satisfy you?”  Gerraint spoke perfectly serious and Manannan gave it serious thought.

“Gerraint!”  Gwillim sounded shocked by the turn of events.

“Still the word of a mortal of uncertain future,” Manannan concluded.

Gerraint had no option, and Danna felt very anxious in his heart.  Gerraint sighed as he went away and Danna traveled over 3700 years to stand in his place.  She took two quick steps forward and laid her hand gently against Manannan’s cheek.  He lowered his head and eyes.

“I will make the pledge,” she said.  “Only let these men go.”  She stroked his cheek for a minute.  “I worry about you.  You and Rhiannon.  You should not be here.  Why have you not gone over to the other side?”

“I don’t know, Mother,” he said quietly.  “But I am not the only one.”

“I have already spoken to Rhiannon,” Danna said.  “But the time for us is past.”

She reached out and hugged the God.  “Iona will soon turn to the way and you will not receive the answer there you seek.  Only do not put your hopes against the words of one man.”  Danna backed up.  She felt a tear in her eye.  She left, and Gerraint came home.

“Well, son?”  Forty-seven-year-old Gerraint spoke as he might to Bedivere, his twenty-year-old squire.  “Can we have safe passage in the morning?”

Manannan no longer stood there.

Gerraint turned around.  “My watch,” Uwaine said as he got up to stand by the boat.  Gerraint stepped over to lie down and Urien and Trevor both made an effort to move away.

“We will see what tomorrow is like,” Gerraint said.

“Yes,” Gwillim said.  “We will see if a whole day in prayer has any effect.  What was that, anyway, some sort of mass vision?”  Gerraint did not hear what else Gwillim had to say as he went to sleep.

M3 Gerraint: The Mainland, part 1 of 3

It took five days to tear apart the hulk of the ship.  Everyone worked on that vital, primary task, except Trevor who greatly expanded Urien’s shelter and kept the cooking fire going.  There were precious few nails in the tool bag.  They were used for repairs at sea, but now they were needed to build and there were not enough.  Every board as well as every nail that could be salvaged became important to their survival.  Thus it took a long, slow five days, and always one eye stayed turned to the sky.  Another storm would have been a disaster, and in fact it did rain on the second and third days.  Fortunately, it only made a misty, annoying drizzle, and while it did not threaten their work, it did affect their mood.

On the fifth night, the skeleton of the ship finally broke apart and got carried out to sea on the tide.  Good riddance was about all anyone could say, but it appeared as if they had enough materials for their project.  Gwillim and Gerraint took the first turn lugging the lumber across the face of the island.  Uwaine insisted on partnering with Urien.  He said he wanted to keep an eye on the Raven, even if Urien’s survival depended on the raft.  They never left the lumber and nails unguarded, however, for fear of Arawn.  Madmen were known for perpetuating the hell in which they found themselves.  Any chance of escape might have been seen by Arawn as a threat to his penitent state.

It took four days, working in teams, to get everything over to the shore that faced the mainland, and then a fifth day got spent arguing about the design.  Gerraint won out in the end when Trevor switched his vote.  That made it three to one to one, because, of course, Urien and Gwillim were at opposite ends on everything.

The design itself was that of a simple outrigger canoe such as one might find in the south pacific, though only Gerraint knew that.  Certainly, canoes were known, though none in Gerraint’s world would dream of taking one to sea.  What was not known was the extension off one side of the canoe and the long pole attached in parallel with the canoe, all of which could be lashed with rope and needed none of their precious nails, both increased the surface tension of the craft against the water, which made it far more stable in swells than a plain flat-bottom raft, and it allowed them to make a larger craft for seafaring than any other design.  The wood already had some natural warp which they were able to use for the sides of the canoe, however uneven in the final look, and this also took advantage of what they had.  It did not require them to cut and shape any of the lumber.  Gerraint imagined it might help protect them from the frigid water, though that last seemed unlikely since they had no good pitch to fill the gaps.  They used the natural heather they found in the woods, but they did not expect much help from that.

This work actually took another four days, to get the craft as good as they could get it.  More importantly, it took four days before they were all willing to try sailing the contraption.  They needed courage to even try.

“I believe it is going to work,” Gwillim said.  He had become convinced of the design on the third day.

“It should get us across this straight, do you think?”  Trevor said.

“I would settle for getting us near enough to swim,” Urien said, grumpily.  He seemed always to be in a foul mood.

“Not a good idea,” Gerraint said.  “You would not live long enough to swim, even from close.”

“What?  Drown?”  Urien sounded offended as if they should not doubt that he knew perfectly well how to swim.

“Freeze,” Gerraint said, and Gwillim spoke at the same time.

“Freeze to death.”

Gerraint thought to explain, but Trevor spoke up.  “It is nearly October now, we’ve been at this building.”

“Is October,” Gwillim interrupted, referring to his own internal calendar.

“It doesn’t take long after summer in these northern climes for the water temperature to return to its’ natural, half frozen state.  I would be surprised if you lasted a whole minute.”

“If the sharks did not get you first,” Uwaine added in such a soft voice the others had to strain to hear him.

After that, everyone looked alternately at the sea, each other, and their supper without another word.  It got late, and Uwaine became the first to lie down.

Rain came in the morning.  It poured, a hard driving rain with a strong wind that blew straight at them from the mainland.  There would be no attempt that morning, and though the rain slackened by mid-afternoon, by then it felt too late to try the crossing.  The next morning the same conditions prevailed, and again, by mid-afternoon, the hard rain died down.  Everyone and everything got soaked and cold by then.  The men started lashing out rather than talking, and Trevor could barely keep the fire going.  On that evening, however, the rain stopped altogether, and then they felt some hope for the following day.

It got late when they went to bed in a little better cheer.  Still later, Uwaine awoke to the sound of knocking.  He got up.  Gerraint woke with Uwaine’s movement.  They rushed to the canoe and heard an insane giggle in the dark. Gwillim had fallen asleep on his watch.  Arawn had damaged their work.  Luckily, nothing irreparable, but it would take all that next day to fix things.

Gwillim could not have been more apologetic.  Everyone was inclined to forgive him, except Urien.  “I’ve been a soldier all my life,” Gwillim said.  “I never even went to sea until three years ago.  I never fell asleep on watch.”