R6 Festuscato: Caerdyf, part 2 of 3

The head man stopped half-way into the room when he saw the dragon symbol on Julius’ tunic.  The other men stopped with him and most looked to the head man to speak first. “You are the Dragon?  I have heard of you.”

“Only good, I hope,” Julius said, with a quick glance at Festuscato.  That word sounded like something Festuscato would say.

“Who are you?” Anwyn spoke up.  “How dare you come into my home uninvited and disturb my friends.”

“Quiet.” the Pirate chief spat, and two men stepped toward Anwyn, threatening.  Anwyn quieted, but he also glanced at Festuscato who appeared to be yawning. The chief noticed and gave Festuscato a nod while he looked Mirowen up and down, more than once.  “Your pardon for keeping you up passed your bedtime, though I suppose if I had a woman like that I might be tempted to spend more time in bed myself.”  Mirowen turned red, but it was from anger, and not the least because Festuscato kept her from striking out at these men.

“Oh, great Irish chief who will not give his name,” Festuscato intoned.  “Do tell us what you came for and maybe then I can go to bed.”

The Irish chief grinned.  “I am Sean Fen, Master of the Irish Sea,” the Irishman said. “Perhaps you have heard of me as well.” Most of the men shook their heads, no. “I have come with a hundred men to burn this fort to the ground.  No offense, but we have decided that the coast of Wales would be much better off if it remained unencumbered by forts and soldiers and watchmen and such things.”

“I see,” Festuscato said.  “Allow me to offer a counter proposal.”

“You are in no position to make an offer,” Sean Fen smiled at having the upper hand.  “But for the sake of the holy men present, I am offering you a chance to get out with your women and children, though we may borrow a few of your women.” He looked again at Mirowen and she stood and pulled a knife from somewhere, Festuscato’s hand or no hand.

Festuscato also stood and spoke loud enough to echo in the big room.  “If you leave and sail out of the port in the next hour, I will let you leave with your heads still attached.”

Sean Fen raised his eyebrows a little when Julius turned to Festuscato and said, “Lord Agitus?”  Most of the people there had no idea what the centurion might be asking.

“I have twelve men against your three little soldiers.” The Irishman looked at his men and they grinned and began to spread out in the room.  “You don’t do the telling.”

“You are right.  Horsemen, please reduce the enemy to a third.”  Nine arrows came from the shadows and nine Irishmen fell to the floor, dead or near enough.  Sean Fen blinked and almost missed it, but Festuscato counted.  “Hey!  I said to a third.  Who fired the extra arrow?  Pestilence?”

The Four Horsemen stepped from the shadows and one of them looked at the others and spoke from beneath his helmet.  “Death is not very good with math.  Sorry.”

A second horseman spoke.  “Sorry.”

Julius already got in the chief Irishman’s face.  “Lord Agitus suggested you leave while you can.”

“Actually,” Festuscato said as he came around the table. “Now that you don’t have so much dead weight hanging around, I think you should leave in a half-hour.”  He raised his voice as if talking to a whole battalion of men.  “Irish heads are free game after a half-hour.”

“Lord,” Pestilence spoke again.  “Famine and Plague over there are not very good at telling time.”

“Yes, well.  Do your best.  That is all I ask.”  Festuscato looked up at the Irishmen, but the three still standing were already backing away. When they got to the door, they turned and ran.  Festuscato, Julius, Anwyn and the two sergeants stepped out after them and watched. There were two dozen guardsmen around the courtyard backed up by almost fifty Romans who proudly displayed their dragon tunics.  The Irishmen were all in the center of the court, surrounded.  Mirowen, with her good elf ears, reported what was said.

“I didn’t know the Dragon’s men would be here.”

“I didn’t sign on for this.”

“Where’s the others?”

“Dead.  they’re all dead.”

“Generally yelling. Words I don’t say.  Wow!  I would never say that word,” Mirowen finished.

Sean Fen lead the Irish back out the gate, through the town and to their ships which immediately put out to sea.  Anwyn went to fetch some guardsmen to remove the dead bodies while Festuscato looked at the clerics who stood with their mouths open. He spoke first to Palladius, a man who in the far future would make a great uber-liberal progressive.

“Maybe someday we can designate this place a sword-free zone, post big signs and everything, though I suppose the Irish would have ignored that.”

“Probably can’t read,” Mirowen suggested.

“These men are dead,” Palladius spouted as they turned to go back inside.

“This is the sad world we live in,” Bishop Lavius lamented.  “As Lord Agitus explained it all to me often on our journey from Rome.”

Festuscato put his arm around the old man Germanus. Germanus had been a bit of a soldier, a true militant Bishop who even lead men in battle.  He sat on the conservative side and did not seem distressed by the dead bodies.  “But I figure,” Festuscato spoke softly.  “There will always be some Pelagians under the surface of the church, like a bad case of the flu.  You should see the cults that spring up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries after Christ.”  He rattled off several, ending with, “Never trust a religion that comes out of Asbury Park, New Jersey.  But the point is, everyone knows they are not actual, traditional, historical Christians. The thing is, we can’t kill them all. All we can do is pray for them and tell them about the true faith and let God straighten it all out in the end.”

“I do not know any of these heresies you speak of,” Germanus said.  “But I understand the gist of it and begin to see a pattern in your madness.  Mercy does hold some merit.”  He got to his seat and stopped.  “I think I may visit our Celtic cousins in Amorica.  They have strongly resisted the faith and need prayer and the word.”

“A field ripe for harvest, eh?”

Patrick stood up from where he and Father Gaius administered the last rites to the Irish.  “We need to talk,” he said, and Festuscato nodded.

“As soon as we get back to Cadbury,” he agreed.

R6 Festuscato: Caerdyf, part 1 of 3

Festuscato got up on the half-finished wall of the fort of Caerdyf, sat in an oversized chair, dressed only in his shorts, and sunned himself in the afternoon.  “I’m going for a golden tan,” he said, and thought this felt much better than riding like a mad woman down a dusty road in the dark.

Mirowen, his house elf who appeared much too beautiful to be human, who raised Festuscato and his friends, Gaius, Dibs and Felix since they were eight and nine-years-old, sat on the wall in the shade and trotted out her motherly voice to scold him.  “You are a red head with very pale skin.  The only thing you will do is make freckles.”

“You should get a chair and turn your fairy weave clothing into a bikini and join me.”  Festuscato spoke like he made a reasonable suggestion.  He tried not to smile as he imagined what the sight of Mirowen in a bikini would do to the poor guardsmen who watched them.  Festuscato sighed as he saw Father Gaius approach. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned,” Festuscato said, as he closed his eyes to soak up some more sun.

“So, what else is new?” Gaius asked as he approached.

“I am thinking of changing your name to Father-forgive-me-for-I-have-sinned.”

“For you, that would make sense,” Gaius began, but Festuscato interrupted.

“How are the bishops getting along?”

Gaius shook his head.  “Patrick is the only one with any common sense, but they don’t much listen to him.  Lavius keeps trying to mediate the arguments, but it is hopeless.”  Lavius just became the newly ordained Bishop of Wales. “Palladius and Germanus disagree about everything.  Palladius keep saying they can’t do anything about the Palagian scourge, so they ought to be about converting the heathen.”

“Hey!  Palladius is not a Dominican and this is not Mexico.”

“As you say,” Gaius responded.  Festuscato’s friends learned to ignore him when he said things like that, things where they had no idea what he was talking about. “Germanus reminds me of that Cornish fellow, Gildas.”

Festuscato nodded and applied Gildas’ famous line, “Kill the bastards.  It must irk him that I have made the killing of priests, christian or druid off limits. A crucifixion offense.”

“He says it will be hard to kill all the Pelagian heretics by himself.”

“You might tell him I will crucify him as easily as any other murderer.”

“A bishop of the church?  Festuscato, I sometimes don’t know when you are joking.”

Festuscato opened his eyes and showed by their glare that he was not joking.  “Tell him until I hear from Pope Xystus or the Emperor Valentinian, I speak for both the pope and the emperor in this place.  Tell him a sword condemns a heretic to Hell but gentle persuasion can save a soul for Heaven.  Tell him whatever you like.”  Festuscato stood to walk off.  “Now I am overheated.”  Mirowen rolled her eyes and got up to follow him, so he told her, “And my hair is amber, not red.”  He walked off to the stairs down from the wall, and Gaius followed a few steps behind.

Festuscato walked to a pool of water just outside the courtyard.  The land fell away after a short distance, but a fairly large area had been dug out during the construction of the fort.  There were some grasses growing in the shallow end, but there was also a deep end where Festuscato stopped and thought out loud.  “I wonder if the water is cold.”  Mirowen stepped up beside him and shrugged, so he shoved her in.  “Is it cold?”

“Oh!”  She did not sound happy, but Festuscato noticed she changed her fairy weave dress into something more suitable for a swim.  Festuscato shrugged and jumped in after her.  Gaius came up, thinking hard, but did not hesitate to take off his robe. He laid it out carefully on the stones by the court and followed.

After a while, Sergeant Dibs came looking for them. Gaius and Mirowen shouted together, “Dibs!”  Dibs ignored them.  He came on a mission.

“Festuscato.  The bishops have a question that apparently only you can answer.  Lord Anwyn said he dare not answer in your place.”

Festuscato sighed and reached up a hand for Dibs to help him out.  As soon as they clasped hands, Festuscato shouted, “Now,” and Mirowen leapt up to grab the other hand.  They pulled him in.  He came up sputtering.  Then he shrugged, stepped into the shallows to remove his armor and weapons before he promptly splashed Mirowen, a good one right in the face.

Sometime later, the bishops arrived, wondering what happened to their messenger.  Patrick did not hesitate to peel off his robe and yell.  Festuscato knew a cannon ball when he saw one, though gunpowder and cannons were not invented yet.  He even called it a cannon ball, out loud, but did not explain.

Palladius, Germanus and Lavius looked more hesitant. Lavius at least laid his robe gently beside Father Gaius’ robe and waded in the shallows, complaining how cold it was the whole way.  Palladius finally disrobed and slipped into the deep end with a comment that it was not so bad if a person got over the shock of the cold all at once.  Germanus refused, though everyone encouraged him. He had that look that said it was undignified.  In the end, it took Patrick and Gaius getting out and dragging the poor old man in, and to be sure, once he got in, he even laughed for the first time that anyone knew.

Finally, the four elf warriors Festuscato called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse showed up with towels.  No one asked where the towels came from, or where they went after they served their purpose.  The Four Horsemen were covered with strong glamours to appear human, but no one really imagined that they were.

“All we need now is a good warm supper and a soft bed,” Festuscato said after the swim, and the bishops agreed.  They seemed to be getting along perfectly well after the cooling down in the hot afternoon.  Festuscato himself started yawning half-way through the evening meal, and he remarked that he did not even need a fine looking young woman to help him relax and sleep.  Naturally, at that moment, a messenger showed up at the gate yelling about Irish ships in the dock and wild Irishmen running through the town, making for the fort.

Anwyn, Lord of Caerdyf, Centurion Julius and Sergeant Marcellus jumped to their feet.  They missed the swim and still acted hot and bothered.  Julius started shouting orders, but the Four Horsemen backed into the shadows, sensing that it might already be too late.  Julius stopped in mid-order as twelve men crashed into the great hall.  Festuscato put his hand out to keep Mirowen seated for the moment as he admired the Irish sense of style.  They even looked like pirates.

R6 Gerraint: Enid, part 2 of 3

Gerraint growled.  “Take care.  I have no compunction against killing men and you are a man, little though you be.”

The little man quieted.  The woman on horseback waved and the soldiers went to their own waiting horses.  She had a final word.  “We shall see what makes you afraid.  Come to Caerdyf,  tomorrow, and my champion will cut your heart out.”  She turned her horse and started off at a brisk trot.  The little man and soldiers were obliged to follow.  Only then did Gerraint realize he still held the young woman’s hand.  She grinned up at him and did not seem to mind in the least.  Gerraint thought she was lovely and did not mind either…so he immediately let go.

“I thank you for your kindness,” the old man said.  “But it will do no good in the end.”

“How so?” Uwaine became the one who asked while he smiled at Gerraint’s unease next to the beauty.

“My nephew,” he said.  “But it is a bit of a story.  My name is Ynywl, my wife Guinevak and my daughter Enid.”

“I am Goreu, and my young friend is Uwaine”

“I detect Cornish in your words, and you wear the lion.”

Uwaine held his tongue.  In those days, they were calling Gerraint the Lion of Cornwall.

“Yes,” Gerraint said.  “But my friend is from here, in South Wales, and I promised to take him home before I crossed the channel.”

“From this area?” Ynywl looked hopeful.  “I may know your parents?”

“Yes,” Uwaine started, but Gerraint interrupted.

“Probably not.  Simple farmers.  But tell me about this nephew.”

“It is a story.  Come inside.  Enid is a fine cook and we can put you up for the night, as you wish.”

Uwaine came in after caring for the horses, and sat to hear the story while Enid served boiled beef and bread.  She sat by her mother and looked suddenly shy. Gerraint tried not to stare, but he felt smitten by her looks and surprised that she seemed to have a brain inside that head.  Instead, Gerraint stared around the house.  It looked sturdy, but filled with furniture and decorations which were probably very fine twenty or thirty years ago.  At this point, it all looked rundown and used.

“My great-grandfather,” Ynywl began.  “He was a Roman, a centurion who came here with a company of men to build a fort to watch the coast.  Caerdyf became the result, and the town grew around it.  My Grandfather began the city wall and my father finished it.  The plague of piracy that Wales has suffered in these last fifty years did not get far here. My forefathers kept a strong watch on the coast.

“My own father had two sons.  My brother Dyfuss, the eldest, lived as a weak and sickly child. He married and had a son, but he was never strong.  So, my father left him the main part of the land, but he left me Caerdyf and some land surrounding it to support it and much on the coast.  Dyfuss felt happy with that arrangement, but he died young, and in time his son Megalis got greedy.

“Megalis heard the rumor of pirates, that I had a fortune in gold, secreted away and buried somewhere.  He wanted it, and if I had such a fortune, I would have given it to him.  But he did not believe me when I said it did not exist.  He raised what men he had and depended heavily on Irish mercenaries and prates.  Megalis is not what one would call a smart man.  The Irish controlled him through the rumor and the woman you saw, and in this way finally succeeded where the pirates always failed before in Caerdyf.”

“But how did they take the fort?” Gerraint asked. “It looks strong from this distance and surely you had loyal men.”

“I did.  But I surrendered the fort rather than see my own people killing each other and brother fighting against brother.  Now Megalis has abandoned his fine home and moved into the fort.  He has dug up most of the fort and large portions of the town and countryside looking for the treasure which I am convinced the Irish know is fake.  But they keep the thought alive because it maintains their power.  The woman, Erin, has come to believe their own lie.”

“Always a problem when you begin to lie, that in time you may begin to believe it,” Gerraint said plainly to Uwaine, who simply nodded and enjoyed the food.

Megalis has given us this place and kept us alive up to this point because we supposedly know where the treasure is. But after seven long years his patience is wearing thin.  I fear he will eventually be done with us.”

“And leave the Irish in control of Caerdyf? Does Arthur know about this?”

Guinevak looked at the big soldier and spoke her mind. “You speak of the Pendragon with easy familiarity.”

“It is hard to keep formalities on the battlefield,” Gerraint gave the obvious answer.

“No,” Ynywl answered Gerraint’s question.  “Why should I appeal to Arthur and his fine men of the Round Table.  Caerdyf is my nephew’s, by rights as son of the eldest son.”

“Megalis maybe.”  Gerraint got serious.  “But the Irish have no rights here and have been warned.  And how many are there in Caerdyf?”

“Only about twenty under Fenn, but they make the rules and the people have suffered.”

“Fenn is the Lady’s champion?” Uwaine asked, his appetite temporarily satisfied.

“Yes,” Enid said, and looked only once at Gerraint before she looked down.

“Yes,” Ynywl said at the same time.  “He is as big as Goreu here, but mean and cruel.  I heard before he came to Caerdyf, he trafficked in slaves to Ireland.  He is an excellent fighter.  No one has beaten him, and that is why I recommend you leave first thing in the morning. You should not risk your own injury and death on our account.”

R5 Gerraint: The Test, part 3 of 3

Sometime later, Bishop Dubricius and Percival found Gerraint alone, sitting in the courtyard beside the stone of the sword. They sat on the cold cobblestones beside him.  Dubricius made a small grunt as he got his body down, but then they remained quiet until Gerraint spoke.

Gerraint thought about poor Greta.  He wondered if Darius would turn out to be a cad, like Festuscato.  He wondered how she would make it without Mother Hulda around.  Then he remembered how Nameless stepped in and saved her, too. Somehow, he knew that was not the way it was supposed to work.  He looked at the Bishop.

“I’m sorry,” Gerraint said.  “Nameless says he is sorry.  He no longer belongs here.  The new way has come.  The old way has gone.”  Gerraint let his voice trail off.

“I take it that young man was one of the ancient gods of the Germans,” Dubricius said with surprising ease and not the least bit of prejudice.  Gerraint nodded, and then he began to weep for reasons unknown.  Dubricius hugged him like a mother and said nothing. Percival looked over, with big teary eyes of his own.  It was not a long cry, and after a few good sniffs, Gerraint pulled back and the Bishop let him go.

“Sometimes, all I want to do is die and go to heaven,” Gerraint spoke, in a very flat voice.

“A good goal,” the Bishop responded.  “But I don’t feel you have to be in a hurry for that to happen.”

“But that’s just it.”  Gerraint felt exasperated.  “It doesn’t happen.  Every time I die, I feel all the pain, and terror, and sadness, but then the Angels won’t take me.  Instead, they stick me in another womb and I get born a baby all over again.”

“Angels?”

“Well, I usually call them friends—mysterious friends in the future, but I cannot imagine them being anything other than Angels. I mean, God has to be in charge of this somehow, don’t you think?”

“That he is,” Dubricius affirmed, and paused to think before he asked his question.  “And how many times has this happened?”

“I’m not sure, but the Storyteller has estimated I am a little less than a hundred times.”

“That many?”  The Bishop did not really ask.

“Who is the Storyteller?” Percival interrupted.

“Me,” Gerraint said.  “But he won’t be born for another fifteen hundred and, um, fifty-nine years, Storyteller’s estimate.”

Dubricius and Percival looked at each other before the Bishop blurted out, “The future?”

Gerraint nodded.  “I remember the future, but centuries from now.  I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.  I never know what is going to happen tomorrow.” He almost started to cry again, but the Bishop kept him focused with a question.

“But this time, Gerraint is just a regular boy, isn’t he?”

“Ordinary, average, stupid teenager,” Gerraint confirmed.

“I would not say that of the Prince of Cornwall and Arthur’s best friend, but what I am getting at is it seems to me that Gerraint needs to live the best he can and maybe not worry so much about yesterday or tomorrow.  Now is a good time to live.”

“That is what everyone keeps telling me,” Gerraint let it out.  “Everyone keeps saying this is my life and I have to decide for myself what to do and how to live, and they can’t keep stepping in and bailing me out every time I get into trouble.  Nameless says I have to fight my own battles, and Diogenes and Greta and the Princess and the Storyteller all say the same.”

“Fight your own battles,” Dubricius smiled. “You know, that is exactly what I told Arthur that one time I got him away from Meryddin.”

Something shuffled back in the shadows.  Percival turned the farthest.  Gerraint stood.  Arthur came slowly out of the dark.  His words were soft, almost repentant.  “Don’t tell Meryddin.”  He looked around once to be sure they were alone.  “I had to get away.  I needed to see you.”  Gerraint started forward but stopped when Arthur put up his hand.

“You have something to tell the young Prince?” the Bishop began things, and Arthur agreed.

“I was wrong.  I was totally wrong and beg forgiveness, and I pledge I will never ever do that to you again, ever.”

“Not even Greta?” Gerraint smiled.  “You said she was cute.”

Arthur returned the smile and the friends went to shake hands, but Percival jumped up between them and threw his arms around Arthur. He stood a head shorter, but the quintessential younger brother.  “I forgive you.”  he said, and finally let out a few of those tears.

For Arthur, Percival’s forgiveness almost felt worse than his scolding, but he took it graciously.  He wanted everything back the way it was, like it never happened, but he already knew that after being named Pendragon, nothing was ever going to be the same.

“So, cousin,” Gerraint said when they finally got to shake the hand of peace.  “What are your plans from here, or should I ask Meryddin?”

Arthur frowned, but he caught the word and asked, “Cousin?”

“I figured it out while I sat here.  Your mother was my great aunt, my grandfather’s much younger sister.”

“And Tristam?”

“He is a cousin too, on his father’s side.”

“Well what do you know?” Arthur mouthed his master Peredur’s favorite expression.  “I have a family.”

“You got me,” Percival said, and gave Arthur another hug.

“And a half-sister,” Gerraint added.  To Percival’s curious look, he named her, “Morgana.”

Arthur put a hand to his head.  “I’m trying not to think of her.”

“She’s a witch.”  Percival spelled it out.

“Now, son,” the Bishop said, as he tried to stand and Arthur and Gerraint helped.  “She is a fine wife and mother who lives with her Lord in a nice estate in the south of Central Wales.  You might visit her.”  Gerraint and Arthur looked at each other and made faces, and Percival looked back and forth between the two.  “In any case,” the Bishop said, as he headed toward the door.  “I will leave you boys alone to ponder the great mysteries of life. I was a boy once myself, you know”

Gerraint and Arthur watched the man go, but at the last minute, the Bishop stopped and turned.  “Have you given any thought to where you might hold court?”

Arthur made another face.  “Meryddin says we need to build a big fort in Salisbury near the great standing stones.  Master Peredur and others argue against that idea, saying the fort would just waste manpower and resources and serve no strategic significance.  They say the big fort beside the town of Cadbury is where Uther held his court.  But Meryddin is persuasive, and he says the nearness to the standing stones will remind the people of our common culture and heritage.”

“No,” Gerraint interjected.  “Those stones were up long before there were any Celts or even Druids in the land.”  The others all stared at him, and Gerraint backed off a bit.  “You’re just going to have to trust me on that one.”  He dared not tell them about Danna.

“All the same, Meryddin sees it as our common heritage,” Arthur looked at his feet.

Bishop Dubricius frowned.  Our common pagan heritage.  He did not say that.  He just thought it real loud.  “Have you considered Caerleon?  It got chosen by the Romans because the place gave quick access to Wales, Britain and Cornwall.  It has a very strong and very large fort, big enough to house a full legion and all the supplies.  I know Uther thought of moving to Caerleon just before he died.”

Gerraint nodded.  “That could work.  It is just across the channel from Cornwall, right in the corner between Wales and the Midlands.  And it has a port right there, which Cadbury and Salisbury do not have.”

They could tell Arthur liked the idea.  “Oh, but how can we convince Meryddin?”

“What convince?” Percival said.  “You are the Pendragon.  Just tell him.”

“Diplomatically, of course,” the Bishop suggested.  “But there is much to be said for telling. You are the decider, like it or not, and like fighting your own battles, which this may be one, it is not fair, and often not wise or for the best, to let others make your decisions for you.” He turned and left, and the trio of conspirators spent the next hour deciding how to break the news to everyone else.

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

MONDAY

R5 Gerraint: Rebellion.  Sometimes, if it is truly a great thing, one test is not enough…

Until next week

*

R5 Gerraint: The Test, part 2 of 3

In the morning, the citizens of Londugnum came to Saint Paul’s looking for help.  It seemed the Angles had brought up a large force of men in the night and they camped outside the wall at Ludgate.

“Where are we?”  Pelenor asked by way of reference

“Bishopsgate,” Bishop Dubricius answered.  “We need to go west to talk to the Germans.”

“Eh?”  Meryddin raised his head at the suggestion, and all of the men around the head table that morning paused in their plans.  The men were planning the defense of the city and already planning a counter-attack.

“Bah!”  Badgemagus the Welshman threw his hands at the cleric.  “The only talk Angles understand is spoken by good steel.”

The men went back to their planning and the Bishop slipped out.  The squires had a horse waiting, and he rode west with the boys while the men argued. On arrival, the squires kept back, many climbing the wall for a good look.  Only Arthur, Gerraint and Percival stepped through Ludgate with the Archbishop right behind.  The brave city watch kindly closed the gate behind them, and locked it.  Gerraint waved the white flag, and they stopped short of the Angle camp.  It took no time for four representatives to come out from the other side.  They laughed at the children, and Arthur assumed they would not have come at all, except for the Bishop.

“Holy Father,” the German spoke in accented, but understandable British.  “We have no quarrel with the church.”

“And should the church have a quarrel with you?” the Bishop asked, while Gerraint stared at this evident leader of the Angles. He appeared a big dirty blond, dirty everywhere, with a few scars and a few teeth.  He wore a bearskin jacket which mostly hid the chain beneath, like a gambler who kept his cards close to his chest.  He carried a sword loosely at his side, Gerraint thought, like a gunslinger in the old west, and no telling what other hardware he might be carrying beneath the bearskin rug.  Gerraint saw the other three men as various degrees of smaller and uglier.  “This has been a city of peace and free trade between the many people who live on these shores,” the Bishop continued.  “Would you see all that destroyed?  Are you declaring war?”

The German stared hard at the Bishop, like he weighed alternatives and thought of many things before he shook his head. “We heard the Britons chose a new leader, a boy, and we thought it would be a good time to demand compensation for the way we have been cheated these past twelve years since Uther.”  The man rubbed his scraggly chin.  If he felt cheated, that only became the catalyst. Mostly, he looked like a man who wanted something for nothing, and thought a boy might be frightened into giving it to him.

“I am Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther,” Arthur said with as much dignity as he could muster.  He pulled Caliburn, slowly and carefully as he spoke.  “And this is the sword that was pulled from the stone signifying my right to speak for the Britons, the Welsh and the Cornish.  If you have a complaint against my people, you can send representatives to argue your case, but for now, this assembly of warriors is unlawful.  I demand you disband your army and leave this gate at once.”

The three ugly men looked surprised by the response and impressed with the sword from the stone, which they knew all about, but the big leader just laughed.  “Boy.  My steel and strong right arm argue my case for me.  We could settle this now, just you and me, but you are such a little thing, I would hate to take advantage of you.”

“I am young, it is true, but I accept the terms. You and I will settle this for all the people, but since you don’t want to take advantage of a young boy, you may fight my champion—the one chosen to fight for me until I come of age.”

“Eh?”  The Angle Chief rubbed his chin again like he might have to think about that.

Arthur took a step back.  “Okay Diogenes.  Beat him up.”

Gerraint’s jaw dropped.  “What?”  He went speechless.  Arthur looked smug.  “What?” Gerraint said it again, and his blood began to boil in anger.  All the same, he looked for Diogenes, not being able to think of a quick alternative, but when he traded places through time, it was the Nameless god who appeared dressed in the armor of the Kairos, and Nameless had a very big sword at his back, one made for a man.

One of the three uglies shrieked and ran off, screaming.  The other two stepped back, because while they may have been converted to the Christ, like with many of the Britons, the old ways and old beliefs were just a scratch beneath the surface.  Somehow, they knew they were looking into the judgment of Aesgard.  The leader looked uncertain, but he felt committed, and not willing to be thought a coward.  He tried to appear confident, pulled and lifted his sword in preparation for a fight.

Nameless, aware of the political implications of what was happening, made a glamour so anyone looking from the city walls would think he was Arthur and Arthur was Gerraint.  At the same time, he felt Gerraint’s anger at being put in this awkward position, and as the Angle leader lifted his sword, Nameless drew his sword and cut cleanly through the man’s middle, not pausing at bearskin, chain, flesh or bone.  It happened so fast, Percival blinked and missed it.

The German looked down at his middle and laughed, like maybe Nameless missed.  Nameless kicked the German in the chest.  The top half of the man’s body got deposited ten feet away.  The bottom half collapsed where the legs stood.  The other two Angles ran for their lives, and since most of the German warriors in the camp were watching, they also ran.  The little army had gone in less than two minutes. Their tents and equipment, simply abandoned.

Gerraint came back by then and Arthur smiled broadly until Gerraint punched him hard in the face, knocked him down and bloodied his nose.  “They do not belong to you,” Gerraint yelled.  “You swore a blood oath not to speak of them.  You get one warning.  Next time you try something like that I will walk away and you can get yourself killed.”

“Okay.  Sorry.” Arthur held his nose to try and stop the blood.  “I didn’t think.  I didn’t know what else to do.”  All the excuses went unanswered because Gerraint stomped back to the gate and did not listen.  The city watch appeared grateful.  The squires left inside the gate were chanting, “Arthur!  Arthur!” because that was who they thought had done the deed.

Arthur followed, and he went to tears by the time he arrived.  Bishop Dubricius held him and calmly told him there was room in God’s grace for forgiveness, and mercy, and everything would work itself out.  But the worst of it for Arthur came when Percival, who practically worshiped the boy as the ultimate big brother, looked so disappointed, turned his back on his brother, and accused him with two very sharp words.

“You promised.”

The men rode up at full gallop, having ridden hard once they realized what the squires were planning.  Meryddin and Pelenor raced from the front.  Pelenor jumped from his horse when he saw Gerraint. He ran up and threw his big arms around him and hugged him with a few tears.  Then he stepped back and boxed his ear.  “Don’t you ever do something crazy like that again,” he yelled.  Then he hugged him again and added softly, “without me.”

Meryddin took Arthur roughly from the hands of the Bishop, but then Peredur fetched his own squire with a possessive look.  Meryddin stayed right there, but did not argue the point.  It took some time after that for the Lords to get the straight story.

As Nameless designed things, Arthur got credited with cutting a man clean in half, and Caliburn looked unused.  Mesalwig, squire to the Welshman Badgemagus and something of an appendage to Loth during the gathering, spoke quietly.  “I said there was some magic in that sword.” Loth simply looked dour.

Kai and Bedwyr lifted Arthur on their shoulders and parade him around, chanting with the squires, and this time with the Lords and city people, “Arthur!  Arthur!” It did not take long, though, before Arthur begged to be put down.  He felt sick to his stomach.

“I would rather ride a plow horse,” he said. Kai laughed and ruffled Arthur’s hair while he called him cousin.  Bedwyr had to think before he understood and laughed as well.  They paraded back to Saint Paul’s, Arthur out front with Meryddin. The people cheered, what there were of people.  The city started dying since the Romans abandoned it.  Gerraint thought it looked like some sections of twenty-first century Detroit, but he said nothing.

R5 Gerraint: The Test, part 1 of 3

Percival started the cheer again.  “Arthur!  Arthur!” And this time a number of chiefs joined the chorus.  Still, for many there was one thing that bothered them.  It came out when the crowd quieted again.

“But we don’t even know the boy’s father.”

“I do.”  Meryddin stepped forward again and sounded like he waited for this very question. “This is Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon.”  He paused while the crowd gasped and then became silent once again.  “His mother was Isoulde, wife of Goloris, Duke of Cornwall. Isoulde and Uther were lovers for a time and Arthur was conceived on the night of the full moon.  Uther kept Goloris at the wars and away from Tintangle for a whole year so he might not find out, but when the child was born, they knew they needed to hide him, for his own safety.  They gave the baby into my hands and I brought him to Peredur to raise as his own son.

“Well, what do you know,” Peredur said.  Ederyn nudged his friend.  Pelenor stepped forward.

“Well, you are still a squire.  Don’t you forget that.  You still have a lot to learn.”  Just about everyone laughed even as Percival started again with “Arthur! Arthur!”  And this time nearly all of the crowd joined in.  Only a few walked out as the Bishop stepped up and virtually shoved Meryddin out of the way.

Meryddin looked at the stone and mumbled, “What did that Roman know that I don’t know?”

“On your knees son,” Dubricius said kindly, and Arthur, still in a state of shock, got down on his knees.  “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost…” The Bishop had a vial of oil in his pocket, like he came prepared, and he anointed Arthur then and there as Arthur Pendragon, High Chief and War Chief of all the Britons, the Cornish and the Welsh. Gerraint had to help Arthur back to his feet while the crowd cheered.

Then there might have been an awkward moment as the crowd quieted to hear what Arthur had to say.  Fortunately, Gerraint whispered in Arthur’s ear, “Lunch.”

Arthur looked seriously at the crowd.  “I am still a growing boy, it is true.  I will endeavor to become the man worthy of the trust you place in me.  But presently, in a word which is a favorite of growing boys everywhere, I declare, Lunch!” He raised Caliburn toward the sky and shouted with great enthusiasm.  The squires instantly cheered.  The Lords paused to think and then laugh, and then they decided that lunch, though still a bit early, would probably be a good idea.  They trooped into the monastery where the cooks were not nearly ready.

“Short and sweet,” Gerraint said.  “All your speeches should be like that.”

“Well said,” the Bishop praised Arthur.

Meryddin swooped in and slipped his arm around Arthur before the Bishop could take him; and he gave Gerraint a hard look as well when they went inside.  Meryddin sat beside Arthur like his guard during lunch and all afternoon.  He did most of the talking with the various Lords, some with their ladies, some with their sons, who came up to pledge themselves and give honor to the new Pendragon.  Arthur spoke only now and then in a very noncommittal way, things like, “Yes we must see to the price of corn in Londugnum,” and “We must look into Piracy in the Irish sea”

Every now and then Arthur said, “Bogart, are you getting this?”  Meryddin had introduced a Druid named Bogart who had an excellent memory and was there to later recall all of the day’s discussions.  Arthur wondered how much of that excellent memory might be tampered with by Meryddin before Arthur heard it again.  Quickly on, though, Arthur realized the monk who appeared to be focused on lunch and facilitating the movement of people around the room, also listened in.  Arthur imagined the monk as a master of memory himself, assigned by Dubricius no doubt, and Arthur looked forward to comparing the two versions, later.

Arthur did not play dumb.  That would not have been good because certainly Meryddin knew the boy was bright.  But Arthur understood far more of what got discussed than Meryddin may have realized, and he kept that to himself.  It was Meryddin’s own fault, because the man had a way of speaking where sometimes he would say only a short phrase or mumble something, like about what the Roman knew, which would go right passed people or over the heads of most men, but which Arthur caught.  He had been tutored by Meryddin, after all, and by age fifteen, he had become very good at reading the Master Druid.

When supper arrived, Arthur actually felt relieved that Peredur came and got him.  He found himself back in the kitchen with Gerraint and Percival, serving at his master’s table.  Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn kept a close watch on Arthur, but Gerraint assured him it was because they felt the need to protect him at this point from undue pressure, which might move him to make some bad decisions.  Then Kai, who still called him cousin as he called Peredur uncle, and Bedwyr at least did their best to keep the young Lords at bay. They also tried to convince Loth that this could be a good thing, but Loth got hard-headed.

That evening after the squires had their late supper, everyone had questions.  Arthur had no certain answers, but he freely admitted he would need the help of all of them in the days and years ahead.  Every squire present swore a blood oath to follow Arthur to the gates of Hell if called.  Urien, to everyone’s surprise, actually proposed the blood oath, and then cut his finger first. Gerraint said he hoped the gates of Hell would not be necessary, and several young heads nodded, and a few let out a soft, nervous laugh.

Then came bedtime, but Arthur and Gerraint stayed up a bit longer.  “So now you have a sword of your own,” Gerraint said.  “Caliburn is a fine sword.”  Gerraint felt something beside him.  It seemed to appear out of nowhere, or Gerraint could not say where, but he did not get startled by it.  In fact, his only thought was the hope that Arthur did not see.

“Not like Salvation,” Arthur responded.

“Much like Salvation,” Gerraint responded.  “By the way, here is the sheath.”

Arthur took it but stared hard at Gerraint.

“Did I tell you Salvation was made for a woman’s hand?”

“Yes.”  Arthur examined his present.  “Greta?”

“No, not the Wise Woman of the Dacians.  She would just cut herself.  No, it was made for Candace, Princess of Nubia who kicked the butt of Augustus Caesar.”  Arthur looked skeptical.  Gerraint continued.  “Caliburn also got made for a woman, a Greek Princess who lived some two hundred years before Christ.”

“You’re making it up”

“You want to meet her?”

Arthur paused before he shook his head.  “Do you have any swords made for a man?”

Gerraint nodded.  “Caliburn’s brother sword is Excalibur.  It got made for Diogenes.  You saw him”

Arthur nodded.  “And that was the strangest thing I ever saw, until you topped it with Greta.  She looked very Saxon, but she was really cute.”

“Greta says thanks.”

Arthur smiled and nodded again before he caught himself.  “Gerraint, you are weird.”

“Goreu.  Remember? When I get weird you have to remember my real name is Goreu.”

“Boys.”  Arthur nodded once more as the voice of Kai sounded out in the dark.  “Go to bed.”  Arthur and Gerraint did not argue.

R5 Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone, part 3 of 3

“Friends, and sometimes enemies.”  The people laughed, but not very loud, and they looked around at their neighbors.  “We have gathered because there is too much fighting and bad blood being spilled in our land.  No one is safe and nothing is getting done.  Worse.  The Germans, Picts in the north, even the Irish are taking advantage of our squabbling. A man works hard on his land to build something only to see it stolen by a neighbor or an invader.  It is not right.  It has to stop.”  He paused while the gathered Lords nodded their general sense of agreement.

“The Roman had been right about one thing. Things worked better when we had a high chief, a Pendragon to judge the right and wrong of it between us, and to call us to arms to defend the borders against the invaders that surround us. Things were better under Uther.” Pelenor had to pause then while the people shouted, “Uther!  Uther!” and cheered the idea of a new high chief.  When they settled down, Pelenor continued.

“Now, many of you are here because you understand. You have had your crops burned, your homes attacked, your wives and children threatened and in danger.  Many of you have come at the urging of the church.” He nodded at the Bishop.  “The church understands and prays for us who are like sheep who have lost our way.  Then, some of you are here on the invitation of Meryddin who fought beside Uther and Ambrosius before him, and had foreseen the trouble of these days. Here then, in the courtyard of the stone, we must choose a new man to lead us in battle.  We will all give a little when we answer the call to arms, but we will gain a lot in the peace and security we win for our homes and families.” The crowd cheered again and strongly approved of that plan.

Meryddin stepped forward and called for quiet before he spoke.  “When the Roman placed the sword in the stone, he claimed to be no prophet.  But he also claimed the hands of the true high chief would be the only hands able to draw the sword.  Caliburn, which by my art I have discerned to be the sword’s true name, is not a sword to trifle with.  But it would save us much trouble if the matter can be decided simply, in the way the Roman designed it.  I have tried the sword and cannot draw it.”

“Nor I,” Pelenor mumbled.

“But I say, let all who wish now try the sword first, and let even the squires take a turn.  It may be one of the young will be chosen to grow into the Pendragon.”

People objected, and the noise got loud.  Most common sounded something like, “I’ll not take orders from a boy or a squire or someone who is not full grown.”  Meryddin had a time quieting the crowd.  Then he shocked everyone as he turned to the Bishop.

“What says the church?”

Dubricius stood, stared at Meryddin and wondered what the Druid might be scheming, but he spoke what he knew because he had seen the Pendragon in a vision and could not deny it.  “Young men grow.  Let the squires take a turn.”  The crowd looked stunned to silence.  It was nowhere near the truth, but common wisdom said the clerics and Druids were total opposites and never agreed on anything.  The silence remained until one man pointed out that the squires were all in the courtyard the day before and all tried the sword, and failed.

“Not all!”  Gerraint’s voice rang out from the back, and he grabbed Arthur’s arm and dragged him forward.  “Arthur didn’t try it,” he said, as the crowd parted to let them through.

“Gerraint didn’t try it either,” Arthur yelled when they broke out into the open court.

“Yes I did,” Gerraint lied.  “I tried it when no one was looking.”

They came to the stone and both Meryddin and Dubricius smiled, knowingly.  Gerraint raised one eyebrow at that, but pushed Arthur forward.  “This is Arthur,” he shouted for whatever Bogus or Dumfries might be listening.

“Don’t laugh,” Arthur said.  He put his hands on the hilt and pulled a little.  The sword moved.  He felt as shocked as anyone as he pulled it cleanly from the stone.  The crowd erupted, and at first, it did not at all sound positive.  Percival at the back got the squires all yelling, “Arthur!  Arthur!”  But the Lords just made noise until one thought stood out.

“Put it back.”

Arthur turned to the stone.  He did not look sure of what to do, but Gerraint felt glad he did not tell Bogus and Dumfries to demagnetize the sword.  Meryddin looked disturbed at the development, but Dubricius continued to smile as Gerraint yelled.  “Putting the sword back in the stone.”  Arthur looked.  He found a slot in the stone where the sword had been.  “Go ahead,” Gerraint said.  Arthur did, and felt the sword slip from his hands when it got half-way in. Loth stepped forward from the crowd.

“By my father who died fighting Danes and Jutes, who died defending your homes from dreaded invaders, I say we need a man to lead us in battle, not a boy.  I will pull the sword myself, and that will settle it.”  He reached for the hilt and tugged, but the sword was stuck fast. Several other men stepped up and gave it a try, bringing more and more frustration to the crowd.  At the last, Loth drew his own sword and hacked at the rock and the exposed hilt until something like lightning shot out from the stone and deposited Loth ten feet away, shaken, but not badly damaged. That quieted the crowd again.

“Arthur’s turn,” Gerraint shouted, and shoved Arthur in the direction of the sword.  “Arthur’s turn,” he said again, and Arthur easily drew the sword cleanly from the rock.

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

MONDAY

No good fortune comes without responsibility, and no human promise goes without testing.  Next week, R5 Gerraint: The Test.  Happy Reading.

 

*

R5 Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone, part 2 of 3

Gwillim interrupted.  “I thought the Norwegians were completely new, like only in the last ten years or so.”

“And don’t forget the Irish threat in those days,” Tristam added on the side.

“No, the Norwegian shore has been invaded for some time,” the Bishop said.  “Our own Loth knows the trouble there very well.  And yes, we should not forget the Irish.  In fact, when Ambrosius died and Uther became Pendragon, he built many forts along the Welsh coast to defend against that very threat.  But now, Uther has been gone for twelve years, poisoned, like his father.  And neither Ambrosius nor Uther had sons, and there are no more brothers.”

“So, will they find one to pull out the sword of the Roman?” Gwyr asked.

“I fear they will not,” the Bishop answered. “I fear they will choose one at random, and like the people of Israel who demanded Saul for king, the choice will most likely be a bad one.  All of the Lords here have squabbles and grudges.  It is inevitable that no matter who is chosen, some will be unhappy.”

“But isn’t that always the case?” Gerraint asked.

“Perhaps so,” the Bishop said, and he stood with a final word.  “Sorry to interrupt.  Go back to your important meeting.  I was a boy once, too.”

The boys looked at each other in silence for all of a second before they ran to the courtyard of the sword in the stone.  The next hour got spent tugging on the sword, though Gerraint and Arthur only stood back and laughed.  Urien said he wiggled it and Arawn supported him.  Gwillim said he also wiggled it, but his brother Thomas laughed and denied it.  It did not take long before the game became two sides playing at war, but with sticks instead of swords.  Arthur’s group always won because Thomas was not much of a leader.  Gerraint avoided the game at first because he wanted to check something out.

Gerraint snuck out to the alley beside the church where they had a garbage dump and several perpetually brown bushes.  It looked sheltered and secluded enough for him to try something.  He called softly, “Hunters,” but nothing happened and no hunters appeared.  So he thought hard about his experience on the road. He grabbed what he imagined was a name. “Lord Pinewood,” he whispered, but the alley remained empty.  Finally, he put some command in his voice, though he still tried to keep the volume down so as to not attract attention.  “Pinewood.”  He got ready to give up when the elderly hunter appeared from behind a bush in the alley.

“Trouble young Lord?”  The elder grinned, while Gerraint shook his head

“I’ve been thinking,” Gerraint started right in, and stopped.

“And a good thing for a young man to do,” Pinewood encouraged, and his grin became a smile.

“Just now, when we were playing around the sword in the stone, I noticed something.  I don’t know if anyone else noticed.  But I saw something that made me think.”  Pinewood stayed patient.  Gerraint continued.  “I saw, whenever one got near to the stone, anything metal, their knives and such, I think iron, it did not seem to affect silver or gold, but the iron looked like it pulled toward the stone.  So I was thinking the stone is some kind of load stone.  It must be magnetized, and that is why the sword is impossible to pull out.”

Pinewood nodded.  “The sword, Caliburn, your sword is finer steel than can be made in this day. It is by virtue anti-magnetic. But it got specially treated, if I can say that, so the magnet could hold it fast.”

“Can it be demagnetized?”

Pinewood shook his head.  “Bogus and Dumfries have been arguing about that for fifty years. I believe the current thinking is to temporarily disrupt the magnet when the right hands are on the hilt.  Once the person intended has the sword, it can be demagnetized later.”

“Bogus and Dumfries?”

“A dark elf and a dwarf,” Pinewood said, and Gerraint knew he spoke true, even as Pinewood said it.

“Good.  That will be good.”  Gerraint was still thinking.  “But I better get back before the others miss me.”

“My lord.”

Gerraint paused.  “Is there something else?”

“We must know which hands are the right hands.”

“Of course.”  Gerraint laughed at himself for forgetting the main part.  “Arthur.  It has to be Arthur.”

Pinewood smiled again.  “I guessed, you know,” he said, and became fairy small, with wings and everything, and flitted rapidly out of sight.  Gerraint headed back inside, but ran smack into Meryddin who rushed around the corner with two men following.

“Move, boy.”  Meryddin shoved Gerraint, but only a little to get him out of the way, and Gerraint paused to listen.  The men turned into the alley.  “There is magic and fairy dust in this place,” Meryddin said.  “I can smell it.”

“They usually don’t come so close to a church,” one of the men responded; but then Gerraint felt it best to run so he did not hear any more.

All of the Lords, which is to say, chiefs of the many tribes and nations of the Gaelic peoples of Britain, Wales and Cornwall gathered in the courtyard of the stone first thing in the morning, along with the young Lords, and the squires, who were pushed back to the outside edges where they could barely see anything over the heads of their fathers.  The older ones knew the basic story.  Peredur said that anyone who was alive when the Roman planted the sword in the stone had to be a baby and could not possibly remember the deed.  Pelenor said this whole thing could have been avoided if Uther had a son.  His daughter Morgana, dabbler in the mystical arts though she may be, hardly qualified.  Then everyone grew quiet while the Bishop Dubricius said a short prayer for guidance and wisdom.

Dubricius stepped back to where he got surrounded by some twenty monks and clerics.  Meryddin stood on the other side of the yard with a dozen Druids to back him up.  This was a land where the new had come, but the old seemed far from gone.  Pelenor acknowledged that when he stepped up to the stone and addressed the crowd.

R5 Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone, part 1 of 3

The company trooped into Londugnum just after noon on the third day.  That seemed about as fast as they could hurry things up.  There were signs of decay everywhere, with plenty of buildings that had been abandoned.  Trade with the continent was not what it used to be.  Outside the city walls, there sat a large Saxon settlement that Pelenor called Londugwic.

“This is one of the only places where Britons and Saxons can trade peacefully,” Pelenor explained.  “As long as they keep the wall between them, and as long as one side or the other does not feel cheated, which always happens.”  He laughed, but Gerraint imagined not many British goods were coming into town in his day, and most of what came got floated down the Thames, outside the wall, the road being as unsafe as it was.

They made for the church and monastery that had been dedicated to Saint Paul, where they found a great number of men, Lords and squires, who all but displaced the monks for the time being.  People slept on the floor, everywhere, but then many more took rooms in neighboring houses for the season so it was not as bad as it might have been.  Gerraint found Tristam early on.  Tristam turned thirteen last winter, and being from Tintangle in Cornwall, he helped Gerraint feel closer to home.  Sadly, Tristam started hanging out with Urien, a twelve-year-old from the British Midlands, who had a big raven emblazoned across his tunic and who seemed to share the same attitude and manners of the carrion eater.  The eldest squire among the monastery dwellers was Mesalwig, a stuck-up sixteen-year-old from Glastonbury who fortunately, wanted to hang out with the young lords.  Kai and Bedwyr ignored the fellow, so he attached himself to Loth.  Thomas of Dorset was the next eldest at sixteen, and he stayed with the squires and kids, and seemed the nicest fellow.  He was so nice, in fact, he had no martial instincts at all, unlike his younger brother Gwillim, who made a chubby ten, and a handful.

There were many Lords, young and old in attendance. Melwas, who just turned twenty-one, came all the way from Lyoness.  Badgemagus, near fifty, hailed from Northern Wales.  Kai and Loth were from way up north where the Scots and Picts were always a worry, and now where they faced a new intrusion of Danes, though they were more often called Jutes, a name the people knew, or Norwegians, which meant nothing but sounded foreign and strange.  There were also Lords who brought their sons, even if the sons were too young to become squires.  Along with ten-year-old Gwillim, there was Gwyr from the Midlands at eleven, Arawn at nine, attached to the Raven’s elbow, and there were three Welsh troublemakers of Menw at ten, Kvendelig at nine and Gwarhyr at seven.  Gerraint made a point of getting to know them all, and as many others as he could, and so Arthur and tag-along Percival did the same.

“These will be the men we will have to deal with on a regular basis, ten and twenty years from now,” Gerraint said.  Arthur saw the wisdom in making their acquaintance, and from the start showed great insight on the kind of men they might become.

“So, why are we all meeting in Londugnum?” Urien asked one afternoon.  He disguised none of his contempt.  He thought this a poor excuse for a town.  Percival and Tristam both thought the Raven had no business complaining, but they were wondering the same thing.

“Good question,” Thomas of Dorset, the eldest spoke, but then he looked away because he had no answer.  Gwillim’s young friend Gwyr, who at all of eleven spoke up.

“Because this is the place the Roman punched his sword into the stone and said the true war chief for the people will be the one who can pull it out.  I think the Lords are just going to choose someone and ignore the stone, because they have all tried it and none of them could pull it out.”

“That is almost right.”  They heard a voice and all looked up at the Bishop, who smiled for them.  He came into the room, pulled up a chair, and invited the squires to sit at his feet while he explained.

“It was ninety or nearly a hundred years ago when the Romans left the land.”  Some looked surprised because the way that Rome and the Romans were spoken of, they thought the leaving was much more recent.  “In those days, the people were all left to fend for themselves.  Soon enough, all the petty Lords and chiefs began to squabble and fight.  It became like the days of chaos before the Romans ever came.  The Germans the Romans had contracted to guard the shore from invasion, became the invaders.  The Scots they invited to fill the land between the walls as a human wall against the wild Picts, began to join the Picts in raiding the lush southlands. Everything started falling apart, rapidly.

“Then what happened?”  Thomas of Dorset asked, like he was the youngest instead of the eldest.

“After about thirty years, now some sixty years ago, a Roman Senator came to see how the free province was doing.  He saw the chaos, so he called all of the chiefs of the Britons, Welsh, Cornish, Saxons and Angles to Lundinium, which is what the city was called in those days.  He selected and anointed the first Pendragon, a man named Owen who went by the Roman name of Constantine.  The Germans did not acknowledge his overlord status, but understood what a war chief would be and pledged peace.  With that, Owen became able to satisfy the Scots with land and drive the Picts back to the Celidon forest.  Then, when the Germans broke the promised peace, he also became able to drive them back to their shores.  A good time of peace followed, and though Owen got old, he had a good son whom he called Constans.”  The Bishop paused for a moment to think things through, and the boys waited, as patiently as they could.

“Owen died, and Constans became Pendragon, but then he died by poison and his friend and counselor, Vortigen took over.  The sons of Constans, Ambrosius the elder and Uther the younger, fled to Amorica and the court of King Budic who granted them sanctuary where Vortigen could not reach them.  Vortigen contented himself with rule, but it came in the most terrible way.  His rule caused trouble rather than resolving things.  Vortigen hurt rather than helped, and no one liked the man.  After five years, Ambrosius and Uther returned, and all the Britons, Welsh and Cornish flocked to them.  Vortigen looked finished, but he had secretly made a pact with the Saxons and he brought them into a great battle by Badon Hill. Ambrosius won that battle, Vortigen got overcome, the Saxons decimated, but Ambrosius Pendragon got mortally wounded. He lingered for almost three years, and in that time, Uther became the one who led the people against the Picts, the Angles, and the new threat of the Danes.

R5 Gerraint: The Road to Londugnum, part 3 of 3

Gerraint turned.  The Bishop had a small cut in his arm where his robe had been torn.  He held Percival in front of him, his hands tight across the boy’s chest.  Percival had a big dent in his pot-helmet, and he had his eyes closed.  Arthur had his own knife and Gerraint’s long knife and faced a man who appeared to be toying with him.  He swung slowly with his sword and Arthur desperately tried to parry.  It looked like a lesson for a schoolboy, and the Saxon laughed.  Gerraint stood behind the Saxon, and again he did not hesitate. He brought Salvation down on the back of the man’s head even as Arthur realized his advantage would be in getting close.  The man howled and reached for his head as Arthur stepped in and thrust up under the man’s breastplate.  The man cried out again and fell to join his companion in the dirt.

“Ugurt?”  One of the Saxons in the camp yelled in response and then rattled off a whole string of words in a language the boys did not know.  Suddenly, a half-dozen Saxons stood at the forest edge, growling, with their weapons ready.

Arthur backed up, horrified by the knowledge that he killed a man.  Gerraint would have felt the same way, now that he had a chance to think about what he did, except he no longer stood there.  Instead, a man, with golden brown hair, hair which appeared nearly blond in the sun, looked at the Saxons through sparkling blue eyes under strong brows. He wore a formidable suit of leather and chainmail that reached to below his knees. He wore tall boots that disappeared into the skirt of the armor, and studded gloves that came up to his elbow. He had a helmet which looked ancient, like something Greek, where only the eyes and mouth remained uncovered. He put it on and reached out his free hand and called.  “Defender.” Gerraint’s knife wriggled free of Arthur’s hand and jumped to the hand of the man.  The man still held salvation in his other hand, and he raised it for battle.

The Saxons hardly hesitated, but as they charged, there came a sudden whizzing sound in the air.  All six Saxons became target practice for some unseen archers, the last of whom fell a scant two feet from the man.  The man spoke in a strange tongue which only the Bishop understood. “Th – thank you,” he said in his native Greek, and went away, taking his armor and the sword called Salvation with him. Gerraint returned holding only Defender which he returned to the sheath he wore strapped to his thigh.  Arthur looked shocked.  Percival still had his eyes closed.

Three men came out from the deeper woods and went straight to Gerraint.  They might have been hunters, but there had a hint of the lion on their tunics.  They all went to one knee before Gerraint and the eldest spoke.  “Your Highness.”

“You are a long way from home,” Gerraint said. “Don’t tell me, you have been secretly following since Caerleon.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Wait a minute.”  Gerraint got some insight from somewhere.  “You’ve been following me since my stepfather threw me out.” The hunters chose not to answer that accusation.  “Well, what Diogenes said, thank you, but now you better disappear before Lord Pelenor and the others return.”

“As you wish,” the elder said, and the three, without a look at the other people present, got up and disappeared among the trees.

Arthur held a stiff upper lip.  “Nice to have some extra friends.”

Gerraint nodded and thought, stiff upper lip, how British.  Then he spoke.  “I have wings to fly that you know nothing of, eyes that see farther, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Arthur could only nod as Gerraint disappeared again and a young woman came to stand in his place.  She came dressed in a long dress with long sleeves and had a red cloak with a red hood over all.  Her hair was blond, her eyes were soft, rich brown, her skin looked milky white, and she had more than enough freckles.

“Your grace,” she said to the Bishop, and curtsied, which showed the silver cross that hung from a chain and swung with her movements.  “I am a healer, now let me see that cut.”

Many men would run at seeing her appear out of nowhere, and would be wary of such an offer, but the Bishop just smiled. Percival fetched water and cloth with which she could clean and bandage the wound.  Arthur just looked over her shoulder and pretended to admire her work.

When she was done, she stood and faced Arthur. “Greta.  I am a Dacian, which is Germanic, so not a good choice.  I am also older than you.”  She reached out and kissed Arthur’s cheek.  “You did your duty.  You must always do what is right and good and true.”  She vanished and Gerraint returned.  “And for the record, neither Greta nor Diogenes were here, and we were helped by simple hunters.”

Percival had retrieved and cleaned Arthur’s knife, and he used it to prick his finger.  Gerraint borrowed it, pricked his finger, and handed Arthur back his weapon. Arthur paused only a second before he pricked his finger and agreed.  The boys touched, and were surprised to find the Bishop’s finger over them all.  He had touched the bit of blood from his wound.  He looked at their surprised faces and laughed.

“I was a boy once,” he said.  “I know about blood oaths, and I agree.  What happened here is not for tale telling.”

Arthur nodded, but as he put his knife away, he began to cry.  Gerraint joined him, and he never did look at the man he killed.  The Bishop put an arm over their shoulders, carefully in Arthur’s case because of his wound on that side, but then he walked them back to the roadway.  There they heard all about forgiveness and mercy, and received absolution in the Roman way.  Arthur said he understood something then that he never understood before.  Gerraint simply said, “Thanks.”

The last thing that got said before Pelenor and the troop returned was a question by Arthur.  “I saw the lion on their tunics, but if they were not hunters, who were those men?”

“Fairies,” Gerraint answered.  Arthur laughed, but he was not sure what to believe.  The Bishop merely nodded before Percival got them all to laugh when he grabbed a rock and tried to take the dent out of his pot-helmet.

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MONDAY

Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone.  If you read the story of Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome, you know he put it there.  Now, Gerraint needs to make sure the right hands pull it out again.

Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

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