M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 3 of 3

“Spooky, isn’t she,” the voice said.  Gerraint spun around and found Arawn.  The man looked haggard, like a man who had not eaten or slept in a week.

“Urien here?” he asked.  He guessed that something like a storm happened to them as well, and Urien might have been driven to these same rocks.  He guessed Manannan for sure.  The circumstantial evidence looked strong.

Arawn did not answer Gerraint’s question.  He would not take his eyes off the girl.  “She just sits and stares at the sea, like a ghost.  But she isn’t a ghost, is she?”  Arawn laughed in a way that sent shivers, like little needles through Gerraint’s mind.  “She had a brother once, she did.”  Arawn said and he backed toward the jetty, fretted his filthy hands as if trying to wipe something clean.

Gerraint looked again at the girl.  His immediate question concerning Urien was not answered, but he still needed information if he could get it.  He felt reluctant to ask Margueritte for help since she was so young herself, but Margueritte seemed more than willing and begged for the chance.  Gerraint reached out in time and they traded places, Margueritte appeared in her fairy clothes and added a shawl to it as help against the cold wind.

Margueritte looked back first, concerned about Arawn’s reaction, but the man had already gone, somewhere unreachable.  Without a word, she walked deliberately toward the other girl.  The girl stood and stared in Margueritte’s direction.  Seeing Margueritte, a young girl like herself, the green-haired, big eyed child no longer looked afraid.  When Margueritte got close enough, she stopped, still a good distance away, not wanting to press the point.  The girl’s   eyes were definitely too round and fully brown with hardly any white at all.  Her hair looked too thick, green and brown streaked, and she had little dots, like freckles, on her upper lip and cheeks where a cat might have had whiskers.

“Can you help?”  Margueritte asked at last in her best Welsh as Gerraint spoke it.  “I have no idea where I am.  The storm, you know.  I am lost.”

The girl looked up from staring at Margueritte’s shoes.  “Brother lost, too,” the girl said.  She lifted her chin to the sky and screamed, “Forever!”

Margueritte winced.  The girl began to bark like a seal pup, and a female seal transformed into a woman, dressed minimally in a dress that looked made out of seaweed.

“Forever,” the seal woman echoed.  “You are here forever.”  She stepped up beside her daughter, sniffed Margueritte’s fairy clothing with some appreciation for what she sensed.  “Lord keeps you.  Treasure for you is sea and stone.  No treasure, only here, forever.”  She took her daughter’s hand and turned toward the far rocks.  The other seals nearby also took that moment to transform into women and young boys and girls.  They climbed together over the rocks to get to the main herd without having to make the shark infested swim around the point.

Margueritte hesitated until the last of the pups disappeared over to the other side, then she ran to the rocks, but once she climbed up, all she could see was perhaps a mile of beach covered wall to wall with seals, big males, females, and young everywhere.  Those who had been temporarily women and children were indistinguishable from the rest.  Who knew?  Perhaps they were all seal people.

Margueritte went back to her own time and Gerraint returned in order to climb down from the slippery rocks.  His walk back to camp remained slow, despite his hunger.  “No treasure, only here forever,” he repeated.  Evidentially, Manannan drove them to wreck in this place and intended to keep them here, having judged them as would be thieves.

“Gerraint!”  “My Lord!”  The others called to him from the cooking fire.

“Trevor’s not a bad cook,” Uwaine said, in an unusual word of praise. That meant the fish was probably excellent, but Gerraint no longer felt hungry.

“The ship is in good shape,” Gwillim reported.  “At least the piece of it that is left.  There’s rope I left down by the cliffs, and some tools too heavy for even the waves to drag to sea, but that is about it.”

“There’s land in that direction.”  Uwaine pointed.

“I was thinking a raft,” Gwillim continued.

“Here.”  Trevor handed Gerraint half a fish with something on it that Gerraint did not recognize. Certainly, some sort of spice, he imagined.

“Manannan drove us here.”  Gerraint said in a flat voice that got their attention.  “The seals suggest he intends to keep us here forever, because we dared to try and steal the treasures of Britain.”

“The seals?”  Gwillim laughed.  He thought of it as a joke.  Trevor looked horrified, but Uwaine knew better on both counts.

“So how do we get off this rock?” he asked.

Gerraint sighed and tasted the fish.  It was very good and hardly tasted like fish.  Gwillim knew what he was doing setting Trevor to cook.  “The gods make the rules to try and test men’s souls, not to defeat men.  There is always a way left for men who are willing to try.  A little intelligence, some courage and determination are needed.  Good men get knocked down, but they get up again.  I vote for the raft.”

Uwaine merely nodded and went back to eating.  Gwillim let go of the thought of talking seals and appreciated the support for his idea.  Trevor went back to cooking, but his expression showed he had been at sea long enough to hear stories.

“How long do you figure the raft will take?” Uwaine asked at last.

“Well.”  Gwillim sat up.  “We’ll have to work fast and hope against another September storm.  It won’t do to have the ship break loose.  We should be able to break free enough lumber in a week or so, and then drag it across the island to assemble.  I would say two weeks, three tops.”

“So, by October, give or take,” Gerraint concluded.  “I would like to get home before the snows.  I suspect we are a long way north.”

“We would all like to beat the snow,” Gwillim said.

Uwaine and Gerraint jumped.  Gwillim and Trevor were just a little slower.  They heard rustling in the trees before Urien stepped out.

“Well, I’ll be,” Gwillim said.  “The Raven got grounded on these same cruddy rocks.”

“That smells very good,” Urien said.  “You gentlemen mind if I join you?”

“I don’t know.”  Gerraint eyed Urien closely.  “Are you as insane as your friend?”

“Oh, you’ve seen him.”  Urien stepped up for some of the fish without waiting for the formal invitation.  “Mad as an Irish hermit.”

“Arawn.”  Gerraint answered the questioning looks around him.

“What do you mean?”  Trevor asked.

“What happened?”  Gwillim wondered.

“A storm as like to yesterday’s storm as can be,” Urien answered while delighting in the fish.  “Arawn and I alone escaped with our lives by being foolishly washed overboard.  Or rather, Arawn got washed over and dragged me after him.  We came up on this place and fared well enough the first week.  We have a shelter of sorts across the island, facing what I believe is the mainland of Caledonia.  Arawn got tired of fish, though.  There are sharks out in the deep.  We could not exactly swim to the mainland, though it looks deceptively close.  While I studied the problem, he began to explore.  He thought where there were sharks, there had to be seals, and he was right.  Apparently, he clubbed a young pup and hid it from me, cooked it and ate it on the sly.  I found out when he woke me one morning.  He had already gone, you know, in the mind.  He babbled about eating a young boy.  He said the seals were haunting him.  They would not let him sleep.  They kept accusing him.  He ran off, screaming.  I have only seen him a couple of times since, and only from a distance.”  Urien finished his fish with the story, and everyone nodded except Gwillim.

“Don’t be daft yourself,” Gwillim said.  “Talking seals?  Accusing him?  What are they doing, pointing fingers at him?  They must be pointing flippers.”  He tried to make light of it all but stopped when he saw that the others took it dead serious.

“It is true, then,” Trevor said.  “There are people who live in the form of seals.  They say to see one in human form is an ill omen.  They say if by chance one should speak to you, you will lose your mind, altogether.”

“Old wives’ tales.”  Gerraint thought of Margueritte.  “Sailors imagine lots of things and stretch many stories when they are too long at sea.”

“This is true enough.”  Gwillim tried to get in with the tone, even if he still did not believe a word of the tale.

“Don’t worry Trevor.  I’ll protect you,” Gerraint said.

“Better protection than you know,” Uwaine spoke up.

Trevor smiled, grimly, but seemed willing to give it his best shot.

“But say,” Gwillim spoke up.  “We’ve got a part of our ship, grounded on the rocks, and rope and some tools.  What say you to a raft?”

“That would work.”  Urien did not hesitate to get excited by the idea.  “When do we start?”

“Now.”

“No.”  Gerraint stood.  “We have to get something straight first.”  He looked directly at Urien.  “You were after the Treasures of Britain, weren’t you?  You were hoping the old isle of Manannan would give you the key to finding Avalon.”

“Annwan?”  Urien said.  “Certainly.  We are after the Cauldron of inspiration, which is life.  We all saw it, didn’t we?”

“We all saw something,” Uwaine said softly.

“Yes, well, aboard your ship,” Gerraint continued.  “Who knew about your quest?”

“Just me and Arawn.”  Urien said in an offended voice.  “I paid the Captain for passage to the Isle of Man.  That’s all he needed to know.”

“And for us, it was myself, Uwaine and Gwillim,” Gerraint said.

“I told my mate,” Gwillim interrupted.  “He had to know something.  I did not imagine it was a secret, but he didn’t tell anyone, did you?”  Trevor shook his head.

“So everyone who knew is here, on the island, and we don’t know where the innocent might be,” Gerraint concluded.  The men all nodded.  “So you need to pledge that you will give up any quest for the treasures or no work we do will bear fruit.  Manannan will keep us here forever if we don’t.”

“But.”  Urien started to say something, but then thought better of it.

“It seems my own crew was not exactly pure in thought concerning the treasure.” Gerraint continued, and the three men bowed their heads.

“The tales say after the people came up into the land some of the gods went underground while some went to Avalon,” Trevor said.   “I would have liked to have seen it is all.”

“Well, I never thought it was likely to be found,” Gwillim admitted.  “But I did hear once that the very streets of Avalon are paved with golden cobblestones.”

“In my heart I knew better,” Uwaine said in his soft voice.  “I am ashamed.”

“Don’t be,” Gerraint assured him.  “If you did not think about it, you would not be human.  But let us pledge not to pursue the treasure anymore.”  The three did.  “Urien?”

“That is a hard thing you are asking,” he said.

“That, or you will have no part in our raft.”  Gerraint responded.

“Damn.”  Urien swore, but he pledged to give up his quest.  “But what about Arawn?”

“Yes,” Gerraint said.  “I think Trevor better stay armed while fishing and cooking, and we had better carry the lumber across the island in pairs, just to be safe.”

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

MONDAY

Gerraint and his shipwrecked company try to get to the mainland, but it is a long way through hostile territory to get back to Cornwall.  Happy Reading

*

M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 2 of 3

“Oars, too.  Ten to a side, maybe.”

Gerraint grabbed Gwillim by the arm.  Something itched in the back of his mind.  “Sails full against the wind?”  He noticed that their sail looked full because they were with the wind.

“Yes,” Gwillim said, and then he paused as he thought about it.

“British?  Amorican?  Welsh?”  He asked the man up the mast.

“No,” the answer came back.  “Never seen the like.  Long boats, like old Roman ships, but shallow draft.  No rams.  No height fore or aft either.  No upper deck.”

“Norwegian?”  Gerraint asked.  The word Viking was not yet common, but Norwegian ships were not unknown.  Thus far, however, they had been confined to the North Sea and the people who colonized the East coast of Britain around the Humber River had been brought to submission under Loth and Arthur’s sister-in-law, Gwenhwyfach, and their sons, Gawain, Medrawt, and his cousins.

“Could be Norwegian,” Trevor said.  “I wouldn’t know.”

“Ready to come about.”  The crew looked impatient, but Gwillim and Gerraint were eye to eye in thought.

“Hold to your course,” Gerraint said at last.  Their ship was virtually round with a single main sail.  It had been built to crawl along the coast, not for speed, but the sail stayed taught.  The wind blew from their rear.  The sails of the oncoming ships ought to be useless.

“Their sails are full?”  Gwillim confirmed.

“Tight as a drum and coming on fast,” Trevor shouted down.

Gwillim nodded.  “Hold to course,” he commanded.

“Captain!”  The steersman wanted to protest.  The only normal recourse for a merchant ship in the face of pirates was to make for the nearest coast, to a safe haven if possible, but at least to drop anchor, run for their lives and leave the ship to be plundered.

“You heard the order,” Gwillim said, and they watched as the ships began to draw near.

“Put up your sword,” Gerraint told Uwaine.  Uwaine leaned on the railing, sword in hand.  He expected to be caught and boarded at any minute.

As the ships drew closer, they could see the oarsmen and make out faces that were both grim and bloodthirsty.  “Don’t look at them,” Gwillim ordered.  “Keep your eyes to your tasks.”

Gwillim himself looked away, but Gerraint and Uwaine could not help staring.

“Our death, no doubt,” Uwaine whispered.  Gerraint felt the same, but he gambled and his face was not going to show it.  Right before the lead Viking ship reached them, right when they began to hear the screams and shouts of men ready for the slaughter, it was over.  The ships vanished all at once, and several planks of some old merchant wreck floated by.  Uwaine looked up in wonder.

“Manannan.”  Gerraint named the god responsible for the illusion.  “It’s an old trick.”

“If I didn’t know you, it would have worked, too,” Gwillim said, as he came up beside them.  “But I’ve learned one thing.  The sea can play mighty tricks on the mind.”

Gerraint ignored the comment from his friend and pointed to the sky.  The clouds started coming up and darkening faster than possible.  “You better batten down the hatches or whatever you do,” he said.  “That’s no trick.”

Gwillim’s jaw dropped.  “Come about!”  He panicked.  “To shore.  Tie down the rails.”  He ran off, and Gerraint’s advice to Uwaine was to hold on.  They barely got the sail down before the storm hit them with hurricane force.  The sun immediately got blotted out and their vision cut to half the distance of the ship.  They got lifted on a monstrous wave and spun around so fast and so many times, no man could tell which direction was the shore and which was the deeper sea.  Gerraint and Uwaine tied themselves to the ship in the stern, on the port side.  Gwillim and his mate, Trevor, were tied to the starboard side.  The rest of the crew tied themselves to the bow, except for the two men who were too slow and had already gone overboard.

It might have been half an hour.  It might have been half a day.  It felt impossible to tell how long it lasted.  Their only saving grace was the oak and hardwood construction of the vessel made it nearly impossible to sink, and the round design made it equally impossible to swamp or turn over.  They rode the waves like men on a roller coaster, lifted on mountains of water and sliding into impossibly deep valleys with mountains all around.  Surely, Uwaine would have gotten sick if he had not been so petrified.

Nothing they could do but stay tied, pray and ride out the storm.  They had no way to drive or direct the boat, and no one knew which way to go in any case.

“Rocks!”  One of the crew shouted back from the bow.  He saw the foam of the crashing waves and knew what to look for.

“Hold on!”  Gwillim and Gerraint shouted at the same time.  They slammed sideways into a boulder just beneath the surface.  The sea drew them back and they slammed again and again into the same spot.  They heard a terrible crushing sound which made several men scream.  The mast fell toward the bow, crushed a man and knocked another over the side.

Men screamed in earnest, now, and Gerraint was about to agree with them as a sharp pillar of stone rose right up in the center of the ship where the mast had been.  The waves began to crash down on them, and Gerraint felt sure they would all be drowned in a moment, but then the tearing of the ship ended.  The stern and bow became completely separated, and the stern was pushed by a giant wave to crash against a rocky shore while the bow got pushed to sea. Neither the bow, nor the crew tied to it were ever seen again.

“You all right?”

“Get free.”

“Inland.”

“Shelter of the rocks.”

“Hold on.”

Gerraint, Uwaine, Gwillim and Trevor all shouted at once.  Miraculously, none seemed terribly hurt and in a moment, they scrambled over the slippery rocks and held on to stone and each other for dear life.

“Incoming.”  Gerraint and the others yelled more than once as a giant wave came and tried to crush them against the stone or drag them back out to sea.  Gerraint lost his grip on the rocks once, and lost hold of Uwaine twice.  The second time he saved him by grabbing the Mate’s hand who grabbed Uwaine’s cloak.

There were taller rocks, deeper in, with coves in the rocks that offered some shelter against wind and wave, long ago carved out by just such storms on the relentless sea.  They huddled for a moment before Uwaine found a hole he could slither through.  It put the main part of the rocks between them and the sea, not that the waves were not crashing over the rocks, but at least they were no longer in danger of being carried back out into the deep.  Trevor, the mate wiggled right behind him, and Gerraint navigated the hole well enough.  Poor Gwillim got stuck around his middle, and he might have stayed there if a sudden burst of water had not pushed him through with a pop!  Gerraint and Uwaine, who each had one of Gwillim’s hands, fell on their backs, and Gwillim fell on top of them.  They got up quickly and put their backs to the rocks and shouted.

“Further in?”  Uwaine asked.  “Higher ground?”

“No,” Gwillim became adamant.  “Too risky.  Just hold to the shelter of the stone.”  Trevor shivered and stood wide eyed.  He was going nowhere.

The storm did not last much longer.  Those four had clearly escaped the storm’s wrath, so it seemed the storm decided to give up.  In a matter of minutes, almost as fast as the storm came up, it magically went away and left only a drizzle of rain against the night sky.

“Hours.”  The mate spoke at last.  They saw a three-quarter moon risen somewhere behind the clouds.

“Fire.”  Gwillim suggested the more practical matter, and they let go of their shelter and stepped inland in search of wood.  It seemed a difficult task, but the storm, for all of its violence, was quick enough to come and go.  It had not stayed around long enough to really soak the woods.  With the fire, Uwaine suggested they ought to reconnoiter, to see if they could find out where they were.  The other three stared at him, blankly, until Trevor began to snore.

Hunger came with the sunrise.  A cold wind swept along the beach in front of the edge of the forest in which they settled.  Gwillim immediately took charge, as a captain will.  He sent Trevor to search the shore and pools around the rocks for any fish which the water might have left behind while everyone else built up the fire.  Once they had food cooking, it was Gerraint who really pulled things together.

“Uwaine.” He pointed up the hill out of which the great rocks, near cliffs along the beach, had been carved.  Uwaine understood that he could get a good look at the lay of the land from there.  “I’ll head up the beach and around the rocks at that hedge.  Gwillim?”

“I think I’ll just see if there is anything salvageable from our half of the ship.”  He said.  Everyone said be careful, but then they started out because the smell of the fish cooking started driving them crazy with hunger.

Uwaine found the top of the hill cleared of trees.  From there, he easily saw that they were on an island, but in the dim light of dawn, he was just able to make out the glimmer of another land to the south.  Whether it was the mainland or another island, he could not say.

Gwillim found the ship caught handily on the rocks.  He did not find much inside to salvage, most having been gutted by the waves, but the lumber looked strong, and he already had in mind the idea of a raft, should it be needed.

Gerraint, by far, took the longest time.  Around the natural jetty of rocks, he found a seal colony.  He saw another jetty a hundred yards up the beach and most of the noise came from there, but on his side of the far rocks, he saw several females and their pups, and one little girl with long brown and greenish hair.  Even from that distance, Gerraint could see from her hair and her enormously round brownish-black eyes that she was not human.

“Hello,” he called.  Several of the females began to bark, and the girl looked startled, but she did not move. Gerraint walked up the beach.  He stopped when the girl appeared frightened and looked ready to run.  He had to think about this for a minute.  He heard a voice behind him.

M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 1 of 3

Gerraint looked back until his family fell out of sight.  He told Guimier to watch after her mother and be a good girl.  It felt like a harder parting than before.  He was forty-seven, after all.  His wars were behind him.  He woke in the dawn with aches and pains and should not have to be forced into adventures at his age.  He wanted Enid.  That was all he ever wanted since the first time he saw her in the court of Ynwyl, her father.  He fought for her then.  He would fight for her a thousand times, and never look back.

“Your thoughts?”  Uwaine asked.  Uwaine had reached that delicate point where his stomach and the sea had a temporary truce, and Gerraint knew talking helped distract his mind.  Uwaine never talked much, except at sea.  That was one thing Gerraint liked about the man.

“Guimier.”  Gerraint said.  “I think she will be a real beauty, that is, if she continues to take after her mother.”

“Yes,” Uwaine said.  “I can see you will have your hands full with her.”

“And Enid,” Gerraint added.  Uwaine said nothing, but he knew.  He nodded.

“Poor Bedivere got upset at being left behind this time.”  Uwaine pointed out the obvious.

“Yes, but he needs to heal,” Gerraint said.  “And I have a bad feeling about things right now.  I wanted a good sword in the house, a watch dog if you will.  I don’t know.”

Uwaine nodded again.  He did not feel good, either, but he could not put it into words.  He also did not feel good in his stomach and needed to sit down.  Gerraint sat with him.

“I was wondering one thing,” Uwaine said.  “Lionel was wondering the same thing.”  Gerraint waited.  From the way Uwaine started, he could tell this would be a good one.  “What’s it like to be a woman?” he said at last.  Gerraint frowned.

“I’m sure I would not know,” he said.  “I have never been able to figure out women myself.”  He shrugged.

“But you’ve lived as a woman,” Uwaine said.  “Lionel swears he saw you become one and set his leg.  And I have seen, myself.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Gerraint said.  “I may have some practical knowledge, some things I can describe as an outside observer, but what’s it like?”  Gerraint shrugged.  “It is like memory, sort of.  I was four years old, once.  I vaguely recall things when I play with Guimier, but I hardly remember what it was like being a four-year-old.”  He shrugged again.

“But what is it like, having lived more than once?”  Uwaine asked.

“Boring, mostly,” Gerraint said.  “Its’ plain life, not always adventure, you know.  The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the chance to live it with someone as wonderful as Enid.”  He sounded matter of fact about that, and Uwaine well understood.

“No, I meant you must know things, lots of things about which most people have no idea,” Uwaine said.

Gerraint shook his head.  “I said, it is like memory.  You know, things only come to mind where there is something, circumstances or whatever that triggers the memory.  It is not something I am normally even aware of.  Not something I spend time thinking about.”

“But, then you go away,” Uwaine continued his own thoughts.  “Where do you go?  And someone, some other life of yours shows up.  How do you do that?  And how do you decide who will take your place?”

Gerraint looked long at Uwaine.  The man was not normally this verbal.  He must be really sea sick.  “I don’t know how it works, exactly,” Gerraint admitted.  “I don’t know exactly where I go, or how some past or future life is able to take my place.  I suppose time and space are not entirely inflexible, maybe like a good sword.  I guess being the same person exchanging the same basic flesh and blood between one life and the next is not enough to throw time and space out of whack.”

“No, I mean—” Uwaine started, but Gerraint cut him off.

“As for the other life that comes in to temporarily fill my space, I suppose that too is like memory.  It depends on who is accessible, who comes bubbling up to the surface, so to speak.  It is generally triggered by the circumstances and it is someone who has some skill, talent, or power that can speak to the situation.  I suppose at this age I have some say in the matter.  I know a little about some of the lives I have lived.  But at first, when I was young, as a teenager, I was not always exactly aware of what was happening.  A couple of times, anyway.  Am I making sense?”

Uwaine nodded, but his hand went over his mouth.  That ended that conversation.

Gerraint sat and listened to the sound of the waves lap up against the hull.  The sky looked clear, and the day warm.  He wondered if they would have time to catch up with the Raven.  Urien had about two week’s head start, if Gerraint’s calculations were right.  If Urien and Arawn found a boat before the end of the week, they might already be at the Isle of Man.  It might already be too late.

He tried not to think that way.  They were ready to pull into the docks at Caerleon.  After a brief acknowledgement to Arthur and an updating on Urien’s progress, if any was available, they would ride hard across the roads that wound through the hills of Wales.  At least Uwaine should hold down his lunch.  They would deal with the next sea voyage when they got there, or as Bedwyr used to say, “We’ll build that bridge when we come to it.”

“Arthur got quiet,” Uwaine said, when they started to ride the next day.

“He’s concerned,” Gerraint explained.  “I’m not sure he quite realized how strongly the old ways and the old thinking are still holding on to people.  Right now, Christianity is like a warm coat, but there are layers underneath, and those are the ones closer to the heart.”

Uwaine nodded that he understood, but he was back on land and thus back to being a man of few words.

It seemed a long, hard ride to the northwest coast, but actually, as long as the Roman roads were kept up, it was quicker than sailing around.  When they arrived at the Port known as Branwen’s Cove, they would have to depend on luck and a little insider information to catch a willing ship for the Isle of Man.  Sure enough, Gerraint sighed in relief on their arrival.  He saw the British merchant in the bay, and now all Gerraint had to do was see if it was the one for which he had hoped.

He got his answer at the inn.  “Gwillim!”  He shouted for the Captain’s attention.

“My Lord!”  Gwillim recognized him right away, and nodded to Uwaine.  They had fought any number of battles together.  Gwillim even rode among Meryddin’s select crew that went with Arthur to fetch Gwynyvar from her father’s court, twenty-five years earlier.  That was back when the Irish had a great king and a backbone, Gerraint thought.

“Is that your ship in the bay?”  Gerraint got straight to the point as he sat at the table.

“It is,” Gwillim admitted, reluctantly.  “Family business.”

Gerraint nodded.  Quite a few men of war had found other things to fill their days since the peace.  The mercantile business seemed as good as any.  Some hardly knew what to do with themselves, and that started to be a problem in some places.  This whole quest for the Graal had been intended to fill the gap for many but it was a distraction.  Gerraint knew it would not sustain things for long.

“Let me buy you an ale,” Gerraint suggested, and he did just that.  “Though I see you have added a stone or two in these past three years.”

“Not much to do at sea,” Gwillim said.  “I read the charts, follow the shoreline, and eat.”  He shrugged.

“Your ship fast?”  Uwaine asked, conversationally.

“Fastest ship afloat,” Gwillim said with a Captain’s pride, but then he screwed up his brows.  “Why?”

Gerraint told him.  “Your brother, Thomas was in Cornwall when we left.  He thought you might be here about the time we arrived.”

“Leave it to Thomas,” Gwillim said.  “Anything to avoid an adventure.  I’m not surprised he did not offer to take you himself.”

“But?”  Uwaine wanted an answer.

“Of course I’ll take you,” Gwillim said.  “For old time’s if nothing else.”  He downed the last of his drink and stood.  “You rest up.  I’ll get my crew to unload.  Give us more speed.  Can’t leave until the tide, anyway.”  He left and Uwaine breathed a sigh of relief.

“No point in filling myself full of food,” Uwaine said, and he went immediately to find a bed.  Gerraint stayed up for a bit.  The time was getting on.  They were headed for September.  He could smell it in the noontime air.

Uwaine sat in the back as they rode the small boat to the ship.  The water came up, but the bay stayed calm and there would be enough sunlight left to get a good start.  Gerraint stood up front humming some tune about the mate being a mighty sailor man.  Somehow, though, he thought the mate’s name ought to be Gwillim.

“Realistically.”  Gwillim asked as they climbed aboard.  “What do you think your chances are of catching them?”

“None.”  Gerraint answered honestly.  “With two-weeks head start, I could have the whole island surveyed by this time.”

“So why the rush?”  Gwillim asked.

“Because they haven’t found the door to Avalon yet,” Gerraint answered.

Gwillim shouted the orders to get under way before turning back to his passenger.  “Annwn,” Gwillim said, giving another name for the fabled land.  “You seem very sure about that.”

“El Dorado,” Gerraint gave a name Gwillim did not know.  “I am certain.”  Gerraint did not explain.  “And I am also certain that they need to be stopped.  The old ways are gone.  The new ways have come and no good will come from dredging up the ancient Celtic treasures.  Arthur can only see civil war as a result, and to some extent, I agree with him.”

Gwillim nodded.  “I can see Arthur’s point.  The old ways do die hard.”  Then Gwillim had to get busy with running the ship, and that was the end of it until the following morning.

The anchor came up before the sun.  By daylight; they were headed into the Irish Sea and left the coast of Wales behind them.  Uwaine seemed to do very well and even commented once or twice that perhaps he was finally adjusting to the sea.  They were not far out of sight of the coast, however, before they spotted a sail in their line of passage.

“What do you make of it?”  Gwillim called to the man he sent up the mast.

“Not Scott or Pictish,” Trevor, the first mate shouted down.

“Thank God for that,” one sailor mumbled.

“Two, three sails,” Trevor yelled.

“Irish pirates?” one man asked.  The Irish might not have a strong king at present, but they remained notorious as thieves and pirates, quick to plunder at the first opportunity.

“Not Irish,” Trevor shouted to the relief of everyone.  “Six, seven sails.  Full out against the wind?”

“Prepare to come about,” Captain Gwillim shouted.  Men began to scurry.

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 3 of 3

They found plenty of lumber around the edge of the woods.  It proved easy to find some good pieces for a splint.  On finding some rope in his things, Gerraint remarked that Luckless had a way of thinking of everything.  He tore up Menw’s cloak to tie the splint.  Menw just stared and made no objection.  With the rope, he made a travois and carried the still dazed Lionel to where he could tie down both the man and the leg.

“Bedivere.”  Gerraint called out.  The young man came, his arm in a sling.  “You ride this horse.”  Gerraint said.  “You feel the bump in your arm, slow down or go around because Lionel will feel it ten times worse.

“Yes, majesty, and I really am sorry to have taken that blade,” Bedivere said.

“Howel,” Gerraint called.  “Will you tell this puppy he has done nothing to be ashamed of.”

“First time you’ve been bloodied?”  Howel asked.  Bedivere nodded.  “Well, don’t worry about it.  It happens to everyone.  In fact, I would tell you about my first time, but it was too embarrassing to speak of.”

“Thanks a lot,” Gerraint said.  That was hardly what Bedivere needed to hear.

Once they were set, they did not linger in that area.  They took their own dead, of course, and all of the horses that had not run off, but they left the Romans in the field.  Howel said they were headed to meet a larger force just south of the Lake and if they did not show up soon, there would certainly be scouts.

“But what can I do?”  Howel asked Gerraint.  “Much of our strength was spent in Britain over the past years.  Now that we are facing our own crisis, I do not know if we have the strength to meet it.”

“The Sons of Claudus do seem to be intruding,” Gerraint said.  “But I thought their hands were being tied up by the Franks in the East.”

“I am afraid they may make a treaty with the Franks, and then we would really have to struggle,” Howel said.

“Well then.  I guess you will just have to get there first.”  It seemed a common enough expression.

“I’m sorry?”  Howel did not quite grasp the idea offered.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you make a treaty with the Sons of Claudus first and offer your help against the Franks.  That way, they will be in your debt, and more importantly, their army will be in debt to your army and, if you play it right, they may even respect your army.”

Howel shook his head.

“Now, think.  It is very hard to get men to invade a land whose army they have come to respect.  Help is the best way to peace.  If your father’s father had not come to Uther’s aid, he might not have stayed long on the throne of the War Chief.  In return, Arthur came out against Claudus.”

“Yes, I suppose that is a point.  Way back then, Claudus was a real threat, and my father did have a fight on his hands.”

“Are you kidding?”  Gerraint said.  “We kicked Claudus so bad it took his sons twenty years just to climb out of the hole.  And for your information, it was not way back then.  I was there, too, and I’m only forty-seven, not an eighty-year-old dotard.”

Howel smiled before he turned serious again.  “But it still would not work.  There is too much bad blood between our families, and maybe because we beat Claudus so badly.  And, don’t forget, both Lancelot’s and Lionel’s fathers lost their lives in those battles.”

Gerraint shrugged and offered another cliché.  “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said, then he made a sour face.  “And I hate clichés.”

Back at Howel’s castle, Gerraint let his armor go home and returned to wearing his comfortable clothes.  He spent a week being sure he did not miss one opportunity to soak in a hot, indoor tub.  It did his muscles wonders and he thanked the Romans, privately, for instituting the idea.

“We send Kvendelig, Gwarhyr and Menw home and see what has turned up in our absence,” Gerraint said, plainly enough.  Besides, he was missing Enid, and little Guimier, too.  He just wondered what it might be like to have a good, Cuban cigar to smoke, not that he ever smoked, or even knew exactly what tobacco was, when Uwaine summed it up in his way of few words.

“One down, one to go,” he said.  And so it appeared.

This time, the Channel crossing went uneventful.  Gerraint got promises from the three Welsh Lords that they would give up their quest and stop threatening the future by dredging up the past.  He did not feel entirely satisfied with their pledges, but they were men of the Round Table, and as such, he accepted that their word could be trusted.

Once home, Gerraint felt delighted to find that Enid missed him too, and so did Guimier.  Indeed, it was hard for him to decide which one hugged him longer and harder. Sadly, he also found a messenger waiting for him, even as he pulled into the docks.  Urien, the Raven and his sidekick Arawn had been seen and traced.  Weldig, Nanters, and Ogryvan had all noted their passage.  Only old Pelenor seemed to have missed them on this trip.  Perhaps their lack of a warm reception the last time around, when Peredur was there, made them avoid those lands.  Perhaps Pelenor was just getting old and just missed them, Gerraint thought.  In any case, they appeared headed for the North coast of Wales, and from there, Gerraint guessed they would head for the Isle of Man.

In the evening, while Enid lay peacefully beside him, Gerraint knew Manannon, the old son of Lyr, God of the Sea, still roamed around.  Rhiannon remained.  Manannon had been reported by sailors and fishermen from time to time.  He guessed Urien went on those rumors.  He imagined they headed for the Isle of Man on the strength of such gossip.  It made sense.  Surely a god would know the way to Avalon, or Annwn, as Urien of Leogria would call it.

Enid pulled up and laid her arm across Gerraint’s chest.  She threw her leg around his and he pushed the hair from her back to see her face.  Enid was not able to sleep, either.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint is needed again.  Urien, the Raven is headed for the Isle of Man and Gerraint will have to stop him.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

 

 

 

*

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 2 of 3

Gerraint returned to his horse and mounted, unstrapped his lance at the same time, turned the point to the front and tucked it securely in place.

“What are you doing?”  Kvendelig asked, as if he did not know.

“For Arthur!”  Gerraint shouted and he shot out of the woods at full charge.  The men behind him were a little slower, but Uwaine and Bedivere were quick enough to almost catch up.  Menw and Gwarhyr were a little quicker than Kvendelig, who swore first before he added his voice to the charge.  “For Arthur!”

The Romans still had twice the men, but Howel now had six mounted warriors on his side.  They rode through the Romans first of all, evening the odds a little as they did.  As they turned, Gerraint saw Howel and Lionel arm themselves in the confusion.  The fight was on again, but several of the Romans had quickly mounted and found spears of their own.

This was no joust such as became almost a sport in the late Middle Ages.  This was ancient men with spears, lances, clubs, swords, whatever they could find with which to kill.  This was war, and Gerraint knew the business well.  He put down the first man he faced without the other’s spear even touching him.  The second, however, grabbed the shaft of Gerraint’s lance as he fell, effectively ripping it from Gerraint’s hands.  Indeed, Gerraint knew well enough to let it go and pull his sword.

Unfortunately, with Gerraint’s progress slowed, a Roman became able to grab him by the leg.  Gerraint let go of the reins, directed the horse with his knees alone, and pulled his long knife across the face of his attacker.  The man cried out and fell away, but Gerraint got poked from the other side by another Roman with a spear.  The spear head was not strong enough to penetrate Gerraint’s armor, but the strike landed hard enough to shove Gerraint right out of the saddle.  He hit the ground, hard, and nearly got caught in his exposed face by that same spear.  He ducked in time and swung up and out with Wyrd.  The Roman spear got cut in two at the shaft.

The Roman then arched his back and his eyes glazed.  They heard the sound of whizzing and buzzing all around, as the air filled with arrows.   After barely a minute, the sounds of battle ended.

Three men, dressed in hunter green and carrying bows stepped from the trees on the other side of the clearing.  Two were rather old and grubby looking.  The third, a youngster, looked about Bedivere’s age, but clearly not one to be overawed by the men of armor he faced.  They came up to Gerraint, and the eldest bowed slightly.

“My Lord,” he said.  Gerraint pointed at Howel.

“Not me.  There’s your king.”

The man looked at Gerraint briefly and whispered for his ears only.  “The lady thought we might be better help than the dragon.”  Then he turned to the king and bowed more regally, but very much like a real, old hunter in the woods might bow to his king.

“More of yours?”  Kvendelig distracted Gerraint with the question.

“You never know,” Gerraint said, but he knew the young one was young Larchmont.  One thing seemed certain.  No three pairs of human hands wiped out twelve or fifteen Romans in the span of sixty seconds; and nearly every arrow a perfect shot.

“Odyar?”  Gerraint asked Uwaine when he came up.  Uwaine pointed at the body.

“But Bedivere is hurt, and Lionel,” Uwaine said.

Gerraint looked at Kvendelig who stood at his shoulder and shook his head.  It would not be prudent to bring a more experienced healer into the present.  At least Gerraint needed to examine the patients first.

“Master.  I am so ashamed,” Bedivere said.

“No need.”  Gerraint smiled.  The wound was not bad. “You won’t have nearly the scar I have in my shoulder.”  The bleeding got staunched.  Uwaine could see to Bedivere.

Lionel’s problem looked a little more difficult.  His leg broke and Gerraint did not imagine he had the skill to set it.  So much of that sort of thing was by feel, and he was not sure what he was feeling for.

“Will I lose it?”  Lionel asked.  Howel looked worried as well.

“Afraid not,” Gerraint said.  “Rather, it is whether you will run or limp.”  He looked around.  The hunters were still there.  The eldest caught the gist of what was needed.

“My king,” he called, and Howel stepped over reluctantly to speak with the hunter, and his guards accompanied him.  Gerraint did not wait.  He let himself slip away and Greta came to take his place.  Gerraint knew he lived as a real surgeon in the early Twentieth Century and probably set more broken legs than could be counted, but the Good Doctor felt too distant in his mind at present.  Greta, the Woman of the Ways among the Dacians, felt much closer in time and in his memory.  She also served as a healer, and a good one.

While Lionel gasped and Greta told him quietly over and over to hold his tongue, she quickly made sure her golden hair got securely hidden by her helmet.  She fluffed out her cape with the hope that from the rear no one would suspect she was not Gerraint.  Then she took Lionel’s leg, carefully, and examined it.  “A clean break,” she said.  It should heal completely if you stay off of it for a while.”

“But.”  Lionel wanted to protest at her presence, but he did not have the strength.  He struggled too hard against the pain and against passing out.

“You can talk to Bohort about it when you are better, and Lancelot if you need to, but no one else.  Do I make myself clear?”  She shot a thought to the hunters.  They instantly reverted to fairy form and flew off even as she snapped Lionel’s leg in place.  Lionel stayed busy saying yes to her question about it being clear, so that delayed his scream.  By the time he let out the sound, and Howel and the others shook themselves free from the wonder of the fairies, and came running, Greta had gone and Gerraint was home.

“Keep still,” Gerraint ordered Lionel, though Lionel had passed out at that moment.  “Have to immobilize it.”  Gerraint stood and swung his fist into the image which Greta, with her own gifts of sight, had seen.  Gerraint’s fist landed square in Menw’s invisible face.  As the man fell to the ground, dazed, he lost his concentration and became visible.  Gerraint picked him up, right off his feet, and stepped him back a couple of steps.  The others laughed, not sure what they were laughing at, when Gerraint whispered straight into Menw’s ear.  “If I catch you trying to look down my dress again,” he said.  “I’ll make you a eunuch.”  He tossed Menw about five feet to where the man fell on his rear and yelped.

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 1 of 3

Gerraint awoke to the smell of fried eggs, biscuits and plenty of bacon.  They slept on the grass not far from the lake, but it felt quite comfortable, all things considered.  He opened his eyes, slowly.  Uwaine and Kvendelig were already up and by the fire.

“Lolly!”  Gerraint shouted and woke the rest of the crew.

“Lord.”  Lolly said without looking.  Her eyes were focused hard on the pair trying to snitch bits of breakfast before it was ready.  Kvendelig, the less experienced of the two, had already felt the rap of her cooking spoon on his knuckles more than once.

“Here.  Gerraint.”  Kvendelig protested.  “Uwaine says this dwarf female is one of yours, whatever that means.”

“And if I am?”  Lolly was also not one to take back talk or be maligned in any way.

Kvendelig drew his hand up and away from the spoon.  “I was just going to ask his majesty if perhaps he could convince you to let me have my breakfast now.  A man could starve to death waiting to be fed around here.”

“Chief Kvendelig!”  Gerraint pretended offence but he clearly smiled on the inside.  “I would not dream of asking the good woman for such a thing.  She will feed you when it is good and ready, and not one moment sooner.”

“Trouble is,” Uwaine pointed out.  “You haven’t eaten anything in four days.”

Lolly’s spoon snapped out and everyone heard Menw yelp.  “Give it up,” Gerraint said.  He imagined he could just make out the outline of the man, but then it might have been a trick of the rising sun.  Menw became visible.

“But I’m with Kvendelig,” Menw complained, as he became visible in a place Gerraint had not guessed.  “I’m starving.”  Menw sucked his wrist.

Gerraint smiled but while the others laughed his eyes snapped back to the place where he had imagined the outline of a man.  It appeared gone, but Gerraint wondered.  He might be a little slower and less agile than in his youth, but his senses were not diminished.  In some ways, they were sharper.  He had felt someone there, looking at him.  But then, he could not be sure if perhaps it was not the light after all.  He said nothing about it.

“No nun ever snapped a better ruler,” Gerraint said instead, to everyone’s incomprehension, but by then, Lolly started serving up, and in typical dwarf fashion, they had twice as much as they could possibly eat, even with three of them half starved.

“I don’t understand,” Menw said.  “My legs are like rubber, and I’m so tired.”

“I have a terrible headache,” Gwarhyr admitted.

“I remember,” Kvendelig said, plainly, and it became clear in that moment that all three remembered all at once, and they were embarrassed beyond words.

Gerraint stared them down, one by one.  “There is no way to Melwas through the lake.”

“Gwynwas,” Gwarhyr said.  “In the Welsh, its’ Gwynwas for Gwyn who guards the gate to the island.”

“It has many names,” Uwaine suggested.

“But is that certain?” Bedivere said his first words of the morning.  He still seemed a little uncomfortable, being so near the dwarf.

“Does any doubt the word of Rhiannon?”  Gerraint asked.

“The Lady Nimue?”  Kvendelig asked and Gerraint nodded.  They had imagined she was a spirit or a fairy of sorts.  They did not know going in that it was the goddess, herself.  Slowly, Kvendelig nodded, and Gwarhyr and Menw nodded with him.  “No point in arguing with a goddess once she has her mind set,” Kvendelig said, and that seemed to settle the matter.

“Now we seem to be missing someone.”  Gerraint looked around.

“No sir.”  Bedivere counted.  “All present and accounted for.”

“Ah, Luckless!”  Gerraint shouted.

“My Lord,” Luckless said as he brought in their horses, saddled and loaded with precious gifts, blankets of elfin weave, small saddlebags of silver and gold, and not a few jewels, and the weapons of the three Welsh Lords all made like new, if not replaced by better.

Luckless cleared his throat.  “The Lady of the Lake says let this be a gift for your trouble and the fine entertainment you provided for the court.  Do not return, however, or the fine things will all turn to dust.”  The dwarf did not like speeches, and immediately turned to his dwarf wife.  “Got any seconds?  Leftovers?”  He looked famished, but Gerraint felt sure he had eaten his fill before the men awoke.

“Always for you, my sweet.”  Lolly handed him the most enormous plate of all.

“Young love?”  Uwaine asked.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Quite young.  She’s only about two hundred years old.  Luckless is about three hundred.”  Bedivere swallowed on their ages and nearly choked in the process.  A sharp slap on the back by Gwarhyr was needed.

“Perhaps they are yours after all,” Kvendelig concluded.  “Always thought there was something odd about you.”

“And vice versa,” Gerraint said, but he did not explain as he got up and turned toward Luckless and Lolly.  “Many thanks,” he said.  “Will you be traveling with us?”  He asked and found himself a little disappointed when they declined.

“Little ones,” Lolly said, a little embarrassed, and Luckless puffed out his chest.

“I got me a young one to hand down the family treasure,” Luckless said, proudly.

Gerraint quickly turned to the Welshmen.  “He means iron tools, like a blacksmith or tinsmith might use, not real dragon-type treasure.”  The three Welsh faces drooped, but they understood and did not doubt.

Soon enough, the six men were off on the road, headed toward Howel’s castle and the coast.

“That was easy enough.”  Bedivere whispered when he had the chance.

“Not home yet.”  Uwaine pointed out.

That afternoon, they crossed a trail which Kvendelig said was freshly made by troops of some sort.

“Romans?”  Uwaine wondered.

“In search of what?”  Gwarhyr asked.

Gerraint looked around at those with him and shrugged.  He turned to the trail and put Kvendelig in front.  Despite his enchantment at the Lake, Kvendelig really was a first-rate hunter and tracker.

Not much further along, Kvendelig signaled them to be quiet.  He and Gerraint pushed up ahead to look and dismounted just before they came to the edge of the trees.  Howel stood there, with Lionel and three guards of Amorica.  Two other guards appeared to be dead along with three Romans, but twenty more Romans had them prisoner.  Odyar had led the king and Lionel into a trap and Odyar clearly commanded the Romans.  Neither Gerraint nor Kvendelig could hear what they were saying.  A shallow hill covered with meadow grass stood before the clearing in which the men stood.  But then, Gerraint did not need to hear what they were saying.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 3 of 3

“The lake?”  Bedivere barely got it out when they were there, in the courtyard of a great castle such as would not be seen in that part of the world for another three to five hundred years or more.  The horses were all there too, and looked to have been just groomed.  And their own clothes were also fresh, as if they had not just ridden for several days, and sweated as prisoners or been in a fight.

“Nice trick Goreu,” Uwaine said.

“Thank the Lady,” Gerraint said, and then everyone came out of the palace to greet them.  Many looked like great men and women apart from the fact that they were nearly all young and beautiful.  These were the fairy lords and ladies and certain kings and queens among the elves.  Some looked less and less like men and women, such as the dwarf lords and gnomes, hobgoblins and the like.  These were the subjects of Gerraint in his guise as the Kairos, but there were also many present who were not his.  Many were sprites, of the water, the air, the earth and from under the earth.  Some were little spirits and lesser spirits and even a couple of lesser Gods.  The Naiad of the lake herself was there, but she looked old and said she was ready to go over to the other side.

Bedivere kept passing back and forth between utter delight and abject fear.  He nearly ran at the sight of the ogre, but Uwaine, who had some experience, steadied him.  Uwaine got frightened, himself, by some of the people, and for that matter, Gerraint did not exactly feel comfortable even though he knew that all present were subject to Rhiannon.

Shortly, they were escorted inside where, like it or not, a great feast had been prepared for them.  Gerraint quietly made sure the fairy food would not have an ill effect on his friends.  When a normal mortal eats fairy food, they become subject to the fairies, like men and women who no longer have a will of their own.

Bedivere fell to the feast like a starving man.  His every favorite dish sat in front of his place and that did away with his fears once and for all.

“But where are the Welshmen?”  Uwaine whispered to Bedivere after a few minutes.

“A fair question,” Rhiannon said from half the distance of the enormous hall away.  Through all the talk and noise in the hall, Rhiannon knew everything, every word and virtually every thought that passed by.

“Ears like Math,” Gerraint quipped while a holograph-like image appeared in the center of the hall.  Somehow, everyone could see.

The first picture was Kvendelig the hunter.  He appeared to be tracking something around a rock.  It looked like a big rock and the anticipation grew as he came all the way around and stopped.  He looked up and around and then knelt down to examine the dirt.  “Good Lord!”  Kvendelig expostulated.  “Now there are two of them.”  He started out again to uproarious laughter.

“Round and round,” Gerraint said.  “I saw that one in Winnie the Pooh.”

Rhiannon smirked and changed the picture.  This time they saw Gwarhyr, the linguist.  He sat beside a different boulder where a branch, beyond his sight, periodically scraped up against the rock and another tree every time the wind blew.  “Say that again?”  Gwarhyr was saying.  “I did not quite catch it.”  The wind blew.  The branch scraped, and Gwarhyr tried to imitate the sounds.  “I’m going to learn the language of the little people if it takes all night.”  He looked determined.

“How long has all night been so far?” Gerraint asked.

“Four days,” she answered.

“Boring!”  The noise from the crowd rose.  Rhiannon waved again and the room filled with the lively sound of music.

This was true fairy music, highly contagious to anything mortal, and Rhiannon had to immunize Uwaine and Bedivere, quickly, before they started dancing, uncontrollably.  Once they were safe, Gerraint looked and saw Menw, trapped in a stone circle, dancing up a storm.  He kept smiling, but it was clear to see he danced utterly under the spell of the music.  Suddenly, he went invisible and all they could see was the footprints and dust being kicked up.

“He has the power of invisibility, you know,” Rhiannon said.

“Ah, yes.  Quite an accomplishment for a normal mortal,” Gerraint agreed.

“Yes, he thought to sneak up on us without our knowing it,” Rhiannon said seriously, and then she laughed, deeply.

Various groups in the room began to join in the dance as Menw once again became visible.  Some placed bets on the side, and Gerraint could hardly imagine what they were betting on.  Then Menw’s head went invisible and some of the gold got picked up.  Once, Menw was visible, except in the middle, like head and shoulders hovering over a set of legs.  The dwarfs in the room especially liked when he got down to nothing showing but feet.

“Shoes!  Shoes!”  The dwarfs shouted, and a great deal of gold exchanged hands.

“Good enough.”  Rhiannon stood and clapped her hands and all the noise, the pictures, the whole crowd and the banquet disappeared altogether.  Bedivere, Uwaine, Gerraint and Rhiannon seemed the only persons in a big, empty hall.

“When can we have them back?” Gerraint asked.

“Surely not before morning,” Rhiannon said and took Gerraint by the arm and lead the three men out through a door at the back of the hall.  There were stairs, and fairy lights spaced every third step or so.  At the top, they found rooms with big featherbeds, clean sheets and plenty of blankets to crawl under.

“Is it safe?”  Bedivere wondered out loud.

“It is not safe to question the hospitality of the lady,” Uwaine responded, wisely.  “Any lady.”  He added for good measure.

“See you in the morning.”  Gerraint noticed the fairies fluttering about, beginning to dim the lights.  Rhiannon kissed his cheek with a word of love for dear Enid, and he slept well that night.

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

MONDAY

The Welshmen  may have been stopped, but that does not mean Gerraint, Uwaine, and Bedivere are home free  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

*

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 2 of 3

The fight did not last long.  Both Bedivere and Uwaine killed their man, and the third Roman fled, wanting no part of it.  Gerraint’s encounter with Ondyaw was even shorter as Fate cracked the Roman’s sword on first contact and broke it in two.  Gerraint’s well aimed back swing sliced through the Roman’s jaw like it was putty, and the man’s jaw fell to the ground, his own eyes fastened on it.  “Tooth for a tooth.”  Gerraint muttered.  Then Ondyaw collapsed as Fate had also cut through most of the man’s neck.  Gerraint stirred himself, then.  He was not unaware of what happened elsewhere.

The words came from somewhere in time.  “No fire!”  He yelled in the Agdaline tongue, the command language to which all dragons were bred to obey.  “Do no harm!”  Gerraint was aware that when dragons went wild, when they generally shed their feathers and got big, the Agdaline commands did not always register.

“No fire!  Do no harm!”  Gerraint shouted again while the dragon cocked its’ head as if in confusion.  Gerraint decided it would not be worth the risk of his own skin.  Besides, there was something he needed to check out.  He found Amphitrite once more, but this time Danna pushed her way in front.  He traded places with Danna, exchanging one life in time for another.  The Don floated right up to the dragon’s face, repeated the commands for the sake of those below, but concentrated on looking for that fingerprint.  It showed there, but looked covered by another.

The dragon breathed as it faced the goddess.  Fire came, but Danna merely felt warmed by it.  She was the Mother goddess who touched the fires of the sun itself as well as the fires that ran like blood through the earth.  She was also, as Amonette, the serpent of Egypt and inclined to commiserate with this worm.  And again, she was the cold north wind and the frost that hardened the metal beaten on the anvil.

“Rhiannon.”  Danna commanded immediately as she floated back to the ground.  The goddess showed up instantly and kissed Danna on the cheek.

“Mother.”  Rhiannon said, lovingly.

“Rhiannon, dear.  What is with the dragon?”

Rhiannon looked pained for a minute.  “It was his suggestion.”

“His who?”  Danna spoke with some sternness in her voice.  “Don’t tell me this is the worm’s fault.  Eve already tried that one.”  The dragon moaned, softly and the women turned.

“Go home and take a nap.”  Danna commanded.

“Sleep?”  The dragon barely mouthed in Agdaline.

“You heard me.  No arguments.”  Danna insisted and the dragon shot flame straight up into the sky with a moan loud enough to make the few men who were still near cover their ears against the sound.  The dragon took to the sky and was soon lost in the clouds.

“He, who?”  Danna returned to the former conversation, not having forgotten.  Rhiannon had that pained look again.

“Young Abraxas,” she said, and then she struck a pose.  “Master of light and dark.  God of good and evil.  He has such an ego.”

“Sounds it,” Danna said.  “And you listened to him?”

“Well,” Rhiannon hedged.  “You were hurt and seemed in such trouble.  He suggested the dragon might help you escape.”

“Help?  It went straight for the tent where we were held prisoner.  If we had not escaped already, we would have been toast!”

“I did not know,” Rhiannon admitted.  “He is a very slick character.”

Danna stopped walking and Rhiannon stopped with her.  “Daughters don’t usually take a mother’s advice on such things.  And I don’t honestly remember if you are a granddaughter or great-great, whatever.  Not that it matters.  But he does not sound like the sort of young man a mother, any mother, would like.  Please avoid him in the future.”

“Oh, yes I will,” she said.  “Most assuredly.”

Danna leaned over and returned Rhiannon’s kiss and barely kept her tongue from saying, “You lie like an elf.”  She traded places then with Gerraint and came straight to the point.

“The Welshmen,” Gerraint said.

“I have them,” Rhiannon admitted.  “They wanted me to open a door to Avalon, Gwynwas as they call it.  Abraxas seemed keen on the idea as well.”

“You didn’t.”  Gerraint needed to hear it.

Rhiannon pretended offense.  “No,” she said.  “You have told us a million times how the Island is private, even if we are your children.  That is your place, shared with Mannanan in the old time.  Mine was in Tara, before it was deserted.”

“Yes, about that,” Gerraint said.  “I thought after Lancelot you were going over to the other side with the others?  The time of the gods is over.  What are you still doing here?”

“Galahad,” she said.  “And you did ask me to keep Meryddin under wraps for the rest of his life.

“Oh, yes.  And how is the geezer?”

“Gone.”  Rhiannon said, sadly.  “And I’ve been thinking of moving the court elsewhere.  I don’t want to stay and be reminded.”

“What is it with you and the wrong sort of men?”  Gerraint asked with some tenderness in his voice.  He wiped the tear that formed in the corner of her eye.  “But seriously, if Meryddin is now gone and Galahad is grown, why are you still here?”

“Apparently, there is one more young man.  But I do not know who it is yet.”

“Yes, well you must not dawdle.  Nearly all of the gods have already passed over centuries ago, you know.”  Gerraint still spoke with some tenderness.  Dying was hard enough when it was involuntary, not that her spirit would cease to function in the world, only she would no longer have flesh to touch the world, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.  She would be more like a force in this world, deaf, dumb and blind, and subject only to the directions of the Spirit of the Most-High God.

Rhiannon looked at Gerraint and smiled.  “Don’t worry,” she said.  “Festuscato has already scolded me enough.  “Keep away from Patrick!  You should not be here!” OH!”  Rhiannon read the look on Gerraint’s face and stopped.  “He was a past life of yours, don’t you remember?”

He remembered, but he wanted to have a bit of fun.  “Past would be the only ones you would know,” Gerraint said.  “But that doesn’t mean I know.  You know the rule.  Never tell the Kairos about any life he has not yet experienced.”

“Oh, yes, but then you trade places sometimes with the future lives,” she responded.

“Festuscato?”  Gerraint grinned, and she knew he was teasing.

“Stop it.  You’re embarrassing me.”  They came to Uwaine and Bedivere.  She named them, looked gently into their minds, and welcomed them to the lake.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 1 of 3

They slept in the wilderness, and in the morning, headed straight for the North road.  “The main way down the center is just as quick and probably easier traveling,” Gerraint explained.  “But this way will take us by the old Cairns, the burial places of the kings.”

“You think the Welshmen came this way?” Bedivere asked.

“No.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “I think they must already be at the Lake, or near enough.  But we are less likely to be pursued in this direction.  I doubt any trouble would guess we even know about this road.”

“Trouble?”  Bedivere asked.  “I thought last night you said that was all cleared up.”

“Odyar,” Uwaine said.  Gerraint liked his old squire.  He had a gift in the judgment of character.

They stayed at a coastal inn that next night, and again, on the night after that.  The following evening, they had hopes of reaching the lake, but they were surprised around midday by the last thing Gerraint expected.  Instead of swords from behind, they ran smack into swords ahead.  Even as they turned to the Southeast and toward the actual lake, they were surrounded by about thirty swords of the Romans coming up from the south.  Gerraint knew the lake area was like a kind of no man’s land that separated the Romanish lands from Amorica.  He felt distressed to see the revived Romans making incursions across the border and again, he did not doubt Howel’s concerns about a possible war in the near future.

Gerraint would not let Uwaine draw his sword against such odds.  They surrendered quietly.

Ondyaw was the Captain of the Romans, despite his obvious Gallic name.  Gerraint looked at him closely and immediately saw the family resemblance.  “Odyar’s brother?”  He asked.  Ondyaw confirmed as much with a slap across Gerraint’s face.  Bedivere struggled against the ropes, but Uwaine knew better and kept still.  Bedivere only hurt his own wrists.

“And where are you headed?” he asked.  “My brother’s message was rather vague on the details and said only that I should stop you.”

“To the Lake of the Vivane,” Gerraint said.  He saw no reason to hide it.

“That accursed place.  I should take you there and dump you.  I doubt you would last the night.”

“Fluff and mirrors,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon just likes her privacy is all.”

Ondyaw slapped him again.  “That great Lady’s name should never touch your lips.”  Gerraint felt it in his jaw, and for a moment, he was sorry his hands were tied so he could not put his hand up to help wiggle his jaw back into place.

“Sorry,” he said.  “But I thought you were Roman.  Shouldn’t you be defending Diana and Venus instead?

Ondyaw struck him one more time just for that, or perhaps just for fun, because he could.  Gerraint decided silence was called for.  He had to pause in any case until the dizziness passed.

“Tell my brother all is well.”  Ondyaw spoke to the man who was waiting.  “The men are still watching the lake and I will send more when I know more.”  The man left and Ondyaw turned as if he had something else to say, but then decided against it.  He left and the three were alone in the tent.

“Are you all right?”  Bedivere asked while Uwaine spoke at the same time.

“Now what?”  Uwaine asked.

“Now we leave.”  Gerraint showed anger.  They had freely surrendered and honorably submitted to being captive.  They did not need to be tied.  They certainly did not deserve to be beaten, not by any standard of civilized behavior. “More like barbarians than Romans,” Gerraint said and spat out a tooth.  “Damn.  Now I’m really mad.”  He had to calm down and think for a minute.

Margueritte came immediately to mind and when he traded places with her once more, her feminine, eleven-year-old hands and feet slipped right out of the ropes.  She had on her red dress, of course, and would from then on until she changed it.

“Let me see your wrists,” she said to Bedivere.  They were chaffed raw from his attempts to tug himself free.  “Now you were so smart with the horses,” Margueritte scolded him.  “How could you be so stupid now?  How are you going to hold your sword with your wrists hurting so?”  She shook her finger at him and frowned.  Bedivere melted.

“But she’s so cute,” he said to Uwaine.

“Yes, and dangerous I’ll warrant.”  Uwaine responded.

“Not.”  Margueritte insisted, but she was getting nowhere with her young hands and fingers against the knots.  She felt obliged to trade once again with Ali.  He still wore the Armor, and though his nimble thief’s fingers would soon have them free, he pulled his long knife, not wanting to take forever.

Once Bedivere and Uwaine were up, and Ali had to say hush three or four times, they got their weapons back as they had simply been dumped in a corner of the tent. Ali then cut a small slit in the back of the tent which grew bigger as he looked and saw no one back there.  “Allow me to steal our horses,” he said.  “Must keep in practice, you know.  Be right back.”

Ali slipped from the tent and, quiet as a snake in the grass, he wound his way around the camp to where their horses were tied but unguarded.  He considered the problem, and then went back for his companions, believing the men might move more quietly than the beasts.  Perhaps they did, but they were still too loud.  The Romans would have got them but for the noise from above and the shadow that crossed over their heads.  As soon as the beast landed, the tent they had just vacated went up in flames and a roar and fire shot up into the sky.

Uwaine stared.  Bedivere screamed, though not nearly as loud as some of the Romans.  The camp turned into chaos while the dragon nosed through the burning tent.  On finding nothing edible, the dragon set its’ sights on the scattering men.

“You!”  Ondyaw saw them and pointed.  “Cursed.”  He shouted and he and three other Romans attacked.  Gerraint came back, of course, Ali having returned to his own place in time at the first sign of trouble; and none too soon as far as Ali was concerned.  Gerraint drew his sword and the long knife he had sheathed and he and his friends went at the Romans, even as the dragon contentedly swallowed a piece of charcoal which only vaguely retained the shape of a man.

M3 Gerraint: Amorica and the Suckers, part 3 of 3

Gerraint had an idea where Howel might be, but he imagined it was late enough that Howel would likely be alone, unless the taking of Gerraint and his company prisoners had him all up and worried.  Margueritte walked the halls like a child with purpose, and almost arrived at the king’s chambers before she was stopped.  A guard wanted to know her reason for being there.  She stared at him, dumbly.

Gerraint had chosen her because she was a child and less likely to be noticed, but also because she spoke Amorican like a native.  Oddly, Margueritte came to understand that last was a mistake.  The Amorican she spoke was more like Welsh than true Amorican of the older days.  Something must have happened between Gerraint’s day and her day, two hundred years later that dramatically changed the language of the people.  It was like Amorica went away and Brittany, or Little Britain took its’ place.

Margueritte curtsied again.  She did not know what else to do.  Fortunately, king Bodanagus, of whom she had just been thinking, filled her mind with the words she needed.  Even so, Margueritte spoke haltingly to get the pronunciation just right.

“A message for his majesty from the men locked in the room below.”  She whipped up as many frightened tears as she could.  It was not hard.  This was a frightening moment.  “Please.”  She reached out to touch the guard’s wrist.  “I must tell the king personally or my father will be very angry.”

“Aw, there, little one.”  The guard grinned, few teeth as he had.  “We’ll see the king all right, and then I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  He took her hand and she did not refuse.  “Got a little girl myself, much like you, but only eight.  You twelve?  Thirteen?”

“Eleven,” Margueritte said sweetly.

“Young as that?  You look about all grown up to me.  A real lady.”  The Guard said as they came to the door.  Margueritte blushed a little and smiled.  She was actually most pleased to hear that.  It was what eleventeen-year-old girls wanted most of all, to be seen as all grown up.

The guard knocked on the king’s door, and “Come,” was the immediate response.  The door creaked open, and Lionel sat there with another man.  This was not good, but then, Howel looked worried and the curtains were drawn to block off the evening sky.

Margueritte did a quick inventory.  Arthur, Gwynyvar, Percival, Enid of course, and Uwaine, his former squire, oh, and Morgana and Bohort knew something about Gerraint and his access to other lives and times.  They called him Goreu, sometimes, as a distinction from just plain old Gerraint.  Pelenor, his old Master knew, and Meryddin figured something out quickly enough, but as far as Gerraint was aware, that was about it, unless someone talked.  Bedwyr, Kai and some of the other older ones knew something and others might have guessed something, but they hardly knew the whole truth.

Margueritte curtsied one last time while she made sure her fairy clothes would change when she did.  “A message for the king,” she said, and went home, two hundred years into the future.  She got replaced by Bodanagus, king of Amorica long ago, and he glowed, like a ghost or a Spirit of the night.

Howel jumped up and knocked over the table in front of him.  Lionel gasped, and the third man reached for a weapon, but for some reason, he did not draw it.  The guard that had been holding Margueritte’s hand jumped back and let out a brief yell.

“I am Bodanagus,” he introduced himself.  “King of Amorica and your father.”  He looked at both Howel and Lionel because the chances were reasonably good that they were his descendants.  The guard by the door wiped his hands.  He had been holding the hand of a ghost without knowing it.

“Kvendelig, Gwarhyr and Menw are meddling in something which is beyond their understanding.  Would you have them open the wrong door?  Would you have them open the door to Hell?” he asked.

“I knew it!”  Howel shouted.

“The treasures of the Celts have been shut away on Avalon and are not to be returned to this world,” Bodanagus said.  “Even in my day, I had to face Caesar on my own two feet.  I fought the Great Julius Caesar to a standstill.  Shall my descendants fight the Sons of Claudus and their shallow Romanism with dependence on magic and trickery?  For shame!”

Lionel dropped his head.  He honestly felt that shame.  He was a good Knight of the Round Table and a veteran of battles under Arthur.  Howel felt the shame, also.  The third man, however, looked angry.

“Times are different, now,” he shouted.  “We haven’t the strength of old.  We need.”

“You need nothing!”  Bodanagus cut him off.  “You have Arthur for a friend and through the Son of God, you have access to the Almighty, the Source of all things.  You need faith and a strong right arm.  You need to set free the one prisoner you have who can stop the Welsh in their madness before they bring the whole world to ruin.”  Bodanagus raised the wind in the room to blow on the fire and the torches, to whip the flames and scatter the light in every direction.  He, himself, glowed brighter and brighter in place until the men had to cover their eyes.  He raised the sound of thunder in the room, and he vanished.  He knew how to be invisible.

Curiously, Gerraint did not remember, exactly, that Bodanagus could do all of those things until he actually became Bodanagus.  His Spirit knew, though, and guided his changes from life to life.  It happened like that, sometimes.

Bodanagus opened the door of the prison room and Uwaine and Bedivere stepped back and stared, seeing no one present.  Bodanagus traded places once more with Gerraint and instantly becoming visible as he did.  Gerraint had no ability to stay invisible.

“Ready to Go?”  Gerraint asked as he returned the fairy clothes to the other world and retrieved his armor.  He called to his weapons, and they vanished from wherever they were being held and reattached themselves to his armor where they belonged.  Then the men stepped out into the other room, Bedivere’s legs being a little shaky, even as Howel and Lionel burst in, with the third man lagging behind.

“Gerraint.  Majesty.”  Howel was all apologetic.

Gerraint waved off their concerns.  “Think nothing of it,” he said.  “But I assume they have headed for the Lake?”

Howel nodded.  Lionel spoke.  “But I cannot imagine the Lady will give them what they want.”   He, with his brother Bohort knew something about Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and his cousin, Lancelot, had been under the tutelage of the Lady and her Court when he was young.

“Of course,” Gerraint said.  “She doesn’t have what they want.”

“The ghost of King Bodanagus said the treasures were hidden on Avalon.”  Howel pointed out.  There was a practical thinking man.  Gerraint smiled.

“But she might be persuaded to open a door to Avalon,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon has always had a mind of her own.”

“We must go,” Uwaine said wisely.  “Too much time has passed already.”  Howel moved.  Gerraint stepped forward and looked the third man in the eye.

“Odyar.”  The man gave his name.  Gerraint nodded and they left.  They all walked together to the inn where Lionel slapped his forehead when he saw their horses, ready to travel.

“Who would have thought,” he said.  “I searched every inch of the woods.”

Gerraint laughed and slapped Bedivere on the back, but not too hard, and then Gerraint, Uwaine and Bedivere rode off while there was still some light from the moon.

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MONDAY

To the Lake.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

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